Mary had a little dog;
Its fleece was black as coal.
She took it everywhere she went--
This dog was on a roll.
I keep a journal. It is now in its twenty-sixth volume. Without a doubt, the strangest of these volumes is Book 17. I thought I would take a look at it, and remember what it was like to be then, in the short time before my breakdown in September 1985, the beginning of my junior year in college.
The book is almost full, yet covers only a single week, 12 to 19 September. It is peculiar in its art; the cover is decorated in gold and red with what is either a flaming sun or a neuron. Inside, there are many stranger pictures in coloured pencil: a yellow catseye peering from the center of a flame, a person whose hair is flowers and one of whose eyes gazes inward into infinity, the other into eternity. Even more peculiar, however, are the snatches of extremely personal mythology contained within: they involve christs, bodhisattvas, ghosts, godlings, angels, dreams, time, equality, and questions. Each of them came then as a clear certainty, although some are no longer intelligible to me.
Much of the myth centered around beliefs about sheep, dogs, and wolves. I saw the dog as an interface between sheep and wolf. The dog was a wolf who had become a sheep, or was a wolf born of sheep. Perhaps a dog was a sheepy werewolf. I first made this metaphor for myself, writing, "I believe I have something of the weredog in me", then became convinced it was literally true, or almost so. Everyone around me was a sheep. I told myself I would respect them "for the whiteness of their wool, for the purity of their souls." The wolf pack is the opposite of the sheep flock, and it is the same. "Dogs seem to the sheep to hide in the dark sometimes, and to the wolves to hide in the light."
I was planning to compile my observations about sheep, wolves, and dogs into a play or book called Oh, I Have Listened to My Fears Howl in the Darkness as I Stared into the Sun, the title of which is perhaps indicative of my state of mind at the time. Now, I do not know. I think I am not so desirous to be mad.
The Crash, the Fall, from being high, high on the mountain, high in the Mountains of Madness:
I lie awake at night, brooding. Everything that has been bothering me and lots of things I have been reading and fantasising about begin building into a coherent picture. My gay neighbors... 1984... Soylent Green... the football team... my breakup with Michelle... the cops... incest... Nazism... nuclear war... old science fiction stories...
And what is reality anyway? It seems so plastic.
Everywhere I look, new evidence falls into place. One night I don't sleep at all (which does not improve my state of mind). I become convinced that I am the only one truly awake, that the Nazis who are running Camp Yale (in reality, a pet name for the place) put everyone to sleep at night. Sleep is an unnatural state, meant to drug and confuse people, but if one struggles against it, one can become awakened, and see things as they truly are. I believe I am seeing things as they truly are. I go to the dining hall and see the meat there. I remember how the Nazis had called the Jews "animals", and I know that the meat in the dining hall is human flesh, and that the people serving it are zombies who believe all the official propaganda because they have succumbed to sleep. My impression is confirmed when I see that someone has (boldly) scrawled LONG PIG on the menu next to where it says HAM.
I scarcely eat. I lose 20 or 30 pounds in about a week, down to 164 from 190 or so. I take tiny bites and move the food around on my plate so that the Nazi spies around me will believe that I have eaten. And everyone is an unwitting spy. The whole world is networked, an enormous social web. I am the prey.
The Nazis are trying to make everyone gay, so that only Aryans will breed. Everywhere I look, people are openly gay. Camp Yale indeed, I muse wildly.
The sirens and the trucks I hear at night are the Nazis scooping up people on the streets. There is a curfew, and everyone is supposed to be in bed sleeping. (I am in bed pretending to sleep.) They will go straight to the Nazis' experiments. Most of them end up on our plates the next day in the dining halls. I have seen the big ovens into which the zombies put food. Big enough, big enough.
I remember the scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four in which Winston Smith is brainwashed into seeing six fingers on the hand of his captor, and I remember wishing I had six fingers a few days before. This is obviously a Nazi plot. I go into my Child Psych classroom and my instructor is passing around pedigree charts of people with digital abnormalities. I have digital abnormalities, namely a mild congenital arachnodactyly, "spiderhands"--long, thin fingers. This is obviously directed at me, then.
One of the pedigree charts has the date "1985-86" on it for some reason. The Nazis are apparently trying to alter time, then. If they can get everyone to accept that it is later than it really is, it will be later than it really is. And what lies ahead? What do they want?
