The Psychedelic Wizard
by Dave Lee
THE STORY OF ALEX
I’d like to tell you a little story. It’s about a young man, called Alex, in his teens, in the late sixties. It’s 1969 and he’s already missed the first wave of the first wave of the new psychedelia. The main books on psychedelics available are Tim Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy, his early essays about the impact of psychedelics on culture, and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, his docu-story of the Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters as they journeyed across the USA in a bus painted in what became known as psychedelic colours, enthusing the merits of LSD The media talk about hippies, but down on the street it’s a meaningless, derided term. People think of themselves as heads - more specifically, acid heads, dope heads and so on. Most people on the Scene are a bit down on users of addictive drugs. It’s not hip to do these things. The emerging values of the scene have been set by the two books mentioned above; the more scientifically-inclined dig Leary and his models of higher consciousness which draw on Tibetan buddhism and Tantra. The more folksy and religious end of it is catered for by Ken Kesey.
It’s all heavily influenced by eastern mysticism, and largely unsympathetic to magick. It’s very one-sided. Some of the mystical traditions drawn on regard magickal powers as mere delusions and sidetracks on the path to complete illumination, and therefore to be despised. This is not the tenor of all Eastern mysticism, as our hero later worked out: there is a whole tradition of the Left Hand Path in Tantrism, for instance, and in Taoism too. Perhaps Castaneda was the exception, but readers tended to find themselves reading exciting tales of power, but with no way to continue on that path in urban UK at the time.
Anyway, Alex did acid for the first time - and immediately found himself wanting to break the rules. His first impulse was to examine what was wrong with science - his background had been scientific so far. Secondly, he wanted to blaspheme, to exceed. He imagined doing a Black Mass up on the moors He was definitely not playing the same game as the other acid-heads around him, with their beads and mantras.
All he’d had was a very low dose of acid, as he later realised. However, it had opened his nervous system to the entry of something it took him a long time, many years, to understand: the Angel of the Future, which is of course his own Holy Guardian Angel, or Wode-self, looping backwards in time to begin his initiation into magick his own future Self, his own being on a higher arc
The next time, the dose was much higher. Alex was spun out of this world, the spectre of his own subtle bodies as six different-coloured ghosts of himself falling, as he was falling, into the centre of everything He came to under the kitchen table of his girlfriend’s bedsit, the galactic spiral condensing into the edge of the table above his head. How he’d got there, he’d no idea. He had no memory of the intervening 3 hours.
Having experienced personal annihilation, he was intrigued; perhaps some of these mystical acid-heads knew what they were talking about after all. He signed up for the Void Trip, a la Leary’s Psychedelic Experience. He took on a mind set of surrendering to that emptiness, letting his self dissolve He had the opportunity at a free concert in Hyde Park. It was a big event, with the big bands of the time like Pink Floyd playing free, so there was a lot of acid around. Alex took a yellow capsule. When it started to come up, he knew something was wrong: the trees looked all warped and sick, and like a badly-painted backdrop. Something prompted him to triple the dose, so he took two more, going for some confrontation with the confused ideas in his mind which pointed at the Void
All the reality bled out of everything, and it all looked distant and abstract the trees turned into gigantic dark plastic numerals leaning against each other. Part of his mind was excitedly saying ‘Oh wow !!! I’m having a real hallucination!!!’, and the rest of it was terrified. This is when he went in, down to the ground, the grass and earth a stream of ticker-tape numbers, the sky a rage of equations streaming into nothingness at the edges he went right in, to try and surrender to the experience. The attempt made it worse; the more he tried to give in, the more frenzied the hallucinations got. It was a hell of half-finished thoughts rotating at a terrible frictionless speed, an inner scream of panic. Suddenly, after an eternity of spiritual terror, someone rescued him: a voice came into his head, saying: ‘You cannot allow this to continue’. That was all it said. Instantaneously, he stopped it, just like that. The world held its breath, and he looked around. The middle of his chest was swelling with rich, sexy golden light, and it spilled over, all around him. He wanted to hug all his friends, could communicate telepathically with people, could understand everything about what it mean to be alive and human. Alex was in total bliss, for the first time. He knew what it meant to feel a living, sensuous part of everything, everything working out perfectly that enchanted day. And more than anything, he learned the primacy of his individual will; he learned that he was responsible for how he felt, and how his life unfolded. In short, at that moment he entered the Left Hand Path of magick.
However, this gnosis faded; the rest of his life at that time was a mess, and few people around him actually understood what he was talking about, even other acid heads. He began to suspect the depth and genuineness of many people’s commitment to their psychedelic principles. Much of it seemed off-the-peg, un-thought-through, mere slogans. Lack of contact with other people whom shared his gnosis eventually wore him down. Others around him were rebelling too against the Kesey orthodoxy, the re-heated Christianity of hippie dogma. But the style of rebellion was aimed inward, at the self, at the body: a needle-fuelled so-called hedonism, which was really just broken ideals and a victim consciousness.
Alex went down into that nihilism for long enough to see that it led to boredom and stagnation, then started off in the only other direction he could see: becoming a touch more normal; joining a college course, settling down a bit. He was 21, and needing a direction, any direction almost. His gnosis slept for a few years; he was in a state of spiritual compromise. But during this time, he grew himself a career, a life and when it no longer satisfied him, when change was in the air again, he was ready to begin a serious study of magick.
