Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

June 1994

"Gaining Control"


Speak Daggers To Her by Rosemary Edghill (Forge/Tor Books, 1994).

Sotah by Naomi Ragen (Harper Paperbacks, 1993).

This Dark Paradise by Wendy Haley ( Diamond Pb (Berkley Publishing Group), 1994).

The Patterns of Chaos #1, Radius of Doubt; #2 Path of Fire both by Charles Ingrid (#1 from DAW 1991; #2 DAW 1992).

In the March column, "Intimate Action", we discussed Babylon 5 and the hallmark of Intimate Adventure: that the events happen to the characters and to the reader, catalyzing change. In the April column, "In the Steps of the Master", we discussed power abuse as it is highlighted by the vampire novel about non-killer vampires and mentioned the role of compulsive behavior in socially sanctioned accidental power abuse. In the May column, the focus was on linguistics and culture, the most powerful tools of magician or scientist. And I promised to discuss, this time, the problem of power.

If you abjure the abuse of power (magical, social, political, personal, scientific, etc), well, then, what can you do with it? Why work so hard to gain power if it's not good for anything? If you can't win by going to war and bashing hell out of your opponent to get your way, then how do you win? How do you gain control over the elements of life that are inimical to your well-being? If power can't be used to bludgeon them into line, then what can force them to behave?

Every adult remembers being a child helpless under the control of an adult who just doesn't understand the simple basics of necessity.

Most of us grew up being bludgeoned into line by the superior fire-power of the adults who controlled our lives and destinies and worried about us getting hit by cars while our priority was to chase our balls. The kindest, gentlest parent is viewed as someone who can gratify their whims at our expense because they have power and we don't. Parents just can't understand that balls are vitally important and cars are just figments of their imaginations.

To make matters worse, my (admittedly cursory) study of astrology has revealed it is very, very rare for a parent to get a child whose natal configuration is in sympathetic harmony with his/her own natal chart. It is as if parenting is deliberately rigged to provide severe challenges to the use/abuse of power, traumatic lessons in bludgeoning, and revelations about your subconscious obsessive/compulsive behaviors.

If parenting is a challenge, being parented is even worse. No matter how kind, generous, gentle and well-meaning the parenting, the child perceives injustice, anxiety , uncertainty, and so on.

Breaking through this innate communications barrier is hard work, but it is the work that the studies (recommended in a previous column on language and linguistics) are aimed at.

If you've kept up with the reading recommended in these recent columns, you're ready to consider putting it all together. Even if you're not a parent, you were (or are) a child. The adept-in-training spends the decade of their twenties addressing these childhood perceptions and defusing the emotional time-bombs planted in the subconscious. This requires addressing the problem of discipline, a central issue in any magical endeavor.

The most accessible paradigm for the disciplined use of power is the martial arts — and warfare in particular. For the beginner in this study, I recommend Gordon R. Dickson's The Tactics of Mistake and all the rest of the novels of the Dorsai. This is military sf at its best. If you like fantasy, you must read Dickson's The Dragon and the George, and all its sequels. The dragon series is written with tongue-in-cheek and is full of laughs. The military sf is more serious and insightful. They both have the same message: If you have to fight, you've made a stupid blunder. It is an admission of abject failure when a commander must resort to the language of violence in a last ditch effort at communication.

That's true of parenting, too. Or any situation in which power crosses power to mutually exclusive goals.

Well, then, how do you prevail? And if you can't use power to impose your will (on yourself, on your subconscious — as in dieting, or on your children or parents) then what's power good for?

I don't know. I have some theories, but no real operational answers. The question, however, is at the heart of the whole feminist issue, and of every political hot-potato of the '90s.

I think — nobody knows. I think God has been trying to tell us through various avatars down through the ages - but we can't quite get it yet. I think figuring this out is the primary essence of The Great Work.

And that's why I think the science fiction/fantasy writers currently discussing these questions of power, language, culture, and various magical talents and esp should be read closely by students of the occult. You won't find answers amid these books, but you may come to understand the questions better. One of you will generate the breakthrough answer of this millennium.

I made the point in a previous column that writers in general but sf/f writers in particular all know each other and read each other's books and write books to discuss or rebut propositions put forth by other writers. The sf/f field in particular forms a special interest group of sorts. This s.i.g. includes readers who, through conventions, on-line roundtables, fanzines and direct snail-mail participate in the dialogue. There are only about a thousand professional sf/f writers publishing in the U.S. today, but only a few hundred are full time professionals. It is an open group, but a small one that has doubled in the past 20 years or so.

This column focuses on one small subject area within that dialogue, but also welcomes input from readers, especially input directly on the topics of discussion.

One of the readers of this column, Lola L. Lucas, a tarologist in Springfield, wrote me a letter which illuminated an important point about learning to read novels as an adjunct to occult training. She asked if I kept a list of novels featuring tarot and/or cartomancy.

My answer was no, because it would be futile. I, myself, have included overt mention of tarot in only one short story (published so far only in England) out of 12 short stories and 18 novels published. The only reason that story mentions tarot is that it was written at editorial request for an anthology of stories each featuring a tarot card.

