Saturday, July 18, 2009

Maya Shamanism and 2012: A Psychedelic Cosmology

By: John Major Jenkins

Shamans understand that the human brain “is modeled after the celestial vault and the human mind functions according to the stars, which are the ventricles and sensoria of the cosmic brain ... there exists a close relationship between astronomical observations, cosmological speculations, and drug-induced trance states.”
—Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (1982:176)

Part 1. Shamanism and Astronomy at Izapa
Observe Stela 6 from an early Maya site in southern Mexico called Izapa. This is a classic depiction of the shamanic journey into the underworld, into the raging maw of unknown dimensions of time and space, within the deep psyche yet buoyed on the undulating waves of the celestial seas.

What’s going on in this 2,000-year-old carving? Prominently, we see a frog or toad with its neck craned back and mouth open. In Maya symbology, the mouth of the frog, jaguar, or snake (or cave, even) symbolizes the door to the underworld. Its forked tongue sticks out and appears to jostle a tiny figure in a canoe. Shamans, traditionally, go on a journey into the underworld, and this carving clearly depicts precisely that. But there’s more going on here. Notice the little dots or holes on the toad’s shoulder. These are what scholars call “vision scrolls.” This toad has been identified as the Bufo marines species, whose parotid glands, located on it back and shoulders, secrete a powerful hallucinogen: 5-Meo-DMT. This compound is a relative of the better known DMT, but modern explorers of consciousness have reported unequivocally powerful experiences with the 5-Meo relative. It’s sometimes described as being abysmal, shredding all identity back to the unconditioned void, leaving the aspirant gazing into the bottomless maw of emptiness. Psychonauts like Terence McKenna who prefer hypnogogic, image rich hallucinations, have confessed to not liking the 5-Meo relative. Still, one can suspect that shamans of a certain gonzo bent would appreciate having access to this yawning abyss.

The shaman and the DMT toad at Izapa Diagram 1. Stela 6, Izapa

We don’t know how the early Maya shaman may have prepared the gland secretions, to enhance or purify the effects. One assumes that the substance was smoked, since ingestion requires an MAO inhibitor to be orally active. (The South American brew, Ayahuasca, is imbibed orally and consists of a DMT-containing plant mixed with an MAO plant.) However, chocolate was, and still is, grown at Izapa. Modern cacao has mild MAO inhibiting properties. Like tobacco, the ancient species of cacao was much more powerful. Perhaps there was at ancient Izapa a visionary shamanism fueled by toad juice potentiated by chocolate, what we may call cacaohuasca.

At the very least, Stela 6 preserves evidence that the Izapan shamans used a powerful hallucinogen. In addition, ritual mushroom stones have been found in this part of southern Mesoamerica, dated to Izapa’s heyday (400 BC – 50 AD). Although psilocybin mushrooms are reportedly no longer found in the region, there is documentation that they were once prevalent. A surviving mushroom cult among the Mixe and Mazatec Indians in the state of Oaxaca (further up the Pacafic coast from Izapa) may provide clues as to what the ancient Izapan mushroom religion was like.

The monuments of Izapa provide clues about how shamanism leads to profound cosmological models. The little shaman sailing into and out of the maw of the underworld on Stela 6 is amplified on

Stela 67: Diagram 2. Stela 67, Izapa The Sun Deity Reborn at the end of the Age

The human figure on this carving is identified as a sun god, probably First Father (One Hunahpu), of Maya Creation mythology. He’s in a canoe which represents the Milky Way. This carving is located in the middle of the north wall of Izapa’s ballcourt. In Maya art, ballcourts represent the Milky Way. The little seating declivity in which First Father sits is a feature that is located along the bright band of the Milky Way in the region of Sagittarius – a dark rift caused by interstellar dust. This feature also figures prominently in Maya mythology, where it is called the Xibalba be – the “road to the underworld.” First Father deity (also known as the first shaman) sits in this portal.

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