The Rite of Mercury by Lew Finzel, 2008
A Rite of Mercury
Derrida for Thelemites
The Officers of the Temple
Plato. In white and orange.
Axiothea.* She is dressed as a boy, at first.
Magician. In black.
Socrates. In white.
Amoun. Yellow or gold.
The Scribes or Twins:
Meg Negative. Black.
Polly Positive. White.
Phaedrus. In white or gray or most any color.
* Sometimes "Alex".
The Rite of Mercury
All enter past the sign saying:
Plato's Academy of the 8 and 90 Rules of Art. Enter, if you can do the math.
Each is given a paper cup with the name of a philosopher on it.
When all are seated:
Welcome to our symposium. As a group, you constitute the troupe of revelers at the philosophical drinking party! Bear the cup of libation!
Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schegel.
There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist.
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away,
Half a crate of whisky every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
"I drink, therefore I am."
Yes, Socrates himself, is particularly missed,
A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.
Rule thy speech! How else shalt thou master the Son, and answer the Magician at the right hand gateway of the Crown?
1.Here are the practices. Each may last for a week or more.
2.(a) Avoid using some common word, such as 'and' or 'the' or 'but'; use a paraphrase.
(b) Avoid using some letter of the alphabet, such as 't', or 's', or 'm'; use a paraphrase.
(c) Avoid using the pronouns and adjectives of the first person; use a paraphrase.
Of thine own ingenium devise others.
On each occasion that thou art betrayed into saying that thou art sworn to avoid, cut thyself sharply upon the wrist or forearm with a razor.
He shows them his arm.
Thine arm then serveth thee as a warning and for a record.
The Magician and Axiothea embrace.
I remember a certain holy day in the dusk of the Year, in the dusk of the Equinox of Osiris, when first I beheld thee visibly; when first the dreadful issue was fought out; when the Ibis-headed One charmed away the strife. I remember thy first kiss, even as a maiden should. Nor in the dark byways was there another: thy kisses abide.
They approach the bier where Plato is standing and the Twins are sitting.
Here they are, my shadow and my soul. Greetings, magician! Hello, Alex....
Hi, Plato. Back already from Syracuse?
Plato has a shot of whisky.
I am Jacques Amoun Ra Derrida. To what end do you drink?
To fortify ourselves that we may accomplish the Great Work.
Concerning your progeny, the renaissance Hermetic neo-Platonists: are they orphans? Are you against their arte of memory?
I am for the removal of amnesia. Bear the cup of libation!
Song: [Merle Haggard, Last Night the Bottle]
All this "bear the cup of libation" business reminds me of another of the Rites....
The Rite of Mercury is always already penetrated by the Rite of Luna.
Plato, haven't you written a book proving that writing is bad?
There is not and will not be any written work of Plato's own. What are now called his are the work of Socrates at the time of his beautiful youth.
Magician, in a future incarnation you will conjure the shade of Apolloneus Tyaneus to visible appearance. I charge you now: perform the resurrection of Socrates!
Nay, Plato, this is my office.
She goes to Socrates.
By the power of iron I say unto thee, "Arise!"
Socrates issues forth, arms outspread toward a pitcher of orange Gatorade, but Alex gives him a cup of champagne.
He drinks, assumes the Sign of Osiris Risen.
Bear the cup of libation!
Song [Empty-Headed Athenians]
Greetings, Phaedrus! Is that a speech in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?
Well, I am glad to see you. The speech is by Lysias. It concerns the attempted seduction of a handsome lad, but not by a lover of his! That's the genius of it, the point being that one should rather surrender to a non-lover than to a lover.
Splendid! Still, I wish he'd stated that it should rather be to a poor man than a rich one, to an oldster rather than a youngster — to say nothing of all my own characteristics and those of the majority. Such a topic would really suit the city of Athens and help democracy!
So, read me the speech!
I will — outside the city walls, hard by a virgin spring.
Well, well. O.K then. My thirst is for learning. Trees and countryside have no desire to school me — it's only folk within the city that do. But you seem to have found a pharmakon, a remedy or a drug, to draw me out.
There is the spot, by yon pure chrystal fountain, where maidens come to sport.
Already Socrates has compared the written texts Phaedrus has brought along to a drug, or pharmakon. This pharmakon, this "medicine", this philtre, which acts as both remedy and poison, already introduces itself into the body of the discourse with all its ambivalence. This charm, this spellbinding virtue, this power of fascination can be — alternately or simultaneously — beneficent or maleficent. The pharmakon would be a substance — with all that would connote in terms of matter with occult virtues, cryptic depths refusing to submit their ambivalence to analysis, already paving the way for alchemy — if we didn't have eventually to come to recognize it as antisubstance itself: that which resists any philospheme, indefinitely exceeding its bounds as nonidentity, nonessence, nonsubstance; granting philosophy by that very fact the inexhaustible adversity of what funds it and the infinite absence of what founds it.
Operating through seduction, the pharmakon makes one stray from one's general, natural, habitual paths and laws. Here, it takes Socrates out of his proper place and off his customary track. The latter had always kept him inside the city. The leaves of writing act as a pharmakon to push or attract out of the city the one who never wanted to get out, even at the end, to escape the hemlock.
This is said to be the spot where Oreithyia, while playing with Pharmaceia, was ravished away by Boreas.
Here's my interpretation. Oreithyia was on drugs, and the north wind blew so hard she toppled off that cliff to her death!
An amusing explanation, but once you start rationalizing — brace yourself for the attack of the mythological beasties! Herds of centaurs, vast flocks of pegasuses, fierce regiments of Medusas, all wanting explication. But who has such time? Not I! The Oracle at Delphi bade me to "know myself", which task I'm still working on. Like Gargantua, I spoke words at my birth, namely GIVE ME A DRINK! But am I simple and noble as that giant, or am I complicated like Apophys and Typhon (he gives the sign) whose name is Legion?
Myth may well be hearsay garbled by the centuries — Hey, I've got a fine myth for you!
Listen to the drone of the cicadas — it's said that they were human in an age before the Muses. When the Muses did appear and song arrived they were ravished with delight; and singing always always, never thought to eat and drink again and so they died singing. And now they live again in the cicadas, by the power of the Muses, never eating, never drinking, but singing from their first breath to their last. At death they report to the Muses in heaven who honor them on earth. For instance, picture two lovers embracing....
May strength and skill unite to bring forth ecstasy, and beauty answer beauty!
The lovely deed is made known to Eratos. And even as we speak, our high-minded discourse is made known both to Calliope and the heavenly Urania.
Wait a minute! These singing bugs of Socrates can't possibly be cicadas — what if I jot them down as grasshoppers?
Katydids? Seven-year locusts?
Mark them as crickets. Bear the cup of libation!
Song [Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Words of Love]
I know — have you heard the one about the birth of writing?
Amoun Ra is discernible within a scarlet and golden shrine. Thoth is standing by the Magician.
At Naucratis in Egypt there lived one of the old gods of that country. His sacred bird is the ibis, and the name of the divinity was Theuth. He first invented numbers and arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, dice and playing cards, and above all, writing.
Now the king of all Egypt was called Thamus — a living god, really, Amoun-Ra. Theuth came to the king, exhibiting his arts, saying they should be given to all Egyptians. Thamus pondered the usefulness of each art, praising some, condemning others. It would get tedious to go through all of this, but when it came to writing:
This discipline, m'lord, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory. My invention is a pharmakon for both wisdom and memory.
How should we translate "pharmakon" at this point? Charm? Spell? Prescription?
I know: dope!
Yeah! I've invented really good shit for both wisdom and memory!
Mark it down as "recipe".
My invention is a recipe for both memory and wisdom.
