Entheogens, the Conscious Brain and Existential Reality 2012 The purpose of this article is to provide a state of the art research overview of what is currently known about how entheogens, including the classic psychedelics, affect the brain and transform conscious experience through their altered serotonin receptor dynamics, and to explore their implications for understanding the conscious brain and its relationship to existential reality, and their potential utility in our cultural maturation and understanding of the place of sentient life in the universe.
Sacrament, Consciousness and Sexual Paradox
5: The Little Deer and the Keys to the Golden Gates
Fray Bernadino de Sahagun estimated from Indian chronology that peyote had been known to the Chichimeca and Toltec at least 1890 years before the arrival of the Europeans. This is confirmed by the find of the peyote deer snuff pipe at Monte Alban (below). Usage for as long as 3000 years is suggested from Tarahumara rock carvings and Peyote specimens found in Texas rock shelters (S&H 132). de Sahagan reports as follows: "There is another herb like [opuntia]. It is called peiotl. It is found in the north country. Those who eat or drink it see visions, either frightful or laughable. This intoxication lasts two or three days and then ceases. It is a common food of the Chichimeca, for it sustains them and gives them courage to fight and not to feel hunger or thirst. And they say it protects them from all danger" (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 132).
As with sacred mushrooms, the Spaniards repressed the use of peyote because it was connected with heathen rituals and superstitions to contact evil spirits through diabolical fantasies. (S&H 134). Francisco Hernandez, physician to King Philip II noted: "Wonderful properties are attributed to this root., if any faith can be given to what is commonly said among them on this point. It cause those devouring it to be able to forsee and predict things ..." (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 134).
A little later, we hear of a Cora ritual: "Close to the musician was seated the leader of the singing, whose business it was to mark time. Each had his assistants to take his place should he become fatigued. Nearby was a try filled with peyote, which is ground up and drunk by them so that they will not become weakened by the all night function. One after another they went dancing in the ring ... singing the same unmusical tune he set them. They would dance all night without stopping or leaving the circle."This ancient ritual use of peyote is preserved among the Huichol and has become a founding theme of the Native American Church. (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 134).
The Huichol make a yearly pilgrimage , the peyote hunt over 600km of rugged desert country from their tribal homeland in the Sierra Madre Occidental (Meyerhoff 10, Furst 136). The journey involves many ritual steps and many days of journey involving hardship. The confessing of marital infidelities is done without recrimination. The Huichol are polygamous and traditionally accept such revelations with a light heart. A knot is placed in a string for each occasion and then burned. Although the most substantive work about the pilgrimage is Barbara Meyerhoff's "Peyote Hunt" most of these quotations come from the shorter earlier article in Furst.
"Might the sacred country be a kind of "Great Mother"? If so we would have at least one explanation for the emphasis on ridding oneself of all adult sexual experience before embarking on the journey, lest the whole enterprise come to naught and the offender go mad in Wirikuta. To 'enter' the great mother as an experienced adult would would be tantamount to incest. ... I want to emphasize that there is no overt equation of Wirikuta with a "Great Mother" in the Huichol peyote traditions, yet it is implied: one need only recall the emphasis on the embrace of the hummingbird-children by the Mother Goddess Niwetuka(me) as they finally reach the peyote country" (Furst 158). Crossing the 'dangerous passage' the gateway of the clouds they are blindfolded. "From there one travels to the place called Vagina .. and from there directly to Tatei Matinieri - Where Our Mother Dwells." (Furst 162). Later still we reach 'The Springs of Our Mothers' (Furst 166). Also notable is the place where the penis hangs.
The participants often paradoxically speak the opposite of what is intended. Finally with rising excitement the mara'akáme- spiritual leader rushes ahead and fires an arrows to enclose the first peyote on all quarters and exclaims 'how sacred, how beautiful, the five-pointed deer!'. He then cuts the hikuri leaving some root to regrow new crowns. The return to Wirikuta the sacred mountain is seen as a return to paradise.
Although children under three are not given peyote, older ones are generally offered some as an omen of their potential as a mara'akáme. 'After slight hesitation ten-year-old Fracisco who had not tasted peyote before began to chew vigorously. He nodded - yes he liked it. He danced for hours and fell asleep smiling happily.' 'Veradera, a strikingly handsome girl under twenty ate more peyote than anyone with the exception of Ramón and Lupe and later that night fell into a deep trance that lasted for many hours and caused everyone to regard her as specially sacred' (Furst 176).
