Salvia divinorum is a perennial labiate used
for curing and divination by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca,
Mexico. The psychotropic effects the plant produces are compared
to those of the other hallucinogens employed by the Mazatecs, the
morning glory, Rivea corymbosa L., Hallier f. and the psilocybin-containing
mushrooms. A discussion of the role of ska Maria Pastora in the
native "pharmacopeia" is based on previous reports and
fieldwork by the authors, with a Mazatec shaman.
Salvia divinorum (Epling & Jativa-M.) is a
perennial herb in the Labiatae (mint family) native to certain
areas in the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico (Fig. 1). It is
one of about 500 species of Salvia in the New World subgenus
Calosphace (Epling and Jativa-M., 1962). The plant grows in large
clones to well over 1m in height and its large green leaves,
hollow square stems and white flowers with purple calyces are
characteristic taxonomic features. This sage has been found only
in forest ravines and other moist humid areas of the Sierra
Mazateca between 750 m and 1500 m altitude (Diaz, 1975a). Carl
Epling, who first described S. divinorum, reported the newer as
having a blue corolla, and it has been illustrated this way in
the literature (Epling and Jativa-M, 1962; Schultes, 1976).
However, this description has been shown to be an error, as all
living specimens of the plant have had blossoms with white
corollas and purple calyces (Diaz, 1975a; Emboden, 1979).
S. divinorum is one of several vision-inducing
plants employed by the Mazatec Indians, one of the native Peoples
living in the mountains and upland valleys of northeastern Oaxaca.
Unlike other Mexican tribes, there is little information
concerning their existence before the arrival of the conquering
Spanish, who reduced the Mazatecan population through
exploitation and disease (Weitlaner and Hoppe, 1964). The 1970
census estimated their number at 92,540 (Cortes, 1979) and the
language of the Mazatec-Popoloca family is one of the many non-Spanish
dialects spoken throughout Mexico (Weitlaner and Hoppe, 1964).
The Mazatecan ritual use of hallucinogens, such as mushrooms
containing psilocybin and morning glory seeds containing lysergic
acid amide, has been widely publicized through the investigations
of R. Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann, among others (Wasson and
Wasson, 1957; Wasson, 1963; Hofmann, 1964; Hofmann, 1980).
Review of literature
Although the use of the mushrooms and morning
glories was documented by the Spanish conquistodores and
chroniclers who arrived in Mexico during the Sixteenth Century (Wasson,
1963), the literature on S. divinorum is relatively recent.
Wasson originally proposed that this Salvia was the plant known
to the Spanish by the Nahuatl (Aztec) name of pipiltzintzintli,
but new investigations suggest that the Mexican name probably
refers to Cannabis sativa I,. (Diaz, 1979).
There are a number of common names for S.
divinorum and nearly all are related to the plant's association
with the Virgin Mary. It is known to the Mazatecs as ska Maria
Pastora, the leaf or herb of Mary, the Shepherdess. The name is
usually shortened to ska Maria or ska Pastora and the sage is
also known by a number of Spanish names including hojas de Maria,
hojas de la Pastora, hierba (yerba) Maria or la Maria. The
Mazatecs believe this Salvia to be an incarnation of the Virgin
Mary, and care is taken to avoid trampling on or damaging it when
picking the leaves, which are used both for curing and in
Attempts at the identification ska Maria
Pastora were carried out in conjunction with anthropological
expeditions led by one of Mexico's leading anthropologists, the
former Austrian engineer, Roberto G. Weitlaner, who rediscovered
native use of hallucinogenic mushrooms among the Mazatecs in 1936
(Wasson, 1963). On a field trip in 1938, Weitlaner's future son-in-law,
the American anthropologist, Jean B. Johnson learned that the
Mazatecs employed a "tea" made from the beaten leaves
of a "hierba Maria" for divination. The preparation was
used in a manner similar to the "narcotic" mushrooms
and the semillas de la Virgen, which were later identified as
morning glory seeds (Johnson, 1939). Bias P. Reko, who knew
Weitlaner well, referred to a "magic plant" employed by
the Cuicatec and Mazatec Indians to produce visions. It was known
as the hoja de adivinaci6n (leaf of prophecy) and although Reko
could not identify the plant, it was probably S. divinorum (Reko,
In 1952 Weitlaner reported the use of a yerba (hierba)-de
Maria by the Mazatecs in Jalapa de Diaz, a small Oaxacan village.
