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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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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