Family

Agaricaceae: Strophariaceae; Stropharioideae Tribe,

Mexicanae Section

Forms and Varieties

The following forms have been named (all nom.

nud.!; Ott 1996):

Psilocybe mexicana f. angulata-olivacea Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. distorta-intermedia Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. galericulata-convexa Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. galericulata-viscosa Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. grandis-gibbosa Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. navicula-viscosa Heim et

Cailleux

Psilocybe mexicana f. reflexa-conica Heim et

Cailleux

The variety Psilocybe mexicana var. longispora

Heim, first proposed by Roger Heim, is now

regarded as a synonym for Psilocybe aztecorum

Heim (cf. Psilocybe spp.).

Folk Names

Alcalde, amokia, a-mo-kid (Chinantec), amokya,

angelito (Spanish, "little angel"), a-ni, atkat, atka:t

(Mixe), chamaquillo (Spanish, "little boy"), cuiya-

jo-to-ki (Chatino), di-chi-to-nize (Mazatec),

di-nize, hongo sagrado, kong, kongk (Mixe), konk,

little bird, mbey-san (Zapotec), mexikanischer

kahlkopf, mexikanischer zauberpilz, Mexican

liberty cap, Mexican magic mushroom,

nashwinmush (Mixe, "earth mushroom" or "world mushroom"), ndi-shi-tjo-ni-se (Mazatec), nize

(Mazatec, "little bird"), pajarito (Spanish, "little

bird"), piitpa, pi-tpa (Mixe), pi-tpi, pi:tpi, piule de

churis,373 teonanacatl, teonanacatl (Aztec), teotlaquilnanacatl

(Nahuatl)

History

Ethnohistorical sources indicate that teonanacatl,

the "divine mushroom" or "flesh of the gods"

(Psilocybe mexicana and other species of the genus

Psilocybe), was being ritually consumed and used

in religious ceremonies in Mexico before the

arrival of the Spanish. During the colonial period,

the indigenous use of the mushroom was forbidden

and brutally suppressed by the Spanish

Inquisition. In spite of this, the mushroom cult has

survived underground even into the present day.

The psychoactive use of Psilocybe mexicana in

Indian shamanism was rediscovered at the end of

the 1930s. In the late 1950s, it was found that the

Mixe Indians of Coadan, Oaxaca, also used

Psilocybe mexicana for shamanic purposes

(Hoogshagen 1959).

Psilocybe mexicana was the first mushroom in

which Albert Hofmann discovered the LSD-like

substances psilocybin and psilocin (Heim et al.

1958; Hofmann 1958, 1959).

Distribution

Psilocybe mexicana is found exclusively in Mexico

(Michoacan, Morelos, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Puebla,

Xalapa, Veracruz) and Guatemala (Stamets 1996,

129 f.**). It grows in subtropical forests at altitudes

of 1,000 to 1,800 meters and is found in the

vicinity of liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua

1.), oak (Quercus spp.), alder (Alnus spp.), and

plane (Platanus lindeniana Mart. et Gall.) trees.

Appearance

Albert Hofmann noted that Psilocybe mexicana

can be recognized by its cap, which resembles a

typical Mexican sombrero. It can grow up to 10

cm tall and has small bell- or hat-shaped caps (3 to

5 cm in diameter). In Mexico, it fruits from June to

September.

Psilocybe mexicana can be confused with

poisonous muscarinic Inocybe mushrooms, e.g., 1.

geophylla (Sow. ex Fr.) Kummer (cf. Inocybe spp.).

It is also very similar to the species Psilocybe

semilanceata and Psilocybe pelliculosa and is often

confused with them (cf. Psilocybe spp.).

Psilocybe mexicana can be easily grown on a substrate

of a Lolium species (cf. Lolium temulentum).

The fruiting bodies can be consumed fresh or

dried. Mexican Indians often ingest the mushroom

together with honey or chocolate (cf.

Theobroma cacao). In former times, the mushrooms

were steeped in pulque and drunk (cf.

