Amanita muscara Myths as a Hallucinogen in Religious Cults

Introduction to Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)


by Keith Cleversley

The Amanita muscaria mushroom (Fly Agaric) is not a well-known mushroom based on its scientific name or common name. Yet, the pictures on this site, of the Fly Agaric mushroom, will probably be familiar to the reader. In recent time, it is the Amanita mushroom that has been adopted as the “prototype” mushroom in western cultures. Its image can be seen in Christmas and greeting cards, children’s stories, science fiction and fantasy illustrations, and in mushroom models. There has even been a great deal made of its connections with Christmas, since the Inuit tribes worshipped Fly Agaric mushrooms and flying reindeer gods.

It is the author’s personal opinion that Fly Agaric is (thankfully) one of the most maligned plants on the planet. It is completely legal to posses, but is listed as a poison by the FDA, so any change in its status from a poison to an illegal plant would be improbable, regardless of the information that has been surfacing recently.

In Gordon Wasson’s groundbreaking book from 1968; “Soma, the Divine Mushroom of Immortality”, he was the first to put forth convincing evidence that the sacred, ancient drink known as “Soma” drank by Vedic Aryans, was actually made form the pressed juice of the Fly Agaric mushroom. He was completely convinced in his assertion, except for one small haunting detail; he was unable to reproduce the states of consciousness that the Soma experience was supposed to evoke despite numerous experiments with this plant.

But there have been several researchers since Hoffman, including Clark Heinrich, author of; “Magic Mushrooms”, who were able to induce experiences that they feel were more than perfect realizations of the episodes described in countless passages that sought to document Fly Agaric intoxication. Jonathan Ott, in reference to Amanita muscaria intoxication states; “Based on my own self-experimentations with A. muscaria and A. pantherina, as well as [with a 100mg dose of] pure Ibotenic acid, and [a 10mg dose of] Muscimol, I would say that each are quite capable of having produced, ‘the rapturous visionary ecstasy that inspired the Vedas,’ far more than the seeds of Peganum harmala, a Valium-like drug.”

Seeking Soma’s Identity

Wasson set off a worldwide hunt and debate for the true Soma of legend, and the identity of Soma has been hotly debated ever since. Despite this debate, the only point that every scholar can agree upon, is that any of the alternatives that they have presented as possibilities couldn’t possibly be the secret identity of Soma. The solution most often offered now is that Soma was harvested out of existence a long, long time ago.

With the alarming rate that plant species are disappearing from this planet, it doesn’t seem like that outrageous of a theory, though I find it difficult to believe that a plant so sacred and possibly so widespread, could simply vanish from the face of the Earth. Others agree as well.

With this in mind, I have also been unable to find any other evidence that supports the position that the plant used for Soma rituals has been harvested out of existence; even plants that have been over used and over harvested for thousands of years, such as the Peyote plant, still exist today. To me, it is more plausible that the identity of the plant was lost, not the plant itself. If the research by many scholars is correct, then the identity of Soma is simply well-guarded in metaphor and parable, but is plainly visible to anyone who wishes to plumb its meaning from countless passages.

One of the features of Fly agaric ingestion, is that the intoxicating principle passes unadulterated through one’s urine. The only other known plant that produces this same effect is Psilocybe cubensis, in which 25% of this entheogen is passed into the urine unadulterated. This, therefore, effectively eliminates any known plant species from being a Soma candidate…except Amanita muscaria, Amanita pantherina, and Psilocybe cubensis, all of which are mushrooms. This fits perfectly with the Aryan’s Soma rituals which involved the drinking of urine from someone who had ingested the magical drink.

Another interesting detail is that Amanita muscaria needs birch trees to grow. These are plentiful in Siberia, but non-existent in India, and there are many recorded accounts of the Aryan’s setting up trade routes into Siberia for the purpose of trading Soma, whatever its identity may have been. It doesn’t seem implausible that a culture that had Amanita so integral to their religion and daily life would spawn other religious cults, who then chose to write about it in their religious myths, creating metaphorical stories with the Amanita as a god or a bridge to the gods. Most of the early writing, including the Rig Veda was by poets, so it would then be no surprise that they would veil their stories in metaphor and alliteration.

