Everyone is doing ‘shrooms. The term “psychedelic wild west” has entered daily lingo. Various cities and states are legalizing them. Medical science sees promise in them and the pharmaceutical industry sees neon dollar signs. The blogosphere sparkles with promises of life radically altered, new connection with Spirit, banishment of old inner woe, and a great inside-the-eyelid-show. Finally, there’s a single cure for everything that bothers me.
So, people are micro dosing, and eating them in the basement or the woods with their friends, and clamoring for new certified psychedelic assisted therapists.
What is forgotten in the wild west is what indigenous people for thousands of years have known: plant medicines like mushrooms are living helping spirits. They aren’t a chemical compound. They aren’t a spiritual fast food menu item. Whenever there is a fervor, there is ego, greed and fear. These energies are antithetical to spiritual work. What nearly all the fervor over mushrooms has missed so far is how to work with them inside sacred ceremony, in prayerful community, guided by people who know how to do ceremony.
I’ve never used drugs recreationally, and I’m not a therapist. Eight years ago, I started training with Peruvian vegeltalistas and other ayahuasceros steeped in indigenous traditions of plant medicines, travelling several times a year to study in various locations. Every one of my experiences with mind-altering plants has been in a ceremonial environment, so my perspective is limited.
Does one need to see the mushroom as a spirit, and the work as sacred? For some shamans, the answer is: if you aren’t ceremonially careful, the plant spirit will bring you harm. In this case, harm can mean a very uncomfortable experience – a bad trip. Or harm can mean falling into an ego fantasy of which you are unaware. Other shamans look at it more practically: extracting the chemical compound from the plant and skipping over the reverence and the ceremonial energies in the work mean that you are choosing to use only a fraction of the mushroom’s power. So, really, you’re wasting time and energy.
The Shamanic View of Mushrooms
Shamans take the mushroom seriously as a living healing spirit, not as a chemical, as entertainment, or as a bludgeon on the psyche. Taking it seriously as a spirit helper takes a sizeable (and not easy) leap out of the western mind’s naïve and consumerist foundation. A good example: In ceremony, you begin by thanking the plant spirit, and asking its permission (often days in advance) to work with it. You make prayers to the mushroom spirit to help you, teach you and heal you. In ceremony, you also call in the powers of the surrounding land to help. I’m not so sure that many in the psychedelic wild west do any of this.
There’s a lot of excitement about legalizing ‘shrooms. Therapists are eager. Users, patients, growers, and businesspeople are all eager. Psychedelic therapy training programs are popping up like mushrooms on a dewy Oaxaca cow pie.
However, in the polyamorous marriage of Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big State License, and Big Academia, I don’t see the ceremonial approach to the medicine being part of the great new future. The legalized medicine will need to be delivered inside the white-coat, nice-couch-office frame of mind in order for insurance, academia and licensing agencies to say yes to the work. Unscientific, foreign, superstitious, unquantifiable, “primitive” ceremonial practices will not be part of any official training.
The big money will be very careful to brand ‘shrooms as friendly and safe, as spiritual with no specific religious point of view, and as TOTALLY NOT 1960’s HIPPIE WEIRD to logic-loving doctors, scared-stiff bureaucrats, and the millions of Home Depot shoppers who want off their SSRI’s and are pleading for a new way to clear out their anxiety and depression.
But here is the thing: from the shaman’s point of view – and the mushroom’s – anxiety and depression may not be what needs to be healed in someone. The actual illness may very well be arrogance, which is a common spiritual parasite. Anxiety and depression are the symptoms of the arrogance parasite, which lies to people by telling them that they are all alone in a meaningless world, that they need to take total control, and that they are surrounded by stupid assholes. That’s a recipe for anxiety and depression to be sure. There are many kinds of invisible spiritual parasites recognized by shamans, and these may be what needs to be healed, not just their visible symptoms.
Ceremonial practices like prayers, drumming, singing, rattling, sacred tobacco smoke, the practitioner’s connection to the mushroom spirit and their own helping spirits – these are all essential parts of moving energies so that the mushroom spirit can dispel embedded spiritual parasites.
Grandfather Mushroom: A Praiseworthy Creature!
I use the word creature because mushrooms are not plants. Plants eat light directly from heaven. But fungus, like us, eats things of the earth. And most of the fungus lives in darkness. You and I are, evolutionarily, more closely related to mushrooms than we are to plants.
What we call the mushroom is the fruit of the creature, its fingers reaching up from the dark belly of the great mother to taste the light and air. In truth, the creature you are working with is the mycelial web – a network of fibers that can run for feet, yards or miles under the soil. After it has gathered the wisdom of the underworld, the creature sends up its graceful fruits which burst open ecstatically, singing forth their spores with up to 25,000 times the force of gravity. This is also how the creature works inside human beings.
In the dark under-earth, the creature spreads itself out in a fungal net, reaching between and around the roots of plants. It holds space between the plants, and it also holds space between tiny soil particles so that air and water can flow in and around. This helps to create healthy soil. Spiritual people often speak of “holding space” for others – a loving and protective attitude. The creature holds space everywhere.
Researchers have found, in multiple studies, that psychedelics can increase connections between brain neurons. In theory, this may mean mushrooms help the brain to rewire itself, meaning, literally opening new doors and pathways of perceiving life.
Most magnificently, the fungal creature answers the prayers made by the plants. The plants pray for certain microscopic nutrients, and the fungal creature finds them and delivers them to the plant. The plants repay that gift by delivering sugars to the fungus to eat. Under your feet, wherever you step, there is an unending wooing going on between the masculine fungus and the feminine plants. You stroll atop an ancient love affair, a continuous courting and cavorting. This is one reason the Medicine so often fills people with a sense of huge Love. It’s not just a flood of serotonin.
Billions of years ago, the fungus was one of the very first forms of life along with bacteria. The fungus eats dead things, and, as it does, it creates ever-thicker soil filled with nutrients, where more life can grow. The fungi is called by some mycologists “the grand molecular disassemblers of nature; the soil magicians”. (Paul Stamets)
The medicine does this energetically in the body, too. It digests and composts old, festering, or dead energies, and creates new soil for new life. And because it’s so old, it is impossible for us to lie to it, as we do to ourselves and others. The mushroom has seen it all before, and it sees us more clearly than we see ourselves. When people have rough times with the Medicine, it’s likely because it has to work hard to clear out some old lie lodged in them, some lie that was implanted in them – like “I am not worthy” – a lie that has made many decisions for them in their lives without them even knowing.
The ceremonial environment is not analytical, not rational and not psychological. These are great human tools, but ceremony opens healing from a very different place, from a different mind. The ceremony also creates a bubble of energetic safety and support in which fear has less ability to intervene and twist the experience.
Geologists tell us that there have been several mass extinctions that wiped out 90% of life on earth, including the famous one where one (or two) asteroids hit the earth. They tell us we are in another extinction-cataclysm now, except this time we are, weirdly, both the asteroid and the dinosaurs. After each earlier apocalypse, the fungi inherited a nearly empty earth. Organisms that paired with fungi through these disasters tended to survive, others went extinct. So, maybe it’s a good time to get to know the fungi.
In summary, the Fungus is:
- In shamanic language: an underworld ally.
- The nervous system of the Great Mother.
- Like Hermes/Mercury, the magical communicator between the underworld, middle world and upper world.
- The earth’s natural internet.
- The deliverer of the medicine.
- The Ancient One, our primordial grandparent.
- The Spirit of dismemberment – the “Dark Mother,” the ambassador of the West on the Medicine Wheel – the one who comes to clear away what needs to go, and disassemble what has outlived its usefulness, in order to make room for new life, new wonder, and new dreams.
- The ever present “yet-to-be manifested” sea of creation under all visible things.
- The vast, intelligent network beneath our feet. (Paul Stamets)
- The great repairer of traumatized soil.
- The one who chews old rocks and spits them out as food for others.
- Like the Celtic Gods and Goddesses, the fungi moved into and under the green mounds and hills as the beings with internal stomachs “invaded” the land.
- The ones who form partnerships with many other life forms. They are the living embodiment of “all my relations” and “we are all connected.” The rescuer of life after disaster – the one who carries life through the next apocalypse.
Working with psilocybin
People have been using mushrooms in a sacred manner for at least 9,000 years (probably far longer than they’ve used ayahuasca.)
The vast majority of fear we may feel about this medicine has been implanted in us by the paranoia of the 1960’s from a culture that does absolutely nothing about alcohol, tobacco and guns, (revenue producers!) gleefully addicts people to prescription drugs of all kinds (revenue!) and does everything possible to keep people from having direct access to expanded states of connection with the divine (interferes with revenue extracted from sadness and envy!).
Set and Setting
If you’ve read anything about working with this medicine, you’ve come across the phrase “set and setting.” This is a clinical term that mostly refers to making sure people feel safe. When under the influence of medicine, fear can take a participant down a very rough road.
From a shamanic point of view, we can replace “set and setting” with “the ceremonial container.” This is a difficult idea to explain, so I’ll only touch on it. The shamanic view is that the medicine opens your energetic/psychic field, and that makes you more vulnerable to unhelpful energies who see you as food. So there needs to be a solid container to keep these energies outside the of the ceremony.
Shamans don’t see these unhelpful energies as psychological, but as parasitical energies – spirits – from the outside. They can cause a range of problems. It is important to set a protective field around each person, around the ceremonial circle, and around the entire space or building where the work is happening. It is often said that all shamanism involves singing. In the context of a medicine ceremony, shamans sing to solidify the container, to call in helping spirits that aid the work, to raise the vibration of the space, and they sing to the medicine to give it instructions.
How to approach your ceremonial work
There is a mantra: “Set intentions; release expectations.” It’s important to set an intention – some kind of prayer for the healing or wisdom you want to come to you. It’s just as important to release all expectations that your intention will be met in any specific way that you understand rationally. You are not ordering from a menu, and you cannot complain to the manager when you don’t get what you ordered. The medicine will deliver on your truest need, and the secret is that, sometimes, you don’t even see that yourself. You are working with one of the oldest beings on earth. It has literally seen it all, and there is no way you can lie to it. It sees you from a larger perspective than you see yourself. This is why your intention must carry emotion. An intention devoid of emotion is an intellectualized cover over the truer intention – the one you are afraid to claim for yourself. The medicine will have to plow its way through that intellectual defense in order to get at your true intention, and that can be very uncomfortable. Remember that everything that happens in ceremony – beautiful to uncomfortable – is the medicine working with you, teaching, releasing, and re-organizing energies.
Some traditional names for this medicine:
In Spanish, the mushroom is called Hongo (“AHN-go”) or Hongocito (Ahngo-SEE-toe). The mushroom is often considered an energetically masculine medicine. (Well, just look at them!) But looking at some of the other common names, you may remain open about that:
- Teonanacatl (Nahua/ Mexico): “Flesh of the Gods”
- nti si tho (Mazate/ Mexico) “(Little) Ones Who Leap Forth”
Other Spanish Names:
- Pequeño niño – “little child”
- Duendes (Spanish/”dwen-dayz”) and “Aluxes” (Mayan/’alushes’): mythical elf-like creatures that play pranks and steal from people at nighttime.
- Llas mujercitas (“the little women”)
- Las pequeñas mujeres los niños (“the little women children”)
- las pequeñas hermanas (“the little sisters”)
- niños santos (“holy children”)
A Few Resources:
- “Everything you need to know…” https://thethirdwave.co/psychedelics/shrooms/
- “About Shrooms”: https://tripsafe.org/shrooms/
- Psilocybin blunting effects of-SSRI’s and antidepressants: https://www.psychedelicpassage.com/psilocybin-blunting-effects-of-ssris-and-antidepressants
- Magic Mushrooms Do The Opposite of Anti-Depressants, But That May Be Why They Work: https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-discovered-how-magic-mushrooms-alleviate-depression-antidepressants-psilocybin-amygdala
- Webinar: hour long, boringly delivered but informative, from the University of Minnesota: https://mncamh.umn.edu/webinar/the-tripping-cure-psychedelic-assisted-therapies-past-present-and-future/
- Magic Mushrooms and Ayahuasca: https://entheonation.com/blog/ayahuasca-vs-magic-mushrooms/
- Which came first, plants or fungi?: http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=518
- Mushrooms and anti-depressants: https://doubleblindmag.com/mushrooms/how-to-take-shrooms/how-psychedelics-contraindicate-with-ssris/
- THE EXPLOSION OF INTEREST IN MEDICINE PLANTS: WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW: https://thepowerpath.com/power-path-library/the-explosion-of-interest-in-medicine-plants-what-we-need-to-know/
- Breakthrough study discovers that psychedelics breach our neurons:
Disclaimer: Psychedelics are largely illegal substances, and we do not encourage or condone their use where it is against the law. However, we accept that illicit drug use occurs and believe that offering responsible harm reduction information is imperative to keeping people safe. For that reason, this article is designed to enhance the safety of those who decide to use these substances.
…an article for the times.
While I appreciate the author’s perspective that elucidates what could be described as an “expanded experience” when ingesting psychotropic fungi under the guidance of a Shamanist, lest us be practical in noting that a very very few of the willing participants who choose to experience the molecule psilocybin have direct access to such a ceremonialist. Notwithstanding the lack of working knowledge that would lead people to seek out such guidance in the first place, emphasis added.
Consequently, as the resurgence of psilocybin’s popularity escalates over time, western civilizations with their predictability will bludgeon this purveyor of primordial essence in a traditional conformists attempt to “revision” its application thus, rendering it “FUBAR’d” (less expansive).
However and with confidence, fungi has been present and evolving upon Gaia for untold millennium, it will undoubtedly persevere and prevail. The question remains who will choose to experience this plant medicine’s “authentic-self”.
It’s my perception that the concept of “expanded experience” could be realized with any natural occurring matter when imbued with intentionality, and is not just limited to “plant medicines”.
Does giving “thanks” at the dinner table over the bounty that which we are about to receive somehow “expand” the bioavailability of its nutritional value? …dunno
Overwhelming, the water drunk by the world populations is “tortured” rather than “structured” negating water’s full potential. Consider the contorted path water travels to its point of destination, your tap (for most).
It is said the spirit of water is memory. Dr. Masaru Emoto irrefutably demonstrated this.
So much to “reenvision”!
I think this is a well-written article with a great perspective, thanks Jaime!
I started my shamanic journey way back in 1974 by using LSD as a spiritual tool. Since then I have explored psilocybin and amanita muscaria as well as other psychoactive substances. I am currently micro-dosing with amanita and psilocybin as well as continuing to use a range of psychoactive substances. I do not use ceremony as part of my journey but I do use meditative practices though I have used ceremonial rituals in the past. I feel that ceremony can be important to the beginner as it helps to focus the mind.