Chapter 2: Arise To Spiritual Strife
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is in the public domain.
May 10, 2017
Right down the road from Berryessa Station there’s a big house with a hidden basement. The people who live there – usually six to eight of us, rarely the same from one month to the next – are the sort of artsy college students and aimless twenty-somethings who think that houses should have names. We call it Ithaca. Six days out of the week it’s an ordinary group house, with the ordinary arguments about who has to cook and when the living room is going to get cleaned. But on Wednesday nights people from all over the Bay Area gather in the basement to hold the secret rites of a faith banned throughout the civilized world.
I took out my key and walked inside. I wasn’t alone. The celebrants looked a lot like the rest of Silicon Valley – mostly male twenty or thirty-somethings in jeans and hoodies, shuffling in awkwardly, grumbling about traffic. Their banality wasn’t quite an act, but call it a facade. These were dangerous men. The enforcers of the Shrouded Constitution have cracked the mobs, cracked the cartels, but these men of the ratty t-shirts and faded jeans they have not cracked. A resistance that has never been broken. A cabal that spans centuries and crosses continents. Fanatical, implacable, deadly.
They were the Unitarian Universalist Church.
The cracks in the sky, the death of Reverend Stevens, the Shrouded Constitution; all of these had rent what was once a more innocent faith and driven it underground, forced it to change tactics. These were the new breed of Unitarians. A host of singers, cantors, open-sorcerors, Marxist-Lurianists, rebels, seekers, counterculture types. All the sundry outcasts Ginsberg had called “angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” Never mind that the ancient heavenly connection had since been definitively located in a giant hurricane three hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana, or that by this point the machinery of night was pretty much held together with duct tape and bubble gum. They burned still.
One of them stood by the makeshift podium. Her hair was in something that made mohawks look conservative, and although you couldn’t see it now she had the flaming chalice symbol of Unitarianism tattooed on her shoulder. She was Erica Lowry, our fearless leader, and editor of the Stevensite Standard alternative newspaper. Also the leaseholder for our group home. Also Ana’s cousin. She was chatting with a guy in a leather jacket, but she lit up when she saw me.
“Aaron!” she said. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it!”
“Stuff happened at work today,” I said, which was a candidate for Understatement Of The Century. “Also, the CalTrain was delayed in Palo Alto for like ten minutes, for kabbalistic reasons.”
Erica was used to this sort of commentary from me. She shot me a smile and turned back to the guy in the leather jacket.
On the other side of the room I spotted Ana Thurmond, love of my life and partner in Biblical whale pun telepathy. She was reading a book and pretending to ignore everybody, while actually shooting me psychic commentary about some of the more unusual celebrants. [Oh no,] she thought at me, as Bill Dodd and Karen Happick came through the door arm in arm, [they’ve finally started dating. God Most High help them both.]
Before I had time to reply, Erica had taken the podium and called the meeting to order. In accordance with tradition too ancient and hoary to describe, she began by reciting a poem from a world spiritual tradition in which she found personal meaning:
“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ’twixt that darkness and that light.”
It was “The Present Crisis”, by James Russell Lowell, Unitarian poet of the 1850s. Some say that the Unitarians of old were not as badass as they were today, but anyone who has read the poetry of James Russell Lowell knows this is not true. The Unitarians were always badass.
“Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.”
At this point I couldn’t help stealing a glance at the lone angel in the room. Pirindiel was certainly tall and beautiful, but now he had a kind of awkward deer-in-the-headlights look, as if he was worried somebody was going to ask him to enshield them from all wrong and he wasn’t going to know what to do.
“Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
There was something about James Russell Lowell that made him perfect for the counterculture. Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne. The system was evil. If it were not evil, it would not be the system. The persecuted are righteous; if they were not righteous, they would not be persecuted. Ana was the Augustine Distinguished Scholar in Theodicy at Stanford and she hated this stuff.
“We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—
‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.'”
“Yes,” said Erica, and her voice reverberated through the crowded basement. “They enslave their childrens’ children who make compromise with sin.”
Then she began her sermon.
She talked about Royal Colorado. How just five days ago, a cell of Unitarians much like our own had been meeting peacefully in a home in Denver, and someone had tipped off UNSONG, and the men in black had come for them. It should have been much like my own confrontation earlier that day. Lectures. Maybe some arrests, followed by short trials, followed by fines or probations. Or who knows? Maybe they would have tried to make an example of them. It didn’t matter, because someone had spoken the Tempestuous Name. One of the congregants? Acting out of shock and self-defense when he saw the door shatter to splinters and a dozen men pointing guns at him? He spoke the Tempestuous Name, and then the guns started shooting, and by the time it was over two UNSONG agents and eleven Unitarians were dead. The biggest disaster to hit the Church since it was driven underground, maybe. And the worst part would be that the government wouldn’t apologize. They’d blame the whole thing on the Unitarians, plaster the news with pictures of the two slain agents, and crack down on us twice as hard.
And Erica spoke about this, and she spoke well. She hit all the stops. She talked about how grief-stricken we were as part of the global body of Unitarians, and how enraged we were as Untied States citizens. She talked about how we must stand courageously and not let this break our resolve. She even made a token reference on how we must not let this turn us to violence, even though she kind of liked violence and it was hard for her to say it convincingly.
“I can’t tell you what to feel,” she concluded. “All I can say is that they knew what they were getting into. And so do we. We swore to spread the thousand thousand Names of God. And even though I can’t tell you the same won’t happen here, I can promise the church leadership is doing everything it can to ensure that it won’t. So a few words about security from our choir director, Brother Aaron.”
Yes. God Most High help me, I was supposed to offer words on security. Me, the guy who had gotten a $70 fine earlier that day for using a Divine Name to wake me up because the coffee pot was empty.
One of my few true talents is an ability to stride confidently to the front of things, as if I am going to someplace I have every right to be. I strode confidently to the front of the assembly.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Brother Aaron. The short version of our safety plan is that we are going to be extremely boring and do everything by the book and not stand out or draw attention to ourselves in any way.”
(“Hi,” I said in my imagination. “I’m Aaron Smith-Teller. I know we’re not supposed to give out our full name at church, but since you know where I live and what I look like, it’s kind of silly to haggle over full names, isn’t it? We should probably stop pretending that our cute little Alcoholics Anonymous game gives any real protection. If UNSONG ever really wants us, we’re all fucked.”)
“Whenever you use a protected Name of God,” I continued “UNSONG agents with the Sentinel Name tattooed above their ear, and the Names involve tattooed on their foreheads, can track your location. In practice they rarely do, because a million people do that every day and they don’t have a million agents or a million jail cells to put people in. But if a dozen people use all sorts of Names in the same spot every day, they know it’s a place where singers hang out and then if they’re bored then they come and raid you. This is probably what happened in Colorado.”
(“We have no idea who UNSONG can and can’t track,” I said in my imagination. “The Coloradans weren’t stupid enough to consistently use Names in their hideout because no one is that stupid. So something else went wrong. We could do everything by the book and all get arrested tomorrow.”)
“So,” I said “here are some things you can do if you’re an idiot who wants to be caught. You can use Names in your own house. You can use Names here. You can use a Name in the same spot multiple times. And you can use a really new Name that lots of bigwigs care about.”
(“So,” I said in my imagination “Here are some things I have done multiple times. Used Names I have no idea what they do. Used Names in ways that caused giant catastrophes. Used the same Name that caused a catastrophe again, just to see if it would magically work the second time, which it never does. Been something like the third person on Earth to use a Name I didn’t even need, just for the adrenaline rush and street cred.”)
“Last,” I said, “remember that we can limit any damage that happens. UNSONG’s got to operate within the law. No one can torture you or force information out of you. They can’t even silence you without a court order. As soon as you realize you’re in trouble, sing yourself the Confounding Name and forget all about us. If that doesn’t work, reveal one of our false leads to them. They’ll go in, see the evidence we planted, and figure we got spooked and abandoned it just before they arrived.”
(“Last,” I said in my imagination, “Director-General Ngo is by all accounts terrifying, and it’s really easy here in our nice safe basement to say that they can’t torture you, but someone in Colorado said something and I don’t know why. The fact that we left a couple of old books and CDs in an abandoned factory might or might not fool UNSONG’s finest, but I wouldn’t want to have to be the shmuck who tests it.)
“Oh,” I added. “If worst comes to worst, and secret police burst through those doors right when I finish talking, no Tempestuous Name, please. Better we all get a couple years in jail for criminal copyright infringement than die.”
(I said the same thing in my imagination, only more condescendingly.)
“We will now begin choir.”
Fifty years ago, Apollo 8 cracked the sky open and people started discovering the Names of God. A decade later, corporations started patenting them, demanding license fees for anyone who wanted to work miracles with them. A decade after that, they codified the whole system into international law and created UNSONG – the United Nations Subcommittee On Names of God – to enforce it.
And a decade after that, people started asking: why are we allowing this? Everything we know about God suggests that He loves all humans and is not a fan of the rich getting richer. First came Reverend Stevens and his book. Then came the political movement, growing out of local Unitarian churches that insisted that God loved everyone alike and therefore everyone alike must know His Names. And finally, when every legitimate avenue of resistance had been crushed, there came groups like ours, stealing what Names we could find and teaching them to one another in hidden forests or dark basements. Spreading the illegal knowledge in preparation for…well…okay, the endgame wasn’t exactly our strong point. Reverend Stevens had said that once enough people knew the Names, it would spark a revolution in consciousness, an immanentization of the eschaton as the holy essence reverberated within the minds of all life. Sure. Let’s go with that.
