The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Amanita muscaria (L. ex Fr.) Persoon ex Hooker


Fly Agaric




Agaricaceae; Subfamily Amanitaceae, Amanita Section

Forms and Subspecies


The following varieties of fly agaric are generally accepted (Ott 1996):350


Amanita muscaria var. alba (Peck) Saccardo—is completely white and is found primarily in Idaho

Amanita muscaria var. aureola Kalchbr.—rare!

Amanita muscaria var. formosa (Fr.) Saccardo—has a yellow cap

Amanita muscaria var. muscaria


In addition, a subspecies with an orange-yellow cap has been described for Central America (Mexico):


Amanita muscaria ssp. flavivolvata Singer



Agaricus muscarius L.

Agaricus muscarius Pers.

Amanita formosa Gom. et Rab.

Amanita mexicana Reko nom. nud.

Amanita muscaria var. mexicana Reko nom. nud.

Folk Names


Agaric au mouches (French), agaric moucheté (French), äh kib lu’um (Lacandon Mayan, “the light of the earth”), aka-haetori (Japanese, “red flycatcher”), amanite tue-mouches, amoroto (Basque, “the toadlike thing”), ampakhaw (Igorot), ashitaka-beni-take (Japanese, “long-legged mushroom”), beni-tengu-take (Japanese, “red tengu mushroom”), bolg losgainn (Irish, “toad mushroom”), bolond gomba (Hungarian, “fool’s mushroom”), bunte poggenstool, caws llyffant (Welsh), crapaudin (French, from crapaud “toad”), düwelsbrûet, escula, fanká’am (Tawgi), fausseoronge, fleugenschwamm, fliegenkredling, fliegenpilz, fliegenschwamm, fliegenschwemme, fliegenteufel, fluesop (Norwegian), fluesvamp (Danish), flugsvamp (Swedish), flugswampt, fly agaric, fly amanite, flybane, fly fungus, fungus muscarius, giftblaume, grapudin, grzyb muszy (Polish), ha-ma chün (Chinese, “toad mushroom”), hango (Celtic), how k’an c/uh (Chuj, “poisonous yellow squash skin”), itzel ocox (Quiché, “diabolical mushroom”), kabell tousec (Breton), kaqualjá (Quiché), kaquljá (Quiché), kaquljá okox (Quiché, “thunderbolt mushroom”), kärbseseene (Estonian), kärpässieni (Finnish), kässchwamm, krötenpilz, krötenstuhl, matamosques (Catalan, “fly killer”), migeschwamb, miggeschamm, miskwedo (Ojibwa), moucheté, mousseron, muchomor (Polish), mucho-more, muchumor, mückenpfeffer, muckenschwamm, mückenschwamm, muckenschwemme, muhamor, muhovna goba (Slovenian), mukamor, mukhomor (Russian, “fly death”), mukkenswam, muscinery, musmira (Latvian), mussiomiré (Lithuanian), narrenschwamm, oriol foll (Catalan, “crazy Loriot”), oronja (Spanish), paddehat (Danish), paddockstool, pain de crapault, panga (Ostyak), panx (Vogul), pfifferling, pin d’crapâ (French, “toad bread”), pinka, poddehût (Frisian), ponx (Ostyak), premate-it, puddockstool, rabenbrot, reig bord (Catalan, “untrue mushroom”), rocox aj tza (Kekchi, “devil’s mushroom”), röd flugsvamp, roter fliegenschwamm, rote tüfus-beeri, ruk’awach q’uatzu:y (Cakchiquel), shtantalok, shtantilok, skabell tousec, soma, sunneschirmche, tignosa dorata (Italian), toadcheese, toad’s bread, toad’s cap, toadskep, toad’s meat, toadstool, todestoll, tshashm baskon (Afghanistan, “eye opener”), tue-mouche, tzajal yuy chauk (Tzeltal, “red thunderbolt mushroom”), vliegenpaddestoel, vliegenzwam (Dutch), wapaq (Koryak), wliachenschbomm, wliagenschbamm, yuy chauk (Tzeltal), yuyo de rayo (Mexican Spanish)



There is no debate about the fact that the psychoactive fly agaric mushroom is associated with shamanism. Over the past decades, it has become ever clearer that this mushroom was or is used throughout the world. In spite of all the efforts that have been made to prove it, Wasson’s thesis that the fly agaric was the renowned soma of the Aryans is still unproved (Wasson 1968, 1972), as is the question of whether the fly agaric was the tree of knowledge. The suggestion that the fly agaric was in fact a secret means for Buddhist monks to induce states of enlightenment remains speculation as well (Hajicek-Dobberstein 1995). Moreover, it is uncertain when the mushroom was first used for shamanic purposes. However, it has been possible to confirm that it had a shamanic significance in the Germanic regions. And it is possible that the fly agaric found ritual use among the prehistoric Beaker people, who used Stonehenge as a ritual site (Burl 1987, 106 f.).

Although the shamanic use of the fly agaric in Siberia was discovered only in the eighteenth century, it has been suggested that its use is rooted in the Stone Age and that it was used throughout Europe. Wasson (1961**; 1986, 78 f.**) has suggested that the fly agaric and its effects were well known and its shamanic usage was common throughout Asia before the Bering Straits were crossed. When the Paleoindians migrated into North America, they brought the fly agaric cult with them and continued it in the Americas. However, because of the availability of psilocybin mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.), which are more easily tolerated and produce more intense visions, the cult was largely forgotten. Traces of the fly agaric cult have been found in Mesoamerica (Rätsch 1995b), and it still exists (at least in part) in North America (Navet 1993; Wasson 1979). The Siberian use of the fly agaric bears many similarities to the North American fly agaric cult of the Ojibwa Indians (Kutalek 1995).

“If we do not want to admit that the reason why this poisonous mushroom was used was to produce a sacred inebriation, then we can ask what other purpose it was used for? And here there is only one possible answer, namely that when the grain failed, and under the pressure of the desire for stimulating agents, the natives turned to every kind of plant material. . . . And certainly nothing merited the religious veneration with which such plants were regarded more than this amazing poisonous plant—Amanita muscaria.”





