Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hauntology Rising Part 1: Ghost Box Music.

Established in 2004 by Julian House and Jim Jupp, Ghost Box Music is an independent record label with a uniquely cohesive vision and mission: to celebrate a glorious legacy of weird British culture from the 60's and 70's, and to create new musical forms, and a distinct cultural aesthetic, from the lingering ghosts of childhood memory. With a small roster of closely related artists, including the Advisory Circle, the Belbury Poly, and the Focus Group, the label specialises in atmospheric electronic music that is steeped in a half-remembered fog of surreal children's TV shows, cosmic horror and sci-fi paper-backs, library music, novelty synthesiser records, and stunningly off-kilter Public Information films. Particularly important to the label's aesthetic is the notion - arguably also the main conceit of The Twilight Zone - that the most mundane, ordinary, seemingly safe environment can suddenly intersect with strange other dimensions. Founder Jim Jupp cites British science fiction and catastrophe author John Wyndham:

“Part of a theme that’s ongoing in all the Belbury Poly records, and I think all of the Ghost Box records, is a tradition of British science fiction, where you’ve got on the one hand the setting of a very traditional background, with very ancient things, but you’ve got this weird, cosmic stuff happening [at the same time]. A lot of old British sci-fi books – John Wyndham, for instance – have these really mundane, quaint little village settings, but all of a sudden something really freaky and cosmic appears in the middle of it.”

The cosy and quotidian tinged with a strange and potentially threatening undertow - this incongruous but perennially satisfying mixture lies at the heart of the Ghost Box sensibility. In the logic of the world they have crafted from memory, quaint British villages are subject to abrupt Lovecraftian infestation; paternal safety warning are delivered with an edge of menace worthy of the Daleks; and children's afternoon adventure serials have weird psychedelic overtones. All of these elements were present and correct to some degree in seventies British culture; Ghost Box's music and design sensibility attempts to imbue these eerie cultural artefacts with all the numinous power they possessed for the children of that generation.

The ghost box itself was one of many DIY interfaces that have emerged between the worlds of technology and spiritualism. Invented by amateur radio enthusiast Frank Sumption, it was essentially a radio receiver/recording device which was designed to scan the static ether for voices from beyond the grave. (Popular legend has it that Thomas Eddison was secretly absorbed in experimental efforts to establish such a communication network with the afterlife.) With Ghost Box Music, the metaphor becomes explicitly cultural, recasting the television as the haunted medium, beaming otherworldly, often subversive transmissions into the cosy sanctuary of the family home. The idea maintains much of its paranormal overtones, however, and we are invited to envision nostalgia and cultural sampling as a form of occult channelling.

The culture we are exposed to as children exerts an extraordinary power over our imaginations; it leaves a heightened impression of something, which is not quite what it was, or is perhaps the essence of what it was in a way that becomes only partially retrievable through memory. Every childhood will then create a store of memories to haunt the adult world; a series of entities out of time which, like paranormal hauntings, operate under a potent but mysterious logic.

The seventies in Britain was a harvest time for such hauntings. Seventies culture in general exhibited a healthy appetite for weirdness, largely as a result of the many mental doors left ajar in the aftermath of the sixties. There was a massive popular resurgence of interest in the occult, so widespread that it prompted the greatest Time magazine cover of all time on June 19, 1972:

For perhaps the first time in its history, Fortean/unexplained phenomenon became a huge mass market preoccupation. One of the most characteristic cultural avatars of the seventies was the Ancient Astronaut, itself a retro-futuristic spectre emerging from the dimness of memory:

All of these things coincided with, and feed directly into, an extraordinary golden age of British science fiction and fantasy television and cinema. In this period - late 60's, 70's - Britain exhibited a preternatural genius for surreal, visionary genre pop culture that remains unequalled to this day. The real roots of this Renaissance go back to the fifties, and the BBC's Quatermass serials written by the legendary Nigel Kneale. Kneale really hit his prime in 1958 with the landmark third outing Quatermass and the Pit. While some of these cultural artefacts are retro-futuristic, others are examples of true futurism, of extraordinary leaps of prescience appearing in ghostly form before their time. Quatermass and the Pit falls in the latter category. All of the weird DNA of seventies culture, and beyond - Ancient Astronaut theory, Martian mysteries, neo-paganism, insectile aliens, military cover-ups - were present in Kneale's gripping drama, and his innate gifts for story telling and suspense made this invasion of the unconscious a unlikely success with the viewing public.

