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Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Eighteen

John Robison, electricity enthusiast and a bit off his rocker

Week Eighteen (pg. 301-313 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 7&8 Part III all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

My elementary investigations point towards the fact that Spawn of the Serpent only exists in our feverish narrative and that MacKenzie is a MacGuffin.

Although they are accounted as rivals in the footnote that begins chapter seven, MacKenzie (1735-1826) seems to be a fictional reflection of John Robison (1739-1805) that is slightly distorted, as in a funhouse mirror. While I could find no connection between Robison and Banks’ Floralegium nor any account of Robison’s musical aptitude, he was a many of many accomplishments.

Robison spent fourteen years serving as a surveyor, navigator, and tutor to the son of Admiral Charles Knowles- during this time he served in Quebec and sailed around the Atlantic. During a period of time ashore in Scotland Robison became the professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow and helped the aforementioned James Watts with the construction of a steam car. He left Scotland to accompany Admiral Knowles to St. Petersburg. During this sojourn he was initiated into Continental Masonry.

We are told that John MacKenzie involved himself in the disputes concerning the authenticity of James Macpherson’s The Poem of Ossian. The Ossian debate concerned some translations that were purported to have been translated from ancient Scotch Gaelic, Ossian himself was purportedly the son of the legendary Finn McCool; the works were heralded by members of the Scottish intelligentsia and the burgeoning Romantic movement but cracks soon appeared in Macpherson’s story. Historians pointed out incongruities with names and words used in the text with its supposed date of origin: Samuel Johnson, never one to let an opportunity to shit on the Scottish go wasted, also became involved and generously maintained that Macpherson had found snippets of an authentic text and incorporated them into his embellished narrative.

Despite their dubious origins the Poems of Ossian were still valued by poets such as William Blake and the later Romantics for their beauty and imagination- Goethe included fragments of his own translation into his bildungsroman The Sorrows of Young Werter. (Interestingly, Werter would become the focal point of another hoax or faux-hysteria when the book was blamed for a rash of suicides modelled on the end of the titular protagonist. There are no reliable accounts of any such suicide. Thomas Love Peacock, in his hilarious Nightmare Abbey, parodies the concerns by having his fictional stand-in for Percy Byshe Shelley attempt suicide saying “I will make my exit like young Werter.” ) Literary historians today consider Ossian to have been one of the greatest forgeries of all time.

This is all to say that I could find no connection between John Robison and Ossian aside from a couple publication schedules that had the poems being printed at the same time as some works on natural philosophy by Robison. Henry MacKenzie was the name of an investigator who, on behalf of the Highland Society, investigated the provenance of The Poems of Ossian and found it to be less-than-authentic.

Robison would indeed author Proofs of a Conspiracy later in his career after he had settled in Edinburgh and had served as the professor of natural philosophy at its famed University. He also invented the siren somewhere during this time and tried a bunch of shit with electricity. Robison had grown disillusioned with the Enlightenment after the events in France and was perhaps still concerned over discoveries made in his travels with Admiral Knowles. His book was famous enough to cause concern among the ranks of political power during the late 18th century- a copy was sent to George Washington by a minister. In his response to the minister Washington wrote:

“It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.”

Like MacKenzie in our narrative, Robison drew heavily upon the work of Jesuit priest Abbe Augustin Barruel whose writings on the history of the clergy in France, seemingly first, drew a connection between Enlightenment values, the Revolution, Illuminati conspiracies, paganism, and a plotted overthrow of Christianity and European power centers. It is part of the fun that Robison’s fictional analogue accuses him of being a member of the conspiracy he spent so much energy trying to expose.

The actual excerpt from MacKenzie’s Spawn of the Serpent doesn’t offer the reader much new information but instead serves as an atmospheric touch to heighten the sense of continent-spanning paranoia. After a time of great upheavals the people of Europe are at a loss to explain what has happened; not everyone has as shrewd a mind as Signor Duccio or the agnostic vantage point of Henri Benoit and we are left with the raving reconnaissance of someone on the other side of the veil.

Professor Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium served as an inspiration for much of the shadow history contained in The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

Chapter eight consists mostly of an interrogation between Sartines and Sigismundo. I believe that through Sartines characterization as professional, competent, and imminently practical, RAW betrays some affection for the character. Sartines certainly doesn’t share the sinister, odd, or wretched characteristics that make other characters uncomfortable to the reader but instead seems to serve as a reminder that there is someone with a decent amount of composure, even humility, in the narrative. Their conversation, not to mention the footnotes, is concerned with genealogical matters having to do with Holy Blood, Holy Grail which Alias or Oz will do a much better job elucidating upon in the comments than I could do here. I will say that in Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire, what the Templars found is implied to be the physical remains of Jesus Christ- this is a theory I have heard elsewhere and seems to be the most chilling for the faithful.

For a moment the reader seems to be led into having a faint hope that Sigismundo has found an ally who can help him escape his interminable and confusing fate before it is taken away by an interruption. Sartines is no hero and the dread and resignation that Sigismundo must feel as the police inspector gives his men orders to transport him back to the Bastille and refuses to meet his eyes seeps slightly off the page.

