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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Widow's Son reading group, Week Twenty six

The Promethean 

Week Twenty Six (pg. 433-454 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 23&24 Part III all editions) 

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

I am yesterday, today and the brother of tomorrow: these words are from Crowley’s Liber Israfel. Israfel was supposedly based on a manuscript by the sainted Allen Bennett named Liber Anubis which was itself supposedly a translation of a hymn from that disparate corpus of writings known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, more properly called The Book of Coming Forth By Day. And now, it seems, Sigismundo is allowed back into the light of liberty.

Sigismundo naturally doesn’t trust that his rescuers are who they claim to be at first. He begins to cotton to the situation as-it-appears-to-be after being given the grip of the fourth degree. Earlier in the novel Sir John is lectured after his fourth degree initiation that help may always come from an unexpected quarter. Sigismundo/Joseph has become despondent and had almost given up hope of salvation.

Johann Conrad Dippel was born in 1673 at Castle Frankenstein; he was a man of learning, a theologian, hermetic scholar and an alchemist. The great visionary Emmanuel Swendenborg was once a student of Dippel’s but later rejected him and viciously attacked him as a megalomaniacal opportunist. Dippel believed that hermetic scholarship and alchemy was a truer key to understanding Nature than the then emerging natural sciences and espoused millenarian beliefs about the Second Coming. However, one friend claims that as an adult he despaired of Christ, describing him as “an indifferent being”, and put all of his faith into his alchemical experiments. At one point he tried to buy his birthplace with a vial of something he claimed was the elixir of life. A contemporary myth about Dippel that is pertinent to the incarnation in the novel is that he conducted experiments to transfer souls into cadavers. Nearly a decade before The Widow’s Son was published a popular and controversial idea was proposed to Academia that Shelley had been inspired to write Frankenstein after visiting Castle Frankenstein and hearing the tale of Johann Dippel. Regardless, Dippel - who indeed was said to have died in 1734 - strikes an interesting and undeniably Faustian figure. Dippel claimed a year before his death at age 61 that he had developed a tonic that would allow him to live to 135 - so in the manner of most of the people I admire, he was a dumbass and a goddamn liar but I’m sure RAW would appreciate the life-extension optimism.

Frankenstein, or Actually, It’s Frankenstein’s Monster, is one of those novels that some people are forced to read in school or believe that they know through cultural osmosis but is definitely worth revisiting often. The novel is a mess of ideas and contradictions that not only exemplifies Romantic literature and philosophy but the eternal crises of “progressing” humanity. Shelley, not her husband, was the superior wit. (Not to mention that she single-handedly created the genre of science fiction.) Ingolstadt figures strongly with Frankenstein as the location of Victor Frankenstein’s studies and his monster’s birthplace: Shelley almost certainly chose Ingolstadt because of its connection to Herr Weishaupt and His Merry Men.

Dippel von Frankenstein and Sigismundo is a satisfying conclusion to the mind-bending action of the third Part that can only be followed up with something like Chapter 24. A few observations:

When Sigismundo begins to think that the key is to Stay Drunk All The Time I was reminded of Baudelaire’s advice which I have tried to follow and also that after seeing how his relationship with alcohol played out in the previous novel, I’m hoping he doesn’t pursue that train of thought.

This sequence, I believe is meant to be funny:

“What do you feel when you look at the stars at night?” Frankenstein asked.
“The same as anybody else. Feelings that I cannot put into words.”
“Not the same as anybody else. Try putting it into words….” and so forth.

I'm pretty sure RAW/Frankenstein is playing a trick on the reader who is almost invariably going to identify with Sigismundo as Frankenstein lists all the ways that he is special. I would especially imagine the type of person who would be reading this novel in the first place would love to relate. We’re all the Fairest.

The idea of the Enlightened Despot is an old one though I do think it is interesting that two of my favorite series, this one and Terra Ignota, both play with this idea. If you enjoy The Historical Illuminatus! Chronicles I heartily recommend checking out Ms. Palmer’s novels as they are the closest material I can think of.

The following chapter is a hodge-podge of Gnostic fragments, Biblical verse, and the Author’s ingenium. I have tried to think of something to add and I cannot summon up anything worthy. This is the Gospel According to St. Wilson the Evangelist and it is a perfect encapsulation of Chesterton’s absurd good news or Pascal’s Night of Fire. Read and Read and Read it.

“The foxes have their holes and the birds have their nests, but the Living One does not stop and rest.”

The ankh is actually a representation of a sandal strap and the Egyptian form of “god” was conjugated as a verb.

“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis Chapter 6

Maybe Dippel was onto something.

“Believe in the Stars.”- Kenneth Parcell, another Immortal

From Eric: “For the soundtrack I have chosen Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis conducted by Jascha Horenstein. This piece seems to fit the mystic Christianity of this section. Man, this section of the novel blew me away when I first read it during the carefree Reagan years.


