How Ancient People Used Magic Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used as food and medicine and for thousands of years, as a form of recreational substance. Known as magic mushrooms or shrooms, these fungi were, and still are, popular for their psychedelic effects. The practice of ingesting magic mushrooms actually date back to prehistoric times as evidenced by cave paintings found in different parts of the globe.

From ancient peoples of Spain to the Aztecs of South America, magic mushrooms have been used for rituals and religious ceremonies. The effects of shrooms were known to summon the gods and spirits. Here are a few ways ancient people have used magic mushrooms:

Evidence in prehistoric caves in Spain

Experts have uncovered evidence that prehistoric people have used magic mushrooms in religious rituals. Rock art found in a cave-dwelling near Villar del Humo in Spain showed that prehistoric people who dwelled in the area used Psilocybe hispanica over 6,000 years ago. The artwork revealed that the mushroom species was a vital part of their many rituals. It was also part of their daily life and devotion to their gods. These cave artwork were also evidence that magic mushrooms have psychedelic effects that were used to communicate with divinities.

Proof in the Tassilli Caves in Algeria

The Tassilli Caves in Algeria also has proof that prehistoric people believed in the power of magic mushrooms. These were used in summoning divinity which is why these a quality were used in various religious ceremonies. The caves revealed artwork that dates back 7,000 to 9,000 featuring the use of Psilocybe mairei in various religious festivities and events.

Magic mushroom use in Guatemala

Prehistoric cultures of Mesoamerica also used mushroom species of the Psilocybe genus in religious ceremonies like healing, communions, and divination.  There were also mushroom stones and designs located in prehistoric dwellings in Guatemala. Even until today, the people who lived in the area use magic mushrooms not just for rituals and ceremonies but is also for recreational use.

Statues in Colima, Mexico tombs

Aside from cave art that pertains to the use of magic mushrooms, statuettes of a mushroom that looks like the Psilocybe mexicana were seen in Colima, Mexico. A statuette was dated and was revealed to be from the 200 CE. These mini artifacts were used not just for decoration but also for religious rituals. The statuettes were found in the west Mexican shaft and tomb in Colima.  

Aztecs’ “divine mushrooms”

The Aztecs were not just builders and artists but they were also very religious. A species of mushroom called Psilocybe or teonanacati to the Aztecs were venerated as “divine mushrooms”. The agglutinative form of teoti is a god or sacred while nanacatl is mushroom. These magic mushrooms were used during the coronation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II way back in 1502. The mushrooms served during this special occasion were called genius mushrooms, wondrous mushrooms, and divinatory mushrooms because these were used in various forms of religious rituals. A Franciscan friar and ethnographer named Bernardino de Sahagun traveled to Central America after Herman Cortes and he reported the use of magic mushrooms by the Aztecs. The reports of de Sahagun has made it clear that the Aztecs knew about the mind-altering effects of magic mushrooms but took these as spiritual rather than mind-enhancing effects.   

Banning magic mushrooms during the Spanish conquest

After the conquest of Spain, the practice of using magic mushrooms by the Aztecs was suppressed. Spanish missionaries banned most of the cultural traditions of the Aztecs and the people were branded as idolaters. The missionaries also banned other hallucinogenic plants aside from mushrooms. They believed that these were used by the Aztecs to communicate with demons and evil spirits. The Spanish priests converted the Aztecs and wanted a move from teonanacatl to the Catholic sacrament. Most of the people found in large villages were converted but there were remote villages that still used teonanacatl. Magic mushrooms remained in these small areas and were widely used in many religious and social gatherings.

First accounts of magic mushroom use in Europe

Despite being banned by Catholic missionaries, the use of magic mushrooms spread slowly to many parts of Europe. The first reports of the use of magic mushrooms were in London and were cited in the London Medical and Physical Journal in 1799. A man accidentally served Psilocybe semilanceata, a species of mushrooms known for its hallucinogenic effects, to his family. According to reports, the man picked the mushroom in London’s Green Park but was unaware that these had psychedelic effects. The doctor who examined the family said that the youngest child of the man suffered from uncontrollable laughter. The man tried to make his child stop from his uncontrollable fit but was unsuccessful.

Present day use of magic mushrooms

Today, the use of magic mushrooms is still reported to be prevalent among some groups from central Mexico to Oaxaca. This includes groups like the Mixtecs, Mixe, Mazaltecs, Nashua, Zapotecs, and others. One such popular native shaman and the first contemporary Mexican curandera was Maria Sabina. She was a Mazatec who resided in the Sierra Mazaleca of Southern Mexico. Her practice of healing was based on the use of magic mushroom species like Psilocybe Mexicana.

Most of the magic mushroom species are found in Mexico (around 53 species). There are also species found in Canada and the United States, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Psilocybin mushrooms are found in all continents. These are dark-sported, gilled and grow in meadows and woods in places where there are tropical and subtropical climates. Most are found in subtropical humid species. The most widely distributed is the Psilocybin mushroom which can be found in all continents.  

And despite being present in almost all places on earth, Psilocybin mushrooms are still regulated in many countries. There are even places where there are severe penalties for carrying and use of magic mushrooms. But still, there are countries that consider it legal to buy mushroom spore kits and grow kits. In Canada for instance, magic mushrooms are considered schedule III which means you need a prescription or license to obtain, possess or produce psilocin.

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