Beyond Main Street

For the last 7 years, I have been giving historical walking tours of my home village--Woodstock, Vermont. I try with each walk to turn this seemingly tidy and wholly unmysterious place upside down and inside out, to create perceptual surprises. That is what I would wish for this blogwalk to do as well. Thanks for joining me.

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Austin landing

Walking from Montreal to Manhattan this past spring, it seemed that every day I was traversing old ground, crossing some paths of my own biography -- some recent, some long vanished. Never having been to Austin before, I have no past paths to cross, but tonight, walking out from the Ransom Center, knowing that my dad had been a law student here in 1952-3, I started to think about his paths. I was thinking it would be fun to find a historic photo on the Web, and so I did a Google image search for "University of Texas Austin Law School."
The photo above was one of the first images, and reminds me that this was a very different place when Dad arrived here over a half century ago. Only two years before, Heman Marion Sweatt stood in the registration line for classes at the University of Texas School of Law, after a 4-year legal battle which saw an NAACP legal team, led by Thurgood Marshall, prevail in the US Supreme Court in forcing the University to admit a black man. Dad, did you ever meet Heman Sweatt while you were here?

Sweat is what I get to do down here while all my friends and family shiver up north. I'd had cold weather all the way to New Orleans, and was happy to watch the thermometer climb to the high 40s on Sunday as I drove across the bayou country towards Austin. Monday morning I rose to discover that my new digs (with Brad Riley and his wife Tara) back up to the greenbelt that flanks Barton Creek, which just a short distance downstream widens out to the Barton Springs Pool, which has been the mecca for Austin bathers for generations.
Keen to get baptized in the local waters, I went for a swim yesterday morning in the 67 degree outdoor pool (free admission from 5 AM to 9 AM!); it felt almost warm compared to the 45 degree morning air. A regular told me that the temp used to be a steady 72 all year long -- quite refreshing in midsummer, and only tempting to a few hardy souls this time of year. They had turned off the water at the showers because of the freezing temps at night of late, but even so, the open air locker room in mid-January was a welcome treat!

Yes Dad, those are your swimming trunks!

The Harry Ransom Center is a sumptuous place to work, with an unparalleled collection of resources on the history of magic. I am going to do my disappearing act right now, as it's late, but I'll leave you with this poster from the heyday of Spiritualist showmanship. . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hoboing Along

The hoboing goes splendidly. Yesterday evening was so lovely that I decide to walk on from Bowdoin Park, through the happy hamlet of New Hamburg, where the porch sitters looked particularly serene

and was thrilled when I got my first glance of the Hudson Highlands -- Storm King away off to the south -- and delighted by this little optical trick of the setting sun cast across the big puddles along the railroad tracks:

those little vertical shadows across my midsection are the upside-down reflection of my legs, and as I was walking I got to watch my legs walking both right-side-up and upside-down. Such ephemeral surprises are among this long walk's greatest graces. Just after I took this photo, the nice soft alluvium along the RR turned to foot-rupturing crushed stone, and, seeing an open hillside and what appeared to be a road, I cut cross lots. . . and a couple of minutes later, a pair of DEP (NY's Dept of Environmental Protection -- fully armed) cops pulled in front of me, lights flashing, and jumped out. They asked for ID, waited for the dispatcher to get back with info about whether I was a terrorist, and then released me when they got word I was only wanted in a single small rural state for ringing bells. As I headed for the HUGE gate, unsure exactly what sensitive government installation I'd trespassed upon, I was met by the gatehouse guard Phil, who somewhat awkwardly asked me to sign out on his clipboard, even though I hadn't signed in.

When I told Phil what I was up to, he very eagerly asked me: "Which way does Lake George drain -- into the Hudson or Lake Champlain? When I told him that it came into Lake Champlain via the La Chute River, he then, with a big, sweet, can-you-top-this?! look, asked: "Do you know why most rivers in the northern hemisphere drain south, and most in the southern hemisphere drain north?" "Coriolis effect?" I guessed. "No, the bulge at the equator. . ." and then he gave me a mini-geography lesson. All this hospitality from the guy who was in charge of keeping me out of the joint relaxed me, especially because as we were talking, the DEP cops went out the gate. "What is this place, anyway, that there is so much security?" Phil glanced over his shoulder both ways, then said he guessed he could tell me, since it wasn't any secret. "This is where the Croton Aqueduct comes back up after tunneling under the Hudson." He pointed to a little vent pipe coming out of the grass at a little distance (you can just barely see it above and to the right of my mando on my back in this photo)

Phil proceeded to tell me the whole history of New York City's water supply, and then invited me in to his heavily fortified gatehouse to show me some historic photos:

I felt so gratified to think of such a well-informed gatehouse guard protecting my destination city's water supply. Thanks Phil for the great lesson!

Lingering so long with Phil meant that I wouldn't make it to Beacon by nightfall, and as the last light -- and the first fireflies of my walk! -- faded, I passed a darkened house for sale, with a big wrap-around porch. I tried the door, and it was open, and so I pitched my sleeping bag out back on the screen porch. There was a nice swimming pool out back, so this morning at 4:30 AM I got a little pre-walk swim in too!

Oh my! The sun has come out here in Beacon, and a red-tail hawk is being mobbed by a pair of crows. Oh, leave the poor fellow alone! There has been so much rain this past month, that it seems that absolutely all creatures great & small should live and let live for awhile. "I hereby declare a moratorium on all animal behaviors outside cooperation and compassion . . ."

Maybe I could get the Hudson Valley's most celebrated and beloved citizen, Pete Seeger, to make this decree. Last week Pete was declared "Honorary Beacon Citizen." When my friend Mickey De Nicola saw Pete at the Clearwater Festival on Sunday, she asked him if he planned to come to "Maps & Dreams" at the Howland Center tonight, he opened up his day planner, and she said the only thing written in for Wednesday was: "KEVIN DANN". I called yesterday and Pete's wife Toshi said she'd pass my invitation on to him, so there's a chance I'll get to sing "If I Had a Hammer" with him. I can still recall singing this in the 6th grade talent show in 1968, wearing plastic love beads and a funky scarf.

Well, I guess some things never change. (That's Dick Tracy, ex-mayor of Hudson, giving me the key to the city. . . )

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Christ and the Maya Calendar" excerpt

This morning I put up a short synopsis of the book that I have written with Robert Powell, Christ and the Maya Calendar: 2012 and the Coming of the Antichrist, on the Reality Sandwich website

and it has made me aware that it would be helpful to have some excerpts available for people to read. Here is the Table of Contents and Preface, which I hope will give a better glimpse of our research.


Part I: The Mayan Calendar and the Apocalypse Code – by Kevin Dann


Chapter 1: Calendars Do Not Forget
The World Tree, the Milky Way, and the “2012 Window”

Chapter 2: The Gospel in the Stars
The Apocalypse Code
The Incarnation of Ahriman
Krishna and the Kali Yuga

Chapter 3: The Mexican Mysteries
The Sacrilege of Bloodletting
The “Prince of the House” and the Rise of Huitzilopochtli
The Attack on the Holy Grail

Chapter 4: Redeeming Lucifer, Rediscovering Itzamna
Clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her Feet
The “Descending God” at Zama

Chapter 5: Recognizing Evil, Manifesting the Good

Part II: Penetrating the Mysteries of Time – by Robert Powell

Chapter 6: The Dating of Kali Yuga in Relation to the
Mayan Calendar
Chapter 7: The Rhythm of 666 Years
Chapter 8: The Redemption of Lucifer
Chapter 9: The Rose of the World
Chapter 10: The Mystery of Love

Appendix: The Central Sun


About the Authors


Katun 11 Ahau is set upon the mat, set upon the throne, when their ruler is set up. . . The heavenly fan, the heavenly wreath and the heavenly bouquet shall descend. The drum and rattle of the lord of 11 Ahau shall resound, when flint knives are set into his mantle. . . Ahau 11 is the beginning of the count, because this was the katun when the foreigners arrived. They came from the east when they arrived. Then Christianity also began. The fulfillment of its prophecy is [ascribed] to the east. . . This is a record of the things which they did. After it had all passed, they told of it in their [own] words, but its meaning is not plain.

-- The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel

As we read these words from the Chilam Balam – the collection of Mayan oracular texts – we cannot help but feel grateful for the honesty of the Mayan chronicler who wrote them. Written down in the 19th century, in the Yucatec Mayan language, the images and sentiments stretch back to the time of the Spanish conquest, and there is much bitterness along with the honesty: “[Katun 11 Ahau:] when Christianity was introduced by the real Christians. Then with the true God, the true Dios, came the beginning of our misery. It was the beginning of tribute, the beginning of church debts, the beginning of the strife with purse-snatching. . .” Thanks to their passionate devotion to both prophecy and history, the voices of the ancient Mayan people resound into our own time, telling us something about this extraordinary moment through which we are living. Something . . . “but its meaning is not plain.”

