Cultural History of Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms have greatly impacted many cultures. There impact can be traced mainly in the areas of religion, healing and social interaction aspect of the cultures. Since the development of the civilization, magic mushrooms have been known to be used in their cultures.

Even among the prehistoric North African territories, there was a rock painting that depicts a use of possibly a magic mushroom. The Central and South American cultures are one of the most heavily influenced in the use of magic mushrooms. They have even built mushroom gods and mushroom stones. The mushroom stones probably depict a magic mushroom that indicates it might have been used in some religious rituals or ceremonies.

The Mixtec culture of central Mexico has worship Piltzintecuhtli, or 7 flower. He is the god for hallucinatory plants especially magic mushrooms. There is a picture depicting the use of magic mushrooms by the Mixtec gods, showing the gods holding a magic mushroom.

The Aztec called magic mushrooms as teonanácatl. It literally means god’s mushroom or more appropriately mushroom of the gods. They often referred to magic mushrooms as the divinatory mushrooms, wondrous mushrooms and genius mushrooms when translated to English. In Aztec rituals, the magic mushroom is used in ceremony and rituals, and they are served with honey or chocolate at some of their holiest events.

The magic mushrooms were introduced to Europe after the Spanish Conquest of the South American civilization. The Catholic Missionaries tried to convert and suppress the so-called pagan idolatry of the conquered people. The suppression included the use of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms. The Spaniards believed that the mushrooms allowed the people to communicate with the devil. To control the people, they forcibly converted them to Christianity and drove the use of magic mushrooms underground. Despite the suppression, the use of magic mushrooms continued in some remote areas and tribes that some western researchers confirmed when they visited the remote places. Not until the arrival of the Europeans and their cattle that magic mushrooms were introduced to America.As of now, there are studies that would confirm that there are a number of tribes using magic mushrooms. The groups’ included are Mazatecs, Nahua, Mixe, and Zapotecs. However, there is no proof or observation that the Mayan Civilization has ever used hallucinogenic mushrooms.

After the experiences of R. Gordon Wasson that proved that magic mushrooms are still being used in South America, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert started promoting a study of psychological and religious study of psilocybin and other hallucinogenic drugs. They also started evangelizing the psychedelic experience to the then blossoming hippie culture.

Popularity of the mushrooms has soon spread and also its use. It became part of the psychedelic movement. Experimentation with magic mushrooms and the synthesized active substance took off.  It was used mainly for recreation, therapy and part of new spiritual traditions. The relatively easy accessibility of hallucinogenic Psilocybe from wild and cultivated sources such as magic mushrooms has made it amongst the most widely used hallucinogenic drug.


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