Category Archives: timothy leary

Reclaiming psychedelics for the intelligentsia…

There used to be a time, not too long ago, when psychedelic drugs were a subject of fascination among intellectuals. This of course was before they became adopted by the sixties counterculture and swiftly demonized and legislated against. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for the sixties counterculture and the psychedelic philosophies of people like Leary and Wilson. However, in our rose-tinted nostalgic fascination with the sixties the earlier intellectual interest in these drugs is often forgotten. This is not to say that thinkers such as Leary and Wilson weren’t intellectuals, in fact I would argue that they are two of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. They were just a little early. What I mean to say is that prior to that movement there was a time when people who were effectively buttoned-up were experimenting with these drugs. There was a time when the media reported on psychedelics with a measured and fascinated tone. There was a time when discussing the psychedelic experience was inches away from being an acceptable activity.

It was in 1954, a decade before the Summer of Love, or the Beatles White Album, or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, that the author Aldous Huxley declared in The Doors of Perception that:

To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large—this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.

Now this is not only beautifully written but it is also a world away from sixties sloganeering “Turn On, Tune in, and Drop Out” (valuable as that advice might also be). The notion that such an experience might be of “inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual” seems downright radical in the modern era which is sadly lacking intellectuals willing or able to articulate the value of the psychedelic experience never mind arguing for its adoption on a wide scale (bar a few notable exceptions we will address later on). If Huxley’s book introduced the psychedelic experience to a serious, literary audience a widely read 1957 article in Life magazine published by the ‘New York banker’ Gordon Wasson entitled Seeking the Magic Mushroom (available here) introduced it to a wide popular readership. As Wikipedia points out, this article had repercussions far beyond the edification and entertainment of the general audience it was intended for:

In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the vice president of J.P.Morgan, published an article in Life extolling the virtues of magic mushrooms.This prompted Albert Hofmann to isolate psilocybin in 1958 for distribution by Sandoz alongside LSD in the U.S., further raising interest in LSD in the mass media. Following Wasson’s report, Timothy Leary visited Mexico to experience the mushrooms.

To get an even clearer idea of how psychedelic drugs were an intellectual-dare we even say ‘middle class’- object of fascination in the fifties there is no more convincing (and retrospectively amusing) evidence than the video below from 1955 of Conservative (!!!) MP Christopher Mayhew under the influence of 400 mgs of mescaline for BBC’s Panorama. For anyone wanting to follow this up this version of the clip is taken from the longer BBC documentary Hoffman’s Potion, which can be watched here.

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Comics are Magic part 2: Using Superheroes for Divination and Manifestation

In Comics are Magic Part 1 we discussed some strange coincidences and comic book predictions. In this part I want to discuss the use of comics to deliberately manifest such coincidences and changes in reality. First of all it might help to consider the intuitive capabilities of comics creators, starting with Jack Kirby. Kirby is arguably the most influential comics artist of all time, especially in terms of superhero comics. Chris Knowles, author of the excellent Our Gods Wear Spandex, has written frequently about Kirby over at his blog Secret Sun. Knowles says,  “Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being “hermetically sealed in his own imagination.” I’d counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper.” Knowles suggests that

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Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the comix underground

Page from John Thompson's Book of Raziel (1969)

Portrait of RAW from Cosmic Trigger Artist: John Thompson

As I wrote in part 2 (part 1 here) Robert Anton Wilson’s brand of ‘scientific-shamanism’ is linked to a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, a postuman form not uncommon in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes  in the 60s/70s  constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Having briefly considered what seems to be a largely implicit influence of RAW on the work of Moore and Morrison, it occurred to me that Wilson’s cultural milieu might align him with the comix underground in some way. As I said in Part 2 underground comix are not my speciality but curiosity led me to investigate te idea a bit further. So what follows is a brief investigation into the topic by someone who is not an expert. Still, I think I’ve unearthed some interesting tit-bits and hope that if anyone has any further information they get in touch. Continue reading


Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy: thoughts on Robert Anton Wilson

Last week was  raw week  over at  Boing Boing. .Marking the fifth anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson’s transition to a different pattern of energy and information and who’s 4-dimensional form existed in space time January 18, 1932 – January 11, 2007.

I’d originally intended to write a post about Wilson’s influence on comic books but instead I ended up writing this. Will hopefully get to that other one next week.  So this is just some thoughts on Wilson, whose work had a profound impact on my philosophical and psycho-spiritual development and who still sometimes (not sure if I should mention this so I will) appears to me as as a kind of gigantic and benign floating head whenever my more unusual states of consciousness seem like they might get too much. Which, by the way, is awesome and I don’t care if its not really him; everyone gets the Robert Anton Wilson they deserve. So, an intellectual influence then and, in some strange way that only writers who you love but have never met can be, a friend. Continue reading