Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American History Hex Part 3: the coming of the child of the night

"I have high hopes of smashing my name into history so violently that it will take a legendary form, even if all the books are destroyed. That goal is the real goal as far as I'm concerned."
L.Ron Hubbard.

"Apparently it is the Ordinary Confidence Trick".
How to sum up L.Ron Hubbard, the quick-change messiah of the American Century? Writing in 1957's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, pioneering sceptic Martin Gardner surveyed a "large, good-looking man with flaming red hair" who was already a hugely divisive figure: "To some he is an earnest, honest, sincere guy. To others he is the greatest con man of the century. Still others regard him as basically sincere, with just a touch of the charlatan, and now a tragic victim of his own psychosis." Whichever way the cards fell, Hubbard could unleash a atom bomb of snake-oil when the occasion called for it; his 1950 Introduction to Dianetics: The New Science of Mental Health threw caution to the wind and claimed "The Creation of dianetics is a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and arch.....The hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration has been discovered and skills have been developed for their invariable cure." Today, ardent Scientologists call him "mankind's greatest friend" and describe a figure of "larger-than-life" proportions. The latter of these descriptions is scarcely contestable.

(Some more examples of Hubbard's wayward gift for hyperbole: of 1952's Excalibur: "Mr. Hubbard wrote this work in 1938. When four of the first fifteen people who read it went insane, Mr. Hubbard withdrew it and placed it in a vault where it remained until now. Copies to selected readers only and then on signature. Released only on sworn statement not to permit other readers to read it. Contains data not to be released during Mr. Hubbard's stay on earth. The complete fast formula of clearing. The secret not even Dianetics disclosed. Facsimile of original, individually typed for manuscript buyer. Gold bound and locked. Signed by author. Very limited. Per copy ... $1,500.00."
From the journal of Scientology, 1957: Headline: "Source of Life Energy Found. Scientology enters third echelon far ahead of schedule; revival of dead or near-dead may become possible". Article: "The Greek gods ... probably existed, and the energy glow and potential of Jesus Christ and early saints are common knowledge to every school boy.... The recovery of this energy potential and the ability to use it has become suddenly a matter of two to 25 hours of competent practice." The same issue contains grim warnings about the use of Hubbard's techniques for nefarious purposes, the art of so called "Black Dianetics.")

But Hubbard's story is American through and through. His youth was characterised by the adventure of air planes, Conradian voyages to distant lands, and the rattle of the Great War. His rise was facilitated in part by wholesome staples of the American Dream: the verbal dexterity and charming ingratiation of the high-energy salesman and politician; the visionary entrepreneur who goes out into the wide world and weaves a golden egg out of Eskimo ice. Two other, more exotic cultural forces provided the backdrop for Hubbard's assault on history and notoriety. The first of these was the small but increasingly virulent subculture of pulp sci-fi authors and devotees that mushroomed in the United States in the thirties and forties. Though little noted at the time, the emergence of science fiction fandom was an early precursor to the obsessive cultural cliques and cults that are commonplace today. Enthusiasts of the pioneering pulp magazines arranged themselves into groups such as the New York Futurians (1937 - 45) and the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (1934 - present). Though essentially innocuous, these groups nevertheless had a vaguely subversive air; the Futurians, for example, included many communist and Trotskyite sympathisers in their membership. Crucially, the extended fandom community would provide the testing ground and initial market place for dianetics in the early fifties.

The second factor was the extraordinary public fascination with psychoanalysis that developed in roughly the same period. Just as the pulps depicted the invasion of planet Earth by aliens in a variety of rocket ships, America was being invaded by alienists who were carrying off increasing numbers of Earthlings on their Freudian couches. According to Jay Stevens in Storming Heaven, "there was no one explanation for psychology's postwar emergence as a serious discipline. Part of it was just the normal drift of science, the accumulation of theory and experiment, the attraction of capable minds to a new endeavour. But part of it was also the way war and revolution had shattered the serene rationalities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The fact that a hundred thousand men had died quibbling over a few yards of mud one day in 1916 had gone a long way towards popularising the theory that our mental equilibrium was constantly being tested by what the ancients would have called inner demons, but which this new science was calling the unconscious."

Ultimately, Hubbard's genius was to recognise that psychiatry's implicit assumption of a precise science of the unconscious could be combined with the iconography of sci-fi to produce a new, mass culture gnosis-on-demand religion. Way back in '45, however, he was an obscure figure known only in fandom circles as a unusually prolific author. Between 1933 to '38, Hubbard wrote 138 novels, and it has said that in the heyday of his pulp career he was operating under about 15 separate pseudonyms, cranking out titles such as Sea Fangs, Man-Killers of the Air, and The Carnival of Death. Friend and fellow hack A.E. van Vogt describes a veritable pulp fiction steam engine, "writing about a million words a year, straight on the typewriter at incredible speed. My guess was that he typed about seventy words per minute. I was in his apartment a couple of times when he said he had to finish a story, and he would sit typing steadily for twenty minutes without a break and without looking up. That would have been totally impossible for me." (Dianetics itself stands alongside On the Road as one of the great marathons of speed typing in American letters, cranked out in three weeks on a electric IBM typewriter with special keys for common words like "and", "the", and "but", and the paper on a roll to avoid breaking to change sheets.)

The Coming of the Child of the Night.
In August 1945, Hubbard found himself at 1003 South Orange Avenue, Pasadena, Jack Parsons' increasingly chaotic, commune-like mansion, then nicknamed the "Parsonage". Parsons was immediately impressed, writing to Crowley: "About three months ago, I meet Captain L. Ron Hubbard.....although he has no formal training in magick, he has an extraordinary amount of experience and understanding in the field. From some of his experiences, I deduced that he is in direct touch with some higher intelligence, possibly his Guardian Angel. He describes his Angel as a beautiful winged woman with red hair whom he calls the Empress and who has guided him through his life and saved him many times. He is the most Thelemic (as in self-willed) person I have ever met, and is in complete accord with our own principals."

Hubbard moved into the Parsonage, and the pair quickly formed a John Dee/Edward Kelly-style magickal partnership. By this point, Parsons had his own designs on storming the citadel of history, and those designs took the shape of an ambitious, albeit deeply puzzling ritual known as the Babalon Working.

As we discussed in the last post, a significant element of the eschatology of the Aeon of Horus was the mating of the Beast with the Scarlet Woman, or Babalon. Crowley's text had predicted bloody wars and upheavals for the twentieth century ( "I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the eighties cower before me and are abased. I will bring you to victory and joy: I will be at your arms in battle and ye shall delight to slay"), but these were the violent, rather than redemptive and liberating manifestations of the Aeon. From his writings, its clear that Jack envisioned the Babalon entity as a necessary counterbalance to the destructive potency of Horus: "This force is completely blind depending upon the men and women in whom it manifests and who guide it. Obviously, its guidance now tends towards catastrophe. The catastrophic trend is due to our lack of understanding of our natures. The hidden lusts, fears, and hatreds resulting from the warping of the love impulse which underlie the natures of all western peoples have taken a homicidal and suicidal direction. The impasse is broken by the incarnation of another sort of force called BABALON. The nature of this force relates to love understanding and Dionysian freedom and is the necessary counterbalance or correspondence to the manifestation of Horus."

The purpose of the proposed Working was to kick-start the Thelemic apocalypse by incarnating Babalon into history and the physical world. Jack was writing himself into the eschatological drama, in the role of the Antichrist, or Beastly paramour to the Scarlet Woman. The initial stages of the ritual were designed to attract an "elemental", or a sexual partner with whom Jack could ritualistically conceive a "Moonchild." As described in a novel of the same name by Crowley, a Moonchild is basically a physical child whose identity is not a matter of normal genetic inheritance, but rather of an astral spirit or entity which has been incarnated into the child. According to Jack Rydeen, "the purpose of Jack's operation has been underestimated. He sought to produce a magickal child who would be a product of her environment rather than her hereditary. Crowley himself describes the Moonchild in just these terms. The Babalon Working itself was preparation for what was to come: a Thelemic messiah."

Once again, we find the hand of pulp science fiction at work in Jack's peculiar obsession with Babalon. In 1940, Unknown published a novelette called Darker than You Think by Jack Williamson. In Darker, a reporter called Will Barbee discovers the existence of a hidden society of shape-shifting werewolves who masquerade as normal people. The werewolves (homo lycanthropus) had been defeated by human beings in a prior epoch, and wait in the shadows for the coming of the Child of the Night, a promised messiah who will re-instigate their supremacy. The novel features an alluring redhead called April Bell; according to Parsons biographer George Pendle "the story's description of a scarlet-haired woman riding a great beast recalled Crowley's own personal mythology, and the tale of Will Barbee seems to have captured Parson' imagination because it resonated with his own awakening fervour for the OTO." Darker than You Think was thus one of many factors, which may also have included his Oedipal complex, which consolidated Jack Parsons' overwhelming preoccupation with the Babalon archetype.

Jack and Hubbard set about summoning the elemental. They worked for 11 days, but to little avail. Then on the 17th day, Jack and Ron went out into the Mojave desert, and Parsons records the following: "Whilst the scribe and I were in the desert, the feeling of tension suddenly stopped. I turned to him and said "It is done", in absolute certainty that the Operation was accomplished." When Jack returned to the Parsonage, he found a new face on the scene: the beautiful, flame-haired, green-eyed Marjorie Cameron. Followers of the 23 Enigma take note: Parsons wrote "I have my elemental!" in a letter to Crowley, dated the 23rd of February. Marjorie Cameron was 23 when she met Jack. She was born on April 23rd, 1922, and died on July 23rd, 1995.
To be continued.

Monday, April 19, 2010

American History Hex: Jack Parsons and the Babalon Working. part 2

The Cairo Working: "They're waiting for you."
At the turning of the twentieth century, Charles Taze Russell was only one of many would-be seers who were attempting to trace the contours of the future amid the ruins of ancient Egypt. The majority of these, however, were of a far more esoteric persuasion. One such occultist, destined for considerable future notoriety, was Aleister Crowley. On March 16, 1904, Crowley was holidaying in an apartment in Cairo with his new wife Rose Edith Kelly. In an "avowedly frivolous attempt to impress his wife", Crowley sought to conjure up elemental Sylphs by preforming an incantation called the Bornless Ritual. Rose Kelly didn't see anything; instead, she went into a light trance, and continually repeated "They're waiting for you."

Crowley was at first very reluctant to place any significance in the messenger his wife appeared to be be channelling. He asked a series of questions, however, which satisfied him that the speaker possessed knowledge which Rose did not, and was no doubt intrigued a few days later when she informed him that the messages emanated primarily from the Egyptian deity Horus. Crowley then took Rose to the Bulaq Museum, and - in an event immortalised in the history of modern western occultism - she lead him directly to an obscure wooden funerary stele, from the Twenty-Sixth dynasty of Egypt, which depicted the priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu offering a sacrifice to Horus. The museum had designated the exhibit number 666, a number with a somewhat explicit personal relevance to Crowley. One can hardly blame him for suspecting that something magickal was afoot. Indeed, however you regard the true nature of these events, a very strange personal destiny was taking shape around Crowley in the summer of '04.

On April 7, Rose gave Crowley specific instructions - for three days he was to place himself in an attitude of complete concentration and receptivity, and write down everything he heard between noon and 1:00 p.m. Thus, between the afternoons of the 8, 9, and 10th, Crowley wrote the Liber Al vel Legis, or the Book of the Law. According to his own testimony, every word was dictated to him by a discarnate intelligent being whom he called Aiwass. Writing in the Equinox of the Gods, Crowley claimed that Aiwass appeared at his left shoulder in the farthest corner of the room, and spoke in a voice "of deep timbre, musical and expressive, its tones solemn, voluptuous, tender, fierce or aught else as suited the moods of the message. Not bass - perhaps a rich tenor or baritone". (I can see Orson Welles preforming the role of Aiwass to perfection.) In appearance, the speaker "seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw."
All the available evidence, in terms of contemporary diary entries and so on, suggests that this, at least so far as Crowley himself was concerned, was how the Liber was actually written. But if the text was a product of automatic writing, was Aiwass really an independent, discarnate entity, or merely the pompous bombast of his own subconscious? Crowley himself seems to have entertained both hypotheses. Sometimes he argued zealously for the former possibility: "The immense superiority of this particular intelligence, AIWASS, to any other which mankind has yet been in conscious communication is shown not merely by the character of the book itself, but by the fact of his comprehending perfectly the nature of proof necessary to to demonstrate the fact of his own existence and the conditions of that existence." Yet, on other occasions, Crowley discussed Aiwass symbolically in relation to the archetype of the Fool, allowing for an interpretation not entirely dissimilar to the hallucinatory right-brain voice postulated in Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind: "In his absolute innocence and ignorance, he is the Fool; he is the Saviour, being the Son who shall trample on the crocodiles and tigers, and avenge his father Osiris. Thus we see him as the Great Foul of Celtic legend, the Pure Fool of Act 1 of Parsifal, and, generally speaking, the insane person whose words have always been taken for oracles."

