Mushroom Worship In Mesoamerica
Re-opening Old Roads of Archaeological Inquiry
Carl de Borhegyi: Copyright 2020
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 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. The information provided in this book (a work in progress) is for educational, historical, and cultural interest only, and does not condone the use of entheogenic mushrooms.
Quoting Dr. Stephan F. de 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).Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, Volume 1edited by Mariko Namba Walter, Eva Jane Neumann Fridman"These unique plants, in fact, may have played a significant role in human evolution, both physically, in offering selective advantages such as strength, endurance, and improved visual acuity, and due to their marked effects on cognition, which probably lent important stimulus to the emergence of the human capacity for abstract reasoning, symbolic thought, and language, as well as stimulating the religious capacities that distinguish our species (Dobkin de Rios 1984; Devereux 1997; McKenna 1992).
Forward by 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......
Inspired by the research of R. Gordon Wasson, and 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.
Quoting R. Gordon 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.)
We begin in 1952 when 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."
Borhegyi supported his theory of a mushroom cult among the ancient Maya with a solid body of archaeological and historical evidence. 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.
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).
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).
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).
Photo of Gordon Wasson (above left), from Life Magazine 1957. The replica mushroom stone next to Wasson was a gift from Borhegyi. Borhegyi's association with Guatemalan antiquities began in 1949 when he became associate professor of anthropology at San Carlos University in Guatemala City. The Central American republic decorated Borhegyi in 1951 for his reorganization of the National Museum of Archaeology in Guatemala City.
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.)
"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 Pre-Columbian mushroom stones and pottery mushrooms, found at various archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Pre-Columbian pottery shaped mushrooms have also been found in El Salvador, and Guatemala in both the highlands and the lowland Maya rain forest and in Mexico in the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz. For more on pottery mushrooms see Borhegyi de, S.F., 1963, “Pre-Columbian pottery mushrooms from Mesoamerica”, in American Antiquity, vol. 28:328-338.
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)
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 )
The intention of the mushroom ritual was to open communication directly with the spirit world, often through a form of animal transformation. The worship of animal spirit companions and the concept of human-animal transformation is so ancient, that the origins of these beliefs appear to predate the development of agriculture. Since these beliefs are also present throughout North and South America that they may very well have been brought there by the first hunters and gatherers to reach the New World. We find the first evidences of these shamanistic rituals in Mesoamerica in the art of the ancient Olmecs along with the development of agriculture, food production, and settled village life.
The earliest evidence of a mushroom-based religious cult in the New World, appears to date to approximately the same time period, around 1000-400 BC, and the beginnings in Mesoamerica of Olmec culture. The rise of the ancient Olmec in the New World has puzzled archaeologists for some time. The Olmec, the first complex civilization of the New World emerge from the jungles of the Gulf Coast of what is now present day Mexico, sometime around 1500-1200 B.C. Archaeologists contend that the Olmec culture appears to come from out of nowhere in full bloom at the site of San Lorenzo, in Veracruz, Mexico. Carbon 14 dates place Olmec civilization at San Lorenzo at 1200 B.C. E. (M. D. Coe, 1970, p.21). The ancient Olmec appear on the scene having already developed a highly evolved system of writing, where no earlier or simpler forms have been found. Renowned Maya archaeologist Sylvanus G. Morley, noted that there was also the lack of known direct antecedents of Maya culture in the Maya region (Morley 1946, p.46). Morley noted writing as a perfect example, that even in its earliest known forms, it was already a highly evolved system, that no earlier, simpler forms of writing out of which it might have grown are known anywhere (Stephen C. Jett 1971,p.46).
Interpretations of Olmec political organization range from that of an empire (Caso 1965; Bernal 1969a; M. Coe 1968b), to a state (Heizer 1960), and to a cheifdom, (Sanders and Price 1968) (Philip Drucker 1981, p.29). The powerful unitary religion of the Olmec, appears to spread quickly throughout the New World with certain elements of the belief system that spread as far as the Andean area of South America. We know this culture by its powerful art style featuring adult and baby "were-jaguars;" an art style so pervasive that it led the late archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling in 1955 to call the Olmec the "people of the jaguar." He speculated that the Olmecs believed that at some time in their mythical past a jaguar had copulated with, and impregnated, a human female. According to Olmec archaeologist Michael Coe "...the concept of the were-jaguar is at the heart of the Olmec civilization" (Michael D. Coe, 1962, p.85).
Above is an Olmec figurine, that most likely comes from the San Lorenzo phase of Olmec culture, 1200-400 B.C.E. These infantile baby-faced figurines, many of which depict the symbolism of a snarling jaguar, are a distinctive feature in Olmec art. This figure appears to represent an Olmec baby holding what appears to be a gigantic Amanita muscaria mushroom. According to ethno-mycologist Gastón Guzmán, one of the effects of the Amanita muscaria mushroom experience is to see objects as gigantic in size. (Guzman, 2010) (photograph by Higinio Gonzalez of Puebla, Mexico).
Borhegyi theorized that Maya civilization developed as the result of direct influences from the Olmec civilization of La Venta, and suggested that the Olmec of La Venta most likely spoke a Proto-Mayan, living among such other Maya speakers as the Huaxtecs, and proto-Totonacs (S.F. de Borhegyi 1965a p.19). Words like muxan and okox (mushroom) are two of several words borrowed or loaned by the ancient Maya, perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. (Furst, 1976, p. 79). 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" in reference to the belief that mushroom transported one to a supernatural realm of the underworld (Robert J. Sharer, 1983: 484). 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. Archaeologist Michael Coe excavated a probable ball court and found figurines of ball players at the Olmec site of San Lorenzo dating to 1250–1150 B.C. in the heart of the Olmec country in Veracruz Mexico.
Quoting from ethno-archaeologist Peter T. Furst:
"It is tempting to suggest that the Olmecs might have been instrumental in the spread of mushroom cults throughout Mesoamerica, as they seem to have been of other significant aspects of early Mexican civilization......" It is in fact a common phenomenon of South American shamanism (reflected also in Mesoamerica) that shamans are closely identified with the jaguar, to the point where the jaguar is almost nowhere regarded as simply an animal, albeit an especially powerful one, but as supernatural, frequently as the avatar of living or deceased shamans, containing their souls and doing good or evil in accordance with the disposition of their human form" (Furst 1976, pp. 48, 79)."
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.
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 (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."
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.....
“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.
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).
Wasson postulates that the very word “toadstool” may have originally meant the “demonic stool”, and may have been a specific name of a European mushroom, that causes hallucinations (R.G. Wasson, Life Magazine, May 13, 1957).
The Type D plain or tripod mushroom stones, which carry no effigy on the stem have been typically found at lower elevations...(for their distribution by archaeological sites see Borhegyi de, 1961a, p. 500).
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.
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".
"Many authorities consider God B to represent Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, whose Aztec equivalent is Quetzalcoatl (Herbert Spinden 1975 p.62).
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”.
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).
Mushrooms, Trophy-Heads and the Mesoamerican Ballgame:
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. For a comprehensive description of the pre-Columbian ball games and its various and occasionally regional uses of ball-game paraphernalia, and on the "trophy head" cult as related to the games, see (Borhegyi de, S.F. 1960a, 1961c, 1963b, 1965a: 22-23, nn. 23, 28, 1965c, 1968a, 1968c, 1980)
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).
