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Saturday, July 29, 2023

Five questions for the 'Lion of Light' team


As part of my coverage of the important new Robert Anton Wilson book, Lion of Light, I posed five questions to members of the editorial team who worked on it: Rasa, R. Michael Johnson, Chad Nelson, Mike Gathers and Oz Fritz. I hope you enjoy my interview -- Tom. 

RAWILLUMINATION: Lion of Light has a long "lost" essay, plus six  other RAW pieces. None of it has been reprinted before in a Robert Anton Wilson book, correct?

OZ FRITZ: Yes, that is correct, Tom. Nothing in Lion of Light has appeared in another Robert Anton Wilson book.

Rasa with his sitar.  He runs operations for the RAW Trust and Hilaritas Press but also is a musician. 

RAWILLUMINATION: This may be a Rasa question: Why didn't this RAW book from Hilaritas use the usual cover artist?

RASA: Our cover designer, Scott McPherson retired. The pandemic and other life issues were a real challenge, like for many people, and he decided he needed to move his focus elsewhere. We parted on good terms, and he even helped out a couple times when I asked for his expert opinion since then. I’m just thrilled that he was able to do the vast majority of our covers up until now. His work was simply fantastic, in my less than humble opinion. 

I plan on writing a post or maybe a blog post at Hilaritas Press about the new Lion of Light cover. I did add an addendum (approved by the book’s editors) at the end of the book about one part of our cover decisions. The new Lion of Light cover was primarily created by me, with the help of Templedweller who stroked the AI, but all of the editors had a hand in making the final decision.

Chad Nelson

RAWILLUMINATION: Is this book of general interest to RAW fans, as opposed to people with a specific interest in Aleister Crowley? 

CHAD NELSON:  I was just thinking as I was reading it today that even if you know or have little interest in Crowley, you’ll still enjoy most of the classic Wilson themes: perception psychology, unorthodox thought and the social hysteria that results, mysticism and occult teachings, and tie-ins to other RAW favorites like Reich, Jung, Korzybski, et al. It’s less a Crowley biography than an analysis of his life and times through the typical Wilsonian lens.

It seems like understanding Crowley is pretty crucial to understanding Wilson. Until reading this volume, I didn’t realize just how influential Crowley appears to have been on RAW. I found myself on many occasions thinking, “ahhh, that’s where RAW gets that from…”

One of my favorite RAW essays, the short story that comes at the end of the new Natural Law edition, is largely just a fictionalized version of Crowley’s life. That was a surprise!

R. MICHAEL JOHNSON: Good points, Chad: RAW of course chews, swallows and digests all things Crowley and pretty much the history of magick and esotericism...then proceeds by incorporating all of it into his Wider Project. RAW seems to be an inexhaustible goldmine for any Generalist.

 I do think the book is of interest to both RAW and Crowley fans, and I base this assertion only on my experience with fans of both writers (lotsa overlap): readers who have abiding interests in either writer are not fly-by-night "fans": they seem sorta weird, extreme, and studious to me. Or maybe I'm projecting, 'cuz I'm weird and extreme in these things. I think the embedded, original BOOK BY ROBERT ANTON WILSON, "Do What Thou Wilt," is worth the price of admission itself. 

All praise be to Richard Kaczynski and Lon Milo Duquette for their imprimatur, too. Finally, I have to mention that I derived pleasure and knowledge from the original essays by Oz Fritz and Greg Arnott.

RASA: Hopefully the editors will say something about this, but from my perspective, as someone who is a good case study for your question… I was never a real fan of Crowley. I’ve read a couple of his books and liked them, and I always found him intriguing, but I never went much further, unlike a good number of RAW fans who either really love the guy or really hate the guy (we’ve had a couple of complaints about the title of the book from Crowley haters!). For me, it was a wonderful introduction and thorough investigation into Crowley. It’s all typical RAW writing, so always entertaining while informing. Just like RAW tackles any subject from Korzybski to Joyce, he always broadens the topic so that you see the connections to other areas of study. Also noteworthy are the other non-RAW essays in the book. All of them are great on their own. Michael Johnsons’s “23 Riffs” is a mind-bending excursion that is not to be missed!

OZ FRITZ: People who want to learn more about RAW should read Lion of Light. The centerpiece, "Do What Thou Wilt", was written in roughly the same era as Illuminatus!, Cosmic Trigger 1, Starseed Signals and Prometheus Rising. It reveals a different angle to him during that period. Lion of Light also demonstrates the development of his writing beginning from the very early piece taken from the Realist, to the later pieces following "Do What Thou Wilt." My essay gives a perspective on RAW near the end of his career when he taught the Crowley 101 online course at the Maybe Logic Academy. Michael Johnson's piece looks at a lot of science adjacent to RAW, Crowley and consciousness research. It's a wealth of knowledge on its own. Gregory Arnott's piece seems meta in some ways by looking at the dialectic of truth and fiction found in any biography as well as the truth and fiction found in the personas of Aleister Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson. Subtle, and not so subtle humor is found in all of RAW's pieces and in Johnson and Arnott's essays. Sometimes it cracks me up. There is leg-pulling going on at times that can challenge the reader's gullibility or skepticism. But not to worry, RAW brings up the concept of a bullshit detector at the beginning of his Introduction to the Regardie book. 

Robert Anton Wilson and Michael Johnson, Feb. 18, 2003, in Wilson's apartment.

RAWILLUMINATION: I have the impression the team that worked on this book thought it was an important addition to the RAW canon, does that describe your mental approach to it?

R. MICHAEL JOHNSON: This (short) book (Do What Thou Wilt) by RAW seems stunning to me, for many reasons, but one is this: He only really got into Crowley around 36-40 (or so) months before he wrote this: I don't think I'll ever come to grips with this, just another example of RAW's astounding erudition. When he decided something was worth studying, he pushed pedal to metal and never let up. Not only does he read everything available by Uncle Al, but seemingly everything by Kenneth Grant, Israel Regardie, all the bios, the "reception" of Crowley , including the Yellow Press, etc. He even strikes up friendship and correspondence with people like Regardie, Grady McMurtry, etc. And, of course, he learns, practices, and DOES the magick. Frankly? I'm still stunned at this. I don't know why, 'cuz we've all seen it before, but man o man! "Do What Thou Wilt" runs itself to something like 86 pages, and it already stands as one of the best books on Crowley, albeit RAW didn't have access to all other scholarly sources, as academia didn't become interested in Crowley until around 1990. There's not a dull passage in RAW's book.

RASA: From the moment we learned about, and I read, the “Harvard doc” as we came to call the manuscript “Do What Thou Wilt,” I knew we had something very special and unique. Like The Starseed Signals explored Leary in detail, and Quantum Psychology and other books described Korzybski’s work, and Coincidance began an in-depth look at Joyce, as such a major influence on RAW, a Crowley book was certainly a welcome part of the canon. 

Audio engineer and music producer Oz Fritz in a recording studio. 

RAWILLUMINATION: Let's say someone is a pretty strong RAW fan, who owns Iluminatus! and Cosmic Trigger and Prometheus Rising, but doesn't have a bookshelf groaning under the weight of every single Robert Anton Wilson book. Why should that person add Lion of Light?

R. MICHAEL JOHNSON:  That person should obtain and read (closely and deliberately) Lion of Light because the aspect of lighting out for the internal provinces  and tinkering with your own neurochemistry set and any Entities encountered are themes of both Cosmic Trigger vol 1 and Prometheus Rising. Crowley is lurking all over, in, around and through Illuminatus!. If anything, Lion Of Light will bring out the contours of magick as it appears in the previous books. To bold relief. And it ought to fuel wonder and the desire to know more.

What I particularly love about RAW's reading of Crowley: it seems like one viable way to frame magick is as a branch of American pragmatism, made cosmopolitan. This would be a minority opinion, no doubt. But RAW brings it down to earth enough it feels like maybe the entire corpus of Crowleyan magick (and adjacent branches, like Gardnerian Wicca) are DIY self-help in a sense that mainstream publishers, who make scads of dough of the "self-help" genre, have not, and probably will not, see. But we do!

OZ FRITZ: Anyone interested in RAW should have this in their bookshelf because reading it will make them smarter. Reading it a second time will make them even smarter, etc. This is one of those books that can be read multiple times and serve up something new and different each time. I find this book to be a good example of synergy, the whole appears way more than the sum of its parts or contents. And that includes the short notes by Mike Gathers and Rasa that serve as the alpha and omega of Lion of Light. It can also make people smarter not only with knowledge, but in their state of being as there are many suggestions, allusions and direct instructions for how to practically apply the techniques given. This book could have been called Magick in Theory and Practice but that title was already taken.

People who are interested in the Crowley movement will discover new information that doesn't exist anywhere else, to my knowledge, in the Duquette and Kaczynski pieces relative to the importance of RAW introducing people to Crowley.

MIKE GATHERS: Paraphrasing from the end of my editors note:  In the citations or whatsoever they are called in the back of Cosmic Trigger, Leary and Crowley stand above all else by an order of magnitude.   With Starseed we have a book on Leary.  Now we have a book on Crowley.   RAW presents Crowley as far more than a magician.   He presents a multidimensional being with a fluid personality.   It's a different take on Crowley than almost everyone else as far as I can tell.  

[And here is what Mike Gathers wrote in the Editor's Note, which is worth quoting as an answer to my question: "When brain storming topics to cover for the Hilaritas Podcast, I once scanned the index of Cosmic Trigger 1 for the most cited topics, and found that Timothy Leary and Aleister Crowley stood an order of magnitude above all the rest. Bob loved Tim, and Bob loved Uncle Al." 

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