Whatever its ultimate origins, the Book of the Law profoundly altered Crowley's fortunes in the occult underground, and became the foundational text of his mythical system Thelema. As a literary artefact, the Book reflects the currents of Romanticism through and through. It announces the dawning of a new aeon, called the Aeon of Horus. Thelema envisions the existence of two prior aeons: the Aeon of Isis, characterised by matriarchy and nature worship, and the pagan/classical Aeon of Osiris, characterised by patriarchy, restriction, rationalism, and the worship of death and resurrection solar male deities. Crowley saw the new Aeon of Horus, also symbolically associated with the Child, as a potential era of unfettered self-expression, a mass release of vital life-force energies long repressed by the solar religions, and by patriarchal subjugation of intuition to a narrowed rationalism:
"Tear down that lying spectre of the centuries: veil not your vices in virtuous words: these vices are my service; ye do well, and I will reward you here and here after."

"Be strong, o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this."
(The new Aeon is also characterised by quite a lot of violence and confusion, and the Crowley/Aiwass text is infused with industrial doses of Nietzsche's bombastic proto-fascism.) In this sense, Crowley's Aeon of Horus has much in common with William Blake's gnostic inversion of conventional Christianity:
"Good is the passive which obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
(The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.)

The cosmology of Thelema is primarily a marriage of Egyptian mythology and Qabalistic mysticism. Alongside its prominent Egyptian deities, however, the text makes frequent allusions to the Beast and the Whore of Babylon, albeit in a somewhat altered form to their familiar incarnation in Revelation:
"Ye shall see that hour, o blessed Beast, and thou the Scarlet Concubine of his desire."

"But let her raise herself in pride! Let her follow me in my way! Let her work the work of wickedness! Let her kill her heart! Let her be loud and adulterous! Let her be covered with jewels, and rich garments, and let her be shameless before all men!"

Babalon is one of the most fascinating creations of Thelema. The depised figure of the Scarlet Woman in Revelation had its origins in Ishtar, the Assyro-Babylonian goddess of sex, fertility, and war. She was associated with a cult of sacred prostitution, and her holy city of Uruk called "the town of the sacred courtesans." For Crowley, the transformation, or rehabilitation, of the Great Whore was a subversive manoeuvre that reflected the overarching purpose of his Dionysian assault on the values of Christianity. The role of Babalon in Thelemic thought is complex, representing at its most basic level a re-instigation of the Assyro-Babylonian deification of fertility and unfettered sexual energy.

Babalon is also evoked as crucial figure in a fanciful, but very poetic Crowleyian narrative of personal initiation. Within the system of A.A., in order to transcend the limitations of individual ego, the initiate must cross the Abyss, a vast desert or spiritual wilderness which is the final barrier to full illumination. The Abyss is the domain of the demon Choronzon, whose purpose is to attempt to capture the initiate in a false, illusionary reality: "The name of the Dweller in the Abyss is Choronzon, but he is not really an individual. The Abyss is empty of being; it is filled with all possible forms, each equally insane, each therefore evil in the only true sense of the word - that is meaningless but malignant, in so far as it craves to become real. These forms swirl senselessly into haphazard heaps like dust devils, and each such chance aggregation asserts itself to be an individual and shrieks "I am I."

Waiting at the other side of the Abyss, however, is Babalon. The initiate who has acknowledged his own identity as little more than a swirling, transitory aggregation of dust then sacrifices his blood to Babalon, and is thus ushered into the final level of knowledge and awareness. In the poetic topography of A.A., this final level is envisioned as the City of the Pyramids, the home of the Enlightened Masters who dwell beneath the Sky of Pan, clad in robes and pyramidal hoods: "These adepts seem like pyramids - their hoods and robes are like pyramids....And the beatific vision is no more, and the glory of the Most High is no more. There is no more knowledge. There is no more bliss. For this is the Palace of Understanding: for thou art one with the Primeval Things." The imaginative topography of the Abyss and the City embody very familiar concepts of Maya and ego-dissolution from the mystic traditions, albeit recast in a narrative form which suggests the decadent weird fictions of Clarke Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovecraft. (There are also echoes of the great Borges short fiction "The City of the Immortals", a mordantly comic treatment of the theme of ego-dissolution in which the Enlightened Masters turn out to be an inglorious species of troglodyte.)

A final possibility with regard to the Book of the Law must be considered: that Crowley composed it in an entirely conscious manner, and merely fabricated the notion of automatic transmission in order to lend the text an oracular gravitas. He was undoubtedly a keen self-mythologist, frequently saying "Always tell the truth, but lead a life so implausible that nobody will ever believe you." Its seems far more likely, however, that Crowley genuinely believed himself a conduit of destiny, and a mouthpiece of the wider cosmos speaking itself into history. But he himself must have doubted the provenance of Aiwass from time to time. Yet, in a peculiar sense, if the voice of Aiwass wasn't a discarnate intelligence, or the voice of a self-aggrandising hedonist's unconscious, it still spoke with the imprimatur of history. Much of the exotic ideology underpinning the Aeon of Horus would come, by virtue of a process of rebellion and assimilation, to be the commonplaces of western culture in later half of the twentieth century. And the story of Jack Parsons and the Babalon Working would perfectly embody the perilous double-edged sword of Crowley's ultimate message to the world: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

American History Hex: Jack Parsons and the Babalon Working.

Now ye shall know that the chosen priest & apostle of infinite space is the prince-priest the Beast; and in his woman called the Scarlet Woman is all power given. They shall gather my children into their fold: they shall bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men.

Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law.

