A Mushroom Viajé in
Huautla de Jiménez
By Jim Ransom

Dona Rosa in front of her altar.

A painting of Jesus with mushrooms, from the wall behind the altar.

Since the 1960's, I have had an interest in psychedelics (or 'entheogens) that has not diminished with time. Indeed, the more I found out, the more I wanted to know. And, wherever feasible, I chose to experience first-hand what any particular plants or compounds may hold for me.

Twenty years ago I met Stefan. Our friendship was based, in part, on our mutual interest in the entheogens. In the early 60's, Stefan traveled to Mexico in search of traditional knowledge (specifically that involving sacramental plants) and had participated in indigenous peyote and mushroom ceremonies. In Huautla de Jim
énez, he met the Fernandez family. Over the years, he had maintained contact, visiting and taking part in mushroom ceremonies or viajes ("trips"). He is, in fact, an adopted son of the family.

I was honored when Stefan invited me and one other friend to go with him to visit his 'family' in Mexico. The following is a report of that memorable trip...

At the start of the rainy season in the summer of 2001 we flew to Mexico to the state of Oaxaca. From there, we traveled by bus to Huautla de Jimenez, a seven hour trip on winding mountain roads. Along the way, we encountered deep ruts, landslides, and washouts. We were greeted at the bus by a Fernandez family member and we walked to their house. The family of three generations was pleased to see Stefan and to meet his friends. We were accepted as family and were treated warmly.
Huautla de Jimenez is the town where Gordon Wasson verified the practice of what he called "mycolatry" (mushroom worship). Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina were researching mushroom vocabularies and attitudes around the world. In 1952 they received a letter from their publisher and one from the author Robert Graves. These letters alerted them to the possible practice of mushroom religion in Mesoamerica. They went to Mexico in 1953, 1954 and 1955. On the night of June 29-30, 1955 they verified the practice first hand. Their research and experiences were published in Life magazine in 1957 and in their books, Mushrooms, Russia and History and The Wondrous Mushroom.
Huautla de Jimenez is a small town in the state of Oaxaca at 5500 feet elevation. We were looking down on clouds and up at high mountain peaks. The town is in an area known in Mazatec as Tejao, The Eagle's Nest.
We planned our visit to coincide with the early weeks of the rainy season. We hoped to encounter the "landslide mushroom", so named because it emerges from the soil of landslides caused by the rains.
And the rain is magnificent. One rainfall lasted about 30 hours, moderate to heavy. And we got a lightning light show one night that extended across the sky for hours! And there is no flooding. The building sites slope downhill ever so slightly. The water is guided or channeled to run down to the river with no damage done.
We visited the town square and the local church a number of times. On market day the square is filled with people selling clothes, meat, vegetables, and tourist fare such as beads, necklaces, bags and pouches. We went for walks often around the town and the surrounding area. In the distance in just about any direction one can see small towns and individual homes on the steep hillsides.
In the family home, we stayed in an upstairs room which had a 180 degree panoramic view that was inspiring. In fact, the majestic panoramas on the way from the city of Oaxaca to the highlands surely equal any one may see anywhere in the world.

< Looking down on Huautla from our specutacular view.

The view to the right of the previous photo.

Examples of the oft stunning sky scapes. Dawn (left) and Dusk (right).
Shortly after our arrival in Huautla de Jimenez, we were shown the hongos derrumbes (the Landslide mushrooms) and Donia Aurora, the matriarch of the family and a curandera, determined the amount each of us was to take. In the late afternoon on our second day, we were directed to go into a little room and wait. The room was attached to the guest dining area and was accessible by one door only from the outside. It had a couple cots and chairs and a table that served as an altar. On the altar were candles and incense along with statues and pictures of Catholic saints and the Virgin Mary. There were crucifixes and other sacred representations on the wall.
< Exterior of the most sacred place I have ever been.

Detail of the wall behind Dona Rosa's altar.

< Detail of the altar and wall behind.The Mazatec freely incorporated Catholic saints into their spiritual system.

After about 20 minutes, Donia Aurora came into the room bringing candles and a stone burner with copal. She did not say a word to us. She went to the altar where the hongos derrumbes were arranged on Brugmansia leaves as separate handfuls. She lighted some candles and incense and began praying.
She began cleaning the mushrooms. These were of varying sizes from ˝ inch to 4 inches tall. She picked them up one by one and cleaned them, praying out loud the entire time. Then she placed them on three banana leaves - one leaf for each of us. She applied a plant paste to our foreheads, the crooks of our arms, and she passed the incense around us. She prayed over us with an unlighted candle, then she made the sign of the cross on our foreheads, mouths, and hearts. She placed the candles on the floor and lighted them, praying continuously. Her sister, Donia Rosa, came into the room to say prayers at the altar, then she left. All the praying was in the Mazatec language except for the Spanish names of the saints. Then Donia Aurora came to each of us in turn with our banana leaf with our mushrooms and said, "Comer todo!" (Eat them all). She waited until we did so. She took the empty leaves from us and put them back on the altar. Then she left the room.
About 30 to 45 minutes later, the effects of the mushroom were very strong and the three of us laid down to experience them. At this time, Donia Aurora returned to the room. After onset of the mushrooms and for an undetermined amount of time, I had images of serpentine clusters in different colors flowing and writhing. They were meaningless and irritating. The images continued. Donia Aurora, and later on Donia Rosa, carried out prayers throughout the viaje.
I started to think about the time and money invested in this sojourn. I was cold and had to urinate. The images were unpleasant with one continuing of a serpentine writhing tubular octopus metallic living something. In short, I was irritated by all of it: the images, the cold, the general discomfort, the praying…
For a time, I thought I was hearing Stefan talking with a being I could not see. Then I thought I heard him ask a question of the being. "What did he say?" came to my mind. It was the question : "Como se yama?" (What is your name?) . I thought for a fraction of an instant that it was an interesting question to ask.
And then I got the answer to the question I thought Steve asked!
A Presence suddenly was in my awareness. SHE said, in answer to the above question: "Madre de Dios" (The Mother of God!) I am not talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I am taking about The Mother of God! Then I got the long representation of that three word answer to the question I thought I had heard. For the next 2-3 hours SHE presented herself to me. In short, I got the answers to just about every meaningful question I have ever had as well as the answers to questions, that if I lived ten life times, I could never even formulate. And if I could formulate them, never verbalize.
Unfortunately, I can't consciously remember any of the answers. I trust that, even though they are beyond conscious recall, they have become part of my non-conscious operational substrate.
I do recall HER assurances that SHE is in charge, that SHE is aware of all, and nothing takes place without that awareness. And I was shown that it is not my place to question or to judge.
I remember that during the experience I was dumbstruck by the honor and privilege of experiencing the revelations that were presented to me. I thought how rare, how divine: astounding, astonishing, overwhelming, wondrous. And this was being shown to me. I was beside myself with gratitude.
The timelines for the effects were concurrent for all three of us. When we were in an state past peaking, the effects wearing off, a state where we could communicate somewhat, Donia Aurora said simply, "The mushroom is the teacher."
I am just guessing but I would say that, from the time we went into the ceremonial room until the Donia perceived that we could return to our own room, the experience was 4-5 hours.
And I said then, and I continue to insist: This viaje was the most profound experience of my life!
Later on, Stefan and I were taking about what happened. He told me he was merely mumbling to himself and not talking to a being and that he hadn't asked any question!
During the remainder of our time in Huautla we would share our views and impressions of the event as each experienced it. However, aside from some generalities about the night, we did not share details. Stefan, for whom this was not a new endeavor, would say only that this time he was brought to his knees. Our companion agreed with me, that this was the most profound experience of his life.
Two things I want to mention: The next morning, after our viaje, I came down the stairs to get the ubiquitous coffee. (A delicious, strong but smooth coffee is ready all day. Anybody who comes by gets coffee first thing.) As I got to the bottom of the stairs, I met Donia Rosa. She gave me an unusual look. I smiled and stepped to go for the coffee. I thought her look was odd. Then I realized it was a question! She wanted to know if I got it! I turned back to her, clasped my hands in front of me, as if praying, and gave her a huge smile and nodded my head up and down. She clasped her hands and gave me a beaming blissful smile. She knew what went on and she knew then that I got a real good picture of it myself. After that every time we met we would clasp our hands, bow and smile. The other thing: when we started off on our sojourn, the three of us planned on finding the home of Sabia Maria Sabina. After our viaje, however, for no particular reason (maybe it just didn't seem all that important any more) it never came up again.
In closing I would say that pilgrims come from all over the world to Huautla. They can buy mushrooms. They can rent a room. But few will be fortunate to have a viaje overseen by a culturally sanctioned guide. We were blessed to have had the experience as we did.
Dona Rosa with the author, after the viaje.
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