Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

November, 1998

"Identity and the Intimate Medal of Honor"


Occasionally the header of this column listing the books by author, publisher and date has been left off the print version. To find the books, go to,/reviews/rereadablebooks/ a website with handy links to the books I've reviewed, and one-click links to where you can buy them on Honorable Disclosure: If you use that website to access and buy a book, I get paid a few cents but it doesn't cost you anything.


With time, I hope to be able to add lists of other books I've read that just didn't fit into this column but should have. Also, I hope to provide links to where you can buy the planned reprints of my Sime~Gen novels, and my non-fiction series on the Tarot. By then, the site may have moved to   (note: this version is posted on,/reviews/rereadablebooks/ )


Apology: I substituted "Evangaline Walton" for "Suzette Haden Elgin." It is Suzette Haden Elgin who is the popular writer on verbal self-defense as well as an sf writer of note. Check out her newsletter and websites: and .


Burnt Offerings takes the story of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter to a new level. Anita is sleeping with the Master Vampire Jean-Claude now, which causes problems with the shapeshifters. I can't rave sufficiently about this series.


A Chill in the Blood picks up the story of The Vampire Files from right after the end of Blood on the Water. Check my previous reviews of this series about Jack Fleming, the vampire, and Charles Escott, his human friend. This is a "don't miss it" novel for those interested in the matter of honor. What do you do when someone murders you, and then you wake up to discover he's going to get away with it?


These Our Revels is a pleasant visit with Nicolas Knight, my favorite vampire cop, almost entirely a flashback to when Nick was deeply involved with Shakespeare's traveling company in 1599. The cop-show formula doesn't get in the way of the Intimate Adventure. Perhaps that's why the Forever Knight fans are gathering momentum to have the show "brought over" to a new immortality. See Kickstart The Knight at and of course check out and the new Sliders episodes.


I did a panel on Babylon 5 at Worldcon this year, sitting next to one of the folks who's involved in the new Sliders and who wrote for ST: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, Marc Scott Zicree. The tape of that panel should be available at or go to for future Worldcon info.


In Marc's comments I learned some fascinating things about the re-creation of Sliders, and paid attention as the new episodes began in August, '98. The new thematic focus of Sliders seems to spotlight more of the issues I deal with in this column. I'm a fan.

Important lessons can be learned from TV sf, and as a group, the Highlander novels reach a new level of excellence in TV-tie-in novels.


The Path and Shadow of Obsession by Rebecca Neason get right down to the heart and soul of the martial arts the use and abuse of power, and the dangers of acquired power using and abusing the martial artist. The Path tells the story of Duncan MacLeod's involvement with the Dalai Lama, from a meeting in 1781 to another in the present day.

Shadow of Obsession deals with how Darius was transformed from a brutal warrior to a man of peace. Compare my discussions of Babylon 5 in this column and ponder the concept "Peace," which is integral to the definitions underlying the concept Honor.


Zealot by Donna Lettow tackles a sensitive issue Mid-East peace by focusing on an old friend of MacLeod's, an ancient Hebrew warrior, Avram Mordecai who was at Masada. The story is told in Warsaw in 1943, and in Paris of the present day. On page 65 of Zealot, at Masada, Idumae: 14 Nissan 3833 (A.D. 73) we read, "We will save the honor of our fathers and their fathers before them. Our deeds here today will be remembered!"


And on Page 217, in present day Paris, Methos says, "There are three kinds of peace in the world, MacLeod. There's the peace achieved by one side defeating and dominating the other what Marcus would have called the Pax Romana. There's peace negotiated by two sides each seeing the error of its ways and truly dedicated to what's best for both sides call it the Platonic ideal of peace, if you will and if you give me a week, I might be able to find an example where that's actually worked. Then there's the brokered peace like your friend is working on, each side forced to give up something they can't live without. You can see how well that solved that little problem in Korea half a century back. Face it, that's not peace, it's just the absence of war." There's solid meat-'n'-potatoes for the student of magick in this low budget TV series. So now I'm watching Highlander: The Raven in syndication.


