“Bitches Can’t Hang with the Streets”

by Sayani Das Chaudhuri and Grace Hong

We, the female editors of the Johnsonville Press, wanted to personally take the time to reiterate some of the most fatal and common flaws plaguing females in our age group. Of course it is not to say that these are true for every one of us, but here is a simple list of nine things you should avoid for the ease and peace of mind of everyone else that has to deal with your little heinie.

1- Don’t wear make up to the gym.

It’s okay to get sweaty and be unpolished. Looking good is important; obviously you’re already taking the first steps towards self improvement—you’re AT the gym. If you’re there for any other reason than better health, maybe you should just dance away those calories at your favorite club instead of coming in looking like a fool and completely out of place in a gym. All the other girls there hate you. They know you’re fake.

2- Don’t blame everything on your period.

It’s true, getting your period can be a bitch and a half. Cramps, bloating, “mood swings,” – it’s not necessarily a pretty sight. However, we, as human beings, as females, are capable of functioning 100% normally during this time of the month, or any other time of the month, really. We’re not completely at the whim of our biological states, we have control over our actions and our emotions and our words. Unless you’ve actually been diagnosed with some serious PMDD, using your period as an excuse to be a bitch or get what you want is completely unforgivable. By allowing men to build up this stereotypical image of a scary, illogical time of the month for all women, you’re doing yourself and all other females a disservice. Yes, you.

3- Don’t wear unreasonable shoes/clothing.

Just because Victoria Beckham can get away with walking around in eight inch heels like it’s nobody’s business doesn’t mean that you should be held to that same standard. I mean, for goodness sakes, she earned a good deal of her money being a Spice Girl! It’s true that wearing a nice pair of heels can accentuate your calf muscles and elongate your legs, and every once in a while, even the most modest of girls want to show off some of their better ASSets, but really, there is a time and place for all of this. Going on a dinner date and movie wearing a nice pair of pumps and that low-cut cami is fairly acceptable. But going to the city for a long night of drinking and walking through cobblestone streets in 30 degree weather does not constitute the circumstance most appropriate for this kind of attire. If you really want to look your best in all situations–and you can do so without spraining your ankle or complaining the entire time–then by all means, keep at it, girl. But for the rest of us, bring a pair of flip-flops for that long walk back to the train station and maybe even a sweater so you don’t have to ask other people to remove their own clothing for your comfort.

4- Don’t drunk anything (especially FACEBOOK).

They say that alcohol gives you courage and lessens your inhibitions, but this is no time for loose fingers to be walking across the keyboard or your cell. Especially not in the direction of your ex. He does not care that you are drunk at some party and are really horny, nor does he care that “so and so” wrote on your wall because you think he might have nothing better to do at 4 in the morning. I mean, maybe he does, but you’re no longer together, and your need for attention will go unrequited. It is inappropriate and foolish to think that this is the best way to get things off your chest – it usually only leads to remorse or guilt. So save all of us current girlfriends and ex-boyfriends some grief by thinking ahead just a little and AVOID DRUNK TYPING/CALLING/MESSAGING.

5- Stop saying your “fat” or “ugly” just to get some positive feedback.

There is nothing more attractive than a confident person. Period. Feeling good about yourself is something that shows through in everything that you do, including your physical appearance. And when you let your insecurities show by putting yourself down in front of others, not only do they become aware of your personal self-esteem issues, you simply become less attractive in the eyes of both men and women. And if you really ever want to have a good, supportive female friend, you won’t ever make one by constantly putting yourself down. No one wants to be BFF’s with a girl who can’t even love herself. Fishing for compliments would simply be unnecessary if you just felt secure with who you are, physically and otherwise. So stop pointing out the negatives and just do you.

6- Eat like no one’s watching.

Why do guys love Tina Fey so much? Because her character, Liz Lemon from the TV show 30 Rock is not afraid to visit the hot dog stand on a regular basis, or eat 3 donuts for breakfast (yum) without shame. Denying food is not a heroic act of discipline, and with the general attitude of rivalry between girls, it’s natural for eating to also become a competition, but not in a good way. While it’s great to eat light every now and then, it’s notokay to deny yourself everything because you’re afraid of the judgment of other girls or because you’re with a guy. It’s absolutely okay to indulge in chicken fingers or a slice of pizza, especially when everyone else is clearly with you at that eatery to do the same.

7- Don’t beat around the bush (don’t play games).

