The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Chapter X. Nimium — the Amreeta Cup of Unveiling

It was shortly after the last vision which has been related that I first experienced those sufferings which are generated by a dose of hasheesh taken to prolong the effects of a preceding one.

Through half a day I had lain quietly under the influence of the weed, possessed by no hallucination, yet delighted with a flow of pleasant images, which passed by under my closed eyelids. Unimaginable houris intoxicated the sense with airy ballet-dances of a divine gracefulness, rose-wreathed upon a state of roses, and flooded with the blush of a rosy atmosphere. Through grand avenues of overarching elms I floated down toward the glimpse of an impurpled sky, caught through the vista, or came glancing through the air over gateways of syenite, rose-tinted by the atmosphere, and in Egypt walked among the Caryatides. Up mystic pathways, on a mountain of evergreens, the priests of some nameless religion flocked, mitre-crowned, and passed into the temple of the sun over the threshold of the horizon. Now, “ringed with the azure world,” I stood, a lonely hemisphere above me, a calm and voiceless sea beneath me; suddenly an island of feathery palms floated into the centre of the watery expanse, and gauze-winged sprites dropped down upon its shore. Now landscapes of strange loveliness slowly slid before me, but stopped at my will, that I might wander far up their music-haunted bays, and sit, bathed in sunlight, on the giant rock-fragments which lay around their unpeopled shores.

But once did I open my eyes and leap up in fear; for into the gardens of the Grecian villa where I walked among statues and fountains, an incongruous horde of Indian braves burst whooping, in their war-dance; and writhing in savage postures, with brandished club and tomahawk, they called upon my name, and looked for me through the olive-trees. Lying down again, I soared into the dome of St. Peter’s, and, lighting on the pen of the apostle, laid my hand upon the angel’s shoulder. A mighty stretch of arm indeed; yet, to the hasheesh-eater, all things are possible.

About the hour of noon I found the effects of my first dose rapidly passing off. It had been a small one, possibly fifteen grains, and, as I have said, produced no hallucination; yet so enamored had I become of the procession of pleasing images which it set in motion, that, for the sake of prolonging it, I took five grains more.

Hour after hour went by; I returned to the natural state, and gave up all idea of any result from the last dose. At nine o’clock in the evening I was sitting among my friends writing, while they talked around me. I became aware that it was gradually growing easier for me to express myself; my pen glanced presently like lightning in the effort to keep neck and neck with my ideas. At first I simply wondered at the phenomenon, without in the least suspecting the hasheesh which I had eaten nine hours before. At last, thought ran with such terrific speed that I could no longer write at all. Throwing down my pen, I paced the room, chafed my forehead, and strove to recover quiet by joining in the conversation of those about me.

In vain! intense fever boiled in my blood, and every heart-beat was the stroke of a colossal engine. Within me I felt that prophecy of dire suffering which the hasheesh-eater recognizes as unmistakably as were it graven by the finger of light, but whose signs, to all but him, are incommunicable. In agony of spirit I groaned inwardly, “My God, help me!”

The room grew unbearable with a penetrating glory of light. I mounted into it, I expanded through it, with a blind and speechless pain, which, in my very heart’s core, was slowly developing itself into something afterward to burst forth into demoniac torture. I felt myself weeping, and ran to a looking-glass to observe the appearance of my eyes. They were pouring forth streams of blood! And now a sudden hemorrhage took place within me; my heart had dissolved, and from my lips the blood was breaking also.

Still, with that self-retent which a hasheesh eater acquires by many a bitter discipline, I withheld from my friends the knowledge of my torture, averting my face until the hallucination passed by. Indeed, as often occurs at such times, a paralysis of speech had taken place, which prevented me from communicating with others: not physical, but spiritual; for the recital of such pain seems to increase it tenfold by drawing its outlines more distinctly to the perception, and therefore I did not dare to give it utterance.

And now a new fact flashed before me. This agony was not new; I had felt it ages ago, in the same room, among the same people, and hearing the same conversation. To most men, such a sensation has happened at some time, but it is seldom more than vague and momentary. With me it was sufficiently definite and lasting to be examined and located as an actual memory. I saw it in an instant, preceded and followed by the successions of a distinctly-recalled past life.

What is the philosophy of this fact? If we find no grounds for believing that we have ever lived self-consciously in any other state, and can not thus explain it, may not this be the solution of the enigma? At the moment of the soul’s reception of a new impression, she first accepts it as a thing entirely of the sense; she tells us how large it is, and of what quality. To this definition of its boundaries and likenesses succeeds, at times of high activity, an intuition of the fact that the sensation shall be perceived again in the future unveiling that is to throw open all the past. Prophetically she notes it down upon the indestructible leaves of her diary, assured that it is to come out in the future revelation. Yet we who, from the tendency of our thought, reject all claims to any knowledge of the future, can only acknowledge perceptions as of the present or the past, and accordingly refer the dual realization to some period gone by. We perceive the correspondence of two sensations, but, by an instantaneous process, give the second one a wrong position in the succession of experiences. The soul is regarded as the historian when she is in reality the sibyl; but the misconception takes place in such a microscopic portion of time that detection is impossible. In the hasheesh expansion of seconds into minutes, or even according to a much mightier ratio, there is an opportunity thoroughly to scrutinize the hitherto evanescent phenomena, and the truth comes out. How many more such prophecies as these may have been rejected through the gross habit of the body we may never know until spirit vindicates her claim in a court where she must have audience.

At length the torture of my delirium became so great that I could no longer exist unsustained by sympathy. To Bob, as possessing, from his own experience, a better appreciation of that which I suffered, I repaired in preference to all others. “Let us walk,” said I; “it is impossible for me to remain here.”

Arm-in-arm we passed down the front steps. And now all traces of the surrounding world passed away from before me like marks wiped from a slate. When we first emerged from the building, I noticed that the night was dark, but this was the last I knew of any thing external. I was beyond all troubles from earth or sky; my agonies were in the spiritual, and there all was terrific light. By the flame of my previous vision the corporeal had been entirely burned off from about the soul, and I trod its charred ruins under foot without a remembrance that they had ever been sensitive or part of me. A voice spoke to me, “By the dissolution of fire hast thou been freed, to behold all things as they are, to gaze on realities, to know principles, to understand tendencies of being.”

I now perceived that I was to pass through some awful revelation. It proved to be both Heaven and Hell, the only two states in the universe which together comprehend all free-agent creatures, whether in the Here or the hereafter. Of both I drank tremendous draughts, holding the cup to my lips as may never be done again until the draught of one of them is final.

Over many a mountain range, over plains and rivers, I heard wafted the cry of my household, who wept for me with as distinct a lamentation as if they were close at hand. Above all the rest, a sister mourned bitterly for a brother who was about to descend into hell!

Far in the distance rolled the serpentine fires of an infinite furnace; yet did this not seem to be the place to which I was tending, but only the symbol of a certain spiritual state which in this life has no representative. And now the principles of being, which the prophetic voice had foretold that I should see, suddenly disclosed themselves. Oh, awful sight! Iron, for they were unrelenting; straight as the ideal of a right line, for they were unalterable; like colossal railways they stretched from the centre whereon I stood. Yet more were they to me than their mere material names, for they embodied an infinity of sublime truth. What that truth was I strove to express to my companion, yet in vain, for human language was yet void of signs which might characterize it. “Oh God!” I cried, “grant me the gift of a supernatural speech, that I may, if ever I return, come to humanity like a new apostle, and tell them of realities which are the essence of their being!” I perceived that this, also, was impossible. But vaguely, then, like some far-sighted one who points his brethren through the rack and tempest to a distant shore, should I ever be able to disclose what I had seen of the Real to men who dwelt amid the Shadowy.

For days afterward I remembered the unveiling. I myself knew that which it disclosed, yet could not tell it; and now all the significance of it has faded from my mind, leaving behind but the bare shard and husk of the symbols.

The railway which I saw appeared twofold: one arm led toward the far fires of my torture, the other into a cloudy distance which veiled its end completely from my sight. Upon the first I traveled, yet not on wheels, for I felt my feet still upbearing me through all the stages of an infinitely rapid progress.

Symbols — symbols every where. All along my journey they flashed forth the apocalypse of utterly unimagined truths. All strange things in mind, which had before been my perplexity, were explained — all vexed questions solved. The springs of suffering and of joy, the action of the human will, memory, every complex fact of being, stood forth before me in a clarity of revealing which would have been the sublimity of happiness but for their relation to man’s tendencies toward evil. I was aware at the time (and I am no less so now) that, to a mind in its natural state, the symbols by which I was taught would be marrowless and unmeaning; yet so powerfully were they correspondences to unpreconceived spiritual verities, that I can not refrain from giving one or two of them in this recital.

Hanging in a sky of spotless azure, within the walls of my own heart, appeared my soul as a coin flaming with glories, which radiated from the impress of God’s face stamped upon it. This told me an unutterable truth of my being. Again the soul appeared as a vast store of the same coin shed prodigally upon the earth. Through clefts in the rocky wall which rose beside my way were thrust, in a manner expressive of wondrous craft, barbed talons, which, grasping the coin one by one, as a fish-hook holds the prey, drew them slowly in, while I stood helpless, shrieking in the desert loneliness. As each piece of my treasure slid through the crevices, I heard it fall, with a cruel metallic ring, upon the bottom of some invisible strong-box, and this ring was echoed by a peal of hollow laughter from within. Another truth, though not the most evident one which now suggests itself, but far more dreadful, was taught me by this symbol.