The Captive Soul by Josepha Sherman. At Worldcon I did a panel on Zena: Warrior Princess and Hercules alternative mythology. Josepha Sherman was on the panel, and I made her say her name for me. Sure enough, I had been wrong about how it's pronounced. It's Josepha with a short-e, not the long-e I would have used. The Captive Soul uses an ancient motif, the soul trapped in a sword, which I think has been done best by Marion Zimmer Bradley in Spellsword of Darkover which, like Captive Soul, addresses the question of honor in ancient Egypt. Years ago, while researching for a novel that never got written Path of the Hearthfire, about the origin of the Tarot I researched the Hyksos invasion of Egypt Sherman uses here, so I knew Sherman's research was impeccable, and she uses just enough to carry the tale along swiftly.


Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide by Maureen Russell, is an expensive paperback with the usual photos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes "making of" material. It includes an episode guide, but I was disappointed because it does not include a chronology of Duncan's (and Methos') life set out by calendar year.


Both FK and Highlander use flashback the same way thematically rather than plot-driving. Both shows always have something profound to say underneath the action-plot and much of it is focused on honor.


Ghostlight by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is MZB at her very best, but in a real-world contemporary setting. Here, the main characters are the remnants of a powerful magical working circle which had the aim of opening a Gateway to let forces into this world from elsewhere. MZB defines for us the real difference between magick and paranormal phenomena on page 158, the main character, a university researcher of the paranormal, berates herself at being spooked: There's no such thing as magick. You've dedicated your life to that. But that doesn't rule out the rest of the paranormal. Treat this just like any other haunting.


The Temple and the Stone by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris is a novel I believe most readers of this column would prefer over everything else mentioned above.

Note also that last month, I reviewed Death of an Adept by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris, Ace Fantasy, hardcover, 1996. And this one has the same "feel" and style the Scotland setting and emphasis and the same theory of magic. The Temple and the Stone seems to be a "typical" Katherine Kurtz story the same story which is the core of the Deryni books. It takes place in roughly the same time period; Deryni is set in an alternate history around 800-1100 AD, while The Temple and the Stone is set at the end of the 13th century and has a more "reality" feel to it except for a couple of arcane battles.


Whereas Sherman did not allow the Hyksos research to dominate her Methos story, I feel that Kurtz and Harris have allowed the Templar/Crusade and the Kings of Scotland research to overshadow the thematic question, "What's the right thing to do when the wrong person has been made king of a country that isn't even yours?" In this novel, we learn about the Bruce clan, the Stone of Scone (Duncan MacLeod had his adventures with it, too), its pre-Christian origins and how it became converted into a Christian power-reservoir and how that mystical conversion of the Stone changed Scotland.

We also see the salient differences between the King's Initiation (crowning) in both Outer Court (public) and Inner Court (secret). And we see a final battle between the pre-Christian god-forces of the land, depicted as bloodthirsty and evil, against the Christian forces led by Templars who were members of a secret, inner-court within the Templars.


The issue of Kingship what Kings are for and why bother to have them is salient to the matter of honor.


So here we come once again to the end of a long, involved and abstract topic. Of course, we haven't even scratched the surface of the topic of honor, but let's see what we've learned so far.


In the four-part column, Intimate Medal of Honor, we discovered that the core essence of honor is probably an emotion a hit to the pleasure center. We tend to repeat whatever behavior first brings us that ineffable hit of pleasure that bespeaks honor. It is a personal, internal and intimate experience. And it illuminates and defines identity.


Of course, humans are a lot more complicated than that. I was reminded of that by one of the members of the Sime~Gen Listserv who reads this column and emailed me, pointing out that some people live their whole lives without having ever met anyone who keeps their promises.


