Who is number two?
..and who does he work for?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Magic in the '80's - Where to Now? by The Hon. Hugo L'Estrange

(from Aquarian Arrow No. 13)


Please read these four illustrations carefully, and compare your reactions to them, before reading the rest of the article.

1. The spate of public interest in UFOs, telepathy, metal-bending, dowsing and other paranormal phenomena continues, but it has not left us with a single body of evidence that is capable of standing up to rigid scientific scrutiny.

2. A friend laments the decline of a mutual acquaintance: once the finest young ritual magician around, he has now given up all such interests and seems content with respectable bourgeois pursuits like money-making and the yacht club.

3. Crossing the street from my classroom, deep in thought: suddenly woken by a screech of tyres. A car had appeared, crazily slewed up onto the pavement. (Appeared? Had it driven by, it would never have registered on my awareness; but as it was my memory reminded me that I had seen it coming along the street.) “Are you all right?” Nobody hurt, but one front wheel sagged out at a horrible angle. “Jeez. Lucky that didn’t happen a minute earlier - we were doing 70 on the bypass” - the driver was now looking down at the wheel, while I crawled under to look. “You won’t repair that in a hurry - king pin or something has gone right through,” I said, dusting down my clothes. He was looking at me rather warily. I wondered why, until his wife pointed her hand out of the window and asked “Is this Eton College?” “Yes. I teach here, that’s why I’m dressed like this,” I looked down at my wing collar, white bow tie and tail suit, realising how odd I looked, all the more so since the fact that these clothes were working clothes rather than special occasion wear meant that I had not thought twice about crawling under a car in morning dress. “Oh, that explains it,” said the driver, looking relieved.

4. Most of the old vegetable varieties, apparently so flavoursome in the memories of sentimentalists, will soon be no more. Take peas for example: repeated tests at the Institution laboratories showed that, once they had been processed and canned, or frozen, not one of the control group was able to distinguish consistently between the different varieties. So it makes sound sense to concentrate on those vigorous varieties most profitable to the grower.


If you did read these illustrations carefully as suggested, congratulations - you are a more conscientious reader than I usually am!  But how did you react to them?

Statements like the first illustration irritate me; but, more importantly, they sadden me. Why? Because I know they are true.

A lot of popular writing on the paranormal gives a very different picture, it suggests that science is crumbling under the onslaught of evidence. But the truth is that science is only crumbling at the edges: if you study the hard-core scientific reaction to the paranormal you will find little or no change. Even John Taylor has withdrawn a lot of his evidence.

Does this mean that “I don’t believe in” the paranormal?

No: as is argued in ‘Thundersqueak’ and in an earlier article in this series, what I do not believe is that scientific scrutiny is the Gateway to Ultimate Truth. Instead I believe it to be a simple but extremely effective method of banishment: the state of mind we evoke when we say “let us look at these facts again very closely” is one which forms a magic circle of certainty around us, a magic circle expressly designed to exclude all mystery and surprise. Try it next time a ghost is troubling you - it works more powerfully than the pentagram ritual.

So any attempt to produce laboratory evidence of the paranormal is analogous to trying to persuade a clergyman that God created evil, by evoking Beelzebub within the holy ground of his own church - the attempt is doomed because such evil is by convention excluded from that holy ground.
The second illustration could be depressing, especially in the wake of the first one. Together they add up to a picture of the failure of the revolutionary hippy dream now that we have woken to the harsh reality of the 80s. (In fact this illustration is not needed till later in this article)

As for the third illustration: you may not know how to react to this until it is put in context, and you know how the writer intends to use it.

So what about the fourth illustration? This type of statement annoys me. Why the hell should good vegetables be slaughtered on the altar of Economics? If processing does destroy the difference, my solution is not to give up tasty vegetables but rather to avoid processing them - let’s eat them fresh so we can enjoy the difference!

Do you agree?


To return to the third illustration and its purpose: part of the reason it was included was simply to separate the first and fourth ones with a lot of words! Having confessed that, I would like to look back at the first and fourth and put them side by side in our minds to see what happens.

Does my reaction to the first illustration overwhelm my reaction to the fourth one; so that they combine to form a dismal picture of the invincible technological Juggernaut, crushing all nature and magic in its path?

Or does gastronomic pleasure carry more weight than my regard for scientific truth?