'As the bowl was handed round the others lead by Ramón exhorted them to chew well for that is how you will see your life'. Lupe then took a sizeable whole plant, sliced off at the bottom lifted her magnificently embroidered skirt made specially for the occasion and rubbed the moist end on her legs. Lupe explained that peyote not only discourages hunger and thirst and restores one's spirit but also heals wounds and prevents infection. Some plants were cleaned and popped straight into the mouth. Lupe sometimes wept when she did this. She was also chewing incessently as was Ramón. The night was spent singing and dancing round the ceremonial fire chewing peyote in astounding quantities and listening to the ancient stories. Veradera had been sitting motionless for hours. Lupe placed candles around her to protect her against attacks from sorcerers while her soul was travelling outside her body' (Furst 177).
One of the most outstanding Huichol peyote shamans of modern times is don Jose Matsuwa who at 1990 was the venerable age of 109. Besides walking in the sacred journey to Wirikuta, 'don Jose spent many years living alone in the Huichol sierra learning directly from the ancient ones who reside there in the caves and mountains. In order to become a shaman in the Huichol tradition one must learn to dream consciously and lucidly, for after a healing has been performed, that night the shaman tries to dream about the patient and find out the reason for the illness. Each day the Huichols tell their dreams to "Grandfather fire". Dreams help to bring together the past, present and the future' (Halifax 249).
Brant Secunda became his apprentice after walking from Ixtlan into the mountains. 'On the third day of my journey, I became completely lost after walking down a deer trail. I became terrified and lay down to die, from sun exposure and dehydration. I then began to have vivid visions of colourful circles filled with deer and birds, but was suddenly awakened by Indians standing over me sprinkling water over me. They told me the shaman of their village had had a dream about me two days earlier and they had been sent out to rescue me' (Rainbow Network Aug 90 4).
'While travelling to a sacred cave in Mexico, we stopped for the night. Don Jose wrapped himself in his blanket and we all went to sleep around the fire. At about 3.30 a.m. don Jose called out to everyone. We sat up and listened as he told us of his dreams. He explained how the cave we were travelling to came into being and about the godess that resides there at that sacred place. He said the goddess of that cave was waiting for us and that we should get going so we could learn there and have our own vision' (Halifax 238).
"There is a doorway within our minds that usually remains hidden and secret until the time of death. The Huichol word for it is nieríka. Nieríka is a cosmic portway or interface between so-called ordinary and non-ordinary realities. It s a passageway and at the same time a barrier between the worlds" - Prem Dass (Halifax 242).
"I have pursued my apprenticeship for sixty-four years. During these years, many, many times I have gone into the mountains alone. Yes I have endured much suffering in my life. Yet to learn to see, to learn to hear, you must do this - go into the wilderness alone. For it is not I who can teach you the ways of the gods. Such things are learned only in solitude." - Don Jose Matsuwa (Halifax) 238).
"When the mara'akáme passes through the nieríka [visionary tunnel] he moves just as the smoke moves; hidden currents carry him up and in all directons at once ... as if upon waves, flowing into and through other waves ... the urucate. As the mara'akáme descends and passes through the nieríka on the return, his memory of the urucate and their world fades; only a glimmer remains of the fantastic journey that he has made (Halifax 242).
My body had fallen asleep, yet my mind was ascensing on a breeze chant that had now turned into a jet stream upon which I was ascending ... I could see my hut and the village below. I was free and flying with such a feeling of exhiliration that I wanted to cry, for now I was experiencing the tru meaning of Don Jose's song ... various kinds of light and form passed ... Each song lifted me higher to a warm, blissful and radiant light. As I came closer to the great brilliant sphere, time was slowing to a stop. Intuitively, I knew I was dead and had absolutely no knowledge of who and where I came from. Yet I knew and felt totally at home, as if I had returned from a journey in a far away land. - Prem Das (Halifax 239).
