H.P. Lovecraft and the Occult Legend of The Necronomicon
An Interview with Daniel Harms and John Gonce authors of
The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend
necronomiconWhat is The Necronomicon?
The Necronomicon was a fictional book mentioned in the stories of a twentieth-century horror and science fiction writer. Since then, it's become something of an underground phenomenon - movies, books, stories, poems, music, computer games, T-shirts, you name it.
The Necronomicon is an imaginary book of spells and forbidden lore that could be used to summon a group of imaginary extraterrestrial demons called the Great Old Ones. The book's contents are supposedly so terrible that the reader might go insane if he or she found any correlation between the contents of the book and events or artifacts in the "real" world. The idea of this terrible, forbidden book grew out of horror fiction.
What intrigued you about The Necronomicon rumors enough to write a book?
I blame John, frankly. He made the first inquiries and got me interested in the hoax Necronomicons. After that, it was one of those topics that you realize that has all sorts of different facets, and it intrigued me that no one else was working on it.
What intrigued me was the realization that so many people believed in this fictional spellbook, and believed that hoaxed versions of the book were authentic. People have taken one forged version of The Necronomicon so seriously that they've built cults around it and used it to practice magic.
Who is H.P. Lovecraft and how does he fit into all of this?
Howard Phillips Lovecraft lived from 1890-1937, and during that time he wrote a number of pioneering works for the horror and science fiction genres. It was his creative genius that gave birth to The Necronomicon. The book appeared in his stories for the pulp magazines, starting with "The Hound" written in 1922. As time went on, other writers for the pulps used The Necronomicon in their own stories, and people started to wonder whether it could be real. We should remember that Lovecraft didn't seek for anyone to be fooled into thinking the book was real. People wrote him to ask, and he'd always write them back to say that he made it up. Near the end of his life, he was concerned because so many people thought it was real. By then his health was failing and his money was running out, so he never really had a chance to say much about it.
H.P. Lovecraft was the greatest horror fiction writer of the 20th century. His work was unique because his perspective was cosmic rather than human, and he blended genres like science fiction and horror in ways undreamt of before. Unfortunately, he was also the accidental creator of The Necronomicon hoax. Lovecraft created the idea of a mind-shattering spellbook called The Necronomicon to make his horror fiction more entertaining. But Lovecraft himself had no intention of making people believe that this imaginary spellbook was real. It was Lovecraft's readers who got the idea that The Necronomicon might be real, and various opportunists took Lovecraft's idea of a forbidden book, and ran with it like a football. In his own lifetime, readers would occasionally write to Weird Tales asking where they could find a copy of The Necronomicon. The editor of Weird Tales, Farnsworth Wright, would pass such letters along to Lovecraft, who would dutifully write to the misguided seeker, and explain that there was no Necronomicon. Lovecraft said he always felt guilty when he heard that someone had wasted his or her time looking for his imaginary book.
In a world filled with strife and violence, does any of this really matter?
It may not matter as much as what's on the front page of the newspapers, but the phenomenon's been out there for some time, gathering steam. Looking at The Necronomicon is a microcosm of many pertinent issues for our culture - the friction that develops between fact and fiction, belief and doubt, reason and emotion. We raise those issues quietly, but we leave them for the reader to sort out.
It matters precisely because this is a world filled with strife and violence. Our research has shown that The Necronomicon hoax has added significantly to all that strife and violence. When solid evidence points to the fact that the most well-known Necronomicon forgery has become a "bible" for countless destructive dabbler cults, and may have inspired several sociopaths to commit murder, I'd say that it matters very much indeed! If it were only an issue of readers wasting their money and energy on a forged spellbook that has become an occult bestseller, this would still be a topic worth addressing. But the repercussions of this hoax go far beyond fraud. This hoax has a body count.
Your book may seem to be an attack on some people's beliefs. How would you answer those who are offended?
Anyone who's offended by our book needs to sit down and think about why it does so. They're free to try to refute us. We've given the reader everything they need to construct a counter-argument, if they so choose.
Get over it! (laughs) Yes, Daniel and I have been accused of being rather intolerant on the subject of the Necronomicon hoax. I think the offended "true believers" should try to put themselves in my shoes for a moment. I try to honor other people's beliefs, and to promote freedom for people to indulge in whatever kind of behavior they enjoy, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. But whenever I try to be indiscriminately tolerant of anything and everything, I eventually run smack into a moral/ethical brick wall that makes me say, "I can tolerate anything but this!" For example, I am a great believer in sexual freedom. The sexual revolution that started back in the 60s was basically a good thing: it allowed gays to come out of the closet, it opened dialogs between people, and it gave people more freedom of self-expression.
Unfortunately, child pornography became more readily available as a result of this revolution. I can't just tolerate the sexual abuse of children in the name of freedom. So instead of saying "I tolerate everything," I have to say, "I tolerate everything but this." By the same token, I try to be a pluralist and tolerate other people's beliefs: "All paths are valid," and all that rubbish. But when I encounter a so-called "path" built on a foundation of lies that is used to deceive and manipulate, and causes harm wherever its influence is found, I have to say, "I tolerate everything but this." I would love to quote Cole Porter, and say, "anything goes" as my policy, but I just can't. I would also like to point out that some of the Necro-nerds and the "true believers" don't exactly take a live-and-let-live policy themselves, as is shown by a couple of death threats that have been left on the guest book of our website www.necfiles.org.
What impact do you think your book will have upon the Pagan community?
It's not as if this book will shake the Pagan world to its foundations. Most people knew The Necronomicon copies that are on the market were hoaxes, though they might not have been able to say why that was true. The general response has been, "Thank you! Now I know what to say to the people who think it's true!" On a broader level - not just the Pagans, but the occult world in general - the book raises questions about the ethics of mystification. Occultism thrives on mysteries and questionable origin stories. What the book forces people to ask is whether this is a proper attitude in the twenty-first century. I'd say mysteries can do some good and help people in their mystical pursuits, but they're tools that should be used carefully and with consideration, especially when people are putting their resources (time, money, emotional energy) into a teacher or group.
Daniel doesn't seem to think its impact will be all that great, but then, he suffers from terminal pessimism and chronic humility. (laughs) Frankly, I hope it will make the Pagan community more aware of the way in which the various Necro-hoaxes have been used for anti-Pagan propaganda. There are idiot preachers with talk shows out there trying to convince people that the Simon Necronomicon is standard reading for Wiccans. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Beyond that, I can't say with any certainty, but I hope it will have some positive influence on both the Pagan world and the occult community at large. I hope it will have some influence on Pagan scholarship, which is usually conspicuous by its absence. (laughs) I hope it will make Pagans and other occultists more skeptical in evaluating metaphysical literature. In Necronomicon Files, we deconstructed the hoax and we explained our methodologies so that others can use our techniques. Necronomicon Files is not so much a book as it is a concept or a world-view of enlightened Fortean skepticism. I suppose you could call it Fortean Paganism or Fortean occultism.
Why has nobody else done this kind of work before?
The book falls into one of those curious areas in belief. The people who believe in it are sure they're right, and the people who don't are sure as well. I'll admit we came in with the latter group, but we decided to sit down and examine the arguments of both sides closely. We didn't change our view, though we did find a great deal of surprising information.
I think there are three reasons why nobody ever tried this kind of thing before: fear, laziness, and lack of knowledge. The main "fear" I'm referring to is fear of pissing off other people in the occult community. Since Daniel and I were newcomers to the field of metaphysical writing, neither of us had the good sense to be afraid of making other occultists angry. Nobody had the balls to do this kind of work until two fearless idiots named Harms and Gonce came along. (laughs) I think other authors were also afraid of taking the risk that this kind of work involves. Not just the risk of having Necro-nerds throw black magic at them, but the risk of writing something that might not sell well. I guess you could say Necronomicon Files is "cutting edge", but the problem with being on the cutting edge is that you tend to get cut. (laughs)
It's dangerous to write stuff that is genuinely unconventional, or to take an original approach to a familiar subject. That's why many writers stick with the same old safe, worn-out formulas. Laziness was also probably a big factor; because deconstruction of a complex hoax requires a great deal of hard work! Even dismantling a simple Necronomicon forgery, like the de Camp version, can require a daunting amount of research. Lack of knowledge was probably the main reason no one has ever done this kind of work before. Many aboveground Pagans and occultists have no idea how seriously some people take Necronomicon forgeries. Though they may normally be fearless about stating their views, many conventional, traditional occultists have never addressed The Necronomicon phenomenon because they just didn't know how important it was.
