Facsimile Magazine, Published by Haoyan of America. Volume Three, Number Nine, 2009. ISSN 1937-2116.
And it seems to me perfectly in the cards that there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing... a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.
— Aldous Huxley, 1959
By Terence McKenna, Introduction to Food of the Gods, 1992
A specter is haunting planetary culture-the specter of drugs. The definition of human dignity created by the Renaissance and elaborated into the democratic values of modern Western civilization seems on the point of dissolving. The major media inform us at high volume that the human capacity for obsessional behavior and addiction has made a satanic marriage with modern pharmacology, marketing, and high-speed transportation. Previously obscure forms of chemical use now freely compete in a largely unregulated global marketplace. Whole governments and nations in the Third World are held in thrall by legal and illegal commodities promoting obsessional behavior.
This situation is not new, but it is getting worse. Until quite recently international narcotics cartels were the obedient creations of governments and intelligence agencies that were searching for sources of "invisible" money with which to finance their own brand of institutionalized obsessional behavior.' Today, these drug cartels have evolved, through the unprecedented rise in the demand for cocaine, into rogue elephants before whose power even their creators have begun to grow uneasy.'
We are beset by the sad spectacle of "drug wars" waged by governmental institutions that usually are paralyzed by lethargy and inefficiency or are in transparent collusion with the international drug cartels they are publicly pledged to destroy.
No light can penetrate this situation of pandemic drug use and abuse unless we undertake a hard-eyed reappraisal of our present situation and an examination of some old, nearly forgotten, patterns of drug-related experience and behavior. The importance of this task cannot be overestimated. Clearly the self-administration of psychoactive substances, legal and illegal, will be increasingly a part of the future unfolding of global culture.
Any reappraisal of our use of substances must begin with the notion of habit, "a settled tendency or practice." Familiar, repetitious, and largely unexamined, habits are simply the things that we do. "People," says an old adage, "are creatures of habit." Culture is largely a matter of habit, learned from parents and those around us and then slowly modified by shifting conditions and inspired innovations.
Yet, however slow these cultural modifications may seem, when contrasted with the slower-than-glaciers modification of species and ecosystems, culture presents a spectacle of wild and continuous novelty. If nature represents a principle of economy, then culture surely must exemplify the principle of innovation through excess.
When habits consume us, when our devotion to them exceeds the culturally defined norms, we label them as obsessions. We feel, in such situations, as though the uniquely human dimension of free will has somehow been violated. We can become obsessed with almost anything: with a behavior pattern such as reading the morning paper or with material objects (the collector), land and property (the empire builder), or power over other people (the politician).
While many of us may be collectors, few of us have the opportunity to indulge our obsessions to the point of becoming empire builders or politicians. The obsessions of the ordinary person tend to focus on the here-and-now, on the realm of immediate gratification through sex, food, and drugs. An obsession with the chemical constituents of foods and drugs (also called metabolites) is labeled an addiction.
Addictions and obsessions are unique to human beings. Yes, ample anecdotal evidence supports the existence of a preference for intoxicated states among elephants, chimpanzees, and some butterflies.' But, as when we contrast the linguistic abilities of chimpanzees and dolphins with human speech, we see that these animal behaviors are enormously different from those of humans.
Habit. Obsession. Addiction. These words are signposts along a path of ever-decreasing free will. Denial of the power of free will is implicit in the notion of addiction, and in our culture, addictions are viewed seriously-especially exotic or unfamiliar addictions. In the nineteenth century the opium addict was the "opium fiend," a description that harkened back to the idea of a demonic possession by a controlling force from without. In the twentieth century, the addict as a person possessed has been replaced with the notion of addiction as disease. And, with the notion of addiction as disease, the role of free will is finally reduced to the vanishing point. After all, we are not responsible for the diseases that we may inherit or develop.
Today, however, human chemical dependence plays a more conscious role than ever before in the formation and maintenance of cultural values.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century and with ever-greater speed and efficiency, organic chemistry has placed into the hands of researchers, physicians, and ultimately everyone an endless cornucopia of synthetic drugs. These drugs are more powerful, more effective, of greater duration, and in some cases, many times more addictive than their natural relatives. (An exception is cocaine, which, although a natural product, when refined, concentrated, and injected is particularly destructive.)
The rise of a global information culture has led to the ubiquity of information on the recreational, aphrodisiacal, stimulating, sedative, and psychedelic plants that have been discovered by inquisitive human beings living in remote and previously unconnected parts of the planet. At the same time that this flood of botanical and ethnographic information arrived in Western society, grafting other cultures' habits onto our own and giving us greater choices than ever, great strides were being made in the synthesis of complex organic molecules and in the understanding of the molecular machinery of genes and heredity. These new insights and technologies are contributing to a very different culture of psychopharmacological engineering. Designer drugs such as MDMA, or Ecstasy, and anabolic steroids used by athletes and teenagers to stimulate muscle development are harbingers of an era of ever more frequent and effective pharmacological intervention in how we look, perform, and feel.
The notion of regulating, on a planetary scale, first hundreds and then thousands of easily produced, highly sought after, but illegal synthetic substances is appalling to anyone who hopes for a more open and less regimented future.
This book will explore the possibility of a revival of the Archaicor preindustrial and preliterate-attitude toward community, substance use, and nature-an attitude that served our nomadic prehistoric ancestors long and well, before the rise of the current cultural style we call "Western." The Archaic refers to the Upper Paleolithic, a period seven to ten thousand years in the past, immediately preceding the invention and dissemination of agriculture. The Archaic was a time of nomadic pastoralism and partnership, a culture based on cattle-raising, shamanism, and Goddess worship.
I have organized the discussion in a roughly chronological order, with the last and most future-oriented sections taking up and recasting the Archaic themes of the early chapters. The argument proceeds along the lines of a pharmacological pilgrim's progress. Thus I have called the four sections of the book "Paradise," "Paradise Lost," "Hell," and, hopefully not too optimistically, "Paradise Regained?" A glossary of special terms appears at the end of the book.
Obviously, we cannot continue to think about drug use in the same old ways. As a global society, we must find a new guiding image for our culture, one that unifies the aspirations of humanity with the needs of the planet and the individual. Analysis of the existential incompleteness within us that drives us to form relationships of dependency and addiction with plants and drugs will show that at the dawn of history, we lost something precious, the absence of which has made us ill with narcissism. Only a recovery of the relationship that we evolved with nature through use of psychoactive plants before the fall into history can offer us hope of a humane and open-ended future.
Before we commit ourselves irrevocably to the chimera of a drugfree culture purchased at the price of a complete jettisoning of the ideals of a free and democratic planetary society, we must ask hard questions: Why, as a species, are we so fascinated by altered states of consciousness? What has been their impact on our esthetic and spiritual aspirations? What have we lost by denying the legitimacy of each individual's drive to use substances to experience personally the transcendental and the sacred? My hope is that answering these questions will force us to confront the consequences of denying nature's spiritual dimension, of seeing nature as nothing more than a "resource" to be fought over and plundered. Informed discussion of these issues will give no comfort to the control-obsessed, no comfort to know-nothing religious fundamentalism, no comfort to beige fascism of whatever form.
The question of how we, as a society and as individuals, relate to psychoactive plants in the late twentieth century, raises a larger question: how, over time, have we been shaped by the shifting alliances that we have formed and broken with various members of the vegetable world as we have made our way through the maze of history? This is a question that will occupy us in some detail in the chapters to come.
The Ur-myth of our culture opens in the Garden of Eden, with the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. If we do not learn from our past, this story could end with a planet toxified, its forests a memory, its biological cohesion shattered, our birth legacy a weedchoked wasteland. If we have overlooked something in our previous attempts to understand our origins and place in nature, are we now in a position to look back and to understand, not only our past, but our future, in an entirely new way? If we can recover the lost sense of nature as a living mystery, we can be confident of new perspectives on the cultural adventure that surely must lie ahead. We have the opportunity to move away from the gloomy historical nihilism that characterizes the reign of our deeply patriarchal, dominator culture. We are in a position to regain the Archaic appreciation of our nearsymbiotic relationship with psychoactive plants as a wellspring of insight and coordination flowing from the vegetable world to the human world.
The mystery of our own consciousness and powers of self-reflection is somehow linked to this channel of communication with the unseen mind that shamans insist is the spirit of the living world of nature. For shamans and shamanic cultures, exploration of this mystery has always been a credible alternative to living in a confining materialist culture. We of the industrial democracies can choose to explore these unfamiliar dimensions now or we can wait until the advancing destruction of the living planet makes all further exploration irrelevant.