You wonder why you have failed in yet another relationship? Maybe, maybe, it’s time to try some different tactics- – none. While a cat and mouse game can be a titillating experience, life is so much easier when you’re straightforward with your desires. Not only are you being dishonest with yourself by pretending to be cutesier than you are, or more helpless (”oh, this bookbag is SO heavy, will you carry this for mee?” ::bats eyelashes::) than in reality, these games that we play with others builds a layer of deception and lies that generally become the basis of disillusionment in the future. If you want someone to like you, or if you like someone, then why wouldn’t you want him/her to like you for who you actually are? You don’t have to pretend or try harder. Again, it’s a matter of presenting a confident self that is completely comfortable with her own skin. You can do this and find love, seriously.

8- Don’t ditch your friends the second you have a boyfriend.

Butterflies and kisses are totes awesome. With each new romance, not only do you get a lover, you get a whole new best friend. But that doesn’t mean you now no longer have the time for the friends that had to listen to you whine and complain while you were single. They were there for you then, and they’re probably willing to be there for you now, and still need YOU to be there for them. Friends are the ones that will be there for you during the hard times with your boyfriend anyway, so if you push them aside, what reason would they have to come back to you whenever you get sick of your BF’s antics? After all, “I get by with a little help of my friends (I get high with a little help of my friends).”

9- Stop fawning over love and boys like it’s the only thing that will complete your life.

Honestly, one of the biggest problems that we have with female empowerment is this dual reality/expectation of females being at once both capable and independent, as well as dependent and incomplete without a male counterpart. For some reason, many girls feel as though “something is missing” or that life just isn’t as sweet and beautiful when they are single. For some reason, instead of considering the many talents and skills that they could hone and improve to better their quality of life, they are frozen and sad, sinking into deep holes of despair (“when will someone really love me (again)?”, “how can I ever get over those kisses?”) because they can’t find meaning in their lives if there isn’t some boy to share it with. Don’t you think this defeats the whole purpose of female empowerment – when 90% of time is spent dwelling on this boy or that boy? Who are we trying to convince that we are women who roar and fight, if most of us demand to be loved in order to feel complete? Take some time to reconsider what it means to retain your own identity, and to truly love yourself, with or without someone else to love you back for just for that self affirmation. Don’t get us wrong, boys are fantastic, but how often have they led to catty fights and issues between women that only make us seem even weaker in the eyes of the rest of world? It’s time to get over it, as a favor to our gender/sex, but most of all, as a favor to humanity.

Bonus #10. Just because it’s Halloween doesn’t mean you have to dress like a skank (hoe).

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That Kind of Girl – Anthony Xerri

In My Image

In the journey to adulthood, one of the major challenges facing us is the search for a mate. This job description takes on a multitude of characteristics depending on who defines it. Some of us guys are searching for the woman who will one day bear our children, others for someone with whom we can pass the time until we graduate and go our separate ways, and still others simply want a girl with whom we can share a night. If you’re like me, your goals might vacillate between the afore-mentioned options and many others on a weekly basis.

Regardless of what you are looking for, your search can lead you to meet all sorts of women who fill all types of roles. Today’s focus is on one such type that I’m sure many of you have encountered. You may have found yourself in the familiar position of talking to a girl you were interested in. On this particular night she seemed to be sending you all the right signals. So you find a chance to be alone with her and as your suspicions prove to be correct, things start heating up. One thing leads to another, and in the heat of the moment, as you try to take things to the next level, your trip around the base paths is halted by the “I’m not that kind of girl” routine. For many, these words represent nights filled with temptation, frustration, and masturbation.

But just what “kind of girl” is it that these young women want to prove that they are not, and why? The first thing that comes to mind is that a girl doesn’t want to be labeled a ‘slut’. She doesn’t want her girlfriends to talk about her behind her back (as they’ll probably do anyway) and she doesn’t want other guys coming to her and expecting sex. That seems reasonable—but here’s what I don’t understand. In the course of a “hookup” as kids these days are calling it, why is sex such an impenetrable line? Why does sex make you a slut while all other acts of passion are acceptable? A hookup is going to culminate (if you take my meaning) one way or another, so why shouldn’t it be in a way that both parties will enjoy? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been puzzled by a girl who says “no sex, but everything else is okay.” Is this merely an attempt to preserve her image, so she can tell her friends in the morning “Of course we didn’t have sex, I’m not that kind of girl.” You can get just as freaky without having sex.

