The Man Who Turned on the World
1. A Lovin' Spoonful
by Alan Bold
'THE MIRACULOUS MAN'
(For Michael Hollingshead)
Date of birth unknown, and inconsistent|
In the presentation of his point of view,
He may have got near Kapilavastu
After some service in the orient.
Certainly he settled for a while
For something eerie happened at Bodh Gaya
Where ho overcame an enemy named Mara
And retained a smug, but somehow moving, smile.
Later this became more pure and poignant
Until some vile and murderous abuse
Mocked his claim to be king of the jews
And made him shrewd and militant.
From Medina he took Mecca by force
Saying man was made from wicked gouts of blood.
It's different to assess just how much good
He ever did. Or ever will, of course
In the beginning, more exactly... in 1943, Albert Hofmann,
a Swiss bio-chemist working at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Laboratories
in Basel, discoveredby accident, of course; one does not
deliberately create such a situationa new drug which had
some very remarkable effects on the human consciousness. The name
of this drug was d-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Tartrate-25, a semi-synthetic
compound, the Iysergic acid portion of which is a natural product
of the ergot fungus Claviceps purpurea, which grows on
rye and other grains. Its most striking pharmacological characteristic
is its extreme potencyit is effective at doses of as little
as ten-millionths of a gram, which makes it 5000 times more potent
It was during the synthesis of d-LSD-25 that chance intervened
when Dr. Hofmann inhaled some of the whitish-brown powder and
discovered that it produced some strange effects on his mind.
... 'Objects, as well as the shape of my associates in the laboratory,
appeared to undergo optical change... fantastic pictures of
extraordinary plasticity and intensive colour seemed to surge
New York City, seventeen years later... a small package
from Switzerland arrived in my mail one morning containing one
gram of Dr. Hofmann's acid, which I had arranged to be sent to
me. There was also a bill for $285. I had first heard of LSD from
Aldous Huxley, when I had telephoned him at his home in Los Angeles
to inquire about obtaining some mescaline, which he had recently
been using. His information also included the name of Dr. Albert
Hofmann and a caution, subsequently unheeded, to take great care
if ever I should take any of the stuff: 'It is much more potent
than mescaline, though Gerald (Heard) and I have used it with
some quite astonishing results really.'
There had been no difficulty obtaining even one gram of
LSDI simply asked an English doctor friend of mine to write the
order on a sheet of New York hospital letterhead saying that I needed
this ergot-derivative as a 'control' drug for a series of bone-marrow
Eagerly I unwrapped the package. The acid was in a small dark
jar marked 'Lot Number H-00047', and in appearance looked a bit
like malted milk powder. My problem was how to convert the loose
powder into a more manageable form. One gram would make 5000 individual
doses and I was obviously going to need to measure it out in some
way. I decided to randomise it by mixing it into a stiff paste
made from icing sugar.
I cleared the kitchen table and set to work. First I poured some
distilled water into a bowl, and then mixed in the LSD. When all
the acid had dissolved I added confectioner's sugar until the
mixture was a thick paste. I then transferred my 'divine confection',
spoon by laborious spoon, into a sixteen-ounce mayonnaise jar,
and, by what magical alchemic process, the stuff measured exactly
5000 spoonfuls ! In other words, one teaspoon of the stuff ought
to contain 200 gamma (millionths of a gram), which would be sufficient
for an eight-to ten-hour session, and a pretty intense one at
I should add at this point that I had, like all good chefs, been
tasting the preparation during its making with my finger, and
must have absorbed about the equivalent of five heavy doses before
I finally screwed the lid on the mayonnaise jar, which left me
somewhat unprepared for what was to follow.
I rented at that time the floor-through apartment above Jim Paul
Eiler's 'Showplace' on West Fourth Street near the corner of Macdougal
and Washington Square. It was a large rambling place-with a roof
garden over the back from which to observe the life of the Village
and the concrete towers of Manhattan.
I moved on to the roof and sat up there and began to observe.
