The title “Son of the Star” had already a profound messianic significance within Judaism, deriving the idea from the promise in the Old Testament:
leader of the Jewish rebels of the Second Revolt in the second
century adopted the title as his own, continuing the Zealot
tradition that the overthrow of the hated Romans by a star— born
Jewish leader was a necessary preliminary to the dawn of the new
The application of the mushroom epithet to the Mesopotamian monarch was possible through a similarity between the name of the city “Babylon” and that for the fungus, which came down into Greek as Boubalion, attached, like many fungus names, to the Squirting Cucumber, ElaterIon.4
The phallic connections in the case of that plant are obvious, as they are in the case of the mushroom, and the common name in fact derived from a Sumerian phrase, GU-BAR, “top of the head; glans penis”
An amusing instance of this same association of the Mesopotamian city—name and the mushroom, this time quite unintentional, is detectable in Pliny’s description of a certain parasite which takes possession of a “Babylonian” thorn bush:
It is a remarkable fact that it buds on the same day as it has been planted — this is done just at the rising of the dogstar — and it very quickly takes possession of the whole tree. It is used in making spiced wine, and it is cultivated for that purpose. This thorn also grows on the Long Walls at Athens.5
It is this last phrase which, more than anything, identifies the “thorn” in question. The tradition must have come down to Pliny through Semitic sources which preserved an original name for the mushroom based upon the Sumerian *GU_TJJ_U_DUN, “ball-and-socket; penis-and-vulva”, already noticed. It will have been mistakenly understood as the Semitic phrase kötel—’Attünă’, “long wall of Athens”, and hence Pliny’s strange restriction of the growth of his parasite to this one spot.6
It is by such intentional and unintentional puns on names that botanical references were confused and misapplied, and can in some cases now be restored. The morning and evening star is, of course, Venus. To appreciate the relevance of this luminary to the sacred fungus we must try to understand its place in the astral system as anciently understood, and the fertilizing power that it was supposed to wield.
Each morning, before the sun-god withdraws his penis from the earth’s vaginal sheath, a rival to the heavenly father slips from the nuptial chamber and heralds the coming dawn. This star is second only to the sun and moon in brightness, and usurps some of their glory by lightening the eastern sky in the morning and holding back the veil of night until the moon rises.
This star they called Venus, Juno, Isis or Aphrodite.
Thus Pliny: Before the sun revolves, a very large star named Venus, which varies its course alternatively, and whose alternative names in themselves indicate its rivalry with the sun and moon — when in advance and rising before dawn it receives the name of Lucifer, and being another sun and bringing the dawn, whereas when it shines after sunset it is named Vesper, as prolonging the daylight, or as being deputy for the moon. . .
Further it surpasses all the other stars in magnitude, and is so brilliant that alone among stars it casts a shadow by its rays. Consequently there is a great competition to give it a name, some having called it Juno, others Isis, others the Mother of the Gods.7 As we may now understand, their names for “star” show that the ancients pictured these luminaries as penes in the sky,8 their light fancifully seen as the “glow” of the glans’ fiery crown.
At first sight it seems then strange that this most powerful of all stars should be given female names like Venus and Juno. The reference, however, is to its generative power. When this lesser penis of heaven slipped from the connubial bower before its master, it came dipping with the semen of the terrestrial womb. The sun, yawning and stretching its blazing path across the sky would bum away the fragrant drops that his forerunner scattered. Until then they would remain as dew on the earth, the most powerful conceptual fluid of Nature.
Thus again Pliny: Its influence is the cause of the birth of all things upon the earth; at both of its risings it scatters a genital dew with which it not only fills the conceptive organs of the earth but also stimulates those of all animals.9 Even the sea creatures were affected by this seminal fluid from the sky. Pearls were “born” within the shell by the direct influence of dew; well might Aphrodite have been portrayed sailing ashore on the coast of Cyprus in such a “womb” of the sea bed.
If the dew could penetrate even to these “volvae” of the sea, its undiluted sprinkling on dry land could be expected to produce powerful drugs:
So it was, when the Israelites awoke in the desert after an evening of filling their bellies with quail flesh, it was to discover that the “spermal emission” of the dew had left behind it Manna, the “bread” of heaven, which we may identify with the sacred fungus (Exod 16:13f.).12 We shall see later how mushroom worship was closely connected with necromancy, that is, the raising of the spirits of the dead for fortune-telling.13
It is in this context that we should now read a passage in Isaiah:
The “Rephaim”, as their name can now be seen to mean, were those “cast down from heaven”,14 the fallen angels of the sixth chapter of Genesis, and a common theme of Jewish mythology.
As the morning dew brought forth the sacred mushroom, so, in the eyes of the prophet, would it give life to these denizens of the underworld. Pliny draws a further connection between dew and the Holy Plant when he says that even the demonic power of the Mandrake is increased when touched with morning dew.15 In a very special way, then, the sacred fungus was the offspring of the Morning Star, as Jesus proclaims himself to be to the mystic.
