Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Illuminatus online reading group, Week 14

Hassan Sabbah, leader of the Assassins. 

(This week: Page 134, "Joe stood there looking at the mocking bandit," to page 144 "to see if Danny found this 'Pat' who wrote them.")

In class at Harvard, Hagbard Celine realizes that his unpopular opinions are not welcomed by many of the other students: "As in law school, the other students were disturbed. Hagbard began to understand: they are not here to learn, they are here to acquire a piece of paper that will make them eligible for certain jobs ... "

While I agree that many people go to college and emerge with all of their previous beliefs intact, there are people who see the campus experience as a kind of voyage of discovery. I went to the University of Oklahoma (in 1974) thinking I was a liberal Democrat, and emerged  (in 1978) (acquiring my piece of paper, a journalism degree, one year later) thinking of myself as a libertarian, a person who had peculiar opinions and who sometimes read very peculiar books.

It is interesting to go to college and see RAW's observations on belief systems played out, not only in the diversity of opinion among various folks who are all convinced that they are right, but in the way people change their belief systems. I had one friend who was a various times a Marxist and a Jesus Freak. (He was always into drugs, though, and never had a libertarian phase.) The Marxist bit stuck.

Try as I might, I cannot remember how I heard about Illuminatus! or how I "found the others," the other campus libertarians. I might have heard about Illuminatus! from some of my new friends, or I might have run across it in paperback book rack (then, as now, I was a voracious reader, particularly of cheap science fiction paperbacks.) I wrote to a couple of these guys over the weekend, asking what they could remember. Steve Browne (he has a blog and still calls himself a libertarian, his views resemble the Instapundit's) wrote back: "I remember finding out about the trilogy. My late friend John Aynesworth discovered it and brought it over to my place and read the entire 'Atlas Shrugged' parody 'Telemachus Sneezed' to me and some others that were there, can't remember who." (Many years later, when I was in the 50s, I discovered that John was a fellow member of the Libertarian Futurist Society. In the libertarian movement, there are seldom very many degrees of separation.)

The bit about Ayn Rand is telling. Most libertarians in those days obtained their opinions by reading Rand tomes such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There was even a popular libertarian book by Jerome Tuccille called It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. (Hmm, I see that there is a cheap revised Kindle edition.) 

But not me. I went to a high school on the south side of Tulsa where I was surrounded by conservative Republicans, some of them my friends. (It's the side of Tulsa that had the "Socs," if you've read S.E. Hinton). I was a liberal Democrat who opposed the war in Vietnam, although when I went to college I found I didn't have any affinity, either, with the Marxists who celebrated the fall of Saigon. Reading Illuminatus! was a critical stage in discovering that I was something called a "libertarian."

So for me it began with Illuminatus! and continued with books such as the ones mentioned above and with The Illuminati Papers. Illuminatus! resembled the world I sometimes found myself in, at least when I went to parties. And for other people, I think it began with Illuminatus! too.

If you read my 2011 Jesse Walker interview, you can see he went through a political evolution similar to mind. Here is a passage from that interview: "Illuminatus! is one of the first forthrightly libertarian books I read. I've joked that the great invisible divide in the libertarian movement is between the people who were transformed by reading Atlas Shrugged in high school and people who were transformed by reading Illuminatus! I never went through a Rand phase, so you can put me firmly in the Illuminatus! camp."

Jesse says he jokes about it, but even now, I think the Rand fans tend to be a little more "right" than the RAW fans, although many libertarians would cite both as an influence.

In the 1970s, when one became a libertarian, one usually went on to read various movement books. For me, those books included For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard, The Incredible Bread Machine and Rand's anthology, For the New Intellectual, still the only Rand book I've ever read.

It's interesting to me that Illuminatus! fans tend to fall in different camps. I don't remember that my friends and I talked about magick or Kabbalah, or even reality tunnels. I don't remember any particular interest in Timothy Leary. Libertarians in those days favored legalization of drugs, of course, but when I think about it, I realize that the libertarians I knew were not, in fact, the biggest druggies of my acquaintance. We were all involved with the nascent Libertarian Party. The biggest surprise to me in writing this blog is that not many RAW fans seem terribly interested in libertarianism. Perhaps it's a testimony to the man that he had so many different interests, and people pick up on them in so many different ways.

So, how did you discover Illuminatus!, and what effect did it have on you? 

