A Cosmic Catechism

You might, from the title, think Gregory Reece’s 2007 book UFO Religion is a study specifically of UFO cults, and whilst it does visit them by the end, it’s a broader look at the field than that. Reece is instead giving a general overview of the major beliefs propagated within the UFO field and exploring their origins – treating the UFO scene as a sociological phenomenon, whilst not endorsing its claims himself.

Reece structures the book in a logical fashion, beginning with the parts of UFO culture which seem on the surface to have the least parallels with religious or spiritual beliefs and progressing through to end with an examination of organised religious movements with a significant UFOlogical component.

Thus, in the first section, he covers the assertions of the “nuts and bolts” side of the movement – those who maintain that it is an essentially scientific phenomenon that can be investigated in a scientific manner – progressing from this section from the least contentious and most easily-substantiated claims (“People report seeing things in the sky they could not identify”) to progressively more tenuous positions (“UFOs have crashed”, followed up with “there is a government conspiracy covering up the truth about UFOs”, followed up with “aliens are abducting people and doing experiments on them”). From abductees it’s only a little jump into the world of the contactees, and then from there to the mythologists who promote the idea of ancient aliens on the one hand and those who establish organised religions around their contactee experiences on the other.

By and large, Reece is on the money when he is discussing the various topics he hits on, and is particularly good at teasing out their origins. Some of the points he raises are extremely useful ones which are often overlooked in discussions of the subject. For instance, when it comes to the 19th Century wave of mystery airship sightings, he notes that whilst the newspaper reports of these might be taken at face value by UFOlogists, it was actually commonplace in the era for newspapers to throw in joke stories, particularly with local in-jokes that would be picked up by their contemporary readership.

Reece cites a particularly good example where an 1897 report purported to be a witness statement about a mysterious airship flown by strange beings abducting cattle – but both the author of the affidavit and those who put down their counter-signature as an endorsement of his reliability were all known to be members of a local “Liars’ Club”, a group who’d get together and tell each other tall tales for shits and giggles.

Similarly, Reece points out that the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” – the idea that UFOs are alien spacecraft – didn’t snap into place instantaneously. These days, most people on the UFO scene tend to either assume that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is correct, or espouse even stranger notions, but according to Reece this was not the case back in 1947; whilst the hypothesis did gain steam reasonably quickly, various more plausible theories (like secret aircraft testing or atmospheric phenomena) were in wide currency at the time, and the term “flying saucer” was used in a generic fashion in the media to imply something unidentified in the sky but not necessarily to imply an extraterrestrial origin. In this context, the announcement from Roswell that the Army had recovered material from a “flying saucer” means less than later researchers have tried to make of it.

As Reece unpacks the origins of the Roswell controversy and how it was largely patched together decades after the event by Charles Berlitz and William Moore, he also notes how details from Frank Scully’s claims of a UFO crash at Aztec, New Mexico were grafted on – further undermining the credibility of Roswell for (as Reece documents) Frank Scully had been taken in by con artists. Other legends like the Men In Black are put under the microscope, and by and large Reece is wise to the esoteric agendas pursued by some contactees, making sure to note how George Adamski’s alien contacts had this remarkable tendency to divulge cosmic teachings which aligned closely with the Theosophical ideas Adamski had been promoting previously. He also notes how the “ancient alien” narratives often entail a derisive attitude towards ancient cultures – especially indigenous cultures in places colonised by Europeans.

Reece doesn’t spot some angles – for instance, he glosses over Whitley Strieber‘s boosting of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s teachings, he gives David Icke an easy ride because he assumes Icke’s targeting of political elites with his reptoid claims doesn’t overlap with more generalised bigotry, and he outright fails to comment on Bill Cooper and his overlap with UFOlogy, the far-right militia movement, and Christian apocalypticism, despite going into conspiracy theories in general.

He can also tend to have a rather superficial, surface level reading of some of his subjects, and tends to regard contactees as mostly harmless and Heaven’s Gate an aberration without considering the connections between some contactees and darker political and occult outlooks. He doesn’t seem to have included Jacques Vallée’s Messengers of Deception on his reading list at all, which I feel is quite the omission, since Vallée’s book is one of the few I’m aware of to attempt a look at the social and political implications of the contactee movement other than this one.

Despite these few shortcomings, UFO Religion is a very good introduction to the field and worth a read if you want to get an immediate grasp on it. What is perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the book was published in 2007, and now fourteen years later the field really hasn’t moved forward that much at all. Sure, there’s been new sightings, but little in the way of exciting new outlooks or movements which aren’t just rehashing the concepts in here.

Bye Bye, Black Alchemist

The story so far: after being part of the Parasearch crew he co-led with Graham Phillips, who were responsible for getting the whole “psychic questing” thing kicked off – as chronicled in Phillips and Martin Keatman’s books The Green Stone and The Eye of Fire – Andrew Collins caused a bit of a stir of his own when he put out The Black Alchemist and The Seventh Sword, his own accounts of psychic questing exploits.

The Seventh Sword overlapped to an extent with matters discussed in The Green Stone, but it was The Black Alchemist which really made waves. Bearing delightfully sacrilegious cover art and claiming to reveal the secret behind the Great Storm of 1987, it featured Andrew and his psychic colleague Bernard experiencing a series of psychic run-ins with the titular Black Alchemist – supposedly a nefarious occultist who performed dodgy rituals in sacred sites with the intent of making corrupt use of the British ley line network. Despite never actually confronting the Black Alchemist in the flesh, Collins and Bernard purportedly had repeated psychic clashes with the chap as they tried to disrupt his evil works.

As with much psychic questing stuff, it was almost certainly the result of either deliberate hoaxing or a deliberate desire to believe leading to an indulgence of apophenia, Bernard and Andrew yes-anding each other into believing they were tangling with a real life Dennis Wheatley villain and his coterie of co-conspirators. Still, it was a fun story to entertain even if you didn’t actually believe it, which probably helped the book sell well – a little attention-grabbing controversy from evangelical Christian quarters objecting to the book on moral grounds didn’t hurt. A more direct sequel than The Seventh Sword was probably inevitable.

That sequel was 1993’s The Second Coming. This opens with they disruption of one of the Black Alchemist’s grand plans by Andrew and his colleagues when they stand on top of a hill and yes-and each other into thinking that they are under assault from astral wolves. If this incident sounds familiar, it might be because I mention it in my review of The Black Alchemist – for in the 2015 revision of that book, it’s tacked onto the end to provide a somewhat more satisfying conclusion than was provided in the original version, which just sort of ceases rather abruptly without really coming to any sort of conclusion.

Indeed, in the epilogue of The Second Coming Collins notes that the most common bit of feedback he received about The Black Alchemist was “shame about the ending”. He argues that this is a consequence of the book being an account of real events which were still kind of ongoing as the book was being finished, and which didn’t really offer a nice neat confrontation with the big bad, but for this go-around – covering developments in the case from 1988 to 1991 – he’s selected as a stopping-point an incident at Whitby, since that seemed to be suitably dramatic.

That incident, dear readers, was when Andrew Collins and his friends defeated Dracula.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 6: Icke Unleashes His Demons

In many respects, the success of QAnon and its associated penumbra of conspiracy theories – including the pandemic denialism that is so frequently comorbid with it that it may as well be an official part of the QAnon platform by this point (to the extent that QAnon can be said to have one) – represents David Icke’s greatest accomplishment, since the QAnon movement, in attempting to interpret Q’s gnomic posts, has more or less replicated Icke’s entire worldview.

The bit about the archons and reptilians, maybe not so much – QAnon skews more towards conservative American Christianity, after all, but I am sure you can find corners of the movement who are all about Icke’s Gnosticism as an actual picture of the way the world works – but the whole “millennia-old conspiracy controlling a network of secret societies and public institutions that secretly rules the world” thing is not just a broad general theme they have in common; the outline of the conspiracy, and the central role played by massive Satanic child abuse rituals, are decidedly Ickean in nature.

At the same time, the rise of QAnon may in the long run make Icke redundant. Just as Icke initially appropriated his Grand Unified Conspiracy theory from Bill Cooper and William Bramley, as I’ve previously outlined, so too have the QAnon qult largely taken what they wanted from Icke and moved on. Furthermore, the world of conspiracy theory is a fractious and feud-ridden place – as the careers of Icke, Cooper, and Alex Jones illustrate all too well.

Q has the advantage of being an anonymous cipher (and, quite likely, a role played by a series of different people), and as such can never disappoint the qultists. At worst, perhaps some subset of Q drops will be disregarded by the qult and some other source of Q drops will be latched onto – but the idea of Q behind them will stay eternally fresh, because there almost certainly is not one single, distinct person behind the whole thing to begin with. In extremis, the qult could also decide that they had just been misinterpreting Q’s little riddles. Icke has spoken too specifically, and his life history is too well-illuminated, to pull the same trick.

Note the turqouise shirt.

And yet that plucky scamp SARS-CoV-2 has not neglected David Icke when turning 2020 into an absurd rollercoaster the likes never seen in our lifetime and which I hope we will never see again. On 29th August this year, at a protest in Trafalgar Square against social distancing measures which united qultists, campaigners against 5G mobile data networks, and honest-to-goodness fascists displaying the British Union of Fascists flag, David Icke took to the stage and addressed the assembled crowd with a 12 minute speech.

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Wild Palms Emerges From the Mirage

About a decade ago I reviewed Wild Palms, Oliver Stone’s five hour TV miniseries folly which was suffocated by various issues (not least being an attempt to be more David Lynch-y than David Lynch) but which still retains a haunting power, though perhaps more for what it hints at being than for what it actually is. Now, a decade later, I’ve found myself a copy of Wild Palms, the comic written by Bruce Wagner and illustrated by Julian Allen that inspired the miniseries, and I have discovered that elusive something which the adaptation yearned to be but, existing as it did in a wholly different medium, couldn’t be.

The comic originally ran monthly in Details magazine from late 1990 until May 1993 – the same month that the TV miniseries debuted. (In Allens’ eerie, often photo-referenced artwork, a publicity shot from the miniseries is snuck onto a television in the final episode of the comic; some pages earlier, Jim Belushi, who plays protagonist Harry Wyckoff in the series has a cameo as Jim Belushi, actor, meeting the original Harry Wyckoff.)

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A Feral Process

Adam Parfrey of Feral House liked to put out clusters of books based on his particular interests, and one of those interests was the infamous Process Church, a cult from the 1960s and 1970s whose severe black uniforms and Satanic rites gained them a terrifying reputation. Robert de Grimston was the figurehead whose name was attached to most of the more traditional literature the Process created, but it has become apparent through later disclosure that it’s truer to say that the leader was his wife Mary Ann MacLean, who took pains to keep her importance a secret from outsiders.

If nothing else, the acid test of this came when de Grimston and MacLean split up in 1974; by and large, the community sided with MacLean and Robert was left trying with much less success to try and propagate his own reformed version of the Process before he gave up by the end of the 1970s. There can be few more unambiguous demonstrations of where the true power lay than in this display of loyalty to MacLean.

Under MacLean, the Process Church renamed itself first the Foundation Church of the Millennium, then the Foundation Faith of the Millennium, and established the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. By 1993, the legal entity which had been the Foundation rebranded itself as Best Friends Animal Society and, to all outside appearances, had abandoned all religious and spiritual ambitions entirely for the sake of running the shelter; MacLean died in 2005. This would make it substantially easier to publish material on the Process without fear of litigation, and Feral House was happy to oblige…

Love Sex Fear Death

Subtitled The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final JudgmentLove Sex Fear Death is billed as being by Timothy Wyllie and edited by Adam Parfrey, but I’d say on balance it is more of an anthology brought together by Parfrey than it is a single work by Wyllie, particularly since Wyllie’s words only account for about a third of the book. Still, Wyllie’s story is an important one and I can see the justification in giving him prominent billing. Wyllie was part of the Process Church before and after it had that name. He knew Robert de Grimston in 1959, before de Grimston and Mary Ann ever met.

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Kindlefluff: The Last Degree by Dina Rae

A reminder, since it’s been a while since I’ve dipped into this: “Kindlefluff” is the term I use for my reviews of books which I absolutely would not have acquired were they not going for cheap or free on Kindle (not counting Kindle Unlimited pieces). Hang onto your hats folks, because this one is a doozy.

The Last Degree by Dina Rae was a book I picked up for free but, at the time I got it at least, had a list price of £1.92. At the time, I both had a fairly clear idea of what I was getting into and absolutely no idea of what direction the book would take. You see, it’s a conspiracy thriller about the Freemasons, and you never know which way one of those things is going to jump. By the end of the book, I was left in no doubt as to where Dina Rae’s priorities lay as an author, and ended up glad that I hadn’t given her any money..

The thing about Masonic conspiracy theories is that they’re like the Swiss Army knife of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories almost always boil down to politics in the end, and specifically revolve around the alleged conspirators plotting to do something for reasons the theorist finds foul – you almost never have theorists saying “well, actually I kind of agree with the agenda of the big conspiracy, I just object to their methods”.

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Swinging Between the Extremes

From the early 1970s onwards Italian politics became marred by increasing political violence on both sides of the political spectrum, with neo-fascist forces on the right and the Red Brigades on the left turning to increasingly brutal methods as both the Western and Eastern Bloc used Italy as a front in the Cold War. It was a paranoid time in which the groups acting on the street were fronts either directly controlled or indirectly manipulated by larger forces.

Fascist groups – as well as agents provocateur on the left – were backed by Operation Gladio, a NATO-backed “stay behind” paramilitary force intended to resist a Soviet Bloc takeover of Italy which had, depending on who you talk to, either slipped its leash and run riot or did exactly what it was supposed to do. The Red Brigades were supplied by the likes of the PLO and the Czechoslovakian intelligence service. In 1981 the bizarre Propaganda Due scandal revealed that Italian Freemasonry had become suborned into a network of political corruption and influence-brokering. Conspiracy seemed to be everywhere.

This is the political backdrop of Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco’s second novel. Set in the then-modern Italy of the 1970s and 1980s, it is narrated by one Casaubon, an intellectual sort whose heart is mostly with the hard left but who is alarmed enough by the propagation of ill-tempered violent rhetoric (which, remember, it would eventually turn out was partially driven by agitators set up by Gladio), and who seeks his refuge in his studies. A tendency to be a bit of an academic magpie, grabbing whatever seems shiny to him, Casaubon sets himself up as a researcher-for-hire after completing his studies, including a thesis on the trial of the Knights Templar.

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Occult Orders, Fraternal Fun, and Masonic Malarkey

Ritual America – or, to give the book its full title, Ritual America: Secret Brotherhoods and Their Influence On American Society – A Visual Guide – is a big, chunky, coffee table affair. Compiled by Adam Parfrey and Craig Heimbichner, it offers exactly what the title implies: an extensive visual treasurehouse showcasing the influence of Freemasonry and various other fraternal orders (the vast majority of which are rip-offs of Freemasonry) in American society and culture.

