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The Road to Eleusis: An Interview with Albert Hofmann


Albert Hofmann is interviewed by eminent thinkers in a Spanish T.V. show in 1989.

Following the celebration of the honoris causa at the University of Bilbao given to the illustrious Ernst Junger, a group of thinkers had the opportunity to interview Albert Hoffman, who at the time was considered one of the hundred greatest living geniuses alive.

Since his doctoral thesis, Hofmann had showed signs of an exceptional talent for his discovery of the chemical structure of chitin, the material that claws, shells and the wings of some insects are made of. Later, the scientist gained great reputation by discovering new painkillers and tranquilizers for the pharmacology department of Sandoz laboratories, which he joined in 1929.

It was precisely there that Hofmann discovered the substance his name would forever be linked to: LSD. As a fruit of his study on the properties of ergot, a fungus prone to parasitizing wheat, Hofmann synthetized lysergic acid diethylamide, an experimental substance that would be left out of his study until five years later when a hunch led the Swiss chemist to experiment with it once again.

We will not delve into the already well-known details that led Hofmann to discover the powerful effects of LSD, nor the curse that this substance, in one way or another, imposed on him.

In the aforementioned interview, Hofmann centers on the relation of this substance with the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece, a theme divulged in his book The Road to Eleusis, written in collaboration with Robert Gordon Wasson and Carl A.P Ruck. Hofmann’s thesis claims that, together with different initiation rituals, an enlightening potion that must have been very similar to the composition of LSD was also administered at the time.

The Eleusinian Mysteries, esoteric religious rituals parallel and complementary to the state religion, were devoted to the Greek goddess Demeter ––the deity associated with the cycles of grain and agriculture. In these Mysteries, which prevailed in Greece for over a thousand years, a series of individuals were initiated in the secret knowledge of creation.

Among the reasons that led Hofmann to this hypothesis is that in the vicinity of Eleusis there grows, in the midst of the wildest grass, a peculiar kind of ergot. Eleusinian priests would just have to pick it, grind it and make the initiated ingest it to provoke an enlightening experience.

The fact that the Mysteries were devoted to the goddess Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, is, according to Hofmann, more proof of the relationship between the substance and the mystic ritual.

To Hofmann, the most important thing was to prove that the ingestion of these substances was always linked to the sacred, and that their use had to be subjected to the demands of the ritual and the observance of a high priest. By abolishing the habitual division between the self and the other, between the subject and his surroundings, and facilitating the access to a non-dualist reality, the experience with psychedelic substances, in his view, was almost identical to the enlightening experience of religions. But he also warned that, without the correct treatment, without the correct preparation that was granted in mystic environments, the experience with these substances could be fatal ––they can prompt several types of psychic trauma.

Today, in absence of a religion like that of Eleusis, only psychiatrists would be qualified to replace the priest on the path to an enlightening experience.

Hofmann departs with his fellows, proving his profound knowledge and his humanist wisdom. He tells us of his experience and describes his relationship with another myth of his time: Aldous Huxley.

When asked if at his age he continues to experiment with LSD, Hofmann answers he does not.

What it could have given me, it has given me already. Now I limit myself to living in accordance with those teachings.

Evidently, for Albert Hofmann, the doors of perception were already wide open.

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