According to his informant the leaves of this plant were gathered
by curanderos (shamans or healers), who went up into the
mountains and harvested them after a session of kneeling and
prayer. For use in "curing" the foliage was rubbed
between the hands and an infusion of from 50 to 100 leaves was
prepared, the higher dose being used for alcohol "addicts".
Around midnight the curandero, the patient and another person
went to a dark quiet place (perhaps a house) where the patient
ingested the potion. After about 15 min the effects became
noticeable. The subject would go into a semi-delirious trance and
from his speech the curandero made a diagnosis and then ended the
session by bathing the patient in a portion of the infusion that
had been set aside.
The bath supposedly ended the intoxicated state.
In addition to such "curing", the yerba Maria also
served for divination of robbery or loss (Weitlaner, 1952).
Five years later the Mexican botanist, A. G6mez
Pompa, collected specimens of a Salvia known as "xka (sic)
Pastora". He noted that the plant was used as a hallucinogen
(alucinante) and a dose was prepared from 8 to 12 pairs of leaves.
Since flowering material was not available, the sage could not be
identified beyond the generic level (G6mez Pompa, 1957). The
holotype specimen of S. divinorum was acquired by Wasson and
Hofmann in 1962 while they were traveling with Weitlaner.
Flowering plants were brought to them in the village of San Jose
Tenango, as they were not permitted to visit the locality in
which ska Maria Pastora grew. This collection was sent to Epling
and Jativa-M. who described it as a new species of Salvia, S.
divinorum (Wasson, 1962; Epling and Jativa-M., 1962).
Wasson was the first to personally describe the
effects of ska Pastora, relating the experiences he and members
of his party had on ingestionof different doses of a beverage
prepared from the plant's foliage. At a session in July 1961 in
which he participated, a curandera (female shamans are very
common among the Mazatecs and other Mexican peoples) squeezed the
juice of 34 pairs of leaves by hand into a glass and added water.
Wasson drank the dark fluid and wrote that although the effects
came on faster than those of the mushrooms, they lasted a much
shorter time. He saw only "dancing colors in elaborate,
three-dimensional designs" (Wasson, 1962). Summing up the
experience, he later stated (pers. comm.): A number of us (including
me) had tried the infusion of the leaves and we thought we
experienced something, though much weaker than the Psilocybe
species of mushroom.
Hofmann and his wife, Anita, who accompanied
Wasson on an expedition the following year, took the infusion
prepared from five and three pairs of S. divinorum leaves,
respectively. Mrs. Hofmann "saw striking, brightly bordered
images" while Hofmann found himself "in a state of
mental sensitivity and intense experience, which, however, was
not accompanied - by hallucinations" (Hofmann, 1980).
Maria Sabina, the Mazatec shaman made famous by
Wasson, and who lives in the Mazatec highland town of Huautla, in
Oaxaca, briefly mentioned her use of the plant in her
autobiography (Estrada, 1977):
If I have a sick person during the season when the
mushrooms are not available, I resort to the hojas de la
Pastora. Crushed (molido) and taken, they work like the
"children" (i.e., the mushrooms). Of course, the
Pastora doesn't have as much strength.
Roquet and Ganc reported that the Mazatecs
prepared a dose of S. divinorum from 120 pairs of crushed leaves
and used the plant only when the mushrooms and morning glory
seeds were not available. Roquet and his associates used the
plant twice in their psychiatric investigations of Mexican
hallucinogenic plants and stated that they had difficulties in
working with it (Roquet, 1972).
Jose Luis Diaz and his coworkers studied the
use of ska Maria Pastora in the Mazatec highlands during the 1970's.
Diaz himself took the Salvia infusion under the supervision of a
shaman, Dona J., on six different occasions, noting an increased
awareness of the plants effects each time. The first changes he
perceived were a series of complex and slowly changing visual
patterns that occurred only in complete quiet with closed eyes.
