The Mushrooms of Language
By Henry Munn
Taken from Hallucinogens & Shamanism, 1973 by Oxford Press Inc.

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The Mazatec Indians eat the mushrooms only at night in absolute

darkness. (1) It is their belief that if you eat them in the daylight you

will go mad. The depths of the night are recognized as the time

most conducive to visionary insights into the obscurities, the mys-

teries, the perplexities of existence. Usually several members of

a family eat the mushrooms together: it is not uncommon for a

father, mother, children, uncles, and aunts to all participate in

these transformations of the mind that elevate consciousness onto

a higher plane. The kinship relation is thus the basis of the tran-

scendental subjectivity that Husserl said is intersubjectivity. The

mushrooms themselves are eaten in pairs, a couple representing

1. The Mazatec Indians, who have a long tradition of using the mushrooms,

inhabit a range of mountains called the Sierra Mazateca in the northeastern corner

of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The shamans in this essay are all native of the

town of Huautla de Jimenez. Properly speaking they are Huautecans; but since the

language they speak has been called Mazatec and they have been referred to in

the previous anthropological literature as Mazatecs, I have retained that name,

though strictly speaking, Mazatecs are the inhabitants of the village of Mazatlan

in the same mountains.

HENRY MUNN has investigated the use of hallucinogenic plants among the Conibo

Indians of eastern Peru and the Mazatec Indians of the mountains of Oaxaca,

Mexico. Although not a professional anthropologist, he has resided for extended

periods of time among the Mazatecs and is married to the niece of the shaman

and shamaness referred to in this essay.

man and woman that symbolizes the dual principle of procreation

and creation. Then they sit together in their inner light, dream

and realize and converse with each other, presences seated there

together, their bodies immaterialized by the blackness, voices from

without their communality.

In a general sense, for everyone present the purpose of the

session is a therapeutic catharsis. The chemicals of transformation

of revelation that open the circuits of light, vision, and communi-

cation, called by us mind-manifesting, were known to the Ameri-

can Indians as medicines: the means given to men to know and to

heal, to see and to say the truth. Among the Mazatecs, many,

one time or another during their lives, have eaten the mushrooms,

whether to cure themselves of an ailment or to resolve a problem;

but it is not everyone who has a predilection for such extreme and

arduous experiences of the creative imagination or who would

want to repeat such journeys into the strange, unknown depths

of the brain very frequently: those who do are the shamans, the

masters, whose vocation it is to eat the mushrooms because they

are the men of the spirit, the men of language, the men of wisdom.

They are individuals recognized by their people to be expert in

such psychological adventures, and when the others eat the mush-

rooms they always call to be with them, as a guide, one of those

who is considered to be particularly acquainted with these modali-

ties of the spirit. The medicine man presides over the session,

for just as the Mazatec family is paternal and authoritarian,

the liberating experience unfolds in the authoritarian context of

a situation in which, rather than being allowed to speak or encour-

aged to express themselves, everyone is enjoined to keep silent and

listen while the shaman speaks for each of those who are present.

As one of the early Spanish chroniclers of the New World said:

"They pay a sorcerer who eats them [the mushrooms] and tells

them what they have taught him. He does so by means of a

rhythmic chant in full voice."

The Mazatecs say that the mushrooms speak. If you ask a sha-

man where his imagery comes from, he is likely to reply: I didn't

say it, the mushrooms did. No mushroom speaks, that is a primi-

tive anthropomorphization of the natural, only man speaks, but he

who eats these mushrooms, if he is a man of language, becomes en-

dowed with an inspired capacity to speak. The shamans who eat

them, their function is to speak, they are the speakers who chant

and sing the truth, they are the oral poets of their people, the doc-

tors of the word, they who tell what is wrong and how to remedy

it, the seers and oracles, the ones possessed by the voice. "It is not

I who speak," said Heraclitus, "it is the logos." Language is an

ecstatic activity of signification. Intoxicated by the mushrooms,

the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capa-

ble of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth

from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of

experience. At times it is as if one were being told what to say, for

the words leap to mind, one after another, of themselves without

having to be searched for: a phenomenon similar to the automatic

dictation of the surrealists except that here the flow of conscious-

ness, rather than being disconnected, tends to be coherent: a ra-

tional enunciation of meanings. Message fields of communication

with the world, others, and one's self are disclosed by the mush-

rooms. The spontaneity they liberate is not only perceptual, but

linguistic, the spontaneity of speech, of fervent, lucid discourse, of

the logos in activity. For the shaman, it is as if existence were utter-

ing itself through him. From the beginning, once what they have

eaten has modified their consciousness, they begin to speak and at

the end of each phrase they say tzo-"says" in their language--like

a rhythmic punctuation of the said. Says, says, says. It is said. I say.

Who says! We sag, man says, language says, being and existence


Cross-legged on the floor in the darkness of huts, close to the

fire, breathing the incense of copal, the shaman sits with the fur-

rowed brow and the marked mouth of speech. Chanting his words,

clapping his hands, rocking to and fro, he speaks in the night of

chirping crickets. What is said is more concrete than ephemeral

phantasmagoric lights: words are materializations of conscious-

ness; language is a privileged vehicle of our relation to reality. Let

us go looking for the tracks of the spirit, the shamans say. Let us

go to the cornfield looking for the tracks of the spirits' feet in the

warm ground. So then let us go walking ourselves along the path

in search of significance, following the words of two discourses

enregistered like tracks on magnetic tapes, then translated from

the native tonal language, to discover and explicitate what is said

by an Indian medicine man and medicine woman during such

ecstatic experiences of the human voice speaking with rhythmic

force the realities of life and society.

The short, stout, elderly woman with her laughing moon face,

dressed in a huipil, the long dress, embroidered with flowers and

birds, of the Mazatec women, a dark shawl wrapped around her

shoulders, her gray hair parted down the middle and drawn into

two pigtails, golden crescents hanging from her ears, bent forward

from where she knelt on the earthen floor of the hut and held a

2. The inspiration produced by the mushrooms is very much like that described by

Nietzsche in Ecce Home. Since the statement of Rimbaud, "I is another," spontane-

ous language, speaking or writing as if from dictation (to use the common expression

for an activity very difficult to describe in its truth) has been of paramount interest to

philosophers and poets. Says the Mexican, Octavio Pat, in an essay on Breton, "The

inspired one, the man who in truth speaks, does not say anything that is his: from his

mouth speaks language." Octavio Pat, "Andre Breton o La Busqueda del Comienzo,"

Corriente Alterna (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno, 1967), p. F3

handful of mushrooms in the fragrant, purifying smoke of copal

rising from the glowing coals of the fire, to bless them: known to

the ancient Meso-Americans as the Flesh of God, called by her

people the Blood of Christ. Through their miraculous mountains

of light and rain, the Indians say that Christ once walked--it is

a transformation of the legend of Quetzalcoatl--and from where

dropped his blood, the essence of his life, from there the holy

mushrooms grew, the awakeners of the spirit, the food of the lumi-

nous one. Flesh of the world. Flesh of language. In the beginning

was the word and the word became flesh. In the beginning there

was flesh and the flesh became linguistic. Food of intuition. Food

of wisdom. She ate them, munched them up, swallowed them

and burped; rubbed ground-up tobacco along her wrists and fore-

arms as a tonic for the body; extinguished the candle; and sat

waiting in the darkness where the incense rose from the embers

like glowing white mist. Then after 9 while came the enlighten-

ment and the enlivenment and all at once, out of the silence, the

woman began to speak, to chant, to pray, to sing, to utter her


My God, you who are the master of the whole world, what

we want is to search for and encounter from where comes sick-

ness, from where comes pain and affliction. We are the ones

who speak and cure and use medicine. So without mishap, with-

out difficulty, lift us into the heights and exalt us.

From the beginning, the problem is to discover what the sick-

ness is the sick one is suffering from and prognosticate the remedy.

Medicine woman, she eats the mushrooms to see into the spirit of

the sick, to disclose the hidden, to intuit how to resolve the un-

solved: for an experience of revelations. The transformation of

her everyday self is transcendental and gives her the power to

move in the two relevant spheres of transcendence in order to

(3) The shamanistic discourses studied in this essay, were tape-recorded. I am

indebted for the translations to a bilingual woman of Huautla, Mrs, Eloina Estrada

de Gonzalez, who listened to the recordings and told me, phrase by phrase, in

Spanish, what the shaman and shamaness were saying in their native language. As

far as I know, the words of neither of these oral poets have hitherto been pub-

lished. They are Mrs. Irene Pineda de Figueroa and Mr. Romh Estrada. The com-

plete text of each discourse takes up ninety-two pages. For the purposes of this

essay, I have merely selected the most representative passages.

achieve understanding: that of the other consciousness where the

symptoms of illness can be discerned; and that of the divine, the

source of the events in the world. Together with visionary empa-

thy, her principal means of realization is articulation, discourse,

as if by saying she will say the answer and announce the truth.

