By Kirby Vickery from the October 2015 Edition
The subject of ‘where do things come from’ is hardly ever under the surface in our house. With a background really heavy into history, heading a continuing search for ‘dead words’ which lends itself to the historical beginnings of words and other concepts and being married to a lady who has a completely different history from a country I’ve not really studied; history has become a very favored subject in our household. And it has spilled over into this series about the Aztecs.
As some of you might know we are in Canada trying to get back south into warmer climes. But as I am trying to be politically aware for the up-coming elections in the States we stay up on the news of both Canada and the state of Washington. Some recent changes have placed people’s leisure time habits in the news. Those being the growing and use of marijuana and the turning the sale of alcoholic beverages away from being government controlled or sold.
Marijuana may be the crop which is coming up out of Mexico by the truck load now but I know it didn’t originate there. History tells me that it started in Asia over 55,000 years ago and the Aztecs had never heard of it. Now they had tobacco to be sure but it was mainly used in their religious ceremonies by their priest’s in the offerings to the gods.
One of the drugs used by the Aztecs is an entheogenic complex called mescaline which is made from a peyote button. It is native to Mexico and is psychoactive. This means you get to see things with it. One source says that mescaline has been made from peyote as far back as there have been people over here. It is still used my native American cultures for various religious experiences from the Otomi language speaking people of southern Mexico all the way up into the bottom half of California and Colorado with the Yaqui tribes.
Historically these entheogenic compounds were used by the Olmec’s from 12,000BCE to 400BCE when their use was taken over by the Aztecs. They really had it down to a science because they had to change the experience as the calendar rolled by to stay with the season. The sacred mushroom was called ‘Teonanactl’ which means ‘the flesh of the gods’ and was routinely used in healing rituals, fortune telling, and initiations. They also used it just to appease the gods when they became restless which was exemplified by volcanoes going off, a crop failure due to some infestation, or a good earth quake. It wasn’t until lately we have become aware of its use by these Aztecan people because the Catholic Church suppressed the knowledge and the use of it from the 1500’s well into the 1900’s. They tried to do that with tobacco too except the soldiers got hooked on it and took it back to Europe with them.
Beer was the first alcoholic drink to break into the history books. The earliest comes from Iran during the Neolithic period or 9,500 BCE. Actually it was more of porridge than a drink back then and was eaten as a food. It would keep longer than most other foods and became a staple. From the Codex’s we know that the Aztecs enjoyed cocoa or chocolate as a rich and warm beverage but they didn’t have the grain production to make beer.
They did enjoy an alcoholic beverage called Mezcal which is distilled from the maguey plant a part of the agave family. Now they also have Tequila which is an exclusive distillation from the Blue Agave plant. In 1950 a Mexican marketing expert decided to enable people to tell the difference between his Mezcal and the Tequilas by placing a worm in his bottles. It doesn’t do anything and is safe to eat. But it tripled sales which is what it was supposed to do. Do the Mexican people eat that worm? Ask your bar tender.
There is one story which explains how the gods gave man Mezcal from the agave plant. There was one of these agave plants growing near a well-traveled road in the western lands. One day there was a horrific thunder and lightning storm over the pass where that agave plant was growing. As the lightning started to flash to the ground all over the place, the travelers started to duck and run for cover. Some of them dove under this agave plant about the time it took a direct hit of lightning. The lightning cooked the center of the plant and cracked it open to have the prepared juice run out onto the people who found it very tasty. This is why it is called the elixir of the gods.
We also know that the Aztec people found other uses for this wonderful liquid probably much to the dissuasion of the priest caste. One codex tells the tale of a nobleman who wanted to be on the good side of the emperor so he sent his daughter over to be wed to him. Along with his daughter, Zoctihl, he sent an amount of this agave juice he had been brewing which probably made her all the more intoxicating. The emperor enjoyed both so much he acquired them. As it was Zochitl who first introduced him to the world of intoxication, he thought it only fair to call the beverage by her name. Pronounced with the royal Aztec accent, it came to sound like Octel.
If you should hear of a story from England or Ireland that portends a Cocktail as a mixed drink named after the name of the pub, in this case, ‘The Cock’s Tail,’ don’t believe it.