In the book The Mesoamerican Ballgame (1991), Susan Gillespie writes that sacrificial victims of the ballgame were probably war captives, and that sacred histories relate that even a change in entire political hegemonies was accomplished via a ballgame, which served as dynamic threshold between succeeding empires". She mentions that in an Aztec myth (Mendieta 1945:88), a ballgame defeat by the Toltec king Quetzalcoatl caused him to abandon his capital city, thus marking the end of the Toltec empire". That the game was a boundary maintenance mechanism between polities, with the sacrificial victim representing a "social decapitation", the removal of a member of the society (sometimes its ruler, its political "head") from the "body politic". "This seems to be the case in Postclassic Highland Guatemala where the ballgame was played between the Quiche and other ethnic groups on the frontier" (Susan Gillespie 1991, Chapter 13, p.340-341). John Fox in his chapter of the book The Mesoamerican Ballgame, writes, "the Quichean peoples of the Postclassic Guatemala Highlands built more ballcourts at this time than anywhere else within the Maya world". "That at a number of outlying Quichean sites, ballcourts appear to have been built upon the takeover of more distance Putun-derived "brethren" (John W. Fox 1991, Chapter 12, p.213-225).
“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 also 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. There is 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. 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).
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 waist protector called a 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 11 ballcourts (S. Jeffery K. Wilkerson, 1991 p.58, in The Mesoamerican Ballgame).
The drawing above is of carved relief panel from the vertical side walls of the South Ball Court at El Tajin, in Veracruz, Mexico. Note what appears to be encoded mushrooms sprouting from the Tree of Life in both creation scenes above and below. (drawings from M.E. Kampen "Classic Veracruz Grotesques and Sacrifical Iconography"). The bearded god above him, with two bodies, likely represents Quetzalcoatl in his twin aspects of the planet Venus representing both the Evening Star and Morning Star.
The carved relief panel above is one of a series of six carvings in the vertical side walls of the South Ball Court at El Tajin, in Veracruz, Mexico (drawing from Coe, 1994, p.117). The carved panel depicts an individual, a ruler or Underworld god, with were-jaguar fangs, in the sacred act of drawing blood from his penis. In Mesoamerica mushrooms were also most likely consumed by priests before the holy act of penis perforation. In this ritual blood was drawn from the penis and sprinkled upon the exhumed bones or cremated ashes of deceased ancestors, thus emulating in myth the way of Quetzalcoatl. Note that the figure in the water below receiving the blood offering, wears a fish headdress, which may be a symbolic reference to a mythological ancestor from a previous world age, who survived a world ending flood by being changed into a fish. Most importantly, note that there are tiny mushrooms encoded on the limbs of a sacred tree. The ancient Maya, as well as all Mesoamericans believed that the gods who created the present world raised the sky by placing a vertical axis, a World Tree signifying up and down at the center of the cosmos.
Regarding the Classic Veracruz art style of El Tajin, this according to Michael D. Coe, author of the book, Mexico, From the Olmec to the Aztecs:
"This style can be mistaken for no other in Mexico; on the contrary, its closest affinities seem to lie, for no apparent reason, across the Pacific with the bronze and Iron Age cultures of China" (Michael D. Coe, 1994, p.115).
Archaeologist David Kelley also noted the striking similarities between the Late Chow decorative styles of China of 700-200 B.C.E. and those of the El Tajin culture of Veracruz, Mexico, of A.D. 500-1000 (Stephen C. Jett 1971, p.44) (Heine-Geldern, 1959a).
In the late 1940s Ethno-archaeologist Gordon F. Ekholm proposed a theory that Chinese visitors from the Shang Dynasty crossed the Pacific and taught the Olmec how to write, build monuments, and worship a feline god. Ekholm proposed multiple transpacific contacts with the New World beginning as early as 3000 B.C. He believed that this influence on New World civilization came from China, or Southeast Asia, and argued that the Chinese, during the Chou and Han dynasties undertook planned voyages to and from the western hemisphere as early as 700 B.C. in search of gold, jade, and feathers.
Ekholm contends that planned voyages may have been religiously motivated particularly based on the well-known Buddhist predilection for proselytizing (see, for example, Ekholm, 1953: 88). Ekholm writes that scholars have underrated the maritime capabilities of the early Chinese, who not only invented the compass, but used a more seaworthy rudder than those used in the voyages of Columbus.