Another reason a girl might withhold sex is that she doesn’t want to give her virginity to just anybody.That is certainly her prerogative, and before I go any further I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say that all girls should put out or anything like that. The choice is up to you. However, I do think that women place an unnecessary importance on virginity. By abstaining from sex you are depriving yourself of one of the greatest and most natural pleasures granted to mankind. If at any point in time two people want to have sex with each other and have not made a commitment to monogamy with someone else, they should do it (pun intended).

I don’t think that the fact that you’ve never had sex before is a reason not to have sex now. In fact, waiting to give it away to a special person can set you up for some serious disappointment and emotional turmoil when you come to realize that “he was just an asshole like everyone else”. Yes, sex can be an amazing experience when shared with someone you really love, but it’s pretty damn enjoyable no matter who your partner is. Gaining a little experience before you meet “The One” isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Up until this point I have aimed my rant specifically at women. Although it is my experience that most men do not place the same significance on virginity, (growing up I couldn’t wait to lose mine!) there are still those who choose to abstain. Many such people will cite religious reasons for remaining virgins until marriage. I know a fair amount of Catholic students here at Rutgers (at least three) who believe that premarital sex goes against God’s will. I’m not going to touch on the subject of God’s existence—at least not today. But I will point out that I have not been able to find a passage in the Bible that specifically forbids premarital sex. There are a few that come very close, (although not in the four gospels) so I will grant that they can be legitimately interpreted as such. However, I’m pretty sure that acts other than simple sexual intercourse would be prohibited by such passages forbidding “fornication” and “sexual relations” outside of marriage. So for those who follow the Bible and draw the line at intercourse, you might want to think about adjusting that line.

Sex is a great thing. It is perhaps the greatest natural pleasure in which man can partake. Do not deprive yourself because of what your friends will think, or because of what you’ve been told the Bible says—just use protection. If religion is your reason for abstaining, do some research on your own. Your findings might surprise you. In my opinion, if God does exist, sex is one of his gifts. It would be cruel of him to give us such means for pleasure and then forbid us for enjoying them. I will leave you now with some words of advice from the late great George Harrison: “Make love all day long. Make love singing songs.”

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Let the Bodies Hit the Floor: Some Points Against Gun Control Legislation

No Simple High Way 4/9/08

By Mike Stuzynski

The following is a verbatim transcription of a column submitted for publication in last Friday’s Daily Targum Opinions page.  Editor-in-Chief John S. Clyde refused to publish the piece, citing worries that the visceral depictions of suicide across cultures might lead some students to kill themselves, resulting in a lawsuit against the Daily Targum.  The column was written as a rebuttal to Josh Baker’s argument for stricter gun control laws two days earlier.  It is reproduced here, in its original unedited form, so that the readers of The Johnsonville Press, who we hold to be intelligent enough to keep their rifles (and guns) out of their own mouths, can have access to both sides of this important issue.

In his column in Wednesday’s Daily Targum, conspicuously titled “Welcome to the gun show,” Josh Baker reiterated the typical liberal party-line position on gun legislation in America.  Arguing that the recent wave of sensationalized mass shootings/suicides could have been prevented by stricter gun control, the writer develops his argument by listing the prerequisites for a person to commit murder, illustrating the “frightening” efficiency of firearms as implements of death, and ending with a critique of the Second Amendment.  Noah Glyn gave an articulate response in Thursday’s paper to Baker’s oversimplified attack on our nation’s Constitutional right to bear arms, but his short letter was not sufficient in addressing all of the misguided points made in the original column.

Toward the beginning of his column, Baker uses statistics from the Center for Disease Control that 3/5 successful suicides are perpetrated with firearms to illustrate “just how frighteningly efficient firearms are at killing, especially when compared to other methods.”  In his argument, because “self-inflicted cutting wounds account for 15 percent of all suicide attempts but only 1 percent of all successful suicides,” and “poisons and drugs account for 70 percent of suicide attempts but less than 12 percent of all suicides,” guns must have some awesome power that these other methods simply lack.

This is a gross oversimplification, and represents a terrible oversight on behalf of the author, as it completely rules the intent of alleged suicide victims out of the equation.  For example, statistics show that a significant number of adolescents go through periods in which they practice mild self-mutilation or “cutting,” as a means of dealing with the stress in their lives.  According to an article in the September 4, 2008 edition of Science Daily, “Self-harm is an international, widespread yet often hidden problem.”  However, self-mutilation in itself is not necessarily evidence of true suicidal intent.  Many young people routinely cut the top of their wrists, much to the horror of their parents who can easily overreact and label their child as “suicidal.”

