The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Psychoactive fungi

In ancient times, the dictum that “mushrooms are the food of the gods” was a familiar one (Graves 1957**). Probably the oldest written record of fungi in general was provided by Euripides (480– 406 B.C.). The first written mention of inebriating mushrooms and the rituals associated with them comes from the historical document Historia General de las Cosas de Neuva España, which was compiled between 1529 and 1590 by the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún. This work contains what is probably the oldest graphic depiction of the ritual consumption of mushrooms (teonanacatl). The very earliest representation of mushrooms is a rock painting in the Tassili plain of the southern Sahara (Algeria), which has been dated to the late Neolithic period. The conjectures that Euripides wrote about psychedelic mushrooms and that the rock art in the desert are depictions of early mushroom shamans appear in a new light as a result of the knowledge and discoveries of modern ethnomycology.

The Neoplatonist Porphyrios (third century

A.D.) referred to mushrooms as “the children of the gods.” The poets spoke lovingly of the “children of the earth” (Lonicerus 1679, 160*). Many researchers have suggested that the divine “drink of immortality”—whether known as somahaomaamrita, ambrosia,346 or nektar—was a fun gus or, more precisely, a psychoactive mushroom (Graves 1957**). Even the tree of knowledge has been interpreted as a fly agaric mushroom, and Christianity as originally a secret mushroom cult. Similarly, the Sufis are said to have employed mushrooms, which they called the “bread of crows,” so that they could know God (Shah 1980, 104 ff.*). Terence McKenna (1988*, 1996*) has advanced the hypothesis that psilocybin mushrooms of the species Psilocybe cubensis were the catalyst in primate evolution that led our apelike ancestors to become human.

We are only beginning to understand the immensely important role psychoactive fungi have played in human cultures. The branch of science that investigates these questions was founded by an American banker, R. Gordon Wasson (1898– 1986), and is known as ethnomycology (Riedlinger 1990**). Those psychedelic or entheogenic mushrooms that contain psilocybin and psilocin have had the greatest impact upon the history of culture (Metzner 1970**).

Amazingly, psilocybin mushrooms, first “discovered” in Mexico, are now found on all continents (and are being consumed by increasing numbers of mycophile psychonauts). New species are constantly being described (e.g., Psilocybe samuensis Guzmán, Bandala et Allen and Psilocybe azurescens Stamets et Gartz) and new ranges and occurrences of known species are being discovered.

The Flesh of the Gods


Although ancient Europe almost certainly had its own indigenous mushroom cults (Graves 1957**; Samorini and Camilla 1995**), the first mention of magic mushrooms and their associated rituals is found in (ethnohistorical) sources from the early colonial period of the Americas. Because the Catholic Church and the Mexican and Peruvian Inquisitions forbade the religious use of psycho-active plants and severely punished any transgressions (Andritzky 1987*), the sacred use of mushrooms was forced underground. It was not rediscovered until the 1950s, when the Mazatec shaman María Sabina initiated the Wassons into the nocturnal cult (Wasson 1957**). Today, María Sabina, now deceased, is regarded as a kind of “saint” of the psychedelic movement. The botanical identity of the mushroom that the colonial sources referred to as teonanacatl (Nahuatl: “flesh of the gods” or “wondrous mushrooms”) was determined in the late 1930s (Johnson 1940**; Reko 1940**; Schultes 1939,** 1940,** 1978**; Singer 1958**; Wasson 1963**).

Because of their enormous powers, these mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicanaPsilocybe spp.) are often regarded as something sacred or divine or even as deities in their own right. Those who consume the “mushrooms of the gods” in a ritual context undertake a journey into other realities where they might enter the realm of divine beings, retrieve the souls of the sick, and foretell the future. One Mazatec mushroom shaman had the following to say about such divination:

The words come only when the mushroom is in my body. A wise man does not learn by heart that which he must say in his ceremonies. It is the sacred mushroom that speaks. The wise man simply lends it his voice. (Estrada 1980, 144**)


The velada, “night watch,” is a nocturnal meeting in the house of a female or male shaman, during most of which the participants sit in a circle. After incense is burned and offerings and prayers are made, the participants are given the mushrooms, which they consume in pairs while prayers are being offered. The shaman then begins a series of songs that make it possible for her and the group to enter trance and explore the psychedelic universe of the entheogenic mushroom (Wasson et al. 1974**; Estrada 1980**; Hofmann 1979*; Liggenstorfer and Rätsch 1996**).

Setting a date for the nocturnal event already implies that the patient, the healer, and perhaps even the group are going to deal with the situation at hand. The problems that are to be solved (the illness or other reasons for holding the meeting) are placed at center stage. Doña Julieta explained that each and every one of the participants must clearly understand the questions that he wishes to ask the “santitos.” It often happens that the “velada” will not focus on the healing of one single, clearly “defined” patient, but that the various participants also announce their interest in a cleansing (“limpia”) or healing. (Donati 1991, 86 f.**)


“The mushrooms give me the power to see everything completely. I can look back to the beginning. I can go to where the world originated. The sick become healthy, and the relatives then come and visit me to tell me that relief has come. They give me thanks and bring me alcohol, cigarettes, and a little money.”








For many musicians (e.g., The Allman Brothers), the universe was created in a divine mushroom trip. Consequently, the psychedelic paradise in which these musicians (the techno-pop band Deeelite) are shown frolicking is a garden of gigantic mushrooms. (CD covers: 1994, Sony Music; 1994, Elektra Records)


* = literature listed on pages 878–907

** = literature listed on pages 689–93

“This mushroom is a transdimensional doorway which sly fairies have left slightly ajar for anyone to enter into who can find the key and who wishes to use this power—the power of vision—to explore this peculiar and naturally occurring psychoactive complex.”





Even the truffle (Tuber spp.), that culinary delicacy, has a type of psychoactive effect. It produces an odoriferous substance that is an analog of human pheromones, thereby eliciting a specific sexual search behavior in humans. For this reason, truffles enjoy a reputation as an aphrodisiac. (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)


In Europe, the American Indian model for entheogenic mushroom rituals has been adapted for use with mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensisPsilocybe cyanescensPsilocybe semilanceata) and other psychoactive substances (e.g., LSD, MDMA; cf. herbal ecstasy) in group settings (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch n.d.**). These sessions are known variously as ritual circles, ceremonial circles, healing circles, and mushroom circles. This ritualized use has led to the emergence of a new movement (Rätsch 1996**). Today’s entheogenic mushroom culture is decentralized, both anarchic and partnership oriented, and it transcends religious, cognitive, and political boundaries. It resembles, in fact, the manners in which the mushrooms themselves grow: an underground network of interlaced roots. The fruiting bodies appear at the proper time and the proper place, often in a circle (“fairy ring”), at which time they disperse their spores throughout the world. In order to be introduced or initiated into the mushroom culture, one needs only to ritually consume some mushrooms in a circle of like-minded individuals and “be accepted”by them. Many people have experienced the ritual circle as an initiation into the mysteries of the mushroom. In the Western world, entheogenic mushrooms have brought forth a spiritual cult with its own rituals not unlike those of the peyote cult (cf. Lophophora williamsii) of the Native American Church and other, similar movements (La Barre 1979b*).

The World of Fairies and Witches


Toward the end of the Middle Ages, it was widely believed that witches and demons caused mushrooms to grow. “Fairy rings,” the circular fruiting characteristic of a number of fungi (e.g., the edible wood blewit Lepista nuda [Bull.: Fr.] Cooke and Amanita muscaria), were regarded as especially dangerous, for they were thought to be the nocturnal meeting places of witches, female magicians, elves, and mushroom spirits (Englbrecht 1994, 8, 56**):


In days gone by, and especially in the Middle Ages, mushrooms stimulated the human imagination. To superstitious individuals, they have always appeared to be strange beings. The most amazing tales have been told about fungi. Various meanings have been attributed to the “elf rings,” also known as “elf dancing places” and “fairy rings.” They can still be found today; in fields, meadows, and forest clearings, mushrooms often grow in a closed circle. Folk tales about such rings have been passed down in songs, stories, and poems. It was believed that they were the sites where delicate winged and happy elves or lusty groups of goblins would assemble during the night and perform their graceful or turbulent dances in the forest. These folk beliefs were not limited to the enchanting forms of the fairy rings alone, for they also attributed the mushrooms themselves with mystical significance. As a result, those mushrooms that were shaped like umbrellas became the umbrellas and parasols that dwarves and elves used to protect themselves from the rain or the sun, and they also became known as “elf stools.” Nymphs were said to sip the cool morning dew from mushrooms that looked like small goblets, and the little magical beings of the forest were said to take refreshing baths in the larger ones. It was also believed that evil witches would use poisonous mushrooms when they were preparing their dangerous magical drinks. (Rippchen 1993, 13**)


Such conceptions are not limited to medieval and modern Europe but are also found in many other parts of the world. In Japan, mushrooms, especially those of the genus Amanita (cf. Amanita muscariaAmanita pantherina), are thought to be the food of the long-nosed goblins known as tengus, or the places where tengus dallied. It is not unlikely that these stories of elves, goblins, and fairies arose as a result of the visions that certain mushrooms can evoke (Golowin 1973*). Some authors have even recommended that people desiring to gain access to the fairy world consume mushrooms (Morris 1992, 5**).


“It is reported that Nero said that ‘mushrooms are the food of the gods’; perhaps the joke of a madman who wished to express that it is possible to at least enter paradise by being conveyed by the mushrooms into the beyond.”






“The Mazateco Indians identify the hallucinogenic mushroom with Jesus Christ. They believe that while on earth, Jesus spat onto the ground. The mushrooms grew out of his saliva. They are his speaking tube, through which he speaks when their chemical constituents produce hallucinations.”




“He [Gwyddyon] then resorted to his skills and began to demonstrate the power of his magic. He made appear a dozen stallions, twelve black hunting dogs . . . twelve golden bucklers. These shields were mushrooms that he had transformed.”




