Aztec Fungi and Demon

The Aztecs consumed mushrooms in a religious context and also as a intoxicant employed in celebration and recreation. At the coronation of Moctezuma II in 1502, a large tract of the population became intoxicated on these fungi. The emperor himself drank black chocolate sweetened with honey when he consumed hallucinogenic fungi. Even though the Aztecs employed a wide range of hallucinogens and applied little legislation against such usage, alcohol was strictly forbidden to persons under a certain age, on pain of death. the Aztecs knew its tendency to cause aggression among the young and wisely only allowed the elderly of the community to freely brew and drink octli, a beverage made from fermented agave.

Fray Toribio Motolina wrote in the sixteenth century that the hallucinogenic mushrooms were called teonanácatl, which in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, means "flesh of the gods". He gave a fanciful account of the visions, saying that users believed their bodies to be covered in devouring worms, causing them to rush outside in the hope of being killed, or to hang themselves or become "more cruel towards others". Bernardino de Sahagun, a Catholic friar, wrote that the mushrooms called teonanácatl grew under moss in fields or high in the mountains, were round in shape with a slender stem. they tasted bad, hurt the throat, and intoxicated the eater. Sahagun stated that they were medicinal aids for gout and fever, but in these instances the sufferers should eat no more than two or three. High doses of fungi were said to provoke lust. Sahagun included illustrations in his book, executed by native artists (tlacuilo). One shows a bird shaman dancing on a clump of toadstools [shown here]. Another depicts a ceremony of ritual combat. A celebrant stands on a dais upon which is painted a mushroom, and two dignitaries look on, holding mushrooms in their hands. These seem to represent Psilocybe mexicana.

Image and excerpt from Adrian Morgan's Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Folklore, and Cultural Oddities of a Strange Association, (1995, p. 128-129).

For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see:

Aztec Fungi and Demon
Aztec Fungi and Demon Description
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