Lenin Was a Ruthless Mushroom Jesus, pt 1

Happy Global Mushroom Day!

In his obituary for Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), the writer Maksim Gorky (Peshkov) relays this anecdote:

Listening to Beethoven’s sonatas played by Isai Dobrowein at the home of Y. P. Peshkova in Moscow one evening, Lenin remarked:

“I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps naively so, to think that people can work such miracles!”

Wrinkling up his eyes, he smiled rather sadly, adding:

“But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things and pat the heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. One can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm—what a hellishly difficult job!”

I like to think that these references to Hell have a literal meaning—that Lenin saw our very reality as a jail for our souls and was scheming against its administration; that his war was mystical in nature.

It takes some effort to entertain this idea while maintaining integrity: Lenin’s writings present a straightforwardly materialistic view, a la Dawkins or Harris (whose “new atheism” bears an uncanny resemblance to the old “scientific atheism” taught in Soviet universities). To him, all religious thought was “ideological necrophilia”. When Gorky dismissed his contemporaries’ search for God as misguided because “gods are created, not found”, Lenin responded in an annoyed letter: “Searching for god is as different from building a god, designing a god, creating a god and so forth as a yellow devil is different from a blue one.”

But the ability to unite opposites in a meaningful and humorous way is a skill that’s getting more useful every day now. I need practice, and this is my exercise.

Professor David Klemm of Iowa University calls religion “a depth dimension” of reality. It’s not a separate category; any experience is religious if you go deep enough into it.

Putting it crudely: imagine it’s 1917, and you’re taking a ride in a sealed train car paid for by the German secret services back to your homeland that you’re planning to take over by force; imagine your life trajectory up to this point and the uncertainty that lies ahead; and then imagine you take a stiff dose of mushroom tea, diving into the “depth dimension” of this whole situation.

How will the train, the passenger, and the nature of the trip transform in the next several hours?

The principle “as above, so below” dictates what goes on in the spiritual realm must be reflected in the material one directly. It shouldn’t be hard to find common logic between Lenin’s atheism and anti-Tsarism.

In both cases, his enemy was the system. It wasn’t the Tsar he happened to live under, but Tsarism itself; and it wasn’t any particular god, but the very idea of one.

To think there shouldn’t be a Tsar is to oppose Tsarism ideologically. But if one aims to destroy it, he will do good to accept there was never a Tsar to begin with: there’s only a person who thinks that he’s one and a people tricked into accepting this arbitrary authority. When a slave proclaims he “has no masters”, he’s not denying the reality of the person who owns him on paper—he’s denying the legitimacy of “master” as category.

The same goes for God. Just like in the physical world there are people who get treated like kings, in the world of ideas, there are powerful entities—found or created, yellow or blue—that get treated like demons and gods. The ideas and people are real, it’s their kingly/godly status that’s in dispute.

When the Tsar and his family were shot in 1918, the real aim was not Nikolai, his wife and five children, but the Russian Tsar as an idea. Still, the people were real, and the people were killed. The idea, it’s been argued, survived and adapted, and found later expressions in Stalin and his successors.

Similarly, when Lenin aims at the notion of God, we can imagine its particular instantiations he’s shooting through. He doesn’t care which living god (or king) stands between him and the idea he has ruled to be dead. He’s trying to kill powerful, living ideas, just like he did with powerful, living people.

Again, Vladimir Ulyanov himself would reject the suggestion that gods have any reality to them whatsoever. But Vladimir Ulyanov is dead. He’s gone through a series of transformations in his long afterlife: from a real political figure to, in stages, a Soviet Pharaoh, a symbol of a failed regime, a post-modern meme, a mushroom and a radio-wave.

He may become a Gnostic warrior yet.

lenin icon

There was a human (as most believe) enemy of Lenin that did saw his war as mystical. His name was baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.

Ungern saw revolutions and revolutionaries as a force of pure evil that was destroying the proper order of things. This evil came from the West, and the remedy was to be found in the East. Ungern dreamt of restoring the empire of Genghis Khan from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea. It would have united “the yellow people”, who still had a connection to the noble ways of the past, defeated the bolsheviks in Russia and then launched a crusade to the West, ridding the world of the disease of revolutions.

He did have successes. The biggest one was the liberation of Mongolia and its theocratic ruler Bogd Khan (jailed at the time) from China. In Mongolia, Ungern adopted Buddhism (without rejecting Christianity) and donned a yellow Buddhist robe with shoulder marks of a Russian general. The symbols he used on his emblems included the Russian two-headed eagle, the swastika, yellow and red ornaments used in Buddhism, and the face of Jesus. He thought all religions to be different expressions of the one holy truth.

Ungern idealized the empires of old, where the king was deified. It is only “the tsars” who could “protect the truth, the good, and the honor”. “But people are selfish, arrogant, deceitful, they lost both faith and the truth, and there are no tsars anymore. With them gone, there is no happiness either, and even people looking for death cannot find it.”


A variation of this last line is sometimes attributed to an unnamed soldier who fought alongside Ungern: “To fight like he did, you need to either seek death, or be confident that you will never die.” His life-long military career is indeed filled with risky undertakings; one such maneuver he planned—a retreat into Tibet from Mongolia—led to an uprising. His tent was shot at, but he managed to flee.

He soon found his old Mongolian battalion and thought they would join him, but they weren’t looking for more fighting. The Mongols arrested the baron and tied him up (some considered him a war of god by this time, whom a bullet can’t touch). The plan was to surrender him to the White Guard, but the Reds caught them en route and transferred Ungern to Siberia.

In August 1921, Lenin made his opinion on the case of the baron known: “I advise you to pay this case a lot of attention, make sure the accusation is solid, and, if the proof is complete—which there is no reason to doubt—hold a speedy public hearing and execute him by shooting.“

This is exactly what happened.

“Lenin was a mushroom” is a line from a mockumentary piece shown on Soviet TV in January 1991.

The absurdist theory presented by the avant-garde musician Sergey Kurekhin was built on three key assertions: (1) Lenin was a long-time consumer of psychedelic mushrooms; (2) long-term use of psychedelic mushrooms leads to a displacement of the host’s self by that of the fungi; and (3) mushrooms, according to MIT research, are radio-waves:

Which is to say, a person becomes both a mushroom and a radio-wave in one unified image, do you understand?

Now let me tell you the most important part, the thing I’ve been leading up to. I have absolutely irrefutable proof that the entire October Revolution was made by people who had been consuming certain kinds of mushrooms for many years.

While being consumed, the mushrooms were displacing their human personalities, and so the people became mushrooms.

What I’m trying to say, simply put, is that Lenin was a mushroom.

And even more than that. Not only he was a mushroom, he was on top of that a radio-wave. Do you see?.."

Even though Kurekhin and his co-presenter Sholokhov laughed during the interview; and even though the semi-improvised pitch was filled with obvious errors and falsehoods; and even though one of Kurekhin’s main arguments was this picture, showing the similarities between an armored car, from the roof of which Lenin once spoke, and a diagram of a mushroom’s mycelium body:

Image result for ленин гриб схема

— there still were people who took it seriously. This is perhaps understandable because the late 1980s was a time of a disintegration of the Soviet world, when many shocking truths were uncovered for the first time, and also because the segment aired on TV—a medium that, for decades, had been under very tight control of the party.

The leader of the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party has apparently received an official request from the members demanding a clear statement on Lenin’s alleged fungi nature. Her response was that Lenin wasn’t a mushroom “because a mammal cannot be a plant.”

This statement is, of course, very suspicious, because fungi are neither plants nor animals, according both to Kurekhin (they’re radio-waves) and actual science (they make up a separate kingdom).

“Lenin was a mushroom” has entered the Russian ideascape so fully that even now, almost 30 years later, you can sometimes see mushrooms brought to statues of Lenin as tributes.

Lenin is not the only mythological figure who’s been rumored to have a secret mushroom connections.

Another one is Santa Claus.

Here’s Terence McKenna outlining the argument:

An example of how a very ancient folkway can be incorporated into our culture without us even realizing it is provided by discussing amanita muscaria. Look at what’s going on with Santa Claus.

First of all, Santa Claus’s colors are red and white—the colors of the amanita muscaria.

Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. What does this mean? It means he lives at the Axis Mundi, where Yggdrasil, the magic world ash has taken root.

Santa Claus flies. This is what shamans do.

Santa Claus is the master of reindeer, the animal most associated with amanita muscaria.

Santa Claus is aided in his work by troops of elves.

And what is the work of Santa Claus? To build toys for children. Remember the DMT things saying “Look at this! Look at this!”? Well, these were off-duty elves, clearly!

Christmas is about standing in front of the tree on Christmas morning with the gifts arrayed and the twinkling lights on. Well, that tree is the tree that the amanita muscaria forms its symbiotic relationship to, it’s always spruce or pine.

So the number of motifs relating Santa Claus to a cult of amanita muscaria… There’s almost nothing but relational motifs there! And yet if you suggest this to people, they just back away in horror, you know?

I’ll add here that putting presents into stockings which hang above a fireplace has always seemed like a mysterious custom to me (we don’t do this in Russia); but things do fall into place if the presents in question are mushrooms that need to be dried.

I’ll also add that image-searching for “Christmas cards mushrooms” is a revealing experience.

Image result for old christmas cards mushrooms

…OK. This is turning out to be longer than I expected. I think I’ll take a pause here, and we’ll pick this thing up some days later.

Hey, did you know you can reply to this email, and I’ll get your message—privately, as is appropriate for email exchanges? I would love to hear any reactions, questions or thoughts you might have. There’s also something called “threads”—a way to discuss things publicly on Substack—but I am not totally sure how it works. Maybe we can experiment with it in the following weeks.

Anyway, happy Global Mushroom Day, and please be nice to one another!


The trickery of understanding

What taxi drivers, dreams and Terence McKenna can teach us about the world

I sometimes talk to taxi drivers. Their worldview is sometimes unusual.

Last week, one tried to convince me that:

  1. St. Petersburg is five, maybe seven thousand years old—not three hundred with change, as the authorities (ultimately, the Vatican) would like us to think.

  2. Vladimir Putin isn’t a human. (“Tell me this: if you were a human, would you behave the way he does?” “How do you mean, if I were?..”)

  3. At least one of the people we saw in the streets was a robot made of metal (this made me suspect Putin is a robot too—not an ancient lizard, which is what I’d assumed at first).

  4. Our maps are wrong: in reality, neither of the Americas exist, Africa is connected to India, Australia is at a different angle, and Antarctica surrounds us from all sides.

I asked, “How do you know this?”

He said, “Some people get their facts from their grandma. Some, from their granddad. Some people get their facts from their heads.”

Terence McKenna once said:

The shaman told the people where the reindeer had moved. He was a futurist, a forecaster, a planner. And this is what we need—this kind of intuition with integrity that isn’t depending on statistical models, which are always wrong…

I mean, you must have noticed—everybody here who reads the Time magazine, or The New York Times, or The London Times—you must have noticed this weird paradox, which is: You know more than most of the experts. You’re better at predicting the price of gold, the movement of the stock market, the political situation in Argentina…

Have you noticed, on NPR, when they pull together three of these guys—so-and-so, Georgetown University Sovietologist—and you say, “Well, these guys, they’re alright. They seem… tolerable.”

Well, they’ve given their lives to understanding this stuff, and what do you care? And you’re a fully empowered player when you sit down with them! In many cases, you know more than they do!

It’s because their intuition is totally dead. They can’t make sense out of the situation because their way of analyzing it is flawed.

Well, somehow, the grassroots, good sense, the common sense of ordinary people needs to be reflected.

I agree with this, but so, probably, would my driver. And I only agree with my driver in a very broad and somewhat slippery sense.

A couple of years ago I went to sleep on somebody’s couch contemplating whether I should or shouldn’t smoke DMT the following day.

I dreamt I was at a party in that same apartment. My indecision carried over into the dream, and I shared it with a long-haired character who seemed knowledgeable.

He made a face:

— I really don’t understand why anybody would want to do DMT, ever.

— Really? I’ve done it a few times and feel I’ve gotten some questions answered.

He continued to make a face.

— What kind of questions can DMT answer? I suppose, if you’re concerned with some goofiness like the nature of time…

I raised my eyebrows:

— Now that you mention…

So then he paused, and sighed, and explained to me what time was.

Time, he said, is a name of a comedian. He’s best known for a prank that’s now considered a classic. It consists of the notion that the present comes out of the past, and the future out of the present. Before this—“How is there a before?”, I wondered—nobody looked at things this way. Past, present and future existed on the same level and changed simultaneously.

The tone of his voice was exactly what you’d expect from somebody explaining a joke that was funny at first and has gotten old since. It was an attempt at mercy.

I felt awkward, but I also felt a relief—like you do when the prank is over and you finally “get it”. The truth is I can’t really say that I do.

In a different dream, I saw a news report about Trump breaking a folding chair over the back of his long-time political rival. Their conflict had been taken seriously for years, but this fight was obviously choreographed—very WWE.

I watched the footage and thought, there are two ways this can develop. Either the people will conclude that all politics is a farce and then stop paying attention; or political wrestling will become a new norm.

The latter seemed plausible. I anticipated the reasoning: Yes, individual fights are staged, but the final results of the championship might be not; they are very important symbolically and may depend on the levels of public support different players enjoy. So, it is your duty as a citizen to root, and root visibly. Ignoring the game is, at best, irresponsible—and at worst, evil.

I couldn’t tell which way it would go.


Rebecca Burger was a French Instagram model. She was very focused on self-care, fitness, health and appearance. Most of the pictures on her feed were of herself, but the very last one, made by her relatives, is of a pressurized whipped cream dispenser. She was 33 when it exploded and killed her.

I think of Rebecca every now and again. Most recently, she came to mind when I heard British journalist Johann Hari say there’s a question that everybody’s prepared to answer in the US, but that you never hear in the UK.

The question is “What’s your story?”

I thought, there’s a kind of fairness, and a kind of ruthlessness, in not knowing how one’s story is going to end and what it’ll ultimately be about.

David Crowley was an American boy who liked to play war. In teenage years, he picked up paintball. After finishing school, he joined the army and went to Iraq.

Real war, its history and geography changed the way David saw the world. He came to Iraq because he wanted to serve his country. But the more he thought about it, the more people he killed and saw being killed, the less clear it was whom he was serving. By the end of his tour, he decided it wasn’t America. It was what he called the World Government, a shadowy and powerful entity which starts and leads wars to control money and population.

Upon his return, David set out to express his new-found worldview by making an action film—an intense movie experience that would serve as a warning to the American citizenry. The project was called Gray State and seemed (judging by the trailer he created with friends) to be the ultimate conspiracy theory film: the US government, now openly controlled by the UN, orders a curfew and implants the population with microchips; the military executes people in the street; there are scenes of creepy occult rituals.

Image result for gray state movie

There wasn’t even a script at this stage. The plan was to put so much effort into the trailer that it would make a splash—and then, with the initial reaction as a promise of further success, look for funders. It worked.

David was invited to speak at a Libertarian conference. Alex Jones promoted Gray State on his show. A couple of Hollywood producers showed interest and promised to pay when the screenplay is finished.

But the screenplay wasn’t being finished.

The story grew bigger and began to consume David’s whole life. Multiple storylines were represented by a wall of notes connected with strings on a wall in his house. The Hero’s Journey, which he learned about in film school, was getting difficult to trace.

Related image

The director became depressed and reclusive. He stopped talking to friends. His social circle was now limited to his wife—a Muslim woman who quickly converted to Christianity after they met—and their daughter.

Their family life is documented in the home videos they used to record. Some of them are spooky. In one, David’s daughter, about to be four, points to pictures of animals in her book. He asks:

— Are you going to kill?

— No I’m not!

— You’re not going to kill, why?

— I’m not going to kill! He’s a baby!

David laughs: “We definitely don’t kill babies, do we?” The girl then asks, clumsily: “When I was a baby, and then you don’t kill me when I was a baby?”

— No, no one killed you. We couldn’t pull it off.

The reason this is spooky is that they did, about a year later.

The official version is murder-suicide. David is supposed to have killed his family, then written ALLAHU AKBAR with their blood on the wall, and then shot himself. The home videos feature a conversation between him and his wife about a voice she had heard that was preparing them for “ascending”.

The official version did not seem convincing to the conspiracy-minded folks awaiting the movie. David wasn’t Muslim, so why would he write ALLAHU AKBAR? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the author of an anti-government movie was killed by—well—the government?

Image result for gray state allah akbar

To me, this is a story about a man who got entangled with an idea that was too dark and too powerful for him.

The movie was to be a political prophecy, both a revelation and a program statement for a growing underground movement. The idea behind it—a sense of approaching doom, which intertwined politics with mysticism, terror and mystery—was too large for an ex-Marine to express in the language of cinema. So the idea found a different means of expression.

Instead of entering our reality though a Hollywood movie, it did so through a news story about a mysterious death of a family of three. And after that, a movie did follow—a 2017 documentary called A Gray State, which I recommend watching while high.

The way I remember my friend Olya is with a huge shining smile on her face. We didn’t see each other a lot in the last years of her life. She was always in a new place: India or Iraq or the US or Ukraine. She worked as a freelance journalist and made very good photos of very troubled places.

The last time when we talked regularly was when she moved back to our hometown to finish the education she had abandoned years earlier. It was a stressful time and environment for her. She felt that other students—mostly men, all younger than her—were talking behind her back. They were mocking her for being weird and older and a woman, or at least that’s what she thought. She might have imagined that. She started imagining other, more troublesome things later.

At the peak of her psychosis she thought she was a target of a malicious international network. The kids in the university were involved, but so were her relatives, and people in governments of various countries, and people she’s met in her travels. At one point, the whole population of a small Greek town seemed to be agents.

She would log onto Facebook with a fake account and visit pages where people shared funny pictures of cats. She thought that every cat meme she saw was a personal, veiled attack on her. Dogs were associated with men, and cats with women, and she was like those cats in those pictures—something to condescend to and laugh at.

