Peter Lamborn Wilson was a prolific, controversial writer and researcher into the lives and beliefs of mavericks, misfits, hobos, punks and heretics. He is best-known for his coinage of the term Temporary Autonomous Zone or TAZ which can be applied to any spontaneous association of free people from Burning Man to improv dancing, especially those gatherings which maximize what Wilson liked to call “ontological anarchy”.
As an Ontological Anarchist, Peter necessarily acquired an unusual resume’. Educated at Columbia, Wilson left New York in 1968 for a spiritual “Journey to the East” across the Islamic world from Morocco to Katmandu, seeking wisdom and teachers in tea houses, palaces and opium dens and settling finally in Tehran, where his presence coincided with Empress Farah Pahlavi’s desire to spread Iranian culture into the West. At the Iranian Academy of Philosophy, Wilson was put in charge of English publication where he was able to translate the works of famous Islamic philosophers and poets, for instance (my favorite) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry with Nasrollah Pourjavady.
Wilson’s academic tenure in Tehran was cut short in 1979 by the Iranian Revolution in which the Shah and his wife were replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini (a minor poet himself in the tradition of Khayyam and Hafiz).
Back in New York, Wilson aligned himself with various fringe organizations among which was the Moorish Orthodox Church of America which Wikipedia describes as “a syncretic, non-exclusive, and religious anarchist movement originally founded in New York City in 1965 and part of the burgeoning psychedelic church movement of the mid to late 1960’s in the United States.” MOCA traces its lineage back to a black Chicago religious leader from the 1920’s, Noble Drew Ali, whom the Black Muslims also claim as their founder. More detailed information concerning this “religious anarchist movement” can be found on the web at the Moorish Orthodox Information Kiosk or in Wilson’s own Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam published by City Lights in San Francisco.
Wilson obituaries have appeared in such wide-ranging venues as The Global Ganja Report and the New York Times (!) so I will not repeat here what others have written but instead publish a brief account of how this ontological anarchist affected my own life.
In the early 80’s computers were just beginning to enter our lives. Instead the photocopier gave rise to a web-like phenomenon called “zines”, short for “magazines” in which anyone with a few dollars for stamps and access to a Xerox machine could become their own publisher. The quality of zines ranged from semi-professional to unreadable but what they all had in common was quirky originality and instant access to off-beat topics. I cannot locate in my records the zine in which I first encountered the writings of Peter Lamborn Wilson but it might have been Popular Reality which one archivist described as “distinguishing itself as an open forum for the most unpopular of opinions.”
Connecting via one of the zines of that era Peter and I began a letter exchange concerning the Moorish Orthodox Church and he invited me to come visit him in New York should opportunity arise. So in the spring of 1986 on some errand involving physics and publishing I met the man himself in his third floor apartment on West 107th St just a few blocks from the Nicholas Roerich Museum.
Wilson lived in a rat’s warren of books, papers and unusual objects from his Islamic travels, the centerpiece of which was an old mechanical Remington typewriter on which he composed his voluminous works, He seemed to have a dislike for computers and never quite moved into the digital age. Over a few tokes of crumbly hashish he regaled me with tales from his travels and invited me to become a member of the Moorish Church. It is customary to take an Islamic name and I knew nothing of that faith. Wilson’s own Moorish name was “Hakim Bey” and several of his books, articles and performances appear under that name. “Well, you could do worse, Nick, than “Jabir”, the 9th Century Islamic alchemist.”
So Jabir it was. To which I later added “‘abd al-Khaliq”, designating myself as servant of one of the 99 names of God. A few weeks later I received from Hakim Bey a photocopied diploma certifying my new rank as “Adept of the Seventh Heaven.”
My first substantial adventure with the Moorish Orthodox Chuch was the Antarctic Astral Projection Project. On the night separating August from September 1987, various individuals would attempt by any means at their command to astrally project themselves to a location on the Antarctic continent aptly named “Cape Longing”. We would dutifully record our impressions which would then be collected and published in the zinosphere as part of the Akashic Records, one more fanciful account of the spiritual strivings of the human race. Doctor Jabir decided to go there as Mandrake the Magician and fancied the trip as a conclave of other fictional magician/scientists observing and producing new physical, mental and spiritual phenomena in the exotic low-temperature environment not far from the Earth’s South magnetic pole. As I recall music and dancing girls were involved as well as a spectacular display of the best Southern Lights that my human imagination could produce.
Another Moorish adventure as Doctor Jabir, this time in real space, was the Temporary Autonomous Zone San Francisco performance in 1993 organized and produced by the legendary Joseph Matheny. The site of TAZ SF was Komotion International, an art and performance space in San Francisco’s Mission district. This event featured a dozen or so performers, both male and female, some of whom mingled with the audience. Hakim Bey himself was one of the stars and calmly lectured on some obscure feature of Ontological Anarchy. Most of us were attempting to be as outrageous as possible but Bey trumped us all by affecting an utterly conventional academic normality in an ocean of freaks. Jabir read some of his newest quantum tantric poetry, Robert Anton Wilson shared some of his latest provocative prose. Circus acts and dances followed and there was some sort of bondage scene going on that I had helped to prepare back stage.
