Magic mushrooms may have been used in Japan since Jomon times

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Magicmushrooms 1

Ceramic mushroom “amulets”?, ritual implements of a Jomon period site, Rokaku-shi, Akita prefecture

Ceramic mushrooms have been excavated from a Jomon archaeological site in Akita prefecture, indicating that the Jomon people as with many cultures elsewhere, probably used “magic mushrooms” (i.e. psychoactive mushrooms) ritually. The mushrooms reproduced in clay were found in a ritual context along with other ritual implements such as ceramic human figurines and as such likely indicate their central function and symbolism attached to shamanic rituals possibly at solstice or other festivals where they may have been distributed to other members of the society. Similar pottery mushroom representations have been found in Native American digs.

Around 30 species of magic mushrooms inhabit Japan and the archipelago is among the category of countries with the richest finds of magic mushrooms.


Source: Inflammation and Regeneration journal, Jan 1, 2009

Apart from the graphic clay representation above, magic mushrooms are referred to in the Konjaku Monogatari Shuu (compiled in the Heian period 12th c.) which records the story of some nuns who climbed a mountain and ate some mushrooms that caused them to dance. Magic mushrooms references in Japan are often referred to as dance-inducing(Odoritake and Maitake) or laughter-inducing (Waraitake) mushrooms. These “laughing mushrooms” are the subject of a number of folktales as well as the names of ancient dance forms in Japan (source:Historical Overview of Psychoactive Mushrooms, Yoshihiro Matsushima, et al., Inflammation and Regeneration, Jan 1, 2009)

On the religious and ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Giorgio Santorini wrote:

The use of vegetable hallucinogens by humans for religious purposes is very ancient, probably even older than its use for healing, magic or teaching purposes. The profound alterations in one’s state of consciousness brought about by the use of a hallucinogen has served as a founding axis for religious systems, and in the development of established religions throughout the history of humanity.” —  Giorgio Samorini, ethnobotanist and psychedelics researcher, Integration5: 105-114

The art and skill of using magic mushrooms, along with other herbal resources for healing would have conferred upon ancient shaman great prestige.:

Shamanic knowledge usually enjoys great power and prestige in the community, but it may also be regarded suspiciously or fearfully as potentially harmful to others.

By engaging in their work, a shaman is exposed to significant personal risk, from the spirit world, from enemy shamans, or from the means employed to alter the shaman’s state of consciousness. Shamanic plant materials can be toxic or fatal if misused. Failure to return from an out-of-body journey can lead to death. Spells are commonly used to protect against these dangers, and the use of more dangerous plants is often very highly ritualized.”

Central Asian shamans served as sacred intermediaries between the human and spirit world. In this role they took on tasks such as healing, divination, appealing to ancestors, manipulating the elements, leading lost souls and officiating public religious rituals. The shamanic séance served as a public display of the shaman’s journey to the spirit world and usually involved intense trances, drumming, dancing, chanting, elaborate costumes, miraculous displays of physical strength, and audience involvement. …

Shamans perform in a “state of ecstasy” deliberately induced by an effort of will. Reaching this altered state of consciousness required great mental exertion, concentration and strict self-discipline. Mental and physical preparation included long periods of silent meditation, fasting, and smoking. In this state, skilled shamans employ capabilities that the human organism cannot accomplish in the ordinary state. Shamans in ecstasy displayed unusual physical strength, the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, the bearing of stabbing and cutting without pain, and the heightened receptivity of the sense organs. Shamans made use of intoxicating substances and hallucinogens, especially mukhomor mushrooms and alcohol, as a means of hastening the attainment of ecstasy. [Balzer, Shamanism pp 12-21] .

In some cases, the mushrooms were not only regarded as sacred, but as deities in themselves, or flesh of deities, or mediators of gods (see Giorgio Samorini).

On the role of magic mushrooms in the development of religion, see also Mushrooms and Religion, lectures by George Wong:

Gordon Wasson put forth his own hypothesis on the origin of religion from mushrooms containing entheogens, psychoactive compounds that is taken to bring on a spiritual experience. Usually, these are of plant origin, e.g. peyote, but may be of fungal origin, e.g. Amanita muscaria, as well. Wasson gave examples from several cultures that he had previously described, in details. In addition, Wasson, with respect to Soma, he believed that it was responsible for..

A prodigious expansion in Man’s memory must have been the gift that differentiated mankind from his predecessors, and I surmise that this expansion in memory led to a simultaneous growth in the gift of language, these two powers generating in man that self-consciousness which is the third of the triune traits that alone make man unique. Those three gifts – memory, language and self-consciousness – so interlock that they seem inseparable, the aspects of a quality that permitted us to achieve all the wonders we now know.

R. Gordon Wasson, from pg. 80, Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven MA.

A modified version of this hypothesis was later developed by McKenna, in the late 1980’s. His hypothesis differed from Wasson in that Mckenna believed that mushrooms involved contained the entheogen psilocybin, and he specifically says Stropharia cubensis, was responsible for the origin of religion and development of memory, language and self-consciousness. According to Mckenna, both events occurred in Africa, and began during the prehistoric, nomadic, hunting/gathering period of man’s existence.”