photo © Jonathan Zap three random people in paint circle at a national Rainbow gathering
A Mutant Convergence—
How John Major Jenkins, Jonathan Zap and Terence McKenna met during a Weekend of High Strangeness in 1996
© 2009, by John Major Jenkins and Jonathan Zap
Edited by Austin Iredale
In the Spring of 2006, John Major Jenkins and Jonathan Zap were reminded that it had been exactly ten years since they had met through the late visionary genius Terence McKenna during a long, strange weekend in 1996. Both still felt haunted by Terence’s untimely passing, and thought about writing a book about him and how his work related to and influenced theirs, a kind of trialogue with the dead. Then they tentatively decided the book would focus on 2012 and the working title became: “Dialogues at the Edge of 2012 —-Journeying toward the Event Horizon amidst the New Age Carnival and Fundamentalist Doom Sayers.” Jonathan wanted the title to be “Carnival 2012” and aimed to expose all the projections and unworthy intentions swirling around this date. But man proposes, and the muse disposes. What ended up happening is that they each wrote about this long, strange weekend which culminated in an all night tape-recorded conversation in Jonathan’s camper. During the camper conversation they each introduced the strange convergence of elements that became the call to adventure leading them into mutant pathways and the weekend of convergence. And then, about a third of the way into transcription of the camper conversation, the muse suddenly diverted both of them into other projects, and the account of the weekend lay neglected, a curio made of zeros and ones lying on dusty shelves in various hard drives. Jonathan (who wrote this little introduction) rediscovered it in 2008, languishing within the narrow confines of an old thumb drive, and decided it was time to release it into the wild.
It was early May of 1996, and a providential turning point was upon me. Visionary philosopher Terence McKenna (popularly known as a spokesman for psychedelics) was coming to Boulder, Colorado, which was almost my home town, even though I lived a few miles from the outskirts. I guess I should confess that in the year or two before Terence’s arrival I had access to supplies of freshly grown psilocybe cubensis mushrooms. I had ingested them fresh on two occasions in the previous two years. And more recently, I had done a dose that exceeded by far anything else I’d ever experienced. Since age 18 I had always approached drug use — even marijuana smoking — as opportunities for exploring consciousness. Insights dawned, and the total reintegration I experienced while coming down was an incredibly useful liminal zone in which congealed a new synthesis of my Mayan calendar research.
I’ve always emphasized that my work with 2012 was an interdisciplinary synthesis beyond anything expected by mainstream scholars. I believe that true insights into the intention behind and interwoven relationships within the various aspects of Maya time philosophy were hit upon during those years. And because of the “character profile” of the mushroom, I feel my work was blessed much more than if I’d been working with LSD — an artifice of laboratory.
My use of the visionary opening afforded by psilocybin mushrooms brings up the parallel to Terence’s mushroom-induced revelation of 2012 as a temporal end-point in his novelty theory. Could this be explained, as Terence has suggested, simply by the shared use of psilocybin mushrooms? I don’t know, but it is certainly of great interest that, as I showed in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, ceremonial mushroom stones were found near Izapa, the origin place of the 2012 calendar. This indicates that the shaman-astronomers who formulated the 2012 calendar cosmology were availing themselves of the mushroomic vision. Moreover, one carving at Izapa (Stela 6) depicts vision scrolls coming out of the shoulder glands of a Bufo marines toad. Two thousand years ago the shamans of Izapa believed the gland secretions of the sacred toad contain visions. And this is true, since those secretions contain 5 Meo-DMT, a relative of the dimethyl tryptamine that Terence found so effective for inducing hypnagogic visions.
Most of the essays I compiled into Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 were written between early 1995 and late 1996. And each one contained a blazing new revelation about how the Maya encoded the galactic alignment of 2012 into their various institutions. It was a time of great creative synthesis and revelation. Finally meeting Terence in Boulder, was a watershed occurrence during which several lasting friendships were forged and I opened up to new possibilities that impinged on my personal life as well as on my career as an author and teacher.
By 1996 all of Terence’s books had been released, and they provided a feast for any late-twentieth century thinker. The Archaic Revival, True Hallucinations, Food of the Gods, and the reprint of Invisible Landscape were such good examples of travel writing, insightful cosmologizing, philosophical musings, and psychedelic advocacy that nothing will ever appear like it again. Add to that the hundreds of hours of Terence’s talks that are now available on the internet, and we can start to understand just how deeply his early death, in April 2000, is felt. That weekend triggered a concrescence of local consciousness with echoes continuing today, for Jonathan Zap and I met that weekend and have nurtured a friendship and correspondence ever since. Our conversations have taken place in café’s, on mountain tops, in temple-strewn jungles, and in chilly campers.
So, Boulder was primed and ready. Terence would be giving a weekend workshop at the Gold Lake mountain Resort in the mountains west of Boulder. But, first, he’d be opening his visit with a Friday night talk at the Flatirons theatre on the Hill, near the University. I spread the word and several of my friends and I converged on the theatre as darkness fell. Terence gave his spiel and many urgent questions danced around in my head. I wondered whether Terence had fully imbibed and grokked my research. I wondered if he thought the galactic alignment to be important. Since Terence had never utilized or elaborated upon the alignment in his Time Wave model, how was it related?
After his talk people began asking questions. One earnest audience member began his question by framing it with a very cogent introduction. His voice so rang with an understanding of Terence’s work and an intellectual rigor that I had to turn around to get a look at him. It was Jonathan Zap, a man who I would soon learn blended intuition and intellect with his own unique observations on culture, collective unconscious, media, Jungian psychology, and dream interpretation. I took note of him and was grateful when I met him the next day, as we were both attending the weekend workshop.
I finally stood and asked my question. I did not introduce myself and simply asked—somewhat leadingly, I suppose—about the Mayan cosmology and how Terence saw it reflected in his Time Wave model. A tense moment of silence passed as Terence took a rare pause. Then he asked, “Are you John Major Jenkins?” Being shy by nature I was somewhat surprised, as if my hidden identity had been revealed, and was shocked that Terence would even hazard a guess that the guy who’d been sending him booklets and Xeroxed essays might appear before him in Boulder. “Yes,” I replied, and it sounded so incongruous, perhaps like an admission of guilt, that people chuckled. Then Terence proceeded to say something about my books, that I lived in Boulder and people should talk to me for more on 2012 from the Mayan perspective.
Afterward my friends commented that they felt it was a great compliment to have been recognized by Terence. I certainly thought so, and it was a simple kind of validation and encouragement that gave me the confidence to work harder to get my new discoveries written up and published. It was only a year later that I was signing the contract for Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 with Bear & Company, my magnum opus that I asked Terence to write the introduction for. That deal set the stage for my next three books, in 1998, 2002, and 2004. I can’t say that my dealings with Bear & Company have been all that satisfactory, and perhaps I should have heeded a warning that Terence gave me over lunch that weekend.
On Sunday afternoon he invited me to join him and his small group in the lunchroom of the mountain resort. We talked about various things, mostly small talk, which Terence doesn’t really like. We got around to my work and the likelihood of it ever getting a fair hearing. Terence asked me what kind of credentials I had. Trying to be clever, I said something like “Psilocybin U,” but Terence wasn’t moved (I completed one semester of college). He was eating quickly and I was surprised at how wall-eyed he seemed up close—intense and somewhat enigmatic in how he phrased things, but really very personable. He said, “Well, you’ll have to get someone at a university to fall in love with you if you want to get published.” I said I thought that I might have a chance with a trade publisher like Bear & Company. He harrumphed and exclaimed, “Barbara Clow? You better be careful with the squirrels on that side of the park!” I later learned he had had a payment disagreement with Bear & Company over his Trialogues book.
I was bemused and disarmed at the tenor of our unfolding conversation. I kept it light. For personal reasons I was not a pot smoker (at the time) and might have been self-consciously insecure that an offer to toke might come up and I would have to decline. As it turned out, Terence was called away for an urgent phone message. That call involved a debacle happening on the University of California campus where he was scheduled to speak in a few days. It seemed that some campus goon was invoking an old law — that illegal subjects (i.e., drugs) could not be discussed at “private” meetings on campus property. Terence actually left Boulder a day earlier than planned, canceling an interview with Duncan Campbell at KGNU, in order to deal with his threatened event. I heard that the event went forward as planned, but that gives us a sense of how much Terence was constantly in the trenches with the thought police.
