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In the Shadow of Columbia’s Library

This is an extract, provided by the author, from Blame It On Blake: a memoir of dead languages, gender vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr by Jacob Rabinowitz, “a memoir of the Beat generation authors I knew, and my own explorations of Witchcraft, Egyptology, Voodoo, gender confusion and mind-altering drugs, authorized (more or less) by William Blake.” This is part four, the final in this excerpt series, of chapter six, and is a personal narrative about the author’s acquaintance with Hermetic Library Fellow Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.

VI: Hakim Bey, continued

4: In the Shadow of Columbia’s Library

For my part, I introduced Peter to my New York, the cafés of the Village that were open latest and left you undisturbed for hours at your table to sip your espresso and talk and smoke. My favorite was Di Roberti’s, on First Avenue near Twelfth Street, with black-and-white tiled walls and floors, and a few unrepaired bullet holes by the booth where Louie the Fish bought it back in the forties.

The fare at Di Roberti’s was unsubtle but wonderful Sicilian pastry. Around Easter the window would be filled with marzipan lambs, each holding its cross- banner in the crook of its foreleg. In the wall-covering front mirrors of that brightly lit pastry-shop you saw a miniature infinity of toy-like pink identical animals, a vista of childhood delight, multiplied into a likeness of candied eternity.

They also had Poppe di Monaca (“Nun’s Breasts”), the round dome-like cakes, filled with marzipan, topped with a cherry and glazed with white icing, through which the cherry showed, erect and roseate, an angelic and delectable nipple.

I tried to share with Peter the things that interested me, De Sade, Heraclitus and so on, but the only one he really took to was Nietzsche, whom he’d somehow missed out on. Peter treated Nietzsche like a chocolate-box full of ideas to be sampled.

He took a similar view of my conversation. When I look over the pages of TAZ I see a number verbatim phrases I can confidently claim, but I cannot say that he borrowed any of my ideas. Those didn’t really register.

I was the great beneficiary in our friendship. Peter taught me about Islamic civilization, a vast gap in my education, as it is in that of most westerners to this day. This ignorance forms a particularly appalling chasm, since Middle Eastern politics are now part of ours. Islamdom covered twice the territory (it extended from Spain to India) and lasted twice as long as the Roman empire, and was responsible for such international intellectual projects as medieval philosophy and medicine, modern algebra and chess. Algebra was created when the Arab mathematicians combined Greek geometry and the Indian concept of zero with their own system of writing numbers, which is the one we use today. Chess was an Indian board game not much better than checkers before Moslem merchants carried it across continents.

Typically Peter and I would talk all night. At five the next morning. I would go home to sleep, and then walk up to the Columbia library to get the books he’d mentioned. Thus I obtained a truly splendid education at Columbia, without Columbia’s assistance. It was in effect a graduate tutorial in Islamic {169} civilization from an expert whose knowledge had come from living in the midst of it.

Peter was also the first to tell me about Gnosticism—the antinomian heresy that beset early Christianity. This was just then becoming a modish subject due to Elaine Pagel’s vulgarization, the best-selling 1979 Gnostic Gospels. At about this time Gnosticism was also trickling into the popular culture via the last novels of P. K. Dick: The Divine Invasion, Valis, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Later on gnosticism would tinge such hits as The Da Vinci Code and the movie The Matrix. But when I met Peter, Gnosticism was still a topic largely unknown to anyone outside of academia and, on a deeper level, such it really remains. Although a few people have cashed in on it, it has largely been by citing the rediscovered gnostic scriptures to appeal to anti-Catholic feeling—never a bad bet in a Protestant country. The idea here is that the evil Catholic Church has been hiding the true scriptures so as to protect its monopoly. This ploy has been selling books since Gutenberg printed Luther’s Bible. It’s literally the oldest game in publishing.

Real knowledge of Gnosticism remains an esoteric rarity, and the book Peter referred me to, Hans Jonas’ 1958 The Gnostic Religion, remains the most valuable study of the subject available, though interested persons should now also acquire Bentley Layton’s splendid 1987 The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations, which has for the first time made the primary documents accessible to the non-specialist.

Peter was interested in Gnosticism for the same reason he embraced Islamic heresy, because it was a source of hoary authorities and tragic antecedents to legitimize his homosexuality and anarchism. He had invested far too much of his life in the spiritual path to reject religion wholesale, to be simply irreverently gay and atheistically anarchist. That might do if your only exposure to religion was a crude fundamentalism, but Peter was deeply read in mystical literature, and had considerable experience of spiritual practice.

The Christian gnostics offered a kind of liberation, but because of Christianity’s underlying ambivalence to material existence, their ventures into sacred sex and strange politics took a particularly blasphemous form. In fact, a kind of satanism. They regarded the god of the Old Testament with his list of prohibitions as the evil, stupid overlord of the physical world only, who had invented sexual morality as a further fetter upon the spirit. Thus gnosticism has always had a certain appeal for Christendom’s sexual dissidents. This excerpt from the Nag Hammadi hymn Thunder, Perfect Mind, will give an idea. Here the spirit of Holy Wisdom says {170}

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.

With scriptures like this, it’s pretty easy to see how you could have whatever quantity or character of sex you please and still end up holier than the pope!

Peter wasn’t particularly attracted to the Gnostic path; “gloomy libertines” was how he described them. But he found in them an instructive parallel to Islamic heresies, which offered pretty much the same validation of this-worldly pleasure and total individual freedom, but without the melodrama. The dualism that underlies the Islamic version of gnosticism is largely neutralized by the stricter monotheism of Islam.

Dualism may be a term too concise to be clear. It’s the notion that mater and spirit are opposed principles, forever at war in the cosmos, as light versus darkness, good versus evil, &c. Peter explained to me that, whatever gnosticism’s metaphysical shortcomings—the fact it defines the material world as evil—its dualist ideology provides a splendid tension for a novel’s plotline. Peter was particularly interested in how this appeared in science fiction: here P. K. Dick is the parade example. I would extend Peter’s insight to say that dualism is the only, though crucial, Christian element in Tolkien’s otherwise pagan Lord of the Rings, and that the entire genre of detective novel can be viewed as a secularized version of the same plot structure. The archetype of Saint Michael (the patron saint of police officers) fighting the Antichrist is always somewhere present in the roman policier.

It was through Peter that I rediscovered science fiction. I’d read a certain amount of it while a teenager, but had figured it was one of those childish things one puts away when one becomes a man. Peter made a quite compelling, though somewhat self-serving argument that SF was the modern “literature of ideas,” comparable to the didactic poetry of old, like Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, the great first-century BC epic poem about physics. I wasn’t, and am not, persuaded that the alternate futures and imaginary worlds of this particular genre fiction are really dealing with serious questions. Not even to the same degree as the satiric fantasy Gulliver’s Travels—at least they have not done so yet, to my knowledge. Yet Peter’s insight is to this degree valid: science fiction would be ideally suited to presenting philosophic concepts in narrative form. At present, its exponents seem satisfied if now and then they can propound a grotesque moral conundrum.

Peter would go through bales of SF novels, and refer me to the very best of what he found. In this manner I read a number of intensely enjoyable books which would have otherwise eluded me. Dick’s Divine Invasion was a {171} particular favorite, as was Gibson’s Neuromancer, both of which I read several times. I recall trying to interest Bret in this later. I thought the opening line was rather grabby: “The sky was the color of TV tuned to a dead channel.” Bret, profoundly unimpressed, responded with,

“I suppose that’s the cyberspace equivalent of it was a dark and stormy night.”

Both of these books dealt with gnosticism. Divine Invasion did so very literally, incorporating the myth of a mental breakdown in the godhead which caused the emanation of our universe. Neuromancer, with its visions of cyberspace as a disembodied network of twinkling information extending through the black non-space of pure consciousness, gave a very up-to-date version of the traditional, disembodied heaven of Christianity.

Peter was my psychopomp through all this literature, from Arabic and Persian classics to SF. He had read seemingly everything and could discuss it all in intelligent detail. There was no one teaching at Columbia remotely comparable to him in breadth of knowledge or literary sensitivity. Though Allen and Bill were immeasurably better writers, compared to Peter’s, their literary culture was limited and provincial. I’m not being a bitch: compared to Peter’s range and agility, just about about anyone looked limited and provincial. It was thanks to Peter that my cultural compass points included Confucius, the Tale of Genji, the Mahabharata and Rumi. Peter was the whole silk route (which he’d in fact traveled in person as much as through books.)

Peter also introduced me to food. My parents had taught me nothing about cooking or dining beyond some rather out-of-date table manners. As a boy, I couldn’t leave before the formal end of the meal without saying “may I please be excused.”

My mother didn’t really cook. Her culinary accomplishments were almost encompassed by meatloaf and tuna-noodle casserole. My father’s only participation in dining was grilling steaks. Were it not for our ethnicity, which vouchsafed us delicatessen food once a week, I would never have guessed that food could be good.

Peter introduced me to real dining, which I maintain is usually the same as cheap dining. I haven’t yet been to an expensive restaurant where the food was really tastier than the fare in a good inexpensive one, be it an ethnic establishment or a plain old American diner. There’s no earthly reason to ever pay fifty dollars a plate, unless someone else is paying, and even then, it’s a bore to be beholden while someone literally shoves their success down your throat. {172}

With Peter I learned to frequent the Cuban-Chinese places that were then so common on the Upper West Side near Columbia. I learned how excellent even an ordinary dish of rice and beans can be, and what delight there is in a simple cup of coffee, when it’s Café Bustelo made in an espresso machine and topped with steamed milk to make a café con leche. Henceforth it was with a grimace that I sipped the thin biter stuff Americans like, which even they have to excuse with copious doses of sugar and cream. I ate roast goat and oxtail soup, chicharrones de pollo, deep-fried morsels of chicken, and crispy sweet fried sweet plantains. All of it cheap, all of it excellent, and always served in a relaxed and courteous atmosphere without a trace of “attitude.”

On our forays into Chinatown we usually ended up at Lin’s Garden on Bayard Street. This magnificent hole-in-the-wall closed around 1990. It was famous for its deliciously greasy chow fun (broad rice noodles) which were served with the meat of your choice mixed in. Best of all was the duck chow fun. To my amazement Peter would order half a roast duck on the side to eat along with his. I’d never seen anyone consume such quantities of admittedly savory but quite rich avian fat. Although I never followed Peter as far as he led into gourmandise, it was a revelation to me that fat wasn’t bad. I’d grown up carefully trimming the white from the strips of steak on my plate. Now I realize this had been the carnivore equivalent of scraping all the butter from your toast.

Peter also opened to me the world of botanicas. These are shops that sell religious and magical supplies to practitioners of Santeria, which is West African paganism syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Santeria is the universal folk religion of Latino communities in America. It’s the Spanish and Portuguese equivalent of Voodoo, and no doubt very similar to the popular Catholicism of Europe in the Dark Ages, in its mixture of scriptural religion and uneffaced paganism.

Santeria flourishes throughout the Americas, and is in fact a highly evolved initiatory religion, with its own music, mythology and ecstatic rites. In 1980 few but professional anthropologists had even heard of it, despite there being a botanica on every block in the Hispanic areas of Manhattan. Peter’s apartment, on 107th and Amsterdam, was right on the border of a large Dominican community, and he had a botanica literally on his doorstep.

With Peter I explored these stores, full of holy cards and plastic statues of saints, as well as herbs, tinctures, novena candles in their tall glass jars wrapped with bright labels printed with Spanish prayers for every purpose, from gaining the favor of one’s guardian angel to winning a court case. Among the standard catholic statues were some genuinely odd-looking ones, like Chango, the seated Santeria Zeus, a crowned, bejeweled but mostly {173} naked human figure with shiny ebony skin and a delirious grin, like an occult Uncle Ben. He is identified with Saint Barbara, who holds a sword and a communion cup, in which the Santeros see a symbol of the mortar and pestle with which Chango produces thunder as he grinds out lightning. A storm appears above a castle in the background of St. Barbara’s image, and this seals the identification. An image of Barbara may thus be used for prayers and offerings to Chango, and indeed the two spirits more or less fuse, so no contradiction or inconsistency is perceived. For the believers in Santeria, the gods, on the most profound level, are the saints. Thus they all consider themselves good Catholics and would be horrified to hear themselves characterized as pagans. Their notion of Catholicism is simply a bit more, well catholic, (universal and comprehensive) than that espoused by the Roman Church.

Then there’s Elegua, the equivalent of Janus, god of doorways, beginnings and endings. He’s represented by a grey truncated cone-like head, like what you’d get if you used a child’s sand-bucket as a mold for concrete. Cowries are pressed in with the nubbly slots facing outwards for eyes, mouth and ears. Beyond these details the head is eerily featureless.

Peter was making collages of Santeria deities with holy cards, marbled paper, hand-watercolored gay porn and frames from “tijuana bibles.” I was edified by his appreciation of crude popular religious art, and the way he swept all the ephemera he enjoyed into the artistic mix.

As regards the Santeria imagery and Catholic kitsch, on my own I would have dismissed it as the unskilled and slightly creepy expression of vulgar, ignorant superstition, but Peter would look at the images on the magic candles or the bottles of hoodoo oil and delight in the errors of anatomy and perspective. In fact, the aesthetic shock of an untutored rendering frequently enhanced the power of the imagery. This was artistic information of a kind undivulged at Columbia’s art history classes. Being with Peter seemed to give me new senses.

Peter’s conversation had a certain acrobatic method to it. Whatever the topic, he would take up an opposite, devil’s advocate position. Not one of outright contradiction, but one that encouraged you to define your own position more clearly. The talk was a kind of genial sparring, which no one ever really “won.” Peter always made you feel like you and he were together getting to the bottom of something interesting.

He did however have a consistent theme that goes through his conversation, at least when any really interesting subject is being discussed. In a way it is the very opposite of that which preoccupied Socrates — though Peter’s method was indeed socratic. The Greek was forever testing for an underlying absolute, the ideal. Peter on the other hand always advocated the {174} mongrel and mixed over the pure, and focused on the detail rather than the pattern.

In literature he always preferred the late, the decadent, the mannerist over the classical and golden-age exemplar. In Latin, which was his major at Columbia before he dropped out to wander across India, he had no interest in Virgil or Horace, except as sources of ideas and myths that might illustrate his ideas. The author he admired and has translated is the fifth century AD poet Dracontius, of Vandal North Africa, whose works are generally considered an arid expanse of abstruse Biblical and Classical allusions, varied only by stale rhetorical tricks. Dracontius is typical of a poet of decadence, capable only of scribbling derivative imitations of the masterpieces written centuries before.

Similarly, in Greek, Homer bores Peter and the dramatists mean nothing to him, but he has read with attention the voluminous Dionysiaca, written in Greek by the Egyptian Nonnius in the fifth century AD. I don’t recall what gold Peter succeeded in panning out of that Nile mud.

The point is that Peter is interested in the moment when classical culture is melting into its barbarous surroundings. You can see this in late Roman sarcophagi, where the execution of classical motifs, say a scene from the life of Hercules or the signs of the zodiac, are becoming a crude repetition of visual formulae whose meaning is being lost at the same rate as the visual realism. Yet it has a certain barbaric energy, a power which wasn’t there when it was all still careful and correct. As the imagery yields to pattern, geometry charges the art with an energy unfelt in Classical sculpture for centuries. At the despised margins of culture Peter discerned lawless new forms, just as he fnds at the margins of society, in the dispossessed and naive, a creativity which is lost to society’s respectable circles. From the Moorish Science Temple to the hoboes to trailer trash to the die-hard hippies of failed communes, Peter took a Whitman-like pleasure in culling the fowers that grow in the ruins.

In religion, he was always interested in the heresies, the syncretisms, the crackpots and apostates. The aberrations and the byways Peter considered to be of importance equal to that of the royal road and highway of knowledge.

To give Peter his due, our sense of cultural peaks, progress and purity are rather subjective. A case can be made for everything being a mongrel admixture. The most pristine examples of cultural continuity known to history are in fact streams so polluted they catch fire by themselves twice a year. But the merits of this point of view can be overstated, as I hope I just have.

I once challenged him, “You think the incidental detail as important as the overall pattern. For you, a camel would be as essential to Islam as the {175} Koran.” Peter proceeded to maintain exactly this position, and not by connecting the camel to Ibn Khaldum (the sixteenth-century Arab historian whose great thesis was that civilization is motivated by the tension between the nomadic and the settled). No, Peter maintained the centrality of the camel on purely aesthetic grounds. Did he mean to suggest that the picture on the iconic American cigarette pack was the equivalent of a surah (chapter of the Koran)? In its way, yes!

As a primary intellectual orientation, Peter’s perspective led to some questionable conclusions, particularly evident to me when he ventured on the deep waters of archaeology and ancient history.

It was from Peter that I learned to be a scholarly trespasser, ignoring the signs that said “private property, keep out!” to draw cross-cultural comparisons, and look beyond my own specialty. Peter’s intellectual agility and really remarkable insights can all be traced to one great understanding. From a certain point of view, mutability is the rule, everything flows, fixed forms are an illusion. This is the perception that made Peter take to Nietzsche.

Change is the very life-blood of reality. Transitions and intermediate phases are more common than full development and complete realization, and they’re never neatly separated. The outmoded past survives just under the surface of the present, superstition lives hardily on within religion, repressed impulses contribute to our noblest acts.

It is not by coincidence that a Luddite love of bygone ways, sympathy for naive superstition and a trust in spontaneous desire are key features of Peter’s worldview. Peter is a partisan of the undercurrents which belie the placid surface.

Rabinowitz Blame It On Blake


This is an extract, provided by the author, from Blame It On Blake: a memoir of dead languages, gender vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr by Jacob Rabinowitz, “a memoir of the Beat generation authors I knew, and my own explorations of Witchcraft, Egyptology, Voodoo, gender confusion and mind-altering drugs, authorized (more or less) by William Blake.” This is part three of chapter six, and is a personal narrative about the author’s acquaintance with Hermetic Library Fellow Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.

VI: Hakim Bey, continued

3: Klingzor

Peter was working his way free of the constraints of orthodox Islam like a butterfly wriggling out of its chrysalis. The analogy is more precise and less flatering than might seem. There was an awful lot of squirming involved before he raised his drying wings in a display you might mistake for a psychedelic sunrise. Peter took a position that has been commonly adopted by mystics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These faiths, which embrace historical time as a kind of dour opaque ongoing disclosure of God’s will, all look forward to the Apocalypse as the ultimate restoration of the miraculous to everyday life. But for the mystic, Doomsday has, in some sense, already arrived. He sees the sacred implicit within the secular, the last judgment in every decision, the one-ness in the many, in Blake’s phrase, “the ocean in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.”

Living, on one level, in a post-apocalyptic world, the mystic finds the rules and constraints that order temporal existence are no longer valid. He has passed beyond attachment to the fruits of action, no longer has any corrupting interest in success or failure. His soul is fully realized and autonomous, he sees reality without any subjective coloring, which puts him “beyond good and evil.” Perhaps the best account of this attainment is western literature is in Dante’s Purgatorio, where he reaches the Garden of Eden atop Mount Purgatory, which I translate:

When we’d run up the stairs to its highest step,
Virgil fixed upon me his eyes and said,

“I brought you this far with what skill and insight
I had: be guided from now on

by your own pleasure, go where you feel drawn.

You’ve left behind the steep and narrow path.
See, the sun shines before you

on tender meadows, sweet flowers, little groves
of pleasant shade, which this unplanted land
spontaneously creates.

Until the glad appearance of her whose lovely eyes,
once, beseeching and tearful, sent me to you,
wander here, rest whenever, wherever you wish,
unhurried at last. {166}

Await no further word or sign from me,
permitting this, ordaining that;
your own judgment now is healthy, correct
and free. The only error possible now
is for you not to do what you think best.

I crown and consecrate you
emperor of who you are,
by divine right, a law unto yourself.”

Living in an esoteric apocalypse, whatever pleasures, illicit or otherwise, we can get, are the legitimate rewards of the just—and arguably more fully deserved if acquired by stealth and at risk, in defiance of the demonic “powers of this world.”

Peter viewed his personal mystical liberation in political terms as well, and expressed it as a new sort of Anarchism. I cannot here enter into a detailed critique of Peter’s political thinking, where my purpose is only to offer some details of its origins, which I was on hand to witness. The key insight I have is that Peter’s approach was, at first, mystical. Mysticism is private and interior and amoral. The extroverted opposite of mysticism would be prophecy, which is extremely political and very concerned with right and wrong.

Peter came to his realizations, personal and political, from the context of Sufism, from mystical practice. This “privatized” his political thinking, and resulted in his rejection of long-term social action in favor of limited and personal, brief and private (“temporary, autonomous”) activity. There is merit in his position. Without an interior transformation, what we used to call “consciousness raising,” resistance cannot begin. But without concerted outward action, interior realizations, whatever their intrinsic merit, are politically insignificant.

At the beginning, Peter was engaged in a genuinely mystical adventure. Where this finally led him will be discussed in its place, but his original Chaos Broadsheets were sincerely meant. Peter was really and sincerely religious. He began on the antinomian path with awe and trepidation, unsure whether he’d be halo’d or struck down.

I looked with amazement on Peter’s writings. They had fervor, they were genuine, they contained in their confusing profusion authentic messages from the beyond, a somewhat garbled but unquestionably veracious record of renegade illumination. Nietzschean materialist that I was, mine was not a crude reductionism, I was no positivist. I regarded Peter’s mystical terminology as I {167} did the accounts of the gods in Homer: as a florid and poetic but accurate description of reality.

Peter’s vision of every day as the Day of Judgment, with heaven and hell entirely imminent here, was balanced on the razor’s edge of piety and blasphemy. Was he declaring the presence of God in all things, or was he vulgarizing spiritual terms to gussy up his every whim and want? Or both? In the Talmud there’s a tale of four sages who were allowed to enter Paradise while still alive, that is, they were granted an unfiltered vision of God. One of them died, one went mad, one became a scoffing nihilist, and one “entered in peace and departed in peace,” that is, he kept his interior balance—and in fact became a saint. In Jewish tradition, these are the four possible outcomes of a direct encounter with God. Peter was neither dead nor mad; had he become a saint or a scoffer?

In my opinion, he really had acquired baraka (holiness) during his decade of Sufi practice. And now he succumbed to one of the classic pitfalls of the spiritual path. Since Peter was very fond of the Arthurian legends, particularly during his early, poet period, I will take a likeness from that cycle. The Grail knight, Klingsor, best known from Wagner’s Parzival, succumbs to the sensual temptations that beset those on the quest, and in exchange for physical gratifications becomes a black magician. Then he makes a career out of luring others from the spiritual path with his garden of illicit delights. This is admittedly a rather melodramatic description of Peter’s case, but one which does justice to a certain aspect of his character. I loved him for his spirituality, which still shone about him when he returned from Iran, and I watched with dismay and disappointment as this dissipated over the years, till there was nothing left of that young man who dropped out of college for a mystical journey to India, the knight on the quest of the Holy Grail, the chevalier of the Holy Spirit, who rejoiced my soul by his mere existence, proving that such adventures and such adventurers were possible in our world.

Rabinowitz Blame It On Blake


This is an extract, provided by the author, from Blame It On Blake: a memoir of dead languages, gender vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr by Jacob Rabinowitz, “a memoir of the Beat generation authors I knew, and my own explorations of Witchcraft, Egyptology, Voodoo, gender confusion and mind-altering drugs, authorized (more or less) by William Blake.” This is part two of chapter six, and is a personal narrative about the author’s acquaintance with Hermetic Library Fellow Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.

