Exorcism in Some Beat Poetry

--Ross Bender

 

From early on in the Beat movement there was a tendency, along with the irrational and orgiastic, to an ethical and specifically pacifistic religiosity. In his essay “Note on the Religious Tendencies,” published in Liberation magazine in 1959, Gary Snyder identified three distinctively religious strands within the Beat Generation:

 

1)      Vision and illumination-seeking.

2)      Love, respect for life, abandon, Whitman, pacifism, anarchism, etc.

3)      Discipline, aesthetics, and tradition.
[1]

 

In his note on number 2, Snyder elaborated:

 

“This comes out of various traditions including Quakers, Shinshu Buddhism, Sufism.  And from a loving and open heart. At its best this state of mind has led people to actively resist war, start communities, and try to love one another.”
[2]

 

According to Ann Charters, Kenneth Rexroth’s reading of his 1953 poem “Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Memorial for Dylan Thomas” influenced Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, published in 1956. Rexroth says in his preface that “The poem is directed against the twentieth, the Century of Horror”:

 

            They are murdering all the young men.

             For half a century now, every day,

             They have hunted them down and killed them.

             They are killing them now.

             At this minute, all over the world,

             They are killing the young men.

             They know ten thousand ways to kill them.

             Every year they invent new ones.

 

The rhythm of his long lines and the occasional Biblical imagery prefigure Ginsberg’s chorus on “Moloch”, the pagan god to whom the Palestinians and Hebrews sacrificed their children:

 

            The first born of a century

             Slaughtered by Herod.

             Three generations of infants

             Stuffed down the maw of Moloch.
[3]

 

From the beginning, the pacifist tradition among the Beats analyzed by Snyder had an apocalyptic flare. It was not simply a “rational” antiwar statement, but was inspired by the perception that demonic forces were at work particularly in the twentieth century, and that the task of the poet was a prophetic and exorcistic one. Poetry was a channel to call up and identify the demons and to curse them; in Rexroth’s words:

 

             You killed him! You killed him.

              In your God damned Brooks Brothers suit,

              You son of a bitch!

 

As the Beat tradition continued into the 1960s and began to morph into the Hippie movement, active political protest in the tradition of the Civil Rights movement disobedience became a theme. Ed Sanders’ first book of poems, Poem From Jail, (1963), is prefaced:

 

            Montville State Jail

             Uncasville, Connecticut

             August 8-24, 1961

             having attempted to board the

             Polaris-missile submarine

             the Ethan Allen, as a witness for peace”
[4]

 

Sanders went on to form the rock group The Fugs, based in the hippie stronghold of the East Village in New York. The Fugs performed intense antiwar music with songs such as “Kill for Peace” and “War Kills Babies”, and were featured at the 1965 antiwar performance “Night of Napalm”at the Bridge Theater on St. Mark’s Place.
[5]

 

At the October 1967 March on the Pentagon The Fugs performed the famous Exorcism of the Pentagon, during which the Pentagon rose three hundred feet in the air, turned orange, and vibrated. This exorcism was the culmination of spiritual trends in the East Village and a community project, so that authorship of the idea cannot be assigned to any one poet. Allen Ginsberg wrote his “Pentagon Exorcism” in Milan at the end of September that year.

 

Apparently various exorcistic texts had been circulating in the hippie communities for some time. The mimeographed text circulating at the Pentagon march is reproduced in Norman Mailer’s account in The Armies of the Night:
[6]

 

           

OCTOBER 21, 1967
WASHINGTON DCA
USA
PLANET EARTH

We Freemen, of all colors of the spectrum, in the name of God, Ra, Jehovah, Anubis, Osiris, Tialoc, Quetzalcoatl, Thoth, Ptah, Allah, Krishna, Chango, Chimeke, Chukwu, Olisa-Bulu-Uwa, Imales, Orisasu, Odudua, Kali, Shiva-Shakra, Great Spirit, Dionysus, Yahweh, Thor, Bacchus, Isis, Jesus Christ, Maitreya, Buddha, Rama

Do exorcise and cast out the EVIL which has walled and captured the pentacle of power and perverted its use to the need of the total machine and its child the hydrogen bomb and has suffered the people of the planet earth, the American people and creatures of the mountains, wood, streams, and oceans grievous mental and physical torture and the constant torment of the imminent threat of UTTER DESTRUCTION

We are demanding that the pentacle of power once again be used to serve the interests of GOD manifest in the world as man. We are embarking on a motion which is millennial in scope. Let this day, October 21, 1967, mark the beginning of suprapolitics

