Monday, October 12, 2009

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt.1)

Although the 1967 television series, The Prisoner is, like any work of art, the result of conscious choice, collaboration, compromise, as well as accidents both happy and un-, it is also true that the show remains one of the rarest of all creations: the successful vanity project. Unlike many other celebrities who have been given free reign by a trusting and indulgent producer, Patrick McGoohan actually had not just a brilliant idea, but also the vision, intelligence and moral clarity with which to manifest it.

As McGoohan himself said of episode 14, Living in Harmony, "Whatever meaning you put into it, that's the reason for it."
So, like all great works of art, The Prisoner intentionally offers many possible meanings and interpretations. Political allegory, social satire, pulp spy tale. But the Prisoner also functions as an initiation document. An instrument of divine Logos, like The Golden Ass, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Mount Analogue, or Bimbo's Initiation.

Such tales both record the protagonist's journey into the mysteries as well as provide a map to guide the reader or viewer past the pitfalls and trapdoors of their own chtonian travels.

As Joseph Campbell describes it, "The so called rites of passage are distinguished by formal, and usually very severe, exercises of severance, whereby the mind is radically cut away from the attitudes, attachments, and life patterns of the stage being left behind. Then follows an interval ... during which are enacted rituals designed to introduce the life adventurer to the forms and proper feelings of his new estate ... so that when .... he returns, the initiate will be as good as new.*"

The story of the Prisoner arcs across such rites for the man who will soon be called Number 6. We see his severance, the ensuing rituals, the secrets granted by these rituals, and his (eternal) return as he rises through the degrees. The opening credits establish these points and call the Prisoner to action.

Part One-Opening Credits or What The Thunder Said

"Who in the name of thunder'd ever belevin you were that bolt?" --Finnegans Wake

Like Finnegans Wake, The Prisoner opens with a thunderclap. It is the sound of the fall, of the cracking of the cosmic egg.

The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschut of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes....

Whether or not in search of his tumptytumtoes, the Prisoner approaches in a speeding car from the horizon toward the camera. Driving through London he is guided by a series of arrows into the bowels of the earth. With the light at his back, footsteps echoing, he marches down a long, dark corridor. Thunder sounds again as he throws open the doors of an inner chamber. He has crossed the first threshold.

He comes bearing a letter. A common trope in the initiation document is such a letter, or sometimes a book, that is both instigator and goal of the quest. The divine Macguffin, it is the Logos itself, the informed seed, created in hand and delivered by hand--a signal amid the noise.

Eat the Document

As the unnamed protagonist of the gnostic Hymn of the Pearl puts it:

My letter is a letter,
which the king sealed with his own right hand,
(to keep it) from the wicked ones, the children of Babel,
and from the savage demons of Sarbug.
It flew in the likeness of an eagle,
the king of all birds;
it flew and alight beside me,
and became all speech.
At its voice and the sound of its rustling,
I started and arose from my sleep.
I took it up and kissed it,
and I began (and) read it;
and according to what was traced on my heart
were the words of my letter.
I remembered that I was a son of royal parents,
and my noble birth asserted itself.
I remembered the pearl,
for which I had been sent to Egypt


And my letter, my awakener,
I found before me on the road;
and as with its voice it had awakened me,
(so) too with its light it was leading me.
and with its voice and its guidance
it also encouraged me to speed

Having passed through this initial ordeal, the Prisoner departs the underworld, emerging into day. Meanwhile, in a hall of records, the Prisoner's file is Xed out. A skull and crossbones for the IBM age.

x marks the spot

A hearse follows the Prisoner as he arrives back at his flat. A tall, gaunt man all in black, wearing a top hat exits the hearse and approaches the entrance way. Inside, the Prisoner packs for what appears to be a getaway to a tropical location, a new life awaits! A smoky cloud slithers through the keyhole. The room begins to spin, towers outside the Prisoner's window begin to tilt and wobble. He collapses.

The Logos has been delivered, the egg has been fertilized, and now the journey begins for real.

to be continued--be seeing you!

