Morning Glory and Mother Goddess

In Spanish the seeds of the morning glory are commonly known as semilla de la Virgen, seed of the Virgin. The extraordinary importance of the doncella, niha or young maiden, in the preparation of the morning-glory infusion as well as the sacred mushrooms and other divinatory agents has been noted by Wasson (1967a), who thought the Indians might have seized on Christian iconography in this connection because it was already familiar to them in their own supernatural system. I think he was quite right: these associations may well have deep roots in the psychedelic complex of pre-Hispanic Mexico.

In 1940, long before the identification of plants in pre-Columbian art assumed its present significance in relation to hallucinogenic research, archaeologists uncovered a complex of mural paintings at Tepantitia, a compound of sacred buildings within the great pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan, which flourished from the first to the eighth century AD north of the present Mexico City. These paintings have been dated to the fifth or sixth century A.D., when Teotihuacan was not only the greatest urban center in the New World but one of the largest cities anywhere, with perhaps as many as 100,000-200,000 inhabitants.

Figure 7 Ololiuhqui in art. Once thought to represent the male rain god Tialoc, this spectacular mural from Teotihuacan, Mexico, dated ca. AD 500, actually depicts a great Mother Goddess and her priestly attendants with a highly stylized and elaborated morning glory, Rivea corymbosa, the sacred hallucinogenic ololiuhqui of the Aztecs.

Figure 7 Ololiuhqui in art. Once thought to represent the male rain god Tialoc, this spectacular mural from Teotihuacan, Mexico, dated ca. AD 500, actually depicts a great Mother Goddess and her priestly attendants with a highly stylized and elaborated morning glory, Rivea corymbosa, the sacred hallucinogenic ololiuhqui of the Aztecs.

The most prominent elements in the mural are a deity from which flows a stream of water that covers the earth and feeds its vegetation, and above the central figure a great vine-like plant with white funnel-shaped flowers at the ends of its many convoluted branches. Seeds fall from the deity's hands and two priest-attendants flank the main figure on either side. Below this scene are many small human figures playing, singing, dancing, and swimming in a great lake. Because the painting appeared to conform to a well-known Aztec tradition of a paradise ruled over by the male rain god Tialoc, and because the deity itself seemed to have some of Tialoc's attributes, the late Mexican anthropologist Dr. Alfonso Caso identified the mural as Tialocan, the Paradise of Tialoc.

That identification has recently undergone major revisions. Several specialists in the art and iconography of ancient Mexico have come to recognize the central deity as not male but female, which eliminates the male Tialoc of the Aztec pantheon. Instead, the deity of Tepantitia appears now to be an All-Mother or Mother Goddess, perhaps akin to the great Aztec fertility deity Xochiquetzal, Precious Flower, or another of her manifestations, Chalchiutlicue. Skirt of Jade, the Mother of Terrestrial Water. With the reinterpretation of the central deity has come a redefinition of the flowering plant that appears to tower treelike above her. With Schultes's assistance, the "tree" has been identified by myself as none other than the morning glory Rivea corymbosa, clearly recognizable to the practiced eye of the botanist, despite an overlay of mythological elements and the adaptation of natural characteristics to the stylistic conventions of Teotihuacan (Furst, 1974a). Here then we perceive a direct association in an ancient work of art between a Mother Goddess, water, vegetation, and the divine morning glory, a plant that is well known to prefer the banks of streams as its natural habitat and that is still considered to be a messenger of the rainy season, because that is when it first begins to bloom—quite apart from its inherent magical powers of clairvoyance and transformation.

An intricate symbolic network linking the morning glory, fecundity, and the Virgin Mary, not only as the inheritor of the qualities of the pre-Hispanic Mother Goddess but specifically as the divine Mother of life-giving water, was first recognized by Dr. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran, a well-known applied anthropologist as well as medical doctor who at this writing is Undersecretary of Education for Cultural and Indian Affairs in the national government of Mexico.

According to some early Colonial sources, he wrote in Medicina y Magia (1963), a significant work dealing largely with the effects of acculturation on the religion, medicine, and magic of pre-Hispanic Mexico, the Indians of seventeenth-century New Spain thought of the male ololiuhqui as brother to a sacred but botanically unidentified plant called Mother of Water. Intimately related to the male morning glory, this female plant symbolizing a water goddess might have come to be syncretized as the result of Christian acculturation with the qualities of the Virgin Mary, who thereby assumed a Christo-pagan identity as "Mother of Water" or "Mistress of the Waters"—names by which she is actually still called in some villages of central Mexico.

One cannot help wondering to what degree these post-Hispanic folk traditions might actually reflect much older beliefs—such as those that more than a millennium earlier inspired the unknown master of the Tepantitia murals to link the Mother Goddess of Terrestrial Water and Fecundity with the sacred divinatory morning glory Rivea corymbosa.

Figure 8 Heimia salicifolia
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