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María Sabina, Woman Spirit

María Sabina is the Mazatec shaman that introduced R. Gordon Wasson to the sacred mushroom, which he popularized to Westerners through his 1957 Life Magazine article Seeking the Magic Mushroom. Most psychonauts are familiar with the historic name, but how many know they can meet her through filmmaker Nicolás Echevarría’s lens? The quiet, poetic film was released in 1978, a decade after the Summer of Love engraved psychedelic counterculture forever into the collective American mind, and captures Sabina talking about her personal love affair with the magic mushrooms she calls “holy children,” as well as her conducting a healing ceremony with her community in southern Mexico state Oaxaca.

Not only does this intimate portrait of Sabina succeed in showcasing her outspoken personality and radically different way of life than that of the Westerners seeking her out for shamanic services, Woman Spirit captures her deep, Christian connection to the mushrooms she first consumed as a young woman alongside her sister. “One day we were sitting under a tree, when I saw several mushrooms within reach. I remember that our grandparents talked about these mushrooms with great respect. They called them little things, or saints. I call them Holy Children,” says a narrator, reading Sabina’s account of her first psychedelic trip.

I put the mushrooms in my mouth and began to chew them. Their taste was not good. On the contrary, they were bitter, with a taste of roots, of earth. My sister had been watching me and had just eaten some, too. After eating the mushrooms, we felt somewhat dizzy, as if we were drunk, and we began to cry. Later on we were all right. We felt that the mushrooms talked to us, because we heard a voice; a voice that came from the other world. It was a pleasant voice, but at the same time, an authoritarian voice, like the voice of a father who loves his children but is firm with them. I felt that everything around me was God himself. I felt that I talked a lot, and that my words were beautiful. Long afterwards, I learned that the mushrooms produce wisdom, that they cure sicknesses, that they have power, and that they are Christ’s blood.

There are several copies of this film floating around on YouTube, but the one embedded above features English subtitles, so viewers can understand Sabina when she’s speaking to the camera.