WHEN SPANISH CATHOLICS subjugated the Mesoamericans, they eradicated a religion but not its chief sacrament. Psilocybin mushrooms continued to grow throughout Central America and to clandestinely fuel the trips of indigenous psychonauts. In the 1950s, the Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina led an American banker named Gordon Wasson and his wife in a mushroom ceremony, and the couple returned to the U.S. as proselytizers. Today, psilocybin mushrooms are more popular and easier to cultivate than at any point in recent memory, thanks to the internet's ability to disperse knowledge in much the same way that Psilocybe mexicana spreads its spores.
But it wasn't always so. The first widely available American treatise on home growing was 1976's Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide. Authors Terence and Dennis McKenna published under the pseudonyms O.T. Oss and O.N. Oeric, though in a fun twist, Terence wrote the forward under his real name. In addition to trippy illustrations juxtaposed with chemical diagrams and laboratory photos, the brothers provided detailed instructions for achieving the four major stages of growth: extracting spores (the fungal equivalent of seeds), cultivating a batch of mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus), inoculating a sterile medium with the mycelium, and then simulating the conditions of a humid forest floor in order to produce mushrooms.
Forty years later, the book is useful mostly as a window into Terence McKenna's imagination. "I am old, older than thought in your species," he envisions a mushroom saying to a human. "By means impossible to explain because of certain misconceptions in your model of reality all my mycelial networks in the galaxy are in hyperlight communication across space and time." The actual growing advice, however, is archaically complex (see: using agar, a growing medium common in labs but unnecessarily complicated for home mycologists).
Several decades of experimentation and knowledge sharing have led to a much simpler orthodoxy, with most amateur mycologists now of one opinion about the best materials and methods. For beginners, an internet search for "PF Tek" will return a nearly foolproof method for growing small amounts of Psilocybe cubensis at home. (It will also point you to forums where every question you can possibly imagine has been answered in great detail.) All the materials can be purchased at your local hardware and health food stores, save one: the actual spores.