Sabina, Maria

Sabina, Maria (1888–1985) – Mazatec Indian curandera who was “discovered” in the 1950s by the ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson. Wasson held Sabina’s veledas (healing ceremonies involving the ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms) to be the archetypical residue of a prehistoric mushroom cult that marked the origin of religion, having spread across the globe from Europe via cultural diffusion and evolved into the “high” religions. Sabina’s veledas, held in the basement of her home, involved the blessing of pairs of mushrooms in copal incense and the reciting of prayers to Christian saints. Those gathered to embark on the healing process consumed the mushrooms in darkness with Sabina, who sang improvised monotonous chants accompanied by shouts and claps (recorded by Wasson and released by Smithsonian Folkways). While Sabina stressed the valuable aid of the mushrooms in inducing purificatory purgation, Wasson assumed this was an embarrassing side effect preceding the visions that he considered the key to shamanism. Wasson’s publications in the late 1950s celebrated Mexican mushroom-inspired shamanism and, in poor ethnographic practice, named his informant and her location; flocks of hippies and other psychedelic seekers were soon streaming into Mexico seeking the mushrooms and Sabina, with disastrous consequences for the local community. With the fame promulgated by Wasson, Sabina remains a major figure in studies on Mexican shamanism, despite the unreliability of Wasson’s ethnography (focused as he was on fitting Mazatec shamanism into his erroneous concept of a mushroom cult) and the vagaries of Wasson’s translation from Mazatec into Spanish and thence into Italian.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007