Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Widow's Son reading group, Week 21

Week Twenty One (pg. 339-359 Hilaritas edition, Part III Chapter 13&14 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Howdy everyone, I can only beg your forgiveness for my tardiness; life and work have consumed the past few days.

Sigismundo’s ordeal takes such a bizarre and menacing turn that we are almost able to forget how kind our Author is towards their protagonist; Sigimundo has been led into the heart of some conspiratorial scheme that is able to warp gravity, time, and space but our intrepid hero is well-versed in the theory of conspiracy and is able to strike a claim in this new murky mental territory. Is this Chapel Perilous where Sigismundo may either grow insane or canny? Perhaps -- but much like a True Initiation, Chapel Perilous never really seems to end. Sigismundo has been thrust into so many mind-boggling, unpleasant situations and has learned so much contradictory information that it is hard to point to this sequence as the apogee with any certainty. But these experiences have taught Sigismundo the value of practical agnosticism and understand the nature of perspective.

One could expect a young man who has seen multiple people killed in front of him, been drugged by his own rapist/murderer father, killed himself, learned of the different infamies of life in such demonstrative ways to have been broken at this point; consigned to an ugly world or driven mad by its brutality. But Sigismundo is keeping his head above water, able to deal with his new circumstances in the Bastille, or wherever the chamber had been prepared, with enough calmness and rationality to see the nails keeping the furniture on the ceiling/floor. He is able to not dispassionately examine the pantomime behind his surroundings and even reacts with sincere good humor when dragged before what appears to be an Inquisitorial board. Many of us have the 23rd Psalm read after our deaths but how many have the conviction to recite that as we are led away to have the demons whipped out of us?

The hidden variable to Sigismundo’s supple mind isn’t that he has read widely but that he has an education that allows himself to examine ideas from many different angles. I would name the hidden variable as magic, the rituals and lessons in between have already brought him into the metamorphic world of occultism whose foundation seems to be composed of Fata Morgana, shadow-boxing, and a mountain that disappears and reappears with the blink of an eye. Magic is stronger medicine than most philosophy is one takes enough and is able to keep it down: what differentiated Wilson from others who lost themselves in Chapel Perilous? What techniques did he use to cope with his season in hell?

Like Cosmic Trigger, these chapters stand as a clear-enough enunciation of RAW’s theory of conspiracy. It does not do to give into first impressions, nor does the slitting one’s throat with Occam’s razor and subsequently giving into the next best choice of the “simplest” explanation. (As a fideist, I’ve always wondered exactly how anyone was certain that they knew what the simplest explanation would be.) Of course, like a flu shot, one must take some of the virus inside one’s body to prevent a greater sickness, and like most occultists who I give credence to Sigismundo’s mind is filled with gods and wild happenstance. But this adds flavor to paranoia and makes it considerably more edifying. Right now, when we see Sigismundo in such desperate circumstances, I see our protagonist stronger than ever, excelling in the light of misfortunate circumstance and such concerted conspiracy.

Notes: Don’t occultists always do a much better job of interpreting the profundity of Hume and Berkeley than run-of-the-mill academic philosophers? How anyone who truly buys into the religious nonsense of Academe thinks they grasp the arch-Skeptic is beyond me.

Another Freemasonic interpretation of the Ripper murders is covered in Alan Moore’s From Hell where Dr. William Withey Gull is fingered as the agent of destruction. Of course, Moore’s Gull’s crime exceed his mandate and he is eventually drug before a tribunal of high-ranking Masons, including founders of the Golden Dawn, before being sequestered in an asylum. Moore also adds his own take on conspiracy theory and muddy history in his epilogue, “Dance of the Gull-catchers.”

De Selby appropriately gets the last word on this part of the narrative as he splits reality into a trinity of interpretations.

Enjoy the Days Between.

The perfect pick from Eric Wagner: The upside down room suggested this Fred Astaire number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsoYyDlYU8M


Eric Wagner said...

Nice post. I had to look up fideism. Coincidentally, I spoke with a doctor about the flu vaccine this morning. Working as a teacher often seems like Chapel Perilous

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The scene in which Sigismundo finds himself in an "upside down" room and calmly figures out what has happened to him is one of the most vivid passages in all of Wilson's books.