This explains why so much of the sf/f genre is considered by such a large number of people to be silly fantasy, irrelevant to real life, or too implausible to be entertaining because so much of our fiction is about the lengths to which a hero will go to keep his word of honor.


The Sci-Fi channel is currently running the digitally remastered Classic Star Trek episodes, in order and uncut. I saw Charlie X this morning. That's the one where a ship finds a boy alone on a deserted world. A race of energy beings has given him extraordinary psychic powers so he can survive alone. On the Enterprise, as a 17-year-old, unsocialized adolescent male, Charlie compulsively destroys and kills people any time his will is thwarted. He takes over the ship. The energy beings come and take him away because here's no hope for Charlie.


Charlie promises abjectly "not to do it again" and nobody believes him. Why?


Charlie, raised without human companionship, without parents, had not developed a censor on his impulses and is suffering the impulse-spikes of adolescence. With the flick of a thought, his impulses lead to destruction because his thoughts are actions. And he has a gigantic power which is much bigger than he is.


Think about the Highlander novels I sent you to read last month. Think about the vampire novels. Both immortals and vampires have power that can be turned to destruction at the blink of an eye. Young vampires usually have no control over the impulse to kill for blood. Young immortals get themselves killed by relying on their recuperative powers.

Think of Ghostlight and The Temple and the Stone.


Young magicians use power to gratify wishes, fulfill fantasies, fix up what's "wrong" with the world, make life "better" (easier) for themselves and everyone. Just as young tarot readers strive to tell seekers about all the painful pitfalls that await them and counsel avoidance. Just as beginning astrologers try to tell clients everything they see whether the client has asked or not.


Now consider the Path of Ceremonial Magic and the requirements for initiation into any lodge, but especially a White Lodge.


Even the Outer Court initiation involves the joining of the individual psyche to the group mind of the Lodge. And this is done in two stages 1) the vow of secrecy and 2) the imparting of the secret that binds that group mind.


Young group minds behave pretty much like young humans. Adolescent group minds like adolescent humans.


I've touched on the purpose of secrecy and secrets, of vows and oaths in previous columns. Consider the initiation sequences into an inner court of a Lodge. The sequence usually takes years not because years are required to absorb the knowledge which very often has been acquired in previous lifetimes and returns easily now but because physical maturity of the body is required to handle the power involved.


If there is a mismatch between the size of the power being handled and the part of the physical (and emotional/psychic body) that must carry that power, then terrible consequences will result just as with Charlie X.


In the case of magickal power or psychic power, the part of the body that does the handling, the controlling, the collimating [bringing into line, making parallel], the directing and transforming of that power is the emotions the endocrine system which corresponds to the chakras and thus the Tree of Life structure of tarot.


I hope you had time to review some of the columns on Identity, and reread some of the books and TV shows cited in those columns (or at least remember them and ponder them). Consider now: Who Are You?


Charlie X had no clue who he was. He didn't have a last name his parents had died in the crash that stranded him. He was raised by beings who couldn't touch him, couldn't love him couldn't access his emotional life and guide him to emotional maturity.

Which brings us to the issue of trauma.


Almost every "adventure" story, book or television show is about some sort of trauma. Consider the typical private eye show where the hero gets hit over the head and knocked out every week, and returns the next week with no sign of that injury. That's fantasy. Trauma even one good, serious blow leaves its mark. Repeated trauma leaves cumulative debility.


Trauma is often indicated graphically in the astrological natal chart. Early trauma leaves an indelible mark on personality.


Consider blockages. If normal stages of maturation are blocked, prevented by something it might not be trauma but something slower, steadier, some obstacle that can't be overcome, you get what Noel Tyl terms "developmental deficit." The adult isn't as developed as their age would seem to indicate. Nevertheless that adult has to deal with the matters and issues appropriate to their chronological age but without the emotional maturity.


