Watch late psychedelic icons María Sabina and Terence McKenna in action, and learn more about how psilocybin is bridging science with spirituality through end-of-life distress therapy.
Ever since I purchased a TV capable of streaming YouTube, the online video sharing platform I once used sporadically to consume silly viral content and music videos has become one of my favorite channels. Uploaded here are a treasure trove of rare films, absent from Netflix, Amazon and the like, and many of them are psychedelic documentaries.
For those following their curiosity down into the psychedelics rabbit hole, here are three profound films you can stream right now, for free. Watch them while they're still up, because there's no telling if and when they may be yanked.
A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin
New articles about the science backing our culture's recently revived appreciation of psychedelics are being published every day. Truly, there is no shortage of information about psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, ayahuasca, and other psychedelic compounds out there. It's all at your fingertips, whether you're an academic scholar, researcher, writer, or simply a curious human being. But it's nice to kick back and watch instead of read, especially after a long day of work.
Consider turning on this hour-long 2019 documentary that explores the treatment of end-of-life anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients using psilocybin. It features the testimony of psychedelic scientists and researchers actively engaged in these trials, as well as the study subjects themselves undergoing the therapy, interweaving scientific theories with ineffable, spiritual experiences described by those who took the plunge into drug-induced ego death. “It really shakes you to the very ground of your being, and can be incredibly humbling, but also enlightening,” says featured psychologist Bill Richards, who studies the subject at Johns Hopkins. One of the most profound psilocybin testimonies comes from a woman who had the revelation that her breath and the wind is one with the breath of God. When she asked to see the face of God during her trip, she was shocked to be shown her husband's face, serving as another clue that, perhaps, the divine isn't above or below, but right here and right now, in everything we see.
María Sabina, Woman Spirit
María Sabina is the Mazatec shaman that introduced R. Gordon Wasson to the sacred mushroom, which he popularized to Westerners through his 1957 Life Magazine article Seeking the Magic Mushroom. Most psychonauts are familiar with the historic name, but how many know they can meet her through filmmaker Nicolás Echevarría's lens? The quiet, poetic film was released in 1978, a decade after the Summer of Love engraved psychedelic counterculture forever into the collective American mind, and captures Sabina talking about her personal love affair with the magic mushrooms she calls “holy children,” as well as her conducting a healing ceremony with her community in southern Mexico state Oaxaca.
Not only does this intimate portrait of Sabina succeed in showcasing her outspoken personality and radically different way of life than that of the Westerners seeking her out for shamanic services, Woman Spirit captures her deep, Christian connection to the mushrooms she first consumed as a young woman alongside her sister. “One day we were sitting under a tree, when I saw several mushrooms within reach. I remember that our grandparents talked about these mushrooms with great respect. They called them little things, or saints. I call them Holy Children,” says a narrator, reading Sabina's account of her first psychedelic trip.
I put the mushrooms in my mouth and began to chew them. Their taste was not good. On the contrary, they were bitter, with a taste of roots, of earth. My sister had been watching me and had just eaten some, too. After eating the mushrooms, we felt somewhat dizzy, as if we were drunk, and we began to cry. Later on we were all right. We felt that the mushrooms talked to us, because we heard a voice; a voice that came from the other world. It was a pleasant voice, but at the same time, an authoritarian voice, like the voice of a father who loves his children but is firm with them. I felt that everything around me was God himself. I felt that I talked a lot, and that my words were beautiful. Long afterwards, I learned that the mushrooms produce wisdom, that they cure sicknesses, that they have power, and that they are Christ's blood.
There are several copies of this film floating around on YouTube, but the one embedded above features English subtitles, so viewers can understand Sabina when she's speaking to the camera.
Terence McKenna's True Hallucinations
Terence McKenna remains a beloved cult figure in the psychedelics community, and this nearly 3-hour experimental film, from creator Peter Bergmann, is one of the best tributes to the late psychonaut available. It's a collection of audio and video footage of the philosopher talking about his mystical psilocybin experiences, supported by rare documents the director obtained through Dennis McKenna, Klea McKenna, Kathleen Harrison and Stephanie Schmitz, to weave a portrait of the author of underground psychedelics sensation True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise.
The book chronicles the McKenna's and three companion's adventure by plane, boat, and foot to the Colombian mission town of La Chorrera, where they hoped to encounter the elusive psychedelic oo-koo-hé, but instead stumbled upon magic mushroom strain Stropharia Cubensis, which gave rise to a very fantastic tale involving a flying saucer, pirate Mantids from outer space, and an appearance by James and Nora Joyce in the guise of poultry, and translinguistic matter. Bergmann describes the film as “a deep dive into the young minds of the McKenna brothers, and an effort to provide some kind of visual aid and emotional center to a much larger story, with details scattered through hundreds of talks.” The film succeeds in documenting McKenna's existence and charismatic personality that has attracted so many fans over the years, and certainly mesmerized my stoned eyes during a late-night viewing last year, but as many of McKenna's True Hallucinations are fairly outlandish and far from scientific, what the viewer will walk away with is ultimately dependent on what they want to, or are ready, to believe. At the very least, it's an entertaining trip through the mind of a psychedelic icon that won't soon be forgotten.