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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide

Stamets, Paul. (1996)
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

ISBN: 0-89815-839-7

Description: paperback, xx + 245 pages.

Contents: Foreword by Andrew Weil, introduction, 10 chapters, glossary, recommended reading and resources, works cited, acknowledgments, index, about the author.

Excerpt(s): I was nineteen years old when I embarked on my first book, Psilocybe Mushrooms & Their Allies. I was living in a mountain cabin near Darrington, Washington, and progress was slow and frustrating, in part because I was pounding away on a vintage Underwood typewriter whose keys required perpetual cleaning with toothbrushes. And yet, the project became a window into another dimension. Twenty years later, I am still collecting photographs and data on the subject. This book is an accumulation of research, both my own and my colleagues, through generations of experiences. (page 1)

While researching Psilocybe, I became accustomed to meeting great resistance from professional mycologists, many of who had an instant distrust of anyone expressing a passion for Psilocybe. There were some mycologists who stated publicly that it would be better for people to die from mistakes in identification than to provide them with the tools for recognizing a Psilocybe mushroom. This bizarre attitude towards Psilocybe mushrooms and the people who use them reflected a chasm between generations.

Some physicians even seemed to take a perverse pleasure in the needless pumping of stomachs of patients who had consumed psilocybin mushrooms. One doctor told me he does so to "teach them a lesson." (page 3)

Ironically, each one of those pickers-knowingly or not-became agents for dispersing spores into more and more habitats. To this day, the grounds around the county courthouse and sheriff's department remain one of my favorite places to find Psilocybe cyanescens and Psilocybe stuntzii. Other favored sites include college campuses, utility substations, hospitals, office complexes, and ornamental gardens.

By the mid eighties, whole cities were overrun with Psilocybes-from Vancouver, B.C., to San Francisco. The growth of suburbia was expanding the zones of colonization. In particular, the marketing of wood chips (beauty bark) for landscaping continues to drive the Psilocybe revolution. Guerrilla inoculations became commonplace. Legions of Johnny Appleseed types traveled throughout the land carrying cardboard boxes filled with white, ropy mushroom mycellum. ...

Similar trends in Europe soon followed. Many of the people I've met tell me they are on a vision quest; they believe that the world will become a more spiritual and peaceful place with each new mushroom patch. Many feel a deep, ecologically awakened attachment to the Earth, and believe that they are crusaders saving the planet. At any rate, they are succeeding in expanding the domain of psilocybin mushrooms. (page 4)

In dream state, I drove hurriedly into the mountains. Then, turning a corner on a country road, I came into a broad river valley lit up with a cold, clear light. The valley had flooded. Floating, dead, and bloated in the frigid sunlight were hundreds and hundreds of cows. The dream abruptly ended and I awoke in a cold sweat, struck with a fear of impending disaster. ...

As I entered the Snohomish Valley, I stared in disbelief at hundreds of cattle who, stranded by the rising waters, had drowned overnight. It was December 1, the exact day my dream had foretold. This single event shattered my concept of linear time. The future can be foreseen.

Now I knew what shamans have known for centuries: the psilocybin experience can facilitate precognition of the future-especially as in my case, of an impending biological disaster. Now I understood why the Mazatecs and Aztecs affectionately referred to Psilocybes as divinatory mushrooms, genius mushrooms, and wondrous mushrooms. They recognized that mushrooms are powerful sacraments and a significant evolutionary advantage for those sensitive enough to heed the call.

This book will be your guide to these sacred mushrooms, giving you the necessary tools for safely identifying psilocybin mushrooms throughout the world. The path is ancient, noble, and for many, holy. I sincerely hope that you will discover the capacity of the mushrooms to lead to a new type of consciousness. Be careful, observant, respectful, and wise. The mushroom will be your teacher. (pages 7-8)

