Sunday, January 1, 2017

Arlene Corwin writes

This Strange Thing Happening

What is this strange thing happening?
An opening, acceptance broader than before,
Love as chaperone.
Sights, ideas, sounds,
A seeing to the core of things –
Gradual, ongoing; every morning fresh.

Things foreign, new and unfamiliar,
Things outside my mental door:
The whole as if I’d had a drug of one or
                                                       other kind,
So new one thinks about one’s state of mind.

A chemistry?
Not bonkers, loopy, cuckoo, batty.
Perception changed:
A little bolder, unafraid –
New thoughts sprung from the hubbub of the old;
New sympathy - rich empathy,
And there’s the rub -
Unused to, as it were, to stand up for…so openly,
Articulately, stating what one thinks is true.
One wonders if the people round have noticed too.

One thinks of Huxley*
Will it stay?
Settle down or go away?
Does it have a meaning?
A broadening, one hopes – but frightening -
A bit.
One’s entering an untouched land.
One hopes one lands just right.

*Aldous Huxley (see The Doors Of Perception)

 Image result for psychedelic huxley paintings 
Aldous Huxley as the Fool -- Suzanne Treister


  1. One of the Spanish conquistadores remarked that the natives eat a root which they call peyote, and which they venerate as though it were a deity." Later, pioneering psychologisys like Havelock Ellis experimented with peyote's actve ingredient, mescalin, noting that it significantly changed pople's perceptions. In 1954 Aldous Huxley oublished "The Doors of Percepton," detailing his own mescalin experience from the year before. (The drug was legal in the US until the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970.) He borrowed the title from a phrase (“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”) in William Blake's 1793 book, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (which in turn had been an ironic reference to Emmanuel Swedenborg's 1758 book, "De Caelo et Eius Mirabilibus et de inferno, ex Auditis et Visis" [Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen], concerning the Swedish philosopher's view of how people live after the death of their physical bodies.) Blake rejected Swwedenborg's Manichean distinction between good and evil in favor of a vision of a unified cosmos that embraced all extremes as part of a single divine order. Although Huxley had long been interested in subjects such as meditation and the Vedanta school of Hindu philisophy (which focused on the relationships between the physical world, the individual consciousness, and the ultimate metaphysical reality), he had been reluctant to investigate pharmacological approaches; in the epilogue to "The Devils of Loudun," his previous novel, published earlier the same year, he had called drugs "toxic short cuts to self-transcendence."

  2. As Huxley described his mescaline experiment, "Half an hour after swallowing the drug I became aware of a slow dance of golden lights. A little later there were sumptuous red surfaces swelling and expanding from bright nodes of energy that vibrated with a continuously changing, patterned life. At another time the closing of my eyes revealed a complex of gray structures, within which pale bluish spheres kept emerging into intense solidity and, having emerged, would slide noiselessly upwards, out of sight. But at no time were there faces or forms of men or animals. I saw no landscapes, no enormous spaces, no magical growth and metamorphosis of buildings, nothing remotely like a drama or a parable. The other world to which mescaline admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant."

  3. In the morning he had been impressed with an unusual flower arrangement, but under the drug's influence he saw "what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation -- the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.... a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were - a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence. I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing -- but of a breathing without returns to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning. Words like "grace" and "transfiguration" came to my mind, and this, of course, was what, among other things, they stood for. My eyes traveled from the rose to the carnation, and from that feathery incandescence to the smooth scrolls of sentient amethyst which were the iris."

  4. Huxley continued, "At the same time, and no less obviously, it was these flowers, it was anything that I -- or rather the blessed Not-I, released for a moment from my throttling embrace -- cared to look at. The books, for example, with which my study walls were lined. Like the flowers, they glowed, when I looked at them, with brighter colors, a profounder significance. Red books, like rubies; emerald books; books bound in white jade; books of agate; of aquamarine, of yellow topaz; lapis lazuli books whose color was so intense, so intrinsically meaningful, that they seemed to be on the point of leaving the shelves to thrust themselves more insistently on my attention. True, the perspective looked rather odd, and the walls of the room no longer seemed to meet in right angles. But these were not the really important facts. The really important facts were that spatial relationships had ceased to matter very much and that my mind was perceiving the world in terms of other than spatial categories. At ordinary times the eye concerns itself with such problems as Where? -- How far? How situated in relation to what? In the mescaline experience the implied questions to which the eye responds are of another order. Place and distance cease to be of much interest. The mind does its Perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern. I saw the books, but was not at all concerned with their positions in space. What I noticed, what impressed itself upon my mind was the fact that all of them glowed with living light and that in some the glory was more manifest than in others. In this context position and the three dimensions were beside the point. Not, of course, that the category of space had been abolished. When I got up and walked about, I could do so quite normally, without misjudging the whereabouts of objects. Space was still there; but it had lost its predominance. The mind was primarily concerned, not with measures and locations, but with being and meaning."

  5. Huxley continued, "And along with indifference to space there went an even more complete indifference to time.... Plenty of it, but exactly how much was entirely irrelevant. I could, of course, have looked at my watch; but my watch, I knew, was in another universe. My actual experience had been, was still, of an indefinite duration or alternatively of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.... A small typing table stood in the center of the room; beyond it, from my point of view, was a wicker chair and beyond that a desk. The three pieces formed an intricate pattern of horizontals, uprights and diagonals -- a pattern all the more interesting for not being interpreted in terms of spatial relationships. Table, chair and desk came together in a composition that was like something by Braque or Juan Gris, a still life recognizably related to the objective world, but rendered without depth, without any attempt at photographic realism. I was looking at my furniture, not as the utilitarian who has to sit on chairs, to write at desks and tables, and not as the cameraman or scientific recorder, but as the pure aesthete whose concern is only with forms and their relationships within the field of vision or the picture space. But as I looked, this purely aesthetic, Cubist's-eye view gave place to what I can only describe as the sacramental vision of reality. I was back where I had been when I was looking at the flowers -- back in a world where everything shone with the Inner Light, and was infinite in its significance. The legs, for example, of that chair -- how miraculous their tubularity, how supernatural their polished smoothness! I spent several minutes -- or was it several centuries? -- not merely gazing at those bamboo legs, but actually being them -- or rather being myself in them; or, to be still more accurate (foe "I" was not involved in the case, nor in a certain sense were "they") being my Not-self in the Not-self which was the chair." But at the end of "The Doors to Perception" he concluded that mescaline was helpful though not necessary to attaining cosmic consciousness, labeling it a "gratuitous grace." His friend and fellow Vedantist, Christopher Isherwood, called it a "deadly heresy," and Martin Buber likened the experience to "holidays from the very uncomfortable reminder to verify oneself " and a "fugitive flight out of the claim of the situation into situationlessnss" -- very much like Huxley's depictions of the drug "soma" in his first major novel, "Brave New World." R. A. Fisher, who had combined Mendelian genetics and Darwinian natural selection to create the modern evolutionary synthesis that came to dominate biological thought, and had established the basis for modern statistical science, dismissed the book as "99 percent Aldous Huxley and only one half gram mescaline" (though in fact Huxley had expressly stated that he only consumed 4/10 of a gram).

  6. The Fool (The Jester), or "Le Mat" in the Tarot de Marseille and "Il Matto" in most Italian tarot decks, meaning "the madman" or "the beggar," is one of the 78 cards in a tarot deck, one of the 22 tump cards that make up the Major Arcana. It is unnumbered but may be represented as 0 (the first) or XXII (the last) Major Arcana, and, like the Ace in a standard deck of playng cards, is both the highest and the lowest trump. In the earliest examples, the Fool was generally usually depicted as a beggar or a vagabond. In the oldest surviving example, the Visconti-Sforza deck from the mid-15th century when tarot was still called "trionfi" (triumphs, trumps), perhaps derived from the woodwose who was a medieval development of the satyrs or fauns, the Fool wore ragged clothes and stockings without shoes and carried a stick on his back; he had an unruly beard and feathers in his hair. The slightly later "Tarocchi of Mantegna" had "Misero," a beggar leaning on a staff. King Ladislaus the Posthumous of Hungary and Bohemia (duke of Austria from 1453 to 1457) commissioned the Hofämterspiel (Court-office Game), one of the earliest card games that still has all 48 cards intact, featured the Narr, a barefoot man wearing a belled hood playing a bagpipe. The Tarot of Marseille, from the early 16th century, depicted a bearded person wearing a jester's hat and carrying a bundle on a stick slung over his back; his pants were torn by some pursuing animal. Eventually, the tarot evolved from a game to a form of divination. One of the most popular modern decks (known as the Rider-Waite, Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, Waite-Colman Smith, or the Rider deck) was published in 1910 by the Rider Company after William Rider took over the occult publisher Phillip Wellby; under the the editorial direction of Ralph Shirley, the firm published its famous tarot dck but also works of fiction such as Bram Stoker's "Dracula." The Fool was shown as a young man walking unknowingly towards a precipice; he held a white rose (a symbol of freedom from base desires) and a small bundle of possessions (representing untapped collective knowledge); he was accompanied by a small dog. Waite gave the number 0 to the Fool but also placed it as an unnumbered card between Judgment (20) and The World (21). Since the 1930s, Tarot Nouveau decks often use a black inverted mullet as the corner index (similar to a heart, club, diamond, or spade) for the Fool. In many esoteric systems of interpretation, the Fool is the protagonist of a story, and the Major Arcana is the "Fool's Journey" through the great mysteries of life and the main human archetypes.


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