"There are idiot preachers with talk shows out there trying to convince people that the Simon Necronomicon is standard reading for Wiccans. Of course nothing could be further from the truth."
What types of crimes are associated with The Necronomicon, and what makes this hoax so dangerous?
Assessing the impact of The Necronomicon on crime is a tough problem. Most police officers aren't trained in understanding the occult, or (worse) are trained badly. When they encounter a crime with strange aspects, they just try to do their best to figure out what's going on. They pass their interpretations on to journalists, who are also not trained in understanding the occult. By the time it reaches us, it's a mess already. John and I get plenty of reports of crimes where a hoax Necronomicon is found on the scene. We usually just sigh and toss those in the files, because there's no occult motivation behind them. Still, we've got a couple of cases in the book that we feel are Necronomicon-inspired, and I think I've heard of one or two more. I hope the book raises awareness of these issues and encourages people to examine them more closely. What makes The Necronomicon lead to crime? I'm not sure we can blame any book for a person's actions. However, one of the hoaxes - the one written by Simon - may encourage people to commit violent acts. You have a philosophy - helping the Old Ones return - and a blueprint - ritual sacrifice - for that procedure, and I wonder why the authors weren't more wary about handing that out on the streets.
As I mentioned in our book, I think the Simon Necronomicon may encourage the homicidal inclinations of certain individuals, because it encourages certain types of sacrifice, including human sacrifice. But I think we must refrain from holding a book entirely responsible for some sick individual's behavior. In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon to hear of a spellbook being tried in court alongside the sorcerer who used it. I'm trying to avoid that inquisitional mentality, and I'm trying to avoid censorship as well. However, I will not minimize the possible role of The Necronomicon in violent crimes. Certainly we cannot blame a book entirely for a person's actions, but we cannot ignore the influence a book may have had on his actions. Many of the "crimes" related to The Necronomicon actually involve behavior commonly found in destructive cults: extortion, sexual harassment, mind-control, and so forth. For reasons I explain in the book, the Simon Necronomicon lends itself easily as a "bible" for small dabbler cults.
Do you think the magick in The Necronomicon actually works, and if so, why shouldn't people use it?
John, this one's all yours.
If the magic in The Necronomicon works, it only works because the user believes in the book, and believes its magic will work. If the history of occultism has taught us anything, it has taught us that anything can work if powered by enough faith. The problem with the magic in the Necrohoaxes in general, and with the Simon Necronomicon in particular, is that the magical rituals themselves are structured poorly. In the case of the Simon book, the rituals are deliberately designed to backfire on the user. While enough blind faith will make any magical system work, you'll get better results if you are using a good system. Any job goes better if you use the right tools. If you are strong enough, you can smash a tree down with a sledgehammer, but it is wiser to cut it down with a sharp axe. Why shouldn't people use The Necronomicon to practice magic? Why shouldn't a proctologist use a chainsaw to remove hemorrhoids In the case of the Simon book, they shouldn't use it because  the goals of the rituals are stupid, and  the rituals are deliberately designed to backfire on the operator - for reasons I explain in our book.
Historically, there has never been much in the way of literary criticism and debunking in occult and metaphysical literature. Would you say that The Necronomicon Files represents a new genre of occult literature?
Have we started a genre? I won't touch that one - it's far too early to tell. Still, I think that the occult has been a difficult subject to debunk. Almost all of the people who care enough to study it at any length are usually sympathetic to it, and either are emotionally invested or don't think anyone would really be fooled because they're not. Don't get me wrong - most occultists are concerned with particular charlatans and predators. They don't want to see these people take advantage of anyone, and they often work to prevent it. On the other hand, few have questioned what techniques and philosophies these people use to set themselves up, and how the broader occult community fits into it. I don't seek to condemn anyone with these doubts. I want people to ask the questions, though.
Yes, I suppose you could say Necronomicon Files represents a new genre of metaphysical literature. But I hate the term "debunking"; it makes me think of the Amazing Randi taking cheap shots at Yuri Geller. What Dan and I do is not "debunking" (whatever that is). It's deconstruction. We deconstruct occult hoaxes, and subject occult works to a kind of textual criticism, and a skeptical, scholarly analysis. But most readers think "scholarly" is a synonym for "boring", so Daniel and I have deliberately made our work as entertaining as possible. Necronomicon Files is also a kind of cross-genre book whose diverse elements include Lovecraft scholarship, magical practice, occult history, Assyriology, movie reviews, crime documentation - all of which makes it difficult to decide which bookshelf it belongs on. The book is so hard to pigeonhole that I guess it might qualify as a new genre by default. Nobody else does this kind of work... yet. One book does not a "genre" make, but if somebody else emulates what we do, then I guess we'll have a new genre. Whether Necronomicon Files represents a new genre or not, at least it's not the kind of fluff-headed metaphysical book that has an outhouse symbol on the spine, a cover stolen from a romance novel, an author with an animal name, and sites no references to verify its "research."
Has The Necronomicon shown up in movies, or other mainstream media?
It's hit the big time. I mean, it's shown up on The Simpsons. We had seals from one of the hoax Necronomicons on the cover of a Rob Zombie CD. There's not much that's in the public mind at any time, but it is out there.
Does the Pope wear funny hats? Yes indeed! It has been featured in everything from Saturday morning cartoons to pornographic Japanese anime. You can hardly throw a rock in the horror section of Blockbuster without hitting a movie that shows some conscious or unconscious influence from The Necronomicon. The published hoaxes have also worked their way into both mainstream and alternative culture. I've seen people with sigils from the Simon Necronomicon tattooed on their bodies.
What would you say on the subject of occult crimes? What are occult crimes?
Occult crimes are crimes in which belief in the occult inspires the criminal act itself. It should not be applied to crimes in which one of the parties believes in the occult, or where occult books or paraphernalia are found at the scene or in one of the parties' possession. It's a definition I'd like to see accepted more widely, but I'm not optimistic at this point. There's some people doing good work in this area, but there's a number who aren't, and some of them are influential. I should state that occult crime is not a label with which I'm entirely happy, but it does seem to be more accurate than some of the others I've seen.
First off, I'd like to point out that I hate the term "occult crime" - it's imprecise, awkward, and misleading. But if I have to use the term to be understood, I would at least like to define it. So-called "occult crime" is criminal activity that is inspired by occult or magical beliefs, or criminal activity in which occult beliefs are used as an excuse or a justification for the crime. Obviously, this excludes crimes in which occult books, tools, or weapons just happened to be found at the crime scene. There are a few (very few) law enforcement individuals who are doing some very good work in this misunderstood area. One of the best is my friend Tony Kail (http://members.aol.com/nocults/page3.html).
From our research, it appears that most occult crime is not committed by serious adult occultists, nor by some imaginary Satanic conspiracy escaped from a Dennis Wheatley novel. Most occult crime is committed by small teenage dabbler cults composed of kids who got their ideas about magic from horror movies, Anton LeVey's books, and the Simon Necronomicon. Many of the conspiracy theorists and Christian fundamentalists back in the 80s were convinced that there was a global Satanic conspiracy performing cattle mutilations, child abuse and sacrificial murders on a daily basis. They thought they were battling the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission. Instead, they were up against the Satanic equivalent of Wayne's World...
The Suppressed Teachings of Gnosticism
An Interview with Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller
by Robert Guffey
“By understanding the nature of embodied life in the universe as possessing certain difficulties, which ensue from the flawed nature of the universe rather than from our own sinful condition, we are liberated from one of the great curses of Christianity and perhaps Judaism, namely the oppressive weight of guilt.”
“The Gnostic approach to religion always represented a serious challenge to ecclesiastical authority and to the domination of people by the Church. The motivation behind the suppression of Gnosticism was rooted in the power complex of the Christian Church.”
hoellerOn July 5, 2003, I met with Dr. Stephan Hoeller in his apartment located in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. Hoeller has lived in Hollywood for over four decades now, working as a regular lecturer at Manly P. Hall's The Philosophical Research Society while also serving as the Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica, the first Gnostic Church in America.
Gnosticism, an ancient form of Christianity, was considered heretical by early Roman Catholic authorities and actively suppressed. As a result, Gnosticism declined after the 2nd century A.D. Recently, however, the movement has undergone something of a revival in both popular culture and among serious scholars, many of whom have recently published comprehensive books on the subject.
Dr. Hoeller is the author of numerous such books published by Quest Books including Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library (1989), Freedom: Alchemy for a Voluntary Society (1992), The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead (1994), The Fall of Sophia (2002), and Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. This last book, his most recent, was the main impetus for our discussion.
How would you describe Gnosticism to someone who's never heard of it before?
I think we could describe it as a very early form of Christianity, very different in many respects from what Christianity became later on. It is much more individualistic. It is much more orientated toward the personal, spiritual advancement and transformation of the individual, regarding figures such as Jesus as being helpers rather than sacrificial saviors. It is a form of religion that has a much more ecumenical and universal scope in terms of its relationship to spiritual, religious traditions other than the Christian.
Why do you think Gnosticism has been so suppressed over the years?
Well, the reasons for that probably varied to some extent from one historical period to the other. But the nature of the Gnostic approach to religion was always such that it represented a serious challenge to ecclesiastical authority and to the domination of people by the Church and the rulers of the Church. So the motivation behind the suppression of Gnosticism was primarily political and was rooted in the power complex of the authorities of the Christian Church.
The Gnostic interpretation of the Creation myth in the Old Testament and the Garden of Eden is the most intriguing I've ever heard. Gnosticism seems to distinguish between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Could you briefly explain why that is?
The Gnostic God concept is significantly different from the God concept of the official mainstream, monotheistic religions - whether they be Judaism, Christianity, or Islam - in as much as it postulates an ultimate, transcendental deity which, though a divine consciousness, is not engaged in the actual creating or fabricating of the material universe. The creating of the material universe is left to a lower entity, which is often identified with the God of the Old Testament, and this lower entity has neither the wisdom nor the goodness of the ultimate God and is, in fact, a spiritual being alienated from the wisdom of the ultimate Godhead. And therefore the way in which creation is accomplished by this lower entity, and the manner in which this entity manages the universe, is greatly flawed. So we might say that the world is created in the flawed image of a flawed creator. But beyond that creator there is a true, wise and good and merciful divine consciousness to which the human being can address himself, and from whence there comes a liberating enlightenment to humans.
Now the Creation myth of Genesis is also reinterpreted by Gnostics, as we find in the Nag Hammadi scriptures and some of the others, where the story of Adam and Eve in Paradise is interpreted in the sense that Paradise is a sort of deception, a fool's paradise into which the creator has confined the first humans, and then guided by transcendental inspiration they find a way whereby they can leave that confinement. Even though their progress after that has various difficulties, they are able to undergo spiritual development, they are able to grow up spiritually, which they wouldn't have been able to accomplish in this "Garden" in which the flawed and limited creator had locked them up. So that's certainly a different, alternative vision of the story of Genesis.
When they first encounter it, some people think Gnosticism has a bleak view of the universe. But you actually go out of your way in your book to explain how that's not the case. For example, on p. 20 of your book [Gnosticism] you state that there was no need for God's son to be sacrificed. Can you expand on that idea?
Well, if I may, I will first address the allegedly bleak vision. The vision of life, as seen by the Gnostic, is not bleak but realistic. We feel that by realistically understanding the nature of embodied life in the universe as possessing certain difficulties which ensue from the flawed nature of the existential condition wherein we find ourselves - in other words, that ensue from the flawed nature of the universe, rather than from our own sinful condition, as most religions would allege - we are liberated from one of the great curses of Christianity, and perhaps Judaism also, namely the oppressive weight of guilt. So the fact that we experience various difficulties in earthly life is not our fault; it is the fault of the situation within which we find ourselves, and once we accept that then really life becomes a great deal easier without these implications of guilt.
And because the world did not fall as the result of human sin, there was no need for God's son to be sacrificed in order to expiate that sin, and the entire notion of an atonement theology, as defined in most of Christiandom is done away with by the Gnostic version, because there is no reason for it. And so Jesus for instance, along with other great messengers of light, is accepted as a hierophant, a bringer of liberating teachings and liberating mysteries, but not as a sacrificial victim offered to his own father in order to expiate some kind of human fault which became the original sin and which has caused the fall of Creation and of the human race. There's no need for that in this particular view.
Is there a connection between Gnosticism and Freemasonry?
I don't think there is any direct connection, save for the fact that Freemasonry became a gathering point of esoteric and heterodox persons, in the eighteenth century and thereafter, who wanted to study various points of view regarding life that were not dominated by religious orthodoxy. So we find, for instance, the great Masonic authority - who is really the founder of the American Scottish Rite of Freemasonry - General Albert Pike of Charleston, South Carolina, who was a very learned man, and very interested in Gnosticism, did bring in a lot of Gnostic teachings for the consideration and the study of Scottish Rite Masons. Masonry as such is not a modern embodiment of Gnosticism, but the more studious, the more philosophical Masons have studied some Gnosticism and are often very sympathetic towards it.
So Albert Pike was one of the first to connect Gnosticism and Freemasonry?
Well, I would say he did it most extensively. There were undoubtedly others. In French Freemasonry, for instance, Voltaire, the great philosopher, was a very active Freemason. He felt very positively about Gnostics, and so did a number of other people in that period. And they were before Pike. This was before the American Revolution. So the interest in these things was there all along. But Pike was a scholar and did a lot of serious work on the subject.
Is there a connection between Theosophy and Gnosticism?
Oh, yes. Modern Theosophy, what is called Theosophy now, was really, you might say, enunciated by Madame Blavatsky in the latter part of the 19th century. The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875. She and her associates were very interested in Gnosticism. In her books she wrote a great deal about it and very sympathetically. Her close disciple, G.R.S. Mead, was one of the early, very fine and very accurate translators of Gnostic and Hermetic writings. So there was always a sympathetic relationship between Gnosticism and Theosophy.
Do you think modern Freemasonry has devolved in any way from what it was in the past? Do you think a lot of knowledge has been lost?
There are different kinds of Freemasonry, and certainly I think Masonry in the Anglo-Saxon countries in Britain and America has become, over the years, for the most part less philosophical and less interested in unusual things. It has become greatly conventionalized. But the symbolism is there in the Masonic rituals, and can be found by those who look for it. I'm not an active Mason as of now. I had Masonic initiations, the European kind, and I'm friendly with various Masons here, but I'm not an active Mason at the present time. But I know basically what goes on. So every Grand Lodge, which is organized in America by states, has what is called a research lodge. And in these research lodges is where the study about Masonic philosophy and Masonic symbolism goes on.
There are also sub-organizations of the Masonic order which are more interested in esoteric things. For instance, there is a very nice organization that one has to be a Master Mason to belong to which is called, well, it has a Latin name, The Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis, which means "The Rosicrucian Society in the United States." But this is strictly a Masonic organization, and they are really the Masons who are most actively interested in esoteric subjects. They have their own journal and a headquarters in Washington, D.C., they study Hermeticism and Gnosticism, and are much more studious than the others. So there are these things within Masonry. It's kind of a mixed bag because there are mixed, diverse kinds of people who belong to it.
I was recently talking to a whole group of 32nd Degree Freemasons and oddly enough, none of them had ever heard of Manly P. Hall or C. W. Leadbeater. They knew who Albert Pike was, but had never really read anything of his. That kind of surprised me. I know somebody who went from the 1st to the 2nd Degree in about fourteen days. That seemed kind of fast to me. Was that how it was for you?
Well, no. In the French jurisdiction where I was initiated and raised I took a full year between each Blue Lodge degree. That was partly my own choice, but it was also because of the rules. For instance, if you go to the Grand Lodge in San Francisco. I haven't been there in many years, but when I visited there I spoke to the librarian and various old guys there and when I mentioned to them that I was associated with Mr. Hall they said: "Oh, Brother Hall, oh yes, we have all his books." I understand when Mr. Hall was still in good health, every year around Easter Time, he used to go and speak for the Grand Lodge in some capacity. So, again, it all depends on who you're talking to. At the local level your ordinary Lodge Master and officers, all they know is what they learn in the rituals. [Laughs]
Hall wrote a lot of his books before he even became a Freemason, right?
I understand that he wrote some before, and then it was suggested to him that he knew so much already, why not join? Then he went through the degrees. And maybe about five, six years or so prior to his death - he was already quite an old gentleman - the 33rd degree was given to him. He was an honorary Grand Inspector General. Before that he just went up to the 32nd. I don't know whether he also went through the York Rite.
When did you first become aware of Hall and his work?
Oh, just about fifty years ago, which was when I came to this country. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of my coming to the United States. Actually, by way of some Theosophists I was already aware of The Philosophical Research Society. They showed me some of Manly Hall's books, especially his great big spectacular book with all the beautiful illustrations [The Secret Teachings of All Ages]. I was living in the San Joaquin Valley for a little while, and that's where I first saw them. I said, "Oh, I've got to meet this man." And then when I came to Los Angeles I went to the Philosophical Research Society and eventually I met Mr. Hall and heard many of his talks.
Did you associate with him for many years?
