TPD pp 180-188: A lesson in spirituality and a Game of Blues Clues

Carmen seems to be working out well as a new hire. She’s actually organized things and made it more efficient. She’s also begun taking over some editing duties, breaking articles into pieces and finding room for them. She even fixed the coffeemaker! Her only request: she wanted her desk to be right outside Marshall’s office door.

I guess that’s supposed to be sinister? I dunno. We’ll see what she’s planning.

Marshall and Bernice speak to Kevin Weed, the informant who is meant to kick off the high adventure part of the book.

“What was Susan doing at the carnival?”

“Beats me. Like I said, she just came up behind me and said hi, and I wasn’t even looking for her. I couldn’t believe it was her, you know?”

“But he got your phone number and then she calledyou last night. . . ”

“Yeah, all tripped out, shook up. It was wild. She didn’t make a lot of sense.”

[…]

“What’s Kaseph’s full name, any idea?”

Weed strained his  brain. “Alex–Alan–Alexander. . . something like that.”

Wow. I’m so impressed by the quality of information this informant has. This changes everything. Weed insists Susan’s new boyfriend is trying to take over Ashton. He has money, but Weed has no idea what he does for a living. He *might* live in New York. And he’s, well….

“Well, you know, he was like a guru, or a witch doctor or some kind of far-out ooga-booga man, and he got Susan into all that stuff.”

Bernice prodded, “Are you talking about Eastern mysticism?”

“Yeah.”

“Pagan religions, meditation?”

“Yeah, yeah, all that stuff.”

It’s telling here that Weed the Stoner treats other religions exactly the same as the author.

Guru is Sanskrit for “teacher”; originally it referred to specific teachers of oral Hindu tradition, but it became a popular fad to refer to yourself as a “guru” while peddling snake oil or fad “philosophy” in the West.

A Witch Doctor is a doctor who cures ailments caused by a witch’s curse; it’s an English term typically applied to Shamans in African traditions, and often contemptuously. In recent years it’s also come to be a derogatory slang term for practitioners of alternative medicine.

“Ooga Booga” appears to be contemptuous slang for Kahuna, the magical practitioners from native Hawaiian cultures. As the word can also mean “expert”, the phrase “Big Kahuna” has come to mean “very skilled surfer” in modern Hawaiian culture. Ooga Booga is also a game.

Eastern Mysticism isn’t a thing; it’s a way of lumping together a number of unrelated traditions and religions into one package in order to contrast with “Western culture”, meaning Abrahamic religions. Technically, Hindu would be considered part of that amalgamation, but African and Hawaiian traditions would not.

Pagan religions is an even broader term, referring to a number of totally separate and unique traditions; I suspect, but cannot be sure, that Bernice here means specifically neoPaganism, the renaissance of new religions founded in the 19th and 20th centuries as people tried to resurrect and modernize traditions which were more or less destroyed by the advent of Christianity. To what extent these modern revivals bear resemblance to the ancient practices they claim as their forefathers depends highly on the exact tradition, with much of mainstream Wicca being created whole-cloth from a mismatch of cultures that never interacted, but I would like to remind the readers that they are no less legitimate religions than anything else discussed here. All traditions were originally created by man, including Christianity, based on claimed insight into the divine workings of the world. The Bible didn’t arrive whole-cloth borne in a golden chariot driven by angels.

Meditation is not a religious belief. It is a practice, often used in magical workings or as a tool to gain self-knowledge (similar to hypnosis). In its most basic form (being aware of your surroundings and intentionally relaxing the body), it can help lower blood pressure and combat panic attacks. The basic technique consists of taking slow, measured breaths — something our bodies react to on a physiological level. Different traditions add different beliefs and rituals to the basic meditation practice, with varying effects.

To a person like Weed or Beatrice or Peretti, these things are all part of the “woo-woo” tradition, basically an innocent-sounding front for demonic activity. Therefore, there is no need to differentiate between any of the above or “Universal Consciousness”. It’s all just “Eastern bullshit”.

Susan has been taking classes with Langstrat; Weed describes the change in her like so:

“And she got crazy, and I mean crazy. Man, she couldn’t have been on a higher trip with mescaline. I couldn’t even talk to her anymore. She was always way out in space somewhere.”

The conflation of insanity with demonic possession has a long and sordid history, and has not entirely vanished in the modern age. Calling someone who is, in the course of a fictional book, probably possessed by demons “crazy” conflates the two once more. Not only are (natural) teenage rebellion, addiction, rape, and pedophilia caused by demonic influence, but now mental illness seems to be as well.

Incidentally, the common term for mescaline is Peyote. Peyote is consumed as part of a Native American spiritual tradition in which the mind-altering properties of the plant are used to produce spiritual encounters. Once again, we’ve jumped continents.

Weed noticed that the group began “talking in codes” and “keeping secrets”. I could make a point about how every sufficiently insulated group begins to sound unintelligible to outsiders based on shared experiences and references to them, but this post is getting a little long, so I won’t. Instead I’ll just mention that Langstrat is the lackey of Kaseph rather than the other way around.

Weed’s purpose here seems to be to tip off Marshall and Bernice to the idea that Susan wants to talk to them but she fears their phone might be bugged. Marshall and Bernice swallow this little bundle of nonsense because they’re looking for nonsense: they want to believe there is a vast conspiracy to undermine their town and that huge, shadowy figures are determined to corrupt the spiritual beliefs of the members of a small college town somewhere in the US for nefarious purposes in some kind of crusade against Jesus, so compared to that, this mishmash of spirituality sounds downright tame and logical.

Shortly before Pat was found dead, Weed spoke with her and found her to be acting strange:

“She was sitting in a cafeteria on campus, and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days […] if she hadn’t been so against the whole Kaseph and Langstrat bunch, I woulda thought she was one of them; she had that same kind of dopey, lost-in-space look all over her.”

She’s also seemingly lost interest in things she was previously interested in (specifically, the same investigation Marshall and Bernice are tracking down). She also seemed to be harboring the belief that a man named Thomas was following her, talking to her, threatening her, when nobody seems to be around. Because of the aforementioned conflation of mental illness with demonic possession, the book is obviously going down the route of “attacked by demons and lost” rather than “mental disorder and couldn’t get to a doctor in time”.

Interestingly enough… does that mean Pat is in hell? Suicides go to hell, and those who consort with demons; if you kill yourself to get away from demons, is that basically double hell? So the difference between heaven and hell is whether you succeed in your attempts to uncover the evil cult or whether they prove to be too strong? How arbitrary.

Bah. She probably didn’t kill herself, it was probably a murder disguised as a suicide. This book likes to be predictable that way.

Some actual lack-of clues come out of the chat Weed:

  • Bernice attempts to research this Thomas person that was following Pat but finds no Thomases at all in the college roster.
  • Pat had some new instructor, something to do with the Langstrat conspiracy.
  • A. Kaseph is not listed in the New York phone book. They decide to check records of real estate purchases in the area.
  • Who owns Joe’s market? That’s apparently a crucial plot point I guess.

Meanwhile, Ted Harmel is finally ready to talk thanks to the little chat with Eldon out in the countryside.

Oh, and Carmen is eavesdropping like a good little spy. So that’s what the whole desk position thing was about.

Marshall calls a friend at the Times and has him research Kaseph. Bernice finds out nobody at the grocery store has any idea who the owners are. So she heads to the real estate office; the woman at the desk doesn’t know much, so she goes to ask the woman in charge, but gives Bernice permission to use the microfiche. When the boss, Rosemary, walks in, she immediately tells Bernice that the microfiche is employees only. She totally stonewalls Bernice, telling her the files haven’t been updated in a while. So she’s obviously evil.

That’s the end of chapter 19.

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2 Responses to TPD pp 180-188: A lesson in spirituality and a Game of Blues Clues

  1. smilodon says:

    How big is this college supposed to be? It’s not like she was haunted by someone named “Apple. ” Thomas is actually a pretty common name, in my experience.

    • yamikuronue says:

      Back in this post it seems the entire town is 12,000 people, of which 800 are college students at any given time. It does seem weird that not one in 800 people (plus faculty) is named Thomas though.

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