The Mushroom at the End of Time: the fabulous tale of the Fly Agaric mushroom

There is now considerable interest both within academia and in mainstream culture about the therapeutic and transformative potential of the so-called classical psychedelics, most especially psilocybin and the mushrooms that produce it. Amidst all this excitement, a distant fungal cousin, the Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, has gone almost unnoticed. Unmistakeable with its dramatic red and white-spotted cap, the Fly Agaric is if not exactly psychedelic then provocatively psychoactive. Its effects are capricious, ranging from visionary ecstasies through to increased stamina, optical distortions, muscle twitches and a coma like sleep. Largely shunned despite its legality in the UK, the very idea of it has nonetheless had a profound cultural impact, from its discovery by Western travellers to Siberia in the seventeenth century through to the present day. No other mushroom has generated so many myths.

In this talk, Dr Andy Letcher discusses the chemistry, effects, history and cultural impact of this strange, eldritch mushroom, and he answers many of the stories that swirl and circulate about it. Did Siberian shamans drink mushroom-infused reindeer piss to get high? Was Jesus a Fly Agaric mushroom? Had Lewis Carroll been chomping them when he wrote Alice in Wonderland? And is the red and white figure of Santa Claus actually a mushroom shaman bringing gifts from the Upper World with his flying reindeer?

Speaker Bio

Dr Andy Letcher is a Senior Lecturer at Schumacher College, where he is programme lead for the MA Engaged Ecology. He is the author of Shroom. A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, as well as many papers on subjects as diverse as fairies, eco-magick, psychedelic experience, mysticism and animism. He is currently researching the use of psychedelics by contemporary Druids, and the use of the Fly Agaric mushroom in contemporary culture.

Andy Letcter

This Psychedelic series is Curated by Maya Bracknell Watson and Dr David Luke

Maya Bracknell Watson is an interdisciplinary artist, poet, performer, retired cult leader and psychedelic and parapsychology researcher. Having just graduated from Chelsea College of Arts, her work over the last six years has been informed by her concurrent shamanic training, work with the Wixárika (Huichol) tribe from Mexico, and role as a research assistant under Dr David Luke of Greenwich university in the study of the psychedelic compound N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and other worlds. Walking between the worlds of the arts, science and the occult, she combines media and investigative techniques from each to inform and articulate one another in the exploration of ontology, consciousness and altered states, mytholopeia and mythology, ecology, the human condition and its relation to the environment, otherness and mortality. She describes her practise and research as contemporary Memento Mori (‘remember you will die’), and explores what that means in a time of mass ecocide and species extinction.

Follow her on the crooked path on Instagram @maya_themessiah

Maya Bracknell

Dr David Luke is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich, UK, where he has been teaching an undergraduate course on the Psychology of Exceptional Human Experience since 2009, and he is also Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Psychedelic Research, Imperial College London, and Lecturer on the MSc Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology for Alef Trust and Liverpool John Moores University. His research focuses on transpersonal experiences, anomalous phenomena and altered states of consciousness, especially via psychedelics, having published more than 100 academic papers in this area, including ten books, most recently Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience (2nd ed., 2019). When he is not running clinical drug trials with LSD, conducting DMT field experiments or observing apparent weather control with Mexican shamans he directs the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness salon at the Institute of Ecotechnics, London, and is a cofounder and director of Breaking Convention: International Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness. He has given over 300 invited public lectures and conference presentations; won teaching, research and writing awards; organised numerous festivals, conferences, symposia, seminars, retreats, expeditions, pagan cabarets and pilgrimages; and has studied techniques of consciousness alteration from South America to India, from the perspective of scientists, shamans and Shivaites. He lives life on the edge, of Sussex.

David Luke

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