How the mushroom has shaped Co-Founder, Eric Osborne's, life.
Mushrooms have gained great popularity in recent years. From the publication of Michael Pollen's "How to Change Your Mind" to Louie Swartzberg's critically acclaimed film "Fantastic Fungi" sacred and secular mushrooms are finally starting to get the attention they deserve. For multiple reasons I wanted to give followers of Psanctuary an understanding of my background which led to the founding of Psanctuary, The Sacred Mushroom Church
It's true I anointed myself mushroom king in the year 2000 but I soon found out that rather than ruler, I was subject to these sacred fungi. Consciously my journey began in 1999 when I had my first encounter with 'magic mushrooms'. Having long been interested in the fungal kingdom I didn't really give them more than some brief thought and as many a dismissal as poison.
There are many memories that I can tap into regarding mushrooms. From an audio recording of myself at age five suggesting that it would be dangerous to feed mushrooms to alligators and memories in my youthful days working construction, accidentally encountering jelly fungi which squished between my fingers while moving old lumber on which they had started to grow. As I have come to develop my relationship with wild maitake and ovoids, I can touch on faint memories of making acquaintances with these mysterious and what I then mistakenly believed toxic friends.
My first mushroom trip was, as for most 20 year olds, recreational. I could go back through the whole evening, recounting the psychedelic imagery and the sense of returning to my origin but it really isn't that different from the trip tales of most first timers. I was in love though that is for sure. It was truly as if I had found my place of belonging. The most valuable communication I received then and still the most relevant to this day was this:
It, the mushrooms, my super consciousness, The Voice said as the experience began to fade.
"It's all energy Eric."
"All of it?" I responded in disbelief, looking at the walls, the sofa, the people, my own hands.
"All of it. Everything. It is all energy and that is all there is."
It seemed so simple, yet so life altering. It changed how I understood and interpreted what is simplistically referred to as reality. But as those who know the mushroom know, this understanding as it was revealed to me then, has continued to unfold into a depth of comprehension and experience that cannot be explained. Material, emotions, thoughts, memories, action, inaction, color, light, sound, taste, you name it, it is all energy. It is all in motion and transmuting. It is impossible for me to describe the depth of 'integration' that this single transmission from the mushroom has required and allowed.
After this first trip.....well.... I ate mushrooms three days straight. I know you thought I would say I took some time to integrate. No. I found my friends, I found my home. The following days did not provide near the insight or level of experience that the first dose did. On the fourth day I woke up sick. A massive sinus attack, with a headache and nausea. I over did it. I ate too much of the poison I thought. Yes, we still thought then, as far too many still do, that the 'magic' in the mushrooms was a poison, melting our brain cells and therefore the walls. Looking back it is clear that it was my environment and myself that was toxic and yes, mushrooms are powerful and require some 'space' between experiences. Lesson learned.
After that long weekend, mushrooms were probably an every three to six month event. Not necessarily because I didn't want to do them but they were hard to find. Truthfully I was pretty much always hunting for 'who had the mushrooms' after my first go round with them. It wasn't until about ten years later that I realized I was the one that had them.
It's funny how we spend so much time looking outside of ourselves for what it already within us isn't it? This is an ongoing lesson for me as I dive deeper into my own personal development. We look outside for joy, riches, compassion, validation, so many things but if we will just close our eyes and quiet ourselves long enough we will find it right there in the darkness, the void that exists inside each one of us, the void that extends out into our misinterpretation of space-time. But that's for another blog.
Eventually, I did discover that I was the source of all the mushrooms I could ever want. But even still this was nearly ten years after becoming a professional mushroom hunter. For many, it is edible mushrooms that bring them to psilocybin. For me it was the reverse. Ravenously reading anything I could around the history, use, collection and cultivation of psilocybin and edible mushrooms I began applying the knowledge. I will never forget my first find of oyster mushrooms and particularly the ingestion of them. My family watched on in fear of eminent poisoning as I sautéed and consumed these neighborhood finds. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't have some trepidation but I followed the words of caution that I still practice and preach today, "Never eat any mushroom that you are not 100% certain of its identification." I had done a spore print and read over multiple descriptions in various field guides. But even now I will throw out a mushroom that I am only 90% sure of. This happened just a few weeks ago with an Agaricus species that very very closely resemble A. blazeii but the cap color was just too far off. Despite being the genus of the common button mushroom, there are species in this grouping that can be deadly toxic. DO NOT FUCK AROUND.
All the while, in the midst of developing wild identification skills, I learned how to pour agar and take tissue cultures of Reishi, Chicken of the Woods and more. I bought shiitake grow kits from Paul Stamets and made my own plug spawn to inoculate logs. I even began selling maitake and chanterelles to gourmet restaurants in Louisville. For almost ten years I experimented with various edible and medicinal mushroom cultivation but never psilocybin. I sought them out in the wild with no luck hoping to clone a wild cyanescens or caerulipes, purchasing spores online was not a risk I was willing to take. The Universe would provide them at the right time I told myself. And indeed it did. The synchronicities that led to their obtainment is well worth documenting but is an elaborate and remarkable story in and of itself, for a future Psililoquy.
When that fateful day did occur, nothing could hold me back. I had been preparing for years to become a cultivator of the sacred mushroom. But even still, I only consumed these powerful mushrooms at most every six weeks. It was just comforting to have them in the freezer. If there is an addictive tendency regarding psilocybin it is to admire the mushrooms in fresh or dried form. To contemplate them. To adore them.
Until 2009 I cultivated psilocybin as an impassioned hobby. They were always there. A PF tek was always going in my basement or closet. This method is so simple and discrete that my first wife never even knew I was growing them. Despite the grow being in the laundry room, only ten feet from the washing machine. And yes, she did most of the laundry. It wasn't until my second marriage that I began doing my fair share of that chore I am ashamed to say.
But secrets are never something that I have like keeping. After exiting this unreconcilable and unhealthy relationship of ten years, I vowed never to hide my passion for psilocybin from anyone that shared the passion of my romance. When I did find that partner and deemed her trustworthy, due to her obsession with cannabis and a family history of drug dealing, I was happy to show off my skills as a grower. In 2008, thanks to mechanical failure of prophylactic measures this former high school crush became mother of my second child. She moved in with me and my mushrooms.
Professionally at this time I was an educator. I taught middle school language arts in a urban, low income, private school. It was this environment that nurtured the concept of PLEDG (Psilocybin Liberation Education Discipline and Guidance) a 501c(3) organization that I founded that seeks to provide scholarships for psilocybin therapy to low income families, law enforcement and veterans. This organization is still active but in great need of human and financial resources if any of my readers hare interested.....
Having had numerous family members arrested for their high level leadership roles in the 1980s cannabis syndicate The Cornbread Mafia, I was terrified of drug arrest. Having seen the damage that it does to families, finances and futures. Recalling the night my uncles and cousins were arrested with terror and shame, I was exceedingly quiet about my cultivation. While traumatized by of my families involvement in what is still to this day and may forever be the largest known illicit U.S. cannabis operation, by my 20s I had learned that cannabis was not what I had been mislead to believe and took a certain amount of pride in this family history. But I was still terrified of being arrested myself and had never sold, only given away psilocybin mushrooms.
In 2009 a board member at Nativity Academy, where I had been teaching presented me a deal I couldn't pass. He had an 87 acre property outside of Paoli, IN only about an hour from Louisville. He would let me live there for a miniscule amount of rent if I would but care for the property. This property was everything that I had envisioned. Sixty-five acres of hardwood forest, a creek, a beautiful cabin, and two large outbuildings that could be easily outfitted for commercial scale mushroom cultivation, edibles of course. We moved there shortly after the birth of our son in September of 2009 and by November I had formed the LLC Magnificent Mushrooms.
At this time mushroom cultivation was still fringe worthy and to be honest, when I watch the video above it is cringeworthy but I am grateful for it as a documentation of my journey and shows me just how far mushrooms have brought me. Without psilocybin I would probably still be the depressed, man in black, that I presented myself as way back then. Growth is beautiful, if also painful.
An interesting aspect of my journey with mushrooms is that along the way most people have suggested or outright stated that due to the price per pound that gourmet and psychedelic mushrooms demand that I must be rolling in dough along with mycelium. The reality couldn't be farther from the truth. Admittedly, when I first started selling wild mushrooms at $15-$20 per pound, cultivated shiitake and lion's mane for $8-$12 per pound I had the same illusions of grandeur myself. I pretty quickly found out that this would not be the case. First of all wild harvested mushrooms are very seasonal, hard to move, expensive to store, and a hell of a lot work to harvest and clean. A week of hunting chanterelles or maitake may yield 100 to 200 pounds of mushrooms but the potential $2000-$4000 reward that comes in three or for times per year and, paid in full two to six weeks after delivery doesn't quite meet the needs of a family of four. And again, refrigeration and a delivery vehicles are not inexpensive.
