Red Pills & Furnaces

I was chatting with a friend via email, and as is my wont, I wound up having lots of things to say, and I started pondering things and trying to articulate them. But the topic of the NFL playoffs and the weirdness of the results came up.

Now, I can’t do anything with football myself, or with most sports. I mean, I remember my mom screaming at the TV for the local football team to stop sucking. However, I can’t deny the cleat-print it leaves in the American psyche and throughout American culture, let alone the whatever-kind of spectacle that the half-time show is for the Super Bowl—let alone the ads. I have to admit that I’ve paid more attention to the ads for Super Bowls over the last several years than anything else, which I think is true for many Americans. I used to tell myself, and I know many of my teacher colleagues have thought similarly, that it’s about the rhetoric of the ads and using them as examples in classrooms, which, sure, but they’re just another vector for shit to disseminate to audiences.


The Garden of Earthly Delights, central panel, by Hieronymus Bosch

But my friend said how he’d gently nudged folks for their thoughts on the recent weirdness—very surprising results and a seemingly very specific pairing meant for the Super Bowl. And he noted that, while they seemed to elicit surprise at the results, they showed few if any signs of suspicion of any jiggery-pokery (my words, not his). And I observed in return that people have often have narrow filters anyway—and most folks have been actively discouraged from thinking too much about Stuff or wondering about how the world works or affects them or whatever. And socialization is one of the primary vectors for this kind of discouragement and these kinds of filters. Even nerds like me convince ourselves that we “don’t have time” to pay attention to the “fluff,” or we make some comment about the dumbing down of Americans—or we make some comment that amounts to some kind of statement about the inferiority of most folks, especially in a blanketly dismissive “I don’t have to think about any of that stuff” sort of way. All of which is also just another version of rampant disinterest and disbelief.

And it’s one thing when it’s just not your jam or you’ve got other things more interesting to you to do—but when people go, “Wait…how the hell did this happen?”—that should be a good opportunity to nudge them towards some kind of gnostic, red-pill moment. Maybe not a full-on gnostic awakening, per se—maybe just a moment where they get a headache.

In this regard, I don’t think you can do much with sports directly. They’re tied too much into color-images-team-identity matrices, but the ads can work better if you can help folks pay attention to how someone’s manipulating their spending habits and brand preferences. I find money is a far greater existential concern than color-image-team-identity, but those matrices have also been engineered to feel like a refuge from worrying about the money, so that’s always going to be a tougher nut to crack. And it’s also a tempting haven for folks to retreat back into, especially if you give them the gnostic headache but don’t follow up on it.

You also have to deal with the easy binary flip-flops. I know far too many smart people who just blame it all on CAPITALISM! and binary-around to “Would you like to see my internet meme about how cool communism could be? I’ve been reading Marx!” I’m by no means pro-capitalism, but…that doesn’t mean I’m going to be convinced by your 180° reactionary shift to the other pole of the polarity.

Harvesting the Dead

I’ve been pondering how the dead can sometimes become something like how we might describe the jinn or the fae. Faerie folklore has many such encounters with faeries and those who had died, and there’ve been tales about how the dead and jinn intersect in heterodoxic and orthodox beliefs—and UFOlogy has encounters with the dead and aliens, too. And if you’re reading this blog, then I assume you have some idea that something happens after you die other than annihilation. We have lives after this one, of whatever kind.

In my conversations with my friend, the subject of the dead and Hell(s) have come up. And after several recent readings and listenings, I have to wonder how much the Western tendencies to close off and  contract within our minds, within our spiritual bodies and those inner landscapes reflect a kind of self-inflicted version of hell. I think many folks could easily imagine or agree with that idea for the living.


The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner right wing (Hell) by Hieronymus Bosch

That said, there are, I think, soul furnaces—furnaces, as it were, powered by the tormented, or self-tormented, dead. For those unfortunate persons who die terrified, feeling alone, trapped within their own worlds, or who don’t know what to expect after they die—who may be terrified of those prospects—I wonder how much they continue to contract within their own selves. Now, all those people are somewhere, and it wouldn’t surprise me if things (demons, whatever) would gather them, roll them over into a particular realm so that the demons can prod and feed upon the despair. If things like to feed on fear and despair and shit like that, and that’s a very common motif in practically all cultures and times, then the dead are a way to dine well, I suppose, if that’s your culinary jam.

Imagine battery cages for chickens—but replace them with the souls of the despairing, self-contracted dead—prodded occasionally and whispered to and otherwise fed upon. Maybe even “furnaces” in the sense of powering something. Now, also imagine the kings and princes and some saturnine priests who experience enough of the spirit world to know it’s real, to know the dead are real, and to know that they will likely continue existing after death. Would they make preparations for their afterlives? Would they work to erect fiefdoms and kingdoms in the spirit realms? Would they want servants, entertainments, things to feed upon? What might happen after the grave goods and offerings cease after enough time? And what if they have learned from demons and older beings that, well, we feed like this—why don’t you try it?

