Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tim Powers' Last Call and Crowley's The Ship

I wrote this a few years back, and realised that I had not blogged it here.


Review of Tim Powers’ Last Call, with reference to the formula of the Dying God as expressed in The Ship.

Joseph Campbell wrote in Hero with a thousand faces that, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the light to change.” The ancient myths are all around us – we live them daily.

The formula of the Dying God has been expressed in many guises (see Liber ABA, part 3, chapter 5) in such myths as those of Osiris, Jonah, Jesus, Adonis, Baldur, etc. I will assume that readers are broadly familiar with the formula. Tim Powers takes Campbell’s words literally, and in Last Call sets the myth of the Dying God in modern day California and Nevada.

It is useful, however, to contrast the action in Last Call with that in Crowley’s short play, The Ship. This play expresses in dramatic form the formula of the Dying God as found in the mythology of Freemasonry (see Crowley’s explanation in The Confessions, p714.) Where The Ship expresses the pure formula, Last Call represents the perversion thereof.

The first scene in The Ship takes place at the shrine of the deified Sun, within which is John, and his two attendees, high guards, and two devotees. Although John is described initially as the High Priest of the Sun, he is also a King (dressed gorgeous robes of scarlet and gold, with a crown upon his head, and holding an orb and sceptre.) Indeed, he is the very personification of the Sun, as well as its chosen Priest.

It is evening, the sun is setting in the west, and John is closing the shrine. And the tenure of John’s reign as High Priest is also setting, for he is described as “of mature age” and is about to be challenged for the crown. For soon three strangers approach, declaring that they “are come from north and south and east… to build your god a new and nobler shrine.” They prove themselves by possessing the correct Signs and Words for the first two warders, but when confronted by John himself are found to be ignorant of the Word of the Master.

It is apparent that these men are usurpers, that their intention is to take the Shrine for themselves, and to depose the old King. For rather than retreat when proven imposters, they slay John, who will not surrender the secret of the shrine. In the language of Last Call, they are Jacks, gunning to ‘assume the Flamingo’ and take over the Kingship.

Yet, not possessing the necessary knowledge, the Jacks cannot assume the Kingship and are sent fleeing blindly after a blazing light drives them from the Shrine. Eventually, they meet their end at the hands of John’s guards, dying in despair and misery. John’s body is wrapped in a shroud and taken to sea in a ship.1

This ship is the scene of the second part of the play. Tended by his two devotees, John symbolically journeys through the underworld, a prerequisite for the rebirth of the new King.2 Finally, dawn breaks, and through the tender ministrations of the two female devotees, John is born anew as a young man, “dressed in the crown and robes of his father." In glory, he proclaims himself King, speaking those glorious verses now best known as the anthem of the Gnostic Mass.

Last Call, on the other hand, tells the story of a corrupt King, tragic and pathetic. All the elements of the formula of the dying King from The Ship are present, but with characters that are both perverse and all too human. It is a novel of a King that vainly resists passing on his throne to his Son, preferring the arid land of the Nevada desert to the lush lands of corn and wine.

George Leon starts the novel as a Jack, a pretender to the King’s throne, held at that time by the mobster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel. The latter’s Shrine is the fabulous casino The Flamingo, in the city of Las Vegas.3 Leon studies Siegel over a period of years, before preparing a magical attack against him. Seeking to “build... a new and nobler shrine” and assume the throne, Leon’s painstakingly planned attack results in Siegel’s death. He ‘assumes The Flamingo,’ has it rebuilt, and becomes the new King.

Leon knows that a necessary part of the formula is the King’s death, but seeks to cheat this fate. He marries and begets two sons. He causes his first son, Richard, to become a mindless idiot, squatting day and night on the roof of his Las Vegas home to watch for attack. He has a similar fate in mind for his second son, Scott, but is foiled by his wife on the night of the magical operation.4 In a dramatic scene in which Leon is blasted by a shotgun, and young Scott loses an eye, Leon’s wife manages to steal the boy away to safety. Scott is later found and adopted by Ozzie Smith, a professional gambler.

The shot has blasted away Leon’s genitalia, making him incapable of physical reproduction. Even had he wished, he could now no longer say with The Ship’s John, “He begot me in my season, I must such a Son beget.” Yet he tenaciously clings to both life and the Kingship: instead of producing an heir by the appropriate time honored formula, he perverts it by devising another method of begetting ‘children.’ This is his poker variant ‘Assumption,’ a complicated game in which he, by assuming the hands of other players, gains the authority to assume their bodies at an appropriate time in the future. In one such game, he assumes the body of his own son, Scott. (By this stage Leon is in a different body, and neither player recognizes the other for who they are.)

Fast forward to 1987. Scott is now approaching middle age, and living in a suburb of Los Angeles. Time is running out for him: he is almost ripe for Leon to assume his body, and this is beginning to take a toll on his life. A kind of chaotic zone forms around him – his wife dies of a cancer that is perhaps a result of his physical presence, and he succumbs to alcoholism. This is recognized by his neighbor, Archimides (Arky) Mavranos, who sees in this zone of chaos a chance to heal his own cancer of the throat, and he eventually becomes a devoted knight to this fledgling King Arthur.

Other fascinating characters make an appearance: Scott’s foster father Ozzie; his foster sister Diana (who is destined to become Queen); Dondi Snayheever, whose father, misunderstanding Skinner, forces him to spend his childhood in a large box surrounded by poker cards; Ray-Joe Pogue, who aims to take the Kingship for himself by wedding his Vietnamese half-sister Bernadette Dinh; Al Funo, the homophobic and insecure assassin; and there are many more.5

Gradually Scott pieces together what has happened and realizes that his only salvation lies in journeying to Las Vegas to battle his father. This struggle and accompanying sub-plots forms the bulk of the book, and cannot be easily summarized here. Suffice it to say that, after working through a tangled web of threats to his life, Scott finally comes to a place in which he can challenge his father for his arid kingdom.

Like The Ship, the final action takes place on a vessel on the water. Yet here too, Leon’s perversion of the Kingship shows: rather than the open and natural salt sea, the boat is on the artificially created Lake Mead. Rather than being cared for by devotees, the King is surrounded by poker players who are to be the victims of his Assumption game. No smells of oil and roses either – the boat is sickeningly permeated by the stench of shit and piss from the original body of George Leon, now old, decrepit, and strapped in a wheelchair.

Readers can perhaps guess that Scott Crane succeeds in taking his rightful place as King in the end, but I will not give away the manner in which he defeats his father. With Scott’s assumption of the Kingship, the natural formula of the Dying God again prevails.

And the old truck sped on up the highway in the morning sun. And in the desert all around, the Joshua trees were heavy with cream-colored blossoms...”

Last Call is the first book in a trilogy of sorts. The second, Expiration Date, has nothing to do with Last Call, but follows the adventures of the young Koot Hoomie Parganas, bred by his Theosophical parents to be the next World Teacher. It takes place in Los Angeles, and centers around strange folk magic and the consumption of ghosts as a gourmet drug. Earthquake Weather is a sequel to both of the previous two books. Here Scott “suffers too the triple treason”, as Powers weaves together the various story-lines into a coherent whole.

1 The ship, though initially battered and leaky, miraculously becomes sturdy once more – a suitable vessel for the body of the King. This is echoes in Earthquake Weather, in which Arky’s blue Chevy Suburban becomes a royal red when carrying the body of the dead King. However, we focus here on the events of Last Call.

2 So too did Jesus travel to hell after his death at Golgotha. And there are many other parallels in the legends of ‘Dying Gods.’

