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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest.

Davis, Wade. (1996).
New York: Simon & Schuster.


ISBN: 0-684-80886-2

Description: hardcover, 537 pages.

Contents: preface, 14 chapters, notes on sources, acknowledgments, index.

Excerpt(s): The idea for this book emerged in a moment of great sadness. Timothy Plowman was a man of generosity, kindness, modesty, and honor, and his untimely death at the age of forty-five from AIDS on January 7, 1989, cut short a career of immense promise. A superb ethnobotanist with an uncanny ability to gain the trust and confidence of Indian people, he was the protege of Richard Evans Schultes, the greatest ethnobotanist of all, a man whose expeditions a generation earlier had earned him a place in the pantheon along with Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Bates, and his own hero, the indefatigable English botantist and explorer Richard Spruce.

Twelve days after Tim's death a memorial service was held at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. ... Tim's death was especially difficult for Schultes, who in his wisdom understood that the student is as important as the teacher in the lineage of knowledge. The people in the chapel. botanists and friends, sat quietly as his tired voice came over the speakers. He ended with the famous lines from Hamlet: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It was then, as I stood at the podium, that I decided to write a book that would tell the story of these two remarkable men. (page 11)

The daughter of a Connecticut country doctor and only twenty-four, [Eunice Pike] had been living in Huautla for two years and intended to stay for however long it took to master the Mazatec language. Her goal was to translate the New Testament, a task she addressed with all her time and energy. She had no interest in buying converts with aluminum pots and modern trinkets. She was honest enough to know that most conversions were shallow and ephemeral, less transformations of the spirit than triumphs of expediency.

Once I tried to explain heaven to a young woman, she said, smiling, as she poured Schultes a cup of tea. I said it was a beautiful place, a place where there are no tears. She asked whether I had been there. I said no. I explained that only the dead know heaven. Then she looked at me with the saddest face. She said she was so sorry for me. And she left almost in tears.

How strange, Schultes said.

It was only later I realized that most Mazatec actually claim to have been to heaven.

With the mushrooms?

Yes. They believe Jesus speaks through the mushrooms, that their visions are messages from God. What was it you called them?

Teonanacatl, Schultes said. Some believe it means *flesh of the gods.'

In Mazatec, the mushrooms have several names. One translates roughly as *the little holy ones.'

Have you ever seen them?

No, she said.

What about the effects? What do people say?

She held his eyes and for a moment said nothing. Then with a sign of resignation she explained, There are things we know that we cannot know. Christianity is a thin veneer over the lives of these people. I've heard them singing at night. They always begin with the Lord's Prayer. The leader will say she has the heart of Christ and is the daughter of the Virgin Mary. But then in the next moment she is the daughter of the moon and stars, snake woman, bird woman, whatever. She smiled and began to laugh softly.

It doesn't disturb you? Schultes asked.

Yes, of course, she said, But, then, no. I mean, how can it, really? When I first came here I complained about the use of mushrooms to an old man. Do you know what he told me?

No, Schultes smiled.

He said, *But what else could I do? I needed to know God's will, and I don't know how to read.'

They both laughed.

So how does one get the message of God to a people who seem to have something far more spectacular and immediate than anything we have to offer? She asked the question he had wanted to but hadn't dared.

With difficulty, I suspect, he said. What do the padres say?

Oh, the Catholics have it even worse. It's hard enough to translate the meaning of the Last Supper, but the Eucharist! Compared to the mushrooms, bread and wine must seem rather tame.

Schultes laughed once more. What an extraordinary woman, he thought a missionary who could laugh, one who could love God without hating people.

I once was waiting for an airplane, and I started to sing a hymn. It was one no Mazatec knew. I had just translated it. Two of the women said, Isn't it Beautiful! How lovely! It's just like the mushroom. I turned and rather piously told them that it wasn't like the mushroom. That God and Jesus were different. But they wouldn't listen. Can you imagine what they said?

No, said Schultes, ready for anything.

They said, *We mean, wasn't it gracious for the mushroom to teach you that song.' (pages 105-106).



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