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The hallucinogenic mushrooms known as Liberty Caps grow throughout most of the UK, where they are usually referred to as "magic mushrooms" or "magics". They generally first pop up in mid October (depending on the weather; they like it cool and damp), and are most often found in areas where short grass meets longer grass, for instance on the edge of marshland, where they tend to be tangled in among the longer grass. For this reason they can be initially difficult to spot, although, as veteran mushroomers are fond of pointing out, once you've spotted a few they suddenly become much easier to find (this is absolutely true).

It hardly needs saying that some mushrooms are extremely poisonous, and therefore correct identification of any mushrooms that you intend to ingest is absolutely essential. Magics found in the UK have a couple of very distinct features which make them relatively easy to identify. Firstly, the stems are almost never straight; instead, they are usually markedly spindly and 'kinked', often zig-zagging two or three times along their length. This is a very unusual trait in mushrooms. But there is a further and even more reliable means of identification: if the stems of the mushrooms are crushed or 'bruised' just after picking (done by rolling them roughly between thumb and forefinger), the stem should develop a blue or blue/green tinge within an hour or so. If that happens, they're almost certainly magic mushrooms.

Please note that I cannot speak from personal experience regarding mushrooms found in other parts of the world, but I have been led to believe that most varieties of psilocybin-bearing mushrooms exhibit the blue tinge upon bruising. Without a doubt though, the absolute best way to be sure you've got the right kind is to learn from an experienced mushroomer.

Although some smaller mushrooms in the UK are mildly poisonous, it is unlikely they would kill if taken in usual mushrooms doses (typically 15-30). This is not true for all parts of the world though, and a small mistake could potentially be far more costly.

Let your bottom line be: if in doubt, leave it out.

A floppy hat of ancient design, somewhat resembling a benippled nightcap, or the psilocybian mushrooms which bear its name. Often made from red felt. Worn by Marianne, the figure of Liberty in La Liberte Guidant le Peuple, the famous painting by Delacroix which depicts the French revolutionary struggle. Often shown sitting atop a flagpole or pike, which is then called a 'liberty pole'.

In Roman times, when a slave was freed, the ritual included the presentation of a pileus libertatis ("liberty cap") to the newly-freed slave, who benefited because the ex-slave's close-cropped hair, unfashionable and stigmatising, a mark of servitude or criminality, was covered while it grew.

It's sometimes known as the 'Phrygian Cap', after Phrygia, a kingdom which dominated western and central Asia Minor around 800 BC. The Persian god Mithras, who is commonly depicted wearing one, was very popular with Roman legionaries. Many Roman slaves came from Phrygia.

It was worn extensively by Scythians, including the Athenian police force, the Scythotoxotes or Scythian Archers, mercenaries who were a sort of Hell's Angels of the day - scary barbarians on souped-up mounts with custom paint jobs. After the Romans conquered Greece the Scythian police were kept on and perhaps this is one route taken by the Cap on its way into classical Europe.

Saturninus, when he took the Roman Capitol in 263, stuck a Liberty Cap on the end of his spear, and hoisted it up so that it could better be seen, symbolising the emancipation he promised to all slaves who joined his forces. Others (including Marius and the murderers of Julius Caesar) were said to have followed his example in exhibiting spear-hoisted Liberty Caps to symbolise liberation for the masses at tricky points in their careers.

The Cap appears in several iconographies dating from the 16th Century, such as the 'Iconologia' of Cesare Ripa (1593), which emphasised the connections with the manumission (slave-freeing) ceremony.

As Europe lurched into the Enlightenment, the Liberty Cap, as it was to become known, was widely adopted as a symbol of freedom from political tyranny by the various groups, some of them masonic, who were plotting revolutions (and later carried them out.) One early example, in Brittany in 1675, was the "Revolt of Red Caps" - a series of riots protesting unfair tax laws.

As some of these conspirators rose to political power, notably in France, the Cap (known as the bonnet rouge, or bonnet de la liberte) became prominent in many expressions of the newly conceived hope for liberty, as for example in Augustin Dupre's depiction of Liberty as a young woman in the Libertas Americana Medal of 1783, which shows a pole supporting a Liberty Cap (a 'liberty pole') behind her head.

It was part of the uniform of the Sans-Culottes. Louis XVI was forced to wear the Cap and drink the health of the people when the Tuileries were taken. After the revolution, the Cap was everywhere, from milestones to official documents. Donning a Liberty Cap became de rigueur for all members of the Assemblies.

There were close links between the French Revolution and the American struggle for Independence. In 1765 the Cap was used by the Sons of Liberty and many Patriot soldiers in the American Revolution wore Liberty Caps bearing the phrase "Liberty or Death". After the revolution, many coins, for example the 1793 Liberty Cap Half Cent (inspired by Dupre's medal, above), and other paraphernalia of state, such as the seals of the US Army and Senate, showed Caps, often on poles.

In the 1820's, the Liberty Cap meme spread to the South Americas, where fresh revolutions were hatching. It now appears, for example, on the flags or other insignia of the Argentine army and navy, Haiti, El Salvador, Paraguay and the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.

Back in the US, the original design for a statue of 'Lady Freedom', produced in 1855 by the sculptor Thomas Crawford, was for an "Armed Liberty" wearing a Liberty Cap.

Ironically, the associations with freed slaves proved too much for Jefferson Davis (then the War Secretary and later the president of the Confederacy), who objected to the design. When the statue was erected atop the Capitol dome in 1863 the Liberty Cap had been swapped for a helmet with an Iroquois eagle headdress.

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