Mushrooms appear everywhere: meadows, forests, rotting tree trunks, cow manure. In autumn, many Germans go out into the woods with baskets to find edible specimens. Enthusiasts keep the best spots a secret to avoid competition.
But mushrooms are much more than a foodie snack. They have captured the human imagination for thousands of years.
food of the gods
Some mushrooms are simply delicious, while others have mind-altering effects and are part of spiritual rituals. That’s what early humans were already experiencing. Various depictions of mushrooms are found in cave paintings.
For the Egyptians, mushrooms were “food of the gods”. They believed that eating them would give them longevity or even immortality.
The Greeks drank ergot during certain rituals and reported seeing hallucinations and ghostly visions.
The Maya and Aztecs also consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Bernardino de Sahagun, a Spanish missionary, observed an indigenous gathering and wrote in his diary: War, how they get rich, how they commit adultery, get stoned, and have their skulls crushed.
Sahagun meticulously documented local customs — his record of Aztec life and culture was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015 — while other missionaries attributed mushroom worship to Christians. viewed as a threat to the salvation of They felt that demons were speaking through the mushrooms, and the ritual was forbidden.Conquistadors severely punished those who used them.
In Medieval Europe, people didn’t even trust mushrooms and fungi. They are associated with witchcraft and evil, and are also reflected in the names given to them, such as devil’s finger, witch’s butter, and devil’s bolete.
Known as the Fairy Ring in English and the Witch’s Ring in German, the naturally occurring mushroom arc was considered a dangerous and evil place where witches would gather and dance during Walpurgisnacht. People avoided cows in pastures with cows and did not let them eat grass because they believed it would affect their milk. Today, we know that such rings are formed by mushroom threads sprouting from individual fungi growing underground, forming a circular shape.
fairy tale mushroom
In legends and fairy tales of later centuries, mushrooms often serve as dwellings for dwarves and fairies.
The oldest and best-known German fairy tale about mushrooms, Das Märchen von den Pilzen, dates back to 1870 and gives young readers important advice on the topic. When you come across nice and fragile things in the forest. Do not smash beautiful mushrooms out of a pure desire to destroy them… They also received life from him. [God] and enjoy their short existence. “
Turn a Viking into a Berserker
The Vikings were feared as warriors, but the most notorious of them were the berserkers, who were bloodthirsty in battle. Neither ally nor enemy he was safe from them. According to the Greater Norwegian Encyclopedia, “They were mad like hounds and wolves and bit shields…they killed men, but neither fire nor iron affected them.” .
It was long believed that eating fly agaric mushrooms would give men this condition. However, medieval chronicles read that they relied on another psychoactive mushroom, commonly known as Liberty Cap, prior to their battle. Had I eaten a clump of fly agaric, I would have fallen in front of my enemies.
Nevertheless, the fly agaric played an important role for the Nordics. According to Germanic tradition, the Vikings enriched their mead with fly agaric.
Mushroom Tourism in Mexico
Since the late 1950s, hallucinogenic mushrooms have experienced a renaissance. Despite all the prohibitions imposed by the conquistadors, descendants of the Aztecs and Mayans kept the mushroom cult alive.
In 1955, American mushroom researcher R. Gordon Wasson became the first outsider to participate in the sacred rituals of the Mazatec people of Mexico. The shaman Maria Sabina headed the sacred “Velada” (night watch).
Wasson published “In Search of Magic Mushrooms” in Life magazine in 1957. In the article, he described the magical effects of “Teonacatl”. It sparked a wave of countercultural tourism to Sabina’s hometown of Huatra.
Scientists and hippies made a pilgrimage to Mexico. Stars such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Mick Jagger are said to have been among them – and they were all less interested in healer chants than “magic mushrooms.”
However, mushroom tourism did not bring good luck to Sherman. Many foreigners lost control and had no respect for the locals while intoxicated.
Angered by the depravity of sacred ceremonies into tourist attractions, the indigenous people eventually expelled Maria Sabina from the community and burned her house to the ground. An accusation was filed and she was temporarily detained. She then made her living giving lectures on mushroom rituals.
Magic mushrooms were made illegal in the United States in 1969, and other countries have followed suit. They can no longer be officially studied for medical purposes.
mushroom of the day
And today? In some countries, such as the Netherlands, you can legally buy magic mushrooms in stores, and the internet is booming. Once thought to open the door to the gods, the fungus has long become a party drug.
But otherwise, many types of mushrooms are just as delightful culinary delicacies as their intoxicating relatives, but without the side effects.
This article was originally written in German.