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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Nature's God: Eric Wagner's introduction

Nature’s God: Introduction “Bewitching Rhetoric” by Eric Wagner (pg 3-7 Hilaritas edition)

From “John Wilcock presents ‘Four Significant Events in U.S. Counterculture, 1958 &1959.’”

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Knock three times and say a prayer to Nature’s God. It’s time to follow Sigismundo into the Northern Territory wilderness and Maria into the all-enveloping arms of Her. Time to test the mettle of humanity against the inexorable tides of change. Happy Walpurgisnacht, tomorrow is May Day- one of the two days when Magonia or Faerie is closest to the mortal realm.

Eric Wagner begins by telling us the ways that he has experienced Nature’s God over the years. In one way this is the look inside the life of someone who has been a RAW fan long before many of us in the community. He can remember when Nature’s God was not yet published- I can contrast this to when I read Illuminatus! the first time a year after RAW’s Greater Feast. The third way that Eric experiences Nature’s God considers its (possible) relationship with Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, a novel I read after Illuminatus! and roughly a couple months before I read Masks of the Illuminati and Cosmic Trigger and roughly four years before I would read The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles. Eric seems to have a profound, or at least extraordinarily circumspect, relationship with RAW’s last novel; the first time I read it, I was underwhelmed. All this is to point out how Eric does an excellent job of making the reader consider their relationship with the novel at hand. I have to confess I don’t remember if my New Falcon copy had Eric’s introduction in it, although it was published after 2010. But this is an excellent introduction for someone who is rereading the text- it prompts curiosity and reflection and I can’t think there’s much more an author could ask of a colleague.

As I said, I was not a huge fan of Nature’s God when I first read it; after the denser The Earth Will Shake and The Widow’s Son it just didn’t seem to be complete. Given that I had the prejudice of knowing this was meant to be the third of five novels it almost seemed like a hinge that was missing a flap. (Flap? Side? I’m not a craftsman, folks.) What was supposed to be the pivot of an angle became the second point of a line. And then-

But, it is what it is, or it seems to be what it seems to be, and that’s just life. Stories don’t always have neat endings and we don’t always get to find out exactly what happened. I don’t know why Wilson didn’t complete the, from what I understand, much anticipated and lamented Bride of Illuminatus! or the final novels of the Historical Illuminatus! quintet. That said, as much as I love his novels I have always found his nonfiction - if anything can be truly called nonfiction in RAW’s wonderful world - more thrilling than the fiction. I don’t prejudice The Grand Old Man any of his choices, but I do wonder. (And for fuck’s sake do I wish he had published Tale of the Tribe, much thanks to Fly for salvaging the remains.)

Eric asks what is Will and discusses the dual concepts of Will as personal force and as symbolized by the penis in Nature’s God. One of the best explanations of Will and how to visualize one’s own dick or someone else’s dick or whatever makes you happy is found in Crowley’s essay “The Wand” from part two, Magick. of Liber ABA: Book Four. (Chapter VI). But the discussion of Maria’s essay - which is obviously an embedded version of RAW’s first published essay for Krassner’s The Realist, “The Semantics of God” - takes the idea of Will to a whole new level, at least for this reader. When I reread Nature’s God earlier this year I realized that RAW’s final novel contains the same thrust, if you will, and vibe of his first published essay; there’s an ouroboros here and it is delightful. RAW removed two novels to suck his own dick. Maria gets her due and becomes RAW’s mouthpiece in a history that is perhaps better than our own for having heard the word a couple centuries earlier. RAW has the first and final word. In a fashion.

There are many ways to look at the novel at hand. I hope to read a lot about your perspectives and ideas over the coming months. RAW is an excellent antidote to dismal times: three knocks gains you entry.

From Eric Wagner: " I thought Thelonious Monk dancing might prove a nice opening soundtrack:"

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Discordian song?

As we Discordians (and everyone else) sticks apart during the pandemic, here is an apparent Discordian song by the Commoners Choir, "Singing Together Apart." The performance apparently was put together by @JaneClifford23 who lists "Eris" as one of her interests in her Twitter bio.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale

The Kingdom of the Wicked Book One: Rules, and The Kingdom of the Wicked Book Two: Order, Helen Dale, Ligature, 2017.

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

Continuing my valuable work of reviewing books that came out years ago, I’d like to touch on Helen Dale’s Kingdom of the Wicked duology. Dale is best known for controversy caused by her publishing the novel The Hand that Signed the Paper under an assumed identity in 1994 that ties into the current, exhausting conversation surrounding cultural appropriation. Dale continues to flirt with “controversy” and contributes to The Quillette, a self-proclaimed bastion for unpopular intellectualism. Yet, for all the firestarting that Dale has been accused of, I found The Kingdom of the Wicked to be a painfully, and beautifully, human look at a topic that could easily be mishandled.

That’s not to say that Helen Dale isn’t being subversive  throughout the two novels. The Kingdom of the Wicked is an alternative history of the trial of Christ, herein referred to exclusively by the proper Hebrew name of Yeshua ben Yosef, something I think RAW would have appreciated. Indeed, all of the otherwise-familiar characters are separated from their previous characterization(s) by being identified by their historically/culturally correct names and being placed firmly in Dale’s reconstructed first century setting. The historical accuracy is contrasted with the fantastic elements of the setting; namely that Archimedes was rescued from the Siege of Syracuse, began to work for the Romans and jump-started the Industrial Revolution by 1700 years. The novel’s world is introduced by the members of the Pilate household ordering pizza and the differences between authentic pizza and the Judaen imitations. (A discussion of pizza seems to be a good introduction to a constructed world as Neal Stephenson also does it in Snow Crash.) Another highlight from the first novel is Caiphas, instead known by the Hebrew Kayafa, coming back from a Roman symposium with a head-splitting hangover stopping at a gas station to buy cannabis to help and meeting with the Judean revolutionary Yehuda Iscariot. (It is interesting that Judas is given his Hebrew name but retains his bastardized-Greek epithet.)

Another side note: I asked my wife, who knows more about ancient Judaism than I do, where the characterization of Judas as a revolutionary comes from; she said there is no historical or Biblical evidence for this theory, but that folk etymologies have connected the name Iscariot with the Sicarii, a group of radical anti-Roman zealots. Most likely, Iscariot is a Hellenization of a Hebrew epithet meaning “from Kerioth”, a town in Judaea. Curiously, this is one of the apocryphal stories built around her cast that Dale takes and runs with. My own research brought up that some theologians have tried to explain, if not justify, Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ in terms of a political disagreement. Of course, I am familiar with Judas as Revolutionary from my favorite retelling of the Gospel, Jesus Christ Superstar. The second book opens with a bit of Biblical errata brought to life in the form of Christ’s purported, non-divine, father- a Roman legionnaire with the regrettable, only because of modern context, name Pantera. Because I love Celsus and Origen I really appreciated this storyline.

Aside from consumable vice, and there’s plenty of it, sex is everywhere in the novel. This is the main point of contention between Imperial Rome and occupied Judaea -- but there are plenty of other issues which are explored over the course of both novels. In many ways the Romans are going to be more sympathetic to a modern reader, at least of my persuasion, but the Jewish people are given plenty of time to lodge their complaints against the Roman lifestyle. The Romans have brought industry and its benefits, namely electricity, travel, communication, and medicine, to Judaea; but their laws and social mores horrify the local populace, who are willing to live in relative squalor rather than bow to Romanization.

And with the discussion of sex comes the discussion of women’s issues. Much of the defense of Yeshua ben Yosef comes from the fact that while he sympathizes with the Jewish separatists, the Zealots, to an extent, he also opposes their violence and commitment to honor killings. The honor killings are conducted against Jewish women who marry Romans -- this tradition of concubinage is horrifying to the locals but it also allows the women to live much better lives than they do under Jewish law. Cynara, the daughter of Joseph of Arimathea, is an example of a Jewish woman who has for the most part abandoned her people’s lifestyle and become almost fully Romanized. Mary Magdalene, instead of being cast as the traditional prostitute, is instead a Romanized, but still spiritually Jewish, newscaster whose stunning beauty and willingness to live with a Roman causes other characters to call her a whore out of jealousy. Much of the debate between the Roman and Jewish people centers on easy access to abortion under Roman law. One of my favorite parts of the book comes from Pontius Pilate, who, while being forced to argue abortion because of the Zealots, says with marked irritation that this is all “woman’s work.” That is not to say that it is lesser than a man’s work, but the modern sensibility is that abortion is almost exclusively a woman’s issue.

The novels follow the Trial of Christ for the disruption in the Jewish Temple. His prosecutor and defender are fictional characters whose own stories form a large part of the narrative. There were many elements of the novels I can’t cover here but do their part to flesh out Dale’s world. The novel creates an intellectually stimulating dialectic between the Roman and Judaean ways of life, where the excesses and virtues of each are brought into view by the conflict between them, and we are also given glimpses of the possibilities that emerge from a fusion -- or a refusa l-- of both. The parallels to our own times and the endless liberal versus conservative debates are difficult to ignore. In these works at least, Dale comes across as the true classical liberal that she aspires to be, eschewing ideology for a clear-eyed and agnostic wrestling with the truth. Oh and there’s cyborg women who fly giant hawk ships with living snakelike hair- one of them is Jesus’ half sister. Pretty good.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The 'totally convinced'

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Although I read a lot about COVID-19, I find I struggle to figure out what I should do, what other people should do and what the government should do in response. There is just so much that isn't known about the disease yet. I do my best, but I am full of doubt.

If your social media feed is like mine, you are getting a lot of commentary from "experts" who are convinced the lockdown should end immediately, the lockdown should continue for months, what everybody should do, etc.

A couple of quotes. Here is one of my favorites from Robert Anton Wilson: "The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental."

And here is a Friday  blog post from Tyler Cowen, "How things are, in a few short words."

If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage.  No one knows when, or how to model the course of that process.  That decay also will eat into our future public health capacities, and perhaps boost hunger and poverty around the world.

If we keep people locked up at current levels, fewer of them will be exposed to the virus, and in the meantime we can develop better treatments, and also improve test and trace capabilities.  No one knows how quickly those improvements will come, or how to model the course of that process, or how much net good they will do.

The relative pace of those two processes should determine our best course of action.  No one knows the relative pace of either of those two processes.  Yet commentators pretend to be increasingly knowledgeable, moralizing based on the pretense of knowledge they do not have.

That is where we are at!  And here is my earlier post Where We Stand.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Try the Beethoven quiz

Here is something for RAW fans who are into Beethoven: A quiz to test your knowledge of Beethoven, from the Guardian.

I only got six out of 15 right, not a top score. I've read a few books on Beethoven, and one of my wrong answers came straight out of a biography, so I guess some facts about him are disputed.

I guess we'll see how Eric Wagner does, but based on his study of Beethoven and his track record as a Jeopardy champ,  I'm sure he'll leave me in the dust.

Thanks to Nick Helweg-Larsen for the tip and to Ted Hand for the above screen shot from Facebook.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Come join the reading group!

As I wrote the other day, the new reading group for Nature's God starts Thursday.

If you are new to this blog, we have had a practice of reading Robert Anton Wilson's works together; whoever is leading the discussion will post a weekly blog article, and the rest of us weigh in with comments. The discussions, including the first two Historical Illuminatus books, are archived at the right side of this page. Our new reading group will be led by Gregory Arnott.

Rasa kindly created the above meme, and writes, "I’ve been lurking, but enjoying the readings a lot!!"

Thanks for your support Rasa, and for anyone else who writes comments or simply lurks.

We'll be using the Hilaritas Press edition, although you are welcome to use any. The Hilaritas Press version has fine new illustrations by Bobby Campbell. We start Thursday, with discussion of Eric Wagner's introduction, if you want to read ahead a little bit.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Watch Adam Gorightly in a new movie

Scene from "The Hill and the Hole." 

Looking for a movie to watch? "The Hill and the Hole," a weird tale of the American Southwest based on a Fritz Leiber story, has finally been released, and it stars Adam Gorightly, California film actor, author and all-around Renaissance man!

It is available for rent on Vidi Space and it should be available soon at Amazon Prime and other video outlets. You get to see Adam portraying a "Masonic mad man," Adam promises. 

Vidi Space is available on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, and other such devices. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Reminder: Nature's God reading group

The Nature's God reading group, led by Gregory Arnott, begins next week on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, when we'll consider Eric Wagner's introduction.

As usual, the Hilaritas Press edition is the official edition, but everyone is welcome to join in with any edition you can find. Gregory will write blog posts, and everyone is invited to post comments.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Vintage poster

This poster, featuring Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna, is from a website featuring the art of Gregory Evans.  Via the @RAWilson23 Twitter account. The trio were the subject of Erik Davis' excellent book, High Weirdness.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Back to Twin Peaks

Actress Sheryl Lee ("Laura Palmer," "Maddy Ferguson") in 1990 (Creative Commons photo.)

Inspired by Gregory Arnott's recent article, I have been immersing myself into Twin Peaks. I am re-watching the original series on Netflix, then I plan to rewatch the movie Fire Walk With Me, then finally I will watch the 2017 season three revival (which I have never seen.)

Gregory mentioned to me the other day that he was rewatching the third episode of the first season, and while I wouldn't expect everyone to join me in my new obsession, certainly that episode is worth your time. (It has the famous scene in which Agent Cooper meets a dwarf and a character resembling Laura Palmer in a dream. It is still an astonishing scene.)

One aspect of Twin Peaks I find striking is the large number of people associated with it who are mainly known for the show. Where would Kyle MacLachlan be without Twin Peaks? Or composer Angelo Badamenti?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Steve Fly's YouTube playlists

If you are looking for some videos to watch during your quarantine time, Steve Fly has put together two good-sized YouTube playlists of interest to RAW fans.

There's a The Tale of the Tribe and The Tube playlist (194 videos) and also the Email to the Tribe Video Orientation (142 videos).

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Robert Anton Wilson Fans site revamped

Mike Gathers, who has played a role in the invaluable Robert Anton Wilson Fans site for many years, has announced he is updating the site with new material.

The website, if you haven't visited it yet, is a large collection of RAW material, including a bibliography, a huge collection of interviews of RAW, essays and letters written by RAW, audio and video. It's a resource that's been around for many years. Wilson's penultimate book, Email to the Universe, is essentially a collection of highlights of material from the site. Much of the material at the site was gathered by Gathers, Michael Johnson, Eric Wagner, Dan Clore, Marc Lutter, Ted Hand and Jesse Walker; see Michael Johnson's intro to the Hilaritas Press edition of Email to the Universe for more information.

Mike Gathers, who has served as the site's host for several years now, saw my recent post about Robert Anton Wilson's MLA course syllabus for Illuminatus! and decided to use his quarantine time to update the site. Mike saved 7 syllabi from Wilson MLA courses and he has been posting them in a new Maybe Logic Academy section on his website.

Mike also plans to fix broken links at the site, add material found by Martin Wagner (often highlighted at this blog), add other new material and in general freshen up what is already a wonderful site for Wilson fans.

Please join me in thanking Mike for his efforts.

See also this related post by Bogus Magus (who made the Illuminatus! syllabus available.).

Friday, April 17, 2020

Show about Ken Campbell on Zoom

British theater legend Ken Campbell is the subject of a show that will be offered Sunday on Zoom.

I don't know much more than the details on the graphic above I spotted on Twitter, but Daisy Campbell has endorsed, writing, "A must for any Ken Campbell fans out there. Or the curious..."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ready to read a long novel?

LitHub has published a piece called "The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Over 500 Pages" by Emily Temple, and in my opinion the article is above average for pieces of the type.

Among the recommended novels, I have read nine: The Overstory by Richard Powers, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Possession by A.S. Byatt, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Dhalgren by Samuel Delany, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I didn't care for Dhalgren (I'm a Babel-17 fan) and I don't remember much about the Eco, but I really liked the other seven. (Temple limits her list to novels published since 1970 in English, if you wonder why Ulysses or Lord of the Rings is missing.) I had already been planning to read some of the other novels Temple likes.

I posted a comment to the article recommending the Illuminatus! trilogy and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Ada by Vladimir Nabokov was published in 1969 and just barely misses qualifying but I like it, too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Another good RAW quote

I am swamped at work and I don't have time for a proper blog post, but here is another good RAW quote, again via Jim O'Shaughnessy on Twitter:

“In the short run, Orr’s law always holds: Whatever the Thinker thinks, the Prover will prove. And if the Thinker thinks passionately enough, the Prover will prove the thought so conclusively that you will never talk a person out of such a belief...”
~Robert Anton Wilson

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Musical tribute to 'Illuminatus!'

From Steve Tromans on Twitter:

 Psychedelic, baby! Psychedelic... From a musical setting of #robertantonwilson Illuminatus! Trilogy @OrtCafe a few years back. Me on acid. Musical acid. In great company. @RealSubgenius @PsychedelicMag #illuminatus @IlluminatusCom1

From YouTube:

"Golden Apples of the Sun, Silver Apples of the Moon" (excerpt)

Steve Tromans - keyboard
Tymoteuz Joswiak - drums
Ash Trigg - bass
Tom Ford - guitar

Cafe ORT, Birmingham
11 January 2013

Video by Emilia Nowak

Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: 'The Future Starts Here'

Review: The Future Starts Here: Adventures in the Twenty-First Century by John Higgs.

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

“We made it!” he said. “We did it! The future is ours. We rebuilt the cities, freshened the small towns,  cleaned the lakes and rivers, washed the air, saved the dolphins, increased the whales, stopped the wars, tossed solar stations across space to light the world, colonized the moon, moved on to Mars, then Alpha Centauri. We cured cancer and stopped death. We did it—Oh Lord, much thanks—we did it. Oh, future’s bright and beauteous spires, arise!” - Ray Bradbury “The Toynbee Convector” 

At the beginning of the past decade, Alan Moore helmed a project that was a revival of underground publishing -- the product was titled Dodgem Logic. It was glorious and contained material from Kevin O’Neill, Steve Moore, Melinda Gebbie, Robin Ince, Mitch Jenkins, Josie Long, and Steve Ayelett, and that’s just who I can think of off the top of my head. I have to say material because in the spirit of experimentation those nine issues showcased the art of those involved as well as their writing; the second issue contained a photo-shoot collaboration between (Alan) Moore, Jenkins, and Gebbie that was the background for an article by Gebbie which ended up becoming the basis for Moore and Jenkins’ film series The Show. It also contained a wonderful chapbook fully penned and illustrated by Moore titled Astounding Weird Penises. Lovely stuff. 

I bring up Dodgem Logic at the beginning of a review of John Higgs’ The Future Starts Here for a few different reasons. Firstly, because the last chapter of The Future Starts Here revolved around a visit with Daisy Eris Campbell and her notion of a “mycelium network” which Higgs compares to Brian Eno’s concept of scenius. (Scenius is an idea that I can best paraphrase as that the individual “genius” is rather part of a “scene” that produces various types of excellence because of its cross-communication of ideas leading to fertility. ) Dodgem Logic was an expression of this ethos that captured some of the spirit of the brave new world of the twenty-first century.

 The ‘zine seemed ready to grab whatever parts of culture it could by the horns and see what shapes the bloodstains made on the ground. And each issue crackled with energy: I’d open up the first page to find a collection of some of the most fabulous examples of humanity, the Moore-curated “Great Hipsters in History,” and an always hilarious editorial -- past that it was anyone’s guess. There were always standard features such as recipes, obscure-music reviews, and a special Northampton-specific insert that spoke to the magazine’s local origins and the practical side of art.

I bring up the ‘zine  secondly because of the crossover between the scenes represented in the magazine and the scenes and personalities Higgs introduces us to in his book: for example, The Future Starts Here is graced with illustrations by Gebbie. Thirdly, because the book reminded me very much of an essay penned by Moore in the penultimate issue titled “Life on another World.” 

Startlingly poignant and gentle given its grim assessment of The Way Things Stand (or Stood considering it was published in 2010), Moore’s essay calmly points out that This Is It. That this planet is probably the only one we’re going to have and hoping for any outside influence to swoop in and change us for the better is a fool’s game. That instead of acting out Waiting for Godot or Goaliens or Whathaveyouot, humanity should put our queer shoulders to the wheel and make this world one worth having a future in. Moore proposes ideas about the advancement of communication making democracy more applicable while emphasizing the need for a reorientation of focus towards the local. Most excitingly, for this reader at least, Moore proposes his “two-state solution” wherein the physical world would be left to the empirical sciences while the interior world would be left to art, magic, and religion. We’ll return to that. 

Like Moore, Higgs isn’t convinced of humanity’s interplanetary, let alone interstellar, ambitions. Oh, he gives unto Caesar and acknowledges the depths of human ingenuity and offers a round examination of Elon Musk that fascinates nearly as much as the man himself. If you’re someone who longs for space, his chapter on our Martian dreams can almost come across as a personal attack until he assures you that he shares your disappointment. Higgs writes movingly about the cognitive switch of having been raised in the late-twentieth century when the future seemed to lay amongst the stars versus the reality of trying to have humans inhabit cramped enclosures deep beneath the irradiated Martian surface. My emotional reaction was similar when I read the “Space” chapter of Stranger Than We Can Imagine, Higgs’ history of the twentieth century: his account of the life of Sergei Korolev, the naive deviltry of Jack Parsons, and the American (with some guest-starring ex-Nazis) space program’s struggles really paints a portrait of how dire and tenuous humanity’s baby steps outside the atmosphere are and have always been. (It should be noted that Stranger Than We Can Imagine is absolutely essential and I almost think of it as a companion to The Future Starts Here -- or vice versa.) 

And Higgs has an agenda to clear the stars out of our eyes: refocusing on Earth, which does seem important when we consider it is the only home we’ve ever known and will most likely continue to be the only place where humanity can thrive. And, as we’re all well aware, the Earth isn’t doing so hot right now. Or it’s getting too hot right now. Things aren’t great. But Higgs has a vision for a future that corrects the mistakes of the past and argues convincingly about increased awareness and the already shifting morals and priorities of our new century. Higgs extrapolates from a conversation with Andrew O’Neill about gender (non)conformity over the years towards a vision of Gen Z that produces more empathetic and interconnected ways of living. He does this in a long, convincing chapter that examines what he calls the “meta-modern” generation.

Amongst the parade of personalities, including Hilaritas Press illustrator Scott McPherson, and technological possibilities Higgs is constantly working on the scaffolding for his vision of the Future. In the clear-eyed manner of Stranger Than We Can Imagine Higgs disabuses the reader of many preconceptions; I learned more about AI from the first two chapters of the book than I have from any of the hysterical articles I’ve read online. Between conversations about virtual reality and Skinner Boxes, Higgs is able to point out the constant struggle that occurs regardless of whatever technology humans can dream up: power and wealth disparity. It isn’t Skynet that the public needs to fear from AI, but rather the programmers who direct it (an idea readers of Schroedinger’s Cat, with the Steven Moon/GWB-666 dynamic, should appreciate) and that the environment isn’t going to be stabilized without shifts in approach to economics. Speaking of economics, Lionel Shriver’s incredibly stimulating future history The Mandibles is listed in the bibliography for the book but I couldn’t find a mention of her in the text. Like Robert Anton Wilson in Stranger Than We Can Imagine, to a much lesser extent, her influence is, I believe, palpable a couple of times. 

