Laura Huxley's death didn't remain unnoticed. It was reported on several websites, including DoseNation. However, somehow it failed to catch our attention that in December we have lost another woman who can be counted to "psychedelic pioneers". Anita Hofmann, 94 years old, passed away on December 20th 2007.
She didn't have good credentials for being remembered so well. Unlike Laura Huxley, she didn't write any books herself, remained all her life in the shadow of her great husband - the likely reason for his longevity. I never knew her, my contact with the Hofmann family is reduced to receiving a photo with personal greetings after writing a letter to Dr. Hofmann at the age of 17 (a young enthusiastic theorist, not the "old" melancholic theorist...). Would I have been wiser today and have written to Mrs. Anita instead? I don't know, but let me give all I can give - my own, different perspective on her life and death.
Maybe due to the fact that I'm still a theorist, maybe due to having absorbed enough of social philosophy, I'm just not responsive to traditional psychedelic "slogans" like "We are all one". For me they range somewhere between naive and oppressive (when they become a reason for indulgently dismissing personal perspectives). So my point of view is rather to remember the singularity of everyone's life. How can we make this effort? Is it really possible to remember everyone, to acknowledge everyone's inner history? I will at least try to distinguish Anita from the shadow in which she spent almost all her life.
A little unknown photo, found in the book "Albert Hofmann und die Entdeckung des LSD": Anita ice-skating on the frozen surface of Arosa lake, dressed in a fluttering black dress, her lips open in the pleasure of this moment. She spreads her arms and lifts her leg as if she was going to take off and spin above the ice for a moment. This isn't something anyone can do, one needs training. Has she perhaps even been a figure skating athlete before marrying Hofmann? And still she's remembered only as The Discoverer's wife.
MAPS piece of news no. 5 is titled "Albert Hofmann Celebrates his 102nd Birthday on January 11th". Only in the third sentence we learn that this celebration wasn't as happy as it should be. I can understand the desire to underline joyful events more than the sad ones, but still it is a bit uncomfortable for me to find Anita's death so obscured.
Some facts are actually wrong in this article. Trying to create an image of a perfect wife in a few sentences, the author confuses people: "Anita, the wife of Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, administered a glass of milk to him as a possible antidote for the worlds first LSD experience in 1943", "when Albert bicycled home from his Sandoz lab in Basel after ingesting 250 micrograms of LSD, it was Anita who cared for him and was by his side". However, Hofmann's book states that three women were actually involved. Miss Ramstein, his assistant, who accompanied him home, telephoned Anita and watched over Albert until the doctor and, later, Anita, came. Then Mrs. R., the neighbor, who brought the milk. And, of course, Anita, who had earlier gone to visit her parents in Lucern and had to return in hurry. These three women are fused into one in these sentences. Are three women too much for the myth of the discovery of LSD?
Anita had actually met Laura and even Aldous Huxley, long before the meetings of "psychedelic elders". Aldous the Enthusiast gave her a piece of advice: "He recommended to my wife, when we spoke of her native place in the mountains, that she take LSD in an alpine meadow and then look into the blue cup of a gentian flower, to behold the wonder of creation". However, life is not always a psychedelic fairytale. The piece of news about Anita states: "Anita herself had one unpleasant experience with LSD and didn't repeat it". Am I surprised? Yes. But let's take a look at this fact from a different point of view. Earlier we imagined the Hofmann's psychedelic experiences in a more idyllic way. Do you (when you're a woman) have to be dead to have your experience taken at face value?
Anita's unpleasant LSD experience wasn't her only psychedelic experience. She was brave enough to accompany Hofmann and Wasson to Mexico and partake in rituals performed by Maria Sabina. Later she was surprised to notice the similarity between her visions and traditional Mexican Indian art. We don't know much more about her experiences. Has she ever written them down, or has she considered them unimportant? Maybe we'll never know. But in a diary entry from February 2006 I drew a parallel between her and another woman.
Johanne Kolstad was born in 1913, just like Anita. She was a sportswoman years ahead of her time, a ski jumper. First becoming known in her native Norway, later invited to spend winters in the USA, taking part in almost every competition organized, she was a real star. She would have settled down in the USA if not for the tragic death of her fiance, a Norwegian-American. Anyway, she achieved probably everything that a female ski jumper could achieve in the 1930s - without access to real fame which could be gained through world championships or Olympic Games. After the war, everything calmed down. There were hardly any woman jumpers, Johanne's world record remained valid until the 1970s. And she was forgotten, she became just a normal local woman, a ski teacher. And it wasn't until the 90s that women's ski jumping reached a "critical mass", a point of no return, where officials had to establish competitions for women.
Johanne died in 1997. After her death, a little box with her keepsakes was given to Karin Berg, the director of Oslo Ski Museum. Berg wrote a book on Kolstad and other early female ski jumpers. That's why this history - her-story, as we feminists sometimes say - was not forgotten.
What a symbolic item: Johanne's box! What does Anita Hofmann's box contain?
(Yes, it can be demanding to be a feminist, psychedelic theorist, sport fan and Poland's probably most radical fighter for women's ski jumping - at once.)
I have to state that we know so little about Anita Hofmann's life. To some it's obvious: it is clearly her husband who is most important in this history. Not entirely disagreeing, I also see this lack of remembrance as a proof that women are still unimportant. How about a case for "psychedelic feminism"? Girls, be active, speak for yourselves, don't let them silence you! Find your own ways, something you will love with passion, something that may allow you to be remembered. Anita was likely to have been the first woman who tried LSD. Maybe some day I'll find out if it's true. Many girls and women are not even a bit less adventurous than boys, they also venture into this Unknown - girls, remember that you are yourselves, don't say "I like such things even though I'm a girl". These substances weren't created only for men! Maybe that's all I do: remind about women, notice them when they're being forgotten, shine a light on their existence.
Glory to Her Memory!