A psychedelic trip through the mountains of Mexico where we find María Sabina and her magic mushrooms. Through the story and songs of this curandera and poet, we explore the interplay of soul and brain, nature, language and healing.
NB: This episode was originally published Sept. 2018. We are going back and posting the essays we wrote for those first episodes now, Winter 2023, in an effort to make our work more accessible. The ideas in these episodes evolved into our two books: Missing Witches: Reclaiming True Histories of Feminist Knowledge and New Moon Magic: 13 Anti-Capitalist Tools For Resistance and Re-Enchantment.
We want to make a big tent out of the word witch, including healers, shamans, artists, creators, all kinds of strong women. As Wiccan Priestess Ipisita Roy Chakraveri writes: every strong woman is a witch and all are hunted.
(When we wrote this we didn't know Ipsita was homophobic. 😒 Sorry, we don't platform her anymore but remain thankful for the burst of energy our project got from discovering this quote.)
Our story today is about a woman who didn’t want to be identified with witchcraft, but the word was repeatedly slung at her. If you have been hunted and slandered for your healing and your magic and your deep knowledge of the power in the natural world, then you are a part of the history that the world has been missing and that we want to gather here to honour with the turning of the wheel of the year.
María Sabina’s story deserves more telling, her art and connection to the earth needs more study, and the power of her poetry merit being included in the big tent of post-colonial literature, feminist history, and of magic.
The power of her poetry merit being included in the big tent of post-colonial literature, feminist history, and of magic.
This story ties the Beatles, Walt Disney, and the CIA’s secret MKULTRA mind control experiments to a small elderly woman who, purified and late at night, high in the mountains in Oaxaca province, would become one with God and heal with words. A woman who Mexican poet Homero Aridjis called "the greatest visionary poet in twentieth-century Latin America."
“I take Little-One-Who-Springs-Forth and I see God. I see him sprout from the earth. He grows and grows, big as a tree, as a mountain. His face is placid, beautiful, serene as in the temples. At other times, God is not like a man: he is the Book. A Book that is born from the earth, a sacred Book whose birth makes the world shake. It is the Book of God that speaks to me in order for me to speak. It counsels me, it teaches me, it tells me what I have to say to men, to the sick, to life. The Book appears and I learn new words.”
(María Sabina (Author), Alvaro Estrada (Contributor), Jerome Rothenberg (Editor) María Sabina: Selections (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003.)
This is the story of María Sabina, the Mazatec curandera who allowed Westerners to participate in the healing vigil known as the velada. Who had her story told on the cover of Time Magazine, and saw her tiny, isolated community transformed into a transcendental hippie mecca (or madhouse) that shaped the world.
María Sabina isn’t missing in the same way as some other witches. Her image is printed on t-shirts and sold at head shops. Her impact on a psychedelic history of the modern world is famous in some circles. She gave the world magic mushrooms so hundreds of thousands of tech bros micro-dosing in glass towers in Manhattan, steampunk music lovers in the desert, middle-aging parents on vacations in the woods, artists looking for other vision, and overprescribed depressives looking for a better way, all have her to thank - though they may not know her name. They May not know or remember that a 1960s subculture beat a path of thousands of hippie seekers to her door once the news broke about a magic that opened minds and brought you face to face with god.
María Sabina was a Mazatec indigenous woman born in 1894.
The Mazatec trace their origins back thousands of years, and by the 1300s were a free and independent people with two Empires, one in the highlands, or the East, and another in the lowlands.
These kingdoms were first invaded by the Mexica, the Aztec Empire. The first Spanish colonizers arrived in Mazatec territory in 1520. The colonizers tried to suppress and even eliminate the indigenous rituals and religion, they build churches and work on conversion and play out a violent repetition of the European Witch Hunt and Inquisition in their territories. But they also document the fact of ritual hallucinogens and their healing and, a couple hundred years later, this is how the west finds María Sabina.
In 1954, gigantic development projects begin in the area. Hydroelectric dams get built, large tracts of the jungle are mown down. Private banks supported the monoculture of sugarcane, and the development of pasture for cattle. With the construction of the dam, the lowland Mazatec lost the equivalent of 50 percent of their usable land. About 22,000 Mazatec who inhabited the basin were relocated some 250 kilometers away from their traditional lands. This pattern is repeated where we live in Quebec in the 1980s and 90s as people are forcibly removed from thousands of kilometers of traditional land to flood the northern plains and make way for a massive hydro electric facility that today provides some of the cheapest renewable energy in the world.
The mountain Mazatec communities didn’t immediately get access to the new services provided by the dam, the banks, the roads. Their isolation gave them a temporary reprieve.
That is until two independent researchers fascinated by mushrooms made their way to María Sabina’s door.
The Wassons are weird characters. Gordon Wasson tells a story a couple times in his books of having become fascinated by mushrooms and starting down a personal research project tunnel that would end up lasting decades. One day he was out walking in the woods in new york with his lovely Russian bride when she exclaimed with glee and ran off to start gathering mushrooms in the woods. He thought this was a macabre idea that would probably make them all sick, but instead the mushrooms were delicious and he started to pay attention - she explained that cultures outside of North America have valued the mushroom differently. Over time they traced out these opposing attitudes into two extremes, and reasoned that while some cultures retained a fondness and love of mushrooms, and others a death and rot-related fear, both may have come from the same lost history. They posit that the mushroom in ancient history had been been deeply sacred, and that this profound feeling drives extreme, if opposite reactions today.
The same logic could be applied to certain attitudes towards women, if you think about it. The impulse to shame and control and call her Sinner and Slut and Witch, vs the nearly as crazed impulse to throw her on a Mother, Virgin pedestal could point to a time when she was tremendously powerful and profoundly sacred.
Anyway, motivated by this idea, Wasson and his wife trace scattered references to sacred mushrooms all over the world, and eventually, they find María Sabina.
She is not actually the first to allow them to join a ritual, but she makes the greatest impact, because Wasson’s experience with her is the one he ends up writing for Time Magazine.
There is some conspiracy, and some true secret governmental fuckery at this part of the story.
Because the Wasson’s went to Huautla in Oxaca that time on a small grant, which on the surface appeared to be a regular research grant, but which we now know, since the publication of the Project Artichoke / MKULTRA documents, was actually directly funded as part of the CIAs widespread investigation into the possibilities of mind control as weapon.
If you haven’t gone down the wikipedia hole of reading about the secret CIA program MKULTRA that involved a crazy range of kinds of torture, including electrical and chemical experiments on veterans, the mentally ill, the homeless even right here in Montreal and all across North America, I recommend it. Maybe don’t do it high.
The Wasson’s wrote several beautiful books, and they coined the term Entheogens - a class of psychoactive substances that induce spiritual experience. ...They wrote about entheogens as the origin of human religion…. This is a lot of loving effort to go to if your real goal is to disguise mind-control research, so they probably weren’t all in on the MKULTRA stuff, but the fact that Gordon Wasson’s day job was VP of PR for corporate industrial financier JP Morgan has got to raise your eyebrows.
They promised María Sabina not to reveal her identity or location but somehow both promises were broken and not long after the essay appeared in Time Magazine - with Wasson on the cover - avant garde icons of the counterculture started rolling up to her door.
There are stories of young hippies taking 17 hours on the bus through the mountains to arrive in Huautla only to find the Beatles private plane parked in the town centre. Others swimming by a waterfall after a trip to find Walt Disney’s signature carved on a rock face. The Rolling Stones go off the radar for a bit and reappear with a hallucinogenic art film called Performance. A 1970’s Rolling Stone review called it a heavy trip, “stunning in the sense of a body blow, and if Woodstock presented one sort of reality, Performance presents another sort, a dark yin to Woodstock's yang.” ... “a slow love/death dance, liberally spiced with magic mushrooms”. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Pete Townsend of The Who, according to the stories were all there and they brought legions of hippies behind them.
With so many monied tourists arriving it becomes clear there is money to be made and various residents start selling white people a ride on the sacred psilocybin.
A ritual that required a gifted guide and poet and seer - a blessed representative of God’s Children on this side - was dumbly, greedily, understandably ripped from it’s context and the kids just used it to get high. What kills me is that María Sabina saw it all coming. The mushrooms, which she referred to as the Holy Children, showed her the white men and then waves that would follow if she shared their power, and that the mushroom’s power would diminish from this dilution, ...but they showed her she must do it anyway. Maybe there are reasons beyond reasons.
There is a lot of heartbreak in this story.
There is a lot of heartbreak in this story. María Sabina had married twice, both times to abusive men who cheated on her. But there’s ferocious strength as well, and a constant force of creation.
José Agustín recounts: “Her husband found out that she was eating mushrooms to cure some of her old friends and beat her in front of them. Perhaps María cast a spell on him, or perhaps his karma suddenly caught up with him, either way that very night strange noises were heard in the street, and the next morning he was found, outside, dead.”
She says she saw her son’s murder coming before it came, and she had to live and relive it. The strength required to endure this - to me - unbearable mix of power and powerlessness is beyond awesome.
So often María Sabina get described as ‘humble’ and then ‘tragic’ and I get that, but it also feels like pretty typical colonizer/capitalist language for indigenous people, especially women. Doesn’t do much justice or wrap it’s head around the real complexity and intentionality and other knowledge and power of that person’s experience.
And María Sabina had some deep knowledge.
She spent decades of nights on her mountaintop using the power of her language to commune with the infinite. Wasson and others describe multiple occasions where in the course of a velada she - riding the lines of sight provided by her discourse with the holy children - provided information about future developments in distant places that all proved true.
I picture this experience of her as being like space travel in the new Star Trek. Non-trekkies: Bear with me 2 quick secs.
In the new Star Trek show, Discovery, a beautiful gay genius scientist named Paul Stamets discovers - with the help of the ostracized, black, half Vulcan martial arts heroine named Michael Burnham - that they can ride a mycelium network that flows through space and time. These spores are the veins of the galaxy. They discover that at a quantum level, there’s no line between biology and physics, and the spores are the progenitors of panspermia, and the building blocks of energy. Panspremia is the non-fictional theory that life on earth originated from microorganisms or chemical precursors of life present in outer space.
In the show, Paul and Michael realize that an animal is being tortured to make the spore drive work, and so Paul chooses to plug himself in instead. He is filled with the spores and drives the ship through space and time. It’s painful and spectacular and I when I picture what those years of María Sabina’s life were like I kind of picture this: the spores connecting her to the greatest web. Vision beyond my comprehension. The woman who shepherds the immense.
She first glimpsed the sacred life as a kid, hungry, eating the sacred mushrooms and seeing what they showed her about her life in the years to come. But her life as curandera really only begins after her husbands have died... her daughters stay with her, and braid her hair and lift up her songs at night when she grows tired. Celibate as the holy children require, she listens to the messages from across the planet, through the earth and air. Like every artist she is awed and lit up by the poetry that comes to her. And she’s generous with her gift, her community can rely on her, she is the gifted guide, she will sing all night long with her daughters and they will surround you with their voices until you see a way for healing, either through darkness or light.
When outsiders come she welcomes them as well.
But the tide of public opinion turns against her. Not all the seekers are scrupulous or respectful; and as more and more come they draw too much attention, attention of the wrong kind to beautiful, isolated Huautla. The Mexican army can’t ignore the drug trade happening in the mountains, they harass, lurk, trouble the community. At a breaking point, about a thousand hippies are rounded up and arrested.
María Sabina’s small adobe home is burnt to the ground.
Most accounts suggest this was the act of frustrated villagers, but it could have been Mexican army trying to shut off the source, or even imaginably a frustrated MKULTRA assignment, because their investigation into mushrooms for social control didn’t work out so well, did it.
