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Authors: Robert A. Wilson

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Young Sir John read this with audible fuming and a few Johnsonian mutterings of “Scotch dog!” and “Goddamn!” His nose was put even more out of joint when his counter-rebuttal, containing seventeen pages of recondite footnotes this time (and a sharply worded riposte about “those who substitute flashy alliteration for cogent argument”), was returned by the university press with the curt explanation that the
Journal
did not have endless space to debate issues of such microscopic unimportance.

There the matter might have ended, in lame anticlimax, had not a mysterious third hand intervened.

A Mr. George Cecil Jones of London wrote to Sir John, praising his original letter to the
Historical Journal
and assuring him that he was correct in all his theories even though surviving documents of earlier centuries were not complete enough to support him. “The authentic tradition of Cabalistic Freemasonry,” Jones added, “can be found still alive among certain lodges, especially in Bavaria and Paris. There has even been a lodge of true adepts continuing the hidden heritage right here in London, in this decade.”

Sir John’s immediate response was a most cautious letter back to Mr. (George Cecil) Jones, asking very tactfully just how much Mr. Jones actually knew of the surviving lodge of Cabalistic Freemasons in London, who alleged descent from the Invisible College of the Rosy Cross (founded by the Sufi sage, Abramelin of Araby, and passed on by him through Abraham the Jew to Christian Rosenkreuz, who lies buried in the Cave of the Illuminati,
which was somewhere in the Alps according to Sir John’s research, whatever that Scotch dog McNaughton might say).

The reply, within a week’s time, was a cautious letter that invited Sir John to have dinner with Jones sometime when visiting London, so that the matter might be discussed at suitable length with appropriate intimacy.

Sir John wrote back at once that he would be in London the following Thursday.

The next week was rainy and wet at Babcock Manor; Sir John didn’t go outdoors, and spent most of his time in his library poring over his first editions of Hermetic and Rosicrucian pamphlets from long ago, and puzzling once again upon the enigmatic writings of those he suspected of being part of the underground tradition of Cabalistic magick. He re-read
The Alchemical Marriage of Christian Rosycross
, with its strange medley of Christian and Egyptian allegorical figures, the Enochian fragments which Dr. John Dee had received from an allegedly superhuman being in the age of Elizabeth I, the sly and cryptic
Triumphant Beast
of Giordano Bruno, the writings of Bacon and Ludvig Prinn and Paracelsus. Again and again he encountered overt or coded references to that damnably mysterious Invisible College, composed of Illuminated men and women—Secret Chiefs—which allegedly governs all the world behind the scenes; and again and again he asked himself if he dared to believe it.

Sir John dreamed of the meeting with Jones in vivid detail no less than three times before the week passed. In each dream, Jones was dressed as a medieval wizard, with pointed hat and robes bearing the Order of Saint George with strange astrological glyphs, and he always led Sir John up a dark hill toward a crumbling Gothic building of indeterminate character midway between abbey and castle. This eldritch edifice was, of course (as Sir John knew even in the dreams), a blend of various illustrations he
had seen depicting Chapel Perilous of the Grail legend or the Dark Tower to which Childe Roland came. Inside, according to occult lore, was everything he feared; and yet only by passing this test could he achieve the Rosicrucian goals—the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixer of Life, the Medicine of Metals, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness. In each case, he awoke with a start of fright as the door of the Chapel was opened for him and he heard within a humming as of a myriad of monstrous bees.

Once he dreamed of Dr. John Dee himself, court astrologer to Elizabeth, greatest mathematician of his time, constant associate of spirits and angels according to his own claims; and Dee was offering him “the solace berry,” a magical fruit that conferred immortality. “Take ye and eat from the tree Swifty ate,” Dee said, but the fruit smelled of excrement and was foul to the sight and touch and when Sir John tried to refuse it, a second figure, female and shockingly naked but with a cow’s head, appeared beside Dee, saying solemnly, “Ignatz never really injures,” as they were all suddenly standing again at the door of a vast insectoid Chapel Perilous. Sir John awoke in a sweat.

