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Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic

Those with an interest in the ‘hidden history’ of humanity’s fascination with psychedelics will be thrilled to learn that the brilliant Mike Jay has a new book out: Mescaline: A global history of the first psychedelic (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK).

Daily Grail and Darklore readers will be well familiar with Mike’s thorough research and wonderful story-telling on the history of psychedelic usage – for great examples, see “Mushrooms in Wonderland: Psychedelics in Victorian England” and “Enter the Jaguar: Psychedelics in Ancient Peru” (both available along with 22 other essays “exploring the twilight zones of history” in the anthology of Mike’s essays, Stranger Than Fiction).

The latter essay above covers the same area as the start of Mike’s new book – mescaline usage in South America via the San Pedro cactus. But the book then goes on to chart the psychedelic’s usage in Mexico in more recent centuries, and then its ‘discovery’ and exploration by Western scientists, psychologists and free-thinkers over the last 150 years.

Mescaline became a popular sensation in the mid-twentieth century through Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, after which the word “psychedelic” was coined to describe it. Its story, however, extends deep into prehistory: the earliest Andean cultures depicted mescaline-containing cacti in their temples.

Mescaline was isolated in 1897 from the peyote cactus, first encountered by Europeans during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. During the twentieth century it was used by psychologists investigating the secrets of consciousness, spiritual seekers from Aleister Crowley to the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, artists exploring the creative process, and psychiatrists looking to cure schizophrenia. Meanwhile peyote played a vital role in preserving and shaping Native American identity. Drawing on botany, pharmacology, ethnography, and the mind sciences and examining the mescaline experiences of figures from William James to Walter Benjamin to Hunter S. Thompson, this is an enthralling narrative of mescaline’s many lives.

For more information, see Vice’s recent interview with Mike about the new book (“The Fascinating History of Mescaline, the OG Psychedelic“), and also this short (25 minute) talk by Mike at the 2017 Breaking Convention:

You can’t go wrong with any of Mike’s writing, so if you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Mescaline: A global history of the first psychedelic from Amazon US or Amazon UK, or your favourite bookseller.

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