Back in the first times after the sun [Tayaupá] had a dream of a new world he sent Káuyumari to find it. The Little Deer Spirit was informed by the sun where a great swirling tunnel of light existed, through which he was to pass. This is the neríka. He was led by Tatewarí, Great Grandfather Fire, and quite a number of uricate. They travelled through the portal arriving in the world in which we now live. They created everything. So beautiful was the new world that even the sun travelled through to take his place in the sky." Because Káuyumari became too enamoured of the Huichol girls and disrupted the sacred rituals dedicated to the sun with jealousies, resulting in suffering and prompting the sun to free them from their misery, he caused rains to come and flood the entire world. Only one Huichol Watákame was saved, being warned by Nakawé Great Grandmother Growth that he should gather seeds, build a canoe and prepare himself. The world repopulated quickly after Watákame was given a wife, but he found that his offspring had no memory of the neríka and did not have the psychic powers of their forebears. From this time on only those who were willing to suffer the rigours of self-sacrifice would know neríka.
"When the world ends, it will be like when the names of things are changed during the peyote hunt. All will be different, the opposite of what it is now. Now there are two eyes in the heavens, Dios Sol and Dios Fuego. Then, the moon will open his eye and become brighter. The sun will become dimmer. There will be no more differences. No more men and women. No child and no adult. All will change places..."
Huichol Proverb: "The teachings are for all, not just for Indians. ...The white people never wanted to learn before. They thought we were savages. Now they have a different understanding, and they do want to learn. We are all children of God. The tradition is open to anyone who wants to learn. But who really wants to learn?" - Don Jose Matsuwa, Huichol, 1989
The Huichol shamans say we are perdido, lost. They say we are bringing doom and destruction to Yurianaka, Mother Earth, and that Taupa, Father Sun, is coming closer to the earth to purify it. They are concerned for the future and for the life of their children. They are holding great ceremonies calling in shamans from many areas to try and "hold up the sun." But they know they cannot do it themselves, for they are not the ones soiling the collective nest. We are. We are the ones who have to wake up, who have to find our lives.
For the Huichols, this is the purpose of their sacred pilgrimage to the holy land of Wiricuta--to find their lives. This is what all their ceremonies involving the ritual use of the peyote help them to accomplish. Their technology of the sacred enables them to change channels and access "state specific information" available only on the wavelengths of specific channels. For shamanic peoples such as the Huichols, the purpose in changing channels is not for escapism, to get lost in imaginary hallucinations that have no basis in reality. Their purpose is to get a more accurate reading of the nature of reality. They seek entrance through the nierica into the numinous universe underlying the limited, material world of the sensory--the "mysterious, ubiquitous, concentrated form of non-material energy . . . loose about the world and contained in a more or less condensed degree by all objects" (Bob Calahan in his introduction to Jaimie de Angulo's Coyote Man and Old Doctor Loon).
Why? To obtain information, healing, and power, which they can use here on this plane of existence to better their lives and the lives of their people. Entering into the depths of the mystery is not something to take lightly, for the mystery is all about power and power can manifest itself in many ways. Out of respect, the Wisdom Elders observe, listen, and commune with this power in all its manifestations. From this base of phenomenological data of mind in nature, nature in mind, they came to learn the order and structure of life's connectedness and that all things are dependent upon each other and thus related. Recognizing this, the norm of reciprocity in all interactions is raised to the status of sacred. Balanced reciprocity with all of creation is observed at all costs, for without this practice, the fragile web of life is irreversibly damaged, a fate that faces us today
"If you have the desire to learn the path of the shaman, the Fire will teach you, the Fire, our Grandfather. You must listen to the Fire, for the Fire speaks and the Fire teaches. And during the day the sun... there are many ways to gain vision, many, many ways. Yet for me the best is hikuri, peyote. When I eat hikuri the world becomes radiant with glowing colour. Káuyumari the little deer comes, lke a mirror and shows me how it all is, what you must do. When you hear me chanting the sacred songs, it is not I who sing, but it is Káuyumari who is singing into my ear" (Halifax 137)
"Tayyaupá burns your land ... The last time I was in your land, we did a ceremony. And after the ceremony a powerful rain came. I chanted with my heart. Yes we had purified ourselves at the ocean in the morning, after celebrating throught the night; then the clouds began to gather, and within several hours it was pouring rain ... When you do ceremonies, sending out your love in the five directions - the north, south east, west and the center - brings life force into you. That love brings in the rain ... We will have to gather together and with the ceremonies, begin to tune ourselves with the environment, bringing it back into balance again. The ocean is telling me that if it doesn't soon come into balance, terrible destruction will come in the form of fire ... so I ask you to go to the sea and make offerings. Take a candle, chocolate and money. Offer these things to Tatei Haramara, Our Mother of the Sea" (Halifax 252).
"You must study these things I am saying ... You have your own way of learning ... But you have seen the flower of my vision on my face, and you must know that it is important to think of these things each day and each night. Then one day the sea will give you heart; the Fire will give you heart; the Sun will give you heart... I will check you by lifting up the nieríka, like a mirror, and I will see what you have done, how you have gone in the world" (Halifax 252).
Peyote is also enjoyed as a sacrament among more than 40 American Indian tribes in many parts of the US and Canada in the form of the Native American Church. This was an adaption of the Mexican ritual that was adopted by tribes in the north who were facing a crisis of cultural disintegration. Peyote helped to bring a spirit of toleration and understanding in these difficult crcumstances.
I made a pilgrimage to participate in a traditional Peyote meeting in 1980. I returned twelve years later to find the previous Roadman, Tellus Goodmorning at the age of 91, missing one eye, and having spent six months in hospital with a broken pelvis, but nevertheless full of enthusiam to spend the entire night taking his turn to chant at the peyote meeting held in honour of his son with the very substantial teepee held up with his own teepee poles.
I had had to to visit the old roadman of my last meeting, Telles 'Goodmorning' for a second time before he decided to confide that there was a big meeting in honour of his son the next week. When I arrived, he said "Why you come?" almost as if he'd never seen me, but he told me that the teepee was up. Every one greeted Tellus as the great old man he was. Very frail at 93 with only one eye and a hip fracture last year that put him in hospital for five months. The roadman, Junior was accompanied by his mother and her husband.
The sunset dragged slowly into senescence by the time everyone gathered in line and walked clockwise round the teepee, entered and shut the door. The practitioners all had little boxes with rattles and feather regalia and cushions and blankets to last out the early morning chill. A fire is lit in a ceremonial vee in the middle of the teepee and around this is a crescent alter of sand. This also has to be circumambulated on entry to the teepee. At this point the roadman makes an initial speech to thank everyone who has contributed to the meeting and to explain how it has been called interspersed with many ritual 'you knows'. Everyone then rolls a corn husk cigarette and takes a smoke. Prayers are given up and the buts are placed around the crescent altar.
The water drum which is assembled from an iron pot and goat skin sloshed from inside with water is then bought into action with the roadman's feather kit and rattle. The practitioners sing and drum in pairs. The drum is an intense shamanic beat of 3/sec and the rattler chants a syllabic chant of Hei-hei-hei-wichi-hei-ho-ho-ho-ho which runs on like a river of concentration. The mood is intense. The sacred medicine was passed twice around the circle over an hour period. There are strict rituals. Everyone must move to the right, no one can walk past a person with the sacred medicine in their mouth. Telles took his full part in both the consumption and the chanting. No one was allowed out, except during brief interludes between songs and then only with the permission of the roadman or fireman.
At intervals they would stop chanting and take a smoke as an offering to heal a sick person or calamity. This round went on until around midnight when the roadman blew a whistle and went out to pray to the four winds. There is no possiblity of relaxation for a moment because the roadman is out there praying and needs our help! The Peyote road is described as 'a hard road'. A session is always accompanied by some degree of nausea and occasional vomiting. I have more than once been on the point of retching, only to be prodded by a severe participant "No lounging about!".
After midnight everyone got out their own feathers and rattles to sing their own chants. The fire was brightly coloured. As the intensity of the evening drilled relentlessly into the small hours the energy built up to a fever pitch. An Indian lady broke out into a wailing lament about her family's health which caused the chanting to weave into a frenzy, becoming an unearthly dance of the guardian spirits at the gate of Orpheus's underworld over the chanting. Homer took a smoke on his grandchildren who had been taken away by their mother, and some other people with disabilities had people take a smoke on them. Several of the participants had physical problems. Gradually the light of dawn drew on with ever yet more songs. Finally the roadman blew his whistle to the winds again. And all the buts were burned in the fire.
There now began the invocation of the mother waters, the mother of all creation. She sat with a pot of water and began a long speech and prayer which started out with and explanation that our concerns should be addressed to people because it was human action which was the source of all folly. She said not to be worried about the environment or the state of the world, because Mother Nature was coming in her own way to set things right and bring the affairs of the world to a natural conclusion. This extended to a blessing of relatives who had disabilities and then spread out into a blessing of all people present and all things in which they have concern which fanned out into a great prayer in Native American, English and Spanish.
Afterwards the water bucket was passed around everyone. Then the younger women came back circumnavigating the tepee once outside and once inside, placing a bowls of corn porridge and sweet raisin pork. The cowboy drummer and the roadman Junior did one last song, dismantled the water drum and handed it round the principal practitioners to drink from the peyote drum.Finally the breakfast was handed clockwise around everyone in the ring.
After we went out again ringing the tipi, everyone exchanged a formal "Good Morning" with their eyes riveted on one another in great sincerity. Telles, who had been eyeing me through his one not too good eye very alertly during the evening beamed at me and said "So you made it!". Hence his name 'Tell-us-goodmorning'. The morning protocol continued to a a formal lunch opened with a traditional grace saying how 'these people have gathered together to hear your wisdom through the sacred medicine dear god, and all their relatives have gathered dear god, to eat this sacred food dear god' in traditional style.
Bertha the Mother Waters who was actually the roadman Junior's mother put on a formidable performance. She had spent twenty years often missing two nights sleep in a week to attend far-flung meetings. She explained that non-ordinary reality was the real reality and everyday reality was only a shadow into which the greater reality was condensed. How it was manifest in all things from the birds to the wind and how she could see and travel to distant cities in the peyote fire. She told us this story of how she threw the ceremonial water pot over her husband in play and it rained for a week solid everywhere she went until she sat in a medicine meeting a week later and vowed never to abuse the sacred water again. She knew the rain would stop at midnight and sure enough it did. Mother Waters has a history that goes all the way back to Chalchiuhtlicue, Jade Skirt, the mother of springs, steams, lakes and water holes.
After the meal I was sternly ordered by Didi the fireman to come and help dig up the ashes and sand altar from the teepee. He admonished me very firmly not to score the ground because that is the peyote road you are working and it should be smooth and gentle. Next the teepee and finally the poles, which were Telles's own ones, were brought down.
"Most peyotist strongly affirm the Christian elements as an important part of their religion. One ofthe most interesting claims is that" (Anderson 51):
"You white people needed a man to show you the way, but we Indians have always been friends with the plantsand understood them ... 'The white man goes into a church and talks about Jesus , but the Indian goes into ateepee and talks to Jesus.' (Anderson 52).
However, it is Christ in his second-self who came to give the peyote ritual to the Menomini:
"This old man was a chief of a whole tribe, and he have his son to be a chief. He said, "I'm going to go, and you take my place. Take care of this [tribe]." And the boy, he went out hunting; He was lost for about four days. He began to get dry and hungry, tired out; so he gave up. There was a nice place there - there was a tree there; nice shade, nice grass - and he looked at that place there; it would be a nice place for him to die. So he went, lay himself down on his back; he stretched out his arms like this [extending his arms horizontally], and lay like that. Pretty soon he felt something kind of damp [in] each hand. So he took them, and after he took them, then he passed away" (Anderson 23-4).
