Memorial for Chevalier de la Barre
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
As the historical personalities are introduced throughout the chapter RAW often lists their birthdate and contemporary positions in society. (John Hancock’s is incomplete- aside from being a smuggler he was also a famous lush before signing the Declaration of Independence.) To your humble guide (b. 1990, sun in Gemini, moon is Aries, Capricorn rising), this somewhat reductionary approach serves a purpose as we watch their actions and their opposite and opposing actions throughout the chapter.
Through Seamus’ speeches to his men we see how Thomas Jefferson (33 year old planter, attorney, architect) and Thomas Paine (39 year old teacher, sailor, customs agent) became the Great Architects of the American Experiment. Colonel Muadhen’s Irish flavoring speaks to how we all have our own ideas of how America was shaped, usually in favor of our ancestors. Muadhen’s experiences also ground the romanticism of the Revolution and the high ideals of the Founders in the lived experience of the men who somehow won the war. I recently read a Bertolt Brecht poem that asked variations of the question “Did Caesar conquer Gaul alone?” These “great men” direct the course of history, which as Muadhen’s “Sinister Italian” noted, is not usually very merciful to those who make it. This point is hammered home in Muadhen’s final scene where he tries to rouse his men after victory at Monmouth- despite the patriotic fervor and winning the day, his speech is drowned out by the screams of wounded and dying soldiers.
Across the Atlantic we observe John Adams crusading around the Continent to secure funds for the Colonist’s cause and Benjamin Franklin having a grand time in Gay Paris. Adams seems to be a model of Wilson’s “right man” who is able to bend the world to his will by sheer virtue of believing that his model of the world is the only legitimate model. It seems like a missed opportunity, especially considering the highlights of the mutual career of the Batty Babcocks, that Wilson didn’t include any of Adams’ correspondence with his wife Abigail- a woman who wielded a great amount of influence for her time. Franklin meanwhile entertains many different ladies while waiting for King Louis XVI’s decision. During his time in Paris he is brought face to face with the most famous heretic of the age.
Voltaire, as Wilson notes, was nowhere near as controversial when he returned from his Swiss exile. Rather than imagining that this change is because of acceptance of his ideas, the reader should be aware that this is because most people didn’t particularly care about his ideas anymore. Once the most potent thinker in the world, Voltaire would be cast aside as a curiosity by most of the world. Regrettably, most of the world would also abandon Voltaire to textbooks and literature surveys and, as noted in the beginning of the chapter, most of the Enlightenment ideals that influenced America did not come from the French philosophes but rather the milquetoast philosophy of John Locke. If the United States had been more influenced by Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau I believe our country would look a lot better right now. But we didn’t and to our disadvantage most of what the world took from the Enlightenment was a sense of being better off than we were without the rigorous skepticism and humanism that grounded the philosophy of the time.
As Voltaire makes his way into Paris we are reminded of the case of Chevalier Francois-Jean de la Barre, whose execution was observed by Sigismundo, his father, and Herr Zoessor in The Earth Will Shake. Because his writings were used as evidence of La Barre’s atheism (he was accused of desecrating a cross) Voltaire did take a great interest in the case and did as much as he could to fan outrage over the incident. This account points out that Voltaire’s letters on the subject of La Barre are not great historical documents as they were written as polemics. Today the date of La Barre’s execution, July 1st, is celebrated in France as “Chevalier La Barre Day,” a holiday for those who oppose religious tyranny. In light of Reichsfuhrer Barr’s insidious integralism I think we’ll be celebrating this year. Honestly, I just can’t believe we’re still dealing with the Roman shtik in 2020.
But Voltaire’s dinner conversation after his initiation as an Entered Apprentice would indicate that I shouldn’t be in disbelief. It is fascinating to read Franklin, Voltaire, and Condorcet’s speculative conversation and predictions in light of the past 250 years of history; one of my favorite parts of The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles is how RAW delivers this type of historical voyeurism throughout the three books. Voltaire, despite the pageantry of being initiated as an Entered Apprentice, is still on his way out the door and doesn’t appreciate what he sees in the room, Franklin has an insouciant but generally hopeful attitude, while it is left for the Marquis de Condorcet to rhapsodize about the world of tomorrow.
Condorcet was as optimistic, good, and talented as Wilson portrays him; he was beloved of the French people and considered an embodiment of the Enlightenment. He wrote an early treatise against slavery and was later an early member of the Revolutionary movement which he hoped would lead to a rational society. Like many other philosophes he was gravely disappointed in the results and later had a warrant issued for his arrest by one of the shifting governing councils. The sentiments and ideas that Condorcet relates in this chapter are taken from his work Sketch for the Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit which was published posthumously. Condorcet truly believed that scientific progress would lead to equality, liberty, and fraternity; what makes this vision of Utopia especially poignant is that he wrote it while in hiding from the authorities. He was captured and jailed- two days later he was found dead in his cell. He either committed suicide with smuggled poison or was murdered extrajudicially as the people would not have stood for him to have been executed.
