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Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Widow's Son reading group, Week Nineteen

Mary d’Este Desti Dempsey Sturges aka Soror Virakam aka Soror Iliel aka Lisa la Giuffria 

Week Nineteen (p.315-323 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 9&10 Part III all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Chapter nine reminds me of nothing more than a scene from an Armando Iannuci comedy. The scene has that sublime mix of ineptitude, competence and order thwarted at every turn, chaos, and ever-present frustration transformed into howling rage as Lieutenant Sartines is faced with the unyielding chaos of the universe that is reminiscent of similar shitstorms faced by Iannuci’s protagonists. Like Malcolm Tucker or Selina Meyer, Sartines is a character beset by nothing less than their own inability to control everything around them despite their razor sharp wit and uncompromising realism. An arch-cynic such as Sartines can of course realize that they could reject all of the trappings of their “duty” to live a more honest life in pursuit of the truth but won’t because they love legitimacy and order more than their own sanity/integrity. The fatal flaw of civil servitude is beginning to believe in the necessity of your position to stave off some Hobbesian hellscape.

Unsurprisingly, Sartines’ honest viewpoint is almost identical to Signor Duccio’s or whomever might be the true “Spartacus.” Naturally, de Selby is somehow able to pick up on Sartines’ moment of hesitation hundreds of years in the future and record a laterally accurate hazard to who the original author might have been.

Behind all the insurmountable chaos and extrajudicial jailings there is an invisible hand as Cagliostro begins the transition.

Maria’s Daybook immediately lets us know that Lady Babcock’s psychic connection to Sigismundo is still intact; her prayer might do more for Sigismundo than any other effect within the pages of the narrative. Maria is perhaps able to think more kindly of Sigismundo, though she does try to bury the idea of him as quickly as she may, because of the news about Carlo’s virility and marriage. The d’Este family was/is a noble family of northern Italian descent that had/has ties to the house of Hapsburg.

A more interesting d’Este is a d’Este that never was: Mary d’Este, born Mary Dempsey. Dempsey was born in the American Midwest around the turn of the century and gave birth to Preston Sturges, a Hollywood polymath during the 30s and 40s (also producer of one of my all time favorite films, I Married a Witch). Dempsey, perhaps inspired by that New Thought ethos that meshed so well with the American frontier can-do attitude that enabled people to claim things that weren’t actually theirs, decided that her name was actually a mispronunciation of d’Este- she was actually royalty.

Presumably Mary d’Este is the name that she was going by when she met and befriended Isadora Duncan and later became her secretary.She had travelled to Europe and met Duncan in Paris while she was presumably studying theater. It was during this time that she also met Aleister Crowley. She became Crowley’s Scarlet Woman for a time around 1911 and they travelled to a place “beyond Rome” where he began to compose Book IV under the guidance of the disembodied spirit Ab-ul-Diz. Crowley details how d’Este, or Soror Virakam, began to channel Ab-ul-Diz and the precautions he took to make sure that the spirit was an objective being, similar to the measures he took to make sure Rose wasn’t just having a lark back in 1904. He also details how she claimed to know where they would write Book IV as she had seen their villa in a dream.

Crowley and Virakam travelled to Posillipo, near Naples to pick up “Vikaram’s [sic.] brat- a most godforsaken lout” (as Crowley refers to the young Preston Sturges) for Christmas. While travelling about the countryside Virakam/d’Este/Dempsey shouted that before them was the exact villa she had seen. The villa also fulfilled some requirements that Crowley had come up with using his own methods of magical deduction having to do with “Persian nuts.” (I can’t believe how much of my life I have based on what this guy says.) They rented the villa and began the book.

Soror Virakam is given author’s credit, along with Leia Waddell and Mary Butts, for Book IV which many consider to be Crowley’s master publishing achievement. Predictably, d’Este and Crowley had a falling out. He would paint a rather unflattering portrait of her in his novel Moonchild where she went by the name of Lisa la Giuffria. La Giuffria is portrayed as an indolent faddist who betrays Crowley (Cyril Grey) to the Black Lodge (led by characters based on Samuel Mathers, Arthur Waite, William Westcott, Yeats, and Annie Besant) causing the failure of the Butterfly Net Operation. Of course this is all part of the White Lodge’s, led by Simon Iff (also Crowley), plan.

