The Ritual Drug Use Habits of the Maya – HeritageDaily


The Mayans and indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America had access to hallucinogenic substances called entheogens, a form of psychedelics that were used to induce an altered state of consciousness during rituals and spiritual ceremonies.

The purpose of these substances was to achieve a state of temporal and spatial disorientation, bringing the user a sense of inner peace and in harmony with nature and the gods.

The consumption of entheogens in the Americas dates back to the Olmec era, however, our understanding of the use of Mayan entheogens is best informed through Mayan religious texts such as the Popol Vuh and 16th century Spanish accounts.

The use of the entheogen in Maya ceremonies was often held underground or in caves. These were considered sacred points of access to the underworld and were believed to intensify inner vision, providing a favorable setting for contact with the spirit world.

One of the most common Maya entheogens is an intoxicating drink called balché, a drink infused with the bark of the legume tree soaked in honey, water, and then fermented to give the drink a slight alcohol content. .

Balché was mainly used in ceremonies of communion with the elements and the spirits to predict or understand events such as crop failures, illnesses and the outcome of wars. Due to its low alcohol content, balché was consumed in large quantities to induce vomiting, which were collected in bags and hung around the users’ necks.

Chih was another alcoholic drink obtained by fermenting the sap of the maguey plant. The sap was associated with the blood of Mayaheul, the goddess of maguey. Different ceramic works from the Classic Maya period produced vessels marked with the glyph “chi”. References to the drink’s use also appear in the Dresden, Borgia, Florentine, and Borbonicus codices.

Wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), which the Maya called piziet, was also used to give visions and to minimize the pain caused by self-sacrifice. Tobacco contains the alkaloid nicotine which affects the nervous system and would either be chewed, inhaled or mixed with Datura leaves to enhance the hallucinogenic effect.

Liquids and gases were often used for enemas, a procedure in which the substance was injected using syringes made of gourd and clay into the rectum to intensify the effect of the drug. Archaeological evidence provides us with ceramic objects that represent images in which psychedelic enemas were used in rituals; some characters vomit while others receive enemas.

Paintings on ceramic vessels from the Late Classic Maya period show jars overflowing with foam from fermented drinks, depicting individuals receiving enemas. Various descriptions from the colonial period (such as the Florentine Codex) also describe how enemas were used to combat disease and discomfort in the digestive tract.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms known to the Maya as k’aizalaj okox were often eaten in ritual ceremonies. Mushrooms were consumed in the form of fresh unboiled mushrooms or powdered dried mushrooms containing separate entheogenic compounds, psilocybin and psilocin, which cause the user to experience visual hallucinations. Artifacts called “mushroom stones” also indicate the consumption of mushrooms by a Maya cult and are believed to be associated with human beheading, warfare, and the Mesoamerican ball game.

Other flora such as Nymphaea ampla cause opiate-like effects on the user and are known to have been used as a tranquilizer and mild trance inducer by the Maya, while the Ololiuqui plant contains seeds with different alkaloids from the family LSD that gives hallucinogenic visions when crushed. powder and then mixed with a cocoa drink.

One of the more unusual entheogens employed by the Maya came from the skin and parotid glands of different species of toads. 16e chroniclers of the century document that the Maya added tobacco and the skins of the common toad, Bufo marinus, to drinks such as balché, which increased their potency.

Header image credit: Alamy – Copyright


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