The Wassons' Discovery of Mazatec Mushroom Rituals

Image: R. Gordon Wasson receiving psilocybin mushrooms from the Mazatec curandera (shaman) Maria Sabinas. Retrieved from Metahistory.

Valentina and R. Gordon Wasson played a significant role during the early years of the psychedelic era by discovering, after decades of research and travel, ritual use of the magic mushroom by Mazatec Indians living in remote part of Oaxaca, Mexico. In 1957 Valentina published an account of her extraordinary mushroom trip with her daughter, in which they felt transported to different places and time periods. A momentous part of the Wassons’ discovery was their introduction of the elderly Mazatec shaman woman, Maria Sabina, to western cultural. Through publicity in Life and the release of a record album of her mushroom chant, the curandera (Spanish for a female shaman) because a living legend to the young beats and, later, hippies who retraced the Wassons’ path to her remote mountain village, seeking the magic mushroom high...
The Wassons' discovery also awakened interest among anthropologists. In the next decade Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Barbara Myerhoff, and Joan Halifax, among others, observed and participated in native shamanistic drug ceremonies in Mexico and South America. Most interesting to them was the importance placed on the diagnostic and healing value of the drug plants when consumed in age-old rituals. Psychedelic therapy with the dying was first suggested by Valentina Wasson, and later performed by Laura Huxley and Joan Halifax. By their writings and example the psychedelic pioneers of the 1950s influenced the growth of alternative medicine and holistic health in the 1970s.
Later in his travels, Gordon Wasson met Keeqaydinoquay, and authentic Native American female shaman, who had been taught at an early age the value of shamanic inebriation with the often unpredictable Amanita muscaria mushroom. Her mission to keep this knowledge and practice alive for her tribe the Ojibway of Upper Michigan, is described in Purpohwee for the People: A Narrative Account of Some Uses of Fungi Among the Ahnishinaubeg (1978)

- pp. 154- 155, Sisters of the Extreme: Women Writing on The Drug Experience by Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz (2000)

Wasson, Gordon, psilocybin, mushroom, Mazatec