MOCA produced at odd intervals the Moorish Science Monitor to which I sometimes contributed. And once I was a guest along with Robert Anton Wilson on the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, an after midnight series hosted by Hakim Bey on New York’s independent radio station WBAI.
Back in Boulder Creek I often enjoyed co-hosting our long running series of poetry readings with fellow Moor Omar abu Khan (aka Ed Cramer). But all in all, Doctor Jabir achieved the height of his Moorish identity in the call for Tantric Jihad which he has performed in venues as various as house warmings and Esalen Institute,
1/23/94 After interviewing Nick Herbert and being stuck with the check for lunch, I discovered that Mr. Herbert had scribbled a phone number on the back of the receipt before leaving. It was a New Jersey exchange, I recognized it almost instantly,and underneath it the letters E.C. were scrawled. Finally, a lead ! This had to be the phone number for none other than Emory Cranston, proprietor of INCUNABULA books. So, Cranston was still on Earth Prime, and accessible by phone. I went back to my motel room and dialed the number. [ring] [ring] EC: Hello ? JM:: Hi, is this Emory Cranston ? EC: Who wants to know ? JM:: My name is Joseph Matheny. I got your phone number from Nick Herbert. I’m a reporter investigating the Ong’s Hat story, and I thought you might give me some insight into where you came across all the material in INCUNABULA. I got the Catalog from a group of Culture Hackers in San Francisco. (silence) Is this Emory Cranston ? EC: Who did you say you were again ? JM:: A freelance investigative reporter, doing a story on the travel cults and the Ong’s Hat Institute. EC: And who gave you this phone number ? JM:: Nick Herbert. I was trying to find out where INCUNABULA is located now. EC: (Audible sigh on other end of line) Oh, well. At least he could have warned me. But it doesn’t really matter…after all, there’s no “here” here anyway, so I won’t be here tomorrow. Does that answer your first question ? JM:: You mean INCUNABULA is located in “virtual space” ? EC: As far as you’re concerned, yes. JM:: Well, in the introduction to the INCUNABULA Catalog, you stated that you had uncovered “…a conspiracy so deep that no other researcher has yet become aware of it (outside of certain intelligence circles, needless to say)…” Is that still true? Why hasn’t this become a more popular conspiracy theory? How did you come across this information? EC: No, it’s no longer true. Since I published the Catalog, everything has changed. everything ! And look, this is no longer a “theory”. I admit, when I first published, I really didn’t know jack-shit about anything. Yes, I was a “conspiracy theorist”, how pathetic! Let me ask you, what kind of epistemological black hole…I mean, if the conspiratoligists “know” anything it wouldn’t be a “theory” anymore, would it? It’d be “fact”. Who killed Kennedy? Where are the UFOs from? They don’t “know”, do they? JM:: You have answers to these questions ? EC: Pal, I’ve got lots of answers! Alternative answers. Get it? But that’s not important. You ask why “my theory” isn’t better known or more “popular” ? Why aren’t they discussing it at UFO conferences, eh? Why isn’t it on TV? Well, there’s an easy answer to that. The truth is never popular, and it’s never seen on TV ! You know in your heart I’m right about this don’t you? If you think about what’s really important to you, you’ll realize it’s not popular and it’s never been seen on TV (or if it has…well then I’m sorry for you). It’s true, when I first came across the information…I was living in Chatsworth, in the Pine Barrens, near Ong’s Hat…I was doing a Catalog…Tesla, Reich, Bioshamanics, Hollow Earth, crop circles, Mae Brussell…that sort of thing. Strange stories were circulating about the Institute out at Ong’s Hat. They wouldn’t talk to me. Then they disappeared. That’s when I got “really” interested, and began collecting the literature. A few years later I published the Catalog to see if they’d get in touch with me. I wanted to flush them out. I wanted to know. JM:: So what happened? EC: Let’s just say I succeeded in stirring the shit beyond my wildest expectations. You know, most conspiratologists would die of shock if they suddenly received proof that their theories were real. You’ll notice that not one UFO “expert” has ever been abducted. And not one Kennedy-Conspiracy nut has ever been assassinated. These things happen to other people, not to Conspiracy Theorists, right? Well, let’s just say…that’s what I mean when I say…this isn’t a “theory” anymore. JM:: Do you feel endangered in anyway, being so outspoken about info that has obviously gotten some people killed? How do you deal with the danger, what precautions have you taken? Why are you talking to me for example? EC: Why am I talking to you? There are reasons…reasons you don’t really need to know. Just go ahead and do what ever you intend to do. Publish. But be careful. At this point, the cat’s out of the bag, as Alice Schröedinger would say, (laughs). I doubt they…I don’t think anyone would bother anymore…it’s gone so far beyond that. Now, as to my state of savvy when I published the INCUNABULA Catalog…you know how conspiracy buffs like to pretend they’re running a great risk…that hidden forces