CHASING A LEGEND

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Back in the mid fifties   Gordon wasson, vice president of J.P. Morgan Banking Firm and Fashion photographer Alan Richardson came to Mexico to do a study of a mushroom culture they had heard about in the mountains of Oaxaca.They went to the village of Huautla, Oaxaca to interview Maria Sabinas was a Shaman known as the mushroom priestess. While there they participated in a nocturnal ceremony and became the first Anglos to experience the hallucinagenic effects of Psylocibin mushrooms.

Psilocybe_caerulescens       Shorly thereafter they wrote an article describing their trip in LIFE magazine  inspiring many people  such as Dr. Timothy Leary and others to investigate also, thus ushering in the Psychodelic age.

These ceremonies had been going on for centuries amongst the indigenous tribes of Mexico. It was claimed that while under the influence a person could receive messages from God(s) telling them how to cure illnesses or what lay ahead of them in the Future and unlock their Inner being.  Shamanes or Curanderos as they were known had been handed down the secrets of halucinogenic plants from one generation to the next since Aztec times. Now the knowledge became public and Maria Sabinas became an Iconic figure. Born about 1900, she was a simple Indian lady suddenly thrust into the limelight of fame. But fame had its negative effect, Maria never sought fame or fortune, but now her village was deluged with hippies and heads in search of a new high. Other Shaman’s jealous of the attention she was getting and angry at her for revealing age old secrets burned her house and forced her out of the village, some of her children were mysteriously murdered. The police intervened and harassed her thinking she was selling drugs to tourists. Maria died alone in a shack without any luxuries or basic necessities at the age of 85 .

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Before her death many famous people were lured to the village in search of a new adventure, amongst the more famous visitors were, Bob Dylan, Peter Townsend, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Aldous Huxley, Walt Disney, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Amongst this group it is surprising to see Walt Disney, It was said that after this meeting with Maria Walt created the Cartoon epic “Fantasia”, I recall seeing some dancing mushrooms in that picture, Did Walt partake of mushrooms on that trip?

Did these visits to a small mountain village change the way music and movies were made? Almost nothing is recorded about these visitors and what they experienced.

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According to legends John Lennon and Yoko Ono went to Oaxaca about 1980 and clandestinely met with Maria Sabinas and had a session with her. Maria Sabinas said she recalled a light skinned boy with an oriental girl visiting her for a ceremony that lasted a few hours, afterwards she said the boy told her in perfect Spanish,  “Thank you, I have seen my death on this voyage”. He wrote a note and left it on the table with some dollars, the note was in English which she couldnt read but it was signed, John Lennon.  A few months later John Lennon was murdered in New York.   Another legend says that in 1969 a Cessna plane landed at an airstrip in Oaxaca , its pilot was Carlos Avila Camacho and its passengers were, John Lennon, George Harrison and an Anthropologist named Brenda. They went to see Maria Sabinas for a ceremony but she had been up all night at another session and was exhausted and told them it would have to be another day. They decided they couldnt wait so they contacted another curandero for a session during which John had a bad trip and started screaming, “I won’t let him kill me “. Then he said this is bullshit, we’re leaving.  There’s no way to authenticate these stories but they have a ring of truth about them.

I’ve met people who swear they were at a session and John Lennon was there but I suspect they are just trying to inflate their own egos.  It is also said that after a ceremony with Maria that Paul and John wrote “Let It Be”, which supposedly hints that “Mother Mary”mentioned in the song is possibly  Maria Sabinas.

The writer Carlos Casteñeda, author of  “A Separate Reality”, used Maria Sabinas and another Chaman as a model for the character of Don Juan in his novel.

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We may never know if a wizened, wrinkled old lady in a remote Oaxacan village in the mountains of Mexico was responsible for a great change in Music and the inspiration of A Magical Mystery tour.

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