CANNABIS CULTURE – Was cannabis the source of inspiration for Richard Wagner’s Holy Grail based operatic masterpieces Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal’? Could this have inspired its use by certain secret societies? New information has come to light indicating this may well be the case….
Now, before you read this article I am going to recommend you do two things, smoke, vaporize or otherwise partake of some sort of cannabis preparation of you choice, and then turn on these musical overtures.
Cannabis, since ancient times, has had a profound influence on musical concepts, and this can still be seen around the globe, with its roles in the India music of the Bauls, the hashish inspired Greek Jazz Rembetika, along with other better known cases such as American, Jazz, Rock and Roll, Hip Hop, and other examples. Few, Few would think of cannabis as an inspiring force for classical opera though.
As I begin researching my latest book on the history of cannabis, Aleister Crowley and the ‘Herb Dangerous’; A History of Cannabis in Thelema, I am finding out that is not the case. Aleister Crowley and the ‘Herb Dangerous’ will follow in the footsteps of Liber 420: Cannabis Magickal Herbs and the Occult, and detail the role of cannabis and other drugs in the 19th and 20th century occult scene where their use quite prevalent.
As Wagner was a big influence on Crowley, he came up in relation to this. The Beast made reference to Wagner’s works often, incorporating aspects of the opera Parsifal into his Gnostic Mass, an important ritual of a Secret Society he was the head of for a time, the Ordo Templi Orientis, O.T.O., as well as making reference to the Wagner’s Opera and the Grail, in an esoteric essay on hashish ‘De Herba Sanctissima Arabica’,
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) was a German composer, theater director and polemicist, who is widely known and remembered for his “music dramas”, particularly those associated with the German Mythological Ring Cycle and Arthurian Romances focused around the Grail. According to a respected 19th century biographer and translator of his works, William Ashton Ellis (1852-1919), he was inspired to compose some of his greatest works, after the recommendation of a cannabis preparation by the noted philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) [another big influence on Crowley].
Indicating some awareness of drugs, Schopenhauer stated that “By wine or opium we can intensify and considerably heighten our mental powers, but as soon as the right measure of stimulus is exceeded, the effect will be exactly the opposite” (Schopenhauer, 1839/2012). So the idea Schopenhauer would have been familiar with cannabis, and other substances, seems likely. As Peter Sjöstedt Hughes, has eloquently noted “Whether or not psychedelic substances offer insights from within the experience, at the very least they can offer fuel for intellect and creativity, as Schopenhauer suggests. Schopenhauer did consider the mystical consciousness to begin where the rational philosophical consciousness ends—he saw the former as complementary to knowledge rather than as an obstruction. Furthermore his theory of aesthetics and his reimagining of Plato’s theory of Forms could certainly be used to interpret the psychedelic experience. It is a pity that such a great thinker and writer did not pen more on the effects of his drugs”. As we shall see later, there may have been a reason why they did not.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
In the Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Issue 19 (1893), a very studious and reputable musical journal, in an essay by William Ashton Ellis, ‘Richard Wagner’s Prose’, Ellis records that Wagner, not feeling at ease, or physically well, set off on an at first unsuccessful course of consulting a number of physicians in search of a remedy:
He had not, however, given up the thought of finding a physician who should understand his constitution, and at last he found one in Arthur Schopenhauer, who simply advised him to continue the form of mental exercise he had already discovered for himself, with the addition of an occasional grain of Indian hemp whenever he found the trials of the world too insupportable. And now comes the notable fact, that, whereas his former advisers stimulated Wagner to fresh exertions in the realm of prose, the influence of Schopenhauer led to a prolonged suspension of all efforts in that direction, but incited him to immediate drafting of sketches for two great works, one of which was shortly thereafter completed as “Tristan ind Isolde” and the other passed later—if not directly, yet certainly by a slight metamorphis—into the religious drama “Parsifal.” With regard to this point, however, I would guard against the assumption, so often aired, that these works are a rendering of Schopenhauer into poetry : the influence here was merely excitant…. (Ellis, 1893).
Note that Ellis puts more focus on the “excitant” of the Indian Hemp tincture, than he does on the influence of Schopenhuer! Now, it should be noted here that William Ashton Ellis’s words here can not be written off as mere gossip. Ellis was the premiere translator of Wagner’s operas, writings and personal correspondence in the 19th and early 20th century, and here in the 21st, his many books regarding this are still in print and valued. Ellis clearly had a deep inside knowledge of Wagner’s work and personal life.
Further, there are other indications that there may have been a tradition of somewhat secretive use of cannabis around Wagner and the cult like scene that grew around him. Philosopher and author Joachim Köhler, claimed that Paul von Joukowsky (1845 – 1912) a Russian-German stage designer and writer who designed the costumes and four of the five scenes for the premiere of Wagner’s opera Parsifal, also made reference to this same source of inspiration. Noting that in Wagner’s elegant inner parlour, in the Venice home where he composed his works, there “was …a secret rose cabinet… and when Joukowsky entered it unobserved, he was reminded of ‘Klingsor’s magic garden thought up by Wagner when high on hashish’” (Köhler, 1997).
One is also readily reminded of the Secret Garden of the Old Man of the Mountain and the legends of the Hashishins in the account of Klingsor as well. It is possible other elements of such hashish infused and esoteric themes might have been secretly encoded into Wagner’s Operas. In Siegfried, where the title-hero seems to be in a state of intoxication, there is a line that indicates that Wagner may indeed have coded esoteric information into his Operas.
A surly old dwarf
said to me once
that men could learn
the language of birds,
and know what they were saying.
How can I learn the tongue?
This term “language of the birds” is an important one in terms of esoterica, it was used by both Sufis and later alchemists, to refer to a style of language directed at veiling hidden meaning with descriptive symbolism. For instance the Sufi poet Attar used the parrot as symbol for hashish, likely because of the gift of words, or poetic inspiration, associated with its use, and the 16th century French alchemist, monk, herbalist and physician, Francois Rabelais (another BIG influence on Crowley) hid references to cannabis, in his own hilarious parody of Grail myth, Pantagruel, as the herb “pantagruelion”. (These chapters were banned by the Church and authorities, shortly after their publication, when the hidden identity became known, as I detail more fully in Liber 420, and even some modern translations of Rabelais have excluded them.)
With this in mind, some analogies hidden in Wagner’s works, do come to mind. In Wagner’s Parsifal, William Kinderman refers to a painting of the goddess Germania, which includes cannabis leaves wrapped around her sword in relation to the famous opera.
The issues attending the political symbolism of Wagner’s Parsifal figure can be further clarified by analogy to the famous depiction of Germania by Philipp Veit and Edward von Steinle dating March 1848, at the time of the ill-fated revolution. This is the banner that was displayed at the time at the parliamentary assembly held in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt. The term “Germania” stems from the widely circulated ethnographic work Germania written by Cornelius Tacitus around 98 CE. Veit’s Germania figure is softened by the presence of the hemp branch denoting peace. The double-eagle coat of arms and oak leaves in the hair are German symbols; an earlier picture by Veit shows a feminine figure seated before an oak tree, a sylvan image that Wagner adapts at the outset of Lohengrin, with its “Geirchts-Eiche” (“tree of judgement”),.
Cannabis leaves also seem to be the likely culprit, in a wreath worn in Germania’s hair in the 1828 painting Italia und Germania by Johann Friedrich Overbeck.
Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen opera cycle features another German Goddes, Freya, here as Freia, and he combined her with the apple-bearing goddess Iounn. In the story line Rheingold Fafner sings: “Golden apples grow in her [Freia’s] garden” and the tale has it that when Freia is taken by Giants, all of the remaining gods grow pallid and become ill, sickened because they must go without the golden apples from Freia’s garden. Theodor Reuss, the founder of the O.T.O., who knew Wagner, suggested this story of Freia’s apples was, like Parsifal, related to the Grail Mythos. “It doesn’t take really sharp-witted people, only a bit of courage in ones thinking process, to get the gist of these tactful hints – what Wagner means by the golden apples in Freias garden. We will express the solution with the explanation of the Graal dinner. This god-like meal which in his later years returned under other symbols – even as the Graal dinner, Wagner wished to pass on to those coming after him” (Reuss, 1914).
Apples are an interesting choice symbolically, due to their mythical association with the Forbidden Fruit of Eden, but what is more interesting in this regard, is Freya’s actual association with cannabis. Referring to German sources, Christian Ratsch, a German anthropologist and writer on topics like ethnopharmacology and psychoactive plants, states that in ancient Germanic culture cannabis was used in honour of the Goddess Freya as both a ritual inebriant and an aphrodisiac. As well, Ratsch writes that the harvesting of tcannabis was connected with an erotic high festival. “Hemp, sacred to her, was used to promote desire, fertility and health in humans” (Ratsch, 2001). “It was believed that Freya lived as a fertile force in the plant’s feminine flowers and by ingesting them one became influenced by this divine force”.(Ratsch 2001,2005). This view is supported by archaeological evidence. “Remnants of hemp dating from prehistoric times were discovered in 1896 in northern Europe when the German archaeologist, Hermann Busse opened a tomb containing a funerary urn at Wilmersdorf (Brandenburg)” (Reininger, 1941).
