Taken from Plants of the Gods by Schultes & Hofmann , Healing Arts Press

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"There is a world beyond ours, a world

that is far away, nearby, and invisible. And

there is where God lives, where the dead

live, the spirits and the saints, a world

where everything has already happened

and everything is known. That world

talks. It has a language of its own. I report

what it says. The sacred mushroom takes

me by the hand and brings me to the world

where everything is known. It is they, the

sacred mushrooms, that speak in a way I

can understand. I ask them and they

answer me. When I return from the trip

that I have taken with them, I tell what

they have told me and what they have

shown me."

Thus does the famous Mazatec shaman,

Maria Sabina, reverently describe the god

given powers of the intoxicating mush-

rooms that she uses in her ceremony which

has come from from ages past.

Few plants of the gods have ever been held

in greater reverence than the sacred mush-

rooms of Mexico. So hallowed were these

fungi that the Aztecs called them Teonan-

catl ("divine flesh") and used them only in

the most holy of their ceremonies. Even

though, as fungi, mushrooms do not blos-

som, the Aztecs referred to them as

"flowers," and the Indians who still use

them in religious rituals have endearing

terms for them, such as "little flowers."

When the Spaniards conquered Mexico,

they were aghast to find the natives wor-

shipping their deities with the help of in-

ebriating plants: Peyotl, Ololiuqui, Teona-

nacatl. The mushrooms were especially

offensive to the European ecclesiastical

authorities, and they set out to eradicate

their use in religious practices.

"They possessed another method of intox-

ication, which sharpened their cruelty; for

if they used certain small toadstools...they

would see a thousand visions and especially

snakes....They called these mushrooms in

their language teunamacatlth, which means

'God's flesh,' or of the Devil whom they

worshipped, and in this wise with that

bitter victual by their cruel God were they


In 1656, a guide for missionaries argued

against Indian idolatries, including mush-

room ingestion, and recommended their

extirpation. Not only do reports condemn

Teonanacatl, but actual illustrations de-

nounce it. One depicts the devil enticing an

Indian to eat the fungus; another has the

devil performing a dance upon a mush-


"But before explaining this [idolatry],

one of the clerics said, "I wish to explain

the nature of the said mushrooms

[which] were small and yellowish, and to

collect them the priests and old men,

appointed as ministers for these impostures,

went to the hills and remained almost the

whole night in sermonizing and in supersti-

tious praying. At dawn, when a certain

little breeze which they know begins to

blow, they would gather them, attributing

to them deity. When they are eaten or

drunk, they intoxicate, depriving those

who partake of them of their senses and

making them believe a thousand absurdi-


Dr. Francisco Hernandez, personal physi

cian to the king of Spain, wrote that three

kinds of narcotic mushrooms were wor-

shipped. After describing a lethal species, he

stated that "others when eaten cause not

death but madness that on occasion is

lasting, of which the symptom is a kind of

uncontrolled laughter. Usually called tey-

huintli, these are deep yellow, acrid and of a

not displeasing freshness. There are others

again which, without inducing laughter,

bring before the eyes all kinds of things,

such as wars and the likeness of demons.

Yet others are there not less desired by

princes for their fiestas and banquets, of

great price. With night-long vigils are they

sought, awesome and terrifying. This kind

is tawny and somewhat acrid."

For four centuries nothing was known of

the mushroom cult; and it was even

doubted that mushrooms were used hallu-

cinogenically in ceremony. The Church

fathers had done such a successful job of

driving the cult into hiding through perse-

cution that no anthropologist or botanist

had ever uncovered the religious use of

these mushrooms.

In 1916 an American botanist finally pro-

posed a "solution" to the identification of

Teonanacatl, concluding that Teonanacatl

and the Peyote were the same drug. Moti-

vated by distrust of the chroniclers and

Indians, he intimated that the natives, to

protect Peyote, were indicating mush-

rooms to the authorities. He argued that

the dried, brownish, disk-like crown of

Peyote resembles a dried mushroom so

remarkably that it will even deceive a

mycologist. It was not until the 1930s that

an understanding of the role of hallucino-

genic mushrooms in Mexico and a knowl-

edge of their botanical identification and

chemical composition started to become

available. In the late 1930s the first two of

the many species of sacred Mexican mush-

rooms were collected and associated with a

modern mushroom ceremony. Subsequent

fieldwork has resulted in the discovery of

some two dozen species. The most impor--

tant belong to the genus Psilocybe, twelve

of which have been reported, not including

Stropharia cubensis, sometimes considered a

Psilocybe. The most important species

appear to be Psilocybe mexicana and P.


These various mushrooms are now known

to be employed in divinatory and religious

rites among the Mazatec, Chinantec,

Chatino, Mije, Zapotcc, and Mixtec of

Oaxaca; the Nahua and possibly the

Otomi of Puebla; and the Tarascana of

Michoacan. The present center of intensive

use of the sacred mushrooms is among the


Mushrooms vary in abundance from year

to year and at different seasons. There may

be years when one or more species are rare

or absent--they vary in their distribution

and are not ubiquitous. Furthermore, each

shaman has his own favorite mushrooms

and may forego others; Maria Sabina, for

example, will not use Stropharia cubensis.

And certain mushrooms are used for specif-

ic purposes. This means that each ethnobo-

tanical expedition may not expect to find

the same assortment of species employed at

one time, even in the same locality and by

the same people.

The probability that more species will be

found in use is far from remote. Chemical

studies have indicated that psilocybine and,

to a lesser extent, psilocine are present in

many of the species of the several genera

associated with the Mexican ceremony. In

Fact, these compounds have been isolated

from many species of Psilocybe and other

genera in widely separated parts of the

world, although the evidence available

suggests that only in Mexico are psilocy-

bine-containing mushrooms at present uti-

lized in native ceremonies.

The modern mushroom ceremony is an

all-night seance which may include a cur

ing ritual. Chants accompany the main

part of the ceremony. The intoxication is

characterized by fantastically colored

visions in kaleidoscopic movement and

sometimes by auditory hallucinations, and

the partaker loses himself in unearthly

flights of fancy.

The mushrooms are collected in the forests

at the time of the new moon by a virgin

girl, then taken to a church to remain

briefly on the altar. They are never sold in

the marketplace. The Mazatec call the

mushrooms Nti-si-tho, in which "Nti" is a

particle of reverence and endearment; the

rest of the name means "that which springs

forth." A Mazatec explained this thought

Poetically: "The little mushroom comes of

itself, no one knows whence, like the wind

that comes we know not whence nor


The shaman chants for hours, with fre-

quent clapping or percussive slaps on the

thighs in rhythm with the chant. Maria

Sabina's chanting, which has been recorded,

studied, and translated, in great part

proclaims humbly her qualifications to

cure and to interpret divine power through

the mushrooms. Excerpts from her chant,

all in the beautiful tonal Mazatec language,

give an idea of her many "qualifications."

Woman who thunders am I, woman

sounds am I.

Spiderwoman am I, hummingbird woman

am I….

Eagle woman am I, important eagle

woman am I.

Whirling woman of the whirlwind am I,

woman of a

sacred, enchanted place am I,

Woman of the shooting stars

am I.

The first non-Indian fully to witness the

Mazatec ceremony wrote the following

understanding thoughts about this use of

the mushrooms:

"Here let me say a word about the nature

of the psychic disturbance that the eating

of the mushroom causes. This disturbance

is wholly different from the effect of alco-

hol, as different as night from day. We are

entering upon a discussion in which the

vocabulary of the English language, of ally

European language, is seriously deficient.

There are no apt words in it to characterize

one's state when one is, shall we say,

'bemushroomed: For hundreds, even

thousands, of years, we have thought about

these things in terms of alcohol, and we

now have to break the bounds imposed on

us by our alcoholic obsession. We are all,

willy-nilly, confined within the prison

walls of our everyday vocabulary. With

skill in our choice of words, we may stretch

accepted meanings to cover slightly new

feelings and thoughts, but when a state of

mind is utterly distinct, wholly novel, then

all our old words fail. How do you tell a

man who has been born blind what seeing

is like? In the present case this is an especial-

ly apt analogy, because superficially the

Bemushroomed man shows a few of the

objective symptoms of one who is intox-

icated, drunk. Now virtually all the words

describing the state of drunkenness, from

"intoxicated" (which literally means poi-

soned') through the scores of current vul-

garisms, are contemptuous, Belittling, pe-

jorative. How curious it is that modern

civilized man finds surcease from care in a

drug for which he seems to have no respect!

If we use by analogy the terms suitable for

alcohol, we prejudice the mushroom, and

since there are few among us who have

been bemushroomed, there is danger that

the experience will not be fairly judged.

What we need is a vocabulary to describe

all the modalities of a divine inebriant...."

Upon receiving six pairs of mushrooms in

the ceremony, this novice-participant ate

them. He experienced the sensation of this

soul being removed from his body and

floating in space. He saw "geometric pat-

tems, angular, in richest colors, which grew

into architectural structures, the stonework

in brilliant colors, gold and onyx and

ebony, extending beyond the reach of sight,

in vistas measureless to man. The architec-

tural visions seemed to be oriented, seemed

to belong to the...architecture described

by the visionaries of the Bible." In the faint

moonlight, "the bouquet on the table as-

sumed the dimensions and shape of an

imperial conveyance, a triumphant car,

drawn by...creatures known only to my-


Mushrooms have apparently been cere-

monially employed in Mesoamerica for

many centuries. Several early sources have

suggested that Mayan languages in Guate-

mala had mushrooms named for the

underworld. Miniature mushroom stones,

2200 years of age, have been found in

archaeological sites near Guatemala City,

and it has been postulated that stone mush-

room effigies buried with a Mayan digni-

tary suggested a connection with the Nine

Lords of the Xibalba, described in the sa-

cred book Popol Vuh. Actually, more than

200 mushroom stone effigies have been

discovered, the oldest dating from the first

millennium BC Although the majority are

Guatemalan, some have been unearthed in

El Salvador and Honduras and others as far

north as Vera Cruz and Guerrero in

Mexico. It is now clear that whatever the

use of these "mushroom stones," they indi-

cate the great antiquity of a sophisticated

sacred use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

A superb statue of Xochipilli, Aztec Prince

of Flowers, from the early sixteenth centu-

ry, was recently discovered on the slopes of

the volcano, Mt. Popocatepetl (see illustra-

tion, p. 62 and on jacket). His face is in

ecstasy, as though seeing visions in an in-

toxication; his head is slightly tilted, as

though hearing voices. His body is engrav-

ed with stylized flowers which have been

identified as sacred, most of them inebri-

ating, plants. The pedestal on which he sits

is decorated with a design representing

cross-sections of the caps of Psilocybe azteco-

rum, an hallucinogenic mushroom known

only from this volcano. Thus Xochipilli

undoubtedly represents not simply the

Prince of Flowers but more specifically the

Prince of Inebriating Flowers, including

the mushrooms which, in Nahuatl poetry,

Were called "flowers" and "flowers that


Have psilocybine-containing mushrooms

ever been employed as magico-religious

hallucinogens of the New World? The

answer is probably yes.

A species of Psilocybe and possibly also

Stropharia are used today near the classic

Maya ceremonial center of Palenque, and

hallucinogenic mushrooms have been re-

ported in use along the border between

Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala.

Whether these modern mushroom prac-

tices in the Maya region represent vestiges

of former use or have been recently intro-

duced from Oaxaca it is not possible as yet

to say.

Nevertheless, evidence is now accumulat

ing to indicate that a mushroom cult flour-

ished in prehistoric times-from 100 B.C. to

about A.D. 300-400 in northwestern Mex-

ico: in Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Funer-

ary effigies, with two "horns" protruding

from the head, are believed to represent

male and female "deities" or priests associ-

ated with mushrooms. Traditions among

contemporary Huichol Indians in Jalisco

also suggest the former religious use of these

fungi "in ancient times."

What about South America, where these

psychoactive mushrooms abound! There is

no evidence of such use today, but indica-

tions of their apparent former employment

are many. The Yurimagua Indians of the

Peruvian Amazon were reported in the late

seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries

to be drinking a potently inebriating bever-

age made from a "tree fungus:' The Jesuit

report stated that the Indians "mix mush-

rooms that grow on fallen trees with a kind

of reddish film that is found usually at-

tached to rotting trunks. This film is very

hot to the taste. No person who drinks this

brew fails to fall under its effects after three

draughts of it, since it is so strong, or more

correctly, so toxic." It has been suggested

that the tree mushroom might have been

the psychoactive Psilocybe yungensis, which

occurs in this region.

In Colombia, many anthropomorphic gold

pectorals with two dome-like ornaments

on the head have been found. They are in

the so-called Darien style, and the majority

of them have been unearthed in the Sinu

area of northwestern Colombia and in the

Calima region on the Pacific coast. For lack

of a better term, they have been called

"telephone-bell gods," since the hollow

semi-spherical ornaments resemble the bells

of old-fashioned telephones. It has been

suggested that they represent mushroom

effigies. The discovery of similar artifacts in

Panama and Costa Rica and one in Yuca-

tall might be interpreted to suggest a pre-

historic continuum of a sacred mushroom

cult from Mexico to South America.

Further to the south in South America,

there is archaeological evidence that may

suggest the religious importance of mush-

rooms. Moche effigy stirrup vessels from

While the archaeological evidence is con-

vincing, the almost complete lack of refer-

encc in colonial literature to such use of

mushrooms, and the absence of any known

modern hallucinogenic use of mushrooms

among aboriginal groups of South America,

gives cause for caution in the interpretation

of what otherwise might easily be inter-

preted as ancient mushroom effigies from

south of Panama. If, however, it becomes

evident that the various archaeological

artifacts from South America mentioned

above do represent hallucinogenic mush-

rooms, then the area for their significance

in America will be greatly amplified.

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