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COLLECTION Identifier: ecb00001

Tina and R. Gordon Wasson Ethnomycological Collection Archives

The collection comprises approximately 65 linear feet of material and contains correspondence, notes, memoranda, lists, notebooks, diaries, manuscript material, proofs, illustrations, maps, charts, stamps, clippings, artifacts, original artwork, moving image, audio, and photographic material pertaining to the Wassons' ethnomycological research and Gordon Wasson’s literary and political interests. The bulk of the collection dates from 1945-1986. There are approximately 20,300 letters, 800 photographs, 3,400 35mm slides, and 200 artifacts.

There is no family correspondence, banking correspondence, or correspondence with Thomas Riedlinger, editor of “The Sacred Mushroom Seeker: Essays for R. Gordon Wasson” (1990).
Individual correspondents may be represented in multiple series. Not all correspondents are identified by folder labels. Within each folder of correspondence, materials were originally divided into three groups: carbon copies of letters written by Wasson, arranged chronologically; letters to Wasson, arranged chronologically; and letters and additional papers inserted between the first two groups at a later date, possibly in advance of their transfer to the Botanical Museum. No attempt was made to interfile the three groupings.
Principal correspondents include:
  1. Allen, Hope Emily 1941-1953; 243 letters
  2. Blum, Paul C. 1957-1986; 141 letters
  3. Borhegyi, Stephan F. 1953-1978; 480 letters
  4. Cowan, George M. 1953-1984; 153 letters
  5. Graves, Robert 1949-1984; 474 letters
  6. Heim, Roger 1949-1981; 844 letters
  7. Hofmann, Albert 1962-1983; 200 letters
  8. Hughes, John P. 1945-1948; 197 letters
  9. Jakobson, Roman 1946-1983; 271 letters
  10. Keewaydinoquay, 1975-1984; 232 letters
  11. Kennan, George F. 1947-1962; 150 letters
  12. LaBarre, Weston 1953-1985; 153 letters
  13. Lawrence, Donald B. 1969-1979; 153 letters
  14. Levi-Strauss, Claude 1958-1983; 129 letters
  15. Mardersteig, Giovanni 1950-1981; 1,039 letters
  16. Morgenstierne, Georg 1952-1982; 159 letters
  17. Omachi, Chiyo 1951-1982; 131 letters
  18. Ott, Jonathan 1974-1985; 315 letters
  19. Schultes, Richard Evans 1952-1984; 652 letters
  20. Tibón, Gutierre 1957-1980, 1986; 195 letters
  21. Weitlaner-Johnson, Irmgard 1953-1986; 848 letters
Additional correspondents of note include: Sir Harold W. Bailey, Jorge Casares, Carlos Castaneda, Richard De Mille, Abraham Flexner, Aldous Huxley, Rokuya Imazeki, Stella Kramrisch, Timothy Leary, Bernard Lowy, Herlinda Martinez-Cid, Erwin Panofsky, Edwin Way Teale, and A.F. Tschiffley.
At Wasson's request, five copies of a book on the subject of mushrooms were placed at Harvard's Houghton Library, restricted until the year 2020.

Dates

  • 1798-1999
  • Majority of material found within 1945-1986

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide two forms of valid photo identification. Please contact botref@oeb.harvard.edu for additional information.
Restrictions:

Series I. Folders 415-447: Keewaydinoquay materials, photography restricted. Series I. Folders 604-605 Objiways II, photography restricted.

Series VI. Correspondence and papers: gifts and gift of the Wasson Library to Harvard University, 1960-1986 access is restricted.

Series XIII. Keewaydinoquay, birch bark scroll materials, photography restricted.

Series XV. Audiovisual material is restricted. Access to original audio tapes and moving image film is restricted. Audiovisual material may need to be reformatted before researcher use. Contact the Botany Libraries for further information.

Extent

65 linear feet (20 file cabinet drawers, 9 flat boxes, 2 record center cartons, 3 slide boxes, 1 oversize flat box, 4 flat file drawers, 3 scrolls)

Biographical note

Robert Gordon Wasson was born on September 22, 1898, in Great Falls, Montana, and grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Wasson attended three years of high school before joining his older brother, Thomas, in Europe in 1914. He spent more than a year traveling in France and Spain. Wasson enlisted in 1917 and served as a radio operator in the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I.