Some notes on the text:

"it seemed to him a frieze and a freeze in time: a moment that would linger, as another stage in illumination," pages 134-135 this sounds to me like Zen, the Buddhist path to sudden insight. 

"But more years had to pass .... and  Joe had to plan the bombing of his own magazine with Tobias Knight," page 135. This is apparently in 1969-1970. According to the handy Iluminatus! timeline in Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, the bombing took place on April 23, 1976.

"Tequila y Mota Street," page 136. Named after the ruling dictator, Captain Ernesto Tequila & Mota (page 18) but I did not realize until now that "mota" is slang for marijuana.

"The SAC bases," page 137, the Strategic Air Command, the bombers  in the U.S. Air Force deployed to drop nuclear bombs.

The Book of Lies, by Aleister Crowley, written under the pen name of Frater Perdurabo.

Hassan i Sabbah, leader of the Assassins. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that according to the Wikipedia article, he had an associate named Malik: "Hassan's austere and devoted commitment to the da'wa brought him in audience with the chief missionary of the region: ‘Abdu l-Malik ibn Attash."

"Jesus Christ went by on a bicycle," page 142. LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann rode home on a bicycle during the first intentional acid trip. See the reference to Jarry on page 143.

"they are here to acquire a piece of paper that would make them eligible for certain jobs," page 144. For the concept of signalling, go here. An amusing British perspective on signalling in American colleges is here.

(Next week: From page 144 "ILLUMINATI PROJECT MEMO #15" to page 154, "and you're going to tell the judge that, in exactly those words.")


Drew said...

Illuminatus Trilogy! was just the right thing when I needed it, I was just getting into popular books on physics and coming into reading more "literary" fiction, having just come across Rabelais and Laurence Sterne. I read a lot of his (wilson's) articles online and was very interested in the idea of politics and media as new a mythology etc. Amazon is how I discovered Illuminatus! trilogy, like many of my other favourite books really. No one in my close circle at that point were even close to those kind of things, I did later come across some burroughsians/crowleyites, one of which I borrowed the Principia Doscordia off and who talked about "chaos majick". Other than that, most people I know are pretty much either socialists or partisan labourites, with not much interested in the "fringe" or "alternative" scene except musically. As for libertarianism there are too many influential people, under this banner, who are status-quo western elitists using radical rhetoric. These people need to be criticsed by actual libertarians themselves, but this does not happen that much. Anarchists are always critquing other anarchists and marxists and other lefty approaches, but the ("popular") libertarians seem to be comfortable just critiquing the left (and seeing everything in government that does not work as "left"), without pointing out the not-so-good stuff on their "side"(see the falling out between bob black and bookchin for instance). Wilson was the only "libertarian" I can think of who actually did this openly. But maybe my views of the libertarian tradition are superficial. Us british don't have a libertarian tradition. Although we do have politicians that use just the free-market capitalist ideas (of libertarianism) without the other libertarian ideas (i.e non-coercive gov), because that is the only way you can "compete" on the "global market".

Unknown said...

It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand is delightful. It's my favorite libertarian book ever.

I was waiting for illuminatus! because I was a big RAW Fan from The Realist

fyreflye said...

I encountered my first RAW book in the early '70's while browsing a Los Angeles book store owned by an ex-LA cop turned poet and libertarian. Cosmic Trigger so impressed me that I even broke my own rule and loaned it to a friend. I later encountered the original Dell printings of Illuminatus! in a bookstore in Oakland. I read Prometheus Rising when I found it on the recommended books list of the Extropian Society. What happened between Cosmic Trigger and Illuminatus! I don't recall. It may have been that I was so impressed by Cosmic Trigger that I bought the set just because I recognized RAW's name. Insofar as I have small-l libertarian leanings it has more to do with Noam Chomsky (a left Syndicalist/anarchist) than RAW. I've so far managed to avoid reading anything by Ayn Rand.

Oz Fritz said...

p.134-135: "... and it seemed to him a freeze in time and a frieze in time: a moment that would linger, as another stage of illumination, forever in his mind." - It seems a not uncommon experience for mystics to experience frames of frozen time. I recall RAW speaking of such an experience, but don't remember where.

Ok, we may be moving somewhere else with the "black god" idea - p. 135: "... a young lady named Concepcion Galore lay nude on a bed in the Hotel Durrutti in Santa Isobel and said "It's a Iloigor."

"...Oh, a Lloigor is a god of black people. The natives. A very bad god."

