Church and state, and the crisis

October 23, 2018

I don’t get personal about people’s responses to the crisis in the Church. We’ve never seen exactly these conditions before, so as long as you’re a person of good will and do your homework, I’m not going to get in your face about your conclusions. Think that Benedict is still the real Pope? Think there hasn’t been a real Pope since 1958? That Paul VI is a saint, or not a saint? That the New and Improved Mass really is new and improved? I may agree or not, but I’m not going to call you names or personally excommunicate you under my authority as a Magisterium of One.

But occasionally I have to point out a violation of first principles. I’m going to pick on Church Militant here, because some of the folks there have been involved in what I consider an error. Full disclosure: I’m a subscriber, I listen to their podcasts daily, I have friends and family of friends who work for them, so this is definitely friendly criticism; I’m not going to go full Fr. James Martin Assjay on them.

Here’s the issue: some folks have placed more faith in the State than in God to resolve the crisis. The argument goes like this: “The bishops are powerless to fix this mess on their own, because they’re part of the problem. So the state needs to step in and be an instrument of God to clean house.” So these folks write to various attorneys general to investigate the church, wish for RICO charges, point out that under current US law, the state could financially rape the church, and that would be OK. Which it would not be, for me, because that’s my stuff. We laity built that. We even, I blush to say, helped turn it into a bathhouse.

The fundamental issue is that this places more trust in the state than in God. Look, I was a magic-using Wiccan for a quarter century, and if there’s anything I learned it’s “Be careful what you ask for; you might get it.” And that you don’t tie the hands of the Gods by defining how they He will aid you. And you don’t confuse the instrumentality of what you want for what you actually want. Is it possible that God will use the state as a scourge to smite evildoers in the Church? Sure. Is it possible that He has a better solution? I sure hope so. Am I smarter than God? Do I know the solution He should use? Uh-uh. But are there problems with the state solution? You bet.

First of all, the intended investigators are not impartial. We laughed when Wuerl the Girl suggested that the bishops should investigate themselves. But this is the opposite extreme: this is inviting the enemies of the Church to have power over it. This is like asking the Nazis to audit the synagogue’s books, like Trump making George Soros his campaign manager, like setting up a free bar at the AA meeting. This is a secular government founded by Freemasons. And a lot of people doing the investigating are socially inclined to be Marxists, for whom hating religion is a tenet of the faith. So the Church is unlikely to get a fair shake.

Second, they will ask the wrong questions. This isn’t about pedophilia, or even really about ephebophilia. It’s been made out to be that by the press (another enemy of the Church) because if it bleeds, it ledes, but if you want to fight that, look at the Protestants, or the public schools, both of whom have a worse record. It’s not even solely or mostly about the coverup. The church has an efficient hierarchy so it can cover up better, whereas teen boys who score with their teachers have a hard time keeping the secret. It is, at core, a matter of heresy, which the state has no interest or competence in. And the specific heresy is that homosexual relations are not a sin. If this were not believed, there wouldn’t be priests living in manifest sin, defending manifest sin, covering up for manifest sinners. And this isn’t “slipping and falling”. If Mrs. Reilly seduces Father and Father succumbs, that’s slipping and falling. If Father seduces Mrs. Reilly, or the students in a seminary, that’s something else. It’s believing, at least for the moment, that this is really OK. If a priest is keeping his vows, it doesn’t matter which sex he’s attracted to, and we shouldn’t even know.  But if he’s identifying as gay or as a ladies’ man, he’s saying that those things are all right. And they aren’t. Those who believe the homoheresy usually believe other heresies as well, because heresies travel in packs. But as I said, the press doesn’t care about that. And they and the state don’t care about the gay issue either, because gay is okay by them. In fact, if the Church ever cleans house on its own, the state and the press and the Assjay will be on them for “discrimination against homosexuals”.

So, if calling the cops isn’t an optimum approach, what do we do? We pray. We get our own faith lives together. And we get choosy about what faith institutions we support. We leave heretic parishes, and go to orthodox ones, even if it inconveniences us. We get choosy about who we give to.  If we live in a diocese where a full cleanout seems unlikely (LA? Saginaw?), maybe we move to a better-run one. And we expect that God’s deliverance will come in God’s time, not necessarily in the current election cycle.


Farm report

April 21, 2018

Well, it’s the first day of gardening. And the day I find out what sitting in a chair all day for the past 6 months has done to me. No endurance at all. Cardio all over the place. At least my wife cut my hair during one of the breaks.  But the chicken coop light is fixed,4 of 5 fruit frees are planted, and a short double row of onions. The garlic is hoed, and and the strawberries are much cleaner. So now I’m going to bathe, and plan my summer.

