This week on Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, Mr Morris takes that big brain inside that skinny frame to the great Mexican nation to get his fancy mushroom on. Just SBS VICELAND’s fun guy and some fungi.
The term "magic mushroom" may refer to any of 180 different species of the vegetarian’s favourite meat substitute. Usually, though, it's the infamous Psilocybe cubensis, an unimpressive looking species of 'shroom that grows out of (and finds life from the nutrients in) animal dung.
There’s still a hefty population of youngsters who see magic mushrooms coupled with beer as a novel way to party, but these tiny, potent, fleshy hats have also been used as ceremonial catalysts for inward exploration for thousands of years.
The psychological purging potential of psychoactive substances are well known, and so too are the often-radical theories surrounding their connection to ancient religions. Hamilton explores the more glaring Mesoamerican worship of the holy 'shroom, but here are some of the more left-of-centre theories.
Hinduism was partly created by a magic mushroom
In the Rigveda, one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism penned around 1500 BC, there appears endless references to a particular substance called Soma (not to be confused with the modern brand of muscle-relaxer nor the crowd-control drug mentioned in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World).
Here’s one: "We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered."
Author and self-styled ethnomycologist R Gordon Wassonan made an in-depth study into what these ancient scribes were referring to - previous claims put Soma down as Psilosybe cubensis or even cannabis. He concluded it was a brew containing the Amanita muscaria, a large mushroom also known as “fly agaric” or the more humble “toadstool”.
Specific use of this mushroom for hallucinogenic purposes was traced backwards from modern day to the 18th century to ancient Siberia. The Siberian people’s descriptions and depictions of the substance paralleled those of Soma by the Hindus.
If Wasson and his peers were correct, then the toadstool may have played a considerable role in the development of Hinduism.
The Judaist Moses was a serial psychonaut
In 2008, Benny Shanon, cognitive psychologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was quoted as claiming Moses’s religious experiences were most likely aided by (and, as later clarified, not solely the result of) psychoactive substances.
In an article penned for The Journal of Philosophy, he asserted that the acacia tree, when mixed with other psychotropic plants, elicits a similar effect to the ingestion of the intense hallucinogenic staple ayahuasca. And that this acacia mixture may have directly led to Moses’s receiving of the Ten Commandments.
"The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an altered state of awareness," he writes in the piece.
Similarly, Moses’s description of the burning bush - a growth God left intact despite its envelopment in fire - may have seemed that way due to the elongation of time that’s experienced while under the influence of hallucinogens.
Christianity was a sex-and-mushroom cult
Remember, we said to take these theories with a salt mine.
In 1970, British archaeologist John Marco Allegro penned a book entitled The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, which was so controversial it basically ruined his career (though also afforded him a notoriety that persists to this day). Even his publisher regretted taking on the manuscript.
Basically, any mention of Jesus in the New Testament was actually code for magic mushrooms. The alleged reason for the employment of this literary device was due to the fact that these mushies were sacred and their powers were a secret.
This assertion was supported by a surprising (and surprisingly convenient) collection of Christian art that depicted Jesus or Adam and Eve flanked by various species of mushroom, including those resembling both the toadstool and the Psilocybe cubensis.
Exactly how a magic mushroom could destroy the inside of a temple or carry a heavy wooden cross, God only knows.
Watch Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia on Tuesdays at 9:20pm. You can watch the Magic Mushrooms episode now on SBS On Demand: