Sinister Forces [6/10]

A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft. Book One: The Nine. By Peter Lavender. Hardcover edition published 2005 by TrineDay, 371 pgs. ISBN:0-9752906-2-2.

Just the thing for conspiracy-theory junkies. Not to mention the occult, witchcraft, Satanism, UFOs, the CIA, Charles Manson, Marilyn Monroe, Nazism, etc. We get the picture. Or do we? That’s a lot of territory to cover.

In fact, a very wild ride: Salem MA to West Virginia, Rome, Celtic this and that, Egypt, ancient you name it. Joseph Smith, incredibly enough, is linked to almost all of these people and places. Mostly because of the interesting theory of the “diffusionist” historians (as opposed to the traditional “independent inventionists”) who posit that the Native Americans were not the first ‘natives’ in the Americas.

That would be the Adena and Hopewell peoples. These guys were Pre-Columbian migrants from Europe and the Middle East, pretty much in Biblical times. They were the mound builders in North America–not our Native Americans. It seems that Joseph Smith had divined (literally) all of this; giving some backdrop for the Genesis of the Mormon religion.

The golden tablets and the angel Moroni–a myth derived somewhat from the Biblical one–gains authenticity with these ancient links (specifically to the Adena). Fascinating stuff, and decently documented. The author isn’t trying to sell us on this “diffusionist” stuff, either.

Well, this nugget is just an icecube in this ponderous iceberg of information. In a sort of new-agey version of ‘six degrees of separation,’ there’s hardly an urban myth that isn’t connected to a cult, that wasn’t founded by a serial killer.

The narrative engages us with a relentless pursuit of…some primordial cause. But that’s also the problem. Just why are we on this journey? Perhaps to show that West Virginia is the Pandora’s Box of the world. Or is it Kentucky? Some of the comparisons are brilliant: Charles Manson as a latter-day Joseph Smith? I might throw John Brown on that stack. Sounds outlandish; but here I feel I understand the author’s intent. Reality is outlandish. And the more you think (and research it), the more nutty reality gets–absurd yet tangible as rock.

But do we really need a detailed biography of the father of one of Manson’s possible victims? And two theories on why this Hungarian guy changed his name from Berkessy to Hube? I’ve even got a problem with the premise of the first theory: how is the original name more ‘American’ or easier to pronounce than the new one? More importantly, who cares?

But at least that’s tangentially related to the subject(s). In fact, the research (I suppose that includes the weather, the author’s mood, the birth sign of the motel owner, the color of the author’s rental car) is part of the story. Indeed, he treats research as a character or force: it “threatens” to…I guess, cause nightmares?

With the amount of research, which involved enough travel to keep the Star Trek crew busy for a while–it must’ve been quite an adventure. Maybe that’s material for another book: about the process of writing. It’s the finished product that we pay for, not the raw material.

I think if the author had kept the narrative to a more limited number of subjects: i.e., Joseph Smith, Oswald, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson…maybe a couple more, then this would be more focused, have greater impact, and be more entertaining. What we have is essentially a blend of these biographies (plus dozens more) with a thematic sequence: Pre-Columbian culture, new religious movements, the occult, UFOs, mind-altering experiments, etc.

Thus the logjam of old-fashioned new-age and….modern new-age. This ambitious slate of subject matter would go down more smoothly in a book twice as long: with bottom-of-page footnotes for increasingly obscure cross-currents and tidbits.

Sirhan Sirhan as a an Oswald-like fall guy? That’s interesting all right. But does that mean that 1692 Salem touches on 1968 Los Angeles? Or Scientology? LSD? the CIA? The most confusing spot, and, with my impressionable mind, also one of the most intriguing–for the level of absurdity–is pro-Castro Oswald sharing office space in New Orleans with the anti-Castro Guy Bannister. And this isn’t meant to be a trivia quest, bearing as it does, of course, on the JFK assassination.

The tone in these passages is spot-on: bemused, but objective. For the most part, though, it’s the content that wanders down a disappearing path. Generally, in non-fiction works, it’s up to the reader to sift through the material; I just don’t want to have to mentally revise and annotate the text myself. A fun, but exasperating read. 6/10.

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