The use of mind-altering mushrooms has pervaded human society since long prior to the birth of civilization approximately 6000 years ago, and potentially even multiple hundreds of thousands of years into antiquity. The earliest concrete evidence consists of rock etched murals depicting mushroom iconography found in Northern Australia, where archaeologists and geologists suggest that the psychedelic-themed illustrations date back to 10,000 B.C.E. While there is no hard evidence supporting earlier use, it’s logical to assume humans have consumed psychoactive fungi since homo sapiens became evolutionarily distinct.Although it would be impossible to determine exactly when and where it first began, there is evidence in the form of stone paintings that Saharan aboriginal tribes of North Africa might have been using mushrooms from around 9000 BC. Similarly, rock paintings in Spain created about 6000 years ago suggest that the mushroom Psilocybe hispanica was used during certain religious rituals near Villar del Humo.
It has been repeatedly documented that tribal societies across the globe revere psychedelic mushrooms and have used them in spiritual and therapeutic contexts for millennia.
Various indigenous Central American artwork indicate that they thought these mushrooms were a means of communicating with the gods, while their nomenclature gives even more evidence of this. The Nahuatl language used by the Maya and Aztec peoples named these mushrooms Teonanácatl, which literally translates to “flesh of the gods.” Many religious myths of the Aztecs, Maya, and Toltecs are rife with mention of mushrooms, even stating that they were given to distant ancestors by the serpent god Quetzocoatl, who was worshipped as the creator of life by all of these cultures.
Indigenous tribes in Siberia also ritualized a hallucinogenic mushroom, the same red and white spotted Amanita Muscaria that reindeer commonly consume. These cultures were and still are known to collect and drink the psychoactive urine of these reindeer. This mushroom produces effects markedly different from those of the Psilocybe genus, and unlike Mesoamerican use of Psilocybe for solely divinatory purposes, Musciaria also had practical applications. Siberians utilized the altered state of consciousness evoked by the Amanita to exceed “normal” physical capacity, and endure inhospitable temperatures through the disassociative effects of muscimol (the active compound in Amanita Muscaria mushrooms).
In Ancient Greece, cults worshipping the goddess Demeter held ritual ceremonies involving the use of a psychoactive brew that possibly contained Ergot fungus (what LSD is derived from), Psilocybe mushrooms, and Amanita Muscaria mushrooms—which undoubtedly made for an intensely powerful experience. These ceremonies, colloquially known as “The Eleusinian Mysteries,” were shrouded in secrecy, at the time bearing the death penalty for exposing knowledge gained during the rituals. This severe penalty made the ceremonies somewhat exclusive, often attended by members of the upper-class and preeminent scholars, artists and philosophers like Plato, Homer, and Aristotle.
The Egyptians, similar to Mesoamerican societies, created numerous forms of artwork depicting mushrooms, and had vernacular terms for the psychoactive varieties translating to “sons of the gods” or “food of the gods.” They believed that, since mushrooms do not sprout from a seed, they were placed on earth by the god Osiris; therefore their consumption was limited to the priesthood and upper classes (who were also thought to be descended from the gods). It has even been theorized that ancient Egyptians cultivated these mushrooms on barley grain, showing how culturally and spiritually significant their use was.
Magic Mushrooms in Western Society
It wasn’t till the late 1950s that the Western civilized world got introduced to psilocybin. R. Gordon Wasson and Roger Heim, with help from Albert Hofmann, managed to extract and identify the two hallucinogenic Ingredients (psilocybin and psilocin) found inside the mushrooms, which they had collected from the Mazatec tribe while on an expedition in Mexico. The term “magic mushrooms” was introduced in the Life Magazine exposé entitled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” The piece was written by R. Gordon Wasson, who in 1955, along with his wife Valeria, became among the first “westerners” allowed to participate in an indigenous mushroom ceremony, guided by the famous shaman Maria Sabina. Their experience took place in the small village of Huautla de Jiménez in Oaxaca Mexico. Magic mushrooms are among the oldest Hallucinogens that human beings have ever used, and what is most amazing is that they remain actively in use even today.