(Back) in conversation with Daisy Campbell, the author and the playwright discuss the philosophy of the (somewhat-infamous) Peter Lamborn Wilson: specifically the Temporary Autonomous Zone and Immediatism. While the m-word isn’t mentioned in the book, I became aware of Hakim Bey (Wilson’s pseudonym) during my first forays into occultism: and the works of Daisy Eris Campbell smack of magic. Unlike in Stranger Than We Can Imagine, Robert Anton Wilson does make a couple of direct appearances -- as a supporter of Universal Basic Income and as the author of Cosmic Trigger. A thread of magical habituation runs through that final chapter and brings me back to Moore and his “two-state solution.” 

At the end of Stranger Than We Can Imagine, Higgs seems to advocate for model agnosticism as the best attitude for the world that the Twentieth Century gave birth to; his approach in The Future Starts Here is certainly influenced by a questioning mind. So in a way it would seem that his history makes up the Solve part of the alchemical credo whereas his survey of the new century makes up the beginning of the Coagula process. Of course the process of dissolution and reconstitution is happening forever in an endless cycle but there is great hope in the fact that we have such an erudite messenger of this perspective. After chapters on technological advance and societal change, I find it telling that a dialogue with Daisy Eris and later the inner thoughts of John on the beach end the book.

I read this book during one of the weeks leading up to the United States’ outbreak of COVID-19; reports had been coming in from Italy and Iran but the rest of the world seemed to be holding its breath just hoping it would only go so far. I imagine if this book had been published a couple years later there would be a chapter on pandemic. (I’m talking about the board game of course, which is excellent.) Higgs’ latest message indicates that he sees this as a possibly larger societal shift than 9/11 insofar as our attitudes and relationships may change. Interestingly, his book does end ruminating on a disease running its course before healing can begin. For Higgs this is the disease of unchecked, un-self-reflective individualism and paranoia that has led to the rise of Brexit and Trump. 

At the end of Stranger Than We Can Imagine, Higgs warns against corporations and the disaster that Citizens United spelled for democracy; like Alan Moore’s characters in the final installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the solution seemed to be to retreat to a higher artistic and intellectual ground. To try to exercise model-agnosticism in the Robert Anton Wilson manner and use it to draw strength from empathy, not hatred or superiority, and to Create. Now it seems like Change, that magnificent always-expect-the-unexpected force, has stepped in again to make the job a little easier. After these months of solitude, disaster, death, and seeing how incompetent and selfish much of our leadership is, perhaps people will begin to reexamine their values more expeditiously than Higgs expected. Who knows? 

Oh, future’s bright and beauteous spires, arise! 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A timely RAW quote

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

“Don’t fool around with the masks of reality until you can handle the reality of masks.”
-- Robert Anton Wilson

The quotation was Tweeted out by Jim O'Shaughnessy, and it's from Cosmic Trigger 3: My Life After Death. 

Supplying a bit of context, Rasa wrote, "RAW was writing about the Operation Mindfuck agents who made a fake RAW obituary, but then discovered days later that Bob Shea, the other author of Illuminatus!, actually did die.

"By now, they must feel a little confused, a little guilty and perhaps a bit superstitious." – RAW

Mr. O'Shaughnessy, an investing expert, is the founder, chairman & co-chief investment officer, OSAM LLC, author of the book What Works on Wall Street and host of the "Infinite Loops" podcast.

His Twitter account has more than 86,000 followers, and he frequently quotes Robert Anton Wilson.

When asked the other day, "What one Wilson book do you recommend?  Ideally I’d like to read the one that most succinctly encapsulates his philosophy," Mr. O'Shaughnessy replied, "There are really so many as, like Walt Whitman, he contains multitudes. I'd say either Prometheus Rising or Quantum Psychology in that order."

Friday, April 10, 2020

Gregory Arnott on the occult in 'Twin Peaks'

[This is reprinted by permission; Gregory explains the background in the intro below.

This seems like a good time to mention that I wrote to Scott Apel last year and asked if RAW was a fan of Twin Peaks (because I liked the show, and  because it "seemed" like something RAW might like. Scott replied, "As far as I can recall, Twin Peaks just never came up in our conversations. I was a huge fan, too, but I don't recall ever discussing the show (or Lynch in general, for that matter) with Bob. He was really more interested in older, classical directors like Welles and Hawkes. I don't think we ever discussed many modern directors in any depth."

One more note: April 8 was the 30th anniversary of Twin Peaks. -- The Management]

This was originally written before Season 3 was announced under the title “Under the Sycamore Trees: Magic and Mystery in Tibet Part I &II”. It was published on Who Forted, which is now known as Week in Weird; its founders, Greg and Dana Newkirk, have become well-known for their seminal paranormal investigation series Hellier. I wrote this under a pseudonym and was surprised by how unashamed I was of the articles when occasion led me to reread them. Considering that Mark Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier both incorporated hunks of magical history and that the AVClub recently ran a Mystical Twin Peaks Reading List I thought this essay might be of some small interest. A lot of it turned up to be nothing as of The Return; Talbot Mundy, who I thought of as one of the biggest “scoops” in the original piece, had no influence for example. Still, I hope that this stands as the work of an enthusiastic fan and practitioner that helps to alleviate the tedium of isolation. I have tried to edit out the mistakes of a younger self. - Gregory, April 2020

“For I am like a refiner’s fire.”

Through the darkness of future past,
The magician longs to see
One chance out between two worlds:
Fire, walk with me.

Part I An Invitation to Love: The Black Lodge Edition

 A couple of years ago I called my best friend crying in a state of turmoil; I was yelling at him for not warning me about the end of Twin Peaks. Granted, at the time I was embroiled in a nasty love affair, drinking pretty heavily, and have always been an emotionally volatile person. All those things considered, there’s still something to a show that can elucidate such a violent reaction. Twin Peaks is shit hot television for multiple reasons; one of these may be its magical elements of composition.

About a year later I was more-or-less fixed up and in a much better place when another friend was viewing David Lynch and Mark Frost’s show for the first time. When it ended he, like so many other viewers, felt screwed out of a satisfying conclusion. There were so many stories and ideas to be explored that were curtailed by the cruel executives at ABC and the general stupidity of the American viewing public. (I mean, seriously…it seems like goddamn Two and a Half Men has been on for decades.) It was on the first day of this year, which already seems like a fucking lifetime ago, that I made him a guide to some of the occult underpinnings present in the show for his further amusement and edification. Humorously, perhaps tellingly, I titled the guide the “Black Lodge Do-It-Yourself Possession Kit.”

In the likely circumstance that some, if not most, of the readers looking over this aren’t overly familiar with the show, here’s a rundown for you. Twin Peaks was a television series aired for little more than a year from 1990-91. Famous today for its cult following, it was known at the time for being one of the strangest shows to ever be broadcast. Understandably, as one of its creators, David Lynch, should be immediately recognizable as one of the most important filmmakers and surrealists of the late twentieth century. With a repertoire of films such as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and the spectacular Blue Velvet under his belt by the time he collaborated with Mark Frost on the show, weird things could generally be expected from him. To grossly oversimplify the plot, Twin Peaks is about the investigation of the murder of local homecoming queen Laura Palmer by the quirky and admirable F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle McLachlan), which takes place in the eponymous town which is a vital character in its own right. Filled with brilliant, if disconcerting, camera work and character development it also included themes such as possession (perhaps demonic), prophetic dreams, and the posited battle between good and evil, all juxtaposed with a (decidedly sinister) small town atmosphere, cherry pie, and excessive caffeine abuse.

