The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Chapter XI. The Book of Symbols

Of all experiences in the hasheesh state, my indoctrination into spiritual facts through means of symbols was the most wonderful to myself. In other visions I have reveled in more delicious beauty, and suffered horrors even more terrible; but in this I was lifted entirely out of the world of hitherto conceivable being, and invested with the power of beholding forms and modes of existence which, on earth, are impossible to be expressed, for the reason that no material emblems exist which even faintly foreshadow them.

Among men we communicate entirely by symbols. Upon any thought which has not its symbol in the Outer, “untransferable” is stamped indelibly. A certain relation between two thoughts is beheld by one human mind. How shall the man inform his neighbor of this relation? There is no meatus for it through any of the labyrinths of material sense; it can not be seen, heard, felt, smelt, or tasted. What is to be done?

A flock of cranes are assembling from the four quarters of heaven to hold their aerial council on some tall crag above him. Into our thinker’s mind flashes a bright idea. Those birds shall mediate for his relation a passage into his brother’s understanding. The cranes (grues) are coming together (con), and in this visible symbol he embodies his invisible relation, and the name henceforth that passes for it among men is “congruous.”

Yet there is one condition beyond the mere discovery of an apt symbol which is necessary before that symbol can be circulated as the bank-note which bases its security on the intangible coin within the spiritual treasury. That coin must be universally felt to exist, or the bill will be good for nothing. In the present instance, the idea of the relation expressed by “congruous” must already have been perceived by the communicatee, or the communicator will be unable to express himself intelligibly. Rather should we say, the idea of the possibility of this relation must exist before the former can perceive it; for, if he recognizes such a possibility, then, by virtue of this very capacity, he will immediately actualize the possible, and on the communication of the symbol perceive the idea of “congruity,” though it be for the first time.

The question now arises, What state of mind lies back of, and conditions the capacity to recognize, through symbols, the mental phenomena of another? Plainly this: the two who are in communication must be situated so nearly upon the same plane of thought that they behold the same truths and are affected by the same emotions. In proportion as this condition is violated will two men be unappreciating of each other’s inner states.

Now in hasheesh it is utterly violated. In the hasheesh-eater a virtual change of worlds has taken place, through the preternatural scope and activity of all his faculties. Truth has not become expanded, but his vision has grown telescopic; that which others see only as the dim nebula, or do not see at all, he looks into with a penetrating scrutiny which distance, to a great extent, can not evade. Where the luminous mist or the perfect void had been, he finds wondrous constellations of spiritual being, determines their bearings, and reads the law of their sublime harmony. To his neighbor in the natural state he turns to give expression to his visions, but finds that to him the symbols which convey the apocalypse to his own mind are meaningless, because, in our ordinary life, the thoughts which they convey have no existence; their two planes are utterly different.

This has not only occurred in my own case, but in several others — in persons upon whom I have experimented with hasheesh. At their highest exaltation, so earnest has been the desire to communicate the burden which overpowered them, that they have spoken forth the symbols presented to their minds; yet from these symbols men around them, in the unexalted state, drew an entirely different significance from the true one, or, perceiving none at all, laughed at what was said as an absurdity, seeing nothing in the name of some ordinary thing or mode of being to excite such emotions of terror or ecstasy as were produced in the hasheesh-eater. Yet many a time, as I stood near, by these symbols thus expressed, have I been able to follow the ecstatic wanderer, and recognize the exact place in his journey at which he had arrived as something which I had once seen myself.

It is this process of symbolization which, in certain hasheesh states, gives every tree and house, every pebble and leaf, every footprint, feature, and gesture, a significance beyond mere matter or form, which possesses an inconceivable force of tortures or of happiness.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to convey to a mind not in the hasheesh delirium, by the symbols which there teach the manner of its process, or by any others, is the interchange of senses. The soul is sometimes plainly perceived to be but one in its own sensorium, while the body is understood to be all that so variously modifies impressions as to make them in the one instance smell, in another taste, another sight, and thus on, ad finem. Thus the hasheesh-eater knows what it is to be burned by salt fire, to smell colors, to see sounds, and, much more frequently, to see feelings. How often do I remember vibrating in the air over a floor bristling with red-hot needles, and, although I never supposed I came in contact with them, feeling the sensation of their frightful pungency through sight as distinctly as if they were entering my heart.

