To Soar Angelic

April 7:The psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond coined the term "psychedelic" on this day in 1956, by way of a poetic exchange with Aldous Huxley. In 1953 Huxley had enthusiastically volunteered himself as a guinea pig for Osmond's drug experiments and, after some initial reluctance, Osmond had agreed—he said he didn't "relish the possibility, however remote, of finding a small but discreditable niche in literary history as the man who drove Aldous Huxley mad." Huxley's mescaline experiences with Osmond inspired The Doors of Perception, published in 1954; wishing to promote their research further, the two felt that a new word was needed to capture the nature of the new experience, Huxley offering his coinage in rhyme:

To make this trivial world sublime,

Take half a gramme of phanerothyme.

Osmond replied with his own couplet, and entered Far Out history:

To fathom hell or soar angelic,

Just take a pinch of psychedelic.

Over his last few years, Huxley was also a friend and colleague of Albert Hofmann, the chemist who first discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD. In LSD: My Problem Child, Hofmann describes his first, 1961 meeting with Huxley—"a gentleman with a yellow freesia in his buttonhole, a tall and noble appearance, who exuded kindness." In a letter shortly afterwards, Huxley wrote to Hofmann to urge him on:

I have good hopes that this and similar work will result in the development of a real Natural History of visionary experience, in all its variations, determined by differences of physique, temperament and profession, and at the same time of a technique of Applied Mysticism—a technique for helping individuals to get the most out of their transcendental experience and to make use of the insights from the "Other World" in the affairs of "This World." Meister Eckhart wrote that "what is taken in by contemplation must be given out in love." Essentially this is what must be developed—the art of giving out in love and intelligence what is taken in from vision and the experience of self-transcendence and solidarity with the Universe….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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