The skin of the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) acquires a velvety sheen when dried. It can be smoked either alone or mixed with other plants (e.g., hemp, thorn apple, tobacco, belladonna, peppermint, angel’s trumpet).


The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) in the three stages of its development, each of which can be interpreted mythologically: the world egg, the divine phallus, and Eros with wings spread. (Photographed near Seattle, Washington)


In his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970), John Allegro, a former Jesuit who apparently had access to certain ancient writings that are preserved in the Vatican but unavailable to the public, advanced the theory that Jesus was actually a fly agaric mushroom and that the so-called original Christianity was a secret fly agaric cult. The fly agaric was the flesh of Christ that was consumed at the evening meal—a nocturnal cult circle—together with the blood of Christ, red wine (cf. Vitis vinifera). If Allegro is correct, then the original Christianity would have been a direct continuation of the cult of Dionysos, in which the adherents apparently consumed a wine that contained mushrooms (Allegro 1971).

Robert Graves (1957**, 1960**) has argued that ambrosia, which the centaurs used to honor Dionysos in the autumn, was in fact fly agaric.351 He has also suggested that the maenads did not merely consume beer or wine (cf. Vitis vinifera) to which ivy had been added (cf. Hedera helix), but that they also were inebriated from fly agarics.

Wohlberg (1990) views the Thracian Dionysos Sabazios as the analog of the Indian soma and the Persian haoma (cf. Peganum harmala) and has propounded the theory that the Thracian god is identical to the fly agaric mushroom.352 Carl Ruck has suggested that the secret offering of the Hyperboreans to the Delian Apollo was a fly agaric mushroom and was thus the last reminder of the Indo-Germanic soma (Ruck 1983**). He views the leopard, the sacred animal of Dionysos, as a symbol for the fly agaric, which was consumed ritually and used for entheogenic purposes, because the marks on the leopard’s coat resemble those on a dried fly agaric cap (Ruck 1995, 133**). In general, Ruck regards the fly agaric as the original entheogen of the Greek culture(s), which over the course of time was replaced by a variety of (placebo) agents (olives, Viola odorata L., Consolida ajacis [L.] Schur. [syn. Delphinium ajacis L.; cf. Delphinium consolida], Apium graveolens L., hippomanes,353Aconitum napellusCrocus sativusConium maculatum) and ultimately forgotten (Ruck 1995*). The pine (Pinus pinea L.) and spruce (Pinus pinaster L., Pinus nigra Arnold, Pinus spp.) were sacred to Dionysos because they are the trees with which the fly agaric lives in a symbiotic relationship (Ruck 1995, 137*). The Golden Fleece and the golden apples of the Hesperides354 have also been interpreted as fly agarics (Allegro 1971; Hajicek-Dobberstein 1995). Vestiges of this ancient or archaic fly agaric cult may have been preserved among the Basques and in Catalonia (Fericgla 1992, 1994).

It is possible that the fly agaric was known in Egypt by the name raven’s bread.355 Because some legends say that Saint Anthony (cf. Claviceps purpurea) nourished himself in the wilderness on bread that had been brought to him by ravens or similar birds, it has been suggested that fly agarics produced the visions that tempted Saint Anthony (Klapp 1985). It has also been proposed that the fly agaric was the “elixir” of the alchemists of the late ancient and subsequent periods; it has even been interpreted as the Grail (Heinrich 1995).

Pliny was apparently aware of the fly agaric. But like so many after him, he erroneously thought it to be a deadly poison:


With certain [mushrooms], the toxicity can be easily seen in the pale red color; the disgusting appearance, the bluish coloration of the inside, the furrowed lammellae, and the pallid border that surrounds it. These features are not found on some; dry, and similar to the truffle [cf. Lycoperdon], these bear more or less whitish drops from their skin on the cap. (22.93)


The name fungus muscarius appeared in 1256 in the work De Vegetabilibus, written by the monk Albertus Magnus (Neukom 1996, 390). One of the oldest sources to mention the fly agaric by name is the Kräuterbuch [Herbal] of the physician Johannes Hartlieb, published in 1440:


The rare yellow North American subspecies of the fly agaric, Amanita muscaria var. formosa. (Photographed near Olympia, Washington)



The dried cap of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) has been used as a shamanic inebriant since the Stone Age.


There is also the sort of fungus that is impure, broad and thick and red with white spots on the top, when mixed with milk, it will kill the flies that are around, this is why it is known as the fly fungi, muscineryin Latin. (folio 16)


After Hartlieb, the fly agaric received only sporadic mention or description in later herbals, including those of Gerard (1633) and Lonicerus (1679). Those that did remark on the fly agaric noted its use as a fly poison, but they made no mention of its psychoactive effects! These psychoactive effects were first described in modern times by travelers to Siberia (Bauer et al. 1991, 121–64; Rosenbohm 1991, 26–60). Around 1880, during a period of widespread wine shortages, an Italian physician suggested that the populace turn to fly agaric as an inebriant (Samorini 1996).

In some areas, fly agarics are eaten for food. In the region around Hamburg, which is very rich in fly agarics, mushrooms with their red skin removed were made into soups. In some Alpine valleys, fresh fly agarics are still sliced and made into an appetizer with vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper (cf. Piper spp.). In Japan, fly agarics are one of the culinary specialties of the rural population. In Russia, fresh fly agarics are added to vodka (cf. alcohol) to improve its effects.



The fly agaric mushroom grows only in symbiosis with birch (Betula spp.) and/or pine (Pinus spp.) trees. But in those places in which these trees occur, it is found throughout the world. It can be found in arctic, temperate, and even tropical climate zones (Alaska, Siberia, Scandinavia, central Europe, North America, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines). It sometimes occurs in the form of fairy rings.356



To date, attempts to grow or cultivate fly agaric mushrooms have been unsuccessful.



The mycelium is white in color. The fruiting body can grow as tall as 25 cm and form caps as large as 20 cm in diameter. The remnants of the velum remain on the cap in the form of white spots. The fly agaric fruits in central Europe from August until the beginning of November and in North America usually in October.

Although the fly agaric is the most easily recognizable of all the fungi, confusion can sometimes occur. The fly agaric is most commonly confused with a related species, Amanita regalis (Fr.) Michael [syn. Amanita muscaria var. umbrina Fr.], which is found primarily in mountains at altitudes above 400 meters. The fly agaric can also be confused with the panther mushroom (Amanita pantherina) or Caesar’s amanita (Amanita caesarea [Scop. ex Fr.] Pers. ex Schw.), a delicious culinary mushroom (cf. Roth et al. 1990, 42**). In the button stage, the fly agaric bears a certain resemblance to puffballs: “Very young fly agarics that are not yet showing any red on the outside can also be confused with the common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) [cf. Lycoperdon]” (Bresinsky and Besl 1985, 104**).

Psychoactive Material


—Fruiting body (fungus muscarius)

Preparation and Dosage


The fruiting bodies can be used both fresh and dried. When the fresh mushrooms are to be used for culinary purposes, they must be soaked in cold water for at least one hour before they are prepared (this dissolves the active substances). The soaking water can be drunk to produce psychoactive effects. Fresh mushrooms are well suited for use with alcohol. One to three specimens can be added to a bottle of vodka (or any other type of alcohol) and placed in a warm location or, preferably, on a windowsill in the sun. After one week, the fly agaric schnapps will be ready for use. Often, one glass is sufficient to produce psychoactive effects. Fresh mushrooms can also be sautéed in butter and eaten (they are delicious).

To dry the mushrooms, place them in the sun or on a rack in an oven set at low heat (30° to 40° Celsius). The dried results can be smoked (either alone or in smoking blends), crumbled into a drink (e.g., beer or wine), or simply eaten as they are. Synergistic effects, typically with aphrodisiac sensations, can be produced by smoking mixtures that include, e.g., henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), thorn apple (Datura stramonium), and hemp (Cannabis indica). Fly agaric prevents the mucous membranes from drying out, a side effect that can occur with both nightshade plants and hemp.

In Siberia, dried fly agaric mushrooms are mixed for consumption or use with freshly pressed bog bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) or rose bay willow herb (Epilobium angustifolium L.) (Hartwich 1911, 257*; Saar 1991, 168; Schultes 1969, 246*). The mixture is either used as is or diluted with water, fermented, and made into a kind of fly agaric beer. The urine from people inebriated by fly agarics also can be drunk (Bourke 1996, 55 ff.*).

It is also possible to drink rainwater that has collected in fly agaric caps when they are in the goblet stage (in which the caps are turned upward). This is essentially a cold-water extract, and it has distinct psychoactive effects. This naturally occurring extract has been called “dwarves’ wine” (Bauer 1995).

It has been suggested that fly agarics were an ingredient in witches’ ointments.

The literature provides varying information about dosages, ranging from one mushroom to more than ten (Festi and Biachi 1992):


The lethal dose lies above 100 grams of fresh mushrooms. In some locations, however, the quantity of toxins can be very low and the fly agaric may be eaten without side effects. Fly agaric intoxications make up 1–2% of all cases of mushroom poisoning. (Roth et al. 1990, 42**)


Fly agarics are usually not as effective fresh as when dried. The fresh material can produce mild sensations of nausea. The effective dosage of fly agaric is individually extremely variable, and probably more so than with any other entheogen. Approach with care!


Petroglyphs from Yenisei (Russia), apparently depicting shamans covered with fly agaric or panther mushrooms.


Ritual Use


Siberian shamans eat dried fly agarics in order to enter a clairvoyant trance state and mobilize their shamanic powers of healing. According to Koryak tradition, the fly agaric grew from the saliva of the highest god; for this reason, it is regarded as a sacred plant (Bauer et al. 1991, 147 f.). The shamans ingest the mushroom especially when they wish to communicate with the souls of the ancestors or to contact spirits, when a newborn is to be given a name, to find a way out of threatening situations, to see into the future and peer into the past, and to be able to journey or fly to other worlds. Among the Khanty (Siberian Ostyak), shamans in training are tested with high dosages of fly agaric to see whether they can master the mushrooms and are fit for their future office. In Siberia, fly agaric mushrooms are consumed fresh, cooked, and dried (Saar 1991).

The Siberian usage provided the basis for Wasson’s proposal that fly agaric mushrooms were the soma of the Aryans (Wasson 1968, 1972, 1995). In the Vedic tradition, however, it is said that soma grows in the high mountains, that is, the Himalayas. No evidence of Amanita muscaria has yet been found anywhere in the Himalayan region. According to the current state of ethnopharmacological knowledge, the identification of soma with the fly agaric is untenable. However, there are remnants of a ritual consumption of fly agaric in the Hindu Kush, where the mushroom is known as tshashm baskon, “eye opener” (Gholam M. and Geerken 1979). While it was thought that the Siberian use of fly agaric had vanished, it was recently discovered that the mushroom is still used for shamanic and divinatory purposes on the Kamchatka peninsula (Salzman et al. 1996).

In Germanic mythology (as recorded in modern times), several stories associate Wotan (also known as Wodan or Odin), the shamanic god of ecstasy and knowledge, with the fly agaric. According to legend, the fly agaric would appear after the Wild Chase, when Wotan rode through the clouds on his horse at the winter solstice with his followers. The following autumn—exactly nine months later—fly agarics would sprout from the impregnated earth in those very spots where the foam from the mouth of Wotan’s horse fell onto the ground (Haseneier 1992**). In the common parlance, the fly agaric is known by the name raven’s bread (Klapp 1985). Ravens not only are ancient shamanic and power animals but also are the messengers of Wotan, who is also known as the raven god. In pagan times, it is entirely possible that the fly agaric also found use in ecstatic rituals (cf. mead). It has been suggested that the berserkers (“bear skinners”), warriors who were sacred to Wotan, may have used fly agaric mushrooms in the rituals of their secret society (Thorsen 1948).357

In Styria (Austria), a tradition has been passed down that illustrates the mushroom’s relationship to the fertility-bringing wild storm god Donar, the son of Wotan. Fly agarics are sought out at the beginning of the “mushroom season” (which of course takes place on a Donnerstag (= Thursday), after the first donner (= thunder). The seeker will hold the mushroom first out toward the forest, then against him- or herself, and address it: “If you do not show me the good mushrooms, then I will cast you onto the ground, so that you will decay into dust and ashes!” (Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens [Hand Dictionary of German Superstitions], 7:30).