Theuth, my master of arts, to one man it is given to create the elements of an art, to another to judge the extent of harm and usefulness it will have for those who are going to employ it. And now, since you are the father of written letters, your paternal goodwill has led you to pronounce the very opposite of what is their real power. The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it because they will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, using the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves rather than, from within, their own unaided powers to call things to mind. So it's not a remedy for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you're equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth. Thanks to you and your invention, your students will be widely read without benefit of a teacher's instruction: in consequence, they'll entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgement. They will also be difficult to get on with since they will be men filled with the conceit of wisdom, not men of wisdom.
Amoun removes his robe and crown and resumes his place at the bar.
The king, the father of speech, has thus asserted his authority over the father of writing, and he has done so with severity, without showing the one who occupies the place of his son any of that paternal goodwill exhibited by Theuth toward his own children, his letters. Perhaps the king of the gods views the act of writing as an act of parricide....
Now to the word pharmakeus...
Should I render that word as sorcerer? Magician?
Conjure-man? Voodoo child?
Go with "magician".
Plato, you have often referred to Socrates as a magician.
On the occasion of Aphrodite's birth, the gods, including Resource, the son of Invention, were having a feast to celebrate. Poverty, who'd come to beg, stood at the door. Then Resource, who was drunk on nectar, stumbled out into Zeus's garden and nodded out. "I'll have a child by Resource," Poverty thought to herself — she lay down beside him and conceived Love. Now Love serves Aphrodite since he was conceived on the day of her birth, and he loves what is beautiful also for her sake.
As the son of Resource and Poverty, Love's circumstances are as follows:
First, he's always poor and far from being beautiful and gentle, believe it or not. Au contraire, he's tough, wrinkled, barefooted and homeless.
I resemble that remark!
He sleeps in doorways and, like his mother, is always in need.
On the other hand, in keeping with his father, he's a schemer after good, pretty things, is brave, eager, and intense, a great hunter. He's on the prowl for wisdom all of his life, and is a terrific wizard, sorcerer, and sophist.
Sophist?!? Wait a minute!
He's neither mortal nor immortal, he's flourishing when flush, and then dying, but is brought to life again through his father's nature. His provisions are always draining away, so that Love is never either without resource or wealthy.
Who are those on the quest for wisdom?
Not the gods, they have it already. Not the ignorant, they are ignorant of their ignorance. Love is in between these two conditions. Now wisdom is beautiful, and love is the love of the beautiful, thus love is a seeker after wisdom and is in between being wise and ignorant — bear the cup of libation!
Song [Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Origin of Love]
Socrates, even before I met you they told me in plain truth you are a perplexed man and reduce others to perplexity. At this moment I feel you are exercising magick and witchcraft upon me and positively laying me under your spell until I am just a mass of helplessness. If I may be flippant, I think that not only in outward appearance but in other respects as well that you are exactly like the flat sting ray that one meets in the sea.
Whenever anyone comes into contact with it, it numbs him, and that is the sort of thing you seem to be doing to me now. My mind and my lips are literally numb, and I have nothing to reply to you. In my opinion you are well advised not to leave Athens and live abroad. If you behaved like this in another country, you would most likely be arrested as a wizard.
The Magician steps forward.
Help me and make all spirits subject unto me; so that every spirit of the firmament and of the ether; upon the earth and under the earth, on dry land and in the water; of whirling air and of rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.
Now let him be seated.
The Magician responds accordingly.
Two and twenty times shall he figure to himself that he is bitten by a serpent, feeling even in his body the poison thereof. And let each bite be healed by an eagle or hawk, spreading its wings above his head, and dropping thereon a healing dew. But let the last bite be so terrible a pang at the nape of the neck that he seemeth to die, and let the healing dew be of such virtue that he leapeth to his feet.
Song [Prodigy, Poison]
Bear the cup of libation!
Here is my final word on writing: any written composition on any subject must be largely the creation of fancy. Nothing worth serious attention has ever been written in prose or verse — or spoken for that matter, if by speaking one means those recitations meant to indoctrinate, without any attempt at instruction by question and answer. Even the best compositions merely help the memory of those who already know; whereas serious importance is found only by way of instruction, or, to use a truer phrase, written on the soul of the hearer to help him or her to learn of the Right, the Beautiful, and the Good. Bear the cup of libation!
Song [The Blackest Crow]
As the song is played, Plato bares his breast to show the name "Alex" written upon it.
Plato, we come to the third word in our sequence. But this word is never found in your written work.
I myself am never found in my written work.
Yes, Plato, like you, this word is conspicuous by its absence. The word is "pharmakos", or "scapegoat".
The rite of the scapegoat or pharmakos was a civil purification ritual. Ancient Grecian cities fed and housed, at public expense, a group of wild, ugly, deformed human beings solely for the purpose of sacrifice. Then, when flood, famine, pestilence or any other bane seized a city, the citizens selected the most unattractive of these, led him out of the city, positioned him in the place of sacrifice, fed him with their own hands — barley cakes and figs — then struck him with leeks, wild figs and other plants, the death spasm arriving only as the last in a series of throes brought on by a frenzied pounding of his penis and scrotum with squills — a bulbous herb. Then they ignited a fire fed with the wood of wild trees, offered the corpse unto the flames, and finally scattered the ashes to the four winds and tossing seas. Thus the city was purified.
Such was the fate of the scapegoat in ancient Greece.
This ritual practice, which took in Abdera, in Thrace, in Marseilles, etc., was reproduced every year in Athens. The date of the ceremony is noteworthy: the sixth day of the Thargelia.
I was born on the sixth day of Thargelion. Today is the sixth day of Thargelion.
Socrates takes the glass of hemlock in hand.
I believe I owe a cock to Asklepios. Bear the cup of libation!
He drinks the cup and falls dead, offstage.
Song [Don't Fear the Reaper]
Fear not! Socrates will soon be back. He combines the metempsychosis of the Pythagoreans with the eternal return of Nietzsche. He comes back not for life's sake but to drink more hemlock!
Plato, in your writings we find the insistence of a paternal and parricidal vocabulary. This leads me to reflect on both the relation between paternity and language and on the ambiguities entailed by the fact that you, Plato — a son figure — are writing, from out of the death of Socrates, of Socrates' condemnation of writing as parricide.
Plato pours himself a drink.
Axiothea appears. Now in silver, she is radiant, clearly a woman.
That game is over, Plato. At least for now, call me Axiothea. Perhaps tonight we should consummate our marriage.
Unless you dress as a boy, I cannot.
Goodbye, Plato. Bear the cup of libation!
Song [Band of Gold]
Axiothea sits in her chariot. The Twins are as horses, or sphinxes.
Music is heard as Amoun recites [Vangelis, theme from Chariots of Fire]
The soul is self-moving and immortal.
As for the soul's immortality, enough has been said. But about its form, the following must be stated: To tell what it really is would be a theme for a divine and a very long discourse; what it resembles, however, may be expressed more briefly and in human language. Let us say that it is like the composite union of powers in a team of winged horses and their charioteer. Now all the gods' horses and charioteers are good and of good descent, but those of other beings are mixed. In the case of the human soul, first of all, it is a pair of horses that the charioteer dominates; one of them is noble and handsome and of good breeding, while the other is the very opposite, so that our charioteer necessarily has a difficult and troublesome task.
I must try to tell how it is that a living being is called both mortal and immortal. Soul, taking it collectively, has charge of all that is soulless. It traverses the entire heaven, appearing sometimes in one form, sometimes in another. When it is perfect and fully winged, it soars on high and is responsible for all order in the universe; but if it loses its wings, it is carried down until it can fasten on something solid. It settles there, taking on an earthly body which seems to be self-moving because of the power of soul within. This composite structure of body and soul joined together is called a living being and is further designated as mortal. Immortal it is not on any reasonable supposition: in fact, it is our imagination, not our vision, not our adequate comprehension, that presents us with the notion of a god as an immortal living being equipped both with soul and with body, and with these, moreover, joined together for all time. Let this, however, and our words concerning it, be as the god pleases. We must now consider the reason for the soul's loss of its wings. It is somewhat as follows:
The natural function of a wing is to raise what is heavy and soar with it to where the race of gods dwells. More than any other part of the body the soul partakes of the divine nature which is beautiful, wise, good, and all such qualities. Nothing, certainly, contributes more than these to the nourishment and development of the soul's wing; while by their opposites, ugliness and evil, it is wasted away and destroyed.
