|Oct/Nov 2010 Spotlight|
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch, brothers! punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Mark Twain's "Punch, Brothers, Punch" charmed me when I read it 70 years ago, and it has done so ever since. It relates the vexation plaguing its narrator, obsessed by a rhyme read in a newspaper at breakfast one morning. Whence its origin? A question unanswered, though Twain's misery—insomnia, loss of appetite, wan listlessness, and inattention to his work, not to mention family and friends—was desperate. His release from that enthrallment? The cure came through reciting it to an unwitting friend who'd erred by inquiring as to what so troubled him. The pestilent jingle immediately took possession of the poor Reverend and commenced reducing him to a shadow of his former self. In the end, "Punch, brothers, punch!" was sent out into the world, as it were sprayed forth, in a lecture to a convocation of university students. It might as well have been plague.
Plague, a communicable malady, is understood, whereas a mental fixation thrusts a root to the center of the earth and projects branches beyond the orbit of our moon. In that respect, how to account for questions that have nagged at me for decades regarding the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963 and his younger brother Robert in 1968? One might suppose there would seem to have been no mystery entailed, since the perpetrators were captured—during the same afternoon in the case of the president; immediately, in his younger brother's. As for John, Oswald the sniper was shortly after shot by Jack Ruby, a petty thug, in the Dallas courthouse under the arms of the troopers that escorted him from a cell. Robert's shooter, a 24-year old, Jerusalem-born Arab named Sirhan Sirhan, was pinned down as his victim lay fatally wounded on the floor of a kitchen in the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. In due course, Sirhan was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life-imprisonment. Notwithstanding all the evidence and studies, many to this day will insist that the truth was not presented, that the truth was suppressed, distorted, obscured, occulted, and sealed in whatever archives. Whatever the "true" story might be, there remains one singular feature regarding Sirhan's action that, like Twain's jingle, returns now and again. I was recently reminded of it when a brief notice caught my eye:
Los Angeles Times A6 TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2009
Kennedy's killer is transferred
Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, has been transferred to a different prison, California corrections officials said Monday.
Sirhan, who has been in the state prison system since May 5, 1969, was moved from California State Prison in Corcoran to Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga at his request, the officials said.
In Corcoran, Sirhan was kept in the Protective Housing Unit, one of the most isolated areas of the state prison system, said Oscar Hildalgo, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. At Pleasant Valley State Prison, he will live in a single cell on a high-security yard where he will be in closer proximity to other inmates.
Sirhan is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, which he has repeatedly been denied, for the June 5, 1968, killing at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel.
In the Spring of 1962, I was turning the pages of The Daily Bruin, our UCLA student newspaper, while I awaited a colleague at lunchtime. I noticed a classified advert for a $2.00 paperback titled The Ultimate Frontier, written by Eklal Kueshana. A frontier, like the metaphor of the "cutting edge" or "envelope to be pushed," is a common figure expressing the discomfort Americans traditionally have felt with limits, preferring to aim their ambitions into space or plunge them inward towards invisible realms like today's novelty, the nanosphere. My curiosity about the term "ultimate" was caught, and the price was right, so I sent for the book.
Its author turned out to be one Richard Kienenger, who said that when still an adolescent he'd been accosted one afternoon on a quiet street in San Diego by an elderly man who introduced himself as a "Mr. White." It was hinted that Mr. White was what used to be termed by professional psychics a "materialization," a solid-seeming being who, as he informed Kienenger, was a "messenger" directed to him by the White Brotherhood, a sort of council not of this world. They nevertheless oversaw human history, perhaps even intervened in our lives. They were challenged constantly by a similar board, the Black Mentalists, who wreaked havoc in our world. That conflict of aims and acts was permanent and perpetual, according to Mr. White, originating in a time before and beyond history, before the lost empire of worldwide Atlantis, which itself had been preceded by the civilization of "Mu."