After the war Wasson enrolled in the Columbia School of Journalism. He graduated in 1920 and was awarded the first Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship. He spent the next year at the London School of Economics and returned to Columbia University to teach English for the 1921-1922 academic year. Between 1922 and 1928 Wasson worked as a journalist for various publications in Connecticut and New York. He married Russian pediatrician, Valentina (Tina) Pavlovna Guercken, in 1926. While the Wassons were enjoying a delayed honeymoon in the Catskills Mountains, Tina recognized mushrooms similar to those she knew from Russia. The encounter sparked an interest that the couple shared for the rest of their lives. The Wassons went on to explore all aspects of mushrooms, integrating information from numerous fields, including mycology, history, linguistics, religion, mythology, art, and archaeology.

Wasson worked for the Guaranty Company in New York City from 1928-1934 and spent time on assignment in Argentina and London. He joined the J.P. Morgan Company in 1934 and ultimately became vice-president there in 1943.

The Wassons made their first expedition to Mexico in 1953 to research the magico-religious use of mushrooms. In 1955 they participated in the sacred mushroom rituals of the Mazatec Indians. They collaborated closely with French botanist, Roger Heim, who accompanied them on expeditions. After Tina’s death in 1958, Wasson continued to make yearly trips to Mexico until 1962. He retired from J.P. Morgan in 1963 to devote his time to ethnomycological research, turning his focus to the Far and Middle East. He spent much of his time from May 1963 to February 1966 in New Zealand, New Guinea, Thailand, Japan, Korea, China, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Wasson lectured informally on his research findings and spoke at numerous symposia. In addition to his own publications, his findings appeared in scholarly publications. He was appointed a Research Fellow in Ethnopharmacology at the Harvard University Botanical Museum, and Honorary Research Associate at the New York Botanical Garden. Additionally, he served on numerous committees and boards. Wasson died on December 23, 1986. Two species of Psilocybe mushrooms were named in his honor.
Sources

Pfister DH. 1988. R. Gordon Wasson: 1898-1986. Mycologia. 80(1):11-13.

Wasson RG. 1961. The hallucinogenic fungi of Mexico: an inquiry into the origins of the religious idea among primitive peoples. Bot. Mus. Leafl. 19(7):137-162.

Series description

The collection is divided into sixteen series. Original order and labels have been maintained in Series 1-5.
Series I. Correspondence and papers: general mycological research, 1925-1987, bulk 1945-1987; arranged alphabetically. Contains correspondence, papers, clippings, articles, and photographs relating primarily to Wasson's mycological research. Includes “Slavic correspondence” with Roman Jakobson relating to Wasson’s efforts on behalf of Jakobson's scholarly and political activities. Also contains correspondence with booksellers and with organizations and societies of which Wasson was a member or a lecturer. Correspondents include Paul C. Blum, Stephan F. Borhegyi, Carlos Castaneda, Richard deMille, Robert Graves, Roger Heim, Albert Hofmann, Aldous Huxley, Roman Jakobson, Keewaydinoquay, Weston LaBarre, Donald B. Lawrence, Timothy Leary, Claude Levi-Strauss, Bernard Lowy, Georg Morgenstierne, Jonathan Ott, and Richard Evans Schultes.
Series II. Correspondence and papers: international mycological fieldwork, 1873-1986, bulk 1945-1986; arranged alphabetically by geographic region and then alphabetically by correspondent and subject.

Contains correspondence and papers relating to fieldwork by Wasson and by his associates in Central America, Europe, and Asia. Articles, annotated manuscripts, clippings, and photographs are interfiled with correspondence. Includes correspondence with “Soma” co-author Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty in the India files. Includes correspondence, primarily in Spanish, with Irmgard Weitlaner-Johnson in the Mexico files. Also contains Wasson's collection of Romanian and Czechoslovakian mushroom postage stamps. Materials identified as “Siberia” are primarily photocopies and translations of articles although notes and correspondence are also included. Additional correspondents include: George M. Cowan, Rokuya Imazeki, Herlinda Martinez-Cid, Chiyo Omachi, and Gutierre Tibón.
Series III. Correspondence and papers: mycological and etymological investigations, 1936, 1945-1985; arranged alphabetically.

Contains correspondence and papers relating to Wasson’s mycological and etymological investigations. Includes correspondence on the history of caviar, used in “Mushrooms, Russia and History,” and on soma theory. Correspondents include Sir Harold W. Bailey, John P. Hughes, and Stella Kramrisch.
Series IV. Correspondence and papers: publishing, 1946-1985; arranged alphabetically.

Contains correspondence and papers relating to the production of Wasson's publications. This includes permission to quote from sources and to reproduce artwork, as well as post-publication activities and reviews. Includes correspondence pertaining to “That Gettysburg Address,” written by Wasson’s father, Edmund Atwill Wasson. Also contains correspondence with the United States Information Agency relating to an exhibition on “Mushrooms, Russia and History” at the American National Book Exhibition in Moscow, Russia, August 1959.

