top of page

Maria Sabina - The Story of the Priestess of Mushrooms

Maria Sabina Magdalena Garcia lived in Huautla de Jimenez in the Sierra Mazateca area of Oaxaca, Mexico. She is primarily known for her work as a curandera, clairvoyant, and poet. Sabina is a key figure in the history of psychedelic medicine and a lifelong advocate of psilocybin’s ability to heal.


Sabina participated in her first velada, a sacred mushroom ceremony, at the age of seven and was introduced to the practice through her father, who was a healer in the village (Vazquez, 2022). At an early age, Sabina witnessed the healing potential of psilocybin mushrooms and began to refer to them as her los Ninos Santos or Holy Children (Tarsi, 2021). Throughout her life, when met with adversity, the Ninos Santos provided insight, strength, and healing that allowed her to persevere.


These experiences and her compassion for helping others, became a driving force in her commitment to the velada and supporting those in need of healing. Sabina’s goal of providing a sacred space for people to heal, included an intentional choice not to turn people away. Her actions were, unintentionally, incredibly influential in the birth of the American psychedelic counterculture of the 60’’s and 70’s. With that being said, a level of ignorance brought in to this venerable space by a curious bank executive from America, also lead to her downfall and the exploitation of sacred mushroom ceremony.


She did not know how to read or write. As an indigenous Mazatec, she also did not speak Spanish. In Mazatec, the word book does not exist; she didn’t write her story. It is important to clarify that the life of Maria Sabina is reported and recorded by others. Her story, what she lived and knew, belongs to a language we do not understand or speak.


At the age of 14, Sabina was given away to marry her first husband, Serapio Martinez, with whom she had three children. He later joined the fight in the Mexican Revolution and passed away shortly after returning from the war (Kabil, 2021). Due to the grief she experienced from the loss of her husband, she became ill and was unable to move. No one in her village knew how to cure her, so she chose to participate in the velada in order to heal. During this experience, it is said that she met los Ninos Segrados, or sad children. They revealed to her that her purpose was to help people heal with her “Holy Children”, psilocybin mushrooms.


At the time she worked as a street vendor and in fields to support her children and her mother. She held ceremony with a few individuals, but chose not to charge for her services. Ultimately, Sabina had to focus on financial stability and over time, she began to forget what she recognized in herself during the ceremony.


Maria mourned her first husband and supported their family for 10 years before meeting a man named Marcial Carrera. Initially, Sabina was not interested in him. He had a reputation of being a drunk and violent man. Despite what her intuition told her, she married Carrera and they had 6 children together, all of whom died except for her daughter Aurora (Tarsi, 2021). Throughout the relationship, Carrera was controlling, aggressive and unfaithful to her. Sabina chose to tolerate this and stayed with him in order to provide for their children.

Unfortunate circumstances proved to be a catalyst in Sabina’s life path. Her sister became very ill. The healers that met with her, assured Sabina that they could not help and that her sister would soon die. Sabina was not willing to accept this and again, turned to the Ninos Santos for support (Kabil, 2021). Maria Sabina held a velada for her sister and her sister was cured after the experience. Word began to spread in town of her healing abilities and people started to come to her asking for her help. Carrera became jealous of the attention she was getting and began to have multiple affairs with women in town, which ultimately led to him being murdered by the son of a lover. (Kabil, 2021)


Widowed for the second time in her 32 years, Sabina has shared that by returning to the sacred space, the mushrooms healed her as well as gave her strength to move forward from his abuse. After his death, she chose to dedicate herself entirely to healing through mushrooms.



artwork of maria sabina
Artwork by the author: Caterina

Her Path to Healing


Over the next 30 years, she became a respected healer and well-known clairvoyant in the Huautla area.


On June 29, 1955, Sabina was introduced to a man named R. Gordon Wasson by a town hall official that brought him to her home. Sabina was apprehensive of Wasson when he arrived, but agreed to conduct the ritual after assurances from the village official, who was a trusted friend. (Kabil, 2021) Sabina’s reluctance to introduce Wasson to the ceremony had less to do with his being a foreigner and more to do with the fact that Wasson and his colleague weren’t in need of healing.


“It’s true that Wasson and his friends were the first foreigners who came to our town in search of the saint children and that they didn’t take them because they suffered from any illness,” she recalled. “Their reason was that they came to find God.” (Estrada, 2007)


Wasson and his photographer sat through the night as Sabina performed the velada. hey became, in Wasson’s words, the “first white men in recorded history to eat the divine mushrooms.” (Estrada, 2007). He then returned to the United States with his story, which was published in Life Magazine. His experience also caught the attention of the CIA, who at the time was conducting Project MK Ultra (Estrada, 2007). Wasson became an unwitting agent in the program after the CIA secretly funded Wasson’s trips to Mexico throughout 1956, under a shell organization named the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research (Estrada, 2007).