Mr. White had "materialized" so as to prepare Richard to teach and lead when he was an adult. Then he was to gather to him a select society of people who would be preserved—aprés le deluge—survivors of Armageddon. He was instructed in a body of lore during visitations from Mr. White over several years: "Lemurian" wisdom. Its principles as laid out in The Ultimate Frontier are commonplace, centering on a conscious Egoism, exercising a rational will to achieve right living and right thinking, all of which must be integrated in the Self to be acted out in society. By their precepts and actions, adepts could see to control market and industrial forces, first planted in the family and proper education, later directed into economic activity, government, and so forth. Scarcely unfamiliar: as old as Plato, Confucius, and Buddha. Kienenger was taught to believe all this matter originated in the glory of Lemuria, whose civilization and works lay sunken below the Pacific. Though hidden, they were not lost: Mr. White contained them in himself, so to say. Occultists and would-be mystics from the close of the 18th century continued to harvest and disseminate a farrago of phenomena from figures like Helena Blavatsky and Edgar Casey, assembling them for each generation into houses of cards, haunted mansions, erected only to be inhabited virtually by fresh believers who trailed after charismatic swamis or frequented salons where they might practice Black Arts. That perennial fascination with grotesques, super and sub-humans has been lately woven into the money-making machines of novels of horror and thriller movies featuring secret codes passed down from antediluvian giants or seeded by extra-terrestrial technocrats, humanoids, or intelligent praying mantis monsters.
Richard grew up and eventually established Stelle (stelle in Italian means stars), a community in the Midwest. Call it an American kibbutz. What Kieninger taught does not suggest he aspired to its permanence as religious prophecy. In that respect it differed from Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon. Instead, he gave lectures on the working principles of economics, together with rules for self-improvement preparatory to reaching the realm(s) from which reincarnation issues, since one's personhood is an indestructible entity. A karmic bookkeeping is its model. That takes no reach to imagine. Kieninger's "moral economy," its dynamic processes, so to say, were said to function not only in our galaxy but permeate the universe; it operated as if driven by algorithms of Good and Evil. Stelle's original settlers invested their savings in a common "bank." Unused farmland acreage was purchased, homes and schools built. Stelle grew through the 1970's. Then there seems to have developed some resistance, followed by a coup: his Board of Directors declared him overbearing, even dictatorial, and control of Stelle was wrested from him. There followed lawsuits. The upheavals persisted until a compromise was arranged by which Richard remained a spiritual teacher, if not Stelle's Leader. Then Stelle was dissolved and sold off. About 1987, Richard founded a new settlement in Texas, the Adelphi Organization, where a second, third, and fourth generation live today, devotees and adepts loyal to the more or less attenuated dogma of the now-deceased Kienenger.
Of interest here is the landscape of that "ultimate frontier." Richard asserted that he had from the first been instructed by that emissary from a supernal council whose teaching apparently derived from principles more or less Christological. There is, however, little of orthodox let alone sectarian Christianity in what Kienenger proffered. For him Jesus was but one in a long line of adepts descended from Lemuria's antique academies. There is mention made of one figure whose power loomed shadowy out of the remote depths of time. That personage was... Melchizedek.
Concerning him, there are just a few lines in Genesis (14: 18-20) and in Psalm 110:4. They amount to this: Melchizedek—a name variously parsed—is called a priest-king ruling a city known as Salem. That place came to be associated with Jerusalem. Abram, returning from victory in a battle with King Chedorlaomer, meets with the king of Sodom. The text relates: "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all..." (KJV). The Psalm, a eulogy in praise of a king in the Davidic line, says, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." That "order of Melchizedek" implies something long established and clearly recognized by the Psalmist as an entity that validates a ruler, a king who is also a priest.
From those few phrases were later developed the sacral foundations upon which Judaic-Christian worship is erected. A fragment in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls accounts Melchizedek divine; one of his titles is Elohim. He it is who shall proclaim the "Day of Atonement," atoning not only for himself as well as those predestined to be his, but as the judge of all peoples. He shows up in the last part of the Second Book of Enoch, "The Exaltation of Melchizedek," a man born from a virgin, the wife of one Nir, a brother of Noah. Emerging from his mother, Sopanima, or Sofonim, he sat beside her dead body, suddenly much older physically, dressed, speaking about the Lord, blessing and praising the Lord, his person marked with the badge of priesthood. It is no surprise that after forty days, Gabriel carried him away to the Garden of Eden, where he was to survive the Deluge, although not as a passenger in Noah's Ark. (Some texts say Michael took him off.) He reappears in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which Jesus as the Christ is termed "a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek," a quotation borrowed from Psalm 110. In other words, the implication is evident that Abram's tithing to Melchizedek denotes the latter's superiority. Moreover, that Jesus/Melchizedek ranks above the Aaronic priestly line, thus obviating the role of Levites in the temple in Jerusalem. In the manuscripts of early Gnostic writings found in the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945, there is a tractate asserting that Melchizedek, qua Jesus Christ, lives, preaches, dies, and is resurrected: that he will return supported by "the gods," the priest and king by whom justice shall be meted out.
It is easy to see what a problem those few recorded lines were bound to present to Jewish teaching. Here was a sovereign priest who predated Levi and Aaron. Midrashic rabbis struggled to rationalize what is a fundamental line of argument against the theological foundation of ordination, and in effect denies the history of God and Abraham. The Chosen, in short, are not. Modern exegesis and linguistic analysis apparently has not settled questions arising from the name itself of Melchizedek. If, as is possible, it could be accepted that the name derived from a Canaanite/Phoenician god named "Suduk" or "Sudek," then it would accord with the archeoologist's understanding that ancient cities had each their god, and that the perhaps anomalous lines in Genesis did not come from Pentateuchal sources, but are rather an interpolation interrupting the narrative of Abram's wars by this parley with a king who ceremonially proffers bread and wine. The matter vividly surfaced more than three millennia later when Dierk Bouts was commissioned in Louvain to paint a triptych in which one of its four side panels presented the greeting of Abram by Melchizedek (image shown above).
The underlying historical anxiety can be discerned from our perspective nearly five and a half centuries later: it reveals clearly the effort to prefigure the ancient ceremony of the partaking of bread and wine as founding the ritual of the Eucharist. The legend of the priest-king enters history and evolves into thaumaturgy. One might conclude that core belief of the Christian Mass illustrates our ineluctable penchant to produce answers to unanswerable questions by post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. Homo though it may be, yet is it sapiens?
Kienenger's "philosophical" structure involved, as was suggested, a dialectic of opposed absolutes—Egos, Beings existent on a supermundane plane, reified persons grafted to an eternal Manichean dialectic. Consequently, whatever happens down here is an effect caused by the struggles of two plenary councils, The Black Mentalists vs. The White Brotherhood. Bad, destructive things incited by the former; good, constructive things brought to pass through the benevolent acts of the latter. Not that such powers can be directly known; their perpetual warring is written in history. Absurd? Certainly obscurantist to view a world set in that perspective. Yet, surreally, the name Melchizedek manifests itself in our time.
The night Robert Kennedy was assassinated, my wife and I were abed, watching the news on TV. He was for a long time being held back by the crowd celebrating in the Ambassador Hotel, so turning to surf channels, we hit on a thriller movie with a scene showing a politician murdered at a party convention. It was so crudely done that I flipped back, annoyed, to the news—where we found ourselves as it were behind the camera in that kitchen as Kennedy entered and was gunned down before our eyes! My yelp of astonishment was loud enough to wake our sleeping children. We watched as Sirhan Sirhan was subdued and taken off. A day or so later, it was discovered that this Lebanese, referred to as a loner, kept among his possessions a journal. Waving it aloft, Los Angeles' Mayor Sam Yorty, announcing his arrest to reporters from the steps of City Hall, read out a passage from it and declared some code words not only revealed the organization that ordered the killing of Kennedy but provided the name of its leader, the one who directed Sirhan to him—Melchizedek! To the newspapermen it meant little or nothing, although it rang my bell! So, I wondered, was it The Black Mentalists behind the assassination? Why hadn't that tragedy been forestalled by The White Brotherhood? Was it possible they did not possess the power to prevent it? Or, had they permitted it to take place—according to some long range historical "master plan"?
Shortly thereafter I read a report about anti-Semitic activity in Florida. A rabbi and his family who lived in an old house in a suburb outside Miami were subjected to a drive-by machine gun fusillade and firebombing. The attacker was picked up: an itinerant carpenter-handyman, his description the stereotype of the "redneck," like the Abner Snopes of Faulkner's story "Barn Burning." Moreover it was said he kept a diary marked with unintelligible "diagrams" and symbols. The police were particularly baffled by a strange (code?) word: Melchizedek. However, nothing was made of that. Crime solved; perpetrator convicted.
Fourteen years later, in June of 1982, I was invited to Bulgaria as a guest of the Writers Union. Its president, the poet Lubomir Levchev, preoccupied with Kremlin affairs when I arrived, arranged to send me to meet "a national treasure," a person to whom few were granted the privilege of meeting. It was Vanga, the clairvoyant of Petrich in southwestern Bulgaria, about 300km southwest of Sofia.
I hadn't the least notion what to expect. My allotted, hour-long "séance" during that sunny afternoon was to prove most interesting. During the previous two decades, I'd had a friend, a clairvoyant woman for whom the extraordinary was commonplace. Her gift had been demonstrated many times to psychoanalysts in Los Angeles and psychologists at UCLA. So it was without a carapace of skepticism that I sat down in Vanga's farmhouse kitchen, together with my two young interpreters who sat at the far end of a long table. Vanga, blind from childhood, sat at the end, and I was seated at her right hand. She was a woman of about 65, her complexion clear and smooth, with a round head—a Slavic peasant type familiar to me from childhood—and she wore a fine net over her gray hair. She never "looked" in my direction but fixed her empty gaze at the wall opposite where it met the ceiling. Her voice was authoritative, and she spoke with succinct, gnomic sentences, rather more like a QED conclusion than an answer to a petitioner's question. I surmised that others who desperately sought her out and were granted access believed her an oracle rather than a market-square fortune-teller.
After a preliminary exchange in which she briskly informed me about myself—who I was, exactly where I lived and worked—trivial domestic facts that could not have come from anyone but my wife,* she asked me what I wished to know.
I replied that I had brought no questions. That demurral she accepted with a firm nod and then commenced matter-of-factly to comment on my wife's family, as if checking off near relations. She paused, her blind eyes still turned to that place on the wall, and asked about whether I would know someone out of Hungary. I could say only that during the past ten years I had gone to Budapest to work with poets there . No, no, not Budapest, she said irritably. Then, as she described who it was, it turned out to be my long-deceased mother-in-law. Vanga said that "arrival from far"—speaking Hungarian, no less!—wished urgently to let me know of her worry regarding my wife's older sister in California.**
Her quiet confidence as she relayed "information" was impressive. She seemed to be not only listening but as it were "reading" from a ribbon streaming across that wall. It was as though she saw into a temporal continuum in which time past and future time were presented to her view. Time, people, and events. Perhaps that continuum was described by the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan (1622-1695) in "The World":
I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright,
And round beneath it time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved in which the world
And all her train were hurled.
Her final observation startled me. "Do you know the White Brothers?" she asked. "Soon, you will meet them. Don't be alarmed. They are good. They will watch for you."
Bulgaria then being liaised with the KGB, imagine the perplexity of Tsvetelina and Valentin, the young people who had come along to interpret for me! Of course they hoped to ask the oracle questions they each harbored. But they were also attached as "minders." Their expressions exposed that pretense.
Vanga repeated her question. Had I understood her? "Yes," I said, "The name of the White Brothers is known to me." She pursed her lips and nodded, satisfied to have conveyed an important message—if message it was. As we returned to our waiting taxi after they'd held their short private interviews, Valentin, "a law student," wondered aloud, "What was that about?"
That September, I was scheduled to deliver a paper at the International PEN Congress in Lyons. Checking in at the reception hall, I was accosted at the Desk by a man who said he had neither checks nor a credit card and had not yet changed currency. With a peculiar grin he asked me outright for $50, which without a second thought I handed over. My response puzzled me even as I made it. We shook hands, and I was further bemused by his altogether unusual grip—the middle finger folded against his palm. We encountered each other over the next few days at different sessions and even dined at the 5-Star Leon de Lyons; by the time we delegates boarded the maiden run of the TGV train to Paris we were more or less acquainted. We strolled about Paris in the next days. Finally, since that afternoon in Petrich was very much still on my mind, I told him about Mme. Vanga. He was startled by my mention of the White Brotherhood, remarking only that yes, he knew something of them. When I pressed him, he revealed he was a Mason, 33rd degree, very much "made." However, as to Masonry, he was unimpressed by the mummery of the American Lodge; nor was the Washington, D.C. lodge, dating back to Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, et al., all that important. The London center was the essential lodge. Access to Masonic vaults and secrets was not to be had. Finally he acknowledged the White Brotherhood to be one of their esoteric terms. Contemporary mystiques regarding the legends of anciently-disbanded Knights Templars were childish cartoons, scenarios for comic books, thriller films, and best-selling purveyors of revenant frissonment, long familiar since Stoker's 19th Century gothic mystery, Dracula. Ever since Carter's discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb hit the headlines in the early 20th, mummies and murders for the possession of hieroglyphic and/or computer codes had been as common as porn flicks on late night TV.
