Eat a Mushroom Talk to God

It's no secret that mankind has been using various plants and herbs to heal and to attain extraordinary, visionary states of consciousness which the natives call a 'vision quest'. The Mazatec Indians have for long been known to consume hallucinogenic mushrooms as a holy sacrament to connect with the divine.

Catholic Priest gets out of the Psychedelic Closet !

An Interview with Catholic Priest José Luis Sánchez. By Oliver Quintanilla.

It was during the recordings of Little Saints in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico, that I interviewed Catholic Priest Jose Luis Sanchez. I wanted to know his opinion about the use of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, in the Indigenous Mazatec rituals practiced in that area, and also about their relationship with the Catholic religion. The result of this interview was totally unexpected, I prepared for an interview with someone who was supposed to take a stand against the ritual, to my surprise it was quite the opposite.

It seems to me a rather edgy stance of the Catholic Church in that region, but I dare to say, that I wished that Father José Luis, was the priest who gave Holy Mass in the elementary and middle Catholic schools to which I attended.

I recently reviewed the almost one hour long interview, I decided to select the most relevant moments, especially the ones that did not make the final cut of Little Saints, and create an extended version of this talk.

In the first part Father Sanchez tells us about an idea of creating a real Mazatec Church, that includes all that is Mazatec, that means the mushroom rituals. In the second part, he explains about the Mazatec Wise Ones, the medicine men and women who are responsible for helping their people, as well as the self-called guides that focus on serving tourists. And in the third and final part, the most revealing of them all, he shares about his own experiences with the Little Saints, name given to the mushrooms by the Mazatec people.

This interview led me to write to Pope Francis, asking for his comment on the relationship between the sacred plants, spirituality and religion. And although His Holiness may be unaware of the existence of these rituals, because in May 2015, I introduced myself to the current priest at St. John Evangelist Church in Huautla, Father Guadalupe Olmedo Solis, to whom I asked if he knew, what The Vatican thought about the mushroom rituals? To which he replied that “most likely they don’t even know about them”. If that was the case, I consider it important that a dialogue begins, because as Father José Luis mentions [The mushroom rituals] "are part of a spirituality that can give great richness to the Church and the world".

Today presents a unique opportunity to create conversation, and to raise awareness in the general public, about the use of sacred plants for spiritual and healing purposes. Especially now that the Pope will visit Mexico, and celebrate Holy Mass with the Indigenous community of Chiapas on February 15, 2016.

Part 1: The Catholic Church.

FATHER JOSÉ LUIS: The position of the Church towards the mushrooms, here in the sierra, has been turning every day, into a search for the truth of the Mazatec, the truth of the faith of the Mazatec. How is their form of expression, for knowledge, to worship, to understand God, so that the form can also enrich the Church, and all the other Churches. Let them not be strange things than they do in the Sierra, but it’s part of a spirituality that can give great richness to the Church and the world.

To discuss with them about their wisdom, about their faith, morals, customs, and try to start laying the foundations of which would make a Real Indigenous Church, the Mazatec Church, without being separated from the Catholic Church, but with out saying, well we are a Roman Church, we are not. We have to be Mazatec Church, someday we have to achieve it, to be faithful to Christ, we must be Mazatec Church, and that shall include all that is Mazatec.

It's not about making a folk church, no, but everything that gets done, has to be well-founded from their culture, and of course to be a Church, it has to be able to dialogue with Christianity, but a dialogue as equals, not a dialogue from inferior to superior.

For example, we have had a lot of discussions about the indigenous concept of God. For the indigenous people God is both Father and Mother. In Europe God is only Father, that makes them feel unease, and it's very elementary we even find it at the beginning of the Bible, the duality of God. God the Father and Mother, the masculine and the feminine in God. And in Europe it still doesn’t sound good to them, because of their macho culture, they still can’t accept the concept of God Mother. The maternal face of God, even being in the Bible, Europe has not been able to assimilate.

The Mazatecs have that ability to do their ritual, and within the same ritual, they invoke the owners of the hills, the “chicones", the supernatural beings, they invoke them, along with the Christian saints.

In the evening rituals, we have examples that the Church should follow about faith inculturation. Under the effect of the mushroom the Mazatec dialogue with God, dialogue with the Saints, dialogue with Jesus Christ, with Mary, to find the light.

When the Mazatecs take the mushrooms, they always say, the little mushroom, is saliva God, why? Because it makes us talk, it makes us engage in conversation, it gives us the capacity for dialogue.

Translated into English we say the Little Saints but it is not diminutive, it’s of respect.

Based on their attributes they say, it’s the blood of God, because it gives us life, it gives us the life of God. They are saliva of God because they make us speak, God makes us speak. They are like the wings of God, because they raise us, they lift us. They have many expressions that describe what the mushrooms do.

OLIVER: The flesh of God also?

FATHER JOSÉ LUIS: Flesh of God, because it nourishes us, it feeds us.

God spread his blood around the world, and where his blood watered, Little Saints sprout, and those Little Saints are what gives us life, they are those who feed us, they are the flesh and blood of God, who left them for us, so we might have life. And they don’t say: "He left them here in Huautla" no. They say, "God's blood was not lost, it was poured across the world, and the Little Saints sprout worldwide so we have life."

Part 2: The Sages.

But the wise ones, who usually do not speak Spanish, They even use only a few elements of the Church. Their dialogue is with their supernatural beings. Their evening rituals are about reaching an encounter with God. They call the climax of the rite, to reach the sacred table. To arrive to the table, they say "yamixale títjon chjota” [pronounced ja me jan yi na], the table of richness. But the table of riches, they say, where God will hand out his gifts, where God will give you the true light, where he will show you your path.

Not in all rites we arrive. In some, one stays in the purification phase, in others in the healing phase, when there is disease or something, but you rarely get to the sacred table. But the goal is always that, I will achieve such a dialogue with God.

A truly wise one, never abandons their patient halfway through the trip. He or she will accompany the person through out the journey. Sometimes they go very far, and then return. Until the healer brings their patient back from where he or she went, the rite is completed.

And many people here, they give them the mushrooms, they pray, they sing to them and then leave them. Do you have problems? Well then you solve them. There is no such dialogue, to say, well, what do you see? What do you feel? How are you? When people get lost, because sometimes we can find very beautiful things, it looks very nice. And the sage, the true sage tells you, "Wait, you didn't come to see flowers, you didn't come to see colors, you didn't come to sing, What did you come for? What do you want to resolve? Well, look for it. Do not stay here in the beauty. Find your problem, solve it.”

When darkness or difficult things or animals or problems present, the wise one says,"Well this is your challenge. Follow it, follow it. You're going to win. Pray, ask God”. And the wise one prays, and starts to sing, uses “pisiete” [tobacco leaf mixed with lime], uses what the moment dictates, there isn’t a structured liturgy, but the wise one reads the now, to figure out what he must do, in order to help overcome the problems. It's really a walk with the person you're serving. And as far as you go, and then have to go back. The wise one never leaves halfway, but has to help to return.

I see in that a big difference, one thing is to come to Huautla and say, "Well I want to see how it feels to take mushrooms". But another thing is really getting into a search process, of meeting and understanding the wisdom of God. And that hardly would be found here in Huautla. Here in Huautla, the best known [healers] are not recommended for a process of knowledge of the people.

And many people do rituals, but they do it as family. Almost all Mazatecs do their rituals, but in a family setting. They meet each other, and help each other. So I think there is a big difference, to engage with the ones that come out of curiosity or to see, and another, is the ones who are engaged with their people, the ones who are helping their community. And it's very interesting here in Huautla, in this region we have seen an awakening of the vocation of sages. In young, and very young, sometimes 18, 20, 22, and they already feel that calling to fulfill this vocation.

Part 3: May God enlighten us!

I showed myself very reluctant to participate directly in the rituals for many years. I accompanied them, I was there, I helped them when they said they needed my help to pray, but I was there more as a companion. And I respected the ritual a lot, not to say that I didn't respected it before, but I would say, that's the Mazatec's space, and therefore I have to respect it. But gradually they would say: "You have to participate. It is not the same to only pray than to be within the rite”.

And once, when there was some crisis in the working groups here in the parish, especially in groups in the grassroots communities, those who we were handling some of this inculturation process, the ones that we were working with the most said: “We have to do a ritual between the coordinators, and you have to participate." And then, "Let's ask God to enlighten us where we will walk."

Then from there, the first experiences were very basic, I didn’t have so many visions. But I did have an experience of a very strong attitude of prayer. Maybe I did not see strange things, but I felt the need to pray with them, to be with them, to strengthen them. More than before. And those were group settings. And we had two or three like that, I did not have very strong experiences. But they were all intended to seek ways to solve problems.

But after, a wise old man told us: "It is not good that a journey is done between too many people”, because some are strong, and some are weak, and if the guide doesn't know very well, they may end up ill, and the weak may end up worse. He said: "It is better to be addressed one by one, up to two". There may be more people present, but not everyone takes the Little Saints, maximum two, he says, to be taken care of well. He added: "A doctor does not put many people in his office and attends to everyone at the same time, he only sees one by one, to listen, to serve, and to analyze, that’s how it must be done." And it is true, some will pull the whole effect from others. A few get a strong effect, and others don’t get any, because it depends on the strength of each person.

A situation that sometimes I do not understand much, the saints speak of bilocation, a saint is in his convent while at the same time healing the sick somewhere on another place. And one says: “Oh, the stories, right?”. But in the mushroom ritual, bilocation is possible. One does not lose the awareness of being here in Huautla, in a particular room, having a ritual, but at the same time, you can see yourself present, for example in the Basilica of Guadalupe. And one says, "Here I am and there's the Virgin and there it is ...". They may say, "Well, it’s a hallucination." Well ... perhaps. But it is the spirit that travels, and changes places while saying I'm here, but without losing sight of being here too. Ubiquity is not lost, the location of where one is located, it is a very curious phenomenon.

And that’s how those experiences are done, and it is how one starts finding... it is like it helps bring clarity to problems. I have asked to the Mazatecs "Well , have you heard… Have you listened to God? Or have you seen God?". “No, we don’t see God, but we can hear. God can be heard through the Little Saints". It is heard through yourself, because you start talking and start saying words, but not rare words from another language, you start talking about things that maybe you could not think of before, let's say in all your senses, in a normal situation, you could not think of such things, but when you're under the effect of the mushrooms, as you go spinning ideas, you express them, and that helps you to bring clarity to your thinking and you say aha!, “I think that here, and through here, problems can be solved, or we can deal with this or that”.

Or one may find meaning to things you did not understand. It happened to me with the elements of the ritual itself, the meaning of the offering presented, I suddenly understood “Aha! that’s why they do it that way”. But that knowledge sprouts from oneself. Some say that God makes you talk, well yes, you start to talk and to say things that you could not think of, and the mushroom helps you to get to understand many things. That has been a little of my experience. Very interesting to me. Very strong.

OLIVER: Very Good. Thanks.

Visit and sign the petition to Pope Francis.

Oliver Quintanilla is Director, Producer and Editor of the documentary Little Saints, a movie that talks about the use of psilocybin hallucinogenic mushrooms in a Catholic ritual, practiced by the Mazatec Indigenous People from Oaxaca, Mexico.

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