classification of drugs >>> deliriants >>>
Hallucinogenic fly-agarics (death-cups)
The well-known mushroom - red death-cup - was, in the past, in the Northern hemisphere, the most common hallucinogen of all. The characteristics of it were carefully studied by nations from Asia, Europe and North America from antiquity till now. As Christianity grew stronger through the Middle Ages, the usage of the death-cups was marked as something unholy and modern civilizations practically have no knowledge of it, but until recently some tribes in Siberia and America still used them.
Gordon Walson, the discoverer of the magical Mexican mushrooms, has studied in details the role of the red death-cup in the cultures of the ancient people. He reckons that the so glorified, in Indian hymns, “beverage of immortality” – “soma” – actually represents this mushroom. Walson uses very convincing arguments to support his thesis. In “Rigveda”, the oldest collection of Indian hymns, the “soma” is characterized as a “sunny plant with no leaves”; the red death-cup, with its bright red color, is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful mushrooms, which fully overlaps with this description. This mushroom is of great importance in the beliefs and the rituals of the Siberian tribes. In their languages the word “pangch” means death-cup as well as enchantment and in others - it means simply a mushroom.
The mushrooms play an important role in the mythology of almost all civilizations. They were thought to be born by a bolt of lightning or that they are phalluses of men, who have already died. In any case the magical abilities of the mushrooms, no matter whether they are bad or good, were never doubted. If, somewhere in the course of time, in the mythology of some nations, the mushrooms have been replaced by other plants, in Siberia, until recently, their usage has been preserved in its original form. All European travelers paid attention to the extraordinary role of the death-cup in the shamans’ rituals of the local community. To get into a trance-state, the shamans drank from the beverage, prepared from a death-cup; in the Siberian tribes this shaman was called “death-cup-eater”. Apart from the shamans, the normal people also used the fly-agarics, apparently to experience this exceptional state of the mind and the body. Before the Europeans brought alcohol to those lands this mushroom was the most common amusement for the people, who lived in Southeast Asia. The people, in which lands the climate was unfavorable for the death-cup to grow, were willing to give a whole reindeer for a single mushroom. Very soon the drug-smugglers found out that the active substance, almost unchanged, is secreted through the urine. They used this to increase the effect of the expensive drug. With a single dose the user could experience the same effect one more time by drinking from his own urine. Sometimes a whole group gathered and everyone drank from the urine of his neighbor.
Many are convinced that the berserks, who were known in medieval Scandinavia, are famous only because of the fly-agaric. “Berserk” actually means a were-bear. This is how the people, who drank from a beverage, made from death-cups, were called. This beverage was used mainly before battle, from which the warriors fought with such ferocity that they caused extreme fear in the enemy lines. The berserks howled like wild beasts, red in face and grinding their teeth, they destroyed everything, which stood in their way. After the battle was over a couple of days were required for recovery. It looks like the death-cups served as doping, which was totally inadequate with the “fair-play” of one decent manly “game”, therefore the Norwegian king forbid its usage in 1223. Without the berserks the war may came nearer to the Olympic ideals for fair fight, but the battles definitely got more boring.
The red death-cup (Amanita muscaria) grows in Bulgaria during the spring and in autumn in the coniferous woodlands. It has a marvelous red cap with white dots on it, but the color may sometimes vary from orange-red to red-brown. The illustrators of children’s books use it because of its beauty. The “pantheress” (Amanita panterina) is similar in shape but its color changes from gray-brown to olive- or ochre-brown. In the group from the genus Amanita, there are some eatable mushrooms – Amanita caesarea, as well as some deadly poisonous ones – Amanita verna and Amanita phaloides (green death-cup). If someone takes large amount of any of the last two mushrooms this will lead to long and painful poisoning, which most often ends up with death. The red death-cup and the “pantheress”, in comparison, are far less poisonous and very rarely they may lead to a tragic end. But yet there is still a chance that they may be mistaken with the really poisonous ones, the consequences of which are most often fatal.
The effect of the mushrooms strongly varies, depending on the place where
they have grown. So their effect is quite unpredictable, which is a very
risky factor. The hallucinogenic dose is of about one mushroom, but sometimes
it may be lower or higher. Apart from several psychoactive substances,
they contain and the strong poisonous muscarine, which has no psychoactive
characteristics. Many specimens are practically deprived from psychoactive
features and contain only muscarine. The light forms of poisoning from
muscarine most often involve salivation and stomach spasms, and if the
concentration is higher the case finishes with death.