The Pleasure Dome & Me
Visions from the Moorish Orthodox Church
by Steve Aydt
September 29, 2010
I was a senior in high school when I first heard of the Pleasure Dome. I had just been kicked out of J.R.O.T.C. for a series of subversive pranks, and an agreement was reached with the Drama Department that I could finish out the year there and receive full credit. My drama teacher was a Rosicrucian who was having a fling with my best friend at the time, who was a sociopath. She gave me Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” to read for a UIL competition. “I think this fits you,” she told me. I went on to give a listless reading but the poem haunted me afterward.
In the early ‘90s, I read an interview with physicist Nick Herbert in Mondo 2000 in which he suggested diverting a portion of U.S. military spending to fund a series of pleasure domes. It seemed like an inspired idea. I returned to Coleridge’s poem, finding fresh inspiration, and began to do some research, learning that the dome had actually been a large yurt, Xanadu’s Summer Palace of Kubla Khan, grandson of Genghis.
At the same time, I was collaborating with a group of artists, mystics, musicians and freaks on various endeavors, including the once notorious underground Disturbathon bacchanal held in Dallas around Hallowe’en. A by-product of this collaboration, almost an accident, was the creation of the Hot Tub Mystery Religion, hosted at an apartment with a wonderful Jacuzzi called Vaucluse on Silent Oak Dr. in Euless, Texas. This project was so conspicuously successful that I lost my lease and had to relocate the Mystery Religion to an apartment a block away called The Village, which had an even bigger and better Jacuzzi. As a Mystery Religion, the HTMR vaunted the concept of individual and group gnosis over blind faith. We eschewed most spiritual intercession as a con-game, preferring experiment over indoctrination. For us, the hot tub or hot spring was seen as the balance of the classical elements: earth hosting fire heating water generating air bubbles, all under the quintessential governance of spirit. Experiments were dictated by theme, music and circumstance. Early in this endeavor, I spoke to Mysterian David Hanson, now a noted pioneer in the field of robotics, who confessed to me that he had recurring dreams and visions of the Pleasure Dome. He suggested that Coleridge’s unfinished poem invited multi-disciplinary collaboration. We were possessed by the idea of building an actual Pleasure Dome as a sustainable venture on a piece of land with a hot spring.
So the pleasure dome became an oft recurring trope for us. Our audio arm, The Invisible College of Esoteric DJs, vowed, in Coleridge’s words, “to build that dome in air with music loud and long.” In time, we collaborated on a well-received ‘zine, The Eulessynian Hot Tub Mystery Religion, which was picked up, in turn, by Thom Metzger of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America, who was the editor of the Moorish Science Monitor. I very much enjoyed the Monitor and he published a number of my essays and collages there. After several informative postal exchanges, Thom pointed out that our Hot Tub Mystery Religion was very Moorish in spirit, i.e. we were exemplary ontological anarchists. He advised me to secure a fez and consider myself Arch-Mullah of the Lone Star State for the M.O.C.A. Ultimately, with the inestimable help of Brother Mustafa Al-Laylah, we became the Khalwat-i-Khidr, the first lodge of the Moorish Orthodox Church in Texas, keeping the Hot Tub Mystery Religion as a side-degree of our new endeavor.
Two things happened shortly thereafter. First, I discovered that Nick Herbert, the physicist who had vaunted the plan of the Pleasure Dome, was a Moorish Brother who was also known as Dr. Jabir, discoverer of Quantum Tantra. Secondly, through a series of odd circumstances, I and a close associate were invited to the 1997 CESNUR conference on new religions to offer a presentation on the Hot Tub Mystery Religion in Amsterdam. After days of fruitless deliberation on how best to do this, we gave up and settled down to watch the Marx Brothers film Horse Feathers. It was there that we found our inspiration. Rather than doing a presentation, we decided instead to indulge in a prankish parody of one. We loosely combined the gnosis of Philip K. Dick, the allegory of Patrick McGoohan’s TV show The Prisoner, and Dr. Jabir’s idea that the world needed a network of pleasure domes. We argued that the world would be radically changed if the same emphasis was placed on transcendental hedonism that is usually reserved for warfare and more efficient means of murdering each other. We admitted that the Feast of Fools was our group’s most important annual holiday and were quizzed about this by three white-bearded men on the back row. The room was packed and our session proved to be a favorite of both students and professors. We hobnobbed with cultists from all over the world and sampled many of the delights that New York’s sister city had to offer. Within a few years, we hosted CESNUR’s Managing Director, Dr. Massimo Introvigne, at a Hot Tub Mystery Religion rite when he was in Dallas to study the Chen Tao flying saucer cult.
Years later, I ran across an essay by Jorge Luis Borges in which the blind seer suggested that the Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan and Coleridge was an ongoing visionary endeavor.
“The first dream added a palace to reality; the second, which occurred five centuries later, a poem (or the beginning of a poem) suggested by the palace; the similarity of the dreams hints of a plan; the enormous length of time involved reveals a superhuman executor.”
The essay struck me to the core. Without knowing it, we had embarked on a Quixotic venture that had already been postulated by the Argentinean visionary.
“If this plan does not fail, someone, on a night centuries removed from us, will dream the same dream, and not suspect that others have dreamed it, and he will give it a form of marble or music. Perhaps this series of dreams has no end, or perhaps the last will be the key… Perhaps an archetype not yet revealed to mankind, an eternal object, is gradually entering the world.”
To this day, I dream of this eternal object, as do several of my fellow Mysterians and Moors. We long for such a sacred space to inhabit and share. But in truth, we may simply be custodians of a vision destined to hop-frog into manifestation over time, as Borges suggested. In the meantime, I keep the dome close to my heart. In it, I see the harbinger of a better time. And to this day, with other like-minded lunatics, I occasionally do my part to see it spun from “music loud and long” or celebrated temporarily as a perennial theme for events. For the time being, the Pleasure Dome’s construction is ongoing only in the Imaginal realm of Hurqalya. But mark my words: one day it will ecstatically gush into manifestation. And when that day comes, sisters and brothers, everything will change.