Wasson, R(obert) Gordon (1898-1986)

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Wasson, R(obert) Gordon (1898-1986)

Journalist and writer who argued for "ethno-mycology," the claimed relationship of wild mushrooms (especially hallucinogenic varieties) to various human cultures throughout history. Wasson was born on September 22, 1898, at Great Falls, Montana. He studied at the Columbia School of Journalism, and in 1926 he married Valentina Pavlovna Guercken, who shared his research in ethno-mycology.

Wasson worked as a reporter through the 1920s before becoming a prominent banker for the Guaranty Company of New York (1928-34) and later the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. In the 1950s Wasson and his wife conducted field research in Mexico, studying firsthand the sacred mushroom ceremonies of the Mazatec Indians. Their record album Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico (Folkways Records, New York, 1957) was the first documented recording of its kind. Wasson's researches influenced the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s.

Wasson concluded that the "soma" mentioned in the literature of ancient India was in fact the amanita muscaria mush-room. He suggested that Hindu mysticism arose from its priests' intoxication from this mushroom, considered to be the elixir of immortality. This line of speculation was followed up by John M. Allegro in his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970), which suggested the crucifixion story of Jesus was a myth, symbolic of the ecstasy of a drug cult. More recently it has been revived approvingly in the journal ReVision (vol. 10, no. 4, Spring 1988), together with the suggestion that amaita muscaria was the forbidden fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament story. Wasson's research found little approval in the scholarly world. He died December 23, 1986.


Wasson, R. Gordon. Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

. Soma: Divine Mushrooms of Immortality. The Hague: Mouton, 1968. Reprint, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971.

. The Wondrous Mushroom: Mycolatry in MesoAmerica. New York: McGraw, 1980.

Wasson, R. Gordon, and Valentina Pavlovna Wasson. Mushrooms, Russia, and History. New York: Pantheon, 1957.