The Coming of the Strophariad
True Hallucinations (archive)
Chapter 19 – Excerpts
The mushroom always returned to the theme that it was wise in the ways of evolution and sympathetic therefore to a symbiotic union with what it referred to as “the human beings.” It was eager to share its own sense of the howness of things, a sense that had been developed over millions of years of conscious experience as an intelligent organism radiating through the galaxy. From its point of view, the mushroom is an elder life form, and as such it offers its tempering experience to a vibrant but naive child-race standing for the first time on the brink of flight to the stars. As our imagination has striven outward to attempt to encompass the possibility of the intelligent Other somewhere in the starry galaxy, so has the Other, observing this, revealed itself to be among us, when we are in the psilocybin trance, as an aspect of ourselves. In the phenomenon of Stropharia cubensis, we are confronted with an intelligent and seemingly alien life-form, not as we commonly imagine it, but an intelligent alien life nevertheless. In the often zany way that it does, popular culture has anticipated even this odd turn of events. Invasion of the Mushroom People, a schlocko-socko B science fiction film from those same good folks who brought us Godzilla, contains a final scene in which a team of Japanese explorers are transformed beyond the reach of audience identification into a group of mushrooms singing together in an islanded Asian rain forest.
Only an anachronistic lack of informed self-reflection would lead one to suppose that an intelligent, alien life-form would be even remotely like ourselves. Evolution is an unceasing river of forms and adaptive solutions to special conditions, and culture is even more so. It is far more likely that an alien intelligence would be barely recognizable to us than that it should overwhelm us with such similarities as humanoid form and an intimate knowledge of our gross industrial capacity. Star-traveling species could be presumed to have a sophisticated knowledge of genetics and DNA function and therefore would not necessarily bear the form that evolution on a native planet had given them. They might well look as they wished to look. The mushroom, with its habit of living off nonliving organic matter and its cobweb-fragile underground network of ephemeral mycelium, seems an organism designed with Buddhist values of noninterference and low environmental impact in mind.
In the late summer of 1975, Dennis and I decided that the world we were exploring required a wider audience. We hoped to establish a community of consensus about what was going on. To that end we wrote and published a guide to the method we had developed cultivating the Stropharia. At the beginning of that little book, I introduced what we had personally learned about the world of the mushroom:
The mushroom speaks, and our opinions rest upon what it tells eloquently of itself in the cool night of the mind:
“I am old, older than thought in your species, which is itself fifty times older than your history. Though I have been on earth for ages, I am from the stars. My home is no one planet, for many worlds scattered through the shining disk of the galaxy have conditions which allow my spores an opportunity for life. The mushroom which you see is the part of my body given to sex thrills and sun bathing. My true body is a fine network of fibers growing through the soil. These networks may cover acres and may have far more connections than the number in a human brain. My mycelial network is nearly immortal — only the sudden toxification of a planet or the explosion of its parent star can wipe me out. By means impossible to explain because of certain misconceptions in your model of reality, all my mycelial networks in the galaxy are in hyperlight communication across space and time. The mycelial body is as fragile as a spider’s web, but the collective hypermind and memory is a huge historical archive of the career of evolving intelligence on many worlds in our spiral star swarm. Space, you see, is a vast ocean to those hardy life forms that have the ability to reproduce from spores, for spores are covered with the hardest organic substance known. Across the aeons of time and space drift many spore- forming life-forms in suspended animation for millions of years until contact is made with a suitable environment. Few such species are minded, only myself and my recently evolved near relatives have achieved the hypercommuni-cation mode and memory capacity that makes us leading members in the community of galactic intelligence. How the hypercommunication mode operates is a secret which will not be lightly given to man. But the means should be obvious: It is the occurrence of psilocybin and psilocin in the biosynthetic pathways of my living body that opens for me and my symbiots the vision screens to many worlds. You as an individual and humanity as a species are on the brink of the formation of a symbiotic relationship with my genetic material that will eventually carry humanity and earth into the galactic mainstream of the higher civilizations.
“Since it is not easy for you to recognize other varieties of intelligence around you, your most advanced theories of politics and society have advanced only as far as the notion of collectivism. But beyond the cohesion of the members of a species into a single social organism there lie richer and even more baroque evolutionary possibilities. Symbiosis is one of these. Symbiosis is a relation of mutual dependence and positive benefits for both the species involved. Symbiotic relationships between myself and civilized forms of higher animals have been established many times and in many places throughout the long ages of my development. These relationships have been mutually useful; within my memory is the knowledge of hyperlight-drive ships and how to build them. I will trade this knowledge for a free ticket to new worlds around suns less forsaken and nearer galaxy center. To secure an eternal existence down the long river of cosmic time, I again and again offer this agreement to higher beings and thereby have spread throughout the galaxy over the long millennia. A mycelial network has no organs to move the world, no hands; but higher animals with manipulative abilities can become partners with the star knowledge within me and if they act in good faith can return both themselves and their humble mushroom teacher to the million worlds all citizens of our star swarm are heir to.”
Something that refers to itself as being as fragile and diaphanous as a spider’s web — for such is the mycelial network of the mushroom — was not only able to communicate with me but was able to convey a vision of greater grandure and more transcendent hope than I had ever dared to dream possible. It was moving and breathtaking, but was it true?
My own reaction to the mushroom’s claims concerning the extraterrestrial origin of tryptamine hallucinogens and the visions that they bear has taken many forms. I think that it is possible that certain of these compounds could be “seeded genes” injected into the planetary ecology eons ago by an automated space-probe arriving here from a civilization somewhere else in the galaxy. Such genes could have been carried along in the genome of a mushroom or some other plant, awaiting only the advent of another intelligence and its discovery of them to begin reading out a message that opens with the bizarre dimension familiar to shamans everywhere. The point of such a message could only be made clear when those for whom the message was intended had advanced to a sufficient level of technical achievement to appreciate it. The exponential growth of analytical tools and methods over the past century may indicate that we are now approaching such a level. I speculate that the final content of the message will be instructions — it will be called a “discovery” — of how to build a matter-transmitter or some other device that will allow us direct contact with the civilization that sent the message-bearing hallucinogen genes to earth so many aeons ago. The trances imply that such a civilization has a faster-than-light technology for information, if not for matter itself, but a receiver is required at the arrival point, otherwise the alien presence within the mushroom is as bound by the constraints of general relativity, as are we.
Something, someone, has seeded intragalactic space with automatic biomechanical probes. These probes are immensely sophisticated by our standards, able to tailor-make message-bearing hallucinogens for the special ecological conditions that the probe may encounter and to release virus-like pseudo-organisms able to carry the artificial genes into the nucleoplasm of the target species and to implant them there. This is a far more enduring form of message than a solid-state monolith on the moon or an orbiting monitor. The artificial genes may be carried along in the stream of evolution for literally hundreds of millions of years without substantial degradation of their message. The information carried by the probe and broadcast by the hallucinogens is modulated by the needs of evolving intelligent life on whatever planet is contacted. Gradually the emphasis of the information available from the probe shifts. Predictions of good hunting, simple divinatory results like the finding of lost objects, and the provision of medical advice are slowly superseded by the revelation of the extraterrestrial source of this information and the purpose behind it: construction of the star antenna and the entry into the Logos of galactic civilization that it will bring.
Speculative ideas indeed! But strangely enough many of the most current calculations and ideas about the density of life and intelligence in the galaxy confront exobiologists with the dilemma of why we have not yet been contacted. Cyril Ponnamperuma and A. G. W. Cameron’s Scientific Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Communication gives an excellent overview of current thinking on the subject. R. N. Bracewell’s contribution printed in the same work was the basis of my own ideas about interstellar probes.
I will summarize the state of the art thus: current thinking concludes that the peak of the emergence of intelligence in the galaxy was achieved ten to one hundred million years ago, that most races in the galaxy are very old and sophisticated. We cannot expect such races to appear with a trumpet-blast over every city on earth. Such an entry into history is tantamount to crashing into someone’s house completely unannounced — hardly the sort of thing that one would expect from a subtle and ancient galactic civilization. Perhaps they have always been here, or rather their presence has always been here in the hallucinogens — when we understand this on our own, we will be signaling to them that we are now ready for the contact.
We can send that signal only by following the instructions contained in the seeded genes and building the necessary apparatus, social system, or vehicle. When that is done, somewhere in the galaxy lights will flash the message that yet another of the millions upon millions of seeded planets in the galaxy has achieved the threshold of galactic citizenship. Current estimates are that even in a galaxy teeming with intelligence, such a threshold is passed by an intelligent species only once every hundred or thousand years. It is a joyous moment, even for galactarians. If such a speculation has any validity at all, then its very articulation signifies the final moment of the pre-contact phase — and signifies also the pressing need to explore the psilocybin trance and to understand the role that it is playing in the psychology of the human species.*