In Celtic mythology, at least as it is represented in modern times, mushrooms are closely related to the “other world” and to the realms of fairies and elves. In Celtic Wales, tradition tells of a mushroom, known as bwyd-ellyllon(“elf mushroom”), that “is one of the delicacies of the elves but is feared by man and beast” (Perger 1864, 210*). It is very likely that the pagan Celts partook of the “elf mushroom”:


We can assume with certainty that they used in their rituals various mushrooms, such as the fly agaric, which when dosed carefully evoke visions and trance states. (Markale 1989, 203*)


Today, in such Celtic areas of Great Britain as Wales and Cornwall, neopagans and underground Druids continue to consume “liberty caps” (Psilocybe semilanceata) as a sacrament to invoke the elves. Megalithic dolmens, such as the one found at Chûn Quoit (which looks like a gigantic mushroom), are preferred locales. The British geomancer Paul Devereux has called these dolmens “the dreaming stones” and suggested that at such dream-stimulating347 sites, appropriate earth energies can have inspiring effects upon human consciousness—especially when said consciousness has been expanded by mushrooms (Devereux 1990*, 1992a*, 1992b*; Devereux et al. 1989, 117, 180 ff.*). A traditional Celtic belief holds that these dolmens are entrances to the fairy world (Evans-Wentz 1994*). The keys, of course, are the mushrooms.

The Archaeology of Entheogenic Mushroom Cults


Since fungi are very poorly or not able to be preserved as organic material over long periods of time, they and their fruiting bodies are almost never found during archaeological excavations (Gartz 1992). For this reason, it is practically impossible to state definitively whether fungi had any role to play as ritual offerings or grave goods or to find them as remnants of shamanic activities. From an archaeological perspective, both the shamanic use of fungi and religious mushroom cults can be demonstrated only by means of artifacts and pictorial representations. Often, petroglyphs are the only evidence of a lost culture. It was through rock carvings in the Sahara that the “oldest psychedelic mushroom culture in the world” was discovered (Samorini 1992). Scandinavian petroglyphs have been taken as evidence of mushroom use among the Vikings (Kaplan 1975). Similarly, many Indian petroglyphs have been interpreted as indicating the shamanic use of psychoactive plants (cf. Datura wrightii) and as representations of these plants (Wellmann 1978*, 1981*).

Mushrooms and Petroglyphs


In the Tassili plain of northern Africa (Algeria), a now barren Saharan landscape, rock paintings and petroglyphs dated to between 9000 and 7000 B.C. have been discovered. The illustrations portray a flourishing hunting and pastoral culture (Mori 1974). One group of rock drawings appears to be related to entheogenic mushrooms:


The polychromic scenes of harvest, adoration, and the offering of mushrooms, and large masked “gods” covered with mushrooms . . . lead us to suppose we are dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. . . . [T]hese mushrooms can be distinguished by means of a complex system; every type having its own mythological representation. . . . [T]hey could indeed reflect the most ancient human culture as yet documented in which the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is explicitly represented. (Samorini 1992, 69)


In addition to Psilocybe cubensis, the rock images apparently depict other psychoactive fungi, including Psilocybe cyanescens and Panaeolus spp. (Gartz 1992). The most impressive of the Tassili images feature running or dancing figures that look like anthropomorphized mushrooms and are shown holding a mushroom in their hands. In the entheogenic mushroom culture, a bee-shaped god, out of whose body mushrooms are sprouting, is now regarded as a kind of “primordial deity” (Rätsch 1996**).

A large number of petroglyphs are located in the Southwest of North America. Both the Indians who now live in this region and the archaeologists and ethnologists who study these artifacts interpret them as shamanic scenes (Schaafsma 1992). Some petroglyphs portray “shamans” holding mushrooms or mushroomlike objects in their hands (Rätsch 1994; Samorini 1995a*). While no mushrooms are used for ritual or shamanic purposes in the Southwest today, it is possible that they were used in prehistoric times, when there was a lively cultural exchange between Mexico and the Southwest. Trade routes connected Mexico to the Southwest, and ritual objects (e.g., the sacred Spondylus princeps shells) were known to move north. Dried psilocybin mushrooms may also have traveled along these routes to the cultures of the north (cf. McGuire 1982**).

Some of the “mushroom” petroglyphs may represent the fly agaric mushroom, which was used in shamanic contexts by other North American Indian peoples. The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) and a subspecies or variety (A. muscaria var. formosa), as well as the even more potently hallucinogenic Amanita pantherina, do occur in the Southwest and are not considered rare (States 1990, 57 f.**). Perhaps the shamans of the prehistoric Pueblo Indians ritually consumed fly agarics in remembrance of their Asian origins (Rätsch 1996).

Entheogenic Mushrooms in Antiquity


The Hittites were known to have possessed idols that had the appearance of anthropomorphized mushrooms (Morgan 1995, 112**). The Mycenaeans were originally of Asian descent, and they etymologized their “new home” Mycenae from mykes, “fungus,” to remind themselves of the entheogenic cult that stood at the beginning of their history (Ruck 1995, 32*). When seen from inside, the so-called Treasury of Atreus in Mycenae is a perfect reproduction of a Psilocybe semilanceata cap. According to legend, Perseus, the founder of Mycenae, discovered and apparently ate a mushroom at the site, whereupon he received a vision of his city.

