The insistence on “Law” in The Kybalion, the book’s privileging of “Ego” and “Mastery,” its claim that “Chance is but a name for Law not recognized” (171): all of this suggests that the book is both more and less than it seems. The Three Initiates dedicated the book to Hermes Trismegistus, after all; and Hermes, of course, was known to be something of a trickster. I appreciate the book’s evocation of an ancient, secret doctrine. I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the answers I seek lie hidden from plain sight, awaiting my readiness to receive them. But most of what the book offers — from its defense of “the strong” to its claims regarding the origins of its teachings — seems flawed and suspect: expressions of the prejudices of the man thought to be its author, a Chicago-based occultist from the turn of the last century named William Walker Atkinson. Yet this is precisely how the Hermes archetype tends to operate, using thievery and deception to transmit messages between worlds.
Laid out on a futon on a screened-in porch at my sister-in-law’s house in upstate New York, I sip a Belgian-style wit brewed locally with hints of lavender, children’s voices rising up from the park across the street. Origami birds hung with wire circle and converse beside a Japanese maple. My favorite moments are ones like these when, through modest experiments with sense and awareness, I’m able to reach out and investigate my surroundings. The books I’ve been reading these past few days all seem connected in accordance with what the Three Initiates refer to as “the Principle of Correspondence.” Brian C. Short’s New People of the Flat Earth, The Kybalion, even the movie Back to the Future, which my nephews watched for the first time last night: all of these works seem to resonate when properly aligned. The same can be said of these origami birds hanging by the window, their forked tails and black-and-white plumage resembling those of the frigatebirds I noticed last night flying in the sky above my sister’s back yard. The question now is: how might I utilize this principle in service of the good?
Life in transit, dragging bags through Heathrow, preparing to board a seven-hour return flight to the States, communication necessarily a bit spotty. A man I met at the Psychedelic Society event last night — a hypnotherapist, to be precise — shared with me an account of an experience of his oddly similar to my own. For both of us, ordinary acts of pot-smoking birthed year-long bouts of manic scribbling — mysterious inner voices possessing us with an urge to write. The man spent several years after his experience editing the resulting material into a series of books that he went on to publish with Psychedelic Press. I return to the States knowing at the very least, then, that there are others like me: “New People of the Flat Earth,” like the characters in Brian C. Short’s peculiar novel of that name, a book I’ve been reading here on the flight, certain passages glimmering up at me from the page like features of a lucid dream. I check the Skymap on the screen attached to the seat in front of me, only to find written on the next page, “if I were something, it was a body in motion, a distant, dusty-blue spot…as seen perhaps from high above, tracing the bland potential of a straight line from one side of a map to another, making the real things now unreal, simultaneously giving shapes to other things that previously had none” (Short 210).
The Eden narrative holds some sort of terrible power over me, infecting my thinking, filling me with needless dread. I sometimes feel as though I’ve successfully extracted myself from it, carving off some space outside it from which to operate — but the perimeter it draws around consciousness always reasserts itself as all-encompassing. It’s the ultimate metanarrative, language pressed into the shape of an imprisoning imperial enclosure, hailing everyone and everything as its subject. Weird, then, that this story that so cruelly sentences the children of the first humans should also be one that posits the existence of “free will.” I imagine Eric Wargo’s book Time Loops will help me think through, around, or beyond some of these issues. Wargo’s ideas about retrocausation and precognition bubbled up out of the cauldron of weirdness at last night’s wonderful Strange Attractor event at The Horse Hospital, where Erik Davis delivered a talk to promote his new book High Weirdness, with assists by Roger Luckhurst and Daisy Eris Campbell. Daisy mentioned an interesting discovery at CERN where scientists developing narrative frames for data coming out of experiments at the center found that the frames imposed on the data retroactively changed the data. This causes me to wonder: how stable are these trance-scripts? Backing away from the lip of that rabbit hole, I hop on a bus and visit the William Morris Gallery up in Walthamstow, near the edges of Epping Forest. An old woman boards the bus carrying a bag of groceries. Printed on the side of her tote are the words, “I’M AN OLD BAG FROM SUSSEX.”
Breakfast at a café near the Farringdon Station, an egg sandwich with fatty bacon and cheese on a panini. Trudging through Jason Louv’s deeply uneven John Dee and the Empire of Angels, I find myself wondering whether Enochian magic isn’t just a viper’s nest full of power-tripping Christofascists. Before I become too entrenched in this opinion, though, my flatmates intervene, commandeering my person for a group trip to the Kathy Acker exhibition at the ICA.
After an out-of-this-world dinner of Chicken Tikka and Awadhi Lamb Biryani at Dishoom Shoreditch (a meal paid for by a friend whose wish is that we live deliciously here in London), I return to my room and experience a weird visitation of mixed import — a tantric transmission that leads me out on a journey to the Atlantis Bookshop and Treadwell’s, in search of what: clues? hints? answers? I note down signs witnessed along the way: “Planet Logistics,” “Everything Must Go,” a Men in Black poster with the tagline, “The World’s Not Going to Save Itself.” Is this a call to heroism, a siren awakening moviegoers to action? Or is the messiah always elsewhere — external, superhuman — shadow-government guardian angel dressed (depending on religious dispensation) either in white or black?
Having finished Sword of Wisdom, I spend the first part of my sixth day at the British Library dipping into Jeff Nuttall’s Pig, a book written in the afterglow of Ulysses and Naked Lunch. This being a research junket, though, there’s only so much a’ that one can take, so I shift gears and thumb through another of Nuttall’s books, a hippie manifesto of sorts called Bomb Culture. At the end of the book’s preface, Nuttall writes, “What can be said in words about how the vat was brought to the boil I hope to have put down in the following pages” (Bomb Culture, p. 10). Nuttall’s book antedates Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style by a decade, feels more directly immersed in and connected with the hip counterculture than the latter, and says all that the latter says, only with knife-sharp clarity and glamour galore.