Maria Sabina's Mistake
McIlvainea: Journal of American Amateur Mycology, Vol. 7(1): 17-19. 1985.
By permission of the copyright owner we offer here examples from the author's 118-page paperback
"Mycologists and Other Taxa," published last year by J. Cramer and available at $7 from
Lubrecht & Cramer Ltd., Rd 1, Box 244, Forestburgh, New York, 12777 -- ED.
By Martha Singer
930 Hinman Avenue,
Evanston, Illinois, 60202.
In 1969 we were going to Huautla de Jimenez with Dr. Teofilo Herrera and some of his students when
Dr. [Bernard] Lowy, who was also traveling to Mexico, joined our group. In Huautla, we organized
a mushroom feasting session with Marža Sabina, the local curandera. A young villager who spoke
Spanish and the local Mazatec language served as our interpreter. Marža Sabina put a mixture of
ashes and tobacco juice on the inside of our elbows "to induce valor" and then offered each of the
participants, naming them by name, about a dozen of Psilocybe caerulescens, served on a banana
leaf. The very pungent, acrid taste was too much for me and I could not swallow the whole portion.
It seems that a feeling of tremendous hilarity is the first stage after consumption of the Psilocybes
and we all were just roaring with laughter--with the exception of Dr. Herrera, who this time did
not participate but was suppose to keep track of the proceedings and to note down and photograph
anything interesting that might happen--when Dr. Lowy insistently admonished Rolf to take off
his glasses since "he would not need them to see his hallucinations". Rolf countered with accusing
Lowy of begrudging him the possible--hallucinatory--sight of some pretty girls, to which Lowy,
who is of Hungarian origin, answered: "Look, he who has a Hungarian for a friend, does not
need an enemy". Dr. Lowy ate his portion of mushrooms but quickly felt nauseated and had to leave the room.
After a while the room became too stuffy and Rolf, Dr. Teofilo and I went outside to get some air. I
happened to look at Rolf and terror struck my heart. He looked awfully flushed and was in a very
expansive mood, constantly laughing and talking. The thought of an impending heart attack of something of the sort
came to me and the realization that we were at least a night's and day's journey from any medical help made me
frantic. After some minutes I looked again and now Rolf's face had a greenish hue, getting pale and white,
turning to crimson and violet again.
Trying to think rationally it occurred to me that this magic lantern effect
might be due to the Psilocybe caerulescens and have nothing to do with heart attacks and such. I dislike
the sensation of fear and my profound aversion to any voodooism, shamanism, or manipulation with mind-bending
agents was justified. I just wanted to get rid of any un-rational feeling, anything not based on clear
reality in my mind. I had put on an old raincoat across the window to keep out the early morning light and now
amoebae and free-moving protoplasm's in changing forms and colors seemingly came gliding across the walls.
I went to bed with a pocketbook copy of Alfred North Whitehead's "The Aims of Education", which
fascinated me so that I forgot my trance and hallucinations. Rolf, on the contrary, wanted to talk and
tell me about this but I did not want to listen and stuck to the rational Language of my book.
The next day Rolf felt the extreme serenity, well-known as an aftermath of eating the mushroom.
His contention is that in truth it is exhaustion and fatigue of the mind after the turmoil and
effort of coping with the havoc of hallucinations wreaked upon by the psilocybin.
One of Dr. Teofilo's students had a bad trip, remembering sickness and operations and
Marža Sabina, giving sharp knocks in a regular sequence in the floor, could calm
Huautla was at the time full of strange young people of many nationalities, mostly Americans,
who had come to this "Mecca" in search of drug-induced serenity and super-awareness and
generally hallucinations. They were sitting or lying everywhere, preaching the "simple life"
and "living off the woods" which is reality amounted to picking the fruit off the Indians' fields
and buying mushrooms from them with the money their own anxious parents had sent them. They
never worked but spent their days either in search of mushrooms, beans, and other plants with
hallucinatory properties or, having bought or found some, in a near-stupor on their trips. Some
of them never made it quite back to reality but passed from one trip to the next, finally
often unable to distinguish between their hallucinations and the facts.