It is necessary to look and think in her spirit where it hurts.

I must think and search in your presence where your glory is,

My Father, who art the Master of the World. Where does this

sickness come from? Was it a whirlwind or bad air that fell in

the door or in the doorway! So are we going to search and to

ask, from the head to the feet, what the matter is. Let's go

searching for the tracks of her feet to encounter the sickness

that she is suffering from. Animals in her heart! Let's go search-

ing for the tracks of her feet, the tracks of her nails. That it be

alleviated and healed where it hurts. What are we going to do

to get rid of this sickness!

For the Mazatecs, the psychedelic experience produced by

the mushrooms is inseparably associated with the cure of illness.

The idea of malady should be understood to mean not only physi-

cal illness, but mental troubles and ethical problems. It is when

something is wrong that the mushrooms are eaten. If there is noth-

ing the matter with you there is no reason to eat them. Until re-

cent times, the mushrooms were the only medicine the Indians

had recourse to in times of sickness? Their medicinal value is by

no means merely magical, but chemical. According to the Indians,

syphilis, cancer, and epilepsy have been alleviated by their use;

tumors cured. They have empirically been found by the Indians to

be particularly effective for the treatment of stomach disorders

and irritations of the skin. The woman whose words we are listen-

ing to, like many, discovered her shamanistic vocation when she

was cured by the mushrooms of an illness: after the death of her

husband she broke out all over with pimples; she was given the

mushrooms to see whether they would "help" her and the malady

disappeared. Since then she has eaten them on her own and given

them to others.

If someone is sick, the medicine man is called. The treatment

he employs is chemical and spiritual. Unlike most shamanistic

methods, the Mazatec shaman actually gives medicine to his

patients: by means of the mushrooms he administers to them

physiologically, at the same time as he alters their consciousness.

It is probably for psychosomatic complaints and psychological

troubles that the liberation of spontaneous activity provoked by

the mushrooms is most remedial: given to the depressed, they

awaken a catharsis of the spirit; to those with problems, a vision

of their existential way. If he hasn't come to the conclusion that

the illness is incurable, the medicine man repeats the therapeutic

sessions three times at intervals. He also works over the sick, for

his intoxicated condition of intense, vibrant energy gives him a

strength to heal that he exercises by massage and suction.

His most important function, however, is to speak for the sick

one. The Mazatec shamans eat the mushrooms that liberate the

fountains of language to be able to speak beautifully and with elo-

quence so that their words, spoken for the sick one and those pres-

ent, will arrive and be heard in the spirit world from which comes

benediction or grief. The function of the speaker, nevertheless, is

much more than simply to implore. The shaman has a conception

of poesis(4) in its original sense as an action: words themselves are

medicine. To enunciate and give meaning to the events and situa-

tions of existence is life giving in itself.

"The psychoanalyst listens, Whereas the shaman speaks," points

out Levi-Stauss:

When a transference is established, the patient puts words into

the mouth of the psychoanalyst by attributing to him alleged

feelings and intentions; in the incantation, on the contrary, the

shaman speaks for his patient. He questions her and puts into

her mouth answers that correspond to the interpretation of her

condition. A pre-requisite role--that of listener for the psyche-

analyst and of orator for the shaman--establishes a direct rela-

(4); ". · · the Greek word which signifies poetry was employed by the writer of

an alchemical papyrus to designate the operation of 'transmutation' itself. What

a ray of light! One knows that the word 'poetry' comes from the creek verb which

signifies 'make.' But that does not designate an ordinary fabrication except for those

who reduce it to verbal nonsense. For those who have conserved the sense of the

poetic mystery, Poetry is a sacred action. That is to say, one which exceeds the

ordinary level of human action. Like alchemy, its intention is to associate itself

with the mystery of the 'primordial creation'..." Michel Carrouges, Andre Breton

et les donnCes fondamentales du surrealisme (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1950)

tionship with the patient's conscious and an indirect relationship

with his unconscious. This is the function of the incantation

proper. The shaman provides the sick woman with a language

by means of which unexpressed and otherwise inexpressible

psychic states can be immediately expressed. And it is the tran-

sition to this verbal expression--at the same time making it

possible to undergo in an ordered and intelligible form a real

experience that would otherwise be chaotic and inexpressible--

which induces the release of the physiological process, that is,

the reorganization, in a favorable direction, of the process to

which the sick woman is subjected.(5)

These remarks of the French anthropologist become particu-

larly relevant to Mazatec shamanistic practice when one con-

siders that the effect of the mushrooms, used to make one capable

of curing, is to inspire the shaman with language and transform

him into an oracle.

"That come all the saints, that come all the virgins," chants the

medicine woman in her sing-song voice, invoking the beneficent

forces of the universe, calling to her the goddesses of fertility, the

virgins: fertile ones because they have not been sowed and are

fresh for the seed of men to beget children in their wombs.

The Virgin of Conception and the Virgin of the Nativity.

That Christ come and the Holy Spirit. Fifty-three Saints. Fifty-

three Saintesses. That they sit down at her side, on her mat, on

her bed, to free her from sickness.

The wife of the man in whose house she was speaking was preg-

nant and throughout the session of creation, from the midst of

genesis, her language as spontaneous as her being that has begun

to vibrate, she concerns herself with the emergence of life, with

the birth of an existence into that everyday social world that her

developing discourse expresses:

With the baby that is going to come there is no suffering, says.

It's a matter of a moment, there isn't going to be any suffer-

ing, says. From one moment to another it will fall Into the

world, says. From one moment to another, we are going to

(5)· Claude Levi-Strauss, "The Effectiveness of Symbols," Structural Anthropology

(Doubleday Anchor, 1967), pp. 193-95.

save her from her woe, says. That her innocent creature come

without mishap, says. Her elf. That is what it is called when it

is still in the womb of its mother. From one moment to another,

that her innocent creature, her elf come, says.

"We are going to search and question," she says, "untie and

disentangle." She is on a journey, for there is distanciation and go-

ing there, somewhere, without her even moving from the spot

where she sits and speaks. Her consciousness is roaming through-

out existential space. Sibyl, seer, and oracle, she is on the track of

significance and the pulsation of her being is like the rhythm of


"Let us go searching for the path, the tracks of her feet, the

tracks of her nails. From the right side to the left side, let us look."

To arrive at the truth, to solve problems and to act with wisdom, it

is necessary to find the way in which to go. Meaning is intentional.

Possibilities are paths to be chosen between. For the Indian

woman, footprints are images of meaning, traces of a going to and

from, sedimented clues of significance to be looked for from one

side to the other and followed to where they lead: indicators of

directionality; signs of existence. The hunt for meaning is a

temporal one, carried into the past and projected into the future;

what happened? she inquires, what will happen? leaving behind

for what is ahead go the footprints between departure and arrival:

manifestations of human, existential ecstasis. And the method of

looking, from the right side to the left side, is the articulation of

now this intuition, fact, feeling or wish, now that, the intention of

speaking bringing to light meanings whose associations and fur-

ther elucidations are like the discovery of a path where the con-

tents to be uttered are tracks to be followed into the unexplored,

the unknown and unsaid into which she adventures by language,

the seeker of significance, the questioner of significance, the articu-

lator of significance: the significance of existence that signifies with

signs by the action of speaking the experience of existence.

"Woman of medicines and curer, who walks with her appear-

ance and her soul," sings the woman, bending down to the ground

and straightening up, rocking back and forth as she chants, divid-

ing the truth in time to her words: emitter of signs. "She is the

woman of the remedy and the medicine. She is the woman who

speaks. The woman who puts everything together. Doctor woman.

Woman of words. Wise woman of problems."

She is not speaking, most of the time, for any particular person,

but for everyone: all who are afflicted, troubled, unhappy, puzzled

by the predicaments of their condition. Now, in the course of her

discourse, uttering realities, not hallucinations, talking of existence

in a communal world where the we is more frequent than the I,

she comes to a more general sickness and aggravation than physi-

cal illness: the economic condition of poverty in which her people


"Let us go to the cornfield searching for the tracks of the feet,

for her poorness and humility. That gold and silver come," she

prays. "Why are we poor? Why are we humble in this town of

Huautla!" That is the paradox: why in the midst of such great

natural wealth as their fertile, plentiful mountains where water-

falls cascade through the green foliage of leaves and ferns, should

they be miserable from poverty, she wants to know. The daily diet

of the Indians consists of black beans and tortillas covered with

red chili sauce; only infrequently, at festivals, do they eat meat.

White spots caused by malnutrition splotch their red faces. Babies

are often sick. It is wealth she pleads for to solve the problem of


The mushrooms, which grow only during the season of torren-

tial rains, awaken the forces of creation and produce an experience

of spiritual abundance, of an astonishing, inexhaustible constitu-

tion of forms that identifies them with fertility and makes them

a mediation, a means of communion, of communication between

man and the natural world of which they are the metaphysical

flesh. The theme of the shamaness, mother and grandmother,

woman of fertility, bending over as she chants and gathering the

earth to her as if she were collecting with her hands the harvest

of her experience, is that of giving birth, is that of growth. Agri-

culturalists, they are people of close family interrelationships and

many children: the clusters of Neolithic thatch-roofed houses on

the mountain peaks are of extended family groups. The woman's

world is that of the household, her concern is for her children and

all the children of her people.

"All the family, the babies and the children, that happiness

come to them, that they grow and mature without anything be-

falling them.' Free them from all classes of sickness that there are

here in the earth. Without complaint and with good will," she

says, "so will come well-being, will come gold. Then we will have

food. Our beans, our gourds, our coffee, that is what we want.

That come a good harvest. That come richness, that come well-

being for all of our children. All my shoots, my children, my

seeds," she sings.

But the world of her children is not to be her world, nor that

of their grandfathers. Their indigenous society is being trans-

fonned by the forces of history. Until only recently, isolated from

the modern world, the Indians lived in their mountains as people

lived in the Neolithic. There were only paths and they walked

everywhere they went. Trains of burros carried out the principal

crop-coffee-to the markets in the plain. Now roads have been

built, blasted out of rock and constructed along the edges of the

mountains over precipices, to connect the community with the

society beyond. The children are people of opposites: just as they

speak two languages, Mazatec and Spanish, they live between

two times: the timeless, cyclical time of recurrence of the People

of the Deer and the time of progress, change and development of

modern Mexico. In her discourse, no stereotyped rite or traditional

ceremony with prescribed words and actions, speaking of every-

thing, of the ancient and the modern, of what is happening to

her people, the woman of problems, peering into the future, rec-

ognizes the inevitable process of transition, of disintegration and

integration, that confronts her children: the younger generation

destined to live the crisis and make the leap from the past into the

future. For them it is necessary to learn to read and to write and

to speak the language of this new world and in order to advance

themselves, to be educated and gain knowledge, contained in

books, radically different from the traditions of their own society

whose language is oral and unwritten, whose implements are the

hoe, the axe, and the machete.

Also a book is needed, says. Good book. Book of good read-

ing in Spanish, says. In Spanish. All your children, your crea-

tures, that their thought and their custom change, says. For me

there is no time. Without difficulty, let us go, says. With

tenderness. With freshness. With sweetness. With good will.

"Don't leave us ill darkness or blind us," she begs the origins of

light, for in these supernatural modalities of consciousness there

are dangers on every hand of aberration and disturbance. "Let us

go along the good path. The path of the veins of our blood. The

path of the Master of the World. Let us go in a path of happiness."

The existential way, the conduct of one's life, is an idea to which

she returns again and again. The paths she mentions are the moral,

physical, mental, emotional qualities typical of the experience

of animated conscious activity from the midst of which spring her

words: goodness, vitality, reason, transcendence, and joy. Seated

on the ground in the darkness, seeing with her eyes closed, her

thought travels within along the branching arteries of the blood-

stream and without across the fields of existence. There is a very

definite physiological duality about the mushroom experience

which leads the Indians to say that by a kind of visceral introspec-

tion they teach one the workings of the organism: it is as if the

system were projected before one into a vision of the heart, the

liver, lungs, genitals, and stomach.

In the course of the medicine woman's discourse, it is under-

standable that she should, from astonishment, from gratitude,

from the knowledge of experience, say something about the mush-

rooms that have provoked her condition of inspiration. In a sense,

to speak of "the mushroom experience" is a reification as absurd as

the anthropomorphization of the mushrooms when it is said that

they talk: the mushrooms are merely the means, in interaction

with the organism, the nervous system, and the brain, of produc-

ing an experience grounded in the ontological-existential possibili-

ties of the human, irreducible to the properties of a mushroom.

The experience is psychological and social. What is spoken of by

the shamaness is her communal world; even the visions of her

imagination must have their origin in the context of her existence

and the myths of her culture. The subject of another society will

have other visions and express a different content in his discourse.

It would seem probable, however, that apart from emotional sim-

ilarities, colored illuminations, and the purely abstract patterns of

a universal conscious activity, between the experiences of individu-

als with differing social inherences, the common characteristic

would be discourse, for judging by their effect the chemical con-

stituents of the mushrooms have some connection with the lin-

guistic centers of the brain. "So says the teacher of words," says

the woman, "so says the teacher of matters." It is paradoxical that

the rediscovery of such chemicals should have related their effects

to madness and pejoratively called them drugs, when the shamans

who used them spoke of them as medicines and said from their

experience that the metamorphosis they produced put one into

communication with the spirit. It is precisely the value of studying

the use in so-called primitive societies of such chemicals that the

way be found beyond the superficial to a more essential under-

standing of phenomena which we, with our limited conception of

the rational, have too quickly, perhaps mistakenly, termed irra-

tional, instead of comprehending that such experiences are revela-

tions of a primordial existential activity, of "a power of significa-

tion, a birth of sense or a savage sense."(6) What are we confronted

with by the shamanistic discourse of the mushroom eaters? A

modality of reason in which the logos of existence enunciates itself,

or by the delirium and incoherence of derangement?

"They are doing nothing but talk," says the medicine woman,

"those who say that these matters are matters of the past. They

are doing nothing but talk, the people who call them crazy mush-

rooms." They claim to have knowledge of what they do not have

any experience of; consequently their contentions are nonsense:

nothing but expressions of the conventionality the mushrooms

explode by their disclosure of the extraordinary; mere chatter if

it weren't for the fact that the omnipotent They forms the force

of repression which, by legislation and the implementation of au-

thority, has come to denominate infractions of the law and the

code of health, the means of liberation that once were called

medicines. In a time of pills and shots, of scientific medicine, the

wise woman is saying, the use of the mushrooms is not an ana-

(6). "In a sense, as Husserl says, philosophy consists of the restitution of a power

of signification, a birth of sense or a savage sense, an expression of experience by

experience which particularly clarifies the special domain of language." Maurice Mer-

leau-Ponty, Le Visible et l'invisible (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1964).

chronistic and obsolete vestige of magical practices: their power

to awaken consciousness and cure existential ills is not any the less

relevant now than it was in the past. She insists that it is ignorance

of our dimension of mystery, of the wellsprings of meaning, to

think that their effect is insanity.

"Good and happiness," she says, naming the emotions of her

activized, perceptualized being. "They are not crazy mushrooms.

They are a remedy, says. A remedy for decent people. For the for-

eigners," she says, speaking of us, wayfarers from advanced in-

dustrial society, who had begun to; arrive in the high plazas of her

people to experiment with the psychedelic mushrooms that grew

in the mountains of the Mazatecs. She has an inkling of the

truth, that what we look for is a cure of our alienations, to be put

back in touch, by violent means ii necessary, with that original,

creative self that has been alienated from us by our middle-class

families, education, and corporate world of employment.

"There in their land, it is taken account of, that there is some-

thing in these mushrooms, that they are good, of use," she says.

"The doctor that is here in our earth. The plant that grows in this

place. With this we are going to put together, we are going to

alleviate ourselves. It is our remedy. He that suffers from pain and

illness, with this it is possible to alleviate him. They aren't called

mushrooms. They are called prayer. They ale called well-being.

They are called wisdom. They are there with the Virgin, Our

Mother, the Nativity." The Indians do not call the mushrooms of

light mushrooms, they call them the holy ones. For the shamaness,

the experience they produce is synonymous with language, with

communication, on behalf of her people, with the supernatural

forces of the universe; with plenitude and joyfulness; with percep-

tion, insight, and knowledge. It is as if one were born again; there-

fore their patroness is the Goddess of Birth, the Goddess of


With prayers we will get rid of it all. With the prayers of

the ancients. We will clean ourselves, we will purify ourselves

with clear water, we will wash our intestines where they are

infected. That sicknesses of the body be gotten rid of. Sicknesses

of the atmosphere. Bad air. That they be gotten rid of, that

they be removed. That the wind carry them away. For this is

the doctor. For this is the plant. For this is the sorcerer of the

light of day. For this is the remedy. For this is the medicine

woman, the woman doctor who resolves all classes of problems

in order to rid us of them with her prayers. We are going with

well being, without difficulty, to implore, to beg, to supplicate.

Well-being for all tie babies and the creatures. We are going

to beg, to implore for them, to beseech for their well-being and

their studies, that they live, that they grow, that they sprout.

That freshness come, tenderness, shoots, joy. That we be blessed,

all of us.

