April 7:Thepsychiatrist Humphrey Osmond coined the term “psychedelic” on thisday in 1956, by way of a poetic exchange with Aldous Huxley. In 1953 Huxley hadenthusiastically volunteered himself as a guinea pig for Osmond’s drugexperiments and, after some initial reluctance, Osmond had agreed—he said hedidn’t “relish the possibility, however remote, of finding a small butdiscreditable niche in literary history as the man who drove Aldous Huxleymad.” Huxley’s mescaline experiences with Osmond inspired The Doors of Perception, published in1954; wishing to promote their research further, the two felt that a new wordwas needed to capture the nature of the new experience, Huxley offering hiscoinage in rhyme:
To make this trivial worldsublime,
Take half a gramme ofphanerothyme.
Osmond replied with hisown couplet, and entered Far Out history:
To fathom hell or soarangelic,
Just take a pinch ofpsychedelic.
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 meetingwith Huxley—”a gentleman with a yellow freesia in his buttonhole, a talland noble appearance, who exuded kindness.” In a letter shortlyafterwards, Huxley wrote to Hofmann to urge him on:
I have good hopes thatthis and similar work will result in the development of a real Natural Historyof visionary experience, in all its variations, determined by differences ofphysique, temperament and profession, and at the same time of a technique ofApplied Mysticism—a technique for helping individuals to get the most out oftheir transcendental experience and to make use of the insights from the “OtherWorld” in the affairs of “This World.” Meister Eckhart wrotethat “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 andintelligence what is taken in from vision and the experience ofself-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.