Herbs That Madden, Herbs That Cure: A History of Hallucinogenic Plant Use in Colonial Mexico

Frost, Melissa, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Opere, Fernando, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

“Herbs That Madden, Herbs That Cure: A History of Hallucinogenic Plant Use in Colonial Mexico,” considers the development of the hybrid culture of hallucinogen consumption that developed in New Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Indigenous, European, African, and Asian peoples participated in the unsanctioned divinatory and medicinal use of psychoactive plants such as peyote, ololiuqui and teonanácatl mushrooms. Knowledge exchange related to these substances implied significant inter-caste interaction and influence, to the dismay of the missionary mendicant orders and the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The perpetuation of pre-Columbian forms of hallucinogen use exacerbated the efforts of the Catholic Church to eradicate remnants of Indian idolatry. The primary hindrance faced by Spanish colonial authorities regarding hallucinogen use was that colonizers generally failed to recognize the scope and importance of sacred hallucinogenic plants for Nahua peoples. The process of recognition took nearly a century, between the conquest of 1521 and the official publication of the edict against peyote in 1620. European alcoholcentrism and the weight of Renaissance demonology in the European imagination obscured the ability to perceive and eradicate hallucinogen use amongst surviving Indian communities during the earliest decades of the Spanish colonial enterprise. Inquisition transcripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries demonstrate that Spanish clergy focused on the physical destruction of idols while neglecting other forms of worship such as hallucinogen use. This study traces the chronology of discourses that surrounded hallucinogen use in early modern New Spain by following the evolution of public and official discourses through European witchcraft treatises, colonial Natural Histories, Nahua codices, and Inquisition trial transcripts.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Inquisition, Mexico, New Spain, Hallucinogens, Hallucinogenic Plants, Psychoactive Plants, Peyote, Colonial medicine
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