In my ever humble opinion, Twin Peaks is essential viewing for any paranormal enthusiast. While it wasn’t the first supernatural television show by any means it still made an undeniable impact on that part of our culture. Unlike its younger brother The X Files (whose David Duchovny guest starred in TP as the cross-dressing DEA Agent Denise), Twin Peaks isn’t valuable to our interests because of any obvious parallels with real-world anomalous phenomena. It is valuable because in its very fabric there is something uncanny taking place; while much of this can be attributed to artistic mastery and subtle psychological manipulation I would argue that there is an authentic, if not exactly appetizing, dose of magic and the occult to the whole matter. Then again, I wouldn’t really argue those elements are mutually exclusive. What I’m positing is Twin Peaks may be the event, the anomaly, itself. So pour yourself a damn fine cup of coffee and prepare for the Occult Secrets of Twin Peaks to be revealed.

During the second season, things get weird. Not that they haven’t already been weird but the whole show, and town, seem to disintegrate after creators answer the infamous question; “Who killed Laura Palmer?” During the second season the elements that any viewer will come to associate with a motif that occurred in the third episode after the pilot, a famously bizarre dream sequence in a red room, come back with a fury. References to the Lodges, cosmic forces of good and evil that seem to be based conversely outside of the town and inside of the hearts of man, are replete in actions of the characters and events in the town as the violent, mind-wrenching game of chess between Agent Cooper and his former, now mad, mentor Windom Earle draws toward a terrifying stalemate. The conclusion, or what we’re provided in place of a conclusion, occurs under the sycamore trees…

“Once upon a time, there was a place of great goodness, called the White Lodge.” So begins Windom Earle’s parable about the genesis of the Lodges, both White and Black. Typically, white represents goodness and purity, while black represents evil and power…the power to reorder the earth itself. Among the fans of the series it is generally known that Lynch and Frost borrowed the concept from an adventure novel, The Devil’s Guard by Talbot Mundy.  This particular novel takes place in the continuity of Mundy’s Jimgrim and Ramsden series which were published during the 1920’s and 30’s. Jimgrim is the nickname of an adventurer, an Allan Quartermain type, whose excursions into the “Orient” draw him into encounters with mysterious immortals and secret societies. Mundy himself was involved with the Theosophical Society, the occult group started by the marvelously disreputable Madam Blavatsky and responsible for much of the magical revival of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. During the time he authored The Devil’s Guard he was not only a member of the Society but a prominent member. Whilst discussing the resurrection of pulp adventure during the second magical revival of the twentieth century, Gary Lachman describes Mundy as an ex-confidence man (oh well; Blavatsky and Gurdjieff were both implicated in very mundane confidence schemes at points), who was the “master of the mystical adventure” with his tales constituting the main precursor of Indiana Jones.

In Mundy’s novel, which supposedly differs from much of the contemporary writing about the Far East due to the fact that it paints Asian peoples as equal to Westerners (I’m not so sure about this statement, but at least his villains aren’t bumbling or stock-board stereotypes… even then he may use “the Old Jew” as a descriptor too much.), the explorers are drawn through the Himalayas where a battle is taking place between two rival Lodges. The narrator, Ramsden, is a proto-Agent Cooper as he upholds morality and loyalty and searches for his onetime compatriot Elmer Rait, whose lust for knowledge and association with the the Black Lodge with its dugpa sorcerers makes him a nice analog for Windom Earle. Naturally the Black Lodge is at war with the White Lodge. Most of the reviews I have read from the reviews of Mundy’s novel dismiss it as unimportant beyond the point that it contains the original concept of the Lodges. This is ridiculous, as not only is Mundy regarded as an entertaining writer (leading me to suspect they haven’t actually read the book,) it also contains the story of the dugpas.

“These evil sorcerers, dugpas, they call them, cultivate evil for the sake of evil and nothing else…this ardent purity has allowed them to access a secret place of great power…”

This is a pretty terrifying concept, I’m sure you’ll agree, as explained by the wretched Earle who wants to bargain with or become one of these black magicians. Like the many other nuances that make Twin Peaks so entertaining and immersive this is never fully fleshed out or explained. It is up to the viewer to decide what the dugpas are and if one is ever present in the show. Perhaps Killer BOB, who is primarily portrayed as a trans-migratory spirit, is a dugpa; there are ways, probably incorrect, to interpret the series that imply that BOB was once a serial killer as a man. He could have made a bargain that made him into a dugpa. Personally I don’t think so. Due to BOB’s enormous power I feel he is one of the “native inhabitants” of the Black Lodge. In a way this makes the dugpas all the more terrifying. Who or what are they? Where are they?

The little historical information I can find tells me that in “reality” the dugpas or “the red-hats” are a sect of left-hand (a term for mystic traditions typically regarded as dark or evil) Tibetan Buddhists founded in the thirteenth century. They are reminiscent and oftentimes confused with the Bonpas or Bon Sorcerers. These wicked mystics are present in Alexandra David-Neel’s A Tibetan Tale of Love and Magic, which I have not read; I do know that they are described as boiling down hapless travelers that stray into the mountain vales under their domain into an ointment that grants youth. David-Neel also tells us that “dugpa” means thunder, due to the fact they were the first sect to build their monastery in the midst of a thunder storm. Perhaps it was the wrath of the heavens raging at their defiance: in Mundy’s novel they are depicted as failed initiates to the White Lodge who, out of resentment and lust, have turned to forbidden knowledge to aid their rebellion. Supposedly some sects that are descended from the dugpas still exist openly in the world today.

Aside from the swastikas, does this man look evil to you? (A joke. I know.)

When I first read the description of the Black and White Lodges I was immediately reminded of Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild: of The Butterfly Net; Katie Rife mentions this in her AV Club piece as well. Published in 1917, Crowley’s best known novel consists of the operation to create a “moonchild”, a messiah or antichrist depending on personal persuasion/grade of initiation, by the White Lodge and the attempts of the Black Lodge to thwart any such occurrence. Here the White Lodge is a thinly veiled portrayal of Crowley’s own magical society, the A.’.A.’. It would then go to follow that the Black Lodge would be populated by his enemies and former colleagues from the Order of the Golden Dawn. While I really like Crowley and pretty well agree with his conclusions about people, it goes without saying that the characters should be taken with a grain of salt. Crowley is a trickster working in the field of admitted fiction; that said, he also went back and declared Moonchild to be a fanciful retelling of an actual magical operation. If that’s true then maybe the moonchild or its descendants walking around out there…Crowley indicates it was brought to North America. In the novel there are some pretty genius explanations of magical concepts and ethics and again, despite what modern critics say I think it is a cracking good read.

Moonchild Versus Dugpas: the secret war that affects your everyday life; I smell a book deal. I can’t believe how much there is to write about this topic. Twin Peaks is a famously complicated show, however, and like any surrealist work it mimics the unconsciousness. As any psychoanalyst can tell you, dreams and the unconsciousness can be interpreted; as many an artist will tell you they can be interpreted endlessly. It looks like this is going to have to be a two–parter, one for each Lodge, and next time around we’ll look at the fearsome Dweller on the Threshold, why there should be a free Tibet, and making the magic of Twin Peaks “work.”

Note: On further consideration, Cooper, with his career excellence and abundance of wisdom, is much more akin to Jimgrim than Ramsden. Ramsden, who is a stolid friend, simple, but pure is much more like Sheriff Truman. By reading The Devil’s Guard and drawing obvious conjectures --obvious upon a little bit of meditation that is -- I feel that one can find where Twin Peaks would have ended up if it had been continued.

