History of the Occult, Marijuana and Other Drugs

Throughout its sorted history marijuana and other drug use has been a foundation of the occult for centuries.

History of the Occult, Marijuana and Other Drugs

Inward expansion of human consciousness is never stronger than in times of outward rationalism when the artists, the romantics and the adventurers of society rebel against complacency, against mine grinding boredom, against the current possibilities that stifle imagination. Such a crisis in the human psyche gained momentum during the 19th century against a background of crusading Darwinism and dour, brutal industrialism. It would inspire a revival of the occult mentality. Most were swept along by the carnival of burgeoning western hegemony, whether they wanted to be or not, but others, psychologically the same group of outsiders' as in earlier times, wanted to look beneath the surface in search of a more positive destiny for mankind, a spiritual rather than a scientific awakening. They eschewed the passive stance of orthodox religion (which paradoxically became anything but passive in the hands of Victorian imperialists practicing muscular Christianity on the peoples of foreign lands), and some, often the most talented and inspired, embarked on the journey into inner space using psychoactive drugs such as hash and marijuana as the signposts, the spirit guides to point the way.

Rimbaud, belonged to Dr Moreau's Hashish Club.

Rimbaud, belonged to Dr Moreau's Hashish Club.

They plummeted deep inside themselves, instinctually ahead of, and then supported by psychoanalytic theory, to take a run up at the stars. Thus was born a new occult awakening which branched out along many different paths, but which has yet to run out of steam, if anything gaining in strength in these grim and uncertain times. Over the last few centuries there were simultaneous stirrings in Europe and America. For example, many of the French Romantics, such as Baudelaire, Gautier, de Nerval and later Rimbaud, belonged to Dr Moreau's Hashish Club which met in the Hotel Pimodan in Paris. They were interested in drugs like opium and laudanum from a scientific as well as an aesthetic viewpoint, but their first love was hashish and marijuana, all the rage in the Paris salons of the 1840s.

Arthur Rimbaud, in particular, was deeply immersed in the occult from an early age. His work was steeped in alchemical symbolism and he believed in the need to achieve oneness or unity with the absolute by self annihilation, by destruction of the ego. In 1872, he wrote...

"I say that it is necessary to be a seer . . . to make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, immense and reasoned unruliness of all his senses . . . he exhausts himself in every kind of poison, he becomes the unhealthy one, the great criminal, the great accursed and the supreme master - because he attains the unknown."

Well, as Baudelaire's spiritual heir to indulgence as well as genius, Rimbaud did all this and more, but crucified by the critics, he destroyed all his work and succumbed to an almost inevitable wanderlust, which in turn destroyed him physically and he died aged 37, with his ego went his health.

Magicians could be chaotic, inspired, neurotic, and vilified.

Magicians could be chaotic, inspired, neurotic, and vilified.

But what Rimbaud said of the poet, held true for the magician, as well (and often they were the same person): chaotic, inspired, neurotic, vilified - restless, wandering spirits who believed in the true essence of magic, that to aspire to the Gnosis, the "Knowledge", you had to experience everything, be everywhere and be everybody. The magician has to be on the fringes.

"Gods don't talk to chartered accountants and demons don't dance with dentists."

Communing with the spirits demands that consciousness be displaced, shifted, that its instinctual and irrational areas are tapped; many prospected, few struck gold - one who did was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. 1875 was a pretty important year for the modern occult revival; Aleister Crowley was born (making up for the discovery of America, so he said), so was Jung, Eliphas Levi the great French magus died and HPB as she was known to her friends, founded the Theosophical Society in New York - one of the most important occult groups next to the Golden Dawn. 

Madam Blavatsky was a woman of terrifying energies.

A woman of terrifying energies, Madam Blavatsky travelled to remote parts of the world, taught piano, joined a circus where a fall from a horse ruined her sex life, managed an artificial flower factory in Russia, assisted the famous medium D.D. Home and was herself a medium - spiritualism being one of the most widely publicized aspects of the occult revival. She was also a dedicated "hashish eater, marijuana and hash played a significant role in her visions of Isis, forming the basis of her magnum opus 'Isis Unveiled', a majestic synthesis of religion, magic and mysticism covering everything from the Kabbalah to Taoism. It was published in New York in 1877 after two years incredibly intensive work. She wrote nearly all day, every day, smoking hash and strong cigarettes endlessly. As the Theosophical Society itself was dedicated to the 17th century Rosicrucian program of building a bridge between science and religion through the powers latent in man, so Isis Unveiled and later The Secret Doctrine built a unique bridge between East and West, the first attempt to create such a fusion. The importance of this, as she realized, was that the philosophies of each by themselves were not enough - running off to India was no answer - all that was revealed in doing so was another view of imbalance. 

Madame Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled is a masterpiece. 

"I am solely occupied not with writing Isis, but with Isis herself. I live in a kind of permanent enchantment, a life of visions and sights."

 With legal marijuana on tap and no hassles, small wonder she led a life of permanent enchantment and her visions and sights were enough for Aleister Crowley to praise her as an initiate of the highest grade, as he was himself through study of the rituals of one of the most influential occult groups of the modern day - the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD).

It started in 1878 as a kind of Masonic/ Rosicrucian hybrid of a distinctly English character, very secret with a well vetted membership in its earliest days and with credentials supposedly emanating from an ancient occult order in Germany. The GD quest for Rimbaud's absolute control eventually led to inflated egos and rapid decline, but in the process was created a blue print that many have followed.

Yet that blueprint, containing large elements of Kabbalistic, astrological and tarot-based teachings as well as Egyptian magic, was really the work of one man, Samuel McGregor Mathers, whose flamboyance and eccentricity were the hallmarks of his craft - totally unemployable in any ordinary job — occultist was all that was left. His genius was to tie together strands of a new way of thinking - that the gods on high, normally worshipped and occasionally invoked were actually within man himself. It was the difference between 'God is in me' and "I am God'. 

S. L. MacGregor Mathers wrote the rituals of Golden Dawn.

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Borrowing from previous expressions of the Godhead, S. L. MacGregor Mathers wrote all the major rituals of the Golden Dawn and its higher grades singlehanded; Israel Regardie has detailed them exhaustively and many were indeed long and exhausting, but with a certain beauty of their own. What Mathers created was the first systematic exploration of inner space in the West and like Madam Blavatsky, the GD emphasised the psychological factors in magic as a technique of self development.

The aim of these rituals was supposed to be a contradiction of the go, becoming 'non self. However, what tended to happen was that egos became expanded-some GD members began to behave like Gods with a hotline to divine authority. Both the Theosophical Society and the GD were based (fictitiously) on the existence of Secret Chiefs who had Selected certain individuals to lead these groups; belief in these supernatural beings seemed of great importance to the membership of both groups and it is unlikely that either group would have flourished without the promise of the revelation of knowledge hidden from the uninitiated. Inflated egos manifested themselves in the ridiculous mottoes that the initiates adopted. One of the founders of the GD, William Westcott, a humble London coroner, labelled himself ‘non omnis moriar”, “I shall not altogether die, although Crowley's 'I shall endure, has proved to be a motto of more substance. Westcott typified the average middle class occultist, Seeking no more than a cosy secret society where they served good claret. Later, when his professional standing as a coroner was in jeopardy through membership of the GD, he left. Such people were not the stuff of adepts, they were generally passive in their acceptance of Mathers, but when his dictatorial attitude became too much even for them, there was a palace revolution and Various splinter groups rose from the ashes.

Occult members were intellectual and of a mystical calibre.

Occult members were intellectual and of a mystical calibre.

The rise and fall of the GD was a model of many occult groups. It attracted members of high intellectual and mystical calibre, but eventually suffered from internal dissensions, partly because it was based on the lie of divine revelation, but mainly because the instruction and development did not fundamentally change the nature of the members. The weaknesses and defects of some individuals were not eliminated and eventually the whole structure was weakened.

This is the tenor of the epitaph usually written by occult authors for the GD, but it is not entirely true; interesting things only come from interesting minds and those members of the highest calibre, those with the most vivid and far reaching imaginations were much affected by the occult rituals - among one of the most prominent members being W.B. Yeats, initiated into the GD in May 1887. He wrote, the mystical life is the centre of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write' ... it was through him (Mathers) that I began studies and experiences that were to convince me that images well up before the mind's eye from a deeper source than the conscious or subconscious memory. He moved from Theosophy to the GD, bringing Kabbalistic, Rosicrucian and astrological symbolism into his poetry. His work is impossible to fully comprehend unless his fascination with mysticism and the fact that his studies and experiences included peyote are taken into account. He was introduced to the drug by Havelock Ellis, who published his own first-hand account of mescal use in 1898. Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise', predating Huxley's work by nearly a quarter of a century. Equally famous GDadepts were regular experimenters with consciousness-raising drugs: Allen Bennett presided over Crowley's earliest tastes of yet-to-be forbidden fruits both being GD members when they met. At the time Bennett was virtually a down and out; he stayed with Crowley, taught him much about ceremonial magic and in turn. Crowley provided the finances which set Bennett on the way to Indian and an Eastern way Of life.

Marijuana gave proof of a new order of consciousness.  

Marijuana gave proof of a new order of consciousness.  

Occult stars like Crowley used hash and marijuana as an aid, "to give proof of a new order of consciousness and he positioned himself at the centre of the drug taking literati and intellectual set — he was probably the greatest protagonist for marijuana use of all time, even more than Leary. 

Crowley introduced Cole Porter to drugs like marijuana, Katherine Mansfield to opium, H. G. Wells to hash and it was in Crowley's company that Aldous Huxley first tried mescaline in Berlin.

However, the publicity given to Crowley and his circle tended to obscure the fact that there was an anti-marijuana and other drugs lobby at work among the occult groups. Francis Barratt's ponderous but seminal tome “The Magus”, published in 1801 specifically described experiments using naturally working psychoactive drugs, but Crowley's mentor Eliphas Levi in his major works written later on in the century had virtually nothing to say on the subject. Such debate as there was seems to have invariably centred around the question of whether the hash-induced vision had any validity. However in addition, the medical model drug addiction was fast gaining currency as an organised medical profession came of age and began flexing its muscles. 

Dion Fortune is a study in occult pathology and criminality.

It pushed successfully for therapeutic prescribing to be a medical prerogative while at the same time laying the foundation for legislative action against recreational drug use. Either the anti-drug occultists were won over by medical arguments or they just used them and the existence of laws against drug use to argue against a practice they disagreed with. In Psychic Self Defence (1930), Dion Fortune, a former GD member wrote: -

"It is well known that there are Various drugs which can be used to exalt consciousness and induce a temporary psychism. It may not be equally well known that most of these Substances come under the regulations of the Dangerous Drugs Act and that to obtain them from irregular sources, or even to be found in possession of them Save for a legitimate purpose, is to render oneself liable to prosecution and in this case too, the authorities are exceedingly alert and the magistrates exceedingly drastic."

Quite obviously the main thrust of this argument against drugs here meaning opium and marijuana, is their illegality - nothing at all to do with their role in ceremonial magic. What is interesting is that the attitudes of occultists towards drugs changed in the same way as did that of the general public and many occultists knew as little about drugs as the next guy - third hand knowledge of Chinese opium dens and the activities of high society sensationalized in the press being the limit of what most people knew of the subject.

Ironically, those drugs most likely to cause most psychisms however temporary, were not controlled nor hardly known except among the rarified atmospheres of the intelligentsia and certainly knowledge of such drug use by those ancient sages revered by many including those opposed to drug use in magic was in its infancy. However, given the Christian 'edge to much occult ritual workings, perhaps this puritan attitude becomes less surprising. The Protestant work ethic would have been much averse to drugs which of course, like Access of Barclaycard take the waiting out of wanting White magicians would also see a clear analogy between drug use and the practice of black magic pacts with the Devil —both supposedly offer immediate gains without immediate payment. Black Magic groups were and are feared as much for their marijuana use and promiscuity as for more dubious activities.

Aleister Crowley had partaken of every drug he could.

Aleister Crowley had partaken of every drug he could.

None of this mattered Aleister Crowley, of course; by the age of 23. he had partaken of every drug he could lay his hands on and all before there was any Dangerous Drugs legislation. He believed that the drug fiend was a superior man to ordinary mortals and that to master drugs you have to take them incessantly. Hence guests to his Sicilian abbey retreat found bowls heaped high with hash and marijuan brought in from the Italian mainland. Crowley's drug use hinged around his dramatic reinterpretation of ritual magic which demanded that the magician meet with the Gods on the astral plane, rather than invoke them to Earth all the time – you had to get literally high. Crowley restated the aims of magic in modern Freudian terms, the search for the true self, every man and woman is a star, a psychological basis for magic derived from Blavatsky's writings and from the teachings of the GD which made the connection between magic and human Will.

So how did Crowley fit marijuana into his magical schema? From the start Crowley ensured his basic philosophy would allow for indulgences of all kinds. He toured America, Mexico, India and the Far East until he found Egypt. Around the turn of the century Egypt was a popular haunt of westerners eager to turn on to opium and hash to find themselves, serving much the same purpose as Afghanistan, India and marijuana did at the end of the hippy trail over 60 years later. While in Egypt, Crowley's Book of the Law was dictated to him by his spirit guide Aiwass who conveniently commanded Crowley that 'to worship me, take wine and strange drugs ... Be strong O Man! Lust, Enjoy all!”

The magicians surrounds himself with various objects believed to have connections with the entities to be invoked - the magical link of correspondences. The Veracity of these connections is neither her northere - the magician's belief is all that's needed. In his essay on Kabbalistic taxonomy, 777, Crowley used the principle of magical correspondences to classify various drugs in terms of the Tree of Life e.g. Mace and nutmeg - the second tarot trump (The Magus) - Mercury Peyote – Sefira Hod – also Mercury. The first correspondence is quite impressive given the relatively recent discoveries of the pharmacological links between mace and nutmeg and the second fits in with the ritual use of peyote in South America, because Mescalito was the guide and teacher bringing the word as symbolised by Mercury. In 1912, Crowley produced a visual representation of initiation, in the foreground of which are red and gold varieties of amanita muscaria.

The gathering together of objects linked by magical correspondence, rhythmic chanting of the names of power, an atmosphere pervaded by essences and perfumes sometimes hallucinogenic and a magician, usually a powerful magnetic personality, who has prepared for the ritual days in advance and who may now be under the influence of drugs, all builds up to a terrifying climax which can have a profound psychological impact on those present. This is the basis of many of the warnings against dabbling in the black arts. At the climax of the ritual, the fusion between man and god takes place all levels of consciousness merge - man is god.

Drugs possibly break down barriers to other worlds.

Drugs possibly break down barriers to other worlds.

Just as drugs are used to induce the trance essential for the performance of ceremonial magic, so they can be used to induce the trance for travel on the astral plane. Drugs possibly break down the barriers to the chaos of other worlds, and within this chaos lie great dangers, some of which are deliberately courted by the adept to strengthen the Spirit.

In Tibet, there is a dramatic and highly dangerous rite performed in a solitary place like a cemetery. The adept offers his astral body to the demons on the astral plane for them to devour, which they do, tearing the body to pieces. The adept physically feels all that is happening to him, but when it is all over, his astral body is reborn stronger than ever. Victor Neuburg, one of Crowley's most faithful disciples speaks of a similar rite in his magical diary - in this case, his astral body was hacked to pieces by a red giant.

The hapless Neuburg suffered further horrors when under the influence of mescaline, he was leapt upon and half strangled by the demon Chronozon, thoughtfully conjured up by Crowley. Many of the visions described by occultists through the ages, voices, sounds, strange and alien landscapes are very similar to those described by those under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

In a sense, the magicians and philosophers have shown us a way using hallucinogens, marijuana, hash and in a sense too, these drugs have put modern man in touch with the shamans, enabling us to rediscover one aspect of this awareness, a purity previously lost through the prevalence of charlatanism in magic and the misrepresentation of witchcraft. The drug experiments of the early years of this century re-opened doors to the past precisely at a time when there was serious doubt about the revelation of civilization caused by the immense psychological shock of the First World War, conceptualized in the art of the period, notably Surrealism.