The weekend at Gold Lake Mountain Resort went well. I got to meet Robert Venosa and his wife Martina Hoffman. There were many stimulating conversations among audience members after hours. Terence was a vector for cutting-edge thinkers, and we should recall how different the world was ten years ago. That may sound strange, but think about it. If we thought things were draconian then, look around us now. I don’t think Terence would be able to stay out of prison today if he had the same gung ho advocacy approach. Terence died before the dot-com bust, the Enron scandal, before 9-11 and the election of the most heinous and deceptive presidential administration this country has ever known. Consciousness? People today are just trying to stay above water.
In this kind of thick and miasmic environment of the collective consciousness, Jonathan Zap interprets dreams and intimations of the 2012 mystery. I’ve done many I Ching readings with him; he features as a character in two of my novels; his Zaporacle.com web site is unlike anything else going on out there in the blogosphere. His assessments of my own difficulties and dilemmas with other 2012 authors have always been psychologically astute and on target. Our discussions, in person and via email, have since 1996 developed a pace and a depth of exploration that we thought should be made available to the general public. And so we frame our launch into several cutting-edge topics, front and center of which must be 2012, by paying homage to the man whose event brought us together in the first place. In some way, perhaps, we are in a continuing trialogue with him.
Terence McKenna, psychopomp of the psychedelic underworld’s undying astral influence, Neoplatonic shamanic netsurfer for nanotechnological gnosis, Irish wisdom bard and word-weaving wizard of hyperdimensional hysterics—dream on!
Ten years have passed. 2012 looms closer with every breath. It is time to take up the banner and spread the good news: the elves are coming, the elves are coming!
Zap, April 3, 2006:
I first encountered John Major Jenkins in the midst of a zone of high strangeness during an intense year of travels and synchronistic events. It was eleven months since I had left my well-paying tenured teaching job and began a phase of journeying in my 18’ RV, writing and exploring. I had just returned from the Navajo reservation at Big Mountain, Arizona where I had been doing volunteer agricultural work supporting the Navajo who were battling to keep their land from the encroachment of the Peabody Coal Company. I lived with some close friends in a hogan with the family of a Navajo medicine man on a high desert mesa. During the day we worked on the land under the blazing sun and at night we had amazing views of Comet Hyakutake, the brightest comet in hundreds of years, which just happened to be at its closest point to earth while we were out in the high desert night with an extreme minimum of artificial illumination. At night some of our Navajo friends took us out on sometimes dangerous adventures into the res, or told us stories about Skinwalkers and Navajo medicine man intrigue while we hung out in the hogan.
During one day as we laid out irrigation drip lines under the blazing hot sun the word “optical” began to recur strangely in my mind with a regular periodicity. With the words came images and thought forms at the edge of comprehension. The recurrence of this word continued for years and only in the last year, with my work on A Logos Beheld , did I really begin to unravel the many layers of meaning of this strange occurrence. On the morning of May 31st, 1996 (the date easy for me to book mark because it happened to be the exact same time that a dying Timothy Leary was having himself decapitated and his head cryogenically frozen) just a few days after meeting John, I had a life-changing morning of visions and insights which led to writing The Glorified Body—-Metamorphosis of The Body and the Crisis Phase of Human Evolution and which forever altered my view on many subjects. (Some more detail on this year of high strangeness in my most autobiographical essay, The Path of the Numinous—-Living and Working with the Creative Muse).
In the midst of all this strange intensity, in May of 1996, I was sitting in an auditorium on a Friday evening in Boulder, Colorado listening to an inspired talk by the late visionary genius Terence McKenna. Terence had arranged a tour to occur shortly after the first three months of 1996 when his fractal time wave system called “ Time Wave 2000 ” predicted an intense descent into “ novelty .” The prediction, however, seemed to be a failure, the whole year had been a heightened zone of novelty for me, but collectively the only really remarkable event of that three month period was Comet Hyakutake. Although I have never been a believer in predictive time lines (a frequent dialogue subject between me and John) Terence was such a genius on so many other subjects that he got my willing suspension of disbelief, and I waited for the first three months of 1996 with heightened expectation. It was also through Terence that I had first encountered the 2012 date, and mention of the Mayan Long Count calendar.
Sometime in the Spring of 1994 (I think) a synchronicity occurred that caused me to take Terence’s time theories seriously. I had just met Terence for the first time in lower Manhattan, and was reading a newly reprinted edition of True Hallucinations—- the book he wrote with his brother Dennis about their adventures in the Amazon in the early Seventies. I was reading the book in the office of my chiropractor and my concentration was being disrupted by some annoyingly loud social small talkers (what I sometimes call “sqwauckers” ). I told the receptionist that I was going out to my car, parked just outside the front door of the office, to read in seclusion, and asked if she could open the door to let me know when it was my turn.
Reading in my car, I had just gotten to Terence’s first encounter with the 2012 date, which also (while I was reading) was my first encounter with the date. Terence and Dennis were in the Amazon, and somehow the revelation of this date was related to an eclipse. I was absorbed in what I was reading, but the surface of the book seemed to be growing dim, I looked through the windshield of my car and saw that the sky had gotten unbelievably dark as if the mother of all thunderstorms had suddenly swept in. At that point my chiropractor came out to get me and he told me that I was witnessing a major eclipse! Then my chiropractor told me that he was glad I had asked someone to come and get me because he had forgotten about the eclipse and this was going to be the most complete one until 2012! That information turned out to be wrong, but it was absolutely amazing that he told me that given what I had just read. This was the strange and shocking manner in which I first encountered the 2012 end date.
But there is a trickster aspect to synchronicities and revelations from the unconscious, and as Terence was speaking before the auditorium, and attempting to show that the first three months of 1996 really had been a zone of heightened synchronicity, I began to notice that lots of sloppy fudge factors had crept into his thinking on this particular subject, and that his definition of novelty, and how he located it in time, was being shifted here and there to be more convenient to the predictions of Time Wave 2000. For example, the beginning of the first Gulf War was supposed to be a zone of novelty, but before the war (in a taped workshop at Omega Institute I had listened to) Terence pointed out how it paralleled the birth of Mohammed, so that it looked pretty bad for our side. But now that Desert Storm had come and gone, he pointed to it as a zone of heightened novelty and said the novelty was about increased density of interconnectedness, cooperation and communication, this whole complex coalition working together, etc. Sometimes he located novelty at the birth of some historic person, at other times he conveniently located the novelty to correspond with when some historic person, later in their adult life or even after their death, began to have an effect on the collective. After his talk there was a chance for some Q&A, and I thought it would be too undiplomatic to ask about the Gulf War inconsistency, or the inconsistent Time Wave version of the great man theory of history, so I asked a different question, one that I thought might get him thinking about his fudge factors,
“Terence, you seem to be justifying the novelty of this three month period based on the comet, new discoveries in nano-technology, and various events reported on in the media and apparent to the collective. But what if the novelty were something that began in a completely latent form during this time—perhaps a certain number of babies were born during this three month period who have a far higher degree of endogenous DMT in their brain chemistry than has ever occurred before, but the novelty-generating difference in their consciousness won’t be apparent till much later?”
I don’t remember exactly how Terence responded, but I do remember that the next questioner was a tall young man with a beard who asked a very articulate and detailed question about Terence’s view of the Mayan Long Count and 2012. Instead of responding directly to the question Terence asked,
“Are you John Major Jenkins?”
Except that Terence had lapsed into one of his time-dilating moments of weirdly elongating his vowels so that it was more like,
“Aaarre Youuu Joohhn Maaajooor Jeeenkiiins?”
John responded with the only answer he could under such circumstances,
The audience laughed, it was a real moment of some sort, and it was clear there was some history between these two, but apparently they had never met in the 3D.
