Thursday, June 27, 2013

Secret Star Trek: "Not Entirely Real"

"Somewhere out there," [Gene] starts off, his eyes widening as he continues, "there's this massive ... entity, this abstract, unknown life force that seems mechanical in nature, although it actually possesses its own highly advanced consciousness. It's a force thousands of times greater than anything intergalactic civilization has ever witnessed. It could be God, it could be Satan, and it's heading toward earth."

-- Star Trek Movie Memories

In the first part of this series we looked at the curious fact that an alien planet that acts as the battlefield in the ninth Star Trek film is virtually identical to the legendary New Age resort, Esalen. In the second part we looked at what connected both Star Trek and Esalen- the bizarre and secretive UFO cult known variously as The Nine, the Council of Nine and Lab-9.

In this chapter we will look at the almost unbelievable latticework of connections between Star Trek, Esalen and The Nine, as well as evidence that there may well be iconic tributes to the late Esalen co-founder Richard Price throughout the Star Trek franchise itself...

Roddenberry didn't really have much luck after Star Trek. Which, truth be told, was considered a failure in its original run. He later penned a feature film starring Rock Hudson, Pretty Maids All in a Row, which was a critical and box office failure. 

A new sci-fi concept - originally titled Genesis II - tossed bits of Star Trek, The Time Machine and Planet of the Apes into a blender but never got off the ground, despite three separate launches. Another pilot -The Questor Tapes - dealt with an android seeking to become human. This too was a bust. But since Roddenberry never threw an idea out, Questor would be reincarnated the following decade and become a superstar.

With Star Trek burning up the Nielsens in reruns, Paramount rehired Roddenberry and put him to work on ideas for a low-budget Star Trek feature. His first attempt was begun in May of 1975 and submitted to studio head Barry Diller on June 30 of that year.
"I handed them a script and they turned it down," Roddenberry stated. "It was too controversial. It talked about concepts like, 'Who is God?' [In it] the Enterprise meets God in space; God is a life form, and I wanted to suggest that there may have been, at one time in the human beginning, an alien entity that early man believed was God, and kept those legends.
Gene had obviously been reading his Von Daniken, just like everyone else at the time. But since the devil's (due) in the details around here, we might want to get another look at the script, which Roddenberry titled The God Thing†:
Director Richard Colla, who had helmed Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes, was very familiar with that particular screenplay and recalls it fondly.  "They went off in search of that thing from outer space that was affecting everything. By the time they got to the spaceship and got into its [the alien's] presence, it manifested itself and said, 'Do you know me?' Kirk said, 'No, I don't know who you are.' 

So it shift-changed and became another image and said, 'Do you know me?' Kirk said, 'No, who are you? It shifts shape again and comes up in the form of Christ the Carpenter, and says, 'Do you know me?' and Kirk said, 'Oh, now I know who you are.' And he says, 'How strange you didn't know these other forms of me.'
A god-like being presenting himself as many different figures is startling reminiscent of the sessions Roddenberry would conduct at Lab-9 in the weeks and months following the submission of his script to Paramount, though Roddenberry didn't seem to notice. Which is strange because he didn't fail to namecheck other Star Trek eps at other points of the Lab-9 interviews:
GENE: To whom am I talking? Do you have a name?

Tom: I am Tom. I am the spokesman for the Council of Nine. In truth I am Tehuti. Yes. I am also Hamarkos, I am also Herenkar, I am known as Thomas and I am known as Atum. 
Christ was also identified with The Nine in some of the other "channeled" material. But what was interesting was that The God Thing was very much V'Ger in reverse- where V'Ger was a malfunctioning space probe looking for its maker in mankind, the God Thing was a malfunctioning space probe looking to have mankind see it as its maker.* Colla again:
Really, what Gene had written was that this 'thing' was sent forth to lay down the law; to communicate the law of the universe, and that as time goes on the law needs to be reinterpreted. 
And at that time 2,000 years ago, the law was interpreted by this Carpenter image. As time went on, the law was meant to be reinterpreted, and the Christ figure was meant to reappear in different forms. 
But this machine malfunctioned, and it was like a phonograph record that got caught in a groove and kept grooving back, grooving back, grooving back.

Psychic gods, from the second Star Trek pilot
But given Roddenberry's longtime interest in psychic phenomena, The God Thing may well have been inspired by The Nine before Gene ever "met" them. Such is the enigma of The Nine; just when you want to chuck it all as a pile of utter New Age nonsense, it throws a curveball at you.

It's unclear exactly when Gene Roddenberry first came into content with The Nine. The Stargate Conspiracy (based on Philip Coppens' research) claims early 1976. Jon Povill's muckracking biography has Roddenberry being approached by Nine honcho Sir John Whitmore in July 1975, after Roddenberry finished The God Thing. The official whitewash biography claims that Whitmore had written Roddenberry to ask his opinion of UFOs in April of that year.

But whatever the case it's obvious that Roddenberry and The Nine were working parallel tracks and were destined to meet. And given his longstanding interesting in parapsychology, it may well be that Roddenberry had read Andrija Puharich's 1974 "biography" of Uri Geller┬║, which is filled with spaceships and malfunctioning equipment and alien gods.
Now that Uri and I had come to accept the reality of this mysterious being as well as its power, we were naturally intensely curious as to whom we were dealing with...We came to the conclusion that we must try once again the proven technique of trance induction, and try to make the contact, and then ask our questions.
AP: "Please ask if I can use the tape recorder."

Uri: "I am alone here. There is no one to ask the question of." Then I heard a voice, not from Uri, for he was asleep. The voice had no source.

Andrija, I have told Uri to come to me now.

AP: "May I use the tape recorder?"

Yes, proceed.

AP: "Are you of the Nine Principles that once spoke through Dr. Vinod?"


AP: "Are you behind the UFO sightings that started in the United States when Kenneth Arnold saw nine flying saucers on June 24, 1947?"


AP: "How can we communicate with you?"

You cannot. We will reach you. We can command any communication system man has devised to reach you. Be alert. We will use your tape, phone, radio, television, telegram, letters, computers, and so on. Farewell.

Roddenberry was hired to interview the psychics at Lab-9 for a movie that would herald the coming landing of The Nine on Planet Earth. Stuart Holroyd was tasked with the same in the book, only he finished his job- the 1977 hardcover Briefings for the Landing on Planet Earth.

Roddenberry was drinking and drugging hard at the time. After his first effort was rejected by Whitmore, he had his assistant Jon Povill write a new one, which had the Roddenberry character struggling with the possibility that he was setting the world up for an alien invasion.

Whatever one might think of The Nine, one thing that can be said without reservation: Roddenberry's experiences with the cult made a huge impression on him, and in many ways would form the basis of the rest of his life's work. As well as the entire Star Trek franchise.

"Spectra" became Spectre, a 1977 TV occult detetctive TV movie with vague but recognizable Geller and Puharich analogs, and the entire Nine landing scenario would very much resurface in Battlefield Earth, the unmade TV pilot that became the basis for the syndicated series, Earth: Final Conflict. The god-like space ship would be reborn as V'ger, which would replay elements from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was based on an unused Genesis II storyline.

But what's even more remarkable is that hints not only of Spectra, Geller, Puharich and The Nine appear in Roddenberry's work, but also hints of Esalen itself. The novelization of the Star Trek movie- credited to Roddenberry- features a very Esalen-like concept...

OK, I lied; it's a concept stolen directly from Esalen- the "New Human" movement (I guess "Human Potential Movement" was too obvious):
The New Human movement represented a popular advancement of the Human civilization in the 23rd century, a grouping created as an outgrowth of the advantage of potential in Humankind on Earth and other Federation worlds where Human populations lived in total peace and were able to devote themselves entirely to their own betterment. 
Without conflict and turmoil, education became more advanced and the intelligence of the average individual increased, creating a dynamic of social freedom not before experienced by the species.
But things were just warming up. The good people of Starfleet had been to Space-Esalen before Star Trek 9; the concept just needed to be refined a bit.