The way that Sigismundo carefully observes the clues until he understands what is going is is analogous to Robert Anton Wilson's interest in quantum mechanics, which also defies "common sense" but which was put together after careful observations and willingness to consider odd possibilities.

Oz Fritz said...

Great post and comments. Magic as a hidden variable, and comparing Sigismundo's detective work with RAW's approach to quantum physics especially stood out to me along with the excellent video for this week's music selection. The word that pops up in the very last frame of that video had it recalling "keep the lasagna flying" for me. Some materialists, including myself, suspect that magic works by make changes on the quantum level.

I wonder if RAW got some inspiration from The Who's maniacal drummer Keith Moon for the upside down room scene? From "Rock Bottom" by Pamela Des Barres: "The road always beckoned and Keith got bored easily, but blessed with an ingenious, devilish imagination, he battled to keep the boredom at bay. ... Sleep never came easily for Mr. Moon: Once he spent hours nailing hotel-room furniture to the ceiling exactly as it had been on the floor."

Alias Bogus said...

These books seem to cover all kinds of initiations, interrogations and other kinds of uncomfortable social confrontations and interactions. “We know more than you think”.

It doesn’t surprise me that Sigimundo decides to treat the whole thing as a sham, a masque, in Chapter 14.

Going back to The Earth Will Shake, we attend a series of rituals, from the false one with the Uncles, done as a warning to Sigismundo (similar to a classic initiation ordeal, in Anthropology, when the ‘demons’ unmask as older relatives); then the actual Rossi meeting that he attempts to eavesdrop on, but gets captured and drugged, in which the four entities worshipped get named as Orpheus, Aradia, Lucifer and Tana. Then the trial he attends, of a Strega accused by the Inquisition, also mentions these four. Then he dreams he finds himself back with the Rossi. Eventually, old Abraham’s healing process invokes the four Guardian Angels: Rapha-El, Gabri-El, Micha-El and Auri-El.

The repetition of the theme of four angels (or demons) persists throughout.

Traditional verses, like the Black Paternoster, mumbled before sleep, often invoke four guardians.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head;
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away.

At the end of chapter 13 Bob uses cut-ups to imply the drifting off to sleep, and the text contains echoes of the four evangelists, and the ‘animals’ they get connected to, symbolically (for instance, in the corners of the Tarot card for The World), the man (or angel) Matthew, the lion Mark, the ox (bull) Luke, and the eagle (seagull) John. These four appear in Finnegans Wake as Mamalujo (sigil X, in Joyce’s notes) and often seem to act as judges or inquisitors (which seems appropriate). This also echoes the four called upon in the various rituals (“God, and Mary and Patrick and Brigit” thinks Seamus when he sees the White Boys; “guardians of the four quarters” says old Kyte, “Robin, Marian, Orfee, Bride”; Sir John also remembers his Mark Master degree as having to do with four and squares, etc.

The section ends with a pun based around the Laws of Form “and Sigismundo was marked, and crossed the lion, and was unmarked…”

Oz Fritz said...

Alias wrote: "It doesn’t surprise me that Sigismundo decides to treat the whole thing as a sham, a masque, in Chapter 14." It doesn't surprise me either. He lives in a prison under horrible conditions with apparently no possibility of escape now. Almost everyone on one kind of initiatory path or another reaches a point where this type of effort all seems a bunch of bullshit as they attempt to free themselves from the prison of social and cultural conditioning.

One can see, or make up, subtle esoteric data in the following statement (p. 224 Bluejay edition) when interpreted in a different way: "... and the C.I.A. seems to be largely a fishing expedition by the Knights of Malta (see footnote p. 88). It fairly makes one's head swirl."

Fish = Nun (Hebrew letter, not the type of woman familiar as "The Penguin" in the Blues Brothers film) = Death

C.I.A. = Central Intelligence Agency. Leary used to do a play of words on this spy agency. If memory serves, he referred to DNA as the "real" Central Intelligence Agency.

Malta = M (Mem = The Hanged Man) + all, interpreted with a phonetic pun; or Mem + alter

Head = Resh = The Sun which correlates with the solar Tiphareth.

This statement comes at the end of a footnote about a book "Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution" by Stephen Knight. Right before this footnote we get the phrase: "... the true manipulators behind the scenes" Excessive, out of control male energy in the subtler dimensions appears to have a correspondingly devastating energetic effect on the Mother archetype as Jack the Ripper demonstrated on his female victims, or, slightly less gruesome, as the sexual predator Donald Trump reportedly treats women when his animal gets off the leash. One can deduce that the C.I.A. statement at the bottom of the footnote provides an esoteric solution to the problem stated at the top of the footnote noting the word "solution" in the book's title and the pun of Stephen Knight and Knights of Malta. This conclusion aligns with instructions and attitudes presented in Crowley's The Book of Lies.

p.229 RAW attributes the methods of Hassan I Sabbah to History of Secret Societies by Akron Daraul. Akron Darual is a pseudonym used by Idries Shah. According to Peter Lamborn Wilson (Hakim Bey) when I dined with him and Bill Laswell, Shah made up a lot of stuff. Lamborn Wilson was referencing Shah's books The Sufis and The Way of the Sufi in that context. He also felt that Gurdjieff made up a lot of stuff regarding Sufism. The first time I saw Lamborn Wilson was when he introduced a talk by RAW given at the Open Center in New York.

Alias Bogus said...

Thanks to Oz for the reminder about Arkon (sic) Daraul (aka Idries Shah). You can find the text he references - A History of Secret Societies - in the Internet Archive (for free download).

I read this stuff (The Sufis, etc) a long time ago, when I still thought Castaneda might have information on an ancient tradition (I feel a lot less certain these days – not to say he doesn’t offer intriguing suggestions). Interesting to think Shah may have made up some of his descriptions of Sufism (as a perennial philosophy, not directly linked to Islam). Theosophy also claimed that, as do many esoteric groups, apparently. I have no problem with people’s imagination, but once we get into the realm of simulating reality, or claiming authenticity (or authority) for fictional recreations the whole thing becomes a lot more blurred (as in fuzzy logic).
I always look at Wiki information as only one source (but it feels useful as a jumping off point, in need of further verification). According to Wikiwands, Shah crossed over with Gerald Gardner, and found Wicca and mushroom-eating interesting; spent some time with poet Robert Graves (the White Goddess author). Even more intriguing, his connection to J.G.Bennett (from the Gurdjieff tradition), who handed property to him, and a group of his own students, apparently.

Worth a (short) read, if you find such trickster guru stuff interesting. Never forget this all happened during “The Sixties”.

[Bennett once said to me, 'There are different styles in the work. Mine is like Gurdjieff's, around struggle with one's denial. But Shah's way is to treat the work as a joke.']

You might enjoy seeking out Richard Williams’ unfinished animation of the Mulla Nasruddin – the Thief and the Cobbler. I haven’t got into pursuing the various cuts/versions, but did enjoy Persistence of Vision, a compilation of interviews and archival footage about this unfinished (potential) masterpiece.

Reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s unfinished Don Quixote, stuck in development hell – which he documented in Lost in La Mancha. (Curious that Orson Welles couldn’t finish Don Quixote, either).

All of which reminds me of when studying shamanism (back in the day) I came across the interesting information that Eskimo shamans admitted to using tricks (ventriloquism, sleight of hand, etc) to get people into a suggestive state of mind, but this did not undermine their belief that other shamans used ‘real magic’. (Just as exposing fake mediums does not damage the faith of true believers).

Note: although I belong to the conjuror tradition, I don’t deny the possibility that inducing gullibility may make ‘placebo’ treatments more effective.

Oz Fritz said...

p. 233: "Maybe, Sigismundo thought, it is he, David Hume, who is the 'Secret Chief in Scotland' from whom all Masonry springs"

Hume gets credit for promoting scepticism and empericism in Philosophy. He was nearing the end of his life at the time of our story. He strongly influenced Crowley, RAW, Gilles Deleuze, and possibly de Selby, though Hanfkopf would no doubt disagree. Deleuze's first book is a profile and interpretation of Hume's work.