Mushroom Tea and The Mayan Healer

Navarro the Mayan Healer passed me a cup of boiling mushroom tea. He had been boiling the tea for about twenty minutes. He told me that this was necessary for the tea to have its full effects. A few shriveled-up white mushrooms sat atop the hot tea like croutons in soup. I let the tea cool for a moment.

“Where do the mushrooms grow,” I ask?

“Everywhere,” he says with a smile. “This is the mushroom village.”

I drink a sip of the hot tea, expecting the taste to be less than pleasant. I have tasted hallucinogenic mushrooms in many parts of the world and they have an awful taste in common, of course they also share the ability to break one through the doors of perception. This time, however, they taste good. Well the tea at least tasted good and the mushrooms were in the tea.

Prior to the team, my body had been cleansed with a traditional Mayan sauna using various local herbs and medicines to smoke out the impurities in my body. I had sat with my companion in a tiny dark igloo with burning hot rocks pushed together in the middle, and a bucket filled with cleansing tea which was splashed periodically on the fire to create smoke, and heat and sweat.

Now, I was about to have my soul cleansed with mushrooms. The Mayan peoples had used mushrooms to touch God, to connect with the source. People have used drugs of all kinds since the dawn of humanity in order to relax, to find energy, to socialise and interact with our fellow Man, to create, to connect, to feel love or a sense of solace with life and death and God. It strikes me that drug-taking is as much a part of the human condition as sex, food or shelter, and has had as much impact on our development as fire. The prohibition of drugs is a recent thing, which overlooks the intertwined history of drugs and humanity. At least to Navarro the Mayan Healer, this is just part of existence.

“Are the mushrooms all edible around here?” I ask.

“No, there are poisonous ones as well. My Grandmother taught me what to look for. I lived with her in the jungle and she taught me the Mayan way. She’d slap me if I got the herbs mixed up. I learnt soon enough.” Navarro replied. “I wouldn’t go picking them without knowing. That would be dangerous. And you could end up dead if you ate the wrong one.”

“How many people must have died so we can tell which mushrooms are edible and which ones are not?” I respond. He nods. “Plenty of people must have got high trying,” I add, laughing.

It makes me wonder about all those people that had taken risks and eaten something they had stumbled upon, unaware of what it was, but happy to try it and find out if it was safe and edible for the future. That collective knowledge passed on through time so we now know what we can eat and what we can’t. Men and women must have died across the world trying mushrooms and berries and fish. From that we, as a species, learnt which fruit can be eaten and which not, which berries to pick and which to leave alone, which fish to catch and cook, and which to throw back to the ocean. This is even more evident for the mushrooms, with possibly the most potent capacity of all. Some types of this powerful fungus provide an incredible food with a delicate almost meaty taste that has no semblance of flavour that can be found in any other food. Other types cause people to get high and hallucinate, see incredible colours, create stories, and reach out beyond the senses. And finally other types of mushrooms can kill. I read an article once about some poor boys ending up in hospital after buying some poisonous mushrooms at a supermarket. The poisonous mushrooms had been mixed in with some harmless edible ones, and had looked the same to the untrained eye. The boys had nearly died.

“There are some mushrooms that block up the throat and stop you breathing in minutes,” Navarro says after some time, as if he knew what I was thinking.

I drink my tea, swallowing a few of the mushrooms cautiously. I consider for a second that these may be those very same mushrooms… but then I trust in Navarro and his Mayan Grandmother. Sometimes you just have to trust, and let fate decide. They are okay. My throat doesn’t swell up and I gulp down some more of the tea with greedy anticipation of the time to come.

“There are others that kill you over a week,” he says solemnly. I suddenly feel slightly agitated once more.

“Yes, they destroy the liver, I have heard,” my companion adds. “Or maybe it’s the kidneys.”

What an amazing plan – Growing in the dung and the wet dirt at the bottom of any garden patch; small and hardly visible without a keen eye to spot their dome-like heads… deadly, brilliant, tasty little fungi.

My tea is almost finished. At the bottom of the brown earthen mug are a few scraggily-looking mushrooms. I grasp at them with my fingers and throw them into my mouth. I hope these last ones are fine. What a tragedy if one is poisonous and I don’t even get to enjoy this last magical mushroom experience in the beautiful mountains of San Jose. They are squishy to taste, but not so bad. I have had worse. I wash them down with water. According to Navarro, it will only be twenty minutes before the effects take hold. I better get to a safe place, find a garden somewhere to relax and watch the local humming birds buzz around the trees.

“Banana will help if it gets too much,” Navarro says before we leave. “The potassium reverses the effect of the mushroom, levels things out.”

That’s always nice to know. The planet has provided mushrooms to take you away from it all and see the creation for what it truly is, and then there are bananas to bring you back to the practical reality where we reside. I’m just glad that someone many thousands of years ago found the banana and was willing to take a risk in eating it; to die trying if necessary.

All humans have a great debt to those that have gone before, especially the ones that died eating the wrong berry or fish or mushroom – poor souls. At least their deaths were not in vain, and the species was better off for it. They are true heroes to humanity. We should have a day to celebrate their contribution – For the heroes that died so we may eat so many lovely foods and so we may even have a mushroom trip on occasions.