Materials identified as “General Correspondence” pertain to Wasson’s Life magazine article “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” (published May 13, 1957), the publication of “Mushrooms, Russia and History,” and to a review of “Mushrooms, Russia and History” published in “Saturday Review.” Included is correspondence with Giovanni Mardersteig and Erwin Panofsky.
Series V. Correspondence and papers: general interests, 1930-1985; arranged alphabetically.

Contains correspondence relating primarily to Wasson's literary and political interests outside the field of mycology. Includes correspondence with “The Book of Margery Kemp” editor, Hope Emily Allen, pertaining to Wasson's efforts to publicize Allen's work in the United States. Also contains correspondence relating to Wasson's interest in W.H. Hudson and with Ambassador George F. Kennan, relating to the Ford Foundation’s East European Fund, an organization established to assist Soviet exiles. Additional correspondents include: Jorge Casares, Edwin Way Teale, and A.F. Tschiffley.
Series VI. Correspondence and papers: gifts and gift of the Wasson Library to Harvard University, 1960-circa 1997; arranged alphabetically.

Contains correspondence with Harvard University relating to financial gifts, the establishment of the Wasson Library, and items included in the Library. Also includes administrative Library files.
Series VII. Publication drafts, proofs, typescripts, plates, and original art; circa 1957-1986; arranged alphabetically by publication title.

Contains production material for “Botanical Museum Leaflets,” "Les Champignons Hallucinogènes du Mexique" (with Roger Heim), “Maria Sabina and Her Mazatec Mushroom Velada,” “Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion,” “Mushrooms, Russia and History,” “Soma,” and “The Wondrous Mushroom.”
Series VIII. Translations of printed and audio material, 1958-1971, undated.

Contains translations used by Wasson in his research. Materials are primarily about Maria Sabina. Also includes materials about the “Polish Folk Names of Mushrooms” monograph and translations of various Chinese writings about mushrooms.
Series IX. Pocket diaries and field notebooks, 1949-1983; arranged chronologically.

Consists of 33 pocket diaries and 37 field notebooks containing notes on travel, mushroom ceremonies, and mycological investigations.
Series X. Certificates, 1931-1983; arranged chronologically.

Three certificates: Wasson’s membership in the Quarter Century Club of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York (1931); New York Botanical Garden Distinguished Service Award certificate (1958); and one citation for The Addison Emery Verrill Medal presented to R. Gordon Wasson (1983).
Series XI. Photographic material, 1950-1980, undated; arranged in three subseries by format.

Contains 35mm slides, stereo slides, photographs, negatives, and transparencies about Wasson’s travels, mycological work, and research.

Subseries A. 35mm slides, 1953-1980, undated.

Contains approximately 3,400 35mm slides. Includes images from Wasson’s travels to Mexico, Afghanistan, India and Oceania, and Japan. Contains slides of mushroom stones and terracotta figure from the Wasson Archives as well as mushroom stones from other collections. Also includes slides from Wasson presentations and research, plates and figures from the monograph “Wondrous Mushroom,” and miscellaneous images of Wasson and unidentified people.

Subseries B. Stereo slides, 1953-1955.

Approximately 275 color stereo slides of Mexico. The slides were originally housed in two flat cases: Case 1: Huautla, 1953; Mixeria, 1954. Case 2: Huautla de Jiménez, 1955; San Augustin Loxicha. The stereo slides were removed from the cases and rehoused in archival sleeves. Stero slides are individually numbered.

Subseries C. Photographs, 1950-1980, undated. Contains approximately 800 photographs, arranged in two sections.

The first group of photographs are primarily of Wasson’s travels in Mexico from 1953-1962 and Japan in 1966. Many of the photographs are duplicates of images in the 35mm slide sub-series. These images are arranged chronologically. When possible the matching slide number has been noted on the back of the photograph in pencil or noted in a separate spreadsheet.

The second group of photographs are primarily research photographs. Contains photographs, negatives, transparencies, and 35mm slides of artwork, manuscripts, sculpture, and artifacts featuring mushrooms. Many of the images feature paintings and sculptures in museum collections. The images were probably gathered by Wasson as research for his publications. This section is arranged alphabetically by subject.
Series XII. Reading Public Museum exhibit, 1982, undated.

Contains flyers, photographs, labels, posters, and artwork used in the exhibition "Mushroom Magic: The Mushroom Image in Art, Archaeology, Mythology and Science" at the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania from May 9-June 20, 1982.
Series XIII. Keewaydinoquay, circa 1965-1980.

Keewaydinoquay Pakawakuk Peschel (1919-1999) was an Anishinaabeg Elder of the Crane Clan. She was an ethnobotanist, teacher, medicine woman, and author. This series includes photographs of Kee and Wasson as well as objects including decorated stones created by Kee.
Series XIV. Artwork and posters, 1798-1976, undated.

This series is divided into three subseries.

Sub-series A. General artwork, 1803-1976, undated; arranged alphabetically by artist name when known, otherwise arranged alphabetically by title or subject of artwork.

Contains artwork that Wasson collected including drawings, paintings, and prints. The artwork features mushrooms or hallucinogenic plants.

Sub-series B. Japanese artwork, 1797-1924, undated; arranged alphabetically by creator when known, otherwise arranged alphabetically by title or subject of artwork.

Artwork featuring mushrooms or mushroom collecting. Predominantly prints but also includes paintings and some ephemera. There are several woodblock prints from the Edo period (1600-1868) including a Genji triptych by Utagawa Kunisada/Toyokuni III. Also includes five Edo period reproduction prints. Contains a set of mushroom paintings by Mochizuki Shunko.

Sub-series C. Posters, undated. Model chart of Devanagari characters (4 sheets), Plantas Sagradas poster, and Teonanácatl: Hallucinogenic Mushrooms of North America poster.
Series XV. Audiovisual material, 1954-1999, undated.

Arranged in two subseries.

Sub-series A. Audio, 1957-1996.

Includes open reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, and LPs. Contains archival masters, published recordings, and some reformatted audio. Most of the audio is related to the Mexican mushroom ceremony and includes: “Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico” (1957); Mexican Mushroom ceremony recordings (1958); “Maria Sabina and Her Mazatec Mushroom Velada” (1974); and Mazatec Whistle Speech, George Cowan.

This series also contains general audio including: conference sessions from the “Conference on Hallucinogens, Shamanism and Modern Life” (1978); "Soma - The Divine Mushroom" which aired on the BBC; “Yankee Goes Calling” (1954); home recordings of Kee and Wasson; and one cassette labeled “Norval Morrisseau.”

Sub-series B. Moving image, 1978-1999, undated.

Includes 5 minute clip and full documentary of “María Sabina, mujer espíritu” (1978). Also includes 3 documentaries about Wasson.
Series XVI. Artifacts.

Contains primarily non-print artifacts documenting Wasson’s interest in mushrooms depicted in folk art. Artifacts are assigned identification numbers. This series includes early classic mushroom stones, dried ling-chi (Ganoderma lucidum) and depictions of ling-chi, Chinese snuff bottles from the Ching Dynasty, carved jade and carnelian, wooden and ivory netsuke, carved bone and ivory, and additional east Asian artifacts depicting mushrooms. Housed with the netsuke is one folder of netsuke paperwork.

Other Finding Aids

There are detailed inventories for the following series:
  1. Series VII. Publication drafts: Mushrooms, Russia and History, Box 3 (Proofs, negatives, and artwork) and Box 4 (Published plates)
  2. Series XI. Photographic materials: Sub-series A. 35mm slides
  3. Series XI. Photographic materials: Sub-series C. Photographs
  4. Series XV. Audiovisual material
Contact the repository for additional information.

Provenance

Wasson gave his library, artifacts, and papers to the Harvard University Botanical Museum in 1981. The transfer of materials was completed in April 1982. Documentation of the gift and transfer is in Series 6 which is restricted.

Documentation for many of the artifacts can be found in the following folders: Paul Blum, Stella Kramrisch, Richard Rose, Kahlil Gibran, Lawrence Gichner, Peruvian Bowl, and Ojibways II.

Separated Materials

One portrait of R. Gordon Wasson was removed from the collection and added to the Botany Libraries photograph collection.
Series XVI. Artifacts. Numbers 14 and 15. Ling-chi dried fungus were transfered to the Gray Herbarium.

Processing Information

Processing Information Processed by Claire Goodwin in November 1993. Updated by Michele Lee in July 1996.
Processing Information Collection reprocessed by Danielle Castronovo in 2017.
Link to catalog
Title
Wasson, R. Gordon (Robert Gordon), 1898-1986. Tina and R. Gordon Wasson Ethnomycological Collection Archives, 1798-1999, bulk 1945-1986: A Guide.
Author
Archives, Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames, Harvard University Herbaria
Description rules
dacs
EAD ID
ecb00001

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames, Harvard University Repository

Contact:
Harvard University Herbaria
22 Divinity Ave
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2366