|Cybernetic culture research unit|
I think now, looking back, that the dreams' return can be dated to 1925,
the moment of my arrival in the Sunda Strait. It began as insidious seepage,
waves of vaguely familiar but disconnected fragments, whose secret cohesion
I could dimly perceive.
I had been drawn to the Mu N'Ma by their reputed traditions of dream-sorcery, which offered a singular opportunity for converting my studies of Freud and Frazer into practical field work. Although it might seem ironical that a student of Freud could be so oblivious to their subterranean motivations, I shared with my generation a profound and unquestioning faith in the spirit of objective scientific inquiry, and little suspected (or had forgotten) the deeper currents guiding a lifelong interest in the phenomena of dreams.
The N'Ma people had gained some public noteriety through their role in the strange case of Cecil Curtis. I myself had first learned of the Mu through tantalising references in the burgeoning literature that had transformed the events of Curtis' ill-fated expedition into something of a modern myth. Most of these accounts had underplayed the role of the two other tribes in the N'Ma system, but the occasional hint about the Mu and their dream rites was more than sufficient to provoke in me an interest that would quickly shade into obsession.
By the time I arrived in Indonesia, the tripartite N'Ma system was in shreds . In totally annihilating one tribe - Curtis's Tak N'Ma - and all but destroying another - the Dib N'Ma - the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa had wrecked the complex web of social exchange on which the Mu had traditonally depended. An atmosphere of terrible desolation overhung them, and I could be under no illusion that the Mu were little more than a shadow of what they had been in the days prior to the cataclysm. These were a haunted people, whose continuing survival seemed a dubious blessing at best.
In this apocalyptic atmosphere, it was inevitable that my thoughts should increasingly turn to the days immediately preceding the catastrophe, and to its herald, Cecil Curtis. Following Curtis's footsteps into N'Ma territory, I read the famous few surviving fragments of his journal with a renewed sense of puzzlement and disquiet.
None of the speculations on Curtis' final days had, to my mind, adequately made sense of the peculiar trajectory his delirium took. The lay observer might be tempted to think his words mere ravings, but for those, like myself, who had fallen under Freud's spell, the compulsion to search for the hidden logics that guide and structure supposedly random manias is irresistable. What dark events coalesced to produce Curtis' madness? I read key passages over and over again:
17th July 1883.
28th July 1883.
By now, the Tak N'Ma's ferocity is legendary: they were "the most unspeakable savages on earth", according to one of Curtis's less ethnographically sensitive biographers. The same source remarked that the Tak N'Ma rites "could not be contemplated by any decent Christian without risk of the loss of his mind." These practices, coupled with the ravages of the malaria which afflicted Curtis in his final days, would have been enough to completely unhinge any European male, even one as famously thick-skinned as Cecil 'Mad Dog' Curtis. But Curtis seemed, in the end, to confront an awful revelation whose enormous horror could not be reduced to these two factors; rather, the disease and the Tak rituals were themselves, he seemed to imply, part of some senseless pattern in which his whole life was always fated to be engulfed.
24th August 1883.
My daytime obsession with Curtis transferred easily into dreams in which Curtis featured heavily; in terribly vivid nightmares I sometimes felt I was meeting Curtis; at other times, I had the uncanny conviction that I was seeing the jungle landscape through his fever-darkened eyes. Given the circumstances, these nocturnal encounters were hardly unmotivated, but the dreams had a naggingly intimate quality about them. As if I had experienced them them many times before, and was only now remembering them.
The intense, oppressively subdued atmosphere that benighted Mu N'Ma culture was in every way at odds with the excitement that leapt into my heart as I learned more about it. It was immediately evident that Mu culture was indeed based upon a system of dream magic, in which the Nago - or dream witch - occupied an exalted position. The Nago fulfills a wide-ranging oracular function in Mu culture. Medicine, the settlement of disputes, advice and counsel; all are in the Dream Witch's power. Those who sought her wisdom would make solitary pilgrimages to the temple, bearing appropriate gifts. A simple ritual follows, during which they offer sacrifices and make requests. On the night following - it is said - they receive a Nagwi or dream visit.
It is said of the Nago that she never speaks, except in dreams.
When I asked to visit the Nago, the Mu elders merely nodded, showing neither enthusiasm nor hostility. They greeted my entreaty with the same sense of fated inevitabilty with which they seemed to accept all matters.
The Nago's temple is located on the side of a cliff, an hour's trek through thick jungle. Fittingly for a people whose deity, Mur Mur, is a sea creature - a "dreaming serpent", it is sometimes said - the temple looks out upon the ocean. As I was guided through the primeval vegetation, I thought once more of Cecil Curtis and the Tak N'Ma.
11th August 1883.
