[This is from a PHD dissertation by Tracy W. Tupman, M.A., The Ohio State University 2003. Hoffman later also wrote about the Rites being fuelled by psychedelics.]
Crowley began experimenting with drugs while in his early twenties. When Allan Bennett came to live with Crowley in Chancery Lane in 1899, Bennett was engaging in a cyclical routine of self-medication to combat the chronic asthma with which he was afflicted.
His cycle of life was to take opium for about a month, when the effect wore off, so that he had to inject morphine. After a month of this he had to switch to cocaine, which he took until he began to ‘see things,’ and was then reduced to chloroform. I have seen him in bed for a week, only recovering consciousness sufficiently to reach for the bottle and the sponge. Asthma being a sthenic disease, he was then too weak to have it any more, so he would gradually convalesce until, after a few weeks of freedom, the spasms would begin once more and he would be forced to renew the cycle of drugs. (Crowley, 1970:180)
Bennett was a chemist by trade, as was George Cecil Jones, the man who had introduced Crowley to the Golden Dawn. Crowley tapped into the chemical knowledge of these men as he began his pursuit of spiritual growth. His diaries from 1899 and 1900 include
references to experiments involving magical work combined with the application of various chemicals such as laudanum. Crowley was working under the theory that any methodology which might expand his consciousness was a viable means of acquiring spiritual insights. His The Psychology of Hashish, published under the name Oliver Haddo in the Equinox, 1:2 (September, 1909), was one of the first investigations of the psychological effects of that drug.
Religious experience occasionally takes the form of consciousness-alteration. Sometimes that is the result of emotional involvement, and sometimes it is the result of pharmaceuticals. It has been speculated that various forms of drugs were incorporated into the original Eleusian rituals in a deliberate attempt to acquire a religious epiphany.81 These drugs that are used for religious purposes are termed “entheogens,” meaning “the god within,” or “containing deity.” Merlin Stone, in her book When God was a Woman, makes the observation that many ancient religions, such as those found in Sumer, Crete, Greece, and pre-dynastic Egypt, incorporate snakes in their iconography. She then presents a theory that these religions used the venom produced by a snakebite to incur psycho-religious experiences. Hallucinogens were frequently involved in the religions of the Americas as well. Ethnobotanists have identified almost two hundred hallucinogenic plants which have been used by Native Americans in conjunction with religious/mystical experience. The use of these plants by paleo-American groups has been dated to before 8000 BCE (Seaman, 22).
The use of drugs to induce religious experience is not necessarily limited to so- called pagan religions. In what came to be called the Good Friday Experiment of 1962, 81 (See Wasson: 1986 and 1998.
ten theological students from Andover Newton Theological School took psilocybin, a hallucinogen extracted from mushrooms, in the basement of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel while ten others took placeboes. A Good Friday service was then conducted and the participants were interviewed in detail about their experiences. This experiment was conducted under the leadership of Harvard Psychology Professor Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (who later became known as author Ram Das), and Walter Pahnke, a physician and minister working on his PhD in religion at Harvard. The majority of those who took the drug reported having a religious experience of some type, and remained in the ministry, while only half of those who took the placeboes stayed in that profession.
Crowley’s inclusion of the “Cup of Libation” in his Rite of Artemis is supported within the text of the original Hymn to Demeter wherein Metaneira offers Demeter a cup of wine. Demeter refuses it, and requests instead a drink made of water, mint, and barley. Wasson (1986) theorizes that ergot, a common fungus on grain and also an hallucinogen, naturally appeared on the barley which was used in the recreation of the story within the rite, and contributed a psychedelic aspect to the mystery.
Critics of Crowley’s use of drugs as an aid in spiritual development claim that his visions or epiphanies are invalid because they were incited by an external, chemical stimulus rather than an internal spiritual one. This is a chicken-and-egg argument that rejects William James’ theory of truth through pragmatism: that truth can be known by its consequences.82 The critics also fail to acknowledge that Crowley’s visions were not intended to be valid for everyone. A spiritual journey is a personal one, and the experiences of one person should not be held as the measure for the experiences of another...
The next event in the sequence which led to the creation of the Rites occurred the following month. Crowley, Waddell, Neuburg and some others were gathered one evening at Crowley’s Victoria Street apartment, indulging in one of Crowley’s favorite pastimes, an anhalonium party. Anhalonium is a derivative of mescaline, a South American psychedelic drug he had first encountered while in Mexico ten years earlier. That evening Crowley suggested they attempt an artistic “dialogue” incorporating various media. The evening progressed with Crowley reading a poem, Waddell responding with a violin selection, and Neuburg dancing an interpretation of the literary or musical piece. What followed was an improvised performance which left the participants and audience alike in a state of energized enthusiasm. Crowley wrote later that he felt as though he had just taken part in a highly charged and effective ritual.
Remembering the experience with Marston in May, and not necessarily associating the elation or success with any interaction of the anhalonium, he began envisioning a public event which was both ritualistic, yet aesthetically passionate....
The Rite of Artemis attracted a capacity audience. This was not difficult, since there was space for little more than twenty people in the Equinox office, even with all the furniture removed. Upon climbing the five flights of stairs and entering the emptied apartment/office, participants were met by Neuburg and offered a “Cup of Libation.” This was a pleasant-smelling drink containing fruit juice, alcohol, and anhalonium, which is an alkaloid refined from the peyote plant. Anhalonium was legal at that time, and it was one of Crowley’s favorite indulgences for several years.86 He was introduced to its use when he traveled to Mexico in 1900, and claimed to be the person who introduced it to Europe. Ethel Archer, a contributor to the Equinox and one of the invited guests, wrote a fictionalized account of attending the Rite of Artemis in her novel The Hieroglyph (1932). In it, she wrote “The odour [sic] of the stuff was certainly not inviting, it suggested bad apples and laudanum” (Archer, 101). In this novel she fictionalized real people and events, just as Crowley often did. Crowley’s character is named Vladimir Svaroff, the alias he used when he rented his apartment in Chancery Lane with Allan Bennett.87 Victor Neuburg is Benjamin Newton,88 Svareff’s periodical The Heiroglyph is the Equinox, and the flapper who commits suicide is Joan Hayes. Ethel Archer described her reaction to the libation served that evening as being “pepped up and lively,” although “it took about a week to wear off” (Fuller 144).