And the tension is broken with the crack of a gunshot.

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Yule or whatever makes you happy during the darkest days of the year! I’m glad to have this forum and time with all of you and look forward to one more post before the new decade. While I’m not always as active as I’d like to be with my responses, I hope you all know that reading what you have to say has been one of the great joys of life for the past few months.

From Eric Wagner: “With Sigismundo’s love of Bach and Bob Wilson’s love of the Modern Jazz Quartet, I thought this might work: .”


Alias Bogus said...

These two chapters again bring up the bloodline theme, which pervades the book. As far as I can tell Bob made up “Spawn of the Serpent”, with a convincing biography attached.

Eve conceived Cain through intercourse with the Serpent. To that extent, Cain has an element of the gods within. By contrast, Adam fathered Abel with Eve, and when Cain killed him, he got replaced by his brother Seth, so both represent the purely human side of the family.

Although Cain appears considered ‘bad’ by Christians, he also represents self-knowledge, and the Gnostic thread of direct insight. Catholics distrust “the light”, Lucifer, the enlightened, etc. The general story seems to indicate that for sombunall members Freemasonry offers direct initiation, as opposed to the churches run by priests as intermediaries with God – the enigmatic phrase “they have the cross, we have Christ” seems to sum that up.

I found a particularly interesting book – Freemasonry and Catholicism - which goes into some detail, and rewards a bit of searching, with keywords like “Cain”, “Widow”, “hammer”, etc.

“Advancement and Promotion in Mystic Masonry is not dependent on favor, it cannot be given till it has been earned, and the candidate has stored in himself the power to rise, any more than a pistol can be fired till it has been loaded and Initiation is merely like pulling the trigger, it consists of showing the candidate how to use the power latent within himself.”

“The Masonic Legend has points of variance as well as agreement with the Bible story. It states that Jehovah created Eve, that the Lucifer Spirit Samael united with her and that he was ousted by Jehovah and forced to leave her before the birth of her son Cain, who was thus the son of a widow. Then Jehovah created Adam, to be the husband of Eve, and from their union Abel was born. Thus from the beginning there were two kinds of people in the world, one begotten by the Lucifer Spirit Samael and partaking of a semi-divine nature imbued with the dynamic martial energy inherited from this divine ancestry, aggressive, progressive, full of initiative, but impatient of restraint or authority whether human or divine. This class is loath to take things on faith and prone to prove all things by the light of reason.”

“In time and through generations, the Sons of Cain became the craftsmen of the world, skilled in the use of fire and metal. Their ideal was male, Hiram Abiff, the Master workman. The Sons of Seth, on the other hand, became the churchmen, upholding the feminine ideal, the Virgin Mary, and ruling their people by the magic water placed at their temple doors.”

“Full of faith in his ancestor, who had gone before him upon the path of fire, Hiram obeyed and plunged fearlessly into the flames. Sinking through the disintegrated bottom of the vessel he was conducted successfully through nine arch-like layers of the earth to the Center, where he found himself in the presence of Cain, the founder of his family, who gave him instructions relative to blending Water and Fire, and furnished him A NEW HAMMER, AND A NEW WORD, which would produce these results.” [I can’t help but hear de Selby’s hammering…]

[And, of the temple, which because more significant when Siggy thinks about Tempio Malatestiano] “I am afraid you may consider it an altogether unsubstantial concern, it has to be seen in a certain way, under certain conditions. Some people never see it at all, for you must understand this is no dead pile of stones and unmeaning timbers; IT IS A LIVING THING."

[From Mystic Masonry, by Buck] “The real temple referred to from first to last in Masonry as in all ancient initiations is the Tabernacle of the Human Soul. It is built, indeed, without the sound of hammer or any tool of iron.”

Eric Wagner said...

Bob Wilson recommended The Pursuit of the Millennium to me. He also recommended it to Bob Shea before Shea began writing All Things Are Lights.

Alias Bogus said...

PS: Sartines seems really ‘knowing’. Of course, his job involves research and speculation, and maybe he represents the author’s own curiosity. At times, however, he seems more initiated, and suddenly his interrogation resembles the ritualistic cross-questioning of Masonic scripts (where the candidate gets prompted with ‘correct answers’). The whole book seems filled with such interrogations, sometimes with real torture, and sometimes with purely ritual torment. Seamus knows the routine (ritual) that both he and the policeman go through. “We know more than you think”.

supergee said...

Tom Robbins’s first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, can be seen as an extension of an earlier joke: “Cancel Easter! They found the body.”

Alias Bogus said...

Thanks for the reminder, supergee! That's one of my favourite ever novels...

Oz Fritz said...

The apprehension and penetration into The Widow's Son has significantlty changed since I first read it in the 80's. Guessing whether MacKenzie exists as an actual or virtual historical personage can now get informed by a quick google search.

MacKenzie appears invoked by RAW's imagination into the story. MacKenzie works as a surgeon while also playing as a skilled musician - shades of Buckeroo Banzai - suggesting the healing power of music. He also serves as an expert in compararive botany - someone who closely examines multiple varieties of plant growth - which suggests Deleuze & Guattari's rhizome theory of morphogenesis. Tom's RAW quote in last week's final comment also resonates with this theory.

The whole of Chapter 7 superficially appears no more than a catalog of connecting conspiracy theories and their reference sources.

Oz Fritz said...

Apprehension of The Widow's Son has changed significantly since I first read it in the 1980s. Unclear as to whether MacKenzie represented an actual or a virtual historical character, only a few minutes on Google cleared up this mystery.

MacKenzie and his book seems invoked out of RAW's imagination. Mackenzie works as a surgeon and plays as a skilled musician - echoes of Buckeroo Banzai, a film released in 1984 - suggesting the healing power of music. He also gets acknowledged as an expert in comparative botany - he examines and studies multiple varieties of plant growth. This recalls Deleuze & Guattari's rhizome theory of morphogenesis. Tom's RAW quote from last week's final comment also resonates with this theory.

The whole of Chapter 7 superficially appears nothing more than a catalog of connecting conspiracy theories and reference sources.

Oz Fritz said...

Apologies for the double post. I thought it got lost the first time.

Chapter 7 has an explicit and implicit allusion to Crowley. The motto of the Hell Fire Club = the explicit one; part of the implicit allusion immediately follows this motto, Do what thou wilt:
"When I speak of this to my Brothers in the Craft in England and Scotland ...." The capital letters of this phrase = 91 by Gematria. The aforementioned J.J.A. MacKenzie apparently lived to 91 subtracting the year of his birth from that of his death, though we don't know his birthday, he may only have been 90 going on 91. 91 = The number of chapters in The Book of Lies. Note that the chapter starts with two 'lies' seemingly presented as historical fact - a fictional piece of literature and its made-up author. A central theme of that key Crowley work resonates with the title of MacKenzie's book of essay: SPAWN OF THE SERPENT: A WARNING TO ALL FELLOW CRAFTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES.

Oz Fritz said...

p.205 Bluejay edition mentions a Coat of Arms that has a Star of David - i.e. a hexagram, a six-pointed star, an obvious Tiphareth correspondence - and the motto Et in Arcadia Ego. The next sentence mentions death three times. See my previous comments about that motto, Tiphareth-6 and death. The following sentence from that appears misdirection and states itself as misdirection introducing ambiguity into the equation as you can't be sure (despite or because of the word "certainly") whether stating it as misdirection itself serves as misdirection (2nd order misdirection - saying it misdirection when not?). I hope I make myself clear?!

In the same footnote's next paragraph we again find the Star of David in a sentence preceding one where someone dies. Sigismundo gets shot at the close of this chapter and we get left wondering if he has died.

The quote referred to:

"Oddly, the Plantard Coat of Arms had a Jewish Star of David and the motto Et in Arcadia Ego ... Even odder, the date given by de Sede for the death of the seemingly unreal Marquis de B., December 23, is actually of the death of the last Merovingian king, Dagobert II, in 679; and the real Dagobert, like the false Marquis, was stabbed to death in the Ardennes forest. De Sede makes a great mystery about both the Ardennes and Arcadia being named after bear-gods, as was King Arthur of the Grail legend, but this is almost certainly misdirection ..."

Plantard's name recalls J. MacKenzie as an expert botanist. A common fact about bears - they hibernate all winter - they have a long "last night" before Spring. I saw a black bear cross the road and climb a tree on my way into town this morning - we live fairly high up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Two days ago marked the first day of winter, why wasn't it sleeping? Mysteries, mysteries ....

Merry everything!

Alias Bogus said...

Merry everything to you, too, Oz!

This reading group has motivated me to think, read, write, research. And then see what others have come up with. It doesn't feel as directly interactive as a forum, but I promise I look forward to (all) your input every week.

Peace out. Amor et hilaritas!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I like how RAW segues quickly from a fake book, "Spawn of the Serpent," to a real book, "The Pursuit of the Milennium."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

"You also swore never to do any harm, either by force or by fraud, to a Fellow Craft."

Hardcore libertarians believe the only laws that are legitimate are ones that ban force or fraud. Does anyone know if this is a genuine oath sworn by Freemasons?

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

From "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" on what the Templars found at the site of Solomon's Temple and what is concealed at Rennes-le-Chateau: "It may have been Jesus' mummified body. It may have been the equivalent, so to speak, of Jesus' marriage license and/or the birth certificate of his children. It may have been something of comparably explosive import. Any or all of these items may have been referred to as the Holy Grail."

Pages 401-402 of the mass market paperback.

Rarebit Fiend said...

Tom, first off Merry Chrimbus- I do not remember that exact wording. But it is a well known fact, I'm not breaking my oaths hopefully, that harming another Brother is not allowed.