The ingestion of pills or other drugs as a form of suicide is also highly suspicious, as one must wonder about the intent of the perpetrator.  There was a girl in my high school who allegedly tried to off herself by swallowing 8 Advil at once.  They sent her to the hospital, labeled it an attempted suicide, and she spent a few weeks in a psychiatric ward, but no one seemed suspicious about the fact that she left at least 30 pills in the bottle.  Of course, for the serious suicide candidate, 50 Ambien chased promptly by a few glasses of whiskey should do the job nicely. Morbid as they are, these are distinctions that deserve serious attention, as Josh has structured a pivotal point in his argument against firearm possession around such dubious statistics.

If we subject his data to more serious analysis, his case becomes more dubious still. Consider the island of Japan, a nation that has historically held very stringent gun control laws.  According to the Asia Times, there was one suicide every fifteen minutes in Japan, totaling 100 a day on average. in 2003  Japanese culture has a tradition of encouraging ritualistic suicide in order to restore one’s lost honor.  Seppuku, or the ritualized cutting of the abdomen to achieve evisceration, was the only honorable technique up until the Meiji Restoration.  In modernity, the method of choice has evolved into asphyxiation in a car with carbon monoxide, though grisly knife-related suicides are not uncommon.

Asphyxiation and ritual disembowelment are extremely effective suicide techniques that reflect an extreme commitment to the act, something that is not necessarily always present in poisoning or wrist-cutting attempts.  Imagine dragging a knife across your stomach, releasing your small intestines—it’s not a joke—spill your guts and it’s all over in a matter of a few agonizing minutes.  Americans, not surprisingly, prefer the Hemingwayesque method; shotgun to the brain stem and it’s lights out—show’s over—snow falling softly atop Kilimanjaro.

The more liberal among you must pardon me if I have trouble believing Josh when he states, parroting statistics from the U.S. Justice Department, that because “66 percent of the nation’s 16,137 murders in 2004 were committed with firearms, it is a safe bet that the majority of these murder would never have occurred if guns had not been available.”  First of all, what does he mean by the word “available?”  Living in New Jersey, it is increasingly difficult for anyone, young people  especially, to acquire any firearm, much less a semi-automatic handgun, by legal means.  The background checks are too much of a hassle, and the inflated price of the weapon itself is generally enough to deter many, especially in difficult economic times.  To further put things in perspective, New Jersey also recently passed a Draconian law classifying AirSoft guns—those stupid fifteen dollar pieces of plastic that shoot yellow pellets—as illegal firearms.  It’s tough enough to buy a paintball gun, and you can’t even own a slingshot in this state without having to worry about being hassled by the cops.

Knowing about these laws, you might be inclined to wonder why a city like Newark still boasts a murder rate higher than the national average.  Not only are the majority of murders in Newark committed with firearms, but the increased gun legislation in the past three years has done very little to deter the proliferation of street crime there, among other troubled New Jersey cities.  Of course, this doesn’t surprise me one bit, as it is almost as easy to buy firearms illegally as it is to purchase alcohol and tobacco  underage .  During my tenure at Rutgers, four different people have approached me unsolicited and offered to sell me or a friend of mine an illegal handgun.  One kid even quoted me on his price: $300 for a 32-clip capacity 9mm semi-automatic.  If you want to buy a “burner” that doesn’t have any bodies on it, the price doubles, but is nevertheless cheaper than the those offered by most legitimate gun dealers.

I could write on this subject for hours, but the bottom line is that the majority of gun violence is perpetrated with firearms that have been acquired on the black market, making the argument of increasing gun legislation basically moot.  I’m actually surprised that most liberals don’t understand this, as it basically follows the same logic as their argument against the prohibition of drugs—if you make something illegal, it will still be available on the black market, so the government might as well regulate it to keep everyone a little safer.

You really want to cut down on gun violence?  Get a ballistic print on file from every licensed firearm sold or owned in the United States, insuring that people cannot get away with committing a crime with guns they have purchased by the books.  While this may not stop all of the tragic incidents of mass-murder/suicide the media seems to love so much, it could very well lead to a reduction in the number of casualties racked up by these sensationalized, rogue gunmen.  Popular rhetoric always bemoans the fate of innocents confronted by a lone madman with a brace of semi-automatic handguns, as if it were something that could never have been prevented, but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if just one of the hostages inside the Binghamton Civic Association building had been equipped with a licensed personal firearm.

