The god Glycon was created by Alexander the False Prophet
There's a lot to be said for being upfront about one's limitations.
In his snow-leopard-print shoes and Cosbyesque sweater, people queuing up to get in the lecture room for his talk, with the legendary beard and hair and hermity inclinations appropriate to a wild man of the mountains, Alan Moore could be a prophet – if he could be bothered, which he doesn't seem to be – but he'd tell you right up front he's a false one too.
“I'm not a religion,” he said, after musing on that the etymology of the word religion
. It's related to ligature
; it's about binding, connecting people, holding together; it doesn't have to be anything spiritual at all. “Marxism is a religion” he offered as an example. This is one reason he's glad no one else worships his second-century Roman glove-puppet snake god.
Still, this non-prophet has a room full of rapt faces soaking up his words
Moore is clear on what's science – the external, material world of physical things and empirical observation – and what's occult – the internal world of thought, imagination, consciousness, and other things that aren't measurable or replicable – but he is no smug skeptic or starry-eyed believer, claiming all of one category is good and the other bad.
They're not mutually exclusive (“You can write better fantasy if you understand science. It helps to be consistent and to know what rules you're breaking”) and he thinks they're both equally useful for storytelling. “I don't care if it's true, if it's good for the idea playground.” Moore doesn't read science-fiction any more, but likes New Scientist
, “because the ideas are weirder.”
(I was instantly reminded of how I used to read NS
headlines and say it had taken over the job of the Weekly World News
. I swear it was something like this Human-frog hybrid reveals autism's secrets
story that first drove me to this joking declaration, but the more I followed New Scientist
headlines on Twitter, the more scarily apt and less fun the comparison became, and I eventually gave up reading them.)
Humans love to draw lines between “common sense” and “obvious nonsense” all over the maps of our worlds. We only differ in where we think the lines should go. Another of the talks I went to, a smug skeptic one, featured questions that revealed a couple of audience members thought dowsing worked (a guy told us that water has flowing fields of energy, as nonchalantly as he'd have told us his name) but “global warming” is bullshit (another guy asserted it ended in 2005). To that latter declaration, the presenter of this talk only said, “Well, we all have to be careful of these 'intellectual black holes' I was talking about...”
I thought it was a brilliant answer, probably assuring the audience member that he'd exposed an intellectual black hole the presenter had fallen into, but indicating to everyone else that this audience member was an example of the very phenomenon; he'd fallen so deep into a bad idea that nothing further was going to get in or out.
These intellectual black holes can take us to weird places. Looking at pictures of naked people is obviously naughty, but “bubbling
” innocuous photos of bikini-clad women can trick your brain into seeing them as if naked. (Which I'd think would be worse, because the viewer is forced to collaborate in the sin; not a passive viewer thereof, but an active participant...but then, I'm not a religious person, so what do I know?) Scientologists get big boats out into international waters to indulge their deviances, Apparently Scientology dictates that sin is terrestrial, so if you're out at sea or up in the air, sin “doesn't count.” Moore related hat he'd once found someone to ask if standing on a chair would be enough height to escape sin (which is a wonderfully scientific reaction really: imagine the contour line maps!) and was told no, not likely. “How about if you were up on a roof?” Moore persisted. “I think that would make it worse!” came the answer. Laughter filled the room, and I added Sin On The Roof to my mental list of good band names.
If all the effort put into finding workarounds to the restrictions imposed on us could be harnessed by more constructive things...well, we'd still probably spend all our time arguing about what those constructive things were. Perhaps this is just as well.
Moore said that, like a lot of people, he was “put off the occult by the kinds of people who go into occult bookshops, who seem to have a gaping emotional void that they are trying to fill with secret knowledge and secret power.” The secrets make the people who know them more special (Moore said he'd feel less special if anyone else started worshipping Glycon). Conspiracy theories are an attempt to make everything, every scrap of data or conjecture or that's just the way the world works
-ness fit a single worldview, not to mention offer privileged knowledge to the theorists. Moore insists the occult doesn't have to be that way, and talks of it very movingly (“I wonder if I can write my way around death”) and appealingly (“Writers hate 'where do you get your ideas from?” because we don't know. That's why I got into magic, to find out how ideas work”), but I still can't see myself going anywhere like where he's gone.
Nor can I see myself going the way of the guy in the room full of smug skeptics who talked about dowsing for water with...not zeal or even particular confidence, but the kind of matter-of-fact way I can tell you that the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon but also 400 times further away, which is why they look the same size in the sky. I am convinced there is no special reason for this and it doesn't mean anything. It won't even always be true, because the Moon gets incrementally further from the Earth all the time, so one day there will be the last total solar eclipse, after which point the Moon's disk will no longer appear large enough to block out that of the Sun in our sky. I don't think this means we're living at a privileged time of the Earth's history – except inasmuch as I believe any time can be precious – but I do occasionally wonder if the people who do
think that aren't having a bit more fun than I am.
But then I remember that science is my solace as well as my intellectual satisfaction. (And it's not just me. Alan Moore also likes to tell the story of Einstein consoling the widow of a fellow physicist, only a couple of months before his own death. "To a physicist such as myself, death isn't really a big thing, because I understand the persistent illusion of transience.") Just this morning I told someone dear to me that she reminded me of Io – pushed and squeezed by huge, constantly changing forces – and she said “YES.” It works for us. When I'm having a bad day and want to be distracted, I'll ask my dear husband to talk to me about black holes, or the nature of time, or even what's going wrong in my own brain chemistry. I fall asleep listening to podcasts and pop-sci audiobooks, and if my dreams are about the evolution of whales or the Big Bang, they are still no less beautiful or moving or useful to me than visions of gods or the energy that may somehow flow along with water under the ground.