Morning Glory Seeds as Divinity

Actually, as the Spaniards quickly saw, ololiuhqui, like the mushrooms and other magical plants, was more than just a means of communication with the supernatural. It was itself a divinity and the object of worship, reverently preserved within the secret household shrines of village shamans, curers, and even ordinary people in the early Colonial era. Carefully hidden in consecrated baskets and other dedicatory receptacles, the seeds were personally addressed with prayers, petitions, and incantations, and honored with sacrificial offerings, incense, and flowers. Ololiuhqui was apparently considered to be male. It could even manifest itself in human form to those that drank the sacred infusion. Accounts of the worship of the seeds and other sacred plant hallucinogens as divinities are too specific and they occur too often in the Colonial literature to be dismissed out of hand as mere ethnocentric misconstructions of indigenous belief. In fact, if one looks at peyote among the Huichols, or the mushrooms in central Mexico and Oaxaca, one finds the same sort of identification with the divinities: peyote is the divine deer or supernatural master of the deer species, addressed as Elder Brother and merging with some of the leading deities, and the sacred mushrooms are personified and addressed as "ancestors," "ancient ones," "little princes of the waters," "little saints," and the like.

As mentioned, the best early source on ololiuhqui, as on seventeenth-century indigenous beliefs and practices in general, is Ruiz de Alarcon's Tratado on the "idolatries and superstitions" of the Indians of Morelos and Guerrero. Several chapters of this important work are devoted to what their author calls "the superstition of the ololiuhqui," to which, he complains repeatedly, the Indians continued to attribute divinity in the face of the severest denunciations and punishment. Worse, he writes, the same "superstition" threatened to spread to the lower strata of Colonial society, for which reasons he said he felt compelled to refrain from identifying the plant botanically, except to say that it was a vine growing profusely along the banks of rivers and streams in his native Guerrero and neighboring Morelos (as it still does).

The Indians had special incantations that they addressed to the divine ololiuhqui to cause him to appear and assist in divination and the curing of illnesses:

"Come hither, cold spirit, for you must remove this heat (fever), and you must console your servant, who will serve you perhaps one, perhaps two days, and who will sweep clean the place where you are worshiped." This conjuration in its entirety is so accepted by the Indians that almost all of them hold that the ololiuhqui is a divine thing, in consequence of which ... this conjuration accounts for the custom of veneration of it by the Indians, which is to have it on their altars and in the best containers or baskets that they have, and there to offer it incense and bouquets of flowers, to sweep and water the house very carefully, and for this reason the conjuration says: " ... who will sweep (for) you or serve you one or two days more." And with the same veneration they drink the said seed, shutting themselves in those places like one who was in the sancta sanctorum, with many other superstitions. And the veneration with which these barbarous people revere the seed is so excessive that part of their devotions include washing and sweeping (even) those places where the bushes are found which produce them, which are some heavy vines, even though they are in the wildernesses and thickets. (Ruiz de Alarcon, 1629)

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