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The Social Myth of Mushroom-Shamanism

Psychoactive, or “magic,” mushrooms are the most ubiquitous of the known entheogenic plant hallucinogens.  They can be found on six out of seven continents, and require no pieces of complicated paraphernalia or preparation to be ingested.  Building on these assumptions, the conventional wisdom of the psychedelic movement in the 1960’s held that ritualistic mushroom use must have been a common practice in the shamanic traditions of many, if not most, of the prehistoric and ancient cultures ranging from Siberia and Northern Europe to the Americas and even Australia.  Self-described prophets such as Timothy Leary along with popular writers like Carlos Castaneda, Michael Harner, and Terrence McKenna helped perpetuate the cultural myth of a lost golden age of shamanic communion with the spirit realm via the use of hallucinogenic fungi, followed by a decline in use commonly ascribed to the oppressive spread of Christianity and growing disenchantment after the development of agriculture.  The mythologies generated by these individuals remain influential to this day in many circles of dedicated mushroom aficionados, or myconauts.

Andy Lechter addresses the often dogmatic adherence to this ideology among mushroom users in his book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom.

With great certainty [mushroom users] will detail how mushrooms were used in prehistoric religious ceremonies, inspiring the building of the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge and the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan.  They will tell you how Plato, amongst others, drank mushroom tea at the ancient Greek rites of Eleusis; how mushrooms were eaten by the shadowy Celts and their Druidic priests, by the Vikings to access their jingoistic rages, and then later by the medieval witches in their secretive moonlit sabbats.  They will happily explain that folk memories of Siberian mushroom-shamanism gave us the figure of Father Christmas, who is, in fact, a magic mushroom in disguise.  They will blame a blinkered patriarchal and nature-hating Christianity, or perhaps the scientific machinations of the industrial revolution, for the severance of this unbroken tradition and the willful oppression of this throwback to the stoned age.  And they will claim that by reviving mushroom use they are reinstating an ancient shamanic heritage, a heritage that is their natural birthright (4-5).

In order to corroborate his claim, I interviewed eight individuals in a close circle of psychedelic mushroom users at Rutgers, and found their opinions on the history of mushroom use to be closely accordant with this narrative.  Due to ideological concerns, all of these individuals have asked to remain anonymous—though among them references to the mushroom’s prehistoric origin, Plato, and Siberian shamanism were unanimous, and every piece of Lechter’s chronicle was reproduced by at least two individuals.  The singular exception was the Avebury and Stonehenge myths, which were mentioned by only one interviewee, although this can easily be ascribed to a more general lack of cultural knowledge in America pertaining to ancient British history.

If nothing else, we can take the cohesiveness of this cultural mythology as evidence that psychedelic mushroom aficionados can be thought of as constituting their own mnemonic community.  Aside from mode of dress, political views, and cultural tastes, members of the community can be said to share a distinctive set of memories pertaining to the origins and history of the mushrooms they hold to be sacred.  They are an especially interesting subject for analysis because their remembered historical system is predicated on a distinct lack of citable evidence.  Lechter notes that because “mushrooms are delicate, evanescent and highly putrescible, often rotting away within hours of appearance . . . fungi of all kinds appear extremely rarely in the archaeological record” (32).  The few mushrooms that have been preserved have been of the more practicable Fomes fomentarius variety, more commonly referred to as tinder fungus because the plant’s dry, brittle constitution makes it an effective fire starting tool.  Lechter prominently declares that “there is not a single instance of a magic mushroom being preserved in the archaeological record anywhere” (33).

In comparison to some of the other mnemonic communities we have discussed in class, there is a distinct lack of solid “history” for mushroom enthusiasts to point to in support of their mythology.  Whereas Zionists may correctly or incorrectly recall narratives such as the Bar Kokhba revolt or the death of Trumpledor, they are nevertheless referring back to accessible and agreed upon past events.  But in my interviews, I found that proponents of the mushroom mythology rely almost exclusively on their own personal experiences with the drug, colloquially called “trips,” to which they have assigned a high degree of ontological significance.  One particular subject nicely summarized the general opinion pertaining to the importance of the mushroom trip itself: “It’s like going to another world.  The mushroom takes you there and blows your mind.  It shows you things about the past and gives you insight into it, your own life, and even the future.  When it’s over, wherever you come back from, you come back knowing.”  Though individual descriptions of the ineffable trip experience differ radically, not one of my subjects doubted that it constitutes a distinctly spiritual, even Gnostic, event.