Cultivated mushrooms have ungodly amounts of input, requiring expensive equipment, cold storage at every stage, food safer processing space, automated grow rooms and use inordinate amounts of electricity and natural gas. Producing 100-200lbs of shiitake per week at $8/pound is not a way to get wealthy. But I had passion! And that's all it takes to be successful right? Ha! If only. By popular standards, interest generated and individuals impacted, Magnificent Mushrooms was a indeed a success but by financial standards it was an anvil on a sinking ship. I had quit my teaching job to focus on the farm, with the support of my now second wife. She was working as an architect and was able to keep the house afloat. But even that, with our monthly weed and gasoline costs, was cutting it very close. The farm was supporting itself, but that was all.
For several years I was the only employee. Waking up at 4 am to do my lab work, sterilizing substrate in up to three, six hour cycles every day. I did all the culture maintenance, spawn production, substrate mixing, inoculations, grow room construction and maintenance, harvesting, cleaning, packaging, delivery, website and social media, billing and receiving, along with workshops, timber felling (we heated with wood and also grew shiitake on natural logs) and ongoing wild foraging. Again, I believe psilocybin at that time helped keep me sane.
Of course I was growing psilocybin and at a larger scale than ever before. I had accidently figured out some methods of outdoor cultivation in the summer that produced incredible, stunning, truly ridiculous results. But, I still never sold psilocybin. I gave it away, threw mushroom parties, helped people privately through their journeys. I was indeed slowly becoming an expert. In the setting of rural Indiana, I was able to consume sacred mushrooms monthly and did so gratefully from 2009-2011.
By the spring of 2011 however my then wife was becoming impatient with the farm's inability to contribute to our family's financial needs. Her borderline personality didn't pair well with the stress of barely making ends meet and we were often embroiled in raging arguments that would last for days. Having a few family friends that sold large amounts of cannabis, she began demanding that I sell psilocybin to them in bulk. At first these demands were soft, complimenting my skill, the beauty and potency of my mushrooms, suggesting that they were too good to keep to myself. As I continued to resist, fearful of the consequences and not wanting to get my sacred medicines tied up in a money making scheme, she became more adamant. It was irresponsible to have this resource and not use it to feed our family.
I consulted the mushrooms. I took a big dose all alone and asked them what to do.
"No." was their reply.
I told her the mushrooms said no. She relented for a couple of weeks and then began to push again and finally, I caved. Again, if you think selling psilocybin is a great way to make money, think again. Even at the street value of around $3000/dry pound, something that is consumed by most people, at most once per month in amounts of three to five grams, moving much quantity, in central Kentucky, especially in 2011 before psilocybin had the popular appeal that it does today, was pretty unrealistic. Needless to say she was disappointed. But the $500 to $1500 in cash per month did come in handy. So I did it. But the fighting continued and eventually to her I was nothing but a drug dealer. I could have predicted it all honestly. From the time our son was born it was obvious we were not a good fit. Actually we ignited the worst in each other. Often I would have to leave the house to prevent the altercations from turning violent.
Now in this narrative, among other things I have not mentioned that since 2003 I had been visiting Jamaica annually. My interest in Pan-African studies and Rastafarianism in particular was the impetus. I had made several friends there with guest houses and had been subconsciously aware that psilocybin was unregulated in Jamaica. The notorious Mrs. Brown and Tedd's Shroom Boom in Negril were documented on trip advisor and the like but it never occurred to me that this was any opportunity more than a chance to get kind of high on some shitty, field harvested and poorly dried mushrooms on the island. However, by Fall of 2011 my mushroom trips began telling me loud and clear that Jamaica was going to lead the world in psilocybin wellness and that I was going to set it off.
