Taking the Piss: Reindeer and Fly Agaric

One of the more persistent myths about the fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, the familiar red and white-spotted mushrooms of fairy-tale, the uber-shroom, is this: that in the Arctic, where there is a history of intentional fly-agaric use, people wait to find a reindeer intoxicated on the mushrooms, then collect and drink its urine to get high.


While it's true that the active ingredients of the fly-agaric, ibotenic acid and muscimol, are excreted unmetabolised, that human urine can be, and is, thusly consumed, and that reindeer do get off on the mushroom, the reindeer-urine part of the story always seemed to me to be a little far-fetched, a confabulation. When researching Shroom I could find no evidence for it. I mean, think about it - how would you actually collect urine from a bemushroomed reindeer staggering about the tundra?

Well, it turns out I was wrong.

This week I made my annual visit to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there I met a reindeer herder, with herds in both Britain and Scandinavia. We got chatting and I asked him whether it was true that reindeer have a taste for human urine. Quite true. They'll lap it up from the snow. And then, unprompted, he told me the following story.


Once, while living amongst the Saami, his hosts started feeding reindeer with fly-agarics, which the deer consumed with some relish. Waiting for nature to take its course, the fruits of micturition were collected in a bucket (strapped to the animals' flanks perhaps?), boiled up in a pot (I'm guessing to concentrate the brew or perhaps to make it more potable) and shared round.

"I don't drink and I've never taken any drugs" he told me. "But I took some when they passed it round. Well, you have to, don't you? They expect it. Anyway, I was high as a kite I was, high as a kite. There was an old eighty year old grandmother with us, and I fancied her, that's how high I was. High as a bloody kite!"

So there you have it. A report from a credible witness that some Saami do drink fly-agaric-imbued reindeer urine and that the effects are palpable. I stand corrected.

11 comments:

  1. Funnily enough, Rima and I were discussing the practicalities of collecting exactly this fly-agaric-into-reindeer-piss this very morning with our first cup of tea, wondering too if one would strap a bucket onto the reindeer or just wait for it to oblige. Must be something in the air.

    There was an old eighty year old grandmother with us, and I fancied her, that's how high I was. Marvellous! A warning to us all...

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  2. Holy reindeer pee! You totally live in a different universe, Andy. To come across someone who just *happens* to have done the thing you thought improbable, well... my, my! What a crazy world we live in, huh? What kind of high was it, I wonder?

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  3. Now you come to mention it, Hex, that is quite weird...as is the fact that you were having the same conversation this morning Tom. Something in the air, or possibly in the soil...xxx

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  4. During a fit of insomnia recently, a fly-agaric story popped into my head. She called herself Madam Craw and her cakes, wrinkly and red, crawbread. I might post it up here. Possibly. It's quite odd, even by my standards...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Andy ,I remember an old tale in which Crow eats Amanitas to get the strength to carry/move a whale. I always wondered if that was the origin of Fly Agarics being called Crow's Bread. So I listen forward to hearing Madam Craw's story.

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  5. As one married to a half Finn, I always knew there was something odd about him and his family...he has an aunt who (when she found it in the woods at the house) brings bear poo in on a plate! Now I know why.

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    Replies
    1. Actually, bears were considered sacred to pre-Christian Finns. There was an elaborate ritual involving hunting a bear so as to ensure the safe return of game, and so that the bear could be given its due honour. From what I've read, there are some striking similarities to the bear ceremonies of the Ainu culture from Japan and Sakhalin Island.

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  6. Nodding my head in agreement with Charlotte.

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  7. I left some out to dry...a cat found them and ate some...the smell is irrestable to cats...the cat tried to bury itself...we found it stiff in the morning with its ass sticking up out of the ground.

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  8. How interesting .... I had some homebrew beer once back in the 1980s which had been made with fly-agarics added. Unfortunately I can't tell you what the direct result was as numerous other intoxicants had already been taken over the course of that weekend. The dim and distant past and in some ways happy days ....a melting pot indeed.

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  9. I once, back in the dark days of the eighties, worked with an archaelogicical type of dude who's doctoral thesis was that the 'Beaker Peoples' beakers were, in fact the vessel in which said Reindeer piss was imbibed, his thesis was that not only was that the case but that the object was imbued with social status by the fact that the same vessel was used to share the Shamans' piss with the rest (of us, origins of communion?). Practical Socialism at work? Anyway, cool post. PS the dude also had ideas about Santa Claus, red and white imagery and flying reindeer. Taking the piss? Always. See you at the Maying, maybe.

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