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?"

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 ...

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