Just as the writings of 60’s psychedelia carried over the contempt for or fear of practical magick & sorcery, the magickal traditions that Alex began to study, had had all the psychedelic technology bowdlerized out of them. Obviously, the magickal revival of the 1970’s owed much to the mass consumption of acid in that decade. So someone must be aware of a connection, but even Crowley, with his wide experience of mescalin, seemed to have written virtually nothing about the use of psychedelics. And of course this was the 70’s, before Shamanism became a buzz-word. So Alex found that his nature had placed him on the outside of another world, the world of ritual magicians who insisted that psychedelics were bad for him, and of course had never taken any.
Many years later, Alex began to see what had happened in broad terms: he had become part of a new magickal vanguard, who had had to grow up enough to write their own manuals.
Of course, he reconnected to Eternity, and became his own Angel of the Future but that is another tale, for another millennium!
Looking at the history of the use of LSD, it was first used by Dr. Albert Hoffmann in 1943. Most of the subsequent use over almost two decades, apart from in very small circles of intelligentsia such as Hoffmann himself, was in some rather nasty experiments conducted by the CIA and so forth, supposedly as an incapacitant and tool of deconditioning / reconditioning.
Literature on the psychedelic experience doesn’t really start to surface until the late 50’s; The first widely-available essay on the subject was Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. Huxley took mescalin in 1953, and introduced the notion that our nervous systems have evolved to filter out all experience that does not relate to survival. It became a key idea for Huxley that humans need the assistance of psychedelics to breach this survival barrier for long enough to explore the potentials of visionary consciousness. But for Huxley, this meant a small elite of people, who would be the spiritual leaders of a future society, essentially a high-culture position. This position was of course exploded by the mass availability of acid from the mid-sixties onwards. I’ve already covered the main tendencies in the literature of that period.
The late Seventies saw the Punk reaction against the new age consumerism that had become the mainstream of the 60’s generation; speed, solvents and booze were back in fashion.
The 80’s was extremely hostile to non-consumerist forms of hedonism. The popular drugs of the era were cocaine for those with a job (all it does is make you work harder - perfect work-ethic!) and heroin for those without (it keeps you from caring about anything but the next hit - perfect Thatcherite consumerism!).
Since the late 80’s we’ve had the rise of the Acid House culture. The drug of choice was of course MDMA, or Ecstasy. The dance club scene, evolving from the underground raves of the late 80’s, became mainstream, a new subculture, and eventually a new consumerism, wrapped around the friendly warmth of MDMA. I don’t actually regard MDMA as a true psychedelic personally - it is too easily turned into a mood-drug - but the Acid House subculture did create a new popularity for the psychedelic experience, especially through the sudden popularity of Terence McKenna, who’d actually been around for decades already.
Now there’s a sense in the air this year that something new’s happening. Of course, there’s all the Millennium furore, but I suspect that it’s more than that, and that in years to come we will look back on this year as the year some new current, some new subculture started. Of course, it’s probably already happening, and people will say in 10 years, ‘Oh, blah de blah actually started in 1998 when we put on a blah-de-blah event etc etc’. Taking the history of psychedelic culture as our paradigm, let’s see what happens when we put numbers to it:-
1943 Acid first used by Hoffman
1965 the first public acid era
1976 [we get Punk]
1987 Most people’s year for when Acid House starts, new psychedelic era
1998 [And we get whatever the new current will be called in a couple of years’ time!]
2009 The mass involvement with 2012 ideas.
Notice we’ve got 22 year intervals twice. ‘Oh no’, they’re all thinking, ‘he’s going to do a Terence McKenna and show that everything’s going to happen in 2012 ’. No, what actually gave me the idea was a comment Pete Carroll once made about sunspot cycles being 11 years long, and what’s more having a kind of alternating polarity, so that you get the same type of maximum, the same type of peak, every two cycles, every 22 years. Apparently, the actual maxima were in 1968 and 1979, but this doesn’t matter at all for the purpose of this argument, because it may be that new currents start just after or just before a maximum, or wherever. This is not a serious theory of cultural history, just a fun attempt to peek behind the veil of cultural fashions. The 22 fitted well enough for that.
So what happens if we put in the ‘negative’ maxima in between the big ones here, put in the 11- year points?
So what is the relation of all this to magick? Looking at the timescales:-
The first acid era , people are doing religious stuff, and scientific stuff, but not much actual magick. There’s a trickle building to a flood of books on the occult throughout the seventies, but the big explosion in actual practical magickal work happened in the Punk era, at the end of the 70’s. One reflection of this was Chaos Magick, which articulated a refreshingly extreme version of this tendency towards actually doing something, but this influence spread throughout many parts of the magickal scene in the 80’s. Of course, it was never a mass movement, magick never could be, because it is by its very nature a fringe activity in its most exciting forms, anyway. But the spirit of Punk, of DIY, was there.
In contrast, the emergent Acid House scene rapidly developed its own gurus, who reflected a desire for a philosophy of sweetness and light. New boundaries were erected to keep out the darkness. This basically religious tendency, whenever it appears, always tends to be hostile towards magick, which is about personal illumination, will and wholeness, all the aspects, all the selves which make us up.
So in contrast, we might expect the next subculture to favour magick, and have a more DIY and pragmatic approach to illumination. It looks like an exciting time for magicians and this is certainly a great year to be doing magick - with all the pazzazz of the Millennium at our disposal, plus a total eclipse!