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jack green





Peyote by Jack Green




Jack Green was a “beatnik” who lived in New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1950s. He published a prototype underground newspaper, entitled newspaper, from a storefront at 225 East 5th Street. This essay describing his experiences with peyote, written long before there were any “laws” against its possession and sale, originally appeared in 1959, in newspaper #8. It was included in a March, 1960 Fawcett Gold Medal paperback (#s982) entitled The Beats, an anthology of  “beat generation” writings edited by Seymour Krim. The essay was reprinted in 1993 in The Psychedelic Prisoners’ Newsletter #2. Typographical style is retained from the original.




is one of the most beautiful things that ever happened to me

i had thought i couldnt get anything from drugs

seeing how happy 2 of my friends were, high on peyote, i decided to try it

pe-ó-te = peyotl, nahuatl word for caterpillar “with reference to the downy center of the button” (webster)

lophophora williamsii, a plant of the cactus family

grows near the rio grande

used by indians in mexico & southwest u s

native american church leading church of american indians has peyote rite

use of peyote is legal & it can be bought cheap by mail

main drug in it is mescalin

(the drink mescal or pulque is from the maguey plant is not peyote contains no mescalin)

a peyote plant with root looks something like a pistachio icecreamcone

the top green part is the button, contains most of the drug

you wash 2 to 8 plants, take off the bark from the root & the fluff from the button & eat

the high takes in an hour & lasts about 8 hrs increasing & wearing off slowly

many people dislike the taste & may throw up & are tired and slightly anxious in the 1st hour

no hangover, and the drug is antiaddictive

few if any toxic sideeffects during the high

i usually didn’t sleep the night after taking it but rested lying down, tho often restlessly changing position

warning: i know 2 people who were in bellevue hospital awhile because of taking peyote

i havent seen such cases mentioned in the literature so they may be rare

the prepsychotic with light defenses against schizophrenia may have psychotic episodes sooner if he takes peyote

not while he is high but after

the drug wears off, the defenses dont re-form, chaos breaks thru

peyote shouldnt be taken when youre unhappy but when you feel at least fairly good

the 1st time i took mescalin
(derived from peyote or synthesized it has about the same effect as the plant but is much more  expensive)
my uneasiness in the 1st hour took form as a belief i had been slipped a “heroin pill” & was hooked for life

then the true effects began, & got stronger as i took peyote several times a week the next 2 mos

i didn’t keep a peyote diary & am writing from memory

there were times when i felt little — i’ll describe the high spots

colors were much brighter & richer when i was high

bright color was the main effect on my senses

everything looked exciting and beautiful, & that made me happy

looking at a peach for 20 minutes i was most fascinated, not by the brightred part of the skin but by the subtle changes of tint in the paleyellowgreen part

objects, for example a garbagecan, had an intrinsic visual significance that had nothing to do with  words, attractive

the more i looked at one thing the more it interested me

a friend, high, didn’t recognize a familiar street because there was so much she hadnt seen before

it is not like “normal” seeing, where you dully register only what has a, usually false, relation to “practical” purposes

i saw the bright colors reflected from the oil in flying pigeons feathers

the colors must have been there before but i didnt notice them

on peyote you notice everything that can be sensed, without effort

sitting in my store, i saw there is no color white

my white walls were yelloworange from lightbulbs & there was a strong green from the old coat of  paint

an eyechart had an unusual quality like old chinese manuscripts because the paper had yellowbrowned a bit from age

the 1st time i was high it was nite in newyorkcity

cooper square looked lit up like saturday nite at coneyisland or times square


why did it look strange?

is peyote seeing normal or hallucinated?

i think my peyote eyes were normal & my “normal” eyes, without peyote, were hallucinated

partly the city at nite seemed strange because it is strange, thouands of neonlights & no darkness

mostly it looked gaudy & weird because i wasnt used to seeing colors as bright as they are

it was the change from dulled vision to peyote vision that was strange, like suddenly hearing after  being deaf for years

the perception is true but the brain is surprised & remembers the difference

my loss of bright colors, as a child, must have been so slow that i didn’t notice it

when i took peyote in the daytime, in the sunlight, i remembered how, 20 years before, and not since then, the sun shone that bright and hot, casting rich light & visible warmth on what it glorified

it pleased me to get high in the afternoon & watch the sun get brighter as it went down

believing i would never lose my new eyes, i felt the afternoon of my life brighter than its noon had been

