Mushroom Stones

Mushrooms are illustrated in the Mayan Codex Vindoboneneis, in the hands of religious celebrants or deities. the appearance of numerous "mushroom stones," some of which date back to 1000 B.C., gives a measure of the extent and importance of hallucinogenic fungi in Mayan and Olmec (pre-Mayan) worship. these stones are generally crudely carved effigies, often of hard stone such as granite, and are about 18 inches to 2 feet in height. These had been discovered at sites in guatemala and Mexico from the nineteenth century, and originally it was thought that they were phallic in nature. Carl Sapper in 1898 was the first to dismiss this perception and claim that they represented fungi. Superficially they resemble mushrooms, but below their caps, designs and sculptures adorn the stems. Sometimes these are of people, sometimes animals. These figurines give each mushroom stone an individual "personality." The stone shown here depicts a bird, a typically shamanic totem. Wasson made much of one particular mushroom stone depicting a toad at its base, but of at least two hundred known stones, the carving of a toad image seems to be an exception rather than a rule.

It seems that consumption of hallucinogenic fungi was practiced until recent times by the Chol and Lacandón Maya. A historian of Classic Maya art, Merle Greene Robinson, was told that Lacandón priests ate these mushrooms in seclusion, sometimes among the ruins of the former city, Yaxchitlán. The Lacandón are unfortunately a people in decline, with less than four hundred representatives left. It is likely that the custom of eating toadstools has already vanished, soon to be followed by most other aspects of Lacandón culture.

Many ethnic peoples from Central america are known to employ hallucinnogenic fungi. In Oaxaca, these include the Masatecs, Chinantecs, Chatinox, Zapotecs, Mixtec, and Mijes. For the most part these are psilocybin - or psilocin-containing specimens of the genus Psilocybe. The Mixtecs also employ two species of puffball to induce a condition of half-sleep during which auditory hallucinations are experienced. These are Lycoperdon mixtecorum, called gi-i-wa ("mushroom of the first quality") and the fecal-smelling Lycoperdon marginatum, known as gi-i-sa-wa ("mushroom of the second order"). These puffballs have distinctively cracked surfaces. Sorcerers of the Tarahumara people of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, consume a species of Lycoperdon known as Kalamota "to approach people without being detected and to make people sick."

Image and excerpt from Adrian Morgan's Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Folklore, and Cultural Oddities of a Strange Association, (1995, p. 132).

For more on hallucinogenic mushrooms and their history, see:

Mushroom Stones