The next morning I was heading up Sunshine Canyon in my 18’ RV to attend a weekend workshop Terence was conducting at the Colorado Mountain Ranch— a turn of the century log lodge at 8500’ elevation just above Boulder and near the old mining town—Gold Hill. The ranch was surrounded by wildflower meadows, pine and aspen forests and had spectacular views of the Rocky Mountain Front Range.
There were only about forty people attending the workshop, and I had a chance to show the infinite respect I had for Terence as a visionary genius in the way that I am mostly likely to express love and respect—which is to engage the beloved person in aggressive Socratic Dialogue. I felt that Terence’s work on so many subjects was incredibly valuable, but that Time Wave 2000 as a predictive tool was his area of unproductive obsession, the bête noir that haunted and distracted him. On the other hand, I agreed with him on the underlying concepts. I thought his insight into the I Ching as a map of the fluctuations of habit and novelty through time was amazing, but I found his ways of proving the predictive value of Time Wave 2000 to be something less than amazing. During the morning Q&A I tried, straining my limited capacity for diplomatic restraint, to get him to confront the fudge factors in his thinking about novelty and how he located it in time. Terence responded with gracious open-mindedness and just before a break made more of an admission than I had even hoped for and said,
“You’re right, novelty is a slippery concept.”
Someone approached me during the break, and I recognized that this was John Major Jenkins, the questioner Terence had identified by name the night before. John told me how much he liked my line of inquiry, and related some of key ways that his view of the Mayan end date differed from Terence’s. We talked through the break and realized we had only scratched the surface of what we wanted to talk about. Since we had also discovered that we lived only a few miles from each other in Colorado (my RV orbited around Boulder, John lived above a garage in nearby Louisville), we agreed that we would have to find time to talk some more soon.
Later in the afternoon, I was approached by someone else who really intrigued me, David Perkins, a pioneering researcher into cattle mutilations, ufology and the paranormal. David graduated from Yale in 1968 and is a writer/journalist paranormal investigator who has authored two books on the cattle mutilation phenomenon— Altered Steaks and Mute Testimony. I had been researching ufology since I was ten years old, and had only three months before completed my first book, THE CAPSULE OF INTENTIONALITY, which included a section on the UFO phenomena (a more up-t0-date treatment of the topic can be found in my 2012 book, Crossing the Event Horizon—The Singularity Archetype and Human Metamorphosis). David was the first professional ufologist I had ever had a chance to talk to at length, and he seemed equally intrigued by my point of view on the subject. After the afternoon session, we talked in the lodge and David offered to buy me dinner and we kept talking. I was somewhat surprised to see him order steak for dinner which he consumed while telling me in graphic detail about cattle mutilations. We kept talking until the lodge closed, and David invited me back to his room for a drink and to show me “something amazing.”
There is no way, for me at least, to resist a paranormal investigator who says they have “something amazing” to show. We entered David’s room and, after pouring each of us a shot of Tequila, my expectations intensified as David began spinning the combination dials of a brushed aluminum Zero Halliburton briefcase. Was this a cryogenically frozen sample of a cattle mutilation? A piece of a downed saucer? David snapped open the locks and handed me several sheets of 35 mm color slides stored in sheets of transparent plastic. I held them up to the light and was staggered by what I saw. Images of galaxies and nebulae that were light years better than any I had ever seen before, cosmic forms that seemed alive, organismic. But most shocking of all was the Hour Glass Nebulae MyCn18, where a giant green eye seemed to peer out of fiery orange rings of plasma.
“I have a friend at NASA,” David narrated, “who got me some advance images from the Hubble.”
These images have now become ubiquitous, like the Apollo images of the earth from the moon, but the first moment of seeing them was numinous and paradigm-shifting.
“The cattle mutilation material is so dark,” David continued, “so now I end my lectures with music and these slides to leave people with a sense of awe about this amazing universe we live in.”
I put down the transparencies and conjured the question that would get me the most possible information.
“So what led you into the cattle mutilation subject?”
“The subject came to me, quite literally.” David responded. “It was the late Sixties, and I was living in a hippie commune. Just outside of the commune there was a cattle mutilation, and a trail of blood that led right up to our entrance, which brought the sheriff to the front door.” I had trouble visualizing David as a hippie. The David before me now was a very tall man in a well-tailored grey business suit, and his manners were gentlemanly, his style highly professional.
David proceeded to narrate the strangest moments of his quarter century of field investigation. In one of the more memorable stories, David went to a town to investigate a mutilation and arranged a meeting with the local vet whom he hoped would cooperate with his investigation. The vet dismissed David and his investigation with a line he had often heard before,
“These are nothing more than misidentified predator kills.”
The next day David was walking down the street and the same vet approached him, his face ashen,
“You won’t believe this.” the vet told the paranormal investigator.
He took David to where a pregnant cow had been mutilated exposing the amniotic sack. The sack was unpunctured, but inside of it were calf fetuses which had been intricately mutilated.
Much later in the evening, I began to question David about the connections between the mutilation phenomenon and human consciousness and attention. For the last few years my ufology researches were most influenced by Jacque Vallé, and I was adapting his approach at the moment. David acknowledged this, and talked about what he called the “ self-reflexive ” nature of the phenomenon, where attention seemed to beckon it forward. One night he was staking out a field where a mutilation had recently occurred, he was looking at a cow, he looked away for a few moments, and when he looked back it was lying there mutilated.
It was late in the evening now, one or two o’clock in the morning, and having absorbed hours of cattle mutilation talk, my unconscious had suddenly begun to coalesce this information into an encompassing theory that linked cattle mutilations, crop circles and many anomalous aspects of ufology. What if these phenomena were crafted to be intriguing, anomalous, inexplicable— designed like Zen koans to defy rational comprehension, to awaken us to the realization that, as Terence so frequently quoted J.B.S. Haldane, “Reality is not only stranger than you think; it is stranger than you can think? I was having one of those 25-40 minute periods of densely packed, cascading intuitions, which were so a part of the strange year I had been having. The flow of intuition had just come into comprehensible form, and I was about to verbalize them to David when, with a diabolical precision of timing, a knock came at the door. This was the most frustrating moment of conversation interuptus of my entire life. Who could be knocking on his door at this hour of the night? Had the Feds finally caught up with Terence? God only knew what sorts of scheduled entheogens might be floating around a McKenna workshop.
David opened the door, and two middle-aged women, unknown to either of us, swept into the room and made it very clear that they were in an entheogen-enhanced party/adventure mode and intent on hitting on us. One was obviously the leader, a woman with a highly neurotic New Age dominatrix vibe—she wore gigantically oversized Egyptian jewelry, reeked of exotic essential oils, and had artificial eyelashes only a millimeter short of Tammy Faye Baker’s. The other woman appeared to be more of a cipher who was following in the wake of this New Age Cleopatra type. With the surety of instinct that leads a cat to always jump on the lap of the one feline-phobe in the room, the two women, like hemispheres of the same mind, immediately sat down on either side of me on the edge of the bed were I had been sitting, almost squeezing me between them. Possibly enhanced by entheogens, their ability to pick up nonverbal cuing must have told them that I was far more intrigued and attracted by cattle mutilations, than their sudden and uninvited presence. But I also knew that if a boundary was going to be set that could rescue our conversation, it would have to come from David— it was his room after all. I looked at him to read his attitude, and could see that he was somewhat sheepishly defaulting into a gentlemanly accommodating mode, and the hope of verbalizing my new intuitions was draining out of me, like blood caught in an alien tractor beam departing a mutilated cow. In the next moment, Cleopatra earned a kind of respect from me by delivering one of the stranger and more memorable lines I have ever heard. She put her hand on my knee, and as if searching the depths of my soul with her Tammy Faye Baker/ entheogen-dialated, pseudo-Egyptian eyes, said with the theatrical emphasis of an oracular pronouncement, “Like a rose between two thorns.” I had trouble picturing myself as the rose, though this seemed to be the intent of the simile, but no trouble whatsoever experiencing them as the two thorns, especially with the invasion of my physical space, to which, having grown up in the Bronx, I did not take kindly, and I responded rather astringently,
“Okayyy…….I’m not sure how to respond to that. But it’s been a very long day and I need to get some rest.” I stood up, wished them all a good evening, and made my escape. Once I left and was walking out under the brilliant stars, the lights of Denver twinkling in the distance, I began to feel horribly guilty for abandoning David to what might have been the McKenna workshop equivalent of a night time attack by a couple of lesser Ring Wraiths. The next morning David looked exhausted, and I felt too guilty to ask him what had transpired. But now that I reflect on it, two months shy of ten years later, the dialogues with John and this book might never have happened if not for the intrusion of those two strange women. The temporal momentum in play would otherwise have had me talking to David all night, and that would have cost me the sleep that I absolutely needed to be able to pull an all-nighter Sunday evening.