looking at a pitted sidewalk

no dusty meaninglessness to it, but like a woodcarving

the pits looked twice as deep as usual

i think my “normal” perception flattened distances & peyote showed me the true depths

a loaf of bread from which id torn a chunk looked like a cave seen from a distance

i was fascinated by the changing shapes as the bread expanded slowly where it had been torn

usually i see the outside of a window as a flat rectangle, now i looked in

i looked at buildings at dusk, the far ones fell back more

the arrangement of shapes & depths told stories without words, as faces do

i had a poor eye for paintings

now i was looking out a window (the frame) at a real 3-dimensional scene from someone elses world

in a semiabstract painting the paint didnt stay on the surface of the canvas but fell back in perspective as the artist intended

probably if i was already using my eyes well, like a painter, peyote would have had little effect

it would have maybe no effect, or a disturbing effect, on unarmored eyes, eyes undamaged by life

i had few visions or hallucinations, eyes open or closed
(but see henri michaux, misérable miracle, monaco 1956;  l’infini turbulent, paris 1957;  exerpts in evergreen review #1, 1957, 37;   new world writing #15, 1959, 96)

i tried taking heavier doses to see what would happen but there was resistance, i would fight the experience & split off from it & remain unhappy, chaotic, not daring to leave the store

i preferred light doses that would keep the experience part of my life

peyote would give me lots of motor energy & id run around & see all the sights

then id get quiet, come home & lie down with my eyes closed*

*when i ran around the high might shoot way up if i had fun or met someone else who was high, or it might get stuck, expended on outer distractions

then if i lay down & did nothing the high would increase steadily & slowly

no rules were necessary, i did what my body told me to
doing planned experiements with peyote, using peyote for selfimprovement & all that selfconscious jazz just gets in the way

its antipeyote, too, that in the native american church rite they sit in one position all night

not spontaneous

i saw patterns of colored lights or networks of structures, hard to describe in words

not overwhelming or repulsive to me, as michaux’s were to him

(he must have been fighting it)

but interesting, often amusing

the visions were unfamiliar to me, sometimes i felt as if peyote was a person from outer space who had invaded me & was recalling the sights of his rather peculiar planet

i think that since my eyes were “wide open” (tho closed) & active, the visions were real phenomena from sudden high energy in the eyes, not an invention of my brain, tho they could be influenced by suggestion

im nearsighted & see multiple images

before peyote, looking from ˝ block away at a hollow circular neon sign id see a very fuzzy red circle with a few fainter fuzzy circles nearby

high, i was astonished to see twenty or thirty sharply defined circles

i think dr wm h bates (better eyesight without glasses) is right that nearsightedness is caused by musclestrain

continued musclestrain  (“armoring”, wilhelm reich’s term)   eventually causes structural defects

i imagine peyote relieved my eyestrain, allowing me to see sharply, but the multiple images were an irreversible or not easily reversible structural defect caused by decades of eye armoring

high, most objects were still fuzzy, since multiple images overlap unless they are very thin

i didnt mind, & i rather liked what my visual defect did to stars
but sometimes i was troubled at having only “finite” sight
the clouds & stars still seemed spread out on a flat spherical backdrop instead of going farther and farther up

i longed to get past the backdrop and to look all the way to the clouds, instead of just toward them

like reaching out your hand not quite far enough to grasp what you want

of course i could put on my glasses & see clear images but peyote said, its a fake!

the glasses were seeing correctly, but not me

the reality in seeing is what you do with your eyes, not what image you get from them

an odd point about finity & infinity

the visions i saw when i closed my eyes

i was seeing patterns in a finite space & a pretty flat one at that

but the images kept flowing, and winding & unwinding, and repeating themselves differently, over & over  “forever” (that is, longer than expected)

in the splitsecond it took me to “look at” part of the vision it would have changed, or be someplace else

this made the space seem infinite in a way

it may be biologically normal to see no fixed objects (fixed by words in the mind) but an everchanging flux

i looked at cats with peyote eyes & lost my illusions about their “human qualities”

they werent like people & had no personalities

mostly they were fantastically alert animals, reacting violently to everything

i looked in their eyes, & there was nothing looking back out at me

their purring is an animal reaction & has nothing to do with “affection”

its natural for a cat to jump out of your arms in a splitsecond when he hears the icebox, & not an ungrateful act of a “pet”

