- Paperback: 175 pages
- Publisher: UPA (October 10, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0761835822
- ISBN-13: 978-0761835820
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,552,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico: Assorted Texts
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The true value of this book lies in the introductions and footnotes. These set the scene, with perceptive remarks on the diverse dramatis personae who have written about sacred mushrooms....This is a short and well-presented account of sacred mushrooms and their uses in Mexico, presenting old but fresh information that enriches the literature. (Economic Botany)
About the Author
Brian P. Akers, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, has written a number of articles on ethnomycology and fungal systematics published in scientific journals. He is a member of the Mycological Society of America and the North American Mycological Association.
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These papers were originally published between 1960 and 1972, in the classical period of ethnomycology, and are difficult to track down. They deal with some of the following topics: local folklore/ethnography; religious syncretism (Christian saints and native beliefs, deities in their pantheon existing side by side); ingestion of entheogenic mushrooms (almost exclusively Psylocibe species) for curative, divinatory purposes, or simply to be taken to "where God is" (ahí donde Dios está, p. 92, also p. 70); the role of Amerindian (shamanic) specialists (curanderos, brujos, sabíos and their female counterparts); reports of mushroom trance ('shroom speaks in the form of tlakatsitsin/hombrecitos: little men, elves, dwarves, children), etc.
Editor's introduction pp. 1-23: a history of ethnomycology, along with a particularly interesting part about the pioneering days and persons involved (the Rekos, Schultes, Weitlaner, Johnson et al.) in the 1930-40s.
Luis Reyes G. - 'Una relacion sobre los hongos alucinantes' (1970) pp. 25-8: features comments and anecdotes from locals that Wasson gathered through the author who was a native of Anatlán. "These inhabitants of Tlalocan [the realm of Tláloc, the Maya-Aztec rain god] who come to the aid of the narcotized are dead, unbaptized children who are now xokoyomeh (beams of light) of blue color who live with the Father and Mother of this mystical place, the entrance of which is in the caves" (p. 26).
Roberto Escalante H. and Antonio López G. - 'Hongos sagrados de los matlatzincas' (1972) pp. 27-37: native terminology and categorization of "santitos".
Robert Ravicz - 'La mixteca en el estudio comparative del hongo alucinante' (1960) pp. 39-60: this piece is really useful in highlighting the differences in the preparation and circumstances of consumption (preferences and prohibitions) among the Mixtec, Zapotec and Mazatec.
Walter S. Miller - 'El tonalamatl mixe y los hongos sagrados' (1966) pp. 61-79: the author "was a minister affiliated in the 1950's with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, centered in Mitla, Oaxaca" (p. 61). Contrary to the title, we don't learn that much about the connection between entheogenic fungi and said calendar, but at least Miller offers his views on contrasting Mixe customs with those of the Mazatec.
Fernando Benítez - 'Los hongos alucinantes' (1970) pp. 81-139 is my favorite essay in the entire collection. He starts off with citing pertinent quotes from 16th c. Spanish chronicles/accounts depicting the Aztec's rather extrovert behaviour under the influence of teonanácatl (compare w/ the more introspective intoxication described in the rest of the book); on visiting Wasson's chief informant sabía María Sabina, Benítez provides her fascinating life story full of hardships. The first account of his mushroom trip under the guidance of said curandera is a literary feat on a par with A. Huxley's classic peyote inebriation, replete with spot-on observations/insights: "Then, after the delirium, we fall into a state of unbearable depression when confronting the certainty that we are not as alive as we believed before the ordeal, that inside of us, inside that temple of the Holy Spirit, matters undergoing decomposition proliferate, by which too many moral heart attacks have killed extensive regions of the heart and we carry not one but many corpses to the hills" (p. 122).
Chapter 7 contains - among others - the transcript (pp. 147-57) of the 'The sacred musroom' episode (1961) from the television series called "One Step Beyond" with John Newland as director who was accompanied by the maverick doctor Andrija Puharich and others to the Chatino Indian village of Juquila to collect entheogenic fungi and eat them later in California. The background info (pp. 141-6) fails to make note of the shady side of Puharich, such as his association with the Council of Nine and the Round Table Foundation, as well as the fact that he was employed by the Pentagon (and perhaps the CIA) while at the Army's Chemical Center in Edgewood, MD, from 1948 (?) through 1955, researching ESP (Project Penguin), psychotronics, implants and conducting animal experiments, all of which could be utilized for the infamous MK-Ultra programme.
Likewise, Wasson's connections to the movers and shakers in finance, media/social engineering go unmentioned in this book - alternatively, see Jan Irvin's recent paper 'R. Gordon Wasson: the man, the legend, the myth...' pp. 565- 619 in: Entheogens and the Development of Culture: The Anthropology and Neurobiology of Ecstatic Experience edited by John A. Rush (2013, New Atlantic Books).
Glossary, bibliography, index pp. 163-74. The very few photos in the original publications are not reproduced in the present tome.
A copy of the book was mailed to this reviewer as a gift from the translator/editor in a generous and gentlemanly gesture so rare these days, with no strings attached/quid pro quo. Thanks again, Brian!
I wonder, though, why the Universtiy Press of America has emblazoned a pompous fly agaric on the book cover. Wasson, for instance, categorically refutes Puharich's theory that Amanita muscaria may have been resorted to in Mexico (see addendum 2. pp. 160-1). Related to this, please consider the following: "While evidence supporting the historical use of Amanita muscaria in Mesoamerica is tentative (Schultes and Hofmann 1992), an argument can be made that the [aqueous] extraction methods used with Psylocibe [among the Mixtec] may be a remnant of earlier practices involving the use of Amanita muscaria" - see Kevin Feeney's 'The significance of pharmacological and biological indicators in identifying historical uses of Amanita muscaria,' p. 291 in the compendium already referenced above.
While listing the collection of texts in this volume might be enlightening to some, I think it would be more fitting to reprint some of the more tasty bits I came across, in no particular order. The first is from Walter S. Miller's research on the Mixe tonalamatl, a sacred calendric text, and its relation to the lore of sacred mushrooms. Here is a nice snippet:
"Another type of mushroom puts one to sleep, causing visions. The vision induced is always the same: two dwarfs or elves (dos enanitos o duendes), a male and a female, appear to the one who eats the mushrooms. They speak to him and answer his questions. They provide him with information as to where lost things can be found. If he has had anything stolen, these dwarfs or elves identify the thief and the location where the stolen item is hidden. If one plans a trip, he is told what kind of luck he will have."
This is just one mention of the hombrecitos, or the little men, who pervade mushroom mythology. While these little tikes may have been turned into cartoon characters by McKenna et. al., they are treated with the respect of gods and angels, for it is they who deliver the power of wisdom and healing to the curanderos. From a translated account by Luis Reyes G.:
"14. If something inside of you hurts, then with their little hands they will massage you. You feel as though "they settled your stomach." Your stomach and innards will make noise while they are extracting the sickness from you."
From a scientific point of view, I find it fascinating how the physiological effects of the mushrooms (hallucinations, visions, tremors, sickness, purging) are treated with such mystical reverence in these cultures. To hear them tell it, a visit with these santitos (little saints) can cure any disease, help you find lost objects, let you see who's talking smack behind your back, and reveal your future. And if all you see is "snakes and jaguars" and other frightening things, it is because you have disrespected the mushroom spirits and are not worthy of their gifts! It is a totally airtight ontology: If the mushrooms don't work, it's your fault for not believing enough. How's that for priming the experience?
Even though the material "Sacred Mushrooms of Mexico" may seem like a refresher course (another visit with Maria Sabina? Really?), I found myself glued to the accounts in these papers as if I was reading it all for the first time. Why? There's a freshness here that comes with finding anthropological material in it's original form, not cribbed and re-worked by scholars trying to service their own agenda. These rediscovered texts are not only a great addition to any library of mushroom lore, they are essential to understanding the Central American culture and ritual that came to define modern mushroom mythology.