Go Ask About Alice

CANNABIS CULTURE – July 4 was Alice’s Day in the Sequicentennial of 1865, the year when an English mathematician named Charles Dodson – aka Lewis Carroll – led us all down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Professor Sherry L. Ackerman writes in Alice and the Hero’s Journey, “Alice’s being repeatedly instructed to eat or drink various intoxicating substances, after having descended into the underworld, was reminiscent of the function of kykeon in the Eleusian mystery schools. The Wonderland mushroom, suggestive of the Amanita muscaria, takes a central position in this context, as the caterpillar instructs Alice to eat it in order to change sizes. Interestingly, the caterpillar is a principal symbol for transformation…the foreshadow of the chrysalis. Thus, the symbol for transformation sits atop the transformational agent, the psychoactive mushroom. After ingesting a Wonderland version of the kykeon, Alice’s subsequent adventures illustrate the mystic’s death, as she summons the power to face, with relative equanimity, every manner of unusual being that the underworld has to offer.”

Hallucinogenic mushroom experiences have been traced back to 1799 in England, so it’s possible Dodson partook in them. Of course, the caterpillar was also smoking a hookah (as shown here in the classic John Tenniel illustration). Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the English youth who “ate hasheesh” back in 1856, and English novelist George Eliot mentions hashish in her 1859 novella The Lifted Veil; Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was smoking hasheesh by 1875.

The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, with their psychoactive sacrament kykeon, survive in modern times as Grateful Dead concerts or Raves, without the sanction or guidance of society or organized religion, and targeted by mainstream society as deviant and dangerous. At least until the 1960s blew them wide open.

“White Rabbit,” the rock anthem penned 50 years ago by Tokin Woman Grace Slick, begins:

One pill makes you larger 
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you 
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall.  

Asked about the song, Slick said, “…[P]arents read us these books, like Alice in Wonderland, where she gets high, tall, and she takes mushrooms, a hookah, pills, alcohol. And then there’s the Wizard of Oz, where they fall into field of poppies and when they wake up they see Oz. And then there’s Peter Pan, where if you sprinkle white dust on you, you could fly. And then you wonder why we do it? Well, what did you read to me?”

Slick is now producing paintings as interesting as her songs. One of her works called White Rabbit in Wonderland (shown) depicts Alice perched on a mushroom, chasing a rabbit on a path where Timothy Leary appears as the mad hatter and Ram Dass is the caterpillar.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.

Ellen Komp
Ellen Komp

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.