The history of healing wizards in Peru matches that of the ritual use of hallucinogens and appears to have emerged alongside the first major temple-building culture – Chavín (1200 BC-200 AD). Agriculture, ceramics and other technical processes including some metallurgy had already been developed by 1200 BC, but Chavín demonstrates the first unified and widespread cultural movement in terms of sacred architectural style, and the forms and symbolic imagery used in pottery throughout much of Andean and coastal Peru during this era. Chavín was a religious cult which seems to have spread from the central mountains, quite possibly from the large temple complex at Chavín de Huantar near Huaraz. Taking hold along the coast, the image of the central Chavín deity was woven, moulded, and carved onto the finest funerary cloths, ceramics and stones. Generally represented as a complex and demonic-looking feline deity, the Chavín god always has fangs and a stern face. Many of the idols also show serpents radiating from the deity’s head.
As far as the central temple at Chavín de Huantar is concerned, it was almost certainly a centre of sacred pilgrimage built up over a period of centuries into a large ceremonial complex used at appropriate calendrical intervals to focus the spiritual, political, and economic energies of a vast area (at least large enough to include a range of produce for local consumption from tropical forest, high Andean and desert coast regions). The magnificent stone temple kept growing in size until, by around 300 BC, it would have been one of the largest religious centres anywhere in the world, with some three thousand local attendants. Among the fascinating finds at Chavín there have been bone snuff-tubes, beads, pendants, needles, ceremonial spondylus shells (imported from Ecuador) and some quartz crystals associated with ritual sites. One quartz crystal, covered in red pigment, was found in a grave, placed after death in the mouth of the deceased. Contemporary anthropological evidence shows us that quartz crystals still play an important role in shamanic ceremonies in Peru, the Americas, Australia and Asia. The well-documented Desana Indians of Colombia still see crystals as a “means of communication between the visible and invisible worlds, a crystallization of solar energy, or the Sun Father’s semen which can be used in esoteric undertakings”.
In one stone relief on the main temple at Chavín the feline deity is depicted holding a large San Pedro cactus in his hand. A Chavín ceramic bottle has been discovered with a San Pedro cactus “growing” on it; and, on another pot, a feline sits surrounded by several San Pedros. Similar motifs and designs appear on the later Paracas and Mochica craft work, but there is no real evidence for the ritual use of hallucinogens prior to Chavín. One impressive ceramic from the Mochica culture (500 AD) depicts an owl-woman – still symbolic of the female shaman in contemporary Peru – with a slice of San Pedro cactus in her hand. Another ceramic from the later Chimu culture (around 1100 AD) shows a woman healer holding a San Pedro.
As well as coca, their “divine plant”, the Incas had their own special hallucinogen: vilca (meaning “sacred” in Quechua). The vilca tree (probably Anadenanthera colubrina) grows in the cloud-forest zones on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes. The Incas used a snuff made from the seeds which was generally blown up the nostrils of the participant by a helper. Evidently the Inca priests used vilca to bring on visions and make contact with the gods and spirit world.

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