Steven M. Greer and the Future of Prophecy

Someone is born, has an experience or insight into ‘the way things are’, and their teachings become a new tradition. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Joanna Southcott. Essentially, it’s the same story. But after the prophet has passed away, their insights (provided they were genuine) are misrepresented and misinterpreted until only a hollow shell of ‘orthodoxy’ remains. It is left to the esotericists – those who do not merely ‘believe’, but re-experience the prophet’s insights first-hand – to keep alive whatever contribution was made.

Maybe rationalist materialism will triumph, and future prophets will be neutralised before their teachings cause harm or upset the status quo. Or maybe this ‘messiah’ model is already evolving into something different.

Steven M. Greer is perhaps a case in point. The magickal working I described last time led me, by a chain of coincidences, to an encounter with Greer’s work. He heads up CSETI, an organisation that promotes human-initiated contact with extraterrestrial intelligences, and The Disclosure Project, an initiative to release information kept secret by governments concerning alien technology and above-unity energy devices.

Steven M. Greer

Steven M. Greer, presenting his vision.

Greer and his team recently released a film, Sirius (2013), a summary of their evidence for extraterrestrial communication, and for the conspiracy against free energy. Powerful individuals with interests in fossil fuels are (it is alleged) actively denying the deployment of already-existent technologies, which would provide ready solutions to the problems of humanity.

A focal point of the film is a small, mummified corpse known as ‘the Atacama humanoid‘, which Greer suggests may have extraterrestrial origins or alien DNA. In the course of the film, the evidence suggests the corpse is human, male, and that his mother came from Chile. Some sceptics have seized upon this as an opportunity to ridicule Greer’s extraterrestrial hypothesis. And indeed, the evidence presented (in Greer’s film, it should be remembered) undermines this view. But it also undermines the stance previously adopted by sceptical commentators, which was to ignore the specimen altogether, or to assume without evidence it was a non-biological hoax.

If Greer’s presentation of the rest of his evidence were similarly rigorous and open-minded, then all would be well. But even a minimal amount of research suggests to me that this is not the case. Three items caught my attention.

Remains found in the Atacama desert.

The Atacama Human. Not a hoax, but not an alien.

The first (at around 13’55” in the film) was video footage of a UFO apparently creating a crop circle. This is the infamous Oliver’s Castle video, shot in Wiltshire, 1996. Its provenance is fraught and murky, which might have been enough to make the producers of Sirius think twice. But if that weren’t bad enough, crop circle commentators have since produced a convincing explanation of how the video was created, and have named its creator as a video production specialist based in Bristol at the time. In short, if Greer wanted to include good evidence for a link between UFOs and crop circles, then this wasn’t it.

Second (at 58’50”), is the footage of Dr. Eugene Mallove, a critic of the scientific establishment and its attitude towards the ‘cold fusion’ claim in 1989 of researchers Pons and Fleischmann. Tragically, in 2004 Dr. Mallove was a victim of murder. It is not stated explicitly in the film, but it is certainly implied by the context and the words being spoken by Dr. Mallove as the circumstances of his death are revealed, that there is a link between his position on free energy and his murder. Were this demonstrable, it might be evidence for Greer’s ‘petro-fascist’ conspiracy. But again, some minimal research (a report on the murder in a local newspaper) establishes a clear and prior personal connection between the victim and the criminal. Yet I have come across other sources that also imply this tragic murder is evidence for a conspiracy, and can only imagine the upset it might cause to Dr. Mallove’s family and friends. In my view, it is ethically suspect of the producers of Sirius to use the interview with Mallove in this way.

Free energy device.

LifeHack2012′s ‘free energy device’. I want one!

Third (1h 32’ 30”), is a YouTube video from a user named LifeHack2012. It purports to show a small device with no visible batteries producing light. It caught my attention because it looked easy to make. What isn’t shown in Sirius, however, are the videos posted in reply, reporting failure to replicate the effect. The only video that offers some kind of replication is the one that convincingly argues there are two small watch batteries hidden in the metal casing around the coil.

Perhaps I’m unlucky, and the three items that caught my attention just happened to be misleading, whereas all the others actually lead somewhere more interesting. But, given the minimal amount of research it took to establish to my satisfaction that these three items have little to do with aliens, conspiracies or free energy, it would have been better if the producers of the film had done likewise and had eliminated these items, which do nothing to bolster our confidence in the other claims made in Sirius.

If Greer’s evidence is mostly bunk, then what’s left over is largely magick. This is the part that most might regard as pure ‘woo’, but his ideas on chatting with aliens are perhaps the most solid part of all. (That’s ‘solid’ in the sense of ‘effective on a purely subjective level’.)

Greer suggests that what we call ‘consciousness’ is something the aliens regard and exploit as a technology. To contact aliens, we must switch our consciousness to a level comparable with theirs. Greer is an experienced meditator, and his accounts of meditative states suggest he is probably no stranger to non-dual states of consciousness. These are what can abolish the separation between us and ET. And this is what distinguishes Greer from your usual UFO nut, wrapping him in the mantle of a prophet instead. Of course, as human and fallible as any other prophet since the dawn of time.

Greer’s ‘CSETI Communication Protocols’ are really only a bog-standard magickal invocation: you state your intention, you attain trance, and – wow – something happens that provides an experience of what you aimed for. He has garnered footage of blobby objects moving in the sky, allegedly as a result of these invocations, and interacting intelligently with observers. But it seems impossible to prove or disprove from the images themselves what these objects might be; it can’t be gauged how distant or how near they are. Yet what these images certainly deliver is what they were intended for: a subjective experience of communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence. Whether they have an additional identity in terms of astronomical objects or terrestrial hardware, is a matter open to dispute.

CSETI UFO image.

CSETI UFO image. Invoke them and they (or something) will appear.

Sirius presents what has become a dominant counter-cultural myth of our time: aliens, and a repressive conspiracy intent on covering up their existence. Revelation consists no longer in words alone, but now requires evidence. Disclosure is needed for God’s Kingdom to become a reality on Earth. By ‘myth’ I don’t mean that this view is necessarily false; it represents a reality of some sort, else it wouldn’t endure the way it has. And yet the arrival of the evidence required to affirm it seems far from guaranteed. Greer’s movie, with its hoaxed clips and less than matter-of-fact reportage, has not delivered Heaven on Earth. But the ideal behind it will not die, founded on its appeal to a consciousness transcending everyday life, which, if only it were realised, would obviate the reflex impulse of humans beings to behave like dicks.

But something is changing, perhaps. We already have the message. We lack only a messiah to substantiate it. For substantiation is still the outmoded aim of our would-be messiahs.

Greer has one foot in the past, struggling to manifest miracles, to prove what is perhaps unprovable because everything in the material world has material causes. Miracles were never wonders in themselves, only in the sense of what they pointed towards, something beyond materiality. And yet Greer has one foot in the future also, maybe, because his teaching is not his alone, but an agglutination of the electronic dreams of millions.

A man presenting miracles – strange-looking corpses, videos of UFOs – will never be enough; there will have to be evidence for them also. As time passes, and that evidence fails to materialise, something else will have to act as the vehicle to the Kingdom.

My guess is it will be some kind of experience we can share directly. Truth will no longer depend on the words of an individual, or a person presenting miracles, or even the production of evidence underpinning these. Instead, truth will come first-hand through shared experience. It will deliver Utopia not through physical signs or verbal pointing-out, but by provision of a direct taste of its immediate reality.

How do I know this? Because, in the style of all good prophecies, it has already been written.

An eye appears. Inside the eye is the face of an alien ‘grey’. And inside the alien’s eye is another eye, and another ‘grey’ is inside that – and so on. An infinite regress. […] I hear a voice […] telling me that this image represents the truth. In reality, there is no ‘infinite regress’; the mystery of the aliens is not ‘deep’, but is flat like the mask. […]

I see communication satellites orbiting the earth. The notion of aliens is merely information being passed from satellite to another, there is no material substance. A god in the shape of a gibbon appears. It is Thoth, and he is in the communications satellites. He is a spider-like connection between the satellites, sending his web across the world. […] His body is every piece of media in the world. All the lies of the media are ‘good’, because they make Thoth’s body strong. To make him strong, there has to be diversity in the quality of information passed around the world. This is his positive aspect. We are in a transitional stage where lies will build up the god’s body, and from this something good will arise. Thoth will come into dominance, and hold sway over the earth. The ‘alien conspiracy’ is merely one strand of lies in the diverse body of Thoth that will give way in time to something positive.

The Buddha appears, because building the body of Thoth leads to the Buddha. When the lies have passed, Thoth leads to the Buddha. When the lies have passed away, the Buddha-body is built. Thoth is the Buddha.

Sefer Aemeth (forthcoming), Aethyr 21.

The Being we call the Christ was once on earth in the flesh at the beginning of our era. He will never come again in a physical body, for that was a unique event and will not be repeated. But He will come again in an etheric form [...] Men will learn to perceive Christ inasmuch as through this etheric sight they will grow towards Him. He does not now descend as far as the physical body but only as far as the etheric body; men must therefore grow to the stage where He can be perceived.

It will then no longer be necessary to amass all kinds of documentary evidence to prove the existence of Christ; there will be eye-witnesses of the presence of the Living Christ, men who will know Him in His etheric body. And from this experience they will realise that this is the same Being who at the beginning of our era fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha.

– Rudolf Steiner, ‘True Nature of the Second Coming’ (Lecture, January 25th, 1910).

Concerning the Vision of Spirits in the Air

I was due to present a magickal working, but couldn’t think of anything specific, so (on my way out) I grabbed an old grimoire from the shelf with a vague idea of using it to demonstrate how silly old books can be put to use in personal magickal practice.

The book was A.E. Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magick, which I’d picked up somewhere years ago for a quid. When the Baptist’s Head was starting out, from this same book we adapted a ritual for communicating with the Archangel Uriel and had been blown away by the results [1]. I hoped that A.E. Waite would turn up trumps again.

In its gloriously obtuse prose, here is the text for the ritual I chose:

Concerning the Vision of Spirits in the Air

For the Masters of Black Magic, as for the author of the Comte de Gabalis, the air is the abode of far other beings than the bird and fly, but the process by which they are rendered visible is complicated through the exceptional nature of the required materials…

It’s now widely recognised that many of the ingredients for ‘spells’ are either symbolic, or were chosen deliberately for being difficult-to-come-by, in order to put casual readers off the scent of the true purpose for the ritual. In an age where it is considered politically correct to make ourselves understood to as wide an audience as possible, this tactic strikes us as bizarre. But reflect for a moment on the trolls that would flock to the comments section of a blog which made magick simple enough for everyone to understand, and suddenly it starts to make sense.

Cardboard box with magick words and things inside.

The ingredients for the spell, ready for burning.

Waite almost gives the game away in the passage above, with his implied inference that if the materials weren’t such a hassle to obtain, then it would actually be easy to see the spirits.

It is, of course, quite possible to secure the brain of a cock, and dissection with that object may perhaps be performed by deputy; the kitchen-maid or the poulterer’s assistant would be easily secured…

Easy for him to say! For me, locked in an urban lifestyle, lacking domestic help, animal offal is not so easy to come by.

The dust from the grave of a dead man is the second ingredient of the process; but a visit to the nearest cemetery will not be sufficient, because it is useless to collect it on the surface; that which is next to the coffin will alone serve the purpose…

Do I need to point out how insane it would be even to attempt this?

In addition to these substances there are only oil of almonds and virgin wax. A compost must be made of the four, and it must be wrapped in a sheet of virgin parchment inscribed previously with the words GOMERT, KAILOETH, and with the character of Khil.

This didn’t sound too hard. ‘Virgin parchment’ means ‘a blank sheet of paper’, and ‘virgin wax’ (correct me if I’m wrong) is no different from ‘wax’, is it? Instead of ‘almond oil’ I decided sunflower would do just as well. Because this is where we hit the nub: how do we suppose magick ‘works’? Do we suppose a chemical reaction renders the spirits visible when a cock’s brain is mixed with corpse dust?

No. Magick doesn’t ‘work’. I learnt magick from the tradition of Chaos Magick, which avers that results arise from shifting one’s belief, thereby altering one’s reality. Over time I’ve come to regard this as too ‘causal’ an explanation. Alan Chapman and I realised at an early stage in our collaboration that chaos magickal rituals still lead to results even when alteration of the magician’s psychological state (‘gnosis’), supposedly another essential component of ritual, is completely left out. These days, I often don’t bother with either gnosis or belief-shifting. I make no effort to ‘believe’ in the ritual I’m performing. I know it’s a pile of ludicrous rubbish. But I do it anyway, and the results are just as striking.

This cannot be an original discovery, because the key feature of magick has always been that its means are causally insufficient to realise its ends. Magick does not and cannot ‘work’. Results are not the effects of the ritual, but arrive as uncaused, meaningful synchronicities. These are indeed complete ‘coincidences’, things that probably would have happened anyway, even if the ritual had not been performed.

However, the ritual was performed, and it’s this formalisation of intention on which the act of magick seems to rest. So, on the night in question, because it would be insane to dig up a corpse, someone instead pretended that he was dead. We sprinkled dust on him and declared this our desired ingredient.

‘I never saw a cock that had a brain,’ someone jokingly remarked, which provided inspiration to push a cashew nut into the tip of a banana, and improvise around its extraction a routine that was a lot more fun than cracking open the skull of a fowl.

The materials being thus prepared, it remains to set them alight, whereupon the operator will behold that which the Grimoire characterises as prodigious, but does not specify except by the indication of the title. This experiment, it adds, should be performed only by those who fear nothing…

Again, the game is almost given away by: (1) the instruction to destroy the ingredients that have taken such effort to assemble; and (2) the refusal to specify an outcome. (Because there won’t be an ‘outcome’ – except smoke.)

Things on fire!

The ingredients burnt with an unexpected ferocity.

Fearlessness is needed because anyone who fears the spirits will be in dread of certain things happening, and inclined to overlook any other stuff that happens instead. Fearlessness is really only the capacity to adopt a wide mental focus. Without that, wasting time on something that does not work really is a waste of time.

It is easy to deride the process, but reflective persons will see that it is the quintessence and summary of the whole art. This is Black Magic – and most of the white kind – in the proverbial nutshell – a combination in equal proportions of the disgusting and the imbecile. There are many more elaborate experiments, but few of such a representative kind. It is not necessary to add that it has been exceedingly popular and is to be found in most of the Grimoires.

Offensive, stupid, ridiculous, funny, arbitrary and tedious: these registers feature in ritual not purely because of their psychological repercussions, but because they are symptomatic of performing actions least likely to have a causative impact.

To be honest, I hadn’t really planned what to do with the ingredients after the demonstration. Some arrangements were made, but I was unwell and unable to follow them through. Experience has taught me there are often negative effects from leaving magickal intentions hanging, so a few days later I took the ingredients into the woods and finished the ritual alone.

Rusted ironwork with a pattern like a face.

Earth spirits. Parts of a rusted bedstead that look like faces.

For the first time in a while, my tiny mind was blown by the results. On my route that morning, I found three playing cards in the street which amounted to a divination of intense personal relevance. And later, having discovered a secluded spot, the ingredients burnt with a ferocity I had not expected (but which was presumably a consequence of the oil and wax).

The original author of the spell perhaps avoided describing his or her results in order to avoid sounding lame. The spirits I encountered in the wood that morning were in the sensation of warm sunlight, the sensuous motion of intertwining branches, and a shoal of white clouds, whale-like in their indifference, which pursued a slow vector across the blue sky out to sea.

After a while, some earth-spirits also appeared. The atmosphere reminded me of Marvell’s poem, ‘The Garden’ (c.1650), with its mysterious sense of nature pushing and insinuating into human consciousness.

Old sock covered in moss on woodland earth.

Another earth spirit, in the form of an old sock covered in moss.

These were the immediate results on the etheric level of experience, the level of emotions, feelings and forms. Later on, an astral result arrived – an experience at the level of symbolism and meaning. (I’m still coming to terms with it. Oh dear — I think it might involve extraterrestrials…)

A.E. Waite had delivered the goods, yet again. So is it true that this ‘spell’ works? Does it actually cause something to happen?

