By now, many of us are aware that plant medicine was woven into many, if not all, indigenous cultures. We know that indigenous cultures, traditions and practices have a rich history with plant medicine and the cycles of mother nature. But what about before that?
How did indigenous peoples get to the point where they had so much knowledge and wisdom of the Earth and the plants that inhabit the land? Where did that knowledge stem from? What were those who walked their grounds before them up to? Perhaps, our prehistoric ancestors paved this particular path for us.
Evolving with mushrooms
There is no doubt that we have evolved with mushrooms. Currently, the oldest fossil to date is a mushroom, dating back far before the beginning of us. This concretes that mushrooms must have been here before we were. Many believe they will remain on Earth long after us, as well. Both humans and mushrooms are ancient. During our time on planet Earth, our path crossed with mushrooms before we may have previously imagined. The impact of this crossing runs far deeper than we could possibly comprehend.
When we made our way from the trees to the ground, we began hunting and gathering. Learning how to adapt to life on the ground meant that our food choices expanded. Soon, we would begin to venture into new habitats, new ecosystems, and accumulate new ways of survival. Researchers have discovered that 23 different primates (including humans) added mushrooms to their diets over centuries of evolution on the ground!
Many mushrooms that we have evolved alongside contain remarkably powerful healing properties. Our systems have adapted to our food choices and what was available, so we could survive. Today, we host an internal system that allows us to receive the beneficial compounds found in various mushrooms, some we refer to as medicinal mushrooms. But what about other mushrooms? What about magic mushrooms? Magic mushrooms have been around since we began our journey of hunting and gathering. Did we early humans consume psychoactive fungi, as well? If so, could it have had much impact on the evolution of consciousness?
How did we evolve with mushrooms?
One thing to keep in mind is how we learned about which mushrooms to eat and which mushrooms to avoid. Our ancient ancestors had to go through a lot of ‘trial and error’ incidents during their years of epic survival. For example, for us to know right now that Lions Mane Mushroom (a well-known mushrooms) is not only safe to consume, but beneficial, how did we acquire that helpful information? At some point in time, a handful of our ancestors had to have come across a lion’s mane and eaten it, taking the risk. The same goes for medicinal mushrooms as it does for magic mushrooms.
That alone suggests that we must have, at some point, experimented with magic mushrooms along the way. This would only make sense. While some may have pondered this before the Mckenna brothers did, the carefully constructed theory first went public thanks to the 2 legendary siblings.
The Mckenna Stoned Ape Theory
One of life’s pressing questions that began the Mckenna brother’s speculation of this theory was ‘‘How did the human brain triple in size in only two million years?’’ This is a question that many historians collectively ponder, adding to the web of endless possibilities.
Very essentially, the ‘Stoned Ape Theory’’ was developed by Terrence McKenna and Dennis McKenna. They believed a community of proto-humans may have consumed magic mushrooms found in the wild, resulting in a profound change in the human brain, its function and its size.
The brothers believe that psilocybin, the active compound in all magic mushroom species, caused the primitive brain’s information-processing capabilities to rapidly reorganise. They believe this occurrence kick-started the speedy evolution of cognition, which led to the birth of art, language and (eventually) technology. Terrence McKenna made a strong link between the magic mushrooms that were growing out of animal manure, which so happened to be in the exact area where our ancestors ventured. Being hunters and gatherers, they plausibly came across these mushrooms and consumed them in hopes of survival. Little did they know the can of worms they were opening, changing the way humans would see the world all of eternity.
The period that early humans were believed to come across these magic mushrooms was precisely before the Neolithic period (7000 – 1700 BCE) began. The Neolithic period, or the New Stone Age, is characterised by the very beginning of humans shifting to a settled way of life. People of the Neolithic period learned how to cultivate plants instead of relying on gathering. We can also see from this time period the very beginning of domesticating animals for food, rather than relying solely on hunting for survival. This was one of the most crucial milestones in human history and a leap made far sooner than anyone could have ever predicted when we look back at the timeline of history.
At the time that this theory originally surfaced, there was a lot of doubt circling around, understandably so. However, as time has passed and we have picked back up with our psychedelic research, we are understanding how hallucinogens, specifically magic mushrooms, affect the brain. Now that we have a better scientific understanding of the impact these substances have on the brain, the Stoned Ape Theory’s probability is increasing.
Something to keep in mind is how magic mushrooms impact the brain. The power that magic mushrooms harness is no joke. There is much speculation and research revolving around psychedelics and the brain. We know that psilocybin has a positive effect on the prefrontal cortex. One role this part of the brain plays in consciousness is self-awareness.
The brothers claim that our path of evolution is no coincidence. We have proof that our early ancestors were indeed consuming magic mushrooms. We have proof that their brains physically grew exponentially during the time period they were eating magic mushrooms. We know that magic mushrooms have a strong effect on the prefrontal cortex (and other vital sections of the brain) and can enhance our awareness and increase our sense of self. Undoubtable, our sense of self is what makes us human. The McKenna brothers believe that our shift from our animal-like brains to our human-like brains could have a lot to do with the magic mushrooms we were eating at that point in time.
While this theory is infinitely interesting to ponder and think about, I would like to close this article with a few thoughts.
When considering and weighing up the possibilities of such interesting theories like this, it is easy to be swayed into thinking one thing or another when it aligns with our personal belief system. While I think the McKenna brothers were truly onto something and that it would most likely inevitably have an effect on our brains over time, I also know that each and every one of us will look at this with a somewhat biased set of eyes. Speaking of what makes us human, this is yet another aspect of being human.
Mushrooms can heal both us and the Earth. They can open our minds, expand our brains and remind us of our roots with nature. Mushrooms, magic and/or medicinal, are extremely cherished beings that we should feel honoured to live among. The more we learn about mushrooms, the more complicated things get and the more we realise how entangled human history is with the almighty mushroom kingdom.
I do not know if the rapid evolution of consciousness that took place during that time is thanks to mushrooms. I can only imagine (with my logical brain) that it had to do with mushrooms and a handful of other factors, some of which we may not even be aware of at this point in time. Great change typically requires a collective approach. When we look back into history, it is essential that we keep an open mind and use both our logical brain and our imaginative brain as equal weapons of seeking the truth.
I do not have the true answers to life’s biggest questions (no matter how many magic mushrooms I eat) but what I do have is gratitude for the McKenna brothers for planting so many seeds into the curious minds of those who happily dwell in the land of wonder.