The Far Off Land [Trenchant Edges]
Estimated reading time: 20 minutes, 9 seconds. Contains 4031 words
And welcome back.
I’m well enough to be sitting on my back porch as I write this.
I appreciate everyone for bearing with me. This has turned into a kind of awkward transition between work and recovery.
This week I want to talk about a book I enjoy.
When I started researching Psychedelia, defined as the culture that came out of the US in the 1960s, one of the things I was interested in was the decade before that breakout and earlier.
See, Mescaline was known to Europeans from the late 19th century and was big among certain romantics. Early New Age Influencer Aleister Crowley wrote about it in his 1922 Diary of a drug fiend.
Thus the breakthrough of Psychedelia in the 1960s was well advertised in advance.
So when I found an ex-Mormon whose grandfather wrote a short book on his psychedelic experimentation in 1959, I was immediately curious.
Eric Hendrickson and John Eugene Seaich
Sometime in 2015, I saw one of Eric’s Facebook posts. Now, it looks like he’s deactivated his account because I can’t find any of his many posts about the book and his story.
What’s weirder is his profile isn’t even in my message’s history, from what I can tell.
Dunno, maybe he deactivated or scrubbed his internet presence.
So, I’d planned on showing a screenshot of his usual shtick. But with that door closed, I’m just going to have to tell the story from memory.
Eric was going through his parent’s home when he found a bunch of unpublished writing from his grandfather. One of the manuscripts was The Far Off Land: An Attempt at a philosophical evaluation of the Hallucinogenic Drug-experience.
This got him super curious, and he started trying out some, uh, drugs. I think. I’m honestly not super sure if he’d done drugs first.
Haha! I remembered Eric, and I also connected on Linkedin! Here’s his about page:
Bottom line: Eric found some manuscripts from his grandfather and self-published them.
This brings us to his grandpa, John Eugene Seaich.
I touched on Mormonism a bit, and we’ve got to focus on that not because JES was Mormon but because most of the books he wrote touched on it. Let’s take a tour.
Mormonism and the Nag Hammadi Library
Ancient Texts and Mormonism: Discovering the Roots of the Eternal Gospel in Ancient Israel and the Primitive Church
The Far Off Land
Was Freemasonry derived from Mormonism
It’s possible #1 and #2 are the same book. It’s kinda hard to be sure.
I also found his obituary. The most relevant bits are where it discusses his education:
“He earned five degrees, including two Ph.D's in German, music and pharmacology from the University of Utah, and in 1955 was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad in Germany.”
I’m not sure what his degrees are in exactly, but the book’s text suggests pretty clearly that he’s WAY too educated. A ton of poems in multiple languages, the man knew his way around some Wagner as well.
So one of them is probably German.
Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of details. Died in 2006, had a family—that whole song and dance. There are many articles in google scholar for an E Seaich and a book titled A Great Mystery: The Secret of the Jerusalem Temple by the same, but it was published in 2008, and I can’t find any info on its author.
Something of a mystery there.
What’s not in doubt is the clarity of his prose and the insight he brings.
Editor’s Note: The last page of my pdf has a bit more info about him, in what looks to be a back of the book blurb that isn’t in any of the seller pages I’ve seen:
John aims to bring together the perspectives of philosophy
Hopefully with the immence background of anthropology, literature,
comparative religion, the arts and psychology can someday be
brought together with psychotropic knowledge to better understand
our consciousness to ultimately improve humanity cure mental illness
and even solve lifes mysteries.
Were we to learn its secrets, we would better understand our
own desires, and the motives which drive us through life.
Still better, the secrets of human history would perhaps be
discovered as the eternal patterns of imagination which have shaped
our spiritual existence.
But perhaps most important of all, to penetrate the well of the
past might restore to us that visionary perception which we think to
have once possessed.
The far-off land has tremendous meaning and insight. Intelligently
written and poetic. Takes you on journey that feels you full with
meaning and insight that leaves you with a sense of awe and mystery
attaching to our contemplation of life
Filled with historical facts and quotes from the worlds greatest
minds and literature.
John was a brilliant man who had 5 degrees includng a Phd in
musicology, a Phd in German literature and a phd in philosophy,
pharmacology and the fine arts.
Has performed lectures on LSD and psychedelics. And writings
in Utah pharmseutical journal.
