May 4th 1953 was also the birth of a friendship that would shape western culture’s understanding of psychedelics
I’m doing an online event with Reanne Crane / Semantrix to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Aldous’ first trip on Sunday May 14. Tickets available here. Paid subscribers to my Ecstatic Integration substack get a free ticket!
Today is the 70th anniversary of the first time Aldous Huxley took psychedelics. At 11am on the 4th of May, 1953, he was given 4/10 of a gram of mescaline by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who he had invited to his house in Los Angeles for that purpose. Aldous has since become celebrated as the great prophet of psychedelics, but today I want to celebrate his friendship with Humphry Osmond, who was with him on that first trip, and took the photos of Aldous tripping, shown above.
When they met, the 35-year-old Humphry was excited and awed to meet Aldous, who at 58 was one of the most famous novelists in the world. Humphry meanwhile was a British psychiatrist working in Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, where he experimented on his patients with LSD and mescaline as possible cures for alcoholism. He was also interested in whether psychedelics might uncover the chemical cause of psychosis, via a substance such as adrenaline. Aldous read one of his papers on mescaline and invited him to visit next time he was in LA, and to ‘bring some of the stuff’ with him for Aldous to try. Humphrey eagerly agreed, although he was worried he might go down in history as the man who sent Aldous Huxley mad. Aldous’ wife Maria was sceptical of the encounter. What if they didn’t like the young psychiatrist? ‘We could always pretend to be out’, Aldous suggested.
Luckily, Aldous had a good trip, and felt he had finally found the mystical experience he had been seeking for two decades, ever since he converted to perennialist mysticism circa 1930. He, Maria and Humphry all got on very well, and May 4th 1953 was the beginning of a friendship that would last until Aldous’ death in 1963. He and Humphry wrote hundreds of pages of letters to each other — most of them Humphry writing to Aldous — in which they discussed psychedelics and their potential role in civilization. These letters (which have been published in the excellent…