This connection between Freya and cannabis continued into much later times, and cannabis seeds have been found at sites of a Völva, a Norse Witch, who would have been among her worshippers, included “ a witch´s wand, …magical amulets and pouches filled with cannabis seeds” . The National Museum of Denmark records, “ In myths Frejya is portrayed as a great seducer. She therefore may have functioned as a divine role model for the völur in Viking society. Perhaps völur seduced men using narcotic substances?”
In Verbotene Lust (1995) Kurt Lussi has suggested that aspects of Freya’s cult lasted well into medieval and even later times. Lussi wrote that cultic worship of “Freyja did not just lead to erotic customs during the sowing and harvest, but also during love oracles and love magic, which had their origin in pre-Christian fertility rites and which also involved marriageable boys” (Lussi, 1995). Lussi goes onto suggest that the cultic and magical use of cannabis in such rites, left an impression down into later Christian times, when such erotic rituals that had long lost their meaning, were still being practiced by Catholic girls!
Often female participants were required to be totally or partially naked. This was based not on the cult, but on sorcery and magic: “On the evening before Midsummer Day, the Catholic girls of Kmjak would go unexamined to a hemp field which belonged to another; they would roll naked in the hemp, and three times they would tear off three handfuls of hemp leaves; these they would bind into a wreath which they would toss onto the nearest tree; as many times as the wreath fell back down, so many years would that girl remain unmarried.” It is more doubtful whether the custom really served solely an oracular purpose. The boys of the village certainly knew the location of the hemp fields, and they also knew the time of the “oracle.” It seems likely that the nocturnal activities of the unmarried girls served to attract partners. It can be assumed that everyone who found themselves in the hemp field also had “illicit” intimacies. (Lussi, 1995)
In these overly erotic aspects of the Freya cult, one is reminded of the symbolic role of the enchanted seductress Kundry, in Wagner’s Parsifal, and indeed, this connection, like that with Germania of the cannabis sword, has long been made. In The Parsifal of Richard Wagner (1892) Maurice Kufferath explains, of the seductress of Knights on the path, Kundry, and her connections to Freya and the seducing Völva :
Kundry is nameless, for the very reason that she is impersonal. To the magician, who knows the past, the present, and the future, she is Kundry only temporarily. Tomorrow she will be another woman, while still remaining the same, as she was in former times. The names of Herodias and of Gundryggia sum up, in his thought, a whole series of legends about woman, this dissolvent though necessary element in the world. A German legend relates that Herodias, passionately in love with St. John the Baptist, wished to kiss the saint’s lips when, after his execution, his head was brought to Herod in a charger. But the head drew back and breathed violently upon Herodias. Since that time Herodias, lifted from the earth, wanders about as a phantom in mid-air, never able to rest on the bushes’, save from midnight to the first crowing of the cock. This Christian legend is an adaptation of the Scandinavian saga of Freya, who, abandoned by her husband Odhur, sheds golden tears at night, and is continuall pursued by Odhin, the god of the tempests. The legend itself is transformed later and becomes the infernal chase, the nocturnal chase of restless and sinful souls, of vampires, at whose head is seen Herodias, and in which we recognize a derivation from the myth of the Walkyries. We see by what association of ideas Wagner connected the name of Herodias with the name Gundryggia, which he coined to indicate one of the “migrations,” that is to say, one of the incarnations, of Kundry.
The name changes, the essence remains. Thus the character of Kundry, which is apparently so contradictory and enigmatical, may be explained as a symbolic figure of woman, of eternal woman, who lives on forever, at once terrible and sorrowful, for the happiness and the anguish of all creatures. (Kufferath, 1892)
In the 2012 article ‘Richard Wagner und das bleiche Kraut’, ‘Richard Wagner and the Pale Herb’, Von Wolfram Siebeck, the German journalist, author and food critic, jokingly suggested a number of potential hidden references to drugs in Wagner’s operas, highlighting his comments with an actual line from Beckmesser, in The Meistersinger, “Bleich wie ein Kraut / umfasert mir Hanf meinen Leib” – “Pale as a herb, hemp envelops my body”. The same character also quickly laments about “what I ate a long time ago” indicating ingestion of something and giving a reason how cannabis might have come to envelope his body.
Other scenes in Wagner’s works hold similar themes.The Opera Tristan and Isolde, (1865) which was also suggested by Ellis to have been inspired by the effects of cannabis, tells the story of a Cornish knight, Sir Tristan, bringing home a captured Irish princess, Isolde, to his king, Marke. However, a problem arises when Princess and Knight fall in love on their journey, a desire they had resisted until both accidentally drank a magic potion which weakens their moral inhibitions! This situation which reminds one of the claimed role of cannabis inspiring the erotic activities of the Freya cult.
However, stronger evidence of hashish use might be gleaned from accounts of Wagner’s personal life, as well as the cultish scene which grew around him. Henriette Perl, who visited Wagner later in life, indicates that Wagner was a master of set and setting, and compared the richness of his working chamber with its “joyous splendour of colour, the rustling and crinkling of silks, the perfect designs of expensive laces” to a “Persian garden”, again, bringing to mind that of the secret grotto of the Old Man of the Mountain and his initiates, the Hashishin. “When he entered this chamber, Wagner may have experienced things comparable to what affects the smoker of hashish as soon as narcotic vapors go to work on him.” In Wagner and Venice, John W. Barker notes that “Perl gave an inverted hint about the possibility of Wagner’s using hashish. There are suggestions that he did resort at times to some dosages of opium as a painkiller … [and]his intense devotion to snuff has been noted and attested to elsewhere” (Barker, 2008).
There were rumours of hashish use at the “Nibelungen Chancellery” where Wagner’s copyists did their work. In Great Wagner Conductors: a listener’s companion, Jonathan Brown, also indicating that there may have been a bad trip by one of Wagner’s copyists, Anton Seidl (1850-1898) in Wagner’s home. Wagner treated Seidl as one of the “chosen few” and Brown records how Wagner had to summon the conductor Hans Richter in 1872 to “sort out an unspecified ‘fatal incident concerning the young Seidl,’ something which Richter did, yet played down in his diary as mere ‘unpleasantness with Seidl.’ Of course, the incident may have had nothing to do with his work. Felix Mottle wrote in his diary during rehearsals for the Ring in 1876 that Seidl had organized a hashish party in the ‘Nibelungen Chancellery’ which scandalised Wagner” (Brown, 2014).
The Journal of the American Liszt Society indicate that Wagner was less than amused noting of the devotees who worked for Wagner: “They were a lively lot, at one point indulging in a hashish experiment that brought Wagner’s wrath down upon them full force, and most would go on to careers of varying distinction.” Seidl’s Die Wagner-Nachfolge Im Musik-Drama does contain an operatic piece Haschisch, but alas I was unable to access this 1902 German work to assess it.
Haschisch may be a reference to a work under that name by the Composer and later Prussian Lieutenant General Philipp Oskar von Chelius (1859 -1923). That he would write a operatic piece titled Haschisch does seem relevant as the greatest artistic influence on Chelius’ practical work was clearly Richard Wagner. Chelius was one of the most important patrons of Wagner’s work in the Empire and he participated directly in the 1880s in the establishment of the Wagner Society in Potsdam. Although, Chelius did not continue to pursue a career as a composer, instead becamoming a career officer in the Prussian army, he nevertheless worked as a composer all his life: composing operas, symphonies, chamber music and chorales. Chelius composed Haschisch in 1897, which was accompanied by a storyline by Axel Delmar.
Philipp Oskar von Chelius (1859 -1923) Wagner supporter and composer of the 1 act opera Haschisch
And this is not the only Hashish inspired work of art that grew in the scene around Wagner. Also interesting is that a close friend of Wagner, Fritz Lemmermayer (1857-1932) was the author of Haschisch (1898), which has recently been translated and published as Hashish The Lost Legend: The First English Translation of a Great Oriental Romance.
Cover for Haschisch (1898) by Wagner’s friend Fritz Lemmermayer (1857-1932).
Others may have indicated a sort of esoteric connection between Wagner’s Operas and hashish. In Wagner and Russia, Rosamund Bartlett relates that the Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) “was… strongly affected by listening to Tristan ind Isolde, likening it to the sort of nightmare produced by taking substantial quantities of hashish: ‘Your head spins, your thoughts become more and more muddled, certain phrases repeat themselves stubbornly and importunately a multitude of times, becoming more and more like huge apparitions; others quickly change like an incomprehensible assortment of words, like the following: ocean, pineapple, divinity, money, gloom, etc.” (Bartlett, 1995).
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who was very close with both Schopenhauer and Wagner, also compared the effects that hashish has on the thoughts and emotions to Wagner’s music in a famous and often repeated quote: “If a man wish to get rid of a feeling of insufferable oppression, he has to take to hashish. Well, I had to take to Wagner. Wagner is the counter-poison to everything essentially German.” As we shall see this is not the only time that Nietzsche made this comparison.
Nietzsche and the ‘Javanese Extract’
Nietzsche ’s relationship with Wagner, like his relationship with drugs, was rather complicated. At first he was deeply enamoured with the works of German composer, and they became friends, but later in life he rejected the philosophy behind Wagner’s work, still later lamenting his loss of friendship with Wagner. Throughout this period, the themes behind this love hate relationship all seem to revolve around intoxication and Nietzsche ’s own relationship with it.
As Peter Sjöstedt Hughes, who has written extensively about Nietzsche ’s relationship with drugs, in his well researched work Noumenautics: metaphysics – meta-ethics – psychedelics (2015) explained to me to me in personal correspondence that “Nietzsche’s first book was dedicated to Wagner and it is where he introduces the Dionysian concept.” As Nietzsche described in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) “from nature, we are vouchsafed a glimpse into the nature of the Dionysiac, most immediately understandable to using the analogy of intoxication. Under the influence of the narcotic potion hymned by all primitive men and peoples, or in the powerful approach of spring, joyfully penetrating the whole of nature, those Dionysiac urges are awakened, and as they grow more intense, subjectivity becomes a complete forgetting of the self” (Nietzsche, 1872).
In the introduction to a recent edition of Friedrich Nietzsche: The Dionysian Vision of the World (2013) Fred Ulfers’s explains in a commentary:
Nietzsche ascribes “intoxication” to the Dionysian vision of the world, deriving this from the orgiastic nature cults of Thrace. Celebrating the “drive of springtime” and the Bacchanalia in honor of Dionysus, the god of “narcotic drink” …Nietzsche interprets the term “intoxication” not as narcotic stupor but, on the contrary, as a kind of “rush,” …that spells unboundedness. Intoxication is “ecstasy” taking place under the aegis of Dionysus as… the “liberator” — who undoes boundaries. Dionysus sunders the Apollonian principium individuation is one which the unified conscious ego and oppositional couples are based. Speech — conceptual language… — is replaced by singing, and the measured steps of walking are overtaken by dancing. Most important of all for Dionysus is the element of music — “Dionysian music,” which consists of “the jarring force of tone and the absolutely incomparable world of harmony”. (Ulfers, 2013)
Nietzsche rightfully asks in The Birth of Tragedy (1872) “Might visions and hallucinations not have been shared by whole communities, by whole cult gatherings?” “Hence Nietzsche, from the outset, was enthused about narcotic, psychedelic intoxication and its value, whilst simultaneously he himself was becoming increasingly intoxicated as his illness progressed” (Hughes, 2015). This analogy between the “Narcotic drink” and Dionysian music, is at the core of Nietzsche’s comparison of Wagner to Hashish. In this regard, it should be noted that Nietzsche’s comments on the cult of Dionysus, may hold some historical validity. The encyclopedic ethnobotanist Jonathon Ott states that Dionysus is “erroneously regarded to be the god only of alcoholic inebriation owing to a misunderstanding of the natures of Greek Wines, potent infusions of numerous Psychoactive plants, in which the alcohol served as a preservative, rather than as inebriating principle, and which often required dilution to be drunk safely” (Ott,1995). as Dr. David Hillman has also noted “Dionysus actually possessed his followers, and Euripides’ Greek audience clearly equated this act with the use of mind-altering drugs” (Hillman, 2008).
In this regard, consult my previous book Cannabis and the Soma Solution, for a detailed analysis. Cannabis has been suggested specifically. Noted theologian Mircea Eliade (who was himself an experimenter with hashish) noted the elements of shamanism in the Thracian cult of Dionysus, and referred to their likely use of cannabis, in a way very similar to that of Neitzche’s concepts of Dionysian ecstasy:
Prophecy in Thrace was connected with the cult of ‘Dionysus’… the temple was on a high mountain, and the prophetess predicted the future in ‘ecstasy’, like the Pythia at Delphi.
Ecstatic experiences strengthened the conviction that the soul is not only autonomous but that it is capable of unio mystica with the divinity. The separation of soul from body, determined by ecstasy, revealed…the fundamental duality of man…[and]the possibility of a purely, spiritual post-experience…Ecstasy could…be brought on by certain dried herbs… (Eliade,1982)
In a foot note to “dried herbs”, Eliade referred to the use of hemp among the Thracian shaman priests, known as “Kapnobatai”, “smoke-walkers” who were “dancers and ‘shamans’ who used the smoke of hemp to bring ecstatic trances” (Eliade, 1982). Poet and author Dale Pendell wrote; “Dionysus’s home was usually assumed to be Thrace… whose shamans used hemp smoke to induce visions and oracular trances. Hemp probably came to Thrace through Central Asia and the Caucasus. A…similar route may have been followed by the grapevine…It is…possible that…Dionysus carried not only the vine but ganja as well” (Pendell, 1995). Professor of Classics, Carl Ruck, suggests that wine and cannabis, in this scenario, were likely combined, bringing us the sort of “narcotic drink” Nietzsche refers too: “Since the wine of Dionysus is a mediation between the god’s wild herbal ancestors and the civilized phenomenon of his cultivated and manufactured manifestation in the product fermented from the juice of the grape, it is most probable that this was the way in which the Greeks incorporated hemp into their pharmacopoeia” (Ruck, 2007). In Nepenthes and Cannabis in Ancient Greece, Luigi Arata explains:
Greek people knew about its fumes, obviously, and about its effects. The fact that almost nobody directly described abuse of this stupefacient was perhaps due to its rarity (cannabis was not a Greek product, it seems) or its unusual utilization. Yet, it is not at all strange if we bear in mind the silence of our sources about the drugs that were used by the Maenads in Bacchic [Dionysian] mysteries and by the initiates in Orphic mysteries. We know that those people who found their way of happiness celebrating those rites tried to come into communion with gods through orgies and narcotics. Sex and drugs were thus the media through which men and women became gods or, better, similar to gods…. Who knows? Perhaps, nepenthes or cannabis were the drugs that were used in those rites, and this would be the reason why we know so little of them and about how they were used. (Arata, 2004)
As I have shown elsewhere, the prevailing view on Nepenthe, an infused wine, said to have relieved sorrow, is that it was itself a cannabis preparation, (Bennett, 2010: 2018). Other infusions, also believed to contain hemp, under the names “thalassaegle,” “potammaugis” and “gelotophyllis” were recorded by Democritus (c.a. 460 b.c.) (Walton, 1938). “Democritus’s famous recipe for a hemp wine is suitable for internal use: Macerate 1 teaspoon of myrrh… and a handful of hemp flowers in 1 litre of retsina or dry Greek white wine… strain before drinking.”(Ratsch, 2005) “The gelotophllis of Pliny… a plant drunk in wine among the Bactrians, which produced immoderate laughter, may very well be identical with hemp, which still grows wild in the country around the Caspian and Aral Seas” (Houtsma, et al., 1936/1993).
These all fit well within the realm of the sort of “narcotic potion” that Neitzche used in his analogy to the Dionysian situation as well as in the hashish comparison to the effects of Wagner’s music. Moreover this recognition of the role of narcotics and ecstasy is expressed in Nietzsche ’s The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) and then again much later in The Dionysian World View (1928). “There are two states in which man arrives at the rapturous feeling of existence, namely in dreaming and in intoxication.” As Peter Sjöstedt Hughes notes, “Between these two statements Nietzsche had ingested a variety of drugs, drugs that may have influenced his culture-shattering philosophy…” (Hughes, 2015).
Nietzsche certainly used a variety of drugs, often in a search from the relief of migraines and other maladies, and references to opium, chloral hydrate (a potent hallucinogen) with potassium bromide, a “prohibited snuff” and a variety of other substances, often passing himself off as a medical doctor and writing his own prescriptions. In ‘Ecce Psycho: Remarks on the Case of Nietzsche’ Daniel Breazeale states that acting “as his own physician, Nietzsche prescribed… massive and regular doses of drugs, including chloral hydrate, bromide, opium, hashish, and a mysterious ‘Javanese preparation’” (Breazeale, 1991). That such substances had an effect on his philosophical life is clear, for as he noted in a letter “I think, sensible insight into the state of things I have come after taking a huge dose of opium – in desperation. But instead of losing my reason as a result, I seem at last to have come to reason” (Nietzsche , 1882).
An understanding of Nietzsche’s Dionysian view of intoxication, and his own relationship with drugs, helps one to better understand his views on Wagner. William Pinar suggests that Nietzsche “Likened Richard Wagner’s ‘sentimentality’ to drugs and addiction. Nietzsche referred on several occasions to Wagner’s ‘narcotic art,’ to the ‘poison’ of a ‘hashish world’ of ’strange, heavy, enveloping vapours’” (Pinar, 2006). In Nietzsche, Wagner, Europe, Martine Prange writes “By claiming that he needed Tristan and Isolde as ‘hashish’ in order to free himself from the pressure of having been under the influence of Germans all his life, a negative connotation is attached to the composer’s first truly ‘Wagnerian’ work” ( Prange, 2013). in the Neitzche’s Gay Science (1887) “Wagner’s theatre is scorned as ‘aping the high tide of the soul’… and… is castigated as the ‘hashish-smoking and betel-chewing of european man’” (Prange, 2013). The wider quote from Nietzsche reads:
The strongest thoughts and passions before those who are not capable of thought and passion but only of intoxication! And these are provided to produce intoxication! Theatre and music as the hashish smoking and betel chewing of the European! Who will ever narrate to us the whole history of narcotics! It is almost the history of “culture”, of our so called “higher” culture!
