|Today in México, only a handful of remote montane tribes still practice the
customs and rituals of what once must have been a splendid and powerful system of worship and empirical
magic. So utterly complete was the neglect and ignorance in our western world of the ethnoborological
aspects of Aztec and other Mexican shamanism, that in 1915, William E. Safford, a reputable and distinguished
USA botanist who was than a sort of expert on the subject of many Native American psychotropic plants,
claimed that the visionary mushrooms as described in the Spanish histories did not in fact exist and
that the Mesoamérican Indians had never used such, whether before, during, or after the conquest.
Disdaining the graphic testimony of several Spanish chroniclers, Safford dismissed the well-documented
evidence of the chroniclers, mostly clerics, who described as mushroomic, the effects the mushrooms
allegedly had upon those who consumed them. There is no evidence any of the Spaniards deigned to sample
the psychoptic mushrooms.
Safford (1915) presented a botanical society the results of his study of an Aztec sacred inebriant referred to in a few historical sources as teonanácatl which means "wondrous mushroom." Safford claimed that the so-called wondrous mushrooms were in fact dried peyote buttons and that no mushrooms had been used as inebriants by the native peoples of Mesoamérica. Safford's colleagues displayed little interest when he claimed that the word teonanácatl simply meant peyote. In his paper, he reproduced a photograph of dried peyote buttons. These could easily have been mistaken for dried mushroom-caps, which is exactly what they vaguely resembled to the untrained eye. Safford relied on the fact that "three centuries have failed to reveal that an endemic fungus is being used as an intoxicant in Mexico. Nor is such a fungus mentioned either in works on mycology or pharmacology, yet the belief prevails even now that there is a narcotic Mexican fungus."
According to Safford, the early Spanish descriptions of numerous medicinal plants from Mesoamérica led him to believe that the Aztec entheogen ololiuhqui was either the seed of Datura or of a morning-glory species, but he further denied that either plant provoked visionary effects (for a more detailed description of the properties of the sacred morning- glory seeds, see Albert Hofmann ).
As late as 1921, Safford still held firm to his theory by again denying the existence of the sacred mushrooms, claiming that they were simply dried peyote buttons. Safford (1923) also noted: "Peyote has been called a habit-forming drug, and some writers have likened it to hashish, or Indian Hemp, the latter which had been introduced into the country of México and our southwest under the name of Marijuana, is a most dangerous drug. Introduced clandestinely into prisons, it has of course, been the cause of riots. Its use is now forbidden in México by the government."
It should be obvious to anyone who reads the above letter by Safford that he was a confirmed pharmacophilac and thanks to his prominence the mushrooms continued to be obscured from the world until the late 1930's when they were once again brought to the attention of the scientific and academic community.
In the second decade of this century, Austrian Blas Pablo Reko (1919), a physician with an interest in ethnobotany, learned that some groups of Indians living in the Mexican State of Oaxaca were still using psychoptic mushrooms in secret ceremonies perhaps involving ancient rites. These rites were performed apparently for the purpose of divinatory healing. Reko published his findings in a journal entitled El México Antiguo.
Reko subsequently discussed this discovery with his colleagues, who paid little attention to his mushroomic theories and showed no interest in pursuing this information on the supposititious use of inebriating mushrooms by the Indians of Mesoamérica. Reko wrote that teonanácatl was "Div. géneros de hongos, especialmente un hongo negro que crece sobre estiércol y produce efectos narcóticos." ["Various genera of mushrooms, especially a black mushroom that grows on dung and produces psychotropic effects"].
Figure 1. Blas Pablo Reko drawn by E. W. Smith.
Sketch courtesy of Richard Evans Schultes.
Blas Pablo Reko's cousin, Victor A. Reko (1928), published the first objection to Safford's claims. It appeared in a book written years later in 1936. Below is an excerpt describing the effects of the mushrooms taken from that book entitled Magische Gifte: Rausche und Betäubungsmittel der Neuen Welt ("Magical Poisons: Inebriants and Narcotics of the New World"):
"The nanacates are poisonous mushrooms which have nothing to do with peyote. It is known from olden times that their use induces intoxication, states of ecstasy and mental aberrations, but, notwithstanding the dangers attendant upon their use, people everywhere they grow take advantage of their intoxicating properties up to the present time."
