Pulling The Cosmic Trigger - The Kazimier, Liverpool, UK, 23 February 2014

The story so far... Guided by a chain of synchronicity, much of which revolving around the number 23, Daisy Eris Campbell, daughter of Ken Campbell (who staged the 10-hour production of The Illuminatus! Trilogy in Liverpool in the 1970’s) and Prunella Gee (who played, among others, The Goddess Eris in that production - Daisy was conceived backstage) is on a mission to adapt Robert Anton Wilson’s autobiography Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret Of The Illuminati for the stage. Aided by Wilson aficionado John Higgs (of this parish) and many others, she raises the funds to secure the rights to the book, finds a gang of actors and artists ready to face the challenge, and writes the script. Now, with yet more synchronicity haunting her path, she takes her gang to Liverpool to ask an assembly of Wilson fans the Big Question - ‘shall we pull the Cosmic Trigger here, in this most symbolic of cities?’

(If you want more details, here’s John and Daisy presenting the tale as of last year in London.)

Now read on...


There is a bust of Carl Gustav Jung on Liverpool’s Mathew Street, just down the road from the site of the Cavern Club, where The Beatles first played. It’s there because in 1927 Jung had an exceptionally vivid dream about Liverpool, a city which at the time he had never visited - a dream which changed his life. He recounts the dream in his autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, on page 223, thus:

I was in Liverpool.

With a number of Swiss - say half a dozen - I walked through the dark streets.

The various quarters of the city were arranged radially around the square. In the centre was a round pool, and in the middle of it, a small island. While everything around was obscured by rain, fog, smoke and dimly lit darkness, the little island blazed with sunlight. On it stood a single tree, a magnolia, in a sea of reddish blossoms.

It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and was, at the same time, the source of light...This dream represented my situation at the time. I can still see the greyish-yellow raincoats, glistening with the wetness of the rain.

Everything was extremely unpleasant, black and opaque - just as I felt then. But I had had a vision of unearthly beauty, and that was why I was able to live at all.

Liverpool is the ‘pool of life'.

The ‘liver', according to an old view, is the seat of life - that which "makes to live".

The bust was placed by the alleged site where Jung’s dream was focussed, and it has become a place of reverence for Jung aficionados. As of Sunday 23rd February 2014 of the Common Era, that bust has a pair of rainbow-coloured knickers on his head. 

 Here’s why.

The gathering at the Kazimer Club to preview and publicise Daisy Campbell’s adaptation of Cosmic Trigger was something I simply had to attend. Robert Anton Wilson’s work was more than a formative influence on me - it’s one of the main reasons I survived to adulthood and became what I am today. I’d been fortunate enough to be in the audience for the previous London-based gathering regarding the project and had been blown away: both by Daisy’s enthusiasm and commitment to not only doing this project but doing it right and, to judge by the brief scene which had previewed that night (a meeting at the Playboy offices between Wilson, Alan Watts and his wife, and William S. Burroughs), the skill and verve with which which she and her crew were pulling it off. The involvement of our very own John Higgs, whose works on Leary and the KLF are also helping the revival of Wilson’s ideas along, sealed the deal. The fact that the event would also feature exclusive video material from Alan Moore talking about his love of Wilson’s work was very tasty icing indeed.

And... I had this idea.

One of Daisy’s major symbols for her own journey in and out of Chapel Perilous is a pair of rainbow knickers that she wore on her head when briefly enjoying the care of a mental health facility, a result of being pulled too fast along the stream of synchronicity begun before she was even born. Her intention was to hold a street ritual to call on those powers in the service of bringing the Cosmic Trigger project to full flower, and place those same knickers on the bust of Jung. 

I had an inkling that there was another significant power in regard to harnessing the power of synchronicity who could be called upon: a creation of Alan Moore, a son of Liverpool, a master of the Caper (a key phrase Ken Campbell used to describe his work)... John Constantine. I thought that maybe, with Daisy’s permission, a quick word with The Laughing Magician would not be out of place.

...but more on that later.

I arrived about an hour early for the gig, and decided to have a wander around the nearby streets - it’s been years since I’ve been to Liverpool and it’s always good to get a city thoroughly back under your feet after a long absence. As I wandered, this is what I saw drawn on the wall opposite the Kazimer:

(The guy's headgear even resembles Ken Campbell's habitual pork pie hat!)

Literally round the corner from there was this:

A good start!

The Kazimer event itself - a pretty full house - consisted of John and Daisy each talking about their involvement in Wilson’s work, Liverpool and what, for want of a better term, one might call The 23 Current. Both were entertaining, funny and profound (which, if you’ve seen the videos linked above of the previous event, is no shock). The three Alan Moore video excerpts had The Greatest Living Englishman in fine form, talking about his affinity with Wilson’s point of view in regards to the essential silliness of conspiracy theories as compared to the actual reality of how conspiracies happen, and a fascinating retelling of his first conscious act of magic after declaring himself a magician on his 40th birthday. In this (psilocybin-aided) act, Moore had a vision of the greatest dead mages of history - the likes of John Dee, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare and such - as well as shadowy figures who appeared to have animal heads. In the middle of this gathering, who Moore took to be the ranks of the Illuminated, sat Robert Anton Wilson - who at the time was very much alive. This vision influenced his later work (and perspectives on time) greatly, and it was a pleasure to hear that tale from his own lips. There was also a guest appearance from The Goddess Eris Herself (played with tremendous verve by Claudia Egypt) in a scratch retelling of the story of The Apple Of Discord.

After an interval, Daisy introduced a scene from the show in its first live performance - typically of her audacity and drive, it was the most technically difficult scene in the play, and performed by a cast of whom half had been found locally specifically for the evening and who had barely a day to rehearse.

It was stunning.

The scene depicts Wilson’s first LSD trip: starting with a quiet domestic scene between Wilson (played by Oliver Senton, a veteran of Ken Campbell’s The Warp adaptation and other capers) and his wife Arlen (Kate Alderton) before Wilson drops acid, it rapidly spirals out into a brief re-enactment of the scene in Illuminatus! where Joe Malik (Senton-as-Wilson-as-Malik) is initiated by Simon Moon ('Tall' Paul Robinson) into the mysteries of the 23 Enigma, and from there into an extravaganza of symbolism, initiation and terror, featuring complex staging, two songs (music by Richard Kilgour) and the spirit of Albert Hoffman (Trev Fleming) pedalling past on first a bicycle, then a tricycle. The scene ended with Wilson being soothed from his terrors by his young-but-wise daughter Luna (Katy-Anne Bellis) - which, since I know how the story ends, had me in floods of tears. 

(Picture by John Higgs)

If this is what Daisy’s vision of Cosmic Trigger will be like, it should be just as mighty as her father’s Illuminatus!, yet something apart, something of its own times, which I can only hope can bring the optimistic, multi-model perspective Wilson embodied back to a world that sorely needs it.

At the end, Daisy asked the question - should we pull the Cosmic Trigger in Liverpool, on the Discordian Holy Day of 23 November this year? The answer was a resounding YES.

After that, inevitably, was a trip to the nearest pub. And there’s very little more fun in this world than drinking with Scousers. The gathering included some old hands from Liverpool’s underground scene - including the elder statesman Peter O'Halligan, who was responsible not only for creating The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun on Mathew Street where Ken first staged Illuminatus!, but also the Jung bust we were about to pay homage to.

I’d had a word with Higgs, who’d had a word with Daisy... who met up with me in the pub, agreed that calling on Constantine was not just apt, but useful... and asked me to do that short ritual as the opening act before her ceremonial Placing Of The Rainbow Knickers. I agreed - with some nervousness.

(I should point out that, not unlike Alan Moore and Jamie Delano before me, I had noticed a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Constantine in the audience. Well, a bloke dressed the same, suit and shabby raincoat - he was bald, so maybe it was the variation known as Jack Carter. Never got the chance to say hi... )

The group of us who still remained - according to local reporter and friend of the 23 Current Angie Sammons, about 50 people - headed along to Mathew Street. It’s a main drag in Liverpool’s city centre and, even on a Sunday night, it was thronging with Beatles buskers and amiable groups of sozzled Scousers. Our cluster of devotees reached Jung’s bust, which had already received a rainbow scarf the month before as a prelude to the working thanks to another local powerhouse, Tommy Calderbank.

