Cactus Of The Four Winds

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Above left: Pieces of San Pedro piled up for sale in the "witches' market" in Cliiclayo in northern Peru.

Above left: Pieces of San Pedro piled up for sale in the "witches' market" in Cliiclayo in northern Peru.

Above right: The fast-growing San Pedro cactus develops few, if any thorns when cultivated

"San Pedro has a special symbolism in curaritrismo [folk healing] for a reason: San Pedro is always in tune with ... the powers of animals, of strong personages or beings, of serious beings, of beings that have supernatural power. . ."

The San Pedro cactus, Trichocereus p.-' :hanoi. represents undoubtedly one of the most ancient of the magic plants of South America. The oldest archaeological evidence, a Chavin stone carving m a temple in northern Peru, goes back to 1300 b. c Almost equally old textiles from Chavin depict the cactus with jaguar and hummingbird figures. Peruvian ceramics made between 1000 and 700 b. c. show the plant in association with the deer; and others, several hundred years later, have the cactus with the jaguar and stylized spirals illustrating the hallucinogenic experiences induced by the plant. On the southern coast of Peru, large ceramic urns of the I iazca culture, dated 100 b.c.-a.d. 500. depict San Pedro.

The use of 7richocereus was v< de-spread in Peru when the Spanish ar rived. One ecclesiastical report said that shamans "drink a beverage they call Achuma which a water they make from the sap of some thick and smooth cacti ..." and "as it is very strong, after they drink it they remain without judgment and deprived of their senses, a.io they see visions that the devil represents to them ..." As with Peyote in Mexico, the loman Church fought against the S n Pedro cactus: "This is the plant with which the devil deceived the Indians m their paganism, using it for their lies and superstitions . . . those who drink lose consciousness and remain as if dead; and it has even been seen that some have died because of the great frigidity to the bram Transported by the -ink, the Indians dreamed a thousand absurdities and believed them as if they were true ..

The modern use of the San Pedro cac-tu along the coastal regions of Peru and in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia h¿ been greatly affected by Christian influence— :nfluences even in the name v plied to the plant, originating possibly in the Christian belief that St. Peter holds the keys to heaven. But the overall context of the moon-oriented ritual surrounding its use indicates that it is truly an amalgan of pagan and Christian elements

San Pedro 's now employed to cure sickness, including alcoholism and in-

The Chemistry of San Pedro

Trichocereus contains as its main alkaloid mescaline, responsible for the visual hallucinogenic effects. From dried specimens of San Pedro, 2 percent mescaline has been isolated. In addition, hordenine has also beer: detected.

sanity, for c ivination, to undo love witchcraft, to counter all kinds of sorcery, and to ensure success in personal ventures. It is only one—but the principal one—of many "magical" plants known to and used by shamans and collected near sacred lagoons high in the Andes.

At these lagoons, shamans go annually for purification and to visit special individuals, experts in sorcery and "owners" of divine plants capable of awaking, with San Pedro, supernatural spiritual powers. Even the sick exert themselves to make pilgrimages to these remote holy places. It is thought that the penitent may undergo a metamorphosis in these lagoons and that the plants, especially San Pedro, from these areas possess extraordinarily powerful properties to cure illness and to influence witchcraft.

Shamans specify four "kinds" of the cactus, distinguished by the number of ribs: those with four ribs are rare and considered to be the most potent, with very special supernatural powers, since the four ribs represent the "four winds" and the "four roads."

The cactus is known in northern coastal Peru as San Pedro, in the northern

Top: The San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi'■)

Above ¡eft: the flowers of San Pedro remain closed during the daytime.

Above right: In the early evening the large flowers of the San Pedro blossom In sumptuous splendor.

Far left: A species from the Trichocereus genus that has not yet been botanically categorized. It grows in northwestern Argentina, where it is also called San Pedro and used psycho-actively.

Top left: A ceramic pot from the Chimu culture, a. d. 1200. The owl-faced female depicted on this vessel is probably an herbalist and shaman; she holds Huachuma (Trichocereus). Even today in native markets, the women who sell the hallucinogenic cactus are usually both herbalists and shamans, and according to native beliefs, the owl is associated with these women

Top left: A ceramic pot from the Chimu culture, a. d. 1200. The owl-faced female depicted on this vessel is probably an herbalist and shaman; she holds Huachuma (Trichocereus). Even today in native markets, the women who sell the hallucinogenic cactus are usually both herbalists and shamans, and according to native beliefs, the owl is associated with these women

Top right: There are many herbs called 'conduro" that belong to different gen ara (for example, Lycopodium) and are traditionally used as ingredients in the San Pedro drink.

