Mazatec shaman, sabia, curandera
Maria Sabina was born in the little village Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico where she lived a normal childhood. Normal, until her 7th/8th year when she recognized, together with her sister, some small mushrooms that were growing underneath a tree. These mushrooms looked exactly like the ones a local curandero used to heal the sick. When Maria Sabina picked the mushrooms, she said: ‘If I eat you, and you, and you, I know you will make me sing wonderfull.’ After this first trip you she ate the mushrooms more often. When she was eight years old she had the following experience:
‘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.’
This unforgettable experience would change her life drastically. The mushrooms became a way of life for Maria Sabina. She became known as a Sabia (a wise person) and as a Curandera (Shaman). Maria Sabina has invited a numerous amount of people during her life to heal then through her powers she received from the mushrooms. The (mostly nocturnal) ceremonies that she led were called Velada’s by the local inhabitants.
But then, in 1955, R. Gordon Wasson suddenly entered into her life with the question if she could tell him more about the magic mushrooms that he heard of so much. It was a quite unexpected visit that both of them would not soon forget. Maria Sabina takes Wasson and his photographer to a Velada where they eat the hallucinogenic mushrooms as being the first from the western world. For Maria Sabina this was also a new experience. She was used to eat the mushrooms only when her help was needed for medically or predictions. But the only help Wasson needed was the trip itself, the discovery of the unknown.
As a result of this meeting with Maria Sabina and the hallucinogenic mushrooms R. Gordon Wasson writes an article in the magazine Life under the title: Seeking the magic mushroom. He uses no names in the article to protect the privacy of Maria Sabina and her fellow village inhabitants. But the bigger audience figures them out anyway. Shortly after the publication large groups of people flock to the little village Huautla de Jimenez to experience a mushroom-trip under the supervision of Maria Sabina. Among them are celebrities like John Lennon, Peter Townshend, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan.
Maria Sabina became a local celebrity and the village grew out to a touristic place of pilgrimage for hippies from all over the world. Many of them came with respect, but there are negative stories as well with tripping hippies in the leading role. In 1976 the local authorities feel obliged to put an end to these scandals and they ban the use of mushrooms. Maria Sabina receives the biggest blame for this, she was the one at last that had given out the secrets of Teonanáncatl. Her house is lit on fire and finally she is banned to another place outside the village. Through the years she has been arrested many times as well.
Despite all the trouble that was caused by the meeting with Wasson, Maria Sabina never showed any regret. She took it all like a grill of faith. She even has had a vision before telling her that she would have a meeting with ‘people from the outside world’. Maria Sabina died in 1985, at the age of 91. During her life she became a legend that has been remembered up untill today.
In his article ‘Saint Mother of the Sacred Mushrooms’ John Allen writes about Maria Sabina:
‘María Sabina was many things: an earth woman, a mother, a sabia, a poet, a healer, a curer, a believer, an achiever, and a curandera who stood at the very edge of her universe and glimpsed the secrets and meaning of life. Doña María had shared her secrets of magic and plant knowledge with the outside world. Only through hope and prayer will the benevolence she provided to the world be fully understood and appreciated. Through the pursuance of R. Gordon Wasson’s persistency in following his dream of the trail of the magic mushrooms, Doña María has truly presented mankind with a magical key (mushroom) concerning some plausible answers surrounding some of the mysteries of our religious beginnings and maybe the origin of the earth. Doña María may be gone, but her spirit and her wisdom still remain. Reach out and take the wisdom she was so willing to share. Take it with care and share it with love and respect. Can you see her face in the dark? Can you hear her chanting?’