Mainstay Of The Heavens

(The number refers to the "Plant Lexicon"; the common name refers to the reference chart 'Overview of Plant Use.|

Siberian shamans use elaborate symbolic costumes and decorated drums in their ceremonies. The left figure is a shaman from Krasnojarsk District; at righi, the Kamtchatka District.

or no psychoactivity—were substituted. Yet the identity of Soma remained one of the enigmas of ethnobotany for two thousand years. Only in 1968 did the interdisciplinary research of Gordon Was-son provide persuasive evidence that the sacred narcotic was a mushroom. Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric. Amanita muscaria may be the oldest of the hallucinogens and perhaps was once the most widely used.

The curious hallucinogenic use Amanita muscaria has been documented since 1730. It was then that a Swedish military officer, a prisoner of war in Siberia for twelve years, reported that primitive tribesmen there employed the Fly Agaric as a shamanistic inebriant. The custom persisted among scattered groups of Finno-Ugrian peoples of Siberia. Traditions suggest that other groups in this vast northern region also used the mushroom.

A Koryak legend tells us that the cul ture hero, Big Raven, caught a whale but was unable to put such a heavy animal back into the sea. The god Vahiyi-nm (Existence) told him to eat wapaq spirits to get the strength that he needed. Vahiyinin spat upon the earth, and little white plants—the wapaq spirits—appeared: they had red hats and Vahiyinin's spittle congealed as white flecks. When he had eaten wapaq Big Raven became exceedingly strong, and he pleaded: "O wapaq, grow forever on earth." Whereupon he commanded his people to learn what wapaq could teach them. Wapaq is the Fly Agaric, a gift directly from Vahr"";n.

These Siberian mushroom users had no other intoxicants, until the Russians introduced alcohol. They dried the mushrooms in the sun and ingested them either alone or as an extract in water, reindeer milk, or the jui e of several sweet plants. When the mushroom was swallowed as a solid, it was first moistened in the mouth, or a woman rolled it in her mouth into a moistened pellet for the men to swallow The ceremonial use of the Fly Agaric developed a ritualistic practice of urine-drinking, since these tribesmen learned

Page 83 top: Cliff drawing of a shaman ;n the Altc mountains of Asia.

Page 83 right: Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) is found around the world and is associated nearly everywhere with fairy worlds, alternative realities, and shamanic practices.

Soma, the god narcotic of ancient India, attained an exalted place in magico-rehgious ceremonies of the Aryans, who 3,500 years ago swept down from the north into the Indus Valley bringing with them the cult of Soma These early invaders of India worshiped the hoi) n-ebriant and drank an extract of it in the;r most sacred rites. Whereas most hallucinogenic plants were considered merely as sacred mediators, Soma became a god in its own right. An ancient Indran tradition recorded in the Rig-Veda asserts that "Parjanya, the god of thunder, was the father of Soma" (Indra).

"Enter into the heart of Indra, receptacle

Siberian shamans use elaborate symbolic costumes and decorated drums in their ceremonies. The left figure is a shaman from Krasnojarsk District; at righi, the Kamtchatka District.

of Soma, like rivers into the ocean, thou who pleasest Mitra, Varuna, Vaya, mainstay of heaven! . . , Father of the gods, progenitor of the moving force, mainstay of the sky, foundation of the earth."

Of the more than 1,000 holy hymns in the Rig-Veda, 120 are devoted exclusively to Soma, and references to this vegetal sacrament run through many of the other hymns. The cult was suppressed, and the original holy plant was forgotten; other plant surrogates—with little that the psychoactive principles of the mushroom pass through the body unmetabolized, or in the form of still active metabolites—most unusual for hallucinogenic compounds in plants An early account, referring to the Koryak, reported that "they pour water on some of the mushrooms and boil ''hem. They then drink the liquor, which i itox icates them; the poorer sort, who cannot afford to lay in a store of the mush rooms, post themselves on these occasions round the huts of the rich and watch the opportunity of the guests coming down to make water and then hold a wooden bowl to receive the urine, whkh thej drink off greedily as having still some virtue of the mushroom in it, and by tms way they also get drunk."

The R' -Veda definitely refers to urine-drinking in the Soma ritual: "The swo len men piss the flowing Soma. The lords, with full bladders, piss Soma quick with movement." The priests impersonating Indra and Vajin, having drunk Soma in milk, urinate Soma. In the Vedic poems, urine is not offensive but is an ennobling metaphor to describe »in: the blessings of ram itre likened to showers of urine, and the clouds fertilize the earth with their urine

