The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Carnivals of Life and Death

Author: James Shelby Downard

Type of Book: Conspiracy theory, occult symbology, Masons, utter insanity

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Well, the whole thing sets off my oddometer, but by the time the young Downard claims he saw Alexander Graham Bell involved in sex magick rituals on Jekyll Island, the odd credentials of this book were no longer in question.

Availability: Published by Feral House in 2006, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Oh god. This is one of those moments where in I suspect I am in way over my head. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I fear the Masons and loathe the Ku Klux Klan as much as any self-respecting conspiratologist should. I think there is a level of “street theater” in our economic and political processes, a sort of active public facade that, if the veneer were ever pulled away, would show us far more sinister than it would positive. I think the banking industry and the political system in America are all corrupt beyond belief and that those who operate behind the scenes in these systems are people whose interests in no way reflect the well-being of the American people.

That having been said, I need to make it clear I think that “mystical sex circuses,” “witchcraft sex magick orgies,” and “sexathons that aim at nothing more than racial blood mixing” are neither really part of the secrecy of the economic system behind the economic system, nor are they things that most people really need to worry about in the course of their everyday life. I also suspect that I don’t lean towards believing that

…the mythology of Revelations will be followed like Tinker-Toy instructions: a time of tribulation will come first, after which survivors will be made “one” via a post-tribulation “rapture” spawned by the technical sorcery of having their brain pleasure centers titillated magnetically so that all will cum together.

But then again, a lack of genuine belief in the mystical has always been my Achilles heel.

I suspect there may be rabid disagreement with my above assertions and I’m okay with that because I am relatively sure that a very young James Shelby Downard didn’t witness a man called Cock Robin blow Alexander Graham Bell on Jekyll Island. Knowing that James Shelby Downard likely didn’t exist and was, perhaps, the brain child of three different men doesn’t play as much into my declaration of “Pants!” at the notion of Bell, just, you know, having sex magick orgies in front of kids as you might think. This is The Parable of the Whackjobs, and none of this ever happened but was written to illustrate certain points, like mystical toponomy, symbolism of names and an uneasy sense that things are not entirely as they should be. Call me naive if you must.

But whatever you call me, you need to read this book because it is a hoot. Purportedly the autobiography of one James Shelby Downard, who was born in 1913 and died in 1998 before he could finish his tale. He is most famous for his essay, “King/Kill 33: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” I read that monster years ago but had no idea the full body of ideas Downard (or whomever) brought to the table.

This book reads like those Home Alone movies, you know the ones. A precocious kid with questionable parents keeps finding himself in violent situations wherein he bests his attackers. Imagine those movies except Kevin gets stalked and attacked by Freemasons and the Klan and you pretty much have the gist of this book. According to Downard, he was set up as a scapegoat (pharmakos) or symbolic whipping boy, presumably by his criminally negligent and downright weird parents, and spent his entire life standing up for the American Way by thwarting attack after attack after attack and witnessing unspeakable acts while besting the worst evil there is.

I’m not saying Downard doesn’t have interesting ideas. Some fascinating conclusions are drawn in this book and to be completely frank, at times, some of the scattershot in this book that hits the target is a little eerie. But in order to appreciate that you have to read the rest of the book for what it is: a fictional story, a parable, that through extremes tries to show things the author believes are buried from our sight. These are myths for the paranoid, bizarre, over-the-top fables meant to tell a larger story through unbelievable detail. Or Downard was really a plucky young man who foiled that Joe Pesci time and time again. Believe what you want, but it is undeniable that this book is interesting and a fun read.

You get pushed off the deep end fast in this book, starting the very second Adam Parfrey finishes his introduction. Here’s a small taste of the paranoia and weird associations Downard presents in his own introduction:

…I got a glimpse of frightful memories from the long-dead past and, perhaps more importantly, recognized the past for the corpus mysticum that it is. When my mystical past revealed how it had really occurred, it became a horrendous thing cloaked in iniquity, that old now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t that preserves the criminal mysteries of Masonic oz art (M oz art).

Get used to that, those interesting little connections in Downard’s head. He sees connections in ways that will change how you look at things, synchronous connects that, for some, lead to sinister conclusions.

Of course, there is mention of cats, burning them in fact. I bring this up only because I am beginning to despair of all the mentions of dead cats in all the books I read. If I traipse down the primrose path that Downard stomped, I would begin to think there is something connecting all these dead cats mentioned in every damn book I seem to pick up these days. For now I’m just chalking it up to bad luck.

The book begins with young Downard being secured spread-eagle in his bed on Christmas Eve. He was five. He was unpinned in the morning only to find switches and coal in his stocking. We move from there to a shootout with Masons wherein the tot escapes and blows stuff up. His mother made him dress like a girl. There’s the above-mentioned trip to Jekyll Island where he saw all kinds of things and was almost killed in some sort of magick theater ritual. He gets abandoned and lives like a dog until he is reunited with his mother. He is almost killed countless other times. He thwarts the Klan, he finds Million Dollar Gold Certificates the way I find cat hair on my chair. He is nailed to a tree by the Klan but only the size of his small anus prevents him from being sodomized. He liberates a white sex slave. He finds all kinds of bizarre “grave goods” from the tomb of a Mason only to have FDR offer to purchase them and when he gets the check for a million dollars, his parents talk him out of cashing it. His wife turned out to be a mind-controlled sex slave. He explains the symbolic meanings of dunce caps and bull whips. He finds all sorts of parallels between innocuous ideas, discussing usual ringers like Disney and Proctor & Gamble, but also making the average person aware of why it is we should be alarmed if we see a man curse a pig and then touch our water faucet. This is, like, maybe 5% of the insanity in this book. To discuss it in depth would require far more time than I have and more gin than I am willing to drink.