Indeed, despite the explosion of books and videos that claim to penetrate the mystery of “2012” – the numerical shorthand for the completion on December 21, 2012 of the thirteenth B'ak'tun cycle in the Long Count of the Mayan calendar – consensus about its meaning seems ever more elusive. As metaphysical speculation mounts, professional astronomers and ethnologists dismiss the whole body of modern interpretations of the Mayan calendar as New Age gobbledygook. Among the supposed seers themselves – José Arguelles, Carl Johann Calleman, John Major Jenkins, Daniel Pinchbeck ¬– doctrinal disputes worthy of academics are now the norm. The scholars have every right to be miffed at the sometimes sloppy thinking and exaggerated claims – which tend toward enthusiastic proclamations of an imminent, universally accelerated psychic evolution – of the seers; the seers have legitimate critiques about the limits of scientific inquiry when it comes to the prophetic traditions of ancient peoples.

For us 21st century moderns perhaps more than for the anonymous Mayan chronicler above, it would be deeply unsettling to think that Christian prophecy could be brought to bear upon the Mayan calendar in order to solve the riddle of 2012. That is the premise of this book.

Five centuries ago, the Maya and other native peoples of the Americas saw their lives shattered by the long-prophesied arrival of the strange, cross-bearing peoples from the East. In the case of the Mexica (the name the people called themselves; “Aztec” became widely used in the 19th century by English-speaking students of the region), this shattering was facilitated by their indigenous prophetic tradition, as the courageous Lord Montezuma, mistaking Hernan Cortés for the Plumed Serpent deity Quetzalcoatl, allowed the conquistadores easy entry into the heart of Tenochtitlan, the capital city of the Mexica empire. Given our historical knowledge of the terrible violence of the human sacrifice practiced there, we could perhaps sympathize with Cortés as he ordered the bloodthirsty idols in the sacrificial temple pyramids to be smashed and replaced by the Cross and the Virgin Mary. Nevertheless, we human beings of today resent the hubris of the act and correspondingly feel incensed by the arrogance of the conquistadores. Today we cringe to think of the destruction by the Spanish of the vast repositories of Mexican and Mayan chronicles, which might have helped us unlock the riddles of their calendrical systems, their myths, their prophecies.

Those riddles are vast, persistent, and yet demanding of renewed inquiry. The question of the significance of the Mayan Long Count’s end date in 2012 has taken on particular relevance, given its imminence, and the variety and vociferousness of some of the claims made about it. In May 2008, in Tulum, Mexico, participants at a week-long field study and lecture series led by Robert Powell and sponsored by the Sophia Foundation of North America were able to take up this question of the mystery of the Mayan calendar. Inspired by visits to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza and by the discussions among the participants, Robert Powell extended his pioneering research on the Apocalypse Code to help make sense of the “timing” of the Long Count. Building from Rudolf Steiner’s important indications about the incarnation of Ahriman, and the activity of Lucifer and Ahriman on the American continent at another crucial moment in human history, he also has brought forth new discoveries about the nature and identity of the spiritual beings whose continued activity have played such an important role in the spiritual history of America and the world. Finally, Robert here presents crucial research about the cosmic dimension to the unfolding events of our own time.

Teaching a course in Modern World History – “modern” in this case meaning from 1500 to the present – I have a wide range of places and times which I can choose to explore with my students. For the past three years I have focused on the encounter in 1519 of Hernan Cortés and the Aztec emperor Montezuma, since it brings so poignantly into focus the confrontation between the magico-mythological worldview of the Mexica and the rational worldview of the Spanish. While the early modern era saw countless encounters all over the globe between European rationalism and pre-modern native mentalités, there was for me a special urgency to bring new understanding to the story of the Aztec empire, in light of Rudolf Steiner’s stunning revelations about an earlier episode of spiritual battle in the region. Reading Morris Collis’s Cortez & Montezuma (1954), my students were able to enter into the thought world of the Aztec, deeply enough to suspend their innate skepticism that an entire civilization could mistake Cortés for the god Quetzalcoatl.

Participating in the Tulum field study, and subsequently editing the lecture material, has given me the opportunity to reflect further on both the history of the “Mexican Mysteries,” and their relationship to the Apocalyptic events now transpiring. Personally, it has been an extraordinary challenge to walk a path between exoteric and esoteric scholarship; I invite readers to walk that path with me and see what rings true.

Perhaps the year 2012 and what it is bringing also offers an opportunity for a path toward the synthesis of the prophetic traditions of North American native and European newcomer. From the long-misused heart of Christian prophecy – the Book of Revelation – and two of its modern interpreters – Rudolf Steiner and Robert Powell – come images that can affirm and extend the deep intuitive wisdom that has rippled down through the ages from the Mayan astronomer-priests, scribes, kings, and common folk. Like the images that still adorn the ruins of Mayan temples, these Christian apocalyptic images become living only if we take them in deeply and discerningly. The time is truly at hand; let us begin.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Snooping out the Sophians

Finders keepers

While other investigative journalists have gone to great lengths to penetrate the secrets of Skull & Bones, the Bohemian Grove, or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, I am excited to publish this exclusive behind-the-scenes exposé of some of the activities of the enigmatic Sophia Foundation of North America, while they were gathered at the remote Windsong Retreat in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

The first morning I found a small group of Sophians searching the ground feverishly. We believed they were hunting for salamanders or gnomes, but upon further investigation it turned out that the newly-wed Lucky Paul lost a stone from her wedding ring.

Following the mysterious Dr. Robert Powell and his new bride to an exclusive Pittsboro restaurant, Beyond Main Street paparazzi discovered that this esoteric group has as its central fetish object a curious straw hat, which apparently possesses powerful forces of levity.

Newlyweds in hat

M-H in hat

Margaret hat

Annie hat

Marlene hat

Kathy hat

We managed to catch Dr. Powell furtively collaborating with the famous danseuse pour les étoiles, Marie-Hélène Hébert, in what magical act of computing we can scarcely imagine,

Star hunting

although shortly thereafter we found participants cavorting merrily with their newly minted sidereal horoscopes. Out of respect, we will not publish photographs of the numerous participants who fainted away after discovering that their signs had shifted into a new region of the zodiac.

Chart frenzy

One afternoon, we discovered local ringleader Kelly Calegar and the wildwoman Sandy Bisdee being put through ther planetary paces by Dr. Powell.

Planet mimicry

We were relieved to discover that a few men had managed to penetrate the ranks of this Divine Feminine Mystery School.


They too participated in the alchemical hat ritual:

Jim hat

Although we were unable to get photographic evidence of the cosmic dances the group performs, we did witness a harmonious choir one afternoon, under the tutelage of the composer Marcia Burchard, who seemed to radiate an extraordinarily brilliant light during the week.


The most exciting journalistic moment came after an evening lecture by Dr. Powell, when we caught the group in a Bacchanalian feast upon chocolate chip mint ice cream.

Empty Bowls

The Sophians grew quite used to our presence, and at week's close they graciously posed for a group photo. We will return next year and see if we cannot uncover more secrets . . .


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The War of the Worlds

Last week I went to see the new film, The War of the Worlds. I still remember how frightened I was by the 1950s film, and I had always been fascinated by the 1938 Halloween incident, when millions mistook Orson Welles’s radio dramatization of the 1898 H.G. Wells novel for a real report of invaders from outer space. Having grown up in New Jersey, I wanted to see how “Grover’s Mills” or its analogue Garden State village would be portrayed in this Steven Spielberg remake. His film has Bayonne as the landing place of the aliens, and Tom Cruise as a divorced longshoreman who, with his weekend-visiting children, spends 90 cinematic minutes fleeing the death-dealing robotic invaders.

Wells’s story is said to have been inspired by Boston astronomer Percival Lowell’s writings about the “canals on Mars.” (Lowell mistranslated Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli’s canali–lines–for human-constructed “canals”) Lowell’s books on Mars were bestsellers, and though dismissed by professional astronomers, he singlehandedly spread the idea–still, amazingly, alive at NASA, witness last year’s Mars lander hype–of life on Mars. But for Americans in 1898, there was a much more dramatic possible inspiration for Wells’s story of visitors from another planet.

In American skies from California to Texas and north to Minnesota, in late 1896 to early 1897, thousands of people saw strange, unknown craft that they called "airships." Airships were variously explained as kites, balloons, the planet Venus, the star Sirius, or just plain hoaxes or fakes. Many explained what they saw as ships from an abandoned civilization on Mars.

The people who saw the mysterious airships also saw and heard the ship’s “pilots” and/or passengers. During the first sighting in Sacramento, several people reported hearing voices from the ship, including one that said: “Well, we ought to reach San Francisco by tomorrow noon.” Others heard laughter. Within a week or so, the airships were seen in San Francisco, by even more observers, and on December 2nd, two Italian fishermen offshore from Pacific Grove, watched a craft swoop down and land on the beach. When three occupants emerged and carried their ship into the woods, the fishermen headed into shore to speak with them. One of the aeronauts stopped and argued with the fishermen, and then allowed them to approach. Coming closer, they saw a 60-foot long cigar shaped object with retractable wings.

