Note on the Discovery of Teonanacatl
Jean Basset Johnson
American Anthropologist, vol. 42, pp. 549-550, 1940
 In a recent issue of the Anthropologist, Dr. LaBarre has erroneously
given credit to Mr. R.E. Schultes for the discovery of teonanacatl,
the narcotic mushroom of the Aztecs.1 Mr. Schultes states in
his published identification of the mushrooms merely that he "learned"
of their use by the Masatecs of Oaxaca.2 In the interest of stricter
accuracy, the present writer feels it to be essential that the actual facts
of the discovery of this interesting narcotic should be known.
During Easter week, 1936, Mr. R.J. Weitlaner of Mexico City spent
four days in Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, where he was engaged in linguistic
investigation, and where he obtained for the first time the full Mazatec calendar.
Mr. Weitlaner framed from Sr. Jose Dorantes, a Mazatec merchant, of the existence
and use of the mushrooms in curative witchcraft and divination. Sr. Dorantes
also described his own reactions upon eating three of the mushrooms. Recognizing
the mushrooms as teonanacatl, Mr. Weitlaner communicated the news
of his discovery to Dr B. P. Reko, who sent the specimens to botanists for identification.
In July, 1938, the writer, accompanying Misses Louise Lacaud,
Irmgard Weitlaner, and Mr. Bernard Bevan, spent some weeks in Huautla de Jimenez,
charged with continuing the investigations commenced by Mr. Weitlaner, who generously
placed his data at our disposal. We were able to collect a considerable amount
of data on witchcraft and the use of the mushroom, which are now published.3
While in Huautla, we met Mr. Schultes and Dr. Reko, who were collecting
ethno-botanical data and specimens. At that time, and later, when he was preparing
his identification of the mushrooms, Mr. Schultes had access to our data, for
which he generously gave me credit. Mr. Schuttes did not know of the previous
discovery by Mr. Weitlaner, and for this reason failed to mention him in his
first paper on teonanacatl.
Dr La Barre’s brief report accompanied another communication,
and was based on short, personal communication from Schultes, and was published
before Schultes paper appeared.
References to teonanacatl, while not common in literature,
are by no means unknown. I append herewith a short bibliography of the more
important older works:
W. LaBarre, The Peyote Cult (Yale Publications in Anthropology,
Po. 28, New Haven, 1938).
Excellent bibliography on teonanacatl.
Fr. T. de Motolinea, Historia de los Indies de nueva españa
(tratado 1, cap. II), p. 23.
Orozco y Berra, Historia antigua y de la conquista de Mexico,
tomo III, p. 437.
Fr. B. de Sahagun, Historia de la Nueva España, tomo III, p. 242.
 J. de La Serna, Manuel de ministros de Indios (Annales
del Museo Nacionales, tomo VI), pp. 303 and 385.
A. Toro, Las Plantas Sagradas de los Aztecos y su influencia
sobre el Arte PreCortesiano (23d International Congress of Americanistes,
New York, 1928), p. 112.
1) W. LaBarre, Note on Richard Schultes’ "The Appeal
of Peyote" (American Anthropologist, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1939),
2) R. E. Schultes, Plantae Mexicanae: the Identification
of Teonanacatl, a Narcotic Basidiomycete of the Aztecs (Botanical Museum
Leaflets, Vol. 7, No. 3, Cambridge, 1939), pp. 37-54.
3) J.B. Johnson, The Elements of Mazatec Witchcraft (Ethnological
Studies, No. 9, Gothenborg; 1939), pp. 128-150; Some Notes on the Mazatec
(Revista Mexicana de Antropologia, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1939).