Fieldnotes: secret cults

Nothing is more fun than researching secret cults. Okay, seriously, there are a lot of things more fun than researching secret cults. However, a writer has to do what a writer must do, so in this second installment of Fieldnotes, I'm going to briefly talk about one aspect of secret cults that finally found it's way into Where Oblivion Lives.

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There are quite a few books on the Nazis and the occult, but the one most referenced is The occult roots of Nazism: secret Aryan cults and their influence on Nazi ideology by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. This book is simultaneously the most thorough and driest examination of the subject that you will find.

Dry.

Desert dry.

But thorough. Very thorough and very informative. Three pages of notes informative.

How much of this information made it into the novel? Probably a quarter of those notes actually landed in the story.

The practice of vehmgericht played a large role in the initial draft of Where Oblivion Lives. The idea of secret courts went hand-in-hand with my nefilim, who operate undercover within the mortal realm.

What is vehmgericht?

According to Goodrick-Clarke:

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The vehmgericht constituted the last of List's guilds and was supposed to have translated the holy Armanist gnosis into a 'kalic' form so that it might survive the Christian epoch. Since the vehmgericht really was a a secret institution, founded to administer law in the Holy Roman Empire between the early thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, it seemed a most effective agent for List's occult heritage. Vehmic law most probably originated in pre-Carolingian times, but it was not until the late twelfth century that it assumed historical significance. At this time the imperial jurisdiction was being usurped by the new territorial princes, who were striving to assume the political authority of the old feudal estates. To counter this modern tendency the Archbishop of Cologne placed himself at the head of a long-standing system of local courts, which were to pass capital sentences in the name of the Emperor. An old parochial institution thus assumed a new historical role. From their origin in Westphalia these vehmgerichts soon spread through the Empire wherever conservative men sought to hinder the power of princes.

That is the historical basis for vehmgericht. Due to the secretive nature of the proceedings, vehmgericht later slipped into the realm of Gothic novels written between 1780 and 1820, which redefined the vehmgericht to represent a powerful secret court that exercised justice against "local despots and their lackeys." Resurrecting this mysterious court for my own novel, I added a few twists, but maintained the name vehmgericht primarily due to the location of the novel's events, which are in Germany.

Like my Gothic predecessors, I kept the essential structure of vehmgericht, but reshaped other parts of the practice to meet my own story's needs. In the Los Nefilim series, vehmgericht are secret courts used by the nefilim to judge those members who betray the angels. The kings and queens of the nefilim's Inner Guards administer these courts, and they may pass capital sentences in the name of the Thrones, the angels who rule the celestial realms.

Vehmgericht.

Hold onto that word.

Disaster utopias

Hang in there ... this is another one of those long gotta-get-it-out-of-my-head-before-I-can-move-on posts. I'll try and do a fun post after this mass of thoughts has cleared my head.

Human behavior baffles me. It's one of the reasons I write. Stories are my way of trying on someone else's mindset in order to see how they think.

Sometimes reality intrudes. For the first six months after the 2016 election, journalist after journalist canvased America, trying to understand the phenomenon behind Trump's election. Nothing they said rang true to me.

I didn't—and still don't—buy into the theory that rural voters are stupid. Educated people live in rural areas, too. People with college educations voted for Trump. Journalists' attempts to fit all of these groups into one mold felt like a jigsaw puzzle hammered together—the picture was disjointed at best, broken in other places. However, in reading all of those articles, I did find a couple of common characteristics in these voters: they were Evangelical (or identified with Evangelical churches) and they shared feelings of persecution exacerbated by the rhetoric of their pastors, the GOP, the NRA, and straight-up lunatics like Alex Jones.

Remember that I was raised in the shadow of the Evangelicals. I talk a little about that here and also here, and probably somewhere else too, because religion and its grip on the supplicant's mind fascinates me.

Anyway, the important takeaway from both of those posts is that throughout my childhood I was told not to question the authority of the Bible or my minister. Likewise, politicians told me that they knew what was best for me, and based on their superior knowledge, I should simply accept my circumstances and be happy with what I had, because hey, questions are easy, answers are hard.

This is important, because the command not to question authority is drummed into a child's head from their first experience in an Evangelical church to their last. It's a form of brainwashing and explains why GOP and the NRA can lead their followers to drink the Kool-Aid.

Since my childhood, I’ve noticed that the indoctrination age also seems to have dropped. When my daughter was very young, five or six, she wanted to spend a Saturday night with my niece and her family. I knew this meant she would end up going to church the next morning, but I figured, hey, little kids in Sunday school with Jesus and all of the baby lambs, what could possibly go wrong?

Over dinner that Sunday evening, I asked my daughter how church went and she proceeded to tell me about Satan and the demons from Hell and how the world was going to end in fire and blood. I inquired about Jesus and the baby lambs, and she told me the preacher talked about nothing but end-times. From that point forward, I took over my daughter's spiritual education, found a nice Episcopal Church (Catholic-lite, all the ritual, none of the guilt), and forbade my sister from taking my daughter to her cult-church again.

Bad experiences aside, I've always wondered why Evangelical ministers seize so fervently on these apocalyptic themes. It's almost like they exult in recounting the suffering to come.

And then, while doing research for Where Oblivion Lives, I accidentally stumbled on the reason.

In this passage from The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (p. 86), Goodrick-Clarke discusses Michael Barkun's theory of a "disaster utopia":

"Barkun observes the ambiguity of disaster which, while obviously subjecting people to deprivation, can also produce unusual feelings of well-being. He notes that disasters often induce a temporary sense of common purpose and that 'invidious social distinctions disappear in a suddenly opened and democratized atmosphere.' This evaluation accords well with the euphoria implicit in the ‘Ideas of 1914′, and also illuminates [Guido von] List’s enthusiasm for the actual hardships of war. Because a belief in the millennium often assumes the occurrence of disasters that precede the epiphany, the sense of fellowship in the midst of actual disasters can appear to confirm the millenarian expectations. For List, suffering augured salvation."

Ah! said my brain as it is wont to do in these circumstances. This fits. These themes of end-times persecution give a lot of Evangelicals that sense of common purpose. Together, they will suffer through the occurrences of disasters, a process that will bring them all closer together in their shared adversity. The epiphany—or Christ's second coming—is soon to be had, delivering them from a world filled with pain and broken promises.

Suffering augurs salvation.

That's the Kool-Aid.

Some of us drink it, some of us spit it out.

Because no matter how Evangelical ministers and the GOP might misrepresent the situation, Christians are not oppressed. Their churches flourish, their politicians are in office—misquoting Bible verses and making Jesus look bad—but there is no oppression here. No one is arrested for going to church. People might disagree with you (or your religion or your politics), but that's not the same thing as persecution.

Yet in the minds of those that adhere to the disaster utopia one cannot suffer without persecution. So the ministers and the NRA and the GOP manufacture persecutions.

Remember how armies of ISIS troops were flooding over the Mexican border? Remember how Obama was coming to take your guns? And how Obama intended to scheme his way into being elected for a third term?

How many of these things actually came to pass?

None.

They were lies predicated on fear.

Now the groups propagating disaster utopias must find different ways to keep their base in a state of fear. Now they must manufacture new and improved terrors. They want their listeners to be scared of people different from themselves. They divide the world into right and wrong, black and white, right and left, conservative and liberal.

Subtleties cannot exist within these labels, because nuance mitigates the community's suffering, and without suffering, salvation remains distant, robbing the true oppressors—those that advocate disaster utopias—of their power over others. And therein lies the answer that all the news outlets are missing.

The Evangelical ministers and the GOP continually warp reality in order to convince people they are the victims of persecution by telling them what they’re eager to hear: your circumstances are not your fault, it's all those other people who are the problem and once they're gone, everything will be just fine for you, and enough Americans drink the Kool-Aid on a regular basis, and here we are.

The Evangelicals and the GOP claim they are embroiled in a holy war whereupon their suffering will bring them salvation. But that’s their utopia, not mine.

I'll take my epiphany without a disaster, thank you very much. I hope you'll join me in spitting out that brand of Kool-Aid too, because if we allow ourselves to be manipulated into another disaster, we might not find our way out.