Hallucinogens In Primitive Societies

Modern Ayurveda

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Hallucinogens permeate nearly every aspect of life in primitive societies. They play roles in health and sickness, peace and war, home life and travel, hunting and agriculture; they affect relations among individuals, villages, and tribes. They are believed to influence life before birth and after death.

MEDICAL AND RELIGIOUS USES of hallucinogenic plants are particulaly important in primitive societies. Aboriginal people attribute sickness and health to the working of spirit forces. Consequently, any "medicine" that can transport man to the spirit world is considered by many aborigines to be better than one with purely physical effects.

Psychic powers have also been attributed to hallucinogens and have become an integral part of primitive religions. All over the world hallucinogenic plants are used as mediators between man and his gods. The prophecies of the oracle of Delphi, for example, are thought to have been induced through hallucinogens.

Makuna Indian medicine man under influence of caapi (ayahuasca or yaje) prepared from bark of Banisteriopis caapi.

Makuna Indian medicine man under influence of caapi (ayahuasca or yaje) prepared from bark of Banisteriopis caapi.

Statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec "Prince of Flowers." unearthed in Tlalmanalco on the slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl and now on display in the

Museo Nacional in Mexico City. Labels indicate probable botanical interpretations of stylized glyphs.

OTHER ABORIGINAL USES of hallucinogens vary from one primitive culture to another. Many hallucinogenic plants are basic to the initiation rituals of adolescents. The Algonquin Indians gave an intoxicating medicine, wysoccan, to their young men, who then became violently deranged for 20 days. During this period, they lost all memory, starting manhood by forgetting they had been boys. The iboga root in Gabon and caapi in the Amazon are also used in such rituals.

In South America, many tribes take ayahuasca to foresee the future, settle disputes, decipher enemy plans, cast or remove spells, or insure the fidelity of their women. Sensations of death and separation of body and soul are sometimes experienced during a dreamlike trance.

The hallucinogenic properties of Datura have been thoroughly exploited, particularly in the New World. In Mexico and in the Southwest, Datura is used in divination, prophecy, and ritualistic curing.

Modern Mexican Indians value certain mushrooms as sacraments and use morning glories and the peyote cactus to predict the future, diagnose and cure disease, and placate good and evil spirits.

The Mixtecs of Mexico eat puffballs to hear voices from heaven that answer their questions. The Waikas of Brazil and Venezuela snuff the powdered resin of a jungle tree to ritualize death, induce a trance for diagnosing disease, and thank the spirits for victory in war. The Witotos of Colombia eat the same powerful resin to "talk with the little people." Peruvian medicine men drink cimora to make themselves owners of another's identity. Indians of eastern Brazil drink jurema to have glorious visions of the spirit world before going into battle with their enemies.

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