The Fly Agaric
Like the old Blue Peter programmes, here is one I prepared earlier; a Fly Agaric in full splendour. This specimen was photographed at Thorne Moors near Doncaster just a couple of weeks ago.
Amanita muscaria is commonly known as the Fly Agaric or Fly Amanita, and is a mushroom (i.e. the reproductive part of a particular fungus), and a strongly psychoactive basidiomycete. It is one of many species in the genus Amanita, and many of its cousins are seriously poisonous. Fly Agaric is the classic ‘Pixie Mushroom‘ and is a native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However, Amanita muscaria has also been accidentally introduced to many Southern Hemisphere countries as a ‘symbiont‘ (or associate) with pine and birch plantations. Through this process it has become a truly cosmopolitan species as well as one of the most instantly recognisable mushrooms. This Amanite associates with a variety of both deciduous and coniferous trees.
Poisoning & mind altering
Fly Agaric is considered to be poisonous, through reports of human fatalities associated with eating the mushroom are very rare, I read somewhere that it was about a one in ten thousand chance of a very bad effect, and ingestion of around fifteen mushroom caps is indicated to be a potentially fatal dose.
After being part boiled, the fungus loses its psychoactive properties, and as such is eaten in parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. However, Amanita muscaria is especially noted for its hallucinogenic properties, the main active psychoactive substance being a compound known as ‘muscimol‘. The effects of Fly Agarics are known to be unpredictable, varying with the habitat in which they have grown and the amount of mushroom ingested in relation to body weight. The results of taking Fly Agaric range from nausea and twitching to drowsiness, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, auditory and visual distortions, cholinergic crisis-like effects (low blood pressure, sweating and salivation), ataxia, and loss of equilibrium. With serious poisoning, the mushroom can cause delirium, seizures and coma.
The mushroom was used as an intoxicant and entheogen by the indigenous cultures in Siberia, and elsewhere across the sub-Arctic Northern Hemisphere. Through this usage the mushroom has acquired religious significance for associated cultures and many have speculated about possible traditional uses as an hallucinogenic drug intoxicant across the Middle East, India, Eurasia, North America, and particularly Scandinavia. Indeed, amateur ethno-mycologist, American banker R. Gordon Wasson suggested Fly Agaric to be the soma of India’s ancient Rig Veda texts. Such ideas have been hotly debated in anthropological literature since they emerged in the 1960s. John Marco Allegro, the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar considered that early Christian beliefs developed from cult use of Amanita in Second Temple Judaism, (a sect which existed from around 200 years BC to about 100 years AD). It was suggested that the Agaric was treated as an allegory for Jesus Christ, but modern scholars have questioned the authenticity or at least the interpretation of much of the research on these topics. In his 1970 book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, Allegro wrote that early Christian theology was evolved from fertility cults centred on consumption of A. muscaria as an hallucinogen, a suggestion robustly refuted by subsequent researchers. Many other ideas and myths have grown around this remarkable mushroom.
The Christmas connection
To follow ………………