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Mushrooms w/ a Dash of Dune Spice

“If the place I want to get could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now”

—Ludwig Wittgenstein

Frank Herbert’s, Dune, had two fundamental inspirations, both of which were literally just beneath his feet. In my previous article, Dune’s Dunes, I wrote about the sand dunes of Oregon and how they captured the author’s imagination. But this is about the Spice of Dune and how it came to be. Even if you are aware that magic mushrooms (psilocybin) were the source, the depth of the author’s experience with the fungi ran deep.

Frank Herbert was an enthusiastic mushroom cultivator and is even mentioned in Paul Stamets book, “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World”. Stamets lauds Herbert’s methods in pouring a 5-gallon bucket of spore mass near newly planted firs and calls it, “following nature’s lead”, in order to inoculate the fungi. Stamets wrote on:

“Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune—the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant sand worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Fremen (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by the tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico)—came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.”

Spice in Dune not only makes intergalactic space travel possible, it extends life and expands consciousness, making it the most precious element in the Universe. More than just a partaker in magic mushrooms, Herbert devoted time and energy to grow them, nurture and observe them, a near perfect metaphor for a writer’s process. Just as a day of a flurry of words and spores can be exhilarating, the failures of a discarded manuscript or a lost crop can teach the person far more. Tending to words and fungi requires patience and solitude, a remove from the flux of time. The literal fruit of Herbert’s labors would allow him to mentally (some might say, spiritually) transcend Time and Space. The dunes of Oregon became haunted by Sand Worms, while the psilocybin in his system became the Spice Melange of the Universe.

Frank Herbert spent six years researching sand dunes before writing what would become volumes of work. Along the way, his hands tended to the mushrooms while his mind built a world upon the fundamental building blocks of dunes and psilocybin. Regardless of the particular inspirations for Herbert, what fascinates me is how something that is right beneath our feet can inspire a world. Van Gogh stared at haystacks and painted their essences. Goethe observed the life-cycles of plants and noticed a metamorphic affinity among them all. Darwin observed the wildlife of the Galapagos and his backyard and came up with On the Origin, after many years of thought and reflection. Inspiration might lie across oceans and it could be just down the block. Never mind the ladder, no matter where you go, there, inspiration might lie.

Hayden Moore

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