" Just as soon as he - I suppose his soul - came to, he see somebody coming on clouds. There's a cloud; something coming. That's a man coming this way, with a buckskin suit on; he got long hair. He come right straight for him; it's Jesus himself. So he told this boy, "Well, one time you was crying, and your prayers were answered that time. So I come here. I'm not supposed to come; I said I wasn't going to come before two thousand years," he said. "But I come for you, to come tell you why that's you [are] lost. But we're going to bring you something, so you can take care of your people. That's what you're crying for; you don't know how - how you're going to take care of your people. So we're going to give you that power to do it. But we go up here first." So they went up a hill there. There's a tipi there, all ready. So Christ, before he went in it, offered a prayer. So they went in there. Then he showed him the [ritual] ways; the medicine, how to use it, he gave him the songs, them songs we're using -but that's why, see [that] we don't understand them words [of the songs], you know. Take this medicine along, over there. Whoever takes this medicine, he will do it in my name." So that's how it represents almost the first beginning." (Anderson 23-4)
There is an apocryphal story peyote had a role in the transcendental experiences responsible for the evolution of Adolf Hitler's messianic ideas. The story goes that during 1911, Hitler met a bookseller named Ernst Pretzsche whose father had been an apothecary in México City and had spent leisure hours in an extensive study of the customs and ritual magic of the Aztecs. He lead Hitler through an exploration of von Eschenbach's "Parsival" in which initiates acquired the art of reading from the cosmic chronicle of human destiny in which past, present and future were united in one uncoiling ribbon of time. He persuaded him to take the meditative initiations before taking peyote as a short cut to realization. In 1913, Walter Stein travelled with Hitler up the Danube. After they had left Hitler disclosed that he was planning to stay with the herbalist Hans Lodz who had previously prepared a poition of peyote with which he had had his first experience of the Macrocosm and an insight into the mysteries of Reincarnation. He admitted to Stein that he had not cherished the idea of compromising his own will to a process over which he might have little control. Although his interest was primarily in discovering the meaning of his own destiny within the historical process, he did remark to Stein on his visions of the physiological processes of his body biochemistry (Andrews 1975 417). However other historians doubt this story was possible.
In any case neither the power plants nor the substances they contain can be held responsible for the twisted vision of the partaker, nor what may result from their application to dark ends. Aldous Huxley who made mescalin famous to the post-war generation set a completely different example, dying peacefully under LSD. Peyote has a great reputation as both a spiritual and a physical medicine and has 250,000 adherents in the Native American Church alone.
A second cactus species, San Pedro or the cactus of the Four Winds, Trichocereus pachanoi also bearing mescalin, has been the subject of very long sacred use in the Andes. A variety of acrhaelogical finds from 1500 BC on display San Pedro as a ritual power plant associated with gods and jaguars. It is still consumed as a sacred drink Cimora, sometimes along with Brugmansia species, particularly in rites along the shores of lagoons high in the Andes. The name San Padro intimates the cactus holds the keys to the gates of heaven. The rituals surrounding its use also have a prominent lunar character. During the ritual the participants are 'set free from matter' and engage in flight through the cosmic regions (Schultes and Hofmann 156).
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6: The Black Seed of the Aztecs and the Fires of St. Anthony
Four centuries ago a Spanish missionary wrote: "Ololiuqui ... deprives all who use it of their reason ... The natives communicate in this way with the devil, for they usuall talk when they become intoxicated with Ololiuqui and they are decived by various hallucinations which they attribute to the diety which they say resides in the seeds. ... Its plant was termed 'coatl-xoxo uhqui' the green snake". Today in most villages of Oaxaca one finds the seeds still servng the natives as an ever-present help in times of trouble (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 158).
In 1651 Hernandez physician to Philip II "Ololiuqui which some call Coaxihuitl or 'snake plant' is a twining herb with thin green cordate leaves, slender green terate stems, and long white flowers. Its seed is like like coriander whence the name [in Nahuatl - round thing] of the plant. It cures syphillis, relieves flatulence and removes tumors, ... banshes chills and helps in dislocations and fractures. ... Formerly when the priests wanted to communicate with their gods and to receive a message from them they ate this plant to nduce a delirium. A thousand visions and satanic hallucinations appeared to them." In Aztec confesions the Indian said: "I have believed in dreams, in magic herbs, in Peyote, in Ololiuqui, in the owl ..." (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 158)
Like the other power plants, Ololiuqui is traditionally used to cure either by the shaman or the patient or both drinking the gorund up seeds which have been steeped in water to form a liquor, and consulting the resulting visions for a source to the cure, generally alone in th night in contrast to the group use of Peyote and sacred mushrooms.
Although its descriptions at first caused it to be confused with Datura, in 1937 Rivea (Turbina) corymbosa seeds of the 'medicine for divination' were finally collected among the Chinantec and Zapotec of Oaxaca. A second morning glory Ipomoea violacea was also used by the Aztecs under the name Tlitliltzin. These have long black seeds 'badoh negro' and are sometimes referred to as male while the Ololiuqui are female and taken by women.
