Mushroom Worship In Mesoamerica

Re-opening Old Roads of Archaeological Inquiry

Carl de Borhegyi: Copyright  2020

Mycolatry: is a term used to describe the study of Mushroom Worship; specifically, worship of the entheogenic mushroom species in proto and prehistory as a means for communicating in grave circumstances with the Almighty Powers (Wasson, 1980 p.XIV). 

Entheogen: a term meaning “God within us” is the preferred term for those plant substances that, when ingested, give one a divine experience. This semantic distinction distinguishes their role in the early history of religions from their abuse and vulgarization by the “hippie” sub-culture of the l960's and 1970s. 

The information provided in this book is for educational, historical, and cultural interest only, and does not condone the use of mind altering mushrooms. This research is dedicated to the pioneering work of Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi and ethno-mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson. From the time of their initial meeting in Guatemala in 1953 until my father's untimely death in 1969, the two scientists worked in close cooperation and shared a voluminous correspondence of over 500 letters.  In the years that followed Borhegyi's death, the existence of a mushroom cult in ancient Mesoamerica, and specifically among the ancient Maya, has been essentially ignored and dismissed as inconsequential. 

Inspired by the pioneering research of  Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi - Milwaukee Public Museum (S.F de Borhegyi 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965a, 1965b),  the author discovered that sacred mushrooms are not only frequently identifiable in the prehistoric art of both the Old World and New World, but that in Mesoamerica in particular, they played a major role in the development of indigenous religious ideology. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of Mexico and Psilocybin, A Bibliography: by R. Gordon Wasson and  Stephan F. de Borhegyi, Harvard University,  1962.

In this book the author extends his father’s research by pulling out and illustrating, with words and images, a few threads in the complex fabric of Mesoamerican art, history and mythology. These threads illustrate a relationship between the “mushroom stones” and hallucinogenic mushrooms, principally Amanita muscaria, with warfare and the Mesoamerican ballgame, associated with a trophy-head cult and the ritual act of decapitation, linked to the Toltec Feathered Serpent god-king Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan.

            Quoting Borhegyi: 

" I think cultures which possess intoxicants or stimulants develop much more rapidly because of the better possibility for new ideas and inventions" (Letter to Wasson from Borhegyi, October  19, 1955 Wasson Archives Harvard University).

Mesoamerica: is a term that "defines those areas of Mexico and Central America that witnessed the development of advanced pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Teotihuacano, Toltec, Mixtec, and Aztec, all of which shared a number of interrelated cultural traits involving religious concepts, ritualism, architecture, arts, and crafts, hieroglyphic writing, and calendrics". A term conceptualized by Paul Kirchhoff (1943: 92-107), that recognizes that these cultures shared similar ideologies and mythologies derived from earlier Olmec cultural roots. 

The two most important linguistic and cultural streams to emerge during pre-Columbian times from the developed civilizations of Mexico and Central America are the Nahua and Maya cultures. 

Chronology of Mesoamerica (GMT Correlation)

Early Pre-Classic Period:    2000 BCE. - 1000 BCE.
Late Pre-Classic Period:      1000 BCE. - 200 A.D.

Early Classic Period:            200 - 500 A.D.
Late  Classic Period:             500 - 900 A.D.

Early Post-Classic Period:     900 - 1200 A.D.
Late Post-Classic Period:      1200 - 1524 A.D.

Suzanne de Borhegyi-Forrest, Ph.D.

Mesoamerican mushroom imagery first came to the attention of the modern world in the late 19th century when the German geographer Carl Sapper published a picture of an effigy mushroom stone from El Salvador in the journal Globus (29 May 1898). Sapper noted that the stone carving was “mushroom-shaped” but did not consider whether it actually represented a mushroom, but that the stone object was a phallic symbol (Wasson and de Borhegyi, 1962 p. 42). This connection was supplied two months later by Daniel Brinton in an article in Science (29 July 1898) when he noted that “they (mushroom stones) resemble in shape mushrooms or toadstools, and why should not that be their intention?”  (Wasson, 1980: p.175). 

However difficult it was for scholars to accept the mushroom stones as representations of actual mushrooms, the case for their association with a psychogenic mushroom cult came in 1952 when R. Gordon Wasson and his wife, Valentina Pavlovna, came on the scene. Although neither of them were professional anthropologists--Wasson was a New York banker with the firm of J.P. Morgan, and an amateur mycologist; his wife, Valentina Pavlovna, a pediatrician--they were engaged in writing a book about the cross cultural role of mushrooms in history. In the course of their studies they learned of the existence of an entheogenic mushroom cult among the Mazatecs and Mixtec Indians in southern Mexico. They also found reports of the pre-Conquest use of “inebriating” mushrooms written by such prominent Spanish historians as the Dominican friar Diego Durán (1964, 225-6), Fray Bernardino de Sahagun (1947,:239, 247), and Motolinía ,(1858, Vol. I: 23). 

The friars who reported the ceremonial use of psychogenic mushrooms were sparing with their words and inevitably condemnatory in their description of mushroom “intoxication.” They were, in fact,  repulsed by the apparent similarities of the mushroom ceremony to Christian communion.  Wasson and Pavlovna, however, read these reports with great interest. They were particularly excited when, In 1952, they learned that archaeologists working at the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City had found a tripod stone carving in the shape of a mushroom bearing the effigy of a jaguar on its base. Sure that it corroborated the existence of a Pre-Colombian mushroom cult (Wasson and Wasson, 1980:75 -178), they consulted American Museum of Natural History archaeologist Gordon Ekholm.

The author’s father, Stephan de Borhegyi, became the intermediary in their investigations. A recent emigrant from Hungary with a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology and Egyptology from the Peter Paszmany University in Budapest, Borhegyi had been invited to Guatemala to study American archaeology by  the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Working under a grant provided by the then Viking Fund of New York (subsequently the Wenner Gren Foundation) his project was to catalog the extensive archaeological collections of the Guatemalan National Museum. In the course of this project he came across numerous unprovenanced small stone sculptures shaped like mushrooms which he described in correspondence with Ekholm. Ekholm put him and the Wassons in touch with one another. Shortly thereafter, the Wassons,  Borhegyi, and I, (his wife and the author’s mother, Suzanne), embarked on a trip through the Guatemalan highlands in search of evidence of an existing mushroom cult such as had been reported among the Mazatecs and Mixtecs of Mexico. No such cult was uncovered, but both the Wassons and the Borhegyis suspected that the lack of evidence might be explained by the extreme sacredness and sensitivity of the subject among the Maya Indians, coupled with an inadequate amount of time devoted to winning the confidence of their informants. Wasson did, however, find corroborating evidence of inebriating mushrooms in a number of Mayan word lists for the Cakchiquel linguistic area around Guatemala City (Wasson, 1980, pp. 181-182).

Following their sojourn in Guatemala, Wasson and Pavlovna went on to visit the remote village of Huautla de Jimenez in southern Oaxaca. Here they not only found evidence of an existing mushroom cult, but had the opportunity to participate in a mushroom ceremony conducted by a local curandera, Maria Sabina. The results of their research exploded into worldwide notoriety in 1955 with the publication of Wasson’s article entitled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” in the popular magazine LIFE   (May 13, 1957).  To Wasson's consternation, his description of the mushroom ritual reverberated through the hippie culture of the time. Seemingly overnight the little Oaxacan village was mobbed with thrill seekers—“hippies, self-styled psychiatrists, oddballs, even tour leaders with their docile flocks.” (Wasson, 1980, p. XVI). Wasson sent samples of the hallucinogenic mushroom to a pharmaceutical laboratory in Switzerland for analysis with the result that the active agent was both identified and made into synthetic pills. The era of widespread abuse of the psychedelic mushroom began with a vengeance that rocked society.

It is strange that, in the half century since Borhegyi published his first articles on Maya mushroom stones and proposed their use in connection with Maya psychogenic mushroom ceremonies, little attention has been paid to this intriguing line of research. I propose that the oversight is related to the worldview classification scheme established by Wasson, in which he distinguished between peoples and cultures that liked mushrooms (mycophiles) and those that feared them (mycophobes) (Wasson, 1980: XV). This classification might be extended to include all psychogenic or mind-altering substances with the exception of alcohol. Their use in the Western world is considered to be objectionable, immoral and, for the most part, illegal. In any event, it is clear that, while the Pre Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica were decidedly mycophilic, the majority of archaeologists who have studied them are mycophobes. The result has been that their possible centrality to ancient Mesoamerican religious rituals has been either overlooked or, at best, barely acknowledged (Martin and Grube, 2000:15; Coe, 1999: 70; Sharer, 1994: 542, 683).

There may, however, be another, more immediate, reason for this neglect. That, I believe, is the memory of the very unsettling period in our recent history when too many individuals, most of them young people, “tripped out” on a variety of psychedelic substances, and in too many cases harmed themselves in the process. While neither Steve nor I ever took the sacred mushroom. Our son, Carl (without my knowledge I might add), did experiment with the mushroom during his student years in the late 1970s at Southwestern Michigan College and the early 1980s at the University of Wisconsin. This enables him to speak from experience of the mushroom’s awe-inspiring effect on the mind and body. He is quick to say that he would not repeat the experiment today, but he does not deny the obvious—that one has to have experienced the “magic” effects of the mushroom to truly comprehend the mushroom experience. Quoting from Daniel Breslaw’s book Mushrooms, “a smudge on the wall is an object of limitless fascination, multiplying in size, complexity, and color,” (1961).  It is our sincere hope that, by calling for a new, and much needed, look at the role of  entheogenic mushrooms in Pre-Columbian art and ideology, we will not inadvertently encourage a new wave of thrill-seeking experimentation with the mushroom and its derivatives. It should be possible to engage in the former, without provoking the latter......   


Mushroom Stone Cult of Mesoamerica:

In 1952 archaeologists working at the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City found a tripod stone carving in the shape of a mushroom bearing the effigy of a jaguar on its base. Sure that it corroborated the existence of a pre-Columbian mushroom cult, the Wassons consulted American Museum of Natural History archaeologist Gordon F. Ekholm, who put the Wassons in touch with archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, better known simply as Borhegyi.

Borhegyi, an emigrant from Hungary with a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology and Egyptology from the Peter Paszmany University in Budapest, had been invited to Guatemala to study American archaeology by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Working under a grant provided by the then Viking Fund of New York (subsequently the Wenner Gren Foundation) his project was to catalog the extensive archaeological collections of the Guatemalan National Museum. While at work on these collections Borhegyi came across a number of small, unprovenanced carved stone effigy figures that resembled mushrooms to such a degree that they were called "mushroom stones."

Photo of Gordon Wasson (above left), from Life Magazine 1957. The replica mushroom stone next to Wasson was a gift from Borhegyi (above right). Borhegyi supported his theory of a mushroom cult among the ancient Maya with a solid body of archaeological and historical evidence.    

             Quoting Michael D. Coe, today's unofficial  "Dean of Maya studies"

 "These peculiar objects , one of which was found in an E-III-3 tomb, are of unknown use. Some see vaguely phallic association. Others, such as the late Stephan de Borhegyi, connect them with the cult of the hallucinogenic mushrooms still to this day prevalent in the Mexican highlands, and it is claimed that the mortars and pestles with which the stones are so often associated were used in the preparatory rites" (The Maya, 1993 fifth edition, by M.D. Coe, p. 60).

Kaminaljuyu  jaguar mushroom stone with traces of red paint still visible was excavated from the Pre-Classic Miraflores phase tomb E-III-3 , 1000-500 BCE.  

Borhegyi found the mushroom stone figures so intriguing that he prepared a monograph for submission to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.  "Notes on Middle American Archaeology and Ethnology". Before submitting it, however, he sent it off to be critiqued by archaeologist Gordon Ekholm at the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Borhegyi proposed the theory that hallucinogenic mushroom rituals were a central aspect of Maya religion. Borhegyi based his theory of a mushroom cult among the ancient Maya on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with human sacrifice and the Mesoamerican ballgame. Ekholm, in turn, showed Borhegyi's monograph to his friend Robert Gordon Wasson, an amateur mycologist who was looking for archaeological evidence of an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult in Mesoamerica. Wasson wrote to Borhegyi  and within months the two embarked on what became an intense and fruitful collaboration that lasted until the end of Borhegyi's tragically short life. In the years that followed Borhegyi’s death, the existence of a mushroom cult in ancient Mesoamerica, and specifically among the ancient Maya, was denied or essentially dismissed as inconsequential. Borhegyi's proposal of an ancient mushroom cult met with limited, highly skeptical acceptance at best, among his archaeological colleagues. At the time, no one seriously thought that they represented real mushrooms. Few in the Mesoamerican archaeological community seriously considered the possibility that the mushroom sculptures had an esoteric religious significance.  

In a letter to Gordon Wasson from Borhegyi dated  March 20, 1953:

"I was very interested in your suggestion that these mushroom stones might be connected with the narcotic mushroom cult. However, in spite of the fact that the cult was known to exist and still survives in the Zapotec, Chinantic, and Mazatec region, no mushroom stones have ever been reported from there. On the other hand, as you will see from the photographs, the effigy mushroom stones much more frequently represent animals than humans although the human effigies do seem to be from the earliest period. So far I have found no specimen with the gills or lamellae that could prove conclusively that it was a true representation of a mushroom. Unfortunately this seems to be a food that has completely escaped the attention of the ethnologists but I will check further for references to its use".

"In short, I am extremely intrigued with your suggestion and will most certainly follow up all leads. The trouble with field archaeologists like myself is that we become so involved in our routine that, like a horse with blinders, it never occurred to us that the mushroom might play an important role in the development of a culture. I would be very glad to hear more about ethno-mycology from you and the role it has played on human culture" (letter from Borhegyi to Wasson March 20, 1953, Wasson Archives Harvard University).   

Some of the small mushroom-shaped sculptures were plain and realistic, (depicted above), others were adorned with human and animal effigies. While the majority of mushroom stone sculptures were of indeterminate provenance, a sufficient number had been found during the course of archaeological investigations as to permit Borhegyi to classify and date them typologically. The majority had been found in Guatemala in the highlands or on the Pacific Piedmont--Maya areas along the intercontinental mountain range which were heavily influenced in Preclassic times by the powerful Olmec culture (Borhegyi de S.F. 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963).  

The Wassons, published Borhegyi’s article on Middle American Mushroom Stones in their monumental book, Russia; Mushrooms and History, (Wasson and Wasson, 1957). In the monograph Borhegyi identified the existence of an ancient mushroom stone cult that could have begun as early as 1000 B.C.E.  Borhegyi noted that many of the mushroom stones, especially those dating between 1000 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. depicted images of toads, as well as snakes, birds, jaguars, monkeys, and humans. The majority of the images appeared to emerge from the stem of the mushroom (Wasson and Wasson, 1957, Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b.) 

Quoting Wasson:

"Some Middle American specialists may challenge my assumption of a connection between the "mushroom stones", which ceased to be made centuries before Columbus arrived on these shores, and today's surviving mushroom cult." .... "For years I had only an assumption to go on , but now, thanks to discoveries made by the late Stephan F. de Borhegyi  and us, I think we can tie the two together in a way that will satisfy any doubter" (Wasson,1972:188n).

The Wasson's also included Borhegyi's chronological distributional chart of these Pre-Columbian mushroom stones and pottery mushrooms, found at various archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

            Quoting ethno-archaeologist Peter T. Furst:

"In its pages [Mushrooms, Russia and History ] Borhegyi and Wasson suggested a connection between the sacred mushrooms of Mexico and the prehistoric stone mushrooms of Guatemala, the first time that such a possibility had been considered in print. The connection between these sculptures and the historic mushroom cults of Mesoamerica has not always been accepted. Though many mushroom stones are quite faithful to nature, they were, until recently, not even universally thought to represent mushrooms at all, and a few die-hards even now, in the face of all the evidence, reject this interpretation." (1972)

It wasn't as if Borhegyi’s proposal of a mushroom cult wasn't well grounded in substantial, verifiable evidence.

            Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi......

"My assignment for the so-called mushroom cult, earliest 1,000 B.C., is based on the excavations of  Kidder and  Shook at the Verbena cemetery at Kaminaljuyu. The mushroom stone found in this Pre-Classic grave, discovered in Mound E-III-3, has a circular groove on the cap. There are also a number of yet unpublished mushroom stone specimens in the Guatemalan Museum from Highland Guatemala where the pottery association would indicate that they are Pre-Classic. In each case the mushroom stone fragments has a circular groove on the top. Mushroom stones found during the Classic and Post-Classic periods do not have circular grooves. This was the basis on which I prepared the chart on mushroom stones which was then subsequently published by the Wassons. Based on Carbon 14 dates and stratigraphy, some of these  Pre-Classic finds can be dated as early as 1,000 B.C. The reference is in the following".....(see Shook, E.M. & Kidder, A.V., 1952. Mound E-III-3, Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala; Contributions to American Anthropology & History No. 53 from Publ. 596, Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. (letter from de Borhegyi to Dr. Robert Ravicz, MPM archives December 1st 1960 )

Besides citing his own and others’ archaeological studies, Borhegyi referred frequently to writings by the early chroniclers who witnessed and recorded what they saw of native mushroom ceremonies during the early years of the Spanish Conquest. The Wassons believed that the mushroom cult reported by the Spanish friars found full expression in the mushroom stones of the ancient Maya (Wasson and Wasson, 1980:75 -178). Their first-hand reports tell us that the Aztecs ate  mushrooms or drank a mushroom beverage in order to induce hallucinatory trances and dreams. During these dreams they reportedly saw colored visions of jaguars, birds, snakes, and little gnome-like creatures.

