#13 August 2002 ETERNITY BLAST SPECIAL edited by Cary Loren PAGE 3 of 13



by Ben Schot


In the first scenes of the film SPACE IS THE PLACE a spaceship from an idyllic planet sets course for the Earth. Sun Ra is in command. From behind his keyboards he pilots the music-driven ship and its crew, The Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, first to Egypt and then, across deserts, mountains and cities, to the United States. Sun Ra has come to our planet with a mission: the salvation of the Afro-Americans. His ship offers them the possibility to leave the Earth and to build a new life on Saturn without the interference of whites. The Earth is doomed, the arrival of the musician is an omen of the Apocalypse. When his ship lands and The Arkestra, surrounded by pulsating laser beams, set foot on our planet, a prophesy is fulfilled and the end of time has come. 'We work on the other side of time', Sun Ra explains.

SPACE IS THE PLACE dates from 1972 and is largely set in the ghetto of Oakland, California, at that time the stronghold of the Black Panther Party. One of the backgrounds of the film is the ideological conflict between Sun Ra and the Black Panthers that came to a crisis in 1972 and led to The Arkestra's departure from Oakland. While the Panthers practised a Marxist liberation theory, Sun Ra, in his lectures at the University of California, pleaded for a spiritual liberation that can only be achieved through ascesis, discipline, study and submission to cosmic hierarchy. 'I see myself as P-H-R-E', he explained to his students, 'P-H-R-E but not F-R-E-E. That´s the name of the sun in ancient Egypt.'

Sun Ra's great opponent in the film, however, is not a representative of the Black Panther Party but someone called 'The Overseer', a name both referring to plantation foremen and the title 'The Overseer Of Light' which in gnostic writings is assigned to the demiurge, the evil creator of the Earth, Lucifer. Determined to sabotage Sun Ra's mission, The Overseer employs every possible means to drag Oakland's black population along in the approaching destruction of his planet. Through bribery, false accusations, collaboration with NASA, kidnapping and inciting an attempted murder he tries to stop Sun Ra from showing the way to a new future on another planet. The film's principal theme is the mythological duel between Sun Ra and The Overseer, between an angel from Saturn and a fallen angel.

The Astro-Black Mythology, which is partly told in SPACE IS THE PLACE, is Sun Ra's visionary view of the history and the future of the Afro-Americans: a colourful and open concept that lies at the base of virtually all his works. 'Astro-Black' stands for a mixture of black Bible interpretations, gnostic texts, modern science, Egyptology and science fiction. For that reason Sun Ra's myth occupies a special place in the Afro-American cultural-historical research that has been developed in North America since the eighteenth century. In the historical part transformed and mythologized echoes of the theories of Afrocentric writers like Theodore P. Ford and George G.M. James ring through. The central theme of their work is perhaps best illustrated by the full title of James' book STOLEN LEGACY, THE GREEKS WERE NOT THE AUTHORS OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY, BUT THE PEOPLE OF NORTH AFRICA, COMMONLY CALLED THE EGYPTIANS WERE (1954). Africa, not Europe, is the cradle of our civilization. Everything the ancient Greek knew, had been stolen from the Egyptians. White historians distort the facts in order to found the supremacy of their race on false evidence. In the Astro-Black Mythology, with its many references to Ancient Egypt, Sun Ra rewrites history and gives the Afro-Americans back their past.

Dressed in an Egyptian costume Sun Ra tells a group of young Panther followers that he hasn't come to them as a reality but as a myth, because 'that's what black people are: myths', with which he refers to their non-existence in official history and American society. Black people can only free themselves from their 'inverted position' on this planet through that same myth, through the powers of imagination, through music that arouses the spirit and leads it to another world. Sun Ra's message appears to catch on in Oakland and his popularity is on the rise. But his opponent steps in. By order of The Overseer one of his employees offers Sun Ra his services as a manager and holds out the prospect of a larger audience. The bandleader swallows the bait: when the news of the deal gets out, rumours spread by The Overseer about Sun Ra's commercial aims seem to have come true. All but one turn their backs on Sun Ra. 'He sold out', a Panther follower remarks with contempt.

In reality Sun Ra's manager never succeeded in reaching a large audience. The young mystic Alton Abraham founded El Saturn Records in Chicago in 1956 to document Sun Ra's compositions and take them out of the rehearsal room. The small, idealistic record label was part of El Saturn Research, a group of intellectuals and musicians around Abraham and Sun Ra who studied all sorts of theosophic, scientific and prophetic texts. In El Saturn Research reports of UFOs, speculations about extraterrestial life, science fiction and new developments in space travel were connected with prophesies about the end of the world. El Saturn Research gave a new impulse to Sun Ra's music and the Astro-Black Mythology: Afrocentrism turned into Afrofuturism. Sun Ra's outlook became more and more fixed on the future.