It is also entirely within reason that Santa Claus, who always appears dressed in red and white and flies through the air with his team of reindeer, is simply an anthropomorphized fly agaric mushroom or a fly agaric shaman (van Renterghem 1995).

In contemporary neopagan circles, the fly agaric is now used as a psychoactive sacrament:


Another pagan custom that has come down to us is that of drinking on Samhein [November 1] a special tea brewed from the peeled-off skin of a fly agaric that was picked during the full moon. This is probably based on traditions of Siberian and Norwegian shamans, in which the fly agaric was repeatedly referred to as a psychoactive working plant. (Magister Botanicus 1995, 186*)


One family described a traditional ritual that they still conduct on this ancient Celtic holiday (cf. Atropa belladonna):


For this—and only on this night—we prepare a fly agaric tea according to the following recipe from my grandmother: On the full moon preceding Samhain, the heads of the family go into the forest and search for a few fly agarics, with whom they establish contact. The healthy mushrooms (those that have not been infested by worms or eaten by snails!) are cut off at the stipe and placed in a wicker basket; at the place where we harvested the mushrooms, we usually leave some tobacco [Nicotiana tabacum] and an apple as an offering. After this, the red skin of the cap is pulled off and quickly dried; the dried skin is kept in a red linen cloth in a dark and cool place until Samhain. During that night a cold [water] extract is made that all of the members of the family drink before they go to bed. The next morning, the resulting dreams are described and interpreted in the family circle. (Magister Botanicus 1995, 197*)


In the pre-Columbian fly agaric cult of the Americas, the fly agaric (known as the light of the earth, the flower of the earth, the underworld mushroom, or the thunderbolt/lightning mushroom) was regarded as a being that was in contact with the underworld (xibalbametlan) (Rätsch 1995b). It was symbolically associated with toads and flies (helping spirits) and formed a door to the realm of the dead. It was also associated with the bolon ti kuh, the nine gods of the underworld, which were represented in the form of mushroom stones. It was a ritual inebriant with unique effects that shamans, oracular priests, and healers consumed (either eating it or smoking it together with tobacco [Nicotiana rusticaNicotiana tabacum]) in order to enter a desired altered state of consciousness in which they would carry out necromantic rites (uay xibalba),358 liberate the souls of sick people from the underworld, and generally improve their visionary abilities.

Caves were typically regarded as entrances to the underworld and were often used for necromantic rituals and sacrificial offerings. The mushroom was used for shamanic initiation (the journey into the underworld). Only a few initiates were granted knowledge of the uses of the fly agaric. In order to protect (monopolize) this knowledge, the mushroom was publically portrayed as poisonous or dangerous. Since fly agarics were not available in all places and at all times, they were collected in pine groves and airor fire-dried, which improved their effects. The mushrooms were sold by special merchants together with other ritual paraphernalia (“Transcendental Interaction Model”). There were three important centers of the ancient American fly agaric cult: the northeastern forests of North America (Algonquian, Ojibwa, Dogrib; cf. Keewaydinoquay 1979; Larsen 1977), central Meso-america (Mayan peoples, Aztecs, Purépecha; cf. Rätsch 1995b), and western Peru (Mochica).

The Tzeltal still make use of the fly agaric mushroom, which they call tzajal yuy chauk, “red thunderbolt mushroom.” They remove the reddish skins from the fresh caps, dry the skins, and smoke them together with may, wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). It is said that smoking this mixture helps the Tzeltal shamans become clear-sighted so that they may recognize diseases in their patients, track down lost or stolen objects, and utter prophecies. The shamans of the Chuj, a Mayan people of the southern Selva Lacandona and northern Guatemala, smoke dried pieces of fly agarics mixed with wild tobacco (Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch 1986, 96–97*; Rätsch 1992, 78*). In the high valley of Puebla, Timothy Knab found an indigenous curandero (= healer) who smoked dried fly agarics mixed with tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) in order to make ritual diagnoses (Díaz 1979, 86*). Among the Tzutujil, a figure of a deity named Maximon that is made from the wood of palo de pito (Erythrina rubrinervia; cf. Erythrina spp.) is associated with the fly agaric (Lowy 1980, 102**).


“In the birch forest

The wind whispers and runs softly

Through the heart-shaped leaves.

The trunks glow as white as snow.


“From the grass

sprouts a magical egg,

its grows round redly, spots itself white

and jumps asunder.


“I wished for a witch,

fourteen years old.

I rode with her

through the fly agaric forest.


“Smeared with ointment, she flies

swiftly like the swallow

through the green forest.

Tender skin, smooth fur.


“That which she lightly

touches with magical power,

loses its weight and is

carried off into the air.


“Stick, stem, or ledge,

it is all the same. She lifts, lifts

tenderly around the body.

She flies gently and floats.


“I can see that the forest is enchanted.

He who eats of the fly agaric,

becomes mad, he dances

sings, flies, and forgets.”




Toad and stool, an ancient mythological pair. Toadstool is another name for the fly agaric. (Illustration from a nineteenth-century children’s book)


Japan is rich in mushrooms that were or still are used for culinary or shamanic purposes. The genus Amanita is represented by a number of species, many of them endemic (Imazeki et al. 1988, 140–71**). All three psychoactive Amanita species (cf. Amanita pantherina) of the Japanese mycoflora are included in the taxon tengu take, “tengu mushroom” (Wasson 1973, 15**). The tengu is the spirit of the fly agaric and is one of the most popular figures in Japanese mythology and folklore (De Visser 1908; Fister 1985). Tengus appear sometimes as birdlike demons and at other times as wild and reclusive monks of the mountains. Occasionally tengus are regarded as transformed shamans. At times it is said that there is only one tengu; other reports speak of many tengus, who even have a king. Tengus are seen sometimes as gods and at other times as demons, but they are usually regarded as kami.359Tenguscan change their form; they can be humans or birds,360 fly through the air, make themselves invisible, and create phantoms. The male tengus, which have a bright red skin and a phallic nose, are regarded as tricksters and sexual demons, but also as benefactors. Mountain shrines were erected in their honor. Fossil shark teeth are thought to be visible reminders of their passing. The teeth are known as the “claws of tengu” and are sold as talismans. They are even venerated in temples and shrines and guarded as religious relics (Rätsch 1995). Tengus have a magical leaf or an enchanted fan that they use to carry out their tricks and magical acts. In some traditional illustrations, this leaf clearly resembles a hemp leaf (Cannabis indica).

