the old English magicians and ours

William Lilly, the English astrologer and the last of the great English magicians, was called before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1666. It had been noticed that the eighth plate of his book, Monarchy or No Monarchy, published in 1651, “represented persons digging graves, with coffins and other emblems of mortality, and the thirteenth a city in flames. Hence it was inferred that he must have had something to do with the Great Fire which had destroyed so large a part of London, if not with the Plague, which had almost depopulated it.”

In response to a question from the chairman of the committee, Lilly explained that he had written the book after Charles I was beheaded, and sought to depict the future of England, as revealed to him by his stellar sources.

“At last, having satisfied myself as well as I could, and perfected my judgment therein, I thought it most convenient to signify my intentions and conceptions thereof in Forms, Shapes, Types, Hieroglyphics, etc., without any commentary, that so my judgment might by concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only unto the wise. I herein imitating the examples of many wise philosophers who had done the like.” Today, of course, wise philosophers have refined and perfected this method to adapt it to our more sophisticated civilization: hence the cornucopia of highly placed sources, defense experts, and a White House aids that lead us into depressions, wars, and all the wonderful ways we have invented for gulling the poor, polluting the planet, and stuffing miraculous amounts of money into the pockets of the rich.

Lilly added something that no doubt inflated the price for his expertise, and in our day would have had him writing op eds and lending his eminence to Heritage Foundation sponsored debates:

“Having found, sir,” continued Lilly, “that the city of London should be sadly afflicted with a great plague, and not long after with an exorbitant Fire, I framed those two hieroglyphics as represented in the book, which in effect have proved very true.”
I take these quote from the very useful account in W.H. Davenport’s Historical Sketches of Magic and Witchcraft in England and Scotland. Lilly, in his autobiography, marks his testimony as the last event of note in his life, thereby marking himself down as an ass.

Any of our terrorist experts, our equivalent of the old English magicians, only without the superfluous culture, (cultivation of knowledge being, as is well known, the hobby of the losers) would have taken the opportunity to produce a book, gotten in many a spot on talk radio, and eventually reached the heaven of Fox News, CNN, and Good Morning America. Admittedly, the American magicians seem less kin to the great Faust than to the sad and greasy Elmer Gantry, but seen correctly, this is a great advance, a progress in our march to the Rapture. Lilly’s testimony up to that point seems so promising that it is with great sadness that we see him, next, admitting that he didn’t know, exactly, what sinister enemy caused the plague and set the fire. The sense of get up and go, of opportunity, is still born in the old magicians – there’s no getting around the fact that they aren’t, well, Americans. Surely he should have consulted with some young aide to one of the committeemen and read off of some sheet strongly implicating England’s enemies, devils all, internal and external. He could have denounced the appeasers once and for all, admitted their patriotism but strongly implied that torturing them would not, after all, be the worst thing that could happen. He could have used the arts that we see used, every day, in our lovely country. Instead, he merely and mildly told the committee men that the finger of God uses instruments.

Today’s American magicians, whether Michael Ledeen writing for the National Review, Stephen Emerson writing for the New Republic, or the thousands of terrorism experts freshly back from confronting the hordes of Belzebuub in night visions, may have a justified contempt for the simple naivete of the old style magician, seemingly hemmed in by those tiny scruples deriving from the ninth commandment and somehow keeping him from testifying about his certain knowledge that it was Jews, Catholics and Dutchmen that did the dirty deeds – groups who think, in the immortal words of the Rebel in Chief, “the opposite of the way we do.” However, our contemporary thaumaturges should keep in mind the relatively low level of culture prevalent in the 17th century. Bearing false witness, which in the days before democracy was hardly a science at all, has now developed into a major and blessed industry, and we are surrounded by the fruits of those who toil in its vineyards - the political magazines, the newspapers with the stimulating editorials urging us onward to ever more wars, the tv. True, with education has come great progress in creating gullibility. At least half the electorate will actually believe almost anything. They will believe they were abducted by UFOS. They will believe Iraq had tremendous stocks of WMDs, even though they don’t exactly know why certain weapons are WMDs and certain ones aren’t. They will believe that the Rebel in Chief is the toughest hombre since John Wayne quit chewing rocks. In fact, the only thing they won’t believe is that humans come from monkeys, or that the world existed earlier than 10,000 years ago. This is why we are the greatest people in the world.

Since the fifth anniversary of 9/11 will unleash such a flood of baloney that it might have turned the fires that day into a gigantic weenie roast, LI figures to get in with his own post now, and beat the rush. We will flip it out tomorrow.


new york pervert said…
[off-topic, but re Dems not saying Rumsfeld is OBL's enabler, at least Mr. Rich wrote it today. I don't know if any of them pay attention to him though.]
roger said…
Thanks for the tip, Mr. NYP. Actually, I shouldn't confine myself to Dems - Republicans like Hagel are as opposed to the set of neuroses for which the Administration is seeking therapy by having Americans kill and be killed in Iraq. Primal scream therapy with drones. It concerns everyone in the U.S. -- I shouldn't just concentrate on Dems.