Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Sex, Drugs & Magick: Washington's Toothache


"A Smoking Club" by James Gillray (They are smoking tobacco, but I liked the illustration.) 

Sex, Drugs & Magick: Chapter Four: The Mexican Weed

I don't think there's as much for me to comment on in this chapter compared to the others. We don't have the ambiguities of a personal anecdote, nor do we have the occult hints of the last chapter proper. Instead, we have a rational history of marijuana and survey of its use that was contemporaneous during the time of publication. This doesn't seem like much anymore when marijuana is a hot topic and the history of the plant is more widely available than ever before. But I'm sure it was revolutionary for many readers over the years and it was for me as well. 

As I've mentioned before, when I set out into my occult excursion (from which I have yet to return) I wanted to stay away from drugs; I wanted to work the wonders of the Qabalah and be like one of Yates' Rosicrucian mages. I failed, quickly. Originally, I did stay away from the drug literature, but I was already firmly in the hands of the Magician of Northampton and while I rolled my eyes at the pothead dialogue when I first read Illuminatus!, I knew that I needed to keep reading Wilson. So it would be that Sex, Drugs & Magick was my first proper primer on drugs. This chapter did what it was supposed to; it changed my perspective on cannabis. 

Maybe it's a cheap trick to use Washington as a way to legitimize the use of marijuana; pretty much every American has the idea that the Commander of the Continental Army was a god who once walked the earth drilled into us from the youngest age. But it is effective, even for a cynical nineteen year old whose attitude towards marijuana was akin to how he imagined Phillip Marlowe would have felt; only good for addling the mind- stick to alcohol and cigarettes. (I was and am, very dumb. Also- I'm obviously not talking about the best version of Marlowe- Elliot Gould's in Roger Altman's The Long Goodbye.) Hey, if the guy on the one dollar bill smoked weed, what's stopping me. 

Interestingly, maybe?, this wasn't the first time I'd heard that Washington had an inordinate fondness for hemp. That was a pretty common piece of lore, even in the Stone Ages before Colorado freed the djinn of civilized cannabis laws, and that piece of lore formed the basis of one of the best scenes in a Pynchon novel, which I read well before Sex, Drugs & Magick. Pynchon's Mason & Dixon contains an enchanting scene where the two surveyors meet with Washington at Mount Vernon and get uproariously high. In the mix is one of Washington's slaves Gershom (he's Jewish for Pynchonean reasons) who becomes much more of an equal as the smoke flows and a merry, snack providing Martha. Even before I ever partook of the pernicious drug myself, I loved that passage. 

So perhaps it was a combination of Moore, Wilson, Pynchon and George Washington who got me hooked. 

Stray Thoughts

- The jazz "marijuana-cult" has always been a fascinating part of this chapter. When I read Wilson's hope that a jazz historian might one day find out more about this group, I immediately thought of Eric. So Eric, have you ever came across some musician/cheeba-enthusiasts who like fanciful Hindu names? 

- Marijuana is pretty unanimously agreed upon as making sex even better. This is such a given to me anymore that I hardly reacted to that part of the chapter at all. If you haven't tried it- boy howdy, you should. 

- I hope I'll stop harping on this as much as the rest of you, but I am uncomfortable with the fate of legal cannabis in the United States with the current rhetoric from the Right. If they consolidate power this Autumn and in 2024, I think we could see major setbacks. While some libertarian-leaning conservatives might be cool with marijuana, I feel as if the segment leading this shit vanguard are not. Remember, that it was only June when Laura Ingraham was suggesting that cannabis use is to blame for the recent mass shootings. This makes Biden's heel-dragging on federal decriminalization or legalization all the more frustrating. 


  1. Alas, I don't know anything about that jazz pot group. I do find it a nice coincidence that you published this blog post on the birthday of David Peel, composer of the song "I Like Marijuana".

  2. I like the idea of George Washington as a founding father of both the USA and the marijuana culture in North America (p. 198).