The fact that mushrooms had a special religious or ritual importance in ancient Greek cultures can also be seen in the mushroom chains, strings of beads that are clearly shaped like mushrooms, that were were produced in both Minoan and Hellenistic times (one such example of the jeweler’s art can be seen in the museum of Iráklion, Crete). The Bronze Age has yielded characteristic ceramic figures that are now known as kourotrophos (“wet nurses”). Both the wet nurses and the children they suckled have the shape of mushrooms (Ripinsky-Naxon 1993*). An Etruscan bronze mirror features an image of the Thessalian hero Ixion, an uncle of the legendary Asclepius, as he dances over a mushroom with eagle wings. An amphora from the fourth century

B.C. shows Perseus and the decapitated Medusa, she “who has lost her head.” Above the hero float long-stemmed mushrooms with small, roundish heads. If something looks like a mushroom, it is a mushroom. And all of these images bear strong resemblances to psilocybin mushrooms.

The Greek scholar Carl Ruck interpreted a very enigmatic scene in Aristophanes’ Birds as an allusion to a mushroom cult surrounding the philosopher Socrates:


Amidst the shade-foots,

there is a certain swamp

where Socrates, unwashed,

summons up souls.

Amongst his clients came Peisander,

who begged to see a spirit that had forsaken him

while he remained alive. (1553 ff.)


“Shade-foot,” or monocoli, was a paraphrase for anthropomorphic mushrooms.348 The “pond” was the sacred swamp of Dionysos in Athens. The “unwashed” Socrates was impure because he had profaned the lesser Eleusinian mysteries, i.e., had carried them out in his own home. This is the reason why he was regarded as a summoner of souls, because he had induced the youth, represented here by Peisander, to consume the sacred drug. That the latter would search for the soul that had slipped out of his living body (a thoroughly shamanic motif) during an appropriate mushroom ritual can be understood only in this way. According to Ruck, the main mysteries at Eleusis, during which kykeon was administered, were contrasted by these “lesser rites” in which entheogenic mushrooms were cultically consumed (Ruck 1981**).

Support for this assertion comes from a late ancient relief found in Eleusis that dates to the fourth century A.D. On the relief are Demeter and Persephone; the Great Goddess is shown holding a mushroom in her hand, which she is presenting to Persephone (Stamets 1996, 14**).

The Mesoamerican Mushroom Stones


A number of stone artifacts have been found in southern Mesoamerica, primarily in Chiapas and Oaxaca (Mexico), Guatemala, and El Salvador. Around 30 cm in height, they have become known by the name mushroom stones in both the academic and the popular literature (Ohi and Torres 1994; Rose 1977; Trebes 1997). Some of these artifacts are well over two thousand years old. Most are small objets d’art (stone sculptures) depicting animals or humans, from whose backs or heads mushroom-shaped objects emerge. Many of these objects have been found and documented (Mayer 1977, 1979). Recently, a mushroom stone was discovered in the region occupied by the Maya (Trebes 1997).

The German geographer Carl Sapper (1898) regarded these stones as “mushroom-shaped images of idols.” The American scholar Daniel G. Brinton (1898) was of the opinion that these objects are moon symbols. In contrast, the American archaeologist Thomas W. Gann (1911) viewed them as phallic symbols (cf. also Bruder 1978). R. Gordon Wasson (1961**) saw the mushroom stones as symbols of an archaic entheogenic mushroom religion. The German pre-Columbian scholar Ulrich Köhler (1976) argued that the mushroom stones are forms for making pottery (see the criticism in Lowy 1981). The Mexican mycologist Gastón Guzmán (1984) has argued that the mushroom stones are representations of culinary mushrooms, e.g., the edible “porcini mushroom,” Boletus edulis Buillard ex Fries (cf. Boletusspp.). The most commonly held view is that the mushroom stones are ritual objects that were associated with the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms.


The ancient “mushroom stone” of Delphi looks like a naturalistic representation of a Psilocybe semilanceata cap. Classical archaeologists, however, have interpreted it as a model of the omphalos, “navel of the world.” It does make sense that the navel of the world should be sought in the cap of a psychedelic mushroom.



A Central American mushroom stone (Maya, El Salvador, ca. 300 B.C. to 200 A.D.), in which the spirit of the mushroom appears to be emerging from the stem. (Illustration: Sebastian Rätsch)



monocoli or one-foot, which R. Gordon Wasson sees as a symbol of the sacred mushroom. (From Schedels Weltchronik, 1493)


“Then, indeed, as you lie there bemushroomed, listening to the music and seeing the visions, you know a soul-shattering experience, recalling as you do the belief of some early peoples that mushrooms, the sacred mushrooms, are divinely engendered by Parjanya, the Aryan God of the Lightning-bolt, in the Soft Mother Earth.”





A running mushroom shaman from Tassili. (Illustration: Christian Rätsch)



A petroglyph from the American Southwest (Dry Fork Valley, Utah) may be a depiction of a shaman with a mask and a sacred mushroom. (Illustration: Christian Rätsch.)


