There was a woman by the name of Maria Sabina who was born back in the 1800s. She lived in southern Mexico and was well-known for her practice of using psilocybin mushrooms. Born in the small community of Huautla de Jimenez, it is thought that she was born in 1894. She was born into a family of shamans, individuals that were adept at using native mushrooms in order to communicate with God. Once her father was gone because of an illness, she was raised in a home with her maternal grandparents. She was thought to be called a native shaman. In order to participate in her rituals, people would have to ingest psilocybin mushrooms. She would tell them that it would help open the gates of their mind, allowing them to have a direct connection with God. These rituals were thought to be a form of purification, but most importantly, it was enabling individuals to have a secret relationship or communion with God directly.
The Advent Of R. Gordon Wasson
A banker and ethnomycologist by the name of R. Gordon Wasson decided to visit her back in 1955. He went to her hometown and participated in a ritual that is called Velada. An ethnomycologist is an individual that is interested in how fungi can be used in different cultural circumstances, a form of snow biology. Therefore, to understand how this works, he decided to work with this woman that was well-known in this type of practice. She was a Mazatec curandera, a Mazatec Indian from a culture that is known to use these mushrooms for psychotropic purposes. After he was done, he reported his findings defining the mushroom as a Psilocybe Mexicana. It was subsequently cultivated in Europe, and from this psilocybin was extracted.
Her Notoriety Grows
The notoriety of this woman began to grow extensively. What she was using was called magic mushrooms, at least in the United States, starting in the early 1960s. People began seeking her out, and during this time, thousands of people came to Sierra Mazateca. During 1967, there was a multitude of Western Europeans, Canadians, and people from America that were renting cabins to stay for extended periods. Much of this was started because of a 1957 article that was in life magazine which depicted the findings of R. Gordon Wasson. It was called Seeking the Magic Mushroom. It is this article which inspired many notable people such as Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and even Bob Dylan to make the trip down to where she lives. She was initially very receptive to everyone, but due to what was perceived as a lack of respect for traditions, she made some comments. She related the fact that the mushrooms, which she referred to as the children, were used to cure the sick. Only after his study did people flock to her location in an attempt to find God only.
There were other influences during this time such as the writings of Carlos Castaneda depicting yet another person from this area of Mexico where mushrooms were used. However, it is the well-known studies of Maria Sabina that eventually lead tens of thousands of people during the 1960s to have their first experience with magic mushrooms. Today, she is revered as a sacred figure. She has been used for many marketing purposes. There have been musical groups that have used her name, but what is important is how she was able to popularize the use of these mushrooms to help people become more aware of a reality outside of the normal perspective that we all take for granted today.