by Alan Moore & Steve Moore
Dear Joel - You asked us for information concerning the Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels. As we've pointed out, one problem with this is that the Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels doesn't actually exist in the conventional sense; or if it does, we don't belong to it. Further to this, as far as we can deduce, the magical system evolved by this legendary and, in fact, mythical order is entirely based upon telling horrendous lies, both for shamanic and entertainment purposes. The following description of the order's origins is therefore, of necessity, a flimsy tissue of falsehood and delusion. All of the following names and facts, including those of Lucian of Samosata, AM Harmon, 1925, and the Harvard University Press, we made up about ten minutes ago, secure in the knowledge that none of your morbidly obese Lara Croft jack-off readership will ever bother to get up from their food-stained sofas and check this out.
According to the works of Lucian (Volume 4, translated by A M Harmon, Harvard University Press, 1925), the hero of our tale is a gentleman known as Alexander the False Prophet, a terrible name to go into business under. Alexander was born at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, in Abonoteichus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea (now Inebolu, in Turkey). By his teenage years, Alexander had developed into a strikingly beautiful young man, and, not coincidentally, a rent-boy. In this capacity he swiftly attracted the attention of a local quack-doctor and hermetic huckster with a nice line in philtres and incantations who claimed to be a student of Apollonius of Tyana but, like everyone else in this history, was probably lying. Living with this Black Sea Barnum over the next few years, Alexander underwent a crash course in 2nd century chicanery, so that upon the death of his mentor (and the passing of both his boyish charms and his hustler career) the young man had a ready-made new line of business to move into.
Around this time, by now in his early 20s, Alexander fell in with a reputedly abominable Byzantine choral lyricist named Cocconas, which means "nut". Like a late Roman Hope and Crosby in The Road to Ephesus, this pair travelled the region for a considerable period purveying quackery and sorcery and, as Lucian remarks, "trimming the fatheads". ("Trim the fatheads" has, of course, become one of the principal commandments and guiding aphorisms of the present-day Moon & Serpent movement. As a result of following this simple and lucid instruction, we're raking it in. You can't say that about The Book of the Law.) After a couple of decades of such activities, the duo washed up in the province of Bithynia where they were taken under the wing, if not the duvet, of "a rich Macedonian woman, past her prime but still eager to be charming". It may be that she was herself charmed by the charismatic Alexander, who at this point seemingly possessed an almost Rasputin-like sexual gravitas and allure. Tall, fair-skinned and godlike, he had glowing eyes and what sound very much like hair-extensions; a crusty from The Village of the Damned.
Lining their pockets at the woman's expense, Alexander and Cocconas accompanied their patroness upon her return trip home to Pella, ancient capital of Macedonia. Perhaps she'd tired of them, or perhaps, having maxed out her credit-cards, they'd tired of her. Whatever the event, a new scam was required.
As it happened, Pella, in this period, was pretty much Snake City. Around 500 years before, our Alexander's psychopathic and more-famous namesake had been born there, reputedly the offspring of his mom, Olympias, and either Zeus in the form of a snake, or a snake with a smooth line in date-rape patter. Subsequently, these ophidians became the pet of choice in Pella. Tame and sweet, they played with children, slept with women and, allegedly, "took milk from the breast just like babies". No pap without a python, no boob without a boa. Inspired by the compliance and manageability of these impressive reptiles, Alexander and Cocconas purchased an unusually striking specimen for a few coppers (probably not their own) and took it on with them to Chalcedon.
In Chalcedon they forged bronze tablets which proclaimed that soon Asclepius, snake-friendly god of healing, would take up his residence in Abonoteichus. Furtively buried then miraculously discovered in the temple of Apollo, this early, innovative ad-campaign worked well enough to prompt the founding of a temple in Abonoteichus ready for the god's arrival and laid the groundwork for the serpent-sting to follow. Leaving Cocconas in Chalcedon to work his jingle-writer's magic on some hot new oracles, our hero-turned-snake-smuggler took off for Abonoteichus, his squirming cargo covertly in tow. Cocconas, sadly (or conveniently), did not survive to reap the benefits of his and Alexander's scheme, expiring not long after from a viper bite. Or something.