The unanimous belief in the intrinsic spirituality of the mushroom experience, coupled with a near unanimous recollection of the golden age/decline narrative suggests the best evidence for the normative aspect of memory in regards to this particular mnemonic community.  And though past events are plotted without much regard to chronological continuity (stories of the Aztec mushroom ceremonies and Indo-European Soma ceremonies were mentioned by one interviewed subject in the same breath as if they happened in sequential order), chronicles of mushroom lore are painstakingly separated into three distinct time periods: the prehistoric golden age, the decline brought on by Christianity, and the resurgence of the shamanic tradition in the second half of the 20th Century.  Events before the spread of Christianity are remembered in an idealized light (one subject longingly mused that “life must have been simpler then.”), whereas events pertaining to possible instances of mushroom prohibition in the Christian era—the medieval witch hunts being the most commonly mis-remembered—are demonized, evidence of humanity’s decline since organized monotheism resulted in a disenchanted break with the natural, shamanistic state.  Members of the mushroom community also tend to idealize the 1960’s as being akin to a psychedelic Renaissance, or a time of reconnection with humanity’s indigenous, spiritual roots.

But ask any modern myconaut to cite specific textual evidence in support of their claims, and, to the extent that you are given any worthwhile response at all, you will be directed claims derived from the theories of Carlos Castaneda, Terrence McKenna, and most prominently, Aldous Huxley, who has acceded to the position of unofficial godfather of the modern psychedelic movement.  None of these figures could be classically defined as historians or anthropologists—Castaneda was studying anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles, but abandoned the science after the publication of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge—they are purveyors of fiction and metaphysics, and must be regarded as such for the purpose of this assignment.  Huxley’s 1954 publication of The Doors of Perception, and subsequent Heaven and Hell have become the standard against which all psychedelic literature are measured.   His claim toward the middle of Doors of Perception, that “the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, the hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots—all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings since time immemorial” (24-5), is one of the first documented allegations of a prehistoric entheogenic shamanism, from the cultural movement that would eventually give rise to the age of the magic mushroom (Lechter, 26).

Huxley’s further insistence that “the urge to transcend self-consciousness is … a principle appetite of the soul” (Perception, 67), prompted writers to look for historical proof of this phenomenon in ancient cultures, and it was not long before an abundance of theories began cropping up about the supposed psychedelic origins of many of the world’s ancient religions and systems of spirituality.  The Hindu Rig Veda hymns frequently reference a liquid intoxicant called Soma.  Though the exact composition of the beverage remains an enigma, the amateur anthropologist and avid mushroom enthusiast Gordon Wasson, inspired by Huxley’s text, believed the active ingredient must have been a hallucinogenic fungus (Lechter, 143-4).  His 1968 publication of SOMA: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, spread his theory throughout the psychedelic underground, and the tenets of his book are still indisputably accepted by myconauts in the modern era.  Though none of the subjects I interviewed had heard of Gordon Wasson, the consensus that magic mushrooms were being consumed by the ancient Indo-Europeans has not faded.  Of the eight subjects interviewed, five identified Soma as being a mushroom derivative without being prompted, and the remaining three recalled the pseudo-scientific myth after being asked about it specifically.

There is one key difference between the remembered myth of Soma’s composition and Gordon Wasson’s original theory that only one interviewed subject was able to identify.  In the fungal kingdom, there are two known types of hallucinogenic mushroom.  The Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, has a characteristic red cap with white specks, and the more common species belonging to the genusPsylocibe, which produces less distinctive looking brown or golden capped fruit (Lechter, 12-13).  The Amanita muscaria is almost never used in the modern era, as it is composed of a multiplicity of active alkaloids, the contents of which vary greatly between mushrooms growing under different conditions.  Because of this, theAmanita muscaria has never been widely used spiritually or medicinally outside two regions in Siberia, where soil conditions favor a consistent degree of potency.  The great majority of mushrooms cultivated and sold in the United States belong to thePsylocibe genus, of which the active alkaloids, psilocybin and psilocin, are found in more stable quantities, making for a more predictable experience once ingested (Lechter, 118-130).

Gordon Wasson’s book proposed that it was the Amanita muscaria that must have been the active ingredient in Soma, brought down from the Caucus Mountains by Aryan invaders (Lechter, 147).  From the modern standpoint, this conclusion seems unlikely, as the Amanita muscaria, which grows most commonly in symbiosis with fir trees, is not common in India.  Psylocibe species, in contrast, are found in many of the world’s tropical regions, including India, where they flourish in the warm, moist environment of dung fields and other regions of decay (150).  But this point proved purely academic—I was surprised to discover in the course of my interviews that modern mushroom enthusiasts are for the most part ignorant of the difference between Amanita muscaria and species of the Psylocibe genus (only one individual successfully identified the distinction).  Far from simply conflating the two types of mushroom—which would be a convenient way of revising Wasson’s assumption—Rutgers’ community of myconauts has essentially remembered the Amanita muscaria out of existence in their conventionalized history of psychoactive fungal use.

Another interesting conflation made by modern mushroom enthusiasts occurs in the recollection of history of Psylocibe cubensis use in South and Central America.  There is a great amount of documented evidence to suggest that mushroom use was common among the Aztecs and certain other inhabitants of the Yucatan peninsula (Lechter, 88-113), and while all of the interviewed subjects correctly asserted that the indigenous people of what is now Mexico knew about the substance, they also unanimously subscribed to the theory that the mushroom was widely used throughout South America as a whole.  But though Psylocibe cubensisgrow prominently in many South American countries, they were not widely used outside of the Aztec and Mayan empires.  The indigenous tribes populating modern day Peru, Brazil, and Bolivia were no strangers to psychoactive shamanism, but they were largely ignorant or even wary of Psylocibe cubensis (Lechter, 193).Anthropologists now believe that Ayahuasca, or Yage, a psychoactive brew prepared from the admixture of certain plants and seeds, was the hallucinogen of choice for indigenous peoples south of the Yucatan, though this belief has only recently begun to gather popular support within the lay psychedelic community.

In the Rutgers’ psychedelic community, only the more experienced members have a proper working understanding of Ayahuasca—which is surprising, as it boasts a prominent Wikipedia entry to its name—but even those who do know about it, often subscribe to the belief that it was used interchangeably with the Psylocibe cubensis by the people of South America.  This conflation is almost certainly due to the influence of Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda’s fictional shaman from A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, who allegedly used a preparation of Psylocibe cubensis to rock Castaneda’s empirical world-view.  After its publication in 1968,  the book caused many psychedelic travelers to journey to Mexico and other South American destinations in search of deeper metaphysical understanding  (Lechter, 214-16).  And though Castaneda’s Don Juan books are universally regarded as fiction among serious intellectuals, members of the Rutgers psychedelic community still perpetuate the myth of Don Juan.

The interviewed subjects recognized Don Juan as a famous Mexican (in some cases Peruvian) shaman—as an archetypal Indian teacher to outsiders, similar to the popular perception of Squanto, the Native American who helped the first European settlers.  His name was not connected to Carlos Castaneda, however, nor was it easily recognized as being connected with a book.  Psychedelic culture has apparently assimilated the fictional figure of Don Juan Mathus into its mythology as a modern day relic of an assumed ancient history of shamanic practice.  He has paradoxically become living proof of the prehistoric beginnings of humanity’s relationship with entheogenic substances in general, and magic mushrooms in particular.

As Lechter points out, “one of the reasons that invented histories, supposed lineages of mushroom use stretching back to the dawn of time, are so readily believed and so trenchantly defended by aficionados is that they serve to legitimate this illicit hobby” (23).  It supports the implication that the recreational and spiritual use of hallucinogens is not morally wrong, as it has been deemed by straight society in reaction to the permissive atmosphere of the 1960’s psychedelic revolution, but part of our own mystical ancestry, and therefore natural.  The figure of Don Juan fulfills the important function of bridging the gap between the lost golden age of psychedelic acceptance and its resurgence in the 20th Century.  If the hippies of the acid movement wanted to claim solidarity with a chain of hallucinogenic spirituality with prehistoric roots, they needed to grasp onto some piece of evidence in the non-Western world to corroborate it.  The case is similar with modern mushroom enthusiasts, who want to claim solidarity with past traditions as a way of justifying their life choices.  They undoubtedly cling to the Soma myth, among others for the same reason.

