Thursday, June 24, 2021

Ishtar Rising Week Two: Children of Hermes

Inanna, Goddess of Heaven and Earth Who Descended Into Hell for God-Knows-What Reason

Wilson’s Introduction to the 1989 Edition

Dante based his famous beginning around the Biblical idea that the lifetime of humanity is 75 years. Having been born during the Middle Ages, Dante was lucky to reach his late fifties. Dante’s line is much more famous than his actual biography and as it prefaces the introduction to a book about symbolism, his poetic fallacy can be forgiven.

By 1989, and at this point established with New Falcon Press, Wilson was done with whatever opacity of purpose he had adopted for the earlier Playboy Press editions. The first part of his introduction makes it very clear that this is a book about magic, subversion and myth. I had actually read Wolkstein’s Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth  before I picked up Ishtar Rising which was at the time out of print and somewhat expensive. Alan Moore incorporates the Ishtar/Inanna myth into one of the best issues of his Promethea series, and while Moore is obviously erudite enough to have been exposed to the Ishtar myth long before reading Wilson, this reader can’t help but suggest that Wilson’s repetitive mentions of the myth had something to do with Moore believing it to have been such an important magical allegory. 

As such, Wilson begins his introduction with an explanation of why this story resonated so deeply within him as emphatically as he ever writes elsewhere. (The raw self-reflection that Wilson demonstrates in this chapter, coupled with his usual elan, makes me firmly believe that this piece of writing is a “true” Robert Anton Wilson.) The Underground Journey, he points out, is present in almost all of his work; his characters are repeatedly made to spend seasons in Hell to better understand themselves and the world. By the end of the first part of his introduction his earnestness and passion remind me of his wonderful poem, “Lawrence Talbot Suite:” 

My werewolf heart is pierced at last

By the silver bullet of the Lady’s gaze

I am the Beast the Lady rides
I am the stars that are in her hair. 

(Versions of the poem can be found in The Illuminati Papers and Masks of the Illuminati.) 

The second part of the introduction provides a solid foundational theory to the magic alluded to in part one by building upon Welles’ F for Fake. Wilson would later expand on the analysis presented here in Cosmic Trigger II (I believe, it could have been CT III) in what may be one of the most interesting writings on film that I’ve ever read. The earlier version here is just as satisfying, if not more compact. Luckily F for Fake is no longer as obscure as it was when Wilson was writing in the late Eighties. It’s been released by the Criterion Collection and is one of the few Welles films I’ve watched multiple times. (It’s a great film to watch when you’re lonely as it feels, at least to me, like one big, fucked-up party.) 

Wilson writes with more flair in these few pages about F for Fake and Welles in general than I could ever hope to. I don’t have much to add aside from how fascinating the film and its subject matter really is; Clifford Irving’s career is as bizarre as anyone could ask for and he managed to draw in two of the biggest enigmas of the twentieth century- one famous, one made famous by Welles’ film. Howard Hughes was a hugely consequential kook who will reappear in this narrative as the patron, and possible exploiter, of Jayne Mansfield’s formidable bosoms. El Mir, after my repeat sessions with Fake, might be my favorite artist of the 20th Century- I would love to have one of his Modiglianis. The theory of art presented in the second part of the introduction (which is very much in line with the movements of cubism, Dada and surrealism that Wilson uses to buttress Welles’ film and philosophy) is perhaps the grand artistic tradition of the twentieth. Wilson’s mastery of art theory is as impressive as any of his intellectual accomplishments and shouldn’t be understated. Wilson, being Wilson, also draws in Joyce and Crowley to augment his overview of Art. (The joke of Crowley’s is beloved by me not only because of its original appearance in Magick in Theory and Practice but its appearance in Wilson and Moore’s works.) 

It is surprising to me that Wilson didn’t receive any messages from magicians or truth-seekers on account of Ishtar Rising. In fact, I would hold up Wilson’s earliest titles, namely The Sex Magicians, Sex, Drugs and Magick, and The Book of the Breast/Ishtar Rising as books that still drip with magic. Wilson also does a little of the work of later interlocutors by acknowledging his bitterness against the “Women’s Lib” Movement at the time of the original authorship. He notes himself that the book was written during a time when “everyone was a little nuts” and that his views had changed by the time the New Falcon edition was published. But he notes, like other commentators, that his writing was a product of its times and opts to keep most of his original work intact. In an act of Wilsonian wit and irony, our Man uses Christ’s call to his Father as an end to his introduction to a work on the Female Godhead. 

I think we’ll reserve his 1973 Introduction for next week as there’s plenty to unpack there as well. I am looking forward to what everyone has to say! 


  1. The song of wandering Aengus: W B Yeats with a Scottish accent?

  2. RAW writes in the 1989 introduction that all of his novels are based on the primordial legend of Ishtar, i.e., that "All of my heroines and heroes go through a withdrawal from tribal 'consensus reality' -- a journey through the realm of fantasy, horror and the Unconscious -- leading to a rebirth or resurrection ..."

    This statement is still not broad enough; one could argue that all of his nonfiction books also are based on the legend. Two of the nonfiction books, "Cosmic Trigger I" and "Cosmic Trigger II," have a plot element of the narrator who descends into Hell and has to figure out how to get out of it. And even the nonfiction books that do not have a narrative structure, which are collections of various essays and interviews, have the general theme that the reader can "rise above" the local reality tunnel of wherever he or she happens to be in space and time, becoming a happier person and creating a preferred reality.

  3. I wanted to comment separate on Wilson's remark, "I think all artists are prone to Underground Journeys and Dreams of Flying."

    The ability for people to actually fly was invented in the state where I live, Ohio, and it seems quite extraordinary that the ability to fly above the earth is something that most people treat as quite ordinary, although it's something that people interested in aviation never quite get over. A local pilot recently invited me to take a plane flight in his Piper Comanche aircraft, and the perspective of being able to sit up front in one of the pilot seats was extraordinary; we took off from the Port Clinton area (west of Cleveland), flew above Lake Erie and some of its islands and circled over a portion of Dearborn (the location of a historic Ford plant); I could see the skyline of Detroit ahead and off to my right. We should feel privileges to be able to have such experiences after thousands of years of human history.

  4. I suspect Wilson repeated the descent of Innana, the Goddess in the Underworld myth so frequently because that symbolically describes current times - the present, and throughout his writing career. If everything appears in motion, then metaphorically speaking, Ishtar either rises or descends. Although not linear, I guess Ishtar mostly rises since the book came out, but she still obviously has a long way to go; the Trump era provides ample evidence for that speculation.

    RAW gives some transparency to his opacity revealing that he writes hermetically in all his fiction and much of his non-fiction. He tells us that some esoteric bits appear "so disguised that nobody but people who write commentaries of Finnegans Wake would ever figure out how many hidden meanings there were in every paragraph." This why I love his writing so much and why rereading his books proves rewarding. As comprehension of his lexicon grows, new allusions and information gets noticed with each rereading. It seems a different book each time.

    In the penultimate paragraph of this intro RAW recommends C.S. Hyatt's Secrets of Western Tantra. I second this emotion.

  5. @tony smyth- Oh jeez, as a Yank I've never thought about that. I've been listening to this version of the poem for years. I can only hope Yeats would see some bardic connection to Donovan. And if not I can always call his shade all the names the Laird of Boleskine called him.

    @Tom- I can say that while I'm not a prolific traveler by any means, I've never gotten over the novelty of flying. As a kid I always loved watching the jets and trails in the open skies above WV, it was funny when I later learned that the lines I found so interesting were the feared "contrails" of conspiracy theorists. (Back when conspiracy theory was more interested in contrails than election integrity.)

    I think you an Oz both make excellent points about how this introduction both reveals and further occludes his corpus at a glance. However, I think both of you demonstrate how repeated readings of Wilson's work pays off in greater clarity.

    @Oz- the quote from Crowley from "The Book of Lies" at the end of the introduction is humorously frustrating. I think this is around the time that Wilson would have penned his introduction to "Portable Darkness" which is still one of the better essays on the Beast, in my opinion.

    I read Hyatt's Western Tantra and Undoing Yourself years ago based on the recommendations in RAW's work. I found the practice of both to be exciting and enlightening. I should dig those up and revisit them.

    I take comfort in the Goddess going through the cycles with us. Like Sophia or the Shekinah that descends to dross to redeem and reconcile Creation with Creator. Up and down she goes...

  6. Speaking of people who are fakes, the discussion of El Mir reminds me of this news story:

  7. @Rarebit Fiend, I'll have to read that Portable Darkness again, I remember being impressed with it. Thank-you for bringing up that ending again "Abba! It is finished!", it seems extremely profound, I nearly overlooked the Hermetic implications.

