Amanita Muscaria and the Siberian Shaman
Amanita Muscaria, or Fly Agaric, is a basidiomycete of the Amanita genus. Found throughout temperate and boreal regions in the Northern Hemisphere growing under pine, spruce, oak, birch, fir, aspen and cedar trees, during the Summer and Autumn months, Amanita Muscaria is likely the most iconic mushroom in the world.
Amanita Muscaria contains ibotenic acid, muscimol, muscarine, and muscazone as its primary pharmacological agents. Ingesting of the mushroom causes the user to become intoxicated in a psychedelic daze. Although dissimilar to what we understand as the typical psychedelic mushroom, psyilocybin mushrooms, the amanita brings the user into a hallucinogenic dream state that is unique unto itself.
Although the FDA currently classifies Amanita Muscaria as toxic, shamans throughout the ages have been using the Fly Agaric to reach states of consciousness that allow them to connect with the spirit world and bring knowledge back to the people they are ingesting these magical mushrooms for.
The use of Fly Agaric by Siberian shamans is well documented and will be the main focus of this article. However, Amanita Muscaria is known to have been used in various pagan rituals. And recent works done by various researchers, including Julie and Jerry Brown, and John Marco Allegro, even indicates that Amanita Muscaria, as well as Psilocybin mushrooms, were very likely used by the early Christians. Furthermore, there is a growing community of people who believe that Amanita Muscaria makes the basis of the sacred Vedic drink, ‘Soma’.
Various cultures very likely had different ways of preparing the mushroom, but one thing is certain, eating the mushrooms raw can often times solicit an entourage of unwanted effects, including vomiting, dizziness, dysphoria and seizures. Due to this, it was important for the shamans to fully dry their Amanita Muscaria prior to ingestion, which aids in the conversion of the less desirable and more toxic ibotenic acid, into the more pleasant ‘safer’ muscimol. Often times the mushroom would be dried over heat, which increased the conversion.
This was the case of the Koryak tribesmen of Sibera, where the shamans would dry their Fly Agaric over a fire, oftentimes in socks, prior to ingestion. The Koryak’s revered this sacred mushroom for its ability to connect them to the spirit world, to alleviate boredom on long, cold winter nights, and foretell the future.
The Koryak have a tale about how the sacred mushroom came to be. The first shaman, and the progenitor of the human race, Big Raven, had captured a whale in ancient times, yet wished to put it back to sea. But Big Raven was unable to life the massive creature up to transport it, and plead for help from Vihiyinin, an omnipotent deity of this ancient culture, whose name means ‘Existence’. Vihiyinin decided to help, and spit on the land. The deity’s spit spackled the land, and turned into the Amanita Muscaria we revere today. Big Raven ate the mushrooms, and found his strength increase so much he was able to return the whale back to sea. Big Raven was extremely impressed with the strength that the mushroom gave him, and he commanded the little red toadstools to continue growing, and to propagate the globe, for the benefit and use of humans throughout the world.
All throughout the world shamans have used Amanita Muscaria to attain altered states of consciousness and bring back knowledge from the other side. This is just one of many stories of the Amanita Eating shamans that we hope to explore in further articles.