Heinlein: Stranger In A Strange Land

      2 Comments on Heinlein: Stranger In A Strange Land

My attention has been drawn to a lengthy article about the Thelemic source of Robert Heinlein’s influential science fiction novel, Stranger In A Strange Land.

It was apparently published in Green Egg magazine, 1993, in an article titled Whence Came Stranger by Adam Walks Between Worlds…
“Whence Came Stranger”
Adam Walks Between Worlds
Green Egg Magazine

The Door into Stranger

In the last paragraph of the preface to the new version of Stranger (in a Strange Land), Virginia Heinlein departs from her brief history of Stranger to mention that the names of the characters have “great importance to the plot. They were carefully selected: Jubal means ‘the father of all,’ Michael stands for ‘Who is like God?’ I leave it for the reader to find out what the other names mean.” That’s about as subtle a challenge as a gauntlet in the face and it makes one wonder exactly why it was so important for her to mention it. Could it be that she and Robert had wanted someone to connect the dots and decode Stranger? Why is this so important now? Let’s go ahead and tackle the names anyway and see what we get. We’ll start with Valentine Michael Smith. As Bruce Franklin writes in Robert A. Heinlein: America through Science Fiction: “He is: Valentine, both a message of erotic love and a martyred saint; Michael, keeper of the gates of heaven, archangel who leads the heavenly hosts against the forces of evil; Smith, the American everyman. He is also a ‘superman’ from a culture far in advance of human culture in mysterious ways. And he is unfallen man, the New Adam who has never tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He is likened to Dionysus, and later assumes the name of Apollo. Above all, he is the new messiah, re-enacting the crucifixion, destined to save the elect in a mortally diseased world.”

As we’ve shown, Valentine most strongly references the early Gnostic; the martyred saints fit into are another story. Michael is the archangel most closely associated with the Holy Grail, another big yoni symbol, and the elemental plane of water for which Michael has great affinity. There were several early cults to the Archangel Michael that worshipped the sword in the cup. Smith might also refer to another famous Thelemite, Wilfried T. Smith, Parsons’ first magickal mentor, who headed the Agape Lodge before Parsons was appointed magister templi by Crowley. Crowley disapproved of Smith who ran a fairly sex-drenched lodge and managed to sprinkle his seed widely in the Thelemic community including siring a child by Parsons’ first wife. Although it is unclear why this might offend Crowley (of all people!), he nonetheless conspired to remove Smith and wrote a treatise entitled Liber Apotheosis 132: The Hidden God, with which he convinced Smith to retire into intense solo magickal research. This last connection may be tenuous to Stranger, but Smith seems to have been a remarkably charismatic man with more than a hint of religious huckster, much like the Archbishop Digby character whose Fosterite Church so influences Michael.

As we’ve shown, the character of Valentine Michael Smith follows Crowley’s archetypal retelling of the Dionysus/Bacchus myth which later evolved into the Jesus motif. He also fulfills all but one of the prophecies of Liber Legis as the Thelemic messiah who follows, and is heir to, Crowley. (It is interesting to note that Parsons was once widely considered to be Crowley’s heir and, as mentioned above, his Babalon Working was designed to invoke yet another heir.) There is another thought here. Ann Lynnworth, a magickal scholar and the author’s co-vivant, suggests that Messiahs tend to take their functional forms in books: Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha all appear to the vast majority of their flock on paper. In light of her theory, it is interesting that Stranger’s impact on society seems to follow along the lines of other Messianic faiths in their early years.

The sole Liber Legis prophecy that Michael doesn’t answer is that he fails to crack the code in Liber Legis. What he does do is to open the New Aeon, the Age of the Magickal Child, by the revealing of the Martian language, which may be isomorphic. It is interesting to note that most of the attempts made to crack the Liber Legis code involve some sort of extra-terrestrial connection. Although there is still much more information regarding Valentine Michael Smith, there isn’t enough space in this article to cover it. Rather let’s move on to examine Ben Caxton, the Winchell reporter. Most of Stranger’s Part 4 is devoted to Caxton’s description and analysis of his experiences in the Nest and his transformation as a result. Through Caxton, the audience gets a box seat in the consciousness of a man undergoing initiation and apotheosis — not to mention a peek into the inner sanctum of the Gnostic- Templar Nest. His transformation is the very fulcrum of the novel, but who does Caxton represent? In 1910, Crowley staged the Rites of Eleusis at Caxton Hall in London. According to Crowley, and to many of the regulars who wrote about their experiences first hand, these were initiatory experiences which caused personal evolution in the audience members. A precursor to performance art, the Rites were presented as sacred drama and received mixed, but usually bad reviews. Despite the uneven commentary, the Rites ran successfully until the outbreak of WWI in 1914. It becomes clear that Ben Caxton, the man, represents the archetypical initiate who passes from well-accomplished manhood to something larger (godhood?) through a series of initiations which assist in the realization of higher understandings. The process, often psychically painful, demands rigorous self-examination and the continual testing of the initiate’s habitual beliefs. Caxton clearly was the subject of such an initiation. And he clearly crosses through the three Thelemically phases in his transition: a man of the earth, the lover and the hermit. This progression is described in Liber Legis and is mirrored in most Thelemic societies. A few more observations: Ben is Hebrew for “son of” or “heir to” and Caxton certainly winds up as an heir to Michael’s fortune thereby becoming something like Jubal’s grandson. Historically, there is only one Caxton of note, Britain’s first commercial printer, who doesn’t seem to have been so important, but the author has seen this Caxton’s name on several odd monuments including the facade of Harvard’s famous Widener Library so there may be more here than meets the eye. Moving along, we come to the astrologer, Madame Alexandria Vesant who clearly references the Theosophical Society and Krishnamurti movement co-founder Annie Besant. To grok the Vesant/Besant isomorph, remember that the letters B and V are qabalically equal (from the Hebrew letter Beth — the letter symbolizing magick — which is pronounced either B or V depending on the addition of a dot in its center). To emphasize this point Heinlein spoon feeds his audience a dialogue in which her name is actually spelled out, which may qualify Stranger as the world’s most blatant Book of Secrets. Crowley — and most Thelemites to follow — had little patience for the Theosophists, whom he felt were mostly misguided academics, who possessed some laudable inquisitiveness. Vesant, the Stranger astrologer who secretly advises the head of state through his domineering wife (Oh, Nancy, just say, Gno!) , is portrayed as a well-meaning but mercenary charlatan who accidentally accesses a hidden magickal ability that is later expanded upon when she receives Michael’s Martian enlightenment. Next we come to the most complex character in the story, Heinlein’s alter ego and the real star of the show, ladies and gentlemen — Jubal Harshaw. Decoding Jubal is the most exciting part of the puzzle (so far anyway). It is hard to equate Jubal to any historical character, although he references many, and the only hint we have early in the game is Virginia Heinlein’s note that Jubal means the “father of all.” The biblical Jubal isn’t much help although the name does translate roughly from the Hebrew into ‘father of all’. On the surface, Stranger’s Jubal may be paternal and he certainly seems patriarchal, but “Father of All?” Looking deeper, however, there are a few clues in the text that identify Jubal with one of the most striking aspects of the Gnostic-Templar connection. Several times in the text, a horrified Jubal is told that the only accoutrement of note in the minimalist nest is a large hologram of Jubal’s head which they revere as the “patron saint of the Church” and of whom Michael says he is the “one who groks all.” Many of the nestlings actually worship Jubal, much to his chagrin. But wait, wasn’t there another secret religion that worshipped a sacred head at its center? Indeed, one of the weirdest details to come from the raid on the Templars was that they worshipped a sacred, sometimes bearded, head which was deemed their savior and the fountain of all wisdom. Variations on the theme of a sacred head predate the Templars by thousands of years, and the theme recurs often in later Templar imitators. The head was worshipped in various ways and referred to by the names Mahomet and Baphomet. Mahomet seems to derive from the Greek word for ‘[first] principle’ or ‘source’ and has a history of Gnostic use. Mahomet was also contemporarily used as a word meaning simply idol, and some of the more rabid anti-Moslems of the time tried to link the word to Mohammed, accusing the Templars of collaboration with the hated Saracens. Baphomet, however, was by far the head’s most common appellation and has been translated in various ways. The Moorish Spanish — the Moors were Islamic, Arabic-speaking Northern Africans who occupied Spain for several centuries and ranged far enough north to put the Black in the Black Irish — had a word bufihimat (pronounced abufihamet in the Arabic) which means “father [source] of knowledge [wisdom]”. Another possible derivation is from the Greek baphe metis, which means “baptism of wisdom” which led some theorists to suggest the Templars were a survival of a John the Baptist cult, since John’s beheading could easily have been iconized in the manner of Jesus’ crucifixion. The most widely accepted translation is that of a code. Spelled backwards (backwards spelling being common in occult works), Baphomet stands for three abbreviations, tem, oph, ab, which enlarge to “Templi omnium hominum pacis abhas” or “the father of the temple of universal peace among men.” If this sounds precocious for an abbreviation, remember that even fancier abbreviations were common before the advent of typewriters. And there’s more… Baphomet survives as a major inspiration in many occult groups that follow. Different likenesses, some stemming from Templar days (and before?) are used, the most common being a (bearded) head or goat’s head and an allegorical portrait of an androgynous beast-man that combines aspects of goat, dog, ass and man — Eliphas Levi’s rendering is perhaps the most famous example. After popping up in numerous places in Western history, Aleister Crowley adopts the name Baphomet, and the Templar seal, upon assuming the leadership of the OTO, which, the reader remembers, is allegedly the 20th century survival of the original Templars. But there’s still one level deeper. Baphomet is clearly an eidolon of the Arcadian Pan who was the major deity of the Lupercalia, the inspiration of the Greek educated Valentinus, the goat- or horned god revered by both Gnostics and pagans, and, seemingly, the inspiration of the Templars. But the Pan we’re talking about isn’t the simple satyr that most sanitized Christianized accounts allow, Pan of Arcadia is none other than Bacchus and Dionysus. He is called Pangenitor, the “father of all” and Panphage “the eater (grokker?) of all,” and is perceived as the wild, lusty, natural, chaotic intelligence that exists beyond our linguistically enforced illusion of reality. He is symbolized by the goat man or a bearded head. Pan is a favorite of Thelemites who, like the god, deem it holy to “[u]nite passionately with every other form of consciousness, thus destroying the sense of separateness from the Whole.” One of Crowley’s most moving poems, and dynamic invocations, is the Hymn to Pan. Parsons, writing after the Babalon Working, conceives of Babalon as the female eidolon of Pan. Pan and Baphomet are also the principle deities for the Chaos Magick movement, a modern offshoot of Thelema.

