A Night In December.
I first came across the Hypostasis of the Archons in December last year. I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you something very distinctive about the day. It was the day that the Christmas tree lights were switched on in our town.
It was a bad day for me. I had a hangover. I was nervy and frazzled and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Instead I sat on my computer all day reading obscure political and religious texts, mainly about the various sects that occupy Iraq. It’s one of my particular fascinations. Why did the Americans invade Iraq? Yes, because of the oil, but also - so I thought, speculatively - because Iraq contains the key to an understanding of the true meaning and origins of Christianity.
The Mandaeans (who I’ve mentioned before in this blog) are followers of John the Baptist. They are also a Gnostic sect. This makes the Mandaean religion both a confirmation and a refutation of Christianity at the same time. A confirmation because they represent an independent source which acknowledges a real history behind the myths of Christianity. A refutation because they are Gnostic, which implies that John the Baptist was Gnostic, which implies that, at its source, and in its original form, Christianity was Gnostic too, which makes Orthodoxy the heretical form, contrary to conventional wisdom.
Well, that was the sort of thing I was thinking about while reading these odd texts.
I’ll put some of the references at the bottom of the page.
I was also, as the day was wearing on, starting to drink again, to get rid of that horrible hangover of mine.
This was because I was planning to cover the Christmas-tree lights turning-on ceremony for our local paper, and I knew I needed some “Dutch Courage” to face the world and all its false Christmas jollity today. There’s nothing so nerve-wracking for a frazzled man with a hangover than another man in a bright red suit and a false beard going “ho ho ho” at him.
It was about ten minutes before I was due to go out - and already half-sozzled - that I came across the Hypostasis of the Archons.
Now I knew about the Gnostic texts, of course. I’d read the Gospel of Thomas, and one or two others, most of which I’d found so obscure as to appear almost nonsensical. And I recognised the title straight away, but I’d not read it before.
Those first two or three paragraphs just seared into me with the force of what seemed like a pre-ordained knowledge.
I read “their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, ‘It is I who am God; there is none apart from me,” and “knew” that this was George W Bush. Or if not this man exactly, then the office that he holds, the office of the President of the United States. Or if not this office exactly, then some other office of supreme power, whether Pope or King or Newspaper Proprietor or Chairman of a large multi-national corporation. Or if not these offices exactly, then the residue of repression and control they deposit in each individual and in the political, the psychological and the economic world that they “own”.
I printed off a copy, grabbed my jacket, and went out into the wild December night.
Now a funny thing was happening in our town that night. There were two Christmas-tree light turning-on ceremonies.
Two Christmas trees. Two sets of lights. Two celebrity guests to throw the switches. Two Santas. Two contrasting renditions of ancient and modern Christmas carols.
God rest ye merry gentlemen played by a jolly brass band at one end of the town, and I wish it could be Christmas every day by Wizzard on a CD player at the other.
Middle class at one end. Working class at the other. White collar. Blue collar. Upmarket. Down market. Suburban. Trailer trash.
This is a town at war with itself.
Following is the report I filed on the two ceremonies for our local paper, The Whitstable Times, Thursday 22nd December 2005.
Going against the flow gets you used-tyre dip.Such is my dedication to the cause of this column that I attempted to go to both Christmas-tree light turning-on ceremonies in Whitstable. I ended up seeing neither.
Trouble was I arrived from the wrong direction. I live at the bottom end of town. Hence Starvation Point is nearer for me. Once I’d arrived and looked it over, seen the Santa and heard the brass band playing Christmas Carols (a maudlin sound to my ears), I realized I had no interest in it.
There was no one I recognised, and anyway I wasn’t sure I wanted to hang around overhearing conversations about house prices and share portfolios, so I hot-footed it up to the other end. At this point I felt decidedly like I was going against the tide. Everyone else was heading in the opposite direction: down town instead of up.
I remembered that old hippy phrase - “go with the flow” - and a certain inspired reply I heard once.
The only thing that goes with the flow is a dead fish.
So, being distinctly hormonal, and having a huge thirst, I carried on in my salmon-like quest, leaping the emotional rapids of the High Street and Oxford Street, to reach my original spawning grounds, the Labour Club.
As we all know, Whitstable is getting more and more like an illustration from an old Marxist text these days. It’s working class versus middle class, proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, Shepherd Neame versus Chardonnay. And never the twain shall meet.
Chavs of North Kent unite! You have nothing to lose but a bunch of ridiculously overpriced restaurants.
So this is where the proletariat were gathered: outside All Tyres and Wheels on Belmont Road wearing tinsel tiaras and eating mince pies. They were also selling sea-food cocktail that tasted like rubber marinated in Old Spice. That’s how the All Tyres and Wheels man gets rid of his used tyres. He turns them into sea-food cocktail.
It was noticeable that most of the Labour Councillors were at this end. I saw Peter H, Wes McL and John W. You wonder if they were here voluntarily, or whether they were forced to show loyalty regardless of their preferences. The Labour Club is a cruel mistress.
I suspect that Julia S would have been down the other end, it being more to her taste. Down there they were eating smoked salmon canapes no doubt, while up here we were munching on Tesco value super-cheap cold sausage rolls with used-tyre dip. Yum yum.
