Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/60

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
54
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

even higher order than maize, for while maize is merely the food of the body, mescal is the food of the soul. It is indeed the supreme food, and on that account is offered to the gods. Like maize, mescal has tutelary deities and a special goddess. Its psychic manifestations are considered a supernatural grace bringing man into relation with the gods; while in moderation it enables men to face the greatest fatigues and to bear hunger and thirst for five days, that is during the fast prescribed by the laws of Majakuagy. It is said that when Majakuagy was engaged in preaching his doctrines he and his disciples had to flee from persecution. In the course of his flight he broke his food vessels near San Luis Potosi, and the gods in mercy changed the fragments into mescal. The Indians only gather it in October, just before the dry season; it is said that it is only at this time that it contains its active properties. The third maize feast, which takes place at the beginning of October, is regarded as a prelude to the mescal festival and dances. An expedition is organized to the spot near San Luis Potosi, where the prophet's utensils were transformed into mescal, to gather the sacred plant. This expedition takes a month; those who lead it march in front, reciting or chanting prayers; the others follow with the pack-animals to carry the harvest. A few days before reaching the holy spot the members of the expedition practise a rigorous fast. They also perform a sort of public penance with expiation. As they return, there is great rejoicing in all the villages through which they pass, and mescal is offered on the altars and fragments given to every person met. Sufficient is reserved for the great festivals, and the rest is sold to those who took no part in the expedition.

The Huichol Indians, who occupy part of the territory covered by Diguet's investigations, have been carefully investigated as regards their religious symbolism by Dr. Lumholtz, who touches on the mescal (or, as it is here called, hikuli) cult.[1] He states that the expedition to obtain the plant goes to a place near the mining town of Real Catorce in October, but that the great festival only takes place in January. Abstinence from sexual intercourse is part of the cult, and it is noted that the use of the plant temporarily removes all sexual desire. The balance of the body is said to be maintained better than usual, and under its influence men walk fearlessly on the edge of precipices, and endure hunger, thirst and fatigue to an incredible extent. Lumholtz states that the festival is connected with the god of fire. We may account for this by the luminous nature of the visions caused by mescal and by the influence of a blazing fire in stimulating those visions.

The same author, in the course of an account of 'Tarahumari Dances and Plant-Worship'[2] has described the cult of mescal among


  1. Carl Lumholtz, Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. III., Anthropology, II., 1900.
  2. Scribner's Magazine, Oct., 1894.