The Wassons may have provided an important explanation for this lack of interest. He and his wife, Valentina, had observed that, across the globe, cultures seemed to be divided into those who loved and revered mushrooms, and those who dismissed and feared them. The first group of cultures they  labeled "mycophiles," while the latter were "mycophobes."  In the New World, it appears that all of the native cultures were, and still are, unquestionably mycophilic. In contrast, the great majority of archaeologists and ethnologists who studied and described them, and who traced their cultural origins to Western Europe, were decidedly mycophobic. This major difference in cultural background may be responsible for what I believe should be seen as a lamentable gap in our understanding of indigenous New World  magico-religious origins.   (Wasson: 1957)


             Quoting Wasson:

"In examining these mushroomic artifacts we must keep in mind that they were not made for our enlightenment. They were iconic shorthand summarizing a whole bundle of associations ,--whatever those associations were. The Christian cross is to be found in endless shapes, including the "effigy cross" or crucifix, and all stem back to a complex of emotions, beliefs, and religious longings. The crucifix would reveal to an archaeologist eons hence more than, say, a Maltese cross. So with the mushroom stones, the subject matter of the effigies holds the secret"  (Wasson and Wasson, 1957, Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b.)

Mushroom stones with an effigy of a human, bird, jaguar, toad and other animals, occurred earlier in time and have been mostly found at the higher elevations of the Guatemala Highlands (for their distribution by archaeological sites see Borhegyi de, 1961).

While some anthropologists and archaeologists had accepted Borhegyi's and Wasson's idea that mushrooms and other hallucinogens were used in ancient Mesoamerica, their use was, in most cases, dismissed as relatively incidental and devoid of deeper significance in the development of Mesoamerican religious ideas and mythology. With a few exceptions, notably the research and writings of ethno-archaeologist Peter Furst, further inquiry into the subject on the part of archaeologists came to a virtual halt. Fortunately, a few mycologists, most notably Bernard Lowy and Gaston Guzmán, (2002:4; 2009) continued through the years to make important contributions to the scientific literature. To this day, the subject remains relatively little known and generally missing from the literature on Mesoamerican archaeology, art history, and iconography.        

Quoting Wasson (1957):

"Dr. Borhegyi's chart suggests to us that hallucinatory mushrooms were the focus of a cult in the highland Maya world that goes back at least to early pre-classic times, to B.C. 1000 or earlier, the earliest period when technically such artifacts could be carved in stone. Thus tentatively we trace back the use of the divine mushroom in Middle America to the earliest period from which a record could be expected to survive. Beyond that horizon may we project the mushroom agape back through millennia, to the Eurasian home-land whence our Indians' ancestors migrated."

According to Borhegyi:

"mushroom stones follow the same pattern as the three-pronged incensarios, figurines, rimhead vessels etc. That is, they are abundant during the Pre-Classic, disappear from the archaeological scene completely during the Early Classic, and are revived in somewhat changed form in the Late Classic." (Letter from Borhegyi to Wasson April 8th, 1954)

Quoting Wasson (1957):

"Dr. Borhegyi later combed the Quiche and Cakchiquel chronicles and legends for references to mushrooms. There come down to us from early times two native narratives of the Highland Maya, one in Quiche and the other in Cakchiquel, the Popol Vuh and the Annals of the Cakchiqnels. Written in the native languages, they have been translated into Spanish and English. Dr. Borhegyi discovered in each of them one reference to mushrooms, and in each case mushrooms are associated with religious observances. "

                      Letter to Gordon Wasson from Borhegyi who writes.....

Dear Gordon,

“I discovered two interesting sentences relating to mushrooms from Indian Chronicles, written around 1554 by natives. In the Popol Vuh, translated from the Spanish version by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus Griswold Morley, University of Oklahoma press, Norman Oklahoma, 1950, page 192. “And when they found the young of the birds and the deer, they went at once to a place the blood of the deer and of the birds in the mouth of the stones that were Tohil, and Avilix.  As soon as the blood had been drunk by the gods, the stones spoke, when the priest and the sacrificers came, when they came to bring their offerings.  And they did the same before their symbols, burning pericon (?) and holom-ocox (the head of the mushroom),holom=head, and ocox= mushroom”. I think this section definitely indicates that the Quiche used mushrooms in connection with their religious ceremonies.  I even wonder what made the stones speak “.

“In the annals of the Cakchiquel’s, translated from the Cakchiquel Maya by Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz, University of Oklahoma press, Norman, Oklahoma 1953, pp. 82-83. “At that time, too, they began to worship the devil.  Each seven days, each 13 days, they offered him sacrifices, placing before him, fresh resin, green branches, and fresh bark of the trees, and burning before him a small cat, image of the night.  They took him also the mushrooms, which grow at the foot of the trees, and they drew blood from their ears.”

“The Cakchiquel version therefore also connects mushrooms with ceremonial offerings to the gods.  This mushroom, I think is our anacate, if it grows at the foot or on the tree”.

In the highlands of Guatemala and along the Pacific slope where the majority of mushroom stones have been found, and where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance, the mushroom stones that reappear in the highland Maya area during Late Classic times (600-1000 C.E.) are mostly the plain and or tripod variety (Type D) common to the Pacific Coast and Piedmont area as well as in Western El Salvador.  The plain or tripod mushroom stones, which carry no effigy on the stem (stipe), have been typically found at lower elevations and may indicate the ritual use of the psilocybe mushroom in these regions (for their distribution by archaeological sites see Borhegyi de, 1961a, p. 500).

In the Central and Western Highlands of Guatemala, Type D tripod mushroom stones resembling stone-stools (toad-stools?) have been reported from Kaminaljuyu, the Antigua-Agua area, Amatitlan, Mixco Viejo, Tecpan, Zacualpa, and San Martin Jilotepeque (de Borhegyi, S.F. 1965a, p.37).  


             Quoting Borhegyi in a letter to Wasson:

"In connection with the altitude distribution of mushroom stones there seems to be some difficulty. The mushroom stones are not exclusively confined to the Highlands but also occur in the South Coast where the altitude does not exceed 1000 feet. However, as I learned from my informants, the anacate [fly ageric?] grows in this region also. An interesting feature is the fact that the mushroom stones from the lower altitudes are of the late type and are plain or tripod, possibly representing a secondary manifestation of the original idea"  (Borhegyi to Wasson, June 14, 1953 Wasson Archives Harvard University)

Above is a ballgame yoke fragment with footprint (excavated in 1948 by J. Eric S. Thompson) along with a tripod mushroom stone (Type D) from a pit in front of Monument 3 at the Pacific coastal site of El Baúl in Guatemala (Milwaukee Public Museum Archives). Type D tripod mushroom stones (plain and effigy style) were frequent in the Pacific Coast and Piedmont area as well as in western El Salvador (Borhegyi de, 1965: 37).

Maya archaeologist J. Eric Thompson found a anthropomorphic mushroom stone representing a seated individual with a mushroom cap in the course of a trial survey of the Southern Maya area. The mushroom looking specimen came from the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Thompson described the piece as a huge mushroom-like object that some anthropologists thought to be stone stools. 

           Quoting Sir J. Eric S. Thompson:

"I had heard of the theory that these stones might represent a narcotic mushroom cult, but I would think it a difficult theory to prove or disprove... I know of no reference to their use among the Maya, ancient or modern" (Thompson to de Borhegyi, March 26,1953, MPM Archives).

In 1948 Thompson wrote that the ballgame imagery in the highlands of Guatemala and the Piedmont sites suggested that the ballgame was closely connected with Quetzalcóatl (Thompson, 1948: figs. 10-15). Borhegyi who excavated at the sites of El Baúl and Bilbao, believed that most of the Cotzumalhuapa stone sculptures are of the Late Classic period (600-1000 C.E.) (Borhegyi de, 1965: 36, 39). 

In a letter to Borhegyi from J. Eric Thompson, dated November 30, 1955:

"I wonder what is your archaeological evidence for placing the Pipil migration to Cotzumalhuapa at A.D. 900--1000?  Evidence at El Baul was that the latest phase, except for a little surface material, contained San Juan plumbate, which is fairly securely placed as Tepeu".

Borhegyi concluded that the plain, un-carved type of mushroom stone must have been re-introduced to Guatemala and the Cotzumalhuapa area along with new ball game rituals during Late Classic times, by these “Tajinized Nonoalca” Pipil groups (Borhegyi de, 1965: 37; Borhegyi de, 1980: 25; Borhegyi letter to Wasson, November 30, 1953, Wasson Archives).  We find images of decapitated ballplayers carved on the walls of formal ballcourts at El Tajín and Chichén Itzá that supports the western origin of the ballgame carried by the Putún-descended peoples when they relocated north to Chichén Itzá and south to the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coast.

This area near the border of Mexico and Guatemala, is most likely where the mushroom stone cult got it's start, based on the numerous mushroom stones found in this area. This is where the archaeological site of Izapa is located (with its distinctive Izapan art style), on the Pacific coast, near the border of Guatemala, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Among the Izapan cult motifs are trophy heads, U-shaped symbols (ballgame yokes) serpent worship, descending sky deities, the Long -lipped or Long-nose god Chaac also known as God B (Facts and Artifacts of Ancient Middle America 1978 p.82). 

            Quoting Maya archaeologist Herbert Spinden:

"Many authorities consider God B to represent Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, whose Aztec equivalent is Quetzalcoatl (Herbert Spiden 1975 p.62). 

Archaeologists have theorized that Izapa may have been settled as early as 1500 B.C. E. making Izapa as old as the Olmec sites of La Venta and San Lorenzo. Maya researcher Vincent Malmstrom proposes that the origin of Mesoamerica's Ritual 260 day calendar is from Izapa, and that he places the calendar's origin at 1359 B.C. (Susan Milbrath 1999 p.64).  

It was in this region where mushroom stones were re-introduced to Guatemala and the Cotzumalhuapa area that the ballgame, along with its bloody rituals of decapitation and the dismemberment of body parts reached new levels. Nowhere else in Mesoamerica does the ballgame imagery appear so gruesome. Ballgame scenes depict players, some with sacrificial knives holding trophy heads, and human sacrifice performed by were-jaguars, and heart sacrifice and dismemberment of human body parts. Some of the players wear conical hats symbolic of Quetzalcóatl, offering gifts to diving sky gods associated with the ballgame. 

During the Middle Classic period, ballcourts were built throughout the highlands and along the Piedmont sites at Bilbao, El Baúl, Palo Verde, Palo Gordo, Los Tarros, El Castillo, and Pantaleon, and Tonalá during a time when the area was dominated by the influence of Teotihuacán. Teotihuacan's influence over all of Mesoamerica  between A.D. 300-700, can be identified archaeologically by the widespread distribution of Teotihuacan ceramics which depict the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc. 

Borhegyi made an important connection here; he noted that carved stone yokes worn by ballplayers are rare in Guatemala and those found depict ether serpent heads or death-heads (Borhegyi de, 1980: 7). According to Borhegyi (1965: 36), yokes, hachas, and palmas most likely originated on the Gulf coast of Mexico, where they have been found in the greatest number and variety. Stone yokes in association with stone hachas are known from only three other sites in Mesoamerica, at Bilbao and Patulul, Guatemala, and at Viejon in Veracruz, Mexico.

Borhegyi noted that ballplayers depicted on Monument 27 at El Baúl wear tight-fitting monkey head helmets, and hand-gloves that represents either the local survival of the Olmec influenced Preclassic handball game, or a late Classic revival of the game in the area (Borhegyi de, 1980: 16). He adds that: “These zones were once influenced by the Olmecs and later by ‘warlike’ Mexican Gulf Coast groups. One wonders if these grisly sacrificial activities are native to this area or are Pre-Classic survivals of a game once played with human heads with long, flowing hair in the Tajín and La Venta areas and in parts of Oaxaca”.

Borhegyi surmised that victims or captives for sacrifice were decapitated by priests or ballplayers dressed in were-jaguar attire, after which the decapitated heads of both ballplayers and jaguars were hung up by ropes over ballcourts or temples. Borhegyi proposed that the stone heads and later stone rings set in the walls of formal ballcourts were a symbolic replacement for the trophy heads of earlier times (Borhegyi de, S.F.,1980:20, 24). These trophy heads were venerated as sacrificial offerings, and may even have been used during certain ballgames in lieu of balls.

             Quoting Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi:

            " the ballgame, and cultural diffusion may be in order"

"While human decapitation was a widespread custom throughout both the Old and New Worlds as early as the Paleolithic period, its association with ancient team games seems to have occurred only in central and eastern Asia, Mesoamerica, and South America (for ballgames in Southeast Asia, see Loffler, 1955). The use of severed human heads in the polo games of Tibet, China, and Mongolia goes back at least as far as the Chou Dynasty (approximately 1100 B.C. -250 B.C.) and possibly to Shang times (about 1750 B.C. -1100 B.C.). By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), the polo game in China had become more refined and human heads were apparently replaced by balls. However, the custom of using "trophy heads" in the game must have survived in modern form in marginal areas, as evidence by the fact that the present day Tajik tribesmen of Afghanistan still use the head of a goat as a ball during the game (Abercombie, 1968). While more studies are needed along this line, it is tempting to suggest that the custom of using human heads in competitive ballgames be added to the growing Pre-Classic inventory of "trans-Pacific contacts" (S.F. de Borhegyi 1980, p.25).


The Mesoamerican Ballgame, Trophy Heads and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms 

Many of the observations in this Chapter reflect the work of Borhegyi carried out from the 1950s through 1969 and in the book The Pre-Columbian ballgames: A Pan-Mesoamerican Tradition, published posthumously in 1980 by the Milwaukee Public Museum where he had served as the Director. 

According to Borhegyi, the ritual ballgame can only be explained as a cross-cultural phenomenon, for it transcended all linguistic barriers in Mesoamerica. “Perhaps the games channeled competition short of warfare, between villages or ceremonial centers, into the field of skill and were a means of predetermining the selection of human victims to fulfill the requirements of the cyclical, or annual ritual sacrifices” (Borhegyi de, 1980: 3). 

            Quoting Borhegyi:

“On the Basis of the widespread use of stone hachas, palmas, yokes, and manoplas, we can safely state that by Middle Classic times the competitive ballgames played in formal courts from northern Mexico to as far south as Honduras and El Salvador achieved a Pan-Mesoamerican magnitude” (de Borhegyi 1980 p.3).

The ritual ballgame was played to commemorate the completion of period endings in the sacred calendar, such as a katun ending, a 20-year time period that always ended on the day Ahau. It was on that day, after inferior conjunction that Venus reappears as the Morning Star.  Of all the planets Venus was the most important in Mesoamerican art, cosmology, and calendrics, and the Venus cult associated with central Mexico and the Toltec invasions into the Maya area emphasizes the feathered serpent. Central Mexican influence is also evident in a Tlaloc cult connected with Venus warfare during the Classic period (Susan Milbrath 1999, p.157)

The mushroom ritual was likely timed astronomically to the movements of the planet Venus and possibly to the sacred period of inferior conjunction. At this time Venus sinks below the horizon and disappears into the "underworld" for eight days. It then rises from the underworld as the Morning Star. There is also plenty of evidence that ballplayers from the Gulf Coast area wore knee pads with the Ahau glyph design (Borhegyi de, 1980: 8) a symbol of Lord, and Maya kingship, and symbol of Underworld Venus resurrection.

Above is a figurine holding what the author believes is an Amanita muscaria mushroom in his left hand. Note the figurine's large god eyes, and the three Ahau icons, one on each knee and one on his ballgame yoke (Figurine from Denver Museum collection).

The ballgame represented a religious function throughout Mesoamerica, and the importance of the sacred ballgame and its rituals associated with ballcourt complexes in city planning, and the game’s relationship to ancestors and serpent worship, and warfare, should not be underestimated, for there are over 1200+ archaeological sites in Mesoamerica that have identified at least one ballcourt, and cities like El Tajín in Veracruz, Mexico that boast a minimum of 18 ballcourts. Borhegyi proposed that the Olmec-influenced handball game in ancient times was probably played in open fields or open plazas, and may have used the severed heads of humans and jaguars to mark out the boundaries or as targets or goals. 

The mushroom experience, as well as caves and ballcourts were believed to be entrances or portals into the underworld. Dictionaries of Maya Highland languages compiled after the Spanish Conquest mention several intoxicating mushroom varieties whose names clearly indicate their ritual use. One type was called xibalbaj okox, "underworld mushroom", alluding to the notion that this particular mushroom transported one to a supernatural realm of the underworld dead (Sharer, 1994: 484). 

Archaeologists believe that Mesoamerican people may have played the ballgame to symbolize the movements of the sun, moon and the planets, most notably the planet Venus as a resurrection star, and that the ball symbolized the sun’s continuous struggle to free itself at night from the clutches of the underworld. Rituals of self-sacrifice and decapitation in the underworld, allude to the sun's nightly death and subsequent resurrection from the underworld, by a pair of deities (twins or brothers) associated with the planet Venus as both the Morning Star and Evening Star. This suggests that the ballgame and its rituals are associated with the 584-day Venus cycle. As described in the Dresden Codex, the synodic revolution of Venus from Morning Star to Morning Star is 584 days, and that these revolutions were grouped by the Nahuas and Maya in fives, so that 5 x 584 equaled 2,920 days, or exactly eight solar years. 

In the religion of the ancient Maya, various twins or brothers represent the dualistic aspects of the planet Venus, as both a Morning star and Evening star. Maya creation stories record that twins were responsible for placing the three stones of creation into the night sky at the beginning of this world age. These three stones, which represent the three original hearthstones of Maya creation, refer to a trinity of gods responsible for creating life from death. One of these gods, known as First Father, ruled as the Sun God in the previous world age. He was decapitated by the Lords of Death after being defeated in a ballgame. His twin sons, (Venus?) after finding his bones buried under the floor of the ballcourt, resurrected him from the underworld and placed him into the night sky as a deified ballplayer. I believe that the Maya could see this resurrected decapitated ballplayer, in the night sky, still wearing his ballgame belt, as the constellation of Orion. As the planet Venus, Quetzalcoatl in his impersonation of Tlaloc, rules the underworld, and was responsible for ritual decapitation.

In El Titulo de Totonicapán, it is said that the Quiché gave thanks to the sun and moon and stars, but particularly to the star that proclaims the day, the day-bringer, referring to Venus as the Morning Star. The Sun God of the Aztecs, Tonatiuh, first found in Toltec art, is frequently paired with Quetzalcóatl in his aspect of Venus as Morning Star. The mushroom ritual associated with warfare, and the ballgame was probably timed astronomically to the period of inferior conjunction of the planet Venus. At this time, Venus sinks below the horizon and disappears into the "underworld" for eight days. It then rises before the sun, thereby appearing to resurrect the sun from the underworld as the Morning Star. For this reason, mushroom-induced decapitation rituals were likely performed in ballcourts, a metaphor for the underworld, which was timed to a ritual calendar linked to the movements of the planet Venus as both a Morning Star and Evening Star.  

According to Borhegyi, depictions of ritual ballgame sacrifice by decapitation appear to be a common theme in Preclassic times (Borhegyi de, 1980: 23). The great city of Teotihuacán’s overt and disruptive presence on the Maya people during the Classic Period resulted in a suppression of Olmec-inspired rituals and cult paraphernalia, such as mushroom stones and three-pronged incense burners, commonly used during the Preclassic period. They were replaced with pottery vessels and incense burners of a Teotihuacán-type decorated with human skulls, jaguars, and such deities as Quetzalcóatl, Tlaloc and Xipe-Totec. 

In pre-Columbian art, ballplayers are often depicted wearing stone objects that archaeologists have called stone axes (hachas) and palm frond-shaped stones (palmas). According to ancient murals and relief sculptures, the hachas (Figure 5) and palmas (Figure 6) were part of the protective gear worn by players in the ballgame. Borhegyi believed that stone hachas, as well as anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vertically- and horizontally-tenoned stone heads associated with the ballgame, were symbolic of the human trophy heads of earlier times (Borhegyi de, 1980: 24-25). Stone hachas were depicted on ceremonial ballgame yokes worn around the ballplayer’s waist, while the tenoned stone heads were set into the walls of formal ballcourts. The subject matter most frequently seen on stone yokes, hachas and palmas are decapitated heads, skulls, skeletons, trophy heads, dismembered hands, limbs and bodies, severed ears, gouged-out eyes, and outstretched tongues, etc. Based on the widespread use of this ballgame paraphernalia, he proposed: “that by Middle Classic times the competitive ballgames played in formal courts from northern Mexico to as far south as Honduras and El Salvador achieved a Pan-Mesoamerican magnitude” (Borhegyi de, 1980: 3). 

Above is a miniature Late Classic stone hacha from Veracruz, Mexico (Figure from Whittington, 2001), represents a decapitated trophy head of a wrinkled and toothless old man wearing a cone-shaped hat that suggests the Old Fire God (Xiuhtecutli), while a closer look reveals the image of a sacred psilocybin mushroom encoded in the cheek and hat. The conical or cone-shaped hat, is a trademark attribute of the Mexican god-king Quetzalcóatl and of his priesthood.

Sometime between the 7th and 8th century, with the fall of Teotihuacán and its influence diminished, northern and central Mexico as well as parts of highland Guatemala and most of the Yucatan Peninsula was dominated by the Toltecs, and it seems that a revival of bloody ball game rituals of Preclassic Olmec fertility rites of human decapitation once again took center stage in the great ceremonial centers of Mesoamerica. 

According to Borhegyi, the Toltecs, under the influence of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl, were responsible for a brief revival (A.D. 950-1150) throughout Mesoamerica of a trophy head cult associated with warfare and the ritual ballgame (Borhegyi de, 1980: 25). 

Toltec influence previously foreign to the highland Maya can be seen in new ball-game rituals and paraphernalia, associated with idolatry and heart-sacrifices (the feeding of idols with food, incense and blood) and the decapitation of prisoners captured in warfare (S.F. de Borhegyi 1965a p.54-55). Borhegyi further proposed that the change in ballgame rituals and the switch from the Olmec handball game to the hip ball game most likely came as a result of the newly instituted Quetzalcóatl rites (Borhegyi de, 1980: 24). He believed that the ballgame and these Olmec-influenced fertility rites were linked esoterically to the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms and that these bloody rituals were banished or forced underground during the heyday of Teotihuacán (Borhegyi de, 1980: iv). 

The immense popularity of Quetzalcóatl is indicated by the lengthy descriptions accorded to him by almost all of the early chroniclers of New Spain, today Mexico. Quetzalcóatl is alluded to in Nahua myth as the great civilizer and King of the Toltecs, and in Maya legends was known as Kukulkán or Gukumatz, also meaning "Lord Feathered Serpent". All three culture heroes were reputed to be the inventors of the science of measuring time as serpents represented the bondage of time and its cyclical nature. Additionally, the Annals of Cuauhtitlán (Nahua manuscripts) record that it was Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl who invented the ballgame, and wherever a temple stood dedicated to Quetzalcóatl, there existed a ballcourt (Nicholson, 1967: 117) 

                         Anthropologist Irene Nicholson...

 "In spite of the great gulf that separates Precolumbian thought from our own in many of its external aspects; in spite of distortions, irrelevancies, decadence and subsequent annihilation by European conquerors of a great part of it; the culture which this mysterious leader established [Quetzalcoatl Votan] shines down to our own day. Its message is still meaningful for those who will take the trouble to make their way, through the difficulties of outlandish names and rambling manuscripts, to the essence of the myth".   (Mexican and Central American Mythology 1967, p.136)

Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl was regarded as "The Father of the Toltecs", and became ruler of Tollán/Tula, and by his inspired enlightened way he encouraged the liberal arts and sciences, and was revered for the cultural advancement of his people. His life of fasting and penitence, his priestly character, and his benevolence toward his followers, are evident in the material that has been preserved in the 16th century Spanish chronicles and in the hand-painted books of the indigenous people. He was also known as the lawgiver and, according to Spanish historians, he was unwilling to harm any human being, despite the temptation from demons to perform human sacrifice. 

It's likely that Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl traveled to Chichén Itzá after he founded the city of Tula, and that he brought with him Toltec culture and a mushroom Venus religion associated with the ballgame. The Itzá Maya of Yucatan called this ruler Kukulkán (meaning “holy spirit” or “god” and “serpent and sky”), and it is believed he rebuilt the great city of Chichén Itzá, and later founded the Maya capital city of Mayapán. Aztec chronicles tell us that the Toltec priest-ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl sailed across the Gulf of Mexico toward Yucatan at approximately A.D. 978. There is ample evidence in the archaeology of Yucatan for a sea-borne invasion by the Toltecs in the late tenth century (Hedrick, 1971: 262).  Toltec groups from Mexico undoubtedly traveled by both land and sea to penetrate the Maya region at various times. 

On April 8, 1954, Borhegyi wrote to Wasson noting that: "…mushroom stones follow the same pattern as the three-pronged incensarios, figurines, rimhead vessels etc. That is, they are abundant during the Preclassic, disappear from the archaeological scene completely during the Early Classic, and are revived in somewhat changed form in the Late Classic". The apparent absence of mushroom stones in Early Classic tombs (A.D. 200-400) or within ceremonial precincts suggests that the sacred mushroom cult of Preclassic origin, proposed by Borhegyi to be ritually connected to the ballgame, was discontinued, or banished from the Teotihuacán-occupied, or influenced highland Maya ceremonial centers. 

Borhegyi noted the connection between the re-appearance of mushroom stones and a trophy-head cult associated with the ritual act of decapitation, and that many Late Classic (A.D. 600-1000) stone carvings relating to the ballgame depict balls incorporating human skulls or depict human skulls in lieu of balls. He also believed that the stone heads, and later stone rings set in the walls of formal ballcourts, were symbolic replacements for the hanging of the losers’ heads on walls – the trophy heads of earlier times. The hanging of human heads can be found in a passage in the Popol Vuh, in which one of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu, and his father Hun Hunahpu had their decapitated heads hung in a tree (Borhegyi de, 1980: 24-25). In fact, almost all evidence of ballgame sacrifice relates to the act of ritual decapitation, both self-decapitation and by execution, which takes place metaphorically in the underworld. The mushroom and its powerful effects on the mind were the means of divine transport, thus the portal or gateway into the underworld in which one is deified and resurrected at death. 


Mushroom Venus Warfare and the Classic Maya Collapse 

By the close of the Classic period, A.D. 800-900 around the time when most of the Classic lowland Maya centers had been mysteriously abandoned, a group of Nahuatl speaking peoples moved down from southern Veracruz towards El Salvador, and that these people must have had a profound influence on the Chontal Mayas of Tabasco. Around A.D. 900-1000 a group of Chontal Mayas from the Laguna de Terminos region (this is the Itza group) moved up to Yucatan, and that a similar group of Chontal Mayas moved down towards Guatemala, probably following the Usamacinta River, and that this group would be the Quiche, and Cakchiquel Mayas who like the Itzas claimed decent from Tula, and were devout followers of the Feathered Serpent god-king of the Toltecs Quetzalcoatl and his mushroom Venus religion. 

In the highlands of Guatemala and southern Mexico, around A.D. 1000, a new type of ball court came into fashion, indicating a change in rules and how the game was played. The type of ball court that was characteristic of the lowland Maya region was open-ended with a central playing alley between parallel sloping side walls, and at the top of each side wall were three vertically tenoned, stone heads, a precursor of the stone hoops found in later Mexican courts. According to Borhegyi (1980) all these later ball courts that were introduced were enclosed at both ends forming the capital I shape, and that the side walls were vertical rather than sloping, and that in the center of each wall was an elaborately carved, horizontally tenoned, stone hoop. 

We are told that the Itzas were Chontal Maya who J. Eric S. Thompson called the Putun, who made their way by sea around Yucatan to Cozumel and eventually established themselves in Chichen Itza by the year A.D. 918, the 1st invasion according to Thompson (The Classic Maya Collapse 1973 p.128), which is prior to the arrival of Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs. Thompson believed that the Classic Maya collapse was caused by a peasant revolt and that the new lords were swept away by the revolutionary tide just like the old Classic Maya elite (Jeremy Sabloff: The Classic Maya Collapse 1973 p.128) (Thompson 1970: Chapter 1).

            Quoting archaeologist E. Wyllys Andrews IV

"The Toltecs appear to have stimulated the last upward surge of Maya civilization. There origins are uncertain; their disappearance seems to represent their absorption by the Maya. Whoever they were, their impact on the Maya physical type and language was minimal" (The Classic Maya Collapse 1973 p. 255). 

The history of the Toltecs in Yucatan tends to support the arrival of Kukulcan in the year A.D. 987 Anales de Cuauhtitlan (Muriel Porter Weaver 1972 p.222). The Chontal-speaking Maya who called themselves Itzá, were devout followers of the god-king Quetzalcóatl. Borhegyi believed the Quiché and Cakchiquel Maya were also Nahuatl-influenced Chontal Mayas as both were linguistically related and shared a common Toltec-inspired genealogical origin (Borhegyi letter to Wasson, March 22, 1954).  

The Quiche and Cakchiquel being Maya, were they the ancestors of the present population that invaded Guatemala ? Or conquerors, who imposed themselves, and then were absorbed by the Maya-speaking native population ? It seems that the mushroom stone cult was either adopted by the new comers after their arrival, or else common to the native population and to the invaders.

The history of the Quiche peregrination of their ancestors, a Nonoalca-Pipil-Toltec-Chichimec group is described in detail in the Popol Vuh (Facts and Artifacts of Ancient Middle America 1978 p. 135) According to the Popol Vuh, some Pipil groups continued on to Guatemala and became the forebears of the Quiché Maya. It's worth mentioning again that Borhegyi believed that the plain, un-carved type of mushroom stone must have been re-introduced to Guatemala and the Cotzumalhuapa area along with new ball game rituals during Late Classic times, by these “Tajinized Nonoalca” Pipil groups, where the severing of human heads reached new levels (Borhegyi de, 1965: 37; Borhegyi de, 1980: 25; Borhegyi letter to Wasson, November 30, 1953, Wasson Archives). 

It’s tempting to think that the Itzás, who claimed Toltec ancestry, and the Quiché and Cakchiquel who were also Nahuatl-influenced Chontal Mayas, who claimed Toltec ancestry, may have been responsible for the so-called "Collapse of Classic Maya civilization". All were devout followers of Quetzalcoatl's mushroom-Venus religion, emphasizing celestial worship, and ballgame sacrifice. 

By the close of the Classic period, most of the lowland Maya ceremonial centers were mysteriously abandoned, and this intrusion into the lowlands would coincide with the abandonment of valley sites as ceremonial centers, and the beginning of hilltop defensive sites in the highlands of Guatemala (Borhegyi de, 1965: 37).  

This Chontal diaspora into the Guatemala Highlands was most likely contemporary with Quetzalcóatl’s (Kukulcán’s) invasion into Yucatan during the Early Postclassic period A.D. 900-1000 and associated with the takeover of the city of Chichén Itzá. At the end of the Late Classic period warlike tribes from the Gulf Coast of Mexico reached the highlands of Guatemala via the Usumacinta River and the Pacific coast of Mexico, and established themselves on the coastal Piedmont of Guatemala (Borhegyi de, 1965: 31). 

According to Borhegyi, a completely new group of priest-rulers came into power bringing with them a form of ancestor worship associated with the vision-serpent (mushrooms?) and the ritual ballgame (Borhegyi de, 1965: 31). Maya inscriptions tell us that the movement of the planet Venus and its position in the sky was a determining factor for waging a special kind of warfare known as "Tlaloc warfare" or "Venus Star Wars." These wars or raids were timed to occur during aspects of the Venus astronomical cycle, primarily to capture prisoners from neighboring cities for ceremonial sacrifice (Schele & Freidel, 1990: 130-31, 194). These wars, waged against neighboring city-states for the express purpose of taking captives for sacrifice to the gods, thus constituted a form of divinely sanctioned "holy" war.  The ballgame may have served as a substitute for direct military confrontation by these warlike tribes from the Gulf Coast of Mexico (Scarborough & Wilcox, 1991: 14-15).

Photographs © Justin Kerr

Above are two Late Classic (600-900 A.D.) Maya figurines, both from Jaina Island representing warriors wearing what the author proposes is a headdress encoded with divine mushrooms. Jaina Island is a small island not far from the Laguna de Terminos region, that was controlled in Late Classic times by the Chontal speaking Putun Maya. 

Above center is Post Classic gold figurine of an Aztec warrior wearing what is likely a mushroom inspired nose plug. The figure holds a shield in his left hand encoded with Venus symbol known to scholars as the quincunx. According to J. Eric Thompson the idealized Venus cycle always ended on the day 1-Ahau, (Milbrath p.170). The synodic revolution of Venus, from Morning Star to Morning Star is 584 days, and that these revolutions were grouped in fives, (see Maya  Dresden Codex) so that 5x584 equaled 2,920 days, or exactly eight solar years (Nicholson, 1967 pp. 45-46). 

Its almost certain that in Mesoamerica certain mushrooms were consumed prior to these raids and before the ballgame to induce superhuman strength ? The Psilocybe mushroom, called teonanacatl (God's Flesh) by the Aztecs, contains the substance psilocin and psilocybin, the active ingredient that causes the mushroom hallucination. The psilocybin mushroom is indigenous to the sub-tropical regions of the U.S, Mexico, and Central America. The Amanita muscaria mushroom contains the powerful hallucinogen muscimol, which is known to cause the feelings of increased strength and stamina. The connection between Amanita muscaria mushrooms and feats of strength was first proposed by Samuel Odman in 1784. He proposed that Amanita muscaria was the intoxicant of the Viking Berserkers (Kevin Feeney 2013, ch. 6, p.298). The Viking Berserkers, who worshiped their warrior god Odin (Woden of the Anglo-Saxons), believed death was merely a passage from this life to another, and were expected to welcome death in the service of  Oden.   

This Berserker-rage theory was later supported by F.C. Schuber, a Norwegian physician and botanist, who noted that the symptoms of Berserker rage are consistent throughout different accounts (Fabing 1956). Most importantly in 1930, Rolf Nordhagen uncovered an 1814 report from the Vinland regiment (Swedish Army) where an officer had taken note of troops that were raving and foaming at the mouth. Upon inquiry the officer was informed that the soldiers had taken Amanita muscaria in order to prepare for battle". "The symptoms of the Berserker rage appear to be compatible with ethnographic accounts of the mushroom's use in Siberia, including a report that the mushrooms are eaten among the Koryak when one is "resolved toward murder" (Kevin Feeney 2013, ch. 6, p.298)  (A. Morgan 1995 p.103). 

