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Aldous Huxley - The Doors of Perception (264.0 Kb)

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The Doors of Perception is a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. Mescaline is the principal agent of the psychedelic cactus peyote, which has been used in American religious ceremonies for thousands of years.The title comes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."It was in 1886 that the... More >>>
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Category 1:  Mystic and Occultism
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Author:      Aldous Huxley
Format:      eBook
The Doors of Perception is a 1954 book by Aldous Huxley detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. Mescaline is the principal agent of the psychedelic cactus peyote, which has been used in American religious ceremonies for thousands of years.

The title comes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

It was in 1886 that the German pharmacologist, Louis Lewin, published the first systematic study of the cactus, to which his own name was subsequently given. Anhalonium lewinii was new to science. To primitive religion and the Indians of Mexico and the American Southwest it was a friend of immemorially long standing. Indeed, it was much more than a friend. In the words of one of the early Spanish visitors to the New World, "they eat a root which they call peyote, and which they venerate as though it were a deity."

Why they should have venerated it as a deity became apparent when such eminent psychologists as Jaensch, Havelock Ellis and Weir Mitchell began their experiments with mescalin, the active principle of peyote. True, they stopped short at a point well this side of idolatry but all concurred in assigning to mescalin a position among drugs of unique distinction. Administered in suitable doses, it changes the quality of consciousness more profoundly and yet is less toxic than any other substance in the pharmacologist's repertory.

The book takes the form of Huxley's recollection of a mescaline trip which took place over the course of an afternoon. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, which range from the "purely aesthetic" to "sacramental vision", he also incorporates later reflections on the experience and its meaning for art and religion.


After a brief overview of research into mescaline, Huxley recounts that he was given 4/10 of a gram at 11.00 am one day in May 1953. Huxley writes that he hoped to gain insight into extraordinary states of mind and expected to see brightly-colored visionary landscapes. When he only sees lights and shapes, he puts this down to being a bad visualiser, however, he experiences a great change in the external world.

By 12.30, a vase of flowers becomes the "miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence". The experience, he asserts, is neither agreeable nor disagreeable, but simply "is". He likens it to Meister Eckhart's 'istigheit' or 'is-ness', and Plato's 'Being' but not separated from 'Becoming'. He feels he understands the Hindu concept of Satchitananda, as well as the Zen koan that 'the dharma body of the Buddha is in the hedge' and Buddhist suchness. In this state, Huxley explains he didn't have an 'I', but instead a 'not-I'. Meaning and existence, pattern and colour become more significant than spatial relationships and time. Duration is replaced by a perpetual present.

Reflecting on the experience afterwards, Huxley finds himself in agreement with philosopher C.D. Broad that to enable us to live, the brain and nervous system eliminates unessential information from the totality of the Mind at Large.

In summary, Huxley writes that the ability to think straight is not reduced on mescaline, visual impressions are intensified, and the human will see no reason for action because the experience is so fascinating.

Temporarily leaving the chronological flow, he mentions that four or five hours into the experience he was taken to the World's Biggest Drug Store (WBDS) where he was presented with books on art. In one book, the dress in Botticelli's Judith provokes a reflection on drapery as a major artistic theme as it allows painters to include the abstract in representational art, to create mood, and also to represent the mystery of pure being. Huxley feels that human affairs are somewhat irrelevant whilst on mescaline and attempts to shed light on this by reflecting on paintings featuring people. CA(C)zanne's Self portrait with a straw hat seems to him as incredibly pretentious, while Vermeer's human still lives (also, the Le Nain Brothers and Vuillard) are the nearest to reflecting this not-self state.

For Huxley, the reconciliation of these cleansed perceptions with humanity reflects the age old debate between active and contemplative life, known as the way of Martha and the way of Mary. As Huxley believes that contemplation should also include action and charity, he concludes that the experience represents contemplation at its height, but not its fullness. Correct behaviour and alertness are needed. Nonetheless, Huxley maintains that even quietistic contemplation has an ethical value, because it is concerned with negative virtues and acts to channel the transcendent into the world.

fter listening to Mozart's C- Minor Piano Concerto, Gesualdo's madrigals and Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, Huxley heads into the garden. Outside, the garden chairs take on such an immense intensity that he fears being overwhelmed this gives him an insight into madness. He reflects that spiritual literature, including the works of Jacob Boehme, William Law and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, talk of these pains and terrors. Huxley speculates that schizophrenia is the inability to escape from this reality into the world of common sense and thus help would be essential.

After lunch and the drive to the WBDS he returns home and to his ordinary state of mind. His final insight is taken from Buddhist scripture: that within sameness there is difference, although that difference is not different from sameness.

The book finishes with Huxley's final reflections on the meaning of his experience. Firstly, the urge to transcend one's self is universal through times and cultures (and was characterized by H.G. Wells as The Door in the Wall). He reasons that better, healthier 'doors' are needed than alcohol and tobacco. Mescaline has the advantage of not provoking violence in takers, but its effects last an inconveniently long time and some users can have negative reactions. Ideally, self-transcendence would be found in religion, but Huxley feels that it is unlikely that this will ever happen. Christianity and mescaline seem well-suited the Native American Church for instance uses the drug, where its use combines religious feeling with decorum.

Huxley concludes that mescaline is not enlightenment or the Beatific Vision, but a 'gratuitous grace' (a term taken from St Thomas Aquinasa Summa Theologica). It is not necessary but helpful, especially so for the intellectual, who can become the victim of words and symbols. Although systematic reasoning is important, direct perception has intrinsic value too. Finally, Huxley maintains that the person who has this experience will be transformed for the better.


About Author:

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), English novelist and critic, best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World (1931). Besides novels he published travel books, histories, poems, plays, and essays on philosophy, arts, sociology, religion and morals.

Aldous Huxley was born in Godalming, Surrey on July 26, 1894, into a well-to-do upper-middle-class family. His father, Leonard Huxley, was a biographer, editor, and poet. He first studied at Eton College, Berkshire (1908-13). When Huxley was fourteen his mother died. At the age of 16 Huxley suffered an attack of keratitis punctata and became for a period of about 18 months totally blind. By using special glasses and one eye recovered sufficiently he was able to read and he also learned Braille. Despite a condition of near-blindness, Huxley continued his studies at Balliol College, Oxford (1913-15), receiving his B.A. in English in 1916. Unable to pursue his chosen career as a scientist - or fight in World War on the front - Huxley turned to writing. His first collection of poetry appeared in 1916 and two more volumes followed by 1920.

Huxley's first novel, Crome Yellow (1921), a witty criticism of society, appeared in 1921. Huxley's style, a combination of brilliant dialogue, cynicism, and social criticism, made him one of the most fashionable literary figures of the decade. In eight years he published a dozen books, among them Point Counter Point (1928) and Do What You Will (1929).

During the 1920s Huxley formed a close friendship with D.H. Lawrence with whom he traveled in Italy and France. For most of the 1920s Huxley lived in Italy. In the 1930s he moved to Sanary, near Toulon, where he wrote Brave New World, a dark vision of a highly technological society of the future. In the1930s Huxley was deeply concerned with the Peace Pledge Union. He moved in 1937 with the guru-figure Gerald Heard to the United States, believing that the Californian climate would help his eyesight, a constant burden. After this turning point in his life, Huxley abandoned pure fictional writing and chose the essay as the vehicle for expressing his ideas.

Brave New World Revisited appeared in 1958. Huxley's other later works include The Devils Of Loudon (1952), depicting mass-hysteria and exorcism in the 17th-century France. Island (1962) was an utopian novel and a return to the territory of Brave New World, in which a journalist shipwrecks on Pala, the fabled island, and discovers there a kind and happy people. But the earthly paradise is not immune to the harsh realities of oil policy. In 1963 appeared Literature And Science, a collection of essays.

In 1954 Huxley published an influential study of consciousness expansion through mescaline, The Doors Of Perception and became later a guru among Californian hippies. He also started to use LSD and showed interest in Hindu philosophy. In 1961 Huxley suffered a severe loss when his house and his papers were totally destroyed in a bush-fire. Huxley died in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963.