Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?

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After his political phase, Guido bummed around, alone, from one country to another. There are “fetters” concealed in the act of “joining”. “To make something work in the opposite sense” means: to hold the cord of the function from the other end. This is how force is squandered. When you just let go, you give ground to the enemy. “To oppose resistance” means to employ force in a direction that is determined by the enemy. We are rapidly unmasked. The closer we get to the East, the more we understand this.
Saint Anthony, who transfigured the desert into a forest, had meditated on this question. He did not rush to martyrdom. But he did remain visible when the condemned men passed by him. Then he marched to the feast that he had himself prepared. Here we are even princes. “Few are worthy of being contradicted.” However, anyone who is clever enough, does not have to avoid the marketplace. Zarathustra strolled right through the middle of the market square.
Guido had smoked with the natives in Haiti, he knew the flower-children in California, the provos of Amsterdam, the multicolored hippies who lounge about on the steps of the Plaza de España and around the Barcaccia, the undefinables who are popping up everywhere and who speak in their own slang. Explorers of the deepest depths have joined these communes; it is also a good thing that their members are educated people.
More important than the regional and horizontal differences are the vertical differences of the psychonautical trip, that is, the soundings of the depths. For Guido, it was also a question of rhythm; the great trip began when one could say: “I am high”. Then came the so-called “alchemical nuptials” or the orgasm of the spirit: “I am stoned”. These expressions are now in fashion; he had yet a third one, which he owed to Wolfskehl and which he begged me to keep secret. “I still have not found anyone who has come so far.”
But the down-kick [in English in the original—American translator’s note], the Last Judgment, always loomed threateningly.
A mushroom symposium
The down-kick also loomed over our symposium on mushrooms in the spring of 1962, but it passed, without being completely revealed, like a vague uneasiness.
This symposium was dedicated to one of the Mexican prophetic mushrooms, the champignons hullucinogènes divinatoires, which were already well known for many years in Europe, although in fact only from a theoretical or esoteric point of view. Already, in the exhaustive Codex of Bernardino de Sahagún one finds an illustration depicting the species: a group of mushrooms, over which a bird-man with a pointed beak hovers. Immediately after the conquest, the first trials were conducted against persons who had used mushrooms in the sacrament of Holy Communion. They were condemned as chose diabolique [practitioners of deviltry—American translator’s note].
Science only began to become interested in these mushrooms after Wasson’s expedition, when, with a group of ethnologists, chemists and photographers, he visited the most remote villages in the mountains of Mexico. They even participated in indigenous rites. Their first report appeared in the spring of 1957 in Life. This article was followed in 1958 by the impressive monograph, profusely illustrated, by Heim and Wasson, Les champignons hullucinogènes du Mexique. Their work meets the highest demands of the human and natural sciences, both by virtue of its high intellectual level and its abundant details. In this text, disciplines as diverse as ethnology, archeology, mythology, history, comparative linguistics, mycology, pharmacodynamics and phytochemistry are united. In addition, it quotes prophets like William Blake: “He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger and better light than his perishing mortal eye can see does not imagine at all.”
For Wasson, visions “are stored in our depths”. The mushroom calls them forth. Certainly, he praises it, pointing out that it is not addictive; he says he has never heard of any Indian who knew of anyone who had a “penchant aux champignons”. Wasson probably came to those inaccessible valleys shortly before the gates of the city were closed, with the first helicopter.
It was inevitable that, shortly thereafter, the mushroom would be examined under the microscope at the Sandoz facility, in Basle. Albert Hofmann employed phytochemical procedures and Heribert Konzett employed pharmacological procedures; the latter had already, however, moved to Innsbruck at the time. In any case, over the course of our correspondence we conceived of the idea of a symposium, to which we also invited Rudolf Gelpke.
It was soon time to make preparations that would have to exclude, at the very least, the most crude elements of the laymen from the symposium. A certain seriousness in the gathering place could not be harmful—to the contrary: the details would only confuse the uninitiated. Yazdi, a Persian author who was translated and often quoted by Gelpke, offers precise instructions in his treatise on the art of smoking opium. One should avoid using the opium pipe in places exposed to the wind, or dirty or dark places, nor should one smoke in the company of a person who disapproves of smoking opium, or in the presence of a stranger or a non-smoker. He likewise prohibits smoking alone, since it is then to be feared that demons would appear. The ideal is a small and select circle of friends. Today it would be necessary to add that one should choose a place where, if possible, one will not hear the noise of motors. And this is becoming increasingly more difficult.
There was a couch and a comfortable armchair there; I brought blankets and pillows, and even exotic but comfortable clothing, including a hijab that I had recently brought back from Egypt. The evening was heated with a large ceramic stove. It consumes enormous quantities of wood, so abundant in the forests of Stauffenberg. On the other hand, it stored and radiated heat for a long time, so that it was not necessary to constantly feed the fire. It is located in the apartment on the ground floor, where the Gestapo stored documents seized after the attempt on Hitler’s life. The Gestapo’s seal was still there, above the door.
I had recently married. Taurita123 paid for her admission to the house; with the arrival of the guests, the ground floor would have to become taboo. Upstairs, she had to prepare a “midnight dinner”, select the music, keep an eye on the cat and prevent it from escaping to the ground floor, disconnect the telephone and the household appliances and, in general, to do everything she could to prevent anything from disturbing our get-together.
This, as a I have said, has become increasingly more difficult. The monotonous drone of motors is the mortal enemy of all higher perception. Here, the will speaks out against representation. These noises have intensified and multiplied over the last twenty years that I have resided in this town, and not only as a result of automotive and aerial traffic, but also because of the automatic machines that are spreading all over the landscape and in houses. The acoustic fabric has changed—the number of human beings, animals and bells that once composed it has considerably diminished. Silence is not even obtained in the depths; when the fighter jet roars overhead, I see the fish convulsively stiffen in the basin in the garden and dive to the bottom.
The four of us were seated at the table, where the pitcher with the magic mushrooms was set. The water had softened them; each of us began to chew two or three. They were hard and fibrous, they tasted like mould and humus.
Mushrooms participate in a special way in the cycle of birth and death. They are closer to the earth than the green plants, just as snakes are, compared to other animals. In both cases, the body is less differentiated; the foot dominates. In compensation, the wealth of salutary and lethal forces is greater—as is their role in the heritage of the mysteries. Old gunpowder-head124 knew why he saw the serpent as the wisest of the animals.
As usual, we spent half an hour or a little longer sitting in silence. Then the first signs came: the flowers on the table began to blaze and radiate a brilliant light. It was Saturday evening; outside, as on every weekend, the streets were being swept. The strokes of the broom lacerated the silence.
These scrapings and sweepings, joined now and then by a scratching sound, a dull blow, a resounding crash and banging, were produced at random but were at the same time symptomatic, as one of the signs that herald the onset of illness. It always plays a role in the history of magic spells. Görres reports on its existence in Egypt, Gottfried Keller on its existence in Switzerland. It is necessary to have experienced such a detail, then one knows its place. There are rare insects hiding everywhere, you only need an entomologist to explore the countryside to see them. Before Sunday arrives, the streets are swept, the litter is taken away, the town is cleaned; before the door is opened, one calls out and knocks. Nothing is more natural. The festival is less an interruption of everyday life than its elevation to a higher plane of meaning. Whatever we may ordinarily do almost instinctively, we become conscious of in a higher sense.
From that moment, the mushroom began to take effect; the bouquet of spring flowers gleamed with an intense color, it did not seem to be a natural light. The shadows pulsated in every corner, as if they yearned to become embodied. I felt oppressed and overcome by a sense of coldness, despite the heat emitted by the stove. I reclined on the sofa and covered myself with the blanket right up to my chin.
Everything was skin and tactile, even my retina—there, contact distilled multicolor light; it was arranged into cords that oscillated smoothly, in strings of crystalline pearls that evoke oriental chambers. They form doors like those that we cross in dreams, curtains of voluptuousness and danger. The wind makes them flutter like a robe. They also hang from the waists of the dancers, they open and close with the swaying of their hips, and a drizzle of extremely subtle sounds falls from the pearls and permeates my sharpened senses. The tinkling of silver rings on ankles and wrists is now very intense. I smelled sweat, blood, tobacco, the dirty manes of horses, cheap rosewater scent. Who knows what goes on in the stables?
It had to be a gigantic palace, Mauretanian, a place that was not at all pleasant. These dance chambers took the form of contiguous pieces, all in a line until they were lost in the distance. And everywhere, brilliant curtains, sparkling—radioactive splendor. Furthermore, the drizzle of crystal instruments seduced, sensually solicited: “Would you like to come with me, you handsome young man?” Now it ceased, then it returned, more demanding, more penetrating, almost certain of my connivance.
Then came something with form: historical collages, the human vox, the call of the cuckoo. Was it the whore of Santa Lucia, who showed her tits in the window? Then your pay was gone. Salome danced; her amber necklace sparkled and made her nipples harden when it brushed against them. What would she not do for her Saint John?125—damnation, it was a repugnant obscenity, but it did not come from me, it was murmured from behind the curtain.
The serpents of the swamp, at the dawn of life, lie coiled lazily on the doormat. Their skin was decorated with glittering scales. Other serpents watched us with ruby and emerald eyes from the wooden paneling. Whispering and brilliance, whistling and glow, are mixed, like those minuscule sickles with which the witch of the harvest reaps the stems. Then the sound grew quiet and then returned, softer, more urgent. I was enchanted. Then “we understood each other”.126
My wife parted the curtains; she was busy, she walked past me, without looking directly at me. I saw her boots, with their red heels. Her garters hung down her thick thighs, in the middle; the flesh formed flaps from above. Monstrous breasts, the dark delta of the Amazon, parrots, piranhas, pebbles, everywhere.
She went to the kitchen—or did we have a pantry, too? I could no longer distinguish between the brilliance and the gleam, the whistling and the glow; it was as if now everything was concentrated, enormously happy and expectant.
The heat became unbearable; I tossed the blanket aside. The room was dimly lit; the pharmacologist was standing next to the window, wearing a white mandarin kimono, which I had worn only a little while before at the Rottweil carnival. The orientalist was sitting next to the ceramic stove; he was moaning as if he was in the throes of a nightmare.
Now I realized; it was a first assault, and it would not be long before it was repeated. Time had still not passed. I had seen the little mother with the changing face. But the mud is also earth, subject, like gold, to metamorphoses. One must resign oneself to this, as long as approach has not been consummated.
Thus were the mushrooms of the earth.127 More light was concealed in the dark ergot that is separated from the ear of the rye plant, and even more yet in the green sap of the fat little plants that grow on the torrid slopes of Mexico. Mistletoe probably harbors even greater, unexplored secrets, but secrets that have been sensed from the most remote times. The spirit of the earth reveals its power in a protean diversity, in the slums as well as on the opulent Avenues, in the Suburra as well as on the Capitol. De Quincey saw the consul romanus in triumph and Nietzsche saw the bestial Caesar, when “Rome grew a whore, a brothel she grew”.
Shortly after the ascent, there was a hint of a let-down—perhaps I should take another mushroom. However, the whispers and the murmurings, the brightness and the shining lights, returned again—the bait dragged the fish after it. Once the motif is given, it is engraved as on the roll of a barrel organ—the new assault, the new turn repeats the melody. The game does not lead beyond this roll of evils.
I do not know how often it was repeated, nor do I wish to go into details. It is preferable to treat certain things with discretion. In any case, it was past midnight when we were once again sitting around the table and conversing. We also heard something from the floor above. From there, a melody descended, of an incredible and enchanting delicacy, which dissolved in an Eleusinian aura of the Spirit of the Earth:
“This portrait is enchantingly beautiful.”128
No Titus, no Caesar, had ever thus made his entry. If we could have this passport to present at the last threshold—the bolts of the door would fly open. The music of Mozart and the mussel, that heart of the sea.
We went upstairs; dinner was served. Our senses were still keen and open: “The doors of perception.” The light flowed from the red wine in the carafe, a ring of foam broke over the rim. We listened to a flute concerto.
It could not have been better for the others: “How nice it is to be among humans again.”
Those were the words of Albert Hofmann, who had sojourned in endless cities of ancient Mexico, among palaces whose rooms were paneled with gold, with columns and staircases of precious stones, in a labyrinthine search for human beings in a world of geometrical beauty, in silence without an echo, light without shadow. But it was a necropolis, like the City of Brass of Emir Musa, over which no bird ever flew: a solitary magnificence, remote and deserted.