.. I beheld a city of 10,000 angry streets, and giant buildings
fingered the sky; from a thousand throats the giant screams. A
hundred trash-cans tumble lids and litters across the sidewalks,
a siren goes hooting past, and all is CHAOS. My mind was in a
state of confusion, of whirling distractions and distortions and
intensely vivid non sequiturs. 'I have broken the shell!' I laughed.
'Now I step forth easily from my body's prison-cell and live in
the realm of the primordial. I shall sing of heroes, wild men
of the mountains, guardians of the door, and ancient legends....
I shall transform myself into a god who could walk across the
tops of mountains... thousand-headed was Purusa, thousand-eyed,
thousand-footed he reached beyond the earth!... Cuhulain rides
his five fiery chariots across the firmament! Arthur and Lancelot
in battle! The ground shakes! In the beginning was blood and fire....
I shall sing that you might listen and would know the glory that
mall is, now, in his first dawning.... In the beginning, then
... proudly the purple cock-man proclaims the arrival of the Dawn.
The Warden of Robes enters to attend our abracadabra about Acid
and All accompanied by large assembly of Acid Age Adams, Artists,
Anarchists, Actors, Angels, Alchemists, Athletes, Aristocrats
and assorted Acrobats. The 'gates of heaven' swing open on the
court within; worshipping priests from 10,000 countries kneel
before the royal insignia. The first rays of the sun gild the
'fairy palms'; smoke of incense swirls round dragons writhing
on each royal robethey seem to float among the clouds.
It was a very strange first trip indeed, and it was of many hours'
duration, perhaps fifteen. What I had experienced was the equivalent
of death's abolition of the body. I had literally 'stepped forth'
out of the shell of my body, into some other strange land of unlikeliness,
which can only be grasped in terms of astonishment and mystery,
as an état de l'absurde, ecstatic nirvana. I could
now 'understand' why death could produce the sort of confusionIwas
experiencing. In life we are anchored through the body to such
inescapable cosmic facts as space, gravity, electromagnetic vibrations
and so forth. But when the body is lost, the psychic factor which
survives is free to behave with uninhibited extravagance.
It was only after many, many acid sessions that I learned how
to cope satisfactorily with the incessant barrage of sense-eclipsing
distractions, pleasant and unpleasant, delightful and horrible,
which acid induces. I discovered, for instance, that I could,
by concentrating my attention on some object, put a stop to the
whirling distractions. The object on which I concentrated became
a radiance of pure light, very wonderfulso wonderful that
one could be wholly absorbed in it. It would be possible to stop
at this point, to convince oneself that this was the Real Thing,
the ultimate illumination, Nirvana! Or the 'Divine White Light'!
Butlet's face itLSD is not the key to a new metaphysics
of being or a politics of ecstasy. The 'pure light' of an acid
session is not thisit may even be the apotheosis of distractions,
the ultimate and most dangerous temptation. But it does allow
one to live at least for a time in the light of the knowledge
that every moment of time is a window into eternity, that the
absolute is manifest in every appearance and relationship, and
that Love is Wisdom in daily practice. And though hard, it is
possible to live this way. It is the development of another state
of consciousness within 'one's' own self, one that leads to a
vision of existence in which only the sense of wonder remains
and all fear is gone. It is also the impetus that makes a few
travellers in each generation set off in search of the grail,
the genii in the bottle, the magic ring....
Once back in the present, when the 'mountains were again the mountains,
and the lakes again the lakes' I felt a degree of apprehension
about the acid I had by now stashed away in my study. It was pretty
volatile stuff. How on earth could the energy of this strange
atom be utilised; how could man adapt it to his needs? LSD was
a bundle of solutions looking for a problem, the problem being
how to undertake a work of integration on a massive scale. Modern
man had fallen victim to the merciless vision of his own sceptical
intelligence. Caught up in a wilderness of externals, he was a
stranger to himself.
Accordingly, I telephoned Aldous Huxley at his home; he might
at least advise me about what was happening with regard to LSD.
