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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

The Wondrous Mushroom: Mycolatry in Mesoamerica

Wasson, R. Gordon (1980).
New York: McGraw-Hill.

ISBN: 0-07-068443-X

Description: Paperback, xvi + 248 pages.

Contents: Prelude, 11 chapters divided into 2 parts: 1. The Present, 2. The Past, consulted texts, index.

Note: 2 other editions exist.

Excerpt(s): For the Nahua the whole vegetable kingdom is constructed as inanimate and therefore all herbs, shrubs, and trees are invariable as to number. Grammarians say that there may be one exception: 'mushroom' is nanácatl and this could be the plural form for nácatl, 'flesh'. Grammarians concede this much but their discipline does not permit them to go further. I am prepared to advance ethnomycological background supplementing the data of the grammarians and converting what they say is, grammatically, a possibility into virtual certainty. The sacred mushrooms, possessing a soul, are responsible for the plural shape of nanácatl.

In many languages the mushroom vocabulary includes a generic word for that which is eaten-'meat', 'bread', 'cheese', 'flesh', and 'food' itself. ... In Pashto, a major Indo-European language of Afghanistan, pocekei is the name of an important edible mushroom and that name means 'flesh', the same meaning that appears in Nahuatl nanácatl. Of course we are not suggesting a genetic kinship of these words with Nahuatl but when we come upon a simple figure of speech in a mushroom vocabulary and find a parallel association of ideas in other languages, a pattern of human thinking begins to emerge. Nanácatl is built on nácatl, the word in Nahuatl for 'flesh', a generic metaphor like 'food', 'victuals', 'bread', 'meat'; and by doubling the initial syllable it assumes a pluralized form that gives to the mushroom a soul, a status unique in the vegetable world. All mushrooms—nanácatl—are endowed with a soul, a unique status granted to the non-hallucinogenic species by reason of their kinship to the divine kinds, the divine kinds dominating by their overwhelming importance the whole fungal world. The root meaning, 'flesh', is emotionally colorless, neutral (like eg 'meat', 'bread', 'cheese' as given above), but it becomes exalted when the plural form—nanácatl—is preceded by teo- or xochi-, the designation of the entheogenic kinds.

There is a striking parallel in the Santal language, a non-Indo-European tongue spoken by a tribe scattered in villages in Orissa, Bihar, and West Bengal. In Santal as in Nahuatl, the whole of the vegetable kingdom is viewed as inanimate, but in Santal there is a startling exception: a single species of mushroom, the putka, which is animate and being animate possesses a soul. I made a preliminary visit to what are called the Santal Parganas in 1965 to inquire about the putka. Again in 1968 Roger Heim from Paris and I from New York journeyed to Orissa and Bihar for the express purpose of studying this mushroom, which Professor Heim identified but no one could remember why it alone of the mushroom tribe was animate! It is not entheogenic and in the season when it abounds is much eaten with rice. Professor Stella Kramrisch in a paper resulting from our inquiry arrived at the etymology of putka: not of Santal origin, it is a loan word from the Sanskrit pătika, the first surrogate for the Soma of the Vedic hymns, a loan word that survives to this day only in Santal and possibly other tongues of the Munda family. ... Thus the parallel with Nahuatl is close: the divinity that glows in a mushroom, in each case, gives to the mushroom a soul; in one instance (Santal) the specific kind, in the other (Nahuatl) the whole tribe of mushrooms enbracing perhaps a score of entheogenic species.

... Thus in the folk language certain mushrooms attract a grammatical expression of the animism that survives from prehistory. It is possible to offer yet another example in Russian. In the standard language the mushroom known as the masljenik has a special plural form, masljata, and the plural of another mushroom name is opjata in certain uneducated circles. The plural suffix here used is normal only with certain nouns designating young animals, birds, and children! Clearly this personification of the divine mushrooms is a fading survival from the time in prehistory when the northern Slavs knew the virtues of entheogenic mushrooms. Professor Marija Gimbutas, the renowned Lithuanian prehistorian, has reported to us on the use down to our own day of Amanita muscaria (ie 'Soma') in the remoter parts of Lithuania at wedding feasts and the like when the mushrooms were mixed with vodka, and also how the Lithuanians used to export quantities of A. muscaria to the Lapps in the Far North for use in their shamanic practices. Here in the Lithuanian festivities is the only report that I have so far received of the ingestion of the fly-agaric in Eastern Europe for jollification ends. Early Man survived longer in Lithuania than almost anywhere else in Europe.

These parallels in unrelated languages and cultures reinforce each other and drive home the powerful spell (sometimes reaching to divinity) that the entheogenic mushrooms cast over diverse peoples in prehistory. (pages 42-44)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP

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