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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Jodorowsky: From Surrealism To Psychomagic

Alejandro Jodorowsky has enjoyed something of a career renaissance in cinema lately, mostly thanks to the Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary that related how his attempt to film Dune went totally off the rails. After becoming a cult figure in the 1970s, Jodorowsky’s career hit a speed bump after his Dune project collapsed, and he had dropped out of directing entirely from 1990 to 2015, but since then he has made three new films, each with a hefty dose of autobiography.

For a long time his work was difficult to get – especially El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the two 1970s works which really put him on the map and got him attached to the Dune project in the first place. Arrow Video have now stepped in and produced a boxed set of blu-rays providing a useful cross-section of his work: his debut feature Fando y Lis, El TopoThe Holy Mountain, and his latest release – Psychomagic, a documentary about his homebrewed style of art therapy that he has been practicing in recent years.

I’m going to be honest: over the course of watching these movies I have come to seriously dislike Jodorowsky and his work. He clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the Surrealists, but I think he increasingly uses the tools of Surrealism for the sake of shameless self-promotion and creating this Messianic aura around himself. In addition, in relation to El Topo in particular there is furious controversy around his claim that he actually raped one of the participants in the film. I will cover that in more detail when we get to that, so consider this a content warning.

Fando y Lis

The Final War has come and gone and all the cities are in ruins. Well, maybe not all. When he was young, Fando (Sergio Kleiner, or Vincente Moore when appearing as a child) learned of the hidden city of Tar from his father (Rafael Corkidi). If he could just find Tar, he’d have eternal happiness – and his lover, Lis (Diana Mariscal, or Elizabeth Moore when shown as a child), would both have eternal happiness and be cured of her paraplegia.

So off they trek across the blasted wasteland, Lis sat on a trolley as Fando totes her along. As they go, they have various encounters – real or imagined – with various figures of a largely symbolic or metaphorical nature, and bit by bit we as audience members find more and more reason to worry about the duo’s relationship. It doesn’t seem as idyllic and healthy as it seemed to at the start of their quest. Fando keeps wandering off – despite the fact that this almost never ends well for him – and increasingly gaslights and lies to Lis. Eventually he does something barbaric and irreversible. Maybe there really is a city of Tar out there – but will it take in someone who’s been as senselessly cruel as Fando?

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GOGathon: Broken Swords From a Faulty Forge

When it came to point-and-click adventures, one specialist publisher of note is the UK’s Revolution Software. With the likes of Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, Revolution carved out a reputation with games which, in retrospect, aren’t necessarily that hot when it came to the gameplay and writing, but did look remarkably nice for the time and did try to do some interesting new things with the form, even if those things didn’t always pan out well.

Such are the qualities which would eventually feed into the Broken Sword series of games. Set in the modern day, these combined globetrotting plotlines, charmingly realised locations, historical conspiracies, and an endearing cast to attain perhaps the most critical and commercial success of any of Revolution’s products, with five games so far being released in the series. However, are the games actually all that great, or do they hover at that good-to-mediocre level which can yield sufficient sales to keep the lights on but doesn’t result in a product which it’s especially fun to revisit after the hype is done?

Shadow of the Templars

The premise of the first game is simple enough: American tourist George Stobbart is enjoying a holiday in Paris when the café he’s sat outside is shattered by a bombing committed by an assassin disguised as a clown. Slain in the bombing is a certain Monsieur Plantard, a highly-placed civil servant in the Treasury, who had invited intrepid journalist Nico Collard to the café in order to discuss a highly sensitive story with her. When Stobbart and Nico compare notes, the duo realise they’ve stumbled onto something big, and neither of them feel able to set the investigation aside until they’ve got to the bottom of it all. And the mystery seems to have something to do with the secret treasure of the Knights Templar…

1996’s Shadow of the Templars is the shortest of the Broken Sword games, and in its original version you only ever played George. However, an enhanced Director’s Cut version of the game – first released on Nintendo DS and Wii in 2009 before being ported to other platforms, including the PC – expands the game somewhat by adding a number of sections where you play Nico, providing both a new prologue section as you play through Nico’s initial entanglement in the case which sets up the fatal rendezvous with Plantard, and then a few additional episodes as Nico’s personal investigation progresses.

These new additions rather dry up partway through the game, though they do lay the groundwork for a new end-of-game cut scene; this is inevitable because Nico’s investigation reaches a point where the writers couldn’t really do much more with it without significantly redesigning George’s segments of the game, and I suspect they simply didn’t have the budget for it that. Still, on balance I do quite like these new additions; as well as fleshing out the story a bit more, it also boosts Nico’s role in the story appreciably, since in the original version of the plot she didn’t do all that much, and it means Shadow of the Templars is no longer the odd-game-out in the series – for in all the others you play both George and Nico at various points in the game.

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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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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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Regarding the Dawn

Odds are that any modern text you look at which purports to unpack “ceremonial magic” or the “Western esoteric tradition” will, on some level, owe a certain debt to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and whilst there might be a few people these days ploughing that furrow who don’t owe a certain debt to Israel Regardie’s original The Golden Dawn, they’re certainly making their lives harder if they are ignoring this particular source text.

As the most famous organisation of Victorian occultists out there, the Golden Dawn have had their material riffed on for over a century now. Founded by William Westcott, MacGregor Mathers, and William Woodman, working on the basis of some cipher manuscripts of dubious provenance and charter purported to be obtained from “Anna Sprengel”, a German noblewoman who almost certainly didn’t exist, the Golden Dawn purported to be a branch of the worldwide Rosicrucian order, the selfsame secret society which had inspired imitators ever since the Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 17th Centuries slipped out and purported to a history much older than that.

Riffing on ideas from the then-popular Theosophical movement, the Golden Dawn founders claimed that the true leaders of the Rosicrucian Order – the so-called Secret Chiefs – were immortal entities who might not exist on the Earthly plane at all, but who Anna Sprengel (and, later, Mathers himself) was in direct contact with, and who had prompted Anna to help Mathers, Westcott, and Woodman establish this new magical order.

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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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Seeking Goblins, They Find the Beast

My favourite televisual junk food recently has been Hellier, produced by the gang at the Planet Weird website and available on Amazon Prime, the Planet Weird YouTube channel, and the show’s dedicated website. It’s centred on Greg and Dana Newkirk, the co-founders of Planet Weird, and their team of fellow researchers as they delve into a paranormal mystery centred on the small Kentucky town of Hellier… or at least, they try to find a mystery.

The narrative begins simply enough: back in 2012, Greg had been contacted by an individual called David Christie, who e-mailed him about small alien creatures allegedly besieging his rural home. The initial e-mails sound a lot like a riff on the letters in The Whisperer In Darkness to me; to Greg, they seemed to be riffing on the decades-old case of the Kentucky Goblins. (Though the term “goblin” wasn’t used in the e-mails, the description of the creatures matched the earlier incident uncannily well.)

At around the same time Greg also got some e-mails from someone calling himself “Terry Wriste”, who seemed to know something about the situation, which made Greg think that there was probably enough to it to be worth looking into – but David didn’t respond to followup e-mails (much as you wouldn’t follow up, say, if you’d just written the original e-mail as a pisstake and were wrong-footed by being taken seriously), and Greg let the matter lie.

Years later, filmmaker Karl Pfieffer found himself drawn into the case through a series of curious synchronicities, prompting the Newkirks to take a second look at the case. Filling out the party with a few other trusted colleagues, the Newkirks would lead the group on an expedition to Hellier itself, where depending on your point of view they find absolutely nothing or absolutely everything.

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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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