Mushrooms And The Maya

Psilocybin mushroom use has also been associated with the spectacular Mayan civilisation of Mesoamerica, whose Classic period held sway from 250 to 900 AD.. At the turn of this century Guatemalan 'mushroom stones' came to the attention of archaeologists. These Mayan relics, of which hundreds have been found, some dating as far back as 1000 BC., were initially considered to be phallic representations though the current consensus is that the mushroom stones reflect a Mayan religious mushroom cult.

To bolster support for this theory, it has been noted that some of the stone mushrooms are carved emerging from human figures with trance-like facial expressions. Others are linked to kneeling female figures at a metate, a kind of work surface upon which plant items are crushed. When Wasson first explored mushroom use in Huautla in the 1950's, metates were still sometimes used in order to grind mushrooms so that an entheogenic infusion could be made. Still other of the mushroom stones carry 'toad' effigies at their base, and this creature has always been mysteriously linked with psychoactive fungi the world over, perhaps because of knowledge that certain toads exude hallucinogenic alkaloids from their skin glands (incidentally, this odd 'toady' fact might also account for the fairy story The Frog Prince since magical events happen after a frog has been 'kissed').

Is there any other evidence that the Maya employed psilocybin mushrooms in their religion? A look at Mayan codices might help on this matter, yet our not-so-delightful conquering Spanish priests have hindered such study due to their blundering haste in burning everything that stood in their theological way, including virtually all Mayan scriptures. As an example, consider the fact that in 1562, one Diego de Landa, a hardened Spanish priest of some frightening zeal, seized thousands of Mayan 'idols' and books, burning all and sundry as though it were worthless. Among the treasures destroyed were 27 roles and signs of hieroglyphics, invaluable sources of knowledge about the Mayan civilisation. Landa commented:

" We found among them a number of books written in these characters and as they contained nothing in which there were not to be found superstitions and devilish lies, we burned them all, which they regretted to an amazing degree and caused them great affliction."

Such a foolish and insensitive act has left the world with only a handful of Mayan codices on which to assess Mayan customs and beliefs. Within two of these remaining works, the Popul Vuh and the Annals ofCakchiquels, are references to psychoactive fungi, but there is no indication as to the extent of their role within Mayan belief systems. In the Books of Chilam Balam there is mention of trance-like states, though no mention of hallucinogenic plants. Again, in many Mayan relief carvings, which seem to possess a psychedelic air about them, are found scenes depicting visionary ecstasy though plants are not explicitly shown. Some scholars have therefore rejected the notion that the Maya employed natural entheogenic agents in their religious rituals (despite the existence of the many mushroom stones) and have opted instead for the alternative view that the Maya, unlike the martial psilocybin-using Aztecs who were to follow, were of a radically different nature and temperament. However, recently discovered Mayan mural paintings have depicted fearsome looking battle scenes so that it is not absolutely certain that these two cultures were so different.

It is worth looking more closely at the actual similarity in religious belief between the Maya and Aztecs, as it demonstrates a common historical thread connecting the two cultures. Both peoples divided the cosmos into upper worlds and lower worlds with their respective gods. Both believed in the cyclical destruction and regeneration of the Earth, and both followed a ritual 260 day calendar. Bearing in mind these cultural similarities, it has been reasonably suggested that the Maya also utilised the mushroom as well as other psychedelic agents and that this practice influenced the nature of ancient Mesoamerican cosmology.

It has also recently come to light, as many Mayan vases and pieces of pottery attest, that the classical Mayan elite used enemas. The objects which depict scenes of enema use date from the first millennium AD.. The daunting practice of administering enemas has been well documented in South American native peoples. In particular, it has been established that the Incas introduced hallucinogenic infusions into the body via enema, using bulbed syringes made from local rubber sap. Apparently, the use of an enema to introduce psychoactive compounds into the body is almost as effective with regard to speed of action as is the method of intravenous injection. It's effectiveness with hallucinogens occurs because the colon is the receptive site of the enema and this is where absorption by the bloodstream occurs. A number of scholars have therefore claimed that hallucinogenic brews were involved in these Mayan enema rites and thus psilocybin might well have been employed in this manner.

We should also be aware that much Mayan artwork is given over to portrayals of 'vision serpents' manifesting themselves before entranced members of the Mayan nobility. As I stated earlier, to the Mayan mind serpents represented the entry of divine forces into normal reality, and to depict fantastically decorated serpents hovering above an enraptured individual signified a communion with the gods. Such individuals are often shown holding a special receptacle. This object is believed to either hold blood from a bloodletting rite or an hallucinogenic brew, both alternatives offering an effective avenue for attaining a desired visionary state of consciousness.

Taking into account all of this data, particularly the hundreds of elaborately carved mushroom stones so far uncovered, many historians are compelled to accept that the Maya utilised entheogenic flora including psilocybin mushrooms, and that the visionary realms made accessible by these plants and fungi influenced the development of the Mayan cosmological and religious outlook on reality.

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