Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?

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And now we come to the stage of this great procession in which new needs are awakened, needs that are consistent with the world of the Titans. This explains the transition to those drugs that we call “psychopharmaceuticals”. The term is inadequate: it is likely that it will be replaced by another.
Once again, we must point out that the stimulants have been transformed into fuel, while the soporifics have been sterilized. The real danger presumably consists in the fact that they trigger somnolence without dreams. However, with the culture of the bourgeois epoch, the phantastica have lost their function as a counterweight. When the house is falling down around your ears, the garden is also inhospitable. With the passage of the modernists’ lilacs, lilies, and interwoven crocuses, so, too, have the poppies and the dreams that accompanied them passed away.
Likewise, in the middle of this [20th] century, something new in the world of Titanism emerged: a group of substances whose powers and formulas are classified with reference to mescaline. They are substances of an organic origin, listed in the secretis herbarum of Albertus Magnus, but they are brought into alignment with the style of the times as soon as they are analyzed and reproduced by way of chemical synthesis. As in Lilienthal’s motorized wings, these substances were also preceded by a series of tests. As for psychoactivity, the ecstatic intoxication produced by mescaline was the object of research at the Beringer Institute. The resulting reports (1927) provided extensive, but superficial, documentation. Hans Heinz Evers, who may very well be described as one of those curious but minor intellects, did not pass up the opportunity to experience the ecstatic intoxication of mescaline during his journeys. But he did not even reach the stage that Maupassant had attained with ether: for him it was just a symphony of colors.
We owe to the land of Mexico a series of Titanic variants; the soil of Mexico possesses a primordial fertility. The turkey, maize, the sunflower: the chicken, wheat, and the daisy appear to have been transformed into Brobingnags. The nightshades astound us with their gigantic tubers and fruits. A place fit for pyramids and emperors, eagles and serpents, shamans and prophets, witches and sorcerers.
Mescaline and its relatives produce an effect that is more brutal and demanding than the effect of the opiates; they transport the user not just to the visionary world and its palaces, but also bring him down into the depths of the subterranean crypts. Extremely archaic visions recover their credibility. Stimulants and narcotics modify time: they expand it or accelerate it. But with mescaline the earth is cloven; the creative power of time returns to the origins.
Some doctors have entertained the idea of restoring the health of sick people in this way, or perhaps even to cure them as if by a bout of fever or a shock.21 Those individuals who are lovers of art, the poets, might have yet other reasons to descend to the primal source where the river Lethe flows into the Styx; there, too, lay the source of the fountain of Castalia. Forgetting and stupefaction preceded initiation. Signs that can also be discerned in the history of painting. And we have not even scratched the surface of its Mexican component.
A Guided Tour of Death
One of the main problems of our subject is clearing the way forward. With respect to intelligence, this would be the leap that the biologists refer to as a mutation.
A shock, an unexpected assault like ecstatic intoxication, can suddenly open up new perspectives, and it can do so all at once, and therefore without the mediation of evolution or education. We may also think of an earthquake that knocks down a wall. Its intervention is certainly violent; one must, however, keep in mind that, if it was not so violent, this wall would perhaps have restricted one’s perspectives throughout one’s entire life, until, in the end, death, the great equalizer, would have made it disappear along with one’s house.
When the umbilical cord is cut with a blade or is chewed off and the newborn creature breathes in his first mouthful of air, we behold a Great Transition linked to the opening up of a way forward. Likewise, when the dying man exhales his last breath, he is brought with more or less preparation to undertake another Great Transition. We have never abandoned the hope that, at the very moment of our death, the dying man should be connected with new roads. We are confronted by a question of faith, rather than of knowledge.
A penetrating pain, the loss of a loved one or a lover, elation at success or an epileptic seizure can also be associated with the eruption of new knowledge or abilities. We may understand it as access to a reserve of amorphous intelligence. There, we coin money from gold ingots. There are numerous images that can express this notion: the scales fall from our eyes, our tongue is set free, we are filled with the spirit, the sky falls, the sea covers the land. Then you hear people say: “Hearken!”, “Pay heed!” or even “Behold!”.
Everyone has experienced such phenomena fleetingly or in a small way. Poetic inspiration can also be called to our support on the spur of the moment. A great poem owes its existence to the fact that the tongue is loosened: perhaps the only true statement among so many verses. The tree of life flourishes only once. The vital force rises from the roots, it bursts forth from dreams: where everyone is brilliant.
Ecstasy and intoxication: it is hard to distinguish between the state of rapture that wells up from within and a similar state induced by external factors; in the Acts of the Apostles (2, 13, et seq.), Peter is the model ordinary man who undergoes a transformation against his will. The rock becomes conscious of his Uranian force. The handing over of the keys is an apt symbol.
Paul also underwent a transformation, and it came upon him in the form of a sudden shattering attack that left him blind for three days. Paul, however, was a much more complex individual than Peter and therefore was never capable of attaining the popularity of the Apostle who was invested with the power of the keys.
Since time immemorial, shamans and prophets, magi and mystagogues have understood the intimate relation between intoxication and ecstasy. That is why drugs have always played a role in their ceremonies, initiations and mysteries. These drugs comprise one vehicle among others: such as meditation, fasting, dance, music, profound contemplation of works of art or violent emotions. We should therefore never overestimate their role. They also open the doors to some dreadful prospects; Hassan Ibn Al Sabbâh with his assassins offers us one example.
Possession by drugs creates forms of demonic slavery and servitude that require neither guards nor barbed wire. Hemp is woven into ropes, and hashish is also derived from the same plant, and hashish creates even more tightly woven cords: the Boer farmers used hashish to keep their Hottentots under control. There is also hashish in marijuana cigarettes; the dealers in Chicago hand them out for free to school children whom they enslave just like the rats that were hypnotized by the Pied Piper of Hamelin. These children became clever thieves; one day, when there were no more good targets for theft, they pawned their clothes to satisfy their desire for drugs. They told their parents that they had been stolen.
In this case, the use of the term “toxic substance” is justified, and strict vigilance should be recommended. However, when I was in Chicago preparing the first part of this book for publication as a chapter in a collection of essays in homage to Mircea Eliade, I was shocked by the title that had been chosen by the translator: Drugs and Intoxication. It seemed to me that Drugs and Ecstasy would have been more appropriate.
It is also true that the title does not refer to ecstasy, but to the tearing open of the woven veil by the senses. This is closely related to anxiety or even to the sudden melancholy that is provoked by immersion in a state of intoxication. Ecstasy is nothing but a vehicle of approach to a world of essential repose and tranquility. It would be enough if we could use it even just once as a means of transition. In any event, it is a roll of the dice, an experiment, a voyage of discovery. One must not judge anyone who is capable of such an experience. I would prefer, at this point, not to go as far as Huxley. I would rather express my agreement with Gurdjieff, one of our modern sages, who said that one must choose, and even later demand, caution.
Gurdjieff, who gathered an esoteric circle of followers in Paris, seems to have penetrated into passageways that had long been buried under rubble. He was from the Caucasus. Perhaps he was capable of interpreting these phenomena as vestigial folk traditions. Certain abilities have been preserved, on islands or in remote mountain valleys; such is the case of the gift of interpreting oracles, and prophecy. These traits come and go with the bloodline. It is also possible that they emerge from a depth with which we have lost all contact: this was the case with the Etruscan element among the Romans and the Celtic element on our present-day Atlantic seaboard.
Like many of his fellow Caucasians, Gurdjieff had a taste for strong distilled drinks. It seems, in general, that the initiate does not have to abide by the same rules as his followers. It is not uncommon for an enlightened master to die from overindulgence after feasting on wild boar. Asceticism can be as effective as intoxication. As we have said, they are nothing but vehicles. Not everyone, however, is able to judge when it is better to opt for one or the other.
Gurdjieff did not grant much importance to drugs, in any event, much less than Huxley, who saw Mescaline as a kind of substitute for religion. The Caucasian thought, however, that it would be good, once in their lives, to submerge the acolytes in a waterfall, until they could not endure it any longer, to show them the possibilities that lie beyond the routine. Then one could work on their personalities for ten, maybe twenty years.
The same method, therefore, which was employed by the Old Man of the Mountain, but with metaphysical intentions. The abbot of a Syrian monastery followed different principles, for, as Cassian informs us, he locked his novices in wooden lockers and ordered them to clean them every morning for one year. This had to be carried out as an exercise of patience and obedience.
Is this therefore a question of two different pedagogical methods? Yes, but every doctrine must incorporate more than a method. Schools are also vehicles, and they are worthless when they ignore the goal. Every passable road must reflect the road of life.
The Syrian abbot knew that life is hard, and that, nonetheless, devoted patience is worthy of recompense that beggars the imagination. His wooden locker was a reflection of the Tree of Life or the palm tree that will finally bear fruit.
Gurdjieff operated within the same topos, the same tao. He wanted, however, to present the palm tree with its fruit in the magical image … not as a mirage seen in a sojourn in the desert, nor as an otherworldly promise, but as an attainable goal. Therefore, it was not an illusory reflection, but one that anticipates the real goal.
Anyway, not even all mirages are altogether unreal. They are based on something tangible: real palm trees, real springs, a real oasis. And everything is more beautiful in the imagination. If one does not achieve the goal it is not because the goal does not exist, but because the senses and perception that grant their assent to these tangible objects are inadequate. One is led astray not by the incontrovertible truth, but the insufficient system, the lack of intelligence and instinct.
The appearance is not unreal, but it is rather a sign upon which one must base one’s decisions. The real location of the oasis can be determined with a map and a compass. The traveler in the desert is consumed in the desert for a lack of knowledge or for an excess of thirst: in short, because he does not roar “like the stag yearning for fresh water”.
Wherever one cannot distinguish between desert and oasis, one cannot speak of abundance. It is true that even the most waterless desert can be irrigated and farmed thanks to modern technology. But this affects our argument only tangentially.
The Syrian abbot set the bar much higher than Gurdjieff, compared to whom the latter seems like a Simon Magus facing the Apostles. Both, however, lived in the desert: they sojourned in the vicinity of the gateway to death. Approaches of greater or lesser degrees of transcendence.
Here we must insert a note that, like our observation about the irrigation of the desert, must only serve ad usum of those who are on the verge of transition, and this is how it must be understood. It is not a matter of indifference to know whether you are in a doorway or a waiting room. Here one can ask about the location of the exit and also about the route and schedule. Information that can be particularly valuable in places threatened by catastrophe.
This is why, since the most remote eras, in ceremonies and festivals, rites, initiations and mysteries, the symbolic journey through death and rebirth is celebrated. The annihilation of consciousness is followed by resurrection; the dust is transfigured in splendor. The believer participates in the death and rebirth of Adonis; the participant in the Mysteries ascends from the darkness to the Eleusinian light.22
Annihilation in every dimension: even in the moral dimension, in the necessary sequence of decline and renewal, as it was described by Hamann and Kanne and was an article of faith among the Pietists. Annihilation and healing, a feeling of resurrection, even after serious illnesses.
From afar

