Nearly every interview that Manson did to introduce and explain the ACS LP before its release touched on the unusual and rigorous disciplines he put himself through to create the record. These disciplines - so we were told at the time - ran from altering his diet and using specific drugs, to sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, pain threshold rituals, and, on the cerebral side, the study of numerology and the Kabbalah. Manson explains that he actually heard the complete album in dreams, a finished creation from the future as it were, and went to all imaginable lengths to return to the mental space where he had 'heard' the songs he must create. (Or already had created: "I don't know, " he admits, "if I really dreamed those songs, or if those songs dreamed me, or if they were something from the future or something I wrote a long time ago. There's no real clear delineation between what has happened and what will happen when you open your mind and let yourself be on a different level of...awareness.")
Late in this same run of interviews, Manson began to introduce the theme of the watchtowers of the world and the role of the Antichrist in opening them. This caught the attention of my friend Shanda Robertson, who provided me with a copy of a then-recent article by magickian and occult writer Donald Tyson. The article, "The Enochian Apocalypse" (published in the summer 1996 issue of Gnosis Magazine) , explains Tyson's theory that the true purpose of Enochian magick is "to plant among mankind the ritual working that would initiate the period of violent transformation between this present aeon and the next, commonly known as the apocalypse."
Tyson argues that this tremendous occult system and language, reputedly delivered by angels to the Elizabethan mage Dr. John Dee in the late 1500s, was - by the angels' intent - never completely understood or utilized by Dee. It is not merely the potent form of magic Dee believed it to be, but "an initiatory formula designed to open the locked gates of the four great Watchtowers that stand guard against chaos at the extremities of our universe." The gates are locked from the inside, from the Earth; only a human being can open them. Dee may have believed that there was no danger in this since the time of the Apocalypse is pre-ordained by God, but Tyson believes that the angels intended the contrary; that the coming of the Apocalypse will be determined by the time when a human magickian shall have the knowledge and power to perform the entire ritual of the 48 Enochian Keys, which they had now delivered to earth. "This date is not predetermined," wrote Tyson, "but will be determined by the free will and actions of a single human being who in the Revelation of St. John is called the Antichrist." (One can see why Shanda brought this to my attention.)
After describing the workings done in this field by the master magickian Aleister Crowley (1),Tyson delivers a final valuable insight: "In my opinion the apocalypse prepared by the Enochian angels must be primarily an internal, spiritual event, and only in a secondary way an external catastrophe. The gates of the Watchtowers... are mental constructions. When they are opened, they will admit the demons of Coronzon [Satan in his chaos-god aspect of Death-Dragon] not into the physical world, but into our subconscious minds. ...the apocalypse is a mental transformation that will occur, or is presently occurring, within the collective unconscious of the human race." Tyson goes on to paint a grisly portrait of a world driven insane by mind-invading monstrosities - the true cause of the horrors, plagues and wars foretold in Revelation.
Himself apparently a Christian or at least in empathy with Christian principles, Tyson recoils from this image and believes Dee, "an extremely pious man," would have done the same: "I do not believe Dee ever suspected that he was being used by the angels for the terrible and awesome purpose of transmitting the magical formula of the Apocalypse to the human race. I believe that [if he had] he would have burned all his books at once." --As previously noted, however, the Reverend Mr. Manson neither is a Christian nor has overmuch concern for the things they fear. Though agreeing with Tyson that the Apocalypse is a psychic rather than an overt event, he has set himself and his creation deliberately - as stated earlier - to bring it about.