The workshop ended in the late afternoon, and most people immediately bolted for their cars, many of them having long drives ahead of them. John and I had been talking, and he lived only fifteen minutes from the bottom of Sunshine Canyon and I lived wherever I parked my RV, which was in a great spot right now. The silence of the mountain overlook was temporarily disrupted by the sound of cars pulling out, but as we kept talking the place emptied out, and soon we seemed to have the whole overlook to ourselves. John had brought a bag of yerba maté with him, a beverage he had acquired a taste for in his many travels south of the border, but it was entirely unfamiliar to me (though now I begin every morning with maté), and we went into my RV to brew some. I pulled out my tape recorder and asked John if I could record our conversation.
I was in one of my tape-journaling phases, these phases come and go, but in storage I have whole suitcases filled with cassette tapes that go back to when I was fourteen years old. When I can get permission I love to tape intense conversation, and had been regretting all day that I hadn’t recorded the cattle mutilation dialogue with David. John assented, and after pouring the yerba maté, a spectacular Rocky Mountain sunset framed by RV windows all around us, I turned on the tape recorder and asked John a version of the question that had worked so well with David,
(what follows is an edited version of the conversation)
“So what got you into investigating the Maya?”
“Funny you should ask.” mused John, sipping on Yerba Maté, “I’ve been thinking about that recently, and just last week I spent a long evening writing about that in my journal. Looking into it I realized that the net of connections go far back into my childhood…
My childhood friend, Joe Connolly, was an Irish kid with an attitude. He and I were somehow fated to be friends, or enemies. Or both. The relationship was an alternating power struggle and hierarchical, as kids will seek out and establish, with Joe clearly my superior. At least, in the beginning. He knew weird words like “vulva” and “iridescent”; he ran faster and punched harder. And we were both dislocated latch-key kids, the neglected detritus of divorced “me-decade” parents. We became friends, and by second grade had done sleep-overs at each other’s houses, sometimes with other kids in the summer.
Joe lived with his Dad in a small house, three blocks away. I discovered that Joe’s Dad was cool. He rode a recumbent bicycle regularly, had long hair, and read books. Joe was tall, lean, with a broad Irish forehead and dark hair and eyes. He was to me like a psychopomp, an initiator into mysteries—years later he introduced me to marijuana and LSD. Much later, long after Joe left my life, my friendship with Terence McKenna seemed like an echo of my relationship with Joe, and seemed also to pick up on the initiatory function —Terence was a guide, an example, a trail blazer, a friend, someone two steps ahead of you but willing to point the way. Joe’s and Terence’s faces blend together in my memory.
One warm summer afternoon I had a conversation with Joe on my front porch that foreshadowed my life-work—my deep involvement as an adult with Mayan cosmology, eschatology, and end-date 2012. I was 12 years old. It was July 1976, right after the crazy Bicentennial fireworks and parade in Elmhurst. The Bicentennial meant 200 years had passed—time must have been on our minds, for we talked about deep time, the concept of a millennium, and millions of years passing since the dinosaurs. The year 2000 AD seemed to loom large for us, but also seemed a long way off. What would we be doing? It was hard to imagine that at age 12.
Joe said his Dad was reading a book about Indians down in Mexico. They were astronomers and had a calendar that was going to end—in the year 2011! “December 24, 2011,” Joe said, and that date rang like a beckoning mystery. I chewed on it. What could it mean? Would time just stop, would the world blow up? I connected the feeling with an old sci-fi silent movie I’d seen on T.V., called, I think, “The Star.” It was from the 1920s, Keystone Cop-ish, black and white, and the world was coming to an end. A star or planet was moving closer to earth, causing gravity to be nullified. Everyone and everything on earth started getting pulled upward—cars, people, buildings, and bridges flew up through space, attracted by the strong pull of the alien body. It was an archetype of the Great Attractor, and I’d still like to track that movie down; my memory of it is numinous and dream-like.
Later that day Joe and I walked over to his house to get baseball gear. His Dad, Jim, was there, and I wanted to see the book (I thought maybe Joe was just making up a story). But there it was, a big hardback with a dark blue dust jacket. I didn’t fully register or remember the author or the title, but ten years later I had a deep feeling of recognition when I found Frank Waters’ book, Mexico Mystique. Yes, that was it. (Waters’ 1975 book used an erroneous calculation and thus called the end date December 24, 2011, but in truth it is December 21, 2012.) A whole chain of thoughts seemed to spring from that day with Joe, and something was triggered in my own cognitive development. The idea of “philosophy” was planted, the realm of ideas and thought, ancient cultures and history. And yes, a specific seed-thought was planted, that an Indian calendar from Mexico was going to end in my lifetime.
In another strange confirmation that deeper synchronicities and some kind of providence for my life was astir, a few years ago I found in one of my earliest notebooks a sci-fi story I wrote when I was twelve or thirteen. It was a time travel end-of-world piece that launched off from the year 2013!
The main character tells the story of his effort to escape the bomb-filled world of 2013 AD by developing a computer-guided machine to cryogenically freeze himself until a later date. With the A-bombs of the apocalypse falling, he escapes into his laboratory, 400 feet down through a cave, and sets his freezer/time machine to wake him up 3,000 years down the road: 5013. (That should give the earth enough time to recover). However, as he hits the button and the freezer gas seeps into his sturdy industrial strength tube/coffin, an earth-shaking blast upsets the computer equipment and his mind crystallizes in suspended animation as he sees the target wake-up date blinking: “Computer Malfunction! Computer Malfunction!”
In a flash he is awakening, for time ceases for those so suspended. He is surprised to discover the year is 9,000,000 AD! He encounters colonizers from Mars who are actually humanity’s descendants, and they take him away to the mutual benefit of all involved. The most bizarre aspect of this sci-fi story is the use of the departure date of 2013 — November 11, 2013 in the story — and its association with a world shattering or life-ending event. In addition, the implication is that 2013 commences some form of time travel. End of time, death, freezing/suspension. It’s interesting that each of the month-day-year place values is off from the 12-21-2012 Maya end-date by 1 digit each—
John sketched the numbers out in one of his ever present spiral notebooks and I took advantage of the pause to add a comment,
“I’m fascinated with the connection to sci-fi stories, because those were some of the numinous trigger events of my childhood as well, sci-fi stories and movies I encountered and a few that I wrote. I have come to realize that science fiction is one of the key areas where the mutating mythology of our time is being expressed.” John passed me his notebook so I could look at the numbers. “A fascinating synchronicity. I have found that some people seem called to a certain path from earliest childhood, and this is enough evidence to convince me at least that this was the case for you.”
“Oh, and I should mention another event that occurred in 1976.” John continued. “Later that summer I went out to my uncle’s campground in Colorado. Terence was born and raised in Paonia, Colorado, and by 1985 I had relocated to Boulder, Colorado. At the campground I helped empty garbage and clean washrooms. An old hippie storyteller was staying for the summer in his run down trailer. At night he kept a fire and people would gather, drinking beer and telling stories. He had some kind of ancient wisdom thing running through his veins. He called me over once, in the heat of a mid-afternoon, and said he had a book for me. It was Tony Shearer’s Beneath the Moon and Under the Sun, published, like Waters’ Mexico Mystique, in 1975. This was a book that I didn’t grok the importance of until years later. But it stayed on my bookshelf and was ready when I was. Shearer was a storyteller, had lived in Mexico, and was the first to present the Mesoamerican calendar as a sacred path or wisdom teaching, valid for humanity today. He also originated the August 16, 1987 date that was later appropriated by José Arguelles for Harmonic Convergence.