The discovery of mushroom motifs and mushroom stones in excavations of Mayan temple ruins strongly underscores the important cultural role these mushrooms played. One of the Psilocybe mushrooms (P. mexicana) was so esteemed as a holy sacrament as to be called teonanacatl (God's flesh) in the Aztec language. In the sixteenth century, a Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagún, who travelled to the New World several decades after the expedition of the Spanish conqueror Herando Cortés, reported the ritualistic use of teonanacatl by the Aztec peoples. However, misguided Catholic missionaries, in carrying out their campaign against "pagan idolatry," soon forced mushroom ceremonies into secrecy by persecuting those who were caught using them. As Christianity subjugated native rites, religions, and beliefs, artifacts-including mushroom stones and other motifs-were viewed by the conquering Catholics as idols to pagan gods and systematically destroyed. (page 11)

If we are to consider Wasson and his colleagues the first generation of ethnomycologists, then Jonathan Ott, Terrence McKenna, Andrew Well, Christian Ratsch, Jochen Gartz, Giorgio Samorini, and other contemporaries could be considered the second generation. ... As the body of knowledge from this second generation amasses, a broad foundation is being laid in place for future ethnomycologists. The course of human history has been dramatically affected by the use of psilocybin mushrooms and will continue to be for years to come. (page 15)

Northern Algeria is one example. Today, the region is in stark contrast to its water-rich past. Once filled with rivers and lined with riparian woodlands, the Tassili plateau has now been engulfed by the expanding Sahara desert. In fact, the Tassili-n-Ajjer region was known as the "plateau of the rivers." In the 1930s and 1940s, hundreds of Paleolithic drawings were discovered in this region, painted on the walls of caves and rock faces. ...

For the Paleolithic human, the effects from ingesting psilocybin mushrooms would have precipitated one of the most phenomenal events ever experienced: a virtual cascade of consciousness, such as the awakening of the spiritual and intellectual self, the introduction to complex fractal mathematics, and the introduction to other dimensions. Such experiences continue to inspire artists, computer geniuses, and some of the greatest thinkers of this century. (pages 17-18)

Psilocybes have propelled themselves to the front lines of the evolutionary race precisely because of their psilocybin content. The production of psilocybin has proven to be a competitive evolutionary advantage. Psilocybin mushrooms carry with them a message from nature about the health of the planet. At a time of planetary crisis brought on by human abuse, the earth calls out through these mushrooms-sacraments that lead directly to a deeper ecological consciousness, and motivate people to take action. (page 19)

Rituals: Safety nets for the psychonaut

As the dosage increases, the need for ritual becomes increasingly important. Working within a ritual setting gives structure to the experience and progresses events along a positive path. Ritual can become a safeguard if the going gets rough-it can help lead you through the experience and make it profoundly meaningful. After repeated sessions, the ritual becomes a psychological road map, providing a framework for safe tripping. Rituals are built from the lessons learned from previous good experiences. But at some point, for the shamans amongst us, being safe is not the priority-pushing the envelope to new revelations is. (page 41)

On a recent trip, my eyes became so sensitive that, on a moonless night, I saw my hands cast shadows on the ground from the starlight above. Overlaying this display of splendor are colorful, dancing, geometrical fractals of infinite complexity. The universe moves in harmony. My spirit moves with it. I feel as though I have become a thread in the fabric of nature and have returned home. Experiences such as these leave impressions that are held dear for a lifetime. It is no wonder that cultures from Paleolithic times up to those of the present have all been held spellbound by psilocybin mushrooms. (page 44)

Like the shamans of southern Mexico, I prefer nocturnal tripping. I'll set up base camp in the late afternoon or early evening. An hour before sunset, the mushrooms are selected and separated into pairs. My wife and I have found that an offering of mushrooms to Gaia, on a makeshift altar, sets the stage for an experience filled with earth magic. Before ingestion, I like caressing their natural forms, speaking to them of their beauty, wisdom, and ancient power. They are the keys to the dimensions surrounding us that ordinarily cannot be seen. If they permit, you will be granted access to unimaginable dimensions of beauty, grace, and peacefulness. They bring me closer to God, Jesus, Buddha, Gaian consciousness, my origins, and to a deeper understanding of my purpose in the universe. The experience, by all measures, is profoundly spiritual. I strongly believe that the environmental movement that took off in the sixties has been and continues to be fueled by revelations from the psilocybin experience. (page 45)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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