Agave spp.).

Carlos Castaneda's claim (1973*, 1975*) that

these mushrooms are dried and then smoked for

their psychedelic effects has been the subject of

considerable controversy and is highly doubtful

(Clare 1988**; Siegel 1981, 330*).374

Ritual Use

The literature from the colonial period contains

numerous texts that provide information concerning

the mushrooms, their effects, and their

ritual and/or medicinal uses. The Florentine

Codex, an early colonial chronicle by the

Franciscan missionary Fra Bernardino de

Sahagun, written in Aztec, reports:

Nanacatl. They are called teonanacatl, "flesh of

the gods." They grow in the flatlands, in grass.

The head is small and round, the stem long

and thin. It is bitter and scratches, it burns in

the throat. It makes one foolish; it confuses

one, it distresses one. It is a remedy for fever,

for gout. Only two, three are eaten. It makes

sad, depressed, distressed; it makes one run

away, become afraid, hide. He who eats many

of them sees many things that scare him and

that make him happy. He runs away, hangs

himself, throws himself from a cliff, screams,

is afraid. It is eaten with honey. I eat mushrooms;

I take mushrooms. It is said of one

who is haughty, impertinent, vain that: "He has

bemushroomed himself' (Sahagun, Florentine

Codex 11.7*)

Another Aztec text by Sahagun provides a rudimentary

description of the mushroom ritual:

The first thing that one ate at such meetings

was a black mushroom that they called nanacatl.

It has inebriating effects, produces visions, and incites to obscene acts. They already take

the thing early on the morning of the festival

day and drink cacao before they arise. They

eat the mushrooms with honey. When they

have made themselves drunk with these, they

begin to become excited. Some sing, others

cry, others sit in their rooms as if they were

deep in sorrow. They have visions in which

they see themselves die, and this hurts them

bitterly. Others see scenes in which they are

attacked by wild animals and believe that they

are being eaten up. Some have beautiful

dreams in which they believe they are very

rich and possess many slaves. But others have

quite embarrassing dreams: they have the

feeling of being caught while committing

adultery or of being wicked forgers or thieves

who are now facing their punishment. They

all have their visions. When the inebriation

that the mushrooms produce is over, they speak

of that which they have dreamed, and one tells

the other about his visions. (Sahagun 9)

In his Historia de las Indias de Nueva Espane,

the missionary Diego Duran noted several times

that mushrooms were ingested at festivals and

were "drunk like wine" ( = pulque; cf. Agave spp.),

although they were mixed with chocolate (cf.

Theobroma cacao) (Wasson 1980**). Today, Psilocybe

mexicana is still used by shamans of the

Mazatec, Mixe, Zapotec, and Cuitlatec in a manner

that is quite similar to its pre-Spanish use

(Hoogshagen 1959; Lipp 1990; Miller 1966; Ravicz

1961).

Among the Mixe, the most important deity is

the Earth Mother Naaxwin or Na:shwin (literally,

"the eye of the earth"). The earth is regarded as the

source of wisdom; the Earth Mother is omniscient

and can see the past, present, and future. Since the

mushrooms grow from the earth, they are

regarded as extremely wise and full of knowledge.

The Mixe originally believed that the mushrooms

were born from the bones of primordial shamans

and prophets. According to a different version of

that belief, which was influenced by Christianity,

the mushrooms are regarded as soothsayers

because they are equated with the blood of Christ.

It is said that as Jesus hung on the cross, blood

flowed from his heart to the ground. Numerous

flowers and edible mushrooms grew from this

blood. Finally, the magic mushrooms emerged and

supplanted the plants that had previously turned

green. For this reason they are called na:shwin

mux, "mushrooms of Mother Earth" (Lipp 1991,

187*). Accordingly, the messages of the mushrooms

are known as the "voice of the Earth"

(Mayer 1975,604**).

