Mushrooms From Space

| November/December 1999

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The mushroom, from its point of view, is an elder life-form, and as such it offers its tempering experience to a vibrant but naive child-race standing for the first time on the brink of flight to the stars. As our imagination has striven outward to attempt to encompass the possibility of the intelligent Other somewhere in the starry galaxy, so has the Other, observing this, revealed itself to be among us, when we are in the psilocybin trance, as an aspect of ourselves. In the phenomenon of Stropharia cubensis, we are confronted with an intelligent and seemingly alien life-form, not as we commonly imagine it, but an intelligent alien life nevertheless.

My own reaction to the mushroom's claims concerning the extraterrestrial origin of tryptamine hallucinogens and the visions they bear has taken many forms. I think it is possible that certain of these compounds could be 'seeded genes' injected into the planetary ecology aeons ago by an automated space-probe arriving here from a civilization somewhere else in the galaxy. Such genes could have been carried along in the genome of a mushroom or some other plant, awaiting only the advent of another intelligence and its discovery of them to begin reading out a message that opens with the bizarre dimension familiar to shamans everywhere. The point of such a message could only be made clear when those for whom the message was intended had advanced to a sufficient level of technical achievement to appreciate it. The exponential growth of analytical tools and methods over the past century may indicate that we are now approaching such a level. I speculate that the final content of the message will be instructions--it will be called a 'discovery'--of how to build a matter-transmitter or some other device that will allow us direct contact with the civilization that sent the message-bearing hallucinogen genes to Earth so many aeons ago.

McKenna, a psychedelic theorist, is the author of several books. Excerpted from True Hallucinations (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).