Again, my heart was a deep well of volatile blood, and into it buckets perpetually descended to be drawn up filled, and carried away by viewless hands to nurture the flames which writhed in the distant furnace. Through all this time I was witnessing one more tremendous truth. But one of the representatives still retains its full significancy to my mind, and is communicable also to others.

Standing upon a mountain peak appeared a serene old prophet, whose face was radiant with a divine majesty. In his look, his form, his manner, was embodied all that glorifies the sage; wonderfully did he typify the ideal of the bard —

“His open eyes desire the truth;
 The wisdom of a thousand years
 Is in them.”

All that science, art, and spotless purity of life can do to ennoble humanity, had ennobled him, and I well-nigh knelt down before him in an ecstasy of worship. A voice spoke to me from the infinitudes, “Behold man’s soul in primeval grandeur; as it was while yet he talked with God.”

Hurried away through immensity, I came, somewhere in the universe, upon a low knoll, flaunting in a growth of coarse and gaudy flowers. Half way down its slope sat a hideous dwarf, deformed in body, but still much more terrible in the soul, which ogled me through his leaden eyes, or broke in ripples of idiotic laughter over his lax and expressionless lip. One by one he aimlessly plucked the flowers among which he was sitting; he pressed them to his bosom, and leered upon them, as a maniac miser looks upon his treasures, and then, tearing to pieces their garish petals, tossed them into the air, and laughed wildly to see them whirling downward to strew his lap. In horror I averted my face, but a strange fascination drew it back to him again, when once more the terrible voice sounded over my shoulder, “Behold thine own soul!” In an agony I cried, “Why, oh why?” Sternly, yet without a thrill of passion, the voice replied, “Thou hast perverted thy gifts, thou hast squandered thine opportunities, thou hast spurned thy warnings, and, blind to great things, thou playest with bawbles. Therefore, behold thyself thus!”

In speechless shame I hid my face and turned away. Now, as with the descent of a torrent, all my violations of the principles which I saw revealed fell down upon my head from the heights of the Past. It was no bewailing over the inexpediency of any deed or thought which I then uttered; from the abysses of my soul a cry of torture went up for discords which I had caused in the grand harmony of universal law. The importance to mere temporal well-being of this act or that, made no difference in the inconceivable pain which I felt at its clear remembrance. Whether, in the Past, I was confronted with a deliberate falsehood or a fictitious addition, for the sake of symmetry, to an otherwise true recital, the horror was the same. It was not consequences to happiness that troubled me, but something of far mightier scope, for I looked upon some little pulse of evil which, at its time, had seemed to die away in the thought, and lo, in all the years since then it had been ceaselessly waving onward in consecutive circles, whose outer rim touched and invaded the majestic symphony of unalterable principles of Beauty and Truth. Before the presence of that beholding there was no such thing as a little wrong in all the universe.

And now, in review, there passed before my mind all those paradoxes of being which, to our natural sense, forever perplex the relations between God and Man — God, the omnipotent; Man, the free agent, the two concentric wheels of self-determining will which turn the universe. How can these things be?

In an instant I saw that hitherto unattainable How. Out of the depths of mystery it broke forth and stood in grand relief upon its midnight veil. Between truths there was no longer any jar; as on a map, illustrated by eternal light, I beheld all their relative bearings, and in the conviction of an intuition cried out, “True, true, divinely true!”

Do you ask me to give the process? As well might I attempt to define sight to a being born without eyes as to image, even to myself, at this moment, the mode of that apocalypse. Had memory of it as aught else than a fact remained to me, I had long since been consumed, as a red-hot needle dissolves away in oxygen. As it is, I remember not the manner, except that it was Sight; at the moment it was incommunicable by any human language. Yet the stamp of the intuition remains so indelibly upon my soul, that there is no self-evident truth which I could not more easily abjure than the undimmed and perfect harmony which, in that dreadful night, I beheld as an intuition.

After this I suffered hellish agonies, prolonged through an infinity of duration. As they were all embodied in symbols, I recall them but dimly, and the endeavor to relate them would be painful and profitless.

At the end of my representative road, arriving through growing distances, times, and tortures, God-drawn, I was hurried back to be launched forward in the direction of the other, the celestial tendency. The music of unimaginable harps grew clearer with every league of speed; symbols were turned to their most ravishing uses; the gleam of crystal gates and empyrean battlements flashed on me with increasing radiance; the sky breathed down a balm which signified love, love — quenchless love. At the end of this journey I arrived also; and, between towers of light, was about to pass through into a land resounding with infinite choruses of joy. I was detained. Again the voice spake to me, “The thing is too great for thee; seek not to enter. As thou wast preserved at the end of thy former way from going into the fires to which it led, so also now do I guard thee from beholding the fatal glories of the Divine face to face.” With inconceivable grief I hid my face in my hands and returned, weeping bitterly.

At this moment, for the first time since coming from my room, I became aware of the external world. My friend still walked by my side, supporting me through the darkness. We had not come half a mile while I passed through all that awful vision!

Presently we came to a short bridge. Little conceiving the state of mind from which I had just emerged, Bob said to me, with the impression that the novelty of the idea would give me an attractive suggestion of adventure, “See the Styx.” Groaning in spirit, I looked down upon that dark and sullen water which rolled below me, and saw it mightily expanded beneath horrible shadows toward a shore which glowed with the fires of my earlier vision. “My God!” I cried, “am I again journeying toward the Infernal? Yes, it must be so; for even this man, who has learned nothing of my past tortures, knows and tells me this is one of the rivers of Hell!”

Bob caught a glimpse of the pain he had innocently caused me, and assured me, for the sake of my peace, that he had only been jesting. “This is not the Styx at all,” said he, “but only a small stream which runs through Schenectady.” By pointing out to me familiar surroundings, by persuasion, by entreaty, he at length prevailed upon me to cross the bridge; yet I only did so by concealing my eyes in his bosom and clasping his hands with the clutch of a vice.

Supposing that light and the restorative influence of wine would relieve me, he led me to a restaurant, and there, sitting down with me to a table, called for a glass of Port. In the unnatural shadow which inwrapped all things and persons, a man was standing near the door, and in the conversation which he was carrying on with another I heard him use the word “damn.”

In an instant my mind, now exquisitely susceptible, took fire from that oath as tinder from steel. “There is, indeed,” I soliloquized, “such a thing as damnation, for I have seen it. Shall I be saved?” This dreadful question forced me to determine it with an imperative fascination. I continued. “Oh thou Angel of Destiny, in whose book all the names of the saved are written, I call on thee to open unto me the leaves!”

Hardly had I spoken when upon a sable pedestal of clouds the dread registrar sat before me, looking immeasurable pity from his superhuman eyes. Silently he stretched out to me the great volume of record, and with devouring eyes I scanned its pages, turning them over in a wild haste that did not preclude the most rigid scrutiny. Leaf after leaf flew back; from top to bottom I consumed them in my gaze of agony. Here and there I recognized a familiar name, but even my joy at such revelations took nothing from the cruelty of the suspense in which I looked to find my own. With a face cold as marble I came to the last page, and had not found it yet. Drops of torture beaded my brow as with eye and finger I ran down the final column. One, two, three — I came to the bottom — the last. It was not there!

My God! nothing but thine upbearing arms at that moment kept me from eternal annihilation. In stony horror I sat dumb.

After the Angel of Destiny took back his book and shut it with the echo of doom, I know not what time elapsed while I dwelt in that unfathomable abyss of despair. I saw Eternity, like a chariot out of which I had fallen, roll out of sight upon the bowed and smoking clouds to leave me, a creature of perdition, in an inanity of space and out of the successions of duration. Familiar faces were around me, yet the thought of obtaining relief from them never crossed my mind. They were powerless to help a sufferer of the immortal pangs.

If, as I sat at the table, a caldron of boiling lead had been brought in and set beside me, I would have leaped into it with exultant haste, to divert my mind from spiritual to physical sufferings. Through a period which the hasheesh-eater alone can know, I sat speechlessly beside my friend.

Suddenly upon the opposite wall appeared a cross, and Christ the Merciful was nailed thereon. I sprang from my seat; I rushed toward him; I embraced his knees; I looked intensely into his face in voiceless entreaty. That sad face sweetly smiled upon me, and I saw that my unspoken prayer was granted. Through my soul, as through a porous film, swept a wind of balm, and left it clean. The voice that had attended me through all past journeyings, now changed from stern upbraiding to unimaginable love, spoke gently, “By the breath of the Spirit thine iniquities are borne utterly away.” To colossal agonies peace as great succeeded, and, thus sustained, I returned to my room.

Yet all my sufferings had not yet been fulfilled. The moment that I reached home I threw myself down upon my bed. Hardly had I touched it when, from all sides, devouring flame rolled upward and girt me in with a hemisphere of fire. Shrieking, I leaped up and ran to my friends, who cared for me till the wrathful hallucination was overpast.

At this day it seems to me almost incredible that I ever survived that experience at all. Yet, inexplicable as it may be, when I awoke the next morning, I was as free from all traces of suffering as if I had been, all the evening previous, cradled in a mother’s arms.

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