I may be back here more

April 8, 2018

I used to have a Net life before Facebook. I blogged. I was even on Usenet, back when that was a thing. I managed to have an online life without Suckmyberg’s aid.

I’m close to the point where I’m done with that.  It’s hard to let go.  I’m following all the best Catholics, and getting news of some of the worst. Discussion groups have pretty much died, except for professionally-oriented listservs. I’ve got a FB page for my Schola that I need to transition to somewhere, maybe to I may use them for professional advertisement. I’ll be in less contact with dear friends, but you know where to find me. I have a Twitter account under my own name which I seldom use, and a pseudonymous one I’ll probably lose. And an account on Gab that I may let you know about if I really like you.

What brought on today’s hissy fit? This.  I’m not a big fan of Diamond and Silk; loud and obnoxious remains loud and obnoxious even if they say things you agree with. But they have plenty of fans, including my wife. And for a media carrier to basically shadowban somebody you like, “for your own good”, is the height of paternalism. And Markie, guess who just started following Diamond and Silk? “Not a fan” doesn’t matter if you aren’t actually going to the page. You, and the SJW corps you shill for, need to be burned to the ground.


January 11, 2018

From a thread on Facebook, re Holy Week repertoire; names redacted to protect privacy.

A: I wouldn’t do the Reproaches as they are Anti-Semitic, given that they blame it on the Jews.
B: [mildly demurring statement]
A. It says “I led you out of Egypt. . . I fed you with manna. . .I gave you water from the rock. . .and you did this to Me.” Sounds like it is addressed to the Jews. NOT COOL!
Me: Huh? Sorry, they did it. Historical fact. But they couldn’t have done it without the Romans. That’s so both the Jew and the Gentile could be saved; they’re both symbolically responsible. But you know who the real Christ-killers are? A. B. And me. Especially me.
A: You are right; but I’m talking about the text of the Reproaches, which places the blame on the Jews, and we know where THAT sort of thinking led.
Me: No, we don’t know that. I’ve always understood the Jews as the proto-Church, and the Church as the new Israel. So yes, God led ME out of Egypt. If a few sin-deranged folks want to persecute Jews for having done the best favor for their fellow man that anyone has done, that’s on them, not on the traditions established by God’s Holy Church. It’s bad enough that we’re chucking parts of the faith to save the feelz of Christians; must we do so for those who aren’t Christian as well?

Alabama senate

December 13, 2017

This isn’t a loss for Trump. He supported Strange, and only supported Moore at the end, when he really had to. It’s not even necessarily a loss for Bannonism, let alone Trumpism, though Steve called this one wrong.. Moore was damaged goods going into this: popular with the base, not popular with the center, a tumultuous career. It didn’t take much poo-flinging (or vote-fudging?) to shave a couple points off. Any Democrat who wants to read this as a big victory for progressivism is seriously delusional. It’s bad for us conservatives for the next while, but it’s not forever.

But we need to look ahead. As a Catholic, I’m down in theory with the social kingship of Christ. But we live in a country which is historically Protestant and currently functionally irreligious. In a proposition nation (which, for better or worse, we have been) one needs religious pluralism. We mackerel snappers are late arrivals here, and we remember what it was like in Protestant England ca. 1600, so I’m not anxious to work against my personal interest, to load a gun that could be pointed at me. A guy like Moore with 2 legs hanging off the right edge of the Overton Window is a hard sell. You can’t make people holy through the state. If you want to make people holy, make them holy through the Gospel, and state power will follow as a majority decision. Most people don’t like drugs, so we have drug laws. If we lived in a nation of junkies, you could get heroin in vending machines. We DO live in a nation where vast swathes of people (including some Tea Party types) toke up, so we’re working on marijuana legalization. Remember Breitbart’s Law: “Politics is downstream from culture”. A democracy doesn’t make moral decisions; it wakes decisions based on personal desire.

And as much as I love Trump, and as weak as the Democrat bench is, he’s not going to meet such a spectacularly bad candidate next time. Nor will Doug Jones.

Why I’m not an electrical engineer

November 3, 2017

Once upon a time, I was a geeky kid, with all that implies about my social standing. And my geekiest interest was electricity and electronics. I wrote a big paper on how vacuum tubes worked, tried to figure out the bands on resistors, almost started a fire in front of a class by hooking up some thin wire from a transistor radio antenna to one of those big horking dry cells. I was well on my way to what could have been a happy and prosperous life, though it wasn’t at the time particularly happy.

What happened? I discovered music.

Now, it wasn’t that music was cooler than electronics, particularly the music that interested me. But what Tchaikovsky and Mahler taught me was that music made it possible to reach inside of somebody and rearrange their guts. I’d been emotionally manipulated my entire life, deliberately or accidentally, and this was my chance to get even with the world. And if I was going to be a stranger in a strange land (hadn’t read that one yet, but it would come), well, composition was stranger than wiring. If I was in study hall looking at wiring diagrams, I was doing what everyone else was doing: studying. If I was writing music, nobody else could do that. But that also meant I could play the misunderstood victim a little harder. Once, I was working on an orchestra piece and was approached by the best rock guitarist in the school, who enthused about what I was doing. Maybe he actually understood! Then he pointed at an empty measure.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a whole rest,” I said, crestfallen.

And composers could be culture heroes. Beethoven was forever, but did anyone write fan letters to the guy who invented the transistor? Electronics guys all worked behind the scenes. Even scientists in general did. There never seemed to be a personal public face of science, in the 1960s.

So I resolved to be a composer, and decided I didn’t need science stuff. In high school, I never took biology (which was icky and gross) and took the physical science and chemistry that I had to. I bailed on math after geometry. I was a terrible math student (by my lights; Bs rather than As) because I really didn’t care, and nobody tried to make me care. It wasn’t until later, helping my dad lay out a building, that the light flickered on briefly: “Oh, Pythagorean Theorem!” To this day, I am largely STEM-illiterate. I’m not proud of that, but it doesn’t pain me enough to cause me to change it, at this late date.

45 years later, my music is still about rearranging peoples’ guts, shamelessly emotionally manipulative. But the gut-rearranger has to be engineered. Is this material strong enough to support 20 minutes? Is there enough mass here? Is weight distributed evenly? Yes, that’s architectural, not electrical; one could draw parallels between my use of tonality and various elements of electronics, but it’s more of a stretch. It could be that I think I’m designing churches and am actually designing strip malls. And I’ve learned, very slowly, that one has to design to the capabilities of the builders. I’m not a Gehry, or a Xenakis. But I think my music is comfortable to live in. And some people like having their guts rearranged.

Sarah the Channeler

August 8, 2017

I found this story, figured I’d never make money on it, so why not share? It’s a rather unkind satire of New Agery in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s, written maybe 25 years ago. Take it for what’s worth, or not. ©2017, me.

Sarah the Channeler

By Jeffrey Quick

5128 words


Mack was in love again. My apartment-mate, the yoga teacher, was moaning in the living room like a sick calf. These affairs were getting hard to take, not just because people in love act so stupidly, but because Mack liked the spiritual ones, the New Age bimbos. He couldn’t settle for something normal, like nice tits. They had to have nice auras. You know how some women spend a half-hour putting on makeup in the morning? These women spent that time sitting in some candle-lit corner twiddling their chakras. And then Mack would come by with his sexual energy and throw them out of balance. That’s why he went through so many of them.


I was hoping that this one would be better than the last one, Moira O’Morrigan, Celtic New Age harpist. She had been born Esther Goldman and had been a promising concert saxophonist. But it’s not New Age to be Jewish, with all that Yahwist patriarchal crap and then Alice Bailey like Hitler in drag, babbling about the root races and how the Jews lost their shot at bringing forth the next World Teacher. And the sax was an industrial-age instrument with no mythic resonances at all, and an association with jazz, that evil music put through by the Dark Forces, as the Master Koot Hoomi told Cyril Scott. So after she got Rebirthed, she changed her instrument and her name. A person who could so easily dispose of her past could never come down as close to earth as Mack’s waist. So that didn’t last long.


Really, Mack would be a lot easier to live with if he’d only blow off some of that sex-energy. But he didn’t believe in that, or so he said. He came in one night from the gym, limping. He’d been shooting baskets in his stocking feet, landed wrong, and pulled a ligament. He came in, sat down, and told me why it happened. “My muscles were weak, because I beat off last night.” I managed somehow not to burst out laughing, and said, “Mack, if there were a direct causal relationship at work here, I’d be an invalid by now. If you want to punish yourself for masturbating, go right on ahead, but you don’t have to.” He was a little pissed at that.


This seminal Scrooge even built his diet around his fetish. No cayenne, of course; it gives you the hots. No onions; they give you wet dreams. He’d get on my case for frying bacon and stinking up the place, but every morning he’d cook kasha and bulghur liberally seasoned with asafetida, also known as devil’s dung. Yum. And for dinner, buckwheat ramen with spirulina, which always reminded me somehow of Soylent Green. The pity was, it did him no good on the firing line. I knew one of his past lovers, one of the saner ones, who told me he specialized in dancing the Minute Waltz. Being tense did that. And since he was horny, of course he was tense, even in general. He’d throw fits over little things, break dishes…terrible temper.


