BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION
I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished.
Morning Glory Lodge (originally named Sunset Lodge) was about a mile south of the public campsites on the eastern shore of Cranberry Lake, and from the real estate agent’s description sounded like what I wanted and also what I could afford. A house, four cabins, and a shack out back containing a generating plant for lights and the water pump. No road in. You either took a boat or walked. $15,000, with $2,000 down on a $100-a-month land contract. No title until paid up.
This was the spring of ’65, but it was a pretty sweet deal even then.
The agent gave me a set of keys, and I went to inspect the place with a friend Sally and I called Bucky Beaver, an outrageously misplaced aesthete and snob who was suffering from first-year teacher’s culture shock. We walked through the cold spring woods, past small bays and beaches covered with sparkling rotting ice, in the general direction given by the agent. When we stepped out of the woods and into the clearing and saw the buildings spaced out under some tall old-growth deciduous trees, I immediately announced:
“This is the place!”
I don’t think I have ever been happier in my life than at that moment. It was love at first sight.
The house had a full-length screened porch, where Bucky and I paused on entering, to survey the view. The dock was about fifty feet long and made of boulders, staked and chained together in an L shape to provide safe mooring in all weather. Decking was stacked on the shore in front of it, along with three overturned wood boats and a canoe. Two old but apparently serviceable outboard motors rested on the porch floor.
The furnishings were better than I had expected. A stone fireplace, complete with a hand-hewn oaken mantel. A slip-covered old couch on one side of the fireplace and two old plush overstuffed chairs on the other. A kerosene heater at the other end of the room. Two large propane refrigerators in the kitchen, which would make Sally’s life easier, contrasted with a tiny galvanized metal sink, which would not. A bathroom with an old-fashioned tub, sink and toilet, all in working order. Two bedrooms with double beds in each.
The second story was one long room under the roof, with four bunks in a row and a desk and chair in an alcove projecting out of the roof facing the lake. Great view. The silence was broken only by the occasional brushing of tree against tree and tree against roof. In the sunlight, last year’s grass, now turned silver, rippled and flowed like the sea. A chipmunk darted in and out of the stacked decking.
“Hey,” Bucky said, “look at this.”
Bucky had discovered a stack of The Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Magazine from the 1930s. Irresistible. On waves of nostalgia, I was carried back to happy childhood summers at Schroon Lake and North Hero Island on Lake Champlain. $700 for a new Plymouth. Cartoonstrip adventures with Eveready batteries. NRA eagles. Christ! What if some other buyer came along before I could finalize the deal, or the owners changed their minds?
All four cabins had water connections and sinks, two had toilets, and one of the toileted cabins sported a bathtub as well.
How opulent can things get?
The shack out back, we discovered, contained a washing machine as well as the generator. Yards of pipe. Tools. Paint. Oars and oarlocks. A path led us back through the woods to a covered spring in a bed of ferns. Delicious water. I was going berserk with joy. Bucky looked at me with alarm and greeted my ejaculations of delight with sputters of disdain.
“You’re not actually going to buy this place are you, Kleps?”
“Of course I’m going to buy it! Why the hell shouldn’t I buy it?” I replied, amazed anyone could fail to fall madly in love with it at first sight, even Bucky.
“Well, there’s nothing HERE!” Bucky said, waving his fat arms around. “You’re too much, Bucky,” was all I could think of to say.
As we walked back through the woods to the campsite road where I had parked the car, my imagination revved up to full speed. Tim would send me people, certainly. Billy Hitchcock might kick in with some money for promotion and repairs, and the Psychedelian religious association (a “church,” in the common parlance) that I had been thinking about organizing would now have a headquarters with room for visitors, privacy, and all kinds of dramatic, scenic and romantic associations which ought to charm any red-blooded American boy, as I understood the term, who happened to be an acid head as well, into a state of mind which would virtually guarantee his enthusiastic approval and maybe his name on the dotted line. Maybe we could winterize the house and travel by snowmobile to town! Vroom, vroom, and over the snow to town we go. How much groovier could life in the winter get than that? There was a tiny island with a cabin on it out in the center of the lake right in front of the lodge. Perhaps we could buy that too, and use it for sessions, and so on and so forth. Perhaps this, perhaps that. I didn’t stop speeding for days. It was a fantasy come true. (The term “delirious,” unfortunately, comes to mind.)
As for members of the opposite sex, well, if they wanted to hang around with real guys they would just have to put up with this kind of shit whether they liked it or not, I thought. And wasn’t there something known as an “outdoor girl”? The charm of the place would, I hoped, transform Sally into one of these fabled creatures.
By the end of the week we were all moved in and I had invented the Neo-American Church. I ordered 1,000 peyote buttons from a “peyote rancher” in Texas named Elsie, whose name had been given me by Lisa Bieberman. It was legal. Each new member would get five buttons and a membership card. An old artist friend from my days of drunken debauchery on Long Island designed the card. Mystic Arts book society, which published Tim’s conversion of the TBD, printed the announcements for me for nothing.
Aside from signed agreement with the three principles of the Church, which consisted entirely of definitions and claims of rights, there would be no rules. This was a silly notion, but consistent with the emergent spirit of the times.
The principles were:
1. Everyone has the right to expand his consciousness and stimulate visionary experience by whatever means he considers desirable and proper without interference from anyone.
2. The psychedelic substances, such as LSD, are the True Host of the Church, not drugs. They are sacramental foods, manifestations of the Grace of God, of the infinite Imagination of the Self, and therefore belong to everyone.
3. We do not encourage the ingestion of psychedelics by those who are unprepared.
I changed Principle 2 in 1973, and filed the change with our incorporation papers in Vermont, to read:
To disseminate the principle that the psychedelic substances, such as LSD, are sacraments, in that they encourage Enlightenment, which is the realization that life is a dream and that the externality of relations is an illusion.
But during the time period covered by this book, the original set of principles stood. I tried to include in the embrace of the Neo-American Church Psychedelians of a supernaturalist disposition through the use of terms like “God” and “Self,” which, although they only represented poetic or impressionistic ways of talking about the antakarana function of the mind to me, left the door wide open to those who wished to maintain the various traditional externalizations. I chose to be vague instead of clear, always a serious crime for a philosopher and always punished one way or another.
At the time of this writing, the complete set of principles reads:
1. The psychedelic substances, such as cannabis and LSD, are religious sacraments since their ingestion encourages Enlightenment, which is the recognition that life is a dream and the externality of relations an illusion (solipsistic nihilism).
2. The use of the psychedelic sacraments is a basic human right and all interference therewith is an assault on this right.
3. We do not encourage the ingestion of the greater sacraments such as LSD and mescaline by those who are unprepared and we define preparedness as familiarity with the lesser sacraments such as cannabis and nitrous oxide and with solipsist-nihilist epistemological reasoning based on such models as David Hume, Sextus Empiricus and Nagarjuna.
Our clergy would be called boo hoos. “Bee hee,” to designate female clergypersons, came later. The name just popped into my head, but there are associations on which I may have drawn. “Boo” is old Negro slang for marijuana; John Jay Chapman, for whom I have a very high regard, was known, during his best years, as “the Goo Goo.” “Hoo” is Old English for “house.”
There are plenty of other possible associations, including tears, but I don’t think “boo hoo” encourages people to make too much of their sorrows. On the contrary.
My conscious motive, if any, was to keep things light. I did not want the Church to appear solemn or Oriental. Nothing like moralistic, ceremonial, ecumenical, consensual “churchianity” would be allowed to take over. Psychedelian religion in general was one thing and the Church, and its doctrines and style and customs and rules, was another thing. We were iconoclasts.
Tim accepted a place on the board and played along in some ways, but did almost nothing to promote the Church in public. He called himself a Hindu in his Texas trial, and when that got him nowhere ditched IFIF and started the League for Spiritual Discovery, with pretentious aliases for one and all, secret passwords, robes, and whatever else might appeal to those given to sophomoric fantasies.
Did Tim ever sincerely believe that the psychedelic experience was religious? To answer the question, one must penetrate two misty and treacherous realms, the definition of “religion” and the mind of Timothy Leary. I have gone on both expeditions, and I have returned with a few samples of flora and fauna, some photographs of foggy landscapes and ill defined forms, and a few tape recordings, which are mostly commercial messages aimed at a target audience of half-wits and children.
Turning them over, I have come to the conclusion that all of Tim’s attempts to categorize the experience, particularly those concepts he thought most “scientific,” such as the “seeding” of “egg planets” by “comets of prophesy,” were examples of genuine religious ideation under the first definition given in Webster’s at that time, which was:
1. belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.