Ironically, this blind devotion to a shaky history blinds most from realizing that the issue behind the use psychedelic substances is not inherently a moral one.  All of the subjects interviewed rated psychedelic substances, and mushrooms in particular, as intrinsically positive agents of spiritual discovery.[1] The extent the Christian Era is used to symbolize the decline of the first psychedelic golden age is most likely based upon the lack of any hard evidence of hallucinogen use after the proliferation Latin made historical records more uniform and accessible.  To the skeptic, a lack of available evidence during a time of growing literacy and written documentation only strengthen the claims as to the mythological nature of humanity’s ancient shamanic tradition.  Attempts at locating evidence of the establishment’s oppression of mushroom use in the Old World, particularly within this period have proven fruitless, the best example being Michael Harner’s publication of Hallucinogens and Shamanism in the 1970’s.  In the book, Harner posited that the victims of the Medieval witch hunts were not devil worshippers, but secretive users of psychoactive substances which they ingested via the application of magic flying ointments.  From this unsubstantiated claim, it was not long before hallucinogenic mushrooms were proposed as a possible agent in these mysterious ointments  (Lechter, 47).  Lechter repeatedly argues in his book that most cultures feared mushrooms because of their relationship with decay and because some were known to be poisonous, stressing that psychedelic experiences were commonly viewed as evidence of the body’s rejection of the ingested substance and therefore something to be explicitly avoided.

But if die-hard myconauts rely on this narrative of Christian oppression to explain why no indisputable documented instances of ritualistic mushroom use existed until the 20th Century, they force the question of morality to the forefront.  This distinction is commonly drawn by the emphasis given to the autonomous agency of the mushroom as a spiritual tool.  In regards to the impersonal rites and places in which shared memories of mnemonic communities are stored, one need look no further than the mushroom itself, which is colloquially referred to by myconauts as the golden teacher or occasionally, philosopher’s stone.  To those who take the idea of shamanism seriously, the mushroom is a kind of conscious being.  This theory was proliferated by Terrence McKenna throughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  During his rhapsodical lectures, he occasionally related stories of the mushrooms speaking to him, and said they claimed to be of alien descent (Lechter, 263), and many myconauts in the modern era make similar contentions about having actually communed with the mushrooms during the psychedelic experience.

The degree of personal insight that one can acquire during a mushroom experience is astounding, so it is not difficult to understand why some groups of people choose to subscribe in the mushroom consciousness theory.  However, to an enthusiast with a critical eye, it becomes clear that the entirety of the experience is internally generated, the product of specific brain functions.  It is interesting then that so many individuals should subscribe to a point of view that is inherently normalized in the scope of its world view, though I believe this says a great deal less about the function of the mushroom than it does about the individuals themselves.  Though they generally mistrust Christianity, they are by no means atheists.  They regard themselves as seekers, psychedelic pioneers ushering in a new era of spirituality, and as such, one can’t help but wonder if their argument would not be more convincing coming from a professed atheist who had never heard any of the urban legends and pseudo-histories proliferated by psychedelic culture.

But in this case, that the normative memories of a shamanic past are directly influencing the mushroom community’s views about the future.  Judging from the anger generated by the publication of Lechter’s book on psychedelic internet message boards, it seems unlikely that these entrenched mythologies will change quickly, and die-hard adherents to the conventional wisdom are already at work trying to disprove his claims.  Their prejudices ring through in their unsung motto: from whence we come, we shall again return.

 

Works Cited

Huxley, Aldous.  The Doors of Perception. New York: Harper & Row, 1954.

Lechter, Andy.  Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom. New York: Harper

Perennial, 2007.

Below is a reproduction of the interview questionnaire I used in this paper.  Interviewees were asked to type in their answers and examples to the following nine questions:

1)   What do you believe are the origins of magic mushroom use?

2) What does the experience, or trip, mean to you?

3) Describe an average trip or experience.  In your opinion, is there an innately spiritual quality to it?

4) Do you believe organized religion was influenced by mushroom use?  Provide examples of specific areas if you can think of any.

5) What do you think of Christianity’s relationship with psychedelic mushrooms?  Provide examples if you can.

6) Can you name any prominent figures associated with shamanism in general or magic mushroom use in particular?

7) What is Ayahuasca?

8 ) What is the importance of the mushroom itself?

9) What is the modern consensus about magic mushrooms as opposed to other classified “drugs?”

[1] To be fair, I am also aware of several “fringe” mushroom enthusiasts who do not subscribe to this ideology, though they are generally not accepted as being true members of the close-knit psychedelic community.

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