Wasson writes that mushrooms were used in Northwest New Guinea for its intoxicating effect, being eaten by the warriors before going off on the warpath (Letter from Wasson to Borhegyi April 20, 1953). Hallucinogenic mushrooms taken before battle most likely eliminated all sense of fear, hunger, and thirst, as well as enhancing one's vision and gave the combatant a sense of invincibility and courage to fight at the wildest levels. 

Spanish chronicler Fray Sahagun, who first reported mushroom rituals among the Aztecs, wrote that the Chichimecs and Toltecs consumed hallucinogens before battle to enhance bravery and strength (Furst 1972, p.12).  

Fray Diego Duran writes that war was called xochiyaoyotl, which means "Flowery War". Death to those who died in battle was called xochimiquiztli, meaning "Flowery Death" or "Blissful Death" or "Fortunate Death". Fray Alonso de Molina's big lexicon of the Nahuatl language (language of the Aztecs) published in 1571, Molina gives us another word for mushroom,  xochinanacatl, meaning flower mushroom, xochitl meaning flower and nanacatl meaning mushroom (Wasson 1980, p80).  

To date, there are almost ninety different theories or variations of theories purporting to explain the Classic Maya Collapse which took place between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1000, when archaeologists see an abrupt halt of any new construction and that dated monuments with Long Count dates called stelae ceased to be erected. It is during this time period in the Central lowlands of Guatemala that archaeologists see a sudden decline in population or the abandonment of Maya cities. Maya archaeologist T. Patrick Culbert explained that “the evidence all indicated that the Classic Maya had disappeared somewhere in the time-shrouded past and had left no modern descendants with even a faint touch of their glory and accomplishments” (1974: 105). 

We are led to believe that some mysterious fate befell the Classic Maya, and that people just suddenly disappeared and that the once great Maya cities of the Classic Period were all abandoned. There was also the deliberate abandonment of most of the Guatemala highland valley sites shortly before the close of the period. Site after site was deserted, never to be reoccupied, in spite of the fact that many of the centers had been in use for more than two millennia. 

Borhegyi’s theory for the Classic Maya collapse was of a Toltec invasion into the Maya region by Nahuatl-influenced Chontal Maya tribes from the Laguna de Terminos region. 

             On March 22, 1954, Borhegyi wrote to Wasson: 

"This is a completely new theory that I have recently formulated. It is quite revolutionary, and I will try to publish it as soon as possible. When you carefully check the Annals of the Cakchiqueles and the Popol Vuh, you will read that, in spite of the fact that the Quiché and Cakchiquel tribes claim origin in the legendary city of Tollán, throughout their trip until they reach the Guatemalan Highlands (they) encounter only tribes speaking a language similar to their own. The country between the Laguna de Terminos and the Usumacinta region was and still is populated by Chol Mayas. Consequently, the Quiché and Cakchiqueles must have understood this language, and therefore were also Maya speakers. When they reached Guatemala, they met the Maya and, in the Annals, they referred to them as "stutterers", thus implying that they spoke a language somewhat similar to their own. J. Eric Thompson, a few years ago advanced the theory that the Itzás who came to Chichén Itzá about 1000 A.D. were Mexican-influenced Chontal Maya Indians from the Laguna de Terminos region. The Yucatecan Mayas called the Itzá invaders "stutterers", or "people who speak our language brokenly". I therefore suggest that the Quichés and Cakchiqueles were equally Nahuatl-influenced Chontal Mayas. I think that the story is as follows: the priest king Quetzalcóatl/Kukulcán/Gucumatz was expelled by his enemies from Tula (Tollán), sometime around 960 A.D. He left with a small group of his followers and went to Tlapallan, that is, the Laguna de Terminos region. Here he apparently settled down. It would seem that some of the Chontal tribes accepted the mushroom cult introduced by him and after a few years, the pressure of enemy tribes forced them to move on, led by descendants of Quetzalcóatl and his followers. Some went northeast to Chichén Itzá; others moved southward following the Usumacinta toward Guatemala. The archaeological picture of Northern Guatemala favors this theory. Linguistically, it is far more plausible than the other. The few leaders could still refer to their homeland as Tollán, and probably continued for a while to speak Nahuatl. The great mass of followers, however, did not speak this language and therefore probably spoke Chontal Maya. The Quiché and Cakchiquel Maya are, of course, linguistically related to the Chol and Chontal Maya. Please understand, this is a completely new theory. I am in the process of gathering archaeological data, which might support it." 

What is commonly and rather ambiguously referred to as the Mexican Period in Yucatan are the years from A.D. 987 to 1224, when Chichen Itza was dominated by the Toltecs (Muriel Porter Weaver 1972 p.222). Toltec influence on the Maya of Yucatan can easily be seen in the architectural design of temples, palace monuments and ballcourts at the ruins of Chichén Itzá. Religions blended at Chichen Itza where we find the Toltec cult of Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl mingling with the Mayan long-nosed god Chaac. As mentioned earlier, "Many authorities consider God B to represent Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, whose Aztec equivalent is Quetzalcoatl (Herbert Spiden 1975 p.62). We find images of decapitated ballplayers carved on the walls of formal ballcourts at El Tajín and Chichén Itzá that supports the western origin of the ballgame carried by the Putún-descended peoples when they relocated north to Chichén Itzá and south to the Guatemala Highlands.

Borhegyi called into question the construction date of the Great Ballcourt at Chichén Itzá, one of seven ball courts known to exist. He and fellow archaeologist Lee A. Parsons believed that this Great Ballcourt was built much earlier than previously supposed, possibly Mid to Late Classic period (Borhegyi, de, 1980: 12, 25). Borhegyi believed that the stone ballcourt rings at the Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza were an Early Post-Classic addition and indicated a later change of rules in the way the game was played. He further believed the gruesome human decapitation scenes and human "skull balls" were Late Classic and were influenced by the "Tajínized Nonoalca" (Pipils) or the Olmeca-Xicallanca who spread during that period from the Gulf Coast to Yucatan and through the Petén rainforest as far as the Pacific coast of Guatemala (Borhegyi de, 1980: 25). Ballgame reliefs from the Pacific Slope of Guatemala are contemporary with those of the Great Ball Court complex at Chichen Itza (Susan Milbrath 1999 p.82). 

One of the early Spanish chroniclers, Diego Muñoz Camargo, recorded that the grand city of Cholula, famous for the Great Pyramid dedicated to Quetzalcóatl, was the capital of the Olmeca Xicallanca who were from the important coastal trading center of Xicalango, located in southern Campeche. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, this was an important coastal trading center controlled by a seafaring people known as the Putún Maya who may have been related either culturally or linguistically to an earlier Olmec culture.  Archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson proposed that the Itzá who came into northern Yucatan were Chontal Mayan speakers (Thompson, 1970: 3-5). Thompson described the Itzá’s as the Putún Maya, a group of Mexicanized Chontal Mayan speakers from the Gulf coastal area, who were sea traders who controlled Chichén Itzá shortly after A.D. 900. Most historians believe now that the God-king Kukulcán and the Toltec priest-ruler Topiltzin Quetzacóatl, both meaning "Plumed Serpent," were one and the same man.  


The great cities of Cholula, El Tajín, Xochicalco and Cacaxtla all contributed to the downfall of Teotihuacán, but Cholula may have benefited the most from the collapse of Teotihuacán where it served as a haven for its survivors after its destruction around A.D. 700 by barbaric invaders from the north. The city was burned and purposely destroyed and by A.D. 750, Teotihuacan was a ghost of its former self (Muriel Porter Weaver 1972  p.139).

Cholula's prosperity grew immediately, and it expanded its Great Pyramid honoring their god-king Quetzalcóatl to cover an area of over 500,000 sq. feet, making it the widest pyramid in the world. All these cities experienced a revival of ballgame rituals associated with Olmec influenced fertility rites that included human decapitation. 

Cholula emerges as the cultural giant where the worship of Quetzalcóatl flourished. Spanish chronicler Friar Toribio de Benavente, affectionately called Motolinia by the Indians, wrote in his Memoriales that followers of Quetzalcóatl came to Cholula to give their lives in sacrifice, in return for immortality. He described the great ceremony to Quetzalcóatl which lasted eight days which, coincidentally, is the same number of days that, according to legend, Quetzalcóatl was in the underworld creating humanity by bloodletting on the bones of his father and the bones of past generations. He then emerged from the underworld resurrected as the Morning Star. 

Motolinia named a star Lucifer (most likely Venus) which the Indians adored “more than any other save the sun, and performed more ritual sacrifices for it than for any other creature, celestial or terrestrial” (LaFaye, 1987: 141). 

Bartolome de las Casas, a Bishop of Chiapas in the mid-1500s, reported that: "after the sun, which they held as their principal god, they honored and worshiped a certain star more than any other denizen of the heavens or earth, because they held it as certain that their god Quetzalcóatl, the highest god of the Cholulans, when he died transformed into this star" (Christenson, 2007: 205). Las Casas further noted that the Indians awaited the appearance of this star in the east each day, and that when it appeared their priests offered many sacrifices, including incense and their own blood (Christenson, 2007: 205).  

Spanish chronicles tell us that the Aztecs and Toltecs attributed their enlightenment to Quetzalcóatl. In the 16th century, Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded in his Florentine Codex (Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, 1547-1582) that: They (the Indians) were very devout. Only one was their God; they showed all attention to, they called upon, they prayed to one by the name of Quetzalcóatl … the one that was perfect in the performance of all the customs, exercises and learning (wisdom) observed by the ministers of the idols, was elected highest pontiff; he was elected by the king or chief and all the principals (foremost men), and they called him Quetzalcóatl. (Sahagún, 1950, vol. 10: 160). 

Friar Sahagún (in book 9 of 12) refers to mushrooms with a group of traveling priests merchants known as the pochtecas, meaning merchants who lead because they were followers of Quetzalcóatl, who they worshiped under the patron name Yiacatecuhtli or Yacateuctli, Lord of the Vanguard. He describes the mushroom’s effects and their use in several passages of his Florentine Codex (“Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España”). He records how the merchants celebrated the return from a successful business trip with a wild mushroom party. 

The pochteca (pochtecatl), who occupied a high status in Aztec society acquiring luxury goods for its ruler, journeyed under military protection, in all directions carrying merchandise as well as spreading the religion of their god-king Quetzalcóatl. The pochteca are the subject of Book 9 of the Florentine Codex, where it mentions: "The eating of mushrooms was sometimes also part of a longer ceremony performed by merchants returning from a trading expedition to the coast lands. The merchants, who arrived on a day of favorable aspect, organized a feast and ceremony of thanksgiving also on a day of favorable aspect. As a prelude to the ceremony of eating mushrooms, they sacrificed a quail, offered incense to the four directions, and made offerings to the gods of flowers and fragrant herbs. The eating of mushrooms took place in the earlier part of the evening. At midnight a feast followed, and toward dawn the various offerings to the gods, or the remains of them, were ceremonially buried" (Sahagún, Book 9 chapter viii; Florentine Codex, fol 3 Ir-3 Iv).

The Toltec influenced Pipils, (Mexican invaders) a term that applies loosely to the speech and culture of various Nahuat-speaking groups whose influence (deity cults and art styles) penetrated the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area from Central Mexico. The Pipils probably brought with them their ballgame paraphernalia, such as stone yokes, and thin stone ballgame hachas, as well as plumbate pottery, and tenoned stone heads. The sculptures at the Cotzumalhuapa sites along  the Pacific coastal area of Guatemala  and Mexico have been attributed to the Pipils (Herbert J. Spinden 1975 p.214). 

Borhegyi postulated several waves of Pipil intrusion, but that these Pipil-Toltec migrations, were not migrating families but rather religious leaders or merchants, under military protection from their ruler. According to Borhegyi there is archaeological evidence to support the idea that woman were left behind and took no part in the foreign occupation (Borhegyi 1965b). The second Tajinized-Teotihuacan-Pipil intrusion into the highland Maya area in the Late Classic period after the destruction of Teotihuacan, A.D. 700-900 coincides with the general abandonment of the valley sites as ceremonial centers and the beginnings of hilltop defensive sites (Muriel Porter Weaver 1972 p. 149-152). Borhegyi attributes this group for the initial warlike conditions that pushed settlements to the hilltops (Borhegyi 1965a:30-41). These groups were followers of the god-king Quetzalcoatl, and in their migration from the Mexican Gulf Coast, into the Guatemala Highlands and along the Pacific slope, they brought with them an earlier Olmec culture including ballgame rituals of human decapitation and a trophy head cult (S.F. de Borhegyi 1960, Field Report).

According to Borhegyi in a letter to Gordon Wasson,  "the Teotihuacan overlords in the Maya Highlands were repressing various such native highland Maya cults or rituals during Early Classic times as the ones related to the three-pronged cencer cult, figurine cult, and mushroom cult, etc...These cults were much in vogue during Pre-Classic times, then disappear during the Classic Period (or forced underground, because a tabu), and reassert themselves again in the Late Classic after the fall of the Teotihuacan. It's likely that mushroom stones persisted during these times but, there is no stratigraphic evidence for this. If the Teotihuacanos did indeed consume sacred mushrooms in their rituals, they did not like them represented and venerated in the form of stone images. The total absence of mushroom stones in the Valley of Mexico and other Teotihuacan dominated areas would substantiate my statement" (letter from Borhegyi to Wasson, February 12, 1968)  

The general belief has been that the Quiché Maya and Cakchiqueles who both claimed Toltec ancestry, entered the Guatemalan highlands from the eastern lowlands after the abandonment of Chichén Itzá in Yucatan. The date in textbooks for their entry has been set between A.D. 1250-1300, using the GMT correlation (Porter Weaver, 1981: 477). The Quiché Maya, whose traditions and history are recorded in the Popol Vuh, claim that their migration was led under the spiritual “guidance” of their patron god named Tohil who is now considered to be a variant of Quetzalcóatl and Kukulcan (Hugh Fox, 1987: 248). 

According to S.W. Miles, the archaeologist Robert Wauchope, who worked at three main sites at Gumaarcah, Iximche, and Zacualpa during the late 1940s, could not find “archaeological coordination earlier than ca. A.D. 1300, between ceramics and genealogical reckoning” (Miles, 1965: 282-283). 

Borhegyi questioned this date in his letter to Wauchope dated April 8, 1954 (Milwaukee Public Museum Archives), explaining: I will try to put down in as concise form as possible, my questions concerning Quiche archaeology:  

1) "As you know, Dick Woodbury found cremations in Tohil effigy jars at Zaculeu. If cremations are to be connected with the Quiche expansion under Quicab this would mean that Zaculeu was occupied by them during the Early Post-Classic period. 2) You postulated Quicab's reign in the middle of the 15th century. These lately discovered cremations at Zaculeu would infer an earlier date for this reign, i.e., around 1300. If I remember correctly, you derive the date for Quicab's reign from a passage in the Annals of the Cakchiquels, which states that the daughter-in-law of Quicab died in 1507. Can it be that this passage refers to Quicab II, and not to Quicab I? In this case, Quicab I could have reigned in 1300. 3) I think the arrival of the Quiche-Cakchiquel's to Guatemala (probably following the Usumacinta River from the Laguna de Terminos) can be correlated with the first appearance of Fine Orange X wares, Mexican onyx vases, Tohil plumbate, and effigy support tripod bowls. ... On the other hand, the Quiche expansion under the reign of King Quicab falls together with the distribution of white-on-red ware, red on buff ware, red-and-black-on-white ware, and micaceous ware. This data also suggests a reign of around 1300 for Quicab. 4) I have long wondered about the quick "Mayanization" of the Quiche and Cakchiquel tribes, who supposedly came from Tulan. Using Morris Swadesh's lexicostatistical system, it is quite improbable that by the time of the conquest all these tribes could have spoken Maya with practically no retention of their original language. Could it be that the Quiche and Cakchiquels, like the Itzas and Xius of Yucatan were actually Chontal speaking Mayas from the Laguna de Terminos region, who wandered southward after being influenced by Nahuatl speaking groups? I wonder if Quetzalcoatl, after leaving Tula for Tlapalan, settled among these Chontal Mayas and introduced among them a new religious cult, based on the worship of idols. Could it be that only a few of Quetzalcoatl's followers (who actually could trace their origin to Tula) led these Chontal Mayas down into Guatemala? If so, they must have arrived to the borders of Guatemala around 1000 and not, as you once postulated, around 1300. Their arrival, around 1000 AD coincides with the appearance of Fine Orange X wares, Tohil plumbate etc. (we have lately found Tohil plumbate sherds at Altar de Sacrificios and at Santa Amelia). I would appreciate very much your comments on this hypothesis and questions mentioned above. If you'd like, I could even write it up for the Research Records, amplified with the latest distributional studies of the abovementioned wares. At any rate, I would be very much interested to know your opinion"

 As ever, Steve 

Thompson argued that Fine Orange wares were manufactured by Putun (Chontal) Maya, presumably living in the Usumacinta Valley (Robert Rands 1973, The Classic Maya Collapse p.205), and proposed that the Itzá who came into northern Yucatan were Chontal Mayan speakers from the Gulf coastal area, who invaded Chichén Itzá shortly after A.D. 900 (Thompson, 1970: 3-5). Some went northeast to Chichén Itzá; others moved southward following the Usumacinta toward Guatemala. The archaeological picture of Northern Guatemala favors this theory. As mentioned earlier, Borhegyi believed the Quiché and Cakchiquel Maya were also Nahuatl-influenced Chontal Mayas as both were linguistically related and shared a common Toltec-inspired genealogical origin (Borhegyi letter to Wasson, March 22, 1954). The loyalty of these groups to their hometown of Tula is evident in the native legends relating to various long journeys taken by the Quiche and Cakchiquel royal princes to receive the insignia of royalty and the picture writings of Tulan from the court of Nacxit (Kukulkan, Quetzalcoatl) the Lord King of the East (S.F. de Borhegyi 1965a p.54).

Toltec influence can be seen throughout the Guatemala Highlands at a number of archaeological sites like Kaminaljuyú and Zacuala, and along the Pacific slope area known for its important cacao plantations, a region in which the sculptural style at sites like El Baúl, Bilbao and El Castillo is a mixture of both Maya and Mexican elements called Cotzumalhuapa.

More recent archaeological evidence suggests that Borhegyi’s original date of A.D. 1000 was right after all. One archaeological site along the Pacific slope that provides clear evidence of both Olmec and Maya development is the archaeological site of Tak’alik Ab’aj (formerly called Abaj Takalik), a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Guatemala. This area runs along the intercontinental mountain range which was heavily influenced in Preclassic times by the powerful Olmec culture. 

            Maya archaeologist Marion Popenoe de Hatch (2005: 1) noted that: 

"According to the stratigraphic evidence and the analysis of ceramics recovered in recent excavation, it would seem that Tak’alik Ab’aj was conquered by K’iche (Quiche) groups at the beginning of the Early Postclassic period (ca. 1000 AD). This date goes a long way back from the period comprised between 1400 and 1450 AD that many ethno-historians claimed for the K’iche expansion towards the South Coast of Guatemala"… "The problem is when, and the Tak’alik Ab’aj information suggests that the expansion had been initiated at the beginning of the Early Postclassic period and not at the beginning of the Late Postclassic, that is to say around 1000 AD, contemporary to the dispersion of the Tihil Plumbate pottery. The chronicle states that the conquest took place in 1300 AD, but archaeological evidence shows that this happened around three centuries prior to that date, that is, around 1000 AD." 


Rituals of Resurrection:

In the Popol Vuh, a book on the mythology, astronomy, history, religion, and the legends of the Quiche and Cakchiquel people, there are numerous passages that reveal obscure connections between Maya creation myths, the ballgame, ritual decapitation, self decapitation (Borhegyi,1969: 501) and Maya astronomy, involving the movement of the sun, moon, and the planet Venus that are commonly depicted on  Maya vase paintings. 

Anthropologist Dennis Tedlock who translated the Popol Vuh into English in 1985, identified five episodes in the Popol Vuh involving underworld decapitation and self-decapitation. In one episode, the ball playing Hero Twins decapitate themselves in the underworld in order to come back to life. Tedlock explained that, based on evidence discovered by Borhegyi, he does not rule out the presence of an Amanita muscaria mushroom cult in the Popol Vuh (Tedlock, 1985: 250). 

Among the ancient Maya, and Nahua, the ballgame and human sacrifice and the ritual of decapitation were believed necessary to save mankind from calamity and the cosmos from collapse. Since the greatest gift one could offer the gods was one’s own life, emulating the ways of Quetzalcoatl, who took his own life, to create the fifth sun, the purpose of human sacrifice was to preserve life rather than destroy it (Muriel Porter Weaver 1972 p. 205). I believe strongly that this concept of life from death via ritual decapitation could only have been inspired by the divine mushroom.

Gordon Wasson believed that the origin of ritual decapitation may lay in the mushroom religion itself and terminology used in reference to mushroom parts. In a letter to Borhegyi dated June 7, 1954, he writes of the Mixe (a linguistic group of northeast Oaxaca) continuing use of the psilocybin mushroom: 

"The cap of the mushroom in Mije (or Mixe) is called kobahk, the same word for head. In Kiche and Kakchiquel it is doubtless the same, and kolom ocox is not “mushroom heads”, but mushroom caps, or in scientific terminology, the pileus of the mushroom. The Mije in their mushroom cult always sever the stem or stipe (in Mije, tek is “leg”) from the cap, and the cap alone is eaten. Great insistence is laid on this separation of cap from stem. This is in accordance with the offering of “mushroom head” in the Annals of the Cakchiqueles and the Popol Vuh. The writers had in mind the removal of the stems. The top of the cap is yellow and the rest is the color of coffee, with the gills of a color between yellow and coffee. They call this mushroom, pitpa "thread-like", the smallest, perhaps 2 horizontal fingers high, with a cap small for the height, growing everywhere in clean earth, often along the mountain trails with many in a single place. In Mije the cap of the mushroom is called the "head" "kobahk in the dialect of Mazatlán. When the “heads” are consumed, they are not chewed, but swallowed fast one after the other, in pairs". 

 In the Annals of the Cakchiqueles, the Quichés are called “thunderers” because they worship and venerate a Thunderbolt god, and were given the name Tohohils. Tedlock (1985: 251), specifically notes: The single most suggestive bit of evidence for the mushroom theory lies in the fact that a later Popol Vuh passage gives Newborn Thunderbolt and Raw Thunderbolt two further names: Newborn Nanahuac and Raw Nanahuac. …Nanahuac would appear to be the same as the Aztec deity Nanahuatl (or Nanahuatzin), who throws a thunderbolt to open the mountain containing the first corn. Nanahuatl means “warts” in Nahua, which suggests the appearance of the Amanita muscaria when the remnants of its veil still fleck the cap. The etymology of the name of the Thunderbolt god Hurican, or Juraqun means “one leg”, and there is plenty of evidence that the belief in a one-legged god was widespread throughout Mesoamerica (Christenson, 2007: 60). 

It may be that the one-legged gods of Mesoamerica, represent the divine mushroom and that the one-leg refers to the mushroom's stem or stipe, as well as to lightning.  Tedlock's analysis of the Popol Vuh reveals that "the three q'abawil were wooden and stone deities called Cacula Huracan, Lightning One-leg"; Chipa Cacula, "Youngest or Smallest Lightning"; and "Sudden or Violent Lightning" and suggests that spirit is manifested within material objects (Tedlock,1985, 249-251).  One-legged gods in Mesoamerica like the Maya god K'awil whose face is derived from a serpent, and his Aztec counterpart Tezcatlipoca may be an esoteric metaphor for the divine mushroom--a one-legged god manifested from the power of lightning. Since it was believed that stones were created from lightning, and the spirit K'awil entered this world through lightning into material objects, stones may have been carved to look like mushrooms, in order to worship K'awil as a one-legged god of divine transformation. The mushroom stones, were most likely venerated with the blood of human and animal sacrifices.  

Tedlock mentions that the principal gods among the Quiché Maya are listed “again and again” as Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz and called these three gods "the three Thunderbolts", their names being, Thunderbolt Hurican, Newborn Thunderbolt, and Raw Thunderbolt, alluding to a Trinity of Maya gods.

Evidence of a trinity of gods among the ancient Maya was also supplied by Ethno-mycologist Bernard Lowy, who linked sacred mushrooms with lightning and a creation myth, and a trinity of creator gods associated with divine rulership. He reported that cakulha was not only the Quiché term for thunderbolt but is also the Quiché Maya name for the Amanita muscaria mushroom (Lowy, 1974: 189). The Quiche speakers do not know why Amanita muscaria (cakulha, spelled kakulja in Wasson  1980:229) is the word for lightning-bolt god and no longer think of the word's meaning when they use it, but cakulha is the god of the lightning-bolt and that this Quiche term is found in the Popol Vuh (Wasson  1980:229). 

Quoting Bernard Lowy:

"Kakulja is one of a trinity of gods referred to in the Popol Vuh as "Kakulja Huracan" which enigmatically refers to "a single leg" that is, the single shaft of the thunderbolt. Where this shaft struck the earth the miraculous mushroom Amanita muscaria arose. Relating this to Vedic myth, we have a further, unexpected verification of the meaning of Soma. Does not this "single leg" also reveal the meaning of the riddle cited by Wasson in the traditional verse sung by German children..."Sag' wer mag das Mannlein sein Das da steht auf einem Bein ?"  (Bernard Lowy, Ethnomycological Inferences from Mushroom stones, Maya Codices, and Tzutuhil Legend 1980 pp.94-103) 

It worth mentioning that in Hindu tradition recorded in the Rig Veda, it is stated that Parjanya the god of thunder was the father of Soma (Wasson 1969).
Lowy (1980: 99) wrote: During a visit to Guatemala in the summer of 1978, I stayed in the village of Santiago de Atitlan, a community where Tzutuhil [Mayan] is spoken and where ancient traditions and folkways are still maintained. There I learned that in Tzutuhil legend mushrooms are intimately associated with the creation myth.  That in the Quiché Maya pantheon the god Cakulja, he of the lightning bolt, one of a trilogy of supreme gods, is revered above all others, and in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book in which the traditions of the Quiché people are recorded, his position of ascendancy is made clear. 

There is a passage in the Popol Vuh in which the Quiché gods were carried on their back in pack frames: We have found that for which we have searched, they said. The first god to go out was Tohil, carried in his pack frame by Balam Quitze. Then the god Auilix was carried out by Balam Acab, followed by Hacavitz, the name of the god received by Mahucutah… At the suggestion of Tohil, the Quichés leave Tollán. They sacrifice their own blood to him, passing cords through their ears and elbows, and they sing a song called ‘The Blame is Ours’, lamenting the fact that they will not be in Tollán when the times comes for the first dawn. Packing their gods on their backs and watching continuously for the appearance of the Morning Star, they began a long migration. (Christenson, 2007: 198). 

Above is a Type D tripod mushroom stone from Guatemala that has a human effigy on the stem (Late Classic, A.D. 600-900).  According to the Popol Vuh, the founders of the Quichéan lineages traveled a great distance eastward “across the sea” to the Toltec city called Tulan Zuyva where they received their gods “whom they then carried home in bundles on their backs” (Allen J. Christenson, 2007: 198) The mushroom stone figure wears a traditional mecapal strapped around his forehead (tumpline) to carry what appears to me to be a giant mushroom on his back, or is it the god Tohil? (Photo by Stan Czolowski, A Brief History of Magic Mushrooms in BC [2018], Vancouver Mycological Society: 

Above is a Late Classic period Maya vase K4932 from the Justin Kerr Database (Photo by Justin Kerr). The author proposes that the transparent bundles depicted on this vase painting may actually be filled with Amanita muscaria mushrooms, the Quiche gods “whom they then carried home in bundles on their backs” (Allen J. Christenson, 2007: 198) .

The followers of Lord Quetzalcoatl, I believe, came to the conviction very early on that, under the influence of the sacred mushroom, a divine force actually entered into their body--a state described as "god within".  Because mushrooms appeared to spring magically over night  from the underworld, apparently sparked by the powers of lightning, wind and rain,  it would have been easy for these ancients  to conclude that they were divine gifts brought to them by the wind god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, and the rain god Tlaloc, both of them avatars of the planet Venus. 

In Mesoamerica, it was the God-king Quetzalcoatl who came down from the sky, and he taught that mankind must eat the sacred mushroom and make blood sacrifices in order to achieve immortality. Above is a scene from Page 24 of the Codex Vindobonensis, that portrays the Wind God Ehecatl-Quetzalcóatl carrying what appears to be a mushroom god on his back, similar to the story in the Popol Vuh, where the founders of the Quichéan lineages traveled a great distance eastward “across the sea” to the Toltec city called Tulan Zuyva where they received their gods “whom they then carried home in bundles on their backs” (Christenson, 2007: 198) According to Ethno-archaeologist Peter Furst, the scene on page 24 depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms (1981, pp.151-155). 

Above on the left is a incense burner with the head of the Mexican Storm God named Tlaloc, also known as, "The Master". The god Tlaloc shared the same temple as Quetzalcoatl (Twin temple) at the great city of Teotihuacan, where archaeologists have found the remains of some 200 sacrificial victims, buried under the temple. As a Rain and Thunderbolt God, Tlaloc provided the sustenance needed for everlasting life, in return for the shedding of human blood on earth.  

Borhegyi noted to Wasson in his letter of March 3, 1954: "Unfortunately, we do not know what the stone idols of Tohil, and Avilix looked like. Tohil is referred to in the Annals as Gucumatz, which is “feathered serpent” a variant of the name Quetzalcoatl and we might assume that he was so represented. However, What type of god Avilix was is still a question? (It would be more than pleasant to think of him as a mushroom God!) I think they prove beyond any doubt that at least some sort of a mushroom cult must have existed among the Quiché and Cakchiquel Mayas". 

We are told that the Quiché tried to overthrow the Cakchiquel Maya at their capital of Iximche, but the Quiché were defeated, and that Cakchiquel warriors stole from the Quiché the divine image of their god Tohil (Figure 12), and that this stolen idol deprived the Quiché of their divine power, and the Quiché did not dare attack the Cakchiquel again on their home ground (Sachse, 2001: 363). 

We now know that the ancient Maya of the Guatemala Highlands apparently deified certain mushrooms, in particular the Amanita muscaria mushroom, which they portrayed in small stone sculptures known as mushroom stones, that have been interpreted as evidence for the usage of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mesoamerica spanning almost 3,000 years (S.F de Borhegyi 1961).  Above is a (Type A) effigy mushroom stone, the only one in the museum at the archaeological site of Iximché, the capital of the Cakchiquel Maya in the western highlands of Guatemala. Although this effigy mushroom stone bears the image of the Mexican goggle-eyed Lightning Thunder god known as Tlaloc, it is tempting to think that this mushroom stone may represent the image of the Quiche Thunderbolt god Tohil, that the Cakchiquel warriors stole from the Quiché Maya (Photo by Carl de Borhegyi). 

According to Borhegyi the Mazatec name for the inebriating mushroom means "that which springs fourth" and that a word for mushrooms in Mije is tu;m 'uh, which has the same meaning. The god Tlaloc was located in the uplands, around the verdant mountains where the rain clouds gather. This according to Borhegyi is the elevation where we find the mushroom cult in the Mazatec and Mijr country. Dr. Edward Seler (Berlin & London, 1902-3, p.106) writes that Tlaloc means "he that makes thing sprout", being derived from tlaloa, a verb meaning to sprout. In a footnote Seler gives quotations from Sahagun where he thinks tlaloa can only mean sprout (Borhegyi to Wasson letter November 26, 1954; Wasson archives Harvard University).  

The idea that lightning produces mushrooms to sprout is almost universal because it is almost always connected with a heavy thunderstorm. Tlaloc as a Storm God is frequently represented holding a ray of lightning. In this respect, Tlaloc is also an earth god. When he throws lightning to the ground he has coitus with his female counterpart, the earth. Any object that suddenly grows up after a heavy rain storm could easily be associated as a child of this union. Few things pop up as quickly and as mysteriously as mushrooms after a rain. 

From the earliest times the stone cutter carving his volcanic rock must have associated this sacred stone with the holy mushroom that it resembled. The ancient Mayan word for stone, cauac, comes from the word for lightning. It may be that mushroom stones were placed in sacred spots where mushrooms sprouted from the ground, suggesting that it was lightning that provided the conceptual link between the sky (heaven) and Earth.

A tripod mushroom stone that was excavated by Henri Lehmann at the Post Classic ruins of Mixco Viejo, in the Department of Chimaltenango in Guatemala was found in front of a double pyramid B-3-b, at the foot of the altar structure associated with a stone ball 28 cm. in diameter. Since double pyramids are usually devoted to the Tlaloc cult, the tripod mushroom stone found in front of it may be interpreted as a relationship between the rain god cult of Tlaloc and mushroom stones (letter from Borhegyi to Wasson September 14, 1957,  Wasson Archives Harvard University ).

Above is the Mexican god Tlaloc, who is easily recognizable by his trademark goggled eyes (mushroom vision?), feline fangs, and handlebar mustache. Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl's duality as the Evening Star (Tlaloc) and Morning Star (Quetzalcoatl) aspects of Venus suggests that they were both the patron deities of Teotihuacan connected with the ruling dynasty. Tlaloc was also clearly connected with a warrior cult associated with the planet Venus. This Tlaloc-Venus warfare cult spread from the great metropolis of Teotihuacan into the Maya area during the Early Classic period when Teotihuacan was at its apex. Those who died for Tlaloc went directly to his divine paradise called Tlalocan. 

Because of Tlaloc's association with decapitation as the Evening Star aspect of Venus, Teotihuacan rulers likely portrayed themselves impersonating Tlaloc, just as their Maya counterparts impersonated Chac-Xib-Chac, or GI of the Palenque Triad. 

Quoting Gordon Wasson (1957):

"If we were to postulate mushrooms in pre-Conquest art in Mexico, we would direct our search precisely to frescos dealing with Tlaloc and the Paradise of our mushroomic visions, to the very frescos where we have found mushroomic shapes.

The celestial paradise of Tlalocan is esoterically depicted below as Mushroom Mountain, a paradise of creation and origin and the destination of the deified ruler after his death.