5 PhDs? 2 PhDs? Who can tell? Yeah, this bit is pretty wonky.
The Far Off Land
Deep within each of us, the past slumbers on. All of the patterns
of our understanding lie buried in the unconscious memory, shaping
our desires, our inspirations, and our dreams. It is these ancient
memories, particularly those at the deepest level of the organism,
that perpetually appear as haunting suggestions of a prior existence,
or a higher reality, which prefigures our picture of human life. This
vast residue of mental experience is what the Greeks recognized as
the daimon, or the sense of destiny that drives our conscious energies toward their necessary fulfillment. As an active repository of intuitive
knowledge, it integrates and guides our understanding of reality;
whatever we know, or feel, or hope to attain is rooted in its primal
Hell of a way to start a book.
It’s clear from the book’s structure that Seaich never went back and edited this into something more cohesive. It’s got 79 pages and 11 chapters. From page 43 on is chapter 11.
The earlier chapters are, of course, much shorter and primarily focus on a single point. We’re going to go through them one at a time to get a sense of what he was going for.
Before we do, I want to point out how much poetry is quoted in this book. Usually in both its original language and translation, though sometimes without any translation.
Some poets include Hermann Hesse, Baudelaire, Manyoshu, William Blake, Rainer Maria Rilke, Dante, Goethe, and Wordsworth. It includes references from the New Testament, Rig Veda, and Saikontan.
The point is, dude was hella well-read. Just looking at that list has me feel humbled by how shallowly I’ve read any of them, let alone the poets I haven’t touched.
Let’s get to brass tacks, though.
The Introduction is mainly a history of psychedelic drug use from 1959. Starting with Mesoamerican ritual use of psilocybin Mushrooms and peyote through the 19th century’s romantic fans, all the way through the scientific experimentation of the 20th century kicked off by Albert Hoffman.
It’s where I got the paragraph we started this section with.
The first chapter is only a few pages, sketching out the possibility of a transcendental, primordial, otherworld people have tried to connect with since long before history began. As many would before and after, Seaich would connect the mysteries of Mesoamerican ritual, the Vedas of India, European folklore, and the pseudoscientific grasping of Freud and Jung to make the ineffable legible to the Scientific Mind.
The strange discovery in recent years of certain drugs that can
open up this buried world at will seems to me to be worthy of our
best romances, wherein men have ever dreamed of piercing the veil
of memory in search of the ultimate secrets of Being. I can scarcely
describe the excitement that possessed me when I first held in my
hand a tiny vial of whitish powder, extracted from the sacred cactus, which the ancestors of the Aztecs worshipped millennia ago, when
men believed in the Mysteries of Existence, now laid open to the
dead knife of scientific analysis.
Chapter 2 is mainly about the connection between a childhood sense of innocence and the prelapsarian sense of fallen perfection you find in many cultures’ folklore.
Again, Christ likened the kingdom of Heaven unto the mind
of childhood; this was not because children are easily beguiled, as
orthodox religion would have it, but because Christ understood the
world with which children are conversant.
This is building up to the familiar refrain that psychedelic experiences wipe the cobwebs from our eyes and allow us to view the world as though it’s fresh again.
Chapter 2 describes the new eyes one might regain; CH3 is about the seduction of the rational mind feared and revered in equal measure as psychosis and revelation. One can achieve a state of Otherness through many means, but which has often been associated with intoxication. An antidote to the boredom of dead progress.
Lacking the faith that naive imagination possesses, the exclusively practical mind is aware only of the empirical facts that it sees in a situation. Nothing of the inner
meaning that poetic belief creates can be revealed to it. Such a mind is
forever denied the experience of “otherness”—hence cannot appreciate
the deeper dimensions of man’s spiritual life. The human content of
experience is subsequently reduced to the level of commonness, and
the religious sense, to dreary causality.
Chapter 4 continues these themes, and I suspect it was intended to be two different essays that would have been combined if more fully edited.
Hopefully, the immense background of anthropology,
literature, comparative religion, and philosophy can someday be
brought together with psychotropic knowledge to restore our sense
of religious encounter, which coarse utilitarian existence lacks. Reality
depends upon the inner meaningfulness of things, not upon their
physical proximity; since meaning arises in the heart of man, the way
to make the world most vividly real is to re-encounter the values
of the heart in the objects of material experience. By making the
external world synonymous with the world of primal vision, life can
be helped to achieve its primordial fulfillment. No other solution will
satisfy the emotional need of man, nor answer the endless questions
about the “meaning” of ultimate reality.
Chapter 5 is more complex, and zero’s in on the theme we’ve developed: “Nature has here become a religious experience through some deep, visceral encounter with matter.”
He makes a fairly salient point about the demystified, commodified materialism of capital.
American “materialism” is in actual fact a form of idealism,
which seeks to make commerce and gadgetry a spiritual achievement.
It avers that life has somehow become more meaningful because of
the perfection of our machines. Such an ideal, however, is an ultimate
denial of life, for machines can only implement the prior values that
life itself possesses. Therefore, to equate life with mechanical progress
is to abstract experience into a kind of intellectual propaganda.
Material advantages, elevated to mental symbols, become spiritual
objectives, insidiously usurping the genuine values of the blood
and soil. Ironically, material objects are no longer regarded by the
“materialist” as pristine material objects, but are transformed into
philosophical, moral, social, or mental values. Experience becomes
entangled in concepts, and man is enslaved by a misguided,
Echos of Leary’s schtick about people being robots from a decade later.
Chapter 6 describes the sensation of strangeness or otherness one feels as a trip begins, with things building from there into waves or breathing into the more abstract geometric shapes of true hallucination.
is thus that the inner light of the mind is able to perceive once more
what memory compels it to recognize in its transient existence; out of
the far-off land there begins to shine the distant reflection of infinity,
reawakened from the rudiments of primal experience, emanating as
it were from the inmost heart of transfigured matter.
NGL, it’s starting to feel a bit repetitive. But this is all what I’d consider Psychedelics 101 so far, and I can’t criticize someone from 1959 for being too basic.
And Chapter 7 adds a focus on light, luminescence, and why all the correspondences Seaich has laid out so far are not mere coincidence.
Our unexplained dreams and preferences
we thus understand to be reflections of our far-off land. Amongst the
symbols and archetypes of cultural life, the entirety of our past lies
root-active, waiting through the years of intellectual distraction to be
reawakened in adult experience.
Now we’re on Chapter 8, which, honestly, I find kind of hard to summarize. Like much of the earlier book, Seaich focuses on psychedelics as a tool to reveal our buried childhood experiences and how the desire to go in that direction is enmeshed and revealed in dozens of little ways in our lives the cultures we build.
Much of this chapter’s expression focuses on how the ego organizes and expresses these desires, including the desire to be egoless. He pulls from both Buddhist and Christian framing of attachments to demonstrate the broad appeal of this desire and how sophisticated religious systems of thought address it.
During the hallucinogenic experience, one is frequently obliged
to undergo such an encounter with the naked soul, robbed of its
“outer-directed” pretensions and driven by the need to rationally cope
with the material released from the inner consciousness. The nature
of this encounter necessarily varies with the subject, but since one’s visions are but projections of the self, the self is inevitably forced to
evaluate its own image, resulting in varying degrees of apprehension
Seaich does a lovely job of anticipating the most frustrating phenomena of the psychedelic explorer: Diminishing Returns.
But, invariably, the sophistication of advancing knowledge
begins to gnaw at the innocent pleasure that one obtains from his
view of paradise. One begins to sense that he is involved not with the
splendors of the primal world, but with the shadows and souvenirs of
his own will, carrying him around in an aimless circle of self-deceit.
It’s much to his credit that he wrote this in 1959, pulled from a small selection of personal experiences rather than a decade later. It presages Hunter S Thompson’s comments in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about buying enlightenment for $3 a dose.
Often in my trips, I’ve felt this exact thing, hoping to get a taste of that sublime feeling of freshness only to get hours of trivial remix.
Ego-death experiences themselves become colonized by ego.
Chapter 9 continues this grasping towards some sense of the Otherworldly transcendence, and here we again dive into the wisdom of the sublime concreteness.
The glory of physical, real things.
Life transcends all search for a meaning, since experience alone is
the measure of existence. The highest wisdom, therefore, teaches us
not to despise phenomenality, but to seek the infinite in the finite of
every moment, for Life is no “problem to be solved, but a reality to
be experienced” (G.F. Main).
What that Reality represents, revealed in common, individual life,
is the highest sort of emotional fulfillment that earthbound man can
attain. For me, this final phase of the hallucinogenic experience will
always be the most significant; were I to require poetic expression to
describe my sentiments at any time during the experiment, it would
be here. Yet, I have been able only to gaze about me, beholding the
common scenes of my daily life with uttermost satisfaction, transfigured
by the glory of a new existence shining brilliantly in the old.
After this, he started talking about music and, well, I probably don’t have to tell you that this was an excellent idea. But I don’t feel like recounting Wagner here.
As a person dedicated to effing the ineffable, I can’t help but admire the last paragraph of this chapter.
How shall we describe the lofty joy of the mind, or its utter
tranquility and satisfaction? Quite unlike the euphoria of stimulants,
the effect of LSD or mescaline is spiritually quickening; one emerges
with feelings of deepest happiness, with the sense of uplift and ritual
encounter. For some, the drug bears curses in place of illumination;
yet, the power to bestow mystical vision upon the beholder has been
stipulated since time immemorial. The profound pleasure of that
vision, the lofty splendor of its affirmation will remain the goal of
poets, who must ever search the symbols of their other worlds for
words to frame it or for reflections of the Beyond with which to
comprehend it. For me, it has been the supreme religious experience,
uniting the Infinite illimitably with earth, creating a Garden of Eden
for the period of its duration, and revealing in the shapes of ordinary
life the Harmony of total existence.
Chapter 10 is focused on the question, “What of value may we take from these repeated experiences into ordinary life?”
This brings us to one of the most essential paragraphs in the whole book.
The antagonism between “matter” and “spirit” seems, in
light of the hallucinogenic experience, to consist of a fundamental
misunderstanding of our intuitions regarding early existence.
The necessities of material obligation are always viewed against
our spiritual nostalgia for a fuller life, unimpeded by the burdens
of vulgar practicality. In fact, by returning psychogenically to the
material experiences that originally created our “otherworldly”
affinities, one realizes that the world of the “spirit” is none other than
the haunting recollection of our earthly innocence, once enjoyed as
a poetic mystery. The mind of the child, which understands nothing
yet perceives everything, is lucid without ideation. Yet, in the mind
there slowly develops an intellectual need to comprehend what it
sees, creating the sense of awe that it attributes to primal experience.
I’m not sure if I agree that transcendent awe is rooted in childhood innocence, but I do agree the binary assumed collapses under scrutiny even without psychedelics.
After this, Seaich suggests that mental illnesses are conditioned by culture and explores the topic a bit.
We can, nevertheless, begin to understand the principle of cultural
conditioning upon such mental diseases if we recall an observation
made earlier: Regardless of the physiological factors in psychotic
behavior, the forms it assumes come from the mind of the individual
himself, and these in turn, from his total experience, just as the forms
of “normal” behavior come from the patterns of comprehension in
the “healthy” mind. What has never previously been conditioned
cannot be transformed into behavior, either “normal” or psychotic.
And concludes by saying that psychedelics will finally allow researchers to explore the harmful mind-manifesting powers of culture in a broader cross-section of people.
This finally brings us to the second half of the book, Chapter 11.
I’m gonna be a lot less through here. The point of CH11 is laying out the framework he’ll use for documenting his actual trip reports.
Realization of primal existence, then, demands a journey into the
depths of the far-off land, where amongst the primal images are the
forms of everything that we perceive or desire in the present world.
Returning us temporarily to the sources of our experience, LSD and
mescaline enable us to recapture our dreams and to resolve that poetic
paradox that consists of all the things that we know do not exist, yet
whose emotional presence cannot be disputed. What the intellect
denies, the heart continues to believe, for deep in our memory there
still live those pictures of island paradises, those perfect settings of
novels and dramas, those impossible love affairs, and those medieval
romances that never transpired. Wherever imagination suggests
the existence of beauty beyond the fields of evening sunlight or
harmonies beyond earthly music, we stand in the presence of the
far-off land. Whenever we perceive existence that we cannot touch or
encounter the infinite in ineffable moments of otherness, we respond
to the voice of primal life, penetrating through the weariness of
banal necessity. All that is sacred and holy is derived from its ancient
authority; all that is sublime reflects its distant glory. Like the unicorn,
it is visible only to the virgin soul that has regained its childlike
vision, for pure perception alone is capable of revealing the separate
parts of existence, reunited in a single presence, in which both matter
and spirit are illuminated as a timeless moment of perfect identity.
Thus life again becomes concrete, its opposing forces resolved into a
practical course of action, lighting the way to future encounter with
the Beyond in the forms of everyday experience. For having once
shown us the poetic model of our original paradise, the psychogenic
vision assures us not only that the substance of our dreams still lives,
awaiting fulfillment in reality, but that the far-off land is in very fact
our own real world, as fresh today as it was in memory—as rich in
legendary beauty as the lyrical splendor that spread itself before the
eye on the morning of life’s innocence.
Directly after this are his trip reports.
I’m not going to detail his trip reports, just a portion I find particularly funny. There are several trips, with this coming from the third on 100 mcg of LSD.
To 3:15: Extraordinary vision of life, all pulsing with fire—Heraclitean
ultimate reality. Was one with cosmos; felt inner being radiant with
heat of a million suns. Cosmic dance. Became personified in human
forms. Persons then gradually became younger, as I regressed back
through womb, became one with eternal slime and sexual generation.
Was surrounded with swimming sperm-like animals. Felt self rising
through earth into new plants. Was one with all life and Being? Was
God, in God; slime of eternal fire bursting through everything. Pulse
of existence shattered into billion sparks of divine creative ecstasy.
Indescribable religious revelation. Am color, breath, substance of
million warm faces in vision. Some other hand writes. I merely look
on from Parnassus height. Oh! Beyond description! If other foolish
swine could know! Tongues of flame impressed upon every pulsating,
crystalline surface of Zenhaiku reality. Poem! Warm sex-beauty, loving
contours of life in every solid substance, yielding themselves blissfully
to each wave of undulating creativity. 3:40: Anxiety that children
will soon return. Am at height of ecstasy. Wonder—should I take
antidote to see how it works at such a peak? Fingernails look daubed
with red paint. Dynamic quality of vision imparted to everything in
room. This could go deeper. If I were L**, I’d be frightened. But I’m
myself, and my metaphysical enlightenment leads me to embrace this
chaotic vision of everything being drawn into the vortex of fire and
flame. This is ultimate reality. God!? I am God!
3:45: For scientific reasons, I will now take antidote, although I
don’t personally require one. Can hear crickets chirping—am back
in childhood scene—Summer evening—this most unusual! I’m just
getting hang of really projecting myself into past. Can dream anything,
be anywhere. Creative ecstasy. Brilliant fire bursting in vision. All
throbbing in tune with inner pulse . . . which is one with All. Electric
nerves flow from self out into cosmos. Can feel pulse of Eternity
running through body. Drug has removed barrier of ego—Reality
comes through, or is rather freed from outer restraint and pollution,
so as to be clear, transparent and vivid with light and fire. Hand is
writing furiously—feel power to leap over any impediment. (Note
added later: Handwriting at this point was actually more decisive and
well formed than normally.) Fewer to project myself in Divine creative
act. Have never before been whipped to such a frenzy of ecstatic
God-like joy and positivity. Everything is outgoing affirmation of
light and generation. Thoughts pouring out like molten lava. Body is
luminescent mass of primal substance. Oh the joy of it!
3:55: Notice have neglected to toke antidote. Hand is hollow cave
from whence issues green luminescence. Am hungry. Tremendous
physical will. See all instincts such as hunger personified as cosmic
necessities, all pert of Life. Physical symptoms: difficulty speaking,
mouth gelatinous and sticky. Perceptions as if drunk, but mind very
clear. Only have to give pencil a nudge with brain and it writes by itself.
(Note added later: I recall only moving pencil across paper, “wiggling”
it up and down. The letters formed themselves automatically in
obedience to my intention, but quite without conscious effort of a
motor sort.) Great intellectual strength (imagined?). Perhaps ability
to function normally will be impaired if I try.
I crack up every time I read these entries. “I’m GOD! For scientific reasons, I’ve decided to take an antidote. I just noticed I didn’t take it.”
Anyway, after a year’s worth of trips (8 in total) between August 1959 and October 1960, we get some concluding comments, primarily repetitions of earlier statements with poetic references.
I’ll end this section with a bit Seaich quotes from Havlock Ellis, “A large part of its charm lies in the halo of beauty which it casts around the simplest and commonest things.”
So… I started writing this on Friday morning and only finished this part of the draft at almost 8 pm est on Sunday.
That’s super not what I wanted.
But we’ll endure and roll with it. There’s a bunch of research stuff that should be ready next week.
Also, I’m finally admitting I probably have ADHD and am seeking treatment to make this newsletter a lot better.
Anyway, I liked The Far off Land. It’s wild that there’s a classic of psychedelic literature that predates anything Leary or his crew did. Nobody knew it was even available until the grandson stumbled on it almost 60 years later.
You should definitely pick up a copy. I’m kinda fascinated by the idea of the Mormonism + free masonry book, so I might have to pick that up once my freelancing recovers.
So far as I knew Freemasonry far predated Mormonism so I’m curious how Seaich would try and square that circle.
We may see. Or not.
See y’all next week.