She goes on talking and talking, non-stop; there are lulls when

her voice slows down, fades out almost to a whisper; then come

rushes of inspiration, moments of intense speech; she yawns great

yawns, laughs with jubilation, claps her hands in time to her in-

terminable singsong; but after the setting out, the heights of ecstasy

are reached, the intoxication begins to ebb away, and she sounds

the theme of going back to normal, everyday conscious existence

again after this excursion into the beyond, of rejoining the ego she

has transcended:

We are going to return without mishap, along a fresh path, a

good path, a path of good air; in a path through the cornfield,

in a path through the stubble, without complaint or any diffi-

culty, we return without mishap. Already the cock has begun

to crow. Rich cock that reminds us that we live in this life.

The day that dawns is that of a new world in which there is no

longer any need to walk to where you go. "With tenderness and

freshness, let us go in a plane, in a machine, in a car. Let us go

from one side to another, searching for the tracks of the fists, the

tracks of the feet, the tracks of the nails."

It seemed that she had been speaking for eight hours. The sec-

ends of time were expanded, not from boredom, but from the in-

tensity of the lived experience. In terms of the temporality of

clocks, she had only been speaking for four hours when she con-

eluded with a vision of the transcendence that had become imma-

nent and had now withdrawn from her. "There is the flesh of

God. There is the flesh of Jesus Christ. There with the Virgin."

The most frequently repeated words of the woman are freshness

and tenderness; those of the shaman, whose discourse we will now

consider, are fear and terror: what one might call the emotional

poles of these experiences. There is an illness that the Mazatecs

speak of that they name fright. We say traumatism. They walk

through their mountains along their arduous paths on the different

levels of being, climbing and descending, in the sunlight and

through the clouds; all around there are grottos and abysses, mys-

terious groves, places where live the laa', the little people, mis-

chievous dwarfs and gnomes. Rivers and wells are inhabited by

spirits with powers of enchantment. At night in these altitudes,

winds whirl up from the depths, rush out of the distance like

monsters, and pass, tearing everything in their path with their

fierce claws. Phantoms appear in the mists. There are persons

with the evil eye. Existence in the world and .with others is

treacherous, perilous: unexpectedly something may happen to

you and that event, unless it is exorcised, can mark you for life.

The Indians say following the beliefs of their ancestors, the

Siberians, that the soul is sometimes frightened from one, the spirit

goes, you are alienated from yourself or possessed by another: you

lose yourself. It is for this neurosis that the shamans, the question-

ers of enigmas, are the great doctors and the mushrooms the med-

icine. It is the task of the Mazatec shaman to look for the ex-

travagated spirit, find it, bring it back, and reintegrate the per-

sonality of the sick one. If necessary, he pays the powers that have

appropriated the spirit by burying cacao, beans of exchange,

wrapped in the bark cloth of offerings, at the place of fright which

he has divined by vision. The mushrooms, the shamans say, show:

you see, in the sense that you realize, it is disclosed to you. "Bring

her spirit, her soul," implores the medicine woman to whom we

have just been listening. "Let her spirit come back from where it

got lost, from where it stayed, from where it was left behind, from

wherever it is that her spirit is wandering lost."

With just such a traumatic experience, began the shamanistic

vocation of the man we will now study. In his late fifties, he has

been eating the mushrooms for nine years. Whv did he begin?

"I began to eat them because I was sick," he said when asked.'

(7)· The story of how he began his shamanistic career, together with the informa-

tion to follow about fright, payments to the mountains, and practices in relation

to the hunt, are quotations from an interview with Mr. Roman Estrada whom I

questioned through an interpreter: the conversation was tape-recorded and then

translated from the native language by Mrs, Eloina Estrada de Gonzalez, the niece

of the shaman, who served as questioner in the interview itself.

No matter how much the doctors treated me, I didn't get well.

I went to the Latin American Hospital. I went to Cordoba as

well. I went to Mexico. I went to Tehuacan and wasn't allevi-

ated. Only with the mushrooms was I cured. I had to eat the

mushrooms three times and the man from San Lucas, who

gave them to me, proposed his work as a medicine man to me,

telling me: now you are going to receive my. study. I asked him

why he thought I was going to receive it when I didn't want

to learn anything about his wisdom, I only wanted to get better

and be cured of my illness. Then he answered me: now it is no

longer you who command. It is already the middle of the night.

I am going to leave you a table with ground tobacco on it and

a cross underneath it so that you learn this work. Tell me which

of these things you choose and like the best of all, he said,

when everything was ready. Which of these works do you want?

I answered that I didn't want what he offered me. Here you

don't give the orders, he replied; I am he who is going to say

whether you receive this work or not because I am he who is

going to give you your diploma in the presence of God. Then

I heard the voice of my father. He had been dead for forty-

three years when he spoke to me the first time that I ate the

mushrooms: This work that is being given to you, he said, I

am he who tells you to accept it. Whether you can see me or

not, I don't know. I couldn't imagine from where this voice

came that was speaking to me. Then it was that the shaman of

San Lucas told me that the voice I was hearing was that of

my father. The sickness from which I was suffering was alleviated

by eating the mushrooms. So I told the old man, I am disposed

to receive what it is that you offer me, but I want to learn

everything. Then it was that he taught me how to suck through

space with a hollow tube of cane. To suck through space means

that you who are seated there, I can draw the sickness out of

you by suction from a distance.

What had begun as a physical illness, appendicitis, became a

traumatic neurosis. The doctors wheeled him into an operating

room-he who had never been in a hospital in his life--and suf-

focated him with an ether mask. And he gave up the ghost while

they cut the appendix out of him. When he came to, he lay fright-

ened and depressed, without any will to live, he'd had enough.

Instead of recuperating, he lay like a dead man with his eyes wide

open, not saying anything to anyone, what was the use, his life had

been a failure, he had never become the important man he had

aspired all his life to be, now it was too late; his life was over and

he had done nothing that his children might remember with re-

spect and awe. The doctors couldn't help him because there was

nothing wrong with him physically; contrary to what he believed,

he had survived the operation; the slash into his stomach had been

sewn up and had healed; nevertheless, he remained apathetic and

unresponsive, for be had been terrified by death and his spirit had

flown away like a bird or a fleet-footed deer. He needed someone to

go out and hunt it for him, to bring back his spirit and resuscitate


The medicine man, from the nearby village of San Lucas, whom

he called to him when the modern doctors failed to cure him of

the strange malady he suffered from, was renowned throughout

the mountains as a great shaman, a diviner of destiny. The short,

slight, wizened old man was 105 years old. He gave to his patient,

who was suffering from depression, the mushrooms of vitality,

and the therapy worked. He vividly relived the operation in his

imagination. According to him, the mushrooms cut him open,

arranged his insides, and sewed him up again. One of the reasons

he hadn't recovered was his conviction that materialistic medicine

was incapable of really curing since it was divorced from all coop-

eration with the spirits and dependence upon the supernatural.

In his imagination, the mushrooms performed another surgical

intervention and corrected the mistakes of the profane doctor

which he considered responsible for his lingering lethargy. He

went through the whole process in his mind. It was as if he were

operating upon himself, undoing what had been done to him, and

doing it over again himself. The trauma was exorcised. By intensely

envisioning with a heightened, expanded consciousness what had

happened to him under anesthesia, he assumed at last the frighten-

ing event he had previously been unable to integrate into his ex-

perience. His physiological cure was completed psychologically;

he was finally healed by virtue of the assimilative, creative powers

of the imagination. The dead man came back to life, he wanted to

live because he felt once again that he was alive and had the force

to go on living: once exhausted and despondent, he was now in-

vigorated and rejuvenated.

The cure is successful because not only is his spirit awakened,

but he is offered another future: a new profession that is a com-

pensation for his humble one as a storekeeper. The ancient wise

man, on the brink of death, wants to transmit to the man in his

prime, his knowledge. What he encounters is resistance. The other

doesn't want to assume the vocation of shaman, he only wants to

be cured, without realizing that the cure is inseparable from the

acceptance of the vocation which will release him from the repres-

sion of his creative forces that has caused the neurosis with which

he is afflicted. It is no longer you who command, he is told, for

his impulse to die is stronger than his desire to live; therefore the

counterforce, if it is to be effective, cannot be his: it must be the

will of the other transferred to him. You are too far gone to have

any say in the matter, the medicine man tells him, it is already the

middle of the night. By negating the will of his patient, he arouses

it and prepares him to accept what is being suggested to him.

He shows him the table, the tobacco, the cross: signs of the

shaman's work. The table is an altar at which to officiate. When

the Mazatecs eat the mushrooms they speak of the sessions as

masses. The shaman, even though a secular figure unordained by

the Church, assumes a sacerdotal role as the leader of these cere-

monies. In a similar way, for the Indians each father of a family

is the religious priest of his household. The tobacco, San Pedro,

is believed to have powerful magical and remedial values. The

cross indicates a crossing of the ways, an intersection of existential

paths, a change, as well as being the religious symbol of crucifixion

and resurrection. The shaman tells him to choose. Still the man

refuses. You don't give the orders, says the medicine man. intent

upon evoking the patient's other self in order to bring him back

to life, the I who is another. Whether you want to or not, you are

going to receive your diploma, he says, to incite him with the

prospect of award and reputation. Living in an oral culture with-

out writing, where the acquisition of skills is traditional, handed

down from father to son, mother to daughter, rather than con-

tained in books, for the Mazatecs wisdom is gained during the

experiences produced by the mushrooms: they are experiences of

vision and communication that impart knowledge.

Now he is spoken to. The inner voice is suddenly audible. He

hears the call. He is told to accept the vocation of medicine man

that he has hitherto adamantly refused. He cannot recognize this

voice as his own, it must be another's and the shaman, intent

upon giving him a new destiny, sure of the talent he has divined,

interprets for him from what region of himself springs the com-

mand he has heard. It is your father who is telling you to accept

this work. A characteristic of such transcendental experiences is

that family relationships, in the nexus of which personality is

formed, become present to one with intense vividness. His super-

ego, in conjunction with the liberation of his vitality, has spoken

to him and his resistance is liquidated; he decides to live and ac-

cepts the new vocation around which his personality is reinte-

grated: he becomes an adept of the dimensions of consciousness

where live the spirits; a speaker of mighty words.

In his house, we entered a room with bare concrete walls and

a high roof of corrugated iron. His wife, wrapped in shawls, was

sitting on a mat. His children were there; his family had assembled

to eat the mushrooms with their father; one or two were given to

the children of ten and twelve. The window was closed and with

the door shut, the room was sealed off from the outside world;

nobody would be permitted to leave until the effect of what they

had eaten had passed away as a precaution against the peril of

derangement. He was a short, burly man, dressed in a reefer jacket

over a tee shirt, old brown bell-bottomed pants down to his short

feet, an empty cartridge belt around his waist. In daily life, he is

the owner of a little store stocked meagerly with canned goods,

boxes of crackers, beer, soda, candy, bread, and soap. He sits be-

hind the counter throughout the day looking out upon the muddy

street of the town where dogs prowl in the garbage between the

legs of the passers-by. From time to time he pours out a shot glass

of rane liquor for a customer. He himself neither smokes nor

drinks. He is a hunter in whom the instincts of his people survive

from the time when they were chasers of game as well as agricul-

turalists: inhabitants of the Land of the Deer.

Now it is night-time and he prepares to exercise his shamanistic

function. His great-grandfather was one of the counselors of the

town and a medicine man. With the advent of modern medicine

and the invasion of the foreigners in search of mushrooms, the

shamanistic customs of the Mazatecs have almost completely

vanished. tie himself no longer believes many of the belieis of his

ancestors, but as one of the last oral poets of his people, he con-

sciously keeps alive their traditions. "How good it is," he says,

"to talk as the ancients did." He hardly speaks Spanish and is

fluent only in his native language. Spreading out the mushrooms

in front of him, he selected and handed a bunch of them to each

of those present after blessing them in the smoke of the copal.

Once they had been eaten, the lights were extinguished and every-

one sat in silence. Then he began to speak, seated in a chair from

which he got up to dance about, whirling and scuffling as he spoke

in the darkness. It was pouring, the rain thundering on the roof of

corrugated iron. There were claps of thunder. Flashes of lightning

at the window.

Christ, Our Lord, illuminate me with the light of day, illumi-

nate my mind. Christ, Our Lord, don't leave me in darkness or

blind me, you who know how to give the light of day, you who

illuminate the night and give the light. So did the Holy

Trinity that made and put together the world of Christ, Our

Lord, illuminated the Moon, says; illuminated the Big Star, says;

illuminated the Cross Star, says; illuminated the Hook Star, says;

illuminated the Sandal, says; illuminated the Horse, says.

One who eats the mushroom sinks into somnolence during the

transition from one modality of consciousness to another, into a

deep absorption, a reverie. Gradually colors begin to well up be-

hind closed eyes. Consciousness becomes consciousness of irradia-

tions and effulgences, of a flux of light patterns forming and un-

forming, of electric currents beaming forth from within the brain.

At this initial moment of awakenment, experiencing the dawn of

light in the midst of the night, the shaman evokes the illumina-

tion of the constellations at the genesis of the world. Mythopoeti-

cal descriptions of the creation of the world are constant themes

of these creative experiences. From the beginning, the vision his

words create is cosmological. Subjective phenomena are given cor-

relates in the elemental, natural world. One is not inside, but out-


"This old hawk. This white hawk that Saint John the Evangelist

holds. That whistles in the dawn. Whistles in the light of day.

Whistles over the water." Wings spread wide, the annunciatory

bird image of ascent, circles in the sky of the morning, drifting on

the wind of the spirit above the primordial terrain the speaker has

begun to explore and delineate, his breathing, his inhalations and

exhalations, as amplified as his expanded being: an explanation for

the sudden expulsion of air, the whooshes and high-pitched, eerie

whistles of the shamans on their transcendental flights into the


"Straight path, says. Path of the dawn, says. Path of the light

of day, says." Through the fields of being there are many direc-

tions in which to go, existences are different ways to live life. The

idea of paths, that appears so frequently in the shamanistic dis-

courses of the Mazatecs comes from the fact that these originary

experiences are creative of intentions. To be in movement, going

along a path, is an expressive vision of the ecstatic condition. The

path the speaker is following is that which leads directly to his

destination, to the accomplishment of his purpose; the path of the

beginning disclosed by the rising sun at the time of setting out; the

path of truth, of clarity, of that revealed in its being there by the

light of day.

"Where the tenderness of San Francisco Huehuetlan is, says.

Where the Holy Virgin of San Lucas is, says. Where San Fran-

cisco Tecoatl is, says. San Geronimo Tecoatl, says." He begins to

name the towns of his mountainous environment, to call the land-

scape into being by language and transform the real into signs. It

is no imaginary world of fantasy he is creating, as those one has

become accustomed to hearing of from the accounts of dreamers

under the effects of such psychoactive chemicals, fabled lands of

nostalgia, palaces, and jewelled perspectives, but the real world

in which he lives and works transfigured by his visionary journey

and its linguistic expression into a surreal realm where the physical

and the mental fuse to produce the glow of an enigmatic signifi-


"I am he who speaks with the father mountain. I am he who

speaks with danger, I am going to sweep in the mountains of fear,

in the mountains of nerves." The other I announces itself, the

transcendental ego, the I of the voice, the I of force in communi-

cation with force. His existence intensified, he posits himself by

his assertions: I am he who. The simultaneous reference to him-

self in the first and third person as subject and object indicates

the impersonal personality of his utterances, uttered by him and

by the phenomena themselves that express themselves through

him. Arrogantly he affirms his shamanistic function as the medi-

ator between man and the powers that determine his fate; he is

the one who converses with all connoted by father: power, au-

thority, and origin. He is the one who is on familiar terms with the

sources of fright. The conception of existence manifested by his

words is one of peril, anxiety, and terror: experiences of which he

has become knowledgeable by virtue of his own traumas, his life

as a hunter, and his adventures into the weird, secret regions of the

psyche. Where there is foreboding and trembling, the medicine

man tranquilizes by exorcising the causes of disturbance. His work

lies among the nerves, not in the underworld, but on the heights,

places of as much anguish as the depths, where the elation of ele-

vation is accompanied by the fear of falling into the void of

chasms. This is perhaps why, throughout Central and South

America, the conception of illness in the jungle areas is the para-

noic one of witchcraft, whereas in the mountainous areas is preva-

lent the vertiginous idea of fright and loss of self."

"There in Bell Mountain, says. There is the dirty fright. There

is the garbage, says. There is the claw, says. There is the terror,

says. Where the day is, says. Where the clown is, says. The Lord

Clown, says." In vision he sees, throughout his being he senses

a repulsive place of filth and contamination, a stinking site of

pustulence, of rottenness and nausea, where lies a claw that might

have dealt with cruel viciousness an infected wound. His words,

(8). "Finally, the illness can be the consequence of a loss of the soul, gone

astray or carried off by a spirit or a revenant. This conception, widely spread

throughout the region of the Andes and the Gran Chaco, appears rare in tropical

America." Alfred MCtraux, "Le Chaman des Guyane et de 1'Amazonie," Religions ct

magies indiennes d'AmCrique du Sud (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1967).

emanating evil, seem to insinuate some horrible deed that left an

aftermath of guilt. The sinister hovers in the air. Where! Where

the clown is, he says. Concern and carefreeness are linked to-

gether, dread and laughter, from which we catch an insight into

the meaning of the matter: during such experiences of liberation,

there are likely to be encountered disturbances of consciousness

by conscience, when reflection comes into conflict with spon-

taneity, guilt with innocence. It is as if the self drew back in

fright from its ebullience, from its forgetfulness, unable to endure

its carefreeness for long without anxiety. But the exuberant well-

ing up of forms is ceaseless, in this flux, this fountain, this ener-

getic springing forth of life, the past is left behind for the future,

all is renewed. Beyond good and evil is the playfulness of the crea-

tive spirit incarnated by the clown, character of fortuity, the laugh-

ing one with his gay science.

