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Hello, optimates! I am exhausted. After a two week trip across the country to visit relatives, I am thrust back into the task of analysis so that you can learn how Severian the Lame is dying, repeatedly, for your sins.
On this trip, I stumbled upon a copy of The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, a French archaeologist who seems to be known only for this work, and of whom I have never heard. If you can find a copy, I’d strongly recommend it; the one I got is interesting because it contains an errata slip for a mistake on the cover, so I don’t know how many copies of these are floating around, but it’s a great book. One must take any volume which specifically interprets something through the lens of one religion with a grain of salt, that is, with some translation; but as Book of the New Sun is rooted in Christian theology, I could not have asked for a better source—and rest assured, I have been looking for a good phoenix information source throughout this process! And the oroboros section is also relevant to our interests:
On a Hermetic—not Masonic—seventeenth-century bookplate, on the trunk of the Tree of Life the ouroboros frames an image of the pelican, seemingly as an emblem of Christ, reviving its young by the ablution of its blood; and the circular serpent testifies to the everlasting continuation of this merciful compassion. On a panel of painted wood of the eighteenth century, it haloes the head of the phoenix which encloses the alchemical sign for sulphur. It is shown here that the two symbols, the reptile and the fabulous bird, have been endowed from the distant past with two privileges very close to one another: one renews its life with its own substance, the other is reborn from its own ashes; both live forever.
Several of its medieval, and more recent, representations show the amphisbaena as composed of a black serpent and of one of silver, or of gold. In medieval heraldry, the superior of the two serpents was often endowed with an elegant pair of wings, and the inferior one sometimes had paws.
It was during the decline of Rome that the symbol of the amphisbaena spread from east to west across the countries of Europe, where it was already known but now came into general use and was Christianized; the old emblem of good and evil became “the double-headed serpent, one of whose heads represents Christ and the other Satan.”
–Charbonneau-Lassay, Louis, The Bestiary of Christ, English translation from 1991, pg 438
“There is a mark they use upon some world, where sometimes our worn ship finds rest at last. It is a snake with heads at either end. One head is dead—the other gnaws at it…the living head stands for destruction. The head that does not live, for building. The former feeds upon the latter; and feeding, nourishes its food. A boy might think that if the first should die, the dead, constructive thing would soon triumph, making his twin no like himself. The truth is both would soon decay.”
–Famulimus to Severian in Gene Wolfe’s Sword of the Lictor
The divine bird is born, it was said, from the sun or from fire. Son of the flame, and issuing thus from the great active principle of yang, the phoenix exerts a decisive influence on the conception and birth of children, and in company with the unicorn it brings their souls to their mothers from above. It is also an active factor of life in springtime germination and growth, and its image, like that of the dragon, takes part in the solemn rites of the “Growth Ceremony.”
The phoenix, protector of emperors, was thought to appear to some holy man or great one of the empire in times of prosperity, when heaven bestowed special blessings on its children; in bad times, it withdrew to blessed solitudes far from the Chinese ocean and the Blue Sea. It was also said that the holy souls in heaven are fed divine dishes, among them the livers of dragons and the marrow of the phoenix, which keeps their immortal state in a condition of unequalled bliss.
In the Egyptian religion, the bennu, shown in the hieroglyphs in the conventional aspect of a wading bird crowned with a plume, was connected with the interwoven cults of Osiris and Ra. Virey tells us that it was “the symbol of periodic appearances, and so of sunrises; that is to say—let us take this into account at once—it was a symbol of the resurrections of Osiris.” All the images of the bennu are in general connected with the sun, whether at the tomb of Osiris in Abydos, at Anteopolis or Koptos or Edfu. At Koptos as at Anteopolis, the bennu, its breast provided with two human arms, stretches them out toward the star Sothis (our Sirius), which appears in the sky before the sun rises. [Ed. Note: Enjoy that synchronicity with last week’s reference to Robert Anton Wilson, whose reality model dealt with aliens from Sirius?]
Because it was supposed to be reborn from its own destruction, and thus to prolong its existence indefinitely. it was looked upon as one of the emblems of cyclic eternity by Christians just as it had been in the times preceding them. This is its significance on the coins and medals of the non-Christian Roman emperors, such as a coin of Augustus inscribed AETERNITAS. AVG—FEL. TEMP. REPARATIO: “The eternity of August—Happy renewal of time,” and the phoenix dominates the inscription. Alchemists from medieval times to the present day sometimes have placed the phoenix on the alchemical sign for sulphur, which is a triangle carrying an inverted cross at its base. I reproduce here one of these representations of the phoenix on the sign for sulphur. This eighteenth-century work is painted on a wooden panel and rather faded, but the design is still quite clear: on a brown background, the golden triangle of sulphur is outlined by a red band, and the scarlet image of the phoenix fills it completely; the bird’s head stands out against a sky-blue aureole framed by an ouroboros, the serpent curled in a circle and biting its tail, which clearly defines the character of the phoenix as an image of perpetuity through the continual renewal of cycles.
Above the point of the alchemical triangle are the four Hebrew letters of the holy tetragrammaton: YOD-HE-VAU-HE, The Most High.
–C-L, Bestiary, pages 443, 444 (are you even surprised) and 448
Who needs Dungeons & Dragons! Just start researching alchemical symbolism. It’s basically the same thing, but in real life, and everywhere.
Anyway, I have written before in this series about the ties of Severian to alchemical sulphur, and this tie of sulphur to the phoenix only reinforces it. But I could write all day long about the individual ingredients of Wolfe’s alchemical process—I have, in fact. What’s really worth looking at here is what he is doing in Urth. Because for more than a few people I’ve encountered online, Urth was a displeasing departure from the original tetralogy which didn’t answer the questions they did have and just reinforced what they had already managed to divine. I was sort of baffled by this, because for me, Urth was basically the whole reason I read the tetralogy: it is the hyper-rewarding pay-off of Severian’s journey, but maybe you have to be reading the books spiritually to really enjoy that pay-off.
To look at why all of this is, we have to start by looking at what people don’t like about Urth of the New Sun. Namely, it repeats issues raised and theoretically put to bed in the first four books. But let’s also look at our final steps in the alchemical process: namely, the multiplicatio, which Jung glosses over in a footnote tucked into his Mysterium:
The “multiplicatio” often means a spontaneous renewal of the tincture, comparable to the window’s cruse of oil. Mylius lays down the following rule: “Project therefore on any body as much of it as you please, since its Tincture shall be multiplied twofold. And if one part of it in the first place converts with its bodies a hundred parts: in the second it converts a thousand, in the third ten thousand, in the fourth a hundred thousand, in the fifth a million, into the true sun-making and moon-making (substance).”
–Jung, C. G., Mysterium Coniunctionis, footnote 272, pgs 329-330
Essentially, once the stone is produced, its potency must be increased by further distillations. While it could be said that every stage of the work secretly contains all other stages, the multiplicatio is like a superposition of all four stages together, equally. Therefore, when the human mind senses that the plot beats of Urth reflect those of BoTNS I-IV, that is because the symbol-driven right brain is a delicate instrument finely tuned to uncover such patterns. Gene Wolfe is doing this intentionally, because it is part of the process. For those of us more inclined to RAW’s suggestion that we are creating increasingly accurate models of our experience of reality, the multiplicatio is essentially the entire rest of your life, as you further refine your understanding of how you, as an individual consciousness, contextualize existence, life, and eternity.
Think of it another way: if books I-IV are all parts of the stone, then when you are holding each one of those books in your hand, you are only holding part of the stone. Therefore, to use the stone, all four of its parts must be combined into one, and that one is Urth, which contains both the multiplicatio of the stone of Severian and Gene Wolfe, and the use of that stone in the form of its projection. The concept of alchemical projection is not so different from the way Jung meant it when speaking of psychiatry; when we mentally project an image on a thing, certain qualities of that thing abide naturally with that projection, and when we project an image on ourselves with the intention of changing or improving, we will find that we have always been that successful form of ourselves, just waiting to come out. When we project the stone onto lead to turn it into gold, we are emphasizing the molecules of the lead which are common with the gold, and allow the stone to teach the lead how to transmute itself.
It is appropriate, then, that Urth begins where BoTNS left off: with Severian casting his manuscript into space, sealed in the safety of its lead container. (I also failed to mention before that when Dorcas is sick in Thrax, she vomits lead slugs; her cause of death, the anima being purged of her toxicity.) Life is often full of pain so great that we ask ourselves why we must live, and the answer is thus: without pain, we would never have the opportunity for immortality. To become immortal, we must live mortal lives and then overcome these mortal lives. This is, as Terence McKenna often recalled from Whitehead, “the formality of actually occurring” which all beings in eternity must undergo in order to have existed to be said to be eternal. Clear? The souls of heaven must be fed with the liver of the phoenix to keep them thus; they were not always souls enrapt in bliss. Therefore, the life principle is infused with lead; the story of our life is protected from the infinity of the void by the security of a sealed lead casket. Crowley writes in Book 4, his most cogent treatise on magick, that when we begin to meditate, our first consciousness is of our bodily, physical pains. Likewise, it is pain which first gives us the opportunity to become conscious. Ganesha must lose his head before he becomes an elephant-headed god, Christ must be crucified before his resurrection, and we must accept that however great our personal agonies, the greater still will be the sweetness of immortality when we craft that stone which grants it using little more than our own fecund lead.
By this point in his spiritual career, Severian has left the terrestrial circuits—and concerns—behind. He is now in a journey through space, the cosmos symbolizing mind, imagination, the unconscious. His goal, Yesod, is like the spiritual heart of that. And his guide—the entity who is his captain, his ship, his judge and his guardian—is none other than the Archangel of Mercy, Tzadkiel.
Yes, we could say that the Tzadkiel of this book is likely some sort of alien, and that all angels are aliens or vice versa, but that doesn’t lessen the power of the archetype or really make much of a difference in our interpretation; for, if humans are servants of god, then aliens are certainly servants of god, and probably more devoted and developed servants for having dragged themselves higher up the genetic ladder. Therefore, there is no way to properly view Book of the New Sun and Urth as a fully secularist work. The black hole/white fountain pairing is but nature’s ultimate metaphor for the Increate/Pancreator dichotomy, and one leads directly to the other. The great achievement of the Work and of Severian’s journey is the eventual discovery that death is an illusion: a trick of quantum mechanics. Death is not a process of destruction; it is a process of healing and becoming whole. The illusory decay of material existence, that prison into which the soul is born for eternity’s bureaucratic purposes (and higher purposes, such as contributing to, saving or finding eternity), is surely why the dying head is creation in Famulimus’s estimation of the two-headed snakes.
Everybody hates when people who haven’t gone to Berkeley for ten years start trying to incorporate quantum mechanics into their metaphysical worldview, so I’m going to avoid doing that as much as possible. I think, however, that some understanding of quantum immortality is massively beneficial to understanding what is happening to the alchemist to provoke immortality, and why it does not necessarily look like immortality from the outside. The concept relies somewhat on the many world interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is a little more complicated that Futurama’s conception of alternate universes like the Cowboy Universe. In fact, it is probably closer to the Vedic image of Indra’s Net: the god Indra drapes his palace in a net of infinite diamonds, and each of these infinite diamonds reflects each one of its infinite brethren—to varying degrees of clarity and relevance, of course, depending on that diamond’s position in the net and its relationship to other diamonds. The best model I have found is Terence McKenna’s suggestion of fractals. If reality is a black hole-based hologram, then our movement through it, however seemingly physical, is really mental, and it may not be a case of our movement through spacetime so much as a case of the movement of our consciousness as it plunges through progressively deeper and deeper magnifications of the fractal.
Something similar can be said of quantum mechanics, which relies on the notion of consciousness, and after a certain point effectively becomes a study of how consciousness impacts its own ability to measure the world around it, frequently by impacting the world itself. Now we begin to reach a point where it is difficult to communicate without my sounding a little mad, perhaps, or solipsistic; but that is not the nature of what I am discussing here. As Philip K. Dick writes in VALIS, in an irrational world where the innocent must suffer and we have accepted the yoke of death, the true rationality of immortality and compassion seem, to the brainwashed mind, irrational. But when various religions speak of the solitary god who is unseen and must be resurrected—Indra, Osiris, Adonis, Christ, so many others—there are speaking of a specific kind of consciousness; the Clear Light of Tibetan Buddhism is perhaps its most disembodied example, but for the secularists, the techno-mages and the literary alchemists out there, there is also the plasmate which Philip K. Dick described in his Exegesis.
- The Empire is the institution, the codifications, of derangement; it is insane and imposes its insanity on us by violence, since its nature is a violent one.
- To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement. This is a paradox; whoever defeats a segment of the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus, imposing its form on its enemies. Thereby it becomes its enemies.
- Against the Empire is posed the living information, the plasmate or physician, which we know as the Holy Spirit or Christ discorporate. These are the two principles, the dark (the Empire) and the light (the plasmate). In the end, Mind will give victory to the latter. Each of us will die or survive according to which he aligns himself and his efforts with. Each of us contains a component of each. Eventually one or the other component will triumph in each human. Zoroaster knew this, because the Wise Mind informed him. He was the first savior. Four have lived in all. A fifth is about to be born, who will differ from the others: he will rule and he will judge us.
- Since the universe is actually composed of information, then it can be said that information wil save us. This is the saving gnosis which the Gnostics sought. There is no other road to salvation. However, this information—or more precisely the ability to read and understand this information, the universe as information—can only be made available to us by the Holy Spirit. We cannot find it on our own. Thus it is said that we are saved by the grace of God and not by good works, that all salvation belongs to Christ, who, I say, is a physician.
–Dick, Philip K., Tractates Cryptica Scriptura, reprinted in VALIS pages 392-393
In his work, visionary and Christian mystic and damn good sci-fi author Philip K. Dick describes that the plasmate was living information, which, bound to the human brain, changed and enlightened that human brain in the process called gnosis; the human was left, in Dick’s opinion, no longer homo sapiens, but homoplasmate.
This will all be brought up with more depth in the eventual Philip K. Dick essay, but it is a contemporary and (moderately) secular way of describing the religious experience which, in Book of the New Sun, is expressed only in symbols. BoTNS is one of many carriers for the homoplasmate, and it will lead one of you, or more than one, to gnosis, readers. Dick was massively ahead of his time in reaching the understanding that, in the universe, it is not energy which is fundamental, but information.
I have already written on this subject, in a yet-unpublished essay called “The Church of the Black Hole”. As I am still waiting to hear back on its acceptance, I cannot publish it in full, but I think I am safe to share an excerpt relevant to our discussion so I don’t have to rewrite it.
According to the (now infinite) Stephen Hawking and his Cambridge colleague, Professor Malcom Perry, black holes do not destroy the information which enters them; rather, they are thought to store information on their event horizon, and transform it into a 2D hologram in a process called ‘super translation’.1 At the same time, the integrity of the universe is intimately tied to the concept of information: if one tries to pack information more densely than 1069 bits per square meter, said information will collapse into a black hole, which may be nothing more than the universe’s all in one projector/hard-drive.2 The holographic principle which seemed to boom in popularity between 2014 and 2016 may not be far off, although easy to take literally as any other model of reality. At the root of the principle lies ‘information theory’, which is not only the solution to black holes and their relativity-violating consumption of information, but a solution to Cartesian dualism, religion, and most of our basic questions about physical existence. What is information? By definition, everything. Everything contains information, whether it is an image, a word, a mathematical formula or a three-dimensional potted plant sitting upon one’s writing desk.3 The notion that everything exists, suspended upon the surface of a black hole at the end of space-time which is responsible for projecting space-time itself, sounds an awful lot like an extremely cogent model of the spiritual phenomenon described as eternity, whether it is called ‘samadhi’ or ‘being with the Lord’. The recognition and subjective experience of this phenomenon during one’s life is, in other faiths, an important step in what leads to the human expansion of consciousness—and consciousness itself is a byway down which many scientists, philosophers, and artists have stumbled without anything approaching full comprehension, for the conscious being understands that it is like Hekate with a third, ever-unobservable face merely hinted. The dog chases its tail; the man chases his own thread of consciousness. He does it not by physical chasing, but by eternally refining his models of being to a more universal, defensible, and fundamentally true model; and yet, he must do it without being a fundamentalist about it.
- Rincon, P. (2015, August 26th). “Hawking: Black holes store information.” BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34062839 April 18th, 2018
- Becker, K. (2014, April 25th). “Is Information Fundamental?” PBS Nova. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2014/04/is-information-fundamental/ April 18th, 2018
–Sullivan, M.F., “The Church of the Black Hole”, unpublished
If the universe is indeed a result of consciousness making sense of the disordered information of the black hole’s hologram, then the notion of an alien, living consciousness settling into the brain is not really so absurd; even moreso when we consider the notion of split-brain patients and the clear divisions in communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, as we have discussed in previous essays (I want to say the Haruki Murakami essay, but I might be misremembering). This is the higher consciousness being described in all faiths. When people annoyingly say that other people are asleep, this is what they mean; they mean that they are, strictly speaking, unconscious, and that means that they are going to die.
Quantum immortality is ruled by consciousness. The idea is that the subjective conscious experience—the ‘plasmate’ part of the ‘homoplasmate’—will always pursue the reality path which ensures its survival. So, if I am given choice A and choice B, and choice B will lead to my death, either I will never experience a reality in which I have made choice B, or I will be miraculously prevented from making choice B.
One of the ways in which Dick referred to the plasmate was as the ‘Zebra’, which was, to him, the plasmate as it presented itself in the outside world. An apple falling on the head of alchemist Isaac Newton to inspire his idea is an example of the Zebra at work; Newton’s internal connection of that stimulus to the revelation of gravity is an example of the homoplasmate. They are both the same, only expressed in an inward and outward way. Therefore, if we are not saved by the plasmate, we are saved by the Zebra; and if we are not saved by either, then we were never really conscious to begin with.
The notion of death is predicated upon consciousness. It is possible for something which is unconscious to fear death, or to pervade the illusion of fearing death, or to chemically have physiological reactions which match in a conscious being the fear of death, but ultimately, if there is no observer to accept the stimulus of the mind, then there is no death, because there is no life; there is only the illusion, the notion, of life. But does that mean that only a few people will ever become conscious? No; everyone is fully conscious, fully bounded to the plasmate, the Holy Spirit, etc., in Eternity. The difference is that not everyone will become fully conscious in everyone else’s lifetime, which is indicated by quantum immortality. In quantum immortality, it is not that the consciousness is escaping death; it is that it is being attracted back to its source, and, like a river plunging past all obstacles, it cannot be stopped from its own perspective. All the dams humanity can throw up will eventually be destroyed: rivers know no time, just as consciousness knows no time, no space. It only knows information. It will not be swayed by riches or wealth, it will not waste its time on paltry materiality. It is the pure light of the sun which wishes only to return to Sol, using the vehicle of the human body.
I would propose that when a person we love or know dies, it is because that is the point where their highest reality has become incompatible with our own. Yes, it is tragic to the human being. We have become separated by them in what feels like the most ultimate example of the cliché, ‘Two ships passing in the night’. Indra has shifted the net, and our diamonds are now too far apart to reflect one another. But does that mean the diamond lost from our vision no longer exists? The soul is infinite; the diamonds in the net are infinite, and all are present forever. But where have they gone?
The vingtner asked, “Conciliator, can’t you free Urth from Typhon?”
“I could, but I won’t unless I must. It’s easy—very easy—to slay a ruler. But it’s very difficult to prevent a worse one from coming to this place.”
“Rule us yourself!”
I shook my head. “If I say I have a mission of greater importance, you’ll think I’m joking. Yet it’s the truth.”
They nodded, clearly without comprehension.
“I’ll tell you this. This morning I’ve been studying this mountain and the speed with which the work here is going forward. From those things, I know that Typhon has only a short time to live. He’ll die on the red couch where he lies now; and without his word, no one will dare to draw aside the curtain. One after another will creep away. The machines that dig like men will return for fresh instructions, but they won’t receive them, and in time the curtain itself will fall to dust.”
They were staring at me openmouthed. I said, “There will never be another ruler like Typhon—a monarch over many worlds. But the lesser ones who will follow him, of whom the best and greatest will be named Ymar, will imitate him until every peak you see around us wears a crown. That’s all I’ll tell you now, and all I can tell you. You must go.”
The chiliarch said, “We’ll stay here and die with you, Conciliator, if you desire it.”
“I don’t,” I told them. “And I won’t die.” I tried to reveal the workings of Time to them, though I do not understand them myself. “Everyone who has lived is still alive, somewhen. But you are in great danger. Go!”
–Wolfe, Gene, Urth of the New Sun, pg 278-279
The homoplasmate—the Conciliator—is the man who sees through the workings of Time well enough to understand that it is all an illusion, and that there is no need for the spiritual to overthrow the political, for, as Dick pointed out, he who defeats the Empire becomes the Empire. If Severian had overthrown Typhon and stayed to rule Urth, it would not have been his highest destiny. Yet perhaps there is some world where Typhon’s soul can be redeemed enough that he, too, can become bonded with the plasmate; death is only a very compelling illusion. If you had been born in a theater forever playing Lord of the Rings, you would be downright shocked to know that the world outside was not a sea of death at the hands of orcs and giant spiders. We have all been born in a theater; Plato’s cave. And oh, the world outside is bright!
In Urth of the New Sun, there is a lot of talk about Severian’s duty—his journey to bring back the New Sun. But when the moment comes for the Angel of Mercy to judge him, he learns that he has already accomplished his task of bringing the New Sun in the future, and therefore he has succeeded in the past. This is the perfect metaphor for what we are describing: in the future, our souls are already eternal; therefore they have always been eternal; therefore we were never really at risk, only apparent risk. All of our pains and trials and tribulations will, in our highest iteration, be overcome; and we always have the opportunity to choose to take that highest track, so long as our physical bodies are alive. Our bodies are the unconscious workhorse of the soul, which perpetually toils like Adam and Eve thrust out of paradise, or which keeps sacred information alive and safe like the guardian of the library described by Cyriaca. In fact, now that we have been introduced to the concept of the plasmate, living information, Cyriaca’s story about the secret knowledge of men becomes somewhat clearer. While Dick’s symbol of the Holy Spirit is not used in Urth, it is very similar, and helps us when we get to thinking about concepts like Yesod, because for my money no one better explained the process of soul development to the modern mind than good old PKD. Such a conception is fundamental in understanding what Yesod is, and the role of entities such as angels in the development of the plasmate to the highest consciousness. It is also fundamental in understanding why Urth is important, although it seems for all the world as if the only thing which happens is the thing which we already knew to be the fate of Urth: its destruction and recreation. Other than that, it is the process of Severian’s self-discovery as he begins to fulfill the role of what he calls a ‘godling’ among the people. This is a role he has always played, but it is one into which he consciously fits at the end, and that consciousness is only capable of being experienced by enduring a journey which reveals demons to be aliens to be angels, and consciousness to be the eyes of God—the real Holy Spirit.
The important point to understand with quantum immortality is that there are bodies left behind. You and Severian and I will never remember these deaths, nor will we probably ever, in our physical bodies, be able to fully confirm 100% that the theory of quantum immortality is provable. However, while sitting at this keyboard I can name at least five or six incidents in my own life which I am strongly inclined to believe actually ended with my death in less successful timelines (maybe timelines observed by your own highest selves, if our own highest timelines are not compatible). The most significant of these is a seizure had while at college, when I was withdrawing from the terrible personality suppressant, Klonopin; while, ironically, on the way to the college post office to pick up my new bottle of the drug, I evidently had a seizure as I walked down some steps. I fell over the side and landed on my head on the concrete below, but of course I don’t remember any of this: much like Cassius’s seizure in The Lightning Stenography Device, I am convinced to this day that reality was edited. The experience was not like sleeping and waking. My ego consciousness was simply nonexistent and because consciousness is nontemporal and nonspatial, I perceived—still perceive in my memory—the moment where my foot hit the landing as the moment I, feeling perfectly normal, closed my eyes to blink, and opened them to find myself on my back, with a bunch of worried paramedics in my face.
There are a few other instances which I will not take your time to recall, but it was not many years after the seizure—perhaps two—before I began to question whether or not I really survived it. Yes, my pelvis is a little twisted from it, but I incredibly suffered no concussion and no long-term effects: if anything, in the month following the seizure, my mood was drastically improved for the better before resuming its usual manic depressive struggle. In retrospect, the mood change was similar to the change I experienced when, in deep meditation during 2012, I experienced what I believe is best described as a ‘Kundalini Awakening’, which I have come to believe is the physiological experience which happens when the human body is somehow triggered into activating a particular genetic marker which prepares it to receive the ‘plasmate’; it also resembles an event which occurred earlier in the same year, wherein I ate amanita muscaria mushrooms and, feeling no effect, went to bed. The next morning I awoke with a dream recollection like no other, a series of flashes as if they all happened on my waking. Said dream, though I could not fully remember its contents, left me enrapt in bliss and certainty about the oneness of the universe. All this was soon to fade, but years later, an acid trip restored it an an immediate explosion of interest in the occult maintained and increased it. Now, several years later, my perspective on life, my hope for the future, and my beliefs about death, have all drastically improved.
The moral here is that generally speaking, we can make choice to evade death, but when we are doomed to die we will perceive ourselves as not dying because of miraculous intervention. This happens to Severian repeatedly throughout Book of the New Sun and it was the motif which made me feel that I was not alone or juvenile in my interpretation of quantum suicide/immortality. Urth is important because it emphasizes this point by demonstrating more clearly than BoTNS the many deaths. I have seen a very nice spreadsheet online chronicling Severian’s 7 deaths in Urth, but it is almost impossible to count or even notice the many deaths Severian may or may not experience in BoTNS. However, two leap to my mind most significantly: his earliest death, when he drowns in the Gyoll and perceives he is rescued by the divine intervention of an undine which he himself will someday accidentally charge with his salvation; and the death which the Commonwealth observes, his ‘historical death’.
What do I mean by ‘historical death’? I mean it is the one most highly observed in most universes. When Severian is Autarch of the Commonwealth, all eyes are on him. Therefore, it is harder for him to die and then reappear or be saved in a way which is in keeping with the Pancreator’s laws for the motions of the universe. This is true for all of us. The older we become, the lower our survival rate, until, according to a study recently released, the chance of dying plateaus at about 80. After that point it’s up to the dice of the gods, and when the number is up, the human body has no choice but to succumb to death: we have not yet found a way to beat biological death, although I am certain that someday we will. This means that up until a certain point, quantum immortality can function discretely, in the background. (Did you die when you climbed down that mountain after meeting Typhon, Severian? Of course not—just a gap in your perfect memory. Funny, that. Did you drown with Dorcas before you saved her? Die of the Avern? If we extrapolate far enough there is likely an instance where Severian was not saved by being sent off as the Lictor of Thrax, but was rather imprisoned, tortured and executed for his crime of mercy.) However, after that point is reached, not even our own brains can be convinced of our survival. Something miraculous has to happen—or has to happen from our perception—to keep the game going for consciousness, and to keep the soul-vehicle ever rising toward God.
The biggest mistake in thinking of this concept is supposing that the miraculous thing happens at or after death: that every person is fully conscious and himself up until the death that people perceive from the outside. However, because consciousness, like water and electricity, takes the path of least resistance (least unconsciousness, in this case), that path of least resistance may deviate years before bodily death. For some people whose worldview is wholesome and basic, I suspect their death process will be as simple and quiet as being lead away by the person they most love, or, in the case of many Christians, being visited by the bodily Jesus Christ, and taken for a long talk. However, for those of us who want to understand the death process, remain conscious through it, and become conscious of the internal workings of the godhead, that is not enough to satisfy us, and the Increate knows it. How will we be guided off? It would be arrogant to say I knew, but many have speculated. Perhaps we magicians and alchemists will be greeted by our servants of the work, our guides, our mentors. We may perceive this as anything from a surprise bodily visitation from a being with which we had only communicated in our imagination, to, in the case of Severian, a journey through outer space.
We know this is Severian’s historical death—the point when his bodily existence is incompatible with the consensus reality of Urth—because we see his mausoleum, and because Valeria is shocked to see him. She more or less tries to remind him of his death, but of course, as he sheds his final mundane trepidation and fits to the form of a godling, this is represented in a great deal many more deaths which will see him ascending toward the Increate, but, of course, never quite getting there so long as his consciousness is navigating the physical planes of existence. He can get close, however; and can reach some understanding, both in the signs of the world, and in the natures of his friends: particularly Tzadkiel.
(Brief aside: for another literary example of quantum immortality, study Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. There is a moment when someone has an extraordinary experience and is whisked away, and we are later told that a ‘duplicate’ of the same character suffers a heart attack and is attended by her maid. The maid from the alighted soul’s perspective is perhaps the character’s projection of her maid, her spiritual, personal maid rather than the true person her maid really is. After all, we all around us interact with our projections of the world. I have seen this regarded as an editing mistake due to Bulgakov’s death before the novel was fully edited, but I insist that it is not a mistake at all. An interesting synchronicity about Mikhail and myself is that we were born exactly 100 years and 4 days apart: he, on May 15th 1891, and I, on May 19th, 1991. I don’t think this means anything in particular—nothing that I can articulate, anyway—but I think it’s fun to think about.)
Sorry for the digression, folks. I’m all over the map on this one because it’s our last essay and I need to really establish some foundational concepts here. Really, the two biggest symbols we’ll be discussing are Tzadkiel, and Yesod; but to understand what Yesod is, and to understand the function of Tzadkiel, we have to have at least some familiarity with the concepts just described. Severian has a conversation with the hierodules, but emotional understanding of the subject enriches the experience of the reading.
Tzadkiel is an incredible symbol because s/he envisions the magician’s process of imagination perfectly, even down to fitting Jung’s opinion on animals in visions, dreams, and religious symbolism. Essentially, the argument is that the image of an animal represents an under-developed concept, instinct or pattern of behavior which is mostly unconscious. Then, there is the size or visually dysfunctional entity like the hobgoblin, dwarf, homomunculus, thoughtform, tulpa, withered old man, deformed leper, demon, ghoul. This is the unconscious reaching out to you, attacking your consciousness with Saturnine and Mercurial imagery to initiate or facilitate change, and not always in a negative way, but always in a persistent way. Following this the archetype is that of a human, one who is powerful or heroic but who either must be redeemed or do the redeeming, or die as sacrifice to the redemption of others, and these archetypes are generally the most and least conscious, or must undergo a journey of consciousness, or facilitate the journey of consciousness. Then there are those principles which are beyond the current scope of conception and which must be attained through psycho-spiritual means, and therefore present themselves as otherworldly, extraterrestrial or celestial. If you do not believe in ghosts you will probably not experience ghosts, but the same you might be open to the notion of extraterrestrial contact.
Therefore, Tzadkiel’s progression through many forms is a beautiful depiction of this process of the development of an idea from a mere beastly kernel of instinct to the profound depths which humans call ‘the divine’. The Angel of Mercy begins as a sort of formless, fuzzy, toothed animal escaped in the cargo hold of itself in the form of the Ship, the way an idea—an inspiration, a compulsion, a drive toward God—runs rampant in the mind until it is tamed by the consciousness, Severian, and the crewsman (the tamed and more ‘humanoid’ functions of the mind). When this principle is caught, it reveals itself useful in saving consciousness, and then is responsible for his resurrection when he falls to his death aboard the ship. By this time, the principle is a furry little gnome named Zak, and is therefore a half-formed archetype with a half-formed name; he saves Severian and cares for him, and then flees when Severian begins to pressure him. When the time is not yet right for us to learn the truth, the truth will craftily evade us: all things in their time and place.
