Howl from the bowel – Mayan shamans may have used hallucinogenic enemas

Howl from the bowel – Mayan shamans may have used hallucinogenic enemas – Brief Article

ALTHOUGH MOST OF US TEND TO regard enemas with more than a little distaste, their use has a long, even noble history. Louis XIV, for example, endured more than 2,000 enemas during his reign, often meeting with various dignitaries during the procedure, which made him a sort of public enema (and led to his familiar nickname, the Moon King). While the French monarch apparently valued intestinal irrigations for their hygienic properties, the practice held a far deeper signficance for the ancient Maya. From depictions on vessels of the Late Classic Maya period, between 600 and 900 A.D., archeologists have theorized that Mayan shamans ritually used hallucinogenic enemas. The enemas–probably made of mead, tobacco juice, mushrooms, and morning glory seeds–would not cause nausea and could induce a trance state far more quickly and potently than oral methods of consumption.

Until now the only information archeologists have had about this odd aspect of Mayan life has been gleaned from illustrated pottery and a few mysterious artifacts. No one had ever actually found any of the accessories in an archeological context. But while digging at an ancient Mayan site in Belize, Gyles Iannone of University College, London, uncovered a curious set of vessels in a 1,700-year-old grave. On one vessel he recognized a depiction of the Jaguar God of the Underworld. But the deity in this case had an expression he had never seen before.

After an extensive literature search, Iannone uncovered a description of the god’s unusual funnel-shaped mouth as a “cosmic howl” emitted by a person in ecstasy–perhaps a shaman about to enter the spirit world. Connecting the expression on the vessel to the three slim bone tubes also found in the grave, Iannone realized he was looking at a set of enema paraphernalia. One of the other vessels in the grave, a large, wide-mouthed jar, was used to hold the intoxicating liquid, Iannone thinks; the Jaguar God cup probably held an alcoholic beverage that the shamans drank before taking the enema.

The grave dates from 250-350 A.D., proof that the Maya were employing this ritual even before the Late Classic period. “The ritual probably started out with chanting, singing, and drinking,” says Iannone. “When they reached a point where they couldn’t drink anymore, that’s when they did the enema. The shaman probably lay in a puddle for several days, maybe even had alcohol poisoning. That’s the state they were going for. The idea is that the shaman actually dies and can come back.”

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