Fast forward to p.138: " Concepcion still lay on the bed but she was no longer sleeping. Her throat was neatly cut and a curious dagger with a flame design on it stuck into the pillow beside her."

Concepcion Galore = an obvious name for the Binah attribute of infinite possibility.

The word "Oh" above could be a pun to describe the nature of the Lloigor. O = Aiyn etc.

"Lloigor" comes from the Cthulu mythos meaning one of the "Old Ones" thus likely represents a primal force.

The death of Concepcion occurs in Santa Isobel, the location where the world came closest to a nuclear war. The death of Concepion seems resonant with the 3 of Swords from the tarot. Also, Concepion and her death has a symbolic congruency with Oedipa Maas, the female protagonist from "The Crying of Lot 49" though Oedipa doesn't die, she does enter Chapel Perilous pretty severely.

Concepcion gets slashed in the throat at the end of the Binah chapter. In the qabala of the human anatomy, the neck connects the three upper Sephiroth with the 7 below it starting with Chesed, the name of the next chapter.

I was turned on to Robert Anton Wilson when a friend loaned me his copy of Cosmic Trigger and then it became a mission to read everything he wrote. His books were very difficult to find in Western Canada in the early '80s. My friend also had an occult library; he was the first to tell me about Cabala. I didn't know anyone into any kind of political beliefs or philosophies. I read Ayn Rand as a teenager and just thought there was some good information in her sometimes superfluous and overwrought writing style but didn't know there was a Movement around it. I first bought Illuminatus! as 3 separate books from either a bookstore in Edmonton affiliated with the O.T.O. or from Weisers in New York when I went there on a book buying pilgrimage in 1982. I acquired a number of RAW books from Weisers after moving there in 1983.

My enthusiasm for the kabbalistic aspects of Illuminatus! became rekindled in 1988 after hearing RAW make the comment at a public talk that they intended Illuminatus! to function as a guide to Cabala.

I revisited this again around 2004 after a suggestion from E.J. Gold. Every single time including this go-around, I see so much more. I'm sure others have had a similar experience.

michael said...

I stumbled upon Right Where You Are Sitting Now in a bookstore in Torrance, CA, and within a year I'd read pretty much his entire oeuvre (books...the possibly 1000+ articles uncollected in fugitive periodicals, little mags, 'zines, defunct futurist mags, glossy porn mags, New Age "journals" and variously-flavored libertarian mags lay ahead of me...and many still do, apparently). I'd been buying LOTS of stuff from Loompanics, reading Burroughs a lot, dipping into Joyce when I found RAW.

A couple of wonderful-to-me books I obtained via Mike Hoy's Loompanics were two James L. Martin books that Hoy sold as brand new, for what I remember as ultra-cheap, like maybe $2 each: _Men Against The State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908_, which was published in 1953 (my copy was pristine...did someone give Hoy a huge box of these that he kept in storage?). This book blew me away: scholarly, and brimming with mind-blowing "alternative history" to me.

The other one was _Revisionist Viewpoint: Essays in a Dissident Historical Tradition_. I skimmed in both for a long time, they were so filled with viewpoints and info and names of colorful men with fecund ideas no one ever mentioned in college or any textbook or "mainstream" history that i still see these books as troves to mine for a good long while. Anyway, James J. Martin exposed me to the names of Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Ezra Heywood, Josiah Warren, Max Stirner, and William B. Greene...all of whose names appeared as I continued to read RAW. So that was my understanding of "libertarianism."

I confess I tried to read Ayn Rand and found her prose unbearable, and, coupled with a few 20 year olds I knew who LOVED her and who I found delusional, pretentious social climbers with out of control egos and mean streaks...maybe it's a William Jamesian "temperamental" thing with me...

My reading of Chomsky led me to the European tradition of anarchists: Pannakoek, Rocker, Bakunin,

The take-away for me, still: there's an extremely RICH heritage of ideas that should be read and talked about by Democrat "progressives" and "Tea Party" people...and rarely have I ever run into anyone who's even heard of these names. (At Occupy events I did talk to some brilliant young grad-students who knew they were fucked, and they tended to know more about the anarcho-syndicalism tradition than the Tucker-ish American strain.)

When in a late 1970s/early 80s interview I read RAW saying he identified with a lot of libertarian ideas but, having been hard-working, well-educated and yet in poverty, he did not hate poor people...that's all I see from the mainstream Republicans and Tea Partiers today: they seem to not know anything, and worse: what they think they know is bullshit; they may "mean" well, but I see their ideas as just perpetuating cruelty, by and large. And the worship of rich people is disgusting to me.

