Mushrooms in Hell

In Europe, what seems to bond toads and toadstools strongly is their shared role as potentially toxic "agents of death," and their close associations with magic and the supernatural. In Christian thought, both were seen to represent the dark and evil threads of nature's tapestry. Both appeared in late medieval art in representations of hell, particularly in the work of Flemish artists. One corner of an engraved print, from a design drawn by Pieter Breughel the Elder, depicts toadstools growing out of the vent that emerges from above the mouth of hell. Perched on the lip of the cave's mouth, an amphibious creature urinates.

Urination is another strange feature bonding toads and fungi. Among tribes in Siberia who consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms, urine had a special magical significance, which is described later. The toad is linked in France with the Devil, who was said to limp. According to one folk tradition, Satan gained his limp when he was flung out of paradise. He landed in a blackberry bush and was said to be so angered (or "pissed off") that he urinated on the plant. In parts of medieval Europe the blackberry was shunned on account of this Satanic reputation, despite being a useful natural source of vitamin C. In the Roman period the word rubeta was a title commonly applied to the toad in Latin. Rubeta also means "blackberry." The bramble may resemble the warty toad by reason of the nodules on its fruit.

Image and excerpt from Adrian Morgan's Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Folklore, and Cultural Oddities of a Strange Association, (1995, p. 9).

For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see:

  • Aztec Mushroom Ceremony
  • Aztec Fungi and Demon
  • Fresco Plaincourault Possibly Depicting Fly Agaric
  • Greek Vase with Perseus and Fungi
  • Hittite Idols and Royal Seals
  • Ixion and Fungi
  • Magdalenian Painting of a Horse
  • Mayan Deities with Mushrooms
  • Mayan Mushroom?
  • Mushroom Stones
  • Palette of Narmer
  • Sassanian Silver Dish
  • Textile Designs with Mushrooms
  • Mushrooms In Hell
    Mushrooms In Hell Description