The Banker & The Mushroom Gods
The Mushroom Gods
Psychedelic mushrooms have been around as long as humanity. The Incas called them teonanactl or 'flesh of the gods'. The Aztecs considered them divine and referred to a trip as "the flowery dream". Prehistoric Saharan tribes painted mushroom-headed figures on cave walls.
Siberian shamans fed their reindeer fly agaric mushrooms and then drank their urine to journey to the spirit world. They would also drink each other's urine, and the mushroom could be passed through the bodies of half a dozen people before their potency was lost.
Religion and Ritual
The Central American tradition firmly encased sacred mushrooms in religion and ritual - in the kinds of ceremonies that evolved into today's (legal) peyote rituals of the Native American Church in the US. These rituals encourage spiritual development, expand the consciousness and enrich the soul.
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Bankers & Shamans
Colonizing Spaniards in the 16th century had brutally stamped out the 'satanic' mushroom rites of the indigenous South American peoples.
For hundreds of years, the rites and rituals and even the mushrooms themselves were forgotten, given up for lost. Until the unlikely figure of the vice-president of JP Morgan investment bank, R. Gordon Wasson, trundled into the Mexican highlands in 1954 and rediscovered them.
In the early 20th century, interest in botany and classification of species was widespread. Loads of mustachioed Victorians were out to catalogue the world. Ancient legends of psychoactive mushrooms and a primitive 'mushroom cult' native to South America were unearthed.
Several enthnobotanists and mushroom-lovers (mycophiles) made forays to Mexico and Peru to try to discover these mushrooms.
In their spare time, R. Gordon Wasson and his Russian wife Valentina were obsessive mushroom-lovers and had made it their life-quest to find these so-called "sacred mushrooms".
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Wasson's First Trip
After years of field trips and false starts, they finally tracked down a 'curandera' or shaman in a mountainous Mexican village. Wasson was permitted to take part in the lengthy religious ceremony and was dosed with a sizeable handful of psyilcybin mexicana.
In his own words:
"At the peak of the intoxication, about 1½ hours after ingestion of the mushrooms, the rush of interior pictures, mostly changing in shape and colour, reached such an alarming degree that I feared I would be torn into this whirlpool of form and colour and would dissolve."
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Wasson was amazed. Being a gentleman and pillar of the financial establishment, his report of the adventure was documented in Life magazine. You can read his piece here.
The magazine coined the phrase "magic mushrooms" to describe his find.
The article caught the eye of the CIA which approached Wasson to find out whether the mushrooms had any potential military use. Wasson refused to help them so they smuggled an operative onto his next expedition.
But by then, the mushrooms have attracted some new disciples...
Magic Mushrooms and The Sixties