Hallucinogenic Mushrooms North of Mexico

As a matter of fact, the ethnographic and ethnobotanical situation in North America proves just that. While we have as yet no conclusive evidence that any kind of psychoactive mushroom was employed by Native Americans north of Mexico, however important edible mushrooms might have been to their diet, it is a fact that, as was noted in a previous chapter, a number of varieties containing psilocybine and other hallucinogenic compounds occur in North America, including species of Psilocybe. Moreover, as La Barre (1970c) has pointed out, the flaming-red variety of Amanita muscaria—the sacred species of the northern Eurasians—is native not only to Asia and Europe but to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, as well as the Sierra Madre of Mexico. The yellow variety occurs elsewhere in North America, including the northeast, especially in coniferous and birch forests—precisely the favorite habitat of Amanita muscaria also in the Old World.

We shall never know whether any memory of its wondrous properties remained with the first Americans to encounter the fly-agaric in their new northern environment, or indeed if any of their descendants ever tried it. There is no direct mention of fly-agaric use in any of the oral traditions of which we have records. Yet in historic times the urine of shamans was considered to possess great magical and therapeutic powers by some of the Northwest Coast tribes; shamans preserved their urine carefully in containers reserved for that purpose and employed it to guard themselves and others against malevolent beings, by such techniques as blowing it through tubes in the direction of supernatural danger. Alaskan Eskimos, whose culture originated in Siberia some 13,000 years ago, likewise respect urine for its magical properties, and hold the bladder in high regard as the seat of special powers. Could such beliefs be survivals of a more ancient fly-agaric urine-drinking tradition?

If so, all knowledge of it has certainly long been lost, while in Mexico Amanita muscaria's Eurasiatic role as the mushroom of divine knowledge was assumed—when, we do not know—by fungi of very different appearance and pharmacology.

What we do know is that when the hunters of bison and mammoth in the Late Pleistocene reached and settled the country of the Rio Grande, they also discovered a new ritual inebriant, the highly toxic, red beanlike seed of Sophora secundifiora, which their descendants were to employ for the next 10,000 years in ecstatic-shamanistic medicine cults, until autonomous Indian culture succumbed to Anglo-American expansionism and the more benign peyote was adopted as the sacrament of a new, syncretistic pan-Indian religion.

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