Sunday, August 2, 2015

Harriet Martineau's Chibouque

"Harriet at Home" from an engraving by
Alfred Croquis (Rischgitz Studios)
Ladies who have courage to do what is good for them, and agreeable to them, in new circumstances, in disregard of former prejudices, will try the virtues of the chibouque while in the East: and if they like it, they will go on with it as long as they feel that they want it. The chibouque would not be in such universal use as it is in the East, if there were not some reason for it: and the reason is that it is usually found eminently good for health. I found it so: and I saw no more reason why I should not take it than why English ladies should not take their daily glass of sherry at home — an indulgence which I do not need. I continued the use of my chibouque for some weeks after my return; and then left it off only on account of its inconvenience: and in the East, it is not inconvenient. 

Harriet Martineau, Eastern Life Present and Past

Often called the first female sociologist, English author Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a prolific and influential writer whose admirers included a young Queen Victoria.

Nearly deaf from childhood and with a spotty education sometimes handled by some of her seven siblings, Martineau was first published at the age of 18 with an article titled "Female Writers on Practical Divinity."  Her father was so impressed that he declared, "Leave it to the other women to make shirts and darn stockings; and do you devote yourself to this." When The Central Unitarian Association advertised for three prize essays discussing how Catholics, Jews and Mohammedans might embrace Unitarianism, she entered all three contests under different names and won them all, and 45 pounds.

Her first commissioned work, Illustrations of Political Economy, was so successful across Europe that she was hired to produce monthly volumes for 24 months, each critiquing various political and economic affairs. Beseeched by a fellow writer to curb her pen so as not to offend French king Louis-Philippe, Martineau replied, "I write with a view to the people, and particularly the most suffering of them." In The Charmed Sea  she drew attention to poor treatment of Polish exiles in Eastern Siberia, causing the Russian czar to order all copies burnt. Traveling to the United States, she took flack for her books deploying British slavery in the colonies and was warned against traveling to any Southern states. She nonetheless visited Columbia, Charleston, and New Orleans, traveling by boat up the Mississippi to Kentucky, and producing Society in America and other volumes about her experiences.

La Servante de Harem (1874)
Paul Désiré Trouillebert
Martineau traveled to the East in 1846, writing Eastern Life Present and Past as a study in comparative religion and an attempt to track down the evolution of faith. "Eastern travel and the production of Eastern Life were the turning point in Martineau's biography" writes Billie Melman in Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East. "It was immediately after the journey that she abandoned her rational, Necessarian brand of Unitarianism for Positivism, soon to become [sociologist Auguste] Comte's first populariser in Britain and his first translator."

Melman writes that on her travels Martineau became "quite addicted" to the chibouque, a pipe used to smoke hashish. In Eastern Life, Martineau wrote that "the stem of my chibouque was one day embossed with fresh-gathered roses" and called a bottle of ale "the greatest possible refreshment in the desert, except the chibouque....I was very well satisfied with myself if I wrote my journal after dressing and chibouque, and before dinner."

Of one evening, she wrote, "Then the chibouques were brought,— at once the indispensable comfort and chief luxury of Eastern life:— a comfort of whose importance there no more conception can be formed at home than the people of the Guinea coast can appreciate our winter clothing and fires."

Harem Girls Smoking a Hookah
from an early 20th century postcard

Writing about a jolly time spent in a harem, she describes a cross-cultural experience: 

The next joke was on behalf of the Jewesses, four or five of whom sat in a row on the divan. Almost everybody else was puffing away at a chibouque or a nargeeleh, and the place was one cloud of smoke. The poor Jewesses were obliged to decline joining us; for it happened to be Saturday: they must not smoke on the Sabbath. They were naturally much pitied: and some of the young wives did what was possible for them. Drawing in a long breath of smoke, they puffed it forth in the faces of the Jewesses, who opened mouth and nostrils eagerly to receive it. Thus was the Sabbath observed, to shouts of laughter. 
In her Autobiography, written in 1855, Martineau says:

At past forty years of age, I began to relish life, without drawback; and for ten years I have been vividly conscious of its delights, as undisturbed by cares as my anxious nature, and my long training to trouble could permit me ever to be. I believe there never was before any time in my life when I should not have been rather glad than sorry to lay it down. During this last sunny period, I have not acquired any dread or dislike of death; but I have felt, for the first time, a keen and unvarying relish of life. ...