they arent even “independent”, the category has nothing to do with them

my normal hearing is very good

peyote changed it little

an indian peyote song with drum   (wow!)   seemed to be coming, not from the loudspeaker of my phonograph, but from where it was recorded

usually i hate commercial music, which is for me the same experience as meeting an unpleasant phony person

high, any music would do

in fact, rock & roll was mostly different from beethoven in being more lively

maybe the performance of the beethoven was dull, since most professional musicians dont play from the heart

on peyote i didnt separate the performance from music, didnt do the unconscious work of listening thru the performance to the “real beethoven”

there are other possibilities but i don’t like them

hearing had few surprises for me, but smelling & taste had plenty!

i know a girl with 10 cats and 4 closed windows

id always complained about the strong sharp bitter disgusting smell of catshit in her apartment

i came in the door high on peyote, and not only my reaction to the smell was different but the smell itself was different!

now, a strong earthy sweet smell like a barnyard, not at all unpleasant

i believe the “barnyard” smell was a real one, and I had hallucinated the sharp smell as a result of childhood toilettraining

i was forced, either physically or by moral pressure, to eat certain “good” foods when i was a child

later, i couldnt bear eating any of these foods

a few years ago, in an experiment to defeat some conditioning & regain some freedom, i would eat, say, some sauerkraut, leaving myself open to feel whatever i would feel

at first i would be spitting it out & making faces, hardly registering the taste

the revulsion would wear off & id taste the food more or less as it was

the trouble with the experiment was it made me more conscious of myself and more split between “duty” and  “the rebel”

in a way, tho for sophisticated reasons, i was giving in to authority, at a late date, & eating the sauerkraut because it would be good for me to eat it, tho i didn’t want to

the difference was only that i was living out the revulsion

the resemblance was that i was enduring a present pain for an alleged future benefit

since the experiment was a “splitter”, it couldnt develop, & remained isolated, fruitless

the experience on peyote was simple and good

at dinner i was served squash, which i had refused to eat for 20 years

i was amused at the memory of being made to eat it

it seemed ridiculous that adults had gone to so much trouble just to make more trouble

eating the squash, i rightaway tasted its real taste

there was no effect from conditioning & no revulsion

it had a rather delicate subtle pleasant fresh taste, and had lost its ability to lump up in my throat and choke me

when i ate peaches — i love peaches — they were more delicious than usual

i didnt eat them efficiently & mechanically, but sucked, chewed & played with them in a way that, on the streets of our civilized country, would have got me in trouble

i got smells & tastes stronger and more distinctly

a jar of jelly that smelled only “slightly off” to others, & usually would have to me, was too rotten to eat

the taste of chemical additives was sharply separated from the taste of food containing them

the additives tasted funny, not like food, but the food could be eaten

my passive sense of touch is sensitive & peyote hardly affected it

but i was less blocked off from sensing the results of my own movements

i moved more relaxed, with confidence & grace

once i was lying down eyes closed looking at a mocking vision of patterns expressing twistedness, discomfort, deformity

(in my later, sadder highs i saw tears of blood)

suddenly i realized the vision represented my own body

i was lying in a cramped position that accented my habitual unconscious crampings (armoring)

i took an easier position & the vision changed accordingly

i got curious how much i could relax

i was amazed that, for example, i could move my pelvis independently of my legs & back, easily & without strain

usually i cant

i had learned in years of treatment by a reichian psychiatrist that you cant let go of armored muscles, especially in the pelvic region, without prolonged preparation

and that no armor is dissolved without the bursting out of the emotions it has been holding back

but the relaxation on peyote didnt bring an emotional crisis or breakthru

it felt very nice but was no major liberation

my conclusion is that peyote reduced the drive of energy from the biological core, so that when blocking is let go nothing comes out

thats why it can be let go*

*for this reason, a patient in reichian therapy who took peyote would not dissolve his armor permanently thereby

the high wears off, the suppressed emotions havent been released, the armor re-forms

peyote might speed up the diagnostic stages

this is confirmed by my liking food better, high, but not feeling i had to eat

its conceivable that, deprived of food, i would have cheerfully starved rather than go to a lot of trouble to get food

there was the same increase of pleasure & spontaneity, & decrease of drive, necessity in sex — a subject somehow not written about by my fellow peyote scholars

in sexual intercourse i was happier, less awkward, more at ease & more spontaneous

the change was even more marked in masturbation

stereotyped habits and “after this, do that” fell away & i was free to do as i pleased

amount of energy released in orgasm was probably less

the loss of necessity — not to have to breathe, to have to eat, mate, love — is a loss of freedom, and somehow not human

but i found the loss fictitious & so would many others

that is, most people evade necessity in the “normal” state

drive is messed up, complicated & forced into the unconscious and “all is vanity”

on peyote, i didnt miss what i mostly hadnt had

effect of peyote on personality

havelock ellis*  wrote about the effects on seeing but said there was no personality change

* mescal: a new artificial paradise,  contemporary review  london 1898 vol 73, 130;  also in smithsonian institute annual report for 1897  washington dc 1898, 537

(peyote effects differ from person to person, from dose to dose, fom moment to moment

my experience wasnt the same as other writers or my friends, who for example were much interested in telepathy)

it meant as much to me to be happy, simple, good, confidant, and lighthearted as to open “the doors of perception”

the euphoria was lovely

liquor gives me a warm cheerful feeling but i feel narrowed and theres a screen between me & the world

peyote does the opposite of narrowing & screening

a group of us, on peyote, had little to share with a group on marijuana

the marijuana smokers were discussing questions of the utmost profundity and we were sticking our fingers in our navels & giggling

logic told me that my euphoria was courtesy of an alkaloid, but in a truer way i knew it was me, and not having eaten some silly plants

truer because only the present moment is true

my peyote personality may have been affected by the group suggestion

in its simplicity and directness, it resembled the personality of a schizophrenic, without the psychosis

(see wilhelm reich, character analysis 3d ed, chap 16;  fritz peters, the world next door;  lannie madison in normal mailer’s barnaby shore;   d.j. in truman capote’s story “the headless hawk”;  esme in william gaddis’ the recognitions — all excellent books)

even more resemblance to sally morton prince’s fascinating the dissociation of a personality (2d ed, 1908)

in this case history similar to 3 faces of eve, sally is a 2d personality who lives inside christine beauchamp

sally is always childlike & untroubled, partly because she can lose “her” sense of touch by closing her eyes, “is never hungry or thirsty”,  &   “does not know the meaning of fatigue, of pain, of ill health”   (147-9)

peyote opposes seriousness, at least my kind of seriousness

i didnt bother with reading & writing — not enough fun

once i sat down to write and printed in childish scrawl “My name is Jack Green and I am six years old”

even that was too much trouble so i just made wavy lines

if people were unhappy, instead of “respecting” their unfortunate position i would cheer them up

if they wouldnt cheer up id go on to someone else

tho avoiding literacy, i did talk & think, and much better
with commonsense!

often my thoughts were very simple and rose directly from the moments experience, effortlessly, with nothing of the dry abstract

it was a relief to use my sharp insight, not to get some ingenious idea i couldnt use at the moment, but to get the right answer to use right away

i went to a party “normal” & saw a girl i had loved who had rejected me

she looked sad, unhappy

i concluded that, without me, this must be her necessary and immutable state

i thought, “she cant even smile

its no use talkingto her, shell only make me (more) unhappy”

a week later, high, i saw her lookingsad at a party

i went over and smiled at her & she smiled back

i felt i had been tangled up in complicated conditioning & stereotyped ways with people, no room for the fresh & pleasant

now there were no insoluble problems and conflicts, only laughable results of illusions i could drop the moment i saw them

“no problems, only illusions” is peyotes message

i walked thru the streets stunned & grateful

peyote kept telling me not to “be in love” with my girlfriend but to enjoy all and expect nothing

i wouldnt listen, i had too much invested in not living from moment to moment, yearning for more than i had, to the point of losing contact with what i had, always expecting & demanding

it was easier to get along with strangers or acquaintances because there was less conditioning & habit

i was told a lie that made me feel my girlfriend haad left me

i felt cheerful anyway, since she wasnt in the room & it didnt make any difference what an absent person felt about me

