The Doors of Perception


If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru’ chinks of his cavern.

William Blake

Blake is probably consciously alluding to Plato’s Cave (or cavern) which imagines a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. It is only possible to escape the chains and  perceive reality rather than mere shadows by using one’s mind as a philosopher.

Plato lived four or five centuries before the birth of Christ, so the intriguing  theoretical possibility exists that St Paul knew of this image of Plato’s and drew on it when writing to the Corinthians. But sadly, this seems rather unlikely.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Saint Paul : 1 Corinthians 13.11

Aldous Huxley wrote a book on his experiences after taking mescalin – taking his title from Blake’s phrase, The Doors of Perception.

A variety of influences have been claimed for the book. The psychedelic proselytiser, Timothy Leary, was given the book by a colleague soon after returning from Mexico where he had first taken psilocybin mushrooms in the summer of 1960. He found that The Doors of Perception corroborated what he had experienced ‘and more too’. Leary soon set up a meeting with Huxley and the two became friendly. The book can also be seen as a part of the history of entheogenic model of understanding these drugs, that sees them within a spiritual context.Looking to broader culture, Huxley’s experiment can be seen, alongside the work of other artists such as John Cage and Jackson Pollock, as proposing a model of the imagination opposite to the symbolic, representational structures that had governed Western thought for centuries. Although this new direction cannot be attributed entirely to mescaline or Huxley, it had made a strong impact on politics, art and religion.
The illustration is ‘A Human Mind – abstract composition’ by © Bruce Rolff | View Portfolio  via Shutterstock

About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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