The time has therefore come, in the great natural discourse that is the history of ideas, thoroughly to rethink our fascination with habitual use of psychoactive and physioactive plants.
We have to learn from the excesses of the past, especially the 1960s, but we cannot simply advocate "Just say no" any more than we can advocate "Try it, you'll like it."
Nor can we support a view that wishes to divide society into users and nonusers. We need a comprehensive approach to these questions that encompasses the deeper evolutionary and historical implications.
The mutation-inducing influence of diet on early humans and the effect of exotic metabolites on the evolution of their neurochemistry and culture is still unstudied territory. The early hom-inids' adoption of an omnivorous diet and their discovery of the power of certain plants were decisive factors in moving early humans out of the stream of animal evolution and into the fast-rising tide of language and culture. Our remote ancestors discovered that certain plants, when self-administered, suppress appetite, diminish pain, supply bursts of sudden energy, confer immunity against pathogens, and synergize cognitive activities. These discoveries set us on the long journey to self-reflection. Once we became tool-using omnivores, evolution itself changed from a process of slow modification of our physical form to a rapid definition of cultural forms by the elaboration of rituals, languages, writing, mnemonic skills, and technology.
These immense changes occurred largely as a result of the synergies between human beings and the various plants with which they interacted and coevolved. An honest appraisal of the impact of plants on the foundations of human institutions would find them to be absolutely primary. In the future, the application of botanically inspired steady-state solutions, such as zero population growth, hydrogen extraction from seawater, and massive recycling programs, may help reorganize our societies and planet along more holistic, environmentally aware, neo-Archaic lines.
The suppression of the natural human fascination with altered states of consciousness and the present perilous situation of all life on earth are intimately and causally connected. When we suppress access to shamanic ecstasy, we close off the refreshing waters of emotion that flow from having a deeply bonded, almost symbiotic relationship to the earth. As a consequence, the maladaptive social styles that encourage overpopulation, resource mismanagement, and environmental toxification develop and maintain themselves. No culture on earth is as heavily narcotized as the industrial West in terms of being inured to the consequences of maladaptive behavior. We pursue a business-as-usual attitude in a surreal atmosphere of mounting crises and irreconcilable contradictions.
As a species, we need to acknowledge the depth of our historical dilemma. We will continue to play with half a deck as long as we continue to tolerate cardinals of government and science who presume to dictate where human curiosity can legitimately focus its attention and where it cannot. Such restrictions on the human imagination are demeaning and preposterous. The government not only restricts research on psychedelics that could conceivably yield valuable psychological and medical insights, it presumes to prevent their religious and spiritual use, as well. Religious use of psychedelic plants is a civil rights issue; its restriction is the repression of a legitimate religious sensibility. In fact, it is not a religious sensibility that is being repressed, but the religious sensibility, an experience of religio based on the plant-human relationships that were in place long before the advent of history.
We can no longer postpone an honest reappraisal of the true costs and benefits of habitual use of plants and drugs versus the true costs and benefits of suppression of their use. Our global culture finds itself in danger of succumbing to an Orwellian effort to bludgeon the problem out of existence through military and police terrorism directed toward drug consumers in our own population and drug producers in the Third World. This repressive response is largely fueled by an unexamined fear that is the product of misinformation and historical ignorance.
Deep-seated cultural biases explain why the Western mind turns suddenly anxious and repressive on contemplating drugs. Substanceinduced changes in consciousness dramatically reveal that our mental life has physical foundations. Psychoactive drugs thus challenge the Christian assumption of the inviolability and special ontological status of the soul. Similarly, they challenge the modern idea of the ego and its inviolability and control structures. In short, encounters with psychedelic plants throw into question the entire world view of the dominator culture.
We will come across this theme of the ego and the dominator culture often in this reexamination of history. In fact, the terror the ego feels in contemplating the dissolution of boundaries between self and world not only lies behind the suppression of altered states of consciousness but, more generally, explains the suppression of the feminine, the foreign and exotic, and transcendental experiences. In the prehistoric but post-Archaic times of about 5000 to 3000 B.C., suppression of partnership society by patriarchal invaders set the stage for suppression of the open-ended experimental investigation of nature carried on by shamans. In highly organized societies that Archaic tradition was replaced by one of dogma, priestcraft, patriarchy, warfare and, eventually, "rational and scientific" or dominator values.
