Appeasing the Mushroom Gods
: A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis of Magic Mushroom Users' Constructions of Meanings Surrounding Psilocybin Mushroom Use

  • James Thompson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Magic mushrooms, more than any other psychoactive substance, are steeped in mythology. Since their (re)discovery by the West in the mid-20th Century they have been constructed as spiritual sacraments, recreational drugs, psychological tools and gateways to metaphysical realities (Letcher 2007). Each of these conceptions represents multiple and competing discourses which constitute magic mushrooms and the experiences they occasion. In this thesis I address how these multiple and competing discourses are utilised and negotiated by people who consume magic mushrooms in the contemporary social world. Data was generated for this study through active interviews, combing narrative and semi-structured styles, which were conducted in person, via Skype and by telephone. Twenty three participants (7 female, 16 male; aged 19-60) were recruited to the study representing varied styles and frequencies of magic mushroom use; from psychedelic enthusiast ‘psychonauts’ to more casual poly-drug users. Using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis I explore the discourses participants mobilised and negotiated in constructing accounts of the meanings surrounding magic mushrooms. Analysis focused upon three key aspects of magic mushrooms, their use and the experiences they occasion: ‘what magic mushrooms do’; how participants conceptualised the ways they ‘alter reality’, ‘what magic mushrooms are’; ‘natural’ drugs or beings with agency, and ‘what magic mushrooms are for’; recreation or spiritual improvement. In addition I explore the relationships between discourses; how magic mushroom users construct new and complex understandings by negotiating, wrestling, and playing with available discourses, to make sense of experiences which often appear ineffable and bizarre. In exploring these discourses and the relationships between them, participants constructed magic mushrooms in three broad ways: as ‘just drugs’ as ‘drugs of distinction’ and as ‘neo-shamanic sacraments’. I discuss these ways of conceptualising magic mushrooms in light of the dominant neo-liberal order and the limited potential of magic mushrooms to provide a counter-cultural alternative.
Date of Award21 Nov 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris Griffin (Supervisor) & Helen Lucey (Supervisor)

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