Huxley had used both mescaline and LSD and had found in them,
perhaps, the visions he had so long sought. On the phone, he was
very sympathetic. No, there was still no one in a position to
say what was happening in relation to visionary experience via
LSD, though it seemed to excite a great curiosity in the minds
of many he had discussed it with. Of course, there was a lot of
work to be done; unconsciously, if not always consciously, everyone
knows that this Other World is there, inside the skulland
any news about it, any discussion of its significance, its relevance
to other aspects of life, is a matter of universal concern. Perhaps
'mindchangers' should be used in the context of some kind of yoga
of total awareness, leading to enlightenment within the world
of everyday experiencewhich of course under acid becomes
the world of miracle and beauty and sublime mystery when the experience
is what it always ought to be. This could not be achieved by acid
alone but is achieved, essentially, through constant awareness
conscious even of the unconscious, by means of the ordinary
processes of living. Perhaps acid is above all a therapy for the
wide spread sickness of insensitiveness and ignorance which psychologists
call Normality' or 'mental health'.
Huxley called me back a few days later, having thought over my
problem, and suggested that I go to Harvard to meet a Dr. Timothy
Leary, a professor there, whom he'd met earlier that year in Copenhagen,
when he had presented a paper on induced visionary experience
before the Fourteenth International Congress of Applied Psychology.
Leary had also read a paper on 'How to Change Behaviour' describing
the induction of visionary mental states by psilocybin, the synthetic
of the sacred mushroom of Mexico. He spoke very warmly of Leary
as a scientist but also as a man, whom he described as 'a splendid
fellow'. Leary had also written three classic monographs on personality
'If there is any one single investigator in America worth seeing,'
Huxley assured me, 'it is Dr. Leary.'
There had been quite a bit of free-floating acid around Greenwich
Village that winter, but mostly restricted to the 'beats' of the
East Village and a few wealthy Manhattan cats to whom they sold
it. It was legal, of course, in those days, and this considerably
reduced the paranoia level. 'Taking acid' had not yet become the
popular pastime of a turned-on youth, for such didn't exist. The
world of the late fifties and early sixties was unimaginably drab
and dreary. It was still a tight little conformist world of roles
and rules and rituals. Our culture had drowned itself in a sea
of contradictory and conflicting voices. And, politically, Dulles
& Co. had tied the coldwar noose around all our throats. We
had finally conned ourselves into submission to some nameless
fear. Western civilisation lived under the paranoia of the mushroom
cloud. Liberal and religious values had eroded to the point of
insignificance. Twentieth-century mass-society showed the political
inhumanity inherent in technological life-worlds. And it was perhaps
inevitable that some of us took to acid (and later to myths and
ancient stories) to seek a formula that would turn the surrounding
world to dust and reveal the portals of paradise.
But I think that for perhaps the majority of the avant-garde.
in this very early period, LSD was still something of an 'exotic'
whose effects could not be taken for granted. LSD involved risk.
It was anarchistic; it upset our apple-carts, torpedoed our cherished
illusions, sabotaged our beliefs. It was something you had to
guard against, or you might explode. It was a difficult experience
to assimilate. It was impossible to integrate with the ordinary
world. And so on and so forth.
'Turning on' had not yet become a natural part of our existence,
or a symbol of certain life-styles, or philosophy, or religion,
or personal liberation. Yet there were some, of my circle, who,
with Rimbaud, could say, 'I dreamed of crusades, senseless voyages
of discovery, republics without a history, moral revolution, displacement
of races and continents: I believed in all the magics.'
And our Crusade was to launch LSD on the world! Whilst other artists/visionaries/seers
had been content to observe the world, the New Message was simple:
if things are not right, then change them! We would make the dynamic
life-giving adventure of exploring Inner Space the New Romance!
We would set off an explosion that would sweep through our culture
and give birth to a New Radicalism!
We would even found a drug-based religion, whose message would
be 'Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out'! We would proclaim the Reign of
the Happily Integrated Modern Soul ! We would become the first
signatories of a new 'Declaration of Evolution' as published in
Timothy Leary's The Polities of Ecstasy.