3 As in all Powers’ books, the historical details given are correct.

4 This operation consists of exposing his sons to the mindbending horror of the (mythical) Lombardy Zeroth tarot deck.

5 One should also include here George Leon in the form of the many bodies that he has assumed through his perverse poker game. He keeps their original names, and something of their characters, while possessing them. The names themselves are of interest, for they point symbolically to his Kingship. Thus in ‘George Leon’ – Leon is the lion, symbolic of Tiphareth and the Sun (see Liber 777). Other names include Ricky Leroy, (which as Richard Le Roi shows similar symbolism – Richard is reminiscent of Richard the Lion-Hearted, and Le Roi is ‘The King’ in French) and Art Hanari (which sounds like the Indian God Ardhanari.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

US-553010 - Tall Corn

US-553010 - Tall Corn
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Sent to postcrossing pal in Maryland, US.

On back:
Photo by Free Lance Photographers Guild, Inc.
Genuine Natural Color Made by DEXTER PRESS, Inc.

Unsure how old this one is.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Old music I desire

I was pleased to note that a google search for Radley Clack (original bassist for VOD) brought a guy to this page. It invoked memories of listening to some really good music in Cape Town when I was around 18-21. The venue of choice at that time was a club called Subjects, which was usually a goth club, but also had heavy metal afternoons every Saturday. They went through many incarnations, and I forget their later names.

The internets has lead me to some wonderful old rare stuff through bittorrent, music blogs, and the like, but I still have not been able to get hold of much from that time period. Damn good stuff it was too. I'm going to list my most desired bands and albums below. Perhaps some other bloke stumbling on this via a google search will be able to give me a lead on where to download or purchase one or more of 'em.

Alternative compilations from the 80s: In From The Cold, Flying Circus I and II.
Prophets of the City (Cape Town hiphop)
Carnage Visors (Cape Town electronic, think they only produced one demo)
Psychopathic Fairies (punk \ metal. Not sure if these guys even did a demo)
Psycho Reptiles - Have Beans Will Travel
Penguins in Bondage
VOD (original lineup, not later heavy metal oriented stuff)
Lords of Gehenna (again, not sure if these guys ever did a demo)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

So you forwarded it to yourselves?

"...Your application has been forwarded to our HR Department for consideration in our applicant pool. HR will contact you...

Best Regards,

Human Resources Staff..."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hluhluwe Rhino

Hluhluwe Rhino 1
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Back in Cape Town after a week visiting my friend Gavin in Richard's Bay. Here's a rhino that I saw a couple of days ago at the Hluhluwe National Game Reserve.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weekend at Bonnievale

Asher Cottage 2
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

We spent this weekend at a cottage in the Bonnievale area, along the Breede River. Ah, so relaxed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Originally uploaded by Alhazred

A wonderful door in a shop near the Woodstock organic market. Which is a cool place in itself. We bought a few toothsome things, including lamb, tomatoes, eggs, spices.

Yzerfontein Beach

Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rogue Taps

Rogue Taps
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Well, this one is obviously not from my SA trip - I just felt like blogging it. Pity it isn't a bar in Cape Town - Castle is pretty good, but one craves variation sometimes. (It's from the Rogue Brewery in Newport, OR.)

Another quick photo from Evita se Perron

Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Evita's Shoes

Evita's Shoes
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Should be viewed large so that the text can be read.

Yesterday we went for a driver up the West Coast, getting as far north as Yzerfontein, where we stopped and had tea on the rocks. Nice day, though a bit windy.

On the way back we went through the interior, having a late lunch at Evita's in Darling, from whence this picture came.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Fynbos1 - Kbosch
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Here is a fine specimen of Phylica ericoides. Yes, we spent yesterday at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, jewel of Cape Town. With it being the off season, it was not too crowded and I was happy and contented.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Adam and Tahir Levy - District 6 Museum

Adam and Tahir Levy - District 6 Museum
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Yesterday's itinerary was visiting the Rasta guys on Long Street for more Buchu, and a couple of museums. This one is from the District 6 Museum, and shows Adam and Tahir Levy posing for the camera. He was an animated chap, full of opinion and anecdote.

