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step right up, see the strange rites, revisit past lives, it’s all happening on the inside of the occult convention
reportage Yasugichō By ROBERT ANTON WILSON
from Gallery, January 1973
One day in the autumn of the year when the American people in their wisdom decided that they would buy a used car from Millhouse after all, I heard about a Gnostic Aquarian Festival – a convention of magicians, wizards, warlocks; astrologers and witches, invoked by genial eclectic, Carl Weshke, publisher of Llewellyn Books, to be held in Minneapolis on September 22-25. It was an intriguing prospect: if the country as a whole could believe in Millhouse, then obviously I was (worst of all fates for a commercial writer) badly out of step with the times. This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (as the shaman showmen tell us in Hair) and magic is afoot (as Buffy sings), so that if 60% of the people in the Harris poll believe Millhouse is ending the war in Indochina by expanding it from one nation to two and then three and now four, then there is nothing surprising about the recrudescense of astrology and we can expect phrenology and even alchemy to rise also from their historical graves. Science has been trying to drag us out of the Dark Ages for three hundred years, with no large success; and if the great masses of the people elect to slouch back toward that school of thought which cures carcinomas by the hair of the seventh son of a seventh son, isn’t it time to ask if they might be right?
Enough. Too much. The folks at Gallery paid my expenses, my wife and I flew to Minneapolis, we divided up the events (since the convention had a couple of lectures or demonstrations every hour and I couldn’t catch them all) and for four crowded days I rubbed elbows with a group of unbelievable people. I ate dinner with a beautiful young lady who is in regular communication with her dead husband, got myself hypnotized and regressed to a real or imaginary previous incarnation in which I taught history at Harvard toward the end of the 19th Century, groaned through yoga exercises for 1 ½ hours every morning and rose strangely refreshed and invigorated, participated in three magic rituals, attended lectures on Cabalism and Tarot Cards and Sex Magic and Herbal Healing, had my handwriting analyzed by a graphologist and my future scrutinized by a Tarot reader and my aura peered at by a psychic, got precipitated into seemingly doing a small feat of ESP myself, and finally (see below) experienced something so mind-blowing, so incredible, so unexpected that a month later I am still at a total loss for a scientific explanation. The experiment worked: I got outside my usual rationalism and I’m not.sure if I can ever get back in again.
I think I fell out of the 20th Century. I’m not sure whether I landed in the 13th or the 21st.
The first rumor I heard was suggestive of the Middle Ages returning in Middle America: the man who registered my wife and me for the convention in the lobby of the Hyatt Lodge said that he’d heard the Jesus Freaks were coming over the next day to hurl a Malediction on all of us. I wondered if they’d hurl stones as well.
The first witch I encountered was Lady Sheba, who is one of several dozen entrepreneurs who bills herself as “The Witch Queen of America.” Lady Sheba is a fiftyish woman with dignified carriage, iron-grey hair and eyes bright as new-minted pennies. She obviously only recognizes one Witch Queen and has short shift for those who would recognize another. She speaks pure Ozark American, and for a while I thought that the divinity she worshipped, The Har Par, was of Egyptian origin – only with repeated hearings did my New York ears finally assemble that into Ha’ar Pa’ar and, finally, Higher Power. The Har Par in any case is female, and Lady Sheba also addresses her as Diana; she is a moon goddess and conspicuously less paranoid than Jehovah, Allah and the other male gods of recent vintage. Says Diana in a ritual which pleased my sense of style:
“And you shall be free, and as a sign that you be really so, be naked in your rites, dance, sing, feast, make music and love. All in my praise, for I am a gracious goddess, who gives joy upon earth; certainty, not faith, while in life; and upon death peace unutterable, rest and the ecstasy of the goddess. Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice, for behold, I am the mother of all living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.”
But no one, alas, was actually naked during the aquarian festival rites, a concession to the Hyatt Lodge, Mpls. Minn. which the deity would have to forgive. Lady Sheba, comported herself like a true Witch Queen, and this was especially effective on the first night, when we all gathered in the outdoor patio and she led us in a Moon ritual – which was expected to be of special importance since the night was, actually, the first in 500 years to feature a full moon on the very date of the Autumn Equinox. If you’re hip to astrology at all, such an occasion must be a cosmic turning point, and by the first theorem of magic (“That which is above, is below”) an earthly turning point also, and the perfect time for a rite of high magic art and Lady Sheba milked it. When, at one point, she whirled in a great circle, her index finger pointing at each of us in turn, a very perceptible vibe passed through the group; auto-suggestion, of course, of course, oh undoubtedly autosuggestion, but it takes a particular kind of person to cast that degree of suggestion and most of us (the allegedly reverend clergy, in particular) are sadly lacking in the personal confidence of being linked with the Har Par, the confidence that enables one to point a finger and get that immediate result.