After my first few acid sessions, I began to undergo some kind
of metamorphosis. None of the successive issues in my life were
plain, nothing was concrete; I was now that helpless drifting
man, cut off from his roots, with no destination told.
The reality on which I had consciously tried to build my personality
had dissolved into Maya, the hallucinatory facade. Stripped of
one kind of reality, and unwilling or unable to benefit from the
possibilities of another one, I was acutely aware of my helplessness,
my utter transience between two worlds, one inside and the other
wholly within. It set up a dichotomy, and I was at the mercy of
two contradictory yet seemingly inseparable attitudes. There was,
on the one hand, still the familiar world of ordinary appearances,
which I could cope with without ever needing to find any meaning
for, and then there was this 'Other World' whose existence alone
seemed to disclose the nature of reality as it concerned me personally.
In the former I was a stranger to myself, a puppet of rote-consciousness,
a cipher on the face of existence, an object furnished with a
label and a price-tag, numbed and numbered by a neutral time that
is neither duration nor eternity. In the latterIwas not a dot
but a species in the great evolutionary experiment, a conscious
agent in the cosmic processes called life; it provided me with
some 'meaning' for solitary existence, beyond the falsifications
of the mind, where I hoped I could achieve a simple awareness
and even affirmation of the world.
I was faced with the necessity to prepare a set of 'spiritual
coordinates'; a set of natural harmonious rules to follow as I
spun off into neurological space, and more effective instruments
of symbolisation in order to leave this swampland in which I moved.
I was lost and exhausted, ambushed by stagnation and depression.
Yet it was the energy created out of this tension, verging on
strain, that kept me going in New York for a few more months.
I was working in New York at that time as the executive secretary
of the Institute for British American Cultural Exchange. This
grandiose title meant that I was in the service of a semi-official
British propaganda agency in the field of international cultural
relations. There was an impressive board of directors, which included
Lord and Lady Natalie Douglas-Hamilton, Huntington Hartford (the
megamillionaire whom Tom Wolfe has described as someone who had
come amongst us in the role of a 'Martin Luther for modern culture'),
Lionel Trilling, W. H. Auden, Congressman Seymour Halpern, General
Frank Howley, the Vice-President of New York University, Buell
Gallagher, President of City College, New York.
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM
SSA 165 PE 259 1961 Jan 25PM 4.25
W SNB044 GOVT PD SN WASHINGTON DC 25
MR MICHAEL HOLLINGSHEAD
INSTITUTE FOR BRITISH AMERICAN CULTURAL EXCHANGE
CC: HUNTINGTON HARTFORD
1 BEEKMAN PLACE NYK
CONGRATULATIONS UPON WORK IN A FIELD OF INDISPENSABLE IMPORTANCE
TO THE SUCCESS OF OUR FOREIGN POLICY. DELIGHTED TO SEE MY GOOD
FRIEND HUNTINGTON HARTFORD SO USEFULLY ENGAGED AND SO MANY OTHER
FRIENDS ON YOUR BOARD. BE ASSURED OF MY FULL COOPERATION AS ALWAYS.
REGRET CANNOT BE WITH YOU DUE TO CONFLICTING ENGAGEMENTS WHICH
JACOB K JAVITS
My offices were in the Huntington Hartford building in the East
Fifties, which cost a million dollars to convert into Nassau Paladian
and housed, in addition to the Institute Speedparks Inc., The
American Handwriting Institute, Show magazine, and downstairs,
a private art gallery. It was a neat little set-up, and I felt
rather pleased that we had got it.
Some of my time was spent selecting scholarship candidates for
a Junior Year programme at St. Andrews University (Lord Douglas-Hamilton's
brother, The Duke of Hamilton, was Chancellor); and for short-term
credit courses at Oxford and Cambridge; some of my time was spent
meeting and talking with executives of the large Foundations like
the Carnegie and the Rockefeller Institute, to try to get more
money for our programmes. But most of the time I spent smoking
grass; and, towards the end, getting stoned on acid. And, as the
summer of 1961 approached, it became increasingly clear that I
should have to resign. The programmes had got all their dates
mixed up, and nothing about accommodation had been firmed up;
the files were in a mess, and piles of unanswered correspondence
littered my desk; bills accumulated and income was reduced to
almost nil. My hours became erratic. I very seldom bothered to
answer the phone. When people came to see meIwould always be stoned
and doubtless altogether incoherent. I attacked the Queen. I spoke
disparagingly of British culture. I spoke of 'kingdoms yet to
come' with a sort of women's magazine glibness. And I kept having
visions of this 'Golden Dawning' of consciousness in man which
would enable us to get things whole, to see life's magic miracles,
to know that indeed all is in everything from blade of grass to
man and woman. It was a vision of some ideal existence in which
there was only the sense of wonder, and all fear gone; of a certain
state of being that was there not to be judged, but simply to
Cambridge, Massachusetts... The New England Fall was
just beginning, and the leaves on the trees were changing colour;
the air was fresh and clear, like Vichy water, and Cambridge seemed
an altogether nice place to be. I didn't know anybody, so I rented
a couple of rooms in a house on Brattle Street, and moved in.
My object in coming to Cambridge was to meet Dr. Leary to discuss
LSD, or more exactly, to seek his advice about what I should do
with the some 4975 trips I had left in the mayonnaise jar. The
next day I telephoned him at his office on Divinity Avenue and
arranged to meet him over lunch at the Faculty Club.
On the telephone Leary was very much the cautious professional
and I was a bit apprehensive.... Leary, the author of Interpersonal
Diagnostic of Personality; Leary, the no-nonsense behaviourist;
Leary, the number one American expert in personality testing.
And yet, according to Huxley, this was the man who was doing important
new research in the non-clinical uses of the Sacred Mexican Mushroom.
At twelve o'clockIwalked along Mount Auburn Street, flanked on
one side by white colonial houses with pretty gardens, and on
the other by the river Charles. A university boat crew lazed by
the boathouse. On the banks tidy groups of students sat rapping
or reading. Across the river, sharply outlined in the bright sunlight,
I saw the Georgian features of the Harvard Business School, and
the busy Boston Freeway reminded me of Robert Lowell's lines:
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
Soon I was in Harvard Square, and it was not long before I reached
the Faculty Club, an impressive building just across from the
I had arranged to meet Leary inside the main lobby, near the cloakroom.
But the place was jammed with intense, garrulous, smooth-suited,
young men, and, since I had no idea what Leary looked like, I
asked a porter at the reception desk whether the professor had
arrived. He pointed to a handsome, clean-cut man in his late thirties
wearing a Harris-tweed jacket and grey flannels. He also had on
a pair of torn sneakers and one red-socked toe peeped out from
one largish hole. He had the conventional Harvard short-back-and-sides
and a hearing-aid visible on one exposed ear. He was reading the
sports section of the Boston Globe.
'Dr. Leary? How nice to meet you. I'm Michael Hollingshead.' We
shook hands, and he smiled broadly and beckoned me to the dining-room
door, seating us at a small table by the wall, where we could
talk without being disturbed. I asked him to order for both of
us. We small-talked during the meal. Leary seemed a bit distracted
with other thoughts, and sometimes would fiddle with his hearing-aid,
as though blaming the instrument for his inability to catch what
I was saying. So I said nothing, and encouraged him to talk. He
was a very funny raconteur and told stories about his life in
Berkeley and his family and his sabbatical in Florence. It wasn't
until the coffee came that he got on to the subject of psychedelics.
He began telling me about his work with psilocybin, the mushroom
It seemed that the University had let him set up something he
called the Harvard Psychedelic Research Project for the study
of these drugs and to test their potential as aids to facilitate
behaviour change. He felt they had great potential use in such
areas as alcoholism, recidivism, even in juvenile delinquency.
He then elaborated his theory of the game-structure of Western
society; how we all play games, for which there are definite roles,
rules, and rituals. Sick or mentally deranged persons were 'game-losers'.
If the game was, say, football, then a neurotic person would turn
up wearing cricket gear and insist that everyone play his game.
Efficient game players were those who could make definitions and
from them decisions which corresponded to the consensus reality.
