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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Same Title, Different Spirit

What’s in a name? Sure, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet – but if you called roses “roses” and called turds “roses” you’d have an enormous amount of confusion on your hands. A little while back on a folk-horror themed Facebook discussion I was in, there was a bit of confusion about the existence of two books bearing the utterly badass title of The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology – one a credible academic text, one a silly coffee table book from the 1970s which I and others had fond memories of seeing in our local libraries as late as the early 1990s. As it turns out, both books have merits – one is good, one is so bad it’s good – so I thought as a public service I’d offer a bit of disambiguation here as well as reviewing them.

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology (Robbins Version)

Originally published in 1959, Rossell Hope Robbins’ Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology is a rigorously researched and sourced text, offering a massive resource for anyone researching the specific flavour of witchcraft under the microscope here.

See, when Robbins refers to “witchcraft” here, he’s really talking to a very specific cultural phenomenon. He doesn’t mean the practice of magic or occult arts, or the concepts in cultures beyond Europe and the European colonies in North America which could be translated as “witchcraft” if you wanted to. He refers, instead, to the very specific belief, prevalent in Europe and North America from the late 1400s to the 1700s, that there was a type of person out there called a “witch” who would make a pact with the Devil to deliberate cause hardship and misery within the community, and who, precisely because they derived their powers from a pact with the Devil, should be treated as a heretic rather than their crimes being handled by the secular courts.

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Digging Up Spooky Roots

“Folk horror” as a subgenre has gained increasing recognition of late, in part because of the efforts of Facebook groups like Folk Horror Revival. The major players in that community operate, among various other projects, Wyrd Harvest Press, a self-publishing umbrella for various folk horror-relevant materials; Wyrd Harvest’s repertoire includes the Folk Horror Revival journal series, of which Field Studies represents the first entry.

Now in its second edition and edited by a cross-section of members of the Facebook group, Field Studies offers a range of essays, interviews, and other snippets on the general subject of the folk horror subgenre, coming across much like a genre-specific take on Strange Attractor.

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