Review of the Second Edition With Colour Illustrations of ASTROTHEOLOGY & SHAMANISM: Christianity’s Pagan Roots. A Revolutionary Reinterpretation of the Evidence, by Jan R. Irvin and Andrew Rutajit (Gnostic Media, 2009).
By Gerrit J. Keizer, clinical psychologist, mycologist and forest ecologist. Neede, The Netherlands (April 2011).
In general, the second edition has substantially been improved by republishing the illustrations in colour, which makes evaluating relevant details of the religious art work included much more reliable. The following suggestions for completing and correcting the text of the book can be made.
Amanita muscaria is a cosmopolitan species, which in Europe and Asia lives in symbiosis (ectomycorrhiza) with indigenous deciduous trees like birches, beech, oaks, poplars, hornbeam and lime and with conifers like pine, spruce, fir, larch and cedar. As Amanita pantherina (photo 1) is an ectomycorrhizal partner of oaks, beech, birches, larch and pine too, the partners of the Fly Agaric completely overlap the trees the Panther cap is associated with, which implies, that identifying one of the two Amanita-species by the trees they grow with is impossible. And there is a mix up possible with the with conifers associated Brown or King’s Fly Agaric (Amanita regalis), a species of which the psycho-active constituents are comparable to those of Amanita muscaria, and is present in the mountain areas of the Middle East and the Scandinavian countries.
Recent molecular studies on the ancestral origin of Amanita muscaria have shown, that the Fly Agaric was present in the Siberian-Beringian region in the Tertiary period (65-2.4 million years ago) before wider spreading across Asia, Europe and North America with Alaska being the centre of diversification of the three distinct clades within the species. And until today it is documented, that in these areas, apart from the earlier mentioned indigenous tree species, the Fly Agaric has eucalypts (Portugal), southern beech (Nothofagus) and tree species of rainforests as an ectomycorrhizal partner after it has been introduced in Australia through the mycorrhized roots of plant material of pine and other conifers from European, North American and Asian countries.
Mushrooms, like the Fly Agaric, don’t grow, they stretch out. In the primordium or “bud”, better known as the Golden or Cosmic Egg (photo 2), which originates from the mycelium, all cells of the complete fruitbody, with the exception of the reproductive organs and spores, are present. If one cuts a primordium in half, one can imagine why our ancestors were intrigued by what was inside and came out of an “egg”, of which in those days the origin and sudden appearance could not (yet) be (scientifically) explained. Once the primordium starts surfacing (photo 3), it “sucks up” moisture from the air and water from the soil, with which the compact cells are filled and the fruitbody stretches (hydraulics) until it is completely expanded, leaving parts of the velum universale as white warts on top and the from the margin of the cap torn off velum partiale as an annulus around the stem, and not until than the sexual organs start to build up and produce spores. For this reason, depending on the circumstances, a fruitbody of an Amanita entirely can develop within 2 to 3 days and the Pavement champignon (Agaricus bitorquis) can surface through tarmac with a piece of asphalt on top. The best illustration of the principle is the way the Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) completely develops inside a devil’s or witches’ egg (photo 4)
and stretches with a speed of 2 to 5 centimetre an hour after breaking the leathery scale of the devil’s egg with a disc or “egg tooth”, and than standing upright for several hours without needing viagra. In Western Europe, in the old days, it was believed, that the devil’s phallus had his smelly olive green sperm on top and that witches, being social outcasts, who could not mate with common men, would have sexual intercourse with the devil’s penis when it surfaced in the early morning light and that is how they had children (of the devil). For that reason, a pregnant witch could even end up at the stake.
The greater part of the mycelium of the Honey fungus Armillaria ostoyae (photo 5)
in eastern Oregon does not consist of very vulnerable, only 1-2 µm thin white hyphae, but of shoestring resembling rhizomorphs (photo 6), which have a black layer of melanin surrounding the inside hyphae to protect them from outside attacks by other fungi or parasitic organisms and high levels of soil acids.
In the at least 2.400 years of its existence, the Honey fungus in Malheur National Forest has killed more than 20 generations of about a hundred years old Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), that had regenerated after their “parents” had been killed.
