Friday, 19 December 2014

Fly Agaric Magic Mushroom linked with Father Christmas

Fly Agarics. Photo in Public Domain

The Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) is a brightly coloured hallucinogenic mushroom that is often used in illustrations for fairy stories, and perhaps with very good reason. The substances muscimol and ibotenic acid it contains produce intoxication and altered reality and consumption of this toadstool has been used to produce visionary states. Because of this it is included in my book Herbs of the Northern Shaman.

Because of this, and its known use by shamans of Lapland, Siberia and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the fungus has been linked with the myth of Santa Claus. The Fly Agaric is coloured red and white just like the traditional costume that Father Christmas wears.

The Fly Agaric is sometimes eaten by reindeer and Santa Claus travels in a sleigh drawn by these animals. They fly through the sky and it has been suggested that hallucinations brought about by the ingestion of this fungus might have something to do with this fanciful idea.

The author and ethnobotanist R. Gordon Wasson suggested that the Fly Agaric was the mystical soma mentioned in the Rig Veda, sacred book of the Hindus. John Marco Allegro in his 1970 book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross went as far as suggesting that the Christian religion was founded by practitioners of an ancient fertility cult who were ritual users of this fungus and Biblical texts were inspired by visions they experienced. 

It has been suggested that part of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland was inspired by the Fly Agaric because it is known to cause hallucinations in which size becomes distorted. 

Hookah Smoking Caterpillar and Alice - Illustration by Sir John Tenniel (Public Domain)

Fly Agarics grow in groups under pine and birch, as well as under other trees.  They can be found in autumn and are common in some places. They grow in the UK, many parts of Europe, and across Asia, as well as in Canada and North America. 

Fly Agarics are reported to be edible after parboiling and the fungus has been eaten in some places. Recreational drug users and modern neo-shamans use the fungus as an entheogen, especially after the psilocybin magic mushrooms became an illegal drug in many countries such as the UK. 

The Fly Agaric is a fungus we all know about, if only from having seen it in fairy tales and in artwork.

Fly agarics in Rubezahl by Moritz von Schwind (Public Domain)

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