The Ancient Legacy of Sacred Use An extract from the CD-ROM
Psilocybian Mushroom Cultivation: A Brief History
by John W. Allen and Jochen Gartz PhD
At least 3500 years ago, visionary or entheogenic plants played an important role in religion and most likely helped in the social development and cultural structure of many primitive societies (Schultes, 1976; Schultes and Hofmann, 1979). It is because of the special chemical compounds found within these sacred healing plants which ancient man first discovered as he hunted for food that modern science first began putting to paper the historical significance behind the unique relationship which the mushrooms have with mankind; especially with those human and animal entities who have known the secret powers which the mushrooms imbue upon their users.
Psychoactive plants were originally discovered by early humankind when gathering food. History has proven to us, time and again, that it was only through trial and error, undoubtedly by early food hunter-gatherers, that the true identities and nature of these divine plants, and the substances contained within them, first became known of and separated from the toxic and edible species found growing around their village settlements.
It would seem that the early food-hunter gatherers who became aware of the special properties found within these magical plants, would soon worship them and use them to divinate, to heal and to cure, Imagine if you will, the very first concept of deity. The first tasters had to believe in the gift which emerged from that first sacred communion with these plants. That the vision-giving powers of these magical plants were indeed a divine gift from the gods.
We must remember that it wasn't just one plant which altered mankind's consciousness. It was hundreds of plants throughout the world. Plants which soon became the driving force of many arcane religions practiced by shaman's in pagan-barbaric societies. There they eventually found their way into the hands of the priests and shamans (medicine men); men who learned how to use the power of these plants to their own benefit, believing that they were, indeed, gifts from their gods.
The oldest representation which suggests the possibility that mushrooms may have been used ritualistically are the Tasili Cave paintings in Northern Algeria. Here we find zoomorphic figures whose bodies are adorned with drawings of what macroscopically appear to be mushrooms. These drawings have been dated from at least 9000 BP. The mushroom drawings appear to resemble the coprophilous species Psilocybe cubensis. However, cattle and other four-legged ruminants were not known to have been domesticated during this period, so it appears that the mushrooms in question must have been other varieties which were not of a coprophilous nature. It is also possible that this region of Northern Algeria could have been a green oasis with a variety of vascular plant life which eventually turned into a torrid desert region due to drastic climatic changes.
Mankind has learned though historical references in the known literature that there were two ancient civilizations which utilized mushrooms in a religious context. These two distinct civilizations were so far remote from each other, not just geographically, but also culturally. Yet they knew the secrets of the universe which we of the present have forgotten.
Although visionary plants have been used as catalysts to divination by hundreds of civilizations since mankind first walked the Earth, only two civilizations are of major importance in the field of ethnomycology. The most notable of the many cultures who employed some of these psychoactive plants as a key to divination were the ancient Aryans of Northern Eurasia and the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans as well as the Mayan people of Middle America.
The Aryans made use of a sacred divine god-plant which they, in their written records, often referred to as "Soma." It has been theorized that the entheogen in question is a mushroom species known as Amanita muscaria (Fr. ex L.) Hooker. The virtues of Soma are exalted and praised in hundreds of verses throughout the 9th and 10th mandala of the Rig-Veda (the Hindu scriptures). Use of this sacrament (Soma) by the ancient Aryan priests and their people had flourished for more than two thousand years (Wasson, 1967, 1968, 1970a, 1970b, 1971, 1972, 1979a). Now it is only an uncharted memory in the pages of Vedic history, its use has been aerated by western civilization. But its secrets are once again being questioned as to exactly what was the "Soma" and when did it's use disappear? We need only to look and maybe we shall find the answer. Although the Wassons had suggested that "Soma" was a mushroom, most likely Amanita muscaria, they pointed out that this mushroom was worshipped by the ancient Aryans and that several groups of primitive tribes currently living in Northern Siberia also use the Amanita muscaria mushroom in a cultic manner. However, several other plants such as Cannabis sativa(marijuana), Peganum harmala (Syrian rue) and even the coprophilous mushroom Psilocybe cubensis could also have been the "Soma" plant of the ancient Aryan religions.
In Mesoamerica, the Olmecs, the Toltecs, the Aztecs and the Mayans employed numerous visionary plants ritualistically in healing ceremonies. Mushrooms were one of the most important of the psychoactive agents employed by the Aztecs and their ancestors, the Náhuatl-speaking peoples. These sacred mushrooms belonged principally to the genus Psilocybe. Several investigators of the use of these plants in Mesoamerica have noted that some species of Panaeolus and Conocybe may also have been employed in ritual healing and curing ceremonies, as well as Amanita species. Several of the early Spanish chroniclers in their historical works noted that the Aztecs often referred to these mushrooms as "teonanácatl" or as "wondrous mushrooms." Schultes and Hofmann (1979) noted that the indigenous peoples of precolombian Mesoamerica may also have employed Amanita muscaria ceremoniously, for which there is now convincing evidence.
ReferencesSchultes, R. E. 1976. Fly Agaric Mushrooms.:24-37. Golden Press. Hallucinogenic Plants. Golden Press.
Schultes, R. E. and A. Hofmann. 1979. Plants of the Gods. McGraw Hill Book Co. New York.
Wasson, R. G. 1967. Fly Agaric and Man. In: D. H. Efron et al. (Eds.). Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs:405-414. U. S. Public Health Service Publication #1645. Washington, D.C.
------. 1968. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. Ethnomycological Studies #1. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. New York.
------. 1970a. Soma of the Aryans: An Ancient Hallucinogen. Bulletin on Narcotics vol. 22(3);25-30. United Nations Publication.
------. 1970b. Soma: Comments Inspired by Professor Kuiper's Review. Indo-Iranian Journal vol. 12(4):286-298.
------. 1971. The Soma of the Rig-Veda: What was it? Journal of the American Oriental Society vol. 91(2):169-187.
------. 1972. Soma and the Fly Agaric. Mr. Wasson's Rejoinder to Professor Brough. Ethnomycological Studies #2. Botanical Museum Harvard University, Cambridge.
------. 1979a. Soma Brought up to Date. Botanical Museum Leaflets of Harvard vol. 26(6):211-223.
Copyright 2001 J. Gartz and J. W. Allen
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