    "Paul Bowles, composer and writer, has pointed out that the hemp drug has influenced 'music, literature and even certain aspects of architecture' in that area." p. 204. He says 'those lands of North Africa," but Morocco, where Bowles lived most of his later adult life, appears, more specifically, the locale. "...has influenced...," seems a huge understatement. Cannabis, mostly in the form of hash or kif has a huge influence on Moroccan culture and architecture due to it being so readily available and of very high quality. The first time I went to Tangier to work, within 5 minutes a street kid/"guide" got me a massive chunk of hash for about $5 that lasted the entire 10 day visit. Then he took me to a local "art school," basically a shop where they mostly sold expensive Moroccan rugs. The proprietor offered me a pipe and some mint tea then proceeded to show me all these very trippy rugs. He capped off the visit by taking me up to the roof for a look out over the Casbah. I purchased a djellaba for $20 to be polite for the wonderful time he showed me – as enlightening as going to a museum.

    On p. 205 RAW mentions comedian Flip Wilson whom you don't hear so much about now, but rates as one of the best to me. I would bet he had a influence on Richard Pryor and George Carlin among others. He had a recurring hilarious bit called "The Church of What's Happening Now." Also his character in drag, Geraldine, always made me laugh.
    There's a lot to this clip of the Church:

    In drama class in High School in 1975 we got tasked with improvising a way of getting across a steep canyon. Our small group imagined smoking a joint between us and floating over the canyon. Our fellow students found this funny but the instructor seemed notably unamused. He said it's easy to get laughs with drug jokes. I wondered, what's wrong with that?

  3. I thought the chapter was very interesting, but I'm not sure how much of the stuff about George Washington being the Founding Pothead can really be believed. It would be nice to have some documentation. When I Googled George Washington and "cannabis" I found only a bunch of articles stoutly insisting that all he was doing was growing hemp for rope. There could be some reputation protection going on, of course, but it would be nice to find somebody else who makes the same claims. I am also dubious that marijuana would have been unknown in the New World if Washington hadn't brought it here.

  4. Tom, I also thought RAW's claim of Washington introducing marijuana to North America grandiose. Claims that he separated the male and female plants to cultivate the THC component that gets you high seems more plausible and he does indicate a source for that claim.

    I think RAW may have been less interested in historical accuracy re Washington as the founding father of American potheads and more interested in causing change to occur, i.e. magick, with attitudes toward marijuana. Anyone around my generation who went through the American education system got indoctrinated to regard George Washington as a folk hero who couldn't even tell a lie. Up until fairly recently, but especially whenSex, Drugs, & Magick first got published, society considered marijuana as a dangerous, evil, illegal drug, that could lead to all kinds of no good including the possibility of getting locked up in jail for a considerable time even for simple possession. They considered it a gateway drug for harder drugs like heroin. Associating the American hero George Washington with bringing marijuana to the country signals a reversal of the common, mainstream attitude about weed.

    Whether or not that bit of fabulation helped, RAW certainly played a role in marijuana activism, and attitudes have changed significantly, basically reversed since the 1960s. Even recreational use is legal in several states. Of course, we still wait for the Feds to legalize it, but that should come relatively soon many people expect.

    Ironically, as attitudes toward marijuana use have changed largely for the positive, Washington's reputation may have slipped some from his folk hero status particularly with the more widely disseminated knowledge that he owned slaves.

  5. I found it funny how, in the opening quote, “pregnancy” goes together with “assault, theft and even murder.” Indeed, “vice is everywhere”!

    Many topics from this chapter have been explored further since the first publication. For instance, Brian Muraresku researched the use of psychedelics at Eleusis. Or, for all the beneficial uses of cannabis and hemp enumerated by RAW, Jack Herer outdid him in his classic The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Jack basically thinks the plant will save the world, and I find his enthusiasm about it highly contagious. Kind of like Paul Stamets and mushrooms. Jack Herer also pushes for research on cannabis as a potential cure for cancer, and developed a protocol where patients have to get bombed out of their minds for weeks on end. I take it with a grain of salt, but fully support the effort.

    I also noted on p.208, among random anonymous people, a quote from James Fadiman, who since the early 70s became a respected figure in the field, is now a proponent of microdosing, and wrote The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide.

    Since a few weeks ago I mentioned here the animated film Belladonna Of Sadness, I feel compelled to point out that the same director, Eiichi Yamamoto, also made another one based on A Thousand and One Nights, which RAW talks about in this chapter. Like with the Pasolini adaptation, special emphasis is made on the erotic aspect of the tales. I reckon this sits nicely with some themes from SD&M.

  6. Apuleius, it looks like the same thing happened to my post from yesterday as previously with Oz. Perhaps you can retrieve it somehow?
    Is Blogger/Google changing the settings without letting you know about it?


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