Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ishtar Rising Week Eleven: The Spirit of '73 or- Not Impossible, Only Improbable

 If we are to end on a number, I would like this to be Ishtar Rising Week Eleven. Although, due to delays, this group has lasted longer than eleven weeks, eleven is a good number to end our account of the unending ascent. Certainly, eleven is the most appropriate number if we are to "seek the light and quit the dark" as we look forward to Wilson's proposed golden dawn. 

Ishtar from Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1916) (A volume that can be found in Alan Moore's library.)

Ishtar Rising Chapter Seven: Making A Clean Breast Of It

I have never grown out of the infantile belief that the universe was made for me to suck.  

This chapter struck me as one that had two authors, more so than the rest of the book. (Alas, my only other copy is the 1989 New Falcon edition.) It seems 1989 Bob felt a need to drop in and add notes to '73 Bob's ideas. Understandable, the mention of the AIDS crisis at the end of one paragraph is an essential update. I'm unsurprised Wilson doesn't say much more about the crises, as he would have been as confused and horrified as the rest of the world with this seemingly unstoppable disease; unlike others, Wilson seemed to prefer not to talk about things he didn't understand. Wilson spent much of his time in the eighties living with Arlen in Ireland, a country where he wouldn't have seen many signs of sexual progress. In America, the Silent Majority backed Reagan's HUAC-toady smile to the forefront of the world's stage and Jerry Falwell's simply toad-like visage to the airwaves as the grim speaking asshole of the Religious Right. Margaret Thatcher ruled as the Iron Lady and despite being a female, wasn't exactly a model of feminism. 

Thatcher's legacy is best summed up in this snippet from the often transcendentally funny Eric Andre Show

Eric Andre: Do you think Margaret Thatcher had girl power?

Mel B (of Spice Girls fame): Yes, of course. 

Eric Andre: Do you think she effectively utilized girl power by funneling money into illegal paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland?

So, there is probably a reason Wilson saw a need to tidy up his "last words" on the subject, as the state of the world had changed so very drastically. Society had shown new ways to tamp down on Consciousness III, whether through persecution (the War on Drugs) or conversion (a la Jerry Rubin and I imagine many of that generation). While the end of the Cold War was only a couple years off, at the time many felt the world was closer to nuclear warfare than ever before. 

I know I've said this, you've said this, we've all said this on this site and Tom's: I wonder what Bob would think of Now?

Would the "big if" that we need to get past for a rosy future still be "blowing ourselves to hell?" Perhaps. The major powers still have enough nuclear devices to end our civilization; however, the concern over nuclear war is no longer as ubiquitous as it once was. Perhaps that is simply how our monkey-minds have adapted to the ever-looming threat. Yet, we have at least a couple more "big ifs" that we need to somehow hurdle if we are to leave our descendants a happier, if not happy, inheritance. 

First, climate change. While the existential threat of climate change is outside of this book's purview, one could argue that nuclear war was as well and Wilson still felt the need to bring it up. Unlike The Bomb, the red button has already been pushed in this case. If the human race doesn't collectively get our shit together, or more to the point The Powers That Be don't get their shit together, we're fucked three ways till Thursday. Jesus, Fuck. 

Second, our culture---indeed that of the world--is more unstable now than it was at the end of the twentieth century. I was born at "the end of history" and remember vividly how that sentiment came crashing down on September 11th, leading to the slow attrition of sanity that simultaneously accompanied the spread of the Internet. We're still up to our thighs in history and the nightmare isn't over yet. The rise of extremism is a clear and present danger to the welfare of all free peoples. The democratization of information and platforms isn't quite what the classical liberals expected as people are extremely stupid and have poor discrimination facilities. There are no arbiters who seem up to the task of stabilizing the boiled-over pot of our varied identities and our different demands. 

Wilson's distress over a then-recent Supreme Court ruling is completely understandable as our current Supreme Court seems quite intent on sending us back to '72. Wilson would have a bit of revenge by making many of the Puritan Justices' names slang for body parts in Schrodinger's Cat (Mr. Justice Berger's name was the equivalent of shit.)  I'm not sure if there's an ugly enough term to match the name of Barrett. 

But that's why these things are "big ifs." The future is dictated by the past, but the past has a way of constantly shifting from the viewpoint of the present. So, I'll try to look into my obsidian mirror and talk to my better angels: 

I don't see us ever becoming a purely sensualistic culture and seriously doubt that nudism will ever become the cultural norm, at least not as far into time as I can peer. Indeed, I think that some of the things that we view as signs of sexual liberation at the nonce will probably be looked down upon in the future. The Internet of the last two decades has given birth to sexual identities that seem to "harm no one" but still irritate and offend many people when posted for the world to see. Our societal emphasis on kink has led to a world where Dan Savage advised a woman to be thankful her husband was only sexting with his cousin as she needs to expand her notion of monogamy and be thankful he wasn't fucking anyone else. While I am for the LGBT movement, I see the current trend of pasting on whatever letter the new sexual identity demands being laid to rest. The harsh realities of the "real world" are going to hit the children whose sexual identities shift throughout the day like a ton of bricks. The oversaturation of students attending college, and too much academic thought seeping out into broader discourse, in our society will continue to trigger backlash across economic and societal sectors. I see our current education system as unsustainable.

