Ringing the Changes

Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919), The Storm Spirits, 1900

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (4)

“Always ring the changes.” (The Ten Laws; David Douglas Thompson)

 

“There is no superior rock on which to stand.” (David Douglas Thompson)

 

Epistemology is the study of knowledge – it asks how we know what we think we know. It isn’t possible to claim any form of knowledge unless you can say what you consider to be real in the first place – but if “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion,” then all claims of knowledge come down to simple assertions that a particular interaction has been experienced.

 

This doesn’t mean you simply create your own reality – it isn’t that easy to change your relationships at will! Still, the subjective and interactive nature of knowledge implies that truth must be polyvalent, impossible to reduce to any binary, not something you can pin down. Is critical thinking even possible under these circumstances?

 

Yes, it is – but it does take some flexibility. The epistemology of Relationship Theory is not as permissive as it looks. If reality is defined solely by interactions, it must be defined by all of them. You can’t pick and choose which interactions to include in your reality. You might talk yourself into thinking that your positive thoughts will shape the universe, but when the first of the month comes around rent must still be paid.

 

A great many descriptions of reality are inadequate, incapable of accounting for all the things we actually experience. Such descriptions of reality may contain partial truths, but are not valid to an equal extent with more functional worldviews.

 

The first step in Relationship Theory’s approach to critical thinking is to sift out whatever doesn’t work, leaving only those worldviews that seem to account equally well for all our experiences. Most people would prefer to select one of the remaining worldviews on some arbitrary basis, a philosophical or religious dogma. Any such selection, however, would not be provable, as two worldviews that work equally well cannot be distinguished from each other on any absolute basis.

 

The other option is agnosticism – refusing to choose between the options without more evidence. When you refuse to take a position, you can’t do anything at all, so this approach tends to make any topic it is applied to irrelevant.

 

The scientific method is to maintain agnosticism on any topic while you gather more information, but to provisionally accept whatever explanation is best supported by the available evidence. That method works perfectly well for most practical questions, but not for questions of metaphysics for which there can be no definitive evidence.

 

That’s why scientists choose not to address questions for which there can be no evidence, rightly declaring them to be “not scientific.” A number of prominent scientists have used this to argue that metaphysics is useless, because no one can test a metaphysical statement to find out whether it is true or not. Relationship Theory is a way around this problem, a way to think about the things we can’t use science to think about.

 

Instead of choosing or refusing to choose between equally possible but contradictory viewpoints, Relationship Theory suggests a different approach: “ring the changes” on them instead.

 

Since the 17th century, bell-ringers at English churches have had a tradition of playing the large church bells in sequence, alternating the bells according to mathematical patterns with names like “Plain Bob” and “Queens”. Teams of expert bell ringers can perform long sequences of these patterns or “changes” from memory, eventually cycling back to wherever they began without ever repeating a single sequence along the way.

 

Because of the constantly changing sequences of notes, the concept of ringing the changes has long been used as an analogy for other types of change. “Ringing the changes” can refer to turning the tables on a bully or an enemy. It can refer to doing something differently in your daily routine to defeat boredom.

 

It can also refer to playing with different ideas or perspectives rather than committing to just one viewpoint, a type of polyvalent or “multiple truth” approach to life and thought. Polyvalent thinking is usually seen as a postmodern attitude, a reaction to life in a multicultural world in which there are no longer any universally-held assumptions about almost any aspect of reality.

 

However, polyvalent thinking is actually much older than that, and bell-ringing has been used as an analogy for polyvalence since at least 1614. In the words of religious writer Thomas Ashe in his work The Divill’s Banket, “some ring the changes of opinions.”

 

To ring the changes in this sense means to broaden your view, to see the world or the specific problem you’re considering from more than one perspective – in fact, from as many perspectives as possible. Just as a bell ringer can ring the changes with four bells or six bells or eight, you can ring the changes of ideas and worldviews.

 

A complete bell-ringing change always begins and ends with the same sequence of bells. For instance, the smallest bell with the highest note followed by a second slightly larger bell with a lower note, a third and still larger bell with an even lower note and finally the largest bell with the lowest note. This sequence would be described as 1234, and any change beginning with 1234 would always end with the same sequence when ringing a “full peal” of bell changes. This particular sequence on four bells is known as Plain Bob, and the complete pattern looks like this:

 

1234, 2143, 2413, 4231, 4321, 3412, 3142, 1324, 1342, 3124, 3214, 2341, 2431, 4213, 4123, 1432, 1423, 4132, 4312, 3421, 3241, 2314, 2134, 1243, 1234.