The discovery of nine small mushroom stones (14 to 18 cm in height) together with small, easy-to-use grinding stones (metate and mano) in a ritual depot at Kaminaljuyú (Guatemala) suggests that the mushroom stones were venerated as idols and the other stones were used to grind dried mushrooms as part of a mushroom cult (Borhegyi 1961; Lowy 1971). Ethnohistorical sources (Lowy 1980**) from the area where the stones were recovered bear witness to the ritual use of the mushroom stones:


The “Titulo de Totonicapán,” which dates to the colonial period, confirms that during their enthronement, the rulers of the Quiché received the insignia of their kingly power as well as nanakat abaj beleje, “nine mushroom stones.” Although these text passages refer to practices from the post-Classic period, they clearly demonstrate the continuation of a sculptural tradition that is rooted in pre-Classic times. Mushroom stones may have already been a part of the insignia of kingly power in the pre-Classic period, because only the princes enjoyed the special privilege of consuming mushrooms with hallucinogenic effects. (Die Welt der Maya, 1992, 314)


In western Mexico (Nayarit), a number of ceramic objects have been found that may be representations of ritual mushroom consumption (Furst 1965; Kan et al. 1989, 82 f., 91). Ceramic figures discovered in Jalisco depict drumming men with strange, mushroomlike growths on their heads (Kan et al. 1989, 126 f.). Are these representations of shamans in a mushroom-induced trance state?

The contemporary Maya regard artifacts from pre-Columbian times as divine objects or gifts of the gods. These artifacts are considered to be especially powerful and are used as amulets and images of gods. The Lacandon Maya occasionally find artifacts while working their fields or in the forest. They call these ceramics u pat k’uh,“pottery of the gods.” Ceremonial axes are known as u baat k’uh, “axes of the gods.” Artifacts and stones of spherical shape are referred to as kuxun tun, “mushroom stones” or “living stones.” The usual word for stone is tunich, while tun tends to be used to refer to precious stones. Perhaps the term kuxun tun is a last linguistic reminder of the pre-Columbian mushroom stones.

Today, Psilocybe mushroom fans from around the world collect reproductions of these mushroom stones. Both reproductions and forgeries have been on the market since the 1960s (Mayer 1977, 2). Those tourists who visit Mexico in search of mushrooms have led enterprising souvenir makers to produce small mushroom stones (hongitos) and amulet-like pendants. These are made from stone (onyx, marble, chalcedony, obsidian), black coral, amber, ceramic, and even papier-mâché. Many of these souvenirs have landed on the house altars of mushroom lovers throughout the world (Rätsch 1996**).

The Golden Mushrooms of the Tairona


In pre-Hispanic Colombia, a number of cultures flourished that were well versed in the manufacture of gold jewelry. Of these, the goldwork of the Tairona incorporates obvious shamanic elements (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1981, 1988). It is probable that the Tairona knew of and ritually used psycho-active mushrooms. A large number of the figured gold objects known as the Darien pectorals display unequivocal mushroom ornamentations (Schultes and Bright 1979). Reichel-Dolmatoff has described the ritual use of psychoactive mushrooms among the Kogi, the descendents of the Tairona (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1977, 285*). From a mycological perspective, the “blue puffball” (cf. Lycoperdon) is completely unknown; the other species, which is not described, may be a Psilocybe. After all, Psilocybe yungensis Sing. et Smith [syn. Psilocybe acutissima Heim, P. isauri Singer; cf. Psilocybe spp.] is found throughout South America (Singer 1978, 59**). There also are reports of visionary experiences produced by Psilocybespecies collected near the village of San Agustín (Mandel 1992).

The Dolmens of India


In Kerala (southern India), there are a number of prehistoric stone structures (dolmens) that belong to the megalithic culture and date to the period between 1400 B.C. and 100 A.D. In the Malayalam language of Kerala, they are known as kuda-kallu, “umbrella stones”349; the interiors are called garbba-gripa, “uterus chambers” (Rippchen 1993, 99**). The structures are 1.5 to 2 meters in height and are built of five stones that are put together in such a way that they resemble a mushroom: “In the indigenous tradition, they are typically interpreted as parasols and regarded as archaic symbols of power, authority, and sacredness” (Samorini 1995, 33). In modern India, it is thought that these dolmens, known as umbrella stones, are a symbol for Psilocybe spp. (Jain 1991, 151*). It has also been suggested that these stones are related to an archaic cult of the dead or to the Vedic soma cult:


If the kuda-kallu represented mushrooms, then these were psychoactive mushrooms, i.e., mushrooms that were much more suitable than others—e.g., culinary mushrooms—for associating with a cult of the dead. There appears to be no direct connection between the kuda-kallu and the Vedic soma, in the sense that these monuments do not appear to be emblems of a cult which may have emerged because of or been influenced by the soma cult, for the cult associated with the kudakallu developed in a period which certainly predated the contact with the Aryans in South India. (Samorini 1995, 33)


The appearance of the Kerala mushroom stones does not so much recall species from the genera Psilocybe and Paneolus as it does those from Amanita and Boletus (cf. nonda). Both the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) and the panther cap (Amanita pantherina) are found in Kerala. It is possible that the kuda-kallu were associated with an Amanita cult. In the village of Ambalathara, near Thiruvananthapuram in modern Kerala, there is a temple to Devi, the radiant goddess of the plant devas (Storl 1997, 21 ff.*), that appears to have been built to resemble the kuda-kallu and which looks like a gigantic mushroom (Samorini 1995, 36). The Naga of this region are said to still consume fly agaric mushrooms for psychoactive purposes.

