Monday, July 13, 2020

Synchronicity: The dead returning as moths

The cover artist was not an entomologist.

I have recently been rereading the works of Whitley Strieber, and reading some of his newer books for the first time. Among this latter lot is The Afterlife Revolution (2017), about his perceived interactions with the spirit of his late wife, Anne. (So confident is Strieber that he is channeling her that she is listed as a coauthor despite having died in 2015!) A major theme of the book is a plethora of bizarre synchronicities involving white moths, which Strieber believes (plausibly, in my opinion) to have been orchestrated by Anne as a form of communication.

Some weeks after finishing The Afterlife Revolution (and discussing it with no one), I was talking with a Taiwanese business associate of mine about a mutual acquaintance whose brother-in-law had just died. She said that the date of the funeral was uncertain (as always in Taiwan, it would be necessary to wait for an astrologically auspicious day) but that it would certainly be no sooner than seven days after the death. When I asked why seven days, she said that it was traditionally believed that the deceased person would return on the seventh day.

"You mean the spirit will come back and check on the body, or what?"

"The person will return in a different form -- most often a moth, sometimes a butterfly."

Searching the Internet after our conversation, I found many references to the Chinese tradition that the soul of the deceased returns to his home on the seventh day after his death, but nothing about the soul's taking the form of a moth or butterfly. Perhaps this is a local Taiwanese idea? Anyway, it seemed significant that the idea should turn up in a conversation so soon after I had read The Afterlife Revolution.

I wonder how common this association is? I know Aristotle used the same Greek word to refer both to the soul and to the cabbage butterfly. (By coincidence, this same species of non-moth appears to have been chosen by Strieber's entomologically confused cover illustrator.)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Philip as a Christmas reindeer in polyvalent perspective

With sufficient sleep deprivation, you get to the point where you can be fully conscious, close your eyes for a second, and immediately enter REM without skipping a beat. (I believe Salvador Dalí used to do this.) Open your eyes again, and you're back in the waking world, without the break in continuity (and amnesia) that usually accompanies waking from a dream.

I get junk mail almost every day from About half of these are notifications that some poor schmuck from Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest has once again mistaken me for a Shakespeare scholar and cited me in a paper, and the other half are recommendations of papers having to do with the Fourth Gospel.

A few days ago, after 50 hours or so without sleep, I checked my email and found an missive of the latter kind, giving me a heads-up regarding the publication of "'Come and See!' Philip as a Connective Figure in the Fourth Gospel in Polyvalent Perspective" by Paul somebody. (I didn't click to see the rest of his name.) I closed my eyes and proceeded to read the paper chez Morphée.

The opening sentence was: "Philip first appears as a Christmas reindeer, with horns upon his head." As I read it, I had a clear vision of Philip -- as a man, not a reindeer, but wearing a rather elaborate headdress in the shape of a pair of caribou antlers which, as they were covered in red satin, did look rather Christmassy. The rest of the paper went through every single mention of Philip in the Gospel (at least that was the concept; I doubt the dream actually covered them all) and pointed out how he was showing reindeer-like characteristics or playing a reindeer-like role.

For example, the paper used the titular quotation -- "Come and see!" (John 1:46) -- to connect Philip to the four "beasts" who say that when each of the first four seals of the apocalypse is opened (Revelation 6:1-7). It pointed out that θηρίον (Greek for "beast") is cognate with German Tier, English deer (which originally just meant "animal"), and the second element in reindeer (which, despite what you might assume, does not derive directly from English deer). Thus, by saying "Come and see," Philip was fulfilling his role as a Christmas reindeer.

My waking self is aware that the Greek word used for the beasts who say "Come and see!" is not θηρίον but ζῴων -- whence Blake's Four Zoas (a double-plural in the spirit of the KJV's cherubims) -- and that the similarity between θηρ and Tier is believed to be a coincidence without etymological significance. And even if all the linguischticks checked out, the connection would still be an extremely tenuous one! Still, I thought it was a rather game attempt on the part of the old subconscious. If someone were to challenge me, while awake, to prove through textual analysis that the apostle Philip was a Christmas reindeer, I confess I should be rather at a loss!

So why am I posting this load of nonsense? Four reasons:
  1. out of a sincere and heartfelt love of the absurd
  2. as a specimen of the sort of hyper-verbal dream I often have, but which I believe is fairly rare in the population at large
  3. as a warning to myself, in my ongoing Bible-commentary project, not to get so caught up in my own exegetical ingenuity that I lose the thread
  4. in the hope that Paul somebody will somehow find this post, perhaps by googling the title of his own paper, and have a really surreal experience (which will be compounded, of course, when he reads this note at the end)

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A syndrome of sorts

I predict that the following three attitudes could be shown to be strongly intercorrelated:
  1. Thinking electric cars are virtuous because the "don't pollute" (i.e., are powered by coal-burning power plants rather than gasoline-burning engines)
  2. Being opposed to hunting as "cruel," but not being a vegetarian
  3. Looking down on people who patronize strip clubs, but having no problem with Internet porn
What's the common factor?

Mr. Peanut: Another autobiographical bit in Whitley Strieber's Cat Magic

Mr. Peanut as he appeared in the 1950s, when Strieber was a child

In addition to the dead owl in the suitcase, there's this.

In this passage from Whitley Strieber's 1986 novel Cat Magic, it is mentioned in passing that Amanda Walker (the heroine, based on Dora Ruffner, and the niece of George Walker, who saw the dead owl) was once chased by a man dressed up as Mr. Peanut.

Mother Star of the Sea came forward, prancing, mincing, her arms akimbo, her head lolling from side to side, her jaw snapping.

Perhaps she intended to be amusing, but she could hardly have chosen a more unwelcome appearance. Ever since she was three and she'd been chased by a man dressed up as Mr. Peanut, Amanda had loathed and despised all forms of puppets.

In the non-fiction Communion, published the next year, Strieber reveals that this is a memory of his own, but one that he judges to be false, a "screen memory" to cover up something more traumatic.

Many of my screen memories concern animals, but not all. I remember being terrified as a little boy by an appearance of Mr. Peanut, and yet I know that I never saw Mr. Peanut except on a Planter's can. I said that I was menaced by him at a Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio, but I now understand perfectly well that it never happened.

I would say that Cat Magic -- an uneven and extremely bizarre novel, but one that is full of evocative ideas and images -- is essential reading for anyone interested in Whitley Strieber's non-fiction, as it prefigures not only isolated incidents like Mr. Peanut and the dead owl, but also many of the major speculative and philosophical themes of his later work, much more so than any of the other Strieber novels I've read. Despite the way Strieber tried to distance himself from Cat Magic by publishing it under the byline "by Jonathan Barry, with Whitley Strieber" (Barry does not exist), it is the most personal of his novels. He would later name his personal publishing company (which produced such works as The Key and The Path) Walker & Collier, after Cat Magic characters Amanda Walker (or her psychotic Uncle George?) and Constance Collier.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Whitley Strieber in Italy with a dead owl

Doesn't that sound like the title of a Surrealist painting? Or perhaps something from a really weird version of Clue? (Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick? No, it was Whitley Strieber in Italy with a dead owl!) Actually, it's just another in my series of footnotes to the works of this very unusual writer.

Cat Magic

In Whitley Strieber's 1986 fantasy/horror novel Cat Magic, this very strange memory of one of the characters is mentioned in passing; it just comes out of nowhere, has no effect on the plot, and is never mentioned again.

[The smell of paint] reminded him of the six weeks of the summer of 1968 he had spent in Florence. There had been college students from all over the world there, art students, working on the restoration of the Uffizi masterpieces which had been damaged in the flood of the year before.

He had met Irish magical Roisin, with whom he had cohabited for weeks, before he had found, jammed into her suitcase, the terrible rubble of a dead owl.

He had run terrified from her. Roisin, lost in the dangerous clutter of time.

George Walker, the character whose reminiscences these are, is unsympathetic and obviously deeply disturbed; one of his other memories involves setting fire to a live cat as a joke. While one can see the relevance of the cat-burning incident -- Walker's intense and strangely sexualized hatred of cats is an important plot point -- "Irish magical Roisin" with her suitcase full of owl rubble (rubble?) seems to have nothing to do with anything. The only possible purpose of the passage is to further establish that George Walker is a pretty seriously messed-up guy, and apparently delusional to boot.

Would any reader have guessed that this bit was actually pretty much 100% autobiographical?


Communion, Strieber's famous non-fiction book about his close-encounter experiences, was published in 1987, just a year after Cat Magic. Here we find the first hints that the incident of George Walker and the owl-rubble may be based on some real experience of Strieber's.

In 1968 I ended up with four to six weeks of "missing time" after a desperate and inexplicable chase across Europe.

So both Walker and Strieber spent six weeks in Europe in 1968. Walker spent the latter part of his trip "running terrified" from Roisin, while Strieber characterizes his trip as "a desperate and inexplicable chase."

Later, in a discussion of various times owls have unexpectedly turned up in his life, Strieber mentions this:

I saw an owl once before, too, during the events of 1968.

So not only were Walker and Strieber both in Europe at the same time, for the same period of time, but they also each saw an owl there. There is no indication (yet) that the one Strieber saw was a dead owl, in a suitcase, but that's still quite the coincidence.

Later Strieber adds more details about his trip in Europe.

I took the train to Italy, second class. On the train I met a young woman and we began to travel together. At this point my memories become extremely odd. If I do not think about them they seem fine, but when I try to put them together they don't make sense. I recall that we went to Rome, but that we spent a few days in Florence on the way. For eighteen years I told the story that I stayed in Florence for six weeks. But when I went there in the summer of 1984 [. . .] I realized that I had almost no memories of the place. Even so, I placidly accepted this anomaly. For some reason, I left the young woman in Rome and dashed off on the train with no ticket, traveling almost at random. I ended up in Strasbourg.
Now we know that he stayed -- or used to think that he had stayed -- in Florence for six weeks, just like George Walker, that he met a woman there, just like George Walker, and that his "desperate and inexplicable chase" apparently involved running away from her -- just like, as you may have noticed, George Walker.

At the time he wrote Communion, Strieber seemed to have no memory of why he had left the girl; it was just "for some reason."


Transformation, Strieber's second non-fiction book about his close encounters, was published in 1988 -- a year after Communion and two years after Cat Magic. He once again revisits his travels in Italy in the summer of 1968.

In 1968 I was living in London. During the summer I spent between two and six weeks on the Continent, and have been unable to account for most of that time. As I reported in Communion, I crossed to the continent on a ferry and took a train south to Italy. On the trip I met a young woman. I remember her name and her nationality but have not been able to trace her. We went first to Florence and then to Rome. In Rome something happened that terrified me. My screen memory is that I got lost in the catacombs under the Vatican.

Whatever happened, I literally rushed back to my pensione and threw my things into my suitcase. Something I saw in the room horrified me. I have tried to recall what it was, but all I have been able to find out for certain is that I told a friend at the time that I had seen "a dried owl" somewhere in the room. If that is indeed what I saw, I am not surprised that I ran!

I made an unsuccessful attempt to extract more of this memory via hypnosis, but my feeling is that the material that emerged is not correct.

Strieber mentions that he remembers (but does not disclose) the woman's name and nationality. Given how much of this experience was apparently imported wholesale into Cat Magic -- leaving even such details as the date, the city, and the duration of the trip unchanged -- my money says she was an Irishwoman called Róisín, and I will go ahead and refer to her by that name. (It's just a guess of course, but it will be more convenient than constantly referring to "the young woman," "Strieber's traveling companion," etc.)

The owl puts in another appearance, and this time we are told that it was "dried" (and therefore presumably dead, as in Cat Magic). In the past I had always assumed that Strieber was referring to only one horrifying experience in this passage -- something that he (mis)remembered as getting lost in the catacombs under the Vatican and seeing a dried owl in one of the rooms there. Rereading it now in the light of Cat Magic and The Super Natural, I can see that the room where he saw the owl was probably the pensione he was sharing with Róisín, not in the catacombs. He saw something in Rome that spooked him, decided to leave, and then saw something else that spooked him in the pensione as he was packing.

Strieber still seems to have no memory of what exactly he saw; he "tried to recall what it was" but failed. The "dried owl" is something a friend remembers him saying at the time, not something that Strieber himself recalls at the time of writing Transformation.

What material, I wonder, emerged from the hypnosis session he mentions, and why did it seem incorrect? Did it involve seeing a dried owl (or the "terrible rubble" thereof) in Róisín's suitcase? And did he reject it as incorrect because he recognized it as coming from his fiction rather than from his life? We can only speculate.

The Super Natural

Cat Magic, Communion, and Transformation were published in three consecutive years, from 1986 to 1988. We now jump forward almost three decades (and nearly 50 years after the events of 1968) to The Super Natural (2016), a non-fiction book co-written with Jeffrey Kripal. The symbol of the owl comes up, and Strieber once again tells his story.

Later, in 1968, I had a profoundly unsettling experience involving an owl. That year, I was living in London and attending the London School of Film Technique, now called the London Film School. During the summer break, I decided to travel on the Continent. On an overnight train to Florence, I fell in which a girl. We began traveling together. For a couple of weeks in Florence, we had a lovely time, living together in chaste intimacy. But then we went on to Rome, and when we toured St. Peter's, she became crazy, stalking through the church in raging silence. She scared me. I was living with her in a small pensione near the railroad station. I decided, "No more," and headed off to the pensione to collect my suitcase and get out of there.

I went into our tiny room, threw my toothbrush into my suitcase, and started to leave. Then I stopped. Her suitcase was lying on the foot of the bed. I have always been a bit too curious, and I opened it. What I saw shocked me to my core. In it was a nun's habit and, lying beside it, a dry, flattened owl carcass. I didn't get off the train again until I was in Strasbourg.

And we've come full circle, back to the Cat Magic version of the story, in which the dead owl is in the girl's suitcase. It's a "flattened" carcass, too, so perhaps this damage is what is intended by Cat Magic's strange description of it as "rubble."

As in Transformation, there are two scary events that precipitate Strieber's flight from Rome and Róisín. The first, though is not getting lost in the catacombs (which even in Transformation is admitted to be a "screen," or false, memory) but rather seeing Róisín "stalking" through St. Peter's Basilica "in raging silence." The second, of course, is the dead owl -- described as being in her suitcase, for the first time since Cat Magic 30 years before.

What really happened?

If we take the anecdote in The Super Natural at face value, it means the one in Cat Magic is 100% true -- a real event from Strieber's life, inserted without any modification at all into one of his novels. (In fact it may even be truer than the non-fiction versions. Does anyone really believe that a 23-year-old American film student backpacking through Europe in 1968 would be "living together in chaste intimacy" with a young woman rather than "cohabiting"?) This raises the question of how many other bits of unmodified autobiography lie hiding in plain sight in Strieber's pre-Communion fiction. (I can think of a passage in The Wolfen that is a strong candidate.)

If we take the anecdote at face value -- but that would be just a tad naïve, wouldn't it? Strieber himself would be the first to admit that he is what is called an "unreliable narrator." Here are some possible ways of interpreting the texts.

1. The owl incident is fiction and was invented by Strieber for Cat Magic. As time went by, he began to get bits of this fictional incident mixed up in his mind with real memories from 1968 -- first "remembering" that an owl had somehow been involved and then finally, by 2016, adopting the Cat Magic incident in its entirety as a "memory." It's easy to imagine Strieber trying hard to remember as much as possible about that long-ago incident, coming up with a clear and distinct image of finding a dead owl in his girlfriend's suitcase, and assuming it to be a real memory, having long since forgotten that the image came from a novel he had written 30 years before. The question this interpretation raises is why Strieber would invent the owl-in-the-suitcase image in the first place -- given how bizarre it is, and how little it has to do with the plot of Cat Magic. Perhaps it was originally a dream or something.

2. The owl incident took place more-or-less as described in The Super Natural but was buried in traumatic amnesia, so that when Strieber wrote Communion and Transformation he no longer had conscious access to those memories. The memories returned decades later, after Strieber had to some degree managed to overcome his fear of the "visitors," which is why he was finally able to tell the story accurately in 2016. The question then is how some of the "forgotten" details recorded for the first time in The Super Natural managed to find their way into the fictionalized version in Cat Magic. Well, perhaps traumatic memories are only traumatic if they are thought of as memories. Perhaps when one is fantasizing or engaging in creative writing, otherwise censored memories may be able to slip into consciousness disguised as fantasies.

3. Strieber consciously remembered the owl incident all along, but for some reason didn't trust some of these memories during the time he was writing Communion and Transformation and was unwilling to commit them to writing. Given how many extremely bizarre memories he recounts in those two books, this hesitance seems a bit odd. Perhaps the similarity to Cat Magic made it seem as if the memories had been contaminated, but apparently he had overcome these misgivings by the time he wrote The Super Natural.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

All things are become slippery

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information's unavailable to the mortal man
. . .
Slip slidin' away, slip slidin' away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you're slip slidin' away
-- Paul Simon

Genesis 1:1

Back in 2006, I read a series of online articles (qv) by one Vernon Jenkins about the mathematical properties of the first verse of the Bible.

Genesis 1:1 -- translated as "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" -- consists of 28 Hebrew letters, and 28 is a triangular number.

Genesis 1:1 as a triangle

What are the chances of that? Not particularly low. If we want to express the odds numerically, it all depends on what set of integers we look at, since triangular numbers become progressively less frequent as the numbers get larger. To get a rough idea of how likely it is for something about as long as Genesis 1:1 to have a triangular number of letters, lets look at the range of integers from 14 to 42, inclusive -- that is, 28 plus or minus 50%. Of these 29 integers, four -- about 1 in 7 -- are triangular.

Now it happens that each letter in the Hebrew alphabet does double duty as a numeral, and it is this that forms the basis of the Kabbalistic practice of gematria, in which a Hebrew word or text can be interpreted by translating it into a number (adding up the values of its constituent letters) and then looking either at the properties of that number itself or at other Hebrew words that add up to the same value. For example, the Hebrew phrase translated as "And lo, three men" in Genesis 18:2 adds up to the number 701 -- which "proves" that the three men mentioned are the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, because the Hebrew phrase "These are Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael" also adds up to 701. (A corresponding practice, called isopsephia, exists for the Greek language and is presumably what is being alluded to by the famous New Testament statement that the "number of the name" of the apocalyptic beast is 666.)

The gematria value of Genesis 1:1 is 2701 -- another triangular number. This is a much larger number than 28, so its being triangular is a somewhat more impressive coincidence. Calculating the odds the same way we did before, we look at the range of numbers from 1350 to 4052 and find that 38 of these 2703 numbers are triangular -- about 1 in 71. Taking the product of these two probabilities, we can say that the chance of a verse like Genesis 1:1 having both a triangular number of letters and a triangular gematria value is about 1 in 500 -- fairly improbable, but not astonishingly so.

But 2701 isn't just any triangular number. It also happens to be the product of 37 and 73 -- the 4th hex number an the 4th star number, respectively. (The product of the nth hex and the nth star is always triangular, so that's not an additional coincidence.) Such numbers are extremely rare; the first six numbers in the series (products of the nth hex and the nth star; let's call them starhex numbers) are 1,  91, 703, 2701, 7381, and 16471.

The fourth starhex number, 37 × 73 = 2701

The figure above demonstrates what a starhex number is. The figure consists of 73 little hexagons arranged in the shape of a six-pointed star. The center of this star is itself a larger hexagon, made up of 37 of the little hexagons. Each of the 73 little hexagons is itself made up of 37 tiny circles, duplicating on a smaller scale that central hexagon. The total number of  tiny circles is 37 × 73 = 2701 -- the starhex number which is the gematria value of Genesis 1:1.

Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, how many have a gematria (or isopsephia) value which is a starhex number? Eleven. How many of those 11 verses also have a triangular number of letters in the original language? Only two. The other one is Leviticus 20:27: "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them" -- 55 letters, with a gematria value of 2701. I find it quite humorous that the only Bible verse to share these unusual properties of Genesis 1:1 should be what is surely one of the most embarrassing verses in the whole Bible! (To any atheists looking for ammo to use against the likes of Vernon Jenkins, you're welcome.)

(By the way, a tip of the hat to Richard Amiel McCough, whose searchable gematria database of every word and verse in the Bible is what has made it so easy for me to discover the information in the previous paragraph. I especially appreciate Mr. McCough's willingness to continue to host this and other Bible resources, created when he was a believing Christian, even though he has since become a standard-issue atheist and "debunked himself.")

Texas sharpshooting

All things considered, how impressed should we be with these mathematical properties of Genesis 1:1? Not very. While it is obviously extremely unlikely for any particular verse to have those particular properties, the Texas sharpshooter fallacy is pretty obviously at work here. (The sharpshooter, you will recall, fired some shots into the side of a barn and then painted a target around the largest cluster of bullet holes.) When you consider the virtually infinite number of mathematically interesting properties a given number could possess, it becomes clear that any number you care to analyze will turn out to have some extremely unusual combination of those properties. Is there any reason at all to expect that a particularly significant Bible verse would add up to the product of the nth star and the nth hex -- rather than being, say, a large prime, or a perfect number, or the product of three consecutive Fibonacci numbers, or whatever? Of course not. Jenkins is painting the target after the shots have been fired.

Here's another of Jenkins's "amazing" properties of Genesis 1:1. If you take the product of the gematria values of every letter in the verse, divided by the product of the gematria values of every word in the verse, and then multiply that by the number of letters over the number of words -- you get 3.141554509... × 1017. Ignore the 1017 bit, and you have the approximate value of pi, correct to 5 significant figures.

Which is not impressive at all, when you consider the infinite number of possible (and completely arbitrary) mathematical operations that could be performed on something in order to derive a number fairly close to pi, you realize that it means nothing at all.

Returning to our friend the Texas sharpshooter, though, suppose he were to fire his shots, paint his target -- and then fire another round of shots and hit this freshly painted target again? Wouldn't that mean he was a real sharpshooter after all?

Well, Vernon Jenkins has done that. Remember that completely arbitrary set of mathematical operations he performed on Genesis 1:1 to derive pi, correct to 5 significant figures? Well, if you apply the exact same arbitrary set of mathematical operations to John 1:1 (the Bible's other "In the beginning..." verse), you get  2.718312812... × 1040. Again ignoring the powers of ten, this is the value of e, also correct to 5 significant figures. That is impressive!


Could there be an English gematria?

Hebrew and Greek numerals work basically the same way: The first nine letters correspond to the numbers from 1 to 9, the next nine correspond to 10 to 90, and then 100 to 900. (Hebrew only has 22 letters, not 27 like archaic Greek, so the Hebrew system is defective.) But applying the same system to the English alphabet is arbitrary, since the Roman letters have never had those numerical values. When the alphabet is used numerically (in lists or outlines, for example), it's always in a straightforward ordinal manner, where Z represents 26, not 800.