By act of reading this paper you are engaged in the Holy Ritual of Exorcism. To further participate focus your thought on the casting out of evil through the grace of GOD which is all (ours). A billion stars in a billion galaxies of space and time is the form of your power, and limitless is your name

 

Norman Mailer devotes several pages to his observation and analysis of this historic rite of exorcism:

 

            Now while the Indian triangle and the cymbal sounded, while a trumpet offered a mournful subterranean wail, full of sobs, and mahogany shadows of sorrow, and all sour groans from hell’s dungeon, while finger bells tinkled and drums beat, so did a solemn voice speak something approximate to this:

 

            In the name of the amulets of touching, seeing, groping, hearing and loving, we call upon the powers of the cosmos to protect our ceremonies in the name of Zeus, in the name of Anubis, god of the dead, in the name of all those killed because they do not comprehend, in the name of the lives of the soldiers in Vietnam who were killed because of a bad karma, in the name of sea-born Aphrodite, in the name of Magna Mater, in the name of Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the unnamable, the quintessent finality of the Zoroastrian fire, in the name of Hermes, in the name of the Beak of Sok, in the name of scarab, in the name, in the name, in the name of the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, in the name of Rah, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, in the name of the flowing living universe, in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit to raise the Pentagon from its destiny and preserve it.

 

….

 

Then all the musicians suddenly cried out: “Out, demons, out,  -- back to darkness ye sevants of Satan – out, demons out! Out, demons, out!” …..

 

Ed Sanders spoke: “For the first time in the history of the Pentagon there will be a grope-in within a hundred feet of this place, within two hundred feet. Seminal culmination in the spirit of peace and brotherhood, a real grope for peace. All of you who want to protect this rite of love may form a circle of protection among the lovers.” …

“These are the magic eyes of victory,” Sanders went on. “Victory, victory, victory for peace. Money made the Pentagon – melt it. Money made the Pentagon, melt it for love.”

     Now came other voices, “Burn the money, burn the money, burn it, burn it.”

     Sanders: “In the name of the generative power of Priapus, in the name of the totality, we call upon the demons of the Pentagon to rid themselves of the cancerous tumors of the war generals, all the secretaries and soldiers who don’t know what they’re doing, all the intrigue bureaucracy and hatred, all the spewing, coupled with prostate cancer in the deathbed. Every Pentagon general lying alone at night with a tortured psyche and an image of death in his brain, every general, every general lying alone, every general lying alone.”

     Wild cries followed, chants: “Out demons, out! Out demons out! Out! Out! Out! Out demons out!”

     Sanders: In the name of the most sacred of sacred names Xabrax Phresxner.”

     He was accompanied now by chants of “hari, hari, hari, hari, rama, rama, rama, ram, Krishna, hari Krishna, hari, hari, rama, Krishna.”

     “Out demons out!”

     They all chanted: “End the fire and war, and war, end the plague of death. End the fire and war, and war, end the plague of death.” In the background was the sound of a long sustained Ommmmm.”

 

Mailer observes in summary:

 

“Now, here, after several years of the blandest reports from the religious explorers of LSD, vague Tibetan lama goody-goodness auras of religiosity being the only publicly announced or even rumored fruit from all trips back from the buried Atlantis of LSD, now suddenly an entire generation of acid-heads seemed to have said goodbye to easy visions of heaven, no, now the witches were here, and rites of exorcism, and black terrors of the night – hippies being murdered. Yes, the hippies had gone from Tibet to Christ to the Middle Ages, now they were Revolutionary Alchemists.”
[7]

 

It should be noted that the rite of exorcism included an orgy, the “grope for peace” conducted by Ed Sanders. The mysterious and primal sexual energy which was such a powerful component of the Beat ethos was here added to the invocation of myriad deities, the critique of the nexus of money and power and warmaking, and the explicit exorcistic chant “Out demons out – back to darkness ye servants of Satan.”

 

During the 1960s antiwar civil disobedience began to take on, in addition to the pagan hippie tradition, a specifically Christian exorcistic dimension. The Jesuit priests and poets Phil and Dan Berrigan initiated such actions as breaking into draft boards and pouring blood on draft records. This Christian tradition has outlived the sixties and continues in such projects as the Plowshares Actions.

