Category Archives: OAXACA

AZTEC DRUGS and Herbs

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Psychotropics , herbs and plants used in Prehispanic Rituales

The Indian tribes of Mexico had a Cornucopia of plants to choose from in their natural medicine chest. It was said that after the Conquest (1519 – 1521) that within a 3 or 4 year period the Apothecary shops of Europe tripled in size because of the newly discovered plants that were discovered.

For the most part because of the huge amount of herbs I will stick to the better known  ones that people are familiar with.

In Mexico City at the Museum of anthropology you can see a statue of Xochipilli, the goddess of flowers, dancing and love games. Around the base of the statue you can see different types of plants and flowers.  There are psylicibin mushrooms, tobacco, cacao flowers and white and blue morning glories.

Xochipilli goddess of flowers   sinicuichi   wildtobaccoinarizona

Also pictured is a plant called sinicuichi (sun opener) which causes auditory hallucinations. I would surmise that the priests would eat these to hear what the gods had to say to them

Another well known plant is Toloache or the devils herb as the Spanish called it. It was used to induce visions for hunters to help them catch prey, supposedly.  It’s from the Datura family and the Indians believed it would give them supernatural powers.  I have heard of women on the Gulf Coast (Yucatan) putting it in men’s coffee because they thought it would cause them to fall in love  with them. A very dangerous and potent drug if it’s given in too high a dosage.

the Devil's Herb  Toloache Datura plant

The Huichol Indians  in the USA and parts of Northern Mexico have a ritualistic pilgrimage every year to gather Peyote, an extremely hallucinogenic cactus that causes visions similar to LSD causing them to go into a trance of altered state.

Huichol Indians   peyote painting

Morning glory seeds were also given to natives being counseled by high priests are Shamans. Thirteen seeds would be ground and added to a drink then the patient would be taken to bed and the priests would listen to his “dream” to decide what needed to be done.

morning glories

And of course magic mushrooms , Psylicibins, which are common around the Oaxacan area were used in Aztec times and even now Shamans there perform a ritualist Velada or Wake.

magic mushrooms  images (1) Maria_Sabina tim leary

waltcri-cri/ francisco soler dylan

dancing hippos burning aztec books

An article appeared in Life magazine  in 1957 about the mushroom rituals and many famous people went to try them. It’s chemical composition is very similar to LSD. Amongst home were people like, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Timothy O’LearyKeith Richards, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Writer Aldous Huxley and surprisingly… Walt Disney visited well known  Shamaness Maria Sabinas on six different occasions . It was said he would go to Oaxaca and stay a couple of months each year at a hotel near the village.  Much of this is hearsay and hard to confirm but it makes us wonder about Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland Now. Disney did an animated cartoon for Mexican songwriter Francisco Javier Soler. Francisco was known Internationally as Cri-Cri and he wrote childrens songs. Disney said he was a Genius who understood the minds of children.
Many plants were used for their curative powers but the knowledge of many of them were lost when the Spaniards deemed the Codex Books of the Aztecs were demon possessed and ordered thousands of them to be burned.

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CHASING A LEGEND

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Back in the mid fifties   Gordon wasson, vice president of J.P. Morgan Banking Firm and Fashion photographer Alan Richardson came to Mexico to do a study of a mushroom culture they had heard about in the mountains of Oaxaca.They went to the village of Huautla, Oaxaca to interview Maria Sabinas was a Shaman known as the mushroom priestess. While there they participated in a nocturnal ceremony and became the first Anglos to experience the hallucinagenic effects of Psylocibin mushrooms.

Psilocybe_caerulescens       Shorly thereafter they wrote an article describing their trip in LIFE magazine  inspiring many people  such as Dr. Timothy Leary and others to investigate also, thus ushering in the Psychodelic age.

These ceremonies had been going on for centuries amongst the indigenous tribes of Mexico. It was claimed that while under the influence a person could receive messages from God(s) telling them how to cure illnesses or what lay ahead of them in the Future and unlock their Inner being.  Shamanes or Curanderos as they were known had been handed down the secrets of halucinogenic plants from one generation to the next since Aztec times. Now the knowledge became public and Maria Sabinas became an Iconic figure. Born about 1900, she was a simple Indian lady suddenly thrust into the limelight of fame. But fame had its negative effect, Maria never sought fame or fortune, but now her village was deluged with hippies and heads in search of a new high. Other Shaman’s jealous of the attention she was getting and angry at her for revealing age old secrets burned her house and forced her out of the village, some of her children were mysteriously murdered. The police intervened and harassed her thinking she was selling drugs to tourists. Maria died alone in a shack without any luxuries or basic necessities at the age of 85 .

Maria_Sabina

Before her death many famous people were lured to the village in search of a new adventure, amongst the more famous visitors were, Bob Dylan, Peter Townsend, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Aldous Huxley, Walt Disney, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Amongst this group it is surprising to see Walt Disney, It was said that after this meeting with Maria Walt created the Cartoon epic “Fantasia”, I recall seeing some dancing mushrooms in that picture, Did Walt partake of mushrooms on that trip?

Did these visits to a small mountain village change the way music and movies were made? Almost nothing is recorded about these visitors and what they experienced.

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According to legends John Lennon and Yoko Ono went to Oaxaca about 1980 and clandestinely met with Maria Sabinas and had a session with her. Maria Sabinas said she recalled a light skinned boy with an oriental girl visiting her for a ceremony that lasted a few hours, afterwards she said the boy told her in perfect Spanish,  “Thank you, I have seen my death on this voyage”. He wrote a note and left it on the table with some dollars, the note was in English which she couldnt read but it was signed, John Lennon.  A few months later John Lennon was murdered in New York.   Another legend says that in 1969 a Cessna plane landed at an airstrip in Oaxaca , its pilot was Carlos Avila Camacho and its passengers were, John Lennon, George Harrison and an Anthropologist named Brenda. They went to see Maria Sabinas for a ceremony but she had been up all night at another session and was exhausted and told them it would have to be another day. They decided they couldnt wait so they contacted another curandero for a session during which John had a bad trip and started screaming, “I won’t let him kill me “. Then he said this is bullshit, we’re leaving.  There’s no way to authenticate these stories but they have a ring of truth about them.

I’ve met people who swear they were at a session and John Lennon was there but I suspect they are just trying to inflate their own egos.  It is also said that after a ceremony with Maria that Paul and John wrote “Let It Be”, which supposedly hints that “Mother Mary”mentioned in the song is possibly  Maria Sabinas.

The writer Carlos Casteñeda, author of  “A Separate Reality”, used Maria Sabinas and another Chaman as a model for the character of Don Juan in his novel.

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We may never know if a wizened, wrinkled old lady in a remote Oaxacan village in the mountains of Mexico was responsible for a great change in Music and the inspiration of A Magical Mystery tour.

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Oaxaca… pronounced “Wa..Ha..Kah”

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THE TULE TREE

Oaxaca has its big celebration in July, called the “Guelaguetza”, lots of folklore dancing, colorful costumes and food. Theres many things that attract tourists to Oaxaca, its History, Benito Juarez was born there. He spoke no Spanish just the Zapoteca Indian language but was a brilliant kid and learned the language, went to law school and eventually became the President.

Other things that are attractive are the Archeological zones of Monte Alban & Mitla. Monte Alban was a great Zapotec ceremonial center that was established around 500B.C. , At its peak about a thousand years later it had a population of around 25000 people.

Monte Alban

Just a few miles away is theTule tree a mexican cypress tree that is over 2000 years old, it has a girth of  161 feet, stands 164 feet high, a veritable tree huggers delight.Besides that there are many crafts, natives dressed in native costumes and CHOCOLATE…nectar of the Gods.

CHOCOLATE

…Oh yes, let us not forget …MEZCAL… with or without the worm… Mexicans tell me it can cure any ailment. 

Go to this link to see more photos of Oaxaca…

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