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The Aztecs and the Sacred Mushrooms

By

John W. Allen

Introduction

Psychoactive fungi of the genera Psilocybe and possibly


Panaeolus have been traditionally used for over 3000 years. The use
of these interesting fungi in magico-religious ceremonies as divinatory
sacraments among several tribes belonging to the Nahua speaking
indians of Mesoamerica is well documented (Wasson & Wasson 1957;
Schultes 1939, 1940).

The Nahua are the ancestors of the once mighty Olmecs, Toltecs,
and Aztecs. The Mayan cultures of Central America may also have
employed the mushroom entheogens ceremoniously. The indigenous
native inhabitants of Mesoamerica currently employ several
entheogenic mushrooms for the purpose of healing and curing
through divination via magico-religious veladas.

Jim Jacobs, a renown investigator of the sacred Mexican "magic


mushrooms” claims that "their use in a magico-religious ceremony is
correct, but that their use is much broader" then one could possibly
imagine.

To began with, what do we know of the existence of the sacred


mushrooms? Were they always with us and why did they just recently
resurface into the 20th century of entheoginism? And why did it take
over four hundred years of mystery shrouded in silence and secrecy
before the mushroom entheogens resurfaced into our modern world?
We must remember and never forget that it was the Mazatec
curandera Doña María Sabina, the wisest of sabia's who shared her
secrets with R. Gordon Wasson and photographer Alan Richardson
and made it possible for all of us to experience her ecstatic and sacred
knowledge.
Many of the early Spanish chroniclers (which included naturalists,
botanists and members of the clergy) sailed from far across the
Atlantic. They were the first to explore this brave new world of ours.
They traveled here under the fear of God, leaving behind them the
terrors of the dark middle ages, leaving behind them a world they
were just learning to crawl out from under.

More than 500 years have passed since España triumphed over
700 years of Moorish rule. In 1469, 17-year-old Ferdinand V, ruler of
the kingdom of Aragon met and married 18 year-old Isabella I, queen
of Castile and Leon. This was an important step in making España a
single kingdom. They had fought the Moors, the Mohammedan
invaders who had ruled mush of España for hundreds of years (700).
In 1492, after more than twenty years of fighting, Ferdinand and
Isabella conquered the city of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in
what is now Spain. It was also, at this point in their history, that
Spain began to expel most Jews from their country, forcing several
hundred thousand Jews to migrate to other countries, except for
those who converted to their religion of Christianity.

After the war with the Moors was over, Ferdinand and Isabella
gave court to a navigator, who was also a mapmaker as well, a man
who claimed to know the "secrets of the winds." This man was
Christopher Columbus, a man who had dreamed of sailing west for
more than twenty years. At first, Columbus tried to get help from the
King of Portugal, but that failed. Then in 1485, he turned to King
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who at that time, were fighting to drive
out the Moors from their country, so Columbus had to wait.

Finally his orders arrived, given to him by Ferdinand and Isabella,


the royal degree directing him for his first voyage. These documents
claimed that Columbus would be sailing to "certain islands in the sea"
which he knew existed. Interestingly, Columbus had once sailed to
Scandinavia and may have even heard stories about the travels of Leif
Ericsson, thus presenting him with an incentive for finding shorter
sailing routes to the Indies.
After the war between the Moors and Spain was over, it appeared
that it was very important for the merchants of Spain to find a new
route to India and Asia. After their defeat in Grenada, the
Mohammedan Arabs had shut off all of the eastward land routes to
Asia and Portugal's explorers had not yet completed their passage
around Africa, so new sailing routes were often discussed by the
merchants yet no one was enthusiastic about attempting to find newer
sailing routes to increase the trade of the country.

The purpose of Columbus' voyage and subsequent ventures


across the Atlantic was to increase the resources of Spain with new
avenues of commerce and trade. Eventually, they accidently stumbled
upon this brave new world, landing first at what is now El Salvador
and later setting up the first colony in Haiti. Eventually Columbus
explored most of the South American Coast, and Central America as
far west as Panama.