 

To ring the changes on a set of ideas means a lot more than to just consider them. You should actually convince yourself of each one in turn, thinking as seriously as you can about all the implications of each perspective. For example:

 

1- If the universe is made entirely of matter, then the mind is just something generated by the brain – an epiphenomenon of the brain, as scientists and philosophers would say. Your thoughts and your feelings are just chemicals and electrical impulses; your sense of self is merely an organizing principle that helps your brain run the show. What implications does this have for life and death? For spirituality and religion?

 

2- If the universe is made entirely of mind, then everything that seems like solid matter is really just a mental phenomenon. But whose mind is doing the imagining here? Is it your own mind? An infinite number of separate minds? A universal consciousness? If it’s all your own mind, why can’t you control reality just by thinking about it – or is it possible that you actually do, and it’s your own mind you can’t control? If “you” can’t control your own mind, then what is this “you” if it’s not your mind?

 

3- What if both things are true at the same time, so that the brain appears to generate the mental world if you look at the brain first but the mind seems to generate the physical world if you look at the mind first? Or what if mind and matter are two distinct yet equally real things? If that’s the case, then how can mind and matter have any effect on each other? If mind and matter are both real yet separate, can the mind continue when the body dies?

 

4- What if mind and matter are both illusions, and the true nature of the universe is something else entirely? Buddhism declares that all things are void of any essential nature or existence. What does it mean to say that the phenomena we encounter on a daily basis are void of any essential nature? If they aren’t “really” mind or matter or any other thing, then what are they and what are you?

 

There are also patterns for six bells and eight bells. There is no need to use these specific patterns when applying the concept to ideas and worldviews, although it can be an interesting exercise to think of the bell-ringing changes as templates for a polyvalent logic system. For example:

 

If p, then q.

 

1- P, therefore q.

 

2- Not p, therefore not q.

 

3- Usually p, therefore usually q.

 

4- Usually not p, therefore usually not q.

 

5- Sometimes p, therefore sometimes q.

 

6- Sometimes not p, therefore sometimes not q.

 

7- Occasionally p, therefore occasionally q.

 

8- Occasionally not p, therefore occasionally not q.

 

This pattern can be applied to any question assertion you can think of. For example:

 

“If empiricism is the only valid epistemology, then magical thinking is a fallacy.”

1- Empiricism is the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is a fallacy.

 

2- Empiricism is not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is not a fallacy.

 

3- Empiricism is usually the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is usually a fallacy.

 

4- Empiricism is usually not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is usually not a fallacy.

 

5- Empiricism is sometimes the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is sometimes a fallacy.

 

6- Empiricism is sometimes not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is sometimes not a fallacy.

 

7- Empiricism is occasionally the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is occasionally a fallacy.

 

8- Empiricism is occasionally not the only valid epistemology, so magical thinking is occasionally not a fallacy.

 

When you’re ringing the changes, you should try not to move on to the next change until you have really experienced the current one. Even if you’re strongly inclined to one particular perspective, you should try to really feel the truth of the opposite perspective before you move on from it. When you move on to the next step, don’t leave the previous step behind – play the next bell while the echoes of the previous bells are still ringing. Hold the paradox in your mind without choosing between the different worldviews.

 

What’s the magical benefit of this? If absolute reality is unknowable and everything comes down to interactions, then whoever can look at the world from the broadest possible range of perspectives has the greatest access to the magic. Not trapped or defined by any single narrow worldview, the person capable of ringing the changes can play reality like a peal of bells.

 

(Next: The Ten Laws)

Image by Evelyn de Morgan)

Interactions Are the Reality

Blake_jacobsladder

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (3)

“Proposition: We (humans) know only the various relationships an object has with ourselves and the rest of the universe as seen from our point of view. We cannot know the thing in and of itself, only observe its interactions with other objects.” (Notes on Relationships; David Douglas Thompson)

 

“Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” (The Ten Laws; David Douglas Thompson)

 

Although my father referred to this concept as Relationship Theory, it isn’t actually a theory in the scientific sense. Relationship Theory is a philosophy, highly similar to Interanimism, Agential Realism and similar currents in contemporary magical thought. The main difference between Relationship Theory and similar philosophies is that these philosophies are generally materialist in orientation whereas my father’s Theory is neither materialist nor idealist.

 

Philosophers have proposed a number of different answers to the question of what reality is, but most of these answers are variations on materialism, idealism and dualism.

