I want to distract myself from the fact that I’m being locked up in my own house by the government, so today we’re going to discuss religious mythology. I don’t think you can really expect to understand Aztec culture, without having experienced psychedelics yourself. There is the old thought experiment of Mary’s room. Mary is a scientist who is studying color in a black and white room through a black and white television. Can she truly understand it, without experiencing it herself? Without experiencing the raw qualia, Mary can’t truly understand what color means, or so it’s argued.
In a similar manner, I would argue you can’t expect to thoroughly understand Aztec culture, without having experienced the psychedelics they had access to. We know that in our modern Western culture we are very afraid of death. We now lock children up in their homes, to keep our elderly from dying.
The Aztecs had the exact opposite attitude towards death. What might be the cause? I think the Psilocybe mushrooms are an example of an aspect of Aztec culture that is essential in understanding the Aztec attitude towards death. Anyone who has experienced Ego death on Psilocybe mushrooms would probably agree with me. We are now using Psilocybe mushrooms, to help cancer patients cope with the anguish caused by their fear of death. The Aztec elite would consume Psilocybe mushrooms, while witnessing the sacrifices they carried out on their temples. Consider the following Aztec poem, as suggestive of this sense of personal transcendence that is shared by Aztec culture and the psychedelic experience:
No one comes on this earth to stay
Our bodies are like rose trees –
They grow petals then wither and die.
But our hearts are like grass in the springtime,
They live on and forever grow green again.
As another example of something not directly obvious, allow me to shine my light on the Aztec notion of captured warriors from neighboring states becoming manifestations of the Gods themselves upon the moment that they were sacrificed, after months of partaking in complex rituals. Why would such a thing exist? In my opinion, the concept is likely related to the experiences that Aztec elites would have had, under the influenza of Salvia Divinorum. We have strong reasons to believe the Aztecs made use of this plant. Under a sufficiently high dose, Salvia Divinorum will make you feel as if your world is not real, as if you are merely a toy, that exists to be used as a puppet for a higher world, as if your own existence is there for the amusement of those who exist in this higher world, a world that feels more real than ours.
The closest relative to Salvia Divinorum, is Salvia Venulosa. Salvia Venulosa might have been used by the Incas’s, as their territory overlaps Venulosa’s native range. This plant only grows in the Western part of Colombia. Why is the closest relative to Salvia Divinorum found so far away from where we find Salvia Divinorum today? The answer to me would seem that people actively transported and cultivated these plants. How else do we end up with a nearly sterile genetically homogenous plant in Mexico, whose closest relative is found in Colombia?
What we have today as Salvia Divinorum, is a post-apocalyptic remnant of something greater. The Mazatec have no indigenous name in their culture for this plant. They do not even know how to make proper use of it to access its psychedelic effects. They eat it rather than chewing it, which is terribly inefficient. They tend to prefer Psilocybe mushrooms, only using Salvia Divinorum when the mushrooms are unavailable, even though the trips themselves are completely incomparable.
However, it’s not enough to look merely at Salvia Divinorum, to try to understand the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. We also have to look at Mescaline. The Aztecs had access to mescaline in the form of Peyote buttons imported from the North. The Incas would have had access to mescaline through San Pedro and its close relatives, that grow in the Andes mountains.
Let’s say we wanted to understand Aztec sacrifice. Wouldn’t it be terribly interesting, if we happened to know about a case of a Mexican woman who led a religious cult and ended up demanding that human sacrifices were to be made to appease the Gods? Well, allow me to introduce you to the enigma of Magdalena Solís. You can stare into her eyes above. You can tell she is almost dead inside, it is as if you are looking at a reptile. I’ve cited the overall story below:
In late 1962 and early 1963, brothers Santos and Cayetano Hernandez, a pair of petty criminals, devised a scam which they thought was brilliant and would solve all their monetary problems. They reached the small town of Yerba Buena, (a marginalized community in northern Mexico, with a little more than 50 people, all of them mired in extreme poverty and mostly illiterate) and proclaimed themselves prophets and high priests of the “powerful and exiled Inca gods.”
They were told that the Inca gods, in return for worship and tribute, would give them treasures hidden in the caves of the mountains surrounding the village, (where they also performed their rites), and would soon come to claim authority over their former kingdom and punish the unbelievers.
The Hernandezes were completely ignorant, because the “Inca gods” belong to the mythology of pre-Hispanic Peru (it would have been more logical to say that they were the Aztec gods). But many of the inhabitants of Yerba Buena, prisoners of ignorance and misery, believed this nonsense. Thus the Hernandez founded a relatively prosperous sect; adherents demanded economic and sexual taxes (both women and men). The Hernandezes went from being simple thieves to cheats and sexual slaveholders, organizing orgies in which they used narcotics.
The cult continued running like that with no problem for a while, after which the believers began to grow impatient at not seeing the promises fulfilled. So the brothers devised a plan: they went to Monterrey in search of prostitutes who wanted to be part of the farce, and made contact with Magdalena and her brother, who agreed.
During a ritual, they presented, (using a cheap magic trick: a smoke screen), Magdalena Solis as the reincarnation of a goddess. What no one counted on was that Magdalena would believe in the lie.
Shortly after joining the sect, Magdalena took over. By then 2 fans, tired of the sexual abuses, wanted to leave the sect, the other believers, prisoners of fear, were charged before the “high priests” Soliscondemnation was clear: the death penalty. The two unfortunates were lynched by the terrified adherents.
The blood ritual
After these first two murders, as is characteristic of serial murderers, their crimes evolved, becoming more violent. Bored with simple orgies, she began to demand human sacrifice. She devised a “blood ritual”: the sacrificed (which was always a dissenting member), was brutally beaten, burned, cut and maimed by all the members of the cult. Thereafter, she practised blood-letting, the victim was made to bleed to death. The blood was deposited in a cup mixed with chicken blood (the ritual also included animal sacrifices and the use of narcotics such as marijuana and peyote).
Solis, drank from the chalice and then gave drink to the priests (the Hernandez Brothers and Eleazar Solis), and finally gave the other members. Presumably this gave them extra-natural powers.
Now based on elements from Aztec mythology, “the blood was the only decent food for the gods, through it they preserved their immortality.” The goddess needed to drink blood to stay young forever. Magdalene was supposedly the reincarnation of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue.
The butchering went on for six continuous weeks in 1963, a period in which 4 people died in this terrible way. In the last sacrifices they reached the point of dissecting the heart of the victims alive.
It was a night in May 1963 when a 14 year old local resident, Sebastian Guerrero, wandered near the caves where the Solis sect was performing their rites. Attracted by the lights and noises coming out of one of the caves, he came sniffing around, met a terrible sight, and silently watched the terrible slaughter that a poor and unknown victim suffered.
Terrified, he ran over 25 km, from Yerba Buena to the town of Villa Gran, to the nearest police station. Exhausted and still in shock, he failed to give any other description of the “group of murderers who prey on ecstasy and who were gluttonously drinking human blood,” like vampires.
What starts out as a bizarre scam, under the influence of Peyote appears to transform into a cult that drinks blood and begins disecting the hearts of living victims to keep an Aztec Goddess incarnated into a prostitute forever young. If you know this, then doesn’t it begin to sound plausible to you, that Peyote played a role in convincing the Aztec elite of the need to sacrifice human beings?
I’m arguing this point here, because of my own experiences with mescaline. Initially, I always came to the conclusion through mescaline, that life is good as it is. My friend who experienced mescaline reached that exact same type of conclusion. However, later on, I arrived at the idea that day can not exist without the night. The idea that human beings have a responsibility to appease nature becomes very attractive to me under the influence of mescaline.
Of course there’s also an argument to be made against this assertion. Human sacrifice was not unique to the Native Americans. It also happened among other cultures, cultures that definitely did not have access to Mescaline or Salvia Divinorum. So, what might be the explanation there?
Let’s take the Vikings as an example. We know the vikings made sacrifices to their Gods. Another thing we know is that the Vikings were often buried together with Henbane seeds. This was a plant that must have been very important to these people. Henbane is one of the apparently relatively forgiving varieties, of the various anticholinergic plants that exist. German scientist Michael Schenck described the effects it had on him as following:
There were animals which looked at me keenly with contorted grimaces and staring, terrified eyes; there were terrifying stones and clouds of mist, all sweeping along in the same direction. They carried me irresistibly with them. Their coloring must be described – but it was not a pure hue. They enveloped in a vague gray light, which emitted a dull glow and rolled onward and upward into a black and smoky sky. I was flung into a flaring drunkenness, a witches’ cauldron of madness. Above my head water was flowing, dark and blood-red. The sky was filled with herds of animals. Fluid, formless creatures emerged from the darkness. I heard words, but they were all wrong and nonsensical, and yet they possessed for me some hidden meaning.
If you take Datura, you’ll have similar effects. I wouldn’t recommend it, because there’s a fair chance you’ll die or mutilate yourself. What’s fascinating about these plants is that the effects resemble what is seen in dementia patients: They will see and talk to people who don’t exist. Dementia patients and Datura users can have conversation with people who will suddenly disappear. It’s said that you can meet a certain dark feminine entity on Datura. She is described as following in one report:
I met the ‘spirit’ of the plant, Queen Toloache, as she is known indigenously and shamnically. She was pale, (not just albino pale, but literally skin tone like the moon) and imperious. She is also fond of tricks. I talked to her for a bit, though I will not share the conservation, as I feel by doing so is disrespectful.