The Sun is God

The Aztecs, who lived in Mexico for a few thousand years before the Spanish arrival, were known to play a ball game a bit like volleyball but with no net. The ball represented the path of the sun or moon as it was battered back by each of the opponents using hips, knees and elbows. Points could be attained by hitting discs along the court and the game won by sinking the four-kilogram rubber ball through a small ring in the centre. The game was often used to settle disputes and was played in front of the high priests in long alley like stadiums. The losers were often sacrificed to the Sun God.

I like this. Not the discriminate sacrifice of young able-bodied Aztecs, but the concept of a religion based upon sun worship. It seems to me that the Aztecs were right – the sun truly is God. Here are some reasons why it makes sense that the sun be The God, or at least a God, for us all to worship.

Firstly, you can see the sun. It is there each day. Rising every morning to remind you of its existence and setting each evening with blistering beauty just for show. It is one of the few Gods of the human experience that one can actually see. Its presence is not beyond the realms of our senses, and its existence is not reduced to faith.

Of course if one can see The Sun and it also has the other elements of a God, then surely it must join the pantheon of Gods resting beside Buddha, Jesus, Allah and Zeus in Mount Olympus.

The Sun gives us light. Let there be light one God had commanded early in the Genesis of the Universe. The Sun gives light of its own accord without the need for an order. It is a huge blob of nuclear fusion hanging in space, giving off indescribable amounts of energy and heat to the solar system and to our humble earth. Heating it like a warming fire and keeping it alive and protected from the deadly cold of space.

Humanities first great invention was fire. It was probably the key to the great human migration and our early evolution as a species. Yet fire was just energy – a microcosm of the sun’s great heat. We were trying to replicate the sun in a small way, trying to copy our God in the heavens above in order to keep us warm and keep the darkness at bay on the ground below.

Our day, our time of work, is defined by the sun. From sunrise to sunset we act as humans – creating, building and working. And when the sun disappears, we sleep, rejuvenating our bodies for the return of the sun.

Without the sun there is no life. No plants, no animals, no trees, nothing in the seas, nothing in the air, nothing. Life needs heat and energy and light – all of which come from the mighty sun. The Sun is life!

The Sun is sublime. Its beauty transcends that of the earth. It is beyond it, from the universe looking down. It is a star, but even more special than all the other stars in the universe, for it is the only star that gave life. The earth helped, providing the right soil for the seed to grow, but the sun pulled it in to orbit and pelted it with energy and light until like magic, our world started to grow, and grew it did, from a seedling to a untamed forest.

I saw a sunset last evening that was a sensation to behold. The sun hung over the vast ocean like a golden Chinese lantern. Colours exploded from all sides – an amber hue covering a ghostly pink and then a gentle velvet blue slipped into the sea. Deep red and ethereal orange appeared from the intense spot of energy that had created this masterpiece; this wonder for all to see.

As I sat in my chair upon the beach and looked out at the majestical sunset, I thought of God. This must truly be God. Everywhere I looked there were others like me, sitting or lying, and looking out at the sun and the colours it had made across the sky. I realised then that we were all paying homage – homage to the Sun. A ritual practiced all over the world as people head to cliffs and beaches, or just look out from their homes as the sun sets for another day.

To watch a sunset perched atop a rock is to touch God. And we can all reach and touch as humans have done since the dawn of time. It’s easy to see why the Mayans and Aztecs had seen God in that Sun.

The Sun is everything. Our light, life, energy and heat, and it should be our God. Each day we are reminded of its eternal presence. Not forced to pray and make homage, just subtly reminded of its beauty and power – of its impact upon our existence and its necessity for creation. It doesn’t judge, it doesn’t deceive, it doesn’t hate, it doesn’t hide in mysterious places – it sits atop the world, outside the heavens and the earth – and fills it with life and energy and reminds us all of its transcendental beauty.

A truly great God would give itself entirely to the life it created. The sun will burn on until it burns itself out, and with it, all the life we have ever known – For the Sun is Life and Life the Sun.

I look up now and see the hot sun burning down. I salute you Lord Sun and give myself to you – A sun worshiper like the Aztecs of the past, which reminds me that I better find someone to sacrifice to this Sun God. To remind it to keep burning bright for me; to tell it that I am here and listening, that I am faithful to the cause and have committed myself to it. A true God like the Sun wouldn’t care. It’s not egotistical and doesn’t require worship. It is going to burn on for burning on sake – for life, for all – and the worship or failure of a little man like me won’t change that.

Still I really ought to sacrifice somebody…

How about a game of that Aztec ball game? We all play. The loser gets sacrificed. Funnily enough, archeologists and historians are unsure if it was the losing side or the winners of that ancient ball game that were actually sacrificed. Apparently it was a great honour to be sacrificed to the Sun God. The greatest honour an Aztec could have.

No one seems particularly keen to be sacrificed, so I’ll just write a little tribute to the sun instead.

To The Sun – Keep smiling upon the earth. Keep shining your great light. Keep burning yourself to warm us. Keep sending forth your energy to keep us living. You created life and you are our life.