But here I was. After getting expelled from Stanford, and taking minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, and being treated like scum by everyone in academic kabbalah, here all I needed to do was have some basic familiarity with the Names, know a couple of impressive-sounding things about Maharaj ranking, and I was Choir Director and a leading scientific authority. That felt good. And given all that the big theonomics companies had done to me, helping screw them over was icing on the cake. My life was already in the toilet. The same self-destructive urge that had led me to use the Wakening Name at work bound me here to Erica and her people.
“Tonight,” I said, “we’re going to practice something very special. This is the Vanishing Name. Has anyone heard of the Vanishing Name before?”
No one raised their hands.
“That’s because it was discovered three weeks ago,” I told them, to multiple oooohs and aaaaahs. “Fresh meat. A sweatshop in Pittsburgh picked it up, and somehow it got leaked to a Unitarian cell in Cleveland, and they were able to break the klipah and send letters to a dozen Unitarian cells around the country within fifteen days of discovery.”
I was pretty sure that some of my own work in klipotic reversal algorithms had contributed, actually, but I resisted the urge to boast.
“What does the Vanishing Name do? It’s no less than a form of teleportation! Speak the Name, and you disappear and reappear somewhere else within a few hundred miles. According to my sources one of the test subjects in Pittsburgh ended up in Akron, and another one in Erie. The precise range is unknown, and the destination doesn’t seem to be under voluntary control. Hence the label. It’s useful for getting out of a situation, but not necessarily getting into one. Useful for, for example, underground Unitarian choir members in exactly the types of problems we’re hoping to avoid.”
“So what’s the catch to this seemingly astounding discovery? First, the Vanishing Name teleports you to a situation complementary to the one you were trying to get out of. Both of the testers in Pittsburgh, for example, ended up in laboratories devoted to the testing of kabbalistic Names. So there you are in a laboratory testing a kabbalistic Name in Pittsburgh, and you speak the Name, and you end up in a laboratory testing a kabbalistic Name in Akron.
“This creates an obvious limit to its usefulness. I’ve been corresponding with the choir director of a Unitarian congregation in San Antonio. She was in the bad part of town and got accosted by hooligans. So she spoke the Vanishing Name. It teleported her to the bad part of Austin, where another band of hooligans was looking for someone to accost. She used the Name a second time, and ended up back in San Antonio with the first group of hooligans, because the complement of the situations’s complement is just the original situation. So she went secular and used her pepper spray. The lesson is clear. Additional uses of the Vanishing Name are unlikely to gain you very much. Any questions?”
There were none.
“Second, and this relates to what I said before. I don’t need to remind you that using this Name would be really stupid. It’s new. UNSONG is looking for it. You’re learning this name because it is your duty as a Unitarian and a human being to learn and spread the thousand thousand Names of God. Unless you’re in a situation where it is absolutely vital to your well-being and continued survival that you be accosted by a different band of hooligans than the ones who are currently accosting you, this name should be considered UNSONG-bait and therefore verboten. Do you understand?”
The congregation understood.
“Very well,” I said. “Let us learn the Vanishing Name.”
There were twenty-eight of us there; twenty-seven humans plus Pirindiel. Angels cannot sing the Names, and only twenty of the humans were up for participating. The rest were there for moral support, political debates, some sort of sad countercultural version of networking, or the free refreshments afterwards. So I led the way and nineteen voices followed.
The Names of God are long and apparently meaningless. If you’re not a freaky mnemonist like me, they’re hard to remember. I don’t know who first figured out that if you sing them to a melody, they’ll stick with you longer, but so they do. That’s why we call it choir practice, why I’m choir director, why the people who learn the Names are called singers or cantors. The twenty of us joined together in song.
“Asat!” I sang.
“ASAT!” echoed nineteen voices.
[You’re going to finish this quickly, skip the food, and tell me how you’ll become World Emperor soon, right?]
[Shhhh! I’m trying to concentrate!]
[The Gospel according to Fluke]
[…um…Epistle to Philemonstro. Also, @#$% you.]
“Asat-zam…sorry…where were we?…Asat-zam-rus-shan-sever-las-kyon-dal-athen-try-kophu-li-mar-tan-day!”
This was not the Vanishing Name. It didn’t really end with “day”, and it didn’t quite start with “asat”. If you sang a Name straight out, you’d invoke it, and then depending on which Name it was you’d end up teleporting to a Unitarian choir three towns over, or summoning a tempest, or destroying a city.
So in order to communicate a name without activating it, you needed to sing something that was almost, but not quite, the real Name. A transformation. One you could easily perform and reverse at will.
There was already one such transformation well-known to every red-blooded American.
It was strange and almost sacrilegious. But every week we returned. UNSONG and the theonomics corporations couldn’t be allowed to whore out the Names of God unchallenged. A revolution was coming, and we were going to be ready for it. Nobody was going to get a monopoly on the Divine without fighting for it.
And that was why every Wednesday night the choir of the Unitarian Church would meet in secret and sing the hidden transcendent Names of God in Pig Latin.