controlled hoffmann borate

Albert Hoffman, the Swiss bourgeois gentleman who had discovered LSD in 1943 while investigating derivatives of ergot, a fungus that occurs on wheat, could not have imagined the cultural consequences of his discovery. Sandoz, the firm that employed Hoffman, were interested in the possible medical or scientific uses of the new pharmakon, hoping that it might produce short-term psychoses that could be studied in the laboratory. In the early 1960s, Mervyn Saxe, a friend of Lesley’s from the Clifton days, was the Sandoz representative in Cape Town; he went around with a vast quantity of the as-yet uncontrolled substance, trying to interest psychiatrists and clinical researchers in its properties, suggesting that these might be useful to the scientific and medical project. But it turned out that LSD, far from promoting a scientific attitude, often gave its users a simulacrum of mystical experience, setting them, however briefly, outside the fence of consensus consciousness, and thus perhaps of regular society. By the time that Mervyn was occupied in this way, Lesley had already left for the Eastern Transvaal, where the most popular non-medical drugs were alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.

morning gloryShe told me years later that around 1967, she and Anton had collected a large quantity of morning glory seeds, which were thought to contain LSD, intending to eat some and find out what the fuss was all about. But, at the last minute, unlike some of Mervyn’s friends, clients and acquaintances, they decided not to. At around this time, LSD was declared a Schedule Three drug in South Africa and its use so tightly controlled as to drive it underground, where its irresponsible consumption flourished.

Indian mysticism, like alchemy, absorbed into its lexicon terms and concepts from goldsmithing, and thus the purification of gold by the removal of dross and slag has become one of many metaphors for the purification of the soul. Goldsmiths use borax (hydrated sodium tetraborate) as a flux and solvent in the melting process. This mineral, when molten, forms a glaze that dissolves unwanted metal oxides and other impurities. Without it, oxides build up in the melt and the metal becomes impure and unworkable. Beyond metal, flame and crucible, borax is necessary. Thus it becomes a metaphor for a spiritual switch or trigger, some necessary condition without which the soul cannot find the desired transformation.

The Sanskrit word for borax, rasayoni, derives partly from the complex word rasa, the sense of which runs somewhat parallel to that of pharmakon. Rasa means, among other things: the sap or juice of plants; fruit juice; any liquid or fluid; the best or finest or prime part of anything; essence; marrow; water; liquor; drink; sugar-cane juice; syrup; any mixture, draught, elixir or potion; melted butter; milk; poison; nectar; soup or broth; body fluids; serum; mercury or quicksilver (sometimes regarded as a kind of quintessence of the human body); the seminal fluid of Siva; semen; myrrh; any mineral or metallic salt; a metal or mineral in a state of fusion; gold; green onion; resin; taste; flavour; any object of taste, condiment, sauce, spice or seasoning, the tongue; taste or inclination or fondness for; love; affection; desire; charm, pleasure and delight; the taste or character of a work, its prevailing sentiment; paternal fondness; the prevailing sentiment in human character; the disposition of the heart or mind; and religious sentiment. Thus rasayoni is the elixir for the crucible (yoni) and it is what enables the transformation and purification of the metal, and metaphorically of the inner being. The guru’s word or logos is likened to rasayoni.

The episode with the morning glory seeds suggests that Lesley and Anton were seeking a transforming agent, something to ‘turn them on’, to add juice, sauce, love and charm to their lives. But neither were to find their borax in the rasa of psychedelics, as others were doing elsewhere.


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