I didn’t know it was so bad until after she died. I did know of some of her episodes. We talked, and I tried to help her see that there is no conspiracy while not being dismissive or condescending. I thought I had some success. The last time she mentioned this business to me, she described it as something she’d gotten over.

I later learned it had gotten much worse for her, and then better again, and then worse, and so on. She was treated by a psychiatrist and put on medication. The pills helped her deal with delusions, but drained her of inspiration or will to do anything other than sleep.

Long story short, she hung herself in her hometown, in her mother’s apartment, after a nice vacation she had with her husband in Greece. He thinks she must have expected this period of lucidity to be followed by another unset of disease, and she was not going to go there again.

I sometimes think that what she felt about the people around—that they weren’t who they said they were—wasn’t totally wrong. Maybe she was picking up on the pretending that goes on inside us, like when we don’t know who we are or how we feel or what we want, but we carry on as if we do, and as if all those things are basically good.

My father died in my lap. He was having violent seizures which came in cycles: first he pressed his teeth hard and growled, eyes bulging, then had a minute or two of breathing normally and being able to talk, and then another seizure would follow. This repeated three or four times. I kept telling him that the ambulance was on its way and that he needed to hang in there, and I also asked him where it hurt. His responses were “Everything is ok” and “Everything is tip-top.”

I thought he was still alive when the ambulance arrived, but I guess he wasn’t. What the paramedic said when he entered the room was “It’s over. Grandpa’s dead.” My father was 56.

His last words were that everything was tip-top, and I think I’ve internalized them as some kind of belief. I don’t know if it’s right.

The thing about death is there’s just not very much you can do with it.

Theology of procrastination

You're distracting God from Something Very Important, and the Deadline is coming


You haven’t subscribed to this email list, so it’s a little fucked up that you’re on it. But you have, probably, subscribed to a Russian newsletter I started and then immediately abandoned last year; or you’ve given me money on Patreon; or you’re one of the four people that I know personally whose addresses I added by hand.

Those are the reasons I thought you might like to receive this email; if I was mistaken, please accept my apology and hit “Unsubscribe” at the bottom of the page. (I’m assuming there’s a button like that.)

What happened is I was looking into this newsletter platform (Substack) for work, and then I created an account just to see how it looks from the inside, and now here we are: I am not doing work anymore.

I’m pitching you a religion about a God who’s not doing his work.

There’s a suspicion that persists throughout history and pops up in various traditions all over the world—that our reality is somehow not where it’s at. It’s an illusion, a jail, a work of art, a model or simulation—something reasonably captivating, but still different from the Real Thing. And the Real Thing is something we can’t perceive directly, but sort of miss, sense a lack of.

My proposal is a variation on this theme, which one of you—someone, I’m thinking, with contacts in Silicon Valley—could, I am sure, monetize.

What if our world is a product—a process—of Divine Procrastination?

Which is to say, God has a serious task he knows he has to attend to, but it is so daunting, intimidating, difficult to face, that he uses us, our pain and pleasures and personalities, to try to avoid it.

He probably doesn’t quite know what it is that makes him look away. He might have been distracted for so long he can’t remember what it was that he was supposed to be doing. Sometimes you feel your life’s lacking meaning— this is God realizing you’re not what he was planning to do.

There’s an apocalyptical angle: sooner or later, via a deadline or personal discipline, the real work will have to begin, which will mean an end to us as distractions.

And there’s a doctrine of salvation: to survive the mind-wandering phase of today, one needs to make their life an idea that will make its way into the Project.

You know how sometimes a thought just pops into your head while you’re in the shower, or taking a walk, or falling asleep, or watching a movie? Some of these are random and easily forgotten, but some grasp your attention and find ways to connect to other things in your life, be they work or relationships or creative endeavors; they survive the state of consciousness they emerged in and have a life outside.

Be that idea. God is distracted by you, for a time. Be something that will continue to matter when he regains control.

The challenge, of course, is we can’t, almost by definition, know what that Work Project is. What is that thing that God is looking away from?

I suppose this is where you want to start charging money or demanding free labor from your converts. Is this how all religions operate, do you think?

You take the emptiness, the frightening unanswered question at the heart of your system, and turn it into a promise. Do you want to become relevant in God’s eyes? To turn your life from a shameful, soul-sucking distraction into a spontaneous insight the Universe has been hoping for?

Something like this could go on the brochure or the online landing page for this cult, which I’m not going to start. (So you’re free to.)

I’m just seeing if starting an email list is something I can accomplish.

OK, I’m clicking on “Publish & Send Email”. Let’s see what that does.

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