His proposed future was drastically altered by a force he might have been unaware of but Wilson makes sure to note: Adam Smith’s problem child capitalism shows up to make sure progress will follow wealth instead of knowledge. Weishaupt's machinations could be seen as a furthering of concentration of power muddled in conspiracy and guesswork. There are always snakes in the garden. For invisible hands and heads these forces leave magnificently obvious signs of their sweeping scythes and strangling. As MacGregor’s simp Brodie-Innes said, “it doesn’t matter if the Secret Chiefs exist, merely that the world operates as if they do.” Too bad the Secret Chiefs ended up emulating Dennis Hooper’s Frank Booth instead of Trismegistus.
One gardener who goes through extraordinarily elaborate pains to prove the existence of the snakes is another Marquis, this one Divine and imprisoned. As I have noted before, de Sade is often still misunderstood as a madman, devil, or pervert, while he may have been all of these he was also privy to a sanity that would break most people entirely. De Sade’s screed against the Powers That Be is just as relevant and damning today as it was when he was stuffing the manuscript in a crack in the Bastille’s wall. Paolini’s excellent Salo is a prime example of the material’s ability to shock and condemn- unsurprisingly, de Sade’s life isn’t going to get any easier and his masterpiece won’t be published until after his death.
And we have one more snake in the guise of Dr. Fritz Cyprus who proposes that the Dark Ages were just lovely and that the Church really should be in charge of society. (Cyprus, a malignant German, might be an ancestor of Professor Hanfkopf from The Widow’s Son.) Wilson points out the dark side of Romanticism, to elaborate; while the works of the pre-Raphaelite artists were astounding they did introduce a strain of Catholicism and regressivism into English Decadence that would lead to it being quite a bit more fatal than the French version. The connection between antirationalism and fascism is incredibly relevant to today as we watch a large part of the country cheer a wanna-be dictator on to further insanity. The chapter closes with another antirational figure who just thirty years ago, despite lacking a penis, did all she could to set back progress and equity.
Away from all of this a Neapolitan musician is sitting under a tree meditating in Ohio. We’ll sample the fruits of making one’s mind into a mirror next week as we begin Book Two of Nature’s God with “The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine.”
From Eric: “ I thought this would make a nice soundtrack for this chapter. https://youtu.be/j1EI4kwr1kw”
My own musical offering this week, for Lady Maria Babcock/Sarah Beckersniff, the world would have been better would you have lived, dove sta memoria: https://youtu.be/vZtkVj3JPaw
Great post. Happy birthday Gregory. War and Peace meditates deeply on the role of "great men" in history. Have you read any Nietzsche lately? I read a bunch of Nietzsche the week I turned thirty. Perhaps I will try reading him again when I turn sixty. Also nice musical selection.
I had a small synch last week when beginning this chapter. I only read the first section, but took note of John Hancock signing in large letters and what I thought an old, no longer used, common expression of using his name when asking for a signature. I then had to do an errand at the UPS store, the clerk in her early twenties asked me for my John Hancock to sign the receipt.
The best model I've heard for the Secret Chiefs came when I asked RAW what he thought about them at a Q & A after one of his talks. He replied, "they are a useful metaphor."
In the esoteric sense, "a snake in the garden" provides a useful expression for what I've been awkwardly calling unbalanced male energy.
A Moistness in the Wind - I analyzed the Notarikon of the caps in this title in my previous comment underneath Part 1 of this weeks post. The Notarikon of the entire title: A + M + i + t + W = 66. Chapter 66 from The Book of Lies, The Praying Mantis provides another metaphor for this concept as Crowley notes in the commentary: "... the praying mantis is a blasphemous grasshopper, which caricatures the pious;" it appears a play on "the praying man is"
66 also has multiple positive aspects. It represents the mystical number of Aleph therefore connecting it with James Joyce's goddess archetype from Finnegans Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle. Crowley notes this dual aspect of 66 in Sepher Sephiroth calling it: "The Mystic Number of the Qliphoth and of the Great Work." Qliphoth "are the representation of evil or impure spiritual forces in Jewish mysticism..."
The headline "On The Endowments Of Divinity" recalls A.C's Liber Aleph where nearly every chapter begins with "On ..." to emphasize the ON formula. Crowley intended Liber Aleph as an epistle to his "magical son" whom he considered to manifest as Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones) at the time. A magical son can get thought of someone who deeply imprints the teachings of their spiritual father. Like a biological son, they become completely different individuals. Frater Achad significantly contributed to Thelemic cosmology. His Qabalistic research led to what Crowley considered the key to the The Book of the Law. Achad also turned on Crowley later in life with strong criticism.