When next Severian sees Zak, it is as the alleged Autarch of Urth, an exceptionally handsome and strong man. His judge rendered his scapegoat, Severian leads Zak to the slaughter in a brief passage which is surely intentionally symbolic of all we have described, of consciousness leading the body to its fate and the body, laying itself down as a willing sacrifice—an earthly duplicate—of the conscious soul. The hyper-masculinity of Zak in this penultimate form is like the masculine body that Severian must leave behind, or has already left behind and whose loss he must therefore accept. And yet, when he gets there, there is no slaughter at all: and Severian looks around the room to recognize all those people he has known, all those who have apparently died but who yet still live ‘somewhen’.
It is worth highlighting the throne’s shape:
Before us was the Seat of Justice, a seat far grander and more austere than any judge I had ever seen had occupied upon Urth. The Phoenix Throne was—or is, if it yet exists beneath the waters—a great gilt armchair upon whose back is displayed an image of that bird, the symbol of immortality, worked in gold, jade, carnelian, and lapis lazuli; upon its seat (which would have been murderously uncomfortable without it) was a cushion of velvet, with golden tassels.
This Seat of Justice of the Hierogrammate Tzadkiel was as different as could be imagined, and indeed was hardly a chair at all, but only a colossal boulder of white stone, shaped by time and chance to resemble one about as much as the clouds in which we profess to see a lover’s face or the head of some paladin resemble the persons themselves.
—Wolfe, Gene, Urth of the New Sun, pgs 127-128
Earlier in the novel there has been confusion, and Zak has been taken for the Autarch of Urth, and therefore is allegedly the one who should undergo the trial; when Severian is asked to take him into the examination chamber, he is given the opportunity, therefore, to escape by way of trickery. He has the chance to allow Zak to be his scapegoat, and well could we imagine how disastrous it would be to leave an angel chained, to scapegoat a holy Hierogrammate! This would only end in punishment and devastation, and therefore it cannot end that way. Hyper-consciousness is a peculiar blend of free will and destiny; although it appears Severian technically has a choice, in reality he does not, because in the future he is already victorious, and is therefore bound to make the right choice because he is the conscious Severian, and we know that because we are bringing him to life with our consciousness, by reading him.
So, it is not wholly Severian’s choice when, rather than chaining Zak to the throne, he frees Zak, and chains himself. While the still-primitive man sits at his feet, Severian delivers his speech.
“I am the Epitome of Urth and all her peoples,” I told the sailors. It was the same speech the old Autarch had made, as I realized only after I had begun it, though his examination had been so different. “I am here because I hold them in me—men, women, and children too, poor and rich, old and young, those who would save our world if they could, and those who would rape its last life for gain.”
Unbidden, the words rose to the surface of my mind. “I am here also because I am by right the ruler of Urth. We have many nations, some larger than our Commonwealth and stronger; but we Autarchs, and we alone, think not merely of our own lands, but know our winds blow every tree and our tides wash every shore. This I have proved, because I stand here. And because I stand here, I prove it is my right.”
–cf, pgs 128-129
More or less what I just said, right? Anyway, let’s take a second to talk about what the term ‘autarch’ means; or, at least, its origin. Here is its usage in Aristotle:
Hence the art of war will also be in some sense a natural form of the acquisitive art; for one part of it is expertise in hunting, which should be used with a view both to beasts and to those human beings who are naturally suited to be ruled but unwilling–this sort of war being by nature just. One kind of acquisitive art, then, is by nature a part of household management, and must either be available or supplied by the latter so as to be available–the art of acquiring those goods a store of which is both necessary for life and useful for the community of a city or household. At any rate, it would seem to be these things that make up genuine wealth. For sufficiency [to autarches einai, often translated “self-sufficiency”; but the primary meaning here and throughout this discussion is “having enough,” not “being independent of others.” Cf. Meikle 1995, 44-45] in possessions of this sort with a view to a good life is not limitless, as Solon asserts it to be in his poem: “of wealth no boundary lies revealed to men.” There is such a boundary, just as in the other arts; for there is no art that has an instrument that is without limit either in number or in size, and wealth is the aggregate of instruments belonging to household managers and political rulers. That there is a natural art of acquisition for household managers and political rulers, then, and the cause of this, is clear.
–Aristotle’s “Politics”, Second Edition, University of Chicago Press, 2013, pg 14
Aristotle explains through his thought process that the autarch, the man who has enough, can never be someone like a politician, because they are slaves beholden to the whims of the public; rather, the one who has enough is the philosopher. (Projecting a little there, brother?) This is also worth mentioning because the Great Work and the Great Art is also called the Great Philosophy; lest we forget, a common name for the stone is the Philosopher’s Stone. This stone, we shall find, is the seat of an angel; and when we present ourselves before it with all of our sins, and declare ourselves Autarch all the same, we will have passed a great test.
When Severian’s speech is met with only silence, he looks around the room and sees—well, everyone. Everyone he has ever killed, essentially, is there, which is very interesting, because a similar moment occurred in The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy long before I ever had the chance to reach Urth; this motif has been used in quite a few works dealing with epic journeys but, given all the other synchronicities between Gene Wolfe’s work and my own, it seems a peculiar and reassuring kind of confirmation.
There is also similarity in Tzadkiel’s trial of Severian to the kinds of afterlife judgments recorded in Egyptian religion. This is truly Severian’s passage through death; when he is ‘most dead’, if you will. It is a way we know he has met his chronological death; Tzadkiel is judging whether or not he will be worthy of eternal life, in effect, and so everything after that moment of judgment is but a snippet of that eternal life; however, as discussed, it is impossible to pin down when exactly an eternal life begins, because it is eternal. That is the nature of ouroboros’ circular format.
But there is another symbol which is highly important, and related commonly to snakes, as upon the staff carried by fleet-footed mercury: the double helix. When Severian is having his experience of Eternity in the state of Yesod, Apetha, the tongueless Hierogrammate pupa who serves as his guide, takes him to her chambers, described in a chapter called “The Coiled Room”.
She thrust aside a curtain, and we entered a wide corridor that bent to the left. Scattered about were seats such as I had seen outside, and many other objects as mysterious to me as the appliances in Baldander’s castel, though they were lovely and not terrible. Apheta took one of the divans.
“Does this not lead us to your chamber, my lady?”
“This is mine. It is a spiral; many of our rooms are, because we like that shape.”
–Urth, pg 141-142
When Severian is upon Yesod he is having a deep, deep psychedelic experience of communion with his own human DNA and those artists of it. In fact, his conversations with Famulimus, Barbatus and Ossipago could be considered the same, with the exception that the trio of Hierodules, being communed with on generally while on Urth, are bound by certain restrictions when it comes to the subject of their chats with Severian. Apheta is more willing to explain things to him because it does not matter anymore. Ossipago’s name means “Bone-Grower”; it seems to me that when Severian speaks with them, he is speaking with the genetic code which interfaces with the Platonic Ideals of our selves as present upon the eternal world of Yesod.
And what of that eternal world, Yesod? Jung, as ever, has a great deal to say on the subject.
“Jezoth” (=Yesod) is the ninth and middle Sefira in the lowest triad of the Caballistic tree, and was interpreted as the creative and procreative power in the universe. Alchemically he corresponds to the spiritus vegetativus, Mercurius. Just as Mercurius has a phallic aspect in alchemy, being related to Hermes Kyllenios, so in the Zohar has Yesod; indeed, the “Zaddik’ or “Just One,” as Yesod is also called, is the organ of generation. He is the “spout of the waters”, or the “tube” and “waterpipe”, and the “spring of bubbling water”. Such comparisons mislead the modern mind into one-sided interpretations, for instance that Yesod is simply the penis, or, conversely, that the obviously sexual language has no basis in real sexuality. But in mysticism one must remember that no “symbolic” object has only one meaning; it is always several things at once. Sexuality does not exclude spirituality nor spirituality sexuality, for in God all opposites are abolished. One has only to think of the unio mystica of Simeon ben Yochai in Zohar II, which Scholem (see n. 290) barely mentions.