VI: Hakim Bey, continued

2: TAZ

Shaken from without as much as he was troubled from within, Peter determined to make no further payments to the immensely overpaid account of contrition for his sexual disposition. He thought out his liberation in terms of the theology and symbolism of mystical Islam. Meanwhile I was trying to think my way to reality with Nietzsche and de Sade. The really important thing we had in common was that we were both poets and were looking for a new poetic vision, one that could express what was meaningful and real in our experience, after having put vast energy into trying to live in archaizing dreams. Whether we blamed Omar Khayyám or Baudelaire, we had both been blinkered by books and wandered blind till we were well lost.

Our conversations were endless. Typically I’d be in his tiny, tobacco-cloudy room, talking to him from seven in the evening till five the next morning. It was a real intellectual romance. I’d never met anyone who knew so much, or was so willing to talk, and also to listen!

We both viewed writing as a tool for psychic exploration, and both wanted to bring it into play as we explored the new world of the physical, and now permissible, in the wake of our respective personal liberations, his from sexual repression, mine from a no less crippling cultural traditionalism, which amounted to the same thing in many ways. Even though I was getting spectacularly laid, I kept that whole side of my life entirely secret from any but my closest friends, and certainly never wrote poetry about any of it.

Peter had censored his sexuality and his drug use from his poems, and narrowed his range of permissible topics to literary and conventional ones. He gave me his book of verse, Winter Calligraphy, which greatly impressed me. I no longer have my copy to refer to, but I recall it as owing a lot to Ezra Pound and Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat Orientalism. Elegant and repressed. I had word-painted myself into a similar corner with the Baudelaireanism that had commanded my energies and for some time provided the pattern for my life.

Now, we both agreed, the only poetry worth writing was that which expressed maters so urgent, important and meaningful that we couldn’t not write it. No more pretty verses and elaborate artistry! We wanted poetry that was as powerful as pornography, and if it in fact was pornography, be it so!
Having set aside my old-fashioned notions of what was properly poetic subject mater, I wanted to do away with all the transitional, framing material that makes up a story, and have it be nothing but “the good parts.” I took as my model Ovid’s Metamorphoses, only instead of just having the characters shift shape, the setting morphed as well. Contexts dissolved and {159} transmuted as each narrative structure was annihilated by its own ever-amplifying content. The hero would be propelled from scene to scene by a series of poetic explosions. The scenes transformed, with dreamlike transitions reminiscent of Buster-Keaton, I would let the content create the form and the order.

The result was Blurred Person Singular, which I thought of as an omnisexual science-fiction epic poem and map of the world. I had meant it to be my Hamlet. It was actually more like Titus Andronicus. It had maximum sexual and violent content, by turns offensive and hilarious, though one would be hard put to say where it was going or why. The best of it was the energy and enthusiasm, the sheer puppy-play of genius released, yipping and barking and chasing its own tail.

Peter began by writing prose poetry that dealt frankly with his gay interests, and though personally significant, this was not a course he long pursued, nor the one that gained him fame under the name Hakim Bey. I will consider his poetico-political writings in some detail, but first the stage must be set.

In our forays around Manhattan Peter would stop at all the shops that carried zines. Usually these were hip music stores that, in addition to CDs and cassettes of obscure punk and indie bands, carried a small selection of books on weird sex, weird politics and weird religion, a taste exemplified by RE/Search magazine, founded by V. Vale in 1980. The writings of William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard, sado-masochism and body modification, anarchism and neo-Paganism, these were the sorts of things that interested hip, aware twenty-somethings in the eighties. Zines were tiny handmade magazines, usually three 8.5×11 xeroxed pages folded over and saddle-stitched to make a booklet, circulating in well under a thousand copies, on whatever curious topic interested the publisher. The genre had developed out of punk rock fanzines. In 1982, Mike Gunderloy began publication of Factsheet Five, which was three-sentence abstracts of all the zines people sent him, listing price and address. Factsheet Five rapidly became the nerve-center of the zine scene, which lasted through the eighties, and was done in, like the rest of independent print, by the rise of the internet.

In the early eighties, real estate was on its way to becoming the speculative commodity it is today, and Manhattan, like all the “destination cities” in America was losing its hip neighborhoods to gentrification, becoming a live-in mall for out-of-town yuppies. I had noted this peripherally. Lucien had picked up his loft on Great Jones Street, a few blocks south of Cooper Square, for a song at the end of the seventies. By the mid eighties, when UPI’s change of headquarters moved him to Washington, he sold it for a huge profit. When I applied to grad schools, I didn’t even {160} consider one in NYC. I couldn’t afford anything there except movies and cheap Cuban-Chinese restaurants. The bohemias of America were disappearing, a process that wouldn’t be completed till around 2010. But even then, forty years ago, you couldn’t just move to NYC, get a part-time job washing dishes, and live in the Village to pursue your art. You needed full work and had to share an apartment with several other people.

But the ever-less-expensive Xerox machines, which every office and most homes now had, and the US mail, which was then dead cheap and still the best in the world, made for a new bohemia by mail.
While print had been the world’s primary entertainment medium, from roughly 1850 to 1950, it had sustained a certain amount of eccentric, literary publishing on its periphery. Grove Press, City Lights and the like, who had made the success of Ginsberg and Burroughs possible. I grew up thinking that this was an institution, a necessary part of society. It was more like a colorful patch of weeds that thrives at the edge of a uniform and cultivated field, which is the actual “cash crop.” As print yielded its market share to TV, avant-garde and small press publishing got starved out, though it did survive, barely, into the nineties, on the last crumbs to fall from the shrinking mainstream table.
In the early nineties, the internet existed, but was accessible only through the old DOS shell, just lines of glowing green type, half of them code, on a dull screen. No easy interface, no mouse to click. You needed a dictionary of commands to use it, so it wasn’t much of a contender.

I watched puzzled as Peter went to those hip stores and dug through cardboard boxes stuffed with tiny, badly produced, blurry illiterate zines. I couldn’t imagine what the interest was. Peter intuited that there was something important happening there. He obviously didn’t understand that this was the last hurrah for literary print: no one did. In those days, the people involved in the zine scene imagined that it was a kind of literary of-of-Broadway, that success here could translate into a contract with a “real” publisher. But however he viewed it, he did view it, while everyone else walked on by.
Peter was buying the zines that had interesting literary and political content. He himself had done considerable reading and maintained a sincere interest in Anarchism and radical politics. Mild political dissatisfaction was the mood of the time among Generation X, the twenty-somethings of the eighties. Twenty-somethings are a particularly significant age group, because they’re old enough to be living independently, but not so old that they realize they have to settle down if they want retirement plans that don’t include suicide. They’re still open to new ideas, full of hope, willing to take risks, and can afford a few experiments and failures. Reagan had been {161} elected president, and would remain so for two terms. Classic punk was over, new wave and other derivatives were on the rise.

I was from the tail of the Baby Boom generation; I was born in 1958 when Eisenhower was president, so I was more of an observer than a participant in Generation X. My childhood was the sixties, not the seventies. From my perspective, it looks as though Gen X came up after the 1960’s party was over, to find they’d been left the fat beer and pizza crusts. The hippies had disappeared, many of them having morphed into yuppie entrepreneurs, adding an additional sting to the sense of betrayal and defrauding. The feeling of malaise expressed itself primarily by various shades of irony, typically retro fashion and mild transgression. Betty Page was in many ways the poster girl for Generation X.

They defined themselves in contrast to the hippies, generally despising the “peace and love” naiveté of their predecessors whose wide eyes (with their THC-dilated pupils) now appeared vacant and cartoonlike. There was of course a good deal of unacknowledged continuity, and the cultural interests of the eighties, sexual, political and spiritual were (in hindsight) recognizably hand-me-downs from 1960s. The enthusiasm for general sexual liberation had turned into a fascination with S&M; communal utopianism had skewed towards anarchism; far-eastern enlightenment and occultism had been replaced with “joke religions” like the Church of the Subgenius and Discordianism, which allowed one all the fun of running around in robes while giving piety a shrewd tweak.

This was the context in which Peter began writing essays, communiqués as he liked to call them, under the pen name Hakim Bey, which he mailed out to friends and the publishers of the zines he liked. Originally it was just a way of joining in the general conversation. His own preoccupations serendipitously matched the Gen X Zine scene tastes, so his mailouts were immediately popular, and regarded as copyright-free syndicated columns ready for anyone to paste into their xeroxed zine for instant cred and content.

Finding an enthusiastic audience for what were then halfway between prose poems and political manifestos, Peter plunged in, and gave them what they wanted, backpedaling the gay content and pushing the anarchism and the jocose religiosity of the Moorish Orthodox Church (of which more below). Soon he had enough for a book. I talked Peter up, and introduced him, to Bret Rutherford, who by then had moved across the Hudson to cheaper Weehauken NJ. Between my recommendation, the interest Peter’s work was starting to generate, Peter’s personal magnetism and the exotic qualities of his writing, Bret was easily persuaded to published a deluxe oversized book of Peter’s Hakim Bey screeds, hand-bound, in opulent William Morris-like style. I suggested the cover illustration, a “chaotic” form {162} sketched by Odilon Redon. Thus Chaos, The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism first came to print. Bret viewed the whole thing as kind of a brilliant literary hoax. Pseudo-politics dressed up in nineteenth-century Orientalism, a (marijuana) smoke-and-mirrors phantasmagoria, presenting fabulous and false mystical visions tinged with gay decadence, all of it rendered nearly believable by genuine poetry and philosophy jargon shamelessly combined. Bret’s edition was a labor of humor and love: he deliberately crafted a suitably grandiose setting for this dazzling paste gem, which he regarded as a literary jape. Bret’s assessment was not incorrect, though it did not do full justice to Peter’s achievement, nor would it account for the popular success of this work, which in its expanded edition from Autonomedia, TAZ, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, was taken quite seriously by Gen X and to some extent the Millennials.

The main thing Peter pushed was Anarchism, which he made at once wider and shallower than it had ever been. He extended the definition of Anarchism to include everything from Taoism to old-time grog drinking pirates to seventeenth-century religious radicals (Ranters, Diggers) to racial and economic groups in America (like New Jersey’s “Jackson Whites”) who were so marginalized geographically and economically as to fall below the radar of societal control. And Peter defined resistance in such general terms that playing hookey from school or gold-bricking on the job ranked as revolutionary actions. It’s pretty easy to see that this would play well to white middle-class slackers, who Peter thus empowered to imagine themselves as politically engaged and as on an equal footing with fetishized minorities.

Which leads us to Peter’s Moorish Orthodox Church. This was based on the Moorish Science Temple, a fanciful African-American version of Islam founded around the turn of the century. It was a make-pretend religion, with “scriptures” borrowed from Levi Dowling’s 1908 Aquarian Gospel of Jesus, appropriated unaltered, save that every occurrence of the word “God” was replaced by “Allah,” and republished as The Circle Seven Koran. Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam arose from one of the splinter groups that formed when the Moorish Science Temple dissolved with the death of its founder, Noble Drew Ali, in 1929.

Peter had invented the Moorish Orthodox Church as a kind of private joke and pot-smoking club back in the sixties when he was at Columbia. Rents were so cheap back then that he was able to rent a storefront on the Upper West Side, which he dubbed The Moorish Science Reading Room, with facetious reference to the “reading rooms” of Christian Science. Here he and his friends burned their incense, hung their posters, smoked weed, and talked about mysticism and politics. Peter revived the Moorish Orthodox {163} Church when he became a zines celebrity, presenting it as a joke in earnest. It was a win-win-win proposition. It made fun of religion, it allowed the moral “validation” of make-believe identification with impoverished African Americans, and it was a vehicle for Peter’s insights into Islamic mysticism.