The Aryan’s & Soma

To me, the most convincing evidence revealing the identity of Soma lies in the fact that the Aryan’s entered India from the North, from the area of Siberia nearly 4,000 years ago. From this entheogen cult, Hinduism is known to have evolved. The Aryan’s brought their cult to the Middle East as well, where Soma became Haoma. The Rig Veda is lush with references to Soma, and as more and more unbiased scholars look deeply into these sacred texts, they are finding more and more veiled and metaphorical references that were overlooked by translators with specific agendas and biases. None of the above points are disputed among any scholars or translators of the sacred texts; the argument and controversy arises in when the identity of Soma is debated.

Regardless of Soma’s true identity, even today, the use of Amanita muscaria in ritual is still widespread amongst numerous Siberian tribes who have been using Amanitas since the dawn of time. Simply stated; they wouldn’t still be using this plant if it was deadly toxic, and if it didn’t serve some sort of spiritual purpose in their ritual. Whether or not this is the famed Soma, one thing is certain, is that at least for this tribe, Amanita muscaria serves as an important spiritual connector.

The Facts We DO Know

So, despite all of the above, we know that there are tribes in Siberia that have Amanita muscaria as the centerpiece of their religious ceremony to this day. We also know that they prefer to ingest 1-3 mid-size caps about the diameter of the palm of a hand for visionary purposes. We also know that this practice has been going on since before recorded history, and that similar use has been recorded in cultures across the globe, including newly discovered evidence of Native American tribal use of this sacred mushroom. We know that this mushroom grows in North America, Africa, Europe, and Australia.

We know that Ibotenic acid, a crystalline alkaloid, unstable and very fragile, partially converts to Muscimol, the active component in Fly Agaric as the Amanita dries (called decarboxylation). We know that this conversion is possibly aided when the Amanita lies out under a warm sun in nature, or is turned upside down, and placed in a wood oven at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit by humans, and that it is crucial for the juices to stay in the cap as it dries if preservation of Muscimol is the desired goal.

We also know that the human body not only converts Ibotenic acid to Muscimol, and that it also separates the Muscimol from the Ibotenic acid, excreting pure Muscimol in the urine of the person that ingested it. Ibotenic acid, which causes the uncomfortable and less desirable physical effects (sweating/nausea), is absorbed by the ingesting body, and the Muscimol, the active component that produces the visionary states, passes unadulterated through the urine.

It is also known that the uncertainty of the Amanita muscaria intoxication is a result of an unknown mixture of Ibotenic acid and Muscimol in the amanita at the point of ingestion. There is little scientific evidence on how to best convert Ibotenic acid into Muscimol, which part of the Amanita that has the most Ibotenic acid and Muscimol, the most fertile ground for Amanitas with the highest concentration of Ibotenic acid and Muscimol, as well as the optimum time of year to harvest Amanitas to preserve the greatest quantity of Ibotenic acid and Muscimol. Any statements that claim to know the truth regarding this at the time of this writing, is speaking from pure speculation or personal experience only.

Personal experience shows that Fly Agaric from earlier in the harvest season may be more potent, but this is purely speculation. It also shows that dehydrating Amanitas is the best way to preserve the Amanitas, rather than drying them in the sun, over an open flame, or in an oven. Furthermore, it shows that Fly Agaric caps are indeed more potent than stems, but it doesn’t show that the red lining of the cap is more potent than the entire cap itself. Personal experience has also shown that boiling seems to decrease potency, and that simply re-hydrating in water and eating the re-hydrated cap, or the squeezing out of its reconstituted juices provide the most desirable results.

All that being said, the author does not encourage, endorse, or recommend the ingestion of Amanita muscaria. SPECIFICALLY, AMANITA MUSCARIA IS LISTED AS A POISON BY THE FDA.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INGEST THIS PLANT OR INTRODUCE IT INTO THE HUMAN BODY IN ANY FORM.  Equally important, though, is dispelling the rumors surrounding the toxicity of this sacred plant: Drawing from a large body of research regarding the intentional ingestion of Amanita muscaria over thousands of years; there have been only two reported deaths, and both of the recorded deaths involved old and infirm individuals who ingested a large amount of mushrooms. The ingestion of any drug, medicinal or ludible, can cause death if ingested or given at the wrong time.

The most deaths from mushroom poisonings does occur from poisonings from the Amanita species, but it is the Amanita’s related cousins that are poisonous, NOT the Amanita muscaria or the Amanita pantherina. Mycologists often choose to err on the side of caution, and therefore have labeled the entire species as poisonous, much to the joy of myself and countless others. The Amanita bisporigera, Amanita virosa, Amanita verna, and the infamous Amanita phalloides (Death Cap) are the most dangerous of the Amanitas, but they are easily differentiated from the Amanita muscaria, beasue none of them have the beautiful red cap with white spots.

In Conclusion

The reason for the unpredictability of the Fly Agaric experience is due to the differing amounts of Ibotenic acid (bad stuff) versus Muscimol (good stuff) within each and every mushroom. Even ones from the same crop picked at the same time can have varying amounts of each component.

Ibotenic acid is an unstable compound; consequently, during extraction and subsequent processing, through drying, or through the simple passage of time, large losses can occur. Even in dried mushrooms, the Ibotenic acid content decreases gradually over time, Amanitas that have been in storage for 6 months or more, will have less Ibotenic acid contained within them than recently dried specimens, decreasing unpleasantness if the mushroom is accidentally ingested. Furthermore, it appears that the highest concentration of Ibotenic acid and Muscimol is in the yellow tissue of the cap immediately below the skin, so the practice of peeling off of the red skin will leave behind most of both the Muscimol and the Ibotenic acid.

Finally, though frowned upon by modern society, and difficult for many to stomach, an ongoing personal experiment by a colleague has reportedly yielded amazing results: They drank large amounts of water, and then ingested several Amanita muscaria caps. They then drank more water, and after urinating, saved the liquid and dried it. The remaining material was then placed into a GelCap and ingested, yielding extremely pleasant, spiritual experience, without even a hint of unpleasantness. Just food for thought…

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The interesting physiological activity of ibotenic acid stimulated several chemical syntheses of this compound, including:

• Muscimol: (C4H6O2N) colorless crystals, m.p. 155-156° (hydrate), 174-175° (waterfree) is the enol betaine of 5-aminomethyl-3-hydroxyisoxazole (II). Its salt nature renders it very soluble in water but only sparingly soluble in organic solvents, i.e. alcohol. Its colour reaction with ninhydrin in paper chromatograms is intense yellow and exhibits the same color changes as ibotenic acid.

Muscimol can be found in all Amanita species in which ibotenic acid occurs. However, since it is easily derived from ibotenic acid through the loss of water and CO2, which can occur during extraction or on paper chromatograms, one cannot say positively that it is a genuine compound in the mushroom. In biological tests, muscimol is at least 5 times more active than ibotenic acid. There results the interesting case where a simple chemical reaction (decarboxylation), which can occur during storage, in process, or in the body itself, renders a compound that is considerably more potent than the original form.

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Essential Reading:

“Astrotheology & Shamanism: Christianity’s Pagan Roots: A Revolutionary Reinterpretation of the Evidence” ( – Edited and Revised
by Jan Irvin and Andrew Rutajitt)

“The Holy Mushroom Evidence of Mushrooms in Judeo-Christianity: A critical re-evaluation of the schism between John M. Allegro and R. Gordon Wasson over the theory on the entheogenic origins of Christianity” ( – By J.R. Irvin)

“The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross ( – By John Marco Allegro)

Useful Resources:

Amanita muscaria – (Fly Agaric – Europe, Aisa, Africa, Americas)
This mushroom could very well be human’s oldest hallucinogen, as it has been identified as Soma of ancient India.

Kieri and the Solanaceae – Nature and Culture in Huichol Mythology ( – By Peter T. Furst )
Article concerning the use of Solandra among the Huichol and the true identity of Kieri

Soma of the Aryans – (R. Gordon Wasson)
This paper is based upon the author’s “SOMA, Divine Mushroom of Immortality “, published in 1969 in New York by Harcourt Brace & World Inc., and in The Hague by Mouton. This work is referred to in the following pages as ” Soma”.

Ethnobotanical Tools in the Ancient Near East ( – by William A. Emboden, Jr.)
It is suggested that art and artifact have been sources often overlooked in determining the ethnobotanical content of any early civilization. The suggestion is made that early civilizations in the area of the Fertile Crescent employed Datura, Cannabis, Claviceps, Mandragora, Nymphaea, Vitis, and possibly Papaver as medicaments and ritual entheogens.