Ki, the ritual drink of decapitation and “the drink of lords” at Rabinal Achí

 by Carl de Borhegyi
Anthropologist Dennis Tedlock writes that in the Maya Highlands a dance drama that takes place in the town of Rabinal in the department of Baja Verapaz, called the Rabinal Achí, is based on a sacred drink. In the dance a prisoner of war is captured and is granted one last drink, called “the drink of lords,” before he is ritually decapitated. The characters in the Rabinal Achi, like the characters depicted on the Maya vessel below, carry shields and hold axes which are shaped to form the heads of deities. According to Tedlock there were repeated efforts by colonial authorities to ban the performances of the Rabinal Achi because it was considered a dramatization of Maya culture and Maya royalty. Was the sacred “drink of lords” called Ki’ also called “twelve poisons”  a mushroom beverage which, according to Tedlock, brings dreams to the character in the Rabinal Achí? In fact, a similar vessel like the one depicted above and below could have been used to hold this ritual drink before the ritual of decapitation?

  Above is a Maya vase painting from the Justin Kerr Data Base K1873, which depicts mythical ballplayers holding shields and trophy head axes in the act of self-decapitation. Dennis Tedlock  (2003), writes that among the Maya of the Guatemala Highlands there was once a strong drink called ki’ “that sent its drinkers out of their senses”. Colonial dictionaries for the Quiche and Kaqchikel Maya show that the word ki’ can mean “sweet” or “poison”.  According to Tedlock, the dictionary compiled by Fray Francisco Ximenez states that the word is a term used for “pulque,” an alcoholic beverage made from maguey. It may be that Ki‘ is, or was, indeed, pulque,  but, given the efforts by the Catholic Church to wipe out any trace of the once popular mushroom ritual, we cannot discount the possibility that it referred to a mushroom drink.

According to first-hand reports written at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Aztecs ate the mushrooms or drank a mushroom beverage in order to induce hallucinatory trances and dreams. During these dreams they saw colored visions of jaguars, birds, snakes, and little gnome-like creatures.

Photograph  © Justin Kerr  
 Maya vase K1185 from the Justin Kerr Data Base, depicts a Maya scribe with what I believe is a sacred mushroom encoded into his headdress.  Painted Maya vessels like the one pictured above may have contained a divine drink concocted from the Amanita muscaria mushroom or other hallucinogenic mushrooms in a manner very similar to that described for the legendary Soma. Soma was prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. That certain plant was likely the Amanita muscaria mushroom, first identified by ethno-mycologist  R. Gordon Wasson. Soma was the divine beverage of immortality, and in the Rig-Veda Soma was referred to as the “God for Gods” seemingly giving him precedence above Indra and all other Gods (RV 9.42). The drinking of Soma by priests at sacrifice produced the effects of god within, and according to Wasson the act of collecting hallucinogenic mushrooms was always accompanied by a variety of religious sanctions. For example, among the present day Mixtecs the sacred mushrooms must be gathered by a virgin. They are then ground on a metate, water added, and the beverage drunk by the person consulting the mushroom.” (Borhegyi, 1961)


About deborhegyi
My research was inspired by a theory first proposed by my father, the late Maya archaeologist Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi, that hallucinogenic mushroom rituals were a central aspect of Maya religion. He based this theory on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with human sacrifice and the Mesoamerican ballgame. My study, which is exclusively my own work, presents visual evidence that both the hallucinogenic Amanita muscaria mushroom and the Psilocybin mushroom were worshiped and venerated as gods in ancient Mesoamerica. These sacred mushrooms were so cleverly encoded in the religious art of the New World, "Hidden in Plain Sight" that prior to this study they virtually escaped detection. This online research study, "BREAKING THE MUSHROOM CODE" is an enormous document containing over 300 images, is presented in five parts at this time (the Home Page, Soma in the Americas, Part I and Part II, and 2012 Alert ). In the course of my study have found an abundance of archaeological evidence supporting the proposition that Mesoamerica, the high cultures of South America, and Easter Island shared, along with many other New World cultures, elements of a Pan American belief system so ancient that many of the ideas may have come from Asia to the New World with the first human settlers. I believe the key to this entire belief system lies, as proposed by R. Gordon Wasson, in early man's discovery of the mind-altering effects of various hallucinatory substances. The accidental ingestion of these hallucinogenic substances could very well have provided the spark that lifted the mind and imagination of these early humans above and beyond the mundane level of daily existence to contemplation of another reality. In summary, the encoded mushroom imagery occurred with such frequency and in such indisputably religious context that there can be no doubt as to their importance in the development and practice of indigenous religion.

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