Though the hoards of hippies were messy and troublesome you could at least say, on some level, their minds were opening. Once the idea was lit in the young frustrated imagination that there could be more to life than the two car garage, simple patriotism and consumption, happy obedience, there was no putting that particular pandora back in her box.
According to Wasson María Sabina famously mourned that “Before you, nobody took “the children” simply to find God. They were always taken to cure the sick…. From the moment foreigners arrived, the ‘holy children’ lost their purity. They lost their force, they ruined them. Henceforth they will no longer work. There is no remedy for it.”
In Women and Knowledge in MesoAmerica, Paloma Martinez-Cruz puts a twist on this popular heartbreaking end to the story of María Sabina, the great poet, the great healer of the Meztaca people, suggesting that her language always contains multiple realities, she is a multiplier of possibilities, a trickster and if she told you the magic was gone maybe that was because she wanted you to believe it.
Herberito Yepez is my favourite writer about María Sabina so far, a poet who sees her as the same, and who sees poetry as:
the new-making of oneself.
Poetry as the practical—not just ‘verbal’ or utopian—invention of wholeness/otherness. Poet as technicians of the (sacred) self.
the construction (poiesis) of oneself.
Elsewhere he writes:
“Sabina was a wise-one not because she ate mushrooms and got into trips, but because she dominated a dynamic dictionary of meanings. She reproduced those meanings in the ceremonies; she rewrote that dynamic dictionary throughout her life. She was trying to revolutionize the praxis. That’s why she even allowed foreigners to participate. She was trying to go beyond. She wanted to open the book.”
This poet sees her in an iconic line with Lilith and Malinche and all black virgins.
“The historic Malinche was given to Cortés as tribute by the Indian leaders in Tabasco, along with 20 other woman, gold and poultry. She later served him as mistress and translator during the Conquest. He refers to her.. as “this tongue that I always have with me.”
...The great shadow that Malinche has cast on the Mexican psyche secretly reappeared when María Sabina was ‘discovered’ by Life and Gordon Wasson... Like Malinche, Sabina, in an act of cultural infidelity, had betrayed the secret knowledge of Mexican culture to foreigners. If Malinche is perceived as having been seduced by Cortés, María Sabina is sometimes seen as having been seduced by Wasson.
… Malinche and Sabina both become Crying Women, Night Chanting Women. And both were Tongue-Women, interpreters of Language, women who with their power over words guided men on their crucial journeys —one to the Conquest of Mexico, the other to the Conquest of Self. Both were Translator Women of the Book of Language. Both Sabina and Malinche were women-poets, women with power over language.”
Language can have a world-making power. It can reproduce power structures, tell us who we are, limit what we imagine we can be, or it can make us see new things.
Language can have a world-making power.
I honestly really believe this.
As one example of the system-creative power of language I often think about the difference between American and Canadian health care systems, and more fundamentally about what belief in a right to health care communicates and engenders in people. Believing in each other, in our right to care, changes us. Canada, despite its own nightmarish history of colonialism and ongoing racism has come a long way, and has a long way to go in expanding the power of this magical idea. The kernel has expanded rapidly. Within ten years of Tommy Douglas, ‘the greatest Canadian’ bringing free health care to his province of Saskatchewan, it had spread to the entire country. (Although let’s be real, the Canadian health care system hasn’t kept pace with Indigenous self-government and has perpetuated health inequality for Indigenous Canadians)
There’s more to be done, and we can be guided by the evidence we’ve already seen of the tremendous world-changing power in ideas and words. In the idea of a right to health. The Power in seeing each other, and power in what we chose to obscure.