The next night, in Twin Peaks California, a similar craft crashed. Witnesses noticed a foul-smelling gas coming from the structure. A man calling himself “J.D. DeGear” emerged and said that this was the airship’s initial flight, and was not connected with any of the other ships sighted.

After a few months quiet, on April Fool’s Day in 1897, the airships started to appear again, this time in Kansas City, Missouri. Around 8 PM a powerful searchlight swept the air, the streets, the housetops and bluffs around the town, attracting attention, and the streets were soon filled with people watching the show. For more than an hour it hovered and wobbled, flashing its light beam along the horizon, then finally it lifted off, growing smaller as it climbed swiftly and vanished to the Northwest. A few minutes later, it was sighted over Everest, Kansas, sixty miles away.

There were thousands of witnesses to the Kansas City sighting, including the governor and many other officials, professionals, and ordinary citizens. All agreed that the unknown vehicle had made abrupt changes in direction and made other strange maneuvers. Once, for a few moments, it had extinguished its light and hung over the city as a dark, motionless mass. Then finally, after almost ninety minutes of aerial display, it was gone.

Suddenly, it seemed as if the heartland of the nation was under siege by an aerial armada of searchlight-equipped airships. The first week of April saw hundreds of reported sightings in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri, then the phenomenon spread northeastward to Burlington, Iowa. The airships then turned east through Illinois, appearing in Chicago on April 10. People watched the flickering green and red lights from the top of a downtown skyscraper.

Again, there were reports of “close encounters.” In Springfield, Missouri, a traveling salesman was driving his wagon when he suddenly saw an airship on the ground – and two creatures "dressed in nature's garb." Hopkins described to his local newspaper how the odd naked couple had communicated with him telepathically, inviting him into the airship, which then began to rise. Hopkins panicked and jumped off before it got far off of the ground.

Mysterious, advanced technology spacecraft. Naked, mind-reading aliens. The smell of fire & brimstone. Nonsensical stories. April Fool’s Day. In 1897, nearly fifty years before what is regarded as the official beginning of the “UFO era,” in 1945.

Things have only gotten wierder since then. I did a quick search for the week of the release of War of the Worlds and found: Over Jalapa Mexico, a huge flotilla of UFOs were seen by thousands on successive nights; television crews filmed them. UFO reports came in from New Hampshire, Michigan, Arizona, Connecticut, Texas, Oklahoma. A 22-year-old woman in Queensland, Australia, who saw while driving, a 7’ tall, scaly, ashen-colored creature with the torso of a man and the head of a locust. In South Bend, Indiana, a number of people called police to report an escaped kangaroo, but there was no zoo in town from which it might have escaped. The same day, War of the Worlds star Tom Cruise snapped at a German magazine reporter who asked him about his allegiance to Scientology and his belief in life on other planets: "'Are you really so arrogant as to believe we are alone in this universe? Millions of stars, and we're supposed to be the only living creatures? No, there are many things out there. We just don't know."

A few nights after this, to “illuminate” listeners whose curiosity and fears about alien invasion might be rekindled by Spielberg’s movie, Larry King had on a panel of “experts” who succeeded in muddying the waters of knowledge about extraterrestrial life, UFOs, and alien abduction even more than it might have already been in their own minds. Too bad Larry wasn’t able to invite Cotton Mather, who would certainly have recognized these sky visitors as demons, or an expert on the Koran, which teaches that the jinn (which translates to mean “something hidden from view”) are beings that attempt to turn humans from God. Mather would no doubt have quoted the Apostle Paul, who wrote, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of the air." Indeed.

The battle with these powers and principalities -- demonic denizens of an unseen world -- has been going on for millennia, but the 20th century, especially in America, saw the demons, the jinn, increasingly make themselves temporarily at home in our world. In 1897 it was only telegraph lines that went haywire when the airships appeared; today, UFO sightings routinely see: cell phones and television sets and computers go dead; car alarms sound; hundreds of electronic door locks in shopping mall parking lots all seize up simultaneously. A few cattle, sheep, and chickens disappeared from midwest farms in 1897; in recent decades, livestock and domestic pets have been found mutilated in ways that baffle both seasoned ranchers and wildlife biologists, but not exorcists and demonologists. The turn of the century episode saw a few fishermen and farmers who encountered fairly friendly spectral airship pilots. The last half century has seen millions of Americans claim that when they were lifted aboard spaceships, the occupants performed horrific acts upon them, akin to what prisoners at Abu Ghairab and Guantanamo have suffered at the hands of their captors.

