Friday, September 6, 2013

Ian Mulder reviews "The Sun Temple"

My thanks to author and blogger Ian Mulder for his review of The Sun Temple on his blog: "A wayfarer's notes". I reprint it here in its entirety. For more of Ian's insightful and entertaining words, please visit him at:

Intersecting Worlds:
The Sun Temple
B.F. Späth

Reality is composed of many interwoven strands and nowhere are these delineated more vividly than in The Sun Temple. What shall I call it? A treatise? A short story? A memoir? A traveller’s tale? It’s all of these and a masterpiece of erudite psychedelia
as well.

Above all it is searingly honest and true, never carried away with the intoxication of drugs consumed, nor even the grammar and vocabulary of poetic licence. Had I walked in Brian’s footsteps and scratched out with my quill an entry in his ship’s log of voyages undertaken, I might have scaled the mountain-tops, plumbed the depths, muddied the waters—losing myself and reader in a maze of mixed metaphor. Brian doesn’t do this, but uses precise language, with footnotes where necessary adducing such authorities as Pliny the Elder, the King James Bible and Dale Pendell’s Pharmako/Poeia*.

His heroes are two: (a) the Sun, and (b) its Temple, which manifests on earth in the form of Battery Park, at the southwest tip of Manhattan Island. The narrator is he who worships at the Sun Temple, by carrying out a series of purifications and rituals.

In the first paragraph we are introduced to the noonday Sun, whose task is to reach down from its zenith position to its indoor worshipper, zig-zagging reflections down the narrow space between old New York tenements to reach his apartment, and writing its message on his kitchen floor: Awake! Come to me and reunite. The Sun’s method is to create a dissatisfaction in his heart, and stimulate action: a pilgrimage to Battery Park, in time for its diurnal blaze of glory in the western sky. Thus Master reaches out to Disciple, in an act of collusion and rescue.

After the poetic intensity of this first paragraph, which in an old-fashioned epic poem, such as Paradise Lost, might be labelled “The Argument”, he goes on to explain how he came to see the ravaged monuments of Battery Park, a traditional tourist destination, as a temple to the Sun, at which he may be the only true worshipper. As in all life, the greatest highs take root in the soil of desperation, and return to it, as a rocket comes back down to earth. Or as Jack Kornfield puts it:“After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

My life had somehow lost direction, with no plans or goals—that was it, really: I was aimless—that was the root cause of my perhaps unhealthy obsession with the Old Battery....

Part memoir, part travelog: he has me longing to go there myself, to visit New York, his beloved home, and see it for myself, perhaps a little through his enchanted eyes. The magic libation, the mythical soma, is cannabis. He sets out in scientific and historical detail some background to this drug: its usage and effects.

His approach to these drugs is reverential, but I doubt the Mayor of New York, even if he happens to be in favour of decriminalization, will promote The Sun Temple in tourist literature. It’s as we used to speculate in 1971 (when I last tried the sacred herb): they don’t want us to use it in case we won’t be worker-ants any more, we won’t go on buying the American Dream.

Be that as it may, his travelog is compelling. It opens our eyes to a different dimension mapped on to the reality that everyone can see. The alignment of decrepit monuments in the Battery, the shadows they cast, the paved sun-trap open spaces, invite comparison with ancient temples such as Stonehenge, with Späth as its learned archaeologist. But then again, it takes nothing more than a new paragraph to swivel the entire landscape around and show us a different perspective: personal nostalgia, confessional memoir or even psychiatric diagnosis. In a swift juxtaposition, he continues with a confident walk on the vertiginous knife-edge between multiple escarpments, using the language of dream. We reach the delightful point of not knowing (till he tells us, and he’s always as honest as he is precise) whether he’s wandering some part of the Battery at midnight, dreaming at home in bed or living the disoriented life of an insomniac, aided by traditional herbal substances:

In the role of trespasser, I enter the ruined and abandoned Observatory, and I imagine that it may have its corollary in the desecration of the shrine at Ashkelon[footnote appended]

I become aware of other figures entering slowly around the periphery of my bed as night-sweats and delirium hold sway in the electro-narcotic mist ... and against the wall on my shelf are a row of long-neglected books: the Cuneiform Library. I select a volume at random and open it to an arbitrary page:

[quote from the book, about the action of priests at a temple to Lord Jagannath, and the historic removal of a sacred image]

With a start, I realized that this ancient tragedy has been re-enacted by the modern-day theft of Ambrose’s head and the burning of the Concession building and its subsequent abandonment. But my concentration wavers—it’s the heat, that heavy blanket that hangs over the park and over my feverish dreams as I float to a more fundamental and exalted midnight ... and soon I couldn’t remember what I had dreamed and what I had consciously invented and both of these tributaries fed into the great body of the park ... the spectral presence of the park after the Sun has gone down.

Not since De Quincey, I suspect, can there have been a more candid and convincing account of a psycho-physical journey fuelled by mania, obsession, the highs and lows offered by psychedelic herbs. Read The Sun Temple for a “legal high” wherever you are.
* Pharmako/Poeia is an epic poem on plant humours, an abstruse alchemic treatise, an experiential narrative jigsaw puzzle, a hip and learned wild-nature reference text, a comic paean to cosmic consciousness, an ecological handbook, a dried-herb pastiche, a counterculture encyclopedia of ancient fact and lore that cuts through the present ‘conservative’ war-on-drugs psychobabble. —Allen Ginsberg

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield, leading Buddhist teacher: “Our realizations and awakenings show us the reality of the world, and they bring transformations, but they pass.”

Cannabis sativa, best known to Western users; also Cannabis indica whose effects are more sedative than those of sativa which is famous for offering a “cerebral high”. The narrator also suspects that the indica he has purchased may have been cut with Datura, whose effects (per Wikipedia) include “a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy”.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas de Quincey, The London Magazine, 1821.