By William S. Burroughs ©
The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls.
Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren, the Secret Name. This corresponds to my Director. He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that's where Ren came in.
Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light. The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.
Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she, or it is third man out ... depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. Sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense-but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go back to Heaven for another vessel. The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the Land of the Dead.
Number four is Ba, the Heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk's body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.
Number five is Ka, the Double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the Western Lands.
Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.
Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.
I first encountered this concept in Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings, and saw that it corresponded precisely with my own mythology, developed over a period of many years, since birth in fact.
Ren, the Director, the Secret Name, is your life story, your destiny-in one word or one sentence, what was your life about?
Billy the Kid: Quien es?
And what is the Ren of the Director?
Actors frantically packing in thousands of furnished rooms and theatrical hotels: "Don't bother with all that junk, John. The Director is onstage! And you know what that means in show biz: every man for himself "
Sekem corresponds to my Technician: Lights. Action. Camera.
"Look, boss, we don't got, enough Sek to fry an elderly woman in a fleabag hotel fire. And you want a hurricane?"
"Well, Joe, we'll just have to start faking it."
"Fucking moguls don't even know what buttons to push or what happens when you push them. Sure, start faking it and leave the details to Joe."
Look, from a real disaster you get a pig of Sek: sacrifice, tears, heartbreak, heroism and violent death. Always remember, one case of VD yields more Sek than a cancer ward. And you get the lowest acts of which humans are capable-remember the Italian steward who put on women's clothes and so filched a seat in a lifeboat? "A cur in human shape, certainly he was born and saved to set a new standard by which to judge infamy and shame."
With a Sek surplus you can underwrite the next one, but if the first one's a fake you can't underwrite a shithouse.
Sekem is second man out: "No power left in this set." He drinks a bicarbonate of soda and disappears in a belch.
Lots of people don't have a Khu these days. No Khu would work for them. Mafioso Don: "Get offa me, Khu crumb! Worka for a living!"
Ba, the Heart: that's sex. Always treacherous. Suck all the Sek out of a man. Many Bas have poison juices.
The Ka is about the only soul a man can trust. If you don't make it, he don't make it. But it is very difficult to contact your real Ka.
Sekhu is the physical body, and the planet is mostly populated with walking Sekhus, just enough Sek to keep them moving.
The Venusian invasion is a takeover of the souls. Ren is degraded by Hollywood down to John Wayne levels. Sekem works for the Company. The Khus are all transparent fakes. The Bas is rotten with AIDS. The Ka is paralyzed. Khaibit sits on you like a nagging wife. Sekhu is poisoned with radiation and contaminants and cancer.
There is intrigue among the souls, and treachery. No worse fate can befall a man than to be surrounded by traitor souls. And what about Mr. Eight-Ball, who has these souls? They don't exist without him, and he gets the dirty end of every stick.
Eights of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your dirty rotten vampires.
A hundred years ago there were rat-killing dogs known as "Fancies." A man bet on his "Fancy," how many rats he would kill. The rats were confined in a circular arena too high for a rat to jump over. But they formed pyramids, so that the top rats could escape.
Sekhu is bottom rat in the pyramid. Like the vital bottom integer in a serial, when that goes, the whole serial universe goes up in smoke. It never existed.
Angelic boys who walk on water, sweet inhuman voices from a distant star. The Khu, sweet bird of night, with luminous wings and a head of light, flies across the full moon . . . a born-again redneck raises his shotgun. . . .
The Egyptians recognized many degrees of immortality. The Ren and the Sekem and the Khu are relatively immortal, but still subject to injury. The other souls who survive physical death are much more precariously situated.
Can any soul survive the searing fireball of an atomic blast? If human and animal souls are seen as electromagnetic force fields, such fields could be totally disrupted by a nuclear explosion. The mummy's nightmare: disintegration of souls, and this is precisely the ultrasecret and supersensitive function of the atom bomb: a Soul Killer, to alleviate an escalating soul glut.
"Stacked up, you understand, like cordwood, and nonrecyclable by the old Hellfire expedient, like fucking plastics."
We have to stay ahead of ourselves and the Ivans, lest some joker endanger national security by braying out, "You have souls. You can survive your physical death!"
Ruins of Hiroshima on screen. Pull back to show the Technician at a switchboard. Behind him, Robert Oppenheimer flanked by three middle-aged men in dark suits, with the cold dead look of heavy power.
The Technician twiddles his knobs. He gives the O.K. sign.
"Are you sure?"
The Technician shrugs. "The instruments say so."
Oppy says: "Thank God it wasn't a dud."
"Oh, uh, hurry with those printouts, Joe."
"Yes, sir." He looked after them sourly, thinking: Thank Joe it wasn't a dud. God doesn't know what buttons to push.
However, some very tough young souls, horribly maimed and very disgruntled, do survive Hiroshima and come back to endanger national security. So the scientists are put to work to devise a Super Soul-Killer.
No job too dirty for a fucking scientist.
They start with animals. There are some laboratory accidents.
"Run for your lives, gentlemen! A purple-assed baboon has survived '23 Skiddoo'!"
"It's the most savage animal on earth!"
The incandescent baboon soul bursts through a steel door, it rips like wet paper. Had to vaporize the installation. Lost expensive equipment and personnel. Irreplaceable, some of them. Real soul-food chefs, you might say; cordon bleu.
Well, trial and error. We now have Soul-Killers that don't quit. State of the fart, sure, the Big Fart. We know how it's all going to end. The first sound and the last sound. Meanwhile, all personnel on Planet Earth are confined to quarters. Convince them they got no souls, it's more humane that way.
Scientists always said there is no such thing as a soul. Now they are in a position to prove it. Total Death. Soul Death. It's what the Egyptians called the Second and Final Death. This awesome power to destroy souls forever is now vested in farsighted and responsible men in the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon.
The President, with his toadies and familiars, is now five hundred feet down in solid rock with enough fine foods, wines and liqueurs to last two hundred years, and the longevity drugs to enjoy them all. (Held off the market, in the interests of national security.)
A teen-aged President appears on national TV, his well-cut suit hanging loose on his skinny frame, to pipe out in adolescent treble, alternately pompous and cracking:
"We categorically deny that there are any [crack] so-called Fountain-of-Youth drugs, procedures or treatments [crack] that are being held back from the American people [crack]." He flashes a boyish smile and runs a comb through his abundant, unruly hair. "And I categorically dismiss as without foundation rumors that I myself, the First Lady, my fag son and my colleagues in the Cabinet are sustaining ourselves by state-of-the-art vampiric technology, drawing off from the American pimples [crack giggle] so-called 'energy units'!"
His hair stands up and crackles, and he gives the American people the finger and barks out:
"I got mine, fuck you! Every crumb for himself."
Allen Ginsberg says you got no soul. The ancient Egyptians say you got seven of these bastards, and Pharaohs got fourteen, what they get for being Pharaohs. Like Kim Carsons, a Pharaoh in his little patch. Remember, a man with absolute power in one windblown piece of desert or one backwoods shantytown has more power than the President of the United States. He's got the immediate power of Death.
So Joe the Dead has two sets playing against each other: Bickford and Hart, both Rens, Directors, with their Sekem Technicians and an army of Guardian Angels. Now we get down to Noncoms and they cop out, don't want no part of the Land of the Dead on human terms.
Ren is always the first off a sinking ship, like the rat he is. He's got nothing to worry about. Back to the studio, where he picks up a new script. Maybe he wins an Oscar on you, some film credits at least. He's eternal as Hollywood, eternal as the Stage itself.
"All the world's a stage . . ."
Players come and go. Ren leafs through scripts. "Yes, I think this one, B.J. Art and box office. The way I see it, it's a classic, see?"
And Sekem is "permanent party." He knows what buttons to push to get the show moving, soldiers where they are supposed to be, for the most devastating ambush in history. The battle of Dead Souls, fought in the Land of the Dead after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"The tide is coming in from Hiroshima you dumb Earth hicks. Sauve qui peut."
So when it got too hot for Renny he took off, leaving Joe there. That's one reason Joe hates all Rens. His souls were hideously burned in the blast. His destiny burned off, in terrible pain from the phantom souls seared by the fires of Hell, pulled back to make slingshots and scout knives, to make more guns, to make more noise and Joe is supersensitive to noise, a slammed door keys in the pain almost gone and then Kim's morphine pinned him back to the Cemetery.
"The best Technician in or out of Hell, and he wants me to make air guns or brass knucks and black'acks . . . music-box pistols that tinkle out the Danse Macabre ... maybe we should open a fucking novelty store with itching powder and plaster turds. Is this what I was brought back for?"
They say passing a kidney stone is the worst pain a man can experience, and they'll let you pass one right in the ER before they'll give you a shot.
"Might be an addict . . . gotta run an X ray."
"Machine's broke, doctor."
"Well then, there's not a thing I can do."
Having your Ren burned out is worse, much worse. The searing, throbbing pain is always there, with no purpose to take your mind off it.
Look at a Man of Destiny. Every step, every gesture is handed to him right on cue. All he has to do is ham it up. But when you have to pick up your dead carcass and move it step by bloody step on jagged hunks of white-hot metal and steaming orange juice . . .
No studio will touch me with a pitchfork. So I threw in with Kim and Hall.
You reckon ill who leave me out. When me you fly I am the wings.
And who else is going to get this show into space?
The Tech Sergeants who know how to get a job done. Hart and Bickford, poor players to strut and fret their hour upon the stage. Mike Chase as their Guardian Angel. The Ba, the Heart, made in Hollywood.
Bristling with idiot suspicions, Hart and Bickford could never trust a Ka. And anybody been to Hell and back knows that the Ka, the Double, is the only one in the whole rotten lot you can trust, because if you don't make it, he don't make it. Hart and Bickford can never admit that they might not make it.
Knowing you might not make it . . . in that knowledge courage is born. Bickford and Hart can't take that chance, so they will never know courage. And a coward is the worst of all masters.
Excerpt from: : THE WESTERN LANDS. A Book of the Dead for The Nuclear Age.