Sean Manseau Biography
Sean Manseau was born in Boston, MA, United States on April 26th, 1970. His father William was a married Roman Catholic priest (later a pastoral counselor), and his mother Mary was an ex-nun (later a school teacher). He had two younger siblings, Kathleen and Peter. Kathleen would grow up to be a Nurse Practitioner in Twisp, WA; Peter eventually became Director of the Museum of American Religion in Washington, DC. He also wrote a number of books on American religious traditions, including Christianity 2.0: The First Church of David Bowie and American Messianism, published twenty years after his brother’s shooting death.
Manseau and his family lived in Dunstable, MA, Chicago, IL, and Beltsville, MD, before settling in Tewksbury, MA, a working class suburb of Boston. During his school years he evinced an interest in Egyptology (inspired by the CBS Saturday morning children’s show The Secrets of Isis), physics, and science fiction. Standardized testing indicated he was intellectually gifted but he never distinguished himself academically. In his teenage years his primary interest was the guitar, but again, despite disciplined effort, Manseau never achieved any particular mastery of the instrument. As he would later recount, “My dad told me, ‘You’re no Paul McCartney or Lionel Ritchie, I see no sign of the virtuoso in you,’ and though that hurt to hear, and I hated him for saying it, I knew he was right.” (Manseau, 2019)
It’s possible the senior Manseau was dismissive of his son’s musical ambitions because they seemed to be interfering with his religious faith. In his memoir, Spotify the Gnostics, Here’s the First Church of David Bowie, Manseau recounts that he declared his non-belief and asked to be excused from attending Catholic mass with his family when he was a freshman at Austin Preparatory School. Manseau’s father refused to accept this and insisted Sean would continue to be a practicing Christian as long as he lived in the family home. This led to two years of “all-out war” (Manseau, 2019), with arguments sometimes turning violent. Manseau regarded this period as one of the central struggles in his life.
Initial Psychedelic Experimentation
During his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Manseau experimented with psychedelic drugs, including LSD. One experience led to what he would later call an “ontological revelation” (Manseau, 2019) in which he had a vision of himself as a multidimensional being existing simultaneously across the fractally-self similar levels of consciousness making up the Divine Mind, i.e., God. The vision culminated with a moment of non-duality, during which he heard “the hum of the Eternal Machine” (Manseau, 1991). Later he equated this sound to the Hindu concept of OM and had the ॐ symbol tattooed on his left shoulder.
Manseau presented a paper he wrote about this experience to UMASS Afro-American Studies Professor Julius Lester. Lester encouraged Manseau to read Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and other books on mysticism which would give his experience context. Manseau later expanded his paper into an honors thesis titled “On the Induction of Religious Experience Through the Use of Hallucinogens.” (The bound version of this thesis was discovered in the UMASS-Amherst archives in 2071.)
After college Manseau joined the United States Army. After serving six months he applied for and received an Unconditional Discharge and moved to San Francisco. There, over a period of five years, he worked at Wired Magazine taking subscriptions over the phone, as a bike messenger, as a video game animator, and as a Muay Thai instructor.
After a brief period of homelessness, he moved to New York City in 2002, where he worked on a novel (Lapdance, unpublished) while bartending in the East Village. During that period he discovered CrossFit. In 2007 he moved back to Massachusetts to open a gym, Pioneer Valley CrossFit, which eventually expanded to two locations.
In 2014 Manseau sold his share of the business and moved to Seattle to write his manual for CrossFit instructors, By the Numbers: A Practical Method for Teaching Multi-Modal GPP Training.
Early Intimations of Religious Vocation
Manseau claimed to have had many spontaneous visions and notable dreams that seemed later to point to his work with the FPC. Three are recounted here.
The first occurred during a guided meditation session led by The Varieties of Meditative Experience author Daniel Goleman. Manseau said he was in a pleasant state of relaxation, and then “suddenly I saw myself, shirtless and with my head turned as if in pain, or I’d just suffered a blow. And carved into my left pectoral was a red Jerusalem cross, like my dad always wore.” The vision startled him so much he fell out of his chair/desk.
Next was an image that spontaneously arose in his mind in 1998, when he was living in San Francisco.
I saw Green Tara, the Mahabodhisattva of Compassion, and she was naked and gorgeous and winking saucily at me. Her hand was raised, but instead of the traditional mudra of blessing, she was throwing the ‘heavy metal’ horns. I thought that it symbolized the erotic aspect of the longing for God, and might have something to do with the my chronic loneliness and inability to find a steady girlfriend, let alone a wife. It was like the Goddess was jealously saving me for herself. So I got a tattoo of that, too.
Three years later, when he was living in New York, he had a dream in which he saw himself as a participant in a scientific experiment to send someone to the Land of the Dead who can return and describe what they saw. He went to sleep and in his dream within the dream, he visited the underworld, where he was presented with a monstrance that had at its center an engraving a knightly figure; it was labeled “le chevalier.” When he awoke he still had the monstrance, providing proof of the next world. It evanesced, and when Manseau began describing what he’d seen to the assembled scientists, his voice grew louder and louder, until it was an “impossible, cthonic roar that was shaking the whole world.” When the roof began caving in, he snapped awake in real life.
He later wrote,
Ever since college, I’d been plagued by the idea that there were invisible forces acting in my life to shunt me toward some sort of monastic life or religious vocation. I did everything in my power to avoid that fate, mostly because there wasn’t any religion that attracted me. Had I known that it was going to be phonomancy that would claim me, maybe my attitude would’ve been a little different. (Manseau, 2021)
Development of Phonomancy
Released in August 2015, Manseau’s book By the Numbers sold modestly well. However, between a lack of social success in Seattle, and a general unease about the fact that although he knew he wanted to leave the fitness industry, he had no idea of what he wanted to do next, Manseau began to experience depression. To combat this, in between promoting his book and traveling to teach his instructional method, he began attending ceremonies with a local ayahuasca group called The Secret Garden. At one such ceremony, he claimed to have had a vision in which the spirit of Ayahuasca told him that he was by nature and lineage a priest, and needed to find a way to follow that vocation.
In May 2017, eager to move forward with this suggestion but unable to attend the ayahuasca group’s scheduled session due to business commitments, Manseau improvised a private ceremony at home using mushrooms. While listening to the Neutral Milk Hotel song “Oh Comely” he began to have visions of Nazi concentration camps and felt emotions of shame and sorrow increasing in intensity until “waves of energy” were passing through his body (Manseau, 2019). When the song was over, the energy and the visions stopped as well. Manseau claimed that mushroom entelechy was as surprised as he was by what had happened and demanded he do it again. (Manseau, 2019)
Manseau began experimenting with this means of inducing visions, which he dubbed “phonomancy,” a term he acknowledged cribbing from the graphic novel Phonogram. Adding marijuana to the psychoactive mixed greatly increased the vividness and intensity of his visions. Manseau later said,
These were some of the strongest psychedelic experiences I ever had. Absolutely overwhelming. Talk about getting thrown in the deep end of the pool! If it wasn’t for my ayahuasca experiences, I would’ve drowned. (Manseau, 2021)
Adding in a third element--concentrating, at a moment of musical climax, on a sigil that represented the intention “Teach me to do magick, David Bowie!”, yielded Manseau’s breakthrough moment. (Later he would claim he couldn’t remember what was the inspiration for that addition.) Manseau had a “waking lucid dream” (Manseau, 2021) of being on stage in a nightclub, leading a crowd through a phonomantic ritual. This was followed immediately by images of “a network of nodal events, constellated in a pattern that was resonant with the arrival of a World Teacher” superimposed over a map of North Africa and the Middle East (Manseau, 2019). The implication was that this pattern of events was happening again, with Manseau playing the archetypal role--effectively, it was the second coming of Christ.
Manseau claimed his immediate reaction to this revelation was, “No, no, absolutely fuck no!” (Manseau, 2021). As he pointed out in his memoir, “Nobody wants to be the guy who takes mushrooms and then becomes convinced he’s Jesus Christ. It’s not a good look.” (Manseau, 2019) Nevertheless, he was fascinated by the uncanny power of the experience, and continued to experiment for the rest of the summer with the phonomantic potential of various songs. Within a few weeks he had come up with the idea of creating a theatrical piece that could allow groups of people to perform phonomancy together.
In my visions I kept seeing Club Sixxteen in San Francisco. And this one time in particular when I was on the packed dance floor and ‘Common People’ by Pulp came on, and everyone just lost their minds. I imagined that kind of intensity and joy, but amplified by the mushrooms, and with a specific spiritual intention. But what would distinguish my show from something like a rave would be the range of emotions we’d explore as a group. Not just ecstasy, but celestial wonder, and dread, and Satanic rage, and falling in love at first sight, and heartbreak, and deep devotion. I thought, ‘That’s what religion should really be.’” (Manseau, 2021)
During this period Manseau continued attending Secret Garden ceremonies, and claimed to have experiences that seemed to reinforce this call to divine service, including a vision of the Archangel Michael. However, in August of 2017, the ayahuasquero leading the group asked Manseau not to return, as Manseau’s experiments with phonomancy were attracting “shitana” (spiritual witchcraft) that was causing the practitioner to become ill.
Manseau began concentrating on the development of a theatrical production of the ritual he was developing. In November 2017 he rented a space in a rehearsal complex, and on December 7th he invited two friends to attend the first public phonomantic rite, which he called The First Church of David Bowie.
The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret
Even at this early stage, this ritual included costumes, lights, and special effects such as fog machines and strobe lights. At first Manseau invited small groups of people to participate, but he quickly realized this was unworkable. On two occasions participants became so disoriented due to the effects of the mushrooms that the show had to be stopped while they were calmed down.
“I thought I could count on people to hold the space,” Manseau said. “I was wrong."
A couple times I had to stop the proceedings to calm people down, which broke the theatrical spell. I needed volunteers to look after those who couldn’t keep their shit together. I couldn’t be a phonomantic showman and a psychedelic guide at the same time. They’re very different gigs. (Manseau, 2021)
Working alone, he continued developing the show for the rest of 2018.
Spotify the Gnostics, Here’s the First Church of David Bowie
One recurring image from Manseau’s phonomantic visions from 2018 was of his own death in an auto accident.
I’m driving east on (Interstate Highway) RT 90. (Manseau’s dog) Jones is in the backseat of my pickup truck. Someone ahead of me makes a lane change just as someone else is speeding up. They collide and spin out. I slam on the brakes, slewing to try to avoid them. So does an eighteen wheeler right behind me. I happen to glance in the rearview mirror right at the moment it jackknifes. Incredibly, it disappears from sight, and then there’s a shattering impact as it overturns and lands right on top of my truck. The cab’s roof is staved in. The impact basically tears me in half from the ribs down. Then there’s silence. My driver’s seat has flattened back. I glance over my shoulder to see Jones sitting there, shaking. “Jones,” I say, laughing shakily. I can’t feel anything. I try to reach her. My arm won’t move. Nothing works. “You’re all right. You’re--”
And then I’m gone. (Manseau, 2019)
Driven by this vision (he claimed he knew the date this would happen: October 18th, 2018) Manseau wrote a spiritual memoir cum phonomantic how-to titled Spotify the Gnostics, Here’s the First Church of David Bowie. The first half of the book is an autobiography that outlines his family history and the formative experiences that had an influence on the development of the Shamanic Cabaret.
I needed to explain all the disappointments and all the weird dreams that set the stage for me not simply dismissing (his visionary experiences) as a psychotic breakdown. I wanted to show that there had been a design to my life, that random events had all pointed to this destiny, because if it had been true for me, it was true for all of us--that there was a hidden pattern of meaning to our lives that when discerned could make our suffering bearable. Mostly I just wanted people to know what it had been like to have the Goddess grab you by the scruff of the neck, give you a good shaking, and say, “Hey kid! Have I got a job for you.”
And, of course, if all this--my prophetic visions regarding the return of the Goddess, my gig as Her Herald, the founding of the next world religion--did all turn out to be real, I wanted to tell my story in my own words, so there’d be less chance of hagiography later. The main thing was to leave behind the instructional manual for phonomancy, the By the Numbers, so people could pick up the work where I left it and take it all the way to the science fictional future.
The second half of the book contained his initial attempts to explain phonomancy, the phonomantic rite, and the First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret. The show is presented as a formatted theatrical script, and each song is followed by commentary detailing the specific emotional targets and visionary exercises used, and some of the highlights of his visionary experiences.
Manseau published the book in June, 2019. Its bright yellow cover and its title were a parody of the original UK cover of the Sex Pistols’ seminal album, Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. At the time of phonomanticism’s “establishing miracle,” in May 2021, the book had sold fewer than ten copies.
Although Manseau did travel by Route 90 on October 19th, he did not die, a fact that caused a deep existential crisis for him.
I really thought it was going to happen. And when I didn’t get torn in half by a falling eighteen wheeler, as my visions had prophesied, it begged the question, “Well, what else have the visions been wrong about?” Was I really being called by the God/dess to establish a new religion? I was like a Millerite on October 23, 1844, wondering why the world hadn’t ended. The accident didn’t happen, so now what? Everything seemed like it was at a dead end. I had put so much hope and energy into phonomanticism; there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do.
I got really depressed for a couple weeks, and then I did what any sensible person would do: I reinterpreted the meaning of my visions in such a way that allowed me to move forward. This black period, this was me torn in half; I was being asked to abandon my old self and fully embrace this new one, this would-be World Teacher. To that point I’d been foot-dragging about the whole savior thing. But from then on, my attitude was, “Fuck it, I’m in!”
In a sense, it had all been variation on a classic part of a shamanic initiation: the vision of one’s dismemberment, and then constellation as a new Self. (Manseau, 2021)
Dark Night of the Soul
On March 1, 2019, Manseau moved from Seattle to Portland, OR. Although he didn’t know that city well, anecdotal testimony about a vibrant performance art scene and Portland’s popular reputation for being “weird” were enough reasons to take a chance, especially as his employment in Seattle had dwindled to part-time personal training.
In Portland, Manseau performed his Shamanic Cabaret twice for general audiences. By his account, the first show was well-received. However, things went somewhat awry at the second.
I’d actually attracted a fair crowd, 50 or 60 people. For most of the show, they seemed really into it. And I thought I was performing well. My singing was improving, I was making my costume changes in time.
That night I had introduced an important new element--the music videos that played with the songs. These were meant to condition the experience of the participants. I worked so hard on them, and thought they were going to blow some minds. And they did, but not quite the way I intended. Halfway through the Anne Frank Working--right after the climax of “Oh Comely,” when atrocity photographs from Nazi concentration camps appeared on screen--people started walking out. It was just too much, I guess. People had come expecting a rock ‘n roll good time dance party, and they got that, but they weren’t expecting this turn into the abyss. The thing was, they didn’t know that the ceremony was then heading upwards to the most transcendent moment of the whole night.
So I’m onstage, dancing to the Neutral Milk Hotel instrumental “Untitled,” and watching almost the whole crowd file out past me. In the state I was in, it was devastating. I think it injured my spirit in a way that made me vulnerable to what happened next.
According to Manseau’s blog, personal notes, and videos posted to YouTube, after this episode, his private ceremonies became increasingly difficult.
I was having a harder and harder time breaking through into “beliefspace.” And I kept having menacing visions of working class Massachusetts in the late 1970s. People in dirty, puffy winter coats, worn-out automobiles, vacant lots strewn with trash. It felt like something bad was coming. At the time, I associated it with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown that had just started. Whatever it was, I got depressed. And the harder I tried to push through it, the worse things got.
An attempt to set a benchmark dose (10g of cubensis, backed with a 3g water extract of Syrian rue, and pot) went badly, with Manseau unable to relax into a psychedelic flowstate for nearly four hours. And from there things only got worse, until in July and August he was forced to abandon his phonomantic rite.
There was a sense of malevolent presence. The images I saw in my mind’s eye represented it at various times as a Olmec statue head made of obsidian, a gorilla in a business suit, an Egyptian slave driver with a whip, an ugly Stalinist administration building, and finally a white-bearded sky god hurling thunderbolts. The message was NO. No more doing this. It is forbidden. You will obey.
The negative force was too strong. The harder I tried to get past it, the sicker I got. Finally I quit in humiliation. Three times this happened. The last was the worst. I was so fucked up I was afraid to be alone. I had to call a friend to come sit with me.
Manseau believed the demonic entity had inflicted on him a “grievous spiritual wound.” For two weeks after he experienced “psychotic depression” (Manseau 2020) and suicidal ideations. When these eased, he began to experience daily panic attacks. These lasted for nearly two months.
It was my dark night of the soul. Not only could I no longer achieve gnosis, that immediate experience of the Divine Presence that had been sustaining me, I felt actively betrayed. The God/dess had invited me to trust Her. To step out into thin air and walk the invisible bridge above the abyss of my greatest fears. She assured me the next step would always be there. For three years it always was...and then it wasn’t. I felt like I was plummeting. All the money I’d spent, the friends I’d lost, the creative effort I’d put in, they were supposed to be investments in my future. Now it all seemed like such a waste of time. I really didn’t want to live if phonomancy all turned out to be a delusion.
Manseau’s difficult experiences had yielded one potentially useful visionary idea. It was communicated to him that he was struggling with a demonic entity, an aspect of Resistance. According to the writer Steven Pressfield, Resistance is a metaphysical force that opposes human creativity. It is often mythologized as The Devil.
During a ceremony, Manseau saw himself wrestling with a powerful, relentless, cunning opponent on a mat in a gym. The “opponent” represented the spiritual force that was blocking his attempts to access Transcendent Reality. It was communicated to him that he needed to grow so strong that he could hold this opponent down with one hand, and conduct a symphony with the other.
At the time, this seemed a laughable notion. But the desperateness of his situation (the depression caused by the seeming collapse of his belief system was compounded by the social isolation of the COVID-19 lockdown and financial strains) forced him to find a way to “adapt and overcome, or give up and die.” (Manseau, 2021)
He evolved a set of self-talk techniques that proved effective at helping him overcome his depression. When, in November 2020, he made his first tentative return to phonomancy and found himself once again blocked by a “demonic force,” he was able to use those same techniques while in an altered state of consciousness to endure. In his second attempt, on December 6th, he broke through into beliefspace again, and by February, he considered himself to have completely recovered. In an April 2022 interview he said,
Would I have preferred not to go through all that? Hell yes (laughs). It truly sucked. But my self-respect, my emotional self-control, my general sense of spiritual preparedness grew by leaps and bounds. When I looked back at the person I’d been even just a year before, I seemed like a child. I thought I’d had a grasp of the dangers involved in what I was doing, but really, I had no idea. Now, every time I prepare to do a ceremony, I know: this is a matter of life-and-death. This could kill me. That kind of thing really focuses the mind (laughs). It ensures you know your why. Why are you doing this to yourself? And my answer was, “Because God is asking me to.”
A month before things got really bad, I’d had a dream: something that looked like a black catcher's mitt said to me, "You may bleed from the nose and mouth as they remove your spirit and implant a new one. It will last for ten thousand years. You will be immortal."
I figured this was all part of that process of spirit upgrade. Ten thousand years isn’t exactly immortality, but I decided to trust it anyway.
In May 2021 Manseau won $237 million in the national Powerball lottery. He wrote,
Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, American culture has been greatly shaped by Christianity, for both good and ill. And one of the effects of that is a kind of conditioned thinking about religion and religious figures--the only reason to take someone making claims to prophecy seriously is if they can perform miracles, or at least, have miracles occur around them. You know, like Jesus. When it was just me saying, “Look, the Divine is real, it’s an experience you can have, here’s what you do to have it,” nobody cared. For phonomancy to catch on, it needed an establishing miracle. A physical miracle, like turning water into wine, not just a psychological miracle like, you know, getting the Goddess to speak to you.
But basically any kind of physical miracle, walking on water, manifesting ectoplasm, whatever--in this day and age, it could be dismissed as CGI. Fake news. There is only one miraculous substance our culture believes in, and that’s a vast amount of money. And that’s why things worked out as they did. Winning the Powerball was the physical miracle that is proof of the Divine endorsement for our mission. (Manseau, 2023)
Given that he had uploaded videos of himself to YouTube predicting this outcome, this is taken by many adherents of Phonomanticism as prima facie evidence that Manseau was a true prophet and that his claims of a divinely-ordained mission should be taken seriously. Skeptics such as Sam Harris III allow that winning the lottery is an astronomically unlikely event, but maintain it still does not necessarily follow that God exists.
The First Phonomantic Church
Having taken a lump sum payment and settled taxes on his lottery winnings, Manseau was left with working capital of a little over one hundred million dollars. He set aside $1 million to settle debts for certain friends and establish college funds for the children of others, then hired a financial planner to invest another $40 million, seeking a 10% per annum return that would be donated to his planned 501c 3 religious non-profit entity, the First Phonomantic Church, in order to cover operational costs until new revenue streams could be generated.
The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret was an entheotainment, but my hope was that it wouldn’t be the entheotainment. Once people caught on to the concept, I figured they’d run with it, and use the music they loved and their experiences of the Divine to craft experiences that would attract people like them, people I might not reach with the FCDB. I pictured an extended community that was like a vast field of overlapping Venn diagrams of taste. As an organizational epithet, “The First Church of David Bowie” was too limiting in scope to this. “The First Phonomantic Church” puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the practice. (Manseau, 2021)
Relocation to Los Angeles
Relocating to Los Angeles, Manseau began assembling the team that would help him establish Phonomanticism as the most popular of the dozens of new religions that emerged during the tumultuous decades of the early 21st Century. The project was multi-pronged: financial, legal, marketing, and production.
His next step was to hire the entertainment law firm Frost Brown Todd to help him deal with intellectual property issues, as well as connect him with a business manager, a brand development agency, and a production company. While working with these to chart a course that would bring the FPC to market dominance, he spent the remainder of 2021 intensively training in the variety of skills he believed a phonomancer should possess.
Of this period he wrote,
I had a vision of what a fully-fledged phonomancer would be like. First and foremost, they’d be not a shaman, but a showman--that is, a sacred entertainer, someone able to go into trance states and access other planes of existence while on stage before a crowd. They would be a convincing performer, able to sing in a really wide range of styles, from dance pop to heavy metal to indie folk, and dance in a way that was not just expressive of the emotional content of each song, but actually fun to watch. And they’d be in great physical shape, so they’d be nice to look at, but also because they’d need to have the stamina necessary to perform for almost four hours.
Beyond that, I could see that acting training would be necessary in terms of expanding the phonomancer’s emotive range and flexibility, which would make it easier to achieve gnosis by priming the affective pump, so to speak. Finally, anyone doing this work would need to be engaged in a long-term program of psycho-spiritual development, too. Otherwise there’s a real risk of going off the rails on the crazy train.
It was an easy thing to imagine in a fictional context, but to do it for real--that was another story. So I hired Grant Roberts, the personal trainer who got Kumail Nanjiani shredded for The Inhumans, and voice coach Micah Plissner, who worked with Maynard James Keenan, and studied American Cabaret and Tribal Fusion dance with Rachel Brice. I also took acting classes and entered Jungian analysis.
For six months I trained six hours a day, trying to realize this vision I had of a shamanic priest who was also a skilled entertainer. Then I finished up by going to Peru, where I did an ayahuasca retreat and dieted datura, also known as Toé, for three weeks.
At that point, it was time to go public, even though in terms of my abilities, I was still far from my ultimate vision. But the clock was ticking, and I needed to put the next phase of the plan into action, whether I really felt ready or not. Like Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you’ve got.” (Manseau, 2023)
This period was documented by the filmmaker Heidi Ewing, who accompanied Manseau everywhere he went. She has claimed that Manseau enjoyed her acerbic and skeptical style of questioning. Every week, dozens of hours of footage was cut into ten minute videos that were posted to social media. These early videos have served as primary source material for the academic study of Phonomanticism as a new religious movement, useful for researchers in that they are a record for Manseau’s evolving doctrines and mythological stories.
The videos’ high production values and the amusing back-and-forth between Ewing and Manseau, whom she portrayed as a would-be cult leader, helped Manseau’s Pa Dammit, Phonomancer YouTube channel achieve some minor popularity. While claiming to disdain social media, Manseau acknowledged it as a necessary step in promoting his teachings, and so hired Internet marketers Rainmakers to manage his social media presence. By January 2022 he had a little over 150,000 followers.
Manseau once said that the Phonomantic Church’s marketing strategy was inspired by a line from the 1970 rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar: “If you’d come today you could’ve reached a whole nation / Israel in 4BC had no mass communication.” The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret, his prototype entheotainment, would be staged as a full-scale theatrical event, but in order for people to understand it, he realized, the public would need context. Fully understanding the experience it offered required at least a glancing familiarity with and appreciation for popular culture history, depth psychology, comparative religion, comparative mythology, and ethnopharmacology.
The decision was made to document the process of teaching a group of people how to do phonomancy as part of the larger project of scaling up the Shamanic Cabaret’s production values, and package the footage as episodes of a reality show. As Manseau wrote,
We needed a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. So we cast the smartest, sexiest people we could find. (Manseau, 2023)
Annapurna Pictures was engaged to provide casting, production, post-production, and logistical support for the project. Frost Brown Todd worked to secure licensing for all the songs in the production. Music licensing amounted to nearly half of the project’s $18 million production budget. Another $5 million was set aside for marketing.
When Ewing asked Manseau if he was ever afraid he was throwing away money, he said,
The only reason I have money is to spend it on this. I’ve got literal angel investors (laughs) and they’ve got expectations. I’ll spend every dime I’ve got to make this happen.
As Season One cast member Akasha Cohen described the experience,
It was an interesting casting process. My agent heard about auditions for a jukebox musical movie and sent me in. At the first meeting, Heidi Ewing, who was directing, explained that they were putting together a project that would be a little like the fictional movie-inside-the-movie in La La Land--a project with no script, per se. We’d be on location for six months, playing versions of ourselves, improvising our way through dramatic situations. The set-up was we’d be learning parts in a jukebox musical, and the twist was the musical was actually a magic ritual, and we’d be performing it while on mushrooms. I started laughing when they said that--totally thought they were kidding. Nope!
They asked if I liked rock music, which I do, and if I had any experience with psychedelics, which I did. They asked me to tell them about that, and to dance and sing along to one of my favorite songs on Spotify. They got it all on video, and that was that. Two weeks later I was invited for a second interview. This one was with a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and they gave me a full psychological screening. The casting director told me they’d call, and you know what that means, so I got busy and forgot about it and then one day my agent told me I was in. A week later I was meeting Pa Dammit (Manseau) at Our Lady Star of the Sea.
Our Lady Star of the Sea was a recently desacralized church in Santa Cruz, CA the FPC had purchased and was renovating into a theater. State of the art sound, lighting, and special effects were installed under the supervision of Manseau’s friend Brand Inman, who had been hired to act as Executive Producer for the show. In the documentary Ewing produced, Manseau said he was inspired by how the producers of John Cameron Mitchell’s musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch had renovated a run-down theater in the Lower East side into an incubator/rehearsal hall/performance space.
Later, when Manseau was challenged by Ewing on-camera about being ageist in his casting for the show, he said,
Casting choices were made with prejudice, I admit.
Part of it was practical: I was trying to recruit and train the next generation of phonomancers. Phonomancers are a species of popular entertainer, and the most popular entertainers tend to be young and physically attractive. It’s simply part of the appeal. That said, our final casting choices were made in order to have the most diverse cast possible in terms of ethnic and gender identity, so it wouldn't only be people who were attractive to me.
Because part of it was selfish: I found it energizing to be around these smart, talented, beautiful people--I’m sure in the footage you can see there’s an erotic edge to my interactions with them, although I was careful not to get involved with any of the actors. Honestly, i was just trying to make myself less vulnerable to charges of being a NXIVM-type sex cult leader.
Finally, there was also the fact that I needed these people to believe. Younger people are simply more neuroplastic than older people. They could project a father image on me, trust that I was leading them to something good, and adopt my interpretive model for the psychedelic experience as their own. People in my cohort would’ve had a harder time with that.
On the first day of shooting (coincidentally, Manseau’s 52nd birthday on 26 April 2022), Manseau explained that of the twenty actors who’d been invited to be part of the project, he only expected about a dozen to make it into the full-scale performances that would be recorded in October.
We’re going to be training about eight hour a day, five days a week. The schedule will look this: up at 7AM, coffee, group meditation, jiu jitsu, and classroom instruction. Morning classes will cover a lot of territory: history of religion and mysticism, concepts of depth psychology, theories of narrative. After that, it’s time for dance rehearsal. Then we break for lunch and a nap.
At 2PM we’re back at it: individual singing practice, more classroom stuff (this time a broad overview of Western popular culture, and then phonomantic concepts), strength training, dinner, then practical rehearsals for the show. We’ll work through every song, arranging harmonies, choreographing the dances, discussing the psychological tasks. We wrap everything by 8PM. Then you’ve got two hours of reading time, and then we do it all again the next day.
You get two weekends off a month. The other two, on the Saturdays, we take mushrooms together and perform the phonomantic rite. The first Saturday will be a little less formal; you’ll be free to take notes and work through your process any way you need to. The second session will be technically a dress rehearsal, incorporating all the elements introduced during that week’s practical rehearsals. On the Sundays of ceremony weekends we hang out together and work on integrating whatever it was we experienced the night before.
Let me be upfront: it’s going to get pretty weird. So out of you twenty, some will quit and go home, just because it all gets too weird and culty. It’s possible that, despite our screening process, this work might trigger mental health crises in a couple of you, and you’ll need to withdraw and recover. But some of you will be out for no reason other than my say so. I’m sorry if that seems unfair, but that’s how it is. It’ll be for one of a couple reasons.
The first would be disruptive behavior. If you can’t take mushrooms in public and keep your shit together, if you get anxious during the ceremony and have a freakout that distracts everyone else, that poses a serious problem. I’m not saying you won’t be supported; in ceremony, we’ll have guides standing by, and a chill room, and a psychiatric NP standing by if things get really bad. If you need them, those resources are there. But if you need them more than once, you’re not ready to do this work. So I’ll send you home.
Same goes for disruptive behavior outside the ceremony. You’re all relatively young, dynamic and beautiful, and you’re here for six months, so of course there will be crushes and hook-ups and relationships. We’re expecting it. Just remember that a) it’s all going to be recorded for the show--there are cameras everywhere on the property, including your cabins, and b) if there’s drama, you have to keep it to a whisper. No scenes, no blow-ups, no flame-outs, nothing. It’s fine if you find yourself needing to avoid someone, but keep it professional. And if something does happen and it comes out during ceremony and I notice it--you’re out. No appeals. So my advice is, don’t get it on with someone unless you’re sure the risk is worth it.
The second reason will be if, at a certain point, you’re not operating at a certain level of belief. I am contending with immense forces here, invisible forces that are determined to stop me from bringing my ideas before the world. I know that sounds paranoid and maybe a little insane, but that’s the reality I live in, and I need to be around people I can count on when I’m in the shit. That’s a matter of personality type and chemistry, but also belief. If, by a certain point, you don’t believe this is all for real, or at the very least think there is something very interesting happening, even if you don’t know what it is, it’s just not going to work. I’ll feel your unbelief, and it will fuck me up.
This is not an invitation to be a suck up. Don’t try to fake it for my sake. I’ll know. If my teachings and these experiences don’t convince you about the validity of my claims, walk away. I want you to fully be yourself, so when you watch the show, and the movie, you can feel like, “I acted with integrity.”
Manseau went on to explain the goal of the training regimen:
You’re here to learn how to be my Rhythm Phonomancers. The first job of an RP is to model for the rest of the audience how to take part, how to be in the band, so to speak. When to be quiet, when to sing along, how to dance to songs that might not seem suitable for dancing. And, especially, how to do the inner work of the ritual: how to purposefully put yourself into certain emotional states, and then observe the resulting visions.
The Rhythm Phonomancer’s other job is to support the Lead Phonomancer--in this case, me--as she or he or they perform the work. Not only will I be on a higher dose of the substantia, as you’ll see, I am subject to attack by all manner of invisible forces attempting to inhibit or even completely destroy my performance. The effect of these attacks can be a great deal of physical pain and difficult emotions such as apathy, despair, or a fearful sense of impending madness. In those moments, I’ll be looking to you as my RPs to reassure me, like, “Hey, we’re with you, you can do this,” by putting in one hundred percent effort and giving me nodes of belief I can connect to.
If, six months from now, you’ve proven you can perform these functions while on a heroic dose of the psychedelic substantia, I’ll give you one of these fancy diplomas. (Holds aloft a paper printed with scrollwork and calligraphy). You’ll be a certified phonomancer.
During their orientation, Manseau taught the group meditation method designed to instill a “cognitive stance” that promoted vivid visionary experiences. The instructions were simple: sit with your eyes closed, but look at a point about six inches in front of you. If you noticed yourself thinking about something, simply go back to looking.
In Week Thirteen, Manseau introduced a variation of looking in which the trainee phonomancers were to carefully study the music video for the Go-Gos song “Turn to You,” then watch it again with eyes closed, trying to visualize all the action on screen, occasionally peeking to see if their visualization was accurate. The group was asked to perform these exercises mornings and evenings for twenty minutes
In the classroom, actors were taught Jungian psychology (to familiarize them with the concepts of the Shadow, the Anima and Animus, the Self, and other archetypes), comparative religion (to provide context for Manseau’s highly idiosyncratic, syncretic religious ideas), comparative mythology (with an emphasis on the popular works of Joseph Campbell), and dramaturgy. Courses were taught by subject matter experts Manseau had hired for the length of production. Classes on the history of Western popular music were taught by Manseau himself.
For physical training, cast members studied Brazilian jiu jitsu (to learn a combat mindset), and engaged in a strength & conditioning program based on Manseau’s By the Numbers GPP Training method (to build baseline strength, stamina, endurance, and mental grit).
In terms of performance training, cast members had periods of individual and group practice every day. A voice teacher was also on-location, although the actors were allowed to work with their own vocal coaches via Skype if they preferred. Group practice was folded into practical rehearsal for the show, revolved around the songs in the Shamanic Cabaret, and were supervised by the on-site voice teacher. Dance training consisted of a 90 minute group training session and then additional dancing as the Manseau, the cast, and the dance instructor collaborated on choreography for the show.
Said cast member Castille Jones,
He was an okay singer for an amateur, and as a dancer, well, he was a fit fifty year-old white man with good rhythm and no training. Certainly his performance skills weren’t on a level that he should be starring in a musical.
Honestly, at first, I was a little ashamed to be there taking his money--the things he was saying, the claims he was making, I felt like I was taking advantage of a mentally ill person, an untalented narcissist with messianic delusions and a vanity project. Then after a few months I was really nervous and thinking seriously about going home because weird things were happening. People were claiming to break through to beliefspace, that God was talking to them, and I was like, “I do not want to get sucked into this cult!”
But by the end I was just like, “This is fucking incredible and I’m so lucky to be in on the ground floor.” I finally got it. I wanted to know everything he knew, and I wanted to help the world know, too.
The cast was guaranteed a salary of $50,000 for six months’ work, whether or not they made it through the entire training cycle (any actor who quit or were dismissed before the mid-point were paid an undisclosed reduced amount). Those who earned their phonomancer certification and appeared in the final performances would earn another $50,000. Manseau then made a secondary offer: any certified phonomancer who learned the Shamanic Cabaret show well enough to perform it as Lead Phonomancer could apply for a $3 million grant to develop and stage their own entheotainments. Grants would be awarded by the FPC Board of Directors. As Manseau later said,
I needed apostles who could take this stuff into the future. (Manseau, 2023)
Although cast members were denied access to mobile devices during the week, on the weekends they were encouraged to promote the project on social media, drawing from a media bank Spheeris’ put together from footage shot by the production crew, footage captured by surveillance cameras, and photos taken by professional photographers invited on set.
On the evening of April 26th, 2022, Manseau performed his one-man version of the Shamanic Cabaret. The actors ingested chocolates containing a “minimum effective dose” of cubensis mushrooms (1.75g - 2.5g, depending on body size) and participated. In that initial outing, two cast members had to retreat to the “chill room” in order to work through anxiety. Another was unphased emotionally, but so lethargic he had to sit down through almost the entire performance. During the debriefing session the next day, Manseau explained that in the future non-participation in prescribed ritual actions would be grounds for dismissal.
By the following Monday, when training started, one cast member had already departed. During his exit interview, actor Ben Wyatt stated that he was going home because “this (was) all too creepy” and he “didn’t want to get caught in a siege with the ATF.”
Cast development proceeded as Manseau had outlined.
The ultimate goal of the plan Manseau, Inman, and Ewing had put together was the release of a pair of movies. One was a two-hour documentary film about the development and staging of a full-scale production of The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret. The other was a concert film of the show, depicted in real time, that ran for nearly four hours.
Marketing for the movies, and for the FPC itself, would be jump-started by a reality show called The Phonomancers. The Phonomancers consisted of 20 minute episodes posted weekly to YouTube. Produced by Inman and directed by Ewing, it presented the raw experiences of cast members from the moment they were picked up at San Francisco International Airport until the day they left Our Lady Star of the Sea and returned home.
In terms of aesthetic style, it was closely modeled on the SyFy series The Magicians. Major sets--the theater, the convocation room, the classroom, the rehearsal hall--were decorated in a manner that recalled the fictional Breakbills College. Cast members were depicted training, studying, rehearsing, eating together, having sex, and generally coming to grips with extraordinary experiences while isolated from the “real world”. No aspect of their lives at Our Lady Star of the Sea was off-limits.
Extensive use was made of the reality show technique known as the Confessional, in which actors worked out their own thoughts while on camera. In addition, special effects and editing were used to insert psychedelic and “magical” elements (halos, glowing runes flowing from the fingertips of a gesturing hand, angelic beings superimposed on groups, demonic faces emerging from the walls behind an actor, etc.)
Accusations were made that elements of the show were scripted. Manseau freely admitted that was true. Capturing audience interest and incorporating certain themes were more important than any pretense to journalism. He was quoted saying, “We were creating an origin story. Parts of it were fictionalized, but in a hundred years, that won’t matter.”
The combination of attractive young actors, sex, drugs, mysticism, and performance proved enticing, and The Phonomancers became a viral hit. Cast members had been encouraged to make weekly reaction posts to their social media to comment on events and interactions that had been portrayed in previous episodes in the show, and many became virally popular in their own right. Three actors received offers of representation before the shoot was even finished.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert (2023), Manseau said,
But of course the point wasn’t to have a hit show or become famous; the point was to popularize phonomanticism. So I gave away thousands of copies of my books, and I made the original versions of the movies for the Cabaret free to download. We had snippets of actual ceremonies regularly appearing in episodes of the show, along with the cast talking about their experiences. And by the end we had people like Russell Brand and Zoe Kravtiz coming up to hang out and join in the Cabaret--that made TMZ (laughs). I did everything but mail out packs of chocolate-covered mushrooms to make phonomanticism go viral (laughs).
Inspired by The Phonomancers, people in areas where psychedelics had been decriminalized began having “Cabaret parties” in which they would take mushrooms and then watch the music videos Manseau had prepared for the first performances of his prototype entheotainment.
Many who had good experiences in this context, and especially enjoyed the performative aspects of phonomantic work, began posting requests to the FPC’s Facebook page for information about how they might audition to join the show’s cast. The syllabus for the classes the cast were taking on the show were posted online, as was supplementary footage of training and rehearsal sessions.
Through social media, Manseau requested anyone interested in joining the cast of the Shamanic Cabaret to begin writing a blog about their efforts and experiences, as well as posting videos of their progress mastering the developing vocal arrangements and choreography of the show. Rainmakers, the FPC’s social media management firm, was instructed to keep an eye on these, and to bring any promising prospects to Manseau’s attention.
After six months, the initial cast of 19 had been reduced to 12. By Week Four, Manseau had sent five actors home. When questioned by Ewing as to why, he refused to explain his reasons beyond, “They weren’t a good fit.” Two more departed after a romantic affair turned sour and they had a heated argument during a Saturday night ceremony in Week Nine. Two actors left voluntarily immediately after the Week Twelve threshold for receiving the full salary of $50,000. The final dismissal was due to a psychotic breakdown suffered by an actor during Week Fourteen that required a two-week hospitalization.