Many people who have been abducted –and tortured– claim that their captors are really benevolent, interested in the destiny of humankind. They return from their nighttime wanderings with messages from the aliens that man must stop destroying the earth, or they will soon perish. John Mack, the Harvard psychologist, who, with funding provided by Woodstock's own Laurance Rockefeller, celebrated alien abduction as a “transformational experience,” wrote: “The aliens stress the evolutionary aspect of the species-joining process, the repopulation of the Earth subsequent to a total environmental collapse.” How can one love the earth, and wish to preserve it, if one’s ‘love of the earth’ is the product of abduction, terror, and violation of one’s human integrity?

Similar salvific messages come from a host of channeled voices, many of whom claim to be angels or gods who actually created humanity. Prominent among these voices are ones who identify themselves as “Melchizedek,” “Enoch,” and “Metatron.” Metatron is the name of an Archangel. Enoch is an Old Testament prophet deemed immortal. Melchizedek is identified in the Old Testament as Abraham’s master, thought to represent humanity’s original and perennial knowledge of Truth.

If there is anything one can say about the slippery jinn who have been pouring through the fissures opening up between the subtle world and our physical world, it is that they have little relationship to the Truth. Indeed, their hallmark is deception. If, as Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them,” a cursory review of the history of airships and UFOs and alien abduction will provide a cornucopia of rotten fruits.

Here in the daylight world of Woodstock, the myth of the UFO is rather unappealing, and rather unworthy to be spoken of or thought about. Yet it is a myth -- and a sinister reality-- with which I believe we all need to reckon. It is a “sign of our times,” that the “visitors from outer space” are insistently telling us that “higher beings” are preparing to usher in mankind’s true cosmic destiny. This is not an April Fool’s Joke, but a counterfeit of an imminent truth – that not Christ, but the being who is “the ape of God,” the Antichrist, is finding a convivial home on the planet at this time. All of the contemporary responses to UFOs – the view of the aliens as redeemers of humanity and the planet Earth; the suspicion of dark govenmental conspiracies seeking to cover up the “reality” of UFOs and aliens; even the scientistic rejection of all eyewitness and other physical evidence as pure projection and hallucination– only serve the ends of the fallen jinn, in their perennial, and presently fully apocalyptic quest to deceive and confuse humankind.

Never since the beginning of the Christian era have demons appeared so openly and extensively as today, and their message is crystal clear: “Prepare for a savior; however, expect deliverance, not from the Christian revelation and faith in an unseen God, but from vehicles in the sky.” We do need to prepare ourselves for this ersatz savior, this impersonation of Christ, and one of the precursors to recognizing this false savior is to see his preparatory legions for what they are – superficially clever, cloyingly solicitous, and existentially absurd, pests. That a lifeform so much lower than the human has maneuvered itself into a position of being worshiped is a clear sign that the time is ripe for a much larger deception to play itself out on the stage of human history.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From Star Wars to Our Wars

I rarely go to the movies, but when I do, I like to wait for a film to come to our own Town Hall Theater. Sitting together silently in the dark for a couple of hours is about as communal an experience as we moderns can have, a wan echo of an ancient mystery school initiation rite. Sunday night I went with friends to Town Hall Theater to see the new Star Wars film, "Revenge of the Sith." After the film, we panned its wooden performances and its weak plot, but said nothing about a much more disturbing aspect.

My friend Geoff told us before we went that he had heard "the first twenty minutes are dynamite." I have just spent a half hour searching the Web to see if anyone out there in Star Wars fandom counted the number of explosions – of human beings and "droids" as well as of computer animated starships and their aerial fighting fleets –that happened in this first twenty minutes, not to mention the rest of the film. I would guess that there were far more explosions than we witnessed at the fireworks a few weeks ago. Over a thousand, I bet.

In the publicity photos like the one above, the light sabers look so sexy, don't they? But in the movie, these glowing wands are the instruments of incredible violence. Anakin Skywalker defeats Count Dookov by first severing the Count's hands, then decapitating him, with a pair of lightsabers. Later, Obi Wan Kenobi will slice off both of Anakin's legs, and an arm. Even little Yoda enacts his share of carnage with the favored weapon of the Jedi knight.

The Jedi are portrayed as superior beings whose use of violence is always seen as just – and triumphant. Substitute an arquebus, crossbow, cannon, flintlock or other weapon for the light saber, and you have a pretty handy picture of the process of European colonization of North America. Of course, our own memoirists of war have tended to emphasize the horrific violence of the savage enemy. One can read the journals of Columbus, Cartier, Champlain, Hudson, and scores of other advance agents of empire, or the Jesuit fathers, or Spanish missionaries for early drafts of George Lucas's screen action.

