Research articles about the effects of LSD and mushrooms.
Acid, Mushrooms and the festival culture
A brief history of psychedelic drugs in Britain
A global tradition - Psychedelics and Spirituality
Throughout the globe, traditional and native religions have used psychoactive sustances to alter consciousness and to create spiritual insights. These substances have included medicinal plants and animal products, such as cannabis, fungi such as the fly agaric and liberty cap mushrooms, peyote cacti and toads of the genus Bufo. Many other substances have been used to alter consciousness, which appears to be a universal human desire, to be accomplished by meditation, fasting, prayer or religious devotion for some, and the use of alcohol, cannabis, opium, coca, psilocybe or amanita fungi for others.
Throughout ancient civilisation, Cannabis sativa (Hemp) was used for fibre and rope. The medicinal properties were recorded in China during the Shen Nung dynasty in 2737 BC, the "Burning Bush" in which Moses saw visions of God was almost certainly growing in the Beka"a valley in Lebanon . The Scythians threw the seed-bearing cannabis flowering tops on hot coals and inhaled the fumes, in a ceremony very similar to the Sweat Lodges of the Sioux and other indian tribes. The unleavened bread so beloved of early Christians was frequently contaminated with the ergot fungus (Claviceps purpurea) which contains the source chemicals for LSD and other indole-based psychedelic drugs.
In the North, the Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was used by Siberian herdsmen during rituals, where the urine of the rulers, and even of reindeer, containing the drugs involved, was used to change consciousness. In the South American jungle, tribesmen continue to use yage and ayahuasca - harmala alkaloids and tryptamine derivatives - to promote shapeshifting and communion with animal spirits. Native Americans use Mescaline from the peyote cactus (Lophophora williams) and have their religion protected under the US constitution. In the south seas, the islanders drink Kava Kava, and will not conduct business without the mildly psychedelic stimulant. Even the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh have had to drink the fermented brew on arrival in the islands before being accepted by the people.
Yet the western tradition has largely been ignored. The great stone circles, most archaeologists would agree, had many functions, gathering places, astronomical calendars & sundials, scenes of funerary rites and other ritual uses. Most of these sites are in upland areas where the Psilocybe semilanceata (Magic) mushroom is commonly found. This may or may not be coincidental, but may indicate that our ancestors were only too well aware of the properties of psychoactive plants during their religious and spiritual journeys. However we may never know the truth, as the witches, druids and other pagan societies of Western Europe were ruthlessly suppressed during the middle ages as the Christian church strove for spiritual supremacy.
The church suppressed alternative spirituality and herbalism, and the modern drug laws arguably sit within that tradition. The witches, mostly women healers and herbalists, were ruthlessly persecuted and burned at the stake, as paternalist christianity swept through europe, destroying any potential opposition from the matriarchal pagan peoples, and bringing (male) doctors using the wisdom (?) of Galen and other ancient Greek physicians - for a price - in place of the local healer women serving the community. Use of the toad and mushroom was hidden, and only hinted at in the surviving traditions of fairies, elves and otherworldly beings, sitting on their toadstools in childrens books. Fragments of the old lore remain, the red & white livery of Father Christmas heralding the yule festivities, representing the red and white-speckled cap of the Fly Agaric mushroom whereas the symbolic role of the reindeer would appear obvious. The common references to "Skin of Toad" in Witches Brews, containing bufotenine, a related compound to psilocybin, and even the etymological derivation of "Toadstool" may be indicative of a folk memory of ritual use of toadskins and magic mushrooms.
The practice of witchcraft was illegal in the UK until the 1950s, despite being popularised by gurus such as Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley in the late 19th/early 20th century. While Gardnerian wiccans tend to eschew the use of mind-altering substances, these traditionalists would now represent a small minority of the neopagan community, growing out of the hippie counterculture and green political movements, encompassing many spiritual traditions including the shamanic.