Traditional vs Contemporary Use
An extract from the CD-ROM
Psilocybian Mushroom Cultivation: A Brief History
by John W. Allen and Jochen Gartz PhD

The past thirty-five years have shown a dramatic increase in the use of psychoactive fungi. Interest and use of these mushrooms has been well documented during this period (Allen, Merlin and Jansen, 1993; Gartz, 1996; Stamets, 1996; Ott 1978, 1993; Ott and Bigwood, 1978; Pollock 1974, 1976, 1977-1978; Weil 1975a, 1977).

Sadly enough, most people who consume these visionary mushrooms do so as a form of diversion, yet there are other societies outside of Mexico who employ entheogenic mushrooms in a ritual context.

Today there are more than seven indigenous groups of Náhuatl speaking Indians, ancestors of the ancient Aztecs, residing in remote mountain villages in southern Mexico. Many of these groups of indigenous people still employ certain psychoactive plants in traditional magico-religious healing and curing ceremonies. The wisemen and shamans (both male and female) have kept alive and in secret for over three thousand years, a treasured practice held most sacred by their ancestors.

The traditional use of these entheogenic mushrooms has survived more then three thousand years of cultural and political change among these ancient peoples. However, modern usage still remains a most profound practice among certain groups of Indians in Mesoamerica; especially since the Spanish conquistadors tried in vain to erase the use of these plants and the rituals which followed their use. Remember, in the eyes of the Spanish and the clergy, these rituals were nothing more than pagan rites being performed by agents of the devil.

The persecution by the Spaniards of these ancient native rituals and the shamans who performed them was compounded by the attitudes of the clergy and the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The clergy particularly were afraid to oppose their superiors in Spain and Rome and fell under the sway of the Holy Inquisition. Therefore they vigorously enforced any orders given them concerning punishments to be meted out against those charged with carrying out idolatrous practices and beliefs.

The earliest report of the ritualistic use of the entheogenic fungi is found in the Florentine Codex of the Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagún. Several passages in this extensive treatise describe the use of inebriating mushrooms which Sahagún referred to as "teonanácatl." Sahagún noted that the mushrooms were either served with honey and/or chocolate during ritual ceremonies, coronations and even at business celebrations and sacrifices. As we know today, the Spanish were not successful in their futile attempts at ridding the New World of these pagan rituals and practices (Schultes, 1939, 1940; Wasson, 1980).

As we have recently learned (Wasson 1957a), in 1957, there were at least a dozen species of psilocybian fungi known from Mexico (Heim and Wasson 1958a; Singer and Smith, 1958.) According to Guzmán (1983), more than two dozen species and subspecies are currently used by Indians in Mesoamerica. Most of the sacred species belong to the genus Psilocybe, however, some researchers have found that some species of Panaeolus and one Conocybe may still be used (Schultes and Hofmann 1973, 1979, see Allen, 1997).

Panaeolus sprinctrinus var. campanulatus was originally described by Schultes (1939) as being the enigmatic mushroom of the ancient Aztecs empire. It was this particular species, which Schultes once believed to be the original teonanácatl mushroom. The word appears in several historical works, records written by the Spanish clergy, botanists and historians, many of whom described a fungus used in magico-religious ceremonies during the precolombian era (Schultes 1939, 1940).

The name "teonanácatl" was probably used by the Aztecs to describe several species of mushrooms which they used ceremonially, and most likely did not apply to one particular species. Today in contemporary Mexico, no shaman, curandera, brujo, sabio nor other native healer who employs the sacred mushrooms has been observe to refer to them as "teonanácatl."

As mentioned earlier, the sacred mushrooms are today used primarily among the Mazatec, Zapotec and other Indians of Oaxaca, high in the eastern cordillera of the Sierra Madre. Use of the sacred mushrooms occurs primarily among the following indigenous groups: the Mazatec, Mixtec, Mije (Mixes), Chatino, Chinantec, and Zapotec (Wasson, 1957a; Heim and Wasson, 1958a). Schultes (1976), noted that the Nahua of Mexico, the Otomie of Puebla, and the Tarascrans of Michoacan also use certain mushrooms in healing ceremonies.

The use of psilocybian fungi in cultures outside of Mesoamerica cannot be conclusively inferred from the ethnographic evidence although, evidence indicates possible use in Siberia and Africa. However, an eighteenth century report from a Jesuit priest who lived among the Yurimagua Indians of the Peruvian Amazon region (Heim and Wasson, 1958a; Heim, 1963; Pollock, 1977-1978; Schultes, 1966, 1976), wrote that he observed Indians to drink a potion brewed from an unidentified "tree-fungus" which had been mixed with a red oil. This drink allegedly caused inebriation. The identity of the mushroom in question remains a mystery to this day, but could it possibly have been a Psilocybe; mayhap Psilocybe yungensis Heim, a wood-debris fungus known from this region of the Amazon (Guzmán, 1983; Schultes and Hofmann, 1980), or possibly Gymnopilus purpuratus or Gymnopilus subpurpuratus (Gartz, 1996).

Ritual use of other entheogenic fungi by primitive peoples is not restricted to North America, but has been known to have occurred in other areas of the world.


References

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Allen, J.W., Merlin, M. D. and K. L. R. Jansen. 1991. An Ethnomycological Review of Psychoactive Agarics in Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs vol. 23(1):39?69. (Online Version Magic Mushrooms of Australia and New Zealand) at http://www.erowid.org/

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Guzmán, G. 1983. The Genus Psilocybe: A systematic Revision of the Known Species, Including the History, Distribution and Chemistry of the Hallucinogenic Species. Beihefte zur Nova Hedwigia vol. 74. J. Cramer. Vaduz, Germany. 439pp.

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Copyright 2001 J. Gartz and J. W. Allen

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