We’ve had a great summer. Warm and dry with just the odd sprinkle of rain now and again. As the trees begin turning to gold at their tips, and the hedgerows glisten with blackberries and rosehips, thoughts turn to autumn, and the dark days ahead.
Another fruit also abounds at this time. In fields clipped short by the sharp teeth of sheep and cows, dozens of heads appear among the grass. No, I’m not talking about hippies, although to be fair, they’re out there in numbers, and they’re there because they know what’s on offer. The heads I’m referring to are shrooms. Psilocybe semilanceata. Liberty Cap. Magic Mushrooms.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for or where to look, you’d miss them entirely. They’re not exactly high on the list of natural exhibitionists, like the other psychotropic mushroom out there, Fly Agaric. Liberty Cap are just dowdy little fun-guys who don’t want to make a fuss.
Nature’s LSD (or in reality it’s the other way round – LSD is chemistry’s Shrooms), Magic Mushrooms contain a strong psychoactive ingredient, psylocybin, which has a hallucinagenic effect on humans. These little mushrooms are the most common psylocybe mushroom found in nature, and Britain has the best climate for them. Their ‘season’ is pretty short and it’s coming up soon. Late September, early October – just in time for the most potent time of year for exploring the otherworlds – Samhain, when the veils are thin and spirits walk the earth.
Autumn is also a time for looking inward and exploring the psyche, so it’s pretty nice of these guys to pop up just when we need them. Thanks Nature, you rock!
So what do they look like? Well, pretty much like the ones on the left here. They’re small. Up to 1.5 cm across and maybe two inches tall, maximum. In the wet they appear to have vertical stripes, which are the gills showing through. You’ll find them in fields where sheep have grazed and they need to be collected first thing in the morning, as they get worm-ridden very quickly. When harvested they should not be pulled up by the root, as this can damage the mycelium underground, which is not only necessary for the organism to produce a new crop, but benefits the grass.
Magic Mushrooms can be dried, but be warned that in their dried form, they are illegal in this country. In the long run this has helped the species, as it means people generally only collect enough for one trip, rather than stripping a field and leaving the fungus struggling to maintain itself.
How much constitutes one trip is pretty difficult to tell, as this is not a manufactured product and one shroom can contain very little psylocybin while another can be extremely potent. Some people need as few as fifteen to get a decent trip, while others are willing to take up to fifty. They might also cause nausea. Downside.
In popular fiction, especially (ironically) childrens’ fiction, this mushroom makes a regular appearance as the toadstool a fairy lives in, or sits on, or a pixie’s cap. The pixie cap, however, could, however be associated with the phrygian cap, which stood for for freedom and liberty. This is where the shroom got its name ‘Liberty Cap’, but I have been unable to discover why, historically, pixies and gnomes in folklore traditionally wear this item.
This connection between folklore and the mushroom is significant because it highlights it as being a traditional shaman’s tool. In my last post I explored the connection between shamanism and folklore and I rate this snippet as another ‘secret’ left behind by ancient shamen for us to uncover. Magic Mushrooms really are magical. For all their diminutive size, they are a very strong beast that can transport us to the Underworld, unshackled.