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Sent from the Second Order

Andrew Finley reviews Sent From the Second Order: The Collected Letters of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn [Abebooks] ed. Darcy Küntz at Sent from the Second Order in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Küntz Sent from the Second Order

Mr. Darcy Küntz, with his eye for detail and his keen interest in the historical roots of the Golden Dawn, has allowed the public access for the first time to a number of letters from the “vaults of the Golden Dawn” which have only been available to a small number of scholars.

In this book I discovered a number of unpublished letters that revealed the hidden and unexplored idiosyncratic side of the founders and members of the Golden Dawn. These letters have provided me an insight into some of the unexplained behavior and interactions between the members William Wynn Westcott, S.L. Mathers, Dr. Berridge, Aleister Crowley, Annie Horniman, et al.

Of the new material in the book there is a document from 1900 which discusses a “preliminary contract of peace” between Dr. Westcott and S.L. Mathers. Mr. Küntz also produces evidence which reveals the name of the member who wanted revenge upon Westcott and who wanted him kicked out of the Golden Dawn. There are two letters written by Aleister Crowley in 1908 which brought me much pleasure in reading. These letters show Crowley’s wit and charm prior to publishing the Golden Dawn Secrets in The Equinox (Vol. I, Nos. 2 & 3). Of particular interest is the letter dated February 1901 and written by the Majority of the Second Order Council. It could be argued that this document shows that Crowley was initiated in the 5=6 grade of Adeptus Minor and a member of the Second Order, while some people might argue that the evidence is only circumstantial.

The quality and nature of the 103 letters and documents in this book has made it a valuable addition to my Golden Dawn library. The high standard of scholarship from Mr. Küntz has made this a highly sought after book. I was surprised to hear that Sent From the Second Order was published in a very limited edition of 27 copies and 10 “Hors Commerce” copies and that it would not be reprinted. Although it makes it very collectable the problem is that researchers may have trouble tracking down a copy. I only hope that Mr. Küntz will consider reprinting a larger or “popular” edition.

The paper and binding of the book are high quality for a small press production. Mr. Küntz has created the design for the cover which is an interesting example of a symbol reminiscent of the chaosphere sigil superimposed on a grid of occult symbols. Also the frontispiece is an unpublished colored version of Aleister Crowley’s Tarot card the Magician.

I would like to see an expanded version with more original letters with the same attention to detail that Mr. Küntz has applied to editing this valuable source material. I also look forward to his book titled The Golden Dawn Temple Manual. I have been told by Mr. Küntz that the book contains all the source material that one would need to start and manage a Golden Dawn Temple including the Consecration Ceremony of a Golden Dawn Temple.

Becoming an Alchemist

Samuel Scarborough reviews Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy [Amazon, Bookshop, Abebooks, Local Library] by Dennis William Hauck at Becoming an Alchemist in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Hauck Sorcerer's Stone

Ever wanted to be an alchemist? Just how does someone understand those old alchemical drawings that describe the processes that are used to create fabulous elixirs and powders? The very word “alchemy” conjures up images of bearded old men in dark laboratories turning lead into gold, or creating some elixir for extended life. Can this apply to the modern magickal person; can we create that hidden gold or extend our lives?

Dennis William Hauck’s interest in alchemy began while he was in graduate school at the University of Vienna. Now he is the editor of the Alchemy Journal, an instructor in the Alchemy Home Study Program and with Flamel College. Mister Hauck serves on the Board of Governors of the International Alchemy Guild and regularly gives lectures worldwide on alchemy.

Dennis William Hauck, a practicing alchemist and one of the leading experts in the world on this ancient art and science, offers a basic introduction to alchemy in this book that is not full of the hidden meanings of some of those ancient texts on the subject, but has clear explanations. As a matter of course he explains just what those odd alchemical drawings from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries mean and how to decipher their codes so that you as a modern alchemist can follow their instructions. He also provides practical experiments, and moving meditations.

Mister Hauck has written a book with fifteen chapters and two appendices which follow a pattern of general history and overview, to the explanation of the planetary archetypes used in alchemy, and finally to the operations of alchemy where you can personally perform your own purification and alchemical operations. In this latter part, Mister Hauck looks at both Spiritual Alchemy, the method of meditation and study used to create within yourself the Great Work on a mystical level, and he looks at Practical Alchemy, the creation of elixirs and powders physically, as well as how to blend these two versions of alchemy together. The book is richly illustrated with many old alchemical drawings with explanations that are clear throughout. The two appendices are very helpful. The first one is a glossary of alchemical terms with clear definitions, and the second one is a list of resources for the practitioner from online sites, to books that are recommended for reading. The chapters of the book are:

  • What is Alchemy?
  • The Golden Thread That Runs Through Time
  • The Principals of Alchemy
  • The Kitchen Alchemist: Making Tinctures and Elixirs
  • Climbing the Ladder of the Planets
  • Saturn’s Child: The Base Metal Lead
  • Jupiter’s Rule: The Courtly Metal Tin
  • Mar’s Challenge: The Angry Metal Iron
  • Venus’s Embrace: The Loving Metal Copper
  • Mercury’s Magic: The Living Metal Quicksilver
  • The Moon’s Reflection: The Lunar Metal Silver
  • The Sun’s Brilliance: The Solar Metal Gold
  • The Operations of Alchemy
  • Personal Purification
  • Becoming an Alchemist
  • Appendix A: Glossary of Alchemy
  • Appendix B: Resources

Finally here is a book that helps break down some of the mystery of alchemy so that anyone can better understand this ancient art and science, which has been called the Royal Art of the Hermetic Tradition. Dennis William Hauck has made a great contribution to the oft-neglected art of alchemy with this book, and it should be included in any person’s library that is interested in the Hermetic Arts, the Western Mystery Traditions, and especially in Alchemy.

Two on Practical Spagyric Alchemy of Plants

Samuel Scarborough reviews Alchemist’s Handbook: Manual for Practical Laboratory Alchemy [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Frater Albertus and The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy: An Herbalist’s Guide to Preparing Medicinal Essences, Tinctures, and Elixirs [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Manfred M Junius at Two on Practical Spagyric Alchemy of Plants in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Albertus Alchemist's Handbook

Junius The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy

For those interested in performing practical or laboratory alchemy there are two books written in the modern era that are indispensable. These two were written in the twentieth century by practicing alchemists. Both authors give good instruction as to what a budding alchemist will need for a modern alchemical workshop, and they even discuss some of the most basic techniques in spagyric (spa-geer-ic) or plant alchemy, which is traditionally the first type of alchemy that is worked with by an alchemist.

The first book that we are going to look at is, The Alchemist’s Handbook by Frater Albertus (Albert Reidel), a major contribution to alchemy in modern times. The author covers the basic principals of alchemy, gives directions for setting up a home alchemical laboratory with illustrations of the basic equipment, and also gives step-by-step instructions for working within the plant kingdom. The chapters of the book are as follows:

  • Forward
  • Preface to the First Edition
  • Preface to the Second Edition
  • Chapter I: Introduction to Alchemy
  • Chapter II: The Lesser Circulation
  • Chapter III: The Herbal Elixir
  • Chapter IV: Medicinal Uses
  • Chapter V: Herbs and Stars
  • Chapter VI: Symbols in Alchemy
  • Chapter VII: Wisdom of the Sages
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Alchemical Manifesto

The Forward to the book was written by the noted Golden Dawn magician Israel Regardie, in which he describes this book on alchemy as “… unique and a genuine masterpiece.” After this Forward there are two Prefaces that give the reader an idea as to how to best use the book and the material in it.