Well, not very intimately. It was around 1970-71 that his Vice-President, Dr. Henry Drake, asked me whether I would come lecture there. So I agreed, and at that time there were very few lecturers other than Mr. Hall. Mr. Hall spoke every Sunday and for a number of years also once during the week. And then there were usually one or two other regular, weekly lecturers. Of course in addition to that I went to see him now and then, and we would have some talks in his office. I found him an extremely gracious and extremely kindly gentleman. I think he was one of the most good-hearted people I've ever met in my life. He was a wonderful man, so concerned with trying to help people.
This is all secondary rumor, but I was talking to somebody who'd talked to his widow, and what he heard was that there was some question as to Manly P. Hall being murdered. Do you know anything about that?
Well, of course, that became his widow's contention after a certain time. What happened was that a few years prior to his death (he died a few months short of 90 years old), maybe two or three years before his death, Mrs. Hall introduced an individual into his inner-circle, and basically forced this man onto Mr. Hall. This man's name was Daniel Fritz. Mr. Hall was very old and very feeble. He was still lecturing and so forth, but other than that he didn't really have the strength to deal with these things very forcefully, as he might have earlier. So this man, and a couple of his associates, acquired more and more power in the society, and basically after [Hall's] death took over the Philosophical Research Society. It was Mrs. Hall who brought Daniel Fritz in and championed him all that time and basically forced him on Manly Hall, but then after Mr. Hall's death she turned - probably felt guilty about what happened - and then started going around spreading the rumor that Daniel Fritz had killed Mr. Hall. Well, if you want to hear the complete story I can tell you how it happened:
Mrs. Hall - on a Labor Day weekend I seem to recall, or some holiday weekend - wanted to go and visit her sister in San Luis Obispo and she wanted to take Mr. Hall with her. Mr. Hall was feeble and old and a very heavy man, he didn't walk very well, so they wheeled him into a van, and with Daniel Fritz driving they started out on the road. Well, they got as far as Santa Barbara and Mr. Hall started feeling very ill and he said, "You know, guys," and these were his words I understand, "I'm not gonna make it if I go any further, I've got to get back home." So they managed to understand that apparently, and then Mrs. Hall took some taxi or something, some other form of transportation from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, and Daniel Fritz drove Mr. Hall home and he put him to bed, and by the following morning Mr. Hall passed away in bed.
There is no evidence of anything else having happened, but Mrs. Hall claimed that Daniel Fritz smothered him with a pillow or something. How would she know? She was a few hundred miles away from there to begin with. So I think that part was nonsense. Mr. Hall was going to die anyhow. It was only a matter of time, and not that much time after that Daniel Fritz would have come by his power anyhow. It would have been grand foolishness on his part to try anything else. But then she ended up suing her husband's organization for money. She behaved in such an insane fashion in the court that the judge ordered her silenced and only her lawyer could speak.
While Hall was alive she would come to the Society about two times a year, on Christmas for the Christmas party and for Mr. Hall's birthday party. She had an obsession with some mythology that she developed about a tomb or a vault in Virginia somewhere near Washington, D.C. and that in this vault were the documents of Francis Bacon and things of that sort. She talked about it from the 1930s until the 1980s, and finally after Mr. Hall's death (it was written up in the L.A. Times) some of her followers broke into the vault [during an archaeological dig] and they found nothing. [Laughs]
Right. And Manly P. Hall was about 90 when he died, so it's logical to assume that he died of natural causes.
Yeah, there is no reason to think otherwise. I know this on fairly good authority, as far as the L.A. police is concerned, the case is closed. There is no investigation going on.
So it actually did go to a trial?
No, but I think Mrs. Hall and possibly some of her followers made some charges of possible foul play with the Homicide Division. And they looked into it and said there's no evidence.
And what happened to Daniel Fritz?
Daniel Fritz is now dead. First, let's say his dishonesties and financial false dealings were unmasked by, primarily, Obadiah Harris (who is now the head of the Society) and at that time he was told they wouldn't file any charges against him if he left. So he left. A few years later, I think four or five years later, he died of cancer.
So you were still working at PRS at this time?
Oh yes, I was there during all of this time. I never took any active part in anything. I just did my lectures and left. That way I managed to survive all of these situations [laughs] by just staying at a certain level of activity.
Right. Do you know anything about Co-Masonry or its origins?
Oh, yes. Co-Masonry evolved out of a branch of French Grand Orient Masonry around the turn of the century, or the latter part of the nineteenth century. There was a Lodge in France, I don't know in what city, called L'Droit Humaine (the Human Rights Lodge) and this Lodge initiated a woman. This was against the rules, so they were basically thrown out. They became an independent jurisdiction, and then formed their own Grand Lodge. It didn't amount to much of anything until after World War I, when the Theosophists became interested in Co-Masonry. And then a lot of Theosophists joined Co-Masonry, and they in turn carried it all over the world. Wherever there were Theosophists there were also Co-Masons. Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater and all sorts of other people were active Co-Masons.
In recent decades there have been various schisms within co-Masonry itself, but earlier that was not the case. But it's one of the older sort of fringe heterodox Masonic movements. But again you've got to understand that in Europe and in Latin America Masonry is much more diverse. There are many different jurisdictions. There are two major ones in France itself: the Grand Orient, which is the biggest, and then the Grand Lodge, and then a bunch of others in addition to that, and there are different rites, so in a European context it's not so unusual to have something of this sort, Masonry that would accommodate both men and women.
I know there was a spin-off from France that ended up in Colorado.
These are more recent developments. I know there are several schisms. I think there are something like three different Co-Masonic orders and only one is connected with the Grand Lodge in France.
Do you think that they're more connected to the original intent of Freemasonry than some of the local mainstream Lodges?
I don't really know that. I think some of the schisms were owing to the fact that some people took over in France who were rather hostile to Theosophy. And then some of the Theosophists said, "Well, okay, if that's how you're going to treat us then we're going to leave." But there are also other reasons. I'm not too aware of what's going on in Co-Masonry at the present time, though I have a lot of friends who belong to it.
I've noticed Gnosticism popping up in popular culture more and more lately. In The Matrix movies, in the novels of Phil Dick, and even in a comic book called The Invisibles by Grant Morrison. Do you think this represents a rise of interest in Gnosticism?
Well, Gnostic views have frequently appeared even much earlier than that in literature, except that not too many people were aware of it. For instance, Lawrence Durrell in The Alexandria Quartet, and even more so in his other series of books written later, The Avignon Quincunx, were filled with a lot of Gnostic themes. In fact, to his death the two things he was most interested in was Gnosticism and Tibetan Buddhism. So there have been Gnostic themes at various times, but particularly since the Nag Hammadi discovery and its translation after 1977-78. Then more and more people became aware of Gnosticism and different literary people would put Gnostic themes into their books, Doris Lessing being another one. And then certainly Philip K. Dick with Valis, which is very much involved with Gnosticism. So I think that there is certainly a much greater awareness on the part of the more educated public than there has been in a very long time, and this obviously will show in various things, in literature, in drama, in theater, and so forth. And probably The Matrix is the one that is mentioned most often right now in that context.
I was surprised to see you mention Moby Dick in your book.
Yes. One can see that the elements are there, particularly the argumentation with the Creator.
I heard you give a lecture on Shakespeare.
Do you find a trace of Gnosticism in his work?
Hermetic probably more than Gnostic, but that's pretty very closely related. The theory that Shakespeare was an important part of the Hermetic renaissance in England goes back to an authority named Frances Yates, a famous British historian. And particularly in her book Theatre of the World she identified Shakespeare's plays as containing a great deal of Hermetic philosophy. Shakespeare appears to be, at the time, representative of the English Renaissance, which was very Hermetically influenced by way of Giordano Bruno from Italy and so forth, so that the esoteric tradition - but mainly in the Hermetic form because at that time they discovered the Hermetic writings - was present, and that was fairly widely recognized by a number of scholars, not just Yates.
Which particular works do you think are most interested in Hermeticism?
Oh, dear. Well, I think the Hermetic influence runs through the whole of Shakespearean theatre, but it depends on how you look at it. To me, for instance, The Tempest is the archetypal Hermetic myth. And some of the other plays which are linked up with English history, including the best known like Hamlet and Macbeth. They all contain elements of Hermetic philosophy.
I'm interested in what you think about people who perceive mysticism and religion as being hostile to science. Are you familiar with CSICOP? Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal?
Doesn't that have something to do with that stage magician, [James] Randi?
I've heard of it.
CSICOP seems to find mysticism and science to be antithetical in some way. Do you believe that's the case?
