March 3, 2006
St. Albert and the LSD Revelation Revolution
St. Albert and the LSD Revelation Revolution
Painting by Alex Grey
Published in: Juxtapose
By Alex Grey
On January 11th, 2006, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD, Dr. Albert
Hofmann, turned 100 years old. The birthday celebration was an elegant
gathering of family, friends and colleagues held in Basel, Switzerland at
the Museum of Cultures. My wife Allyson and I were invited because of our
association with psychedelic culture and participation in a Symposium later
that week. Distinguished guests at the birthday gathering spoke in German,
but even monolinguistic Americans could understand the reverence and
enthusiasm shown in speeches praising Dr. Hofmann as a scientist and a sage..
A reception followed where invited guests mingled and toasted. Allyson
and I greeted many old friends and made some new ones. I was intrigued to
learn that none of the members of Dr. Hofmann's large family or any of his
relatives, except for his wife, had ever tried LSD. The good doctor has
always steered away from advocacy, yet has come to feel that some kind of
divine intervention or destiny did play a role in his discovery.
I was especially glad to see Stan Grof and H.R. Giger because they could not
be in attendance at the Symposium. Stanislav Grof is the leading
psychiatric researcher, having led over 4,000 lsd psychotherapeutic
sessions, and premier cartographer of the spectrum of consciousness that LSD
gives a person access to. Grof has commented that LSD is a tool for
exploring the mind in the same way that the telescope gives one access to
the celestial realms and the microscope gives one access to the world of the
cellular, molecular and atomic. He has also included in all his research
some amazing drawings and paintings by LSD patients and fine artists that
help describe the various altered states of awareness. Grof has used
Giger's work in many of his books, such as, Realms of the Human Unconscious,
and Beyond the Brain.
When I asked the obvious question to Giger as to whether LSD had made a
difference in his own work, he would only say, "Oh no, no, it is against the
law, it is forbidden!" I guess youve got to respect a man's privacy.
Though I do admire artists like R. Crumb and Keith Haring who admitted they
used LSD and that it was critical in the development of their own style.
That is the way Allyson and I feel regarding our own work. The next day we
and some good friends visited the Giger Museum, which is an astonishing,
in-depth immersion into the artist's unique visionary shadow realm. You
have to be a bit determined to find Giger's castle in the small and
beautifully Swiss alpine town of Gruyere. We enjoyed seeing the biggest
collection of his work ever on display. The dark galleries felt filled with
the demons of modern life, a festering biomechanical psychosexual orgy of
predators and victims. On an upper floor Giger exhibits some of his
collaborative works with several artists and then has several galleries
filled with his own art collection which includes Joe Colemans amazing
Charles Manson portrait and a few beautiful originals by Ernst Fuchs. No
one leaves without getting a drink at the Giger Bar. Gaudi meets Gunter Von
Back to Basel
To honor Dr. Hofmann's centennial, a three-day LSD symposium was held January 14, 15, 16 in Basel, Switzerland. Leading scientific, psychiatric, pharmaceutical,
legal, artistic, mystical voices spoke on the various physiological,
personal, social and spiritual impacts of LSD. Dr. Albert Hofmann spoke the
first and last evening and was showered with praise and applause by over two
thousand attendees (we also sang, "Happy Birthday to you"). Hofmann was
swarmed with fans wherever he went, and one of the Symposium announcers
said, Dr. Hofmann apologizes that he will not be able to sign everyone's
book, because he explained, "I'm no longer 90."
Dr. Hofmann first synthesized the compound in 1938, while researching ergot
derivatives as a chemist for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel. The substance
was tested on lab animals with no interesting results, so like hundreds of
similar test compounds, investigation of this drug was abandoned.
Yet, in 1943, at the horrific height of WWII and shortly after Fermi made
his discovery that led to the atomic bomb, Hofmann had a "peculiar
presentiment" to re-synthesize LSD. These were dark days in 1943, I imagine
the smoke of the ovens of Auschwitz psychically wafting over Switzerland.
Hofmann said that never before or since had he any similar "presentiment."
His remix of LSD-25 in April of 1943 was when he discovered the
psychological vortex of acid. He experienced overwhelming fear of dying and
feelings of having left his body and later, heavenly kaleidoscopic visions.
The first LSD trip, April 19, 1943, is also widely known as "bicycle day"
because of Hofmanns wild bike ride from his lab to his home through the
streets of Basel, full of perceptual distortions, not knowing whether he
would ever return from his madness. The last element I painted on the
portrait was a little bike riding Hofmann, and in honor of the good doctor,
I was on LSD as I painted it.
