There was a time when shamanic ceremonies played a key role in a society. Such rituals involved the consumption of different herbs under the supervision of the shaman who acted as a spiritual guide for those overwhelmed by the strong effects of their alternative medicine.
The Aztec Empire is renowned for its many ‘exotic’ practices that involved mushrooms, the special kind. They called them ‘teonanácatl’ which stands for ‘god mushrooms’. Using these powerful instruments, Aztec spiritual leaders were communing with their deities, or other powerful spirits from an alternative plane of existence.
This however was about to change with the coming of the Spanish conquistadores who misunderstood these timeworn practices and quickly demonized them. The mushrooms were considered tools of the devil by the Catholic missionaries, and soon these practices became forbidden under the capital law in both Central and South America.
The sacred mushrooms remained in the shadows for many centuries, with the remaining shamans hiding in secluded areas. With the expanse of the Western world, shamans became very few and chances for their knowledge to pass on to other generations became slim. The mushroom cult and their miraculous healing capabilities were close to becoming extinct, but something happened in the 1900s that was about to change all that.
Residing in Huautla de Jimenez, in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico, Maria Sabina played an important role in delivering the true meaning and potential of psychedelic mushrooms to the modern man. She was a healer, curandera, and last but not least, a shaman.
In 1955, Gordon Wasson and Allan Richardson became the first known white men to participate in a nocturnal Mazatec mushroom ceremony. Each of them ingested six pairs of the mushroom Psilocybe caerulescens var. mazatecorum, and were further guided throughout the trip by Maria Sabina. The effects consisted in visions of geometric patterns, outlandish palaces and architectural vistas. Their experience was then published in Life Magazine, Mya 13 1957, in an article named “Seeking the Magic Mushroom”.
The article offered a massive exposure to this ancient practice, and soon after, people interested in healing in spirituality began traveling from across the world (especially the US) to the region of Mexico where they attended similar ceremonies. Dr. Timothy Leary and many other found inspiration in the above mentioned article, thus beginning their spiritual journey.
Maria Sabina was a gifted shaman ever since she was young of age. She dubbed the mushrooms “little saints” after a bizarre experience she had during childhood.
“I was eight years old when a brother of my mother fell sick. He was very sick, and the shamans of the sierra that had tried to cure him with herbs could do nothing for him.
Then I remembered what the teo-nanacatl [mushrooms] told me: that I should go and look for them when I needed help. So I went to take the sacred mushrooms, and I brought them to my uncle’s hut. I ate them in front of my uncle, who was dying. And immediately the teo-nanacatl took me to their world, and I asked them what my uncle had and what I could do to save him.
They told me an evil spirit had entered the blood of my uncle and that to cure him we should give him some herbs, not those the curanderos gave him, but others. I asked where these herbs could be found, and they took me to a place on the mountain where tall trees grew and the waters of a brook ran, and they showed me the herb that I should pull from the earth and the road I had to take to find them…
[After regaining consciousness] it was the same place that I had seen during the trip, and they were the same herbs. I took them, I brought them home, I boiled them in water, and I gave them to my uncle. A few days later the brother of my mother was cured.”
Her “little saints” offered her the gift of vision and revealed that someone (Wasson) was about to come and met her and share her alternative healing methods with the world, after 500 years of concealment under Spanish rule.
As a result of her benevolence, sharing these secrets with the outside world, her son was murdered and her house set on fire. In the last years of her life she started speaking English instead of Mazatec, and mourned that “the power of the sacrament had been lost in the clouds”. She passed away at age 91, on November 22, 1985, leaving behind the understanding of one of the most ancient rituals involving psychedelic mushrooms in the world. Her contribution to the Western world has made a difference in the acceptance that a spiritual awakening is felt in the world, in part being thanks to her willingness and visions.