Psychedelic Christianity (part I): Maria Sabina and the "fungal Eucharist"

An investigation into the syncretism between the "cult of the sacred mushroom" in the Mexican area and imported Spanish Catholicism, centered on the figure of the Mazatec "sabia" and "curandera" Maria Sabina. Following, some reflections on the bizarre but interesting fungal representations in the Christian cult, made known by authors such as John Allegro, Elémire Zolla, Gianluca Toro and Giorgio Samorini.

di Antonio Bonifacio

"The deeper you get into the world of Teonanacatl [1], the more you see. And you also see our past and our future, which are there, together, as a single thing that has already lived, has already happened. […]. I have seen stolen horses and buried cities, the existence of which was unknown and which will be brought to light. Millions of things, I have seen and known. I knew and saw God: an immense clock ticking, the spheres slowly moving around and within the stars, the earth, the whole universe, day and night, crying and smiling, happiness and pain. He who knows the secret of Teonanacatl thoroughly can even see that infinite cog. "  

Maria Sabina

“My sister, if you had a bird in a cage, and you set it free in gardens with water and fruit, and then you destroy the cage and burn it, do you think that this could cause pain to this bird? She said: no. He said: so am I. " 

from a vision received in a dream by the sister of Ḥusayn Al-Ḥallâj, prophet and martyr, narrated by Louis Massignon

The title proposed for this intervention may seem like a beautiful and good provocation, an attack on the very sacredness of the Catholic religion. However, after the understandable startle, let's try to explain the clear reasons that led us to adopt such an unusual title to present this work.

Maria Sabina (1894 - 1985)


The idea of ​​this intervention was born from the desire to propose a brief and essential portrait of a spiritual experience, born after the first half of the last century, which involved in a totally unexpected way a Mazatec shaman, a "Kill with a sword"(And not a" simple " healer as reported in some biographies), the famous one Maria Sabina. In those lands, extremely outraged by a secular predation, a syncretistic process had been underway for some time in which the elements of the shamanism of the area, which has strong and obvious commonalities with all Central and South American shamanism and in which the use of "Plants of the gods" was a constitutive element of the consultation or, in any case, of the liturgy, they mingled with the proven Catholicism of Maria Sabina who, despite the rise of her shamanic vocation and the slavish practice that resulted from certain events, never stopped actively participating in the process of apostolate among his people, remaining an active part of a couple of brotherhoods, such as, for example, that of Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

In some photos she can be seen portrayed while she proceeds to incense the "Children mushrooms" (which will be discussed immediately after), before the session of Velada (night vigil) demonstrating that there was no contradiction between his faith and his practice. It must be said, as a premise of everything, that therefore you, like other local shamans, never did the work of proselytizing a religion based on a hypothetical "Mushroom cult", did not propose native revivals, rather Maria Sabina spent her natural and / or supernatural talents, leaving the interpreter free to qualify them according to his own orientation, in a tireless work of rescue and healing aimed at his fellow countrymen afflicted by numerous ailments that, from time immemorial, they persecute them.

In this support work Maria Sabina has probably performed real "miracles", given the frequent failure of "ordinary" therapies, but it is not the possibly sensationalist side of her work that interests us. To "understand" her activity it is essential to refer to her "program", which can be summed up in this concise statement: "In my opinion, sorcerers and healers practice lower limbs. Sorcerers and healers also have their own language, but different from mine. They ask for help at 'Chicon Nindò' [2] (local entity). I ask God Christ, San Pedro, Magdalena and Guadalupe '. It is because in me there is no witchcraft, there is no anger, there is no falsehood. Because there is neither dirt nor dust inside me.

Marco Maculotti's interview with Giorgio Samorini, «Axis Mundi TV», 29 September 2021

The long life of Maria Sabina - was born in 1894 and died in 1985 -, Mazatec shaman and poetess, was, like all the lives of the poor inhabitants in this region, marked by unfavorable and often tragic events. Orphaned as a child, raised by relatives, the just teenager, she was 14, she got married, as is customary in many places where the will of the nubends is never free from social and family conditioning, to an almost military always absent, then died in a fight. His life, always conducted on the point of a dignified poverty, was not very different from that of his fellow villagers, poverty, alcoholism, cultural loss constituted a common resigned way of life of the then inhabitants of the region and this it is an issue on which no further insistence will be given.

Conversely, extraordinarily coinciding with the highest mystical experiences of the little shepherds of Fatina, and of La Salette, as well as of Bernadette in Lourdes, was his lived encounter with the "local sacred", or rather the “inspired” ingestion of a peculiar mushroom, whose psychedelic properties [3] they will be scientifically certified much later, in parallel circumstances. The young woman, in fact, ingested a raw fungus covered with earth, while grazing hens and goats with her sister and over time, the fungal consumption during grazing became habitual, and unsuspected cognitive horizons were opened to her, those doors of which Huxley invoked the hatching in the small essay Open the doors of perception. 

As a premise, we reiterate that the experience, however solitary in the circumstance, of the young woman was, almost immediately, a radically religious experience, which justifies the comparability that her biography has proposed to that of other shepherdesses of more well-known shores. . At first the effect of the ingestion was only euphoric and the relatives who noticed the fact did not interfere, because those mushrooms are traditionally highly respected in the region and because, at the same time, the size of the "high", understood as euphoria, it is too rooted in those areas, to cause scandal to beautiful souls. Maria Sabina continued to chew her bitter fruits and, as she grew up, she warned that the ingested mushrooms manifested a personality of their own, they were "people" or, better, "little sacred children" who had chosen her to "become herself", or to be a "Kill with a sword"And therefore the daughter of the"Niños Santos». Fungi, assumed in this way by the Eucharist, were destined to "initiate" a predestined one for understanding the "Word", a term that takes on multiple related meanings, in first place, to the spiritual healing of people. 

Maria Sabina, however, was devoted to the realization of this destiny of hers as a relative and descendant of other long-established shamans. The young woman was therefore soon aware of her special "election", so much so that, in that mixture of humility and pride, which will mark her transcribed conversations, she attributed a characteristic of predestination similar to that of James the Just, stating: "I was already wise in my mother's womb"And of this he had a precise vision, this:"And it is true that the mushrooms revealed to me what I was like when I was in my mother's womb: it is a vision in which I see myself in the form of a fetus. An enlightened fetus. And I know that at the time I was born, the Primal Beings were there. There was also the Heart of Christ".

Maria Sabina with Robert Gordon Wasson


It must be said that in "ethnic" cultures the cause of illness is always ascribed to the invisible spiritual order; the universe is threatening and the evil with which it is imbued is always on the verge of overflowing into the fragile established order and putting it in crisis. Beyond a thin protective barrier, separating order from chaos, the powerful forces that dominate man act free, perhaps indifferent to his fate and always ready to unleash against him at every slightest infringement of that "implicit order" that only they know thoroughly. They move in this, either by spontaneous vengeful initiative or because, perhaps, they are invoked for this purpose. 

Indeed, man's own wickedness actively contributes to the irruption of evil and its affirmation in the human sphere, and he enslaves his intelligence to criminal action in order to damage others and this happens for the most trivial reasons. In order to achieve this goal, various agents are placed at the disposal of these dark forces, giving substance to the intentions and inclinations of their clients. I'm the "sorcerers" and "witches" who, for a fee, willingly place themselves at the service of the envious or resentful person on duty to cause damage, more or less serious, to the intended victim. For this reason the "evil" manifests itself in concrete form in the body at the time of healing, in fact it appears in the form of pebbles, insects, crystals and other foreign material, and only after the ousting of these witnesses of the curse is there a guarantee of healing. . 

Speech by Marco Maculotti: "From Terence McKenna to Mesoamerican and Andean shamanism", "Psychic Landscape: psychedelia, magic and the development of consciousness", The Society of Sulfur, February 27, 2022

Traditional local medicine is practically a permanent exorcism, the second cause, the strictly biological one, the only one that affects the etiology of "orthodox medicine", is instead, according to a spiritual reading of the harmful event, only a consequence, a reflection of the first cause and it is necessary to go back to this in order to eradicate the root of evil. However, we let Maria Sabina herself speak on the subject in this direct testimony:

"I've never seen demons, even if to go where I have to go, through the domains of death. I sink and go all the way. I know how to search in the shadows and in the silence. In this way, I get to where the diseases are hiding. Deep down. Lower than the roots and the water, the mud and the stones. Other times, I go up, very high, higher than the mountains and the clouds. When I get to where I need to go, I see God and Benito Juarez. I see all good people. Everything is known there. Everything and everyone, because everything is clear there. I hear voices. They speak to me. It is the voice of the little one that appears (the mushroom ed.). The God who lives in them enters my body. I surrender my body and my voice to the sacred children. They are the ones who speak, in the vigils they work in my body and I say ... " 

Thus, the essential cause of the disease is fully highlighted and it is always, as aforementioned, referable to the spiritual order and the annihilation of this remote cause is placed at the foundation of the therapeutic efficacy of the action, that is the "Sacred mushroom", a spiritual medium who which “vegetable” receptacle of divine goodness it is effectively healing. It certainly has pharmacological characteristics that modify in any case the conscientious experience of the sitter, however its powers go far beyond and are revealed and unfolded only to the person religiously inclined to their understanding and qualified to use them, only in these cases, perhaps, it is possible to qualify it as entheogenic. Indeed, according to an indigenous researcher Aguirre Beltran, the plant alone is not sufficient to produce an authentic mystical state, as it must be collected in certain places and with certain precautions by a pure person or in any case purified:

"Another essential element must be taken into consideration the sacred plants, deities, in themselves, act by virtue of their mystical properties; that is, it is not the plant proper that heals, but divinity, a part of divinity, or the magical power hidden with it. In order for the plant to retain this power, it is essential to adopt a whole complicated ritual, both for harvesting and for preparation and administration; if this ritual is not respected, it has no healing effect, since it is not the pharmacological properties of the plants that act, but their mystical properties. "

in Medicine and Magic, "Indian Matter," p. 123

An "audacious" (euphemism!) Attempt to interpret Christ rather than phytomorphic, but rather mycotic, was made by John Allegro, one of the translators of the Qumran manuscript, who came to deny the person of Christ, considering him simply the personalization of a hallucinogenic mushroom. In some respects there is some "truth" in both cases. In the first circumstance (Christ lives), if we abandon the Lotto metaphor to enter the symbol, we can say that the fermented product of the vine, at least in some pagan initiations, represents the second and last degree of initiation and is proper to the great mysteries, therefore the wine belongs to the initiatory apex and its intake confers Wisdom of celestial things: drinking wine is therefore an initiatory theophagy that produces Knowledge.

It is no coincidence that a book by the well-known specialist of early Christianity, Victory Luisa Guidetti, are entitled Bread, Life and Knowledge. In the same way, the ingestion of the mushroom (born from the blood of Christ and therefore from what is destined to become wine) gives knowledge - knowledge that is in any case the teleological result of practices present in some perfectly "orthodox" Christian Gnostic lines that place it before "faith" (St. their context of gnosis).

Having said this, we must ask ourselves: why can we believe that this religious form based onfungal eucharist is it a syncretistic but not a heretical form of Christianity? The answer can take on multiple profiles depending on how the theme is framed, however it is the "Catholic" theological background that supports the "pagan" methods of ritual application of Maria Sabina. 'Christian spiritual universe, as can be seen in subsequent references in which it is unequivocally stated that "Mushrooms have this power because they are the flesh of God", since they are born from the drops of blood shed by Christ on the cross. As if every tree in the forest, at whose feet these fungi are born, were a Tree of life and, jointly, of Passion. It is as a direct consequence of their immense sacred power that they act and cure, but only those who "believe", contrary to "cthose who do not believe do not heal".  

In this case they find us in front of the famous Mosaic of the Church of San Clemente in Rome in which the cross from which the blood of Christ flows generates an extraordinary vegetal exuberance at the foot of it. From the spiral shoots hang further plant symbols, while from below flow the four rivers of paradise from which two deer drink, placed one in front of the other according to the well-known iconography that characterizes them. on this Orthodox scenic construction, of great pre-Christian antiquity, it is accompanied by other heterodox figurative expressions. 

