Saturday, January 13. 2007
Over the past 48 hours I have received numerous emails advising me of the death of Robert Anton Wilson. It seems important that I say a few words here about a man I never met, but who had a tremendous influence over the spiritual, cultural and psychological development of many of my friends over the years.
Wilson was the co-author, along with Robert Shea, of the Illuminatus! Trilogy. This series of paperbacks came out in the mid-1970s at a time of tremendous social upheaval in the United States. We had just come out of Vietnam, Watergate was in full-swing, and the various Intelligence Committee and Assassination Committee hearings were informing us of the extent to which our government had spied on its own citizens, committed assassinations, and conspired in all sorts of mayhem at home and abroad. At the same time, neo-Paganism was growing in popularity, in particular the version known as Wicca: the Witchcraft movement.
For many of us at the time, neo-Paganism was seen as an anti-intellectual, purely right-brain kind of environment: the epitome of what we would call the New Age. Those of us who tended more towards the left-brain, ritual magic environment found ourselves without a real group or society that measured up to our standards of serious scholarship and committed practice. There was the Church of Satan, which was seen as little more than a club for ex-Catholics (!) and of course the OTO.
The OTO at the time was in the midst of turmoil itself. Some prominent members were switching sides from Marcelo Motta’s group – in the US, headquartered in Tennessee – and Grady McMurtry’s group – headquartered in California. There were serious political and philosophical differences between the two groups and, unfortunately, they were the only games in town. Most of the groups – whether pagan, Wiccan, or Thelemite – were arenas for cults of personality, and that diluted both the medium and the message.
Then, suddenly, there was the Illuminatus! trilogy, and everyone had an alternative perspective, a weltanschauung that merged paganism, Thelema, and Asian religions with conspiracy theories, thousands of historical references and layers upon layers of meaning … all done in an exuberant, manic style that captured our imaginations and gave us a paradigm for our own cosmological and theological suspicions, amorphous as they were. We identified so strongly with the ideas in the Trilogy that groups began to form based on the concepts we found there: Discordians, Erisians, Hagbard Celine chapters of various cults, etc. In addition, the ideas and thought of Timothy Leary were evident in all of Wilson’s writings and that led us to neurological (and dare we say pharmacological!) perspectives on the phenomena of initiation, illumination, and conversion.
My own understanding of synchronicity, mind-control programs, and the link between government psychological programs and analogues with shamanistic practices and secret society rituals were mirrored in the Wilson-Shea Trilogy. Living in New York City at the time, I witnessed the emergence of an occult revival that took place in the bars, clubs, bookstores and apartments of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens … all of it tinged with the elements to be found in Illuminatus!.
There will be those who will tell you to read Cosmic Trigger and the other, later, books by Wilson, and they are justified in doing so. But I submit that you will never quite understand the context of Cosmic Trigger unless you read Illuminatus!. It will also take you back to a time when we, the people, felt we had a chance to own our own spirituality no matter what form it would eventually take. It was the pre-AIDS, pre-Iran-Contra, pre-Iraq world: a kind of interregnum between the end of Vietnam and the scandals of Watergate and the beginning of our Middle East adventure and the scandals of the Bush administration (replete with Fred Fielding, the same lawyer for both Nixon and Bush!). It was the Carter era, and John Lennon was still alive. Jonestown was in the wind, and so was the Son of Sam. But we felt we were on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough, a group satori that would result in an explosion of illumination signalling the end of the Old World and the beginning of the New … or, as Wilson would say, the immanentizing of the eschaton.
God speed, Robert Anton Wilson. And thank you.
Friday, January 5. 2007
Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.
Reality, what a concept!
-- Robin Williams
Greetings, children. Sorry to have been absent lo! these many moons. Truth to tell, I have been rocked by our common experience. I have a growing sense of anxiety and unease … that maybe Speaker Nancy Pelosi will turn into a Woofer or a Tweeter, but not both. Will the Democrats amplify our problems, or will they become merely turntables, revolving doors of political insincerity and stupidity, such as we have come to expect? Weird, surrealistic visions arise of our potential future twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. Why do I feel this way, when everything looks so promising (at least, for the next 100 hours)?
Last year probably ranks up there with 1963, 1968, and 1975. Government scandals, deaths, accusations, political upsets, and an ongoing war in a foreign country that is sapping American strength and testing American resolve … not to mention Iraqi strength, Iraqi resolve, and the deaths of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands.
At the funeral for Gerald Ford, our 38th president, former President George W. Bush actually took a swipe at conspiracy theorists. Did anyone catch that? Why did he feel it was either appropriate or necessary to attack conspiracy theorists during Ford’s funeral? Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Let’s look at Gerald Ford briefly, and find out a few things they did not mention during the funeral or during the days of post-mortem (literally) that preceded it.
