Psilocybin – A hallucinogenic or entheogenic alkaloid (4-phosphoryloxyN, N-dimethyltryptamine) of the tryptamine family present in many species of fungi, the best-known being the genus Psilocybe, including Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe semilanceata (Liberty Cap), popularly known as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms.” Psilocybin mushrooms are found in many places worldwide, and the use of them is especially associated with those cultures that have domesticated cattle, since many species are dung living.

Gordon Wasson identified psilocybin, along with fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) and other mushrooms, as part of an “archaic mushroom cult” that spread across the globe from ancient Europe. Timothy Leary, on the other hand, promoted magic mushrooms as the key to transforming society and unlocking human consciousness, while Terence McKenna held magic mushrooms and other entheogens to be the triggers for achieving cosmic consciousness. All of these authors assumed mushroom use was intrinsically a shamanic occupation and that it was both widespread and archaic in origin. Andy Letcher has convincingly deconstructed this discourse, arguing that, apart from accidental ingestion in Europe (recorded as “poisoning”) and the deliberate recreational and sacramental use since the first recorded instance in 1970, the “folk evidence” supposed by Wasson is unverified and, outside Europe, the role of the magic mushroom use has been exaggerated.

The principal location for magic mushroom use is Mexico, where half the world’s species exist, and it is here that Wasson met and went on to celebrate in print the Mazatec Indian curandera Maria Sabina, who privileged the help of mushrooms in inducing vomiting at least as much as she sought their aid in inducing visions. Nonetheless, magic mushrooms play significant roles in Cyberian shamanism and Pagan animism and among psychonauts.


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