Alfa Art Gallery’s New Brunswick Salon ~ Call for Artists

New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall 2011 – Call for Artists

About the Exhibition

In the 18th and 19th century, Art Salons were the greatest annual or biannual art events in the Western world, celebrating the farthest advances in academia and the arts. The Alfa Art Gallery, in order to bridge talented and highly esteemed artists with the New Brunswick public, holds its own Art Salon exhibition biannually in the spring and fall.

Call for Entries

The Alfa Art Gallery would like to invite artists to submit work for the New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall ’11. There are two artist categories: newly emerging artists and professional artists. All submissions must be in by September 25. Artists will be notified if their work is accepted by September 30. The exhibition opening will be held on Friday, October 21.

Theme

For this exhibition, artists must submit works celebrating diversity or unity in a community.

Submission Requirements

All applicants must be associated with New Brunswick as a resident or as an artist who exhibits in New Jersey. Students and faculty members of Rutgers University and neighboring schools may enter. You must at least be pursuing an undergraduate career to participate. Degree does not need to be related to art.  There is no limit to the number of works entered.

To enter for consideration, please email the following to info@alfaart.org:

  • Images with title/dimensions
  • Resume/CV
  • Statement about your work
Or contact:
Jewel Lim, Event coordinator,

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What Are You? ~ Rebecca Zandstein

I forgot to warn you about how Aliza’s hair may look in the morning… She convinced me that she usually has braids in her hair when going to sleep. I attempted ‘pig tail braids’ as per her request but that didn’t work out…nor did one braid. I can only braid challah. So I apologize in advance for my attempt to convince Aliza that two pigtails twisted into a pony is indeed a braid. I hope her hair isn’t a catastrophe in the morning.”

Last week I watched the children of a family friend. After leaving the house, I e-mailed the mother warning her about her child’s hair, since I had forgotten to shamelessly tell her such to her face. Apparently, my attempt at pretending that the child’s hair was challah in order to make a braid ended up giving the girl flowy waves for school the next day- mind you that her hair is usually pencil straight. It’s times like these when I truly reflect on my identity.

On occasion I fit into the stereotypical construct of a Jew and “tomboy”. Aside from the moments where I find myself picking up the dirtiest penny ever because, well, it’s a penny, I am usually closer to being considered a gay man than a “girly girl.” Many mock me for always announcing one identity over the other, but I find that my prioritization of identities highlights my true self, which partially has been created for me and I have created for myself. Granted my last name gives away that I am most likely of Jewish descent, I still accentuate my identity as a Jewish woman before any other aspect like my sexual orientation or religious and political beliefs.

I find it necessary to couple my gender with my main identity of being Jewish; after being ridiculed many times for looking too androgynous (seriously? me?!) and my entire Jewish education being a bit chauvinistic, gender has come to play almost as big of a role as my ethnic and religious identity. When fellow peers tell me that I’m intimidating, my initial [mental] response is “well, I’m a Jewish woman…and it runs in my family (thank you, Grandpa!).” Sexual orientation is more or less a social construct and while ethnic background may be considered such as well, I find it more relevant to a person’s makeup. Who you’re attracted to doesn’t mean as much as anything else; it’s more so about the relationship between you and someone else, and your identity should reflect more about you.

Focusing on my Jewish identity allows me, like other religious/ethnic identities, to take hold of the past. Denying my Jewish identity would be denying what has happened to my immediate family and how we came about as a generation. Although the argument can be made for sexual orientation as well, I do not find myself attached to all people who share my sexual identity; all straight people cannot feel connected to one another. Sexual orientation is just a minor identity while my being Jewish is more “macro.” Furthermore, sexual orientation does not involve much tradition and being Jewish is all about tradition. Sexuality, whether you are straight, queer, bisexual, or transgendered does not involve an adequate amount of tradition and culture when compared to ethnicity and religion.

LGBTQQIA people do not have certain “traditional” dishes on specified days or celebrations, though they may have alcoholic drinks that are deemed “gay” in bars. There may be rituals within the LGBTQQIA community but they are not shared or known to all within the community because of the constant change and making of history; Judaism has not added new rituals, for the most part, so nearly all rituals are known to most Jews within the community.

Additionally, for example, the flag used for the LGBTQQIA community is usually a rainbow but who said all of the members of that community like rainbows or understand why in the Lord’s name a rainbow is usually used to symbolize the community? Moreover, it must be noted that those in the LGBTQQIA community are quite diverse because they are everyone not considered heterosexual therefore making singular traditions and rituals within the community hard to find and agree upon.

On the other hand, the Jewish symbol and even the Israeli flag has a Jewish star- it’s our sign. It’s what many of our ancestors and families wore in the Holocaust- my family members were forced to wear Jewish yellow felt stars on their sleeves, announcing their identity, and later on we still wear Jewish stars but we took this symbolic representation back for ourselves. The LGBTQQIA community were not forced to wear rainbows while being scapegoated and then took that symbol back as theirs.

Announcing my religious/ethnic identity allows me to expand upon one of my identities: I’m not just Jewish, I’m an Ashkenazi Jew (Eastern European). This then usually stereotypes me as always being on time, but usually early, using everything with potatoes and paprika, and that I’m usually on the paler side (unfortunately, I did not inherit my Grandmother’s olive tone), which isn’t so far from the truth. Identities can sometimes be worn on one’s sleeve but by identities being so general in nature it allows for expansion and room for other identities to compliment each other.

Looking back at my last two years of Rutgers, I can finally grasp how people identify themselves. It’s not about what you’re necessarily born with but what you attach to most. When asked, many students would identify themselves as “gay” before announcing their ethnicity or religious background; this may be due to feeling more comfortable and/or accepted with this one identity or lack of open-mindedness that they possess other identities. Others would emphasize their age before telling me other relevant demographics. A majority of students assume I know aspects of who and what they are, skipping what they considered obvious like gender. Regardless, identity is a social construct and so we should take advantage of the construct we make use of and enable.

When I am asked “what are you?” it’s not a recorded slew of terms that I spew to each person; it’s a concise arrangement of terms that have been organized and prioritized for good reason. The distinction between “who” and “what” is that “who” requires a definition of focus on the demographics and details of who one is. “What,” on the other hand, focuses on personal experiences and history that make up a personal identity while taking into account current identities that a person labels themselves with. Next time someone asks “what are you?” give some thought before answering.

Photo courtesy of forward.com

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Are you going to the Rally to Restore Sanity?

WELL, YOU SHOULD!

It takes place on Saturday October 30th in Washington D.C. at the National Mall. Check out the website for more information:
www.rallytorestoresanity.com

If you can’t make it, then be sure to check in with the Johnsonville Press because I’ll be there covering the event and providing live updates on our Twitter page. Sign up to follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss out! (www.twitter.com/jvpress)

Also look for an article during the week after the Rally for a detailed account of the event along with photos for your viewing pleasure.

Cheers,
Matia Guardabascio
Editor-In-Chief

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Photo courtesy of bc.edu
(http://www.bc.edu/centers/cwf/global/meta-elements/jpg/natl_mall.jpg)

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With Sympathy to the Clementi Family

The Johnsonville Press would like to extend its sincerest condolences to the family of Tyler Clementi. We hope that the bonds of family will keep you strong and resilient during this time of tragedy. Our thoughts are with you.

Sincerely ,

The Johnsonville Press Staff

____________________

Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/dharun-revi-molly-wei-charged_n_743539.html)

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Feminism is Not a Dirty Word ~ Marlana Moore

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

I hear this phrase a lot, and I suppose that at one point in time I was guilty of using it too. However, just as I grew out of my Hot Topic shopping habits and eventually realized that my seventh grade obsession with wearing cat ears to school was embarrassing, I have outgrown my previously immature attitudes. What my aversion was, and what others’ continue to be, is a misconstrued vision of what a feminist is. If the thought that a feminist is a dirty hippie who burns her bras and never washes her hair, who scorns men every chance she can, and devotes her free time demonstrating at pro-choice rallies, then believe me, I am no feminist. However, if these strange social conventions are stripped from the word, and for example, the world sees feminism as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes),” then maybe more people would understand that they are in fact feminists.

Think of it this way: if I were to say, “I am not a Rutgers student, but I take all of my classes at Rutgers,” something would sound off. By taking Rutgers classes at any of the three campuses, I am a Rutgers student. Because I fulfill the only criteria necessary to be a student at Rutgers, not identifying as one makes me sound ridiculous. The same goes for those who say, “I am not a feminist, but I believe women should have the same rights as men,” or something analogous. The criteria for being a feminist is fulfilled, yet the person chooses not to identify as one. For some reason, this is an overwhelmingly acceptable attitude. The whole idea strikes me as absurd.

The problem lies in the general attitude toward feminists, and in turn how feminism is perceived. For example, instead of defining a Rutgers student as one who attends Rutgers classes, I have defined the term as a person who attends Rutgers football games. Therefore, I am not a Rutgers student because I do not attend Rutgers football games. It is true that many Rutgers students attend the football games at the brand new stadium on Busch campus, and many Rutgers students also wear Rutgers attire. Though these characteristics describe Rutgers students, they are not conditions of being a Rutgers student. In the same way, certain characteristics that are ascribed to feminists do not make a person a feminist.

Case in point, on a Friday night in my apartment before going out, my female friend interjects that she would like to put on some make up before we left. A certain male friend gives her a funny look and says, “Why are you putting on make up? I thought you were a feminist.” And in the next thirty seconds he got schooled in how taking pride in your appearance as a woman does not contradict feminist values. In fact, feminists can take any number of shapes from women’s studies majors to housewives to even men. Because the “feminazi” stereotype first perpetuated by Rush Limbaugh has run rampant through the American vernacular, feminism is something to fear, like a militant state run by Hitler or “woman power” in the same way as the Neo-Nazi “White Power.” These associations retard the social progress necessary for women to finally achieve equal rights as men.

Though since the Woman’s Suffrage movement of the 1920s, America has come a far way in extending equal rights to women. However, if we concede this to be a victory and render feminism no longer necessary, we will lose far more in the long run. If women were equal to men in American society today, then women would be paid the same as men, women would not have to worry about sexual harassment, abuse or assault. Just readBen’s article from two weeks ago to see how these issues are handled at Rutgers. If we look around the world at these issues, we will see that of the 2.5 million people forced into labor, 43% are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. 98% of these people are women and girls.

We need to be feminists for these women. We need to stand up for women’s rights for all those who do not have the same fundamental rights as men. When we deny feminism and we are scared to identify as feminists, then we turn a blind eye to the women who are treated profoundly unequal to their male counterparts. Feminism is absolutely necessary in our culture today, if not to recognize that inequality both exists and abounds in our world. When we allow for the “Feminazi” stereotype to persist, we give a victory to those who want to oppress women or make us believe that these issues do not exist anymore. They clearly do. And for this reason, feminism should not be a dirty word. You are a feminist, and so am I.

___________________

Photo courtesy of novaseeker.wordpress.com

(http://novaseeker.wordpress.com/category/feminism/page/2/)

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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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