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.

Continue reading “Occult Orders, Fraternal Fun, and Masonic Malarkey”

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.

Continue reading “Seeking Goblins, They Find the Beast”

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.)

Continue reading “Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 5: Renegade Without a Cause”

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…

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

Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 3: The Reptoids of Wonderland

The story so far: after embracing an overtly New Age, Theosophical and Gnostic-tinged worldview in an extremely public manner, David Icke finds himself the subject of widespread ridicule. In the mid-1990s he doubles down on this by blending his homebrewed cosmology (cobbled together as it was from other people’s ideas) with his very own Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory of everything (which he largely stole from The Gods of Eden and Behold a Pale Horse, and then sprinkled a heap of material from other conspiracy researchers on top of that mashup to obscure the seams).

Meanwhile, Icke’s personal life continued to take twists and turns which ordinarily I wouldn’t touch, except that they have a significant impact on his work. During his early New Age-focused phase, Icke would commence a polyamorous relationship in which he was still with his wife, Linda Atherton, but was also seeing Mari Shawsun, one of the psychics who was guiding him in the process of his spiritual development. Icke’s autobiography, In the Light of Experience, ends up giving the impression that the relationship wasn’t begun with Linda’s prior consent but was simply presented to Linda as a fait accompli.

After Shawsun was expelled from Icke’s circles, Linda and Icke remained married legally speaking. What’s perhaps more significant at this stage, though, is less their romantic partnership and more their business partnership, for Linda and Icke’s children by her would, to this day, be the main movers in Icke’s UK self-publishing company. The company – originally called Bridge of Love so as to leverage its way into the New Age market, then rebranded as David Icke Books, then rebranded as Ickonic for Icke’s latest book (The Trigger) – was a necessary platform for Icke after he was disowned by his previous publishers, the New Age press Gateway.

Gateway had good reasons to drop Icke; in his first major conspiracy theory tome, The Robots’ Rebellion, he’d claimed that the infamous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a real blueprint for world domination, following the lead of Bill Cooper and Stephen Knight in claiming that the secret society behind the global conspiracy had done a cheeky find-and-replace job on the Protocols to incriminate Jewish people.

Whereas Stephen Knight had broadly gotten away with this and Bill Cooper, whilst not exactly getting away with it, was lucky enough to have a publisher who simply didn’t care about denunciations of Behold a Pale Horse (particularly when Behold a Pale Horse was making them significantly more money than anything else on their catalogue), Icke was unfortunate in that Gateway operated at a very specific level of editorial sloppiness. Specifically, they were editorially lax enough to let the book come out citing the Protocols in the first place, but had enough concern for the impact on their bottom line to stop putting out Icke’s stuff after the inevitable backlash.

Icke’s income would now be based on two things: his books and his lecture tours. It was in the course of a lecture tour of the Caribbean that he would encounter Pamela Leigh Richards. Icke had shortly before had been primed by cold reading scam artist Derek Acorah to expect to meet a new woman in his life, and Icke and Richards were soon an item, with Icke divorcing Linda and marrying Pamela in 2001 (apparently amicably, or at least without sufficient rancour to persuade Linda to walk away from owning and operating Bridge of Love).

Through Richards, Icke met Royal Adams, a US-based businessman. By the end of the 1990s, Icke and Adams had reached an agreement: Adams would set up Bridge of Love US and take responsibility for distributing Icke’s books in the USA, and in return Adams would get a cut of the profits. Having someone in the US dedicating their time to cracking the market would be advantageous in any publishing field, but in addition the “paranoid style” has never quite gone out of style in American politics; the States was perhaps the hungriest market in the English-speaking world for the sort of conspiracy-peddling that Icke was engaged in, and cracking that market would be the next major step in promoting Icke’s ideas.

It’s quite fortuitous, then, that the beginning of Icke’s deal with Adams would coincide with a major new dimension entering into his writing. The first book distributed under the deal, The Biggest Secret, was in many ways Icke’s big break in the US, as well as his major claim to continued infamy; if you haven’t heard about David Icke from his infamous Wogan interview and earlier controversies, odds are you know him for some of the ideas he espoused in the book. The text managed to become a big hit in the conspiracy world through a simple technique: taking a major recent event, explaining it through a conspiratorial lens, and tying this in to an eye-catchingly bold claim. The recent event was the death of Princess Diana. And the bold claim?

Lizard people, dear reader.

Continue reading “Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 3: The Reptoids of Wonderland”

Gems of Criticism

Of all the incidents in Aleister Crowley’s extensive history of shit-stirring in the occult subculture of the early 20th Century, The Equinox is the one which left behind the most material for later generations to pick over. The Equinox was Crowley’s journal of esoteric philosophy and practice; with the motto of “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion”, it had an initial run from 1909 to 1913, then returned briefly for a bumper issue in 1919 (the so-called “Blue Equinox”), and then for all intents and purposes that was that. (Such subsequent volumes as issued during Crowley’s lifetime were basically self-contained books on a single subject, rather than journals with articles on varied topics; in the case of books issued during World War II, this was a wheeze intended to take advantage of the fact that magazines were under different paper rationing restrictions from books.)

For its brief run, the original Equinox was supposed to be the teaching organ of the A∴A∴, a splinter group of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn founded by Crowley and some of his allies. Crowley’s eclectic approach to spirituality doesn’t quite hide the fact that, overall, the entire shebang is basically a sort of repackaged Theravada Buddhism, the magical goal of communication and union with one’s Holy Guardian Angel being part of the process of attaining the enlightenment of ego-death.

Continue reading “Gems of Criticism”

Wheatley’s Catalogue of Ceremonies, Curses, and Cultural Myopia

Think of Dennis Wheatley, and you think of the Devil. That may not be wholly fair; of the dozens of trashy adventure and thriller novels Wheatley churned out over the course of his career, only a minority actually deal with the occult. In fact, that’s true even of his series about the Duke de Richleau, despite that series including the most famous of his Satanically-themed novels, The Devil Rides Out.

Nonetheless, whilst most of Wheatley’s output has largely been forgotten, his occult-themed stories are what his name is largely associated with. It probably helps that the Hammer adaptation of The Devil Rides Out is, for all its faults (most of which arise from it being too true to the original book), one of the more enduringly-fun Hammer releases. Another factor might be that Wheatley’s views on the occult were absolutely bizarre, tied in as they were with his hyper-conservative views, with the result that they stand out all the more.

Whilst often you can glean aspects of an author’s worldview from their fiction – sure, people say you should separate the writer from the material, but if someone consistently, over the course of their entire career, writes women like trash and shows no sign that they are using techniques like unreliable narrators or whatever which means we shouldn’t take the narration at face value, you can draw a few conclusions from that. In the case of Wheatley, however, we don’t need to speculate about his actual beliefs on the occult: late in his career he write The Devil and All His Works, a coffee-table book combining his views on the subject and on spirituality in general with a fantastic collection of photographs (including the standard mildly titillating nudity expected of books on witchcraft from the 1970s).

Continue reading “Wheatley’s Catalogue of Ceremonies, Curses, and Cultural Myopia”