Concerning rabbits, we can and should take the yin with the yang.  Alice follows the white rabbit into Wonderland; Donnie follows Frank, the dark rabbit, "into the future" [1] Rabbits symbolise travel, transitions, crossing over a threshold; life into to death, darkness to light. Robert Anton Wilson intermittently and semi-sincerely claimed to have communicated with Pookah, a 6-foot tall white rabbit with celtic connections, who also accompanied Jimmy jolly Stewart invisibly through  'Harvey'.  Frank is also six feet tall.  In Watership Down, the Black Rabbit of Inlé guides the sun-worshipping bunnies into the great beyond, "following the river of death downstream" in the words of the song of the film of the book.  The video for I Will Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie tells the tale of two rabbits torn apart by time and fate.  'Death Cab for Cutie' is the song performed by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film. This is followed by the closing Beatles number, 'Your Mother Should Know', the only obviously rehearsed scene in the film, in which a claimed 'Paul is Dead' clue appears in the form of black rose in McCartney's white lapel.  The closing credits roll, displaying the supporting cast in reverse order of appearance (more or less).  "Let's all get up and dance to song that was a hit before your mother was born", sings Paul.  We're moving through time.

John Lennon's Lewis Carrol fixation, which appears to have reached its zenith circa 1967, ties the white rabbit motif thematically to death in Beatles esoterica.  Sgt Pepper's centrepiece drum skin, seen 'as above, so below', through the looking glass, to be pointing straight to 'Faul' has a resemblance to Carroll's personal ephgrave [2] that has escaped hardly anyone.  The colour and complexity of the Sgt Pepper cover distracts from the simplicity of the scene itself: a graveside gathering of the great and ungood, called to bear witness to a resurrection of sorts.  Spiffingly fluorescent, transcendent of their former selves (who stand colourlessly waxworked to their right) the Beatles gather behind the gravestone-drum to whose beat Sergeant Pepper's Band, we suppose, living and/or dead, are ready to march; blooming 'Paul is Dead' clues - the bass guitar in yellow flowers that seems to spell out 'Paul?' being only the least obscure.

Death herself takes centre stage for in the album's climax, A Day in the Life, where a crowd of tabloid-led voyeurs gather to gawp at the blown-out brains of some lucky lord or other - but who then, moving backwards through time to another end, turn their backs on the victors of a war that has only just been won.  "But I", sings Lennon at his most sincere, "just had to look".  While it's "the news" that first draws the crowd and "a film" that keeps them there, it's only "having read the book" that lets Lennon transcend the tabloid concerns and see a deeper meaning in the devastation.  The gnostic-esoteric implications should, by now, be readily apparent.

Why were Frank and Harvey and Pookah all six feet tall?  Let me take you down, six feet underground.  Where are we going to?  Strawberry Fields, Wonderland, Tartarus - these invisible landscapes, these underground lands where no thing is real, where the dead are not dead and the light hides in the darkness...and what, after all, could ever be under the ground?  How can the atom be split?

"It was twenty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play"...  According to dead-Paul-lore, the 'Sergeant' is 'the Beast' - Aleister Crowley, the pop o'cculturalist who appears on the album cover at least once, and who died - that's right - in 1947, twenty years before the album's release - though not to the day (precision is relative) and in which case, let's celebrate this year as the third in another trilogy (45-47) with echoes of 66-68 as a time of paradigm explosion, marking the end of the Second World War, the start of the 'cold' war and the beginning of the atomic age.  Out of many, one.  In the United Kingdom, 1947 is also the foundational year of conspiracist touchstone the Tavistock Institute, whose supposed involvement in the transfiguration of the Beatles is a rabbit hole all of its own, leading us even further up the dubious path of evangelical Christian conspiracism, indeed a peculiarly American phenomenon: and yes over in the new world, 1947 marks history's most famous flying saucer crash and the unfolding of a conspiracist nexus with wider implications than any one agenda could ever encapsulate. [3]

