High Priest

by Timothy Leary
   Timothy Leary’s legendary High Priest is an important chronicle as a guide to the psilocybin-and-LSD guru’s philosophical and scientific thinking about the psychedelic experience. Reading alternately like a sacred text, a half-finished textbook, and a memoir of the early 1960s, the book is a classic of counterculture and drug literature as well as providing a bridge between the Beats and the later radicals of the psychedelic revolution. High Priest essentially documents 16 trips that are complete with various “guides,” an I Ching reading to open each chapter, and numerous marginalia to expand further on the experiences described therein. “Guides” with whom Leary works at various points in the book include allen ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, charles olson, and Aldous Huxley, and included alongside the narration are quotes from magazines articles, short thoughts by Leary, and excerpts from other related books. Leary’s purpose for compiling the book was essentially to capture the mystical, quasi-religious, deeply subjective, experiential, and irrational world of psychedelics, and perhaps more importantly, to expand upon their beneficial use in social, psychological, rehabilitative, and spiritual ways. Leary, who coined the phrase “tune in, turn on, drop out” and who was a hugely influential voice in the counterculture move to question all authority, essentially saw psilocybin, LSD, and psychedelic culture as directly opposed to the culture of control that he saw in most power structures. In High Priest he writes, “Everyone who isn’t tripping himself because he’s too scared or tired is going to resent our doing it[;] . . . the essence of ecstasy and the essence of religion and the essence of orgasm (and they’re all pretty much the same) is that you give up power and swing with it. And the cats who don’t do that end up with the power and they use it to punish the innocent and happy. And they’ll try to make us look bad and feel bad.”
   High Priest goes on to document Leary’s theories of a natural order to psychedelic discovery, like a rebirth experience “where you come back as a man.” The book’s first two trips/stories set the tone for this, chronicling first a nonchemical death/rebirth that he felt he had undergone during a physical illness and then the story of his discovery of psychedelic mushrooms in Mexico. The sixth trip features Ginsberg—first walking around naked with Peter Orlovsky and then telephoning jack kerouac—and introduces the idea of “turning on” the world, the plan for the psychedelic movement. Following several philosophical or scientific trips (particularly the seventh and ninth, which spotlight, respectively, how the irrational, religious experience of psychedelics are at odds with rational thinking and the potential benefits of psychedelic therapy for incarcerated prisoners), Burroughs makes an appearance. Initially Burroughs seems to embody the theory that every person comes from a slightly different evolutionary, “tribal” level of thinking; however, in the end, Burroughs removes himself from the experiments and openly disapproves of how Leary and his followers handle the mushroom therapy in which they are engaged. Burroughs would later call Leary “[a] true visionary of the potential of the human mind and spirit.” The following trip features the famous image of Michael Hollingshead’s mayonnaise jar of LSD and describes how Leary (taking here his first hits of the drug) was forever changed. Ultimately High Priest serves as an important link to the very earliest days of psychedelic culture and a philosophical guidebook to experimentation within it, as well as providing a fascinating chronicle of a hugely important moment in the history of the American counterculture.
   Chuck Carlise

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • High Priest —     The High Priest     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The High Priest     The high priest in the Old Testament is called by various names:     ♦ the priest (Num., iii, 6);     ♦ the great priest (Lev., xxi, 10);     ♦ the head priest (IV Kings, xxv,… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • HIGH PRIEST — (Heb. הַ)כּהֵן הָדֹאשׁ ,הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל ,הַכֹּהֵן), the priest at the head of the priestly affairs. In pre Exilic times the common appellation for the chief priest of a community was the priest (Heb. ha Kohen; e.g., I Sam. 14:19, 36; 21:2–10) …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • high priest — high′ priest′ n. 1) rel a chief priest 2) jud Judaism. (from Aaronic times to about the 1st century a.d.) the priest ranking above all other priests and the only one permitted to enter the holy of holies 3) a person in a high position of power or …   From formal English to slang

  • high priest — n 1.) informal someone who is famous for being the best at a type of art, music etc, and whose ideas or work change the way that other people think about and make art, music etc high priest of ▪ the high priest of modern jazz 2.) the most… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • High priest — High High, a. [Compar. {Higher}; superl. {Highest}.] [OE. high, hegh, hey, heh, AS. he[ a]h, h?h; akin to OS. h?h, OFries. hag, hach, D. hoog, OHG. h?h, G. hoch, Icel. h?r, Sw. h[ o]g, Dan. h[ o]i, Goth. hauhs, and to Icel. haugr mound, G. h[… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • High priest — (Eccl.) A chief priest; esp., the head of the Jewish priesthood. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • high priest — noun count 1. ) the most important or powerful priest 2. ) MAINLY JOURNALISM the man who has the most experience or knowledge about something: the high priest of self help …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • high priest — n. [ME heyge prest] 1. a chief priest; specif., the chief priest of the ancient Jewish priesthood 2. a person, esp. a man, who is a chief exponent of a philosophy, movement, etc. or an acknowledged leader in some field high priesthood n …   English World dictionary

  • high priest — high priests N COUNT: usu N of n If you call a man the high priest of a particular thing, you are saying in a slightly mocking way that he is considered by people to be expert in that thing. ...the high priest of cheap periodical fiction …   English dictionary

  • high priest — ► NOUN 1) a chief priest of a non Christian religion, especially of historic Judaism. 2) (also high priestess) the leader of a cult or movement …   English terms dictionary

  • High priest — The term high priest may refer to an individual who holds the office of ruler priest, or may refer to the head of a religious caste. * In ancient Egypt, a high priest was the chief priest of any of the many gods revered by the Egyptians. * In… …   Wikipedia

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