The European tradition of searching eggs at Easter originally was not associated with looking for the “Golden Eggs” of the Fly Agaric, because in Europe, Amanita muscaria is only present from the end of August till the beginning of December, as all ectomycorrhizal macromycetes are, because they only have the energy needed for producing fruitbodies at their disposal as the tree supplies of sugar have reached their highest levels and are partially stored in the trunk and roots, which is the case when trees start withdrawing chlorophyll from the leaves or needles and successively shed their discoloured foliage, which is in autumn. And because in springtime trees need their energy and chlorophyll reserves for themselves to grow new roots, twigs and leaves, to start the photosynthesis process again and to flower and produce energy absorbing seeds, in Europe there exist no ectomycorrhizal macrofungi, which fructify in spring or early summer, during which seasons the tree “donates” just as much sugar to the mycelia to keep them growing and fulfilling their “duties”.
Easter traditionally is the pagan feast of new born life and fresh food, with fluffy yellow chicks and lambs as evidence of the restoration of the cycle of nature. Because their eyes are closer to the ground, children with baskets were sent out to collect fresh food like eggs of ducks, pheasants or partridges, spring fungi like Morchella’s (photo 7)
or St. George’s mushroom (Calocybe gambosa) (photo 8.)
and shoots of wild asparagus and ferns and, if lucky, their was a slaughtered lamb on the dinner table. The tradition of hiding eggs in the garden originates from the very old tradition of not eating all available eggs of domesticated chicken, but bringing part of the eggs to the freshly sown fields, i.e. not to the forest or vicinity of trees, because people believed, that the ”gift” of the symbol of not yet hatched new life would be beneficial to the germination of seeds and the harvest of crops later in the season. And the hare, an animal of the open fields, because of the manifestations of its strong reproductive drive in springtime, in almost all cultures was a symbol of life and fertility too. Christianity turned the pagan feast into the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, with Jesus and the lamb being symbols of (re)birth or revival and life (Cosmic Egg), and claimed, that later on non-religious elements were introduced, because of which Easter became a secular feast, which in fact is the other way around. Being in need of marking points throughout the year to remember or celebrate the self-invented major life events in the life of Christ, or as Francesco Carotta in “War Jesus Caesar ?” suggests, the historical life events in the life of the other JC and son of God, the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, the catholic church adopted the most important feasts of the astrotheological pagan calendar and integrated the “rebirth” of Jesus, i.e. the Fly Agaric, in the pagan Easter traditions, as it did with the birth of Christ on Christmas, the pagan feast of the returning light and the astrological constellation coinciding with it, but ignored that both the birth and “rebirth” or “resurrection” of Amanita muscaria, which has an entirely different life cycle, was either due a few month before or several month later. And that is how integrating Jesus into the pagan feasts of Easter and Christmas, his symbol, the Fly Agaric, got associated with Easter and Christmas and the hare, also being a pagan symbol of life and fertility, was introduced in early Christian paintings as a substitute for Jesus too. Moreover, the hare with the basket with eggs on his back hiding the before painted eggs, was also introduced as a substitute for the parents, who in reality hid the eggs, just like Santa Claus and the Dutch Sinterklaas are substitutes for the parents, which for obvious reasons want to keep the fact, that neither of these in the colours of the Fly Agaric dressed “Santa’s” or their “helpers” come down the chimney and the parents buy the presents themselves, a secret for their young and easily fooled children.
The symbolic Liberty Cap depicted and referred to is the Phrygian cap, which differs from the originally like the convex to subconical cap of a Psilocybe shaped “pileus” of ancient Rome, the freed (manumitted) slaves in ancient Rome wore, in having a forward pulled top. The Phrygian Cap probably was confused with the pileus and instead became the symbol of freedom and pursuit of liberty, later adopted by the French revolutionaries wearing a “bonnet rouge”. In mycology, pileus is the name used for the cap of a mushroom. And as the cap of the Liberty Cap Psilocybe semilanceata does not look like a Phrygian cap at all, but has the characteristic shape of the felt caps the freed slaves wore on their shaven heads, its name must refer to their head gear, the pileus. Psilocybe is Greek for “bare headed”. In Dutch the genus is called “Kaalkopjes” and in German “Kahlköpfe”, which means bare or bold heads. The old Dutch name for Psilocybe semilanceata is “Libertijnenmutsje”, meaning the cap (mutsje) worn by the “Libertijnen” or Gnostic Libertines, followers of Joachim di Fiore (16th century), free spirits and thinkers, who were persecuted as heretics both by Catholics and Protestants. Whether they were using psycho-actives to enlighten their spirits is possible, but not known with certainty. From De Sade, a libertine from a later period, is well documented, that he was addicted to drugs.
