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Shamanism and hallucinogenic plants
In the future, the spirit of the redskin man, who respects all that is alive with love and veneration, will seize your children and will penetrate in those that do not know anything about him.
Seattle, Dawnish chief. North-west of the USA, 1855
In 1956, they met in Mexico Maria Sabina, Mazatec woman healer about 60 years old. To the Mazatec, the mushrooms were sacred, and their cult represented the only vestige of their destroyed culture. They call them «little that grow», little saints, sacred children and wise men those that use them to cure. Nevertheless, if Maria Sabina had began eating them since the age of six, it was because they cut her hunger and made her merry. Married at fourteen years old, widow at twenty, she became wise by a short coincidence, when her sister implored to try to cure her. During the session, Maria had her first vision. Some «Main beings», about which spoke her ancestors, appeared to her, similar to human beings but «inspiring respect». They presented her a great book, the «Book of Wisdom», and though she was illiterate she red it at loud voice. «Wisdom is the Language. The Language is in the book. The book, it is the Main Beings that award it. The Mains appear thanks to the great power of the sacred children.» Then she met the Lord of the mountains, bewitcher of the spirits, supreme and faceless healer, riding on his white horse. Then a luminous object stamped the floor in a thunderous noise, transformed itself into a vegetal being with a body made of varied coloured flowers, with limbs like branches, all covered with dew. Maria perspired a cold sweat, cried tears that seemed solid to her. In the morning she fell asleep, «rocked in a dream, as if her body was softly swinging in a giant hammock hanging on the sky and that oscillated from a mountain to another.» These visions hallowed her as a shaman.
Gradually, she became a recognised Wise woman, even the doctor sent her some patients, to whom she always asked «what was your dream ?» before to make out a diagnosis and share with them the curative mushrooms. The mayor invited her to find in her visions the solutions to the village conflicts, and introduced the Wassons to her that she initiated to the sacred mushrooms. Hallucinated meeting between the new world and the ancient knowledge, on the field of the magical dreaming !
If the visions of the Wassons were not composed of mythic beings, substituted by geometric patterns or some majestic landscapes, they were giving the same effect, «loaded with meaning (...) completely above everything that is supposed to be the world reality. (...) «We felt ourselves facing the "Ideas" about which spoke Plato (...). Balanced in space, I was an eye separated from its being, invisible, incorporeal, who saw without being seen», wrote Wasson in his articles that, with the recordings of the songs of Maria Sabina, made her famous and aroused the interest of the scientists.
The research missions then followed one another in the sierra mazatec, leading to the isolation of the active principle of the mushrooms : psilocybin. On their footsteps, the hippies rushed. Maria did not understand that one could research visions of the hallucinogenic dream when one is healthy, but since they were «searching God», she was ready to help. The success turned her head a little, but how not to take advantage of it to go out of the misery that she knew all her life ?
Nevertheless she felt that this infatuation ended the loss of the cultural identity of her people. «They take sacred children
anytime and anywhere. They do not make it at night neither following the indications of the Wise men. The sacred
children lost their purity, their strength, one have wasted them. In future they will not make any effect. Nobody can do
anything», she said just before her death. And later, it is another old wise man that gives the review : «The sacred
mushroom does not belong to us anymore. Its sacred language has been profaned, it became indecipherable to us. Now
the mushrooms speak English !»
From the dream of the shaman her song only was left :
Probably of Asian origin though, as indicates its name, it has been described for the first time from a specimen collected in Cuba. Widespread and easy to cultivate, it grows on cow dung, animal unknown by the pre-Colombian. It could have been introduced in Mexico from Philippines, with which the Spanish maintained a constant trade.
Contrary to the thesis defended by Mircea Eliade, the American Terence McKenna support the idea given by R. Gordon Wasson : «The presence in a shamanic culture of an hallucinogenic substance is the mark of an authentic and lively culture while its decadent phase is characterised by some elaborated rituals, some trials and the dependency towards pathological personalities.» («Hallucinogenic mushrooms and Evolution», Revision, vol. 10 n°4, Spring 1988.).
Indeed, how a shamanic culture could be «authentic and alive» without a close and genuine communion of man with his «natural» environment ? For example, it is not amazing that the great attempt to return to «nature» that characterised the psychedelic and community movement of the 60s had been associated with the rediscovery of the hallucinogenic substances and the birth of the ecological movement. On the footsteps of Gordon Wasson and Roger Heim (at that time, director of the Natural history museum in Paris), the mystic search of the «backpackers» often ended in Huautla de Jimenez, this Mecca of mycological pilgrimage, perched in the mountains in the Mazatec forest, near Oaxaca. Some were lucky to meet there a curandera, as the famous Maria Sabina, even if, in dry season, the «Teonanacatl» (literally, the flesh of God) - linked up to the Tlaloc cult, divinity of the thunderbolt and water-, were not always there at the right time for the «travellers» who wanted «to make them speak»...
Yet alive in a lot of Amerindian tribes of South Mexico, the mushroom cult would go back at least up to the XIIIth century B.-C., as testifies a monographic study of stone mushrooms made by St. F. Borhegyi (cf. R. Heim, «Hallucinogenic and poisonous mushrooms») and it would have been associated to the hieratic practice of the Mayas, as seems to prove it the discovery in the Vera Cruz area of a very ancient terra cotta, which origin is Totonac, depicting a mushroom on which a woman lay ones hand while the other arm up seems to invoke the gods.
Inseparable from its biotope (forest or prairie) and from its symbiotic partner (the tree or the cow), the hallucinogenic mushroom - archetype of the psychoactive substance-, appears for Terence McKenna like a kind of lux natura, a consciousness/lucidity uniting man to the nature in a symbiotic relationship of mutual dependence and shared benefits.
On the opposite of the atomic mushroom, carrier of the Apocalypse, the small magical mushrooms rediscovered by our western culture seem to prefigure an ecological awareness and a return to shamanism that implies the new integrative and holistic paradigm, uniting Dream and Reality.
Mushroom-stone found in Guatemala
(500 before. J.-C.) (coll. Edwin Janss, Jr., Thousand Oaks, Calif.)
An entheogen [which generates God or the spirit inside oneself] is a psychoactive sacrament : a plant taken for a spiritual or mystical experience.
The sacred/divine mushrooms («teonanacatl» : litt., the flesh of the gods) taken by the amerindians mazatèques in Mexico or the peyote used by the Hopis (The Native American Church).
| Note that the Psilocybe semilanceata, also called Liberty Cap,
grows in group on meadows (in September, for Europe), near cow or horse dungs...
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