He told me that the psilocybin experience helped people get out
of all games, move into a space he called 'non-game', from which
Olympian height the subject could see his own hang-ups. And it
was this insight, he felt, that would provide them with the necessary
impetus to change.
I said that I'd never taken psilocybin, but it interested me and
I'd like to try it, if that could be arranged. I then told him
a bit about my first acid experience, and how I had been taking
it on average about once a week since then, and was now more baffled
than when I started using it. I felt LSD was probably more confusing
Leary said there was still a lot of work to be done in the field.
He had not himself yet taken LSD, but he imagined its effects
on the mind to be similar to those he had experienced under psilocybin.
The main problem was one of communication: how to verbalise an
essentially non-verbal experience in such a way as to make sense
to people living in the ordinary game-reality who anyway thought
of these drugs as mysterious rather than mystical. Here we were
talking of temporary alterations of the human consciousness brought
about by these extraordinary substanceswhich cause a by-passing
of automatic programming in human speech and action, making possible
direct awareness at higher-than-normal levels of intensity and
in other-than-utilitarian worlds of experience. These drugs, if
properly used, could be the source of energy that is to transform
the human mind. But for the majority of his behaviourist colleagues,
these drugs were a threat to their game. They tend to hide their
mediocrity behind 'scientific' models and mechanical designs of
the human organism which are by definition mediocre, generating
triviality and error. As a consequence, they veer easily into
paranoid fantasies about the subjective nature of the psychedelic
experience, probably thinking anyone using these drugs is pretty
Nevertheless, the situation at Harvard was pro the Behaviourists
B. F. Skinner, the American Pavlov, was getting massive appropriations
from the Federal Government for programmed teaching machines and
research into conditioned and re-conditioned human behaviour,
and for whom the term 'mind' was about as meaningless as the word
'snow' to someone living in the middle of Africa. Mind, if it
existed, was an aberration of the computer's 'mind'; man was a
conditioned animal, imprinted from birth for life in ordered,
concrete society. His brain was a problem-solving mechanism, either
efficient or inefficient. Skinner and his boys were engaged in
nothing less than a massive programme of human conditioning, starting
at primary school level.
Skinner's philosophy stood in direct contrast to Leary's. Rather
than thinking of mind in man as some kind of spanner in the works,
the psychedelic-user is more likely to see it as a truly miraculous
instrument for new perceptions and insights about those aspects
of reality which concern him personally. He may feel awed by the
sudden power it releases during a session and realise that his
mind is his greatest endowment.
Leary had little time for those scientists who extended the machine
paradigm to living organisms.
'Qualitative change is needed in the pattern of mind-research
if we are to discern an enlarged meaning of nature and of man
extending beyond mathematical and experimental analysis of sensory
phenomena and human behaviour. The new direction of research has
been to hasten the technicalisation of human nature and ignore
as a superstition all work on those aspects of human nature which
do not conform with the orthodoxy of the body-machine concept.
We must move beyond this sort of scientific tyranny of behaviouristic
and mechanistic procedures, where man is understood in terms of
controls or biological-drive mechanisms. This is carrying Descartes
too far. A psychedelic user cannot reduce the mind-brain problem
to a materialistic monism. He is more likely to see how the current
over-emphasis on mechanism has produced a corresponding dislocation
of vision, one that is resulting in a de-humanisation of man.
He is more likely to turn into a revolutionary than a college
It was getting late. Leary had a class at three o'clock. I wondered
how best to approach the fact that I had some LSD with me. I decided
to leave the matter for another day. We shook hands and I said
I'd call him again in a few days' time, for another meeting. Fine.
Perfect. We parted feeling it had been a good lunch.
A couple of days passed, one of them tripping around the museums
and the banks of the Charles. The students seemed strangely distant,
and, in an odd sort of way, English-looking, probably as a result
of wearing tweedy clothes and baggy grey trousers. Perhaps these
are the robots Skinner has conditioned, I thought, their minds
sanctioned by scientific objective reality as information-storing,
predicting and computing mechanisms, a 'tool' with which to shape
a better life-style in the great American dream. They seemed unaware
that there exists a range of energies and awarenesses beyond rote-consciousness
or the imprinted symbols of rational thought which can work with
a rapidity and efficiency beyond the workaday conceptual processes.
For every moment of human life is affected by the way man's mind
works. Everything we see, touch, think and feel is linked with
it, so that when the mind is extended for brief moments, as it
is under acid, these elements can be used more freely and creatively,
and can therefore be a tremendously important influence in a person's
My need to communicate this was very great indeed. But the few
people I did talk to about LSD seemed blithely indifferent, or
even a little shocked. I felt like some sleazy drug operator in
Marseilles, trying to hook young kids on heroin. I began to get
depressed, feeling that I'd got life cocked or somehow incomplete
after fooling about with all this acid. By the end of my third
day in Cambridge, I was feeling suicidal. A communication problem,
Leary had said. Okay, then, I'd try to communicate with him, perhaps
he would be able to emphathise with my plight.
I got him at the office the next day. I had already mailed him
a short note the night before alerting him to my inability to
cope with my life-situation due to the disruptive influence of
acid. And when he got on the phone he spoke calmly and authoritatively
about how we must all share our knowledge about these drugs, and
how I had a lot to contribute, and that a George Litwin would
drive round to pick me up at my digs and bring me back to the
George turned up some ten minutes after putting the receiver down.
He was a genial and open Leo with lots of energy forever rising.
On the way to the office, he told me that he was a graduate student
in psychology, and Leary was his thesis adviser. He'd taken psilocybin
a few times, and had even taken mescaline at the University of
Chicago where he went to school. Now he was a behaviourist who
believed in psychedelic drugs, which he felt was a bit heretical
of him to say the least.
Soon we pulled up outside a pretty colonial style house marked
'Social Relations Department: Center for Research in Personality',
which I later discovered was the same building in which William
James had done his researches with nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
until he was told to stop.
George lead me along a corridor to Leary's office. Leary was seated
behind a desk dictating something to his Chinese secretary, who
kept giggling every time someone came through the door. A few
young men sat on a sofa quietly reading from piles of mimeographed
papers. One wall was entirely covered with a huge blackboard on
which the day's timetable was noted.
Leary waved me to a chair next to the desk, finished whatever
he was dictating, and screwed in the ear-aid in an obvious attempt
to let me know he was listening with all ears.
I repeated some of my thoughts explaining how my personal philosophy
had changed since LSD. I needed a place where I could simply be,
without always having to justify what I was into. I also explained
that I was broke and needed a place to crash.
He invited me to move in to his house in the Newton Center suburb
of Boston. He said that I could use the attic, which was large
and spacious, where I would not be disturbed. He gave me a $20
bill and asked George to take me over there. Once I was more settled,
I could join his team working with psilocybin. Would I like to
teach a course one hour a week to a class of graduate students
a course in existential philosophy, concentrating on the phenomenological
aspects of heightened states of consciousness? Would I like to
borrow his Volkswagen to drive to New York and pick up the rest
of my things? Would dinner at eight suit me?
He could not have been more helpful. I began to realise what Huxley
had meant when he called Leary 'a splendid fellow'.
Apart from Tim and myself, the only other people living in the
house were his two children, Jackie and Susan. There were the
occasional girl-friends, and visitors up for the weekend from
New York. But usually the house was quiet and its life simple.
It was a big house with a beautiful garden and sited next to the
Little League Baseball ground, where Tim, Jackie and myself would
often join one of the evening games with the local kids. The rest
of the evening might be spent in telling each other amusing stories,
discussing the implications of psychedelics, baseball or travel.
Tim was also a great fan of D. H. Lawrence, and we would chat
about Lawrence's life and his 'message'. Every now and then I'd
bring up the matter of the mayonnaise jar, but Tim didn't seem
particularly interested in trying LSD, probably because he didn't
want to get other issues in the way of his on-going (and officially
sanctioned) 'mushroom research', as it was referred to in those
days. His view might be summarised as saying: When you've had
one psychedelic, you've had them all. But he did give me some
psilocybin to try, which came in the form of tiny red pills from
I dropped three of these pills, which was considered about optimal
dosage, for my first trip. I was alone in the house. And I felt
good about taking a session, especially as I was very curious
to see how the experience would compare with acid.