In the latter case I might now see the first example as exactly analogous to the fourth and come to a similar iconoclastic conclusion: “if no evidence for the paranormal is ever capable of standing up to scientific scrutiny then, rather than live without evidence of the paranormal, I would choose to live without recourse to scientific scrutiny.”

In purely practical terms that conclusion is not so very revolutionary: after all, how many of us really do use the scientific method in everyday life? Even in a high technology environment it is seldom used: in fact the full weight of scientific ritual working is usually only deployed in the face of danger, for example when testing safety equipment, testing a revolutionary new hypothesis or - above all - in paranormal research.
So scrapping science should be easy - but it is not. For however seldom our ‘rational’ society actually uses the scientific method, it still treats it with slavish respect. This is even true of those of us who dislike the method and will argue against it at every opportunity.

Just imagine that a surgeon has examined your child and announced that only an immediate operation would save its life, while a clairvoyant has told you not to let the operation take place: in the fact of public opinion and conditioning how many of us would dare to refuse the surgeon?

Of course I would not suggest “scrapping” science, I would only suggest that we could remove the scientific method from its pedestal and put it carefully away as a useful tool in case of real need. (If the pedestal now looks a bit bare let’s put ‘Fun’ in the place of honour.)

However, the very fact that this resolution would be all in the mind means that it would not be easy. To show how deeply the old ideas are entrenched in our thought I will now explore a little further.


Recently I read “The Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pearce (who wrote ‘the Crack in the Cosmic Egg’), and found the book full of interesting and important ideas.

If we use the word ‘education’ in the very broadest sense, to include not only the whole upbringing and psychic environment but also the conditions of birth and even the prenatal experience; then the main message of the book could be crudely stated as follows: ‘every human has a natural capacity for magic, but traditional education in our society crushes that capacity and destroys it.’

This idea is well in accord with the opinions of most occultists. For example I have heard it said that there is more magic in primitive societies than in ours because they have not cut themselves off from nature as we have. It is also often said that the best mediums or psychics are found among simpleminded or backward folk, because their very lack of intellect has saved their innate psychic abilities from being swamped by rational logic.

Recently it has also been noted that the most able metalbenders were youngsters, and it has been suggested that this is so because such children have not yet had their psychic abilities educated out of them.
All these examples carry a similar message, but how does science respond to this message?
Simple! Of course those kids produce the most puzzling results, for we all know that mischievous youngsters are more interested in fooling adults than they are in obeying the strict disciplines of scientific method in order to discover the truth. In any case, being immature, children are more likely to be carried away by their imaginations aren’t they?

What about primitive societies? Well, without their having the benefit of our superior knowledge of the universe, we can hardly blame them if they too get a little carried away by their imaginations. As for those mental defectives .... say no more!

Two different views of the same facts: let us call the first view the ‘Romantic’ one, the second view the ‘Classic’ one, and put them in the boxing ring to see which wins!


There is no doubt in my mind that the first round goes to the ‘Romantics’; for they win hands down on style.
Their argument touches on my golden nostalgic memories of childhood’s magic moments. It also links with our dreams of the Golden Age, the myth of the Noble Savage and so on. Beside that the ‘Classic’ argument seems arrogant, insensitive, tactless and boring.

So on to round two.

Good grief! After that clumsy start the ‘Classic’ argument has scored a knockout in round two! This is so surprising that it calls for some careful explanation.

Throughout the ‘Romantic’ case there is a common idea of Nature being vanquished: the natural magic of childhood being crushed by convention, the natural psychic abilities of mankind having been castrated by the dogma of rationality, and so on.

This idea appeals strongly to me as it has an obvious parallel with the picture of Nature’s destruction by technology, put forward so vividly by the ecology movement. This idea has a strong appeal to my latent mothering instincts, but it has a weak spot in that it makes absolutely no appeal to my not-quite-so-latent religious instincts. I want to worship Nature, not protect her! I look back to previous centuries when Nature was spoken of as a mighty and terrible power, when men spoke of the ‘majesty’ of Nature and the ‘forces’ of Nature - protecting butterflies feels a bit tame in comparison.

Returning to the Romantic argument, I find it hard to respect man’s Natural Potential when I am told that it has been so thoroughly defeated by reason, by convention, by education and so on.
So how do I ‘beef up’ Nature to make her worshipful?