There are several megalithic dolmens in Cornwall (e.g., Chûn Quoit) that strongly resemble the Indian kuda-kallu. In the barren landscape, these giant mushroomlike objects are visible over great distances (Devereux 1990, 154 f.*; 1992, 182 f.).



Borhegyi, Stephan F. de. 1961. Miniature mushroom stones from Guatemala. American Antiquity 26 (4): 498–504.


———. 1963. Pre-Columbian pottery mushrooms from Mesoamerica. American Antiquity 28 (3): 328–38.


———. 1965. Some unusual Mesoamerican portable stone sculptures in the Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin. Baessler-Archiv, n.f., 13:171–206.


———. 1969a. “Miniature” and small stone artifacts from Mesoamerica. Baessler-Archiv, n.f., 17:245–64.


———. 1969b. Stone, bone, and shell objects from Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala. Baessler-Archiv, n.f., 17:265–302.


Brinton, Daniel G. 1898. Mushroom-shaped images. Science, n.s., 8 (187): 127.


Bruder, Claus J. 1978. Die Phallus-Darstellung bei den Maya: Ein Fruchtbarkeits-Symbol. Ethnologia Americana 14 (5): 809–15.


Devereux, Paul. 1992. Secrets of ancient and sacred places. London: Blandford.


Die Welt der Maya. 1992. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern. (An exhibition catalogue.)


Furst, Peter T. 1965. West Mexican tomb art as evidence for shamanism in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. Antropologica 15:29–80.


Gann, Thomas W. 1911. Exploration carried on in British Honduras during 1908/1909. Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 4:72–87.


Gartz, Jochen. 1992. Der älteste bekannte Pilzkult—ein mykologischer Vergleich. Jahrbuch des Europäischen Collegiums fürBewußtseinsstudien (ECBS) 1992: 91–94. Berlin: VWB.


Guzmán, Gastón. 1984. El uso de los hongos en Mesoamérica. Ciencia y Desarrollo 59:17–27.


Kan, Michael, Clement Meighan, and H. B. Nicholson. 1989. Sculpture of ancient west Mexico. Los Angeles: County Museum of Art.


Kaplan, Reid W. 1975. The sacred mushroom in Scandinavia. Man, n.s., 10:72–79.


Köhler, Ulrich. 1976. Mushrooms, drugs, and potters: A new approach to the function of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican mushroom stones. American Antiquity 41 (2): 145–53.


Lajoux, Jean-Dominique. 1963. The rock paintings of the Tassili. New York: World Publishing.


Lowy, Bernard. 1971. New records of mushroom stones from Guatemala. Mycologia 63 (5): 983–93.


———. 1981. Were mushroom stones potter’s molds? Revista/Review Interamericana 11:231–37.


Mandel, Michael. 1992. Eine sonderbare Begegnung.


Integration 2/3:132–33. (A report on an experience with a Psilocybe species in San Augustín, Colombia.)


Mayer, Karl Herbert. 1977. The mushroom stones of Mesoamerica. Ramona, Calif.: Acoma Books. (Contains an excellent bibliography.)


———. 1979. Pilzsteine und Pilzkulte Mesoamerikas. Das Altertum 25 (1): 40–48.


Mori, Fabrizio. 1974. The earliest Saharan rock-engravings. Antiquity 48 (197): 87–92.


Ohi, Kuniaki, and Miguel R. Torres, eds. 1994. Piedras-Hongo. Tokyo: Museo de Tabaco y Sal. (Japanese and Spanish.)


Rätsch, Christian. 1994. Pilze und Petroglyphen im Südwesten der USA. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1994 (3): 199–206. Berlin: VWB.


———. 1996. Addendum zu “Pilze und Petroglyphen im Südwesten Nordamerikas.” Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1995 (4): 307. Berlin: VWB. (An addendum to the preceding article.)


Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. 1981. Things of beauty replete with meaning: Metals and crystals in Colombian Indian cosmology. In Sweat of the suntears of the moon, 17–33. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.


———. 1988. Goldwork and shamanism: An iconographic study of the Gold Museum. Medellín: Editorial Colina.


Rose, Richard Maurice. 1977. Mushroom stones of Mesoamerica. PhD thesis, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Samorini, Giorgio. 1989. Etnomicologia nell’arte rupestre sahariana (Periodo delle “Teste Rotonde”). B. C. Notizie 6 (2): 18–22.


———. 1992. The oldest representations of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the world (Sahara Desert, 9000–7000 B.P.). Integration 2/3:69–78.


———. 1995. Umbrella-stones or mushroom-stones? (Kerala, southern India). Integration 6:33–40.


Samorini, Giorgio, and Gilberto Camilla. 1995. Rappresentazioni fungine nell’arte greca. Annali dei Musei Civici di Rovereto 10 (1994): 307–25.


Sapper, Carl. 1898. Pilzförmige Götzenbilder aus Guatemala und San Salvador. Globus 73 (20): 327.


Schaafsma, Polly. 1992. Indian rock art of the Southwest. Santa Fe: A School of American Research Book; Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.


Schultes, Richard Evans, and Alec Bright. 1979. Ancient gold pectorals from Colombia: Mushroom effigies? Botanical Museum Leaflets 27 (5–6): 113–41.


Trebes, Stefan. 1997. Ein Pilzstein aus dem mesoamerikanischen Maya-Gebiet. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1996 (5): 241–46. Berlin: VWB.



These Mesoamerican seals from prehistoric times look like mushroom-covered mandalas.



Mushroom-shaped petroglyphs on a stone from Stonehenge—evidence of a psychoactive mushroom cult? (From Samorini)


“The mushrooms were moist, looked greenish, and were very dirty. As I bit into the first one, I had to choke. . . .


I noticed that my husband’s red-checked shirt was intensely colorful.


I stared at the rough wooden furniture. The cracks and knotholes in the wood seemed to change form. Suddenly Masha cried: ‘I am a chicken!’ We both broke into resounding laughter. This comment was just too funny. . . . Then the walls shrank back, and I was carried off—up and away—on swaying waves of light turquoise. I do not know how long I was under way. I came to France, to the caves of Lascaux in Dordogne. We had been to France once, and I immediately recognized the giant stone vault above me and the beautiful primitive paintings of the former cave dwellers, the horses, bison, and deer on the walls. The paintings were even more beautiful than in reality. They appeared to be covered in a crystal-clear light. . . . Now I knew what the shamans meant when they say: ‘The mushroom carries you to a divine place.’ ”




(RIPPCHEN 1993, 128 f.**)


Cultivating Mushrooms


In a comic story by Gilbert Sheldon, his heroes, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, decide that they would like to grow psilocybin mushrooms. Fat Freddy collects a wheelbarrowful of cow dung from a nearby pasture, which he then tips into the bathtub. Because the mushrooms sprout every time it rains, he sprays the dung thoroughly with water. The following day, Fat Freddy goes in to gather his harvest. He finds no sign of mushrooms but does find millions of cockroaches. Disturbed in the midst of their feast, they quickly flee for other parts. . . .

Growing mushrooms at home can have results such as these. Although it appears simple in principle, it can entail almost insurmountable difficulties. Some methods for growing mushrooms for culinary or medicinal purposes have long been in use, e.g., growing mushrooms on straw, a practice that comes from ancient China (Chang 1977).

The simplest way to grow mushrooms is outdoors, e.g., in one’s own garden. The psychoactive mushroom species most suited for this purpose are Psilocybe azurescens and Psilocybe cyanescens. Both species grow wild in forests and are excellent for the climate of central Europe.

First dig a pit 20 to 25 cm deep. Fill the bottom with a layer of small pieces of wood (approximately 5 to 10 cm thick). Mix each mycelium with wood chips or mulch, moisten the mixture thoroughly, and spread it over the bottom layer. Spread a layer of wood shavings over this. Cover the site with leaves and small branches. The bed should never dry out, lest the mycelia stop growing. To prevent moisture loss, foil or wooden boards may be laid over the bed. When the mycelia feel at home and have spread, a rich harvest will erupt when the weather conditions are right (in central Europe, this usually occurs in October, after a period of some ten days with much precipitation and temperatures under 10°C). Since the mushrooms require nutrients after the fruiting bodies have been harvested, the upper layer of mycelium-filled wood should be replaced with fresh wood chips or mulch. Sometimes the mushrooms will spread outside of the bed and may suddenly appear in neighbors’ gardens, much to their delight.

Some methods of laboratory cultivation were developed for the mycological and chemical investigations of Psilocybe mexicana. In the mid-1970s, mushroom hobbyists discovered a method for growingPsilocybe (Strophariacubensis (“the mushroom that comes from the stars”) at home and published their findings (Oss and Oeric 1976). This book has been translated into a number of languages and has been banned more than once. To date, more than five hundred thousand copies have been published (not to mention the illegal copies). Many people have successfully followed these cultivation methods. With time, other books on growing mushrooms have appeared, some of which make no mention of magic mushrooms or refer to them only cryptically. Nevertheless, these too have provided home growers with useful information (Harris 1989; Meixner 1989; Pollock 1977; Stamets 1993; Stamets and Chilton 1983). In recent years, the species Psilocybe cyanescens and Panaeolus cyanescens have also been successfully grown in home laboratories.

Ethnobotanical specialty stores are increasingly offering spore prints and mycelia of psilocybin mushrooms (the trade in spores is still legal in many countries). Kits for growing mushrooms, together with detailed instructions, are also available. Growing spores on a substrate is actually quite easy and usually fails only when the petri dishes are not sterilized properly and other wild molds settle on the substrate. Substrates such as agar and rye are available in specialty shops. It is also worthwhile to consult the specialized literature on the subject. The books by Paul Stamets and the articles by Jochen Gartz are especially useful.

The methods of mushroom cultivation are continually being improved and simplified for home use (Gartz 1993a, 1993b; Stamets 1993). Some methods that can increase the psilocybin content have been discovered (Badham 1985). When tryptamine is added to the substrate, the mushrooms are able to quickly metabolize it into psilocybin and psilocin. Phosphates can also aid in this process (Gartz 1991).


A homegrown culture of Psilocybe cyanescens with mature fruiting bodies.



A culture of Psilocybe azurescens that is just beginning to fruit.




Chang, Shu-Ting. 1977. The origin and early development of straw mushroom cultivation. Economic Botany 31:374–76.