47 mirrors 74, a year we have passed through before and is the year of John Lennon's own UFO encounter, a celebrity curiosity mined for all its worth by Uri Geller, sometime channel of the Nine, (who for Uri were, "a form of conscious computer, living aboard a spacecraft called Spectra") [4] which reminds us of Philip K Dick's Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) in the novel of the that name, wherein "real time" begins again, yes, in 1974.  Certain years have a special resonance whose meaning we are only beginning to unravel.  John Lennon's otherworldly 1974 experience left him in possession of a small golden egg, says Geller.  "When I touched it I felt a deep sadness - I don't know why - it was like a loneliness."  This resonant solitude of the alien encounter seems always to accompany the prophet who emerges from it, and is passed on in anxiety and love to his apostles, of Lennon, of Christ, of Carroll, of Rael, whomever, et cetera.  The 'Easter Egg' refers in contemporary parlance to the hidden gem, the nugget of truth, the part that explains the whole - or that leads us deeper down the hole, and into the dark.  But Easter is also the celebration of life transformed; of resurrection, enlightenment.  Life out of death, light out of darkness.  (Rabbits out of eggs?)  And after the resurrection, what then?  "He was taken up, and a cloud hid him from their sight". [5]

Now what?


All links at #ISODT-SEVEN



Something strange happens in Book IX of Plato's Republic.  Socrates and his cohorts are comparing the various kinds of government - oligarchy, democracy, timocracy, aristocracy and tyranny - and at this point in the text, they are specifically concerned with the characteristics ("appetites") of the people inclined towards these styles of leadership.  As with all of Plato's writings, the dialogue is sober and methodical, proceeding one logical step at a time towards consensus on some issue of philosophical concern.  Suddenly, Socrates announces:
"[If] some person...measures the interval by which the [philosopher] king is parted from the tyrant in truth of pleasure, he will find him, when the multiplication is complete, living 729 times more pleasantly, and the tyrant more painfully by this same interval".
It's an odd comment, apparently without context.  Before the modern reader has time even to wonder how truth and pleasure can be measured to such precise degrees, let alone how the figure of 729 was calculated, Glaucon responds:
"What a wonderful calculation! And how enormous is the distance which separates the just from the unjust in regard to pleasure and pain!"
Socrates replies:
"Yet a true calculation...and a number which greatly concerns human life, if human beings are concerned with days and nights and months and years".
The conversation quickly moves on.  It's as if, having established that the life of the philosopher is 729 times "more pleasant" than the life of the tyrant, that's all that needs to be said.  For Plato's readers, the number 729 must have had a powerful significance, and one too obvious to need stating - but the modern reader is left only with the tantalising clue as to its meaning - that the number "greatly concerns human life, if human beings are concerned with days and nights and months and years".  It's not the sort of thing we expect from the man Western civilization honours as the father of clear-headed rationalism.  The idea that a number, in and of itself, can have not only a symbolic but also a literal power, the kind of power that can settle a discussion on something as subjective as the merits of one psychological state relative to another, is about as alien to the modern mind as it is possible for an idea to be - but here it is, at a crucial juncture in one of the fundamental texts of our civilization.

Matthew's gospel opens with "a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham", purporting to show that, "there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Christ".  Problems emerge for anyone unwilling to look past literalistic considerations of texts like this.  Matthew isn't mistaken, however: the 'mistake' is deliberate. [1]

The organisation of the genealogy into three groups of fourteen is the key.  In Hebrew gematria, where numerical values are assigned to the consonants of a word, D = 4 and V = 6, so the consonants of the word "David", give the word a total value of 14 (4+6+4).  The number 3, as everybody is knows, is magic.  Pythagoras is known for his mystical adoration of triangles.  Bad luck comes in threes, but the third time also charms.  There are three dimensions of the space in which we move.  The genie grants three wishes.  Three magicians are present at the birth of Christ.  Peter, James and John are Jesus' "inner three" [2] disciples: and, of course, Christians worship the Holy Trinity, the Three in One.  The number 3 is saturated by symbolism.  So the three fourteens Matthew presents do what they are designed to do: emphasise the idea of Jesus as the "Messiah", the last King from the line of King DaViD.  To his original readers, as with Plato's, the message would have been immediately clear.

This matters.  Not so much because we need to remember that the literal is rarely the only important level of meaning but because, especially for the ancients, the non-literal is often more important in ways that, since the Enlightenment, it just hasn't been for us.  Just as Matthew rewrites history to fit his numbers, Socrates also breaks his own rules to arrive at his.  There are five kinds of government in his system - oligarchy, timocracy, democracy, tyranny and aristocracy - but to arrive at the number 729, he needs six.  So what he does is simply count the oligarch twice, giving him two groups of three rulers [3] (there's the magic number again).   2 x 3 = 6, and 3 raised to the power of 6 is 729 (as is 9 raised to the power of 3).  729 divided by 2 is 364.5, which is the number of days in a year (so far as Plato's contemporaries knew).  It is also exactly the number of months in a "great year" according to the lunisolar calendar of Philolaus - who was to Pythagoras what Plato was to Socrates (or what an apostle was to Jesus) - and 27 to the power of 2; the number 27 being the Pythagorean number for the moon.  Hence why 729 matters a great deal, "if human beings are concerned with days and nights and months and years" - calendars, in other words.  What time it is.  Which we very much are.

14 x 3, incidentally, is forty-two.



All links at #ISODT-SIX



James and John, the sons of Zebedee, always appear together in the synoptic gospels.  As with everyone else in the story of Jesus, we don't learn anything substantial about them as individuals: they serve mainly as plot devices in the narrative of Jahweh's mysterious ways (a story not even Jesus himself always fully understands).  The only real hint as their characters is in the nickname Jesus gives them - the "sons of thunder" - and even the reason for this is obscure.

It's enough for our purposes.  James and John, at the beginning of the New Testament, are a recurrence of the archetypal squabbling sibling motif from the beginning of the Old, which we have with Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael and, of course, Cain and Abel.  The brothers at war; inseparable equals and, at the same time, enemies.  In their most well-known appearance, all spunky cocksure of themselves, James and John ask Jesus to, "let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left in glory".  Jesus refuses.  "To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant", he explains.  "Those places belong to those for whom they have been prepared". [1]  Whoever they might be.

The relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon, about which as much has been written as any creative partnership in the whole of pop culture, has noteworthy parallels as recent history's most obvious instance of this archetype.  The two are namesakes of the sons of thunder ('Paul' is McCartney's middle name - his first name is James) and their partnership was defined as much by ego as it was by altruism.  It's a modern version of the ancient tale and in contrast with the biblical version, is bursting with biographical detail.  The parts of the Beatles, as much as the whole, are the some of the most closely scrutinised human beings in modern history, as the recent publication of the first in a projected three-volume megabiography, running close to 1000 pages in length, demonstrates.

The creative forces that powered the Beatles coalesce in an agreement at the beginning of their career that every song written either by McCartney or Lennon would be jointly credited to the legal entity "Lennon-McCartney", even if only one of the two had even contributed to its composition.  The dual purpose of the agreement, itself, follows the archetypal structure.  The very nature of the agreement is a manifest tension between ego and its opposite:
"Instead of bickering over money, and breaking down each song into percentages of input, they can simply focus on writing the best music possible. More importantly, the agreement serves an entirely different purpose. By banding together in such a manner, they believe that one day their names can achieve the same status as other famous two-name collaborators, such as 'Gilbert & Sullivan' or 'Rodgers & Hammerstein'." [2]
The agreement served to promote a greater good (The Beatles) while functioning still as an intentional act of self-mythologisation: and as Vonnegut said, "we are what we pretend to be".  Prophecies tend to fulfill themselves.

When they wrote together, at least according to legend, the process was symbiotic.  Paul was left-handed, John right-handed; so guitars in hand, they could sit "both playing into each other's noses", mirroring the movements of their fingers on the frets as they hashed out their early hits. [3]

How many Lennon-McCartney songs were 50/50 collaborations is the subject of endless, and largely pointless, controversy.  Creativity is a mysterious thing for the solo creator; for the duo, doubly so (at least).  What's important is the astonishing variety and quantity of pop masterpieces the two created together, still unequaled; the way the two markedly distinct personalities gelled to create so many songs that were so much more than the sums of their parts.  McCartney was the optimist, the light-hearted populist, the babyfaced charmer - think YesterdayPenny Lane, When I'm Sixty-Four, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; Lennon the dark, rebellious rocker; the sad, surreal, sarcastic clown - I am the Walrus, Dig a Pony, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite! - and while these are examples of more or less solo compositions, they're still some of the Beatles' best work.  Witness how comfortably each musician lapses into parochialism (Mull of Kintyre) and sentimentality (Imagine) without his other half to keep him in check once the Beatles have split. (Neither of these are horrendously bad songs, really, but there's no way The Beatles would ever have recorded them).

There's a reason the yin-yang symbol is iconic: it depicts so splendidly to so many things.  Black and white.  Left and right.  Adam and Eve.  Tweedledum and Tweedledee...[4]  Each is what it is but neither is truly complete - neither is itself without the other.

In the Christian tradition, John goes on to writes the gospel that bears his name - arguably the New Testament's masterpiece.  As his life draws to a lonely end, he takes terrifying apocalyptrips into territory few have been able to explore sensibly since.  He pens the impenetrable conclusion to the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, whose lakes of fire, beasts and whores, and horses, have haunted the Christian imagination for better or worse for the millennia.  In an iconoclastic disregard for poetic symmetry, John quite irritatingly refuses to die of anything but natural causes.  His brother James, his influence on the development of the new religion negligible by comparison, becomes its first ever martyr.  Lucky man.

John Lennon's sanctification is a pop cultural given today.  His untimely death was obviously a factor in the attainment of the status he now enjoys, his post-Beatle solo material being almost entirely forgettable.  Paul McCartney, a knight of the realm whose final collapse he was once thought to epitomise, occupies himself with increasingly embarrassing collaborations, vanity projects and pointless capitulations to technology and time, [5] for reasons probably best left unexplored.

When the whole is split in half, each half withers in its own way.  "We want you to do for us whatever we ask", James and John demanded of their God.  And as we all should know by now, when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.


All links at #ISODT-FIVE



The use of water as a metaphor for time may seem prosaic - but therewith the ancient flows into the now, from the fragments of Heraclitus through to the writings of Herman Hesse (Siddhartha) and on into the films of Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko and The Box) and consider not only time but time travel - movement, and life.  The famous 'river paradox' of Heraclitus has several formulations, so the original may be lost, if indeed there was ever only one. As logical propositions, each formulation is semantically distinct but still, perhaps, conveys the same truth:
"On those who step twice into the same rivers ever different waters are flowing". 
"'It is impossible to step twice into the same river', as Heraclitus says...'It scatters and regathers, comes together and dissolves, approaches and departs'". 
"We step and do not step into the same rivers, we are and are not". "Heraclitus says somewhere that everything gives way and nothing is stable, and in likening things to the flowing of a river he says that one cannot step twice into the same river".  [1]

Water symbolizes time, flux, constant change: in one formulation against the timeless self that can step only once into the same river; in another against a transcendent, dialethetical self that both can and can not, is and is not. Time is the ultimate mystery - but is also immediately accessible, at once as ubiquitous as water and as ineffable as god. [2]

In Donnie Darko, Frank (the black rabbit, mirroring Lewis Carrol's white rabbit) guides the protagonist out of the rabbit hole of the "tangent universe" and back into the "primary universe", what we might call reality - and on to his own death, "the end of the world".

In The Box, the hero is given a choice between three gateways and told, "you may choose only one.  Be careful which gateway you choose, for there is only one path to salvation".  The gateways appear as pillars of water, and when he chooses, he is transported to, "a place...neither here nor there but somewhere in between...[where] despair is no longer the governor of the human heart".  Donnie Darko's last words, spoken in voice over so that we make no mistake as to their intended audience, are, "I hope that when the world comes to an end, we can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to".  Not a statement that would seem entirely out of place in the fragments of Heraclitus.

More (or less) earthly considerations arise from the setting of The Box around the 1976 Viking missions, [3] from which were first sighted the infamous "face on Mars", a common reference point for all things conspiratorial and paranormal.  Despite comprehensive, reasonable explanations for this phenomenon, it continues to inspire innumerable imaginative leaps, which is what concerns us more than the scientific truth.  The modern mythology of Cydonia is what gives us the supposed Mars-Egypt connection, in which pyramids on this, blue planet are somehow connected with pyramids on the red planet for reasons, of course, unknown. [4]  Scientific work on Mars today involves the search for water below the surface, since the presence of water may indicate the presence of life, even if only in the distant past (which naturally fuels the fire of irrationalism still further).  Without water, in fact, life as we know it (probably) cannot exist.