A„ddle: A north Peruvian curandcro (healer) sets up his "mesa" for the San Pedro ritual on the banks of Shimbe Lake

Below right: The mesa is surrounded by magical staves. They are either from pre-Columbian graves or modern replicas made from the Amazonian Chonta Palm

Andean area as Huachuma, and in Bolivia as Achuma; the Bolivian term chumarse ("to get drunk") is derived from Achuma Aguacolla and Gigantón are its Ecuadorean names.

The stems of the cactus, normally purchased in the market, are r'iced like bread and boiled for up to seven hours in water. After the drinking of San Ped ro, other medicinal herbs, the help of which is frequently sought, begin to talk to the shaman, activating his own "inner power." San Pedro may be taken alone, but often other plants, separately boi led, are added and the drink is then called Cimora. Among the numerous plant additives employed are the Andean cactus Neoraimondia macrostilas, a species of the amaranthaceous Iresine, the euphorbiaceous Pedilanthus tithy-maloides, and Isotonic, longiflora of the Campanulaceae All of these plants, ex cept Iresine, may have biodynamic principles. Iresine has the reputation of curing "insanity." Brugmansia aurea and B sanguínea, two potent hallucinogens in their own right, are frequently added.

Only m recent years has San Pedro been correctly identified. In early chemical and psychiatric studies in Peru, the cactus was misidentified as Opuntia cylindnca. Only recently have studies indicated the great sig: -'ficance of the vegetal additives, an investigation that deserves more attention. On occasion, magic demands that other additives be employed; powdered bones and ceme tery dust are commonly used to ensure the effectiveness of the brew. As one observer has stated: San Pedro is "the cat alyst that activates all the complex forces at work in a folk healing session, especially the visionary and divinatory powers" of the shaman, who can make himself the owner of another man's identity. But the magic of San Pedro goes far beyond curing and divination, for it is believed to guard houses like a dog, whistling in an unearthly fashion and forcing intruders to flee in terror.

The principal effects of Trichocereus pachanoi have been described by a shaman: ". . . the drug first produces .. . drowsiness or a dreamy state and a feel ing of lethargy ... a sli| ht dizziness . . . then a great 'vision,' a clearing of all the faculties ... It produces a light numb-

Top left: Harvested and stored pieces of San Pedro continue living and often begin growing again after months, even years

"fbur-ribbed cac': . . are considered to be very rare and very lucky . , . to have special properties because they correspond to the 'four winds' and the 'four roads,'

supernatural powers associated with the cardinal points ..." —Douglas Sharon ness in the body and afterward a tranquillity And then comes detachment, a type of visual force inclusive of all the senses . . . including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter . . . like a kind of removal of one's thought to a distant dimension "

Dur iig the ritual, participants are "set free from matter" and engage in flight through cosmic regions. It was probably shamans who used the San Pedro cactus that a Spanish officer in Cuzco, Peru, described in the sixteenth century: "Among the Indians, there was another class of wizards, permitted by the Incas to a certain degree, who are like sorcerers. They take the form they want and go a long distance through the air in a short time; and they see what is happening, they speak with the devil, who answers them in certain stones or in other things that they venerate ..." Ecstatic magical flight is still characteristic of the con temporary San Pedro ceremony: "San Pedro is an aid which one uses to ren der the spirit more pleasant, more manageable . . . One is transported across time, matter, and distance in a rapid and safe fashion ..."

The shaman may take the drug himself or give it only to the patient, or both may take it. The aim of this shamanic curing ritual is to make the patient "bloom" during the night ceremony, to make his subconscious "open like a flowei»," even like the night-blooming Trichocereus itself. Patients sometimes are contemplative and calm, sometimes break into dancing or even throw themselves writhing on the ground.

As with so many other hallucinogens^ here a plant given by the gods to man to help him experience an ecstasy— separation of the soul from the body— "in a very tenuous, simple fashion and almost instantaneously." This ecstasy provides preparations for the sacred flight that enables man to experience mediation between his mortal existence and the supernatural forces—an activity establishing direct contact through this plant of the gods.

Top left: Harvested and stored pieces of San Pedro continue living and often begin growing again after months, even years

Top right: The Wolf's Milk plant (Pedi-lanthus tithymaloides) is sometimes added to the San Pedro drink in order to strengthen its effects. Sometimes is has been said that Pedilanthus is hallucinogenic, but this has not been proved.

Above: The view of the mesa gives a clear impression of the syncretic cosmology of the modern healer. Gods and deities from different cultures lay next to snail shells, archaeological objects, and perfume bottles

¿o IPOMOEA ° Morning Glory qc TURBINA yo Ololiuqui

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