When handsome Jedi Anakin Skywalker sliced off the evil Count's head, I wondered if anyone in the theater thought of Nicholas Berg or Daniel Pearl, or other Americans beheaded by Muslim terrorists. Ever since Columbus stumbled onto Hispaniola's shore, we've been fed images of cannabilistic enemies who would have our heads, but rarely do we see one of our own white knights imagined or real performing a beheading. Only "they" – Caribs, Mohawk, Muslim – could act so savagely, not us. Indeed, the only instance that comes to mind is that scene in the 1930s film of Kenneth Roberts' Northwest Passage, where one of Major Robert Rogers' (Spencer Tracy) Rangers, a survivor of a murderous raid on his family by savage Abenaki warriors, furtively places an Abenaki head in his saddlebag.

In Revenge of the Sith, no heads are placed in saddlebags, for they and other body parts leave their host bodies in episodes of explosive fury. Though they haven't actually counted the explosions, the Young Media Australia site does an excellent job of tallying the overall violence:
  • In the opening battle between a Republican army and an army of droids there are many violent images: ships exploding, pilots tumbling through space, pilots consumed by cockpit fire, dozens of droids consumed by an oil fire, buildings in the air destroyed by explosion, bodies hurled against walls, Obi-Wan pinned unconscious underneath a section of wall.
  • Count Dooku's hands are severed and he kneels in front of Anakin, holding the stumps of his wrists in the air (minimal blood and gore).
  • Anakin holds two lightsabres at Count Dooku's throat, and Chancellor Palpatine entices him to kill the Count. Anakin decapitates the Count and there is an ecstatic look on Palpatine's face. (Actual images of the decapitation are not shown. Dooku's body falls to the ground and his head is seen rolling away in the background.)
  • Obi-Wan battles the leader of the droid army, General Grievous. At one point, Grievous tosses Obi-Wan around like a rag doll. Later Obi-Wan rips open Grievous's chest to reveal a beating heart, and then shoots Grievous with a lazar gun. Flames erupt from his chest cavity and eye sockets.
  • The scene where Mace Windu and the Jedi attempt to arrest Palpatine is dark and brutal. Palpatine resembles a rabid animal as he leaps from his chair, attacking the Jedi with his lightsabre. He impales one Jedi, and slices another through the chest (minimal display of blood and gore). Later in the scene, Palpatine's body is consumed by bolts of electricity, his face distorts taking on a horrifying, desiccated, pitiful, mummy like appearance as the electrical current consumes his body. Palpatine pitifully pleads for Anakin to save his life. Anakin responds by severing Mace Windu's lightsabre hand. Palpatine then hurls bolts of electricity at Mace hurling his body out of the window to disappear from sight His body is shown sailing past the buildings below.
  • Anakin/Vader uses his lightsabre to mercilessly slaughter numerous Jedi, including images of a temple floor strewn with Jedi bodies.
  • There is a scene where Anakin (implicitly) kills numerous defenseless Jedi children. Anakin stands in front of a room full of young children with his lightsabre blazing and a very dark and possessed look in his eyes. A boy of about five years if age, who seems worried, asks Anakin what's going on. Anakin's response is to fire up his light saber. It is obvious that he is going to kill the child. This scene is potentially very distressing to a child. There are later images of the same room littered with the bodies of dead children.
  • There are numerous scenes of clone warriors murdering their Jedi masters; images are shown of Jedi men and women, and a young Jedi boy of about twelve years of age, being ruthlessly shot with multiple laser fire.
  • Anakin/Vader ruthlessly slaughters several Separatist leaders. The scene is particularly brutal, with Anakin/Vader portrayed as completely void of all remorse. One Separatist begs Anakin/Vader to spare his life, but Anakin cold bloodedly looks at him taking his time to draw out the scene before he commits the murder.
  • Anakin uses The Force to strangle Padme into unconsciousness. Anakin stares at Padme with a very dark and hateful look in his eyes, then raises his hand as though pinching the air. Padme grabs her throat gasping for breath, and several seconds later she collapses to the floor.
  • The final lightsabre battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan is brutal and vicious, with images of Anakin/Vader strangling Obi-Wan, Anakin and Obi-Wan punching and kicking each other in the face and body, both striking blows at each other with their lightsabres. The fight takes place over a huge river of molten lava, and there is a strong sense of threat or menace, including very dramatic music. The scene goes on for quite a while and the final image is of Anakin/Vader somersaulting over the top of Obi-Wan, as Obi-Wan wields his lightsabre and Anakin falls to the ground in a heap.
  • At the same time as this fight is going on, Palpatine and Yoda are also fighting with lightsabres. The fight is carried out quite high up in the Senate chamber with the threat of a long fall.
  • The next image is of Anakin/Vader lying on the ground at the edge of the river of lava. Both of his legs have been severed and one of his arms. As Anakin uses his one remaining arm to crawl up the bank, the remains of his ruined torso catch fire; the fire starts at the bottom and works its way up until his ruined body is engulfed. Finally a wave of lava washes over his burning torso. The last image is of a completely ruined body with the flesh left raw, burnt and smouldering; the image is explicit.

Where is the conversation that all of us in Woodstock and in America should be having about the spiritual and social effects of such violence? Just as there is a direct line from America's colonial Indian wars to its first overseas imperial venture in the Phillipines, there is a direct line from Star Wars to the war in Iraq, where the boys who grew up on this orgy of simulated carnage now man the gunships and tanks that maneuver not through the outer reaches of the solar system, but Fallujah, Mosul, Karballah.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

American Revolutionaries

Taking just one day to celebrate America's revolutionary heritage seems rather stingy, so I thought I might go "beyond main street" to look at an American revolutionary who usually doesn't get to share the limelight with Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin. Neither the Huguenot night-rider nor the Founding Fathers can come close to the incendiary ambitions of Michael Ledeen, "Freedom Scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen is one revolutionary guy, and oddly enough, I found out just how revolutionary in a surprising source, The American Conservative, whose June 30, 2003 issue includes an article, "Flirting with Fascism," by John Laughland.

Laughland opens his article with a quote from Ledeen's latest book, The War Against the Terror Masters:

Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existence—our existence, not our politics—threatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.

On first blush you might wonder if Ledeen's inspiration for such violent rhetoric comes from Leon Trotsky or Aleister Crowley. Ledeen covertly proclaimed Trotsky as his ideological mentor with his 1996 book, Freedom Betrayed, whose title is a hagiographic echo of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. Ledeen explains that “America is a revolutionary force” because the American Revolution is the only revolution in history that has succeeded, the French and Russian revolutions having quickly collapsed into terror. Consequently, “[O]ur revolutionary values are part of our genetic make-up . . We drive the revolution because of what we represent: the most successful experiment in human freedom. . . We are an ideological nation, and our most successful leaders are ideologues.”

Ledeen's other books reveal just how revolutionary a fellow he is. In Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago, Ledeen declares that "Change -- above all violent change -- is the essence of human history."

The chief theorist of the neoconservative cabal is a fan of some other Italians beside Machiavelli: in 1976, he wrote a worshipful biography of Italian fascist Gabrielle D'Annunzio, and in his masterwork, Universal Fascism (1972), (in which he critizes Mussolini for not being revolutionary enough), he calls Berto Ricci—the editor of the fascist newspaper L’Universale– “brilliant” and “an example of enthusiasm and independence."

I guess that Ledeen's love of Italy was cultivated while serving as visiting professor of history, University of Rome, Italy (1975-1977) and as Rome correspondent with The New Republic (1975-1977). Those are the credits listed on the AEI site, but it seems that he was up to some "creative destruction" of his own in those years. In the wake of the August 2, 1980 Bologna train station bombing that killed 81 people and injured 200 others, Italian intelligence officials testified that the bombing had been planned by a coalition of British, Swiss, and American operatives. According to Barbara Honegger's October Surprise (1989), when Italian police raided the home of Licio Gelli, the grandmaster of Rome's extreme right-wing Masonic Lodge, P2, Michael Ledeen offered to buy the list of 953 P2 members in an attempt to keep it from becoming public. Along with his own name, the list included his friends Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig.

Ledeen's biography on the AEI site shows his Italy junket followed by posts as Senior staff member, Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies (1977-1981) and "Special adviser to the Secretary of State (1981-1982). That would be Secretary of State Alexander Haig. His "special advice" was on "anti-terrorism."

Jeff Wells has stayed on Ledeen's trail –both the possibility of Ledeen's involvement with the Yellow Cake/Niger affair and Nicola Caspari's murder by American troops in Iraq– over at the Rigorous Intuition blog. Of course, the most recent unfolding of the "Italian connection" seems to be the seizure by 13 wildly uncautious CIA agents of Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, from a Muslim community in Milan.

The degree to which secret societies bent on global domination are emerging into the open is quite astonishing to me, although given the torpor of the mainstream media, they are easily hiding in plain sight. The "outing" of these sinister outfits seems to be more and more thanks to the students of esotericism, from dedicated bloggers to scholars. For an example of the new 007, see the most recent issue of Esoterica, for an article by Ohio State University's Hugh Urban: "RELIGION AND SECRECY IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION : The Gentleman, the Prince, and the Simulacrum."