Well, it depends on what kind of science. It's largely a matter of opinion. I think you will find quite a number of fairly highly regarded scientific figures - primarily in theoretical physics, and also some in bio-physics, who see a possibility of a convergence of mystical ideas and science, but it's at the very high, and sort of rarified, esoteric level. At the lower level I think the old kind of 19th century and early 20th century notion wherein "mysticism" is a bad word would still hold true. So it very much depends, I think, on who in the scientific community you are consulting.
So the higher you go in theoretical physics, the closer you get to mysticism?
In your book you quote from a lot of Gnostic texts. This is from the Mandaen Gnostic scripture: "Thou wert not from here, and thy root was not of this world." And this is from the Odes of Solomon: "I seem to them like a stranger because I am from another race." In their chief scripture, the Ginza, the Mandaeans describe God as "the great first alien Life from the worlds of light, the sublime one that stands above all works [created things]." Sometimes I get the feeling that the text might not be referring to beings of an angelic nature, but possibly there's some hint that the Demiurge and the Archons could be, perhaps, extraterrestrial in nature. Is that unreasonable?
Well, only in the sense that spiritual dimensions would be considered extra-terrestrial, but the notion of these various beings of one kind or the other traveling to Earth physically, this is certainly not part of Gnostic mythology. This was not talked about, this was not envisioned. The travel, such as it may be, is spiritual travel. It is the moving through dimensions. It is the moving from non-physical realms to the physical realm, rather than from one physical realm to the other. No doubt there are people who are caught up in this space travel mythology who will try to interpret it that way and they have, and they get a hold of all kinds of mythologies, say of the Dogon people of Africa and so forth, and they interpret it as space travel. I know people who have investigated the Dogons. I have a friend in Ghana, who's been there for a long period of time, and he says, "Sure, it means coming from the sky, but coming spiritually from the sky, not from a space ship."
Ultimately, do you think that's a dead end, that line of research?
Yes, I think it is. I think it may be a little bit of what Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan teacher, used to call "spiritual materialism" because it materializes these spiritual myths too heavily. Now, we know that there is some space travel going on now. It's not impossible that there have been some in the past. But to mix up these sophisticated spiritual symbols with that sort of thing doesn't seem to be very profitable.
Do all Gnostics believe in reincarnation?
Well, now that's a good question. Gnostics try not to have to believe in too much of anything, but their hope is that they either know something or they don't. But let's say the reincarnation element seems to have been present, but in a rather muted sort of fashion, in ancient Gnosticism and also later on, because it's sort of recognized that if you don't make it in one life time, that you would then have another opportunity to achieve liberation, and if this were not the case it would be a terribly unjust calamity. The Gnostic tends to look at reincarnation more as slavery, a not terribly fortunate condition - a prolongation of the agony, shall we say? Now, a lot of New Age and occult people look upon it as, "Oh, it's wonderful, I can come back again and again and again!" This sort of Shirley MacLaine enthusiasm for reincarnation. To the Gnostic, reincarnation is a very likely a certain condition, but not something to be terribly happy about. [Laughs]
At one point in your book, on page 13, you write that myths are truer than theology and philosophy. On p. 83 you write, "while philosophy is but a tale told, myth and ritual are reality lived and enacted." You talk about symbolism and reality being intertwined in a loop. And that makes me think of Carl Jung and his theory of archetypes.
Oh yes, I've written several books about that. I think Jung and much of psychology and, indeed, the study of mythology and cultural anthropology, much of it inspired by Jung, is very valuable and points in a sort of Gnostic direction. So I think that Jung's psychology is a psychological Gnosticism, and in fact he himself said many things of that sort. Jungian depth psychology, I think, is a very good entry point for a lot of people into this matrix of thought. But, of course, one has to get eventually somewhat past the purely psychological realm because Jung himself said that when you go deep enough into the archetypal realm then you are no longer within the realm of the psyche, that you are now in the psychoid realm. So the psyche is a kind of doorway into and out of certain realities, a very important doorway at that, because we experience everything by way of our own mind. How else can we explain it? Whether it's physical reality or psychological reality or mystical reality, it is our minds that are involved.
Did Jung consider himself to be Gnostic?
You can find it in my book The Gnostic Jung. You might say, after a fashion, yes. He considered the Gnostics as being probably the closest to his thought of any of the philosophical schools. He felt that among them he was among old friends. But, of course, his teachings were at least ostensibly of a psychological or quasi-scientific kind, so he did not make any pronouncements on what he might call the religious aspects of Gnosticism very much - he did some, but not an awful lot.
Did you interact with Jung?
When I was a very young fellow going to school in Austria, I did manage to get over to Switzerland on a couple of occasions, and went to the Jung Institute when Jung was still there, but only on a visit. Subsequently, after his death, when I wrote Gnostic Jung, I sent a German translation of it to his son, Franz Jung, who wrote to me as I mention in the book, and the letter is right up there in that glass case [pointing at the top of his bookshelf]. So his son had very kindly acknowledged the accuracy of my representation of his father's position, but I was not personally connected with Jung. It was not possible geographically and politically and financially at that time for me to spend much time in Switzerland. I had no passport, I was a refugee from Hungary, I slipped over illegally to Switzerland a couple of times. That's not easy to do with the Swiss. [Laughs] But as long as you promised you were going to be there at such and such an hour to come over again, they sometimes would let you do that. The Swiss never wanted a lot of foreigners in their country.
So you went to school in Austria? Is that where you got your Ph.D.?
And what did you study?
Well, I studied philosophy, you know. The department's a little bit different in Europe. I studied what is called pure philosophy, but with a minor in the philosophy of religion.
And when you went into that, you'd already had an interest in Theosophy and Gnosticism?
So you applied that to your studies.
I thought philosophy was the closest to my interests.
Right. Did you encounter any hostility in academia?
No, not really. Often those things didn't come up. If so, they just considered it a particular eccentricity. And Jung was already quite well known in Europe at that time. A lot of the academicians were very, very favorable to Jung. And there was a substratum of these interests going on too: some of the existentialists, and phenomenologists and so forth, they all had some connection with kind of esoteric currents of some kind or the other.
When did you develop an interest in actually practicing magic?
Ceremonial magic? Here in the States, after I met Israel Regardie.
You interacted with Israel Regardie?
Oh, yes. Dr. Regardie I knew fairly well, and we used to visit, and he came to some of our meetings and all kinds of things like that. And he was here for a long time in Studio City, and then in the last two or three years of his life moved to Arizona, to Sedona, and during that time then we corresponded quite a bit. I have a letter from him no less than about two or three days prior to his death. He died very suddenly. So, yes, Israel Regardie I knew very well.
I thought it was interesting, in the lecture the other day you were talking about how Israel Regardie said that to practice ceremonial magic you should have some grounding in psychoanalysis. Could you expand on that?
Well, of course, Regardie himself was a psychotherapist, and he felt that a lot of people are attracted to ceremonial - to the occult in general, but particularly to ceremonial magic - sort of for the wrong reasons, for neurotic reasons. And that unless some of that is handled, and some of their personal neuroses and their personal difficulties dealt with in a psychological manner, then their career in magical activities would proceed badly. After all, when he was very young he was quite closely connected to Aleister Crowley. Crowley was in France at that time, and Regardie was about 19 years old or something, and he went over there and became his personal secretary.
Well, it only lasted about a year or something and he felt very much abused and badly treated by Crowley. He felt that Crowley was an extremely brilliant magician, but that he was also frightfully neurotic. [Laughs] How nice it would have been if he had been less neurotic; one could have done more business with him. Then from there Regardie went to England and that's when he became initiated in a regular Golden Dawn temple. But he was kind of dealing with Crowley's ghost all his life, and so forth. So let's say the interaction of personal psychology and magic was something he was very aware of, and he tried to guard people from getting caught up in their neuroses. And it's true. I've met a lot of people who are just - they are the last people who should be involved in something like that, but they go to it like a duck to the water. Obviously, if you enter such a highly charged field with certain psychological vulnerabilities, then you're going to have trouble.
Opinions on Crowley seem to differ violently. To some people he was a court jester, to others he was evil, to others he was a genius. What's your opinion on Crowley?
I did not know him, so my knowledge is all second hand, but by way of Regardie and some other people I would say he was a learned and very brilliant Kabbalist, and a passable poet, but that he also - one of his vulnerabilities was, I think, that he liked to fool people and that he mixed some of that into his magical system, too, and therefore it's full of blinds and full of sort of crude effects, and for this reason it's rather tricky. If somebody who is fairly well grounded in the philosophy and knows his way around fairly well reads Crowley, he can learn something from him, but if a novice takes everything at face value that Crowley wrote then he might be deceived. He's a strange figure - a fraud, but a brilliant figure of that particular period.
Can certain drugs be used to heighten a religious ritual or an experience?
This is a very tricky subject. As I think I mentioned last time in the lecture, most rituals - magical, theurgic, religious - that are really good, that work, are there for the purpose of altering consciousness. In other words, they are consciousness-altering devices. They are trying to do pretty much what some drugs try to do in their own way. And therefore to mix the two is kind of like heaping the same thing on top of the same thing. The Golden Dawn tradition says, "Enflame thyself with prayer." So the prayer is supposed to change the consciousness, and to add consciousness-altering chemicals to that is often not particularly productive. I have known people who have done it and I don't think they achieved much thereby.
Now, however, if you take the field of psychedelic substances apart from that, then there is no doubt that if the right person takes the right psychedelic he might have very interesting, and at times very valuable, experiences. And many people have. When I came here in the 1950s, and I don't mind being quoted on it either, I had some - not very close - but some tangential contact with the people who were here in Hollywood: among them Aldous Huxley, who after all was practically a neighbor.
His widow Laura still lives up the road here on the Mulholland highway, you know. Mr. Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwood, you know, a whole number of people, and they in turn knew various doctors who were involved in psychedelic research and so forth, and these were the early researchers in mescaline and LSD, and that was the time when they started bringing in LSD from Sandoz Laboratories from Switzerland through Canada. These were all very serious people, and so hearing them talk and being in their presence, I was convinced that this was a highly interesting avenue to deeper things, but that it depended very much on how it was done and on who was doing it. And then when - largely by way of Timothy Leary and people like that - it became a very widely distributed situation, it became cheapened.
But I still think that there is some very valuable potential there, and it's a dirty shame that psychedelics have been outlawed by the U.S. government and put in the same category as heroin and cocaine and things like that because they are an entirely different sort of thing. It's like saying that water and whiskey are the same thing because they're both liquid. [Laughs] You know, I mean it's nonsense. It's a potentially very valuable field of research that converges both with depth psychology and with mysticism. And this is worthy of further pursuit. And I think the time will come when further research will have to be opened up again because once the human race, once human consciousness, touches a new discovery of this sort it never goes away. It never goes away. It can't. You can legislate all you want, you can build the biggest bureaucracy, you can have millions of people locked up in jail, it's still going to be there.
That is definitely a very interesting discovery and it ought to go on, but I am not necessarily in favor of mixing psychedelics with the religious or the spiritual rituals and things of that sort because the cross currents become too tangled, you might say. A good magician can raise his consciousness by way of the magical practice and the magical sacrament itself, in church or elsewhere. I have had people since the'60s come to me and say, "Why don't you let me put some LSD in the sacrament in the Mass," and I say, "No, they are two different things. You come to Mass first and in the afternoon go and take your LSD and have another trip." [Laughs] "You know, be my guest. I wish you a lot of luck! But let's not mix them up."
I was going to ask, how does a Gnostic Mass differ from a Catholic Mass?
Well, I would say primarily by way of intentionality. The forms are rather similar, although we use scriptures and readings and prayers from Gnostic sources. Here, in the Gnostic Mass, the intention is primarily to elevate and to transform the worshipper's consciousness so as to attain a liberating insight - gnosis. And it is not, therefore, primarily connected with reenacting the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. So that when we say, "This is my body, and this is my blood," we feel that this is a mystical, theurgic act which has been given to us by the founder of the Christian religion in order to nourish ourselves spiritually and to attain gnosis. But it is not a repetition of the blood and sacrifice at Calvary.
Lenny Bruce once said that if Jesus Christ had been tried and executed in the 20th century we'd all be wearing little electric chairs around our necks.
Well, I suppose so - if indeed that is the mode of execution.
The symbology there must have a different psychological effect on the people in the Mass. Because in one situation it's kind of punitive, and in the other that punishment isn't there in the symbology.
Oh, yes. And we don't feel the need to go to confession. Because people can take communion if they sincerely want to elevate their consciousness and change their ways, and that is sufficient.
Are you familiar with the work of Alfred Korzybski?
Count Korzybski, the General Semanticist? Oh, yes. It was a fairly popular intellectual movement, oh, clear back in the '50s and thereabouts, and various people - Stuart Chase, subsequently Senator Hayakawa and people like that - were all involved in it. I would say it has limited merit. I think the verbal structuring of the mind is undoubtedly a kind of another matrix. Everything can become a matrix, and words can too. And if items within the verbal communication are mistaken for reality, then we are obviously making a serious mistake, and effort should be made in that direction to discern meaning rather than verbalization about meaning. But at the same time I feel words are truly a great and divine gift, and that it is not intended for us at this point to regress to pre-verbal communication, but that we should pay attention to meaning in our verbal communication. So I think the General Semantic movement was pointing out some fairly important things, but, well, let's face it, it wasn't the savior of humanity either. [Laughs]
Well, Marshall McLuhan believed Gnosticism and Christianity grew out of the phonetic alphabet, that one rose out of the other.
The ancients considered language quite important and quite sacred, and so you have a whole kind of alphabetical mysticism in Judaism that has been embodied in the Kabbalah and the numerical values of the letters, and the Greeks had a Pythagorean letter-mysticism, so undoubtedly some of that was going on too.
You got your Ph.D. in Austria?
So did you ever go into the world of academia, to actually teach?
Well, when I came to this country I seriously considered becoming a University professor, and that was of course in the '50s, and I was finishing up some of my post-graduate work and things like that, and I wasn't terribly turned on by what I found in American academia. Then, of course, things started changing somewhat in the '60s, but I wasn't very turned on by that either. So I found the American academia very drab and very utilitarian oriented in the '50s and excessively politicized in the '60s, and so neither of them fit my interests, so I stayed out of it pretty much.
And when did the Ecclesia Gnostica Church begin?
Oh, well, I was ordained a priest in the late '50s and I have been active ecclesiastically ever since. I was in touch with some of the members of the Gnostic Church in England and in France, and they commissioned me to start work here. As far as I know, ours was probably the first Gnostic Church in America at that time. Since then, especially since the Nag Hammadi, there have been others.
So you founded the Ecclesia Gnostica here in L.A.?
Yes. There was a little organization here already called The Gnostic Society, which was founded by two disciples of Madame Blavatsky, James Morgan Pryse and his brother John Pryse. James Pryse, you still find some of his books here, was a good Greek scholar and he did sort of esoteric Bible interpretations. His book The Apocalypse Unsealed is still around from those days. When I came here and started Gnostic work, I found this little organization that was still there, and there were a few old people who were in it. So I sort of inherited that, and we do our activities of an educational nature, the lecture and class work and things like that under the name of the Gnostic Society, and then we do our activities of an ecclesiastical nature under the name of Ecclesia Gnostica - that's the local one. We have extensions in other places.
So that church has been in that location for - ?
Well, our little church has been in this location now for twenty-six years, but we were in another location before that for a short period of time.
Are you the only Bishop?
I'm the only the Bishop in this jurisdiction, but we have numerous priests of both genders.
You mentioned H.P. Blavatsky. When did you first come across Blavatsky's work?
In Europe, when I was still in my teens, I came across some of her books and some books about her.
I've heard similar things said about her as about Crowley. Some say she was a fraud, other people say glowing things about her. There was a recent book called Madame Blavatsky's Baboon that didn't show her in the best light.
Well, I think that the similarity with Crowley is minimal. I think she was much more honest and much more sincere. As for her involvement in this occult phenomenon business, it may be - and there's no real proof for this - that now and then she sort of mixed, perhaps, some trickery with the production of occult phenomena, and even that is not certain. That's a very tricky field. You know, Gurdijeff said that there are three kinds of phenomena: tricks, semi-tricks, and genuine phenomena, and that they're all mixed up with each other. But I think, on the whole, she was a very decent and very honest person who tried to do what she considered important. She just, as the Jungians would say, received a lot of negative projections for a variety of reasons at the time.
Are most Gnostics also interested in practicing ceremonial magic, or is that unique to you?
No, not necessarily. That's sort of unique to me. They're certainly not opposed to it. It's another avenue, but I would say it's a minority of people involved in Gnosticism who are interested in that.
Could you briefly describe the difference between evocation and invocation?
Well, the two major modalities of ceremonial magic are evocation and invocation. Evocation has to do, at least ostensibly, with the calling up of what are sometimes called Tartarean spirits, which are sort of non-physical entities more connected to the earth and the subterranean regions and nature, although their origins probably are of a different order. It's kind of a lower, heavier nature, but still interesting and informative and easier to do than invocation, which is essentially angel magic, and has to do with conversing with and invoking celestial beings. So one is sub-mundane, and the other is trans-mundane.