The end of the world.
Despite my current feeling that much of my later madness resulted from rejecting parts of myself and trying to force myself to fit a particular mold (for example, creating a description of my ideal personality with the computer program Mind Prober, using self-hypnosis to convince myself I had that personality, and kicking myself whenever I deviated from it; self-programming attempts with recorded tapes I made, one in particular I called MAGIC TAPE ONE; rejecting my tendencies to be attracted to men, and my disgust for eating meat; etc.), I now feel I had visionary moments and even days in which I understood some truly fundamental things about myself. I speak particularly of Book 17 and its dog/wolf/sheep imagery. In the ecstatic moments in which I had this vision, I wholly accepted myself. I wonder if that is not what the euphoric, high, visionary, grandiose period Jay and I both experienced before our respective Falls (how I think of it, I now realise) was all about: a taste of the ultimate, which we must now slowly and carefully approach. Someone (Robert Pirsig? my therapist?) once said LSD is like that: you get a glimpse of what it's like from the peak, but you still have to work to get there when you come down.
In my first world or worlds (by far the most frightening), there were a few groups of people: those who were innocent and knew what was going on, those who were guilty and knew what was going on, and those who were innocent but were manipulated and did not know. I experienced my Fall into madness as a transition from the innocent-but-manipulated to the innocent-but-cognizant. Since this model of three groups seems to fit many different historical periods (including perhaps our own), they all tended to be compressed into a horribly unitary and oppressive conspiracy, perhaps into what Stanislav Grof, a psychotherapist who has made extensive use of LSD in his therapy, calls a "condensed experience" or "coex" system.
The coex experience is very difficult to explain, but perhaps this will do: Think of this three-group world as an archetype. I lived this archetype in many dimensions at once. I was simultaneously, it seemed, inhabiting the universes of Nineteen Eighty-Four, World War Two France, Madeleine L'Engle, and the Village in The Prisoner. I felt I was being pursued by a group which condensed the Thought Police, the Nazis, the Ecthroi (Greek for "Enemy", the absolutely evil forces in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door), the mysterious jailors in The Prisoner, and so on, who were directed by a figure that condensed Big Brother, Hitler, Number Two (the Village's most visible Head Evil Person), and so on and on. How I referred to these figures in my mind depended on the angle of my perception.
And when we look at it, who are these groups but our old friends and enemies, the Dogs, the Sheep, and the Wolves?
UNIVERSE COGNIZANT MANIPULATED GUILTY -------- --------- ----------- ------ my vision dogs sheep wolves 1984 a few like the Proles Big Bro. & Winston Smith Thought Police WWII France the French the masses Hitler & Resistance the Nazis L'Engle Murries/O'Keefes the masses the Ecthroi & Teachers The Prisoner Number Six the Villagers Number 2 & co. Christian me ??? Satan/God & Hell demons/ residents
The chart above shows how I organized things during my first madness, in rough sequence. My cynanthropic vision was rather pleasant, if intense, and intensely personal. Then I lost that pleasant vision and entered the second phase, in which I saw things negatively. I experienced the universes or models I list in roughly this order, but rather than moving from one to the other, I kept expanding my interpretation of what was going on by adding model after model, all of them together forming the coex conspiracy world. Finally, in the third phase, as I lay in the sterile atmosphere of the hospital with its plastic flowers, friends and family nowhere apparent, having been forcefully captured by the police (as I sat quietly if afraid by a river eating a plum), stripped virtually naked, strapped onto a metal table, and stabbed in the arms with intravenous needles, the universes all collapsed into the single point of hot despair that was Hell. There were no longer any innocent and cognizant but me. There were no longer any innocent but me. There was no one left to help me, and there was no hope left in me.
The Christians are right in a way, I suppose: despair is a great sin, perhaps, as in some theologies, the Unforgivable Sin against the Holy Ghost. Rather, it is an action which produces the effect of landing one immediately and unappealably in Hell, and one does not leave Hell until ceasing to despair.
Being mad is like an acid trip in that one discovers, sometimes, what truths there are in religion. One discovers them in an immediate way, unlike the way one is taught them in church or Sunday school. Hell is here; it permeates us, and so does Heaven, but most Christians, and certainly most of those who preach about Hell, will never understand this. In madness, one sometimes tastes what I think is meant by "living water", and this taste is more real than what you will experience by going to church for the rest of ever.