To recap: we have a clear indication that Jubal is Baphomet and that Baphomet is translated in several interesting ways using several languages but always with the same meaning which is “source [or] father of all (wisdom)”, an attribute which Michael often ascribes to Jubal. But there is still one more level of meaning, and all the sweeter for its blatancy. Towards the end of Stranger, when Vesant, who calls Jubal “an old goat,” asks for Jubal’s birth information for a horoscope, he replies: “I was born on three successive days…” This is a very odd sentence, particularly as a snappy comeback, since it involves the obsolete British term ‘successive;’ and Heinlein usually writes pure American. What was he up to? Compare this odd sentence from Stranger to the very first sentence in the introduction to Liber Legis which reads, “This book was dictated… on three successive days…” That’s one hell of a connection. It means that Jubal equals Baphomet and that the ‘source of all wisdom’ equals ‘the source of Thelema.’ Or in other words, Jubal is the recapitulation — or even the source — of Thelema! As we pointed out however, Liber Legis is the source of Thelema. It is a channelled text, and its author, mentioned in the second sentence of the introduction, is an entity named Aiwass. Does he connect to all of this? In commentaries to Liber Legis collected in The Law Is For All, Crowley considered Aiwass to be Baphomet. Thus Heinlein was saying that Jubal Harshaw alias Aiwass alias Baphomet alias Panphage Pangenitor, is the embodiment of Thelema, indeed the source of Thelema and the “father of all.” This statement, made over the course of Stranger connects modern Thelema with its vast cultural legacy, its miraculous future and its ‘hereditary’ connection to another realm of reality. Holy Cosmic Trigger, Batman!

Corollary Observations

We’re awfully close to understanding Heinlein’s motives now. We’ve proven the link of Thelema and Stranger, and the link between Heinlein and Thelema. The text of Stranger meets the criteria for allegory and is loaded with puzzles which clearly reference magickal and Thelemic themes. But there are two remaining areas for discussion that are particularly important for this article’s proof. One is Heinlein’s first hand familiarity with Thelemic societies and the other is the link between Stranger and the Babalon Working. Historically, Heinlein was never a member of the OTO, although he certainly may have seen the Gnostic Mass as it was open to the public. Yet his description of the people and events in the nest are oddly reminiscent of life in secret Thelemic communities. One of the first things one notices about practicing Thelemites is their radiant good health and physical charisma. In fact, there are many stories told about people becoming involved with Thelema because they had met several Thelemites and were amazed at how healthy, calm, productive and, well, ‘lucky’ these Thelemites were. Heinlein certainly makes note of the apparent increases in mental and physical health among members of the nest..