Chapter One is an introduction to alchemy. Frater Albertus describes alchemy in the most basic of terms so that anyone picking up this book will have a working idea as to just what alchemy is. He compares alchemy and modern chemistry, and discusses the prevalent attitudes towards alchemy in the modern day. The real meat of the book though comes in Chapters Two through Five, in which Frater Albertus describes how to set up an alchemical laboratory, the processes to gather the herbs to be used and to begin working with them alchemically. Also, he discusses the medicinal uses of the elixirs or tinctures that can be made using the herbs and processes discussed in the previous chapter. Then Frater Albertus discusses the planetary relationship that many herbs have and how to use this relationship in making elixirs and tinctures. Frater Albertus gives us a chapter on the various sigils and symbols used in alchemy along with their meanings. This section of the book is highly illustrated with these sigils and ciphers.

The rest of the book contains a basic description of the next phase of alchemy, metals, from a Rosicrucian document written in 1777. After this chapter, Frater Albertus gives his conclusions on how to continue the work. Finally, there is an appendix and a manifesto that help promote the use of alchemy in modern times.

The Alchemist’s Handbook should be on any alchemist’s shelf whether you practice spiritual alchemy or practical alchemy. The style of the heart of the book is like a textbook on chemistry in some regards, which is what Frater Albertus was aiming for as a means to demystify the art of alchemy. He brings the ancient art into the modern world by linking the old art of alchemy with the more modern practices of chemistry.

The second book that we will discuss is Manfred M. Junius’, The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy. Manfred M. Junius is a former biology professor who also served as the production manager of spagyrics for Australerba Laboratories and was head of the Australian School of Ayurveda in Adelaide. His training and knowledge of western alchemy came from many years of personal instruction from the Swiss alchemist Augusto Pincaldi.

The book is similar to Albertus’ The Alchemist’s Handbook, but has a bit more detail in the operations dealing with the plant kingdom and the making of plant elixirs. Junius gives a fairly good overview of what spagyrics are and how to obtain them in a step-by-step manner. The chapters are as follows:

  • Preface
  • Spagyria and Spagyrics
  • Advice of Basilius Valentinus
  • The Three Philosophical Principles and the Elements
  • Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt in the Plant World
  • The Extraction of the Three Philosophical Principles from Plants
    1. The Extraction of the Essential Oils, That Is, of the Volatile Sulfur
    2. Mercury
    3. Fixed Sulfur and Its Salt
    4. Salt
  • The Stars
  • Preparation of Spagyric Tinctures and Essences
  • Circulation
  • The Plant Magistery of Paracelsus
  • The Circulatum Minus Urbigerus
  • Elixir – Clyssus – Vegetable Stone
  • Alchemical Signs and Symbols
  • Old Weights
  • Epilogue: How Can We Heal?
  • Notes
  • Bibliography

Just to hit on the overall highlights of the book, the author gets to the real meat of the subject in chapters four through eight, in which he discusses in detail the making of a tincture from a plant using the various techniques available to the alchemist. These are covered in some detail in chapter five. In some cases, the details can be a bit overwhelming and having a practical class or two in general chemistry really helps to understand what Junius is discussing with these techniques.

Chapter six, The Stars, presents the idea that the alchemist should also be something of an astrologer too. Junius shows that astrology and alchemy are closely linked using archetypical forces of the universe. He discusses how the various astrological effects of Sol and Luna have on living organisms, and how in plant alchemy the effects of these two heavenly bodies, along with the other ancient planets has an affect on the alchemical operation. Junius gives a break down of each of the planets and the plants associated with them from an alchemical medicinal view. Further in the chapter, he discusses the use of the planetary hours to begin the alchemical operation and even the casting of astrological horoscope for the outcome of the operation.

In chapter ten, he looks at a classic work of alchemy, The Circulatum Minus Urbigerus, which was originally printed in 1690. The various aphorisms of the original are used to illustrate the practical laboratory technique that Junius later explains following these aphorisms. This chapter illustrates the ability of Junius to thoroughly discuss the material so that a person wanting to follow an older text would be able to.

Finally, in the epilogue, Junius approaches alchemical tinctures and elixirs pretty much as Paracelsus did over 450 years ago. Diagnose the illness, and treat it with the suitable tincture or elixir after creating it. He also cautions that this sort of work in the healing area should be undertaken only with great care, but that it could be done with the aid of those around the alchemist.

