Little Flowers Of The Gods

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Above: One of the largest fruiting bodies of Psilocybe azurescens ever found.

"There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby, and invisible. And there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints, a world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own. I report what it says. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where every thing is known. It is they, the sacred mushrooms, that speak in a way I can understand. I ask them and they answer me. When I return from the trip that I have taken with them, I tell what they have told me and what they have shown »

Thus does the famous Mazatec sha man Maria Sabina reverently describe the god-given powers of the intoxicating mushrooms that she uses in her ceremony, which has come down from ages past.

Few plants of the gods have ever been held in greater reverence than the sacred mushrooms of Mexico. So hallowed were these fungi that the Aztecs called them Teonanacatl ("divine flesh") and used them only in the most holy of their ceremonies. Even though, as fungi, mushrooms do not blossom, the Aztecs referred to them as "flower," and the Indians who still use them in religious rituals have endearing terms for them, such as "little flowers."

When the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they.were aghast to r:nd the natives worshiping their deities with the help of inebriating plants: Peyotl, Ololiuqui, Teonanacatl. The mushrooms were es pecially offensive to the European ec clesiastical authorities, and they set out to eradicate their use in religious practices.

"They possessed another method of intoxication, which sharpened their cruelty; for if they used certain small toadstools . . . they would see a thou sand visions and especially snakes . . . They called these mushrooms in their language teunamacatlth, which means 'God's flesh,' or of the Devil whom they worshiped, and in this wise with that bitter victual by the-r cruel God were they houseled."

In 1656, a guide for missionaries argued against Indian idolatries, including mushroom ingestion, and recommended their extirpation. Not only do re ports condemn Teonanacatl, but actual illustrations also denounce it. One depicts the devil enticing an Indian to eat the fungus; another has the devil performing a dance upon a mushroom.

"But before explaining this [idola try]," one of the clerics said, "I wish to explain the nature of the said mushrooms [that] were small and yellowish, and to collect them the priests and old men, appointed as ministers for these impostures, went to the hills and remained almost the whole night in sermonizing and in superstitious praying. At dawn, when a certain little breeze which they know begins to blow, they would gather them, attributing to them deity When they are eaten or drunk, they intoxicate, depriving those who partake of them of their senses and making them believe a thousand absurdities."

1. Psilocybe mexicana 4.

2. Psilocybe semperviva 5.

3. Psilocybe yungensis

Psilocybe caerulescens var. mazatecorum Psilocybe caerulescens var. nigripes

1. Psilocybe mexicana 4.

2. Psilocybe semperviva 5.

3. Psilocybe yungensis

Psilocybe caerulescens var. mazatecorum Psilocybe caerulescens var. nigripes

Below: In 1979 the largest and most potent mushroom in the Psilocybe genus was found in Astoria, Oregon, Psilocvbe azurescens contains the highest concentra lion of psilocybine of all mushrooms.

Psilocybe Caerulescens Mazatecorum

Psilocybe xiligineoides Panaeolus sphinctrinus

Dr. Francisco Hernandez, personal physician to the king of Spain, wrote that three kinds of intoxicating mushrooms were worshiped. After describing a lethal species, he stated that 'others when eaten cause not death but madness that on occasion is lasting; of whi :h the symptom is a kind of uncon trolled laughter. Usually called teyhuin-tli, these are deep yellow, acrid and of a not displeasing freshness. There are others again which, without inducing laughter, brrng before the eyes all kinds of visions, such as wars and the likeness of demons Yet others are there not less desired by princes for their fiestas and banquets, of great price. With nightlong vigils are they sought, awesome and terrifying. This kind is tawny and somewhat acrid."

For four centuries nothing was known of the mushroom cult; and it was even doubted that mushrooms were used hallucinogenically in ceremony The Church fathers had done such a successful :ob of driving the cult into hiding through persecution that no anthropologist or botanist had ever uncovered the religious use of these mush rooms until this century.

In 1916 an American botanist finally proposed a "solution" to the identifica-r'on of Teonanacatl, concluding that Teonanacatl and the Peyote were the same drug. Motivated by distrust of the chroniclers and Indians, he intimated that the natives, to protect Peyote, were indicating mushrooms to the authori ties. He argued that the dried, brownish, disklike crown of Peyote resembles a

Psilocybe xiligineoides Panaeolus sphinctrinus

o Psilocybe cubensis 9.

7. Psilocybe wassonii 10.

8, Psilocybe hoogshagenii

o Psilocybe cubensis 9.