In the midst of sufferings unfathomable or raptures measureless, I often thought of St. Paul’s God-given trance, and the “ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα ἂ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆδαι.” Never was I more convinced of any thing in my life than that our translation, “which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” is wholly inadequate. It should be, “which it is impossible to utter to man;” for this alone harmonizes with that state of intuition in which the words are “speechless words,” and the truths beheld have no symbol on earth which will embody them. Though far from believing that my own ecstasy, or that of any hasheesh-eater, has claim to such inspiration as an apostle’s, the states are still analogous in this respect, that they both share the nature of disembodiment, and the soul, in both, beholds realities of greater or less significance, such as may never be apprehended again out of the light of eternity.

There is one thought suggested by the symbolization of hasheesh which I can not refrain from introducing here. In some apocalyptic states of delirium like that which I have mentioned, and others succeeding it, there were symbols of an earthly nature used, which not only had never before conveyed to me such truth as I then saw, but never had expressed any truth at all. Things the least suspected of having any significance beyond their material agency were perceived to be the most startling illustrations and incarnations of spiritual facts.

Now where, among created things, shall we set the boundaries to this capacity for symbolizing. In view of that which I saw, especially upon the last detailed memorable night, I felt, and still feel, forced to the conclusion that there is no boundary. If, as the true philosopher must believe, the material was created for the spiritual, as the lower for the higher, the means for the end, it is impossible that any minutest lichen should exist as mere inert matter, lessonless to the soul of all creation’s viceroy — man.

What a world of symbols, then, lie sleeping in expectancy of the approaching times which shall bring some translator to their now unnoticed sermons, and bid them speak of unconceived beauties and truths!

Following out the perverted tendencies of a pseudo-science, we are now forever seeking some reason for the existence of the outer world as it is, which will utterly insphere it within the ends of material well-being. Plainly perceiving that respect for the Creative Wisdom will not permit us to suppose that any thing, however microscopic, has been made aimlessly, we belabor our brains with attempts to find out some physical good arising out of the being of every object in all the terrene kingdoms. Such a thing was created that man might be cured of the headache; such another, that his food might be varied; still another, that a convenient circulating medium might be in his power. Doubtless such corporeal goods were among the final causes of some portions of the creation. Our trouble is not our activity in the discovery of these, but that beyond their petty circle discovery does not dare to set her foot, for fear of being called visionary.

Doubtless, when God has lent us a tenement to lodge in, albeit for a few days and nights, it is our duty to find out and apply all those materials of repair which will keep it in good order till we pass finally from its low door-step into our palace; as honorable tenants, and for the sake of our own better preservation, this is both duty and right, so far as it may be done without bespangling and frescoing our wayfaring house as if it were to be our perpetual home. Yet what effort can be meaner, what more unworthy of Spirit, than studiously to degrade the whole sublime Kosmos into one colossal eating-house, wardrobe, or doctor’s shop for the body? Good men, perhaps wise men, are forever looking for something medicinal in the scorpion, or edible in the fungus, to vindicate God’s claim to an intention. Most ingeniously do they fabricate suppostitious purposes for outer things; hopelessly writhe in the folds of perplexity when, with all their far-fetched hypotheses, they can not see what material good is to come out of some obstinate resistant to their analysis.

Blind philosophers! Nature refuses to cramp herself within your impossible law; she rejects your generalization; she throws off the shackles of your theory! For the sake of mere physical well-being, it had doubtless been far better that never a centipede had been created; that the most formidable snake had been the harmless garter; that the euphorbus had never put forth a leaf, nor the seleniuret a vapor. Yet this is not the grand aim of the system of things, but that man might, for the present, have symbols for the communication of manly thought; that God himself, for the future, might have symbols for the revelation of Divine Truth, when, in the grand unveiling, rocks, trees, and rivers — yea, the smallest atom also — shall come thronging up along all the ways of the Universe to unseal their long-embosomed messages, and join in the choral dance of the Spiritual — the only science — to the Orpheus-music of the awakened soul.

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