by R. Gordon Wasson
This article was published in
LIFE Magazine (June 10, 1957).
This transcription of the article
has been done only with divulgative intentions and in
recognition to the work of
R.G. Wasson, but with no lucrative
A New York banker
goes to Mexico's mountains to
in the age-old rituals of
who chew strange growths that
at which author
chewed hallucinogenic mushrooms and had visions,
Eva Mendez ceremonially turns fungus
in the smoke of
burning aromatic leaves.
The author of
this article, a vice president of J.P.
Morgan & Co. Incorporated, together with his
wife, Valentina P. Wasson, M.D., a New York
pediatrician, has spent the last four
summers in remote mountains of Mexico. The
Wassons have been on the trail of strange
and hitherto unstudied mushrooms with
have been pursuing the cultural role of wild
mushrooms for 30 years. Their travels and
inquiries throughout the world have led them
to some surprising discoveries in this field
in which they are pioneers. They are now
publishing their findings in Mushrooms
Russia and History, a large, richly
illustrated two-volume book, which is
limited to 500 copies and is now on sale at
$125 (Pantheon Books, New York).
AUTHOR WASSON sits in New
York home with recorder, mushroom pictures
and "mushroom stone." A onetime
newspaperman, he took up banking in 1928.
On the night of June 29-30, 1955, in a Mexican Indian village so
remote from the world that most of the people still speak no
Spanish, my friend Allan Richardson and I shared with a family
of Indian friends a celebration of "holy communion" where
"divine" mushrooms where first adored and then consumed.
Indians mingled Christian and pre-Christian elements in their
religious practices in a way disconcerting for Christians but
natural for them.
The rite was led by two women, mother and
daughter, both of them curanderas, or shamans. The
proceedings went on in the Mixeteco language. The mushrooms were
of a species with hallucinogenic powers; that is, they cause the
eater to see visions. We chewed and swallowed these acrid
mushrooms, saw visions, and emerged from the experience
We had come form afar to attend a mushroom rite but
had expected nothing so staggering as the virtuosity of the
performing curanderas and the astonishing effects of the
mushrooms. Richardson and I were the first white men in recorded
history to eat the divine mushrooms, which for centuries have
been a secret of certain Indian peoples living far from the
great world in southern Mexico.
No anthropologists had ever
described the scene that we witnessed.
am a banker by occupation and Richardson is a New York society
photographer and is in charge of visual education at The
was, however, no accident that we found ourselves in the lower
chamber of that thatchroofed, adobe-walled Indian home.
of us this was simply the latest trip to Mexico in quest of the
For me and my wife, who was to join us with our
daughter a day later, it was a climax to nearly 30 years of
inquiries and research into the strange role of toadstools in
the early cultural history of Europe and Asia.
that June evening found us, Allan Richardson and me, deep in the
south of Mexico, bedded down with an Indian family in the heart
of the Mixeteco mountains at an altitude of 5,500 feet. We could
only stay a week or so: we had no time to lose. I went to the
municipio or town hall, and there I found the official in
charge, the síndico, seated alone at his great table in
an upper room.
He was young a Indian, about 35 years old, and he
spoke Spanish well. His name was Filemón. He had a friendly
manner and I took a chance. Leaning over his table, I asked him
earnestly and in a low voice if I could speak to him in
Instantly curious, he encouraged me.
"Will you," I
went on, "help me learn the secrets of the divine mushroom?" and
I used the Mixeteco name, 'nti sheeto, correctly
pronouncing it with glottal stop and tonal differentiation of
When Filemón recovered from his surprise he said
warmly that nothing could be easier. He asked me to pass by his
house, on the outskirts of town, at siesta time.
and I arrived there about 3 o'clock. Filemón's home is built on
a mountainside, with a trail on one side at the level of the
upper story and a deep ravine on the other.
Filemón at once lead
us down the ravine to a spot where the divine mushrooms where
growing in abundance. After photographing them we gathered them
in a cardboard box and then labored back up the ravine in the
heavy moist heat of that torrid afternoon. Not letting us rest
Filemón sent us high up above his house to meet the curandera,
the woman who would officiate at the mushroom rite.
of his, Eva Mendez by name, she was a curandera de primera
categoría, of the highest quality, una Señora sin mancha,
a woman without stain.
We found her in the house of her
daughter, who pursues the same vocation. Eva was resting on a
mat on the floor from her previous night's performance.
middle-aged, and short like all Mixetecos, with a spirituality
in her expression that struck us at once. She had presence. We
showed our mushrooms to the woman and her daughter. They cried
out in rapture over the firmness, the fresh beauty and abundance
of our young specimens.
Through an interpreter we asked if they
would serve us that night. They said yes.
where mushroom sessions took place is built of adobe,
has thatch "dog-ears" over gable ends. Door, lower
right, leads into ceremonial room.
ABOUT 20 of us gathered in the lower chamber of Filemón's house
after 8 o'clock that evening.
Allan and I were the only
strangers, the only ones who spoke no Mixeteco. Only our hosts,
Filemón and his wife, could talk to us in Spanish. The welcome
accorded to us was of a kind that we had never experienced
before in the Indian country. Everyone observed a friendly
decorum. They did not treat us stiffly, as strange white men; we
were of their number.
The Indians were wearing their best
clothes, the women dressed in their huipiles or native
costumes, the men in clean white trousers tied around the waist
with strings and their best serapes over their clean shirts.
They gave us chocolate to drink, somewhat ceremonially, and
suddenly I recalled the words of the early Spanish writer who
had said that before the mushrooms were served, chocolate was
I sensed what we were in for: at long last we were
discovering that the ancient communion rite still survived and
we were going to witness it.
The mushrooms lay there in their
box, regarded by everyone respectfully but without solemnity.
The mushrooms are sacred and never the butt of the vulgar
jocularity that is often the way of white men with alcohol.
about 10:30 o'clock Eva Mendez cleaned the mushrooms of their
grosser dirt and then, with prayers, passed them through the
smoke of resin incense burning on the floor.
As she did this,
she sat on a mat before a simple altar table adorned with
Christian images, the Child Jesus and the Baptism in Jordan.
Then she apportioned the mushrooms among the adults. She
reserved 13 pair for herself and 13 pair for her daughter. (The
mushrooms are always counted in pairs.)
I was on tiptoe of
expectancy: she turned and gave me six pair in a cup. I could
not have been happier: this was the culmination of years of
She gave Allan six pair too. His emotions were mixed.
His wife Mary had consented to his coming only after she had
drawn from him a promise not to let those nasty toadstools cross
his lips. Now he faced a behavior dilemma.
He took the
mushrooms, and I heard him mutter in anguish,
"My God, what will
Then we ate our mushrooms, chewing them slowly, over
the course of a half hour.
They tasted bad-acrid with a rancid
odor that repeated itself. Allan and I were determined to resist
any effects they might have, to observe better the events of the
But our resolve soon melted before the onslaught of the
his mushrooms, Wasson takes his night's
ration from the hand of Curandera Eva
Mendez. In right background Guy
Stresser-Péan, French anthropologist who
accompanied Wasson, has begun to chew his
his mushrooms, Wasson takes them from cup
holding his night's quota as the
curandera prays at the household altar.
He chewed them slowly, as is the custom, and
his six pair took about a half hour to eat.
midnight the Señora (as Eva Mendez is usually called) broke a
flower from the bouquet on the altar and used it to snuff out
the flame of the only candle that was still burning.
left in darkness and in darkness we remained until dawn. For a
half hour we waited in silence. Allan felt cold and wrapped
himself in a blanket. A few minutes later he leaned over and
whispered, "Gordon, I am seeing things!" I told him not to
worry, I was too.
The visions had started. They reached a
plateau of intensity deep in the night, and they continued at
that level until about 4 o'clock.
We felt slightly unsteady on
our feet and in the beginning were nauseated. We lay down on the
mat that had been spread for us, but no one had any wish to
sleep except the children, to whom mushrooms are not served. We
were never more wide awake, and the visions came whether our
eyes were opened or closed.
They emerged from the center of the
field of vision, opening up as they came, now rushing, now
slowly, at the pace that our will chose. They were in vivid
color, always harmonious. They began with art motifs, angular
such as might decorate carpets or textiles or wallpaper or the
drawing board of an architect. Then they evolved into palaces
with courts, arcades, gardens--resplendent palaces all laid over
with semiprecious stones.
Then I saw a mythological beast
drawing a regal chariot.
Later it was though the walls of our
house had dissolved, and my spirit had flown forth, and I was
suspended in mid-air viewing landscapes of mountains, with camel
caravans advancing slowly across the slopes, the mountains
rising tier above tier to the very heavens.
Three days latter,
when I repeated the same experience in the same room with the
same curanderas, instead of mountains I saw river
estuaries, pellucid water flowing through an endless expanse of
reeds down to a measureless sea, all by the pastel light of a
This time a human figure appeared, a woman in
primitive costume, standing and staring across the water,
enigmatic, beautiful, like a sculpture except that she breathed
and was wearing woven colored garments. It seemed as though I
was viewing a world of which I was not a part and with which I
could not hope to establish contact.
There I was, poised in
space, a disembodied eye, invisible, incorporeal, seeing but not
visions were not blurred or uncertain. They were sharply
focused, the lines and colors being so sharp that they seemed
more real to me than anything I had ever seen with my own eyes.
I felt that I was now seeing plain, whereas ordinary vision
gives us an imperfect view; I was seeing the archetypes, the
Platonic ideas, that underlie the imperfect images of everyday
The thought crossed my mind: could the divine mushrooms be
the secret that lay behind the ancient Mysteries? Could the
miraculous mobility that I was now enjoying be the explanation
for the flying witches that played so important a part in the
folklore and fairy tales of northern Europe?
passed through my mind at the very time that I was seeing the
visions, for the effect of the mushrooms is to bring about a
fission of the spirit, a split in the person, a kind of
schizophrenia, with the rational side continuing to reason and
to observe the sensations that the other side is enjoying.
mind is attached as by an elastic cord to the vagrant senses.
RICHARDSON eats a mushroom in spite of his pledge to his
the Señora and her daughter were not idle.
When our visions were
still in the initial phases, we heard the Señora waving her arms
rhythmically. She began a low, disconnected humming. Soon the
phrases became articulate syllables, each disconnected syllable
cutting the darkness sharply.
Then by stages the Señora came
forth with a full-bodied canticle, sung like very ancient music.
It seemed to me at the time like an introit to the Ancient of
Days. As the night progressed her daughter spelled her at
singing. They sang well, never loud, with authority. What they
sang was indescribably tender and moving, fresh, vibrant, rich.
I had never realized how sensitive and poetic an instrument the Mixeteco language could be. Perhaps the beauty of the
performance was partly an illusion induced by the mushrooms; if
so, the hallucinations are aural as well as visual. Not being
musicologists, we now not whether the chants were wholly
European or partial indigenous in origin.
From time to time the
singing would rise to a climax and then suddenly stop, and then
the Señora would fling forth spoken words, violent, hot, crisp
words that cut the darkness like a knife. This was the mushroom
speaking through her, God's words, as the Indians believe,
answering the problems that had been posed by the participants.
This was the Oracle.
At intervals, perhaps every half hour,
there was a brief intermission, when the Señora would relax and
some would light cigarettes.
one point, while the daughter sang, the Señora stood up in the
darkness where there was an open space in our room and began a
rhythmic dance with clapping or slapping. We do not know exactly
how she accomplished her effect.
The claps or slaps were always
resonant and true. So far as we know, she used no device, only
her hands against each other or possibly against different parts
of her body. The claps and slaps had pitch, the rhythm at times
was complex, and the speed and volume varied subtly. We think
the Señora faced successively the four points of the compass,
rotating clockwise, but are not sure.
One thing is certain: this
mysterious percussive utterance was ventriloquistic, each slap
coming from an unpredictable direction and distance, now close
to our ears, now distant, above, below, here and yonder, like
Hamlet's ghost hic et ubique. We were amazed and
spellbound, Allan and I.
we lay on our mat, scribbling notes in the dark and exchanging
whispered comments, our bodies inert and heavy as lead, while
our senses were floating free in space, feeling the breezes of
the outdoors, surveying vast landscapes or exploring the
recesses of gardens of ineffable beauty.
And all the while we
were listening to the daughter's chanting and to the unearthly
claps and whacks, delicately controlled, of the invisible
creatures darting around us.
Indians who had taken the mushrooms were playing a part in the
vocal activity. In the moments of tension they would utter
exclamations of wonder and adoration, not loud, responsive to
the singers and harmonizing with them, spontaneously yet with
that initial occasion we all fell asleep around 4 o'clock in the
morning. Allan and I awoke at 6, rested and heads clear, but
deeply shaken by the experience we had gone through. Our
friendly hosts served us coffee and bread.
We then took our
leave and walked back to the Indian house where we were staying,
a mile or so away.
A strange, solemn
rite and wonders in the dark
strange timeless nights in almost
complete darkness, Wasson and
Richardson sat in an underground
room with the curandera, Eva
On the first, both partook
of the sacred mushrooms, and both
saw visions. On the second
Richardson refrained; instead he set
up flash equipment and, aiming his
camera at sounds in the blackness,
recorded on film parts of the
a solemn musical chant, Eva Mendez
began with an invocation to the
mushroom in the name of Christ and
She proclaimed her own
good intentions and then,
impatiently, entreated the spirits,
"I'm a mouth looking for you, but
you are not paying attention. Come."
As the ritual proceeded Wasson lost
himself in wondrous flights of fancy
which moved him to say afterward,
"For the first time the word ecstasy
took on real meaning. For the first
time it did not mean someone else's
state of mind."
a candle made of virgin beeswax
before the smoldering embers of
copal, an ancient native incense,
Eva Mendez invokes the saints.
Children were always in the room
though they did not take active part
in the ceremony.
THE CLIMAX of this session, at about
3:30 in the morning, Eva Mendez
ministers to her ailing 17-year-old
son. As he lies lost in the ecstasy
of his visions evoked by the
mushrooms, she asks divine help for
him. The child at right, perhaps
soothed by the rhythm of the
chanting, is sleeping quietly
through the ritual. About a dozen
Indians remained in the 20 by 20
foot room throughout the night. A
few of them sat up but most lay on
early in the night, Eva Mendez lists
"Am I not good?
I am a creator woman, a star woman,
a moon woman, a cross woman, a woman
of heaven. I am a cloud person, a
silently, Eva Mendez sits before her
Though she ate twice
as many mushrooms as the rest, she
stayed calm and dignified, often
lyrical in her exhortations,
sometimes impatient when spirits did
From the many mushroom celebrations that I have now witnessed,
nine in all, it is clear to me that at least in the Mixeteco
country the congregation is indispensable to the rite.
congregation, in order to participate, must be brought up in the
tradition, any white persons should be greatly outnumbered by
the Indians. But this does not mean that the mushrooms lose
their potency if not eaten communally.
My wife and our daughter Masha, 18, joined us a day after the ceremony that I have
described, and on July 5, in their sleeping bags, they ate the
mushrooms while alone with us. They experienced the visions too.
They saw the same brilliant colors; my wife saw a ball in the
Palace of Versailles with figures in period costumes dancing to
a Mozart minuet.
Again, on Aug. 12, 1955, six weeks after I had
gathered the mushrooms in Mexico, I ate them in a dried state in
my bedroom in New York, and found that if anything they had
gained in their hallucinogenic potency.
MORNING after eating mushrooms, Wasson and his wife
review his notes, taken in the dark. Jars contain
mushrooms later sent to Heim.
It was a walk in the woods, many years ago, that launched my
wife and me on our quest of the mysterious mushroom.
married in London in 1926, she being Russian, born and brought
up in Moscow. She had lately qualified as a physician at the
University of London. I am from Great Falls, Montana of
Anglo-Saxon origins. In the late summer of 1927, recently
married, we spent our holiday in the Catskill Mountains in New
In the afternoon of the first day we went strolling
along a lovely mountain path, through woods criss-crossed by the
slanting rays of a descending sun. We were young, carefree and
in love. Suddenly my bride abandoned my side. She had spied wild
mushrooms in the forest, and racing over the carpet of dried
leaves in the woods, she knelt in poses of adoration before
first one cluster and then another of these growths.
she called each kind of by an endearing Russian name.
caressed the toadstools, savored their earthy perfume. Like all
good Anglo-Saxons, I knew nothing about the fungal world and
felt that the less I knew about those putrid, treacherous
excrescences the better. For her they were things of grace,
infinitely inviting to the perceptive mind.
She insisted on
gathering them, laughing at my protests, mocking my horror. She
brought a skirtful back to the lodge. She cleaned and cooked
them. That evening she ate them, alone.
Not long married, I
thought to wake up the next morning a widower.
dramatic circumstances, puzzling and painful for me, made a
lasting impression on us both. From that day on we sought an
explanation for this strange cultural cleavage separating us in
a minor area of our lives. Our method was to gather all the
information we could on the attitude toward wild mushrooms of
the Indo-European and adjacent peoples.
We tried to determine
the kinds of mushrooms that each people knows, the uses to which
these kinds are put, the vernacular names for them.
We dug into
the etymology of those names, to arrive at the metaphors hidden
in their roots. We looked for mushrooms in myths, legends,
ballads, proverbs, in the writers who drew their inspiration
from folklore, in the clichés of daily conversation, in slang
and the telltale recesses of obscene vocabularies. We sought
them in the pages of history, in art, in Holy Writ.
We were not
interested in what people learn about mushrooms from books, but
what untutored country folk know from childhood., the folk
legacy of the family circle. It turned out that we had happened
on a novel field of inquiry.
As the years went on and our
knowledge grew, we discovered a surprising pattern in our data:
each Indo-European people is by cultural inheritance either
"mycophobe" or "mycophile," that is, each people either rejects
and is ignorant of the fungal world or knows it astonishingly
well and loves it.
Our voluminous and often amusing evidence in
support of this thesis fills many sections of our new book, and
it is there that we submit our case to the scholarly world. The
great Russians, we find, are mighty mycophiles, as are also the
Catalans, who possess a mushroomic vocabulary of more than 200
The ancient Greeks, Celts and Scandinavians were mycophobes, as are the Anglo-Saxons.
There was another
phenomenon that arrested our attention:
wild mushrooms from
earliest times were steeped in what the anthropologists call mana, a supernatural aura.
The very word "toadstool" may
have meant originally the "demonic stool" and been the specific
name of a European mushroom that causes hallucinations.
ancient Greece and Rome there was a belief that certain kinds of
mushrooms were procreated by the lighting bolt. We made the
further discovery that this particular myth, for which no
support exists in natural science, is still believed among many
widely scattered peoples:
the Arabs of the desert
of India, Persia and the Pamirs
the Tibetans and Chinese
Filipinos and the Maoris of New Zeland
even among the Zapotecs of Mexico...
All of our evidence taken together led us
many years ago to hazard a bold surmise:
was it not probable
that, long ago, long before the beginnings of written history,
our ancestors had worshiped a divine mushroom?
explain the aura of the supernatural in which all fungi seem to
We were the first to offer the conjecture of a divine
mushroom in the remote cultural background of the European
peoples, and the conjecture at once posed a further problem:
what kind of mushroom was once worshiped and why?
surmise turned out not to be farfetched. We learned that in
Siberia there are six primitive peoples--so primitive that
anthropologists regard them as precious museum pieces for
cultural study--who use an hallucinogenic mushroom in their
We found that the Dyaks of Borneo and the
Mount Hagen natives of New Guinea also have recourse to similar
In China and Japan we came upon an ancient tradition
of a divine mushroom of immortality, and in India, according to
one school, the Buddha at his last supper ate a dish of
mushrooms and was forthwith translated to nirvana.
Cortez conquered Mexico, his followers reported that the Aztecs
were using certain mushrooms in their religious celebrations,
serving them, as the early Spanish friars put it, in a demonic
holy communion and calling them teonanacatl, "God's
But no one at that time made a point of studying this
practice in detail, and until now anthropologists have paid
little attention to it.
We with our interest in mushrooms seized
on the Mexican opportunity, and for years have devoted the few
leisure hours of our busy lives to the quest of the divine
mushroom in Middle America.
We think we have discovered it in
certain frescoes in the Valley of Mexico that date back to about
400 A.D., and also in the "mushroom stones" carved by the
highland Maya of Guatemala that go back in one or two instances
to the earliest era of stone carvings, perhaps 1000 B.C.
drawing of 16th Century shows three mushrooms, a man
eating them and a god behind him, who is speaking
through the mushroom.
stone" form the highlands of Guatemala dates back to
a day following our mushroom adventure Allan and I did little
but discuss our experience.
We had attended a shamanistic rite
with singing and dancing among our Mixeteco friends which no
anthropologist has ever before described in the New World, a
performance with striking parallels in the shamanistic practices
of some of the archaic Paleo-Siberian peoples.
But may not the
meaning of what we had witnessed go beyond this?
hallucinogenic mushrooms are a natural product presumably
accessible to men in many parts of the world, including Europe
and Asia. In man's evolutionary past, as he groped his way out
from his lowly past, there must have come a moment in time when
he discovered the secret of the hallucinatory mushrooms.
effect on him, as I see it, could only have been profound, a
detonator to new ideas. For the mushrooms revealed to him worlds
beyond the horizons known to him, in space and time, even worlds
on a different plane of being, a heaven and perhaps a hell. For
the credulous primitive mind, the mushrooms must have reinforced
mightily the idea of the miraculous.
Many emotions are shared by
men with the animal kingdom, but awe and reverence and the fear
of God are peculiar to men. When we bear in mind the beatific
sense of awe and ecstasy and caritas engendered by the
divine mushrooms, one is emboldened to the point of asking
whether they may not have planted in primitive man the very idea
is no accident, perhaps, that the first answer of the
Spanish-speaking Indian, when I asked about the effect of the
mushrooms, was often this:
Le llevan ahí donde Dios está,
"They carry you there where God is," an answer that we have
received on several occasions, from Indians in different
cultural areas, almost as though it were in a sort of catechism.
At all times there have been rare souls--the mystics and certain
poets - who have had access without the aid of drugs to the
visionary world for which the mushrooms hold the key.
Blake possessed the secret:
"He who does not imagine in...
stronger and better light than his perishing mortal eye can see,
does not imagine at all."
But I can testify that the mushrooms
make those visions accessible to a much larger number.
visions that we saw must have come from within us, obviously.
But they did not recall anything that we had seen with our own
eyes. Somewhere within us there must lie a repository where
these visions sleep until they are called forth.
Are the visions
a subconscious transmutation of things read and seen and
imagined, so transmuted that when they are conjured forth from
the depths we no longer recognize them? Or do the mushrooms stir
greater depths still, depths that are truly the Unknown?
IN each of our successive trips to
the Indian peoples of southern Mexico, we have enlarged our
knowledge of the use of the divine mushrooms, and as our
knowledge has increased, new and exciting questions keep
We have found five distinct cultural areas where the
Indians invoke the mushrooms, but the usage varies widely in
every area. What is needed is a perceptive approach by trained
anthropologists in every area, cooperating with mushrooms
specialists. Of these latter there are in the whole world
relatively few: mushrooms are a neglected field in the natural
In this field Professor Roger Heim is known the world
over. He is not only a man with vast experience in the field of
mushrooms: he is an outstanding scientist in other fields, a man
steeped in the humanities, the head of the Muséum National
D'Historie Naturelle in Paris.
At an early stage of our
inquiries he had lent us his counsel, and in 1956 our progress
had been such as to justify him in accompanying us on another
There came with us also,
a chemist, Professor James
A. Moore of the University of Delaware
an anthropologist, Guy Stresser-Péan of the Sorbonne
once again our loyal friend
Allan Richardson as photographer
in Paris, cultures brought back form Mexico by Heim
produce mushrooms in his laboratory.
Psilocybe mexicana Heim.
time the immediate problem was to identify the hallucinogenic
mushrooms and to command a steady supply of them for laboratory
This is harder than a layman would think. Though the
early Spanish writers wrote about the divine mushrooms four
centuries ago, no anthropologist and no mycologist had been
sufficiently interested to pursue the problem until our own
Those who know these mushrooms are Indians belonging
to tribes farthest removed from us culturally, locked in their
mountains remote form highways, locked also behind the barrier
of their languages. One must win their confidence and overcome
their suspicion of white men. One must face the physical
discomforts of life and dangers of disease in the Indian
villages in the rainy season, when the mushrooms grow.
Occasionally a white face is seen in those parts in the dry
season, but when the rains come, those rare
beings--missionaries, archaeologists, anthropologists,
botanists, geologists - vanish.
There are other difficulties.
the seven curanderos that by now I have seen take
mushrooms, only two, Eva Mendez and her daughter, were dedicated
votaries. Some of the others were equivocal characters. Once we
saw a curandero take only a token dose of mushroom, and
there was another who ate and served to us a kind of mushroom
that had no hallucinogenic properties at all.
Had we seen only
him, we should have come away thinking that the famed properties
of the mushrooms were a delusion, a striking instance of
Do we discover here an effort at deception, or
had the dried mushrooms through age lost their peculiar
property? Or, much more interesting anthropologically, do some
shamans deliberately substitute innocent species for the
authentic kinds in a retreat from what is too sacred to be
Even when we have won the confidence of a skilled
practitioner like Eva, the atmosphere must be right for a
perfect performance and there must be an abundance of mushrooms.
Sometimes even in the rainy season the mushrooms are scarce, as
we have learned from costly experience.
WE now know that there are seven
kinds of hallucinogenic mushrooms in use in Mexico. But not all
the Indians know them even in the villages where they are
worshiped, and either in good faith or to make the visitor
happy, the curanderos sometimes deliver the wrong
mushrooms. The only certain test is to eat the mushrooms.
Professor Heim and we have thus established beyond challenge the
claims of four species.
The next best thing is to obtain
multiple confirmation from informants unknown to each other, if
possible from various cultural areas. This we have done with
several additional kinds. We are now certain as to four species,
reasonably sure about two other kinds, and inclined to accept
the claims of a seventh, these seven belonging to three genera.
Of these seven, at least six appear to be new to science.
Perhaps in the end we shall discover more than seven kinds.
mushrooms are not used as therapeutic agents: they themselves do
not effect cures. The Indians "consult" the mushrooms when
distraught with grave problems. If someone is ill, the mushroom
will say what led to the illness and whether the patient will
live or die, and what should be done to hasten recovery.
verdict of the mushroom is for death, the believing patient and
his family resign themselves: he loses appetite and soon expires
and even before his death they begin preparations for the wake.
Or one may consult the mushroom about the stolen donkey and
learn where it will be found and who took it. Or if a beloved
son has gone out into the world - perhaps to the United
States - the mushroom is a kind of a postal service: it will
report whether he still lives or is dead, whether he is in jail,
married, in trouble or prosperous.
The Indians believe that the
mushrooms hold the key to what we call extrasensory perception.
by little the properties of the mushrooms are beginning to
emerge. The Indians who eat them do not become addicts: when the
rainy season is over and the mushrooms disappear, there seems to
be no physiological craving for them. Each kind has its own
hallucinogenic strength, and if enough of one species be not
available, the Indians will mix the species, making a quick
calculation of the right dosage.
The curandero usually
takes a large dose and everyone else learns to know what his own
dose should be. It seems that the dose does not increase with
use. Some persons require more than others. An increase in the
dose intensifies the experience but does not greatly prolong the
The mushrooms sharpen, if anything, the memory, while
they utterly destroy the sense of time. On the night that we
have described we lived through eons. When it seemed to us that
a sequence of visions had lasted for years, our watches would
tell us that only seconds had passed. The pupils of our eyes
were dilated, the pulse of ran slow.
We think the mushrooms have
no cumulative effect on the human organism. Eva Mendez has been
taking them for 35 years, and when they are plentiful she takes
them night after night.
mushrooms present a chemical problem. What is the agent in them
that releases the strange hallucinations?
We are now reasonably
sure that it differs form such familiar drugs as opium, coca,
mescaline, hashish, etc. But the chemist has a long road to go
before he will isolate it, arrive at its molecular structure and
synthesize it. The problem is of great interest in the realm of
Will it also prove of help in coping with psychic
wife and I have traveled far and discovered much since that day
30 years ago in the Catskills when we first perceived the
strangeness of wild mushrooms. But what we have already
discovered only opens up new vistas for further study.
are about to embark on our fifth expedition to the Mexican
Indian villages, again seeking to increase and refine our
knowledge of the role played by mushrooms in the lives of these
remote peoples. But Mexico is only the beginning.
evidence relating to the primitive beginnings of our own
European cultures must be reviewed to see whether the
hallucinogenic mushroom played a part there, only to be
overlooked by posterity.
vision-giving fungi shown for first time
latest expedition to seek out and study
the hallucinogenic mushrooms, Wasson was
accompanied by Professor Roger Heim, an
old friend, one of the world's leading
mycologists and head of France's Muséum
National d'Histoire Naturelle.
had sent Heim specimens form three of
his previous trips.
Now Heim was able to
study the mushrooms in the field, eat
them with the Indians and work out
techniques for growing some of them in
here publishes Professor Heim's
life-size water-color paintings of the
seven kinds of hallucinogenic mushrooms
so far discovered.
Four of these are
species new to science and two others
are new varieties of a known species,
Psilocybe caerulescens Murrill.
At the present time no one knows what
drug it is in these mushrooms that
causes the eater to see visions, and
until its properties are clearly defined
the hallucinogenic mushrooms must be
treated with extreme caution.
Indians, their use is hedged about with
restrictions of many kinds. Unlike
ordinary edible mushrooms, these are
never sold in the market place, and no
Indian dares to eat them frivolously,
The Indians themselves
speak of their use as muy delicado,
that is, perilous.
professor Heim, Wasson (right)
searches a mountainside near the village
for specimens of the sacred mushrooms.
They found two species here.
"Children of the Waters" by Aztecs,
Psilocybe Aztecorum Heim
grows in grass on volcano
on certain kinds of dead tree
trunks, Conocybe Siligineoides
Hiem was collected by Wasson in
DISCOVERED in Cuba in June 1904,
Stropharia cubensis Erale grows
on cow dung in pastures.
of Thorns," Psilocybe Zapotecorum
Heim grows in marshy ground. It was
first found in 1955.
mushroom, Psilocybe caerulescens
Murrill, var. Mazatecorum
Heim, grows on sugar cane residue.
of Superior Reason," Psilocybe
caerulescens Murrill var.
nigripes Heim, grows near
PRIZED by Indians and most
widespread of these fungi,
Heim grows in pastures.
For help in Middle America the
author and Mrs. Wasson are indebted in Mexico chiefly,
to Carmen Cook de Leonard and her husband, Donald
to Eunice V. Pike, Walter Miller
and Bill Upson of the Summer Institute of Linguistics
Gordon Ekholm of the American Museum of Natural History, New
to Stephan F. de Borhegyi, director of the Stovall
Museum of the University of Oklahoma
They are grateful for
material aid granted to them by the American Philosophical
Society and the Geschickter Fund for Medical Research, and also
to the Banco Nacional de México for lending them its private
plane and the services of the excellent pilot, Captain Carlos
For mycological guidance they are primarily indebted to
Roger Heim, director of the Muséum National d'Historie Naturelle,
For general advice they are most deeply indebted to,
Roman Jakobson of Harvard University
Robert Graves of Majorca
Adriaan J. Barnouw of New York
Georg Morgenstierne of the
University of Oslo
L. L. Hammerich of the University of
André Martinet of the Sorbone
René Lafon of the
Faculté des Lettres at Bordeaux
In the article the names of
places and persons have been altered to preserve their privacy.