In Hesse's Siddhartha, itself a cyclical novel that begins and ends at the river bank, the eponymous seeker has a moment of awakening (both bodily and spiritual) by the river:
"His sleep was deep and dreamless; he had not slept like that for a long time. When he awakened after many hours, it seemed to him as if ten years had passed. He heard the soft rippling of the water; he did not know where he was nor what had brought him there. He looked up and was surprised to see the traces of the sky above him. He remembered where he was and how he came to be there. He felt a desire to remain there for a long time. The past now seemed to him to be covered by a veil, extremely remote, very unimportant. He only knew that his previous life (at the first moment of his return to consciousness his previous life seemed to him like a remote incarnation, like an earlier birth of his present Self) was finished, that it was so full of nausea and wretchedness that he had wanted to destroy it, but that he had come to himself by a river, under a coconut tree, with the holy word Om on his lips. Then he had fallen asleep, and on awakening he looked at the world like a new man. Softly he said the word Om to himself, over which he had fallen asleep, and it seemed to him as if his whole sleep had been a long deep pronouncing of Om, thinking of Om, an immersion and penetration into Om, in the the nameless, into the Divine".
Again, sleep is the gateway to enlightenment; and with the archetypal imagery of water as conduit, the symbol and the tangible presence of the life-force, a metaphorical landscape begins to emerge.  ("Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.  It is not dying...")  Enlightenment, whatever that may be, seems to require a mastery of time, simultaneous with submission to its unstoppable flow - time travel, stepping and not stepping in to, and out of, the same river of being and not-being.

All links at #ISODT-FOUR



The "Paul is Dead" mytho-conspiracy rabbit hole, indeed a wholly holy hole, leads us down very quickly into the depths of classic High Strangeness.  Predating the contemporary forms of what we now call "conspiracy theory", in certain respects it's a paradigm of that mode of thinking but has taken on a new life in the internet era, as these things do. [1]  The story goes that, at the height of the Beatles' success, Paul McCartney was killed in a car accident, midway through the band's creative metamorphosis that began with their retirement from live performance in August 1966 and ended with the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967.  For reasons occult in every sense, Paul was replaced by lookalike - who, remarkably enough, was every bit as talented the "original" Paul McCartney - a fact the three remaining Beatles chose to keep a secret, referring only in the most oblique ways to the truth through clues hidden in album artworkbackmasked and otherwise obscured messages hidden in the tracks of their records.  But it goes much, much deeper than that...

How believable all this may be is actually the least interesting thing about it.  Some bloggers - and not just bloggers! - have gone to great lengths to prove it but (and here there is a link with more prominent "conspiracy theories") as fun as that is, tend to miss the point. [2]  "P.I.D." is not so much a theory as an unending, collaborative, synchromystic, revisionist, esoteric, holographic game - and, rather like Jorge Luis Borges' Lottery in Babylon, it's a game everyone is playing, whether they're aware of it or not.  (Which, if you really must call it a conspiracy theory, is as good as saying that it's true.  (Which, if it is a game, is as good as saying that it's not (a game))).  The Beatles are so integral to our collective (pop-)cultural consciousness that 1962-70 is as much of an "era" or an "age" as any war, revolution, or months between the release of one iPhone and the next iPhone.  The era within that era, namely 1966-68, acts as a kind of focal point for the interpretation of our ever more intangible world; and is a time to which we must return, time and time again.

The term "conspiracy theory" isn't much more now than a brush with which to tar any off-kilter or eccentric idea, however (im)plausible; and as with all tar-brushings, is just as likely to tar the baby as feather the bathwater. As with "science" and "pseudo-science", the line of demarcation almost certainly isn't where we tend to think it is. Terence Mckenna called conspiracy theories "epistemological cartoons", and course he was largely right but then compared to reality and its increasingly unstable rules, is a cartoon not just as solid?

Raoul Vaneigem's Traité de savoir-vivre à l'usage des jeunes générations (originally published in 1967 and known as The Revolution of Everyday Life in English translation) begins:

"The history of our time calls to mind those Walt Disney characters who rush madly over the edge of a cliff without seeing it: the power of their imagination keeps them suspended in mid-air, but as soon as they look down and see where they are, they fall".  

This text, with Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, provides the philosophical background to what was going on across Europe and America in the mid-late 60s. [3]  This was the first time politics and pop fused at a globally significant level and nearly 50 years later, just as Zhou Enlai said of 1968, or possibly 1789, as for what it all means, "it's too early to say".

Nothing is real...

