Sacred Mushroom of Visions Teonanácatl by Ralph Metzner (Ed)
Originally published in 2004 ‘Sacred Mushroom of Visions: Teonanácatl’ is a relatively comprehensive sourcebook on the psilocybin mushroom. The book is edited by Ralph Metzner, who’s history with the psychedelic movement dates back to the Harvard Psilocybin Project. It contains contributions from a wide range of individuals and contains elements of science, theory, history and experiential accounts of the psilocybin experience.
The name Teonanácatl comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztec people; usually translated as “God’s flesh”, R. Gordon Wasson, the banker who brought the ritual use of psilocybin to the notice of the West, believed it more correctly translated as “wondrous mushroom.” This sets the thrust of the book, which largely takes the view of an entheogenic discourse about the psychedelic.
However, this isn’t to say that the book reads like a religious dialogue. It is split into two parts. Firstly, a collection of essays and extracts from a number of experts from across the field of study. These include words from Metzner himself, Paul Stamets, Rick Doblin and Timothy Leary. They cover such diverse topics as the cultural and psychotherapeutic history of psilocybin, the theories of Terence McKenna (like the Stoned Ape theory,) worldwide distribution, biochemistry and neuropharmacology. From scientific fact through to the speculative and possible.
All these elements make up the motions of the psychedelic movement, especially in regard to psilocybin mushrooms, although it is certainly applicable across the whole psychedelic class. Metzner describes the psychedelic movement as “a loose nonorganised association of shamanistic consciousness explorers, pagan hippie revellers, techno-freaks, and advocates for global cultural evolution, who share a passionate interest in natural and synthetic mind-expanding technologies.” The diversity of fields means that one can find evidence for the movement in a wide variety of disciplines and gain a real insight into how it has spread.
A chapter entitled “The initiation of the ‘High Priest'” is taken from Timothy Leary’s autobiography, entitled, ‘High Priest’. It describes the moment in which the Harvard professor first took magic mushrooms and began his now infamous journey. His use of poetry, capitals, italics and so forth, are the real mark of his writing. The loose style, which reflects the changing nature of the psychedelic experience, beautifully illustrates the great impact Leary felt. Interesting, Rick Doblin also discusses his follow-up studies to the Harvard Psilocybin Project’s research from the early Sixties; this gives the book a wonderful cyclical feel that binds the recent history together.
The second half of the book is made up of first-hand accounts of the psilocybin experience. They are nearly all based in a ritualistic, entheogenic setting and make use of the shamanic understanding throughout. The legacy of Carlos Castaneda, his language and ideas, are constantly catapulted into your mind without even the mention of his name. Lizards, desert settings, animorphing and separate realities are essential elements in the tales. However, each narrative has a very personal aspect that perfectly individuates the psychedelic experience.
Abraham L. described his experiences in a group ritual situation, in which his own experience was perceived as impinging on that of the others: “I was experiencing true madness, yet I was comfortable with it. I realized I was lying in a separate room from the group because of my madness, in the same way people are placed in asylums so their madness won’t bother other people. I felt a connection with inmates in psychiatric wards working through similar processes.”
Interestingly, Abraham L. goes onto to talk about working with people who were fostering conversation between Arabs and Jews several years later. The idea of division is laced into the psychedelic experience on many levels and the best writing on the topic tends to lend great credence to this as a literary device. From social divisions, which have a Foucauldian ring, to the great paradox of Self and Other, they are the great predicaments of consciousness.
One gets the impression when finishing the ‘Sacred Mushroom of Visions’ that the many dimensions of psilocybin offer humanity a truly wonderful gift; for personal experience, for scientific research and as a light through which the environmental discourse of the modern age can be shone. If you have an interest, indeed a belief, in entheogenic, empathogenic (as many of the narratives elude to,) shamanism or simply mycology, then this book is a must for your shelf.