Notes from the Nineties: The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha

This is the fourth preview of my upcoming collection of short stories and poems, Notes from the Nineties. In the first part, I explained the background behind the first story and poem pair, Cois Fharriage and Ag an gCrosaire. In the second part, I took a look at some of my experiences in Japan that informed Asian Dreams and Training the Mountain Warrior. In the third part, I delved into the “true story” of The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale.

teethToday marks the first day of spring, as well as the start of the Easter Week. And while it is the end of Spring Break for some schools in North America, it’s still spring break for others…and it was, in fact, around this time of year back in 1996 that the seeds of “The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha” were planted. Like teeth.

That remark alone should let you know that this is not a typical story (if the title hadn’t already tipped you off by now).

Like the story “Pockets” (which will be touched upon in a future post), the “Four Teeth…” and its paired poem “Asleep Came the Vision of I” feature religious / mystical imagery. As a former Catholic (some say “lapsed,” as if you can never stop being Catholic; having lived in Japan for some 17 years now as a registered Zen monk, I beg to differ)…who had sought out various forms of religious experiences in undergraduate school, I was attracted by the occult in my early to mid-20s. A peak period of interest came while I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a single year between undergraduate and graduate studies in creative writing.

I still remember my apprehension at buying a copy of Aleister Crowley‘s Magick in Theory and Practice, trepiditiously opening the cover only to find that the first few pages were more like an academic text exhorting readers to peruse most of the essays and works I had already read as an undergrad. I bought or borrowed works by and about SL MacGregor Mathers, W B Yeats, and Madame Blavatky; learned everything I could about the Rider-Waite Tarot, the Qabbalah, and Rosencrucianism; read the Nag Hammadi and various apocrypha (books not included in the New Testament).

In the end, I ultimately concluded the same thing I had already concluded about organized religion: it was all a bunch of hooey. My experiences since that time have softened my opinions to some degree — as a self-professed agnostic, I can’t say that it’s all BS, but many people do have conflicting and contradictory beliefs, and these ideas are certainly not for me — but in the meantime, I was provided with tons of symbolic representations and concepts for writing.

The poem “Asleep Came the Vision of I” was directly inspired by my first viewing of Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but several concepts from the Tarot and Norse mythology appear. The story “The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha” uses some of the same symbols, but includes a main character based on a friend and former supervisor of mine (who will no doubt recognize himself should he read the story!) and stems directly from my own experiences in the dentist’s chair, having my wisdom teeth removed.

The idea for combining a dentist’s office visit with apocryphal, mystical imagery no doubt is the result of what happened after my real office visit ended. The codeine-derived Tylenol-3 pain killers given me, along with my then-addiction to caffeine, led me to spend the first three days of Spring Break 1996 without any sleep. Memories are now hazy, but I distinctly recall a surreal few hours in the early morning sitting in front of a 3DO “Myst” game. Not for the faint of heart…but the soil had been tilled and the seeds had been planted. Like the serpent’s teeth.

Unsurprisingly, this story is followed by an “Ode to Shelley”…

 

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