Cultivating the Shroom Within

He didn’t seek it, it sought him out, tracing him up his family tree, singling him out for special attention, guiding his careers before he knew about it, hiding in seductive guises, calling to him from far fields. It chose him: he had no choice. The Pike Market firm formerly known as a head shop has several kits for growing your own cubensis ‘shrooms: after all, the Pacific Northwest is a Mecca of Mushrooms, magic or otherwise. But Mimi, about as hip to consumer head technology as it’s safe to be, says the hot set-up isn’t the time-honored Homestead kit, but the one from a new outfit, MycoTech. “MycoTech is simpler,” she says, “Just three steps instead of dozens with the Homestead product, where you need pressure cookers and labware. And if you go wrong at any step you end up with nothing. MycoTech is foolproof.”

It’s state of the art, a miracle in a box. You can buy it right over the counter.

A lot of mushroom growers, pickers, writers, and packagers are practically Northwest legends, or at least gurus. MycoTech is obscure even though its founder, “Rich Gee”, authored one of the most sought-after and impactive books in the field, “How to Identify and Grow Psilocybin Mushrooms”. Mr. “Gee” is a shadow figure in mushroom circles, influential and known of, but not really known–a profile that is entirely by design.

The cowpie stuck on the sandal holds a spray of tiny, delicate parasols arching up out of the shit. An intense, just-graduated botany major has never seen mushrooms like this before, so he checks them out. Then he eats them. They are definitely it.

To Gee, the 1976 book, which sold 40,000 copies, is a relic, out of date even when it went into print. The current MycoTech kits are 15 years behind the company’s own state of technology. We’re accustomed to think of “state of the art technology” as something more complicated, expensive, gadget-driven than the old stuff, but the revolution MycoTech has handed ‘shroom fanciers is successful because it’s simpler, cheaper, and gadget-free. A good analogy would be recent home pregnancy tests, which replace in-lab testing by technicians with cheap plastic kits that merely turn color (or don’t) when peed on by the layperson. The three year old company’s motto says it best, “MycoTech, a Simpler Solution.”

You can get a lot of nice equipment from people who understand the science, but not the nature of it,” Gee says, “But it’s overkill. I can do the same thing on my back porch. Instead of humidity meters and clean boxes that cost hundreds of dollars I rebuilt a water heater into a pressure steamer, got a container from Boeing surplus to cook compost. I use spoons from my kitchen drawer, old glass coffee pots from Goodwill for beakers, swabs from Radio Shack, agar for $1.75 from a Japanese restaurant instead of special $20 packs from Fungi Perfecti, yeast and malt from health food stores.”

His stripped-down, back-porch techniques often confuse ‘shroomers used to having to practice elaborate sterile techniques. They also focus on a question that many newcomers to mushrooms might raise, namely; “Why can mushroom spores fall on cowshit in the forest and thrive, but require all that anal labwork to survive in a clean house?” Gee’s answer gives a first glimpse into his view of the world.

“You don’t need all that stuff; nature doesn’t have it. Look, I have a Botany degree from the U.W., three years in genetics research, three years at Harborview Medical Center as a lab technician, culturing all the diseases brought through the door. I know how to do that antiseptic thing. But I don’t: I work from an understanding of the natural world on its own terms. Scientists don’t understand nature. A tree creates its own micro-environment under itself. Leaves fall off, dust and pollen, rain washes down certain micro-organisms–the ground underneath is conditioned by the tree and vice-versa. So if you walk under it, you become littered with bugs, pollen, bacteria, a lot of it fighting for life. They jump off things and eat them up. That’s why they need sterile technique. But I’m aware of that world, see it in my mind’s eye, so I can work in it without a bunch of divisive techniques and equipment.”

A ten year old Yakima kid from Mexico sees the bullet entering his head, sees himself fall and bleed to death. The event makes a lifelong impression. At the same time, just that momentary glimpse of it vindicates his entire history.

“I first ingested magic mushrooms twenty three years ago, after I was out of college, the same day I saw them on a hippie friend’s shoe in a Seattle park. The way the experience affected me–I took some of the dirt home to my closet and spent six hours just watching the fungus grow. It’s a very slow motion, but to me they were like trees waving in the wind. And during that entire six hours they were instructing me on how to grow them. Not saying, “Hey, do this, do that.” But as I blankly stared at them, my mind was assimilating information so that from that day on I knew how to grow that particular mushroom. So you see, my approach is different from the scientific model.”