Above is close up image from a Mixtec pictogram, known as the Lienzo de Zacatepec  1540-1560 AD, also called the Códice Martínez Gracida, now in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, in Mexico City.  

It's my belief that the scene above in the Lienzo de Zacatepec, depicts the probable act of ritual sacrifice, and that it portrays the Mexican god Tlaloc as a death god responsible for the act of underworld decapitation. Thus Tlaloc as the Evening Star aspect of the planet Venus, represents the god of underworld resurrection. Those who died for Tlaloc, and in this case willingly by decapitation, were under his watchful eye, and went directly to his divine paradise of immortality called Tlalocan. The footprints in this scene represents a long journey by one of the royal figures above. I believe this journey is to the underworld, via sacred mushrooms, where the soon to be willing victim, or victims of ritual decapitation, resurrect from the underworld. Note the flint knife at the foot of the temple steps, that esoterically represents the ritual of decapitation. 

The encoded Fleur de lis symbol in the glyphs above next to the one of the figures, is I believe code for immortality and divine resurrection. Note that the victim's severed head below, is portrayed with mushrooms, on top of what is likely a sacred mountain or hill, that marks a sacred portal to the paradise of Tlaloc called Tlalocan, described by Fray Sahagun in the sixteenth century (Sahagun, 1946: I, 317-318) as the second of the nine resting places of the deceased, on the arduous road or journey (note footprints) to the Mictlan, the ninth and final resting place of the Aztec dead. 

According to a passage in Paso y Troncoso: Papeles de Nueva Espanana, 2nd Serie, Geografia y Estadistca, Vol IV: Relaciones Geograficas de la Diocesis de Oaxaca, (dated 15 April 1580, p. 109)

"They would worship the devil making in his likeness idols and faces of stone, very ugly to which they would sacrifice little dogs and Indian slaves and this was their worship and whom they took for gods; and after they had made some such sacrifice it was their custom to dance and get drunk on some mushrooms in such a manner that they would see many visions and fearful figures" (Wasson 1980 p. 218) 

From the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel

"It is most necessary to believe this. These are the precious stones which our Lord, the Father, has abandoned. This was his first repast, this balche, with which we, the ruling men revere him here. Very rightly they worshiped as true gods these precious stones, when the true God was established our Lord God, the Lord of Heaven and earth, the true God. Nevertheless, the first gods were perishable gods. Their worship came to its inevitable end. They lost their efficacy by the  benediction of the Lord of Heaven, after the redemption of the world was accomplished, after the resurrection of the true God, the true Dios, when he blessed heaven and earth. Then was your worship abolished, Maya men. Turn away your hearts from your old religion" (Inga Clendinnen, 1987 p.161)

In the highlands of Guatemala where the majority of mushroom stones have been found, and where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance, archaeologists working at the Preclassic site of Kaminajuyu discovered nine miniature mushroom stones in a Maya tomb, along with nine mortars and pestles, stone tools which were likely used in the mushroom's preparatory rites (see S.F de Borhegyi,1961, 498-504). Borhegyi noted the significance of the number nine with a group of nine deities known as the "Nine Lords of the Night", and gods of the underworld (de Borhegyi, S.F. 1961 p.501-503). 

In Mesoamerica the Nine Lords of the Night, were responsible for guiding the Sun, into the underworld to be sacrificed by ritual decapitation and reborn again as baby jaguar, the new born Sun God. In Maya religion the monkey represents the first of the Nine Lords of the Night or underworld. Called the Bolon Ti Ku, in Yucatec, the first god associated with re-birth was the Monkey (GI) and Quetzalcoatl (G9) was the last, associated with death, decapitation and time's completion. The word "Ku" in Classic Maya glyphs was assigned to the monkey god and in glyphs his monkey profile was used to describe "holy" or "divine," referring to "god",  Lord, or king (M.D. Coe 2001, p.109).

              Quoting Stephan de Borhegyi, describing the contents of the Kaminaljuyu cache: 

"The cache of nine miniature mushroom stones demonstrates considerable antiquity for the "mushroom-stone cult," and suggests a possible association with the nine lords of the night and gods of the underworld, as well as the possible existence of a nine-day cycle and nocturnal count in Preclassic times. The association of the miniature mushroom stones with the miniature metates and manos greatly strengthens the possibility that at least in some areas in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica metates were used to grind the sacred hallucinatory mushrooms to prepare them for ceremonial consumption." (de Borhegyi 1961: 498-504)

There is a Nahua legend in ancient Mexico of a paradise of "nine heavens" [or maybe Underworld ?] that was dedicated to their god Quetzalcoatl, called Tamoanchan where there was a sacred tree that marked the place where the gods were born and where sacred mushrooms and all life derived (Hugh Thomas 1993, p.474).   Aztec poems recorded by Spanish scribes, speak of a land called Tamoanchan, which translated from the Mayan language means "Land of the Serpent". It was said that "this was a land settled long before the founding of Teotihuacan, where there was a government for a long time, and it was a paradise of gods, ancestors, and humans".    

Borhegyi writes that Maya cosmology included Nine Gods of the Underworld, and thirteen Gods of the heaven (Borhegyi letter to Wasson August 31, 1954 Wasson Archives Harvard University)     

According to testimony recorded in 1554 in the Colonial document entitled El Titulo de Totonicapan (Land Title of Totonicapan), the Quiché Maya revered mushroom stones as symbols of power and rulership, and before them they performed rituals (of blood sacrifice) to pierce and cut up their bodies. (Sachse, 2001, 363).

"  The lords used these symbols of rule, which came from where the sun rises, to pierce and cut up their bodies (for the blood sacrifice). There were nine mushroom stones for the Ajpop and the Ajpop Q'amja, and in each case four, three, two, and one staffs with the Quetzal's feathers and green feathers, together with garlands, the Chalchihuites precious stones, with the sagging lower jaw and the bundle of fire for the Temezcal steam bath."

Maya archaeologist David H. Kelley also noted the significance of the number nine and the similarity between the Mesoamerican calendar and the cycle of the Nine Lords of the Night, to the Hindu planetary week of nine days, and noted the parallel belief of four previous world ages and their cataclysmic destruction, a belief shared by Hindus, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians (Susan Milbrath, 1999, p.292).  Kelley pointed out that within the twenty named days of the 260-day calendar there is a sequence of animals that can be matched in similar sequence within the lunar zodiacs of many East and Southeast-Asian civilizations, a resemblance, according to archaeologist Michael Coe far to close to be merely coincidental (M.D. Coe, The Maya, fifth edition 1999, p.45).

Dr. Paul Kirchhoff was of the opinion that the Aztec and Maya ritual calendar was a Chinese invention. (The Ancient Past of Mexico 1966, Alma M. Reed p.41-42), and Dr. George C. Vaillant noted that at the ancient site of Zacatenco, in the central valley of Mexico, a settlement that flourished around 1100 B.C., had burials with  bodies covered with red cinnabar and buried with jade funerary offerings, a burial custom also found in China (Alma Reed, 1966, p.17).

             Anthropologist Alice B. Kehoe...

"China and Mesoamerica shared the complication of two simultaneous calendars, of differing lengths, that meshed like cogwheels, arriving at the same day starting point every so many years, 52 for Mesoamerica, 60 for China".   (Alice B. Kehoe, 2008, Controversies In Archaeology, p.162).

Over the years the author has found an abundance of archaeological evidence supporting the proposition that Mesoamerica, the high cultures of South America, and Easter Island shared, along with many other New World cultures, elements of a mushroom based belief system, and like the Vedic god Soma of ancient Hinduism, was worshiped and venerated as a god in ancient Mesoamerica. The author's discovery of the Fleur de lis symbol encoded in Pre-Columbian art as a symbol of divinity, leads the author to conclude that, in addition to the ancient mushroom cult first proposed by Borhegyi and Wasson, other Vedic inspired traditions migrated to the Americas as early as 1000 B.C.E., and that the Indians of the New World modeled their religion on Vedic beliefs and ritual practices. It is therefore particularly interesting that my study of mushroom symbolism in  pre-Columbian art has led me to a number of striking parallels between the visual imagery of Central and Southeast Asia, and Mesoamerica, and South America, including Easter Island. 

In the course of my studies I have found mushroom-Venus related symbolism in the art of the Rapa Nui civilization of Easter Island.  Above on the left is a effigy mushroom stone from Guatemala, and on the right is a giant Moai statue from Easter Island. To my knowledge I am the first to note the interesting fact that many of the Moai statues on Easter Island appear to have a mushroom of sorts encoded into their head and noses, and that both the Maya mushroom stone and Moai statues share the "exact same" ear design.

The petroglyph drawing on the right is by Lorenzo Dominguez (1901-1963).  When asked what it meant, the Easter Islanders replied that it represented "Make Make," their creator god ( The Maya Venus glyph on the left is from Michael Coe's book Reading The Maya Glyphs 2001 p.163) 

The drawing of this petroglyph and others on Easter Island bear a striking resemblance to Venus symbols found in Pre-Columbian art among the ancient Maya depicting the ancient Mexican god Tlaloc. Scholars have noted very early images of Tlaloc in the archaeological record in Mesoamerica, including ancient rock art, going back to early Olmec times. Tlaloc whose attributes are his goggled eyes and feline fangs he was known as the “provider”, a creator god just like Easter Island’s “Make Make”, who is associated with life giving rain, deadly storms, and divine lightning. Tlaloc was known as “he who made things grow”. 

In 1886, William Thomson a U.S. Naval officer and Easter Island's first scientific researcher visited Easter Island. According to Heyerdahl, Thompson found many representations of catlike figures symbolizing their supreme god, a Sun God they called Make Make. He noted that this was remarkable because there were no members of the cat family on Easter Island or anywhere else in Polynesia.

Soma in the Americas:

Much of the mushroom imagery I discovered was associated with an artistic concept I refer to as jaguar transformation. Under the influence of the hallucinogen,  the "bemushroomed" acquires feline fangs and often other attributes of the jaguar, emulating the Sun God in the Underworld. This esoteric association of mushrooms and jaguar transformation was earlier noted by ethno-archaeologist Peter Furst, together with the fact that a dictionary of the Cakchiquel Maya language compiled circa 1699 lists a mushroom called "jaguar ear" (1976:78, 80).  

The fact that sacred mushrooms had not been noted earlier is explained by the way these images were so cleverly encoded into the art that they became almost invisible. Invariably the mushroom imagery was associated with ritual sacrifice in the Underworld, with jaguar transformation and period endings, and with the decapitation and resurrection of the Underworld Sun God by a pair of deities associated with the planet Venus as both the Morning Star and Evening star. Mushrooms, in fact, are so closely associated with underworld jaguar transformation, and underworld jaguar resurrection, that they must have been believed to be the vehicle through which both were accomplished. They are also so closely associated with ritual decapitation, that their ingestion may have been considered essential to the ritual itself, whether in real life or symbolically in the underworld.

The were-jaguar appears in the art of the ancient Olmecs as early as 1200 B.C. Like the Vedic god Soma, the Amanita muscaria mushroom of Mesoamerica assumes, from earliest times, the persona of the god itself. In Mesoamerica this god took the form of the "were-jaguar" a half-human, half-jaguar deity first described and named in 1955 by archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling. 

The so-called "Olmec snarl"  a common motif in Olmec art may represent the powerful effects of the Amanita muscaria, and Amanita pantherina (also hallucinogenic) mushrooms, resulting in were-jaguar transformation. Mushroom intoxication, according to Spanish reports gave sorcerers (priests or shamans), the power to seemingly change themselves into animals, and that the powerful visions and voices the mushrooms produced were believed to be from God. Its the author's belief that jaguar transformation symbolizes the soul's journey into the underworld where it will undergo jaguar transformation, and ritual decapitation, and thus divine resurrection. The were-jaguar eventually came to be worshiped and venerated throughout Central and South America.

Claude Levi-Strauss, author of Structural Anthropology, Vol. 2:

"Several varieties of Amanita muscaria exist, their color ranging from brilliant red to yellow-gold. To describe the soma, the Rig-Veda constantly use the word hari, which takes in this range of colors; and when substitutes came to be used, those with red coloration were favored" (p.26)  

While at first glance the face of the "Weeping Gods" gives the illusion of a deity with dangling or disembodied eye-balls. However as "I discovered", if you look closely, you will see that the dangling eyeballs are actually encoded mushrooms "Hidden In Plain Sight." The photo of the "Weeping God" above left is from VanKirk, Jacques, and Parney Bassett-VanKirk,  Remarkable Remains of the Ancient Peoples of Guatemala,  Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1996.)  

According to Stephan F. de Borhegyi:

"...fanged anthropomorphic individuals with dangling eyeballs, are commonly associated with the god Quetzalcoatl in his form of Ehecatl the Wind God" ( S.F. de Borhegyi 1980:17). 

According to Wasson:       

"The disembodied eyes are the mushroom worshipper's eyes, whether open or shut, contemplating the scenes of another world, three dimensional, unearthly yet more real to the bemushroomed viewer than our world of everyday experience" (Wasson 1980 153).

"It [the mushroom] permits you to see, more clearly than our perishing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other planes of existence, even (as the Indians say) to know God." 

Gordon Wasson author of Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1968, 1971), postulated that the mysterious Soma in the Vedic literature, said to be a red fruit leading to spontaneous enlightenment for those who consumed it, was actually a mushroom known as the Amanita muscaria, the so-called Fly Agaric or toadstool mushroom. In the Rig Veda, the Soma beverage was considered to be the most precious liquid in the universe, and therefore was an indispensable aspect of all Vedic rituals, used in sacrifices to all gods. We do not actually know what plant the original Soma was, but it was the focal point of Vedic religion, and that drinking Soma produces immortality, and that the gods drank Soma to make them immortal.

             According to R. Gordon Wasson 1970:

" There is little doubt that the substance called Soma in the Rig Veda has been identified as the fungus Amanita Muscaria."

"Here was the Secret of Secrets of the Ancients, of our own remote forebears, a Secret discovered perhaps sporadically in Eurasia and again later in Mesoamerica. The Secret was a powerful motive force in the religion of the earliest times (Wasson 1980, p. 53)

Moche portrait vessels from Peru, South America. Both figures wear what appear to be mushroom inspired headdress, encoded with the Amanita muscaria mushroom. The Moche culture reigned on the north coast of Peru during the years 100-800 A.D. 

In the Rig Veda, Soma, the mystery plant around which the Vedic sacrifices took place, is described as an intoxicating liquid that was pounded or pressed out of the plant (mushroom) using special pressing stones, called Soma stones (RV IX.11.5-6;IX.109.17-18). The Rig Veda describes Soma as a small red plant having no leaves, and lacking both roots and blossoms, but having a stem that is juicy and meaty (Furst, 1976 p.97).

In the highlands of Guatemala where the majority of mushroom stones have been found, and where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance, archaeologists working at the Preclassic site of Kaminajuyu discovered nine miniature mushroom stones in a Maya tomb, along with nine mortars and pestles, stone tools which were likely used in the mushroom's preparatory rites (see S.F de Borhegyi,1961, 498-504).

While the actual identity of Soma has been lost through time, both its description and the details of its preparation seem to point not to a plant but to the Amanita muscaria mushroom. The flesh of the plant was crushed, using “Soma stones,” and the juices were filtered through wool into large jars. In a like manner, Maya mushroom stones, when they have been found in situ in the course of archaeological excavation, are often accompanied by stone grinding tools known as manos and metates. Accounts of mushroom ceremonies still in practice among the Zapotec Indians of Mexico confirm the use of these tools in the preparation of hallucinogenic mushrooms for human consumption. One must conclude that these manos and metates were used for the same purpose as the sacred stones described in the Rig Veda that were used to prepare Soma.

The association of mushroom stones with the metates and manos greatly strengthens the possibility that at least in some areas in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica metates were used to grind the sacred hallucinatory mushrooms to prepare them for ceremonial consumption." (de Borhegyi 1961: 498-504)

Wasson was the first to call attention to the pervasiveness of the toad and it's association with the term toadstool, with the intoxicating mushrooms in Europe. The Amanita muscaria mushroom is considered a poisonous and deadly mushroom, however human deaths from eating the mushroom are very rare. Wasson noted the recurrence throughout the northern hemisphere of a toad deity associated with the entheogenic mushroom (Wasson 1980, p.184-185).

            Quoting Wasson:

"In our 1953 travels throughout the Maya highlands we discovered a convergence of three ideas in one Mayan word: 'toad' 'mushroom' and for the external genital organs of the woman. Borhegyi sent us afterwards a chart in diverse Mayan languages and dialects giving us supporting evidence for this in Quiche" (Wasson 1980 pp. 185-186).  

"The toad effigy mushroom stones express a tripartite association of ideas that link in a common embrace Early Man throughout the Northern hemisphere" (Wasson 1980 p.197) 

"How far back into the stone age must this association carry us !" (Wasson 1980 p.185)

Quoting Wasson (!957)

"In the association of these ideas we strike a vein that must go back to the remotest times in Eurasia, to the Stone Age: the link between the toad, the female sex organs, and the mushroom, exemplified in the Mayan languages and the mushroom stones of the Maya Highlands. Man must have brought this association across the Bering Strait (or the land bridge that replaced it in the ice ages) as part of his intellectual luggage.?

