Mind the MAGIC Shrooms

The sad canon of the hallucinogenic mushroom

Fact: New Mexico’s Court of Appeals says that it’s not illegal to grow psilocybin mushrooms for your own personal use.

Fact: Researchers from the University of Southern Florida have discovered that low doses of psilocybin mushrooms may help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and addictions.

What are you waiting for? While the ayahuasca revolution is just getting started and a church that uses the substance has been all but run out of town, psychedelic mushrooms are still languishing in the back of your freezer. When taken with an MAOI inhibitor such as Syrian Rue, mushrooms offer a very similar experience to ayahuasca. This means a certain kind of shamanic experience can be easily accessed outside the confines of the sometimes off-putting ayahuasca scene.

I will admit to bias: I think mushrooms are fantastic. I believe they can aid in curing both physical and mental disorders. They are, however, illegal by federal standards, classified as a "schedule one" drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and hence stigmatized, which prevents society from learning more about how mushrooms can be used for medicine.

With this intention, I dove into all the books I could find on psychedelic mushrooms, hoping to find clues to the possibility of a future renaissance. I discovered that anything you need to know about mushrooms is on the internet. Also, author Terrence McKenna is annoying.

McKenna's Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge is not so much a book but a decoration, meant to sit on a shelf to confer hipness and spirituality without actually being read. McKenna has always presented himself as an academic star, so I was shocked to find that this book was just a mishmash of chapters on psychoactive substances thrown together with his dubious theories about consciousness and the lost days when we were all goddess-worshipping pagans.

Another of his books, True Hallucinations, is a memoir about a period when he and his friends ate a lot of mushrooms in the Amazon. The writing is better, but it only cemented my opinion that McKenna is damaging the mushroom's reputation when he assumes his idiosyncratic trips speak for everybody else's experience with the plant as well.

He writes, "The notion of some kind of fantastically complicated visionary revelation that happens to put one at the very center of the action is a symptom of mental illness. This theory does that, and yet so does immediate experience, and so do the ontologies of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. My theory may be clinically pathological, but unlike these religious systems, I have enough humor to realize this."

I find this statement to be toxically grandiose and Eurocentric. I understand traditional plant medicines often lead to revelations about oneness with all beings, but not that you, yourself, are the center of the universe. In True Hallucinations, McKenna constantly mentions the native Witoto, but never notes any relationships with individuals in the tribe. He basically uses them as part of the scenery to make his writing seem exotic and adventurous. Any plant medicine revolution must engage seriously with concepts of indigenousness to be relevant, and McKenna is ultimately clue less despite his chatter about "archaic revival."

The Mazatec poet and wise woman Maria Sabina said that when the white people started coming, they wanted to find God. This was the first time she knew of people trying to find God through the mushroom. For her and her people, the mushrooms were only used for curing sickness. These "saint children" led Sabina to The Book in which she was given language to heal others. These accounts of "mushroom veladas" are widely accepted as some of the most beautiful poetry of all time.Maria Sabina: Selections, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, is a volume of these sacred chants.

Sabina also tells the story of her life, the death of her children and the onslaught of foreigners that led her to proclaim, "From the moment the foreigners arrived, the 'holy children' lost their purity. They lost their force; they ruined them." This book is an account of perhaps the only time in modern history when psilocybin mushrooms had real cultural significance.

McKenna overlooks what was essentially the rape of Mazatec sacred rites, stating like so many others do that it was Gordon Wasson who "discovered" psilocybin mushrooms in the '50s while visiting Maria Sabina. Simon G Powell's 2011 The Psilocybin Solution also makes this error, rendering the book irrelevant.

Fed up with McKenna, I picked up the novel Taipei by Tao Lin to clear my head.

Listed by countless sources as one of the best books of 2013, I was tickled that the main characters consistently munch their way through an impressive amount of psilocybin chocolates. The words "grateful to be alive" are the last words of the book as the protagonist 'shrooms his brains out. Lin is a real artist of the word, as was Sabina, and the mushrooms are happiest in their skillful hands.

Want more? The internet awaits.

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