IN THE MAGIC LAND OF MESCALINE
Claude William Chamberlain,
For nine hours I was a dweller in a Never-Never Land that for centuries has been known only to Mexican and American Indians undergoing a fantastic state of religious exultation, Hindu mystics may enjoy a similar experience but not from the same source.
As the subject of a scientific experiment, I was under the influence of a drug only beginning to be appreciated by American medicine and psychiatry. Its name is mescaline. Two friends, a physician and psychologist, were the observers.
Dr. Carl A. Peterson, a longtime colleague, had been reading up on the subject of mescaline. He called in the psychologist, a mutual friend, to demonstrate to him the relationship of the effects of mescaline to certain mental states, as discussed in scientific journals.
I did not know what might develop in the experiment and I had no desire to become a drug addict. I was promised that at the conclusion of the experiment I would return to normal with no ill effects.
I had the promise of my friends that they would not leave me during the experiment and that if I tried to harm myself or others they would restrain me. Somehow, I half expected to act like a drunken man or a narcotic victim, despite their assurances to the contrary.
Shortly after breakfast, I drank a small glass of water containing less than half a gram of mescaline.
I was on my way!
I sat in the laboratory for an hour discussing current matters with my two friends—and nothing happened! A short time later, I closed my eyes for a moment and began to see “things.” I call them “things” because I have no words to describe them. Not living creatures, people or tangible objects but forms of light and color that slid and expanded and revolved in constantly changing patterns.
Something like a blooming, bright red rose evolved into a scarlet dance of lights and shadowy contrasts. Golden spheres melted into azure and pink sunsets, becoming flat planes of intense beauty.
A glorious aurora borealis flashed at an angle and became a series of rainbows that developed into showers of glittering raindrops of amazing splendor.
I opened my eyes and tried to describe what I had observed but knew I couldn't convey to my friends such a visualization. They had no capacity for understanding and the dictionary held no words to paint the pictures. It was the achievement of what Hindu mystics sometimes devote their lives to reach.
I glanced out the window at the Royal palm and my eyes became glued to the sight registering in my brain. The tree had been only a handsome, stately palm, no different from countless others I had seen in California, Florida and south of the border. Now it was transformed into something magnificent and beautiful beyond description.
Up to this point there had been no untoward sounds, odors or other sensations. I didn't have any feelings either pleasant or unpleasant. But, I was looking upon everything dispassionately, with cold objectivity. The warm friendship that existed between my two companions and me had not carried over into my new world. I felt nothing toward them. Except that I continued to talk to them, they might have been strangers a thousand miles removed from the scene. I realized who they were, well enough, but it left me unmoved. They were quite outside the new me.
I continued to gaze out the window at the Royal palm. The colors were so brilliantly vivid — the brown, the yellow, the green and the various shades from black to gray. They fascinated me; imprisoned my interest as some enthralling and fantastic landscape might. I guess that I was seeing a tree such as the poet tried to describe when he sang that only God can make a tree. I felt for the first time in my life, that I was looking through the eyes of Michelangelo and seeing what he would like to paint but what he found impossible to bring from his brush.
The tree seemed to have an inner light, an individuality, a more than human significance. It was a symbol of the gods at their best – a magnificent creation of indescribable splendor. The source of these magnificent sights, mescaline, is an ancient drug and has been used in crude form for centuries. The South western Indians and the natives of Mexico, who use it as a part of their regular Christian worship, have been condemned by self-appointed moralists who know nothing of peyote, the plant from which mescaline is made.
Lately, Indian tribes of Northern Wisconsin have been using the drug in their religion. Since it now is produced synthetically, its use no longer depends on the matter of geographical convenience.
The dictionary states that any cactus of the genus Lophophora is peyote. However, in 1886, a German by the name of Louis Lewin made a pharmacological study of peyote and got his name attached to it — Anholanium Lewinii.
Eating peyote doesn't seem to harm the users. Many aged persons who have indulged in it all their lives appear in normal health.
When I took the drug I had little idea of what to expect, except that it promised no harm to me. It is not habit forming and leaves no hangover. All I could depend on was that I would be “out of this world” for a few hours and that I might become a little wiser.
