Third in a LIFE Series:
Seeking the Magic Mushroom
(click image to zoom)
A New York banker goes to Mexico's
|N 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 were 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 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 awestruck. We had come from 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 thatch-roofed, 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.
AUTHOR WASSON sits in New York home with recorder, mushroom pictures and "mushroom stone." A onetime newspaperman, he took up banking in 1928.