Thirteen superior whirlwinds. Thirteen whirlwinds of the at-

mosphere. Thirteen clowns, says. Thirteen personalities, says.

Thirteen white lights, says. Thirteen mountains of points, says.

Thirteen old hawks, says. Thirteen white hawks, says. Thirteen

personalities, says. Thirteen mountains, says. Thirteen clowns,

says. Thirteen peaks, says. Thirteen stars of the morning.

The enumeration, by what seems to be a process of free associa-

tion, of whirlwinds, clowns, personalities, lights, mountains, birds,

and stars, is an expression of his ecstatic inventiveness. Whether

he says what he sees or sees what he says, his activized conscious-

ness is a whirlwind of imaginings and colored lights. Why always

thirteen7 Because twelve is many, but an even number, whereas

thirteen is too many, an exaggeration, and signifies a multitude.

What's more, he probably likes the sound of the word thirteen.

The mushroom session of language creates language, creates the

words for phenomena without name. The white lights that some-

times appear in the sky at night, nobody knows what to call them.

The mind activated by the mushrooms, from out of the center of

the mystery, from the profoundest semantic sources of the human,

invents a word to designate them by. The ancient wise men, to

describe the kaleidoscopic illuminations of their shamanistic

nights, drew an analogy between the inside and the outside and

formed a word that related the spectrum colors created by the

sunshine in the spray of waterfalls and the mists of the morning

to their conscious experiences of ecstatic enlightenment: these are

the whirlwinds he speaks of, gyrating configurations of iridescent

lights that appear to him as he speaks, turned round and round

and round himself by the turbulent winds of the spirit. Clowns

are frequent personae of his discourse, the impish mushrooms

come to life, embodiments of merriment, tumbling figments of

the spontaneous performing incredible acrobatic feats, funny

imaginations of joyfulness. Personalities are more serious. Others.

Society. The faces of the people he knows appear to him, then

disappear to be succeeded by the apparition of more people. The

plurality of incarnated consciousnesses becomes present to him.

Multitude. His is an elemental world where cruel, predatory birds

wheel in the sky; where the star of the morning shines in the

firmament. Outside the dark room where he is speaking, the

mountains stand all around in the night.

I am he who speaks with the dangerous mountain, says. I am

he who speaks with the Mountain of Ridges, says. I am he who

speaks with the Father, says. I am he who speaks with the

Mother, says. Where plays the spirit of the day, says. Cold

Water Mountain, says. Big River Mountain, says. Mountain of

Harvest and Richness, says. Where the terror of the day is, says.

Where is the way of the dawn, the way of the day, says.

It is significant that though the psychedelic experience produced

by the mushrooms is of heightened perceptivity, the I say is of

privileged importance to the I see. The utter darkness of the room,

sealed off from the outside, makes any direct perception of the

world impossible: the condition of interiorization for its visionary

rebirth in images. In such darkness, to open the eyes is the same

as leaving them closed. The blackness is alive with impalpable

designs in the miraculous air. Even the appearances of the other

presences, out of modesty, are protected by the obscurity from the

too penetrating, revealing gaze of transcendental perception. Freed

from the factuality of the given, the constitutive activity of con-

sciousness produces visions. It is this aspect of such experiences,

to the exclusion of all others, that has led them to be called hallu-

cinogenic, without any attempt having been made to distinguish

fantasy from intuition. The Mazatec shaman, however, instead

of keeping silent and dreaming, as one would expect him to do

if the experience were merely imaginative, talks. There are times

when in the midst of his ecstasy, whistling and whirling about, he

exclaims: "Look at how beautiful we're seeing!"--astonished by

the illuminations and patterns he is perceiving--"look at how

beautiful we're seeing. Look at how many good things of God

there are. What beautiful colors I see." Nevertheless, the I am

the one who speaks enunciates an action and a function, weighted

with an importance and efficacity which I am the one who sees,

hardly more than an interjection of amazement, totally lacks.

"I am he who speaks. I am he who speaks. I am he who speaks

with the mountains, with the largest mountains. Speaks with the

mountains, says. Speaks with the stones, says. Speaks with the at-

mosphere, says. Speaks with the spirit of the day." For the Maza-

tecs, the mountains are where the powers are, their summits,

their ranges, radiating with electricity in the night, their peaks and

their edges oscillating on the horizons of lightning. To speak with

is to be in contact with, in communication with, in conversation

with the animate spirit of the inanimate, with the material and

the immaterial. To speak with is to be spoken to. By a conversion

of his being, the shaman has become a transmitter and receiver

of messages.

"I am the dry lightning, says. I am the lightning of the comet,

says. I am the dangerous lightning, says. I am the big lightning,

says. I am the lightning of rocky places, says. I am the light of the

dawn, the light of day, says." He identifies himself with the ele-

ments, with the crackle of electricity; superhuman and elemental

himself, his words flash from him like lightning. Sparks fly be-

tween the synaptic connections of the nerves. He is illuminated

with light. He is luminous. He is force, light, and rhythmic, dy-

namic speech.

The world created by the woman's words, articulating her expe-

rience, was a feminine, maternal, domestic one; the masculine dis-

course of the shaman evokes the natural, ontological world. "She

is beseeching for you, this poor and humble woman," said the

shamaness. "Woman of huipile, says. Simple woman, says.

Woman who doesn't have anything, says." The man, conscious

of his virility, announces: "I am he who lightnings forth."

"Where the dirty gulch is, says. Where the dangerous gulch is,

says. Where the big gulch is, says. Where the fear and the terror

are, says. Where runs the muddy water, says. Where runs the cold

water, says." It is a landscape of ravines, mountains, and streams,

he charts with his words, of physical qualities with emotional

values: a terrain of being in its variations. He evokes the creation,

the genesis of all things out of the times of mist; he praises, mar-

vels, wonders at the world. "God the Holy Spirit, as he made and

put together the world. Made great lakes. Made mountains. Look

at the light of day. Look at how many animals. Look at the dawn.

Look at space. Great earths. Earth of God the Holy Spirit." He

whistles. The soul was originally conceived of as breath. The wind,

he says, is passing through the trees of the forest. His spirit goes

flying from place to place throughout the territory of his existence,

situating the various locations of the world by naming them, call-

ing them into being by visiting them with his words: where is,

he says, where is, to create the geography of his reality. I am,

where is. He unfolds the extensions of space around himself,

points out and makes present as if he were there himself. "Where

the blood of Christ is, says. Where the blood of the diviner is,

says. Where the terror and the fright of day are, says. Where the

superior lake is, says. Where the big lake is, says. There where

large birds fly, says. Where fly dangerous birds." The world is not

only paradisiacal in its being there, but frightening, with perils

lurking everywhere. "Mountains of great whirlwinds. Where is

the fountain of terror. Where is the fountain of fright." And the

different places are inhabited by presences, by indwelling spirits,

the gnomes, the little people. "Gnome of Cold Water, says.

Gnome of Clear Water, says. Gnome of Big River, says. Big

Gnome. Gnome of Burned Mountain. Gnome of the spirit of the

day. Gnome of Tlocalco Mountain. Gnome of the Marking Post.

White Gnome. Delicate Gnome."

The shaman, says Alfred Metraux, is "an individual who, in

the interest of the community, sustains by profession an inter-

mittent commerce with the spirits or is possessed by them."(9)

According to the classical conception, derived from the ecstatic

visionaries of Siberia, the shaman is a person who, by a change

of his everyday consciousness, enters the metaphysical realms of

the transcendental in order to parley with the supernatural powers

and gain an understanding of the hidden reasons of events, of

sickness and all manner of difficulty. The Mazatec medicine

men are therefore shamans in every sense of the word: their means

of inspiration, of opening the circuits of communication between

themselves, others, the world, and the spirits, are the mushrooms

that disclose, by their psychoactive power, another modality of

conscious activity than the ordinary one. The mere eating of the

mushrooms, however, does not make a shaman. The Indians rec

ognize that it is not to everyone that they speak; instead there are

some who have a longing for awakenment, a disposition for ex-

ploring the surrealistic dimensions of existence, a poet's need to

express themselves in a higher language than the average language

of everyday life: for them in a very particular sense the mush-

rooms are the medicine of their genius. Nonetheless, there is a

very definite idea among the Mazatecs of what the medicine

man does, and since the mushrooms are his means of converting

himself into the shamanistic condition, the essential character-

istics of this particular variety of psychedelic experience must be

manifested by his activities.

"I am he who puts together," says the medicine man to define

his shamanistic function:

he who speaks, he who searches, says. I am he who looks for

the spirit of the day, says. I search where there is fright and

terror. I am he who fixes, he who cures the person that is sick.

Herbal medicine. Remedy of the spirit. Remedy of the at-

mosphere of the day, says. I am he who resolves all, says. Truly

you are man enough to resolve the truth. You are he who puts

together and resolves. You are he who puts together the person-

ality. You are he who speaks with the light of day. You are he

who speaks with terror.

(9) ibid.

It is immediately obvious that a discrepancy exists between the

Indian conception of the mushrooms' effect and the ideas of

modern psychology: whereas in experimental research reports

they are said to produce depersonalization, schizophrenia, and de-

rangement, the Mazatec shaman, inspired by them, considers

himself endowed with the power of bringing together what is

separated: he can heal the divided personality by releasing the

springs of existence from repression to reveal the ecstatic life of

the integral self; and from disparate clues, by the sudden synthesis

of intuition, realize the solution to problems. The words with

which he states what his work is indicate a creative activity

neither outside of the realm of reason or out of contact with

reality. The center of convergent message fields, sensitive to the

meaning of all around him, he expresses and communicates, in

direct contact with others through speech, an articulator of the

unsaid who liberates by language and makes understood. His in-

tuitions penetrate appearances to the essence of matters. Reality

reveals itself through him in words as if it had found a voice

to utter itself. The shaman is a signifier in pursuit of significance,

intent upon bringing forth the hidden, the obscure into the light

of day, the lucid one, intrepid enough to realize that the greatest

secrets lie in regions of danger. He is the doctor, not only of the

body, but of the self, the one who inquires into the origins of

trauma, the interrogator of the familiar and mysterious. It is in-

deed as if that which he has eaten, by virtue of the possibilities

it discovers to him, were of the spirit, for perception becomes

more acute, speech more fluent, and the consciousness of signifi-

cance is quickened. The mushrooms are a remedy to which one

has recourse in order to resolve perplexities because the experience

is creative of intentions. The way forth from the problematic is

conceived of, the meaning of resolved. The shaman, he is the one

in communication with the light and with the darkness, who

knows of anxiety and how to dispel it: the man of truth, psychol-

ogist of the troubled soul.

Where is the fear, says. Where is the terror, says. Where

stayed the spirit of this child, says. I have to search for it, says.

I have to locate it, says. I have to detain it, says. I have to grab

it, says. I have to call it, says. I have to whistle for it in the

midst of terror, says. I have to whistle for it through the cu-

mulus clouds. I have to whistle for it with the spirit of the


Once more there appears the notion of alienation, the malady

of fright, the loss of the self. The task of the shaman, hunter of

extravagated spirits, is to reassociate the disassociated. He explains

his method himself in these words:

Under the effect of the mushrooms, the lost spirit is whistled

for through space for the spirit is alienated, but by means of

the mushrooms one can call for it with a whistle. If the person

is frightened, the mushrooms know where his spirit is. They are

the ones who indicate and teach where the spirit is. Thereby

one can speak to it. The sick person then sees the place where

his spirit stayed. He feels as if he were tied in that place. The

spirit is like a trapped butterfly. When it is whistled for it

arrives where one is calling it. When the spirit arrives in the

person, the sick one sighs and afterwards is cleaned.

It becomes evident from the words used to describe the condition

of fright--the spirit is said to have been left behind, to have

stayed somewhere, to be tied up, and as we will see later, to be

imprisoned--that just as in the etiology of the neuroses, the sick-

ness is a fixation upon a traumatic past event which the indi-

vidual is incapable of transcending and from which he must be

liberated to be cured. It is not by chance that the mushrooms,

which cause a flight of the spirit, should be considered the means

of chasing what has flown away. The shaman goes in search; by

empathic imagination, sometimes-even by dialogue with the dis-

turbed one, he gains an insight into the reasons for the state of

shock, which allows him to make his invocations relevant to the

individual case. The patient, by the mnemonic power of the mush-

rooms, freed from inhibitions and repressions, recalls the trau-

matic event, surmounts the repetition syndrome that perpetuates

it by virtue of the ecstatic spontaneity that has been released from

him, suffers a catharsis, and is brought back to life, integrated


Another method of regaining the lost spirit, used as well as

invocation, is to barter for it. Merchants, the Mazatecs con-

ceive of all transactions in terms of commerce, of trading one

value for another. Throughout his discourse, the shaman, a store-

keeper in daily life, dreams of money, of richness, of freedom

from poverty. "Father Bank. Big Bank. Where the light of day is.

Cordoba. Orizaba." He names the cities where the merchants of

Huautla sell their principal commercial crop--coffee--in the

market. "Where the Superior Bank is, says. Where the Big Bank

is, says. Where the Good Bank is, says. Where there is money of

gold, says. Where there is money of silver, says. Where there are

big notes, says. Where the bank of gold is, says. Where the bank

of well-being is, says." It is not surprising that among such mer-

cantile people it should be considered possible to buy back the

lost spirit, to retrieve it in exchange for another value.

"Where the fright of the spirit is. Going to pay for it to the

spirit. Going to pay the day. Going to pay the mountains. Going

to pay the corners." The shaman becomes a transcendental bar-

gainer. He is told by the supernatural powers how much they

demand as a ransom for the spirit they have expropriated, then

he undertakes to transact the deal. He explains it himself in this


Cacao is used to pay the mountain and to pay for the life of

the sick one. The Lord of the Mountain asks for a chicken. This

is an important matter because it is the Masters of the Mountains

who speak. That is the belief of the ancients. The chicken is

the one who has to carry the cacao. Loaded with cacao it has to

go and leave the offering in the mountain. Once it is on the

mountain, seeing it loaded no one bothers to catch it because

already it belongs to the Masters of the Mountain where it is lost

forever. The cacao that it carries is money for the Master of the

Mountain. The bark paper is used to wrap the bundle and the

parrot feather that goes with it. The signification of the parrot

feather is that it is as if the parrot himself arrived on the moun-

tain. It is he who arrives announcing with his songs the arrival

of the chicken loaded with cacao, the arrival of the money to

pay what was asked for, as if the liberty of a prisoner were being

paid for. It is as if an authority said to you, "This prisoner will

be set free for a fine of one hundred pesos and if it isn't paid,

he won't go free." The transaction probably has the psychological

effect of assuaging anxiety with the assurance that the powers

angered by a transgression have been appeased.

As we have seen, though these shamanistic chants are creations

of language created by the individual creativity of the speakers,

the structure of the discourses, short phrases articulated in suc-

cession terminated by the punctuation of the word says, tend

to be similar from person to person, determined to a large extent

by culture and tradition as is much of what is said. An instance

is the invocatory reiteration of names, a characteristic common to

all the Mazatec shamanistic sessions of speech. The names re-

peated by the Indian medicine men, devout Catholics, are those

of the Virgin and the saints. In ancient times, other divinities

must have been named, but without any doubt, to name and make

present has always played a role in such chants. "Holy Virgin of

the Sanctuary. Holy Virgin. Saint Bartholomew. Saint Christopher.

Saint Manuel. Holy Father. Saint Vincent. Saint Mark, Saint

Manuel. Virgin Guadeloupe, Queen of Mexico." To sing out the

holy names serves the function for the oral poet, like the stereo-

typed phrases of Homeric song, of keeping the chant going during

the interludes of inspiration; at the same time, the rhythmic

enunciation is a telling over of identities, an expression of the

interpersonality of consciousness. To recall again the affirmation

of Husserl: Transcendental subjectivity is intersubjectivity. The

name is the word for the person. In the mind of the speaker one

identity after another becomes present, names call up people,

the vision of people calls up names. Instead of naming his own

acquaintances, which might occur in a desacralized discourse, the

shaman invokes the holy ones. The sacred nomenclature is a

sublimation of the nomenclature of family and social relation-


It is now his everyday self, his wife and his family whom he

speaks about. "Our children are going to grow up and live. I see.

I see my wife, my little working woman. I love her. I speak to

her through space. I speak to her through the cumulus clouds.

I call to her spirit. Nothing will befall us." Man and woman,

the couple and their children, that is his theme now that love

for his family wells up in his heart.

Nothing can happen to us. We will go on living. We will go on

living in the company of my wife, of my people. We should not

make our wife irritable. We went to receive her before God, in

the sight of God, in the Sacred Sacrament, in sight of the altar.

There was a great mass, there was a mass of union. We were

able to respect each other forty-three days and therefore God

disposed that our children should be born and live. Because of

that our seeds bore fruit, our offspring grew, offspring and seed

that God Our Lord gave us.

He who speaks and says, perhaps it is rumored that the work

he is doing, this person, is great, that his ranch is large. He is

not presumptuous. He is a humble person. He is a laborious

person. He is a person of problems. He is a person who has al-

ready loaned his service as an authority. He has realized him-

self, his gifts are inherited, he is of important people: Justo

Pastor, Juan Nazareno. He is of a great root, an important root.