When Tim used “mystical” terminology at Millbrook it’s hard to say if his underlying concepts were supernaturalist or not, but during the Neurologic/Kohoutek period in the ’70s, he regressed all the way back to the old sod to grovel with his ancestors before imaginary “saviors” from Outer Space.
Earlier, however, he called himself a “Hindu” or a “Buddhist” or a “Taoist” as the spirit moved and the wind blew. He was not alone in this. A lot of people in those days who should have known better, tended to treat these distinct ideational systems as virtually interchangeable brand names for a generic Oriental “wisdom” all pumped out of the same hole. The packaging might change, but Slobovenoid Blobovenoidalism was what you got. It’s what almost all academic philosophers mean by “monism,” since it is the only concept for which they can form any kind of image.
You can be a Hindu and think this way, in fact, you can be a Hindu and think almost any way you please, or not think at all. Was Tim ever a Buddhist? Not in my opinion.
It did eventually dawn on Tim that genuine Buddhism, leaving Lamaism aside, was alien to his way of thinking, and he said so, at least to me and a couple other guys. I don’t know if he ever said it in public or in print.
Hinduism hung on longer, but Tim eventually saw the incompatibility of even that extremely plastic religion with his political objectives, and he became, for a crucial year or two at Millbrook which might be called his charlatanic period, a Machiavellian pragmatist politician with no operational philosophic convictions whatever.
Neurologic is Roman Catholic recidivism, for sure. The names are changed, but the game is the same. Don’t think, pray. The Almighty Comet knoweth all.
Am I, and is the Neo-American Church, in the terms currently and generally accepted by scholars of the subject, “religious”?
In an important sense, it doesn’t matter and never has. Religion defines religion just as philosophy defines philosophy, which is the main reason both are such a problem for lawyers and politicians.
But, even by conventional scholarly standards, only the most primitive definition of “religion” will exclude us. In terms of doctrine, if Buddhism is included, we are included. In terms of the antiquity of our practices, we have seniority, and at ecumenical revels should take precedence over everyone in sight, except for the surviving native peyote, mushroom and morning glory seed eaters, who should sit at the head of the table and barf in golden spittoons.
We have every reason to look down on the upstart pretensions of the Roman Catholic Church in this respect. It’s a synthetic cult, invented to pander to modern tastes.
Webster’s second definition at that time:
2. any specific system of belief, worship, conduct, etc., often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy, (the Christian religion, the Buddhist religion, etc.)
was OK, because it included us.
The editors brutally slashed this excellent definition from later editions of Webster’s, thereby demonstrating the folly of allowing corporate conglomerates to define one’s terms. As a nominalist of the old school, I will define my own terms, thanks.
“Religion” ought to be broadly defined. It appears that the ink-stained clerk over at Webster’s who held down the religion stool in those days was so discerning as to be aware that genuine Buddhism has no idea of God or a “higher power,” and wrote his second definition so as to include Buddhism. I hope he got a goose for Christmas, and wasn’t fired when his definition was expunged because it might be cited by the likes of us in furtherance of our fiendish schemes.
Check the definition of “religion” before you buy a dictionary, to find out if it is a work of scholarship or propaganda.
I don’t think the Mormons or the Scientologists are not religious. I just think they are wrong, that’s all.
A name for the generality of Psychedelian religionists is needed. “Psychedelianism,” the obvious choice, is OK with me, and I will use it until something better comes along.
“Is this man a Psychedelian or a Presbyterian, sergeant? I can’t make out your handwriting.”
“Argh, an’ ee’s a doity Presbyterian fer sure, sor. When oy haprehended the mutha behin’ th’ latrine, sor, ee was hunk’ring down upon the cald grass, a fuckin’ of a duck by the light ub de silv’ry moon, as Gawd is moy witness, sor, as Ee was ub dat ‘orrible scene, begorrah. Th’ pitifool quackin’ ub dat po’ boid still rings in m’eers, gor blimey, sor.”
Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Charlie Manson, Gordon Wasson, Hunter Thompson and I all are or were Psychedelians, I think, but only one of us is or was a Neo-American as far as I know.
Tim and I corresponded regularly during the spring and early summer of 1965. When he wrote me that he was getting married to Nena von Schlebrugge, a popular Swedish model of the day, and going to Nepal for his honeymoon, I decided to squeeze in one more visit to Millbrook before our rent on the house in Star Lake ran out. Sally didn’t want to be left alone at the isolated lodge with the kids and I couldn’t blame her.