In the first place, Gerald Ford was a Freemason. Okay, not much to work with there. Just odd that no one mentioned it.
In the second place, Gerald Ford worked as a male model early on in his career. Oops. No mention of that during the funeral!
But that’s not the most interesting part. Ford was actually a business partner of Harry Conover, a well-known name in the modeling business in the post-World War II era, and the man credited for having discovered Candy Jones. Candy Jones was one of his star models (and briefly his wife), and just incidentally a woman whose biographer – Donald Bain – claims was a Manchurian Candidate, i.e., a programmed assassin. Ford-Conover-Jones. Later, of course, Ford would find a berth on the Warren Commission, hence the jibe at conspiracy theorists by George W. Bush, himself an easy target due to his family’s notorious support of the Nazi regime both before and during World War II, and the fact that George Bush himself was once head of the CIA.
Donald Bain, of course, was one of the screenwriters for the popular television series Murder, She Wrote. That series starred Angela Lansbury as a kindly old writer of detective stories living in Maine. Angela Lansbury, of course, also starred in the film version of the Condon novel, The Manchurian Candidate. The film also starred Frank Sinatra, not a stranger to byzantine plots and organized crime scenarios. Most importantly, though, the film was directed by John Frankenheimer … the director with whom Bobby Kennedy had his last meal at Frankenheimer’s Malibu beach house hours before his assassination by a … programmed assassin. Who were the other guests that evening? Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. Roman Polanski was the director of the film version of Rosemary’s Baby (starring Sinatra’s wife, Mia Farrow). His wife, Sharon Tate, would be dead a year later, murdered by Charles Manson’s minions. As Ed Sanders would say, “ooo—eee-ooo”.
That’s what happens when you pull at the thread of Gerald R. Ford.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I was once interviewed by Candy Jones on her radio program, sometime in 1980. At the time, I had no knowledge of her Manchurian Candidate status, or I would have been interviewing her.)
All of this took place in the era known as the Sixties. It was a time of an unpopular war in a foreign land; political turmoil; and the alienation of America’s youth. We have all the elements necessary for a revisit of that tumultuous time, except for the latter. America’s youth are not marching on the streets, protesting the war, agitating for political change. There is a reason for that, of course, and don’t think the Powers That Be are not aware of it. There is no Draft.
Since America’s youth is not being directly confronted with the possibility of being called up and sent to die in Iraq, America’s youth is basically unconcerned about the entire event. In fact, I am appalled by the total lack of interest in anything remotely political, foreign, or historical by these, our future leaders. We have somehow managed to raise a generation of George H.W. Bushes. And we saw how that turned out.
Naturally, the level of cynicism among the youth is what contributes to this startling ennui. What else has happened this year? We had an importart religious leader – the front man for the Evangelical movement – exposed as a man who frequented male prostitutes while doing crystal meth. We had another religious leader call for the assassination of the president of Venezuela, the same guy who said that the people of New Orleans deserved Hurricane Katrina. Our moral leaders are obviously emperors in new clothes, and our youth is smart enough to see that.
Today, in China, the Communist Party has lost its moral authority and that means great and terrifying changes will take place in that country until a new moral authority asserts itself. What will happen to the United States if we lose our moral compass? (I don’t mean if our political leaders and religious leaders lose their moral compass; that ship sailed a long time ago.) I mean our people, our average people, the people who make this country work. Where will they turn? If we can’t trust the priests or the ministers, the Catholics or the Evangelicals (and we are all scared to death of the imams, thank you Fox Network and the 700 Club) what options do we have? Orthodox Judaism? Perhaps. It would be a refreshing change to see our youth studying the Torah and the Talmud; they might begin to understand Christianity a little better! Buddhism? Too … Beatles in the Sixties, right? Santeria? Macumba? Palo Mayombe? Voudon? A little too … ethnic for Middle America?
The problem may not lie in our religions, but in our religious organizations. Here’s a thought: what if our moral guidance did not come from human beings? What if our moral compass was set not by the priests but by the texts themselves? What if our only recourse was to the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Analects of Confucius, the Dao De Jing … the Sutras …?
Why, that would be like … like … actually referring to the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution! That would be like building our political viewpoint on those sacred texts! What a concept!
Too bad it wouldn’t fly. Not in the America of the Patriot Act and Homeland Security, NSA wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and Abu Ghraib. Perhaps we will have to start meeting in secret, like the early Christians: in catacombs and cemeteries in the middle of the night, reading the forbidden books and dreaming of a utopia that once was, that might have been, that – who knows? – might still be in the distant future.
What a concept!
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