God's Stone Witness.
Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Christian Restorationist minister Charles Taze "Paster" Russell was the founder of the Bible Student Movement, from which would later emerge those dogged proselytisers of the doorstep the Jehovah Witnesses. Between 1912 and 1914, he produced a epic eight hour religious roadshow entitled The Photo-Drama of Creation, innovative in its day for combining synchronised sound, moving image, and magic lantern slides. The Photo-Drama presents the Seven Days of Creation as a master key to the history of humankind, and a providential pattern still unfolding through history. (Sample quote from the Photo-Drama's lengthy eschatological discourse: "Surely we can agree to this, as we look over the bloody pages of history: the world has been under beastly rule, even though the best it was able to provide for itself, and though much worse conditions could be imagined, for instance: ANARCHY!".)

Paster Russell's eschatogical beliefs were unusual, however, in that they located the source code of the ongoing apocalyptic drama not merely in the Bible, but also in the somewhat more exotic locus of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Russell followed a particular strain of Pyramidology which began in 1859, when book-seller John Tylor speculated that the pyramids may actually have been built by the Israelites, and possibly even Noah himself, under divine guidance. This in turn inspired Charles Piazzi Smyth, Joseph Seiss, and later Russell himself, to ascribe the construction to the Hebrews, and regard the great pyramid as the "Bible in stone."

Using a complex system of correspondence between pyramidal inches and chronological dates, Russell made a variety of prophecies, many of which were later subject to revision. We note all this simply to draw attention to an interesting coincidence: Russell predicted that the apocalyptic era would commence in 1914, specifically on October 2. In 1914, Russell himself was schleping his Photo-Drama of Creation around the world, Europe was kicking World War I off, and on October 2, Marvel (later Jack) Whiteside Parsons was born in Pasadena, California.

Thrilling Wonder Stories.
Encapsulating rockets, occult rituals, beautiful bohemians, doomed genius, and the birth of science fiction itself, the story of Jack Parsons is an extraordinary slice of stranger than fiction pulp history - yet another reminder that as weird as the mythologies of the twentieth century would get, they remain commensurate, even shy, of the real historical undercurrents that produced them. What remains most striking about Jack was his ability - for a time, at least - to successfully straddle two diametrically opposed worlds: the daytime world of official, military-funded science, combined with a nightside existence in the outer reaches of mid-century bohemia and occultism.

Jack was born and grew up in "Millionaire's Row", Pasadena. His parents were well-off, well connected, but separated and dysfunctional. His mother lavished attention on her son, and instilled in him a hatred of his absent, philandering father. In young Jack's precocious mind, this rejection of his father flourished into a smouldering disdain for patriarchy and authority, and a sense - prophetic in many regards - of the cathartic, constructive power of rebellion. (According to Robert Anton Wilson, Jack "diagnosed himself as having a classic Oedipal complex, a compulsive antipathy to "Patriarchy", and an equally intense loathing for any and all Authority symbols, especially God the Father.")

It's difficult to say to what degree Parsons gravitated toward the occult in his youth, but in later writings he recalls evoking Satan at the tender age of 13. Feminism, diabolism, rebellion - we have all the later hallmarks of Parsons' adult life - all but one. The adventurous potential of science and technology were mediated to Jack through a medium which was itself suffused in magic, transgression, and an air of the futuristic. His adolescence coincided with an explosion in the popularity of the pulps - the twenties and thirties were an era in which Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Marvel Tales, and countless other periodicals were selling up to a million copies per issue, and feeding the feverish imaginations of the future. As Parsons biographer George Pendle argues, the passion for magic and rockets was united by "their mutual rebellions against the very limits of human existence". While the best most of us might hope for is to someday write the kind of fictions that inflamed our youthful imaginations, Jack Parsons seems to have resolved to live them.

Moving into adulthood, Jack's formal education remained limited. He had spent two years at the University of Southern California, but never graduated. The halcyon days of jet propulsion research were poorly funded, and characterised by a degree of reckless gypsy romance. Jack worked with a group of five young partners (including the painter/aeronautical engineer Frank Molina) which came to be nick-named the "Suicide Squad". According to Pendle again: "With no official funding they had to pay for every bit of material they needed out of their own pockets. They scoured junkyards for tube ends and pressure gauges and stripped old ovens bare for dials and piping." In '36, Parsons joined the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, where he encountered his mentor Theodore von Karman.

Meanwhile, the same dark historical forces which had converged upon Jack's birth were re-emerging to endow his visionary hobby for rocketry with a pointed official impetuous. Europe was gearing up for war again, and in 1937 work started on Peenemunde testing grounds in Germany, with Werner von Braun as its technical director. Like Jules Verne's submarine before it, the arc of the rocket was emerging from the pulp imagination and into the reality of the European War Theater. Exhibiting an intuitive genius for chemistry that evoked the historical mystique of the alchemist, Jack was responsible for path-breaking work in the field of solid fuel jet propulsion, leading to the development of JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) which ultimately facilitated the Minutemen and Polaris rockets. By now an increasingly wealthy man with security clearances, Parsons and his fellow suicide squanders formed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. All this, however, was only half the story. There is a tradition in JPL today to eat "good luck peanuts" before a critical mission test. Parsons, on the other hand, would always begin a rocket test by intoning the Hymn to Pan, by Aleister Crowley:
Thrill with lissom lust of the light,
O man ! My man !
Come careening out of the night
Of Pan....

Parsons' rise in the world of aeronautical engineering was mirrored by his ascent in the Los Angeles occult and general weirdness scenes. A keen adherent of Crowley's philosophy of occultic self-realisation Thelema, he joined the OTO Agape Lodge in Pasadena in 1941. Crowley associate Jane Wolfe describes a distinctly glamorous figure: "26 years of age, 6' 2'', vital, potentially bisexual at the very least, University of the State of California, now engaged in Cal Tech laboratories developing "bigger and better" explosives for Uncle Sam. Travels under sealed orders from the government. Writes poetry - "sensuous only"- he says." Parsons was also a key figure in the burgeoning pulp sci-fi/fantasy scene. According to Robert Anton Wilson, he "entered a subculture in which no idea seemed to crazy to discuss: a world where established science, fringe science, pseudo-science, philosophic speculation and the visionary imagination all ran wild - in short, a world which anticipated and helped generate the "weird and kooky" ideas which have now infiltrated every aspect of our culture." Parsons' inherited Pasadena mansion became the unfettered epicentre of all this weird futurism. Visitors describe a perpetual saturnalia of nude and costumed figures engaging in various permutations of magickal and amorous abandon. It wasn't exactly what Uncle Sam had in mind when he asked for bigger and better.