I know a large number of sf/f writers who are experts, masters, and teachers of tarot. They don't feature tarot cards (not often, anyway) in their stories. They embody the lessons of tarot, however, in every character and plot.

Of the writers who have written popular novels featuring tarot, most are not masters or teachers of the discipline. They noticed that tarot cards sell well, and made the commercial decision to research the subject and use it in fiction. Some have gone on to become masters. With a few exceptions, fiction overtly featuring tarot usually treats it exoterically, superficially and misleadingly. (An episode of the TV series Viper is a case in point. It was aired March 11, '94, and may be up to repeat by the time you read this. It's about a serial killer who leaves tarot cards as his hallmark.)

It takes decades of intense study to penetrate the tarot, and more decades to learn to explicate its lessons in fiction. Tarot is a lifestyle, not a fashion statement. Thus, fiction is the only way to depict it — to show character, karma and the internal mechanism of decision-making all converging to produce the style of the life.

The difficulty of penetrating the shimmering veil that protects the heart of the tarot can be seen by studying one particular issue of a newsletter from a tarot special interest group. The one issue I've seen is a collection of essays by various participants all focusing on their understanding of a single card. The focus is close on the card's symbolism and the variances among the different decks. The casual reader of this newsletter would glean a subliminal impression that these earnest scholars (excellent scholars, all of them!) are presenting you with something to learn — and if only you could understand it, you'd be wiser.

A writer researching tarot to use in a story would lift quotes from these essays, paraphrase them so it wouldn't be plagiarism, and use the paraphrased quotes to sound learned on the topic. Because the writer would be standing "outside the veil" the paraphrasing would distort the meanings.

Such an exoteric student would completely miss the fact that the tarot cards are called Keys because they are keys, and one learns nothing about the door nor what's on the other side by studying the sawtooth pattern on the key.

I will never, in this column or elsewhere, recommend to you a book which shows any sign of that exoteric perspective — at least not without warning.

The book I'm sidling up to discussing here shows every sign of having been written from inside the veil. It is a book about power and the proper application of it.

Often students embark on the quest for power while harboring the unconscious assumption that all they have to do is acquire

it and they won't have any more problems. Thus, power itself becomes the goal and the drive to acquire it is fueled by the primal necessity to find a definitive solution and rid themselves of pain, anxiety and uncertainty.

Most legitimate magickal orders take great care to rid the novice of this assumption. In fact, one true litmus test when considering an order is to discover whether it considers power-acquisition the goal or the side-effect. A legitimate order will take pains to teach that the acquisition of power is an extremely inconvenient and unfortunate, but unavoidable, side-effect of initiation.

The substance of the initiations of the middle-grades of a legitimate order centers on the methods of handling power so it won't do co-lateral damage, and on the responsibilities acquired along with power.

This book also depicts an answer to the question, "Well, then, how do you conquer your enemies — if you can't use power to beat the shit out of them?"

And the book is . . . (the envelope, please) — Rosemary Edghill's Speak Daggers To Her.

It is about an initiate, an ordinary person like you and me, not any sort of "Dr. Taverner". When a not-so- dear friend of hers is murdered (the police call it suicide), she takes all the right steps for all the right reasons. In the end, she must confront the high mucky-muck of a very non-legitimate cult.

She does this from the center of her inner balance, her hard won understanding of the use and abuse of power, and the place of the Divine in the scheme of things.

Events turn out just as the reader of a novel would expect them to — not necessarily the way they would in real life. That, of course, is the kicker. This is fiction — wish fulfillment fiction. But it demonstrates the principles of the use and abuse of power in broad strokes as beautiful as a Japanese brush painting.

As a brush painting, this book sketches in the philosophy of the legitimate order, giving the illusion of a whole portrait. Those who know the missing pieces that are merely suggested by the bits of throwaway dialogue encoded in the protagonist's thoughts, find themselves engulfed by a holodeck experience. This is a book you live, not read. Those who can't connect the dots and fill in the missing lines see only a random collection of lines and no answers to their burning questions.

The understanding of use/abuse of power lies not in a single issue — not in the sawtooth pattern on the key but in the pattern connecting the issues — in the door the key opens and what's behind it, and in the couse that holds the doors.

Remember the original TV show, Kung Fu — it showed how the final test of the student was his ability to open the door and leave the house. That is an initiation symbol that may reveal the essence of the tarot as keys to rooms in a house — where that house is God's house — i.e., the universe.

You can't learn tarot by studying the individual cards. You must study the entire deck as a single indivisible unit. Trying to learn tarot by studying the cards one by one is like trying to learn electrical engineering by studying the colored bar-codes on resistors and puzzling over why these colors were chosen or why this code means .02 Ohms . . . why didn't they make that other code .02 ohms? You can study the resistor markings until your eyes fall out and you'll never penetrate the mystery of the square root of minus one.

