Mushroom Venus and Fleur de lis Iconography in Pre-Colombian Art





Mushroom Worship In Mesoamerica:

 Re-opening Old Roads of Archaeological Inquiry

Carl de Borhegyi  Copyright  2016



Mycolatry: is a term used to describe the study of Mushroom Worship; specifically, worship of the entheogenic mushroom species in proto and prehistory as a means for communicating in grave circumstances with the Almighty Powers (Wasson, 1980 p.XIV).   

Mesoamerica: is a term that "defines those areas of Mexico and Central America that witnessed the development of advanced pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Teotihuacano, Toltec, Mixtec, and Aztec, all of which shared a number of interrelated cultural traits involving religious concepts, ritualism, architecture, arts, and crafts, hieroglyphic writing, and calendrics" (Paul Kirchhoff, 1942) (Charles Gallenkamp, 1959, revised 1985 p.3)


The information provided in this book is for educational, historical, and cultural interest only, and does not condone the use of mind altering mushrooms. This research is dedicated to the pioneering work of Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi and ethno-mycologist R. Gordon Wasson.

The author's research titled, "Hidden in Plain Sight" is still undergoing editing and peer review, scholars will find an extensive bibliography of works consulted and cited at the top of  the page.

The images are presented for educational, scholarly, and artistic research purposes. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work on this page is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.   


In the groundbreaking book published by the late Robert Gordon Wasson and his wife, Valentina Pavlovna Wasson, titled Mushrooms, Russia and History  (1957), the Wassons postulated the existence of a belief system, shared by both continents, that was so ancient that its most basic elements may have been carried to the New World with the first human settlers. The origin of this Pan American belief system, he believed, was early man's discovery of the mind-altering effects of various hallucinatory substances found in nature, among them the Amanita muscaria mushroom. The Wassons surmised that our own remote ancestors worshiped and venerated a divine mushroom god perhaps 6000 years ago (Furst, 1972, reissued 1990, p.187).

In 1952 archaeologists working at the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City found a tripod stone carving in the shape of a mushroom bearing the effigy of a jaguar on its base. Sure that it corroborated the existence of a pre-Columbian mushroom cult, the Wassons consulted American Museum of Natural History archaeologist Gordon F. Ekholm, who put the Wassons in touch with Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, better known simply as Borhegyi.



Jaguar mushroom stone excavated from the Pre-Classic Miraflores E-III-3 tomb at Kaminaljuyu.



         Michael D. Coe,  today's unofficial  "Dean of Maya studies"....

 "These peculiar objects , one of which was found in an E-III-3 tomb, are of unknown use. Some see vaguely phallic association. Others, such as the late Stephan de Borhegyi, connect them with the cult of the hallucinogenic mushrooms still to this day prevalent in the Mexican highlands, and it is claimed that the mortars and pestles with which the stones are so often associated were used in the preparatory rites" (The Maya, 1993 fifth edition, by M.D. Coe, p. 60).


Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi, an emigrant from Hungary with a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology and Egyptology from the Peter Paszmany University in Budapest, had been invited to Guatemala to study American archaeology by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Working under a grant provided by the then Viking Fund of New York (subsequently the Wenner Gren Foundation) his project was to catalog the extensive archaeological collections of the Guatemalan National Museum.    

While at work on these collections Borhegyi came across a number of small, unprovenanced carved stone effigy figures that resembled mushrooms to such a degree that they were called "mushroom stones."



Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi examines a miniature mushroom stone from Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala.


At the time, no one seriously thought that these sculptures represented real mushrooms. Some of the small mushroom-shaped sculptures were plain and realistic, others were adorned with human and animal effigies.  While only a few had been found in the course of  archaeological investigation,  there was sufficient evidence on specimens excavated by archaeologists working with the Carnegie Institution of Washington  research team to enable Borhegyi to classify and date them typologically. The majority had been found in Guatemala in the highlands or on the Pacific Piedmont--Maya areas along the intercontinental mountain range which were heavily influenced in Preclassic times by the powerful Olmec culture (Borhegyi, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963).

Borhegyi found the mushroom stone figures so intriguing that he prepared a monograph for submission to the C.I.W.s "Notes on Middle American Archaeology and Ethnology". Before submitting it, however, he sent it off to be critiqued by archaeologist Gordon Ekholm at the American Museum of Natural History.  Ekholm, in turn, showed it to his friend R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur mycologist who was looking for archaeological evidence of ancient hallucinogenic mushroom rites in Mesoamerica.  Wasson wrote to Borhegyi and within months the two embarked on what became an intense and fruitful collaboration that lasted until the end of Borhegyi's tragically short life.

Borhegyi, proposed the theory that hallucinogenic mushroom rituals were a central aspect of Maya religion. He based his theory of a mushroom cult among the ancient Maya on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with human sacrifice and the Mesoamerican ballgame.  

The Wassons believed that the mushroom cult reported by the Spanish friars found full expression in the mushroom stones of the ancient Maya (Wasson and Wasson, 1980:75 -178).


                  (Photograph of Maya mushroom stones by Dr. Richard Rose reproduced from Stamets, 1996)


While the majority of mushroom stone sculptures were of indeterminate provenance, a sufficient number had been found during the course of archaeological investigations as to permit Borhegyi to determine approximate dates and to catalog them stylistically. The Wassons, published Borhegyi’s article on Middle American Mushroom Stones in their monumental book, Russia; Mushrooms and History, (Wasson and Wasson, 1957) The Wasson's included Borhegyi's chronological distributional chart of these Pre-Columbian mushroom stones and pottery mushrooms, found at various archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

In 1957 Wasson included Borhegyi's mushroom stone monograph as an addendum in his monumental book  Mushrooms, Russia and History. In the monograph Borhegyi identified the existence of an ancient mushroom stone cult that could have begun as early as 1000 B.C.E. and lasted as late as 900 C.E.  He noted that many of the mushroom stones, especially those dating between 1000 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. depicted images of toads, as well as snakes, birds, jaguars, monkeys, and humans. The majority of the images appeared to emerge from the stem of the mushroom (Wasson and Wasson, 1957, Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b.)


While many anthropologists and archaeologists had accepted Borhegyi's idea that mushrooms and other hallucinogens were used in ancient Mesoamerica, their use was, in most cases, dismissed as relatively incidental and devoid of deeper significance in the development of Mesoamerican religious ideas and mythology.  With a few exceptions, notably the research and writings of ethno-archaeologist Peter Furst, further inquiry into the subject on the part of archaeologists came to a virtual halt. Fortunately, a few mycologists, most notably Bernard Lowy and Gaston Guzmán, (2002:4; 2009) continued through the years to make important contributions to the scientific literature. To this day, the subject remains relatively little known and generally missing from the literature on Mesoamerican archaeology, art history, and iconography.

Jaguar effigy mushroom stone excavated from the Pre-Classic Miraflores E-III-3 tomb at Kaminaljuyu.


          Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi......

"My assignment for the so-called mushroom cult, earliest 1,000 B.C., is based on the excavations of  Kidder and  Shook at the Verbena cemetery at Kaminaljuyu. The mushroom stone found in this Pre-Classic grave, discovered in Mound E-III-3, has a circular groove on the cap. There are also a number of yet unpublished mushroom stone specimens in the Guatemalan Museum from Highland Guatemala where the pottery association would indicate that they are Pre-Classic. In each case the mushroom stone fragments has a circular groove on the top. Mushroom stones found during the Classic and Post-Classic periods do not have circular grooves. This was the basis on which I prepared the chart on mushroom stones which was then subsequently published by the Wassons. Based on Carbon 14 dates and stratigraphy, some of these  Pre-Classic finds can be dated as early as 1,000 B.C. The reference is in the following".....(see Shook, E.M. & Kidder, A.V., 1952. Mound E-III-3, Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala; Contributions to American Anthropology & History No. 53 from Publ. 596, Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. (letter from de Borhegyi to Dr. Robert Ravicz, MPM archives December 1st 1960 )




Background to mushroom study 


                                Suzanne de Borhegyi-Forrest, Ph.D.                                         

Mesoamerican mushroom imagery first came to the attention of the modern world in the late 19th century when the German geographer Carl Sapper published a picture of an effigy mushroom stone from El Salvador in the journal Globus.(29 May 1898)  Sapper noted that the stone carving was “mushroom-shaped” but did not consider whether it actually represented a mushroom, but that the stone object was a phallic symbol (Wasson and de Borhegyi, 1962 p. 42). This connection was supplied two months later by Daniel Brinton in an article in Science (29 July 1898) when he noted that “they (mushroom stones) resemble in shape mushrooms or toadstools, and why should not that be their intention?”  (Wasson, 1980: p.175). However difficult it was for scholars to accept the mushroom stones as representations of actual mushrooms, the case for their association with a psychogenic mushroom cult came in 1952 when R. Gordon Wasson and his wife, Valentina Pavlovna, came on the scene. Although neither of them were professional anthropologists--Wasson was a New York banker with the firm of J.P. Morgan, and an amateur mycologist; his wife, Valentina Pavlovna, a pediatrician--they were engaged in writing a book about the cross cultural role of mushrooms in history. In the course of their studies they learned of the existence of an entheogenic mushroom cult among the Mazatecs and Mixtec Indians in southern Mexico. They also found reports of the pre-Conquest use of “inebriating” mushrooms written by such prominent Spanish historians as the Dominican friar Diego Durán (1964, 225-6), Fray Bernardino de Sahagun (1947,:239, 247), and Motolinía ,(1858, Vol. I: 23),

The friars who reported the ceremonial use of psychogenic mushrooms were sparing with their words and inevitably condemnatory in their description of mushroom “intoxication.” They were, in fact,  repulsed by the apparent similarities of the mushroom ceremony to Christian communion.  Wasson and Pavlovna, however, read these reports with great interest. They were particularly excited when, In 1952, they learned that archaeologists working at the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City had found a tripod stone carving in the shape of a mushroom bearing the effigy of a jaguar on its base. Sure that it corroborated the existence of a Pre-Colombian mushroom cult (Wasson and Wasson, 1980:75 -178), they consulted American Museum of Natural History archaeologist Gordon Ekholm.

The author’s father, Stephan de Borhegyi, became the intermediary in their investigations. A recent emigrant from Hungary with a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology and Egyptology from the Peter Paszmany University in Budapest, Borhegyi had been invited to Guatemala to study American archaeology by  the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Working under a grant provided by the then Viking Fund of New York (subsequently the Wenner Gren Foundation) his project was to catalog the extensive archaeological collections of the Guatemalan National Museum. In the course of this project he came across numerous unprovenanced small stone sculptures shaped like mushrooms which he described in correspondence with Ekholm. Ekholm put him and the Wassons in touch with one another. Shortly thereafter, the Wassons,  Borhegyi, and I, (his wife and the author’s mother, Suzanne), embarked on a trip through the Guatemalan highlands in search of evidence of an existing mushroom cult such as had been reported among the Mazatecs and Mixtecs of Mexico. No such cult was uncovered, but both the Wassons and the Borhegyis suspected that the lack of evidence might be explained by the extreme sacredness and sensitivity of the subject among the Maya Indians, coupled with an inadequate amount of time devoted to winning the confidence of their informants. Wasson did, however, find corroborating evidence of inebriating mushrooms in a number of Mayan word lists for the Cakchiquel linguistic area around Guatemala City (Wasson, 1980, pp. 181-182).

Following their sojourn in Guatemala, Wasson and Pavlovna went on to visit the remote village of Huautla de Jimenez in southern Oaxaca. Here they not only found evidence of an existing mushroom cult, but had the opportunity to participate in a mushroom ceremony conducted by a local curandera, Maria Sabina. The results of their research exploded into worldwide notoriety in 1955 with the publication of Wasson’s article entitled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” in the popular magazine LIFE   (May 13, 1957).  To Wasson's consternation, his description of the mushroom ritual reverberated through the hippie culture of the time. Seemingly overnight the little Oaxacan village was mobbed with thrill seekers—“hippies, self-styled psychiatrists, oddballs, even tour leaders with their docile flocks.” (Wasson, 1980, p. XVI). Wasson sent samples of the hallucinogenic mushroom to a pharmaceutical laboratory in Switzerland for analysis with the result that the active agent was both identified and made into synthetic pills. The era of widespread abuse of the psychedelic mushroom began with a vengeance that rocked society.