With ten weeks until the dates of the full-scale performances, and needing to find an additional three trainees to bring the troupe to the cast of 12 the show required, Manseau invited three would-be phonomancers who had auditioned and interviewed remotely. This development alarmed several of the original cast, who had become bonded by their training experiences. When they expressed their reservations, Manseau asked that they accept and mentor these newcomers as part of the team, telling them,
In the future, you’re not necessarily going to be performing ceremonies with the same people every time. Sometimes you’ll work with people that have an energy that doesn’t attract you. They may even have the opposite effect on you. That’s just another manifestation of Resistance. It’s going to get even worse, so much worse, when you’ve got an audience to contend with. Not everyone who comes to the show is going to be on your side, and you’ll really feel it. So to prevent that from fucking you up, you have to start getting ready now. Every situation that makes you uncomfortable is an invitation to grow as a person. You’ve got to get stronger.
From the beginning, the ideas and practices Manseau presented in The Phonomancers were controversial.
Conflicts with the Psychedelic Establishment
Besides the fact that psychedelics were still illegal in most parts of the country, those who supported the medical and therapeutic use of entheogens to treat depression, PTSD, and addiction issues regarded Manseau’s approach to working with these substances as irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst.
Psychotherapist Hilary Dunn wrote,
People under the influence of hallucinogens should not be subjected to stress. They are in a vulnerable state, and can easily be traumatized. Manseau’s show involves loud, aggressive music, disturbing costumes, and explicit images of Holocaust atrocities. Any therapist working in the psychedelic space who is not speaking up and warning people away from this “Shamanic Cabaret” is guilty of malpractice. So-called “phonomancy” flies in the face of fifty years of careful research and established best-practices. (Dunn, 2022)
Manseau acknowledged that phonomancy was not for everyone.
Psychedelic therapists are like physical therapists; they are trying to return ill or injured people to a state of normal functioning. And to a certain extent, Hilary is right: people dealing with any sort of serious mental health issues should not engage in phonomancy.
Because in my approach, I’m like a strength & conditioning coach. I can take healthy people and help them develop supranormal capacities. This is accomplished via the judicious application of stress to ceremony participants in an altered state of consciousness. Properly framed, stress is beneficial; in fact, to create change, it’s necessary. We’ve just figured out a way to make it fun.
Conflicts with the Political Establishment
Some editorials claimed that Manseau was promoting drug use to teenagers. His response was,
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I don’t think people under the age of 25 should do psychedelics--and I know this is a case of do as I say, not as I did. I don’t think your average adolescent’s sense of self is strong enough yet. That’s just opinion based on anecdote, though.
I will say that we do, right now, need to recalibrate our attitudes towards these substances. When I hear a phrase like “promoting drug use,” I know that whoever is using it is still conditioned by years of government propaganda to conflate psychedelics with narcotics and stimulants. They are not all the same, and even though psychedelics can be used recreationally, I think that the more we learn about them, the more we’ll come to realize that’s a profanation. To get the most out of them, we need to take them seriously. We need to treat them as sacred. (Manseau, 2022)
Several political leaders made calls for Manseau to be arrested for drug dealing, and Manseau avoided travel to any state where psilocybin mushrooms had not been decriminalized.
Conflicts with the Religious Establishment
Manseau received heavy condemnation from Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and from Christian evangelical leaders, who accused him of devil worship. Manseau was reported to enjoy this criticism enormously and often posted videos of himself reacting. In a clip uploaded to YouTube in July 2022 he said,
Hell yeah we’re devil worshippers--just not in the way you mean it. Understand: the Divine Self has its Shadow, and you’ve got to come to terms with It, relate to It, if you’re ever going to have a mature relationship with the God/dess. That Shadow--what you call the Devil--is real, and does want to destroy you, but the way to defeat Him is not to hide from Him, but put Him in harness. The energy of the Shadow archetype is absolutely enormous, and it can be put to any use one desires. What looks to you like devil worship is in fact us transforming the Unholy into the Sacred. We burn shadow to make light.
I’ve got no problem with Christianity. Christianity is part of the DNA of the Phonomantic Church, syncretistically blended with neo-Platonism, indigenous shamanism, science fiction, and rock ‘n roll. But I’ve got a real problem with the institutions of Christianity, and I’m here to tell you: I intend to drink your milkshake. I’m going to steal all your customers. I’m going to put you out of business, because your product is the very death of religion, of real religion, as opposed to a means of social control disguised as salvation.
We are here to fulfill the promise you’ve squandered: to facilitate the return of the Christ. But not just one Christ, ten billion Christs, ten billion people who can incarnate the Divine in their consciousnesses and broadcast that energy out into the world. (Manseau, 2021)
After making this statement in an interview with Rolling Stone writer Erik Davis, Manseau received death threats that the FBI regarded as “actionable.” He began traveling with a bodyguard, former UFC champion and transgender activist Jennie-Rose Nyugen.
Annapurna Pictures was able to place the FCDB documentary at several notable film festivals, including South by Southwest (where it won the prize for Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling) and the Telluride Film Festival. It became available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video on December 15, 2022.
Later, when the concert film was released into theaters, some people brought their own costumes and performed elaborate vocal arrangements and dance routines in sync with the actions of the phonomancers onscreen. Many were on mushrooms. At first these ad hoc performances were considered disruptive, but quickly became the reason to attend. Comparisons were made to audience participation at midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1980s and The Room in the 2010s.
Many reported multiple viewings. Said one regular attendee, who asked to be identified only as Pa Brian,
We’ve been working at home with the original phonomantic rite videos Pa Dammit uploaded. But seeing in a theater, on a huge screen with a good sound system, that was mind-blowing. It was like the Ludovico Technique crossed with the super soldier creation process in Captain America. It’s almost too intense to bear, but then you’re in there with a big group of people all going through the same thing, and you’re thinking, If they can take it, so can I, and you get through it.
It just works. It jailbreaks you from maya and allows you to enter beliefspace. I simply cannot wait to see this live. I’m going to train my ass off for that.
At this point, Manseau’s personal management began a campaign to increase his standing as an authority on psychedelic use. Beginning with appearances on podcasts, he soon expanded his public speaking to giving lectures at conferences (the invitations, it was rumored, came after generous donations to the host organizations). Highlights of his publicity efforts included appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience, Sean Evans’ Hot Ones show, and a two-hour interview with controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson.
At the same time, the FPC’s media managers at Rainmakers used their contacts to procure invitations to various Hollywood events and after parties for Manseau and several of the breakout social media stars among the FCDBSC cast. The FPC’s cachet increased among a certain set of actors and musicians. Weekly posts to YouTube of The Phonomancers continued, now incorporating footage from live performances. Episodes that depicted Emma Watson, Ryan Gosling, and Timothée Chalamet participating in the phonomantic rite attracted millions of views. TMZ and other tabloid journalism sites, initially highly critical of this new “cult,” shifted their tone as more celebrities described their experiences with phonomanticism.
Of these developments, Manseau said,
You could accuse us of starfucking. It’s all a means to an end. We are trying to educate the public on so many fronts: not just undoing the propaganda that has convinced the public that psychedelics are dangerous, but also addressing the fact that in the United States, the idea of religion has been largely poisoned by the actions and hypocrisy of institutional Christianity.
We want to rehabilitate (the idea of religion). We’re trying to teach people the concept of the numinous, which is to say, what “sacred” really means. The wildness of the Divine Reality, Its bottomless depths and the celestial heights, the shattering beauty of It. It’s a big job, and we’re going to use every means at our disposal to get it done.
When asked if Americans were open to a new definition of religion, Manseau said,
They will be if we package it correctly, with the proper balance of adventure, pathos, and sex appeal. Look at the success of the Marvel movies. There are a lot of people in this country who, in their heart of hearts, want to be superheroes. We’re offering them the chance to become one. (Manseau, 2023)
The First Phonomantic Temple
renovated a desacralized church in Los Angeles to serve as a
“phonomantic temple.” It was designed and equipped to serve as fully
functional strength & conditioning gyms, rehearsal halls, and
performance spaces. When Manseau and company were on location, the
phonomantic temple was open to the public for free classes in BTN-style
General Physical Preparedness training, vocal rehearsals, and dance
Manseau said that it was intention to create community spaces where people could train the skills and capacities necessary to meet the demands of phonomantic work. During the explosion of interest in phonomanticism after his death, the FPC actively sought ailing CrossFit gyms to purchase and renovate, because much of the necessary equipment and infrastructure were already in place.
Another church was purchased and converted in Vancouver, BC, and then out-of-business warehouse gyms in Seattle and Portland. Soon Manseau and his troop of rhythm phonomancers were performing shows every three weeks, rotating locations each time.
The Sacred Marriage of Jesus and Mary
Manseau said that he regarded The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret to be a “permanent work in progress.” In 2023 he wrote,
The structure of that ceremony will never change. The song list will probably never change, but I leave open the possibility. What will continue to evolve, I think, are the visuals, the music videos and the special effects.
The music videos that accompany the songs help condition the participants’ aesthetic experience. If we come across new found footage or new imagery that we think will enable people to feel some subtle but important aspect of the energy we’re calling in, we’ll incorporate it.
As technology develops, too, with holograms and whatnot, we can make additions to the stage show that will increase the information density in the room. You know, crank it up to eleven. We’ll just keep refining and refining it.
Having brought his “working prototype of the central ceremony of the religion of the science fictional future” to that point, Manseau turned his attention to creating his next entheotainment. Although it was never completed, its working title was The Sacred Marriage of Jesus and Mary. As Manseau described it,
It’s a mashup of Jesus Christ Superstar, Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet, and the myths of Osiris and Orpheus. It was inspired by the fact that in the Christian myth Jesus’ mother and love interest share the same name, which suggests a degree of ambiguity in the differentiation of their characters, psychologically-speaking. It also draws on a motif found in various Goddess mythologies: the Goddess has a consort, the Horned God, who is both Her lover, and Her son. This lover is killed, and must be brought back to life.
The show starts with Jesus emerging from the desert. He is only eighteen years old. While being baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin John, Jesus had a vision of God telling him his destiny. It had so terrified him he’d fled into the desert, where he fasted and prayed and tried to come to grips with the experience.
In the New Testament stories, he manages to get into alignment with the Divine Will. He returns from the wilderness and begins his preaching. In this version of the story, he cannot bring himself to accept his divinely ordained mission. He comes back in town determined to not sacrifice his life for the good of the world.
To that end, he tells his friends he’s finally ready to join them on a trip to a brothel in the next town over. They’ve been going for several years now; but he’s always demurred. For reasons he himself couldn’t understand, he has kept himself pure, despite their teasing. Now though, pure is the last thing he wants to be. So he's going to fornicate. Jesus figures that with the stain of sin on him, God will no longer want him for His plans.
His pals are glad to take him. They select for him their favorite whore. When he meets her, Jesus is poleaxed. Mary is the most beautiful woman has ever seen.
Mary was found to be with child at the age of 13. Nobody listened to her stories of an angelic visitation. She had brought deep shame on her family, and when an arranged marriage to a much older man fell through, she was sold to the brothel. When the baby was delivered, she never saw it again.
She has worked in the brothel now for almost twenty years, is now in fact the owner, and she has known thousands of men. But she’s never met one that affects her like this slim youth she is now leading to her bed chamber.
That is because she is in fact his mother, and they are suffering a heavy-duty case of genetic sexual attraction. But there is much more to this situation than just that unhappy circumstance.
He is terribly nervous, and consequently impotent. She serves him wine and he, acting on impulse, pulls from his pockets a dried handful of a sacred plant he chewed to stave off hunger while wandering in the desert, and crumbles it into the goblet. They drink. The spiked wine is unearthly strong; it provokes them to spend hours dancing and singing. When she finally calms him to the point he can perform and takes him inside her, they have a mutual visionary experience that utterly outshines what Jesus saw while John was pouring river water over his head.
They are revealed as incarnations of the two penultimate aspects of the Divine, the Feminine and Masculine, the Goddess and Her Consort, the Dancing God. In the ecstasy of their sexual congress, they are One--the One, Being Its No-Self. The angelic Thrones shout with joy at this reunion. When They’ve had their climaxes and fall asleep in each others’ arms, this Self-revelation does not fully recede. They are human again, but remember just who They are. And more importantly, they remember that everyone in the brothel, and everyone in the town, and everyone in Palestine, and everyone in the world are all avatars of the Divine Couple as well--they’ve only forgotten. In their love for each other and all these aspects of Themselves wandering lost and lonely in the world, Jesus and Mary set out to remind them. Now that he is reunited with his Goddess, Jesus is no longer afraid of the task before him.
They begin throwing parties at the brothel, inviting all the customers to attend. They serve their special sacred wine, and dance and sing with the guests, until their spirits get so high they catch fire and the new friends know Spirit for themselves. All the stories in the Torah that had been just words, and the very Law itself, become illuminated for them; it’s not so much that they understand, they feel the Truth behind it all, and when the morning comes, they go home in the knowledge that they are immortal and everything is going to be alright.
Not surprisingly, these parties become very popular. Soon hundreds of people, thousands, are attending. They are held on Friday nights, and the next day people are sleeping off their exertions rather than attending services at the temple. The rabbis become agitated, and complain to the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin become agitated, and complain to Romans, and the Romans arrest Jesus and crucify him.
Jesus’ body is washed and anointed and laid in a cave. Mary sits beside the corpse, refusing to leave. She insists that their friends leave her there and roll the stone to block the entrance. She promises they can come get her in the morning. When they are gone, she fills a goblet with wine, and then adds a lethal dose of the plant they use at their sacred parties. But this isn’t a suicide--not exactly. She is going to find Jesus in the underworld and bring him home. They haven’t saved enough people yet--it’s all too likely that the Great Secret will be forgotten again if they don’t complete their work together. She closes her eyes, lays down on the stone slab beside his body, and dies.
Weakened by his brutal murder at the hands of the Enemy, Jesus was unrecognizable to the legions of demons who greeted him when the Boatman had delivered him to their shore of the River, and by order of their king, the Enemy of All, they tore his spirit body to shreds and scattered the pieces across the underworld.
But Mary passes from this world to the next with her full faculties. When she opens her eyes, she is the Great Goddess. She walks across the water, from the Shores of Life to the Shores of Death, and the demons cry with love and joy at her presence among them. They follow as She harrows hell in search of the remains of her Beloved.
Finally, when she has gathered all the pieces but one, she summons the Enemy himself to stand before her. Where, she demands, is Jesus’ penis? The Enemy opens a jeweled box and there it is, laying on a bed of velvet. When she reaches for it, though, the Enemy pops it into his mouth to chew noisily, insolently grinning the whole time.
“Your boyfriend is incomplete,” he says, and swallows. “As long as part of Him is here with Me, He cannot return to the Land of the Living.”
“Is that so?” Mary asks, and reaching out, snaps one of the huge horns off the Enemy’s head. She affixes it between Jesus’ legs. Looking pleased, she says, “There, better than new.”
She places Jesus’s complete, but still dead body on the Throne of Hell. She kneels before him. Then, filling Her lungs with the essence of Death, She takes his horn into her mouth and blows with all Her might to fill the body of Her consort, the Dancing God, with Her own Spirit.
His eyes open. He blinks and smiles at Her. He says, “What took you so long?”
By way of reply, She starts to sing one of Their favorite songs. Jesus stands up off the throne and begins to dance. His footsteps shake the bedrock beneath them and the abyssal void above them. The Enemy begins to laugh, and the demons about them begin to roar, and then all the souls in Hell join in too. The Enemy sloughs off his skin to reveal His true Self--he is Lucifer, the eldest of the Divine Couples’ children. It's all been a game they've been playing. The demons shake off their costumes, spread their angel wings, and raise their voices to join the rest of the Thrones in thunderous praise.
The tragicomedy is over. Now it’s time for the cast party.
Mary and Jesus sing and dance Their way back across the River from the Shores of Death to the Shores of life. Raising hell in Their train are Their First-Born Child and all the inhabitants of the underworld.
The great stone laid before the grave of Jesus shatters and explodes. Out of the cave and through the smoke come the Great Goddess and the Dancing God, followed by the Child who provided the Resistance necessary to create drama, and all the angels who’d been disguised as demons, and souls of every human being who had ever lived, each an aspect of the One, and yet each unique, with a destiny bequeathed at their creation by She Who Gives Birth to All.
Today the Divine Family celebrates; tonight They sleep. Tomorrow, They’ll begin another tale of agony and ecstasy and exultation and despair and damnation and salvation. And we, those of us who have forgotten our true natures, will suffer greatly as characters in that story.
And you might fairly ask, Why? We must we go through this? It's because the Great Goddess is, in a sense, a young girl sitting alone on the floor of her room. Her toys are arranged around her, and she's using them to tell herself stories, because they help pass the long afternoons, and because playing is what children do. We are nothing more, or less, than instances of Her imagination at work. We only really suffer to the extent we forget that.
The Great Goddess is also, in a sense, the audience for these stories; she is the Ultimate aesthete, and to Her, all emotions are beautiful (no matter how painful they are to us), and contemplation of beauty throughout eternity is the function of Being.
Manseau first recounted this story in public in October 2023, although later research indicates he’d been developing it since at least January of 2020, and had worked in ceremony through several different versions of the playlist with his “Gang of Five,” the rhythm phonomancers who made up his inner circle. He was reportedly gleeful at the outrage it caused, and unperturbed by the escalating threats against his life.
Premonitions of Death
In December 2023 Manseau participated in a panel organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies to discuss psychedelics and ideas of the afterlife. When asked by an audience member if his work with phonomancy had changed how he understood death, he said,
Oh, yeah, one hundred percent, it’s changed it. Well, fifty percent--in my adult life, I’ve never really been afraid of dying. I was more afraid of living (laughs). I was so unhappy with my lot in life, an early death seemed like a “get out of jail free” card, no matter what the results of Pascal’s wager. But now, even though I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m still not scared of death. Because I’m very clear about what I am, relative to who I really am, you know? I know what awaits me, because I’ve visited those places so often. To me, death is not a foreign land. Death is going home.
I even know how I’m going to die. Not when, but how. I’ve had visions of it. A stranger will emerge from a crowd and shoot me in the heart. Sometimes a ceremony is the setting, and sometimes I’m on in public, on the street. But either way, I feel a sudden, terrific punch in the chest before I even hear the bang. I stagger back and fall to the ground. Then someone is cradling my head and saying name. The world is going dark.
I take one final, difficult breath and speak my last words, the sum of all the wisdom I can offer. I say, “Squat better!” because it all starts with that. Then I start laughing and choking on blood until I die. I walk offstage to tumultuous applause on the other side and my spirit clan, who are waiting in the wings, they all wrap their arms around me and we cry with joy, because we did it, we pulled it off. We saved the world.
The Next Generation of Phonomancers
On December 11th, 2023, Astrid Gilberto, a member of the original cast of The Phonomancers, became the first person besides Manseau to lead a public performance of The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret. In a 2030 interview, she said,
I was actually kind of a late bloomer. When I arrived on the set of The Phonomancers, I was an agnostic. If you had pressed me for my idea of God, I might’ve said something about how I believed that the Earth possessed consciousness, and if we were going to worship anything, it ought to be Mother Gaia, not some archaic, patriarchal storm god. After a few months of ceremonies, though, I started to realize that Pa Dammit (Manseau) was on to something. I was seeing amazing things in my head, and more importantly, feeling amazing things. I had a couple breakthrough experiences when I felt that incredible energy of Spirit just taking me apart, sending me aloft. And then during the second ceremony we shot for the movie, the Goddess Herself spoke to me. At this point, everybody’s seen clip--me dancing in a way that was utterly not my style, singing with a voice that had never come out of my mouth before, my eyes all the way rolled back into my head.
It wasn’t that I was a different person after that, but I got a lot more serious about my training. The first thing I had to do was come to grips with the masculine energy work in the StereoMyth; I’d always kind of skated through that part, to be honest. But after my visit with the Holy Ma, I really put my nose to the grindstone to develop my capacity to embody the Soldier and the Shadow and the Devil and the Hunter, all the power stances necessary to endure attacks from Resistance when you’re leading the rite.
It wasn’t that my burning ambition was to lead the Shamanic Cabaret; that was just a means to an end. I had my own show I wanted to do. The Holy Ma had given me the subject: the rape of Persephone, except in this case she isn’t kidnapped, she gets with Hades in order to irritate her mother, Demeter, and to work out daddy issues resulting from her father Zeus never being around. I needed Pa Dammit’s money to produce it, so I had to meet his stipulations. But I never resented it, because I knew I was building skills and capacities I was going to need.
Gilberto applied for the US $3 million grant Manseau had promised anyone who was able to successfully lead the Cabaret. She received the award, on the condition she enter a one year “graduate study” program with Manseau.
