,and the seeds were also present in all subse-quent cultural strata.And at Fate Bell Shelter,in the AmistadDam area ofTrans-Pecos Texas,a region rich in shamanisticrock paintings ofspirit beings and shamans,the seeds werepresent in every cultural stratum from
when the Desert Culture gave way to a new way oflife based on maize cultivation.The archaeological peyotes from Texas are not far behindin age.One pair preserved in the Witte Museum in SanAntonio,and tested at
dates equivalent to
years before the present.And a recent issue ofthe Britishmedical journal
reported a radio-carbon date of
years before the presentfor another pair,with the added bonus ofasmall but significant residue ofmescaline.All this points to very early discoveries of hallucinogens,their integration into Amerindianreligions,and rituals related to a variety of visionary plants.This,in turn,relates to anintriguing and quite plausible hypothesisadvanced by anthropologist Weston La Barre.La Barre is the author of
The Peyote Cult,
aclassic history ofthe
-member pan-Indian Native American Church,originally published in
and expanded and reissuedseveral times since.
LA BARRE,SIBERIAN SHAMANISM,ANDAMERINDIAN RELIGION
,two old friends and professional asso-ciates,both now deceased,engaged in afriendly debate.Richard Evans Schultes wasdirector ofthe Botanical Museum ofHarvardUniversity and preeminent authority on New World plant hallucinogens.Weston La Barre was professor ofanthropology at Duke University.What,asked Schultes,explains the small number ofknown visionary plants recorded in the Old World,and their infinitely greaternumber in the New? The differential fates ofshamanism in thetwo hemispheres,answered La Barre.La Barre’s argument wasessentially this:At some time in the distant past,when small bands of Siberian hunters set out for unknown lands across the Bering Sea,their baggage might have been light,but surely it included itemsthat related to their well-developed religions and rituals.These would not have been very different from the ecstatic tribalshamanism that focused on the fly agaric mushroom,describedfrom Siberia since the 1700s.Once settled in the Americas,theirshamanic core remained intact through time and space,so muchso,that to this day,all American Indian religions,including that of the militaristic and expansionist Aztec civilization,can rightly becalled shamanic.Even ifthey seemingly ignored the American varieties ofthesacred mushroom oftheir ancestors—and we have no evidenceeither way—as inheritors and practitioners ofreligious beliefsand practices originating in ecstatic Siberian shamanism,withthe ecstatic trance as the indispensable foundation ofshamanicideology and practice,the First Americans would have been “cul-turally programmed”for conscious exploration oftheir new environments for plants with divine powers that replicated thosetheir ancestors attributed to the fly agaric.Theshamanic character ofNative American reli-gions remained intact.Prior to the Europeaninvasion and colonization,the Indian Americasexperienced none ofthe profound religiousand socio-economic transformations thatcaused the eradication ofecstatic shamanism inmuch ofthe Old World,and with it,knowledgeand use ofvisionary plants.It was La Barre’s contention that the exten-sive reliance by diverse Amerindians on psy-choactive plants is evidence ofthe survival of ecstatic Mesolithic/Paleolithic shamanism.Andso we find an abundance ofsuch plants as“allies”ofthe shaman in Amazonia and theAndes.In Mexico they include especially the“sacred mushrooms,”peyote;several species of
and its relatives;and perhaps most inter-esting,
This isa Nahuatl term mean-ing no more than “little round thing.”TheAztecs applied this term to the seeds oftwospecies ofmorning glory,the white-flowered
) corymbosa and the pur-ple or blue
givesnary a hint ofthe remarkable qualities inherent in these seeds.The reason why
which modern Indians abbrevi-ated to
is ofsuch interest was due to an entirely unexpecteddiscovery by Albert Hofmann,the brilliant Swiss chemist who,in1938,was the co-discoverer ofLSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide).Several investigators had previously failed to uncover the morningglories’secret.But in 1960,Hofmann,having received severalpounds ofthe seeds from Mexico,announced his discovery oftheactive principles of
as lysergic acid derivatives.Such derivatives are closely related to synthetic LSD and toergot,the primitive fungus infestation ofrye that in the MiddleAges was responsible for the mass hysteria known as St.Anthony’s Fire.As Hoffman pointed out,never before hadthese fungal alkaloids been identified in the higher plants.
Peruvian stirrup vessel with
cactus effigy (
). With its high content ofthe visionary alkaloid mescaline, it iswidely employed in shamanic curingin north coastal Peru and elsewherein the Andes. There is also archaeo-logical evidence for its use in ancientPeru as far back as 1500 B.C.
P e t e r T . F u r s t