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While The Sacred Mushroom sold in huge numbers, its dense and uncompromising style meant that it was left by and large unread. The one idea it popularised, however, was that a unusual Romanesque Fresco, tucked away in the center of France in the Abbaye de Plaincourault, depicts Eve being tempted by a mushroom, not an apple: the serpent of the Garden of Eden appears, at first sight, to be coiled round a fly-agaric mushroom. A colour photo of the fresco was included in the book, and a stylised graphic rendition of it was eye-catchingly placed on the inside cover. For the general public, this was the only piece of evidence they needed to persuade them to accept Allegro's theory, for surely here was the incontrovertible proof?
Wasson had, rather regretfully one presumes, already discarded this notion when art historians convinced him that the fresco depicted nothing more exotic than a common, if bizarre, Romanesque stylisation of a tree. Allegro dropped the fresco from the abridged paper-back version of the book, printed in 1973, so one assumes that he too was eventually brought round, but the myth lingers on in popular consciousness, resurfacing in field guides and coffee-table mushroom books. Interestingly, Wasson had actually presaged Allegro by contending that the stories of the temptation and of the tree of knowledge were a memory of fly-agaric-based spirituality. But by playing down the suggestion, and by placing it at the very end of his SOMA book, he managed to avoid the fuss that Allegro wittingly or unwittingly caused.
Excerpt from Andy Letcher's Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, (2006, p. 164).
Curiously, Wasson abstained from considering the fresco of Plaincourault as proof of his theory, following the opinion of the well-known art historian E. Panofsky, for whom that tree is "a stylization of a Mediterranean pine" (Wasson, 1968, pp. 179-180). Only much later was he able to check that the judgement of Panofsky did not square with the evidence, since many examples of the European Romanesque - in Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vezelay, Lectionnaire de Reichenau, Vicq, Aix-la-Chapelle, Hildesheim and other places - exhibit in a pictorial or sculptural form the Amanita muscaria (or perhaps panterina) as well as psilocybe mushrooms. The work in this field presently indicates that these depictions could be linked with the Knights of the Order of Malta, whose stay in the Holy Land - during the Crusades - could have familiarized them with similar illustrations found in primitive Christian and Roman art (Samorini, 1997, p. 33). For now, it seems indisputable that there is a connection between visionary mushrooms and Christianity, although the prudent thing is to consider it a mystery as does Samorini, instead of launching into sensationalist declarations like J. Allegro...whose judgment is that Christianity grows out of an ancient mystery cult, based on the Amanita muscaria, Christ being a mere symbol of said mushroom (Allegro, 1970).
Excerpt from Antonio Escohotata's The General History of Drugs, Vol. 1,(2010, p. 73).
Images from Adrian Morgan's Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Folklore, and Cultural Oddities of a Strange Association, (1995, p. 116).
For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see: