BY HENRIK DAHL
Whenever Sweden is discussed in books, the media or in conversation, very rarely is anything said of its psychedelic culture. Yet if one takes a deeper look one will actually find a mycelium of scientists, artists, writers, hippies and freethinkers who were at some point shaped by psychedelics. What follows here is the story of these often captivating characters and their activities.
It is presumable that most people outside of Sweden only think of successful exports such as IKEA, ABBA and Ingmar Bergman when the country is mentioned. However, there is more to Sweden than mass-produced furniture, pop music and a legendary filmmaker. Considerably less well-known is the history of Swedish psychedelia, and this text is an attempt at portraying this subculture.
Before looking at culture though, let’s start with nature itself: The Swedish flora consists of several psychoactive mushrooms and plants. The fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) often grows in abundance in the Swedish woods, and the royal fly agaric, also known as the king of Sweden Amanita (Amanita regalis), is common in many parts of the country. In addition, the liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) can be found growing in meadows and lawns. When it comes to plants, species belonging to the Solanaceae family, commonly known as nightshades, may be encountered in the wild. The plant encyclopedia Den nordiska floran (lit. “the Nordic flora”) lists black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), henbane bell (Scopolia carniolica), Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and belladona (Atropa belladonna). Hemp plants (Cannabaceae) are also part of the Swedish landscape, and even though it is rarely seen, Cannabis sativa may be found growing in railway yards, in harbours and in abandoned places.
To what extent these mushrooms and plants have been used for the purpose of intoxication over the course of history in Sweden is very hard to establish. As for pre-Christian life in Scandinavia, very little is known when it comes to the use of psychoactives. It is generally believed that the Solanacea plants where used for their psychoactive properties by pagans, and archaeological findings have revealed links between plant drugs and Norse paganism. The graves of völvas (seeresses) found in Fyrkat, Denmark and at the Oseberg ship burial in Norway contained seeds of henbane and cannabis, respectively. These findings indicate that the Völvas, who engaged in a shamanic divination ritual called seidr, were using these psychoactives themselves. Or did the seeds found by the archaeologists have other meanings? Either way, the seeds were important enough to be placed in graves, suggesting their properties had great value.
The embryonic days of the history of Swedish psychedelia consist of several anecdotal yet important events that took place from the eighteenth century and onwards. They may seem like minor occurrences, but they are nevertheless part of the somewhat scattered collage that constitutes Swedish psychedelic culture.
The early characters in this story may be described as “observers” rather than psychonauts. The first known example of a Swede to encounter psychedelics during this era was Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, an officer and geographer who made important contributions to the cartography of Russia. In 1709, Strahlenberg was captured by Russian forces during the Battle of Poltava. He became a prisoner of war and was sent to Tobolk where he came in contact with its indigenous peoples. In 1730, Strahlenberg returned to Stockholm and published An Historico-Geographical Description of the North and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia. Originally written in German, the book contains descriptions of Siberians consuming tea made from the fly agaric during shamanic rituals. Clearly, Strahlenberg’s observations play an important role in the history of the magic mushroom.
In 1753, Linnaeus included the fly agaric, arguably the most visually iconic of all psychedelic fungi, in his Species Plantarum Vol. 2.
Interestingly, it was another Swede, Carl Linnaeus, who first described the fly agaric. Linnaeus, a botanist, physician and zoologist known as the founder of modern taxonomy, classified thousands of plants and animals during his lifetime. In 1753, Linnaeus included the fly agaric, arguably the most visually iconic of all psychedelic fungi, in his Species Plantarum Vol. 2. The botanist, writing in Latin, named it Agaricus muscarius. (It was later renamed Amanita muscaria by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.) Linneaus also described and named the aforementioned Hyoscyamus niger, Scopolia carniolica, Datura stramonium, Atropa belladonna and Cannabis sativa.
The previously mentioned royal fly agaric resembles the fruit body of the fly agaric. The former was first described as Agaricus muscarius β regalis by the acclaimed Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries in his Systema Mycologicum (1821). Fries also described another psychedelic mushroom: the liberty cap. In his 1838 book Epicrisis Systematis Mycologici, the mycologist named the species Agaricus Semilanceatus. However, in 1871, German minister, teacher and scientist Paul Kummer transferred it to the genus Psilocybe, hence its current name, Psilocybe semilanceata.
