Friday, June 7, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary and the Occult Part 3

"... it is not often Death is told so clearly to fuck off."

- Gravity's Rainbow, p. 10

Thomas Pynchon's unwavering attention on Death in Gravity's Rainbow has strong emotional motivation. The book is dedicated to Richard Fariña, his close friend who tragically died at the age of 29 in a motorcycle accident near Carmel California. It happened on the day of a party jointly celebrating the release of his book, Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me and the 21st birthday of his wife Mimi Baez, sister of Joan.  Pynchon served as Best Man at Fariña's wedding to Baez.

At the time of his death, Richard Fariña seemed on his way to becoming a significant cultural figure of his times.  He performed as a folksinger, released two albums before he died and another posthumously.  At the time of his death he was producing an album for Joan Baez. A music critic once said he would have given his friend Bob Dylan a run for his money had he lived.  He was a well-known character in hipster circles. The splash his short life made is excellently documented in Positively 4th Street, The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez  Fariña, and Richard Fariña, by David Hajdu, a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in the nascent history of the 1960s.

Fariña's death has least two direct references in Pynchon's next novel Vineland published 17 years after GRVineland continues the revolt against the finality of Death.  It appears very much a continuation of Gravity's Rainbow in terms of esoteric communication.  I consider Vineland even more of a masterpiece in that regard and would suggest those new to Pynchon tackle Vineland first.  It's an easier read and less scatalogical. Other themes connect the two novels such as authoritarian persecution and extreme, hyperbolized, paranoia.

Fariña died when the bike he was a passenger on failed to negotiate a curve on Carmel Valley Road.  As Pynchon writes in the Foreward to a later edition of Been Down So Long ..., they were going about 90 mph when it should have been no faster than 35 mph.

"The band played up and down in valleys still in those days unknown except to a few real-estate visionaries, little crossroads places where one day houses'd sprawl and the rates of human affliction in all categories zoom.  After work, unable to sleep, the Corvairs liked to go out and play motorhead valley roulette in the tule fogs.  These white presences, full of blindness and sudden highway death, moved, as if conscious, unpredictably over the landscape.  There were fewer satellite photos back then, so people had only the ground-level view. No clear bounded shape - all at once, there in the road, a critter in a movie, to quick to be true, there it'd be.  The idea was to enter the pale wall at a speed meaningfully over the limit, to bet that the white passage held no other vehicles, no curves, no construction, only smooth, level, empty roadway to an indefinite distance - a motorhead variation on a surfer's dream." - Vineland p. 37 1997 Penguin edition

56 pages later finds a chapter dedicated to a wedding scene set in the same area as Fariña's wedding, in the hills just south of San Francisco.  Fog connects this scene to the previous one quoted.  We find the father of the bride Ralph Wayvone:

"Emerging from a pool the size of a small reservoir in plaid swim trunks from Brooks Brothers, unable even at first glance to be mistaken for the white marble statues surrounding it, Ralph Wayvone Sr., caped himself with a towel stolen not that long ago from the Fairmont, ascending a short flight of steps, and stood looking out over a retaining wall that seemed in the morning fog to mark the edge of a precipice, or of the world.  With only a few tree silhouettes, and both freeways and the El Camino Real miraculously silent ...." p. 92

Pynchon attacks the finality of biological death through strong and consistent doses of Kether among other things.  How?

Wayvone = way v one = "way of one"  in the abbreviated, phonetic style Pynchon uses throughout Vineland to express his more rustic characters' speech patterns; also v = The Hierophant as discussed earlier.  Compare "way of one" with "try one," Tyrone Slothrop's first name anagram.  Wayvone also sounds like "wavy one" which suggests the ubiquity of physical energy transmissions in waves.  Note the allusion to the Hero in the quote.

The interpretation that one refers to Kether in this instance gets reinforced by reading the last 3 paragraphs of the chapter previous to the wedding scene in which Frensei Gates speculates on the nature of God and the World.  On page 97, still at the wedding, we find a sentence that might also serve as a mission statement of sorts for Pynchon's writing or of a working mystic: "I'm a percussion person, my job is to take hard knocks and rude surprises, line 'em up in a row in some way folks can dance to ..."  Vineland has two major Wayvone characters, Ralph Sr. and Ralph Jr., and three more minors one, Senior's wife, another son, and the daughter who is getting married.

 Apart from the direct allusions to Richard Fariña's roadway accident mentioned, we find a few more references to driving too fast around curves sprinkled throughout the book.  Perhaps the most revealing to Pynchon's state of mind at the time occurs on page 374 near the end:

"Out on those runs, speeding after moonset through the smell of the redwoods, with all the lights out, trying to sense among the different patches of darkness where the curves were, and what gear to be in for grades that were nearly impossible to see, bouncing along in a vintage Power Wagon, Zoyd from among somebody's collection of beat-up old 8-track tapes usually found himself listening to the Eagles' Greatest Hits, in particular "Take It to the Limit," basically his whole story these days, singing mournfully along, though obliged from time to time to interrupt himself as some new set of headlights appeared ..."

Vineland concludes on a very upbeat note, very life affirming.  For me, it recalls the ending of Joyce's Ulysses with more subtle encoding.  We have a "foreign magician and his blond tomato assistant" whose Act imitates a defiance of gravity and death.  How Pynchon imitates this defiance in his writing is coded in the "Power Wagon" Zoyd drives in the last excerpt.  Decoding this message requires reading the book and paying close attention.  Here's a clue: check the behavior of the Thanatoid dogs and compare that to the last sentence in the book.  Know that Pynchon was influenced by James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov (also strongly influenced by Joyce), and remain open to the possibility that Pynchon knows, or could invoke, some of Crowley's magick formulas as I've previously suggested. 

William S. Burroughs famously said that he wrote himself out of the tragic black hole created by the accidental shooting death of his wife by his own hand.  Could Pynchon, clearly influenced by Burroughs, intend his writing to do the same regarding the death of Fariña on a personal level and the suffering and death of War victims on a global scale?

In Lines of Flight, an abstruse commentary on Pynchon's oeuvre through the lens of Deleuze, Guattari, Derrida and other philosophers, Stefan Mattessich suggests that The Rocket can also be a metaphor for the writer's pen.  This matches the correspondence of The Rocket with the Roman deity Mercury in the previous post.  Mercury = the god of communication.  The writer's pen adds and constructs the influence of Kether into Death's domain.  Close examination will make this quite evident in the Vineland scenes quoted above.

The white rocket as a pen adding whiteness into the blackness of War, Death and human suffering to create a chiaroscuro effect.

The idea of the writer's pen becoming a magical implement creating new realities has precedence in Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice.  In the introduction to that book Crowley endeavors to systematize Magick in a similar way that Euclid did with Geometry, and Spinoza did with his philosophy in The Ethics.  We find a definition of Magick in the first section of this Introduction, a postulate in the second section, and a series of theorems in the third.  Nearly every one of these comes with a practical illustration.

I. Definition

is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.
     (Illustration: It is my Will to inform the World of certain facts within my knowledge.  I therefor take "magical weapons," pen, ink, and paper; I write incantations — these sentences — in the "magical language" i.e. that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct; I call forth "spirits," such as printers, publishers, booksellers, and so forth, and constrain them to convey my message to those people.

