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LSD My Problem Child
7. Radiance from Ernst Jünger
Radiance is the perfect term to express the influence that Ernst Jünger's literary work and personality have had on me. In the light of his perspective, which stereoscopically comprises the surfaces and depths of things, the world I knew took on a new, translucent splendor. That happened a long time before the discovery of LSD and before I came into personal contact with this author in connection with hallucinogenic drugs.
My enchantment with Ernst Jünger began with his book Das Abenteuerliche Herz [The adventurous heart]. Again and again in the last forty years I have taken up this book. Here more than ever, in themes that weigh more lightly and lie closer to me than war and a new type of human being (subjects of Jünger's earlier books), the beauty and magic of Jünger's prose was opened to me-descriptions of flowers, of dreams, of solitary walks; thoughts about chance, the future, colors, and about other themes that have direct relation to our personal lives. Everywhere in his prose the miracle of creation became evident, in the precise description of the surfaces and, in translucence, of the depths; and the uniqueness and the imperishable in every human being was touched upon. No other writer has thus opened my eyes.
Drugs were also mentioned in Das Abenteuerliche Herz. Many years passed, however, before I myself began to be especially interested in this subject, after the discovery of the psychic effects of LSD.
My first correspondence with Ernst Jünger had nothing to do with the context of drugs; rather I once wrote to him on his birthday, as a thankful reader.
Bottmingen, 29 March 1947
The book mentioned here had appeared in 1939, just shortly before
the outbreak of World War II. Auf den Marmorklippen is not only
a masterpiece of German prose, but also a work of great significance
because in this book the characteristics of tyrants and the horror
of war and nocturnal bombardment are described prophetically,
in poetic vision.
Soon afterward, in a letter from Ernst Jünger I learned that he had inserted a discourse about drugs in the novel Heliopolis, on which he was then working. He wrote to me about the drug researcher who figures in the novel:
Among the trips in the geographical and metaphysical worlds, which I am attempting to describe there, are those of a purely sedentary man, who explores the archipelagos beyond the navigable seas, for which he uses drugs as a vehicle. I give extracts from his log book. Certainly, I cannot allow this Columbus of the inner globe to end well-he dies of a poisoning. Avis au lecteur.
The book that appeared the following year bore the subtitle Ruckblick auf eine Stadt [Retrospective on a city], a retrospective on a city of the future, in which technical apparatus and the weapons of the present time were developed still further in magic, and in which power struggles between a demonic technocracy and a conservative force took place. In the figure of Antonio Peri, Jünger depicted the mentioned drug researcher, who resided in the ancient city of Heliopolis.
He captured dreams, just like others appear to chase after butterflies with nets. He did not travel to the islands on Sundays and holidays and did not frequent the taverns on Pagos beach. He locked himself up in his studio for trips into the dreamy regions. He said that all countries and unknown islands were woven into the tapestry. The drugs served him as keys to entry into the chambers and caves of this world. In the course of the years he had gained great knowledge, and he kept a log book of his excursions. A small library adjoined this studio, consisting partly of herbals and medicinal reports, partly of works by poets and magicians. Antonio tended to read there while the effect of the drug itself developed. . . . He went on voyages of discovery in the universe of his brain....
In the center of this library, which was pillaged by mercenaries of the provincial governor during the arrest of Antonio Peri, stood
The great inspirers of the nineteenth century: De Quincey, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Poe, and Baudelaire. Yet there were also books from the ancient past: herbals, necromancy texts, and demonology of the middle-aged world. They included the names Albertus Magnus, Raimundus Lullus, and Agrippa of Nettesheym.... Moreover, there was the great folio De Praestigiis Daemonum by Wierus, and the very unique compilations of Medicus Weckerus, published in Basel in 1582....
In another part of his collection, Antonio Peri seemed to have cast his attention principally "on ancient pharmacology books, formularies and pharmacopoeias, and to have hunted for reprints of journals and annals. Among others was found a heavy old volume by the Heidelberg psychologists on the extract of mescal buttons, and a paper on the phantastica of ergot by Hofmann-Bottmingen...."
In the same year in which Heliopolis came out, I made the personal acquaintance of the author. I went to meet Ernst Jünger in Ravensburg, for a Swiss sojourn. On a wonderful fall journey in southern Switzerland, together with mutual friends, I experienced the radiant power of his personality.
Two years later, at the beginning of February 1951, came the great adventure, an LSD trip with Ernst Jünger. Since, up until that moment, there were only reports of LSD experiments in connection with psychiatric inquiries, this experiment especially interested me, because this was an opportunity to observe the effects of LSD on the artistic person, in a nonmedical milieu. That was still somewhat before Aldous Huxley, from the same perspective, began to experiment with mescaline, about which he then reported in his two books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell.
In order to have medical aid on hand if necessary, I invited my friend, the physician and pharmacologist Professor Heribert Konzett, to participate. The trip took place at 10:00 in the morning, in the living room of our house in Bottmingen. Since the reaction of such a highly sensitive man as Ernst Jünger was not foreseeable, a low dose was chosen for this first experiment as a precaution, only 0.05 mg. The experiment then, did not lead into great depths.
The beginning phase was characterized by the intensification of aesthetic experience. Red-violet roses were of unknown luminosity and radiated in portentous brightness. The concerto for flute and harp by Mozart was perceived in its celestial beauty as heavenly music. In mutual astonishment we contemplated the haze of smoke that ascended with the ease of thought from a Japanese incense stick. As the inebriation became deeper and the conversation ended, we came to fantastic reveries while we lay in our easy chairs with closed eyes. Ernst Jünger enjoyed the color display of oriental images: I was on a trip among Berber tribes in North Africa, saw colored caravans and lush oases. Heribert Konzett, whose features seemed to me to be transfigured, Buddha-like, experienced a breath of timelessness, liberation from the past and the future, blessedness through being completely here and now.
The return from the altered state of consciousness was associated with strong sensitivity to cold. Like freezing travelers, we enveloped ourselves in covers for the landing. The return to everyday reality was celebrated with a good dinner, in which Burgundy flowed copiously.
This trip was characterized by the mutuality and parallelism of our experiences, which were perceived as profoundly joyful. All three of us had drawn near the gate to an experience of mystical being; however, it did not open. The dose we had chosen was too low. In misunderstanding this reason, Ernst Jünger, who had earlier been thrust into deeper realms by a high dose of mescaline, remarked: "Compared with the tiger mescaline, your LSD, is, after all, only a house cat." After later experiments with higher doses of LSD, he revised this estimation.
Jünger has assimilated the mentioned spectacle of the incense stick into literature, in his story Besuch auf Gotenhotm [Visit to Godenholm], in which deeper experiences of drug inebriation also play a part:
Schwarzenberg burned an incense stick, as he sometimes did, to clear the air. A blue plume ascended from the tip of the stick. Moltner looked at it first with astonishment, then with delight, as if a new power of the eyes had come to him. It revealed itself in the play of this fragrant smoke, which ascended from the slender stick and then branched out into a delicate crown. It was as if his imagination had created it-a pallid web of sea lilies in the depths, that scarcely trembled from the beat of the surf. Time was active in this creation-it had circled it, whirled about it, wreathed it, as if imaginary coins rapidly piled up one on top of another. The abundance of space revealed itself in the fiber work, the nerves, which stretched and unfolded in the height, in a vast number of filaments.
This deepened experience in the aesthetic sphere, as it is described here in the example of contemplation of a haze of blue smoke, is typical of the beginning phase of LSD inebriation, before deeper alterations of conscious begin.
I visited Ernst Jünger occasionally in the following years, in Wilfingen, Germany, where he had moved from Ravensburg; or we met in Switzerland, at my place in Bottmingen, or in Bundnerland in southeastern Switzerland. Through the shared LSD experience our relations had deepened. Drugs and problems connected with them constituted a major subject of our conversation and correspondence, without our having made further practical experiments in the meantime.
We exchanged literature about drugs. Ernst Jünger thus let me have for my drug library the rare, valuable monograph of Dr. Ernst Freiherrn von Bibra, Die Narkotischen Genussmittel und der Mensch [Narcotic pleasure drugs and man] printed in Nuremburg in 1855. This book is a pioneering, standard work of drug literature, a source of the first order, above all as relates to the history of drugs. What von Bibra embraces under the designation "Narkotischen Genussmittel" are not only substances like opium and thorn apple, but also coffee, tobacco, kat, which do not fall under the present conception of narcotics, any more than do drugs such as coca, fly agaric, and hashish, which he also described.
Noteworthy, and today still as topical as at the time, are the general opinions about drugs that von Bibra contrived more than a century ago:
The individual who has taken too much hashish, and then runs frantically about in the streets and attacks everyone who confronts him, sinks into insignificance beside the numbers of those who after mealtime pass calm and happy hours with a moderate dose; and the number of those who are able to overcome the heaviest exertions through coca, yes, who were possibly rescued from death by starvation through coca, by far exceed the few coqueros who have undermined their health by immoderate use. In the same manner, only a misplaced hypocrisy can condemn the vinous cup of old father Noah, because individual drunkards do not know how to observe limit and moderation.
From time to time I advised Ernst Jünger about actual and entertaining events in the field of inebriating drugs, as in my letter of September 1955:
. . . Last week the first 200 grams of a new drug arrived, whose investigation I wish to take up. It involves the seeds of a mimosa (Piptadenia peregrina Benth,) that is used as a stimulating intoxicant by the Indians of the Orinoco. The seeds are ground, fermented, and then mixed with the powder of burned snail shells. This powder is sniffed by the Indians with the help of a hollow, forked bird bone, as already reported by Alexander von Humboldt in Reise nach den Aequinoctiat-Gegenden des Neuen Kontinents [Voyage to the equinoctial regions of the new continent] (Book 8, Chapter 24). The warlike tribe, the Otomaco, especially use this drug, called niopo, yupa, nopo or cojoba, to an extensive degree, even today. It is reported in the monograph by P. J. Gumilla, S. J. (El Orinoco Ilustrado, 1741): "The Otomacos sniffed the powder before they went to battle with the Caribes, for in earlier times there existed savage wars between these tribes.... This drug robs them completely of reason, and they frantically seize their weapons. And if the women were not so adept at holding them back and binding them fast, they would daily cause horrible devastation. It is a terrible vice.... Other benign and docile tribes that also sniff the yupa, do not get into such a fury as the Otomacos, who through self-injury with this agent made themselves completely cruel before combat, and marched into battle with savage fury."
Chemical analysis of this drug led to isolation of active principles that, like the ergot alkaloids and psilocybin, belong to the group of indole alkaloids, but which were already described in the technical literature, and were therefore not investigated further in the Sandoz laboratories. [Translator's note: The active principles of niopo are DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and its congeners. DMT was first prepared in 1931 by Manske.] The fantastic effects described above appeared to occur only with the particular manner of use as snuff powder, and also seemed to be related, in all probability, to the psychic structure of the Indian tribes concerned.
Ambivalence of Drug Use
Fundamental questions of drug problems were dealt with in the following correspondence.
Bottmingen, 16 December 1961
Wilflingen, 17 December 1961
An Experiment with Psilocybin
Such theoretical discussions about the magic drugs were supplemented by practical experiments. One such experiment, which served as a comparison between LSD and psilocybin, took place in the spring of 1962. The proper occasion for it presented itself at the home of the Jüngers, in the former head forester's house of Stauffenberg's Castle in Wilflingen. My friends, the pharmacologist Professor Heribert Konzett and the Islamic scholar Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, also took part in this mushroom symposium.
The old chronicles described how the Aztecs drank chocolatl before they ate teonanácatl. Thus Mrs. Liselotte Jünger likewise served us hot chocolate, to set the mood. Then she abandoned the four men to their fate.
We had gathered in a fashionable living room, with a dark wooden ceiling, white tile stove, period furniture, old French engravings on the walls, a gorgeous bouquet of tulips on the table. Ernst Jünger wore a long, broad, dark blue striped kaftan-like garment that he had brought from Egypt; Heribert Konzett was resplendent in a brightly embroidered mandarin gown; Rudolf Gelpke and I had put on housecoats. The everyday reality should be laid aside, along with everyday clothing.
Shortly before sundown we took the drug, not the mushrooms, but rather their active principle, 20 mg psilocybin each. That corresponded to some two-thirds of the very strong dose that was taken by the curandera Maria Sabina in the form of Psilocybe mushrooms.
After an hour I still noticed no effect, while my companions were already very deeply into the trip. I had come with the hope that in the mushroom inebriation I could manage to allow certain images from euphoric moments of my childhood, which remained in my memory as blissful experiences, to come alive: a meadow covered with chrysanthemums lightly stirred by the early summer wind; the rosebush in the evening light after a rain storm; the blue irises hanging over the vineyard wall. Instead of these bright images from my childhood home, strange scenery emerged, when the mushroom factor finally began to act. Half stupefied, I sank deeper, passed through totally deserted cities with a Mexican type of exotic, yet dead splendor. Terrified, I tried to detain myself on the surface, to concentrate alertly on the outer world, on the surroundings. For a time I succeeded. I then observed Ernst Jünger, colossal in the room, pacing back and forth, a powerful, mighty magician. Heribert Konzett in the silky lustrous housecoat seemed to be a dangerous, Chinese clown. Even Rudolf Gelpke appeared sinister to me; long, thin, mysterious.
With the increasing depth of inebriation, everything became yet stranger. I even felt strange to myself. Weird, cold, foolish, deserted, in a dull light, were the places I traversed when I closed my eyes. Emptied of all meaning, the environment also seemed ghostlike to me whenever I opened my eyes and tried to cling to the outer world. The total emptiness threatened to drag me down into absolute nothingness. I remember how I seized Rudolf Gelpke's arm as he passed by my chair, and held myself to him, in order not to sink into dark nothingness. Fear of death seized me, and illimitable longing to return to the living creation, to the reality of the world of men. After timeless fear I slowly returned to the room . I saw and heard the great magician lecturing uninterruptedly with a clear, loud voice, about Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel, and speaking about the old Gäa, the beloved little mother. Heribert Konzett and Rudolf Gelpke were already completely on the earth again, while I could only regain my footing with great effort.
For me this entry into the mushroom world had been a test, a confrontation with a dead world and with the void. The experiment had developed differently from what I had expected. Nevertheless, the encounter with the void can also be appraised as a gain. Then the existence of the creation appears so much more wondrous.
Midnight had passed, as we sat together at the table that the mistress of the house had set in the upper story. We celebrated the return with an exquisite repast and with Mozart's music. The conversation, during which we exchanged our experiences, lasted almost until morning.
Ernst Jünger has described how he had experienced this trip, in his book AnnähenngenDrogen und Rausch [Approaches-drugs and inebriation] (published by Ernst Klett Verlag, Stuttgart, 1970), in the section "Ein Pilz-Symposium" [A mushroom symposium]. The following is an extract from the work:
As usual, a half hour or a little more passed in silence. Then came the first signs: the flowers on the table began to flare up and sent out flashes. It was time for leaving work; outside the streets were being cleaned, like on every weekend. The brush strokes invaded the silence painfully. This shuffling and brushing, now and again also a scraping, pounding, rumbling, and hammering, has random causes and is also symptomatic, like one of the signs that announces an illness. Again and again it also plays a role in the history of magic practices.
The orientalist on the other hand had been in Samarkand, where Timur rests in a coffin of nephrite. He had followed the victorious march through cities, whose dowry on entry was a cauldron filled with eyes. There he had long stood before one of the skull pyramids that terrible Timur had erected, and in the multitude of severed heads had perceived even his own. It was encrusted with stones.
A light dawned on the pharmacologist when he heard this: Now I know why you were sitting in the armchair without your head-I was astonished; I knew I wasn't dreaming.
The mushroom substance had carried all four of us off, not into luminous heights, rather into deeper regions. It seems that the psilocybin inebriation is more darkly colored in the majority of cases than the inebriation produced by LSD. The influence of these two active substances is sure to differ from one individual to another. Personally, for me, there was more light in the LSD experiments than in the experiments with the earthy mushroom, just as Ernst Jünger remarks in the preceding report.
Another LSD Session
The next and last thrust into the inner universe together with
Ernst Jünger, this time again using LSD, led us very far
from everyday consciousness. We came close to the ultimate door.
Of course this door, according to Ernst Jünger, will in fact
only open for us in the great transition from life into the hereafter.
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