 

Materialists assume that there is nothing except matter, and that anything that seems non-material (such as the mind) is actually just a side-effect or emergent property of matter. This is the most common view among modern scientists, although not the only one.

 

Idealists believe the exact opposite – that there is nothing except for mind, and anything that seems non-mental (such as matter) is actually just a manifestation of consciousness. This view is counterintuitive for most people, but it has a lot more going for it than it might appear to at first glance and historically has been a difficult position to effectively challenge. A few scientists in the modern era have been idealists, because it is easier to resolve some of the most complex paradoxes of physics if you assume a universe of mind rather than matter. Idealism is also the basis for mystical philosophies like Vedanta.

 

Dualists believe that both mind and matter are real and distinct from each other. The dualist mindset formed the basis of early modern science but is now out of favor among both philosophers and scientists, although a lot of people assume a dualist worldview without realizing they are doing so.

 

Of course, there are many philosophies that don’t fit neatly into one of these three camps, but most of them are actually variations on one of the three. For instance, some people believe that there is nothing but mind and that there are an infinite number of different minds. Others believe that all of reality is just a single mind. Both of these positions are idealist philosophies, but they have very different implications.

 

Immanuel Kant was a less extreme sort of idealist. He never said that mind was the only reality, but his philosophy does imply that we can’t possibly know otherwise. We would have to use our minds to even ask the question, so we can think about it all we want and apply any form of evidence we like – and all that thinking, measuring and experimenting will still be happening inside our minds. If there is any reality outside the mind, we can’t know what it really is in and of itself. Kant’s form of idealism is called “Transcendental Idealism,” and it had a huge influence on all subsequent philosophy.

 

Richard Tarnas, in The Passion of the Western Mind, described the dilemma of modern thought as the collapse of objectivity, the death of the illusion of absolute truth, and the alienation we experience as a result:

 

“The world is in some essential sense a construct. Human knowledge is radically interpretive. There are no perspective-independent facts. Every act of perception and cognition is contingent, mediated, situated, contextual, theory-soaked. Human language cannot establish its ground in an independent reality. Meaning is rendered by the mind and cannot be assumed to inhere in the object, in the world beyond the mind, for that world can never be contacted without having already been saturated by the mind’s own nature. That world cannot even be justifiably postulated. Radical uncertainty prevails, for in the end what one knows and experiences is to an indeterminate extent a projection.”

 

In such a world as the one Tarnas describes, there can seemingly be no metaphysics, because all metaphysical arguments depend on the ability to make definitive statements about reality based on the logical structures created by human reason. As these structures themselves cannot be objective, they can ultimately tell us nothing at all about reality itself.

 

The mind that observes the physical universe has no way of getting out of its own way while it performs its observations. All knowledge is provisional and contextual; there is no reliable way to determine whether anything we are experiencing is “really real.” To take one popular example, how can we know that our reality is not a simulation created by a superior intelligence?

 

It seems to me that before we can ask what we consider real, we ought to ask what we mean by “real.” If we’re trying to ask what is real in and of itself, then the question is unanswerable. The absolute perspective is not available to us, and it is logically untenable that it ever could be – unless a person could somehow step out of the universe, abstracted from all particulars, and watch the whole thing from outside. So the question of what is absolutely real is an incoherent one – it presupposes what might be called a “God’s eye view,” which is simply not available to us.

 

The most extreme alternative, however, seems intuitively false – that is, to consider all of reality to be completely subjective, controlled by our thoughts and beliefs alone. According to this view of the universe, all I can say is what is real to me, and my view is no more or less valid than any other – regardless of its relationship to anything else. This extreme form of subjectivism is simply untenable. If I step off a building I will fall, and it won’t really matter what I think about it.

 

What is needed is a more precise and yet more flexible understanding of what we mean by reality, one that adequately accounts for all observed phenomena without making any unsupportable claims to absolute truth. This is what Relationship Theory attempts to do, beginning with the assertion that there is no perception without contrast.

 

Suppose any situation in which there is no contrast of any kind – a field of white light or a pitch-black void – and the result is blindness. An example from the real world would be the condition known as whiteout, in which the white sky of a winter storm and the white of the snow on the ground produce snow blindness. For anyone to see anything, there must be some form of contrast.

 

This applies to other forms of perception as well. If your hand is at a higher temperature than the water you dip it into, then the water will be perceived as cold. This won’t happen if the water and your hand are both at the same temperature. A piece of silk feels smooth to the touch because it is smoother than your own skin. Perception is always a kind of confrontation, in which two things which are in some way unalike come into contact with each other. This encounter between unlike objects is by definition a relationship, an interaction between entities. The moment we encounter the world, we encounter relationship.

 

I look down at the desk on which I am writing this and am aware of its presence, due solely to a series of interactions. Beams of light passing into my eyes, changing as they are reflected by the lens, create a picture in my mind. My hand resting on the surface of the desk sends a message to my brain, creating a sense of its solidity and shape. All these experiences are perceptions of contrast, of that which is other than me in its encounter with me, of an entity which is contrasted in some way with the other factors in its environment and the interactions of that entity with those other factors. Without this interaction between opposing entities, I would be unable to perceive the desk at all, or anything else.

 

Our entire experience of the world we live in, the premise underlying all daily existence, is the interaction between things that are unalike. If either factor is not present, then there is no perception. Two entities that did not interact, either directly or indirectly, could not ever become known to each other or affect each other in any way. They would, essentially, not exist to each other, although for this to really be possible in a strict sense they would have to occupy different universes. Two entities so completely alike that no contrast could be perceived between them on any level would not be perceived as two entities but as one. To exist in the universe, we require the other. Erase the other and you erase the world.

 

Therefore, a thing cannot be known in and of itself, but only as part of a particular relationship. This is something we encounter on a daily basis. There’s no way for me to see you as you see yourself, because I cannot have the experience of being you from the inside but only from the outside. I don’t encounter you at all, but my interpretation of you. I cannot see the table as it is in itself, but only as it appears in its relationship with me. I cannot see this book as it is in itself, or the walking stick in the corner, or the floor beneath my feet.  There is nothing whatsoever that I can experience as it is in itself, because everything I do experience must be mediated by my senses, and then by the mind that interprets that information.

 

What I encounter in all my interactions is simply a flow of information, a set of relationships of which I am a part.

 

“Interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what form a thing has or seems to have (whether mind or matter, real or unreal, relative or absolute) – the only thing that matters is what interactions this thing has with other things.

 

In Relationship Theory, the categories of mind and matter are done away with and replaced by something called a “zed object.” An interaction or relationship is called a “zed,” so a zed object is anything capable of having an interaction with another thing. A human being is a zed object, each cell in that human being’s body is a zed object and every thought in that human being’s head is a zed object too. Every atom in the universe is a zed object, but all of the things made out of those atoms are also zed objects. Concepts and percepts are both zed objects. A gene is a zed object and a meme is a zed object.

 

Another way of putting it is that a zed object is simply a piece of information – any information of any type. So, where a materialist believes that everything is matter and an idealist believes that everything is mind, Relationship Theory says that everything is information. If we start from the assumption that all of reality is an infinitely complex network of interactions between information-units, we no longer need to analyze or question whether these information-units are “in your head” or outside it. We only need to look at what they do.

 

This doesn’t mean that all opinions are created equal. Why? Because any useful description of reality must account for all the relationships, it must deal with everything that is experienced. If you believe something contrary to what you yourself experience, your belief is not useful; it cannot account for all of your interactions with the universe.

 

For instance, if you experience yourself as having wings, but fall to your death when you attempt to fly, then your description of reality obviously failed to account for the entirety of your own experience. On the other hand, there is no need to second-guess whatever you do experience, to ask yourself if you are really just a brain in a vat being controlled by a computer. When you say that something is real, you are only saying that you directly experience it – there is no other meaning to the word “real.”

 

According to Hilary Putnam in Reason, Truth and History, metaphysical realism can be defined as the belief that there is “some fixed totality of mind-independent objects”. The problem with this philosophy is that it allows for only one description of reality to be complete and accurate – and that leads to some bizarre unintended consequences.

 

When you say the word “house,” it either refers to a real house that is actually there outside the mind or to an imaginary house that does not exist outside the mind. If you’re really nothing but a brain in a vat, then none of the houses you have ever seen is a real house. Popular science writer Neil DeGrasse Tyson expressed strong support for this view at the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, stating that the odds we are all living in an elaborate simulation of reality “may be very high.”

 

In Relationship Theory, the word “house” does not refer to some hypothetical mind-independent object called a house. It only refers to the direct experience we call a house. Relationship Theory treats whatever we experience as being real. This has just as many bizarre implications as metaphysical realism, but they are implications we can work with.