Even the healing ceremony is marked by precise rules of syncretistic organization and for this "Children eat at night"; and, to do so, "si celebrates a vigil before the images of saints of the Church. Sacred children heal the wounds, the wounds of the spirit". It is in fact the evil spirit that causes the diseases that affect the entire anthropological dimension, body, soul, spirit. In fact, the inspection capacity of the gods stops at the spiritual dimension healers or healers. They, in fact,

"they do not know that the visions that children provoke reveal the origin of evil. Healers do not know how to use them. Nor are the sorcerers. Sorcerers are afraid of "Sabios" like me, because they know that I can find out if they have cast a spell, if they have secretly stolen the spirit of a child, a man or a woman. "

Otherwise Maria Sabina describes her ability as going beyond all limits by stating:

"Mushrooms give me the power of universal contemplation. I can see it from the start. And I can go as far as the world is born. I am not a healer because I do not drink infusions of weird plants. I heal with language. Nothing else. I'm not a witch because I don't do evil. I am a «Sabia». And nothing else. Men also come to ask me to help their women give birth. I'm a midwife, but that's not my job. I am the one who speaks with God and with Benito Juarez. "

In relation to the previous image and to the statements of Maria Sabina this image is proposed with the relative comment The painting by Andea Mainardi known as the Keyghino represents the sacrifice of Christ, Mystical Press. It is an image born in the midst of the Counter-Reformation which presents Christ in the vat, instead of the bunches; the cross is one with the vine of the press and the blood of Christ is collected in a container: it is the wine that becomes blood, the blood that becomes wine. It is a crude and painful representation that finds its inspiration in many passages of the Old and New Testament: "I am the true vineyard and my Father is the winemaker" (John, 15,1) and in some meditations of the Fathers of the Church. For example, St. Augustine writes: "The first bunch of grapes crushed in the press is Christ. When this bunch was squeezed in passion, from it came that wine whose intoxicating glass how excellent it is! (Exposition on Psalm 55). In the "world" of Maria Sabina the mushroom is the mediator of salvation-healing as the blood is the seed from which the flesh of Christ is generated in fungal form.

It is clear that Maria Sabina does not offer a simple medicine, she is not simply a vegetalist, but is capable of reaching the very root of evil. In her narration there is a constant reference to the "Holy Book", source of the "Word" which would inspire and strengthen his positive actions. This "book" looks like a cultural adaptation of the sacred illuminated code (the amoxtli), of the Mazatecs which was reserved for priests, as intended for esoteric knowledge and which, obviously, had an exceptional importance in the previous native culture, before practically every example was destroyed during the conquest. It was a kind of "Heavenly table"  (the parallel with the books of Enoch is pertinent) in which all events (past, present and future) could be read acronically and which, in the later native conception, was replaced with the "new Book", which came from the old world, brought by the invaders and today venerated on the altars of churches with identical intensity. Maria Sabina, in turn, received the private revelation of a further personal mystical "Book" which, in fact, replaces the amoxtli, the sacred books of the times before the conquest. This Book is the founding element of her business and it was delivered to her by a category of Beings called "main Beings", whose presence was mediated by the "sacred children". This passage talks about this highlight in the life of this shaman:

"I knew it was a revelation that sacred children gave me. Suddenly, I heard a voice. A sweet but at the same time authoritarian voice. Like the voice of a father who loves his children, but who raises them severely. A wise voice that said, "Here are the Principal Beings ..." I understood that the mushrooms were speaking to me. I felt infinite happiness. A book appeared on the table of the Principal Beings, an open book that grew to the size of a man. There were scriptures on the pages. It was a white paper, so white that it glowed. One of the Principal Beings spoke to me and told me: «Maria Sabina, here is the Book of Wisdom. It is the Book of Language. Everything written there is for you ... The Book is yours, take it to do your job ... "I exclaimed excitedly:" It is for me. I receive it ... »The Principal Beings disappeared and left me alone in front of the immense Book. I knew it was the Book of Wisdom...

Maria Sabina at her home altar

Because of this prenatal election, Maria Sabina consequently obtained the ability to read in the underworld, even predictively, and, for this reason, she affirmed that when "The Book" appears to her, she learns new words. "I am a daughter of God and chosen to be Wise. On the altar that I have in my house, there are images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I keep it in a niche. I also have San Marcos, San Martin Caballero and Santa Magdalena. They give me their help to heal and talk. "  Then together with this Maria Sabina comes to express herself in a truly unprecedented way "During the vigils, I clap my hands and whistle, in those moments I transform myself into God". An assertion, this, indeed even more categorical than that relating to his prenatal wisdom 

Despite the open externalization of the above statements, necessarily compiled in the form of an anthology and taken from the biographical book that describes the parable of the woman's life - statements that in other epochs would have led people directly to the stake - the church did not oppose the celebration of these "pagan" rites, indeed almost encouraged them. The priest Antonio Reyes Hernandez, owner for a long time (21 years) of the parish of Huautla, where the Kill with a sword, he got to know women well, and participated in the transcultural, and therefore universal, value of the syncretistic teaching she promulgated. Thus, in fact, the priest testified that Maria Sabina was anything but a danger to the faith, indeed, she " here to bring the word of God to everyone and convince the small number of people who still mix local beliefs with the Catholic religion about Christian truth ". In fact, Maria Sabina spent a lot of her time and her modest income as an active member of the Association of the Apostolate of Prayer, as already anticipated at her debut and, as the aforementioned priest points out:

"She attends mass on the first Friday of each month. She wears a scapular. You are a humble person, as far as I know, and we don't hurt anyone. On the contrary, the scandalous publicity that is made about her is prejudicial to and frowned upon by the authorities. We must leave her alone ... "" And the Sabios, and the healers? ", the interviewer asked the priest who replied: "Sabios and healers do not compete with our religion and neither do sorcerers. They are all very religious and attend mass. They do not proselytize, and therefore are not considered heretics; it is impossible to cast anathemas on them, indeed, not even with the thought...

Mexican and American psilocyb. It was from this species that Dr. Albert Hofmann, working with specimens grown in his laboratory in Sandoz, isolated the active "entheogenic" compounds, namely psilocybin and psilocin, which marked a whole series of new research horizons.


At this point, after having described the "natural" relationship that binds magic mushrooms to what can be defined as the Tree of Life, we certainly cannot abandon the theme of "fungal" psychedelic Christianity without opening a detective parenthesis and thus making a brief mention of the surprising openings that could be found in Christian art itself in relation to this thorny and, at the same time, neglected topic. It is premised that the following is a synthetic exposition of the facts for what they are and what will be said does not constitute an uncritical adhesion or an equally uncritical denial of the contents that will be reported. 

The occasional starting point for this excursion between continents comes from an obviously forgotten article published in the Giornale di Brescia (Friday 7 September 1979), born from the prestigious pen of Elemire Zolla, proposed with the eloquent title; Maria Sabina's children's mushrooms. Not only is it very relevant that Elemire Zolla has dealt with the subject with such great seriousness, but it should be highlighted that perhaps he was the first to reveal how Maria Sabina's experiences with mushrooms find an unexpected confirmation in some examples. of Western sacred art, or in the prestigious Benedictine church-abbey of Saint Savin Sur Gartempe (World Heritage Site) which contains true masterpieces of Romanesque painting. Zolla, unlike other researchers, has no doubts about the fungal-hallucinatory nature of the fungi portrayed within those severe walls and, in fact, establishes a sensational association between what is portrayed in the austere abbey and the shamanic practices of Maria Sabina. With the affirmation of ethnobotany and, even more so, with ethnomycology, thanks to the investigations of the Wasson spouses, Giorgio Samorini, a well-known researcher in this sector and who has conducted numerous investigations in the field, thanks to his mycological experience, but also mythological-symbolic, he addressed the iconographic theme of the mushroom in Christian sacred art, collecting not only numerous testimonies that suggest the non-occasional presence of certain scenes of "mycetic" evidence (especially in the paintings), but also their precise localization in the narrative fabric of the representation.

“Fresco of Temptation”, Plaicourault Chapel, Indre, XNUMXth century

Thus it cannot be a coincidence that, for example, in one circumstance (Plaicourault chapel, Indre, Fresco of the Temptation of the twelfth century) are depicted precisely fungal forms to represent the heavenly tree of knowledge, in which the snake offers Eve just a mushroom and that it is identifiable, like the others of the tree, in a very specific and not "harmless" species. At this point, it certainly cannot be disputed that Mushroom and Knowledge are closely related to each other, given the explicit suggestion offered by the author of the painting. Samorini then, limiting ourselves here to a bird's eye hint, he even more boldly proposes, always using iconographic documents that are difficult to contest, that the mushroom, from a certain moment in the history of images onwards, even replaces the image of theTree of Life, usually represented as a Cross, on which hangs the body of Christ dripping with blood, as can be seen in the described representation of the splendid mosaic of San Clemente. At this point, on the subject, we let Samorini himself speak, who well illustrates the iconological changes of this representative pattern:

"The Christian religion was one of the last and most important means of spreading the artistic scheme of the two animals and the Tree of Life. The different types of Tree of Life recur in Christian art, including the Mushroom Tree. The two most frequent animals will gradually become two lambs and two fish. The same Tree of Life will increasingly replace the cantharos (cup) of the Water of Life and the cross. The meaning of the scene also changes as Charbonneau Lassay (1997: 54) has pointed out. When in the iconography of the first Christian centuries two fish or two animals enclose an emblem, this always represents Jesus Christ directly; and the animals that accompany it are the symbolic representation of the Christian faithful. In the transformation of the tree of the vine into the cross there is therefore the identification of the first with the figure of Christ. The water of life, collected in cantharos and which flows from the Tree of Life, it will be increasingly identified with the blood of Christ. " 

Consequently, the strong image that Maria Sabina proposes to us, for which certain wisdom mushrooms would find their origin from the dispersion of blood at the foot of the cross, finds a truly impressive confirmation in different circumstances and in totally different continental contexts that exclude their own possible and reciprocal influence. Samorini's work, extremely summarized here, has aroused the interest of other colleagues of his. One of them,  Gianluca Toro, part of the editorial board of «Altrove» and member of the SISSC, has recently published a substantial volume of 500 pages and with about 300 black and white illustrations (more than 100 of fungal representations) entitled Mushroom-trees and mushrooms in Christian art. Origins and development of an iconography, which perhaps today represents the most advanced study on the subject. Basically in Christian art there would be inexplicably present a massive fungal presence represented by species containing psychoactive substances. It is now up to the other party to justify this.  


[1] The word teotlnanácatl is composed of the Nahuatl, god + nanacatl, mushroom and is identified with the Mexican Psilocybe, species recognized by the botanist Roger Heim in 1957.

[2] Chicon Nindo (Man of the Mountain), mythological being. It is said that he is the Lord and Master of the Mountains, that he is a white man and that he has the power to cast spells and ward off evil influences or spirits that cause disease. Some identify him with Quetzalcoatl. 

[3] "What the mind reveals" (definition by Humprey Hosmond).


Stanislav Grof's interview with Albert Hofmann, «Elsewhere» n. 15, SISSC (Italian Society for the Study of States of Consciousness) 

Gilberto Camilla - Fulvio Grosso: Hallucinogens and Christianity new acquisitions, «Elsewhere» n. 14, SISSC Italian Society for the Study of States of Consciousness 

Albrile Enzo: The infinite illusion, Gnostic ways of salvation, Mimesis 2017, Milan

Raffaele K. Salinari: On the way to Eleusis, in AAVV: Eleusis, the wisdom heart of Europe, Padua University press 

Kalweit Roger: Shaman healers and sorcerers, Ubaldini publisher, Rome, 1996 

George Samorini: Mushroom trees in Christian art, «Eleusis» n.1, Civic Museum of Rovereto 1998

Richard Evans Schultes - Albert Hoffman - Gregory Ratsch: Plants of the gods, Venexia Rome 2021

Alvaro Estrada: Life of Maria Sabina, the shaman of hallucinogenic mushrooms, Savelli editori Rome 1982

Gianluca Toro: Mushroom-trees and mushrooms in Christian art. Origins and development of an iconography, Self-published, Approaches (Pinerolo) 2021

Elemire Zolla: Maria Sabina's children's mushrooms, in the «Giornale di Brescia»

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