Before we proceed, let's go over the basic bullet points of the Esalen/Nine story:
• Esalen is a resort in Big Sur founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price (left)
• By any reckoning, it is Paradise or Eden;  widely seen as one of the most beautiful places in the world
• In the first several years of its existence it was known both for hippie hedonism and avant garde psychology
• It was later known for work in psychedelic research and remote viewing but more recent mostly became known for massage and bodywork

• Dick Price fell in with The Nine in 1979, hiring psychic Jenny O'Connor (right) who channeled The Nine

• Dick and Jenny made several administrative decisions and The Nine were listed as part of Esalen staff

• Jenny and The Nine were forced out by Murphy after a power struggle in the early 80s

• Price was killed in an apparent freak accident at the basin that fed Esalen's water supply. He was found with a fatal wound in his forehead.  Remember that detail.


After being humiliated by Paramount when he was fired from the film franchise, Roddenberry took control over the new TV franchise, Star Trek: The Next Generation (which, as we saw, featured nine main characters). The problem was that he was in bad shape from years of self-abuse.

But he still had that psychedelic worldview that comes when you live through two near-death experiences (two plane crashes in this case). The first season of the series might have been a mess but it was a lot more ambitious, sweeping and cinematic than the franchise later became.  

But he drove a lot of good writers away by rewriting their scripts forcing Paramount to step in and install Maurice Hurley as head writer.

The pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" is actually two episodes quashed together. Paramount wanted a big opener. It's badly underrated by Trekkers, who like many nerds feel a burning need to hate anything written by the creator of their all-time favorite franchises. 

One episode would have introduced us to an all-powerful alien trickster god named Q, who was part of a very Council of Nine-like group called The Q Continuum. This is reminiscent of Uri Geller opining that The Nine were a race of clowns.

The second takes us to a base built on a primitive planet that is actually the work of yet more Roddenberry god-like aliens (yet more echoes of The Nine), these ones disguise themselves as giant flying saucers.

What's even more bizarre - if that's possible - is that the episode is full of themes from esoteric and occult UFOlogy- the Enterprise is trapped in an energy field, like many reports from the 70s of automobiles. It then- for no real reason- detaches its saucer section.

Q is like something out of Keel- he appears and disappears, speaking in riddles. He dresses up in US military garb circa the Cold War, just like a Man in Black. He then abducts senior officers of the crew. The magical flying saucer is fact an organic being, shades of Ivan Sanderson.

Farpoint itself features an obelisk strongly reminiscent of the San Francisco pyramid (the previous year's Trek feature film was shot there) and the relation of Farpoint to the primitive Old City is like a New Yorker cover rendering of San Francisco to Big Sur.

And just to add the cherry on top, Farpoint is run by an old hippie, played by an actor who was then the same age as many of the Esalen senior staff. In the unvarying tradition of the new Trek, he's a civilian, which automatically means he's either a criminal or simply a pain in the ass.

 And just to bring us back to The Nine again, we have the omnipotent UFO in high orbit and the Jenny-like psychic who is in communication with it. We'll see that motif again soon.

Oh- I should probably mention that the psychological technique Esalen was best known for was the "Encounter."

One more link to remember is that the Klingon Empire were now at peace with the Federation though their real-world counterparts the Soviet Union was still Communist and still the Evil Empire to many Americans. Esalen was doing a lot of work for the Rockefellers in building connections in Russia, starting at the height of the Cold War with its research in Soviet psi programs.

"Justice" - the seventh episode of the first season - also has Roddenberry's stamp all over it. It's also our second trip to Space Esalen. As you'll see, the concept is evolving.

Despite the huge water reclamation plant (?) in the background, the planet Rubicun is a Esalen-like paradise of 60s vintage blond Californians, rampant hedonism and physical fitness. The Edo people nearly fulfill the wishes of millions of bitter Trekkies when they mark young Wesley Crusher for death after he falls into some flowers or something.

We also see scenes where the Edolens are massaging each other, reminding us that by the time this aired Esalen was famous for crunchy living but world famous for its massage workers.

There's also this bit of random weirdness- the Edolen musician is playing an identical instrument from the notorious third-season ep, "The Way to Eden." All the more interesting since all the original Trek props were destroyed.

With Wesley sentenced to death for a minor infraction the obvious thing to do is to beam him off and split the scene. But there's one problem; there's one bad motherfucker of a ship out there and it's not having any of it. Here again we see the giant Nine-like ship and the Jenny-like girl in communion with it.

The way this thing is described still blows my mind. Like, for real:
The structure was partially detected by a starship's sensors, and was generally invisible. ...It appeared only when Captain Jean-Luc Picard asked to reveal itself; even then, the structure appeared transparent, and sensors read it as "not entirely real". 
As Data surmised later, once they belonged to this dimension but evolved considerably; they occupied several dimensions, being in several places at once.
OK, that's mindblowing. Now shit gets weird. Remember that Dick Price was found having been struck down with a wound on his forehead?

You're going to be seeing a lot of this kind of thing.

I mean a lot.


With Rubicun lost to the Federation, the writers needed a new Esalen and they invented Risa, the pleasure planet. We first go to Risa on "Captain's Holiday", where we meet Vash, named in the grand Trek tradition of Vina.

Some interesting factoids- we find out that Risa is famed for its steam pools, just like Esalen. The area around it is famed for its caves, just like Big Sur.

Just as Esalen with the Essalen Indians, Risa was once home to a premodern indigenous people. The modern Risians are typified by a ritual mark...

...on their foreheads.

That tribal item on the left behind Vash? Here's a bit of history on that:
 Riker concedes but notes that two ensigns on deck 39 may not know about the plan. Picard finally gives in and starts planning to vacation somewhere Riker suggested: Risa. Just before Picard leaves Riker asks him to bring back a local souvenir called a Horga'hn.
Here's an interesting factoid about the Essalen:
The Esselen language is a language isolate. It is hypothetically part of the Hokan family.

Risa is a dangerous place for a pleasure planet, trips there get you mixed up in alien mind control or encounters with truly bizarre time-traveling NHEs.

Incidentally, Vash would reappear on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in a weird replay of "Encounter at Farpoint." She acts as Q's traveling companion and business partner.

Meanwhile an alien being much like the Squidsaucers at Farpoint threatens the station before disappearing into the Temple of the Prophets. By the way, Vash is played by Jennifer Hetrick.

Her friends call her Jenny.

The DS9ers head over to Risa for "Let He Who is Without Sin," which quite cannily parallels the then-current attacks on Esalen and the New Age movement in general by John Foster Dulles' Religious Right program (ah, those elite proxy wars- gotta love 'em) by showing a Federation cult called The New Essentialists who literally assault Risa. 

The radiant Vanessa Williams plays a Risian hostess (note that ritual forehead mark).

Then there's totally extraneous scene from an episode of Enterprise when the original crew lands on Risa. An older couple and their ritual forehead scars engage the ship's translations officer and compliment her on her Risian. The woman is played by Jennifer Williams.

Her friends call her Jenny.

And here's another bizarre scene from Deep Space Nine. The Sisko of Bajor, the Emissary of the Nine Prophets stands near a river (in Griffith Park in reality) in the Monastery of the Kai. He picks up a rock and throws it in the water...

...stares at his reflection as the water ripples...

...and Vedek Bareil appears, in orange robes not at all unlike those of the followers of Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh.

Bareil later becomes the lover of Kira Neris, who later channels one of the Nine Prophets. This was aired during Michael Piller's reign as head writer.

He would later write Star Trek 9 as well.


† The God Thing was also part of the material cribbed for the Project Blue Beam hoax

Let me just add this is speculation on my part- neither Roddenberry bio mentions any interest in or involvement with Geller prior to his work with Lab-9, I'm simply saying it's possible. It's interesting either way you cut it, since Roddenberry was obsessed with these ideas since before Uri was published.

* This of course is remarkably similar to a story Jack Kirby told a couple years later