This book is full of various drawings and illustrations of alchemical as well as chemistry equipment showing not only what it looks like, but also some of the basic techniques used to create these tinctures and elixirs. There are also many older illustrations from older alchemical works showing the various phases and ideals of the work, not to mention Junius has included a rather in depth list of signs and symbols used in alchemy in one chapter that would be useful for the practicing alchemist. Even though there are some complex descriptions and techniques in Junius’ book, it should be on the bookshelf of any practicing alchemist, or more likely, like Albertus’ The Alchemist’s Handbook, will be open as a reference for the practicing alchemist.

All Hallow’s Eve

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews All Hallow’s Eve [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Williams, introduction by T S Eliot.

Williams All Halllows' Eve

All Hallow’s Eve was the last of Charles Williams’ completed novels, first published in the year of his death, 1945. It begins just after the deaths of two young women, and follows their persisting consciousnesses through “the City” (which is London only as a phantom skin of a mystical heavenly Jerusalem) throughout the book. At the same time as the novel elaborates this perspective of the deceased, it supplies a parallel narrative among their survivors: one’s husband who is a diplomatic functionary, his friend an art painter, and the painter’s fiancee–a former schoolmate of the two dead characters.

The central plot tension of the book is constructed around Simon the Clerk, an aspiring antichrist of impressive talents and no sympathy whatsoever. The villain’s “Jewishness” is emphasized in ways that gave me a wince or two, but were doubtless theologically important to Williams. Like the other “Aspects of Power” novels, this one is an urban fantasy that predates the genre, and it features the kind of fell sorcery that crops up in the earlier books. It clothes supernatural events in the sort of finely-crafted impressionistic prose the author had deployed in Descent Into Hell.

The Eerdmans edition I read had a testimonial introduction by T.S. Eliot, in which he extolled Williams’ personal virtues, and briefly discussed the mystical doctrine and psychological insight in Williams’ works. There is enough reference to the contents of the novel as if the reader were familiar with it that the Eliot intro might be better enjoyed after reading the book–not for any worry of spoilers, but just for its own appreciation.

By curious chance (?) I read All Hallow’s Eve just a few weeks after The Third Policeman. Now I may need to go re-read UBIK. It seems like somebody is trying to tell me something. Did I actually not survive my recent bicycle crash? Maybe it’s just that time of year. After all, everybody’s going to die, and we’re all of us just stories anyway.

The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 9

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus review The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 9 [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Arthur W Saha.

Saha The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 9

I bought this collection for the Lafferty story “Square and Above Board,” which happily turns out to have a prominent chess element. In 1983 Arthur Saha was in the process of taking the Year’s Best Fantasy series over from its founding editor Lin Carter, and in his introduction he claims that the selection in this volume is on the whole “upbeat.” I suppose I agree. About half of the stories are from periodicals (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Twilight Zone Magazine), while the others are culled from anthology books. 

The topical diversity of the collection as a whole is shown in my catalog keyword tagging: death, fairy, high fantasy, metafiction, nautical, satan, weird fiction. I had not previously read anything by Tanith Lee, and her story “Mirage and Magia” is very Dunsanian. Michael Shea’s “The Horror on the #33” speculates on the pleasures of drunken vagrancy and reinvents the angel of death. The longest story is “Another Orphan,” a peculiar fantasia on Moby Dick, which turned out to be surprisingly satisfying. The fact that three stories (“Other,” “Lest Levitation Come Upon Us,” and “Djinn, No Chaser”) have housewife protagonists is a little surprising in this sort of genre collection, and none of them measure up to Robert Irwin’s Limits of Vision. Still, they were each worth the read, even if the punnishingly-titled last of them (by Harlan Ellison) is rather cornball.

Masters of Atlantis

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus review Masters of Atlantis [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Portis.

Portis Masters of Atlantis

In his fourth novel, Charles Portis offers the compound biography of a fictional 20th-century initiatory order that arrived in the US following World War I and experienced ups and downs at the hands of its various aspirants and adepts. The author clearly intends the reader to be amused by the eccentric partisans of the Gnomon Society, yet his tone is largely sympathetic. I originally read this book at the recommendation of the head of one of the world’s most venerable esoteric bodies, and Portis does indeed give a far more accurate picture of the ambitions and concerns of most of today’s Rosicrucians and occult Freemasons than any wide-eyed Dan-Brownishness can provide. Shelve it between Foucault’s Pendulum and the Stonecutters episode of The Simpsons.

Seeing a Large Cat

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Seeing a Large Cat [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Elizabeth Peters, book 9 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Peters Seeing a Large Cat

This ninth Amelia Peabody mystery is the first that I have shared from cover to cover with my Other Reader. We both enjoyed it quite well. It continues the formula established by Peters in the earlier books, this time covering (to my irrelevant excitement) the 1903-1904 excavation season in Egypt. 

The “large cat” of the title is perhaps Ramses Emerson, who sports whiskers as a surprise at the outset of the novel, and whose relations with the feline members of the household constitute an ongoing subplot. This volume of the series is one in which the younger generation of Emersons gain a significant degree of independence. Their separate perspective is supplied through the device of excerpts from a “Manuscript H,” supposedly written by Ramses and containing events he would best know, although referring to him in the third person.

On the other hand, the Cat could equally be Katherine Jones, a new character who seems likely to recur in future stories, and whose cat-like qualities are emphasized in descriptions. The gerundial phrasing of the title alludes to the ancient Egyptian dream-interpretation papyrus that is Peabody’s translation project for the season. What indeed is the significance of “seeing a large cat” in one’s dream? This book combines entertaining adventure with ominous portents for its protagonists.

The Fiery Brook

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Ludwig Feuerbach, trans. Zawar Hanfi, part of the Radical Thinkers series.

Feuerbach Hanfi The Fiery Brook

Editor/translator Hanfi considers Feuerbach valuable solely as a precursor to Marx, a perspective which certainly limits the usefulness of Hanfi’s extensive introduction. The selections in this volume are quite worthwhile, however. Five out of eight are first ever published translations into English, and they include programmatic essays covering the span of Feuerbach’s intellectual work from his first breaks with Hegel (“Toward a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy” 1839) until 1844. Although Hanfi doesn’t remark it, the latter year is significant in being the year in which Feuerbach’s writings were subjected to withering public criticism from Max Stirner. This volume thus neglects the significantly different (and to my mind, even more interesting) positions of the later Feuerbach developed in The Essence of Religion and its sequels. It does, however, include the essays “Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy” and “Principles of the Philosophy of the Future,” which show Feuerbach’s emergence from his anti-Hegelian analytic phase into a new work of synthesis and positive theory on atheistic, “sensuous” grounds. These two essays are in an aphoristic form that presages the work of Nietzsche, and they expound in part the anthropotheistic principle that is at the core of my interest in and sympathy for Feuerbach. 

The early, anti-Hegelian pieces are often rather muddled, and this feature evidently stems from a stylistic limitation (later overcome) to attempt always to present flawed and obsolete philosophies from their own “point of view,” to “let each phenomenon speak for itself.” (179 n.) The constructive progress of Feuerbach’s views is evident, due to the chronological arrangement of the contents of this collection, and the recapitulation involved in the final “Fragments Concerning the Characteristics of My Philosophical Development.” The preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity is far more incisive and persuasive than the introduction to the first. 

Even in the “Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy” there is much unwelcome (to my mind) valorization of pain and suffering. In the later works, this gives way to an emphasis on enjoyment and love. Throughout, once Feuerbach has broken with the “theologians and speculative fantasts,” he emphasizes the reciprocity of humanity with sensual nature, and the sovereignty of man–however unwitting–over the God he has created. 

“The new and only positive philosophy … is the thinking man himself” (169). It is “certainly based on reason as well, but on a reason whose being is the same as the being of man; that is, it is based not on an empty, colorless, nameless reason, but on a reason that is of the very blood of man” (239). “Truth is man and not reason in abstracto; it is life and not thought that remains confined to paper, the element in which it finds and unfolds its existence” (249). “Truth does not exist in thought, nor in cognition confined to itself. Truth is only the totality of man’s life and being” (244, all italics in originals). 

There is much development evident in the writings collected here, but the book ends on an appropriate note: “”What am I? Is that your question? Wait until I am no more.” (296) He still had “more” to him, as subsequent decades and major works would show, even if they are not addressed by this volume.

The Filth

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Filth [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Grant Morrison, with Gary Erskine, Chris Weston.

Morrison Weston Erskine The Filth

I read The Filth as a complete bound collection, rather than the thirteen individual comics issues. In that format, it amounts to probably my favorite graphic novel. It includes science fiction, satire, superheroism, sex, drugs, and violence. It’s something like The Matrix reconstituted on the basis of a scatological rant from Antonin Artaud. It has a completely freestanding mythos, not dependent on any prior superhero or comics franchise, highly coherent when it’s not completely mind-blowing. Despite its evident balls-out insanity, The Filth tackles serious issues and ultimately offers a sense of profound redemption.

I’m not an unequivocal fan of Grant Morrison’s work: sometimes I find him indulgent and meandering. But when he hits his mark, he’s awesome; and I’ve never read anything where he has hit it as hard as The Filth. Weston and Erskine’s art is both surreal and gritty while strangely conventional, just the mix of H R Giger, William Blake, and Joe Kubert that the story requires.

Edited to add: Morrison is on the record as having written The Filth as a companion piece to his earlier and longer series The Invisibles, even though there is no narrative continuity between them. There is certainly a lot of conceptual and thematic overlap. They can be seen as perfectly complementary, though, if viewed through the cops-and-criminals dichotomy that each eventually collapses. The Filth works initially from the cop’s end of the spectrum, while The Invisibles does from the criminal’s.

Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Joyce Carol Oates

Oates Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense

This relatively recent collection from Joyce Carol Oates offers a half dozen “tales of suspense.” They are not supernatural horror, despite the title’s allusion to the monstrous phantasms of H.P. Lovecraft. Although all written in the third person, each is thoroughly psychological, tracking the thoughts of villains and victims on the cusp of horrible events. There is a lot more person than plot in these stories, and the substance of them is the interaction of character with circumstance.

The first story “The Woman at the Window” was (according to its prior publication) inspired by an Edward Hopper painting, and I’m sure the painting in question must be 11 A.M. (1926).

These tales tend toward novella length, typically on the long side of what can be read in a single sitting, but often subdivided into chapters. The longest story in the collection is “The Experimental Subject,” which is trained on the interior world of a scientific researcher seducing an undergraduate student into being unwittingly inseminated with chimpanzee sperm. Strangely, it is probably the closest of any of the stories in the book to having a “happy” outcome.

The title story that concludes the book is an account of “Horace Love, Jr.,” a fairly transparent fictionalization of the biography of Lovecraft. It takes for its premise the same thesis set forth in this bit of criticism from Kenneth Callaghan:

“Lovecraft was masquerading, for the purposes of fiction, as both the son and as his own father, thereby giving himself permission to use his own father’s madness for fictional purposes, and informing both himself and us, the readers, of the secret facts of his pathology that his own father was unfortunately unable to provide to him. In his fiction, if not in his life, Lovecraft was able to assume the mask, and the role, of the father, and with none of the messy aftereffects of STDs, wives, or possession by an all-consuming and all-destroying sexuality.” (Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia, 86)

There is a bit of thematic resonance between “Night-Gaunts” itself and the other pieces of the collection, particularly “Sign of the Beast” and “Walking Wounded.” All of these stories have vivid characters with their subjectivities unravelled in engaging prose. The endings are sometimes like a song finishing on a suspended chord–you know where the story might go, and Oates allows you to do the work of taking it there.