To this point I have used the terms "partnership" and "dominator" styles of culture without explanation. I owe these useful terms to Riane Eisler and her important re-visioning of history, The Chalice and the Blade.' Eisler has advanced the notion that "partnership" models of society preceded and later competed with, and were oppressed by, "dominator" forms of social organization. Dominator cultures are hierarchical, paternalistic, materialistic, and male-dominated. Eisler believes that the tension between the partnership and dominator organizations and the overexpression of the dominator model are responsible for our alienation from nature, from ourselves, and from each other.
Eisler has written a brilliant synthesis of the emergence of human culture in the ancient Near East and the unfolding political debate concerning the feminizing of culture and the need to overcome patterns of male dominance in creating a viable future. Her analysis of gender politics raises the level of debate beyond those who have so shrilly hailed and decried this or that ancient "matriarchy" or "patriarchy." The Chalice and the Blade introduces the notion of "partnership societies" and "dominator societies" and uses the archaeological record to argue that over vast areas and for many centuries the partnership societies of the ancient Middle East were without warfare and upheaval. Warfare and patriarchy arrived with the appearance of dominator values.
Our culture, self-toxified by the poisonous by-products of technology and egocentric ideology, is the unhappy inheritor of the dominator attitude that alteration of consciousness by the use of plants or substances is somehow wrong, onanistic, and perversely antisocial. I will argue that suppression of shamanic gnosis, with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego, has robbed us of life's meaning and made us enemies of the planet, of ourselves, and our grandchildren. We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrongheaded assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style.
It is time for change.
A duck is one of the most beautiful animals. If you study a duck, you'll see certain things: the bill is a certain texture and a certain length; the head is a certain shape; the texture of the bill is very smooth and it has quite precise detail and reminds you somewhat of the legs (the legs are a little more rubbery). The body is big, softer, and the texture isn't so detailed. The key to the whole duck is the eye and where it is placed. It's like a little jewel. It's so perfectly placed to show off a jewel - right in the middle of the head, next to this S-curve with the bill sitting out in front, but with enough distance so that the eye is very well secluded and set out. When you're working on a film, a lot of times you can get the bill and the legs and the body and everything, but this eye of the duck is a certain scene, this jewel, that if it's there, it's absolutely beautiful. It's just fantastic.
- David Lynch
Postale kunst is geen kunst.
Tenminste niet wat de mensen als kunst beschouwen. Er zijn geen speciale vaardigheden voor nodig, noch zijn de kunstenaars die het maken intelligenter of gevoeliger dan andere mensen. Om postale kunst te maken heeft men niets nodig en men produceert ook niets, dat wil zeggen er worden geen kunstwerken als objekten geproduceerd. Het maximale resultaat ervan is zoiets als kunstgevoeligheid.
De werken die u op deze tentoonstelling kunt zien hebben geen artistieke waarde op zich: ze zijn toot in het oneindige herhaalbaar en alle resultaten zijn even goed. Het is de gedachte achter de werken die ze belangrijk maakt (ze zijn overblijfsels van de gedachten/akties erachter: het idee heeft dit resultataat nodig als de 'voltrekking' ervan).
Het is deze 'mentaliteit voor kunst' die de belangrijkste boodschap van postale kunst is.
Mail art has nothing to do with art.
At least not with what people consider to be art. It does not need special skills, nor are mail artists more clever or more sensitive than other people. Mail art needs nothing and produces nearly nothing, that is it does not produce art-works as objects. The best it can produce is something like art-mindedness.
The works you see at this exhibition have no artistical value in themselves: they are repeatable to the infinite and all results are equally good. It is the idea behind the works that make them important, not the works themselves (they are the residues of the thoughts/actions behind them: but the idea needs this result as its 'execution').
It is this 'mentality for art' that is the most important message of mail art.
- G. J. De Rook
April 11, 1977
G.J. de Rook
Organizer, Communication as Art
P.O. Box 14012
Dear Mr. De Rook,
I used to work at the Seville Hotel so that I could pay for materials that I used to make art. While I worked at this hotel as a maintenance man, I experienced some very strange situations.
