“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”—William Blake

I have as friends in Stockholm two people, physicians, who are educated in psychopharmacology and other neurosciences—father and daughter, Vasil and Jeanette. They are reading this currently best-selling book, which they will lend to me when they finish reading it: “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” by Michael Pollan.
[Note: I am not recommending that the reader, or anyone, take the drugs described here. I am not proselytizing as did Timothy Leary. This is merely a factual presentation.]

The book’s subject is about the clinical use of the psychedelics LSD (Lysergic acid Diethylamide) and psilocybin, found in 200 species of “magic mushrooms.”

“Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists inadvertently catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research.” (Source)

One of the “evangelists” referred to above was Timothy Leary:

As a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, Leary conducted experiments under the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1960–62 (LSD and psilocybin were still legal in the United States at the time) … The scientific legitimacy and ethics of his research were questioned by other Harvard faculty because he took psychedelics together with research subjects and pressured students in his class to take psychedelics in the research studies. Leary and his colleague, Richard Alpert (who later became known as Ram Dass), were fired from Harvard University in May 1963…

Leary believed that LSD showed potential for therapeutic use in psychiatry. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. After leaving Harvard, he continued to publicly promote the use of psychedelic drugs and became a well-known figure of the counterculture of the 1960s. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy, such as “turn on, tune in, drop out”, “set and setting”, and “think for yourself and question authority”.

Leary also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts involving space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE) … He gave lectures, occasionally billing himself as a “performing philosopher.” During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of 36 prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as “the most dangerous man in America”.[Source]

LSD was introduced as a commercial medication under the trade-name Delysid for various psychiatric uses in 1947. It was brought to the attention of the United States in 1949 by Sandoz Laboratories. Throughout the 1950s, mainstream media reported on research into LSD and its growing use in psychiatry, and undergraduate psychology students taking LSD as part of their education described the effects of the drug. Time magazine published six positive reports on LSD between 1954 and 1959.

By the mid-1950s, LSD research was being conducted in major American medical centers, where researchers used LSD as a means of temporarily replicating the effects of mental illness. One of the leading authorities on LSD during the 1950s in the United States was the psychoanalyst Sidney Cohen. Cohen first took the drug on October 12, 1955 and expected to have an unpleasant trip, but was surprised when he experienced “no confused, disoriented delirium.” He reported that the “problems and strivings, the worries and frustrations of everyday life vanished; in their place was a majestic, sunlit, heavenly inner quietude.”

Cohen immediately began his own experiments with LSD with the help of Aldous Huxley whom he had met in 1955. In 1957, with the help of psychologist Betty Eisner, Cohen began experimenting on whether or not LSD might have a helpful effect in facilitating psychotherapy, curing alcoholism, and enhancing creativity. Between 1957 and 1958, they treated 22 patients who suffered from minor personality disorders. LSD was also given to artists in order to track their mental deterioration, but Huxley believed LSD might enhance their creativity. Between 1958 and 1962, psychiatrist Oscar Janiger tested LSD on more than 100 painters, writers, and composers.

HERE IS A RARE FILM: Dr. Cohen interviews a subject who has volunteered to take LSD.

Sandoz halted LSD production in August 1965 after growing governmental protests at its proliferation among the general populace. The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States distributed LSD on a limited basis for scientific research. Scientific study of LSD largely ceased by about 1980 as research funding declined, and governments became wary of permitting such research, fearing that the results of the research might encourage illicit LSD use. By the end of the 20th century, there were few authorized researchers left, and their efforts were mostly directed towards establishing approved protocols for further work with LSD in easing the suffering of the dying and with drug addicts and alcoholics. (Source)

The Doors of Perception is a book by Aldous Huxley. Published in 1954, it elaborates on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline in May 1953. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, ranging from the “purely aesthetic” to “sacramental vision”,[1] and reflects on their philosophical and psychological implications. In 1956, he published Heaven and Hell, another essay which elaborates these reflections further. The two works have since often been published together as one book; the title of both comes from William Blake‘s 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The Doors of Perception provoked strong reactions for its evaluation of psychedelic drugs as facilitators of mystical insight with great potential benefits for science, art, and religion. While many found the argument compelling, others including writer Thomas Mann, Vedantic monk Swami Prabhavananda, philosopher Martin Buber and scholar Robert Charles Zaehner countered that the effects of mescaline are subjective and should not be conflated with objective religious mysticism. Huxley himself continued to take psychedelics until his death and adjusted his understanding, which also impacted his 1962 final novel Island. (Source)

The Doors, musical group

Jim Morrison, 1969

The Doors were an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1965, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore. They were among the most controversial and influential rock acts of the 1960s, mostly because of Morrison’s lyrics and his erratic stage persona, and the group was widely regarded as representative of the era’s counterculture. The band took its name from the title of Aldous Huxley‘s book The Doors of Perception, itself a reference to a quote by William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed,” he once wrote, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

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The “Spirituality” that Influenced my Grandmother near the turn of the 20th Century

Eva and I visited the current exhibition of art at Millesgården on the island of Lidingö, the outdoor sculpture garden on a cliff overlooking the sound between Lidingö and Stockholm.

(Quoting from the descriptive panel inside the entrance to the indoor art exhibition:)

The exhibition Painting and Spirituality presents three Swedish artists, active at the previous turn of the century: Hilma af Klint, Tyra Kleen, and Lucie Lagerbielke. They joined various occult movements which influenced their lives as well as their artistic processes… Hilma af Klint and Tyra Kleen were aristocrats and Lucie Lagerbielke… married into the aristocracy. All made life choices that, at the time, were considered unusual for women; they were intellectuals (who) prioritised their work and their art before family and children. Despite common points of departure and interests, their art differs greatly, both in terms of expression and working methods.