In 1936, an Austrian engineer, Roberto J. Weitlaner, who was also an avid ethnobotanist, spent four days in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, where he was engaged in linguistic investigations. Weitlaner had learned of the existence of the sacred mushrooms from a Mazatec merchant named José Dorantes. Dorantes had described to Weitlaner his reactions after eating three of the mushrooms which were given to him during a divinatory healing Johnson (1940). It was Weitlaner who first realized that these sacred mushrooms were most likely the teonanácatl described in the chronicles of the Spanish clerics. During this period, several mushroom specimens were collected and forwarded to Blas Pablo Reko. Reko in turn sent the specimens to Harvard University for botanical identification. However, upon arrival, the harvested collected semi-dried specimens spoiled before they arrived, thus further delaying their identification and proof of their existence to the scientific community.
In 1936, Weitlaner became the first white man in modern times to observe an actual sacred mushroom ceremony. Two years later, in 1938, his daughter Irmgard, her fiancé Jean Basset Johnson and two friends (Louise Lacaud and Bernard Bevan) continued the investigations begun by Weitlaner. These intrepid investigators were not only able to gather a considerable amount of data on Mazatec shamanism and the use of the sacred mushrooms, but in the process became the first westerners to witness a Mesoamérican shamanic mushroom ceremony. The velada was held in a hut in the tiny montane village of Huautla de Jiménez. Johnson (1939a) published two startling papers regarding his observations on Mazatec "witchcraft." Furthermore, while in Oaxaca, these investigators met Dr. Richard Evans Schultes and Dr. Blas Pablo Reko who were also in Huautla collecting ethnomycological data and mushroom specimens.
While Johnson referred to these ceremonies as examples of "witchcraft", it should be noted that ethnobotanist William Emboden (1979) mentioned that certain modern-day "witches" use an active Panaeolus species as one of many inebriants in their rituals. Emboden said that the fungus used by a cult of contemporary witches living in Portugal was identified by Roger Heim as Panaeolus papilionaceus which may or may not be a synonym for Panaeolus subbalteatus or possibly Copelandia cyanescens. Currently the species originally identified Schultes and Singer and smith, Panaeolus sphinctrinus has now been renamed as Panaeolus papilionaceus.
|The collecting of teonanácatl mushrooms took place when a young
Harvard botanist, Richard Evans Schultes, made a trip to Huautla de
Jiménez with Blas Pablo Reko Schultes (Pers. Comm. 1989)
and collected several specimens of mushrooms that were suspected of being used in "magico-religious ceremonies."
After sun-drying several specimens of these mushrooms, they mailed the dried specimens directly to Harvard
University for identification.
Mushrooms collected by Schultes (1939, 1940, 1978) and Schultes and Reko, were later identified as Stropharia cubensis Earle (syn.=Psilocybe cubensis [Earle] Sing, Psilocybe caerulescens Heim and some specimens of what years later were re-examined and identified as Psilocybe mexicana Heim. Since several varieties of fungi had been mistakenly mixed with several species in a single collection. This cause confusion by the presence of another mushroom identified as Panaeolus campanulatus var. sphinctrinus (also a synonym for what is now referred to as Panaeolus papilionaceus. After these mushrooms were deposited in the herbarium at Harvard, even more confusion surrounded their mycological identification and their alleged relationship to the sacred mushroom of the Aztecs as described by the historians and Friars and Monks who recorded their presence in their codices. This confusion lasted until the early 1950's (these discoveries will be discussed in Chapter Three).
Richard Evans Schultes must be recognized as one of the most influential and somewhat extraordinary remarkable man of the 21century. A real pioneer involved in the identification of thousands of New World plants and more than 100 known entheogenic plants and fungi used as a sacrament in ritual ceremonies hidden for more than 400-years from the overlords of contemporary Western Medicine and Civilization. His expertise was rubber, arrow poisons (curare), and orchids, especially those from Mesoamérica and the Amazonia of Colombia in South America. His research into psychoptic plants is undoubtedly the most extensive ever undertaken by any botanical scientist during the past 110 years.
Richard Evans Schultes was also a Jeffrey Professor of Biology and Director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University (Emeritus), and was a native Bostonian. Not merely a botanical explorer, he was also a well noted and respected ethnobotanist and conservationist. Among his numerous awards are the Cross of Boyacá, Colombia's highest honor, and the annual Gold Medal of the World Wildlife Fund, presented by H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh; in 1987, he received the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
His crowning achievement however, was the receipt of botany's Nobel Prize---the Gold Medal of the Linnaean Society at London in 1992. Schultes is also on the exclusive list of 50 "Foreign Members" of that in itself exclusive society.
