Anyone who has read Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune will have pondered on the inspiration for the book’s fictional spice melange—supposedly the most valuable commodity in the universe. This naturally occurring drug can only be found on the planet Arrakis. The spice is much sought after as it can give users heightened awareness, longevity and the ability to see into the future. Melange is also the source of power for the Spacing Guild’s spacecrafts called “heighliners”—the drug allowing users to safely steer the heighliner during a “navigation trance.” It’s a useful drug. The downside? The spice leads to addiction, turning the users eyes a luminous blue. Withdrawal can be fatal.
At the time of publication in 1965, many thought Herbert was making reference to LSD—something director Alejandro Jodorowsky considered when he planned to film the book back in the 1970s, when he claimed his movie:
...would give the people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating.
In fact, Herbert was making a reference to psychedelics in particular his own predilection for magic mushrooms, as Paul Stamets explains in his book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World:
Frank Herbert, the well-known author of the Dune books, told me his technique for using spores. When I met him in the early 1980s, Frank enjoyed collecting mushrooms on his property near Port Townsend, Washington. An avid mushroom collector, he felt that throwing his less-than-perfct wild chanterelles into the garbage or compost didn’t make sense. Instead, he would put a few weathered chanterelles in a 5-gallon bucket of water, add some salt, and then, after 1 or 2 clavs, pour this spore-mass slurry on the ground at the base of newly planted firs. When he told me chanterelles were glowing from trees not even 10 years old, I couldn’t believe it. No one had previously reported chanterelles arising near such young trees, nor had anyone reported them growing as a result of using this method.” Of course, it did work for Frank, who was simply following nature’s lead.
Frank’s discovery has now been confirmed in the mushroom industry. It is now known that it’s possible to grow many mushrooms using spore slurries from elder mushrooms. Many variables come into play, but in a sense this method is just a variation of what happens when it rains. Water dilutes spores from mushrooms and carries them to new environments. Our responsibility is to make that path easier. Such is the way of nature.
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 worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by 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.
You can find a PDF of the book here.
Meantime, here’s a rare clip of the sci-fi bard on television.
Via the Daily Grail