Although normally invisible, tengus reveal themselves as spooks or speak through the mouths of people whom they have possessed. Japanese who are praying on mountain peaks and in mountain shrines fall into possession states particularly often; while possessed, they lend the tengus their voices and utter prophecies (Lowell 1894, 1–15). Tengus are known for their unlimited thirst for sake, which is why people are advised to offer them the beverage. Tengusalso are excellent with the sword. They sometimes abduct children or youngsters and teach them sword fighting or impart some other knowledge. People make offerings to the tengus so that they will protect them and teach them the wisdom of nature (Rätsch 1995a).



A number of petroglyphs discovered in Asia appear to be connected with a shamanic fly agaric cult.

The Italian ethnomycologists Giorgio Samorini and Gilberto Camilla recently proposed the theory that certain Greek depictions of wine grapes (Vitus vinifera) are actually epithetic representations of the fly agaric (or other psychoactive mushrooms) that were kept secret, and that these were related to the cult of Dionysos (Samorini and Camilla 1995**).

There are a large number of anthropomorphic mushroom representations in the pre-Columbian ceramics of the Peruvian Moche. The reference to shamanism is especially apparent in depictions that show mushrooms growing directly out of the head of a seer (Furst 1976a, 82*). A Mochican stirrup vessel (ca. 500 A.D.) at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University has the shape of a human head. In the middle, above the forehead, is a very realistic depiction of a fly agaric mushroom that is more or less growing out of the hat. Other examples of Mochican ceramic work also appear to contain representations of fly agaric mushrooms (Ripinsky-Naxon 1993, 180 f.*).

In Nayarit (western Mexico), a number of small ceramic objects have been found that depict fly agaric–like figures, beneath which a person is sitting (Furst 1974*; Schultes and Hofmann 1992, 82*; Wasson 1986, 51**). A ceramic piece in the Remojada style from Tenenexpan (Veracruz, ca. 300 A.D.) depicts an oversized object, which looks like a fly agaric, together with a human figure in the throes of ecstasy. The person is shown touching the mushroom or mushroom stone (?) with the left hand while pointing the right hand toward the sky (Heim et al. 1966, plate 2**). In Michoacán, a small stone figure was recovered from a pre-Spanish site of the Purépecha culture that Guzmán has interpreted in the following manner: “The one side resembles a fly agaric cap, the other a death skull” (1990, 100 f.**).

The fly agaric is a popular figure in German literature, appearing in fairy tales, legends, songs, and poems (Bauer 1992). One German folk song361 about the fly agaric, “Ein Männlein steht im Walde” [A Little Man Stands in the Forest], is quite well known. Engelbert Humperdinck (1854– 1921) even included the song in his children’s opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893).

Fly agaric mushrooms are common in illustrated children’s books (e.g., Wir fahren ins Zwergenland! [We’re Going to the Land of the Dwarves!], Hochzeit im Walde [A Forest Wedding], Wichtelmanns Reise [Wichtelmann’s Journey], and Alice in Wonderland), where they are usually the dwellings of dwarfs or elves. In one children’s book, Mecki bei den 7 Zwergen [Mecki and the Seven Dwarfs], the hero of the story smokes dried fly agarics together with his friends. While under the influence of the mushrooms, they realize that the seven dwarfs are actually fly agaric spirits:


The dwarfs shook their heads back and forth and back and forth. As they did so, their funny hats slowly turned into red caps with white spots. Their legs and little tummies grew together or sank into the ground. At the same time, their white necks grew longer and longer, so that they finally stood there like large, strange fly agarics and stared at me. (Rhein n.d., 45)


The life story of a Siberian shaman is told in the novel Der Herr des Feuers [The Lord of the Fire] (Braem 1994). During his training, he must have several experiences with fly agaric mushrooms. The author, who has also written nonfiction works on shamanism (Braem 1994*), describes these as though he himself had had such experiences:


The folk literature in particular has helped make the fly agaric a “dangerous fellow.” (From Usteri, Pflanzenmärchen und -sagen, 1926)


Then there was the new seeing, an overly clear vision, that had been brought about by the frequent use of raw fly agarics. Shorting after eating the aromatic flesh of the mushroom, the effects began: Initially, the accelerated pulse and heartbeat were the sure messengers of the coming changes. Then the colors began to light up, a burning green, longingly deep blue, rich brown, and gleaming silvery gray of the rock. The room, the forest, expanded every time he exhaled, and contracted with every inhalation. Breath and forest and vision became one single act. The power of the helping spirits in the mushroom revealed how nature vibrated in a rhythm, illuminated the big pattern, imparted the smallest detail with an unimagined importance. . . . If the fly agaric was good and the helping spirit within it powerful, then his hearing would also change. He perceived the slightest snap in the woods, the rustle of a mouse, he heard crackling in the moss, the movement of the leaves in the wind. And the most astonishing thing was that he could sometimes also understand the language of the animals. (Braem 1994, 149)