But there are dangers, there always were; the search for new horizons of the will, the inner being, cannot be undertaken in a vacuum, there needs to be a whole scaffolding of drama, conviction and purpose i.e. it needs symbolism. Break out of the magic circle and the demons of rationalism will devour you; break the barriers of constraint and you go mad - most magicians cannot face the world as we see it. And so it is with drugs, those in ancient cultures past and present for whom drugs played an important and natural role in the cosmology, did not have drug problems because drug use was part and parcel of ritual activities. But there is a World of difference between escaping from the 'one-self into a wider cosmos and escaping from dullness and routine. Perhaps the 'rational mind is not meant to see such visions - even the work of Leary and his friends had the hint of desperate intellectuals born into an industrial Society and at the other end there was the hedonistic chaos of Charlie Manson.

It is worth noting that despite being such an extravagant apologist for drug use, Crowley emphasized the need for discipline and training in the meditative arts as a prelude to exploring inner space. Much more than Leary ever did, Crowley saw drugs for what they were, as mere tools, not substitutes.

"I have no use for hashish save as a preliminary demonstration that there exists another world, attainable - somehow."

Compare this with Frank Ferguson, one of Leary's former associates, who firmly believed that LSD could short cut the work of 20 years yogic meditation down to a few weeks. He had a point though - sitting around in our climate for 20 years would be no joke, okay in Bengal, but in Barnsley'?

Crowley's antipathy towards taking the easy road has been echoed through the years by Jung writing in 1936 and by the Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski in the LA Free Press in 1967. The two statements below are not only startling for their continuity of expression, but because of the cyclical nature of their relevance in different ages:-

"People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practise Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regime of diet, learn theosophy by heart or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world - all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could come out of their own souls."

Bukowski thought every drug should be available to everybody so they could make up their own minds, but what he objected to was that the LSD-crazephase-blaze and marijuana had been taken over by the hippies, as a kind of private stomping ground, as a substitute for the soul ... Being unable to take the truth, being unable to face an honest mirror.

Visionaries or magicians or mystics were outsiders.

Visionaries or magicians or mystics were outsiders.

Those who we call visionaries or magicians or mystics were outsiders, not quite in the Colin Wilson sense, but generally not of our consciousness. eccentric would be one of the kinder words used to describe them and there is no doubt that in trying to rid themselves of ego, such abandonment could lead to madness, a state sometimes deliberately sought. But this may be why our latter day intellectual shamans have failed; great thoughts don't come about by deep thinking and reasoning - they come about by intuition and imagination, the spark of inspiration. Mathers and Crowley may have been head cases by ordinary standards, but as Andrew Weil has pointed out, the psychotics are potential sages, they can change reality by changing the mind. The point is, that those who possess such talent and can harness the imagination and the will in such a way are a rare breed and must be recognized as such.

Thus one might speculate that those who demonstrate such powers and others like ESP and psychokinesis which are being seriously studied as technology allows us to tap directly into the brain, are shadows of a new evolutionary development for mankind and perhaps the ability to handle drugs and benefit from the experience is also a question of evolution. After all, we are merely one end of an evolutionary branch, not necessarily the top of the tree - possibly we need to evolve away from our base instincts and emotions and develop a more mature, less primeval psychology.

But these are the realms where only Richard Leakey and Carl Sagan dare tread — what is indisputable is that many societies on Earth have assimilated psychoactive drugs, marijuana and hash use into their society through custom, ritual and education. In our society, however, it is heresy to suggest that we should be educated in the use of drugs, that there is any kind of human right attached to the concept of an altered state of consciousness. Whatever its political beliefs, there is no modern body politic in the world that seems to be able to take some lessons from so-called 'primitive societies, then perhaps we may get a tiny glimpse of the wizard's vision of the cosmos. Parallel realities are different and not necessarily better and what we do with Such knowledge is another matter, but then that is what the Occult is all about - that which is hidden behind closed doors . . . the doors of perception, the gates of distance.

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