Monday, May 31, 2010

Numinous Encounters in the Dark

If you held a gun to my head and demanded that I prove my theory that pop art based in paranormal or occult themes has the power to become a form of magic itself I would ever so gently point the gun towards the floor, amble over to my bookcase and pull out my Mike Mignola Hellboy books. Mostly those drawn by Mignola himself, but also a few stories drawn by one of Mignola's inspirations, the great Richard "Gore" Corben.

But mainly the Mignola material. No one has been able to reproduce his voice, or the synergy that can only come when a single creator is riding all of the horses. Comics are a form of creative alchemy in and of themselves- a series of random hashmarks and swatches of verbiage our imaginations assemble into narrative. It's also a still-undervalued medium, even though the crippling stigma of the second half of the Twentieth Century towards comics is finally limping off to its well-deserved death.

It's not that the Hellboy stories drawn by artists like Duncan Fegredo or the BPRD spinoff drawn by Guy Davis aren't very good comics, it's that they're not magic. They still draw upon Mignola's frighteningly-encyclopedic knowledge of occult lore (which makes sense since most of the spinoffs are written by Mignola himself), but they lack that quiet certainty, or that ineffable power that proves that somewhere along the line, something very deep, dark and strange burrowed itself in Mignola's consciousness.

Very much like Mignola's literary hero, H.P. Lovecraft. But whereas Lovecraft was (more or less) content to bluff his way through occult history by inventing his own, Mignola's considerable research chops give his yarns that much more kick.

And Mignola brings the visual punch of Jack Kirby (whose series The Demon was a obvious touchstone for the Mig) and Frank Frazetta to the table, along with his own collection of murky dungeons, dead-eyed demons and candlelit temples. Lovecraft, Kirby, Frazetta, Corben- it's a very strange brew, but it works.

Hellboy is far better known in his feature and animated film incarnations but when you're talking about magic, that stuff is HINO- Hellboy in name only. The demands of the multiplex masses don't allow for the the dark, still, quiet nights in which Hellboy does his dirty business. They don't allow for the occult ephemera, conspiratorial politics and arcane sigils with which Mignola weaves his spells. In the comics, Hellboy's villains are always still, calm and quiet because they don't have to prove that they want to wipe the rest of us off the face of the planet in tribute to some dark alien demon or another. They just do.

Hellboy stories are often hilariously funny in spots, which just deepens that creep-out effect.

Maybe a lot of you out there aren't really interested in comics, or have seen the not-great movies and are turned off to the concept. If so, that's a real shame. I'd recommend Mignola-drawn Hellboy books to anyone interested in the cryptic tryst between entertainment and the esoteric even if they've never read a single comic book in their lives.

It's not that there aren't artists working in other mediums that aren't doing great work, but certainly no one can beat Mignola at summoning strange energies from the ether (and putting them on paper with a dizzingly-minimalist visual vocabulary, I might add).

Words and pictures- funny, the ancient Egyptians understood the power of that alchemical marriage, didn't they?

Bonus factoids: Mignola has done design work for Bram Stoker's Dracula, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Alien Dreaming: Them Ol' Post-Apocalyptic Blues Again

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian sci-fi was all the rage when I was a kid. A lot of it was inspired by the Cold War, but it was also a natural reaction to the malaise of the early stages of American de-industrialization. After an idyllic post-war honeymoon, American workers were waking up to a cold water splash of aggressive foreign competition, particularly from East Asia. In some ways the sudden and violent reboot of an apocalypse was more comforting than the slow and protracted slide into downward mobility that the 70s were promising.

Kind of like what we're dealing with now, right? There's no shortage of apocalyptic pant-pissing out there, but without a well-armed boogeyman like the Russkies it's not nearly as compelling. The alternatives -particularly the specter of a slow-motion Jihad - merely bring us back to where we began; inevitable decay.

Although this episode of The New Outer Limits serves up apocalypse, it aired in the halcyon days of 1998 when semi-serious people were proclaiming the end of all of our problems and the beginning of the Jetson Age (roughly). "Dow 30K" never showed, but neither did Y2K, so the Utopia/Dystopia grudge match seemed to be a draw.

Which is a long-winded way of saying the story here is more 1968 than 1998, but even so this is some of the most compelling sci-fi I've ever seen on TV. It has a nice twist ending and stars our old friend James "Cyclops" Marsden, whom we just discussed in the post on The Box. There's also an obvious undercurrent of fertility symbolism (and some brief nudity, so consider yourself advised).

I have to say that when it comes to alien encounter narratives,
Outer Limits is probably my all-time favorite source. There's a powerfully numinous quality to the alien eps, an intimate logic that aligns quite nicely with the concept of Alien Dreaming. It's the idea of the Other, waiting out there for those whose consciousness is sufficiently deprogrammed (by whatever means) and whose perceptions are opened to more profound models of reality (see the McKenna quote in the sidebar). It's an understanding that revelation is a continuous process.

Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you've been there. And when you read the more compelling narratives of extraordinary experience, you realize that the most profound cases seem to involve the fewest people. Not always, but usually. And whether those outside believe - or even understand - these revelations is irrelevant to those involved.