There were no colored geometric patterns which characteristically
occur with ingestion of other hallucinogens nor were there
auditory images. After a short time he noticed peripheral
phenomena, such as a feeling of lightness in the extremities and
odd sensations in the joints. The climax of effects, accompanied
by dizziness or nausea (mareo), lasted about 10 min and
disappeared about 0.5 h after ingestion of the infusion. Other,
more subtle, effects seemed to persist for a few hours (Diaz,
Hofmann (Hofmann, 1964) and Diaz (Diaz, 1975a)
each investigated S. divinorum chemically without isolating and
identifying any active principle. As noted above, the
descriptions in the literature emphasize the mildness of the
plant's effects. There are many ways to achieve visions other
than by ingestion of classically defined "hallucinogens"
such as mescaline, LSD and psilocybin. Among these are meditation,
prayer, mental illness, disease (especially when accompanied by
fever), poisoning, experiences of dying, and suggestion (placebo
effect). Therefore, prior to conducting chemical and animal
studies, we decided to attempt to clarify the role of S.
divinorum as a vision inducer among the Mazatec Indians.
The following report is based on fieldwork with
a Mazatec curandero, or healer, living near the Alemin Reservoir
in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, about 100 km from the port of
Veracruz. Although a study based on information from a single
source is open to criticism, the jealous and secretive nature of
native shamans works against statistical methods of survey.
Visiting many shamans in a single area can
actually lessen the amount of information gathered, as each
curandero may fear the visitor is telling their secrets and
giving their "power" to a rival. To them magic can hurt
or kill. Wasson and 'Richard E. Schultes have both commented on
the difficulty of making contacts with the curanderos of this
region (Wasson and Wasson, 1957; Schultes, 1941).
Don Alejandro, the informant, spoke only a
Mazatecan dialect. One of his sons served as an interpreter,
translating from the native tongue to Spanish. The information
they provided the authors was gathered in fragments over many
visits during the summer of 1979 and spring of 1980. Mazatec
healing and religion are united in a manner common to traditional
cultures. This is somewhat foreign to Western scientific medicine
which is isolated from religion except for the times when it no
longer serves to cure. A brief description of Mazatec healing,
based mainly on the work with Don Alejandro should help to
explain the use of ska Maria Pastora and its relationship to
other healing plants. The Mazatecs (the name, taken from the city
of Mazatlan, was actually imposed on the natives by the Spanish)
are nominally Catholic Christians, but they have incorporated
many features of their traditional beliefs into their conceptions
of God and the Saints, whom they consider to have been the first
healers. The most prominent among them is San Pedro, or Saint
Peter, who is said to have cured a sick and crying infant Jesus
through the ritual use of tobacco (Nicotonia spp.). Tobacco is
considered to be a health problem in the United States and many
other countries, and its acute pharmacological effects are due to
the alkaloid nicotine (Larson et al., 1961). Yet for the Mazatecs,
as well as for almost all Mesoamerican Indians, it is the most
important curing tool in the "pharmacopeia". The fresh
tobacco leaf is ground, dried and mixed with lime to form a
powder known to the Mazatecs as San Pedro (Saint Peter); the
"best" is prepared on the Saint's day, June 29th (Inchaustegui,
1977). This preparation is more familiarly known by its Nahuatl
name, picietl @piciete). It is worn-in charms and amulets as a
protection against various "diseases" and witchcraft,
but its most important use is in limpias, or ritual cleansings.
It may be used alone with a prayer and copal (an incense prepared
from the resin of Bursera spp.) (Diaz, 1975b), or in conjunction
with herbs such as basil (Ocimum spp.) or marijuana (Cannabis
sativa)*, eggs or various other substances. Anyone who comes to
Don Alejandro to be treated usually gets a : limpia This ritual
cleansing may be the cure in itself, or it may be accompanied by
other "medicines". The patient is given a pinch of the
San Pedro powder (wrapped in paper) to carry with them and use
during the healing period.
One learns to become a shaman through an
informal apprenticeship, although the Mazatecs will insist they
are taught by a progression of visions from and of heaven, rather
than by people. Psychotropic plants are intimately associated
with this training, which can last up to two years or longer. In
this area of Oaxaca, as well as the highland region visited by
Diaz, +Don Alejandro does not use marijuana, as it is illegal.
The vision inducers are taken systematically at intervals of a
week to a month. Once one becomes a healer the hallucinogenic
plants are ingested much less frequently. The process begins by
taking successively increasing doses of S. divinorum for a number
of times to become acquainted with the "way to Heaven".
Next comes mastery of the morning glory (Rivea corymbosa (L.),
Hallier, f.) seeds and finally one learns to use the sacred
mushrooms. There is a very' rigid diet, or diet, to follow during
this time, "Hot" foods such as garlic and chili peppers
are restricted and there must be abstinence from sex and alcohol
for extended periods. However, many Mazatec shamans incorporate
alcohol into their training and drink during their ceremonies (Wasson
and Wasson, 1957). Breaking from this dieta, or ritual diet could
"make one crazy," according to Don Alejandro and since
I such obligations require maturity, one should be at least 30
years old before becoming a curandero.
A comparison of Mazatec hallucinogens
Ska Maria Pastora is, pharmacologically the
weakest of the three hallucinogenic plants. Following its
ingestion the Virgin Mary is supposed to speak to the individual,
but only in absolute quiet and darkness. The relatively mild
experience is readily terminated by noise (such as a loud voice)
or light. Don Alejandro says the effects of tu-tu-sho, the flower
seeds (R. corymbosa), are similar to those of the Maria (S.
divinorum) as both plants are siblings (son hermanos) under the
protection of the Virgin Mary and San Pedro. A "dose"
he provided weighed 9.6 g and consisted of about 350 R. corymbosa
seeds. A brief report on another morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea
Both) noted that the ingestion of a large number of seeds
produced effects similar to LSD, but with an additional narcotic
component characterized by drowsiness and torpor (Savage et al.,
1972). Humphry Osmond also noted a narcotic effect on dosing
himself with R. corymbosa seeds (Hoffer and Osmond, 1967). The
activity of morning glories appears to be due to d-lysergic acid
amide (ergine) and related alkaloids (Schultes and Hofmann, 1980).
Interestingly, the authors discovered a woodrose (Argyreia spp.)
growing in the vicinity of the village where Don Alejandro lived.
Argyreia spp. contain LSD-like compounds (Chao and DerMarderosian,
1973). When asked whether he used the plant, Don Alejandro said
that he did not, since it caused people to become crazy. The
curandero also had several horticultural specimens of Coleus spp.
growing near his house. Wasson has reported that the Mazatecs
believe Coleus to be a medicinal or hallucinogenic herb closely
related to S. divinorum (Wasson, 1962). However, Don Alejandro
said the plants were not medicinal and his daughter had bought
them at the market because they were pretty.
According to Don Alejandro ni-to, or the
mushrooms-that-one-takes (hongos para tomar, probably not a
literal translation, see Wasson, 1980) are unlike the other two
plants. The fungi are delicado (delicate), nervioso (nervous),
una cosa de envidia (a thing of envy). Unfortunately the English
translations of these terms do not convey the Indian-Spanish
concept of magic that has a dangerous and sinister side. Santa
Ana and San Venanzio, the Saints the curandero associates with
the mushrooms, were not as good at healing as San Pedro and the
Virgen Maria, the patrons of the Saliva and the morning glory.
Eating too many of the fungi can "leave one crazy" and
the visions are often trucos (tricky). Other Mazatec informants
have attributed such characteristics to the visions, saying that
one has to separate the true from the false (Inchaustegui, 1977).
Wasson has reported that misuse of the mushrooms can lead to
madness (Wasson and Wasson, 1957). Munn and Wasson have given
complementary descriptions of shamanic use of mushrooms among the
Mazatecs (Munn, 1979; Wasson 1980). Psilocybin and psilocin, the
vision-inducing compounds in the fungi, were isolated by Hofmann,
who used himself as a subject to assay for their activity. He
reported that a dose of 2.4 g of dried Psilocybe mexicana Helm (an
average amount for a curandero) produced effects he could not
control or resist. A colleague "was transformed" into
an Aztec priest and at the height of the experience Hofmann felt
that he "would be torn into this whirlpool of form and color
and would dissolve" (Hofmann, 1980). This powerful
experience was quite unlike the mild one produced by S. divinorum.
As Don Alejandro stated it, "The Maria, on the other hand
accepts you (la Maria, en cambia, te acepta)."
Remedial uses of S. divinorum
From the shaman the investigators learned that
the plant could be used as a "medicine" as well as for
the induction of visions. A low dose serves as what the
investigators interpreted to be a "tonic" or "panacea"
as well as for "magical" healing (Don Alejandro did not
use such terms). An infusion prepared from 4 or 5 pairs of fresh
or dry leaves may be taken by the glass (vase) or tablespoonful (cucharoda)
as needed. It is used to "cure" the following "illnesses",
although there may be other possible uses:
- It helps one defecate and urinate. It
stops diarrhea (the plant apparently is believed to
regulate eliminatory functions).
- It is given to the sick, old or dying to
revive them or alleviate their illness. People who are
pale, white and almost ready to die (they have "anemia")
may recuperate on taking la Maria.
- It may be taken to relieve headache and
rheumatism (however, when taken in the high doses that
induce visions; it often leaves one with a headache the
following morning, according to the curandero).
- There is a semi-magical disease known panz6n
de barrego (sic), or a swollen belly, which is supposedly
caused by a curse from a brujo, or evil sorcerer. The
victim's midsection swells up due to a "stone"
that has been put inside them. Taking the Salvia causes
elimination of this "stone" and the belly
shrinks down to size. The researchers met an old shaman
who showed them his wrinkled middle and said he had cured
himself of the "disease" by use of la Maria.
Don Alejandro confirmed the "illness" and the
Divination with S. divinorum
S. divinorum may be prepared as an infusion
from 20 (about 50 g) to 80 (about 200 g) or more pairs of fresh
leaves to induce visions, and may be taken by the curandero, the
patient (or apprentice) or both, depending on the situation. Only
fresh foliage will serve for divination; At this dosage level,
the Salvia is used to foretell the future, find the causes and
cures of illnesses and obtain answers to questions about friends,
enemies and relatives. In shamanic training, the future healer
takes la Maria to learn the ways of healing and the
identification and use of medicinal plants (there is supposedly a
tree in Heaven with all such herbs on it and one talks to God and
the Saints about them under the influence of the hallucinogens).
After preliminary sessions in the company of the master, who
takes the infusion along with the apprentice to watch over him on
the journey, the future healer may continue study on his own
until it is time for the next plant in the series. Don Alejandro
told the investigators that the Salvia, the morning glory seeds
and the mushrooms each told their own historic (story or history:
and ska Maria was the best teacher of the ways of curing, as one
learned the most from it. During the course of visits, the
researchers were able to participate in two sessions under the
shaman's guidance. As the hallucinogens are never taken without a
valid purpose and since the visitors were from "the
University", the ceremonies were oriented to teach them
about healing and especially the uses of the Maria and other
medicinal plants. Don Alejandro said they would have to follow
the dieta, or ritual diet for 16 days, although they could bathe
and drink beer (after the first time, the dieta for S. divinorum
is only 4 days in length).
The preparations for the two ceremonies were
essentially the same. As dark came (about 19:30 h to 20:00 h) the
curandero began making the Salvia infusion. The leaves were first
counted out in pairs to arrive at each person's dose and put
neatly into piles with their petioles aligned. Then Don Alejandro
picked lip part of a pile and crushed it by hand into a small
enameled bowl partially-filled with water. As more foliage was
squeezed and added, the liquid turned dark green from the
chlorophylls. After the potion was prepared, it was poured
through a sieve into a glass which was topped off with water.
During the preparations for the second session a head of foam
formed on the glasses and the curandero laughed. He explained
through his son that the foam (espuma) was an indication of
strength and the Maria would be very potent that evening. The
glasses were covered with inverted cups to "prevent the
escape of the humor (que no salga el humor)". Although the
foliage of S. divinorum could reportedly be kept fresh for a week
or longer when wrapped in the large leaves of Xanthosoma robustum Schoff, the prepared infusion was said to be stable for a day.
The spent leaves were set aside to be discarded in an out of the
way location where they wouldn't be defiled by people or animals.
