LETTER FROM ARCHIBALD FURRAY TO STANISLAW CULP, post-marked from Egypt (continued):
What connects the V.D. to the Heli0pTx cards?
It seems that much of what the archeologists are digging up is touristy junk, even if some of it is genuinely thousands of years old. It was made to be attention grabbing to wanderers, even long, long ago; you know, nothing new about that.
The big money seems to go the antiquities displays, an industry based on wholesale robbing of graves. The genuine old stuff quickly gets mixed with commercialized versions and cheap knock-offs. Tales abound of how these items were handed down through chains of mercenaries, bandits, and intrepid explorers, or through families tracing their roots to warriors and royalty. Very romantic. But the real focus is on the gold. For a hundred miles around, the desert was patrolled by heavily armed guards because of reported treasures rivaling those of King Tut. But the rumors have yet to pan out.
The Learned Debates in the Local Bar.
Last night, a group of archeologists, anthropologists, reporters and lawyers tried to decipher clues in a deck of Heli0pTx Cards sold to them by one of the local dealers. None of them could agree on what the cards actually meant, or what they could actually do.
There was an old guy from Germany, Dr. Adolphus Kleppenheim. He held up a single card as a badge of his authority, claiming it held the key to uncovering a vast buried necropolis, though he refused to surrender it to anyone else for closer inspection. He was certain he was right, and he kept shouting and banging on the table. He acted like a Nazi, and probably was one, given the way he hadn’t changed his name. Even if he wasn’t a Nazi, he was predisposed to favor that mindset. Surrounding him, there was an entourage of sycophantic students, doting on his every word, and their support emboldened his behavior. A younger Pole sat back, nodding here and there, though not necessarily as a sign of agreement. The young Pole might have been nodding only to show he was paying attention, but the German took it as a sign of weakness, and started badgering him.
The professors from the more prestigious universities, the Oxfords, the Yales and what all, they urged the gathering to approach the problem using old fashioned, well-established methods, believing that social rank was the primary concern of whoever designed the cards. It could have been the influence of all the pyramids around, not only the actual ones, rising from the desert, but also the souvenir miniature replicas in every shop window. The design hoisted a natural hierarchy to the apex of its design. It suggested a natural order to things, a natural function of any religion, and here, on display, was one where kings were gods, not just chosen representatives, and individuality, freedom, and subjectivity, being modern deceits, were inapplicable.
This was a land with a history; being at the height of human development, in ancient times, one of the greatest cultures ever known, then becoming a colony, under the rule of distant strangers. A sensitivity to both histories informed the barroom discussions; as the talk revolved around conquest and plunder as a value, but also recognizing the need for strangers in a strange land to show proper respect to the culture that surrounds them, lest it consume them.
The others in the bar started rallying around the Pole, a natural human response to the aggression of Dr. Kleppenheim, regardless of whether he was right or wrong. There was a sly, sullen, observant woman, who, with insults and clever remarks, was deftly herding the drunken gathering. There was a wide-eyed youth, speaking rapidly and poetically, who seemed utterly intoxicated, but not from alcohol. Some insisted the cards should be read intuitively. Some said they should only be read based on what was actually visible, and what was actually known. There was a couple who tried to act as intermediaries between the quarrelling factions. There was a coldly calculating silent one of indeterminate gender, just watching, listening, and taking notes. The bribed policemen were paying attention as well, trying to decide when or if to intervene.
–There has long been a link between Mercury and Tarot cards.
–Yeah, they pulled that link out of their assholes.
–No. The Tarot actually had its origin as the unbound pages of the Book of Thoth. Originally, the images were painted as murals on the temple walls, and formed a pictorial system to interpret information being exchanged between planets, suns, plants, and animals. I think we’re close– very close– to something even more ancient. We’re going to find those walls if we keep digging. They lie deep below us.
–If the legends are true, the book was engraved onto pure gold plates.
–Then printed on linens…
–No. Printed on the oldest and purest book of the body. The skin…
–The oldest and purest book is the Heart. The images on the murals show “inner thoughts”, the pure stuff of what lies buried deep within human consciousness before it turns into words. The undiluted core of awareness pounding out a beat in the core. The heart of consciousness maintaining life through its steady rhythms. The texts of time flowing in blood. (The guy who said this as stoned on hashish)
–The pictures on the walls facilitated communication between visiting seers who didn’t speak the local languages. They used sticks and arrows and emotive expressions, from the heart, to focus on different tiles. These became the suites of modern gambling cards.
–Right. They used clubs when there were misunderstandings, and spades to bury the gore.
–As the cards moved from culture to culture, the images changed. Symbols were added. Legends accumulated. And mysteries. But beneath it all, there lies a universal truth and meaning.
–Right. Like I said, they pulled it out of their assholes. Nothing is easier than saying here’s the truth, but it lies beyond words.
–It was a clergyman in the late 18th Century who first claimed that divination cards came from a holy book written by Egyptian priests, along with the claim that the Catholic Church tried to suppress them, since the cards, with their mysticism and allure, represented too powerful an opponent. It was a great piece of marketing on his part, a Protestant playing against a prevailing bias among his parishioners. But he pulled the theory out of his ass, because back then, no one could read hieroglyphics. It was years before they discovered the Rosetta stone.
–Bear in mind, we’re not really talking about Tarot Cards. Heli0pTx Cards are something else entirely. There are local legends here that share similarities, but they really are a whole different thing.
–You know how they found King Tut’s tomb? Using clues in the folklore. I was there when they found it back in ‘22. Drunk on my ass and listening to tall tales. But there were clues hidden in local lore that sounded like drug inspired fairytales.
–While the Tarot spread all over the world, the Heli0pTx stayed put, right here. While the Tarot drew attention to itself, the Heli0pTx hid.
–The Tarot wasn’t exactly out in the open. It kept plenty of veils in place, teasing like a stripper, promoting itself by advertising its secrecy. The Heli0pTx wormed their way into dreams and visions by hiding behind the Tarot. Completely unmanifested, yet present.
–A lot of my colleagues back home take it for granted that Hermes and Thoth were well recognized in antiquity as being equivalents. That’s a modern bias; it looks that way in hindsight, and through the lens of our own culture. But most of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians didn’t see it that way, not at all. And the few who did, kept it to themselves. It was kind of a crazy notion, even back then. Something that sounded like they pulled it out of their assholes. But that’s consistent with the way the V.D. viewed the world, you know, the way he or they viewed the cosmos. The Earth, the Stars, the Sun and Moon were all part of a single complex scheme, parts that fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and all held in place by laws of Sympathy and Antipathy. These laws can’t be found, or proven, and even well defined. They have to be intuited. These are the kind of concepts you pull out of your asshole.
–What comes down to us through the centuries is the Corpus Hermeticum. 17 treatises, but only fragments, remnants of legendary essential texts—42 of them. And from what we can see, there are no defining concepts, no unifying principles, no consistency other than a lack of consistency, coupled with the heartfelt declarations they represent the ultimate truth. They were supposedly written by the V.D., but you can’t tell who that is supposed to be: an actual person, a god, a principle, a methodology, or a culture that combines all of the above.
–The V.D. seems to put in his first appearance around the first century A.D. But then the chronologies get all screwed up. In some accounts, his teachings influenced Zoroaster and Moses, but that might have been a campaign from Persians and Jews trying to set up defenses against an alluring and encroaching mysticism. There is something very appealing about an eternal single, unified true, but hidden, nature of things, final answers, that lay at the heart of all religious questions. Plato gets roped in as well, but the folks trying to suppress the V.D. needed to invoke Plato’s name because philosophy was under the same kind of pressures as the prevailing religions. Ideas can be catchy as diseases. Rationality and Logic really don’t guarantee protection against weaponized lunacy. Everybody needs to be on full alert when people start pulling weird ideas out of their… out of the air.
–Consider the way the V.D. infected Western intellectual development, mythically representing both sides of the materialism vs idealism debate, serving, like Hermes, as a messenger between the two sides, science and magic.
— Every culture has these subcultures that exert their powers without being seen, with almost no evidence of actual existence, like huge dents in the fabric of the Universe that are caused by extraordinary masses and gravitation. There and not there. There are many secret fraternal Orders that bind their members through vows of confidentiality; they pride themselves on being outsiders, secure in being blessed with wisdom or missions only they can understand, seeing their functions as absolute necessities though they oppose custom, tradition, and convention; they think themselves entitled to behave according to their own dictates, like mobsters, or mad poets, or drunken professors making up shit.
–Isaac Newton had a precise mathematical mind, but it was counterbalanced by his interest in Hermeticism. Its mystic conceptual framework of sympathies and antipathies surely inspired his laws of motion and gravity as much as his falling apple epiphany, which no doubt happened in the Fall. His very brain chemistry had been altered by experiments in hermetic alchemy, with exposure to elemental mercury and its fumes. Intoxicated by Mercury. How ironic that his neat, orderly constructs of planetary motion should eventually be undone by the wobble in the planet Mercury that caught Albert Einstein’s attention, the wobble caused by the curve of the huge dent in space/time created by the immense gravity of the Sun.
–The chronology of the legends surrounding the V.D. fits if you consider that he might have been an architect and polymath named Imhotep, a priest of Ra, who lived around the 27th Century BCE. Somehow, 3,000 years after his death, Imhotep gets associated with both Thoth and Hermes. Still, he got deified in his own name and granted the power to interact with the living. There’s a side theory. Some of the legends surrounding Imhotep bear similarities to the biblical story of Joseph, but that’s a coat of a different color.
–It’s called Euhemerism, a principle that interprets mythologies as springing from actual events, say, as opposed to the Jungian notion they spring from deep structures of the mind.
–A funny thing happened to old Imhotep. At least, the Ren, and maybe the rest of the stuff that constitutes his personage. He picked up a cult following. You know how it is with cults. Even when there’s evidence that the object of worship isn’t really quite as splendid as everyone thinks, the followers make all kinds of excuses for him. They transform the world with worldly accommodations. The stories and expectations change. Fifteen hundred years after his death, Imhotep becomes a demigod. He becomes associated with the healing arts. He gets confused with Thoth, and falls into the vortex of folklore that views Thoth and Mercury as one and the same. He progresses back and forth from demigod to god, to prophet, to sage, to visionary. Even though his name means “I come in peace”, he ends up as a movie monster, played by Boris Karloff. A resurrected mummy.
–Now, I was here back in ’22 when they first discovered the tomb of King Tut. There was a reporter named John Balderston…
–Yeah, I knew Balderston. He gave up being a reporter, which paid a pittance for a good story. He went to Hollywood, where he could make real money. He didn’t exactly become a legend, but he helped to shape many. He had a hand in writing the scripts for some of the most popular horror films of the time, really, some of the greatest horror films of all time, really. Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, the Invisible Man, Mark of the Vampire, Mad Love, and the Mummy. And Gaslight—the title of a film that changed the meaning of the word, and became a metaphor for manipulating perception.
–Balderston’s life is a lesson in how myths are made. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, with old dead parts stitched together and brought back to life. The Karloff film bore little resemblance to the Mary Shelley classic, apart from the title, and the stuff about using electricity to resurrect the dead, and building a new corpse out of old ones. The Ren. But it made for good branding, even if it was a kind of grave robbing.
–These early horror films, they took on a life of their own, spawning sequel after sequel, crossovers, remakes; they stumbled over inconsistencies and contradictions in their own invented histories, found ways to explain them away, reinventing themselves, stitching back together the dead organs and limbs. They descended into parodies. They promised finality, closure. Death. Then along comes a new generation, then resurrection, trying to appeal to the new sensibilities, all the changes that keep taking place, while still preserving the essential character, the source of the original vitality, the Ka, the Ba, and of course, the trademarked Ren. Production of the ancient Cards of Healing have proceeded along much the same lines. Perhaps that explains the way Imhotep became associated with medicine. Out of thin air, it would seem.
–Balderston contributed words. Just words. Not all of the words. Sometimes only a small portion. Sometimes only part of a story. And the rest was supplied by countless others caught up in the enterprise, actors, directors, producers, bankrollers, costumers, musicians, cosmeticians, marketing experts, and hucksters. Much like the secret guilds creating Heli0pTx Cards, the film studios in Hollywood formed a culture of artisans unto themselves. A kind of Jungian trademark emerged. The Universal Monsters.
–Balderston’s Ren mostly flashes by in the small print when the movies are shown, passing in the blink of an eye. Sometimes he doesn’t get credit at all. Supposedly, he worked on Gone with the Wind, but his recognition went likewise gone. Supposedly, he made contributions to George Moore’s The Brook Kerith, but the book appeared without any trace of Balderston’s involvement. This was a historical novel about a nondivine Jesus. I wouldn’t want my name on that one either.
–Consider the moment make-up artist Jack Pierce spotted actor David Pratt in the studio commissary, and started designing the face of his monster around the contours of the actor’s bone structure while he was eating lunch. It was a quick sketch that became iconic, a frozen moment preserved in a drawing, then embedded into the world culture. Pratt’s Ren vanished too, appearing first as question mark in Frankenstein’s rolling credits, then subsumed by Boris Karloff. Jack Pierce did the make-up for Karloff’s Imhotep as well.
–What provoked Balderston to turn an ancient Egyptian saint and/or a god, into a monster? Maybe it was the spectacle of the fawning, adoring hordes, the tourists, the professors, the profiteers, the thieves all swarming around the excavated grave of old King Tut. Look at the plot of the horror film. It’s a love story spanning thousands of years, all about the love of the dead for the living and vice versa, with a final epiphany on the part of the reincarnated Egyptian princess, choosing life and flesh in the present moment over a long dead and dimly remembered former suiter.
Hustlers try to pawn off mass produced copies of priceless artifacts or magical charms. Every day there are new finding of dusty documents, old diaries, albums, scrolls, 100-year-old postcards. And then there are these other cards– the Heli0pTx Cards sold for a king’s ransom to a group of drunken professors arguing in a bar, trying to figure out what they mean, and whether they contain answers about buried fortunes, hypothetical futures, erased histories, and cosmic conundrums.
It was interesting to watch how leaders developed among the arguing factions. A tug of war kept the center of attention shifting between them. Many of those following the discussion seemed indifferent to the outcome, being more concerned about being part of whatever was going on, rather than where it might lead. And others were content to just put in the time, for they were being paid by the hour. The flow of wine made all of these countervailing currents more and/or less tolerable, loosening inhibitions, then inhibiting common sense, and then inhibiting restraint and character, and then….
Interpreting the cards went from being an intellectual pursuit to a competitive game. Slowly, the cards took control of the players, and the personalities vanished, and the story told by the cards held full sway.
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