Lord, I have seen Thy throne….
Desperation, in every sense of the word. Ver-zweifeln: that is, to reach the point when doubt, and with it hope as well, die or hit bottom.23 Dubitare fortiter.
One cannot consider real phenomena without noting their psychological and physiological implications. Dreams can be harbingers of death years in advance; certain images, and they are likely to be archetypes, immediately precede it. What is the sequence of toxic chains before and after the last breath, and how does the process of dying actually take place? What are we to make of the claims of mothers to the effect that they hear the cries of their dying children, especially when they are being drowned, as if it were a message transmitted from vast distances? Is there some kind of aura that acts as a conductive medium, at least for hypersensitives, under certain circumstances?
These are questions with repercussions on moral life; on the way we bury our dead, for example. Almost every human being will sooner or later think about this question, even if for the most part subliminally. It is precisely here that the journey to death can temper not only the sense of sight, but also the spirit. Perhaps it could even open a few doors.
I am writing this passage on May 26, 1969, on Pentecost Monday, the day when the three Apollo astronauts returned to Earth after orbiting the Moon. This journey will be memorialized in the history of space travel, above all because of the complicated maneuvers of the lunar module that had to remain in orbit at a point at a minimum distance from the surface of the Moon. One can imagine a preparatory exercise for a Moon landing that is most likely to be carried out successfully.
Thus, even the journey to death can be interpreted as a preparatory exercise, perhaps even as a preparation for much more transcendent landings. The crewman is still intimately bound to his ship, but the day will come when he will abandon it.
The Light on the Other Side of the Wall
If we take a look at the growing flood of literature on ecstatic intoxication, without losing sight of the dual meaning of “research”, we shall find little wisdom and much science. Not only must we count among the properties of this literature the analysis of the material and its effects, that is, the whole range of chemical, pharmacological and psychological discoveries. Nor is curiosity sufficient, with its multiple variations, from the “enchantment” of the Swabians to the exoticism of the Hôtel Pimodan.
This is also true for the contemporary exploration of the fringe regions and their isles, where ecstatic intoxication can be gathered like tropical fruits. According to Gottfried Benn: “Potent brains are not strengthened through milk but through alkaloids.” I prefer to think of such a policy as detrimental; there are many examples. In the industry of the spectacle and of public opinion, there is a constantly growing number of hedonistic young people who have been ruined, for the most part, by the abuse of cigarettes and pills, and that rather than having attained to spiritual maturity, they leave this world with medical assistance.
On the other hand, what Benn said about the proscription of such journeys is correct: “Drugs, intoxications, ecstasies, spiritual exhibitionism—all this sounds infernal to most people…. [But] a state which wages wars in which three million men are killed within three years is hardly in a position to talk about damage.” He could have added: and as long as it obtains a major part of its revenues from trafficking in the poisons of civilization.
Benn came much closer to the crux of the matter (or of the third stage) when he maintains that the use of certain drugs, “by increasing visionary states”, can “supply the race with a stream of spiritual insights, which could lead to a new creative period”.24
Ludwig Klages (Vom Kosmogonischen Eros [On the cosmogonic eros], 1922), René Guénon (Orient et Occident [East and West], 1924), Henri Michaux, Jean Cocteau, Jules Boissière,25 Gurdjieff and others have expressed similar views. Later in this text, we shall devote our attention to some views expressed by Huxley. It would be desirable to compile a precise bibliography, organized according to the various points of view. On this terrain, the road must be cleared with a lot of hard work, in the dark.
Only in the case of the rare exception does one manage to extract forms with esthetic value.
A sensation of absolute worthlessness on a planetary, or even cosmic, scale, is giving rise to “a lot of mistakes and little clarity”, and I am reminded of my own road. Everything is approach, and this approach does not possess a palpable, nameable objective; its meaning is found along the way.
Unfortunately, I always have to resort to the use of technical comparisons. These days, dealing with extremely dangerous substances, whether toxic or explosive, is unavoidable, and not just in laboratories. There are operations that can be conducted only through glass, or even lead, walls. For this purpose, the personnel of a laboratory use mechanical prehensile arms: they can also work with x-rays or electricity. This is not the problem. This image is important to us because it shows a correspondence between what happens on this side and what happens on the other side of the wall or protective shield. The correspondence can also be perceived from the other perspective: that is, by the effect of magnetic or explosive forces.
Now, the initiate into the Mysteries who, in an ecstatic trance, treads the narrow borderland between life and death and ventures into a zone where time is suspended, nonetheless remains on this side of the wall: he merely engages in approaches. Entry into the final chamber, the camera della morte, is forbidden to him. In the antechamber, however, something has brushed against him: it is not direct contact, but magnetic; not a causal but analogical action. Time is not vanquished in these tours of the border country, but the fact that one has returned from them makes it possible to expect that victory is possible. Since time immemorial this has represented the good news to us, the Eleusinian light.
If, having arrived at such a border, the senses become more acute or if matter begins to shine with more splendor, is a question that can remain unresolved. Concerning this point, see Ezekiel 1:27-28, Acts of the Apostles 2:2 and 2:9, and 3, Revelations 1:10, and many other passages in the Holy Scriptures and in the Apocrypha, where vestiges of the Cosmic Hunt are heard and seen.
These vestiges shine and echo over the wall, but we go about our affairs within time, in most cases, in parallel with the non-temporal. Even so, the fact that the human spirit was capable of formulating the axiom of such parallels is a miracle that is inexplicable on the basis of mere intuition. It was necessary for the act of conception to supervene. The fixing of the point of intersection in the far distance had already become, in the Baroque period (Leibniz, Descartes, Spinoza), an enterprise of great constructive audacity, which limited itself in part out of consideration, in part out of prudence. Today, no one who values his intellectual reputation would take such attempts seriously and the horror they inspire is understandable, since they could very well cost us dearly.
In conclusion, let us take a look at some more considerations on the perspective that opens up on the frontiers of time. By chance, I just received a poem by Flavia Belange in this morning’s mail:
Where death has his abode