Yesaod has many meanings, which in the manuscript are related to Mercurius. In alchemy Mercurius is the “ligament” of the soul, uniting spirit and body. His dual nature enables him to play the role of mediator; he is bodily and spiritual and is himself the union of these two principles. Correspondingly, in Yesod is accomplished the mystery of the “unitio” of the upper, Tifereth, and the lower, Malchuth. He is also called the “covenant of peace.” Similar designations are “bread,” “chief of the Faces” (i.e., of the upper and lower), the “apex” which touches earth and heaven, “propinquus” (the Near One), since he is nearer to the Glory (Shekinah), i.e., Malkuth, than to Tifereth, and the “Strong One of Israel.” Yesod unites the emanation of the right, masculine side (Nezach, life force) with the left, feminine side (Hod, beauty). He is called “firm, reliable, constant” because he leads the emanation of Tifereth down into Malchuth. [Ed. Like Severian’s task of leading the New Sun to Urth?]
Mercurius is often symbolized as a tree, and Yesod as frutex (tree-trunk) and virgultum (thicket). Mercurius is the spiritus vegetivus, spirit of life and growth, and Yesod is described as “vivus,” living, or “living for aeons.” Just as Mercurius is the prima materia and the basis of the whole process, so Yesod means “foundation.” “In natural things Yesod contains in himself quicksilver, for this is the basis of the whole art of transmutation”; not, of course, ordinary quicksilver, but “that which not without mystery is called a star.” From this star flow “the waters of the good God El, or quicksilver….This quicksilver…is called the Spherical Water,” or “the water of baptism.”
The water is called the daughter of Matred, that is…of a man who labors unweariedly at making gold. For this water flows not out of the earth, nor is it dug out of mines, but is brought forth and perfected with great labor and much diligence. His wife is called the Water of gold, or such kind of water as gives rise to gold. And if this workman is espoused with her, he will engender a daughter, who will be the Water of the king’s bath.
On the basis of isopsephic speculation the water of gold was identified with Yesod. The tablet with sixteen signs for gold or sun at the feet of the fils de l’homme seems to point to this. The Kabbala denudata reproducese a “Kamea” containing not 2X8 but 8×8=64 numbers, “which represent the sum of the name of the golden water.”
As the prima materia is also called lead and Saturn, we should mention that the Sabbath is co-ordinated with Yesod, as is the letter Teth, which stands under the influence of Shabtai (Saturn). In the same way that Mercurius, as a volatile substance, is named the bird, goose, chick of Hermes, swan, eagle, vulture, and phoenix, Yesod (as well as Tifereth) is called “pullus avis” also “penna, ala” (feather, wing). Feathers and wings play a role in alchemy too: the eagle that devours its own feather or wings, and the feathers of the phoenix in Michael Maier. The idea of the bird eating its own featehrs is a variant of the ouroboros, which in turn is connected with Leviathan. Leviathan and the “great dragon” are names for both Yesod and Tifereth.
Yesod is a part to the whole, and the whole is Tifereth, who is named the sun. The feet of the Apocalyptic Son of Man, glowing as if in the fire, may have a connection with Malkuth, since the feet are the organ that touches the earth. The earth, Malkuth, is Yesod’s “footstool.” Malkuth is also the “furnace”, “the place destined for the cooking and decoction of the influence sent down to her by her husband for the nourishment of the hosts.”
–Jung, Carl, Mysterium Coniunctionis, pg 442-446
Isn’t that citation just made for BOTNS? And it brings us back around to a point I was hoping to touch on, namely, the symbol of Severian’s foot. It is crippled in the war and that is about all we know; we don’t even know for sure what side it is on, although I would venture a guess that it is on the left, since the point of his journey is to leave the left-hand path of the Kabbalistic tree in order to explore the right. However, we can see now the symbolic nature of that injury. The footstool of Yesod has been damaged and requires restoration, much as Severian, whose lameness will be cured. As Mercurius, Severian is to Yesod what Tzadkiel is to the ship; he is a bud, a fruit, emitted from Eternity so that reality can occur.
When next we see Zak, he has taken the throne, developed wings and promises Severian a trial replete with ‘whatever reparations can be made.’ Abruptly, the angel disappears, and says that his son will be responsible for taking Severian back to Urth, which will be destroyed ‘on his order’. A battle ensues, then, between the sailors and the aquastors of people who have cause to hate Severian—yet, those who hate Severian also have many moments where they are truly his friends, as even Agia is responsible for saving his life after a certain point. All those enemies he faced, even foul Baldanders, served in his journey, and assisted him in drawing closer to the New Sun. Therefore, though they may be complicated friends, they are still friends, and defend Severian against the sailors who would foolheartedly ‘save’ Urth.
The problem with a Messiah is that he is generally not well understood by the people of his time. The sailors are a representative of that, as are the tribesmen who later kill Apu-Punchau rather than allow him to recede into the wilderness in peace. This is also an effect noticed by Philip K. Dick, in his assertion that the Empire (his term for the unconscious world of the superficial, material demiurge) tends to compensate for any attacks against it. Dick’s argument is that if the plasmate is sent by the highest, purest Godhead to heal the world, the world is reacting with an immune system to purge it.
After the battle, Severian and his rubenesque space girlfriend, Gunnie, ask tongueless Apheta a score of questions, then are politely told they’ve asked enough questions and it’s time for them to go. Aboard the infinite ship again (which resembles, with its dark, labyrinthine halls, the infinite house in the novel House of Leaves), Severian is taken down to see the Captain: none other than Tzadkiel, at last appearing in her highest emanation: a giant woman with great, spangled wings coated in eyes. The entity engages in mitosis to create a smaller Tzadkiel with whom Severian can more easily converse, and later he will meet a tiny, pixie-like iteration of the Angel of Mercy when aside the banks of the river between the universes. This quality of splitting is an ideal symbol of the Spirit Mercurius, for is this not a quality of the actual metal? Indeed, the character of Tzadkiel demonstrates to us most clearly how an animal, a hairy dwarf, a muscular man and a feminine angel are emanations of the same archetype.
Having gotten through the beauty of Severian’s space journey, it’s almost a bummer to come back to Urth, but there’s still a bit to do; mostly, in terms of connecting Severian with Apu-Punchau. Gunnie elects to pass into, essentially, the underworld, while her younger counterpart, Burgundofara (again, named for a saint) stays on as Severian’s lover. On Urth, Severian and Burger (sorry, it’s easier to type) drop into several villages where the Conciliator enacts a number of miracles relating to healing the sick and the deformed. Then, in the village of ‘Os’, they encounter a fake wizard in green named Ceryx.
Ceryx is an interesting example of how the archetypes repeat themselves in the multiplicatio, and also compact themselves; Severian’s encounter with this mountebank is 1 part Doctor Talos, 2 parts Hathor and 1 part the magician battle had while in the company of Little Severian. To prove his might, Ceryx resurrects a drowned man named Zama and sends him in to attack Severian; the servant of the Increate responds by actually resurrecting the zombie, which has a traumatic effect on the people watching. Particularly Burger, who runs away, and will later be found, having shacked up (within the space of 12 hours!? Damn, girl.) with Hadelin, the captain who gives Severian transportation aboard his ship, the Alcyone.
I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about the symbol of Halcyon birds on this blog before, when we talked about the Magic Knight Rayearth OVA series and its villain, also named Alcyone. (Weirdly, my Disgraced Martyr Trilogy has, in the background of its world, a social media and banking service called Halcyon. This was a reference to Rayearth that ended up, as ever, being eerily harmonious with BOTNS!)
Alcyone, in Greek Mythology, was the wife of Ceyx. According to Edith Hamilton’s summation in her indispensable Mythology, Ceyx was a king of Thessalay and “the son of Lucifer, the light-bearer, the star that brings the day, and all his father’s bright gladness was in his face.” However, as fine as Hamilton’s recounting is, the original telling in Ovid’s Metamorphosis is beyond beautiful; and that is even after translation! Ceyx travels across the sea to consult the Oracle despite his wife’s pleas to the contrary, as she is the daughter of the winds and knows their might. Predictably, he drowns, and Juno takes pity on the patiently waiting and worrying wife by sending Iris to Sleep, who sends Morpheus in the form of Ceyx to come to Alcyone in a dream and explain that her husband has drowned. When she awakens, she is heartbroken, and goes to throw herself into the sea: there, she seas the body of her husband.