will try to silence them, blah blah. So buy my stuff now, before it’s too late, etc., etc. Not one of them really believes it. I didn’t believe it. I was extremely fortunate. The Catalog fell into the right hands…just about five minutes before it fell into the wrong hands. I was contacted. I was protected. Literally whisked away. In the nick of time. Next question, please. JM:: But… EC: No no no. Read the Catalog. Think about it. Chance are you’ll figure it out. You were smart enough to find this phone number, after all. That’s why I’m talking to you. Next question. JM:: Ok. How many books have you sold? How many people do you think you’ve convinced? EC: I’m not really running the catlogue anymore. It can’t be suppressed – it’s out there, it’s circulating. But I’m not selling the books now. Those who need the books, get the books. I don’t need the money, after all. Those who can really read the Catalog and figure out the next step…well, not everything in INCUNABULA is accurate, of course. But the clues are there. Follow the garden of forking paths. Ah, how many, you ask? I can tell you exactly. The answer is precisely 16 people have followed the thread so far. We’re aware of another dozen or so who are working on it. At a certain point in their researches they’ll be helped…if possible. One may blunder, you see. Some tracks lead to the Minotaur, know what I mean? And some of those dozen or so are working for the wrong people. They won’t be helped. JM:: How did you obtain the more “esoteric” material, like Alternate Dimensions by “Jabir ibn Hayaan” aka Nick Herbert? EC: Oh, Alternate Dimensions can hardly be called one of the more “esoteric” titles in the list. After all, Herbert was still a Theorist when he wrote it. The book is actually wrong on a number of points, though quite brilliant as an approach. The fact is, I tracked down Dr. Herbert when I was assembling the Catalog. I’d read his other work, and realized he must be heading in the right direction. At first he wouldn’t talk to me at all. He suspected I was an agent of whatever Shadowy Forces were trying to suppress the book, and succeeding. From various angry remarks he dropped I was able to piece together the story. His manuscript and files had been stolen right out of his house, and the publishers refused to return their copies, or any of the page proofs. They were stonewalling him. So I…well, I stole it. JM:: What? EC: I went to the publisher. I had a very strong intuition as to which group was blocking publication. I posed as an agent of that group. Apparently I was correct, and it seems I knew enough to convince the publisher of my bona fides, so to speak. He was so glad to hand over the book you’d’ve thought it was a bomb! Later he was fired. I suppose he’s lucky to be alive, the schmuck. I copied the proofs and returned the originals to Dr. Herbert. He agreed to let me list it. After all, it was the only way his work was ever going to be distributed. Of course it’s a moot point now. I mean, the book is seriously out-of-date and there’s not going to be a revised edition. JM:: Well, it’s obvious that you’ve been in contact with some of the travel cult members. Can you tell me who? EC: That would be telling. JM:: Aw, come on! This is not turning out to be much of an interview. EC: Nonsense, young man. What I’m giving you is gold, pure gold. All right, then…would it surprise you to hear that you’ve already met a fair number of “cult members”? The heiress in the Berkeley Hills who knows all about Tarantula venom? That Irish humorist who lives in James Joyce’s Martello tower in Howth, outside Dublin? The aging psychedelic guru…the so called Persian Anarchist…the so called Satanic rock-star…the Montana cowboy-secret-agent-hacker…the cyberpunk SciFi Surrealist… JM:: No! They would’ve told me… EC: Guess again. JM:: I believe you’re…you’re misinforming me here, Mr. Cranston. EC: Check it out. JM:: I will. EC: Do. Next question. JM:: Um, ok. Uh…what new information have you come across since the catlogue was published? What new developments have there been in this “science” of travel? EC: I can’t really tell you that. “Cult member” means nothing now. All the players know who the other players are. I’m not giving anything away. But…new developments on the tech end? No. Certain people could gain an edge just from a vague description…well, I can tell you a few things. A paper came out right after my Catalog, so it’s not listed, but everyone knows about it by now. It’s by Suhrawardi, it’s called Not the Egg, the Joke, a bad pun on yoga. Eggless travel has become S.O.P. for advanced travellers. Some permanent doorways have been constructed which work even for non-initiates, sort of like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. They’re very nicely camouflaged – Fu Manchu couldn’t do better. And of course they’re guarded. JM:: Raiders of the Lost Ark… EC: Eh? Oh yes…booby trapped. Definitely. It’s a zero-sum game I’m afraid. Either you’re on the bus or you’re not on the bus. The Gateways…that’s what we call them, the Gateways have to be there for those few who, shall we say, solve the Catalog without any help from any group. People that smart do exist – I have to admit I wasn’t one of them! I compiled the Catalog and even I didn’t “get it”! But people who are capable of such…such quantum