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Friday, February 8, 2008

Quote of the Day | February 8, 2008: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Part one of a lengthy two-part quote from Tom Wolfe's 1968 classic snapshot of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

For that matter, there was no theology to it, no philosophy, at least not in the sense of an ism. There was no goal of an improved moral order in the world or an improved social order, nothing about salvation and certainly nothing about immortality or the life hereafter. Hereafter! That was a laugh. If there was ever a group devoted totally to the here and now it was the Pranksters.

I remember puzzling over this. There was something so . . . religious in the air, in the very atmosphere of the Prankster life, and yet one couldn't put one's finger on it. On the face of it there was just a group of people who had shared an unusual psychological state, the LSD experience ---

But exactly! The experience---that was the word! and it began to fall into place. In fact, none of the great founded religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, none of them began with a philosophical framework or even a main idea. They all began with an overwhelming new experience, what Joachim Wach called "the experience of the holy," and Max Weber, "possession of the deity," the sense of being a vessel of the divine, of the All-one.

I remember I never truly understood what they were talking about when I first read of such things. I just took their weighty German word for it. Jesus, Mani, Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha---at the very outset the leader did not offer his circle of followers a better state hereafter or an improved social order or any reward other than a certain "psychological state in the here and now," as Weber put it. I suppose what I never really comprehended was that he was talking about an actual mental experience they all went through, an ecstasy, in short.

In most cases, according to scriptures and legend, it happened in a flash. Mohammed fasting and meditating on a mountainside near Mecca and---flash!---ecstasy, vast revelation and the beginning of Islam. Zoroaster hauling haoma water along the road and---flash!---he runs into the flaming form of the Archangel Vohu Mano, messenger of Ahura Mazda, and the beginning of Zoroastrianism. Saul of Tarsus walking along the road to Damascus and---flash!---he hears the voice of the Lord and becomes a Christian.

Plus God knows how many lesser figures in the 2,000 years since then, Christian Rosenkreuz and his "God-illuminated" brotherhood of Rosicrucians, Emanuel Swedenborg whose mind suddenly "opened" in 1743, Meister Eckhart and his disciples Suso and Tauler, and in the twentieth-century Sadhu Sundar Singh---with---flash!---a vision at the age of 16 and many times thereafter; ". . . often when I come out of ecstasy I think the whole world must be blind not to see what I see, everything is so near and clear . . . there is no language which will express the things which I see and hear in the spiritual world . . ." Sounds like an acid head, of course.

What they all saw in . . . a flash was the solution to the basic predicament of being human, the personal I, Me, trapped, mortal and helpless, in a vast impersonal It, the world around me. Suddenly!---All-in-one!---flowing together, I into It, and It into Me, and in that flow I perceive a power, so near and so clear, that the whole world is blind to.

All the modern religions, and the occult mysteries, for that matter, talk about an Other World---whether Brahma's or the flying saucers'---that the rational work-a-day world is blind to. The---so called! friends---rational world. If only they, Mom&Dad&Buddy&Sis, dear-but-square ones, could but know the kairos, the supreme moment.

The historic visions have been explained in many ways, as the result of epilepsy, self-hypnosis, changes in metabolism due to fasting, or actual intervention by gods---or drugs. Zoroastrianism began in a grand bath of haoma water, which was the same as the Hindu soma, and was unquestionably a drug. The experience!

Tags: Tom Wolfe, author, literature, esquire

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