Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where Winter Has No Domain - My Southeastern Refuge - Part 1

The next phase of my life was quite an adventure compared to the settled years of living in Kansas City. It was the summer of 1989, and I had started yet another job with another company. This one was with a telecommunications consulting firm, and I began to get paid a lot more for my DP expertise than previously. However, working for a consulting company is pretty chancy and hazardous with unwanted changes. I sought to leave Kansas City and explore other locations, and one opportunity that came my way was to work in Atlanta. Atlanta was a much bigger town than Kansas City with a warmer climate and more opportunity. It was a very urban environment mixed with a lot of rural and folksy life-styles, a social striation that happened due to the local indigenous population being infiltrated by a host of east coast refugees. It was probably, at the time, one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S., and therefore I decided to throw myself into it to see what happened.

I was living in an apartment with Frater Arjuna when this sudden call to move to another community came upon me. I managed to leave town without causing him too much disruption, and the temple group seemed to be both stable and independent. I was free to leave if I wanted to. So it was in the late summer, I departed Kansas City for Atlanta and engaged in a rather messy and piecemeal move to that large town. I had to learn how to drive very defensively and navigate around that sprawling metropolis. Little did I know how capricious my fortunes would be living in that town with my new job position. The whole situation would last seven months before I would be relocated again. Yet in that short period I made some very important friends and contacts, and had some very interesting adventures. I also made some enemies, too, and had a completely disastrous relationship with a women, whom I later called the “girlfriend from Hell.” I won’t dwell on that situation or discuss it in much detail, only to say that when a young man has moved to a new large town, he often makes alliances that are later regrettable. I was something of a fool and an easy mark for predatory women, a weakness that I wouldn’t conquer for many years to come.

What I was seeking was a new and exciting life, and the pleasant experience of missing winter altogether. I had no idea what winter would be like down there, and even asked a few locals if the leaves would actually change like they did in the north. (They do change, and winter can be cold, damp and even a bit bitter, but without the accumulation of snow.) I had to move into a rather small apartment located outside the perimeter, but I did manage to at least quickly find a place to live. After a few weeks and haggling with my employers, all of the my stuff arrived (more or less), and I was able to put together my own household. I was once again living alone, and that would continue for 16 more years. Needless to say, I was much too busy with my job to spend time actually working magick, but I did have time to develop new lore, and to study and research things. That hiatus would last for less than a year, since my next home would have the required temple space for performing elaborate magickal workings. What I then possessed for temple space was a cramped alcove in my Atlanta apartment, which was useful for saying mass and doing some minor magickal work, but not much else.

Atlanta was, and still is, a very dark and sinister town. By dark and sinister I mean that it is pitiless to those who are seeking their fortune there. It has a very exploitative underworld that consumes men and women and then discards them like so much refuse. That underworld is based on strip clubs, peep shows, small pornographic movie production facilities, S & M clubs, heterosexual and gay prostitution, extensive and widespread drug use, and even some clandestine gambling - in short, every kind of vice. Because Protestant Christianity has such a pervasive influence there, these vices are not joyful expressions of a liberated population, but the vices of a very guilty people who should supposedly know better but succumb to human weakness anyway. Since Atlanta is a major convention center in the southeastern U.S., and it even annually hosts the Southern Baptist Church convention, the city has ironically adapted to cater to any and all needs, however perverse, illegal or immoral.

Outside of the central urban area, Atlanta is actually heavily wooded with tall spindly pine groves growing wherever possible, and all of it is covered with a carpet of kudzu. Abandoned homes and cars are gracefully covered over by the fast growing vegetation, giving it a kind of greenish feral quality. However, there is an implicit boundary in Atlanta that begins just below midtown and continues for miles south through the downtown area towards the airport. It encloses an inner city ghetto that is quite severe and dangerous, even in broad daylight. I have heard rumors that there are neighborhoods in that inner city where even the police won’t venture except when there is a fire or a major accident.

When I moved there, Atlanta had a burgeoning occult and New Age community and boasted nearly a dozen stores and numerous occult, pagan and wiccan groups. Yet that community was already in decline in 1989 when I moved there, and has steadily diminished ever since. Endemic witch wars shattered the wiccan community, and some occult organizations had very seedy reputations. To my knowledge, there are now only two stores left, and both of them reside in the same neighborhood. There are a couple of nice botanicals as well, and one of them has been in business for decades. However, the sex business is still booming, and those who are engaged in it as purveyors of fleshy fantasies are making a lot of money. Those who are its youthful pawns are nothing more than commodities to be used and then discarded. The occultism of Atlanta has been invariably tainted by this remorseless underworld, although, as always, there are some exceptions.   

I had some interesting adventures meeting some remarkable people in Atlanta, a few of which would turn out to be very important to my later occult work. After looking over the underground newspaper for the Atlanta area (called “Creative Loafing”) not long after I moved there, I found that the occult and pagan community was quite large, in fact, much larger than it was in Kansas City. There were a lot of Eastern traditions, represented by Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, Indian mainstream temples and Indian Tantra, and a host of New Age organizations. I also found some advertisements for a local chapter of the O.T.O., and a few witchcraft organizations, most notably, the House of Ravenwood and the Unicorn Grove. I checked out these organizations and snooped around the many occult book stores, and it seemed like my new home was very promising in regards to occult activity. However, what I soon discovered was far less interesting and engaging for me personally.

Eulis Lodge was what the local “body” of the O.T.O. in Atlanta was called at that time, and since they were having an open house, I decided to check them out. I finally found where the lodge house was located (on North avenue, just a few blocks down from the infamous night club Masquerade), but it was in a metro area that bordered upon the beginning of the inner city. Around the block from the lodge house were dilapidated tenements adorned with trash and abandoned cars. It was an obviously economically stressed neighborhood. I found out about this because I went around the block after missing the address of the lodge house. I opted to park my rental car across the street in a vacant industrial parking lot and then walked across the street.

The lodge house was in a state of serious disrepair, and it immediately reminded me of the infamous fraternity house in the movie “Animal House.” Inside, the walls of the house were decorated with various perforations, showing the rib-like timbers behind the ablated plaster board and chipped paint. I also noticed the pervading smell of urine and garbage, and the lack of any kind of air conditioning. The air inside was humid and quite disturbing with the funk of rot, tobacco and unwashed bodies. This atmospheric miasma didn’t recommend itself to whatever was going to be presented at the so-called open house. I also noticed a massive collection of occult books on a shelf in the hallway, and upon examining a few, I noticed that many were the first editions of some of Crowely’s best books. However, all of the books were suffering a slow decomposing death in the humid and fetid atmosphere of the lodge house. A couple years later I bought the ten volumes of the Equinox from the remains of that library through a mutual friend of the past body master, and they still have the stamp “Property of Eulis Lodge” on them. (They were serviceable and inexpensive, but still bear the marks of misuse and an overly humid environment.)

As the open house was about to begin, a tiny handful of erstwhile seekers (like myself) gathered in a room with a few rickety tables and chairs, and a chalk board in front. The body master, whose name was Bill Padgett, stood in the front of the room and began to lecture those of us who were passively sitting before him. He was boasting about the great initiatory line of the occult order of the O.T.O., beginning in ancient Egypt and proceeding in an unbroken line to the present. Any real questions about ritual or ceremonial magick (respectfully asked by individuals such as myself) were inexpertly deflected as irrelevant to the current discussion. He smoked a cigar as he talked, occasionally puffing on it, flicking the ashes on the floor, and even offered some for the refreshment break. The stench of cigar smoke added to the already reeking environment, and I wondered if anyone ever burnt any incense in that house.

By chance I happened to sit at a table that shortly became occupied by a young blond woman who was dressed up in full punk regalia, with multicolored hair and a bizarre set of clothes. She was attractive enough, but was too far out for my tastes. She got my attention when she told me offhandedly that she was a stripper. I also noticed that she was popping some pills while slurping her can of Diet Coke. Although they looked like proper pharmaceuticals, I got the sense that she was doing it for the high rather than for some medicinal need. Another individual sat down next to her and possessively put his arm around her. He introduced himself as Allen Greenfield, and then proceeded to tell me that the woman I was sitting next to was his, and he said it to me in a very firm manner. “This woman is mine! M-I-N-E!” I felt like saying to him, “So what? S-O W-H-A-T!” Needless to say, I was quite put off by the whole spectacle, and I found the lecture to be irrelevant to my particular occult interests. No one talked about magick, and I was treated as if, as a non-initiate, I couldn’t possibly know anything interesting or useful.

The final annoyance to an overall disappointing and unproductive evening was when I had to give Allen and his drug-addled squeeze a ride to their apartment. While in the car, Allen tried to recruit me by telling me how great the order was because they knew so much about magick. He informed me that I would be foolish not to eagerly join. I listened to him boast about himself as I drove, but I had already made up my mind. I wasn’t ever going to return to that lodge house for any reason. One humorous aside, when Allen’s girlfriend got into the back seat of my rather fancy rental car, she whined to him, “Why can’t we have a car like this?” Allen said nothing in response to this whining complaint. From what I later heard, whether true or not, he had previously blown a six digit inheritance on various frivolous vices and was now fairly pinched.

