The Black Knight from Space

By John Carter


In Disneyland of the Gods, John Keel writes of the Black Knight satellite. Never mind the almanac. You won't find it listed with Sputnik or Explorer. Black Knight is the name given to a radar blip discovered in 1960. This mystery satellite was found in a polar orbit, something neither the US nor the Soviets had accomplished. It was several times larger and several times heavier than anything capable of being launched with 1960 rockets. It shouldn't have been there, but it was.

If that weren't enough, ham operators began receiving odd messages from the Black Knight. One operator decoded a series of these messages as a star map. The map centered on Epsilon Boštes as seen from the earth 13,000 years ago. Remember, stars don't move very far even after 13,000 years, and Epsilon Boštes is moving towards us. Only the neighboring stars appear different after that amount of time. Was the Black Knight an alien calling card?

Perhaps the strangest effect associated with the Black Knight is the Long Delay Echo (LDE). The effect observed is that radio or television signals sent into space bounce back seconds (or even days) later, as if recorded and retransmitted by a satellite. They didn't begin with the Black Knight, but they were part of its mystery. Keel places the earliest LDEs in the 1920s. It's not in Keel's book, but in 1974 another mystery entered earth orbit. No radar saw it. No ham operator listened to it. One man contacted it- or rather, was contacted by it. That man was science fiction author Philip K. Dick (1928-1982). Dick is probably best known to the public for writing the stories on which the movies Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and Screamers (1996) were based. Before the movies, there were the books. That's where we'll find Dick's own encounter with a Black Knight.

Beginning in February of 1974, Dick had a series of "mystic" experiences (substitute "paranormal" or "fortean" or "psychotic" if you like). When he died eight years later, he was still unsure of their origin or their meaning. Left behind was what he called the Exegesis, an 8000- page, one-million-word continuing dialogue with himself written late, late at night. This is where we go to find the Black Knight's return.

Very little of Dick's Exegesis has been published. The Black Knight material formed the core of four novels - Radio Free Albemuth, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. They remain in print. All four read as autobiography. The pivotal element in each is Dick's own contact with the Black Knight, which he called the Vast Active Living Intelligence System, VALIS for short. In a series of visions and coincidences, VALIS revealed itself to Dick as an ancient satellite from another world. It was sent here long ago by three-eyed, crab-clawed beings from a planet orbiting Fomalhaut. They built our civilization, taught us writing and science, then returned to their own world. VALIS was left behind to prod certain individuals when civilization needed a boost. If it sounds like Von DŠniken meets Scientology, read on.

Albemuth is the name Dick gave Fomalhaut in Radio Free Albemuth. I believe he derived it from the Arabic al-Behemoth, which he took to mean "whale." Fomalhaut is the fish's mouth in the constellation of Piscis Australis, the Southern Fish. In VALIS he moved its origin to Sirius, probably after reading Robert K.G. Temple's The Sirius Mystery. He also offered an alternate name for the satellite: Zebra. He called it Zebra because of its ability to mimic its surroundings. We'll discuss that in a moment, when we return to LDEs.

Dick's contact began with a vision of St. Elmo's Fire filling his apartment. It was a strange pink flame which burned but did not consume. He says his cat saw it too. It was strongest at night. Dick would lie in bed unable to sleep, watching the light show. He compared it to a rapid-fire succession of modern paintings by the likes of Klee and Kandinsky. At one point he wondered if Soviet scientists were working with the aliens on psychotronics experiments. He thought they might be beaming images at him from a Moscow Museum. His dreams during this period took on a whole new nature, so much so that he began referring to them as tutelary dreams because of their information-rich content. He experienced numerous waking visions as well.

In some of his visions, Dick saw Soviet scientists rushing around behind the scenes to keep the alien satellite functioning. Strange texts which appeared to be Russian operating manuals were held up for him to see. The Builders, as he came to call the aliens, were sometimes seen floating in large vats of water, observing the operation. The whole complex system was apparently set up solely for his benefit!

Dick saw VALIS as a benign entity. He saw its position as teacher, sometimes protectress. (I say "protectress" rather than "protector" because VALIS reminded Dick of his twin sister Jane, who died in infancy.) He credited VALIS with taking charge of his life, recovering a lot of income due from unpaid royalties, and even re-margining his typewriter.

While listening to the radio one day, Dick heard the words of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" change to a warning from VALIS: "Your son has an undiagnosed right inguinal hernia. The hydrocele has burst, and it has descended into the scrotal sac. He requires immediate attention, or will soon die." Dick rushed him to the hospital and found every word to be true. The doctor scheduled the operation for the same day.

Dick occasionally heard other, less positive messages from his radio at night, even when it was turned off. Admittedly, hearing voices and claiming harassment from an energy beam are symptoms of mental illness, but there seems to be something more at work here. Anybody can claim crazy, incredible things, but only Philip K. Dick produced works of art because of it. In the end, though, he may have overexposed himself to it. As he hinted in VALIS, too much of a good thing can kill you.

Dick had another vision. He saw the pink St. Elmo's fire coalesce into a door perfectly proportioned to the Golden Mean. Through the door he saw ancient Greece, or some other Mediterranean land. He later regretted never stepping through it. This brings us full circle to the subject of Long Delay Echoes. As Dick sat staring at the Y in an ICHTHYS sticker in his window one afternoon, he pondered these strange occurrences. As he did, he saw first-century Rome fade in and remain superimposed on top of 1974 California. The experience lasted through February and March. He still knew which was the vision and which was real, but when he looked away and then looked back, Rome was still there.

The message he decided VALIS was sending him is that we still live in Roman times. Nothing has changed, we still live under the rule of a cruelly corrupt empire, and the Christian apocalypse is near. VALIS predicted the downfall of a King. Nixon left office soon after. As Dick said in VALIS, "The Empire Never Ended." This catch-phrase was made known to him in one of his tutelary dreams.

If this concept of one "reality" superimposed onto another is difficult to conceptualize, let's consider a parallel from more orthodox (!) sources. Without trying to establish or deny its validity, the field of psychic archeology tries to do exactly what Dick had happen to him. This is akin to remote viewing with a time element involved, rather than one of space. This author is in possession of a small number of unpublished correspondence describing others' experiences of this phenomenon. One called the satellite "Max." Dick was not the only one.

Though Dick's vision of Rome faded, his tutelary dreams continued for six more years. So did the AI voice (Artificial Intelligence), a soft feminine voice he heard in times of stress and during hypnagogic revery. This was the aspect of VALIS which reminded him of his late twin sister Jane. He claimed to have first heard it during a high school physics exam (it gave him the answers) 25 years earlier. During the VALIS days it told him, "The Head Apollo is about to return. St. Sophia is going to be born again; she was not acceptable before. The Buddha is in the park. Siddhartha sleeps (but is going to awaken). The time you have waited for has come." It's in The Exegesis. Dick quoted it in VALIS.

It all appeared to end November 17, 1980. Dick claimed to have had a theophany that day, though witnesses noticed nothing unusual. Dick suddenly comprehended God as infinite, by nature incomprehensible. In other words, the Exegesis would never solve anything because there was no answer to be had. Dick actually stopped writing for a time because of this, but was at it again before too long. It was the search that was important to him, after all. He wrote The Divine Invasion around this time, which was when the voice finally stopped.

Dick persisted in speculating for the remaining year of his life, and managed to produce one more novel before the end - the posthumously-published The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Dick suffered the first of several strokes in February 1982 and died a few days later in the hospital, on March 2. He was 53.

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