No, of course not. Don’t be silly.

That’s why it’s so good.


I used the paulstretch audio utility (on default settings) to create this ‘ambient soundscape’ from a recording I made of the ingredients burning.


[1] See Alan Chapman & Duncan Barford, The Blood of the Saints (Brighton: Heptarchia, 2009), p. 312.

Invocation of My Demon Botherer

In the first chapter of Occult Experiments in the Home (see pp. 8-9), I discuss an odd experience with some dice. I was 14, and during the preceding months I’d been experimenting with a Ouija board and friends. Indeed, we’d begun to dispense with the board and were asking ‘spirits’ to manifest directly. One day, I was idly rolling a pair of dice, when it struck me they might be used as a means of spirit-communication. I asked the dice to move if the next throw were a double six. Nothing happened, but I didn’t give up until I’d repeated the trial many times.

The dice were resting upon the carpet where they’d fallen. I put my question to them once more. And this time, I was amazed to see them jump apart from each other by a couple of centimetres. It was the kind of motion you’d expect if two small magnets had been placed against each other with their like-poles touching.

I scooped them up, shook them in my hand and rolled. The result was double six.

In the book I examine the impact this left on me. It shook me up. It has bothered me for years, and continues to bother me. My reason for engaging with magick is mostly a product of this experience. In my magickal career I have witnessed many improbable things, but I have never yet replicated the experience with those dice. The results of my magick have arrived as synchronicites or (occasionally) seeming psychological anomalies, such as telepathy or precognition. But I have never succeeded (either through sorcery or evocation) at causing material objects to move or behave intelligently. And it’s not through lack of trying, as some of my magickal confrères — whose patience I have tested over the years — would surely testify.

Supposing, of course, that is what happened on that first occasion. Because hallucination, misperception or false memory are far more likely explanations.

It began to dawn on me only recently, however, that although I’ve never replicated the moving dice, neither had I made an explicit effort at reproducing the experience.

Example form with results filled in.

If you need some random numbers in a hurry, I’ve got plenty.

So I printed off a bunch of forms, each with 36 sets of a small box partnered with two slightly larger boxes. The small box was to be marked with a tick or cross to indicate whether — before rolling, and after mentally inviting them to do so, if the next throw were a double six — the dice appeared to move. The two larger boxes were to record the scores. I had a black die and a red die, and decided that the first box would record the black score, and the second the red. Each form was headed with a space for the date and the time at which the 36 trials began, and at its foot was a space for recording any comments or environmental conditions that caught my notice.

At first, I ran sets of 36 trials whenever I found the time, but soon noticed the lengthening gaps between them. This was no good. I would have to make a proper job of it! A couple of weeks ago I stayed up all night, interspersing trials with periods of meditation. The date was 4-5th February, 2013. The timetable for the evening worked out like this:

2125		Light candles. Banishing ritual (LBRP). Meditation.
2220		Trials.
2330		Meditation.
0020		Trials. (Very sleepy.)
0130-0135	Break for stretching and water.
0135		Meditation.
0225		Trials.
0330		Finish. Banish. Bed.

By the end of the session I’d filled in 54 forms of 36 trials each, a total of 1,944 rolls of the dice.

And guess what? The dice didn’t move. Not once.

Before each throw, I mentally invited the dice to move if the next throw were a double six. By chance alone, one throw in 36 will produce a double six (which is the reason why I designed each form to contain 36 trials). 54 filled-in forms should have produced 54 double sixes.

Guess what? They did.

It would’ve been nice if my demon botherer had reappeared, if only to clear up to my own satisfaction that what I remember happening when I was 14 actually did. Certainly, at various points during the evening I sensed ‘a presence’. I found myself a few times glancing over my shoulder in response to feeling stared at. On two or three occasions there were odd knocking or tapping sounds within the room that I couldn’t easily explain. But I wasn’t willing to be bought off easily. No way. Those dice had to move, or nothing doing.

Forms, dice and writing implement.

More cutting-edge parapsychological research.