In 1519, the Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez landed with his


men in Mexico and set up a new town, Vera Cruz, and then marched
toward the capital city. Within two years Cortez had conquered the
country. Cortez also began the task of ordering his clergy to convert
the Indians into Christians and stop them from worshipping demonic
idols and from performing their rituals that sacrificed human beings to
the gods. While these human sacrifices must have seemed very cruel
to the invading Europeans, it would be more reasonable to assume
that Cortez turned out to be crueler in his conquest of the native
peoples and the way he conducted his conquest than what he was
trying to destroy or change. Not only did Cortez destroy many of the
Aztec temples but he also brutally put down all resistance. At the
time of the conquest it was believed that there were more than
100,000 Aztecs who lived in the capital and over six million Indians
living throughout Mexico.
Imagine the fear that the native population held towards their
conquerors. Here was an enemy who had greater powers than their
mighty Gods, with weapons of mass destruction, more powerful than
their spears and arrows, muskets, rifles, cannons, armored suits and
mighty vessels that breached the sanctity of the waters.
Once the conquest had begun the invaders immediately began to
build their churches, the base core of their spiritual imaginations.
Then they began to strip the native inhabitants of their heritage,
culture and resources. The many treasures they collected and
cataloged were sent back to their homeland. They carried these
precious cargoes to Spain in the name of God and King.
Interestingly, many treasure vessels sank or sunk soon after their
embarkation; mainly because their precious vessels were too heavily
laden with treasure and ironically it was surely their greed which
caused their ships to sink; remember that these were seasoned
seamen. They were definitely good at their skills and they knew how
to sail their ships. Furthermore the Spanish invaders were also
seeking such treasures as the Coronado's "Seven Cities of Cibola"
(the lost city of gold) or "El Dorado" as it later became known; the
"fountain of youth" and even aphrodisiacs to seduce young women.

During this period of conquest, they proceeded to rape the land of


its many resources and strip away the native peoples of their culture,
heritage and religion. Soon they thus began their indoctrination of
their way of life into that of the native population. This was achieved
largely through the fear of death; thus the conquerors began to civilize
the heathens of their pagan like rituals practices and converted many
Aztecs to Christianity.

An interesting observation that has not before been under


discussion is about one of the rewards given to all Indians who
converted to Christianity. This meant that if any Indian was attacked,
beaten on or in danger, it was the honored duty of the soldier or
conquistador, all loyal to the King of Spain, to defend, with his life,
any Indian who was of the same faith. This is why the Moors were
repelled and expelled from España; so that the Catholic Church could
exist. In fact, one of the titles of Ferdinand, King of España, was
"Protector of the Faith" or "Keeper of the Faith."

In contrast to this above noted observation, in the American


colonies, where the English missionary breakaway Protestant laymen
imposed their harsh religions doctrines and dogma on the native
populations whom they encountered, were able to convert small
populations of the native inhabitants into their religions. However,
English attitudes towards people of a different skin color was obvious
(India is an example) and the indians who became christianized were
probably not even allowed to sit at the same table with their white
brothers even though they were of the same faith.

Eventually, the conquerors had succeeded in their endeavor to


devour the land they now lay claim to. Now the botanists and clergy
began to initiate the long and somewhat tedious task of cataloging
and recording on paper all that they had discovered in the new world.

During the initial conquest of Nueva España from the Caribbean


throughout Central America to México, the use of inebriating
intoxicants (including fungi) was a dominating factor in the culture
and peoples of the Aztec empire. The Spanish invaders, who
observed the Aztec priests and their followers being served the sacred
fungi at festivals and coronations, frowned upon the use of these
sacraments. It should be pointed out that the Spanish were very
mycophobic and they were repulsed by the mere mention of any type
of mushroom. They also deplored the pagan like rituals and the
priests who employed mushrooms and other magical herb/drug plants
as divinatory substances. They wrote in their histories that
teonanácatl (Teunamacatlth), a term used by the Nahuatl speaking
Aztec priests in describing the sacred mushrooms may have implied
"God's Flesh or Flesh of the Gods." However, many historians wrote
of the mushrooms in a negative view. For example: one author
described the mushrooms as "Hongol demonico ydolo" (for more
terms and names of the sacred mushrooms, see Allen, 1997c).
According to Wasson (1980), "teo" meant awesome or wondrous and
“nanacatl” implied mushroom or even meat.

