Jordan Peterson Doesn’t Understand Mushrooms

Colossal dipshit Jordan Peterson is at it again, and this time his bullshit is in my wheelhouse. (Well, okay, so are most of the other topics he spews nonsense about, but this is a rather particular wheelhouse that most people don’t share.)

I’m a mycophile, an amateur mycologist of sorts. I’m no David Arora, but I can tell a bolete from a chantrelle from a lactarius from a cortinarius. You get the gist.

It’s mainly practical knowledge used in foraging culinary mushrooms out in the woods, but it’s become a bit of a geekery thing for me as well. And, of course, the, ahem, divinatory aspects of certain species are fascinating as well.

So imagine my surprise and amusement when, scrolling through the Faceborg, I came across a post in one of my regional mushroom ID and information groups that went thusly:

In a video, Dr. Jordan Peterson vocalized that vikings ate Amanita Muscaria to desensitize themselves to death and violence before raiding other villages. Im curious to know if anyone has first hand experience eating A Muscaria? I am fully aware that it is neurotoxic and dangerous. I was not thinking about consuming it myself, but was just interested in the matter. Thoughts?

My first thought was, “Why do these donks always use words like ‘vocalize’ instead of the perfectly fine and non-douchey ‘said’?” I reckon it is because JBP himself tends to use lots of ten-dollar words when they aren’t needed, so his fawning admirers imitate him to feel smart. (Jordan Peterson is, of course, a stupid person’s idea of a smart man, but moving on.)

My second thought, which I expressed, was “Pretty sure the vomiting and other highly unpleasant physical symptoms would preclude effective raiding, lmao. Also the delirium probably wouldn’t help.” (I did, BTW, check to see whether Peterson had “vocalized” this: it’s true, and the video is here. Mercifully it’s in the first few minutes, but really, don’t feel obligated to watch it. I did and you can trust me that it’s dumb.)

I mean, the psychoactive properties of A. muscaria would not, in any case, be conducive something like raiding – but we’ll get to that in a minute. In the dose required to even have significant psychoactive effects, Wikipedia (which I’m using as a source because lazy) tells us that:

Fly agarics are known for the unpredictability of their effects. Depending on habitat and the amount ingested per body weight, effects can range from nausea and twitching to drowsiness, cholinergic crisis-like effects (low blood pressure, sweating and salivation), auditory and visual distortions, mood changes, euphoria, relaxation, ataxia, and loss of equilibrium.[45][46][51][54]
In cases of serious poisoning the mushroom causes delirium, somewhat similar in effect to anticholinergic poisoning (such as that caused by Datura stramonium), characterised by bouts of marked agitation with confusion, hallucinations, and irritability followed by periods of central nervous system depression. Seizures and coma may also occur in severe poisonings.[46][51]

Sounds like a party! Doesn’t sound very helpful for raiding, though.

Now, the fly agaric has been and in some instances still is, in fact, used in a ritual manner by northern Eurasian peoples as part of the practice of shamanism. They were well aware of the physical effects, though, and would often run them through a reindeer and drink the urine to avoid them.

The psychoactive effects wouldn’t be very helpful, either. Just ask this fox:

A few highlights from the Erowid A. muscaria “experiences” page:

The next part is beyond description and the most terrified that I have ever been in my life. I think I now know what people mean when they describe the void because that’s all there was. It was like my whole previous life, with everyone, and everything, in it had been one long dream, and that I had woken up in the void where nothing existed, had ever existed, or would exist in the future. Nothing is more terrifying or crazy like a mind that has not only been cut off from everything else, but also realizes that they never existed, and were only a dream. Time stretched off so far into the future that it no longer existed, past, present, and futures were one. I pleaded to no one for death at this point, but being alone and immortal there was no escape.

The fella above also ended up in the hospital after his wife found him prone on the bathroom floor, foaming at the mouth and convulsing with his eyes rolled up in his head.


Now I was getting a still image smaller than what it should be, as if I was looking through binoculars backwards, and it was rapidly zooming towards me. This repeated over and over again with the same image (because I was standing still staring off into space), increasing in speed with each repetition. Then it felt like I was repeating the same moment over and over again, as if time had begun to repeat itself rather than just the image zooming at me. At this point, I completely lost my mind.
I came to the sudden realization that I was in hell. Hell was realizing that your entire life up until that point is nothing but a false memory and that you will continue to experience that moment forever, and it would always be fresh. Nothing that I thought I did in life mattered, and it made no difference which choices I made, because ultimately, at some arbitrary and anticlimactic moment, I would realize I was in hell and that I would repeat my life over again from the beginning without this knowledge I had suddenly acquired. I screamed, ‘Oh god! OH MY GOD! I’M IN HELL!!!’