In this example, the Author makes explicit the magick inherent to the construction and dissemination of a book and stays silent regarding any effects the writing may have.  My favorite anecdote of change brought about through writing occurred at the height of WWII when it appeared England would soon get overwhelmed by the forces of fascism.  Aleister Crowley wrote a one page tract known today as the Rights of WoMan as an antifascist support of Liberty.  After publishing and magically consecrating it, he sent it to every well-known person he knew well or had the address for.  Ten days after publication, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor causing the U.S. to declare to war on  Japan, Italy, and Nazi Germany, a pivotal point in the turning of the War.  Admittedly, this event reads as circumstantial, we'll never know for sure if Crowley's literary ritual had anything to do with it, yet it does encourage similar experimentation in dire situations.

Some models in quantum physics may provide a material basis and explanation for how writing can help change the World.  It appears easy to view Gravity's Rainbow as a kind of subatomic particle accelerator juxtaposed into an historical time and place.  The characters serve as the subatomic particles while their connections and entanglements illustrate behavior in the quantum universe.  The last time I heard Timothy Leary speak, at the Wetlands in New York in 1993, he urged everyone to "think of yourself as a quark," the fundamental unit of matter.  He fleshes this position out in the article, Willam Gibson: Quark of the Decade originally published in Mondo 2000, now included in the book Chaos and Cyber Culture.  To give you an idea:

Q. Who can explain these mysterious digital programs? Who can read us young, wanna-be quarks nice bedtime stories to make us feel secure about loosening up? Who can make us feel comfortable with the chaotic science of our wild times? Who can make us laugh at the structures crumbling before our eyes in Einstein smiles because relativity and the fractal natures of the running programs are always funny? (Why? Because they surprise us.) Who will get us giggling like shocked schoolkids at the facts of life? Who will tickle us with accurate disorder? 

A. The artists-poets-musicians-storytellers. The popularizers of quantum linguistics.

Anyone who has read GR will likely recognize it in this question.   It certainly appears full of surprises with tons of humor including slapstick.  Leary goes on to call Thomas Pynchon the greatest and last of the "quantum linguists." (We do not use the nervous term "science fiction" to describe the quantum-science writers.) Murray Gell-Mann, the physicist who first postulated the existence of quarks, found the word in Finnegans Wake; another example of how writing changes the world we live in and how we see it.  Finnegans Wake had a significant influence on Gravity's Rainbow.

Pynchon may have found the title to his book in science literature:

Gravity's rainbow is a theory that arose from attempts by physicists to generate a "theory of everything," or a theory of the universe that unites quantum mechanics and general relativity.

This theory holds that different wavelengths of light have different measures of gravity and are separated in the same way a prism splits white light into the different frequencies of the rainbow.  It doesn't require much imagination to see how this applies to the book of the same name.

A talking head in A Journey into the Mind of P likens the In the Zone section to a "quantum subatomic smasher" with Slothrop "wormholing his way around it.

Wormholes are solutions to the Einstein field equations for gravity that act as "tunnels," connecting points in space-time in such a way that the trip between the points through the wormhole could take much less time than the trip through normal space - Richard F. Holman

We find multiple anomalies and insinuations of alternate rates of time in GR.  More on that next time.  Slothrop reversed = porthol(e)s - a synonym for wormholes.  

"He entered a brick labyrinth that had been a harmonica factory.  Splashes of bell-metal lay forever unrung in the factory dirt.  Against a high wall that had recently been painted white, the shadows of horses and their riders drummed.  Sitting, watching, from workbenches and crates, were a dozen individuals Squalidozzi recognized right away as gangsters.  Cigar-ends glowed, and molls whispered back and forth in German.  The men ate sausages, ripping away the casings with white teeth, well cared for, that flashed in the light of the movie. ... Crowned window frames gave out on the brick courtyard where summer air moved softly.  The filmlight flickered blue across empty windows as if it were breath trying to produce a note.  The images grew blunt with vengeance.  "Yay!" screamed all the zoosters, white gloves bouncing up and down.  Their mouths and eyes were as wide as children's.

... For days, as it turned out, the gangsters had known Squalidozzi was in the neighborhood; they could infer to his path, though he himself was invisible to them, by the movements of the police which were not.  Blodgett Waxwing —for it was he—used the analogy of a cloud chamber, and the vapor trail a high-speed particle leaves ...
    "I don't understand."
    "Not sure I do either, pal.  But we have to keep our eye on everything, and right now all the hepcats are going goofy over something called 'nuclear physics.'"
 - Gravity's Rainbow, p. 391

Much photon movement in the first paragraph.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary, and the Occult Part 2

We saw in the previous post that Thomas Pynchon considered the possibility he had an Extrapersonal Source for his writing.  I saw two interesting synchronicities related to publishing that blog, one I'd rate as about 8 or 9 on a scale of 10, the other maybe a 3 or 4.  I had compared Gravity's Rainbow to Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson based on a conversation almost 35 years ago.  I still know that person, but haven't stayed in touch.  The last time we spoke seems at least 20 years ago.  Within a minute of posting that blog on Facebook he gave me a "like.".  The next morning the TVs at the gym played repeated footage of rockets shooting into space and Kim Jun (Rocket Man)  Un with a silly grin.  Renowned scientific researcher John Lilly postulated that highly meaningful synchronicities have an Extrapersonal Source which he dubbed Coincidence Control.  Synchronicities seem to affirm something in certain contexts.

Timothy Leary had a lot of time to think and write when in jail.  By miraculous serendipity (if this blog had a soundtrack it would be playing the theme for Extrapersonal Source right about now), against prison rules, he received a copy of Gravity's Rainbow and proceeded to devour it at least twice as soon as he got it.  The fact that Gravity's Rainbow, of all books, got anywhere near him in prison seems unbelievable.  The book appears about as revolutionary and anti-establishment as it ever gets in fiction.  Richard Nixon gets blatantly skewered.    I'll let a blog called Future Conscience pick up the story from here.  I believe this is by Robert A Gordon:

"Leary lived a varied life filled with scientific research; psychedelic therapy; metaphysical exploration; social commentary and government oppression.  During his time spent inside prison, he developed a futurist philosophy summed up in the phrase S.M.I2.L.E. - Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, Life Extension.  These ideas developed out of Leary's life-long interest in the evolution of humanity away from our primal roots, but they also had another influence which Leary termed the 'Starseed Transmission'.

The Starseed Transmissions were a series of experiments in group telepathy that occurred during Leary's time in prison.  These experiments allegedly culminated in a communication with some kind of extra-terrestrial intelligence; that through a rather cryptic series of messages set forth the futurist programme that Leary would adhere to quite stringently for the latter part of his life.  Whatever happened during that time, it certainly had a profound impact on the man and his ideas of future progress."

I believe the Starseed Transmissions were within a year or two prior to Leary reading Gravity's Rainbow, it could have been closer, I don't know.  If he did indeed make contact with an Extrapersonal Source, then perhaps that source through Coincidence Control arranged to get him that book, a book that in many ways mirrored his life?  In the  first sentence from the above quote you could change "Leary lived a varied life ..." to "Gravity's Rainbow contains ..." and it would read just as accurate.  I wonder if Leary ever considered GR as part of the Starseed Transmissions or perhaps related in some way?  After all, it is a book that ends with the character Gottfried (God peace) going towards the stars although he also dies. The final words in the novel suggest that everyone else go there too, to the stars.

This research makes me want to find out about the genesis of the S.M. I2. L.E. formula; how did Dr. Tim come up with it? All three categories, Space Migration, Intelligence Increase and Life Extension play intrinsic roles in the theater of Gravity's Rainbow.  To begin in the middle with Intelligence Increase - you have to get smarter just to read the book and figure out what's going on.  You will learn an incredible amount about the end of World War II in Europe, not simply historical facts, rather some idea of what it felt like to go through that chaotic period.

