H.P. Lovecraft and the origins of 420

In the story is titled The Walls of Eryx. written in 1936, published in 1939 in Weird Tales Magazine, Lovecraft refers to the “mirage-plant” which from the description looked very much like cannabis and an incident under its inlfuences that happens at precisely 4:20:

“I had encountered at last one of those curious mirage-plants about which so many of our men told stories. Anderson had warned me of them, and described their appearance very closely – the shaggy stalk, the spiky leaves, and the mottled blossoms whose gaseous, dream-breeding exhalations penetrate every existing make of mask.”

And then Lovecraft goes on to have his main character have the following experience on the plant at precisely 4:20

“Although everything was spinning perilously, I tried to start in the right direction and hack my way ahead. My route must have been far from straight, for it seemed hours before I was free of the mirage-plant’s pervasive influence. Gradually the dancing lights began to disappear, and the shimmering spectral scenery began to assume the aspect of solidity. When I did get wholly clear I looked at my watch and was astonished to find the time was only 4:20. Though eternities had seemed to pass, the whole experience could have consumed little more than a half-hour.”

“Contemporary counterculture author and occultist Victor Cypert, on the website for the rock band Tool, has pointed to a passage from the story as a possible origin for the number “4:20″ being code for smoking marijuana”:
Reclaiming, Reprogramming, & Repossession”, by Victor T. Cypert, ToolNews, April 2002.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Walls_of_Eryx

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.



  1. Jason Tarango on

    back before cell phones and when dealing carried fines like getting your house taken away for drugs when people had beepers. Your local dope dealer wouldnt wanna talk business on phone. So you would page your supplier put your callback number and 420 for a twenty bag. So thats the time to get high origin. Also biblical origin as in the four and twenty elders of revelations. The ones who recognize the tree of life and recognize the Comforter the 3rd part of trinity spoken of by Jesus. The last supper Marijuana. Im the second witness of the two witnesses of revelations. Marijuana is the word of God.

  2. Venger Satanis on

    Few know of the cyclopean influence which H.P. Lovecraft had on the world. This is yet another example of his power. Thanks for writing the article, hoss.

    Hail the Ancient Ones!

    Venger As’Nas Satanis
    Cult of Cthulhu High Priest


  3. Chris Bennett on


    It is interesting that most of the official reports and rumors about the origins of 4/20 trace directly back to ‘The Waldos’ in San Rafael High School in 1971. ‘The Waldos’ have many items of date-documented evidence, some from the San Rafael Police department, proving that they would smoke cannabis at the campus statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20pm everyday. It passed from those high school students, into the 70’s Grateful Dead culture where it spread all across the United States.

    The students there may have been inspired by an older reference, like H.P. Lovecraft’s mention of the time in the story “In the Walls of Eryx”, in which a man exploring the planet Venus encounters a “mirage-plant” and begins to see “dancing lights” and “shimmering spectral scenery”. After regaining his senses, he realizes it is 4:20.

  4. Whodat on

    Supposedly 4:20 was the time when everyone met after school to smoke. I really have a hard time believing Lovecraft is the source of 420. I’ve read Lovecraft for years and years and can’t really take any of this beyond being a coincidence.

  5. Phil E. Drifter on

    Well obviously this story precludes that, so maybe one of those Waldos had read this story?

  6. Whodat on

    I thought it was pretty much established that 420 came out of California out of the Grateful Dead scene by a group of guys who called themselves the Waldos.

  7. Lygeia on

    I think this is a great example of what you focus on, you attract.

    H.P. Lovecraft wrote horror stories and either he was far braver than me and used marijuana for inspiration for writing these stories, or what you do for a living affects your trip more than we realize.

  8. Anonymous on

    I just read this story and it seems to paint a negative view of these “mirage plants”. Here are excerpts from the story. “Anderson had warned me of them,…” “Recalling what happened to Bailey three years ago, I fell into a momentary panic, and began to dash and stagger about in the crazy, chaotic world which the plant’s exhalations had woven around me. Then good sense came back, and I realized all I need do was retreat from the dangerous blossoms — heading away from the source of the pulsations, and cutting a path blindly — regardless of what might seem to swirl around me — until safely out of the plant’s effective radius.”

    What ya’ll think?

    Here’s link: