What Is a Mushroom Ceremony?

A mushroom ceremony involves the intentional consumption of a psychedelic fungus. Intentions range from addressing emotional wounds and working on personal growth, to experiencing mystical connection and spiritual experience. Mushroom ceremonies are not a recent invention; they have a long and fascinating history. 

The History of Mushroom Ceremonies

Many psychedelic compounds (DMT, LSD, Peyote) need to be processed to have psychoactive effects, but mushrooms can be eaten directly as they are found in nature. This led to their embrace by humans, which seems to have happened thousands of years ago.

There’s evidence that the ceremonial use of psilocybin mushrooms dates back into ancient history. Prehistoric rock murals depicting mushrooms have been found around the mediterranean—from Algeria to France and Spain. Around 7,000 years ago, the people of the Tassili n’Ajjer plateau (present-day Algeria) created a cave painting known today as the Bee-Faced Mushroom Shaman, an image of a person with the face of a bee, clutching mushrooms in each hand [1]. Many believe the picture is a medicine person and the mushrooms are of the psilocybin variety. Similarly, 6,000 years ago, a mushroom mural was painted on the wall of a cave in modern-day Spain. But such art was not confined to Europe and Africa. People in Guatemala began carving stone mushroom sculptures as far back as 2,500 years ago, and 2,000 years ago in Mexico [2].

In Asia, the world’s oldest known spiritual texts may have been inspired by the visions experienced during mushroom ceremonies. The opening lines of the Vedas and Upanishads, texts that form the basis of Hinduism, inform the reader that the gods routinely consumed a ritual drink called soma, which is described as having psychedelic properties. “We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.” [3]

These lines from the Rig Veda seem to highlight that whatever Soma was, it was profoundly psychoactive. The soma plant was described as having no leaves, blossoms or seeds; no roots, trunk, or branches. Based on these descriptions, famed psychedelic advocate Terence McKenna argued that the Soma drink was actually made from psychedelic mushrooms [4].

Mazatec Mushroom Ceremonies

While the sacraments of ancient India have been lost to time, ceremonial mushroom use in the Americas was still active when the Spanish arrived several hundred years ago. The Aztecs referred to the mushroom as teonanácatl, or the “flesh of the Gods.” From the Spanish perspective, such sacrilege could not stand and the colonizers worked vehemently to suppress the practices. One culture, however, managed to preserve this tradition. Living in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, the Mazatec people have successfully preserved their practice of traditional mushroom ceremonies, all the way up to the present day. 

The Valeda, a Mazatec mushroom ceremony, usually takes place at night. Fresh mushrooms are eaten with honey and, traditionally, three cocoa beans [5]. Participants often start with approximately 2.5-3 grams of dried mushrooms, followed by a second plate of roughly 2 grams. The ceremony takes place in darkness with the medicine person, the curandera or curandero, who sings and recites prayers, using the power of vocalization to hold the space. This approach is similar to many other indigenous traditions, including the Shipibo ayahuasca ceremony. After the ceremony, participants integrate the experience by focusing on the emotions they felt during the journey, and by talking about their experiences with other people. Some people posit that textile art and other creative pursuits were originally designed to be a part of the psychedelic integration process.

Mushroom Ceremonies Come to the West

The modern mushroom ceremony is largely influenced by a Mexican tradition, and one woman in particular. María Sabina was a Mazatec curandera from the town of Huautla de Jiménez. She held ceremonies working with psilocybin mushrooms, which she called “Los Niños Santos” or “The Little Saints”. In 1955, a married couple, both of whom were amateur mycologists, paid her a visit. One was an American—the banker and vice-president of J.P. Morgan & Co.—R. Gordon Wasson. The other was his wife, a Russian, Valentina, who worked as a pediatrician and scientist. Wasson convinced Sabina to allow him to take part in the ceremony, becoming the first Westerner to undergo a Mazatec mushroom ceremony [6].

Until that point, mushroom ceremonies were typically used to locate missing people and items or to cure the sick. Wasson and Sabina went on to have a great impact on the spread of mushroom ceremonies, and in the 1960s, many people in the West were taking mushrooms for spiritual experiences. María Sabina noticed that “Before Wasson, nobody took the children simply to find God. They were always taken to cure the sick.”

What Can I Expect From a Mushroom Ceremony?

