I’m naturally skeptical and I’ve hear this claim now and then and it sets off my BS a little. Here is why:
I’m skeptical as to how much ergot would need to present in bread to cause hallucinatory visions.
I’m skeptical that people suffering from ergot poisoning wouldn’t have known the true cause of the symptoms, at least to some extent. People have been using psychoactive plants to achieve altered states and have suffered from various food poisonings since time immemorial. They were able to make connections between the cause and effect quite well. Why wouldn’t have middle-age Europeans, who (contrary to pop-culture depictions) were quite sophisticated in realms of agriculture and natural science, have been able to make the similar connections?
What I’ve read of ergotism is that the hallucinatory symptoms are only a small part of the sickness that started with severe diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. All of which would scream “food poisoning” to people of any time and culture.
I’m skeptical that even if the eventual hallucinations did occur in some sick people that they would all see werewolves or some other such manifestation. Though I know to some extent hallucinations and following interpretations are colored by the individual psyche, which would be effected by certain cultural expectations.
I’d also like to know at what temperatures ergot, or the alkaloids present in ergot that cause hallucinations, would be chemically altered to no longer have this effect on people. In other words what effect does baking the fungus have on its psychoactive properties.
It just seems a stretch to me, one that is more readily accepted because it gives an answer that is more physically concrete than the explanations involving the complexities of human culture and psychology.
But maybe my ignorance needs fighting.