Now the great leader in heaven, Zeus, comes first, driving a winged chariot, imposing order upon all things and caring for them; and the host of gods and spirits follows him, marshaled, in eleven sections, for Hestia alone remains in the House of the Gods. But for the others, all that are counted among the Twelve Ruling Gods proceed in due order according to rank, each at the head of his own division.
Many and wonderful to see are the orbits within the heavens and the blessed gods constantly turn to contemplate these as each busies himself with his special duties. There follows whoever will and can, for envy has no place in the company of heaven. But when they proceed to the divine banquet, they mount the steep ascent to the top of the vault of heaven; and here the advance is easy for the gods' chariots, well balanced and guided as they are, but the others have difficulty: the horse of evil nature weighs down their chariots, pulling heavily toward the earth any charioteer who has not trained him well. And here the extremity of toil and struggle awaits the soul.
Now when those souls that are called immortal come to the summit, they proceed without and take their stand upon the back of heaven where its revolution carries them in full circle as they gaze upon that which is without.
Of that region beyond no one of our earthly poets has ever sung, nor will any ever sing worthily. Its description follows, for I must dare to speak the truth, especially since the nature of the truth is my theme. It is there that Reality lives, without shape or color, intangible, visible only to reason, the soul's pilot; and all true knowledge is knowledge of her. Now a god's faculty of understanding is sustained by experiencing direct and pure knowledge, as is that part of every soul that is concerned to receive what is akin to this experience. Consequently when the soul has at long last beheld Reality, it rejoices, finding sustenance in its direct contemplation of the truth and in the immediate experience of it until, in the revolution of its orbit, it is brought round again to the point of departure. And in the course of the revolution it beholds absolute justice and temperance and knowledge, not such knowledge as is subject to process, and varies with its various objects to which we ascribe Reality; no, it is Real Knowledge whose object is the truly existent. And when the souls has similarly seen and feasted upon all the other true realities, it comes back again within the heavens and returns home. And when it has arrived, the charioteer brings the horses to the manger and feeds them ambrosia and gives them nectar to drink.
This, then, is the gods' life; but of the other souls, that which best follows [and most closely resembles] a god and has raised its charioteer's head up into the outer region is carried around with the gods in their revolution — yet it is troubled by the horses and only beholds Reality with much difficulty. Another sometimes rises, sometimes sinks; because the horses are unruly it beholds some part of Reality, but fails to see others. And other souls follow after, all desirous to gain the upper region, but unable to reach it: their circuit is far below where they jostle and trample on one another, each trying to outstrip his neighbor. So there is confusion and rivalry and the sweat of desperate competition in which many are lamed and many have their wings broken through the incompetence of their charioteers. And, for all their struggle, not one of them is able to gain a glimpse of Reality; and so they go away and feed on the food of illusion. The reason for this great eagerness to behold the plain of truth is that the pasturage proper to the best par lies in that meadow: the wings on which the soul is to be borne aloft must find their nourishment here.
This is the Decree of Destiny: whatever soul has followed in the train of a god and has caught sight of any truth, it shall be free from harm until the next revolution; and, if it can continually do this, it shall remain forever free from harm. But when a soul is unable to keep up with the train and fails to catch sight of Reality and through some mischance is filled with forgetfulness and weakness and grows heavy and in its heaviness molts its wings and falls to earth, then it is the Law that such a soul shall not be planted in any beast in its first birth.