Eric Wagner said...

It delighted Bob Wilson that Percy Shelley encouraged Mary to have Frankenstein go to college in Ingolstadt because Percy liked Weishaupt.

Oz Fritz said...

From the view here, Chapters 23 and 24 show some serious reversals of perspective. RAW has continued this tactic since I mentioned it some weeks back. Chapter 17 had this article title in a footnote: "Turning Einstein Upside Down ... demonstration of how events in the future can, by Bell's nonlocality theorem, influence the events of the remote past." (p. 254). Chapter 18 has this reversal of perspective footnote: "... the leaning tower of Pisa does not lean; the tourists are all staggering when they photograph it." Chapter 20 puts Sigismundo through a voyeuristic "ordeal" that clearly appears the opposite of torture. I kept thinking of the Hanged Man card which depicts a man reversed with his feet in the air.

Chapter 23 = Mem = The Hanged Man. Sigismundo goes from being a prisoner constantly fucked with to the point of not knowing his own identity or what year it is, to getting rescued and basically getting told that he has some kind of Messianic destiny as the Chosen One, with a lineage that came from the stars. The Hanged Man is the card Leary & Wilson assigned to Stage 13, the input side of the 5th, Hedonic Circuit in their book, The Game of Life . This = the first stage past the four terrestrial circuits, the first step to extraterrestrial intelligence.

Chapter 24 = Nun = Death. There seems little about death in this chapter, actually just the opposite, it appears all about The Living One. Jesus gets crucified at the end of the chapter, but the chapter and Part 3 of the novel ends with the words: "the Living One. This scripture-like RAW prose gets attributed to The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene. The does exist a Coptic Gospel of Mary which some argue refers to Mary Magdalene.

Reversal of perspective seems connected to the union or mutual relations of opposites. Some obvious examples in this chapter:

"The first shall become the last, and the last shall become first; they shall be a single one. When you see the first and last you will have no doubt: it is like seeing your own face in a glass."
" ...That which is in the sky is that which is in the earth. That which is in the sun is that which is in the moon. When face beholds face reflected, it is in balance and the Living One comes forth."
"... the Living One is life and does not become death."

Alias Bogus said...

I have no idea what kind of library Bob had access to, at the time of writing, but we have to work with what Frankenstein might feasibly have believed in the 18th Century, and the idea of Jesus having descendants did not simply start in the 1980s. The use of the word “rabbi” to describe Jesus gets quoted, because a Rabbi must marry (unlike Catholic priests). I suspect the idea that Jesus remains celibate, chaste, etc. mostly comes from not wishing to visualise the alternative (rather like the wispy loin cloth that always covers his manhood on the cross). Translation through several languages makes most of the text dubious, to me. For instance, the word “virgin” in the original apparently did not mean a woman who had not had sex, but a woman who had not yet given birth, so Virgin Mary only describes Jesus as her first-born, not that she hadn’t had sex (with man or God).
Online research often seems to call Mérovée “semi-mythical” (I don’t know quite what that means, sounds like “a little bit pregnant”) but the dates attributed to him seem far too late for him to actually ‘be’ Jesus’s son.

Indeed, the whole genealogical story seems weird to me. It starts from an assumption that kings and emperors do not emerge from a meritocracy, but continue a genetic line, somehow entitled to rule due to some (implied) superiority. My hackles rise at the mere thought. Especially linking royalty with spirituality (like – say – the sacred Japanese Emperor – still considered a “living god” in the 40s). The Queen of the UK acts as head of the church, but we don’t kid ourselves that she has some genetic advantage…even if the royal families of Europe seem all inter-linked.

So, most of these bloodline stories seem like propaganda, of one kind or another, much like most of the other stories about a semi-mythical (sic) Jesus. Interesting, sure, but I would feel happy if I never heard the name Jesus Christ for the rest of my life, as it always seems to lead to illogical talk. My apologies to any Christians amongst us. Just my POV.

As to the Gospel of Mary, some apocryphal gospels certainly exist, but this reads more like a pastiche of such texts. Gnomic, Gnostic, puzzling, etc. Not sure if it actually draws on real material (?) I consider it a wonderful piece of mimicry from Bob.
Comments about the Living One echo Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, or Douglas Harding’s Headless Way – so I guess “the Lie that all men believe” must relate to the idea that we are somehow separate from the world (not part of a continuum).

It reminds me of the kind of theosophical pantheism I got (by osmosis) from my dad. Or maybe panpsychism (I think Sigismundo calls it panvitality in Natures’s God). That everything has some kind of consciousness, from Gaia to particles. I always hated the Judeo-Christian approach to animals, that they exist for us to exploit, and don’t feel anything (no, I don’t live a vegan life). This seems particularly evident when we dismiss spiders and flies as merely mechanical, without spotting how much of our own lives (as Mr G., Tim Leary, Colin Wilson, etc. explain) remain robotic, rather than conscious…

Oz Fritz said...

23 = Mem = the element WATER. "I am drinking impressions as a parched man drinks water ..." (p.288). Sigismundo receives actual water right after which tastes like: "... a pure deliciousness, sweet as a fresh apple."

Frankenstein appears an important alchemical allegory regarding creating higher bodies out of dead matter (requiring shocks of electricity) or activating the post-terrestrial circuits (5 - 8) said to already exist in the nervous system yet dormant like dead matter until stimulated. Naturally society gets afraid of this "monster" who acts with the innocence and naivete of a new-born and who also gets soothed, and perhaps guided by music. Young Frankenstein appears on E.J. Gold's movie list, it rewards multiple viewings.

There's a scene in Men In Black II that asks "What do you feel when you look at the stars at night" that feels exactly like the scene here in the book starting with this quote, and done for the same purpose : to convince the character of extra-terrestrial life on earth. The first two Men In Black films offer much esoteric allegory particularly if one allows dalliance with the belief system that aliens live among us. It would not surprise me if one of the film's writers lifted that scene from The Widow's Son

RAW seems to provide a subtle sleight-of-pen to change perspective, at the end of Chapter 23, going from the symbolic to the literal. Starting when Frankenstein asks Sigismundo: "Who is the bridegroom in the Alchemical Marriage of Christian Rosycross?" Purely symbolic, no literal person named Christian Rosycross exists. The conversation then appears to leave the symbolic and venture into literal speculation regarding the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the lineage they spawned. I suggest continuing to look at this symbolically.

Merovee = the French translation of Merovech, the first Merovingian.
Mer + o + vee. Mer = French for sea, in line with the water correspondence for this chapter. Mer could also get considered a feminine symbol and the French language does regard La mer, the sea, as feminine.
o = Pan = The Devil = male energy.
vee reminds me of Pynchon's V. and all I've written about that such as V = The Hierophant; vee = 16 = The Hierophant; also v + ee; e = The Star.

Rarebit Fiend said...

I'm sorry Alias, that's not the part of the conversation I was referring to: I was talking about the vague probing questions about how "special" and "different" Sigismundo is as proof of his otherworldly heritage.

I do love the Men in Black II connection Oz. That's great. I also agree about Young Frankenstein, I watched Blazing Saddles with Lucia and Adie a month ago or so and found it better than I remember.

Alias Bogus said...

@Rarebit Fiend, sorry, not sure which bit of my post you referred to. I confess my ‘Comments’ often get written during the week, when reading the section, and do not always directly reflect on your wonderful, detailed commentaries. I also have a tendency to riff off. For instance, the Q&A you mention, about coming from the stars, actually triggered a memory of a section of The Universe Next Door. I’ll just grab my old Sphere copy, and copy the passage, to save trying to describe an edition, page number, etc.


The Unidentified Man looked up at the stars, smiling slightly. He was good-looking enough to be an actor, Benny thought, and at second glance he did look remotely familiar, as if his face had been in the newspapers sometime. "The stars," he said, "don't they get to you?"
"Suppose I were an extraterrestrial," the man said quietly. "Suppose I were several million years ahead of this planet. What one question would you ask me?"
"Why is there so much violence and hatred among us?" Benny asked at once.
"It's always that way on primitive planets," the man said. "The early stages of
evolution are never pretty."
"Do planets grow up?" Benny asked.
"Some of them," the man said simply.
"Through suffering enough, they learn wisdom."
Benny turned and looked at his odd companion. He is an actor, he thought. "Through suffering," he repeated. "There's no other way?"
"Not in the primitive stages," the man said. "Primitives are too self-centered to ask the important questions, until suffering forces them to ask."
Benny felt the grief pass through him again, and leave. He grinned. "You play this game very well."
"Anybody can do it," the man said. "It's a gimmick, to get outside your usual mind-set. You can do it too. Just try for a minute-you be the advanced intelligence, and I'll be
the primitive Terran. Okay?"
"Sure," Benny said, enjoying this. "Why me?"
The stranger's tone was intense. "Why have I been singled out for so much injustice and pain?"
"There is no known answer to that," Benny said at once. "Some say it's just chance-hazard-statistics. Some say there is a Plan, and that you were chosen to learn an important lesson. Nobody knows, really. The important thing is to ask the next question."
"And what is the next question?"
Benny felt as if this was easy. "The next question is, What do I do about it? How ever many minutes or hours or years or decades I have left, what do I do to make sense out of it all?"
"Hey, that's good," the stranger said. "You play Higher Intelligence very well."
"It's just a gimmick," Benny said, feeling as if a great weight had been taken off him. They laughed.
"Where did you ever learn that?" Benny asked. "From a book on Cabala," the man said. "It's a way of contacting the Holy Guardian Angel. But people don't relate to that metaphor these days, so I changed it to an extraterrestrial from an advanced civilization."
"Who are you? I keep feeling I've seen your face. ..." The man laughed. "I'm a stage magician," he said. "Cagliostro the Great."
"Are you sure you're not a real magician?" Benny asked

Rarebit Fiend said...