Real experience changes the experiencer, and part of that change is an existential disinterest in the opinions of the inexperienced.

Non-US readers: If the video won't play try here, here, here and here.

PS: I hope to be catching up with comments and posts over the weekend. I've been working like a dog (star) lately, and my attention is spoken for and then some. But I do want to return to some of the threads I've started the past few weeks, it's just a question of finding the time to riddle out some of the issues that I'm wrestling with. The next installment of the John the Baptist series will be a killer, but I have to make sure it's waterproof. I've got a lot of other surprises in the queue, it's just a question of finding the time. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Introduction to the Secret Language

Excerpted from a work-in-progress....

Symbols are hot these days. The massive, unprecedented success of a thriller about ancient codes and secret societies has made symbolism a national obsession. Just a few short years ago, these pursuits were of interest only to academics and white-knuckled conspiracy enthusiasts. But then one little novel opened up a door into a secret world, and introduced ordinary folks to a universal language that is thousands of years old. The cat is now out of the bag- for thousands of years prophets, artists, madmen and poets have been speaking to us in a language that is both consistent and predictive. But as conditioned as we are to recognize only the verbal -only the literal- we have gone about our business while others have plotted, prayed and postulated right under our noses.

In addition to being nearly invisible to the uninitiated, this language has a profound effect on those who care to learn it. Somehow, there is some dormant sector of the human brain that is activated when one immerses themselves in the study of symbology. This is particularly true when the language is used for religious or spiritual reasons.

Unlike literal scripture, which is forever pointing to a forever elusive revelation, the immersion into this secret language seems to create its own spiritual reality. Sometimes meditating upon these symbols seems to make them come to life and speak to you in ways you could never express or articulate. And often when you delve into this world of sacred symbology, the symbols take over and tell you things you never thought you would know.

But the symbols will escape your notice, or at least your conscious attention, until you are able to decode them. And in order to decode them you must understand where they come from and what those who speak in symbolic language are trying to tell. For there are secret languages and then there is the Secret Language. The science of decoding symbolic language is commonly referred to as Semiotics.

Human beings communicate in three basic modes - verbal language, body language and symbolic language. Of the three verbal or literal language is by far the simplest and least complex. We learn a vocabulary and then use it to communicate with others. This language is specific and localized. There are several hundred languages and dialects being used by human beings on Earth. Body language is often used in conjunction with verbal language. It consists of an astonishing array of gestures and expressions, and can even include things such as body temperature, perspiration and scent. Body language is a criminally misunderstood form of human communication. People lie incessantly with language. It is much much harder to lie with body language.

Symbolic language lies somewhere in between. It is an artificial language in that it usually doesn't arise from the voluntary or involuntary responses of the human body itself. It can either be orally or manually expressed. You can speak in symbols- such as a code- or you can write, draw, sculpt or film them. And to those who believe that every artificially expressed communication can be broken down into symbols, even literal meanings can hide secret intent.

Yet for the most part, Semiotics is actually like a secret decoder ring for nonverbal human communication. The goal of this discipline is to ascertain exactly how nonverbal modes of communication can denote meaning. In semiotics, human communication is broken down into a series of ‘signs.’ This involves a sort of reverse engineering of these symbols and necessitates tracing the origins of commonly used symbols in human communication, much as a linguist traces the origins of commonly used words. These signs are then studied individually and/or grouped into symbolic systems. ‘Signs’ can include image, gesture, body language, sounds, even placement of objects. But unlike Communication Studies, Semiotics concentrates on meaning and not modes.

The entirety of human communication is symbolic. These very words you are reading are a series of abstract symbols we've all agreed represent certain sounds, which we then agree represent certain concepts when used in various combinations. And ultimately, everything we see or hear symbolically represents something else.

When a baby sees her mother’s face, a whole series of thoughts and emotions are triggered by it. Her mother's face actually becomes a symbol for those thoughts and emotions- comfort, food, love. The triggers become ever more complex and sophisticated as the baby enters childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Likewise, a word represents not only the thing to which it has been assigned, but also the implications and associations of both the word and its object. Even the shapes of the letters can have a Rorschach-type effect on our subconscious minds, as can their sequencing.

Semiotics may seem like one of those egg-headed European theories from the 1960’s like post-Structuralism, but the term was actually coined by the 17th Century philosopher John Locke. And the method wasn’t unique to Locke either. Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine studied the use of signs to denote meaning. Yet the science didn’t come into its own until the late 19th Century, when the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce developed Semiotics as its own discipline, rather than as a subset of Linguistics. Peirce believed that “we cannot think without signs.”

And one of the best-known semioticians at work today- Umberto Eco - is also a popular novelist.

Semiotics has become quite popular in the wake of Dan Brown’s monster hit novel, The Da Vinci Code. The protagonist of that book holds the fictional title of ‘Professor of Semiotics’ at Harvard University. What Langdon does in the course of the novel is more of form of de-encryption, since the symbols he is dealing in the story with are intentional designed codes. But he calls upon his understanding of symbology to decipher the maddeningly complex clues thrown at him by the fictional Priory of Sion.

It’s interesting to note that The Da Vinci Code bears a close resemblance to Umberto Eco’s hit novel Foucault’s Pendulum, which dealt with a lot of the same esoteric topics and also showcased the art of symbological de-encryption. But Eco took a far dimmer view of the occult underground that Brown seems to champion and Foucault’s Pendulum wasn’t nearly as successful as The Da Vinci Code has been.

Monday, May 24, 2010

John the Baptist, The Secret Messiah: Part 3


The most elaborate account of John’s execution takes place in the Gospel of Mark:
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe.
And when he heard him, he was much perplexed; and he heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, and the high captains, and the chief men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and them that sat at meat with him; and the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went out, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptizer. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou forthwith give me on a platter the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; but for the sake of his oaths, and of them that sat at meat, he would not reject her.
And straightway the king sent forth a soldier of his guard, and commanded to bring his head: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother. Mark 6:20-29 ASV (see also Matthew 14:1-12)
What is remarkable about Mark and Matthew’s telling of the tale is that they do not name a vitally important character in the drama, ie., the girl who demands John’s head. She is simply referred to as “the daughter of Herodias.”

To get this daughter’s name, we need to refer back to Josephus:
“Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband's brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband.”
So why did Mark and Matthew neglect to name Salome?

In The Templar Revelation, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince present a fascinating theory. Citing Hugh Schoenfeld, A.N. Wilson and Barbara Theiering, Picknett and Prince posit that far from being the leader of a ragtag band of mystics, Jesus was the head of a faction of Jewish militants, one among many such as the Zealots, the Sicarii and the Maccabees. Furthermore, the death of the Baptist in Mark is followed by the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” which the Good News Bible headlines as “Jesus Feeds Five Thousand Men.”

A.N. Wilson posits that the Feeding of the Five-Thousand was an assembly of the various militant factions (Mark 6:40 makes mention to the fact that “the men sat down in ranks”), which Picknett and Prince further posit was called by Jesus as a peace summit in the aftermath of John’s death. This chronology of Jesus meeting with ranks of men lends credence to their theory. Similar events have been known to happens in times of wars, particularly amongst non-state actors, like gangs or partisan bands, following a death of a charismatic leader.

Picknett and Prince take it one step further and suggest that the factions may have believed that Jesus -or more accurately, the wealthy patrons of the Jesus cult such as Joseph of Arimathea - had a hand in John’s execution.

After all, the Jesus movement would benefit greatly from John’s death, particularly if Jesus’ ministry was gaining wide acceptance amongst the Jews. And Jesus did have a disciple with a contact in Herod’s inner circle- Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward.

And according to Biblical scholar Shimon Gibson, John’s death did send shockwaves through the Jewish community:
The event of John’s death was extremely traumatic for his followers. Subsequently, it triggered a rift between the followers of John and the followers of Jesus, and each group apparently immediately began consolidating their own independent teachings. The Gospel writers later downplayed the significance of John as a prophet of the people, in order to boost the story of Jesus and his ministry and to spread the word that John the Baptist had been the "forerunner" of Jesus the messiah.
Following Josephus, it is Gibson’s opinion that Herod had John killed of his own volition. But before we dispense with this theory, there is one curious fact that bears attention...

Mary, the other Mary and Salome

Besides being the name of John’s murderess, a “Salome” was also one of Jesus’ closest disciples.

In the Gospel of Mark, this Salome witnessed Jesus’ execution (Mark 15:40) and his resurrection (Mark 16:1) But in a Stalinistic flourish, Salome is expunged from the story by Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as their source. Why? Her erasure from the absolute most important events of the Christian story- ie., Jesus’ death and resurrection- is puzzling, to say the very least.

Again, it is widely believed that Mark was written before the other Gospels, and it possible that followers of John may well have reacted negatively to the inclusion of Salome in the Gospel story. Matthew renames Salome “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Luke and John expunge the character altogether. Salome is now a footnote, even though her role in Mark’s telling of the foundational event of Christianity would otherwise be enough to earn her a sainthood.

Was there an attempt here to cover up the link between Salome and the Jesus faction? As they say, it's never the crime- it's the coverup. "Salome" was surely a common enough name at the time- so why the revisionism?

The issue here is not what actually happened- the issue is what what certain interested parties believe to have happened. Josephus’ opinion is clearly that Herod had John killed because of the threat posed by his ministry, and there is no reason to doubt that. However, the Bible is at odds with Josephus over Herod’s motives for John’s execution, and there may well have been any number of religious militants in Israel that blamed Jesus and his faction for the death of the Baptist.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

John the Baptist, The Secret Messiah: Part 2

Is there a secret tradition that believes that John and not Jesus was the Messiah? Are the secret wars that lurk between the lines in the historical record the result of an age-old power struggle? Who was John the Baptist and who were his followers? More importantly, does his following exist to this day? Read part one of this series here.

