[NB] Philip K. Dick and Gbadu

Let’s make the needle really dance over this record. I’ve been doing some jumping around in time and space, and here I want to close the gap, bring us even closer to the present, but zig-zag a stitch between two superficially disparate blocks of recent time.

“More and more this binary computer model of Valis seems to be the correct one. ‘On’ is the linking of two parts which I saw: ‘on’ equals junction; ‘off’ equals disjunction or not inclusion in the vast assembly which I equate with Valis.”—The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (498-99)

I won’t repeat my issue with the computer model, but I find it terribly suggestive that this is the model Dick goes for when he tries to grasp the nature of Valis. Suggestive, too, that the I Ching will serve him well in his work.

Consider: a binary spiritual force that can pervade our world and transfigure it through subtle communication to humans that provide them with the opportunity to break free of the prison their life has become. Sound a little like Ifa? Let’s take a look at the Dahomeans describing the spirit at the heart of (I)Fa, Gbadu (Odu in the Yoruba):

“Gbadu came after Agbè and Naetè. She has sixteen eyes, and like Mawu is both male and female. She was told to live on top of a palm tree in the sky in order to observe the kingdoms of the Sea, the Earth and the Sky. Mawu said she would be told later the duties she was to perform….Some time after this, Legba said to Mawu that there was a great war on earth, a great war in the sea, and a great war in the sky, and that, were it not for Gbadu, all these three kingdoms would shortly be destroyed, since men did not know how to behave.”—Melville & Frances Herskovits, Dahomean Narrative (173-74; emphasis mine)

A feminine hermaphrodite whose eyes project the order of heaven into the substance of the material world (land, sea, and sky), whose purpose is to salvage  out of the ‘great war’ of that material world a humanity that knows how to act within it. Who communicates through the binary flashing of her sixteen eyes. Compare this to descriptions of Valis:

“For me she is the embodiment of Providence, wise counsel: and she is my advocate….She not only advises and informs me but steers me—in opposition to inexorable fate (or chance). She is of the upper realm….And originally she appeared to me as Aphrodite and the Sibyl.”—Exegesis (491)

“I just had an insight which came with total, absolute force. Christianity—including Christ—is a cover, a front; and the real deity (and this is kept incredibly secret) is female.”—Ibid.

“Vision: a dark-haired young woman lying in a coffin. She is dead. She is my sister. She is—or she generated—’the perturbation in the reality field,’ i.e., Valis. It is a projection into this world of her mind, to protect me.”—Ibid. (495)

“…I favored the theory that Diana, the queen of the faeries, helped me. Now I prefer (and find more workable) the theory that it was the Holy Spirit revealing to me the Cosmic Christ. There’s one thing I know it is: Mysterium Coniunctionis [i.e., both male and female].”—Ibid. (602)

“The conflagration of the world foretold as eschatological fate…but God out of mercy sends his son into the world once more, to enter the ecosphere and to plead for the world, that it not be burned up.”—Ibid. (822)

This process operates constantly, back and forth, forth and back, along the surface and time of the cosmos. The potencies she transfers manifest as spiritual powers, but the medium of their manifestation (i.e., their material and intellectual trappings) are not precisely them, merely the effects of their action. Which gets us the dialectic Dick also loved, though perhaps refined. At every point she is able to gain a foothold, she is exerting herself to transform bad fate into good, for the sake of a destiny she herself dispenses.

Perhaps the idea that the divination system of West Africa and its Gbadu-Odu possessing a salvific quality might sound strange, but it does aptly capture my sense of what goes on when you receive an odu in divination from a trained and consecrated diviner. A piece of providence enters and the opportunity for its clarification and/or amelioration opens.

Which makes it possible to consider Dick’s 2-3-74 as the wild and ungrounded activation of his sekpoli, that

“soul which Mawu gave to all, but before calling this soul, it is Gbadu [Valis] who opened the eyes to call it….[For] no shrines are necessary for the worship of the sekpoli, because the human body itself is its shrine.”—Melville & Frances Herskovits, Dahomean Narrative (174; emphasis mine)

Compare, again, to Dick’s somewhat more fevered effort:

The clue is the Watson & Crick model of the DNA molecule, which the early Christians pretended was a fish symbol. But what was that which they called the ‘Holy Spirit’? Christ said it came as a second advocate from God himself….They represent the Master Circuit and possess its wisdom.”—Exegesis (669-70; emphasis mine)

13 thoughts on “[NB] Philip K. Dick and Gbadu

  1. Stacey

    Just to throw a few more associations into the pot:

    “Dame Fate” in traditional witchcraft. (I’m sure someone will argue with me on this, but this is what reading Cochrane’s letters has got me.)

    The Star Goddess of Anderson Feri, with the Divine Twins embodying the binary of I Ching and Ifa.

    1. Io

      That’s definitely possible. I am trying to move at the pace of articulation rather than association, though, because if I move too fast with associations, there is nothing to hang together when I’m done.

      I don’t have the background in either Cochrane or Feri to do that articulation. It is interesting to note from the outside that both of seem to rely more heavily on personification. Dick and this Dahomean story, by way of contrast, join the personifications uneasily against the impersonal dimensions of the binary.

      Valis is sometimes just the ‘AI voice’ and in the Dahomean myths the descriptions of Gbadu emphasizes her as that which broadcasts the (mathematical/binary/generative) principles of heaven, as a set of eyes.

      We also have Dick with his idea that Valis can speak by composing herself of the very stuff of the world and in the Dahomean story we can see that most of the spirit’s strange attributes refer to the materials that compose the apparatus and shrines of the Fa cult. There is a real zest for metonymy, for winding the words around the solidness of things, sometimes punning back and forth between the material and symbolic.

      That is part of what makes the articulation of the two stand out to me and it is part of what defines the operation of both in the world, and their proximity to it.

      Do you see that in any of the Feri or Cochrane material?

      1. Stacey

        Not really, but then I’m also an outsider. From Cochrane’s letters (and the one book of Shani Oates’ that I’ve read), it seems like he/his followers do not personify the goddess overmuch, but that’s no more than an impression I’ve gotten by reading between the lines. Reading further between them, there’s a heavy stress on the symbolic that might mean that the spiritual experience comes from being in contact with the tools and actions of ritual . . . but I’m really speculating here.

        WRT Feri, from what I’ve read Victor Anderson used to like to say “God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like myself,” and stressed God/dess as a knowable being. Likewise the public writings of Feris seem to lean heavily towards seeing the gods as individual beings to know. But again, I’m not speaking from personal experience.

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