Hopefully I’ve caught your attention with such a fantastical sounding title, as quite frankly I’m sick of all the shit that is growing out this corona-virus situation. So I’ve decided to write about something else, something that often grows directly out of shit itself….mushrooms.
There are over 50,000 known different species of mushroom, including moulds and yeasts. Only about 1 or 2 percent of these are poisonous, most of them are edible, though only a few dozen are truly flavourful. Aside from nourishing the body, they can also protect it and many species of mushroom are used in medicines throughout the world. Furthermore, some of the most sought after are known to be hallucinogenic and have a direct effect on our consciousness. Truly there is no part of us, mind, body or soul that the humble mushroom cannot reach. In fact the latest scientific research suggests that the human body is actually only 43% human, the rest being made of various microbiota including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
The ancient Chinese were extremely keen on utilizing mushrooms for their medicinal qualities. There are some that nourish our Jing or Essence, some that tonify our Qi or Energy and some, the most revered of all, have the ability to cultivate our Shen or Spirit. There is a little known Daoist text from the 7th Century called ‘The Secrets of the Daoist Immortals’. In it there are very specific instructions on how to find, cultivate, harvest and ingest what they call ‘numinous mushrooms’. ‘Numinous’, in this context means to have a strong religious or spiritual quality and suggests the presence of a divinity. The ingesting of these mushrooms was said to give supernatural powers such as flying, walking on water, passing through fire and immortality. It was said to give the ability to expel evil spirits and to commune with gods, dragons and immortals. Sounds like a good old fashioned pokey hallucinogen to me!
Clearly it was not only the ancient Chinese that utilised hallucinogenic mushrooms. In fact they grow in pretty much every country on Earth and Britain was no exception. The classic red and white fly agaric is associated with many British myths and legends and was ingested by druids and witches, who were said to be able to contact nature spirits, gods, fairies and gnomes. Not dissimilar to the numinous ones, in their seeming ability to effect the spirit in such a way that other energetic entities may be encountered.
However it is the classic ‘magic’ mushroom, liberty cap or Psilocybe semilanceata that is most prevalent in the U.K today. At this time of year you may see many a hunched figure, scouring the Mendips or Quantocks for these tiny little powerful hallucinogens and perhaps with good reason. It transpires that it’s not just the ancients that have discovered the health benefits of these truly magic mushrooms. Psilocybin is getting a great deal of media attention at the moment, as its therapeutic potential is being rediscovered after decades of not simply neglect, but of active suppression and prohibition. Scientists, psychologists and psychedelic researchers are becoming aware that this nontoxic molecule may harbour the potential to treat addictions, depression, trauma, anxiety and even ‘blunt the sting of death itself by alleviating the existential angst and loneliness of terminally ill patients about to cross that final threshold.’ (Makenna)
This is a period of time where malnutrition is on the rise, our immune system is taking a battering and our spirit is under attack from many angles. Perhaps this is also a time where we should take a fresh look at this incredible fungal kingdom and attempt to utilise it once again, to its full potential.