In my portrait of Dr. Hofmann, the eye of transcendental spirit in the upper
left hand corner of the painting releases spiralic streams of primordial
rainbow spheres of potential, one of which becomes a compassionate
alchemical angel, whose tears drip down to anoint or "create" the LSD
molecule that the doctor holds in his hands, and a demon, here identified
with Nazi power tugs or pushes at it. LSD opens a visionary gateway to the
heart, as shown by the spiral of fractally infinitizing eyes resembling the
stripey eye-spheres of the molecule, swirling into the center of the chest.
On St. Alberts shoulderblade is a portrait of Paracelsus, the Alchemist of
Basel, 500 years ago, who is credited with founding modern Chemistry, yet
his alchemical goal was to discover the Philosopher's Stone. Alchemy was
the art and science of the transmutation of the elements, like turning lead
into gold and the identification of the soul of the alchemist with the
chemical transformations as a metaphor of their journey to enlightenment.
Modern Chemistry took the psyche and mystery out of the material weighed and
measured world, reducing the world to a heap of atoms. LSD brought psyche
back front and center to the chemical material world, that is partly why I
believe that LSD is the Philosopher's Stone, the discovery of which, also in
the town of Basel, is the result of an alchemical process put in motion by
the great Paracelsus.
I put a lot of LSD personalities and symbolism in the aura of Dr. Hofmann.
Some of these people were Dr. Hofmanns friends, like Aldous Huxley, Gordon
Wasson and Maria Sabina, Richard Evans Schultes, each of these people had a
special connection to psychedelics. Huxley wrote fearlessly about the
psychedelic experience in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, which
also talks about Visionary states and works of art. His dying wish was to be
injected with 100 mcs of LSD and this was noted by his wife Laura to assist
his transition. Gordon Wasson brought the magic psilocybin mushrooms to
the world by attending the Mexican curandera, Maria Sabina's sacred mushroom
healing ceremony, then writing about it in Life Magazine. Hofmann later
analyzed the mushroom and distilled the previously unclassified psychedelic,
I put the classic folks in like Timothy Leary, Ram Das, Ralph Metzner, Grof,
Ott and McKenna. I tried to put in a few lesser known psychedelic stories,
like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dock Ellis, who pitched a "no-hitter" on acid
and said there were comet trails on every ball. An article originally
appeared in the Mail on Sunday (London), August 8, 2004, with the headline,
"Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life!", Francis
Crick used it for creative thinking, in this way unraveling the structure of
DNA, the discovery that won him the Nobel Prize. Directly under Crick is
Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993 for his invention
of PCR, a method for detecting even the smallest amount of DNA in ancient
materials. "Would I have invented PCR if I hadn't taken LSD? I seriously
doubt it," he says. "I could sit on a DNA molecule and watch the polymers
go by. I learnt that partly on psychedelic drugs."
One of the best summaries of the mystical impact of acid was George
Harrisons Rolling Stone Interview from 1987. In it he says, "For me, 1966
was the time when the whole world opened up and had a greater meaning. But
that was a direct result of LSD. It was like opening the door, really, and
before, you didn't even know there was a door there. I had such an
overwhelming feeling of well-being, that there was a God, and I could see
him in every blade of grass. It was like gaining hundreds of years of
experience within twelve hours. It changed me, and there was no way back to
what I was before."
The LSD Symposium could be a turning point in the story of this amazing
molecule, as the subtitle of the conference, "from Problem Child to Wonder
Drug" suggests. Thousands of people from all over the world came together
to discuss the proven possibilities of LSD in psychotherapy, spirituality,
the arts, for creative problem-solving in all fields, and how LSD was
misused and abused by the CIA, and also by many people seeking a
recreational high who catalyzed their own latent psychoses.
Yet, as has been proven in the Good Friday Experiment and in follow-up
studies, psychedelics can evoke a mystical experience and bring a person
closer to God. Even if only a glimpse of the infinite, a person never
forgets that encounter. The hope is that such a vision of unity can help
bring people to care more for themselves, each other and our world. I
believe that taken in the proper set and setting, LSD can be the right
medicine for humanities ailing and alienated soul. God help that it find a
more fair legal and spiritual status around the world in the 21st century.
One of the most intensely beautiful moments from the trip to Basel came when
Dr. Hofmann generously signed the back of my portrait of him, adding also
the date of his birthday and the LSD formula. He wagged his finger at me
and in Germanic sounding English, said, "Youve got the eye!" He agreed to
sign an edition of 50 prints (already sold out) to help fund scientific
psychedelic research through MAPS,
and to assist our cultural center in New York City, the Chapel of Sacred
Mirrors (http://www.cosm.org). St. Albert and the LSD
Revelation Revolution will be on display in the Chapel. Please come visit.
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