Wasson witnessed nine ceremonies conducted by Sabina. On one of these trips, he was accompanied by French mycologist Roger Heim, who sent samples of the magic mushrooms to Albert Hoffman, the man who, 20 years earlier had synthesized LSD. (Tarsi, 2021). These men became the fathers of fungi and entheogenics. In Europe and overseas, interest in LSD and psilocybin first ignited among intellectuals.


Wasson’s article “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” went viral upon its publication in 1957. While Wasson did change Sabina’s name to Eva Mendez, he did not reveal the name and location of the village, accounts diverge as to whether Sabina approved of Wasson using photographs of her for the article. (Estrada, 2007). There are mixed opinions as to his motive for doing this and if it was to protect his sources or out or respect for Sabina’s privacy.


The publicity was disastrous for Sabina and the Mazatec community, who blamed her for bringing misfortune to the village and defiling the velada ritual. Sabina’s house was burned down, and police frequently raided her home, accusing her of selling drugs to foreigners. Hippies rented cabins in neighboring villages. Tourists had bad trips and went raving naked through town. (Estrada, 2007)


She was accused of drug use and arrested twice. When this situation became known, important international anthropologists and scientists communicated with the president of Mexico, José Guillermo López, and asked him to release her (Tarsi, 2021).


Before Wasson, no one hired los Ninos Santos just to meet God, they had only been taken so that the sick could heal. The promotion of their use outside of sacred spaces, led to them becoming banned internationally in the 1970’s.


“From the moment the foreigners arrived to search for God, the saint children lost their purity,” Sabina said. “They lost their force; the foreigners spoiled them. From now on they won’t be any good. There’s no remedy for it.”


Wasson agreed. He expressed remorse for the rest of his life for his role in popularizing the recreational use of magic mushrooms. “A practice carried on in secret for three centuries or more has now been aerated,” he wrote. “And aeration spells the end.”(Estrada, 2007)



Her Legacy


Today, more than forty years after research into their therapeutic effects were all but outlawed, magic mushrooms are now being used in a manner much closer to what María Sabina considered to be their true purpose: to heal the sick. In clinical trials underway across the world, hundreds of cancer patients, those with substance use disorders, as well

as individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thinking are reporting profound and life-changing experiences after engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy. (Kabil, 2021)


Maria Sabina was a woman of simple inclinations, a woman who made others dream. She was a woman of enchanted, sacred spaces who helped others navigate their own healing. Her legacy is notable throughout the world today in murals, social media and cafes. She is an icon within the history of psychedelics and a defining figure in the landscape of women on psychedelics.



Veladas:


Soy mujer que mira hacia adentro

Soy mujer luz del día

Soy mujer luna

Soy mujer estrella de la mañana

Soy mujer estrella dios

Soy la mujer constelación guarache

Soy la mujer constelación bastón

Porque podemos subir al cielo

Porque soy la mujer pura

Soy la mujer del bien

porque puedo entrar y salir del reino de la muerte

Soy una mujer que llora

Soy una mujer que escupe

Soy una mujer que ya no da leche

Soy una mujer que habla

Soy una mujer que grita

Soy una mujer que da la vida

Soy una mujer que ya no pare

Soy una mujer que flota sobre las aguas

Soy una mujer que vuela por los aires.

Soy una mujer que ve en la tiniebla

Soy una mujer que palpa la gota de rocio posada sobre la yerba Soy una mujer hecha de polvo y vino aguado

Soy una mujer que sueña mientras la atropella el hombre Soy una mujer que siempre vuelve a ser atropellada

Soy una mujer que no tiene fuerza para levantar una aguja Soy una mujer condenada a muerte

Soy una mujer de inclinaciones sencillas

Soy una mujer que cría víboras y gorriones en el escote Soy una mujer que cría salamandras y helechos en el sobaco Soy una mujer que cría musgo en el pecho y en el vientre Soy una mujer a la que nadie besó jamás con entusiasmo Soy una mujer que esconde pistolas y rifles en las arrugas de la nuca.

Soy mujer que hace tronar

Soy mujer que hace soñar

Soy mujer araría, mujer chuparrosa

Soy mujer águila, mujer águila dueña

Soy mujer que gira porque soy mujer remolino

Soy mujer de un lugar encantado, sagrado

Porque soy mujer aerolito.



