What is a psychonaut? What is a psychonaut meaning and origin?

You’ve undoubtedly heard of other “nauts”, like astronauts in space, or even aquanauts, who explore the ocean. Well there are famous psychonauts too.

These brave explorers are known as psychonauts.

We’re going to be learning all about psychonauts, including what this term really means, who some of the most influential psychonauts have been, what kinds of mushrooms they preferred the most, about more spores information, and how you can learn more about the culture of psychonautical exploration!

We’re going to discuss Mushroom Spores and Psychonaut terms:

Famous psychonauts

Sailors of the Mind: The Meaning & Origin of the Word Psychonaut

The first part, psycho, is a prefix which is used to describe the processes of the mind. For instance, you’ve certainly heard the term psychology, which is, in effect, the study of the mind. You’ve also heard of psychopaths—people who are sick in the mind.

The second part of the word, naut, is used to refer to the process of exploration. In the original Greek language from which it derives, it referred to sailors. You’re familiar with this suffix being used in words like astronaut, or those who explore space.

Thus, a psychonaut is one who explores the mind. More literally, and perhaps a bit more beautifully if you ask us, a psychonaut is a “sailor of the mind.”

The first known recorded use of the word was in Germany in the early 1970s by the author Ernst Jünger, who was writing about his experiences with specials.

It’s a wonderfully apt way to describe the activities of open-minded, curious, and humble specials users—those who aren’t necessarily using the substances for recreational purposes, but to deepend their understanding of their own minds, the world around them, and perhaps even their own connection to spirituality.

Famous Psychonauts – You’ve Heard of McKenna, But How About These Other Psychedelic Trailblazers?

Terence McKenna

Terrence McKenna the Unabashed Psychonaut

We’ve discussed the late, great ethnobotanist, author, and unabashed psychonaut Terence McKenna at great length here at Quality Spores, so we won’t reiterate too much here for the sake of regular readers, but suffice to say that McKenna and his brother (and often partner-in-crime, literally in some cases) Dennis McKenna are legendary figures in the psychonaut community and indeed the whole of modern special advocates.

Terence McKenna was a special advocate who, in addition to his love of mushrooms, was the author of the so-called stoned ape theory, which suggests that pre-human hominids began consuming mushrooms at some point in history, which effectively “supercharged” their evolution and perhaps shaped what modern man was to become.

McKenna and the Penis Envy Mushrooms Strain of Mushrooms + Spore Print

McKenna was also an avid explorer and mycologist, and he is credited with the discovery of the Penis Envy spore strain, which he found while on a trip to the Amazon. He gathered a spore sample (in the form of a cubensis spore print, as the spore print method was more popular than the more modern spore syringes we have today), placed a phony label on it, and effectively smuggled the strain into the United States.

Mushroom John with baby tiger

Another well-known psychonaut is the photographer, explorer, and author John Allen. We had the pleasure of conducting an interview last year with John about his mushroom experiences throughout his long and storied life as an explorer. John has taken countless thousands of pictures of mushrooms. He is credited with discovering several strains during his travels in Southeast Asia. He even has a mushroom named after him.

Pink Buffalo – Cambodian & Burma Mushrooms

Until our interview with John, many of the stories about the strains he discovered—including Pink Buffalo, Cambodian mushroom strain, and Burma strians – were little more than rumors, and some were flat out wrong. John set the record straight for us about several of these rumors. He also shared with us his advice for psychonauts eager to have a deep special experience with mushrooms in jurisdictions where doing so is legal: turn the lights out. (McKenna, who John was known to rub shoulders with, also had similar advice—that some of the best “trips” can happen in the darkness).

Another famous psychonaut was Alan Watts (not to be confused with Alan Watt, the recently deceased author and popular conspiracy theorist). Alan Watts was a philosopher who rose to prominence in the 1960s for his lectures which “translated” Eastern philosophy into a more palatable form for Western audiences. For many members of his audience, his work was their first introduction to Eastern philosophy, which can be very different to traditional Western thought.

Psychonaut Alan Watts

Alan Watts was also an outspoken special advocate. At the time, he was essentially advocating for what we would now refer to as specials-assisted therapy. Watts wrote two books about his experiences with hallucinogens, titled The Joyous Cosmology and The New Alchemy, and it is doubtless that his other written works and spoken lectures were also influenced by his experiences.

Finally, one other famous psychonaut to be aware of is the mycologist Paul Stamets, whom we have discussed on at least several occasions here on the Quality Spores blog. Author and speaker, Paul Stamets is an advocate of mushrooms, which he refers to as medicinal fungi—perhaps a better term to use than more colloquial vocabulary.

Paul Stamets is known for his work in the field of mycoremediation, which is a term referring to the process of using fungi as a means of environmental decontamination. Since fungi is capable of breaking down many traditionally difficult to remove materials, including plastics and heavy metals, it’s a field of study important to a wide spectrum of scientists ranging from environmentalists to biologists. Paul Stamets is the author of several books about mycoremediation in addition to his work about specials.

Psychonauts Don’t Have to Use Hallucinogens – Meditation, Breathwork, and Deep Spiritual Experiences Can Work Too

Psychoactive Hallucinogens and Mushroom Spores

What does psychoactive mean and what are hallucinogens in mushroom spores?

It sounds like a silly question, but consider it for a moment. Collectively, especially in modern times, we tend to maintain the notion that if something is psychoactive that it must be a drug of some kind—but anyone who has meditated regularly or practiced intense yoga knows that these activities can be very “psychoactive” indeed.

The word psychoactive means that something is active in the mind—changing one’s perceptions. This does not necessarily have to imply the use of a special, although it often does, of course.

You wouldn’t have to dig too deeply to discover countless stories about people having very psychoactive experiences without a single drug being present. Meditation, breathing exercises, and personal spirutual experiences all can result in deeply altered states of consciousness.

One can be described as a psychonaut if they enjoy exploring their minds in this fashion as well. Many psychonauts choose to combine practices—consuming both special substances as well as doing activities such as meditation. From the stories we’ve heard, this can result in some truly out of this world experiences.

What Kinds of Mushrooms do Psychonauts Use?

What mushrooms are the most hallucinogenic?

An experienced psychonaut might respond to this question with another question. Does it matter?

Different strains of mushroom can have different effects on the participant. This is why there’s a subset of researchers in the medical community acting as proponents of what’s called whole fungi therapy.

This makes dosing incredibly accurate (which is important, especially in trials). However, it isn’t the whole story, in a manner of speaking—proponents of whole fungi therapy claim that consuming the entire mushroom yields an enhanced experience for the patient, since the fungi in its natural state contains other compounds.

If we accept this notion to be true, then the type of mushroom does matter, not just how highly concentrated it is. For instance, Golden Teacher is anecdotally reported to yield calm, contemplative experiences, whereas a different strain might cause euphoria or energetic feelings.

Of the famous psychonauts whom we discussed earlier, Terence McKenna is perhaps the most well known. He’s certainly well known in the psychonaut community for his discovery of the Penis Envy mushroom when he was on a trip to the Amazon—see our Penis Envy product page for more information on the amazing story of how he got them into the country.

John Allen, who we also mentioned earlier, is another psychonaut who discovered several strains of mushrooms during his time in Southeast Asia, such as Pink Buffalo, the Burma cubensis strain, and the Cambodian strain. These are all excellent strains for microscopists interested in learning more about Asian or otherwise exotic special mushrooms.