The Life and Times of the American Prophet
Compiled by Aummanuel Bey
Real-life is filled with such bizarre, absurd, or unlikely events that it can be hard to believe they are not fictional. Truthfully, facts may indeed be more remarkable than an invented story. And yet, without question, truth is quite stranger than fiction. This phrase first appeared in Byron’s “Don Juan” (1823)—“‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,—stranger than fiction” and has been repeated ever since, often with ironic variations. Mark Twain had it in Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar (1893), “Truth is stranger than fiction— to some people, but I am measurably familiar with it.” And novelist Margaret Echard wrote, “Truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more interesting” (Before IWake, 1943).
Some of the world’s greatest literary minds have consistently sipped from the endless pool of imagination, we call life. It is here admittedly, where the greatest inspirations arise, from the vast potentiality of life experiences of the world in which we live. Perhaps an unsung epic of cinematic lore is the American television series called “Carnivàle.” The story is set in the United States Dust Bowl during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The series, created by Daniel Knauf, traced the lives of disparate groups of people in a traveling carnival, Knauf's story combined a bleak atmosphere with elements of the surreal in portraying struggles between good and evil and between free will and destiny. The show's mythology drew upon themes and motifs from traditional Christianity and Gnosticism together with Masonic lore, particularly that of the Knights Templar order.
Though this idea has rarely been mentioned or accredited proper documentation, there are many Moors who venture to say this TV series heavily borrows from the life and times of Noble Drew Ali. The series follows the contrasting storylines of a young carnival worker named “Ben Hawkins” and “Brother Justin Crowe,” a preacher in California. The overarching story is built around a good and evil theme, which serves as a human-scaled metaphor within a complex structure of myth and allegory. The story of Carnivàle takes place in the mid-1930s during the worst of the Great Depression, a time of massive social and political upheaval. Unemployment rates were high, and European fascism was on the rise, in the years leading up to the Second World War. People in the Great Plains suffered from the effects of the Dust Bowl. Farmers often not only ran into debt and lost their properties but also risked their health; dust pneumonia was a common cause of death. The backdrop of Noble drew painted a similar scene focused upon the 1920s, as the Stock Market had Crashed, and an economical drought called "The Great Depression" was felt by almost every Citizen while the US Corporation would be functioning under perpetual Maritime Law that went into effect in 1933 and has not won another War since World War II.
The show's mythology is introduced by a prologue in the pilot episode, talking of "a creature of light and a creature of darkness" being born "to each generation" preparing for a final battle. A major part of Carnivàle's story is religion and the dualistic principles of nature. The prologue in the pilot episode is based on a few introductory paragraphs on the Pitch Document's cover sheet that were initially not planned to be performed. Those original Genesis creation narratives put more emphasis on the battle between ‘God’ and ‘Satan’: "Before the Beginning, after the great celestial war that rocked the very foundation of Heaven and Hell, God and Satan established an uneasy truce. Never again would they face each other in direct confrontation. So God created the Earth, inhabiting it with the crafty ape he called Man. And henceforth, to each generation was born a "creature of Light" and a "creature of Darkness," and they would gather to them men of ilk nature and thus, by proxy, carry on the war between Good and Evil."
The protagonist “Ben Krohn Hawkins” gives us insight to the character. His name “Ben” in Hebrew is: בֶּן, meaning “Son of”) forms part of surnames, e.g. Abraham ‘ben’ Abraham (Hebrew: אברהם בן אברהם). The related term “Bar”-, means "son of" in Aramaic, is also seen, e.g. Simon ‘bar’ Kokhba (Hebrew: שמעון בר כוכבא). And lastly, the Arabic "Bin" (بن) or "Ibn" (ابن) or "Ben" (dialectal Arabic) means "son of". The name “Krohn” meaning (Ger.) “Crown” [from Ger. “krone,” O.H.Ger. “corôna;” and Latin “corona”]. One proposed meaning of the word “Hawkins” is "brown"; the other is "lord". It would not be too much of a stretch to venture to suggest a transliteration of: “The Crown-Son of the Lord.”
Ben Hawkins begins the story as a young Oklahoma farmer and chain gang fugitive who is picked up by a traveling carnival when his mother dies. Ben has displayed inexplicable healing powers since childhood, and with the beginning of the series, he has begun to suffer dreams and visions of people unknown to him. Not much is known about Timothy Drew before he became Prophet Drew Ali. He was born in North Carolina in 1886. One version of his life, common among members of the Moorish Science Temple, holds that Drew was raised by an abusive aunt, who once threw him into a furnace. This version holds that he left home at 16 and joined a band of Romani people who took him overseas to Egypt, and the Middle East. Drew Ali also reportedly worked as a circus magician, or a merchant seaman, before purportedly traveling to Egypt. He was said to be a man who later in life would be regarded as a prophet and understood to have miraculous healing abilities was early distinguished as a special child with many spiritual gifts.
The Moors' version of his life story says he left home at 16 and joined a band of Gypsies who took him overseas to Egypt, Morocco, and the Middle East. In Morocco, he was approached by the high priest of a mystical Egyptian cult who recognized him as the latest reincarnation in a line of prophets including Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad. The priest gave Drew a book that he said was a lost section of the Koran, and when Drew returned to the States he called it the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America. It says, "The ‘last Prophet’ in these days is Noble Drew Ali, who was prepared divinely in due time by Allah to redeem men from their sinful ways; and to warn them of the ‘great wrath' which is sure to come upon the earth."
Most mythological elements in Carnivàle relate to so-called “Avatars” (or ‘Creatures of Light’ and ‘Darkness’), fictional human-like beings with supernatural powers who embody good and evil. Carnivàle’s overarching good-versus-evil story culminates and revolves around this idea "a creature of light and a creature of darkness" (also known as “Avatars”) being born "to each generation" preparing for a final battle. The author Daniel Knauf overlaid the “Avatars” of ancient mythology with an elaborate order of succession by blood, similar to the ascent of royal families. The descriptors Royals, King, and Prince are replaced in the series with Vectori, Prophet, and Prince.
Knauf set out to pen a complex mythological structure. The first “Prophet” in the mythology of Carnivàle is the “Alpha.” This creature is never mentioned in the series, but Knauf described her as a female who lived before the Flood and whose story was lost with the destruction of the ‘Royal Library of Alexandria.’ The “Alpha” spawned the first pair of “Avatara,” manifestations of some higher power or House; one is ‘Light’ and the other ‘Dark.’ A “Creature of Light” and a “Creature of Darkness” have been born to each generation since, and unlike the “Alpha,” they have always been ‘male.’
The “Avataric Blood” travels within families forming a dynasty. The ‘first-born son’ of an “Avatar” receives a so-called ‘mantle’ at birth that manifests him as an “Avatar” of a new generation; whether the new “Avatar” is ‘Light’ or ‘Dark’ is chance. Therefore, there is one “Avatar” to each “House” per generation. Giving birth to a new “Avatar” leaves the mother barren and insane. Before that time, she can give birth to an unlimited number of females from an “Avatar.” These children as well as their respective offspring are called “Vectori,” beings with “Avataric Blood” who are not themselves “Avatara,” and who thus become generationally further removed from an “Avatar” in the bloodline. While “Vectori” cannot become “Avatara,” as that ‘mantle’ is only conveyed upon birth, they can still exhibit some minor powers and often show signs of insanity.
Knauf explains that the eldest generational “Avatar” within a “House” is dominant and called the “Prophet.” He possesses ‘blue blood,’ also called “Vitae Divina.” The next in line is the “Ascendant Prince.” Any additional “Avatara” within the “House” is “Princes” ranked by generation. Although “Avatara” forms ‘blood dynasties’ from ‘father to son,’ House affiliations can be mixed within a dynasty. If the youngest “Prince” in a dynasty dies, the dynasty is ended. Most dynasties only last on average three generations, since typical “Avatara” can be killed by any means. When a dynasty ends, the first male child born elsewhere in the world with the most “Avataric blood” will be a new “Prince” starting a new dynasty.
These ancient rites are so strategically measured out that one cannot help but consider its reminiscence of the ancient right of succession of the “High Priests of Amun” or “First Prophet of Amun” (ḥm nṯr tpj n jmn). In Egypt, members of the clergy were called “God’s servants.” At Karnak there was a “First Prophet of Amun”, which is flanked by a “Second”, a “Third” and even a “Fourth Prophet.” The chronology and genealogy of these Twenty-first Dynasty Theban priests of Amun draw close resemblance as the High Priest of Amun Menkheperre, demonstrates that his son Smendes II occupied the post of Second Prophet of Amun before he became High Priest, and that during the reign of Menkheperre a certain Akheperre held the offices of Third Prophet of Amun and Viceroy of Kush. The Fourth Prophet of Amun Nespaherenmut, the father of the Fourth, Third, and probably also Second Prophet Tjanefer, the son in law of the High Priest Menkheperre, is known from the oracle for Henttawy copied by Champollion, and from fragment 3A of the Karnak Priestly annals copied by Legrain.
We also find close parallels in Judea as to be a priest was an important job in ancient Judea, and to be the high priest was far greater still. By an ancient tradition, the Jewish priests were descended from Levi, one of the sons of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. It had been the tribe of Levi that remained loyal to God and Moses when the children of Israel fell into sin by worshiping the golden calf. The sons of Levi avenged the sinners and their loyalty was rewarded with Moses designating them as the hereditary priests of Israel. (Exodus 32:25 ff.)
Let us return to the modern mythic lore of Carnivale which relays the fact that when a “Prophet” dies while an “Ascendant Prince” also lives, one of two things happens. If the “Prophet” is killed by his “Ascendant Prince,” the “Prince” will gain the ‘mantle’ of the “Prophet” with a ‘boon’ (‘full measure of power’). For the ‘boon’ to be passed, the “Prophet” must be of ‘sound mind,’ and either willingly pass on the ‘boon,’ or be taken by surprise so that he cannot put up a psychic defense. If however the “Prophet” is ‘impaired,’ the “Ascendant Prince” may be driven insane. If a “Prophet” dies in any other way, the “Ascendant Prince” will be automatically raised to “Prophet” in his stead, without chance of a ‘boon.’
Carefully constructed genealogical rite of succession is etched into the story. The author tells us that ‘Two’ unique “Avatars” join the “Alpha” as an exception to the ‘Avataric rule.’ Carnivàle's Avataric mythology prophesied the “Usher of Destruction” throughout the ages as a ‘harbinger of the End Times’ to usher in the “Armageddon.” He is known by a thousand names in a thousand books, but can only manifest once. He appears as the “Tattooed Man” in visions, and he can only be killed with a weapon infused with the “Vitae Divina” that is thrust into the bough of his tree tattoo where his dark heart dwells. Injuries from such anointed weapons are said to never fully heal. Also prophesied is the “Omega” (known in the Pitch Document as “Omega, The Destroyer” and the “Antichrist”), whom Carnivàle's occult characters had assumed for a long time to be one and the same with the Usher. The “Omega” is, like the “Alpha,” a female and the only other known exception to the male restriction in “Avatar” succession, and because of the allusion to "the Beginning and the End" in naming, the “Omega” is commonly accepted as the “last Avatar.”
