A 13th Century Fresco Might Feature a Psychedelic Mushroom

Historians have debated this for years

Fresco of Garden of Eden
Fresco of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Aranthama, CC BY-SA 4.0

What do you think about when you ponder the religious art of medieval Europe? More precisely, do you often think about psychedelic substances when you ponder the religious art of medieval Europe? Because there’s some evidence now that the two are more closely aligned than you might think.

Writing at Atlas Obscura, Emma Betuel covered the debate over a fresco which dates back to the 13th century. It can be found in France’s Plaincourault Chapel, which was named as a historical monument in 1944. And while a fresco that’s centuries old would be notable in and of itself, this one has something particularly intriguing about it — it’s a scene of the Garden of Eden featuring something that looks an awful lot like a psychedelic mushroom in the middle.

There are elements about this that are both surprising and less than surprising. If you’ve read, say, Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods, you’ve encountered a juxtaposition of psychedelic experiences and religious revelations. But a number of thinkers, McKenna among them, generally don’t associate this idea with Christianity — which makes the presence of the (possible) mushroom that much more intriguing.

Given that the artist behind the mural is long gone, it’s unclear whether or not the fresco depicts an Amanita muscaria. Betuel’s article notes that theories about the fresco date back to over a century ago — some experts feel that it does show a mushroom, while others feel that it’s a stylized illustration of a tree.

The “it’s a mushroom!” camp is further divided, with some believing that the presence of a mushroom in the fresco suggests a community of Christians who used the mushroom as part of their services. The Atlas Obscura article quotes a few academics on the subject, as well as podcast host Joe Rogan — and points out that, as psychedelic mushrooms become more widespread in use, so too are people believing that the fresco offers a glimpse of the same. It’s food for thought — in multiple senses of the word.

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