Alias, my apology was sincere. I am often worried that my writing is unclear except to me. I guess I tend to go off on my own tangents. I have Adie read everything before I send it to Tom but she's used to my gibberish. I was confused about the Jesus lineage and was concerned it read as if I thought readers could all relate to being a descendant of Christ.

Believe it or not I came *this* close to noting in my post that Dippel von Frankenstein reminded me of Hugh Crane more than Hagbard. When I was student teaching in an AP class I had my students attempt that exercise! I miss those days.

Oz Fritz said...

In Chapter 24 it appears that RAW uses bread as a metaphor for the creation of the world:

"And he said: these words are simple but they set the world on fire. I have started the fire, but the woman, my spouse, shall bring forth the bread." (p.295)

This quote could also just as easily describe the ON formula. O = the male, N = the female. In ESSAYS 1 Jerry Cornelius calls it a Western form of Yin and Yang.

"He said: The Kingdom is like a woman who has taken a seed and made a loaf of bread." (p. 301)

Tobias Churton in his Beast In Berlin bio mentions anecdotally that Crowley once got asked (paraphrasing from memory) his thoughts on what creates the world? He answered, "it's a play of Nuit"

I love the play of words in this next passage. The use of "stone" has multiple interpretations:

"He said: If you ask your mother for bread, would she give you a stone? If you ask her for light, will it be denied? The desires of the human heart were not put there without reason."

The last sentence seems conterminous with "Do what thou wilt."

Stone in the previous passage could relate to this next one:

"Peter asked: Who sent thee?
Jesus answered him and said: The cornerstone that the builders rejected is the place from which I come. The gate that is not a gate is the source of the Living One."

The Living One seems conterminous (I rented this word for this post, might as well get the most mileage out of it) to what Deleuze calls Univocity of Being which he got from Duns Scotus, a 13th Century Scottish philosopher. Deleuze also says that Spinoza held the same view:

"Early in The Ethics Spinoza argues that there is only one Substance which is absolutely infinite, self-caused, and eternal." (Wikipedia)

This philosophy of Spinoza, for which he got ostracized from his Jewish faith, got referred to as "Nature's God," the title of the next book in this series.

The correspondences for 24 in Sepher Sephiroth include:

Substance; a body
He whom I love
He who loves me
Angel of 2 of Cups - called LOVE in the Thoth Tarot.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The ancient world, late antiquity and the early Middle Ages was rife with spurious bloodlines and genealogies. One familiar example would be the genealogy associated with the founding of Rome, with Romulus supposedly descended from Aeneas of Troy. So the connection of the bloodline of Jesus with the Merovingian dynasty fits in with that tradition of connecting a local dynasty with mythological heroes.

I enjoyed the connection Alias Bogus made between the present work and Schroedinger's Cat.

Alias Bogus said...

Funnily enough, I stumbled over the ‘fact’ that if anyone can claim Jesus as an ancestor, then mosbunall of us probably can.
See, for instance, this article in the LA Times
”If anyone alive today is descended from Jesus, then so are most of the people on the planet.”

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Alias writes, "the idea of Jesus having descendants did not simply start in the 1980s."

Jefferson Airplane's 1972 album "Long John Silver" (the last studio album before the band broke up and then morphed into Jefferson Starship, although confusingly the Airplane later reunited and made one more album) contained a track, "Alexander the Medium," about the "son of Jesus." ("God got off on the foxy daughter, too" the Paul Kantner song assured us.) I don't know Kantner's source, but a friend of mine in high school said he had heard about Jesus supposedly having a child.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

One of RAW's footnotes cites a 1970 book called "Was Jesus Married?" by W.E. Phipps.

Phipps published a piece in the "New York Times" on his thesis:

A bit from his piece: "Whereas the documents related to early Christianity give ground for maintaining that Jesus married, one can only speculate about whom he married. There are several possibilities. One of these is that he may have had a wife named Mary. The Gospels show he had special affection for Mary, the sister of Martha. In the early church, this Mary was identified with Mary called Magdalene. The Gospel of Philip, a recently excavated scroll which may date back to early Jewish‐Christian tradition, states that Jesus's spouse was Mary Magdalene."