Monday, January 21, 2008

the mushroom gods

Psychedelic mushrooms have been around as long as humanity. The Incas called them teonanactl or 'flesh of the gods'. The Aztecs considered them divine and referred to a trip as "the flowery dream". Prehistoric Saharan tribes painted mushroom-headed figures on cave walls.

Siberian shamans fed their reindeers fly agaric mushrooms and then drank their urine to journey to the spirit world. They would also drink each other's urine, and the mushroom could be passed through the bodies of half a dozen people before their potency was lost.

Aztec mushroom god

religion and ritual
The Central American tradition firmly encased sacred mushrooms in religion and ritual - in the kinds of ceremonies that evolved into today's (legal) peyote rituals of the Native American Church in the US. These rituals encourage spiritual development, expand the consciousness and enrich the soul.

bankers & shamen
Colonising Spaniads in the 16th century had brutally stamped out the 'satanic' mushroom rites of the indigenous South American peoples. For hundreds of years, the rites and rituals and even the mushrooms themselves were forgotten, thought lost. Until, that is, the unlikely figure of the vice-president of JP Morgan investment bank, R. Gordon Wasson, trundled into the Mexican highlands in 1954 and rediscovered them.

In the early 20th century, interest in botany and classification of species was rampant. Loads of moustachioed Victorians were out to catalogue the world. Ancient legends of a psychoactive mushrooms and a primitive 'mushroom cult' native to South America were unearthed. Several enthnobotanists and mushroom-lovers (mycophiles) made forays to Mexico and Peru to try to discover these holy shrooms. In their spare time, R. Gordon Wasson and his Russian wife Valentina were obsessive mushroom-lovers and had made it their life-quest to find the sacred mushrooms.

Maria Sabina: Mexican curandera

Wasson's first tripAfter years of field trips and false starts, they finally tracked down a 'curandera' or shaman in a mountainous Mexican village. Wasson was permitted to take part in the lengthy religious ceremony and was dosed with a sizeable handful of psyilcybin mexicana. In his own words:

"At the peak of the intoxication, about 1½ hours after ingestion of the mushrooms, the rush of interior pictures, mostly changing in shape and colour, reached such an alarming degree that I feared I would be torn into this whirlpool of form and colour and would dissolve."

life magazine
Wasson was amazed. Being a gentleman and pillar of the financial establishment, his report of the adventure was documented in Life magazine.

You can read the open minded and often hilarious piece here - a good example of literature untainted by drugs hysteria.

The magazine coined the snappy phrase "magic mushrooms" to describe his find.

The phrase would soon catch on...

The article caught the eye of the CIA who approached Wasson to find out whether the mushrooms had any potential military use. Wasson refused to help them so they smuggled an operative onto his next expedition.

But by then the mushrooms were attracted some new disciples...


Laura said...

can we share um, mushroom stories? lsd stories? etc.
i'd like to hear more from others about their experiences.
i know these are Entheogens, and i see it in my daily life - even if i catch myself being bitchy, maybe i've learned a nicer way to tell the lady at the po to read the sign that says "no cell phones".

blessings, :L, drlaura

Carl de Borhegyi said...

The idea that mushrooms may have played an important role in the development of Aztec and Mayan civilizations first came to the attention of the general public in 1957 when R. Gordon Wasson published an article written by my father Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi,in his ground-breaking book Mushrooms, Russia and History in 1957. In this article entitled "Mushroom Stones of Middle America," my father described and classified a number of mushroom-shaped stone sculptures that he had encountered in various private collections as well as in the collections of the Guatemala National Museum.

In 1961, my father, more commonly known as "Borhegyi" suggested, based on the discovery of a cache of nine miniature stone mushrooms excavated from a tomb at the highland Maya archaeological site of Kaminaljuyu, that mushroom stones might very likely have been venerated as the Nine Lords of the Underworld. He went on to propose that they might also be connected with a trophy head cult, human sacrifice, and ritual decapitation, with the last often occurring on the Mesoamerican ballcourt. Unfortunately, this promising line of inquiry ended with his untimely death in 1969.

In the course of my studies I have discovered what I believe to be important links between mushrooms, the planet Venus, and an all-powerful creator deity. This deity in its earliest representations shared feline, serpentine, and bird-like features and has been called the Feathered Serpent by archaeologists. Over the years I believe this deity took on many additional guises and attributes, and became known by a great variety of names. I have elected to refer to him, as did the Toltecs and Aztecs, as Quetzalcoatl. I conclude that in whatever form and indigenous culture he appeared, he presided over a mushroom/Venus religious cult of underworld jaguar transformation that dominated Mesoamerica and extended far beyond its geographic, ethnic and linguistic borders.

As a result of my study I am convinced that hallucinogenic mushrooms and veneration of the planet Venus were central to all aspects of Mesoamerican religion. I also believe Mesoamerica shared, along with many other New World cultures, elements of a Pan American belief system so ancient that many of the ideas may have come from Asia to the New World with the first human settlers.This belief system originated from ideas of death and rebirth derived from the agricultural cycle and was reinforced by the visionary experience of ingesting psychogenic mushrooms. I shall call this continuing thread the Mushroom/Venus/Quetzalcoatl religion.

My study concludes that the ancient Mesoamericans, starting with the ancient Olmecs on down to the Maya, Toltec and Aztecs, believed that the consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms, whether orally, anally through enemas, or by smoking, transformed the individual into a were-jaguar and opened a sacred portal into the underworld. Commonly depicted in association with ritual self-decapitation, the image of the were-jaguar was a metaphor for both the daily death, sacrifice, and rebirth of the Sun, and the journey each individual takes from death to rebirth. Passage through the sacred portal, linked esoterically to mushrooms, assured the decapitated of divine resurrection.

Carl de Borhegyi

For more on this subject, my research site is...

Carl de Borhegyi said...

Nice work but a quick note to your readers. You mention that the Incas called them, (sacred mushrooms) teonanactl or 'flesh of the gods'. This should read Aztecs not Inca. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the general word for mushrooms was nanacatl and that the intoxicating species, the Psilocybe mushroom, was called teonanacatl, a term Sahagun gives us, teo-, or teotl, meaning god, that which is divine or sacred, "the flesh of god" (Wasson, letter to Borhegyi, June 23, 1953).