Intimations Of A Sacred Mexican Mushroom

In 1952 an acquaintance of the Wassons, the noted poet and historical writer Robert Graves, wrote a crucial letter informing them of a supposed secret mushroom cult still in existence in Mexico. Graves included in his letter a clipping from a Canadian pharmaceutical journal which discussed finds made by Richard Evans Schultes years earlier. It transpired that Schultes, one of the world's leading ethnobotanists attached to Harvard had, in 1938, identified a species of Panaeoleus mushroom as being the sacred sacrament allegedly employed by Mexican Indians. At that time, only this one entheogenic species had been identified by Schultes and although a few European people had observed a native Mexican mushroom ceremony, no outsiders had been permitted to partake of the mushroom itself. This is significant, for without actually personally experiencing the psilocybin mushroom, one can only guess at it's effects and therefore the early anthropological observations passed by without much interest.

Once the Wassons learned of these beckoning facts, armed as they were with an already detailed knowledge of fly agaric mushroom history, it was only natural for them to heed Graves' investigational indications and focus their attention upon Mexico. If mushroom ceremonies were still being practised there then it would be testimony to the shamanic use of fungi not limited to the pages of history.

Through associates, the Wassons were soon in avid correspondence with one Eunice Pike, an American linguistic student and bible translator (which is short for missionary) who had been living amongst Mazatec Indians in Huautla, Mexico for over 15 years. Having become familiar with the native customs and beliefs about certain sacred mushrooms, she was only too willing to share her knowledge with the Wassons.

Miss Pike informed them by letter that one Indian boy had referred to the mushroom as a gift from Jesus, no less than the blood of Christ. The Indians also said that it helped 'good people', killing 'bad people' or making them crazy. Furthermore, the Indians were sure that Jesus spoke to them whilst in the 'bemushroomed' state. Everyone whom Pike asked agreed that they were seeing into Heaven itself through the mushroom.

As well as highlighting the on-going integration of the Christian faith into native Indian culture, the Indians' claims indicated that the mushroom was highly powerful in its psychological effect, able to induce a radical alteration of consciousness still relatively new to Western science. It was also clear that the normal procedure was for a 'wiseman' or shaman to eat the mushroom on behalf of another usually in order to heal, this being the classic social function of the shaman found in most of the world's native cultures.

Miss Pike ended her initial informative and tantalising letter by wishing that the natives would consult the bible instead of resorting to consumption of the strange mushroom, a remark natural enough to anyone concerned with preaching the bible and unfamiliar with the psychological territory accessed through psilocybin. But still, is it not odd that someone so obviously religiously inclined, as this woman was, should not have detected something of spiritual importance in the Indians' claims? If so many of them readily attested to the virtues of the sacred mushroom why did she not try them for herself? After all, she mentions no harmful effects apart from the dangers of possessing a 'bad heart'.

What is the nature of this fear which would prevent a single open-minded experiment with such fungi? How can one claim to be fully religious and not take the testimonies of shamans seriously? This was an anomaly which was to continually crop up in the relations between the Western psyche and the mushroom. Psilocybin would come to generate absolute awe or absolute rejection in those who confronted it, which is evidence that something significant is at work in the actual experience. If there was nothing of real interest to be gained from such visionary substances, if the experiences were purely limited personal fantasies, then there would be no stimulational force with which to generate enduring fascination. However, as I will show, many have claimed that psilocybin does offer some great knowledge about our existence, that it can yield soulful insights about reality. This is why the psilocybin mushroom experience has remained such an abstruse phenomenon and why opinions are so divided.

Sensing in the letter of Miss Pike's that there was indeed some great revelational discovery to be made, the Wassons decided to travel as soon as possible to Huautla, and in 1953 they did so. There could be no mistaking the aroma of the ethnomycological Holy Grail as they neared its living presence. As an aside, they also realised that to judge from Miss Pike's description, the mushroom being used by these Indians was not the Panaeoleus species previously identified by Schultes, and this was a further reason for scholarly investigation.

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