Time to read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a work that seems to conjure in its poetic preface the Fates, the Weird sisters, and the Faerie Queene all at once. Carroll is like Odysseus surrendering to the Sirens, the kubernetes granting control of his oars to Gloriana or Titania, who steer the “merry crew” happily toward home. The story begins, of course, with the Fall — the tumble down the bardo-like in-between of the rabbit-hole replacing the far more tragic one imagined by Carroll’s high-minded religious precursors. What happens when the story of the married couple who disobeyed the Father gives way to the one about the girl who wanders off from her sisters in pursuit of a time-worried rabbit? Weird stuff, folks! Who is Carroll, after all? Why should he be the one telling the girl’s story? (And with so many patronizing narrative intrusions, no less!) Is Alice in Wonderland a shamanic journey of symbolic death and rebirth disguised as a children’s narrative? Trippy stuff, indeed. The book’s second chapter, “The Pool of Tears,” retells the story of the Flood, with Alice of course as Noah, arriving to shore with a bunch of animals by chapter’s end. The pleasure of Carroll’s tale, though, comes mainly from the fact that once Alice wanders off into the land of Maya, she discovers keys and teachers that, by way of many wondrous detours, eventually guide her home again.
My morning reading practice leads me to reflect upon terma, various forms of hidden teachings or “treasure texts” key to Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism. According to these traditions, certain forms of knowledge can be and have been hidden away by esoteric means. The idea, however, is that these occulted bodies of knowledge don’t simply disappear from history in any permanent sense. Think of them, rather, as texts temporarily buried from view, locked away in underground vaults or the depths of some sort of transhistorical collective unconscious, so as to be rediscovered at auspicious times by future generations of adepts known as “tertöns.” According to scholars, there are at least two kinds of terma: earth-treasures and mind-treasures. Earth-treasures manifest externally as texts, images, ritual instruments, and medicines, whereas mind-treasures appear (or “undergo deconcealment”) directly within the mind of the adept, as in mindstream transmission from a guru to a practitioner.
Wise ones suggest that messages from beyond, furtive communications from a higher consciousness, are to be gleaned from their point of entry amid the trash strata of capitalist-realist everyday life. To perform this gleaning of meaning, we peer into the apparently random assemblages of this strata (in my case, the blue bins of a nearby Goodwill outlet, the blue skies of my locality), peering bemusedly at emergent patterns, teacherly anomalies, portals into novel domains. This is where Cosmos and Psyche manifest as acts of love. Today, for instance, the bins supply me with Pookah, a self-titled LP by a psychedelic, early prog group from 1969, as well as the debut LP by The Firesign Theater from two years prior. Weird stuff, for sure — some of it quite trippy, like Pookah’s “In a Field.” It’s also a bit scary at times — so when a bird arrives outside my window, I go out and follow it, a path disclosing itself as I walk. Before long, however, the path loops back and leads home again, where Sarah joins the quest. The two of us share reports of life’s bounty as we pass a garden hosting swallowtails and enormous drunken bumblebees, one of the latter conjuring in my mind a cartoon-rendered hippie van or microbus, a yellow one resembling the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo, bopping along, rubbery wheels bulging as it buzzes by.
Among the patterns swirled into the stucco ceiling of my office appears the face of a small terrier — happy, excited to be here. In it I sense a correspondence. A cat has also taken to visiting Sarah and I on our back deck, a grey one with black stripes, dozing in a chair midday. Butterflies have come to visit as well — beautiful swallowtails, and out on the sidewalk, a “red-spotted purple” with blue stripes and orange dots on its wings. A white plastic tape dispenser on top of my file cabinet resembles a white whale. The world appears blessed with a multitude of entities and beings. And much the same is true here in the home. Sarah and I are expecting a daughter. From the two of us has come a third. Thus begins our life together as a family. With great respect and reverence, ears attuned to our many co-creating friends and neighbors, we set out on our way.
Neighborhood cats greet me as I pull up in front of my home upon my return from Des Moines. We exchange hellos, after which point the cats go back to lounging on their sides. Settling onto a couch, bags only partly unpacked, I begin to think again about these trance-scripts. The best I can say about their origins and effects, I tell myself, is that through them I seem to be speaking to myself across time. And yet, in saying that, I find myself immediately wanting to add, I don’t just mean I write so as to be read by myself in the future. That much is obvious. What I mean, rather, is that some future version of myself is the one seeding these trance-scripts, communicating backwards, bootstrapping itself into being. I grant the paradoxical, seemingly impossible nature of that claim — but paradox or not, it remains to my mind the hypothesis that comes nearest to truth, and that thus best approximates my condition.
Morning meditation on a friend’s screened front porch eases me into a relaxed day in Des Moines. Tufts of prairie grass bend with the breeze as I read about “Holacracy-powered organizations” and muse about the future. Thoughts sour a bit as I scratch and sniff a scam. But these are small things, minor perturbations, and before long, word arrives of Divine Rascal, a new biography about Michael Hollingshead available for pre-order from MIT / Strange Attractor Press. Entities move about around and behind me, opening and closing doors. Let us call them “neighbors,” a term generous enough to include many orders of being.
Reading High Weirdness is a bit like reading Dante’s Inferno. Davis performs admirably as the book’s Virgil, poking around amid radioactive embers while touring readers through the literary remains of various occult ground zeroes and psychedelic Superfund sites of the 1970s. Like the weird fictions it analyzes, the book activates one’s internal Geiger counter. Readers are warned at the outset to proceed with caution — and rightly so, as what follows provides cause for both awe and dread. I can think of no other book that resonates so readily with the opportunities and perplexities of our moment.