New archeological research suggests that a political punch of beer infused with hallucinogens may have helped rulers of the pre-Incan empire maintain power for 400 years.
Between 600 AD and 1000 AD, the Wari Empire spanned across the verdant highlands of modern-day Peru. For over 400 years, they prospered, forging political allegiances and existing as the preeminent empire of the Andes. The secret to their success? Psychedelic beer.
Recent research in the Antiquity journal suggests that beer laced with a hallucinogenic extracted from plant seeds may have “reinforced the power of the Wari state, and represents an intermediate step between exclusionary and corporate political strategies.”
The research states that Wari people likely consumed the mixture at intimate feasts to foster social relationships and reinforce status within the empire. “Feasts for millennia were used to cement political control in the Andes,” Justin Jennings, author of the study and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, said.
He believes the beer was linked to Wari statecraft, adding flavor to “something that was akin to a long, boozy, and likely quite delightful dinner party.” The psychedelic beer allowed Wari leaders to maintain their status by facilitating a memorable, unique, and — intense — hallucinatory feast.
This Andean example adds to mounting research documenting the ties between hallucinogens and social power. The main thesis is that psychedelics and alcohol emphasize collective experiences, enhancing the overlapping euphoria of communal gatherings and leaving participants with a powerful positive impression of their hosts.
Jennings is one of a team of international archeologists from Peru, Canada, and the US who came to this conclusion after excavating a site in Quilcapampa. At the Southern Peruvian dig site, they discovered 16 vilca seeds. The authors said the seeds, which typically would have been turned into a powder and mixed in the molle beer, may have been lost while brewing the unique drink.
According to National Geographic, Vilca seeds are rarely used today but were once used to facilitate an out-of-body experience similar to ayahuasca.
However, since the psychoactive effects are weakened when ingested, Jennings believes the seeds were usually smoked or ground into snuff. By adding the powder to beer, the Wari were able to maintain more of the hallucinogenic effect.
“You were able to have a trip, an out-of-body experience to a degree, but it was a longer, smoother, and less violent experience,” he tells National Geographic. “You were able to have that sense of going somewhere, of tripping out, but with friends.”
Earlier findings show that pre-Wari, vilca was only provided to an exclusive elite, like priests, and not available to all, per CNN. By making the vilca experience more inclusive, the Wari leaders set an example of hospitality and offered a singular experience that wasn’t available elsewhere and couldn’t be replicated by anyone who wanted to challenge Wari control.
The discovery of vilca seeds at Quilcapampa fills a hole in our understanding of how different civilizations used substances. However, a question remains: Why did rulers of the Incan Empire not replicate the Wari formula? Though molle was still sipped in the Andes post-Wari, it was replaced by the production of maize beer. “The Inca built off of other Wari innovations but chose a different path in regards to feasting, beer, and drugs,” writes Jennings, adding an inquisitive: “Why?”