I had little idea the convictions and the action of the remnant of my life would be shaped and determined by what I saw and thought during those all-important months that I spent in the East....there were effects produced on my own character of mind which it would have been impertinent to offer here, even if the lapse of years had not been necessary to make them clear to myself. I never before had better opportunity for quiet meditation....

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Of Hamnett and Hashish

British Bohemian Queen Nina Hamnett, an artist and muse who was known for her performances of Sea Shanty songs, once attended a party where Elsa Maxwell played the piano "with great vigor." Hanging out with poetess and Tokin Woman Iris Tree, they concocted drinks using imitation absinthe, gentian, and brandy. Around 1921 she would run into Marie LaurencinPicassoCocteau and Brancusi at "Le Boeuf sur le Toit," the Parisian restaurant where she often dined. 

Hamnett wrote in her book Laughing Torso:

"One evening....a man whom we all knew, asked us to come to his flat and try a little hashish. I had never tried any, but only a few days before, the Irish journalist whom I knew, had told me about his experiences when he had tried some. It is not a habit-forming drug and does not do any one much harm....

"I believe that one loses all sense of time and space. It takes about a hundred years to cross quite a narrow street and, as Maurice Richardson pointed out when I told him the story, probably a hundred years to order a drink.

"The first effect is a violent attack of giggles. One screams with laughter for no reason whatever, even at a fly walking on the ceiling.

"The Irishman went through all the stages and finally decided to go home. He had to walk across Paris and cross the river by Notre Dame. When he reached it he found that it was at least a mile high, and, giving it one despairing look, sat down on the quays to wait till its size had diminished. He had to wait for some time, but finally he decided that it had grown small enough for him to continue his walk home."

Hamnett by Modigliani
She then describes a dinner party thrown by a Countess to which Aleister Crowley was invited. Afterwards:

"We went to our friend's fiat after dinner. He had a large pot on the floor which contained hashish in the form of jam. On the table were some pipes, as one smoked or ate it, or did both. I tasted a spoonful, swallowed it, and waited, but nothing happened. The others got to work seriously and smoked and ate the jam. I felt no effect except that I was very happy, much more happy than if I had drunk anything. I sat on a chair and grinned.

"The others entered the giggling stage. This was for me a most awful bore as I could not say a word of any kind without them roaring with laughter. I got so bored that I went home...Crowley eventually returned to Cefalu, taking his wife with him, and so we had no more Kubla Khan No. 2."

Crowley unsuccessfully sued Hamnett in 1934 over a statement in her book that “he was supposed to practise Black Magic.” The incident was said to effect her greatly, and for whatever reasons, she succumbed to alcoholism, dying after a fall from her balcony in 1956. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Go Ask About Alice

Today is Alice's Day in the Sequicentennial of 1865, the year when an English mathematician named Charles Dodson (aka Lewis Carroll) led us all down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Professor Sherry L. Ackerman writes in Alice and the Hero’s Journey, “Alice's being repeatedly instructed to eat or drink various intoxicating substances, after having descended into the underworld, was reminiscent of the function of kykeon in the Eleusian mystery schools. The Wonderland mushroom, suggestive of the Amanita muscaria, takes a central position in this context, as the caterpillar instructs Alice to eat it in order to change sizes. Interestingly, the caterpillar is a principal symbol for transformation…the foreshadow of the chrysalis. Thus, the symbol for transformation sits atop the transformational agent, the psychoactive mushroom. After ingesting a Wonderland version of the kykeon, Alice's subsequent adventures illustrate the mystic's death, as she summons the power to face, with relative equanimity, every manner of unusual being that the underworld has to offer.”

Hallucinogenic mushroom experiences have been traced back to 1799 in England, so it's possible Dodson partook in them. Of course, the caterpillar was also smoking a hookah (as shown here in the classic John Tenniel illustration). Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the English youth who “ate hasheesh” back in 1856, and English novelist George Eliot mentions hashish in her 1859 novella The Lifted Veil; Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was smoking hasheesh by 1875.

The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, with their psychoactive sacrament kykeon, survive in modern times as Grateful Dead concerts or Raves, without the sanction or guidance of society or organized religion, and targeted by mainstream society as deviant and dangerous. At least until the 1960s blew them wide open.

"White Rabbit," the rock anthem penned 50 years ago by Tokin Woman Grace Slick, begins: 

One pill makes you larger 
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you 
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall.  

Asked about the song, Slick said, "...[P]arents read us these books, like Alice in Wonderland, where she gets high, tall, and she takes mushrooms, a hookah, pills, alcohol. And then there's the Wizard of Oz, where they fall into field of poppies and when they wake up they see Oz. And then there's Peter Pan, where if you sprinkle white dust on you, you could fly. And then you wonder why we do it? Well, what did you read to me?"

Slick is now producing paintings as interesting as her songs. One of her works called White Rabbit in Wonderland (shown) depicts Alice perched on a mushroom, chasing a rabbit on a path where Timothy Leary appears as the mad hatter and Ram Dass is the caterpillar.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Could Rosie O'Donnell Lose Child Custody Rights Over Marijuana?

If you can believe Radaronline via the National Enquirer, Rosie O'Donnell is at risk of losing custody of her 2-year-old daughter Dakota after her ex-wife Michelle Rounds alleged "The View" star is excessively using marijuana and alcohol. She reportedly submitted to a hair follicle test, which came up positive for pot.

If true, this would make O'Donnell, 53, the highest (ha) profile person to face this rather common problem since, perhaps, Paul McCartney.

Although some say marijuana actually can make you a better parent when used wisely, and court rulings have upheld parental rights of medical marijuana users, battling parents often bring up their spouses' marijuana use in custody hearings. The type of testing O'Donnell reportedly underwent can pick up drug use for months after it was last used. 

Apparently the story stemmed from a TMZ report that was later denied by Rounds, who told the NY Daily News she is seeking full custody because O'Donnell is too distracted raising her other four children.

The Enquirer also reports that Susan Olsen, the actress who played little Cindy on "The Brady Bunch," spent years growing and selling marijuana.

“I was, I guess, technically a drug dealer – but I was really a [marijuana] grower,” said Susan, also 53, saying that she grew  the “green stuff” with one of her two ex-husbands.
Susan has apparently changed her Facebook profile picture to one taken in a marijuana garden (right).  This would make Olsen the highest profile actress to admit she grew pot since the Blair Witch Project's Heather Donahue, author of Growgirl.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Of Henrietta and Hemp

I picked up the new biography Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham tonight. Its cover trumpets:

"Raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South, Henrietta Bingham was offered the helm of a publishing empire. Instead, she ripped through the Jazz Age like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character: intoxicating and intoxicated, selfish and shameless, seductive and brilliant, endearing and often terribly troubled. In New York, Louisville, and London, she drove both men and women wild with desire, and her youth blazed with sex."

Bingham's father was a Kentucky politician, judge, newspaper publisher and ambassador, serving as the US Ambassador to Great Britain in between Andrew Mellon and Joseph Kennedy. She took off to Europe like her possible paramour and Tokin Woman Tallulah Bankhead—the daughter of an Alabama Senator—and became part of the partying Bloomsbury crowd in London.

At the time, London was hip to the jive. In a review called “Light Up” at the Savoy Theatre in 1940, “The sensation of the evening was a dope fiend dance called ‘Marihuana’ which brought the house down.” Another piece called the ‘Hashish Hop’ was described as, “A frighteningly macabre dance which ought to sweep the town.” Source. Welch artist and writer Nina Hamnett, a fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group, "made a conscious effort to lose her virginity, and ended up doing so in the same rooms in Bloomsbury where Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud had lived in the 1870s. ...She met Ford Maddox Ford and Gertrude Stein, then smoked hashish with Cocteau and Raymond Radriguet." Source.

During World War II, Bingham returned to Kentucky and ran a farm. "Henrietta was patriotically growing 'marihuana,' as her Department of Agriculture permit called hemp, to help fill the Navy's demand for rope when hostilities interrupted imports...The hemp crop took up fields she needed for corn to feed the hogs...."

This would make Henrietta the first female farmer I'm aware of who participated in the US Government's "Hemp for Victory" program in the 1940s. She was part of the American Women's Voluntary Services (pictured right, holding a booklet titled, "Share Health and Victory with a War Garden").

By Your Leave, Sir, a wartime pulp romance aimed at recruiting women for service was set on a hemp farm overlooking the Ohio River and drew on Henrietta's life, according to Irrepressible.

I couldn't find anything about Bingham using the more potent form of hemp in the book, only alcohol and Seconal, prescribed by doctors for alcoholism. Her family rather disowned her for her wild ways and one psychoanalyst tried to "cure" her of her homosexual tendencies, contributing, her great niece and biographer concludes, to her death at age 67, "succumbing to a daily cocktail of amphetamines, sedatives, and alcohol."

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Simone de Beauvoir's Adventure with Marijuana

Simone de Beauvoir in Harlem, 1947
Simone de Beauvoir, the acclaimed French author whose book The Second Sex remains an influential feminist treatise, tried marijuana in New York City in 1947 and wrote about it in her book, America: Day by Day.

“As in all big cities, people use a lot of drugs in New York,” de Beauvoir wrote. “Cocaine, opium, and heroin have a specialized clientele, but there’s a mild stimulant that’s commonly used, even though it’s illegal—marijuana. Almost everywhere, especially in Harlem (their economic status leads many blacks into illegal drug trafficking), marijuana cigarettes are sold under the counter. Jazz musicians who need to maintain a high level of intensity for nights at a time use it readily. It hasn’t been found to cause any physiological problems; the effect is almost like that of Benzedrine, and this substance seems to be less harmful than alcohol.”

De Beauvoir says she was “less interested in tasting marijuana itself than in being at one of the gatherings where it’s smoked.” Her guide into this world was none other than Bernard Wolfe, the writer and jazz aficionado who co-wrote Really the Blues with Very Important Pothead Mezz Mezzrow. As she describes it, Wolfe took her to a pot party at a hotel, and advised her to try smoking herself. She found the taste bitter and unpleasant, and when told she wasn’t inhaling properly, she said it burned her throat. She valiantly tried smoking four cigarettes, she said, and failed to feel any effect. “It seems that I ought to feel lifted up by angels: the others are floating, they tell me—they’re flying.” During the next few days, “I live in a half-dream; perhaps the marijuana smoke insidiously slipped into my blood,” she wrote. While in America, De Beauvoir attended a Louis Armstrong concert with Mezzrow, who she had seen perform in Paris with Don Redman.

In a rare television appearance from 1975, de Beauvoir displays her intellectual prowess and grasp of herstory. She states (in translation): "In the Middle Ages, and in the Renaissance, the female physician had much power. They knew about remedies and herbs, the "old wives" remedies which were sometimes of great value. Then medicine was taken away from them by men. All of the witch hunts were basically a way for men to keep women away from medicine and the power it conferred. In the 18th and 19th centuries statutes were drafted by men that prevented women—who were imprisoned, fined, etc. —from practicing medicine unless they had attended certain schools, which did not admit them anyway. Women were relegated to the role of nurses, of Florence Nightingale, as aides and assistants."

De Beauvoir was 39 years old when she first tried marijuana, by her own account. Her TV interviewer asks her how it was possible, as she recounted in her memoir, that while writing The Second Sex at the age of 40, she "had not previously perceived the female condition you describe?" She answered that she had not been in a situation to notice the treatment of women, but I've got to wonder if somehow smoking the ancient healing herb altered her perception, as it seemed to do for Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso and others before they made their creative breakthroughs.

New research is finding that the brain necessarily clicks off our consciousness into a daydreaming state, in order to fully accomplish tasks. This has certain advantages. "[T]he daydreaming mind may make an association between bits of information that the person had never considered in that particular way. This accounts for creativity, insights of wisdom and oftentime the solutions to problems that the person had not considered," researcher Eugenio M. Rothe said in a National Geographic article. Writers have observed that cannabis enhances the imagination, and that this can have an evolutionary advantage. One study found that a moderate dose of alcohol increases the productive meta state, where your mind is wandering but you're not aware of it. Up until lately researchers have generally been funded only to study negative things about cannabis, like that it enhances "novelty seeking" or schizophrenia.

In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir wrote, "[W]oman is both Eve and the Virgin Mary. She is an idol, a servant, source of life, power of darkness; she is the elementary silence of truth, she is artifice, gossip, and lied; she is the medicine woman and witch; she is man's prey; she is his downfall, she is everything he is not and wants to have, his negation and his raison d'etre....behind the sainted Mother crowds the coterie of white witches who provide man with herbal juices and stars' rays: grandmothers, old women with kind eyes, good-hearted servants, sisters of charity, nurses with magical hands...."

It's time to reclaim woman's healing power, and her healing herbs. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Asherah: The Tree of Life

Athirat is the Canaanite Earth and Mother Goddess, called "Creator of the Gods," who is also known as Asherah. Consort, sister or mother to the gods El and Baal, the first mention of Athirat is found in Babylonian texts dating to the first dynasty (1830–1531 B.C.). (Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah).

She is often confused with Ashtart (Astarte), and is sometimes the mother of Astarte, or Ishtar. The Ashtoreth of the Hebrew Scriptures, worshipped along with Baal and reviled for their incense-burning practices in the Bible, may refer to Athirat the Mother Goddess, or to Ashtart.

Athirat is associated with the Tree of Life. A famous ivory box-lid of Mycenean workmanship found at Ugarit, dating from 1300 BCE, shows Her as symbolically representing the Tree (above) feeding a pair of goats. The Tree of Life, also known as the Tree of Knowledge, appears in the Biblical myth of the Garden of Eden, bearing the forbidden fruit that allows men to think like gods. (Can't have that.)

"In light of Ashera's recognition as a symbol of the sacred tree and her cult's use of cannabis (Emboden 1972), it is of interest to note that in medieval times, certain Moslem groups refered to cannabis by the name ashirah,"  wrote Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen in Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible.  "They saw it as an endearing term for their hempen girlfriend, (Rosenthal 1971)."

Athirat is a key player in the 14th-century BCE Epic of Baal. In the Baal Cycle found at Ugarit we first see her sitting by the sea using a spindle and doing laundry. The rites contained a sacred drink as an offering:

He [Ba’al] does get up, he makes ready a feast and gives him drink;
he places a cup into his hand(s), a flagon into both his two hands,
a large beaker, great to see, a holy cup such as/which should never woman behold,
a goblet such as/which should never Athirat set her eye on;
a thousand pitchers he takes of wine, ten thousand he mixes in....

Wine in ancient times is thought to have contained herbs or drugs as well as fermented fruits.

In two places the Baal Cycle alludes to anointing with sacred oil, once when the priestess undergoes a ritual shaving, and secondly when she is returned to her father's house. "Annointing is widely understood as a rite of purification," says Daniel E. Fleming in The Installation of Baal's High Priestesses at Emar. He adds: "The meaning and origin of the practice of anointing have been thoroughly discussed by biblical scholars because the rite is so prominent in account of selecting both kings and priests." In Ugarit times, women were also anointed during wedding rituals and during a ceremony that brought a woman out of slavery as a prostitute. Anointing oils may have contained cannabis, say some scholars.

In Biblical times, an Asherah meant a sacred tree or pole to honor the goddess. In the Bible, the Hebrews are repeatedly instructed to destroy all the Asherah poles, even though the goddess was considered a consort of Yahweh. But her sacred tree or pole in the temple at Jerusalem stood for about 240 years until the temple's final destruction in 70 CE.

A relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) showing an Asherah Tree is surrounded by male figures holding anointing oils. The tree's leaves have seven or nine points, and a large cola-like flower in the middle, like cannabis (see left). The winged figure over the tree might be a precursor to the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Christian trinity.

Some say Asherah is also sometimes shown curly haired, riding a lion, holding lilies and serpents in upraised hands, as Qadashu, as she was known in Egypt. Scholars think Ashoreh or Astarte and Baal were introduced in Egypt somewhere around 1450 BC, during the height of Ugarit. Ugarit had close connections to the Hittite Empire, sent tribute to Egypt at times, and maintained trade and diplomatic connections with Cyprus. 1350 BC Canaan was of significant geopolitical importance as the area where the spheres of interest of the Egyptian, Hittite, and Assyrian Empires converged.