Doc explores healing powers of magic mushrooms
They’re called, variously, “the wings of God,” “the blood of God,” and “the saliva of God”—the last, because of how sacred mushrooms help people’s capacity for self-expression. Playing Jan. 14 for one night at the Rio Theatre is Little Saints. Oliver Quintanilla’s documentary covers a pilgrimage he took to Oaxaca state with several questers whom he recruited on Craigslist in Los Angeles. Their destination was a ritual mushroom healing session.
Quintanilla’s fellow travelers include a couple who crew in the porn industry. The money is good, but they hate spending their time in a business that, in their opinion, takes the sacredness out of sex. Another client is a woman who feels dead inside because she can’t make connections with men. Two others have physical problems. Under the guidance of the Mazatec healer woman Natalia Martinez, and using the mushrooms she provides, the visitors make an inward journey to face their problems.
Quintanilla, who will be on hand Jan. 14, first visited the Oaxacan hamlet where Martinez works in 2000. “It’s some five hours from Puebla, close to the Veracruz border,” Quintanilla explains. “I wanted to make a movie with Natalia, but she was not interested. It was not until five years after that initial meeting that I gained her trust.”
In America, psychedelic mushrooms are illegal to possess or sell. Mexico has no such laws. Various cultures have kept their pre-Columbian rituals alive by blending them with Catholicism. As we see in the village of Huautla de Jimenez, the mushrooms are even embroidered into the altar cloths in the church.
Santa Cruz’s Linda Rosewood, who describes herself as “a lesbian witch with a day-job at the University,” saw Little Saints at the 2014 Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado. “It’s the only mushroom festival mentioning the entheogenic [“God-revealing”] qualities of mushrooms,” she says. Rosewood is an enthusiast on the subject, driving around town with an amanita muscaria mushroom painted on the hood of her truck.
“They call it a magic mushroom, but one thing I learned at Telluride is that all mushrooms are magic. They’re not a plant, not an animal—they’re a kingdom that is also a network. This movie is for people like me who wanted to hear mushrooms talked about in an intelligent way—as a medicine that can help people. What I hope people get out of watching this movie is a window into an ancient but efficacious method of solving hard personal problems.”
Little Saints includes interviews with various medical doctors such as Charles Grob, Richard Sandore, and Stanislav Grof. Quintanilla says, “I’m a filmmaker, not a psychiatrist or an anthropologist, and I thought that one aspect of the film ought to include scientists and research.”
“I believe in working completely within the system,” Rosewood comments. “Who knows what a Western approach to psychedelic medicine would look like? Let’s just start there, rather than with some Northern Californian shaman lying around on the living room floor. When something’s illegal, you can’t be honest about what you’re offering.” Of course, recreational use of mushrooms has a long history in the Santa Cruz area. Rosewood comments that of the many ethnic cultures that use sacred mushrooms, not one of them hands them out to teenagers, telling them to go out and have a good time.
The ritual Quintanilla photographed is surprising. Martinez’s own altar is covered with Catholic bric-a-brac—a chipped pink plaster Virgin Mary, incense pots, photographs of the Pope, and the Santo Niño de Atocha. But Martinez has impressively acute practical questions for her visitors. And she’s patient, and not shocked by their first-world problems. “She is like a grandmother, a caring grandmother,” Quintanilla says, “But she doesn’t tell you what you want to hear.”
That’s what Little Saints offers most: an encounter with a remarkable woman. You can be an atheist and non-user of psychedelics, and still recognize someone who is in a serious state of grace: someone with a crone’s common sense, and a wise-woman’s ability to give help.
Little Saints plays at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 14 at the Rio Theatre. Tickets are available at the door or eventbright.com. $15 suggested donation. PHOTO: Oliver Quintanilla’s documentary ‘Little Saints’ screens at the Rio Theatre on Wednesday, Jan 14.