Let us now now fast-forward to the 1930s and the work of Swedish anthropologist Henry Wassén. Unlike the psychoactives encountered by the early Swedish observers, the ones studied by Wassén were not found growing in Nordic countries. Instead, they belonged to the South and Central American flora. In 1936, almost a hundred years after Elias Magnus Fries described the liberty cap, Wassén’s essay Some Observations on South-American Arrow Poisons and Narcotics was published in Etnografiska Studier 3 (Ethnological Studies 3). Co-written with pharmacologist C G Santesson of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the piece discusses psychedelics such as Datura and ayahuasca.
In 1937, ethnobotanist Blas Pablo Reko sent Wassén a package from Mexico containing morning glory seeds (Ipomoea violacea), as well as a fragment of the mysterious mushroom teonanácatl. According to Terence McKenna, the sample was “the first specimen of a psilocybin-containing mushroom to be brought to scientific attention.” Unfortunately, it was too decomposed to be identified, and Wassén eventually sent the samples to Harvard University. There they reached ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes who believed the mushroom could be the one described by the Spanish chroniclers.
By the mid-1960s Wassén was still actively researching and writing about psychedelics. For instance, his 1965 essay The Use of Some Specific kinds of South American Indian Snuff and Related Paraphernalia, published in Etnologiska Studier 28 (Ethnological Studies 28), discusses mixtures such as epena, ayahuasca and yopo. Two years later, at the height of the hippie movement, Wassén attended a conference on ethnobotany in San Francisco. In connection with the conference the book Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Plants was published. Alongside Wassén and others, the book also features the writings of banker and amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson. Although one can assume that very few of today’s psychedelicists have actually read it, the late psychedelic researcher Patrick Lundborg described the book as a “cornerstone in the psychedelic library.” Incidentally, the anthology was co-edited by Swedish toxicologist Bo Holmstedt of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Apart from co-editing the book, Holmstedt was also one of the co-arrangers of the conference.
Another Swedish scientist who studied psychedelics among indigenous peoples was Åke Hultkrantz, a professor of religion at Stockholm University. Starting in 1948, Hultkrantz, an expert on indigenous peoples of North America, conducted fieldwork among the Wind River Shoshoni at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, USA. While at the reservation, he studied a then recent phenomenon: the ritual use of peyote. Instead of calling it a “peyote cult” though, as many scientists did, Hultkrantz referred to it as a peyote religion. His 1977 book The Attraction of Peyote: An Inquiry into the Basic Conditions for the Diffusion of the Peyote Religion in North America is an attempt to find out why the use of the cactus spread so quickly over such a wide area.
During his fieldwork with the Shoshoni, Hultkranz participated in peyote rituals where he also took the plant drug himself. At the end of his career, the scientist spoke more freely of these experiences, and during lectures and interviews he described his own peyote visions. According to Henrik Persson of the association and journal Fjärde Världen (lit. “the fourth world”), in later life Hultkrantz appeared to believe that the spirit world of the indigenous peoples of North America actually exists.
While the psychedelic research of both Hultkrantz and Wassén had an ethnographic perspective, the position of Swedish psychologist Björn Netz was of a military nature. During the second half of the 1960s, Netz, incidentally also a jazz musician, was an assistant military psychologist at Militärpsykologiska institutet (lit. “the department of military psychology”), MPI, in Stockholm, where he conducted LSD research as part of Projekt E 012. Fearing that the psychoactive would be used during war against Swedish soldiers, MPI wanted to learn more of LSD’s effects. Netz’s research resulted in a handful of scientific reports and newspaper articles. Interestingly, the psychologist also took LSD himself and in a 1968 report he refers to personal positive psychedelic experiences.
As in most western countries, the hippie movement –mainly fuelled by cannabis and LSD – reached Sweden in the mid- to late-1960s. Before this period, references to psychoactives were very rare in popular culture. An exception is found in the 1961 novel Änglar blåser hårt (lit. “angels play hard”) by Swedish Beat writer Sture Dahlström, where “Huxley’s cactus thing” is briefly mentioned. Since the British author’s essay The Doors of Perception was published in Swedish already in 1954 by Wahlström & Widstrand, one can assume Dahlström had read it before writing his novel. Apart from mentioning mescaline, Dahlström’s book includes a short description of marijuana intoxication, presumably one of the earliest in Swedish fiction literature.