We also visited the Michaelis Collection, which was enjoyable as always.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rocky Beach and Table Mountain

Rocky Beach and Table Mountain
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

A couple of ciders followed today's long walk down the beach.

I have a legal South African driver's license again. Sweet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sea Critters and UCT

The sea threw up a bunch of critters that one does not usually see on the beach. This morning Kirsten and I took a walk thereon, and I snapped a few photos.

The most common critters were of orange sea cucumber looking chaps. Perhaps someone could let me know what they really are?

This is just kelp. It isn't uncommon, obviously, I just liked the way the photo turned out.

Yesterday Adam and I went to UCT, and it brought back many memories. Not least of which how I used to have to climb all those bloody steps every day. The campus didn't seem to have changed much.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Choppy Waves

Choppy Waves
Originally uploaded by Alhazred

It was rainy and windy with gale force winds yesterday. Adam and I took a walk along the beach for the hell of it, and I got a few photos and video of the choppy waves. The Cape of Storms it was indeed yesterday.

On the way back I slipped and twisted my ankle, which is rather a bummer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Catching up

One of the advantages of a blog post every day is that, although it may not have popular appeal, it serves as a diary, a reference. Of course one must remember to back up one's work. After all, blogger may go tits up one day, and you don't want all your data disappearing into the void.

It's a bloody awful winter's day here in Cape Town. Very rainy, with gale force winds. Not good for exploration, but good for sitting in ye olde Karma Cafe and catching up on one's blog. So this is a catch up entry, with the intention (ha!) that I will be updating more frequently in future.

Most frequent activity: walking along the beach.
We were lucky enough to get a holiday flat (called Sea Spray, for anyone interesting in renting it in the future) which is about 50 metres or so from the sea. So much time has been spent walking along the beach. I don't think of I could ever get tired of the iconic view of Table Mountain from Blaauwberg beach.
When I feel up to it I walk for about an hour up to the Blue Peter, usually with Adam, and have a cup of tea or coffee before the trip back.

Cape Town drivers:
Are the bloody rudest in the world. If Portland drivers are courteous to a fault, then Cape Town drivers are on the opposite extreme. The walk signal means nothing to these guys. Too afraid of carjackings to stop for pedestrians that have the right of way? I dunno, but it's really too bad.

Driver's License blues:
I have an older South African driver's license, one in my green ID book. The powers that be said that to convert it to the new version, I had to have a letter from my employer proving that I was working abroad in the year 2003. Good God. Such unnecessary bureaucracy.

Much more frequent than the busses, and they don't drive nearly as badly as people say.

Harold Porter:
Amazing botanical garden.

And... I just got sick of writing this post. So, more later. Honest.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 10 2009

Rather a lazy day today. A long walk down the beach was my main exercise. Bloody glorious weather.
Hey, a brief post is better than nothing...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

SA vacation 2009 - first post

First post of my South Africa vacation 2009 travelogue. A summary of the last few days in brief.

Sunday 05/31 - We left home remarkably early, getting it all together by around 11 AM. A hearty breakfast at the Horsebrass followed, and then good ole I5 North. A hard slog of a drive, and we made it to Port Townsend by mid afternoon.

Monday 06/01 - A wonderful visit with Kirsten's family, including Friday the puppy. A nice relaxing time. Too full of my usual travel worry to sleep too well.

Tuesday 06/02 - Up at the crack of bloody dawn. Or even before - 04:45. Our destination is the Mt. Vernon Amtrak station, where we will catch the train to Vancouver.
The first part of the trip is a ferry to Whidbey Island, which I love. I find ferries such fun. Made the rest of the trip smoothly, and the train ride to Vancouver was just fine.
After being grilled by Canadian customs for quite a while (I know you were just doing your job, chief, but you were a bit of a wanker), we were met by my old friend Paul. He is remarkably looking the same as he was in High School - aged well. We checked into our hotel near the airport and then had a great day, mostly eating, drinking and chatting.

