R.Gordon Wasson, a banker at JP Morgan in New York, can be co-credited with introducing the magic mushroom to the Western world. His wife, Valentina Wasson, was the one to show him the world of mushrooms and soon after, he became equally fascinated by the field of mycology. They decided to travel to Mexico together to find native peoples still using mushrooms in a sacred context.
After a few trips, he met Maria Sabina, a Mazatec curandera, and convinced her to let him partake in one of her ceremonies. ‘Seeking the Magic Mushroom’ is an account of his experience published in 1957, two years after the occurrence, in LIFE magazine. He said that “for the first time, the word ecstasy took on real meaning. For the first time, it did not mean someone else’s state of mind.”
If you are interested in reading the Life article, follow this link:
Valentina passed away in 1958, but Wasson kept up their study of mushrooms, publishing many more books. He was also responsible for sending psilocybin mushrooms to the inventor of LSD, Albert Hoffmann, after his trip to Mexico. Hoffmann named the active chemical ‘psilocin’ and synthesized it. In 1962, Wasson took Hoffmann back to Huautla de Jiménez and presented Maria Sabina with the now-used for research pills. She ingested them and declared they were the same spirit as the mushroom.
Terrence McKenna writes in his book ‘Food of the Gods’ that “those who knew Wasson knew that he had a tremendous aversion to ‘hippies’ and that he was deeply troubled by the events that unfolded in Oaxaca after he published his findings on the mushroom cults that survived there.” Wasson said, “Following my article in Life, a mob of thrill-mongers seeking the “magic mushroom” descended on Huautla de Jimenez – hippies, self-styled psychiatrists, oddballs, even tour leaders with their docile flocks, many accompanied by their molls… I deplore this activity of the riffraff of our population, but what else could we have done?”
It should also be said that Maria Sabina came to regret having introduced Gordon Wasson to magic mushrooms. María Sabina was well-respected in the village as a healer and shaman. She’d been consuming psilocybin mushrooms regularly since she was seven years old and had performed the velada mushroom ceremony for over 30 years before Wasson arrived. A lifelong Catholic, Sabina blended Christian elements into the Mazatec ritual as she guided participants through their visions (via timeline). However, after the article came out and in the following years, Huautla de Jiménez became a hippy mecca, and as a result, villagers burnt her house down, and Maria Sabina was even briefly jailed. She suffered tremendously due to introducing R. Gordon Wasson to the magic mushroom, but her legacy would live on.
Below is a snippet from a documentary made about Maria Sabina, where you can watch her prepare a mushroom ceremony in her home in Oaxaca:
“The great irony of having psychedelics and heroin together on the same “Schedule” is that the former has the potential to reduce the harm done by the latter— not to mention its lower-scheduled cousins — in a way that criminalization never will.”