Hofmann’s Elixir by Amanda Feilding (Ed)
Originally published in 2008 ‘Hofmann’s Elixir’ is a collection of talks and essays by Albert Hofmann and various other psychedelic notables including Ralph Metzner, Myron J. Stolaroff and Stanislav Grof. The text is edited by Amanda Feilding of the Beckley Foundation. Published the same year that Albert Hofmann passed away (aged 102) the book is a fitting reflection of the man’s life and legacy.
The text is divided into two parts. The first contains a selection of eight talks and essays by Albert Hofmann himself. It contains a diverse cross-section of information that succinctly portrays the thought and history of a man who, on April 19th 1943, became the first person to intentionally consume the hallucinogen Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Having first synthesized the substance in 1938; intuition returned him to it some years later and the actions of this moment have had huge repercussions on society ever since.
During his lifetime Hofmann developed several theoretical models that have demonstrated that he was no simple scientist; rather someone with a keen insight into both the nature of his own work and the wider world around him. Alongside Gordon Wasson and Carl Ruck, he developed a strong but not widely held theory that hallucinogens were used during the Eleusinian Rites of the ancient world. A book was published on the topic and a chapter in this text examines ‘The Message of the Eleusinian Mysteries for the Modern World.’
Another theoretical model that Hofmann developed and which is explored in this text is his ‘sender-receiver model of reality.’ In a very precise and thoughtful manner he explores how this model demonstrates that “everyone is the creator of her or his own world, for alone within us can the Earth and the variegated life on it, the stars and heavens become real.” The model is also a useful demonstration in uncovering the dualism, which pervades a good deal of human thought in that the a dualistic system is in fact more usually a unity.
“Within our sender-receiver metaphor, the following can be expressed: as matter, the human brain is part of the material universe, and as so the brain is part of the sender. But the idea and the blueprints for the brain have developed to such a level of mental ability as we have defined as receiver. This means that mind and matter, sender and receiver, are fused together in the brain, that the dualism of sender-receiver doesn’t really exist.”
My personal favourite text from part 1 is ‘Jünger: The Frontier-Walker’. Hofmann and the author Ernst Jünger were good friends and this chapter talks about LSD sessions that the two undertook together and about Jünger’s thoughts on the place of “phantastica” in society: “Jünger saw the essential significance of the phantastica in the possibility of contributing to this transformation.” The transformation is the over-coming of the dualistic, material world view; something that echoes across the psychedelic spectrum of ideas.
Part 2 is a collection of essays by several notable people from the psychedelic community; Huston Smith, Myron Stolaroff, Ralph Metzner, Jonathon Ott, Stanislav Grof and the collection’s editor Amanda Feilding. From the perspective of ‘self’ that we find in part 1, the text then extends the boundaries of Albert Hofmann, into the individual who has had great cultural and social impact via his thought and research.
Huston Smith writes a small passage about meeting Hofmann, which is heart-felt and revealing of the man’s friendship and manner. Similarly Myron Stolaroff writes a tribute to Hofmann that extols the virtues of both his LSD discovery and his philosophical outlook, which Hofmann wrote in more detail in his book ‘Insight Outlook’: “It is essential to recognise that the one-sided belief in the natural scientific view of life is based on a momentous error. Certainly, everything it contains is true, but this only represents half of reality; only its material, quantifiable half.”
I found Ralph Metzner’s essay ‘Albert Hofmann and the Quest for the Alchemical Philosophers’ Stone’ to be particularly informative and enlightening. In it Metzner looks at the history of alchemy across different historical cultures and explains it in regard to the transmutation of self. He ties in its historical roots with the shamanic knowledge-seeking traditions and the intertextuality of their ideas. Although he is “not saying that LSD or any other psychoactive molecule is the legendary stone of the Philosophers” he does argue that Hofmann’s discovery re-ignited an ancient link in the Western esoteric tradition.
Jonathon Ott describes how he came to be Hofmann’s text translator in ‘LSD/Spirituality/Life: Signs and Portents’ and how their friendship had created certain pathways and occurrences in his own life. It goes even further in painting a picture of a man who, by all accounts herein, was extremely remarkable. Stanislav Grof, as someone who has run approximately 4000 psychedelic sessions in his fifty year career, looks at the history and current state of clinical research. He speaks of great hope about the current ‘psychedelic renaissance’.
Finally, Amanda Feilding, founder of the Beckley Foundation, wrote ‘LSD and the Evolution of Consciousness.’ This final chapter beautifully contextualises how the tools for exploring consciousness are at our fingertips; through a backdrop of her own life and a meeting with Hofmann, in which she promised to obtain the permission to research LSD with human subjects, for the first time anywhere in 35 years. Something she succeeded in doing.
The measure of a man is beyond the remit of his physical self. ‘Hofmann’s Elixir’ goes to great lengths to show that the measure of Albert Hofmann is not just a single discovery. His cultural and scientific impact has been hugely diverse and yet has been tempered by a man who had great reverence in all that he undertook. His character has left great impressions on those who knew him and this book provides the reader with a wonderful, insightful picture of one of the 20th century’s most important and charismatic scientists. To obtain a copy of this book please visit the Beckley Foundation page here.