The Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Are More Rainbow Coloured on the Other Side of the Fence April 11, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback
Hallucinogens are frequently found in the traditional religious life of hunter-gatherers and rural communities. There are, of course, literally hundreds of different ways of intoxicating yourself ranging from toad glands to nutmeg, from jimson weed to ergot spores. And naturally, these techniques which, depending on your point of view, canker or enhance reality, are important enough to spirituality in a given society that they have been recorded in sacred and incidental accounts throughout history.
However, there is one curious feature that emerges again and again from Meso-America to Europe and from Siberia to the subcontinent and that Beach will christen ‘the better vision’. People after people claim that they get their hallucinogens from neighbours or that their neighbours have superior hallucinogens: a rainbow, pulsating version of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (as in our title)?
So the hallucinogens employed at Delphi were said to come (originally?) from the Hyperboreans of the north, wrapped in straw: in other words they were said to have been sent to Greece from the Baltic or further afield. The ancient Sanskrit description of soma stresses that the soma used back then was not the real stuff – the knowledge and, by some accounts, access to which had been lost – but a pale imitation of the same. There are Mayan images of hallucinogenic enemas (I know, I know: another post, another day) which apparently show non-Mayans (neighbours, foreigners…) providing the formula which will lead to dazzling vision serpents into whose open mouth the visionary will cascade. In North and South America, anthropologists know all too well the complaint of the ‘witch doctor’ (to use a very general term) who says that the tribe over the hill has the best hallucinogens: this motif repeats itself again and again in Amerindian ethnographies. Prometheus steals fire, Running Ox steals fungi…
What can possibly be the explanation for this? Is it just a psychological flaw in humanity that can never be satisfied with what it has: another version of ‘it was better when it was worse’, ‘golden ages are remembered never lived’, ‘when I was a lad…’
Or are we dealing, instead, with confused historical programming. Hallucinogens were first used in hunter-gatherer societies. Perhaps the moaning about better visions is actually the complaint of settled peoples who have begun to lose touch with the secrets of hallucinogenic plants. (Awkwardly for this theory hunter gatherers seem to be among the complainers). Beach has never found a proper international-ranging discussion of this phenomenon, let alone an attempt at an explanation.
Beach should also say that his knowledge of drug culture is pathetically slight: he has never even puffed on an electric cigarette, though the temptation to invest in an electro-pipe is growing. But he also wonders whether modern LSD takers in Chicago, say, don’t forever go on about how the tabs are better in California, whereas their equivalents in California talk dreamily about the peyote in Mexico. In other words has the better-vision motif survived into modern times? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
EC writes, 25 Oct 2016: In my brief interactions with traders of hallucinogens, I repeatedly heard it said that LSD was far more potent back in the 60s; nowadays we were getting weak stuff. On the other hand, marijuana is known to be much stronger now than it was then, due to decades of intensive breeding.