jujitsu, are people we need. For them the Gateways aren’t guarded, but protected. As for the others who might somehow locate the translational nexi…well, you know who I mean… JM:: No, who? EC: The Tri-Lateral Commission! Read the Catalog! Figure it out! Who knows? Maybe you’ll need to know, one of these days. JM:: Is the secret government still active in this area, and if so what do they hope to achieve? EC: Are you implying that because a “liberal” regime has taken over from a “conservative” regime, that you people are free of “secret government”? Haven’t you heard of the present leader’s fascination with “virtual reality”? Where do you suppose power comes from, an” Invisible College” of “Illuminati”? (I use the terms metaphorically , of course.) Nothing has changed – only gotten hotter. In Baghdad…no, forget I said that. Scratch that. Dump the whole file. Next? JM:: Hmmmm, ok. Have you been to Earth2 or any of the other “worlds” and is this where you’ve been hiding? EC: Well, no harm in telling you I suppose. Yes, in fact I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in Java2. It’s not even a security thing anymore, really. Or not always. The truth is that, well, you can’t possibly imagine – a whole world for a utopia, complete with flora, fauna, picturesque ruins, and maybe, oh, ten people per square continent. Fresh air! That alone is enough to…a universe next door, let’s go! (was it e.e.cummings who said that?) JM:: And if that one gets too crowded? EC: Precisely. A number of Davy Crockett types have already “moved on” where they can’t see the smoke of their neighbors fires, to put it mildly. We have no idea of the extent of the Series – it may be “infinite” for all practical (or impractical) purposes. JM:: Why not just tell everybody, then? EC: Would you want to be responsible for infecting the halls of infinity with, say the L.A. Police? Do you think the Pentagon deserves infinity? (and what if it isn’t infinite?) Etcetera? JM:: Who were the occupants of Java2 , that left behind the ruins? EC: Well, that’s the biggest news of all really. We found them – or rather they’ve found us. They claim to be an alternative evolutionary branch of Homo Sapiens through h.Javanesis and h.Neanderthalensis. They look like they’re descended from lemurs rather than chimps, like us. A bit like the characters from Javanese shadow puppet plays. They discovered how to travel long ago, in a time we might think of as the time of Atlantis or Mu (only we would be wrong…) It’s all rather Lovecraftian, in as much as they claim to be responsible for certain aspects of human culture, aspects which are uncanny, but not maleficent. Not only in Java. The Tuatha de Danaan of Ireland who vanished “underground “, and other “faery” and “hollow earth” clues…the whole idea of another physical world, not a heaven or hell, but a Magickal universe next door…anyway, we were wrong about them. Traveling in time, either fast forward or backward. They simply set out to explore the Series. They think it may be endless, and some decided to return “home” to Java2. They’re a completely non-hierarchic segmentary society, like primitive hunter/gatherers, but with a highly evolved culture. A lot of Terrans have completely “converted” to their way of life, even their language. You should hear their music! The returnees brought back some of their artifacts and…well, “furniture” I guess you’d call it. Their ancestors built a city during a “High Civilization” period in their history, but they rejected hard technology for cognitive sciences long ago. Our travel techniques are crude by comparison and lacking their whole mythopoetic value system. We’re planning soon to release certain archival material here in Earth Prime, certain bits of art and music, which we expect to act in a viral fashion to produce profound paradigm shifts. The traveller’s culture is now, I believe, our most effective “weapon”. JM:: So what’s your bottom line, is this all co-creative or what? EC: A smartass question. JM:: No, really. EC: Who can say? What about our own cosmic locale, our own provincial reality? You can’t make it go away by ceasing to believe in it. “Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world” – but there is no place, no “outside” vantage point, from which to challenge consensus reality. “Magick” is notoriously difficult and vague, and terribly incremental – the utopian imagination seems futile – reforms of consciousness appear to fail, unless they implement the emergence of new ruling classes or elites. “Religion” is a perfect case in point. But was religion the cause of “civilization” – or the effect? Now, however, you see, it’s a whole new game. There is an “outside” now, maybe an infinite number of outsides, places to stand with a lever in one hand – and a magic mushroom in the other. The dispossessed have always believed in a millennium, a magickal resistance, a heaven on earth, a world turned upside down. This is it. Well, time’s up. JM:: I had a million more questions. In fact… EC: This phone number and address will become inoperative. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. And don’t worry. The Reality check is in the mail. [click] (JM’s note: the phone was indeed disconnected the next day, and the premises it was registered to vacated with no forwarding address left)