Visualize, if you will, a soil pipe or drain pipe with a cleaning access located on the first floor. This access is always left open. The drain pipe is located at the left front of the hotel laundromat. Now, the hotel has eight floors and this particular drainpipe services three or four apartments on each floor. The drain would get stopped up down in the basement, from time to time, and the sewage from twenty-five or thirty apartments would pour out the open access onto the laundromat floor, traverse at least one hundred feet of hallway, and finally cascade down the elevator shafts. You cannot imagine the excitement caused by the appearance of this vile tide. No one ever knew when the next flood would come. Anyhow, this happened at least once a month, sometimes twice, and the hotel owner had to hire someone to clean up the mess because it was too expensive to fix the plumbing.
There used to be a market in the left front corner space on the ground floor of the hotel, and the smells and pestilence brought on by these flash floods exasperated the proprietor of 'turd tide', as we used to call them, this grocer gathered the largest pieces of sewage in a bucket and then ceremoniously dumped the contents on the lobby rug, declaring that he was fed up with this shit and that he was terminating his lease. A fight ensued in which the owner of the hotel was knocked down. Later, this same market proprietor won a lawsuit instigated by the owner of the hotel. He eventually moved his market across the street into a newer building.
This situation is typical of the many strange events that occurred during my working hours at the Seville. I always felt that my job with the hotel was merely a means of getting somewhere else. This frame of mind that I was in is sort of like delaying judgement until all the facts are in or even like willing suspension of belief. I thought of myself as an artist who had to take a part-time job until things began to pick up. I guess the distinction I made between my job and doing art was ultimately a distinction between work and play, in that doing art seemed more enjoyable then doing my job. Art seemed to have something to do with a kind of purity of existence. Certainly, to witness the vile and filthy conditions existing within the hotel would cause one to seek some more purified, not to say cleaner, environment.
I no longer work at the Seville, I work somewhere else under better conditions. I'm not interested in art as much as I used to be, I'm more interested in ideas.
- Stanley A. Smaka
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From David Wascavage
By Robert Gordon Wasson from Life Magazine, May 13, 1957
A New York banker goes to Mexico's mountains to participate in the age-old rituals of Indians who chew strange growths that produce visions
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 vision-giving powers.
They 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).
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. The 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 Mazatec 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 awestruck. 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.
I am a banker by occupation and Richardson is a New York society photographer and is in charge of visual education at The Brearley School.
It was, however, no accident that we found ourselves in the lower chamber of that thatchroofed, adobe-walled Indian home. For both of us this was simply the latest trip to Mexico in quest of the mushroom rite. 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.
Thus 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 Mazatec 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 confidence. Instantly curious, he encouraged me. "Will you," I went on, "help me learn the secrets of the divine mushroom?" and I used the Mazatec name, 'nti sheeto, correctly pronouncing it with glottal stop and tonal differentiation of the syllables. 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.
Allan 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. A connection of his, Maria Sabina 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. Maria was resting on a mat on the floor from her previous night's performance. She was middle-aged, and short like all Mazatecs, 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.
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 Mazatec. 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 drunk. 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.
At about 10:30 o'clock Maria Sabina 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 pursuit. 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 behaviour dilemma. He took the mushrooms, and I heard him mutter in anguish, "My God, what will Mary say!" 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 night. But our resolve soon melted before the onslaught of the mushrooms.
Before midnight the Señora (as Maria Sabina 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. We were 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 horizontal sun. 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 seen.
The 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 life. 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? These reflections 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. The mind is attached as by an elastic cord to the vagrant senses.
Meanwhile 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 Mazatec language could be. Perhaps the beauty of the Señora's 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 cigarets.
At 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.
Recordings of curandera Maria Sabina eating mushrooms and invoking the Divine Spirit in Oaxaca, Mexico by Valentina & Gordon Wasson.
There 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.
The 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 art.
On 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.
From the many mushroom celebrations that I have now witnessed, nine in all, it is clear to me that at least in the Mazatec country the congregation is indispensable to the rite. Since the 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.
It was a walk in the woods, many years ago, that launched my wife and me on our quest of the mysterious mushroom. We were 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 York state. 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. In ecstasy she called each kind of by an endearing Russian name. She 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.
These 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 names. 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. In 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, the peoples of India, Persia and the Pamirs, the Tibetans and Chinese, the Filipinos and the Maoris of New Zeland, and 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? This would explain the aura of the supernatural in which all fungi seem to be bathed. 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?
Our 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 shamanistic rites. We found that the Dyaks of Borneo and the Mount Hagen natives of New Guinea also have recourse to similar mushrooms. 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.
When 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 flesh." 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.