Leary's annotated copy of Gravity's Rainbow
Courtesy of the New York Public Library Archives

I've seen a cool documentary on YouTube, A Journey into the Mind of P with a superb soundtrack by The Residents.  Actually, the film looks great for two thirds or three quarters then becomes creepy when switching into fanboy stalker mode.  A talking head at one point says, "Pynchon is a cryptogram, a code to be cracked." Like solving any puzzle or maze, you get smarter by doing it; not just with that particular puzzle, your puzzle solving skills increase overall; known as becoming maze-bright.  Gravity's Rainbow seems a cryptogram par excellence.  The multiple levels ensure that you could crack it indefinitely getting smarter each time and never have absolutely everything figured out.  The notion that GR emanates from an Extrapersonal Source with the readers to decipher ( as per his letter mentioned in the last post) means that this transmission doesn't get limited, rather it forms a synergy with Pynchon's own formidable knowledge, intelligence and resources.  I bet his intelligence increased substantially while serving as a translator and conduit for this esoteric download.  The Extrapersonal Source factor ("...for there is a factor infinite & unknown;" Liber Al 2:32) indicates that data and things he didn't consciously know about could have found a way into the book.  The  construction of the Gravity's Rainbow labyrinth had outside help.  The more you run it, the smarter you get.  It's not possible to read this book without intelligence increasing.

In 1973 Richard Poirier wrote an insightful review of GR, one of the first.  He writes about the "reverberating structures or assemblies" that help construct the book's labyrinth.

One obvious example is the sign of double integrals, resembling two elongated S's. It is at once a mathematical principle behind the velocity rate of the Rocket, the insignia of the SS, the shape of the tunnels at Nordhausen (the Nazi's rocket research complex), the shape of lovers side by side in bed; in physics, the symbol of entropy is S.

Not only that.  "S" on the Tree of Life = the path of Samekh = Sagittarius, the Archer.  GR begins on the first Sunday of Advent, December 1944 in the sign of Sagittarius.  Thanks to John Ebert for this start date. Ebert also pointed out that an archer shooting an arrow into the heavens becomes an apt analogy for a rocket launching.  In the hermetic sciences this symbolizes the arrow of aspiration.  The corresponding tarot card, XIV Art, reveals a significant alchemical aspect to this path as described in The Book of Thoth in the commentary on that card worth reading in its entirety to help penetrate the occult veils in GR.  I will quote a small portion: "the last three paths of the Tree of Life make the word Qesheth, a rainbow, and Sagittarius bears the arrow which pierces the rainbow, for this path leads from the Moon of Yesod to the Sun of Tiphareth."  Yes, this path connects the sixth to ninth Sephira, sometimes signified by the number 69.

The Arrow ( = the Rocket), both in this card and in Atu VI, is of supreme importance.  The Arrow is, in fact the simplest and purest glyph of Mercury, being the symbol of directed Will.  Mercury has a starring role in GR in the highly repetitive and varied patterning of the  c-s letter combination.  C+ S = 68, or in deity nomenclature Christ/Mercury (see Crowley's The Paris Working.) In Coincidance, Robert Anton Wilson mentions the repetitive use of the S symbol in Finnegans Wake.  This should give a picture of the endless, intelligence increasing labyrinth Pynchon and his Source construct.

The subject of Space Migration exists in Gravity's Rainbow mostly as virtual - real, without yet being actual.  By that I mean that it exists in the background, in the character of The Rocket which Pynchon connects with The Tower, the path of Pe, the explosive opening of the Eye of Horus.  The face of the Rocket (The Tower) displays mostly War.  Can we find a creative use for the Rocket (The Tower)?  How about Space Migration?


"This ascent will be betrayed to Gravity.  But the Rocket engine, the deep cry of combustion that jars the soul, promises escape.  The victim, in bondage to falling, rises on a promise, a prophecy of Escape. ..."

" ... last word from Blicero: "The edge of evening . . . the long curve of people all wishing upon the first star. . . . Always remember those men and women along the thousands of miles of land and sea.  The true moment of shadow is the moment in which you see the point of light in the sky.  The single point, and the Shadow that has just gathered you in its sweep . . . "
Always remember.
The first star hangs between his feet.
Now -"
- GR p. 774 - 775

One subplot in GR does specifically bring up Space Migration.  Rocket engineer Franz Polker's daughter has recurring dreams and fantasies about living on the Moon and making a home there, fantasies that she shares with her dad and he participates in.  Somewhere in a biographical note on Werner von Braun, the Nazi and later American rocket engineer who got N.A.S.A off the ground, it says that his interest in rockets was always to get humans into space, he never wanted them for war use, but went along with it to fund and further the rocket research.  GR begins with a von Braun quote:  

Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.  Everything science has taught me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death.

This brings us to the subject of Life Extension, the final term in the S.M.I2.L.E. formula.  Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson almost always spoke about the extrinsic side of the formula - constructing and living in High Orbital Mini Earths; the migration of terrestrial life off the planet as the next step in human evolution; drugs and technologies to dramatically prolong the life of the body, or revive it in the future, etc.  

In a groundbreaking essay, 22 Alternatives to Involuntary Death originally published by New Falcon, later turned into a book by Ronin, Timothy Leary wrote as one alternative:

Develop New Rituals

Our cultural taboos have prohibited the development of much detailed work in this area, but some important research has been done by E.J. Gold described in The New American Book of the Dead. We need new rituals to guide the post-body transition.

This brings us to bardo training which could be succinctly called: Get Familiar with Death.  This describes the method of Life Extension prevalent in Gravity's Rainbow.  Death seems almost as big a character as the Rocket.  Of course, the Rocket delivers Death; these two characters seem conjoined, like twins.  The very last scene in the book occurs in a movie theater about to get struck by a rocket.  The book ends with everyone in the theater about to die.  The novel begins with the sound of a rocket going across the sky.  Two alternate interpretations come to mind: the whole novel takes place in a movie theater with the story and events making up the film the audience watches.  The second interpretation has to do with the fact that the V2 rocket was supersonic, it travelled faster than the speed of sound.  By the time you heard it screaming across the sky it had already hit land and exploded.  Everyone in the theater is already dead at the start of the book.  The event in the last section of the book occurs prior to the event at the beginning.  Many reviewers have commented upon the circular form of GR.  The end of the fourth sentence at the start, "... but it's all theatre.", connects with the theatre at the end.  

Von Braun's opening quote regarding death echoes at the end of GR:

"The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent ...

The last image was too immediate for any eye to register.  It may have been a human figure, dreaming of an early evening in each great capital luminous enough to tell him he will never die, coming outside to wish on the first star.  but it was not a star, it was falling, a bright angel of death.  And in the darkening and awful expanse of screen something has kept on, a film we have not learned to see..."

The last sentence quoted matches the description of death from the Tibetan Buddhist point of view; "... something has kept on" = spiritual existence after death; "a film we have not yet learned to see..." = the Bardo.  GR endeavors to show us this film.  Note the use of the word "on", recalling Crowley's formula ON.  Other instances of this word in the book suggest that either Pynchon or his Extrapersonal Source knows this formula.

Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but they also believe in a 49 day transitional period after the departing spirit, the voyager, leaves the physical body upon its death and before it takes rebirth in a new incarnation.  This transitional period is not life or death.  The Tibetans came up with the word bardo to describe this between lives space.  The Bardo soon came to refer to any space in between not just those regarding biological death.  Leading this Western use of Tibetan terminology was Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner with their book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Leary says that the psychedelic researchers found it  difficult to notate and catagorize their results in a consistently scientific way; The Tibetan Book of the Dead is what they turned to help map their experiences.  The Bardo designating the territory of the in between seems well suited for mapping the psychedelic trip, a space, a series of spaces, the subject travels through in between their usual personality.  Conversely, I once recorded E.J. Gold giving an account of why he wrote The American Book of the Dead.  He said that in the late sixties John Lilly asked him to translate the Tibetan Book of the Dead to help with the large number of young people overdosing on psychedelics and having a rough time.  The guided instructions intended for the Voyager who has died and left their body substantially helped people feeling fearful on their trip.

The Bardo territory can be effectively simulated without dying and without taking drugs.  Among other things, words, language, and writing in the hands of a master like Thomas Pynchon can make the reader feel like they entered a bardo space.  Gravity's Rainbow contains many bardo sequences that quite effectively simulate this space.  A theory states that becoming familiar, less freaked out, by these bardo simulations will provide habits and skills that will help the Voyage navigate the post-mortem condition when the time comes for their body to die; bardo training -  knowing and getting  familiar with Death becomes a very familiar in GR.  Death becomes a character popping up explicitly and alluded to implicitly in many multiple ways.  Death seems omnipresent, always in the background when not directly mentioned.

The book starts with the sound of a rocket "screaming across the sky."  Because of its supersonic speed this means it has already landed and exploded; seems likely someone has died.  The next few pages up to the introduction of Pirate Prentice run through a series of bardo spaces - a bardo sequence.  Beginning with "The Evacuation still proceeds ..."(p. 3) the book describes all the in betweeness of people leaving their homes transitioning to a hopefully safe refuge.  Historically based on the 1944 evacuation of 1.5 million Londoners when the Nazi's first began firing the V2 rocket at them, Pynchon writes impressionistically of what that transition felt like in the moment.  The writing creates bardo percepts and affects.  The subject in these pages seems to be the event itself, not in the historical sense, but of what it may have felt like to experience it happening.

The name of the main antagonist, Blicero, is a German nickname for death.  He's introduced on p. 30: "into the realm of Dominus Blicero," translated by Weisenburger to mean "into Death's domain."

On page 256 we see a "flopping Sydney Greenstreet Panama hat." Weisenburger notes the reference to a 1944 film, Between Two Worlds, "set in London during the blitz."  Most of the characters in it have died, but don't know it. " ... their task is to work through their fate by understanding the kind of person they are..." very much keeping in line with the bardo process.  Greenstreet's character, known as "The Examiner" is the one passing final judgement.  His name is Reverend Tim Thompson, coincidentally a conflation of Tim Leary and Thom Pynchon's first names.

One of the psychics working at The White Visitation, Carroll Eventyr, can communicate with the dead and receives valuable information at times.  She can repeat but can't remember what was said so all her paranormal sessions are recorded.  A few episodes later in the book take place on the luxury yacht Anubis named after the Egyptian deity who guides souls through the land of the dead.  Anubis = the Roman God, Mercury.  This is only the tip of the iceberg regarding references and allusions to death and the bardo.

Starting with the blatant opening quote, the subject of the transcendence of death gets fairly frequent play.  Another thing I discovered is that several times Pynchon uses the word "smile" in a way that recalls S.M.I2.L.E. I have to wonder if this influenced Leary at all when he came up with this formula possibly around the time he read G.R., or if that's a coincidence from Dr. Tim and Mr. Thom tuning in to the same Extrapersonal Source?  The  first subject of the death/rebirth sequence below reminds me of Leary:

"A beautiful Christmas gift," he confessed to the resident on his ward, "it's the season of birth of fresh beginnings." Whenever the rockets fall - those which are audible - he smiles, turns out to pace the ward, tears about to splash from the corners of his merry eyes, caught up in a ruddy high tonicity that can't help cheering his former patients.  His days are numbered. He's to die on V-E Day.  If he's not in fact the War, then he's its child-surrogate, living high for a certain term but come the ceremonial day, look-out.  The true king only dies a mock death. Remember. Any number of young men may be selected to die in his place while the real king, foxy old bastard, goes on. Will he show up under the Star, slyly genuflecting with the other kings as this winter solstice draws on us?" Bring to the serai gifts of tungsten, cordite, high octane. Will the child gaze up from his ground of golden straw, then gaze into the eyes of the old king who bends long and unfurling overhead, leans to proffer his gift, will the eyes meet, and what message, what possible greeting or entente will flow between the king and the infant prince? Is the baby smiling, or is it just gas? Which do you want it to be?" (p.133)

This death/rebirth episode conflates the death of War with the Nativity scene, the birth of Christ, rocket materials, someone whose description suggests Timothy Leary and an allusion to one of Aleister Crowley's most recognized instructions that he claimed derived from an Extrapersonal Source.  The sentence "Will he show up under the Star" = "Will under love" to anyone who knows the Star tarot card.  Pynchon's penchant for reversing things turns this into " love under will." .  Crowley, and many Thelemites to this day, close all their personal correspondence with: "Love is the law, love under will."  Liber Al 1:57.

Crowley claimed his methods could produce Christs.  (Postcards for Probationers, Equinox I Vol. 2).  The word Christ comes from an Ancient Greek term that means "Anointed One" and doesn't necessarily refer to a particular historical individual.  The difference with Crowley's production of Christs is that he believed anyone could do it given sufficient time and effort.  It corresponds with Tiphareth on the Tree of Life.

In case anyone like me wondered what the word "serai" means in the last quote -  it's of Persian origin and is a different word for "caravansary" i.e. a caravan; this suggests the three Magi and their gifts to the newborn Messiah.

140 pages later another death/rebirth scenario plays out.  It's connected to the one quoted above by the fact of it occurring on V-E Day:

"It is peacetime again now, no room for the pigeons in Trafalager Square on V-E Night, everyone at the facility that day mad drunk and hugging and kissing, except for the Blavatskian wing of Psi section, who were off on a White Lotos Day pilgrimage to 19 Avenue Road, St. Johns Wood." (p.273)

This gives the historically correct address where Madame Helena Blavatsky, noted mystic and founder of the Theosophical Society, died on this same date in 1891.   Steven Weisenburger explains the white lotos symbolism in Gravity's Rainbow Companion:

"[Theosophy's] three aims were to promote the unity of mankind; to promote the comparative study of religion, philosophy and science; and to explore human psychic faculties. Theosophists adopted the Hindu white lotos, a symbol of the Trimurti, or threefold godhead, as a sign of these unified aims.  To them, the lotos also symbolized the unity of world religions; in Hinduism it is padma, birthplace of the gods, and in Buddhism it is Buddha's throne, just as in Egyptian religions the lotos was Horus's seat. It came to Christianity as the multifoliate rose. Blavatsky died on the Buddha's birthday, May 8, 1891 at the address Pynchon gives on Avenue Road ..." (p. 168)

May 8 also marks Thomas Pynchon's birthday.  He turned 8 on V-E Day.  Aleister Crowley gave significance to the fact that Blavatsky established Theosophy in 1875, the year he was born.  The death/rebirth pattern appears as a major recurring theme in Timothy Leary's, High Priest.

All of this suggests the Hero archetype.  Tyrone Slothrop goes though a few different alter-egos before his fragmented personality completely breaks apart.  His last identity before dissolution is the mythical Plechazunga, the Pig-Hero.  This leads to him traveling around in a Pig-Hero costume for a few days that inadvertently saves him from castration.  Another series of events related to the Hero by way of homonym resonance gets found in the extensive subplot concerning the Herero indigenous people of Southwest Africa and their war with the German Empire in the early XXth Century.

