When pet sitting for someone, there are two parts of the house I always take the time to snoop around in: the refrigerator, and the bookshelves. Both of them offer the most candid view of a person’s life you can get, since there’s not much you can do about them in preparation for an inquisitive stranger. I mean, you can stash the fuzzy handcuffs in the back of a drawer, you vacuum and sweep and pretend that it’s ALWAYS that clean, but when it comes to the things you consume, there is not much dissembling available to you.
Too, both the refrigerator and the bookcase preserve something bigger than their simple individual constituents; their organization, the relationship between the individual parts, tells you a lot also. A sparsely stocked fridge populated by the scattered leftovers of half-a-dozen different institutional buffets? You got yourself a grad student. Carefully organized left-overs in reused yogurt tubs? Someone’s trying to keep the chaos at bay. Bookshelves are the same: a carefully cataloged row of David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Tama Janowitz, a scattering of Chuck Palahniuk – I bet you’ve got a picture in your mind right now, don’t you? Contrast that with a messy shelf full of second-hand broken-backed Penguin Classics, some Joyce Carol Oates, Julio Cortázar, Turgenev. Different demographics is what I’m saying.
Until relatively recently, this sort of bibliomaniacal voyeurism was confined to these brief, accidental peeks into another’s life, at most a few days or a week here or there, the merest of glimpses. However, in 2009, Tod Bol and Rick Brooks embarked on a project that would lay bare the literary psyche of whole neighborhoods, entire cities, whole segments of the population, providing unprecedented access to their reading habits. I’m talking about Little Free Libraries.
You’ve probably seen them. According to their official website, by 2014 there were over 15,000 little libraries worldwide, in all 50 states and in over 40 countries, beating the previous library-founding record-holder Andrew Carnegie by a wiiiiiiiiiide margin (the ol’ Robber Baron only got 2,500 of his Carnegie Libraries built, the poor sap). They usually take the shape of a little red schoolhouse, although I’ve seen rusticated apple crate versions in the middle of the city, neofuturist installation pieces crafted from recycled scrap metal and, once, a tiny Tudor house complete w/ minuscule half-timbering and a shaggy gambrel roof.
The important thing is that Little Free Libraries are entirely community-based: someone erects a Little Library on their property, local folks drop books in them, local folks borrow books from them. Take a book, leave a book, each interaction derived from the immediate noösphere of your neighborhood. Now, sure, these are books people have given away, discarded, gotten rid of, expunged from their personal libraries, but what’s more intimate than a person’s garbage? Archeologists are always looking for garbage pits, places where the evidence of everyday life gets preserved, as opposed to spectacular but carefully curated monuments and tombs, edifices with a clear bias in terms of the story they want to tell. Similarly, these Little Free Libraries don’t offer up any pretensions to capital-L Literature; these are workin’ books, books of the people, dingy and scuffed and lived-in. And in the same way that a shelf full of paperbacks with half-naked elf girls in chain mail bikinis tells you something about the person who owns them, we’ll be plumbing the sublimated universal consciousness aggregated by the Little Free Libraries of Austin, Texas, where I live.
Today’s book comes from a segment of the Austin population that you might be familiar with: Generally well-meaning dopes who think there might be something to acupuncture, always have a “Discount Ayahuasca Tours” tab open in Safari, and would LOVE IT if you could sign their petition against municipal fluoridation. The sort of folks who base their breakfast taco orders on whether Mercury is in retrograde. Austin is lousy with ‘em.
These cornball mystics must have limited bookshelf space in their Westphalia nomad vans though, because god damn do they keep Austin’s Little Free Libraries well stocked with their discards. Most of these books are vaguely of the self-help/a-benevolent-cosmos-watches-over-you/why-not-make-a-visualization-board type. They have titles like “Using Past Lives to Live Your Best Life Now,” “The I Ching for Scorpios,” or “365 Days of Mindful Astrology,” generically bland in their mysticism, vague and New-Agey but never getting down to the crunchy bits of their alternative realities. If you’re lucky, they might hint at some kind of “quantum” bullshit, maybe archly suggest that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in YOUR philosophy, but that’s about it.
I don’t want vague platitudes, dammit, I want some evidence that you’ve seriously thought about the mechanics of astral projection! I need a fully fleshed-out and totally bonkers cosmology here, not winking allusions to the power of positive thinking!
Luckily, the Astral Librarians in charge of the Akashic record must have heard my laments, because just last week I found EXACTLY the sort of book I’ve always wanted to find in a Little Free Library. Behold! The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life (vol. 1) by Drunvalo Melchizedek. First published in 1990, the copy I found was from ’98, put out by Light Technology Publications, a New Age/Conspiracy publishing house operating (on this plane of existence) out of Flagstaff, Arizona, USA, Earth, Sol, 4th Quadrant, Nx-2 Brane.