Teonanácatl or "magic mushroom” was one of the most important


of the many narcotic drug/herb plants described in several codices
written after the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century. The
mushrooms were often administered among the common people,
merchants, visiting dignitaries; and even the wealthy were known to
have consumed them.

Other plants were also employed in the treatment of different


ailments, divination and for healing or curing and were also used
during different seasons. Additionally, several other minor plants
were also employed when the more popular remedies were not
available.

Many plants used in these magico religious ceremonies more than


400 years ago by the Aztecs and as much as 2000 years earlier by
their ancestors the Olmecs and Toltecs, and quite possibly the Mayan
people, are still in use today. These include peyote (mescaline),
ololiuhqui/tlitlitzin (morning glory seeds = ergine alkaloids), Salvia
divinorum ("Leaves of the Shepherdess" a member of the mint
family), Datura (jimsom weed, also known as torna loca, toloache or
tolatzin), mescal beans (cytisine), puffballs (Lycoperdon mixtecorum)
or (Lycoperdon marginatum). The former is referred to as "gi-i-wa"
and means "fungus of the first quality" and the latter implies "fungus
of the second quality." It has been reported that they cause auditory
hallucinations. Primary use of these alleged puffball inebriant occurs
among the Mixtec shamans.

Second only to peyote are the sacred mushrooms referred to by


the Aztecs as teonanácatl. The majority of the sacred mushrooms of
Mesoamerica belong to the genus Psilocybe, and a few quite possibly
belong to the genera Panaeolus and Conocybe.

Although indigenous use of many psychotropic plants in


Mesoamerica is not uncommon today, the ritualistic or ceremonial use
of the sacred mushrooms and other drug/herb plants can be traced
back to approximately 1000 BC.

The numerous descriptions recorded by the clergy and historians


concerning the effects of these drug/herb plants and their uses among
the Aztec people are molded in fear and plastered in bigotry and false
heresy. The botanists and historians who were eager to appease their
masters back in Spain often reported the effects of the mushrooms on
those who had experienced them in a negative vein. The Spanish
historians often described the effects of these plants on native peoples
as leaving their users in uncontrollable fits, claiming that the native
people would even commit violent acts towards themselves and each
other. Many would fall into rages as if in a stupor. These descriptions
could very well describe contemporary societies description of an
alcoholic syndrome.

The Spanish persecuted, often murderously, those who did not


adhere to the catholic ways. Below and on the following pages are
several references regarding the use of these sacred mushrooms by
Indian people who inhabited Mesoamerica. It was because of the
persecution which the native population faced from their conquerors
that cause them to hide the use of these mushrooms from their
Spanish peers. Thus they remained a secret to most of the west until
R. Gordon Wasson found the Oaxacan Shamaness María Sabina and
wrote of his rediscovery regarding the existence of the sacred
mushrooms (see Allen, 1997a, 1997b).

Here then is an example, as recorded by the clergy of the effects of


the mushrooms upon some users in pre-Colombian México:

"The native people would pick these little mushrooms and some
were small and yellow, and some were black. They had small round
heads and slender stems. They were sometimes mixed and eaten with
honey or with chocolate, and when they were eaten they would make
one see many things which or would not make them much afraid, or
even laugh. Some would dance or weep, others would merely sit
and dream. Some had visions of death, or of falling in battle. Some
believed that a wild animal was eating them and others believed that
they would become very wealthy. All forms of good or evil could
become a reality under the influence of the fungus which the natives
referred to as teonanácatl, teo implies divine, and nacatl, means meat
or mushroom, hence the term `flesh of the gods'...
"When the effects of the inebriation of the mushrooms were past
and all had returned to normal, the indians would then consult with
each other in regards as to what they each had experienced while
under the influence of the mushrooms...

"The mushrooms might make one lose his senses or give one
pleasure. Some would predict the future or see a thousand or more
serpents or jaguars and some believed that worms or spiders were
cannibalizing their arms or their legs. The use of the mushrooms
could ward off evil or cast charms and spells to insure success, and
they were thought to cure all kinds of diseases." It should be
mentioned that the Franciscan monk Sahagún (1950-1959), a
converted Jew, mentioned that the mushrooms were used to cure
fevers and rheumatism.

It would appear that the use of divinatory mushrooms among the


native inhabitants shocked the Spanish clergy. To their users these
fungi gave vision-giving powers to heal through divination. The
natives respected the mushrooms and held their vision giving
properties in awe and reverence. The mushrooms apparently
projected concepts of divinity which provided visions and keys for
unlocking doorways into the mind. It also allowed one to divinate an
illness or find lost objects. They were sacred, they were respected
and they were medicinal. They also allowed one to achieve a sacred
communion with their Gods. The Aztecs even had a god who
protected the mushrooms who was known as Xochipelli (Prince of
Flowers.)

The native people felt that the new religion of the Spaniards
offered them nothing comparable to what they already had. Imagine
how disappointed the Aztec converts were when they compared
eating the mushroom to the agape of the Christian Eucharist. It must
have been shocking to those seeking a similar experience from the
taking of bread and wine and comparing it with their inebriation from
the taking of the mushrooms (Pike, 1960; Pike & Cowan, 1959).
In the eyes of the Spaniards this religion was blasphemous and
this heathen pagan practice most assuredly had to be stamped out.
The attitude of some of the conquerors, especially the clergy,
probably originated due to the fact that for 1500 years since the death
of Christ, they had been trying to communicate with God and he had
not responded. Yet here were these common idolaters who could
communicate with God and apparently the Spaniards most likely
believed the native people were actually communicating with the
devil. The conquerors really felt that if God would not respond to
their prayers, why would God then answer the low-life indigenous
peoples prayers. Because of this the Spanish continuously persecuted
the native population until they felt that the use of these drug/herb
plants by the native-people no longer existed.

Remember that it was because of the severe persecution by their


Spanish conquerors that many shamans, medicine men and priests
moved their ritualistic practices into hiding; thereby keeping secret,
their ancient rituals from the eyes of their enemies. As the conquest
proceeded in the domination of the Aztecs, along came the Holy
Order of the Inquisition, who after establishing an office in Mexico,
attempted to control the native population through the fear of their
vengeful but loving God. No matter how hard the Inquisition tried to
put an end to the use of the inebriating intoxicants by their conquered
subjects, it seems that they failed in regards to the use of peyote and
the sacred mushrooms. Eventually many Aztec priests and their
followers began to incorporate into their own religion, certain aspects
and concepts of the religion of their conquerors (LaBarre 1970).

Pagan and Catholic traits were soon blended and incorporated


together into the Aztec religion along with catholic images such as
pictures of the Virgin Mary and statues of Jesus Christ. For instance,
many contemporary Mazatec indians believe that where Christ's blood
fell to the ground or where Christ's saliva appeared on the ground,
that is where the mushrooms sprang from.

HISTORICAL REFERENCES
Presented below are several descriptions, as recorded by the clergy,
of some of the effects which the sacred mushrooms allegedly had
upon the Aztec people who consumed them. They were first found in
the texts of the following historians and clergymen: The Franciscan
Friar and chronicler Bernardino de Sahagún, author of the Florentine
Codex. Motolina, Hernando Ruíz de Alarcon, Jacinto de la Serna,
Francisco Hernandez and the Dominican priest, Diego Duran. As
previously noted, many of these clergymen and historians were
previously jews who through the threat of death or expulsion from
Spain, were converts to the Catholic religion.

Sahagún wrote:

"The natives consumed small black mushrooms that were known as


teonanácatl or nanacatl. They grew under grass, in the fields and in
pastures, and visions were seen when ingested.

In book 9, Chapter 8 of the Florentine Codex we find two epithets


referring to the sacred mushrooms: nanacatl (mushroom) and
honguillos negros (little black mushrooms).
In book 10, Chapter 29, we are presented with a description
describing nanacatl as “hongos malos que emborrachan“(evil
mushrooms that inebriate).

And in book 11 Chapter 7 we are told that “hay unos honguillos en


esta tierra que se llaman teonanácatl.” (there are some little
mushrooms in this land that they call teonanácatl).

