News Briefs 16-04-2016

”A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future.

Quote of the Day:

“Once you can honestly say, "I don't know", then it becomes possible to get at the truth.”

R. Heinlein

Mushrooms in Wonderland

Alice meets the caterpillar

by Mike Jay

(For more fascinating articles like this one be sure to like The Daily Grail on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.)

The first well-documented hallucinogenic mushroom experience in Britain took place in London’s Green Park on 3 October 1799. Like many such experiences before and since, it was accidental. A man subsequently identified only as ‘J.S.’ was in the habit of gathering small field mushrooms from the park on autumn mornings, and cooking them up into a breakfast broth for his wife and young family. But this particular morning, an hour after they had finished eating, the world began to turn very strange. J.S. found black spots and odd flashes of colour bursting across his vision; he became disorientated, and had difficulty in standing and moving around. His family were complaining of stomach cramps and cold, numb extremities. The notion of poisonous toadstools leapt to his mind, and he staggered out into the streets to seek help. but within a hundred yards he had forgotten where he was going, or why, and was found wandering about in a confused state.

By chance, a doctor named Everard Brande happened to be passing through this insalubrious part of town, and he was summoned to treat J.S. and his family. The scene that he discovered was so bizarre and unfamiliar that he would write it up at length and publish it in The Medical and Physical Journal later that year. The family’s symptoms were rising and falling in giddy waves, their pupils dilated, their pulses and breathing becoming fluttering and laboured, then returning to normal before accelerating into another crisis. They were all fixated on the fear that they were dying, except for the youngest, the eight-year-old Edward S., whose symptoms were the strangest of all. He had eaten a large portion of the mushrooms and was ‘attacked with fits of immoderate laughter’ which his parents’ threats could not subdue. He seemed to have been transported into another world, from which he would only return under duress to speak nonsense: ‘when roused and interrogated as to it, he answered indifferently, yes or no, as he did to every other question, evidently without any relation to what was asked’.

Dr.Everard Brande would diagnose the family’s condition as the ‘deleterious effects of a very common species of agaric [mushroom], not hitherto suspected to be poisonous’. Today, we can be more specific: this was clearly intoxication by Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata), the ‘magic mushrooms’ which grow plentifully across the hills, moors, commons, golf courses and playing fields of Britain every autumn. But though Dr.Brande’s account of the J.S. family’s trip would not be forgotten, and would continue to be cited in Victorian drug literature for decades, the nineteenth century would come and go without any conclusive identification of the Liberty Cap as the species in question. In fact, it would not be until Albert Hoffman, the discoverer of LSD, turned his attention to hallucinogenic mushrooms in the 1950s that the botanical identity of these and other mushrooms containing psilocybin, LSD’s chemical cousin, would be confirmed.

But if they were obscure to Victorian science, there was another tradition which would appear to explore the ability of certain mushrooms to whisk humans off to another world: Victorian fairy lore. Over the nineteenth century, a vast body of art and literature would connect mushrooms and toadstools with elves, pixies, hollow hills and the unwitting transport of subjects to fairyland, a world of shifting perspectives and dimensions seething with elemental spirits. Is it possible that the Victorian fairy tradition, underneath its twee and bourgeois exterior, operated as a conduit for a hidden world of homegrown psychedelia, parallel perhaps to the ancient shamanic and ritual uses of similar mushrooms in the New World? Were the authors of such otherworld narratives - Alice in Wonderland, for example - aware of the powers of certain mushrooms to lead unsuspecting visitors to enchanted lands? Were they, perhaps, even writing from personal experience?

The J.S. family’s trip in 1799 is a useful jumping-off point for such enquiries, because it establishes several basic facts. First - and contrary to the opinion of some recent American scholars - British (and European) magic mushrooms are not a recent arrival from the New World, but were part of our indigenous flora at least two hundred years ago. Second, the species in question was unknown at the time, at least to science. Third, its hallucinogenic effects were unfamiliar, perhaps even unheard of - certainly unprecedented enough for a London doctor to feel the need to draw them to the attention of his medical colleagues.

In other scholarly contexts, though, the mind-altering effects of certain plants were already familiar. Through classical sources like The Golden Ass, the idea of witches’ potions which transformed their subjects was an inheritance from antiquity. The pharmacopeia and materia medica of doctors and herbalists had long included the drug effects of common plants like belladonna and opium poppies, though mushrooms had featured in them rarely. The eighteenth century had turned up several more exotic examples from distant cultures: Russian explorers describing the use of fly agaric mushrooms in Siberia, Captain Cook observing the kava-kava ritual in Polynesia. In 1762 Carl Linnaeus, the great taxonomist and father of modern botany, had compiled the first ever list of intoxicating plants: his monograph, entitled Inebriantia, had included opium, cannabis, datura, henbane and tobacco. Slowly, the study of such plants was emerging from the margins and tall tales of classical studies, ethnography, folklore and medicine and becoming a subject in its own right.

It was as part of this same interest that European fairy lore was also being assembled by a new generation of amateur folklore collectors such as the Brothers Grimm, who realised that the inexorable drift of peasant populations from country to city was beginning to dismantle centuries of folk stories, songs and oral histories. The Victorian fairy tradition, as it emerged, would be imbued with this new sensibility which rendered rustic traditions no longer coarse, backward and primitive but picturesque and semi-sacred, an escape from the austerity of industrial living into an ancient, often pagan otherworld. Under the guise of ‘innocence’, sensual and erotic themes could be explored with a boldness not permitted in more realistic genres, and the muddy and impoverished countryside could be re-enchanted with imagery drawn from the classical and arabesque. Within this process, the lore of plants and flowers was carefully curated and woven into supernatural tapestries of flower-fairies and enchanted woods; and within this imaginal world of plants, mushrooms and toadstools began popping up all over. Fairy rings and toadstool-dwelling elves were recycled through a pictorial culture of motif and decoration until they became emblematic of fairyland itself.

Fairy ring

This was a quiet but substantial image makeover for Britain’s fungi. Previously, in herbals and medical texts, they had been largely shunned, associated with dung-heaps and poison; in Romantic poetry the smell of death had still clung to them (‘fungous brood/coloured like a corpse’s cheek’, as Keats put it). Now, a new generation of folklorists began to ... Read More »

News Briefs 14-04-2016

Suicide Squad can't get here fast enough.

Thanks to Redington and Harley.

Quote of the Day:

"I smoke medical marijuana because my 3rd eye has glaucoma."

˜Bill Maher

Kickstarter: No Place For The Living

Fancy hearing a story about an obsession that transcended death? Our film-maker friend Ronni Thomas of the Midnight Archive (and Morbid Anatomy) has a Kickstarter campaign underway to create what will be an absolutely fascinating documentary on Carl Von Cosel. Who, and why, you might ask? Ronni explains in the video above (and I highly recommend watching it to better understand the vision he has for this project):

I'd always been aware of the story of Carl Von Cosel. But for some reason I developed an unceasing fascination with his case. It's one of the strangest true stories I've ever researched. In 1930s Key West Florida, Carl Von Cosel dug up the remains of one of his former patients who he'd become obsessed with - Elena Hoyos - and slept with her...for seven years.

The most interesting thing about this story is that what I've just told you is the least interesting thing about this story. The story of Von Cosel is a surrealistic melodrama. And it has everything from ghosts to mad scientists to psychic premonitions...on top of having a man who did indeed spend seven years sleeping next to a corpse.

We've posted a number of Ronni's wonderful documentary shorts before here on the Grail (see links below for evidence of the quality of his work), and he's got some real surprises lined up for the presentation of this story (see the video above). Go check out the Kickstarter page for more information, and make a pledge to help bring this beauty to life (pun not intended, but I went with it!).

Related posts:

Movie Trailer for Marvel's Doctor Strange

Okay, so I've been getting a bit jaded with the endless parade of comic book movies. But for this one, I'll make an exception - because OMG SORCERER SUPREME! The trailer for Marvel's Doctor Strange has just dropped, and is full of Benedict, Tilda and other OBE, hyperdimensional and occult fun...

The movie will be in cinemas in November this year.

Related stories:

News Briefs 13-04-2016

We are bearly aware of our surroundings.

  • The ancient Peruvian mystery solved from space.
  • A billionaire's plan to send robots powered by lasers to Alpha Centauri.
  • Alcohol to be banned from Stonehenge celebrations.
  • Robot finds no 'Nessie Lair' in Loch Ness, but finds a Nessie.
  • Can we sense magnetic fields?
  • Neanderthals may have been infected by diseases carried out of Africa by humans.
  • How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.
  • Do our dynamic brains predict the world?
  • Birth control pills are turning male amphibians into females.
  • Psychics 'can't predict the future and we never read clients' minds'.
  • Terrified couple draw picture of 'Werewolf of Worcester' after claiming to have bumped into it in the Cotswolds.
  • Smashed skulls suggest large European battle 3,200 years ago.
  • Massive undersea crab swarm caught on video.

Quote of the Day:

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Festival 23 - Convergence of Disco

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Festival 23- Convergence of Disco

A brand new outdoor festival celebrating Discordian counter-culture

Taking place on the weekend of July 23 at a secret South Yorkshire location

Artists confirmed so far include Jimmy Cauty, John Higgs, Knifeworld, Super Weird Substance, Richard Norris, Cosmic Trigger cabaret

Already compared by DJ Greg Wilson to the legendary 1967 'Gathering of the Tribes,' Festival 23 is not just a music festival. Neither is it an arts, literature, theatre, film or poetry festival. It's none of these things and it's all of them. It is everything that you imagine it to be. Inspired by the exhortations of the late, great Ken Campbell, organisers Notwork 23 are setting out not to make money or to lose money, but to do something heroic!

Festival 23 is a celebration and exploration of contemporary counter-culture, inspired by generations of radical artists and writers, from William Burroughs to Alan Moore, Alan Watts to Robert Anton Wilson. The focus for these energies is Discordianism; a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke, most famously popularised by Bob Shea & Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! -the ultimate cult novel series- itself adapted into an infamous nine-hour play in 1976 by maverick theatre director, actor, writer and genius Ken Campbell.

As a member of the KLF, Jimmy Cauty re-introduced Discordian ideas to a new generation in the late eighties and early nineties. We're overjoyed that he'll be bringing his acclaimed art installation, The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), to Festival 23.

In 2014, Ken Campbell's daughter Daisy Campbell brought Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus sequel Cosmic Trigger to the stage, acting as a powerful catalyst for the current Discordian revival. Daisy will be leading Cosmic Trigger's cast and crew, including poet Salena Godden, in a cosmic cabaret that will take over Festival 23's main stage on the Sunday night.

Writer John Higgs has also brought Discordian-related ideas to a wider audience with his books The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds, and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The 21st Century. At Festival 23 John will be delivering a new talk entitled Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming.

Headline musical acts include psychedelic/progressive rock titans Knifeworld, a full live set from Super Weird Substance (featuring legendary DJ Greg Wilson and Ruthless Rap Assassins/ Black Grape member Kermit, who will also both be performing separately), Richard Norris (The Grid, Circle Sky, Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve, Time and Space Machine, Psychic TV), Pete Woosh (DIY), AOS3 and Cowtown. Also confirmed so far are Barringtone, Bloom, Giblet, Horton Jupiter and Map 71.

Plus: films, rituals, esoteric workshops, poetry, theatre, art installations and more, including Puppet Alan Watts- part of the Future Zen Variety Show- and the Milk the Cow podcast crew, who will be producing an exclusive radio podcast onsite.

Website: http://festival23.org.uk/ Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/festival23/?fref=ts

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/539494706224186/

Contact: info@festival23.org.uk

News Briefs 12-04-2016

Meep meep!

Thanks Adam Gorightly and @Fortean_UK.

Quote of the Day:

The holy warrior is he who struggles with himself.

Idries Shah

Atlas Robot Thoughts

When we recently saw that amazing video of Boston Dynamics' new Atlas robot being tested to the max, most of us felt empathy for them being 'bullied'. For those that were wondering what the Atlas was actually thinking during testing, the above video may clear things up...