In Richard Poirier's review linked to above he writes:

Film is everywhere in Gravity's Rainbow.  So is musical comedy - any scene might break into a lyric.  So are comic books, and although Plastic Man and Sundial are directly mentioned, Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel, the superheroes of World War II comics determine the tone and conduct of many of the characters.

Both Batman and Superman are directly alluded to.  Toward the end Slothrop joins a group of misfit superheroes called the Floundering Four which could point to what Pynchon sees as missing from the World.  More on that next time.  For an excellent essay on the comic book angle see A Comic Source of Gravity's Rainbow which can be downloaded for free.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gravity's Rainbow, Timothy Leary and the Occult

   "Somewhere in Der Platz now, early morning, somebody's two-year-old, a baby as fat as a suckling pig, has just learned the word "Sonnenschein." "Sunshine" sez the baby pointing. "Sunshine" running into the other room.
   "Sunshine" croaks some grownup morning-voice.
   "Sunshine!" hollers the baby, tottering off.
   "Sunshine," a smiling-girl voice, maybe his mother
   "Sunshine!" the baby at the window, showing her, showing anyone else who will look, exactly.
 - GR p. 700

For the working mystic, having the vision and passing through the chambers one by one, is terrible and complex.  You must not only have the schooling in countersigns and seals, not only the physical readiness through exercise and abstinence, but also the hardon of resolution that will never go limp on you.  The angels at the doorways will try to con you, threaten you, play all manner of cruel practical jokes, to turn you aside.  The Qlippoth, shells of dead, will use all your love for friends who have passed across against you.  You have chosen the active way, and there is no faltering without finding the most mortal danger.   
- GR p. 764

All page numbers refer to the 2006 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. The following essay assumes some familiarity, at least a rough outline, with the story of Gravity's Rainbow.  It's easy to find a synopsis online.  The Leary connection has been given an excellent treatment by The Overweening Generalist in a joint effort with PQ who wrote a separate and excellent overview of the book.

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon has been called the premier book of postmodern literature.  It communicates multiple visions on multiple levels not the least of which coincides with Dr. Timothy Leary's vision for the next step for humanity - space colonies; expanding terrestrial life into outer space.  On another, not mutually exclusive level, GR presents a manual and course of study for the aspirant, the initiate, the bardo explorer and the working mystic.  We present a preliminary exploration into the occult side of this novel as well as Timothy Leary's role in it.

Pynchon gets quite explicit with the occult angle particularly toward the end.  One whole sub-episode called Weissmann's Tarot gives a full Celtic Cross reading for this character.  A few pages later he gives the Kabbalist Creation myth.  The Golden Dawn is name checked and sourced as well as A. E. Waite, Madame Blavatsky, Freemason's, Rosicrucians and others of their ilk.  All this arcanum gets expressed literally and therefore not quite occult, meaning hidden.  Yet, we see a great deal below the surface.  The literal references suggest a direction to look in.  This direction leads down Alice's rabbit hole into the Wonderland of transitional consciousness with lots of handy hints, advice and warnings along the way.

The plot of GR concerns the rockets used at the end of World War II.  It could be said that the main nonhuman character = a Rocket.

"Of 77 cards that could have come up, Weismann is "covered" that is his present condition is set forth by The Tower.  It is a puzzling card, and everybody has a different story on it. ... We know by now that it is also the Rocket."  - GR p. 762  Pynchon then goes on to explain this card on The Tree of Life.  In PQs blog linked to above, there is a photo of a mock-up of Mindless Pleasures, GRs original title, with The Tower card as its cover.  Pynchon makes this correspondence explicit.

As an aside to critics who considered Mindless Pleasures a stupid title, although I agree that Gravity's Rainbow is unquestionably better, the former appears quite brilliant from the working mystic point of view especially when you understand that Pleasure relates to another tarot card.   Qabalistic illiteracy obscures and occludes particular signs that may seem abstract, nonsensical, or trivial without knowing the language.  Your judgements often reveal the limitations of your knowledge.

The quote I opened this post with looks completely congruent to the new born child Horus, the deity in charge of our present age according to Aleister Crowley and his spiritual kinfolk.  The work of Crowley et al gets known as the 93 Current.  The baby in the quote = "a baby as fat as a suckling pig." P = 80, I = 10, G = 3; PIG = 93.  Crowley uses the same pig pun in The Book of Lies.  Pynchon has his main character Tyrone Slothrop going around in a pig costume at one point.  I am not asserting that Pynchon consciously and deliberately used a pig totem to indicate Thelema (Crowley's religion), we'll get to that.

An obvious reason Pynchon chose The Tower to represent the Rocket and hence, the book:  The Tower = the path of Mars = War.  Except for a couple of flashbacks and flashforwards, War hangs in the background for the entire novel.  He gives other explicit reasons for The Tower attribution on page 762.  A less obvious reason could be that this path indicates an introduction to Thelema.  This path corresponds with Horus.  It is one of the three cross paths on the Tree of Life, being the lowest and thus the first cross path encountered when ascending from Malkuth, the Material World.

One of the stories of The Tower card, known in older decks as the House of God, gets told quite well in The Book of Thoth by Crowley.  The whole entry is worth reading; here is a relevant excerpt:

There is a direct reference to this card in the Book of Law.  In Chapter I, verse 57, the goddess Nuith speaks: "Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under the will.  Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love.  There is the dove and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God."
      The dominating feature of this card is the Eye of Horus.  This is also the Eye of Shiva, on the opening of which, according to the legend of this cult, the Universe is destroyed.  
 - The Book of Thoth, p. 108

The opening of the Eye of Horus, the introduction of this vision, can blow up old belief systems and destroy the Universe as you know it.  On the card it looks, and gets described as, explosive.  Explosions repeat somewhat frequently in GR, even moreso in Pynchon's next epic, multilayered and magickly related novel, Against the Day.

I did not notice any direct references to Crowley in Gravity's Rainbow and have no idea if Pynchon knows anything about him.  Given TP's encyclopedic proclivities, I suspect he does.  He kind of dances around Crowley naming people and things like The Golden Dawn that played roles in the old man's life without any direct references.  He even alludes to a well-known incident involving uber Crowley student and collector, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page (p. 666). The lack of any mention could be from not knowing the Crowley literature or it could be that he keeps AC occult and remote like Pynchon's own public persona.  The closest mention of Crowley I saw in GR occurs on page 24.  At this point in the adventure, Slothrop is working for an Allied government agency called ACHTUNG investigating the aftermath of V-bomb (i.e. rocket) "incidents."  ACHTUNG = German for attention.  Slothrop works for attention - this seems a huge clue!

"...he'd detach his pencil smeared buck slip, go draw the same aging Humber from the motor pool, and make his rounds, a St. George after the fact, going out to poke about for droppings of the Beast, fragments of German hardware that wouldn't exist, writing empty summaries into his notebooks - work-therapy.  As inputs to ACHTUNG got faster, often he'd show up in time to help the search crews..." GR p. 24

As is well known, though with little understanding, Crowley identified with The Beast of Revelations.  Another indirect reference is the introduction of Timothy Leary as a character in the book.  More on that later.  Leary declared himself to be carrying on Crowley's work.  You can view a YouTube video where he says that.

