Exorcism in Some Beat Poetry
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.
Discipline, aesthetics, and tradition.
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
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
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:
August 8-24, 1961
having attempted to board the
the Ethan Allen, as a witness for peace”
Sanders went on to form the rock
group The Fugs, based in the hippie stronghold of the
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
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:
OCTOBER 21, 1967
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,
“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:
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
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
there were a series of actions to block nuclear shipments to and from the Rocky
Flats facility in
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.
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
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 &
that their seed dries up
that they loll about mindlessly in sad places
OM BANISH HO HUM!
Gone Bone Gone out of Gentle Pathways!
In this poem there is a play on words – “
In “Wichita Vortex Sutra”
 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,
like magic for power on the planet:
Black Magic language,
for reality –
Generals faces flashing on and off screen
State Secretary speaking nothing but language
MacNamara declining to speak public language
The President talking language,
with a letter from an aging white haired General
Direction of selection for service in
all this black language
writ by machine!
Throughout the long poem, or sutra, written while traveling across the
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 --
O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me –
On the bridge over
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 –
all our language has been taxed by war.
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,
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
who touches the breast and says
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
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!
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.
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
--Allen Ginsberg, Planet News 1961-1967, City Light Books, 1968
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.
--Allen Ginsberg, “
Tonite let’s all make love in
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
 Ann Charters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader, Penguin, 1992, 305-6.
 Ibid., 306.
 Ibid, 232-241.
 Ibid., 410.
 The Fugs First Album, Fugs Records, 1965, 1994; The Fugs Second Album, Fugs Records, 1966, 1994.
 Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night, New American Library, 1968.
 Ibid, 138-143.
 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),
 Allen Ginsberg, “
 Ibid., 119.
 Ibid., 120.
 Ibid., 124.
 Ibid., 125
 Ibid., 125-126.
 Ibid., 126-127