As Yepez points out,
“When the Zapatistas declared war in Chiapas on January 1st, 1994, the day that the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, it was charged that they were a group of foreigners from Europe and Central America who wore masks to hide their true identity. Another version of that accusation remains popular. In the midst of the drama of the Zapatista entry into Mexico City in March, 2001 television news didn’t emphasize the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets cheering the rebels nor the speeches of Subcomandante Marcos. The big news was the “omnipresence” of a group of foreigners protecting the Zapatista leaders—Italians who were known as “Monos Blancos” —White Monkeys. It seems to be a rule of Mexican mainstream culture that whenever the Indian world presents itself to the public’s attention it is accused, as both María Sabina and the Zapatistas were, of serving hidden foreign interests. Behind this automatic assumption, of course, is the idea that Indians can’t think for themselves: ‘somebody must be behind them giving them bad ideas.’ It is a somewhat pessimistic and premature commonplace about María Sabina that she was to blame for the demise of esoteric shamanism in Mexico. She is declared the Last Shaman, the one who brought the whole tradition of revelation down by revealing its secrets.
Why was María Sabina so painfully punished? Because of some of the peculiarities and ghosts of Mexican cultural history, but also because she appeared to call into question the deep premises of mestizo society. In an era of increasing literacy, she neither knew how to read, nor spoke Spanish, nor cared, and she nonetheless considered herself, and was considered by her peers, the ‘wisest of all.’ She stood in contrast to the process of modernization that preoccupied the nation. Still more dangerous, she led an extraordinary life but had a very common death…. Book Woman, Jesus Woman, Light Woman died as Malnutrition Woman, Anemia Woman, Bleeding Woman, her social misery was public evidence of the failure of the Mexican state to maintain even the most basic conditions for the preservation of physical and spiritual life. At the end of the 20th Century, according to the Mexican government’s estimates, 74% of Mexico’s 100 million people lived in ‘moderate’ or ‘extreme poverty.’ Like too many Mexicans, she was blamed, wrongly, because she was poor, a woman and an Indian–because of who she was and what she represented.
(But) to an increasing number of Mexicans, half a century after her ‘discovery,’ she is María Sabina Great Power Woman, Spirit Woman, Doctor Woman, Psychedelic Woman, Comics Woman, Feminist Woman, Clock Woman whose time is just beginning.”
That was a big fat Heriberto Yepez quote because I can’t help it. I spent a long time looking for an historian or theorist of María Sabina that I could really love, who could explain and explode all the heavy layered histories around her and obscuring her, and it seems appropriate that when I finally found who I’d been looking for he is a poet, a boundary slipping theorist from the border town of Tijuana who has cast light on Gay Mexican voices, and fought to give true poet-credit to María Sabina.
(updated note - this piece seems to have been removed from the internet, here is a great introduction to Heriberto Yepez.)
He writes that:
“Sabina represents a critique on those who believe (like Octavio Paz and most mainstream poets) that poetry is a voice that comes from nowhere… an ahistoric otherness...she challenges those who find the idea of having just a single identity possible, of those who try to produce a voice without a context...
… Sabina’s is also a critique on those who believe there can be radical experimentation without healing...“poets” who don’t go to the roots of society, to cure ignorance, sickness, injustice, and poverty.
Sabina was without a doubt a poet. She was not only a poet, but more importantly poetry’s wholeness. Her activity’s goal was totality. She reached for the impossible. Searching for a book-beyond-the-book. Having a new poetic body. Breaking the differences between writing, reading, chanting, talking, dancing, and silence. Removing pain from others. Fighting for the survival of a great culture. Investigating sounds, meanings and languages. Increasing wisdom. Teaching. Being radically self-critical, recognizing when one fails, when one is dying.”
Contemporary research into the possible uses of psilocybin - the active ingredient in magic mushrooms - have focused in part on its ability, when coupled with careful therapy, to ease the terror and depression that come when one is dying.
“At clinical trials at multiple universities including NYU cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months.”
This is from a great article in a 2015 New Yorker issue on the history and contemporary research into therapeutic uses of god’s children called Trip Treatment. I’m going to quote bits but you should really go read the whole thing. The author Michael Polan points out that
“Between 1953 and 1973, psychedelics were tested on alcoholics, people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressives, autistic children, schizophrenics, terminal cancer patients, and convicts, as well as on perfectly healthy artists and scientists (to study creativity) and divinity students (to study spirituality)…The clinical trials at N.Y.U. are part of a renaissance of psychedelic research…Forty years after the Nixon Administration effectively shut down most psychedelic research…
Stanislav Grof, a Czech-born psychiatrist who used LSD extensively in his practice in the nineteen-sixties, believes that psychedelics “loosed the Dionysian element” on America, posing a threat to the country’s Puritan values that was bound to be repulsed. (He thinks the same thing could happen again.) Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, points out that ours is not the first culture to feel threatened by psychedelics: the reason Gordon Wasson had to rediscover magic mushrooms in Mexico was that the Spanish had suppressed them so thoroughly, deeming them dangerous instruments of paganism.