Still: nothing (except the vibe) perceptibly happened: nobody turned into a cat or started rolling around Speaking in Tongues or burst into laughter or tears such as happens in Subud groups at similar moments – frankly, I expected more of the Witch Queen of America. But it was, after all, a public performance and supposed to be decorous.
I soon had my mind really blown though, by somebody who was neither a witch nor a magician but a Ph.D. in physics of all things. I was educated at a technical high school and a polytechnic college and worked five years as an engineering aide before becoming a writer and it takes a physicist to really lay one upside my head: he told me about a recent experiment involving some cockroaches whose vibes compare quite favorably with Lady Sheba’s, and I didn’t believe it. I looked it up, and it seems to be true, but I’m still not sure I believe it.
Grok: Dr. _______ of ______ University recently set up an apparatus in which the totally random decay of a lump of carbon was converted by a computer into an equally random series of numbers which in turn triggered electrical shocks on a grid marked out in squares. The cockroaches were then placed on the grid, and – by all the laws of physics and logic, by the mathematical statistics of probability theory, by the iron certainties of the most rigorous of sciences – the squares occupied by the roaches should have received, as an average over the time of the experiment, just as many shocks as the unoccupied squares.
But they didn’t.
It seems the roaches were sending out vibes that interferred with the physical process somewhere – the radioactive decay of the atoms of carbon? the circuits of the computer? It is a headache for orthodox science either way, and leads inevitably to various unorthodox conjectures. The physicist who told me about this asked me not to print his name since he doesn’t want his learned colleagues to know he hobnobs with witches and sorcerers on his vacations.
But my heresiarch of physicists had another shocker for me: some years ago, in the country of his birth, he had experimentally and whimsically put Roman Catholic belief to the test, trying to make rain by prayer. Speaking over the radio, and carefully hiding his skepticism, he asked the natives, who were suffering a terrible drought, to join him in prayer to the local saint, asking for rain. The downpour was immediate-and that was when he decided metaphysics was as interesting as physics.
He made it abundantly clear that he didn’t believe in any Catholic heaven hovering above the clouds with all the saints telepathically tuned in to the prayers coming up from earth and taking action when a whole town prayed at once-but if that hadn’t happened, what actual physical process had suddenly started converting air molecules to H2O molecules?
I am a chess player as well as a former engineering student. Lenin, that Gothic pragmatist, urged all communists to play chess on the grounds that it taught the two chief lessons a revolutionary should know: that wishful thinking is usually impotent and that reason is a man’s best ally in any struggle. Good: knight takes bishop. And I have read rationalistic historians and know all about the two most celebrated failures of supernaturalism in history: when Constantinople fell in 1452, the pious Christians were all in church praying to the Virgin for a miracle, but the Turks came in and massacred them anyway; and the famous Lisbon earthquake (that made a skeptic of Voltaire in the 18th Century) also came on a day when all the faithful Lisbonese were in church praying. Good, good: pawn to rook seven. The 6,000,000 Jews gassed by Hitler probably sent up a fairly vehement stream of prayer of Jehovah, also, but that didn’t slow down the events for a day, an hour or a minute. Still better, and worse: pawn to rook eight. For that matter, how did Hitler survive so long-among the nearly 90 million killed in the war he started, and their families, there must have been a Mount Everest-size bundle of bad vibes sent in Adolph’s direction, but he was not afflicted by the polio, cancer, or similar Acts of God which regularly light upon innocent men, women and children. Checkmate. The faithful will now leave the arena of reason, defeated as usual.
And yet those damned cockroaches staved off the electrical shocks which, according to hard mathematics, should have singed their antennae. In absolute terms, one case like that counterbalances a hundred million-odd dead humans for even one such case should not exist (the laws of science are absolute, or they are not laws) and these roaches are, metaphorically speaking termites-the fissure in the foundation of materialism which they have made is enough to collapse the entire edifice.