In another portion of the codex, Sahagún, a devote catholic,


informs us that the mushrooms "aun provocan a lujuria" that they
"even provoke lust." Wasson (1980) believed that Sahagún may have
been responsible for adding these words and wondered why they
were inserted. He inquired if they were meant to either "excite the
sixteenth century readers seeking always the Fountain of Youth and
new aphrodisiacs? or to incite his pious readers against the
mushrooms?" Another historian, Francisco Flores, also made the
suggestion that the sacred mushrooms were but "one of the many
aphrodisiacs found in Nueva España."

During the past twenty years the author has communicated with
numerous adults and young couples who have experimented with
psilocybian fungi. Many couples have reported that their sexual
appetites were definitely increased during their inebriations on the
sacred mushroom. In fact, most of the male subjects who were
interviewed mentioned that they were able maintain an erection and to
hold back orgasm for several hours. On the other hand, their female
counterparts claimed to experience nothing but multiple orgasms
during the entire sexual encounter while under the influence of the
mushroom inebriation (Allen, personal files).

It should be noted that no shaman, curandera, brujo or sabio in


modern Mesoamerica or those seeking advise from the mushrooms
have sex for three days before, during and/or after a mushroom
ceremony (Pike & Cowan 1959). According to the shamans and
sabios this experience would cause permanent madness; suggesting
that one would go crazy from the experience. However, many
westerners who have experienced intercourse while under the
influence of inebriating mushrooms have claimed that it is the finest
madness they have ever experienced. What is interesting is that there
are no documented studies done in regards to this aspect of one of the
many effects attributed to this type of intoxication. Additionally,
Albert Hofmann (1980) also observed what he believed to be were
erotic sexual effects in two female participants (María Sabina's
daughters Apolonia and Aurora, prospective curanderas) during a
ceremony held in the home of María Sabina which occurred while
Albert Hofmann was under the influence of Salvia divinorum:
"Blissful, yearning, moans of Apolonia and Aurora, between singing
and prayer, gave the impression of the young women in the drug
inebriation was combined with sensual sexual feeling." Furthermore,
Leary (1983), who with his lady companion Malaca, had also wrote
on the sexually euphoric aphrodisiac effects reported as common in
many psilocybian experiences; describing his observations of these
effects by claiming that "We were two sea creatures. The mating
process in this universe began with the fusion of moist lips producing
a soft-electric rapture, which irradiated the entire body. We found no
problem maneuvering the limbs, tentacles, and delightful
protuberances with which we were miraculously equipped in the
transparent honey-liquid zero gravity atmospheres that surrounded,
bathed, and sustained us...
"This was my first sexual experience while under the influence of
psychedelics."

Several days after Leary had experienced the euphoric sexual


properties of these powerful mushrooms, he asked Aldous Huxley
"what he thought about the erotogenic nature of the psychedelic
drugs which were slowly becoming popular among the
undergraduates at Harvard. Huxley seemed agitated at Leary's query
by saying that "of course this is true, Timothy, but we've stirred up
enough trouble suggesting that drugs can stimulate aesthetic and
religious experiences." Huxley further stated "I strongly urge you not
to let the sexual cat out of the bag."

At this time, the author of this paper would like to propose a new
term to be applied for describing these effects experienced by those,
who under the influence of these mushrooms, have the most orgasmic
and cosmic sexual experience of their life. This term is to be known
as "psilophoria." "Psilo" for the chemical substance within the
mushrooms and "phoria" extracted from the word euphoria. Gartz
(1996), wrote about numerous occasions where several innocent
collectors in Germany who were foraging for edible mushrooms had
accidently consumed specimens of a newly discovered psilocybian
mushroom known as Inocybe aeruginascens. All those involved
reported nothing but euphoric reactions during their intoxication.
These occurred on numerous occasions in and around Potsdam and
outlying regions of Germany.