For 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 Mazatec 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 Palaeo-Siberian peoples. But may not the meaning of what we had witnessed go beyond this? The 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. Their 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 of god.
It 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. William 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. The 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 arising. 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 sciences. 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 field trip. There came with us also a chemist, Professor James A. Moore of the University of Delaware; an anthropologist, Guy Stresser-Péan of the Sorbonne; and once again our loyal friend Allan Richardson as photographer.
This time the immediate problem was to identify the hallucinogenic mushrooms and to command a steady supply of them for laboratory study. 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 generation. 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. Of the seven curanderos that by now I have seen take mushrooms, only two, Maria Sabina 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 autosuggestion. 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 borne? Even when we have won the confidence of a skilled practitioner like Maria, 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.
The 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. If the 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.
Little 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 effect. 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. Maria Sabina has been taking them for 35 years, and when they are plentiful she takes them night after night.
The 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 pure science. Will it also prove of help in coping with psychic disturbances?
My 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. Today we 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. All the 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.
For help in Middle America the author and Mrs. Wasson are indebted in Mexico chiefly to Robert J. Waitlaner; to Carmen Cook de Leonard and her husband, Donald Leonard; to Eunice V. Pike, Walter Miller; Searle Hoogshagan, and Bill Upson of the Summer Institute of Linguistics; also to Gordon Ekholm of the American Museum of Natural History, New York; and 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 Borja. For mycological guidance they are primarily indebted to Roger Heim, director of the Muséum National d'Historie Naturelle, Paris. 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 Copenhagen, André Martinet of the Sorbone, and 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.
By Valentina Pavlovna Wasson from This Week Magazine, May 19, 1957
This writer and her husband were the first outsiders to try "the drug of miraculous dreams." Here is the story of a strange experiment in a remote Mexican village.
I was lying in my sleeping bag on the damp earthen floor of an adobe hut, my face turned to a crumbling plastered wall. A few minutes before, I had eaten five pairs of the supposedly sacred mushrooms (they are always spoken of in pairs). I was struggling to keep control of myself but I knew full well that with every minute I was being pulled deeper into another completely unknown world. I was going to experience a self-induced bout of schizophrenia.
Although my husband had piled every available cover on top of me, I still felt cold. Dreamily I asked myself how they had managed, from one moment to another, to hang that beautiful wallpaper right under my nose. I admired the shimmering silvery green color of its geometric designs. Then it faded away and I was looking at the dirty plaster wall again. Suddenly I was frightened. But it was too late to turn back.
In the past few days my husband and Allan Richardson, our photographer, had participated in the sacred mushroom ceremony under the guidance of a local shaman, who is a combination priest-medicine man, in this case a woman, practicing an ancient cult of the Mazatec people. After taking part in the rites and eating the mushrooms, both of them had seen staggering visions, all in 3-D and in fantastic Technicolor. They enjoyed the feelings of supreme happiness and well-being that explained the age-old power these "sacred mushrooms" exercise over this remote and primitive people.
What I now wished to know was: Are the mushrooms merely a dramatic "prop" with the vivid mental images really produced by auto-suggestion or some other primitive psychological ruse? Or do the mushrooms themselves contain some powerful hallucinatory drug as yet unknown to science?
As a physician I am usually content to leave this kind of experiment to more adventurous inquirers than myself. You have to be rained-in - in a place like that Indian Mazatec village - to know who desperate you can get for diversion. Our daughter Mary (we call her Masha) and I had arrived six days before a 24-hour visit to help Gordon and Allan wind up their work in ethnobotanical research.
A wobbly, single-engined plane had dropped us onto a tiny clearing and promised to come back the next day. No sooner had the plate disappeared than the fog rolled in and it began to rain. The trails were ankle deep in gummy mud. We were marooned with a large family of Mazatec Indians - kindly and courteous, but limited in conversation - in a small adobe hut. The dirt floor was full of puddles. there were no windows. Light flickered from a single kerosene lantern. We were damp, chilled through and miserable. We spent most of the time huddled in our sleeping bags. A few hallucinations, we decided, would be great help. Why not try the mushrooms?
Our hostess, a school teacher, is one of the few educated villagers. She dissapproves of mushroom rites and is frightened of them. We did not tell her what we were going to do. After lunch, my husband obtained nine pairs of the sacred mushrooms, put them into a bowl and served them to us. I took five pair and Masha took four.