When it comes to the psychedelics used in Sweden during the hippie era, at least a portion of them came from people passing through, or had moved to, the country. From 1967 and onwards, American deserters and draft resisters came to Sweden to seek asylum. By the autumn of 1970 there were 400 to 500 of these young men in Sweden, most of them in Stockholm or Malmö. According to a 1970 article published in The New York Times, about a dozen had ended up in Swedish prisons for selling drugs, “usually LSD or methedrine.”
Psychedelic culture in USA and Great Britain during the 1960s was strongly linked to music, and numerous musicians made records that could be categorised with the prefix “psych”. In America, groups such as The Grateful Dead, The 13th Floor Elevators and Country Joe & The Fish were clearly shaped by the psychedelic experience, and so were British groups such as Pink Floyd, The Incredible String Band and, of course, The Beatles.
In Sweden though, this was not the case. Instead of a vibrant psych-rock scene, the country saw a strong focus on psychedelic art, and, evidently, many artists were drawing inspiration from the psychedelic experience. An obvious example is Sture Johannesson whose art would be unthinkable without psychedelics. In equal parts humorous and provocative, Johannesson’s Psychedelic Manifesto, originally published in his native language in 1967 in Swedish magazine Ord & Bild (lit. “word & image”), lists four psychoactive drugs which the artist believes are of great importance to the cultural worker: LSD, mescaline, psilocybin and hashish. According to Johannesson, “The cultural worker’s most important task in the future is to spread information about these matters. Psychedelic drugs mean freedom, equality and brotherhood.” Always the provocateur, Johannesson goes on stating that, “One should sell hashish, not oil paintings or theatre tickets.”
Together with his wife Charlotte Johannesson, also an artist, Sture Johannesson also ran Galleri Cannabis in Malmö, Sweden. Initially started as a studio for Charlotte in 1966, it later became an exhibition space. Besides exhibiting art, the gallery, which incidentally was decorated with cannabis plants in the window, sold posters and magazines such as the underground newspapers International Times and Puss (lit. “kiss”), the latter a periodical founded by a group of Stockholm based artists. Even though Galleri Cannabis was, presumably, mostly frequented by Swedes, it was once visited by Jorma Kaukunen of The Jefferson Airplane. In 2010, the gallery was revived during the exhibition A History of Irritated Material shown at the London based contemporary art centre Raven Row.
Needless to say, Johannesson has been deemed highly controversial during most of his career. A true anarchist, the artist repeatedly upset the Swedish authorities. In 1969, Johannesson’s scheduled exhibition Underground at Lunds konsthall was stopped because it included his poster Revolution Means Revolutionary Consciousness (commonly known as “The Hash Girl”). The poster, which shows a nude woman smoking a hash pipe, was considered drug propaganda. Furthermore, Johanesson’s 2004 exhibition Counterclockwise Circumambulation, also at Lunds konsthall, made the news when the exhibited industrial hemp plants were confiscated by the police.
Another artist who draw inspiration from psychedelics was Öyvind Fahlström. Of his artworks, ESSO-LSD is perhaps the most interesting in the context of this essay. Made in 1967, it is composed of two similar looking plastic signs replicating the logotype of oil company Esso. However, on one of the signs the company name is replaced with the word “LSD”. Apart from making art, Fahlström was also pursuing journalism, as exemplified by the article Om LSD och cannabis (lit. “about LSD and cannabis”), co-written with the aforementioned psychologist Björn Netz. Published in 1967 in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter (lit. “today’s news”), the piece has a serious and academic tone, but is still clearly positive towards LSD.
Like Sture Johannesson, Öyvind Fahlström also had a provocative side. This is best exemplified by his appearance on the hugely popular Swedish talk show Hylands Hörna (lit. “Hyland’s corner”), aired on national TV, where the artist lit a pipe of hash. Naturally, Fahlström made Swedish TV history.
A somewhat lesser known artist was Hans Esselius, whose 1969 poster Real High mixes references to psychedelics with a delirious war scene. The poster depicts a soldier wearing a gas mask, and shooting through the sky behind him are missiles featuring the words “LSD GAS”. The upper part of the poster includes the phrase, “Baby, you can get real high in the new war! So join the army tomorrow!” Using the alias “Herr Esse”, Esselius also created the self-published yet well-drawn psychedelic comic Proffessor Hoffmans promenader (lit. “professor Hoffman’s walks”) in the early 1970s. Although differently spelled, the name of the main character is of course a reference to Dr. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD. (Intentionally or not, the name of the comic also has the word “professor” misspelled.)