It is strange that, in the half century since Borhegyi published his first articles on Maya mushroom stones and proposed their use in connection with Maya psychogenic mushroom ceremonies, little attention has been paid to this intriguing line of research. I propose that the oversight is related to the worldview classification scheme established by Wasson, in which he distinguished between peoples and cultures that liked mushrooms (mycophiles) and those that feared them (mycophobes) (Wasson, 1980: XV). This classification might be extended to include all psychogenic or mind-altering substances with the exception of alcohol. Their use in the Western world is considered to be objectionable, immoral and, for the most part, illegal. In any event, it is clear that, while the Pre Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica were decidedly mycophilic, the majority of archaeologists who have studied them are mycophobes. The result has been that their possible centrality to ancient Mesoamerican religious rituals has been either overlooked or, at best, barely acknowledged (Martin and Grube, 2000:15; Coe, 1999: 70; Sharer, 1994: 542, 683).

There may, however, be another, more immediate, reason for this neglect. That, I believe, is the memory of the very unsettling period in our recent history when too many individuals, most of them young people, “tripped out” on a variety of psychedelic substances, and in too many cases harmed themselves in the process. While neither Steve nor I ever took the sacred mushroom. Our son, Carl (without my knowledge I might add), did experiment with the mushroom during his student years in the late 1970s at Southwestern Michigan College and the early 1980s at the University of Wisconsin. This enables him to speak from experience of the mushroom’s awe-inspiring effect on the mind and body. He is quick to say that he would not repeat the experiment today, but he does not deny the obvious—that one has to have experienced the “magic” effects of the mushroom to truly comprehend the mushroom experience. Quoting from Daniel Breslaw’s book Mushrooms, “a smudge on the wall is an object of limitless fascination, multiplying in size, complexity, and color,” (1961).  It is our sincere hope that, by calling for a new, and much needed, look at the role of  entheogenic mushrooms in Pre-Columbian art and ideology, we will not inadvertently encourage a new wave of thrill-seeking experimentation with the mushroom and its derivatives. It should be possible to engage in the former, without provoking the latter......   

Entheogen: a term meaning “God within us” is the preferred term for those plant substances that, when ingested, give one a divine experience.  This semantic distinction distinguishes their role in the early history of religions from their abuse and vulgarization by the “hippie” sub-culture of the l960's and 1970s.   

 Michael D. Coe, today's unofficial  "Dean of Maya studies"....

"I do not exactly remember when I first met Gordon Wasson, but it must have been in the early 1970's. He was already a legendary figure to me, for I had heard much of him from the equally legendary and decidedly colorful Steve Borhegyi, director of the Milwaukee Public Museum before his untimely death. Steve, who claimed to be a Hungarian count and dressed like a Mississippi riverboat gambler, was a remarkable fine and imaginative archaeologist who had supplied much of the Mesoamerican data for Gordon and Valentina Wasson's Mushrooms, Russia and History, particularly on the enigmatic "mushroom stones" of the Guatemala highlands. His collaboration with the Wassons proved even to the most skeptical that there had been a sort of ritual among the highland Maya during the Late Formative period involving hallucinogenic mushrooms" (from the book; The Sacred Mushroom Seeker: tributes to R. Gordon Wasson, 1990 p.43)


Over the years the author has found an abundance of archaeological evidence supporting the proposition that Mesoamerica, the high cultures of South America, and Easter Island shared, along with many other New World cultures, elements of a mushroom based belief system, and like the Vedic god Soma of ancient Hinduism, was worshiped and venerated as a god in ancient Mesoamerica.

It was easy to understand why mushroom imagery had not been identified before. Wasson noted that the ancient Hindus pursuit of immortality revolved around the "covert ingestion" of the Amanita muscaria mushroom. On many vase paintings, sculptures, and figurines the images of mushrooms, or images related to mushrooms, were so abstract, and so intricately interwoven with other complex and colorful elements of Mesoamerican mythology and iconography, that they were, I believe, quite deliberately "hidden in plain sight," in an effort to conceal  this sacred information from the  eyes of the uninitiated.



Mushrooms were so cleverly encoded in the religious art of both the Old World and New World, that prior to this study they virtually escaped detection.


Quoting R. Gordon Wassan...

"Here was the Secret of Secrets of the Ancients, of our own remote forebears, a Secret discovered perhaps sporadically in Eurasia and again later in Mesoamerica. The Secret was a powerful motive force in the religion of the earliest times (Wasson 1980, p. 53)     


After examining thousands of ancient artifacts, a project that would have been impossible before the existence of the computer and high speed Internet, I discovered a wealth of mushroom imagery. Surprisingly, most of this mushroom imagery concerned the Amanita muscaria, or Fly Agaric mushroom, rather than the better known hallucinogenic, Psilocybin mushroom. Both varieties, however, as well as others were represented. The fact that they had not been noted earlier is explained by the way these images were so cleverly encoded into the art that they became almost invisible. Invariably the mushroom imagery was associated with ritual sacrifice in the Underworld, with jaguar transformation and period endings, and with the decapitation and resurrection of the Underworld Sun God by a pair of deities associated with the planet Venus as both the Morning Star and Evening star. Mushrooms, in fact, are so closely associated with underworld jaguar transformation, and underworld jaguar resurrection, that they must have been believed to be the vehicle through which both were accomplished. They are also so closely associated with ritual decapitation, that their ingestion may have been considered essential to the ritual of decapitation, whether in real life or symbolically in the underworld.

In fact I believe that the key to this entire belief system lies, as proposed by ethno-mycologist R. Gordon Wasson, in man's discovery of the mind-altering effects of various hallucinatory substances. The accidental ingestion of these hallucinogenic substances could very well have provided the spark that lifted the mind and imagination of these early humans above and beyond the mundane level of daily existence to contemplation of another reality. 

The hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom, identified by Gordon Wasson as the God plant Soma, from the Rig Veda is, I believe, the inspiration of many religious ideas throughout the world. 

The author's study would indicate that the cult of Soma, as well as other Vedic traditions, migrated to the Americas sometime around 1000 B.C. and that the Indians of the New World modeled their religion on Vedic beliefs and ritual practices.

If the identification of the Vedic god Soma, the so-called mystery plant described in the Rig Veda is in fact the Amanita muscaria mushroom, first proposed by Wasson, then there can be little doubt that the Amanita muscaria mushroom was indeed the model for the numerous small stone sculptures found in the New World known as Maya "mushroom stones."     

           Robert Gordon Wasson...

 "Some Middle American specialists may challenge my assumption of a connection between the "mushroom stones", which ceased to be made centuries before Columbus arrived on these shores, and today's surviving mushroom cult." .... "For years I had only an assumption to go on, but now, thanks to discoveries made by the late Stephan F. de Borhegyi  and us, I think we can tie the two together in a way that will satisfy any doubter"   (Wasson,1972:188n)



We know from the Rig Veda, (Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning "to see") that Soma was an intoxicating plant worshiped as both a god and holy beverage by a people who called themselves Aryans.

The author presents encoded mushroom imagery, both realistic and abstract, of both the Amanita muscaria (also known as the Fly Agaric mushroom), and the better known hallucinogenic Psilocybin mushroom, encoded in pre-Columbian art. Both species of mushrooms are discussed in relation to their veneration in both the Old World, and the New World, and the mushroom's relationship to the planet Venus as a resurrection star, and the symbol we've come to recognize as the Fleur de lis.


I found that mushrooms were so cleverly encoded in the religious art of the New World, "Hidden in Plain Sight" that prior to this study encoded mushrooms virtually escaped detection. 

         Quoting R. Gordon Wasson...

 "It [the mushroom] permits you to see, more clearly than our perishing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other planes of existence, even (as the Indians say) to know God." 

Diffusionism: is a term often used to describe the origins of cultural characteristics and their spread from one society to another.                       
The prevailing anthropological view of ancient New World history is that its first human inhabitants came from Asia but, having arrived and spread throughout the length and breadth of the two continents, and they developed their own complex cultures totally independent of outside influence or inspiration. Beginning with Franz Boas, American anthropologists adopted an essentially isolationist point of view. The peoples of the New World, they argued, were fully capable of developing civilizations as sophisticated as any found in the Old World.  Suggestions to the contrary were dismissed as, at best, lacking in hard archaeological evidence, and at worst, fanciful, racist, or demeaning. As a result, Americanists, in general, have ruled out all considerations of possible trans-oceanic contact as lacking in legitimacy.


                  Quoting Robert Gordon Wasson....            

"It can of course be argued that the two great mushroom traditions, that of New World Indians and that of the peoples of Eurasia, are historically unconnected and autonomous, having arisen spontaneously in the two regions from similar requirements of the human psyche and similar environmental opportunities. But are they really unrelated?    


In the years that followed Stephan de Borhegyi’s death, the existence of a mushroom cult in ancient Mesoamerica, and specifically among the ancient Maya, was denied or essentially dismissed as inconsequential. Borhegyi's proposal of an ancient mushroom cult met with limited, highly skeptical acceptance at best, among his archaeological colleagues. Few in the Mesoamerican archaeological community seriously considered the possibility that the mushroom sculptures had an esoteric religious significance.

It wasn't as if Borhegyi’s proposal of a mushroom cult wasn't well grounded in substantial, verifiable evidence. Besides citing his own and others’ archaeological studies, Borhegyi referred frequently to writings by the early chroniclers who witnessed and recorded what they saw of native mushroom ceremonies during the early years of the Spanish Conquest. Their first-hand reports tell us that the Aztecs ate  mushrooms or drank a mushroom beverage in order to induce hallucinatory trances and dreams. During these dreams they reportedly saw colored visions of jaguars, birds, snakes, and little gnome-like creatures.

The Wassons may have provided an important explanation for this lack of interest. He and his wife, Valentina, had observed that, across the globe, cultures seemed to be divided into those who loved and revered mushrooms, and those who dismissed and feared them. The first group of cultures they  labeled "mycophiles," while the latter were "mycophobes."  In the New World, it appears that all of the native cultures were, and still are, unquestionably mycophilic.  In contrast, the great majority of archaeologists and ethnologists who studied and described them, and who traced their cultural origins to Western Europe, were decidedly mycophobic. This major difference in cultural background may be responsible for what I believe should be seen as a lamentable gap in our understanding of indigenous New World  magico-religious origins.   (Wasson: 1957)



Quoting anthropologist Peter Furst...

"The connection between these [mushroom] sculptures and the historic mushroom cults of Mesoamerica has not always been accepted. Though many mushroom stones are quite faithful to nature, they were, until recently, not even universally thought to represent mushrooms at all, and a few die-hards even now, in the face of all the evidence, reject this interpretation." (Furst, 1972)


From the time of Wasson and Borhegyi's initial meeting in Guatemala in 1953 until Borhegyi's untimely death in 1969, the two scientists worked in close cooperation and shared a voluminous correspondence of over 500 letters. Wasson, no longer able to continue his fruitful collaboration with Borhegyi on Mesoamerica, continued his earlier studies of mushrooms in East Indian religion and mythology.  As the result of their collaborative efforts they both surmised that if the mushroom stones did, indeed, represent a mushroom cult, then the mushroom itself was an iconographic metaphor, and the mushroom stone effigies would supply the clues necessary to decipher their meaning.
            In 1972  Wasson  declared the matter resolved:   

 "Some Middle American specialists may challenge my assumption of a connection between the "mushroom stones", which ceased to be made centuries before Columbus arrived on these shores, and today's surviving mushroom cult." .... "For years I had only an assumption to go on , but now, thanks to discoveries made by the late Stephan F. de Borhegyi  and us, I think we can tie the two together in a way that will satisfy any doubter"   (Wasson,1972:188n)  




Now, after more than a half century of virtual denial by the anthropological community of the centrality of hallucinogenic substances, and in particular two varieties of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Amanita muscaria and psilocybin, I can finally present undeniable visual evidence of its existence in the ancient art and iconography of Mesoamerica.


Quoting the late R. Gordon Wasson... 

"I believe the whole corpus of surviving pre-conquest artistic expression should…be reviewed on the chance that divine mushrooms figuring therein have hitherto escaped detection”.  (from Thomas, 1993 p.644 11-17n)    



                               SOMA IN THE AMERICAS


Amanita muscaria ushrooms are not only frequently identifiable in the prehistoric art of both the Old World and New World, but that in Mesoamerica in particular, they played a major role in the development of indigenous religious ideology, and that both the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom and the Psilocybin mushroom were worshiped and venerated as gods in ancient Mesoamerica.


