Psilocybin Flows In And Out Of The Western Mind

Wasson's Life story sits like a glowing spiritual ember in the tinder-dry secularity of America's 50's culture. The USA, caught up in a burgeoning but banal materialistic dream, could not fail but be ignited by such a soul-stirring otherworldly tale. Alongside Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception written a few years earlier which detailed the entheogenic effects of mescaline, both accounts were seminal in terms of their slow-fuse cultural impact. Each captured the brimming psychedelic Zeitgeist that was about to erupt upon the world's stage, Wasson and Huxley emerging as the founders of a cultural movement that would eventually blossom into the 'psychedelic sixties', with its colourful burst of artistic creativity, mind expansion, and inspired lunacy.

However, psilocybin, although initially sparking the psychedelic fire, soon left the scene of the divine crime, once more to fade underground from whence it mysteriously originated. By the mid-sixties, its synthetic rival d-Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD/acid, a substance whose structure and psychoactivity are distinct from psilocybin, had taken over as the prime mover, demonstrating the popular appeal of laboratory produced pills and tabs.

Easily manufactured, packaged, sold, and swallowed, pills are what the public come to expect, and even demand, in a technological consumer age, and therefore mass-produced LSD was quick to fill the evergrowing market for psychedelics. More significantly, the synthesis of substances like LSD allowed the power of production to lie in our hands and not the Earth's. In this way, the natural and 'earthy' shamanic aspect of entheogenic species was lost. Which is to say that the potential of entheogenic plants and fungi to forge an informative relationship between our species and Nature was not fully realised. Thus from the discerning vantage point astride the third millennium, we can look back to the dreams and quixotic idealism of the 1960's and understand that without an appreciation for holistic theories about the planet (like Gaia theory for instance - a popular hypothesis generated by scientist James Lovelock which views the Earth's biosphere as a single living system) and without an insight into the history of psychedelic shamanism, a new world vision was unlikely to take a firm cultural hold.

What this speculation boils down to is the concept of naturalness and the intimation that Nature is smarter than we. In particular, I would argue that the realisation that entheogenic plants and fungi are part of the ecosystem inevitably effects the significance and import of the entheogenic experience. Which means that the concept of naturalness acts as an important context for the entheogenic experience should that experience derive from a natural plant or fungus.

It was precisely this natural Gaian context that was sorely lacking in the early wave of popular interest in psychedelics. For without acknowledging the botanical environment as the original supply line for the entheogenic agents which started the psychedelic sixties rolling, the acid gurus, despite their vocal enthusiasm for a positive psychedelic world revolution, were still stuck with themselves, caught in a sort of anthropocentric loop and thereby isolated from an intimate union with the natural homeostatic systems of the Earth. As I eventually hope to show, the Gaian connection to the natural entheogenic experience represents the newest phase of psychedelic history, an interesting turn of events full of profound implications for our species.

Unsurprisingly then, although the psychedelic pioneers of the early 60's were originally turned on by the psilocybin experience - most notably the members of Harvard's psychology faculty - they soon became completely embroiled in acid and the media, and never really picked up upon the Gaian shamanic pulse of the mushroom. Perhaps this is why Wasson remained highly aloof of the whole hippy counter-culture. He quietly pursued his academic research into ancient mushroom use, whilst other researchers like R.E.Schultes continued to meticulously document visionary plant use among fast dwindling native peoples. Indeed, the academic work of both these scholars remain as invaluable sources for our knowledge of native psychedelic shamanism.

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