Mushrooms – While entheogen use is often perceived to be prevalent in shamanism worldwide, few indigenous shamans have made mushroom use an important part of their practice. Most of these are located in Central America and South America. Ob-Ugrian and Finno-Ugrian shamans are most noted for their ingestion of Amanita muscaria or fly agaric mushrooms, but while this practice continues today among Khanty shamans of Western Siberia, fly agaric use in the locus classicus of Central Asia and Siberia is mainly recreational. One major reason for the overemphasis on mushrooms is that the mycologist Gordon Wasson suggested fly agaric was the Vedic “Soma” and that “magic mushrooms” more generally produced the religious impulse in humans. Wasson “discovered” the Mazatec Indian curandera Maria Sabina in the 1950s and held Sabina’s healing ceremonies involving the psilocybin mushrooms to be the archetypical residue of a prehistoric mushroom cult. These ideas were picked up by Timothy Leary, who described eating a number of psilocybin mushrooms in 1960 as “the deepest religious experience of my life,” leading to his countercultural mantra “tune in, turn on, drop out.” Terence McKenna has since echoed both Wasson’s and Leary’s views, adding his belief that mushrooms and other entheogens facilitate communication with extraterrestrial entities (space aliens) crucial to the transcendence of the human race. Overemphasis on mushrooms also lead to John Allegro’s suggestion, based on his reading of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that “Jesus was a mushroom” and to interpretations of earliest Christianity as a mushroom and shamanic cult.

In his volume Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom (2006), Andy Letcher argues that the discourses of these thinkers tell us more about their own predilections than about indigenous shamans or entheogens. He also discusses the significant role played by magic mushrooms in Cyberian shamanism and Pagan animism and among psychonauts. As with the adoption of ayahuasca by many neo-shamanic tourists, it is notable that it is the vision-inducing or hallucinogenic effects of mushrooms and other entheogens that are the chief focus of enthusiasm rather than their purgative vomiting effects. In contrast, Sabina emphasized that the need to induce vomiting for purification as central to shamanic and healing rituals.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007