Interesting Facts

Photo courtesy of Georg Müller

  • Common Name
    The origin of the common name of A. muscaria, the fly agaric, lies with a household method for getting rid of houseflies.  To achieve this, tribes in some regions would put little chunks of the mushroom in milk.  Flies, finding this mixture irresistible, will drink it and become inebriated, stunned, or killed.  Most believe this is where the common name originated.

  • Cultural Influences
    In Siberia, tribal shaman would consume A. muscaria  as a religious intoxicant to attain a trance like state as a means for communicating with the gods.  In many regions, consuming it was forbidden to all, with the exception of religious figures.

    Before invading villages, Vikings would perform a ritual in which they consumed A. muscaria.  Through the ingestion of this mushroom, Vikings were able to raid villages fearlessly in a berserker rage.

    In his book "Soma: the divine mushroom of immortality," George Wasson suggested that Soma, an important ritual drink in Hindu culture, was actually made from A. muscaria.  Soma was made by extracting juices from a particular plant, a plant Wasson believes to be the fly agaric.  Whether you believe this theory or not, reading Wasson's book is highly recommended.

    There have been many books written in regards to a link between Christianity and A. muscaria.  None is more controversial than John Marco Allegro's "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross," in which he claims that mushroom cults influenced Roman theology.  This theory, though well thought out, has been discredited and refuted by scholars and religious figures alike.

    No theory may be more interesting than the connection between A. muscaria and Christmas.  Now before you overlook this theory, please read the following:Photo courtesy of Tom Volk
        1. Like the cap of A. muscaria, the main colors on Santa's suit
            are red and white.

        2. Santa delivers presents to children around the world in a
            large sac, much like a sac used in mushroom gathering
            festivals to carry mushrooms such as A. muscaria.

        3. Some animals, including reindeer, have been known to
            consume and trip on A. muscaria.  In Christmas myths, Santa
            Claus flies from house to house in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.  I think you can
            make the connection.

        4.The toys delivered to children on Christmas Eve are made by elves in the North Pole...
            this alone makes me think of something a person would think of while tripping on A.

  • Amanita muscaria in Popular Culture
    A. muscaria is the most easily identifiable fungi in popular culture.  Whenever you see a
    picture of a mushroom, chances are, it is the fly agaric.  Some of its most famous cameo appearances include the Mario Brothers video game franchise, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantasia, and Alice in Wonderland.   It can also be found in paintings, children's books, Christmas ornaments, film, and many other places.

    It is currently election season for the Student Association at UW-La Crosse and chalk is commonly used to pollute the sidewalks of our campus with political propaganda.  While walking to class a few weeks ago, I came across a sidewalk advertisement for one of the presidential candidates that caught my attention.  Usually, I ignore the politics and the ads, but this particular ad contained a drawing of A. muscaria.  I do not believe it served any purpose, but I found it very interesting that a hallucinogenic mushroom was associated with the names of one of the presidential candidates.

  • I found one story of A. muscaria quite interesting but very disgusting.  Upon ingestion of A. muscaria, the body metabolizes the toxins responsible for the sickening effects, but the hallucinogenic chemicals are excreted unchanged in the urine.  To ingest the hallucinogenic chemicals, some would drink the urine of individuals who had eaten A. muscaria and experience the same hallucinogenic effects.

Now that our "trip" through the world of Amanita muscaria is complete, take some time to look at a list of Links and Sources that have helped me along the way.