Though the book hails from Feral House, which has published its fair share of conspiracy theory on the subject of Masonry and similar secret societies (they’re the big bads in James Shelby Downard’s Carnivals of Life and Death, for instance, and regular features of Secret and Suppressed), it isn’t the wall-to-wall orgy of conspiracy theory it might be – it discusses the occasional outbreaks of anti-Masonic sentiment and some of the major scandals like the death of William Morgan and the Leo Taxil affair, but it doesn’t wallow in conspiratorialism. Nor does it obsess on the esoteric aspects of Masonry and its more occult-themed offshoots like the OTO or the various Rosicrucian-themed spinoffs from it.

Instead, the book takes a refreshingly broad approach to the subject, appropriate to the fact that Freemasonry is an awkward broad church of an institution and always has been – ever since a bunch of esotericists, toffs, and middle class intellectuals gatecrashed and hijacked some old, near-moribund stonemason’s guilds, appropriated and/or radically reworked some of their ceremonies and procedures, and made it into this weird mashup of eating-and-feasting-club, charitable association, mutual aid society, and occult talking shop.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 5: Renegade Without a Cause

Here we are, bringing the story of David Icke and the development of his unique brand of Ickean Gnosticism (like regular Gnosticism mashed up with a rerun of V). We’ve learned how Icke’s embrace of New Age beliefs earned him mockery in the early 1990s, and how his ideas no longer seemed so funny once he went hardcore conspiracy theorist and started promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. We’ve seen how his extraterrestrial-themed ideas developed from wholesale ripping-off of The Gods of Eden and Bill Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse into his own distinctive Reptoid-based mythology, and how the repeated Gnostic themes in his writing eventually evolved into an overt endorsement of Gnosticism.

Along the way, we’ve also had a bumpy ride in terms of Icke’s business endeavours and personal relationships. Lovers, friends, fellow researchers and allies have come into Icke’s world and been exiled from it. Royal Adams took the US rights to his books and ran rogue with them, causing Icke a tremendous legal headache. Icke teamed up with Sean Adl-Tabatabai in the debacle of The People’s Voice, which left a lot of true believers angry and out of pocket.

Icke went a bit quiet after the collapse of The People’s Voice, at least in terms of published books – though naturally he continued his eternal lecture tours, podcasts, guest appearances on other people’s platforms, and so on. Since then, though, he’s released three books and a movie. Let’s see where the path leads us now…

(Spoiler: It leads us to overt demonisation of a minority religious sect.)

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 4: The People’s Voice Howls At the Moon

In my previous looks at the work of David Icke, modern-day Gnostic heresiarch, I’ve covered his alarming transformation from a basically ordinary media figure into a New Age true believer in a melange of Theosophy and Gnosticism, his gear shift into conspiratorial thinking and flirtation with antisemitism, and his promulgation of his theory of Reptoid aliens secretly controlling the Earth, along with a deeper and more troubling embrace of antisemitism. (As well as promulgating conspiracy theories tending towards antisemitism, Icke also has total contempt for all sorts of traditional religious and cultural practices, and if you only tolerate Jewish people so long as they don’t actually practice any form of Judaism or Judaism-related cultural practices then that’s basically antisemitism.)

By 2005, Icke had come back to the mysticism he’d been espousing in 1990, with a more comprehensively Gnostic worldview. (I will refer to this as Ickean Gnosticism, to distinguish it from historical forms of Gnosticism.) He’d also had a nasty accident in the wallet region; Royal Adams, his agent in the USA, had scammed him out of a fat stack of royalties, and on top of that his marriage to his second wife, Pamela, was disintegrating on bad terms and a messy divorce battle was in the offing.

In February 2007, Icke set up the “Freedom Foundation” as a means for American supporters to channel money to him by making tax-deductible donations via the International Humanities Center. This raised eyebrows in some quarters, since such tax-deductible foundations had been fingered as being part of the New World Order conspiracy since the 1950s. Still, donations can only go so far: ultimately, Icke’s income comes from touring and books, and so new product was wanted. So began a new phase of Icke’s writing…

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