In SPACE IS THE PLACE Sun Ra's luck seems to be turning when he's granted a concert. After all, music is the driving power of his spacecraft. But The Overseer is aware of the danger. Shortly before the start of the concert he has Sun Ra kidnapped by white NASA agents, who want to discover the secret behind the spaceship at all costs, as they suspect it's part of an African space program. When the musician, tied to a chair with thick ropes, refuses to cooperate, he is threatened and tortured with headphones from which 'Yankee Doodle' sounds incessantly. 'We're gonna get something to eat and when we come back, you'll be ready to talk', one of the agents says smirkingly and then leaves behind Sun Ra, powerlessly listening to music full of associations with slavery and racial hatred. But while the agents eat their hamburgers, three young blacks manage to liberate the bandleader and take him, just in time, to the concert hall, where he is welcomed by a multiracial audience. Not for nothing the building of the Rosicrucian Order in San José is the location of the concert.

Occult societies played an important part in the development of Afrofuturism and the emancipation of Afro-Americans. Partly this can be explained from the simple fact that they are secret, that is less sensitive to repression and censure; but more important is that via the brotherhoods, notably through freemasons' lodges, subversive knowledge was passed from generation to generation and was adapted to prevailing socio-political circumstances. Alternative bible interpretations and the study of gnostic texts, prophesies and Ancient Egypt have always been typical of Freemasonry. When in 1776 the first black freemasons' lodge was founded in North America, occult and rejected knowledge from Europe could mix freely with black salvation theories and remnants of African religions. From that time onward 'Black Masonry', a collective term for all sorts of societies related to Freemasonry, developed into the pivot of Afrocentric thought. Writers like the above George G.M. James, activists like Marcus Garvey and organisations like the Nation Of Islam almost without exception spring from Black Masonry. In this respect El Saturn Research, with its influences from Freemasonry and Rosicrucians, does not differ from other black brotherhoods. However, the Astro-Black Mythology distinguishes itself from other Afrofuturistic theories of those days by its mildly ironic, spiritual and universal message. While, for example, the Nation Of Islam developed a politicized mythology in which racial segregation is a central issue and whites are regarded as devils, the Astro-Black Mythology transcends race problems. 'The white man is an image of God. So he can only do what God does. That's what images do', says Sun Ra mockingly in an interview with Henry Dumas. Though Sun Ra's mythology first and foremost addresses black people and is about black people, it contains universal values. In the Astro-Black Mythology the black man is Everyman. For that reason the devil in Sun Ra's myth is not white. Like his opponent, The Overseer is black.

Sun Ra starts his concert with a long complaint against life on earth. 'I hate your positive, absolute reality', he proclaims unusually violently, while behind the scenes The Overseer listens in and decides to play his final card. But the shot from the gun of one of the NASA agents misses its mark: one of Sun Ra's liberators, an initially sceptical Panther follower, shields Sun Ra from the bullet and in doing so sacrifices his life. In the following commotion the bandleader and his Arkestra teleport themselves, as in a Star Trek episode, to the spaceship. Sun Ra's liberators, including the one that has just died, and the black part of his manager are the only ones allowed to join them. Planet Earth, where violence, death and realism rule, is not ready for Sun Ra's message. 'Farewell Earthlings', he says before the door of the spacecraft closes, 'You just want to speak about reality. No myths. I talk to you as the Myth. So it's farewell'. As the ship lifts off and leaves the earth further and further behind, The Overseer realises the game is lost. Furiously he looks on how cities collapse, dams burst and his planet goes up in flames. After a huge explosion the earth tears in two. For a moment the two halves remain connected, then break off and twirl, clumsily as in a cheap science fiction film, separately through the cosmos. From the spaceship sounds 'To another world!'

The Astro-Black Mythology gives some grip in deciphering the complex 'blueprint for a better world' that Sun Ra has left us with his music. But no more than that. Sun Ra's music, 'the word of words', only comes alive by listening to it. However, titles of compositions like 'Tiny Pyramids', 'Outer Nothingness' and 'Lights Of A Satellite' indicate how closely the Myth-Science Music and the Astro-Black Mythology are connected. Sun Ra's work - in fact a total revision of existing ideas about religion, history and music - is a closely-knit entity. In everything - his myth, his music, his film, his poetry, his costumes, even his name - both Ancient Egypt and a cosmic future ring through. And even further away, beyond past and future, infinity. Everything is aimed at changing the finite, material existence on earth for an infinite, spiritual world. Sun Ra, as he puts it himself, is 'another order of being'. During the preparations of SPACE IS THE PLACE Sun Ra studied THE URANTIA BOOK, which was published by the Contact Commission in Chicago in 1955. The leader of the semi-medical, semi-occult society was the renowned psychiatrist William S. Sadler. Somebody he knew - probably one of his patients - received messages from extraterrestials that Sadler could not interpret and gradually began to take more seriously. The Contact Commission investigated and organised the religious messages and finally published a completely revealed history of the universe as THE URANTIA BOOK. Sun Ra recognised himself in a passage of the book: a prophesy that predicts the coming to Earth of a musician whose music will change the planet for good. 'Forever', the book says, 'music will remain the universal language of men, angels, and spirits'. Dr Sadler was right: who would want to separate fact from fiction in messages like that?

The satellites are spinning,
a better day is breaking.
The galaxies are waiting
For planet Earth's awakening.
(Sun Ra)


This article was first published in the Dutch art magazine METROPOLIS M, #1, February/March 2002.



by Leni Sinclair




Whatever You Create By Your Thoughts Is Your Own

                        It’s a city of big shoulders and wind and constantly renovating, renewing itself. Out with the old until there are only a few left who remember old Louis and Sullivan designed buildings and few who remember the psychedelic enclaves on north State Street. Even less who remember the sophisticated cigarettes and suave neon of Rush Street in the 50’s or the soap box pulpits of the orators of Clark Street’s Bughouse Square or Washington Park. And the railroads clicketyclack on tracks from east and south, migrant songs, trains of freedom to the promised land of the north for a race whose dreams were of a better world than the real one that surrounded them. All the races to Chicago, a boiling melting pot of idiosyncrasies and ideologies, on glory trains of mystical emotions. Chicago, a segregated city, white fearing the south side until recently when there was nowhere else to go for the yuppies; a south side of mysteries, of Prince Hall Lodges, COGIC, assorted Garveyites, Moorish Science Temples,  AME, all centers of ancient records and wisdom, all reveling in relative obscurity.

                        Sun Ra and Alton Abraham would meet in this metaphysical moment of Chicago in the 1950’s. Alton Abraham, magic man of knowledge and meanings was already in Chicago, born there in 1937. A x-ray technician, Abraham was known to make predictions, a seeker of knowledge in the Bible and other arcane sources. As Alton and Sunny grew in metaphysical strength, new seekers came in their sphere. Luis T. Clarin, Lawrence M. Allen and James W. Byrant formed a research group that would be known as Saturn Research and later a corporate entity called Ihnfinity, Inc. would arise.

                       Their headquarters would be in an apartment dwelling at 4115 South Drexel, walk-up, a dwelling loaded ‘from floor to ceilings with all kinds of books. Books such as deLaurence’s ‘The Master Key,” perhaps. Or maybe Manly Hall’s ‘Secret Teachings of all ages'.” And books on Egyptian mysteries, Schopenhauer, biblical texts, kabalistic tomes and Nosradamus were all needed. Theirs was a research center, hidden away from prying eyes. Vocalist Roland Williams spoke of these texts, these meetings. “They went deep. Came back up too. Sunny got lots of his ideas about permutations from Alton.” By definition, metaphysics is a science that seeks to probe the logic of thought. An attenuation of the mind to mystical vibrations. Sun Ra and Alton were seekers with minds fully aware. Thought dynamics accessing new worlds.

                        Long before the wide world web, the streets were the disseminators of information. Urban dwellers would often find rising before them on readymade pulpits or soapboxes, street corner orators of all varieties expounding on all matter of subjects. Large cities, such as Chicago, would have centers of these orators, on the North side of town, Bughouse Square, on the South side, Washington Park, between 51st and 55th Street and South Parkway. Ed Bland, filmmaker, knew of Sun Ra as a soap box pulpit preacher in Washington Park on the South Side. Under trees, on benches, Sunny and others would hold forth on the times. Perhaps Alton knew of Elijiah Muhammed’s early days of preaching in Washington Park. Arrested in this park for sedition in 1942, the “minister” would serve a 3-year jail sentence for draft resistance when he was long past draft age. Perhaps Sunny and Alton knew of the Moorish Science Temple and Noble Drew Ali, the Nation of Islam’s predecessor whose holy book, “The Seven Circle Koran” was pieced together from writings as diverse as Christian Scientist and Jehovah Witness texts. Perhaps Sunny and Alton knew of the “Supreme Wisdom” of W.D. Fard. Among the texts ascribed to W.D. Fard, the mysterious founder of the Nation of Islam, was one entitled “Teaching for the Lost Found Nation of Islam in the Mathematical Way, consisting of 34 problems.” This pamphlet, referred to in a sociology journal, is said to have been given only to members of the Nation of Islam.  