Nothing he told me led even inferentially to Melchizedek. The name today pops up in records linked to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white prison gang affiliated with many thousands of criminal types around the country, the sort of violent itinerant who bombed the Florida rabbi's home.
Notwithstanding—there are theologians and serious Biblical scholars also interested in Melchizedek. A young woman in a lecture course I taught dealing with 20th Century American novelists came to my office in the latter 1980s after I'd dropped the name Melchizedek in an aside about crypto-cults and paranoiacs in connection with my lecture on William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. She was British, and she wanted to talk about her father, an Anglican priest who'd devoted many years to the study of that priest-king. She had brought his book as a gift, adding that she understood nothing he wrote in it; indeed, the subject that so engrossed her father for decades had been a sensitive, even vexing topic in her household. I doubt if she appreciated the import of his interest, which purposed to reach to the back of beyond—the Jewishness of Jesus as the inheritor of the Davidic line of prophets and Levites was being questioned. The primal Eucharist, which having been obtained long before The Last Supper, was therefore not from Abraham, the original, accepted monotheist follower who had been called by Yahweh. That "Communion," in short, was something other: it was given from the "Order of Melchizedek."
Faith and belief, it seems, can be most labile. Doubt is ever-present, as the Book of Job tells us. What most seek and need to find is ultimate bedrock, whether ancient fact or legendary "history." Nothing else can support us or withstand the ever-present whispering and cajoling of demon doubt, the corroder of the soul.
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Doubt is the ichor not of the gods alone, but men as well. If doubt and skepticism—dangerous as they may be—are not innate in our experience of life, we cannot be disinterestedly rational in thought. Pondering the coincidental can tempt us to build upon the irrational. A doctrine like Kienenger's councils, his Black Mentalists and White Brotherhood, suggests a metaphysical "explanation" for what may be supernatural. It is typical of those who immediately cry conspiracy when confronted by peculiar coincidence. Even Pyrrhonic skepticism may be shaken when the name Melchizedek reappears in our era connected to both perpetrators of murder and theological arguments for revision of millennial beliefs. If as Goethe remarked, the Spirit that says No! is always with us, no Talmudic casuistry can force that Nay-sayer to a Yes! Perhaps nothing is ultimately plausible.
One may therefore wonder which ethereal, ineffable council directed a priest-king who lived long before Methusaleh—someone who may have never existed—to urge that young Lebanese to shoot Robert Francis Kennedy? Why should Sirhan Sirhan sit mute in prison, each parole hearing denied, and no one be the wiser for all that? What indeed had Melchizedek to do with him? Surely Black Mentalists and White Brotherhood are figments precipitated from Richard Kienenger's obsession with empires he believed to lie drowned beneath the seven seas a million years ago. Surely none of all that partakes of the same unknown but nonetheless presumed reality of the "Dark Matter" postulated by astrophysicists to constitute most of our Universe.
* For instance, my interpreters were nonplussed when Vanga announced, "You eat cold bread!" I said, "Yes!" because we used then to buy day-old bread at half-price from the bakery's outlet and freeze it for later meals.
** Vanga said she was shown X-ray plates of her lungs, all black, and the prognosis was very poor. In point of fact, the woman had already had over a half-dozen surgeries during more than two decades for recurring cancerous cysts of muscle tissue, a rare disease, and she was to die not too long afterward. And she certainly was far from being in my thoughts at that time, let alone in Bulgaria. It also crossed my mind right then that Vanga could not only "hear" revenants from the Aldila but understand whatever language they spoke. That was a stunning revelation of a clairvoyant's trafficking with presences on the astral plane, which is an antique way of putting it.