The Ancient Maya practiced certain rituals with the aid of hallucinogenic substances. Psychotropic flora and fauna used in a ritual context are termed entheogens and I wish to speak in particular about mushroom use. While deciphering the codices of the Maya is beyond my humble scholarly expertise, I believe that even a novice could make out the vaguely mushroom like apparatus wielded by the standing individual above.
This is the amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric. The six bulbous protrusions appearing on the codex 'mushroom' have an uncanny resemblance to the white patches of the Amanita muscaria. The agaric is psychoactive and does indeed grow in the highland regions of Mesoamerica among pine forests.
Today A. muscaria is recognized by the Quiche-Maya as Cakuljd Ikox (lightning mushroom), hinting at it's supernatural qualities. It was termed Xibalba ikox in the Vico dictionary, a colonial account of indigenous words, meaning 'mushroom of the underworld'. In the Dresden codex, the mushroom is associated with the Mayan glyph cimi, the symbol for death. It becomes apparent that the mushroom has a intimate relationship with death, but the nature of that relationship is not so readily apparent.
Predominantly found in Guatemala the agaric is just one of several hallucinogenic fungi found in Central America. Ethnographic accounts reveal another fungus, Stropharia cubensis, that enjoys usage today by at least two Maya groups: the Ch'ol and Lacandon of Southern Mexico. S. cubensis is a dung fungus reliant on ruminant species: grass-eaters like camels, derr, bison, and sheep. In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, deer were the only ruminant species capable of carrying and germinating the spores. With this in mind it is important to consider the deer and its nature in Maya iconography.
The deer is considered a being of the underworld and associated with hallucinations, trance-like states, and ritual performances. On this Maya vase, the central figure is a deer, performing some form of ritual amongst other anthropomorphic beasts. The figure on the left appears to be vomiting: a standard form of ritual purification. The individual on the right looks to be engaged in an enema. A fermented honey mead is thought to have been administered in this manner. That the deer is associated with these images suggests that it had some fundamental role in the ritual experience.
The mushroom, as seen in page XVIII of the Madrid Codex, held a unique niche in elite rituals. With its strong ties to death, it was a cosmic key, a device used to obtain ancestral authority for elite endeavours.