The orientalist, on the other hand, had been in Samarkand, where Tamerlane lay in his sarcophagus of jade. He had followed the triumphal procession through cities whose wedding gifts to the conqueror upon his entry were baskets full of eyes. There he had remained for a long time, next to one of the pyramids of skulls that were erected to daunt the people, and he had recognized his own head in the ossuary of decapitated heads. It was encrusted with precious stones.
The pharmacologist had a sudden revelation when he heard the orientalist’s account: “Now I know why you were sitting on that chair without a head—I was amazed; I could not have been mistaken.”
I ask myself if I should not have omitted this detail, since it brushes up against the borders of ghost stories.
“We shall not content ourselves with ghosts.”
“Nor with miracles, they are shortcuts.”
“Even Görres had descended below his level when he addressed this theme.”
Une jolie femme a bien d’autres moyens de faire la charité.
“Ah, it will never be so beautiful again.”
LSD, again
I was still capable, at the right place and time, of rediscovering ergot of rye as the missing link [in English in the original]. For a long time I had kept three glass vials of the “extract of its subtly mortal sap”, along with the Mexican oddities that Guido had brought to my house from his excursions. Last Thursday, Albert Hofmann arrived from Switzerland for the purpose of correcting my opinion about his synthesis. “Synthesis”: this is what we call an operation, which should not be precisely delimited as either a discovery or as an invention. Everything is discovered; we lift the veil that covers nature and its forces, into whose heart we shall never penetrate. This is dangerous, and so it was in this case. From this overabundance, we extract what we think is to our benefit. We bleed the wealth from the Great Mother. The technological world is not just a mill, but also a central milking machine. This is already visible even in the form of retorts. In this landscape, not only does a subtle grinding and threshing take place, but so too is the sap sucked and distilled in millions of drilling platforms and gas stations. We even milk the rays of light and the air.
Today, we must not worry about such things; after breakfast, we took another trip, which ended at nightfall. Against all expectations, I managed to take some notes—this proves, furthermore, that I am now an experienced traveler at such latitudes. Here is my travel log, without commentaries:
Wilflingen, February 7, 1970
10:25—No nail file to open the vials; I had to have one brought from town.
LSD: E. J. 150 gammas or 0.15 mg, A. H. 100 gammas or 0.10 mg.
Dissolved in a small glass of water, a light fluorescence.
“Know nothing.”
“Nothing is a dangerous business.”
“Bon voyage!”
Conversation about synthetic materials. They, too, are nothing but building blocks that we lay in one place or another. Shaped bricks that come from clay, discoveries, not inventions. Not even the growers of fancy greenhouse flowers can create them without seeds.
10:45—A. H. feels the first effect. Tightness in his shoulders, fatigue. “Even more somatic.” Record player: Mozart.
10:55—Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major. A finch is pecking on the windowsill. Did you hear something? You hear everything, when you descend far enough towards the bottom of the undifferentiated.
The finches are pecking at seeds from a small paper bag, whose yellow color is now becoming intense. And the limestone surface is also acquiring, with the petrified fish, an intense orange, which I have never observed before, not even in the direct sunlight. The bricks in one of the towers of Stauffenberg have turned red as if it was sunset. Wherever a layer of moss had formed, the green also became very vivid. The color blue, however, remained entirely subdued. Otherwise, we are dead, industrial, barren colors.
I am sitting in my studio, A. H. is in the library. It is starting to snow.
11:15—The blue is now also becoming more intense. The color black is still lifeless. I ask myself whether I should go to the library. It might give him a good scare.
I feel the need to lie down. The music of Mozart evokes “porcelain figures that dance a minuet”. Therefore, still dead.
“What if we can still do it? It would be, anyway, a test.”
“Oh, you know, that does not require any effort.”
11:40—“Do you want to sleep?”
“It is not a dream.”
“It would also be serious.”
11:50—The external world never ceases to disturb. Bulldozers. But now those murmurs … as if two people were whispering in one of the separée of the universe.
“They are buffoons.”
The bells are ringing. “Better than machines.”
Is our perception becoming more acute? Or has matter become more conspicuous? We will never be able to fathom it.
12:10—Our ship is rocking violently. Towards sobriety, too.
12:45—For a moment I was alone with myself—with himself. Then to A. H.: “Now something better. Better, yes, better…. although still not quite everything.”
For a moment identity.
13:00—Soaring like an eagle.
A. H.: “There is nothing comparable in our language. But it comes from another world.”
We now enter other spaces, where peace reigns. Only those who know war know the meaning of peace.
A. H.: “The blue is turning transparent.”
E. J.: “The name Hofmann, too.”
13:15—Absolute wellbeing. As if a rich spring had burst forth even at the very heart of phenomena.
13:16—Another attempt to fly like an eagle. Not only the edges, but the whole fabric of the linen, violet.
13:30—E. J.: “I no longer need reinforcements.”
A. H.: “I think that is enough.”
13:50—Again: the position of the eagle—the flight of the eagle. Three times: the wing feathers!
14:00—The final and most subtle approach—the wing of he who wants to sacrifice himself.
14:35—“Long” absence.
15:00—Flight of the eagle. Identity.
15:23—Three wing feathers.
15:30—Spring arrives. It was the most enchanting accord, more subtle with the return.
16:35—Radiant blue.
A. H.: “I vividly feel the beauty of this space … therefore, it must come from somewhere else.”
17:15—Leaps of the eagle, three.
With nightfall we began to converse: we came down. The flight had been a success—only the machines caused some annoyance; their rhythm is the main enemy both of meditation as well as of the vibrations of the Muses. Mechanized, brutal will; we are either crushed or galvanized.
We should choose spaces in remote gardens, with simple and solid furniture. Little metal, preferably bronze; much quality wood, like the kind that is used by the craftsmen who manufacture violins; wicker matting; thatch roofs. No breathtaking panoramas, no views of the sea or the mountains—a pond would be sufficient, a few walls, not too high, on which a lizard lies.
Then we took a walk around the town, each of us lost in thought, before we sat down at the table. The snow had melted and it began to freeze again; the emanations were still vivid; the snow gleamed like glaze fresh out of a hot oven.
We began to build the house starting from the roof: Europe, the East, Mexico. First of all, pure pleasure with its advantages and dangers, then adventure with its fantastic, esthetic and spiritual regions, and finally approaches, for which, in the past, we would have run the risk of being burned or venerated, and whose names have survived. The word crystallizes.
This last chapter is, like the previous ones, intended to deal with the topic more from a thematic than a chronological point of view.
When I moved from Überlingen to Kirchhorst, I expected an epoch of more modest labor. But when, from my desk, I saw the street through the garden of the house of the parish priest, I began to suspect that it would be a long time before I would be able to realize such a desire: there, everything vibrated, increasingly more vividly and in a more and more threatening manner.
In this period of transition, I was invited once, along with Sieburg, Pückler and others, to Fuschl; the invitation came from Ribbentrop, who was thinking of some kind of brain-trust [in English in the original], where an introductory panorama of the foreign policy situation would be offered. In this affair, I was not able to make much of a contribution—a circumstance that had been repeated on various occasions in my life. The description of this journey—I travelled in an airplane from Frankfurt to Salzburg and back—offered Friedrich Sieburg, by the way, material for one of his brilliant anecdotal pieces.
I returned to Kirchhorst in a mood of tranquil satisfaction, thinking that I would play a game of poker. This was undoubtedly my intention. That, at bottom, I knew better, was proven to me by the text of On the Marble Cliffs, which then took up almost all my time. That narrative belongs less to the literary field than to the visionary field—an example of what they call in Westphalia, and also here in Lower Saxony, a “fire alarm”.
The fact that that brief text would provoke, immediately and also during the first days of the war, such vehement political commentaries, was inevitable and just, to the extent that fate was also orchestrated politically.
Basically, the war was lost before it even began. In any case, our consciousness has many layers, and vision rarely reaches the bottom. Sometimes, I thought that I had been deceived—thus with the entry of the troops into Paris. Later, once again, I felt confirmed in my opinion by a series of details that were impossible to foresee, thus, on July 20, 1944—when we would speak of a “bad awakening”, adjusted to such a situation. Only seldom do we know the content of the dreams that have preceded.

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