Aztec Mushroom Ceremony

Sahagun included illustrations in his book, executed by native artists (tlacuilo). One shows a bird shaman dancing on a clump of toadstools. Another depicts a ceremony of ritual combat [shown here]. 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.

Sahagun also described banquets that would be arranged around a courtyard by a nobleman for his guests. After shell trumpets were blown, mushrooms were eaten with honey, followed by chocolate. Throughout the night some would dance, sing, or weep. Others would sit and nod; all would see visions. these visions would show the celebrants things that would happen in their lives, such as drowning, being stoned, committing adultery, gaining slaves. When the effects lessened, they would discuss these visions. Sahagun's informants seemed to be convinced that all the prophetic visions would come to pass. At the exact middle of the night, the host would burn paper spattered with rubber as an offering to the gods, and dancing and singing would continue till dawn. Gifts-the ashes of the incense burners, maguey thorns, and rolls of tobacco-would then be buried in the middle of the courtyard, and they would say, "Our children and grandchildren shall eat, they shall drink, they will not perish forever."

Mushrooms were used for recreational hallucination, as medicines, and as food. Sahagun described six highly prized edible species that grew in or near the forest, two of which were also used as remedies. Çacananacatl was a grassland species, dark, soft in texture, with a thin stem and a flattened cap. It grew only after rain. Menanacatl was "round, white like oysters, tender, quickly cooked. It is a remedy. It can be baked on the griddle. It is edible, tasty, savory...I gather mushrooms, I pick mushrooms."

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

For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see:

Aztec Mushroom Ceremony?
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