Most people recognize the iconic Amanita Muscaria mushroom because of its depiction in folklore, religious texts, ancient artwork, and even modern day video games (Super Mario Brothers, anyone?). There is a reason this mushroom with a red cap and white dots is recognized as the classic ‘toadstool’ and is depicted throughout the ages - It has a long rich history of use throughout the world.
Amanita Muscaria, commonly known as the Fly Agaric because of its traditional as an insecticide on organic farms, is a basidiomycete of the Amanita genus. They are found throughout the boreal and temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Amanita Muscaria is a mycorrhiza, meaning it grows in symbiosis with various plant roots, making the cultivation of Amanita Muscaria a tricky feat, and one that has not been perfected as far as we are aware. These enchanting mushrooms are commonly found under pine, oak, spruce, fir, birch, aspen and cedar trees, during the summer and autumn months, and they commonly grow in circles, or ‘fairy rings’. You can imagine the allure that must have had to ancient humans, who already revered the mushroom for its physiological and psychological effects. Quite a magical mushroom, indeed!
Amanita Muscaria is classified as a poison by the FDA, but the truth is, death from Fly Agaric is extremely rare. The mushroom contains ibotenic acid, muscimol, muscarine, and muscazone as its primary pharmacological agents, the primary active ingredients being ibotenic acid and muscimol. Ibotenic acid is a pro-drug to muscimol, and it converts to muscimol by a process known as decarboxylation, which is usually achieved by drying or heating the mushroom. Ibotenic acid is a potent NDMA receptor agonist, which gives Amanita their dissociative effects. Muscimol is a potent Gaba agonist, giving Amanita’s their relaxing qualities, and allowing for lower inhibitions and decreased anxiety. Muscimol, muscarine, and muscazone also seem to effect the endogenous cannabinoid system, and release endogenous cannabinoids into the bloodstream. There is likely a lot that we don’t understand as of yet about the pharmacology and the effects of Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, and due to its classification as a poison by the FDA, new research has been relatively limited.
Just because the FDA has the Fly Agaric classified as a poison, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been used for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes throughout the ages. Amanita has a rich history of use all over the Northern Hemisphere, and has been used by a growing community of people across the world in recent years, largely due to the research and videos of the recent celebrity of the Amanita Muscaria world, Amanita Dreamer.
Fly Agaric has been used by shamans throughout the millennia. Its use by Siberian shamans is well documented. It is well known to have been used in various pagan rituals. Recent works done by various researchers, including John Marco Allegro, and Julie and Jerry Brown, indicates that Amanita Muscaria, as well as Psilocybin mushrooms, were possibly even an integral part of early Christianity. There is even ample evidence that Amanita Muscaria makes the basis of the sacred Vedic drink, ‘Soma’. But one of the most fascinating Fly Agaric correlations is the Christmas connection.
The winter solstice ceremonies of the indigenous people of the North Pole are astoundingly similar to our modern day Christmas celebration. The ritualistic ceremonies were conducted by shamans under the influence of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. Since decarboxylation is needed to reduce the toxicity of the mushrooms and increase their psychoactive effects, the shamans would often put them in socks and dry them atop a fire, which is strikingly similar to our modern day practice of hanging stockings on the mantle. Reindeer were often important factors in the Amanita ceremonies, in that Muscimol passed through the urine, where the more toxic ingredients are not, so the shamans would often drink reindeer urine to achieve their altered states of consciousness after the reindeer spent a day consuming the fresh Fly Agarics off the ground (flying reindeer, anyone?). The shamans would bring the knowledge and wisdom from their hallucinogenic experiences to the villagers, and since often times the entrance doors to the yurts were covered in snow, they would descend into the homes of the villagers through the Chimney.
This is only a small fraction of the correlations that tie ancient shamanic Amanita Muscaria rituals to our modern-day Christmas celebrations. We will explore this concept further in a later article.
Amanita Muscaria has also been used for culinary purposes over the last 200 years, and very likely for much longer. The active ingredients in Fly Agaric are water soluble, meaning that with the proper preparation the mushroom can be completely stripped of all its active ingredients. Many who have tried it say that Amanita Muscaria is one of the most flavorful mushrooms there is.
The Amanita Muscaria mushroom is the most iconic mushroom on the planet, and for good reason. From its staggering beauty, its use throughout the ages, and its connection to various religious ceremonies and shamanic practices, the Fly Agaric has carved out its space in the collective consciousness’ symbolism bank.