A traveler among the Koryak in the early twentieth century offered one of the few descriptions of intoxication m aboriginal use of the mushroom. He wrote that the "Fly Agaric produces intoxication. hallucinations, and delirium. Light forms of intoxication are accompanied b_ a certain degree of animation and some spontaneity of movements. Many shamansj previous to their se-ancei^eat Fly Agaric to get into ecstatic states . . . Under strong intoxication, the senses become deranged, surrounding objects appear either very large or very small, hallucinations set in, spontaneous movements and convulsions. So far as I could observe, attacks of great animation alternate with moments of deep depression The person intoxicated by Fly Agaric sits quietly rocking from side to side, even taking part in conversations with his family. Suddenly his eyes dilate, he begins to gesticulate convulsively

The Chemistry of Fiy Agaric

The active principle of Amanita muscaria was thought once, a century ago, to have been muscarine when Schmiedeberg and Koppe isolated this substance. This belief has been proved erroneous. Recently Eugstei in Switzer land and Takemoto in Japan isolated ibotenic acid and the alkaloid muscimole as being responsible for the Fly Agaric's psychotropic effects. The mushroom is taken usually dried. The drying process induces the chemical transforma tion of ibotenic acid to muscimole, the most active constituent.

Right: The Fly Agaric is often and falsely feared as being a poisonous mushroom; nevertheless, it is qladly used for luck-bringing candy.

Above left: To bring good luck into 'he coming year, fireworks in the shape of Fly Agaric are set off on New Year's Eve.

converses with persons whom he ' magines he sees, smgs and dances Then an interval of rest sets in again."

The Fly Agaric was apparently employed hallucinogenically in Mesoa-merica. It occurs naturally in highland areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala. The Maya of highland Guatemala, for example, recognize Amanita, muscaria as having special properties, for they call it Kakuljá-ikox ("lightning mushroom"), relating it to one of the gods Rajaw Kakuljá or Lord of Lightning. It is this god who directs the operating of chacs, dwarf r-^n-bringers now usually known by their Christian designation, angelitos. The Quiche name of the Amanita muscaria, Kaquljá, refers to its legendary origin, whereas the term Itzelo-cox refers to its sacred power as "evil or diabolical mushroom." Thunder and lightning have widely and anciently been associated with mushrooms, in both hemispheres, especially with Amanita muscaria. "In any event, the Quiche-Maya .. . are evidently well aware the Amanita muscaria is no ordinary mushroom but relates to the supernatural."

The first settlers of the Americas came from Asia, slowly crossing the region of the Bering Strait. Anthropologists have found many Asia-related or remnant culture traits that persist in the Americas. Recent discoveries have uncovered vestiges of the magico-reli-gious importance of the Fly Agaric that have indeed survived in North American cultures. Indications of undoubted

Above left: To bring good luck into 'he coming year, fireworks in the shape of Fly Agaric are set off on New Year's Eve.

Above right: The results of smoking Fly Agaric are depicted in the German chit dren's book Mecki and the Dwarves.

Below right: It is possible that Fly Agaric is identical to the Vedic wonder-drug Soma Today Ephedra (Ephedrage; ardiana) is called somalata, "soma plant." In Nepal Ephedra is not hallucinogenic or psychedelic but is a very strong stimulant.

Left: A Kamtchatka shaman implores the Fly Agaric, her rtual substance to as-:3t her in traveling to other realms

Left: A Kamtchatka shaman implores the Fly Agaric, her rtual substance to as-:3t her in traveling to other realms

Above right: The Spirit of the Fly Agaric in Japan is the long-nosed, red-faced Tengu. Whoever eats Beni-Tengu- Dake (Red Tengu mushroom) will encounter the lively entity.

hallucinogenic use of the Fly Agaric have been discovered among the Do-grib Athabascan peoples, who live on the Mackenzie Mountain range in northwestern Canada. Here Amanita muscarM is empl»red as a sacrament in shamanism. A young neophyte reported that whatever the shaman had done

to him, "he had snatched me. I had no volition, I had no power of my own. I didn't eat, didn't sleep, I didn't think— I wasn't in my body any longer." After a later seance, he wrote: "Cleansed and ripe for vision, I rise, a bursting ball of seeds in space ... I have sung the note that shatters structure. And the note that shatters chaos, and been bloody ... I have been with the dead and attempted the labyrinth." His first mush room experience represented aismein berment; his second; meeting with the spiiit.

More recently, the religious use of Amanita mwscaria as a sacred halluciner-gen has been discovered in an ancient annual ceremony practiced by the Ojibwa Indians or Ahmshinaubeg who live on Lake Superior in Michigan. The mushroom is known in the Ojibwa language as Oshtimisk Wajashkwedo ("Red-top mus hro om

Above right: The Spirit of the Fly Agaric in Japan is the long-nosed, red-faced Tengu. Whoever eats Beni-Tengu- Dake (Red Tengu mushroom) will encounter the lively entity.

Below left: The myth of Soma still !ives on. Here it is the name of a bar in a luxury hotel in Delhi.

Above left: The yellow blossom of the rare variety of Atropa belladonna var lutea. The yellow Deadly Nightshade is regarded as particularly potent for magic and witchcraft.

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