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The Maya and their love for magic mushrooms
The Maya and their love for magic mushrooms
The more we look back in time, the more we discover how intertwined psychedelics and human history are. Specifically, magic mushrooms. The Netflix documentary, Fantastic Fungi displays this perfectly.
In this article, we are going to go back and visit a time thousands of years before us. In Central America lived a famous group of people that were extremely ahead of their time and have assisted us in our understanding of evolution and ancient times. Specifically, their ways of civilization were impressively advanced.
Meet: The Maya.
Who were the Maya?
The Mayans were a group of human beings that thrived in Central America thousands of years ago. Unlike many other scattered Indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Mayans were centered in one geographical block, covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala. They also resided in Belize and parts of Mexico.
But where did they start and where did they end up?
Archaeologists and anthropologists believe that the Maya culture was originally formed around 600BCE in the northern reaches of what is now Guatemala. They are believed to have migrated north to the Yucatan Penisula of present-day Mexico sometime around the beginning of 700CE.
The history of the Ancient Mayans is nothing short of fascinating. They pushed forward on the train of evolution and were extremely active in trying to determine their place in the World. Mayans were some of the first humans to think in a scientific and calculated matter. During their time, they were able to develop the science of astronomy and created their own complex calendars.
Additionally, they are famously known and remembered for creating remarkably elaborate ceremonial architecture. Some include but are not limited to; the famous Maya pyramids, temples, palaces and even observatories! They managed to do all of this without the use of metal tools. We are not entirely sure how they did it, which only adds to the mystery surrounding these ancient people. The Maya were not only gifted with their architectural brains but were also exceptionally skilled weavers, potters and artists.
Aside from their crafty hands, some of their ways of life were rather peculiar. But what can you expect from early humans? For example, they are also known for their intense ceremonies and sacrifices. These people frequently sacrificed local animals such as; turtles, wild dogs, iguanas, crocodiles and even jaguars! Pretty crazy, right? Well, it gets crazier. Not only did the Maya sacrifice local animals but they also sacrificed humans!
They believed that one of their purposes on Earth was to ‘feed the Gods’. They wanted to please the Gods by feeding and nourishing them, which was best accomplished through sacrifice. Believing that some blood hosted a more potent source of nourishment, some Mayans even sacrificed themselves! Self-sacrifice was known as not only the highest sacrifice but also the highest form of honour. These sacrifices were depleted of mercy and filled with blood and excitement.
While human sacrifices are interesting enough, are there other interesting facts about the ancient Maya? Let’s talk magic mushrooms.
Did the Maya use magic mushrooms?
The consumption and use of hallucinogenic plants as entheogens dates back to thousands of years before our time! Humans have been using psychedelic compounds found in plants for centuries. Many plants in nature contain hallucinogenic particles that result in an altered state of consciousness. This sacred state of mind has been used during spiritual rituals among Mexican subcultures such as Inca, Aztec and Maya.
The Maya had significant access to naturally occurring hallucinogenic substances and without a doubt utilized them in their own way, as did ultimately all ancient cultures at some point. We know this as factual due to the outstanding amount of evidence we have collected over the years and continue to accumulate. Ethnohistorical, ethnographic and archaeological data show us that all Mesoamerican cultures used psychedelic substances with therapeutic and spiritual motives.
These substances were referred to as entheogens because they were used to communicate with ‘the divine’. The word ‘entheogen’ is an alternative term for hallucinogen or psychedelic drug, with the meaning ‘full of God, inspired, possessed'.
The Maya used a surprising amount of different substances in their ceremonies. A few are water lilies (opiate-like effects), fermented beverages (alcohol-like effects) and tobacco. Some of the psychoactive components in the Maya’s local plants were narcotic analgesics, mescaline, DMT, muscimol and ‘mush’ more… The Maya are known for their love of magic mushrooms!
Magic mushrooms are a group of naturally occurring fungi that contain psychoactive compounds. The most famously known compound in magic mushrooms is psilocybin, which can be found in various magic mushrooms.
The consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms in ritual ceremonies was extremely common among ancient Mesoamerican cultures. Various religious practices with magic mushrooms extend from the Valley of Mexico to the rest of Central America. These people were most likely incorporating magic mushrooms into their ceremonies at least 3500 years ago! To this day, many cultures in this part of the World still partake in ceremonies, some of which include the ingestion of magic mushrooms and/or other sacred plant medicine(s).
To be more specific, the Maya consumed k’aizalaj okox, also known as teonancàtl to the Aztecs. This beautiful name belongs to the psychedelic mushrooms that have been used in various Mesoamerican cultures. This particular mushroom contains psilocybin.
While psilocybin gets all the glory, it is not the actual psilocybin that provides the psychedelic effects that create the beloved and famous magic mushroom high. Upon ingestion, our bodies actually convert psilocybin to a compound called psilocin, which is the compound that is truly responsible for the mind-altering and life-changing effects of magic mushrooms!
Not only can the fact that these mushrooms grew absolutely everywhere in these locations function as enough evidence for some, but there is also more proof that the Maya used and respected magic mushrooms that can be seen from intriguing artifacts.
Archaeological evidence can be displayed in the form of the artifacts known as ‘mushroom stones’, which direct us to the likely consumption of magic mushrooms by the Maya. These particular artifacts are decorated with figures that can be viewed as humanoids. These stones basically look like the Maya people, only the top of their heads are the shape of a mushroom cap. This tells many archaeologists that these people had a deep connection with these mushrooms, considering they created art displaying the merging of the mushroom and their physical bodies. After archaeologists cataloged these stunning stones by type and provenience, the archaeologists were able to date their earliest appearance to approximately 1000BC!
Looking at the evidence acquired so far, we are pretty certain of the fact that magic mushrooms played an important role in the development of Maya culture and their intensive ceremonies. The true depths of their love for magic mushrooms will forever remain a mystery to us present-day humans, considering how differently we utilize these substances today.
What do you think about the Maya and their intertwined history with psychedelics? Let us know in the comments below!