Some of the earliest mushroom stones in Mesoamerica which date to Olmec times 1200 BCE to 400 BCE, bear toad or frog images carved on their base. The discovery of numerous toad bones in Olmec burials at San Lorenzo (1200-900 B.C.E.) suggests that the Olmecs may have used other mind-altering substances, such as hallucinogenic toad toxin, in various ritual practices (Coe, 1994:69; Furst, 1990: 28; Grube, 2001:294). Certain toads discard a toxin from the skin when touched, that can be dried and can be smoked or taken orally (Eva Hopman, 2008). 

Mushroom stones bearing toad images carved on their base have been found throughout Chiapas, Mexico, the Guatemala highlands, and along the Pacific slope as far south as El Salvador (Borhegyi de, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965a, 1965b).

Quoting R. Gordon Wasson;

“In two examples of mushroom stones, one stone has a mushroom emerging from the mouth of a giant toad, another stone has a mushroom rising from the back of a toad with an anthropomorphic face”. (Wasson, 1957; p.185) Many more such mushroom toad stones have been found...”Strangely moving is the sporadic recurrence throughout the northern hemisphere of this chthonic deity, the toad, with the entheogenic mushroom."    

It's safe to say that the ancient Olmec, Zapotec and Maya, used toad toxin and or Amanita muscaria mushrooms as additives to a hallucinogenic ritual beverage. This ritual beverage was first reported after the Spanish Conquest by Thomas Gage in the early 1600's. Gage reported that the Pokmam Maya of the Guatemala Highlands added toads to their fermented beverages to strengthen the results (The Ancient Maya, Sharer/Morley, 1983 p.484). 

Ordonez y Aguiar (1907 note 24) reports a recipe for a fermented drink of terrible strength, including a live frog to hasten the fermentation (S.W. Miles:Handbook of Middle American Indians part 1, 1965  p.286) 

Above is a painting from the Codex Ríos, a Spanish colonial-era manuscript, now in the Vatican library (also called Codex Telleriano-Remensis), attributed to Pedro de los Ríos, a Dominican friar working in Oaxaca and Puebla between 1547 and 1562. The codex itself was likely written and drawn in Italy after 1566. I believe the bearded figure probably represents an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, as the God of ritual intoxication. This figure has been identified by scholars as the goddess Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey plant (Miller and Taube 1993 p111).  The goddess Mayahuel is usually depicted as a beautiful young woman.  Note that the figure above appears to have a beard and wears a headdress that I would argue has three encoded psilocybin mushrooms emerging from appears to be a trefoil, esoteric symbolism I would argue, that may allude to a Trinity of gods. I propose that this codex figure represents Quetzalcoatl as the god of ritual intoxication. Note that the figure in question holds a ritual beverage in his right hand, that may encode two psilocybin mushrooms emerging from a trefoil. It was Quetzalcoatl who bestowed mushrooms to his children,  promising immortality  (see below page 24 Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus).

Above are scenes from the Florentine Codex (Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España), by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, between A.D. 1547-1582. Both of the pages depict what looks like the eating of sacred mushrooms before their ritual decapitation. The codex page on the right depicts what appears to be the smiling faces of willing sacrificial victims, prior to their ritual decapitation. Note that the sacrificial victims have turned their capes around to be used as the bibs and bundles for their severed heads.


In 2009 I came across a sketch (original by Rubén Manzanilla López and Arturo Talavera González) of a petroglyph that was found on a hillside in Mexico near the city of Acapulco. The petroglyph depicts what appears to me to be a monkey jumping from a mushroom, holding a five pointed Venus star in his right hand, and with an apparent Long Count date located just above the monkey's left shoulder, that reads

Published research of this petroglyph and its probable Long Count date, conducted by Pedro de Eguiluz Selvas entitled, "Origins of the Long Count," suggests that the correlation of this Long Count  date with the Christian calendar fits the Spinden correlation perfectly, making it equivalent to the year 3 Monkey in the Unified Account of Anawak (CUAN). While this identification tends to reinforce the Spinden correlation, it calls into question the generally accepted, but still unproven (Wauchope, 1965, p. 605) GMT, or Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, and its end date of December 21, 2012. Thus the Long Count date of would be an important key to locate the origin of the long count at October 14th  3373 BCE.,(Ancient Civilizations of Mexico and Central America: Herbert J. Spinden p.136) and the famous end to the Mayan Calendar at 1752 rather than in December, 2012.

Manzanilla López, Rubén y Arturo Talavera González.
México : CONACULTA: INAH, (Colección Catálogos), 2008.
ISSUE 206  ISBN: 978-9680302949  

Mexican archaeologists Manzanilla López, Rubén, and  Arturo Talavera González, published two articles on the monkey petroglyph which bears a probable Long Count date of  The date is shown between the left shoulder and the tail of a monkey holding a five-pointed star and jumping off what looks like a sacred mushroom. Researcher Pedro de Eguiluz Selvas ("Origins of the Long Count,") reports that the date as calculated by the Spinden correlation, (ie: 2168 the Gregorian calendar) corresponds in the Unified Count of Anawak correlation (CRAN) to the  year 3 Monkey  in the Maya/Olmec Calendar. There is no corresponding association using the more often cited Goodman-Thompson-Martinez correlation or GMT correlation. Further study of this date 3 Monkey is needed and might explain the many painted Maya vessels, plates, and bowls which depict three monkeys. 

Today the GMT correlation and it's 2012 end date of the Mayan calendar is associated primarily with the late Maya archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson, one of the most, influential archaeologists of his time. In recognition of Thompson's many achievements in Maya studies, he was knighted, Sir J. Eric S.Thompson in 1975 by Queen Elizabeth II, a few days after his 76th birthday.

The lack of agreement on the appropriate correlation of the Maya Calendar has been a long standing problem. Over the years numerous correlations have been proposed but, according to archaeologist Michael D. Coe, today's unofficial "Dean of Maya Studies",  of the various correlations developed to date, only the GMT 11.16, and the Spinden 12.9 correlation meet the requirements of both dirt archaeology and specific dates (The Maya, fifth edition, p.23). Since the two correlations differ by 260 years, the so-called "end date," of the Mayan Calendar according to the Spinden correlation occurred in December, 1752, compared to the GMT correlation and it's 2012 end date of the Mayan calendar.

          Quoting Archaeologist Michael D. Coe...

"any displacement in the dating of the Maya Classic Period would disrupt the entire field of Mesoamerican research, for ultimately all archaeological chronologies in this part of the world are cross-tied with the Maya Long Count" (The Maya, fifth edition 1993 p. 23)

Mesoamerican chronology is based on the correlation of the Gregorian calendar with the Maya Long Count calendar, providing historians with absolute dates. Unfortunately the Mayan calendar cannot be directly correlated with the European calendar because the long count system of dating was no longer in use by the time of the Spanish Conquest.

In order to understand the reason for all the controversy, a few words of explanation are needed to explain the problem of correlation. By the time that Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the New World, the Maya Long Count system of dating was no longer in use. It had been replaced by an abbreviated system called period-ending dating or the "Short Count", of tuns and katuns set to end on days named Ahau (also spelled Ajaw). Unlike the Long Count of the Classic period, the Short Count is not anchored to a base point. Unfortunately, no one living at the time knew how to integrate the Postclassic Short Count with the earlier Long Count system.

To give a simple example of the problem, imagine, if you will, that some time in the far past we had stopped writing out the full calendar date--say  July 12,  2010--and simply recorded all our dates as 7/12/10. While this date is clear to those of us living today, it would be very confusing for historians in the future who could be left wondering in which century the date  July 12 occurred--1710? 1910?, 2110? If no one could recall the full date for this event, historians would be left scratching their heads.

In order to understand the special nature of these associations, and why it may have been important to the ancient artist to record this date, we need to refer again to the image of the monkey in the petroglyph. First, the monkey appears to be jumping off an Amanita muscaria mushroom, an hallucinogenic variety considered to be highly sacred throughout Mesoamerica because of its mind-altering qualities. The identification of the mushroom as an Amanita derives from the characteristic"skirt" on the mushroom's stem. The monkey also holds in his right hand a 5-pointed star, an iconic symbol identified by Mesoamerican scholars as linked to the planet Venus and it's 5 synodic cycles in the Dresden Codex.  It should be noted that the number 5 was specifically associated with Quetzalcoatl and his quincunx symbol, and also with Venus. The synodic revolution of Venus is 584 days, and these revolutions were grouped by the in fives, so that 5 x 584 equaled 2,920 days, or exactly eight years" (Nicholson, 1967 pp. 45-46).

Eguiluz has, in addition to deciphering the long count date, called attention to the two concentric circles in front of the monkey's stomach. These he associates with the calendrical cycle of 13. He also notes that, counting counterclockwise from the fourth point, three parallel rows of dots probably allude to the Nine Lords of the Night.  Eguiluz sees the two larger dots on either side of the monkey as alluding to the tonalpohualli date of 2 Wind, and the shape of the monkey's tail as a symbol of the wind. 

According to the Five Suns cosmogonic accounts as interpreted by scholars Mary Miller and Karl Taube (1993; p.118), Quetzalcoatl in his guise as Ehecatl (the Wind God) presided over the second sun, ehecatonatiuh, the sun of wind, until it was destroyed by great winds. The survivors of that era were turned into monkeys and Quetzalcoatl was their ruler. Finally, Susan Milbrath writes in her book on Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy entitled, Star Gods of the Maya (1999,p. 256 ), that an analysis of the Dresden Codex identifies the monkey, itself,  as also related to Venus as the Morning Star. 

In summery, if Eguiluz's interpretations are correct, the petroglyph of the monkey jumping from an Amanita muscaria mushroom (first noted by the author) commemorating  the calendar year 3 Monkey, would be the earliest known date associated with both the mushroom cult and Venus cult,  with both cults linked with the god Quetzalcoatl. That fact alone is of great significance. However, since it lends heavy weight to Spinden's correlation of the Maya calendar, it not only establishes the date for the beginning of the First world cycle at October 14, 3373 B.C.E., it  places the "so-called" end of the Fifth world cycle at 1752  CE rather than 2012 (Ancient Civilizations of Mexico and Central America: Herbert J. Spinden p.136).  

In other words, contrary to much contemporary hype, the end of the "Fifth world" may  have already occurred.  If so, instead of Armageddon, the Mayan Calendar simply began another cycle.


Maya Vase Study

One of the first Maya vase paintings I found at the Justin Kerr Data Base with encoded mushroom imagery was a Late Classic Maya vase painting (600-900 C.E.) K1490, illustrated below.  I immediately saw the mushrooms in the encoded in the robes of the twin smokers on the far right, and noticed that the artist had also encoded mushroom inspired headdresses.

I believe that the complex scene on Maya vase painting K1490 may illustrate one of the passages in the Popol Vuh in which the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, smoke cigars in the underworld. That they are smoking hallucinogenic cigars is also suggested by the mushrooms that the author believes are encoded on their robes, and in their mushroom-inspired headdresses. The two smokers are the first two individuals on the right. The two figures in front of them, since they wear the same clothing as the first pair,  may be the same set of twins. One of the twins, however, has  undergone sacrificial decapitation. Another interpretation could be that the two smokers, through their hallucinations, are seeing the fate of their father and uncle in their underworld struggle against the Nine Lords of Death, the Xibalbans.

Archaeologist Michael D. Coe was the first to recognize that many of the scenes depicted in Maya vase paintings are images of the Maya underworld, Xibalba, and versions of the creation story of the Quiché Maya of highland Guatemala. This myth, written in Quiche Maya using Spanish orthography, is known today as the Popol Vuh,  It involves two sets of divine twins. 

Photographs © Justin Kerr  K1490 

In the vase painting above, the Lord of the Underworld is depicted as the white skeletal god in the center of the scene. He holds a decapitated head in one hand and a  serpent-bird staff in the other. Known as Skeletal God A, his fleshless body represents death and decay,  but also the transformation at death from which life is regenerated.

Like many other Late Classic period carved and painted vessels, Maya Vase painting K1490 depicts the sacred (and improbable) ritual act of self-decapitation. Note that the third individual from the right has no head. He holds in his left hand the obsidian knife with which he has decapitated himself. In his right hand he holds the cloth in which he will wrap the head in a bundle. The fourth individual from the right is shown holding the decapitated head by the hair with his right hand, and a knife in his left hand.  After a close examination of this scene, it occurred to me that it might depict an early version of an episode related in the colonial period document known as the Popol Vuh.

The first set of twins, known as Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, play a ballgame in Xibalba with the Lords of Death and are defeated. The Popol Vuh  tells us that these twin Maya gods, were sacrificed by decapitation in the underworld after losing a ballgame against the Lords of the Death. Their bodies were buried under the ballcourt at the place of ballgame sacrifice. The sons of Hun Hunahpu, another set of twin gods known as the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, follow their father and uncle into the Underworld to avenge their deaths. They also play a ballgame against the Lords of Xibalba. Hunahpu and Xbalanque, however,  were accomplished tricksters as well as ballplayers. They were  ready for any trap that might be set for them by the Lords of Death. (Coe,1973, 1975a). 

           Photographs © Justin Kerr

Maya vase K8936, shown above in roll out form, depicts several scenes associated with the Maya creation story.

According to the Popol Vuh, after the Xibalbans (the Lords of the Underworld) defeated Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu in a ballgame, they sacrificed them and hung the severed head of Hun Hunahpu in a calabash tree. The head of Hun Hunahpu  impregnated a daughter of the Xibalbans, named Blood Woman, with the Hero Twins by spitting into her hand.

In the scene above, the jaguar god of the underworld, shown on the far left, holds a decapitated head (likely the head of Hun Hunahpu). Seated below the jaguar is the pregnant daughter of the Xibalbans known as Xquik "Blood Woman". She is painted blood red, and is shown stretching out her palm beneath the decapitated  head. The decapitated head of Hun Hunahpu spits semen onto her hands which fertilizes, giving birth to the legendary Hero Twins.  Her father, one of the Lords of death in the Maya underworld, is the skeletal god to the far right who also holds the bloody head of Hun Hunahpu.

In front of Blood Woman sits a character marked with cimi death signs (looks like a % sign) on his legs. He wears on his head what, I believe, is a mushroom-inspired headdress. In his hand he holds a drinking vessel which may contain a mushroom-based beverage which he will use to journey or portal into the underworld. The large jar or olla  that sits on his lap may contain the cultivated sacrament. The skeletal death god on the right  also carries a ceramic jar. It likely contains a hallucinogenic beverage to be taken at death for the ritual cross-over, or underworld journey. The large blood-stained  X-icon located on his skull cap represents the portal door to this journey of transformation.  

Directly behind Blood Woman, at the bottom of the scene, is a large transparent view of the inside of her womb. In it we see the unborn Hunahpu, the eldest of the Hero Twins. He is shown on his back with his knees pointed upwards. Hunahpu,  the first born of the Hero Twins,  personifies Venus. His day-sign is One Ahau or Hun Ahau, the sacred date of the heliacal rising of Venus as Morning Star in the Venus Almanac of the Dresden Codex. To the left of the unborn Hunahpu is a coiled serpent in the shape of a ballgame hoop. The hoop bears symbols of the four cardinal directions. The inner circle denotes the goal of the hoop as well as the central portal of resurrection. It is associated with the color green, which is the green quetzal-feathered serpent aspect of Quetzalcoatl as the planet Venus.

In Mesoamerican mythology Quetzalcoatl represents the Lord of the Ballgame and Lord of decapitation. It is likely his image that the Maya saw as a decapitated ballplayer in the constellation of Orion. Orion was believed to be the belt or ballgame yoke of Hun Ahau or Quetzalcoatl.  The three stars of his ballgame yoke may represent the three hearth stones of Maya creation. 

Behind the serpent is a rabbit, a symbol of the moon and fertility, holding a ball between its knees. The ball is marked by the symbol of three, referring again to the three hearth stones that were placed at the time of creation by the pair of twins depicted directly above. These are clearly the Hero Twins from the Popol Vuh. The twin on the left with jaguar features can be identified as Xbalanke. He holds what appears to be the three hearth stones of creation (the three thunderbolts in the Popol Vuh?). Two of the three stones appear under the right arm and he is  placing the third stone in his left hand into the sky at the place of ballgame sacrifice.  

Xbalanke's trademark attributes are his jaguar spots, (note his spotted ear), symbolic of the Moon and underworld sun or Sun God.  He most likely represents the Evening Star aspect of the planet Venus. To the right of Xbalanke is his older twin brother Hunahpu. He can be identified by his blowgun, which he holds like a paddle, rerminiscent of the Paddler Twins.  He is likely an aspect of the planet Venus as Evening Star. Both twins wear the scarf of underworld  decapitation, and both are depicted above their unborn bodies. The womb of Hunahpu is directly behind Bloodwoman, while the womb of Xbalanke is in the shape of a curled up jaguar and is depicted directly behind the rabbit holding the ball.

           Photographs © Justin Kerr
           Owner: Popol Vuh Museum, Guatemala:

Maya vase K3066, in roll out form, depicts a Late Classic version of the Preclassic Olmec bearded dragon (Och Chan?). This Long-nosed Quadripartite Maya god is also known as Chaac, the Rain and Lightning God, of the four quarters, equivalent to Tlaloc the Aztec/Toltec Rain and Lightning God (Herbert Spiden 1975 p.62). I believe he represents a Maya counterpart, versions of the dualistic Mexican Venus gods Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc, all being connected with Venus warfare during the Classic period, and with the four cardinal directions and it's sacred center. Chaac is the God who wields the axe of Underworld decapitation, and who I believe is intimately associated with hallucinogenic mushrooms that act as divine portals to the Underworld. These portals to the Underworld are located at the four cardinal directions and it's sacred center, which can be seen depicted in Maya vase K3066. Chaac, like the Mexican god Tlaloc, is associated with rain, lightning and thunder. Both gods are depicted in art wielding lightening bolts, and the axe associated with Underworld decapitation. Although Chaac is identified with the four cardinal directions, he was sometimes thought of as the "one" god who resided at the center of the universe.  A page in the Dresden Codex portrays four Chaacs seated in the trees located at the four cardinal directions of time and space. A fifth Chaac is seated in a cave representing the cosmic center of the world. 