You can tell this publishing firm is the real deal: they got a tiger, a UFO, a tranquil waterfall, AND a pyramid in the header image on their website, PLUS they publish a “journal” (of emergence, no less). The last six pages of my brand new slightly-used copy of Drunvalo’s Ancient Secret (vol 1) has ads for some of their other publications, including a series that promises to teach you how to psychically communicate with dolphins (which seems like a really bad idea – we’ve all seen the documentaries, I don’t think we want to delve too deeply into their inner lives, you know?).
All of these ads make a big point of loudly proclaiming their sales numbers; if they’re to be believed, upwards of 1,000,000 Americans are communicating with dolphins on a regular basis (which, if true, really reflects poorly on the dolphins). But that “Such a Huge Success!” thing is a prominent thread in Ancient Secret (vol 1) too. After telling you about his hugely successful seminars and “tens of thousands” of VHS copies sold, Drunvalo Melchizedek realized that the hunger for his Sacred Geometry information was SO great that he needed to publish a detailed, two volume magnum opus on the subject ($25.00 ea, plus S&H), which is similarly selling like gangbusters.
It’s an interesting divergence from the usual narratives employed by historical religions, which tend to focus on the difficulties and tribulations of early practitioners: they nailed Jesus to a damn cross and outlawed his disciples in Rome, Siddhārtha spent his life a wandering mendicant, and Muhammad’s earliest converts faced constant discrimination and violence from powerful Pagans in the Middle East. In contrast, these New Age types tend to eschew a life spent in the wilderness, instead focusing on the easy success they and their market-approved messages have had. No hair shirts or untimely martyrdom for them, they’ve got a seminar ($450/person) to lead!
In fact, so important is this story of material success, that it comes BEFORE Drunvalo gets into just what in the heck it is he’s selling: he casually mentions in the Introduction that he’ll get to the Angels(!) who told him about these amazing secrets in a minute BUT FIRST he needs to explain why he discontinued his hugely successful VHS tape and moved into the world of publishing. Eventually, after we learn about the limitations of the VHS format as a medium of illumination (if only Betamax had survived!) AND after a digression about a 1997 study published by the “Dow Jones Company, Inc.” about the rapid expansion of the “New Age” as a market, we finally end up in a flashback to the 70’s, where Drunvalo experiences an angelic visitation. A pair of green n’ purple, 10 foot tall, slightly transparent angels appeared in front of Drunvalo and told him that he was destined to teach the world about the Secrets of Consciousness (specifically, sell the secrets for $25.00, plus S&H). The angels lead him on a ten year journey of discovery, the culmination of which was the two volume book explaining the secret history of the world, the human species, and our mystical path towards redemption. We can only hope that whatever Shaman dropped off volume 1 in the Little Free Library follows up soon and dumps volume 2, or we’re boned! Half an enlightenment ain’t much, after all.
Anyway, Ancient Secret belongs, broadly, to a category of mystical thinking termed “Sacred Geometry,” which generally refers to the mysticalness of shapes and math and patterns in relation to the natural world. If you’ve ever found yourself in close proximity to a serious math nerd then you’ve probably encountered its secularized cousin, which tends to waggle its eyebrows a lot at the idea of fractals being found in all sorts of unexpected places, isn’t it amazing, and did you know that the proportions of Classical Art (the best kind of art) ALL adhere to this thing called the Golden Mean, it’s actually pretty remarkable…
This is basically that, except for Drunvalo the actual math is much less interesting than the geometric relationships that preserve symbolic representations of transcendent mystical truths, all of which are preserved in our own bodies. Oh, and there were aliens, of course, first from an alternate dimension then later from Mars, who colonized Earth and made humans by genetic experimentation with apes. Bog standard Erik von Daniken shit, really, but with the addition of Drunvalo’s painfully detailed “geometry.”
In the old days, Plato and Pythagoras and up through Newton and Kepler, this sort of bullshit math worship was the preserve of an educated upper class, people with the leisure time to burn developing integral calculus and exploring weird mathematical relationships between circles and circumferences and planetary orbits. Now, we live in a time of unprecedented access to poorly worded generalizations of complex topics; never before has it been as easy to get a superficial knowledge of a complicated subject, a fact that Drunvalo takes full advantage of in Ancient Secret (Vol 1). Because, while his (*sigh*) “female” –side of the brain tells him that his intuitive grasp of Sacred Geometry is absolutely infallible, he understands that he will also have to develop an argument that appeals to the cold logic of the “male” –side of the brain.
To this end, Drunvalo scours the news reports and scientific journals for things he kinda thinks are maybe related to his own personal cosmology, the results of which you can imagine. As an example: Ancient Secret (Vol 1) is, perhaps, the only occultic New Age book to include reproductions of figures from the journal Geology, published by the Geological Society of America. These are from a paper illustrating the geomagnetosphere, Earth’s magnetic field created by the relative motion of the solid inner core and the molten outer core.
