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.
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