However, Don Alejandro said that they could still be used by
putting them on a subject's head to refresh them after the
session. The curandero picked up a glass of the Maria and began
an oration. The Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, the Virgin Mary and
other Saints were called on to watch over the participants and
teach the visitors the ways of curing:
Two to four hours passed in conversation and
the telling of stories. The shaman repeatedly emphasized that it
was important to describe one's visions, "If you are going
to learn or if you are going to understand what it is all about,
you must speak." Finally it was time for ingestion of the
infusions (between 21:00 h and 23:00 h). Following Mazatec custom,
at least one person didn't participate, in order to watch over
the rest (Wasson et al., 1974). As a last protection against any
dangers during the visionary "travels", Don Alejandro
performed limpias, or ritual cleansings, on the visitors. As the
oration was being recited, Don Alejandro anointed the subject
with a piece of copal dipped in the San Pedro. The curandero then
gave him a pinch of the San Pedro to carry for protection if he
felt danger during or after the session. After a final
benediction, the potions were drunk and the light was turned out.
Session 1, August 18, 1979
The participants were Diaz, Valdes and Don
Alejandro, whose son sat on a bench and watched over the others
during the proceedings. The curandero and Diaz, who had taken la
Maria several times previously, each had doses prepared from 50
pairs of leaves. Valdes received a beginner's dose made from 20
pairs. They took the Salvia preparations around 22:30 h. The
visitors shared a large cot while the shaman lay on a petate, or
sleeping mat which was unrolled on the floor.
Diaz sat quietly on the side of the cot after
the lights went out. About 15 min after ingesting the infusion he
began to see subtle visions, constricted like columns of smoke in
the total darkness. It made no difference whether his eyes were
opened or closed. Deciding to speak out, he saw a light which
disappeared as he began to describe it. The images increased in
intensity. He saw a mountain made of ice, as though he were at
the base of a cliff formed from large ice columns. The vision
slowly changed into Cerro Rab6n, a nearby mountain intimately
associated with Mazatec legends (Inchiustegui, 1977). About 23:00
h the flow of images changed into lights of various shades of
blue, indigos and purples, scattered as if in a spatial vacuum.
Depending on his perspective, he was either traveling through
them or else they were being projected toward him. He saw a cross
being encircled by a light and a mantle. As he described the
imagery in words, it seemed to be fixed more clearly in his
memory and he felt it would aid in later recall of the experience.
Some 45 min after the light went out, Don
Alejandro began to speak in a monotone. His son did not interrupt
to translate from the Mazatec. As the shaman spoke, Valdes (who
had only experienced a few brief visions which he hadn't
described) saw a black sky with brightly-colored objects floating
in it. He suddenly found himself speeding toward one and actually
felt he was accelerating through space past the rest. The light
turned out to be a Mazatec village similar to that of the
curandero. Valdes saw it from above, as if he were on a hill.
Shapes, like kaleidoscopic pillars of smoke, were at the sides of
some of the houses, Then he was suddenly back in space, receding
away from the vision.
Don Alejandro stopped speaking, turned on the
light and went to look for a "spy" he had heard outside
the house. He found nothing, but forced himself to vomit, which
he said would end his visions. The session had lasted about 1 h,
and the following hour was spent in discussion of what had been
seen. The curandero told the two visitors that he had watched
over them during the session and ascertained what they needed to
know. The old man said that after a few more experiences Diaz
would learn to heal and use the medicinal plants. He mentioned a
woman, a doctor like Diaz, who would try to interfere with or get
involved in his work. Don Alejandro emphasized to Valdes, who had
remained quiet throughout the night, that it was necessary to
speak out about the visions and he would need many sessions
before he would learn how to heal. Everyone then went to sleep
and rose early the next morning.
Session 2, March 6, 1980
Discussion and conclusions: ethnopharmacology of S. divinorum
It is beyond the scope of this paper to comment
on the efficacy of S. divinorum in treatment of the various
"folk ailments". There is not enough information
available to make a scientific decision. More fieldwork at this
stage would be more practical and certainly much more useful than
trying to screen for anti-inflammatory, cathartic, analgesic,
diuretic, tonic and magical properties in the laboratory. However,
it should be noted that many Salvia species are used medicinally
throughout. the world, and the genus name itself comes from the
Latin salvare, to save. The middle English name for sage was save
or saue. from the Latin Salvia via Old English saluie (Oxford
English Dictionary, 1971), and Chaucer mentions it as a cure for
wounds and broken limbs in "The Knightes Tale" (Chaucer,
1927). Common sage, S. officinalis, and Clary sage, S. sclarea,
have had a long history of use in treatment of numerous maladies
(Grieve, 19jl). S. miltiorrhiza, or ton-shen, is one of the five
astral remedies in Chinese medicine as is jen-shen, or ginseng (Panax
spp.). This sage is credited with many tonic properties in the
Pen Ts'ao, published in 1578 (Smith and Stuart, 1973), and is
listed in "A Barefoot Doctor's Manual" (Anon., 1974).
