Shroom Culture

Wisdom from Women of The Psychedelic Renaissance Past and Present

From indigenous healers like María Sabina to modern research minds like Monica Williams, badass women have always propelled psychedelic healing, research, and writing. Now it’s time to bring their contributions into the sunlight.

Min read
Kiki Dy
March 10, 2023

The psychedelic sphere has a gender problem. Though we praise entheogens for invoking feelings of unity, the flourishing field is steeped in patriarchy. 

From R. Gordon Wasson to Terrance McKenna, the face many Americans associate with the Psychedelic Renaissance is unsurprisingly white and male (often bearded). But that association couldn’t be more wrong. 

From indigenous healers like María Sabina to modern research minds like Monica Williams, badass women have always propelled psychedelic healing, research, and writing. Now it’s time to bring their contributions into the sunlight. 

Here are five you should know about:

Amanda Feilding 

Amanda Feilding stays busy. The 80-year-old English countess has fifty years of personal psychedelic experience and the mind of a scientist. She has been heralded as the ‘hidden hand’ behind the psychedelic science renaissance. To this day, Amanda works around the clock to coordinate and contribute to LSD research. Brick by brick, her research is building a case to cement LSD as a tool in the clinical fight against mental illness. In 1996, Amanda set up The Foundation to Further Consciousness, now known as the Beckley Foundation

When it comes to the need for psychedelic reform, she believes “there’s no other issue in the world that causes such suffering and which could be improved simply by rethinking. Millions of people are in jail just because they used consciousness-altering substances without causing any harm to others. I think it is an affront to human rights and dignity. What you do with your Consciousness is your own business.” 

Valentina Wasson 

Stop us if you’ve heard this story: Pioneering, curious, adventurous white man heads to Mexico and attends a mushroom ceremony with a curandera. He has a life-affirming experience and tells his tale to a significant US publication, introducing psilocybin mushrooms to North America. 

We all know the lore of R. Gordon Wasson. But what we take as canon is inaccurate. 

His wife, Dr. Valentina Wasson, had as much—if not more—of a hand in bringing the psilocybin mushroom to North America. Valentina was a pediatrician and scientist with a lifelong curiosity about mycology which she cultivated during her childhood in Russia. Soon her interest turned into practice as Valentina became a prolific enthomycologist and researcher. The true story of the West’s introduction to psilocybin mushrooms is that after Valentina had already led several expeditions to research indigenous uses of mushrooms in Mexico, María Sabina took her under her wing and introduced Valentina to her psilocybin mushroom-based practice. By the happy happenstance of being her husband, R. Gordon Wasson (a banker, not a scientist) got to come along for the ride. 

Here, you can explore fragments of Valentina’s book, Mushrooms, Russia, and History.

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Ann Shulgin 

Ann Shulgin is lauded by many as the matriarch of the western psychedelic movement (though her husband, “godfather of ecstasy,” Alexander Shulgin often gets more credit). 

Ann, who passed away last year, considered herself a lay therapist because she did not have formal training. However, she was rigorously self-taught and well-read, especially in Jungian psychotherapy. Ann spoke extensively about how each of us has a “shadow,” or a repressed part of ourselves that can be unnerving. She believed the power of MDMA and entheogens lies in how they help us accept and love ourselves, shadows and all. One of her best-known quotes: “The magic of MDMA is that it allows you to see who you are without self-rejection. It gives you insight into yourself and is especially good for PTSD.”

Monica T. Williams 

Over the past two decades (and always), psychedelic research has been whitewashed. Dr. Williams is on a mission to change that. The clinical psychologist, researcher, and professor is pioneering the movement to include POC and marginalized communities in clinical trials exploring the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. She believes that “psychedelic medicine has the potential to help heal the wounds of those suffering from racial trauma and bring healing to the consciousness of those who perpetrate and perpetuate racial violence.” 

Williams has authored over 100 peer-reviewed papers in her field and is poised to be a defining voice of the psychedelic renaissance.  

Anaïs Nin

You may know Anaïs Nin from her equally maligned and adored Diaries. The series of seven explosively candid books bridge the personal and private in a way that many scandalized critics can’t handle. Anaïs’ life, in many ways, was a grand experiment. So, it’s no surprise she was among the intellectuals that doctors consulted to improve their understanding of the effects of LSD. In 1955, she took part in an LSD experiment conducted by psychiatrist Oscar Janiger.  

In her signature colorful style, this is how she narrated her experience: “The walls turned to gold, the bedcover was gold, my whole body was becoming GOLD, liquid gold, scintillating, warm gold. I WAS GOLD. It was the most pleasurable sensation I had ever known, like an orgasm. It was the secret of life, the alchemist’s secret of life.”

Anaïs was also ahead of her time in calling out the appropriation among white 60’s psychonauts. She believed Timothy Leary and his followers flippantly adopted the language of Eastern religions without genuine appreciation. According to her, Americans could never truly make meaning of their psychedelic experiences because their penchant for poetry left much to be desired. 

It’s Time to Remember What We Have Forgotten

Those listed here represent just a tiny fraction of the women healers, researchers, and visionaries whose impacts on psychedelic science and healing have yet to be uncovered. 

As the psychedelic field continues to unfurl with new information, let’s make a collective commitment to correct our past mistakes and hold ourselves and our peers accountable for which stories we choose to tell and retell. Let’s stay curious, address our assumptions with an intersectional eye, and work to dismantle the practices that promote a whitewashed and patriarchal view of psychedelic research and history.

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About the Author

Kiki Dy

Kiki Dy is writer, tea drinker, and dreamer living in Savannah, GA. Her work about psychedelics and women’s health can be found in Psychedelic Spotlight, Healthline, Blood + Milk, and more.

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