Even the positive experiences don’t really sound like they’d be conducive to raiding:

4:00 pm Life is so beautiful. I can feel every beat of the music in my blood, in my muscles, in every cell of my body. Swaying to the beat, in my chair, I’m losing all sense of time. After this point, I can’t give any timelines, because time simply didn’t matter any more. I remember thinking that I felt so incredibly happy inside, all I wanted to do was dance to the music. I have no idea how long I danced for, but it was incredible. Keep in mind, I HATE dancing. Normally I have two left feet, but the music literally felt like it was inside me. Piece of cake, this dancing bit! 🙂
Some time later, after the dancing bit, I felt such peace inside. I felt like I literally became one with everything in the universe, I became the wall, I became the sofa, I became the painting on the wall, I became my house, I became the sky. It was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever experienced, bar none.

And so on.

I was curious about where this cockamamie idea came from, and it turns out that it is a long discredited but frequently regurgitated and spread idea that Peterson credulously accepted without doing any actual research or thinking.

Imagine that.

7 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson Doesn’t Understand Mushrooms

  1. 1. Emma’s description of JP is still my favourite:
    “It was like Joseph Campbell got hit by a bus and no one noticed, and he staggered across the street to the public library with blood running down his head, and he read nineteen pages of The White Goddess, and three chapters of The Golden Bough, and then the last two-thirds of Émile Durkheim’s Wikipedia page, and suddenly he understood the shape of the world beneath its shroud of falsehoods and deceits. And also he lost about 50 I.Q. points. And Peterson’s fans are all so dumb they’re unable to notice that not only is their Emperor naked, he’s actually a horse. I don’t know how that anthropomorphized clownshoe has been able to pass himself off as an intellectual for all these years.”

    2. I greatly enjoyed that “Skeptical Humanities” blogpost you linked to. The author has read far more Icelandic sagas than I ever will, but I can confirm her main point about the literary evidence for a ‘shroom-consumption / bareserker link, i.e. there is none. It’s one of those fascinating trails of scholarly engarbagement in which a series of scholars quote one another, progressively fabricating their own contributions and misunderstanding the fabrications of their predecessors, finally presenting a body of belief as if it is universally accepted when in fact it has no factual support at all.

    The quoted description of a Bareserker fit — “This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its color” — it sounds a lot like the description of Glamr the revenant from Grettir’s Saga.

    3. I have only ever eaten A. muscaria in the detoxified form so I cannot speak of its effects, but everyone seems to class it as a deliriant (including the people I know who do consume). It gets you off your face, fucked up beyond belief. It is not a super-warrior drug. As for the circum-polar Finno-Ugric cultures who used it for shamanic reasons, they gave it up as soon as they had access to alcohol, because the side-effects of vodka are so much less dire.

    4. Jordan Peterson is a moron with a head full of predigested scraps of misinformation. He prefers neat-sounding narratives to reality. There is enough of an audience who also prefer neat-sounding narratives, sewn together from predigested scraps of misinformation, to provide him with a steady income.

  2. @Uncle Smut:

    As for the circum-polar Finno-Ugric cultures who used it for shamanic reasons, they gave it up as soon as they had access to alcohol, because the side-effects of vodka are so much less dire.

    This is a really interesting statement to me for… reasons. I did a small amount of poking around, and didn’t find anything about Finno-Ugric shamans drinking vodka, but I did find this:

    It’s interesting because a lot of American self-styled shamans say things like “no true shaman uses alcohol” and the like.

    1. I am interpolating there to a certain extent. The Samoyedic shamans seem to have given up the shrooms, anyway. I know I would, if someone offered me akvavit as an alternative.

  3. I was told in a course on the safe identification of mushrooms taught by Patrick Harding of Sheffield Uniersity, that the reason far northern cultures used mushrooms like fly agaric was because they couldn’t reliably brew alcohol through the winter. Patrick reckoned phrases like ‘taking the piss’ originated in those cultures because you could indeed ‘take’ the piss for an interesting evening. He also said that reindeer were known to eat the yellow snow in search of that high.

    Hi JP, good to hear about this place, hope you are doing ok.

    1. Isn’t “taking the piss” more like making fun of, though? I’ll have to try to look up the history of the phrase. 🙂

      Doing good, thanks. Good to see you here! Don’t be a stranger.

      I currently am in bed with an orange tabby sleeping on top of me. Reminds me that I should probably be getting to bed as well; it’s appallingly late/early here.

  4. A deliriant when you consume it directly. The vikings would let it ‘pass through’ a reindeer to detoxify in before consumption. So all the quotes of people eating amanitas, are quite useless to back up the statements made in this article.

    1. How do you know the Vikings did that? Got a source? There are actual sources describing far-north Finno-Ugric peoples doing that, but definitely none of Vikings.

      And it’s still a deliriant after that, anyway. Running it through a reindeer only mitigates the somatic effects.

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