Botany

Toxic but Beautiful Fungi



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When one thinks of an Fly agaric mushroom,  fairy folk, Santa’s elves, and leprechauns come to mind.  But this very beautiful, white spotted on bright red umbrella capped Toadstool, can be lethally toxic.  Ancient people’s, especially shamans and druids;  have used the potent mushroom for its synergistic, and hallucinatory effects for eons.  When taken responsibly, modern day religious practioners swear by its potent revelations.  The mushroom has been eaten or drunk in powder form, and smoked as well. War on drug critics are quick to point out that it is poisonous, and should not be ingested in any form.

The mushroom evolved the pretty and polka dotted form because natural selection allowed that it advertises like a “keep away” sign to any animal that would eat it.  Yet, that does not always deter those who are attracted to its psychedelic psychoactive properties.  Those very familiar with it have devised rituals in which they prepare physically by fasting, and by preparing  mentally for inevitable retching and stomach discomfort. Very distasteful to the modern ear is the description of ingesting urine that carries the potent psychedelic properties, but it must be pointed out, that after days of fasting and intense attention to detail, the  human urine can be very clear and usually safe.

When ever people gather it, they have to be extremely careful, as it is similar in appearance to other fungi, some of which are even more toxic.  There are also some less deadly similar looking mushrooms, in the Amanita classification.  Several of the Amanita family of mushrooms are thus said to have Amatoxins.  Many mushrooms in this family share common appearance which varies slightly in color, from red, to rust, to light brown.  They also are often quite alike in shape as well.

It is thought that the mushroom got its name and color designation due to ancient Rig Veda texts, and Celtic European gods. The Eastern god, Soma, for example, and the forerunner of St. Nicholas, (or Santa Claus as he is better known) were known for their magical sleeping, revelatory gifts and bright red and white appearance. In modern times, this color combination survives with printed photos and drawings  of the Amanita muscaria on Christmas cards and decorations, as well as in children's folk tales.

In fairy tales, in woodland forests and in shamanistic rituals, this little Toadstool does not look to be any less controversial anytime soon.

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