Which brings me to the other point about power I wanted to make. Those who are only just embarking on the initiatory path — those who have been at it less than twelve years (a cycle of Jupiter) — are often driven to the point of screaming and pulling their hair out in frustration by the question, "But how do you know you're doing right?"

That question itself provides the seeds of failure. It presupposes (a) that those older than they know all, which is a child's perspective, the perspective of a helpless victim — and (b) that there is one thing that someone can know that will eradicate all doubt. In fact, the avenue of apprehension is not "knowledge" (Saturn) at all - nor is it "belief" (Neptune). It might be wisdom - (Pluto; Minerva). Or maybe understanding (Uranus). Possibly Chiron has something to do with it.

In the Hebrew tradition, nobody is qualified to teach Torah (i.e., the Old Testament). We sit and learn together.

In the adult world of the Higher Initiates, nobody knows anything better than you do; we're all ignorant students fumbling through life as best we can. Remember, last month I made the point that the difference between science and magick is that in magick there can be no reproducibility. Each operation is unique because each operator is unique and is changed by each operation. You can't use someone else's grimmoire. Nobody can tell you what to do, when to do it, or how, or why. You have only your own judgement to rely on — and sometimes a hint from the Divine.

In the adult world of the Higher Initiates, the one who has rid him/herself of all doubts is in deep shit. That person is more dangerous than Hitler.

To guard oneself from falling into either one of these traps, it's a good idea to read novels such as the one I'm about to discuss. It's not sf/f, yet it partakes of the very best of the sf/f genre hallmarks and has a core of Intimate Adventure.

This one is about initiation in a very stringent magickal order, though the author would probably faint to read these words. The particular initiations involved in this protagonist's journey are connected to purification and responsibility. The substance of the story touches on the compulsive behavior I discussed in a previous column in the context of dieting.

The plot illustrates the process of initiation in life rather than ceremonial initiation. As in this book, very often a life initiation occurs within a few years of a ceremonial initiation. In this book, there are two ceremonies discussed, one which is routinely practiced in the 20th century, and one which hasn't been practiced in a couple of millennia. The book depicts a life initiation occurring as a result of the currently practiced ceremony, and shows us how Divine Force provides life events to do the job of ancient rites no longer available to us in ceremony.

The stringent magickal order is the ancient priesthood known today as Judaism, in the form practiced by the most religious sects. Most of them repudiate anything having to do with magick, and do not see their practices as in any way connected with that world view. In fact, they see themselves as standing against that world view. They might be right. This book makes us think about that.

The ceremonial still practiced in modern times is marriage. And the disused one is from the temple — the rite by which a woman accused of adultery might be absolved.

The book is Sotah by Naomi Ragen, from Harper, in paperback. You may find it in the public library in hardcover from Crown.

Ragen gives us a glimpse into an alien world and a culture which is as foreign to the modern twentieth century American as any alien from outer space. Better yet, Ragen shows us ourselves through alien eyes, and does as good a job of it as Spock did on the original Star Trek.

Linguistics, culture, communication and emotion are crucially important studies for the student occultist. This is a book which discusses arranged marriage, romance, love that grows through the years to replace romance, the place of communication in love, and does it all while transporting you into a culture so foreign but absolutely real (not realistic, folks, real) that you return newly sensitized to the parameters of twentieth century American culture.

Also discussing love, emotion, and the power that comes from them — as well as pure, raw, occult power, is Wendy Haley's vampire novel This Dark Paradise, from Diamond Books. There will be a sequel to this; I expect I'll recommend it as well. Here we have another vampire (born in 1012) who doesn't kill and whose salvation is in maintaining contact with humanity through the love of women. He has a family of mortal humans. He loves and protects that family.

The book has all the hallmarks of horror genre vampire novels — murders, evil, demons magically summoned, a "good" ghost, and an evil vampire out to take revenge on the good one, along with lots of glimpses of the ugly side of human nature. But there is also plenty of Humanity At Its Finest. Personally, I can't wait for the sequel.

But the reason you should read this book in conjunction with the two mentioned above is that it discusses power — personal, occult, magickal, financial and sexual — from another point of view. The good guy doesn't always win — at least not without paying a price greater than what was won.

Honorable Mention this month goes to Charles Ingrid for two DAW books, Radius of Doubt and Path of Fire. These are both terrific sf about aliens who have special senses to astrogate subspace — and glue the galactic federation together with transportation and communication (as with the Anne McCaffrey series I mentioned last month). These The Patterns of Chaos universe novels are more about political power, and form a good balancing contrast to the other books above. Include them in your reading this month if you seek perspective on it all.

And a Television Honorable Mention: I discussed the TV Guide blurb on Babylon 5, The Series before I'd seen the first of the series episodes. Here we are well into the second VCR tapeful of shows, and I think the show has promise. As full of holes as any anthology TV series, as weak in character development as any action show must necessarily be; nevertheless, they are trying. If you haven't got anything to read, this is worth watching, but keep your critical faculties on-line.

Books for review in this column should be sent to Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, NY 10952.



Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to.   To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below. logo

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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg