Introduction

 - from the chapter 'The Mushrooms of Language' by Henry Munn (1) taken from: Hallucinogens and Shamanism, Michael J. Harner, ed., 1973, Oxford University Press.

The Mazatec Indians, who have a long tradition of using the mushrooms, inhabit a range of mountains called the Sierra Mazateca in the north-eastern corner of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The shamans in this essay are all natives of the town of Huautla de Jimenez. Properly speaking they are Huautecans; but since the language they speak has been called Mazatec and they have been referred to in the previous anthropological literature as Mazatecs, I have retained that name, though strictly speaking, Mazatecs are the inhabitants of the village of Mazatlan in the same mountains.

The Mazatec Indians eat the mushrooms only at night in absolute darkness. It is their belief that if you eat them in the daylight you will go mad. The depths of the night are recognised as the time most conducive to visionary insights into the obscurities, the mysteries, the perplexities of existence. Usually several members of a family eat the mushrooms together: it is not uncommon for a father, mother, children, uncles, and aunts to all participate in these transformations of the mind that elevate consciousness onto a higher plan. The kinship relation is thus the basis of the transcendental subjectivity that Husserl said is intersubjectivity. The mushrooms themselves are eaten in pairs, a couple representing man and woman that symbolise the dual principle of procreation and creation. Then they sit together in their Inner Light, dream and realise and converse with each other, presences seated there together, their bodies immaterialised by the blackness, voices from without their communality.

In a general sense, for everyone present the purpose of the session is a therapeutic catharsis. The chemicals of transformation of revelation that open the circuits of light, vision, and communication, called by us mind-manifesting, were known to the American Indians as medicines: the means given to men to know and to heal, to see and to say the truth. Among the Mazatecs, many, one time or another during their lives, have eaten the mushrooms, whether to cure themselves of an ailment or to resolve a problem; but it is not everyone who has a predilection for such extreme and arduous experiences of the creative imagination or who would want to repeat such journeys into the strange, unknown depths of the brain very frequently: those who do are the shamans, the masters, whose vocation it is to eat the mushrooms because they are the men of the spirit, the men of language, the men of wisdom. They are individuals recognised by their people to be expert in such psychological adventures, and when the others eat the mushrooms they always call to be with them, as a guide, one of those who is considered to be particularly acquainted with these modalities of the spirit. The medicine man presides over the session, everyone is enjoined to keep silent and listen while the shaman speaks for each of those who are present. As one of the early Spanish chroniclers of the New World said: "They pay a sorcerer who eats them [the mushrooms] and tells them what they have taught him. He does so by means of a rhythmic chant in full voice."

The Mazatecs say that the mushrooms speak. If you ask a shaman where his imagery comes from, he is likely to reply: I didn't say it, the mushrooms did. No mushroom literally speaks, that is an anthropomorphization of the natural, only man literally speaks, but he who eats these mushrooms, if he is a man of language, becomes endowed with an inspired capacity to speak. The shamans, who eat them, their function is to speak. They are the speakers who chant and sing the truth, they are the oral poets of their people, the doctors of the word, they who tell what is wrong and how to remedy it, the seers and oracles, the ones possessed by the voice. "It is not I who speak," said Heraclitus, "it is the logos." Language is an ecstatic activity of signification. Assisted by the mushrooms, the fluency, the ease, the aptness of expression one becomes capable of are such that one is astounded by the words that issue forth from the contact of the intention of articulation with the matter of experience. At times it is as if one were being told what to say, for the words leap to mind, one after another, of themselves without having to be searched for: a phenomenon similar to the automatic dictation of the surrealists except that here the flow of consciousness, rather than being disconnected, tends to be coherent: a connected enunciation of meanings. Message fields of communication with the world, others, and one's self are disclosed by the mushrooms. The spontaneity they liberate is not only perceptual, but linguistic, the spontaneity of speech, of fervent, lucid discourse, of the logos in activity. For the shaman, it is as if existence were uttering itself through him. From the beginning, once what they have eaten has modified their consciousness, they begin to speak and at the end of each phrase they say tzo-"says" in their language - like a rhythmic punctuation of the said. Says, says, says. It is said. I say. Who says? We say, man says, language says, being and existence say. (2)