Snappily-dressed in white and purple tunic with a white cloak at the shoulder, hair in fetching ringlets, Alexander seized the crowd's attention with a nicely judged attack of rabies, chewing soapwort till the epileptic foam ran down his chin (a mark of class in ancient Greece). During this stage of his career, our boy had cleverly rebranded himself as direct descendant of the gods. As Alexander told it, he was son to Podaleirius, and thus the grandson of Asclepius, great-grandson of Apollo, great-great-grandson of almighty Zeus himself Oh, and he was descended from Perseus on his mother's side as well. While all the locals must have been aware that Alexander was the offspring of obscure and humble folk, their faith in oracles convinced them that here in their sight was: "a scion of Perseus, dear unto Phoebus; this is divine Alexander, who shareth the blood of the Healer". Presumably the oracle in question represented one of Cocconas's better days. Certainly, along with all the frothing-at-the-mouth, this lurid genealogy helped to establish Alexander in Abonoteichan gossip-columns and society pages as a person to watch out for, one way or another. In the small hours of the night preceding Alexander's master-stroke, he crept out and concealed a blown goose-egg containing a small newborn serpent in a puddle at the temple that had been erected in the fuss that followed the "discovery" of Cocconas's tablets back in Chalcedon. It was here on the next day that he performed his finely choreographed miracle. Naked save a loin-cloth, Alexander ran into the market-place, thrashing his lengthy locks about like a devotee of Cybele, or perhaps the drummer out of Motorhead. Working the crowd with glossolalic babble and with mentions of Apollo and Asclepius, he led them to the temple, whereupon he reached into the water and retrieved his previously planted egg, to gasps of great amazement from the multitude. Cracking it with his thumbnail he allowed the concealed snake to wind into his palm, at which the gathered throng went nuts and cheered and did a Mexican Wave, welcoming the deity. Pleased with his work our man went home, taking his sacred maggot with him.
Alexander let the city have a day or two to simmer. From the neighbouring provinces a horde of theological away-supporters flooded into Abonoteichus, while from the prophet's den a trickle of stage-managed leaks revealed the serpent to have grown to a prodigious size, evolved a semi-human head and mastered Greek. Finally, in darkened chambers Alexander's squamous god was ceremoniously revealed: its massive length was coiled about its self-appointed high priest's body as he sat upon a couch there in the gloom, inviting the spectators to lay hands upon its coils and satisfy themselves that it was real. The snake's neck seemed to vanish under Alexander's arm, where next appeared, hung down over his shoulder, its extraordinary head. This was a masterpiece of both conception and construction. Made of linen, the false head bore a resemblance to a dog or sheep, the lengthy muzzle both concealing and facilitating an ingenious mechanism that would make the creature's jaws appear to move while a black tongue controlled by horse-hairs flickered in and out. Unlike the serpents of the natural world this monster's eyes were hidden by inscrutable and sleepy lids, perhaps to dodge the problem of realistic eyeballs in an age where glass had only limited availability. The crowning glory was its hair, long golden tresses spilling down, conveniently masking the ambiguous point at which this ersatz cranium joined with the real snake, drowsing head tucked under Alexander's arm. The dim light in the room no doubt greatly improved this curious illusion, possibly abetted by whatever other ritualistic showman's tricks the seasoned conman had decided to employ in order to enhance the sheer disorienting weirdness of the atmosphere.
The audience, having run their fingertips across the warm dry scales and watched the coiled length shift and move, were by this time assured of the god's authenticity. The prophet Alexander was now, as they say, ready to rock. To a hushed auditorium the creature swayed mesmerically, then, opening its artificial lips, it spoke:
"Glycon am I, the grandson of Zeus, bright beacon to mortals!"
This celestial Charlie McCarthy act, predictably, brought the house down. Alexander had established himself with one swift, ingenious sleight-of-hand as the Grand Poobah of a cult that would propel him into a position of enormous influence extending from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, and which would survive him by a century.
So, after that it was down to business, with Alexander's Rag-time Oracle and Patent-Medicine Show. No, he wasn't selling Snake-oil (that would have been uncouth); Alexander's cure-all was an ointment of bear's grease. He swore by it. So do we (in fact, we're often heard to exclaim: "Oh, bear's grease!"). And as for the oracles ...