Even though Swedish psychedelia during the 1960s and early 1970s is more linked to visual art than to music, there did exist a small psychedelic music scene in Sweden. The scene came together at Klubb Filips on Regeringsgatan 27-29 in Stockholm. Opened in August 1967, Klubb Filips had a psychedelic profile with light shows and incense. Groups and artists that played during the short time it was open include Pärson Sound, Baby Grandmothers and jazz musician Don Cherry. The club’s highlight is said to have been when Swedish instrumental duo Hansson & Karlsson was jamming with Jimi Hendrix.
Seeing that Klubb Filips did not have a liquor permit, the bar only sold milkshakes and soft drinks. As for psychedelics, LSD was used to some extent. According to the club’s co-founder Bill Öhrström, a British musician playing at the club once gave the promoters some liquid LSD, which was subsequently distributed on blotting paper.
The late 1960s and early 1970s clearly represent a peak in Swedish psychedelia. But after the hippie movement of that era went underground, and eventually disappeared, very little was seen of psychedelic culture in Sweden for a long time. In a cultural sense, the later part of the 1970s and the whole of the following decade are for the most part non-psychedelic times in Sweden. However, before moving on to the 1990s, which is when psychedelia reappeared culturally, the underground psychedelic therapy sessions of two young students in the city of Lund in the mid-1980s, deserve a mention.
In 1977, Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof was published in Swedish. Almost ten years later, in 1986, the book came out in a new edition. That year it found its way to Rebecca Schweder, today a hypnotherapist and former scientist with a PhD in philosophy, who at the time was a young student at Lund University. A male friend of Rebecca, a psychology student interested in psychedelic therapy, suggested she should read the book. Inspired by Grof’s work, the two decided to conduct psychedelic therapy using LSD. The sessions took place in a neutral home environment furnished with a couch and a chair. Since the drug was illegal, the therapy was conducted in secret. In total, Rebecca and her friend met on half a dozen occasions.
In 2012, I interviewed Rebecca Schweder about her LSD experiences, which resulted in an article in Swedish magazine Filter (alongside a piece on ayahuasca, which will be discussed later). At the time, she had given up a career as a scientist, and had recently started anew as a hypnotherapist. It was during this time that she wanted to be less secretive about her LSD experiences, and decided to mention them on her new website, which is were I first heard about her. When I met her for the interview she had not taken any psychedelics since the sessions in the mid 1980s, and she said she had no intention of taking mind-expanding drugs again. Yet she was “incredibly grateful” for having had the opportunity to undergo the treatment (which is how she referred to the sessions). Although Rebecca does not see LSD as a magic bullet, she believes the drug, if treated wisely, has strong therapeutic value: “When you take LSD you notice the collective unconscious. It’s not like a person forgets an assault or something similar, but you get another perspective and can let go of anxiety.”
Moving on to the 1990s, psychedelic culture in Sweden, as in many other countries at the time, had strong links to the rave scene. Although primarily fuelled by “ecstasy”, psychedelics such as LSD and, to a lesser extent, psilocybin mushrooms, were among the psychoactives used by the Swedish partygoers.
Sweden’s first rave was a warehouse party held in Gothenburg in 1989, and later rave culture also took hold in Stockholm, Malmö and Helsingborg. After having existed as a fairly ignored subculture for several years, the scene was treated entirely differently when in the mid 1990s Stockholm based rave club Docklands caught the attention of the media after being raided by the police on several occasions in 1996. The club got heavy exposure in the press, and a number of scare stories about drugged out youngsters lead to a heated debate over rave culture.
It was in this context that, in 1997, a twenty-something flamboyant man named Kevin Zaar from Stockholm started a mail order shop called Smart Drugstore. In addition to an assortment of bongs, cannabis seeds and Poppers, Smart Drugstore also sold Hawaiian Baby Woodrose seeds, 2C-B and the psilocybin mushrooms Psilocybe cubensis and Copelandia cyanescens. However, at the end of the 1990s magic mushrooms had finally come to the attention of Swedish authorities, probably because of its links to the heavily stigmatised rave culture. In 1997, Psilocybe semilanceata, which as you may recall is part of the Swedish flora, became illegal. The same happened to Psilocybe cubensis in 1998, followed by other psilocybin or psilocin containing species in 1999, including Copelandia cyanescens.