                        Biblical aphorisms and apocalypses, strange mathematical equations, indeed, Sunny would proclaim “My Omniversity is what I want to do. I’m a natural teacher. I can outline things and make it very simple and make it very mathematical..” (Interview, 5-3-90, SRR #31). Many remember Sun Ra’s oratorical prowess. A Mr. Carter, stated resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park, told the author  “Sunny wasn’t afraid to talk about anything, to anyone. He’d get up in front of a crowd and just go on.” Messianic oratory had long been a part of African-American religion. Fire-tongued speakers who spoke of redemption and damnation to crowds seeking the promised leader be it W.E.B. du Bois, Father Divine, Daddy Grace, Marcus Garvey, “One God, one aim, one destiny!,” the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X. These orators and leaders attempted to reconcile a Christian god with substandard treatment and humiliation. And trying to create a new belief system, “Up you mighty race,” a belief in some magical transubstantiation.

                        Alton Abraham would say Saturn Research (Ihnfinity, Inc.) was a means to show the world of the Black man’s contribution to civilization. Others had also set themselves in the same direction. Writers such as G.M. James in ‘Stolen Legacy,” declared Greek civilization to have been stolen from Egypt and Cheikh Anta Diop who, in ‘The African Origin of Civilization,’ stated that the civilization of ancient Egypt was Negroid in origin. Books that the world chose to ignore, teaching instead a white Eurocentric history of the world in schools. The Woodlawn neighborhood in Chicago and environs was a center of learning in the 50’s and 60’s. Here Alton and Sunny may have learned of white authors such as Volney and Gerald Massey who traced European civilizations to ancient Egypt. The Ellis Bookstore and others of its ilk were treasure troves of books on such subjects as politics, the occult, ancient histories, scientific texts and volumes by Black authors and volumes on Black topics.

                        Alton Abraham and Sun Ra spoke of space travel, journeys stars beyond, long before such feats were reality. Roland Williams recalled many times Sunny spoke of astral traveling to doubting listeners. Like tenor saxist Johnny Griffin, who stated, “I‘m not from this planet. I did something wrong on my home planet and I was sent here as punishment,” Sun Ra also believed himself to be of alien origin, proclaiming the planet Saturn as his home.  The phrase ‘Black Science Fiction’ is in vogue these days; Sunny and Alton were well in the midst of such matters back in the day. For outer space and space travel has long been a part of Afro-American religion, music, and life: Ezikeal and the flying chariot. Such themes resonant in Black churches, themes that are a part of Alton Abraham and Sun Ra’s heritage. And Sun Ra and Alton Abraham were part of the tradition. And long before George Clinton’s Mothership Connection, before Sun Ra’s Omniverse, Elijiah Muhammed spoke of the “mother Plane,” a flying vessel of destruction which would herald the final war, showing the ”power and wisdom of Allah.”

                        In the pursuit of secrets, when does secrecy begin? The gradual seclusionary efforts of groups, members only, for your eyes only, may have hastened their demise from existence, or view, or importance.

                        Sun Ra and Alton Abraham parted; a gig in Montreal led to a trip to New York for the fledging Arkestra. A car breakdown left Sun Ra and the band stranded, two spheres now, New York and Chicago. Alton Abraham would continue to run Ihnfinity, Inc. Saturn records came from Chicago, as did books of ‘Immeasurable Equation.’ And Sun Ra’s proclamations came from the East now.  And the circles widened and closed, again.       

Leonard J. Bukowski, May, 2002


This photograph not by Leni Sinclair

(this photo not by Leni Sinclair)



#13 August 2002 WEB OF ETERNITY edited by Cary Loren PAGE 3 of 13

End is Here I was a Jack Smith love slave Infinite Black Darkness, Infinite White Darkness Buried Alive Rock and Revolution, photos by Leni Sinclair Aesthetics of UFOs by Mike Kelley Wallace Berman Angus MacLise Father Yod  Ira Cohen Akira Ikufube Swampy Lagoon Index Ray Johnson