There is also a curious juxtaposition of events in Luke concerning Jesus’ baptism: John is imprisoned before Jesus is baptized:
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. Luke 3: 19-22 ASV
Luke never says who Jesus is baptized by, nor does he make reference to John’s response to such a momentous divine event. Jesus is simply another adherent among many others. Was it known then that Jesus was actually baptized by one of John’s disciples?

The chronology of John’s arrest and his conspicuous absence at Jesus’ Baptism is directly contradicted in Mark’s account, who has John imprisoned immediately following Jesus’ baptism:
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. - Mark 1:9-14 KJV
Yet, notice here that Jesus himself- and not John- witnessed Jesus’ epiphany. If John had witnessed it, it might have been mentioned in the extant Johannine literature. Mark makes no mention of John’s obeisance to Jesus during Jesus’ baptism, nor does Mark name Jesus as John's coming messiah.

This omission is evidence that Mark and Luke were written earlier than Matthew and John, respectively, and were possibly circulated at a time when John’s teachings and reputation were still well known. It is believed early versions of Mark date from before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Many Biblical scholars date Matthew during the late first century and John in the early second century 3 , that is after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the dispersal of the great bulk of the Jews. It is not until the non-synoptical Gospel of John that the potentially compromising baptism narrative is rewritten to have John bear witness to the epiphany:
These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water.

And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. - John 1:29-34 ASV
Why was none of this mentioned in Luke, who seems to be very familiar with the actual teachings of John? Might this be unwitting testimony that there was still lingering doubts as to John’s prophecy of this Jesus as the coming Christ?

It also directly contradicts a passage in Luke, where even after Jesus’ baptism, John seems of unsure of Jesus’ divinity and from his prison cell sends a messenger to inquire whether or not he is the Christ:
And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? - Luke 7: 18-20 ASV
Again, in the Gospel of John there is no such uncertainty. But if Luke was writing for an audience familiar with the teachings of the Baptist, this issue would need to be addressed. There may well have been an opinion amongst the Baptist’s still-extant following that the Nazarene was a false prophet in John’s eyes.

It is highly likely that much of the Johannine literature was destroyed-perhaps during the seige of Jerusalem. Matthew essentially rewrites Mark’s account, adding a few editorial flourishes, most notably John’s protest that Jesus ought to be baptizing him.

And the question remains, why would Jesus need to be baptized at all? He was, according to his disciples, without sin. John Dominic Crossan notes that Jesus’ propagandists were “clearly uneasy wth the idea of John baptizing Jesus’ because that seems to make John superior and Jesus sinful.” Hence Matthew and John would revert to what Crossan calls “theological damage control.”

The legendary Jewish historian Josephus makes clear that John’s reputation among the Jews was such that the Roman onslaught and the destruction of the Temple was retribution from God, not for the execution of Jesus, but, for the execution of John. Speaking here of John, Josephus writes:
And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.

And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.
Josephus obviously finds John to be much more noteworthy than Jesus. Josephus’ only reference to Jesus is a single paragraph (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 line 63), which most experts agree was embellished by an embarrassed Christian copyist.

Was John thought to be the Christ by the pre-Diaspora Jews?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Astronaut Theology: London Mascots (UPDATES)

Reader Brooke brought these to my attention- the new mascots for the London Olympics. And what a surprise- more aliens. These are faintly reminiscent of the Teletubbies, though the cyclops look is a bit disconcerting. The levitation bit is a nice touch, no?

For casual readers not familiar with the repeating alien motifs attached to the Olympic Games, here's a nice primer from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles...

...and here's Christine Anu (literally "sky god" in ancient Sumerian) performing at the foot of a solar obelisk while the five-tone signal from Close Encounters of the Third Kind chimes away merrily during the refrain.

The Olympics were named for Mount Olympus, home of the gods. They were created by Hercules and were meant to entertain the gods with the athletic prowess of their creation. And now we see all of these alien motifs time and again, both subtle and not so much.

Gee, what do you think they're trying to tell us?

Click here for more Olympic alienation.

UPDATE: And look, it's our old friend the Heavenly Beam. And rainbow colored...

...which syncs quite sweetly with this bizarre story last week in the Telegraph:
Aliens have hijacked a Nasa spacecraft and are using it to try to contact earth, a UFO expert has claimed.

Hartwig Hausdorf, a German academic, believes that the reason Voyager 2, an unmanned probe that has been in space since 1977, is sending strange messages that are confusing scientists, is because it has been taken over by extraterrestrial life.

Since its launch, Voyager 2 has been sending streams of data back to Earth for study by scientists, but on April 22, 2010, that stream of information suddenly changed.
UPDATE: The media is running with the alien mascot meme.

UPDATE: Wenlock and Mandeville are names of legendary English warlords. Mandeville was a Templar, and is buried in the Temple Church in London.

UPDATE: Mascots are universally trashed, design studio deletes them from its site, branded "gay one-eyed alien Nazi spacemen" by Gawker.

Did someone say gay, one-eyed, alien Nazi spaceman?

UPDATE: Oh, here's an interesting quote for you:
“Biology and technology are fusing,” said Edward M. O’Hara, the chief creative officer at SME, which creates logos for professional and collegiate teams. “It’s certainly not the same model as previous mascots, but as a concept, they are right in line with what appeals to youth.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

John the Baptist, The Secret Messiah: Part 1

Is there a secret tradition that believes that John and not Jesus was the Messiah? Are the secret wars that lurk between the lines in the historical record the result of an age-old power struggle? Who was John the Baptist and who were his followers? More importantly, does his following exist to this day? Let's dig in and see if the truth isn't hiding in plain sight...

The Gospel of Mark- generally believed to be the earliest of the four gospels in the New Testament- begins, not with Jesus, but with John, son of Zechariah and Elisabeth, better known as ‘John the Baptist’ :
Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight;

John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem; And they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leathern girdle about his loins, and did eat locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water; But he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.- Mark 1:2-8 ASV
Despite what some Christians may believe, the author known as Mark was not a journalist, he was a propagandist in the truest sense of the word. He was seeking to propagate the Jesus cult. Not only was Mark competing with the multitude of Jewish, Pagan and Solar cults, he was competing with other Jesus factions.

The problem Mark faced is that in their own time John the Baptist was a much more popular figure in Palestine than Jesus. So after John baptizes Jesus, he is dispensed with by Mark (and by his follower Matthew), until he is executed.

On the other hand, the Gospel writer Luke seems to be aware that he is writing for a people that believed that John, and not Jesus, was the Messiah. Some believed that Luke was writing before the fall of Jerusalem and before the death of the Apostle Paul, and that a first draft might have been produced circa 64 AD. Therefore the first chapter of Luke acknowledges the supremacy of John in his audience’s mind by telling his story first.

Luke 1:5-25 tells the miraculous story of John’s birth to the Temple priest Zechariah and his barren wife, Elisabeth. The angelic announcement of the John’s activity is identical to Jesus’:
“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
Luke 1:11-14 (ASV)
Luke then has Mary visit Elisabeth in order that the well-known figure of Elisabeth can bestow her blessings on the lesser-known Mary. Of course, Elisabeth is clearly subservient to Mary in Luke’s telling. Humorously, John’s subservience to Jesus apparently is prenatal:
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Luke 1:43-44 (ASV)
The first chapter ends with John’s birth and with Zechariah’s song of praise for the miraculous nativity, and John’s subservient role in relationship to the coming messiah. Somehow overlooked by the so-called “Biblical Literalists” is that Zechariah’s view of the coming messiah (whom he does not name) is unmistakably and unambiguously Solar:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
Luke 1: 76-79 (NIV)
Luke takes up the story of John the Baptist again in chapter 3, after establishing Jesus’ bona fides in chapter 2. Here, Luke must remind his audience of John’s messianic prophecy using John’s own words:
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans (tax collectors) to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. - Luke 3: 7-17 ASV
Luke’s account here ends with John being imprisoned (Luke 3:20). The last we hear of John in the Gospel of Luke is an offhand remark by Herod, referring to John’s execution. (Luke 9:7-8)

Three vitally important facts come to light in the story of John’s ministry in Luke.
  • First, John’s communistic teachings are remarkably similar to Jesus’, leading many scholars to believe that Jesus was one of John’s disciples.
  • Next again note, as with Zecharias that John’s view of the coming Christ is Solar- John baptizes with water, but the Christ does so with fire. This brings to mind the baptism by fire Isis performed with Queen Astarte’s son to grant him immortality, as chronicled by Plutarch: “They relate that Isis nursed the child by giving it her finger to suck instead of her breast, and in the night she would burn away the mortal portions of its body." - Plutarch , “Isis and Osiris”, Moralia, 357B
  • Most importantly, note that John does not identify Jesus as the coming messiah in the Book of Luke. This is remarkable for a Gospel story, and is in direct contradiction to the accounts of Matthew and John. It’s also vitally important here to note that Luke makes reference to John’s ministry being in the spirit and power of Elijah. (Lk 1:16)
Could it be that that John’s large following was very familiar with his messianic prophecies? Given the detailed account of John’s biography and actions in Luke’s Gospel, it's very likely that there were once written records of John’s life and works which Luke is quoting from, particularly in the third chapter.

The fact that a Christian propagandist could resist the urge to insert Jesus’ name into Zechariah’s and John’s distinctly Solar prophecies is in itself evidence of a well-known corpus of Johannine literature in the First Century.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Matinee: God Told Me To

Seeing as how we seem to be stuck in an endless tapeloop of the 1970s, today's feature presentation is more timely than ever. Larry Cohen's God Told Me To is one of the great grindhouse/drive-in classics that seems to know a lot more than it's saying out loud. His filmography is full of that kind of thing; Cohen made his name with the genetic engineering-themed horror opus, It's Alive.

On the face of it, God Told Me To is a satire on all of those bizarre religious cults of the 70s, many of which popped up out of nowhere, all very well-financed and strangely fully-formed. The sociologists tried to explain them all away as symptoms of a society in flux and of a confused young generation, but I'm not sure even they believed that stuff. Especially when a whole host of Fundamentalist groups sprung up soon after, equally well-financed and fully-formed, using the very same recruitment and indoctrination techniques only on a much larger scale.

But Cohen goes a lot deeper with it all, tapping into a lot of memes familiar to Secret Sun readers: alien identity, androgyny, St. Paddy's Day, Times Square, even ancient astronauts. At the center of it all is a mysterious board of power-brokers similar to the Syndicate in The X-Files. There's also some visual effects (such as they are) that might ring a bell if you've seen The Forgotten and more subtext than you can shake a stick at, if you pay close attention.

Quite a cast for a low-budget drive-in opus, too. Aside from convincing performances from the supporting cast, you have good work from Tony LoBianco, Sandy Dennis, Deborah Raffin and Sylvia Sidney (of Beetlejuice fame). This film also marks the debut of Andy Kaufman in a fascinating cameo role.

So, you have cults, aliens, and 70s-vintage urban malaise, all wrapped up in glorious grindhouse production values. How can you go wrong? Most importantly, I can't shake the feeling that Cohen was telling tales out of school with this one. See if you don't pick on up on that vibe yourself.

Watch the whole thing at Mystic Politics.

Cohen revisited the theme of death over Manhattan in 1982 with Q, short for Quetzalcoatl. Only this time Quetzalcoatl is a pterodactyl who's prayed back into existence. Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rent "The Box" this weekend. Seriously.

Once in a very great while, an artist comes out of nowhere and channels the most ineffably unconscious currents of an age into pop culture artifacts. Often it seems as if these artists are only half-aware of what it is they are channeling. Richard Kelly is one of these.

Donnie Darko
was one of those come-from-nowhere hits that tap into an unspoken mood not only in the nation's youth but the collective consciousness as a whole. Darko was released a few weeks after 9/11, and its themes of aircrashes and time paradoxes synched with some of the more esoteric interpretations of the event.

Southland Tales was much less successful, but its failure was a result of reckless over-ambition, a bug that bites most young auteurs. But it too resonated with the mood of the country at the time, if not (quite) a bit more self-consciously. But one thing it had in common with Darko was its fringe science underpinings - mapping out a space where science and mysticism rejoin and tear away at the very fabric of consensus reality. Kind of a thruline there for Kelly, and his latest film The Box brings all of it into a much sharper focus than before.

So I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that Kelly's father worked for that most arcane of government agencies, NASA (known as "NAZCA NASA" around these parts). Or that he worked on that most hyper-resonant of projects, the Viking Mars Mission. Kelly draws upon that history in The Box, putting his male lead Arthur Lewis (played by James Marsden of X-Men fame) in his father's shoes, literally.

A darker take on the old Heavenly Beam riff

The film is ostensibly based on an old Robert Bloch story but really isn't, outside of the basic premise. Kelly takes all of this into extremely esoteric territory, dealing with the hidden forces that govern our lives (lifting a major riff from the X-Files episode "Space," a brilliant story that got killed when Ten Thirteen started hitting the wall with money and schedules).

Kelly also drenches every frame of The Box in a dream-reality ambiance that owes much more than a nod to David Lynch. There's not a lot more I can say without risking spoilage, so let's just say that The Box is a Synchromystic's delight, girded with fringe science and exopolitical undertones.

The fringe science angle is especially fascinating - even though Kelly sets the film in his native Virginia, he filmed most of in the suburbs of Boston, including a few areas I have some connections to or have spent some time around. That's getting us close to Walter Bishop Country, for those of you keeping track at home. The locations turn out to be very appropriate, given the mind-bending subtext of the story.

But there's an even deeper- and more disturbing- subtext to the story that has to do with the exact nature of the Frank Langella character and who he represents. And did I mention that the conceit of the film revolves around the old Arthur C. Clarke line about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic?

That's an endorsement in and of itself, right?

UPDATE: Just a few miles down the road from Langely AFB (where much of the action in The Box takes place) comes this video in which a former New Hampshire Assemblyman claims that he was privy to information pertaining to a meeting between President Eisenhower and extraterrestrials.

Is this a genuine whistleblower? A hoax? Some kind of viral marketing? Can't rightly say, but the sync is certainly quite tasty. NOTE: The video was released on Tuesday, nine days after I watched (and tweeted about) The Box.

Speaking of syncs (and Air Force bases), this book literally dropped in my lap the other night in circumstances too complicated to explain. But I'm reading it now, being the obedient soul that I am. Predictably, it didn't waste any time taking me from Nellis (a form of Knowles, btw) AFB to the Giza plateau. Read all about it here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Funny Because It's True

This may be the most insightful work of social criticism in recent memory - a perfect snapshot of American politics and the news media, circa 2010.

Click here for the fullscreen version- the embed is a bit wonky.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta, Artist Laureate of the American Id

America dies a little every day, but losing a Frank Frazetta just brings our culture that much closer to the dustbin of history.

There's something wild, free and savagely self-confident about Frazetta's artwork, qualities that have been sucked out of our culture by political correctness, corporate team-building, pea-brained paranoia and discount store religion. Frazetta was the poet laureate of untrammeled Id, and his art captured an America at the height of its powers and chronicled the start of its decline.

This is why the cultural elite might embrace a Robert Crumb or even a Jack Kirby, but Frazetta's work is untameable. You can't pretty it up or pretend it's not exactly what is; an face-grabbing immersion into lust and rage, a guiltless celebration of the human machine obeying its most primal impulses.

Indeed, if there's one word that best sums up Frazetta's work, it would be 'tumescent'.

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Here's a brief sketch of the man's life and work, taken from Erotic Art Village:
Frazetta was born in Brooklyn in 1928 and showed prodigious talent from a very early age. His kindergarten teachers were amazed that he could draw better than most 10-year olds, and at the age of 8 he began studying in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts with Italian fine artist Michael Falanga...

At the age of 16 he began doing illustrations for Standard Publishing. That led to work in the comic book industry for several different publishers...

(Frazetta's) Buck Rogers covers gained the attention of Li'l Abner creator Al Capp, who hired Frazetta...They worked together for nine years, after which they had a falling out and Frank reentered the world of regular comic books.

The artist did find work eventually, particularly for men's magazines...He also drew the comic strip parody Lil' Annie Fannie for Playboy Magazine...In the mid-60s Frazetta's talent was recognized in Hollywood and the publishing industry.

Despite Frazetta's classical training, his art is not so much Italian Renaissance as Etruscan. There's no time for social or artistic convention - only sex, sorcery and swordplay.

And more sex.

Sex was Frazetta's muse- the testosterone explodes nearly from every brushstroke. His women - with their cat eyes, ample hips and thighs, their full, firm asses and modest busts - ooze an idealized Mediterranean fecundity, straight out of ancient Greek or Egyptian art. And for every prostrate barbarian moll, Frazetta served up half a dozen wild jungle girls and witchy women, every bit as imposing as his men. No doubt Frazetta was inspired by the tough-skinned Brooklyn girls of his youth, as well as his strong-willed wife, Ellie.

Similarly, Frazetta's depiction of men seems invested with a distinct kind of erotic energy, which is kind of amusing given the fact that he often used himself as a model. Frazetta wouldn't be the first artist guilty of narcissism, nor would he be the first some might accuse of getting off on his heroes as much as his heroines. Like Kirby before him and Richard Corben after him, Frazetta made no bones that masculine potency was itself the natural counterpart of the feminine sexual allure at the core of his vision. But certainly there is a polymorphous aspect to Frazetta's art - you get the impression a Frazetta hero would screw anything that moved, so long as he was on top.

As with violence, lust is self-justifying in the Frazetta Universe. No wonder his work was so potent (and popular) in the smug, self-righteous 70s - it was an antidote to the tedious, therapeutic liberalism of the time. In fact, that pretty much describes anything of lasting value from that decade- Glam and Punk, cult cinema (horror, sci-fi, grindhouse), Heavy Metal, National Lampoon, Hustler and similar explosions of the repressed Id in an age of encounter groups, corduroy, and soft rock.

Frazetta also played a vital role in the revival of the occult and the arcane in pop culture. His paintings played a major part in the sword-and-sorcery revival of the 60s, embodying the same atavistic energy that Robert E. Howard put into words.

He did the same for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Theosophist superhero, John Carter of Mars (Jack Parsons' favorite character)- Frazetta burned an image of the Martian badlands into the brains of young readers before they even cracked the covers.

The same goes for the classic black and white horror comics Jim Warren put on the stands in the 60s. When Warren needed an artist to summon the dark, esoteric powers of his classic books like Creepy and Vampirella, the first guy he called was Frank Frazetta. His was a primal, instinctual kind of pop esotericism- and was all the more resonant and lasting for it.

Not only did Frazetta capture that dark energy floating around in the Ether at the twilight of the Aquarian Age, he also brought the kind of gut-punching catharsis that Jack Kirby had brought to the table. The fury in this Creepy cover is the same you saw in Jack; you get the feeling that both artists had their fair share of street fights back in the day - and maybe saw the back of poppa's hand one too many times for their liking.

I'd go so far to say that Frazetta was every bit as important to the evolution of the Heavy Metal aesthetic as a Jimmy Page or Tony Iommi. Certainly the New Wave of British Metal bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead were heavily influenced by the Frazetta barbarian milieu (both visually and spiritually) and Southern metal band Molly Hatchet used Frazetta art on their first few album covers, just as countless other bands used bad Frazetta copyists for their own. Certainly 80s metal wouldn't be the same without the overall barbarian aesthetic that Frazetta popularized.

And therein lies the problem- when a revolutionary artist comes around, they almost immediately inspire a wave of imitators who invariably degrade the aesthetic currency. What was once exciting and visionary becomes cliche. It inevitably gets to the point where all of the bad imitations sour the public on the original and the baby is then thrown out with the bathwater. The process probably began with cave paintings.

We're not quite there yet but we may be nearing a Frazetta revival. The honesty and potency of his art has survived the backlash inspired by all of the crappy clones and incredible depth of his vision still packs a tremendous emotional punch, maybe more so today since that kind of gutpunching eroticism is so rare in an age bogged down with crappy porn pretending to be art. Frazetta was a true American original, one I'm very much afraid we're becoming unable to produce any more of. Every time one of these giants leaves us, I get this gnawing feeling of anxiety in my gut.

What makes Frazetta's work so powerful was not only his dedication to craft and ferocious work ethic, but also its fearlessness, its surrender to Eros and Ares- even Hades. It's very much the reflection of a younger, more confident society, one less beaten down by political correctness and self-censorship.

As the Romans said, life is short but art is eternal. The man is gone but the work lives on. Like Kirby, Frazetta tapped into something very deep and primal. Time took everything away from him, but the work is bouncing around the Net and probably will forever. Frazetta channeled those impossibly deep mythic streams at the core of human consciousness, even if the museums don't want to know about it. But I'll bet the farm his work outlasts pretty much everyone being shown at the Whitney or the Guggenheim.

Art is eternal but bullshit is very, very temporary.

NOTE: This piece is a bit rushed, but I wanted to get this out while the topic is still timely. I will probably give this piece a polish or three and stick it up on the Solar Seminar. Frazetta is a huge part of my worldview and I want to do the man justice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wyrd New Jersey: The Necropolis

The thing about New Jersey is that you never know what you might find hiding in plain sight. The place is so littered with arcane symbolism it's easy to take for granted.

For instance, this cemetery in the rolling hills at the foot of the Skylands caught the attention of even a jaded symbol-junkie like myself. That strange obelisk sans capstone is particularly interesting in and of itself, given that it's oriented to the cardinal points. Even more so when placed in context with some of the other items around it.

Like this interesting Masonic monument, displaying a Bible verse in such a way that it ends in "...of the Sun Forever." The marker is interesting as well- let's have a look at it...

"When you do ritual, why not do it right?" Hopefully, John's "corn, wine and oil ceremony" was done right.

Just up the road from that little landmark is this enigmatic fixture. A cobblestone path leading to a monument, made of black marble. Whatever could it be? (Incidentally, the path is oriented towards the north).

Hmm. It's a scale model of the Earth. Why is it in black? Why the path and the circular walk around it? Some ritual purpose, perhaps. If so, I hope it's done right. For John's sake.

If any of my worshipful and illustrious Masonic readers would like to shed some light on this, please do so. In the meantime, let's get a closer look at the mausoleum...

Facing the sunrise is - you guessed it- a mosaic of a sunrise, along with what looks like a fruiting tree of some kind. This is in the inner courtyard of the mausoleum. But what's that sculpture to the right there?

Why, it's an eagle, wings spread in glory. Well, kind of an eagle- its neck is rather long. You can't tell from this picture, but it has a bit of a tuft at the back of its head. Know what I mean?

Let's go to the other side of the building...

Facing the sunset is this lovely scene of the sea, with a lighthouse shining in the twilight as the sun sets over the waves. Now, the mausoleum is nondenominational, but I do know that the lighthouse is becoming a very popular symbol for Evangelicals. Let's get a closer look...

This is one fascinating piece of artwork. I wonder why the lighthouse become such a popular symbol these days. Take a long, hard look at it and see if you can't figure it out.

Speaking of strange symbols, anyone know what this symbol stands for? It almost kind of goes with the lighthouse, don't you think?

New Jersey- it's not just a state, it's a state of mind.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Sirius Crisis in Greece?

By now you've all heard about the financial crisis in Greece, which is threatening the entire economy of Europe. But there's apparently a greater risk to the world economy, for reasons as arcane to me as any Medieval grimoire:

The even greater risk to the European banking system from a Greek failure is that it would bring very much into play Portugal, Spain, and Ireland. These countries, which between them have around US$1.5 trillion in sovereign debt, suffer from similar, albeit less acute, public finance and international competitiveness problems. And they too are stuck in a Euro-zone straightjacket that severely constrains their ability to deal with these problems in a credible manner.

In considering the timing of the Federal Reserve's exit strategy, Bernanke would make the gravest of errors were he to underestimate the potential fallout of a Greek failure on the U.S. and global economies. For not only would a further shock to the European banking system diminish U.S. export prospects by tipping the European economy back into recession and by materially weakening the euro, it would also all too likely be accompanied by a return in spades of risk aversion in global financial markets.

But amidst all of the chaos in the streets a new star has emerged- Rebel Dog:

It's a time-honored adage that anyone in Washington who wants a friend had better get a dog. But who knew that man's best friend would also be a boon to Greek rioters?

Amid the turmoil of the Greece financial crisis, photos and videos of street protests have turned up a kind of canine "Where's Waldo" figure: a mutt that may have some German shepherd genes, and clearly has a strong interest in civic disorder.
There's also a fascinating blog dedicated to Rebel Dog, with all sorts of fascinating riot scenes. Even more fascinating is this chart graphic, illustrating the PIIGS crisis. Quite a coincidence, don't you think?

In ancient times, the people of these countries would see Rebel Dog as a messenger of a god, or even his incarnation. Of course we know better today, with our high fructose corn syrup and our megachurches and our microwave corn dogs and our NASCAR races. Even so, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and if it eventually ties into the Sirius Rising meme we've seen so much of recently.