From Nick Herbert’s
INVESTIGATING NEW DOORWAYS INTO NATURE
Peter Lamborn Wilson is dead.
Peter Lamborn Wilson was a prolific, controversial writer and researcher into the lives and beliefs of mavericks, misfits, hobos, punks and heretics. He is best-known for his coinage of the term Temporary Autonomous Zone or TAZ which can be applied to any spontaneous association of free people from Burning Man to improv dancing, especially those gatherings which maximize what Wilson liked to call “ontological anarchy”.
As an Ontological Anarchist, Peter necessarily acquired an unusual resume’. Educated at Columbia, Wilson left New York in 1968 for a spiritual “Journey to the East” across the Islamic world from Morocco to Katmandu, seeking wisdom and teachers in tea houses, palaces and opium dens and settling finally in Tehran, where his presence coincided with Empress Farah Pahlavi’s desire to spread Iranian culture into the West. At the Iranian Academy of Philosophy, Wilson was put in charge of English publication where he was able to translate the works of famous Islamic philosophers and poets, for instance (my favorite) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry with Nasrollah Pourjavady.
Wilson’s academic tenure in Tehran was cut short in 1979 by the Iranian Revolution in which the Shah and his wife were replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini (a minor poet himself in the tradition of Khayyam and Hafiz).
Back in New York, Wilson aligned himself with various fringe organizations among which was the Moorish Orthodox Church of America which Wikipedia describes as “a syncretic, non-exclusive, and religious anarchist movement originally founded in New York City in 1965 and part of the burgeoning psychedelic church movement of the mid to late 1960’s in the United States.” MOCA traces its lineage back to a black Chicago religious leader from the 1920’s, Noble Drew Ali, whom the Black Muslims also claim as their founder. More detailed information concerning this “religious anarchist movement” can be found on the web at the Moorish Orthodox Information Kiosk or in Wilson’s own Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam published by City Lights in San Francisco.
Wilson obituaries have appeared in such wide-ranging venues as The Global Ganja Report and the New York Times (!) so I will not repeat here what others have written but instead publish a brief account of how this ontological anarchist affected my own life.
In the early 80’s computers were just beginning to enter our lives. Instead the photocopier gave rise to a web-like phenomenon called “zines”, short for “magazines” in which anyone with a few dollars for stamps and access to a Xerox machine could become their own publisher. The quality of zines ranged from semi-professional to unreadable but what they all had in common was quirky originality and instant access to off-beat topics. I cannot locate in my records the zine in which I first encountered the writings of Peter Lamborn Wilson but it might have been Popular Reality which one archivist described as “distinguishing itself as an open forum for the most unpopular of opinions.”
Connecting via one of the zines of that era Peter and I began a letter exchange concerning the Moorish Orthodox Church and he invited me to come visit him in New York should opportunity arise. So in the spring of 1986 on some errand involving physics and publishing I met the man himself in his third floor apartment on West 107th St just a few blocks from the Nicholas Roerich Museum.
Wilson lived in a rat’s warren of books, papers and unusual objects from his Islamic travels, the centerpiece of which was an old mechanical Remington typewriter on which he composed his voluminous works, He seemed to have a dislike for computers and never quite moved into the digital age. Over a few tokes of crumbly hashish he regaled me with tales from his travels and invited me to become a member of the Moorish Church. It is customary to take an Islamic name and I knew nothing of that faith. Wilson’s own Moorish name was “Hakim Bey” and several of his books, articles and performances appear under that name. “Well, you could do worse, Nick, than “Jabir”, the 9th Century Islamic alchemist.”
So Jabir it was. To which I later added “‘abd al-Khaliq”, designating myself as servant of one of the 99 names of God. A few weeks later I received from Hakim Bey a photocopied diploma certifying my new rank as “Adept of the Seventh Heaven.”
My first substantial adventure with the Moorish Orthodox Chuch was the Antarctic Astral Projection Project. On the night separating August from September 1987, various individuals would attempt by any means at their command to astrally project themselves to a location on the Antarctic continent aptly named “Cape Longing”. We would dutifully record our impressions which would then be collected and published in the zinosphere as part of the Akashic Records, one more fanciful account of the spiritual strivings of the human race. Doctor Jabir decided to go there as Mandrake the Magician and fancied the trip as a conclave of other fictional magician/scientists observing and producing new physical, mental and spiritual phenomena in the exotic low-temperature environment not far from the Earth’s South magnetic pole. As I recall music and dancing girls were involved as well as a spectacular display of the best Southern Lights that my human imagination could produce.
Another Moorish adventure as Doctor Jabir, this time in real space, was the Temporary Autonomous Zone San Francisco performance in 1993 organized and produced by the legendary Joseph Matheny. The site of TAZ SF was Komotion International, an art and performance space in San Francisco’s Mission district. This event featured a dozen or so performers, both male and female, some of whom mingled with the audience. Hakim Bey himself was one of the stars and calmly lectured on some obscure feature of Ontological Anarchy. Most of us were attempting to be as outrageous as possible but Bey trumped us all by affecting an utterly conventional academic normality in an ocean of freaks. Jabir read some of his newest quantum tantric poetry, Robert Anton Wilson shared some of his latest provocative prose. Circus acts and dances followed and there was some sort of bondage scene going on that I had helped to prepare back stage.
MOCA produced at odd intervals the Moorish Science Monitor to which I sometimes contributed. And once I was a guest along with Robert Anton Wilson on the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, an after midnight series hosted by Hakim Bey on New York’s independent radio station WBAI.
Back in Boulder Creek I often enjoyed co-hosting our long running series of poetry readings with fellow Moor Omar abu Khan (aka Ed Cramer). But all in all, Doctor Jabir achieved the height of his Moorish identity in the call for Tantric Jihad which he has performed in venues as various as house warmings and Esalen Institute,
My sheik is dead.
Hail and farewell
O noble teacher of the Way
Hakim Bey has crossed the Black Sands.
Jabir ‘abd al-Khaliq declares Tantric Jihad