How many faerie fiefdoms go out looking to conscript the newly dead?

These are all highly rhetorical, very very UPG kinds of questions. I cannot help but find them fulsome, though. I’ve written before about the idea that there are kingdoms and empires and colonies—freeholds and freebooters, as well—out there in the spirit world and the spirit wilds and marches. And I imagine it’s very much easier to set up your kingdoms of faeries, jinn, the dead, and others when the dying and recently dead have been reduced to desperate, ignorant, gas-lit, or highly suggestible states.

As Below, So Above

Now imagine all the living folks caught up in their disinterest and disbelief, suffering, despairing, unable to sleep well at night, overworked, caught within self-contracted little worlds of day-in-day-out bullshit, guided to direct their attentions to particular spectacles, in order to feed their attentions and intentions to the maws of particular images or ends or whatever else.

I mentioned that gnostic awakening, that point where you wake up—but also probably open up. Seeing the world as it is entails opening yourself to the world in some way. And that awakening isn’t an escape from that world, from that Archonic reality: however, you can stop inflicting it upon yourself, or tormenting yourself the ways the Powers that Be want you to torment yourself, to subordinate and discipline yourself to follow along. You can look for ways to best negotiate that world and try to make things better for yourself and others.

You could also probably form a cult and try to erect your own little Archonic fiefdom, as well. How many people have seen the truth enough to see how the Archons and Warders work and sought to just forge their own little empires?

And despite what the control systems have wanted us to believe, hell (however you might imagine it) isn’t eternal or unescapable. Heaven (whatever might be “heaven” for you) isn’t won through obedience and submission. Dante popularized the idea that you could go to hell—and come back, at least within a Christian cultural context. Meanwhile, the concept of purgatory offered a worldview in which the dead didn’t have to go to Hell and could be prayed for—but given the nebulous status of the dead for most folks, although they might be in Hell, they might instead be in Purgatory. Of course, yes, the medieval Church commodified the indulgence system and took advantage of the living’s concern over their dead loved ones, but it also afforded opportunities for the living to reach out to the dead and to pray for them.

The grimoires and its offshoots along the timeline have several instances where condemned criminals or those dead deemed doomed to hell could be offered “deals”—something like indentured servitude in exchange for prayers and masses and rites intended to help them move beyond wherever they had found themselves. So, these kinds of notions were definitely there in the West. And in those traditions where the Saints and even the mighty dead can be invoked to intercede—well, I wonder how much those prayers, those “deals,” those intercessions afforded the self-damned dead the chance to feel a comforting hand or voice in the darkness so they might open their eyes, open themselves, and realize they’re not alone, doomed, or damned except by their own hands.

My friend Kiya Nicoll has had a particular werewolf story occupying her attention the last several months (or longer?). As she describes it in “Evolutions of Hell”:

Thiess the Livonian Werewolf had a very straightforward Hell to invade: a physically accessible place, located beyond a watery passage to the underworld (which seems likely to me to be a survival of something related to the Slavic myths of Veles, in which the chthonic cattle-lord god is ruler of the waters, and who, post-Christianisation, was partially recast as a Devil figure). It contained stolen things – field fertility, cattle blessings, and so on – which could be retrieved for the good of the community. (And indeed the earlier court conflict which made Thiess’s werewolfing more known in his village seems to have raised his status, possibly because people recognised him as someone who would go to great lengths for the common good.) For all that it was framed in Christian terms, it was not theologised in a Christian form – it was a thieves’ den staffed by the enemies of God, not otherwise made more complex with matters of sin, punishment, or even damnation. The nuances of orthodox theology were lost on Thiess, who claimed not to understand them.

I think what I’m imagining and envisioning isn’t that far from what Thiess and Kiya have imagined and envisioned. Much has been stolen from us—but we’ve been stolen, and so have, I believe, many of the dead. Of course, I suppose this is another argument for developing one’s ancestral practice, of finding ways in to working with your dead, whether the recently deceased or your own ancient, heroic ancestors.


The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner left wing (Paradise) by Hieronymus Bosch

And while some of us may be called upon to mount the occasional rescue operation into Hell or its environs, there’s also something to be said for spending our time while alive here focusing on helping others escape its clutches, not through submission and obedience to a particular ideology (religious, economic, or political) but to recognize our participation in that archonic apparatus, our self-infliction of that apparatus, and our self-contraction within its pressures. Instead, work to promote our freedoms, compassion, empathy, reflection, kindness, action, courage, community, our individual imaginations, and our ability to perceive ourselves and others and the world clearly and vividly. Our ability to imagine better worlds, better afterlives, better futures. Let us cultivate ours and our neighbors’ spiritual realities while alive, and then we can see how we feel we should act after death. Let us help each other while alive and help those who die transition on to their new adventures before we move on to help each other in death, as well.

Featured Image: Exterior of The Garden of Earthly Delights depicting Creation by Hieronymus Bosch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *