In the mid-nineteenth century, Paschal Beverley Randolph, a black American occultist, became the largest importer of hashish into the USA before the American Civil War (1861–1865). P.B Randolph, who was in different periods of his life a spiritualist, trance medium, Rosicrucian, (unqualified) medical doctor, public school teacher, black rights activist, prolific author, publisher, and sex magician, imported hashish tincture and dawamesc/dawamesk (a preparation of hashish) from Paris and sold it to his customers at a very high price as a ‘magical’ aphrodisiac.
P. B. Randolph has been described by one of his biographer’s, John Patrick Deveney (1997:115), as the first modern, 1960s-style ‘guru,’ who through his talks and writings was the most influential person in the development of the ideas and theories behind occultism (the belief in the influence of unseen powers and entities) and Theosophy, the esoteric system of thought that emerged in the 1870s and which became very influential, not only in Europe and North America but also on the religious and political culture of India (see Lubelsky 2012). He also founded the first Rosicrucian Grand Lodge in the USA, in San Francisco, in 1861.
Randolph’s Early Life
Randolph was an illegitimate child, born in Five Points, a slum in New York City, as a free black man. His mother, who was of mixed ancestry, died of smallpox when he was young. His half-sister raised him and was so poor that he started begging on the street aged ten. Although he had some time at school, he began shining shoes and taught himself to read by deciphering billboards on the road. He then ran away to sea, working as a cabin boy until he was twenty. After he returned to the USA, he learned dyeing and barbering, the only two professions open to black people at the time (Deveney 1997:4).
Travels and Spiritualism
During his life, Randolph crossed the Atlantic three times. He traveled in Europe, spent several months in London and Paris, and visited Egypt, Palestine, Persia, Syria, and Turkey. On his travels, he learned good French and some Arabic and Turkish. From the mid-1850s to the early 1860s, Randolph met with the leading spiritualists of the time, particularly in London and Paris. He claimed to be clairvoyant and would go into a trance and be in communication with disembodied entities. He would ‘channel’ famous people, such as Zoroaster, Caesar, Mohammad, Napoleon, and Benjamin Franklyn. He was one of the first to take spiritualism to the public stage and claimed to have given 2,500 speeches while in a trance (Deveney 1997:24–32).
Those in the spiritualist movement in the USA in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in the upstate New York region, where Randolph lived for several years, were also generally supporters of the movement to abolish slavery; they also wished to reform marriage laws, believed in ‘free love, and were interested in fringe medicine, feminism, socialism, natural foods, and natural medical cures.
Randolph’s Theories about Sex
By 1854 Randolph was working in the USA as a clairvoyant physician, seeing up to fifty patients a day. His ‘cures’ included the use of magnetic devices and clairvoyant diagnosis.
However, by 1860, Randolph had rejected spiritualism and developed his own novel ideas about the true nature of ‘occult’ reality. He published numerous pamphlets and around twenty books, several of the novels, in which he expounded his theories. Several of his publications no longer survive.
One of Randolph’s significant innovations in what might be called ‘alternative medicine’ was his belief that the ancient secret of health, happiness, and magical power lies in ‘sex magic,’ which he called ‘Mahi-calinga.’ The key, according to Randolph, lies in the power of God. This can be manifested in the love between a man and a woman in the ecstatic moment of simultaneous male and female orgasms. If this is achieved, only then is it secreted a special, magnetic fluid by the sexual glands, which enables clairvoyant and mystical power, when ‘entities’ can be ‘breathed in.’ If a woman does not climax, the marriage will be unhappy, and children born of such a union will be inferior.
Masturbation is, according to Randolph, debilitating for health, and sex should not be too frequent, no more than once or twice a week. Abstinence should be practiced, as lust leads only to misery. According to Randolph, “True Sex Power is God Power” (Deveney 1997:317). We also need to keep meticulously clean, be well dressed, expose our bodies to sunlight, breathe properly, and eat a good diet. Developing the ‘will’ is also central in Randolph’s thinking; his motto was ‘Try!”.
Randolph’s Publications about Sex
Randolph’s earliest surviving work on sexual science is The Grand Secret: Physical Love in Health and Disease, published in San Francisco in 1861. However, the book Magia Sexualis, which is generally considered to be the most influential of all occult works on sex magic, was only published fifty years after his death, first in French in 1931, by the Russian occultist Maria de Naglowska, who added her own ideas—particularly on astrology—to those she had gleaned from Randolph’s writings and publications (Randolph and Naglowska 2012).
Hashish in Paris in the Nineteenth Century
As noted in another blog (The Rediscovery of Cannabis in the West: Bengal and Cairo), some of Napoleon’s troops and a few French physicians introduced hashish to France after the invasion of Egypt by France from 1798 until 1801. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was easy to purchase hashish and dawamesc (‘medicine of immortality, a preparation of hashish tincture, butter, nuts, honey, and spices) in metropolitan France. These products mainly were sent to France from North Africa by the physicians Louis-Rémy Aubert Roche and his colleague, Joseph-Bernard Gastinel.
By the 1840s, significant pharmacies in Paris were producing dozens of hashish-based medicines used to treat various ailments. Hashish could be bought for 5 francs for 10 gms, while the price of dawamesc was 1 franc for 10 gms; cut and dried Cannabis indica plants were sold for 0.90 francs for 100 gms; hashish tincture (marketed as ‘Haschischine’ and ‘Cannabine’) sold for 4 francs for 1 gm. To compare costs, a meal at that time in an average eatery in Paris cost around 2.50 francs (Guba Jr. 2021:7).
French physicians took a great interest in the effects of hashish, the most influential being Jacques Moreau de Tours, a physician in the Hôpital La Bicêtre in south Paris. He was introduced to hashish by Aubert Roche in Egypt. Moreau de Tours administered hashish to himself, his colleagues, and some of his mentally disturbed patients. His book, Du Hachisch et de l’Aliénation Mentale, published in 1845, was very influential on the medical profession in Europe and the USA. (Guba Jr. 2021:12–15).
The use of hashish became popular in metropolitan France in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in Paris. Writing in Paris in 1895, Bosc de Vèze comments (2020:v) that “[these] Oriental products [hashish and opium] [were] almost unknown to us twenty-five or thirty years ago, and today the number of people using these substances is very considerable.”
Randolph’s Magic Mirrors
Randolph endorsed two ‘secrets’ for obtaining ‘magic power,’ one being his various hashish formulas, the other being magic mirrors, or ‘Battah’ mirrors, as Randolph sometimes called them. These were various kinds of usually concave, oval mirrors, which had energetically ’empowered’ substances, such as powdered metals or ink, either sealed inside between two glass plates or in a varnish containing metals belladonna leaves, or even semen, applied to the surface. Through various concentration techniques, one being on a disc attached to the mirror, a person’s will, powers of manifestation, and clairvoyance could be enhanced, it was claimed (Randolph 1870:54–61, 81–84; Randolph and Naglowska 2012:140–148).
Randolph’s Introduction to Hashish
During his several visits to Paris, Randolph met with leading spiritualists, mediums, and others working with magnetism or Mesmerism, some of whom also used hashish. He first tried hashish in France in 1855 (Randolph 1870:30); then, he had the serenest and most beautiful vision he had ever had in Egypt. After his second trip to Europe and the Near East, he returned to the USA in 1858 with great enthusiasm for hashish as an aid to the development of clairvoyance, allowing, amongst other feats, the reading of letters inside envelopes, playing ‘blind’ chess and being able to ‘see’ maladies in the body (Deveney 1997:66–72).
From 1860, Randolph published articles on clairvoyance and hashish. He began importing hashish and hashish tincture from Paris, selling ‘secret’ formulas based on hashish, marketed variously as Phosoxygen, Phymelle, Amylle, Phosodyn, Phosogen, Protozoan, or Lucina Cordial (Deveney 1997:27–69). At least one of Randolph’s dawamesc formulas also contained opium, henbane, and belladonna. Randolph sold his elixirs for between 5 to 25 US dollars a bottle for nervous exhaustion and depleted energy, as cures for illnesses of the bladder and kidneys, for catarrh and other ailments, and as the “best aphrodisiac.” He claimed (Randolph 1870:71) to have “perfected a series of nervo-vital remedies…to cure excess or inversion of the sex instinct”.
In 1860, Randolph wrote of having only twenty-five cases left out of 350 that he had imported (Deveney 1997:68–71). (It is unclear how much hashish or hashish tincture was in each case.) Randolph also reports serving around 300 clients with his formulas. He offered to teach the secrets of his formulas for 25 dollars or the entire medical doctrine on increasing ‘vital powers’ for 100 dollars (Deveney 1997:193). In 1860, 10 US dollars was worth around 330 dollars in today’s value (Inflation Calculator 2021), so it seems that Randolph had a substantial business operation based on hashish.
Ambivalent Statements about Hashish
Despite his considerable business with hashish, Randolph nevertheless also issued a few statements against its use. For example, in Dealings with the Dead, published in 1862, he states (p. 178), that, “I have known the fullest, deepest, most intense effect of that singular drug. Nothing on earth could ever induce me to take a drachm of this accursed drug again”. In another passage, Randolph says (p. 117) that the route to knowledge is not through mesmerism or hashish, “the pestilent thing.” Deveney (p. 73) suggests that Randolph’s conflicting statements—both for and against hashish—were probably because he had become aware of the widespread belief at the time that hashish could cause madness, violence or anti-social behaviour, and did not want to appear to advocate it.
Hashish and the Occult
Randolph was a complex character, conflicted with many difficulties and paradoxes in his life. He either committed suicide or was shot—it remains uncertain—aged forty-nine, leaving behind his second wife and two children. He was a great innovator, prolific author, and pivotal in developing the ideas of occultism that originated in the late nineteenth century. Madame Blavatsky (who co-founded the Theosophical Society) borrowed ideas extensively from Randolph’s works. It is interesting that probably the three most influential occultists, namely P. B. Randolph, Madame Blavatsky, and Alistair Crowley, were all users of hashish (Deveney 1997:539, n.50; Booth 2000:183).
Booth, Martin (2000). A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley. London: Hodder and Stroughton.
Bosc de Vèze, Ernest (trans. Frater Aumgn Thelema Agape 11 [Pierre J. Surette] and Another) (2020) . The Theoretical & Practical Treaty of Hashish (of Psychic Substances and of Narcotics, as of the Medical & Medicinal Plants & the Magical Mirrors). Montreal: CancamBooks/BouquinBec [Paris: Chamuel, Éditeur].
Deveney, John Patrick (1997). Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex Magician. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Guba Jr., David A. (2021). ‘Taming the Orient: France and the first Global Movement to Medicalize Cannabis, ca. 1800–1850’. In Lucas Richert and James H. Mills (eds.), Cannabis: Global Histories, pp. 3–27. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Inflation Calculator (2021). https://www.in2013dollars.com/1860-dollars-in-2017?amount=10
Lubelsky, Isaac (trans. Yael Lotan) (2012). Celestial India: Madame Blavatsky and the Birth of Indian Nationalism. Sheffield/Oakville CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Moreau de Tours, Jacques-Joseph (1845). Du Hachisch et de l’Aliénation Mentale: Études Psychologiques. Paris: Librairie de Forten, Masson et Co.
Randolph, Paschal Beverly (2005) . Dealings with the Dead; The Human Soul, Its Migrations and Its Transmigrations. Elibron Classics [Utica, N. Y.: M. J Randolph].
——— (1870). Seership! The Magnetic Mirror (A Practical Guide to Those who Aspire to Clairvoyance-Absolute. Original and Selected from Various European and Asiatic Adepts). Boston: Randolph and Company. https://archive.org/details/seershipmagnetic00rand
Randolph, Paschal Beverly, and Maria de Naglowska (trans. and notes Donald C. Traxler) (2012) . Magia Sexualis: Sexual Practices for Magical Power. Rochester, Vermont/Toronto: Inner Traditions [Paris: Robert Télin].