BY WILLIAM LEONARD PICKARD
Presented on the 75th anniversary of the discovery of LSD’s psychedelic properties, this article contains an excerpt from The Rose of Paracelsus: On Secrets & Sacraments by former Harvard and UCLA researcher William Leonard Pickard. The excerpt, which was selected by the imprisoned author himself, is taken from the chapter “Edelweiss.” Also included in this article is a letter to the editor written by Pickard for publication on the Oak Tree Review website.
You wished to know the conditions under which these writings occur. They are composed in pencil, within a 2 x 3 meter steel cell shared with another, in the midst of relentless noise and unpredictable violence. Through many locked doors, beneath a gun tower and razor wire, is a small enclosure for walking. Baked from the anvil of the sun, the pounded earth is devoid of natural life other than pigeons and a single ant colony. There are no flowers, trees, or water, just the harsh monochrome of metal and cement and dirt. Sometimes another and I stand by the ants, feeding them bits of crackers, rather like a devotional Hindu cult. I try to remember the world, though it long has faded.
But on this happy day, in Albert’s memory, here is a small recollection of an experience with chemist Indigo, one of the Six, on a hillside above Salzburg, Austria. We were speaking of many things when these phenomena began; perhaps the changes were from the blueberry kir we drank, or from the mere presence of this remarkable being.
Indigo had been admiring the advent of the medicalization effort, but warned against centralized government control, and limitation of the sacraments only to clinical treatments of the ill. He asked about my presence at the Department of Biochemistry at Berkeley in 1968, the summer that a young grad student – Kary Mullis, the future Nobelist who invented the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – synthesized a gram of LSD. I told him of Kary’s blossoming of mind, and his first publication: his letter on a cosmological constant to the journal Nature. Indigo reminisced on the billions of personal experiments that were the momentum for new research in medical applications, and how those many courageous events which had gone before (and which continue even now) should be honored. As he spoke, his very words seemed to transform perception and feeling. One could never forget them.
He asked about my presence at the Department of Biochemistry at Berkeley in 1968, the summer that a young grad student – Kary Mullis, the future Nobelist – synthesized a gram of LSD.
Yet I could hear simultaneously a brook flowing kilometers away, and a pine cone dropping through tiers of branches in the descending forests, and Indigo’s many and distant voices, and the sound of a far cowbell ringing like a vicar’s summons. The wind in a great susurrus moved over terraced lands and patches of thistles and Queen Anne’s lace as if all were the comforting wish of a restful deity. Breathing deeply, I at last could only submit to the glory.
I remained mute as he continued at the outskirts of my understanding. He mused so very quickly, in a soliloquy of images, casting visions and experiences in a kaleidoscopic manner. His spinning globe of discrete realities unwound with such rapidity it seemed as though I were a child only beginning to read, or think, or grasp words from a distant future civilization toward which one inexorably was being swept.
Indigo’s delivery at first seemed a dialectical frenzy, then a harmonious, subliminal transfer of data and dreams and effectively unknown esoterica involving the discovery of LSD’s subjective effect on April 16, 1943 by Dr. Albert Hofmann at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, through the second human exposure of Dr. Walter Stoll, then its secret proliferation among the pharmaceutical heads at Sandoz and thereafter spreading from person to person like a sea of radiance.
I glanced about. There were dream trees breathing, and the drifting of dark owls. The ground rotated with intersecting mandalas. Above us was translucent divine machinery; there were great wheels in the sky. I listened again to him.
He described their sacrament being given reverently, a magical gift, throughout the community of Jungian analysts from Berlin to Zurich, then its adoption by CIA in Operation MK-ULTRA and the human subjects exposed to the substance at 80 universities. He reflected on the first clandestine labs and the great public distributions of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, of Augustus Owsley Stanley and Nick Sand and Tim Scully. He finally alluded to the rise of the Six, he among them, and how their identities and movements remained mythopoeic and – as yet – undisturbed.
Indigo’s delivery at first seemed a dialectical frenzy, then a harmonious, subliminal transfer of data and dreams and effectively unknown esoterica involving the discovery of LSD’s subjective effect on April 16, 1943.
I could only receive his words. Everything he said seemed finely crafted as diamond sutras, then structured in alexandrines, his perfect poetic forms almost Homeric in their profundity.
I felt like the barbarian Droctulft, when he first witnessed the temples, statues, arches and marble amphorae of Ravenna, and who deserted his ravaging and primitive hordes to defend the pristine city. I felt as Borges described the rude warrior, stunned before the magnificence of stonework and fountains and art, the very devices of advanced thought.
“As we would be struck today by a complex machine whose purpose we know not but in whose design we sense an immortal intelligence at work.”
He ceased speaking. There remained only the water music of invisible brooks. The last silken threads of insight receded from my understanding; mere fragments and tendrils of mind could be recalled from the light storm of data that had passed though me. From such blessed forgetting one might hope to regain a certain normalcy, but throughout our encounter this day and night the phenomena reoccurred in the form of waves with some magic frequency: quiescent, then raging, then archaic silence, then the roar of creation, then an unutterable and calm abiding.
As I raised my eyes a host of cheerful finches blossomed overhead, while in the distant valleys sunlight glistened matchlessly. Shifting masses of air moved like the breath of slumbering transparent dragons. Perfumed Arabian oases gathering in the painted pastoral landscapes, appearing and disappearing in the fecund ground of being.
For an instant it suddenly all passed, becoming simply a still, sublime afternoon of gratitude and relief. Above us a bluebird was singing, attending its young.
By William Leonard Pickard
Note: This excerpt has been adapted by the author for this publication. The complete text appears on pp. 107-109 in The Rose of Paracelsus: On Secrets & Sacraments (2015, revised 2017).
Featured image: The benzene structure placed on a picture of blue ink (original image via Wikimedia Commons).