Mushroom stones that carry an effigy of a human (god?), bird, jaguar, toad and other animals, occurred earlier in time and have been mostly found at the higher elevations of the Guatemala Highlands. This is an area of woodlands and pine forests where the Amanita muscaria mushroom or Fly Agaric, grows in abundance. The plain or tripod mushroom stones, which carry no effigy on the stem (stipe), have been typically found at lower elevations and may indicate the ritual use of the psilocybe mushroom in these regions. It  is more than likely, therefore, that this mushroom was the inspiration or model for the earliest mushroom stone carvings. The Amanita muscaria mushroom, considered a deadly poisonous mushroom by many (Gerrit J. Keizer 1996, p.156), contains muscarine and ibotenic acid, the toxins or chemicals that cause the powerful psychoactive effects.



The Pre-Classic mushroom stones pictured above are from the archaeological site of Kaminaljuyu in the Guatemala Highlands, both depict a mushroom emerging from the back of a crouching jaguar. Mushroom stones with a double edge or groove on the underside of the cap, have been dated to the Late Pre-Classic period about 300-100 B.C. by Stephan F. de Borhegyi based on the few mushroom stones that have been excavated in context at Kaminaljuyu (BORHEGYI, STEPHAN DE: "The enigmatic mushroom stones of Mesoamérica," M. A. Research Records III. New Orleans, 1959).


Borhegyi's studies revealed that mushroom stones first appeared in the Preclassic period in the highlands of Guatemala and at sites along the Pacific slope.  In Borhegyi's  typological breakdown of mushroom stones according to their chronology and distribution (Wasson and Wasson, 1957) he noted that the mushroom stones from the lower altitudes were of the late type and either plain or tripod. While mushroom stones are absent from the Classic period, he believed that they may have been re-introduced to Guatemala and El Salvador in the Post Classic period by the Pipils, another group like the "Tajinized Nonoalca", or Olmeca-Xicallanca  from the Mexican gulf Coast. He believed that they may have represented a secondary manifestation of the original idea (Borhegyi to Wasson, June 14th 1953). 


Some of the earliest mushroom stones which date to Olmec times bear toad images carved on their base. Certain toads discard a toxin from the skin when touched, that can be dried and can be smoked or taken orally (Eva Hopman, 2008).

The discovery of numerous toad bones in Olmec burials at San Lorenzo suggests that the Olmecs may have used other mind-altering substances, such as hallucinogenic toad toxin, in various ritual practices (Coe, 1994:69; Furst, 1990: 28; Grube, 2001:294).  

Gordon Wasson was the first to call attention to the pervasiveness of the toad and it's association with the term toadstool, with the intoxicating or poisonous mushrooms in Europe. 


          Ethno-Mycologist  R. Gordon Wasson...

"In the association of these ideas we strike a vein that must go back to the remotest times in Eurasia, to the Stone Age: the link between the toad, the female sex organs, and the mushroom, exemplified in the Mayan languages and the mushroom stones of the Maya Highlands. Man must have brought this association across the Bering Strait (or the land bridge that replaced it in the ice ages) as part of his intellectual luggage.”


Mushroom stones bearing toad images carved on their base (depicted above), have been found throughout Chiapas, Mexico, the Guatemala highlands, and along the Pacific slope as far south as El Salvador.  (Borhegyi, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1965a, 1965b).



Above is a Type C mushroom stone, depicting a mushroom (toadstool), emerging from the mouth of an upended toad. The late Maya art historian Tatiana Proskouriakoff demonstrated that in Mayan hieroglyphs the upended toad represents the symbol of rebirth (Coe, 1993:196).


         Quoting from ethno-archaeologist Peter T. Furst:

"It is tempting to suggest that the Olmecs might have been instrumental in the spread  of mushroom cults throughout Mesoamerica, as they seem to have been of other significant aspects of early Mexican civilization......" It is in fact a common phenomenon of South American shamanism  (reflected also in Mesoamerica) that shamans are closely identified with the jaguar, to the point where the jaguar is almost nowhere regarded as simply an animal, albeit an especially powerful one, but as supernatural, frequently as the avatar of living or deceased shamans, containing their souls and doing good or evil in accordance with the disposition of their human form" (Furst 1976, pp. 48, 79)."


It is reasonable that a belief in the redemptive power and divinity of hallucinatory mushrooms could have spread from one culture to another. The first mushroom cult, identified by its powerful artistic expression of the were-jaguar, dominated Olmec culture as early as 1500 B.C.  As early as 850 B.C. a were-jaguar cult begins to appear in South America, identified in the religious art of the Chavin and Paracas cultures of Peru. BCE.

The rise of the ancient Olmec, the first complex civilization in the New World has puzzled archaeologists for some time. Archaeologists contend that Olmec culture appears to come from out of nowhere in full bloom at the site of San Lorenzo, in Chiapas, Mexico. Carbon 14 dates place Olmec civilization at San Lorenzo at 1200 B.C.E. (M. D.  Coe, 1970, p.21). The Olmec appear on the scene having already developed a highly evolved system of writing, where no earlier or simpler forms have been found. Renowned Maya archaeologist Sylvanus G. Morley, also noted that there was the lack of known direct antecedents of Maya culture in the Maya region (Morley 1946, p.46). Morley noted writing as a perfect example, that even in its earliest known forms, it was already a highly evolved system, that no earlier, simpler forms of writing out of which it might have evolved are known anywhere (Stephen C. Jett 1971, p.46).  



         (Photo of Olmec whistle by Higinio Gonzalez of Puebla, Mexico)             
           (Photo of Amanita muscaria mushroom from Royalty Free Stock Photos) 


Above is an Olmec figurine photographed by Higinio Gonzalez of Puebla, Mexico. It most likely comes from the San Lorenzo phase of Olmec culture, 1200-400 B.C.E.  These infantile baby-faced figurines, many of which depict the symbolism of a snarling jaguar, are a distinctive feature in Olmec art. This figure appears to represent an Olmec baby wearing an Amanita mushroom cap and holding a gigantic Amanita mushroom. According to ethno-mycologist Gastón Guzmán, one of the effects of the Amanita muscaria mushroom experience is to see objects as gigantic in size. (Guzman, 2010).



Figurine from Nayarit, Western Mexico, dated 100 C.E-, depicting a little person sitting under what can only be a Amanita muscaria mushroom.  The figurine, which is 7.5 cm tall,  is now in the INAH Regional Museum in Guadalajara Mexico. (photo of the Amanita muscaria mushroom was taken by : © Michael Wood)   

Borhegyi theorized that Maya civilization developed as the result of direct influences from the Olmec civilization of La Venta, and suggested that the Olmec of La Venta most likely spoke a Proto-Mayan, living among such other Maya speakers as the Huaxtecs, and proto-Totonacs (S.F. de Borhegyi 1965a p.19). Words like muxan and okox (mushroom) are two of several words borrowed or loaned by the ancient Maya, perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. (Furst, 1976, p. 79) Terrence Kaufman and Lyle Campbell, two linguists  studying the diffusion of languages in Mesoamerica, postulate that the language of the ancient Olmec, (San Lorenzo ?) the so-called "mother culture" of New World civilization, was Mixe-Zoque.  

         Ethno-archaeologist Peter T. Furst:

"It is tempting to suggest that the Olmecs might have been instrumental in the spread  of mushroom cults throughout Mesoamerica, as they seem to have been of other significant aspects of early Mexican civilization......" It is in fact a common phenomenon of South American shamanism  (reflected also in Mesoamerica) that shamans are closely identified with the jaguar, to the point where the jaguar is almost nowhere regarded as simply an animal, albeit an especially powerful one, but as supernatural, frequently as the avatar of living or deceased shamans, containing their souls and doing good or evil in accordance with the disposition of their human form" (Furst 1976, pp. 48, 79)."



There are many striking similarities in the art of the Old World, and that of the New World. Surprisingly, as I discovered, the ancient symbol that we have come to recognize as the Fleur de lis appears in the art of Mesoamerica at approximately the same time in history as the rise of the ancient Olmecs. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the emblem of the Fleur de Lis in Olmec art and iconography carries the same symbolism of Lord in the Old World, linked to a Trinity of gods, and Tree of Life, and a forbidden fruit.



Above is a Zapotec urn from (Tomb 7) from the Olmec influenced site of Monte Alban, in Oaxaca Mexico. The ruler or deity portrayed on the urn is depicted with the familiar "Olmec snarl" symbolism of a snarling jaguar, and crowned with a symbol of rulership and divinity that I propose represents a New World version of the Old World Fleur de lis emblem.  Note that the urn portrays a ruler or deity with facial features that appear remarkably similar to those found in the cultures of Asia. (photograph of Zapotec urn from http://roadslesstraveled.us/monte-alban/) 


The earliest evidence of writing in Mesoamerica appears on a stelae at the ancient Zapotec ceremonial site of Monte Alban. New evidence would suggest that the ceremonial center at Monte Alban, was Olmec influenced, and begins to develop under Olmec influence about 700-800 B.C.  Radiocarbon dates by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, of the oldest Zapotec palisade, range between 1680 and 1410 B.C.E. (Charles C.Mann 2006, p.237). The stelae with inscriptions officially known as the danzante with glyphs (or Monument 3 at San Jose Mogote), was carved sometime around 600 B.C. (Josephy 1991, p.159). 


Spanish chronicler Pedro Perez de Zamora, in his "Relacion de Teticpac",  Papeles de Nueva Espana 1580, reported the use of sacred mushrooms among the Zapotec Indians, in the Valley of Oaxaca. (Wasson and de Borhegyi 1962, The Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of Mexico and Psilocybin: A Bibliography, p. 37 1962).


Not enough is really known about the Olmec people, the language which they spoke, what they may have called themselves, and where this ancient civilization originally came from. Aztec poems recorded by Spanish scribes, speak of a land called Tamoanchan, which translated from the Mayan language means "Land of the Serpent".   It was said that "this was a land settled long before the founding of Teotihuacan, where there was a government for a long time, and it was a paradise of gods, ancestors, and humans".

In the mythology of ancient Mexico, there is a Nahua (Aztec) legend of a paradise of nine heavens that was dedicated to the Wind God Quetzalcoatl, also known as the Feathered Serpent, called Tamoanchan where there was a sacred tree that marked the place where the gods were born and where sacred mushrooms and all life derived...  "In Tamoanchan...On the flowery carpet...There are perfect flowers...There are rootless flowers" (Hugh Thomas 1993, p.474).           



Pre-Columbian drinking vessel that encodes the fruit from the Tree of Life as stylized sacred mushrooms. (Source: Metropolitan Museum 1978.412.113)      



Above is a ceramic piece from the Capacha culture in Western Mexico, in the State of Colima. The miniature grouping of figurines are of the Late Formative period (300 B.C. to A.D. 200 ) and depicts what appears to be the veneration of the World Tree, encoded metaphorically as a sacred mushroom (photograph courtesy of Gaston Guzman) .   


Despite all the evidence of the religious use of entheogenic (God producing?) mushrooms recorded in the pre-Columbian codices and described in the Spanish chronicles, the academic and archaeological community as a whole has been reluctant to recognize and accept the important cultural and religious role played by mushrooms in ancient New World society. Both my father and Wasson noted this fact over a half century ago, though both added enormously to the body of published ethnographic and archaeological information on the subject, it remains to this day virtually unknown. 

One of the most influential archaeologists of the time, was legendary archaeologist Sir J. Eric S. Thompson, who was a major doubter of a Maya mushroom cult, ancient or modern. In a letter to Borhegyi Thompson scoffed at the proposition, arguing that they were more likely used as stools, though he conceded that they would not have been very comfortable!  


                Archaeologist J. Eric S. Thompson.... 

"I had heard of the theory that these stones might represent a narcotic mushroom cult, but I would think it a difficult theory to prove or disprove... I know of no reference to their use among the Maya, ancient or modern" (Thompson to de Borhegyi, March 26,1953, MPM Archives). 


Thompson was not unfamiliar with mushroom stones. He had found an anthropomorphic mushroom stone representing a seated individual with a mushroom cap in the course of a trial survey of the Southern Maya area. The mushroom looking specimen came from the Central Highlands of Guatemala. Thompson described the piece as a huge mushroom-like object that some anthropologists thought to be stone stools. He also excavated and illustrated several tripod mushroom stones with plain stems at Finca El Baul on the Coastal piedmont of Guatemala. These he also described as stone seats. (Borhegyi in Wasson, 1962:49)


The ballgame yoke fragment above with footprint was excavated by J. Eric Thompson along with a tripod mushroom stone (Type D) from a pit in front of Monument 3 at the Pacific coastal site of El Baul in Guatemala.

