You don’t have to be a mycologist to enjoy Brian Blomerth’s new art book, Mycelium Wassonii — you could also be a fan of amazing graphic storytelling, interested in the cultural roots of mushroom as ritual and medicine, or eager to learn about some of the unsung heroines that helped establish the taxonomy of Mexican psilocybin.
The book is a visual biography of the early married years of R. Gordon and Valentina “Tina” Wasson — a couple that discovered, on their honeymoon, a radically different perspective on mushrooms. Tina was raised in Russia, foraging in the forests to find these staple foods, while Gordon regarded them as morbid harbingers of death and tantamount to eating worms or dirt. The couple coined the terms “mycophilia” and “mycophobia” to characterize their respective differences for mushrooming as a practice. Ultimately, Tina was able to inoculate Gordon with her enthusiasm for mushrooms. As the narrative follows their return to the city, it witnesses their embarkment on a professional journey through ethnomycology, including cultural traditions and applications of psilocybin and amanita mushrooms — work for which R. Gordon Wasson eventually made a name in the field. In fact, the book’s title refers to a taxonomic near-miss, as Gordon and Roger Heim’s Les champignons hallucinogènes du Mexique designated a newly-discovered species under the name “Psilocybe wassonii,” but was edged out by another name, published mere weeks before the release of their own research.
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Image courtesy Anthology Editions.