Another mater worth noting was Peter’s never-abandoned opposition to the internet. He didn’t foresee any of its actual dangers: the appropriation of private information by governments and corporations, the manipulation of news by the medium that had replaced print journalism, its role in eliminating small “brick and mortar” businesses in favor of monopolistic giants like Amazon, the death-blow it administered to literary publishing.

Peter has never operated so much as a cell phone, so his view of the internet was, in a negative sense, science fiction. He warned that the internet would further the atomization and alienation of people into discrete consumers, everyone experiencing life at second-hand through the screen. The computer age, he claimed, offered a gnostic false heaven, where even sex would be experienced without the messy complication of emotion or physical contact, an afterworld of pure image, rarefied into desire desiring itself! This prophecy bore no relationship to the facts, where the sex and shopping were realized so effectively over the internet as to replace shopping malls and pickup bars. The atomizing effect of the internet on “the social” was no more than that of the xerox machine. If we look for what destroyed the local community, we needn’t hunt further than the automobile and the speculative market in real estate. I mention Peter’s failures of prophecy here because Peter wrote about the digital age with such passionate obscurity that he was viewed by many as an authority on the age of cyberspace. Amazingly few of his admirers realized he was a luddite opponent of the digital. Difficult books, such as Peter wrote, though they may sell, aren’t usually read. Just having them makes people feel smart.

There is much in Peter’s writing that is of very substantial value. His accounts of travel through India and central Asia are mesmerizing. His writing on the mystical byways of Islam are accurate, insightful and explore in depth subjects the academics don’t dare to even discuss. His witty, sophisticated and scathing critiques of popular culture, from cop movies to food fads, are worthy of Mencken. But these things weren’t what put him on the map or gained him a decade of limited fame.
And then came the internet, covering the planet like a shallow sea. Unlike Peter, I view it as an entirely neutral tool. I believe it is our society of capitalism triumphant that has turned the Net into a global shopping mall. In the democracy of the dollar, what sells to the greatest number dominates. The result is a utopia of the utterly ordinary, producing a cultural erosion as

dramatic as the melting of the ice-caps. The internet speeded things up, but it was old-fashioned greed and stupidity that set the agenda.

Nowadays Peter’s success would be quite unimaginable. Had Peter debut’d his writings in a blog, I doubt he would have been heard from. Today Islam, even mystical Islam, is viewed as anything but cool, and “culturally appropriating” the pathos of an African-American pseudo-religion, would surely be a non-starter. But for the slackers of the eighties, the Moorish Orthodox Church and Peter’s screeds seemed the clever expression of many an unarticulated longing.

It’s no great feat to coldly dissect it now, thirty years later, and to do so gives a misleading impression of how aware anyone, most of all Peter, was of what he was doing. I was impressed and non-plussed; his reading public was awed by the kaleidoscope of his writings. He himself was quite baffled though very pleased by his burgeoning micro-celebrity. Now let’s go back to 1981, to that tiny filled Upper West Side room with the manual typewriter and SF books and fanzines piled high on the floor, where Peter was creating Hakim Bey.

Rabinowitz Blame It On Blake

Peter Lamborn Wilson

This is an extract, provided by the author, from Blame It On Blake: a memoir of dead languages, gender vagrancy, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso & Carr by Jacob Rabinowitz, “a memoir of the Beat generation authors I knew, and my own explorations of Witchcraft, Egyptology, Voodoo, gender confusion and mind-altering drugs, authorized (more or less) by William Blake.” This is part one of chapter six, and is a personal narrative about the author’s acquaintance with Hermetic Library Fellow Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey.

VI: Hakim Bey

1: Peter Lamborn Wilson

About the time I “woke to the world,” that is when I went down in fames on entering the atmosphere of the modernity, Charles Potter, my old French teacher from Columbia, with whom I was on friendly terms, told me he had someone to introduce me to. This was Peter Lamborn Wilson, who was one of Potter’s old friends from when they’d both attended Columbia. Potter finished his degree and went on to study medieval French literature in Europe. Peter had dropped out of Columbia and made the “Journey to the East”—looking for enlightenment in India. He finally wandered into Iran where he was able to talk his way into a job at Tehran’s only English-language newspaper, largely on the strength of his native, literary English. Other qualification needed he none. He parlayed this into a place in the court of the Shah, friendship with the Empress, and a central role in the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy. The Shah wanted to cast the mantle of culture over his tyranny, and funded all sorts of interesting projects.

Peter spent years in Iran, during which he converted to Islam and seriously pursued the Suf path under the direction of a traditionalist spiritual master. Peter’s life there was a decade-long oriental adventure, during which he enjoyed the hashish and caviar that can be had so cheaply on the shores of the Caspian Sea, collected magnificent rugs (which he shipped steadily back to America to be stored) and explored traditional mystical Islam, siting crosslegged on fine rugs, sipping sweet tea and smoking with the Sufis.

Peter is gay, and his turn to Islam was in part an attempt to cure himself of his condition with the help of Allah. It was not a great success. I speak this sympathetically, since I undertook a similar project, though in the ambiance of Jewish New York intellectualism, the “church of Freud,” rather than in the shadow of the Koran.

Over the centuries there have been countless defections from Western Christianity to Islam, and almost none in the opposite direction. Whence this eagerness to “turn Turk?” A part of the appeal of Islam for the West has always been its comparative tolerance of homosexuality. Though this is forbidden in the Koran, it is so, like wine, in a somewhat ambiguous way. In fact, wine and boys are promised as rewards to be enjoyed in heaven, the later being appealingly described in one of the surahs as “pale youths, scattered like pearls across the lawns of paradise.” Despite periods of {153} reformist rigor, homosexuality (and for that mater drinking) has generally been regarded in the Islamic world as a minor and somewhat amusing sin, much as adultery is in the West. One may see this from even a desultory reading of the medieval Arabic classic, The Arabian Nights, where wine freely flows and boys promptly comply. In fact, Sufism includes among its more arcane byways a platonic meditation on beautiful youths, the “contemplation of the unbearded.” The reader of Yehuda Halevi’s poetry from Islamic Spain will be well familiar with the romantic praise of adolescent boys, who are described as “gazelles”—as common and conventional a trope in context as the nymphs and shepherds of Elizabethan poetry.

Islam never had Christianity’s ambivalence towards material existence and the body, so it was more tolerant of sex in general. Chastity was not considered a virtue. (“There’s no monkery in Islam” is a saying attributed to the Prophet.) The puritanism of present day Islamic fundamentalism is the rigor mortis of a religion already dead under the onslaught of modernism—exactly the confrontation that produced the Puritans and the “reign of the saints” in seventeenth-century England. This situation, “the faith purified into a caricature of itself,” in Peter’s phrase, is late, anomalous and terminal.

While Peter was in Iran, the forces of religious puritanism were held in check by the Shah, and Peter was able to enjoy the last hours of “decadence” before the neo-barbarians took control. Not that Peter was getting laid. The permissiveness of the old Islamic world was certainly off limits to him. A convert to any religion is always held to a higher standard of observance. I mentioned the ambiguity of Islamic attitudes to homosexuality only as a factor which made this religion unconsciously more appealing to Peter, and which would fascinate and preoccupy him, in a totally intellectual and inhibited way, for years.

I met Peter when he had just returned from Iran. He had made a timely fight from the already begun revolution, and now rented a room in an apartment on the corner of 107th Street and Amsterdam, a situation which he referred to a “Major Hoople’s Boarding House” (after a comic from the twenties about a boarding house full of eccentric types). The leaseholder of the apartment was a crank who brought home all sorts of junk and broken machinery from the street. The living room was impassible with dusty, unidentifiable and certainly non-functional equipment. He was quite litigious and had legally changed his name to “Joe Friendly” in the expectation that this would produce a mollifying effect on judges and juries. I only saw Joe once or twice in passing, a tall man, casually dressed, with an enormous beard. The other resident, besides Peter, was an alcoholic who lay in bed, the door to his tiny room open, coughing sepulchrally when he {154} wasn’t in a deathlike stupor. He usually lay outstretched on the bed, with glazed eyes and a gray crewcut, looking at nothing.

Peter was easily the most fascinating person I had ever met. I use the term fascinating quite precisely. He had the ability to charm anyone. When he addressed you he showed a pleased attention, and in conversation he asked far more questions than he answered, and seemed genuinely interested in all your particulars, difficulties, and events. Though he spoke of his own ideas, reading and adventures, very entertainingly and at length, it was always in response to something you had said, in amplification of whatever topic interested you. He had a way of making it seem as though he included you in his plans, that he looked on you as an equal and ally. I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t promptly capitulate to Peter’s charm, and he used it on everyone. He seemed to be more interested in you than he was in himself, and no one could resist this. And it wasn’t insincere. Nor was it something he had any control over. There are persons who need very much to be liked by everyone, who develop this brilliant sociability. Charisma is a gift, but like all gifts, it comes at a price.

He was amazingly unforthcoming about himself. He never really opened his heart or told his troubles. And not just to me. He was of an old and distinguished family, and traced his ancestors back to the Mayflower, so I think this was some sort of aristocratic white guy thing.

Once Peter had gotten his bearings in New York, he held continuous court, and has to this day a continuous stream of visitors. This is rather less of an achievement when you reckon in how uncritical his friendship is. Though he fully appreciates intelligence and expertise, and can hold his own in conversation with anyone on any subject (so vast and curious is his reading and his experience), he is equally content with the company of utter fools.

In part, Peter is a classic gay male type, of whom Bret and Harry Smith are likewise exemplars. Masters of monologue. They can go on illimitably, and if you never pipe up they will. They’re brilliant and fascinating, whether they’re telling you rare facts from Beethoven’s biography or what awful thing they saw on the way to the grocery store. I think the origin of this condition is bachelorhood. You live alone long enough, and you start talking to yourself, perhaps not aloud, but you do by imperceptible degrees become your own company. In my day, being gay and smart was plenty isolating for an adolescent to begin with: you were on the outside of life from middle school on. Then instead of having escalating series of involvements that ended with a long-term relationship, you had casual sex, or more likely no sex at all, until you were out on your own as an adult, and by then you were well used to going to museums or operas or restaurants with yourself as {155} your only company. The interior monologue develops into the exterior monologue, and thus you arrive at the Quentin Crisp-like persona, assuming you have the gray mater to carry it of.

I’m not entirely exempt from this condition, as this present feat of nattering attests. I found the talent particularly handy as a teacher. There are times when you have half an hour left on a Friday afternoon, you’re as tired of the lesson as the kids are, and though they can be extremely entertaining if you draw them out, it takes effort and attention to keep them on topic and prevent them from just talking to each other in private knots instead of making it a class-wide dialogue. So I’ve sometimes just told stories about myself, suitably edited of course. It can be quite entertaining for me to see what I’ll say next—and a bit of a tightrope walk as well, since I’m addressing a roomful of adolescents and I have to make sure I say nothing that will come back to bite me if repeated to Mom and Dad over dinner.

So, I do kind of “get” the tendency to monologue. I think I missed out on fully developing this myself because I was too interested in seeing what I could learn. A precondition of monologorrhea is the belief you already know everything. And also at a critical moment in my life’s journey, I found myself with a woman, and no conversation with a member of that gender will be entirely one-sided!

Peter didn’t know everything, but he sure knew a lot of it, and want of self-confidence was not one of his failings. What balanced out Peter’s verbosity was a particular personality type which I have seen in a number of iterations. For convenience I will call this the Don Juan persona. Such persons cannot be alone. They positively require the company and approbation of others. It is a disposition common among actors. Al Jolson and Marilyn Monroe seem to have been particularly extreme examples of this special desperation.

