Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mushrooms and religion

A just-released article focuses on experiments with the 60s psychedelic mushroom drug Psilocybin.

Quite surprisingly many of the participants described their experience with Psilocybin as "as one of the most meaningful or spiritually significant experiences of their lives."

This article reminded me that mushrooms have often been connected with early religion. With reference to the primary region under discussion in this blog, I present the following quote:

The late Professor Roger Heim, the famous French mycologist and a gastronome, ranked them [a Termintomyces species] first among the edible mushrooms of the world. In the Philippines the mycologist Jose Miguel Mendoza reports in his Philippines Mushrooms the common native belief throughout the islands that thunder and lightning cause the generation of mushrooms, and in the spring of the year, when people hear the thunder roll, they rush into the fields to gather the edible kinds. In the Pampango tongue, spoken in central Luzon, Termintomyces albuminosus (Berk.) Heim (formerly Collybia albuminosa) is called payungpayungan Kulog, where the first element means "parasol-like' and kulog is the word for thunder in both Tagalog and Pampango.

(R Gordon Wasson, A Ruck. Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion, p. 91)

The same belief in the thunder or lightning origin of mushrooms is found in the Ryukyus, Kyushu and ancient China, especially in South China, ancient India and Europe. Possibly one could see this as a "Eurasian" concept that just happened to filter into some of the eastern islands.

However there are two cases that don't conform well to this explanation. Firstly, in Madagascar, four Austronesian-speaking peoples make a mushroom paste named olatafa or "unbalanced" which they moisten and spit out to protect themselves from lightning.

Even in far-off New Zealand, the Maori envisioned the basket fungus as the feces (tutae) of the heavenly spirits during thunderstorms.

Wasson and Ruck theorize that the Vedic soma and putika of ancient Indian literature were also "entheogenic" mushrooms -- they inspired a spirit of reverence and awe. They also contend that a survival of soma/putika use has been preserved by the indigenous Santal people of eastern India who gather and eat the putka mushroom a Scleroderma species.

The Philippines has a vast number of mushroom species, most of which have not been studied, and at least one that produces Psilocybin, the Panaeolus cyanescens species.

Wusson and Ruck considered Amantia muscaria as Soma, the popular mushroom of Eurasia and the Americas. In Southeast Asia and Africa, it was the Termitomyces species, cultivated by termites, that were most popular.

In some parts of Africa, the Termitomyces are a 'poor man's meat' providing a major source of protein.

Termitomyces can grow to gigantic size and may have provided the model for the images of huge 'toadstools' found in European fairy tale books.

Termitomyces titanicus, the largest mushroom species in the world from Africa.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Wasson, R. Gordon and A. Ruck. Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion, Yale University Press, 1992.


demigod said...

you have a very informative blog and i find the many speculations and facts that you have written as very intriguing and makes Philippine history more exciting. Now, on mushrooms, the fungi need nitrogen to develop. This is very abundant in the atmosphere, though in a different configuration than what the mushrooms need in order to develop. The process of fixation needs to happen and apparently, lightning provides this "nitrogen fixation" making the nitrogen usable to the mushroom.