Tyra Kleen, Les Frileux

(Continuing the text from the panel at the entrance:)

At the turn of the 20th century there was great interest in spiritual seeking and (this) was also an important point of departure for many artists. Europe was undergoing an industrial revolution… and old social structures were (being) dismantled. The Church… lost its grip on people’s lives… Many people turned to spiritual movements (including) artists and writers. Séances, meditation, and hypnosis were different ways of establishing contact with worlds beyond our physical universe, as well as with an inner… reality. Many of the artists who depicted their spiritual experiences (employed)… abstract imagery filled with symbols, (no longer) portraying the visible world. Hilma af Klint was one of the first artists to produce entirely abstract paintings (in 1906).

Lucy Lagerbielke, from her 1915 book “Mysteria,” inspired by a vision of Christ

(Continuing the text from the panel at the entrance:)

In the occult movements women played a more prominent role than in the Church, the art world, or in society at large. Women, who were thought to have a sensibility suited for communicating with the beyond, were mediums at séances, became interpreters of messages from other worlds, and practiced healing and hypnosis. Many movements had female leaders. The advocated of these movements often had scientific pretensions. Influenced by scientific discoveries and inventions such as electricity, the telephone, and X-rays, as well as Sigmund Freud’s ideas about the psyche, people nourished a hope of being able to prove scientifically the existence of other worlds. Women, who had limited opportunity to succeed in traditional research, here saw a possibility to carry out what they regarded as scientific work. The intention was to save the human race from spiritual and psychic decay. The occult movements were strongly critical of civilization and the contact with higher powers was a way of helping people discover the true path toward a better world, in this life or beyond our physical reality.

From a list of definitions at the exhibition:

Esoterism – A range of spiritualist ideas is which secret knowledge, often shared through a process of initiation, plays an important role. The ideas have historically been such that have been rejected by the main Christian churches and well as by Enlightenment and natural science.

Spirituality – A human desire to attain a higher spiritual level beyond the material world, often of a religious nature.

– A term employed by researchers to denote esoteric currents variously affected by secularity and natural science. Many esotericists aimed to combine scientific methods with esoteric speculation, or garner legitimacy from science. The term as such is older. The umbrella term “occult sciences” (which included astrology, alchemy and magic) was use as early as the 16th century.

Hilma af Klint, Tree of Knowledge. One of a series of seven watercolors (1913 – 1915) which broadly deal with evolution, original innocence, and the fall, which let to man’s banishment from the Garden of Eden; and, the creation of a child.

Below, Hilma af Klint, The Dove, 1915. One of a series of 14 oil paintings, featuring both figurative and abstract forms, symbolizing the spirit and its descent into matter. The battle between good and evil is represented by St. George / the Archangel Michael with sword and the Rose Cross, which stands over the defeated dragon. The ending of the series represents the dominance of the spirit in the universe.

Here are my comments.

Upon one’s first look at the abstract words and phrases used, and the definitions of some of them, there seems to be much that is vague, non-logical, and/or tautological.

But… it would do a disservice to the seekers of non-logical wisdom to pick at the words, because the reality for the seekers and the artists resides within them; words cannot duplicate this experience. The artists reveal what they can through their art, and here you see a fraction of what is currently presented at Millesgården, both in words and art.

What has any of this to do with my paternal grandmother, Clara Lucille Pavellas, née Harpending? She was born 1872, and died 1934, three years before I was born—but I know her. I know her through writings, her photographs, and especially through my father’s many recitations of her life—and from her younger sister, my great-aunt Genevieve, who lived 40 years beyond her.

Clara Lucille Harpending

The Harpending sisters were daughters of Asbury Harpending, Jr., a Kentucky-born adventurer, speculator, promoter, miner, and, to some, rapscallion. He housed his family in the San Francisco area, but spent time in New York and London pursuing his business interests. His initial fortune came from gold and silver mining in California and Mexico in the 1860s and 1870s.

Asbury’s two sons fled home as soon as they could, never to be seen again. His two daughters were his only basis for parental pride, so he indulged them in their artistic and educational interests.

At 1900, Lucille, as she was known, was 28 years old, unmarried and, as yet, with no prospects. She was educated in history, literature, languages, and the arts, especially those of Ancient Greece. As with many women of means is this era, she was fascinated with he occult and spiritual currents running through the middle and upper classes, just as with the artists shown above.

Lucille Pavellas at Stinson Beach, Marin County, California

Through great-aunt Genevieve and my father, at an early age I became aware of, and in some instance acquainted, with writings and influences of these persons, among others:

Annie Besant

Carl Gustav Jung

G.I. Gurdjieff

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Jiddu Krishnamurti

P.D. Ouspensky

Paramahansa Yogananda

Rudolf Steiner

Some of these, and others in similar realms, were known to the artists in this exhibition. In viewing the art and reading their histories and influences I felt I was visiting friends of my grandmother.

It was good.

Hilma af Klint is featured in the following Youtube presentations:

Hilma af Klint -Guggenheim Museum

Bortom det synliga – filmen om Hilma af Klint – Trailer

Hilma af Klint: Abstrakt pionjär | Introduktion

“Hilma Af Klint” – Gertrud Sandqvist @ Summer Academy 2010

Daniel Birnbaum. The Work of Hilma af Klint. 2016


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