I think he was surprised anyone could get to that point so quickly, and he really wanted to make sure I understood the finer points of constructing a phonomantic rite. The concept of entheotainment was his gift to the world, but it was still his baby. He felt some ownership. I could understand that. But I was a choreographer and a published novelist; I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed his imprimatur. So I made the deal a little more palatable by suggesting that we collaborate on curriculum to help other people design their shows, and he agreed. (Gilberto, 2049)
Gilberto’s entheotainment, which she titled This is Hard Kore (the Pulp song “Underwear” is used for the Ordeal stage), debuted on February 11, 2025, ran for nearly ten years, and has enjoyed periodic revivals. The first male phonomancer to act as Lead Phonomancer for the show was Austin Joachim Neitherlands, in 2040.
The curriculum Gilberto developed with Manseau became the basis of the one-year Our Lady Star of the Sea Phonomantic Certification program. Under her direction, Elliot Castle, a 35 year-old Jungian analyst and 2027 certified phonomancer, in 2031 became the second person to lead the Shamanic Cabaret. Castle never applied for the entheotainment grant, preferring to specialize in running the Cabaret. He wrote,
To me, the Shamanic Cabaret is a work of ineffable genius. Pa Dammit often referred to it somewhat disparagingly as a “working prototype,” but to me it has a savage vitality that the more sophisticated shows that have come along since then just can’t match. For my spiritual development, it’s simply been indispensable. The Cabaret has taught me to access and express so much of my deep personality, such a broad array of emotions...all the secrets are there. It’s as mysterious as the I Ching, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to the bottom of it. I know I’ll never master it. But I’m going to spend my life trying.
The only real regret I have is that I never got to see (Manseau) perform (the Shamanic Cabaret) in person. I’ve watched all the videos we have of him, and I’ve encountered him any number of times in visionary space, but I wish I could’ve once shaken his hand and told him “Thanks” for carrying (phonomancy) alone for as long as he did. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been. He was a hero. (Castle, 2033)
Manseau was killed on March 31, 2025 by 25 year-old Richard “Rusty” Templeton, a database programmer from Spokane, WA. According to FBI investigators, Templeton, who was unmarried and suffered from depression, was a regular on Christian Nationalist chat forums and social media, where Manseau was increasingly being “memefied” as an “Antichrist Agent” who would “put Christian families in concentration camps” if allowed to proceed with his stated ambition of making phonomanticism the “American religion of the 22nd Century, the world religion of the 23rd, and the interstellar religion of the 25th.” (Manseau, 2024)
Templeton was a regular contributor to such conversations, and his radicalization accelerated when a young woman from Tacoma he’d met on a Christian dating site, Tannis Schenk, began attending showings of The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret at a theater in Seattle and broke contact with him. As Templeton wrote on his Facebook page,
I know Tannis loved me. She told me so many times, “I am filled with Christ’s love for you.” Then she started hanging out with this cult. They gave her drugs and filled her head with devilish nonsense and now oh, big surprise, she claims she doesn’t love me, not like that. Because she is BRAINWASHED. That lesbo/trannie cult BRAINWASHED her. She is a brainwashed BITCH. It’s not legal, THEY TAKE DRUGS. Why won’t the cops doing something about it?!?
On the evening of March 30th, Templeton drove to Tacoma, broke into Schenk’s apartment, and waited for her to come home from her job as an emergency room nurse at MultiCare General Hospital. According to police investigators, she entered her apartment, put her bag down in the hall, then went into the kitchen, where Schenk shot her. There were no signs of struggle. Neighbors alerted by the sound of gunfire entered the apartment to find Schenk unresponsive on the floor, with the refrigerator door open and an unopened bottle of beer laying in the pool of blood.
After exiting Schenk’s apartment through the window he’d entered, Templeton drove to Seattle, where Manseau and the cast of The Phonomancers were preparing for a performance at the Century Ballroom, located at 915 E Pine St in the Capital Hill district. As he later told investigators, he had arrived in Seattle, left his car in a public parking structure, then walked over to the Ballroom. He arrived in time to see Manseau and his group exiting, and as they passed him on the sidewalk, he heard them discussing where to have lunch. Walking around the block to kill time until their return, he found a discarded cardboard sign asking for spare change, and returned to the theater entrance to wait, disguised as a panhandler. Witnesses interviewed later said they saw a young man panhandling with one hand holding a sign and the other in the pocket of his parka.
When Manseau and his entourage returned, Templeton called “Pa Dammit!” Manseau turned toward him, smiling, and stepped forward between two of his party. Templeton drew his gun and fired three times, hitting Manseau twice.
Gilberto, who was a witness, wrote,
The United States has had dozens of political assassinations, but this was a religious assassination. Rusty Templeton thought Pa Dammit was a threat to Christian values, and he was right. Because in America, now, intolerance and violence and misogyny and transphobia are contemporary Christian values, and the methods and beliefs Sean taught are intended to replace a religion that has become deeply perverted.
My hand was on the door to the Century when I heard the gunshots. I heard the first two, two quick pops that were as loud as an airliner crashing into a building, and as I was turning to look the glass door exploded next to my head. That was the third shot, which went wild because Jennie-Rose and Mike G. tackled Templeton. Jennie-Rose snapped his elbow with an arm-bar, but I heard about that later.
Even though I was further away, somehow I got to Sean first. I kneeled next to him and slid my arm under his head, to get him off the dirty sidewalk, which was a stupid thing to do. I think it obstructed his breathing. Then he looked up at me. He looks me straight in the eye, takes a breath, and says, “Squat better.” Then he starts laughing, because those were what he always said he wanted his last words to be! The smug fucking asshole! And there I am, thinking about how I’m feeling at this moment of incredible horror, wondering how it’s possible to both hate and love someone so much at the same time. It still amazes me, and yet, that’s what we had trained to do, to have that kind of self-awareness no matter what stressors we experience.
When they make the movie about his life, when they plot this scene, this is the image they need to focus on. Sean laughing and coughing up blood, and me crying my eyes out and laughing, too. Because this was what he always said was going to happen, and it did happen, and that should be all the proof anyone ever needs to know that everything about the First Church and everything he’d told us about the Goddess and the future, it was true. All true. So get with the program! (Gilberto, 2052)
After a pre-charging mental competency hearing, psychiatrist Dr. Denis Rasmussen diagnosed Templeton with “acute-onset schizophrenia, characterized by aural hallucinations and homicidal ideations,” and suggested he should not stand trial; the court considered her opinion, and rejected it. Templeton was found compos mentis, tried for first-degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 2065, having served thirty-nine years at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. It was reported that he joined the First Phonomantic Church and attended a number of ceremonies before he died in 2070.
Statements made by members of the “Gang of Five” would seem to indicate that they did not believe Templeton was wholly responsible for his actions. Given that he’d had no previous history of diagnosed mental illness, they claimed that his behavior was a classic example of psychopathology according to their model of “shamanic psychology”: Templeton had been preyed upon by a non-physical entity--a “demon”--that had infiltrated his local psychic space and planted suggestive thoughts that led to violence. Hence, he was a victim as much a perpetrator.
No official position was taken on this perspective by the FPC, and all cast members present for the incident served as prosecution witnesses.
Gilberto’s claim that Manseau’s last words were “Squat better” was controversial. Although several people present acknowledged they heard Manseau say something, there is no consensus as to what that was. A former Army medic who had been busking nearby, Geronimo Boyden, came over to offer first aid and heard Manseau say, “That’s better” after Gilberto cradled his head. Paul Taveres, the stage manager for the Century Ballroom, who had joined the FPC group for lunch, said in several interviews that Manseau said, “I never--” before coughing interrupted his statement. He later withdrew this claim, saying he wasn’t sure what he’d heard. When informed of these varying accounts in a 2025 interview, Gilberto maintained,
That’s all just Resistance. Pa Dammit said what I said he said.
In an unfinished manuscript with the working title Squat Until You’re Talking to Jesus: Physical Fitness, Psychedelic Shamanism, and Superhuman Self-Actualization, Manseau stated that if anyone was to come to him and ask where to get started with phonomancy, he’d tell them to first learn to squat correctly.
Sitting down on one's haunches and then standing back up--squatting--is a universal motor pattern. Everyone can do it, to one extent or another. If you never think about how you squat, it’s a mindless reflex. But if you work on it, it becomes a skill that develops other skills.
When we teach someone to squat, we break the movement down into three positions. We work on them one at a time until some basic competency is achieved, then in sequence, gradually building the complete movement. Using this approach builds the trainee’s proprioception and introduces the idea that good movement is aesthetic movement, i.e., that the more biomechanically correct in terms of joint rotation, alignment, and flexibility, the more pleasing it is to look at--the more beautiful.
Once the fundamental mechanics are mastered, you can stress test your squat by adding load, and then further by varying the placement of the load, then by making the loaded squat a component of multi-stage exercise like a clean. This complexification of the task of squatting develops increased capacity, in terms of the body’s ability to produce force, to balance, to endure. This increase in capacity is reflected by changes in the body’s musculo-skeletal structure. These changes are generally perceived as being pleasing to the eye--i.e., beautiful.
This process of disciplining oneself to face and overcome the physical challenges of squatting has a direct application to the work we do as phonomancers. Improving your proprioception will make it easier to learn to sing, as your increased body awareness allows you to sense and control the activity of the diaphragm, the position of the tongue and soft palate, the placement of resonance in the face, etc.
It’ll make it easier to learn how to dance, because time you’ve spent studying the way other people squat will make it easier to observe and imitate other people in order to acquire a vocabulary of movement. The stamina you’ve gained from performing tens of thousands of squats in a conditioning context will allow you to be up on your feet and dancing for hours in ceremony.
The squat also teaches lessons that can be applied to the psychological and spiritual aspects of what we do. One can learn to refine and master one’s emotions in exactly the way one learns, say, the squat’s third position. There are a dozen elements that comprise the bottom of a squat; they can be isolated, considered, then brought into harmony with each other, then practice to the point of unconscious competence: you can hit it without thinking about it. The same is true, say, of the Satanic rage we summon with the song “Blood and Thunder,” or the Christic devotion of “I Would for You.”
