My Brush with Lucifer

As a youth, I craved escape.

That wasn't to come until the great migration northward. Had I remained behind instead, I feel certain I either would have been dead by age 21, fighting the good fight, or forced to live a long life in the stranglehold of society and religion, which is worse. To my friends who understand: can you
really visualize me sitting still for "that's just the way we've always done things," as computer science pioneer Grace Hopper railed against?

Escape! That's all I wanted. From time jot, I was forced to attend Sunday School and then those interminable church services when an hour became a day (see
Joshua 10:13 for details), eventually concluding with that inhumane indoctrination euphemistically masquerading as Confirmation, when the meaning of the word perjury finally became clear to me. Anything to simply make it end.

I'm convinced no child is born knowing how to lie, but learns how to first at church. 

My hometown was a very cosmopolitan place because of the university, and even as a toddler I witnessed turbans, saris, skullcaps, hijabs, slanted eyes, brown skin, red skin, tribal mutilation tattoos on the cheeks, and more on a daily basis. Big deal. Thus, I deduced from the outset that how we live and who we are has no inevitable or sensible basis, but is due entirely to the toss of a die, Einstein notwithstanding. It was pure dumb luck that I wound up in a primarily Judeo-Christian miasma, and I knew it. I mean, it's all chance, isn't it?

This stochastic assessment of humanity can be phrased as an axiom:
Society and Religion: Born anywhere else, the rabble believes something else.
Ergo, foisting religion on defenseless people is cruelty, pure and simple. 

Especially when what's being skewered into the very heart and soul of a developing child is completely arbitrary, based solely upon the fact the hapless kid ended up here and not there.

Spermatozoa swim with equal ease toward the ovum regardless of the country hosting the pool party.

It occurs: parents beating religion into innocent children is a vivid example of ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Think of Columbus and the natives.

Pop quiz time: which of the following aspirations best qualifies a parent?
  1. It's most important my kid be everything he or she can be.
  2. It's most important my kid believe in the claptrap my parents beat into me.
Were I a progenitor (one of the hazards of being a stinking heterosexualist of the worst sort, but as far as I know, no nippers abound), the decision would be obvious. Speaking of procreation, isn't it weird that the Catholic Church continually dwells on immaculate conception, when rectal conception seems far more likely, if the explosion of lawsuits over the past half-century is any indication.

Well! That took us far afield! Let's leave it at, my dozen formative years bearing the burden of an arbitrarily imposed religion, were spent thinking ever of escape. Kind of funny, actually, but at age five I remember group-singing in Sunday School of Moses and "Let My People Go." Exactly the way I felt. 

Another flashback from being impelled to attend vacation church camp as a youngster, in lieu of chasing butterflies, catching garter snakes, wading in a pond, smelling lilacs, making whistles from quack grass, fishing with no results, marching in the Independence Day parade on Main Street, running just for the sake of running, in short, all of the activities which make childhood spectacular: instead, fidgeting in the Presbyterian Church basement sitting crosslegged on gray linoleum tile floors, to match the gray thinking of hierophants who popped out of the womb fully formed in their dotage, to pass on gray ideas to the twenty not-so-gray inmates forced to sing completely out of tune (which mattered little to the warders in charge as long as we got the words right):
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
"Screw you!," I thought to myself. "Try as you might, you'll never make me weak!"

That's the pisser about language, it's completely amoral. It can elevate our spirits to embrace the greatest good by way of the music of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Shakespeare, Wilde and so many others. Equally, the Council of Nicea can transform it into a weapon of mass destruction, codifying the notion that the individual is a danger to all, perpetuating misery in further generations for no good reason, other than the fear someone else might be attaining their True Will. Cult programmers back then tried their best to break the spirit of this five-year-old with the pestilence of John 8:32, instead of the far more beneficent,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
I tried to tell you guys: I am not weak!

Intuitively, I really felt the time for axioms was premature; childhood is the time to observe.


Wordsworth hit the nail on the head:

Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light,
and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
I dug my tunnel by learning to read. Books quickly became my Van Helsing to repel the foul vampire. Then in junior high, it was rock and roll; much more than dance music, it was my tongue. And of course, it goes without saying that my tongue has always been of the utmost importance. By high school, the pieces finally fell into place: growth of the individual promotes society, while the converse is rarely true. All this from a certain author I honor with a moment's silence each July 14th.

My tutelage began in about the fourth grade at the public library. What a magnificent and magical place that was; all those books! Despite the disapproving clucks from Mrs. Ellwell (the chief librarian, who I always felt could have filled in for Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz), I began avoiding the "Children's Section" decorated with colorful bunny rabbits, letters of the alphabet and cardboard caricatures of The Cat in the Hat, and headed upstairs to the adult section with its more stark and down-to-business metal shelves, under my father's aegis. Hence the clucks.

Aha! Secret knowledge! It began with George Estabrook's classic Hypnotism. I was hooked, and soon had read several books on the subject, even starting to add to my personal library. To this day, I still recall the thrill of seeing UPS (which had just commenced operation in our town) roll in with mail order deliveries: the archaic--but fascinating--25 Lessons in Hypnotism and a few other revealing tomes from the Melvin Powers' Wilshire Book Company. Of particular interest to me were the chapters in the latter explaining how to treat sexual dysfunction via hypnosis; never hurts to be prepared, I thought to myself. All of a sudden, the world was looking far more intriguing.

Back to the library, the next step was stumbling upon an interesting little fortune telling book, pseudonymously authored by Mother Shipton! Within the book was a series of numbered questions and answers, and an ornate illustration with cells like a board game. You placed your pencil tip on a cell and then went through an elaborate rubric, tapping this way and that, eventually landing on a final number. Looking up the corresponding response revealed what the future held.

I believed in it.

In fact, though I didn't know it until 1971 when my studies began in earnest, in many ways this was quite analogous to the Yi-Ching or geomancy.

By age eleven, I stumbled upon the twenty-five cent booklets by Zolar. These frequently showed up on the magazine racks in grocery stores, or at Wally's Pipe and Gift. Titles covered such topics as the analysis of dreams, numerology, cartomancy and sun-sign astrology. While the latter struck me as foolish (partitioning humanity into twelve sub-species), by junior high I had completely memorized the meaning of all fifty-two cards in a deck and was constantly doing readings.

My opinion of astrology improved in high school when I stumbled upon Joseph Goodavage's
Astrology: The Space Age Science, and Sydney Omarr's My World of Astrology, both of which went into my collection directly from Walt's News Stand on Main Street. I was definitely getting closer to the source now. More importantly, it was starting to look as though there really was a body of serious secret knowledge out there. The trouble was, as a neophyte I was having to learn the hard way about sorting the wheat from the chaff. And, oh, I had also started to read quite a bit on flying saucers then.

There was a setback in senior year when I joined some sort of book club and came up with
Telecult Power, by the erstwhile Reese P. Dubin. One reading was all it took to convince me genuine esoterica doesn't countenance mystic megaphones for transmitting and receiving thoughts.

And then in 1971 I was finally on my own and free of enforced beliefs. You might remember how I found the genuine source in The Rise of Mysticism. Then summer; ah, that summer was amazing! Living on Lake Tetonka, with entire days at a time to read and reflect. Instead of intravenous feeding tubes, omnivorousness became the watchword.

My first stab in that direction was coming upon Anton LaVey's
The Satanic Bible. Of course, I was already familiar with LaVey from seeing him on the Joe Pyne show a year or two earlier. (That was a hilarious appearance, especially when Pyne corrected LaVey's grammar at one point--a little problem with past participles). Plus, he usually had the knack of making the papers. An interest was formed when I read of his performing a marriage ceremony, featuring a nude woman on the altar. Just so it's clear, it wasn't matrimony that interested me.

So, anyway, for two days I was a Satanist. This included all the usual window dressing of reading the Lord's Prayer backwards, inverted crosses, etc. By the end of the second day it was clear this was complete tommyrot. After all, it essentially depended upon Christianity, the very premise from which I was trying to flee. Both perpetuate the delusion that society is more important than the individual. Besides, an upside-down crucifix is still a crucifix. Sounds like something Freud might say.

Perhaps that was the seed of a concept I eventually wrote up as "The None-of-the-Above Theory." Christians and Satanists, both really preaching the same dogma, would like to have you believe in the law of excluded middle. And that's exactly when the best medicine is a completely clean break. A good rule of thumb when uncertain in the multiple choice exam of life, is always to choose option (e): none of the above, which includes denying (d) none of the above.

It's a wonder that either of these two doctrines ever caught on. It puts me in mind of Dr. Johnson's observation: a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.
Next up for a test drive was Wicca, thanks to Sybil Leek's Diary of a Witch. I think I bought that at the Readmore. Imagine, if you will, warm and sunny carefree days, chasing the alluring Christy on the beach (sneaking in a kiss and copping a feel in the boathouse, momentarily free of the constant diligence of her nosy father), swimming, lounging...and reading. I really was intrigued with Wicca. Incidentally, I had also seen Sybil on the Joe Pyne show sometime around then.

However, by now I was a member of a new outfit called The Universe Book Club (whom I ended up stiffing for $11 at the end, despite threatening letters from their attorneys). This had the usual deal of "four books for a dollar when you join," and I bit. One of the initial selections was the enormous
Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, by the insanely detailed researcher Rossell Hope Robbins. While ponderously working through this trove, nagging doubts began to form. I found the nature-based aspect of Wicca appealing, and the idea of an Earth goddess seemed like a decent break with the past, but the more I read the more I became convinced that the chief tenets were based on no more credentials than wishful thinking.

A year later, I would eventually discover that organized Wicca was the invention of one Gerald Gardner, with a pedigree less than fifty years old. 

Anyway, by this time Sybil had spoken out to the press disapproving of nudity in coven workings. So I lost interest.

All three of the "faiths" I'd been exposed to thus far were far more focused on the practitioner simply finding a comfortable niche, rather than self-development. None addressed the important issue of the right of self-determination, unfettered by society. And all seemed just plain silly.

No escape yet.

By fall term, but still living on Tetonka, I had discovered the occult section of the MSU library. It seemed all the rarest books had been stolen (practitioners of the Dark Arts have never been known for their scruples), but I did find one series that promised.

I began with The Art and Practice of Astral Projection, then moved on to others in that line, all penned by a chap in Hollywood going by the nom de plume Ophiel. I was intrigued by the curious contrast these small books presented. First off, they were immaculately printed, with beautifully embossed leatherette bindings, gorgeous color illustrations in some, and tantalizing slip covers. In one's hands, they really did give the feel of richness. And the topics were all definitely a step up from the drivel of Reese P. Dubin, mentioned earlier.

But the writing! In a sense, the style was conversational as he included all sorts of useful details, on the order of: an ex-wife's vexacious expensive tastes, or the dastardly behavior of an acquaintance absconding with his only typewriter, or how sorely in need of an improved cash flow he was. All this in the midst of Tattva meditations, creative visualization, astral projection, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and more esoteric enigmas.

It always cracked me up when he would whine about not being blessed with a decent financial horoscope. The one thing he failed to note was that his horoscope was also poorly aspected when it came to grammar. (I'll put my chips on Mercury square Neptune).

So there you have it: Ophiel had definitely stumbled upon some deep ideas, but lacked the means of mastering them himself. To be fair, however, I am thankful to him for at least pointing out some notions worth pursuing, and books which ought to be on my shelf. For, from here it was on to Israel Regardie, eventually winding up encountering The Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. And the mere fact that Ophiel's books were put out by Llewellyn Publications was important.