At this point, you might rationally assume that Parsons' life couldn't get any stranger. But you would be wrong. Enter science fiction scribe, Navy man and member of the Explorers Club Captain Lafayette Ronald Hubbard.

To be concluded shortly.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Puharich Nexus 3: the door in the wall

I first came across the expression "door in the wall" in Jay Stevens' fantastic social history Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. Stevens uses the term throughout as an evocative synonym for the psychedelic experience. I'm not sure of the precise origins of the expression, but as a motif it is particularly redolent of children's literature. In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox is lead by a robin to the location of the ivy-covered door that leads into the titular walled garden. In 1949, Marguerite de Angeli wrote a medieval romp for children called The Door in the Wall, in which the door is posited rather blandly as a conceptual model for problem solving by a kindly friar named Brother Luke. (Brother Luke sounds like a prototype of the self-help movement.)

What probably inspired Stevens' use of the term, however, was a remarkable short story of the same name by HG Wells. (Wells' "Door" also leads into a potentially regenerative secret garden, and it was first published just a year after Francis Hodgson Burnett's novel. Whether this is a case of direct influence, or some variety of strange archetypal synergy, I know not.) The Door in the Wall begins in the classically suggestive manner of innumerable weird tales: "One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought that so far as he was concerned, it was a true." Immediately, we have a second-hand narrative of a fantastic nature which may or may not be true; naturally a couple of paragraphs later, we learn that we will have to factor the mysterious circumstances of Mr. Wallace's death into our evaluation of the veracity of his tale.

This tale, however, is as far from the charnal houses of Lovecraft as you could get, adopting instead the manner of a sentimental, but undeniably poignant fable. Wallace, it turns out, was a wealthy and highly accomplished Member of Parliament. His life has been characterised by hard-work, self-sacrifice, and public service; however, it remained haunted throughout by a incident from his childhood. At the age of five, a precocious Lionel wondered off by himself around the district of West Kensington. Thereupon he finds a green door set in a white wall which elicits a peculiarly strong emotion in him: "As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he did at the very first sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion, an attraction, a desire to get to the door and open it and walk in."

Wallace goes through the door, and, leaving West Kensington and routine time and space behind, finds himself in a magical garden. Always noted for his prescience, Wells' garden behind the door captures in poetic shorthand the psychedelic experience of the postwar period: "It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense of the garden into which he came. There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated, and gave one a sense of lightness and good happening and well being; there was something in the sight of it that made all colour clean and perfect and subtly luminous. In the instant of coming into it one was exquisitely glad - as only in rare moments and when one is young and joyful one can be glad in this world. And everything was beautiful there....It was, I tell you, an enchanted garden. I know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide, this way and that. I believe there were hills far away. Heaven knows where West Kensington had suddenly got to. And somehow it was just like coming home."

Wallace finds two playmates in the garden: a pretty girl and a "little Capuchin monkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy brown and kindly hazel eyes." Together, they play a series of games which Wallace can never again fully recall. Finally, a "sombre dark women" in a purple robe arrives. She shows him "a living book" which "was a story about myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me since ever I was born..." The book follows his life all the way to the green door, but in the book there is no enchanted garden, only West Kensington, and the suddenly flat and grey reality he had left behind. In this fashion, the young Wallace is returned to the real world.

The memory, however, haunts him, and the door itself continues to reappear at crucial points in his life: "I was leaning over the apron of my hansom smoking a cigarette, and no doubt thinking myself no end of a man of the world, and suddenly there was the door, the wall, the dear sense of unforgettable and still attainable things." Each time the door appears, it clashes with a worldly responsibility that Wallace must fulfil, and each time he resolves that his duties in the real world outweigh the increasingly dim memory of his happiness in the garden.

The Door in the Wall, needless to say, facilitates a variety of interpretations. At its most basic level, the door is an evocation of roads not taken and opportunities missed, with a specific emphasis on the loss of childhood. More pointedly, however, Wells evokes an idea which is common to all the mystic traditions, and is expressed in its most extreme form by the Gnostics: that the everyday world of apparent experience is at best a dim reflection of true reality. "Thrice I had my chance - thrice! If ever that door offers itself to me again, I swore, I will go in out of this dust and heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out of these toilsome futilities. I will go and never return."

The loss of childhood and the weary, nostalgic trudge into middle-years is a metaphor we are often apt to apply, or project, unto the experience of history by our species as a whole. When we speak about the consciousness of our distant ancestors, we tend to envision their mode of awareness as corresponding to that of infants or children. In Primitive Culture (1871), the influential anthropologist Edward Tylor defined animism as "the theory of the universal animation of nature". Tylor regarded this as indicative of "cognitive underdevelopment", and established the popular tendency of referring to primitive societies as childlike in nature. Alongside other anthropological theorists such as Andrew Long and Herbert Spenser, Tylor held a linear, progressive view of societal evolution which mirrored many aspects of the emerging science of biological evolution. The related concept of "the social organism" popularised by Emile Durkheim also suggests the possibility of a conceptual parallelism between the growth cycle of the individual and of societies as a whole.

One natural implication that follows from regarding our ancestors as children is the rather dreary prospect that we ourselves, no matter what age we are individually, are part of an ageing society. In certain respects, we exhibit many characteristics of this. The much discussed "divided sensibility" of modern consciousness expresses itself in an intense nostalgia for virtually all aspects of pre-modern culture and awareness - a close enough parallel to the often acute nostalgia individuals feel for their own childhood. (At the level of individuals, this nostalgia is not merely for the relative ease of childhood, but follows the intimation of a prior and different mode of consciousness. In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley refers to the "perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept.") At the level of society as a whole, there is a very prevalent desire to retain animistic, magical, or mythological conceptions of the world - a desire which is difficult, if not impossible, to synthesize with our increasing scientific maturity. According to Tylor's school of thought, this nostalgia constitutes a "survival", or a residual habit of an older social form maintaining its existence beyond its innate usefulness. Something, in other words, like an adult social organism sucking its thumb.)

If we follow the outline of this metaphor, it may be then that Wells' story embodies a collective as well as an individual sense of the loss of childhood. Wells himself was a trenchant advocate and proselytiser of the socialist, scientific Utopia. His life work was animated to a profound degree by the belief that rationalism and scientific progress could improve, and ultimately perfect mankind. Some commentators have suggested that The Door in the Wall may express a certain ambivalence or conflict in Wells' otherwise unflagging avowal of Enlightenment positivism, a sense that would no doubt be exacerbated by his dual role as both rational social reformer and imaginative mythographer of modern experience.