Daisy introduced me to the group, and I essayed a short ceremony, calling upon John Constantine’s synchronicity-surfing powers and his cunning (and, very specifically, not his friendship) for all assembled there, with a ceremonial offering of a shared flask of single malt and a pack of Silk Cut, Constantine’s preferred smoke. Then Daisy spoke: calling on that same current which had called Jung’s soul to the Pool Of Life to bring the Cosmic Trigger to be pulled with the fullest effect, and to manifest that same spirit of destiny which had brought her so far... but, as she put it, only “just enough!”. The knickers were placed with the assistance of a rapidly constructed human pyramid (but of course), and we all cheered.

Attracted by our revelry, a few local lads in Liverpool Football Club motley wandered over to investigate. And one of them wore this shirt...

...so the spells kicking in clearly didn’t take long.

The premiere of Daisy Campbell’s production of Cosmic Trigger will take place in Liverpool in a 3 day event, from 21st to 23rd of November 2014 of the Common Era. And, I am willing to bet, Carl Jung’s rainbow-knickered head will smile upon all there.




Telepathy Between the Dead

Researcher Daniel Bourke looks into the mystery of why near-death experiencers often report that their communication with the deceased was via 'telepathy'.

The near-death experience remains one of the great mysteries of the modern era. And within that mystery lies another - why do so many NDE accounts feature communication via 'telepathy' between NDErs and the deceased people they meet during the experience? It's a question that has long fascinated me, and I was excited to see that a young researcher by the name of Daniel Bourke has addressed this aspect of the NDE at length. Daniel has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce his essay here - I'm sure you'll enjoy it!


The Deceased in the Afterlife Realm

On Non-Verbal Communications During the Near-Death Experience: Documenting the Fact and Establishing its Importance

by Daniel Bourke (2013)

Since nature's works be good and death doth serveth natures work, whys should we fear to die?

~Phillip Sidney


There are a great many features to the classical near-death experience (NDE). Many critics have seen this as somehow detrimental to the reality of the experience. That such variety in reports is in some way supportive of its unreality. Such critics are both completely unfamiliar with the breadth of the literature and indeed of the fallacy of such thinking in and of itself. In just the same way that any given individual would explain his unique experience of the "waking world", the NDE is home to a variety of features, and yet is strikingly consistent and familiar no matter who is relaying the message or indeed where and when that message is relayed. Fundamentally, there is a set of experiences which can be had within the confines of the near-death experience and while all of these will not be experienced all of the time; some will reliably be experienced every time. But even this is a vast oversimplification as the similarities between near-death accounts are far more consistent and specific than any two relevantly separated accounts of Earthly life. Many authors have attempted to account for these similarities using various models but it is enough here for us to know this is the case.

One of these features and the topic of this particular paper is the fascinating persistence of telepathy as a means of communication in the land of the dead. By telepathy we mean some form of thought or idea transfer which is specifically cited by a great many of those who return as the primary means of communication. Although those familiar with the term may consider telepathy to be in some way a more" indirect" or "etheric" form of communication, we will soon see that it has been described by those who have ventured beyond the veil of death as far more instantaneous, efficient and less prone to misinterpretation than the spoken word could ever hope to achieve. We will then briefly ponder the implications of such consistencies in reports. The main idea here is documentation of the fact itself, the results of which may be considered however the reader sees fit. It is however hoped to be established beyond doubt that during the time of the near-death experience, non-verbal communication is completely ubiquitous as the primary means of communication.

It is important to remember, that insofar as we are here concerned, the word "telepathy" is being used as a descriptor for an experienced phenomenon. It is perhaps the only word in our language, or at least one of just a few, which can aptly describe the type of non-verbal communication which is experienced by those near death and should be treated as such. In other words, the use of the word should be viewed in this context.

Perhaps most important to be noted is how easily an analysis of this kind may not have come to pass. How easily it could have come to be the case that during reports of near-death experiences, people simply spoke as they had on Earth, and had not reported an altogether different method of communication than they are used to. And yet it is not so.

On The Primacy of Non Verbal Communication in the Land of the Dead

Many authors have noted the primacy of thought as a means of communication in the world beyond our own. When we look across the literature it becomes extremely clear that non-verbal communication is the rule rather than the exception. Speaking to this, Dr. Raymond Moody created an often cited but certainly still relevant "composite" or archetypical near-death experience based on the cases he collected. This is a model near-death experience which captures the general attributes of the "core" near-death experience, Moody shows us that he himself considers the telepathic aspect of the experience as being recurring enough to warrant a place in his model NDE; he writes that, "...Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving, warm spirit of a kind he never encountered before-a being of light-appears before him. His being asks him a question, nonverbally...". 1

Let us now hear from some more of these authors and their related thoughts in order to set the stage for our accounts with words from those who have so tirelessly sifted through so many accounts, interviewed many hundreds of subjects, indeed thousands between them and have more authority than most to make such general statements. ... Read More »

Top Five Phenomena That Offer Evidence For An Afterlife

Near Death Experience

In the modern age, the debate over the possibility that our consciousness might survive the physical death of our body is often reduced to a false dichotomy of science vs religion. As such, scientists sadly often ignore and ridicule reports of strange phenomena from those who have approached, and in some cases gone beyond, the threshold of death, even though such experiences have a profound effect upon those who undergo them. Do these phenomena offer evidence that we might live on in some way past the demise of our physical selves? Here’s a list of five areas, taken from the book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife (Kindle/Paperback), which suggest that it might just be so:

1. Veridical NDEs

The near-death experience first shot into the limelight in the 1970s after the publication of Raymond Moody’s best-selling book Life After Life, to the extent that nearly everyone today knows what an ‘NDE’ is. But while many people took the near-death experience itself as proof of a life beyond death, orthodox science has judged (rightly or wrongly) the heavenly visions of the NDE to be simply hallucinations brought on by the various physical and psychological burdens put on the brain by its imminent demise.

One area that has the potential to change that opinion, however, is research into what are termed ‘veridical NDEs’. This is where, during the ‘out-of-body experience’ stage of the NDE, the experiencer sees things – and later reports back on them – that they should not have been able to perceive. There are many anecdotes of veridical NDEs, such as the case of ‘Dentures Man’, which was mentioned in the respected journal The Lancet. In this case from 1979, a 44-year-old man (‘Mr. B’) was brought into the emergency department at Canisius Hospital in the Netherlands by ambulance, after being discovered comatose, hypothermic and without a pulse in a cold, damp meadow in the middle of the night. Hospital staff, including the senior nurse (‘T.G.’), were beginning resuscitation on the patient when T.G. noticed that Mr. B was wearing dentures, so removed them and placed them on the ‘crash cart’ so that he could put a ventilation mask on the unconscious man. After Mr. B was successfully ‘brought back’, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, and so T.G. did not see the man again until a week later while doing rounds distributing medication. T.G. was astonished when, as he walked into the room, the patient he had brought back to life suddenly exclaimed ‘‘Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are!’’. Seeing the look of surprise on T.G.’s face, Mr. B explained himself: since coming back to consciousness, Mr. B. had been looking for his dentures. ‘‘You were there when I was brought into hospital and you took my dentures out of my mouth and put them onto that cart,” he said. “It had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath and there you put my teeth”. T.G. was confused by this, as he remembered that he had done this when the patient was unconscious and undergoing CPR to bring him back to life:

When I asked further, it appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with CPR. He was also able to describe correctly and in detail the small room in which he had been resuscitated as well as the appearance of those present like myself. At the time that he observed the situation he had been very much afraid that we would stop CPR and that he would die. And it is true that we had been very negative about the patient’s prognosis due to his very poor medical condition when admitted. The patient tells me that he desperately and unsuccessfully tried to make it clear to us that he was still alive and that we should continue CPR. He is deeply impressed by his experience and says he is no longer afraid of death. Four weeks later he left hospital as a healthy man.