Some weeks later, when I related my experience to my associates in the KC ESSG temple, they coined the label “that ghetto Eulis Lodge” epitomizing my overall experience, and soon afterwards it found its way into the writings of G. M. Kelly, much to the annoyance of Bill Padgett and Allen Greenfield. One of my protege’s in the temple happened to know Mr. Kelly, and told him the whole story while talking on the phone to him. He published an excerpt of it in his Thelemic Newsletter along with a humorous anecdote, and word eventually got back to Bill. I had burned a bridge, but in my mind, it wasn’t really an important one. I decided at that particular point in time that the O.T.O. wouldn’t ever be on my radar in regards to joining an occult group or receiving any ancillary initiations. Of course, that opinion would be remarkably changed later on when I moved to Minneapolis, but that was not until nearly a decade had passed.

My regretful open house experience with the Eulis lodge had pretty much curdled any interest I might have had in the O.T.O. Later on, when I was on temporary assignment in Dallas (while still living in Atlanta), I met a feminist Thelemite who was running a body in that town. I told her about my experience and the reputation that the Eulis lodge had in the city of Atlanta with other occultists, and she was so outraged that she reported our conversation to individuals who were members of the Grand Chapter. They, of course, had a conversation or two with Bill Padgett, who likely found even more reason to despise me. I imagine that he succeeded in assuring his leaders that nothing bad or disreputable was going on at his lodge, but that must have been cold comfort for all concerned.

A couple of years later, Bill dropped out of the O.T.O. and handed the Atlanta body over to Allen Greenfield, who managed, either through neglect or incompetence, to get the lodge closed down by the Grand Chapter. Since that time, at least one other body was forcibly closed, and the O.T.O. organization in Atlanta was still attempting to rectify itself as a competent and earnest occult organization years later. While other O.T.O. groups have shown themselves to be exemplars of occult practices and possessing a peerless magickal knowledge, the Atlanta bodies have been much more akin to badly run fraternity houses, with all of the onerous notoriety which that implies.

I have already mentioned that I spent a few months in Dallas on temporary assignment. From December to March I actually had two residences, one in Atlanta and one in Dallas. I was able to contrast both cities at that time, and I found Dallas to be a lot more open and filled with potential for me. I met a man who called himself the Fish, who was 6' 5" and weighed around 300 pounds. He was the bouncer at a friendly strip club (called “Southern Belles”) and was also an avid occult student. The people I met in Dallas seemed really interested in me functioning as a teacher and initiator. The Fish had a number of friends, including several women who stripped for a living, all of whom desired to have me as their teacher and pagan spiritual leader. 
Unfortunately, I had to leave Dallas after my assignment had ended, but I found myself wavering between attempting to find another job or assignment there and making my temporary residence permanent. I felt at the time that Dallas was just a lot friendlier and open to my way of working magick. Had I stayed, there’s no telling what might have happened. I would have easily been able to form a new magick lodge just with the folks that I had already befriended. After I shut down my temporary residence in Dallas and moved back to Atlanta, the Fish stayed in contact with me, and even visited me the following year. For a few years thereafter, he was keen on learning to master the lore of the E.S.S.G. Because of the Fish and his famous complaint about the steepness of the Order’s learning curve in regards to its lore, I began, in 1992, to write the Pyramid of Powers, my first attempt at writing a book about the magick that I had invented.

However, as I have previously said, I did meet some remarkable people in Atlanta who became long term friends. Their perspectives and insights helped me to master the new ideas and materials that I found myself acquiring through my research and later intensive magickal work. When I moved to Tallahassee, I rented a large townhouse that had an upstairs master bedroom dedicated exclusively as an enclosed and sequestered temple. It was a grand and wonderful time, which lasted for four years, and it also represented a period of career stability and opportunity. My Atlanta adventure only lasted eight months and my consultant job ended in April of 1990. Since I had received very little in regards to any kind of severance pay, I had to quickly find a replacement job. I managed to secure an employment possibility with a company who promised to pay me much more than I had been previously paid by the consultant firm, but the stipulation was that I would have to accept a corporate move to Tallahassee, Florida. Without any other prospects in hand, I decided to take the one in Tallahassee, so by the middle of that month, I had moved down to that town, and soon afterwards, my stuff arrived as well. Even though I had moved to another town, it was a mere six hours drive to Atlanta, so I managed to keep in touch with my friends there, and would, from time to time, come up to visit.

(To be continued...)

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. 93

    I'm in the process of putting together a history of the OTO in Atlanta. I'd love to ask you a few questions if you have time at some point.

    93 93/93