Maria Sabina's Mistake
Martha Singer

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[1984] 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 him somewhat.

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 "little thief"). 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 implicitly, 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 biased 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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