“the future” was just theory & couldnt have an emotional effect on me

but i felt the physical pain of loss tightening my chest

i burnt my finger by accident with a cigaret

in the “normal” state i would shrink up around the pain, pay attention to it, abandon hope of feeling good until there was no more pain

high, the pain was localized, i went about feeling good, hurting only in the finger

i dont agree with gurdjieff’s mystical value that “negative emotions” should not be expressed

i agree with reich that fear, anger & sorrow are better felt than held back

not that suffering is good for you, it only causes more suffering, but if it cant be avoided it shouldnt be evaded

because the evasion is worse suffering than the emotion

like pretending not to be angry for hours instead of getting it out in a few minutes

but on peyote i agreed with gurdjieff, because there was no need for “negative emotions”

if i couldnt get something i wanted, why get angry when there were things just as good to be had for the asking

id usually be embarrassed to fool around with a guitar in front of people who can play it

high, i did, i had fun, i learned nothing & made no organized music, nobody minded

playing the piano, which i do study, i felt a little bored, as if working in an office

so i stopped

im a good face reader

high, i could read faces better, & personality from bodies much better

sometimes i saw peoples bodies distorted from their sickness, especially a kind of local fatness or thinness that had nothing to do with “normal weight”

sometimes the sick in people was trivial compared to what was functioning well

it was only that they were more conscious of the sick part
they were living, breathing, moving, that was enough

at the party the theme was conflict between some square young camp counselors & a few hardened bohemians

i was struck by how much more individual the squares were

their constant efforts to conform had little effect on their very different voices, desires, personalities & ways of moving

the bohemians were all alike

probably because squares cant really know each other, and bohemians communicate all too well and share too much

“practical life” was no bother

watching traffic lights, and such, took up a small part of my mind that i could well afford

it was easy to stay out of trouble

im addicted both to cigarets & hating myself for smoking

high, i smoked everytime i started to get nicotine withdrawal symptoms & felt no guilt

i was often aware of the toxic, weakening effect of smoking, but felt i might as well feel peculiar as not

is the peyote experience genuine

taking drugs cant make you really free

but on peyote i was really free

an interesting contradiction

a wellknown quotation from hegel illustrates the transformation of a change in quantity into a change in quality

Thus, for instance, the temperature of water is first of all indifferent in relation to its state as a liquid; but by increasing or decreasing the temperature of liquid water a point is reached at which this state of cohesion alters and the water becomes transformed on the one side into steam and on the other into ice.
(encyclopedia, collected works 6:217)

sharp thresholds of change of state are an important part of human consciousness, and explain the subjective, therefore true reality of both satori in zen buddhism, and the peyote experience

satori is a perfect and infinite moment of enlightenment which cant be described in words except by hints that lead to comparison with your own best moments

the zen monk spends years of preparation to get this moment

now, it is impossible that his training, which for example doesnt touch on muscular armor or suppressed emotions at all, and has nothing to do with sex or love, can produce objectively real freedom for even a moment

the armor, which is the cause of non-enlightenment, cant be dropped in a moment or for a moment

yet subjectively, the experience of satori is as unquestionably genuine as that red is red, and as unquestionably valuable as love itself

it must be that the exhaustive preparation, especially the unconscious preparation involved in meditation, leads to a sudden split, which is perceived as a sudden unity

most of the sickness in a man is invisible to him, unconscious

whats near the surface (close to character & symptoms) can be split, the free part joins whatever is already free, the sick part is forced down into the unconscious where it is not sensed even dimly

the zen evasion of the problems of real life helps this, there are no conflicts to weld the sick & healthy into an unenlightened whole

what the monk cant accept with ease, he rejects

at a certain moment the split is complete

all that is not free is buried, and therefore all that is perceived is free

this is the moment of satori

in my experience, peyote frees in successive, sharply defined steps

i wasnt aware of anything being wrong with me until the moment when it “changed state” & became right

after each step, what still wasnt free existed, but it wasnt visible, so subjectively it didnt exist

another reason for not meddling consciously with peyotes effects

let them come to you

after 2 months i got more & more reluctant to take peyote

it got to taste worse & worse till i couldnt eat it

i tried avoiding the taste, drying or boiling it down into capsules

but the effects were less, & the happiness was replaced by sadness, detachment from myself & others

all that was left was a little visual significance and a flow of devastating selfinsights that i didnt want

for 9 months i havent had the true experience & i dont try for it often

i think i lost peyote because it threatened my sickness, which found ways to defend itself

the effects used to last long after the dose wore off, but theyre mostly gone

peyote breaks habits, which later re-form

what i learned from peyote is still with me, im a little simpler & more sensible

i dont share aldous huxley’s attitude in the doors of perception

he approves of his peyote experience, but “from above”

i think i was a better person on peyote than i am now


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