I checked the rural delivery mailbox a quarter-mile down the road religiously on a regular basis. One day, in response to a postcard inquiry to Llewellyn Publications, I received a complimentary copy of their newspaper Gnostica News and here we were, at last! The real dope!

Llewellyn had a retail outlet called The Gnostica, on Laurel Avenue right off of Hennepin in the Twin Cities. Somehow I convinced brother Bill to take me there, presumably as part of one of his government trips he made infrequently.

What a cool place! The Gnostica was housed in what used to be a mortuary, but was now painted an insane Dayglo purple color and decorated with crescent moons, pentagrams and other mystical sigils. You could literally see the eerie aura of purple shining like a beacon even before turning onto Laurel. Funny thing is, the place lay in sort of a residential area, so it really stood out.

The exterior facade was impeccable, but the blacktop in the parking lot was a total mess: pits, craters, crumbling chunks, bumps and more. Keep that in mind for a moment.

I should mention that Bill had absolutely no interest in my Hermetic pursuits, but was ever such a good egg in humoring me. The two of us carefully worked our way over the rubble and finally approached the entrance to the Gnostica. Passing through the main glass door, we were then greeted by another doorway, this time strung with hanging beads. The smell of incense wafted. A few more feet down the passage, and everything opened up to an imposing room. (Presumably this had once been the chapel in the mortuary).

In the front of the shop, an enormous Gypsy tent had been erected, again gaily decorated with all manner of hieroglyphs. I think the tarot reader probably held sessions in this area. The remainder of the room sported the usual racks and shelves you'd expect in any bookstore.

I stood for a moment, floating, just taking it all in. The font of wisdom at my fingertips! And tons and tons and tons of books, unavailable anywhere else! At last: the foundation of a true religion.

After a moment of gazing in wonder, I then noticed the clerk sitting up front at a desk, reading. Long hair and goatee if I recall aright, head bent down, poring over his book carefully. That's Bruce LaHue! He was some rising star in the occult world, specially brought in from California I think, to oversee the Gnostica. Of course, I had already read of him, knew of him and was in awe. I couldn't help but note he was studying Francis Barrett's classic,
The Magus. Deep reading indeed...

Bill also spotted him.

Bruce looked in our direction and gave the barest of nods to acknowledge our presence. As I shot for the bookshelves to dive in, Bill approached him, forcing him to look up again with an expression that screamed, "Yes?" I suppose Bruce thought he was going to be propositioned yet again for an autograph.

With a perfectly straight face (one of his hallmarks), Bill rather urgently importuned, "Are you the janitor here? There are some nasty potholes in the parking lot that need patching."

By this time, I was many feet away in the midst of more obscure Crowley books than I thought possible to exist, but keeping my eyes on the two up front. I smiled.

Bruce positively shrieked in response, "I'm the manager, not the janitor!"

What a hoot!

The guy really did have an inflated view of himself. For a year later or so I got to see his evening lecture on the mystical arts in the ballroom at the Student Union, and with a crowd of several hundred idolizers he was clearly in his element. (He always made sure to show his good side when photographers from the Daily Reporter snapped photos. Bruce cut quite a photogenic figure in his robes and oversized finger rings while holding a ceremonial sword.)  Of particular merit that night as he touched on magick, alchemy, the Golden Dawn, the O. T. O., the Qabalah, Hermes Trismegistus and more, was when he opened things up for questions. First question: "How does the Quija Board fit in with all this?"

Back to the Gnostica, I shopped 'til I dropped, loading up on books like you couldn't believe. Bill managed to find a shelf devoted to sexual perversion and seemed to be enjoying himself, too.

Quite a day in my life. For I had found a beautifully bound set of The Golden Dawn.

The escape was complete.

Next installment: Matriculation

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