Between the effects of trauma experienced by survivors of physical, mental, emotional or verbal abuse and effects of blockage to development such as a parent who cannot provide love, appreciation, approval the pleasure-hit of validation of identity very many adults are in a state of arrested development, handling adult situations with the tools of a child.


Trauma can flash-freeze the person's emotional-development at the age when trauma occurred. The adult's emotional reactions to the outside world come from that age-level where the trauma occurred. In the case of a blockage of development, the age at which development was blocked remains the emotional age.


Later in life, under the pressure of certain major transits or with the achievement of solid relationships and opportunities, growth can start again. That re-triggering of growth toward inward maturity is what the Initiation of the Outer Court is designed to do.


It's much harder to grow up inside after you're an adult. But it's the inside of you that wields power.


Honor is a Saturn keyword because honor can be attained only in maturity which is also a Saturn keyword.


What has power to do with honor? I think the biggest, most wonderful pleasure-hit in the honor nerve comes from wielding power honorably. But honor, like "right" and "wrong," is defined differently by different cultures. That's why Charlie X is such a perfect example for this discussion.


His behavior wasn't dishonorable. He just killed people and destroyed property to gratify his emotional needs. But he didn't have a culture. He didn't have any idea of right or wrong. He had no concept of honor no experience of what it feels like to get that particular pleasure hit. And thus he had never exercised self-discipline to attain a repeat of that pleasure-hit to the honor nerve.


This teen boy raised by energy-beings demonstrates that he has too much power (ESP close to magick!) and no impulse-control, no censor between urge and action, so that it's impossible for him to live among humans. When his non-material mentors are about to take him away from human company for the last time, he makes absurd, abject, frantic promises to change his behavior, and begs to avoid being taken away.


His promises say essentially, "I will resist temptation from now on, and you know that's true because I'm giving my word of honor." The assumption is that by a mere effort of will, Charlie would be strong enough to resist. That all it takes is strength, and that he's now had enough exercise of that ability to succeed.


Yes, resisting temptation is an exercise. David Bersoff, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania has been studying the matter and publishing on this topic, along with researchers studying temptation at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland headed by social psychologist Roy Baumeister.


There is some internal part of you that is stressed, strained and eventually exhausted by resisting temptation. Following a bout of resisting temptation, scores on tests of cognitive skills appear to be measurably lower than if no temptation was presented, or if the temptation was not resisted. (They used chocolate chip cookies a sure winner.) But the more often you exercise your ability to resist temptation, the stronger that part of you gets. The bigger the temptations you resist, the stronger you get. Modern academics are now studying and learning what occultists have known since Biblical times.


Having a strong ability to resist impulses, to hesitate and think through consequences before acting, is one thing that allows us to act honorably and thus retain our sense of honor, our sense that we can attain this ineffable pleasure-hit again at will. Honor connects us to the Divine which is why fasting precedes ritual (other than the physical protection it confers).


But even if we have developed discipline why would we use it to keep a promise? Why would we care about keeping a vow? Why should we struggle and suffer to keep an oath? How much effort is honor worth? Why?


Look again at what you do when you promise "not to do it again" (as Charlie X promised so forlornly). Under those circumstances, you are making that promise in order to avoid paying the consequences of your dishonorable act. You are promising not to do it again so that you won't be punished this time; the immature child inside is begging in panic not to be spanked, not to be grounded. Only the threat of imminent pain makes the deed not so alluring right now.


Notice what happens when you promise to do something when you make a solemn vow to keep the Secret Password of the Lodge. In this case, you are promising to suffer anything rather than commit a particular act (telling the secret or whatever that act might be).


You are promising to resist temptation.


A solemn vow of this sort usually stipulates a consequence if you should break the vow. So when tempted, you weigh the consequence against the pleasure of giving in to temptation, and factor in the likelihood of getting caught. With a sacred vow, you always get caught.


A loss of honor isn't just the loss of one pleasure hit of honor it's the loss of the chance at future pleasure hits, because once your honor is compromised, future hits on that pleasure-center won't have the same effect. People often mistake that effect for clinical depression.


Here's what I've learned from pondering all these novels, TV shows, and striving to live life:


Never make a vow or give a word of honor on something that's even difficult, never mind impossible, to do.


That's the trick of maintaining your honor the whole of the trick. How do you do this?

Answer: "Who are you?" By knowing who you are, you can assess what is and is not within your power to promise and deliver. If you don't know who you are, then you can't keep any promises except by accident.


Any vow is like mortgaging your house. It's a loan with your identity as the security. If you fail to repay a bank loan secured by your house, the bank takes your house. If you fail to make good on a vow secured by your identity you lose your identity.


Like poor Charlie X, you would have no identity and thus no ability to control your power you would become, like Charlie X, a victim of your own power.


If your identity is precious to you, you will fight to the death to pay off on any vow you make. Even the smallest, most trivial promise can if broken impair your ability to achieve that wondrous honor-pleasure-hit again.


A word of honor mortgages your identity. The value of a person's word of honor on a matter is calculated from the size of the matter compared to the size of the person's identity. For example, if someone with an income of $50,000/year asked to borrow a quarter for a phone call and promised to repay it tomorrow, you'd have no problem loaning them a quarter on the assumption that they could afford to repay, and probably would.


But if a homeless person with no income at all asked for that same quarter with the same promise you'd have to kiss that quarter goodbye and chalk it up to charity.


On the other hand, if a multi-millionaire borrows a quarter and promises to repay, chances are it won't get repaid because to the multimillionaire a quarter is just too small a thing to remember it's too trivial. He can't imagine how important that quarter is to you.

Do the same math on any other promise anyone makes check the size of what's promised against the person's spiritual assets and liabilities the sum-total of his identity.

And ask yourself how much "equity" does that person have in his identity what would happen to his identity if he failed this promise? How much does he stand to lose if he fails to deliver on that promise? Percentage-wise, that is.


A person who has "a good name" risks it on every promise and so is very careful about making promises.


This always presupposes that the person has the cognitive ability and emotional maturity to assess the risk/reward ratio before acting. Most people do not cultivate this habit as assiduously as Captain Kirk does (and we all know how much work his ability to assess risk needed!). Most people, like Charlie X, assess the risk only in the moment of utter defeat.


A person who does not have "a good name" has nothing to lose, and risks nothing on promises and is careless with them as was Charlie X in his moment of defeat.

Remember how the Amerind tribes name a child only after the adulthood rituals. Only after identity is discovered, matured, revealed, propounded, promulgated into reality can a Name be selected. It seems that your Good Name, is the result of your identity promulgating into reality.


Remember, it takes two people to create a promise someone to offer the promise, and someone to receive it.


See the May 1995 column on the Qabalistic Principle of Giving and Receiving. This is such a vitally important column for those who are studying Tarot that I'm putting it into the volume on the Suit of Cups that I'm finalizing right now. Receiving is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.


If you receive a promise, you have just as much at stake as the one who gave the promise. That's why Charlie X was not believed. It was too dangerous to receive his promise because he couldn't control his power.


Promises mortgage your identity and vows mortgage the soul. How much is your soul worth to you?


How much temptation would you resist, how much effort would you go to, how much trouble would you accept to make good on a vow?


Promises and vows are debts with an APR that varies randomly. What's your credit limit?

To retain your ability to experience that peculiar pleasure hit called honor, you have to know what you are worth, and thus what you can afford to promise, what you can afford to do and what you cannot afford.


So that's my current bottom line on honor honor is an emotional experience of personal intimacy with yourself. It is rooted in your identity, and leveraged by your promises, vows and oaths.


Keeping your promises, vows and oaths isn't so much a matter of honesty as it is a matter of wealth of the identity of self-worth. Of self-esteem. Of the ability to achieve intimacy with your Self. To know Thyself.


Consider that as you make your New Year's resolutions.


Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952.

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