The active principles in both these seeds are lysergic acid amide and hydrox-ethyl -amide. These have an effect reminiscent of LSD the diethyl-amide form of the same lysergide molecule. This has a somewhat more narcotic effect and is two orders of magnitude less potent by weight, but does induce a somewhat similar visionary aspect, although significantly less pleasant. One could say that evolution has not quite completed its task in this respect, one which genetic engineering may eventually come to do, as a minor modification of the last step of synthesis is all that is required.
As Chistian influence has seeped in the morning glory has come to be named Semilla de Virgin 'seed of the virgin' and Hierba Maria 'the herb of Mary' indicating the trasferrence of their perceived divine nature. This naming is consistent with the appearance of the plant back in ancient Teotehuacan, were there is a temple freeze of the Mother Goddess and her priestly attendants with the 'snake vine' issuing from behind her (S&H 158).
There is a complete homology between the substances in the morning glories and another ancient source of hallucinatory disturbance, in the ergot of rye Claviceps purpurea, along with other vasoconstrictive indoles. This homology suggests the possibility that the genes for synthesis may have been transferred from ergot to the genus of the morning glory at some stage through viral transfer. The enclosed seed capsule of this genus is liable to harbour fungi and would thus provide good conditions for such an event.
Reference to ergot as a contaminant of grain crops goes back to the Assyrians of 600 BC who refer to it as a "noxious pustule in the ear of the grain". In 350 BD the Parsees noted: "among the evil things ... are noxious grasses that cause pregnant women to drop the womb and die in childbed" It has been suggested that a related fungus Claviceps paspali may have been used as the intoxicant in the mysteries of Eleusis. Several members of this genus infect a number of wild grasses in Greece (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 102-3).
The Greeks did not use Rye because of the "black malodorous produce of Thrace and Macedonia" (Schulktes and Hofmann 1979 103). When Rye began to be widely cultivated in Europe in the Christian era, epidemic poisoning occurred, particularly during times of famine when contaminated grain was eaten because good produce was in short supply, particularly to the poor. These epidemics had two manifestations, those with nervous convulsions delerium and hallucinations and those with gangrene, sometimes causing the loss of extremities. Abortions of women were general during these attacks. It has also been suggested that the advent of the witch-hunts and heresy trials could have a basis in mass psychosis and possession associated with this poisoning.
The name given to the burning sensation in the extremities is called St. Anthony's fire, after the religious hermit who died in AD 356 leaving a heritage of bizarre hallucinations of torment by sexual licentiousness and savage animals - the renowned Temptations of St. Anthony. His bones were brought back by the crusaders to Dauphine and it was here by ironic 'coincidence' that the earliest plague of 'holy fire' occurred in 1039, leading to the establishment of the Order of St. Anthony, who became in effect the patron saint of the 'holy fire'. The real cause of the infection was not to be discovered for another 500 years until 1676, thus covering much of the demented period of the Inquisition and witch burnings. By sifting the grains from the spurs it was possible to separate the contaninated ears (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 104)..
European midwives had long known that ergot was helpful in cases of difficult childbirth, a purpose for with the ergot alkaloids such as ergotamine are still used in modern medicine.
7: Tabernanthe Iboga: The Spirit of the Ancestors
Like ayahuasca, Eboka has a Dionysian origin in sacrifice of the male 'Son of God':
Eboka is extracted from the roots of Tabernanthe iboga in he Congo and Gabon. It is used both as a stimulant and in much higher quantities in a rite of visitation of the ancestors, once or twice during initiation into the Bwiti cult - 'break open the head' and thus make contact with the ancestors through the resulting visions. No one can enter the cult until he has seen Bwiti and to do that they ust eat Iboga. Sorcerors and leaders of the cult also take Eboka to seek information from the spirit world or to ask advice from the ancestors (Schultes and Hofmann 1979 114-5).
Sources: T iboga root-bark and seed: "African
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The plant is a 'generic ancestor' who can so highly value or despise an individual that it can carry them away to the realm of the dead. Indeed the rite is so demanding that occasional deaths are reported. When the paticipants are lost in deep comatose trance they are carried to a special forest hideout where the sould is believed to wander from the body to the ancestors in the land of the dead. The 'angels' or initiates say: I wanted to now God - to know things of the dead and the land beyond. I walked or flew over a long multi-coloured road or over many rivers which led me to my ancestors, who then took me to the great Gods". Negative visions of stinking skeletons may precede seeing Bwiti which has a very characteristic expectation in the way it is seen in the cult.
In smaller doses it is a stimulant which increases strength and endurance and may have an aphrodisiac or sensual affect as it is similar to Yohimbine in structure, although another aphrodisiac plant may also be added (Dobkin de Rios 170). It is sometimes consumed with cannabis, a cultural introduction and euphorbaceous latex applied to the eye to induce visual effects.
The Bwiti cult has been growing in numbers and social strength in the last half-century. It represents a strong native element in a changing society in which disintegration of collective values is occurring. It thus promotes traditional values over the incursions of Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. Bwiti is see as a living religion, true to life, while Christianty is acquired and leaned but not felt or experienced through ecstatic revelation .. which promotes a state of one-heartdness (Dobkin de Rios 168) However, Mary is often identified with the cult's first woman.
The Bwiti cult numbers men among its principal members, although Mbiri, a sister cult admits women (Dobkin de Rios 165). Bwiti grew prodigiously from 1920 to 1930 spreading across the Cameroons and the Amban region. Those villages where Bwiti is established have a temple that occupies a position of privilege in the village. In past times the founding of a 'temple of the universe' was accompanied by human sacrifice but nowdays the human victim has been replaced by a chicken (Dobkin de Rios 165).
Recently ibogaine has become an item of interest as a one-dose cure for addiction marketed under the name 'endabuse' a pun on the antabuse which causes alcoholics to become punitively nauseous on taking alcohol. There is some suggestion that large doses of ibogaine could cause damage to the cerebellum.
Why natural? Can a power plant give true illumination?
I have intentionally grouped these plants by molecular type, as their common effects are traced to key bioactive molecules, which because of their specific interaction with neurotransmitter receptor proteins cause their profound effects on consciousness. Thus one can consider that it is the quantum nature of the molecular arrangement that is the key issue. Many people are used to thinking of drugs primarily as chemicals and not at all in the same sense as food, despite the fact that the food plants themselves are a veritable mine of chemicals of equal significance as vitamins and anti-cancer or anti-oxidant activity, which promote future health and long life.
There are many new psychoactive drugs from ecstasy to angel dust, so why pick these plants with their often difficult side-effects of bitterness or nausea? The reason is as follows: It is by stepping back from their chemical nature and recognising them as a natural evolutionary heritage that we can learn to understand their potential role in human culture, just as we accept the role of the food plants as a necessary complement to the human species. We cannot and should not convert our own diet from a natural one to a purely chemical one, so we should try to think in the same way about the psychic plants. While the cactus alkaloids may well be defense mechanisms against consumption, the existence of psilocin in sacred mushrooms appears beneficial - to promote a cooperative interaction with animals to encourage their consumption and thus spread their spores.
The idea that illumination with drugs cannot be the true enlightenment is a deceitful story told by worshippers of the father Sky God. One could argue that setting one's feet back on the ground gives a more realistic vision of sustainable spirituality than the worldless ranting of the monotheist ascetic who drifts skyward issuing religious edicts to followers, who are expected to faithfully trust in an invisible other world, and sacrifice their personal gnosis of the real nature of existence. To the Earth Mother they have always been sacred allies.
We do not yet know whether ecstasy or other designer drugs are safe for long-term consumption, but ayahuasca, the mescaline-bearing cacti and sacred mushrooms have been tested for millennia as a traditional part of human religious life and there is a reasonable body of scientific evidence thay they are not physically harmful by comparison with recreational drugs such as alcohol.
Because evolution has provided these agents, it makes it possible for us to come to terms with the idea that they form some sort of natural widening of the scope of human consciousness, which brings us into closer harmony with other life-forms, thus helping to keep the biosphere whole, and which may be a resource for us in trying to comprehend the future avenues to be taken by evolution under our guidance and stewardship. It is in this wholesomeness and natural flow of life that they bring us far closer to the spiritual truth than any etheric vision of the Godhead arising from the bloody crucifixion of Jesus.
On to Part 4 of The Twelve Constellations? Witching Plants