The secret of pleasing is the desire to please. The practice is really as simple as asking people about their favorite subject, themselves, and then staying on topic by talking about things they’re involved with. If you’re not obviously trying to get into their pants or part them from their funds, this will always work. Finesse will come with practice, but you really can’t do it too crudely. Peter was very, very good.

He could devote himself to professional sociability while working full-time as a writer since his father had fixed him up with a trust fund which gave him enough to get by on, albeit with a narrow margin. His father, Douglas Wilson, was a retired army man, a desk general who had risen through the ranks of military bureaucracy, and was quite well of. Peter was his only child. A cultivated man, whose passion was proofreading, and who had supervised inter alia critical editions of Chaucer and Emerson, Peter’s {156} father was entirely sympathetic to Peter’s literary career, and never pushed him towards conventional employment.

I met Douglas on a number of occasions. I made the mistake of trying to draw him out on Chaucer, discussing the Knight’s Tale with him. He was utterly flummoxed. Though he had read every line of Chaucer with, as it were, a magnifying glass, what really interested him was the punctuation and orthography. He was breathtakingly dull. He had had a go at being an English professor, but had been so colorless, his supervisor suggested he grow a big mustache to give himself some personality. Though he was offended at the time, he did take the suggestion. When I met him he was a great tall substantial man with a bald head and a handlebar mustache. He looked every inch the retired general.

I met Peter’s mother as well. She was a retired high school English teacher, and she’d divorced from her husband, never to remarry, when Peter was a boy. She lived down in Maryland, a warm and cordial hostess, and an excellent adventurous cook. On one of our visits she splendidly prepared muskrat which she’d purchased from a local hunter with a roadside stand.

Peter supplemented his income by dealing pot on a small scale, enough to keep himself supplied and cover occasional luxuries and nonessential expenses. He was stoned for the entire time I knew him. It was only a few years ago that a medical condition finally required him to cut out grass and cigarettes. But for the first thirty years of our friendship he moved in a fog of reefer smoke, a bearded Jove ensconced in his happy personal cloudbank. I recently asked him about what he remembered of our early acquaintance, his first years back in Manhattan. He demurred. At first I thought it was perhaps some Waspy diffidence about discussing himself directly, but I finally concluded that all that grass had prevented him from coding all the events into memory. I have rather the same difficulty regarding the periods when I was drinking. That’s the one thing they always forget to tell you about drugs. They steal your memory.

When Potter introduced us, Peter had been out of America for more than a decade. He had missed Punk and arrived at the beginning of the greed-is-good Reagan eighties. The connections he had made for the advancement of his literary career were in Iran, and London, where he’d spent four years on the Saudi’s nickel, on retainer to organize an Islamic cultural festival that never got of the ground. Happily for him, he was in London when Khomeini took over. When Peter arrived in New York, he was at loose ends and desperate to network. I was still at Columbia, never integrated into, and still disconnected from, student life, and desperately lonely. {157}

Peter was going through a spiritual crisis. Long before the revolution in Iran, major cracks had appeared in Peter’s cosmos. He had attempted to fully enter into traditional Islam, and in half-modern Tehran, this was still not impossible. The motivation was, originally, a sincere quest for enlightenment, the authentic spiritual hunger that gave the sixties in America its nobility. Peter had joined a Sufi order, and accepted the guidance of a pir (spiritual master), but the exotic charm wore of and then began the wearisome work of keeping the faith—which Peter described to me as “protecting our common failures of awareness.”

Sufi practice hadn’t freed Peter from desire either. (In the words of the Gita, “As a man’s nature is, so must he be. How could repression help?”) And Peter finally concluded, quite reasonably, that the problem wasn’t the quality of his faith, but the faith itself.

Peter gave considerable attention to the interesting antinomian heresies that had arisen within Islam. Particularly the Assassins, a heretical Shiite sect whose use of hashish in their devotions gave them their name. Peter was also fascinated by Caliph Hakim, the eleventh-century Ismaili lord of Egypt who, depending on who you ask, was either the mad Caligula of medieval Islam or a Shiite messiah. I needn’t go into detail on these interesting topics, for Peter himself has done so in a number of books. For our purposes it will suffice to say that these extreme mystics believed that the disclosures of the apocalypse and the rewards of paradise were to be enjoyed, or at least tasted, now. The initiates felt this insight entitled them to take their pleasures as a defiant sacrament—a program which was rendered even more effective if those pleasures were in fact prohibited by the religious law. No doubt Peter was to some degree aware of how prurient was his interest in these themes, but on the other hand historical research into thousand-year-old heresies doesn’t amount to much of a sin.

Peter was impelled to deep reflection and bold decision by his experience of mystical Islam, which transfigured Peter’s reality, but not his sexuality. And of course he was shaken, even shaken awake, by the fall of Iran, which had landed him in a Manhattan rented room like a man awoken from a long exotic dream. It was all sort of parallel to my crisis precipitated by the failure of the affair with Robert, when I was casting off the traces of Neoplatonism and traditional Western culture in favor of a new and radical magical materialism.

We only really reconsider our course when things utterly fail to work. It seems probable that we’d keep all our illusions and pass our lives in sweet stupidities if only everything went smoothly on and on.

Rabinowitz Blame It On Blake

Omnium Gatherum: July 20th, 2014

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for July 30th, 2014

Afterlife with Archie issue 6
“Afterlife With Archie” Issue 6 is a comic every Lovecraft fan will enjoy — Mike Davis, Lovecraft eZine


Here are some top gatherum posts from the BBS this week:

  • The Baphomet Sculpture Hidden in Brooklyn — Jena Cumbo, Village Voice

    “Lucien Greaves (a.k.a. Doug Mesner), one of the people who commissioned the sculpture, that now sits in a warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn, asked the sculptor — we’ll call him “Jack” — to forgo the breasts. This Baphomet is smooth-chested and muscular, with thin, shapely lips and rectangular pupils. The sculptor based his physique on a blend of Michelangelo’s David and Iggy Pop.”

  • ‘Join us in our ritual,’ beckons Cthulhu-based cryptocurrency — Adrianne Jeffries, The Verge

    “Written in the voodoo cultspeak of futurist horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu,’ the creepy Cthulhu Offerings may be the most confusing digital currency yet.

    ‘The time draws near, the return of The Great Old One is upon us,’ writes the developer. ‘Join us in our ritual.'”

  • 70,000 Year-Old African Settlement Unearthed — Past Horizons

    “During ongoing excavations in northern Sudan, Polish archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznań, have discovered the remains of a settlement estimated to 70,000 years old. This find, according to the researchers, seems to contradict the previously held belief that the construction of permanent structures was associated with the so-called Great Exodus from Africa and occupation of the colder regions of Europe and Asia.”

  • The Occult Knowledge – Strategies of Epistemology in La Société Voudon Gnostique — Maria Liberg, a Bachelor thesis in Religious Studies at University of Gothenburg, supervised by Henrik Bogdan

    “The academic research on Western esotericism in general and contemporary occultism in particular has been largely neglected in earlier scholarship and has only recently gained serious academic attention. This thesis examines how the contemporary occult group, La Société Voudon Gnostique, headed by David Beth and an organization under the general current Voudon Gnosis, legitimate their claims to knowledge, mainly through three discursive strategies of epistemology offered by Olav Hammer, namely: the appeal to (1) tradition; (2) scientism as a language of faith; and narratives of (3) experience. Since Hammer argues that these strategies can be found in esoteric currents in general, but only examines theosophy, anthroposophy and New Age as well as only examining “esoteric spokespersons” this thesis aims at examine them in relation to contemporary occultism as well as in relation to both the spokesperson and to “ordinary adherents”. In order do this, La Société Voudon Gnostique works as a case study in qualification of being a contemporary occult group that has gained no academic attention before.

    The conclusions of this thesis are that the strategies are all prevalent, to a more or less extent, in La Société Voudon Gnostique and they are also used by the adherents. Besides the strategies proposed by Hammer, this thesis argues that the secrecy and elitist approach, which can be found in the texts, also can be seen as a discursive strategy of epistemology.”

  • Christian Persecution: The Movie! — Scott Stenwick, Augoeides; about the forthcoming movie Persecuted

    “Persecuted, is based on a laughably impossible premise that the audience is supposed to find threatening. In this case, it’s the government attempting to legislate religion, something Poor Oppressed Christians are totally for until they realize that religious freedom also applies to non-Christians. Then they go off the rails about how wrong and unfair it is that they aren’t treated as special and given more privileges than everyone else.”

  • The True History of Libertarianism in America: A Phony Ideology to Promote a Corporate Agenda — Mark Ames, NSFWCORP at Alternet

    “Pull up libertarianism’s floorboards, look beneath the surface into the big business PR campaign’s early years, and there you’ll start to get a sense of its purpose, its funders, and the PR hucksters who brought the peculiar political strain of American libertarianism into being — beginning with the libertarian movement’s founding father, Milton Friedman.”

    “That is how libertarianism in America started: As an arm of big business lobbying.”

  • Aldous Huxley quoted at Reversed Alchemy — Michael Gilleland, Laudator Temporis Acti

    “Certain authors possess the secret of a kind of reversed alchemy; they know how to turn the richest gold into lead. The most interesting subjects become in their hands so tedious that we can hardly bear to read about them.”

  • Ian Clark quoted at The Limits of “Unlimited” — Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Ed

    “By speaking up, we are not only defending public libraries but the entire notion of public services. Silence is not how we defend ourselves against an ideological battle, it is how we surrender.”

  • More Songs for the Witch Woman — John Coulthart, feuilleton

    “It’s been a great pleasure in recent years seeing the welling of interest in Cameron’s work. In 2001 when I was compiling notes for an abandoned study of occult cinema, Cameron as artist, witch or mere human being was a shadowy presence about whom nothing substantial seemed to have been written; her art was impossible to see anywhere, all one had were fleeting references in books”

  • Love Spells — Sarah Anne Lawless

    “Love spells are black magic. Love spells to manipulate the body, heart, and soul. Love spells to dominate, to bind, to cause destruction and madness and pain.

    Love spells are not about love, they are about the lustful eye and the selfish heart. Be honest with yourself about it and then move on to the work at hand.”

  • Bible Stories for Newly Formed and Young Corporations — Tom the Dancing Bug, Boing Boing

    Tom the Dancing Bug Bible-stories for Young Corporations detail


  • Stick-Gods — Inonibird

    “‘Stick-Gods’ is the culmination of over a dozen years of fascination with Ancient Egypt—particularly, its mythology and deities. Whether you’re studying Egyptology, a practicing Kemetic or just a fan of myths, there should be something in there for you! I’m doing my best to balance informed content with a fair bit of silliness. …And puns. Lots of puns.”

    Inonibird Stick-Gods


  • William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, by Marsha Keith Schuchard — Gesigewigu’s, Spiral Nature; a review of William Blake’s Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision from Inner Traditions

    “Reading William Blake one cannot help but realize this is a man who is both religious and spiritually active, especially his poems known as the prophecies. The question is what was the nature of his spiritual life? What inspired Blake to create works that are both heavily Christian and at the same time antagonistic to many Christian ideals? The surprising answer is laid out as Schuchard leads us back into the complex religious web of mystical Christianity of the 17th and 18th century.”

  • A Victim of Drunken Channeling — Scott Stenwick, Augoeides

    “Aleister Crowley criticized spiritism as ‘a sort of indiscriminate necromancy’ because of a complete lack of formal magical procedures and protections, in which many mediums simply opened themselves up to whatever spiritual force happened to be present. Modern channelers such as Knight still employ essentially the same methods that Crowley was talking about. As such, there’s a real possibility that any channeling attempt could reach just about any spirit, like some sort of metaphysical Chatroulette.”

  • Mary Magdalene and the Gospel according to Mary — Kate Cooper; an edited excerpt from Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women from Overlook Press

    “The argument between the four disciples seems to be our anonymous writer’s way of exploring the different positions being taken by the men and women of his own day on the question of an alternative tradition being handed down by women. But he is also expressing his concern that the Church is changing, and not for the better. In his eyes, Peter seems to represent the voice of a faction in the community which wants to ‘make rules or lay down laws other than the Saviour gave’ – in other words, a group that wants to develop an institutional structure to replace the more fluid and informal movement of the early decades. This was clearly a topical warning after the death of the disciples who had known Jesus. Levi thinks that the new rules are a way of drawing the community away from fulfilling its task of preaching the gospel. The anonymous writer seems to be using Levi to suggest that too much emphasis on authority from the ‘Peter faction’ is stifling the Church.”

  • “Afterlife With Archie” Issue 6 is a comic every Lovecraft fan will enjoy — Mike Davis, Lovecraft eZine

    “As the story begins, our heroine Sabrina Spellman is relating one of her eldritch dreams to her psychiatrist, Dr. Lovecraft. Sabrina has apparently been committed to an institution because after her aunts died in a house fire, she had a breakdown and couldn’t deal with the reality of their death.

    But is that really what happened?”


If you’d like to participate in the Omnium Gatherum, head on over to the Gatherum discussions at the Hrmtc Underground BBS. You can check out all the other gatherum posts, like posts you enjoy, and even add your own posts with links to other things of interest, related to the subject matter of the library, from elsewhere around the Internet.

Omnium Gatherum: July 11th, 2014

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for July 11th, 2014

VirtuaLUG's Odyssey: Pictures of the Odyssey display by VirtuaLUG at Brickworld 2014
VirtuaLUG’s Odyssey: Pictures of the Odyssey display by VirtuaLUG at Brickworld 2014 [HT Archie McPhee’s]


  • Nostalgia back in fashion — Gail Rosenblum, Star Tribune [HT Robert Murch]

    “Those who embrace nostalgia excel at maintaining personal relationships and choose healthy social ways of coping with their troubles. When they feel stressed, for example, they tap into previously successful strategies, such as turning to a trusted teacher or parent. If I overcame adversity before, they tell themselves, I can do it again.

    When they feel a lack of self-confidence, they remember when they felt valued and loved for who they were and not for what they achieved or earned.

    And when they feel uncertain about the future, they wipe the cobwebs off their Ouija board.”

  • Aleister Crowley and The OTO — Tobias Churton, disinformation; an excerpt from Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic from Inner Traditions

    “Crowley had little concern with Reuss’s treasured image of spiritual descendants of an imaginary body of medieval male Templars sharing secrets of a yogic sexual magic (transmitted from late antiquity) manifesting in the twentieth century as a new Gnostic Catholic Church. For Reuss the Oriental Templars’ great secret was that Jesus Christ and his ‘Beloved Disciple’ had been practicing adepts; Jesus’s semen being held to manifest magical, sacramental power: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’ (John 6:56). Reuss consolidated the doctrine that consecrated sexual fluids constituted effective agents of magical, spiritual transformation through contacts established in Paris with French Gnostic Catholic Church clergy Jean Bricaud, Gérard Encausse and other Martinists when Reuss issued Encausse and his associates (including René Guénon) with a patent to administer the Rites of Memphis and Misraïm in 1908; it is believed that in return Reuss received ‘authority’ as a legate or bishop of the Église Catholique Gnostique in Germany. Reuss’s belief that the OTO’s originators were Christian Gnostics did not sit altogether well with his rather general approval of The Book of the Law. Despite this potential disparity of outlook, all might have progressed quite nicely were it not for the inconvenient interruption of World War One.”

    “After the war Reuss described the OTO as a body of New Gnostic Christians who rejected the anti-German, that is anti-brotherhood, betrayal of the Versailles Conference and looked for a transnational movement. Crowley did not attend Reuss’s international Freemasonry conference organized in Basle in 1920 for kindred fringe-Masonic representatives worldwide. Thinking about the invitation while in retirement in Cefalù, Sicily, the Beast wondered if he had it in him to combine such a collection of what he considered nonentities into a force.

    But what really got Crowley’s goat was that while paying lip service to aspects of The Book of the Law, Reuss was obviously putting distance between himself and his supposed colleague. The reasons for this soon became apparent. Reuss was seeking financial support from AMORC-founder Harvey Spencer Lewis; Reuss offered Lewis an OTO diploma as an inducement to affiliation.”

  • Pope Francis’s dance with the devil: For all his modernising, the Catholic church’s leader has enlisted a very old enemy in his battle against secularism — Sophia Deboick, The Guardian [HT Erik Davis]

    “The devil continues to be as useful for the modern church as he has been in the past, when he bolstered the case for the burning of heretics. The concept now provides a dramatic way to underscore the dangers of a godless society. The organiser of last week’s course, Dr Giuseppe Ferrari, argues that a rise in the number of people abandoning religion and dabbling in the occult has increased Satan’s power. As head of the Gruppo di Ricerca e Informazione Socio-Religiosa, a Catholic organisation concerned with the threat posed by cults and sects, Ferrari says good exorcists are needed more than ever, since: ‘We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality.’

    This seems like an extreme position, but it is in perfect alignment with Francis’s views, which go further than his brief mentions of the devil last week suggest. In his very first homily as pope, delivered in the Sistine Chapel on the day after his election, Francis bluntly quoted the French author and Catholic convert Léon Bloy: ‘Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.'”

  • Iran Cleric: Jews Use Sorcery to Spy: A mullah at Tehran University told Iranians on official TV that Jews use jinns, or genies, for espionage. Young Iranians laugh, and cry, when they hear such things. — Azadeh Moaveni, The Daily Beast; from the well-it-worked-for-john-007-dee dept.

    “Iran’s state broadcaster, known as Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, has never been the country’s most dignified institution. But even by its own standards, the network plunged into a fresh abyss of superstition and fear-mongering with a recent broadcast in which Valiollah Naghipourfar, a cleric and professor at Tehran University, discusses the use of jinns, or genies, in public life.

    ‘Can jinns be put to use in intelligence gathering?’ the presenter asks ingenuously, as though dragons can also serve as defense ministers and we’ve all entered the realm of the Hobbit.

    The cleric nods, as though speaking about a species of exotic elf: ‘The Jew is very practiced in sorcery. Indeed most sorcerers are Jews.'”

    “Such paranoia and fear of the other, of course, is typical among the ultra-orthodox of any religion.”

  • Cult Rush Week: Pretzels and Wine With Peaches Geldof’s Sex Cult — Cat Ferguson, Gawker

    “When I first told friends I was going to a meeting of the New York Ordo Templi Orientis branch, called Tahuti Lodge, the general consensus was that I should try not to die, and I should avoid sexual contact. […] As it turned out, neither of my friends’ concerns proved necessary.”

  • Reply to Sandy Robertson’s review of Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World — Gary Lachman

    “One of the key questions I explore in the book is why Crowley remained a pop ‘icon’ – apologies for using a much abused and emptied-out term – long after other esoteric figures taken up by the 60s counter culture, like Jung and Madame Blavatsky, no longer were. The answer to that is that Crowley’s philosophy of excess – ‘excess in all directions’, as his friend Louis Wilkinson called it – is purpose built for rock and roll and the pop aesthetics that followed it.”

  • rstevens 3.0, tweet


  • When Beliefs and Facts Collide — Brendan Nyhan, The Upshot, The New York Times

    “In a new study, a Yale Law School professor, Dan Kahan, finds that the divide over belief in evolution between more and less religious people is wider among people who otherwise show familiarity with math and science, which suggests that the problem isn’t a lack of information. When he instead tested whether respondents knew the theory of evolution, omitting mention of belief, there was virtually no difference between more and less religious people with high scientific familiarity. In other words, religious people knew the science; they just weren’t willing to say that they believed in it.”

  • Interview: Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold — Second Heart Magazine

    “My arrival to a neo Platonic stance on this issue came initially through my interest for behaviourism and the realization of how an organism can be conditioned to nearly whatever and how inconstant and changeable the human mind and heart is which grew these ideas of dualism solely being a heuristic and not a reality. Later when I studied Advaita philosophy and Renaissance philosophers both from the European and Arabic renaissance a qualified monism took shape and got over the years sharper and sharper. Quite simply if we view everything in terms of polarities we also become more inclined to understand the tension within the fields of being and find the bridges of understanding that widens our horizon and in this the tension between the poles are also experienced less severe. For instance in the thoughts of Ibn Al Arabi we find the concept of Iblis being the limit of divine enfolding – and thus our experience of this concept is one of resistance and opposition, but in truth it serves a quite different function in defining the field of possibility for unfolding.”

  • The Persecution of Witches, 21st-Century Style — Mitch Horowitz, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times

    “Most people believe that the persecution of ‘witches’ reached its height in the early 1690s with the trials in Salem, Mass., but it is a grim paradox of 21st-century life that violence against people accused of sorcery is very much still with us. Far from fading away, thanks to digital interconnectedness and economic development, witch hunting has become a growing, global problem.”

  • Tell Me There Is No Magic — Rue, Rue and Hyssop [HT Sarah Anne Lawless]

    “We are walking into the heat scorched arms of summer this weekend, and as some of us keep our heads toward the earth, watching for signs and faerie rings, others are looking skyward again to that opulent display of rocket-fuelled magic.”

  • Rewilding Witchcraft: Speaking from the Swamp, Part 1 — Oldidio, The Arrival and the Reunion; a response to Rewilding Witchcraft

    “The background setting is chiefly about the decline of humanity’s ability to survive as a species over the coming 100 years or so. The matter is doleful, sobering and utterly important.”

  • The Witch and the Wild — Sarah Anne Lawless; a response to Rewilding Witchcraft

    “Our witchcraft, nay, our very being must become more wild, more intuitive, and more accepting of nature’s amorality and our inevitable demise if we are to make any difference at all. If we are to preserve what we’ve left behind of the earth in our destructive wake, and if we are to survive in any number as a species, we must rewild ourselves and learn how to live outside of civilization. We must lose our faiths, our religions, our meaningless attachment to nitpicketity details only we as individuals and not a whole care about. We who are importers of foreign magics and alien gods. We must become a different kind of witch. Something that needs no definitions, no boundaries, and no expectations. Something more primal and raw than our current incarnation. Something small, something just outside your door…”

  • The Hammer of Thor — Past Horizons

    “A small hammer dating to the 10th century was found recently on the Danish Island of Lolland. Over 1000 of these amulets have been found across Northern Europe but the pendant from Lolland is the only one with a runic inscription.”

    Past Horizons The Hammer of Thor


  • A Peek Into The Mystical Lives And Rituals Of Urban Peruvian Shamans — Justina Bakutyte, Beautiful/Decay

    “Italy-based photographer Andrea Frazzetta gives us a little glimpse into the lives and rituals of modern healers from Lima, Peru. His project called ‘Urban Shamans’ peeks behind the doors of the rear private shops where shamans, or the so called curanderos, perform their traditional mystical rituals which are not subject to the laws and orders of today’s world.”

    Beautiful/Decay A Peek Into The Mystical Lives And Rituals Of Urban Peruvian Shamans


  • Hannah Kunkle’s Controversial Project Turns Kim Kardashian Into The Devil, The Virgin Mary And Even Jesus — Victoria Casal-Data, Beautiful/Decay

    “Brooklyn-based artist Hannah Kunkle puts Kim Kardashian on the altar, literally. Kunkle delivers Kardashian as the Virgin Mary, Medusa, the devil and even Kleopatra. With a flashy net-art inspired aesthetic, the artist takes Kim’s iconic, worshiped image and puts it to work, naturally, with religious/cultish iconography. The controversial juxtaposition is rather riveting as its subtle insights perfectly captures the absurdity of our nation’s obsession with Kardashian and celeb idolatry in general. ‘We have accepted her into our lives via television screens, memes, and Instagram feeds’, she says. ‘If Jay Z is the father and Yeezus is the son, then she is the ever-present holy ghost of pop culture.'”

    Beautiful/Decay Hannah Kunkle's Controversial Project Turns Kim Kardashian Into The Devil


  • Quantum state may be a real thing: Physicists summon up their courage and go after the nature of reality — Chris Lee, Ars Technica [HT disinformation]

    “At the very heart of quantum mechanics lies a monster waiting to consume unwary minds. This monster goes by the name The Nature of Reality™. The greatest of physicists have taken one look into its mouth, saw the size of its teeth, and were consumed. Niels Bohr denied the existence of the monster after he nonchalantly (and very quietly) exited the monster’s lair muttering ‘shut up and calculate.’ Einstein caught a glimpse of the teeth and fainted. He was reportedly rescued by Erwin Schrödinger at great personal risk, but neither really recovered from their encounter with the beast.”

  • Satanic Feminism – A Soundtrack to Per Faxneld’s Book with Music by Christian von H, Patrik Hultin, Tondurakar, Jesper Erwik Johansson and Kristian Pettersson discussed at Per Faxneld’s Satanic Feminism: A New Approach to the Dissertation? — Sarah Veale, Invocatio

    “This is a really creative presentation of the dissertation, one which certainly challenges new scholars to consider the life of their work beyond the written page. It is great to see how this topic has been re-imagined into a totally different context, one which allows the audience to experience the milieu researched by Faxneld in an accessible and immediate way.”

  • Fantastically Wrong: Why the Egyptians Worshiped Beetles That Eat Poop for a Living — Matt Simon, WIRED

    “And this makes it all the more incredible that humans once revered the dung beetle, from the ancient Egyptians to a 17th-century Jesuit who compared Christ to the bug. These folks got a whole lot wrong about the dung beetle and made some pretty fantastical assumptions, but it turns out that their reverence was totally justified. The dung beetle may live its life in crap, but it’s actually a far more remarkable creature than you think.”


If you’d like to participate in the next Omnium Gatherum, head on over to the Gatherum discussions at the Hrmtc Underground BBS.

Kara meets the Librarian from Martin Cosgrove’s KARA

This is the first public extract from Martin Cosgrove‘s upcoming second esoteric novel, KARA (named changed from The Legacy of Kara Reyne). This is a scene in which Kara meets the mysterious character known only as The Librarian which is, you must admit, perfectly and amusingly appropriate. You may recall Martin as the author of The Destiny of Ethan King which has been featured before and is part of the collection at the Reading Room. KARA should be available as an ebook in August and paperback shortly thereafter.

Martin Cosgrove KARA cover


Excerpt from the upcoming esoteric novel KARA

by Martin Cosgrove

Her mind numb, Kara found herself standing in the middle of the library. She didn’t remember climbing the stairs to get there. Her feet began to move again; one in front of the other. They stopped outside the secret entrance to the Perception Section and then it was her hand’s turn to take on a life of its own as it twisted the handle and pulled open the door.

The warping effect of the portal was still disorientating, as blobs of reality bulged out at her as if squeezed in the middle by a giant hand. Seconds later, Kara again stepped out into the small white room of what was officially named the Life Purpose Section.

“Oh, it’s you again.” The glum voice of the Librarian echoed in the sparsely furnished room.

“It’s great to see you too,” said Kara, not quick enough to catch her sarcasm before it left her mouth.

The Librarian humphed and proceeded to polish his spectacles whilst muttering something about young people these days.

A pang of guilt prompted Kara to add: “I’m sorry. I’m going through a lot and I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

The Librarian stopped what he was doing, still holding one lens of his glasses between folds of his baggy cardigan, and squinted at Kara.

“It’s quite all right,” he muttered. “I’m actually rather used to it. People don’t usually come here unless they have something on their minds. Folks who are already happy don’t go seeking out potentially life-altering information as a rule.”

She hadn’t thought of it like that, but it made sense. Why upturn the applecart if you are enjoying munching on apples all day long?

Kara stepped a little closer to the Librarian.

“I don’t think I introduced myself last time. I’m Kara.” She held out her hand, but the

Librarian just glanced at it then proceeded to perch his glasses on the end of his sharp nose.

“I know who you are,” he said with a wave of his hand. Kara pulled back her hand awkwardly.

“Everyone seems to be saying that to me lately,” she mumbled. “How do you know who I am?”

A look of utter incredulity crossed the man’s face. “Because I’m the Librarian. Knowing things is my job.” Kara pursed her lips to speak, but the Librarian continued. “I’ve seen references to your various incarnations in many volumes from countless cultures throughout the ages. If I remember correctly…” He tapped the back of his long hand on his lap. “Yes. I first saw mention of you in an inscription on a stone tablet inscribed by the Harappan civilisation of modern day Pakistan over four and a half thousand years ago.”

Kara’s eyes narrowed. “Exactly how old are you?”

The Librarian took off his spectacles and waved them casually as he spoke. “As old as words. Not as old as you.”

“What does that mean?”

The old man craned his neck to look around the room. “I’ve probably said too much already. Do you wish to look at your books?”

Kara took a deep breath. “Yes. I suppose that’s why I’m here. For answers.”

The man nodded knowingly and extended one arm towards the bookcases. “Be my guest.”

“Thank you.” Kara turned towards the books and then something occurred to her and she turned back to face the Librarian. “How rude of me. I didn’t ask you your name.”

The Librarian shuffled a little in his chair. “I’ve had many throughout the ages, but I tend to stick with Librarian these days. Keeps things simple and neat.”

“Pleased to meet you, Librarian,” she said with an apprehensive smile. “How do I know which one to look at first? Am I supposed to read them all?”

The Librarian smiled, making his loose cheeks wobble at little. It was the first time Kara had seen his otherwise sullen expression brighten.

“The books will show you what you need to see, don’t you worry about that.”

Kara just nodded and sloped off towards the middle bookcase, her stomach doing somersaults.

She picked a slim leather-bound volume off a shelf. Embossed on the front in gold leaf lettering was the title: Tao Te Ching. Kara had never heard of it. The words looked like a romanised version of Chinese and most Chinese books (along with books on spirituality, philosophy and so-called ‘radical’ politics) were outlawed by the Council.

As Kara opened the book, the brittle yellow pages exuded the distinctive musty smell of knowledge blended with history. The pages were a little tattered and well-thumbed and the spine had been cracked in such a way that it opened on one specific page of its own accord.

The Universe has a beginning;
That is the mother of creation.
He who quests after the mother
will know the sons;
he who knows the sons
and returns to the mother:
he will be safe his whole life long.

Kara read it three times, attempting to decipher its meaning and how it applied to her situation. The phrase quest after the mother rang through her head as she flicked back a few pages and read:

The soul of the vale never dies.
It is named the feminine.
The portal of the dark mother
is the source of Heaven and Earth.
Unceasing in its persistence
it is powerful without effort.

This one made even less sense to her. She closed the book carefully and was about to give up when another book farther along the same shelf caught her eye. The cover along the spine had fallen off, leaving the glue and string binding exposed. Something about it fascinated Kara — it was like looking inside a wound: tattered flesh and exposed blood vessels.

She placed her index finger on top of the sad-looking volume and eased it off the shelf to discover that the front cover was also missing. The title page read: Words from the Void: An Anthology of Poetry.

Again, the book wanted to open at one specific page and Kara didn’t stop it. She sat cross-legged on the floor, her back resting against the shelves and read a poem whose author was listed simply as anon.


Her boundless blackness swallows me whole;
an endless ocean engulfing my soul.
She stands strong, her sceptre poised with power,
ready to strike out and to devour
the impure, the degenerate, the soulless,
stripping them bare with her maternal prowess.
She laps at the shadowy shores of Malkuth;
‘ever ready to enter and to transmute
the lifeless into Life; the lead into gold;
begetting her daughter for us to enfold.
By men’s eyes she is unimpassioned and distant.
yet she moves with a Higher Love much more persistent.

Oh, Dark Mother: tear us down to make us stronger!
Sift the chaff from the corn so we are poor no longer.
In your feminine hands we entrust our souls,
so we may strive onwards to achieve sacred goals.
And in your expansive stillness and silence
lies hope for an end to this earthly violence.


Something greater than the words themselves struck Kara as she finished reading the poem. The mother, the female mentioned in the pages she had read was referring to a universal energy, a divine essence. Some of the words, however, were unfamiliar to her. The title of the poem, Binah, for example. And also Malkuth. She made a mental note to ask Abra about those terms and then a thought occurred to her. She placed her finger inside the book and closed it over, then wandered back over to the Librarian.

“Excuse me. Is it possible to take a book out of here?” she asked.

The Librarian’s brows knitted closer together. “Why ever would you need to do that?”

His reply caught Kara off guard. “Well, so I can study the texts in more detail.”

He chuckled — a phlegmy rasp which caught in his throat. “My dear, you will not forget the essence of anything that you read in here for the rest of your life. Or lives. But books may not be removed. Those are the rules.”

“I see.”

“Besides, these books do not exist out there. They only exist in here.”

It was Kara’s turn to frown. “And where is here, precisely?”

“Aha!” he exclaimed, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. “Now you’ve hit on an interesting question. This realm is a little below the one through that portal,” he said, indicating the door through which she had come, “and twice that distance above the world you’ve left behind.”

“What on earth is that supposed to mean?” Kara flicked her hair out of her face. “Your answers are even worse than Abra’s.”

“Taught her everything she knows,” replied the old man, not missing a beat.
Kara couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but decided it wasn’t worth pressing the issue.
The man, seemingly picking up on Kara’s frustration, leant forward in his chair.

“Listen. Things will be revealed when the time is right. Stop fretting and just continue on your journey. One foot in front of the other — that’s all that is required. And don’t hurry to your destination either, you may end up wishing you’d savoured the journey a little more once you finally get there.”

He winked and gestured towards the door.

“Now get out of here. It’s closing time. A man’s got to nap, you know. This job isn’t as easy as it may look.”

More questions than answers. Again, thought Kara as she headed for the door.

“Ah, ah, ah,” the Librarian called after her. “Haven’t you forgotten something?” he asked, looking pointedly at the book in her hand.

“Oh!” Kara slapped her head with her palm. “I’m sorry. Silly me.”

“Silly, indeed,” mumbled the man as Kara returned the book to its home on the shelf and left the Perception Section for a second time.

Martin Cosgrove KARA

Practice excerpt from Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons

Here’s an excerpt of chapter 1, “Practice,” from Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons: The Islamic Teachings at the Heart of Alchemy by Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorff, introduction and commentary by Stephen E Flowers [also], which is offered at the Reading Room courtesy of Inner Traditions.

Baron von Sebottendorff and Stephen E Flowers' Secret Practices of the Sufi Freemasons from Inner Traditions



Islam means “submission,” that is, submission to the will of God. The believer can just commend himself to the will of God simply because it is the will of God. He feels secure and does not ask why this is so and that is different—he fulfills the divine law simply because it is the revealed law of God. He accepts his fate as being immutable and, at the most, attempts by means of prayer to implore for mercy from God when the burden becomes too great for him. But the sign of the true believer will consistently be that he does not ask for release from the burden, but rather for the strength to be able to bear it. “Lead us in the way of those who do not err,” the Prophet prescribes to those who pray.

This faithful condition is what is most worthy to strive after, according to all religious systems. Actually he is also the most happy, it is he who the Prophet values most highly, and he represents this as his only goal–and therefore his religion is called Islam.

Now beside the belief there is something else that makes it equally possible for a person to yield to his fate; it is no longer faith but knowledge—knowledge of the divine laws. The one who knows no longer fulfills this law blindly but rather knowingly. The truly wise one is very near to the believer, but he is superior to the believer.

The Prophet created a very wise institution to open the way to knowledge for everyone who truly seeks it. According to this system in the Qur’an he provided explicit signs, which point the way to knowledge, and which have to reveal the law of creation to someone who gains knowledge from within his own being. The highest form of knowledge will always lead the wise to yield to Divine Providence without complaint—that is, to Islam through knowledge.

In what follows we will concern ourselves with this path. How the Prophet himself came into possession of this knowledge is recounted in the form of the following legend.

Not far from Mecca there lived at the time of Mohammed an aged hermit, Ben Chasi, who was teaching the Prophet. When the lesson was over the hermit gave him a metallic plate upon which were engraved formulas, the meaning of which the then thirty-year-old Prophet had just learned. Soon thereafter the hermit died, but Mohammed kept on teaching the secret of these formulas in the most intimate circles. Abu Bekr, the first calif, inherited the plate and the knowledge, which only spread within a small circle after the death of the Prophet: this is the secret knowledge of the oriental Freemasons.

In order to ensure against the loss of the formulas the Prophet distributed them throughout the Qur’an according to a precise key. The key is known, and the formulas are preserved in the Qur’an, such that the possibility remains for reconstructing the system at any time.

The formulas are preserved in the so-called abbreviated letters, the meaning of which is debated among orientalists as well as different commentators. Some are of the opinion that these letters are signatures. Individual Suras certainly originated under highly variable conditions: the Prophet dictated some, others he recited while friends wrote them down, still others were recorded later from memory. When the Suras were collected, the letters, which indicated the originator of the Sura, would have remained, but now without their meaning.

Some European scholars are of the view that these letters represent notes by the scribe. Thus ALM is supposed to mean: amara li muhamed—“Mohammed commanded me to write.”

Arabic commentators view these letters as holy abbreviations. Thus ALM means: allah latif madshid—“God is good.” Or, as another thinks: ana lahu alamu—“I am the God who knows.”

For others the letters are to be interpreted in a kabalistic sense. Certainly all the Suras in which these letters occur contain definite indications that they have something special to say.

The Arabic language, like all the Semitic languages, does not write the vowels. If one does not read these letters as such, but rather as words, they yield no meaning. For this reason people have been scratching their heads over the meaning of these letters. But in actuality these are the secret formulas concealed in the letters that someone who knows the truth can now easily read and pronounce. All of these formulas are compounds of the vowel A with one or several consonants. 

Number of the sura Name of the sura Formula
2 The Cow alam 

3 Amran’s Family alam 

7 El Araf alamas 

10 Jonah alar 

11 Houd alar

12 Joseph alar

13 Thunder alamar 

14 Abraham alar
15 A-hijr alar 

19 Mary kaha ya as

20 Ta ha ta ha 

26 The Poet tasam

27 The Ant tas

28 The Narration tasam 

29 The Spider alam 

30 The Greeks alam

31 The Wise alam 

32 Adoration alam 

36 Ya sin yas 

38 Sad sa

40 The Believer cham

41 Revelations Well Expounded cham 

42 Consultation cham asak

43 Gold Adornments cham

44 Smoke cham

45 Kneeling cham

46 Al ahqaf cham

50 Qaf ka

68 The Feather na 

822 days   14 different formulas

The formulas are present in twenty-nine Suras. The number of days results in twenty-five lunar months in which three days are missing. On these three days the one who was dedicating himself to these exercises was occupied doing something else, to which we will return later.



The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Excerpt from The Destiny of Ethan King

Here’s an excerpt of chapter 3 from The Destiny of Ethan King by Martin Cosgrove which is offered at the Reading Room with permission from the author.

Martin Cosgrove's The Destiny of Ethan King


Elroy Stark shuffled up the steps to the Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church one wet Monday afternoon. He was late again. His manager always managed to persuade him to stay for ‘just a few minutes’ to finish off some important document or other.

He shook his umbrella several times in quick succession when he reached the top step, folded it down and smoothed back his wet, greasy hair into an overly-slick Dracula style before entering the hall.

The meeting, as usual, was already under way and the spirit medium, Frederick Wallas, was sitting perfectly still and upright in a wooden chair at the front. His monotone voice bounced off the stone walls of the former Freemasons’ building.

Elroy’s scuffed leather shoes squeaked on the highly polished floorboards as he approached the back row of seats. He tried to shift his weight to prevent the squeaking, but ended up making it worse. A few heads spun around to look at him as he squelched his way towards them. One woman in her sixties saw it was Elroy, shook her head and turned back to face the medium. A red-headed, pale man sitting in the front row narrowed his eyes and glared at Elroy as if trying to kill him with his thoughts. That was ‘Bonny’ Benny, the Church’s founder.

Elroy sat on a chair right at the end of the back row, next to a lady he’d noticed at the last three meetings but had not spoken to. Her greying auburn hair was wavy and although it was fixed up tightly in a bun, a couple of wild strands frizzed out in a rebellious act totally at odds with her perfect posture. She sat with her hands folded neatly in her lap and looked to be in her early forties; at least ten years older than Elroy, but there was something about her lips and her flawless Snow White skin.

He wriggled in his seat, attempting to remove his arms from the sleeves of his sodden raincoat. He should have taken it off before he sat down, but the glaring had been too much. As he managed to extract his left arm, he elbowed Posture Lady, who shot him a sharp sideways look and cleared her throat before returning her attention to the medium.

“Damnit,” he muttered. “Sorry.” The other arm flew out as if controlled by some external force and he shoved the coat in a ball under his chair.

As he settled down to listen to Fred, he made a mental note to catch the earlier bus next week. He’d made that same mental note each week for the past six months, but this time he really meant it.

“The time is approaching when mankind will achieve its full potential.” Fred paused. He always paused for an uncomfortably long time between sentences when he was channelling the Vegans (or whoever it was this week), “When all will be made aware of Spirit,” he continued, his voice wheezy and slightly wrong – almost robotic. “But we are afraid that humanity must first pass through a terrible era of war, starvation and disease.”

Sounds great, Elroy thought. Fred said more or less the same thing each Monday as he channelled messages from the beings of the star Vega, or the planet Saturn or the unicorns from Never Never Land. They never gave specifics or a plan of action, just endless warnings of death and destruction. He could have stayed at home and watched BBC News for that.

But he didn’t stay at home. Something about the place fascinated him. Six months ago, after he’d been overlooked for the third time for promotion to supervisor at his insurance firm, Elroy had plunged head-first into a mid-life crisis. He preferred to think of it as a mid-life crisis and not a nervous breakdown; mid-life crises were more socially acceptable. He was 33 years old, single, stuck in a job he despised with no more opportunities for promotion in the foreseeable future and, worst of all, he suffered from clinical depression. He’d needed a change; something new. Something that would provide some answers.

The Eternal Flame Christian Spiritualist Church in Dagenham hadn’t provided any answers yet, but Elroy returned each week because it gave him a glimmer of hope that there was something more. More than offices and taxes and pensions. More than TV soaps and ironing shirts. Something beyond supermarket promotions and sofa company sales.

Elroy Stark needed to believe that there was more to human life than the concrete buildings and the endless stupidity that surrounded him day in, day out. He was desperately searching for the escape hatch out of his mundane, colourless life.

His parents, if he had still been in contact with them, would have reminded him how he was given every opportunity to make something of his life; to become somebody. They had sent him to one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, but the young Elroy hadn’t been interested. His barrister father was eager for his son to follow in his footsteps, but Elroy had been more interested in girls and art… and girls. When he failed all of his exams after they had spent thousands on his education, his parents practically disowned him.

When the meeting was over twenty minutes later, Elroy thought about introducing himself to the lady next to him, but instead he squeaked back out of the hall and went home to his microwavable lasagne.


That evening Elroy fell asleep on his sofa with a heavy philosophy book splayed open on his chest and an empty plastic microwave carton on the coffee table beside him.

Wake up, Elroy.

Elroy rolled over onto his side, the book thumped to the floor and he sat bolt upright.

Listen to me, Elroy.

Elroy rubbed his eyes hard in an attempt to shake off the dream.

Are you listening, Elroy?

Huh? He looked around the room. The television was switched off, so was the stereo. The voice wasn’t loud, but it was perfectly clear, as if someone else were in the room with him.

It’s okay. Don’t panic. Just listen to me.

“Who’s there?” Elroy jumped up off the sofa and stood on the book which went skidding out from under his foot, sending him flying back onto the sofa.

Just stay sitting down. It’s probably safer.

“Is someone playing a joke on me? Seriously – this isn’t funny now. Who’s here with me?”

Be quiet.

“I mean it, I –“

Well if we really must do this the hard way.

Elroy found himself unable to speak. His mouth and tongue were still moving to form words, but no sound came out. He began to panic and then, a few seconds later, he realised that he must still be dreaming which led him to recall a book about lucid dreaming he’d read a few months back and how it was best to try to relax into the dream and learn as much from it as possible. He sat back on the sofa and waited.

That’s much better. I have some important work to do with you. I am going to give you certain abilities that you will go on to use as tools in my greater plan. These abilities will set you apart, make you special. Powerful. Do I have your attention now?

A pause. Oh! You can talk again now.

“What’s your name?” Elroy asked, almost casually.

You can call me God if you like.

“Um, okay… God. What abilities are you going to give me?” He was addressing the light bulb on the ceiling just so he had some kind of point of reference for this disembodied voice.

The ability to see certain events that will occur in the future, the ability to influence other people’s minds and manipulate the four elements. You will also have control over a powerful force called cosmic energy. Stuff like that.

“That all sounds wonderful, God, but how will I know how to use these powers?” Elroy was settling into this dream now, enjoying it a little more.

Just do what feels right and things will work out fine.

“Will I be able to fly?”

No. Don’t be stupid, Elroy.

“Sorry.” Elroy looked at his shoes.

There is a boy called Ethan King. He too has certain abilities and he has the potential to destroy human civilisation as you now know it. Your job will be to prevent that from happening.

Elroy nodded slowly. “Right. But you say he has the potential… you’re God, don’t you already know for sure if he will or not?”

Don’t make me lecture you on the whole Free Will thing. A lot depends on the choices that Ethan makes in his life, which in turn will be influenced by the experiences he has. Let me show you the potential consequences of Ethan King’s actions; what he is capable of.

Instantly a barrage of images flooded Elroy’s mind. He saw a young, slender, fair-haired man standing opposite the Houses of Parliament; his eyes wild and inhuman. He saw a pyramid-shaped artifact with a globe on the top, he saw entire cities and government buildings exploding and disintegrating and finally, he saw the young man once more standing in the centre of a vast area of now barren land that was once London, his arms outstretched, a self-satisfied smile on his face.

The image focused in on the youngster’s left hand. He was holding something – some kind of pendent or talisman. Suddenly, and without trying, Elroy was able to see an enlarged image of the amulet – just like zooming in on a picture on the computer – and could make out that the sphere in the middle contained tiny crystals, amber in colour. They were glowing intensely, radiating some kind of raw, throbbing energy.

“What were those crystal things?” Elroy asked as the vision faded.

It is known as Universal Matter and, in the wrong hands, it has the power to destroy human civilisation.

“But how? What can it do? Where does it come from?”

Only Ethan King has the ability to create this mystical substance. And only he can destroy it. It generates unlimited energy and has the potential to solve all of humanity’s problems.

“That’s a good thing, right?”

Humanity is still too immature to handle such an infinitely powerful tool. It would be used to create weapons, to destroy, to further subdue billions of people.


Ethan King must be prevented from creating the Universal Matter, or at the very least, from sharing it with the world.

“If this is such an important task, if the survival of the human race is at stake, why are you asking me to help?” Elroy shifted on the couch.

Because you have a strong connection with this boy, one that may become clear in the near future. For now, just understand that Ethan King has to be stopped. I will leave it for you to decide how best to do that. Go back to sleep now, Elroy. Things will become clearer over the next few days.

And with that, God left and Elroy found himself going back to sleep. Or was he already asleep? He wasn’t sure and somehow didn’t really care.



The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.