Reasonances by Carl Abrahamsson

ReasonancesPublished in late 2014, Reasonances by Swedish writer and polymath extraordinaire Carl Abrahamsson is made up of essays, interviews and lectures from 2000 to 2013. Subjects that are covered include the magical art of Rosaleen Norton, Crowley’s Thelema and German author Ernst Jünger’s psychedelic explorations. In addition, the book features Abrahamsson’s accounts of meetings with subcultural luminaries such as Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey and the late musician and artist Lady Jaye.

The edition from which this review was written has a stylish mandarin cloth cover and, as is expected of titles published by Scarlet Imprint, the book as a whole has an immaculate design. The only image seen on the front cover is a unicorn. While this motif is a well-worn cliché in the world of mainstream fantasy and children’s books, when seen in the context of Reasonances it is transformed into a playful invitation to the realm of magic. The book also includes a handful of photographs (all portraits) taken by Abrahamsson himself, who, incidentally, is a seasoned photographer.

Instead of a foreword and introduction, the book opens with an article titled Twentieth Century Occultism: A Brief History of Hocus Pocus. Told in an engaging and straightforward way, the piece is a great starting point for those looking for an overview of the occult during the 1900s. Abrahamsson’s short exposition of some of the key figures and events during the era is interspersed with his own views on the subject. For example, it is evident that he has a strong belief in the transformative potential of art, saying:

“Change doesn’t always come with tanks, brute force, financial rape and industrialisation. Sometimes change comes slowly, subtly and silently through the visions and works of artists. As another mind reacts to the image or the written words or music in question, there is a new creation emergent, a third mind, as Burroughs and Gysin called it” (Abrahamsson 2014, 12).

Seeing that Abrahamsson is mostly associated with the occult, one may assume that most people who will read Reasonances are people with a keen interest in the subject. However, besides his long-standing interest in occulture – to use a recurring word in the author’s vocabulary – he is no stranger to subjects that are firmly rooted in psychedelia. For example, Reasonances features a short yet informative and illuminating essay on the aforementioned German author and psychonaut Ernst Jünger.

Strangely ignored by publishers of psychedelic literature, Jünger’s 1970 book Annäherungen: Drogen und Rausch (lit. “Approaches: Drugs and Ecstatic Intoxication”) has yet to be published in English. In his book Jünger discusses various drugs including mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, opium and ether. Annäherungen came out in Swedish for the first time in 1978 via the underground publishing company Cavefors, which is the edition Abrahamsson is quoting in his essay (another Swedish edition followed in 2007). For those wanting to read a sample from the book in English, Erowid.org has republished a translation of a chapter titled The Plant as Autonomous Power, which originally appeared in an issue of The Entheogen Review.

Jünger is clearly a fascinating figure when it comes to European psychedelic culture. In Reasonances, Abrahamsson tells the story of the psychedelic explorations of Jünger and Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who discovered LSD. Hofmann was an admirer of Jünger’s literary works, and after World War II they started corresponding with each other, which lead to an LSD trip together in 1951. Jünger, who had previous experience with mescaline but had never done acid, found the trip weak. The mild experience was attributed to having taken a low dose. In 1962, the two psychonauts met up for another psychedelic session. This time, however, the drug of choice was psilocybin. It turned out to be a dark yet rewarding experience for the two gentlemen. Furthermore, in 1970 when Jünger was in his mid 70s, a second LSD trip took place, which turned out to be more successful than their experience in the early 1950s (Abrahamsson 2014, 103-106). Incidentally, both Jünger and Hofmann reached the remarkable age of 102.

As a side note it should be mentioned that Jünger appears to be the one responsible for launching the term “psychonaut”. Seeing that the word is still very much in use by various writers and researchers, this linguistic contribution to psychedelia is quite a noteworthy accomplishment.

Besides two interviews with seminal filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Reasonances includes a rare, extended interview with the late American director Conrad Rooks. The article weaves a fascinating story of the director’s life and work. In his younger years Rooks was heavily addicted to alcohol and later opium. Drawing from his own life, addiction also became the subject of his semi-autobiographical 1966 début Chappaqua. Apart from starring Rooks in its leading role, the film features William S. Burroughs as “Opium Jones” and a cameo by Allen Ginsberg. While addiction is a central theme to Chappaqua, it is also heavily influenced by psychedelia, so much so that Abrahamsson describes it as ”one of the most hallucinatory movies ever made” (Abrahamsson 2014, 110).

In summary, Reasonances is an impressive greatest hits collection of Abrahamsson’s non-fiction writings, and shows his coming of age as a leading researcher of the underground arts. A multifaceted journey into occultism, magic, art, religion and psychedelia, the book is essential reading for those studying the intersection of these subjects.

Henrik Dahl

Henrik Dahl is an arts journalist, critic and editor specialising in psychedelic culture and art.

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