Song [Clair de Lune]
The one which has seen the most Reality shall at birth enter into a future seeker for wisdom or beauty, a follower of the Muses or a lover; the second soul into a law-abiding monarch or a warlike ruler; the third into a statesman or a man of business or a merchant; the fourth into some hard-working athlete or physician; the fifth into a prophet's life or a priest of the mysteries; to the sixth a poet's life or some other devoted to imitation will be proper; the seventh shall be a craftsman or a farmer; the eighth a sophist or a demagogue; the ninth a tyrant.
Now in all these transformations whosoever lives a just life shall obtain a better lot; and conversely with an evildoer. For the soul does not return to the place of its origin for 10,000 years, since in no less time can it regain its wings. The sole exception is the soul of a man whose pursuit of wisdom has had no ulterior motive, whose search for love has involved the pursuit of wisdom. Such a soul, if it choose this life three times in succession, will become winged in the third period of 1000 years and so depart in the 3000th year. But when the others have finished their first life, they receive judgement. After it some go beneath the earth to places of chastisement and are punished while others are carried aloft by Justice to some part of the heavens where they live in a manner commensurate with their life while they were men. And after a thousand years both of these groups come to draw lots and choose their second life, each soul as it wishes. At that point a human soul may enter the life of a beast; and conversely a beast who was once human may become a man again, for a soul which has never seen the truth cannot pass into this human form of ours. For to be a man one must understand the content of a general term, leaving the field of manifold sense-perceptions, and entering that in which the object of knowledge is unique and grasped only by reasoning. This process is a remembering of what our soul once saw as it made its journey with a god, looking down upon what we now assert to be real and gazing upwards at what is Reality itself. This is clearly the reason why it is right for only the philosopher's mind to have wings; for he remains always, so far as he can, through memory in the field of precisely those entities in whose presence, as though he were a god, he is himself divine. And if a man makes a right use of such entities as memoranda, always being perfectly initiated into perfect mysteries, he alone becomes truly perfected. He separates himself from the busy interests of men and approaches the divine. He is rebuked by the vulgar as insane, for they cannot know that he is possessed by divinity.
This, then, is the summation and completion of our discourse on the fourth sort of madness: when a man sees beauty in this world and has a remembrance of true beauty, he begins to grow wings. While they are sprouting, he is eager to fly, but he cannot. He gazes upward as though he were a bird and cares nothing for what is here below, so that he is accused of being mad. I have shown that this of all forms of divine possession, is the best and has the highest origin, both for him that has it and for him who shares in it; and that the man who partakes of this madness and loves beauty is called a lover. For, as I said, every human soul by reason of its nature has had a view of Reality, otherwise it could not have entered this human form of ours. But to derive a clear memory of those real truths from these earthly perceptions is not easy for every soul — not for such as have had only a brief view in their former existence, or for such as suffered the misfortune, when they fell into this world, to form evil connections and turned to unrighteousness, forgetting the holy vision they once had. Few indeed remain who can still remember much; yet when they see here some resemblance to those former sights, they are stricken with amazement and are no longer able to control themselves. Yet they do not recognize the reason for their emotion, for their perceptions are quite dim.
Plato pours a shot of whiskey, holds the glass to the light and gazes into the golden liquid.
Plato found himself gazing into the pharmakon. He decided to analyze. He would like to isolate the good from the bad, the true from the false, but they repeat each other.
The Magician begins a low chant, first a whisper, then louder:
He ekke touton ton logon.
The walled-in voice strikes against the rafters, the worlds come apart, bits and pieces of sentences are separated, disarticulated parts begin to circulate through the corridors, become fixed for a round or two, translate each other, make trouble, tell on each other, come back like answers, organize their exchanges, protect each other, institute an internal commerce. Take themselves for a dialogue, full of meaning, a whole story, an entire history, all of philosophy.
Plato downs the whisky and stumbles offstage.
Suddenly Socrates reappears.
Hello, I'm back to say farewell. Oh Lord Pan, thou goat-footed son of Hermes, and Lady Luna, queen of night, grant that I may develop inward beauty and that my external possessions be in friendly accord with what is within. May I consider the wise rich, and may I have no more gold than a sensible person can carry and manage.
Song [Beatles, Hello Goodbye]
Lights come on.