Normal people experience somewhat the same thing mescaline provides when they have whipped up their adrenal glands with intense anger or fear — minus the letdown of adrenalin poisoning. For when adrenalin decomposes it produces adrenochrome – and in an intoxication with some of the symptoms of
mescaline. These may include brief lapses of reality-awareness, intensified appreciation of the commonplace objects, either actual or imagined and/ or — exaggerated fear and hate.
In my own case, I was far removed from the actualities of the workaday world, with highly increased perception and hypersensitivities to what ordinarily passes for unimpressive realities. It was a fantastic experience.
I turned my gaze back into the laboratory. Plain work tables and benches became as vividly alive as the palm tree. Retorts, test tubes and Bunsen burners took on lights and coloring that flashed like sapphires, rubies and emeralds – the place was a treasury of priceless jewels.
My friends were questioning me. What about time and space? Did I recognize three dimensions? I might have told them that I had penetrated the fourth but nothing seemed to matter. I was not interested. I was living in a world where time stood still, where distance was no matter.
When I walked about the room or reached for an object, I acted normally- not drunkenly or erratically. I was amused at the interest displayed by my companions. It was the nearest thing to sensation that I felt. Their questions were so stupid that I occasionally laughed aloud. But my sense of superiority was not an emotion.
A walk to the doorway may have taken me centuries for all I knew or cared. The furniture around me held my attention. I saw exquisite beauty in every ordinary chair rung, in the plain frame of a picture, the binding of books. The ordinary pencil that I picked up from a desk flashed with sublime color; the shape engrossed me and the rubber tip glittered far brighter than the star on a fairy's wand.
I spent centuries studying the blue veins in my hands. I never had realized how beautiful hands could be. They never had been properly evaluated by sculptor poet or painter. But my appreciation was strictly objective without emotion.
My friends decided that my thinking was straight enough. I spoke coherently and intelligently, according to their standards. But, I lacked interest in cause and effect. When the psychologist suggested that we take a walk, I saw no occasion for it. I seemed to be physically lethargic and too preoccupied with my immediate surroundings to seek any change.
I was satisfied to sit or stand and spend hours or years or centuries admiring a glass of plain water that was alive with undreamed-of lights and fabulous colors.
Color perception was heightened to the point that a shadow caused by a wrinkle in my shirt sleeve became an absorbing study in fine shades that I’ve never seen on a canvas. When the radio was turned on and chamber music filled the room, I became enthralled with it, still without emotional reaction.
Time stretched infinitely. A single musical note lingered in my mind for what seemed a year. Or time and I listened to an entire concert in a fraction of a second. I knew now that I was musical authority just as I was a master of the painter's art.
I felt that for the first time I was seeing the world as it really is – not the way man visualizes it in his happiest and most efficient moments. Nothing beyond awareness and appreciation was important.
Without emotion or resentment I tried to ignore my companions, who did not belong to my new universe and had nothing in common with me. I saw them as pretentious upstarts. What could they know about the world in which I lived?
Reluctantly, I accompanied them on a walk through the streets and they were obliged to pull me away from fabulous sights that engrossed me but which they gave but a passing glance. To avoid their interruptions, I closed my mind to the street scenes and recalled pages from books I had read that now, for the first time, I could truly appreciate. I knew I could spend an eternity visualizing a Maupassant twilight or an incident in a stage production of Hamlet. A single phrase from Thoreau or Emerson could charm me indefinitely.
I saw that other people were merely existing or vegetating despite their silly activity; stupidly they worked and worried and tried to change things that were not important
Sometimes a fragment of speech or a tone in the voice of one of my companions held me entranced until I was shocked back to a semblance of reality by command or action from them. They told me later that my eyes held the vacancy of a person who sees nothing going on around him.
I had no appetite but I ate a hearty lunch and would have spent the afternoon enjoying the exquisite shades of color in a salad but my companions urged me on to a variety of experiences. They later told me that I was as susceptible as hypnotic subject but that was reluctant to change my interests and that it was difficult to hurry me.
My physical self seemed no part of me. There was no numbness nor other physical sensations of importance. When Dr. Peterson pinched me and pricked me with a needle I hardly felt it. I had lost awareness of my physical body.