The second aspect of nest life that Heinlein mentions is the calm, synchronized, unhurried, efficient movement one finds among some Thelemites. When this author first experienced the strange sense of unconscious choreography in a Thelemic lodge, the description from Stranger leapt to mind. It is a fascinating phenomenon and one not encountered elsewhere. It is a particularly odd observation to make about a ‘cult’ since, in this author’s experience, most members of alternative religions are enormously, even willfully disorganized. (It is said that managing pagans is like herding cats.) Finally, the social life in secret Thelemic communities often centers around food, work and deep play with no wasted time, exactly as portrayed in the nest. Heinlein paints an exceptionally accurate picture of an eminently healthy, vibrant people and their pleasant comings and goings, shared mealtimes, and oddly synchronized spontaneity. This precisely Thelemic picture seems improbable for him to have deduced without having been involved with a magickal community. The question is: Which one? None of the Thelemic communities or scholars this author has approached remember Heinlein as more than a terrific writer. Indeed, most are surprised by the Thelemic connection. Here is another area for research.

This recalls Heinlein’s link with Parsons. As a part of the Babalon Working, Parsons ‘received’ a short ‘book’ entitled Liber 49 or The Book of Babalon. Parsons claims it was the fourth chapter to Liber Legis, a claim which made him less than popular with Crowley and the OTO. Regardless of this claim, it is a powerful text that deals mostly with the coming of the Thelemic heir. There are two parts in particular that stand out after reading Stranger. The first is part of the channeled instructions to Parsons for the ritual — it advises him to clear his mind in preparation: “Consult no book but thine own mind. Thou art god. Behave at this altar as one god before another.” 101 It is interesting to note that these words were mouthed, not by Parsons, but by his Scribe, L. Ron Hubbard, who was close friends with Heinlein at about the same time the latter was working on his first shot at Stranger. The other Babalon Working quote which stands out, and there are many quotes which are not so overt, comes from Liber 49 which Parsons channeled alone out in the desert — e.g., sans Hubbard: “37 For I am BABALON, and she my daughter, unique, and there shall be no other women like her. 38. In My Name shall she have all power, and all men and excellent things, and kings and captains and the secret ones at her command. 39. The first servants are chosen in secret, by my force in her – a captain, a lawyer, an agitator, a rebel – I shall provide.”

Of course, throughout Stranger, Michael’s first friends, later referred to as the “First Called,” line up in exactly that order. Captain Von Tromp of the Challenger, is the first character one meets in Stranger. Jubal Harshaw is an invaluable attorney to Michael as well as part time MD, and full time Baphomet. Ben Caxton is a Winchell reporter and professional fly in the ointment who mobilizes Stranger by using Michael as a lever with the current administration. Gillian Boardman is a nurse who literally tosses her career away to steal Michael out from under the noses of Federation Security. Liber 49 predicts that the magickal child will have powers and guidance from beyond to assist through the early years. This seems to track with Stranger in the way that Michael shows an uncanny knack for attracting good people and having events roll his way and is even observed by Jubal Harshaw and others throughout the book.

All of this brings us back to one big question: Why? In Heinlein’s letters he claimed that besides making money and entertaining his readers, he wanted them to think, to ask questions. But that doesn’t add up. Heinlein was a great writer; he could have asked all of these questions without all the codes. The answer must lie elsewhere.

So let’s review: Heinlein is involved in a secret Thelemic society composed of artists, writers, scientists, and other advanced and odd minded folk. Their magick works, their lives are transformed and it is time to transmit their message to a vast number of people who desperately need to evolve. There is no interest in repeating the ‘burning times’ of their spiritual forebears, who rose up, were murdered, and rose again like some ontological Phoenix. And, to make matter worse, the gods had somehow selected Crowley as the channel for their newest batch of goodies only to see Crowley (and his followers) spectacularly martyred in one of the most vicious press assassinations of our century. There was only one thing to do. We had done it many times before: Go into hiding and open up under a new name. And that is exactly what Heinlein did. He designed Stranger to be a magickal seed containing the spiritual and intellectual DNA of Thelema, which he placed into the fertile loam of his times, sowing a crop which includes the neo-pagan, ecosophical, sexual and consciousness movements — not to mention much of the current trend in Thelema. For any who cared to track his ideas, Heinlein encoded many additional lessons. And he included enough clues so that, some day, as a healthy, vibrant race of magickal women and men prepared to take to the stars, they’d come to know that the man who continued the sacred lineage of Valentinus, the Gnostics and the Templars, and who nursed it through the 20th century, the “man who sold the stars” was none other than, the ‘father of us all’, Robert Anson Heinlein.

Related Images:

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


[…] Por extraño que parezca, algunos ocultistas consideran que Extraño es una narración poco disimulada e influenciada por Crowley. […]