Sahagún who undoubtedly provided some of the best descriptions


and effects of these mushrooms presented other reported effects. The
following descriptions are from the Florentine codex:
In book two, page 130, Sahagún wrote that:
"Teonanácatl grows on the plains, in the grass. The head is small
and round. The stem is long and slender. It is so bitter and burns; it
burns the throat, it makes one besotted; it deranges one, troubles one.
It is a remedy for fever or gout. Only 2 or 3 can be eaten. It saddens,
or depresses one; it is known to make one flee, frightens one, makes
one hide. He who eats many of them sees many things which make
him afraid, or makes him laugh [incessant laughing is one of the more
pleasurable effects of a psilocybian intoxication]. He flees, hangs
himself, hurls himself from a cliff. Cries out, takes fright. He eats it
with honey. Of him it is said, he `bemushroomed' himself."

In book nine we find a the mushrooms being served at a State


dinner for visiting dignitaries, traders and merchants. At this feast we
find that the merchants have been served teonanácatl:
"At the very first, mushrooms were served. They [the merchants]
only drank chocolate during the night. They also ate mushrooms in
honey. When the inebriation started they danced and wept. Many
though of and saw horrible monsters and things."

And finally in book ten, page 49, Sahagún provides us with an


incident of abuse by a noblewoman who used mushrooms for
pleasure rather then healing or curing:
"The bad noblewoman [is] infamous, very audacious, stern, and
proud. Very stupid, brazen. Besotted, and drunk. She goes about
besotted; she goes about demented; she goes about eating
mushrooms."

As one can see, the Aztecs also had what appear to be drug related
problems in their society just like we have alcohol related problems in
our society.

Other reports from Sahagún tells us of "the Harlot; the Carnal


Woman is who is described at length. Put briefly, she is the whore of
the itching buttocks. She lives like a bathed slave, acts like a
sacrificial victim, goes about with her head high--rude, drunk,
shameless, eating mushrooms [Ibid. P 55]…

"The Lewd Youth is a drunkard, foolish, dejected; a drunk, a sot.


He goes about eating mushrooms [Ibid. P 37]…

"The One of Noble Lineage when he is a bad nobleman is a


flatterer--a drinker, besotted, drunk. He goes about eating Daturas
and mushrooms. He becomes vain, brazen [Ibid P 20]…

"The Bad Youth goes about becoming crazed on both kinds of


Daturas and mushrooms; he is dissolute, mad; he goes about
mocking, telling tales, being rude, repeating insults [Ibid P 12]…

The above descriptions written by the Spanish clergy and


historians regarding the effects which the Sacred Mushrooms had on
those who consumed them definitely explains their (the historians)
animosity regarding the Aztec use of the mushrooms.

In 1481, Diego Duran wrote the History of the Indians of New


Spain. His documents were based on an historical text referred to as
Cronica X. An early reference in this lexicon occurred during the
coronation of Tizok.

40. "Comieron todos de unos hongos monteses, que dicen hacen


perder el sentido, y asi todos muy aderezados al baile."

40. "They all ate some woodland mushrooms, which they say
makes you lose all your senses, and thus they sallied forth for the
dance."

Duran noted that mushrooms were served at the coronation of


Moctezuma and other important functions such as festivals and ritual
ceremonies. It would appear that the sacred use of teonanácatl was
an integral functional part of the Aztec culture. The mushrooms
obviously held an important role in determining the structure of their
society.
According to the text of Cronica X (11 cap LIV 24), at the
coronation of Moctezuma, Duran wrote that:

"de alli iban todos a comer hongos crudos; con la cual comida
salian todos de juicio y queaban peores que si hubieran bebido mucho
vino. Con la fuerza de agellos hongos, veian visiones y tenian
revelaciones de lo venir."

"They all went to eat raw mushrooms; on which food they all went
out of their minds, worse then if they had drunk much wine. With the
force of those mushrooms, they would see visions and have
revelations of the future."

It was known that Moctezuma provided great feasts for his


enemies and their Kings and Lords. Here then is an account of one
such feast recorded as the "Feast of the Revelations."

Cronica X (11 LXV 26):


"(Moctezuma) hacia comer alos viegos y sacerso tes antiguos,
hongos verdes y otros brebajes supersticiosos, qui les hacia bebar,
para que supiensen en aguellas embriagueces que aguellas comidas y
brebajes les causaban, de tener victoria o no."

"(Moctezuma) made the old men drink and the former priests eat
green mushrooms and other superstitious potions that he made them
drink, so that they would learn in those drunken states that were
caused by those foods and potions whether he would win victory or
not."

The green mushrooms noted above by Duran probably belonged to


the genus Psilocybe and that the color green as well as blue are
indications of the oxidation of psilocin.

Another reference from Cronica X follows:


"Sino solo los hongos monteses, que los comian crudos, con los
cuales, que se alegraban y regocijaban y salian algo de su sentido.
Solo hace memoria, de la abundancia de cacao que se bebia en estas
solemnidades."

"But only the woodland mushrooms which they ate raw, with
which, they would rejoice and grow merry and become somewhat
tipsy. Mention is made only of the abundance of chocolate that
would be drunk on these exalted occasions."

As previously earlier, by 1519, Cortez had conquered all of


Mexico and by 1541, an office of the Spanish Inquisition was
permanently established in Mexico. Documented records of the
Office of the Holy Inquisition indicate that several reports exist
documenting the persecution and prosecution of native inhabitants;
including a priest who used mushrooms in the year 1574. In these
files were lists of charges brought by the clergy against several indians
for their use of the sacred mushrooms (see Wasson, 1980).

In 1581 Fray Juan de Cordoba wrote about the Zapotec indians


who had words for "mushrooms that they say give one visions."

One ancient manuscript "Papeles of Nueva España" dated April 15,


1580, reported that: "they would worship the devil and sacrifice
dogs and slaves to their idols and after their sacrifice they would
dance and get drunk on some mushrooms and then see many visions
and fearful figures."

Francisco Hernandez, personal physician to the King of Spain,


viewed the Aztec's use of inebriating mushrooms as `causing
madness, but not death'. Hernandez believed that the all night vigils
which he observed were `awesome and terrifying'. In his Historia
Plantarum Novae Hispaniae Volume II, published in 1790, he
described several mushrooms. One mushroom was referred to as
Chimalnanacame meaning "yellow orbicular mushroom." This could
be a reference to a species of Panaeolus or possibly Psilocybe
caerulescens Murr. Another term in use at that time by the Aztecs for
teonanácatl was the epithet teyhuiti nanácatl meaning intoxicating
mushroom.
In 1615, a guide for missionaries on how to deal with the indians
who used inebriating mushrooms shows that "when they are eaten or
drunk, they intoxicate, depriving of those who partake of them, of
their senses and come to make them believe of any one of a thousand
absurdities." Just how powerful were the mighty empirical Aztec
wizards in their knowledge of medicinal plant lore? And how had the
ever powerful catholic church and their clergy come to fear these
innocent natives who would not give up their heathen pagan ways to
a Christian God and a new way of life.

Numerous documentation by the clergy on the ritual use of


nanacates (mushrooms) among the Aztec native peoples during the
fifteenth and sixteenth century represented a most negative view.
This was especially true of the church and those who wrote for their
King in Spain. They distorted the truth in order to appease their
leaders and the Holy Catholic Church. It would appear that the
clergy probably dictated to the historians and botanists what they
could or could not put to paper. The clergy and historians apparently
only wrote exactly what the Holy Office of the Church and Inquisition
needed to read and wanted to hear. Wasson (1980) claimed that this
kind of totalitarianism by the church was a dominant factor in
controlling every person under the churches jurisdiction; including the
doctrines of the mighty conquistadors as they conquered the new
world. Wasson claimed "here then is Odium Theologicum."

While modern anthropologists, botanists and historians ignored


and/or denied the existence of the sacred mushrooms in Mexico,
written documentation on the subject since the recent rediscovery by
the Wassons' and others has proven otherwise.

As the Spanish Inquisition prevailed on the European continent, so


did the persecution of the indians in Mexico. The conquistadors and
the missionaries found great satisfaction in their ambivalent and
somewhat derogatory persecution of these poor Indian idolaters.
This caused the native inhabitants of Mesoamerica to hide their use of
these magical plant substances from the church and their conquering
masters. Eventually the native peoples hid their use of the
mushrooms in near darkness and secret for over four centuries. No
matter how well hidden their so called gatherings were, the fact that
these practices survived total annihilation by the church shows the
strength the mushrooms provided their users. The Aztec priests,
along with their followers, believed that the mushrooms were a sacred
gift from God. This belief still persists among several groups of
indians who reside in Mesoamerica today. These mushroom rituals
and other drug/herb plant use still exists in contemporary Mexican
society, although many of the indians became devote Catholics once
they became converted to Christianity.

In 1970 Ralph Metzner suggested that during the early part of the
conquest that "a negative view of mushroom worship prevailed and
the secret practice of it went into hiding as Spanish mycophobia
succeeded in stamping out a major force in ancient Aztec culture."

FIELD RESEARCH ON TEONANACATL

Today, in Mexico, only a handful of remote mountain area tribes


still preserve and utilize the customs and rituals of what once must
have been a splendid and powerful system of worship and empirical
magic. So complete was the neglect and ignorance in this western
world of the botanical aspects of the Aztec and Mexican religions,
that in 1915, William E. Safford, a reputable and distinguished
American Botanist, who was an expert on the subject of many native
American psychotropic plants, believed that the mushrooms and their
ceremonies recorded in the codices were non-existent. Safford
claimed that the indians of Mesoamerica had never used any
mushrooms prior to the conquest or after. Disregarding the noted
valid testimony of the Spanish historians, and of his peers, Safford
paid little attention to the well-documented evidence written by the
historians and clergy that described the rituals (mushrooms) and their
effects upon those who consumed them.
Obviously Safford was anti-drug orientated in his beliefs and so
once again the mushroom endemic lay hidden from the world until the
middle of the late 1930's when it was once again brought to the
attention of the scientific community.

In the early 1900's, Austrian born Blas Pablo Reko, an


ethnobotanist, received several reports that certain groups of Indians
living in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, were consuming mushrooms
and holding secret ceremonies involving ancient rites. These rites
were performed only for the purpose of healing and divination. Reko
published his findings in a book entitled El México Antiquo.
Subsequently, Reko discussed these events with his colleagues.
However, they paid little attention to his mushroom ramblings and
showed no interest in following up on his information regarding the
suspected use of inebriating mushrooms by the Indians of
Mesoamerica.

In 1936, a Mexican engineer, Roberto J. Weitlaner collected several


mushroom specimens and forwarded them to Reko, who in turn, sent
the specimens to Harvard University for botanical identification.
However, the specimens spoiled before they arrived, thus further
delaying their existence to the scientific community.

Later that same year, Weitlaner, became the first white man in
modern times to observe an actual sacred mushroom ceremony. Two
years later in 1938, his daughter Irmagard, her fiancée Jean Basset
Johnson and two friends became the first westerners to witness an
actual mushroom ceremony. The velada was held in a home in the
tiny mountain village of Huautla de Jimenez.

The actual discovery of the first mushroom specimens of


teonanácatl occurred when a young Harvard botanist, Richard Evans
Schultes, made a trip to Huautla de Jimenez and along with Blas
Pablo Reko (Schultes, Pers. Comm. 1989) collected several
specimens of mushrooms that were suspected as being the
mushrooms used in magico-religious ceremonies. So it would appear
that the Indians, in their defiance and defense were able to hide their
use of the mushrooms until the late 1930's when their use began to
reemerge into the western hemisphere.

Schultes (1939, 1940) presented the scientific community with


numerous references describing the use of inebriating mushrooms by
the Aztec priests and their followers. Schultes, in his 1939 and 1940
papers, reported that several codices mentioned the existence of the
sacred mushrooms, thereby providing a reading audience with
information about the mushrooms. Thus Schultes eventually paved
the way, so to speak, for the Wassons' and others to follow in his
footsteps when he published his findings to the world (Schultes 1939,
1940). The actual rediscovery of the Sacred Mushrooms and their
ceremonies can be read in Volume I and II of the Ethnomycological
Journals Sacred Mushrooms Studies this series (Allen, 1997a,
1997b).

References
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Allen, J. W. 1997b. María Sabina: Saint Mother of the Sacred


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