Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mushroom journeys...

Awoke to strange, tall mushrooms in Sarah's little tomato patch. Quite possibly Conocybe albipes, though it's a little hard to say. I don't think they're poisonous. Lost in mushroom lore now...

Reading about mushrooms will take you places. You will inevitably encounter the Amenita genus which includes the jacksonii species seen above, the classic Amenita muscaria, as well as the infamous Amenita phalloides, or The Death Cap Mushroom, the most toxic mushroom on Earth. The name Amenita triggered a memory of a lyric from an old R.E.M. song, The Flowers of Guatemala, and sure enough, if you believe the Internet, the song uses the Death Cap as a metaphor for the CIA's ruthless covert activities and mass killings that went on in that country to keep our own United Fruit Company in a perpetual business boom.

From there, I discovered that Amenita muscaria is also known for its hallucinogenic properties, though they are very different from the fabled psychoactive blockbuster genus Psilocybe. Amenita muscaria "trips" were frequent in Siberia, and the experience is frequently understood to be a form of wild delirium brought on by the severe illness ingesting these things cause.

It gets odder: The active ingredient in Amenita muscaria is excreted in the urine of those consuming the mushrooms, and it has sometimes been the practice for a shaman to consume the mushrooms, and for others to drink his urine - the shaman, in effect, partially detoxifying the drug (the sweat and twitch-causing chemical, muscarine, is absent in the urine). In Siberia, the poor would consume the urine of the wealthy, who could afford to buy the mushrooms.

And odder: The notion that Nordic Vikings used Amanita muscaria to produce their berserker rages was first suggested by the Swedish professor Samuel Ödman in 1784. Ödman based his theories on reports about the use of fly agaric among Siberian shamans. The notion has become widespread since the 19th century, but no contemporary sources mention this use or anything similar in their description of berserkers. Today, it is generally considered an urban legend or at best speculation that cannot be proven.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The depicted mushroom should be Amanita hemibapha. It's a really nice one...


2:32 PM  
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2:07 PM  

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