Before psilocybin containing mushrooms became illegal in Sweden though, Zaar, an advocate of drug liberalisation, made a final gesture in the Swedish media. While taking part in a debate on drugs on a talk show hosted by presenter Alice Bah Kuhnke (now the Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy) on Swedish television network TV4, Zaar threw magic mushrooms into the audience. Later on, perhaps as a consequence of Swedish drug laws, Kevin Zaar moved to Amsterdam. Little is known of his life, but it appears he later became an amateur filmmaker. In 2010, Zaar died of AIDS.
In stark contrast to Swedish psychedelia stands Sweden’s drug policy, which is based on zero tolerance against drugs. The aim of this policy is a drug free society. Generally speaking, all drugs except for alcohol – which incidentally can only be purchased in certain state owned shops – are banned. Although all major political parties are still in support of zero tolerance against drugs, the policy is occasionally met with criticism. One who questions the idea of a drug free society is Carl-Michael Edenborg, a Swedish author and publisher with a PhD in History of Ideas.
In 2010, I corresponded with Edenborg about Sweden’s drug policy. When asked why it is so hard to talk about drugs in the country he said that, “Sweden has been a very orderly, homogeneous and authoritarian society for hundreds of years. The state’s views on normality has had a huge impact.” When it comes to the use of psychedelics, Edenborg believes that the resistance against these drugs has a lot to do with them being “flagrantly against the idea of man as a rational individual who is expected to live orderly and usefully, namely the Lutheran man. Evidently it is very provocative that someone voluntarily wants to enter psychotic/mystical states.”
The current Swedish drug policy does not make any exceptions for those wanting to use psychoactives for spiritual, healing, or therapeutic purposes. This was evident in the case of Jungle Svonni, a Sami from Talma Sami village who spent six years living in South America studying shamanic techniques. After returning to Sweden he was arrested in 2013 for attempting to smuggle nearly one kilo of powdered San Pedro cactus into the country. Svonni claimed the mescaline-containing cactus was intended for shamanic rituals. In a YouTube video he explains that shamanism among his people, the Sami, an indigenous people of Scandinavia, is nearly extinct. Therefore, he felt that he had to go to the last place on earth he wanted to go to – the Amazon – to gain knowledge of shamanism.
Without influences from other countries it is hard to imagine any Swedish psychedelia at all.
While the psychedelic alkaloid mescaline is illegal in Sweden, it is not against the law to possess mescaline-containing cactuses such as San Pedro, and after a lengthy court process Jungle Svonni was finally acquitted in Summer 2014. Since the content of his package was no longer deemed illegal, he was free to pick it up at the customs. In a comment to the Swedish national radio, made after he had won the case, Svonni described the prosecutor as a remnant from the inquisition.
After surfacing in the 1990s – mainly through its links to the rave scene – psychedelic culture in Sweden went underground for much of the 2000s. However, signs of psychedelia started to reappear in the culture at the end of the decade. For instance, in 2007 Swedish literature journal Glänta (lit. “glade”) published an issue co-edited by Carl-Michael Edenborg about drugs, which included writers’ accounts of LSD and psilocybin mushroom use. One of the interviewees was songwriter, TV personality, former Swedish “Idol” judge and philosopher Alexander Bard. Speaking candidly on the subject, Bard said that it was LSD that had made him want to be a philosopher.
The same year, Swedish art journal Hjärnstorm (lit. “brain storm”), published its 30th anniversary issue. Edited by art historian Lars Bang Larsen and contemporary art researcher Maria Hirvi, the issue focused on psychedelia, which, for instance, included Sture Johannesson’s previously mentioned manifesto, originally published in 1967.
When discussing Swedish psychedelia in the twenty-first century, one cannot fail to mention the influential work of Swedish psychedelic researcher Patrick Lundborg (1967-2014). Prior to the 2010s, he was mostly known for being a prolific music writer. For instance, his 2006 book Acid Archives, an exposition of thousands of underground LPs, became a hit among record collectors. He also ran the long-standing website Lysergia .com, where he wrote extensively about psychedelic music. But the site also featured information on psychedelic culture, and became a valuable resource on the subject. Lundborg’s interest in psychedelia seems to have started early, and in his younger years he was an original member of psychedelic artist collective Lumber Island Acid Crew. Formed in the late 1980s, the somewhat secretive – or perhaps as of yet undocumented – Stockholm based group developed a “psychedelic lifestyle”, in part inspired by The Merry Pranksters and Timothy Leary’s Millbrook commune.
In 2012, Lundborg returned with a new book titled Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way of Life, which took his writing career in a slightly different direction. Written after 20 years of research, the 500-page tome was quickly recognised by the international psychedelic community as an important contribution to the discourse on psychedelic culture. But instead of being the start of a new chapter for the Swedish writer, the book became his swan song. Sadly, Patrick Lundborg died unexpectedly in spring 2014, at only 46.
Another Swede with a psychedelic outlook is Stockholm based writer, publisher, musician and photographer Carl Abrahamsson. Abrahamsson, a polymath in the true sense of the word, is a veteran at documenting a wide range of subcultural phenomena, not least in the field of the occult. In the early 2010s, he started focusing on book publishing, and for some years he ran Edda together with visual artist Fredrik Söderberg. Among its titles were the revived underground anthology The Fenris Wolf (now published via Trapart), and the first English translation of Visit to Godenholm by Ernst Jünger, originally published in German in 1952. The latter contains what is probably the first account of the LSD experience in a work of fiction literature.
Although not as psychedelically outspoken as his late peer Patrick Lundborg, much of Abrahamsson’s work is nevertheless informed by the psychedelic experience, especially evident in his fiction début Mother, Have A Safe Trip, published in 2013.
As for Edda co-founder Fredrik Söderberg, his art was clearly an important element to the Edda catalogue. Often featured on its book covers and as illustrations, Söderberg’s esoteric and at times deeply visionary horror vacui paintings no doubt enhanced the reading experience. Interestingly, though, his career took an unexpected turn recently when he announced in a somewhat puzzling note on his website that he will no longer work with esoteric or occult subjects. In an email to the present writer, Söderberg explained that about a year ago he converted to Catholicism, which made it problematic to continue working with his old themes.
As you may have noticed, the psychedelics known to have been used by Swedes up to and including the 2000s does not include ayahuasca. This has changed during the 2010s. The perhaps most telling example the shamanic brew had reached Sweden was a lengthy feature article in a 2012 issue of Filter, one of Sweden’s biggest magazines.
Written in a typically gonzo-style manner, the article is an account of how its author, a young Swedish journalist, gets in touch with a woman who secretly arranges ayahuasca rituals somewhere in Sweden. After reading up on the subject at the city library, as well as taking advice from a friend – who comes across as a reckless druggie – the journalist meets with the woman and together with a group of people he eventually takes the plant medicine himself. Told in a blunt way, the article ends with the journalist defecating himself, and, presumably unmoved by the trip, he calls the whole experience “an anti-climax.”
Although the use of ayahuasca is still fairly uncommon among Swedes, stories of first-hand experiences surface from time to time. For instance, in a 2011 issue of Swedish literature and art magazine Papi, edited by visual artist EvaMarie Lindahl and I, Stockholm based Finnish-Swedish solo dancer Virpi Pahkinen shares her experience of taking ayahuasca in Ecuador. Writing about the brew Pahkinen states that, “To me personally there is no stronger connection to the third eye and the source of creativity than the ayahuasca memories which are still dancing in my neural pathways.” Pahkinen also shared the experience in her autobiographical book Ormbäraren (lit. “snake carrier”), published in Swedish in 2013, and in an episode of the popular radio programme Sommar i P1 (lit. “summer in P1”) that was broadcast the same year.
In recent years, there have been many well-publicised developments in the field of psychedelic science, and among scholars and academics, as well as laypeople, interest in medicinal and scientific uses of psychedelics have steadily been on the rise in the 2010s. This tendency has also been evident in Scandinavia, and in spring 2016, following other similar initiatives (such as, for instance, Norway’s EmmaSofia), a group of students started Nätverket för psykedelisk vetenskap (“The Swedish Network for Psychedelic Science”), aka NPV, in Stockholm. The newly founded nonprofit organisation works to promote a scientific exploration of psychedelics, and so far the group has organised a handful of lectures by international speakers in the field, including a talk by UK scientist Dr Robin Carhart-Harris.
When writing this piece, I was reminded that psychedelic culture is very much a global phenomenon. Without influences from other countries it is hard to imagine any Swedish psychedelia at all. Clearly, a large portion of this piece has to do with events where Swedes have been interacting with other cultures. Examples include Philip Johan von Strahlenberg’s observations of fly agaric rituals in Siberia in the eighteenth century, Henry Wassén being sent psychedelics from Mexico in the 1930s, the peyote rituals in Wyoming attended by Åke Hultkrantz in the mid twentieth century, US deserters bringing with them LSD to would-be Swedish psychonauts in the 1960s, and, in our present time, Virpi Pahkinen’s ayahuasca experience in Ecuador.
Although some psychedelics, such as the liberty cap, are found growing naturally on Swedish soil, most of them (regardless if they are plant-based or lab-produced) originates from other parts of the world. Therefore, being a psychonaut in Sweden, a small country in Northern Europe of 10 million people, traditionally entails being curious about other cultures and peoples. Hence, in order for psychedelically inclined Swedes to look inwards into their minds, they have, out of necessity, always been forced to look outwards.
By Henrik Dahl
This is an updated and expanded version of a text that was originally published in Psychedelic Press UK 2014 Volume 2.
Henrik Dahl is a journalist and critic specialising in psychedelic culture and art.
Featured image: “Frige Kjartan” (lit. “set Kjartan Free”), a 1970 screenprint poster by Swedish artist Hans Esselius.
A Note to the Reader
The criterion for being included in the essay was that those mentioned had clear links to psychedelics. Either through having taken mind-expanding drugs themselves, or having studied them in some way. However, in one case a direct reference to psychedelics was not enough. Despite their name, the 1960s rock group LSD from Vadstena had to be skipped. Although their name indicates otherwise, it appears they only drank alcohol. Also left out was the brilliant Swedish documentary film Lucky People Center International (1998), an anthropological report of the state of the planet. Its trippy aesthetic certainly appears to be informed by psychedelics, but with no records to support it the film was not discussed. Moreover, Swedish nineteenth century characters such as the scientist and Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg as well as the artist Hilma af Klint are clearly interesting from a psychedelic perspective. However, to my knowledge there are no records of Swedenborg and af Klint ever using psychedelics, and for that reason they, too, were not included in the piece.
1. Lundborg, Patrick, “LSD-related Magazines 1950-1999” (Lysergia), http://www.lysergia.com/FeedYourHead/lsdMagazinesOff.htm
2. McKenna, Terence, Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), p. 233.
3. Ibid, p. 234.
4. Lundborg, Patrick, Psychedelia: An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way of Life (Stockholm: Lysergia, 2012), p. 58.
5. Ibid, p. 59.
6. Hultkrantz, Åke, The Attraction of Peyote: An Inquiry into the Basic Conditions for the Diffusion of the Peyote Religion in North America (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1977), p. 7.
7. Persson, Henrik, “Till mine av Åke Hultkranz: Natten tillhör den heliga peyote” (Fjärde Världen, issue 3-4, 2006), p. 59.
8. Weinraub, Bernard, “Life in Sweden Grows Difficult for Draft Resisters” (The New York Times, 5 November 1970)
9. Larsen, Lars Bang, Sture Johannesson (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002), p. 8.
10. Ibid, p. 8.
11. Stål, Jonas, “Historien om klubb Filips del 2” (Kolet, 2011), http://www.koletmag.se/2011/03/klubb-filips-del-2/
12. Dahl, Henrik, “Alternativ terapi” (Filter, issue 28, 2012), p. 104.
13. Dahl, Henrik, “C-M Edenborg: Jag kallar mig drogsocialist,” (Ekarkivet, 2010), http://ekarkivet.blogspot.se/2010/03/c-m-edenborg-jag-kallar-mig.html
14. “Interview of Jungle Svonni” (sic) (YouTube, 2013), https://youtu.be/CW58A4zG5Z4
15. Eira, Karen, “Shamanen från Sápmi frias från åtal” (Sverigesradio.se), http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2327&artikel=5904121
16. Edenborg, Carl-Michael, “Drogerna och skrivandet” (Glänta, issue 2-3, 2007), p. 15.
17. Penczak, Jeff, “Feed Your Head” (Shindig! Magazine), http://www.shindig-magazine.com/Patrick-Lundborg.html
18. Patrick Lundborg’s cause of death is yet to be publicly disclosed.
19. Piper, Alan, “Review: Visit to Godenholm by Ernst Jünger” (Psychedelic Press UK 2015 Volume III), p. 73.
20. Private communication with Fredrik Söderberg.
21. Friman, Christopher, “I en annan del av Sverige” (Filter, issue 28, 2012), p. 100.
22. Pahkinen, Virpi, “Att dricka ljus” (Papi, issue 16/17, 2011), p. 94.