with dances and conversations

and the love of one’s spouse

the bed still warm

solemnly decorated

for a festival

where the flautists will perform—

life is from the very start

only an ephemeral instant….

The death of the warrior in Etruria

where, under the ground

he waits to enter the banquet hall.
These verses reminded me of the ancient cemetery of Tarquinia, in whose crypts I spent some time while on the surface the poppies bloomed and the rye ripened. Many have experienced the bliss that is dispensed there, down below, among the dead. In such a place drugs are not necessary: the present moment is intense. In general, “present” (Gegenwart) is the intensive of “instant” (Augenblick). The instant is the chalice, while the wine is the present (Praesentia is also the presence of spirit, even of power. Ovid: “tanta est praesentia veri”, Metamorphoses IV, 612).
Bathed in the light of a more radiant sun, the poppy bloomed more gloriously. It was really as if it drank wine; by rising to the surface, many present moments have vouched for this. Death is hospitable there, present in the quality of the hostess.
Next, the following question is posed: what happened down below and is still happening? The only possible response is that nothing has happened. This is the sign of the great metamorphoses: the universe does not move, not even a breeze stirs.
However, since time immemorial, priests and sages have flourished on the invention of stories about what happened there and what will always happen.
In an absolutely miraculous universe, miracles are unnecessary. For this reason, the Heavenly City has no temples or sanctuaries. And for this same reason, the miracles in the New Testament are much weaker than the parables. “Your son lives!”: this is not a miracle, but a parable that points to a miracle. If this saying is accepted as a statement about questions of fact, that is, if one takes it “in itself” as a miracle rather than as a sign, then one situates it at the same level of importance as facts like a heart transplant. But the meaning of these words is much more comprehensive. It is a claim that encompasses life and death. Like Blaiberg, the man from Nain died twice, despite the fact that they are both immortal.
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