Part II Save the Pine Weasel: The White Lodge Edition

“I also avoided the mysterious cloudy valley just north of True Lhassa, where two rival cults of sorcerers (or perhaps more-that-human supernatural forces) called the White Lodge and the Black Lodge are believed to be at war, with human souls and freakish twilight entities both as their pawns”. “…while traveling further south, just past the logging town of Twin Peaks, with its many interesting Indian legends, we find areas of dense forest sometimes called “Deep, Deep Woods” by the locals. Doll-like creatures have been seen here, thought to by some to be escapees from the otherworldly realm we shall hear word of that exists beyond some spatial flaw above the fields of Kansas. Others have insisted that these sinister and smiling toy-things have their origins, along with various other extra-human creatures, in a supposedly haunted dell within the Deep, Deep Woods called Glastonbury Grove, but this cannot be verified.” – from The New Traveller’s Almanac by Alan Moore

Simpsons did it. 

I know from exploring magic that the young magician is often surprised by the sublime symbols found in unexpected places. A stray comment shatters a problem you had been hung up over for weeks, a book seems to correlate with a vision you had the night before, a television show seems like some sort of broadcast from fucked up Illuminati central. The last is how I felt when I was watching Twin Peaks for the first time.

At the time I was finishing up the chapter in The Living Qabalah by Will Parfitt where the reader is exploring the concepts of Geburah and Chesed before heading onto the Abyss. According to the mythology of Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge opens up when Jupiter and Saturn meet. Jupiter, qabalistically represents the sphere of Chesed, whereas Saturn represents Binah. The space between the two spheres is not bridged by a path and the magician must dive from Chesed into the Abyss, between Jupiter and Saturn, and hope to come out on the other side. The Abyss is also the door to “other dimensions” and the key to what Kenneth Grant dubs “the Nightside of Eden.” The realm of the qlippoth, in a word, evil; the similarities to the Black Lodge are apparent. Now to survive the Abyss, or Daath, and the Black Lodge the magician must undergo a rigorous and too-easily-failed test. In the Qabalah it is complete and perfect ego loss. In Twin Peaks it is a test of courage…a wrestling match with the ugly parts of oneself. As one character, the stoic Deputy Hawk, the son of a Zuni shaman, says “there you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it ‘The Dweller on the Threshold.'” As far as I know, the Dweller on the Threshold does not actually originate from Zuni cosmology, but is originally found in the writings of Edward Bulwer-Lytton (that is not to say that I know for sure there is no analogous figure in some Native myths). Lord Lytton writes about the Dweller in his novel Zanoni, a lengthy book that Gary Lachman dubs a treasure-trove of occult knowledge. It is a somewhat cumbersome novel to the modern reader, though I enjoyed it enough. Regrettably there aren’t very many good editions in print today, but you can read it on Project Gutenberg at the link above.

Zanoni is the name of an immortal magician whom the narrator persuades to teach him the ways of the mysteries. Tie this into the French Revolution, elements of opera, and a love affair and you have a novel that inspired Dickens’ ending to A Tale of Two Cities. In the book the Dweller is an entity, like Hawk explains, “your shadow self”, that must be overcome through resolution and perfect bravery before further initiation. Like a commentor had pointed out on an earlier article; “fear is failure and the forerunner of failure.”

In his Dedalus Book of the Occult Lachman put forth the interesting theory that Lytton’s “Dweller” was based on his youthful depression and sense of isolation. Lytton was certainly involved with the occult and a few Rosicrucian societies active during his lifetime; he hobnobbed with the Qabalist Eliphas Levi when he crossed the channel and may have been present at the French magi’s evocation of the shade of Apollonius of Tyana. No matter where it came from, the entity has been brought to the attention of would-be mystics in the writings of Madame Blavatsky and other occultists ever since its inception. I’ve encountered a “dweller” once in a lucid dream; I didn’t realize what it was until I read about it in Lon Milo Duquette’s Low Magick. I’ll share with you what I wrote down for a friend in a collection of my encounters with “astral” beings.

“Later during the summer I had another encounter with these spaces. I entered into them differently however, through a doorway within a dream. During the dream I became aware that I was dreaming thanks to the usual rushing in the left ear and quickly returned to the bedroom when my body lay supine. Things took a terrifying turn at this point and I imagined/encountered some rabid being trying to get into the bedroom door. It screamed and howled and generally caused a fearful ruckus. As I girded myself to go and fight off the thing I woke up completely with my girlfriend shaking me. I had been screaming in my sleep.”- from “A Victim of the Higher Space: The Incident of the Angel and Other Phantoms.”

Duquette describes them as fearsome entities that are, in reality, or in whatever bizarre person’s conception of “reality” this is, perfectly harmless. He describes them as spirits, archetypes, whathaveyou, that have “sunk” from higher realms and now exist as empty cartridges. My meeting with one was unpleasant but it was nothing like what we’re led to believe happened in the Black Lodge. That is why I would posit the Ordeal of the Abyss is a closer analogy to what is going on in Twin Peaks than the Dweller on the Threshold. Going back to our earlier discussion of Tibetan sorcery, let’s consider Tibetan Buddhism. It is widely known to have a decidedly mystical bent compared to other forms of Buddhism and is famous for the fascination it holds for many spiritual seekers. In the third episode after the pilot, where many of the seeds for the Lodge system are set up, Agent Cooper attempts to find a lead on Laura Palmer’s death in a peculiar manner. After a lecture on the country of Tibet, which he mentions throughout the series, he demonstrates his “Tibetan method” of deduction. This is based around a dream and mind/body coordination; it consists of throwing rocks at a bottle while an assistant recites the names of suspects. Whenever he hits the bottle it means they should investigate whichever name had been called out last. This idiosyncratic detective method is part of what makes the show such a joy. In our world, David Lynch is a supporter for a free Tibet, and Cooper even states that before he dies he’d like to see an autonomous Tibet.

From what I’m told, the best introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and the general sense of what makes it unique is the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bardo Thodol. The book, which was immensely popular during the Sixties and was adapted by Timothy Leary into a manual for psychedelic trips, describes the events that the soul undergoes after death on its way to reincarnation. Another introduction would be anarchist and spiritual seeker Alexandra David-Neel’s fascinating account of her travels in Tibet (she was the first Westerner in Lhasa)  Mystery and Magic in Tibet, available from Dover Books. Herein the reader may find some of what attracts Lynch and Cooper to the mountainous country. Much of the Western conception of “magical Tibet” comes from the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who claimed to have met her Mahatmas, her masters and representatives of The Great White Lodge, there before coming to the West to disseminate her learning. While I’ve read very little of Blavatsky’s works I do know her famous, but again probably fictitious, Book of Dzyan is supposedly an ancient Tibetan text. Fragments of this work The Stanzas are included in her magnum opus The Secret Doctrine which is itself the sourcebook of Theosophy and a major text of occultism. If one is interested in these matters it may be worthwhile to look at The Mahatma Letters which is allegedly a collection of correspondences sent to Blavatsky and other leaders of the Theosophical Society from their “ascended masters.”

In the supplement book Welcome to Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town, a Theosophical Society is mentioned as being active in the town and holding meetings outside as well as eisteddvodai (Welsh Poetry Blow-outs). Pete Martell and the Log Lady are rumored to have been members, and Agent Cooper was known to attend during his time in town. Another event mentioned in the supplement book is the Twin Peaks “Passion Play” where the players, sponsored by the Bookhouse Boys that Cooper and Sheriff Truman belong to, reenact the triumph of good over evil. The cast members are armed with the sword, chalice, crucifix, and chrysanthemum which I would hazard to guess is Lynch or the author’s reimagining of the Rose of western magic. They are confronted by a guardian who mysteriously appears and it goes on from there until the dawn breaks heralding the triumph of good. A classic initiation rite that takes place in April. April is the cruelest month…this is all fertile imagery drawn from Frazer’s Golden Bough, Rosicrucianism, and the mystery plays of the High Middle Ages that presented the stories of creation.