At a dose of between 1 to 3 grams of dried cubensis mushrooms (approximately 5-15 grams of fresh truffles or 6-18mg of psilocybin), unconscious psychological patterns can emerge, resulting in profound insights into life. Memories can be re-experienced and emotional wounds from the past can be processed. These experiences are more likely, however, if one has prepared to turn inwards beforehand. In the early stages, it’s common to see colorful geometric visions. As the experience deepens, one may perceive associations between different memories, and contact is often made with deep unconscious preoccupations.

At higher doses, mystical experiences of ego dissolution become more likely. These experiences typically involve the complete surrender of defense mechanisms, which means, naturally, that it’s crucial the ceremonies occur in a safe and supportive setting. When this happens, people can take down walls and move into a state of transcendent connection with a fundamental life force energy. These experiences also allow a person to experience profound connection with other people. This is the power of taking part in a ceremony as a group.

How Are The Ceremonies Handled at the Retreats?

At Beckley Retreats, participants are supported through every stage of the journey. This process begins with a pre-ceremony preparation. Our preparation consists of a 4-week virtual program in which participants have the opportunity to connect with the people with whom they will be sharing the group retreat. Participants also take part in guided activities, one-on-one support, and are given access to useful resources throughout the program.

During the 5-night retreat, participants take part in two psilocybin ceremonies. The effects can be expected to last for 4-6 hours following consumption of the psilocybin mushrooms at the Jamaica retreats, or truffles at the Netherlands retreats. Participants are supported throughout their journeys by trained facilitators, who have developed inner resources to hold space and help everyone get the most out of the ceremonies. 

Daily guided meditation classes allow participants to cultivate the ability to bring mindful awareness to whatever arises in ceremony, a powerful skill for working through challenging material. Guided breathwork is also used to promote relaxation, oxygenate the body, unearth emotions, and relieve stress in preparation for the ceremony. Finally, restorative yoga allows participants to cultivate body-mind awareness for a deeply embodied processing of the ceremonies. 

Following the retreat is the 6-week virtual integration program, consisting of daily practices, group sessions, integration techniques, as well as the opportunity to stay connected with the other participants from the group.

Are Mushroom Ceremonies Safe?

At Beckley Retreats, the safety of participants is our top concern. We place heavy emphasis on our participants’ physical, psychological, and emotional safety during their time on, before, and after retreat. Retreats are held at safe, secure, and spacious locations where our group is the sole occupant of the retreat space, and psilocybin mushrooms (Jamaica) or truffles (The Netherlands) are completely legal. Our world-class team of facilitators has 50+ years of combined experience in guiding psychedelic journeys and they bring together modern scientific knowledge and traditional wisdom practices. There is always at least one facilitator for every four participants in the group, and we ensure participants are supported throughout the ceremonies. A minimum of one of these facilitators is a professionally licensed physician, psychologist, or psychotherapist. 

Beckley Retreats has a thorough safety plan and risk management protocols in place. Even before the retreat begins, we take steps to ensure a smooth experience for participants by rigorously screening applicants for suitability. Access to medical care is available throughout, should it be needed. In Jamaica, a medical doctor is on call 24/7. Urgent care facilities and hospitals are a 30-60 minute drive away from the retreat center. In the Netherlands, emergency medical care is available 24/7 with medical facilities within 45 minutes.

Experiencing the Mushroom Ceremony

Our mission is to facilitate the safest, most profoundly transformative experiences possible. The environment of integrity is what allows participants to let go and have the most beneficial experiences while attending ceremonies. We’ve seen time and again that such retreats can lead to lasting positive change in participants’ lives. Our goal is to make  ceremonies widely available, and in an environment of maximum professionalism and safety. 

By joining us on one of our retreats, you can connect with a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, spanning continents and cultures, ceremonies that have touched countless people’s lives and brought harmony to many generations of people. We look forward to seeing you at one of our retreats.

References:

[1] Algerian Cave Paintings Suggest Humans Did Magic Mushrooms 9,000 Years Ago, Open Culture https://www.openculture.com/2021/01/algerian-cave-paintings-suggest-humans-did-magic-mushrooms-9000-years-ago.html

[2] Lowy, B. (1971). New records of mushroom stones from Guatemala. Mycologia, 63(5), 983-993. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3757901

[3] Rig Veda; 8.82.25 https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv08082.htm

[4] Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: a Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution by Terence McKenna (Rider, 6 May 1999)

[5] Consciousness Medicine: Indigenous Wisdom, Psychedelic Therapy, and the Path of Transformation: A Practitioner’s Guide by Francoise Bourzat (North Atlantic Books US, 25 June 2019)

[6] Life Magazine, May 13, 1957 – Seeking the Magic Mushroom by R. Gordon Wasson http://www.psychedelic-library.org/life.htm