How did Mr. B ‘see’ the resuscitation room, and in particular the head nurse’s face, when his brain was apparently shut down? While this account alone is puzzling, it is just one of a long list of ‘veridical NDE’ reports through the years. Another patient, Al Sullivan, was undergoing emergency heart surgery when

The Metaphysics of Ping Pong - A Review

"Euclidean geometry is the geometry of plain surfaces and three-dimensional space, but non-Euclidean geometry is the geometry of curved surfaces, hence it is indeed an appropriate term for this kind of ping-pong."

- Rupert Sheldrake in a note to author, Guido Mina di Sospiro

We live in a world of spin, above us the spinning, ever watchful orbits of satellites, our minds filled with the twists and turns of media spin doctors, and our lives lived in the spinning maze of global commerce, there is no escaping it. The Metaphysics of Ping PongYet the question, really, is not one of escape, but how to join the game without losing, or if a loss is inevitable, then at least how to enjoy the playing in itself.

In the complexity of the world, there are lessons to be learned through turning to something simple for guidance. I’ve been tending fires, allowing mental habits trained up in the spinning contemporary world to burn away with the wood I’ve carefully gathered and cut. In thinking on this, I’ve been drawing from Guido Mina di Sospiro's wonderful new book The Metaphysics of Ping Pong for inspiration.

There is something very unique about this work which brings the reader on a journey through a playful, personal and deep relationship with the everyday, under the auspices of Mina di Sospiro's quest to discover the intimate secrets contained in the fine art of ping pong, and in the process the fine art of spin. Along the way is woven an intricate image of how subtle influences attend even the most ... Read More »

An App to Remember Your Dreams

    Way back in September, Greg posted news of a Kickstarter for SHADOW, a dream recording app & online community. The app's creator, Hunter Lee Soik, assembled an impressive team of dream experts to help shape SHADOW -- Kelly Bulkeley, Deirdre Barrett, Scott Sparrow, and the oneiroboss Ryan Hurd himself, to name a few. I'd planned to interview Hunter recently, but a near-miss with a car saw my phone get run over. Then my mac decided to go to the great apple tree in the sky. Thankfully, Hunter was unfazed by this conspiratorial Pauli Effect and kindly took time from his extremely busy schedule to answer a few questions via email (one for each hour of sleep you should all be getting).

    As I type this, there are only forty winks hours to go until the Kickstarter ends. The pledge goal has been reached (which is fantastic news for the SHADOW team, congratulations!), and this is your last chance to snag some terrific swag and gain early access to SHADOW before it's officially released next year. In the meantime, give your spinning top a whirl and enjoy the interview.

    RMG: In a nutshell, what is SHADOW and how did it come about?

    HLS: SHADOW is a mobile alarm clock that helps users remember and record their dreams in a global dream database. The idea came about when I finally started dreaming again after a dozen years of hard work and little sleep. I wanted to remember what I was experiencing in my sleeping life, but I couldn't find an app that melded a social dream journal with the kind of sophisticated design aesthetic I was looking for. So I learned as much as I could about sleep and dreams, approached some dream researchers with the idea, and SHADOW was born.

    RMG: How does the app actually work?

    HLS: You set the alarm like any other alarm clock, but when it wakes you up it uses a series of escalating sounds that helps preserve your dreams. Traditional alarm clocks destroy dreams by transitioning you out of sleep too quickly. Once you're awake, SHADOW prompts you to record your dreams via voice or text (you can speak directly into the app or type what you remember). Then, with your permission, we pull

Interspecies Communication via Psychedelics?

The following is an excerpt from Paul Devereux's The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK), reprinted with permission. The Long Trip is...

...probably the most comprehensive single volume to look at the use of mind-altering drugs, or entheogens, for ritual and shamanistic purposes throughout humanity's long story, while casting withering sidelong glances at our own times - as Paul Devereux points out, our modern mainstream culture is eccentric in its refusal to integrate the profound experiences offered by these natural substances into its own spiritual life.


