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María Sabina

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Shaman, kakaram, and chanter all define an individual possessed of great spirit power. Maria Sabina (1896-1985), a Mazatec healer from Oaxaca, became a legend among her people. During nightlong ceremonies involving the use of psilocybe mushrooms, she received songs and poetry from “the source of language.”

The Aztecs referred to the fungi as “little flowers” and “Teonanacatl” (divine flesh). A Mazatec defines this poetically, with tender affinity: “The little mushroom comes of itself, like the wind that comes we know not whence or why.”

Psilocybe mushrooms are employed in divination and religious rites among the Mazatec, Zapotec, and Mixtec of Oaxaca, and Tarascans of Michoacán. A psychic investigator who received six mushrooms during the course of a ceremony described “geometric patterns … gold, onyx, and ebony extending beyond sight … measureless vistas.” During a trance, Maria Sabina would “journey back to the beginning of all things.”

Chant means “that which springs forth.” Maria Sabina accompanied herself by hand claps, emphatic slaps on the thighs, and utterances. Humming, whistling, and repetition were characteristic of her poetry and song, created spontaneously during nocturnal rituals. Her peregrinations back to “the source of all speech,” using animals as a mystic link, tapped into primal emotions. Native Mexicans worship a variety of gods associated with fauna and flora. Animals as sacred totems are a part of religious rites of passage, along with divine properties attributed to certain plants. The transmission of beliefs from bygone generations shaped Maria Sabina’s destiny as a renowned Mazatec elder. Foundations in sciences and conservation bear her name. Here, she addresses a night gathering in 1958:


Ah, Jesu Kri

I am a woman who shouts

I am a woman who whistles

I am a woman who lightnings

Ah, Jesu Kri, Ah, Jesusi, hmm, hmm, hmm…

Woman who resounds

Woman torn out of the ground

Saint Peter woman

Book woman

Christ woman

Morning-star woman

Moon woman

Clown woman beneath the ocean…hmm, hmm, hmm…so…so…so…

Oaxacan cuisine takes full advantage of earthy, natural ingredients. Tortilla de Platanito Maduro uses juicy plantain to transform a humble omelette.


2 tbsp. oil

1 ripe plantain, peeled and thickly sliced


6 eggs

1 tbsp. milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Spring onion greens or coriander, chopped


Add the oil to a large saucepan. Brown plantain slices over medium heat. Remove, leaving the oil in the pan. Return to medium heat. Pour in the omelette mixture. Evenly distribute the plantain slices on top. Salt and pepper to taste. As the mixture thickens, use a spatula to lift the edges, allowing the runny center to flow between the cooked portions. Lower heat slightly and cover the saucepan.


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