Biological Knowledge of Ancient Meso-American Indians
Summary of Maciej Kuczyński's book "Czciciele węża"
("Worshippers of the Serpent" or “Veneradores de la Serpiente”), Warszawa 1990. (cont.)
By Maciej Kuczyński
My final conclusions are as follows:
Biological awareness in the Meso-American nations, despite being somewhat general and fragmentary, was possessed at least 750 years before the acquisition of similar knowledge by modern civilisation.
The fundamental question posed by these conclusions is what was the source of such an advanced biological understanding by the ancient sages and priests. In the first place I believe that shamanic learning techniques should be considered.
It is commonly known that american Indians practise what is termed “altered state of consciousness” or the “shamanic trance” which gives them access to information unavailable for them by the usual, sensual methods of learning. Such a view has a strong support from the results of numerous recent scientific studies and experiments. It is very probable that ancient Indians used the same way to obtain knowledge about their own bodies.
SHAMANIC WAY OF LEARNING
Many more examples derived from the iconographical as well as spoken messages could easily be cited to support this necessarily concise presentation of evidence. The biological interpretation of symbols does not exclude their mystical or legendary explanations; both superimpose and entwine.
The question posed is, from where the Indian knowledge came , as its elements appear at least several hundred years before the development of the microscope in Europe, not to mention the discovery of DNA’s double helicoidal structure in 1953.
I am convinced that this knowledge originates from the alternative to the scientific source, that is the “altered state of consciousness”, which gives the mind access to the universal “field of information”, induced by the ingestion of the hallucinogenic plant substances. This is widely described in the anthropological literature as “shamanic trance”. The meaning and scope of this practice has never been properly acknowledged nor understood. Even students as prominent as Malinowski or Eliade have never been ready to acknowledge natives’ reports on their encounters with spiritual beings when in a trance, as dealing with any kind of objective supernatural reality whatsoever. According to Indians, these supernatural beings are spirits of nature, plants, animals and stones and protective spirits of tribes, persons and spirits of progenitors.
One of the scholars who ventured to undertake a personal experience is Michael Harner. Whilst residing with Conibo Indians in the Peruvian Amazon, he drunk the halucinogennic ayahuasca and:
For several hours after drinking the brew. I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams... I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world. I enlisted services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realised that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology...
Harner noticed that his visions emanated from giant serpents resting at the lowest depths of his brain. This experience fully accords with what shamans around the world unanimously say about giant serpents, reptiles and dragons being the first entities to appear in trances and transmitting visual or verbal messages. The instructive potential of these trances is attested by another of Harner’s writings.
First they showed me Planet Earth as it was eons ago, before there was any life on it. I saw an ocean, barren land, and a bright blue sky (...) Before me the magnificence of plant and animal creation and speciation – hundreds of millions of years of activity – took place on a scale and vividness impossible to describe.
Jeremy Narby as well, whilst staying with Shipibo Indians in Perú, after having drunk ayahuasca entered into a trance:
I suddenly found myself surrounded by two gigantic boa constrictors that seemed fifty feet long. I was terrified. These enormous snakes are there, my eyes are closed and I see a spectacular world of brillant lights, and in the middle of these hazy thoughts, the snakes start talking to me without words. They explain that I am just a human being (...) I find myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand at all and that, in my arrogance, I did not even suspect existed (...) I fly in the air, thousands of feet above the earth, and looking down, I see an all-white planet (...) I see a green leaf, with its veins, than a human hand, with its veins...
José Chica Casasola whilst making a study of shamanic methods of healing by the Mazateca Indians in Mexico, and when cured of heavy influenza by an Indian medicine woman Inéz with bronquitis, ate several pairs of halucinogennic mushrooms and:
De repente todo era sentir y ser pulmones, y a la vez, ser el contenido de esa visión. Estaba muy asustado (...) Podia ver los tejidos externos e internos de los pulmones; luego la visión sentida era la de un conjunto de finisimas fibras de colores agitandose en un espacio muy reducido que las contenia...
Anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff also ventured to experience personally a shamanic trance, and upholds the view that it may be a source of learning when he describes his visions:
Like microphotographs of plants; like those microscopic stained sections; sometimes like from a pathology textbook...
Quite extensive and now specialist literature on the subject leaves no room for any doubts that halucinogennic substances used by natives introduce the human mind to a reality where it communicates with intelligent beings or entities who can supply objective information that is useful in the real world, e.g. recipes of natural medicines.
No doubt all people of Mesoamerica commonly practisized (and widely practise up to the present day) the altered state of consciousness.
Linda Schele et.al. (The Forest of Kings) identified the “Vision Serpent” of the Maya stelae, which according to scholars made the encounter with the progenitor’s spirit possible (like in the case described by J.Narby above). Its effigies present a serpentine and sometimes feathered body with a human head of the progenitor emerging out of the widely open jaws of the serpent.
(I suppose that common in the nahuatl culture – starting from Teotihuacan, Tula and Xochicalco – effigies of human heads emerging from serpentine jaws of Quetzalcoatls – are most probably referring to the same phenomenon observed by priests in their trances. At the same time these effigies express the idea of human origin in the double serpent symbolised strands of DNA as was proven in the first part of this paper).
Reports of medicine men, shamans and introduced men of all cultures agree that trances are the source of both useful and practical information. This information is supplied in a symbolic form depending on the cultural background of the individual as well as the level of introduction, education, psychological state and even ethical qualifications. For these reasons visions can hardly be an object of scientific experiment. It is also why information coming from this source, deals only with general ideas such as cell, divisions, chromosomes, double helix strand.
I am convinced that acknowledgement of the great and true part played by halucinogennic trances in the life of natives will uncover the actual origin of religious beliefs – a multitude of gods and demons emerged from trances. I am totally convinced that this is a place where one should look for the reason behind animal and human blood offerings. When Nezahualcoyotl, the king of Texcoco talked about numerous gods and demons worshipped as “enemies of the human kind”, he surely had in mind the disastrous influence on the minds of kings and priests of the low and malicious immaterial beings (whatever they might be) appearing in trances.
The same transcendental influence, I suppose, could possibly have fomented the bloody wars between Mayan towns-states – which we know from recent archaeological discoveries is well documented.
In 1995, Jeremy Narby completed his research (independent of mine) on shamanic hallucinatory practices and published its results in the first French edition of the above cited book (Le serpent cosmique, l’ADN et les origins du savoir, Georg Editeur, S.A. Geneve, 1995). Fully supporting my earlier (1990) suppositions, he writes:
My investigation led me to formulate the following working hypothesis: in their visions, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to information related to DNA, which they call “animate essences” or “spirits”. This is where they see double helixes, twisted ladders and chromosome shapes. This is how shamanic cultures have known for millenia that the vital principle is the same for all living beings and is shaped like two entwined serpents (...) DNA is the source of their astonishing botanical and medicinal knowledge, which can be attained only in defocalized and “nonrational” states of consciousness, though its results are empirically verifiable.
Mexico – Warsaw, 1999.
Woronicza 14/17, 02-625 Warszawa, Poland,
Copyright© by Maciej Kuczyński 1990
Author will appreciate all comments and remarks giving new evidence to the subject.