Do Psychedelics Allow Interspecies Communication?
by Paul Devereux

Supernatural, by Adam Scott Miller

Societies of the past have used the psychedelic experience to strengthen, renew and heal the spiritual underpinning of their social structures. The ever-deepening social unease that Western civilisation seems to be caught in is the real source of our 'drug problem': natural hallucinogens are not the problems in themselves, it is the context in which they are used that matters. If there were orderly and healthy structures and mechanisms for their use and the cultural absorption of the powerful experiences – and knowledge – we could separate these from the culture of crime that surrounds them now. In short, the problems are not in the psychoactive substances themselves, but in a society, which on the one hand wants to prohibit, mind-expansion altogether and on the other chooses to use mind-expanding substances in a literally mindless, hedonistic fashion.

Perhaps only a shock of some kind could break our society free from the patterns of thought and prejudices that lock it into this crisis. The desire for such a shock may be hidden within the widespread modern myth of extra-terrestrial intervention. In fact, we do not have to look to science fiction for a real otherworld contact: it already exists in the form of plant hallucinogens. If we see them in the context of a 'problem', it is only because they hold up a mirror in which we see our spiritual, social and mental condition reflected. And they hold that mirror up to us as one species to another just as surely as if they were from another planet. Indeed, that champion of the psychedelic state, the late Terence McKenna, argued that the ancestral spores of today’s hallucinogenic mushrooms may have originated on some other planet. (This is not as fringe an idea as it sounds, for even some 'hard scientists' – the late Francis Crick, co-discover of DNA, among them – have suggested that the germs of life may have had extra-terrestrial origins, brought to Earth by means of meteorites or comet dust.) The psilocybin family of hallucinogens, says McKenna, produces a "Logos-like phenomenon of an interior voice that seems to be almost a superhuman agency…an entity so far beyond the normal structure of the ego that if it is not an extraterrestrial it might as well be."

Other 'psychonauts' have emerged from the altered mind states enabled by plant substances with similar impressions. For instance, New York journalist Daniel Pinchbeck wrote

Book Review - I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary by John Higgs

Ok, so I know that John Higgs has had several titles published recently (which I haven't yet read), but the occasion of his biography of Timothy Leary (which I have read), first published in 2006 on the 10th anniversary of Leary's death, coming out in paperback in the U.S., provides an excuse for me to write a belated review of it.

The title of the book refers to Leary's typically-megalomaniacal response to a question regarding Richard Nixon's alleged description of him as "the most dangerous man in America": "It's true, I have America surrounded."

In an e-mail interview with Paul Krassner, Higgs himself describes Leary as "probably the best example of the "trickster" archetype that the 20th Century produced, and his ambiguity is key to understanding him".

Higgs' insight into, and balanced treatment of, Leary's character contrasts with his his less-favourable portrayal at the hands of Robert Greenfield, so it will appeal more to those with a level of respect for the man, in spite of his flaws.

Higgs' fascinating account explains the contradictions in Leary's non-stop adventure of a life (a life of 'flat out epic grandeur', according to Winona Ryder in her foreword for the book) in terms of both the events which changed its course and Leary's response to those events - the rebuilding, with the assistance of LSD, of his 'reality tunnel'. As a behavioural psychologist at Harvard in the 50's, Leary had a better appreciation than most of his peers of how we create our own reality, but despite his adaptability, he seemed incapable of escaping the less admirable aspects of his own character.

The book opens with Leary's prison escape and largely focuses on his subsequent life as a fugitive, arguably the most interesting phase of Leary's life, whilst setting it within the context of his earlier rise to notoriety. You can tell that Higgs has a fascination with fellow Englishman Brian Barritt's not insubstantial involvement with Leary during this time.

It may be some time before Leary's legacy escapes the reality tunnels of those who 'know' him only as an unmentionable scientist who 'went too far' or as a hippy cultural icon, and his intellectual and cultural influence of the second half of the 20th century becomes more fully appreciated. Higgs' biography of Leary takes us closer to such a time. Essential reading. Buy it at Amazon US/UK).

The Tragic Tale of the Rocket Maker

Jack W Parsons

[For best effect, scroll to the bottom, start the YouTube video to playing, turn up your speakers, and then return to the top and read straight through. Then replay the YouTube piece and watch the video.]

When the history of the American space program is finally written, no figure will stand out quite like John Whiteside Parsons. (Richard Metzger, “John Whiteside Parsons: Anti-Christ Superstar,” April 8, 2003)

He was an unorthodox genius, a poet and rocket scientist who helped give birth to an institution that would become mankind’s window on the universe. He was also a devotee of the black arts, a sci-fi junkie and host of backyard orgies on Pasadena’s stately Millionaires’ Row. (“Life as Satanist Propelled Rocketeer,” Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2000)

He was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley, an employee of Howard Hughes, a victim of L. Ron Hubbard, and an enthusiastic phone buddy to Wernher Von Braun. He was an only child, his adulterous dad booted by his angry mom. In seeking father figures and brotherhood, he became a vital link in two mighty chains in human history: rocketry and ritual magic. His science was built on intuition, and his magic on experiment. (“The Magical Father of American Rocketry,” Reason, May 2005)

[He was] remarkably handsome, dashing and brilliant…Werner von Braun claimed it was the self-taught Parsons, not himself, who was the true father of the American space program for his contribution to the development of solid rocket fuel. (Metzger)

He was a tall handsome Californian, whose early work on highly volatile rocket-motor fuels was regarded highly enough for French scientists of a later generation to name a crater on the moon after him. Parsons introduced into early American rocketry a range of exotic solid and liquid fuels whose later forms were eventually to help drive Apollo 11 to the Moon. He helped create the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, now a major industrial complex. In early colour footage from JPL archives, he looks like a better-fed James Dean in some 1950s road movie. In the manner of many mid-century heroes such as Dean, his life was more a script than a life. (“John Whiteside Parsons,” Fortean Times, March 2000)

You would think all this scientific achievement would be enough for one person in one lifetime, but Parsons had a much loftier set of ambitions. He wanted to tear down the walls of time and space, and ... Read More »

A Fractured Hall of Mirrors

Half-way through watching Mirage Men, a new documentary on how U.S. Intelligence agencies have deliberately sabotaged research into the UFO topic, I literally shook my head, saying to myself with a laugh "it's a hall of mirrors". By the end of the documentary, my statement had been echoed and expanded upon by one of the interviewees, Linda Moulton Howe, who described the entire story as "a fractured hall of mirrors with a quicksand floor". Howe should know: in 1983, while researching a documentary on the subject of UFOs for HBO, she was engaged by Richard 'Rick' Doty, an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), initially with the promise of helping her investigate an alleged UFO landing near Ellsworth Air Force Base. But Howe's meeting with Doty took an unexpected turn when the AFOSI agent suddenly produced a manila folder, saying she could take a look at it but, not remove it from the office or make notes. Within it was a document titled "Briefing Paper for the President of the United States of America on the Subject of Unidentified Aerial Vehicles", which listed a number of alleged UFO crash retrievals by the government, as well as paragraphs that became "emblazoned" on Howe's mind concerning how they had discovered that Homo sapiens was a species created by extraterrestrials through genetic manipulation of primates. Amazed by the information fed to her by the government agency at the time, in Mirage Men Howe looks back with three decades of perspective and wonders at the the amount of effort that must have gone into the deception: "they must have had meetings about 'how do we stop a persistent and dogged reporter who has already demonstrated that she's going to go after a really difficult subject?'." The question that comes to mind, and which runs throughout this entire film, is 'WHY?'.

This was not the first time that AFOSI agent Doty had willingly mislead investigators of the UFO subject, and it would not be the last. As such, he serves as the focal character in the documentary; it begins with the deception he helped orchestrate on Albuquerque businessman Paul Bennewitz, goes on to discuss the Linda Moulton Howe case, the infamous Majestic-12 documents (described in the film by another AFOSI agent, Walter Bosley, as the "perfect Perception Management Device", though Doty denies any involvement with it) and extends forward to the more recent controversy over the 'Project Serpo' hoax.

And Doty is no doubt a worthy candidate for the film to revolve around. Coming to the documentary with a fair amount of knowledge about Doty's deceptions over the years – with consequences (direct and otherwise) ranging from the wasting of UFO investigators' time through to the mental disintegration, eventual hospitalisation and death of Paul Bennewitz – I already had a dislike for the man, and was ready to truly despise him. But one of the things that catches you off guard is how harmless and genial he seems - the man is sitting before the camera, telling you how he has deceived people, and yet you feel that he seems to be a nice guy that you'd happily chat with at a neighbourhood barbeque. Though as Bill Ryan, who was initially taken in by the Serpo deception, points out, that's what makes him so effective: "Rick's great strength is he's a wonderful story-teller", says Ryan. "He's a very friendly guy [and] builds relationships easily". ... Read More »

Review - Dan Brown's Inferno

It's easy to be a Dan Brown critic: just laugh down your nose at his overly florid descriptive phrases, complain about other great authors being ignored, and encourage readers to join with you in hating the man and his books. Nearly all such reviews, however, miss the point – Brown's work is not meant for the literati, but simply as page-turning escapism. And that is where he excels - Inferno, by Dan Brownanyone that disputes the man's ability to keep readers up late at night reading 'just one more chapter' obviously hasn't tried to write a book of that type before. It's a talent, and it is what most of Brown's readers want from his work – not to 'work' their way through the novel as some sort of endurance event, but as a sprint, either after work or while on holiday, whisking them away to exotic locations on a thrill-a-minute adventure. The other arrow in Brown's quiver is his ability to take a location with fascinating history behind it, and use it as a city-size puzzle for the reader to try and fit together as the action progresses. Between the page-turning, and the hit of satisfaction to the reader as they complete more of the puzzle, his books are casual-reader-cocaine.

Dan Brown seems well aware of the ridiculousness of his fun thrillers occupying the stratosphere of book-selling – in the new book there seem to be parodic hat-tips to other publishing phenomena 50 Shades of Grey and The Girl Who... series. Certainly, there are plenty of other authors out there with Brown's skills (and more), and this doesn't seem to be something Brown doesn't know. They, however, weren't fortunate enough to hit upon the highly combustible mix that Brown put together with The Da Vinci Code - a combination of page-turner, puzzler, AND one 'big idea' that caught fire: that the Catholic Church covered up secrets, in particular the importance of the 'sacred feminine'. Though the success of that one book guaranteed Dan Brown massive sales of succeeding books regardless of their content, even Brown himself couldn't replicate the alchemy of The Da Vinci Code with his next book, The Lost Symbol, even though he seemed to have all the same ingredients, just with a change of big idea. To many though, it was the oversize helping of the 'big idea' in The Lost Symbol that ruined the mix, overwhelming the taste of the puzzles and making the meal difficult to digest quickly.

So with the release of his latest novel, Inferno, I was interested to see what approach Dan Brown might take to try and recapture the magic of The Da Vinci Code. I knew already that he had selected Florence as the location, and thought it an ingenious choice: the city has historical roots, both orthodox and esoteric, that stretched down as deep as the hell of one of its favourite sons, Dante Alighieri. And speaking of that famous Florentine, Brown also stated he was going to use the great Italian poet's classic of the same name as the basis for the plot of his new book. My expectations were high, and in my fun 'primer' Inside Dan Brown's Inferno, I explored the roads (and back-alleys) of Florentine history that I thought the best-selling author was likely to walk down in his own Inferno.

So how did I go in predicting the elements of Inferno? My chapter on Dante's life and literature would certainly have been helpful to readers of Brown's new novel, giving them essential background material to better understand the references made in the book (his love of Beatrice, his expulsion from Florence, the content of his Inferno, etc.). But those topics were a given really; not so much any sort of psychic skill on my part. In terms of locations in Florence I covered many that Brown placed within his adventure: the Boboli Gardens,