His explorations and botanical identification of thousands of plants from the Amazon rainforests are as immense as they are eclectic. During his 14-years in the Amazon, Richard Evans Schultes had collected more than 24,000 plants new to science, of which over 80 were later identified as entheogenic Davis (1996). He has written more than two dozen books and over 100 scientific articles on his discoveries. He is, moreover, at the time, the only living ethnobotanist in the world to have more than two million acres of land named in his honor; "Sector Schultes," part of an Amazonian ecological preserve formally designated in 1986 by the Colombian government.
The field of ethnobotany was Schultes' framework throughout his life. His field work in Oaxaca, México in 1938 and 1939 was somewhat limited due to the second world war. However, he made history by pioneering the study of the Aztec and modern shamanic use of the sacred mushrooms of the Mazatec and other indigenous Indians if the Amazon.
Richard Evans Schultes was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 12, 1915. When he was about six years old, Schultes developed an illness that constantly caused him severe stomach problems. During this period, his father and mother would read to him and one book that caught the attention of Schultes was Richard Spruce's "Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes." This was young Schultes' introduction to the world of botany.
As a young child, Richard once read a floral guide given to him by an uncle and after studying it, he would collect leaves to identify and press (something my grandmother taught me how to do after giving me a copy of a child's book on flowering plants and how to preserve them by pressing the flowering plants I would gather from our backyard garden that she planted in giant tubs every spring). For Schultes, it seemed that this helped the young collector develop what some people refer to as "the taxonomic eye."
After attending the East Boston public-school system, Schultes received a
scholarship to Harvard. While there, Schultes obtained a job as a file clerk at
the Harvard Botanical Museum, where, 25 years hence, he would be the Director
In 1936, Schultes was just another premedical undergraduate student at Harvard University and one of his classes was Biology 104. While attending a course on "Plants and Human Affairs", Schultes was assigned to read a book by Heinrich Klüver entitled "Mescal: The Divine Plant and its Psychological Effects." Unbeknownst to Schultes, this assignment was destined to change the course of his entire life.
Previously unaware of peyote, Schultes soon began to develop a burning desire to experience mescaline firsthand. Schultes met with his professor, Oakes Ames, and soon found himself with funding (most of which came directly from the pocket of his mentor Ames). Eventually Schultes met Weston LaBarre, a young student from Duke University in North Carolina who also shared an interest in peyote (LaBarre went on to become an anthropology professor and the author of The Peyote Cult, the definitive book on the peyote religion and The Ghost Dance: The Origins of Religion).
Together, Schultes and LaBarre traveled to Oklahoma where both participated in a Native American Church peyote-ceremony with the Kiowa Indians. There Schultes consumed the sacred cactus on which he then wrote his senior honors thesis.
Schultes soon decided that economic botany was the study he would pursue, so he completed his graduate work on the medicinal plants of Oaxaca, México. Schultes interest in Oaxacan plants came from having read some of the selected writings of the 16th and 17th century Spanish friars and historians who mentioned the existence of innumerable medicinal plants, some of a psychoactive nature, including the morning-glory seeds known as ololiuhqui. Not only did Schultes help rediscover the modern use of the ololiuhqui seeds among the Mazatec Indians, but along with Blas Pablo Reko also collected specimens of the purgative sacred mushrooms known as teonanácatl---of which Safford had only just denied the existence (Schultes (Pers. Comm. 1989).
As noted previously, the first mushrooms collected by Schultes and Reko fit the botanical description of Panaeolus campanulatus var. sprinctrinus. In his 1939 and 1940 papers on the identification of the visionary Nahua mushroom, Schultes alleged that the mushrooms mentioned by the Spanish chroniclers probably belonged to the genus Panaeolus. It was important for these scientists to collect and identify the species they believed were the Aztec teonanácatl, yet they couldn't find anyone to perform for them a shamanic mushroom ceremony such as they suspected continued being held in secret. According to Schultes (1969), "so few mushrooms were gathered, because of the unusually dry season, that it was not possible for me to ingest them experimentally; all were needed as voucher herbarium specimens.
Another mushroom Schultes collected among the Sierra Mazateca was known by the Mazatec Indians as kee-sho. This mushroom at the time was incorrectly identified by Rolf Singer as Stropharia cubensis Earle. Schultes later collected specimens of Stropharia cubensis from dung after heavy rainfalls.
