Sunday, July 5, 2015

Of Hamnett and Hashish

British Bohemian Queen Nina Hamnett, an artist and muse who was known for her performances of Sea Shanty songs, once attended a party where Elsa Maxwell played the piano "with great vigor." Hanging out with poetess and Tokin Woman Iris Tree, they concocted drinks using imitation absinthe, gentian, and brandy.  Around 1921 she would run into Marie Laurencin, Picasso, Cocteau and Brancusi at "Le Boeuf sur le Toit," the Parisian restaurant where she often dined. 

Hamnett wrote in her book Laughing Torso:

"One evening....a man whom we all knew, asked us to come to his flat and try a little hashish. I had never tried any, but only a few days before, the Irish journalist whom I knew, had told me about his experiences when he had tried some. It is not a habit-forming drug and does not do any one much harm....

"I believe that one loses all sense of time and space. It takes about a hundred years to cross quite a narrow street and, as Maurice Richardson pointed out when I told him the story, probably a hundred years to order a drink.

"The first effect is a violent attack of giggles. One screams with laughter for no reason whatever, even at a fly walking on the ceiling.

"The Irishman went through all the stages and finally decided to go home. He had to walk across Paris and cross the river by Notre Dame. When he reached it he found that it was at least a mile high, and, giving it one despairing look, sat down on the quays to wait till its size had diminished. He had to wait for some time, but finally he decided that it had grown small enough for him to continue his walk home."

Hamnett by Modigliani
She then describes a dinner party thrown by a Countess to which Aleister Crowley was invited. Afterwards:

"We went to our friend's fiat after dinner. He had a large pot on the floor which contained hashish in the form of jam. On the table were some pipes, as one smoked or ate it, or did both. I tasted a spoonful, swallowed it, and waited, but nothing happened. The others got to work seriously and smoked and ate the jam. I felt no effect except that I was very happy, much more happy than if I had drunk anything. I sat on a chair and grinned.

"The others entered the giggling stage. This was for me a most awful bore as I could not say a word of any kind without them roaring with laughter. I got so bored that I went home...Crowley eventually returned to Cefalu, taking his wife with him, and so we had no more Kubla Khan No. 2."

Crowley unsuccessfully sued Hamnett in 1934 over a statement in her book that “he was supposed to practise Black Magic.” The incident was said to effect her greatly, and for whatever reasons, she succumbed to alcoholism, dying after a fall from her balcony in 1956. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Go Ask About Alice

Today is Alice's Day in the Sequicentennial of 1865, the year when an English mathematician named Charles Dodson (aka Lewis Carroll) led us all down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Professor Sherry L. Ackerman writes in Alice and the Hero’s Journey, “Alice's being repeatedly instructed to eat or drink various intoxicating substances, after having descended into the underworld, was reminiscent of the function of kykeon in the Eleusian mystery schools. The Wonderland mushroom, suggestive of the Amanita muscaria, takes a central position in this context, as the caterpillar instructs Alice to eat it in order to change sizes. Interestingly, the caterpillar is a principal symbol for transformation…the foreshadow of the chrysalis. Thus, the symbol for transformation sits atop the transformational agent, the psychoactive mushroom. After ingesting a Wonderland version of the kykeon, Alice's subsequent adventures illustrate the mystic's death, as she summons the power to face, with relative equanimity, every manner of unusual being that the underworld has to offer.”

Hallucinogenic mushroom experiences have been traced back to 1799 in England, so it's possible Dodson partook in them. Of course, the caterpillar was also smoking a hookah (as shown here in the classic John Tenniel illustration). Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the English youth who “ate hasheesh” back in 1856, and English novelist George Eliot mentions hashish in her 1859 novella The Lifted Veil; Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was smoking hasheesh by 1875.

The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, with their psychoactive sacrament kykeon, survive in modern times as Grateful Dead concerts or Raves, without the sanction or guidance of society or organized religion, and targeted by mainstream society as deviant and dangerous. At least until the 1960s blew them wide open.

"White Rabbit," the rock anthem penned 50 years ago by Tokin Woman Grace Slick, begins: 

One pill makes you larger 
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you 
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall.  

Asked about the song, Slick said, "...[P]arents read us these books, like Alice in Wonderland, where she gets high, tall, and she takes mushrooms, a hookah, pills, alcohol. And then there's the Wizard of Oz, where they fall into field of poppies and when they wake up they see Oz. And then there's Peter Pan, where if you sprinkle white dust on you, you could fly. And then you wonder why we do it? Well, what did you read to me?"

Slick is now producing paintings as interesting as her songs. One of her works called White Rabbit in Wonderland (shown) depicts Alice perched on a mushroom, chasing a rabbit on a path where Timothy Leary appears as the mad hatter and Ram Dass is the caterpillar.