Were the Beatles real?  Revolution 9 is their longest recorded excursion into the avant garde and the subject of much speculation but its companion piece, Revolution 1, warrants equal attention.  In fact, both tracks were originally part of a single pieceRevolution 9 coming from an extended coda/jam at the end of the recording session for Revolution.  Their being split into two separate tracks, and the original song being re-recorded as a more radio-friendly version, then appearing on the B-side of Hey Judeis indicative both of the splintering apart of the Beatles themselves in 1968 - captured on the "White Album" - and the wider context of the transition from the exuberance of 1967 into the chaos of 1968.  Inside of that, we can also note John Lennon's ambiguity in the use of "count me in" or "count me out" across the different recordings Revolution.

As for the number 9, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's The Stargate Conspiracy tells the story of the Council of Nine, a mysterious, possibly extraterrestrial group of unknown purpose or power but which have connections with everything from Edgar Cayce, L. Ron Hubbard, Gene Roddenberry and Uri Geller, to the Pyramids and sacred mushroom cults, to Timothy Leary, Gordon Wasson, Yoko Ono and, of course, Aleister Crowley.  There's also a passing reference to The Fool and their work with...the Beatles. [4]  It becomes difficult even to get started.

All links at #ISODT-THREE



The associations of sleep with death, and of each of these with knowledge and revelation, is prominent not only through the non-empiricist traditions of philosophy - from the presocratics to the theosophists [1] - but beyond into the psychedelic and synchromystic traditions of our times. [2]  The fragments of Heraclitus refer repeatedly to sleep not as a absence of consciousness but as an alternative to it, as real and vivid as the waking state:
"The universe for those who are awake is single and common, while in sleep each person turns aside into a private universe". 
"During the night a man kindles a light for himself.  Just as when dead-but-alive, with sight extinguished, he contacts death, so when asleep-but-awake, with sight extinguished, he contacts sleep". 
"Dying is all we see when asleep; sleep is all we see when awake".
For Rudolph Steiner, the "dream experience" is something that takes place not only in an alternate state of consciousness but in an entirely different world:
"What dream experiences offer to thoughtful consideration is a multi-coloured interweaving of a picture world that conceals within it certain rules and laws.  This world of dreams seems to display an ebb and flow, often in confused succession.  In his dream life, the human being is freed from the law of waking consciousness that fetters him to sense-perception and to the rules governing his power of reason".
Why should it be that in sleep we are closer to death than in the wakeful state?  The implication is that being awake actually obstructs our view of the deeper reality - "death" -  not in the sense of the extinction of life but in the shamanistic sense of a mystical intercourse with the divine, outside of space and time.  Conscious life is a kind of death, which itself is a kind of a forgetting.  We must become "dead-but-alive" - we must "contact" death, and in doing so, contact life. [3]  
The Greek word ἅπτεται - lights up, contacts, kindles - in Heraclitus' association with fire, has clear shamanic connotations; likewise, Steiner's description of "dream life" as "freed from the law of waking consciousness" paints sleep as a kind preview of death, something to be mindful of at all times in the midst of waking life.

Parmenides, Heraclitus' contemporary, is known as the "founder of Western logic" - Socrates referred to him as "Father" but what we know today as 'logic' bears little resemblance to the thinking of the presocratic shamans.  Parmenides' journey takes us not into the rarefied air of cold abstraction but down into the land of the dead, of unreason - Tartarus, as far below the earth as heaven is above. [4]  His poem is presented as a divine revelation, [5] received through the shamanic practice of Hesychia and dictated by the goddess Persephone, wife of Hades and queen of the underworld but worshipped as well as the goddess of new life in spring. It is the same motif that runs from Parmenides' world through to ours: reason comes out unreason, life out of death.  "Life is a dream already over", wrote Kerouac. St Paul suggests a similar idea in 1 Corinthians 15:36-38 as part of his exploration of the nature of resurrection, Christianity's version of the spacetime-rupturing theophany:
"A seed must die before it can sprout from the ground.  Wheat seeds and all other seeds look different from the sprouts that come up.  This is because God gives everything the kind of body he wants it to have".
The use of an agricultural metaphor, for the Greek-fluent Paul, is worth noting.

