The Greatest Mystery

A New Reading from The Acts of Simon Magus

It is Simon’s fate to be forever linked to the corrupting influence of money in spiritual affairs, as the only person to have a major sin named after him (Onan doesn’t count). But as with Onan, the sin associated with Simon is not the one he actually committed. Simony, the selling of time off from Purgatory for the not-entirely damned, was one of the major causes of the revulsion with the Church that led to the Reformation. But Simon in the Bible wasn’t selling salvation, he was trying to buy it, and the representatives of the nascent Church weren’t selling. (Future readings from The Acts will reveal his true motives in that affair.) Meanwhile, here’s how Simon learned about the other Great Power from his Ba, Adonis the Messager.

Once when I was about six, Ba announced that he would reveal the greatest mystery of all. He reached for my ear and produced from it a small shiny disc, which he handed me.

"Look at this. Tell me what you see."

I looked.

"It’s yellow metal. There’s a man’s face in profile on one side and a wreath of leaves on the other."

"Who is the man?"

"I don’t know. Is that his name? There’s some writing, like Greek, but not really. ANSNZT…?"

"It’s Roman writing, and that’s Caesar Augustus, thy God & Master. And what thou holdest there is called money. It has a mighty power. With it, thou canst make men do anything thou wist."

Now you should understand that where we lived, this thing called money was just not used. We grew what we needed, and what we couldn’t grow, we traded for. /sm

I turned my money around in my hand. How did it work? I aimed it at Soch, willing him to stand on his head, but to no avail. Ba laughed.

"Not that kind of power. But offer anyone enough of these, and he’ll be thy willing slave forever. He will grovel before thee, kiss thy boots, offer up his wife or his own arse for the fucking, all for the power given by this magical stuff!"

I looked again at my money. It seemed scarcely credible.

"It is pretty," I said, "but why would you want more than one?"

"It is true," he replied, "that it has no value in itself. Thou canst not eat it, or use it for any practical task, but Caesar has decreed that everything: food, beasts, work, time, love–all these may be got or given in trade for a certain number of these bits of metal. The more thou hast, the more power thou hast over others. And this may be accomplished in two ways: thou mayst buy their services outright, and this may be effective for so long as thou continuest to pay them, and there are no competing bidders.

"But listen o my sons, here is the true secret of money! Once thou hast some to spare, simply persuade a man (or his wife!) that he needs more of the things it can buy than he has or can afford, and offer him enough of these to get them. Only have him vow to repay at a future time a little more than you lent him, and thou shalt surely find at the end of the day that he is thine!

"Hear me o my sons! Greed is a muscle: the more thou workest it, the greater it grows. One who’s never known more than he needs will never desire more. Only let him taste something new, and he will want more, and then more, and gladly work harder and harder yet to get it. But when his own labour is not enough, as it cannot ever be above a certain point, he must turn again to the lender to fulfill his new desire. And of course from this point he can never repay, only borrow anew to keep on top of his old debts and new purchases, and thus he and his kin become flies in thy web forever.

"Doubt not, o my sons, that the true rulers of this world are not the emperors or the kings, but the lender who finances them! Yet he desires not power, nor glory, nor honour, nor any of those things princes hold dear. All he craves is more of these, more than he can possibly ever spend, and to get them he must enslave all mankind!"

My mind was swimming with new words: "money", "lend", "debt", "finance"; but I got the idea, and added lender to my growing list of potential future careers. Soch, however, was skeptical.

"And what," he enquired, "prevents those rulers from simply giving the lenders the chop once they have what they want of them, and become pressed to repay?"

"Nothing," admitted Ba, "and of course it happens. But when next they require more than their taxers and armies can provide, they’ll have a hard time raising funds."

Interview With The Magus

I had my first interview for the Acts of Simon Magus on May 7, with the Aeon Arcanum Gnostic Show!

I don’t normally get to actually talk to anyone about the themes and ideas surrounding the Acts and it was a lot of fun. Host James (and, briefly, Alex) were very knowledgeable, and are in fact writing their own book (non-fiction) on the same theme. It’s interesting how different people can have such different takes on the same topic; of course the realities and mythologies of Simon and his more famous contemporaries have been fervently debated for 2000 years and will no doubt be for another 2000. What’s also interesting is how one looks on video when not accustomed to it: when you’re used to seeing yourself in a mirror you don’t notice any facial asymmetries, but they’re doubled when you see yourself unreflected. Well, I guess I’ll have to get used to it!

Blood Creature From Beyond The Grave

…and on an unrelated topic, I have finally got unlimited length permission from YouTube and was able to upload a film I made with Ron Hier in our student days. It’s at Blood Creature From Beyond The Grave, our tribute to the black & white silent horror films of the 1920s. I play the demon Baal-Rakon. Rather lo-res: taped from a 16mm projector on a VHS camcorder 20 years ago and transferred to disk at 352×240 resolution. Will Simon hit the big (or small) screen one day? Are The Acts even filmable? With current technology you can film anything you can imagine, but some scenes may be too much for even the most permissive modern sensibilities: Derdekea In Trouble maybe? What do you think? Comment below, and sign up at left to follow this very strange journey I find myself embarked on.

A note on language

Continuing my previous post on the language of The Acts, I’d like to address one aspect of that, namely that spoken by the players in the tale when addressing each other. For the past 300 years or so the English language has lacked the formal/informal distinction of, for example, French or German, where tu/du is used for people who are equal or socially inferior, and vous/Sie is used for elders and superiors, as well as for the plural. English has used “you” for everyone since the 18th century, but the old singular thee/thou survived much longer in the King James Bible and is now regarded as a kind of marker for ancient and obsolete biblical speech. Restoring it in The Acts allows me to play with language and express the sense of both modernity and archaism (as well as making the job of the translators into other languages easier :)). The characters use modern slang and ancient forms to show that they are of both times. Even the most historical of fiction or out-there sci-fi is the product of an author in a particular time and place and will inevitably reflect that. The Acts does deal with contemporary questions, whether political, social or religious/spiritual, through a distorting glass of 2000 years. The answers to those questions considered acceptable today are not necessarily (in my opinion) superior to what I have proposed for that far-off time, and I’ll let you figure out my true opinion from the context.

For the exam: How does the Phoenician hustler’s offer of “Hello my friend! You fuck me, I fuck thee? Sure, no problem!” exemplify the dynamic discussed in this post?

What is the Purpose of Religion?

This question is one of the main themes of the book, answered differently by different characters. It is posed by the Jewish philosopher Philon to young Simon, who is working as his scribe in his class at the Academy in Alexandria. Philon’s own answer is a foreshadowing of Christianity, involving the individual in a personal relationship with God, mediated by His Holy Word who acts as intermediary. Simon, from a Canaanite pagan background, has a more practical answer:

Spent all last night preparing materials for Philon’s lectures. His main thing is reconciling his own faith with Hellenic philosophy and the Aigyptian mysteries.

Here is a taste, transcribed from the first seminar I attended under him.

“What,” he intoned, “is the purpose of religion?”

He looked around expectantly at the polynational crowd at his feet, and they looked back. No one answered. Well, I knew, and raised my hand. He nodded.

“If you please, sir, to please the Gods.”

“Interesting. Please explain.”

“You know, if you want the crops to grow, you give praise to Them and sacrifice something you hold dear. That way They’ll like you and spare you over to another season.”

“I see. And to which Gods dost thou sacrifice in… where didst say thou wert from?”

“Syria. The Baals of the High Places. But of course when we go to a Greek town we pretend to sacrifice to Zeus and His lot, and here I guess to Whomever they have here.”

“And what happens to thee after thou diest… in Syria?”

“Same as anyplace. You hang around as a ghost if you’ve got unfinished business, then off to Mot’s Place, feed off whatever sacrifices your folks send you, and help them out if they need you.”

“Interesting. And finally, how did the world come to be?”

I’m glad you asked: Uncle Khain’s drilled it into me often enough!

“Well, first was Black Cloud and Wind, They produced Desire (but didn’t know it), and Dirt and Water came together to make World, and the Watchers were like eggs and they Watched as Black Cloud blew open and bled Daylight, and Water covered all, and Other Wind mated with Wilderness so Time could begin and Sun could rise (but Fire bore Himself), then the Highest One came together with Covenant and made Sky and Earth and Mountains and The Deep, and the First Gods came from them, but Sky hated Him and sent Her to kill Him, but They married anyway and had the other Gods… I can name them all if you like…”

“That won’t be necessary,” he smiled. The others snickered. “Anyone else?”

And for the next quarter-hour we had to listen to the wildly conflicting and utterly incomprehensible deeds of weird and whacky Gods from all over the world. I don’t know why they didn’t just accept mine; it was the only one that made sense.

What’s your answer? Let me know below.

Simon and the Modern World

A book like The Acts gives plenty of scope for parallels between life in the modern and ancient world. One of Simon’s youthful innovations is a mechanical harvester, and its fate at the hands of the Roman authorities demonstrates an essential difference between the two mentalities. In a pre-industrial society, technical innovation is something to be suppressed as a danger to the established order, something almost incomprehensible to the modern mind. On the other hand, the corrupting influence of money was just coming into its own. The rise of the moneychangers to their utter dominance of the world of today was just in its infancy, but the tales of Christ’s driving them from the Temple and Judas’ betrayal, and the original story of Simon Magus himself offering silver to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles, were beginning to prefigure such a world. (I have chosen to make Simon’s motives in this affair, like those in all his associated legends, more complex than the Biblical version may indicate.) Simon’s worldly father Adonis has some things to say on this topic.

One obvious occasion for satire is when Simon actually meets someone from our own time. The time-traveling guard of the crucifixion viewing booth, though dressed right, lacks sensory cues which, though obvious to Simon, have been totally overlooked by whoever sent him, and cause Simon to doubt his very humanity. Simon’s werewolf companion Gorgio also provides scope for contrasting big city, relatively modern, life with his rather savage background, usually to the detriment of the former. And the dialogue combines archaic with modern in a way some people have found jarring. Hopefully they’ll get used to it, because I find that’s the funnest part of the whole exercise (not least because I can make the pedants cringe with words like “funnest”!). It can be hard to strike a balance, but I find that if I read it out loud, and fix it till it sounds good, well, I think that’s how it should be done. Even everyday speech has a rhythm to it, which may be lacking in written dialogue. Literature of that time was generally poetic, even novels and scientific texts, so The Acts will be too, except for the breaking into lines part, which I always find irritating in translations of old texts. Sometimes of course the story needs to break into verse, or even song, and that requires even more attention to the sound of it. Great fun!

What do you think of mixing old and new language elements in a story like this?

Simon Meets Dexter

I am quite enjoying this. Simon is, I guess what you would call a sociopath, in that he sees most other people as means to an end and does not hesitate to manipulate them to get what he wants. On the other hand, he is very loyal to those to whom he has become attached. Family is important, friendship even moreso. He is possibly something like the character of Dexter on the TV show, who is supposed to be a psycho killer with a heart of gold. I like the show but wonder if Dexter is really possible in the real world. Like any hero, his appeal is based on the ability of the audience to identify with his struggles; in this case his desire to fit into, and alienation from, human society, and his mission to destroy very bad people without legal complications. Simon lives in a very different society but, like Dexter, he does not really feel part of it, and therefore considers himself unconstrained by its conventions. I am still getting to know Simon by the thoughts and actions he reveals, and have yet to find out if he presents either a plausible or (much more important) an interesting character that people will care enough about to read the next page.

Can an outright villain be a sympathetic character? What are your thoughts?

Getting going

It is very easy to get distracted. In my case it is by another thing which has been delayed much too long and about which I have a real block. So when I start thinking about this project, the other one rears its head and I have trouble doing anything. I am taking 2 days off work and am doing that and I hope that will finally free me. There is so much to do on Simon Magus and I am grateful that this gives me the incentive to clear things up. Progress coming soon!

A Week

OK so it’s been a week since I last wrote here. I have made some progress in the story; I’ve done about 22 pages in the last month. Which is not bad since I thought I might need another 100 over what I had already. But it’s becoming plain that more than that is needed. A lot more. Those pages have filled a couple of gaps, but there are many essential parts with no content as yet. Just push on I guess.

I have been looking into crowdsourcing. That’s the concept where you post your project for the world to see on a site like IndieGoGo or KickStarter, and watch people beat a path to your door to throw money at you in order to complete your project, in this case The Acts of Simon Magus. It requires an active marketing campaign over probably 2 months, putting together a viral video, promotion on social media and above all getting people to respond, putting myself and Simon out there for all the world to see, risking getting shot down, maybe even finding out the whole thing is destined to bust. Well, better to find that out before blowing any more effort. But I really think Simon is worth the effort, and I think I can get others to think so too. What do you think?

I think the world is ready for Simon. He is both part of his world and totally apart from it. He has (he tells himself, possibly truthfully) true magical power but, due to a bad experience with a very bad God, can’t use it. He wants to do right, but doesn’t really know what that is.

The Return of Simon Magus

The Acts of Simon Magus in the First (and Fourth) Centuries AD is the memoirs of the notorious Gnostic sorcerer, a contemporary of Christ, whose name became synonymous with heresy and corruption. I began writing it 20 years ago, wrote for about 3 years, and have largely (though not entirely) neglected it ever since. I have recently decided that I really should get the damn thing done, and this site is my way of ensuring that I do. You are welcome to follow my journey, and please click above to find out more about this fascinating character, read some excerpts from the work so far, and let me know what you think. /glen