Thinking About Cultural Appropriation Today: Magic Mushrooms and Maria Sabina

Lecture | July 18 | 6:30-8 p.m. | 4 LeConte Hall | Note change in time and location

 Patricia Kubala, PhD Candidate in Department of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

 Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

This talk explores the discovery and appropriation of “magic mushrooms” out of their Oaxacan context at the end of the 1950s. Banned by the Spanish conquistadors, medicinal and ceremonial use of the mushrooms continued quietly in a few remote villages of the Sierra Mazateca region of Mexico. They became known to the world when the sabía (healer) Maria Sabina agreed to do a ceremony with the banker and amateur mycologist R Gordon Wasson. Life magazine published an account of his experience in 1957, and this led to an invasion of counterculture tourists to Sabina’s town of Huautla de Jiménez and sad troubles for her and her family. This talk reflects on the legacy of this fraught history and describes current debates about the appropriate uses of magic mushrooms as clinical trials progress that will likely lead to the medical legalization of psilocybin (the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms) over the next five years.

Patricia Kubala is a PhD candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests include the anthropology of religion, transcultural psychiatry, and the anthropology of the senses. Her dissertation, entitled The Medicine World: Psychedelics and the Hope for an Otherwise, explores the revival of interest in psychedelics in contemporary American society. She can be reached at pkubala@berkeley.edu.

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