I do so by expanding her beyond the small view of Nature as ‘all pretty flowers and furry creatures that technology is threatening’. In the larger view man is included in Nature; earthquakes, comets, supernovas and the primal big bang are also included in Nature.

On this scale there is no question of ‘Man versus Nature’ for man is just one of Nature’s little experiments: and if Nature has chosen to mold mankind (by means of technology) into a club with which to batter the flowers and butterflies to death then it is sheer impertinence on our part to suggest that this means that Nature has somehow ‘made a mistake’.

Similarly it is impertinent to suggest that man’s rational mind (another of Nature’s creations) has somehow managed to destroy the Nature in us. A Goddess may perplex us, torment us, or destroy us, but she does not make mistakes. Least of all does a Goddess depend upon us to keep her alive. (It is my Religious Spirit speaking: Rationalism would argue against that last sentence of course!)

(In practice, despite my feeling that the Ecology Movement has helped to debase Nature in our minds, I still support it like mad - and refuse to buy goods wrapped in paper bags whenever possible. Just how I reconcile religion and daily life is material for another article - better still, another lifetime - so I must return to the point without satisfying your curiosity on that topic.)

I declare that the Romantic argument lost the second round because it made the rather silly suggestion that Nature, who created us, has made the mistake of allowing us to develop ways of life, ways of thinking, etc. which have defeated Nature herself. In comparison the Classic argument does at least have the decency to suggest that Nature’s progress is right - that adults do know better than children, that advanced civilisations are an improvement on earlier ones, that clever people are not defective, and so on.

As referee I am far from impartial, I’m afraid. Despite my grudging respect for the Classic argument I do not like the company it keeps, for it is too often associated with the argument that Magic does not exist. So I feel that I must produce a new argument that is equal to the Classic argument in round two, yet which fits in better with what I want to believe.


A cheer, and Ramsey ‘The Crusher’ Dukes enters the ring!

‘Why are simpletons more psychic?’ shouts the crowd.

‘Because they are simpletons’ answers Ramsey.

A puzzled silence.

‘Why are children better at bending metal?’ shouts the crowd.

‘Because they are worse magicians’ mutters Ramsey.


‘Why was there more magic in olden times?’ shouts the crowd.

‘Because mankind was not yet very good at magic’ sighs Ramsey.

Has he gone crazy? What is Ramsey trying to say?

If we begin with the last question which asks why there was more magic in olden times (or in primitive societies for that matter), the reply was not that primitive people are better magicians, but that they are worse.

This seems a crazy statement, but let us look at it without preconceptions, and ask ourselves what was mankind’s original incentive to do magic. Was it not inspired by the wish to control the environment and gain greater security?

But it is surely arguable that mankind’s present problems partly stem from too great a feeling of security: our environment has been tamed to the point that we feel obliged to create silly weapons and invent ideological enemies in order to put back the excitement in our lives. So a Martian observer might be forgiven for feeling that it is modern man who is the better magician, for it is a modern man who has more thoroughly tamed his reality.

If we now reconsider the first question we can imagine how the Martian observer would look upon simpleminded psychics. Instead of seeing them as people with an extra ability of their own, the Martian might see them as people who had less control of reality, as incompetent magicians whose magic circles were leaky.

If you are still not convinced, look back at the third illustration quoted at the beginning of this article. Even though I was not in that car - I was the schoolmaster - the incident scared me.

Novice drivers soon learn to come to terms with certain levels of risk - if you thought every oncoming driver was likely to go mad and ram you, driving would become impossible. They learn to trust their judgement.

At the time described my own judgement was not prepared for the possibility that, in these days of sophisticated engineering, stringent safety measures and yearly MOT tests, a car could fail in such a lethal fashion without any warning (had the car been going more than 15 mph it would certainly have rolled over).

The sight of that torn member disturbed me so deeply that, five years later, it contributed towards a rather illogical decision to trade my car for a motorcycle.(Note also that the driver was disturbed by my clothing until an explanation had been provided.)

Our modern way of life would be unbearable if we could not depend upon metal to behave itself. Sometimes when I was driving I used to think of Uri Geller and wonder whether my fears about the front wheel linkage might not create just the right mental state to cause the metal to snap by telekinesis. It never happened, but rather than accept this as evidence against telekinesis, I took it as evidence that it was my Unconscious Will to survive.

This idea is supported by the following experiment: sometimes, when feeling suicidal, I have chosen a clear stretch of road (out of consideration for other users), shut my eyes and fully opened the throttle of my 1000cc motorcycle. In a few seconds of bellowing machinery and arm-wrenching acceleration, existence begins to regain its charm: and my eyes spontaneously open to reveal that I have steered accurately while my eyes were shut (note to my disciples: this variation of Spare’s Death Posture is strictly for Ipsissimi). My Unconscious Will to live has been invoked and has overcome the Conscious Will to suicide. Indeed I have a theory that it is the Unconscious Will that is the final arbiter as to who is going to be killed on the roads - and not the Department of Transport.

Remember that in the third illustration the car did not collapse until it had slowed down: this fits my own experience that vehicles have a genius for breaking down at the most awkward or embarrassing times, yet have an equally uncanny knack for preserving life. Hence the unusually high proportion of motoring stories which end with the words: “if it had happened one minute earlier, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale”.

I had better leave this subject, for I would feel a right idiot if tomorrow saw my remains being hosed off the tarmac....

When the subatomic structure of matter is considered, it appears to be so insubstantial as to suggest that the real miracle is not the bending of metal by telekinesis, but rather that we are so ready to trust our lives to its not bending.

Observing the extent to which human belief can shape human reality, I am tempted to suggest that the strength of metal is not so much innate, as a consequence of our Unconscious Will to preserve our own security. (Study the history of metallurgy in this light and you will find that man’s inventions tend to run one step ahead of the materials needed: copper is easily mined but too soft for weapons; mix it with tin, an even softer metal, and you get bronze - which is harder!)

So the child that can apparently bend metal by telekinesis is not really displaying magical powers so much as a magical failure ascribable to immature ability - it has simply failed to keep the metal rigid.

Primitive mankind cannot have felt as secure as we do in their world - where a wolf could turn into a man or a neighbour’s curse could sour the milk - so the same argument would suggest that they witnessed more miracles not so much because of a superior magical ability as because they had not developed their magical powers as completely as we have.

Similarly the medium who sees spirits and hears voices is not displaying a special talent lost to ordinary people, only a weaker ability to banish those spirits in order to preserve everyday reality.

What of my second illustration, quoted at the beginning of the article, of the young man who ‘lost his magic’?
We now have an alternative interpretation of this story. In those glamorous days when he was apparently such a great magician, he was in fact just a young seeker, in search of his true path. Now he has found that path and found, in the accumulation of money and status, a greater certainty and security than he had before. For now his magic is really working.


So that is my argument, but I bet you don’t feel satisfied by it! It seems a denial of all the dreams and hopes of the occult revival; it makes magic sound so boring.

‘That cannot be the truth about magic,’ you say, ‘because if we really were such brilliant magicians, we would surely not be feeling dissatisfied, and be searching for more of what we call “magic”.

Really? Is this not just what one should expect? Is this not just the well-worn story of the success that turns sour?

Have we not all heard of the self-made millionaire who ends his life in dreams of the good old days when he shared a flat in the slums, or of the simple country girl who married an international tycoon and spent her life dreaming of the folks back home, or again of the pop star who committed suicide?
Johnstone always stated that the deepest rut of all is success. Now the war is over we spend a hell of a lot of time reminiscing about it: the peculiar yearning for a return to insecurity has been aptly described in French as nostalgie de la boue.

When I finished my training and was going to teach at Eton my fellow student teachers tended to think I had copped out: “doesn’t your conscience tell you that you should really be teaching in a deprived area?” they asked. This question made little sense to me unless the asker really believed that money solved all problems - that rich people never needed help. As it was, the difficulties I encountered at Eton were no more superficial than problems I had previously encountered in my more humble existence.

In fact I sometimes felt a special calling to try to tackle the miseries that beset, for example, rich Californians because I feel these problems are not as trivial as some people claim. What, I ask, is the point of trying to raise the rest of mankind towards affluence when we have not yet tackled the problems of affluence itself?
This then I propose as the problem of our age. It is not that we have developed abilities which have cut us off from our natural magical inheritance and left us high and dry in a technological desert; instead it is that our very magic has become too good.

Encapsulated in the Victorian Scientific world view we have a model of reality rather too perfect and secure for our own highly developed magical ability. We have shaped the world too successfully and mankind is now looking back wistfully to the good old days when we weren’t quite so good at holding it all together and life had more surprises.

Nature has not made a mistake, she has merely, as ever, striven to excellence.


Could this be the reason why the occult dream of the 60s has been so slow to realise itself? In those heady days many would have predicted a parascientific revolution before 1982 - what became of it?

I referred above to the “Victorian scientific worldview”: although the leading edge of scientific theory has long since moved into much more mysterious territory, I feel it is the Victorian idea which still dominates popular thought. People have heard of the uncertainties of subatomic physics, but basically assume that it is all going to be nailed down sooner or later to present once more a nice mechanical picture.

Indeed, returning to the idea of Unconscious Will, it looks as if recent advances in science are a response to the Unconscious Will of that small section of the population who could not accept the narrow materialistic view, whilst the failure of those advances to shatter materialism is a consequence of the more widespread Unconscious Will to preserve our security.

If we had been right in believing that our present state of rational materialism was a mistake, an evolutionary sidetrack now needing to be retraced, then surely it would have been easier to bring about the occult revolution?

If we had been right in our early assumption that we only had to become as little children in order to ‘enter the Kingdom of heaven’, then surely individual enthusiasm would have carried more of us across the abyss?
Instead there are an awful lot of people still wondering where all the magic has gone, and too many people feeling disappointed that all these years have passed and we have still not seen the scientific establishment on its knees before Uri Geller, begging for forgiveness.

I suggest that the reason that the ‘mistake’ was so difficult to put right is that it never was a mistake, but rather an excess of success - and the deepest rut of all is success.


I have heard it said that we are living through a revolution; that mankind has discovered that it has lost its balance, lost its contact with Nature, and is now turning back to the right path.

I do not believe this: when an individual makes such a fundamental discovery about his own psyche it does produce a revolution, and I would expect the same in society. But I do not see signs of revolution, instead I see signs of festering: much more reminiscent of the individual whose success has turned sour than of the individual who has seen the light. The revolution has not failed - it simply has not begun.

True, there have been changes in public opinion, but they are only the slow undramatic changes that accord with the slow evolution of the Unconscious Will: although many of us want the paranormal, we still need the security of materialism.

So if I can now talk about the Aquarian Revolution in the future tense, rather than in the past tense, what will it demand of us? Will it require that we turn back and abandon our left-hemisphere, rationalist stance?
To return to the analogy of the individual, the question is this: should the miserable rich man abandon his wealth to become happy?”

Traditionally the answer is ‘yes’ - but I disagree (except in cases when the wealth is abandoned in my direction). That affirmative answer is based on two popular myths:

a) ‘He gave up all his money and spent the rest of his life happily helping the poor’;
b) ‘He gave up all his money and devoted himself to spiritual progress’.

Really these are two versions of the same story: the ‘spiritual’ version is based on the duality of material goods versus spirit, the ‘political’ version is based on the duality of wealth versus poverty.
In each case the erroneous idea is to believe that misery at one end of the scale implies happiness at the other end. Anyone who tries this as a formula is liable to remain imprisoned in the duality: for example the rich man who ‘drops out’ in search of enlightenment, yet ends up chasing spiritual progress in just the same way as he used to chase purchasable goods.

The falsehood of these two myths depends upon a subtle shift of emphasis.
Consider the man who supposedly became happy by abandoning his wealth, then helping the poor: I suggest that the truth was that the rich man, while still rich, became very interested in helping the needy; so much so that he happened to lose his money in the process simply because it no longer concerned him greatly - for he had expanded from the duality of poverty versus wealth.

However, to the rest of mankind, who are still trapped in that duality, the first thing they notice is the lost of money and so the story goes out that the rich man found happiness by giving away his money and helping the poor, rather than the truer story that happiness was found by helping the needy - with the loss of wealth as an incidental effect.

The same applies to the spiritual case: although it is easy to find quotes about rich men not getting to heaven and the need to abandon wealth and so on, I would guess that this is very much a test of the faint-hearted. The loss of wealth should be incidental; if it is done too soon and too deliberately you are liable to retain a hang-up about the act, and become the sort of spiritual disciple who thinks ‘I’m bloody well going to get my Nirvana before Brother Fred, because his Daddy paid for him while I gave up my Lamborghini to follow Mahatma Kote’.