The fatal irony of this entry has often been remarked upon by commentators. Curtis would only understand the N'Ma's taxonomy too late. Curtis's Christian thinking would have been little assistance in unravelling the Tak belief system; the fact that the Tak's god, Katak, was manifested in dogs, volcanoes and indeed Curtis himself could only appear nonsensical to a man of his time and background. Curtis must have at first assumed that the Tak's apparent reverence for him was the natural response of "savages" to their "betters." He could not have suspected, as he was annointed by the Taks, that he was destined to be the sacrificial harbinger of the Taks' ultimate destruction. Perhaps it was only towards the end that he realised that his arrival and the apocalyptic eruption of Krakatoa had always been coincident in Tak folklore: their tribal stories said that "the Fiery End" would be the heralded by the arrival of the "white Katak" - 'Mad Dog' Curtis.
27th August 1883.
So Curtis' final days became a veritable journey into hell. The Curtis biography I had with me in Indonesia contained facsimiles of the journal, showing a marked decline in the handwriting. By the end, the hand was so spidery that one was almost tempted to query the attribution - could this barely legible scrawl have been produced by the same individual?
My head still full of Curtis, I was led into the Vault of Murmurs, the sacred cavern below the Nago temple in which the Dream Witch receives her supplicants. The Nago sat at the other end of the grotto, folded into its deep shadows. Feeling a sense of uncanny familiarity, I asked the inevitable question. "Where was Curtis taken?" The Nago nodded, and left, her silence unbroken, in accordance with custom.
The next morning, I awoke to a feeling of immense anti-climax. I ransacked my mind for traces of the previous night's dreams, recalling nothing. Yet through this almost painful disappointment, older memories surfaced, dating - I sensed with icy certainty - from my seventh year. It was the night of the Century's Eve, 31st December, 1899. (No Freudian scholar can miss the significance of the year 1899 - the date of the first publication of The Interpretation of Dreams.)
A female voice spoke. "Echidna, Echidna, wake up." I had assumed - "previously", if such a time-designation makes any sense - that this was the voice of my mother. Now I knew it was the voice of the Nago, speaking to in my own tongue. But I was no longer sure to whom - or what - it was addressed. I was entirely carried away. My body felt impossible. Touching my face, I encountered only the features and limbs of a little girl. Below the waist, however, all was confusion, snaking endlessly into itself, or rather, into depths beyond sense, traversed by languid spinal waves that culminated in a distant hint of a tail.
My dream body floated in what appeared to be an undersea cavern. As I lay there, I beheld, moving toward me with grim purpose, a raft carrying a solemn, spectral party. I recognised, from the many books recounting the Curtis legend, the crimson markings and ceremonial masks of the Tak N'Ma. And on the raft with them - reclining in a malarial swoon, dressed in Tak ritual garb - was the unmistakable figure of Cecil Curtis. They were bringing him to me.
Except I was dissolving, becoming indistinguishable from the water which held me. And when I turned again to where Curtis had been but a moment ago, I heard only anguished gargles: the growls and snarls of some creature that seemed to be part dog, part cat, barely human. I felt claws in what should have been my side. Then there was a plume of blood which I at first thought was mine, but when I looked again, I saw it gouting from the other creature's flesh, which, I was suddenly aware, was becoming absorbed into me - even as my body was losing any sense of its limits.
Warped perceptions danced past my dream eyes. Darting acceleration and abyssal slowness fused in a wholly unfamiliar time-sense. I suddenly became aware of the cyclopean edifices of a lost civilization; though "civilization" scarcely seemed the word for the alien vistas that swam before me, swarming city-shoals quivering with a wholly inorganic animation.
Something told me, a whisper or an intuition - in that dreaming ocean both blended utterly - that this was the lost continent of Lemuria, speculated upon by contemporary archaeologists and mystics. What was left of my mammal body flickered out of focus; it felt clumsy - all fingers and thumbs. As I looked down at my hands, they became transluscent, and I saw, inscribed into the impossible geometries of the dream cave's wall beyond, an arrangement of ten circles, a number of smaller circles, and a series of interconnecting lines.
This was my first encounter with what came to be called the Numogram. It was only later that I was able to uncover the numeric relations encrypted in its ancient patterns - the dream showed me only the shapes and their relations. But, even in those early, hallucinatory minutes, as I made my first hurried transcriptions of the dream-image, I knew that I had in front of me a key that would unlock all the secrets of my life. A labyrinth had opened up, a labyrinth whose complexities could be contained no more by our supernaturalisms than by our sciences. It was a labyrinth in which my fate - and that of the N'Ma, Cecil Curtis, and more cosmic presences - had always been tangled together. I was unravelled in this maze of coincidences, and could do nothing but follow its threads forever.
1. Numogram and Otz Chaiim.
To those familiar with the Western Magical Tradition, it is likely that the Numogram will initially evoke the Qabbalistic Tree of Life. Both are constructed as decimal diagrams, involving webs of connectivity between ten basic zones, mysteriously twisted into a cryptic ultra-cycle (that links upper and lower regions). Both treat names as numbers, and numerize by digital reduction and cumulation. Both include passages across abysmal waters and through infernal regions. Both map zones onto spinal levels.
Despite these manifold interlinkages, there are compelling reasons to consider the Tree of Life a scrambled variant of the Numogram, rather than a parallel system. During its long passage through Atlantean and post-Atlantean hermetic traditions the systematic distortions of the Numogram (introduced to confuse the uninitiated) gradually hardened into erroneous doctrines, and a dogmatic image of the Tree. Most evidently, a vulgar distribution of the numbers - in their exoteric counting-order - was substituted (redundantly) for the now esoteric numogrammatical distribution, which proceeds in accordance with immanent criteria (the web emerging qabbalisitically from the zone-numbers themselves). More devastatingly, the orginal consistency of numeracy and language seems to have been fractured at an early stage, introducing a division between the number of the Sephiroth (10) and that of the Hebrew alphabet (22). The result was a break between the nodes of the tree and the interconnecting paths, ruining all prospect of decipherment. The Sephiroth -segmented over-aganist their connections - become static and structural, whilst the paths lose any rigorous principle of allocation. A strictly analogous outcome is evident in the segmentation of the Tarot into Major and Minor Arcana. Increasingly desperate, arbitrary, and mystifying attempts to re-unite the numbers and their linkages seems to have bedevilled all succeeding occult traditions.
2. Numogram and I Ching.
There is considerable evidence, both immanent and historical, that the Chinese I Ching and the Nma numogram share a hypercultural matrix. Both are associated with intricate zygonomies, or double-numbering systems, and process abstract problematics involving subdivisions of decimal arrays (as suggested by the Ten Wings of traditional I Ching commentary). Digital reduction of binary powers stabilizes in a six-step cycle (with the values 1, 2, 4, 8, 7, 5). These steps correspond to the lines of the hexagram, and to the time-circuit zones of the Numogram, producing a binodecimal 6-Cycle (which is also generated in reverse by quintuplicative numbering). In both cases a supplementary rule of pairing is followed, according to a zygonovic criterion (9-twinning of reduced values: 8:1, 7:2, 5:4, mapping the hexagram line pairs).
The numogram time-circuit, or I Ching hexagam, implictly associates zero with the set of excluded triadic values. It is intriguing in this respect that numerous indications point to an early struggle between triadic and binary numbering practices in ancient chinese culture, suggesting that the binary domination of decimal numeracy systematically produces a triadic residue consistent with nullity. The hexagram itself exhibits obvious tension in this respect, since it reinserts a triadic hyperfactor into the reduced binodigital set (compounded by its summation to twenty-seven, or the third power of three).
An ancient binotriadic parallel to the I Ching, called the T'ai Hsuan Ching (or Book of the Great Dark) consisted of eighty-one tetragrams, reversing the relation of foregrounded and implicit numerical values. The division of Lao Tse's Tao Te Ching into eighty-one sections suggests that this numerical conflict was an animating factor in the early history of Taoism.
3. Ethnography of the Nma.
Nma culture cannot be decoded without the key provided by the Lemurian Time-Maze. The influence of a hyper triadic criterion of time is evident in the relics of Nma kinship organization, calendrics, and associated rituals. Prior to the calamity of 1883, the Nma consisted of true tribes (tripartite macrosocial divisions). They were distributed in a basic tridentity (interlocking large-scale groupings into Tak- Mu- and Dib-Nma), supported by a triangular patrilocal marriage-cycle. Each marriage identified a woman with a numogram current, or time-passage. (Tak-Nma women marrying into the Mu-Nma, Mu-Nma ditto Dib-Nma, Dib-Nma ditto Tak-Nma). The common calendar of all three tribes was based upon a zygotriadic system (using 6 digits to divide a double-year period of 729 days into fractional powers of three). The Mu-Nma still employ such a calendar today. (The current Mu-Nma calendar is adjusted by regular intercalations of three additional days every second cycle, or four years. The earlier practice of intercalations is not easily recoverable).
In the rituals of the Nma the time-circuit is concretized as a hydro-cycle: a division and recombination of the waters. The three stages of this recurrent transmutation are, 1) the undivided waters (oceanic), 2) cloud-building (evaporation), and 3) down-pour (precipitation, river-flow). These are associated with the great sea-beast ( Mur Mur), the lurker of steaming swamps ( Oddubb), and that which hunts amongst the raging storms ( Katak). The cycle is closed by a return to the abysmal waters, intrinsically linking the order of time, and its recurrence, to an ultimate cataclysm (prior to any opposition of cyclic and apocalyptic time). It is in this context that the transcultural deluge-mythos can be restored to its aboriginal sense (which also corresponds to the Hindu Trimurti, with its three stages of creation, preservation and destruction).
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