From one point of view, RAW can seem to criticize Crowley and/or contribute to Thelemic cosmology by providing a female perspective. Crowley didn't believe that God has a penis, his ideology puts the Goddess on a throne, yet in his personal life he behaved like a misogynist at times. He also wrote some scathing commentary on the inferiority of women as physical creatures that seems to contradict his idealism. A few chapters in Liber Aleph could easily be interpreted in that light, hence the reference by RAW to that book. To give one example I'm sure all feminists would cringe at: "So then a Woman advanceth never in Magick, but remaineth the same, rightly or wrongly ordered according to the Force that moveth Her. Here therefore is the Limit of Her Aspiration in Magick, to abide joyous and obedient beneath the Man that her Instinct shall divine, so that, becoming by Habit a Temple well-ordered, comely and consecrated, she may in her next Incarnation attract by her Fitness a Man-Soul." This comes from the chapter On the Proper Path for Woman
I mentioned in a previous comment under Part 1 how the title A Moistness in the Windseems a reverse image of sorts of Crowley's title Clouds without Water. This phrase from p. 93 could just as easily describe that book: "Even those who laughed and believed they were reading a variety of philosophical pornography were undermined."
John Adams insisting that _even British soldiers_ deserve a fair trial seems just as relevant today as it was at the time, when the mob seems to rule so often on social media and in politics.
I wish Wilson had written a bit more about Adam Smith. It seems to me that capitalism makes possible both wealth _and_ the spread of knowledge. Universal public education for everyone only seems possible in a society that has a certain amount of wealth.
The reference to Margaret Thatcher seems like a wry embodiment of Wilson's observation elsewhere that the radicalism of yesteryear becomes the conservatism of today; in the late 18th century, a woman serving as head of state would be seemed unthinkable both in America and in England.
@Eric- I haven't read Nitz Ga (as Lennon pronounced his name) since undergrad. Like many teens with delusions of grandeur "Thus Sprach Zarathustra" was an important book to my development. I think besides that I've only read "The Birth of Tragedy," "Twilight of the Idols," and "Against Wagner." My birthday isn't until the 17th but thank you for the warm wish! As you know, I've been reading Mailer so I don't know if he'll be what I'm reading next week or not.
@Oz- "John Hancock" is still a common expression in the town I grew up in or was a few years ago. Working at the pharmacy and as a secretary I had plenty of people ask me for mine and my co-workers used to phrase frequently. Maybe its the rural area.
Crowley's writings on women and other races were regrettable, to say the least. However, he was an extraordinarily complex man who could talk like a prophet or an angry drunk. I'd like to think that in moments of Samadhi or elevated consciousness he felt a little regret about his bigotry. I also believe that Crowley, had he been granted a exceptionally long life, would have adapted to the world around him. It is an odd idea. One of the reasons that I am glad I stay out of Thelemic circles is the endless debating on his remarks.
That said- I do believe that in the picture language of magic and mysticism that there are "male" and "female" concepts that remain largely unchanged. Crowley did try to explore his anima...even going so far as to become Alice. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say if anything.
Frater Achad went on to teach Malcolm Lowry about magic who's "Under the Volcano" Eric and I are reading.
I imagine you could clear this up Oz- in "Masks" and in "My Lady Greensleeves," ("Nature's God" Book II, Chapter II) is the use of Latin phrases in between parts of text taken from Crowley's "Liber Aleph?" That was what I always figured.
@Tom- as you know I've got some complicated feelings regarding capitalism/money. I don't approve of Corporations or billionaires having such disproportionate amounts of power. And while universal schooling is excellent we also have the rise of the militarily-industrial complex. Or we have Bill Gates using his massive wealth to force Charter Schools in Washington. Or people buying Presidencies.
I feel bad for Smith, who seemed like a generally good-hearted person. He was primarily a moral philosopher, right? I admit I haven't read "The Wealth of Nations" and most of my knowledge of Smith comes from the books I've read about Hume. I think I'm recalling correctly: isn't it true that Smith genuinely believed that moving away from bouillon and the physiocrats would lift the world into prosperity?
@Rarebit Fiend, in Crowley 101 RAW brought our attention to something from The Book of Lies that seems to show, in coded form, Crowley calling himself an asshole. He appeared aware of his failings. Along the same lines, some of his last words have been reported as, "Sometimes I hate myself." In a letter to Jane Wolfe later in life, Crowley wrote that one reason he kept extensive diaries was so people could learn from his mistakes.
The use of Latin headlines in Chapter 8 does recall Liber Aleph as does the irregular use of capital letters in the quote from the Declaration of Independence RAW starts this novel with that don't appear in the original.