I needed a drink. Went into the Labour Club, downed two pints in succession, and consequently missed the lights-turning-on-ceremony here too.
After that I saw someone who looked like our esteemed editor, John N. He had some kind of a device in his ear. It was disguised as a hands-free set for a mobile phone, in order not to attract suspicion, but I can reveal its true purpose now. The figure I saw was not John N at all, but a robotic clone of John N being telepathically controlled from Times Central by a huge alien Artificial Intelligence supercomputer called “The Hypostasis of the Archons”.
You didn’t know that the Whitstable Times is actually part of an alien conspiracy to take over the world did you?
You heard it here first......
You’ll see that I managed to mention the Hypostasis of the Archons. This has to be a first. I think I must be the only reporter EVER, in the entire history of the world, to use the term “the Hypostasis of the Archons” in his local newspaper and get away with it.
Not that anyone in our town knew what on earth I was talking about. It was a joke that fell on deaf ears.
It was like typing it into my mobile phone. No one but me had any idea what it meant. It was for me and me alone.
The rest of the night passed off fairly peaceably. I met up with two old friends of mine at the Labour Club (Gladys and Mary), we drank some beer, we went for an Indian meal, and I read the Hypostasis of the Archons.
They must have thought I was mad.
I kept reading bits of it out.
“Look at this, look at this,” I’d say, and read out one of the lines.
I’m eating a Chicken Jalfrezi, drinking Indian Lager, and reading from an obscure 2nd century Christian text.
I thought it was the most fantastical thing I’d ever read. Half a re-telling of the Genesis myth, and half like some crazy, ironic, mad science fiction fantasy story, like Kurt Vonnegut on a religious bender.
That image of my editor being controlled by a giant artificial intelligence super-computer kind of fits with the atmosphere of the text. That’s sort of what it is saying. It’s about how our world is controlled, not only on a physical level, but on a psychic level too, by “the Archons”, the rulers or powers of our world. It’s about how our minds and our very definitions of reality are being manipulated. It’s about what that hoary Old Testament Prophet of the modern era, Karl Marx, called False Consciousness or Alienation. It’s about how all the lies get into our heads and then appear as thoughts which we think we have thought, but which are actually implanted into us by some alien process owned and controlled by someone else.
There was one interesting incident. There was a guy sitting at a table nearby I recognised. He’s a local big-wig in our community, reputed to be an arms dealer. Certainly he’s ex-army, and with all the bearing (and the sideburns) to make it obvious. Officer class. He looks like he is expecting a salute.
In the early days of the anti-war movement, after 9/11 but before the invasion of Afghanistan, he was my ideological contestant.
And after that too, during the invasion of Iraq. And on, through the occupation, to the present day.
The anti-war group used to meet in the Labour Club, which, of course, is run, partly, for the benefit of the Labour Party, some members of which had supported the war (not all of them, to their credit).
My friend the arms-dealer was one of these. New Labour through and through, which is to say, not really Labour Party at all. Actually he was too right wing even for the Labour Party, who had sacked him eventually. He would have been more at home in George Bush’s Republican Party amongst the neo-cons.
But - give him his due - we had organised a public debate on the issue and this man had stood by his beliefs and come before us, to stand up for his point of view. He’d taken a lot of flak. That took courage.
So, anyway, there I am, fork full of Jalfrezi before my mouth, Hypostasis of the Archons open in front of me, when I spotted our war-supporting compatriot.
I won’t name him. We’ll call him Gordon.
“Hi, Gordon,” I said. “You still selling weapons of mass destruction?”
He sort of spluttered over his meal.
He said, “no, but if I was, I’d be selling them to the good guys.” And then he said - I kid you not - “I’m glad we invaded Iraq, to find out that they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise we wouldn’t have known would we?”
It was my turn to splutter.
“Whaaaat? Did I hear you right? Did you just say it’s a good job we invaded Iraq otherwise we wouldn’t have known they never had weapons of mass destruction?”
“That’s right,” he said, defiantly.
It was the craziest justification for the war I’d ever heard in my life. Mass murder to find out that what were never there in the first place really weren’t there.
Isn’t that what Hans Blix was there to find out? Did they really have to blow up half a nation and kill countless thousand kids for that? All that grief. All that pain. All that loss. Loved ones. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, all dead or shredded. Mangled bodies in the dust. Depleted uranium. Cluster bombs. A mountain of corpses.
It’s not funny of course, but I couldn’t help but laugh. I have what you might call a heightened sense of irony.
“Gordon,” I said, “I could have told you that a long, long time ago, and then we wouldn’t have had to have gone through all this pain would we?”
It was, I could see, a practised answer. When you know you’ve been in the wrong it’s hard to admit. When you know you’ve been in the wrong about something as serious as the justification for a war the only thing you can do is to bluff it out. It’s what Tony Blair has been doing for a long time now. It’s what my less-than-innocent friend Gordon was doing right now. Bluffing it. Putting a spin on it. Putting on an act. Trying out an argument to see if it made sense.
It didn’t of course. But he had to try.
The argument went on all night until we realised that the whole of the restaurant were listening in.
Someone said, “well we agree with everything you say. We all just wish you’d shut up saying it, that’s all.”
But the waiters, who were Bangladeshi, gave us a shot of spirits each for free.