Mural Magic of Mushrooms

Cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams has long argued that the spectacular Paleolithic paintings in European caves such Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira were created by early shamans who were experiencing altered states of consciousness (“ASC”). Because Paleolithic rock art around the world displays the same types of symbols or form constants, which Lewis-Williams calls “entoptics,” he contends that altered states of consciousness based on a universal cognitive architecture gives rise to these internal images, which are then rendered onto rock art. ASC’s can be induced in several ways, with one of the most important being the ingestion of psychotropics.

In a recent study, Brian Akers and colleagues report on a 6,000 rock shelter mural in Spain. As is true of so many Paleolithic cave paintings, this one depicts a bull (which is most likely a wild auroch). What makes this mural unique, however, is that it also depicts mushrooms of the psychotropic or tripping variety (Psilocybe hispanica):

Selva Pascuala Rock Art

At the bottom right, there are 13 images of what the authors consider to be psychotropic mushrooms native to this region of Spain. After noting that ritual or shamanic usage of neurotropic fungi has been widely documented in Mexico, Siberia and elsewhere in the world, the authors suggest that the Selva Pascuala mural represents hunting and mushroom magic. The close proximity of the mushrooms with the bull, which are often depicted in cave paintings that are many thousands of years older than the mural at Selva Pascuala, is fairly convincing proof that these images were created by shamans experiencing altered states of consciousness.

It is worth noting that the majority of these depictions are located in difficult to access places (“dark zones”) and may only have been visited by shamans. If this is the case, it suggests that the earliest forms of supernaturalism may not have been group oriented but instead were the private domain of ritual specialists or shamans.


Akers, B., Ruiz, J., Piper, A., & Ruck, C. (2011). A Prehistoric Mural in Spain Depicting Neurotropic Psilocybe Mushrooms? Economic Botany DOI: 10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5

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8 thoughts on “Mural Magic of Mushrooms

  1. Chris

    I wonder if the bull and mushrooms aren’t linked in a more direct way, since psilocybin mushrooms often grow in cattle dung.

  2. admin Post author

    You are not alone — the authors specifically hypothesize this connection and it makes perfect ecological sense.

  3. Chris

    I would imagine that the cave-painters thought the mushrooms ‘came from’ the bulls as well, i.e., were a ‘gift’ from a divine creature. Perhaps that is the reason for/origin of the ancient Mediterranean bull cults, though doubtless there were other factors.

  4. admin Post author

    Excellent points and I agree. You should have written the article because the authors mention Mediterranean bull cults also, and their role in early Mithraism and Zoroastrianism.

    If I could ever find a bull that shat magic mushrooms, I too would consider it a divine gift.

  5. Loren

    1) My visit to Lascaux left me certain these guys were on mushrooms – not just the magnificence of the art work, but the playful sense of humor – the way one paints over the earlier work of another, playing on the image or rock contour that was seen one way, and then altered by a different view…etc. (It was also pointed out that, in the light of flickering oil lamps, the countours would appear to move & shimmey – world’s first animated cartoons?)

    2) Psilocybe are classed as coprophillic – shit loving – spores of which are routinely ingested by grazing animals, transported and deposited in their dung which then becomes the cultivating medium for the new sprouts. The mushroom therefore follows the migrating herds. So do humans.

    3) Lascaux, and the other river valleys nearby, lie on the traditional migration route of reindeer herds from the Central Highland (summer pasture) down to the lowlands near Bordeaux (winter pasture.)

    4)Twice yearly the herds paraded past the caves’ front door – voila, food and trips, home delivered.

  6. admin Post author

    I do not find this hard to believe, and these are some really nice observations. Have you considered writing them up as a paper or blog post? If you are interested in the latter, we can have you post as a guest here. Thanks for writing, and sorry it took so long to get to this. I have been in Africa this past month.

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