Ludlow, Fitz Hugh - The demon
Type of Spiritual Experience
We don’t know enough of Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s state of mind or beliefs to know from the following vision – experienced by taking a very large dose of hasheesh – whether the demon was his or an inflicted demon. In other words, the symbolic figure conjured up for him may have been attempting to impress upon him the burden of his wrongdoings [as he perceived them], or it may have been Ludlow’s own perceptions of the wrongs done to him. Given the time and the place of the vision [USA in the 1800s], either would be valid.
But another thing may also be relevant. Ludlow was taking a large dose of hasheesh practically every day by the time this vision was experienced – an abuse of the drug and his mind. The composer may have decided it was time to remind him that there was a real danger from these sorts of excesses.
A description of the experience
The Hasheesh Eater – Fitz Hugh Ludlow
Suddenly out of a blank wall at my side a muffled figure stepped into the path before me. His hair, white as snow, hung in tangled elf locks on his shoulders, where he carried also a heavy burden, like unto the well filled sack of sins which Bunyan places on the back of his pilgrim.
Not liking his manner, I stepped aside, intending to pass around him and go on my way. This change of our relative position allowed the blaze of a neighboring street lamp to fall full on his face, which had hitherto been totally obscured. Horror unspeakable!
I shall never, till the day I die, forget that face. Every lineament was stamped with the records of a life black with damning crime; it glared upon me with a ferocious wickedness and a stony despair which only he may feel who is entering on the retribution of the unpardonable sin.
He might have sat to a demon painter as the ideal of Shelley’s Cenci.
I seemed to grow blasphemous in looking at him, and, in an agony of fear, began to run away. He detained me with a bony hand, which pierced my wrist like talons and slowly taking down the burden from his own shoulders, laid it upon mine.
I threw it off and pushed him away. Silently he returned and restored the weight. Again I repulsed him, this time crying out, ‘Man what do you mean?’.
In a voice which impressed me with the sense of wickedness as his face had done, he replied
‘You shall bear my burden with me’ and a third time laid it on my shoulders. For the last time I hurled it aside, and with all my force, dashed him from me. He reeled backward and fell, and before he could recover his disadvantage I had put long distance between us