Psilocybin Origins: The Story of María Sabina


As more individuals are turning to psilocybin for healing and wellbeing, there has never been a more important time to reiterate the origins of sacred mushrooms. How entheogenic medicine came to bless human nature throughout history was not captured from thin air, but is instead composed of salient roots which in today’s lesson will run through the Mazatec region of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The Mazatec are an indigenous people of Mexico, primarily the Sierra Mazateca region in the northeastern part of the state of Oaxaca. The Mazatec possess abundant cultural heritage, with a focus on traditional healing practices that include the use of medicinal plants and fungi. The Mazatec people have left a significant impact on indigenous and Mexican culture, predominantly in the areas of traditional medicine, spirituality, and music. 

As psilocybin becomes more accepted and well-practiced in society today, we must pay attention to the copious influence ensued by the Mazatec people through their religious and spiritual practices. The veladas (healing vigils) held by the Mazatec people have left a major impact on both western spirituality and psychedelic research today, giving us insight into some of the first recorded accounts of traditional healing, through the use of sacred mushrooms. 


The Article

The use of psilocybin gained familiarity in the mid-20th century, when a group of researchers and enthusiasts traveled to Mexico to investigate their effects further. One enthusiast in particular was an amateur mycologist named Gordon Wasson, who traveled to Oaxaca in 1955 to meet Mazatec shaman, María Sabina. María was a devout healer who had been using psilocybin as a tool in her healing practices for years leading up to her experience with Gordon Wasson, which was yet to be fully perceivable by the public eye. Come 1957, Gordon Wasson would discuss his experience with María in a moving yet controversial article published in Life magazine titled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” Regardless of the controversy involved, the article can now be considered a pinnacle piece of work, contributing to the presence of psilocybin mushrooms in western culture as a result of it. 

Gordon Wasson gave María Sabina endless bounds of praise within the article, describing her as a “poetess” and “saintly woman” who guided him through a once in a lifetime spiritual experience. Wasson acknowledged the ceremonies shown to him by Maria Sabina and the Mazatec people as being a practice that could potentially benefit humanity, describing his experiences with mushrooms as both transcendent and profoundly illuminating. Criticism began to spark when Gordon Wasson was accused of publicly sharing his experience with María and the Mazatec for personal gain, though opinions still remain mixed involving the morale behind the publication. Despite criticism, the article would later make Gordon Wasson a leading figure in the 1960’s psychedelic movement, which greatly fueled the western world’s desire to know more about the fascinating abilities of magic mushrooms and other entheogenic substances.


María Sabina

María Sabina began working as a curandera (healer) at a young age, in light of her vast knowledge regarding traditional herbal medicine and spiritual practices. Through her medicinal and spiritual practices Marína would heal her community, solidifying her legacy as a spiritual leader and pioneer in the history of psilocybin mushrooms. Marína Sabina believed that mushrooms were a powerful tool in ritual ceremonies, and could be used as a way to communicate with higher powers as well as heal both spiritual and physical afflictions when ingested. Aside from her work as a curandera, Marína has also been regarded as one of Mexico’s greatest poets, expressing herself through the language of the sacred mushroom—a language that could not be taught nor perceived. A particularly special part of Marína Sabina’s healing methods and means of communication was her integration of songs and chants, which she would use during ceremonies while seeking divine guidance from the spirits.  

María Sabina’s incredible story is not all in relation to her legacy as a healer alone, but is reminiscent of more somber beginnings that add substance to the importance of her entirety. María lost her father at 3 years old, forcing her mother to find work while María Sabina and her younger sister María Ana were left under the care of their grandparents. María and her younger sister grew up in poverty, and were meant to assist their grandparents with various jobs throughout their youth. María Sabina was given away to Serapio Martínez at 14 years old, with whom she would end up baring three children. After only 6 years of marriage, María was widowed by the age of 20. María Sabina took a great deal of pain in the situation, so much that she could not move and became very sick. While no one knew what to do in order to heal her, María used mushrooms as a way to cure herself. Not only did the mushrooms help cure María, but they also convinced her to share the gift of the medicine amongst others, igniting her work as a curandera and respected shaman. 10 years of mourning pass, consisting majorly of her working to support her mother and children, when her second husband Marcial Carrera came to bewed her. María did not have a particular fondness for Marcial Carrera, but went along with the marriage anyways. Marcial was an abusive husband, who was often drunk and beat María violently. Regardless, both Marcial and María were both highly respected Mazatec healers who occasionally worked together. In one of Marcial’s affairs in which he had been cheating on María, the children of the mistress whom he had been romantic with ended up killing Marcial, leaving María Sabina widowed once again. Five of her six children had ended up passing, leaving María entirely focused on her healing journey through the spiritual guidance of mushrooms. 

After this would soon come Gordon Wasson’s encounters with María, becoming the first public glimpse of María’s healing capabilities on a widespread platform. Despite the gravity of her story, María underwent criticism of her own as she was accused of exploiting the Mazatec culture for the Western world to see. This would not impact her legacy greatly though, as many still envision María as a true spiritual leader whose name shall not be forgotten when it comes to the acknowledgment of plant medicine and traditional healing as a whole. 


The Mazatec

Without the impact of leaders such as María Sabina and the Mazatec people, it is unsure where we would stand in terms of our progression with psilocybin today. The Mazatec people have made countless contributions to society including traditional medicine, environmental conservation, indigenous rights advocacy, and more. Yet, the Mazatec people have been subjected to a plethora of challenges throughout their history including marginalization, minimal access to education and health care, poor political representation, and much more. The Mazatec land has been threatened by various extractive industries, dismissing the depth of the bond between the Mazatec people and their ancestral land. The Mazatec people have been advocating for their rights as a distinct cultural group, organizing protests and campaigns that insist on better treatment. 

Aside from their pioneering of traditional medicine, the Mazatec have a deep tradition of song and dance, which holds a strong spiritual significance of its own in celebrations and ceremonies. During ceremonies, Mazatec musicians use songs to help facilitate communication with higher spirits, which involve instruments such as the marimba and the huilacapiztli. 


“Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier. Heal yourself, with beautiful love and always remember…You are the medicine.”  – María Sabina


Paying Respect

Though the world is constantly advancing and taking on new perspectives, respect is key when it comes to experiencing divine experiences. Understanding the origins of psilocybin and how the Mazatec people used psilocybin for communicative, medicinal, and spiritual purposes is crucial in gaining an authentic awareness of what allowed this plant to be recognized as sacred in the first place. To this day, the Mazatec refer to mushrooms as “sacred children” and “little saints,” emphasizing the importance of the plant as it still holds a world of meaning to the Mazatec people and other groups around the world. 

When we consume psilocybin today, it is thanks to leaders like María Sabina and the Mazatec people who paved the way for psilocybin to be acknowledged as a tool for healing. We hope you can take the time to show gratitude toward these deep roots when seeking psilocybin’s aid, and carry out your own individual healing journey through knowledge, intention, and respect


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