DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library

The Psychedelic Library | Book Menu | Contents

  The Man Who Turned on the World

    Michael Hollingshead

        1.   A Lovin' Spoonful

by Alan Bold

(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

Edinburgh                         1972


    In the beginning, more exactly... in 1943, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss bio-chemist working at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Laboratories in Basel, discovered—by accident, of course; one does not deliberately create such a situation—a 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 potency—it is effective at doses of as little as ten-millionths of a gram, which makes it 5000 times more potent than mescaline.
    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 towards me.'


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 LSD—I 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 experiments.
    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 that.
    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 robe—they 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 wonderful—so 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'! But—let's face it—LSD is not the key to a new metaphysics of being or a politics of ecstasy. The 'pure light' of an acid session is not this—it 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 skull—and 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 experience—which 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 and psychotherapy.
    '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.

    SSA 165 PE 259 1961 Jan 25PM 4.25
    318P EST

    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 be.

September 1961

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 Library.
    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 drug.
    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 than illuminating.
    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 substances—which 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 crazy anyhow.
    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 professor.'

    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 life....
    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 office.
    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 Sandoz.
    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 smoking pot.
    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 there—wow—it'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 York: 1968.]

Chapter 2

Send e-mail to The Psychedelic Library:    psychedelic@wanadoo.fr

DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library

The Psychedelic Library | Book Menu