From The Shelf: The Holy Numbers

Writer / artist Tommie Kelly is obviously quite a spiritual person. I, on the other hand, am not. So it came as a surprise to me how much I got out of his book “The Holy Numbers”. I had decided to read the book as I saw it as a “book about Scientology that’s not about Scientology” (and I am a fan of Tommie’s art style). Indeed that is how I sold it to a friend of mine. Although the book does cover a religious group / cult (depending on your point of view) and covers a lot of the ground that a book on Scientology would, it is not what it is all about. The book begins with a man called Dave seemingly having an “enlightenment experience”, dubbing himself “Ravensdale” and performing a miracle by walking on the Liffey, which is conveniently captured on video. Ravensdale’s philosophy (which he outlines in a TV interview) is strangely attractive  to me. It is the idea that we are all born knowing where we need to go but that life steers us off the path and builds walls that block us from our destination. By giving the character a relatable philosophy as well as a somewhat dubious miracle, Tommie Kelly immediately sets up the Numbers with the reality of all religions: the question of is it real or is it a way to get peoples’ attention (and possibly money).

The timeline quickly shifts from the explosion of the video clip on YouTube to the creation of The Holy Numbers group to Ravensdale’s murder in suspicious circumstances. The popularity of the Numbers raises the ire of both the Catholic Church and politicians alike (the Numbers decide to create a political party after Ravensdale’s death). I found that the time jumps glossing over the actual development of The Numbers to be interesting as you get the original philosophical overview from the man himself but it is left open to see how much of his individual teachings are actually used by his followers. The book’s main character outside the Numbers, and one of the two POV characters, is renowned sceptic and reporter Raymond Nolan (the man who performed Ravensdale’s first interview). The other is Aaron Doyle, someone who believes in Ravensdale’s teachings but does not like the direction the group has taken since his death. A doubt that leads to a relationship with Nolan. The direction the group takes has interesting parallels to the Catholic religion. The new leader (“Number One”) decides what parts of the teachings to go forward with (see The First Council of Nicaea) and ostracises Ravensdale’s wife (“Number Four”) and her interpretation of the teachings (Mary Magdalene anyone?). He uses the fact that she was only Number Four against his Number One as one of his arguments against her (Peter versus Mary Magdalene?). Aaron Doyle could easily be dubbed a “Doubting Thomas” but it seems to me that his doubt is with the new leadership not the former leader. Number One also moves the group to a single leader (the Pope?) versus all the numbers having an equal say.

I want to avoid spoilers so I will just say that the book follows the ways Number One tries to discredit opponents (like Nolan) and cover up some of the real teachings of Ravensdale, all in a bid to gain power. The book in the end is a judgement on religious groups, and those that would run them, rather than belief or spirituality. The moral of the story, I think, is it does not matter if you are bringing people to a truth if you use lies or use people to get them there.

Tommie Kelly is offering this book and all his other comics for whatever you want to pay here.