Psychedelic Enemas

The rubber enema syringe is actually a South American Indian invention, but other suitable materials were also employed for the bulb. Intoxicating as well as medicinal enemas have been described both in the earliest European accounts of native customs, dating to the sixteenth century, and in the more recent ethnographic literature. Tobacco juice, ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi), and even a species of Anadenanthera (A. colubrina) whose seeds (huiica or wilka) were used for hallucinogenic snuff and in intoxicating beverages, all seem to have been employed for enemas in western South America. Very early Quechua dictionaries mention huiica syringes, and the sixteenth-century chronicler Poma de Ayala (1936) likewise reports enemas made from these potent hallucinogenic seeds among the Inca. Enema syringes also appear in the pictorial art of the Moche civilization, which predates the Incas by more than a thousand years. Sahagun mentions enemas in Aztec medicine, but does not tell us the purpose for which they were employed. Not so the Anonymous Conqueror (1917), another sixteenth-century Mexican source, who writes of the Huastec Indians of Veracruz that, not content with intoxicating themselves by drinking their "wine" (actually pulque, the fermented juice of the agave cactus), they also injected it rectally.

It has only recently come to light that the ancient Maya, too, employed enemas. Enema syringes or narcotic clysters, and even enema rituals, were discovered to be represented in Maya art, an outstanding example being a large painted vase dating AD 600-800, on which a man is depicted carrying an enema syringe, applying an enema to himself, and having a woman applying it to him. As a result of this newly discovered scene, archaeologist M. D. Coe was able to identify a curious object held by a jaguar deity on another painted Maya vessel as an enema syringe. If the enemas of the ancient Maya were, like those of Peruvian Indians, intoxicating or hallucinogenic, they might have been compounds of fermented balche (honey mead), itself a very sacred beverage, fortified with tobacco or with morning-glory-seed infusions. Of course they could also have been a tobacco infusion alone.

The suggestion that the ritual enemas of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica were in fact not just medicinal or therapeutic in our sense but, like those of the Incas, were meant to affect the user's state of consciousness and place him in touch with the supernaturals, is supported not just by the sixteenth-century and later evidence from South America but also by the recent discovery of peyote enemas among the Huichols of the western Sierra Madre in Mexico (Timothy Knab, personal communication). The Huichol syringe is made of the femur of a small deer, with a bulb of deer bladder instead of rubber, closely resembling Plains Indian deer-bone enema syringes in the collections of the Museum of the American Indian in New York. Huichols say shamans who take a peyote infusion rectally instead of by mouth (whole or ground in a specially consecrated mortar) do so because their stomachs are weak and cannot tolerate the very bitter and astringent plant, which often causes nausea and even severe vomiting; however, I suspect that inasmuch as the sacred cactus is itself equated with, and identified as, deer (see Chapters 10 and 11), the practice probably has deeper symbolic meaning.

The tobacco enema is presumably a relatively recent refinement in the history of nicotine ecstasies, while the drinking of tobacco in the form of a syrupy infusion may be among the earliest. The juice, produced by steeping or boiling of the leaves, can either be taken by mouth or imbibed through the nostrils, in which case the active principles are absorbed more quickly into the system. Tobacco drinking to induce the desired trance state, often in great amounts and after prolonged periods of fasting, was and is especially common in shamanic initiation among Amazonian Indians, where it is often followed by the neophyte's first introduction to the ritual Banisteriopsis caapi beverage, whose most important active principles are harmala alkaloids. Tobacco infusions, imbibed through the nostrils, are also well-integrated in the symbolic system and psychopharmacology of drug-assisted folk therapy in urban Peru, where, for example the healer administers it both to his patients and to himself in conjunction with the mescaline-containing San Pedro cactus (Sharon, 1972).

More or less rapid intoxication by eating raw or prepared tobacco, or by snuffing, or more gradual intoxication by sucking, are probably also very old. Snuffing is common, especially in South America, where pulverized tobacco, mixed with wood ashes or some other alkaline preparation to facilitate release of the active principles, is inhaled either alone or in combination with some other psychoactive species. What is often called chewing in the literature should more properly be described as sucking, since the quids prepared of powdered or crumbled tobacco and lime (or ashes) are not actually chewed but held in the mouth, between the gums and the teeth, and sucked for hours, allowing the juice to trickle down the throat. This technique of gradual nicotine intoxication was aboriginally so widespread, from the Northwest Coast of North America through California deep into Amazonia, that it must surely rank among the earliest methods. It is still the common practice among the Yanomamo (Shiriana, Waika) of the Upper Orinoco as well as other aboriginal populations of tropical South America. Significantly, the Yanomamo, who also employ powerful intoxicating tryptamine snuffs in their shamanistic rituals, apparently can and do go for long periods without snuffing but say they suffer physical discomfort if they are deprived of their tobacco quids for even short periods of time (Chagnon et al., 1971). Powdered tobacco mixed with lime in the form of a quid or cud is also one of several ways in which Nicotiana was and is used among both the highland and lowland Maya, as it was throughout Middle America (Thompson, 1970). The early literature lists alleviation of fatigue, hunger, and thirst, and also ritual intoxication among the principal reasons for the practice.

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