The Secret Chief - Tribute by Ann Shulgin

Table of Contents | Prologue | Tribute | Foreword | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Epilogue | Appendix I | Appendix II | Acknowledgements

Tribute to Jacob

I FIRST MET JACOB, the man who is the subject of The Secret Chief - I called him Adam Fisher in PIHKAL - in the early 1980s, shortly after I met Sasha Shulgin. One of the great stories I heard from Sasha was about this wonderful psychologist who had - for many years - been guiding certain carefully selected clients through psychedelic sessions. In the early 1970s, this elderly gentleman decided to retire from his regular clinical practice. A chemist friend of Sasha's had, at that time, just rediscovered a drug which had been sitting on a German chemical company shelf, so to speak, since its synthesis in 1912. She had tried it and reported interesting effects to Sasha, who went into his own lab and made the drug, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine - known as MDMA - and tried the result in himself. He called Jacob and told him there was a new drug that might be of interest to him, and shortly afterwards, took it over to Jacob's little apartment.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Jacob postponed his retirement, completely enraptured by the effects of MDMA on himself and his patients. Over the next few years, he traveled around the country, quietly training groups of therapists in the use of MDMA in psychotherapy. He occasionally went to Europe to continue this work among European psychologists and psychiatrists. He always insisted that any therapist who intended to make use of this magic drug had to try it in himself first. That has been the rule ever since, whenever healers wish to make use of either MDMA - which is not a psychedelic drug - or any of the true psychedelics in their therapy. The therapists must know the effects of any such drugs in themselves, before giving them to anyone else.

At his memorial, I asked one of his oldest friends whether she had any idea as to how many people Jacob might have initiated over the years in the use of psychedelics, and she replied, "Oh, I would guess about four thousand, give or take a few." Rather extraordinary, for a man in his seventies!

Jacob himself, when I knew him, was everybody's idea of what a grandfather should be. His thinning hair was silvery white. He had a slightly rounded face, and the years had etched into it indelible proof of kindness and humor. One look, and you would instantly trust him to listen and empathize. He was quite capable of anger and stern judgment, but these were reserved for very few people. Malice disturbed him - as it does most of us - but the only time I heard him speak with absolute disgust was when he explained the meaning of what he called the "bear-trapper." That was his term for borderline personality. I suspect he'd been badly burned by at least one, in his career as a clinical psychologist.

When I was very young, first hearing and reading about psychology, the worst possible diagnosis used to be something called "inadequate personality." Many of us would have preferred to be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic! At least, there could be a smidgen of tragic drama attached to paranoia and/or schizophrenia, but to be thought of as an "inadequate personality?" Total horror. These days, the most dreaded diagnosis (speaking of non-violent, non-psychotic patients) is "borderline," and Jacob used the term, "bear-trapper," because, as he explained it, such patients usually try to draw their therapists into their own world, instead of using whatever help the therapist offers. Their goal, as he saw it, is not to gain health, but to seduce the therapist into keeping them company in their state of sickness. They are highly manipulative and, if confronted directly, can become vengeful and destructive. When I first met Jacob, I had not yet begun to do my own work as a psychedelic therapist, and didn't fully understand what he meant by "bear-trapper." I believe that the official definition of such a hapless soul is something like, "Help-refusing complainer," which covers a lot of ground in a very few words. Not too many years later, I began learning how to do therapy with MDMA and psychedelics, and ran into two examples of what Jacob had warned me about. As a result, I finally understood my dear friend's allergy to such people, although I was never sufficiently burned, myself, to develop the kind of anger Jacob had expressed towards them.

Jacob was not a brilliant genius, but he was one of the people from whom I learned most about what is called "wisdom," because that is what he had. He could take a situation which would ordinarily cause high frustration or anxiety in anybody else, and turn it into a wonderfully palatable spiritual lesson, seasoned with great humor and joy.

When you asked Jacob a meaningful question, his answer tended to give you the maximum amount of useful information in the least number of words. And he had learned not to be defensive about making mistakes. In fact, I never saw Jacob being defensive about anything; he was at peace with himself and comfortable with who he was, which is certainly one of the definitions of a good healer.

I described, in PIHKAL, Jacob's role in helping me through a strange and extraordinary week of consciousness change which happened many years ago. It was his words, "What you're going through is a process. All you have to do is not get in its way," that gave me my bearings and enabled me to regard the entire experience as a chance to learn and grow, which is exactly what it became.

The strangest thing about Jacob, for many of us, was the fact that, as a young man, he had been in the United States Army and loved it. He was amused by the bewilderment of so many of his friends, who couldn't quite understand how a deeply committed psychedelic guide and therapist could regard past duty in the military as a productive and enjoyable experience. Most of us eventually realized that the problem was in our own prejudices and projections, not in Jacob's validation of both worlds. I asked him once whether he thought there was any hope for survival of our species, considering the apparent determination of so many of us to poison our environment and destroy each other. He turned to me, smiling, "I think we'll make it. Humanity has a funny way of turning itself around when it has to. Maybe not all of us will survive, but I have no doubt at all that our species will. It's happened many times before; it will again."

We miss Jacob. That old cliché, "It is a privilege to have known him," is absolutely appropriate, for Sasha and me and for all of his friends. The only thing I can't forgive him for is that he left this plane, this reality that he shared with us, without my knowing in time. I wasn't there, by his bedside, and it still grieves me when I think about it. One of these days, one of these years, I will be able to give him permission - from my heart - to go, but I haven't been able to do it yet.

Ann Shulgin
Lafayette, California

Table of Contents | Prologue | Tribute | Foreword | Introduction | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3
Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Epilogue | Appendix I | Appendix II | Acknowledgements