420, Lovecraft, Crowley, and Hashish connections!

CANNABIS CULTURE – H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) the oddball impoverished writer of pulp horror fiction, whose work only came to know success after his untimely demise, left a curious story about a time shifting plant and 4:20.

As noted by occultist Victor Cypert,  a passage from the story from Lovecraft could be another possible origin for the number “4:20″ being code for smoking “marijuana”. In the story is titled In the Walls of Eryx. written in 1936 by the pulp horror author H. P. Lovecraft, published in 1939 in Weird Tales Magazine, Lovecraft refers to the “mirage-plant” which from the description looked very much like cannabis, and psychoactive effects:

“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.”

It has also been loosely suggested that the drug filled grimoire the Picatrix may have played a role of inspiration for Lovecraft’s conception of the Necronimicon, ‘The Book of Dead Names’:

“In his ‘Cthulhu Mythos,’ H.P. Lovecraft created The Necronimicon, a fictional book of the occult that appeared in several of his stories. Lovecraft introduced Abdul Alhazred, the ‘mad Arab,’ in his 1921 story ‘The Nameless City,’ and The Necronimicon in his 1922 tale ‘The Hound.’ He married the two in his 1926 classic, ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ in which he revealed hat Abdul Alhazred, an opium and hashish user, had written Al Azif, as the book was supposedly known in Arabic. The author’s fictional 1927 treatise, ‘The History and Chronology of the Necronimicon,’ led many readers to believe that the tome was genuine.” (Lamberson, 2001). 

The ingredients of the Mad Arabs incense is listed as “olibanum, storax, dictamus, opium and hashish” and all but dictamus can be found on the pages of the Picatrix, (and conceivably it too could be there under another name).

Simon’s Necrominicon describes the Mad Arab’s discovery of a “strange grass”, in what one can only conclude is veiled reference to cannabis:

“In my solitary ceremonies in the hills, worshipping with fire and sword, with water and dagger, and with the assistance of a strange grass that grows wild in certain parts of MASSHU, and with which I had unwittingly built my fire before the rock, that grass that gives the mind great power to travel tremendous distances into the heavens, as also into the hells, I received the formulae for the amulets and talismans which follow, which provide the Priest with safe passage among the spheres wherein he may travel in search of the Wisdom”. – Necronimicon, (Simon, 1977).

Interestingly, as we have seen with reference to cannabis, which was used in invocations of the moon, there seems to be a similar connection between this grass and the moon in Simon’s Necronimicon.

“Now, there are Two Incantation to the Ancient Ones set down here, which are well known to the Sorcerers of the Night, they who make images and burn them by the Moon and by other Things. And they burn them by the Moon and by other Things. And they burn unlawful grasses and herbs, and raise tremendous Evils, and their Words are never written down, it is said. But there are… “- Necronimicon, (Simon, 1977).

The list of “Ancient Ones” in the hymn that follows, includes a number of Mesopotamian deities, and seems to pay special homage to Ishtar, whose cult did in fact use cannabis. As Assyriologist Erica Reiner noted “the herb called Sim.Ishara’armoatic of the Goddess Ishtar,’ …is equated with the Akkadian qunnabu, ‘cannabis’… and also calls to mind the plant called ki.na Istar” (Reiner, 1995). Cannabis was also offered to a deity known as Ea in ancient Assyria, and this god has been considered a counterpart of similar deities known as Enki, Oannes, and Dagon, under which name he appears in some of Lovecraft’s stories.

One who seems to have taken the stories of the Necronimicon quite literally, is M. Kienholz, who worked in the Spokane Police department for 18 years. In her book on the history of the opium trade, she ties the controversial grimoire with the 16th century magician John Dee, who she describes as “was Queen Elizabeth’s special agent” and his notorious scribe Edward Kelly a “charlatan and alchemist”, further suggesting Dee as a likely candidate for advising “the British to deal in opium”. In reference to the Necronimicon, she wrote that “While in Prague in 1586, Dee and Kelly searched out and plagiarized a copy of Necronimicon by Abdul Alhazred of Yemen, who developed a kind of incense containing ‘olibanum, storax, dictamus, opium and hashish’” (Kienholz, 2008). Although Kienholz’s claims don’t seem particularly credible, a case for Dee and Kelly’s use of psychoactive substances in their ritual scrying is made.

Interestingly Lovecraft’s close friends and fellow writers Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard of Conan the Barbarian fame, also wrote about hashish. Smith wrote The Hashish Eater, also known as The Apocalypse of Evil and Howard  wrote The Hashish Land.

There is the rumor that Lovecraft’s wife, Sonia Greene, had a “friendship” with the British magician Aleister Crowley and information was exchanged between them.  Crowley’s own love of cannabis is well known, and he wrote about it in a number of works, most notably The Psychology of Hashish. Interestingly he too, is pulled into this synchronistic web of cannabis and 420.

Crowley wrote in his diaries about an event in a New York Flat, on April 20th 1918, as part of an ongoing series of invocations and rituals, where a magician named Therion and his 2 assistants partook of a certain ancient and magical herb:

10.45 [p.m.] Achitha , Therion and Arcteon take 1 cc of Hashish.
 11.10 Achitha and Arcteon 1 cc Hashish.
11.30 Achitha and Arcteon 1 cc Hashish.

Therion, was ofcourse a magical title of Crowley and his assistants were Roddie Minor, and Charles Stansfeld Jones. Each CC signifies a gram of hashish, which is a considerable amount when ingested. This ritual use of cannabis resins was part of the ‘Amalantrah Working’, a now legendary event in some occult circles, and which took place over a number of months in 1918 while Crowley was living in New York. Besides the use of hashish, mescaline was also ingested as part of the invocations performed

Curiously, I myself was pulled into this synchronistic web while researching my new book Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult, when I learned that one of the individuals assisting Crowley, Charles Stansfeld Jones, had lived just a few doors down from my child hood home, and Crowley visited him there, as well there is a claim he was arrested, nude and acting peculiar, after performing a ritual circumnavigating the centre of Vancouver in 1930, which as far as I can tell was at that time right across the street from my Shop the Urban Shaman, which as been there since 2001, at Victory Square. These realizations culminated a quarter century long series of synchronistic events I had with a text about hashish Crowley wrote for Achad, ‘De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico’ and the number group 777. 

Liber 420, sees its release on the April 20th, 2018 the centennial anniversary of Crowley’s above account.  Many have seen the use of ‘drugs’ such as this as a mere offshoot of the occult tradition, largely popularized by Crowley and his associates in the late 19th and early 20th century. This view is not uncommon among both academic and modern practitioners of ceremonial magick. Likewise with witchcraft and its historians and modern adherents of that neo-pagan tradition. However, the use of cannabis and other magickal plants, (i.e. – psychoactive, in regards to this study) in magickal practice is as old as the craft itself, and Liber 420 provides a plethora of evidence to demonstrate this is the case.

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter of a century. He is co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018) . He has also contributed chapters on the the historical role of cannabis in spiritual practices in books such as The Pot Book (2010), Entheogens and the Development of Culture (2013), Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014), One Toke Closer to God (2017), Cannabis and Spirituality (2016) and Psychedelics Reimagined (1999). Bennett’s research has received international attention from the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. He currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.