If you consider yourself a psychonaut or are at least a little bit familiar with the psychedelic scene, you’ll probably recognize names like Hofmann, McKenna, Leary and Grof. Each in their own way a pioneer when it comes to psychedelics.
But where are the women of the psychedelic movement? Well, they don’t seem to be as inclined to step into the limelight. That’s why we’re honouring just a few of the most remarkable female pioneers in this short series.
Today in part one, curandera de primera categoría María Sabina.
María Sabina (1894 – 1985)
Some call her the saint mother of the sacred mushrooms, but you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of her. She wasn’t in it for the fame or to convince the world of the benefits of psychedelics.
María Sabina was a Mazatec curandera (shaman), living in a tiny hut in Huautla de Jimenez, a village in southern Mexico. Her healing practice was based on the use of the various species of psilocybe mushrooms. In her village, María was exalted as a "sabia" (wise one). For decades she practised her healing arts and countless sick and suffering people sought out her magic.
Most notably she was the first shaman to allow Westerners to participate in the velada, a Mazatec purification ritual through the use of psilocybin mushrooms. In 1955, ethnomycologist Robert Gordon Wasson was one of the first Westerners Sabina allowed to participate. He later wrote the famous Life magazine article 'Seeking the Magic Mushroom'. This article introduced the existence of ‘magic mushrooms’ to the rest of the world.
Robert Gordon Wasson and Doña Maria Sabina.
Wasson described María as "a woman without blemish, immaculate, one who has never dishonoured her calling by using her powers for evil...[a woman of] rare moral and spiritual power, dedicated in her vocation, an artist in her mastery of the techniques of her vocation." (Wasson, 1980)
The arrival of the foreigners
Wasson tried to hide her identity by referring to Sabina under the pseudonym ‘Eva Mendez’, but the West soon found her and she paid a high price for sharing her sacred ceremony. By 1960, tourists looking for thrills knew where to find her. Initially she didn’t turn anyone down, but her pure intents of using the mushrooms only for healing were lost to the foreign visitors.
María Sabina had come to realize that the ceremony of the velada had no meaning to her Western visitors and they simply came in search of a fun, consciousness-expanding trip. The lack of respect for her traditions disappointed her greatly:
"Before Wasson, nobody took the saint children simply to find God. They were always taken to cure the sick. (…)They lost their force; the foreigners spoiled them."
Later, Wasson agreed that 'since the white man came looking for the mushrooms, they have lost their magic'.
We owe much to María Sabina willingness to let R. Gordon Wasson experience the velada. Without her, Azarius probably wouldn’t be what it is today. There's a reason why the mushroom icon features prominently in our logo, after all.
And yet hearing her tale makes you wonder if ‘the movement’ has always been a good thing. Sabina didn’t consider herself a psychonaut. Even though we’re honouring her, the irony is that we doubt she would approve of selling magic mushrooms, likely seeing it as a hedonistic.
Something that used to be magical, has now lost its original power. Food for thought?
In part two, Laura Huxley.