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Enter the Jaguar (cont.)
By Mike Jay

Anadenanthera, by contrast, is a short sharp shock, and one that’s powerfully potentiated by a prior dose of San Pedro. At least a gramme of powdered seed needs to be snuffed, enough to pack both nostrils. This process rapidly elicits a burning sensation, extreme nausea and often convulsive vomiting, the production of gouts of nasal mucus and perhaps half an hour of exquisite visions, often accompanied by physical contortions, growls and grimaces which are typically understood in Amazon cultures as feline transformations. Unlike San Pedro, which can be taken communally, the physical ordeal of Anadenanthera tends to make it a solitary one, the subject hunched in a ball, eyes closed, absorbed in an interior world. This interior world is perhaps recognisable in the new decorative elements which emerge at Chavín. Images like the spectacular glyph that covers the Raimundi stela – a human figure which seems to be flowering into other dimensions and sprouting an elaborate headdress of multiple eyes and fangs – are reminiscent not just of ayahuasca art in the Amazon today but also of the fractal, computer-generated visual work associated with DMT in modern Western subcultures.

The distinct effects of these two drugs suggests a functional division between two elements or phases of the ritual which is mirrored in Chavín’s contrasting architectural elements. Like the kiva in Southwestern Native American architecture which it so closely resembles, the circular plaza is readily interpreted as a communal space, used for gathering and mingling, and thus perhaps for dancing and chanting through a long ritual accompanied by group intoxication with San Pedro: it may be that the cactus was already a traditional element of the coastal ceremonies where the form of the plaza originated. The innovative addition of chambers inside the pyramid, by contrast, seems designed for the absorbtion in an interior world engendered by Anadenanthera, an incubation where the subject is transformed and reborn in the womb of darkness.

Chavín’s architecture, in this sense, can be understood as a visionary technology, designed to externalise and intensify these intoxications and to focus them into a particular inner journey. This in turn offers an explanation for why so many might have made such long and arduous pilgrimages to its ceremonies. It wasn’t necessary to visit Chavín simply to obtain San Pedro or Anadenanthera. Both grow wild in abundance in the Andes; there could hardly have been, as in some cultures ancient and modern, a priestly monopoly on their use. Those who came to Chavín weren’t coerced into doing so; it drew participants from a wide area over which it exercised no political or military control. The Chavín ceremony, rather, would have offered a ritual on a spectacular scale, where the effects of the plants could be experienced en masse within an architecture designed to enhance and direct them.

Within this environment, participants could congregate to enter a shared otherworld, and also submit themselves to a highly charged individual vision quest. The sunken plaza might, as the reliefs suggest, have harnessed the heightened consciousness of San Pedro to a mass ritual of dancing and chanting; the participants might subsequently have ascended the temple steps individually to receive a further sacrament of powdered Anadenanthera seeds administered to them by the priests via bone snuffing tubes. As this was taking hold, they would be led into the chambers within the pyramid where they could experience their DMT-enhanced visions in solitary darkness. Here, the amplified rushing of water and the growls and roars of the unseen participants around them would enclose them in a supernatural world, one where ordinary consciousness could be abandoned, the body itself metamorphosed and the world seen from an enhanced, superhuman perspective – analogous, perhaps, to the uncanny night vision of the feline predator. The development of the subterranean chambers over centuries would reflect the logistical demands of ever greater numbers of participants willing to enter the jaguar portal and submit themselves to a life-changing ordeal that offered a glimpse of the eternal world beyond the human.

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