… The superstition that still these people have and still use a lot, and their rules is to drink, to know good or bad intentions of the other, a potion called the achuma, which is water that is mixed with the sap of certain smooth and large cacti found in tropical valleys. They drink and sing with great ceremony, and since it is very strong, those who have drunk are deprived of their senses and reason, and see visions.
– Father Anello Oliva, 1631

San Pedro, huando, beautiful, cardo, huachuma – are- various names applied to this cactus… It is medicinal. It is diuretic. It is generally used in healing and witchcraft cases… San Pedro is an aid that someone uses to make the spirit more pleasant, more manageable…
– Eduardo Calderón Palomino, circa 1970

Photograph of the eastern wall of Building B, Chavin de Huantar Ceremonial Centre, circa 1920. Observe the presence of the wachuma cactus in the right.


Scientific names of the 3 varieties: Trichocereus pachanoi, Trichocereus peruvianus and Trichocereus terschecki.

Common names: Wachuma, Huachuma, San Pedro, Giganton, Peruvian Torch

The sacred cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi, syn. Trichocereus pachanoi) is a fast-growing columnar cactus native to the Andes Mountains of Peru between 2000–3000 m in altitude. It is also found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, and it is cultivated in other parts of the world. Uses for it include traditional medicine and traditional veterinary medicine, and it is widely grown as an ornamental cactus. It has been used for healing and religious divination in the Andes Mountains region for over 3000 years.


(12th century BC to 4th century BC)
At Chavín, power was legitimized through the belief in the small elite having a divine connection; shamans derived power and authority from their claim to a divine connection. The community believed in and had a desire to connect with the divine. With asymmetrical power, there is often evidence of the manipulation of traditions. Strategic manipulation is a vehicle of change which shamans could use to produce authority. During the Chavín horizon, large changes were taking place.
Source: Wikipedia

Representation of a Chavin Shaman holding a Wachuma/San Pedro Cactus

Textil Chavin
Source: Chavín de Huántar: Evidence for an evolved shamanism by John W Rick

(10th century BC to 2nd century BC)

Cupisnique was a culture that developed in the northern coast of Peru.

Cactus and Deer

Cactus and Jaguar


(1st century BC to 8th century AD)

In Moche, the presence of women healers and priestess in ceramics, walls and tombs along with the depiction of pieces of the cactus demonstrate the use of this teacher plant in this society.

Source: Museo Larco

Source: Museo Larco


(1st century BC to 8th century AD)

Likely related to the arid and extreme nature of the environment, Nazca religious beliefs were centered around agriculture and fertility. Much of Nazca art depicts powerful nature gods, such as the mythical killer whale, the harvesters, the mythical spotted cat, the serpentine creature, and the most prevalent of worshiped figures, the anthropomorphic mythical being. Much as in the contemporary Moche culture based in northwest Peru, shamans apparently used hallucinogenic drugs, such as extractions from the San Pedro cactus, to induce visions. The use of such substances is also depicted in art found on pottery related to the Nazca (Silverman and Proulx, 2002). Religious events and ceremonies took place in Cahuachi. The people worshipped the nature gods to aid in the growth of agriculture.
Source: Wikipedia


Shamans, rather than priests, were the officients in Nasca rituals. Shamans were the intermediaries between the spirit world and the everyday world. They often used hallucinogenic drugs to induce visions and to gain control over supernatural forces. The use of psychedelic drugs in ancient Peruvian society has been well documented for cultures such as Moche and Chavin in the north (Cordy-Collins 1977; Donnan 1978), and their use in the Nasca Culture was suggested as early as 1980 (Dobkin del Rios and Cardenes 1980; Dobkin del Rios 1982, 1984). The most likely source of hallucinogens was the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) and perhaps floripondium (Datura arborea) (Sharon 1978:2; 1972) Mescaline can be extracted from the San Pedro cactus by boiling sections cut from this plant. Although neither preserved remains of the cacti nor the brew itself have been found in Nasca sites, representations of rituals on the pottery depicting people drinking cups filled with a liquid obtained from large storage jars are clearly associated with representations of cacti (Fig. 15).
Source: The Nasca Culture: An Introduction
Donald A. Proulx University of Massachusetts

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