“There is such a sense of authority that comes out of the primary mystical experience that it can be threatening to existing hierarchical structures.”
María Sabina protected and shepherded these dangerous, dionysian pagan instruments which threaten hierarchy into the hands of multitudes of seekers. She may have lost control of it but she also let it loose so wide it seems unlikely it’ll ever be lost again.
But what is it that the mushrooms actually do? And is it the same thing that Yepez thinks poetry can do - breaking boundaries and healing? How can a temporary shift in how our brain functions or perceives threaten hierarchies in society? And is this what a witch does with her spells, her own inherited and improvised poetry, healing herself to heal the world?
“When, in 2010, researcher Carhart-Harris first began studying the brains of volunteers on psychedelics, neuroscientists assumed that the drugs somehow excited brain activity... But when Carhart-Harris looked at the results of the first set of fMRI scans … he discovered that the drug appeared to substantially reduce brain activity in one particular region: the “default-mode network.” ... The network comprises a critical and centrally situated hub of brain activity that links parts of the cerebral cortex to deeper, older structures in the brain... Carhart-Harris describes the default-mode network variously as the brain’s “orchestra conductor” or “corporate executive” or “capital city,” charged with managing and “holding the entire system together.” It is thought to be the physical counterpart of the autobiographical self, or ego.
He discovered that blood flow and electrical activity in the default-mode network dropped off under the influence of psychedelics, a finding that may help to explain the loss of the sense of self that volunteers reported. (The biggest dropoffs in default-mode-network activity correlated with volunteers’ reports of ego dissolution.) It appears that, with the ego temporarily out of commission, the boundaries between self and world, subject and object, all dissolve. These are hallmarks of the mystical experience.
...Carhart-Harris has found evidence in scans of brain waves that, when the default-mode network shuts down, other brain regions “are let off the leash.” Mental contents hidden from view (or suppressed) during normal waking consciousness come to the fore: emotions, memories, wishes and fears. Regions that don’t ordinarily communicate directly with one another strike up conversations (neuroscientists sometimes call this “crosstalk”), often with bizarre results…“When administered under supportive conditions,” the paper concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.” Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent...more than a year after their psilocybin sessions volunteers who had had the most complete mystical experiences showed significant increases in their “openness,” one of the five domains that psychologists look at in assessing personality traits. Openness, which encompasses aesthetic appreciation, imagination, and tolerance of others’ viewpoints, is a good predictor of creativity.”
So our brains have a tiny orchestra conductor in them, making sense of the world, giving it order, and when in overdrive it becomes a tiny tyrant tied to depression and anxiety. Certain experiences can calm it, allowing us to experience the world more like we did before it developed, little kids are without it and they constantly create the world and make their own bizarre rules in it. I went through a period of petting strangers hair when I was about 4, I remember my mom looking at me and slow-mo mouthing “Whyyyyy??” and that memory like a lot of others from my childhood feels heightened and hallucinatory and high.
Not that I really know what a mushroom trip feels like. The extent of it for me was one glorious brilliantly cold day up at the lakehouse with a beautiful witch artist friend who had weaned herself off antidepressants and was microdosing mushrooms instead, so we joined her. Not enough to trip, just enough to paint and toboggan and play music and laugh all day like kids. The closest I came to feeling anything like what I’ve read described was after a crazy-carpet run, heart beating hard in the white, cold diamond sun, wind brilliant in the trees, and the world feeling simply spectacular.
Prior to this I have had some judgements and fears about psychedelics. I have been, in my life at times a kind of judgemental person although that’s not a trait I value. The first time I got drunk I cried and told my friends I was a hippopotamus for having given them shit about drinking beers. I meant hypocrite.
The reality was, I didn’t have an actual issue with them drinking besides being afraid of losing them. Of them going to a place I wasn’t ready to go, or was afraid of, of them going anywhere without me to be honest. I’ve got my abandonment stuff just like anyone.
I think this is partially related to how I’ve felt about psychedelics.
Also, I was medicated from chronic pain during the decade when my social circles were adventuring with mushrooms and lsd. And maybe those things could have helped me - my pain grew as I clenched with fear around an injury - I can imagine how an expansive trip led by a healing guide could have lifted me out of that trap earlier and saved me some tears and some time.
But those drugs were for other people. They were a place I shouldn’t go. I sat in judgment and in fear.
And some fear was reasonable. We knew people lost on unguided trips. Young men for whom acid pulled a schizophrenic trigger and caught them in a trap that was never unsprung.
There are some very known dangers to messing with this stuff unguided. María Sabina would ask you to be as honest as you could about what needed healing, and then she would stay with you and sing and dance and treat you with her identity changing poetry all night until it past. In current clinical trials a therapist is with you through the entire experience, helping you find your way through what are often described as visions of birth and then of death, and then back with a new belief that death is not an end.
Amy’s experience was different.
“LSD was the first drug I ever took. I’d love to say this was some grand plan spiritual quest, but the fact is, I just took whatever someone handed me first. I of course discovered psychedelia before I discovered psychedelics, but was enthralled by the music, art and fashion of the mid/late 1960s to the point of obsession. I knew by age ten that I wanted to “open the doors of perception” whatever that might mean! “Expand your mind”?!?! Sign me up! So lemme tell you. On one hit of acid, you might feel strange, giggle, your reality may start to shift, but on four hits, you might discover the secret of the universe. At 15 years old, all pupils and grins, a girlfriend and I discovered that the secret of the universe is as follows: Everything is a Circle. Now this is vague and probably not helpful, but I stand by it even today.
I don’t recall the first time I ate mushrooms. This is probably because where I come from, psilocybin wasn’t a sacred magical tool for healing. It was a party drug, eaten by the fistful in an attempt to, for lack of a better term, trip balls. That said, I was always kind of the mystic of the group, and on these nights where the holy children were consumed, I could most often be found dancing alone in a dark bathroom, or wandering off in search of nature, adventure, train tracks or a moment of stillness.
I honestly don’t advise that you use drugs. Just take it from me and the lessons I’ve learned on my long strange trips. Everything you sense is filtered through your perception. And you can change your perspective without drugs, just by shifting focus. But when you change your mind, you change your reality. THAT’s witchcraft. THAT is sacred.”
As María Sabina said and we agree: ‘the drugs will only take you so far.’
Whether you are considering tapping into the highs of psilocybin, or yoga, or wine, or mountaintops, or therapy, or poetry, or weed, or power, or even witchcraft, might I suggest again, these drugs will only take you so far.
To really open the doors of perception, I think we need to do more than just get high and repeat existing patterns. To escape the violence we’re doing to the world and to each other we need a language that enshrines our collective right to health. That makes our identities multiple and twisted to each other and understands health and self love on a scale so big we might need that mycelium drive to glimpse the expanse of it.
For this great big view lets take María Sabina, her bravery and vision and poetry, as our patron saint and black virgin guide.
Because I can swim in the immense
Because I can swim in all forms
Because I am the launch woman
Because I am the sacred opposum
Because I am the Lord opposum
I am the woman Book that is beneath the water, says
I am the woman of the populous town, says
I am the shepherdess who is beneath the water, says
I am the woman who shepherds the immense, says
I am a shepherdess and I come with my shepherd, says
Because everything has its origin
And I come going from place to place from the origin.
(María Sabina (Author), Alvaro Estrada (Contributor), Jerome Rothenberg (Editor) María Sabina: Selections (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003.)