In Philip K Dick's VALIS, Horselover Fat, who exists in the first and third persons as both narrator and protagonist - his name, we learn, being a Greek-German bastardization Philip ("lover of horses") Dick ("fat") - discovers that "the Empire never ended", that "real time ceased in 70 C.E. with the fall of the temple at Jerusalem [and] began again in 1974.  The intervening period was a perfect spurious interpolation aping the creation of the Mind".  It's an epiphanic moment:
“It was as if I had been shaking all my life, from a chronic undercurrent of fear.  Shaking, running, getting into trouble, losing the people I loved.  Like a cartoon character instead of a person, I realized.  A corny animation from the early Thirties.  In back of all I had ever done the fear had forced me on.  Now the fear had died, soothed away by the news I had heard.  The news, I realized suddenly, that I had waited from the beginning to hear; created in a sense, to be present when the news came, and for no other reason”.
It's this that puts poor Philip in league with Parmenides, Moses with Muhammed, Sun Ra with Rael, and so on. [6]  The theophany, the breaking through of the sacred into the profane, occurs to the prophet in solitude - at the summit of Mount Sinai, in the depths of Tartarus, aboard a UFO or at the end of long journey on back of the winged horse Al-Buraq.

Death - sleep - solitude - silence.   Peter Kingsley emphasises how the only description of any sound in Parmenides' poem comes through the Greek word Συρινξ (syrinx), referring to piping, whistling or hissing.  [7]  On his arrival in Tartarus, the initiate was to make a hissing sound, thus beginning, "the jounrey into a greater reality...a journey made through silence, in silence and into silence.  The noise of a syrinx is the ultimate password.  It's the sound of silence".  Of stillness.  Of what Kingsley describes as hesychia, the practice of shamanic incubation.  A state of sleep, of absolute stillness, of being dead - but alive.  It's a state of affairs that can only be described paradoxically.  Language is of the mortal world but silence is the sound of the other world: silence is the sound of God.  So to express the reality of God in words will always sound like contradiction; just as silence can not be expressed as sound.  "What can be shown, cannot be said".

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Playing records backwards to reveal hidden messages in the music is an idea from the first age of vinyl, when the record player was the principal medium of music's transmission. To reach into the machine and disrupt the revolution of the disc, to distort and reverse the sound, must have felt subversive - even miraculous - to the pre-digital listener. Reflect that this was a time when deference to "the album" still made sense; a time before the digital deconstruction of the idea that recorded music existed in an order - pressed in vinyl, set in stone - so reversing the spin of a  disc by hand must have had profane connotations even in the abstract. Then, when some tried to convince others that certain records contained actual communications from evil forces, the context was set already for the plausibility of this idea.  Of course, this ignores the existence of pareidolia and anyway, there is no reason to think that even if the music genuinely contains a backwards message, that the message will be absorbed when the music is played forwards. [1]  That's not the point though and still, hidden ("occult" in the non-silly-pseudo-satanic sense) messages in popular music remains a pervasive mythos, an idea worth exploring for its own sake. There is something unsettling about the sound of backwards language, whether spoken or sung - evocative of a rupture in the experience of time as a linear phenomenon - something that opens us to a less tangible, oneiric mode of awareness, in which apparently meaningless sounds can find their sense.

In their long and venerable tradition of getting things wrong, Fundamentalist Christians tend to understand backmasking as they understand the Bible - as a literal and linear phenomenon, something with a single message, a single author and a single purpose. But it's only in abandoning this way of thinking that we really come to understand what a sacred text is, and what it can do. A bible plays a role in an ancient culture that a "classic" artifact of pop music plays in ours; an embodiment of that sinister sceptre we call the zeitgeist; concentrated feedback loops and fragmentations of cultural consciousness riffing forever on each other for reasons any one participant in that culture can only begin to guess at. It is in being regarded as sacred that it attains its significance, its authority, and takes on its own life quite apart from whatever intention (if any) lay originally behind it.

Synchromysticism, the internet subculture that emerged in the mid-noughties, is a fascinating blurring of boundaries between rational and irrational thought, taking the best (and sometimes the worst) aspects of conspiracism, geek culture, Jungian psychology, wordplay, the superficially frivolous symbolism of pop culture and the occult and weaving them into a dense metanarrative for our hyper-accelerated, multimedia-saturated age.  As with backmasking, the reality - the truth - of what is going on is beside the point (or beyond our reach).   Appearances can be descriptive.

