The Magic of Mushrooms

I have mushrooms on the brain at the moment. All the “normal” Swedish citizens in the office are waxing lyrical of successful mushroom hunts in the forest, with the chanterelle variety of particular interest. The Swedes love this time of year, when the forests are abundant with wild berries and mushrooms, just waiting to be picked. It got me thinking about the possibility of picking a different kind of mushroom, for a very different purpose. Certainly quite a taboo subject here in a country renowned for its strict anti-drug laws. But more on that later.

My interest in psychedelics has been piqued recently after my experiences with ayahuasca, and I have become increasingly interested in something much closer to home than the brew from the Amazonian jungle. Psilocybin and psilocin containing mushrooms, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms” grow across all continents on the planet except for Antarctica. Certain species are abundant in temperate climates and so can be found in the fields and forests surrounding my current hometown of Uppsala.

This is the first year I have begun researching how to go about a mushroom hunt for myself, despite many years in Ireland where similar mushroom species grow. As a beginner it becomes quickly apparent that there is much to be learned. There is also obvious residual fear and paranoia from my childhood days about wild mushrooms, where I was made overly wary of  the dangers of wild mushrooms and not aware enough of the potential benefits (obviously not just as a hallucinogen but also as an abundant food source!).

I will be focussing my efforts on finding the Psilocybe semilanceata mushroom, commonly known as the liberty cap. These can apparently be found in open grassland where cows, horses or deer are to be found grazing. They contain the powerful psychoactive compound psilocybin. First I have to concentrate on how to properly identify the mushroom, picking out its various characteristics as well as how best to distinguish them from other potentially harmful varieties. There are plenty of other sites with excellent information on how to identify the mushroom, so I will just list a few I found useful below.

While reading up on the dos and don’ts of mushroom picking I inevitably came across a few statements on the legality of psilocybin and psilocin containing mushrooms. Sweden, like the US, UK and Ireland, have declared this group of fungi to be illegal. Specifically, the Swedish law states that the growing, drying or otherwise preparing of mushrooms containing the banned substances is illegal and will be treated as a narcotics crime in the same class as heroin and cocaine. (Note, however that it doesn’t appear to be illegal to pick them and eat them, as long as there was no other preparation involved, although that is just my interpretation). Not totally surprising, considering Sweden’s strict stance on narcotics.

However, I became increasingly angry the more I contemplated this bizarre statement written in law. A mushroom, that grows naturally all around in the fields and forests, oftentimes beside the very same chanterelle or other non-hallucinogenic varieties, can be declared against the law. To pick a liberty cap mushroom, bring it home and have it drying in the cupboard is considered an offense against the state. What eventually dawned on me and only succeeded in deepening my anger was that it isn’t illegal to pick and consume the poisonous, toxic species of mushroom that can have potentially fatal effects after eating. Can you think of a more blatant scenario to prove that the state is not just looking after their citizens’ well-being as they might claim. They are only interested in controlling the consciousness of the people and keeping it within what it considers to be reasonable bounds, within which can be maintained a population that can participate fully in the producer-and-consumer cycle so vital to the capitalist economic system.

There is growing evidence that the mushroom has been held in the highest regard for millenia in all manners of civilisations all across the globe. From stone statues of the Mayans of central America, to cave paintings in the mountains at Tassili n’Ajjer in North Africa, to stone carvings of Hindu goddesses in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, mushrooms have been depicted in a religious setting for thousands of years. Not to mention the Sami people of Lapland stretching across northern Scandinavia and into northern Russia, who are known to have used the amanita muscaria or fly agaric mushroom for its visionary properties. Mushrooms have been referred to as the flesh of the gods and have long been seen as a spiritual aid helping to keep balance with Nature.

It is truly a sign of our times, with our rational minds and our idea of being somehow separate (and above) Nature, that we condemn a fungus growing naturally all around us, treating it with such disdain and punishing those who wish to exercise their freedom of consciousness. How can we ever hope to heal the rift between ourselves and our Mother Earth if we turn our back so coldly on the gifts she presents to us each year? The visionary Terence McKenna suggested in his book The Food of the Gods that mushrooms may have been the catalyst for our sudden surge in consciousness from a primitive ape to a fully self-aware human being, after a doubling in brain size in just a million years. If he is right, then think of the quantum leap in awareness we may well be forsaking by shunning the possibilities for learning offered to us by these mushrooms sprouting up across the planet.

I truly believe we, in the western world, need the help of psilocybin mushrooms in order to rediscover our connection to the Earth and our role in the infinite complexity of the eco-systems surrounding us. We are running out of time, but if we enroll the help of this natural intelligence, perhaps we can make the next evolutionary leap away from the self-destructive, greedy, materialist species we have become, towards a more open, loving, all-embracing super-human we just might have the possibility of becoming. It is my opinion that we have nothing to lose but everything to gain by opening our minds to carefully controlled expeditions into the lesser known realms of the psyche with the mushroom as our catalyst.

Useful Links

General information on mushrooms: http://www.magic-mushrooms.net/

4 Part Field Guide Documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3FV_YbjlYI

More field tips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATwc1AhFu88&feature=g-like

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A Sacred Cermony – An Experience of Ayahuasca – Part III

Sunday

I awoke the next morning feeling fresh physically and mentally. I was in a good state and not thinking very much about the coming day. In the kitchen I drank a cup of herbal tea and indulged in a little grapefruit. People were still talking of yesterday’s events as well as the expectations for this, the last ritual of the weekend. Attitudes were mixed – some looked forward to another eventful day, others planned on approaching it cautiously, while other still were contemplating avoiding the ayahuasca altogether. The more I listened, the more anxious I became. I didn’t really feel ready to go through it all again. Of course, overall I’d had a positive day the day before, but still I felt uncertain if I wanted to revisit the strangeness so soon, especially as I was so pleased to get back to my reality. So a foreboding brewed within me that morning.

We kicked off the final work of the weekend in familiar fashion. I had decided to take it relatively easy on the ayahuasca that day, starting with just one shot glass just a little over half full. Else was to be our stretch and yoga master this time around. Unsurprisingly ayahuasca had  not miraculously improved my flexibility, so I struggled by with the stretching positions, despite them not being overly advanced. We practised a little meditation afterwards as we waited for the medicine to do its work. It was noticeably calmer this time around. The scenes from the madhouse yesterday didn’t develop and the music played, from a CD this time, was more of an epic soundtrack vibe. I was feeling on-edge, clearly resisting the effect of the ayahuasca. My mind was racing, that endless chatter of judgemental thoughts ricochetting in my brain. My ego was threatened, I belive, unwilling to be almost dissolved again as yesterday. Questions flashed in my mind – do I like this, why did I do it again after feeling so lost before, what will I experience differently today, do I want a similar experience again so soon?

I walked outside again to try to get a grip on my emotions and overcome my thoughts and fears, so as I could relax into the ritual. The weather had taken a typical west of Ireland turn for the worst – a light drizzle, dull and a little chilly. Like my mood, I thought. I tried to remind myself of the good that came out of yesterday, the wonderful feelings of love that I’d had. To no avail, I couldn’t relax my mind. In a fashion quite typical of me, I decided that taking a little more would be the solution. So I went inside and waited for round two of the ceremony.

I had another half glass of daime the second time around. I sat by the altar trying to calm my mind and just let the experience flow. The effects of the medicine began to take hold. From my new vantage point I saw the altar come alive, slowly starting to pulsate. Faces began to appear in the stone floor. I would blink hard to see if I was just imagining them, but they stayed true to form and remained in place when I opened my eyes. Quite remarkable, but nothing particularly malevolent so it didn’t put me ill-at-ease. I was wondering what I should be contemplating while sitting here. I felt rather like I didn’t have any plan for this session. I thought about the people and places I had felt strongly towards on the Saturday morning, yet I was unable to rid myself of the fear lounging in the shadows, the unwillingness to go back to the strangeness of before.