I call this straightforward system -- A = 1, Z = 26 -- Simple English Gematria. By a singularly appropriate coincidence, the words simple, English, and gematria all add up to the same value, 74, in this system, so the total value for Simple English Gematria is 222. I used to abbreviate this as S∴E∴G∴, ironically imitating the Masonic-style punctuation used by Aleister Crowley and other would-be English kabbalists, which I jokingly referred to as "magickal puncktuation" (spelling magick with a k being another Crowleyism). Later I discovered that this phrase, magickal puncktuation, adds up to 222, the same value as Simple English Gematria. This bizarre coincidence made me modify said puncktuation, changing the therefore-signs to colons, so as to represent the number 222.

Because the highest letter value in S:E:G: is 26 -- as opposed to to 400 in Hebrew gematria or 900 in Greek isopsephia -- S:E:G: tends to yield much lower word values than those languages. Still, though, there are some surprising cross-language coincidences. For example, the gematria value of the Tetragrammaton -- the Hebrew name of God, usually rendered Jehovah or Yahweh in English -- is 26, which is also the S:E:G: value of the English word God. In Greek isopsephia, Jesus and Christ add up to 888 and 1480, respectively. Obviously no single word can have such a high value in S:E:G:, but the S:E:G: value of Jesus (and also of cross, Messiah, and gospel) is 74, and both 888 and 1480 are multiples of 74.

Anyway, it crossed my mind to see if I could find an English passage that would somehow be the S:E:G equivalent of Jenkins's Genesis 1:1, with similar properties. Of course there are no searchable S:E:G: databases, so I wouldn't be able to rely on the infinite monkey theorem to guarantee success. Instead I would have to do some bona fide Texas sharpshooting if I was going to hit the tiny target Jenkins had painted. I looked at the English translation of Genesis 1:1, and at the first verses of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (books of scripture revealed in English rather than in Hebrew or Greek, and so in some sense the English equivalents of the Bible) but found nothing mathematically interesting. So much for that idea.

Helaman 13

Some months after my failed attempt to find an English answer to Genesis 1:1, I was reading a novel and brooding. This was near the beginning of my relationship with the woman who would later become my wife. We had just had some minor dustup about something, but I was still a novice in these matters, had not yet learned to take feminine drama in my stride, and was pretty sure I had lost her forever. As I contemplated the fragility of everything, how anything can be taken from you at any time and for no particularly intelligible reason, I suddenly thought of a line from the Book of Mormon: "All things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them." I had been an atheist for four or five years at that time, and hadn't read the Book of Mormon in about as long, but into my mind it popped regardless, and I thought it was a nice turn of phrase. (I also thought of Waterus, a blue plush walrus owned by a family friend when we were kids; Waterus's catchphrase was "I'm slipp'ier'n water! I'm slipp'ier'n water!").

And then it hit me: a sudden, inexplicable conviction that this was the English Genesis 1:1, that this shot in the dark would hit Jenkins's Texas target. This was a good 11 years before I got my first smartphone so, not having a Book of Mormon or a computer handy, I scribbled this down on the yellow Post-It note I was using as a bookmark: "all things are become slippery -- complete quote -- same properties as Gen 1:1." (What exactly did "complete quote" mean in this context? I didn't know. I just wrote down what came into my head.)

Later, at home, I looked up the passage online and found that it was from a sermon by Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 13, and that it was in fact a "quote" -- Samuel was saying (quoting) what he predicted that his audience would say at some future date. Here, bracketed by "Yea, in that day ye shall say" and "And this shall be your language in those days," is the complete quote:

This seems like a pretty arbitrary block of text to focus on, nowhere near as obviously significant as the first verse of the Bible. It's not even a complete verse or set of verses, but consists of Helaman 13:34-36 and parts of vv. 33 and 37.

O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us. Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land. O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them. Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us?

Despite the arbitrary nature of the passage, I nevertheless felt inexplicably confident that it would turn out to have the same numerical properties as Genesis 1:1. First I counted the number of letters: 630, a triangular number.

The Helaman text arranged in a triangle

Then I calculated the S:E:G: value of the entire passage: 7381, the fifth starhex number.

The fifth starhex number, 61 × 121 = 7381

Later I even went through the laborious calculations whereby Vernon Jenkins had derived pi and e from Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1:, respectively -- just in case it might yield, I don't know, Planck's constant or something, but it didn't. Still, though, a triangular number of letters with a starhex gematria value is pretty darn close to a perfect bull's-eye!

We're not in Texas anymore

What's impressive about this, and what's not?

It's not impressive at all that somewhere in the Book of Mormon there exists a passage with a triangular number of letters and a starhex gematria value. It's true that such passages are so rare that only two verses in the whole Bible qualify -- but if a "passage" can be any syntactically coherent string of text, without regard for length or for verse boundaries, then obviously the chance of a text as long as the Book of Mormon's containing such a passage must be pretty close to 1.

What is impressive -- extremely impressive -- is not that such a passage exists, but that I found it. And found it on my fourth try: three obvious guesses (Genesis 1:1, 1 Nephi 1:1, D&C 1:1), and then this completely off-the-wall one. "Is your name Kunz? Is your name Heinz? Then is your name perhaps -- Rumpelstiltskin?" There's obviously no way in hell that was just a lucky guess on the queen's part, and Rumpelstiltskin's reaction is perfectly natural: "The devil told you that! The devil told you that!"

So who told me? In the past I have characterized it as a "gematria revelation"; was it?

I think there are only two possibilities. The first is that I revealed it to myself -- that some occult aspect of my mind, the part we file under "the unconscious," had been plugging away, going through the entire Book of Mormon from memory (I had, after all, read the book several times), counting letters and calculating gematria values, until it finally found what it was looking for and presented its discovery to my conscious mind. There is plenty of evidence that the "unconscious mind" enjoys powers of perfect recall and is quite capable of doing something like this.

The other possibility is that it was indeed a revelation -- from God, a Rumpelstiltskinian "devil," or some other such entity. The question then becomes why anyone would take the trouble of revealing such completely random information. I mean, who cares if some random Book of Mormon passage is numerologically akin to Genesis 1:1? What possible significance could that have? Why would God or the devil or anyone else go around telling people that? If it was indeed a revelation, I can only assume that the point had nothing to do with gematria as such but was simply to draw my attention to the passage in question, using something I happened to be interested in at that time as a means of doing so.

It does, after all, seem to be a genuinely prophetic passage, and to relate to our time -- which is what brought the whole thing back to my mind after all these years and made me post on it again.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Dora Ruffner on Oprah in 1987

Readers of Whitley Strieber's book Breakthrough (1995) will know that it prominently features one Dora Ruffner of Boulder, Colorado, a close friend of Strieber's, whose house he apparently visited in company with the visitors in 1987. Running a Google image search on "Dora Ruffner" doesn't turn up any photos of her, and the main purpose of this post is to rectify that. By a strange coincidence, she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1987, the same year as Strieber's experience with her. This is what she looked like at that time:

Whitley Strieber's friend Dora Ruffner on Oprah in 1987

Ruffner is (or was) into witchcraft, and the character Amanda Walker in Strieber's witchcraft-themed novel Catmagic (1986) is based on her. She appeared on Oprah, together with her much less sane-looking coreligionist Laurie Cabot, in order to explain to their poor bigoted viewers that "actual witches aren't like the Hollywood stereotypes." (I remember "clearing up misconceptions about witchcraft" was a thing back in the late 1980s.) The Oprah clip has basically no merit at all, except that you get to see what Ruffner looked like. She appears, billed as a "White Witch," at the 2:02 mark.

Synchronicity: The dead returning as moths

The cover artist was not an entomologist. I have recently been rereading the works of Whitley Strieber, and reading some of his newer...