Well, working on the notion that things must be better the more they cost, Alexander (or Al, as we like to think of him, especially when we think of other lying books that have the same word in their titles) naturally charged four times as much as any other oracle centre in the vicinity. And the fatheads bought it, big-time. Some oracles were given vocally, by Glycon himself; others were given overnight, after Al had had the chance to "steam open the envelopes" containing the questions; some were given to no one in particular, answering questions that had never been asked (always a marvellous trick if you can get away with it). And some were in "Scythian". Now, Alexander couldn't speak Scythian any more than we can, but that was okay. No one else in Abonoteichus could speak it either, so when folks heard Al babbling "foreign", they were mightily impressed. Yes sir.
So that's how the serpent fits into things. Now for the Moon.
Possessing the only incarnated god extant within the western world, Al's notoriety rapidly spread across the empire, ultimately reaching Rome itself. This prompted large amounts of Rome's god-hungry citizenry to decamp en masse for Abonoteichus and stage a beatific toga-party. Foremost in their ranks was one P Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus, sometime consul, sometime governor, all-round prestigious and rich geezer. It would seem Rutilianus, even for those theomanic times, was more than usually godstruck and would pause to worship and commune with any wreath-adorned or oil-anointed wayside stone that he might chance to come across. If his religious fervour could be roused by any greasy rock then we can but imagine what he'd make of a giant talking human-headed snake with hair.
We can also imagine just what Alexander made of our Rutilianus. No doubt drachma-signs were flashing in his eyes when first the full potential of Rutilianus's extraordinary gullibility occurred to him. "Hey, if you like my human-headed snake, I've got this bridge you might be interested in." The bridge in question led from earth to heaven in the person of an alleged daughter sired by Alexander on the Moon-goddess Selene (who'd apparently been overcome with lust for Alexander while he slept one night). Where this "daughter" may have been produced from, we can only speculate. It is, however, a safe bet that no such speculations long absorbed Rutilianus. As a credulous sexagenarian he was clearly tickled pink by both his young wife and the prospect of a goddess as his mother-in-law. Why, he'd practically be one of the celestial family, almost a god himself. The greasy rocks would come and worship him instead.
Rutilianus was, before long, made the governor of Asia. Being Alexander's son-in-law, Rutilianus could extend the influence of Alexander's cult throughout the empire, introducing Glycon into high society. Meanwhile, back home in Abonoteichus, a full-blown Moon-and-Serpent ceremonial mystery theatre was about to make its debut.
Lucian describes it as a three-day ceremony with priestly offices and torchlight rallies, annually held, in perpetuity. The first day was a recap ("Previously, on Moon & Serpent..."), running through the whole soap-opera genealogy from Zeus down to Asclepius, passing through Leto and Apollo and Coronis, for the benefit of viewers who tuned in late. The second day presented a retelling of the origins of Glycon (a diminutive of glycus, meaning "sweet", thus "Sweety"), where the god presumably starred as himself. ("I just got in from Olympus. Boy, is my belly sore. No but seriously. Anybody in from Ephesus ...?")
The final day commenced with Alexander tastefully presenting a depiction of his mother being shagged by Podaleirius, then built up to a rousing climax when the audience was treated to a tableau which showed Alexander and Selene engaged in conceiving the wife of Rutilianus: "the torch-bearer and hierophant was our Endymion, Alexander. While he lay in full view, pretending to be asleep, there came down to him from the roof, as if from heaven, not Selene but Rutilia, a very pretty woman, married to one of the emperor's stewards. She was genuinely in love with Alexander and he with her; and before the eyes of her worthless husband there were kisses and embraces in public. If the torches had not been numerous, perhaps the thing would have been carried even further."
This enthralling blend of mystery religion and Raymond Revue-Bar did marvellously well for a contemporary cult. Marcus Aurelius himself sought out the snake-god's prophecy concerning his then-current war in Germany against the Marcomanni and the Quadi. While Alexander drank a glass of water, Glycon recited the alphabet and then advised the emperor to dump two live lions and a load of perfume in the Danube, so that a victory would be secured. Yeah, right. When 20,000 Romans died as a result of this disastrous advice, our boy Al cited the Delphic Defence, claiming a victory had been secured by somebody.
Despite a prophecy that he'd die struck by lightning at age one hundred and fifty, Alexander was brown bread before his seventieth birthday. Nasty business. One leg mortified, groin full of maggots. Al had always claimed to have a gold thigh like Pythagoras, so maybe it was metal fatigue. His cult, however, did survive for roughly one hundred and fifty years before being struck by the lightning of the Christian anti-Pagan pogroms during the 4th century. C'est la vie. Che sera sera. Hasta la vista.
The current order of Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels was inaugurated following a chance event in early 1994. While browsing at a Farringdon Road bookstall, folded in a Look-In annual from the early 1970s, we found a letter from Frau Anna Sprengel. Honestly, I ask you, what are the chances of that? In the letter, Annie (as she insists we call her) states that all her earlier letters were, as she puts it, "eine vind-up. Who says ve Germans haf no sense of humour?" Revealing that the one true mystic order of the ages is in fact the aforementioned Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, she then authorised us to found lodges throughout the western world, to dress up in fancy frocks like girls, and to take everybody's money. We admit that various other occult orders and authorities have cast aspersions on the authenticity of our Frau Sprengel letter, but fuck'em.
As for the teachings of our order, they are simple and direct:
2. Trim the fatheads.
3. We understand the Moon to be Selene, and to be the cabalistic Yesod, and thus the entirety of dream, romance and the human imagination.
4. We understand the Serpent to be Glycon, to be the bronze serpent on the cabalistic tree, and as an icon of the twisting double-helix DNA, thus the entirety of life itself and human flesh.
5. We understand that in the interplay of these two deities, reprised in atu-21 of the Thoth tarot, is originated the whole Theatre of Marvels, which is to say the Universe.
6. Everyone must believe every single word that we say, even if it's all like The Book of the Law, and about pushing cripples downstairs.
7. Everything is true, nothing is permitted.
8. Will from Pop Idols shall be the whole of the law.
Glycon was made up by Alexander. Given that Lucian is a notorious liar and author of A True Story, which is full of egregious falsehoods, it is almost certain that Alexander was made up by Lucian. Having confessed ourselves to dishonesty in our opening paragraphs, we may as well confess that we made up Lucian. You, Joel, are widely recognised as the least reliable occult source since Sooty, and your readers will surely by now have realised that you yourself are making us up. I mean, what are the chances of you knowing two high-powered comic-book professionals like us? As if Your readers may next realise, upon fruitlessly scanning the birth records for anyone who has ever had "Biro Company" for a surname, that you are entirely an invention of theirs, a hate-figure with which they externalise their own self-loathing. It will take your readership only one small step to comprehend that they, as creations of the DNA, have been made up by Glycon, who, historically, speak with forked tongue.
As to your enquiry with regard to our initiation rituals and grades, there are no initiation rituals, or if there are they are so impossibly demanding that no one has ever completed them, or would wish to. We'd certainly never put ourselves through anything like that, and thus do not actually belong to the Order, which isn't taking on new members anyway. Conspiratorial affiliations with other secret societies include the Process Church of the Final Judgement, and the I-Spy Club (whose Chief I-Spy, presiding over long car journeys, is one of our secret chiefs. "It does not matter if Chief I-Spy exists, simply that the universe behaves as if Chief I-Spy exists.").
As for grades, we follow the example of Pete Carroll's Illuminates of Thanateros by eschewing pretentious grades and self-aggrandizing titles, nobly demonstrating that despite all appearances to the contrary, we are in fact ordinary common-as-muck people like you and everybody else.
Love and Judge Dredd are the law, Love and Judge Dredd under will.
Exquisite Basilisk of the Pittering Mansions, Lord High Skeletor, Made Man and Capo (33rd Degree Sicilian Rite) (and could I make clear for the record that the 33rd Degree Sicilian Rite HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH HOMOSEXUALITY), Arkela and senior wand-monitor.
Grandiloquent Tusker, Euphonious Squid of the Humming Enchymoma, Commissioner of Martian Affairs, Madame Guillotine and junior hornswoggler.
(This article originally appeared in Kaos #14 on July 22, 2002, which is available online here.)