Fly agarics often appear in comic books. In the book Asterix at the Olympic Games (Uderzo and Goscinny, 1968), Methusalix, the oldest of the unruly Gauls, collects fly agarics for his soup. The Druid Miraculix tells him that the fly agarics should be “sautéed in butter, for only in that way will they retain their typical flavor.” Moebius, in his comic story A True Wonder of the Universe, transports the fly agaric to a planet a million light-years away. It speaks to a cosmonaut, who then tries a piece of it, whereupon he becomes a supernova. The volume Soluna (1996), from the series John Difool vor dem Incal [John Difool Before the Incal] by Janjetov and Jodorowsky, features a utopian city, the center of which is a gigantic mushroom-shaped temple. The entire fantasy comic cycle Alef-Thau, by Jodorowsky and Arno (1986–1991), takes place in a forest of fly agaric mushrooms. In the three volumes of the cycle Die Gefährten der Dämmerung [The Fellowship of the Dawn] (1984–1990), François Bourgeon artistically portrays a fly agaric trip. The second volume, Die drei Augen der blaugrünen Stadt [The Three Eyes of the Blue-Green City], contains detailed instructions for using fly agarics and tips about their effects:


This red and white cap contains more colors than your poor human eyes have ever seen! . . . If you dry this and chew it, you will be able to uncover terrible secrets in your dreams. You can go to the earliest times in the world . . . in the times before your gods . . . before my gods. (p. 13)


The comic Fliegenpilz [Fly Agaric], by Christian Farner (1993), depicts a fly agaric trip that is both haunting and oppressive.

Fly agarics are not featured as frequently in paintings, perhaps because they are too popular a symbol. The pen-and-ink drawing Die Hexe [The Witch] (ca. 1900) by Heinrich Vogeler (1872– 1942) depicts a witch passing through the forest, fly agarics sprouting at her feet. In Brekkekkwakkwak, an oil painting by Johan Fabricius (1899–1981) from 1926, fly agaric mushrooms are shown growing alongside a fantastic pond. The illustrator Alan Lee contributed several pictures of fly agarics and elves to Das große Buch der Geister [The Big Book of Spirits] (Frond and Lee 1979).

Because fly agarics are symbols of good luck in Europe, they are often portrayed on greeting and congratulatory cards. Fly agaric spirits appear on many decorative items and are common motifs on Easter eggs and Christmas ornaments (perhaps because Santa Claus himself is simply an anthropomorphized mushroom). Countless images of fly agarics are used for decorative purposes, ranging from plastic Smurf figures with fly agarics (cf. Veratrum album) to fireworks for New Year’s Eve parties (these fireworks are known as glückspilzen, which is usually translated as “lucky dogs” but which literally means “lucky mushrooms”). These pretty mushrooms are also commonly reproduced in the form of Easter cakes, chocolate (cf. Theobroma cacao), and marzipan (Bauer et al. 1991).

In the 1990s, fly agaric mushrooms were frequently featured as emblems on handbills advertising raves (Rätsch 1995d; 1995, 12**). They are also found on the covers of CDs of psychedelic trance music (e.g., Holy MushroomIronic Beat) and of other musical styles. The cover of the LP Granny Takes a Trip, by the Purple Gang (1968), shows fly agarics in an alchemical context. Another album, Early One Morning, by the band Mushroom (1973), has a picture of a mushroom whose colors are reversed: it has a white cap with red spots. The German combo Witthüser and Westrupp gave expression to the theories of John Allegro (1970) on the cover of the record Der Jesuspilz—Musik vom Evangelium [The Jesus MushroomMusic from the Gospels] (1971) (cf. Cannabis indica). Mani Neumeier, founder of the band Guru Guru and the godfather of “kraut rock,” is depicted on the cover of his solo CD Privat(ATM Records, 1993) as a six-armed Shiva holding a fly agaric in one hand. OM Records, a San Francisco–based company, selected the fly agaric mushroom as the symbol for its series Mushroom Jazz. And the cover of the avant-garde/psychedelic CD Venus Square Mars, by Mark Naussef and Dave Philipson, features a tengu “fractalizing out of” a fly agaric (M·A Records, 1995).

“According to the view of the natives, however, the fly agaric mushroom, in contrast to alcohol, has an innate power of revealing the future to those who consume it; namely when the wish to be able to look into the future is uttered over the mushroom in a specific form before it is eaten, whereupon the wish will come true in a dream.”







The cosmopolitan fly agaric on stamps from the Southeast Asian countries of Laos and Cambodia.


In Japan, masks of long-nosed tengus, the fly agaric spirits, are still made out of wood and other materials and sold in the paraphernalia shops located near shrines. The masks are hung on houses during the Japanese New Year’s festival.

Medicinal Use


It is likely that the fly agaric was originally a ritual medicine (Rosenbohm 1995). In Siberia, it was ingested to treat psychophysiological states of exhaustion.362 For snakebites, a fly agaric tea (a cold-water extract made from dried fruiting bodies) was massaged into the affected area of the body (usually the legs). This was said to neutralize the toxins (Saar 1991, 177**).

In the nineteenth century, the fly agaric was used as a home remedy and was also prescribed by physicians as a medicine. It was used internally, for example, to treat epilepsy and fever and externally to treat ulcerated fistulae:


It is officinal under the name fungus muscarius. Only the lower portion of the stalk is chosen. . . . The fly agaric, in powder form (for which it must be dried as quickly as possible without destroying it), is administered internally (with care) in small doses (10 to 30 grains) against falling sickness, et cetera, and is sprinkled externally onto malignant tumors, gangrene, et cetera. Meinhard gives a tincture to treat favus and other persistent eruptions. (W. Schneider 1974, 1:80*).


In homeopathy, the preparation Agaricus muscarius is an “agent to treat complaints of the entire nervous system” (Bremness 1995, 286*). Depending upon the symptom picture, it is used in homeopathic dilutions (D4, D6, D30, D200) for problems associated with menopause, overexcitability, and bladder and intestinal cramps. One physician who frequently utilizes the mother tincture in his practice reported:


One portion (15–20%) of the patients I have treated with Agaricus muscarius had altered dreams during or after their therapy. Especially: dreams of flying with positive contents, dreams reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, and other pleasant dream experiences. In no case did nightmares occur, although one must consider that the majority of dosages used in therapy are small. Even with higher dosages, on the following day the patients were normally found to be well and to exhibit a strong eagerness to work, without negative side effects or symptoms of a hangover. . . . Following the prescription of fly agaric, almost all of the patients exhibited increased motivation, improved mood, and improved mental and physical well-being. Here again it is the dosage that determines that something is not a poison! (Waldschmidt 1992, 67)