These early events transpired in 1976. Fast forward ten years, to 1986. It was this year that I decided to go to Mexico. But I had already had a certain feeling that I would soon go there, to visit the Maya, a year earlier, in February 1985. I was traveling around in my ’69 Dodge van, experiencing a deepening spiritual awakening as I meditated and fasted, doing yoga in my van. The whole thing culminated in a vision in the Appalachicola National Forest in Florida. The vision itself involved the boon-bestowing goddess, the Earth Spirit who answered my cry to serve a higher purpose. Within a week I became friends with a guy in Gainesville, named Evan, who told me of his recent visit to Yucatan. I found a book on the ruins of Quintano Roo and was captivated; I knew that I would very soon have to go.
In Boulder later that year, I settled down in a $110-a-month basement room near the University. I took a night job at a factory and started saving money. I was able to take a long weekend off in June of ’86 to ride my $600 motorcycle to the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado, onward to Bandelier National monument near Taos, and then a night in Santa Fe. I was back in time for my Sunday night shift. That summer I read Frank Waters’ Masked Gods and Book of the Hopi, but I don’t think I really devoured Mexico Mystique until 1988, when I started writing Journey to the Mayan Underworld. When I bailed from Colorado and rode my motorcycle back to Chicago in October, my plan was set: I’d fly one-way to Mexico City as soon as possible. I stayed at my Dad’s house for month, and worked a few hours in his factory. I had my “red-eye” plane ticket and $1000, and left on December 6th, 1986. The trip lasted 3 ½ months and I traveled overland from Mexico City to Oaxaca, Zipolite beach, San Cristobal de las Casas, Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Livingston, Tikal, Belize, sites in Yucatan, and finally Palenque. Then I continued overland homeward through northern Mexico to Texas and, hitchhiking through Louisiana, I ended up jailed in New Orleans for a week. But that’s another story.
That first trip introduced me to the Mayan universe, and I started doing research. One of the first books that meant a lot to me was Barbara Tedlock’s Time and the Highland Maya (1982). This book, fortunately, introduced me to the reality of an authentic calendar tradition surviving in Guatemala. Then, of course, Mexico Mystique loomed large. I’d read Invisible Landscape by the McKenna brothers soon after arriving in Boulder, in late 1985. So thought-seeds had been planted about precession, the Galactic Center, and 2012. Somewhere along the line I read Tony Shearer’s work, but had a distinct feeling that I should avail myself of more rigorous, scholarly studies. I’ve since come to respect Shearer’s pioneering work as a poet, visionary, and storyteller, all the more needful of acknowledgment considering that Arguelles stole his thunder. Although I was quite taken by Arguelles’s books Earth Ascending, Mandala, and The Transformative Vision, I instinctively recoiled at Mayan Factor (1987). It seemed oddly hollow, distinctly … twisted. I didn’t really get what the attraction was. By the way, when Harmonic Convergence happened (August 16-17, 1987) I was in Chicago, at a Peace and Music Festival organized by my brother Bill. I remember meeting someone who told me of the HC events, but although I’d already been to Mayaland, it didn’t register as something I needed to join. Later I did quite a lot of research into Arguelles and Dreamspell, and received inside stories from his circle that revealed a lot of what was going on there.
So, 1986 was a critical year. Five years later, 1991, was a minor landmark, as I self-published (at Kinkos) my second book, Mirror in the Sky, and began the research which became Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (1992/1994). I also made contact with Terence McKenna that year. I’d read some interview with him, maybe in Magical Blend magazine. Then I saw his name and address on an I Ching newsletter I belonged to, so I sent him a letter. I shared some of my thoughts about the I Ching, the genetic code, and the 260-day calendar. He wrote back in a cordial tone and included a Xerox copy of his article on Novelty theory he had written for ReVision magazine. We exchanged occasional letters for the next several years, until the Internet got going.
In the summer of 1992 I attended a Friday night talk he gave in Boulder, but couldn’t afford the weekend event. I remember standing in a circle of people around him, asking questions. There was a buzz in the room and I really appreciated how he would take on difficult topics. I didn’t introduce myself. In 1993 an exchange of letters with him helped me formulate my thoughts about the possibility of 2012 being related to the alignment that Terence mentioned in his book. I liked his idea of time speeding up, spinning more quickly around a central axis. I also nurtured a quite extensive correspondence with Peter Meyer, the programmer who developed the software for TimeWave Zero. Peter had developed Mayan Calendrics date-correlation software, which was enormously helpful to my research as I could run it on the proto-computers at the University (remember, this was 1991-3). He graciously added a complimentary paragraph about my book Tzolkin to the TimeWave Zero software manual.
My research progressed and a major clue came from an interview I read, in Parabola Magazine (“Crossroads,” August 1993), with Mayan ethnographers Dennis Tedlock and Barbara Tedlock. They said “Maya creation happened at the Crossroads.” I realized, from reading the end notes to Dennis’s translation of the Mayan Creation Myth (The Popol Vuh), that “the crossroads” was the cross formed by the Milky Way and the ecliptic that targeted the Galactic Center. Also, the nearby Dark Rift in the Milky Way was a key player in the Creation myth. All of this, combined with a good dose of Linda Schele and David Friedel’s Forest of Kings (1991), catalyzed an intuitive synthesis for me. The breakthrough piece I wrote, in May 1994, was published in the December ’94 issue of Mountain Astrologer magazine. Terence offered to post it on his web site, but he had a problem and said, in a snail mail, to call him. We had a brief phone conversation about Ascii text conversion for the file; it was hurried and somewhat strange. The article was uploaded sometime in mid-1995, and it was quite a feeling to have something out there, on the new internet, for the whole world to see. It is still there. By late last year I launched my own web site and sent Terence a booklet I put together entitled, The Center of Mayan Time and various other essays and writings. It is just in this last year that I have made a connection with far reaching implications—-the Mayan cosmology and calendar is based on a 26,000 year cycle of galactic alignment.
So that’s an approximation of my story. But I’d like to turn the tables. What got you started in the strange and anomalous?” inquired John.
“What got me started? I would have to say paranormal experiences, which began at the earliest age. The experiences were not all of a particular type, they were all quite different and usually not repeated, but there were recurrent themes. When I was about three or four years old ancestors came and spoke to me during the dreamtime, telling me about my life path. I knew this was not a dream and I woke up my parents to tell them, recited a couple of Hebrew prayers they taught me which I had not been exposed to in the waking life.
One of the most recurrent themes was and is the fateful encounter with what I now call ‘ mutants’.”
“What do you mean by mutants?” asked John.
“Well, I’ve never defined it too precisely, and I have never come up with an entirely satisfactory name. For many people, ‘ mutant ’ has negative connotations and associations. They think of two-headed chickens and weird deformities, people exposed to radiation and so forth. What I mean are people who don’t fit the standard molds, those who are mutating or metamorphosing I guess would be the better gerund, and on a more subjective level of perception they are people who have a certain parapsychological radiance, people who somehow light up, in my perception at least, as having an uncanny glow about them. Terence is a great example, if I were to create a dictionary entry for mutant, as I use the term, Terence could be the illustration. His voice is so mutant-like, and depending on how rested he is, so are his eyes. His mind, the content of what he says, and what also makes him an excellent example is that he has that uncanny glow while being middle-aged.
“Why is his age important?” asked John.
“Because, in general, the young have more of a glow, more bio-energetic vitality as a sector of the population, so if a young person has a glow there is more of a chance of a false positive. When an older person has the glow, then you can be far more sure they are mutant. And maybe ‘false postive’ isn’t the right term. Usually it means that there are mutant qualities there in potentia, but then they get lost, burned out. As a school teacher for fourteen years I saw that happen all the time. Many people start out with that parapsychological radiance, I’m trying hard not to say ‘ aura ’ because it has such a New Agey sound to it, but whatever you call it, it will tend to get burned out when most potential mutants are fairly young. You know that Pink Floyd song about Sid Barrett, Shine on you Crazy Diamond ?
“ Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun…
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.”
“I guess Sid was a spectacular burn out.” said John.
“Exactly, burn out, the light burns out, he shone like the sun, but now he’s like a black hole.”
“So what makes the mutants burn out?”
“Well, in Sid’s case it sounds like he fried his brain on way too much acid. So that’s a good cautionary example for those who listen to Terence superficially, and think he is just a cheer leader for psychedelics and the heroic dose. Lots of people hear and remember that part, but don’t hear the parts where he says that the people doing hallucinogens should be a specialized caste, almost like a priesthood of psychedelic test pilots who approach experimentation with seriousness and precision, getting the setting and mental set just right, as Terence also emphasizes. Recreational drug use, especially of alcohol and white powder drugs, but even habitual weed smoking, depotentiates people, burns them out, is more about making them “comfortably numb” in the words of Pink Floyd, or uncomfortably numb, not, as Terence puts it, “Being their own Magellan in the privacy of their own homes.” Terence often speaks in a way that seems to generalize from the particularities of his own experiences with psychedelics as if everyone were going to experience that. Once I heard him acknowledge that, but I wish he would do it more often. Sometimes I think he forgets, or out of modesty doesn’t acknowledge, that the amazing experiences he had wasn’t just because he took mushrooms, wasn’t because he took five dried grams in silent darkness, but was largely due to being a visionary genius taking five dried grams in silent darkness.
People, in general, who approach the unconscious without a serious moral purpose, as Jung has pointed out, are like people taking a really casual approach to deep sea diving, they are likely never to surface, or to metaphorically emerge with a bad case of the bends, they end up fried in other words, and we see this all the time. Typically, they dive down there, get exposed to archetypal material and identify with it, become enormously inflated, think they are the only one to have had such a vision, and now they become the wing nut messiahs, proselytizing to anyone who will listen. And it doesn’t have to be psychedelics, of course, that brings them into ill considered immersion in the unconscious. It could be occult studies foolishly conducted without an inner skeptic or moral compass. You run into this type so often in the New Age and amongst some of the neo-hippie circles. Their minds are an impossible mess where every urban legend about anything, no matter how garbled and ridiculous, is retained as fact, as a part even of their own hopelessly jumbled ersatz religion, and if you’re willing to listen they will pour out a long monologue of this type of material, which they assume that you too will accept with perfect credulity because you are known as a paranormal researcher, or someone who explores the esoteric.”
“You’re preaching to the choir on that one.”
“Yeah, I can only imagine what you must run into given your work on Mayan prophecy and the 2012 date. But, this isn’t the only way mutants burn out. I was a school teacher for fourteen years, and what I noticed, and sometimes it seemed to happen almost overnight, is that what burned out that magical glow in the most devastating way wasn’t recreational abuse of drugs, it was discovering sex as a metaphor for power. Getting caught in that game seems to devastate the soul, and we see this visible darkening corruption happen, for example, to young celebrities, the child stars and young rock musicians, and this corruption of their Eros is more likely to burn them out than even the substance abuse. I sometimes feel like few people in our society ever recover from high school, and celebrity is basically like high school on a national scale. ”
“Well, anyway, I guess that was a long tangent on why potential mutants don’t last, and I started by saying that mutant encounters were one of the continuous themes of my life….
One of the more intense encounters began when I was eleven years old. Any more of that Yerba Maté? I might need some fortification before I proceed with this story….
Something very dark and strange happened to me when I was eleven, but I didn’t know just how strange it was until two years after it happened. I grew up in the Bronx, my parents still live there, and until I was eleven there were no other kids on my block that I could relate to as fellow mutants. There were great kids, five Irish girls that lived next door, and an Irish boy at the end of the block who were my closest friends, and they had enormous character, unforgettable people, but not exactly mutants. No one shared my penchant for sci-fi and the weird, anomalous, and paranormal. Even at eleven, I believe I was starting to read books about ufology and ESP and so forth.
That summer, a Ukrainian family moved next door, the other next door, the Irish family still on the other side. The Ukrainian family had three kids, two brothers, Joseph and Ivan, and a sister, Sophie, (not their real names) all of them highly intelligent, talented, good-looking, charismatic, and despite everything I am about to tell you, I don’t bear them any ill will, and never did, I still think of them as family, still occasionally hear from them. The middle child, we’ll call him Ivan, was just four months older than me, far closer in age than any other kid on the block, and he was extremely bright and charismatic. There was an immediate magnetism between us, and we quickly become best friends, spending most of the time when we were not in school with each other. But there was always an undercurrent of ethnic tension and competitiveness. This wasn’t at all surprising, because in the Bronx during those years, the late Sixties to early Seventies, ethnic tensions were the norm. While New York is always praised as a “melting pot” and people in Boulder are always talking about how much they value diversity, and so forth, for me, diversity meant, paraphrasing Woody Allen, the opportunity to get beaten up by children of all races, creeds, and colors. And so it was normal to have particular friendships with say the Irish family next door, but if I went around the corner to Jerome avenue, the Irish kids over there might have a very different approach to me, and for this sort of reason most of our time was spent very close to our block where we had the relative safety of home turf.
I had no idea about this at the time, but apparently, Ukrainians are considered one of the most anti-Semitic ethnic groups around. Apparently, the Nazis used them as concentration camp guards, and the Nazis actually had to calm them down. I heard this in the Eighties from a Jungian scholar who had studied the Ukrainians, and who also noted that they were a highly talented group, with mystical and parapsychological themes in their history. All of my great grandparents, and three out of four of my grandparents, were Jews who grew up in Russia, and who escaped Russia to get away from pogroms. My dad’s family was actually from Kyiv, Ukraine. And this family next door were first and second-generation immigrants from Ukraine, only the three kids having been born in the states. But no one in that family, except the two young brothers, my closest friends, had the slightest trace of anti-Semitism. The parents and grandparents highly approved of me and my family of polite, educated, professional class, Jews. The grandfather, who had been a multilingual merchant in the old country, even spoke some Yiddish, the language my father grew up speaking along with English. On ethnic holidays, the families sent over plates of ethnic delicacies and baked goods, and we got the better deal because the Ukrainian grandmother had been a professional baker and cook.
But the two young brothers, Ivan and Joseph, had the anti-Semitic bug, they even had, at least this is what they told me, some sort of cards in their wallets from a Neo Nazi party. Just as I had taken an early interest in the paranormal, they had done precocious reading of conspiracy lit books, like None Dare Call it a Conspiracy, that tended to emphasize world Jewish conspiracies. But there was a kind of weird respect in their anti-Semitism because they saw Jews as smart and dangerous, they admired the military acumen of Israelis and Israeli- made armaments like Uzi submachine guns and so forth. And there were other ethnicities in the Bronx which they despised with far more complete contempt.
First impressions are apparently quite important, and when they first met me, they did not realize I was Jewish. Their heroes were race car drivers, and they would later become amateur race car drivers themselves, and their first impression of me was that they thought I looked like a famous Scottish race car driver named Jimmy Clarke, and for that reason, they assumed I was not Jewish. A couple of weeks later, when they discovered I was Jewish, we had already become friends, and it was just another case in my childhood of the particular friendship set in a context of ethnic tension. Actually, this seems to be a family theme, I would also come to really like young Germans I met in my travels, my sister is married to a Palestinian, and my parent’s closest friends are African-American.
Anyway, the same summer they moved in, Ivan and I were eleven years old, and Joseph was 14, and I was out with the two brothers who were walking their two dogs, large German Sheppards, supposedly police-trained, but who only obeyed commands in Ukrainian. We were three boys and two dogs, standing in the shadows of bluish mercury vapor street lamps at the corner of the block. And then, in what seemed a fairly random moment, Joseph, in a casual and non-threatening occasion of typical young Bronx male dissing said (in English), “Maybe we should sic the dogs on Jonathan.” A moment or so later, there was a blinding flash of canine predator hurtling, fangs foremost, straight for my throat. There had been no barking, growling, or any signs whatsoever of canine agitation. I reflexively blocked its trajectory to my throat with my left arm. The block was successful, but the cost was that a German Shepherd Jaw was now locked onto my arm and attached to that jaw the rest of a furious German Shepherd in its prime. At age eleven I probably only weighed eighty pounds, and the momentum of the dog’s body, with its jaw locked onto my arm, was more than enough to pull me to the ground and sever most of the muscles in my left arm in the process. Now we were in a ground game and the dog let go of my arm so that it could lunge for my throat again. I must have thrown myself slightly out of position because instead of my throat its large jaw locked onto my forehead. This may sound hard to believe, but my head was actually in the dog’s mouth and you can see these two scars along my forehead (showing John the scars). I was a small eleven-year-old boy and this was a very big dog. Joseph meanwhile was pulling on the dog’s leash as hard as he could and was shouting to me to run. I got up and the monster jaw locked onto my left leg, but Joseph was pulling on the leash with the adrenaline-pumped fury of a very athletic fourteen-year-old boy. I saw him, eyes dilated, sweat glistening on his face, every tendon straining as he shouted, “Run!” Somehow I pulled free and out of biting range.
And then there was a moment of extreme time-dilation. I was on my feet, circling away from the dog, moving in a kind of fluid, slow-motion arc toward the hedges of the corner house. I was moving into the closest zone of sidewalk out of biting range which would allow me to reverse my momentum and turn to run up the block. As I turned I looked down to where my right arm was instinctively cradling my left arm and had a shocking anomaly of perception that seemed to shock me out of even the slow-motion version of linear time and into a kind of timeless, everlasting moment I can still feel reverberating within me. I was seeing the inside of my body on the outside— the weird complexity of exposed muscle tissue–and it was numinous and eerie, but I wasn’t terrified or feeling any pain.I felt more hyper-alert and aware as I beheld something anomalous. I emerged from that moment to find I was running up the block. The world of 1969 Bronx was lit up by adrenalin, and as I ran my mind became increasingly calm, clear, and alert.
Some people discover that in a survival situation the ego can step aside, and some more direct and powerful way of comprehending reality can step in.1 This has happened to me in a few life or death situations and makes me wonder why I have to be anxious and scattered during so many more mundane moments.
Long after I realized this, a book came out that stated the case much more authoritatively, Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales)
Anyway, I ran back to my house, opened the back door with my key and told my sister to bring me a glass of water with a straw. Our parents were away for the evening, and I knew I needed to rehydrate myself, and that anything other than water might interfere with the surgery I would need very soon.
As I sat there drinking the water with a straw, and my sister sat in the shadows at the edges of fluorescent kitchen light, there was the most archetypal moment of my relationship with her. In a moment of rare compassion, she said to me,
“It’s better if you don’t look at it.”
Later this struck me as one of those signature moments. In a single sentence, it perfectly expressed the difference between my sister’s life strategy and mine—because I believe it’s better if you do look at it.
Anyway, I continued to feel strangely calm and in control. When neighbors followed the trail of blood into the house, I told them to take me to Montefiore Hospital, told them what type of medical insurance we had, and the name of my pediatrician. I was in a state of disassociation from the condition of my body, but I felt very engaged and interested in what was happening. It seemed very exciting, and there was no fear or pain. When we walked into the hospital I remembered there were some people who screamed, and I wondered what they were screaming about. Then we passed a mirror and I saw that I was completely covered with blood. Later I learned that there was uncertainty whether I would survive the blood loss and an operation that involved hundreds of stitches. It also came out that I was extraordinarily lucky to have been taken to Montefiore Hospital, because a pioneer microsurgeon specializing in hand and arm surgery, happened to be on call.
This world-class surgeon lived in Manhattan and the operation had to wait until he got through the Cross Bronx Expressway and made it to the hospital. He was well worth waiting for, a real wizard of the microsurgical arts. When I met him a couple of days later, and his face wasn’t covered by a surgical mask, I thought he had almost the exact demeanor of Gregory Peck as Atticus Smith in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. He was tall and had an aura of intelligence, gravitas, and professionalism. I was impressed with the specialized medical camera he used to take many flash photos of my arm and other injuries. I think Gregory Peck was rightfully proud of his work, and if it wasn’t for him, my arm would almost certainly have been amputated.
While the doctors and my parents feared for my survival (there had been tremendous blood loss, etc.) there were two people that night entirely unworried—Ivan and I.
I know this doesn’t seem paranormal yet, and I certainly didn’t think it was paranormal at the time. The paranormal aspects didn’t come out until almost exactly two years later when Ivan and I were thirteen. We had been best friends for two years now, a huge epoch of childhood, and the dog mauling only brought the two families closer, especially since we didn’t sue, or blame them, etc.
It was a Friday night, a pleasantly warm evening, and Ivan and I were sitting in the walled-in space of the back garden of my family’s house in the Bronx. Ivan was chain-smoking Winston cigarettes, clearly anxious about something, and he told me that I was the only person he felt he could talk to about what was bothering him. What followed was a series of startling confessions about anomalous experiences. They felt like confessions, confessions in a number of senses, and given my extreme familiarity with Ivan, I knew he was in a mode of pure authenticity, and the emotional intensity was palpably in the air.
Ivan related a whole series of paranormal experiences he had kept secret. I was already well aware of the nature of some of the things he described from my early readings about the paranormal. I knew, for example, that his description of rising out of his body and then seeing it below him from the POV of the ceiling, was called “astral projection” and was similar to many other accounts. Later in life. I would have numerous out-of-body experiences of my own, which would change my sense of body, psyche, and death, forever.
But other things he described seemed to be far more anomalous and disturbing.
In one case there was a dream where he was some sort of winged creature, and when he awoke he found that his arms were weirdly vibrating, and when he stilled them he fell a few feet back onto the bed.
And then there were cases of a kind of translocation. The family had some land and an old country home in Upstate New York, a place they called “the farm.” Ivan was out by himself walking on some part of the land and he found himself going into a kind of trance. Then a few moments later, he found himself at an entirely different part of the farm.
In one case, there was a witness to the translocation. Ivan was standing at the first-floor landing of his house as he was falling into one of these trances. His seventeen-year-old brother Joseph greeted him, noted his unresponsive state, but continued up to the third floor. Ivan found himself reaching for one of the light switches at the foot of the steps in this tranced-out state. When he threw the switch the light came on, only now he was on the third floor, and was seeing the ashen face of Joseph in a state of shock because there was no way that Ivan could have overtaken him.
Later I was able to confirm this with Joseph who was a very grounded, level-headed, no-nonsense kind of guy. In a few more years Joseph would be an engineer working as part of a design team on nuclear submarines.
But other episodes were even more disturbing. Ivan had a sense that he might be causing certain things to happen at distance, such as fires. There was a shockingly intense moment of what sounded like remote viewing when he was suddenly aware of President Johnson in Air Force One. The presidential jet was in some kind of trouble. I can’t remember now whether he felt responsible for the incident or merely observed it. After this vision, Ivan went to the piano and spontaneously played a composition that a couple of people in the room thought was startlingly good. Ivan didn’t know where it came from and could never repeat it.
And then Ivan recounted an even more disturbing set of incidents. There were episodes where he would think something, and then he would hear that thought repeating in his head “a thousand times a second,” and then what he thought would happen. In one incident, his grandfather was hospitalized in intensive care and not expected to pull through. From what I remember, he had been felled by a massive heart attack. Ivan called the hospital to ask about the condition of the patient. Before the nurse on the other end could answer he heard a phrase in his mind. I can no longer recall the exact phrase, but it was something like, “He’s going to be alright.” Or “his condition is satisfactory.” The phrase reverberated in his mind a thousand times a second and then the nurse on the phone said something similar or identical back to him. Ivan hung up the phone and announced to the assembled relatives the news. They responded with incredulity. “What are you talking about? We just called a few minutes ago and his condition was critical.” But they called back, they found the new reality corroborated.
There was one more incident to tell, and Ivan took another cigarette out of the pack and lit it. Ivan brought me back to the dog mauling that was now two years in the past. He remembered Joseph saying, “Let’s sic the dogs on Jonathan.” Immediately after, he heard the Ukrainian word for attack repeating itself a thousand times a second in his mind. After this reverberating command, Ivan found himself standing on the opposite street corner with the other dog. That’s also where his mother and sister, when they heard the screaming and came running, found them. This was partly corroborated by my vivid photographic memory of the attack—there was never a visual trace of Ivan or the other dog once the attack began.