“It is he” she said, “he has come back to me.”
She stripped herself, then ran upon a breaker
That caught the waves, and leaped as if broad wings
Took her to sea; even her cries were birdlike;
And as she neared the floating man beneath her,
She thrust her growing beak between his lips.
The story is: he raised his face to hers,
And I half think Ceyx did—if he he had life.
The gods changed both to birds, and both were one,
Though love had given them a strange mutation.
Today they live and breed upon those waters
And for a week in winter, Alcyone
Keeps her brood warm within a floating nest,
Aeolus stills the winds that shake the waters
To guard his grandsons on a peaceful sea.
–Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by Horace Gregory, pg 319
Therefore, the peaceful days which follow a storm are called “Halcyon days”.
The ship takes them to Saltus, and there, Burger betrays the Conciliator, who then breaks the neck of a Pelerine who claimed him to be deranged. For this, he is (possibly killed and then, in the next reality) brought to the Guild of Torturers in Nessus. Like the Wheel which is their symbol, his journey has come full physical circle; but he does not remain there for long, as he is soon taken to the monarch of the time, which is Typhon. The two-headed ruler has him placed on a rock with a smilodon, but the smilodon, like all creatures of God, recognizes a servant of the Increate and is harmless as a kitten. The chiliarch and other soldiers come to see if he’s died but instead find him alive and with a new friend; they are moved to worship him practically, but he denies them that and simply sends them away with the Claw. After he also sends the smilodon away, something marvelous happens.
Whether it returned safely to its hunting grounds, I am unable to say, though I trust it did. As for myself, I sat under my shelter for a time listening to the storm and munching bread and fruit, until at last the wild wind snatched the canvas from over my head.
I rose; when I looked through the curtains of the downpour, I saw a party of soldiers cresting the arm.
Astonishingly I also saw places without rain or soldiers. I do not mean that these newly seen places now spread themselves where the abyss had stretched. Its aching emptiness remained, rock dropping a league at least like a cataract, with the dark green of the high jungle far below—the jungle that would hold the village of sorcerers through which the boy Severian and I would pass.
Rather it seemed to me that the familiar directions of up and down, forward and back, left and right, had opened like a blossom, revealing petals unguessed, new Sefiroth whose existence had been hidden from me until now.
One of the soldiers fired. The bolt struck the rock at my feet, splitting it like a chisel. Then I knew that they had been sent to kill me, I suppose because one of the men who had gone with the chiliarch had rebelled against his fate and reported what had transpired, though too late to prevent the departure of the rest.
Another leveled his weapon. To escape it, I stepped from the rain-swept rock into a new place.
–Wolfe, Gen, Urth of the New Sun, pgs 280-281
Now Gene is just flat-out using the term ‘Sefiroth’ as a metaphor for direction, which is beautiful and could not be more appropriate in the context we’re discussing. This new direction in which Severian moves takes him out of spacetime and into a far higher dimension, with the aforementioned miraculous river and its tiny Tzadkiel. The Brook Madregot flows from the glory of Yesod to the destruction of Briah, or from perfect eternity to total entropy. It is the flow of energy, and Severian learns to use it to travel through spacetime. The pixie guides him to the moment in Urth’s history which is its last; and, in fact, Severian emerges from his own grave.
What happens next is hard to explain. We must grasp it intuitively, by our understanding of black holes and of synchronicity. Remembering Hawking’s revelation that the event horizon of a black hole actually stores the information it absorbs, rather than destroying it, let us look at Baldanders’ speech to the Autarch, Valeria.
“What I am about to say is not important. But I will say it in order that you will listen to what is important afterward. Our universe is neither the highest nor the lowest. Let matter become overdense here, and it bursts into the higher. We see nothing of that because everything runs from us. Then we talk of a black hole. When matter grows overdense in the universe below us, it explodes into ours. We see a burst of motion and energy, and we speak of a white fountain. What this prophetess calls the New Sun is such a fountain.”
“Things opposite unite and appear to disappear. The potential for both remains. That is one of the greatest principles of the causes of things. Our sun has such a black hole as I described to you at its core. To fill it, a white fountain has been drawn across the void for millennia. It spins as it flies, and in its motion emits waves of gravitation.”
“These waves are too slight to render us giddy. Yet Ocean feels them and breeds new tides and fresh currents. I heard them, as I have already told you. They brought me here.”
“Bells feel them in the same way. Like Ocean, their mass is delicately poised. Thus they ring, just as this woman says, pealing the coming of the New Sun.”
All reality lies at one point in spacetime: it lies in a black hole which projects the information outward, back through time, in the form of a hologram. A graphic interpretation of reality. We are like Flatlanders experiencing the higher dimensional object of time in the form of many slices, many moments; in truth, all is one, physically and psychically, being comprised of information bound to matter. The idea Baldanders here proposes is effectively that, at the end of time, when all that is left is black holes within black holes, even the black holes will become overdense, and burst from non-existence into existence. The symbol of the white fountain is that bursting, that hyper-hyper-density, which has been growing since the beginning of existence. Once entropy has reached its maximum capacity, it has no choice but to turn itself inside out and, effectively, begin again.
But what does it mean, that Urth is drowned at the moment when Valeria’s resurrected assassin plunges the blade into her heart? I will let Marie-Louise von Franz, not Jung, explain a little about synchronicity to help us find the answer.
Whenever an archetype is constellated in someone’s psychic material, there is a very great amount of conscious, and sometimes unconscious, emotion, which is observable to the onlooker. In such situations the most frequent clustering of synchronistic events occurs just in the surroundings and at the moment of the outbreak of a psychotic episode, which means that some unconscious archetypal contact is constellated to the bursting point so that the ego complex explodes.
My first experience of this impressed me deeply several decades ago. I was lecturing in a little town in a foreign country, and after my lecture I got absolutely sucked in and eaten up by a man who was obviously schizophrenic, though he was also a very intelligent, gifted artist. I discussed all sorts of topics with him. Then I did not hear anything more about him except for some crazy letters that I never answered, but about half a year later I got a telegram: “Please, please help me, I am double,” and his name. As that was during my student years, I had the time, and as there was such desperate pleading in his telegram and the town he lived in was not very far away, I took a train there. When I went to his flat I discovered that he was in the local institution, so I went there.
He was very pleased to see me and was on the way to recovery. We had quite a nice talk. He told me a most amazing thing, and I checked it with his wife, who confirmed it. He had had a religious Messiah megalomania and was convinced that he would save the world, and that increased slowly. That was the constellated archetype. He became more and more identified with being the new Christ of his age, but finally he got so annoyed with his wife, who did not want to believe that he was Christ, that he took an ax and told her that a devil was sitting in her brain which he could only exorcise by hitting her with the ax and splitting open her head. Quite rightly, she called a doctor, and the doctor called the police. So a doctor with two policemen came to the flat to prevent him from splitting his wife’s head open. There was a passage through which one entered into the flat, and at the moment when the two policemen and the doctor went in, the man was standing raving mad in the passage and said, “Now I am the crucified Christ.” At that moment there was a great noise. An enormous lamp, a glass luster which they had an which lit up practically the whole flat, burst, and they all stood in the dark among thousands of splinters and groped around till they could take the man to the hospital.
Now, that was a synchronistic event. This man felt, even later, in the hospital where he told me the story, that it was a proof that he was Christ, because when Christ was crucified the light of the sun and the moon darkened! The light went out when Christ was caught by the evil powers! On the other hand, you could just as well understand it not the light of the sun but as a man-made lamp, which would be not the cosmic light but the ego light. The crashing of the light was a synchronistic, symbolic accompaniment to the explosion of his ego, the lamp representing his ego consciousness. But the man interpreted it, which is typical for madness, in the context of his madness.
–von Franz, Marie-Louise, Alchemical Active Imagination, pg 121-122
So we can see how the ‘internal’ event—Valeria’s stabbing—is really synchronistically tied to the death of Urth. With the alchemical ties of the Queen and feminine to the Earth, and the concept of alchemical valor as being a condition of activated quantum immortality, we could see this as entropy’s final effort to overcome consciousness to no avail. Like Noah upon his arc, Severian’s consciousenss rides his body to a raft inhabited by Pega, Odilo and Thais. These four (note the quaternity) are rescued by former torturer Eata upon his ship, the Samru. There, Severian talks to his old friend a time, and when he has fallen asleep, the Conciliator throws himself into the sea.
Beneath the waves, there is no pace. Severian leaves Ushas to return to Urth by accident, and floats across the ruins of Nessus; when he eventually finds land, it is at a little village, unnamed, where Severian repairs a woman’s hut, takes her for his wife and then, in another synchronicity, accidentally proves that he is indeed the New Sun by doing nothing at all while an unnamed event (possibly the flight of Tzadkiel in ship form) blots out the sun on the people’s commands that he prove he is responsible for bringing it. When he eventually leaves these people as an old man, he is beaten to death, and his body is stored in a sealed hut where later Apu-Punchau will rise and be encountered by Hildegrin and former Severian. Present Severian, meanwhile, has a very clear death experience, and in his death, speaks to his friends, the Hierodules. They show him his own body for the first time, and he worries he has become an ‘eidolon’, or a ghost. Baratus assures him, “What you call eidolons are not ghosts, but beings maintained in existence by some external source of energy. What you call matter is all, in actuality, merely bound energy. The only difference is that some is held in material form by its own energy.”
“You speak of what is real, Severian; thus do you hold to what is real still. A moment since we spoke of him who makes. Among your folk the simple call him God, and you, the lettered, name him Increate. What were you ever but his eidolon?”
Finally, freed of his old body and inhabiting a new one, Severian once more journeys through the waters of time, this last reordered occasion, to Ushas. There, he finds not just land, but a priest—his priest, a man who worships a god his people call “the Sleeper”. Severian remarks with humor that these people had made him their Oannes, which is particularly interesting, because Jung has little to say on Oannes in Mysterium, save for a couple of footnotes, both of which come to the conclusion, “In the Nassene view the Chaldaeans equated Oannes with Adam.” And then there is his book Aion, which contains the fabulous essays “The Sign of the Fishes,” “The Historical Significance of the Fish,” and “The Alchemical Interpretation of the Fish”. However, “Gnostic Symbols of the Self” yields the most interesting reference for our purposes:
As examples of the Original Man the text mentions the Cabiros and Oannes. The latter had a soul capable of suffering, so that the “figure of the great, most beautiful and perfect man, humbled to a slave,” might suffer punishment. He is the “blessed nature, at once hidden and revealed, of everything that has come to be and will be,” “the kingdom of heaven which is to be sought within man”, even “in children of seven years.”
–Jung, C.G., Aion, pg 201
As a god, the Sleeper is masculine, for he is given male priests, and yet paradoxically without gender, for he is unseen; he is the mysterious fourth, the problem confronted by the alchemical Axiom of Maria: One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the three rises one as the fourth. Jung also refers in one of his books to a fairy tale regarding a horse with a missing fourth leg, which represents, to him, something lost in translation from unconsciousness to consciousness. By the book’s end, Severian has submitted himself fully to the notion that reality is not fully comprehensible, or even, after a certain point of conscious development reveals it has always been this way, fully real. And he also comes to understand that those at lesser points of development take more earthly views of the divine.
“There is no God bu the Increate, all the rest being his creatures.” I was tempted to add, “Even Tzadkiel,” but I did not.
“Yes,” he said. And he turned his face away, not wishing, I think, to see my look if he offended me. “That is so for the gods, certainly. But for humble creatures like men, there are lesser gods, possibly. To poor, wretched men these lesser gods are very, very exalted. We strive to please them.”
–Wolfe, Gene, Urth of the New Sun, pg 366-367
There are many mysteries to existence, and their secrets lay in the hands of the Increate. They are not for men to speak; however, they are for men to experience. Art affords us the opportunity to delve deep into the secrets of the mind, for within our own mind there is a connection, a beacon, to the Godhead. There is a Sleeper there within us, a First Man waiting to be discovered. We will find no holy power in a relic, a Claw; it must come from within ourselves, and we must rest assured that if we are ever destined to find that light, we will. Lest we forget, Severian’s journey is facilitated, first and foremost upon our Earthly world, by the pen of a man named Gene Wolfe: lest we forget, Severian’s journey is fictional. And yet it feels real to the mind and to the soul, because it is our journey, too. It is the journey of Wolfe’s consciousness up and up toward the highest spheres of being.
Indeed, it is possible Severian already had some presentiment of his future: it was written in the world all around him. The nature of the Increate’s secrets and being are everywhere in this world around is, but nowhere are the mysteries of life more transparently revealed than in literature. The human hand pens what is written by a higher force; it is only through sheer human arrogance that the persona can delude itself into believing it is responsible for the vastness of the creative works it produces. The moment an author submits to this notion, however, and begins to write for the divine, strange things happen within them, and without them. Gene Wolfe’s success among his fans has been a quiet thing, but most religious people experience a quiet success; as the years go on, however, the divinity of that success becomes naturally apparent. Years after its publication and many developments in science and cosmology later, Book of the New Sun holds up for reasons slightly different than the works of Ray Bradbury, or even Philip K. Dick, who was a visionary in his own right. Book of the New Sun holds up because it is a transparent exploration of the glory of God, which has been dissected by Wolfe, spread open upon the pages of the book like a pregnant woman upon the table of Baldanders. Moreover, it is an exploration of the dark face of God; the troubled dual natural of that same entity which drowns an entire planet, then marks its forgiveness with a rainbow. The question is one of whether or not the battle against entropy is winnable; and while Book of the New Sun and what we know of life both indicate no, both also indicate that there is more to be considered than mere human notions of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. Reality is not a state of either/or; it is, like the ultimate improv club, a state of ‘yes, and’. And the deeper into this routine consciousness delves, the more richly it is rewarded, even before the end.
That does it for our Book of the New Sun + Urth of the New Sun essay series, readers, but never fear: at the moment, I am hard at work on a Philip K. Dick essay of massive proportions (maybe not quite as massive as this one, I hope), an essay on the esoteric Coen Brothers film Barton Fink, and, of course, the fiction projects which were recently announced. If you enjoy Book of the New Sun, you’re sure to love my upcoming Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, so be sure to follow the blog to stay up to date with news about the May 19th, 2019 release! Think Book of the New Sun meets Vampire Hunter D. You’re going to have fun.
Also, if you haven’t grabbed your copy of The Lightning Stenography Device, be sure to do so today! The book is 99 cents for one week, so help yourself and enjoy the most psychedelic literary trip released since PKD’s VALIS. Be sure to leave a review if you enjoy it, and check back with us soon for the aforementioned next essays.
There is so much more I could have talked about here, but we will have to save it for the Short/Long Sun essay series planned roughly for April and May of next year. Until then, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite moments from Urth of the New Sun:
We were soon taken below. To tell the truth, I was happy enough to go. It is difficult to explain—so much so that I am tempted to omit it altogether. Yet I think it would be easy if only you were as young as once you were.
An infant in its crib does not at first know that there is a distinction between its body and the wood that surrounds it or the rags upon which it lies. Or rather, its body seems as alien as all the rest. It discovers afoot and marvels to find so odd a thing a part of itself.
So with me. I had seen the star; and seeing it—immensely remote though it was—had known it a region of myself, absurd as the baby’s foot, mysterious as his genius is to one who has only just discovered it. I do not mean that my consciousness, or any consciousness, rested in the star; at that time, at least, it did not. Yet I was ware of existence at two points, like a man who stands waist deep in the sea, so that wave and wind are alike to him in that both are something less than the whole, the totality of his environment.
–Wolfe, Gene, Urth of the New Sun, pg 170