I found myself remembering the disturbing case of J.B.S. Haldane, the most brilliant mathematical biologist of the century, who had a mind so wedded to materialism that he became a communist and even the leading intellectual spokesman for Marxism in England: but after experimenting with some of Great Beast Aleister Crowley’s rituals, Haldane blew a fuse, packed his bags and departed for India to study with the real pros of the occult world. Among his last published works you will find the bemused remark, “The universe may be, not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think.” What had he seen or experienced? I don’t know, but once I tried peyote, the sacred cactus of American Indian magic, and found myself not in another universe precisely but in this universe still and yet confronting the strange fact that all objects were the same size. This was puzzling, no doubt about it, and the work “hallucination” would not fit comfortably over the experience – especially when I recalled that this theorem appears twice in modern mathematics, in Cantor’s study of the infinity and in Buckminster Fuller’s mind-boggling essay “Omnidirectional Halo,” which suggests that shapes are real but sizes are human mis-perceptions. It left me with the confusing feeling that I almost understood such occultists as Paracelsus, who said,”Man is not the body, but the mind, and mind is an entire star.”
But who had time to mull such things, when there were two or three more mind-blowing events every hour there in Mpls Minn, and I was already rushing to hear the personage who billed himself as Eli, Grand Master of Druidic Witchcraft. He looked like all the most loveable old character actors in Hollywood rolled into one, had eyes that (may the Author’s Guild forgive me) actually twinkled, sported a snowy white beard and even had the little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly; to italicize his charisma, he dressed entirely in black (if you asked him about that, he would explain that he was in mourning “until people stop hurting one another:” no vote for Millhouse here). His ostensible subject was herbal healing but he spoke in this first lecture mostly about things you might learn in any good medical school if the faculty were really hip to modern psychosomatic medicine – “and now,” he said at the end, “now that we have some perspective, I’ll talk about herbal healing in my next lecture tomorrow.”
Eli was a former engineer himself and had discovered his own Har Par late in life. He clearly knew that herbs were only part of it, and he told us “The most important healing implement you have, whether you’re an M.D., a chiropractor, or a witch, is your own personality and the way you present yourself.” He gave us another dose of his twinkle. “Most people,” Eli added, “die of adrenalin poisoning. Their own fear and worry kills them, and stopping that is the biggest part of any cure. The body can throw off most diseases by itself when it’s not full of adrenalin.”
Not so impressive to the former engineering student was Russ Michaels who represented something known as The Great White Brotherhood and lectured about the first humans who lived on the Lost Continent of Lemuria fifteen million years ago. The engineering student couldn’t swallow a whole lost continent in one gulp, especially one unknown to the profane researchers in archeology, geology, paleontology and anthropology. But then Michaels, with that irritating quality real people have of never quite fitting into neat slots in a writer’s program, began talking about consciousness expansion, and having walked some distance up that road with the aid of peyote, I was properly humiliated to learn, past all consoling doubt, that He had journeyed much further and seen more – let us forgive him his Lemurians, then, the man knows something of the geology of mind if not of earth.
But if we pass those Lemurians, with however many tons of salt, where were the charlatans? I asked my wife that question at lunch, in a somewhat aggreived tone: after all, if I couldn’t find one real dingaling to portray, my article would have all the nauseating sweetness-and-light of a True Believer. “The occult is full of fools and frauds,” I muttered. “Why haven’t I found them here yet?”
“Try the astrologers,” she suggested helpfully.
Ah, yes, the astrologers; God bless them, the astrologers – ideal punchinellos for any satirist’s ironies. I even met one, before the convention was a day older, who supported George Wallace – here certainly was Mind At The End Of Its Tether. But by then too many other things were happening to allow me to bask in any sense of superiority over people who ask whether Mars is in the third house or Jupiter in the out house before making a decision. For one thing, Jack and Mary Rowan arrived and began conducting experiments in hypnotism which, to my consternation, led directly into the total abolition of my role as observer. I got involved.
The first experiment in which I participated involved the attempt to trigger ESP (extra-sensory perception) by hypnosis – which Soviet scientists have been doing very successfully for several years now. Jack Rowan, who looks like a Bronx dentist who plays the horses on the side and not at all like Svengali or Cagliostro, put several of us into a light trance with just a few minutes of the usual drone (“Your legs are heavy, heavy, your arms are heavy, your eyes are heavy, heavy.. .”) and there was only one jolt, when he said “Now your eyes are sealed until I open them, you cannot open them, if you try to open them you won’t be able to, they are sealed” and, gulp, it was true and I was in his power and, just like peyote, the best thing is to go with it, so I relaxed and waited. People in the audience dropped things into the palms of those of us who were “under” and I got a key, a largish key, definitely not a car key, some kind of door key. “Now,” Jack said, “just relax and let images come into your mind,” and, hey presto, I saw a kitchen, a table with a checkered cloth, a calendar on the wall – and then, confusingly, an automobile. “But it’s not a car key,” I thought, and then remembered that I was trying to get outside the conscious, rational part of the mind, so I banished the thought, waited – and the car came back again. “???” I thought, and then nothing came for a while until the kitchen started to form again. About then, Jack woke us up (“Five, you’re coming out of it, four, three, you’re almost awake, two, now it’s happening, one, YOU’RE AWAKE!”) The woman who had placed the key in my hand asked me what I had received, and, a bit embarrassed, I said, “Not much,” and described my images, leaving out the car which I still didn’t believe.
