Among the ancient Maya, the use of hallucinogenic and narcotic drugs was not frowned upon. On the contrary, they were gateways to understanding the cosmos.
For the ball game. In the midst of sacrifices. As a remedy for spiritual and physical healing. Maya rituals were associated with the use of various drugs. Although nowadays these substances are punishable by law -considered hallucinogens and narcotics-, in ancient times this civilization used them to establish a dialogue with the Universe.
In Mesoamerica in general, hallucinogenic mushrooms were consumed,” explains anthropologist Marcos Pool Cab, from the Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY). Mainly, to open a connection with a divine plane, which the Maya worshipped assiduously. Not only that: they drank alcohol and smoked tobacco, adds the Mexican specialist.
Alberto Pérez is an archaeologist at the UADY. In an interview, the specialist establishes this proportion: out of 100 plants used in ancient times, 80 of them were used for ritual purposes. Many of them -among cacti and various plant species- served as passages to altered states of consciousness.
However, all the descriptions of these experiences that are preserved today are “descriptions of the European,” explains the researcher. It is known that the Maya used this type of drugs to perform mystical rituals, and they were administered exclusively by shamans. Not just anyone could handle them, since they were considered sacred fruits of the earth.
“The purpose of these substances was to achieve a state of temporal and spatial disorientation, giving the user a sense of inner peace and oneness with nature and the gods,” writes Heritage Daily.
Still, the common people consumed fermented beverages regularly. Mostly, they came from trees and other plants. One of the most famous is balché, which, although it had a ceremonial connotation, also accompanied leisure time and ordinary meals.
Reason for celebration and worship
The hallucinogenic and narcotic substances consumed by the Maya had several purposes. The first of them was, effectively, to identify themselves on a spiritual level with their environment and nature. However, it is recorded that the use of wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), also served as an analgesic, to mitigate the pain of ritual self-sacrifice.
This is because this type of tobacco, Heritage Daily explains, “contains the alkaloid nicotine, which affects the nervous system”. When chewed, inhaled or mixed with other herbs, the hallucinogenic effect is much more powerful.
It is no secret that the Mayans and other pre-Columbian civilizations used to get drunk. In fact, some clay figurines and entire codices show scenes of people using such substances. Gods were even represented in ritual contexts, surrounded by flowers and psychotropic cacti.
The Maya were not the only ones to employ drugs to connect with the cosmos. Peyote trips are widely documented among Wixárika groups, even today. A growing industry of hallucinogenic tourism is invading the ancient sacred sites of these ancestral cultures.
The intrusion of these economic dynamics could be having a direct impact on the traditions of the native peoples who, from marginality, often prefer to adopt them rather than lose an income. Despite this, entheogenic tourism is contributing to the loss of immemorial ancestral traditions, with an ecological cost that is just beginning to appear on the horizon.