Magic mushrooms are used primarily in ritual

contexts by the mostly female shamans. They are

eaten for divinatory purposes.375 They are used to recognize the causes of diseases, to predict the

death and loss of family members, to locaiize lost

objects, to uncover thieves and magicians, and to

search for answers to familial problems. The

mushrooms can also help in finding hidden treasures,

discovering ruins, and experiencing ritual

knowledge. The mushrooms normally speak Mixe,

although they occasionally speak Zapotec as well

(Lipp 1991, 187). Among the Mixe, the old preSpanish

tonalamatl divination calendar is still in

use. Some shamans use the mushrooms in conjunction

with the calendar divination (Miller

1966).

Magic mushrooms376 can be harvested only in

summer. It is said that they grow only on sacred

ground. When a person encounters a mushroom,

he should offer it three candles, kneel before it,

and speak the following prayer:

Tum'Uh. Thou who art the queen of all there

is and who was placed here as the healer of all

sicknesses. I say to you that I will carry you

from this place to heal the sickness I have in

my house, for you were named as a great being

of the earth. Forgive this molestation, for I am

carrying you to the place where the sick

person is, so that you make clear what the

suffering is that has come to pass. I respect

you. You are the master of all and you reveal

all to the sick. (Lipp 1991, 189*)

The collected mushrooms are carefully placed

on the house altar or stored in the village church

for three days. Incense (copal; cf. incense) is offered

to them. They are consumed either fresh or sundried.

For three days before ingesting the mushrooms,

a person must remain abstinent from sex

and refrain from eating poultry, pork, eggs, and

vegetables. It also is forbidden to drink alcohol

(mescal; cf. Agave spp.) or to use other drugs or

medicines. During this time, a person should also

refrain from agricultural activities. On the morning

of the fourth day, he or she takes a bath and

eats a light breakfast (of only foods made from

maize; cf. Zea mays). He or she fasts for the rest of

the day. On the morning after the session, the

person must eat a large quantity of chili peppers

(Capsicum spp.); he or she should abstain from

meat and alcohol for the following month.

The mushrooms are always eaten in pairs and

also dosed in pairs: three pair for children, seven

pair for women, nine pair for men (Lipp 1991,

189f.*). Sometimes only the caps are eaten (Mayer

1975, 604**). In each session, a person should eat

mushrooms of just a single species, because mixing

the species can result in unpleasant, i.e., threatening,

visions. Two eggs are laid next to the mushrooms

before they are eaten. At the same time,

"copal"377 (incense; the resin of the palm Acrocomia

mexicana Karw., from which palm wine is also obtained) is burned and a candle is lit. A prayer

is offered to the mushrooms before they are eaten:

Thou who art blessed. I am now going to

swallow you so that you heal me of the illness

I have. Please give me the knowledge I need,

thou, who knows all of what I need and of

what I have, of my problem. I ask of you the

favor that you only tell me and divine what I

need to know but do nothing bad to me. I do

not wish an evil heart and wickedness. I only

wish to know of my problems and illness and

other things that you can do for me. But I ask

you, please do not frighten me, do not show

me evil things but only tell all. This is for the

person with a pure heart. You can do many

things, and I ask you to do them for me. I now

ask your forgiveness for being in my stomach

this night. (Lipp 1991, 190*)

After the mushrooms are swallowed whole

with water, one should be quiet. It is said that the

mushrooms, like all other magical plants, do not

like noise and will not speak if they feel disturbed.

Normally the person who has eaten the mushrooms

is accompanied by one or two friends or

family members. They should pay attention to the

things that the "bemushroomed" person says and

fumigate him or her with copal smoke if problems

arise. The visions that appear are shaped by

culture. First one sees snakes and jaguars. After

these have disappeared, the sun and the moon

appear as a boy and girl, the children of the wind

and the Earth Mother. Often, the "bemushroomed"

person only hears voices that give advice,

provide diagnoses, or ask about the reasons for

ingesting the mushrooms. In these visions, most

people obtain profound insights into their state of

health and learn how they may become healthy

and complete (R~itsch 1996).

Artifacts

Some pre-Columbian Aztec manuscript illustrations

(tlacuilolli) depict scenes that are usually

interpreted as mushroom rituals (Caso 1963). In

particular, several pages in a manuscript that has

become known as the Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus

I give the impression of an entheogenic

ceremony. A number of figures, each holding two

mushrooms (pairs!) in their hand, are shown sitting

in a ritual arrangement (cf. R~itsch 1988a,

174f.*; Wasson 1983**).

In the comic Azteken [Aztecs], by Andreas

(1992), Mexican magic mushrooms are ingested in

order to solve problems.

Medicinal Use

The Aztecs used teonanacatl as a medicine to treat

fever and gout (R~itsch 1991a, 267*). Today, Mexican

magic mushrooms are still used as a remedy for a number of illnesses, including stomach and

intestinal disturbances, migraines and headaches,

swelling, broken bones, epileptic seizures, and

acute and chronic ailments. Most Indians who are

not shamans avoid the mushrooms and ingest

them in low (subpsychedelic) dosages only in

cases of illness. They fear confrontation with the

mushrooms, which speak to them and can reveal

things that may be unpleasant (Lipp 1991, 187 f.*).

Constituents

In his "classic" analysis, Albert Hofmann found

concentrations of 0.25% psilocybin and 0.150/0

psilocin by dry weight (Heim and Hofmann 1958;

Hofmann 1960b). Fresh mushrooms contain

more psilocin (Stamets 1996, 130**).

Effects

Timothy Leary (1920-1996), a consciousness

researcher and former Harvard professor, took his

first "trip" with the magic mushrooms of Mexico.

He encountered the "divine mushroom" while he

was staying in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1960. This

event did not simply change his life and thought

but also led to profound changes in society and in

the ways that science looks at the world. One of

the first effects that Leary noted during his

historical experience· was that famous "cosmic

laughter," especially about one's self and science:

I laughed about my daily pomposity, that

narrow-minded arrogance of the scientist, the

impertinence of the rational, the glib naiVete

of words in contrast to the unadulterated,

rich, eternally changing panoramas that

flooded my brain.... 1 surrendered to the joy,

as mystics have done for centuries when they

looked through the veil and discovered that

the world-as plastic as it might appear-is

actually a small stage setting that is constructed

by our mind. There was a flood of

possibilities out there (in here?), other realities,

an infinite arrangement of programs for

other scenarios of the future. (Leary 1986,

33f.*)

At the peak of his mushroom encounter, Leary

had a profound and mystical experience of the

world:

Then 1 was gone, off to the department for

fantastic optical effects. The palaces of the

Nile, the temples of the Bedouins, shimmering

jewels, finely woven silk garments that

breathed colors, of muso-emerald glistening

mosaics, Burmese rubies, sapphires from

Ceylon. There were jewel-encrusted snakes,

Moorish reptiles whose tongues flickered,

turned and reeled down into the drain in the

center of my retina. Next there followed a

journey through evolution that everyone who travels through their brain is guaranteed to

experience. I slipped down the channel of

recapitulation into the ancient production

rooms of the midbrain: snake time, fish time,

big-jungle-palm time, green time of the ferns.

Peacefully I observed how the first ocean

creature crawled onto the land. I lay next to it,

the sand crunching under my neck, then it

fled back into the deep green ocean. Hello, I

am the first living creature. (34)

This InItiatory experience permanently

changed the academically trained scientist:

The trip lasted somewhat more than four

hours. Like most everyone who has the veil

lifted, I came back a changed person.... In four

hours at the pool in Cuernavaca, I learned

more about the mind, the brain, and its

structures than 1 was able to during the preceding

fifteen years as a busy psychologist. (35)

As they did for so many people before and after

him, the mushrooms taught Leary something

important (or would it be more appropriate to say

that he discovered it through the mushrooms?):

I experienced that the brain is an unused

biocomputer that contains billions of unexplored

neurons. I learned that normal waking

consciousness is a drop in the ocean of

intelligence. That the brain can be programmed

anew. The knowledge about the

functioning of our brain is the most pressing

scientific task of our time. I was beside myself

with enthusiasm, convinced that we had

found the key we had been looking for. (35)

For many scientists and psychonauts, the

Mexican mushrooms-and later the European

and North American species as well-became keys

to other worlds, realities, and conceptions of life

that opened the normally locked doors to an

expanded, visionary, or cosmic consciousness. Since

that time, many have passed through these "doors

of perception" and allowed the overwhelming

adventures of consciousness to flow into their

thoughts and actions, their scientific theories and

philosophical treatises.
Literature

See also the entries for the other Psilocybe species

and for psilocybin.

Andreas. 1992. Azteken. Hamburg: Carlsen.

Caso, Alfonso. 1963. Representaciones de hongos en

los codices. Estudios de Cultura NcihuatI4:27-38.

Heim, Roger, Arthur Brack, Hans Kobel, Albert

Hofmann, and Roger Cailleux. 1958.

Determinisme de la formation des carpophores

et des sclerotes dans la culture du "Psilocybe mexicana" Heim, agaric hallucinogene du

Mexique, et mise en evidence de la psilocybine et

dans de la psilocine. Comptes Rendus des Seances

de l'Academie des Sciences (Paris) 246: 1346-51.

Hofmann, Albert. 1958. La psilocybine sur une autoexperience

avec Ie Psilocybe mexicana Heim. In

Les champignons hallucinogenes du Mexique, by

Roger Heim and R. Gordon Wasson, 278-80**.

Paris: Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle.

---. 1959. Chemical aspects of psilocybin, the

psychotropic principle from the Mexican fungus,

Psilocybe mexicana Heim. In Neuropsychopharmacology,

ed. Bradley et al., 446-48. Amsterdam:

Elsevier.

---. 1960a. Das Geheimnis der mexikanischen

Zauberpilze geliiftet. Radio +Fernsehen,

Schweizer Radiozeitung (1960), no. 4: 8-9.

---. 1960b. Die psychotropen Wirkstoffe der

mexikanischen Zauberpilze. Chimia 14:309-18.

---. 1960c. Die psychotropen Wirkstoffe der

mexikanischen Zauberpilze. Verhandlungen der

Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel 71:239-56.

---. 1961. Die Erforschung der mexikanischen

Zauberpilze. Schweizerische Zeitschrift fur

Pilzkunde 1:1-10.

---. 1964. Die Erforschung der mexikanischen

Zauberpilze und das Problem ihrer Wirkstoffe.

Basler Stadtbuch (1964): 141-56.

---.1969. Investigaciones sobre los hongos

alucinogenos mexicanos y la importancia que

tienen en la medicina sus substancias activas.

Artes de Mexico 16 (124): 23-31.

Hoogshagen, Searle. 1959. Notes on the sacred

(narcotic) mushrooms from CoatIan, Oaxaca,

Mexico. Oklahoma Anthopological Society Bulletin

7:71-74.

Lipp, Frank J. 1990. Mixe concepts and uses of

entheogenic mushrooms. In The sacred

mushroom seeker: Essays for R. Gordon Wasson,

ed. Thomas J. Riedlinger, 151-59. Portland, Ore.:

Dioscorides Press.

Miller, Walter S. 1956. Cuentos Mixes. Introduction

by Alfonso Villa Rojas. Mexico City: IN!.

---. 1966. El tonalamtl mixe y los hongos

sagrados. In Homenaje a Roberto]. Weitlaner,

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Ott, Jonathan. 1996. Psilocybe mexicana Heim.

Unpublished computer file. (Cited 1998.)

R~itsch, Christian. 1996. Das Pilzritual der Mixe. In

Maria Sabina-Botin der heiligen Pilze, ed. Roger

Liggenstorfer and C. R~itsch, 139-41. Solothurn:

Nachtschatten Verlag.

Ravicz, Robert. 1961. La mixteca en et estudio

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