CANNABIS CULTURE – In the 19th and early 20th century, hashish played a prominent role in the occult scene, and was used in initiatory rites by certain secret societies, such as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was an initiatory occult group that first became known to the public in late 1894, although according to an official document of the order it began its work in 1870. Prior to the rise of the more well known Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888 the HBoL was the only order that taught practical occultism in the Western Mystery Tradition. Interestingly numbers of members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn can be tied to drugs, something that I may address in a future article. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor’s teachings drew heavily from the magico-sexual theories of Paschal Beverly Randolph, who influenced groups such as the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) (later headed by Aleister Crowley) although Randolph himself was never actually a part of the Order.
In their excellent book on this order, ‘The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, (Godwin, Chanel, Deveny, 1995), the authors refer to the mail order instructions for initiation of the H.B. of L. “An essential part of the initiation ceremony seems to have been the taking of a pill that was sent along with instructions. Probably this contained a concentrated dose of hashish and/or opium, to ensure a memorable experience and perhaps even a communication with the entities of the ‘Interior Circle’” (Godwin, 1994). The Interior Circle, being a group of hidden initiates that secretly guide mankind, deriving from the concepts of Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803), Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), (both of whom are known for their own occult use of drugs). The idea of such ‘Hidden Masters’ is a popular theme still with occultists, and the suggestion of use of hashish to contact these mysterious figures occurs more than a few times in the history of the occult, at times from critics who write off such encounters as ‘pipe dreams’.
The co-authors offer a description from the Mason and so-called Alchemist of the Golden Dawn, of which he was also a member, Rev. William Alexander Ayton, regarding his initiation into the H.B.L.. In his initiation into the group, Ayton was required to drink “what purported to be the real soma juice drunk at a certain stage. …I hesitated very much to drink this drug…& I thought of omitting it. However, I opened the bottle & smelt of it. All my life, I have been used to drugs, & I at once recognised [sic]this. I knew its effects were most powerful, but I decided to take it. Whether it was hallucination produced by this drug I know not, but I was conscious of another presence… I was fully 3 hours at it from midnight. When over, I felt my pulse, & found just what I expected, that it was intermittent, which was what I knew to be the effect of the drug I thought it was.” The authors, who are some of the most knowledgeable historians of this period in occult history, note that “hashish… certainly played a role in the initiation of the H.B. of L. [and of]the Rev. Ayton…” (Godwin, Chanel & Deveny, 1995).
There seems to have been an overall interest in the occult use of drugs shared by key members of the group. In “The Occult Magazine 1, no. 1 (February, 1885)… the editor… Peter Davidson” an important figure in the The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor “quotes Eckertshausen on the narcotic properties of substances which will exalt the nervous susceptibility, as well as assist in clarifying the veil of atmospheric density, inducing trance, etc., and increasing the power of representation, and consequently of the Astral Visions” (Deveney, 1997). H.B.L. was particularly known for their fascination with magic mirrors, which like other aspects, likely came through the influence of P.B.Randolph
The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, drew heavily on the teachings of Paschal Beverly Randolph, (1815-1875) the mulatto mystic, and importer of hashish, who, as i have noted in earlier articles, sold a variety of cannabis infused elixirs in the United States, advertising them, as well as writing articles about hashish for the popular American spiritualist magazine, Banner of Light and detailing it in his own works, such as the essay ‘Hashish, Its Uses, Abuses, and Dangers, Its Extasia, Fantasia and Illuminati’ (1867).
For more on the role of cannabis in the occult check out Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult.