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The Ancient Use of Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms have been causing some far-out trips since ancient times. Psychedelic fungi have been an integral part of shamanic traditions, sacred rituals, and indigenous use across the globe for thousands of years. Our early ancestors knew the profound power of “shrooms”.


The historical use of magic mushrooms reveals their profound impact on various ancient cultures and their spiritual practices. These fungi were not merely recreational substances but sacred tools for accessing higher realms of consciousness and communing with the divine. Through the centuries, the knowledge and practices surrounding magic mushrooms have been passed down, contributing to the tapestry of human cultural heritage.


By exploring ancient psychedelic rituals, we gain a deeper appreciation for the enduring fascination with altered states of consciousness, connecting us to the wisdom and experiences of our ancestors. Magic mushrooms remind us of the profound and mysterious aspects of human existence that transcend time, culture, and the boundaries of our everyday reality.


Let’s take a trip through the historical use of psychedelic mushrooms throughout human civilization.


Disclaimer: The use of magic mushrooms is illegal in many jurisdictions and can be dangerous. This article is for educational purposes only.


Ancient Magic Mushrooms (9000 BCE)

The oldest known evidence of mushroom use, although not entirely conclusive, can be found in a mural at Tassili, a region of the Sahara desert in southeastern Algeria. The artwork, which dates back between 7000 and 9000 BCE, displays mushrooms and anthropomorphic characters holding them. According to some specialists, the displayed mushrooms could be Psilocybe mairei, a species common to Algeria and Morocco. However, suspicions concerning the validity of these artworks remain to this day.


Another remarkable mural, the Selva Pascuala in Cuenca, Spain, dates from the Upper Paleolithic (6000 BCE) to the Middle Neolithic (4000 BCE) and includes artwork of mushrooms. It is speculated that these mushrooms may be Psilocybe hispanica and Psilocybe semilanceata. The mural depicts bulls, leading experts to propose a link between the mushrooms' environment and their growth in cattle dung.


Mayan Mysteries (1000 BCE - 900 CE)

Hallucinogenic mushrooms were widely used in ritual ceremonies by Mesoamerican cultures. The practice of incorporating sacred mushrooms into religious rituals extended from the Valley of Mexico throughout Central America, dating back at least 3500 years. The Maya, for instance, consumed k’aizalaj okox, known as teonanàcatl to the Aztecs, a psychedelic mushroom embedded in the traditions of Mesoamerican cultures. This fungus contains two distinct entheogenic compounds, psilocybin, and psilocin, which induce visual hallucinations and help Mesoamerican shamans connect with gods and nature.


Archaeological evidence, in the form of artifacts known as 'mushroom stones,' suggests that the Maya engaged in the consumption of psychedelic mushrooms. These stones, often adorned with figures, were associated with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. After cataloging these stones by type and origin, archaeologists dated their earliest appearance to around 1000 BC.



mayan temple, a place where magic mushrooms were used in ancient times


Viking Frenzies (8th - 11th century)

Vikings are frequently stereotyped as expressing a hard-drinking and violent culture, yet they also participated in profound spiritual and mystical rituals that included the use of psychedelics to improve their understanding of the world, making them sharper and more fierce in battle.

One of the most common psychedelics used by Vikings was fly agaric mushrooms, which were plentiful in Nordic areas and Eastern Europe. These mushrooms were consumed during rituals or festivals, often accompanied by prayer or chanting. This practice induced an altered state of consciousness, fostering introspective insight and encouraging creative thinking.


While the active compounds found in Fly Agaric aren't exactly psilocybin and psilocin, they are also capable of inducing hallucinogenic effects. Historical records do not explicitly state whether Vikings ate mushrooms before the battle. While it is difficult to draw firm conclusions, it is possible that Vikings, through their spiritual practices, incorporated psychedelics into different elements of their lives, including combat preparation, leading to the development of well-known "berserker."



viking civilization with stars and galaxies, depicting mushroom effects


Ancient Egyptian Rites (2500 BCE - 30 BCE)

In ancient Egypt, death was perceived as a gateway to the afterlife, intertwined with their religious belief system. Psychedelic plants were thought to offer visions of the underworld and establish communication with the gods.


The ancient Egyptians referred to mushrooms as the 'food of the gods,' believing that Osiris, the god of fertility, bestowed this divine gift upon humanity. Hieroglyphic carvings and artwork dating back over 4,000 years provide further evidence, depicting slender, long-stemmed mushrooms. Consuming these sacred mushrooms was reserved for royalty and high priests during ceremonial rituals and rites of passage. Only the illuminated few were privileged enough to partake in these sacred mushroom ceremonies.


The extent of psychedelics' influence on ancient Egyptian culture remains uncertain, but there are clues pointing to their potential role in unlocking hidden potentials within the human mind—realms of consciousness that may have facilitated the development of technologies lost over time. While there are artistic depictions of psychedelic mushroom consumption, as well as historical texts, a consensus on this hypothesis is yet to emerge.



Egyptian pyramids and skyline


The Greek ‘Eleusinian Mysteries’ (1600 BCE - 4th century CE)


For over 2000 years, the ancient Greeks celebrated the annual Eleusinian Mysteries – initiation ceremonies dedicated to the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Those who participated drank a psychedelic brew called Kykeon, likely containing ergot mushrooms, which induced hallucinations, tremors, and visions as they wandered in darkness before finally emerging into light and celebration.


During the Eleusinian Mysteries, many people experienced visions and apparitions, believing they could communicate directly with the world beyond and even Gods. Today's intriguing reality returns us to the gastronomical icon of ancient rites, Kykeon, and focuses on one of its constituents, rye flour.

Due to inadequate knowledge of science in ancient times, people were unaware of the presence of ergot, a fungus found in rye crops. Today, we can easily spot and avoid its presence because contaminated grains have dark-colored spikes that resemble the fungus' fruiting parts.

So, how did ergot contribute to the potency of the drink?


Scientists have discovered alkaloids in the fungus that interact with serotonin receptors in our brains. Furthermore, the ergot fungus includes lysergic acid and its precursor, ergotamine, with lysergic acid acting as a precursor in the creation of LSD.


As a result, it is possible that the visions experienced by initiates during the Eleusinian Mysteries were caused by the fungus' psychoactive effects, similar to those caused by other hallucinogenic fungi, like mushrooms.


The experience gave participants a profound sense of spiritual awakening and religious redemption. Consuming the mystical kykeon connected them to the divine realm and opened their minds to deeper meaning beyond the mundane world. It was a pivotal rite of passage in ancient Greece.



ancient greek structure with a city and skyline in the background


Entheogens in Ancient India (1500 BCE - 500 BCE)

Psychedelics may be among the oldest psychopharmacological agents known to humanity. One notable example is the ancient Indian substance known as Soma, highly revered and frequently mentioned in the Rigveda, with numerous Vedic hymns praising its properties (Wasson and Ingalls, 1971).


In the depicted painting, gods and demons collaborate to churn the extraordinary Ocean of Milk, representing the psychedelic substance Soma, believed to grant access to immortality—a feat deemed impossible for mere mortals. Through their harmonious efforts, the opposing forces unlock the secrets of Soma, creating a potent brew that bestows immortality upon them.


Soma is an ancient mythological plant or beverage associated with religious ceremonies, healing, and rites of passage. While its exact identity remains mysterious, it is known that Soma was likely crafted by pressing a plant between stones, filtering through sheep's wool, and blending with other substances like water, milk, and honey.


While the specific preparation process of Soma remains unknown, evidence suggests that it had both physical and psychological effects when consumed correctly. Thus it's highly possible that one of the ingredients was some type of psychedelic mushroom or a specific plant. Soma appears to have been an integral part of religious ceremonies in ancient India, offering physical health benefits and facilitating spiritual enlightenment.



ancient indian temple depicting the use of mushrooms


Conclusion

Many indigenous cultures continue to uphold the traditional medicinal values associated with psychedelics, employing them for physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Notably, recent studies suggest that even in contemporary times, psychedelic drugs can serve therapeutic purposes, treating various psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.


In light of this evidence, it becomes apparent that psychedelics have played a crucial role throughout human history. They have connected us with our ancestral roots, served as a conduit for creative exploration, and allowed us to investigate our innermost thoughts and emotions. Psychedelic experiences provide a unique glimpse into an alternate reality that may offer fresh insights about ourselves and our place in the universe, and our ancestors were well aware of it.

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