Robert Gordon Wasson: discoverer of the magic mushroom

Robert Gordon Wasson (1898 – 1986) is often considered to be the man who set in motion the psychedelic revolution. He worked with, amongst others, Albert Hoffman and wrote a number of fascinating articles and books on psychedelia. Sadly, there also was a dark side to the sharing of knowledge.

The beginning of his quest

Wasson’s interest in psychedelics started in 1927 while travelling with his Russian wife. He observed how his wife picked a mushroom for consumption. For him, as an American, this was something completely new. The fact that Russians handled mushrooms quite differently than he was used to, intrigued him enormously. Together with his wife he started an in-depth study into the use of mushrooms by different cultures.

María Sabina

Wasson was especially interested in the use of psychedelic mushrooms. That is the reason why he travelled with his wife to Mexico to meet the shaman María Sabina. Maria Sabina was a Mazatec Indian and she allowed the couple to participate in a mushroom ceremony. They were the first westerners who ate the holy mushrooms and were very impressed by the effects.

Seeking the magic mushroom

Having a journalistic background Wasson turned this experience in an article, ‘Seeking the magic mushroom’ which was published in 1957. His account was read worldwide with much interest. In this way psychedelic mushrooms were brought to the attention of broader public. The article made people curious and in the Sixties many travelled to Mexico.

The Mazatec tribe is overrun

The Mazatec village quickly changed into a site of pilgrimage for psychonauts. At first María Sabina was willing to introduce westerners to the holy mushrooms. This changed when the local police became wary and accused her of selling drugs to foreigners. As a result the Mazatec community was undermined. Consequently María Sabina was banished and the villagers even burned down her house.

Regret

At an older age María Sabina became embittered. She was convinced that westerners have no respect for the holy mushroom. Young people used them purely for amusement. In this way the power of the mushroom was lost.

Respecting the mushroom

The knowledge passed on by Wasson has given us much insight, yet it damaged the Indians. Don’t regard the mushroom as mere pleasure, but treat it respectfully, so it can keep its power. We own this to the Indians.

You can read more about Robert Gordon Wasson in our encyclopedia item.