A Witness of Jehovah comes to his bed in the night and tells him it is the devil after his soul. He escapes into atheism.

Gee is not the laid-back hippie most people expect to find behind the wheel of a cubensis operation–or coming on with what might sound like a tree-hugger line on science and nature. He looks and dresses ultra-straight, talks matter of fact, and maintains a stern focus on personal responsibility that seems almost puritanical. “People see me wearing a suit and think I look like a nark,” he grins, “I dress like an FBI guy on my day off. I sold computers for five years. I look very everyday middle-class from a superficial level. But inside my experience, what you might call my religion is not. I’m straighter than most people. I don’t eat meat, I don’t take medications, not even pain pills. A little pain never hurt anybody.”

Obviously Rich Gee is more complex than your average psychedelic entrepreneur. Perhaps a little background is necessary. “I was born in Mexico, grew up in a Catholic family that was really half Catholic and half Indian mysticism. Lots of talk about sorcery and the evil eye and that sort of thing. So even though a devout Catholic family, internally we were pagans, believers in an Indian world of spirits. I don’t believe in God, don’t believe in Devil. But even without a God to talk about, I’m still more spiritual than most people I know. I have a sense of what is right and wrong, don’t have to be told.

“It’s hard not to glamorize it, but we’re very spiritual people, not from Catholicism angle but something like The Force in Star Wars. It is alive in my family, my grandfather, my mother, my son; a spiritual awakening that has passed through generations. We don’t look at the world the same way. The Christian teachings have kept it suppressed for several generations, but it’s always been there under the surface and now I’m doing something about that awakening.

“The non-Catholic, Indian side boils down to being more in tune to voice of nature, of ancestors. To me, mushrooms are like the ancients, like my family extended back to the black hole of time’s beginning. In the Indian way you are responsible for your actions not only to the self and here and now, but to your entire family, your ancestors.

“Lots of tribes communicate with the peyote entity, such as Huichol paintings. They’re visions, images shown them in a significant manner or sequence by that entity. It’s a painted story in the same way that old cave paintings were painted stories. It’s not a message like a billboard: it’s like the configuration of the moon, or an eagle flying by at significant time, the placement of events and images. It’s not the kind of information you have to know how to read; you just have to be able to see that it is information.”

The shrink is telling him it’s total insanity; an hallucination saves him from that trap.

When Gee left Mexico for Yakima and started school in first grade he suffered the usual traumas of racial and language barriers. “But I always kept that ability to tune to nature because of my family background. Then, at ten, I got shot in the head and basically bled to death. They pumped me back up and here I am, but I had gone to where death is and come back, so the door between me and death is open. I have to tread very carefully when communing with mushrooms because death calls me from the other side, continually. In the old days they used to say you could talk with death. I deal with it like the mushrooms, as an entity I can talk with.

“When I left Yakima to study at the University I started spontaneously astral projecting. I had no idea what was happening to me, or whose counsel to accept. So I spent a year I thought I was possessed, then another year thinking I was insane. Finally I was able to deduce logically that I wasn’t either. Then, right after that, I was going by the old Magus bookstore and saw Castaneda’s “Teachings of Don Juan” in the front window. I read it and said, Hey, this is what is going on.

“So I started doing magic stuff, freaking out my friends, causing weird things to happen around me. I was steeped in magic spells, incantations, and the rites of Power. Then I was walking by Magus again and here was “Journeys out of the Body” and I saw that it was closer to what was going on with me. But by then I’d already learned all the magic and my life was revolving around it. Magic in the sense of using the energies that are available. But I wasn’t studying old books and lore; it was like it was dictated to me. I don’t learn anything, I just remember it. I didn’t read the magic spells and encantations–I just remembered them.”

His catechism priest tells him he can talk to it; without even knowing what it is.