This way of working on the emotions we intentionally experience in the context of a phonomantic rite is a means to build affective strength and skill. We can feel more--that is, we are able to detect and explore aesthetic variations of a given emotion--and we can feel more deeply. These increases in capacity are reflected by changes in our psychological structure--our spirit. We become more beautiful, not least in the eyes of the Goddess, Who is the Apotheosis of Aesthetes when it comes to the emotions (and all things, now that you mention it).
Every aspect of the phonomancer’s art can be analyzed, practiced, and perfected. It’s a subtle and endlessly fascinating process of self-cultivation that is also a disciplined act of self-sacrificing devotion to the Divine. And it all starts with learning how to squat. And then squat better.
From Performance Art to Cult to World Religion
Manseau’s remains were cremated and his ashes mixed into molten iron used to cast custom sets of kettlebells that were distributed to all phonomantic temples. Painted in standard colors and lacking any other distinctive features, it was soon impossible to tell which kettlebells were urns and which were not. Consequently, a tradition has developed in which phonomantic trainees ritually say, “Thanks Pa!” when they return any kettlebell to storage after a workout.
After his death, there was an explosion of interest in the First Phonomantic Church. Performances of the Shamanic Cabaret live entheotainment regularly sold out, and theaters in dozens of cities began regularly programming the Shamanic Cabaret concert film, sometimes leading to protests and tense interactions with police. There were several dozen incidents of ceremony participants seeking medical attention due to adverse reactions to their psychedelic substances they had ingested. There were calls for the First Phonomantic Church to impose some sort of control over the situation.
In response, the FPC released a statement.
If this thing is going to work, there cannot be any centralized authority. No gatekeepers. The FPC will not be the Catholic Church, asserting authority based on lineage.
We can, however, offer suggestions of best practices based on our experiences. Pa Dammit extensively documented his concept of applying linear progression to the psychedelic space. Read his books and watch his videos. Heed his advice the way you would that of any good coach, someone who walked the walk as well as talked the talk, and worked very hard to figure out how to explain things so you wouldn’t take the lumps he did. Or don’t. It’s up to you.
Basically it comes down to this: practice alone, or in private with a couple trusted friends, until you’ve got a handle on the tasks involved. You need to be able to maintain your self-control no matter how intense your subjective experience. Once you’re reasonably certain you can keep your shit together, then seek out a group to perform with.
In terms of figuring out what are the best and safest situations in which to train this material together with others, use your best judgment. You can join a community put together by someone we’ve trained and credentialed, or someone who is self-taught, a hedge witch. Whoever it is, spend some time with them before ceremony. Attend their integration circles and rehearsal meetings. Get to know and trust them, and let them get to know and trust you. Don’t rush it. Community takes time.
It all comes down to one rule of thumb: act like a grown-up. That means taking responsibility for yourself, and looking out for other people.
Much was made of the fact that Manseau had predicted his own demise. Some saw it as a miracle and proof of sainthood; others claimed it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that he actively mocked those who threatened him. Sociologist and noted atheist Keith Wittenstein maintained the assassination had been an elaborate promotional hoax.
Whatever the truth was, in less than five years, Manseau had gone from unknown, marginally-employed performance artist to internationally venerated martyred prophet. By the end of 2025, the year of his death, Cabaret Parties had been documented in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Morocco, Russia, India, Korea, Australia, and Japan. Within ten years, phonomantic rites syncretically incorporating local religious and cultural traditions such as Islam, Advaita Vedanta, Judaism, voudon, and Pure Land Buddhism would be documented by anthropologists and scholars of new religious movements.
Although the First Phonomantic Church regularly published reviews of entheotainments (critics used a matrix of values to assign ratings, but according to Elliot Castle, the second certified Lead Phonomancer, the only criteria that mattered is, “Does it work? Does it help you achieve gnosis?” [Castle, 2032]), its only absolute criteria for whether it would promote a given work was if it contained a Rite of Atonement. As Peter Manseau wrote in his seminal memoir about his brother’s work, The Shepherd in Black,
The psychological and spiritual workout a given entheotainment offers is important, but ultimately, in terms of Sean’s stated mission and mythos of the First Phonomantic Church, what matters is the collective Shadow work. In his apocalyptic vision, human progress is stymied by the unrepented crimes of history: genocide, slavery, economic exploitation. Pressure is building; civilization-ending disaster is imminent unless humanity collectively owns these atrocities and acts to make amends. During phonomantic rites this collective ownership is taken by focusing on the fate of one person who was the victim of these crimes, and living it out in the psychedelically-amplified imagination.
The resulting experience is horrible, but it serves practically as a kind of psychological inoculation against repetition of those crimes, and symbolically as a removal of one small part of the energetic blockage that threatens to kill us all.
Only those entheotainments which offer some version of that work fulfill Sean’s vision of what the religion of the future should be.
Global Reparations Movement
The narrative monologue that opens the Anne Frank Working of The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret describes humanity’s path to its destiny as being blocked by a massive black wall that is made of coffin-sized stone blocks. Each block symbolizes a human being lost to genocide. Manseau stated the ultimate purpose of the Cabaret was preparation for a ritualized act of penance in which the participant has a visionary experience of Anne Frank’s suffering and death in Bergen-Belsen. He claimed that each time a person performed this rite of atonement, one block was removed from the wall, possibly allowing building pressure to escape, and forestalling an apocalypse.
In the complex “neon Gnostic” mythology Manseau laid out, the Holocaust and earlier genocides were part of a monstrous “pawn sacrifice” made by higher order entities playing a kind of realtime strategy game that was experienced by humans at this level of reality as history. It was meant to build up a terrific charge of negative energy which could be tapped in order to help propel humanity into the “science fictional future,” where they would be “the citizens of the Transcendent they were always meant to become.” (Manseau, 2019)
They key to this, he proclaimed, would be a religion that taught people first to recognize and integrate their individual Shadow, and then that of their society.
Manseau was not well-traveled and to a certain extent, the phonomantic mythos reflected that. Deeply embedded in American popular culture, he was highly aware of the American collective shadow contained tremendous horrors, including the Vietnam War, slavery, and the genocide perpetrated against the Native peoples of North America, but extending to the US’s vast economic and culture exploitation of other countries, support of authoritarian regimes, and massive sales of military weapons that caused countless deaths in small-scale conflicts.
In the phonomantic myth, America is the selfish, greedy protagonist who is forced to confront the damage he’s done, faces damnation, and pleads for a chance to change his ways. When clemency is granted, in his ecstatic gratitude he uses his bountiful resources to bring about a happy ending for all.
We’ve done some good in the world, but it doesn’t excuse the wrongs we’ve committed. When you do this work, you realize that. It’s what the early Christians called metanoia. A change of heart. Sometimes I call it, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a “come-to-Jesus” moment. It’s when you know, in your bones, that saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. You have to find a way to make things right.
The United States, he maintained, was directly or indirectly responsible for a very large amount of human suffering in the modern age. But due to its status as an economic superpower, it was in the best possible position to address that suffering.
Profound social change can only come about by the spiritual transformation of large groups of individuals. But Christianity has become so perverted from its original mission that its adherents have actually used it to justify and excuse their crimes. This is why we need a new religion, one based on a unique, direct, personal experience of a Transcendent Reality.
I call it a new religion, but really it’s an old religion. The only real religion. Historically, the problem has always been that eventually people always manage to lose the unmediated knowledge of God, and substitute doctrine. Doctrine hardens into dogma, and dogma disguised as religion has done tremendous damage.
Doctrinal disputes can be avoided by acknowledging that what is experienced through these efforts is a Transcendent Reality that cannot be accurately represented in conceptual thought; thus all descriptions or depictions of this Transcendent Reality are metaphors, not to be taken literally, and therefore not worth fighting about. They are all true, but only true to the extent they convey meaning or aesthetic emotion to the individual. By remembering this, by making it the front-and-center truth, we can prevent this spiritual transformation from calcifying into an institution of social control. (Manseau, 2021)
“Make it right” was an early by-word in the Phonomantic Church. At first it was implemented on a local scale, as communities based around urban Cabaret practice groups began collecting trash from homeless camps clustered around highway onramps. Phonomanticists also supported and helped pass city ordinances that decriminalized drug possession and created free treatment clinics for those with drug dependencies. Programs were instituted that allowed homeless people participating in FPC group workouts to avail themselves of a free shower and change of clothes; this led many to participation in phonomantic rites. Early studies indicated that phonomantic practice in conjunction with attendance of twelve-step group meetings permanently alleviated drug dependency in 80% of test subjects.
As the practicing membership in phonomantic temples grew in numbers from the dozens to the hundreds to the tens of thousands and up, they threw their weight and donations behind groups lobbying for the cause of reparations to the descendents of American slaves, resulting in a formal apology by President Wednesday Collins in 2089 and the passing of laws (the “Maafa Initiative”) that created a broad range of programs and endowments intended to provide some succor for the descendents of slaves.
By the late 21st Century, this political momentum has grown into what was popularly described as the “come to Jesus moment” Manseau had predicted, as political candidates openly expound the “Global Reparations Movement.” As Rihanna Delaney Washington (a member of the Deborah Harry Phonomantic Temple in New York’s Staten Island) said when she was sworn in as Senate Majority Leader,
I want the world to know that an-ever growing number of Americans have looked into our hearts, and we see we’ve done you wrong. We recognize that our wealth was built in large part on the exploitation of other countries who didn’t have privileged access to resources we did, or who didn’t benefit from accidents of history. We recognize that we have inflicted terrible harm on those peoples whose leaders did not bow to the policy dictates of our government. We recognize that our industrial economy is one of the primary causes of the climate catastrophe that is befalling coastal peoples around the world. We just want to say, we are so fucking sorry. So very, very sorry. And we are going to change. We are going to harness to your plight the most powerful economy the world has ever seen, and we are going to tow you out of the mire. We are going to the stars, baby, and we are taking you with us!
Space and Beyond
Manseau’s dream of phonomanticism becoming the first “interstellar” religion came a step closer to realization when his so-called “prototype” entheotainment, The First Church of David Bowie Shamanic Cabaret, was performed by 550 participants in in the Kwanyin Habitat of the Equatorial Orbital Ring on March 24th, 2224, the 200th anniversary of his death. It was broadcast live in VRSpace. Earthside, it is estimated an additional three hundred thousand phonomancers, in venues ranging in size from football stadiums to basement temples, together performed the rites of Transformation, Purification, and Atonement.