Don’t get me wrong. Mack could be a great guy. He was funny, talented, understanding. And I’m a born-again Goddess-fearing pagan myself, so some potential room-mates would find me pretty strange too. But this yogic thing he’d swallowed had broken my flake barriers, and it did make him hard to live with.


Anyway, Mack was in love, and I had met the woman that very afternoon. She had just opened a metaphysical bookstore. I had walked in to check it out, and saw her behind the counter. She had long, thin, slightly kinky blonde hair and bright but expressionless blue-gray eyes. She was of medium height, and very thin, like most New Agers, Mack included. I mean, they all look like their center of gravity is six inches above their heads. I had gone up and introduced myself, and asked her name. “They call me Sarah,” she said, as if she were someone else, a superior being, forced by them to wear the label “Sarah” like the Scarlet Letter. I didn’t know how to react to that, so I had left, coughed the incense out of my lungs, and walked home to find Mack moaning. What could I do? I just grabbed a beer out of the fridge and sat down to listen.


“She’s so fuckin’ beautiful, man!” he said. “She’s got that sweet elusive Cancer quality, real yin. You think you’re holding her tight and then she just slips out of your arms. It gets my fire sign stuff all revved up.”


“Fire and water,” I said, “A classic combo. Do you think it’ll get steamy?”


“Hey, I don’t have any water at all in my chart. How do you expect me to balance out my emotional self?”


“Work on yourself; how else? What is she good for, besides filling up your holes, or vice-versa?”


He shot me a dirty look. “She’s really into Shirley MacLaine.”


“And Jane Fonda too, right?”


“Yeah, she works out every day. How did you guess?”


“She’s into celebrities. I know the type. Too bad she didn’t listen to Art Linkletter when he told people to stay off acid.”


“Hey, wait a minute! You’re bad-mouthing this woman, and you don’t even know her! That kind of reflects on me, doesn’t it?”


If the shoe fits, I thought, but didn’t say. Last time I pulled something like that, he threw a monster fit. Screamed at me for an hour, until I could barely stand or breathe. I felt sick for two days. Asperged the apartment with salt water, grounded the leftovers in the kitchen sink drain and broke the garbage disposer. Better calm him down. “No, not really. I’m not knocking your taste in women. But I just met her, down at the store. Interesting place.” Yeah, sure. She had the unabridged complete works of Alice Bailey read on convenient 90 minute cassettes by the channeled voice of Alice herself, textbooks on prepucology (the diagnosis of any ailment, physical or emotional, by examination of the foreskin, assuming one has one.), Kabbalistic interpretations of Das Kapital. Paraphernalia like pyramid hats, and toilet paper with the face of the Bhagwan Rajneesh on every sheet. Plus lots from those channeled entities, Ramtha, Seth, Lazaris and the rest.


“Yeah, it’s a good store,” Mack said. “She’s going to special-order me some books on Taoist sex techniques.”


Could she tell by looking? I thought. He wouldn’t be moaning here if they had…


“And I’m going to be minding the store for her part-time. She’s just starting a second career.”


“Doing what?” I had to ask.


“Channeling workshops. She just learned how last week. She brought through the consciousness of this Sacred King named Sinep, who was earth-merged into some Druidic temple in Vermont about 800 BC. Pretty amazing guy.”


A channeler, eh? Well, nature abhors a vacuum, I thought. Still, I was interested in this Sacred King business, and in the psychopathology of the lady. So I asked, “Why do you think all these people are trying to channel?”


“Well, the Age is changing, and the human race is in danger. People want to help. And these advanced disincarnates seem to know things we don’t.”


Yeah, things about making a buck. “It just seems a little unfair to me. If what these guys have to say is so important to us, why didn’t they incarnate? Why shouldn’t they get hungry and horny and have 9 to 5 jobs like the rest of us?”


“We weren’t in this kind of trouble 20 years ago. They would have had to forget themselves, leave their personalities behind, and not be able to help. And it’s an honor, man, like being ridden by the vodoun loas.”


“I’m a human, not a horse,” I said dryly. “Anyway, what did this Simp or whatever his name was have to say?”


“Mostly that we’re all gods, that we can change our lives, bring peace to the earth and avert the coming pole shift.”


“Big deal. And people pay money to listen to that?”


“Yeah. She’s got a dozen signed up for a workshop next Sunday, at $50 each.”


“That’s cheap for a channeler.”


“Well, she’s just starting out, and she’s not really into money anyway. But she has a problem. She doesn’t have a place to do the workshop.”


“What’s wrong with the store?”