Ectomycorrhizal structures surrounding the roots of trees prevent the roots from being damaged by long lasting drought and defend them against attacks by parasites with self produced, species specific antibiotics and fungicides. The hyphae of the mycelium enlarge the root system of a tree up to a factor 1.000 to 2.000 and extensively stretch out into the soil as long as there is enough oxygen present. They uptake water and water soluble nutrients, minerals and spore elements and transport and deliver them to the roots. In return, the mycelium is provided with sugar polymers their “sugar daddy”, the tree, produces through photosynthesis. Fungi partially convert these sugar polymers into the sugar polymer chitin they integrate in the walls of their cells, which makes them closer related to insects then to green plants. If there is an uptake of poisonous heavy metals or salt from the soil by the hyphae, it is stored in parts of the mycelium, that are cut off and isolated from the main structures of the mycelial network.
In Europe, not only ergots of Claviceps paspali and C. purpurea can be found, but also of C. microcephala, which has reed (Phragmites) as its host plant. Although the effects of eating ergots were well known to the region, during the famine of 1977 in Ethiopia many people died after eating ergot infected grass seeds. Long time use of ergots results in gangrene with blackening and decomposition of the extremities of the body (finger tips, toes, ear lobes). In The Netherlands and Germany, midwives and doctors used to prescribe “moederkoren” or “Mutterkorn” (meaning “mother’s corn”) to pregnant women, who were near their term and had problems giving birth, to enhance the contractions necessary for going into labour. And in The Netherlands, until the early 1970’s, it was used to treat migraine attacks. A Dutch psychiatrist used LSD in the treatment of severely traumatized Dutch people, who had survived German nazi concentration camps. In The Netherlands, the story is told, that ghost ships like the Flying Dutchman, which were reported to be sailing the oceans in full sail without a crew on board and were found with a set table, were “created” by miserly ship owners supplying the crew of the ship with hardtack or shipman’s biscuits made of not properly “read”, i.e. not ergot free corn. Once at sea and far away from any harbour, after eating all fresh food, a diet of sauerkraut and “spiked” hardtack with the occasional glass of Dutch gin was served, causing the captain to step overboard, because he believed he could walk on water and the hallucinating crew following his example.
As Psilocybe cubensis is not an indigenous European species, wherever the name is mentioned or a photo is shown, it must be replaced by the fairly common in grasslands growing Liberty Cap (Psilicybe semilanceata) (photo 9).
Some European Psilocybe’s, like Psilocybe coprophila, P. cyanescens and P. hispanica, need cow, horse or sheep excrements as a substrate, some do not, like Psilocybe semilanceata, that grows on grass debris in fairly poor or manured grasslands. The same goes for Panaeolus species, Panaeolus fimiputris (= Anellaria semiovata) (photo 10)
and P. sphinctrinus need dung, Panaeolus foenisecii grows in grasslands and lawns. Before the days of smart shops selling free available fresh “magic mushrooms” to adult customers, a “field experiment” tolerated by the Dutch government until 2008, one could sometimes watch adolescents roaming about meadows with horse dung with an illustrated mushroom guide under their arm, searching for the, in comparison with the Liberty Cap and other species of Panaeolus, quite large specimen of Panaeolus fimiputris.
