Revised May 1, 2002
Copyright 1997, 2001 by John W. Allen









TEONANACATL:
Ancient Shamanic and Contemporary Mushroom Names
of
Mesoamerica
and
Other Regions of the World

by
John W. Allen
INTRODUCTION

 
Guzmán (1990:98), noted authority on the entheogenic mushrooms of Mesoamerica wrote that "according to Wasson, nine Indian tribes in México use sacred mushrooms or did in the past. Five of these--the Mazatec, Mixtec, Mixe, Chatino and Zapotec indians--are located in the state of Oaxaca. Four others dwell elsewhere; [one tribe] the Nahuatl [are found], from the center of México to the Pacific in Colima and Chiapas and to the Gulf of México in Veracruz. Of these, the Mazahuan, Otomi and Tarascan indians apparently no longer use the sacred mushrooms, having abandoned them at some point in their forgotten past."


 
"Eruption of the earth", "mushroom of reason", "children of the water", "our masters, the mushrooms of the world", "the most holy of lords", "little ones that spring forth", "mushrooms of the saints", and "los señor (the lords, used by Mesoamericans)", are but a few of the many endearing epithets used to describe the adoration, respect, and esteem many Mesoamericans hold when expressing their love for the sacred mushrooms. The ancient Nahua adorned the sacred mushrooms like beautiful flowers and their cultural importance has been significantly immortalized as well as botanically depicted along with other sacred plants on an ancient statue known as "Xochipilli" (the "prince of flowers).

 

The Nahuatl mushroom names discussed in this study originally appeared in several codices and journals written by the early Spanish historians, botanists, and friars during the 16th and 17th century, all who undoubtedly wrote under the dictation of the strict hiarchy and guidance of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. References of the sacred mushrooms were recorded in the diaries, journals and codices of the Franciscan Monk Bernardino de Sahagún (1956), the Dominican Friar Diego Durán (1867 [1581]), Francisco Hernandez (1651), Coto (1983), Jacinto de la Serna (1892), Kingsbourough (1842), and Fray Toribo de Benavente [Motolina] (1858).

These Nahua mushroom names and epithets first gained recognition within a small segment of the scientific community due to the scholarly research and published papers of Schultes (1939, 1940), Wasson & Wasson (1957), Wasson (1957), Hoogshagen (1959), Singer and Smith (1958), and Guzmán (1983).

 
The Spanish chronicler Sahagún was the first historian to note that the Aztec people consumed certain mushrooms which caused inebriations. In the Nahuatl language these mushrooms were known as Teonanácatl ("flesh of the gods"). Sahagún also wrote that these mushrooms were commonly consumed during ritualistic ceremonies performed by Aztec priests and their followers. The most common scholarly accepted name applied to the sacred mushrooms appears to be the word Teonanácatl which several historians (especially Sahagún) mentioned in their historical works.
 
Noted ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson (1974, see Fig. 1), reported that Molina had referred to the sacred mushrooms as xochinanácatl. Xochi is the nahuatl word for flower and nanácatl implies mushrooms. The words teonanácatl and nanacátl were names Sahagún used when describing several species of entheogenic mushrooms which were indigenous to the New World (Sahagún, 1956). Nanácatl is also the nahuatl word for meat and is used primarily by Mexican Indians to describe entheogenic mushrooms as well as their edible and poisonous cousins.
 
Wasson (1981) suggested that Teonanácatl could also be interpreted as "sacred mushroom", "wondrous mushroom", or even "divine meat." According to Guzmán (1990:96), "after Wasson called attention to the word teonanácatl it was used indiscriminately to describe any of the Mexican hallucinogenic mushroom [species]. But Sahagún applied it only to those mushrooms used by the nahuatl tribe. It no longer has currency; at any rate, neither Reko, Weitlaner, Schultes nor Wasson found [or uncovered any evidence that the word] teonanácatl [was currently] being used by modern indians. However, I [Guzmán] discovered that a similar [word], teotlaquilnanácatl, was the popular name applied to sacred mushrooms such as P[silocybe] mexicana Heim and P[silocybe] caerulescens Murr. by the indians who use them in the region of Necaxa [in the] state of Puebla--A Nahuatl region . This naturally raises the question: Was the Nahuatl word teotlaquilnanácatl misconstrued by Sahagún to be [interpreted as] teonanácatl?" (Guzmán, 1960).


 
The ritualistic use of teonanácatl was pandemic throughout Mesoamerica during the time of the conquest and appears to have been a traditional culture as well as an integral structure within the widespread Aztec empire Both the Spanish clergy (especially the Holy Office of the Inquisition) and the conqueroring historians all described the mushrooms and their ritualistic use as barbaric pagan practices and the church vehemently deplored and opposed the rituals employed by those who consumed them; often torturing the practicioners, sometimes murderously. The clergy and the conquerors alike, believed that the use of the mushrooms and the pagan rituals which followed their use to be devil worship; venonously opposing and prosecuting those who performed or practiced such heresies.

 
The Spanish were mycophobic, blatently displaying their abhorrence towards those who consumed the sacred mushrooms. The many historians and clergy who documented the widespread use of the sacred mushrooms as well as many other sacred plants, provided history with written detailed proof of their negativity towards such use and practices.

 
Sahagún (1956) has provided history with the best description on the use and effects of the sacred mushrooms among the Aztec. And in essense, presented to his hiarchy, written discriptions of many of the effects which he (Sahagún) assumed occurred in those who consumed the mushrooms:

"At the very first, mushrooms had been served. They ate them at the time when, they said, the shell trumpets were blown. They ate no more food; they only drank chocolate during the night. And they ate the mushrooms with honey. When the mushrooms took effect on them, then they danced, then they wept. But some, while, still in command of their senses, entered [and] sat there by the house on their seats; they danced no more, but only sat there nodding.

"One saw in vision that already he would die in battle; one saw in vision that he would be eaten by wild beasts; one saw in vision that he would take captives in war; one saw in vision that he would be rich, wealthy; one saw in vision that he would buy slaves---he would be a slave owner; one saw in vision that he would commit adultry---he would be struck by stones---he would be stoned; one saw in vision that he would steal---he would also be stoned; one saw in vision that his head would be crushed by stones---they would condemn him; one saw in vision that he would perish in the water; one saw in vision that he would live in peace, tranquility, until he died; one saw in vision that he would fall from a roof-top---he would fall to his death. However many things were to befall one, he then saw all in vision: even that he would be drowned.

"And when the effects of the mushrooms had left them, they consulted among themselves and told one another what they had seen in vision. And they saw in vision what would befall those who had eaten no mushrooms, and what they went about doing. Some were perhaps thieves, some perhaps committed adultry. However many things there were, all were told---that one would take captives, one would become a seasoned warrior, a leader of the youths, one would die in battle, become rich, buy slaves, provide banquets, ceremonially bathe slaves, commit adultry, be strangled, perish in the water, drown. Whatsoever was to befall one, they then saw all [in vision]."

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