Post image for Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

December 18, 2010

Amanita muscaria, with its red cap speckled with dainty white warts, is not an uncommon fungus in our woodlands.

Its common name Fly Agaric comes from the practice of breaking the cap into platefuls of milk, used since medieval times to stupefy flies.

It is a strong hallucinogen and intoxicant and is used as such by the Lapps. In such cases, the cap is dried and swallowed without chewing. The symptoms begin 20 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion. The central nervous system is affected and the muscles of the intoxicated person start to pull and twitch convulsively, followed by dizziness and a death-like sleep. During this stage, the mushrooms are often vomited but nevertheless the drunkenness and stupor continue. While in this state of stupor, the person experiences vivid visions and on waking is usually filled with elation and is physically very active. This is due to the nerves being highly stimulated. The slightest effort of will produces exaggerated physical effects, e.g. the intoxicated person will make a gigantic leap to clear the smallest obstacle. Fly Agaric is reputedly what Viking warriors consumed to foster the fury that accompanied their fighting and pillaging.

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

The Lapps may have picked up the habit of eating Fly Agaric through observing the effects of the fungus on reindeer, which are similarly affected. Indeed, the animals like it so much that all one has to do to round up a wandering herd is to scatter pieces of Fly Agaric on the ground.

It is also what Siberian shamans consumed to induce trances, and because the mind altering toxins in the Fly Agaric pass through the body largely unaltered, other members of the tribe would later drink the shaman’s urine in order to get high too. Heston Blumenthal suggests that this may be the origin of the term “getting p****d”

For a long time, Fly Agaric has been a popular icon for the Midwinter and Christmas festivities in Central Europe where it is often found depicted on Christmas cards.

The Siberian use of Fly Agaric may have played a part in the development of the legend of Santa Claus.

At Midwinter festivals, the Shaman would enter the ‘yurt’ (circular tent) through the smoke hole and down the central supporting birch pole, bringing with him a sack of dried Fly Agaric. After concluding his ceremonies, he would leave the same way as he had come. Ordinary people believe he himself could fly or with the aid of reindeer which are rather partial to the magical mushroom.

Santa is now dressed in the same colours as the Fly Agaric, carries a sack with special gifts, comes and goes via the chimney, can fly with reindeer and lives in the ‘Far North’.

{ 5 comments }

John December 18, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Hi, Annie, I really liked this article. Educating and well written, thanks for sharing it, don’t think i will try it though 😉

John

Tracy December 21, 2010 at 11:22 am

Hi Annie, I’ve missed your blog. It was great to sit down with a cuppa and read Fly Agaric. It didn’t disappoint,I learned something new and it brought back some teenage memories of sitting in fields daring each other to eat a *magic mushroom*, I didn’t but most of my friends did! Thanks for sharing, I look forward to your next one.

Annie Thom December 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Tracy,
I never tried either. When we were kids, we were told we would die a most painful death if we touched any ‘champignons’ that weren’t vetted by a local pharmacist first. To this day, the thought of eating mushrooms of any other kind than supermarket type fills me with horror. Fortunately, one can buy all sorts of varieties in French supermarkets and I can feast on less common ‘champignons’ whenever I visit family in France.

Seb December 31, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Hi Annie.

Great minds! I posted a picture of a Fly Agaric earlier in the year… http://sebmatthews.net/?p=24

Best

kevin carpenter January 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Hi Annie,
Anthony gave me your website address.

Your entries on your parents’ role in the Resistance are of great interest, as is your blog about Fly Agaric etc. I recently read a book on the subject called Reindeer Really Can Fly, or something. Will let you have the full title and author later.
Am glad you are so happy in Dorset. I was in Dorchester last summer, for the day. Will probably go to Rita’s celebration in Kilmington in the summer .
I remember you teaching Clare and I ‘ Le Twist’ circa 1961!
Happy New Year ,
Keep in touch Kevin

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