To the question : “Could mushrooms … be likened to interspecies pheromones that contain information from … Mother Earth herself ?” (Page 170), the answer is, yes, they can. Mushrooms are able of communicating with self produced, species specific pheromones or hormones, “scents” or “odours” and “tastes”, just as plants from the same species can among each other and certain plants or trees can with chitin based organisms like insects and fungi, they live in some kind of symbiotic interaction with. A tropical Acacia tree, for instance, has hollow spines, in which small colonies of ants live. Each cavity has two nipples, one that produces sugar to keep the ants from leaving “home” and one to alarm the ants, when the outer leaves of the crown of the tree are attacked by gluttonous insects. An invasion of insects triggers the “alarm” nipple to secrete a pheromone, that directs the ants to the leaves attacked. And as the ants need eating insects at a regular base, because they can not survive on a sugar diet alone, in this way the circular ecosystem of insects and a tree is closed.
In an experiment at a Dutch university, tobacco plants were placed in a row at an equal distance to one another. The first plant in the row was infected with wingless lice, that stayed on the leaves until the first flying generation was born, that colonized the next plant in the row and so on. By the time the fifth to seventh plant was reached by the lice, these plants turned out to be warned with pheromones by the first attacked specimen, which had made it possible for them to produce chemicals in their leaves, that were toxic for the lice and further colonization came to a hold.
Recently, a parasitic Honey fungus (Armillaria spp.) was found, that mimics the pheromones ectomycorrhizal macrofungi excrete to acquire access to the space between the outer cells of the tree roots they colonize and protect from attacks by parasites. Once the hyphae of the mycelium of the Honey fungus penetrate the ectomycorrhizal defensive zone and the outer layers of the root, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they grow into and between the living wood cells and produce toxic chemicals to kill the living parts of the root and the trunk of the tree, for which they develop specific structures, the rhizomorphs (see photo 6). Rhizomorphs are very aggressive cambium killers and in blocking the transport of water, sugars and nutrients in two vertical directions in the wood vessels, in the end kill the tree. Living rhizomorphs can detect damaged roots over a distance of one meter by the grow hormones the tips of the roots secrete and “grow” in a straight line towards them at a speed of up to one meter a year. And the hyphae and rhizomorphs of the wood-rotting fungus Serpula lacrymans are able to detect wood (cellulose) on the other side of a wall, that separates them from their “food” and of using the joints in the brickwork to penetrate the wall and decompose the wood from behind.
Some finishing remarks.
Just like in the Dutch song : “Oh denneboom, oh denneboom, wat zijn je takken wonderschoon”, which means : “Oh pine tree, oh pine tree, how wonder- and beautiful your branches are”, with which not a pine tree, but the Christmas tree, traditionally a spruce, is meant, in Figure 44 also a spruce (Picea) is depicted, where the pine tree (Pinus) is mentioned.
The Lotus plant (Figure 106) does not grow or flower on land, but in shallow, muddy waters.
The dark winged Jesus (Figure 111) with an oak tree in the background might be a representation or symbol of, i.e. stand for Amanita pantherina.
In Figure 175, also notice the oak leaves and acorn, the fleur-de-lis, the poppy (?) and other plant or mushroom and animal symbols in the circular ring and on top of the plant rising up at both sides of the phoenix.
In general, whenever trees are included, ectomycorrhizal fungi like Amanita’s and ascomycete desert truffles (Terfezia spp., Tirmania spp.) must be the mushrooms considered and not Psilocybe’s.
Astrotheology & Shamanism reads like a thrilling novel and is very well documented with references of the hypotheses and images of the symbols (re)presented. It provides a thorough analysis of the influence of astrotheology and entheogens on the development of religion. Even with a few easy to overcome errors or misinterpretations, the second edition of the book, at present, is the most complete publication on astrotheology and shamanism and on pagan rituals and ceremonies being at the very roots of Judeo-Christianity, religions still ignoring or denying their origins, which John Allegro so eloquently unveiled. And it presents a clear statement on the indoctrination of children and persecution of “free spirits“ by orthodox Christians or their religious leaders and sheds a light on their repressive agenda and opportunistic and hypocrite war on drugs through the ages and today.
Gerrit J. Keizer is the author and photographer of the Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fungi (Rebo, Lisse/London, 1997/2008) and the CD-ROM The Interactive Guide to Mushrooms and other Fungi (ETI/UvA (UNESCO), Amsterdam/London, 2001/2010).