Vincent Verroust is a doctoral researcher at the Centre Alexandre-Koyré, School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, PSL (Paris, France), and associate researcher at the Institut des humanités en médecine (University Hospital of Lausanne, Switzerland). While studying eco-anthropology at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris for his postgraduate degree, he stumbled upon the pioneering works of Prof. Roger Heim on psilocybin mushrooms. After some ethnographic field work in the Mount Nimba Biosphere Reserve (Guinea) where he investigated the technical and symbolic uses of natural resources by the residents of the reserve, he worked in humanitarian aid, then in environmental education, before starting his academic investigations in the History of Science. He is currently working on the heuristic consequences of the discovery of the divinatory mushrooms of Mexico, focusing primarily on Heim’s archives. Within this framework, he notably came across a lost rare scientific documentary from 1963 showing mushroom rituals in Mexico and experiments with volunteers in France.
Early research on psilocybin mushrooms: excerpts from a lost French scientific documentary, featuring the first footage ever recorded of Maria Sabina (1961)
Roger Heim (1900-1979) was a French botanist specialised in tropical mycology. He was also a friend of R. Gordon Wasson and of Valentina Pavlovna Wasson, before the discovery of the hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico. As soon as the Wassons got interested into investigating Meso-America in search of the sacred mushrooms cult, Roger Heim got involved as a mycologist. Later on, he would join the Wassons for several field trips in Mexico to collect and identify the species of divinatory mushrooms. At his lab in Paris, during the 50’s, he could develop the semi-industrial cultivation of those species, lead some chemical and psychopharmacological investigations, and publish the first multidisciplinary books on their discovery : “Les champignons hallucinogènes du Mexique” (1958) followed by “Nouvelles investigations sur les champignons hallucinogènes” (1967). After a reminder of Heim’s importance in the early stages of psilocybin research and some contextualization of his major works, my talk will focus on the French experiments with human volunteers, Heim’s self experiments, the hypothesis of a psilocybin-induced interdisciplinarity and environmentalism of Roger Heim, and, finally, address the delicate subject of parapsychology and the topic of psilocybin as a research tool in philosophy, basing myself on Heim’s archives, writings and films. Indeed, I have been allowed by the Fondation Singer-Polignac to show some outstanding footages of a rare French movie from 1964.