In Search of the Magic Mushroom by Jeremy Sandford
In Search of the Magic Mushroom (1972) by Jeremy Sandford is somewhat of an oddity in the grand scheme of psychedelic literature – although similar works have explored Mexico and hallucinogens. Partly a reactionary book to the works of John M. Allegro, R. Gordon Wasson and Carlos Castaneda and partly a cultural look at the workings of southern Mexico in the late 1960s and early 1970s, In Search of the Magic Mushroom crosses the boundary of psychedelic literature and travel guide.
The premise of the book is Jeremy Sandford’s search for magic mushrooms in order to experience their psychedelic effects. This experience however is confined to the last few pages of the book; the bulk of the narrative is made up of Jeremy’s experiences of Mexico and the people he meets en route to finding his goal. He tactfully illuminates the mentality of the people (albeit from a very Western European perspective) and the beautiful countryside of Mexico.
However, throughout the book, there is a definite tension between three major groups; the law, the Mexicans and ‘Los Gringos’. With a government trying its hardest to eradicate the use of magic mushrooms (especially from foreigners who have descended on Mexico because of the popularization of shroom use thanks to R. Gordon Wasson,) and a distrust between the average Mexican, indigenous peoples and westerners; the narrative is built around horrendous stories of death and danger.
One could be forgiven for putting the book down half-way through if you were reading it expecting a psychedelic tale of magic mushroom madness, where all you find is the discomfort of cultural clashes. However, when read in its totality the book is actually a very acute metaphor for the place magic mushrooms have within modern culture. For the majority of the book you are transported into the cultural arguments and the fearful misunderstandings of drug use.
Then, at the very end, when one is shown the subjective meaning of a trip, the experience becomes spiritual and transcendental; a far cry from the politically motivated, objective, assumptions on psychedelics. For Sandford, the magic mushroom becomes an element of story that transcends the cultural baggage of his trip and in be so becomes a powerful literary simile for the experience itself.
If you’re interested in reading about the effects of magic mushrooms and people’s subjective experience then you might do better looking elsewhere for a read. But if you are interested in the culture surrounding it, the culture of Mexico or even the historicism of mushroom use then In search of the Magic Mushroom is a wonderful read.