In 1961, a mysterious Englishman surfaced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, equipped with a mayonnaise jar full of LSD-infused sugar paste. The 16-ounce jar, safely stored in Michael Hollingshead’s luggage, was rumored to contain no less than 5,000 potential trips. After befriending Timothy Leary, Hollingshead promptly moved into his attic and proceeded to take the Harvard psychologist on his first LSD trip in December 1961.
After turning Leary on, Hollingshead became an active participant in many of the ur-moments of psychedelic culture, such as the Concord Prison Project of 1961–’63 (where Leary used psilocybin and psychotherapy to reduce recidivism), the Good Friday Experiment of 1962 (where volunteers from Harvard’s Divinity School explored the spiritual properties of psilocybin), and the Millbrook commune Leary established in Upstate New York in 1963. Upon returning to London in 1965, Hollingshead became a founding member of the World Psychedelic Center (WPC), which was devoted to disseminating psychedelic literature and “turning on” intellectuals, writers, artists, and pop stars, including Donovan, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger. After the London police raided the WPC and found some cannabis that Hollingshead had failed to flush down the toilet, the psychedelic proselytizer was given a sentence of 21 months in Wormwood Scrubs. Upon release, the peripatetic Englishman, like many other hippies, eventually made the journey to Kathmandu, where he experienced samadhi when Gyalwa Karmapa, a Buddhist monk, gently touched his forehead while he was tripping on LSD. “I felt utterly and completely cleansed,” he wrote, “as though the divine thunderbolt had gone through me like a million volt charge.”
Andy Roberts’s provocative new biography of Hollingshead, Divine Rascal, suggests that there is something seriously wrong with this standard history. Roberts uncovers the fact that Hollingshead was not simply a benevolent trickster who turned people on with his beloved mayonnaise jar; he also possessed a dark side — one that does not appear in the various historical accounts of the psychedelic movement. In Divine Rascal, Roberts, an eminent historian of British psychedelic culture (e.g., Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain ), views Hollingshead with sober eyes.
The romantic myth of Hollingshead was created when he published his psychedelic memoir, The Man Who Turned on the World, in 1973.