Siri Altschul has collected information on a number of medicinal
Salvias from specimens at the Harvard herbaria (Altschul, 1973)
and Diaz lists nine species as being used medicinally in Mexico (Diaz,
Use in divination
During the two sessions with S. divinorum, the
investigators noted the following:
- Various sensations were reported by the
subjects while lying or sitting down in quiet darkness.
These included flying or floating and traveling through
"space", twisting and spinning, heaviness or
lightness of the body and "soreness".
- Physical effects also accompanied the
experience. There was an intoxication that produced
dizziness and a lack of coordination on trying to move
about. The recording of the second session revealed
slurred speech and awkward sentence patterns. Diaz had a
decrease in heart rate accompanied by a chill. Both
subjects had a normal pupillary response to a light
shined into their eyes.
- Even though the subjects were aware of the
sensations and the physical incoordination produced by
the Salvia infusion, they claimed their minds seemed to
be in a state of acute awareness. The experience was not
like intoxication from alcoholic beverages.
- Previous reports of S. divinorum ingestion
emphasized the mildness of its effects, and the shortness
of their duration. It has been shown, however, that under
the appropriate conditions of quiet and darkness it, was
possible to experience effects which lasted for hours.
The visions produced were readily terminated by noise or
- There is apparently an aspect of the
Salvia intoxication that leaves the subject's mind in a
receptive state. This was well documented in the second
session when both subjects spoke out fairly continuously.
Diaz began by describing plants and flowers. After he
finished speaking Valdes began with a similar vision.
When Diaz lamented his inability to see the religious
figures as described by the curandero, he apparently
triggered off Valdes, who saw such imagery for the rest
of the session and during the ride in the car. As Valdes
described a castle, Diaz began to see one also. Don
Alejandro's son translated the shaman's explanation of
how S. divinorum worked in humans:
What happens to the i-nyi-ma-no (the
soul, the heart or life, all three concepts
are contained in a single Mazatec word) when
one drinks the Maria is that the Maria has so
much liquor (licor) that one is left as in a
faint. For this reason a person becomes
intoxicated (borracho) when they have been
entered by the Maria, the oration my father
prays and the words of Christ, also. But it
really isn't liquor, I tell you, you go into
a "delicate" state (delicado vayas).
Do not worry, do not be afraid of what is
happening to the i-nyi-ma-no; something does
happen. but it is small and unimportant. At
times one who takes the Maria becomes half-drunk
but with the result that what they are taking
will be engraved on their mind.
Among Mazatec healers who use the three
divinatory plants (the mushrooms, the morning glory seeds and the
Salvia), S.. divinorum is the first to be employed in shamanic
training. Leary and Alpert have been credited with being the
first to discover the importance of what they called set ("a
person's expectation of what a drug will do to him") and
setting ("the environment, both physical and social, in
which a drug is taken") to an individual's experiences under
the influence of a hallucinogen (Wed, 1972). In traditional
cultures, like that of the Mazatecs, the purpose of plants like
ska Maria Pastora is to induce visions, and shamans, such as Don
Alejandro,are master at the manipulation of set and setting to
such ends. Although reportedly only weakly psychotropic, the
Salvia infusion will induce powerful visions under the
appropriate conditions. Two ritual orations, which heighten the
mystery of what is to follow, are performed on the subject or
apprentice, who then takes la Maria with the curandero himself.
As the shaman reveals his vision in the silent darkness, the
subject (whose mind has been put into a receptive state by the
Maria and the ceremonial setting) is able to "see" it
also. By having a sober person monitor the session any
difficulties that arise will be observed, and if the experience
becomes too terrifying, it can be readily terminated by a few
words or producing a light. Mastering S. divinorum and learning
to use the morning glory seeds before employing the mushrooms
probably makes an apprenticeship much less traumatic than it
would be by use of the fungi alone, in addition to giving the
future shaman wider insights into the varieties of hallucinogenic