Around this time d’Este was running a cosmetic company under her regal name which attracted the attention of the actual d’Este family who basically sent her a cease and desist. She did and changed her name to Desti. Desti/d’Este/Virakam/Dempsey/la Giuffria never really got the hang of traditional motherhood. In one incident in 1915 she left Preston on the docks after running after Duncan to join her on a voyage to France. Despite her unconventional lifestyle she seemed to have been remembered fondly by Sturges and the article where I found out much about her non-Crowley related life details how she was obviously an influence for many of his female leads. She certainly lived quite a life.

Mistress Kyte reads the cards for James and reveals the Hanged Man- while she is apologetic in the best theatrical card reader manner, he is comfortable with the shuffle. It is the card of every Irishman. The Hanged Man is probably one of the most romanticized of any of the Trumps, appearing in famous works such as Eliot’s The Wasteland with the familiar phrase “death by water.” The Hanged Man in the Thoth tarot represents the Hebrew mother letter Mem and the element of water- Crowley writes that it represents “the supreme adeptship” of the new Aeon but also warns that water is the element of illusion and in this capacity the card may allow leaks of Old Aeon sacrifice-fetishization through into the New. Crowley roundly castigates this idea and proclaims that the ethos of sacrifice must be done away with as well as the notion of redemption. Redemption implies debt, says Crowley, as stars owe nothing. Alas, in the eighteenth century, James Moon has a while before the Hanged Man means little else aside from drowning and sacrifice.

Maria gets The Star which is chock full of feminine, mystical, and Thelemic imagery which I believe Oz will do a much better job of explaining. Finally Sir John receives the Prince of Wands, Air of Fire, which is notably the card that Crowley identified with the most and of which he writes very poetically in The Book of Thoth.

The discourse on the bear god should be familiar to RAW readers as it is something he dwells on elsewhere. We end with Franklin grappling a maid and marvelling at the revelations brought back from Cook’s journey.

Happy New Year everyone. As John Higgs said in his last newsletter, we’re moving from an ill-defined decade into one that will be much different. A time where time-travellers will want to visit. Good luck to everyone.

From Eric: “In honor of Maria Babcock, I have chosen more Handel this week: .

Peace and welcome to the Twenties!”


Eric Wagner said...

Great job, Gregory. I didn’t know about the Sturges/Crowley connection.

Oz Fritz said...

Great photo of Mary and Preston Sturges!

Gregory writes:

"Maria gets The Star which is chock full of feminine, mystical, and Thelemic imagery which I believe Oz will do a much better job of explaining. Finally Sir John receives the Prince of Wands, Air of Fire, which is notably the card that Crowley identified with the most and of which he writes very poetically in The Book of Thoth."

The Star card describes something much needed. Aleister Crowley explains it best in "The Book of Thoth." It's definitely worth reading the whole section on this card, but I can't find a direct link to it so am posting relevant passages here:


The picture represents Nuith, our Lady of the Stars. For the full meaning of this sentence it is necessary to understand the first chapter of the Book of the Law.

In this card she is definitely personified as a human-seeming figure; she is represented as bearing two cups,one golden, held high above her head, from which she pours water upon it.
(These cups resemble breasts, as it is written: "the milk of the stars from her paps; yea, the milk of the stars from her paps").

Behind the figure of the goddess is the celestial globe.
Most prominent among its features is the seven-pointed Star of Venus, as if declaring the principal characteristic of her nature to be Love. From the golden cup she pours this ethereal water, which is also milk and oil and blood, upon her own head, indicating the eternal renewal of the categories, the inexhaustible possibilities of existence.

The left hand, lowered, holds a silver cup, from which also she pours the immortal liquor of her life. (This liquor is the Amrita of the
Indian philosophers, the Nepenthe and Ambrosia of the Greeks, the Alkahest and Universal Medicine of the Alchemists, the Blood of the Grail; or, rather, the nectar which is the mother of that blood. She pours it upon the junction of land and water. This water is the water of the great Sea of Binah; in the manifestation of Nuith on a lower plane, she is the Great Mother. For the Great
Sea is upon the shore of the fertile earth, as represented by the roses in the right hand corner of the picture.

In the left-hand corner of the picture is the star of Babalon; the Sigil of the
Brotherhood of the A.'. A.'. For Babalon is yet a further materialization of the original idea of Nuith; she is the Scarlet Woman, the sacred Harlot who is the lady of Atu XI. From this star, behind the celestial sphere itself, issue the curled rays of spiritual light. Heaven itself is no more than a veil before the face of the immortal goddess."

I relate The Star card to the closing salutation Crowley used in every letter he wrote after he accepted The Book of the Law.

The Prince of Wands card marks one of three that Crowley put his own personal symbol on in the Thoth Tarot deck he designed. The other two: The Five of Wands and the Ace of Disks, the latter being the traditional card that the card designers put their own sigil on as if a signature.

Maria receiving The Star while John gets the Prince of Wands symbolizes Babalon and the Beast, an archetypal Thelemic dyad.

Oz Fritz said...

I forgot to mention in last weeks comments that The Book of Lies uses Freemasonry symbolism in its text therefore including it as an occult addition to a chapter of Masonic conspiracies seems entirely appropriate.

In Chapter Nine we meet Officer Mortimere who has a very telling name. Translating from French to English: mort = death; mere = mother with an "i" between them. mort i mere - the death of I = the mother of rebirth; a brilliant reference to the death/rebirth archetype. This formulation is a new revelation, for me.

Mortimere also relates to my previous comments re: C6 and Death. Death = the mother of C6 - helps C6 to get born/reborn; requires great frequency to take hold. Sigismundo goes through numerous close encounters with death as part of his initiation process. The title itself, "The Widow's Son" alludes to both death and a mother and, obviously, to a son; the son symbolizing rebirth in this formulation. Maybe the secret of The Widow's Son lies entirely within its linguistic structure? The Widow's Son = you who has undergone/undergoing death/rebirth processes in large or small ways through ritual or meditation practices,travel, music performance, etc.

Officer Mortimere's intials, OM both indicate the prime cosmic sound in Hinduism, and O + M = 110 = the Angel of the Six of Wands called Victory in the Thoth Tarot and showing another death/Tiphareth pairing.

Oz Fritz said...

Maria's brother Carlo marries a d'Este in Chapter 10. This suggests Mary d'Este Sturges who played an instrumental role in helping Crowley write Magick, Liber 4, one of his most important books, as Gregory points out. Carlo = car (vehicle) + low (Malkuth-10, the lowest Sephira on the Tree). The opus Magick consists of 4 books: Yoga, Magic, Magick in Theory and Practice and The Equinox of the Gods, an account of the reception of The Book of the Law, hence the book Magick = a vehicle for Malkuth, the material world.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Like Eric, I'm amazed at Gregory's research; I didn't know about the Sturges/Crowley connection either.

If the Widow's Son refers to death and rebirth, as Oz says, that would reinforce the suggestion that it's code for the secret of Jesus' bloodline.

Oz Fritz said...

Maria's daughter Ursula's name means "little bear" - a diminutive of the Latin ursa (she-bear). At the end of Chapter 10 RAW again etymologically connects bear symbolism with Arcadia and connects that with James Joyce's unique spelling of Siddhartha, "Cid Arthur," found in "Finnegans Wake." Siddhartha = the Buddha who gets filed under Tiphareth-6.

Finnegans Wake has been called a book of the night. According to Wikipedia:

"Throughout the book's seventeen-year gestation, Joyce stated that with Finnegans Wake he was attempting to "reconstruct the nocturnal life", and that the book was his "experiment in interpreting 'the dark night of the soul'." According to Ellmann, Joyce stated to Edmond Jaloux that Finnegans Wake would be written "to suit the esthetic of the dream, where the forms prolong and multiply themselves", and once informed a friend that "he conceived of his book as the dream of old Finn, lying in death beside the river Liffey and watching the history of Ireland and the world – past and future – flow through his mind like flotsam on the river of life.

Obviously the title "Finnegans Wake" connects with death, a wake being a celebration of someone's life just after they died. Bringing up the Buddha in connection with that gives another Tiphareth/Death combo.

I consider "Finnegans Wake" a book of the dead in the same manner as the Tibetan or Egyptian Book of the Dead, i.e. instructions to the voyager to help pass through death or through a long, dark night. In other words, instructions to aid the arc (Arcadia) of consciousness through death to a rebirth of some kind.

Oz Fritz said...

Tom wrote:

"If the Widow's Son refers to death and rebirth, as Oz says, that would reinforce the suggestion that it's code for the secret of Jesus' bloodline."

Thank-you for the comment though I don't know if I understand the connection. I meant to speculate that "The Widow's Son" indicates anyone going through the internal process of alchemical transformation rather than applying to any particular person or persons. Whether the historical character Jesus actually existed or not seems irrelevant to this speculation.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Oz wrote, "I consider "Finnegans Wake" a book of the dead in the same manner as the Tibetan or Egyptian Book of the Dead, i.e. instructions to the voyager to help pass through death or through a long, dark night. In other words, instructions to aid the arc (Arcadia) of consciousness through death to a rebirth of some kind."

I'm fascinated by the fact that D. Scott Apel's partner read the Egyptian Book of the Dead both to RAW and to Arlen as each of them were dying, as revealed in the book "Beyond Chaos and Beyond." Although I suppose she could have read "Finnegans Wake" to RAW instead!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

To clarify my Widow's Son comment to Oz, unless I am misremembering "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" (it's been a few years since I read it), the Widow's Son could refer to the fact that Mary Magdalen became a widow after Jesus was crucified and that Jesus and Mary had a son, i.e., the bloodline that allegedly migrated to Europe. Jesus is certainly tied, in theology, to the death and rebirth processes Oz refers to.

Alias Bogus said...

What is the ‘transition’ that Cagliostro refers to? It seems like a liminal word, quite appropriate to the initiations and changes implied by all the rituals undergone, or described. But does he mean it as a euphemism for killing Sigismundo, or do they have other plans?

Who wants Sigismundo dead, enough to shoot at him? Or maybe, like “who killed the chauffeur?” in The Big Sleep, it doesn’t really matter. [When Howard Hawks filmed it, his researchers contacted Raymond Chandler, to get the answer to that question, but he confessed he had no idea.]

I find it odd how extreme the reactions to Freemasonry appear, at times. The UK lodges contain kings and aristocrats and other worthies, who have links to the Church of England, and yet so often Freemasonry gets portrayed as anti-Christian (certainly anti-Catholic), at least in the continental lodges. In that sense, it may appear as part of the protestant movement. Apparently, you have to believe in some sort of God (Jehovah, Jahweh, Allah, etc) so I can’t request membership. And yet, anti-Masonic material often portrays them as heretics (Gnosticism) or even evil devil-worshippers, etc. The mildest criticism revolves around the fact that they may unfairly help each other in business and careers, without disclosing their interest – all the way up to massive revolutionary conspiracies.

It remains a puzzle to me, although the cellular structure of lodges does allow for all those possibilities to exist, in one group or another, without others being aware. Especially when membership appears specialised (e.g. a police lodge), and along with the cellular structure, we also see a tight hierarchical form, built on a “need to know” basis, so new members really have no idea of the ultimate intentions of the higher ups – they might simply function as ‘useful idiots’. This ambiguity relates to cults, as well as institutions like freemasonry (often described by critics as some form of cult).

So, do we consider Freemasonry as benign (Sigismundo’s uncles) or corrupt (Chartres and the Balsamo gang). Can we really draw parallels with ancient folk wisdom of the witches and wise women? So many of the reports only get written by biased Christians as propaganda (about all we know about the Cathars, Knights Templars or witches’ Sabbaths, for instance).

Does Witchcraft really date as far back as its pseudo-history implies? Did Crowley invent modern Wiccan rituals for Gerald Gardner, or did someone merely rip-off material from Crowley’s published works? Do Wiccan rituals really contain ancient knowledge? Granted that midwives had skills and experience, and some knowledge of plants, etc – but what of these rituals, use of The Tarot, etc?

I love Tom’s parallel with Armando Ianucci’s plots.

And Jesus definitely belongs in the death & resurrection god category, first raised in The Golden Bough, I think. Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, etc.

Oz Fritz said...

The explanation Tom gave of who the Widow's Son may be matches how I saw it in my first reading which came not long after reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I celebrate the multiplicity of this mystery.

Jesus as a god of death & resurrection can get taken literally, allegorically, both or neither.

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year! May all the Stars shine bright and bring Peace on the World. In other words, keep the lasagna flying.