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UFOs, Earthquakes, Magic Mushrooms and Urine

01/10/2005 11:08 PM
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UFOs, Earthquakes, Magic Mushrooms and Urine
UFOs, Earthquakes, Magic Mushrooms and Urine
by Paul Devereux


New information on all of the above from one of the world´s leading researchers of the unusual


In my last sporadically-appearing column, I wrote about our work in Mexico and elsewhere on the earth lights film that was then pending. As I write this in mid-March, the film is shortly to be screened on the Discovery Channel (17 and 22 March). hope some of you will have seen it by the time you read this. It had its first screening on November 3, 1996, on Britain´s Channel 4 programme, Equinox. A bizarre coincidence accompanied that broadcast . .

Within a few hours of the screening, people in Cornwall started seeing strange lights. In the early hours of Monday, 4 November, white lights were seen over Carrick Roads and Perran-ar-Worthal, and a man saw "a 20-second brilliant flash of light" over Falmouth Bay. The following evening, a woman on the Lizard peninsula saw a "block of light" materialise above Mawnan Smith church. It was rectangular and orange-red in colour. As it hung motionless, another block of light "switched on" some distance away. The first one went out, then reappeared. It was "definitely not a firework" the witness insisted (it was Guy Fawkes night). Later, a similar block of light was seen, moving with a slow, gradual "precision" movement across Falmouth Bay. The next evening a full-moon-like globe was seen over the Mawnan Smith area (the actual moon was in its last quarter). It had diffuse dark patches on it just like the moon, then it dissolved gradually from the bottom right-hand-side of the sphere. Local TV stations received reports of strange lights over Helston, Camborne and the north coast. Interestingly, there were also reports of short floods and flashes of light between the 7-9 November seen in clear starry conditions from the tops of the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales, 90 miles north across St George´s Channel from Cornwall.

Then, the coup de grace: on Sunday, 10 November, exactly a week after the Equinox film, there was a substantial earthquake in Cornwall. It registered 3.8 on the Richter scale, and its epicentre was in Mounts Bay, off Penzance. The British Geological Survey encouraged people to send in any reports of odd lights, because they know similar reports were associated with earlier strong quakes in Cornwall. BGS records reveal that an aerial flash was seen at Falmouth associated with the 1966 Helston quake, and a "red glare" was witnessed in the Coverack area. Just after the shock of the 1859 Padstow earthquake, a "vivid flash of lightning" was witnessed at Falmouth, while at or about the time of the shock, "two large meteors were also observed to cross the heavens . . . and some observers remarked that even the lightning was crossing and recrossing in an extraordinary manner." At Truro, people saw "a vivid flash of lightning, and a ´star-shoot.´"

This was like having Mother Earth as PR agent! She clearly displayed the fact that tectonic strain produces strange lights in the sky. Of course, hardened ufologists still claim that there are structured, alien craft visiting us, and think that earth lights have nothing to do with what they are about. Well, perhaps there are ETs, but I can assure you as one who studies these things closely, that there is precious little evidence that there are such things as sightings of alien craft -- a lot less than their proponents would have you believe. Never mind what you read, when you start digging into these things, they dissolve before your eyes. Anyway, Peter Brookesmith and I tackle these things in depth and with a battery of pictures (many never before published) in our 50-year review of ufology, UFOs & Ufology - The First 50 Years, due out in November from Blandford Press in the UK (U.S. publisher yet to be named). Trust me, it is an absolute melt-down of the whole subject area to see what nuggets of truth there might be. If you are an ET believer, be prepared for a tough ride -- but also for encountering some unexpected new facts of considerable interest!

Ancient Psychedelia

Talking of books, my Re-Visioning the Earth is now out from Simon & Schuster, at present only in North America, and I hope some of you at least have enjoyed it. Next title is The Long Trip - A Prehistory of Psychedelia due from Penguin Arkana in May (or August -- reports vary). This covers another area of research dear to me, and the book will show that our modern Western societies are eccentric in their refusal to absorb the wonders and information in the psychedelic experience -- an experience that is widely referred to but is underexplored. Other cultures before used it wisely, and certain tribal societies still do. Whereas we have a drug problem causing violence, misery, crime and fragmentation, the use of natural hallucinogens as sacraments had (and have) a healing and cohesive effect on other cultures.

The book starts off in stone age Europe, where new evidence links the builders of the megaliths with opium and cannabis usage. New work at Cambridge University has shown that rock art on Neolithic Irish chambered mounds reveals the use then of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the mind-altering herb henbane, and even the apparent prizing of congenital epilepsy (which can also produce unusual visual phenomena). The book also explores the history of hallucinogen use for ritual and religious purposes in the Americas, and how this has literally left its mark on ancient landscapes. Further, the search for the nature of Soma, the ultimate sacred psychedelic substance, is described -- and much else.

Here, to close my column, I will give an excerpt, dealing with the classic Eurasian hallucinogen, the Fly Agaric mushroom. It will probably make you pee yourselves . . .

Urine Luck: The Amanita Story

The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria, is perhaps the hallucinogen that is most famously associated with shamanism in the Old World. It is a distinctive mushroom with, typically, a bright, blood-red cap up to several inches across, flecked with white "warts," the remains of the young mushroom´s veil. It is supported by a thick, hollow, tubular white stipe or stem, and particularly fine examples can grow up to eight or nine inches tall. It shares a symbiotic relationship with certain trees, especially the birch, and it is no accident that the birch tree was the Siberian shaman´s "World Tree," a kind of "cosmic axis" onto which it was envisaged the flat wheels or planes of the universe were fixed: the underworld, the "middle earth" of everyday existence, and the upper heaven world. This magical tree "at the centre of the world" was the metaphorical means by which the ecstatic shaman could in spirit clamber up to the gods or down to the subterranean realms of the shades. It was the way between the worlds, and is an archetypal image manifesting in one form or another wherever shamanism held sway.

Amanita muscaria was used as a sacred, ritualistic mushroom by numerous shamanic tribes across the northern reaches of Eurasia, from the Baltic Sea to the easternmost extent of Siberia. It is on its uses in Siberian reindeer-herder tribes -- such as the Koryak, the Chukchi, the Ostyak, the Yukagir and the Kamchadal -- that most documentation has been produced by sundry individuals, such as prisoners of war, travellers, explorers, and anthropologists, since 1658. Not all Siberian peoples used the mushroom, but those that did held it central to their religious, shamanic practices. In many tribes its use was limited to the shaman, who might eat a number prior to performing a seance, but in others, such as the Koryak and Chukchi, it could be consumed more generally -- though primarily among the men of the tribe. The mushrooms were usually dried and they would be strung together in threes, which was considered the standard dose. Sometimes a less intoxicating soup or liqueur might be made from Amanita muscaria, but most commonly the dried mushrooms would be shredded and chewed with water, or rolled into small pellets and swallowed. The level of intoxication could vary considerably depending on the strength of the mushrooms consumed and the predisposition of the individual taking them.

The first effects of Amanita muscaria intoxication was generally reported as a feeling of pleasant invigoration, and the individual would be prone to breaking into song, dance and laughter. This would be accompanied by a marked increase in physical strength. Russian anthropologist Vladimir Bogoras observed a Chukchi tribesman take off his snowshoes after eating some of the mushroom, and deliberately walk for hours through the deep snow just for the sheer pleasure of conducting exercise which caused no sense of fatigue. This early stage of Amanita muscaria intoxication is clearly preserved in a Koryak myth in which their culture hero, Big Raven, found himself unable to carry a heavy bag of provisions. He implored the great deity Vahiyinin (Existence) to help him, and was told to go to a certain place where he would find spirits called wapaq, who would give him the strength to complete his task. At the appointed place, Vahiyinin spat upon the ground and where his spittle fell, little white plants appeared. They had red hats which the god´s saliva had dappled with white. These were the wapaq, and Big Raven was told to eat them. On doing so, Big Raven felt charged with strength and energy and was able to lift the bag with ease. Big Raven entreated the wapaq to live forever on the Earth, and he told his children that they should learn whatever wapaq had to teach them.

In the next stage of Amanita muscaria intoxication, hallucinations set in. In the 1790s, a Polish soldier called Joseph Kopec unwillingly ate part of a Fly Agaric for medicinal purposes. He fell into a sleep in which he had visions of fabulous gardens "where only pleasure and beauty seemed to rule." Beautiful, white-clad women fed him fruits and berries and offered him flowers. When he awoke he was so distressed to return to mundane reality that he consumed an entire mushroom and fell back into a deep sleep, in which new visions carried him to "another world." In another recorded case, on the other hand, a Cossack who took the mushroom had a horrific vision of a fiery chasm into which he was about to be thrown -- the very brink of hell itself. Amanita muscaria intoxication typically produces macropsia, which means that the sense of scale is lost, and small objects can look many times their actual size; the complementary effect, micropsia, can also occur. The mushroom-taker is likely to hear voices telling him to perform bizarre actions, or the spirits of the mushrooms might appear to the individual and converse with him directly, or, even, he might feel himself turning into a mushroom spirit. The mushrooms spirits tend to wear wide hats on heads which sit on stout cylindrical bodies without an intervening neck, and the number seen depends on the number of mushrooms eaten. The bemushroomed person will run after the spirits, who tell him things as they lead him on a merry chase along paths known only to them that seem interminably intricate to the mushroom-taker and often lead past places where the dead reside. Eventually, the spirits are likely to take the mushroom eater by the arms and take him to the otherworld, and it is then stage three of the intoxication begins, and the person becomes unconscious of his surroundings.

The reindeer of these remote wastes also have a hankering for Amanita muscaria. When they eat it they become stupefied and stagger around. If a reindeer is killed at this point, the meat will pass on the intoxicating effects of the Amanita muscaria devoured by the animal -- but this is merely one part of a strange menage a trois involving human beings, reindeer and the mushroom itself. When they dine on certain mosses and lichen, reindeer also develop an insatiable passion for urine, their own and that of humans; so much so, Russian anthropologist Waldemar Jochelson reported in 1905, that men urinating in the open ran a real risk of alerting the sensitive sense of smell of reindeer in the vicinity and being run down by them galloping towards him from all sides! For reindeer, pee-stained snow is a delicacy (it takes all sorts to make a world).

The Koryak, and doubtless other tribes, made use of this strange fact by carrying sealskin containers they called "the reindeer´s night-chamber," in which they collected their urine. This was used to attract reindeer who were proving difficult to gather into the herd. But there was another value in human urine: the active constituents in Amanita muscaria remain intact even when passed through a person´s bladder. "The Koryaks know this by experience, and the urine of persons intoxicated with fly-agaric is not wasted. The drinker himself drinks it to prolong the state of hallucination, or offers it to others as a treat," Jochelson observed. "According to the Koryak, the urine of one intoxicated by fly agaric has an intoxicating effect like the fungus, though not to so great a degree." Filip Johann von Strahlenberg, a Swedish prisoner of war in the early eighteenth century, reported seeing Koryak tribespeople waiting outside huts where mushroom sessions were taking place, waiting for people to come out and urinate. When they did, the warm, steaming tawny-gold nectar was collected in wooden bowls and greedily gulped down. The Amanita muscaria effect could apparently be recycled up to five times in this manner, and, remarkably, was less likely to cause the vomiting often associated with the direct ingestion of the mushroom itself.

"It is hardly surprising that the tribes considered the reindeer to be great spirits. What other animal could satisfy simultaneously both hunger and the desire for ecstatic experience?" psychologist Rogan Taylor has commented. He further speculated that observing the reindeer´s habit of drinking human (and their own) urine, plus their ability to get stoned like humans on Amanita muscaria, may have led the tribespeople to learn of the urine secret in the first place. We may further speculate that perhaps this inter-species interaction, this conspiracy between mushroom, deer and human being, lies at the heart of the archaic, virtually universal shamanic motif, that of the deer-antlered headgear and skin robe of the shaman.

The active principle of Amanita muscaria was thought to be muscarine, but it turned out that this was merely a minor constituent, and that the important psychoactive compounds were two isoxazoles, ibotenic acid and the alkaloid muscimole. Muscimole is an unsaturated cyclic hydroxamic acid that passes through the kidneys in essentially an unaltered form, and this is the secret of Amanita muscaria´s remarkable ability to retain its effects in urine. Ibotenic acid converts to muscimole when the mushrooms are dried, the preferred method of preparation by the Siberian tribes. The pharmacological wisdom of ancient peoples runs deep.

The antiquity of shamanism in Siberia is such that it is considered the classical form of the ecstatic practice, and the very word "shaman" derives from the Tungus verb meaning "to know." This antiquity, and the association of the Fly Agaric mushroom with shamanic practice in the vast Siberian region, was underlined by the discovery in the 1960s of rock art carvings (petroglyphs) alongside the Pegtymel River near the north-eastern coast of Siberia, in Chukchi country. These small petroglyphs, up to several centimetres in height, depict various animals and also many mushrooms of the Amanita type along with human-mushroom forms of varying degrees of human or mushroom predominance. Some are human figures (primarily female) with mushroom heads or mushrooms growing out of their heads. According to Gordon Wasson, the late, great amateur mushroom expert or mycologist, whom we shall encounter a number of times on this long trip, the petroglyphs are likely to portray the mushroom spirits. The rock art is dated by Russian archaeologist N.N. Dikov to the Bronze Age. Similar Siberian rock drawings have been found elsewhere that have been dated to the same remote period by other archaeologists.

Amanita muscaria was of course practiced by certain groups right across northern Eurasia, though in most cases it is less readily documented than in eastern Siberia.

There is no hard evidence that the Fly Agaric mushroom was used in north and western Europe for causing ecstatic experience. (It has been used in various other ways, especially soaked in milk as a folk method to kill flies, and the Berserkers are controversially claimed to have used it to give superhuman strength and fierceness in battle.) Christian Rutsch has indicated that there is some evidence that those who used the "Beakers" of prehistoric Britain took Fly Agaric "in a cultic context," and remarks that it has been associated in myth with the Germanic god-shaman figure, Wotan or Odin. There are also relatively modern hints that survive which suggest a surviving vestige of folk memory concerning ancient magical usage of the mushroom. For example, Gordon Wasson drew attention to some German nursery rhymes that seem to contain unambiguous references.

Wasson also drew attention to the English term "toadstool" which is now used in a general way to mean unpleasant, dangerous fungi, and may derive from the innate Anglo-Saxon tendency to fear and dislike mushrooms. Why such mycophobia? We may perhaps suspect some deep-seated associations being set in train many centuries ago to account for this. The toadstool has vague witchcraft associations and is also typically shown in fairy tales as a red-capped mushroom with white spots. We know the image from our nursery days, and it is an old one: a medieval chapbook, for instance, has a woodcut showing fairies dancing in front of a fairy hill, with the spotted "toadstool" nearby. "The virtual panic fear of ´toadstools´ by some Europeans may...derive from pagan times," La Barre observes, "since the use of hallucinogenic Amanita mushrooms antedated (and culturally influenced) the Greek and other Indo-European gods originating in northern Eurasia, Amanita being thought to be born of divine thunderbolts."

Perhaps the most amusing hint of the memory of Amanita-based shamanism may well be enshrined, perhaps by accident, in the popular contemporary image of Santa Claus, according to Rogan Taylor. The figure of Father Christmas evolved over centuries out of pagan traditions, but the modern image of Santa owes most to the elements cobbled together in the 1820s by Professor Clement Clark Moore of Albany, New York, along with illustrators Thomas Nast and Moritz von Schwind, both of Germanic descent. Taylor feels that some traditional elements got pasted into their version, perhaps from the professor´s wide reading, or from the illustrators´ Old World links -- or both. He points out that Santa´s robe of red edged with white are the colours of Amanita muscaria, that the idea of Santa clambering down the chimney evokes the entry via the smoke hole into Siberian yurts during winter, and that the reindeers pulling the sleigh of course link to the reindeer-herder tribes who were the ones who took the magic mushroom, along with all the reindeer connections we have noted above. And the magic flight of Santa Claus through the midwinter night sky is a superb expression of the basis of all shamanism -- ecstasy, or the flight of the spirit.