The first Plowshares Action occurred on September 9, 1980 when Dan and Philip Berrigan and other, mostly Catholic, activists entered the the General Electric Nuclear Missile Re-entry Division in King of Prussia, PA where nose cones for the Mark 12A warheads were made. They hammered on two nose cones, poured blood on documents and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and initially charged with over ten different felony and misdemeanor counts.
[8]

 

In 1978 there were a series of actions to block nuclear shipments to and from the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado which were undertaken both by Christians and other religious people. Allen Ginsberg was arrested twice for sitting in meditation on the train tracks, and composed “Plutonian Ode” after the experience. Similar actions at the White Sands Missile Range in 1984 included specific Christian prayers of exorcism: "God who is stronger than sin and death, seize from Satan's power the weapons that now threaten our destruction ... Deliver to perdition all nuclear weapons and their means of delivery."

 

The Protestant theologian Walter Wink, in his massive trilogy The Powers (1983-1999) has emphasized the New Testament language about angels and demons and applied it to entities such as the Pentagon and modern corporations. Writes Wink: "Perhaps we are not accustomed to thinking of the Pentagon, or the Chrysler Corporation, or the Mafia as having a spirituality, but they do.” In his works Wink maps strategies for “naming, unmasking and engaging the Powers” and incorporates exorcism as a mainstream Christian strategy.
[9]

 

Wink’s exorcistic program is not one of exorcising demon-ridden individuals, popularized in the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.” Rather it is an interpretation of corporate entities as potentially demonic. While Wink would not style himself a beatnik, he is here quite clearly in the Beat religious tradition of identifying and casting out evil spirits.

 

Finally, the Beat poet Anne Waldman continues the tradition. Waldman read the exorcism at the Counter-Inaugural of the first George W. Bush administration on January 20, 2001. She noted that:

 

“It became exceptionally clear that we’d be starting off on the wrong foot with the axing of the Inaugural Poem during the President Select  events of the Inaugural Day (Jane 20, 2001).  Romantic poet, visionary Percy Bysche Shelley, has said that poets are the  unacknowledged legislators of the race”.  Every culture in the world has had a place for its poets (its artists, philosophers)  --often perceived to be the imaginative conscience or psyche of the people who can articulate the ‘rasa’ -  the Sanskrit word for flavor or taste -  of the times. Well these are bitter times, my friends.  And the President Select might have thought he’d  be hearing some bitter poetry so why risk  embarrassment. It is also telling that poetry will not have a home in this Select Administration. It will be rallying from  greater position of power and dignity, outside the corruption of corporate & media stranglehold.”
[10]

 

Spel Against Specious Ones

by Anne Waldman

that they be doused roiling water

that adamantine speech go against them every time

that glamorous women turn their heads from them

that children run

that if they perpetuate war & famine they rot in hell

that hell be ferociously hot

that they are no longer recognizable or loved

that they get no more votes

that they exude an aura of sickness & scent of doom

that their credit runs out

that they are disbarred from the marketplace

that they are banished from the kingdom of poetry &

music forever

that their seed dries up

that they loll about mindlessly in sad places

OM BANISH HO HUM!
OM BANISH AH HUM!

Gone Bone Gone out of Gentle Pathways!

In this poem there is a play on words – “Om banish ho hum!” which is a reference to Ginsberg’s lines in “Pentagon Exorcism” – “Om Raksa Raksa Hum Hum Hum Phat Svaha!” which are from Sanskrit, a "raksa" being a demon. In a reading at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in December 2004 Waldman in fact substituted the Sanskrit lines in her reading of “Spel.”

 

In “Wichita Vortex Sutra”
[11] Allen Ginsberg expounds at some length on the magic of language, its relation to power and to evil, and specifically to its role in conducting the Vietnam War:

 

            The war is language,

                     language abused,

                                 For Advertisement,

                     language used

            like magic for power on the planet:

Black Magic language,

              formulas for reality –
[12]

 

            Generals faces flashing on and off screen

                                                                    mouthing language

           State Secretary speaking nothing but language

           MacNamara declining to speak public language

                        The President talking language,

                                  Senators reinterpreting language
[13]

 

            with a letter from an aging white haired General

                        Direction of selection for service in

                                                              Deathwar

                         all this black language

                                                 writ by machine!
[14]

 

Throughout the long poem, or sutra, written while traveling across the plains of Kansas, the poet meditates on the language of war and death and contrasts it to ecstatic language, and the language of Prophecy, and struggles to find the right language of exorcism:

 

            It’s not the vast plains mute our mouths

                                              that fill at midnite with ecstatic language

                                   when our trembling bodies hold each other

                                               breast to breast on a mattress --
[15]

 

 

            O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me –

                        On the bridge over Republican River

                                   almost in tears to know

                                                 how to speak the right language –

                        on the frosty broad road

                                    uphill between highway embankments

                          I search for the language

                                                 that is also yours –

                         almost all our language has been taxed by war.
[16]

Finally, at the climax of the poem, Ginsberg summons the deities of the cosmos in the style of the Pentagon exorcisms to proclaim an end to the war:

 

I call all Powers of imagination

           To my side in this auto to make Prophecy,

                                                                               All Lords

                                Of human kingdoms to come

Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash

                      Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs

Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded

           Citaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands

                                                       Give up your desire

Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquillity

           Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void

                      Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM

Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru

            William Blake the invisible father of English visions

             Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes

                      half closed who only cries for his mother

Chaitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise

          merciful Chango judging our bodies

                     Durga-Ma covered with blood

                                destroyer of battlefield illusions

                     million-faced Tathagata gone past suffering

         Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain

Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable

                     Allah the Compassionate One

                                            Jahweh Righteous One

                               all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all

            ancient Seraphim of heavenly desire, Devas, yogis

                               & holymen I chant to –

                                          Come to my lone presence

                                                  Into this Vortex named Kansas,

I lift my voice aloud,

        Make mantra of American language now,

             Pronounce the words beginning my own millennium,

                                         I here declare the end of the War!
[17]

 

 

 

The Beat tradition of exorcism is a revolutionary alchemy, as Mailer termed it, which seeks to transmute the black magic of language used to construct money, power, and war into an ecstatic sexual language of prophecy and delight. Words of exorcism stem from a long tradition of Christian and Buddhist pacifist religiosity. The poetry is a tool for unmasking the demons, calling them out and banishing them. The process of poetry rips apart the devilish tools, the demonic binding word structures of control and domination freaks, and unleashes the original power of language as ecstasy, glee, enjoyment and enchantment.

 

--Ross Bender

 

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

 

dudjomlingpa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX I

 

exorcism1
exorcism2

 

--Allen Ginsberg, Planet News 1961-1967, City Light Books, 1968

APPENDIX II

 

I lift my voice aloud,

          make mantra of American language now,

                 pronounce the words beginning my own millennium,

                                             I here declare the end of the War!

                                Ancient days’ Illusion –

Let the States tremble,

          let the Nation weep,

                     let Congress legislate its own delight

                                let the President execute his own desire –

this Act done by my own voice,

                                                nameless Mystery –

published to my own senses,

                                  blissfully received by my own form

            approved with pleasure by my sensations

                         manifestation of my very thought

                         accomplished in my own imagination

                                       all realms within my consciousness fulfilled.

 

hungchenkara

   --Allen Ginsberg, “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” Planet News, City Light Books, 1968, 127-128

APPENDIX III

         

Tonite let’s all make love in London

            as if it were 2001 the years

            of thrilling god –

And be kind to the poor soul that cries in

        a crack of the pavement because he

        has no body –

Prayers to the ghosts and demons, the

        lackloves of Capitals & Congresses

        who make sadistic noises

        on the radio –

Statue destroyers & tank captains, unhappy

        murderers in Mekong & Stanleyville,

That a new kind of man has come to his bliss

        to end the cold war he has borne

        against his own kind flesh

        since the days of the snake.

 

--Allen Ginsberg, “Who Be Kind To”, Planet News, City Light Books, 1968, 98-99

 

SMichael


http://rossbender.org/stfrancis.jpg


The First Time I Saw Abbie Hoffman
Amos Stoltzfus, Amish Druid
Table of Contents



[1] Ann Charters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader, Penguin, 1992, 305-6.

[2] Ibid., 306.

[3] Ibid, 232-241.

[4] Ibid., 410.

[5] The Fugs First Album, Fugs Records, 1965, 1994; The Fugs Second Album, Fugs Records, 1966, 1994.

[6] Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night,  New American Library, 1968.

[7] Ibid, 138-143.

[9] Walter Wink, Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament (The Powers : Volume One) (1983); Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence (Powers, Vol 2) (1986); Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (The Powers, Vol 3) (1992),  Augsburg Fortress Publishers. See also Wink’s more recent summary The Powers That Be, Galilee Trade, 1999.

[11] Allen Ginsberg, “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, in Planet News 1961-1967, City Lights Books, 1968.

[12] Ibid., 119.

[13] Ibid., 120.

[14] Ibid., 124.

[15] Ibid., 125

[16] Ibid., 125-126.

[17] Ibid., 126-127