Tyson's work is of further interest, as concerns Manson's stated interest in the Kabbalah (an ancient Jewish system of mysticism) and its influence on the ACS LP. The article quoted above is an excerpt from his book Tetragrammaton (Llewellyn, 1995), a detailed study of the relationship between Enochian magic and the Kabbalah. This meticulous and highly complex work includes a set of sigils (names written as talismen) intended to invoke and banish the 24 angels called "Wings of the Winds," who circle the throne of Christ and whose names collectively contain the great secret name of God. The booklet accompanying the Antichrist Superstar CD displays three of these same sigils:
As placed, they seem to be assigned respectively to Manson, Ramirez and Gacy, though there's no way to verify this guess. --
It will be noted that in every case the Mansons have chosen to invoke the Severe rather than the Merciful angel form. Severity in Kabbalistic work is a trait of the female, lunar, left-hand half of the universal balance. The female angels are responsible for all manifest, structured forms and cycles. They measure, limit, punish; offer analysis and critical judgment; rule styles and social trends; bring forth ideas and possibilities (i.e., carve defined, specific forms out of the limitless potential of creative energy); are the source of dreams and nightmares, fantasies, fear and pain. Considering the harsh and painful subject matter of the album, the stringent physical measures used to create it, and its origin in Manson's dreams, these are stingingly appropriate.
It will be noticed also that, there being only three sigils used - earth, water and air, theoretically one for each of the pictured band members - there is no one to take the place of fire. This is interestingly rectified by the fact that the "shock symbol" (the lightning-like international symbol for "risk of electrical shock" which is the overall identifying sign for the album and tour) is quite similar to a sigil from this set, IHHV, which like the other three invokes a Severe/Female angelic presence and represents the element fire. Moreover, this sigil, which invokes the angel Hazekiah and banishes Kazahel, has as its function "to expose lies, to strike to the heart of issues, to bring down false prophets, to punish falsehoods in media and advertising."
I believe it is reasonable to say that, having demonstrably used this Kabbalistic/Enochian system of sigillized names, unique to Tyson, and having made reference to the watchtower theory which likewise is Tyson's own, Mr. Manson must have read the book we quote. [Note: Since this essay was written, Manson's autobiography, Long Hard Road Out of Hell, has confirmed this guess as fact.] I know not what other works on Kabbalah he may be familiar with (IMHO this one is extremely dense to be one's introduction to the field), but this alone is a 'hard copy' proof of his interest in ritual and ceremonial magick.
It's not the first clue. Manson has specifically identified his performances with acts of magick in the past (the most famous quote being that in which someone asks him after a show whether he really performs Satanic rituals and Manson responds, "What do you think you've just seen?"). Speaking to the Satanic magazine Black Flame, he was explicit: "I get adrenal energy from the crowd, and they get it from me. This energy motivates me, makes me feel completely vital on stage. After the show, I feel drained and have no more emotion, which is the exact prescription for a ritual in the Satanic Bible. I've found performing to be the most powerful thing I've tapped in to." There's no question that he excels in the craft of raising, transmuting and using energy drawn from external sources - what the attendees, pro and con, have to offer the band is often a deciding factor in how the show plays out. This plus his familiarity with Aleister Crowley and with Dr. LaVey's writings on Satanic ritual practice has encouraged fan circles to speculate at length on the magickal structure of a live Manson performance. Those who understand these things know that a true ritual working is not necessarily the showy invocation of demons and lightning that Hollywood so loves; magick, to paraphrase the Master Therion only slightly, is purely the art and science of causing change to occur in accord with one's will. The key word is "causing." Manson, I will state openly, channels energy from the entire audience to fuel his performance to a pitch of dramatic, kinetic and symbolic intensity which is all but irresistible; a communal theatric ritual of pain and acute emotion in which his message becomes overwhelming. Ideas suddenly clarify; questions blaze up in the skull; you change. In accord with one's will. Is this not how the Apocalypse is to arrive? Is this not exactly what Manson hopes the ACS project will do?