Gee might be the Henry Ford of mushrooms, except he doesn’t want one in every garage. “The purpose of MycoTech is not to make money. it’s here because there are spores on the market place, but most won’t grow except with techniques that are beyond the average person. So my friends and I decided that there was a need for the proper stuff to be out there. We made the decision that it would be a finite operation, after this year, we will quit doing the kits. I’m not like Homestead, raking in the money. I limit what people can buy, what I give them. I take a personal responsibility. In my world is an unbalanced situation–because to me, the mushrooms are as much a part of my reality as the trees are to the next guy. I have a communication with them so when they’re out there I can feel it. And when they aren’t I can feel it–it’s that feeling that caused me to bring the kits out.”

So MycoTech has a sort of Johnny Appleseed self image–spreading a few spores around. Kits are sold nationally by mail, but only through some obscure brochure; there are no ads in High Times or Psychedelic Illuminations. “Are you in something like this for the money or for spiritual reasons?” Gee asks, “I think most psychics are actually psychics–but after they’ve gone into business, advertising, promotion, they lose their awareness and they become charlatans to make up what they used to know.”

Not surprisingly, his approach to engineering is like his approach to cultivation and sales, less technical than shamanic. “I haven’t so much developed this as had it dictated to me. I don’t learn anything, I just remember it. I didn’t invent these kits, they invented themselves. I see an un-natural thing like a plastic box and can suddenly see it as a part of nature. The kit is just what goes on in that box and what drives it is the difference in temperature between day and night. That engine creates a tropical rain forest. You put in dry compost and it stays dry during the day, but next morning it’s steamy, it’s been raining all night. It’s its own miniature tropical environment. And you never have to add water. How did I invent that? I didn’t; I just saw it happening.”

Whatever its source, the how to of raising mushrooms by re-creating their environment is the subject of Gee’s eagerly-awaited new book, “Cubensis Aquarium Gardening”. He produced the entire book; photos, text, even printing and binding, in-house.

It might seem inconsistent for MycoTech to engineer a superior product and bring it to market, then limit the quantity and duration of its availability, but it symbolizes Gee’s ambivalence about commercially providing something that can at once be a sacred sacrament and a cheap high. He wants to sow the seeds for a reunion with nature, but is appalled by the lack of responsibility of many of those who use psychedelics recreationally.

“I just can’t see mushrooms in the same terms of drugs; like crack or coke or alcohol. To me, doing mushrooms to party would be a mortal sin. They open your eyes to the situation, the vision we have lost. There’s a big difference between the goals of using mushrooms as dope and as a sacrament; using the high with a motive rather than just getting instant gratification. Mushrooms make the spiritual world open to anyone, but few open their eyes enough to look around in that world and find the path.”

At the same time he feels that our society desperately needs awakening, experiencing a connectedness with nature, he also sees that same estrangement from the world as causing a kind of laziness that makes us unwilling to accept the discipline of enlightenment. “People see only dope here, they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, just gratify themselves. So they can make a nuisance of themselves, eat too many, get arrested, have too much experience–bad trips. A big part of the mushroom experience is direct insight into character, seeing the lies or hiding or shirking of responsibilities. That’s a measure of the spirituality–not stoned-out bliss, but clear-headed acceptance of duty.”

He walks by you on the street in a suit and tie, no trace of it in his manner. But as you glance past him it shows him who you are, even if you don’t know yourself.

There is another area of responsibility that cuts very close to Gee’s concerns. “Every time people deal with nature they are raping nature. Mushrooms should be farmed, not just harvested from the wild. Otherwise you will destroy them. If you kept pulling branches off a tree eventually it wouldn’t have enough leaves to live. The mushrooms on the surface are not individual organisms, but organs put out from the main body in the ground. It needs them to live and to reproduce.”

According to Gee, however much hippies out picking ‘shrooms might grok on the idea of nature and oneness, they are really thinking only of themselves. “They are absorbed only in their own pleasure. When you overpick any plant it doesn’t have enough nutrients left to sustain itself and will die. Hippies going out there harvesting mushrooms, especially in big quantities to dry and sell, are stressing the main body of the plant and can kill it. And at the same time, they’ve removed all the spore caps, so there will be nothing left for a later generation. There was a period of time in the city where it was really hard to find the mushrooms, because the hippies had eaten them all. It’s actually a situation much like cutting old growth timber.”

You want to know about it, he wrote the book. And he insists on a full accounting.