I think artists often do not know what they can do best, because they are too conceited, and have set their minds on some thing loftier than those little plants appear to be which can grow up to perfection on their soil, fresh, rare, and beautiful. The final value of their own garden and vineyard is superciliously under estimated by them, and their love and their insight are not of the same quality. (Nietzsche , 1882)
In context, the fuller statement seems less critical of Wagner’s music, than is often interpreted, and one wonders if there is something more than criticism is this loaded comment. Curiously, there have been suggestions that Nietzsche was a secret cannabis user. This comes through his sister Elisabeth’s claims about a mysterious “Javanese Narcotic”, which she held was a key factor in contributing to his madness. There have been many claims as to what the constitution of this “Javanese narcotic” was, or even if it existed, as some have suggested that it was just a fabrication from Elisabeth, and the real source of Nietzsche ’s madness, was a progressively worsening case of syphilis, or others maladies from life long issues, with migraines and symptoms that were similar to those his father suffered, before dying of a “softening of the brain” at 36.
In ‘What was the cause of Nietzsche’s Dementia’? Leonard Sax dismisses Elisabeth Nietzsche’s claims about this mysterious Javanese tincture outright:
Elisabeth suggested that the trigger for Nietzsche’s collapse was a mysterious ‘‘Javanese tea’’, which she claimed to have identified as Cannabis indica. Subsequent scholarship showed that Elisabeth’s suggestion was fantasy. There is no mention of ‘‘Javanese tea’’ or any variety of cannabis in any authenticated letter to or from Nietzsche. Elisabeth herself never mentioned it until the publication of Möbius’ book in 1902. (Sax, 2003)
However, others have seen it as quite real, and the range of suggestions as to what it was go from coca, a cannabis tincture, opium, and a combination of drugs including some of those and others. In ‘The Case of Nietzsche’s Madness’, Malek K. Khazaee writes about the potential effects, of this and the various combinations of drugs that the German philosopher was alleged to have used, and how it may have effected him :
….[T]he prognosis of Nietzsche’s madness through his writing is complicated by his abusing drugs, such as hashish, opium, potassium bromide, chloral hydrate, and a mysterious “Javanese” preparation (probably of an opiate variation), among others. While hashish can have a delusional and occasionally paranoiac effect, potassium bromide and chloral hydrate are not only powerful sedatives but, like sulfonmethane, have a serious medicinal use for hypnotic effects. In addition, opium, as one of the most powerful narcotics, has strong withdrawal symptoms, including diarrhea, loss of appetite, lack of energy and bodily aches for four to seven days, as well as depression, impatience and growing frustration for months. As a wandering man, Nietzsche, it can be assumed, would lose contact with the drug suppliers of the towns and countries left behind and have unwillingly have his rapturous intoxication and ravishment be quickly replaced by melancholic and agonizing withdrawal symptoms, until the next contact and intoxication, followed by another retreat to anguish and depression, and so on. It is therefore impossible to know how much of this addiction-related roller-coaster, of which he may have been at least partially unaware, contributed to the swing of his moods, to his complaining and occasionally confused letters, and to the inconsistencies of his writing, whose aphoristic style could dissemble. While Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883, 1885) is probably influenced by morphine, some readers believed that it was a product of a madman. Likewise, his 1888 books are imbued with such a novelty of style and inflated conceit that it cannot be decided for sure whether their author had been under the influence of a more potent strain of narcotics, or whether his mental state was rapidly eroding, or whether both of these factors existed side-by-side and fed on each other. (Khazaee, 2008)
The potency of these drugs, clearly held a powerful effect over Nietzche. In Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries (1991) Resa von Schirnhofer, who visited Nietzsche in 1884, and suspected the use of hashish and other narcotics, reported that he had told her, that he was seldom able to sleep, and “described… how, when he closed his eyes, he saw an abundance of fantastic flowers, winding and intertwining, constantly growing and changing forms in exotic luxuriance, sprouting one out of the other.”
As Elisabeth Nietzsche described of this mysterious Javanese tincture thought to have been the culprit behind so many of these accounts: “Unfortunately, in 1884 so far as I remember, he got to know a Dutchman, who recommended him a Javanese narcotic, and presented him with a fairly large bottle of this specific. The stuff… [it]had an… outlandish name, which I can no longer remember, since we always called it ‘the Javanese narcotic.’ The Dutchman impressed us that only a few drops could be taken at a time in a glass of water” (Nietzsche, E., 1915). “It makes sense that Java and the rest of Indonesia having been at the time a colony of Holland, the Dutchmen would have been a dealer of this drug through the Dutch smugglers of it to Europe” (Khazaee, 2008). This connection has caused Peter Sjöstedt Hughes to suggest a cocaine cocktail of sorts:
The island of Java was part of the colonized Dutch East Indies. In 1875 coca plants were introduced to Java, eventually leading to the Nederlandsche Cocaïne Fabriek in 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death. The Javanese coca leaf was not as potent as its Peruvian sibling in Nietzsche’s time, but it was cheaper. The Javanese narcotic his sister spoke of thus likely contained traces of cocaine, and possibly the assorted herbs of the traditional Indonesian healing concoction Jamu. It would be surprising that combining this combination with chloral, opium, potassium bromide, etc., would not lead to hallucinations, madness, mental breakdown, and perceived apotheosis… (Hughes, 2015).
However, it should also be noted that cannabis has a long history in this same region, as noted in the report ‘Cannabis in Indonesia: Patterns in consumption, production, and policies’: “According to the Historical Dictionary of Indonesia, Cannabis sativa or ganja ‘was native to the Caspian Sea, but reported from Java in the 10th century’. The dictionary suggests that cannabis was used as a source of fibre and an intoxicant… Ganja or bang, as noted by a number of Dutch authors during the colonial period, served as an ‘intoxicating agent’ whose leaves were regularly mixed and smoked with tobacco, particularly in the Aceh region” (Putri & Blickman, 2016).
Apparently, cannabis leaves and opium were used by shopkeepers or warung holders (in Indonesian, warung is a common term for a small shop or eating place) to enhance the aroma and narcotic effect of dried tobacco in banana leaves.10 Indonesian-born citizens preferred much stronger tobacco than the Dutch and did not shy away from its mind-altering effects.(Putri & Blickman, 2016).
It should be noted, in this regard that cannabis indica was readily prescribed in tinctures with both the potassium bromide and chloral hydrate mentioned, so this was not an uncommon combination.
In The Lonely Nietzsche, Elisabeth described the tincture as having a taste like “rather strong alcohol and [it]had an outlandish smell” (Nietzsche , E., 1915). She claimed she had even tried it herself “and observed a somewhat exhilarating effect” (Nietzsche , E., 1915). She lamented that “During the early days of his insanity he used often to say in confidence to our mother that he ‘had taken twenty drops’ (he did not mention of what) and that his brain had then “gone off the rails”’ (Nietzsche , E., 1915). Sounding like a scene from the sort of convulsive laughter portrayed on screen in the days of Reefer Madness, Elisabeth recounted that “in the autumn of 1885, he confessed to me that on one occasion he had taken a few drops too much, with the result that he suddenly threw himself to the ground in a fit of convulsive laughter” (Nietzsche, E., 1915).
As Deborah Hayden explains in Pox: Genius, Madness, And The Mysteries Of Syphilis:
A ‘Javanese soporific,’ thought to be liquid hashish, was given to him in the summer of 1881 by a Dutchman, who told him never to take more than a few drops in a glass of water… In 1885 Nietzsche admitted he had taken a few drops too many and had flung himself to the ground, exhilaration passing over into a spasmodic laughter. According to Elisabeth, Professor Wille at Basel told her that Nietzsche was experimenting with soporifics not yet tried by science. All of this was revealed only after Mobius book was used by Elisabeth to promote the theory that Nietszche’s paralysis was a ‘hashish paralysis.’ She also suggested that the sleeping medication Nietzsche took left him excited in the morning. (Hayden, 2008)
The identity of the sleep medication referred to is more readily identified, and is considered to be chloral hydrate. Elisabeth stated that “the worst of it all was that he used both chloral and the Javanese drug at the same time” and she regarded “two sleeping draughts, chloral and Javanese narcotic, as responsible for his paralytic stroke” (Nietzsche, E., 1915). As Daniel Halévy explained in The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche (1911): “While Nietzsche wrote thus and struggled against depression, may it not be that he was taking drugs to excite himself to work? There is some evidence to suggest it. But we shall never have exact information on this point. We know that he was absorbing chloral and an extract of Indian hemp which, in small doses, produced an inward calm; in large doses, excitement. Perhaps he handled a more complicated pharmacopoeia in secret; it is the habit of nervous persons” (Halévy, 1911). Paul Cohen in Um Nietzsches Untergang (1931), also suggested Nietzsche’s descent into madness as being due to hashish poisoning, and he included 12 pages exploring these 3 questions: “1.Has Nietzsche used Hashish? 2. How was the hashish used? 3. Are effects of hashish to be demonstrated in his writings? “ and noting that “the use of hashish as the unknown factor in the bill would clarify much” (Cohen, 1931). Cohen explained that the “hashish-muting” i.e., the ‘hiding’ of it from the history of Nietzsche, was to be found in this Javanaese narcotic. “The sister writes that Nietzsche, as she recalled in the summer of 1884, had come to know a Hollander, who from long experience of his own had recommended to him a Javanese remedy” (Cohen, 1931). Cohen concluded that “given the knowledge about the effects that unfolded about this substance, there were various things that pointed to hashish” (Cohen, 1931). Unfortunately I could not access more of this nearly century old German book at this time to understand more fully the basis of Cohen’s thesis in this regard.
Clearly, Nietzsche had a troubled, love hate relationship with drugs. As much as they inspired him, in combination with likely illness, both mental and physical, they may also have contributed to his spiral into madness, and eventual demise. The role of inspiration, in this regard, can not be downplayed, as one biographer noted “he was convinced that especially during conditions of intoxication and dream, a fullness of the past could be revived in the individual’s present” (Salomé, 2001).
Resa von Schirnhofer, who we referred to earlier in regards to her 1884 visit with Nietzsche, noted the preponderance of stories about hashish in the press at the time, and the availability of the delicacies prepared from cannabis, found it odd enough to mention, that Nietzsche never referred to it. “Nietzsche never spoke of having used hashish, nor can I remember ever hearing the word hashish from his lips, but no doubt in his intensive reading of contemporary French authors—among them Baudelaire—he was already familiar with hashish in the summer of 1884 as a new drug that had recently appeared in Europe. Hashish smoking is mentioned as early as 1882 in The Joyful Science, though only as an Oriental habit of self-intoxication”. She noted however that “he expressly told me, had been surprised never to be asked whether he was a medical doctor authorized to prescribe this kind of medication, I conclude that some dubious medicines must have been among them.”
However, one thing he did discuss with fraulein Schirnhofer, was his regret over his parting of ways with Wagner. “He touched upon his favorite theme, this time grieving deeply, with tears in his eyes, lamenting the irreplaceable loss of his former friendship with Wagner”. A few years after this visit, Nietzsche would write lamentfully in The Case of Wagner: “He has supplied the precious varnish wherewith to hide the dull ugliness of our civilisation. He has given to souls despairing over the materialism of this world, to souls despairing of themselves, and longing to be rid of themselves, the indispensable hashish and morphia wherewith to deaden their inner discords” (Nietzsche, 1888). This is interesting, as again here we find this comparison with Wagner to hashish being made by Nietzsche, more than a decade and a half later, than when he first did in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872), and long after the loss of their friendship.
This situation is made more interesting by comments recorded after his death by Nietzsche’s sister, in Das leben Friedrich Nietzsche’s, ‘The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche’ (1895), which I have translated from the German:
… [H]e had been silently dealing with Wagner’s “terrible tendencies” since January 1874, and now they attacked him in their whole brutal reality: no, this was not the music of the future, it was not a sign of rising, but of decline This was an ancient intoxication, enervating hashish and nothing of Dionysian overflowing attitude to life! The pain, however, was too deep for Fritz to talk about it, so he himself followed the solemn admonition he addressed to his readers at the beginning of the fourth “Outmoded Contemplation.” He wrapped himself in a deep “Pythagorean silence.” Only occasionally did he speak about the orchestra, always with the highest admiration, “You’ll never hear that again.” (Nietzsche, E., 1895)
This statement becomes very loaded when taken in combination with the various claims Elisabeth made about the “Javanese tincture”, which she saw as a key reason for his mental and physical decline, and has been said to have believed was a cannabis preparation of some sort. The term “Pythagorean silence”, is the silence of those who had taken an oath not to reveal the mysteries, as it was said, those who had not studied under Pythagoras, spoke so much more about his mysteries, than did the initiates that he had taught.
At this point, I am going to make what at first will seem like a rather outrageous supposition, perhaps Nietzsche’s use of the Javanese tincture, and his comparisons between Wagner’s music and hashish, hint at, in some sort of veiled way, a Wagnerian hashish cult. This could also explain why there is so little reference to the alleged cannabis use by Wagner and Schopenhauer, and why when “the repetiteurs” had “caused a scandal by smoking some hashish” at the Nibelungen Chancellery, as also noted by Derek Watson in Richard Wagner: a Biography, drawing Wagner’s ire. Perhaps it was the publicity over the incident that was upsetting, and not the use of Hashish. Could the repetiteurs have taken hashish in imitation of their Maestro, inspired by the stories of inspiration around Parsifal? A pledge to secrecy, could also well account for the “Pythagorean silence” Elisabeth said Nietzsche kept in regards to Wagner, and why there is so little known about the “Javanese extract” given to him by the mysterious Dutchman.
As Peter Sjöstedt Hughes, concludes of of the troubled German philosopher’s relationship with drugs, Nietzche’s “philosophy was provoked, in a degree hitherto undiagnosed, by reveries occasioned by chemical measures exposes one to the realization of the great power of these substances, powers guiding history. Nietzsche risked himself, his sanity, his life, so to touch the heavens and taste the Hades of human mentality – he may thereby have destroyed himself. But destruction is a joy to Dionysus, a deity to be born again” (Hughes, 2015). Indeed, the spirit of Nietzsche lives on through his work.
That cannabis and other psychoactive substances were being used by occult figures and certain secret societies in Germany for sometime before during and after this period, is a clear statement of fact. Figures like Johann Georg Schröpfer (1730-1774) who claimed to have Masonic rites derived from the Templars, along with Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803) a one time member of the Illuminati, can be identified for their use of such substances, at times accompanied by elaborate rituals. Moreover, as we shall see, solid evidence of this sort of use, in association with Wagner, can be found in at least one contemporary account.
With a deep interest in the metaphysical and the nature of reality, we can be sure that Schopenhauer as well had some knowledge of the occult use of such substances. He displayed his vast knowledge on the subject of the occult, in essays such as Animal Magnetism and Magic. With earlier German figures who have been associated with the occult use of drugs, such as Schropfer and particularly Eckartshausen who appears in Schopenhauer’s writings, as well as other references to its use in magic, it would have been hard for him to have missed this. As he noted: “The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.” And as I have shown elsewhere, this included an alchemical knowledge of both medicinal and psychoactive drugs. As well, Schopenhauer’s keen interest and knowledge of Eastern mysticism, would have also brought about some awareness of the use of cannabis for penetrating the “veil of maya”, in India and elsewhere.
The whole scene around Wagner was particularly cult like, and the inner circle of protégées and friends was known for cliquishness and privacy. Most interesting in this regard is the the 1879 German work, Haschischgenuss im Abendland: anleitung zu’ Kenntniss und gebrauch des feinsten und merkwürdigsten Genussmittels, ‘Hashish enjoyment in the West: guide to the knowledge and use of the finest and most remarkable pleasure’, by Ferdinand Amersin, which tells a story of hashish intoxication, Wagner’s operas, and secret societies. Amersin was well known before the publication of his tome on hashish, for his book Das Land der Freiheit ‘The Land of Freedom’ (1874) which inspired the same sort of German nationalistic pride, that was behind so much of Wagner ’s own popularity.
Wagner and Haschischgenuss im Abendland
Amersin states he wrote Haschischgenuss im Abendland in order “To establish free, non-mysterious, hashish masonry, which can easily attain the importance of a new religion equal to that of the young Christianity” (Amersin, 1879).
I am, by the fact that I know the hashish, at the same time became a confidant of the Freemason’s secret. The lodges of the Freemasons, I think, are, in their secret part, that is, for the higher degrees, nothing but hashish-palaces. It is true that in old times, in the early morning, a man of intelligence, in the most refined, intellectual Hashish state, has made the following considerations: “The pleasure is too glorious to give to any man, perhaps unworthy. Only the good ones should have it!” For this reason he had established a secret union among confidants, who had to conspire to inaugurate the hashish use only those who have proved themselves in certain trials, which then took place at community meetings. The servant of the guardianship had a good sense of pleasure, and the hashish-ruffian always had a certain degree of shame, and the spirit was aroused and widened, and the imagination, in particular, played its masterpiece. The great ideas which have come to light in the meetings are recorded in a holy covenant, and further developed with every meeting. The principal content of this is the beautiful thought of the noble, great task of mankind, while the other enjoyment during the hashish intoxication has its own happiness. The real lodges nowadays still carry a tincture, which is branched off from the ancient one of the founder of the covenant, and which is filled with fresh tinctures continually. (Amersin, 1879).
A full believer in its efficaciousness, Amersin also provided potent cannabis mixtures via mail order and advertised it. Descriptions of the tinctures that Amerisin was providing and having prepared were clearly potent, and in some cases
The hashish tincture, prepared with ether, has proved to be somewhat stronger, than that which was prepared with chloroform, which was much weaker, as was the ordinary one made by a winemaker.
My recent experiment, after a break of five months and after completion of this work, was done with 12 drops of the hashish tincture prepared with chloroform. (8 drops of it had been ineffective.) The effect began only in two hours, but yielded a constant, but very faint, and yet most pleasant and remarkable ecstasy, which lasted for five hours, consisting of pure mental wisdom, without any sensuous pain. I must refrain from communicating the rich content of the thought, so as not to make this writing swell. If I did not resist the temptation of further communication, I would not be able to finish my book. (Amersin, 1879)
In Liber 420, Amersin’s book in realation to hashish and secret societies, and it is returned to here for its profound connection to Wagner and his operas. However, another aspect comes to mind as well, a comparison to some of the same sort of paranoia and delusional thinking, as well as bouts of inspirations, expressed in Nietzsche’s work, can also be found in Amersin’s. In both cases, if we accept the Javanese extract as some sort of potent cannabis tincture, these figures over did it, and in both cases a comparison to Wagner’s music is broadly made. Amersin referred to the “Hashisch Rausch” an interesting choice of words in comparison to Nietzche’s use of “rausch”, a German word translated as rush or intoxication. As Nietzche wrote in Twilight of the Idols: “For there to be art, for there to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological precondition is indispensable: Rausch. Rausch must first have enhanced the excitability of the whole machine: else there is no art” ( Nietzsche, 1889). Nietzsche saw “Rausch” as one of the rarest and more powerful of experiences possible for human beings, through this state, the the individual is vaulted into a higher mode of being, this was seen as a key source of poetic inspiration.
Amersin describes an “Experiment in Vienna with seven drops of the new tincture, after two experiments, each with five drops of the same (one under the circumstance of a military music in the Prater, which I quite well tolerated, another under the supervision of Wagner’s opera Tannhauser) (In the Tannhauser I thought that his lingering in the Venus grotto had the real meaning that he had learned of hashish, and, as a result, had given up his connection with his former co-operatives, as much as I liked the music without hashish I have the certain peculiarly exaggerated ‘heavenly pleasure’” (Amersin, 1879).
As soon as the effect had become noticeable in the ordinary time, I went with the help of friends to the Court Opera, in order to attend the performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin…
…. At last the music began to play, which now captured me completely. It seemed to me so magnificently beautiful and rich in content that the idea came to me: “Such genre music can not have come into existence except through hashish noise. This is the secret of the efficacy of Wagner’s music, and I am, therefore, a confidant of it.” This thought is still further developed, and Wagner, together with the king, whom he has befriended, have, I think, founded an independent secret union In his hashish-drunken revelations [Rausch]… Wagner has done this in his own way long ago, inspired by Freemasonry, which remains in the mere ceremonial ceremonies, he in his “Wahnfried” And his theatre at Baireuth a place of association for his followers. The ticket is valid for the general visit of his theatre. In addition, there are gradations of initiates: the rude genus Wagnerian, which sometimes expresses their enthusiasm also by means of the rape of the other minds, and of which I must be specially guarded today, and then the actual initiates…. In Wagner’s theatre, I imagined, there are invisible boxes for the same artificially laced spectators, in which they have a hashish intoxication with the performance, and where all the other imaginable delights are prepared, So that this is the only place on earth where one can have the highest enjoyment of this human life. To indulge in the pleasure of solicitous enjoyment, to listen to such mysteries of connoisseurs and masters is now also for me. The brigands have been attracted to me by my Land of Freedom and by my hashish advertisements, and I am appearing to them before the Lohengrin performance today in much rather higher, almost unbearable degree, anxiety ridden, 1 will make myself appear to have a sense of well-being… I can not tolerate much if the ego wants it seriously. He who does not have a strong spirit, does not think it is necessary to listen to the entire opera to the end, and betrays himself and flees before it is over. As soon as the performance is at end, I thought, I shall turn to pursue, Wagner himself, or an emissary from him, and I will invite him to join me, from which a new, more beautiful life begins for me. I felt a great bliss at this view. In the meantime, the full clarity was once again evident, that everything was merely a delusion, and that I could not build on it, nor allow myself to be carried away by any action. That does not matter; Even as the delusion is admirable… It was as if the music had the peculiar peculiarity of awakening a cohesive series of the most beautiful thoughts, and the consideration of whether the music was, in itself, or apparently better served by these delusions, was decided in favour of the latter. From time to time, I had the urge to communicate the principal content of the emerging ideas to my friend… but I was always condemned by him with the admonition not to disturb the opera by chatting. In the course of the opera I remained quite well with it; Only once, when the music grew louder and more stormy, and very uncomfortable in its intensity, did it become a terrible task! (Amersin, 1879)
At one point in the Opera, Amersin is so overwhelmed he let out a scream. “I had to scream out my last desperate word as a crucified Christ, looking for a moment like a ridiculous picture of the howling dog, which does not tolerate the loud music. But in the midst of the musical turmoil, as I supposed, my exclamation (I would have liked to have taken it back) could not have been heard very far, but my friend made a serious complaint to me, and I quieted him with seemingly meaningful signs of consent” (Amersin, 1879). In the end however, he was, alas, not invited to one of the sort of Hashish parties held at Wagners, as that noted earlier in the 1876 account with Seidl. As Amersin describes:
In certain passages, where I could clearly hear the words of the opera, I at once obtained certain important relations to me and my condition. Wagner seemed to me here and there to indicate that I should keep his secret, and the delusion from the invisible box received further confirmation. At a certain point where the music began to displease me at once, I felt a most marked feeling of boredom (with the delusion that ‘I can not possibly experience the end of the opera!’), Which was expressed in a deep sigh, The stretched exhalation (audible snorting through the nose) at the same time sounding loudly as an involuntarily hissing of the displeasure.
Towards the end of the performance, the delusions of the delusion were becoming more and more widespread, so that I was not expecting an ambassador of Wagner to meet. I went instead with several friends to the inn and felt a little more about the ordinary increased enjoyment. (Amersin, 1879)
However, in the end of Haschischgenuss im Abendland , Amersin’s intuitions about some sort of secret Masonic based group, proved to be true, and he learned his work and activities had caught the attention of a group he referred to as the “League”, which he claimed was membered by the intellectuals, artists and illuminati of Germany and this included members from both sexes. The “League” were rightly impressed by Amersin and his use of this “miraculous miracle!” [i.e. his hashish stash] in leading him into their secret order, and made him a member through an elaborate initiation. He is told by an “Old Man” that “Our covenant is ancient. The oldest Federation emerged in several groups… [and]continued uninterrupted through the Ages… In the Federation of hashish allies have developed a closer secret society, which …reaches into ancient times and has been sustained continuously down to our own. It shall be granted to you, the accumulated secrets of this secret covenant of sincerity, of which the uninitiated historians do not dream to look with bodily eyes” (Amersin, 1879).
Hashish, Parsifal and the O.T.O.
That Wagner held an influence on occultists and members of various secret societies in the late 19th and early 20th century is well known, and one particularly noted such group, undeniably bares much evidence of this influence. A year after Amersin wrote his tome on hashish, in 1880. Theodor Reuss (1855 – 1923), who would later become the founder of the O.T.O. and already an initiated Freemason by this time, was in Munich, participating in an attempt to revive Adam Weishaupt’s Bavarian Order of Illuminati, which taught a sort of scientific illuminism and atheism that has been associated with the sort given through Schopenhauer’s philosophy. “Adam Weishaupt’s original Order of the Illuminati – it was not masonic although it infiltrated Freemasonry -had been banned in Bavaria in 1784. Reuss claimed in 1914 that he had actually revived the Order at Munich in 1880 but nothing is known about this” (Howe & Moller, 1978). Interestingly, Reuss knew Wagner quite well, and performed in Parsifal. In their informative essay ‘Theodor Reuss: Irregular Freemasonry in Germany, 1900-23’ Ellic Howe and Prof. Helmut Moller, explain:
In his youth Reuss must have had a reasonably good bass voice. He claimed to have met Richard Wagner for the first time in 1873 (at. 18). He was a professional singer, mainly in Germany, during the early 1880s He claimed to have taken part in Angelo Neumann’s English tour in 1882 and to have sung the role of the god Donner in Das Rheingold and to have subsequently performed at Amsterdam, Munich and Quedlinburg. Reuss wrote that he began his career under the auspices of the late Richard Wagner, who selected him while still a student to take part in the first performance of Parsifal at Bayreuth [in 1882]’. He may have sung in the chorus. (Howe & Moller, 1978)
As O.T.O. historian Richard Kacynski has noted in Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origns of the Ordo Templi Orientis “…Reuss …considered Wagner’s operas to be troves of esoteric wisdom, and later wrote a paper on the subject” (Kaczynski, 2012). As Reuss himself, talking in the third person, wrote of this acquaintance and influence in his 1914 secret Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) manuscript ‘Parsifal and the Secret of the Graal Unveiled’:
The writer of this paper has enjoyed the greatest privilege in his youth of personally knowing the immortal poet-composer Richard Wagner, to have visited him as a guest in the Villa Wahnfried on many occasions, and to have been present at all of the rehearsals and productions of the festal play Parsifal in Bayreuth during July and August of 1882.