Maybe the most distressing ignorance I see among democrats, Republicans, and disaffected right wingers: ZERO knowledge of Basic Income ideas.

(Off soap box now.)

michael said...

I always appreciate Oz's use of esoteric knowledge to decode and interpret these texts. "Concepcion Galore" seems also to be a nod to the Fleming novels; one of which had a "Pussy Galore" as a hot Bond girl character. (When I read Illuminatus!, in the scene with Fission Chips and Galore, I see Galore as being played by Salma Hayek, for personal reasons...)

The Book of Lies quotes are from chapter 45, where Al uses his great and memorable "I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt and found her a virgin in the morning." Chapter 45 is one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Lies, and it seems to harmonize and even transcend maybe logic:

"May, might, must, should, probably, may be, we may safely assume, ought, it is hardly questionable, almost certainly -- poor hacks! let them be turned out to grass!"

Let us meditate on "grass" here? Also: Korzybski's "pre-verbal" level.

Zweitracht period: discord, the moving away from chaos.

-Professor "Tochus" = "ass" And very typical of RAW (if not Shea): almost every time a college professor appears in RAW's texts, they are disparagingly named.

-Rbt. Putney Drake's character analysis seems like a fascination for both RAW and Shea, and a synoptical reading of Drake can yield some very revealing ideas about the character of people who gravitate to positions of power throughout history. RAW once said feared the amoral in power more than anyone else. (Recent research on "psychopaths" show that they're not who we thought they were...because the clinical definition has shifted. FDR shows high psychopathy in studies, but, as James Fallon elucidates here:
We "like" psychopaths who brazenly lie on OUR BEHALF.)

For a vertical reading of Drake, see Illuminatus!: p.55, 75, 87-89, 90, 95, 136-137, 181-182, 187, 220, 258-260, 265-268, 271-272, 281, 290, 298, 301, 302, 312--319, 324-334, 343-359, 363, 385, 393, 412, 416, 479, 513, 544-545, 548 (allusion), 550-556, 569, 576, 587, 622-624, 674-687, 689, 690, 694, 697, 726, 727, 731.
S-Cat Trilogy: 489
Illuminati Papers: 43
The Earth Will Shake: 185 (ancestor C.P. Drake)
Nature's God: 10-26 (a Drake arguing on behalf of a rape victim; "collateral" descendant of R.P. Drake); 141.

In New Libertarian 5/6/1978, p.18: RAW describes Drake as "the fascist mind incarnate."

In the Neal Wilgus interview from 1996, on p.12 RAW says the Drake sections in Illuminatus! are 99% his.

Let us maybe consider Drake w/in context of WR's fascism as historical default system in most of human History; PKD's "Black Iron Prison" and Alan Watts's "the Empire never ended."?

-The talking severed head trick that Hassan pulls seems Ismaeli legend. There's a wonderful Islamic scholar of these ideas whose first name is Farhad but whose last name I forget; he has written some fascinating stuff on Hassan I Sabbah legends. For RAW/WSB/Gysin/Colin Wilson: various uses of the legends (of which Marco Polo was one of original promulgators) for their own fictional purposes.

-NB Hassan's "lurching gait": code for stoner. In the Historical Illuminatus, George Washington has the same "lurching gait," and we all know he grew hemp and knew the females were different than the males, and that he had some major dental problems, and attendant pain that needed to be dealt with. Hell, "maybe" he just used the booze he peddled, but who knows?

Sorry to have rambled on so, but I've finally caught up with you guys here.

Anonymous said...


The Ishma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines by Farhad Daftary (Cambridge University Press, 1990) is probably the book your thinking of.

michael said...


I think that's it! Is it about 800 pages?

Farhad Daftary has written a bunch of really cool books on Islam, and I highly recommend his one on various strains of Islamic intellectual thought in history; it's only about 250 pages but it's H E A V Y, if ya know what I mean.

Thanks, beowulf1723.

michael said...

Re. pp.134-135 and Joe Malik looking at Johnny Dillinger and the frieze/freeze in time: to Joyceans, how do we read this w/in the context of Joyce's ideas about "epiphany"?

If at all...

Chad N. said...

For me, Fountainhead remains one of the best novels I've ever read. I'm no Rand devotee (wasn't even able to finish Atlas), but FH has so much to offer.