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt. 2)

Part Two--Arrival--In Utero

A blueprint for the structure of the Prisoner's initiation drama is offered in the penultimate episode, Once Upon A Time, with Leo McKern's Number 2 referencing Shakespeare's 'seven ages of man' from the 'All the world's a stage' speech from As You Like It. Much more on which to follow, but briefly the 7 stages are

  1. The infant mewling and puking in his mother's arms
  2. The whining school boy with his satchel and shining morning face
  3. The lover, sighing like a furnace
  4. The soldier, full of strange oaths and bearded like a pard
  5. The justice, full of wise saws and modern instances
  6. The lean and slipper'd pantaloon
  7. Second childishness and mere oblivion

With that schematic in mind the first episode, or perhaps more aptly Episode O, serves as prologue. It is pre-birth, the life before life. The soul's incarnation in the womb and the subsequent acquiring of an identity that is both genetic and, through the influence of the outside world on the mother's body, environmental. The Prisoner here is the Logos as Neophyte, the seed newly planted.

The episode begins when the Prisoner awakes in his new home in The Village. With its quaint, whimsical, candy-colored exteriors The Village resembles a seaside resort from another time. The Prisoner wanders empty streets. He interacts with an elderly woman at a cafe, "We'll be opening soon," she tells him, but he can get little more information from her.

We'll be opening soon--give it about 3 more months.

Leaving the cafe he finds a phone and speaks with an operator. The operator has the same singsong tone as the pleasant, disembodied female voice we will hear cooing pleasantries over a communal loudspeaker throughout the episode. It is the voice of the mother, the soothing and all-knowing and unknowable force which provides The Prisoner with his environment and support, but also sets the confines from which he must escape in order to be.

The operator asks him for his number, but, still gestating, his identity has not yet been set and he is unable to get through. "No number, no call," she says.

The Taxi Driver (Promotional Still)

Eventually he is able, by accident, to hail a taxi. The driver is a young woman who speaks every language and asks him about his nationality. As is his wont in this stage in his development, The Prisoner simply barks questions at her. Which is as good a place as any, I suppose, to mention how incredible Patrick McGoohan's performance is throughout the Prisoner. He uses his voice as an instrument, often intoning his words with a beauty and solemnity usually reserved for Shakespeare or religious rites (same difference, some might say.) There's a majesty to almost every line he delivers throughout the course of the show, and he conveys a great deal of information with just the slightest change of inflection.

It's a very stagey, non-Method way of acting that can be a little off-putting at first. As the Prisoner is allegory, this evokative, Old Vic sort of way of performing is very appropriate, and McGoohan expertly adapts himself to whichever of the 7 stages his character is currently displaying. A naturalistic, 'I must become my character' style of acting would be discordant and jarring. For the Prisoner is a messenger and the message he delivers is sealed.

In addition to his vocal skills (not to mention his sense of humor) McGoohan's physicality further prevents him from venturing into Shatnerian bathos or Adam West-style woodenness. As a young man McGoohan excelled in boxing and it shows in his performance. Not in the show's copious phony fight scenes, mind you, but rather in the still moments, when walking or standing. His body awareness provides great presence. He moves deliberately and without wasted energy, so that his performance has what mere verisimilitude always lacks: authenticity.

The rest of the first half of the episode is of the Prisoner kicking at the walls, as it were, exploring the boundries of his new world. Halfway through the episode the Prisoner makes his first escape attempt. Running toward the sea he is overtaken by Rover, the insidious globular drone that polices the village and which subdues him.

Since it's not necessarily pertinent to our overall theme, I'm going to gloss over the machinations of Arrival's plot, with its various chess games, fake funerals, and brainwashings. Suffice it to say the episode closes with the Prisoner's second escape attempt, this time riding over the Village in the bulbous pregnant belly of the Village's helicopter. It's all a feint, of course--meant, as always, "to teach him a lesson," and the Prisoner returns to ground. He marches sullenly back to his cottage with Rover nipping at his heels like the dog following the fool to the cliff on the first card of the Tarot.

to be continued--be seeing you

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt. 3)

Part Three--Birth and Childhood

"Let none ignorant of geometry enter here." --sign over Plato's academy

Some controversy exists over the 'correct' order of the episodes of the Prisoner. As far as I'm concerned it's a non-issue, created by an attempt to impose reason and linear thinking onto the framework of the series. One may watch the Prisoner however the hell one chooses, watch each episode backwards if that's your thing, but for the purpose of my little game here we will be using the original ITC broadcast order--the same order which is used by AMC for the episodes on their website. Disclaimer: I have no connection with ITC or AMC or with TMZ, QVC, or RC Cola for that matter. My life is my own, as are my crackpot visions.

