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 imagine 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.
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:
— 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.
…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!