The best part of this book is how through it all, Downard never gets a clue. I mean, after the third time the Masons tried to kill me, after the Klan had nailed me to a tree, after I’d almost been choked to death by Cock Robin while everyone chanted, “Non Person, Non Person,” I’d be suspicious of anyone who asked me to fish around in an old family tomb. After I noticed the tomb had been booby-trapped, I probably wouldn’t have gone on in. Not Downard. If this man existed, we need to find his grave and take some of his bones to have him reconstituted when DNA technology catches up with my imagination. We need more Downards – clever, foolhardy, indestructible, paranoid yet open to adventure. An Army of Downards? Hell, America would be restored to her old glory in no time.

So yeah, read this book. Home Alone combined with Masonic paranoia and more mystical esoterica than you can absorb in one reading. I highly recommend this fine lunacy.

13 thoughts on “The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard

  1. I so just ordered this. BTW–recently saw Brave New Books referenced by a guy who thinks he is being “gang-stalked,” so apparently at least part of their clientele are true believers.

    1. That does not surprise me. Sueann Campbell, who is one of the anti-stalking pioneers, lives in Round Rock, Texas, which is just north of Austin. She and fellow gang stalking believer Eleanor White used to run a radio show called “Road to Freedom.” They may still.

      In other gang stalking news, 1996 by Gloria Naylor is in my to-be-discussed pile. Stay tuned.

      1. 1996 is a great read, although apparently not worthy of Oprah- backing like her first book.

        I used to live in Austin, so I know Round Rock well. If only I had known it was a stalking center.

        1. I’m uneasy about how I plan to approach 1996. Coupling disbelief with respect is the hardest review of all.

  2. Wow! I totally forgot this book existed. His essays in Feral House’s two anthologies were even better: Apocalypse Culture (and maybe the sequel too) and Cult Rapture (at least I think it was Cult Rapture). But I’m not really into creepy stuff like that anymore.

    1. Oh man, how did you get out of creepy stuff like this? Did someone hit you on the head, because if so, I may ask someone to clock me soon. This stuff dogs my brain. I cannot quit it no matter how much fine literature and gentle stories in which no cats are killed call out to me.

        1. I think the reverse happened to me. As I get older the twisted shit seems less and less twisted to me. Also, it just now occurred to me that I have at least one of your books on my wish list, which makes this officially a weird moment for me. Possibly a meta moment. But mostly weird.

  3. 100% True…
    Freemasons……………..100% Pure Evil…….corrupt fire dept.’s…cops, from city to federal… city,county,state workers, mostly labor flunkies..
    all ganstalk…….all mentally disordered… and stamped so, by the sane

  4. Call me crazy, but I think Downard nailed the pin on the tail. Much of the details surrounding his life and times can actually be verified. Max Westheimer is a real person, and a memorial exists for him in Norman, Oklahoma that has all of the appearances of an obelisk. The “Florida Keys Sponge & Fruit Company” did exist, and its history is essentially as Downard described it. Precious little exists on the Internet about it. The darkly absurd school in Fort Thomas, Kentucky? It is a real place, and while I could find no “Foeman H. Rudd,” there is a Foeman A. Rudd who was a prominent figure in education in that area.

    Nearly every part of the book is corroborated on such details. In a lot of cases, one who starts studying one of the places or names in Downard’s book will find information that makes it all the more intriguing. For example, the aforemention school, Highlands High, used “the Blue Devils” as their team name until they were forced to change it due to predictable outrage from local churches. The new team name was “the Blue Birds.”

    In a nation where the aristocracy burn effigies before giant stone owls while their sons lie in coffins to perform what can only be termed, as Downard would prefer, sex-and-death rituals, could it be that what first appears absurd to those who open up “Carnivals” is actually happening all around us?

    It all depends on one’s perspective. Reading about political conspiracies, a lot of the absurdly enormous and intricate plans one reads about seem to be something that could have come from the pages of “Carnivals.” Perhaps he wasn’t so crazy after all.

    I’m rather attracted to the thought of a story so fantastic that no one could ever fully believe it, and yet it remains entirely true.

    1. I tell you what, Simon. You find a person who has met Downard who is not Parfrey, Grimstad or Hoffman, and I’ll revisit the notion that Downard existed.

      I think that all mythology has a grain of truth to it. We don’t have to believe myths are literally true to find some level of truth in them.

        1. Wow, that looks really interesting, Simon. I’ll give it a close look a bit later and will see if I can recreate the research. If nothing else, it looks like an interesting read. Thanks for posting this!

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