Known in German as Gluckspilz , or lucky mushroom, the vibrant red and white speckled Amanita Muscaria is a symbol of good luck and good fortune for the new year!
As this is both the last issue of 2021 and the first issue of 2022, I was looking for a way to cross the traditions of these tow holidays without getting stuck in Figgie pudding, KFC, mochi or eating 12 grapes at midnight. In Germany, there is a long- standing tradition of bringing good luck symbols to friends and relatives during the month of January. One of these is the familiar looking toadstool known as Fly Agaric, or Amanita Muscaria seen anywhere from Mario, to Alice in Wonderland, fairy tales, Fantasia and...Santa Claus? The use of this mushroom stretches far back into deep antiquity and can even be found as Soma in the Rigveda, the earliest of the four sacred Hindu texts. Those who drink the juice of the Soma are cleansed and purified of their past sins.
More commonly it is associated with Nordic shamans and Christmas magic!
With it's red and white coloring, preference to grow around Pine and Spruce trees, in winter or fall leading up to winter solstice. Often hung in branches to spread the spores, greatly enjoyed by reindeer, collected and dried in socks over a fire, prepared and distributed by shamans who are said to climb through the smoke holes of yurts in their village, when snow blocks the door. This all seems too convenient and doesn't consider St. Nick or Coca cola, but the similarities cannot be ignored.
More intriguing to me is the idea of Christmas cheer and good luck for the New Year. When carefully prepared and appropriately dosed the euphoria and hallucinations seem fitting for this magical time of year. Often describe as bringing feelings of warmth, love and acceptance, healing, introspection, and reconnection with the spiritual or underworldly realms.
Amanita Muscaria contain two mind-altering neurotoxins called Ibotenic acid and Muscimol which are known to affect humans and animals. animals. Ingestion of these toxins results in "expanded perception," talking to God, macropsia (perceiving objects as enlarged), rapid heartbeat, dry mouth. They are hallucinogenic and psychoactive, acting on the nervous system as neuropeptide receptors.
These two chemicals are structurally very similar; correct preparation can alter ibotenic acid into muscamol reducing the harmful effects. In history shamans would drink the urine of reindeer who love eating amanitas. Their body would filter out the Ibotenic acid leaving behind the muscimol, giving those who consumed it vivid dreams.
At some point the Fly Agaric fell out of use in favor of the more predictable and easier to tolderate Psilocybin mushroom. The potency of any single Fly Agaric varies wildly, one can be weak and another could be hot! This is why you don’t want to grab them up and munch them in the wild. A hot cap full of Ibotenic acid would make you very sick and miserable. Though it would take much more than that to kill you. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for fear. Studies in rats have shown that the inactivation of this area of the brain through the use of muscimol and ibotenate will inhibit fear learning and the startle reflex. Eating the mushrooms effective turn off the fear emotion and shut down the rat's ability to respond to threats. This is, of course, extreme as scientific method needs to drill down to the core effects and be repeatable. Nature is rarely that pure and predictable, but humans working with Muscimol have found it to help them heal from deep trauma and work through crippling anxiety and depression, generally , and perhaps mercifully, during sleep.
At the time of writing this, mushrooms are beginning to be studied for treating these all-too-common ailments.
With all that in mind I can't help but feel this symbol suggests healing from the traumas of the year and going forward with love, peace, magic, and wonder. The last few years have been difficult and traumatic for us all. Keep this bright bright red fun-guy in your heart and let some of it go!
Step into the new year with freshness, hope, and an open mind that's sure to let luck come your way!