In order to know which direction to go, it is important to know where we have come from.
María Sabina was a Mazatec curandera (shamanic healer) who saw psilocybin mushrooms as 'saint children' who helped with finding the causes of sickness, when consulted during a mushroom ceremony. In 1955, an American banker and mushroom enthusiast, Gordon Wasson, participated in one of her ceremonies, a meeting and a psychedelic journey which changed the trajectory of their lives, and influences ours too. In 1957, he published a photo essay entitled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” in Life Magazine, which introduced psilocybin mushrooms to a wide audience for the very first time.
Wasson's visits to Sabina, during which he collected and brought back mushrooms for analysis, were funded by a “medical research” foundation, which turned out to be a CIA front. James Moore, the chemist who had tagged along with Wasson’s expedition, was an agent of MK Ultra, the top secret, Cold War program to develop mind-control for the US.
During the 1950s and early 60s the US government tried to weaponise psychedelics, covertly experimenting on people to control them. It didn’t work, and as 1960s counterculture sprang up, perhaps they feared these drugs were having the opposite effect on young Americans; making them resistant to control, and especially to being sent to the Vietnam war. Recent research intriguingly gives weight to their fear that psychedelics may promote anti-authoritarianism.
So even as the first wave of Western psychedelic therapy and research was bearing fruit, US Government efforts switched to the demonization of psychedelics, shutdown of research and criminalisation of users, and via the UN, the world followed suit.
And what happened to Sabina? Wasson put her name and location in a book, leading to a large influx of Americans and Mexicans to her hometown, and causing police to treat her as a drug dealer. Living traditions that had been evolving since before the Spanish Conquest, were put under existential threat and Sabina was blamed and her house burned down.
Maria Sabina died in 1985, but her lineage and many other indigenous psychedelic traditions are very much alive. It is essential as psychedelic practitioners and users in the West that we do not forget how new we are to psychedelic culture, and to acknowledge the tapestry and wisdom of psychedelic medicine traditions that have existed for a long time already.