It’s said later on in the report, that Queen Toloache has an associate, in the form of a black dog:
There was a four legged dog-creature (very large, and very black, with glowing red eyes) sitting on what looked like a throne, on the side of a swimming pool. There were many people basically having a blood orgy, and massive amounts of steam were rising from the water. There were also dead squirrels which littered the ground, and all throughout the branches of a large tree, were squirrel tails, hanging like evil Christmas ornaments. The Dog (whom I later found out is the second spirit associated with Datura, or second half, depending on perspective. He is known sometimes as ‘The Guardian’, or ‘Protector’, and protects Toloache) noticed us and beckoned us to come join them beyond the fence. Drew grabbed his binoculars and scoped out the scene. People were still having insatiable sex through a bunch of mist. However, with the binoculars we saw everything in grave detail. I could see the hair on this demonic dog, and the squirrel tails, and everything in clear Hi-def detail. Me and Drew saw the same thing. Drew left to get a closer look, the dog and associates still beckoning us in.
Think about this for a moment. British folklore also has anecdotes of a big mysterious otherworldy black dog. People claim to see them even to these days. It’s thought that this myth may be traced back to the Welsh Cŵn Annwn. Cŵn Annwn are hunting hounds, who would cause death to those who see them. They are said to be accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, “Matilda of the Night”, a wailing shrieking undead woman who loved hunting so much that she refused to die and continues to roam the world with her dogs.
Or, think alternatively of Hecate. Hecate is a Goddess of the Underworld in Greek mythology. She is associated with a number of plants that are psychoactive: Aconite, belladonna, dittany, and mandrake. So, here’s the funny thing. If you take belladonna or mandrake, you’ll have a datura type trip, because it suppresses cholinergic neurotransmission. On the other hand, Aconite stimulates the buildup of cholinergic neurotransmitters. Combined? I don’t think anyone has written down his experiences, but perhaps you get to see the underworld in HD.
Hecate is typically described as a very pale Goddess, because she is associated with the moon. In Macbeth we read: “Witchcraft celebrates pale Hecate’s offerings…” The interesting part is that Hecate is associated with witches. The medieval European witches were known to use an ointment, made out of plants like Henbane and Belladonna. They applied it to a broom and introduced it vaginally or anally with the broom.
Look at the image here by David Teniers the Younger, you can see an elderly woman applying the ointment to a young naked woman who is holding a broom between her legs. It’s also funny to look at the horrifying creature sitting in the bottom left, or the ones behind the witches in the back. What did Michael Schenk tell us about Henbane? “Fluid, formless creatures emerged from the darkness.” We’re seeing the witches carrying out their ritual that puts them in a hallucinogenic state, but we also see the type of frightening demonic creatures you can see under the influence of the anticholinergic plants they used.
If you asked a 17th century man “show me what a Henbane trip looks like”, I doubt you could have found someone who could do a better job than this painter. When we ask ourselves “why did old paintings have frightening demonic looking creatures in them”, we have to entertain the possibility that people painted these frightening creatures, because they experienced seeing these frightening creatures.
Note that it’s not just the witches ointment that contained anticholinergic plants like Henbane. Until the introduction of the Reinheitsgebot, beer in the Holy Roman Empire would often contain henbane and belladonna. Yes, that’s right: You could drink beer and you could potentially end up seeing demonic creatures as a consequence.
So, to complete the image, what sort of animal do you think the Greeks most commonly associate with Hecate? The dog. But here’s the thing: If you’re a typical ivory tower academic, you’ll read the literature and write down “the Greeks associated Hecate with these plants for whatever reason”, without ever really thinking through the reasons. For all practical purposes, Hecate is the same Goddess as Queen Toloache of the Datura plant, described by a different culture.
I’m here to argue that the reason these plants are associated with Hecate is because for all practical purposes, these plants will allow you to meet Hecate. I think the entities we meet on psychedelics and the Gods of traditional mythologies, are a product of similar psychological forces that normally lay dormant. Or, perhaps it may even be the case that some of the Gods of traditional mythology are themselves simply the descendants of oral legends that originate with those who actually met these entities. This may explain why we tend to see strong similarities between different deities in different polytheistic culture: These are cases of different cultures describing the same dormant psychological forces.
I think you can’t really properly understand a people’s religious mythology, without understanding the effects that the plants and other organisms that accompany their religious mythology have on our minds. I’ll leave you with an ode to our cruel mistress of the night.