Musing about Mushrooms
I know it's been mushroom season (peak season autumn) in Sweden for a while but I haven't particularly noticed it. I was one of those suburban children who was told by their mother never to pick mushrooms as they might be poisonous. So I never did. They would be filtered out of my view as I walked through the bush or the forest. I enjoyed eating them but roaming about feasting on the forest freely was not something I did. Up until recently, when I noticed these huge brightly spotted mushrooms on the ground.
Swedish variety eating mushrooms range from the porcini and golden chanterelle to the lesser known parasol mushroom and false saffron milk-cap. But this particular mushroom I found out later is the fly agaric mushroom. Sacred to Siberian shamans (healers) who use it to communicate and visit the spirit world. It’s a mushroom that causes hallucinations basically.
Simon G Powell in his book ‘Sacred Ground’ (2011) says that the shamanic use of fly agaric diffused out of Russia and while some peoples gradually came to reject the mushroom, others embraced its effects. Perhaps the Scandinavians he suggests. As about 1000BC you find artistic representations of mushrooms on Swedish, Norwegian and Danish Bronze Age objects. These objects depict the mushroom in a way that suggests it was an object of worship. Perhaps an fly agaric worshipping cult similar to those in Siberia according to Powell.
Spiral patterns on a bronze age shield, Denmark.
I don't know about you but when I was young eating ‘magic’ mushrooms was quite common amongst certain types of people. University students doing arts degrees in my experience. And it's probably still the same. It was the end of the hippy era I suppose and there was still this idea around that you could discover some profound truth about yourself and the world by taking hallucinogenics.
People went to Bali, took some magic mushrooms and sat on the beach and saw God or so they thought.
Powell suggests this idea is directly the result of the cultural influence of R. Gordon Wasson’s 1957 article ‘The Discovery of Mushrooms that Cause Strange Visions’ in Life Magazine. It was the first ever personal account written by a Westerner describing the extraordinary psychological effects of sacred mushrooms. It's an interesting read.
One thing I do know is that you do not need any drug or substance to contact the spirit world or connect with nature. Prayer is one very underrated and unfashionable method. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) the Swedish scientist, philosopher and mystic regularly visited the spirit world without taking drugs and it’s covered in quite a few of his books. You can also visit the spirit world when you sleep and I’ve heard fascinating stories about people who’ve used ‘lucid dreaming’ to have various spiritual experiences. It’s how to interpret it all that is key.
And for that you need experience and guidance. The same goes with mushrooms.
Very interesting radio show: Jan Irvin talking about Wasson and the Secret history of Mushrooms.