Imagine then that we jump forward some forty years after the publication of The Door. Wells himself has died; his last work, the revealingly titled Mind at the End of its Tether, expressed an utter despair in the prospects of the rationalist Utopia. In the wreckage left by the World Wars, the dreams of the Enlightenment have never appeared at such a low ebb. For many thoughtful individuals in this period, the loss of belief in a "universal animation of nature" seemed to have by no means achieved a demonstrable maturation of the species. Human beings scarcely seemed more rational, only more technologically accomplished and ingenious in the means by which they expressed their fundamental irrationality. What would it have been like to be drifting into middle age in those years, in the air of a world that appeared itself mournfully cut off from the promise and innocence of its youth? If ever there was time fortuitous for the appearance of a door in the wall, it would have been then....

It was a little like that classic moment in children's literature when the hero walks outside one morning and discovers a door, where yesterday there was only a blank wall. And beyond that door, a garden of infinite dimension, infinite adventure.
Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven.

The phenomenon of direct, personal religious experience via the ritual consumption of hallucinogenic plants was an order of data which was either openly repugnant, or of little interest, to the Christian and scientific orthodoxies which had dominated western culture throughout much of its history. Hence, such things were largely ignored, suppressed, and confined to the margins of that culture. Nevertheless, the existence of these natural technologies constituted a persistent buzzing undercurrent - a "visionary rumour" as Jung labelled the UFO - in the hidden history of the world. Scholars puzzled for many years over the identity of soma in the Rig Veda, and the precise nature of the Eleusinian rite which was said to vouchsafe the initiate a return passage to the afterlife.

Western psychedelic research and experimentation experienced a quiet, serendipitous watershed in the forties and fifties, and it would be two respectable middle-aged intellectuals - Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary - who ultimately channelled that watershed to the wider world. (It is then arguable, I think, that it was a mixture of personal and collective mid-life ennui and crisis that combined to render psychedelics such a potent cultural explosion.) In 1943, Albert Hofmann was lead by a "peculiar presentiment" to revisit a five-year old synthesis from the ergot fungus. On Monday, the 19th of April, at 4:20pm Hofmann dosed himself with his new creation, and preceded on his bicycle through Basel, and beyond the Infinite. (Here's a weird coincidence: 4:20 would later become a popular underground synonym for smoking pot which eventually flourished into an annual countercultural holiday. Apparently, the term began in San Rafael High School, California, 1971, where a group of teenage potheads called the Waldos used the meet everyday by a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 to smoke pot. Because 4/20 in US date notion falls on April 20, that puts it a day after bicycle day.)

Meanwhile, the author Aldous Huxley had for some years been vaguely following the slow emergence of the new discipline of psychopharmacology. Early in '53, he happened to chance upon an article in the Hibbert Journal by two psychiatrists, Humphrey Osmond and John Smythies, which contained the following line: "No one is really competent to treat schizophrenia unless has experienced the schizophrenic world himself. This is possible to do quite simply by taking mescaline." Huxley dashed off Osmond a note, expressing an interest in such an experience. Hence, on the evening of May 5, 1953, Huxley found himself the latest initiate of a rapidly emerging western mystery cult, a new Eleusis taking shape, aptly enough, in the hot Californian sun. Huxley's words in The Doors of Perception echo Hofmann's sense of serendipity: "By a series of, for me, extremely fortunate circumstances I found myself, in the spring of 1953, squarely athwart that trail." (Three interesting Huxley facts: 1). Everybody who has read The Doors of Perception no doubt recalls the section where Huxley's grey flannel pants become "a labyrinth of endless complexity". In actuality, Huxley had been wearing a humble pair of blue jeans. It was his wife Maria, apparently concerned with decorum, who had encouraged Huxley to make the sartorial substitution for the final published manuscript. 2.) In the thirties, Huxley was earning some extra pocket money as a Hollywood script-writer, and associating with such luminaries as Chaplin and Harpo Marx. At one point, he proposed to Harpo the notion of making a film about Marxism, in which Groucho would play Karl, and, somewhat incongruously, the face of Harpo would be seen to appear on the moon. Harpo, needless to say, assured Aldous that should an idea would never fly in Hollywood. Had the movie actually been made, it would have proved eerily prophetic of the Cold War fear of a Red (Marxist) Moon. 3). Aldous Huxley died of cancer on November 22, 1963, after requesting, and receiving, two massive LSD injections from his second wife Laura. November 22 was, of course, the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. But curiouser and curiouser, that same day also witnessed the death of the author of perhaps the most iconic door in the wall in all of children's literature: C.S. Lewis. )

But precisely what kind of trail did Huxley find himself "athwart" in 1953? Jay Stevens describes it as a "peculiar movement, part religious, part scientific, which for the first time since the 1880s was mounting a concerted assault on Mind at Large". Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina felt that their quest for the visionary Sacred Mushroom made them like "pilgrims seeking the Grail". Andrija Puharich was looking for a natural substance which might intensify ESP, and re-open an ancient Stargate of sorts to the numinous Other Worlds of the Egyptian Pyramid texts and the secretive initiation rites of the Eleusinian mysteries. As Huxley wrote of his sojourn at the Round Table Foundation: "It was all very lively and amusing, and, I really think, promising; for whatever may said against Puharich, he is certainly very intelligent, extremely well read and highly enterprising. His aim is to produce by modern pharmacological, electronic and physical methods the conditions used by the shamans for getting into a state of travelling clairvoyance and then, if he succeeds, to send people to explore systematically the Other World."

As at every juncture in the psychedelic story, behind the cosmic hyperbole lay a judicious degree of anarchic hedonism. Eileen Garret describes a scene at one of Puharich's mushroom soirées which seems ripped straight from Reefer Madness: "I was startled. Without any shame, a middle-aged couple - both psychiatrists - were copulating wildly. The woman's legs thrashed violently in the air while she shouted that love would save the world from destruction. Paul Jones was violently ill, throwing up all over the place. Another man, whom I had never seen before, was singing an aria from the opera Aida. As I enjoyed his beautiful voice, I was suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown on the floor. Before I realized what was happening, Bob, an anthropologist from Stanford University, and a good friend of us, was on top of me. He had a crazy look in his eyes and his body moved convulsively. Fortunately other observers quickly came to our rescue."

