The following is excerpted from Spiritual Growth with Entheogens edited by Thomas B. Roberts, available from Inner Traditions.
Albert Hofmann, Ph.D., Dr.Pharm.H.C., Dr.Sc.Nat.H.C., is best known for his serendipitous discovery of LSD and for his chemical work identifying the active principles of the sacred mushroom of Mexico. He was the retired director of research for the Department of Natural Products at Sandoz Pharmaceutical Ltd. in Basel, Switzerland. Dr. Hofmann was a fellow of the World Academy of Science and a member of the Nobel Prize Committee, the International Society of Plant Research, and the American Society of Pharmacognosy. He wrote many scientific papers and several books: The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens and Plants of the Gods with Richard Evans Schultes, The Road to Eleusis with R. G. Wasson and Carl Ruck, LSD: My Problem Child, and Insight/Outlook.
Born January 11, 1906, Albert celebrated his 100th birthday in excellent health with thousands of grateful admirers at the Spirit of Basel — a celebration of his life’s work (www.lsd.info/en/home.html). Albert died two years later, on April 29, 2008, four months after his wife, Anita, had passed away. His archives and legacy are managed by Dieter Hagenbach at www.gaiamedia.org.
The use of soma (which is the Iranian haoma) is one among many examples of the religious use of drugs and intoxicants that have strange psychological effects. In our own day, Aldous Huxley has advocated the use of mescaline. The weird and glorifying properties of such plants and concoctions have given man a heightened religious experience, a window, as it were, on a world that is normally beyond the range of humdrum senses. –Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, 1984
Before I start with the report on the role LSD has played in my spiritual development, some general remarks on this very special psychopharmacon are appropriate.
LSD is not a product of planned research. I did not look for it, it came to me. This means to me that a higher authority thought it was necessary now to provide mankind with an additional pharmacological aid for spiritual growth.
LSD is not just a synthetic substance from the laboratory. After the discovery of lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide (very closely related to lysergic acid diethylamide) as the entheogenic principles of Ololiuqui, an ancient sacred plant of Mexican Indians, LSD had to be regarded as belonging to the group of natural entheogenic drugs of Mesoamerica.
These two characteristics of LSD legitimate its use in a religious framework.
Now I come to the report of how LSD was a spiritual aid to me and how it influenced my worldview (Weltanschauung).
After my first experiences with LSD, the question arose for me: Which is true, the picture of the world as we perceive it with our everyday consciousness or the overwhelming image under the influence of entheogens?
This caused me to analyze what we know about the mechanism of perceiving reality.
Perception presupposes a subject that perceives and an object that is perceived. In human relations the subject that perceives is the individual human being, more exactly his consciousness, and the object perceived is the outer material world.
It is of the greatest importance to be aware of the fundamental fact that the outer world consists objectively of nothing more than matter and energy.
In order to make conspicuous the mechanism of our experiencing reality, I have chosen a metaphor from television. The material world functions as transmitter, emanates optical, acoustical, gustatory, olfactory, and tactile signals that are received by the antennae, by our sensory organs, eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin and are conducted from there to the corresponding center in the brain to the receiver. There these energetic and material signals are transformed into the spiritual phenomena of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. One does not know how this transformation of material and energetic impulses into the psychic dimension of perception takes place. It includes the mystery of the connection between the material and the spiritual world.
The transmitter-receiver metaphor of reality makes evident that the picture of the outer world comes into existence inside, in the consciousness of the individual.
This fundamental fact signifies that the screen on which the colorful world is perceived is not in the outer but in the inner space of every human being. There are no colors, no sounds, no taste, no odors in the outer world. Everyone carries within himself his own personal image of the world, an image created by his private receiver. There is no common screen outside. This makes us fully aware of the cosmogenic (worldcreating) power invested in every human.
Before making use of these considerations to explain the ability of LSD and the other entheogens to change the experience of reality, our knowledge about the essence of consciousness must be reviewed.
Consciousness defies a scientific definition and explanation; for it is what is needed to contemplate what consciousness is. It can only be circumscribed as being the receptive and creative center of the spiritual ego, which has the faculties of perceiving, thinking, and feeling, and which is the seat of memory.
It is of fundamental importance to be aware of how consciousness originates and develops.
The newborn human possesses solely the faculty of perceiving — possesses, or more correctly, is this mystic nucleus of life. He owns — to use again the metaphor of television — a blank videocassette, where the incoming stimuli from the outer world are transformed into images and sensations that can then be stored in the memory, providing the groundwork for thinking. Without these signals from outside, no consciousness could develop.
There is common consent that the evolution of mankind is paralleled by the increase and expansion of consciousness. From the described process of how consciousness originates and develops, it becomes evident that its growth depends on its faculty of perception.
Therefore every means of improving this faculty should be used.
The characteristics of entheogens, their faculty to improve sensory perception, makes them inestimable aids in the process of expanding consciousness.
It was LSD, the most potent entheogen, that, to use Blake’s famous line, cleansed my doors of perception and made me see everything as it is, infinite.
In my childhood I experienced spontaneously some of those blissful moments when the world appeared suddenly in a new brilliant light, and I had the feeling of being included in its wonder and indescribable beauty. These moments remained in my memory as extraordinary experiences of untold happiness, but only after the discovery of LSD did I grasp their meaning and existential importance.
As mentioned at the beginning of this short essay, it was my experiences with LSD that caused me to think about the essence of reality. The insights I received, as described, increased my astonishment about the wonder of existence, of which we become conscious in enlightened moments.
Teaser image by Peter Kaminsky, courtesy of Creative Commons license.