I tried to find a nifty, timely reason for posting this sweet YouTube discovery, but I’m coming up blank. Fact is, I was just screwing around online when I came across this playlist of Terence McKenna reading Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s “The Hash Eater.”
“Reading” doesn’t really capture what McKenna does here: fans of the man know that he’s a yarn-spinner of the highest order and his take on this tome is more of a performance than a simple recital.
Here’s some Wiki words on the text…
The Hasheesh Eater is an autobiographical book by Fitz Hugh Ludlow describing the author’s altered states of consciousness and philosophical flights of fancy while he was using a cannabis extract.
First published in 1857, The Hasheesh Eater went through four editions in the late 1850s and early 1860s, each put out by Harper & Brothers. In 1903, another publishing house put a reprint of the original edition — and the last complete edition until 1970. As of 2006, two editions are in print, including an annotated version first published in 2003.
Ludlow said, “The entire truth of Nature cannot be copied,” so “the artist must select between the major and minor facts of the outer world; that, before he executes, he must pronounce whether he will embody the essential effect, that which steals on the soul and possesses it without painful analysis, or the separate details which belong to the geometrician and destroy the effect.” Many of his passages, which may have seemed like fantastic myth-making to his contemporaries, ring true today with more modern knowledge of the psychedelic state. Ludlow writes of one hallucination: “And now, with time, space expanded also… The whole atmosphere seemed ductile, and spun endlessly out into great spaces surrounding me on every side.”
Ludlow describes the marijuana user as one who is reaching for “the soul’s capacity for a broader being, deeper insight, grander views of Beauty, Truth and Good than she now gains through the chinks of her cell.” Conversely, he says of hashish users: “Ho there! pass by; I have tried this way; it leads at last into poisonous wildernesses.”
The popularity of The Hasheesh Eater led to interest in the drug it described. Not long after its publication, the Gunjah Wallah Co. in New York began advertising “Hasheesh Candy”:
The Arabian “Gunjh” of Enchantment confectionized. — A most pleasurable and harmless stimulant. — Cures Nervousness, Weakness, Melancholy, &c. Inspires all classes with new life and energy. A complete mental and physical invigorator.
John Hay, who would become a close confidant of President Lincoln and later U.S. Secretary of State, remembered Brown University as the place “where I used to eat Hasheesh and dream dreams.” And a classmate recalls that after reading Ludlow’s book, Hay “must needs experiment with hasheesh a little, and see if it was such a marvelous stimulant to the imagination as Fitzhugh Ludlow affirmed. ‘The night when Johnny Hay took hasheesh’ marked an epoch for the dwellers in Hope College.”
Within twenty-five years of the publication of The Hasheesh Eater, many cities in the United States had private hashish parlors. And there was already controversy about the legality and morality of cannabis intoxication. In 1876, when tourists could buy hashish at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the Illustrated Police News would write about “The Secret Dissipation of New York Belles… a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue.”