Cohen, Dr Sidney - On ergotism
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Beyond within – Dr Sidney Cohen
For centuries from Spain to Russia, the parasitic fungus ergot spoiled many a rye field during a particularly wet summer. When, through avariciousness, hunger or ignorance, the contaminated flour was baked into bread and eaten, gangrene of the extremities resulted.
‘St Anthony’s fire’ it was called, and the blackened fingers and toes did look charred. Abortions, visual disturbances and mental changes culminating in epidemics of madness after eating spoiled rye flour are also recorded during the Middle Ages. Ergot, the purple fungus, claviceps purpurea, is a veritable chemical factory.
It contains a large number of active substances, including ergotine, which is used after childbirth to contract the uterus and ergotamine, used for the treatment of migraine headaches.
Lysergic acid is also one of the related constituents, but lysergic acid itself is not hallucinogenic. The mental aberrations of ergotism (the name given to the symptoms resulting from ergot consumption) were probably due to overdoses of the vasoconstricting ergot alkaloids combined with the fearfulness and hysteria engendered by this widespread mutilating affliction.