You were talking about the dangers of neurotic personalities getting involved with ceremonial magic. Is there a danger to people who are not neurotic getting involved in this sort of magic?
Oh, I think if they have the proper guidance and make themselves aware of authoritative sources I would not consider it a particularly dangerous pursuit. I think the dangers of ceremonial magic on the whole have been exaggerated by people who don't understand what's going on. There's an old jocular saying: "What people are not up on, they are down on." [Laughs] People who are not up on some of these things say, "Oh, it's dangerous!"
And that's why Gnosticism and Freemasonry and even psychedelics are so demonized?
The unknown, the unexplored - what you have no way of really understanding - is considered dangerous. And in all of those, proper experience, guidance, good information, and proper set and setting are very important. The greatest danger is that you are not going to get anything out of it. That's the greatest danger - that you will be wasting your time! [Laughs]
I often wonder if LSD was made illegal simply to prevent people from experiencing an unofficial reality. Perhaps that's why all of these things are so looked down on.
Well, I think psychologically, in terms of the deeper depth psychological motivations behind the persecution of psychedelics, you are quite right. I think people who are attached to the consensus reality consider the possibility of other realties being present a threat. They don't want that, they don't want people to have contact with that. It throws a monkey wrench into their reality. And it's not even necessarily anything like, "Oh, well, the Establishment, the corporations, the military-industrial-complex!" I mean, the military-industrial complex would have liked to have found a good use for LSD. The CIA and so forth were experimenting with it, but they found out it was not really conducive to the use they were trying to put it, and then they abandoned it. But I think that it's just a certain mindset, a mindset that wants things the way they are.
Do you remember The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorcese's movie? There's a scene where Jesus is trying to tell Pilate, "Look, you know, we want to change the world, but we want to change it with love. I don't want to start a revolution. I don't want to hurt anybody. I just want to change it with love." And Pilate says, "My good man, you don't understand, we don't want it to be changed at all. By no means, we don't want any change!" [Laughs] So, it's a little bit that way. People involved in the matrix, they are within the consensus reality, they want reality to stay that way. To poke holes into that reality by one means or the other is very disturbing to such people. Those are the deeper psychological motivations of the dislike for psychedelics, or for that matter for ceremonial magic or Gnosticism, or anything that alters consciousness in any significant way.
I think that if a linkage had not been made in the '60s between radical politics and LSD and the Vietnam War, and things of that sort, maybe the psychedelic research - at least at some level - could have continued unabated. But there were just too many things coming in all at one time, disturbing the people who are attached to the status quo: sexual revolution, radical politics, anti-Vietnam War, LSD, all of this business, it was just too much. They got scared, they really got scared.
So it would be logical to assume that the mainstream religions are not interested in altering consciousness at all?
That's true. Yeah, I think so. I think so. Here and there, there always have been some mystics, some weirdos, but they're not really part of the fabric of the situation, you know?
Were you familiar with Bishop Pike at the Episcopal Bishop of California?
Oh, sure. Very nice man, God bless him. Yes, in fact I saw Bishop Pike just a few days before he went on his final journey when he then perished in the desert. He and his wife Diane were here in L.A. to give a lecture and then there was a reception for him, and actually he said at that time - there must be other people around who remember this - that one of his principal objectives of going to the Middle East was to find the Mandaens. And I even said to him at that time, "Bishop, you're not going to find the Mandaens in Israel. You may find them in Iraq and possibly in Iran." And then he said, "Well, we hope to go over there too." But he died before he could do it. So it's quite possible, it seemed to me at the time, that Bishop Pike was on the verge of moving into yet another area of spirituality and spiritual discovery, but on the verge of it he died. Unfortunately.
Out of journalistic curiosity I filed a FOIA request on Bishop Pike through the FBI, and I got a sizable document back, a lot of it blacked out. And there was one document that talked about his resignation as Episcopal Bishop of California. It had a report from this FBI agent saying that Bishop Pike has decided to resign, and then at the bottom another agent had written in ink, "Good riddance!"
Well, I suppose there were a lot of people who didn't like him. When he resigned he then went to this think tank in Santa Barbara, which was a little Rockefeller-funded group. I don't know if it's still there. In fact, I think that's where he was living up to his death. But when I saw him he still wore the collar. He was a Bishop in good standing, but he didn't have a diocese. He was an inactive Bishop.
It was clear from these documents that he was being watched to some extent, and I guess it was because of his anti-Vietnam stance?
Yes, I think so. He was much more conservative earlier on, but as the '60s came in he got caught up in all of these things: attending meetings with radicals, and anti-Vietnam, and civil rights, and that must have been the reason.
He wrote a really interesting book called The Other Side.
Indeed, I have it. Yeah, toward the end of his life up here in Santa Barbara he got a hold of some spiritualist people and they presumably put him in touch with his dead son, and this was another big turnaround for him. And judging from his life pattern, he wouldn't have remained within that spiritualist interest. He was already moving on to something other, and probably something deeper. So I wouldn't be surprised if eventually he wouldn't have ended up as something like a Gnostic or within a sort of Gnostic-Theosophical matrix because he was moving in that direction. His journey was a long one: from a lawyer who practiced with the Supreme Court to bishop and spiritual seeker.
And he started out in the Navy.
Yes. And then he was the Dean of St. John's Cathedral, I think in New York City. He was one of the first television ministers. I remember: "Dean Pike," before he was even a Bishop, the same time when the Catholic Bishop Sheen had his program around the same time.
I got a hint of his Gnosticism from reading The Other Side.
Yes, I think he was moving in that direction. It was a dirty shame that - well, you know, again, one can theorize about these things. I think he was sort of moving too fast, and that possibly may have been involved in his death. When you are breaking your own archetypes sometimes so rapidly then things can happen to you. There are difficulties that arise in that course, but that's purely speculative. In any event, he was one of the great creative people of that period, there's no doubt about it.
Did you know Bishop Pike and Philip K. Dick were friends?
No, this I didn't know.
Yeah, in fact Phil Dick was the one who introduced him to the medium to contact his dead son.
Oh, is that so?
Phil Dick wrote a novel called A Maze of Death that was dedicated to Pike. And at the beginning of The Other Side, in the dedication, it says, "Special thanks to Phil and Nancy," which is Phil Dick and his wife. I assume that Phil Dick probably got a lot of his knowledge from Bishop Pike.
In fact, in his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, the main character was based on Bishop Pike. And I was going to ask you about that. Did you read Valis? When did you come across Valis for the first time?
I came across Valis fairly late. I think in the - when was it published?
I think '82, or perhaps '80.
Well, then it wasn't that late. It was right around that time, in the early '80s. A lady I knew gave me a copy of it and said, "You've got to read this. This is really very Gnostic."
By the way, there's a story called "The Deathbird" by Harlan Ellison. And it seems very Gnostic in its interpretation of the Genesis myth.
Well, in the sci-fi and fantasy fiction field, that was one place where Gnostic-like ideas have appeared over a period of time. And there have been people who have written on that. For instance, there was one, quite a famous one, it goes back some years, called A Voyage to Arcturus [by David Lindsay]. Do you remember that?
It's one of my favorite novels! [Laughs]
Very Gnostic, very Gnostic in nature.
I picked that book up just by accident, and I read it, and I was actually blown away by it. I remember reading somewhere - David Lindsay said that he never thought his novel would be popular, but every year one person would discover it, so I read that and thought, "Oh, I'm the guy - "
- who discovered it that year. Yes! [Laughs] So these ideas have been around in certain circles for quite awhile, and some authors have used them, but I think now it's beginning to enter the general culture. Part of that is probably due to the fact that so many of the sacred cows that we've been worshipping, the golden calves, have proven to be flawed and useless? The culture is at a point now where various ideologies and developments from which we expected a kind of secular salvation have revealed themselves as useless, and sometimes worse than useless. And all of this I think has moved us toward a possible greater appreciation of the Gnostic-like ideas.
I was going to ask you, are you familiar with John M. Allegro?
Oh, yes, certainly. I quoted him quite extensively in my book Jung and the Lost Gospels.
He wrote a book called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross [in which Allegro contends that the literary figure of "Jesus Christ" was merely a metaphor invented to disguise the ritual practices surrounding the amanita muscaria, a psychedelic mushroom that supposedly served an integral role among the sacred rites of the early Christians]. Do you recommend that book?
Well, it's interesting. I would say that - you know, he was a reputable Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, one of the great ones, but The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross is somewhat speculative. I would say he's sort of on the right track in terms of looking for a psychedelic component, but whether he has got all his data right is another question, so I would say it's an interesting early attempt in that direction, but of course there have been many others. Recently Dan Merkur, who is a very interesting scholar working in Canada, a University man, has written two books on manna as the psychedelic sacrament of the Hebrews [The Psychedelic Sacrament and The Mystery of Manna], so, you know, various things are coming out into the open that indicate the presence of consciousness-altering substances in various religious traditions at one time or the other, and that's an interesting avenue of research.
But whether Allegro's, whether that particular book. I think he was moving in the right direction, but how authoritative it is is a matter of question. But he was a good Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. I had some correspondence with him years ago, and he was the first one that propounded the idea that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were not being translated and hidden away on purpose. He was castigating his fellow scholars, and nobody paid any attention to him, and then eventually some others got the same idea, and they finally broke the monopoly on the Dead Sea Scrolls a few years ago.
Yeah, they weren't released until 1990, right?
Yeah, right around that time.
You mentioned in your lecture on Wednesday about conflicting theologies in the Middle East. You were talking about Christian fundamentalists -
Yes, and the red heifer business, and all of that.
Right. And funding certain Jewish groups to essentially bring about Armageddon in the Middle East. There's this book called Prophecy and Politics by Grace Halsell, which I read back in like '89, and she was talking about this whole thing in there. Where did you learn about that?
Oh, well, you know, it's an open secret. And in the mainstream press various things appear, and there was a gigantic long article - I just don't know how long ago, a year or two ago - in The New Yorker about that red heifer situation and all that. [Laughs] It's sort of tragi-comic, all of it. I mean these curious liaisons between fundamentalists of different orientations do occur. And it's all very strange, and in some ways unfortunate because I think the rise of fundamentalism in this country is not a pleasant phenomenon. You know, I'm not afraid of them. I don't think that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are going to take over the country and become the theocratic dictators tomorrow, but serious inroads have been made over a period of time by these people.
I don't think it's a good development because the United States was generally respected - and England too - as a land of moderate discourse, especially in political matters. Nobody was too way out. Heck, when I came to this country fifty years ago you couldn't tell the difference between the Republican and the Democrat. The difference was in the name of their party more than anything else, you know? In fact, like Eisenhower, I think he tossed a coin as to whether he should run on the Democratic or the Republican ticket, and ended up running on the Republican ticket.
But extremism has grown very greatly, and it's not a good thing. It's unjust to blame it just on the present administration. No doubt there is a strong influence there from evangelical fundamentalist Christian sources. But it's been there for a long time. In fact, I think the turning point was the Carter administration. When Jimmy Carter got into the White House, somehow a lot of this - shall way say redneck theology? - all of a sudden became respectable. And that was the turning point. It was no longer a fringe group that people looked at and said, "Oh well, snake handlers and speakers in tongues." Now all of a sudden it was in the White House and the president's sister was an evangelist who saw flying saucers and spoke in tongues, and that's really when it started coming in.
It's not that their policies were being implemented yet, as much as it became respectable. And now I'm sure it's occurred to you that in the last few years whenever the name "Christian" is used in the media, it always refers to these people. They have come to monopolize, to co-opt the name "Christian." What about the millions and millions of Christians who are not born again Christians, who are not evangelicals, who are not fundamentalists? What are they? So the mainstream has bought into their mythology, at least in this regard. I think that it's a symptom of how much people have bought into their thinking.
Do you think fundamentalism is so popular because they do deal in literal, concrete answers? "These are the answers!" Whereas Gnosticism is symbolic and more abstract.
Well, yes. They are peddling certitude, certainties. That's the way it is! And there is a strong psychological need in that regard. People like certitude. People like to have at least the feeling that they are certain and on the right track, and that's a big talking point. Of course, there is also a little bit of low class mysticism going on. There is some altering of consciousness: with the speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit coming, this that and the other thing. So that that also is an area of appeal, and certainly one should not condemn these people who have their own mysticism.
So the fundamentalists alter your consciousness just enough to titillate you, but not to illuminate you in any significant way?
Yeah, I think that that's it. Giving people a sense that they are right. Everybody wants to be right. And this gives a sort of supernatural stamp of approval on being right, but as we can see with Islam and elsewhere, it's not a good development. Very counter-productive. And for it to become politicized to the degree that it has in the last few decades is particularly bad.
Fundamentalist types were around when I came here in the '50s. There were big evangelicals, you know. Billy Graham was going big guns, and at that time there were radio evangelicals. And they made a lot of money, and all that was around, but they were not political, not at that time. There were a few between the two wars, before World War II. There was Father Coughlin who was sort of fascistic-oriented. There were a few, a small number. But that went by the wayside with the war. This politicized fundamentalist philosophy is a very bad thing. I think Huston Smith is one of the best interpreters of the contemporary religious scene. He's written some very, very good things. Of course, he has a mainstream focus and background, but his books have a broad view; he's sort of the grand old man of comparative religion in America. Read his book Why Religion Matters. It's one of his more recent books.
You were mentioning earlier the only danger of ceremonial magic is that you'll be wasting your time.
That's the most common danger, the biggest danger.
On the other side, what would be the biggest benefits? What have you experienced?
Well, I think there is a sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle altering of your consciousness, that you do these things and you come back different. And I think the difference is a good difference. You are sensitized to certain spiritual influences, to certain kinds of perceptions. You have experienced a desirable change of consciousness. As far as, you know, objective information, I never found that to be that spectacular. They didn't reveal to me some new secret of the universe, or I don't know what, [laughs] some highly marketable new industrial development. That didn't happen.
So again, it's symbolic.
How large is the membership of Ecclesia Gnostica?
Well, you know, we don't keep formal membership records. And we never have a great many people here locally at any one time present, but let's say if I add up all the people who come over a year or so, then it's certainly several hundred people. But you've also got to remember we have outreaches in other places: in Seattle, in Portland, in Salt Lake City, in Arizona, in Northern California, and then we've made some impact by way of this website, which has been quite highly regarded by many people and has received a lot of visits.
Given the fact that Gnosticism deals mainly in symbology and ambiguities, do you think it will always remain a small, underground movement?
That would sort of require the gift of prophecy, but I think the movement is growing and we are not the only gnostic group. Also I think it's a little different kind of movement just because of it's nature, so you will probably have a relatively small core group nation-wide, and probably internationally, who will keep the tradition going, who will write the books, who will give the lectures and do the websites and things like that. Then there will be a much wider circle, or maybe several circles of people, who will be quite Gnostic but privately, and who will take advantage of some of this but in a more peripheral way. So I think the influence on the culture is what matters. It's not going to be a mass movement, but I think it could have a very wide influence, which I think is beginning already. Most of these things, movements of these sorts that we have seen, tend to fade in about twenty years. And this hasn't faded. Quite to the contrary, it's growing all the time. There are more and more books, there are more and more mentions made of this. The influence on the culture is growing.
Other than, of course, I assume you would recommend Gnosticism by Stephan Hoeller, but are there any other books you might recommend to those interested in learning about Gnosticism?
Well, certainly the writings of Elaine Pagels such as her latest one, Beyond Belief. She was the one who wrote The Gnostic Gospels back in the '70s and the new one deals in part with the Gospel of Thomas. It was on the bestseller charts. So the literature is growing. Much of it comes from scholars and so is maybe a little bit heavy, but this one is not.
So what were the books that interested you, that got you into this?
Well, of course, my interest went back to an earlier time when the Nag Hammadi wasn't present yet and so forth, but the earlier material, the Pistis Sophia and the other early Gnostic writings were there, Mead's translations and various commentaries, so I was mostly working with late nineteenth and early twentieth century texts and commentaries, but then of course came the Nag Hammadi material in the '70s and we had a great deal more to work with.
Do you have a general statement you want to make about Gnosticism for the readers?
Well, I would say that this appears to be, as far as Gnosticism is concerned, the time that the Greeks called the kairos, the time when the Gods are reborn. We live in an age, I think, when certain timeless ideas, which have been submerged and subdued for a long time, are making their appearance once again. In that respect we're living in very interesting times as the Chinese would say. Interesting times, spiritually powerful times, always cast a great shadow. There will also be great difficulties, but I think that Gnostic traditions, along with a number of kindred ideas, are being reborn at this time, and will have a significant influence in the future. Those of us who find ourselves working within that field are singularly blessed that we can do this work at this particular time. So I feel I'm at the right place and at the right time and I am profoundly grateful for all of that.
Robert Guffey is a regular contributor to Paranoia. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.