This digression into magnetics is a prime example of how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Drunvalo gets into a discussion of paleomagnetics, the study of the record of Earth’s magnetic field in the past. Basically, this is done through the careful measurement of the orientation of iron crystals, either in ancient lava flows or in sediments, and demonstrates that the Earth’s magnetic field has reversed countless times through Earth’s history. This means is that the MAGNETIC poles have shifted, that MAGNETIC north switched to MAGNETIC south, but of course Drunvalo misunderstands this to mean that GEOGRAPHIC north and south switched, i.e., huge, Atlantis destroying crustal shifts occurred many times in the past, providing a handy reset button for all the alien-influenced super civilizations that have populated the planet since time immemorial.
Anyway, in discussing the science he’s abusing, he keeps referring to the iron crystals as “pilings,” which makes no sense. That’s not a phrase that any geologist would use. “Iron pilings,” he confidently assures us, “are found in most lava,” which…that’s not the word you want. If you wanted to describe the discrete iron-rich magnetite or hematite or goethite crystals used in paleomagnetic studies, you COULD describe them as “iron FILINGS” because that’s the sort of thing most people are familiar with, tiny slivers of iron that line up in the presence of a magnetic field. I’ve described them as such to undergrads before, for instance. It’s a relatable analogy. But no one, except Drunvalo (and occultists citing his “expertise”) would ever use the word “piling.” That’s an architectural term, or a word referring to a heaped up mess of stuff. Maybe the Angels misspoke? Maybe in their Angelic language the “f” sound and the “p” sound are really similar, and they have a hard time distinguishing them when speaking Enochian-accented English.
The important thing about the magnetosphere, aside from Drunvalo using it to interpret Michael Bay-ian global destruction in big, bold Sensurround, is that it is the global-scale mimic of the energy field that surrounds all of us individually. Drunvalo explains how each of us has a coruscating field of energy, 50 feet in diameter, emanating from our being, just like the earth does. And, just as the Earth’s magnetic field pulses with the convective heartbeat of tectonism and pole shifts, so too does our energy field ebb and flow. Through the manipulation of this energy field, humans get all sorts of neato powers, including the ability to travel into alternative dimensions and eternal life. $25.00 (plus S&H) is starting to look like a steal!
With the establishment of the importance of energy fields in nature and in your own life, Drunvalo gets down to business: big crazy space invasions, cosmic consciousnesses that need Earth’s gold for some reason, and want to transform the dumb hominids of Earth into smarter and less hairy slaves to get it. There are DNA experiments on Australopithecines and the establishment of space colonies in Pleistocene Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of years zip past, highlighting an alien society so in love with the idea of power that they end up in a state of Civil War, with Lucy’s descendants finally getting tired of mining gold for aliens and staging a revolt. These early humans learn the secret magic of their overlords and succeed in kicking them off the planet. Then, some Martians invade, and there’s an asteroid strike, and all the Sages and Gurus in Atlantis and Mu and Lemuria die out or go underground as a new dark age sweeps over the poor, benighted people of Earth.
It goes on and on like that, with several more ascending and descending arcs, the key point being the decay over time of our amazing and nature-attuned powers. These various falls from grace all go hand in hand with our increasing reliance on technology, a crutch that Drunvalo identifies as weakening our spiritual development and keeping us from fulfilling our full potential. For the New Age type, the hubris of these falls is always inextricably linked to technology. For Drunvalo, the alien’s mining of gold, the Martian’s vast industrialization both here and at home on Mars, and the Atlanean abuse of their mystic power source are all of the same evil, overreaching abuses that severing our connection to the intrinsic energy fields that govern reality.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, mankind’s pursuit of technological mastery over nature has resulted in our estrangement from what the occultists saw as the spiritual or the numinous or the mystic; Theosophists, Rosicrucians, even the Swedenborgians, all of them saw danger in materialist explanations of the world and how it worked. If they’d dug a little deeper, they might have even become anti-capitalists, joined up with Marx and Bakunin or Morris to rail against the alienation of people from the labor and surroundings.
The Little Free Library nearest my house is packed with these sorts of books. After all, what is Austin but the poster child of New Alienation, a city undergoing riotous growth and malignant gentrification, where rent flirts with San Franciscan prices and no one can afford to own a home? Austin used to be envisioned as a quirky place friendly to artists and oddballs; now it’s the Venture Capital capitol of Texas. Those same starving artists are being forced out of the old neighborhoods to make room for tech professionals, there’s sharp racial and class divides starkly segregating Austin’s neighborhoods, the infrastructure is literally crumbling under the weight of all these people, and we’re facing the same water scarcity environmental apocalypse that’s barreling down on the whole Southwest. And maybe that’s why The Ancient Secret of The Flower of Life (Vol 1) got chunked in the Little Free Library. The narrative of the fall is being reenacted right here in Austin, and many of the “solutions” make about as much sense as Drunvalo’s Sacred Geometry.