To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic is a fictional book about starting a psychedelics research project/revolution, written by Ben Sessa.
Is there hope in psychedelic medicine? Can we dream bigger than just numbing patients (and doctors)? That is the underlying question in this fictional book by Ben Sessa. After reading the book you may take home some hope, some tingling of the possibility that MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics could help people become whole again. But if nothing else, you will get to know two, somewhat broken, men (analogs to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) who start a psychedelic revolution.
“To Fathom Hell or Soar Angelic follows the journey of conservative NHS psychiatrist Dr Robert Austell, as he breaks free of tradition and learns to challenge the failure of psychiatric medicine. The transformation begins when he stumbles upon the field of psychedelic therapy and meets the enigmatic Californian maverick Dr Joseph Langley.“
“To fathom hell or soar angelic just take a pinch of psychedelic” – Humphry Osmond
Using a fictional book to describe a brave new world where psychedelics make a new introduction is a unique way of exploring this possibility. The book hovers between the esoteric and science-driven, between dream catchers and psychotherapy.
The world that is sketched could be best positioned at around the turn of the century, a moment in time where very little research had been done on psychedelics (since shutting it all down at the end of the ’60s). The way it’s revived, in a barn and with plenty of reference to The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary et al., was quite interesting.
The book, and the research mentioned, may best be seen as a proof of concept, an introduction to psychedelic therapy (it features several sessions with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin). The double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments are left for a future moment to transpire.
The critique of the ‘normal’ system is evident in Sessa’s description of current psychotherapy. He paints it as a system in which patients come back for years, don’t solve their underlying problems, and get dosed with SSRIs that don’t do much if anything. Oh, and the protagonist is fantasizing about killing his patients (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into Hannibal). The alternative, psychedelic (psycho)therapy, is offered as a way out of this loop.
From my perspective, the alternative is presented without enough evidence and rigor (the double-blind studies that are left for the reader to imagine happening sometime in the future). After seeing positive results, the two psychiatrists are heralded as heroes in a presentation for their colleagues. It’s a fantasy that many in the psychedelics field may have, but unfortunately many have been burned by other ‘miracle’ cures/drugs too much before to have that level of hope (although with 2020 hindsight it is likely to be justified in this case).
At the end of the book, things get turned up to 11. The second psychiatrist (Joseph Langley) is dying and in a flurry of science-y sounding words, they run tests and strange things happen. One is left to ponder what this means or why it’s related to psychedelic science, but I was none the wiser.
Other Works by Ben Sessa
Ben Sessa has also written The Psychedelics Renaissance, summarizing where we stand with research and sticking much more to facts this time.