Those who find themselves drawn to the intrigue and mystique of mushrooms, specifically those belonging to the Psilocybe genus, have undoubtedly heard of the Golden Teacher mushroom. Arguably the most popular and widely known of the Psilocybe variants, Golden Teacher mushrooms have gained widespread appeal as the most welcoming of this nook of the mushroom kingdom. With user reports describing experiences that range from soft and inviting to revelatory and awakening, Golden Teacher mushroom spores earn their namesake well. These mushrooms are part of a class of organisms that have been recognized by multiple cultures as “agents of change” – organisms which, on contact with a human mind, provoke experiences which many regard as providing lessons, prompting changes of perspective and belief, and uprooting old and worn-out convictions and prejudices. With its golden-brown, yellow-speckled cap donned, the Golden Teacher shows its students their own mind, and the world around them, in a new light.
How did we come across these peculiar little beings? “How did humans discover magic mushrooms?” — this is perhaps the more important question in general. It may be a familiar notion to some entheogenic enthusiasts that the origins of such Golden Teachers began long ago in certain Central and South American cultures, but the specifics may be hazy. Let’s take a look, shall we?
At Tassili n’Ajjer, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Algeria, thousands of cave paintings, some dating from 10,000 B.C., depict our human heritage in the form of our earliest activities: of hunting, domesticating animals, and other aspects of daily life. However, of special interest here are the paintings depicting magic and religious rituals – one of which depicts a shaman, with the face of a bee, and fists of mushroom silhouettes, and surrounded by mushrooms sprouting from their skin.
The most widely acknowledged candidate for the mushrooms adorning this ancient ancestor? Psilocybe. That’s right: the Golden Teacher mushroom we all know today is one in a long line of messengers stretching back to our earliest human experiences, being a representative of Psilocybe cubensis. The tradition of viewing fungi as teachers, guides to accompany shamans in communication with the spirit world, is one which stretches across both time and geography, as suggested by archeological evidence such as this cave painting and others like it, historical texts, sculptures, and even evidence in surviving languages of ancient cultures. In the Mazatec language, they are known as nti si tho, the Ones Who Leap Forth, in Nahua, as Teonanacatl, the Flesh of the Gods. The “legendary food of the gods,” the “healer of disease” known as Soma in ancient Hindu Vedic texts, has been identified by scholars as likely referring to the Amanita muscaria (though not a Psilocybe species, Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, has also been widely used in Siberia and other parts of the northern Eurasian continent as a part of shamanic rituals).
Perhaps the discussion of the effects of Golden Teacher mushrooms, the effects of their relatives, and the reason for a name such as “Golden Teacher,” is best summed up by the words of the Mazatec shaman, Maria Sabina:
“There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby, and invisible. And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known. It is they, the sacred mushrooms that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them, I tell what they have told me and what they have shown me.”
(Quote from U.S. Forest Service website, “The Mighty Fungi”)