Since psilocybin-containing mushrooms had just been outlawed in Mexico--as in the
United States--the army and police finally cracked down on the goings-on in Huautla, inasmuch
as most Huautlans resented the misuse of the sacred mushroom and rounded up the foreign hippies.
On the day before our departure a bearded, long-haired young man came to our hotel. He was
accompanied by a young woman and their dog. They were barefoot, the woman obviously ill,
undernourished and with a high fever which she tried to cure by complete fasting. They
asked our help in evading the police but since they had a lot of hallucinogenic drugs
with them, we had to refuse to let them join our group. In the conversation, the young
man who seemed to be from New york, told us that he had died two years ago, was born
again having given himself a Mazatec Indian name (which happened to mean
There was no doubt, that he was telling the truth as he saw it. Later on we saw
several large buses squeezed full with young foreign hippies which the authorities had
rounded up in the surrounding mountains and valleys. They were taken down to Mexico
City from where they were deported as undesirable aliens.
When Rolf had gone to Mexico in 1957, contracted by the Bertram and Roberta Stein
Foundation for Psychiatric Research, there was no road yet built to Huautla and
one had to fly in on a tiny plane. The airfield had been hacked out on a mountain top by
coffee-producing Mazatec Indians of the region. Once, during a heavy rainstorm, he took
shelter in a native hut where there was a large collection of Psilocybes laid out drying.
Soon the owner, a white man, appeared and entered the hut. The two men introduced
themselves but apparently neither understood the name of the other and then the stranger,
seeing Rolf's interest, said that he was using the Psilocybes for "mycological research".
Surprised, Rolf remarked that he thought he at least knew of every American mycologist,
repeating his own name. Thereupon Mr. Gordon R. Wasson, a New york banker by profession
and ethnologist by avocation said, he would never have mentioned "mycological research"
had he known who his interlocutor was. Before his trip to Mexico, he had asked for and
received instruction from Donald P. Rogers in the practice and collecting and the
conservation of fungi. Upon Wasson's invitation Rolf and he met again in Huautla
and Wasson offered Rolf the use of his car and chauffeur who were awaiting him in
TeotitlŠn, for Rolf's return trip to Mexico City. Rolf's two Mexican assistants,
Gastůn GuzmŠn Huerta and M. A. Palacios thought it nicer to travel by private car
than by omnibus but when contacted, the chauffeur was much upset, claiming not to have
a drop of gasoline in the tank nor had his boss remembered to provide him with money for
expenses. These things were supplied by Rolf and they returned to Mexico city.
Another offer of Mr. Wasson had backfired upon its recipient. It was the curandera
Marža Sabina who, in 1969, upon hearing of our stay in Huautla, requested a meeting
and pleaded with up to prevail upon Mr. Wasson to send her the money he had, as she
claimed, promised here several years previously. She vacillated in suspecting Mr.
Wasson of not having sent the money and the postmistress of having embezzled it. Poor
Marža Sabina had suffered much at the hands of her fellow Mazatecs because of her
association with the Wasson party. Her hut was burnt down two or three times
and she and her daughter ostracized because the Indians blamed her for giving
away knowledge of their sacred mushrooms to strangers and implcity, also for the
influx of all the undesirable elements that came as an after math to the publicizing
of the psychotropic properties of the mushrooms. All this culminated finally
in 1969 with the expulsion of the uninvited visitors.
Used with permission.
[Webmaster's comment] I hope you enjoyed this article although it appears Mrs. Singer was a little biassed
towards hippies and the Wassons. And possibly towards Marža Sabina. It appears her comments came about during and
after her experience in Oaxaca when she first ate the 'magic' hallucinatory fungi.
Rolf Singer and R. Gordon Wasson examine a medium sized collection of Psilocybe caerulescens.
Photo: Courtesy of Gastůn GuzmŠn used by permission.
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