Meet María Sabina
The Woman Who Brought Magic Mushrooms to the Mainstream
The Oaxacan Curandera Who Brought Magic Mushrooms to the West
Who Is María Sabina?
María Sabina Magdalena García, more commonly known as Maria Sabina, was a curandera (healer) from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Still referred to as the “priestess of mushrooms” to this day, she is one of the most renowned Mexican healers.
María Sabina connected the physical and mystical worlds of her people. To the delight of some and the disapproval of others, she became a guide for the spiritual exploration of the West.
Born in 1894 to a Mazatec family, she grew up in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, in the south of Mexico. Coming from a family of shamans on her father’s side, she was exposed from a young age to the traditional ceremonies of the region, including consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms as a way to contact “the divine.”
She first tried mushrooms at eight years old and intuitively developed a knowledge of the rituals and their healing power.
Among the Mazatec people, the most common healing method before the colonial period was the regular consumption of a mushroom species now referred to as Mexican Psilocybe.
What Did María Sabina Do?
María Sabina was known for her unique healing gifts, and people would seek her when dealing with a physical or spiritual condition. She would guide her patients on their journey to and from spiritual realms and provide a cure for their illnesses. The ceremonies she held included traditional Mazatec chants, smoke from tobacco, mezcal, medicinal plant ointments, and mushrooms.
To many, including María Sabina, mushrooms are an instrument for connecting dimensions and realities that happen in parallel. As reports of the intensity and effectiveness of her healing spread, sessions with María Sabina gained popularity in Mexico in the early 1950s, and word quickly travelled up to the US soon after.
How Did María Sabina Become Famous?
The story of María Sabina’s popularity and healing abilities spread through the media and caught the attention of people all over the world. One of the first to venture to meet María Sabina was an American, Robert Gordon Wasson. He was best known for his studies in ethnobotany — the natural study of the interaction between humans and plants.
In 1955, Wasson and his wife were guided by María Sabina through several “veladas” (vigils) with the fungi, which they documented in photos, recordings and samples of the mushrooms used in the ceremony.
Two years later, in 1957, an article written by Wasson about his experience was published in Life Magazine, and shortly after, he released a book about his experiences. His writing spurred an increase in demand for María Sabina’s services and healing rights as the hippie movement took over the US.
Why Some Love Her, Why Some Don’t
Traffic to María Sabina from locals within Mexico and travellers from afar increased, but many were only interested in psychedelics for recreational purposes. Nevertheless, Huautla de Jiménez constantly received high-profile visitors worldwide, including tourists, researchers and celebrities like John Lennon and Walt Disney.
The influx of psychedelic tourism upset folks in María’s community, who believed she was profiting from their tradition at the expense of their culture. They felt the importance of their ancient practices, rituals and meanings was being lost, along with respect for the religion and culture of the Mazatec people.
Her healing sessions were paid for by voluntary donation, and her international popularity gave María Sabina some financial stability throughout her life. However, when she passed in 1985, she left a controversial legacy.
To many, she was a healer for people experiencing challenges and grief. She helped her patients overcome physical and spiritual barriers and left behind a wealth of wisdom and knowledge by sharing the customs of the Mazatec people. To others, her global fame was a harsh reminder of how quickly the modern world can consume ancestral traditions, benefitting without acknowledgment and giving nothing back to the culture it exploits.
María Sabina’s Lesson for Us All
To those native to Mesoamerica, the healer provides an essential function within the community. They communicate between realms and translate what is beyond our perception. María Sabina guided many through explorations of these worlds, promoting healing and wellness through the ancient practices of her culture, only to be shunned by her people before her passing.
She taught the world that we are consuming a sacred plant with powerful abilities to heal us, and her story reminds us to acknowledge the history of how mushrooms came to the Western world. Wellness with mushrooms stems from ancient traditions created by Indigenous cultures with ceremonies rooted deep in practice, a potent reminder that plant medicine is not a hot trend or a commodity.
As psychedelics and microdosing psilocybin become more popular and mainstream, modern psychonauts and wellness practitioners should be inspired by her spirit and embody her core values. We can honour María Sabina by sharing the gift of healing with as many people as possible, spreading knowledge about the power of plant medicine to heal us, and helping those in need.