"We stay in the psychedelic state in the womb until we are born," said James Arthur, the author of Mushrooms and Mankind in his appearance on Thursday night's program. Arthur is a wide-ranging lecturer who believes that entheogen substances (psychoactive plants) have played an active role in the origins of religion. He traces the use of psychedelic plants back to cave paintings which he says depict shamans holding mushrooms.
The experience the plants offer is an introspective and multidimensional one Arthur said, allowing the user to understand themselves and their relation to the world better. "Time seems to stand still, speed up or disappear completely," he said. His trips have allowed him to leave his body, even traveling to such distant locations as the Van Allen radiation belt which he described as a gigantic spiritual presence that was like a "high density living organism."
Arthur pointed out there are over 15,000 different types of mushrooms. But how do people know which ones are psychoactive? "The shamans will tell you that the plant told them which one to use," he said. He mentioned ayahuasca (a plant mixture used in Central and South America) as an example of how substances can be used in a religious context. Arthur was also critical of western medicine and what he called the "pharmacratic inquisition," where only synthetic substances are sanctioned. "A pharmaceutical doctor has a degree in poisons," he commented.
Mushrooms and Mankind
Tonight's guest, James Arthur, believes that certain plant substances which alter human consciousness helped our species to evolve. The renowned thinker and American shaman, the late Terence McKenna also hypothesized about this. In his book True Hallucinations he documented his journey to La Chorrera, Colombia where psilocybin mushrooms innocently growing on cow patties out in the fields became a focus of their experiments. McKenna spoke of 15,000 years of a "human-mushroom quasi-symbiosis" where early humans evolved into communities where altruism, language, and long-term planning were fostered through the enhanced awareness that came from psilocybin usage.
James Arthur has focused his investigation on another psychedelic mushroom, the amanitas, which has long been used by shamans. Its effects include an "alive quality to inanimate objects, auditory hallucinations and a sense of great mental stillness and clarity... distinctly different from psilocybin, LSD or mescaline, and may last up to 8 hours," wrote one user on the Erowid.org website.