One early commentator I found (which I have unfortunately not been able to find again), who actually performed dream experiments using material from Twin Peaks, believed that the Passion Play would be the concluding factor if the series had been allowed to continue. He has some pretty convincing arguments for this including a headline included elsewhere in the book “Mystery play saves Peaks season” that innocuously refers to the local Football team. Take into consideration that the Passion Play takes place at Glastonbury Grove, the entrance to the Black Lodge, and the assumption becomes more reasonable. Another group that is only mentioned in this book is the malignant Circular Lodge who are said to practice blood rites as well a ritual cannibalism. It is mentioned that they have a unique connection to Owl Cave, the place where the map of the Black Lodge was found, and occupied it during the fifties renaming it “Elk Cave”. Their origins, and where the accounts of their loathsome practice are derived, extend into the prehistory of Twin Peaks. Their belief in circular time and a moment of retribution may also hold a key to the nature of the dugpas and the Black Lodge. A haunting ad is placed in the Access Guide that confirms their continued existence and secrecy.

Another book which I don’t believe is mentioned anywhere in Twin Peaks that may be a good introduction to the White Lodge is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. A thoroughly enjoyable read, this is the book that introduced Shangri La to the world. Of course, Shangri La was based itself upon the mythical paradise of Shambhala. That said, it is also generally agreed upon by fans of the series that the White Lodge is not a physical location at all. After listening to Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish, my guess would be that the “White Lodge” is found in the depths of Transcendental Meditation. At least, I imagine it would be there in Lynch’s estimation, considering he is a devotee of that movement. Started by the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of the Beatles fame, it is often praised for its verifiable trance states and psychological affects, and conversely criticized for requiring payment from practitioners. As Annie Blackburn declares “teetotaling and prayer” and the cure for a hangover, I would prescribe “yoga and prayer” as the first step for anyone looking for peace or deeper meaning in life. Annie gives that advice to Cooper and Sheriff Truman while the two are eating and drinking coffee at the R. R. Diner. The Diner is a common theme and setting throughout the series and David Lynch has expressed his love of diners; “There’s a safety in thinking in a diner. You can have your coffee or your milkshake, and you can go off into strange dark areas, and always come back to the safety of the diner.” There is definitely an aura to diners; they are a liminal area, often just dives at interstate stops or along the road, but also incredibly familiar, almost like you’re near home. I guess what I’m saying is there’s a magic to this particular piece of Americana to the weary and seeking soul.

For UFO devotees there’s an interesting plot point that involves two of the most important characters in the show: Project Blue Book. Both Windom Earle, the human personification of evil, and Major Garland Briggs, the human personification of good, have been or are involved in the government investigation of anomalies. The real Project Blue Book was started in 1952 and ended in 1970; it also concerned itself solely with UFOs.  It is still famous for being the only major, and public, government operation considering UFOs and for its small percentage of “unexplained” cases. It involved Dr. J. Allen Hynek who designed the close encounter classification system and who is famous for being one of the few academics to take the UFO phenomenon seriously. Hynek’s organization of scientists and academics took its name from Rosicrucian manifestos and societies: The Invisible College.

90s mashup of Rainforest Cafe and UFO abduction. 

In the series Windom Earle goes mad while working for Blue Book, especially after his superiors won’t put any credence into his theories about the Black Lodge. Later, during the course of the show, Major Briggs approaches Agent Cooper and shows him a nonsensical radio transmission, ostensibly from deep space,  that mentions his name and the phrase “the owls are not what they seem.” It later turns out that that particular transmission came from within the woods that surround the town of Twin Peaks. Briggs’ character is fascinating for his connection to the White Lodge and his mysterious role in the whole TP universe. He mysteriously disappears during the course of the series and reappears in just as strange a manner (wearing a forties era pilot’s uniform--possibly a reference to the pilots who have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle) after an abduction into some transdimensional space. Later everything may hinge on Briggs and his unflappable sense of honor, duty, and goodness.

There are two more elements I’d like to cover. The first is a point I don’t think any other commentator has ever brought up. Throughout the show Cooper uses a voice recorder to recount his exploits, his suspicions, his random thoughts, all dictated to “Diane.” While a major presence in the show, Diane is never shown though the viewer automatically reasons she is Coop’s attached receptionist back at the Bureau. Diane, of course, is short for “Diana”; the Roman name of Artemis, the Greek Olympian Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt. When considering the Qabalah, every god can be allocated to one of the ten spheres; Diana is heavily associated with Yesod, the realm of dreams and imagination. Now as any magician knows, imagination is very important. It is at times your world, the landscape that you interact with to achieve your goals, and it is sometimes your companion as well. You spend a lot of time with it and running thoughts through it. While I’m decently certain Lynch or Frost didn’t purposefully insert this into the series, I would guess that “Diane” is Cooper’s imagination. He uses her to sort his thoughts, come up with the dreams and Tibetan methods that guide him, and as she is the goddess of the hunt she is instrumental in helping Cooper hunt down Laura’s killer, Earle, and BOB.

For the last bit we will, like the series, return to the Black Lodge and an account of sorcery that I stumbled across in Jorge Luis Borges and Co.’s The Book of Fantasy. It is a piece by William Butler Yeats who was a member of the Golden Dawn and heavily involved in magic in general. Titled The Sorcerers, it is collected in Yeats’s Celtic Twilight as well, purportedly as fiction. I would easily declare that it is nothing of the sort, at least not in Yeats’s mind. It should be noted here that a toast from Yeats is recited earlier during the series by Pete Martell, “wine comes in at the mouth”. The piece is a short retelling of an encounter with some government clerks who also dabbled in black magic; the invoking of evil spirits to be exact. They take the poet to a location, not, mind you, their main location, where he witnesses them bring spirits into themselves. Though he refuses to be entranced as they are--an easily understood and countered process for a magician--he begins to feel the effects of their magic and must fight it off. He observes the bizarre behavior of the other magicians. When the ceremony is over, he asks the “more powerful of the two sorcerers” a question. Before I tell you what the question is, consider the job of the dark magi; they are clerks…utterly banal, much like the small town atmosphere of Twin Peaks in fact. For those who have seen the series, the conclusion of Yeats’s story will make the end of that series as clear as day, at least for a moment.

“‘What would happen if one of your spirits had overpowered me?’ ‘You would go out of this room,’ he answered, ‘with his character added to your own.’” Think about that next time you see the final shot of the series and the final possession we are permitted to witness. Consider that we are the stuff that dreams are made of. It would therefore go to follow that we are able to manipulate or be manipulated by dreams themselves into visions of vitality. A work such as Twin Peaks crafted from surrealism, the hidden parts of man, and the influences discussed here is certainly a ripe work for exploration. While I wouldn’t try this with Wodehouse, and I would indicate that no matter how hard you try with Harry Potter nothing will happen, there are works, such as Lovecraft’s fiction, that lend themselves to this unconscious transformation.

For more information on the series I’d check out what the Log Lady has to say. Or check out Frost and Lynch’s series predecessor, the gnostic swinging sixties spy-fi The Prisoner.  It would follow that Alan Moore’s new film Jimmy’s End, which is part of a large project titled The Show, draws deeply from Lynch’s series as an inspiration. There’s a lot more to discuss and find out for yourself.

Note: After reading a small discourse (which I cannot find) on the connection between Twin Peaks and Whitley Strieber’s classic account of abduction Communion I had to agree with the author’s conclusions. There is a lot of confusion when considering the nature of the owls in the series and their connection to the Lodges. Are they observers for the inhabitants, intermediate vessels, or disguises? The author of that discourse points out that Strieber, before gaining any memory of what happened to him the night before, merely recalls a barn owl staring at him through the window that evening. He (or she) points out various other connections here. Taking into consideration that Communion is purportedly nonfiction and of great interest to the paranormal community this makes the implications of Twin Peaks all the more exciting.

It has been a pleasure speaking with you.

“We are certain that ancient, taloned bird sees what we do not, knows what we never will.  And some night, silent as a gliding feather, its immensity will engulf us at fireside to  tell us things we want to know as well as those we don’t.  In the shadowed forest we’re pulled by that lurking and alluring ghost and we are enthralled.”- from Owlwise by Firelight 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Robert Anton Wilson's 'Illuminatus!' course syllabus

Today I want to point to something Alias Bogus recently linked to the comments, and also sent to me recently via email at my request: The course syllabus for Robert Anton Wilson's 2004 course on the Illuminatus! Trilogy at Maybe Logic Academy. (Another version is here.)

This seems very valuable to me, although as he says, some of the links no longer work. The link to RAW's Adam Weishaupt essay in the first week is broken, for example, but you can find it here.  A few of the links do work, but it would be nice to know what the "Tucker article" refers to.

The Wayback Machine can be useful with at least some of these links. Here is what's preserved for, a link that no longer works.

See also his Illuminatus! studies site.

Thanks for this!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

'The Permanent Universal Rent Strike'

Public domain photo of New York City apartment. (Public domain image collection, New York Public Library)

Another RAW piece found and published by Martin Wagner: "The Permanent Universal Rent Strike," which appeared in Other Scenes in Spring 1971. Thanks, Martin! Excerpt:

Rent is a claim against you, asserting (implicitly) that you are extra-terrestrial or alien. It is a demand that you pay the real natives of Earth, the “owners,” a certain tribute for residing on “their” planet. Science-fiction writers have never dreamed up anything weirder.

Like most forms of insanity, rent is not recognized as schizo because it is so commonplace. Only the man or woman who invents an original idea – such as demanding tribute from from those who breathe, on the basis of a claim that he or she “owns” the air – would be diagnosed correctly as a megalomaniac. The landlord is, like the banker, a man whose delusion has been institutionalized and people really believe he owns what he claims to own.

I would have appreciated an explanation of who would build apartment buildings if the owner could not charge rent from the occupants.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Prometheus Award finalists announced

[I am one of the members of the 12-person judging committee mentioned in this press release, so this list of finalists is partially my fault. I like all of the books that are finalists. I particularly like Luna: Moon Rising -- I think all of Ian McDonald's Luna books are wonderful. Two of our nominees are British -- Edwards and McDonald -- and three of the six authors are women. Below is the official press release. -- The Management]

The Libertarian Futurist Society, a nonprofit all-volunteer international organization of freedom-loving science fiction fans, has announced five finalists for the Best Novel category of the 40th annual Prometheus Awards. The Best Novel winner will receive a plaque with a one-ounce gold coin. Planning is ongoing, as in past years, to present the 2020 awards at Columbus NASFiC 2000 (the annual North American Science Fiction Convention), still set (pandemic permitting) for Aug. 20-23 in Columbus, Ohio.

Here are the five Best Novel finalists, listed in alphabetical order by author:

* The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (Random House: Nan A. Talese):  In this long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (a 1987 Prometheus Award finalist), oppressed women and others struggle valiantly for freedom. Some face mortal risks undermining the Gilead dictatorship, struggling with thorny moral complexities and working within the halls of power while taking covert steps to subvert tyranny. Poignantly and with sly humor, Atwood weaves three narrative threads exploring enduring questions about liberty, power, responsibility, and resistance. An “Underground Femaleroad” network (much like 19th-century libertarian Abolitionists) smuggles women into Canada while intelligence provided to the wider world’s free press promotes re-establishment of a free United States. Atwood references the "eternal verities" about "life, liberty, democracy, and the rights of the individual" that remain at the heart of libertarian ideals.

* Alliance Rising, by C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher (DAW):  Set in Cherryh's Alliance-Rising Universe (before her novel Downbelow Station),this interstellar saga of technological upheaval, intrigue and romance explores the early days of the Merchanter Alliance. Independent spaceship families ally during complex, multisided political-economic rivalries to defend established rights and promote the common good through free trade. In one of the better fictional treatments of a complex economy, characters maneuver to prevent statist regimes from dominating space lanes, resist Earth’s centralized governance, and investigate the mysterious purpose of a ship, The Rights of Man, undergoing construction on an isolated space station. Classic libertarian themes emerge about what rights are and where they come from (often to resolve conflicts), and how commerce and property rights promote peace and prosperity as humanity spreads among the stars.

* Ruin’s Wake, by Patrick Edwards (Titan Books):  This dystopian debut novel, set within a totalitarian world that emerged from catastrophe 500 years ago, weaves narrative threads from different sympathetic characters fighting for identity, love, and revenge amid repression. A young woman finds hope in an illicit love affair with a subversive rebel while trapped in an abusive marriage with a government official. An exiled old soldier searches desperately for his dying son, and a female scientist-archeologist discovers a mysterious technology that exposes the vulnerability of her world. A dictatorial government threatens their pursuit of happiness, knowledge, and family in a world recovering from ruin. This state has erased history and individual identity – a plausible scenario modeled by the author to evoke parallels to Stalinist Russia and today’s communist North Korea.

* Luna: Moon Rising, by Ian McDonald (TOR Books):  In the sequel to the Prometheus-nominated novels Luna: New Moon and Luna: Wolf Moon, McDonald dramatizes the struggle for independence and sovereignty as feuding lunar factions unite against a threat from Earth. The trilogy’s thrilling finale builds on McDonald’s intricate future of moon colonization, buoyed by somewhat free markets marred by violence, corporate espionage, and political marriages as the Five Dragons family dynasties control the main lunar industrial companies. Characters empowered by personal freedom and individual/social achievement in a society where contracts with others define people. Rendering a more positive view of a free society than earlier novels, McDonald offers justifications for freedom and markets while showing more negative aspects of politics and human behavior dealt with by people addressing inevitable problems in more voluntary ways.

* Ode to Defiance, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing):  The forces of enlightenment, science, liberty, and truth battle factions of statism, bureaucracy, ignorance, superstition, and deception in this lighthearted, explicitly libertarian and occasionally satirical sci-fi/adventure novel, set in Stiegler’s BrainTrust Universe. To escape a United States impoverished by socialist bureaucracy, people live and work on innovative technology on a BrainTrust fleet of independent seastead ships. The story explores how a libertarian society can work and engage with rivals without violence and, ultimately, in peaceful co-existence (though some opponents receive the sharp end of the BrainTrust's characteristically pointed violence.) This world-encompassing sequel to Stiegler’s Prometheus-nominated Crescendo of Fire and Rhapsody for the Tempest explores bio-engineered diseases and biological warfare – especially timely during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Prometheus Awards, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards. LFS members also nominated these 2019 works for this year’s Best Novel category: They Will Drown in Their Mother’s Tears, by Johannes Anyuru (Two Lines Press); Monster Hunter Guardian,  by Larry Correia and Sarah H. Hoyt (Baen Books); The Good Luck Girls, by Charlotte Nicole Davis  (TOR Teen); Empire of Lies, by Raymond Khoury (Forge Books/TOR); The Year of Jublio!, by Joseph T. Major (Amazon); Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman (ACE Books/Penguin Group); and Stealing Worlds, by Karl Schroeder (TOR Books).

The Prometheus Award have, for four decades, recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power. Such works critique or satirize authoritarian trends, expose abuses of power by the institutionalized coercion of the State, and celebrate individual rights and freedoms and voluntary cooperation and free trade as the only moral and practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, mutual respect, universal human flourishing and civilization itself.

A 12-person judging committee selects the Prometheus Award finalists for Best Novel. Following the selection of finalists, all LFS upper-level members (Benefactors, Sponsors, and Full members) have the right to read and vote on the Best Novel finalist slate to choose the annual winner.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit For reviews and commentary on these and other works of interest to the LFS, visit the Prometheus blog the link at the top of our website. Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.