Fresh fly agaric mushrooms contain choline, acetylcholine, muscarine, muscaridine, muscazone (empirical formula C5H6O2N2), large amounts of ibotenic acid (= prämuscimol, “pilzatropin”; Ott 1996), very little muscimol, and the rare trace elements selenium and vanadium. As a result of the decarboxylation of ibotenic acid, dried fly agarics contain high amounts of muscimol, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects (Festi and Bianchi 1992). The pigment is a derivative of ibotenic acid (Talbot and Vining 1963). The amount of muscarine is 0.0003% at most (Roth et al. 1990, 42**). The amount of ibotenic acid in fresh specimens from Germany and Switzerland averaged 0.03% but can run as high as 0.1% (Eugster 1969). Traces of bufotenine (Schultes and Farnsworth 1982, 155*) and the tropane alkaloid L-hyoscyamine (Salemink et al. 1963) have also been reported.

Muscimol is regarded as the actual psychoactive constituent, although this view (from Eugster 1967a and 1967b) is not without controversy (Cosack 1995). Nevertheless, muscimol can be detected in the urine of people who have ingested fly agarics. Several experiments have demonstrated that the urine from a person who has consumed fly agaric will produce psychoactive effects in other people (McDonald 1978; Ott 1976). Theodore Schurr, an anthropologist and molecular biologist, has summarized our current pharmacological understanding of Siberian fly agaric shamanism:


Once ingested, the psychoactive alkaloids and substances in [Amanita muscaria] acted as agonists of normal brain neurotransmitter function, disrupting the coordinate action between the catecholaminergic and serotoninergic systems and producing hallucinogenic effects similar to those generated by LSD and harmine. (Schurr 1995, 31)




Most people in the German- and English-speaking countriesregardless of their level of education believe that fly agaric mushrooms are deadly poisonous and should be avoided at all costs. Paracelsus’s rule, which says that the dosage is the factor that determines whether something is a poison or a medicine, has apparently not become widely known. If the fly agaric was evaluated according to this criterion, then people would have to leave their cherished black-and-white thinking behindfor many, a very painful or difficult task.

“Because a feeling of flying often occurs after the consumption [of fly agaric mushrooms], this may be the origin of the Scandinavian and English version of Santa Claus, in which he flies through the air on a sleigh drawn by reindeer.”





Ibotenic acid






This flyer for a psychedelic trance party features a fly agaric mushroom. (Switzerland, ca. 1995)


“Sometimes [in Kamchatka] people also eat the fresh [fly agaric] mushroom in soups and broths, and then it loses much of its inebriating properties. When dipped into the juice of berries of Vaccinium uliginosum, it acts like strong wine. One large or two small mushrooms will usually suffice to induce a proper state of inebriation for the entire day, especially if water is consumed as well, which increases the narcotic properties.


“The desired effects begin one or two hours after the mushroom is ingested. Dizzy spells and drunkenness manifest themselves in the same way as with wine or schnapps; at first one feels a happy mental stimulation, the face turns red, then follow involuntary words and movements, and finally complete unconsciousness sometimes occurs.”





In recent years, many reports and descriptions of the effects of fly agaric have appeared (cf. Cosack 1995; Festi and Bianchi 1992; Ott 1976, 1993). In general, the symptoms of fly agaric inebriation include a strong parasympatholytic stimulation, wavelike shifts between sleepiness and wakefulness, illusions, hallucinations, and delirium. (Leuner 1981, 54*). The effects are often described as unpleasant, and inexperienced users may easily interpret them as signs of a “toxic ecstasy” (Leuner). In the older literature, fly agaric is portrayed as a deadly poison, and people were urgently warned against its use. This notwithstanding, the toxicological literature does not contain a single case of lethal fly agaric poisoning: “there is no evidence of fatalities” (Garnweidner 1993, 41**). The more recent literature also notes: “If the mushroom is consumed with the expectation of hallucinogenic effects, then it tends to produce a pleasant outcome” (Roth et al. 1990, 42**). Once again we see that the expectations a person brings into the experience (the set) exert a powerful influence upon the experience of an altered state. If the fly agaric is believed to be poisonous, horrible apparitions may arise; if it is regarded as a pleasurable inebriant, enjoyable visions and feelings will result.

Some people report temporary sensations of nausea after ingesting fly agaric mushrooms, after which most are overwhelmed by sleep. The visionary effects, which are often characterized by synaesthesia, begin after they awaken and can last for several hours. Reports of visions of giants in the world of dwarfs are remarkably common (Cosack 1995). The effects are more subtle when fly agarics are smoked and are manifested primarily as a heightened perception and increased sensitivity in the musculature. Regardless of the manner in which the mushrooms are consumed, auditory perception is heightened, refined, or altered.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


All homeopathic preparations (including the mother tincture) may be sold only by pharmacists but do not require a physician’s prescription. Neither collecting the mushroom nor consuming it is illegal.

“Once a year, the tradition of these nomads [the Koryak of Kamchatka] takes them back to the beginnings of time. This occurs when they slaughter the reindeer. The festival is celebrated according to ancient custom, and playing a special role is a mushroom: the fly agaric. Dried and ground to a powder, it is mixed, so I was told, with fresh reindeer blood that has been filled into vessels. The Koryak who have come to dance drink this. Along with the rhythms, which sound strange to our ears, the dancing becomes ever more intense, the stamping of the feet grows harder and faster. It almost has no end. The inebriation of drink and rhythm can last for three or four days. . . . Only those who have tried the fly agaric themselves can understand this custom of the Koryak.”






(1995, 178)




See also the entries for Amanita pantherinasomaibotenic acid, and muscimol.


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———. 1995. Ein Versuch mit “Zwergenwein.” Integration 6:45–46.


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Amanita pantherina (DC. ex Fr.) Krombh.


Panther Cap




Agaricaceae; Subfamily Amanitaceae, Amanita Section

Forms and Subspecies


Three varieties are usually distinguished:


Amanita pantherina var. abietinum (Gilb.) Ves.—fir panther cap

Amanita pantherina var. multisquamosa (Pk.) Jenkins

Amanita pantherina var. pantherina



Agaricus pantherinus Fr.