The only odd occurrence was soon after 2326, when one of the dice landed upright on its corner. Cautiously examining whether it was fixed there by paranormal forces, instead I ascertained it had lodged in a recess in the carpet pile. I scrapped that trial and re-rolled.

It was not the most comfortable evening. I was very tired. Sitting in the same position, repeating the same movements over and over, exacted a physical toll. Most surprising was that despite wanting something to happen, a mind fuzzy with fatigue, intermittent creepy feelings, and (until 0237) the only source of light being flickering candle flames, the dice not once appeared to move. And not once did I even doubt that they hadn’t.

I am happy to have made the experiment, however, because (although it proves nothing) to me it revealed, at least, that hallucinations are more difficult to arrive at than I imagined. I’d supposed that on a few occasions I would have thought the dice had moved. But, candlelight or electric light, tired and spooky or just plain bored — my mind refused to oblige with nary a misperception or illusion. Not once in 1,944 trials.

Which begs the question, whether a waking hallucination is even more rare than a pair of sentient dice.

Let Us Pray

That in which awareness arises, beyond time and space, is totally mind-blowing.

One day, it’ll be recognised by everyone within their awareness.

For now, let’s ensure our immediate material needs are met, but that we don’t become trapped in what our ignorance produces, nor in the effects on us of others’ ignorance.

Let’s not be distracted by whatever is not working towards this, but repeatedly step back from it.

Because that in which awareness arises is what life on earth is really all about, and this amazing, indescribable realisation is always there, supplying the strength to recognise that everything is okay.

Job done!

(My paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer.)

Keeping Up the Meds

I fell into the trap of assuming that a little meditation is as good as a lot. But I’ve rediscovered recently that a lot is so much better than a little.

I’d fallen into the habit of snatching 20-40 minutes a day (max), usually skipping it altogether at the weekends. I was labouring under a fantasy that where meditation was concerned, I was done, and it had no surprises left.

What switched me back on was a simple craving for some peace. So I sat for a whole hour, twice in a day, and noticed how much easier it was to do the same the following day. This was the first thing I’d forgotten: more meditation gives you more energy (to expend on whatever you wish.)

I’d also assumed that, after fourth path, meditators no longer experience the cycles of insight. Yet after sitting again for 1-2 hours per day, rather than 20 minutes, it was easier to see that they do – it’s just that the cycles can turn quite fast. Sitting occasionally for 20 minutes simply isn’t conducive to a firm grip on where we are.

Then I had the shock of my life when I ran into a fruition! Conscious thought faded and I was watching my mind forming a dream. I recognised it as one I’d dreamt a few weeks before, yet it was unfolding all over again from its beginning, in real time. I was not remembering the dream, but experiencing it over again, except also watching it fully conscious. This blurring of thinking and dreaming, remembering and experiencing, changed the usual mental landscape into something completely alien and indescribable, and – pop – a fruition. The afterglow lasted a couple of days.

Here’s how a typical one-hour sit generally plays out for me.

To begin with, there’s awareness of the broken mechanism of self. The act of looking fails to join with any trace of a looker. Looking is like scanning a mobius strip of experience, failing ever to find its non-existent other side.

Yet this is only ‘failure’ from the perspective of the looker – and he’s not to be found anyway. So eventually the ‘brokenness’ yields to what is truly the background to experience, which remains uncreated and boundless. This I’ve come to regard as the living, working presence of the Holy Spirit.

Concentration and mental quietness can heighten the connection, bringing into awareness experiential insights. These might include the compassion inherent in existence: how everything is allowed to arise from nothing, and vanish back into it without trace; or how God is that which is absolutely unlimited by Itself, which makes It so good, It even accommodates that which isn’t good at all.

When it occurs to me that I’m not as focused as I could be, or that the mind is wandering, then concentration is exposed as a fraud. Because if ‘this’ isn’t already what I’m trying to make my focus, then just what the hell else do I suppose there is? The whole concept of ‘concentration’ is senseless!

This realisation quickly puts the kibosh on thought. It kills ‘intentional’ mental activity stone dead. Internal chatter falls silent. Dreams still arise, but can be watched consciously. I might even fall asleep, but can be conscious of sleeping.

If awareness remains alert, without lapsing into a murky identification with the content of dreams, eventually the dreams, too, fade out. What’s left is the milky-blue radiance of an impersonal consciousness with no content or commentary. (Which is rather relaxing.)

I might stumble across any of these insights or states, or stumble out again. Towards the end, usually I begin to feel bored, restless, or hit some other form of suffering – because that’s what happens when human beings sit dead-still on their arses for a while.

As the suffering grows louder than other sensations, I turn my mind into it. Or if I find my mind turning away, I turn my mind into how it’s turning away. If it becomes unbearable, I turn my mind into its being unbearable. Because if ‘unbearable’ can be looked at, how is it unbearable? And if it can’t be looked at, then how do I know ‘unbearable’ is what it is?

There’s no escape from consciousness. Always here. Always effortless.

Finally, meditating for longer seems to re-open the gate to paranormal experiences. The 13th of this month was the anniversary of my father’s death. He was also born on the 13th, and had moved into a house numbered 13 a few months before he died.

So I sat for an hour on the 13th this month, before it was light. Nothing remarkable happened, and I wasn’t expecting anything. At the end of the session, my stopwatch sounded – but didn’t give its usual 20 beeps. It got just over half-way, then crapped out. When I picked it up, it was flashing ‘12:00’ and had reset. It had never done this before and I assumed the batteries had died. But, after resetting the correct time, it has worked fine since.

I wish I’d mentally counted the beeps, as I often do. Something tells me I would’ve reached 13. A coincidence, of course. But meaningful coincidences seem to come a little thicker and faster when I’m putting in more time on the cushion.

No prizes for guessing my resolution for 2013. Happy New Year, everybody!

On Dreams and Architecture

Appian Way

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, ‘Appian Way’, frontispiece for ‘La antichità romane’ (1756).

As I lay awake, I began to feel
that my body’s image from my body
had detached. It’s not entirely pleasant,
this sensation, yet tends to descend
only if I’ve slept too deep for too long
which, these days, is a sure-fire guarantee
I’m not affected by it too often.
This morning when it came – or, namely, when
the mind’s own notion of its body
had stronger than the body grown in strength,
with eyes shut I made an experiment:
moving the mental body a quarter-turn.
When this I’d done, it felt so fully real
(as if I’d made the movement actually)
another virtual quarter-turn I took,
so in my mind my head was resting now
where physically should have been my feet.
Set neurophysiology aside!
Always, in this state, imagination rules.
For of the brain, we have no direct sense;
but, of the mind, it is experience!
Far be it from my intent to argue
that ‘the soul’ departs to disport abroad;
or even that a portion of the brain
(the part, perhaps, that bears within itself
a picture of the body’s pose and motion)
has o’erstepped its mark at times like these,
assuming prominence more than usual.
All I know is this: that having turned about
in the bed an imaginary body,
I opened now imaginary eyes
and found a room not unlike that recalled
from childhood, where my younger sister slept
when we both were kids – excepting its size:
the ceiling high, the walls widely parted,
which – for a child’s room – gave a curious feel
of uncluttered and more than ample space.
A remembered room, so, remembered too,
its bigness perhaps by my childish eyes.
I knew full well that I was in a dream
and stared about in wonder, to discern
what light I saw by. I knew with eyes shut
in reality I lay. And yet I saw.
What kind of seeing is this, lit somehow
by lightless impressions from inside?
Of objects there are none within to see,
nor of reflected rays to see them by.
It is my habit now when in this state
to make a thorough survey of what’s sensed,
inspecting how this seeming-seeing fools
us with a semblance of solid things.
Under applied attention it unweaves.
Look for colour and you will find none; look
for touch, there’s none there either to be found;
nor taste, nor sound, nor smell; yet it presents
as something having each and all of these,
but in the nature of the thought of them,
rather than external things revealed.
In the mysterious night-world of sleep
seeming is semblance enough for being;
light’s mere concept is enough to see by;
memory’s furniture fills the void;
and body is surplus to requirement.
Needed only are body’s sensations
to make a sense of separateness between
impressions from one side or another.
Is mind a place? Milton’s Satan thought so
and built of it a Hell in Heaven’s despite.
But had he looked at what he took for mind,
and paused before assuming it as his,
he might have glimpsed the gaps between the weave
and grasped the awesome truth: that even here,
in our deepest, most interior recess,
we’re no more with ourselves than anywhere,
for self is God’s only, spending, spending,
promiscuously always and forever.

Interior of the Patheon.

Piranesi, ‘Interior of the Patheon’.

Architecture is human habitat,
but in imagination comes to speak
of what is given and of what surrounds.
Buildings in a dream perform no function,
need no plans nor labour of erection,
so, freed from all material constraint,
they can assume forms close to an ideal.
The cities of my dreams throng with structures
cleaving to imaginary purposes.
Gasometers or giant cisterns haunt
the skylines of these imagined townscapes.
Beneath a columned dome last night I walked,
with distant birdsong in autumnal light,
between funeral monuments interspersed
with landscaped gardens, waterfalls, fountains –
yet it was the quality of that light
which seized my heart tightest by its beauty:
golden radiance, seeming to collect
in the porcelain summit of the dome
then raining down, like diagonal mist,
onto the shining tombs and epitaphs.
I stared until light became thought only,
growing in beauty as it grew unreal.

Ruins of a sepulchre on the Appian Way

Piranesi, ‘Ruins of a sepulchre on the Appian Way’ (1764).

Thoughts by their nature arise un-unique.
To re-think is to think exactly again.
In dreams, place partakes of this nature.
On having woken, often there’s a sense
we visited nowhere new but returned
to an instance of a former idea.
‘The same place, but a different guise’ is
common in dreams, impossible awake.

There is a vast clock tower, its timepiece
long-broken, or sounding spasmodically.
With weeds the rusted face is overgrown.
Underfoot, debris crunches as we climb
mouldering concrete stairs to its apex.
The dim, dank air is musty with a scent
familiar, of old, abandoned spaces
that dates back somehow to the seventies:
a place in the old house, under the stairs,
where my parents hung coats and stored the shoes,
so much in use and never decorated.
Why the tower should smell like this inside
I cannot fathom, yet each time I dream
of it,in one of a myriad forms,
this odour is a constant that betrays
something hinting at commonality –
but what it might be lurks in mystery.

Ancient altar, with other ruins

Piranesi, ‘Ancient altar, with other ruins’.

There is one other place I’ve visited
so many times, I cannot hope to count.
So often and so many times, perhaps
of all the dreams I’ve dreamt this is the one
my mind tends towards above all others.
A dual place it is, of two clear parts:
linked cemeteries, one old, one new.
The newer one is bright and clean and fine.
The dead lie hidden, decently arrayed.
It’s modern, or else sometimes dating back
to the nineteenth century: regal, sombre,
melancholy – for sure – but well-controlled,
unlike its older twin, which breeds nightmares.
Ancient and decayed, the soil here threatens
to crumble, crack, like mouldy honeycomb,
exposing rancid vaults, mottled coffins,
or – worse – the putrid freight that hides inside.
This place, sometimes, deep-most at its core
resolves to an effigy of decay:
a hunk of oozing scalp, with hair attached;
or severed member, nothing else beside;
as if the place were pointed all at that.
Often, in the prelude, I am firstly
by the newer graveyard, where all is well,
except – already – a faint foreboding.
Inevitably, mischance will intrude:
a wrong turning, a moment’s confusion,
or sometimes an ineluctable pull,
collecting me into the old graveyard’s
slow-motion aura of threat and terror.
‘It dates back to the eighteenth century.’
Prosaic-sounding, yet inside a dream
details can unlock a store of horror.
A serif font ne’er did anyone harm,
yet in the chiselled script upon these stones
the evil genius of this place cavorts.
In curlicue and italic flourish
a brooding evil grins malevolent.
Duped by this place, or having stumbled
within its orbit by my own neglect,
the machine-like demon that here presides
let’s fly the shutter, and up it snaps,
and behold: oozing death and rank decay!
So predictable, that over the years
dreaming is become like recognising,
and as or just before the trap springs shut
often I wake myself by will alone.