English Translation:


I'm a woman looking inside

I am a woman of daylight

I'm a moon woman,

I'm a star, woman in the morning

I am woman star God

I'm the woman constellation sandals, I'm the woman constellation stick ', Why can we go up to heaven

Because I am a pure woman, I am the woman of good

Because I can enter and exit the realm of death.

I am a woman who cries

I am a woman who spits

I'm a woman who doesn't give milk, not anymore

I am a woman who speaks

I'm a woman screaming

I am a woman who gives life

I'm a woman who doesn't give birth anymore

I am a woman who floats on the water

I am a woman flying in the air.

I am a woman who sees in the fog

I am a woman who touches the drop of dew placed on the grass I am a woman made of powder and watered wine

I am a woman who dreams while the man invests her

I am a woman who always comes back to being run over

I'm a woman who doesn't have the strength to raise a needle I am a woman sentenced to death

I am a woman of simple inclinations

I am a woman who breeds snakes and sparrows in her neckline I am a woman who breeds salamanders and ferns under the armpit I am a woman who breeds moss on the chest and belly

I am a woman that no one has ever kissed with enthusiasm

I am a woman who hides guns and rifles in the wrinkles of the nape of the neck.

I'm a woman who makes you thunder

I'm a woman who makes you dream

I am woman araría, woman hummingbirds

I am a eagle woman, eagle woman mistress

I'm a spinning woman because I'm a vortex woman

I am a woman of an enchanted, sacred place

Because I am an aerolite woman.

I am the woman 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.


Maria Sabina, personal stories the priestess of mushrooms



*


About the Author: Caterina Francesca Bragagnolo is an internationally licensed Art Therapist and Trauma Specialist who has worked in private practice since 2013, primarily supporting women through adverse life experiences. Currently, Caterina works at a psilocybin-assisted retreat center in Jamaica as an Art Therapist and Senior Facilitator. Throughout her personal and professional experiences, Caterina noticed the benefits of incorporating Art Therapy practice into the integration and understanding of challenging psychedelic experiences.


In noting that our subconscious often speaks in symbolism and metaphor, the creative process can be incredibly supportive when making meaning from challenging experiences. This insight allowed her to cultivate a passion for blending somatic experiencing, attachment theory and creative practice to support others as they process, define and unpack cues from the subconscious.


By using non-verbal forms of self- expression to explore, gain insight and make meaning of the metaphor and symbolism within psychedelic experiences, participants are able to gain additional understanding of themselves. Her passion is focused on empowering individuals through engagement in the creative process in order to gain understanding of the self and their experience, while providing support in the process of uncovering one’s innate healing intelligence.


In addition to being a contributing artist and author for Women on Psychedelics, Caterina is also a practicing fine artist and clinical provider within the Psychedelic Support Network. She continues to focus on increasing access to psychedelic art therapy integration and is a professional member of the European Federation of Art Therapy and Caribbean Art Therapist Association.


Catarina's work can be seen and purchased at www.cfbfineart.com




References


Vazquez, P. (2022, January 31). María Sabina: The Untold Stories Of

The Mushroom Healer. Cultura Colectiva. https://culturacolectiva.com/history/maria-sabina-untold-stories mushroom-healer/


Kabil, A. (2021, August 15). This Mexican medicine woman hipped America to magic mushrooms, with the help of a bank executive. Medium. https://timeline.com/with-the-help-of-a-bank-executive-this-mexican medicine-woman-hipped-america-to-magic-mushrooms-c41f866bbf37


Tarsi, M. (2021, December 7). Maria Sabina: la donna saggia dei funghi del Nord di Oaxaca. Meer. https:// www.meer.com/it/67888-maria-sabina-la-donna-saggia-dei-funghi-del-nord-di-oaxaca


Transcript taken from: Vida de Marìa Sabina la sabia de los hongos, Álvaro Estrada, ed. Siglo ventiuno editores, 2007, free translation.


4,678 views2 comments

2 Comments


This is such a special story. I've spent years living in Huautla (part time) and I've heard so many different perspectives of Abuelita Maria's story extending to something much bigger than the small information we find about her when we google her name. This is the first article I've read that I felt did her, and all of the perspectives of her, justice. Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing. Naxskatichili {Thank you} 🍄

Like

Jennifer Costa
Jennifer Costa
Mar 08, 2023

I cried reading this… for so many reasons of joy and grief … all woven through. Thank you - hand to heart. Beautiful. ♥️ Jen

Like
bottom of page