I consulted my wife about the idea of running psilocybin retreats in Jamaica. She thought it was foolish to say the least. But, one of our main points of contention was the fact that I followed my inspiration, sometimes to a fault, casting aside any doubt or fear to do what I believed was good for 'the cause', whatever that cause might be. So despite her disdain, I pushed on. The mushrooms didn't offer much option. As I said, any time I would take mushrooms they overwhelmingly started to tell me to prepare for this mission they were giving me. By 2012, when the Mayan calendar/end of the world fear was in full swing, I was taking five to ten grams of mushrooms every new moon and full moon by myself in the wilderness. Out on my 87 acres I would disappear on the back end of the property for six to eight hours and go through harrowing, hallowed, mystical trips in order to prepare myself for the daunting task of taking strangers from around the world on this journey.
Words cannot describe the things I saw and experienced. The knowledge that I gained, knowledge which was only a fraction of what would be revealed to me over the next nine years. My wife decided that if I was going to go ahead with this plan, then she was going to finally make good on her regularly recited threats to leave me destitute. To take her money and our son and watch me starve on that farm all alone. The irony of this self proclaimed 'witch' having such a hatred for my work with magic mushrooms still gives me a chuckle from time to time. So she left and I struggled exceedingly.
One of the things I have rarely stated much less publicly admitted is that even before I first consumed psilocybin, part of my desire to do so was this intimation in the back of my mind that magic mushrooms would give me access to 'the spirit world'. I know, I know. The whole reason that I have never said this out loud and to the public is because it sounds absolutely mad. And, it was an intention that I put way back in my mind. It is something that I could never have discussed in the container of MycoMeditations, the psilocybin retreat program that I founded in 2013 and even with Psanctuary it is still not something I want to have at the forefront of our work. But the thing that I have seen over the years, have not only given me a different understanding of this concept of 'spirit world' but have proven to me the reality of other dimensions, other levels of existence that we simultaneously live in, most of us completely unaware and in denial of. More of that in the future.
My journey that this Jamaican endeavor took me on likewise is impossible to surmise. In the course of seven years I administered at minimum, three doses of psilocybin to at least 1000 people. The things I saw, learned and experienced could and perhaps will one day fill volumes.
When I began those retreats I was still selling psilocybin in the Louisville area trying to make ends meet. By the spring of 2013 I had met the woman who finally was my match. A seemingly chance encounter that led to a relationship worthy of a documentary in and of itself. Courtney Rose McClure, a goddess among goddesses. We took mushrooms together regularly, solidifying the bond that we both felt in our first meeting. I expressed to her regularly a deep desire to cease from selling psilocybin illegally. To make money from the farm and the retreats. But shrooms were paying the bills...barely. I felt stuck. I couldn't advertise the retreats. As a dreadlocked, mushroom farmer openly speaking on the benefits of psilocybin and clandestinely selling it black market it would make me a target. I couldn't stop selling psilocybin because it kept the farm afloat.
Meanwhile in 2014, I began discussing with a medical doctor that I had become friends with, opening a psilocybin church. We did incorporate one actually, The Church of Soma, but shortly thereafter my fate become sealed when Courtney and I were arrested for psilocybin cultivation, possession and distribution. Three B felonies. The only things worse in the eyes of the law were rape and murder. Understandably we decided not to advance the church.
I have shared the details of that debacle elsewhere and won't dive into it here. It was formative to say the least. This event is what compelled me to advertise MycoMeditations and ultimately exposed it to the world. As mentioned previously the profundity of what I experienced at Myco cannot be summed up here or in any one article. It is safe to say though in a multitude of ways that the mushrooms have made me who I am and for this I am eternally thankful. The road has been arduous. There have been more terrifying and rewarding moments that I could ever relate but if there is one message that would like to transmit to you any reader who has made it this far in my little stroll down memory lane, it is to trust the process. Give yourself over to it as joyfully as you can. There is an intelligence that is guiding all of life it is only our egoic self that prevents it from happening as beautifully as it can.
Born into a divisive post-colonial world, at times I have fallen into the trap of competition. The outcomes have taught me that collaboration is how we succeed. Here I publicly confess my sins.
December 6, 2021
Eric recounts some of his personal and professional experiences regarding the use of sacred mushrooms for overcoming depression.
November 30, 2021
Athena describes her circuitous journey from a religious upbringing, which serendipitously introduced her to psilocybin. The mushrooms brought her to foreign lands, presented her with new friends and a multitude of experiences. All this has led to the founding of Psanctuary the sacred mushroom church. What more might the mushrooms have in store for her?
November 30, 2021