R. Gordon Wasson launched the “psychedelic revolution” with his Life magazine article of 13 May 1957, in which he publicized his experience on the nights of 29-30 June, 1955, in the remote Oaxacan village of Huautla de Jiménez with the Mazatec curandera or shaman María Sabina, whose identity he tried to protect under the pseudonym of Eva Mendez, even being the first to use the embarrassing term of “magic mushroom,” which was probably invented by the magazine’s editor. As a professional international banker, he was a most unlikely candidate for this role. He and his wife Valentina Pavlovna were about to publish in that same year their Mushrooms, Russia, and History, which they had started writing in the mid 1940s as a cookbook, with merely a footnote on “the gentle art of mushroom-knowing as practiced by the northern Slavs.” The Life article effectively was publicity for the book, which was lavishly published at Wasson’s expense in a limited edition of only 512 copies, which would have placed it beyond the notice of the general public: the original price of $175 has now escalated to several thousand, something that Wasson was proud of as an investment.(read more...)
During their Mazatec séances the Wassons had experienced the divinatory potential of the Mexican mushrooms. The account of their first velada with Aurelio Carreras, María Sabina’s son-in-law, on 15 August 1953, two years before they ate the mushrooms themselves, was intentionally buried in the bulk of Russia, Mushrooms, and History. Wasson described the event more fully in his last book, Persephone’s Quest. “I had always had a horror,” he wrote, “of those who preached a kind of pseudo-religion of telepathy, who for me were unreliable people; if our discoveries were to be drawn to their attention, we were in danger of being adopted by such undesirables.” Carreras, without prompting or questions, was able to tell the Wassons correctly that their son Peter was not in Boston, as they thought, but in New York, that he was about to enlist in the army, and that a close member of the family would die within the year.
In February of 1955, Wasson mentioned this occurrence to Andrija Puharich, when they met for cocktails in the apartment of the New York socialite Alice Bouverie, who had learned of the Wassons’ ongoing research from a reference librarian at the Public Library, while investigating psychoactive mushrooms. Puharich, an American-born medical doctor and parapsychologist of Croatian descent, at the time was a captain with the United States Army, stationed at the Fort Detrick Chemical and Biological Warfare Center in Edgewood Maryland, working for the CIA on chemical and other means of mind control; and with Wasson’s permission, he dutifully passed on the information about Carreras to his military associates, which may have been why Wasson’s 1956 expedition to Mexico was infiltrated by a CIA mole, James Moore, with a generous financial grant, clearly indicating that the intelligence community regarded a divinatory mushroom as a valuable tool in their arsenal. Moore found the journey extremely unpleasant, and although he witnessed the séance, he was extremely ill, and eight kilos thinner, he fled with a packet of the mushrooms, intending to isolate and synthesize the chemical, which, in fact, Albert Hofmann succeeded in doing before him. Hiem identified them as Psilocybe caerulescens and the psychoactive agent was named psilocybin.