Chapter 4: The Fetus Sucks its Thumb and Does Other Cute Things
Disclaimer: Fiction. Other disclaimers may apply. Send resume with 4 box tops c/o Kellog’s, Battle Creek Michigan.
L. Jack’s study of successful cults and cult leaders continues. His study of groups alleging secret knowledge brings him to the Temple of the Noble Mystic Stonelayers. He discovers an organization of secrets within secrets, and circles within circles. The initiates are not told how deep the rabbit hole goes. A candidate is only told that there is an inner circle when he is invited to join it. After a while, no one is really sure if they are in the inner circle, or a not-so-outer ring. Followers are sworn to secrecy at every step, but of course, knowledge of the actual structure leaks out eventually. L. Jack finds the brilliance of the original concept inspiring. Every level of the organization is capable of not living up to the initiate’s expectations. The rationale will be that greater revelations await at the next level, and one need only behave as a good follower and the path will open for him.
L. Jack finds the back story of this cult intriguing as well. The Stonelayers, the story goes, were the flooring-contractors for the Holy temples. They were also slaves of course. Their beginning is commemorated in one of their drinking songs:
“When we were the slaves we cut the stone,
That went in the buildings that would be God’s home.
We laid the sills and arched the doors,
And polished up the tiles on the Temple floor
We polished those tiles so carefullee,
That now we are the Rulers of Societee!”
The story goes that the Stonelayers took their work seriously and did it with precision and dedication. As a reward for their devotion (and for not cutting corners), The Angels Scat and Bebop gave them the Secrets of the Universe. Being stonelayers, they wrote these secrets down on stone tablets. To protect the secrets, they hid them in plain sight by simply keeping the slabs of stone face-down. There are two conflicting accounts of what happened next. One says the stones were lost when a fresh batch of floor tiles was dumped on top of them by the rival guild of Stone Haulers. The stones were set into the floor before anyone realized what had happened. Being that they were slaves and this was a temple, they couldn’t exactly tear up the floor and look for them. This they say, is the origin of the phrase, “Leave no stone unturned.” The second legend is that Nebuchadnezzar was throwing a big party, and had the stones hauled away to be used as an expansion to his patio. In any event, they were never seen again. The Stonelayers were ashamed that they lost the instruction manual to the Universe. They made up their own rituals to follow in the hopes that their continued devotion would be rewarded some day with a second copy. Among the rituals that they invented were the secret handshake, and the ten-percent member discount.
Membership in Secret Societies peaked in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The three biggest franchise competitors were the Stonelayers, the self-flagellating Roseytushians, and the Enlightenaminae. This last group was of particular interest to L. Jack. The Enlightenaminae owed their existence to two 18th Century Germanians, Johann Washaut, and Baron Adolph Knudnick. Together, these two used the very structure of the Stonelayers organization to hijack members. They created new secret societies and made “exclusive” offers to Stonelayers to join this “secret” inner circle. The scheme worked so well that at one point, they were practically creating secret societies du Jour, and of course collecting dues all along the way. L. Jack marveled that these two entrepreneurs had stumbled on the mystic knowledge of bait-and-switch, and seemed to have developed it into a proto-pyramid scheme without ever developing it fully. In any event, the whole scheme unraveled when Napoleon took power and the membership went off to play soldier instead. The only two groups known to survive are the Enlightenaminae and a group that survived by switching its membership to women. This second group eventually went public as Mary Jayne Cosmetics.
As he left the library that evening, L. Jack went over and over in his mind the things he had learned so far.
1. People, at least some of them, can be made to believe anything. Even when an entire group knows that rituals are made-up, it doesn’t stop them from being willing participants.
2. People are more likely to pay up front if they expect a benefit to themselves, like the secret to happiness, long life, or spiritual enlightenment. If you are asking them to contribute to a cause, or help others, they require a longer sales pitch.
3. Delivery of empty promises can be postponed almost indefinitely simply by requiring small tasks or goals to be performed by the initiate on his way to the promised end. If you can extend the expectation of the goal beyond a person’s lifetime, so much the better. Extending the period of commitment also serves to entrench the commitment in the mind of the initiate. The more time and money a person has invested, the less they will be willing to believe that it is all a scam.
He had also noted that most, if not all, successful religions had a couple of other things in common. All of them had some kind of charismatic alpha figure. It might be a god, or a dead prophet, or a living one, but there was always some kind of master of all wisdom or enlightenment somewhere in the mix. This was very encouraging to L. Jack, since he was the self-appointed fountainhead for this project. The popular religions all had some form of explicit or implied death-denial as well. It might be a concept of heaven or hell, or it might be reincarnation, or just some form of spirit world that transcends material existence. Any non-corporeal being implies life beyond the physical.
All of these thoughts just keep turning over and over in L. Jack’s mind. He feels like he’s right on the edge of understanding what he needs to make his new religion a commercial success. Something… something…. Something he saw or read, some other element is still missing. It danced around just on the edge of his thoughts, where he couldn’t see it clearly. He found himself chewing on the end of his favorite quill pen in frustration. It just wouldn’t come clear to him, and he knew it was important. He decided to sleep on it and review the reams of notes he had made in the morning.
(To be continued)