Magic mushrooms or psychedelic effect inducing mushrooms have an illustrious history spanning centuries. In the ancient world and in some parts today they were and continue to be used for religious purposes. The western world has taken a fancy to them for their recreational use, making them one of the most popular in this category.
Psychoactive Magic mushrooms
Magic mushrooms or mushrooms containing the psychoactive indole alkaloids have a long history dating back to prehistoric times. They have been first depicted in the rock paintings of the Mesolithic era which dates from 7000 to 3850 BCE found at Tassili n’Ajjer in Northern Africa indicating a shamanic use.
Magic mushrooms Along the ages
Later it was used extensively in the Mesoamerican region from the Columbian times till present day. They were used for religious divination, healing and communion. Several statuettes have been found in the shape of mushrooms at several archaeological sites in the Mesoamerican region. A prominent statuette is one found in the state of Colima in Western Mexico dating from circa 200 AD. Mushroom motifs and stones have been found in Guatemala among Mayan temple ruins. The psychoactive mushroom known as Psilocybe was referred to as divine mushroom or teonanacatl in their native language by the Aztecs. In fact it is reported to have been served during the coronation of the very famous Aztec ruler Moctezuma II in the year 1502. The Mazatecs and Aztecs refer to psilocybin mushrooms as divinatory mushrooms, genius mushrooms and wondrous mushrooms.
When he visited Central America, the missionary Bernardino de Sahagun reported the use of teonanacatl for ritualistic purposes among the Aztecs. The catholic missionaries vehemently campaigned against the religious divination of these mushrooms referring them as pagan idolatry. They believed that the mushrooms served as the medium of communication with the devils. Because of this, they strived to replace the teonanacatl with the sacrament of the Eucharist. However in spite of the suppression of this ritual, in some remote areas, the tenonanacatl has continued with its ritual status.
Reference to Magic mushrooms
The first reference to the magic mushrooms occurred in the literature of Western medicine in 1799. A person had served these mushrooms for breakfast to his family which he had picked from the London’s Green Park. The physician who treated them refers to how the youngest child could not control fits of laughter.
Beginning of the Modern Popularization
In the modern era, in 1955, R.Gordon Wasson and Valentina Wasson earned the distinction of being the first Westerners to take part in a Native Indian mushroom ceremony. This couple published their participation in the ceremony in the Life magazine in 1957. The mushroom that was brought back by this couple from Mexico was identified as Psilocybe by Roger Heim. In the year 1958, psilocin and psilocybin were first identified as active compounds of magic mushrooms by Albert Hofmann.
Timothy Leary, the famous exponent of psychedelic drugs, inspired by the Wasson’s write-up in the Life magazine traveled to Mexico to have a taste of these mushrooms first hand. After returning from Mexico to Harvard in 1960, Leary along with Richard Alpert started a dedicated project to promote the religious and psychological research of psilocybin. The use of magic mushrooms increased exponentially globally, thanks to their popularization by the writers Robert Anton Wilson and Terence McKenna and by Wasson and Leary. In the early 1970’s, these mushrooms were widely collected from temperate regions of North America, Asia and Europe. Several books were published around the same period on the cultivation of these mushrooms. The wide scale availability of these mushrooms from the wild and their large scale cultivation have made them one of the most widely used psychedelic drugs.
Magic mushrooms in the modern days
Today, magic mushrooms are used widely among many groups spread from the regions of Oaxaca to Central Mexico. Mixe, Mixtecs, Nahua, Zapotecs and Mazatecs are some of these indigenous groups. Maria Sabina helped to popularize the wide usage of these mushrooms in Mexico. There are around 200 species of these psychedelic mushrooms found in the world today.