In this article, I’ll introduce you to the ceremonial use of magic mushrooms. Now, this is a subject developed over dozens of pages in my book, but for the sake of space here I’ll just be exploring what is most concretely useful and why. If you’d like to know more once you’ve finished this article, I highly recommend checking out the book as it explores this topic in much greater detail.
The ceremonial use of psilocybin fungi makes perfect sense from a spiritual point of view, but perhaps even more sense with regards to the psyche.
Indeed, there are a lot of tangible and practical motivations for taking mushrooms to aid the psyche alone. “Pure” psychonauts will probably be the most intrigued by this subject, as they are likely to be more focused on the exploration of consciousness than interacting with the spirit realm. And this is understandable: consciousness undoubtedly exists – granted, maybe not in everyone – but the existence of the Spirit requires a little more Faith, a gift which few possess.
Psychedelics are safe
Psilocybin fungi are probably the safest psychoactive substance out there, with LSD coming in at a close second. But the classification goes like this: dying of a mushroom overdose is impossible, while dying from taking too much LSD is merely extremely difficult. The news reports the case of a woman who accidentally took around 51 milligrams of LSD, the active dose of which starts at around 100 micrograms. But she didn’t die, and actually reported an unexpected and seemingly definitive recovery from borderline personality disorder. One microgram is equal to one millionth of a gram, so the ratio between the active dose and the quantity taken in that case was incredible. One person taking enough for 500 people to trip – total madness!
A necessary warning: other natural psychedelic substances have different ratios between doses which are active and doses which can be dangerous or lethal. Do not under any circumstances extend this idea of the safety of mushrooms or LSD to every substance indiscriminately. Each one is different.
Different aspects of security
Physiological safety is an undoubtedly valuable thing to consider, but it is only one of the aspects one must consider when deciding to go on a psychedelic voyage. The most important aspect is psychological, and it’s here that the dose has much more of an impact. While an elevated quantity will not damage you physically (in the absence of contraindications of course!), it can pose many challenges on a mental and emotional level. I feel the need to highlight the danger to one’s etheric body in particular – that which, for example, we perform acupuncture on – which can be seriously damaged by a traumatic experience. Madness is often the consequence of this kind of damage. The Italian expression for ‘thunderstruck’, fulminato (literally meaning “electrocuted”), expresses this idea pretty well.
This premise is indispensable when introducing the theme of ceremonial ritual, because it’s even more useful than it is important, and more important even than how you practice it in relation to the psychedelic trip.
Let’s start with the substance itself because it’s the most objective data we have at our disposal. You’ll need to know the composition (i.e. what the substance is) and the quantity. As you can probably imagine, I love mushrooms, so I consider them the number one psychedelic substance if only for the simple reason that no more is really required of you than simply collecting them and eating them.
Peyote, a spineless cactus, is very similar. With him too, you only have to collect and eat, but I have to admit that I’m not acquainted with him and don’t have much desire to be. I’ve heard enough stories of vomiting to put me off, at least personally.
LSD is semisynthetic. It took Hoffman to bring it to light, that substance which is so beautiful but also considered a lot more of a “shallow” experience than that offered by mushrooms. The duration of the trip with LSD is much longer, with time frames becoming more and more demanding with higher doses. One can easily exceed 12 hours.
DMT, 5-Me-DMT e Salvia Divinorum have very intense effects but a shorter period of effectiveness – we’re talking minutes, rather than hours – but they require a no less accurate handling of Set & Setting. On the contrary, the presence of a sitter is always recommended when dealing with these substances, especially on the first few occasions.
Personal preferences aside, all of these natural substances are relevant to my reflections on mushrooms.
The dose is the first discriminating factor. The parameter to apply is whether the dose you’ll take is low or high, which will obviously depend on your psychological tolerance and your experience. As always, 3 dry grams are probably more intense for you than 5 grams can be for me, and vice versa. Keep this in mind. A low dose does not require a ceremony exactly, but with a high one a ceremony is always very useful.
Set & Setting
After the dose (but really primary in importance) we have Set & Setting. This is a set of rules – on which I have written a whole article – which are beneficial for your safety. If you want to organise an experience that will cause no harm to yourself or others, Set & Setting is the one thing that will keep you well out of harm’s way.
How often does Set & Setting work though? In theory, always. That is to say, I would always do everything needed to evade problems, and this includes not taking silly doses. If you up your dose you need to up your precautions too in order to make sure you always find yourself in a situation of maximum security. This includes having a sitter there who can keep watch in moments when you eventually lose contact with reality.
Higher doses – upon which you can read this article and this one too to understand more – certainly require external supervision as they often lead to the subject losing contact with ordinary physical reality (the dangers of which you can probably imagine). When you consume high doses you must absolutely consider the possibility of losing connection with the physical body, and above all the perception of what your body is doing in the material world. A “physical safety net” will impede you from undergoing any damages or consequences which could very well me (from time to time) permanent.
I can’t find a Trip Sitter!
But what if you’re not lucky enough to find the Ideal Trip Sitter? Or rather a shaman? Finding either of these can be far from easy. And so you might have to come to terms with the idea of going in alone. In that case, how does one proceed as safely as possible? What kind of Set & Setting will protect you even when you’re on another planet? Here, we need a little something extra, a special Set & Setting which I’ve identified in the Ceremony. Ceremony is Set & Setting on another level, one which extends preparations even to the realm of our subconscious, which is where you will really find yourself in the deepest of trips.
A little warning, again: performing a ceremony will not guarantee your safety with any old quantity of mushrooms, but it will certainly improve your Set & Setting through including as many subconscious factors as possible, and even more from the invisible worlds.
The psychedelic world
Picture this: you’ve taken a high dose of mushrooms (or high for you at least), the effect starts to rise and you find yourself in a world which is the manifestation of your psyche – the very definition of psychedelic. Our psyche consists of over 95% subconscious material of which we know almost nothing but which certainly exists. Its influence is evidenced in many moments throughout our day to day lives. Very few of us know how to speak to that unconscious part of ourselves, and few still know it’s even possible to communicate with it in an intentional manner in order to receive support.
Having reached the point of maximum intensity in your trip, you’re completely inside yourself. The outer world becomes more or less irrelevant – which is why it’s important to avoid any objectively dangerous situations. Your confrontation with yourself plays out mainly in that 95% of the subconscious you are largely (or completely) unacquainted with. It’s the place where fears, desires and emotions materialise, where these things can become magically amplified and highlighted by the fungus. There are higher levels still than this, but they don’t tend to be problematic and so we won’t consider them for now.
The language of the subconscious
Is your subconscious an ally or an adversary? You’ll find this question answered, every time, during a psychedelic experience. But wouldn’t it be better if we’d come to an agreement sooner? If you happen to know a method of talking with it, of communicating your desires and instructions, would you want to use it? Or maybe a better question would be: would you do so simply to put in place a suitable Set & Setting which will support you throughout everything you’ll encounter when entering the depths?
This is the very purpose of the ceremonial ritual. In other words, it stabilises a contact and agreement with the subconscious to ensure your safety during your psychedelic exploration. But how does one speak to that part of themselves? By using its language, obviously, which is different to that which we use with our personality. In fact, the two are so different as to be almost opposites. If we use words and reasoning when speaking to our conscious mind, we must use the likes of images and words when it comes to the unconscious. It understands nothing but this.
Ceremonies consist of the intentional use of emotions and also symbols. From the latter, we must sever all esoteric and spiritual meaning – at least in this article – and see them for what they are: a means by which to deliver instructions to the subconscious in a language it can understand. The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung discovered and gave consistency and credibility to the concept of the Collective Unconscious, a subterranean sea which all humans share. This realm is made up of numerous images, symbols, archetypes and myths. It exists just as your personal unconscious does, but the language they speak is essentially the same.
Any symbol can be used, and any sacred image: Tarot cards or imagery; prayer; mantras; Yantra; religious objects; crystals; essential oils; or the herbs and incense utilised in many diverse traditions. As well as symbols and elements shared by humanity in general, there are those which are personal and familiar to you. If you have a veneration for a sacred text, for a saint, a spiritual teacher or other, why not use photos of them, objects and memories to help communicate with your subconscious?
I realise there isn’t space in this article to go into adequate detail, but hopefully that’s a good starting point.
Ceremony as preparation
The ideal psychedelic experience is made up of three parts: preparation for the trip, the trip itself, and the integration phase.
The ceremony is also a mode of preparation in that one uses it to send precise, direct messages to the unconscious. Laying out a little mat for all the objects or images you feel are significant to you isn’t that important in itself. What counts is being in contact with what you’re trying to do, how much worth you attribute to what you’re doing, and of course how “centred” you are during the preparation. It’s a ceremony, not choreography. If you place a statue or an image of Buddha on the altar (and perform the action with knowledge and respect), don’t go placing another ornament for the hell of it.
The power of “as if”
If you use incense which evokes things deep in your Limbic System (a part of the brain which processes olfactory stimuli, emotion and memory), also decide to put out the emotion of making a loving tribute to the invisible world and invoke it for your protection. Do everything you need to do in order to prepare a ceremony “as if”.
Does the divine, and do spirits, really exist? What matters is the existence of “what if”, because this attitude allows you to imagine and feel emotions. In other words, you’ll be more able to talk with your unconscious in its language. If what you’re doing is “sacred” and you pay the attention and intention necessary, this will make a marked difference for you. In essence, it will orientate your experience in a more secure, protected direction.
Acting “as if” makes you realise what you are doing and keeps you in the “here and now” as much as possible – you are doing exactly that and being precisely, deliberately present. Doing things mechanically is a whole different matter. On the outside, you might look like you’re preparing a ceremony, but inside you’re thinking about other things, your personal affairs etc. The effort is made not outwardly, but within.
There is only presence
This interior change has to be brought into the experience as far as possible. And the type of experience you’ll have is influenced by Set & Setting in marked, recognisable ways. Scientists as well as new age practitioners confirm this, and that’s one thing at least they seem to agree on.
To summarise: one must be knowledgeable on substance, dose, Se & Setting, together with protracted and focused intention during every phase of preparation, using symbols and notable elements used for centuries (or millenia) by various cultures… but also on objects and images from one’s personal story. Mantra and prayer, for example, are reinforced innumerable repetitions by uncountable numbers of people, and have formed an egregore you can tap into in certain moments. Use that.
Thinking that modern man is somehow superior to the practices of our ancestors is not a sign of evolution but rather a presumption. The realms of the unconscious, and the invisible world I might add, are lesser known today perhaps than they were in the distant past. One can say with certainty that they had many more developed rites and practices through which to relate to those depths, these same depths we encounter during a psychedelic trip. The higher the amount you take, the more you must come into contact with the deep waters prior to the trip. It’s just common sense when you think about it.
Please, read WARNINGS!