Wednesday 06/03 - Relaxed at he hotel room, not really having time to go into the city before checkout time. Security (ugh) and now relaxing with a couple of beers (for me - other drinks for Kirsten and Adam). Flight in about three hours. Cheers.

A few shots of me at YVR:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Black Magic, aka Meeting at Midnight (1944)

Black Magic is a 1944 Charlie Chan movie. It is rather unremarkable, except for the appearance of Frances Chan, who played Charlie's daughter of the same name. She gives a fun and charming performance, and it is a pity that she seems to have appeared in so few films. (IMDB lists only six.)

Since there seem to be very few screen shots of this movie on ye olde internets, a few appear below.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mildly funny twitter search result

I have an RSS feed set up to catch tweets that reference the company at which I work, Con-way. Thought this result was funny: Also, will not be walking for coffee anytime soon. Mr. Creepy ex-con, way to ruin my lunchbreak. Much hatred & revulsion, Reggie

New Music Media (MOMA) - postcrossing

Sent by a postcrossing chum.
On back:
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019
Shin Matsunaga. Japanese, born 1940. New Music Media, 1977. Offset lithograph, 40½ x 28 5/8". The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer through the The U.S. Art Directors Club, New York. © Shin Matsunaga

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I like Creative Commons

Originally uploaded by Alhazred

Mental Floss blog used this photo of The Integratron here. It's the first time a big blog has used one of my photos, and I'm quite chuffed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lean IT - use (or lack thereof) of 5S

The following should be taken merely as musing, rather than the thoughtful exploration that this subject deserves.

Lean, as I understand it, developed in a warehouse \ manufacturing environment in order to facilitate production flow. In such an environment, 5S makes obvious sense. A physical workplace that is logically ordered, clean, and safe greatly enhances workflow, as well as being pleasant on the eye.

When I was receiving basic training in Lean, we learned about 5S in the context of 'Lean Office'. Here too 5S makes a great deal of obvious sense. When much of one's workflow involves paper (e.g. forms, bills, files, etc), there is much benefit to the order than 5S provides.

However, when we consider "Lean IT", it is my feeling that 5S is much less useful. (Note, not useless, just not nearly as useful as in other environments.) As an IT worker, 99% of my work is done at a computer. And, of course, most of the data with which I deal is only accessible via computer - I use very little paper. Indeed, I often balk when someone gives me data in the form of paper, because it is then not easily searchable.

Now, I can see a well ordered and clean desk being useful for a number of reasons, not least of which are aesthetics. However, I do not derive the same benefit therefrom as, for example, an Accounts Payable person does. My fingers are mostly at my keyboard, and very little time is spent turning around or opening doors to get files, stapling things, or even walking to the printer.

The argument can be made that the principles in 5S can be profitably used in one's digital workspace. For example, organizing file shares, knowledge bases, and the like. I accept this argument, but only up to a point. The reason being is that I usually access data via search, rather than drilling down (e.g. through directories or what have you.) Whenever I need to find a (e.g.) document, I immediately use Google Desktop Search, rather than trying to remember in which knowledge repository the document resides, and then manually navigating to it. I am certainly not suggesting that one's data sources should not be well organized, but merely that the way most of us access data nowadays makes 5S less directly applicable to the IT worker's needs.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday 02/01/2009 - delicious links for the week

Pages that I bookmarked this week:


This already used postcard from 1981. As usual, personal names blurred.

On back:
Farsund. Utsikt mot byen med broen over Nordsundet.
View of the town.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday 25/01/2009 - Bookmarked this week

On Delicious.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Picturesque Midland

Picturesque Midland
On back:
Midland, Michigan - This view shows the picturesque river area in downtown Midland.
Photo by John Penrod.

(Postcard was mailed in July 1984.)

Stuff I Collect - Militaria

Stuff I Collect - Militaria WW2 WWII First 1st Allied Airborne pin OPA ration token (1 blue) WW1 U.S. Shipyard Voluntee...