Amanita cothurnata Atkinson

Folk Names


Agarico panterino, amanite panthère, crapaudin gris, fausse golmelle, fausse golmotte, fongo rospèr (Treviso,“toad mushroom”), haitori (Japanese,“fly catcher”), haitori-goke, haitori-kinoko, haitori-take, hyô-take (Japanese, “panther mushroom”), panther cap, panther fungus, panther mushroom, pantherpilz, tengudake (Japanese, “tengu mushroom”), tengutake,363 tignosa bigia, tignosa bruna


The panther cap is similar in appearance to the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) but has a brownish or brown cap. It yields a white spore print and is easily confused with the nonpoisonous and nonpsychoactive pearl mushroom (Amanita rubescens [Pers. ex. Fr.] S.F. Gray [syn. Amanita rubens Scopo. ex Fr.]), also called the blusher because of its tendency to turn red when bruised (Roth et al. 1990, 48**). The panther cap is found almost exclusively in deciduous and fir woods. In Europe, it fruits from July to October, while in North America it usually fruits in early spring. Although many people avoid the panther cap as poisonous, it actually has a long tradition of culinary use:


It is remarkable that the panther cap is characterized as inedible in some books on mushrooms. Many of our patients who were relatively knowledgeable about mushrooms told us with conviction that they have been eating these mushrooms for years without any harm. (Leonhardt 1992, 127)


And yet the panther cap is clearly psychoactive and normally even more potent than Amanita muscaria. In Russia, the panther cap is preferred over the fly agaric because the effects of the former are thought to be more pleasant. The shamans of central Asia and Siberia apparently consumed it ritually as an alternative to the fly agaric. It is said that the Russian panther cap induces beautiful visions. The dosage is given as one to four mushrooms.

Today, the panther cap is used for psychoactive purposes wherever it is found:


Amanita pantherina is also a widespread “recreational and party drug” whose effects are stronger than those of Amanita muscaria. Pleasant sensations are more likely to arise when the mushroom is ingested with an expectation of hallucinogenic effects. In many areas of the U.S., Russia, France, and Italy, the panther cap is also consumed for culinary purposes. These may be varieties that are relatively devoid of toxins. The psychotropic effects can also be elicited by smoking the dried skins of the caps or mushroom bodies. For adults, the lethal toxic dose is contained in more than 100 grams of fresh mushrooms. (Roth et al. 1990, 43 ff.**)



This old English illustration of fungi lethales, “deadly mushrooms,” may depict a group of panther cap, fly agaric, or other amanita mushrooms (Amanita spp.). (Woodcut from Gerard, The Herball or General History of Plants, 1633)



In northern Asia, dried panther caps (Amanita pantherina) are popular inebriants.


“Teetotalers must be afraid of the tengu-dake [= panther cap].”




(BLYTH 1973, 7**)



The North American variety of the panther cap (Amanita pantherina). (Photograph: Paul Stamets)



Cyperus species grass known as piripiri. (Photographed in Peru)



Amanita Species


Species of the genus Amanita that are regarded as psychoactive or are used as psychoactive substances (from Beutler and Der Marderosian 1981; Ott 1978**; Weil 1977**):


Amanita citrina Schaeff. ex St. Gray [syn. Amanita mappa (Batsch. ex Lasch) Quél.]—false death cap; contains up to 7.5 mg bufotenine in 1 gram of dry mass (Beutler and Der Marderosian 1981, 423)

Amanita cothurnata Atkinson [syn. Amanita pantherina var. multisquamosa (Pk.) Jenkins]—booted amanita

Amanita gemmata (Fr.) Gill—contains ibotenic acid/muscimol

Amanita gemmata (Fr.) Gill x A. pantherina hybrids—contain ibotenic acid/muscimol

Amanita parcivolvata Pk.—contains traces of isoxazole

Amanita porphyria (Alb. et Schw. ex Fr.) Secretan—contains bufotenine (trace amounts)

Amanita strobiliformis (Paul) Quélet—ibo-tengu-take (Japanese, “warty tengu mushroom”); contains ibotenic acid/muscimol

Amanita tomentella Krombholz—contains some bufotenine


The effects subside no later than ten to fifteen hours after consumption (Roth et al. 1990, 44**). In contrast, the older literature speaks of euphoric and psychotic states lasting as long as eight days (Leonhardt 1992).

Panther caps, at least those of North American origin, have been found to contain ibotenic acid and muscimol. When dried and stored, the quantity of ibotenic acid declines proportionately as the quantity of muscimol increases (Beutler and Der Marderosian 1981, 423, 427; cf. Benedict et al. 1966). Panther caps also contain stizolobic acid and stizolobinic acid (amino acids), which are also found in Stizolobiumand Mucuna species (cf. Mucuna pruriens) (Bresinsky and Besl 1985, 107 f.**).



See also the entry for Amanita muscaria. Benedict, R. G., V. E. Tyler Jr., and L. R. Brady. 1966.


Chemotaxonomic significance of isoxazole derivatives in Amanita species. Lloydia 29 (4): 333–42.


Beutler, John A., and Ara H. Der Marderosian. 1981. Chemical variation in AmanitaJournal of Natural Products 44 (4): 422–31.


Beutler, John A., and Paul P. Verger. 1980. Amatoxins in American mushrooms: Evaluation of the Maixner test. Mycologia 72 (6): 1142–49.


Chilton, W. S., and J. Ott. 1976. Toxic metabolites of Amanita pantherinaA. cothurnataA. muscaria and other Amanita species. Lloydia 39 (2/3): 150–57.


Kendrick, Bryce, and Arthur Shimizu. 1984. Mushroom poisoning—analysis of two cases, and a possible new treatment, plasmapheresis. Mycologia 76 (3): 448–53.


Leonhardt, Wolfram. 1992. Über Rauschzustände bei Pantherpilzvergiftungen. Integration 2/3:119–28.


Yocum, R. R., and D. M. Simons. 1977. Amatoxins and phallotoxins in Amanita species of the northeastern United States. Lloydia 40:178–90.