Gee’s religion is formless, but revolves around the Big It, the ego’s death by exposure to the immense singularity revealed by the psychedelic experience. At another level, it is basically about communication, living life in tune with a universal choir. It is stern, but free of frills and filigree. “I approach spirituality in the same way I do farming. There’s a simpler way. You don’t have to go listen to Buddha or Jesus or do a bunch of weird stuff. It’s all in your head, you just have to get it out. The world is a constant stream of messages, which could be telling us what is happening and how we fit in. But modern man has forgotten how to read those messages so most people have become lemmings, just living the moment. But actually this world is alive and things that are alive generate electromagnetic fields. Power is the ability to tap into those fields, tune to them, to live in that environment. Somebody might call it God or Karma or think of like The Force. It allows me to see and do things I normally wouldn’t be able to do and see, gives me a relationship with the world. And the world is conscious of my existence, talks to me as I talk to it. Those are the messages I’m talking about.

“When I communicate with mushrooms, I often see them as a separate spirit or entity. Very few people have seen it. It travels like a swarm of bees, is brilliant, the color of molten gold. The interesting thing is that I don’t always see it, but I can invariably hear them. Right now I hear nothing, but in August it would be like they come out and start chirping, talking to people like me who are listening. When I hear them I go and find them, right to the spot. They draw me to them through calls and events. I’ve never had that kind of contact or communication with any kind of God, but I do with them.

“When a spiritual person ingests mushrooms, he becomes attuned to those messages but he doesn’t have to keep on eating it forever. The relationship is formed. It’s like you can love your family even though you never see them. But sometimes you visit them because it renews the ties. That’s why you eat mushrooms from time to time. Awakening is like virginity, you can’t ever do it again. Once you travel the spiritual path, you may go off it but you never forget it. You can stop eating mushrooms, but they never leave your life even if you never see another one again. And that is the real, primary purpose of MycoTech, to make an ancient sacrament available to the common man today.”

It moves things around him, brings him into the pages of this publication over his own objections.

Gee may be committed to altered states of awareness, but there is nothing otherworldly about his presence. He says, “I grew up in this society and have always been a proponent of this society–but I don’t always agree with everything about it. I’d like to see true freedom of religion in this country. If you could say I have a religion, it would be mushrooms. I don’t think of mushrooms as medicine or drugs, but as companions in life. And I’m not alone in that. In New Mexico they’ve legalized peyote and other psychedelic sacraments for use in spiritual rituals.”

Here in Washington the legality is a little cloudier. Psilocybin is illegal, therefore mushrooms are illegal, but spores contain none and are legal to possess. Gee shrugs off the law as a major impediment to mushroom consciousness. “Governments will always try to repress the liberties of their peoples, and especially liberties of enlightenment. We’re unfortunate to live in a society of very lazy people who are always moaning about losing rights, but never taking the action to regain them.”

Fans have caused him far more problems than cops. “There are some very self-indulgent people out there, who’d rather call me on the phone and bug me with a question they could look right up in the book. Kids come around and demand growing instructions. The problem with mushroom consciousness right now is not the law, it’s the irresponsible behavior of mushroom users, who can only see it as a quick buzz. And it’s not only the dopers: many who consider themselves seekers couldn’t face up to knowledge if they found it. The problem is that everybody wants enlightenment but they want it now, the easy way, without paying the price.”

And what price is that? “Well, I’ve become unstuck in time, have to take visual cues at time to have a reference point as to whether I’m in the present or future or past. But that’s just an inconvenience. Let me put it this way: If you could see the moment of your death, would you change it? Or could you? Do you have any control over changing it? Now what if I could see your death? Because mushrooms and meditations allow me to see things like that. Now if you ask me to tell you about it, should I tell you? Do you really want to know? If I tell you, it would put a great burden on you. And an even greater burden on me. That’s the price you pay for enlightenment, for knowledge.”

How much do we need to remind us of what we all once knew–that in the middle of all the chaotic dreamscape we call life and fate and cosmos, there is a still, black hole where everything disappears into one, and it is all there ever is, was or will be? It’s not just all that matters, it’s all that really is. You have to take responsibility, because once it’s tagged you, you’re it.

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