It was a revolting dish. they were moist, greenish and very dirty. I bit into one and gagged. It tasted like rancid fat. Masha and I chewed the rest slowly and swallowed with great difficulty. My husband got out his notebook and prepared to record whatever we were about to say or do.
For some queer, obstinate reason I had made up my mind not to give in easily to this seductive alien drug. I strode back and forth vigorously, breathing hard. The early symptoms were mild but not pleasant. Masha complained of a headache. I felt a little unsteady on my feet and muttered that it felt like champagne hangover. I was seized by a great fit of yawning.
Masha suddenly declared that she saw a nest of bright blue boxes piled up in the corner of the room. There were none. I looked at her scornfully. After half an hour I took my pulse. It was a slow but regular 65. I lay down on the floor. Masha said she saw hens and chickens. It was true there were several stray fowl running about underfoot in the house, but none were visible at the moment.
I noticed that my husband's red plaid sports shirt was glowing with a peculiar intensity. I stared at the crude wooden furniture. The cracks and knotholes were changing shape.
Masha cried suddenly, "I feel like a chicken!" We both burst into peals of laughter. I thought it was a very funny remark. I half closed my eyes. I turned my face to the wall. I had a brief sensation of looking at beautiful wallpaper. Then the walls suddenly receded and I was carried out - out and away - on undulating waves of translucent turquoise green.
I don't know how long I traveled. I arrive in the Caves of Lascaux in the Dordogne, in France. We had visited France before and I immediately recognized the vast vault of stone above me, the early cave dweller's beautiful primitive paintings of horses, bison and deer on the walls. The paintings were even more beautiful than in real life. They seemed suffused with a crystal light. But I was disappointed. I was born in Russia and I have not seen my native land since 1918. I had hoped to be carried there in my visions.
I now lay limp and warm in my sleeping bag. My mind was floating blissfully. It was as if my very soul had been scooped out and moved to a point in heavenly space, leaving my empty physical husk behind in the mud hut. Yet I was perfectly conscious. I know now what the shamans meant when they said, "The mushroom takes you there to the place where God is."
I abandoned my visions to sit up and smoke a cigarette while I told Gordon and Allan what I had experienced. Then I returned impatiently to the land of the sacred mushrooms.
I was now in eighteenth century Versailles, the fabled French court of Louis XV. A grand ball was in progress. Hundreds of beautifully gowned couples danced the minuet in train and powdered periwig to the music of Mozart. Overhead glittered a magnificent crystal chandelier. Fiery flashes of green and blue light spattered from its hundreds of prisms.
I was struck again by the magnificence and intensity of the colors. Everything was resplendently rich. I had never imagined such beauty. On a shelf near the door to the ballrooms stood a tiny pair of elegant miniature china figures dressed in eighteenth-century ball gowns. Looking closely I saw they were my sister and myself. They were dancing the minuet too.
From a distance I heard my daughter Masha say impatiently, "Oh, Father, I'm having too good a time to bother talking to you!"
But I was aloof. I was now alone in the splendor of a Spanish church. The dark woodwork was elaborately carved. The stained glass windows were showering radiant light. Before me was a towering crucifix. I tilted my head back to see the top but it stretched away into the sky. It was so high I couldn't see the upper part of the figure on the cross. I said aloud, "Am I unworthy to see Him?" Yet doubt and anxiety never crossed my mind. Everything was crystal clear and exquisite.
At a quarter to five - 90 minutes after swallowing the mushrooms - my pulse was 56 but still steady. My temperature was 99.8. I had no feeling of sadness, yet tears rolled from my eyes. My husband recorded that my pupils were extremely dilated and failed to respond to the beam of his flashlight.
Masha and I both heard the call to supper but said impatiently that we didn't wish to be bothered. I was now sitting in a showy box at the Metropolitan Opera house, watching a performance of the ballet, "Les Sylphides." At the end of the program I took off into the skies with several of the dancers. Then I was bending over a huge, deep Chinese vase, inspecting several handsome gold dragons crawling around at the bottom. I was not afraid. It was much, much too remote. I sat up and told Gordon about it.
Then I was in a strange country. I saw picturesque tiles. "Holland!" I exclaimed to myself, "What nonsense - I wish to be in Russia!"
I was in Russia. The tiles were framed about an old peasant stove. Children in colorful pre-World War I costumes were dancing around the room. Everyone was laughing and gay, singing old songs.
Suddenly I was quite out of the picture. I was looking at a beautiful piece of cabinet jewelry. It was a large, rectangular box, made of black Chinese lacquer. A map of China was outlined on its surface. Cities, rivers and mountains were depicted in rubies, sapphires and emeralds. I seemed to be examining it through a strong magnifying glass. The vision, like the others, rolled past.
The hours had passed imperceptibly. It was 8 o'clock in the evening when the hallucinations ended. Masha and I both felt hungry. we accepted our hostess' offer of a cup of aromatic hot chocolate and some sweet rolls.
Masha and I exchanged notes. She told me that her dreams had consisted of all the happy memories of her life, beginning from birth and carrying through in rosy succession to her present freshman year in college. She said she was constantly in the company of relatives and friends and in the places she loved most. "The world was little and beautiful, and I was on top of it." she said. We also agreed on being completely awake during our incredible dreams.
Soon I was overcome by the same fit of strong yawning that had preceded my submission to the powers of the potent sacred mushroom. I fell asleep. It was the deepest, soundest, most refreshing sleep of my life.
I awoke clear-headed, alert and happy with no trace of aftereffects. It was raining and bitterly cold. The village was still wrapped in a thick, gray blanket of fog. The Indian children, tightly wrapped in their thin cotton shawls, crowded in at the door, staring at us in wonder. I set about writing down my notes of that weird and wonderful experience.
By Jhan and June Robbins
Not long ago novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley, in his book, "The Doors of Perception," made startling news by reporting that a drug called mescalin, extracted from desert cactus, produced in him a remarkable peace of mind and sharpened perception.
This month even more exciting news is breaking - of certain wild mountain mushrooms that secrete a mysterious drug having similar but perhaps even greater powers than mescalin. Eating the mushroom not only produces enchantingly beautiful visions and a thrilling feeling of total happiness, but os also used by Mexican Indians to diagnose illness and to "transmit" messages.
This amazing report comes from Valentina P. Wasson, M.D., a well-known pediatrician, and her husband, R. Gordon Wasson, a prominent New York banker. The Wassons are the authors of "Mushrooms, Russia and History," published May 13 by Pantheon Books. This contains an account of a long-forgotten Mexican Indian rite based on mushroom worship and the strange properties of the "sacred" mushroom. The Wasson's work appears in a two-volume edition limited to 510 copies at $125 each.
In a current issue of "Life" magazine, Mr. Wasson tells his story of how he took part in a ritual seance of the mushroom cult in a tiny village high in the mountains of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The ritual was conducted by a local shaman, or wise one. Above, This Week brings another exciting aspect of the mushroom story, this time in the words of a woman who is also a doctor.
Dr. Wasson's scientific curiosity was aroused by her husband's experience. She wanted to know if the mushroom would still be effective without the shaman's ritual. One rainy afternoon during their stay in a remote mountain community she and her 18-year-old daughter, Mary, obtained a handful of the mushrooms. In the accompanying article Dr. Wasson tells This Week readers about the exhilarating and fantastic mental experiences that followed.
During their stay in the remote Indian village the Wassons learned more about the powers of the "divine" mushroom. They observed that sometimes the mushrooms serve as a postal system. When a villager wanted to know about the welfare of a friend or relative in a distant area, he might go to a shaman, who chewed the mushroom, and then delivered reports which the villagers accept as accurate. The Wassons themselves received a detailed description of the activities and state of mind of their son, Peter, thousands of miles away in the States. Although it sounded so outlandish at the time that they smiled tolerantly and dismissed it from their minds, the clairvoyant performance of the mushroom-eating shaman later proved true!
The Wasson expedition has turned over its collection of dried and preserved mushrooms to scientific research. An outstanding group of French scientists is now at work on this project.
As for the uses of the mushroom, Dr. Wasson believes that if the active agent can be isolated and a supply assured, it will become a vital tool in the study of psychic processes. Beyond this, Dr. Wasson, with scientific caution, declines to commit herself. But it can hardly be doubted that as the drug becomes better known, uses will be found for it, perhaps in handling alcoholics and narcotic addicts, in treating terminal illness accompanied by acute pain and in mental diseases. The mysterious properties of the "sacred" mushroom pen fascinating perspectives, both in medicine and in the realm of extra-sensory perception.