This configuration of five, identified as the quincunx, is a reference to the central portal of Venus resurrection. It should be noted that the number 5 was specifically associated with the god Quetzalcoatl and his quincunx symbol, and also with Venus, as an aspect of Quetzalcoatl. According to J. Eric Thompson the idealized Venus cycle always ended on the day 1-Ahau, (Milbrath p.170). The synodic revolution of Venus, from Morning Star to Morning Star is 584 days, and that these revolutions were grouped in fives, (see Maya  Dresden Codex) so that 5x584 equaled 2,920 days, or exactly eight solar years (Nicholson, 1967 pp. 45-46).

Above on the right is a ball court marker encoded with stylized mushrooms found near the border of Mexico and Guatemala, at Bilbao, or El Baúl. The Maya plate painting K4565 above on the left depicts an image of what some have called the resurrecting Maize God.  Note that the figure's arms and legs of this figure form the quincunx symbol first identified as a Venus symbol by Herbert Spinden. The Maize God which Schellhas has termed God E, usually bears an elongated head embellished with maize foliage. The Dresden Codex Venus pages provide a template for understanding the seasonal aspects of five Venus gods representing the newly emerged Morning Star over the course of an eight-year cycle that was tracked over hundreds of years. According to Susan Milbrath (1999, page 173), on page 47 of the Dresden Codex  the deity Lahun Chan (10-Sky)  is the second seasonal manifestation of the Morning Star, and that his markings on his torso are the segments of a scorpion's thorax, and that Lahun Chan's headdress also has a prominent maize elements (1999, page 173). A closer look reveals that this deified figure's legs and arms were probably encoded to resemble long-stemmed mushrooms. 

In Maya art, the Maize God can often be identified by his elongated head, which is shaped like an ear of corn, maize foliation, that is often depicted on his headdress. Every culture has its own story of genesis. David Freidel and Linda Schele write that the Maize God, named Hun-Nal-Ye, "One-Maize-Revealed", oversaw the new Creation of the cosmos, and that the ancient Maya recorded this birth day of the contemporary cosmos at 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u (Maya Cosmos 1993, p.61-63). 

David Kelley identifies the Maize God with the father of the mythical Hero Twins from the Popol Vuh. He is named Hun Hunahpu, a name incorporating the sacred day 1 Ahau. This day in the Venus Almanac of the Dresden Codex corresponds to the heliacal rise (first sighting) of Venus as Morning Star and suggests that the uncle of the Hero Twins, Vucub Hunahpu, may represent the Evening Star aspect of Venus (Milbrath:159). If the plate above is turned up-side-down, the Maize God appears as a diving sky god. It thus could also represent the Evening Star aspect of Venus.

In the Popol Vuh, the father of the Hero Twins, Hun Hunahpu, who was decapitated in the underworld, at the place of ballgame sacrifice, is not resurrected from the underworld. He is, in fact, left behind by his sons to rule the underworld. His sons, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, are transformed into the Sun and Moon. This could mean that the Hero Twins, when they journeyed into the underworld, represented the planet Venus.  

           Photograph  © Justin Kerr

Maya Vase painting K2797 in roll out form, represents a great example of mushroom-inspired art. The figure on the far left clearly holds a sacred mushroom in his hand. The Maya god just to the right has been identified as God K. David Stuart (1987) found a syllabic spelling for God K's name which reads K'awil, meaning "sustenance" in Yukatek Mayan, but also meaning "idol" or "embodiment" in the Poqom and Cakchiquel Mayan languages (Freidel, Schele, Parker: 1993 p.410 n). The Maya god K'awil is recognizable by the smoking tube, (and obsidian mirror, or axehead) that penetrates his forehead. These attributes are metaphors of the power to penetrate, or enter, into the Underworld. In Maya mythology K'awil who is often depicted as a one legged god, symbolized a bolt of lightning which, by penetrating the ground and entering the underworld, could create new life in a place of death and decay. In both scenes the figure who has summoned the god K'awil to the underworld wears a mushroom-inspired headdress.


The author believes the divine mushroom ritual shared by all Mesoamerican cultures was intended to establish direct communication between Earth and Heaven (Sky) in order to unite man with God. Rulers or priests bestowed with this sacred knowledge were believed to be Gods, incarnates of their creator god known among the Nahuas (ancient Mexicans) as Quetzalcóatl. Quetzalcóatl's essence in the world as a culture hero was to establish this communication by teaching his followers to eat sacred mushrooms and make blood sacrifices in order to achieve immortality. This was recorded in the Mixtec Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus housed in the National Library of Vienna, Austria, which is one of the few pre-Hispanic native manuscripts that escaped Spanish destruction. It was produced in the Postclassic period for the priesthood and ruling elite. A thousand years of history is covered in the Mixtec Codices, and Quetzalcóatl, known to the Mixtecs as 9-Wind, is cited as the great founder of all the royal dynasties. 

Page 24 of the Codex Vindobonensis, above, shows the Wind God Ehecatl-Quetzalcóatl (circled) holding an axe in one hand and the decapitated head of the underworld Death God in the other. Here, Quetzalcóatl gives instructions to a young Xochipilli who is depicted with tears in his eyes as he holds a pair of divine mushrooms in his right hand (Photo from The British Museum) 

It has long been known that page 24 of the Codex Vindobonensis concerns the ceremonial role of mushrooms among the Mixtecs.  In 1929 Walter Lehmann noted the resemblance to mushrooms of the objects portrayed in the hands of many of the characters depicted in this Codex. Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso later provisionally identified what he called "T-shaped" objects in the manuscript as mushrooms. Gordon Wasson concluded that it showed "the major place occupied by mushrooms in the culture of the Mixtecs" (Wasson 1980, p. 214).

In the middle of the page on the right side the god-king Quetzalcoatl is depicted gesturing to the god-king Tlaloc directly in front of him to open the portal to the underworld.  According to Peter Furst, who describes this  iconography, the scene depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms" (1981, p.151).  He identifies the triangular or V-shaped cleft in the basin of water on the left as a cosmic passage through which deities, people, animals and plants pass from one cosmic plane to another. 

On the bottom left,  two figures stand beside another V--shape portal of Underworld resurrection. The figure on the left who points to the sky, also has fangs. He appears to be a human transformed at death into the Underworld Sun god, or mythical "were jaguar". This gesture probably signifies resurrection from the Underworld. The two-faced deity in front of him holds what appear to be sacred psilocybin mushrooms similar in shape to the ones in the photograph below.

This two-faced deity is, in all likelihood, the dualistic planet Venus and the god of Underworld sacrifice and resurrection. Note that the two-faced deity is painted black (signifying the Underworld) and wears a double-beaked harpy eagle headdress (signifying the sun's resurrection). The five plumes in the harpy eagle's headdress refer to the five synodic cycles of Venus. The three mushrooms in his hand refer to the Mesoamerican trinity:  the three hearthstones of creation. ie., the sun, the morning star and the evening star.

The circle below the feet of the figure on the left is divided into four parts, two of them dark and two light, each with a footprint. The Fursts, Peter and Jill, have identified this symbol as representing the north-south axis or sacred center as the place of entry into the Underworld. (Furst, 1981: 155). This symbol also appears in the scene above in association with a figure plunging through the a V-shaped cleft into the Underworld.

Mushroom Murals of Tulum 

The murals below are from the Late Post Classic ancient Maya city of Tulum, in Quintana Roo, Mexico, Structure 16, the Temple of the Frescoes. The art at these ruins shows many of the Nahua features already noted at Chichen Itza. The Tulum murals blend central Mexican-style elements, similar to Mixteca-Puebla codices

with Maya traits typical of the Late Classic period A.D. 700-1000. 

 A closer look of the murals uncovers several encoded mushrooms in scenes with a deity identified as the aged Moon Goddess. Tulum was dedicated to a cult of the lunar goddesses, especially the aged aspects of the moon associated with the waning moon, and may have been part of a pilgrimage route associated with female cults especially connected with childbirth (Susan Milbrath 1999, p.148). Tulum was also an important center for the worship of the Diving sky God, a deity portrayed on the Temple of the Frescoes (Structure 16) and on the Temple of the Diving God (Structure 5). (Photographs of Tulum murals taken by Fadrique R. Diego).

Temple of the Frescoes 

Temple of the Frescoes 

Temple of the Frescoes

The Toltec /Maya polychrome vessels above are from Quintana Roo, Mexico, Postclassic Maya, 1200-1400 C.E.  The vessels both depict the image of a "diving god", with objects in their hands that may represent the severed caps of psilocybin mushrooms. The removal of the head of the mushroom or mushroom cap is a symbolic reference to ritual decapitation. Wasson writes that the stems of sacred mushrooms were removed and the mushroom caps consumed ritually in pairs prior to self-sacrifice. (Polychrome ceramic container with diving god wearing harpy eagle headdress. ht. 11.4 cm. U.S. Library of Congress, J. Kislak Collection). The Psilocybe mushroom contains the substance psilocin and psilocybin, the active ingredient that causes the mushroom hallucination. The psilocybin mushroom is indigenous to the sub-tropical regions of the U.S, Mexico, and Central America. The polychrome vessel on the left likely portrays Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan in Yucatec Mayan) in the guise of the harpy eagle, attributes that link this diving deity to Quetzalcoatl as the Morning Star. 

Ethno-mycologist Bernard Lowy, proposed that the "diving gods" depicted in the Dresden Codex, were portrayed as under the influence of psychotropic mushrooms (LOWY  BERNARD, 1981, Were Mushroom Stones Potter’s Molds?, Revista/Review Interamericana, vol. 11, pp. 231-237.)

Borhegyi describes this unusual "Diving God" mushroom stone in a letter to Wasson, dated January 14, 1958. 

"Supposedly, it comes from near Tecpan and is presently in the private collection of Carlos Nottebohm. Carlos seems to think it represents an "acrobat" or "sacrificial victim". On the other hand, it may show the so-called "Diving Sun God". A clue to its date is even more difficult. The Tecpan-Iximche area was occupied in the Late Classic (500-900 A.D.) and the Post Classic (900-1500 A.D.) times. Stylistically, the specimen looks of a Late Pre-Classic type (500 B.C. - 200 A.D.) The "Diving Sun God" image, however, is characteristic of the Late Classic (500-900 A.D.) period and is shown mostly on Pipil sculpture. So, I am presently at a loss as to the proper placing of our new specimen. It seems that the "acrobatic" little fellow is balancing the mushroom top with his legs. A most unorthodox position" (letter Borhegyi to Wasson, January 14, 1958, Wasson Archives Harvard University). 

According to Bernard Lowy:

"Maya codices has revealed that the Maya and their contemporaries knew and utilized psychotropic mushrooms in the course of their magico-religious ceremonial observances" (Lowy:1981) .

Above are all pages from the Madrid Codex, (also known as the Maya Tro-Cortesianus Codex), is one of three surviving pre-Columbian Maya codices dating to the Postclassic period (900-5121 A.D.) painted between A.D 1350 and 1450 when the long Count was no longer in use, in other words it contains no astronomy no multiplication tables or prophecies associated with the Long count (Susan Milbrath 1999, p.6-7). The codex consists mainly of divinatory rituals that were probably passed down from priest to priest.  

Several pages in the Madrid Codex depicts the Maya Merchant God, Ek' Chu-Ah, (Ek-chuah) better known as God M (Schellhas) the long nose painted black god of traveling merchants (Herbert J. Spinden 1975 p.91). Known among the Nahua as Yacatecuhtli, Lord Nose this deity is intimately connected with cacao who merchants used as their chief currency. On several pages of the Madrid Codex, God M holds what Lowy has identified as Amanita muscaria mushrooms. The page on the lower right may pertain to what is known as the New Fire Ceremony and its time cycle of 52 years that was recognized by all Mesoamericans. 

According to Borhegyi, (New Fire Ceremony) it was believed that in order to avoid catastrophe at the end of each 52-year period which also ended on the day Ahau, man through his priestly intermediaries, was required to enter into a new covenant with the supernatural (Borhegyi de, 1980: 8). In the meantime, he atoned for his sins and kept the precarious balance of the universe by offering uninterrupted sacrifices to the gods. The Calendar Round was considered to be so important that the world would end at the completion of 18,980 days or 52 years if sacred termination ceremonies were not performed. Ritual sacrifice was a way for the ancients to nourish and sustain all the living beings of the cosmos which gave order and meaning to their world.  

The cult of this Maya Merchant God, Ek' Chu-Ah, (along with the salt and amber trade) still survives along the same ancient trade routes throughout Central America, Mexico, and even New Mexico in the United States. It is accompanied by salt and clay or earth-eating (geophagy) and the veneration of the miraculous image of the Black Christ (El Cristo Negro) of Esquipulas (Borhegyi 1965a. p.55 notes) (cf. Borhegyi, 1953, 1954b).

Although the hallucinogenic mushroom cult has survived to this day among certain tribes like the Zapotec, Chinantec, and Mazatec Indians of Mexico, there has been little of its use reported among the present-day Maya. The sacred mushroom ceremony among the Mazatecs is usually held in response to a request by a person needing to consult the mushroom about a certain problem or sickness. 

             In letters to Wasson, from Borhegyi writes:

"In the village of San Martin Jilotepeque (Dept. of Chimaltenango) Cakchiquel Indians, according to two informants, one Indian the other a ladino, there is a large, yellow mushroom called San Juan because it appears around San Juan's day (24th of June). It is eaten when cooked and quite frequently the people who eat it feel quite drunk and have nice dreams. There were some mushroom stones of the tripod variety in the village which the informants said were used as stools" (Borhegyi to Wasson May25, 1953, Wasson Archives Harvard University). 

" I spent several days in the region of Lake Atitlan in search for information on present day use of mushrooms but was unable to get anything of interest. The French ethnologist who has been studying the region for almost a year was unable to give me any information either, although I had him ask his informants" (letter Borhegyi to Wasson, August 1, 1953, Wasson Archives Harvard University).    

However in a letter to Borhegyi from Burnard Lowy; 

            Dear Dr. Borhegyi:

"Concerning the hallucinogenic mushroom cult, I had a tantalizing experience in Guatemala I will tell you about briefly. Since no evidence has yet been found that would indicate the existence of such a cult in present-day Guatemala, it may be of special interest. While in Panajachel (13 July 1963), I met an old gentleman, Don Emilio Crespo..."In a long conversation with him, after getting around to the matter of mushroom stones (4 of which I saw along with other miscellaneous stone idols, all thrown together in an untidy heap) Don Emilio told me that he had seen in the possession of Indians in the Quiche, small carvings of mushrooms in jade. When I asked him whether he had ever acquired such pieces, he replied that he had tried to do so but found it impossible because the Indians told him that if they sold these objects they would die" (Bernard Lowy to Borhegyi and Wasson, February 2, 1965 Wasson Archives Harvard University) 

On a visit to Guatemala in 2010, the author found that the Quiche Maya Indians of the Guatemala Highlands were selling tiny Amanita muscaria mushroom toys in the markets, which all have a quetzal bird sitting in a tree painted on the stem. Although the seller informed me that the Maya did eat this variety of mushroom, it is possible she may have been referring to the non-hallucinogenic Amanita caesarea, commonly sold in markets in Mexico and Guatemala and much appreciated for its delicate flavor. Although clearly a child's toy produced for the tourist trade, they bear symbolism of great antiquity. In Mesoamerican mythology, the World Tree, with its roots in the underworld and its branches in the heavens, represents the axis mundi or center of the world. The branches represent the four cardinal directions. Each of the directions was associated with a different color while the color green represented the central place. A bird, known as the celestial bird or Principal Bird Deity, usually sits atop the tree. The trunk, which connects the two planes, was seen as a portal to the underworld. The Quetzal, now the national bird of modern Guatemala, was considered sacred because of its green plumage. I believe that the Amanita muscaria mushroom cult may still survive in remote areas of Highland Guatemala, where the mushroom grows in abundance. I also believe there is now clear evidence that the Amanita muscaria mushroom is a symbol of equal antiquity. 

Acknowledgements: The author thanks his mother Dr. Suzanne de Borhegyi-Forrest and sister Ilona de Borhegyi for their contributions to this research. This book and Bibliography is still a work in progress.


Borhegyi de, Carl R. & de Borhegyi-Forrest, Suzanne, 2013. "The Genesis of a Mushroom/Venus Religion in Mesoamerica" In: Entheogens and the Development of Culture. Ed: John A. Rush. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California. pp. 451-483.

Borhegyi de, Carl R. & de Borhegyi-Forrest, Suzanne, 2015. “Mushroom Intoxication in Mesoamerica.” In: “History of Toxicology and Environmental Health”. Toxicology in Antiquity, Volume II, pp.104-116. Elsevier Academic Press, New York, NY. 

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