Dittmer, Werner. 1994. Frische Pilze selbst gezogen. 2nd ed. Munich: BLV.


Englbrecht, Jolanda. 1994. Pilzanbau in Haus und Garten. Stuttgart: Ullmer.


Gartz, Jochen. 1991. Einflüsse von Phosphat auf Fruktifikation und Sekundärmechanismen der Myzelien von Psilocybe cubensisPsilocybe semilanceata und Gymnopilus purpuratusZeitschrift für Mykologie 57:149–54.


———. 1993a. Eine neuere Methode der Pilzzucht aus Nordamerika. Integration 4:37-38.


———. 1993b. New aspects of the occurrence, chemistry and cultivation of European hallucinogenic mushrooms. In Atti del 2° Convegno Nazionale sugli Avvelenamenti da FunghiAnnali dei Musei Civici di Rovereto suppl. 8 (1992): 107–23.


———. 1994. Extraction and analysis of indole derivatives from fungal biomass. Journal of Basic Microbiology 34 (1): 17–22.


———. 1995. Cultivation and analysis of Psilocybe species and an investigation of Galerina steglichiiAnnali dei Musei Civici di Rovereto 10 (1994): 297–305.


Gottlieb, Adam. 1976. Psilocybin producer’s guide. Hermosa Beach, Calif.: Kistone Press.


———. 1997. Psilocybin production. Berkeley, Calif.: Ronin.


Hadeler, Hajo. 1995. Medicinal mushrooms you can grow. Sechelt, British Columbia: Cariaga.


Harris, Bob. 1989. Growing wild mushrooms. A complete guide to cultivating edible and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Rev. ed. Seattle: Homestead Book Co.


Meixner, Axel. 1989. Pilze selber züchten. Aarau: AT Verlag.


Oss, O. T., and O. N. Oeric (= Terence McKenna and Dennis McKenna). 1976. Psilocybin: Magic mushroom grower’s guide. Berkeley, Calif.: And/Or Press.


Pollock, Steven Hayden. 1977. Magic mushroom cultivation. San Antonio: Herbal Medicine Research Foundation.


Stamets, Paul. 1995. Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. Rev. ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press.


———. 1998. Gardening with gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press.


Stamets, Paul, and J. S. Chilton. 1983. The mushroom cultivar. Olympia, Wash.: Agarikon Press.


Stevens, Jule, and Rich Gee. 1977. How to identify and grow psilocybin mushrooms. Rev. ed. Seattle: Sun Magic Publishing.


Mushrooms and the Law


Psilocybin and psilocin, the active compounds in many psychoactive mushrooms (but not the mushrooms themselves!), are listed in Section I of the German drug laws of 1982 (Betäubungsmittelgesetz) as drugs, trafficking in which is prohibited (Geschwinde 1990, 110*; Körner 1994, 40*):


As “plants,” mushrooms are not subject to the German drug laws, for they simply contain psilocybin. The cultivation of mushrooms is not punishable, so it is not a question of the growth stage. The harvesting and preparation of mushrooms, however, can constitute a manufacturing offense. Consequently, trafficking in spores is not illegal. In the same way, a setup for cultivating mushrooms is not illegal. (Böhm 1993, 174)


Psilocybin mushrooms thus thrive in a legal limbo. If the active constituents psilocybin and psilocin were not proscribed as “narcotics,” dried mushrooms and/or Galenic preparations made from them would be available in German pharmacies as medicines requiring a prescription.

The legal situation in the United States is similar, although the laws are applied much more frequently and with much greater severity than in Germany (Boire 1995; Shulgin 1992*). In Mexico, mushrooms of the genera Panaeolusand Psilocybe are illegal (the Conquest and the Inquisition have not yet ended!).

In the Netherlands, it is permitted to sell freshly cultivated mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensisPsilocybe cyanescensPanaeolus cyanescens).

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) and panther cap mushrooms (Amanita pantherina) are legal in Germany (Körner 1994, 1572*).



Böhm, Rüdiger. 1993. Zauberpilze im Recht. In Zauberpilze, ed. R. Rippchen, 173–74. Löhrbach: MedienXperimente.


Boire, Richard Glen. 1995. Sacred mushrooms and the law. Davis, Calif.: Spectral Mindustries (P.O. Box 73401, Davis, CA 95617–3401).


“‘MEXICAN MUSHROOMS!’ Meanwhile, psiloc(yb)in mushrooms are being sold openly at some Goa open-air parties. Outside of these ‘temporary autonomous zones,’ the uncertain legal situation means that people are not quite as courageous as in the Netherlands. In the summer of 1994, the owner of the Amsterdam smart drug shop ‘Conscious Dreams’ was the first to dare to sell cultivated psiloc(yb)in mushrooms of the species Psilocybe cubensis openly across the counter. It did not take long for the police to show up. The case went before the court. There, as here, the almost identically functioning constituents of the mushroom, psilocin and psilocybin, are forbidden by the opium and narcotic laws. The mushrooms, however, are not explicitly forbidden. The court’s decision noted that the amount of active constituents becomes highly concentrated only when the mushrooms are dried (namely, by about a factor of 10 compared to fresh mushrooms), and only then could one speak of an illegal substance. In no time, only fresh mushrooms were being offered.”