1997, the year of OK Computer's release, also saw the election of Tony Blair's "New Labour" Party to government in the UK, and the end the opposing Conservative Party's reign that had begun in 1979 with the election of Margaret Thatcher's motley band of Friedmanite monetarists, what we know today as "neoliberals". The year marks the beginning of the end for those who ever hoped for a return to the post-war socialism of Atlee or his inheritors. Having famously abandoned its "Clause Four" just after Blair's election as their Leader, Labour rebranded itself "New Labour", becoming genuinely electable only through a lunge away from leftist ideology and into to the murky centre. For mainstream British politics, the last battle between capitalism and socialism that had existed in the West against the backdrop of the Cold War for almost as long as anyone could remember, had now been fought and won.

What happened?
Ironically enough, the new version of Clause Four actually described Labour as "socialist" party where its original version had not.  Practical to the core, it promised,

"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service."

It's doubly ironic in fact, because, notwithstanding its purple post-Victorian expression, this is still incomparably more tangible than its 1995 replacement:

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

"Common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange" is a defining principle of socialism: the idea being that the state regulates the labour market to ensure that it benefits those people, the "working class" who actually labour within it, allowing all classes of people to enjoy the benefits of organised civil society. Taken to extremes, this has taken the form of totalitarian communism, as occurred after the exuberance of the Russian and Chinese revolutions settled and solidified into the brutal dictatorships that rose up to perpetuate them. At the opposite extreme, we have the dominant political philosophy of our age - free market capitalism - under which the state is supposed to play as small a role as possible in the distribution of wealth, allowing markets to arrive at the best obtainable system of popular administration and control, to borrow the original Clause Four's phrasing. The battle lines are clear: for the left, it is government that sets us free; for the right, it is the market. British politics from 1945 to 1997, all things considered, was a pragmatic meandering across this spectrum.

"They don't speak for us..."
New Labour's replacement of Clause Four lays down no such solidly ideological lines, which is of course the whole point. After all, who doesn't believe that "by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone" in one context or another; and when the cosmetic frivolity of party-political bickering fades away, who doesn't want to "live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect"? There is much to be said about this whole phenomenon of - what to call it?! - the "de-etymologisation", perhaps? - suffice it for now that what the election of New Labour represents, metafizzically speaking, is the triumph of a kind of post-ideological, post-semantic worldview, under which obfuscation is clarity, ideas are just words - war is peace, and ignorance is strength.

It's into and out of this world that OK Computer emerged, almost exactly 30 years after the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  It fell only six weeks after Blair's victory, a midsummer shower of marvelloustopia.  The lyrics are famously oblique - Thom Yorke described the album at the time as "polaroids in my head" [2] - transient, sickly but ethereal snapshots of a world where the ordinary human is "crushed like a bug in the ground", pestered by "unborn chicken voices" and just one of billions of "disappointed people clinging on to bottles" - but the most pervasive theme is that of sedation, an induced state of consciousness that's as welcome as the "pretty house" of No Surprises but probably never really desired - "a handshake of carbon monoxide" and certainly never voluntary.  The corollary of this chemical pessimism is the ecstasy of being, "born again...in the deep, deep sleep of the innocent...amazed that I survived" - or the desperation to be freed from the wreckage of "the air crash...'cos I'm your super hero".  In Exit Music (For a Film) Romeo-Yorke begs the listener to "wake from your sleep", for "today we escape". As the original Romeo put it before his own handshake with the quiet life, "I descend into this bed of death". [3]   "All the things we see when awake are death, even as the things we see in slumber are sleep", said Heraclitus.

To sleep: perchance to dream, ay, there's the rub - and it's the higher, gnostic associations of sleep with death, with timelessness (the "everlasting peace" of Exit Music's climax) and with the next world (war) that should draw our focus back to the idea of hidden meanings in mainstream events and artifacts.  If Blair's election in 1997 is the last nail in the coffin of ideology prefigured by the end of the Cold War (and, it was believed, the end of history) earlier that same decade, and if this timeless end of time took the form of some lapse into shared unconsciousness, then that would explain why OK Computer seems to echo so powerfully as if from some distant (but also imminent, and immanent) future into which we all, like idiots, may already have fallen.  As with the baskmasked salutations to the lords of the left hand path by pop culture's own deities, from what and into what we fell has yet to become clear.

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