It was later determined that Schultes' identification of the mushroom known as
kee-sho actually fit the taxonomic description of Psilocybe caerulescens
var. mazatecorum Heim, a mushroom employed by Mazatec shamans in
religious healing ceremonies. However, Schultes did collect Stropharia
cubensis in Oaxaca in the late 1930's, but could not find any reference to
its use prior to the conquest. It is not known if this species occurred in the
new world until after the Spanish brought cattle onto the continent, most
probably from India, the Philippines or possibly from Africa---although this
species does occur in the manure of other ruminants. It is also probable that
Stropharia cubensis was not one of the mushrooms being used by Aztec
shamans and referred to as teonanácatl. Singer later amended this species
to Psilocybe cubensis (Earle) Singer. Schultes (1978) later wrote: "subsequent studies by
R. Gordon Wasson, R. Singer, R. Heim and Gastón Guzmán, have indicated that
Stropharia (Psilocybe) cubensis Earle is one of the more
important sacred Mexican mushrooms" in use today.
In Palenque, México, it is referred to as San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Plowman), so aptly named for a patron saint of agriculture of old México. Even though it is common in most regions throughout Southern México and Central America, there are many shamans who consider it inferior to other varieties and many do not use it professionally except when other species are not available. One possible reason it may be avoided is that it grows in manure; more likely this is simply because it is not pre-Colombian and associated with the offal of the conquistador's cattle.
Schultes then presented to the scientific community numerous references to the use of inebriating mushrooms by Mesoamérican shamans and others. Schultes reported in his 1939 and 1940 papers that several codices not only had described the existence of the sacred mushrooms, but had also vividly described observed effects on people who had consumed the mushrooms, thereby verifying their (the mushrooms) existence and use. Thus Schultes paved the way, so to speak, for the Wassons and others eventually to follow his footsteps, when he published these findings (Schultes 1939, 1940, see also, Schultes 1987).
Schultes' research and oftentimes tedious hard work into the realm of the shamanic mushrooms soon drew to a close as other events directed him to the heart of the vast Amazonian forest to study dart poisons and rubber. As the war years dragged on, the sacred mushrooms of México once again fell back into the shadows of oblivion. Nevertheless, Schultes' doctoral thesis on the medicinal plants of Oaxaca and his two published papers on teonanácatl (Schultes 1939, 1940), eventually found their way into the hands of an interested reader, R. Gordon Wasson, a fifty-four-year old Banker with Morgan Guaranty Trust. Wasson, along with his wife Valentina Pavlovna Wasson was able to accomplish that which Schultes had been unable to ingest the shamanic mushrooms of the Mazatecs (see Allen 1987, 1997a).
Both Schultes' and Schultes & Reko's original 1938 collections of Oaxacan fungi were forwarded from México to the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard University. They represented probably three different species (Panaeolus campanulatus var. sphinctrinus, Psilocybe cubensis identified by Singer and Psilocybe caerulescens by recorded name). These collections were accidentally placed on a single herbarium sheet and were later separated in 1941 by mycologist Rolf Singer. In 1958, mycologists Rolf Singer and Alexander H. Smith conducted follow-up research on the previous studies by Schultes and Reko, Wasson and Heim. Singer (1958), used Heim's papers and illustrations from Wasson's Life article as a guide list and) described the labels for both collections of Schultes and Reko's fungi collections but was confused by Schultes' written description of a species that Singer believed was Panaeolus sphinctrinus. Interestingly enough, Schultes' macroscopic description of this species actually fit the description of Psilocybe mexicana Heim. The first label on this herbarium sheet read as follows:
"Springy meadows in rainy season. Huautla, July 27, 1938. Stem: 1-2 mm. diam: 10 cm. high; hemispherical but often cuspidate; gills dark brown-black, whole plant coffee brown, black when dry. Mexican name is she-to; tso-ska. Said to be poisonous in overdose of 50-60 mushrooms, but in moderate quantity it produces hilarity and general narcotic feeling of well being for an hour. Excess doses said to produce permanent insanity."
Figure 4. Richard Evans Schultes, in his office at Harvard University.
It appears that Schultes may have collected two different species of mushrooms in the springy meadows. One variety being Panaeolus campanulatus var. sphinctrinus and the other being Psilocybe mexicana. Singer (1958) had noted that "Springy meadows was the known habitat for Psilocybe mexicana and cuspidate is a characteristic feature of the genus Psilocybe, as are the brown gills which were mentioned and the coffee brown color of the mushroom." However, the black gills reported by Schultes would definitely fit the description of a Panaeolus species. Schultes had not reported that his collection occurred in manure or from the ground. If they were coprophilous Schultes would have mentioned it. Furthermore, she-to and to-ska are epithets used by the Mazatec and Chinantec to describe Psilocybe mexicana (see Allen 1997b). The author also found the epithets to-shka and shi-to being used to identify a species of Panaeolus.