“Too crowded, too open to the street. And Jeff, um, ah, I want her to do it here.” And he turned and looked right at me.


Now what was I going to do? I wasn’t real big on the idea of a dozen loons wandering through my living room. But it was Mack’s place too, and fair is fair. I didn’t want to piss him off. If this helped him score, he’d be easier to live with. And I was curious. What kind of fraud was this woman? Or was she for real? That was a scarier thought. I’m suspicious of untrained mediumship. You never know what’s going to take over. If there was going to be any trouble, I didn’t want to miss it.


“Yeah, sure”


“I’d rather you were gone then.”


“It’s my place too.”


“Well, you’re such a skeptic. It tends to throw mediums off.”


“No., really, I’m interested. I want to see what this is all about.”


“Ah…OK. Just don’t be an obnoxious asshole, like you are now,” Mack said with an embarrassed giggle.


I smiled at him. “I’m opinionated, but I’m not rude. I’ll be cool.”


“Thanks. Got a spare beer?”


“Sure.” Mack almost never drank. This was a good sign.




Sunday finally arrived. Mack got up early, just as I was pulling the bacon from the refrigerator, and slapped my hand. I ate an omelet instead. Then I got drafted to push the furniture back and help clean. Mack was very firm that the apartment had to be absolutely immaculate. He said that dirt attracts psychic creepy-crawlies. Yeah, I suppose that clutter disorders the mind, but I always figured that the Goddess loves dust bunnies as much as the kind that hops. But with company coming and all, cleaning seemed like the thing to do.


He pulled the smoke detector off the ceiling and lit enough incense to physically manifest a grimoire-full of demons, had either of us been so inclined. Then he brought his stereo speakers out of his room and played New Age tapes. I tried to listen to the stuff. My mistake. I can’t stand music that totally avoids dissonance and resolution; it has no direction. I thought of the music as the shadow of Mack’s sexuality, all release and no tension, and chuckled.


Things were supposed to start at 2. About 1:30 the doorbell rang. Moira O’Morrigan. She came in, looked daggers at Mack, sat down. I tried to make polite small talk, since she didn’t seem to be into talking to Mack, and we’re both into music. She began spewing this line about how she and the Celtic Harpist Alan Stivell were soulmates, and how she had seduced him during his last visit to town. I took this with a small salt mine. Mack excused himself to hit the john, and she stopped talking about Stivell. I saw through her game; she was trying to make Mack jealous. I prayed that somebody else would show up soon.


As we pagans say, “Be careful what you ask for–you might get it.” Next to arrive was this woman named Ursulette. A bear she may have been, but there was nothing “ette” about her 300 pounds. I was surprised to see her, since she didn’t mingle much in New Age circles. She claimed to be Queen of all the Witches in the area. Since she couldn’t even keep an Outer Court group together for more than 6 months, let alone find anyone advanced to work with, nobody took this claim seriously. I supposed she had come to listen to Sinep the Sacred King; she was big on paleopaganism. She probably claimed a past life as artist’s model for the Venus of Willendorf. I could at least talk occult shop with her, sort of.


After that, others started arriving regularly: a lesbian couple who had met at the Womyn’s Peace Encampment, some guy from the local soyfoods plant, and this well-groomed and yuppiesque guy named Jason who had written a book called “God in my Mercedes” and was trying to develop a franchisable business home-delivering wheatgrass juice. Jason I kind of liked, actually; he was honestly mercenary. And there were some people I didn’t know; I introduced myself and tried to make them feel comfortable. But no Sarah yet, and it was getting late. I thought of asking Mack about her, but decided not to. She was probably on New Age Standard Time: half an hour later than the rest of the world. Besides, didn’t Mack say she was a Cancer? They like to make a Grand Entrance.


Sure enough, at 2:05 she came in. She was wearing a white V-neck dress, silk on top and bolt lace from mid thigh down to her ankles. Her hair was held in place by a purple silk headband, with an amethyst mounted at mid-forehead. On a silver chain around her neck was the obligatory quartz crystal. She crossed the living room and announced, “Sorry I’m late. Mack and I have to discuss a few things, and then we’ll get started, OK?” The she and Mack disappeared into his room.


“Hey, your room-mate is cute,” Ursulette said, “How involved is he in the channeling stuff?”


“I really don’t know,” I said. “I think he has personal reasons for facilitating today.”


“Oh, I see,” she said coldly.


Moira was eavesdropping. “You can let go of the desire, Ursie,” she said, “He’s a jerk anyway.”


“So is she, probably,” Ursulette said. “I knew that. But I wanted to come, because I had never heard of anyone channeling a Sacred King before. I thought their energies were tied to their sites, and you had to go there to talk to them.”


“Sacred Kings aren’t so strange,” I said. “There’s a woman in Cleveland who channels a vegetarian biker named Produce.”


“She just vegetates and he sprouts up?” quipped Jason. Megan, half of the lesbian couple, gave him a “Don’t-mock-my-sister” scowl. Things might have gotten interesting if Sarah and Mack hadn’t returned just then.


“OK, We’re ready to get started. I’m sure you all know I’m called Sarah. This is Mack, whose place it is– oh, it’s Jeff’s place too– he’s going to be watching my body while I’m gone and generally facilitating. We have a special guest this afternoon. Sinep is a Sacred King who was buried alive at a ritual site in South Woodstock, Vermont, around 800BC, in order to mediate in the Underworld for his people.”


I thought, she’s read Barry Fell and R.J.Stewart and conflated them. Then I realized something about the King’s name, and stifled a giggle. Not well enough; Dianna, Megan’s mate, turned and glared at me.


“It was a great honor to be chosen a Sacred King. He knew a lot when he was alive, and now that he is on the Other Side, he knows even more. Today he is going to speak to us on the nature of personal reality. Rather than give him a big hand, let’s sit on the floor in a circle, link hands, and attune ourselves to his message.”


So we did that, and stayed quiet several minutes. Sarah sat at the north of the circle, Mack beside her. I sat across from them. We had our eyes closed, but one can’t close one’s eyes forever, and I was suspicious of fraud, so I started looking. I saw Sarah drop her head, shudder, and then blink. Then she spoke, in a deeper voice with a vaguely East-coast accent.


“Good day. This is Phineas Barnum. Welcome to the show.”


I gasped. Fortunately, so did everybody else. This woman was the Real Thing. I do have a Sight for such things, what a charismatic Christian might call “Discerning of Spirits” but wouldn’t in my case. But it was obvious that this was unplanned. After all, she had announced Sinep. And what New Ager would have the guts to fake P.T.Barnum? That would cut a little close to home.


Mack went into action. “Mr. Barnum, we are delighted by your presence with us, but we were expecting Sinep the King. Could you perhaps return to visit us when we are more ready to receive you?”


Barnum/Sarah turned and glared at him. “You were expecting a lecture on the nature of personal reality, on epistemology, if you will. If we are all One, does it matter who gives it?”


“Well, um, ah” Mack muttered.


“And if we are not all One, than am I not uniquely qualified to talk about the difference between reality and fantasy, more qualified than some caveman who was stupid enough to be talked into letting himself be murdered?”


Ursulette was obviously offended by this; she was squeezing her hands together nervously. Barnum looked at her. “Are you irate, eensy-weensy bear?” She turned scarlet. “Sorry to stretch your beliefs like that, but how do you know that Sarah hasn’t been humbugging you about this Sinep? Or that I haven’t been pretending to be Sinep all along? I used to take many common oddities and make them seem odder in order to draw a crowd. You wouldn’t have come to hear a mere showman. And you need to be talked to.”


A 300-pound woman can’t shrink into the carpet, but Ursulette was giving it her best shot. Megan was not pleased. “Mr. Barnum,” she said, “you’re humiliating our sister!”


“Our sister,” he snorted. “You’re as quick to judge her behind her back as you are to judge me. You’re so righteous, Miss Politics. Where did the Granny Smith apples come from that you brought home yesterday?”


“I bought them at the Co-op,” Megan said proudly. “They’re from New Zealand.”


“Mix-up at the warehouse,” Barnum said. “They were grown in South Africa.” Dianna looked ready to puke one of those apples onto her friend. “And if you think it really matters where they came from, think about the economics of fungible goods again.”


Mack looked panicked. He started muttering something in Sanskrit. “Can that bunkum,” Barnum said. “I couldn’t find a real yogi-man for my show when I was alive, and I certainly haven’t found one now.”


Mack wasn’t giving up that easily. “In the name of Jesus the Christ, be gone out of this woman!” he shouted.


“Nice try at Names of Power, kid”, Barnum said. “They used to do that in my time too, only more convincingly. After all the trouble I had with preachers, you’ll have to do better than that. I suggest you just let me talk until I’m done, and then I’ll leave.”


Mack shut up, but his lips were moving as he crossed himself. “Ateh Malkuth, ve Geburah, ve Gedullah….” I read. Gods, the Kabbalistic Cross. What did he think he was doing with that? The guy had no exorcism technique at all. After Mack threw that fit I told you about, I went to my High Priestess and learned everything I could about psychic self-defense. I knew I could send Barnum scuttling back under his astral rock. But why should I? It wasn’t my karma. And I was having too much fun.