Applying this free moral lesson to the problem discussed earlier: I feel the need for a revolution, but I do not feel that it will come about by looking back along our evolutionary path. It is tempting to discourage early literacy in children (because literacy represses ‘right brain’ thinking) and so try to make the children more ‘magical’, but I do not feel this is the answer.

What is needed is a new direction rather than an undoing of past mistakes.


The true revolution comes when you break out of an old duality, not when you simply change direction within it.

What we need is a new philosophy rather than an attempt to recapture lost magic by resorting to wholefoods, real education, restoring earth-contact and so on. Such admirable pursuits are best adopted in their own right rather than for ulterior motives or for theoretical reasons.

I, for example, am keen on whole foods: I choose wholemeal bread because nine times out of ten I enjoy it more than white bread; thus I am happier. If I had chosen wholemeal bread on grounds of health, I would become a victim of medical debate and those researches sponsored by the Bread Board to prove that sliced white bread is the only safe food on the market.

If I had chosen wholemeal as a gesture toward ‘small is beautiful’ economic theory, I would remain forever trapped in economic debate. (As it is, I remain for ever trapped in my pursuit of sensual pleasure ... you cannot win!)

That is why, in Thundersqueak, and in this series of articles for Arrow, I have put emphasis on new forms of belief. Those articles on Johnstone’s Paradox were not so much an attempt to present a new Truth as to find a new Hope.

The first illustration at the beginning of this article suggested that none of the evidence for the paranormal could withstand scientific scrutiny. Two typical reactions to such a statement are:

a) ‘I always knew this occult stuff was nonsense’, or
b) to react angrily and take an anti-science stance.

Neither reaction offers any escape from the science versus occultism duality. Instead I suggested a change of attitude which amounted to saying ‘GREAT! At last we have a choice before us! No longer the victims of ‘magical’ forces, no longer (at last!) the slaves of scientific dogma: this illustration informs us that inconvenient paranormal phenomena can be safely banished by adopting a scientific attitude! The future of mankind can include a higher form of magic now that we have learned to banish properly.’

In this way the dualistic tension is released, science is removed from its pedestal and put aside as a useful tool; we are free and better armed to explore the future.


I have here and elsewhere in this article tended to use the word magic in two senses: in a popular sense to refer to the primitive, insecure state that is the opposite of ‘science’, and in a higher sense which sees science as a tool in the service of a greater magic. This is the same distinction that Crowley intended when he adopted the word ‘magick’ for the greater sense.

So I will summarise my theory thus: ‘as long as we chase after magic, Magick cannot progress.’ And I present this prediction for the coming Aquarian Revolution: ‘In the sixties we became disillusioned with science. In the seventies we devised an “alternative” - but it proved too weak to topple the monolith. In the eighties we shall call rationalism/science an “alternative’ and it will be its turn to fight for survival.’


If a diabolist is a person who reverses the fundamental symbols of the age - saying the Lord’s Prayer backward and inverting the crucifix in times past - what does that make me?

In this essay I began by proposing that we elevate ‘fun’ above ‘scientific method’; went on to suggest that the ecology movement might be debasing Nature; dared to put forward the idea that primitive peoples and children are inferior; outraged decency by hinting that Oxfam might better devote its care to the wealthy; and finally suggested that the Aquarian revolution had never begun.

So appalled am I by this revelation of mine own wickedness, and such is the momentum of my sinfulness, that I feel impelled to commit yet one more atrocity: an act so base that the very editors of Arrow, nay Hugo l’Estrange himself, would shrink back in horror from its witness.

For I feel bounden to fall meekly to my knees, clutching the Good Book to my breast and raising my eyes to heaven to pray for forgiveness for my evil deeds; and to surrender this most perfidious essay to the tender loving mercy of the Lamb of God by placing it naked before my readers that it may be stoned to death as is most fitting for the redemption of its fallen soul.

(to every artist. super respecto! we just kinda grabbed from random collections on blogspot just to decorate it. if anyone wants their name attached or beautiful inspiring picture taken down. get ahold of us! same goes with you Mr. Snell!)

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