Shijiahe jade effigy figure with mushroom emerging from head, 2000 BCE, China.
Dennis Lou (1964), noted a resemblances between the Mesoamerican mushroom stones, and certain Chinese ancestor "tablets" of the Shang dynasty, and suggested that the mushroom stones of Mesoamerica are derived from the early Chinese tablets. Lou also noted early literary sources refer to those Shang dynasty objects as being not only of stone and pottery but also of marble, jade, silk, bronze, and wood, and were used in rituals connected with the departed spirits of clan ancestors (Trans-Pacific Contacts symposium in Spain 1964).
"Now if, as seems likely, the Chinese once worshiped an hallucinogenic mushroom and employed it in religious ritual and medicine, and if some of their sages reached the New World, by accident or design, they could of course have introduced some of their own advanced pharmacological knowledge, or at least the idea of sacred mushrooms, to the ancient Mexicans. The same would apply to early India, whose calendrical system, like that of China, bears a perplexing resemblance to its pre-Hispanic Mexican counterpart" (Furst, 1976 p.104).
During Preclassic times (1500 BC to AD 250), the source of cultural influences radiated from the Olmec heartland on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz in Mexico. Not enough is really known about the Olmec people, the language which they spoke, what they may have called themselves, and where this ancient civilization originally came from. We know very little about the religious beliefs of the Olmecs and their contemporary neighbors, other than they apparently revered the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom, which they portrayed in small stone sculptures known as mushroom stones, associated with the ancient cultures of the Olmec and Maya, that are now being interpreted as evidence for the usage of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mesoamerican religion spanning almost 3,000 years (S.F de Borhegyi 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965a, 1965b).
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 is responsible for ritual decapitation, at the place of ballgame sacrifice.
Ballcourts were believed to be entrances or portals into the underworld, and mushrooms and their powerful effects on the mind were likely the means of divine transport, thus the portal or gateway into the underworld in which one is deified and resurrected at death. It's now believed 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 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 Mesoamerican art, ballplayers are often depicted wearing curious stone objects called hachas and "palmate stones" or palmas. Palmate stones were likely used for ceremonial purposes and not worn during actual play. A carved relief panel on the vertical side wall of the South Ball Court at El Tajin, in Veracruz, Mexico, shows how the palma was attached to the stone yoke worn by two ballplayers. In Mesoamerican iconography, specific numbers like the number thirteen for example is associated with the sky or heaven, and the number nine is associated with the underworld (Marvin Cohodas "Ballgame Imagery of the Maya Lowlands: History and Iconography" 1991 p.274). Note that both ballgame palmas depicted above appear to have steps, (thirteen on the left and nine on the right) that appear to lead up to an esoteric symbol that may represent a divine mushroom in profile.
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). Borhegyi also writes that Maya cosmology included thirteen Gods of the heaven (Borhegyi letter to Wasson August 31, 1954 Wasson Archives Harvard University).
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).
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.
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)
There is an Aztec myth (Mendieta 1945:88), in which a ballgame defeat by the Toltec king Quetzalcoatl caused him to abandon his capital city, thus marking the end of the Toltec empire in Tula (Susan Gillespie 1991, Chapter 13, p.340). 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 ritual ballgame.
Aztec chronicles tell us that Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl sailed across the Gulf of Mexico toward Yucatan at approximately A.D. 978. The Itzá Maya of Yucatan called this ruler Kukulkán, meaning Feathered Serpent, and it is believed that Kukulkan rebuilt the great city of Chichén Itzá, and that he later founded the Maya capital city of Mayapán.
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 practice of obtaining trophy heads, especially in warfare, continued until the conquest. rules
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.
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.
Beyond the Ballgame: Mushroom 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, 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). 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.
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. 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. As far as the Itzá who
invaded Chichén Itzá, one can not be certain whether they were Toltec
conquerors or a Maya-speaking people from Tabasco who absorbed
many central-Mexican traits.
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).
The Cotzumalhuapa sculptures have been thought to be of Late Classic date and possibly of non-Maya, Pipil manufacture. But according to Borhegyi all the material scuba divers discovered in one area of Lake Amatitlan called Lavaderos (Site 1 A) is of Early Classic date A.D. 300-600 (S.F. de Borhegyi 1960, Field Report Lake Amatitlan). Could it be that the Early Classic Teotihuacan influence from Mexico, felt almost everywhere in the Guatemala Highlands, was actually brought by migrating Tajin influenced Pipil groups to the Maya area?
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 linked to a mushroom cult.
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.
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).
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 the god-king Quetzalcoatl, and his mushroom religion, emphasizing celestial worship, and ballgame sacrifice. According to Theodore Stern, the ballgame served as a substitute for direct military confrontation Ixtilxochitl who was commissioned by the Spanish viceroy of New Spain to write histories of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, in his Relación histórica de la nación tulteca (usually called Relación,written between 1600 and 1608) recounts a story in which Topilzin Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec king, played the ballgame against three rivals, the winner to rule the others (The Mesoamerican Ballgame 1991, p.15). As mentioned earlier, there is an Aztec myth (Mendieta 1945:88), that the Toltec king Topilzin Quetzalcoatl was defeated in a ballgame and that this event caused him to abandon his capital city (Susan Gillespie 1991, Chapter 13, p.340).
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 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 Spinden 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.
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).
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 Tlapallan, 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."
Mushroom Gods of Mesoamerica
The evidence for ballgame related sacrifice by decapitation is overwhelming (e.g. Borhegyi 1969:507, 509, 1980, Knauth 1961), and Borhegyi proposed that the ball players may have played with actual human or jaguar heads. 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 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 writes 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).
Quoting Susan Gillespie's (1991:317)
"The decapitation scenes that pervade the symbolism of the Mesoamerican game lead to an investigation of "Rolling Head" myths which are found in many New World societies and are intimately related to games. I argue that decapitation is a metonym for dismemberment, and that dismemberment, the separating of the body into its constituent parts, is metaphorically linked to the separation of time into agricultural seasons which are marked by the periodic movements of celestial bodies" (Susan Gillespie 1991, Chapter 13, p.317)
In 1651 the physician to the King of Spain, Dr. Francisco Hernandez, wrote a guide for missionaries in the Spanish colonies, Historia de las Plantas de Nueva Espana. In it he stated that there were "three kinds" of narcotic mushrooms that were worshiped. After describing a lethal species of mushroom, he stated that other species of mushrooms when eaten caused madness, the symptom of which was uncontrolled laughter. Other mushrooms, he continued " without inducing laughter, bring before the eyes all kinds of things, such as wars and the likeness of demons" (Wasson, 1962: 36; see also Furst, 1990 rev. ed., 9).
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)
"as the most ancient and sacred of all Maya deities, these three gods played a crucial role in the earliest symbolism of kingship that we saw at Cerros, Tikal, and Uaxactun " (Maya Cosmos 1993).
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 , Vancouver Mycological Society: www.vanmyco.org/about-mushrooms/psychedelic/brief-historymagic-mushrooms-bc/)
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.
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).
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 on the left is a incense burner with the head of the Mexican Storm God named Tlaloc. The god Tlaloc also known as, "The Master", 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.
"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".
"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)
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 (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.
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.
The author concludes that all variants of the Toltec/Aztec gods Quetzalcoatl and
Tlaloc, and their Classic Maya counterparts, Kukulcan, Gucumatz, Tohil, K´awil and Chaac,
though they may have different names and be associated with somewhat different attributes in
different culture areas, are linked to the planet Venus through divine rulership, lineage and
descent, and linked to a Trinity, or triad of gods.
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.
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 the author's belief that the scene above in the Lienzo de Zacatepec, depicts the probable act of ritual self 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.
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 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).
"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)
Above is a pre-Columbian drinking vessel that encodes the fruit from the legendary Tree of Life, as sacred mushrooms (Source: Metropolitan Museum 1978.412.113).
" 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."
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).
Kelley (1960) and anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff (1964) detail a large number of exact correspondences between the Hindu and Mexican calendars and their religious and mythological associations, suggesting diffusion from India or Southeast Asia to Mexico (Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts: 1971, p. 36-37). 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).
"New data and new techniques of analysis will eventually show that a great many contacts have occurred between far separated cultures, and more sophisticated analyses of the processes of cultural change will eventually allow clear-cut positive or negative conclusions about many cases that now remain in doubt."
The Vedic-Hindu gods and goddesses of East Indian philosophy are in many ways very similar to the pantheon of gods of Mesoamerica, for they too derived much of their strength from the sacrifices of men. Vedic Hinduism and the religions of Mesoamerica both believed in a three-tiered cosmos, with celestial gods traveling back and forth from the heavens to the Underworld, and saw a triadic unity in their gods (Hindu triad, and Palenque Triad) that was essentially related to cosmic forces such as wind, rain-lightening, and fire, and the unity of creation, preservation, and destruction creating the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In Hindu mythology Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma, make up the Hindu Trinity of gods.
In both Vedic (Hindu kalpas) and Mesoamerican cosmology (Popol Vuh) there was the belief in cyclical creations, a multi-tiered heaven and underworld, deities who reside at the four cardinal directions and its sacred center. In Hinduism Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation in the Hindu Trinity of Gods. Among the ancient Maya the Turtle has been identified with rebirth, and the shell with divinity. In the creation mythology of the ancient Maya the first created image was the turtle constellation Ac, identified as the three stars (hearthstones of creation?) of the belt of Orion (Martin Brennan,1998 p.93).
(Above image is from worldviewtherapy.blogspot.com)
The Churning of the Milk Ocean, or The Churning of the Ocean's Milk, is a creation story told in several ancient Hindu texts. At the suggestion of Vishnu, the gods, and demons churn the primeval ocean in order to obtain Amrita, which will guarantee them immortality (Kangra painting eighteenth century). The avatar of the Vedic-Hindu god Vishnu is the sea turtle depicted below as the pivot point for Mt. Mantara acting as the churning stick.
According to Vedic,Hindu, and Buddhist literature, the Gods got together at the beginning of time and churned the ocean to extract a substance which would offer them immortality. According to Richard J. Williams author of "Soma in Indian Religion" Etheogens as Religious Sacrament (2009 p.2 Introduction), The Gods agreed to share this mighty elixir, calling it Amrita, or Amrit which is a Sanskrit word for "nectar", a sacred drink also in Buddhist mythology that grants their gods immortality.
The drawing above by Daniela Epstein is of a ball court relief panel from El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico, associated with Building 4. Upon noticing the turtle in this creation scene I knew right away that this ballcourt scene was a version of the Hindu/Buddhist myth known as "The Churning of the Milk's Ocean", a creation story often depicted in Buddhist and Hindu art.
Jeffery Wilkerson describes a much different version of this ballcourt panel scene in the book, The Mesoamerican Ballgame (1991, p. 54-55). He says the scene portrays the prerogatives of rulership within the ritual ballgame format of El Tajin. He proposes an altar that depicts two serpents intertwined to form a tlaxmalacatl or ballgame marker, that has been "modified by a spear bundle, a symbol of warfare in late Mesoamerican times". He does mention a vat of ritual drink with a reptilian guardian. Soma the drink of immortality was described as a "heavenly liquor" that was guarded by a Serpent.
Quoting R. Gordon Wasson:
" There is little doubt that the substance called Soma in the Rig Veda has been identified as the fungus Amanita Muscaria."
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 (cumulus.planetess.com/.../ch18.htg/make.jpg). The Maya Venus glyph on the left is from Michael Coe's book Reading The Maya Glyphs 2001 p.163)
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).
"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."
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.
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).
"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.?
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."
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. Sahagun mentions that the intoxicating medicine that Quetzalcoatl took was made from maguey (agave) the kind (of agave) they call teumetl (The History of Ancient Mexico, 1932 p.181). Note that the figure in question holds a ritual beverage in his right hand, that may encode two psilocybin mushrooms emerging from a trefoil.
Rulers were believed to be incarnates of their creator god 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 (see 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.
Frey Sahagun describes the use of mushrooms at the coronation of Montezuma II, the High Priest of the Aztecs, as follows:
“For four days there was feasting and celebration and then on the fourth day came the coronation of Montezuma II, followed by human sacrifices in numbers”. “At the very first, mushrooms had been served. They ate them at the time when the shell trumpets were blown. They ate no more food; they only drank chocolate during the night, and they ate the mushrooms with honey. But some, while still in command of their senses, entered and sat there by the house on their seats; they danced no more, but only sat there nodding. One saw in vision that already he would die, and then continued weeping, one saw that he would die in battle; one saw in vision that he would be eaten by wild beasts; one saw in vision that he would take captives in war; one saw in vision that he would be rich, wealthy; one saw in vision that he would buy slaves, he would be a slave owner; one saw in vision that he would commit adultery, he would be struck by stones, he would be stone; one saw in vision that he would steal, he would also be stone and saw in vision that his head would be crushed by stones-they would condemn him; one saw in vision that he would perish in the water; one saw in vision that he would live in peace, and tranquility, until he died; one saw in vision that he would fall from a roof top, and he would fall to his death; however many things were to befall one, he then saw all in vision: even that he would be drowned. And when the effects of the mushrooms had left them they consulted among themselves and told one another what they had seen in vision. And they saw in vision, what would befall those who had eaten no mushrooms, and what they went about doing. Some were perhaps thieves, some perhaps committed adultery. Howsoever many things there were all were told-that one would take captives, one would become a seasoned warrior, a leader of youths, one would die in battle, become rich, buy slaves, provide banquets, ceremonially bathe slaves, commit adultery, be strangled, perish in water, drown. Whatsoever was to befall one, they then saw all in vision. Perhaps he would go to his death in Anauac (Florentine Codex, Dibble & Anderson, Bk 9:38-39) "
After the conquest of the New World, Europeans were horrified by the stories of the native inhabitants eating mushrooms and worshiping idols, making offerings of human sacrifice to pagan gods and partaking in rituals of human cannibalism. To most Europeans, Mesoamerican religion appeared to be devil worship, consisting of an endless array of bloody rituals which were thought to be demonic and bizarre. However, in the minds of the Indians these rituals represented the highest praise one could spiritually devote in honor of the gods who made water plentiful, and food possible.
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 184.108.40.206.2.
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 220.127.116.11.2 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.
Mexican archaeologists Manzanilla López, Rubén, and Arturo Talavera González, published two articles on the monkey petroglyph which bears a probable Long Count date of 18.104.22.168.2. 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 B.C.in 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
Archaeologist Michael D. Coe was one of the first to recognize that many of the scenes depicted in Maya vase paintings are images of the Maya underworld, known as Xibalba, and versions of the creation story as told by 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.
One of the first Maya vase paintings I found with encoded mushroom imagery was a Late Classic Maya vase painting (600-900 C.E.) K1490, illustrated below. I immediately saw what I believe to be mushrooms encoded in the robes of the twin smokers on the right below.
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. The two figures in front of them, appear to be wearing the same clothing as the first pair, and may allude to 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 own lives in front of them, or visions of their father and uncle in their underworld who also struggle against the Nine Lords of Death, the Xibalbans.
Photographs © Justin Kerr K1490
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.
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 encoded with 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 two figures are most likely 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.