These circumstances, coupled with the further privilege to have engaged in long conversations with the colleagues of Wagner about Parsifal and the underlying mystical idea gave the author the first clue for the discovery of the key, which opened up the inner sanctum of the mystery of the Graal to him. Wagner informs through the deeds in Parsifal of – a Healing Truth. (Reuss, 1914)
Theodor Reuss (1855 – 1923)
This role that would have a very profound effect in his conception of an occult order that came to be known as the Ordo Templi Orientis, i.e. the The Order of Oriental Templars, or O.T.O., which he began to first conceive of and lay the groundwork for in 1895, although it would be 1904, before any official sort of organization was formed. Despite the Templars not being referred to directly in Wagner’s Parsifal, they were clearly Implicated. The knights in Parsifal are described in the script itself as “the tunic mantle of a Templar of the Grail” ; “clad in the garb of a Templar of the Grail”. The identity of the Templars as protectors of the Grail goes back to the accounts of Wolfram von Eschenbach, (1170-1220), and it is well known that this was the source of inspiration for Wagner’s later Parsifal.
As detailed in Liber 420 Cannabis was seized at two Templar raids, and earlier that had Saracens growing cannabis for them in Spain, there have also been claims that they consumed cannabis in wine infusion, known as the ‘Elixir of Jerusalem’. As well, hashish has some very intriguing early connections with the grail mythos. This is interesting as this Spain is the setting for Parsifal “The scene is laid first in the domain and in the castle of the guardians of the Grail, Monsalvat, where the countryside resembles the northern mountains of Gothic Spain; afterwards in Klingsor’s magic castle on the southern slope of the same mountains which looks towards Moorish Spain. The costume of the Knights and Squires resembles that of the Templars: a white tunic and mantle; instead of the red cross, however, there is a dove flying upwards on scutcheon and mantle” (Monsalvat).
This difference between the tunics of the historical Templars and Wagner’s, that of a cross for a dove, can be seen to follow though into the O.T.O Lamen. A design clearly based on the closing scene of Parsifal, where the hero and namesake of the tale, commands the unveiling of the Grail. and all present kneel, save Kundry who is released from her curse and sinks lifeless to the ground, while as a white dove descends and hovers above Parsifal who holds up the Grail, and the balances of nature are restored.
Reuss’s own discussion of Parsifal, is largely based around the occult sex magick symbolism he claimed Wagner incorporated into the text. This has been a huge influence on O.T.O. rites, such as the Gnostic Mass, which was written by the later head of the O.T.O. Aleister Crowley, but clearly influenced by Reuss’s interpretation of Pasifal. Symbolism that is clearly defined in the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass:
The Priest represents Parsival, specifically the character from Wagner’s opera. The Master Therion [Crowley] was obviously most fond of this allegory and he references it in many different works. In fact, he notes that “The dramatic setting of Wagner’s Parsifal was arranged by the then head of the O.T.O.” (i.e. Theodor Reuss). He explains that “Parsifal in his first phase is Der reine Thor, the Pure Fool” (The Book of Thoth), so the Gnostic Mass can be seen as the archetypal narrative of “the Fool’s Journey.”
….If the Priest represents Parsival, the Priestess represents Kundry. As the Master Therion says, “for every Parsifal there is a Kundry” [Liber Aleph]. Kundry assumes multiple forms and roles in Wagner’s opera, reflecting the fact that the Priestess is Venus, Earth, and Luna all wrapped into one (as explained in the previous sections). She is even called the “nameless one” in Parsival, implying she has many identities and many forms. (IAO131, 2016)
Reuss’ interpretation of Wagner’s Parsifal, revolves around his view that it secretly alluded to sacred sexuality, akin to Eastern concepts of Tantra. The sacred spear became the male phallus while its counterpart the Graal, was seen as the symbol of the female vagina. A similar view of the Grail mythos, was indicated in the works of the Tantric scholar Sir John Woodroffe (1865-1936) who used the Grail related name of Arthur Avalon for his excellent books on the sacred sexuality of Tantrism, noting that cannabis was offered in rites to Kali and known as “Vijaya” meaning ‘victory’. Arthur Avalon makes it clear that “the narcotic Bhang (hemp)” was “used in all ceremonies” (Avalon, 1913). One could compare a symbolic role of Kali to that of Kundry, if they were to drink enough bhang!
Although Reuss never directly wrote about hashish, at least from what I can ascertain, regardless of any speculated connection of it thorough Wagner, Hashish would have been hard to miss, as its use was well known among the metaphysical figures he associated with. This includes Rosicrucian, Masonic and Occult associates like William Wynn Westcott -also one of the founders of the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn; Martinist leader Gérard Encausse (aka Papus); Arnold Krumm-Heller; and Helena Blavatsky, all of whom left references to the occult use of hashish, or have otherwise been connected with its use, as as documented in Liber 420. As well as such evidence for other well known influences on the O.T.O., like the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, who are believed to have used a cannabis based preparation in their mail order initiations, and whose teachings were based largely on the writings of Paschal Beverly Randolph, America’s first Rosicrucian leader and an early patent holder of number of cannabis based elixirs.
In the early stages the O.T.O. Reuss, was basing the group largely around contemporary influences from the revived Gnostic Church as initiated by the French figure Jules Doinel a close associate of Papus, as well as the Scottish Rites and Rose Croix degrees of Masonry. “Reuss… was… interested in the… Gnostic Masses of which Jules Doinel had been the originator of France. Reuss’ main interest was, however sexual magic” (Introvigne, 2016). “Jules Doinel (1842-1903), inspired by the tales of the Cathars, founded a French Gnostic church which taught that Gnosticism was the spiritual basis of Freemasonry” (Starr, 2013).
Liber 420, suggests that a drink used in certain degrees of Scottish Rites masonry, often identified as being taken from the “bitter cup”, may have had its origins in an earlier rite in which an entheogenic preparation of some kind was used. This has also been recently suggested by P. D. Newman in Alchemically Stoned:The Psychedelic Secret of Freemasonry. We can be nearly certain that in the 19th century, some forms of the bitter cup contained drugs used by some of the quasi Masonic groups that were around at the time. In reference to the Rose Croix degree of the Scottish rites, Charles Nicoullaud recorded in his L´initiation dans les sociétés secrètes – L´initiation maçonnique The Rose+Croix [degree]is to the ordinary Master [Mason degree] what a man who is intoxicated on hashish must be to the vulgar drinker who has recreated himself only with the red blood of the vine” (Nicoullaud, 1913). A statement he borrowed from Jules Doinel, founder of Église Gnostique, and an import an figure in the 19th century occult world, and as noted a big influence on Reuss. Although Doiniel later rejected Masonry and joined the Church during the era of the Taxil Hoax, which he got caught up in, he was at one time a keen associate of Papus, (a X° initiate of the Ordo Templi Orientis) and other key figures of the French Occult scene. In regards to the hashish he identified in association with the Rose Croix degree, he himself wrote after he had converted to Catholicism and sought to make amends, by exposing his former colleagues:
One feels proud and triumphant to be Knight of the Rosicrucian. A kind of unexpected prestige surrounds the new title. The degree becomes dear and precious. There is in these capitular meetings a bad and intense joy, which one never experiences, in the big blue boxes. One is distinguished from others, selected, chosen, elected and set apart. One experiences a kind of minute veneration for the rank. We understand the importance of this same grade that gives us, in law, if not in fact, an enormous superiority over the Masters. Strangely enough, all psychological work is done in the transformed self . The Rose-Croix is at the ordinary mason, what the man who has a drunkenness of hashish must be the vulgar drinker who has only been rediscovered with the red blood of the vine. There is also the proud joy of desecration, sacrilege designed, if not depth, of the association of the thinking man to the thought of the King of Angels guilty of identification with Him, of participation in His science of communion with His Word. There is also the influence of His Spiritual Presence. I firmly believe by an often made experience that Lucifer lectures to Chapter meetings, rarely a manifest presence… (Doinel, 1895).
In Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. Francis King notes clearly that in the O.T.O Templar degree that involved the bitter cup, drugs were in fact used, suggesting laudanum but noting “any bitter drug could be substituted” (King, 1973). However, it is in the works of the successor of Theodor Reuss, as Head of the O.T.O., a figure who would rewrite and create many the O.T.O. rituals, with guidance from Reuss, that we again find a direct reference connecting hashish to Wagner’s Parsifal. In a book written in 1918, but not published till decades later, Liber Aleph: The Book of Wisdom of Folly, in a section ‘De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico’, ‘The Most Holy Grass of the Arabs’, (this same essay was also later used in The Book of Thoth) Crowley began his esoteric essay with the following:
Recall, O my Son the Fable of the Hebrews, which they brought from the city Babylon, how Nebuchadenezzar the great king, being afflicted in Spirit, did depart from among men for seven years space, eating grass as doth an Ox. Now this Ox is the letter Aleph, and is that Atu of Thoth whose number is Zero, and whose Name is Maat, Truth or Maut, the Vulture, the All-Mother, being an image of our lady Nuit, but also it is called the Fool, who is Parsifal “der reine Thor”, and so refereth to him that walketh in the way of the Tao…
….For this Method is of Virtue and Profit; by it mayst thou come easily and with Delight to the Perfection of Truth, it is no Odds from what Thought thou makest the first Leap in thy Meditation, so that thou mayst know how every Road endeth in Monsalvat, and the Temple of the Sangraal. (Crowley, 1918)
Parsifal, der reine Thor, Drama Figur Wagner, by Ritter Holzstich
Parsifal “der reine Thor” and “Monsalvat, and the Temple of the Sangraal” of course here directly relating to Wagner’s Parsifal. Crowley ended The Most Holy Grass of the Arabs with the comment that, “a man must first be an Initiate, and established in our Law, before he may use this method”. Crowley, could here be referring to either the Magickal organization the AA or the O.T.O.. Interestingly Liber Aleph was written originally for one distinct individual, who was also a member of both these groups, although their relationship had the same sort of bittersweet parting of ways as that of Wagner and Nietzsche before them.
Liber Aleph was originally written for Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886-1950), Crowley’s one time Magickal son, whose magickal number followed from Crowley’s 666, to 777, and whose magickal names included Achad and, more notable in regards to this discussion, Parsival. Although Jones would later be disowned by Crowley, their histories, and perhaps even karma, shall forever be entwined. We can be sure that cannabis was a shared interest and enjoyment between these two, as records of Jones experiments with cannabis were in the hands of Crowley as early as 1910, and the use of it was a big part of the ‘Amalantrah Working’, a now legendary event in some occult circles, and which took place over a number of months in 1918.
In regards to Liber Aleph’s reference to Hashish providing “the first Leap in thy Meditation”, words from the Crolwey student and biographer, Israel Regardie’s book Roll Away the Stone: An Introduction to Aleister Crowley’s Essays on the Psychology of Hashish come to mind. “The purpose of [Crowley’s] hashish-session [with a student]was …to provide him with a fore-taste or some adumbration of the mystical experience towards which he was focusing all his energies” (Regardie, 1968).
In his excellent essay The Cactus and the Beast: Investigating the Role of Peyote in the Magick of Aleister Crowley, Patrick Everitt notes that “Crowley sometimes deliberately included misleading information, or ‘blinds’, in his magical diaries to mask ceremonial drug use… Obviously he thought the average reader would dismiss… [the accounts of such experiences] much more readily if the important role of powerful psychoactive drugs was known” (Everitt, 2016). Crowley makes it clear in Liber Aleph that the text is composed in the sort of veiled manner, known as ‘the language of the birds’, this is done in order to veil the text:
I strive to inform thine Understanding by Hieroglyph. And here shall thine own Experience serve us, because a Token of Remembrance sufficeth him that is familiar with a Matter, which to him that knoweth it not should not be made manifest, no, not in a Year of Instruction. (Crowley, 1918)
As detailed by Martin Starr in The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites (2003) When Jones opened North America’s first O.T.O. Lodge in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Crowley’s The Psychology of Hashish was on a list alongside The Book of Lies, (said to contain the great secret of the O.T.O., or does it?) as an options for new students to provide a commentary on to show their understanding and comprehension of their texts. As well, references indicate early experiments with mescaline were taking place at the Lodge. Not surprisingly, rumours of such practice, caused a scandal, and as the O.T.O. expanded into the United States, a 1922 newspaper story in the Detroit Times recorded. “Drugs and their indulgences play an important part o the O.T.O., especially ‘hashish,’ the exotic drug of the Orient.”
Bringing our story full circle, Stansfeld Jones, aka Parsival, would suggest in his own interpretation of Wagner’s Parsifal, The Chalice of Ecstasy (1923) that “Wagner himself received Instructions in the great Principles of the Holy Order from certain of the Secret Chiefs and this accounts for the great harmony between his Work and that of other members of the Great Brotherhood” (Stansfeld Jones, 1923). Like Reuss’ Achad’s essay seems to revolve more around the sexual symbolism of Parsifal, and their is nothing overtly indicating hashish. Although in this regard, it should be noted that Jones composed a O.T.O. “a lecture on the need for obscurity” (Starr, 2003).
With this on mind, the odd line, may require further observation and study. Such as Achad’s reference to the“Holy CUP itself – which has remained in the possession of the Knights of the Grail – for this is the Cup of UNDERSTANDING whereby he may discover a way to reverse this fate and to make use of its contents, the Divine Substance which is capable of infinite transformation when united with the Spear or WILL” (Stansfeld Jones, 1923). The Beast, Crowley, using Rabelais’ veiled name for cannabis, “pantagruelion”, (a figure he also directly borrowed the term “Thelema” and the motto “Do what thou wilt” from) made the following interesting comments to Norman Mudd in 1925: “Pantagruelion. Necessity for Abbey [of Thelema]… Pantagruelion is the material basis of the magical energies, the substance into which you can put any magical energy you desire and will cause the desired result to appear in matter” (Crowley, 1925).
References to a holy oil, delivered from a golden flask carried in Kundry’s bosom are also interesting, and although the suggested ingredients in Achad’s essay are psychoactively inert, it is well known that potent psychoactive topical preparations have a long history in Magick, and perhaps here a blind was used by Parsifal, like his Master before him? As clearly some sort of change in consciousness is noted after Parsival is anointed.
We should notice, too, the effects of the Holy Oil on Parzival. He turns round and gazes with gentle rapture on the woods and meadows; which represent his Garden… Gradually, he realizes the results of the Work he had carried on in silence and darkness. His memory awakens and he murmurs:
“How fair the fields and meadows seem today! Many a magic flower I’ve seen, Which sought to clasp me in its baneful twinings; But none I’ve seen so sweet as here, These tendrils bursting with blossom, Whose scent recalls my childhood’s days, And speaks of loving trust to me.” (Stansfeld Jones, 1923)
In reference to Parsival’s time in Klingsor’s “Garden of Desire”, in Parsifal, which is clearly based on the tales of the Hashish drugged devotees in the tale of The Old Man of the Mountain, Jones quotes the line “stop not the fragrance of its stupefying blossoms inhale” then referring to “state of wonder upon the wall of Klingsor’s Garden” (Stansfeld jones, 1923). That something may be veiled in such a way that the reader needs to dig a little beyond the obvious text, and this is not made more obvious, may have to do with the reasoning in a line from Gurnemanz in Parsifal, used by Stansfeld Jones, that “Simples and herbs Must ev’ry one find for himself: ‘Tis learnt in the woods from the beasts” [or from the ‘Beast’?]. One also wonders if Stansfeld Jones is implying more than the rehabilitation of the wayward Kundry, when he quotes Gurnemanz thanking “Heaven that he has been the means of reviving this ‘flower’that had formerly seemed so poisonous”, and is here making a reference to ‘The Herb Dangerous’
Stansfeld Jones also refers to one particularly tripped out scene in Parsifal, where the hero of the story asks “What is the Grail?”
To which Gurnemanz very properly replies: I may not say: But if to serve it thou be bidden, Knowledge of it will not be hidden.- And lo!- Methinks I know thee now indeed; No earthly road to it doth lead, By no one can it be detected Who by itself is not elected. To which Parzival, without further questioning, replies: I scarcely move, Yet I swiftly seem to run. And Gurnemanz: My son, thou seest Here SPACE and TIME are ONE.
Crowley referred specifically to the “alleged annihilation of time and space, which so frequently reappears in articles on hashish” in his essay The Psychology of Hashish. And in Liber Aleph’s ‘The Most holy Grass of the Arabs’ he wrote about this same timeless aspect of cannabis
O my Son, yester Eve came the Spirit upon me that I also should eat the Grass of the Arabians, and by Virtue of the Bewitchment thereof behold that which might be appointed for the Enlightenment of mine Eyes. Now then of this may I not speak, seeing that it involveth the Mystery of the Transcending of Time, so that in One Hour of our Terrestrial Measure did I gather the Harvest of an Aeon, and in Ten Lives I could not declare it. (Crowley, 1918)
Thus our Grail like quest has managed to follow the hashish trail from Wagner, through Nietzsche, to Amersin’s hashish “League”, down to the O.T.O. at the time of Crowley and Jones. Much more could be said about all aspects of this, and some of the links made here require a certain amount of speculation, so there are some gaps to fill in. There are more avenues to explore, or flesh out in the upcoming to more fully flush out as I write Aleister Crowley and the ‘Herb Dangerous’: A History of Cannabis in Thelema which follows up where Liber 420 left off and which is set to be published for 2020.
It should noted here that, post Crowley,the use of cannabis products or any illegal drugs are now said to be against the O.T.O.’s regulations due to medical and legal liability. As the late Thomas Lyttle, a former member of the O.T.O. commented on the modern situation, there “is a more strict observance to pure, non-drug practices…. that includes getting a drug element OUT” – (From an interview in Crash Collisions, 1993.)
—On a curious side note, of the subject of Hashish, Liber Aleph and Charles Stansfeld Jones have come to hold some significant personal interest to me and my research has taken on a sort of ‘The Ninth Gate’ kind of feel. In the 1990’s, while researching my first book Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic & Religion (1995) I had a very powerful synchronistic experience with Liber Aleph, which kind of sent me on the sort of psychological spiral that Amersin suffered under in his German tome of hashish, and I eventually put it behind me. However when I was researching Liber 420, this all came back into focus, as I learned that Stansfeld Jones actually lived just a few doors down the street from my child hood home! A strange synchronistic occurrence that I detail more fully in this Facebook post of me partaking of the most holy grass of the Arabs at Jones’ Gravestone.