I had no fears until after about eight hours, when I began to sense that I was losing the effects of the mescaline. I dreaded the return to the common world, the subordinating of my mind to the unimportant problems of everyday life.
What amounted to panic gradually subsided and I reluctantly adjusted myself to looking at the world as others see it. As the drug wore off, I realized I was losing something priceless – something I might never again experience.
This satisfaction with a drugged state of mind seems to be a possible danger from peyote or mescaline. It provides flight from boredom and struggle in normal life and if it continues to prove harmless, it might well become a substitute for alcohol and narcotics.
Peyote is the only known drug used exclusively for religious purposes. The Native American Church was founded by the Kiowa-Comanche Indians in 1918. Peyote already was common among its members so that it was accepted as part of the ritual, just as sacramental wine is part of the Christian creed.
A tribal law proscribed the sale and use of peyote in 1940 but generally is ignored. The peyote eaters seek what is known as “colored vision” and a state of mind that convinces them they are in close communication with the Creator. Highly suggestible White and Negro religious fanatics achieve a similar state of mind through their emotional singing and hortatory hypnotism.
Navajo tribal police, instigated by dissenters and white authorities, a few months ago, arrested 15 members of the Church on peyote charges. Sentences reached a maximum of nine months imprisonment and aroused the ire of the Church leaders.
Since peyote eating is a recognized rite in the Native American church, the use of it has become an issue in the battle for freedom of worship. The Church authorities and membership already are preparing a legal program to sustain their ceremonies. They would appear to have a case when they compare their ritual of faith healing religious, since any aches and pains are at least temporarily relieved by the peyote. Appetite and thirst also are allayed. Instead of the hysteria of war dances, used by earlier aborigines, the Navajo authoritative elders send their young men into military service with the peyote ritual. Where the white man goes off on a drunk before he dons a uniform, the Indian ingests his “harmless” peyote and has no hangover.
The Aztecs used mescaline in their religious services at the time Coronado invaded Mexico. The victims of human sacrifice went to the altar with no fear of death. This was partly peyote induced and partly psychological. I'm sure that if I had similar psychological preparation before I took the mescaline, it would not have been difficult for me, under the influence of the drug, to accept death, without protest. Probably certain suicides reach this emotional state through fear, anger or jealousy which stimulate glandular secretions and produce psychosomatic intoxication. This also might explain certain crimes of passion in ordinarily temperate individuals.
It is estimated that in 1925 more than 40 American tribes were using peyote. By 1952 more than 12,000 Navajos were eating the button. Since then more than 2,000 more tribal members have taken to peyote.
The federal narcotic hospital at Lexington, Ky., has been experimenting with the drug. Narcotic patients are sickened by peyote but may not react the same to mescaline.
The drug came to the Navajos in 1933 when the Oklahoma Indians traveled to Arizona to join the religious ceremonies. Soon the use of peyote spread throughout Arizona and New Mexico with Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico supplying the button. Peyote is native to the Big Bend area in Texas and Mexico.
The Utes also supply peyote but it is practically impossible for whites to secure the drug from Indians. There is too much tribal sentiment involved.
Texas and Arizona prohibit the sale or use of peyote but, without enforcement, the laws generally are disregarded. Now, the Church leaders are ready to prove these laws unconstitutional.
Some psychiatrists take the stand that mescaline duplicates the mental state of schizophrenia. It is certain that it will be valuable in the field of parapsychology and that secret, unused potentialities of the mind are released under mescaline influence. It will be interesting to follow experiments with extra-sensory perception methods and investigation of the possibilities of such angles as thought transference, clairvoyance and dream interpretation. There is definite promise of new and exciting discoveries in the fields of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. If Freud had been the discoverer of mescaline, instead of Novocain, he might have advanced psychology another 100 years. Even if the drug is not as harmless as presently indicated, there is wide opportunity for unlimited experiment. The endocrinologist should find the field fascinating, with the effects of mescaline demonstrated in glandular and hormone research.
Further investigation may reveal the explanation for the outstanding leadership of the religious prophets, famous philosophers and even great artists and inventors. While in the past, such devices as prayer, fasting, concentration and rigorous self-discipline have produced striking phenomena, mescaline may provide a short cut to similar or even greater achievement along these lines.
Science is probing into a fabulous new universe of the mind.