Perhaps Pynchon knew absolutely nothing about Crowley when he wrote Gravity's Rainbow.  Still, there appears hard evidence that he worked invocationally; he could have been tapping into the 93 Current without knowing it, though I personally find this unlikely, I suspect he had some conscious knowledge of it.  In a 1970 letter Pynchon wrote to Arthur Mizener about writing: "the further I get into this wretched profession the clearer it is that I am doing very little consciously beyond some clerk routine - assembling, expediting - and that either (a) there is an Extrapersonal Source, or (b) readers are the ones who do most of the work, or all of the above. "(Quoted from Weisenburger in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon, p. 44)

Like Robert Anton Wilson, some of Pynchon's characters turn up in more than one book.  In Weisenburger's invaluable guide: Gravity's Rainbow Companion, he mentions which characters began life in Pynchon's first novel V, others that first showed up in one of the short stories found in Slow Learner, etc.  We also find metaphors repeating in his different novels.  Pynchon's entire vision might only come to light by reading his entire oeuvre, or at least all the novels.

I tried to read V, but couldn't get into it.  At some point I'll go back and dive in with more preparation.  The first time I tried Gravity's Rainbow, I slogged through the first half before giving up.  A few weeks ago it came back up on my radar when I started seeing video reviews for it on my YouTube recommendations list.  After seeing a few of these, I realized it was time to try again.  I took it as an instruction from the "Universe" to act upon.  I picked up a used copy at Powells when working up in Portland, thinking to start reading it within a few weeks.  My prior copy literally self-destructed. The next evening after work I read the assigned portion of The Earth Will Shake by Robert Anton Wilson for a discussion group.  Waiting for dinner, I turned on another GR review and observed the reviewer bring up some points also found in Wilson's book.  This dude sounded very whimsical, part of it may have been his pronounced Australian accent; he ended the review by saying: "see if you can read the first 12 pages of Gravity's Rainbow without craving a banana."  Naturally, I took this as another instruction and proceeded to begin the adventure and read at least the first 12 pages.  My edition begins on page 3 so I read the first episode ending on page 17.  On page 14 Pirate Prentice has a long running fantasy briefly described as exactly what happens in a scene I had just read in The Earth Will Shake involving getting kidnapped by an organization of Sicilians.  These two books successively conspired to blow my mind with that synchronicity.  Both writers act as Hierophants and they both went to the same school.

Although I've only read a few pages of V, I've seen one or two reviews and learned that the primary plot point concerns a search for V described as a woman who does get found near the end.  At least one critic has said that Gravity's Rainbow could have been called V2 because that is the type of rocket at the center of the novel.  His next novel's title = Vineland.  Qabalistically the letter V corresponds with The Hierophant in the Tarot - the one who communicates the secrets of the temple.  The search for V in Pynchon's first novel may have symbolically reflected a search for The Hierophant, a search for an Extrapersonal Source to serve as a conduit for.  As reflected in his fiction, he definitely found and took on the Hierophant's task by the time of GR.

Another attribute of GR aligned with both Crowley and Gurdjieff = its profound God intoxication.  It has been rightfully said that this novel is dark, expresses extreme pain and has very disgusting scatalogical and pornographic scenes.  That perspective may be what predominately comes through without the insight of Qabala.  A subtext of imagery pertaining to Kether, the highest Sephira on The Tree of Life and the one associated with God, runs throughout the book.  It shows itself most often through the color white, a color that makes frequent appearances in the description of various things particularly near the novel's beginning.  For instance, the building that houses the odd group of psychics and clairvoyants making up "PISCES - Psychological Intelligence Schemes for Expediting Surrender," goes by "The White Visitation."

These instances of white seem hardly ever, if ever, pure.  They often appear in a mixture with a dark element of one sort or another.  In other words, Pynchon doesn't offer the appearance of Kether as an escape into a spiritual world, he injects the vision of Kether into the material world of war, dirt and pain possibly as one response to the Sufi question: "Why is God in Hell?"  From a Qabala perspective Hell = the Space/Time continuum.  The work seems on the surface, right where you are sitting now.  Another instance of Kether arrives toward the end with the search for the next model of rocket, this one with the serial number 00001.  The firing of its predecessor, rocket # 00000 plays a large role and ends the novel; we'll get to that.

The white of Kether gets folded in to so many much darker elements that it appears, at times, like a dialectic between the two poles of light and dark, spiritual and material; as a mixture or blend, not as mutually exclusive.  In painting or drawing this effect is called chiaroscuro.  You can find no better philosophic treatment of this than in The Fold, by Deleuze.  A good example of this symbolic chiaroscuro blend occurs in the character of Blicero, the novel's primary antagonist.  Weisenburger informs us that according to Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, one of Pynchon's sources: "'Blicero' is one of the many German nicknames for death. Grimm traces the etymology from 'bleich' (pale)" aka "The Bleacher for what death does to bones."  We find an element of whiteness in this dark character's name.

The first time I spoke with someone other than myself who had read Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson by G.I. Gurdjieff said that the two things they were most struck by were his demonstration of the horrors and stupidity of war and his adoration and love for "Our-Common-Father-Creator Endless.  I find these same two attributes in Gravity's Rainbow.  Pynchon depicts war as mindlessly bureaucratic, mechanical, horrific and insane.  An atmosphere of violence, oppression and pain runs in the background for nearly the entire book.  On the other hand, the encoded language of Qabalah enables the detection of a profound respect, adoration, and love for the Highest.

 The chiaroscuro cover of the edition used here

* * * * * * 
YouTube book reviewer The Book Chemist made the point that historical novels inevitably contain elements of the present time of writing.  This holds true of Gravity's Rainbow written in the 1960s and early 70s.  As was true of that era, we see a liberal amount of a wide variety of drug use.  Slothrop steals a whole brick of hashish in one scene that becomes a plot element for awhile.  Richard Nixon even makes an appearance, first literally with a quote attributed to him that starts the 4th section, then as the character Richard M. Zhlubb "who is fiftyish and jowled, with a permanent five-oclock shadow ..."  Pynchon has fun skewering him. Nixon, of course, became a leader of the status quo culture.  His counter-cultural nemesis, Timothy Leary also makes an appearance.

The story of Leary receiving a copy of Gravity's Rainbow in prison and declaring it a book of genius appears well known to readers of the Good Doctor's life.  See the OG blog by Michael Johnson linked to above for more background and details about this.  In a brief YouTube clip Leary gets asked the one thing he would like to do that he hasn't done before.  He answers: "meet Thomas Pynchon" then goes on to make this a direct appeal to the author.  Many people have wondered what he saw in this dark, chaotic and fragmented novel.  Johnson appears to suggest that the setting of solitary confinement in prison make have played a significant part.  I agree as the atmosphere of GR often makes you feel like living in an oppressed environment.  Some times GR evokes pure Hell in a disgustingly visceral manner like it probably feels in the worst prisons.  I would go so far as to say that getting inside GR feels like being in a prison comprised of the worst aspects of humanity, or as the Gurdjieffians might have it, a prison of sleep.  Yet all along we feel a promise, a rainbow, of redemption and eventual freedom.  I can see this resonating with any prisoner.

It remains unknown to me whether Leary recognized himself as a character in the novel, though I don't see how he couldn't, and whether this factored in to his high opinion.  In my reckoning, Pynchon recognizes and praises his contribution in one spot while also criticizing and rebuking his message elsewhere.  Leary takes the stage as the character Steve Edelman.  On page 770 Edelman "is currently in Atascadero under indefinite observation."  The ever helpful Steven C. Weisenburger notes that: "LSD guru Timothy Leary was incarcerated there after his arrest in 1969." (GR Companion p. 382).  In the previous paragraph from p.770, the Nixon character says that he had a lot of trouble from that Steve Edelman.  Nixon famously declared Leary "the most dangerous man in America."  Mirroring Leary's situation Pynchon writes: "It is alleged that Edelman, in an unauthorized state of mind, attempted to play a chord progression on the Department of Justice list, out in the street and in the presence of a whole movie-queue of witnesses." 

Pynchon honors Leary in a couple of ways.  First, his character's name.  Edel = old-fashoned German for noble or kingly.  Steve comes from the Greek Stephanos meaning crown.  Steve Edelman = the crowned nobleman or the crowned king.  Crown corresponds with Kether.  Also, I am told there is a portion of Christian imagery in this adventure.  St. Stephen was a deacon who was stoned to death as told in the Book of Acts in the New Testament.  He is regarded as the first Christian martyr. It seems easy to consider Leary a martyr for his cause at that time.  By all accounts including his own, Leary frequently got stoned to death, albeit the death of his ego which never failed to get reborn. 

Two pages back, p.768, "Kabbalist spokesman Steve Edelman" explains the Tree of Life.  Though not widely known or recognized, Leary indeed rates as a master Qabalist after his own fashion.  See his book, The Game of Life.  After explaining the creation of the Sephiroth, Edelman continues:  "To return to God, the soul must negotiate each of the Sephiroth, from ten back to one.  Armed with magic and faith, Kabbalists have set out to conquer the Sephiroth.  Many Kabbalist secrets have to do with making the trip successfully."  There's more that connects Edelman with Leary on this page though one must be aware that Pynchon likes to reverse meaning.  We'll get to his reversals shortly. 

This obvious representation of Timothy Leary makes it easier to consider a criticism meant for him made earlier on page 744: Henryk the Hare, driving, keeps a leery eye on the temperature gauge.  He's called "the Hare" because he can never get messages right, as in the old Herero story.  So reverences are dying.  This recalls the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  To me, it appears to criticize the message of LSD as a quick route to enlightenment.  Reverences are dying seems a heavy statement. 

I noticed another Leary sighting earlier in the book in a passage reminiscent of Crowley on p. 84: "But the Reverend Dr. Paul de la Nuit is not fond of the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). "Rosie, are there scales for measuring interpersonal traits?" Hawk's nose probing, probing, eyes lowered in politic meekness. Human values? Trust, honesty, love?  Is there - forgive me for special pleading - a religious scale, by any chance?

No way, padre: the MMPI was developed about 1943.  In the very heart of the War.  Allport and Vernon's Study of Values ..."  In the 50's, before his psychedelic researches, Leary developed his well-known Interpersonal Circle Model of Personality that measured interpersonal traits.  Although anachronistic, the name Allport suggests Leary's future research partner Richard Alpert.

There is another aspect related to the 1960s that probably caught Leary's attention which recurs frequently throughout the book and will remain occult in this essay. 

* * * * * * 
The number 69 appears significant in Gravity's Rainbow.  The main character = Tyrone Slothrop.  His initials add to 69.  The first 3 words of the book's first sentence: "A screaming comes across the sky" adds to 69.  The entire sentence = 139; 1 = Kether; 39 = To abide, dwell; Dew; The Eternal is One; Angel of 3 of Pentacles = Work (from AC's 777).  

69 indicates reversal of meaning, a reversal of letters, or it can mean a pun with two opposite meanings.  Tyrone Slothrop's name appears a good indication of the latter.  His name makes an anagram of Sloth Entropy with the letter "o" left over.  O = The Devil in the tarot, it can indicate male energy destructive and gone amok as in a war.  Another anagram his name makes: by switching the position of one letter Tyrone becomes "Try one," another reference to Kether.  By switching one letter in his last name and reading it backwards, Slothrop becomes "Porthols", the word "portholes except for the letter "e."  E = The Star in the tarot.  That is what is missing.  Try one Porthols seems opposite in nature to Entropy Sloth. 

The other number that shows up an incredible amount of times = 68 in the form of "s" and "c" letter combinations; most often where these letters occur as initials to consecutive words or words obviously connected.  You will see this in the very first sentence: "A screaming comes across the sky."  The possible significance of that shall also remain occult here though if you click on this link, my interpretation will get revealed especially when you click on the links inside that link.


Monday, April 1, 2019

93_The Aleister Crowley Primer by J. Edward and Erica M Cornelius


Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night's old smoke, alcohol and sweat, the fragile, musaceous odor of Breakfast: flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy to the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror's secret by which - though it is not often Death is told so clearly to fuck off - the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty generations.
 - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, p. 10

 93_The Aleister Crowley Primer  proves beyond all reasonable doubt that the tradition, known as Thelema, presented by Crowley and bequeathed to future generations is vitally ALIVE,  growing, evolving, and informing.  Death in this context means the death of Aleister Crowley's legacy by turning it into a dogmatic, sectarian orthodoxy. This Primer is the opposite of that and is critical of those who would take Crowley's legacy in that direction.  It is a scholarly book, quite clearly an authoritative work of those who practice what they preach.  The dyad Cornelius generously gives us their vision of Thelema in a way that gently challenges the willing reader to begin, continue or reinvigorate the labyrinthine journey to gnothi seauton (know thyself).  The 93 Primer gives much more than a data dump of information - though it has a wealth of that - it can also serve as a work book or lab manual.  93_ The Aleister Crowley Primer presents an encounter with a school.  In other words, it has much practical value alongside the study of Thelemic theory; a Primer in theory and practice.

The authors don't ask for the reader to agree with what they write and definitely aren't asking for anyone to believe anything.  Their intent seems a wish to guide, tease, coax and cajole readers into thinking for themselves. Much like Crowley, they implore the student not to automatically accept what they say, rather make the effort to verify everything  for yourself.

 After a brief history of Thelema including extensive biographical footnotes, The 93 Primer's format becomes an extensive series of questions and answers.  The authors say it can be read in a random order though there is some intentionality to the sequence .  This soon becomes apparent in the second question, What do the initials A.'. A.'. mean? wherein they give the two primary tasks or ordeals of this system abbreviated as The Angel and the Abyss.  Right off the top, anyone totally new to this ideology and ontology gets a clear and concise North Star to aim for.  This fact alone makes it worth the price of admission.

Arguably, the most valuable monkey wrench (to wrench the evolving spirit away from the monkey), absolutely indispensable to students new or grizzled, arrives in the very first question, What is a Bullshit Meter and do I need one?

The idea of a Bullshit Meter isn't new to popular culture nor even to the legacy of Thelema.  I'm not aware of its genesis, first heard of it in the first line of the song Garageland by The Clash, released in 1977.  To my knowledge, this concept made its Thelemic debut in the Introduction by Robert Anton Wilson  to a new edition of Israel Regardie's The Eye in the Triangle published in 1997.  Wilson mentions and advises its use right off the top without further explanation.  The 93 Primer is the first publication I am aware of to take this concept and run with it, expanding and explicating this notion into a practical working model.  However, this didn't mark the Meter's expanded debut.  One of the authors, Erica M Cornelius, recently wrote and published On Getting a Bullshit Meter or, If I Remember Lemuria, Will You Pay Me $100 a Year (2016).  I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, it's on my list.

Writers who promote these metaphysical devices attempting to inspire independent thought in readers are known to intentionally introduce material for detection, i.e. bullshit, into their books as a test.  We see this in the title of Erica's study.  Obviously, remembering Lemuria is much more valuable than $100/year... at least twice as much I would think!  The seemingly non sequitur instances of the Bullshit Meter's recurrence in the 93 Primer suggests test material to evaluate.  For example, at the conclusion of  Who exactly is Choronozon?  out of nowhere comes the advice: "The sooner you pick up a proverbial "Bullshit Meter," the better off you'll be." (p. 156)

The Bullshit Meter has a much broader range of use than trying to determine whether the author is pulling your leg as you'll see in the Primer.  Also, check the following example from the book One Truth and One Spirit - Aleister Crowley's Spiritual Legacy by Keith Readdy. p. 255: "Cornelius' writing is best understood within the context of polemics aimed against the O.T.O."  A footnote gives the example of his 2018 publication: Memoirs of an A.'. A.'. Initiate: Being the True Story of the Struggles for Freedom in the 1990s Against the Restrictionists

On my personal Bullshit Meter, as shown above, that statement goes somewhere between Get A Shovel and Bullshit!!! On another Bullshit Meter the needle might point to True, particularly if the only writings by Cornelius that they've read is the book listed in the footnote.  I haven't read it, but could see it best understood as a polemic against the O.T.O. because that's pretty much stated in the title.  From reading the 93 Primer one infers that the Restrictionists = the O.T.O. and the branch of the A.'. A.'. connected to them.

The Primer does contain some criticism, not a lot, against perceived dogmatic attitudes and some restrictive policies and practices in official Thelemic orthodoxy (a paradox if ever I heard one) as promulgated by the O.T.O.  I find the Cornelius' arguments compelling in this regard and look forward to hearing from the other side which is why I picked up One Truth and One Spirit. Critical and existential examinations of how Thelema manifests in contemporary society seems one way that Crowley's legacy remains vitally alive.  I would characterize the two viewpoints as rhizome vs arborescent in the Deleuze and Guattari sense of those concepts.  To very roughly paraphrase: rhizome = it can sprout up anywhere and make connections to anything; multiple ways to manifest. Arborescent models must conform to a specific form; only one way to do it.  One can easily see this translated into a dialect of freedom vs restriction.

I find Cornelius' work best understood in the context of learning more about Thelema and how it can practically work.  Among other things, I have learned a great deal about the ON formula that Crowley placed great importance upon.  This partially explains its significance to me: O = Ayin = the path that connects Tiphareth 6 with Hod 8.  Anyone who follows this blog stream knows the importance I assign to 68.  I connect it with the discovery by Crowley in The Paris Working of the identity of Mercury and Christ, among other things.  I wrote about this in Thelema, Deleuze and 68; that post also has links to additional blogs on the subject.  As I discovered from a reference in the 93 Primer, Crowley writes of this path in The Book of Wisdom and Folly in the chapter Further on these Paths: Now the Path of Ayin is a Link between Mercury and the Sun and in the Zodiac importeth the Goat.  This Goat is called also Strength, and standeth in the Meridian at the Sunrise of Spring, and it is his nature to leap upon Mountains.  So therefore is he a Symbol of true Magick, and his name is Baphomet ... Therefore this Goat, making each leap with Fervour, yet at all Times secure in his own Element, is a true Hieroglyph of the Magician.  Mark also, this Path sheweth One continuous in his Exaltation upon a Throne, and so it is the formula of the Man, as the other was of the Woman.
I suggest that if you know what gets exalted then you have a good start toward understanding the ON formula.

The other path, the path of the Woman  = N = Nun = the path connecting Tiphareth 6 with Netzach 7 = Death in the Tarot Major Arcana.    In the chapter preceding the one just quoted, On The Keys of Death and The Devil, Arcana of the Tarot of the R.C. Brotherhood Crowley writes: "Nun joineth the Sun with Venus, and is referred to Scorpio in the Zodiac.  This Path is perilous, for it seeketh the Level, and may abase thee, except thou take Heed unto the Going.  Of its three Modes, the Scorpion destroyeth himself, as if it were a type of Animal Pleasure.  Next, the Serpent is proper to Works of Change, or Magick; yet is he poisonous also unless thou has wit to enchant him.  Lastly, the Eagle is subtlest in this Sort, so that this Path is proper to a Transcendental Labour.  Yet are all these in the Way of Death ..."
People who know me know of my strong interest in technology to handle Death in all aspects, literal and metaphorical.  I've been called obsessed with Death.  My real obsession is with Life, and the music it makes.  Death appears a gateway to a greater life.

This barely scratches the surface.  The Cornelius' dive much deeper into this formula with great clarity.

The 93 Primer has something for anyone with an interest in Thelema.  It can become an invaluable aid to those with little or no prior exposure to Thelemic philosophy.   It can do the same for anyone with experience ranging from moderate to extensive.  The potential for unlocking new keys, for pursuing new avenues of research in Thelemic study and practice seems just as unlimited and vast as unlocking new keys and gaining new insights to the human mind and nervous system.  This book rewards repeated rereading.  It's structured more like a map than a linear textbook.  You can jump in anywhere you wish to go.  Often, you'll see references and suggestions for other writings to investigate that will further elucidate a point or topic... like hypertext.  These ancillary references include the authors' previous publications, Crowley's writings (as would be expected), some of them obscure to me, along with what seems like unpublished material - excerpts from letters and diaries.  We also get suggested reading completely outside recognized Thelemic circles.  On the practical side, we see an excellent exercise for imprinting Qabalah on pages 43 - 44.  Elsewhere, the authors give their recommendation for how to get started, what practices to begin.

There is a plot element in the new season of the excellent Netflix science fiction series, The OA (Original Angel) where you have to solve a complex puzzle to unlock a corridor in an unusual house that leads to an Interdimensional Choice Point space (i.e. the bardo).  House = beth = The Magus. Crowley's magick has always appeared a complex puzzle to me and many others.  The 93 Primer goes a long way to putting those puzzle pieces into place.  Yet, this book too has a puzzle-like component to it.  To give a small example: On p. 82 they quote Crowley: "The man of earth is the adherent..."  At the conclusion of the book, immediately following a quote from Timothy Leary to "Question authority," they give the first step they teach (in large bold letters): "Learn what it means to be the AHERANT!"  At first reckoning this appears a rather substantial typo with the mispelling of adherant.  Or is it?  Qabalistic analysis of this "typo" reveals something interesting which wouldn't be expressed with the correct spelling.  Below this, in small letters we see: (all else is pendant to this).  This phrase is numerically equivalent (by the method of Notarikon - transposing and adding the initials) to a phrase that concludes What are the Fifty Gates in Qabalah? (p. 45).  This latter phrase recurs throughout the 93 Primer and represents a core concept in Thelemic theurgy.

Yes, this book is the real deal.  That doesn't necessarily mean you'll agree with everything, I don't.  In the introduction the authors state times where they don't agree with themselves.  They also reserve the right to change and revise their model with future information and gnosis.  Again, this is a living, growing, mutating tradition.  In terms of the lineage question, whether or not Grady McMurtry did the proper administrative dance to warrant the authority to establish a legitimate line of the A.'. A.'., whether all his eyes were dotted and tees crossed etc., the question itself seems counter-intuitive after reading the 93 Primer.   It documents McMurtry's intensive contact with Aleister Crowley as well as Crowley's trust in McMurtry to carry on his legacy.  It also documents the close relationship and mentoring between McMurtry and Jerry Cornelius.  Among other sources, the baraka passed from Crowley to McMurtry and then from McMurtry to Cornelius.  This baraka has been imprinted and passed through this book.  That doesn't make it infallible, if anything it makes it dangerous ... and real.  If you don't pick up on this energetic right away, keep reading and experimenting ... eventually you will.