This Educational Series for Unusual Boys and Girls continues Here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Coming Race: A Secondary Excursion into the Cavern World.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton was many things - poet, politician, novelist, dabbler in the occult, and man of fashion. (It was this latter predilection which engendered a bitter, albeit petty lifelong feud with Alfred Lord Tennyson, each accusing the other of the then unspeakable crime of effeminacy.) Bulwer-Lytton was somewhat of a literary giant in his day, but has suffered a kind of posthumous infamy for the opening salvo of Paul Clifford : "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Fools tend to scoff at this line nowadays, but it is merely proof of Bulwer-Lytton's uncanny genius for the commonplace. He is also the originator of "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword", "the Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar", and the "Great Unwashed." Those are pretty impressive fingerprints to leave on the lexicon, by any standard.

Bulwer-Lytton's chief literary legacy, however, lies in a strange, remarkable book he published in 1871 - The Coming Race, later known as Vril: The Power of the Coming Race - which is a seminal tome both in the esoteric realm of the Crackpot Unconscious, and in the cannon of science fiction itself. The Coming Race has a fairly skeletal plot - a young narrator is exploring a mine shaft one day, and accidentally falls much deeper underground, finding himself in a Cavern World inhabited by an ancient race of giant, angelic beings called the Vril-ya. The bulk of the novel is devoted to a detailed description of the Vril-ya's matriarchal social structure, their culture, beliefs, and so on. Some minimal romantic complications are established in lieu of plot - and eventually our intrepid narrator escapes back to the surface world, armed, rather unsurprisingly, with a Dire Warming for Mankind.

By utilising plot merely as an expedient frame to facilitate the creation of an imaginary society, The Coming Race's primary literary model is clearly the Utopia. But what distinguishes Bulwer-Lytton's novel from its Utopian predecessors is the sheer weirdness and exoticism of the imagined community - Sir Thomas More's Utopia, after all, was merely an undiscovered island populated by regular humans; the Vril-ya are a race of massively tall, winged beings who wield a mystical power over matter, and live underground. It is worth noting that the movement of the Utopian format into increasingly exotic environs is a crucial element in the development of science fiction and fantasy - it is where we get the impulse to create intricately detailed alternative worlds.

But where did the exoticism come from? The quick, glib, and largely accurate answer to that question is evolution. The Race was published in the same year that Darwin completed The Descent of Man. The emergence of evolutionary theory, coupled with the findings of Charles Lyell and a variety of other geologists, was throwing up a variety of ideas about man's place in nature which were themselves extraordinarily exotic and shocking. We process these kinds of cosmological shocks and upheavals best not in realistic modes of discourse, but rather in mythic, archetypal patterns, which have a more direct relationship to the unconscious. This is why, to my mind at any rate, sci-fi has always been a Janus-faced phenomenon, a restoration of very ancient mythic forms designed to mediate the shock of extraordinary novelty and change in the modern world.

Bulwer-Lytton captured this mixture of archaic wonder and modernity when he claimed that what he was attempting was "perhaps a romance, but such a romance as a Scientific amateur....might compose." The Coming Race grappled with a very specific, deeply unpalatable notion: "the Darwinian proposition that a coming race is destined to supplant our races." Herein lay the sting in the tale, and the source of the narrator's Dire Warning for Mankind which forms the novel's coda: "I arrived at the conviction that this people - though originally not only of our human race, but, as it seems clear to me from the roots of their language, descended from the same ancestors as the great Aryan family, from which in varied streams has flowed the dominant civilisations of the world; and having, according to their myths and histories, passed through phases of society familiar to ourselves, had yet now developed into a distinct species with which it was impossible that any community in the upper world could amalgamate: And what if they ever emerged from those nether recesses into the light of day, they would, according to their own traditional persuasions of their ultimate destiny, destroy and replace our existent varieties of man." (This passage, with its evocations of Aryan jingoism, "ultimate destiny", and genocide, is eerily prophetic of the dark dreams of racial destiny that "emerged from those nether recesses" of mind into Nazi Germany in the 20th century.)

The element that really captured both the public and esoteric imagination, however, was the mysterious power wielded by Bulwer-Lytton's Cavern-dwellers: Vril. Vril is a power over matter which is acquired via an intense training and concentration of the will; it can heal, renew, or destroy; in classic necromancer-style, it is directed through the Vril staff, which contains a series of mechanical keys and springs whereby the force of Vril can be calibrated for maximum effect. Vril was an ingenious creation which amalgamated age-old speculations about a primordial, unitary cosmic energy with contemporaneous scientific speculation:

"I should call it electricity, except that it comprehends in its manifold branches other forces of nature, to which, in our scientific nomenclature, differing names are assigned, such as magnetism, galvanism, and so on. These people consider that in Vril they have arrived at the unity in natural energic agencies, which has been conjectured by many philosophers above ground, and which Faraday thus intimates under the more cautious term of correlation."

In the spiritual traditions, Vril is analogous to the Vedantic Pranashakti and the Chinese Qi or Ki, both of which relate breath to a primordial energy source or life-force. In fringe science and conspiracy theory, it resembles the notion, frequently ascribed to the ever mythologised Nikolai Tesla, that zero point energy could be harnessed as as a source of unlimited free energy. In popular culture, Vril is the clear precursor to the Force in George Lucas' lamentably ubiquitous Star Wars franchise.

Once again, we witness the Bulmer-Lytton genius for the commonplace: Vril is a kind of master meme that simply refused to stay within the fictional confines of its original context. Above ground, Vril seeped surreptitiously into the mass psyche literally in a liquid form. In 1870, Napoleon III, having sensibly resolved that his troops couldn't "march on empty stomachs", ordered one million cans of beef from Britain to feed his troops. The responsibility for providing the beef fell to a Scotsman, John Lawson Johnson. Sadly, there wasn't enough beef in Britain to fill the gaping belly of the French infantry. Johnson improvised, producing a product with the unappetizing name of "Johnson's fluid beef". By 1888, Mr. Johnson's fluid beef was a popular item in shops, chemists, and public houses, sold under the new name of "Bovril", a combination of the Latin bos (bovine, cow or ox) and the Coming Race's Vril. Bovril is still commercially available today. My childhood memories of this reputed elixir are unambiguously negative.

Faddish marketing is one thing. There are, however, even today certain people who believe that The Coming Race is either partially or wholly based on truth. The formidable Madame Helena Blavatsky, ever the incorrigible magpie, eagerly incorporated Vril into her portmanteau cosmology in Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. As mentioned in the last post, the Theosophists had established a fascination with a certain strain of Tibetan legendry that told of subterranean worlds: Agartha, the city at the earth's core, its central district of Shamballa, and the Ascended Masters who dwelt therein. Much of this legendry has been embellished in tall explorers tales, such as The Smoky God (1908) by Willis George Emerson.

Interestingly, the 1923 book Beasts, Men, and Gods by Polish author, journalist, and globe-trotting adventurer Ferdinand Ossendowsky records an unusual event reported to have taken place in the Tibetan monastery of Narabanchi in 1890, 19 years after the publication of The Coming Race. The monastery was said to have been visited by the King of the World, a denizen of Agartha, who passed on a prophesy to the High Lama. The next century would witness a succession of increasing horrors, it said, until the year of 2029, when "the people of Agartha will leave their caverns and appear on the surface of the earth."

The theosophical Agartha and Bulwer-Lytton's seminal fiction would in time be woven by the Crackpot Unconscious into a sprawling narrative of Nazi occultism, underground bases in the Antarctic, and Vril-powered wonder weapons and UFOs. We will leave off for the moment, however, safe in the knowledge that these Garbo-like denizens of the Cavern World will not be troubling us for the immediate future.

Postscript. Let us return briefly to to the magnificent icy wastes of the Antarctic, that land of perilous adventure in which the varied strands of our strange tale all converge. The New York Times of September 11, 1916 contained a thrilling dispatch entitled SHACKLETON'S MEN KEPT HOPE OF RESCUE HIGH; MAROONED SCIENTISTS LIVING ON PENGUIN AND SEAWEED, WATCHED DAILY FOR RELIEF. Note the following extract: "For the first three weeks after Shackleton's departure, Wild's party suffered from frostbite and exposure. Weather conditions having forced them to abandon their icehole, they rigged up a shelter by turning their two remaining boats upside down. A blubber lamp supplied their only light, while an old oil can served the purpose of a cooking stove. They had no tea or coco, their only hot beverage being the bovril, the consumption of which it was necessary to economise as much as possible".

"The conditions prevented seals from landing. When one was caught every scrap was utilized. The weather was continuous storms and fogs. The daily menu consisted, for breakfast, of penguin fried in blubber with a drink of water; for luncheon, biscuits with raw blubber, and a dinner of penguin breast and Bovril."

This extraordinary narrative of privation, found here, goes on to say that these unique men were driven by a lack of tobacco to smoke "grass taken from the padding of their boats, in pipes carved from bird bones and wood."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults.

A Preliminary Expedition into the Cavern World.

Within the whole corpus of rejected knowledge, there are a handful of ideas that seem to possess a particular virulence. These ideas have exerted an irresistible power over the imagination of generations of fantasists, contrarians, and crackpots. They form a constellation of ideas, often interrelated, which we will label for convenience the Crackpot Unconscious. (Please bear in mind that I don't use this terminology in an entirely derogatory manner. We are referring to the skid row at the wrong side of the tracks of Mr. Jung's collective unconscious, a territory where the trained explorations of the shaman or occultist give way to the visionary dementia of the schizophrenic and the paranoid. It is a common stream, mined by artists, prophets, and conmen alike.)

One of the most resonant notions within the Crackpot Unconscious is that of a Hollow or partially hollowed-out Earth, wherein complex subterranean societies exist coeval with surface-dwelling man. The idea of an underworld, particularly envisioned as a hub of the afterlife, is a deeply ingrained mythic constant. Virtually all the ancient traditions possess some kind of multi-levelled underground complex, usually devoted to the punishment of mortal inequity, and peopled by a subspecies of specialist in the provision of grisly torture.

In Chinese folk mythology the underworld is called Diyu, and was said to possess ten courts and eighteen levels of punishment. No sadistic stone is left unturned: there is a Mountain of Knifes, cauldrons where sinners are fried and even steamed, a grinding machine where they are ground into a bloody pulp, eye-gouging, skinning, and the works.

Variations of the underworld and its tormenting spirits are found in every major tradition. The non-canonical Apocalypse of Paul describes the keepers of Tartarus as the tartaruchi, fell spirits armed with an iron of three hooks. (In the 1980's, horror author Clive Barker refitted the tartaruchi in the fashionable garb of the bondage subculture, giving birth to the VHS-era nightmare of the Cenobites.) In the grand world picture of Norse mythology, to which the fantasy genre owes so much of its substance, three of the nine worlds were located underground: Niflheimr, Nidavellir, and Svartalfheim. Here the underworld is not merely a place of torment, but rather a whole confusing ecology of dwarves and elves. In folk beliefs, derivatives and relatives of these creatures, in the form of trolls and faeries, would populate the interior of mountains and the caverns of the underground for long into the modern period.

Mythical constants never fully go away; they merely evolve and mutate over time. The Hollow Earth theory started in the realm of scientific speculation, initially proposed by Edmund Halley in 1692. Perhaps because it dovetailed to some degree with the mythical constant of the underworld, it would go on to explode into the deranged stratosphere of alternative belief systems, drawing into its dark bosom most, if not all, of the major players in the Crackpot Unconscious: Atlanteans, Antediluvian Civilisations, Aliens, and even Antarctic Nazis.

The Hollow Earth is one of those rare, lively subjects where a pseudoscience and a subgenre of adventure literature eagerly feed off one another. Adding to the innate sense of adventure surrounding cavern worlds and lost civilisations, it was widely believed that the Hollow Earth had an entrance at both of the Poles. Hence the magnificent isolation of the North Pole has been a locus for both the theory and the fiction. The adventurer and Arctic explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds gave many lectures on the Hollow Earth theory which apparently influenced Edgar Allen Poe's "Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." (In the May 1839 issue of New York's Monthly Knickerbocker Magazine, Reynolds published an article entitled "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal." This piece dealt with a notorious "bull whale of prodigious size and strength...white as wool", who had survived over a hundred skirmishes and wreaked countless ships, before it was finally laid low in 1838. The influence of this particular piece of maritime legendry on American letters need hardly be elaborated here.)

The place of the Antarctic in weird fiction generally is worthy of a study in itself. It is of course the setting for Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, and plays a crucial, baffling role in what is perhaps the strangest novel of all: MP Shiel's The Purple Cloud. (Frank Belknap Long was scarcely overstating the case when he called the Cloud "the most unutterably terrible book ever written.") For our current purposes, it is the Pole that begins to draw some of the wilder strands of the Crackpot Unconscious together. One of the many offshoots of Theosophical lore suggested that the Ascended Masters of the esoteric tradition inhabit a subterranean realm known as Agartha, which also had an entrance in Antarctica, as well as Tibet, Peru, and Mount Shasta in Washington. One of the many occult societies whose interest was piqued by such notions was the notorious Thule Society of Nazi Germany. This has lead to persistent, unconfirmed suggestions that Hitler himself funded a Polar expedition to discover such an entrance, and herein we find the origins of the contemporary myth of a Nazi secret base in the Antarctic.

This beloved chestnut of conspiranoid historians seems to hinge largely on a couple of peculiar statements which have been attributed to Admiral Karl Donitz, the commander of the German submarine fleet who was later surprisingly named by Hitler as his successor. It is alleged that in 1943, Donitz said "Germany’s submarine fleet is proud that it created an unassailable fortress for the F├╝hrer on the other end of the world", later alluding during the Nuremberg Trials to "an invisible fortification in the midst of the eternal ice." While the preposterous can certainly sometimes be true, it seems far more likely to assume that the Nazis have merely joined the tartaruchi and their brethren in some chthonic realm of the imagination. They will not want for company, as we shall see.

Monday, May 3, 2010

American History Hex Conclusion: freedom is a two-edged sword

You are in rude health, and yet you are hysterical; you are fascinated and subdued by all things weird and unusual, though to the world you hold yourself so high, proud, and passionate. You need love, it is true; so much you know yourself; and you know also that no common love attracts you; you need the sensational, the bizarre, the unique. But perhaps you do not understand what is at the root of that passion. I will tell you. You have an inexpressible hunger of the soul; you despise earth and its delusions; and you aspire unconsciously to a higher life than anything this planet can offer.
The Moonchild, Aleister Crowley.

Whatever one is to make of the Babalon Working - an elaborate sex magick ritual undertaken by an eccentric rocket scientist and a mesmeric trickster soon to attain global infamy - the appearance of Marjorie Cameron in its midst remains a stunning serendipity. If you take the schmaltzy concept of a romantic encounter that was meant to be - and place it in the context of neo-pagan sex magick - then the meeting of Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron in the spring of 1946 was surely written in the stars.

Cameron was born in Belle Plain, a sleepy rail-road town located two miles north of the Iowa River, in 1922. Her youth is the story of a gifted, but deeply strange outsider - the type of character that frequently appears in coming of age horror novels. The night she was born was wracked by a fierce thunderstorm, and equally heady emotional turmoil. Her father, believing his wife was dying, got drunk and attempted suicide.

Marjorie was prone to introspection and peculiar visions from a very young age. She claimed to see a precession of four white horses gliding by her bedroom window, and believed an old well on her grandfather's land was a gateway to hell. She was a bright, lonely teenager, frequently adorning to a hideout in her parents attic, and going on nocturnal rambles in her dressing gown accompanied by a retinue of stray black cats.

Around 1939, the Cameron's moved to Davenport, a city which was then somewhat under the severe cloud of the Great Depression. Marjorie's seemingly acute sense of alienation from her surroundings only worsened, and she attempted to take her own life more than once. A certain degree of personal stability came, ironically enough, with the advent of World War II. In '43, Cameron turned her back on various college scholarships in order to become an unlikely recruit of the Navy. As in Jack's case, the military formed a unlikely outlet for her wayward creative streak. She found herself drawing maps for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an occupation that on one occasion brought her eyeball to eyeball to with no less than Winston Churchill. Later, work in a photo laboratory on the Potomac lead to a meeting with Gene Kelly, constituting an early initiation into the occult power of the moving image. After her brother was shot and injured, Cameron went AWOL back to Belle Plain. Hence, she was court-martialed, and saw out the last months of the war confined to base.

In '46, the family were living in Pasadena. Fate, blind chance, or the concentrated magickal acumen of Parsons and Hubbard lead Marjorie to encounter an old Navy buddy at the unemployment office. He told he was currently living in a wild mansion under the auspices of a "mad scientist" that she had to meet. Meanwhile, Jack and Ron were somewhere in the Mojave desert imploring the astral plane for an elemental.

In many respects, the story of the Babalon Working ends precisely where it begins, with a peculiar air of anti-climax. Without any understanding of the nature or goal of the operation, Marjorie was happy enough to participate. The ritual was consummated and declared a success. Jack and Marjorie later married. No child was born, however, leading to a lingering sense of mystery regarding the real goal of the operation. Too some degree, the most ambitious magickal ritual of the 20th century is now as open to myriad interpretation as a poem or a painting. In his essay, Anti-Christ Superstar, Richard Metzger reads the Babalon Working as a genuine attempt to facilitate apocalypse - if we understand the apocalyptic as the unravelling of a false order of being, and the revelation of a true one: "What we have been brainwashed to believe is "good": patriotism, so called "free" enterprise, private property, Christianity (not the teachings of Christ but the hateful travesty the religion bearing his name has become), is now beginning to be seen by the emerging generation of the crowned and conquering child to be the deathtrip bullshit it truly is."

Certainly Parsons the libertarian philosopher envisioned himself as an enemy of the age old system which, under a plurality of changing terms for what are essentially the same things, divides humanity into a minority of masters, and a majority of slaves. In his extraordinary essay Freedom is a Two-edged Sword, he labels this imperious body politic the "established doctrine that all men and women were owned "in mind" by the church, and "in body" by the state. This convenient situation was supported by the authority of social morality, religion and even philosophy." The revolution, as Jack envisioned it, was invariably a sexual one: "The superstition which fostered this shameful condition is no longer dominant, but the institution that promoted the belief that the human body is obscene, that love was indecent, and that woman was forever made foul by original sin continues to mould our thoughts and shape our laws".

Reading the Working in the light of Parsons' Oedipal complex, Robert Anton Wilson suggests an act of ultimate transgression that transcends and nullifies all inhibition, and all binary logic of guilt underpinning the very notion of transgression: "Babalon represents the Mother and the Whore, the opposite archetypes of the male mind. To say it aloud, when making love to Babalon as Cameron, Jack Parsons did consciously what all men do unconsciously: he fucked his mother. After 2000 years of Christian sex-hate and sex-guilt, only in that total life-and-death battle with all inner inhibitions could he achieve that liberation which all of us seek, all of us fear, and all of us confront eventually, in the hour of our death, when we finally don’t give a damn any-more about what other people think".


Aleister Crowley:
In late 1947, Jack sent Marjorie Cameron to England, to meet Aleister Crowley. While on route, she sojourned for awhile in Paris. It was there she learned that the man who had dreamed - or been channelled - her future role in the archetypal drama of the Babalon Working had just died. Crowley's last words, according to legend, were "I am perplexed." It may be that in the disappointing latter years of his life, he came increasingly to question the provenance of that deep baritone which had spoken to him in his Cairo apartment in '04. But had he somehow lived to see out the whole of the twentieth century, what would he have thought? Beginning in the aftermath of the Babalon Working would unfold a whole nexus of cultural forces which mimicked in many respects the essential outline of the Aeon of Horus. It was, after all, conceived as the era of the crowned and conquering child. In the 1950's began the idea of the youth culture, and began the process of rebellion and assimilation whereby the youth culture would alter and remake the whole order of the world.

Crowley was such a prescient figure that some aspect of his persona would appeal to each successive wave of the youth movement: his fascination with mysticism and the occult to the hippies, his cultivation of scandal, shock value, and social agit-prop to the punks, his identification with witchcraft and Satanism to the goths, and so on. In the Sixties, the most Crowleyean of decades, large swathes of the west adopted essentially to pursue the Thelemic law of unfettered self-discovery and self-expression. To argue that this lead directly to Altamont or the Tate/Le Bianca murders is to miss the fact that it also lead, perhaps more circuitously, to the Apple mac, and the whole fabric of life in the 21st century. The Star Child of Kubrick's 2001 is perhaps the most perfect unintentional iconic representation of Crowley's Aeon of Horus: the paradoxical violence of evolutionary ascent, and the embryonic emergence of cosmic out of terrestrial awareness: "They shall gather my children into their fold: they shall bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men."

All of the above is not necessarily to argue that Crowley was the recipient of a prophetic transmission - simply to suggest that history itself often incarnates parts or bytes of the future in the most unlikely places.

L. Ron Hubbard:
One the great ironies of our tale is the fact that its most prominent and widely known figure is also by far its most scurrilous. While engaged in the Working, Jack and Ron had also established a business partnership, Allied Enterprises, to which Jack contributed $20,979, and Ron a paltry $1,183. Crowley, a adroit player himself, smelled the rat all the way from England: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick–Jack Parsons weak fool–obvious victim prowling swindlers.” Shortly after the completion of the Working, Hubbard vanished in a cloud of stage conjurer's smoke, back into the wide world with Jack's then girlfriend Sara Northrup, and the bulk of Jack's then life-savings in his pocket. Surveying the dreary affair a few days later, Crowley wrote "It seems to me on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he lost all his personal independence. From our brother’s account he has given away both his girl and his money. Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.”

The story of the rise of Scientology - a repeat of the Parsons swindle on a grander, global scale - is widely documented. The success of dianetics began - like so many other freaks of the future - within the hermetically sealed community of science fiction fandom. Then it spread like a bad dose of memetic clap into the always deranged mental melting pot of Hollywood, and beyond. At Williams College in Massachusetts, the distinguished professor of political science Frederick L. Schuman became an ardent champion. When the New Republic roundly rejected dianetics, he admonished the periodical: "I beseech ye, in the bowels of Christ, to consider whether ye may not be mistaken." By printing their negative review, he argued, the New Republic had made itself "the laughing stock of the rapidly growing throng of people who know what dianetics is all about. Not the book, but the review, is 'complete nonsense,' a 'paranoiac system' and a 'fantastic absurdity.' There are no authorities on dianetics save those who have tested it. All who have done so are in no doubt whatever as to who is here mistaken." The dye, by this point, was well and truly cast.

The central tenet of Thelema - "Do what Whilt shall be the whole of the Law" - was never intended to be a simple-mined exhortation to hedonism and self- indulgence. Rather, Crowley's belief was that a person should attain a full and proper understanding of him/herself, a knowledge of the essential self, entirely separate from social conditioning, and the self's own social conditioning agent, the ego. (In this sense, Crowley's teachings echo Gurdijieff's notion of the necessity to "awake" from the robotic sleep walk of habituated consciousness and everyday social existence.) With a sufficient intensity of discpline and concentration, the occultist discovers his True Will. The True Will is something greater than merely a personal goal - it is an almost Tao-like pre-disposition or tendency towards something. Magickal initiation, then, is the process whereby an individual discovers his True Will, and attains the power to act in accordance with that Will, and to be greater than any and all opposition the True Will encounters. Naturally, there is potentially a massive dark side to having that kind of power - the power to act in accordance with your own Will at all times. This is why Jack Parsons wrote that freedom was a two-edged sword, the other side of the blade being responsibility: "Freedom is a two-edged sword. He who believes that the absolute rightness of his belief is an authority to suppress the rights and opinions of his fellows cannot be a liberal. Liberalism cannot exist where it violates its own principles. It cannot exist where the emergency monger or the utopia salesman can obtain a suspension of rights, whether temporary or permanent. Liberty cannot be suppressed in order to defend liberalism". (The noble sentiment is of course echoed in the iconic caption in Amazing Fantasy #15 that read: WITH GREAT POWER THERE MUST ALSO COME - GREAT RESPONSIBILITY!)

The progress of the dianetics student towards the status of "clear" echoes the Thelemic process of self-awareness, albeit in a vulgarised form, via Habbard's fairly crude conflation of psychoanalysis and the language of analog recording technology. Hubbard himself clearly embodies the dark potential of personal magnetism and power - the sword wielded for the mastery of others, without first having attained a mastery of itself. The connection between Scientology and Hubbard's experiences of the occult was made explicit in a notorious 1983 Penthouse interview given by his son Ronald De Wolf. L. Ron Jr. describes the Church as a "power and money and intelligence gathering game", adding "what a lot of people don't realize is that Scientology is black magic that is just spread out over a long time period. To preform black magic generally takes a few hours, or, at most, a few weeks. But in Scientology its stretched out over a lifetime, so you don't see it. Black magic is the inner core of Scientology, and it is probably the only part of Scientology that really works." Elsewhere in the interview, De Wolf suggests deeply disturbing dimensions to Hubbard's pre-occupation with the occult: "As an example, Hitler was involved in the same black magic and the same occult practices that my father was. The identical ones. Which, as I have said, stem clear back to before Egyptian times. It's a very secret thing. Very powerful and very workable and very dangerous. Brainwashing is nothing compared to it. The proper term would be "soul cracking". It may sound like incredible gibberish, but it made my father a fortune."

It certainly did. In 1986, when Hubbard died of a stroke, his estate was worth $600 million dollars. In his later years, he had returned to the passion that had started it all - writing pulp science fiction. His followers - including some of the most prominent members of the entertainment industry - await his promised resurrection as a political leader.

The Working Itself:
While the aims of the Babalon Working may be largely a matter of interpretation at this point, another pertinent question arises: did it actually work? By far the most entertaining theory offered regarding the after-effects of the Working is that of the British occultist Kenneth Grant. In Outside the Circles of Time and elsewhere, Grant argued that Parson and Hubbard's' rituals in the Mojave desert opened a portal in time and space, through which the UFOs and their trickster pilots flew in the summer of '47: "How complex the pattern is may be appreciated by the fact that when Parsons received Leiber 49, which he proclaimed to be the fourth chapter of AL, it was in magical concert with L.R. Hubbard that extra-terrestrial contact was established. The Working began in 1945-46, a few months before Crowley's death in 1947, and just prior to the wave of unexplained aerial phenomena known as the "Great Flying Saucer Flap." Parsons opened a door and something flew in; he supposed it was Babalon and the fourth chapter of AL; others have supposed other things but all are agreed that something unusual, something inexplicable by mundane laws, occurred at that time."

Did Jack Parsons' fool-hardy magick really open some kind of door, a door that would haunt the skies of the twentieth century with the peripheral spectre of the UFO? Grant's theory is undoubtedly among the stranger and more fanciful we have heard for the origin of the saucers. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that in March of 1946, Marjorie Cameron witnessed a flying saucer hovering over the Parsonage; had she reported it, this would have made her the first eyewitness of the Great Flap of 47. Writing about the incident to Jane Wolfe in 1953, Cameron associated the craft with the "war engines" promised in Crowley's Book of the Law: "The flying saucers - the miracle! - our war engine! I saw the first one in the spring of 1946 at 1003."

Marjorie Cameron.
After Jack's death, Marjorie Cameron went on to maintain an utterly unique presense in occult and experimental cinema circles. She became the muse of two underground filmmakers, Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger. She appeared with Dennis Hopper in Night Tide, Hanson's 1961 homage to Val Lewton's Cat People, and the same director later made a short called The Wormwood Star which explored her work as a poet and artist. It was in the films of Kenneth Anger, however, that the strange currents of the Babalon Working continued to flow more conspiciously. Anger met Cameron at a party in the Hollywood home of warlock Samson Debreir. At the time, Anger was casting for his occult fantasia The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. The young director was completely overwelmed by Cameron's personality and appearance, and cast her as the Scarlet Woman in the Inauguration, alongside erotic author Anais Nin, Curtis Harrington, and Anger himself.

Cameron's second husband was Sherif Kimmel, who is said to have inspired the character of R.P.Murphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Tales of hauntings, and of peculiar apparations and entities, continued to follow her throughout her strange, always extreme life. Though a largely unknown figure today, Marjorie Cameron stands in many respects as a formidable female equivilient to the Beat Generation authors, her life story a sustained exploration of the joys - and madness-inducing horrors - that attend upon intense freedom, hedonism, and the outer limits of experience. In many respects, it seems that she believed that the Moonchild born in 1946 was herself.

Jack Parsons.
Jack Parsons was killed in an explosion in his home laborary on the 17th of June, 1952. His mother killed herself just hours later. In the years following the Working, both aspects of his strange double life were effectively in freefall. The FBI investigated his activities with the OTO, and later allegations that he had inadvertantly released sensitive information to the state of Israel, resulting in the loss of his security clearences. He had been forced to find work at a gas station, and later overseeing ersatz explosions for small Hollywood productions. His death - allegedly as a result of dropping a fulminate of mercury - is rifle with the associations of an over-achieving alchemist hitting the brutal limits of nature head-first, and crashing back down to earth. Paradoxically, Parsons had been too much of a visionary for the daylight world of military-funded science, and far too nieve, and fundamentally honorable, for the ego-ridden subculture of contempory occultism. Werner von Braun later labelled him the true father of the American space programme, and in 1972 an impact crater on the Dark Side of the Moon was named Parsons in his honor.