HENRY MUNN has investigated the use of hallucinogenic plants among the Conibo
Indians of eastern Peru and the Mazatec Indians of the mountains of Oaxaca,
Mexico. Although not a professional anthropologist, he has resided for extended
periods of time among the Mazatecs and is married to the niece of the shaman and
shamaness referred to in this essay.
The inspiration produced by the mushrooms is very much like that described by
Nietzsche in Ecce Homo. Since the statement of Rimbaud, "I is
another," spontaneous language, speaking or writing as if from dictation
(to use the common expression for an activity very difficult to describe in its
truth) has been of paramount interest to philosophers and poets. Sap the
Mexican, Octavio Paz, in an essay on Breton, "The inspired one, the man who
in truth speaks, does not say anything that is his: from his mouth speaks
language." Octavio Paz, "Andre Breton o La Busqueda del Comienzo,"
Corriente Alterna (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno, 1967), p. 53.
The shamanistic discourses studied in this essay, were tape-recorded. I am
indebted for the translations to a bilingual woman of Huautla, Mrs. Eloina
Estrada de Gonzalez, who listened to the recordings and told me, phrase by
phrase, in Spanish, what the shaman and shamaness were saying in their native
language. As far as I know, the words of neither of these oral poets have
hitherto been published. They are Mrs. Irene Pineda de Figueroa and Mr. Roman
Estrada. The complete text of each discourse takes up ninety-two pages. For the
purposes of this essay, I have merely selected the most representative passages.
"... the Greek word which signifies poetry was employed by the writer of an
alchemical papyrus to designate the operation of 'transmutation' itself. What a
ray of light! One knows that the word 'poetry' comes from the Greek verb which
signifies 'make.' But that does not designate an ordinary fabrication except for
those who reduce it to verbal nonsense. For those who have conserved the sense
of the poetic mystery, poetry is a sacred action. That is to say, one which
exceeds the ordinary level of human action. Like alchemy, its intention is to
associate itself with the mystery of the 'primordial creation'..." Michel
Carrouges, Andre Breton et les donnees fondamentales du surrealisme
(Paris: Editions Gallimard, 195O).
Claude Levi-Strauss, "The Effectiveness of Symbols," Structural
Anthropology (Doubleday Anchor, 1967), pp. 193-95.
"In a sense, as Husserl says, philosophy consists of the restitution of a
power of signification, a birth of sense or a savage sense, an expression of
experience by experience which particularly clarifies the special domain of
language." Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et l'invisible (Paris:
Editions Gallimard, 1964).
The story of how he began his shamanistic career, together with the information
to follow about fright, payments to the mountains, and practices in relation to
the hunt, are quotations from an interview with Mr. Roman Estrada whom I
questioned through an interpreter: the conversation was tape-recorded and then
translated from the native language by Mrs. Eloina Estrada de Gonzalez, the
niece of the shaman, who served as questioner in the interview itself.
"Finally, the illness can be the consequence of a loss of the soul, gone
astray or carried off by a spirit or a revenant. This conception, widely spread
throughout the region of the Andes and the Gran Chaco, appears rare in tropical
America." Alfred Metraux, "Le Chaman des Guyane et de l'Amazonie,"
Religions et magies indiennes d'Amerique du Sud (Paris: Editions
It is necessary to express one's debt to R. Gordon Wasson, whose writings, the
most authoritative work on the mushrooms, informed me of their existence and
told me much about them. "We suspect," he wrote, "that, in its
integral sense, the creative power, the most serious quality distinctive of man
and one of the clearest participations in the Divine... is in some sort
connected with an area of the spirit that the mushrooms are capable of
opening." R. Gordon Wasson and Roger Heim, Les Champignons
halhlcinogenes du Mexique (Paris: Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle,
1958). From my own experience, I have found that contention to be particularly
Salvia Divinorum Scotland HTML note:
I have re-HTMLed this document from www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/munn.htm
There were some errors in the original (e.g. repeated paragraphs). As well
as correcting these I have taken some liberties with the text, particularly
where I felt it was unnecessarily referring to shaman as exclusively male.
In the original text this was even done in the midst of referring to a mushroom
session led by a woman, - not only unnecessary, ...downright confusing. A
few other changes were made, an example being changing an original reference to
the notion of the mushroom itself speaking as being merely "a primitive
anthropomorphization, only man speaks..." (my itallics). I changed this because I
felt that in an otherwise excellent article this was at least an unfortunate
choice of words (possibly more contentious than that, - who can say only man