Photograph © Justin Kerr Kerr
Maya vase K5172, photographed in roll-out form by Justin Kerr, depicts an enema ritual associated with the ballgame. On the left is a figure of ballplayer wearing a ballgame yoke and deer headdress. The ballplayer crouches down on one knee, and holds what may be an Amanita muscaria mushroom in his right hand and an enema apparatus in the other. A mushroom infusion administered by means of an enema would have a much quicker and more powerful effect on the body than one ingested orally.
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 Spinden 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).
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
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.)
Evidence suggest that the so-called "acrobat" figures and "contortionists" depicted on effigy vases of Preclassic and Classic times are actually ballplayers according to Borhegyi (The Pre-Columbian Ballgame 1980 p.18). Borhegyi describes this unusual "acrobat" or "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).
(Photographs copyright Borhegyi)
Quoting Stephan F. de Borhegyi:
"The game must have required individual prowess and vigorous play, if one can judge by the contorted "acrobat" positions of the players; and the game surely involved some form of competition. The fact that contorted "acrobat" ballplayer figurines and effigy vessels were known not only from Tlatilco, but also from Colima, Oaxaca and southern Veracruz in Mexico, and from Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala, would indicate that the game was already widespread during Pre-Classic times" (S.F. de Borhegyi 1980 p. 2-3).
The female ballplayer figurine below on the right, comes from the archaeological site of Xochipala, Mexico, Tlatilco culture in the western state of Guerrero, and dates to 1200-900 B.C.E It is now in the Princeton University Art Museum. Many of the clay figurines found at the Olmec influenced sites of Xochipala, Tlatilco, and Tlapacoya, in the Valley of Mexico depict ballplayers holding bats or paddles, or so-called "knuckle dusters" which are over sized hand gloves like the one depicted below on the female Xochipala ballplayer (de Borhegyi S.F. 1980, p.24)
Above on the left is the famous bronze statue of a young women sporting a club-like hand. The female bronze statue is from Harappa, early Indus civilization and thought to be about 4,500 years old. The standing female hand-ballplayer figurine on the right is from the archaeological site of Xochipala in Guerrero, Mexico. The female ballplayer wears a protective club-like glove similar to the female bronze statue from Harappa. The Xochipala female ballplayer also wears what might be a mushroom inspired protective cup attached to her belt (photograph of Xochipala female ballplayer from Whittington, 2001). (For more on "knuckle dusters" or ballgame hand stones and ballgame gloves see de Borhegyi, 1961: 129-140).
Ethno-archaeologist Dr. Robert Heine Geldern...
"The influences of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of southeast Asia in Mexico and particularly, among the Maya, are incredibly strong, and they have already disturbed some Americanists who don't like to see them but cannot deny them....Ships that could cross the Indian Ocean were able to cross the Pacific too. Moreover, these ships were really larger and probably more sea-worthy than those of Columbus and Magellan" (from "Man across the Sea" Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts, published in 1971).
John L. Sorenson author of, A Complex of Ritual and Ideology Shared by Mesoamerica and the Ancient Near East, 2009:"English anthropologist Edward Tylor (1878a; 1878b) pointed out numerous details in common in the setup and rules governing these games in Mexico and India. He concluded that since we do not know from historical sources how the similarities might have been transmitted from one area to the other, “all we can argue is that communication of some sort there was.” He found it impossible to accept that human minds had twice invented the same set of arbitrary notions. The only satisfying explanation for parallels of such specificity as pachisi and patolli display is that the two occurrences were indeed historically related through some contact that has not so far been identified. Anthropologist Robert Lowie observed about this case that “the concatenation of details puts the parallels far outside any probability [of their having originated independently]”.
Quoting 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) .
A page from the Madrid Codex, that clearly depict mushroom glyphs.
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 author remains motivated because of this quote by the legendary Maya archaeologist Sir J. Eric S. Thompson in a letter to Borhegyi...
Quoting 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 letters to Wasson, from Borhegyi writes:
" 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).
"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).
However in a letter from Burnard Lowy to Borhegyi...
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.
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