All the legends warned him that only the brave and the pure of heart may survive the journey through Chapel Perilous; and this was hardly encouraging, since like most introspective young men Sir John had much insight into his own fears but woefully little realization of the fears of others, thereby wrongly suspecting himself of being atypically timid and cowardly; while in the purity-of-heart department he knew that he distinctly left a great deal to be desired: there were fantasies that were decidedly unchaste, although he nearly always managed to stop such imaginings before the worst and most nameless details were actually visualized in all their lewd and sinful seductiveness. Even when he was caught up in the bestial tug of these animalistic desires, and the details of certain unmentionable
items formed with total and compulsive clarity in his mind, he did not allow himself to linger voluptuously on the fantasy of actually fondling or intimately manipulating those particular items, desirable and monstrous and unspeakable as they were. If it could in truth be said that he did lapse on occasion, certainly he resisted successfully nearly all of the time such fantasies arose, and yet the guilt of those few, rare, hardly typical lapses did weigh heavily upon his conscience and seemed now to be a distinct bar against such a bicameral creature as himself entering the precincts of Chapel Perilous.

And that was all mythology, anyway: charming to dream about, but one would be mad to get involved with people who believed (or claimed) that they hopped over to Chapel Perilous and back as easily as one might buzz over to the tobacconist….

On Wednesday, Sir John could bear the loneliness of suspenseful indecision no longer. He summoned Dorn, the Babcock gamekeeper, and had a carriage fetched to drive him the three miles to the Greystoke estate, where he paid a casual family visit to his uncle, Viscount Greystoke, a greying but iron-muscled man of seemingly inexhaustible pragmatic wisdom—the richest and least eccentric of all the Babcock-Greystoke families, according to general opinion. After the usual small talk, Sir John finally framed his question.

“Do you believe, sir, that there are secret orders or lodges or fraternities that have survived over the centuries, transmitting certain kinds of occult or mystical knowledge which is normally unavailable to the human mind?”

Old Greystoke pondered for about thirty seconds. “No,” he said finally. “If there were, I would most certainly have heard about it.”

Sir John rode the three miles home in deep thought. Age and Wisdom had spoken, but what was the point of youth if it did not entitle you to disregard Age and Wisdom?
The next morning he arose early and took the train to London. Sir John trusted his own scholarship: such lodges
did
exist, and the only way to test their claims of superior wisdom was to meet with them and find out for oneself what they really had to offer, besides the corrupted Hebraic passwords and absurd hand-grips of other Masonic orders.

There was an American newspaper in the railway carriage: a curiosity in itself, and it was open to a page of comic strips, an art form Sir John had never been able to fathom. He glanced at it idly and found that one sequence involved a malicious mouse named Ignatz who was always throwing bricks at a cat named Krazy. It was totally insane, and worse yet, the cat enjoyed being hit with the bricks, sighing contentedly as each missile bounced off her head, “Li’l dollink, always fetful.” That was evidently some debased American-Jewish dialect for “Little darling, always faithful.” Sir John shuddered. The whole thing was not funny at all; it was a bare-faced exploitation of the perversion named sadism. Or was it masochism? Or was it both? A gloomy omen, in any case….

This was entirely typical of the larval mentations of the domesticated hominids of Terra in those primitive ages. Crude sonic signals produced by the laryngeal muscles made up their speech-units which programmed all cortical cogitation into the grid provided by the local grammar, which they naïvely called logic or common sense. Beneath this typically primate confusion of signals with sources and maps with territories, a great deal of the hominid nervous system was genetically determined, like the closely related chimpanzee nervous system and the more distantly related cow nervous system, and hence operated on autopilot. The programs of territoriality, status hierarchy, pack-bonding, etc., functioned mechanically as Evolutionary Relative Successes since they served well enough for the ordinary mammal in ordinary mammalian affairs. Modes
of status-domination, erotic signaling and rudimentary (subject-predicate) causal “thinking” were imprinted as mechanically as the territorial reflexes of baboons or the mating dances of peacocks. Since
primate behavior only changes under the impact of new technology
(Gilhooley’s First Law), the primitive “Industrial Revolution” already beginning had caused enough shock and confusion to liberate a few minds from mechanical repetition of this imprinted circuitry
(Shock and confusion are the only techniques that loosen imprints in primates:
Gilhooley’s Second Law), and a certain wistful speculative quality had entered the gene pool, leading within less than seventy years to the mutations involved in Space Migration and Life Extension; but of all this young Babcock was unaware. He couldn’t even imagine that in his own lifetime a man would fly the Atlantic.

Sir John arrived in London before noon, and decided to prepare for the meeting with Jones by spending the afternoon researching old Masonic materials in the British Museum.

In an Elizabethan alchemical pamphlet he found, by sheer coincidence, a long allegorical poem that strangely disturbed him, considering that he was bent upon contact with alleged manipulators of occult power. One stanza in particular haunted him as he rode by hansom across town to Simpson’s Café Divan, where he and Jones had agreed to meet. The very clops of the horse’s hooves seemed to carry the refrain:

Don’t believe the human eye
In sunlight or in shade
The puppet show of sight and sense
Is the Devil’s Masquerade

Passing the Savoy Theatre, Sir John saw that the D’Oyly Carte company was again doing
Patience
. He remembered, with some cheer, Bunthorne’s song:

If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep
    for me,
Why what a singularly deep young man this deep
    young man must he!

That mocking jingle was a refreshing breath of skepticism and British common sense, Sir John thought. When he entered Simpson’s, he was prepared to confront the enigmatic Mr. Jones without trepidation.

Mr. George Cecil Jones was stout, amiable and proved to have impeccable taste in wines. He was also reassuringly normal, wore no wizards hat and spoke of his children with great fondness; better still, he was an industrial chemist by profession and not at all the misty-eyed believer type who might be leading Sir John up the garden path into Cloud-Cuckoo Land. You couldn’t help liking and trusting him.

Jones appeared to be about forty, but was free of condescension toward Sir John’s youth; nor was he overtly impressed by Sir John’s title. A plain blunt Englishman with a bedrock of sound sense and decency, Sir John concluded—and yet it did take him a long time to open up even a little about the Invisible College.

“You must understand, Sir John, that these affairs are circled about with ferocious Oaths of Secrecy and dreadful pledges of silence,” Jones confided eventually. “All of that appears quite pointless in this free and enlightened age—pardon my irony—but it is part of the tradition, dating back to the days of the Inquisition, when it was, of course, even more necessary.”

Sir John, with the bluntness of youth, decided to answer this with a somewhat probing question. “Am I to take it, sir, that you are yourself bound by such an Oath?”

“Oh, God and Aunt Agnes,” Jones said, more amused than offended, “one
simply doesn’t
ask that on a first meeting. Consider the patience of the fisherman rather
than the rapacity of the journalist if you would open the door to the Arcanum of Arcana.”

And he proceeded to attack his filet mignon with unabashed vigor, as if that equivocation were not tantamount to an admission. Sir John understood: he was being tested; his exact status on the evolutionary ladder was being estimated.

“Have you read my book on Cabala?” he asked next, trying a more circuitous approach. “Or merely the debate in the
Historical Journal?”

“Oh, I’ve read your book,” Jones said. “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. There is nothing more poignant and gallant, on this planet, than a young man writing passionately about Cabala without any real experience of its mysteries.”

Sir John felt the needleprick in Jones’ words, but answered merely, “At that point, I was not concerned with personal experience, but merely with setting right the historical record.”

“But now,” Jones asked, “you are interested in personal experience?”

“Perhaps,” Sir John said carelessly, feeling Byronic and brave. “Mostly, I am concerned with proving my thesis that such groups have survived over the centuries—proving it so thoroughly that even that blockheaded mule in Edinburgh will have to admit I’m right!”

Jones nodded. “Wishing to prove oneself right is the usual motive for scholarship,” he said mildly. “But this group I mentioned has no interest in setting the historical record straight, or in advertising themselves. Do y’see, Sir John, that they really don’t care what the world at large thinks, or what the pompous asses in the universities think, either? They have entirely different interests.”

BOOK: Masks of the Illuminati
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