I'd give it a try next time you're on a beach for a week or more vacation.

fuzzbuddy said...

Great comments. And interesting piece with Neil Rest today!
Pg. 138. Why is Concepcion /galore killed and by whom? It has the same imagery as mentioned on Pg. 141.
Pg. 141. What is the "upside down 4" symbol?
Pg. 143. "The Crucifixion of Christ Considered as an Uphill Biby Alfred Jarry can be read here:
Pg. 144. Why does Pat go missing?

fuzzbuddy said...

Who does anyone think the US President is in Illuminatus! There seem to be some parts written as if Nixon is in office, whilst others seem to be of a post Nixon era.

Chad N. said...

For some reason, I kind of had a Reagan-vibe from the Prez in the book, but it seemed clear that they were trying to make all US Presidents (and all world leaders geneerally) interchangeable and identical.

fuzzbuddy said...

Good point.
It probably helped for later readers to not fix on a particular (now former) US President.

Unknown said...

It was written during the Nixon/Agnew regime, so unsurprisingly the Prez is a crook and the Veep is a moron, but the references are not made specific.

Crawshaw said...

The upside down 4 means the same thing as the hanged man of the tarot; the hanged man's figure makes the shape of an upside down 4.

Oz Fritz said...

RAW also mentioned Book of Lies ch. 45 as a favorite in his Crowley course. One of my favorite lines from it:

"The more necessary anything appears to my mind, the more certain it is that I only assert a limitation."

Note that in the poem he sleeps with Faith ie Faith = passive and he drinks and dances with Doubt; Doubt he hangs out and goes into artful, musical motion with. Doubt = very active in this scenario.

RAWs operational approach to his experimentation and results appears an ideal example of dancing with Doubt. It seems highly likely that Crowley's writings influenced Maybe Logic. You also have a classic line from The Book of the Law:

"Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown and all their words are skew-wise.

which I read as saying to take into account that the unknown always appears present in any situation hence don't invest absolute certainty in anything because you always have the unknown factor to take into account.

The 4th chapter of Illuminatus! is Chesed which corresponds with the element water. Crawshaw seems to have correctly identified the upside down 4 symbol with the Hanged Man - nice one! About the Hanged Man The Book of Thoth says:

"This card, attributed to the letter mem, represents the element of Water. It would perhaps be better to say that it represents the spiritual function of water in the economy of initiation; it is a baptism which is also a death. ... this gives the symbol of the Triangle surmounted by the Cross which represents the descent of the light into darkness in order to redeem it."

I quote this because it also seems congruent with how they use the symbol in Illuminatus! Also, Triangle = 3, Cross = 4 and we've just moved from chapter 3 to 4. Perhaps we now descend into darkness in order to redeem it?

Toff said...

Cited in ILLUMINATI PROJECT: MEMO #16 (the second #16):

Zatlyn, Ted. "Sirhan Blavatsky Capote." Los Angeles Free Press. July 26, 1968: 29.

Unknown said...

I came accross Robert Anton Wilson, perhaps not surprisingly, the year I turned 23. I was browsing through the campus Bookstore at Louisiana State University and came across a copy of The Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy. After a quick read of the first few pages, I immediately picked it up. At the time I was also an avid fan of Philip K. Dick ( still am) and got my hands on the documentary. The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick, which features an interview with, among others, Ol' Bob himself. After that I was hooked. Picked up Illuminatus, found some "others", and started my journey. Being a Media Studies grad, I gravitated toward McLuhan & Rushkoff, and also Leary & Goffman (AKA R.U. Sirius) Though I don't entirely buy into the Singularity movement that he champions. It was Wilson who got me reading Tim Leary, whom I had sworn off in my teens because I didn't identify with the hippies, and I saw Leary as their patron saint. Politically I don't really identify as Libertarian these days. While I find their views on personal freedom laudable, a lot of Libertarians I've talked to have some kooky ideas as to foreign policy, healthcare and defense. In my social circles, I've noticed some Republicans use the term when describing themselves so as not to offend their liberal friends. I never got into Ayn Rand, I tried to plow through Atlas Shrugged but found it to be without soul.
After hearing interviews with her I couldn't find myself agreeing with anything she said. I remember feeling a sigh of relief after hearing Bob say he once identified as an Objectivist, but that was cured when he met Ayn Rand. Well I've rambled on enough. That's how I got into RAW & Illuminatus.

John said...
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