Perched on my mattress now, I resumed my position of observer. Else and others were playing more songs, some the same as we had heard during the previous works. I noticed how clear my perception had become. Sound was particularly intense, and the room had certainly transformed again into the other-worldly capsule we sat in before. Most striking this time though was the atmosphere. I could really feel the energy in the air. Lulls between songs or even the sound of vomiting produced a very tangible energy shift in the air. The air itself was vibrating, crackling like static electricity. Now I can compare this perception of atmosphere to other events in the past, just before something really exciting is about to happen like an All Ireland final or a much-anticipated gig about to begin.This, however, was infinitely more intense and palpable that anything I had felt before.

I found that I had relaxed into the ritual now and when the shaman announced round three of the drinking of the tea. I was unsure what to do. I thought maybe another half glass would banish the few lingering chattering thoughts that remained. On the other hand, I didn’t need to go too far this time, maybe I’d had enough. In the end, I thought that I should make the most of this opportunity to drink the ayahuasca – after all, I’d been waiting years for the very chance. So I asked for another half glass. The moment I had drunk the bitter medicine I regretted it. Now paranoid thoughts gushed up from within me. Oh no, I’ll truly be lost this time. What if I’ve taken too much? Why did you have to take more? So the struggles with the mind only became worse by drinking more. In hindsight it is a clear example of my inability to know when I’ve had enough of something, as had happened many a time with food and drink before. A lesson to be learned then, but this time I must be sure to learn from it. Mistake made, now there was no turning back.

My mind put up a solid resistance to the encroaching spirits from the medicine. So much so that I began to get tired, often forgetting what I was doing here in the first place. I wasn’t so much lost this time, just lethargic and a little uninterested. I felt like I wanted to sleep and wake up normal again. I can honestly say that I most certainly did not serve this experience as I should have done. Villoldo’s books talked of the importance of serving the ayahuasca experience, in other words staying fully alert and present in the moment in order to learn whatever lessons are there to be learned. I failed this criteria, quite simply. I regret firstly allowing my negative thoughts in the morning affect my mental state coming into the ceremony. More importantly, though, I regret taking the extra half glass , attempting to force my mind into submission and only succeeding in numbing it. The mind and body are so intricately linked – a cooperation is required to be sure one is in a fit state before beginning such a journey. I believe not having a clear enough goal also led to a little confusion and disinterest later as I allowed the chance to pass me by. I did manage to stay more physically active however, allowing myself to frequent the toilet as needed and drink water as I wished. One has to take the positives from any experience! I was also glad to take part in the closing ceremony this time, dancing to Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” with the many smiling faces around. What a way to finish!

Conclusion

Breaking another long fast in the kitchen, the usual chatter was again positive and happy. The last activity of the weekend was to be the final sharing, where we could each speak a little to the whole group about our overall experience from the weekend and what we’d be taking from it. It was clear from the mini speeches that many had some profound experiences. Some visited dark places but believed that positive steps were taken towards banishing those demons. I myself talked mostly of my journey on the Saturday – feeling emotions stronger than I had ever thought possible, especially feelings of love towards those closest to me, as well as a strong sense of connection with my home country, and more broadly speaking Mother Earth herself.

My creative juices were flowing. I felt the power to go out and change things in my life and my surroundings. Write more read more, learn to play an instrument, get a job where you feel you are doing something noble and worthwhile, something that is making a difference. I was going to have to make good use of this creative energy, and try not to fall back into my usual, sometimes destructive habits and routines in normal life.

This account of my first experience of ayahuasca, taken in it correct ritual setting surrounded by the right people, is the first step in my new life. My old worldview is completely shattered, but I must work now to try to understand the experience and clarify the important lessons in my mind. It is now a month since I embarked on my first ayahuasca voyage, and already I feel the senses closing and my life returning to the usual rhythm. Although I have made small changes and I have to continue trying to make the right choices for my future. Thanks to Mama Ayahuasca for this new energy and drive to take many steps more into a bright new future.