“That’s my kitchen, all right,” she said. “This is the back-door key and if you walked in, you’d see the table cloth and the calendar. The table-cloth is cubes, not checks, but I guess it looks kind of like checks.”
Emboldened, I asked, “Is there a car connected with this key in any way?”
She gave me a nervous look. “Yes,” she said. She then told me about a quarrel concerning a car which had occurred in that kitchen, in the course of which the key was slammed onto the table very angrily.
Skeptics who care to explain this away can write to me care of GALLERY; the only contribution I can make is that she wanted me to become a believer and deliberately lied, inventing a kitchen and a story about a car to fit my images. This would also explain the physicist who prayed for rain and got it; that never happened either. Those who can get rid of inconvenient data by asserting that the witnesses are liars, of course, need not ever think a new thought; but I was ready to dive deeper. I arranged to be “regressed” – that is, to enter another trance, and try to find my way back to a previous incarnation. This, I was convinced, was absolute rubbish; whereas I have been half-inclined to believe in ESP for several years now, the idea of an immortal soul climbing in and out of bodies like you or I changing clothes seems to me to belong strictly in Universal Studios where Karloff and Lugosi can flash their evil grins over it forever. Ergo, I was eager to put my skepticism to a test.
But first I got a chance to watch several regressions from the outside. First was a young lady of 23 who was regressed to age five and spoke just like a five-year-old for a few minutes; Jack Rowan regressed her further, past birth, and then she answered in a new voice. The next moments were worth the whole trip to Mpls Minn; the whole audience breathed silently, leaned forward and made no more noise than a hunter creeping up on a deer:
“How old are you?” Jack asked.
“You sound unhappy. Why?”
“Reverend Holtz tells me I’m a bad girl and God is very angry with me.”
The voice was 12-years-old, no doubt, and the accent was distinctly different. A few more questions revealed that the little girl we were talking to lived in an orphanage in the Dakota Territory around 1850, and my flesh was as they say creeping because the little girl voice and personality were quite as real and convincing as the adult woman they were proceeding from – and even assuming, as I did, that this was an unconscious fantasy being acted out, one was still awe-struck and I scribbled in my notebook Mind more marvelous than we ever realize, but now the little girl was growing up, her voice changed, her personality became tougher, more cynical; she answered questions, repeatedly, with “What do you care?” or “what business is it of yours?” Mary Rowan, a plump woman who reminded me of Mary Worth in the comics, took over for Jack and tried to develop a friendlier contact.
“Can I buy you a drink?” she asked.
“What’s in it for you?” came the answer. The little girl from the orphanage had become quite a hard-bitten young lady. It soon developed that she was still in the Dakota Territory, and changed her name from Laura to Lola, and was singing in a saloon to make a living.
“I think it’s time for you to sing,” Mary Rowan prompted, all sweetness and maternalism – Christ, we all would have been burned at the stake if they caught us at this a few centuries ago – “yes, I can hear the music…” and, several people jumped when it started, a professional show biz singing voice, vintage 19th Century, wailed out, hitting the four corners of the ceiling just like voice teachers tell their pupils to aim for, “CAL-ico girl/you are my/CAL-ico girl. . .”
I exhaled like a whale. I hadn’t realized that I was holding my breath. Explain it as you will: reincarnation, a kind of telepathy across time in which she was picking up the sensations and behaviors of another woman who had lived a century ago, just plain Freudian unconscious monkey-tricks, the actual performance I witnessed challenges the bedrock of our civilization, the very definition of ego. I remembered how psychologist William McDougal said of the famous Christine/Sally Beauchamp of Boston, the girl with nine personalities, that each of her selves seemed to be separate psychic entities rather than aspects of one personality. The ego is unreal, Buddha said; I was ready to believe him. The bar-room entertainer was quite as real, palpable, tangible, three-dimensional and there in the room with us as the rather quiet young lady who had sat down to be hypnotized a few minutes earlier. But more:
The next case up, another youngish woman, was regressed into a man (why not?) who had lived in India in the 16th Century. He had several wives, it developed, worked for the government, and had quite a definite and distinctive personality. Then, at a request, he went to the blackboard and began writing in a dialect of Hindustani. We were assured that this particular regression, which had been accomplished several times, has been extensively investigated – the memories resurrected fit actual social conditions in India at that time, and the language (which the subject, of course, has never studied) was real Hindustani.Telepathy at least, if not reincarnation? I scribbled.
The third case, Gott dank, was comic relief, at least for the engineering student: a rather pleasant young fellow regressed to an incarnation in which he was a cave man, and you haven’t heard such grunts or seen such grimaces since the original Griffith-Wallis production of One Million B. C. There was no need for reincarnation or even telepathy to explain this performance: too many nights with the Late Late Show would account for all of it – but while I congratulated myself on not being deceived, another corner of my mind was still grappling with the dance-hall girl and the Hindu dialect.
Next day it was my turn to be regressed.
I went under quickly and easily, just like the first time, and even had a moment to reflect that there seems to be more space in the hypnoidal world than in ordinary consciousness, it was rather like 2001really, and then Jack Rowan was ordering me back, back, back, past birth, and “Look down,” he said, “and see what you’re wearing.” I seemed to be in men’s clothing of approximately the Victorian age. “You’re outside your house,” he went on, “Look at it. What sort of house is it?” It was New England, rambling, decorated with gables. “Think, now: where are you?” The answer was immediate: Cambridge, Massachusetts. “What do you do for a living?” I looked out over a classroom of attentive 19th Century young men: I was evidently their teacher.
After a few more “memories” or inventions about that hypothetical life, Jack suddenly moved me up to the moment of death. “Now, don’t come back to this life yet. You’ve just died. Where are you?” I looked around – and, hold onto your hats all you skeptics and believers both, I seemed to be in some sort of fun-house or amusement park!
Which was all very interesting and inconclusive, and my wife did even better, “remembering” two previous lives when she was regressed, one also in New England, one in medieval France, but when we talked it over later – and both of us sat drinking coffee staring into space for ten or twenty minutes before we could begin to talk – it seemed that neither of us found anything that absolutely proved reincarnation, but we very distinctly experienced the unreality of the ego that all mystics talk about, the clear and irrefutible sense that the persons we thought we were had been manufactured out of some shotgun wedding of history and imagination, the real self being distinctly different and larger, as if we were giants who could only squeeze so much of ourselves into this midget world and had somehow contrived to forget that the rest of us was still outside and very much alive.
But next was my Tarot reading, and a comfortable return to the role of skeptical outsider. The reader, a black-bearded young magician named Bruce Larue who was later to impress me favorably by a white-robed dramatic performance of a magic rite in a nearby park, began by telling me that I would not move from my present home for three years. Since I was in the process of moving already, this provided a gratifying sense that everybody at the convention was not a light year ahead of me in spiritual development, and he went on to drop several more bricks, warming the cockles of my skeptical heart.
But then I was rushing to a combination handwriting analysis and psychic reading by Alexandria Russell and her husband, Joseph East. Alexandria, who has the personal pizzazz and something of the heft of Sophie Tucker, is the graphologist, and Joe, who is quiet and withdrawn behind a surface of immaculately tasteful clothing, is the psychic. Skepticism, striving valiantly for a come-back, received karate blows here: in ten minutes, staring at my handwriting sample like a jeweler scrutinizing the biggest diamond ever, Alexandria rapped off statements about my personal and professional life which were at least 98 per cent accurate. While I was still reeling, she told me that I had once suffered from anoxia, due to some form of smoke poisoning: bullseye! A furnace had backed up and almost killed me at the age of twelve. She then told me about a problem with my right leg, left over from a bout of polio at age 2 ½: another bullseye, right through the shaft of the last arrow. At this point, Joe, who had been staring not so much at me asthrough me, spoke up quietly.
“I think you’re about to have a book published,” he said.
He was right. Could he, knowing a writer was seeking a reading, have consulted every publisher’s list in the country to find a forthcoming book signed Robert Anton Wilson? Do you think so, O ye skeptics? I don’t – chiefly because the book is not signed Robert Anton Wilson.
He then proceeded, in his quiet way, to tell me, in detail, about my troubles with various editors – all of which, he said, derive from my habit of writing the way I want and not the way they want. It was unnerving; I had had similar experiences in psychotherapy twelve years ago, but then the therapist had several hundred hours of listening to me and watching me; Joe East was doing this cold, looking at nothing but my alleged “aura,” and if you don’t believe in auras (I’m not sure I do) then he was reading my body movements much quicker and more accurately than any kinetics expert can.