    My esoteric interpretation, for what it's worth, has nothing to do with religion, Jehovah or Jesus. Traditionally, the latter uttered the phrase right before dying on the cross. The esoteric view: "It is finished = it is accomplished, the mission to go on the cross. The man on the cross describes a post or a function related to the Rosy Cross, also related to the Notarikon of Ishtar Rising. 210 also connects with the original title The Book of the Breast. Both titles seem reflected in the statement at the end of this intro, "... the biochemical basis of my Hermetic remarks on the crown and heart "chakras" ... An aim of Scientific Illuminism = to produce "Christs" (see Postcards to Probationers Equinox 1 Volume 1).

    The Book of Lies iteration of this you mention must be at the end of the last chapter commentary: FINIS CORONAT OPUS = the work (i.e. producing a Christ) is crowned. The crowned and conquering child.

    Interestingly, a couple of paragraphs earlier Crowley writes: "But its general nature is that of a certain minute whiteness, appearing at the extreme end of great blackness. ... it also symbolizes the eventual coming out into the light of his that has wandered long in the darkness." Compare that with the Underworld Journey Wilson writes of. The whole Book of Lies can be seen as a journey through the underworld - NOX, the night of Pan and all that.

    All this appears related to death, like the original quote, but I don't have time now to obscure things further. Really good catch, Rarebit, thanks again!

  8. @Tom- I have very different views of "charlatans" than I did when I first began my journey down this path. I remember reading a passage in John Clute's "Encyclopedia of Fantasy" that described Crowley as a "lifestyle fantasist" which I found simultaneously dismaying and charming. Now I just think it is accurate. After all, one of the first dictums of Wilson's magic is "fake it till you make it."

    @Oz- Thank you Oz. That's some brilliant insight into "The Book of Lies." It's always been one of my favorite Crowley titles and I love how when I pick it up throughout my life the poems seem to morph. Great point about the Night of Pan- I believe Crowley said his volume was for "Babes of the Abyss."

    My esoteric interpretation didn't make it to Qabalah. All I could think of immediately reading the phrase was the magnificent Swedish pop group (and erstwhile foes of the KLF). If it wasn't for the nights...

  9. Terrific post and comments. I love the presentation of Ishtar in Sandman. I enjoyed the movie Ishtar, and Intolerance has an Ishtar/Babylon section.

  10. @Eric- It's hard to forget the Babylon sequence in Intolerance. Kenneth Anger opens his salacious Hollywood Babylon with a survey of Griffiths old set- it's in the title! I haven't seen Ishtar but as one of "the worst movies ever made," I've always wanted to.

    When I was in 6th Grade I wrote a story about a friend and I being chased by a cult after insulting a statue of Ishtar. It was a bold-faced ripoff of the Beatles "Help!" film.

  11. @Rarebit Fiend, Abba, the Father, = the Macrocosm, in the metaphor. Going on the cross seems another expression for uniting the microcosm with the Macrocosm. I recently read in Led Zeppelin All the Songs that they recorded In Through the Out Door, their last studio album as a band, at ABBA's studio in Sweden. I endured mild PTSD from listening to an 8 track of ABBA's Greatest Hits on endless loop for about 3 - 4 hours in my youthful hitchhiking days.

  12. @Oz- that seems like a trip. I once brought myself to the brink listening to the KLF's "Downtown/Christmas" at five in the morning. Perhaps the (often enough) impersonal-yet-essential role of semen coupled with the extraordinarily personal and necessary gestation period on the part of the bearer is what led to our archetypes of Omnipotent/Distant/Male Creator God and the Descending/Pure-yet-Fallen Female Godhead in multiple cultures.

  13. "F For Fake" one of the many things RAW has turned me on to. Speaking of Welles, I've noticed watching/listening to some interviews of the recently deceased John McAfee that his voice sounds very similar to that of Orson Welles. At least to me.

  14. @Manic- that is an interesting observation. I do think McAfee's suicide is either a) one of the most accomplished practical jokes ever played or b) shady as fuck.

    I believe my exposure to Welles before RAW was being really interested in his Mussolini-inspired "Caesar" and Vodou "Macbeth" in high school (as well as his "War of the Worlds" legend) and watching "The Third Man." (I didn't see "Citizen Kane" until a film class.) Wilson certainly encouraged me to look deeper into Welles and introduced me to "F for Fake."


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