7. Psilocybe wassonii 10.

8, Psilocybe hoogshagenii

Below: In Europe and North America there are countless modern artifacts that reflect the contemporary mushroom cult

fbove: Mushrooms with psychoactive properties are found around the world. In many places T-shirts with mushroom motifs are available for the traveling mushroom lover. Embroidery from Kathmandu, Nepai

Below: In Europe and North America there are countless modern artifacts that reflect the contemporary mushroom cult fbove: Mushrooms with psychoactive properties are found around the world. In many places T-shirts with mushroom motifs are available for the traveling mushroom lover. Embroidery from Kathmandu, Nepai

Above right: The Psilocybe pelliculosa is a relatively weak moderately active mushroom from the Pacific North West dried mushroom—so remarkably that it will even deceive a mycologist. It was not until the 1930s that an understanding of the role of hallucinogenic mush rooms in Mexico and a knowledge of their botanical identification and chemical composition started to become ava!'able. In the late 1930s the first two of the many species of sacred Mexican mushrooms were collected and asso ciated with a modern mushroom cere mony. Subsequent field research has resulted in the discovery of some two dozen species The most important be-Dng to the genus Psilocybe, twelve of which have been reported, not including Strophanti cubensis, sometimes con sidered a Psilocybe. The most important species appear to be Psilocybe mexicana P. cubensis, and P. caerulescens.

These various mushrooms are now known to be employed in d'vinatory and religious rites among the Mazatec, Chmantec, Chatino, Mixe, Zapotec, and Mixtec of Oaxaca; the Nihua and possibly the Otomi of Puebla; and the Tarascans of Michoacan The present center of intensive use of the sacred mushrooms is among the Mazatec.

Mushrooms vary in abundance from year to year and at different seasons, There may be years when one or more species are rare or absent—they vary in their distribution and are not ubi-

quitous. Furthermore, each shaman has his own favorite mushrooms and may forgo others; Maria Sabina, for example, will not use Psilocybe cuben-sis And certain mushrooms are used for spec ic purposes. This means that each ethnobotanical expedition may not expect to find the same assortment of species employed at one time, even in the same locality and by the same people.

Chem :al studies have indicated that psilocybine and, to a lesser extent, psi-locine are present in many of the species of the several genera associated with the Mexican ceremony. In fact, these compounds have been isolated from many species of Psilocybe and other genera in widely separated parts of the world, although the evidence available suggests that only in Mexico are psilocybine-containing mushrooms at present utf -lized in na ¡ve ceremonies I ™

The modern mushroom ceremony r an all-night seance that may include a curing ritual. Chants accompany the main part of the ceremony. The intoxication is character! 7 ed by fantastically colored visions in kaleidoscopic move ment and sometimes by auditory hallu cinations, and the partaker loses himself in unearthly flights of fancy.

The mushrooms are collected _n the forests at the time of the new moon by a virgin girl, then taken to a church to remain briefly on the altar. They are never sold in the marketplace. The Ma-zatec call the mushrooms Nti-si-tho, in which "Nti" is a particle of reverence and endearment; the rest of the name means "that which springs forth." A Mazatec explained this thought poetically: "The little mushroom comes of itself, no one knows whence, like the wind that comes we know not whence nor why "

The male or female shaman chants for hours, with frequent clapping or percus sive slaps on the thighs in rhythm with the chant. Maria Sabina's chanting, which has been recorded, studied, and translated, in great part proclaims humbly her qualifications to cure and to interpret divine power through the mush-

Left The sixteenth-century Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagún denounced the Aztec's sacramental use of Teonanácatl, the "wondrous mushroom." This drawing, which appears in Sahagún's famous chronicle, Codex Florentino, aepicts a demonlike spirit over crudely drawn mushrooms

The Chernislry of Teonanacatl

Teonanacatl, the sacred mushrooms of Mexico, owe their hallucinogenic effects to two alkaloids known as psilocybine and psilocine.

The main component, psilocybine, .s the phosphoric acid ester of psilocine: which occurs usually only in »race elements. Psilocybine and psilocine, being tryptamine derivatives, belong to the class of indole alkaloids. Their crystals are shown on page 23; their chemical structure on page 186. The chemical relationship of these hallucinogens to the physiological compound serotonine is especially significant. Serotonine, the molecular model of which is shown on page 187, is a neurotransmitter and, therefore, important in the biochemistry of psychic functions. Both psilocybire and psilocine can be produced synthetically. The active dose ;n man is 6-12 mg. Twenty to 30 mg induce strong visions.

Above left: In Mexico an unusual saint named El Nino is worshiped in the Catholic Church. The Mexican Indians understand him as an embodiment of the sacred mushroom, which they alsc call Niño. (Altar in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas)

rooms. Excerpts from her chant, all in the beautiful tonal Mazatec language, give an idea of her many "qualifications."

"Woman who thunders am I. woman who sounds am I.

Spiderwoman am I, hummingbird woman am I. ..

Eagle woman am I, ;mportant eagle woman am I.

Whirling woman of the whirlwind am I, woman of a sacred, enchanted place am I,

Woman of the shooting stars am I."

R. Gordon Wasson, the first non-Indian fully to witness the Mazatec

Above left: In Mexico an unusual saint named El Nino is worshiped in the Catholic Church. The Mexican Indians understand him as an embodiment of the sacred mushroom, which they alsc call Niño. (Altar in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas)

Above right: The tropical Magic Mushroom Psilocybe cubensis (Stropharia cubensis) was first gathered in Cuba and mycologically ascertained. It grows in all tropical zones, preferring cow manure.

In 1958, thp famous Mazatec shaman Maria Sabir.a performed a Velada (night vigil) on behalf of a seventeen-year-old youth, Pefecto José Garcia, who was seriously ill.

Left to right: Pefecto awaits the commencement of the Veiada.

Pefecto stands up at the beginning of the ceremony, and Maria Sabina turns her head to gaze at him

1 he shaman has incensed pairs of sacred mushrooms and hands Pefecto the intoxicating plant for Ingestion.

Psfccto has heard the unfavorable diagnosis, which Maria Sabina has learned through the help of the muslr rooms—that there is no hope for his recovery. He collapses in terror and despair

The shaman and her daughter, adverse d agnosis notwithstanding, continue to chant, hoping for more insight—even though she has learned that Pefecto's soul has been irrevocably lost.

ceremony, wrote the following understanding thoughts about this use of the mushrooms:

"Here let me say a word about the nature of the psychic disturbance that the eating of the mushroom causes This disturbance is wholly different from the effect of alcohol, as different as night from day. We are entering upon a discussion in wh'ch the vocabulary of the English language, of any European language, is seriously deficient.

"There are no apt words - it to characterize one's state when one is, shall we say, 'bemushroomed.' For hundreds, even thousands, of years, we have thought about these things ;n terms of alcohol, and we now have to break the bounds imposed on us by our alcohoiic obsession. We are all, willy-nilly, confined within the prison walls of our everyday vocabulary. With skill in our choice of words, we may stretch accepted meanings to cover slightly new feelings and thoughts, but when a state ot mind is utterly d;' tinct, wholly novel, then all our old words fail. How do you tell a man who has been born blind what seeing is like? In the present case this is an especially apt analogy, because superficially the bemushroomed man shows a few of the objective symptoms of one who is intoxicated, drunk. Now virtually all the words describing the state of drunkenness, from 'intoxicated' (which literally means 'poisoned') through the scores of current vulgarisms, are contemptuous, belittling, pejorative. How curious it is that modern civilized man finds surcease from care in a drug for which he seems to have no respect! If we use by analogy the terms suitable for alcohol, we prejudice the mushroom, and since there are few among us who have been bemushroomed, there is danger that the experi ence will not be fairly judged. What we need is a vocabulary to describe all the modalities of a divine inebriant..."

Upon receiving :x pairs of mushrooms in the ceremony, Wasson ate them. He experienced the sensation of his soul being removed from his body and floating in space. He saw "geometric

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patterns, angular, in richest colors, which grew into architectural structures, the stonework in brilliant colors, gold and onyx and ebony, extending beyond the reach of right, in vistas measureless to man. The architectural visions seemed to be oriented, seemed to belong to the . . . architecture described by the visionaries of the Bible." In the faint moonlight, "the bouquet on the table assumed the dimensions and shape of an imperial conveyance, a triumphant car, drawn by . . . creatures known only to mythology."

Mushrooms have apparently been ceremonially employed in Mesoamerica for many centuries. Several early sources have suggested that Mayan languages in Guatemala had mushrooms named for the underworld. Miniature mushroom stones, 2,200 years of age, have been found in archaeological sites near Gua temala City, and it has been postulated that stone mushroom effigies buried with a Mayan dignitary suggested a connection with the Nine Lords of the Xibalba, described in the sacred book

Popol Vuh. Actually, more than two hundred mushroom stone effigies have been discovered, the oldest dating from the first millennium B. c. Although the majority are Guatemalan, some have been unearthed in El Salvador and Flon-duras and others as far north as Veracruz and Guerrero in Mexico It is now clear that whatever the use of these "mushroom stones," they indicate the great antiquity of a sophisticated sacred use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

A superb statue of Xochipilli, Aztec Prince of Flowers, from the early sixteenth century, was recently discovered on the slopes of the volcano Mt. Popocatepetl (see illustration, p. 62). His face is in ecstasy, as though seeing visions in an intoxication; his head is slightly tilted, as though hearing voices. His body is engraved with stylized flowers that have been identified as sacred, most of them inebriating, plants. The pedestal on which he sits is decorated with a design representing cross-sections of the caps of Psilocybe aztecorum, a hallucinogenic mushroom known only from

"The niños santos (Psilocybe mexicana) heal. They lower fevers, cure colds, and give freedom from toothaches. They pull the evil spirits out of the body or free the spirit of the sick." —María Sabina

Right A celebrant depicted in the sixteenth-century Magliabecchiano Codex is ingesting a pair of hallucinogenic mushrooms during a sacred rite Behind him is the Lord of the Under world, Mictlantlcuhtii. The three jade green mushrooms in front of the celebrant undoubtedly were painted in this color to indicate their areat value as sacreH objects

Above, Albert Hofmann visited the shaman Maria Sabina in *962 and took many portraits of her.

Page 1R3: The sincerity and absolute faith in the revelatory power of the mushrooms is evident in these photographs of Maria Sabina, who, during the nightlong chanting and clap ping ceremony, feels herself fully in contact with the other world, which the mushrooms have allowed her tl visit.

this volcano. Thus Xochip;,li undoubtedly represents not simply the Prince of Flowers but more specifically the Prince of Inebriating Flowers, including the mushrooms that, in Nahuatl poetry, were called "flowers" and "flowers that intoxicate."

Have psilocybine-containing mush rooms ever been employed as magico-religious hallucinogens in the New World? The answer is probably yes.

A species of Ps'locybe and possibly also Panaeolus are used today near the classic Maya ceremonial center of Palenque, and hallucinogenic mush rooms have been reported in use along the border between Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala. Whether these modern mushroom practices in the Maya region represent vestiges of former use or have been recently introduced from Oaxaca it is not possible as yet to say.

Nevertheless, evidence is now accumulating to indicate that a mushroom cult flourished in prehistoric times— from 100 B.C. to about A.D. 300-400 m northwestern Mexico: in Cclima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Funerary effigies, with two "horns" protruding from the head, are believed to represent male and fe ms e "deities" or priests associated with mushrooms. Traditions among contemporary Huichol Indians in Jal: ;co also suggest the former religious use of these fungi "in ancient times."

What about South America, where these psychoactive mushrooms abound? There is no evidence of such use today, but indications of their apparent former employment are many. The Yurimagua Indians of the Peruvian Amazon were reported in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to be drinking a potently inebriating beverage made from a "tree fungus." The Jesuit report stated that the Indians "mix mushrooms that grow on fallen trees with a kind of reddish film that is found usually attached to rotting trunks. This film is very hot to the taste. No person who drinks thi" brew fails to fall under its effects after three draughts of it, since it is so strong, or more correctly, so tox ic." It has been suggested that the tree mushroom might have been the psychoactive Psilocybe yungensis, which occurs in this region.

In Colombia, many anthropomorphic gold pectorals with two domelike ornaments on the head have been found. They are in the so-called Darien style, and the majority of them have been unearthed in the Sinu area of northwestern Colombia and in the Calima region on the Pacific coast. For lack of a better term, they have been called "telephone bell gode," since the hollow semi-spherical ornaments resemble the bells of old-fashioned telephones. It has been suggested that they represent mushroom effigies. The discovery of similar artifacts in Panama and Costa R;ca and one in Yucatan might be interpreted to suggest a prehistoric continuum of a sacred mushroom cult from Mexico to South America.

Farther to the south in South America, there is archaeological evidence that: may suggest the religious importance of mushrooms. Moche effigy si ;Tup vessels from Peru, for example, have mushroomlike cephalic ornaments.

While the archaeolo^ :cal evidence is convincing, the almost complete lack of reference in colonial literature to such use of mushrooms, and the absence of any known modern hallucinogenic use of mushrooms among aboriginal groups of South America, gives cause for caution in the interpretation of what otherwise might easily be interpreted as ancient mushroom effigies from south of Panama. If, however, it becomes evident that the various archaeological artifacts from South Amerrca mentioned above do represent hallucinogenic mushrooms, then the area for their significance in America will be greatly amplified.

I take the 'little one who springs up out of the earth' (Psilocybe caerulescens) and I see God. I see him springing up out of the earth." —Maria Sabina

Right: Salvia divinorum is easy to recognize by its square stem.

Below: A paste made of the fresh leaves of Salvia divinorum is chewed slowly

Page 165 top left: Painted nettle is used by the Mazatecs as a replacement for Salvia dvinorum

SALVIA DIVINORUM Hierba de la Pastora

Right: Salvia divinorum is easy to recognize by its square stem.

Below: A paste made of the fresh leaves of Salvia divinorum is chewed slowly

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