 

One of those implications is that there can be no single complete and accurate description of reality, as that would require “some fixed totality of mind-independent objects” and leave us stranded in the simulation problem. If reality is simply an infinite network of interactions between information objects, then there must be multiple different functional descriptions of that reality. So what do we do with that implication?

 

(Next: Ringing the Changes)

Image by William Blake

A Metaphysics of Relationship

Walter Crane, Freedom, 1885

Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.

Form is the Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (2)

Relationship Theory is both a theory of knowledge and a theory of being.

The ontology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” In other words, the theory draws no distinction between different forms of existence. Material objects and mental objects are both referred to as “zeds,” or entities capable of being in relationship. The theory concerns itself only with the interaction between these zeds, without assessing which of them can be said to have some sort of objective validity and which cannot. The question of whether a particular zed “really exists” is treated as irrelevant because it is inherently unknowable.

 

We are constantly taught to doubt the reality of our own spiritual experiences – some of the most meaningful and beautiful experiences we have as human beings. Traditional religions teach us to question them as potentially demonic, while skeptical materialism teaches us to dismiss them as mere illusions. The constant presence of both these ideas is a barrier to experiencing real magic, because we cannot simply inhabit the worldview of our ancestors for whom the reality of the spiritual world was totally unquestioned. Rather than vainly attempting to inhabit a mental space we can no longer reach (and producing weak magic as a direct result), we can simply step around the barrier.

 

Interactions are the reality, so our relationship with the magical world is all that matters. Form is the illusion, so questions about its real nature are simply not relevant.

 

The epistemology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “always ring the changes.” Because no distinction is drawn between different types of entity, it is taken for granted that there will always be many different possible ways of understanding the universe. Some of these worldviews work better than others, but there is no valid reason to arbitrarily choose between equally functional worldviews.

 

Rather than picking a worldview and sticking to it, the Theory encourages us to shift playfully between different worldviews, like bell-ringers changing the patterns while ringing church bells. This approach is basically the same as the practice of paradigm shifting in Chaos Magic. This is only to be expected, because both approaches are steeped in the postmodern experience. However, the application is somewhat different. In Chaos Magic, the magician is encouraged to completely adopt one worldview at a time, shifting between them as needed but believing in each one as deeply as possible while using it. The change-ringer is encouraged to hold on to the echoes of one worldview even while playing with the next, so that seemingly contradictory truths are held in the mind at the same time.

 

The change formulae of Relationship Theory describe how zeds interact with each other, and in what circumstances these interactions can change. These formulae provide a philosophical framework for magical experience, a tool for understanding the rhythms of enchantment.

 

We have a lot of ground to cover here, but we’ll take it one step at a time – first theory, then practice. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the ontology of Relationship Theory and the reasoning behind the assertion that “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.”

(Next: Interactions are the Reality)

Image by Walter Crane

Journey to Onei

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The Book of Onei is an antinomian dream grimoire, providing deceptive yet true information about the art of Oneiromancy or dream magic in the form of poetry, fantasy, and intentionally ambiguous instructions.

 

Notes found in the handwritten original of the Book of Onei

 

I was nearly forty years old when it first came over me, the strange feeling that I no longer knew myself. I was sitting in my own house at three in the morning, thinking back on the life I had lived. You start off with so many choices and then you start to pick between them, and every time you choose one path instead of another all your options start to narrow in. You become who you are, and it’s easy to forget you could have been a lot of other things. You could have been once, but you no longer can. Now you are whatever you decided to be, and there are no more open vistas.

 

The whole house was asleep. You can only have thoughts like that in the first place when everyone else is asleep, because that’s the only time when your mind is free enough. It’s the only time when no one needs you.

 

I looked up at the fan blades as they turned and turned, and their long shadows flew across the ceiling like angelic messengers moving rapidly before the sun. My wife and my little daughter lay asleep in their beds, but I hadn’t slept in at least three days.

 

What I was thinking as I was lying there is that yearning is everything. The whole structure of the universe is based on it. The craving for fulfillment is in every seed, reaching up for the untouchable sun. It’s not an anomaly; it’s right there in the blueprint. So when a little girl yearns for her mother, or a man for his lover, or a mystic for the god she serves, it’s not some pathos to be cured. That suffering and that yearning and that loss is the fire of creation.

 

“Maybe we should take a trip to the mountains,” my wife had said that morning, lying with her head up in the crook of my shoulder. She was trying to comfort me, trying to give me something to look forward to. But I wasn’t sad, exactly.

 

“We are what we are,” I answered her. “And we can’t pretend. The dead come easily to us and the angels don’t. How often do you see the shining ones? How often do you see the dead? You know what we are as well as I do. We are darkseers, not lightseers. I’ve been thinking a lot about the basement lately.”

 

“I don’t like it when you talk about the basement,” she said, and pulled back to look at me. The basement is where the door is.

 

So there I was, sitting up awake and alone at three in the morning, not at all certain how it got this way, how I ended up who I am. I watched the fan blades as they turned and turned, and a strange memory came over me. A strange hunger began to grow inside me, not completely unfamiliar and yet almost forgotten. I stood up silently and slipped my shoes on and went downstairs, moving quietly so as not to wake my wife up. Not only was the door down there (though it had long gone unused) but the book was too – The Book of Onei, my father’s crime.

 

The steps creaked as I walked on them, and the dead things whispered. The basement was where he had kept them bound, and they wouldn’t like my interference. But what else can you do with the dead? After all, you can’t kill them.

 

I took a match out and I lit the lamp, and rummaged around in boxes until I found the book. The door in the corner shuddered angrily, but I took the book out anyway.

 

The ancient chaos, the primal darkness. That was the answer to it all. My father had stolen this book from the Great Library of Onei, and the weight of that shadow had hung over us like an evil cloud. But I wasn’t convinced that what he did was wrong. Who are the Great Ones to withhold this knowledge?

 

The dead responded a few nights later. I had brought The Book of Onei up from the basement where it had slept for years. I had read aloud from its forbidden pages. I had begun to compose a few poems of my own about the dreams and the darkness, loose tributes to demonic geniuses such as Li Ho and Meng Chiao. I had even added a few of them to the Book of Onei.

 

In reading from the book and in composing those poems I had upset a fragile peace. The things in the basement slipped their bonds, which were only ever made of a certain mindset – a mindset I had not maintained. They came floating up after me late one night while I lay there staring at the ceiling in the lonely hours, believing myself to be wide awake.

 

My daughter stirred in her sleep and moaned. My wife opened her eyes. The whole house was permeated with a sickening dread, the presence that makes your skin crawl and the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The light in the kitchen blinked on and off. Deep in my stomach, nausea stirred.

 

“You’re going to do what your father did, aren’t you?” said my wife. “You’re going to go through the door.”

 

I nodded in the darkness of early dawn. “I’ve done it before,” I told her. “Before you and I were together. But I haven’t seen Onei in years.”

 

“You’re going over there to steal something.”

 

“Yes, of course. That’s what my father did, and it’s what I’ll do too. The things in the basement are getting restless, because they can sense the way I’ve been feeling lately. My father always said it was an evil book, that it had cursed him ever since he took it. But that’s not what I believe.”

 

“Why not?” she asked, a little harshly. “You’re endangering us all!”

 

“I think it scared him so much that he misunderstood it. He always told me that the dead things followed him over from Onei when he brought back the book, and that they were always warning him not to read it, not to use it, not to learn from it. But the primal darkness is the source of wisdom. He stole its secrets and then feared to read them, so he bound the dead up with spiderweb thoughts and left them down there to haunt his dreams. They made his last years one endless nightmare. I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want it to happen to my daughter either. She’ll inherit the book.”

 

“You could return the book,” she pointed out. “You could bring it back to the Great Library of Onei. Then the dead would leave us alone.”

 

“I’m not even sure that’s true. There is such a thing as retribution. And that would only make what he suffered completely meaningless. Prometheus didn’t give the fire back.”

 

“And look what happened to him! So what exactly are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to learn how to use it. My father was never able to use the book, because he didn’t understand it, he didn’t know why it was so important to the dead. That is the knowledge I intend to steal.”

 

She was silent for a long time. The sun rose outside, and in the pale light my daughter stirred. She would soon be awake.

 

“How long will you be gone?” my wife asked. Her voice shook a little.

 

“Not long at all. I’ll be back before the sun finishes rising.”

 

“Or else you won’t be back. Not ever again.” I didn’t answer her that time. There’s no answer to the truth.

 

So I went down to the basement again and I heard the voices, whispering the things they always whisper, the threats and the warnings. I walked through the gauntlet of the voices as if they could not daunt me, although I was going into their place of strength. I had the book in my backpack. The door at the end of the basement jumped angrily as I approached it, rattled a few times, then settled in. I put my hand on the doorknob, said a prayer to the protecting powers, and paused for a moment in silent thought. Then I walked through into the land of Onei.

Image by Henry Fuseli