This could end up yielding net positives, though, if sexuality ends up becoming more about private individualism than about a need for public validation, with the added benefit of more elasticity. While I don't think of myself as a prude, I do find myself raising an eyebrow at the public displays of what-really-doesn't-seem-to-be-any-of-my-business-and-I-don't-see-how-I-figure-in. And while I find the screeds of leftist sexuality advocates hysterical, I appreciate a sense of self-determination. Pornography will continue to be pornography. I don't really know if there's a way to put that djinn back in the bottle and I'm not sure I'd want to, despite what I see as an unhealthy influence on our population. I enjoy porn, a term which encompasses everything from de Sade to Aubrey Beardsley to Ron Jeremy to 2Girls1Cup. We all have our degrees of acceptability, and I really don't care about what happens behind closed doors. Despite the conservative movement to instate onanism as a punishable offense, I believe that most people feel about the same: what I don't know, I don't really consider. On the whole, I think my view of the current sexual milieu could be compared to the "Story of Leonard" in Sex, Drugs & Magick (the next book I believe we'll go through on this blog). 

Now, let me describe how to best use your body parts for sex. That part of the chapter struck me as amusing this time through, especially because I'm sure it was educational the first time I read it. Wilson did teach me a lot of things. I did feel that he saved that bit for last as bait to keep the Playboy readers trekking through the book- he finally threw them red meat to accompany the illustrations. 

The meshing of East and West will hopefully continue as the world continues to mesh together. Whether we end up figuring out ways to travel around the world with ease without destroying the environment or have to settle for localized communities connected simply through communication, our cultures will continue to find themselves entangled. Refugee surges will continue, and while they will surely initially lead to all sorts of depredations, as some of the world's governments and societies are forced to grapple with an unceasing tide, and those refugees begin to arrive from different, "novel," parts of the world due to the effects of climate change, the refugees will be integrated into a shifting geopolitical landscape. While I doubt this will lead to some sort of pansocietal tantric attitude towards sex, it will have major influences on our mores and ways of relating to one another, often based around attitudes towards sex and gender. Personally I feel that this will lead to a more liberalized attitude towards sex as those from more conservative societies are forced to deal with the already considerably looser sexual mores of the West. I do not believe that extremism, especially "foreign" extremism, poses much of a threat to liberal societies in terms of ideological takeover. Whether we can beat homegrown extremism and that old time religion is another matter entirely. Assuming that we do, conservative Christians will continue to be conservative Christians and a canker sore on the ass and mouth of society. 

And I think that's as much of a guess that I'm willing to hazard. So no, we probably won't live to see even the foundations of a truly "tactile, pneumatic society, sensually and sensorially oriented," but parts of that society will continue to bleed through into ours. Even now, I sit amongst "rich fabrics, incenses, psychedelic art and the general paraphernalia of Consciousness III," partly due to the author. Wilson was a vector for this particular disease of language, and he certainly infected me. "Now," as Mr. Green says at the (true) end of Clue, "I'm going to go home and sleep with my wife." 

With Wonder Where The Ascent Shall Lead,
Without Lust For Result,
With Laughter and Love, 

A. C. 

Stray Thoughts

I think it is perhaps best that we never find ourselves in the sensualist society of Brave New World, which we should remember is a dystopia. All the more attractive is the island of Pala in Island with their discipline of maithuna. However, Huxley seems to indicate that Pala is able to exist as a small miracle, a miracle that is doomed to flicker out. I try to maintain as much of my own practice of "Tantrik Buddhism" in this sea of confusion. 

I wonder if Wilson wasn't being purposefully gnomic while talking about his experiments with psychedelics, sex and kundalini energy. He gives a markedly different account of these experiments in Cosmic Triggers I and II as well as other books. 

I won't really know when we're beginning Sex, Drugs & Magick until I finish copyediting TSOG. Hopefully I'll have an update within a month. 

It's been Illuminating. Thank you Rasa and Christina, Tom, Oz, Eric and Spookah for your support and massive contributions to my reading experience. And thank you to Adie for proofreading everything for my weird ways of writing. And for your breasts. 

I read the first part of Chapter Seven last night and dreamed of a fragment of a chandelier from my Grandmother's house being very important to a magical operation. This isn't a novel idea but it is a recently reoccurring one. Happily, I have one of the faux-crystal shards with me. When I woke up from the dream I was compelled to look through a journal where I found an unexpected entry about another dream wherein I learned the alternative names of the Sephiroth. At the time I was only able to recall the alternative titles of Chockmah and Binah, respectively Tadull and Harde. Make of this what you will. 

There's a version that is somehow closer to home and my own Magna Mater: 

And, I agree with Wilson's statement in the last couple pages that no matter what else, we do need a little more tenderness in this world: 

Or, if you prefer the Green Man...


  1. Thank you for this study group. I consider this one of my least favorite Wilson books, but I still enjoyed rereading it. I don't think I've read it since the week of Bob's passing in 2007.

  2. Thank you for this reading group and for sharing your thoughts, Apuleius. To continuously have some RAWlated reading material going on seem to help me to stay positive and to keep 'hilaritas' as a life motto.
    Thanks as well to Rasa and Christina for this beautiful new edition of Isthar Rising, maybe I've said it before but those color pictures look great! I still need to watch One Millin Year BC.

    I am very happy that Sex, Drugs and Magick is next in line, as I was planning on making it my next RAW book to read.

  3. I really liked "Sex, Drugs and Magick" and I have been wanting to give it a second read. I put off doing that to take part in the "Ishtar Rising" reading group, but like Spookah, I'm glad that "Sex, Drugs and Magick" is next.

    I'm curious Eric, why is "Ishtar Rising" one of your least favorite RAW books?

    One thing about this reading group is I always keep thinking Apuleius would find an excuse to bring up Steve Moore's excellent novel, "Somnium." Breasts play a larger role in that book than in any other work of fiction I can remember.

  4. I think Bob Wilson's consciousness underwent a quantum jump around 7/23/1973, and I think his writing really improved. The Book of the Breast seems a product of his earlier consciousness. I enjoy the book, but it has never given me the frisson of his other books. I read the original hardcover, and I've read the Ishtar Rising revision, and they have never blown me away, much as I love Wilson's writing. I feel grateful for the experience of reading the book(s), but I prefer his later writing.

  5. Nice closing summation. Thank-you for running this often enlightening group discussion, Apuleius. I though Hilaritas did an excellent job with the new edition.

    Like many of RAW's titles, I regard Ishtar Rising as a multi-level book. One level concerns titillation (pun intended) and seems meant for the masses (no pun intended). RAW originally got contracted by Playboy Press to write a commercial book for this audience. Sex sells. Another level, meant for far fewer, concerns magick and esoteric philosophy. RAW explicitly says he includes this aspect in his later introduction. The title change from The Book of the Breast to Ishtar Rising makes the esoteric level more apparent. These two levels, we may see others, don't seem necessarily exclusive from each other; Eros can lead to Agape sometimes.

    To me, Ishtar rising indicates listening more to and utilizing Female Intelligence. As RAW points out in this book, Crowley formulated and promoted a philosophy along these lines. Ishtar and female breasts rise fairly frequently in Ulysses by James Joyce; perhaps one reason why Crowley called him a genius in a published review. The Chariot Tarot card symbolizes the formula of the new aeon according to Thelema, a card that most represents the function of Ishtar rising, in my opinion.

    Solutions to many of our pressing problems, like climate change, would benefit greatly by shifting away from the dominance of unbalanced yang male energy (expressed most dramatically as the culture of war and weaponry) to feminine receptivity ("livingry" in Fuller's terms). What does WoMan want? asked Timothy Leary. Magically speaking,the archetype called Ishtar here, directly connects with planet Earth. Helping Ishtar rise, benefits the environment.

    A great image and obvious example of Ishtar rising appears at the very end of the film Real Men. In that case, a "real man" appears one who allows the rising Ishtar to lift him up. We find many examples of this in literature, I already mentioned Ulysses, Finnegans Wake and Illuminatus! also come to mind. A suggestion or blueprint for how any individual can go about this stands out in the chapter Bringing the Woman to Life from the book The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus by E. J. Gold.

  6. You asked me a few months ago to say something about Ezra Pound. I started read Pound because of Bob Wilson's writings. I bought ABC of Reading in either 1982 or 1983. I enjoyed the beginning of it, but I put it down when he started quoting Chaucer in Middle English. In the summer of 1983 I got Pound's Guide to Kulchur out of the library, and reading that made me fall in love with Pound's writing. I read him voraciously, becoming horrified by his fascism. I would stop reading him for a while, but then I would return to him, learn more and become horrified again and stop reading him for a while. In the first few years of the current century I taught the whole Cantos three years in a row. Each time I said I would never do it again. I found it exhausting but very rewarding. I haven't read much of him since then, although I did use the anthology Confucius to Cummings he edited for about twelve college courses, and I used ABC of Reading for a creative writing class.


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