“Now, if I may continue.” Barnum said, “I didn’t believe in mediums when I was alive. I wrote about them and their silly seances in my book The Humbugs of the World, which you can buy along with my Struggles and Triumphs at the entrance to the Greatest Show on Earth or at your favorite bookseller for only…er, um, I seem to be rambling a bit. Anyway, I did not believe in mediums. But I can’t tell you now not to believe in mediums, because I’m here speaking through one. I’d lack credibility, wouldn’t I? But most mediums are humbugs; this one usually is. But she’s a sincere fraud. Everything she channels except me is the flotsam and jetsam of her own subconscious. She only thinks it comes from outside her. Since she’s sincere, she’ll be a successful fake, because there’s a Seeker born every minute.


“The question is this: how does one tell the genuine from the sham? You say to trust your feelings. Horsefeathers! You can’t help but be fooled. When you live in horror of being taken in, you believe yourselves to be a sham, and thus continually humbug yourselves. Such a skeptic does not honor or accept his own mind or senses, and so might as well not have them. On the other hand, if you merely trust your feelings, without objective thought, you will also be fooled by your own wishful thinking. The middle way is to accept that each world, the world of imagination and the world of physical law, has its own rules, which may not be mixed at your pleasure.


“We are all magicians. We create illusions to sustain hope. Behind every sham is a real desire. Lonely men in boarding-houses dreamed of comely mermaids in the South Seas. I gave them a dried monkey torso cunningly attached to a fish tail. Some swore that it was real, and that reality was inferior to their fantasy. Most knew they had been taken in, laughed it off, and went out in search of a normal, loving real wife. They transcended their illusions, and had a good time doing so. You’re just burrowing deeper into yours.


“I gave my patrons their money’s worth. Everyone agreed that there was more in my American Museum in New York than one person could see in a day, and all for only twenty-five cents, children half-price. You’ve paid a sum which is almost two day’s wages for a poor workingman, and for what? Entertainment! You whitened sepulchers, you’re so sanctimonious about hearing the wisdom of the dead. What besides self-loathing makes you think the dead are wiser than you are? They’re dead after all. Sinep never said anything but the platitudes found in a dozen books, which was where Sarah got them. Why don’t you read the books yourselves? And if humans are all gods, why don’t you spread the news for free? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where everyone acknowledged their divinity? I think you’d rather live in a world where only white middle-class people are gods who expect everyone else to worship them. And that is the world you live in.


“You folks don’t do anything I didn’t do in my day. The only difference is that you take yourselves too seriously and are ashamed of your motives. Jason here is the cleanest among you; he’ll admit he has a prosperity consciousness, which is your jargon for being on the lookout for the main chance. Then Jeff thinks he knows all about what phenomena are legitimate and which aren’t.” He/she stared at me. “Did you know that Charles Godfrey Leland was an associate of mine? He thought very highly of me. You love to impute guilt by association; do you still believe that ‘Gospel of the Witches’ that he claimed to have found?”


“Irrelevant question,” I said. “The validity and power of a myth are not dependent on its basis in fact.”


Barnum looked at me approvingly. “You don’t confuse the planes,” he said.


“I don’t want to get lost on the Other Side,” I said.


“Unlike some here,” said Barnum. “You people keep confusing God and Mammon. You, Esther…” Moira started to object to the name; Barnum cut her off. “I changed Charley Stratton’s name to General Tom Thumb, which was no hokier than you pseudo-Celt stage name. And I presented nice safe moralistic plays like The Drunkard and Joseph and His Brethren, just like your nice, safe, bland music, because that is what people wanted. But don’t you see, my dear, that Beethoven’s music is more New Age than any of your tinklings? He used all the resources available to him, not just the pretty and peaceful ones. He wrote about victory, about creating a glorious reality from the most unpromising materials, such as poverty and deafness. Have your pieces made anyone weep or laugh or sing or dance? Music speaks to the body. Bodies are why we’re here on earth, instead of flitting around like ghosts. I miss my body. It’s fun down here in the Dark! On earth I created a vast empire. Here I can only talk to you and tell you to enjoy what you have.


“What good is it to work on the astral without working on the physical? Enlightenment isn’t a spacey feeling in your skull. That’s malnutrition or oxygen-starvation. Enlightenment is what you do in the real world. You want to be enlightened? Then feed the hungry, rock a crying child. Make love. Dance in the sun. And work. Work for the world you want to see, the world you can visualize with your so-called astral vision. Keep your energy from supporting your enemy, Know what you believe, and know that ideas have consequences. Reality is a universal agreement– but there may be reasons that the universe has agreed to the present reality. Search them out. Do that, and then you will be enlightened. That is all I have for today. Are there any questions?”