The second collection deposited by Schultes and Reko had originally been
misidentified by Singer as Stropharia (Psilocybe)
caerulescens. The paper on this second sheet read as follows:
"Plantae Utiles Mexicana, Oaxaca. Common Name (Mexican) nanacate. Tribe: Mazatec. Indian name: kee-sho. Habitat freshets during the rainy season. Locality: Huautla. Uses: from four to eight are eaten to produce a temporary narcotic state of hilarity. Said to be poisonous if taken in excess, causing permanent insanity" (Singer & Smith 1958).
Singer mistakenly noted these mushrooms to be Stropharia caerulescens [syn.=Psilocybe cubensis (Earle) Singer]. Later Singer realized that he had misidentified this species when he learned that the word kee-sho referred to the Mazatec Indian landslide mushroom later identified as Psilocybe caerulescens var. mazatecorum. Ott (1993), in a personal communication to the author, believed these mushrooms to be Psilocybe caerulescens Murr., a mushroom known to occur in sugar cane mulch and at roadside landslides, yet the habitat for this collection was listed as freshets, which as one may surmise, are the dung of cattle. Thus it appears that this second collection was probably Psilocybe cubensis (Earle) Singer. Interestingly, in 1923, Psilocybe caerulescens Murr. was originally discovered and identified in Huntsville, Alabama, yet it has never been reported from Alabama since. However, this species has since been reported from Florida (Jacobs 1975).
Singer (1958) noted that Santesson (1939), was probably the first author to publish data on both pharmacological research and chemical analyses of fungi believed to be the cause of what is known as cerebral mycetismus or psychotropic mushroom poison.
Santesson conducted laboratory experiments with extracts of various mushrooms using animal subjects in his investigations. However, it should be noted that it was actually Dr. Michael Levine who in 1917 attempted to investigate the suspected effects of Panaeolus venenosus (=syn. Panaeolus subbalteatus, a fungus known to cause cerebral mycetismus in humans), yet Dr. Levine did not attempt to isolate the suspected ingredients of the mushrooms during his course of research.
One of the mushrooms allegedly used in Santesson's experiments was Armellariella mellea (the honey mushroom). Singer wrote that he was in doubt as to Santesson's identification and asserted that the mushroom in question may have been either Psilocybe mexicana or Psilocybe cubensis, or possibly a mixture of both.
It should be mentioned that the above noted observation on Santesson's alleged identification of the "honey-mushroom" is based on the writings of Schultes who mentioned that Santesson had used the word Hallimahl, which Schultes identified as Hallimasch, a European name for the "honey-mushroom." Ott (1993b) states that Schultes was in error in his identification of this species (see Ott 1993a: footnote 6, page 298). Recently Guzmán-Dávalos and Guzmán (1991) identified Gymnopilus subpurpuratus from Mexico as "staining green when handled." A related variety is Gymnopilus purpuratus Cooke & Masse, a species which has been identified as psilocybian. Both of these species macroscopically resemble the honey mushroom, so there is a possibility that Santesson may in fact have had a real hallucinogenic specimen after all.
Schultes' notes on specimens stored on a single sheet in the herbarium confused Singer (1958). As noted earlier, Schultes had identified one of his collections' as Panaeolus campanulatus var. sphinctrinus, a possible divinatory mushroom. However, Singer then wrote that "the genus of Panaeolus was not used by the Mazatec Indians of the Huautla region either for magico-religious ceremonies or as a sacrament in shamanic healings." Additionally, Singer and Smith (1958) wrote, "we must insist, that the phenomena which belonged in the class of cerebral mycetism in the terminology of Ford (1923), and not fully identified (Panaeolus campanulatus var. sprinctrinus) (Schultes 1939, 1940), as being comparable with the hallucinatory-euphoric and lasting effects which have been described in literature as belonging to and coming from certain mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe. Aside from that we feel for certain that Panaeolus campanulatus var. sprinctrinus is not now and never has been used as a drug catalyst for divinatory purposes or religious ceremonies by present day Indians in Mesoamerica", nor was it used as a sacrament by their pre-Colombian ancestors.
Figure 5. Dr. Richard Evans Schultes and Jonathan Ott at Fort Wordon, 2nd Int. Conf. on Hallucinogenic Mushrooms, 1977.
Specimens of Panaeolus sprinctrinus collected in Mexico by French Canadian mycologist György Miklos-Ola'h (1969) were found to contain psilocine and Ola'h classified this species as `latent' psilocybian.
Figure 6. Dr. Richard Evans Schultes and Dr. Albert Hofmann, Conferences on Hallucinogens and Shamanism in Native American Life in San Francisco, Ca., 1978. Photo Courtesy of Michael Aldridge.