The effect was excellent, though not as powerful as LSD. It contained
lots of magic and induced all kinds of very pleasant visual changes,
with colours deepening, turning the house and garden into a Persian
miniature of exquisite beauty and prettiness.
I was a little disappointed when, after four hours, the landscape
changed back into twentieth-century American reality. But I enjoyed
it and used to take it pretty regularly after that. Perhaps after
all, LSD was too powerful for our fragile nervous systems to bear?
Besides, the effects of psilocybin were of only four hours' duration,
compared to anything up to twelve hours on high-dosage acid.
I had been living at Tim's for about a couple of weeks when Maynard
Fergusson, the Canadian trumpet player, arrived with his wife,
Flo. They were old close friends of Tim, and to us seemed the
ultimate manifestations of the current New York 'in' crowd they
were witty, urbane, hip, and cool in all areas. They also enjoyed
There was in those days no popular voice speaking for marijuana,
although it was considered by the 'in' crowd to be the last word
in status symbols. It was also illegal, a fact that made Tim feel
a bit paranoid about people smoking it in his house. He did not
use it himself. He took nothing stronger than a few micrograms
of psilocybin. And of course wine and whisky, which he believed
were 'indispensable luxuries'.
One evening the subject turned to LSD. They discussed acid in
terms of a fluent flow of neologisms, jazz slang, and weird verbal
formulations. They treated the subject lightly, as they also would
marijuana and getting stoned in general. And it became apparent
to me that they had never actually tried it.
Later, when they heard that I had some, they suggested that we
all have an acid session together, including Tim. Tim excused
himself, saying he had some papers to mark. But said we were welcome
to take it if we wished.
I brought down the mayonnaise jar and gave Maynard and Flo a teaspoonful
of the confection. I also took one myself. We then settled comfortably
around the blazing log fire, lit some candles and incense, and
prepared for take-off. Tim had been fussing about in the room
while all this had been going on, trying not to let his curiosity
take him away from whatever other business he was engaged in.
After about thirty minutes, Flo, who until that moment had been
lying fully reclined on the sofa, sat up, suddenly, her face one
huge smile, and started waving her arms at Tim. 'You gotta try
this, Tim, baby. It's f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!'
'Yeah, really, Tim,' confirmed Maynard, his face glowing like
an electric toaster. 'It really gets you therewowit's
really happening, man.... '
Perhaps Tim was impressed by the evidence of his two friends,
who were after all pretty hip and experienced in using drugs.
Perhaps he saw that we were all having a great time, and he wanted
in. Whatever it was, something finally decided him and he took
a spoon of the acid.
What happened to him next was the subject of a chapter in his
book, High Priest, which he published several years later.
As Tim described it in his book:
'It has been five years since that first LSD trip with Michael
Hollingshead. I have never forgotten it. Nor has it been possible
for me to return to the life I had been leading before the session.
I have never recovered from the shattering ontological confrontation.
I have never been able to take myself, my mind, and the social
world around me seriously. Since that time five years ago I have
been acutely aware of the fact that I perceive everything within
the around me as a creation of my own consciousness.
From that day... I have never lost the realisation that I am
an actor and that everything around me is a stage prop and setting
for the comic drama I am creating... LSD can be a profoundly
asocial experience. Since that first trip with Michael I was never
able to commit myself to the game of proselytising for LSD itself.
Nothing that doesn't ring true to my ancient cell wisdom and to
that central vibrating beam within can hold my attention for very
long. From the date of this session it was inevitable that we
would leave Harvard, that we would leave American society and
that we would spend the rest of our lives as mutants, faithfully
following the instructions of our internal blueprints and tenderly,
gently disregarding the parochial social inanities.'
[ T. Leary, High Priest, The New American Library, New
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