In the town of Huautla de Jimenez in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, there lived a little known but much beloved woman.
Her name was Maria Sabina and she had been practicing traditional Mazatec magic as a shaman for over 60 years.
She became famous with the Western world when Gordon Wasson wrote about her in his book “Seeking The Magic Mushroom.”
This mountain woman is best known as a Shaman who introduced psilocybin or psychedelic mushrooms to western society. Although many people don’t realize it now, this started a huge social movement. Pyschedelics are still very popular today.
Who was Maria Sabina?
María was born to a poor family outside the town of Huautla de Jiménez, in Mexico’s Sierra mountains, in the Mexican State of Oaxaca.
Her exact birth year is unknown; she believed it was around 1894 but her parents couldn’t be sure about this date either.
María shared many similarities with both her mother and father: like them, Maria grew up as a campesino—a peasant farmer who worked on land owned by others through long-term loans known as “ejidos.”
Like other farmers during that time period (late 19th century), they struggled each day just to survive and provide for their childrens’ needs.
Why was Maria Sabina called a healer?
When Maria’s father died, Sabina’s mother took the family to live with their grandparents in a nearby town.
Growing up there, Sabina became known as one of the most successful curanderas (healers) living today. She is also seen by many people as an important symbol for Mexico and represented a new alternative movement.
It all started at 14 years old when Maria began working at curing ceremonies called “veladas” where participants would take Psilocybin mushrooms together during healing ceremonies.
The mushroom made people feel like they were ‘opening’ or cleansing themselves from negative emotions. They would then become well again. The mushrooms were considered sacred mushrooms and were essentially used as a medicine.
Maria Sabina Chants
Sabina was completely illiterate and didn’t know how to read or right but she could chant and sing. She would speak or sing through these chants that eventually became translated from Mazatec into English and Spanish so others could understand them.
An example of her chants is below:
“Cure yourself, with the light of the sun and the rays of the moon.
With the sound of the river and the waterfall. With the swaying of the sea and the fluttering of birds.
Heal yourself, with the mint and mint leaves, with neem and eucalyptus.
Sweeten yourself with lavender, rosemary, and chamomile.
Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and a touch of cinnamon
Put love in tea instead of sugar. And take it looking at the stars
Heal yourself , with the kisses that the wind gives you and the hugs of the rain.
Get strong with bare feet on the ground and with everything that is born from it.
Get smarter every day by listening to your intuition, looking at the world with the eye of your forehead.
Isn’t that beautiful? She was quite the poet.
How did Maria Sabina become famous?
In 1955, an American banker named Gordon Wasson visited the town of Huautla with his wife who was a passionate mushroom enthusiast.
María Sabina allowed them to participate in a “velada” or a ceremony. Gordon collected spores from the mushrooms.
He sent the samples to a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann who was the first to discover the psychedelic aspect of them.
Wasson wrote a book about his experience of the ritual in Life magazine. In his article he didn’t reveal Maria’s name and location. But later on, Wasson two volumes of books called “Russia, Mushrooms and History” that contained information on the first “velada” with María Sabina’s son-in-law. Suddenly, everyone knew about her.
From then on, Maria Sabina became known as ‘the woman who introduced the mushroom’ or ‘Saint Mary of the Holy Mushrooms’.
She would give people magic mushrooms so they could achieve certain blessings such as good health for themselves and others, personal strength and even success at gambling.
Why did Maria Sabina get famous?
The book that Gordon wrote opened the door to the psychedelic movement. Maria started to receive visits from many famous persons.
Supposedly, the Beatles visited her including John Lennon and even Walt Disney who apparently took mushrooms up to 6 times.
Unfortunately, nothing can be proven because there were no official records taken at the time. And no famous people admitted to taking the mushrooms.
Maria never took money and gave away any gifts she received . All she ended up having was a small piece of land to farm and take care of her family. However, she remained generous and would even share the mushroom with those around her who couldn’t afford it.
She remained very humble about what she was able to do for people, and gave all the credit to God. She said: ‘ The sickness or blessing that comes from the mushrooms is nothing but the reflection of one’s own thoughts , good or bad.’
Maria Sabina Tragedy
The sad part of Maria’s story is that in bringing so many Westerners to her town who wanted to experience the mushroom-induced hallucinations, Sabina attracted unwanted attention from Mexican police.
They believed her to be a drug dealer.
All the unwanted attention threatened the Mazatec customs. Maria was blamed and her home was burnt down in response to all the attention.
Later she regretted introducing Wasson to the mushroom ceremonies but his response was that his only intention was contributing knowledge of the hallucinogen and it’s benefits.
Life after the 1960’s
Life returned to normal conditions for Huautla de Jimenez and the Mazatec people after a brief period of time where access to the town was restricted by Mexican authorities.
The town began operating as usual, with police were posted at entry points to the town in case they needed to evict any foreign visitors deemed undesirable.
In a way, María Sabina was treated like an abused child. After being exploited for temporary thrills instead of respect from the community, she was shunned for trying to help and guide people with her knowledge about these plants.
The death of Maria Sabina
Maria Sabina died in 1985 just as poor as she began. To this day her name is used commercially in reference to the counterculture of psychedelic mushrooms. Maria Sabina remains an important part of history and is held in high regard to this day in Mexico and all over the world.
What do you think about Maria Sabina and her contributions? Leave your comments below.