Several years ago, an anthropologist and shaman friend, who lives in Miami Beach, showed me the prize relic of his South American artifact Collection. It was a small bowl, ordinary rust-colored and not too deep in its center. He told me that the bowl was easily two thousand years old, though none of the labs he had used could date it, and that it had served the ancient high priests of the Incas.
"It looks normal," said my friend, "But watch what happens when we put some liquid into it." He then turned on the kitchen faucet and filled the small bowl. "Imagine that you are an initiate in the reign of the Inca, and you are being given a potion to drink." Then he slowly poured the water into the sink. "Now, look inside the bowl," he said, handing it to me.
Saw the moist inside of the ceramic, its pores evaporating the residue of the water. A minute passed, and suddenly a precise pattern of tiny mushrooms appeared in the bowl. They were darker than the rest of the bowl, and, if memory Serves me, there were nine of these mushrooms in a circle inside the bowl. "Fantastic, eh?” said my friend and I had to agree. A minute or two later, the mushrooms themselves evaporated, returning the bowl to its most ordinary appearance.
I relate this story in order to discuss a classic book on magic mushrooms of North America, but also because it symbolizes the essence of Teonanacatl, the sacred mushroom of the Mazatec Indians: images which are there for only a moment, and yet they are still there even when we don't 'see' them. So it is with visions brought on by Teonanactal, we see the spirit world while under the influence, and yet is it still there, operating, when we're not high? Most emphatically, yes.
Teonanacatl: Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of North America
Teonanacatl, Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of North America, what a beautiful book it is. Not a handbook, though the editors do provide a well-illustrated appendix with mushroom descriptions, Teonanacatl derived from the International Conference of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms (Yes there was an actual official conference, held back in October, 1977) The participants' names ring appropriate bells: Albert Hoffman, discoverer of LSD-25 as Well as the chemical compounds psilocybin and psilocin, R. Gordon Wasson, a former banker with J.P. Morgan and Co., who, with his wife, went down into Mexico in the early fifties and is now credited as the modern discoverer of magic mushrooms and the Indian ritual behind them; Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, Director of Harvard's Botanical Museum, was the first botanist to collect mushrooms and subject them to laboratory analysis, and Dr. Andrew Weil, author of The Natural Mind and hallucinogenic investigator extraordinaire. These men are the dons of the mushroom university, the venerable old dudes who influenced Tim Leary and the entire psychedelic revolution of the 1970s - 1980s.
The presentations from that conference decades ago, anthologized in this book ring true with the wisdom of age and experience. Hoffman tells of a visit to Maria Sabina, the Curandera in Oaxaca who first brought R. Gordon Wasson in on the light back in 1955, and it is a story which reminds one Baba Ram DaSS' first experience in India, giving acid to his guru. Maria Sabina and her associates were each given a pair of pills containing 5 mg. synthetic psilocybin, but nothing happened after twenty minutes. There, in the candle-lit hut, the Curandera and her aid, murmured that the white pills which Hoffman and Wasson had brought did nothing, weren't at all like the mushrooms. After a bit, Hoffman decided to give them each another pair of pills.
The mushroom spirit began to work...
"They had now taken a total dosage of 30 mg. of psilocybin. After about ten more minutes, the mushroom spirit began to work. Maria Sabina started to chant, to pray, lit the candle, handled the copal. Her daughters and Don Aurelio joined in the chanting and praying. After midnight had passed Maria Sabina began soothsaying, answering questions Gordon had asked her. She said that Gordon's daughter who had had to enter the hospital to give birth when Gordon had left New York for the expedition to Mexico was well and the baby was well. Another participant, who had been afraid to leave her old parents, was comforted by the Curandera, who told her that they were well and would live many more years. Both predictions turned out to be true.
At dawn, when we left the hut, Herlinda, our Mazatec interpreter, told us that Maria Sabina had said that there was no difference between the pills and the mushrooms. This was the final proof that synthetic psilocybin was identical in every respect to the natural product.
This book is remarkable in its photographs, both the glossy color portraits of the mushrooms themselves, taken by Jeremy Bigwood, as well as the old black and white shots of Wasson, Hoffman, etc. It is delightful to look at R. Gordon Wasson in his study, a bank vice-president who really got off on hallucinogenic expeditions into deepest Mexico. And Hoffman and friends in the lab in Switzerland, every one smiling that acid ear-to-ear grin as they peer through their microscopes. Finally, there is an intricate chapter at the end on Psilocybian Mushroom Cultivation by Jeremy Bigwood which is totally fascinating, even if you never intend to do the cultivation yourself.
Teonancatl, Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Of North America is a must for the serious collector of books on hallucinogens, as well as a delightful book for people who have always been curious about the historic, religious, and social implications of those phallic-shaped spores.