It thus had the unique ability of forming a bridge between man and god, being not entirely divine nor yet merely mortal. It gave men the power to become for a little while like the gods, “knowing good and evil”.16 Like the mushroom itself, it allowed mortals to become “Dioscouroi”, as the Greeks understood that name of the sacred fungus, “Sons of God”.
As the New Testament writer says of Jesus: To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father... (John I:12f.). The mysteries that the “Jesus” — fungus could impart were heavenly in origin, since it itself, as its Hebrew name implies, is “That—which— comes-from-heaven”.17
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen... No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the son of man (John :i if.). Because the mushroom’s affinities were primarily celestial, it was thought able to control heavenly phenomena, the atmosphere, winds, and tempests.
The Dioscouroi were seen in the atmospheric electrical discharges known as St Elmo’s fire, and to our airmen in the war as “gremlins” that accompanied them on their missions.
Thus again, Pliny: Stars also come into existence at sea and on land. I have seen a radiance of star—like appearance clinging to the javelins of soldiers on sentry duty at night in front of the rampart: and on a voyage stars alight on the yards and other parts of the ship, with a sound resembling a voice, hopping from perch to perch in the manner of birds.
These when they come singly are disastrously heavy and wreck ships, and if they fall into the hold burn them up. If there are two of them they denote safety and portend a successful voyage; and their approach is said to put to flight the terrible star called Helena: for this reason they are called Castor and Pollux, and people pray to them as gods for aid at sea. They also shine round men’s heads at evening time; this is a great portent.
All these things admit of no certain explanation;
they are hidden away in the grandeur of Nature.18
Well might Paul’s “Alexandrian ship” out of Malta carry the sign of the Dioscouroi at its mast— head (Acts 28:1 i). Part at least of the ancient belief that the Dioscouroi could avert storms lies in the idea that in nature like repels like. The antidote to any poison will be found in an object or drug most nearly resembling the baneful source.
Since the Dioscouroi, Pollux and Castor, are basically mushroom demons and the source of the “Sons of Thunder” is the storm, it follows that the sacred fungus will have the power to repel the tempest. Similarly, since the Amanita muscaria is a denizen of the conifer forests, and receives its being on the mother’s side, as it were, from the “menstrual blood” of the cedar,20 this substance also can affect storms.
They say that hail-storms and whirlwinds are driven away if
menstrual fluid is exposed to the very flashes of lightning: that
stormy weather is thus kept away, and that at sea exposure, even
without (actual) menstruation, prevents storms.21
Compare now the story of Jesus and his disciples on the Galilean sea: On that day when evening had come, he said to them,
And leaving the crowd they took him with them, just as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him,
And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea,
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said to them,
In both stories the underlying factor is the supposed ability of the sacred fungus to quieten storms. However, as with other such myths as expounded in the Bible, there are several layers of literary construction. For example, behind the whole of the Jonah story there is probably a play on the name of the sacred fungus, latterly known in Greek as Peristereön, but originally the Sumerian *BAR_USh_TAR_IAU_NA.22
In whatever form it was known among the Semites, the name was capable of being teased out by the myth-makers into something like bar-setără’ — y6nă’, “Jonah — son-of-hiding, concealment”, on which that element of the Jonah story about his flight from Yahweh’s presence would appear to have been used. In the New Testament we can penetrate to the second layer of literary composition, where every word of the story can be examined for possible word—plays.
Thus, for example, “silencing the storm” is a pun on the fungus name, *MASh_BA(LA)G..., which provided the myth-makers with the Semitic root sh-b—kh, “pacify”,23 and is so used of Yahweh in Psalm 6.c:
The Sumerian name GI—LI—LI (LI—LI—GI), properly the “reed with two cones” describing the two halves of the volva separated by the stem of the mushroom, gave by word-play the Semitic root g-l-l, “waves”, and the proper name Galilee.24
The sacred mushroom, then, was a being of two worlds, heavenly and terrestrial. Its affinities in the heavens lay with the stars, and in a special sense it was the child of Venus, the morning and evening star. The heavenly dew which this luminary was thought to disperse on the earth was considered of special power, and the appearance of the mushrooms on the ground at dawn seemed evidence of a special relationship between the star and the fungus.
The Heavenly Twins, the Gemini or Dioscouroi, were identified with the Morning Star, as is Jesus in the New Testament. These mushroom characters were similarly credited with power over storms, since the sacred fungus was itself a product of the storm-god in the tempest. So far we have looked at those aspects of the mushroom which offered the mythologists material for descriptions and stories from its characteristic shape, and from its unique conception as a “child of God”.
We saw how its sexual form,
male and female, gave rise to androgynous names and epithets, and
how the conjunction of penis and vulva as fancifully seen in its
most developed form offered comparison with the human copulatory act
and similar sexual imagery in the axe— head and the cross. The
significance of its heavenly origin appears in those stories about
the mushroom which portray the heroes quelling storms, and
theologically, in imparting to its worshippers a knowledge of
heavenly things normally beyond the reach of mere mortals.
Furthermore, the cap of the Amanita muscaria has a strange, white—flecked appearance deriving from the particles of the volva still adhering to the surface.
as we shall see, gave a cycle of mushroom stories all its own.