Large trees, old trees. All our children will live, says. Will have

a good harvest. Will rear their animals. Well-being and pleasure

in their sugar cane, in their coffee groves. I will live much time

yet. I will become an old man with gray hair, I will continue

living with my offspring and with my people. My children will

have education and well-being. Education must be given to my


He says the changes through which he passes, the transforma-

tions and permutations of his ecstatic consciousness in the course

of its temporalization--the sense of gamble, the risks, the mo-

ments of fright, the presence of light and vigor. "It turns into

a game of chance, says. It turns into terror, says. It turns into

spirit, says."

He whistles and sings and dances about. "That which sounds

is a harp in the presence of God and the Angel of the Guard.

Plays space, plays the rocks, plays the mountains, plays the cor-

ners, plays fear, plays terror, plays the day." He plays the facets

of the world as if they were musical instruments. Things and

emotions, at the contact of his singing and touch are magically

resolved into ringing vibrating tonalities, into music--music of

mountains and rocks, of space and fear. "Where sound the trees,

says. Where sound the rocks, says. Where sound baskets. Where

sounds the spirit of the day." He is hearing the ringing and the

buzzing and the humming of his effervescent consciousness and

finding analogies for the sounds he hears in the echo chambers

of his eardrums: the soughing of the wind through the trees, the

clinking of stones, the creaking of baskets. He whistles and sings.

His words issue forth from the melodic articulation of inarticu-

late sounds, from the physical movement of his rhythmic whirling

about and scuffling in the darkness. "How beautiful I sing," he

exclaims. "How beautiful I sing. How many good pleasures con-

cedes to us the Lord of the World." He dances about working

himself up to a further Ditch of exaltation. "How beautiful I

dance. How beautiful I dance." Repetition is one of the aspects

of the discourse as it is of the pulsation of energy waves.

"This person is valiant," he says of himself. "He is of the

people of Huautla, he is a Huautecan. With great speed he calls

and whistles for the spirits among the mountains; whistles the

fright of the spirit." Then he flips out. He throws himself into

the shamanistic fit, his voice changes, becomes that of another,

rougher, more guttural, and beginning to speak in the speech of

San Lucas from where came his old master, a town in the midst

of the corn on a high windswept peak, he recalls his spiritual an-

cestor, the ancient wise man who taught him the use of the

gnomic mushrooms. "He is a person of jars. He is of San Lucas.

A person of plates. He is a person of jars and bowls. He is an

old one." San Lucas is the place where all the black, unadorned,

neolithic pottery used throughout the region is made. Men go

from town to town carrying the jars, padded with ferns, on their

backs to sell them in the marketplaces of the mountain villages.

"Old man of pots, dishes, bowls. These are the people of the

center. They speak with the mountains arrogantly. He is from

San Lucas. He speaks with the whirlwind, with the whirlwind

of the interior."

From what he himself tells of this old shaman, appear vestiges

of the days when the shaman of the People of the Deer, inter-

mediary between man, nature, and the divine was a thaumaturge

who presided over fertility and the hunt. "I had to visit the same

medicine man," he recounts, "when we went to the hunt. I had

to prepare for him an egg, an egg to be offered to the mountain.

It all depends on the value of the animal that one wants. It is

as if you were going to buy an animal," he said.

He is the one who says what one is to pay. He goes to leave

the egg. Afterwards the dogs go into the woods and begin to

work. It is necessary to rub tobacco on the crown of the dogs'

heads. But with the egg and twenty-five beans of cacao, the

master is sure that the deer is already bought. I have paid for

the game, says the true shaman. And every time we went to

hunt, we were therefore sure to encounter deer because a good

shaman from San Lucas can transform a tree or a stone into

a deer once he has exchanged its value for it with the Lord of

the Mountain. We were sure to come upon deer because they

had been paid for.

"Here come the Huautecans. Here come the Huautecans."

Dancing about in the darkness, flapping his coat against his sides

to imitate the bounding of a startled deer through the underbrush,

he, the hunter of spirits and of game, barking like the dogs closing

in around the cornered animal, tells a hunting story, talking

rapidly with intense excitement in the gruff voice of one from

San Lucas who sees from his vantage point the hunters of

Huautla in the distance:

Listen to how their dogs bark. It's an old dog. Here they come

by way of the Sad Mountain. They are bringing their kill. There

is barking in the mountain. Here they come. Listen to how their

arms sound. Already they have shot a colored deer. They pay

the mountains. They pay the corners. The deer was killed be-

cause the Huautecans pay the price. They paid the spirit. Paid

the Bald Mountain. Paid the Hollow Mountain. Paid the Moun-

tain of the Spirit of the Day. Paid fifty pesos. You can't do just

as you like. It is necessary to pay the White Gnome. The

Huautecans are like clowns. They are carrying the deer off along

the path. The rifles of the Huautecans are very line. These

people are important people. They know what they are doing.

They know how to call the spirit. The Huautecans call their

dogs by blowing a hem. Already the dogs are coming close.

The story comes almost at the conclusion of his discourse. The

effect of the mushrooms lasts approximately six hours; usually

it is impossible to sleep until dawn. In all such adventures, at the

end, comes the idea of a return from where it is one has gone,

the return to everyday consciousness. "I return to collect these

holy children that served as a remedy," the shaman says, calling

back his spirits from their flight into the beyond in order to

become his ordinary self again. "Aged clowns. White clowns."

The mushrooms he calls sainted children and clowns, relating

them by his personifications to beings who are young and joyful,

playful, creative, and wise.

"The aurora of the dawn is coming and the light of day. In the

name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, by the sign of

the Holy Cross, free us Our Lord from our enemies and all evil.

Amen ."

What began in the depths of the night with the illumination

of interior constellations in the spaces of consciousness ends with

the arrival of the daylight after a night of continuous, animated

speech. "I am he who speaks," says the Mazatec shaman.

I am he who speaks. I am he who speaks with the mountains.

I am he who speaks with the corners. I am the doctor. I am

the man of medicines. I am. I am he who cures. I am he who

speaks with the Lord of the World. I am happy. I speak with

the mountains. I am he who speaks with the mountains of

peaks. I am he who speaks with the Bald Mountain. I am the

remedy and the medicine man. I am the mushroom. I am the

fresh mushroom. I am the large mushroom. I am the fragrant

mushroom. I am the mushroom of the spirit.

The Mazatecs say that the mushrooms speak. Now the in

vestigators(10) from without should have listened better to the

Indian wise men who had experience of what they, white ones

of reason, had not. If the mushrooms are hallucinogenic, why

(10) It is necessary to express one's debt to R. Gordon Wasson, whose writings,

the most authoritative work on the mushrooms, informed me of their existence and

told me much about them. "We suspect," he wrote, "that, in its integral sense, the

creative power, the most serious quality distinctive of man and one of the clearest

participations in the in some sort connected with an area of the

spirit that the mushrooms are capable of opening." R. Gordon Wasson and Roger

Helm, Les Champignons hallucinogenes du Mexique (paris: Museum Nationa:

d'Histoire Naturelle, 1958). From my own experience, I have found that con-

tention to be particularly true.

do the Indians associate them with communication, with truth

and the enunciation of meaning! An hallucination is a false

perception, either visual or audible, that does not have any re-

lation at all to reality, a fantastical illusion or delusion: what

appears, but has no existence except in the mind. The vivid

dreams of the psychedelic experience suggested hallucinations:

such imaginations do occur in these visionary conditions, but they

are marginal, not essential phenomena of a general liberation of

the spontaneous, ecstatic, creative activity of conscious existence.

Hallucinations predominated in the experiences of the investi-

gators because they were passive experimenters of the transform-

ative effect of the mushrooms. The Indian shamans are not con-

templative, they are workers who actively express themselves by

speaking, creators engaged in an endeavor of ontological, existen-

tial disclosure. For them, the shamanistic condition provoked by

the mushrooms is intuitionary, not hallucinatory. What one en-

visions has an ethical relation to reality, is indeed often the path

to be followed. To see is to realize, to understand. But even more

important than visions for the Mazatec shaman are words as

real as the realities of the real they utter. It is as if the mush-

rooms revealed a primordial activity of signification, for once the

shaman has eaten them, he begins to speak and continues to

speak throughout the shamanistic session of ecstatic language.

The phenomenon most distinctive of the mushrooms' effect is the

inspired capacity to speak. Those who eat them are men of lan-

guage, illuminated with the spirit, who call themselves the ones

who speak, those who say. The shaman, chanting in a melodic

singsong, saying says at the end of each phrase of saying, is in

communication with the origins of creation, the sources of the

voice, and the fountains of the word, related to reality from the

heart of his existential ecstasy by the active mediation of lan-

guage: the articulation of meaning and experience. To call such

transcendental experiences of light, vision, and speech hallucina-

tory is to deny that they are revelatory of reality. In the ancient

codices, the colored books, the figures sit, hieroglyphs of words,

holding the mushrooms of language in pairs in their hands: signs

of signification.

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