Philip K. Dick (PKD) is a writer that I find quite fascinating. I have written about him in different contexts and I became particularly interested in his writing beyond the novels and stories that have been popularized through film versions. One of those is his Exegesis which was published after his death and stands as his final work.
In 1974, PKD said that he met God – at least he thought it was God.
Visionary is a word often used in describing him and his stories, and visions certainly play a role in the lives of his characters and in the author’s own life.
Philip was a seeker. He wasn’t really seeking God for most of his life, but he was seeking answers, including answers about what to write.
I have read that PKD consulted the ancient Chinese divination text, I Ching (The Book of Changes) which had an American resurgence in the 1960s. My own explorations with that volume were unsatisfactory as the interpretations are very broad and I didn’t find any guidance from it. But others have found answers in it.
PKD used the I Ching to guide his life and to guide his writing at times. He said that he used it when writing The Man in the High Castle. That 1962 novel (and a Netflix series) portrays an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II. The I Ching shows up in the novel too as Japan rules the western part of the old United States.
I have had a long fascination with this time in PDK’s life story when he believed he had encounters with God.
Twice, in February and March 1974, Philip K. Dick met what he believed was God in a hallucinatory experience.
He wrote about the experience rather obsessively in his rather bizarre diaries that later were published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. (I think that PKD might like that you can read it on a Kindle.)
The experience began with a wisdom tooth extraction after which he met at his front door a delivery girl from the pharmacy who wore a golden Christian fish symbol around her neck, and that symbol triggered his visions.
H described his contact as coming via a “pink beam” which imparted knowledge to him. One example of that was when it told him that his infant son was ill – something that was confirmed when he took the child to the hospital and the diagnosis was confirmed. Dick called these experiences “2-3-74” for February–March 1974.
PDK said it was God but he referred to “it” as Zebra, or by the acronym VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) which was used for VALIS the novel, which has a PKD-like character. This book is Dick’s gnostic vision of one aspect of God. It was to be volume one of an incomplete VALIS trilogy. Volume two was published as The Divine Invasion in 1981, and the planned third novel was to be The Owl in Daylight.
Outsider cartoonist and a PKD fan, Robert Crumb, wrote and illustrated Dick’s meeting with a divine intelligence in “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick.” I found it in the collection, The Weirdo Years by R. Crumb: 1981-’93 which uses quotes from PDK’s retelling of the event in the narration.
McKenna is known for many theories that appear in his many books. My favorite concerns novelty.
McKenna formulated a concept about the nature of time that was based on fractal patterns he claimed to have discovered in the I Ching. He called it novelty theory and from it, he proposed a prediction about the end of time (not the end of the world) and a transition of consciousness in the year 2012. His novelty theory got attention as that year approached, especially because it was also the year that some calculated as the end of the world (but more accurately the beginning of a new consciousness) based on the Maya calendar.
Novelty theory is generally considered to be pseudoscience, and 2012 came and went without anything significant happening to the world. McKenna’s personal end of time came in 2000.
As PKD explored with LSD, novelty came from the mid-1970s experiences with psilocybin mushrooms in the Amazon that McKenna had which led him to the King Wen sequence of the I Ching. The drug connections have not helped the reputation of either theorist in the eyes of scientists.
In novelty theory, the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe are inherent in time. McKenna thought that time is not a constant but moves between either “habit” or “novelty.” For this, habit is entropic, repetitious, or conservative, while novelty is creative, disjunctive, or a progressive phenomenon. For McKenna, the universe is an engine that produces novelty, which then increases complexity, which acts as a platform for further complexity.
In that afterword that he wrote for the PDK book, McKenna says that “The mathematical nature of this pattern can be known. It can be written as an equation, just like the equations of Schrodinger or Einstein.” Like that famous seeker, Albert Einstein, McKenna and Philip K. Dick spent a good part of their lives seeking the equation which would be one answer to it all.
I have not read that PKD used the tarot, but it would not surprise if he did explore with it. This 15th-century European card “game” also has a long history for divining our destinies.
The most popular tarot deck (and the one I first encountered in college) is known as the Rider Tarot deck (AKA the Rider-Waite Tarot) from 1909.
The reason I include tarot in this discussion of PDK is that I came across in my web research a kind of tarot/I Ching/Philip K. Dick mashup.
It is called “The Fool’s Journey of Philip K. Dick” which is a tarot deck done by PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey. It has 80 cards that use elements from Dick’s works. It also has four rule cards for two “I Ching inspired card games and an eight-sided folding booklet about tarot as Gnostic Allegory. I couldn’t find the deck online but it is on the publisher Wide Books’ website along with other PDK publications.