It went on for an hour, and neither Alexandria nor Joe made a single gross mistake, virtually everything they said was approximately true, and a large part of it was exactly true.
I went up to my hotel-room, stretched out on the bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondering what the hell had become of the engineering student. A simple hypothesis to account for what I had been seeing and experiencing would go something like this: we are, indeed, spiritual beings, and we inhabit spaces and times that transcend the spaces and times where the physical body finds itself; I am here, in the Hyatt Lodge in Mpls Minn. September 23, 1972 but I am also teaching at Harvard in the 1890s; perhaps there is no part of the universe that is not me; there is no instant in eternity at which I am not present. But I couldn’t really believe that, and with time and skeptical intelligence I would surely find a stingier, less extravagant explanation of these seeming auras and fields and spirits that crossed time and space and yet were myself and the other people here at the convention. It was just that the mind was more marvelous – more creative – than we normally realize. And in the next two days, attending lectures on the Cabalistic Tree – of Life and astral projection and the history of witchcraft and movies on parapsychology and Stonehenge, I repeated: it is mind, mind more marvelous than I ever knew, but only mind. Only psychology.
But the most amazing experience of all was yet to come. There was a man at the convention, a Hindu who wants no publicity thank you, and he offered to teach a small class in a variety of yoga more advanced than the exercises I had been groaning through every morning. It was one more experiment for me: why not?
“You must understand,” he told us in advance, “that this is dangerous. Nobody has ever written it in a book, because it has to be transmitted from person to person. A mistake can lead to a heart attack, and I am not exaggerating when I say that. One more thing: if you are not truly pure and sincere in your aspiration, this can drive you mad. It is more powerful than the LSD that everybody worries about.”
There was more of that – much more – and several people dropped out of the class; but I have long had a theory that certain kinds of psychological (or occult) experience require that you be frightened in advance-adrenalin is a very psychedelic chemical, and you produce it in horse doctor’s doses when you’re scared – so I always assume, when teachers of mysticism go into such a rap, that they are just charging up the adrenalin glands of their pupils. If I didn’t believe that, I would have dropped out also, since I don’t particularly regard myself as pure or sincere. I stayed – and the instructions were so simple that I could put them into one sentence of about thirty words, except that I know better now and will not do any such thing.
We practiced for a half hour and nothing happened.
“Hah,” I thought, “more food for the skeptic.”
The teacher then suggested that we practice again that evening.
Sure, I thought, give him enough rope before hanging him from a neat verbal noose when I write my article.
That evening I practiced for about forty minutes, and collapsed in exhaustion, nothing accomplished. I have gotten more out of ordinary Hatha Yoga, I thought skeptically as I dozed. Five minutes later, I was wide awake and it was happening. It went on for at least ten minutes, possibly fifteen, and there was absolutely no doubt about it, no way of explaining it as auto-suggestion or self-hypnosis or any such bromide – as well tell the adolescent boy having intercourse for the first time that he is just imagining that something entirely new is happening to him. He knows that something different and better than his fantasies of sex is going on, something that may have a mental component but is certainly much more than merely mental; he knows that he has entered a new dimension of life which had been imaginary before but is now quite definitely real. At the end of it I was laughing so loud that my wife feared I would wake the hotel.
It took about half an hour to get all the way back to ground level again, and then I could only mutter “Son of a bitch,” and “My God” and “Oh, wow” and similar profundities. “If the government ever finds out about this,” I said finally, “it’ll be twice as illegal as LSD.”
The next day I spoke with unaccustomed humility for me, to my guru (what else could I consider him now?) “You have only taken the first step.” he said. “There are nine further steps, and if you persist, you will come to a point of facing temptations that you have never imagined. If a man makes you angry, for instance, you will be able to direct you emotion like a weapon and strike him dead. Think long and hard about whether you want the responsibility of such powers, and if you can accept them without being destroyed morally. Then write to me.” At this point, I dared not completely disbelieve such extravagant claims: the cockroaches causing atomic radiation to change at their whim now seemed picayune indeed: and, four weeks later, I have not written to him yet, unable to decide how far I care to pursue this.
Driving out to the airport, the cabbie asked my wife and me, “Were you at that witches convention?”
I granted that we were.
“What was it like?”
I thought long and hard. “It was like interesting, man,” I said.