I also got a copy of Under the Volcano a couple of days ago. Only heard about it within the last month or two in a bio of Frater Achad. In the Introduction to it by Stephen Spender, he points out a few things that seem remarkably similar to RAW. For instance, you have pointed out the influence of Ulysses on Nature's God, apparently it also had a strong effect on Lowry. This first quote from Spender's intro recalls for me the Tales of the Tribe project:
"It has been said that the hero of Ulysses is in the language in which the book is written, and one would not imagine Joyce quarrelling much with this, providing that one adds that language is the history of the race."
In these next two examples I think you could easily and accurately replace Lowry's name with RAW's:
"In Lowry's novel, the myths and symbols are not mysterious centers of a tradition which lies outside this time so much as usable devices, guides, signposts indicative of the times."
"Lowry has borrowed from Joyce, turned his symbolic devices upside down and used them for his own purposes either with audacious intelligence, or else from a kind of inspired misunderstanding..."
The latter quote also rings true with Frater Achad who literally turned Crowley's Tree of Life attributions upside down though the "audacious intelligence" part seems debatable in this instance.
This last quote appears sheer synchronicity when you consider the next chapter we cover - The Wilderness Diary of Sigismundo Celine:
"In the pretendedly fictitious journal "Through the Panama" (the writer of which, Wilderness, is one of Malcolm Lowry's many masks) ..."
The first headline in this chapter after the title reads: SUBVERSIVE DOCUMENT GAINS WIDE READERSHIP; HANCOCK INSOLENT. The notarikon (addition of initials) of the first part up to the semi-colon gives the same number, 273, as the notarikon of Hancock's quoted sentence on the following page, "There I guess King George will be able to read that!" when you include the exclamation point = 1. 273 shows both a positive or negative aspect depending on how you interpret it. The positive interpretation appears relevant to Freemasons:
273 = psalm 118:22 - The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
273 = The Hidden Light
It occurred to me that this aspect also resonates with RAW's writings if you consider that the mainstream literary establishment by and large appeared to reject them.
The negative interpretation seems another variety of the snake in the garden and has support from the context given. For example, HANCOCK INSOLENT = 15 = The Devil; the notarikon of the caps in Hancock's quote = 42 = Terror, calamity; Loss, destruction. The second syllable in Hancock's name = slang for penis - that could be considered stretching the interpretation to meet the bias confirmation except if you consider that RAW apparently resorts to this phallic pun again on page 91 as part of Maria's book: "... those only gifted with Tools of a more Formidable size be elevated to Bishopricks ...." It seems RAW's artistic license to spell Bishopric that way. The Old English spelling = bisshopriche
p. 89 gives another ambiguous phrase with contrary interpretations, again from Maria's book: "... without the qualification of a Willy is forever debarr'd from such Holy Office" (italics in original). The superficial meaning appears obvious. If you start the phrase from " a Willy then we can look at "debarr'd as barring or blocking someone from "d", the path of Daleth which connects Chokmah (archetypal Father) with Binah (archetypal Mother). "Holy Office" = 75 = NUIT THE STAR GODDESS so barred from that too.
The contrary meaning begins with Wilson's choice of "Willy" as slang for penis. When I googled the etymology it said: "Originally northern British usage, from the 1960s. Probably the simple use of a proper name as a pet name; compare dick, fanny and peter. Unlikely to be a contraction of Latin membrum virile, male member (that is, the penis), a Latin term used in English in the nineteenth century." Wilson's use of this term appears an anachronism. Interestingly, another etymology for willy says it comes from the Middle English word "willow," the name of the cat that moved in with us a month or so ago, a name I also saw as "will low"
Nature's God begins with a quote from Nietzsche's The Will to Power, that phrase is given three times in this brief quote. Willy sounds like Will + e; e = The Star; e = the path of Heh. Heh has female symbolism in the fourfold name of God: Yod He Vau He, in the first instance representing the Mother, with the final Heh symbolizing the daughter. Seen in this way, Willy = the will of the female. This congrues with the headline announcing Maria's book. As mentioned earlier, this headline first references the biblical matriarch Sarah, then, by notarikon, corresponds with Will in the second part.
Willy = 86 = A name of GOD asserting the identity of Kether and Malkuth. This could signify an instruction in sex magick.
RAW puts the word "qualification" in italics right before Willy, also in italics. Qualification could qualify Willy from this perspective. The gematria of qualification = 311 = Rod, from the fourth line in psalm 23: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
311 = the Nine of Cups called Happiness in the Thoth Tarot. From the commentary of this card in The Book of Thoth: "In this card is the pageant of the culmination and perfection of the original force of Water." This connects with the title, A Moistness in the Wind
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