LEANDER J. VALDES III, JOSE LUIS DIAZ and ARA G. PAUL

College of Pharmacy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (U.S.A.)
and
*Deportamento de Neurobiologia, Instituto de Investigaciones Biomedicas, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Aportodo Postal 70228. Ciudad Universitaria 20, D.E. (Mexico)

(Accepted July 10, 1982)

 

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.

Introduction

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 divination.

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, 1945).

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, 1975a).

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.

Mazatec healing

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:

  1. It helps one defecate and urinate. It stops diarrhea (the plant apparently is believed to regulate eliminatory functions).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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 "cure".

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:

Oration

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

Session 2

Discussion and conclusions: ethnopharmacology of S. divinorum

Remedial uses

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, 1976).

Use in divination

During the two sessions with S. divinorum, the investigators noted the following:

  1. 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".
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 light.
  5. 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 experiences.


References