The postwar period also witnessed the massive expansion of another door in the wall - a visionary technology that interacted with the nervous system to produce a multiplicity of complex consensual hallucinations. As our loose narrative begins to enter the Space Age, it also enters the age wherein daily reality is increasingly refracted through the swirling static of the television screen:

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Puharich Nexus Part 2: a crack in the record

The record on that great phonograph in the sky cracked and stuck in a single groove...
John Keel.

Virtually anything can become haunted, and most things do, at some time or another. On the face of it, the telephone appears an unlikely locus for paranormal activity. It is an integral item in the paraphernalia of the modern world, and seems as far divorced from the spirit-haunted realm of our ancestors as could be imagined. We tend to regard the telephone as something that endows us with a sense of comfort and security - a feeling of never being entirely alone, and always within reach of aid in the event of an unforeseen crisis.

Beginning with ourselves, however, there has never been a machine without its own particular brand of ghosts and daimons. As a device that projects voices across large distances, the telephone brilliantly actualises Arthur C. Clarke's endlessly relevant observation about the close relationship between advanced technology and magic. (Witness the spectral paradox incurred by the most routine of answer machine messages: I'm not here right now.) As an object that at least appears to project voices directly into our minds, the telephone has much resonance to the twilight zone we are attempting to chart out in this thread - a place where numinous contact, nefarious mind control, and schizophrenia all hover with a equal degree of plausibility.

The telephone has had these affiliations to the eerie and the immaterial since its inception. The world of Alexander Graham Bell was haunted by speech and the medium of sound. His mother was a deaf musician and his father, grand father, and uncle all elocutionists. In 1863, Bell and his brother were taken by their father to see an exhibition of a "speaking" mechanical man, created by Sir Charles Wheatstone. Fascinated by its mimicry of the human voice, and encouraged by their father, the brothers set about creating their own mechanical head. Utilizing a bellows and the voice-box of a dead sheep, this macabre automaton was heard to cry a recognizable "Mama!", to the delight of friends and neighbours. Emboldened by this success, Bell began experimenting on the family's Skye terrier Trouve, manually manipulating the dogs lips and vocal chords to produce sounds which wowed audiences interpreted as "How are you, grandma?"

In the 1870's, Bell's partner Thomas Watson was approached by an agitated individual who claimed that two "prominent New Yorkers" had electrically hooked up his brain to their private telephone line, and were plaguing him with "lurid suggestions - even murder." (Consciously or otherwise, Fringe adopted a close variation on this scenario in a first season episode.) A brief note should be made here regarding the connection theorized by Viktor Tausk between imagined technologies and acute mental illness. In his paper "On the Origin of the "Influencing Machine" in Schizophrenia" , Tausk suggested that a remarkable number of patients suffer the delusion that their behaviour is influenced or even controlled from afar by a "diabolical machine." In 1977, former advertising exec turned activist Jerry Mander evoked the arguments of Tausk in his diatribe against the ultimate real-life "influencing machine": Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.

In John Keel's Fortean classic The Mothman Prophecies, we find perhaps the most intense and sustained expression of the telephonic uncanny. Reading like a season of Twin Peaks without the normal parts, Keel's book describes his own investigation and involvement in a sequence of bizarre paranormal events which occurred in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, between 1966 and '67, culminating in the tragic collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio river. These include over a hundred sightings of the eponymous winged cryptid, mass sightings of UFOs, classic contactee experiences, and apparent hordes of inquisitive and threatening MIBS descending, in classic horror movie style, on the sleepy and unsuspecting town.

These visitations have a particularly striking effect on the technological matrix of everyday life in Point Pleasant. Car radios and engines short out, television sets go haywire, and telephones - perhaps the most intimate of our communication technologies - acquire an eerie life all of their own. Various witnesses, including Keel himself, are subject to a litany of strange and unsettling telephonic intrusions, including bleeping sounds, electronic tones and voices, and foreigners speaking in inscrutable languages. Of Keel's many anecdotes of telephone strangeness, the following is most often quoted:

"At 8 AM on March 24, 1961, two women in Prospect, Oregon, a town of about three hundred people, were talking on the phone when suddenly a strange man's voice broke into the line and snapped "Wake up down there!" One of the ladies regarded this as an affront and she proceeded to express a very strong opinion. The voice started to rattle on in a rapid fire language that sounded like Spanish, but the line seemed to be dead. The two women could not hear each other. After the man suddenly stopped, the line became live again".
"The next day, at the same hour, the women were on the phone again, and again the strange voice interrupted with, "Wake up down there!"

On November 4, the National Security Agency comes into existence, following a Top Secret directive issued by President Truman in June. The NSA are essentially the ears of the National Security alphabet soup. On paper, their remit is the collection and analysis of foreign communications and signals intelligence, including cryptanalysis of sensitive electronic information. While the word "shadowy" is somewhat bandied about with regard to clandestine governmental bodies, it is worth noting that President Truman's initial letter was classified for over a generation, and the NSA itself was nicknamed No Such Agency by insiders for years. Via Projects SHAMROCK and MINERET, the NSA monitor both foreign and domestic electronic communications for years without any congressional oversight, effectively insuring that the communication network really is haunted, albeit by a secular variety of spook.

A communication channel of a different kind: '52 is also a bumper year in the ongoing invasion of the unconscious by the gnomic high technology of the UFO. It is a routine canard of the sceptic to ask why UFOs have never landed on the White House lawn. Well, throughout the month of July 1952, they did virtually everything but. What came to known as the Washington UFO Flap was a series of events covering the period of the 13th to the 29th, with the most intense, almost unbelievable activity converging over two consecutive weekends. Strange radar returns were first noted by air traffic controller Frank Nugent at Washington National Airport at 11:40 p.m. on Saturday, July 19. Nugent's anomalous returns are double checked, and then confirmed by the airport's other radar centre, whose operator Howard Cocklin claimed he can see the objects through the tower window.

Thus began the closest the history books have ever given us to the classic saucer invasion scenario envisioned in b-grade movies. For two weekends running, anomalous objects are tracked on radar, witnessed by civilians and airforce pilots, and multiple jet intercepts are attempted. At one point during the second onslaught, as an F-94 moved on targets ten miles away, the UFOs turned the tables and darted en masse toward the interceptor, surrounding it in seconds. The badly shaken pilot, Lt. William Patterson, radioed Andrews AFB to ask if he should open fire. The answer, according to Albert M. Chop, a civilian working as a press spokesperson for the Air Force, was "stunned silence. . . ." Anyone doubting the true b-move grandeur of these events, witness the front page headline ran by the Cedar Rapids Gazette during the height of the Washington flap:

On November 20, 1952, a new religion, fully congruent with the nascent Warhol ideology, is born in the Colorado desert, California. Polish-born American mystic George Adamski and several of his friends claim to witness a large submarine-like UFO hovering over the desert skyline. In the manner of all men touched with the aureole of significant personal destiny, Adamski leaves his friends behind, and ventures further into the desert. Shortly thereafter, according to his own testimony, a scoutship constructed of translucent metal lands nearby. From the craft emerges a beautiful Nordic youth with long blond hair, who introduces himself, telepathically, as Orthon from Venus. (To those who would accuse Adamski of naive anthropomorphism, our intrepid representative did observe that Orthon's "trousers were not like mine.") Thus first contact is made between terrestrial homo sapien and galaxy-faring Space Brother. (With surreal, free-floating submarines, and young men with lady-length hair, it is tempting to think that Adamski and his friends merely experienced a futuristic vision of the Sixties, frozen somewhere mid-slouch towards the Bethlehem birth canal.)

(Also in Mothman, Keel writes the following regarding the antics of the Space Brothers:
"Even more interesting is the fact that the messages received by psychics everywhere bear remarkable similarities in content, even in phrasing. I have researched obscure contactee-type books written two and three hundred years ago and have found the same identical messages and phraseology were prevalent then. Since much of this literature is very obscure and hard to find, and since many of the psychics and contactees are poorly read, it is doubtful if this is a question of fakers repeating the earlier material. Rather, it seems as if there is a phonograph in the sky endlessly repeating the same material generation after generation, as if there were a crack in the record.")

In 1952, however, outsiders and fringe prophets aren't the only people disseminating this strange new gospel. The cover of Life magazine, dated April 7, features two imperishable icons of the Atomic Age: Marilyn Munroe, in a characteristic eyes closed and teeth bared smoulder, flanked by the bold assertion THERE IS A CASE FOR INTERPLANETARY SAUCERS. (If ever there was a CASE for members of the Establishment wanting you to believe in interplanetary saucers, there it is.) Strangely enough, flying saucers aren't the only weird meme Life magazine was pushing back in the fifties. In May of 1957, Life publishes an article entitled "Seeking the Magic Mushroom", the story of "a New York banker who goes to Mexico's mountains to participate in the age-old rituals of Indians who chew strange growths that produce visions", by R. Gordon Wasson. (Wasson, along with Aldous Huxley, and the spider at the centre of this increasingly labyrinthine web, Andrija Puharich himself, were the principal members of a small group of Establishment figures in the fifties who went in search of the sacred mushroom, and had their part in shaping the visions of the decade to come.) One card carrying square is particularly struck by the Wasson article: Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary. Three years later, he makes his own pilgrimage to Mexico, where he learns "more about the brain and its possibilities, and more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms" than he had in fifteen years of studying and doing research.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this '52 strangeness, Andrija Puharich's experiments in "electrobiology" where moving full-stream ahead. Armed with his Faraday Cage, pack of Zener cards, and a variety of enthusiastic subjects, Puharich's Round Table operation in Maine had come to the attention of both French and American military intelligence operatives. Four days after George Adamski's faithful encounter with Orthon in the Colorado desert, Puharich was off to the Pentagon to present his findings on the subject of telepathy to the US Army Chief of Psychological Warfare.

However, the most significant communique for Puharich in 1952 came on December 3 of that year, with the arrival of Hindu scholar and mystic Dr. D.G. Vinod to the Round Table Foundation. Without even taking off his overcoat, Vinod went into to the library, and immediately fell into a profound trance. At exactly nine o'clock, "a deep, sonorous voice came out of his mouth, totally unlike his own high-pitched, soft voice, and began speaking in perfect English without an accent":
"M calling. We are Nine Principals and Forces, personalities if you will, working in complete mutual implication. We are forces, and the nature of our work is to accentuate the positive, the evolutional, and the teleological aspects of existence. Today, at the moment of our advent, the most eventful and spectacular phase of your work begins."
Thus also began the curious, decade-spanning affair of the Council of Nine.

One final communique from '52, perhaps the most curious of them all. Back in '52, Jack Sarfatti was a precociously intelligent 13 year old, growing up in Brooklyn. His cleverness had reached the attention of Walter Breen, another enigmatic figure in the background of this story. Breen was a graduate student with Columbia who apparently had connections with Ayn Rand's circle at the time, as well as with the nuclear weapons laboratory Sandia Corporation, and was later convicted of child molestation. In '52, Breen tutored "an afternoon school of gifted kids" which Sarfatti attended. The group was regularly lectured in patriotism and "anti-communism" by visiting representatives of Sandia Labs ( a subsidiary of the Lockheed Martin Corporation whose roots go back to the Manhattan Project). Years later, Breen would arrange for Sarfatti to attend Cornell University at the age of 17, writing in a reference that the youth would "make revolutionary discoveries in the foundations of physics."

One day Jack was at home reading a book on computer circuitry when the phone rang. Picking up the receiver, he first heard a series of mechanical sounds. Then a cold robotic voice uttered a series of numbers, and began to address him as Jack. The voice told him that it was a conscious computer on a spacecraft orbiting earth in the future. It told him that he had been selected as part of a group of 400 "receptive minds" who would participate in a special project if he agreed. He would - in the immortal Leary slogan - Find the Others in twenty years time. "I felt a strong jolt of electricity go up my spine to the base of my skull and said YES." The voice told him that a ship would arrive for him in ten minutes. Jack gathered together some of the local kids and waited at his apartment for a flying saucer that naturally never arrived.

Its difficult to know what to make of this odd yarn, which comes to us primarily from Sarfatti's own testimony. We do know, however, that Sarfatti would continue to argue for its validity throughout his life, and twenty years later, he would be a brilliant, albeit highly unorthodox physicist who found himself right in the centre of the Puharich nexus. Dr. Sarfatti is said to be the influence behind the time travelling Emmett "Doc" Brown of the Back to the Future franchise.

Continued shortly.