Such an understanding begs several intriguing questions: Is there any possibility, extreme though it be, that Manson foresees himself as the one Crowley expected to come after him - the one Tyson identifies with the Antichrist, destined to perform the complete Enochian Working ? (Yr writer does not consider it beyond his capabilities, and in fact more than half expected to witness it in Dayton.) And what, if so, does he think would be the result of cracking the Watchtowers? One so dedicated to the cause of free will would, I venture, hardly turn his powers toward subjugating all humankind to a plague of violent insanity; if then he disagrees with Tyson's interpretation, what is his? --Manson says that, through experiments with the future, he's already seen his own death "as ugly and as beautiful as it can be." One wonders.)
So much for hard copy proof. For experiential proof, we proceed.
The first form of the stage set for the tour involved a stained-glass window showing a naked female angel (see above...) victorious in combat with Satan, framed by a set of impaled angelic nudes. The second form replaced this window with one depicting Christ sitting on his throne in judgment, framed not by the rather garish angel corpses but by austere mock stone wings with Gothic arches and rose windows, the whole having the feel of a Medieval triptych. I confess I never quite got the point of the first set, but the second seems absolutely right - elegant, respectful, sternly pointed, stating both "judge not" and "you too shall be judged." It must profoundly startle both kids expecting a Satanic extravaganza and undercover Christians who probably expect to see it defiled (which it never is). Already one is surprised and off-balance, and the performance hasn't yet started.
Though the band arrives on stage and begins to play, the show begins with the first spotlight on Manson. In the early shows of the tour, he would first be seen walking from the back of the stage: head up, arms opened wide, in full control as he accepted the acclaim of the crowd. In later shows, despite the impressive addition of a staircase for him to descend, he has preferred to strike an awkward pose, head cocked aside and arms dangling at odd angles. Perhaps an ironic statement that as the weeks wear on he feels more puppet of the audience's wishes than triumphant star, or perhaps bringing the show's theme of interlocked controls into play from the first moment. (This pose will reappear throughout the show.) Whatever, the moment is always huge, as the energy level rockets on first sight of him and its surge transforms him: the broken pose lasts only a moment, replaced by that original stance of pride and welcome as he descends the stairs. (Even the Winston-Salem Journal, not known for its esoteric perceptivity, nailed this point by describing the Manson show as "a dialogue of energy.") --As much Marilyn as Manson, Superstar as Antichrist, a star making a star's grand entrance.
The show begins with "Angel With the Scabbed Wings," a sharp swat to the glamorous image, as the star - not yet a transformed creature - bluntly depicts himself as a STD-bearing drug/sex addict ("he is the angel with the scabbed wings, hard-drug face, want to powder his nose/he will deflower the freshest crop/dry up all the wombs with his rock'n'roll sores"). Manson sometimes sings "I am" in place of "he is" just to nail in the point.
Then two older songs, "Get Your Gunn" and "Cake and Sodomy," (the latter, one of the oldest songs still in the set. I flinch to wonder how many times Manson has sung this by now.). Big favorites, well known and loved, they serve to keep the energy level kicked up and charge Manson's batteries. Still relevant, too, with GYG's "I bash myself to sleep/what you sow I will reap/I scar myself you see/ I wish I wasn't me" and that snarling "Goddamn your righteous hand!" intro as right as ever. Get back into the mythos with "Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World" - which follows in the tracks of "Angel" with its feel of satiated, drugged-out sex and false promises - and the set sinks deep in sardonic bitterness. Manson spits out the chorus: "all dried up and tied up forever, all fucked up and dead to the world."
The first act closes with the heartrending "Tourniquet," in which our star pays the hardest price - "you'll never ever believe in me," he accuses us, sometimes adding "she'll never ever believe in me." It's not uncommon to see fans in tears at this point, pulled into their star's scarred sorrow and helpless to convince him of their faith. (What does Manson draw from this? Is he lashing those who don't understand or sifting out those who do? maybe both? "But I do believe," you can see the few repeating urgently, "I do believe...")
All right, our star is a wracked and junked-up mess; it's time to see why. Act Two begins with the magnificent "Kinderfeld." A wrenching experience on record, on-stage it becomes a performance of amazing resonance and unhuman, inexplicable beauty. Manson, having disappeared off stage right, reappears towering overhead on industrial stilts and crutches. He creeps to center stage, a ten-foot-high alien spider, a vintage-leather pilot's helmet framing his pale face. It's impossible to convey the feel of this spellbinding apparition, all wide eyes and insectile grace, which everyone loves on sight though they can't say why. There's something archetypal about it that strikes every heart. Those already moved by "Tourniquet" are completely enthralled and those who weren't then are now.
I believe I understand this. "Kinderfeld" is the agonized crux of ACS, depicting both the abuse suffered by the star in childhood and the force that abuse exerted to transform his personality from helpless worm to inchoate angel. On stage, lacking the range of voices and devices available in the studio, some other way had to be found to present the same story. How better than to present the battered wormchild as a creature not quite human, a gangling alien with deep innocent eyes (possibly, just possibly, not unlike the young Manson's own self-image...) - something deformed and different yet so instantly appealing to a hallful of kids that it's accepted with love and empathy on sight? The strength of our welcome literally acting in place of the boy's own will to enact the metamorphosis from tormented freak into star before our eyes, and Manson thus finding a way, using our emotional energy, to make this traumatic experience both interactive and redemptive? "And all the children sing to the worm..."
It must be something like this if not this itself - the response it draws from crowd after crowd is too universal to be accidental. It never fails. We're eating out of Manson's hand when the monster pulls out a pink plastic recorder and tootles a few bars, and by the time he rears back, stabs the crutches into the air and shrieks the Disintegrator's lines - "This is what you should fear - you are what you should fear" - the moment is so powerful it hurts. We're pulled completely into the story, made part of its desperate pressure, part even of the ripping open of the cocoon.
And here too is a sharp point of the message: we become part of the worm's story to understand that he/we had to do this ourselves, there was no other help. "There's no one here to save ourself," near-whispers Manson and we understand: not only no mom and dad but no God, no savior, no one but we ourselves and our own will. The crucible of this utter certainty forged the worm's heart into an angel's. Your only enemy is your own weakness; you are what you should fear but too you are your only chance; you're all you've got.
Underlining the realization comes "Sweet Dreams" and all its connotations - the song that brought so many newcomers to the Family, the song that "panders to our MTV audience" but still means what it means. "Some of them want to use you/some of them want to be used by you/some of them want to abuse you/some of them want to be abused." Which are you and where in these equations do you stand? Still a quiet moment in the set but sung with such anger, and getting so many cheers and that jarring happy energy (yay! the hit!) that seems to fly in from some other show altogether. It's a strange tangle and putting it right after the unity of "Kinderfeld" has the effect of instantly testing the crowd's sincerity, pressing hard, do you mean what you just said? do you really care? do you? (Look back at those female angels, severe, exacting, exposing falsehoods and testing friendships and probing for lies...)
"Lunchbox." The "normal" fantasy, the kid's dream of power and revenge and
showing-them-all. It's been updated for this tour: "I wanna grow up, I wanna be, a big rock'n'roll star" has become "I wanna be Antichrist Superstar" --one could say the first dream is already accomplished.
"Minute of Decay." "I'm on my way down now, I'd like to take you with me, I'm on my way down." Utter exhaustion and despair. Manson shows us the bleak future that, as he says, he foresaw:
"I looked ahead and everything was dead, I guess that I am too/
I looked ahead and saw a world that's dead/
I guess that I am...I guess that I am too."
-- A vision indeed and a foreshadow of the show's direction, a transition between the song before and the one after. The relatively innocent wish to just become a gee-gosh Big Star is subsumed by a sense of irresistible and terrible destiny (and one wonders, not for the last time, what Manson is thinking while he sings it).
Act 3. "Little Horn." The show wrenches out of its depression and charges into the future with this stupendous dream that comes to the angel-in-waiting. It's the other side of Armageddon, and of "Minute of Decay" - seen through the eyes not of the wanderer in a blasted waste but of the Beast at the head of his armies, as Manson roars in raging triumph, "And out of the bottomless pit comes the Little Horn!" A song of staggering, literally apocalyptic power that never fails to give chills, as for a span we're truly in the Antichrist's Mass, hailing the star-destroying beast of the Prophet Daniel's vision. "Save yourself from this!" challenges Manson and answers his own challenge, "Everyone will suffer now -- you can't save yourself." (This assertion flies in the face of the rest of the show and its relentless stress on self-salvation, and makes sense only as the voice of the Little Horn itself - a single ring of Antichrist without Superstar.)
"Little Horn" stamps to a stop and is instantly followed by "Apple of Sodom."(2) Sinuous and Eastern-sounding, it takes its title from the legend of the fruit that grew by the God-blasted city, its outside fair and sweet-looking but its center black with ashes and cinders, unfit to eat. (Makes sense, after the above.) "I found the center of fruit is late/it is the center of truth today," Manson sings. "I cut the apple in two... ohhh....I pray it isn't true." The song is presented with a dreamlike beauty. Snow whirls down on Manson (and the first two rows), casting a constant play of shadows as it spills through the beams of spotlight and between his outstretched fingers, while the gowned members of support band Rasputina coo eerily on the staircase landing. Maintaining the Biblical tone, is it a mere caution against deceptive appearances, or another of Manson's foretellings of a blighted future? or both? - "I've got something you can never eat!" he barks, whether in pride or warning is hard to say. Snow continues to fall...
but a huge, marching drumbeat kicks in, and the stage changes in the wink of an eye. The stained glass and churchly setting are covered by stark black-red-and-white banners marked with the shock symbol, the stage is dominated by a tall podium likewise marked, the band members wear helmets and suggestions of uniform, and Manson reappears in a black suit with tie and vivid red dress shirt. Fists jam into the air in time to the beat; introspection and memory are yanked into the here-and-now. The snow that seemed all fantasy and innocence suddenly suggests a brutal winter, and one thinks of war, young soldiers sent out to freeze and die, the siege of Leningrad. It's time to make the central point, the most crucial. Manson draws himself to his full striking height on the podium, a position of total authority, and tosses out kisses, smiling wide and sharklike; a moment later he's hung over its edge, hurling his thin frame back and forth, arms swinging like a marionette's. If "Little Horn" is the apocalyptic manifestation of the Antichrist as monster, "Antichrist Superstar" is the manifestation the prophecy theorists are expecting, the charming, scheming world leader - and Manson exposes this character as the liar he is. Politician or military dictator or televangelist, all of whom he could easily symbolize, the image he paints is of power as vicious sham, as mere appearance, totally dependent on the masses' compliance. For all the contempt they show us, they know that if we didn't grant them power over us, they would have none - and we should know it too.
Remember, the "shock symbol" has not only the commercial meaning "risk of electric shock" - literally misuse of power - but the Enochian symbolic meaning of "strike to the heart of issues, punish falsehoods in the media." It's in front of this banner that Manson shreds pages out of a Bible and tosses them to the crowd. See the truth? You bet. All the threads of the show wrap tight: the true power over you belongs to YOU - not Manson, not the government, not the cops, not God. You and you alone. The only power anyone has over you is what you give them - as, Manson seems to say, you just gave it to me. And the worst crime against yourself you can commit is to abdicate, to follow blindly. This is true philosophical Satanism, which worships neither the Devil nor anything else, which grants authority to nothing and no one. It's not about the Christian Devil, it's about defiance and denial of the Christian - these Christians', remember - God. This is why it's the monster the fundamentalists fear but will never see, alert as they be for those cloven tracks and that whiff of brimstone. For them, to refuse God and Christ is to automatically turn to Satan, to shift sides, white to black, inside a system so smotheringly tiny it has room for those alone. This is so much bigger than that.
...go on to Part 3