Ursulette spoke up. “Was I the High Priestess when Sinep was a Sacred King?”


“Jesus Crippled Christ on a crutch!” Barnum exploded. “You really weren’t listening, were you? Sinep’s a fake. If you want to make up stories about your past, and they help you live and have fun, fine, but don’t expect scientific validation from me. My elephant Jumbo had more brains per pound of body weight than you, and he didn’t have the sense to get off the railroad tracks. If that’s the level of question you have, forget it. I’m wasting my time. Good-bye!”


Sarah raised her head, yawned, stretched, and finally opened her eyes. “Well, I hope we’re all…” she began cheerily, and then noticed that something was wrong. “What’s the matter? Everyone here looks so grim; it’s not an uplifted vibe at all.”


“We weren’t uplifted,” Megan said.


Mack jumped in to take responsibility. “Sarah, uh, you didn’t channel Sinep this time. You got P.T.Barnum.”


“Barnum?” she said. “Who was he? And why didn’t you send him away?”


“A circus guy. He started Barnum and Bailey. He once supposedly said that there’s a sucker born every minute. I tried to get rid of him, but he wouldn’t go. He was very rude.”


“I’ll say!” Ursulette said. “He made fun of my weight.”


“He called us all fakes,” said Moira. “Including you, Sarah.”


“Actually, some of the things he said made a little sense,” said Jason.


“Oh, shut up, Jason!” Dianna snarled. “You’re just sticking up for him because he liked you because you’re a fellow fraud. That’s the way all you men are, one big club…”


“All you men?!” the soy worker interrupted. “That’s the most sexist statement I’ve heard in a long time.”


“Well, this is the biggest ripoff I’ve seen in a long time,” another attendee said. “I want my money back.”


“Whoa!” Sarah said. “Let’s calm down and figure out what went wrong. This has never happened before. The channel felt unusually clear; I don’t remember anything that happened. I need your support, and I don’t have it when you’re arguing with each other. Now, what did this Barnum say?”


“He was real judgmental and moralistic,” somebody said, “Not like Ramtha at all.”


“He said that spirituality wasn’t as important as working on material things,” Moira said. “Of course, he also admitted that he was a liar.”


“He kind of liked Jeff,” Ursulette said.


The room got quiet fast. Every eye pointed at me. Mack said, quietly, “Jeff has had a rather, uh, skeptical attitude about channeling. Do you think his presence could have distorted the channel?”


Thanks, Mack, I thought. I’ll remember that next time you want a beer.


“It’s possible,” Sarah said.


All hell broke loose. People were standing up and shouting at me. Every sentence contained a “you”: It’s your fault I got taken, you are a materialist skeptic, you are not enlightened as we are, you eat pork and you would probably eat human flesh if it were legal. The crowd crept closer backing me up to the wall. This could get dangerous, I thought; time for some practical magic. I looked the crowd in the eyes. I imagined power thrusting out from my solar plexus with every word. And I said, loudly, “Why blame me? Barnum was right, wasn’t he?”


It worked. They turned on Sarah instead, saying how she didn’t have control of herself or her psychic space, how maybe Barnum was right and she was a fake, how they’d all go tell their friends about this. Sarah was in tears. After a while the voices stopped, and let her cry in silence. Finally she quit and said, “OK I advertised a lecture by a Sacred King. You didn’t get what you paid for. Everyone who is not content with what they got out of this workshop, line up, and I’ll return your money. I just want everyone to be happy.”


They all lined up, except Jason. Coats went on and people mumbled as they left. When Sarah had finished returning money, she said to Jason, “I can’t believe that you of all people don’t want your money back.”


“No, I want you to have it. I got what I wanted out of this. Every dollar I spend comes back to me multiplied. By the way, I’m setting up a book tour. That Barnum really knew how to advertise. If you were to come along to bring him through, and he were to plug the book…”


“Fuck off, Jason”, Sarah said.


He shrugged, and walked out. Mack put his hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said.


“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s not even Jeff’s fault. I just don’t have my channeling scene together yet.”


“You look really tense,” Mack said. “Would you like a massage?”


“Yeah. That would be really nice.”


I couldn’t believe it. Mack had used New Age Come-On Line Number One, and she had fallen for it. Well, she was in bad shape and he seemed very sincere. Maybe he would give her “just a massage”. But I wasn’t placing bets.


“Let’s go into my room,” he said as he turned to me and scowled. “I don’t want to be around this asswipe right now.”


So they went to his room, and I went to mine to catch up on some studying. After a good while I heard bedsprings creaking, and high-pitched moans. Many of them, for a long time.


I had a feeling that Mack had already forgiven me everything.