History tells us of several instances when shipwrecked sailors constructed giant assemblage-works from the items they found washed up on shore. These enigmatic creations were of vast size and intricate design, incorporating all manner of bizarre, randomly-received components. . . .
Those familiar with memory-improvement techniques know that a mnemonic device is meant to trigger particular memory-responses. A string tied around the finger is one such device. In more advanced memory systems, a mentally-imagined picture can be used as a mnemonic device. . . .
Holding a Mirror
What is the significance of my face? When I look in the mirror I see the familiar configuration of flesh and bone which form my features. . . .
The Weeping God of the Andes
In Tiahuanacu, an ancient ruined city near Lake Titicaca in South America, there are found numerous statues of a nameless, weeping god. These statues were made by an unknown group of pre-Incan indians, as was the city of Tiahuanacu itself. . . .
Shapes of Fire
Certain tribes in Central Africa foretell the future by reading the cracks in the dried shoulder blade of a sheep. The ancient Romans used a system of divination called Myomancy, the study of the damage caused by rats. Other peoples have divined the future by interpreting the patterns made by smoke in the air, or by dancing flames, or by the flight of birds in the sky. . . .
The ancient occult orders have always known of certain methods to transform one's consciousness, and these methods have constituted their secret knowledge and innermost teachings. A study of unrelated orders from different times and places will show a wide variety of mystical techniques, but remarkably similar, and powerful, results. . . .
A Round of Questions
1. What is a toy?
2. How do you play with a toy?
3. How does a toy differ from a religious artifact? . . . .
The Shields We Hide Behind
Throughout history there have been artists, philosophers, and madmen who have claimed that man's normal conscious state was, in essence, nothing more than a form of sleep. . . .
Dealing in Dust
"The world is in the strictest sense asleep, with rare intervals and spots of awareness. It is almost the sleep of the insect or animal world."
When I was a child living in Detroit, I remember first learning about the sign language of the deaf. I also remember the initial fright it gave me. I kept having the unnerving impression that I was unknowingly positioning my fingers to form words in an unknown language. . . .
The title of this column refers to the essentially chaotic nature of reality and the efforts of humanity to impose some sort of pattern/order onto the chaos. In previous columns I have explored several kinds of "codes" (or order-imposing systems), my explorations often springing from whimsical or absurdist premises. . . .
The Little Game
Much of what I know was learned secondhand. A book or a magazine told me something, or I saw a film or a television program or a photograph. People even tell me things I didn't already know. All of this information is the raw material for my little game. . . .
In an old book of magic tricks written by Harry Blackstone (but ghostwritten, I suspect, by Walter B. Gibson, noted writer on stage magic and creator of the pulp hero the Shadow), I find the following quotation: "We know that a person?s attention can only be centered upon one thing at a time. Divided attention is never close." . . .
The Code Book
I have long been tempted to write a book of poems in code, forcing the reader to deduce which code is being used, decode each poem, and then--as with much contemporary poetry--deduce what each poem "really means." . . .
Nature as Art/ist
When the volcano exploded at ancient Pompeii, it did more than destroy a city and 2,000 of its inhabitants. It created a huge outdoor sculpture display unmatched anywhere in the world. . . .
A Deity a Day
Religion has two modes. The first is the worship of a deity or deities. The second is the evocation of a deity or deities. . . .
The trucks and cars, the random voices of pedestrians, the clatter and hum of machinery, the whine of airplanes overhead--all of these sounds and more combine to form the audio backdrop of a typical day.
At the same time, these sounds embody the essential silence of the typical day. . . .
Language of the Gods
Language evolves in much the same way as any other organic form evolves. Given a special environment, language adapts itself. It mutates to survive. It creates new forms--words and phrases--which allow it to function in the specialized environment. . . .
Think of a text as a kind of mosaic in which words have been arranged into pleasing patterns. . . .
Living in Code
"Propaganda affects the germ cells; the word influences the genitals," according to Gottfried Benn. Perhaps few writers have this intense a faith in their art, but we all have suspicions about the intended and unintended effects of our words. . . .