I believe there are several reasons for this lamentable gap in our understanding of indigenous New World magico-religious origins. One has to be the universal human trait of selectively “seeing” primarily what is of interest to us, and what we are already disposed to believe. Another is the well known Western bias against any mind-altering substance other than alcohol, combined with a great distaste for the widespread experimentation with psychedelic substances in the 1960s and 1970s that followed Wasson’s re-discovery of mushroom ceremonialism among the Mazatec Indians of southern Mexico. Fortunately for future researchers, cultural anthropologist Peter Furst, and a few mycologists, Guzmán, Lowy, and Schultes and Hoffman, continued to research and publish books and articles on the significance of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the development of Mesoamerican art and culture.


In the highlands of Guatemala where the majority of mushroom stones have been found, and where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance, archaeologists working at the Preclassic site of Kaminajuyu discovered nine miniature mushroom stones in a Maya tomb, along with nine mortars and pestles, stone tools which were likely used in the mushroom's preparatory rites (see S.F de Borhegyi,1961, 498-504).


Describing the contents of the Kaminaljuyu cache, Borhegyi wrote...

"The cache of nine miniature mushroom stones {depicted above} demonstrates considerable antiquity for the "mushroom-stone cult," and suggests a possible association with the nine lords of the night and gods of the underworld, as well as the possible existence of a nine-day cycle and nocturnal count in Preclassic times. The association of the miniature mushroom stones with the miniature metates and manos greatly strengthens the possibility that at least in some areas in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica metates were used to grind the sacred hallucinatory mushrooms to prepare them for ceremonial consumption." (de Borhegyi 1961: 498-504)


Borhegyi noted the significance of the number nine, with a cache offering of nine miniature mushroom stones, from the verbena cemetery at Kaminaljuyu Guatemala, and a group of nine deities who were the nine lords of the night, and gods of the underworld (de Borhegyi, S.F.  1961 p.501)

The Nine Lords of the Night, were responsible for guiding the Sun, into the underworld to be sacrificed by decapitation and reborn again as baby jaguar, the new born Sun God. The word K'uh in Classic Mayan glyphs was assigned to the monkey god and in Mayan glyphs his monkey-like profile was used to describe "holy" or "sacred" a word referring to "divinity" or "god"  (Coe 2001:109).  


In Maya religion the monkey represents the first of the Nine Lords of the Night or Underworld. Called the Bolon Ti Ku, in Yucatec, the first god associated with re-birth was the Monkey (GI) and Quetzalcoatl (G9) was the last,  associated with death, decapitation and completion. The word K'uh in Classic Maya glyphs was assigned to the monkey god and in glyphs his monkey profile was used to describe "holy" or "sacred," referring to "divinity" or "god" (M.D. Coe 2001, p.109).

The nine miniature mushroom stones in the Nottebohm collection, depicted above, all have a circular groove around the base of the cap, and are of Early and Late Preclassic period (1000 B.C.-A.D. 200). 


 Quoting Ethno-Mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson...

"In examining these mushroomic artifacts we must keep in mind that they were not made for our enlightenment. They were iconic shorthand summarizing a whole bundle of associations ,--whatever those associations were. The Christian cross is to be found in endless shapes, including the "effigy cross" or crucifix, and all stem back to a complex of emotions, beliefs, and religious longings. The crucifix would reveal to an archaeologist eons hence more than, say, a Maltese cross. So with the mushroom stones, the subject matter of the effigies holds the secret".


Anthropomorphic mushroom stone (Type C) from El Salvador, Esperanza period 300 to 600 A.D. now in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich. The star, comprising the headdress around the young ruler, or deity's head may refer to the 9-layeres of the Maya underworld. The mushroom effigy may represent the god archaeologists refer to as G-9, the last of the Nine Lords of the Night. G-9 has been identified as the supreme ruler of the underworld and the sacred day Ahaw. This same deity was known to the Mixtecs and Toltecs as 9-Wind (Quetzalcoatl), for the day on which he was born. 



Above is a pre-Columbian figurine now in the Denver Museum, holding what I would argue is an Amanita muscaria mushroom. Note the figurine's large god eyes, and three Ahau icons,  one on each knee, and one on his belt called a ballgame yoke. There is plenty of evidence that ballplayers from the Gulf Coast area wore kneepads with the Ahau glyph design, a symbol of Maya kingship (S.F. de Borhegyi 1980, p.8) (photograph courtesy of Gaston Guzman) 

The mushroom ritual may have been timed astronomically to the period of inferior conjunction of the planet Venus. At this time Venus sinks below the horizon and disappears into the "underworld"   for eight days. It then rises before the sun, thereby appearing to resurrect the sun from the underworld as the Morning Star. For this reason mushroom induced bloodletting rituals were likely performed in caves, which I suspect was timed to a ritual calendar linked to the movements of the planet Venus as both a Morning Star and Evening Star. The mushroom experience, as well as caves and ballcourts were believed to be entrances or portals into the underworld.


According to J. Eric S. Thompson, the idealized Venus cycle always ended on the day 1-Ahau, (Milbrath p.170). The synodic revolution of Venus, from Morning Star to Morning Star is 584 days, and that these revolutions were grouped by the Nahuas and Maya in fives, (see Maya  Dresden Codex) so that 5 x 584 equaled 2,920 days, or exactly eight solar years (Nicholson, 1967 pp. 45-46).

Many of the mushroom encoded images I found involved rituals of self-sacrifice and decapitation in the Underworld, alluding to the sun's nightly death and subsequent resurrection from the Underworld by a pair of deities associated with the planet Venus as both the Morning Star and Evening star. This dualistic aspect of Venus is why Venus was venerated as both a God of Life and God of Death. According to a chronicle written in Guatemala shortly after the Spanish conquest, the Quiche Maya gave thanks to the sun and moon and stars, but particularly to the star that proclaimed the day, referring to Venus as the Morning star. (The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan, 1953 third printing 1974, p.184)


         In a letter to Gordon Wasson, Borhegyi writes..... 

Dear Gordon,

“I discovered two interesting sentences relating to mushrooms from Indian Chronicles, written around 1554 by natives. In the Popol Vuh, translated from the Spanish version by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus Griswold Morley, University of Oklahoma press, Norman Oklahoma, 1950, page 192. “And when they found the young of the birds and the deer, they went at once to a place the blood of the deer and of the birds in the mouth of the stones that were Tohil, and Avilix.  As soon as the blood had been drunk by the gods, the stones spoke, when the priest and the sacrificers came, when they came to bring their offerings.  And they did the same before their symbols, burning pericon (?) and holom-ocox (the head of the mushroom),holom=head, and ocox= mushroom”.

“I think this section definitely indicates that the Quiche used mushrooms in connection with their religious ceremonies.  I even wonder what made the stones speak “?

“In the annals of the Cakchiquel’s, translated from the Cakchiquel Maya by Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz, University of Oklahoma press, Norman, Oklahoma 1953, pp. 82-83. “At that time, too, they began to worship the devil.  Each seven days, each 13 days, they offered him sacrifices, placing before him, fresh resin, green branches, and fresh bark of the trees, and burning before him a small cat, image of the night.  They took him also the mushrooms, which grow at the foot of the trees, and they drew blood from their ears.”

“The Cakchiquel version therefore also connects mushrooms with ceremonial offerings to the gods.  This mushroom, I think is our anacate, if it grows at the foot or on the tree”.


There is evidence that the mushroom stone cult lasted well into the Colonial Era.  In 1554 it was reported as a symbol of dynastic power among the Quiche Maya.document entitled "El Titulo de Totonicapan"


 According to testimony recorded in 1554 in the Colonial document entitled El Titulo de Totonicapan (Land Title of Totonicapan), the Quiché Maya revered mushroom stones as symbols of power and rulership, and before them they performed rituals (of blood sacrifice) to pierce and cut up their bodies. (Sachse, 2001, 186).


 "  The lords used these symbols of rule, which came from where the sun rises, to pierce and cut up their bodies (for the blood sacrifice). There were nine mushroom stones for the Ajpop and the Ajpop Q'amja, and in each case four, three, two, and one staffs with the Quetzal's feathers and green feathers, together with garlands, the Chalchihuites precious stones, with the sagging lower jaw and the bundle of fire for the Temezcal steam bath."

One of the reasons that mushrooms have for so long escaped identification by the anthropological  community as sacred symbols is the fact that, for the most part, the images of mushrooms were simply not seen because they were encoded, "hidden from plain sight", from the eyes of the uninitiated.  



While at first glance the face of the "Weeping God" gives the illusion of a deity with dangling eye-balls. However as "I discovered", if you look closely at Quetzalcoatl, you will see that the dangling eyeballs are actually encoded Amanita muscaria mushrooms "Hidden In Plain Sight." This bearded and fanged deity shared feline, serpentine, and bird-like features. Identified as a Feathered or Plumed Serpent by archaeologists in his earliest representations, he took on many additional guises and attributes over the years, and became known by a great variety of names throughout the New World. I have elected to refer to him, as did the Toltecs and Aztecs, as Quetzalcoatl.  (photo of a "Weeping God" above is from VanKirk, Jacques, and Parney Bassett-VanKirk,  Remarkable Remains of the Ancient Peoples of Guatemala,  Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1996.)                     

         Quoting R. Gordon Wasson...

 "It [the mushroom] permits you to see, more clearly than our perishing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other planes of existence, even (as the Indians say) to know God." (Wasson and Wasson, 1957)

                       "Jaguar Transformation"

Much of the mushroom imagery the author has discovered is associated with an artistic concept I refer to as jaguar transformation. Under the influence of the hallucinogen,  the "bemushroomed" acquires feline fangs and often other attributes of the jaguar, emulating the Sun God in the Underworld. This esoteric association of mushrooms and jaguar transformation was earlier noted by Stephan de Borhegyi and Peter Furst,  together with the fact that a dictionary of the Cakchiquel Maya language compiled circa1699 lists a mushroom called "jaguar ear" (1976:78, 80.

I believe that I have found sufficient visual evidence from the corpus of existing pre-Columbian art to identify this sacramental food as the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom. Like the Vedic god Soma of Hindu mythology, the Amanita muscaria mushroom of Mesoamerica assumes, from earliest times, the persona of the god itself. In Mesoamerica this god took the form of the underworld "were-jaguar".  


Above on the left, is a ceramic pre-Columbian mask that depicts the transformation of a human into a "were-jaguar," a half-human, half-jaguar deity first described and named in 1955 by archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling. The were-jaguar appears in the art of the ancient Olmecs as early as 1200 B.C.  I believe this mask symbolizes the soul's journey into the underworld where it will undergo jaguar transformation, decapitation and spiritual resurrection. Once again if you look closely, as "I discovered", you will see a Amanita muscaria mushroom (actual specimen shown in the photo on the right) encoded into the head and nose of the human side, while the left half of the mask depicts the effect of the Amanita mushroom as resulting in were-jaguar transformation. The were-jaguar eventually came to be worshiped and venerated throughout Central and South America. 

(photo above of the "Were Jaguar" from Prof. Gian Carlo Bojani Director of the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, Italy) (Photo of Amanita muscaria by Richard Fortey) 


The powerful unitary religion of the Olmec, appears to spread quickly throughout the New World with certain elements of the belief system that spread as far as the Andean area of South America. We know this culture by its powerful art style featuring adult and baby "were-jaguars;" an art style so pervasive that it led the late archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling to call the Olmec the "people of the jaguar." He speculated that the Olmecs believed that at some time in their mythical past a jaguar had copulated with, and impregnated, a human female.   


Late Classic Maya figurine (600-900 C.E.) photographed by Justin Kerr (K 656a). The figurine wears a headdress encoded with an Amanita muscaria mushroom. The figurine's contorted face depicts the "Olmec snarl", a common motif in Olmec art that I believe represents the mushroom's effect of jaguar transformation and the soul's mythical underworld journey.

Maya figurine K 656a, holds in his hands what appears to be a concave mirror. Mirrors were used by shamans, priests, and rulers in their rituals to see into the past and future and communicate with ancestors and gods. I believe that in many, if not most cases, this divine communication was conducted under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Mirrors were also a common ritual object in Central Asia, and China, and may have been introduced into Mesoamerica along with the mushroom cult.


Mushrooms were so closely associated with death and underworld jaguar transformation and Venus resurrection that I conclude that they must have been believed to be the vehicle through which both occurred. They are also so closely associated with ritual decapitation, that their ingestion may have been considered essential to the ritual itself, whether in real life or symbolically in the underworld.

Maya vase K6608 from the Justin Kerr Data Base, depicts three underworld jaguars. The underworld jaguars all wear mushroom shaped ear plugs, and wear sacrificial scarves, symbolic of underworld decapitation. The scarves metaphorically bear the red and white colors and spots of the Amanita muscaria mushroom. Photographs © Justin Kerr # 6608  Owner: Denver Art Museum Denver CO


In the Popol Vuh, (Tedlock,1985) numerous passages reveal obscure connections between Maya creation myths, the ballgame, ritual decapitation, self decapitation (Borhegyi,1969: 501) and Maya astronomy, involving the movement of the sun, moon, and the planet Venus that are commonly depicted on  Maya vase paintings.


In the Late Classic Maya vase painting above K1490 photographed by Justin Kerr, the Lord of the Underworld is depicted as the white skeletal god in the center of the scene. He holds a decapitated head in one hand and a  serpent-bird staff in the other. Known as Skeletal God A, his fleshless body represents death and decay,  but also the transformation at death from which life is regenerated.

Like many other Late Classic period carved and painted vessels, Maya Vase painting K1490 depicts the sacred (and improbable) ritual of self-decapitation. Note that the third individual from the right has no head. He holds in his left hand the obsidian knife with which he has decapitated himself. In his right hand he holds the cloth in which he will wrap the head. The fourth individual from the right is shown holding the decapitated head by the hair with his right hand, and a knife in his left hand.  After a close examination of this scene, it occurred to me that it might depict an early version of an episode related in the colonial period document known as the Popol Vuh.

Archaeologist Michael D. Coe was the first to recognize that many of the scenes depicted in Maya vase paintings are images of the Maya underworld, Xibalba, and versions of the creation story of the Quiché Maya of highland Guatemala. This myth, written in Quiche Maya using Spanish orthography, is known today as the Popol Vuh,  It involves two sets of divine twins.

The first set of twins, known as Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, play a ballgame in Xibalba with the Lords of Death and are defeated. The Popol Vuh  tells us that these twin Maya gods, were sacrificed by decapitation in the underworld after losing a ballgame against the Lords of the Death. Their bodies were buried under the ballcourt at the place of ballgame sacrifice. The sons of Hun Hunahpu, another set of twin gods known as the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, follow their father and uncle into the Underworld to avenge their deaths. They also play a ballgame against the Lords of Xibalba.  Hunahpu and Xbalanque, however,  were accomplished tricksters as well as ballplayers. They were  ready for any trap that might be set for them by the Lords of Death. (Coe,1973, 1975a). 

I believe that this complex scene illustrates the passage in the Popol Vuh in which the Hero Twins smoke cigars in the underworld. That they are smoking hallucinogenic cigars is suggested by the mushrooms that are clearly painted on their robes and in their mushroom-inspired headdresses. The two smokers are the first two individuals on the right. The two figures in front of them, since they wear the same clothing as the first pair,  may be the same set of twins. One of the twins, however, has  undergone sacrificial decapitation. Another interpretation could be that the two smokers, through their hallucinations, are seeing the fate of their father and uncle in their underworld struggle against the Xibalbans.


In the scene above, all four of the figures on the right wear sacrificial scarves around their necks. The figure in black wears what appears to be a helmet shaped like a mushroom.  As noted earlier, he holds an obsidian blade in one hand, and the decapitated head of the figure behind him in the other.  

Anthropologist Dennis Tedlock has identified five episodes involving underworld decapitation and self decapitation in his translation of the Popol Vuh. He notes that, based on evidence discovered by Borhegyi and Wasson, he does not rule out the presence of an Amanita muscaria cult in the Popol Vuh (Tedlock,1985: 250).  In one episode the Hero Twins decapitate themselves in the underworld in order to come back to life. The two decapitated heads shown in this scene belong to the twins.   (Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)


 Maya Archaeologist Stephan de Borhegyi...

"According to the Popol Vuh, (Thompson, 1967, pp.27-28), the twin heroes Hunahpu, and Xbalenque (the decapitated Maya culture heroes who played ballgames with the Lords of Xibalba), became the moon (or morning star?) and the sun after their death. That the moon, sun, and morning star, as well as their cult symbols, the jaguars "sun" -vulture, moon-rabbit, and deer, were intimately connected with the Late Classic period ballgame is amply witnessed by their frequent representations on stone hachas and ballgame stone reliefs." (1980:25)



Gordon Wasson proposed that the origin of decapitation may lay in the mushroom ritual itself, noting that among the Khanty of Western Siberia only the cap or head of the Amanita muscaria mushroom is eaten.  


In a letter to Borhegyi in 1954, Wasson writes:

"The cap of the mushroom in Mije (or Mixe) is called kobahk, the same word for head. In Kiche and Kakchiquel it is doubtless the same, and kolom ocox is not “mushroom heads”, but mushroom caps, or in scientific terminology, the pileus of the mushroom. The Mije in their mushroom cult always sever the stem or stipe (in Mije tek is “leg”) from the cap, and the cap alone is eaten. Great insistence is laid on this separation of cap from stem. This is in accordance with the offering of “mushroom head” in the Annals and  the Popol Vuh.  The writers had in mind the removal of the stems".

  "The top of the cap is yellow and the rest is the color of coffee, with the gills of a color between yellow and coffee. They call this mushroom, pitpa "thread-like", the smallest, perhaps 2 horizontal fingers high, with a cap small for the height, growing everywhere in clean earth, often along the mountain trails with many in a single place. In Mije the cap of the mushroom is called the "head" "kobahk in the dialect of Mazatlan. When the "heads are consumed, they are not chewed, but swallowed fast one after the other,  in pairs." ( June 7, 1954, MPM archives)  


The area near the border of Mexico and Guatemala, is most likely where the mushroom cult got it's start, based on the numerous mushroom stones found in this area. It was in this region that the decapitation of human heads and the dismemberment of body parts reached new levels. Borhegyi surmised that victims or captives for sacrifice were decapitated by priests or ballplayers dressed in jaguar or were-jaguar attire after which the decapitated heads of both ballplayers and jaguars were hung up by ropes over ballcourts or temples. Borhegyi proposed that the stone heads and later stone rings set in the walls of formal ballcourts were a symbolic replacement for the trophy heads of earlier times (Borhegyi,1980:20, 24). These trophy heads were venerated as sacrificial offerings, and may even have been used during certain ballgames in lieu of balls.

The ritual custom of decapitation and its relationship to the pre-Columbian ball game goes back to Olmec times (S.F. de Borhegyi 1965, p.26). Olmec religion set the tone for many of the future religious beliefs in the New World.  

Throughout Mesoamerica during the Preclassic (2000 BC to AD 250) and Late Classic period (600-900 C.E) ), depictions of human heads as trophy symbols occur on ball game paraphernalia and ball court wall panels, and that an overwhelming majority of these stone artifacts are of Preclassic and Late Classic origin (S.F. de Borhegyi 1961, p.133 and footnote 21). In Preclassic times the ritual ball game seems to be obsessively connected with jaguar and serpent symbolism associated with bloody fertility rites and decapitation.          

In Mesoamerican art ballplayers are often depicted wearing curious stone objects called hachas  the Spanish word for axe. These hachas were likely used for ceremonial purposes and not worn during actual play.  Hachas, like the one depicted below, fit into the belt or yoke worn by ballplayers in the Mesoamerican ballgame.                    


Above is a miniature stone hacha  from Veracruz, Mexico (Late Classic Period, 600-900 C.E.) ( photograph from Whittington, 2001). The hacha represents a decapitated trophy head of a wrinkled faced and toothless old man wearing a cone-shaped hat. The wrinkled face and toothless mouth suggest the Old Fire God (Xiuhtecutli), while a closer look reveals what I propose is the image of a sacred psilocybin mushroom encoded in the cheek and hat. The conical or cone-shaped hat, in this case mushroom-inspired, is a trademark attribute of the Mexican god-king Quetzalcoatl and of his priesthood.

Nahua manuscripts (Annals of Cuauhtitlan) record that it was Lord Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl who invented the ballgame. 

In Mesoamerican art, ballplayers are also portrayed wearing these stone objects depicted below called "palmate stones" or palmas. Palmate stones like the one depicted below, were likely used for ceremonial purposes and not worn during actual play. The palmate stone is now in the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum.


The photograph is from the 1963 publication "The Rubber Ball Game of Ancient America",  written by Stephan F. de Borhegyi, and wife Suzanne.  The ballgame palma, is from Veracruz, Mexico, dating to the Late Classic Period, 600-900 C.E. and depicts a stylized trefoil that I believe is evidence of diffussionism, and represents a pre-Columbian version of the Old World Fleur de lis symbol.
In Mesoamerica, as in the Old World, the Tree of Life represents the symbolic center of the earth, the Axis mundi, or pillar of the world. In both Mesoamerica and in the Old World, the royal line of the king was considered to be of divine origin, linked with the Tree of Life. Descendants of the Mesoamerican god-king Quetzalcoatl, and thus all Mesoamerican kings or rulers, were also linked to the Tree of Life encoded in both the Old World and New World with the trefoil symbol, we know as the Fleur de lis.
There is plenty of evidence in Mesoamerican mythology linking the many avatars of Quetzalcoatl, Jaguar-Bird-Serpent, to the duality of the planet Venus.  Eduard Seler was the first to link feathered serpent imagery to the planet Venus and Quetzalcoatl and Seler believed that the jaguar-bird-serpent image was associated with war and the Morning Star ( Milbrath ).  In Aztec mythology the cosmos was intimately linked to the planet Venus in its form as the Evening Star, which guides the sun through the Underworld at night, as the skeletal god Xolotl, the twin of Quetzalcoatl.  As the Morning Star, Quetzalcoatl's avatar was the harpy eagle.  Among the Quiche Maya,  Venus in its form as the  Morning Star, was called iqok'ij,  meaning the "sunbringer" or "carrier of the sun or day." (Tedlock, 1993:236). 
  According to Edward Seler; In a passage from the Anales de Quauhtitlán...

"At the time when the planet was visible in the sky (as evening star) Quetzalcoatl died. And when Quetzalcoatl was dead he was not seen for 4 days; they say that he dwelt in the underworld, and for 4 more days he was bone (that is, he was emaciated, he was weak); not until 8 days had passed did the great star appear; that is, as the morning star. They said that then Quetzalcoatl ascended the throne as god".

The Mexican god-king Quetzalcoatl the so-called "Feathered Serpent", and his Maya god-king, culture hero counterparts known as Kukulcan, and Gukumatz, were all reputed to be the inventors of the science of measuring time, and that feathered serpents represent the bondage of time, and its cyclical nature. The fear that the gods had destroyed previous creations and that their own world might meet a similar fate, led Maya calendar priests to make calendric and astronomical calculations as precise as those that are made today by modern astronomers. If life sustaining rituals were not performed at appropriate times tied to their sacred calendars, the trans formative cycle of birth, maturity, death, and rebirth would be broken and life itself would end.

 The Aztecs, "knew on what day it [Venus] would appear in the east after it had lost itself or disappeared in the west; they counted the days by this and yielded reverence and offered sacrifices to it". (from A. Aveni, "Venus and the Maya," American Scientist 67, p. 274.)     


There are numerous historical reports that link mushroom consumption to such self-sacrificial religious activities as blood letting and penis perforation. The resurrection ritual was probably timed astronomically to the period of inferior conjunction of the planet Venus. At this time Venus sinks below the horizon and disappears into the "underworld"   for eight days. It then rises before the sun, thereby appearing to resurrect the sun from the underworld as the Morning Star. For this reason mushroom induced bloodletting rituals were likely performed in caves, timed to a ritual calendar linked to the movements of the planet Venus as both a Morning Star and Evening Star. The mushroom intoxication experience, as well as caves and ballcourts were believed to be entrances (portals) into the underworld.

The ritual calendar was synchronized to the orbital cycles of Venus because of the planet's interaction and synchronization with Earth’s orbital period of 365-days. Venus’s orbit around the sun takes only 225 days, but when Venus is viewed from Earth, from Morning Star to Morning Star, its full synodic cycle takes 584 days. When the calendar priests noted that Venus rose from the same spot on earth every eight years,  they  calculated that five of the cycles from Morningstar to Morningstar equaled eight solar years to the day. This knowledge, in turn,  enabled them to predict Morning Star appearances for centuries to come and gave them the appearance of being able to resurrect Venus from its underground grave and restore it to life in the sky. Because of these and other astronomical observations calendar priests were able to predict exact dates for solstices and eclipses, and were revered for having supernatural powers and a divine ability to  measure time.

 Maya mathematics also included the concept of zero, an invention by the ancient Maya that most Mesoamerican scholars still believe developed independently in the New World. The concept of zero which was an invention also used by the Hindus of India, is most likely linked to the origin of the calendars and hieroglyphic writing in the New World.       

Maya archaeologist David Kelley noted the similarity between the Mesoamerican calendar and the Hindu lunar mansions. Kelley saw the resemblance between the Mesoamerican cycle of the Nine Lords of the Night, to the Hindu planetary week of nine days, and noted the parallel belief of calendars linked to astrological predictions, and of four previous world ages and their cataclysmic destruction (Susan Milbrath 1999, p.292)


          Maya archaeologist David H. Kelley...

 "Much of Aztec religion looks like a modified Hinduism in which one important change was the deliberate abandonment of religious eroticism" (Man Across the Sea, 1971, p.62).    



Pottery mushrooms dating to the middle or late Pre-Classic period have been found with figurines of ballplayers at the archaeological sites of Tlatilco in Burial 154 (Trench 6), and at Tlapacoya in the Valley of Mexico (Borhegyi 1980). The pottery mushroom was found near the figurine of an acrobat suggesting that mushrooms may have been consumed to induce super-heroic strength, athletic ability and agility. It's important to note that the pose of the acrobat might represent an East Indian or Hindu yoga posture or a version of the “Dhanur Asan” “Vrischika Asan” which is an advanced yoga posture for people doing “Sheersh Asan”. Pottery shaped mushrooms representing both the Amanita muscaria and Psilocybin mushrooms, were likely used in bloodletting rituals.

For more on pottery mushrooms see Borhegyi de, S.F., 1963, “Pre-Columbian pottery mushrooms from Mesoamerica”,  in American Antiquity, vol. 28:328-338.




Dr. Paul Kirchhoff was of the opinion that the Aztec and Maya ritual calendar was a Chinese invention. (The Ancient Past of Mexico 1966, Alma M. Reed p.41-42), and Dr. George C. Vaillant noted that at the ancient site of Zacatenco, in the central valley of Mexico, a settlement that flourished around 1100 B.C., had burials with  bodies covered with red cinnabar and buried with jade funerary offerings, a burial custom also found in China (Alma Reed, 1966, p.17).


         Anthropologist Alice B. Kehoe...

"China and Mesoamerica shared the complication of two simultaneous calendars, of differing lengths, that meshed like cogwheels, arriving at the same day starting point every every so many years, 52 for Mesoamerica, 60 for China".   (Alice B. Kehoe, 2008, Controversies In Archaeology, p.162).


In 1951 Carl Hentze (Chapter III, pp.39-54) noted the close similarities between the mushroom-shaped stone and pottery objects of Mesoamerica with those from Shang period China. Hentze proposed that both the Chinese and Mesoamerican mushroom-shaped objects represented temples or ancestral shrines used in rituals connected with the departed spirits of clan ancestors. He believed the so-called mushroom cups, (pictured below) represent roof tops and associates them with Quetzalcoatl's round shaped temples and the god, Quetzalcoatl.



Dennis Lou, (at the Trans-Pacific Contacts symposium in Spain, 1964?) noted the remarkable resemblances between the Mesoamerican mushroom stones, and certain Chinese ancestor "tablets" of the Shang dynasty, and suggests that the mushroom-shaped stones of Mesoamerica are derived from the early Chinese tablets. Lou noted early literary sources refer to those Shang dynasty, objects as being not only of stone and pottery but also of marble, jade, silk, bronze, and wood.


Archaeologists  Brent Woodfil and Jon Spenard (personal communication with both archaeologists) found ceramic mushroom pots (below) in the Candelaria cave system in the San Francisco Hills near the lowland Maya site of Cancuén, Petén, Guatemala (Spenard, M.A thesis, 2006).



Cave ritualism on an elite level is evident as early as 1000 B.C. at the Olmec influenced site of Chalcatzingo, near the Valley of Mexico (Pasztory, 1997:90).  

The caves investigated in the south region of the Guatemalan Highlands include Saber, CHOC-05, Ocox, and Cabeza de Tepezquintle. According to Spenard, "Ocox is a canyon-like system that runs through a large hill with a rock shelter component at its northern-most extent....Ocox is a Q'eqchi Mayan word for mushroom, a reference to the large quantity of mushrooms that are growing from the floor of the rock shelter."  These sacred caves may have been believed to be either the legendary Chicomoztoc, the name given for the place of mythical origin of the ancient Mayas, Toltec and Aztecs, or a place revered locally as a "place of emergence." (Woodfill,2002. Spenard, personal communication, 2011).  According to Dennis Tedlock (1985 p.326) the patron god Auilix (mushroom stone god?), was given to Jaguar Night, at the mountain of the Seven Caves and taken to "the great canyon in the forest" (P.V. Tedlock p.178) to a location that came to be named Pauilix, literally "At Auilix".  According to Miller and Taube, (1993:136) the four founders of the Quiche lineages,  "journeyed to Tulan Zuyua, the mountain of the seven caves, and there they received the gods, whom they then carried home in bundles on their backs....Balam Quitze received Tohil, who gave humans fire, but only after human sacrifice to him had begun."  Could these "gods" that could be carried in a back pack possibly have been mushrooms, or mushroom stones?


Above is a closeup view of the god-king, and Wind God Quetzalcoatl bestowing sacred mushrooms to his children. The image is from page 24 of the Codex Vindobonensis, and depicts Quetzalcoatl wearing a fanged red mask that identifies him as the Wind God, Ehecatl.

Patron deities could appear in human form, but were also represented in art as a sacred bundle (see representations of K’awil at Palenque). The Maya god K’awil's image as a royal scepter is frequently depicted in the hands of the supreme ruler or High Priest and the god K'awil has been identified by scholars as the Quiche Maya counterpart of the god Tohil.

According to the Popol Vuh, the migration of the Quiché tribes was led under the spiritual “guidance” of Tohil, their patron deity. Like the Itzas, the Quiche people also believed that they were led by Lord Plumed Serpent from Tollan /Tula. He led his people eastward to the “land of writing” to a sacred mountain top citadel called Bearded Place, and it was there that the Quiche people settled down to live. This brave leader was described as a bearded white man “whose face was not forgotten by his grandsons and sons” as described on page 205 by Tedlock (Tedlock: 1985: 205. 213).

In Aztec and Toltec mythology, Quetzalcoatl was the god-king who came down from the sky to bring humanity sacred mushrooms, and he instructed humans on how to perform blood sacrifices in exchange for immortality.



Above and below are reproduced images from the Codex Vindobonensis (page 24), also known as the Codex Vienna, believed to be a 14th century Mixtec document, that depicts the Wind God Quetzalcoatl above and below delivering mushrooms to his children mankind.

According to Gordon Wasson (1962 p.38) a Nahuatl poem translated by Angel Maria Garibay, titled, "Dolor en la Amistad" (c. 1600) "mentions expressly the Sacred Mushrooms". In other poems from the same collection, titled Xochimapictli, coleccion de Poemas nahuas, 1959, the word xochi, "flowers" is used in a way that suggests it was a metaphor used for sacred mushrooms.  This reference is reinforced by Alonso de Molina's lexicon (Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana 1571) where xochinanacatl is translated honguillos que embeodan, "little mushrooms that inebriate"  (Wasson and de Borhegyi 1962, The Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of Mexico and Psilocybin: A Bibliography, p. 37 1962).

(From "Dolor en la Amistaad" (A.D. 1600) Anonymous, translated by Angel Maria Garibay. No. 37 in Xochimapictli, coleccion de Poemas nahuas. Mexico City, 1959)

(Compare the genesis myth the Nasadiya, the Rig Veda's "Hymn of Creation" (X:129)  with the,  Rig Veda Americanus, Sacred songs of the ancient Mexicans, with a gloss in Nahuatl, edited, with a paraphrase, notes and vocabulary, by Daniel G. Brinton 1890.


Above is an Aztec figurine now in the collection of the National Museum in Mexico City, of the Aztec god of flowers Xochipilli, whose name in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, means "Prince of Flowers."  This figurine clearly holds what I will argue are Amanita muscaria mushrooms in each hand.

The Aztec deity Xochipilli, may have been an aspect of a young Quetzalcoatl, and the patron deity of sacred mushrooms and hallucinogenic plants. Xochipilli was also known as Macuilxochitl, meaning "five flowers". Note the headdress of Xochipilli which contains two adornments of five plumes each--a possible reference or code to what scholars call the "fiveness" of Venus, referring to the five synodic cycles of Venus identified in the Venus Almanac of the Dresden Codex.

Spanish chronicler Fray Diego Duran writes that war was called xochiyaoyotl which means "Flowery War".  Death to those who died in battle was called xochimiquiztli, meaning "Flowery Death" or "Blissful Death" or "Fortunate Death". 

Flowers symbolize a state of the soul on its journey to full godhood and Teonanacatal, the mushroom of the Aztecs, was called "the flower that makes us drunk" (Nicholson 1967, p.90).  Fray Diego Duran writes that war was called xochiyaoyotl, which means "Flowery War". Death to those who died in battle was called xochimiquiztli, meaning "Flowery Death" or "Blissful Death" or "Fortunate Death".

Much of our understanding of Mesoamerican religion has been pieced together from Spanish chronicles and prehispanic and Colonial period manuscripts called codices. Unfortunately, for our understanding of the role of mushrooms in this religion, the Spanish missionaries who reported these mushroom rituals were repulsed by what they perceived to be similarities to holy Christian communion.  As a result, they made no attempt to record the rituals in detail and banished all forms of mushroom use.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in 1521 the Catholic Church ordered the burning of all native manuscripts. Called codices, these pictorial documents contained much valuable information pertaining to native history, mythology, and ritual, related to a pantheon of supernatural gods. Unhappily, due to Spanish intolerance of indigenous religious beliefs, only eighteen pre-Conquest books attributed to the people of Highland Mexico have survived to the present day.

We know from the early chronicles that Quetzalcoatl (known in the Maya area as Kukulcan and Gucumatz) was a Toltec ruler. He was apotheosized as Venus and, according to archaeoastronomer Susan Milbrath (1980:177),  Quetzalcoatl in the Mixteca-Puebla codices is also identified with Venus. Quetzalcoatl's mushroom ritual of underworld jaguar transformation and Tlaloc Venus resurrection (depicted above) was so sacred that, if one gave one's own life in sacrifice the act emulated Quetzalcoatl, himself.  (Wauchope, Ekholm and Bernal, p.323)    


Spanish chronicler Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, tells us that...

 "the one that was perfect in the performance of all the customs, exercises and learning (wisdom) observed by the ministers of the idols, was elected highest pontiff; he was elected by the king or chief and all the principals (foremost men), and they called him Quetzalcoatl"... " In the election no attention was paid to lineage, but rather to the customs, exercises, learning and good (clean) living; (meaning) whether they led this life unalterably (steadfastly); kept all the rules, observed by the priests of the idols"  (Sahagun, The History of Ancient Mexico,  1932  p.202).  


According to Spanish chronicler Fray Diego Duran, (The Aztecs,1964, p.149) it was written that before Quetzalcoatl departed  his beloved Tula, he left orders that his figure be carved in wood and in stone, to be adored by the common people. “They will remain as a perpetual memorial to our greatness in the way that we remember Quetzalcoatl”.


Quetzalcoatl delivers mushrooms to mankind:

It has long been known that page 24 of the Codex Vindobonensis (see below), concerns the ceremonial role of mushrooms among the Mixtecs of Highland Mexico. In 1929 Walter Lehmann noted the resemblance to mushrooms of the objects portrayed in the hands of many of the characters depicted below in this Codex.  Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso later provisionally identified what he called "T-shaped" objects in the manuscript as mushrooms (Wasson 1980, p. 214). Heim later published this page in color and accepted without hesitation its mushroomic interpretation. In summarizing the significance of page 24, Gordon Wasson concluded that it showed "the major place occupied by mushrooms in the culture of the Mixtecs".       


Above is page 24 from the Codex Vindobonensis, also known as the Codex Vienna., believed to be a 14th century Mixtec document, the original of which is now held in the National Library of Vienna, Austria.  The codex is one of the few Prehispanic native manuscripts which escaped Spanish destruction. It was produced in the Post Classic period for the priesthood and ruling elite.  A thousand years of history is recorded in the Mixtec Codices, and Quetzalcoatl is cited as the great founder of all the royal dynasties. 

In the second row from the top, the last figure on the right wearing a bird mask has been identified as the Wind God, Ehecatl. an avatar of Quetzalcoatl.  He is shown bestowing divine mushrooms to mankind.  According to Aztec legend,  Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl created mankind from the bones he stole from the Underworld Death God, whose decapitated head Quetzalcoatl holds in his hand.  Note the tears of gratitude on the individual sitting immediately opposite Quetzalcoatl.  This individual, and those who sit behind Quetzalcoatl on the left also hold sacred mushrooms and all appear to have fangs.  Fangs suggest that, under the magical influence of the mushroom, they have been transformed in the Underworld into the underworld jaguar. 

In the middle of the page on the right side Quetzalcoatl is depicted gesturing to the god Tlaloc, (or incense burner venerating the god Tlaloc), directly in front of him, to open the portal to the underworld.  According to  Furst  who describes this  iconography, the scene depicts the divine establishment of the ritual consumption of sacred mushrooms" (1981, pp.151-155).  He identifies the triangular or V-shaped cleft in the basin of water on the left as a cosmic passage through which deities, people, animals and plants pass from one cosmic plane to another. 

On the bottom left,  two figures stand beside another V--shape portal of Underworld resurrection. The figure on the left who points to the sky, also has fangs. He appears to be a human transformed at death into the Underworld Sun god, or mythical "were jaguar".  This gesture probably signifies resurrection from the Underworld. The two-faced deity in front of him holds what appear to be sacred psilocybin mushrooms similar in shape to the Fleur-de-lis symbol of the Old World.

 This two-faced deity is, in all likelihood, the dualistic planet Venus and the god of Underworld decapitation and resurrection. Note that the two-faced deity is painted black (signifying the Underworld) and wears a double-beaked harpy eagle headdress (signifying the sun's resurrection). The five plumes in the harpy eagle's headdress refer to the five synodic cycles of Venus. The three mushrooms in his hand refer to the Mesoamerican trinity:  the three hearthstones of creation. ie., the sun, the morning star and the evening star.

The circle below the feet of the figure on the left is divided into four parts, two of them dark and two light, each with a footprint.  The Fursts, Peter and Jill, have identified this symbol as representing the north-south axis or sacred center as the place of entry into the Underworld.  This symbol also appears in the scene above in association with a figure plunging through the V-shaped cleft into the Underworld.       


The Venus-mushroom religion connected with Quetzalcoatl goes back as far as Olmec times. We know from early chronicles that in the Postclassic, Quetzalcoatl was revered both as a god and as a Toltec ruler. We are told by the Aztecs that the human culture hero Quetzalcoatl died in the year 1-Reed, one 52 year cycle from his birth. It is further recorded in 1570 in the Nahua manuscript known as the Annals of Cuauhtitllan, that he was apotheosized as Venus and transformed into the Morning star in the “land of writing,” which has been interpreted by scholars as being the Maya area  (Milbrath 1999:177).                           

The ancient cultures of the Nahua and Maya developed similar ideologies and mythologies from the same Olmec roots. The sacred mushroom ritual shared by these cultures was intended,  I believe, to establish direct communication between Earth and Heaven (sky) in order to unite man with god. As told in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the ancient Quiche Maya, the sun-god of the Maya, Kinich Ajaw, and his Aztec equivalent, Huitzilopochtli, would be extinguished in the underworld if not nourished with the blood of human hearts. Quetzalcoatl's essence in the world as a culture hero was to establish this communication. Quetzalcoatl taught that mankind must eat the sacred mushroom and make blood sacrifices in order to achieve immortality. 


"They [the Aztecs] could do practically anything, nothing seemed to difficult for them; they cut the greenstone, they melted gold, and all this came from Quetzalcoatl - arts and knowledge." - Fray Bernandino Sahagun.  

“They were very devout {Indians}. Only one was their god; they showed all attention to, they called upon, they prayed to one by the name of Quetzalcoatl. The name of one who was their minister, their priest [was] also Quetzalcoatl.  "There is only one god" [he is] Quetzalcoatl.”( Sahagún, 1950-75,10:160).


Fray Sahagun describes the mushrooms effects and their use in several passages of his famous Historia General de tas Cosas de Nueva Espana, written between the years 1529 and 1590. Sahagun described how merchants called the pochteca, celebrated the return from a successful business trip with a wild mushroom party.

Based on a passage of the Madrid Codices worked on by Dr. Dibble and Sr. Barrios,  from Schultze Jena’s Gliederung des Alt-Aztekischen Volks in Familie, Stand und Beruf  (pp.207 ff.), the eating of mushrooms is part of a longer ceremony performed by merchants returning from a trading expedition to the coastlands. The merchants would only arrive on a day of favorable aspect. A feast and ceremony of thanksgiving were organized by the returning merchants, also on a day of favorable aspect. There was a prelude to the ceremony of eating mushrooms in which they sacrificed a quail and offered incense to the four directions. They made offerings of flowers and fragrant herbs to the gods in various temples. The eating of mushrooms took place in the earlier part of the evening, and the mushroom eaters did not at least then eat food. At midnight a feast followed, and toward dawn the various offerings to the gods, or the remains of them, were ceremonially buried.


     Quoting Fray Bernardino de Sahagun….

“For four days there was feasting and celebration and then on the fourth day came the coronation of Montezuma II, followed by human sacrifices in numbers”.

“At the very first, mushrooms had been served.  They ate them at the time when the shell trumpets were blown.  They ate no more food; they only drank chocolate during the night, and they ate the mushrooms with honey.  But some, while still in command of their senses, entered and sat there by the house on their seats; they danced no more, but only sat there nodding.  One saw in vision that already he would die, and then continued weeping, one saw that he would die in battle; one saw in vision that he would be eaten by wild beasts; one saw in vision that he would take captives in war; one saw in vision that he would be rich, wealthy; one saw in vision that he would buy slaves, he would be a slave owner; one saw in vision that he would commit adultery, he would be struck by stones, he would be stone; one saw in vision that he would steal, he would also be stone and saw in vision that his head would be crushed by stones-they would condemn him; one saw in vision that he would perish in the water; one saw in vision that he would live in peace, and tranquility, until he died; one saw in vision that he would fall from a roof top, and he would fall to his death; however many things were to befall one, he then saw all in vision: even that he would be drowned. And when the effects of the mushrooms had left them they consulted among themselves and told one another what they had seen in vision. And they saw in vision, what would befall those who had eaten no mushrooms, and what they went about doing.  Some were perhaps thieves, some perhaps committed adultery. Howsoever many things there were all were told-that one would take captives, one would become a seasoned warrior, a leader of youths, one would die in battle, become rich, buy slaves, provide banquets, ceremonially bathe slaves, commit adultery, be strangled, perish in water, drown.  Whatsoever was to befall one, they then saw all in vision.  Perhaps he would go to his death in Anauac. (Florentine Codex, Dibble & Anderson, Bk 9 pp.38-39)


Sahagún, Bernardino de. Florentine Codex. 12 volumes. Translated and edited by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. New Mexico: The School of American Research and the University of Utah, 1950.

Sahagun. Historia General de las cosas de Nueva España. 4 volumes. Edited Ángel María Garibay Kintana. Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1969.


Photographs © Justin Kerr

Maya vase K4932  depicts Maya merchants carrying large sacks over their shoulders filled with what appear to be mushrooms.

 Fray Sahagun (in book 9 of 12) refers to mushrooms with a group of traveling merchants known as the pochtecas, meaning merchants who lead, because they were followers of  Quetzalcoatl who they worshipped under the patron name Yiacatecuhtli or Yacateuctli, Lord of the Vanguard. The pochteca journeyed down from Central Mexico into the Gulf lands and into the Maya region carrying merchandise as well as spreading the religion of Quetzalcoatl.    

The complex iconography along the rim of this vessel depicts what I believe represent cross cut  mushrooms; a symbol similar in shape to glyphs representing the planet Venus. The X-icon, which is a common symbol found on Maya vase paintings, most likely represents a sacred portal to the underworld. The fact that the X-icon above is twisted may be a reference to the symbol olin, meaning movement or motion. If so it may refer to the mushroom-Venus portal's movement of up and down, down into the underworld as a death star, and up from the underworld, and into the heavens as a resurrection star.       


In a guide for Spanish missionaries written around 1577 by Dr. Francisco Hernandez, physician to the king of Spain,  Hernandez mentions three species of mushrooms worshiped by the Indians, the first, Teyhuinti which provoked uncontrolled laughter, another mushroom that conjures up spectacles of war or the likeness of demons, and a species named dtlalnanacame, that when eaten causes not death but madness. (Wasson and Wasson 1957, p. 221-222)  (Wasson, 1962: 36; see also Furst, 1990 ed., 9)




In the 16th century Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun recorded mushroom rituals among the Aztecs in his Florentine Codex, a multi-volume compilation of priceless Mexica ethnographic information.

In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the general word for mushrooms was nanacatl and that the intoxicating species, the Psilocybe mushroom, was called teonanacatl, a term Sahagun gives us, teo-, or teotl, meaning god, that which is divine or sacred, "the flesh of god" (Wasson, letter to Borhegyi, June 23, 1953).  The Psilocybe mushroom contains the substance psilocin and psilocybin, the active ingredient that causes the mushroom hallucination. The psilocybin mushroom is indigenous to the sub-tropical regions of the U.S, Mexico, and Central America.

 The Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest referred to mushrooms as flowers (R. Gordon Wasson, 1980 p.79). Flowers (mushrooms) symbolize a state of the soul on its journey to full godhood and Teonanacatal, the mushroom of the Aztecs, was called "the flower that makes us drunk" (Nicholson 1967, p.90).  


Bernardino de Sahagun...

"in this land there are certain little mushrooms that are called teonanacatl. They grow beneath the grass in fields or moors. They are round, have a long little stem, thin and round. When eaten they have a bad taste, hurt the throat, and inebriate. They are medicinal for fevers and the gout. Only two or three are to be eaten, not more: those who eat them see visions and feel palpitations of the heart. The mushrooms incite lust in those who eat many, or even be they few" (Wasson and Wasson 1957, p. 226)



Spanish chronicler, and cleric Jacinto de la Serna, composed a guide for the clergy in 1892, titled Manuel de Ministros de Indies para  el Conocimiento de sus Idolatnas y Extirpation de Ellas, (Wasson and Wasson 1957, p. 226). More commonly known today as "The Manuscript of Serna". there is a passage that describes the use of sacred mushrooms for divination: 


"These mushrooms were small and yellowish and to collect them the priest and all men appointed as ministers went to the hills and remained almost the whole night in sermonizing and praying" (Quest for the Sacred Mushroom, Stephan F. de Borhegyi 1957).


Serna, also drew the analogy between the Christian Eucharist and the eating of the mushroom; he suggests that the Indians regard  the flesh of the mushroom as divine, or as he considers it diabolic.

The sacrifice of one's own life was believed to be the greatest gift one could give the gods, because it emulated the ways of their god-king Quetzalcoatl, who in legend sacrificed himself (at Teotihuacan) so as to become the new fifth sun, and bring light back to the world: (M. D. Coe 1994:91) 


One of the first twelve Franciscans to arrive shortly after the conquest of Mexico was Spanish chronicler Fray Toribio de Benavente, affectionately called Motolinia "poor man" by the Indians, was one of the first to report the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, by the Aztecs.  Motolinía ends his disquisition with the observation that the Indians served the mushrooms in Holy Communion.             

Motolinia recorded that the Indians of New Spain (known as the Mexica or Aztecs) regarded Quetzalcoatl as one of their principal gods. They called him the God of air and wind, and built temples to him.

Motolinia called into question the legends that described Quetzalcoatl as opposing human sacrifice, and writes that the Holy city of Cholula, was where human sacrifices were performed in honor of Quetzalcoatl. In his Memoriales, (chapter 29), Motolinia describes the great ceremony to Quetzalcoatl which lasted eight days. Coincidentally, this is the same number of days that, according to legend, Quetzalcoatl was in the underworld creating humanity by bloodletting on the bones of his father and the bones of past generations. He then emerged from the underworld as the Morning star. Motolinía describes a star,  (Venus) he calls Lucifer, of which he writes:

Quoting Fray Motolina.....

"the Indians adored this star more than any other save the sun, and performed more ritual sacrifices for it than for any other creature, celestial or terrestrial....The final reason why their calendar was based on this star, which they greatly revered and honored with sacrifices, was because these misguided people believed that when one of their principal gods, called Topiltzin or Quetzalcoatl, died and left this world, he was metamorphosed into that radiant star." (LaFaye, 1987)





Both the Amanita muscaria mushroom and the Psilocybin mushroom depicted above, are discussed in relation to their veneration in the New World.


While one can argue that the simultaneous appearance of encoded mushroom imagery in both the early cultures of the Old World and that of the New World could be the result of parallel outgrowths of the same Paleolithic shamanistic mushroom cult proposed by Wasson, there are other, more complex, similarities that suggest possible transpacific contacts between the two areas. One of these is the method of extraction of the hallucinogenic drink used in both areas. I have found plenty of evidence in pre-Columbian art that supports Wasson's identification of the revered and deified mystery plant of the Rig Veda, called Soma in Indo-Aryan folklore, and called Haoma in Zoroastrian and later Persian mythology, as the Amanita muscaria mushroom.       

According to the Rig Veda, a mysterious plant called Soma was the source of an intoxicating drink known by the same name. While the actual identity of this sacred plant has been lost through time, both its description and the details of its preparation seem to point to the Amanita muscaria mushroom. The flesh of the plant was crushed, using “Soma stones,” and the juices were filtered through wool into large jars. In a like manner, mushroom stones, when they have been found in situ in the course of archaeological excavation, are often accompanied by stone grinding tools known as manos and metates (See Figure 1).  Accounts of mushroom ceremonies still in practice among the Zapotec Indians of Mexico confirm the use of these tools in the preparation of hallucinogenic mushrooms for human consumption. One must conclude that these manos and metates were used for the same purpose as the sacred stones described in the Rig Veda that were used to prepare Soma.

In the Rig Veda, Soma, the plant around which the Vedic sacrifices took place, is described as an intoxicating liquid that was pounded or pressed out of the plant using special pressing stones, called Soma stones (RV IX.11.5-6;IX.109.17-18).


Similarly, there is archaeological evidence from the Guatemalan highlands supporting the use of metates to grind  sacred hallucinogenic mushrooms prior to their consumption in a mushroom ceremony. This possibility is supported by the fact that the practice survives to the present in Mazatec mushroom ceremonies in southern Mexico (S.F. de Borhegyi, 1961:498-504).  "The Mixtecs of Oaxaca today grind the sacred on a metate, add water, and drink the mixture during special divinatory ceremonies" (de Borhegyi S.F. 1965a,  p.18) (de Borhegyi, S.F. 1961a, p.503). 

In the highlands of Guatemala where the majority of mushroom stones have been found, and where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance, archaeologists working at the Preclassic site of Kaminajuyu discovered nine miniature mushroom stones in a Maya tomb, along with nine mortars and pestles, stone tools which were likely used in the mushroom's preparatory rites (see de Borhegyi,1961, 498-504).
Above are two of the nine miniature mushroom stones found buried together in a Maya tomb at Kaminaljuyu, along with nine miniature stone metates and manos (Soma stones?) used in the preparation of a ritual mushroom beverage. Nine of the ten Preclassic mushroom stones depicted below were found in a cache along with nine miniature metates at the highland Maya archaeological site of Kaminaljuyu on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The contents of the cache were dated at 1000-500 B.C.



 Archaeologist Stephan de Borhegyi

"mushroom stones follow the same pattern as the three-pronged incensarios, figurines, rimhead vessels etc. That is, they are abundant during the Pre-Classic, disappear from the archaeological scene completely during the Early Classic, and are revived in somewhat changed form in the Late Classic." (Letter from Borhegyi to Wasson April 8th, 1954)



The mushroom stones that reappear in the highland Maya area during Late Classic times are mostly the plain and or tripod variety (Type D) common to the Pacific Coast and Piedmont area as well as in Western El Salvador (for their distribution by archaeological sites see Borhegyi 1961a, p. 500)
Mentioned earlier, the plain or tripod mushroom stones, which carry no effigy on the stem (stipe), have been typically found at lower elevations and may indicate the ritual use of the psilocybe mushroom in these regions. 
In the Central and Western Highlands of Guatemala, tripod mushroom stones have been reported from Kaminaljuyu, the Antigua-Agua area, Amatitlan, Mixco Viejo, Tecpan, Zacualpa, and San Martin Jilotepeque (de Borhegyi, S.F. 1965a, p.37). 

Type A:  Anthropomorphic mushroom stone: Early or Mid-Pre-Classic (1000 B.C. to 300 B.C)



Type B:  Effigy mushroom stones with circularly grooved caps and square or tripod bases (1000 B.C. to 300 B.C.)



Type C:  Effigy or plain mushroom stones with square or rounded bases without circularly grooved caps. Late Pre-Classic (500 B.C. to A.D. 200, and Early Classic A.D. 200-600)



Type D: Tripod mushroom stones with plain or carved stems and with clubby or sharp angled feet.  Late Classic (A.D. 600-900)


Type E:  Miscellaneous and possibly related stone and pottery objects.  Chronological position uncertain

In the northern Peruvian highlands the Chavín civilization flourished that in many ways paralleled the contemporary Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica. Both were major early civilizations and both used feline images in their sacred iconography. Pioneer archaeologist Marshall H. Saville was the first to call attention to certain Mesoamerican influences he called "Mayoid" in archaeological material from the Ecuadorian and Peruvian highlands and Pacific coastal areas of South America (Saville, 1907, 1909, 1910). Since Saville's first observation numerous archaeologists have reported other apparent artistic and ideological similarities between the two areas dating from as early as the Preclassic and continuing through the Postclassic, a time span from 1500 B.C. to A.D.1400. There is now a consensus that this exchange likely occurred by sea.

Above are Moche vessels portraying rulers or priests crowned with the Amanita muscaria mushroom.




Mushroom stone or phallic stone ? Inca ruins of Chucuito in Peru South America.  (photograph copyright Keya Nador Judit)


In a letter to Borhegyi, archaeologists Marion and Harry Tschopik found what they described as mushroom stones in the general fill at a Late Inca site on the shore of Lake Titicaca (at the Inca ruins of Chucuito in Peru, not far from Lake Titicaca). This is where there is an Inca legend of white men with beards who inhabited the shores of Lake Titicaca, who built a great city, (Tiahuanaco ?), 2000 years before the time of the Incas. (Gordon Ekholm to Borhegyi, March 12, 1953, Borhegyi Archives, MPM) (photograph copyright Keya Nador Judit).


         Quoting Gordon Wasson...

"the fungal world is filled with erotic symbolism, male and female, but when an artist sets out to present a phallus, he starts with a phallus in mind, not a mushroom (Wasson 1980, p. 175).

                  Baby Amanita muscaria mushroom (unknown photographer)
That visionary mushrooms may well have been in use in Pre-Hispanic times, is suggested by early dictionary sources which describe a mushroom the ancient Maya called xibalbaj okox meaning “underworld mushrooms”, and k’aizalab okox, meaning “lost-judgment mushrooms." The Mayan word for mushroom in Keqchi  is ocox (Spenard 2006:72). Both Wasson and Guzmán believe that mushroom stones were modeled  after the Amanita muscaria. (Guzmán, 2002:4).  In a letter to Wasson (June 30, 1962)  It has been reported however that pottery mushrooms have been excavated at Maya Lowland sites like El Mirador and Berriozabal in the Maya Rainforest, and in 1962  archaeologist Richard E. W. Adams reported finding several pottery mushroom specimens in the Maya Rainforest at the Olmec influenced site of Altar de Sacrificios (Borhegyi, 1963 Vol.28, No.3, p.330). 

Although the hallucinogenic mushroom cult, which has survived to this day among certain tribes like the Zapotec, Chinantec, and Mazatec Indians of Mexico, there has been little to nothing reported among the present day Maya.           


I believe that the Amanita muscaria mushroom cult may still survive in remote areas of Highland Guatemala, where the Amanita muscaria mushroom grows in abundance.          


In 2009, I was surprised to find that the Maya Indians of the Guatemala Highlands were selling these tiny Amanita muscaria mushroom toys in the markets like the one depicted above.  Although the seller informed me that the Maya did eat this variety of mushroom, it is possible she may have been referring to the non-hallucinogenic Amanita caesarea, commonly sold in markets in Mexico and Guatemala and much appreciated for its delicate flavor (Guzmán, 2002:3)  I bought several of these toy Amanita muscaria mushrooms as gifts. They all have a quetzal bird sitting in a tree painted on the stem. Although clearly a child's toy produced for the tourist trade, they bear symbolism of great antiquity. In Mesoamerican mythology the World tree, with its roots in the underworld and its branches in the heavens,  represents the axis mundi  or center of the world. The branches represent the four cardinal directions. Each of the directions was associated with a different color while the color green represented the central place. A bird, known as the celestial bird or Principal Bird Deity, usually sits atop the tree. The trunk, which connects the two planes, was seen as a portal to the underworld. The Quetzal bird, now the national bird of modern Guatemala, was considered sacred because of its green plumage. I believe there is now clear evidence that the Amanita muscaria mushroom is a symbol of equal antiquity.  (Photographs by Connor de Borhegyi) 



This research site is dedicated to my father the late Maya archaeologist Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi, better known simply as Borhegyi. It was Borhegyi who first proposed a hallucinogenic mushroom cult, among the ancient Maya, after finding a significant number of small, mushroom-shaped sculptures in the collections of the Guatemala National Museum and in numerous private collections in and around Guatemala City.
Borhegyi, based his mushroom cult theory on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with human sacrifice and the Mesoamerican ballgame. Borhegyi supported this theory with a solid body of archaeological and historical evidence.


   Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi - Milwaukee Public Museum

                                                    (click above)

Borhegyi de, S.F., 1957b,  "Mushroom Stones of Middle America," in Mushrooms, Russia and History  by Valentina P. Wasson and Robert G. Wasson, eds. N.T.

Borhegyi de, S.F. 1960, "Mushroom stone Discoveries". Amatitlan Field Report, MPM.

Borhegyi de,  S.F., 1961, "Miniature mushroom stones from Guatemala,” American Antiquity, vol. 26: 498-504.

Borhegyi de, S.F., 1962,  “The Enigmatic Mushroom Stones of Mesoamerica”,  in Middle American Research Records, Vol 20, No.2,:40-52, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Borhegyi de, S.F., 1963, “Pre-Columbian pottery mushrooms from Mesoamerica”,  in American Antiquity, vol. 28:328-338.  



Robert Gordon Wasson  1898 – 1986

Photo of Gordon Wasson, from Life Magazine 1957. The replica mushroom stone next to Wasson was a gift from Borhegyi.


This research site is also dedicated to the late Robert Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina P. Wasson, amateur ethno-mycologists who first postulated the existence of a belief system, shared by both continents, that was so ancient that its most basic elements may have been carried to the New World with the first human settlers. The origin of this Pan American belief system, they believed, was early man's discovery of the mind-altering effects of various hallucinatory substances found in nature, among them the Amanita muscaria mushroom commonly called the Fly Agaric mushroom. The Wassons surmised that our own remote ancestors worshiped and venerated a divine mushroom god perhaps 6000 years ago (Furst, 1972, reissued 1990, p.187).

For a comprehensive treatment of the role of mushrooms in world history, see Mushrooms, Russia and History by Valentina P. Wasson and Robert G. Wasson, eds. N.T. 1957. 






Quoting Robert Gordon Wasson...

"In examining these mushroomic artifacts we must keep in mind that they were not made for our enlightenment. They were iconic shorthand summarizing a whole bundle of associations ,--whatever those associations were. The Christian cross is to be found in endless shapes, including the "effigy cross" or crucifix, and all stem back to a complex of emotions, beliefs, and religious longings. The crucifix would reveal to an archaeologist eons hence more than, say, a Maltese cross. So with the mushroom stones, the subject matter of the effigies holds the secret".




 For a comprehensive treatment of the role of mushrooms in New World history, see...

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of Mexico and Psilocybin, A Bibliography: by R. Gordon Wasson and  Stephan de Borhegyi, Harvard University,  1962.



                                           (photographs are subject to copyright)