There was another strange commonality in our memory and experience of that night. While everyone in both families was in a state of acute anguish and feared for my survival, there were two people, one from each family, who were not worried at all—Ivan and I. I remember that Ivan said, in very inelegant Bronx dialect, that Joseph was “shitting a brick” that night, while he was sure I’d pull through.
Ivan had one more thought to add,
“You are the only person I can tell about these things. I sense that you have the same sort of thing in you, except that you have a safety valve and I don’t.” Ivan lit another cigarette and we walked out of the back garden of my house and onto the street in front of both our houses. I remember that one of the new sodium-vapor, high-crime street lights had just replaced the old mercury-vapor one, and we were now bathed in its orange glow. We sat on the top step of Ivan’s stoop. The stoops of both of our houses were beautifully made of blocks of marble. The difference was that Ivan’s had a cast-iron railing which gave us back support as we sat opposite each other on the last step before the top.
Ivan had switched subjects and now had a partly soulful, partly sentimental set of nationalistic things to say about Ukraine. He told me that Ukraine was called “the breadbasket of Europe” because its land was so fertile, but that in the early thirties Stalin has confiscated so much grain that there was a devastating famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. He said something about how much the continuing oppression of Ukraine by the Soviets was devastating to him. Then he began talking about visions he had of himself as the liberator of the Ukrainian people.
While he was talking about himself as the savior of oppressed Ukraine, there was another of those shocking anomalies of perception. I experienced an intense moment of eternal recurrence as I made eye contact with Ivan. It seemed as if the Ivan that I saw illuminated by the sodium-vapor light was only the topmost iteration superimposed on a line of a thousand other Ivans. It was as if I saw Ivan between two mirrors so that his images and incarnations seemed to stretch back like accordion ripples in time— an infinite regress. At the same time, there was a revelation of anti-Christ-like energy in Ivan. At that moment on the stoop, I may have thought that he was the Antichrist. And in that perception, there was also this implicit knowledge or awakened memory, that we had opposed and battled each other for lifetimes.
I was conscious of no animosity toward Ivan, or feeling of immediate physical danger from him. I knew that there was a powerful bond between us, though I also realized that our relationship had always had an edge of racial competition.
This edge of racial competition was not hidden, as the two brothers frequently dissed Jews. They didn’t diss me or my family for our ethnicity, but global banker Jews that controlled the world according to Ivan and Joseph. My parents, however, were always treated by Ivan and Joseph with the gravest old-world respect. They were professional white-collar adults with multiple Ivy League degrees, highly intelligent with scientific backgrounds, and therefore, the two brothers implicitly recognized them as of a high social class. Also, the boys had been rigorously trained in old-world manners. For example, during the catered party that followed my Bar Mitzvah, Ivan kneeled before my mother, kissed her hand, and congratulated her on an excellent party. I assumed that he had been commanded by family members to do this. Also, besides Ivan and Joseph, there wasn’t the faintest whiff of anti-Semitism from anyone else in the extended family who always treated my family with the greatest respect. There were cards exchanged for every Jewish or Greek-Orthodox holiday, and plates of ethnic foods were exchanged.
Sometimes Ivan and Joseph would give certain things Jewish grudging respect. Joseph, in particular, admired the IDF, Mossad, and Israeli-made weapons. The Jews were the most dangerous of races, smart and ruthless and greedy. But in some ways, they were worthy competitors as compared to dark-skinned races that were utterly inferior and regarded with complete distaste and contempt by Ivan and Joseph. (In fairness, this was the common attitude of white ethnic groups in the Bronx of that era, but did not include my parents who were liberal intellectuals.) There was both a bond of brotherhood with these two boys, but also a competitive racial tension, a third rail between us that crackled with electricity. And there were other aspects to the tension I won’t go into in this account.
Just in the last year,I learned a surprising new fact about this key episode in my life. After the mauling, there were questions from members of my extended family about why we weren’t suing. My mother had, and has to this day, extremely strong community values, values that have served my family really well. She had been brought up on a chicken farm in a small town in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where neighbors were all important. I was also brought up this way in the Bronx. My block was almost like a very small town. There were a few connections with others in very nearby blocks, but the kids on my block and their families were like planets in my solar system. And as close as I was to many of the kids on the block, it was only when Joseph and Ivan moved next door that I felt I had friends that were on my level. To this day, my mom at age 85 has extremely close and loving relationships with a number of the multi-ethnic families on the block. So my mother wouldn’t even consider suing, and besides, we had health insurance. It would be completely unethical to sue over what was obviously a complete accident, an act of God.
But there was one relative who profoundly disagreed with her. My Uncle Harry was a concentration camp survivor, a Polish Jew who had escaped from Auschwitz. Every year he would go to Holocaust reunions in Europe, but he never found a single friend or relative who had survived the camps. When I was a child, Uncle Harry asked my parents if I could be given the Hebrew name of his father. Harry and my Aunt Marion had only one child, a daughter, and he wanted someone to carry on his father’s name. When Harry heard about the mauling he reacted differently than anyone else. He said that he knew it was malicious and anti-Semitic. “This was no accident,” he said. “Believe me, I know the Ukrainians.” But Harry was a bit of disreputable character, a colleague of Meyer Lansky, and he went to Federal Prison for some sort of shady dealings. My parents felt that his mind was scarred by experiences with Ukrainian prison guards and his judgment not to be trusted. Although, decades later, when my parents first heard this other side of the story in something I had written and realized that there may have been some truth to what Harry said, it was still understood that the right decision had been made and great relations between the families lasted for all the years they were neighbors and has continued with cards and letters during all the many years since they moved out of the neighborhood.
By the time I was 20 and discovered Jung, I understood that the feelings of eternal recurrence I felt about Ivan were an archetypal resonance in our relationship, and not necessarily to be taken literally. A partial realization of this occurred when Ivan and I were seventeen years old. Before I left the Bronx for college at age sixteen, I remember telling Ivan that he should also leave the Bronx or that he was going to self-destruct. There had been a suicide attempt a couple of years before, binge drinking, and many signs of inner anguish. When I came back for winter break from my first semester of college, I went next door to see Ivan. His mom told me I could find him upstairs in his room. I found him passed out on his bed with the light on and he had obviously been drinking.
Ivan had always been exceptionally good-looking and athletic, but now he appeared a wreck. The parapsychological radiance around him was completely gone. I felt shocked and saddened by the fulfillment of my prophecy. Later I came to realize that Ivan was an example of the psychic supernova type of mutant, one that would burn out early and become unrecognizably different as an adult. To be fair, however, although he seemed to have lost the psychic aura, there was a remarkable blossoming of another area of talent.
Ivan had been taught to play the accordion and taught himself to play the piano. They had a beat-up old upright piano, with at least one defective hammer, in their sunroom. Since I had left for college, Ivan had begun composing piano music. One of the compositions was a long, mournful, tragic-feeling composition that seemed like an Eastern European version of Chopin. There was an influence of certain Ukrainian folk ballades, Ivan acknowledged, but I found it to be highly original and emotionally powerful. I brought a tape recorder over to Ivan’s house to record the composition. On the recording, you hear Ivan make a mistake and refuse to go on. This was followed by an intense blend of coaxing and commanding from me, and eventually, he continues. Although I thought the composition was amazing, I knew I needed a reality check because I’m not particularly musically talented myself. On the other hand, there were a number of professional classical musicians in my family, and the one pianist among them was my mom, who played in Lincoln Center Recital Hall in her sixties and was forever practicing Rachmaninoff and going to masterclasses, etc. I played the tape for her, and she confirmed that whatever the performance lacked in technical polish, the composition was highly original and striking.
On that positive musical note, I’ll draw this strange chapter on the Ukrainians to a close.
(This is also where this unfinished document ends Maybe one day I’ll add some more to it.)
I do hope the rest of the conversation will be transcribed and posted – or maybe the full audio itself as well.
There are stories in stories in stories here – “iterations superimposed…” – as well as the path of the numinous. Where to begin though, in commentings?