Episode 2--The Chimes of Big Ben

One of the reasons for the confusion over the series order is the 2nd episode features the first use of the ritual that opens most (but not all) episodes of the Prisoner, Number 6's interaction with that particular episode's Number 2. In this case, the inimitable Leo McKern.

Prisoner: Where am I?

Number 2: In the village.

P: What do you want?

2: Information.

P: Which side are you on?

2: That would be telling. We want information, information, information.

P: You won't get it.

2: By hook or by crook, we will.

P: Who are you?

2: The new Number 2.

P: Who is Number 1?

2: You are Number 6 (note: in Big Ben, McKern famously says You are...Number Six.)

P: I am not a Number, I am a free man!

2: (laughter)

At first viewing it seems jarring, like something is missing or that we've come in halfway through the episode. But it's just a matter of habituation, by the start of the 3rd episode it's clear this is just the way the show starts. It's a vitally important segment, however, because in addition to introducing that show's 2, it emphasizes the Prisoner's distinctive thematic vision as well as its ritual nature.

Number 2, with his or her scarf, umbrella, and lapel pin sitting in the middle of the room plays the part of the Worshipful Master in the East:

He (or she) is the Hierophant who is to guide the seed from Neophyte to Zelator to.... It's interesting to note, however, that in the Masonic ceremonies, it's usually the Worshipful Master who's asking the questions, not answering them.

Be that as it may, the episode begins with the Prisoner comfortably asleep in his inner chamber. The soothing female voice from the previous episode begins her morning broadcast by cooing that "our fine spell" of weather will last at least another month and announcing an arts contest.

Fig 3. Your day is just six weeks from today.

He awakes and begins making breakfast. Eggs, appropriately enough. Again I'm not going to labor too much over the mechanics of the plot except to say that it concerns The Prisoner's new neighbor, an Estonian woman named Nadia, who soon falls afoul of Number 2. The Prisoner agrees to take part in the upcoming arts contest in exchange for Number 2 releasing her from being cruelly interrogated.

One of the Prisoner's many skills, apparently, is woodworking, and he sets upon creating what he calls an abstract sculpture.

Note Number 2's position.

It's probably pretty obvious to every viewer that the Prisoner is building a boat, not a sculpture. What may not necessarily be apparent except to weirdos like us, is the incredible triple meaning (at least) of the shape Number 6 is creating: the Vesica Piscis.

From Westminster Abbey Psaltar ca. 1200

The Sanctum Sanctorum

It's worth quoting a long passage from William Stirling's seminal work, The Canon, in full:
It is known both to freemasons and architects, that the mystical figure called the Vesica Piscis, so popular in the Middle Ages, and generally placed as the first proposition of Euclid, was a symbol applied by the masons in planning their temples. Albert Durer, Serlio, and other architectural writers depict the Vesica in their works, but presumably because an unspeakable mystery attached to it these authors make no reference to it. Thomas Kerrich, a freemason and principal librarian of the University of Cambridge, read a paper upon this mystical figure before the Society of Antiquaries on January 20th, 1820. He illustrated his remarks with many diagrams illustrating its use by the ancient masons, and piously concludes by saying, "I would by no means indulge in conjectures as to the reference these figures might possibly have to the most sacred mysteries of religion." Dr. Oliver, ("Discrep." p. 109) speaking of the Vesica, says, "This mysterious figure Vesica Piscis possessed an unbounded influence on the details of sacred architecture: and it constituted the great and enduring secret of our ancient brethern. The plans of religious buildings were determined by its use: and the proportions of length and height were dependent on it alone." Mr Clarkson (Introductory Essay to Billings' "Temple Church") considered that the elementary letters of the primitive language were derived from the same mystical symbol. He says that it was known to Plato and "his masters in the Egyptian colleges" and was to the old builders "an archetype of ideal beauty." The Vesica was also regared as a baneful object under the name of the "Evil Eye," and the charm most generally employed to avert the dread effects of its fascination was the Phallus (J. Millinger "Archaeologia," xix). In Heraldry the Vesica was used as the feminine shield. It was interchangeable with the Fusill, or Mascle and was also figured as a lozenge or rhombus. In the East the Vesica was used as a symbol of the womb, and was joined to the cross by the Egyptians forming the handle of the Crux ansata.
The vesica pisces is really too deep a subject to delve into too much, but since it is vitally important to understanding the initiation drama of the Prisoner, we're going to have to take a momentary detour through the very strange land of sacred geometry. Things are going to start getting pretty far out for the next little bit, so please bear with me.

6 0f 1, Half A Dozen of the Other

As you read the following section you may well ask yourself, "Uh, do you really think Patrick McGoohan intended all this stuff?" The answer to which is, of course, yes. And no. Mathematics were another of Patrick McGoohan's strengths in school, so do I think he was familiar with Euclid, with the Vesica Piscis, and other arcane concepts? Absolutely. In later interviews McGoohan was quite explicit that the look and design of the show was quite intentional. But that's not to say that every little nuance that we might discuss was something that McGoohan considered. With such matters, the intention of the symbol trumps that of its wielder.

Thinkers much wiser and more learned than I have devoted their lives to studying and writing about such mysteries, so what follows is very simplified Cabala 101 type stuff, from a myriad of sources, methods, and traditions, but I think an understanding of the material opens up a whole new layer of meaning to not just The Chimes of Big Ben, but The Prisoner as a whole.

Creation begins when the infinite universal consciousness, Number One, if you will, decides to divide Itself. It is Ayin, the unsleeping, all-seeing eye, whose seed is the beam of light which shoots from it and creates a second point. After this division comes motion--with point B moving around point A producing the Universal Monad , the dot in the circle, the alchemical symbol for the sun.

Point A then moves around Point B, producing two circles of common radius, whose intersection is the Vesica Piscis:

God and Ruach, the spirit of God, have mated and their union produces through the sacred yoni of the Vesica the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Which then is expressed as Y H V H, the Tetragrammaton, Father, Mother, Son, Daughter.

Which can also be expressed through the pentagram, whose points are water, earth, fire, air, and spirit:

By then untying the pentagram's knot as it were, we then behold the six-pointed star, seen here in a familiar format for emphasis:

Okay, you say, that's just groovy, dude, but what the fug does it have to do with The Prisoner, other than you know, one becoming six?

As we have seen from the opening credits as Ein becomes Ein Sof becomes Ein Sof Aur delivering his seed into the abyss (cf. the Egyptian myth of Ptah), the Prisoner's chariot zooms after the thunderclap from a point on the horizon, where he delivers by hand his letter. The word is fertilized and the world (The Village) is created, and One is divided into (Number) Two.

Consider this exchange between The Prisoner and Number 2 in Chimes of Big Ben:

Number 2: I am an optimist. That's why it doesn't matter who Number 1 is. It doesn't matter which side runs the village.

Prisoner: It's run by one side or the other.

2: Oh, certainly, but both sides are becoming identical. One that has, in fact, become an international community. A perfect blueprint for world order. When both sides facing each other suddenly realize they're looking into a mirror they will see that thisis the pattern for the future.

P: The whole Earth as the Village ....

2: That is my hope. What's yours?

P: I'd like to be the first man on the moon.
Division has become individuation, the illusion of self which gives rise to Lucifer and the Fall. The Prisoner will always be opposed to Them. If they take over the Earth, he will go to the Moon. But, of course, as Number 2 hints, he is--as the cliche would have it--only running from himself.

With all this out of the way lets resume consideration of the episode proper.

When we left to take our detour, The Prisoner was comfortably gestating under Number 2's watchful eye.

Must be ready 2 weeks from tomorrow

Finally the big day arrives, the day of the art exhibition. The Prisoner's sculpture engenders admiration and confusion from the judges. When asked about its meaning The Prisoner, affecting an air of mock pretension replies, "It means what it is." He then goes further. "What does it represent to you?"

"A church door?" One of the judges replies.

"Right, first try," The Prisoner voice is arch and amused. "The barrier's down, the door is open--You're free--free to go, to escape....To This. The symbol of human aspirations."

From the division with Number 2, The Logos prepares to deliver itself through the Vesica Piscis.

That night The Prisoner and Nadia (whose name means hope) begin their long labor...

She has delivered him, but although he is now born, he is not free. His escape has just been another dumbshow, another elaborate ritual designed to bring him to the next stage in his journey.

The seed has burst forth. He has crossed the second threshold. (Note the columns, the color blue, the triangle complete with eye-like opening at the apex, and the church door on the right.)

to be continued--be seeing you!

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt. 4)

Episode 3--A, B, and C

Isis and Harpocrates

As we saw in the last episode Point A produced Point B, the union of which produced Point C. And now must come the initiate's test to see if he can turn ABC into YHVH. A, B, and C begins, mystically speaking at least, where the last episode left off. (Although adherents of the chronological aspects of the show would note that the Prisoner seems to have been at the Village for a while in this episode.)

There's a bolt of lightning and a crash of thunder, and our new born babe is carried in from the storm. Fresh from his palingenesia he is borne across the threshold, into the cave of the mysteries to face another rite of passage. Like most infants, The Prisoner spends most of the episode sleeping and dreaming while that episode's Number 2 and mother surrogate fuss over him.

The plot of this episode is almost entirely ritualistic, and consists of three repeated attempts (all of which are dream re-enactments of events which never actually took place) to co-oerce the Prisoner to divulge the secret of his message--his raison d'etre, quite literally his reason for being here in the first place. But, as always, its just a test to see if he's learned his lesson from the last rite. For all initiates must learn the sacred truth est et fideli tuta silentio merces and then follow in the ways of Harpocrates. Isasin oi ntemueméno.

So it's understandable if one sees in this episode a deeper re-enactment, that of the three ruffians Jubela, Jubelo, Jubelum attempting to extract the Mason secret from Hiram Abiff, the architect of King Solomon's temple.

But since I don't want to write thousands of words on the profound meaning of silence, we'll end our discussion of A, B, and C by noting that, as it turns out, it is the Prisoner who is directing this particular play. The end of the episode mirrors that of Big Ben, although this time the Prisoner has triumphed and proven that he is ready to progress to the next stage, to become the crowned and conquering brat.

Once through these doors there is no turning back.

to be continued--be seeing you!

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt. 5)

Episode 4--Free For All

Written and directed by Patrick McGoohan, the next episode, Free for All, is among the series' best. The plot is simple, The Prisoner is convinced to compete in the Village's election for the new Number 2. As biting social commentary, Free for All is first rate. Its critique of democracy in the burgeoning information age is still relevant, and in some ways, extremely prescient.

Tally-Ho News Network: We Report, We Decide

But that, unfortunately, is a discussion for another time. As this is an extraordinarily rich episode, we have enough on our plate just sticking to our main exploration of the Prisoner's initiation drama.

Our sleepy infant Prisoner from the last episode has grown into a petulant toddler whose mother surrogate is the winsome, Russian-speaking nursemaid, Number 58 (Rachel Herbert).

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

Despite Number 58's affectionate attentions, through the first quarter of the episode the Prisoner is the prototypical undisciplined, unrepentant little brat. A classic case study of what parents will recognize as the terrible twos. The Prisoner's whole demeanor is given over to expressions of three concepts: "Mine," "No," and "I want!" He is the prototypical libertarian toddler rebelling against the oh-so tellingly labeled 'nanny state.'

But in order to be a productive member of the family village, the child must be socialized, disciplined, and taught, often through fear and the threat of pain if necessary. "Obey the rules and we'll take very good care of you." A similar process takes place for the initiate, who has to learn the rules of his grade and adapt to strange new things. The following passage from Steven C. Bullock's Revolutionary Brotherhood is worth quoting in full:

For gentlemen such as Washington, politeness required careful restraint of outward expressions. In the high grades [of Masonry] breaking decorum was precisely the point. Physical contact and pain broke down the surface of calm and stability that had been the goal of genteel education. The rituals sought to penetrate directly to a person's moral center, now defined, not as outward self-presentation, but as inner character. The exhaustion, the physical pummeling and the terror experienced in the degrees all sought to encourage the emotional responses necessary to change deeply ingrained habits and tendencies.

These changes went deeper than simply moving the center of educational attention. They also helped create a new way of thinking about the foundation of human identity, about the self. Locke and the Enlightenment discredited the centuries-old model of human psychology as a collection of disparate feelings, attitudes, and desires struggling for dominance. In place of these warring faculties, the Enlightenment posited a more unified mechanical consciousness. Post-revolutionary thinkers kept this sense of relative consistency, but pushed the center inward. Instead of a seething mass of conflicting tendencies or a machine driven by sense experience, this new model suggested humans had an internal core of identity that could be educated and relied upon for guidance.

George Washington as Royal Arch Mason
It is the uncovering of this internal core of identity, and its source, that is the key reason for the various conditionings and de-conditionings that make up the perilous path of not just initiate friends such as Bimbo or Number 6, but cowans such as ourselves, as we strut about the stages of our own lives.

There is still much to cover, so we will have to wait to delve deeper into this core of identity until the Prisoner crosses into the vault of the adepti, but for now he still has far to go. It is decided that the Prisoner has to go take his medicine. For his own good, doncha know. Obey the rules and we will take very good care of you.

The Prisoner Makes His Descent (HTWSSTKS)


In The History of Magic, Eliphas Levi writes:

The doctrine [of metempsychosis] here set forth is formulated by the Kabalists in a single axiom: The spirit clothes itself to come down and unclothes itself to go up. The life of intelligence is ascensional. In the body of its mother the child has a vegetative life and draws nourishment through a cord to which it is attached, as the tree is attached to the earth by its root and is also nourished thereby. When the child passes from vegetative to instictive and animal life, the cord breaks and henceforth he has free motion. When the child becomes man he escapes from the trammels of instinct and can act as a reasonable being. When the man dies he is liberated from the law of gravitation, by which he has been previously bound to earth. When the soul has expiated its offences it grows strong enough to emerge from the exterior darkness of the terrestrial atmosphere and mount towards the sun. The unending ascent of the sacred ladder begins therein, for the eternity of the elect cannot be a state of idleness; they pass from virtue to virtue, from bliss to bliss, from victory to victory, from glory to glory. There is no break in the chain, and those of the superior degrees can still exercise an influence on those who are below....
I realize how arcane all of this is, but what is opaque to the rational mind is illuminated clearly in the mind through symbols, images, and ritual. An illustration can be seen in the 1st Degree Tracing Board below:

You may observe that many of these symbols appear with some frequency in The Prisoner. It's not necessarily the time or place to discuss each in turn, I'd rather wait until it's germane to a specific episode. In that spirit, though, it's the perfect time to give a few words to a specific concept, that of the sacred ladder. This is the stairway to the stars, which the soul must first climb down, before it can climb back up. It is Jacob's ladder in the Bible, as well as Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. It is where the journey of Initiation begins, where the journey takes place, and where the journey leads.

R. Swinburne Clymer, in Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, tells of the initiate into the Mithraic mysteries, whose ceremonies were performed in sacred caverns. He writes:

The learned Celsus informs us that in the rites of Mithras the Persians proved by symbols the two-fold nature of the stars, the fixed and the planetary; and by the doctrine of metempsychosis, which was first taught in Persia, they endeavored to show the passage of the Soul through the celestial bodies. The Mithriac priests illustrated this doctrine by erecting in their caves a high ladder, with seven gates or steps corresponding to the number of the planets (still retained in the symbolism of Masonry).

In The Masonic Ladder, John Sherer writes:

The Degree of Entered Apprentice is the initial letter of the Masonic alphabet, the first round in the ladder of grades, variously numbering three, seven, nine, eleven, twenty-nine, one hundred and twenty-five, or whatever figures the fancy of modern ritualists may assume to embrace all the Degrees of Freemasonry. An Entered Apprentice is a beginner, a neophyte. All that is explained to him in the First Degree must be in the sense of laying down a foundation; for he can have no previous information or instruction upon which to base it. Yet the Entered Apprentice, in theory, is already a Mason, even before he enters the Lodge; that is, he must be already prepared in heart, for there is nothing in Masonic science that can do the work of heart-preparation.

Halfway through Free For All the Prisoner descends this stairway into the cavern of the mysteries, to be taught another lesson, and begin his Initiation in earnest.

You may be saying now, "Wait a second, the initiation hasn't even started yet? What about all this other jazz? I thought we were already well on our way."

To which we reply, "Welcome to Chapel Perilous, baby. Wanna be a member, wanna be a member?"

However, as amusing as that may be, my daimon points out that a clearer definition of initiation should still be offered. According to the online etymology dictionary the word stems from the Latin inire, "to go into, enter upon, begin." This is the church door which Number 6 is always passing through (coming up again in our next episode, The Schizoid Man), and the threshold he is always crossing. By definition, then, initiation never ends, as it is perpetual beginning. The Fool is always stepping off the cliff-face.

Guenon breaks initiation down into three stages, which he defines as corresponding to 'potentiality', 'virtuality,' and 'actuality.' His details of these stages are:

  1. 'qualification' consisting in certain possibilities inherent in the nature of the individual, which is the materia prima upon which the initiatic work is to be effected;
  2. transmission, by means of filiation with a traditional organization of a spiritual influence giving to the individual the 'illumination' that will allow him to order and develop those possibilities that he carries within himself;
  3. interior work by which, with the help of 'adjuvants' or exterior 'supports' (as needed and especially in the first stages), this development will be gradually realized as the individual passes stage by stage through the different degrees of the initiatic hierarchy and is led to the final goal of 'Deliverance' or the 'Supreme Identity'
An odd analogy can be found in bubble blowing. The breath of God, the liquid of the initiate, and the wand of the portal interact and transmute into the circle. The bubble thus produced is the degree the new body of the initiate enters into, but at the appropriate moment the bubble bursts, the breath whispers again, and the initiate crosses a new threshold, which is exactly the same and totally different from the previous one.

When we left him for this substantial detour through the thickets, our dear friend the Prisoner had been judged fit to move past the nursery, and the rest of Free For All is given over to this tumultuous journey.

He stands at the altar beneath the Royal Arch, as the Worshipful Master bangs the gavel and announces the Prisoner must undergo the test. I don't wish to go into much more tiresome detail, so I will let the pictures tell the story, only drawing your attention to the reds and the blues, the eyes and the triangles, the arches and the altars.

His platform of "Less work and more play!" having been a resounding success, the Prisoner is elected the new Number 2 and crosses the Third Threshold (see above). But of course he's just a kid, so his subsequent effort to free the village consists of helplessly pushing buttons willy-nilly and announcing over the loud speaker the brilliantly ironic message, "Obey me and be free!"

After one last trial, he is able to understand what Number 58 is saying, and she asks him, as he's being carted away from the latest ass-whooping, "Are you ready to talk?"

Her baby boy has grown up. School is ready to start.

to be continued--be seeing you!

The 7 Ages of the Prisoner (pt. 6)

School Days--Episode 5--The Schizoid Man

As episode 5 starts, the Prisoner is helping a young friend, Alison, practice her ESP with a set of Xener cards. She also is learning photography, and he is willing to help her out with that, as well. The Village is now a campus.

He flashes the sign of his grade

It's a fine episode, with McGoohan giving a typically brilliant performance. He plays both Number 6, who is being treated by everyone in the Village as though he were actually Number 12 (who is one of them); as well as playing the real Number 12 who is pretending to be Number 6 in order to make the real Number 6 believe that he might really be Number 12 after all. Got that?

The new Number 2 accomplishes this by having Number 6 abducted in the middle of the night. The Prisoner is then forced to undergo a barrage of rigid conditioning in order to instill in him characteristics of Number 12. Such peculiarities include left-handedness and a penchant for flapjacks. The universal signifier for evil twindom, sinister facial hair, is also provided.

In War and Peace in the Global Village, a work that might well be subtitled A Skeleton Key to the Prisoner (and which I previously lifted several quotes from Finnegan's Wake), Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore write:

...the work of Pavlov, in revealing the fact of conditioned reflexes, had a totally different meaning for the Russian and the European. Pavlov had been unable to condition his dogs in his experiments until he had completely conditioned the laboratory environments in which they lived. Until precise thermal and auditory controls were introduced into the laboratories the conditioning did not occur. The bell did not elicit salivation. To the European it was not the conditioning of the laboratories but the fact of automatic salivation that created the excitement. Indeed, the ordinary psychological effect makes no mention of the laboratory conditioning. The Westener lives in a man-made environment, mechanically conditioned and time structured... [But] to the Russian, the exciting event in Pavlov's experiment was not the conditioning of the dogs but of the laboratories. But to the Westerner, the revelation that he was a preconditioned robot, thanks to his own ingenuity and machinations, was a most disagreeable discovery...The portentous discovery [Pavlov] made was that any controlled environment, any man-made environment, is a conditioner that creates non-perceptive somnambulists....
And everyone knows that somnambulists are especially open to suggestion. This is not just pertinent to the Village, or the prison, or the mall, but especially to the schoolyard. Ignatius Loyola, and John Dewey centuries later, certainly understood this in their own ways.

Ratcliffe College, Patrick McGoohan's alma mater

Schoolchildren are expected, by pragmatic necessity more than nefarious intent, to adopt new, obedient personalities in the classroom. As anyone who has spent any time in a classroom can tell you, though, the obedient child is a Platonic ideal that one is always striving for. Be that as it may, over time accretions of habit, conditioning, and mild trauma produce socially competent, albeit befuddled and neurotic, drones who are ready to go forth to toil in the Dark Satanic Cubicle. Once there they will be fruitful and engender the next batch of kiddies. The Society of the Spectacle must have a steady stream of new viewers, after all.

Given that he is now forced to do everything left-handed, the Prisoner loses all his previous prowess in fencing, boxing, and shooting. He is bullied mercilessly by Number 12 as a result. 12 treats him with the exasperated, condenscending air of an upperclassman.

Just as he is starting to crack, though, The Prisoner finds evidence that he is, in fact, Number 6, in one of Alison's photographs. The issue then becomes how does he de-condition himself of the habits of Number 12?

As we all know from our own life stories, whether it is dieting or smoke cessation or recovery from addiction, or even just really, really liking flapjacks, most people go about the process of de-conditioning by attempting to not do something. The problem with trying to dehabituate one's self by telling yourself you can't do something is that what you're really saying, as Fritz Perls was fond of pointing out, is that you won't do something. That is, that you will not. But willing a negative is like proving a's simply an untenable proposition. Will is a positive force.

This, then, is the way of the Fool, the ascetic course set upon by the new initiate. In the long term, meditation and yoga are effective tools for complete deconditioning, where, as we discussed in Free For All, shock and trauma are effective tools for personality con- and de-struction in the short term. Thus the Masonic initiation drama, as well as the horrors of hazing. In the 20th century, both Gurdjieff and Crowley devised independent systems of conditioning which continue to be highly influential in both the eso- and exo-teric worlds. Gurdjieff's influence extends from the Enneagram to the New York City Ballet to Norman Vincent Peale (Peale's main speechwriter was an acolyte of Gurdjieff's); Crowley's to Scientology to EST to NLP to The Secret.

I must draw this to a close, so suffice it to say that shock himself out of it he does, so after Number 12 is summarily dispatched by Rover, The Prisoner proceeds to pretend to be Number 12 intentionally in order to escape. But he is not quite ready to cross the next threshold. After being hoodwinked, literally and figuratively, he fails the next test.

School is still in session.

to be continued--be seeing you!