So maybe that's what madness is all about: you need to do some serious work on your life, so you're shown or show yourself where you're headed--you receive a vision. Great. You've got a vision. Now you must plummet into and plunge through Hell. When you come out, you're still in Purgatory (when I was only slightly mad, I believed that's where I was; now I guess I still do. Not that we're only metaphorically there--we're there, all right; it's just that Purgatory itself is a metaphor for the state of your soul, the Mind, as are Hell and Heaven.).
So: this vision. You may have only one great vision like this in your life. For the rest of that life, you must live with this vision, try to integrate it. After I recovered, when I first reread the pages & pages of ecstatic proclamations I made, I was pained and ashamed, but now, from a distance, I can just make out the shape of the mountain, and what I experienced the first few days I was on the peak, the food I found there (hallucinogenic berries mebbe), still nourishes me. To be whole, to be integrated, to be a dog and not half sheep, half wolf, constantly sheepish and vicious, to feel my doghood, these are things beyond me yet. For a while, I have been afraid to loose the wolf in me for fear of harming others, but the wolf in dogs is melded with the sheep in them inextricably, and cannot harm but only guard.
There is an episode of the new Twilight Zone in which the protagonist, a meek woman abused by her husband, unconsciously unleashes on him the apparition of a snarling Doberman. At the climax, when the dog is about to kill him, and she cannot control the dog, she reabsorbs him, and is whole, re-empowered. The story proceeded mathematically; at every moment, I knew what was to come, because it was a manifestation of the archetypal, and I have been and am continually going through the same process. When the episode was over, I broke down and bawled. Some membrane in me had been punctured, and it felt wonderful. The memories of my dog madness returned. (There is a similar motif in an early issue of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, in which a woman becomes a werewolf during her menstrual period. I had not come into contact with these before I went mad. Lotta archetypes floatin' around out there....)
I want to read more William Blake, Blake who apparently understood so much of what is important in my life: the union of sheep and wolf ("The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"), the flames of Genius (as I expressed it in another rapidfire (indeed), nonstop vision and incorporated it into my book The Holey Babble in the Book of St. Paul the Cross)--he saw Genius as a painful, gorgeous, hellish-heavenly flame, as did I, and I had never read him save "Tyger, Tyger burning bright" and jazz in school. "Walking among the fires of hell," he wrote, "delighting in the enjoyment of Genius, which to angels look like torment and insanity."
People wonder if Blake was mad. They don't like to denigrate a Great Poet. I'll testify, on my admittedly scanty knowledge of the man, that he was, indeed, a member of my ancient fellowship. Blake apparently lived his visions constantly for years; his wife has been quoted as saying she didn't see much of him because he spent so much time in the company of angels. I don't know if I will ever be able to do that in this life. One must have great endurance to bear the fires of Hell. (I lost about 20 or 30 pounds in the week before I entered the hospital the first time. You could say the fires burned them up. As good an explanation as any.) The worst thing is, I can't even describe them now--oh, I feel the hellfire tickling the souls of my feet, but it's just enough for a little wordplay. The poetry doesn't come like ambrosia spew anymore, like ambergris, like this:
NOW one day Paul was sitting around with his friends in the House of the Monkeys in the San Ronaldo State Zoo for the Criminally Inquisitive, lighting up:
2 And yo! he lit up like unto a lightbulb with the Eternal Flame:
3 Rather, he saw how long he had been burning:
4 And the Ghostwriter spake through him: though his friends thought it was but screeching:
5 Hell, fire made him human: and humans oughtn't expect monkeys to talk, or understand.
6 Art: Speech or Screech?
7 Or perhaps both: an articulate cry.
I quote chapter four of the Book of St. Paul the Cross. You might not like this stuff (or you might), and even I sometimes feel somewhat queasy about it, but still I think it is the product of Genius. The Fires of Genius, man, you could put them on a map if you could map the Mind of God. (And I'm not saying I'm a genius. There ain't no such being as "a" genius because Genius is a spirit or force, not an individual attribute. I can, and Blake could, lay no more claim to it than you.)
We both experienced the same thing, Blake and I. And I have wondered lately, stimulated somewhat by talking with Jay O'Connell, whose experiences so parallel my own, if there is not some geography of madness, if there is not some actual Other Land: a consensus reality or realities we visit when mad. So very many of our experiences focus on particular cultural icons and archetypes: the Beast, the Nazis, the Masons, the Illuminati, the Mafia, the Village.... Are there other worlds we visit? If so, one thing which unites these worlds is a plasticity, a melting quality; things bleed one into the other. Mostly this is conceptual, that is, concepts blur there: the coex experience.
I have wondered if the voices the mad hear are not the inner voices of those around them. Certainly that is what many of the mad believe, and certainly in madness we are often naked and without barriers, almost skinless, painfully sensitive to others. Perhaps, when mad, we tap into the Morgenheutegesternwelt (Tomorrowtodayyesterdayworld) in Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus!.
I suppose one test to see whether or not there are consensus realities in madness is to bring together some of the mad whose experiences seem similar and see if they agree on particulars of their environment on which the unmad, or "sane", do not agree. Another would be, if you had the presence of mind, while mad, to see if others of the mad around you agree explicitly with you.
A couple of things like this actually happened to me, enough to make me wonder. For example, the first time I went mad was during Hurricane Gloria in 1985. At the time, I believed I was the center of its activity, a "whirlwind of activity" which aimed at harrassing and torturing me. (Jay tells me that during his madness he believed he was creating a storm that appeared around him.) Afterwards, as I was recovering, a fellow mad person brought me a portrait he had drawn of me, showing me, labelled "Run" ("Ron", echoing perhaps my flight from the police?) at the center of a storm funnel, labelled "Glowria". It disturbed me, and I threw it away. Another time, as I was recovering from my second madness, a man about my age, whom the other inmates described saying, "they say he's a genius", conspiratorially told me that there was a hole in the sky, in space, and named the nebula by which it was. "Look up there!" he said, but I was too frightened to, since it was something I did not want to believe, desperately trying, as I was, to program myself into something resembling this world you and I share now. I carefully avoided him the rest of the time I was there, partly, I suppose, because I was jealous that the others believed him a genius, but partly because I was afraid. He had touched on one of my fears: the Ecthroi, which played such a part in the world of my first madness. The Ecthroi, said L'Engle, tore holes in space with their screams.
So perhaps, as I thought in the hospital upon seeing the placename appear in a story by Lord Dunsany, there are Mountains of Madness. I remember the story: a man visits a dreamland and rejects it in his mornings as fancy, until he meets a strange sailor who has also astrally travelled there, and who casually drops some placenames, one being that of the Mountains of Madness. When I came across the name, I was struck with The Fear again. I remembered H.P. Lovecraft's use of it (the name, not The Fear, although he knew that too), and I was afraid that Lovecraft had travelled there in his dreams also, he who had written so convincingly about consensual dreamlands, and about horrible things that lurked just outside our spacetime. Had I not touched those things? Perhaps those things were real. Perhaps Cthulhu and his crew were real in their own spacetime--the spacetime of Lovecraft's stories--and were attempting to enter our world by a process akin to that in Borges's story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius": through the pages of books, and through our hearts and brains.
(Come to think of it, maybe old HPL was a vector for Beings From Another Sphere. Confound it, where's an Elder Sign when I do need to seal off a gateway?)
The story points, synchronicitously, it seems, to the idea of an alternate consensus reality in madness. Or many.
My Map of the Mind at the moment is sometimes a globe. The Mountains of Madness, as in Lovecraft, surround the South Pole of the globe, that "sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere", the Mind of God. And what is at the Pole? It is Hell (goin' South, anyone?); and did not Huxley say that Heaven and Hell are "the Antipodes of the Mind"?
Strange things lurk there in the wastes, but the Mountains of Madness are just one location. One need not fear that Cthulhu & Co. will come leaping through a transdimensional portal any sec now, for it's just as likely to be Tloen; one need not fear Godzilla will punch through the screen, for it might be Bambi instead. And so, about those mountains: I was too weak to accept their existence then--it felt thrust upon me--but I accept their possibility now.
Ah, the geography of the Mind.
(S) Shareright 1989 Saint Ron for Singularity magazine, 89 Mass. Ave., Suite 199, Boston, MA 02115. You may reproduce this material only if your recipients may also reproduce it, you do not change it, and you include this notice. Everything for nothing now!
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