As a young man, Noble Drew Ali traveled amongst the circus before donning the Fez as a street-corner orator who espoused a transforming mystery religion after being called form to be a messenger of Allah. Moorish Science teaches that the Koran identified Jesus as a prophet, “son of Allah,” and messiah. Ali’s focus on Jesus’ wisdom and prophetic gifts resonated with his own identity, since Ali shared a similar eminence in the Moorish Science Temple. An original and un-plagiarized chapter of the Koran identifies Ali as “the last Prophet in these days” sent by Allah to “redeem men from their sinful ways.” He was a wise prophet, much like Jesus in earlier chapters of the Koran.
Many Moors have declared that Noble Drew Ali was five times greater than the last Prophets before him; and that he is the last Avatar sent to warn the nations of the earth. They declare “Same Spirit, New Flesh!” The idea of being an “Avatar” is well established in the MSTA literature. Sister M. Howell-Bey of Temple 19 said that the Holy Prophet Noble Drew Ali while speaking would jump up in the air and laugh, and say "Rome, 2000 years ago, you got me, but I got you today." Bro. I. Cook-Bey said that the Holy Prophet said, "I am a General as well as a Prophet." "I was Mohammed. Mohammed defeated the Roman Empire. When I conquered Rome, we went in with the sword. You could hear the swords swinging. I cut the head of Rome off; pulled down the flags; sent letters to the other European governments, and asked them was I right. They said, "Yes Mohammed, you are right. Just let us have a place to live." The Holy Prophet said, "I went into Rome with 72,000 men. When I ran out or men, I reached down, and picked up a hand full of sand, I threw it up in the air, and when it came down, there were soldiers seated on camels."
Lineage most certainly plays at the center of the plotline of Carnivale. Drew Ali held one’s ancestral lineage to the highest degree. He claimed the heritage for so-called African Americans was: “Asiatics” or “Moors” (‘Moroccan descent’), a blessed racial lineage with a rich cultural heritage dating to the Christian Bible. He espoused that Islam was the true religion of the “Moors” and a key element of the Moorish nation. Descended from “Canaanites” and “Moabites,” the Moors forgot their true identity and religion when enslaved by Europeans. As part of this loss, according to Moorish Science Temple history, “the European stripped the Moor of his power, his authority, his God, and every other worthwhile possession.”
Old Moors say Drew Ali established his first Moorish congregation in Newark, New Jersey, in 1913, naming it the “Canaanite Temple.” He was forced to flee soon after, chased out for his teachings on race. For the next 12 years, he and his followers kept moving ‘westward,’ planting congregations in Philadelphia, D.C., and Detroit on their way to their final destination, Chicago. Some postulate that it was here he was truly deemed “Prophet.”
The TV series echoes the importance of “Canaan” as it pitches it as a mysterious designation holding many keys to the story. Ben Hawkins while in the town of “New Canaan,” is revealed to be a man of great power and wonder. It is made known that he performed a miracle on Jonesy’s knee, healing it; and whereby he gains the carnies' support for his mission. An early draft of Carnivàle gave Brother Justin's real name as “Lucius Crowe,” a radio preacher who advocated ethnic hatred, especially for “Gypsies” and “carnival folk.” It also mentioned Brother Justin joining "The Order of the Knights of Jericho" between 1921 and 1923 and becoming its head in 1926. The completion of the construction of his "Temple of Jericho" was set in Nebraska in 1928. At the series' start initially projected to occur in 1930, the character had already gathered a great army of followers through his "Church of the Air" radio sermons. On his way home in the town of “Alamogordo, NM;” Justin sees a decrepit tree that he already encountered in a vision about the “Tattooed Man” and the “Usher.” Following another vision at the foot of the tree, Justin declares, "this will be my “New Canaan.” Here, I will build a temple."
Lastly, it also curious to note that Prophet Noble Drew Ali, according to the WAshitaw, was a Prince and fifth Regent Marquis de Maison Rouge by and through his mother, Eliza, a daughter of Sarah Tunica and Henry Joseph Turner. Truly much comparative components of the Carnivale mirror closely the life and times of the Prophet. This modern-day TV series could easily be designated a tributary remake of the Prophets life!