Robert Anton Wilson’s Quest To Turn On The World
by A Student
In a jailhouse interview, Timothy Leary responded to a question asking if he was trying to change the world with his activities in the 1960s: “Yes, we were trying to change the world. We knew the odds were against us, but we had a sense of humor about it.” For his efforts, Leary got rewarded with trumped up drug charges resulting in enforced retreats in multiple jails and prisons. He lived for months on the run as a fugitive before getting illegally kidnapped in Afghanistan by the U.S. authorities who placed him in solitary confinement next to Charlie Manson in Folsom Prison. Richard Nixon had named him the most dangerous man in America. His compadre in the conspiracy of Higher Intelligence, Robert Anton Wilson, took a less public, more low-key approach to the same mission. In spite of facing significant social challenges by going against the grain of economic slavery and following his own vision, Wilson managed to not get burned at the stake, locked up, or vilified in the tabloid press like several of his predecessors. He knew how to keep silent and the necessity of that for effective communication. The Greek God Harpocrates, pictured as a babe on a lotus flower, forefinger to lips in the gesture of silence, represents the god of protection.
I am not aware of Robert Anton Wilson ever directly expressing an intention to transform the world. He did carry a life-long interest and transmission of the work presented by Aleister Crowley while distancing himself from Crowley’s personal philosophies:
“It is this synthesis of Eastern and Western occult traditions with modern scientific method that is probably Crowley’s major achievement. His notorious anti-Christian philosophy – a blend of Nietzsche Supermanism and anarcho-fascist Darwinism – is quite distinct from his methodology. Whether you like that philosophy or not (and the Libertarian does not), you can still use the methodology of research Crowley devised” (Cosmic Trigger I, p. 70 Hilaritas Press).
Later in the book, he tells the story of meeting a clown in the park named Parcifal doing Sufi exercises as part of his routine. Parcifal accurately predicts that RAW will soon find his son whom he’s looking for. RAW later looks up his name: “By Cabalah, Parcifal = 418 = ‘The Great Work Accomplished,’ i.e. the total awakening of all humanity” (CT I p. 102). This appears to be Wilson’s unique interpretation of the Great Work, I’ve not encountered it elsewhere in quite that formulation.
A few pages later while discussing the Cabala of The Book of the Law he returns to 418:
“The second major number in the book is 418, which, ‘coincidentally’ is the number of Crowley’s home in Inverness, Scotland. Its standard cabalistic meaning is ‘the Great Work accomplished,” or the Illumination of all humanity.” Crowley has a lot to say about 418 in Sepher Sephiroth, this number has the most extensive entry in the whole book, but nowhere does he say it indicates the “Illumination of all humanity,” though that certainly makes a valid conclusion, RAW’s conclusion. He continues:
“Crowley interpreted this to mean that his mission was not to illuminate a few, as other gurus have done and are doing, but to set in motion occult forces which would result in the illumination of all, by the end of this century; 418 is also the number of ‘Parcifal,’ the Sufi whose life so oddly intersected mine in that mad summer of 1973” (CT I, p. 111)
I’ve been reading Crowley and the secondary literature consistently for many years without encountering that interpretation RAW attributes to him. Recall that 40 pages earlier, he distanced himself from Crowley’s philosophies while aligning himself to his methodology. One of those methods includes playing fast and loose with facts in order to transmit a particular piece of Intelligence.
Boleskine, the name of the house Crowley owned near Inverness adds to 418. Though subtle, RAW deliberately calls it the number of Crowley’s home without referring to it by name. He then connects it with the Sufis, in particular, someone doing Sufi exercises in the park.
418 also = “Servans misericordiam” which translates as “keeping kindness,” or “keeping compassion.” The root of the second syllable of the second word, “cordi” = heart. Boleskine, now in preservation and restoration after multiple fires ravaged it, lies very near to the geographical center of the Scottish Highlands.
Cosmic Trigger I appeared relatively early in Wilson’s literary career. We find similar sentiments expressed in the last novel he wrote, Nature’s God. This note from Sigismundo’s Wilderness Journal sounds like it might be autobiographical:
“I ran away from the Priory because I cannot waste time being an Emperor. I have more important work to do. I want to become the concert master for future evolution” (NG, p. 128, Hilaritas Press)
Later, Sigismundo explains the intentions of the “Free Builders” to the indigenous shaman who seems both his friend and enemy:
“They wished to cure not just suffering individuals but the entire suffering race of humanity. It was their aim to help all humans walk through the gate of the four quarters and become like gods.” (NG, p. 161).
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From his work, it appears that Robert Anton Wilson’s efforts toward illuminating humanity consisted of showing people how they could turn themselves on, how they could proceed towards transforming their lives into whatever they desired; how they could move in and out of different ideological spaces, increase their intelligence, and live longer, not only physically, but vitally. In the field of voluntary evolution, he showed a remarkable talent for transferring and transforming technology from a variety of sources, taking information and methods, integrating them with his own practices, strategies, and experimentation to eventually communicate them back out from the understanding of personal experience personally experienced. The legacy of his philosophical research gave the world Maybe Logic and Model Agnosticism, approaches to making sense of life forever associated with his name, explained well elsewhere, only as far away as an internet search engine. His tinkering with and ceaseless trumpeting of the 8 Circuit Model of Consciousness, originally conceived by the good Doctor Leary, remains his most extroverted and recurring example of broadcasting a set of tools for conscious change.
Like the jazz guru bandleader Sun Ra (see the documentary, A Joyful Noise) whose name they both shared, RAW valorized the Unknown. His excursions outside the domains of the norm and into new territories sometimes led to startling events and conclusions far outside acceptable scientific consensual realities. Rather than invalidating them, or reducing them to a psychological or sociological profile, he appeared ok with ultimately remaining agnostic about the nature of these discoveries. His skepticism seems as legendary as his willingness to stay open to any possibility.
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The technology I have personally benefited the most from RAW is magick. Magick is spelled with a “k” to distinguish itself from stage magic and illusions although both of those can help with magick. It’s also forever associated with Aleister Crowley who revitalized that spelling. Crowley based his magick on the Golden Dawn while significantly modifying and expanding it.
Crowley’s most significate accomplishments don’t appear to be his not inconsiderable mystical and magical attainments, but rather his ability to communicate the methods and schema where you can do that for yourself, or in his words, produce Christs. RAW based his magick on Crowley’s while significantly modifying and expanding it in his way. I’ve come to understand Crowley through RAW and to get a better grasp of RAW through his understanding of Crowley.
Significant magickal instruction appears in every single book I’ve ever read by Wilson, particularly in his fiction where you’ll find it usually coded, though he helps the attentive reader crack the code. In the spirit of pearls before swine, he doesn’t seem interested in freely giving out esoteric data, rather he makes the reader, the student, work to discover and realize it for themselves. This appears one intention behind Guerilla Ontology, or Operation Mindfuck: feed the system with blatantly false information, then less blatantly, dubious information that may or may not be true in order to get the reader to think for themselves, not blindly accept everything or anything the Author/Teacher says without question. Balanced skepticism seems the first order of business in a career of magick. When RAW taught Crowley 101 online in 2005, during the 101st anniversary of the reception of The Book of the Law, the first essay he assigned for study was The Soldier and the Hunchback, Crowley’s dialectic between certitude, as represented by the Soldier (!) and doubt from the Hunchback (?).
For the past several years, RawIllumination.org has often hosted weekly discussion groups usually featuring one of Wilson’s books. By reading a tiny chunk, this weekly voyage through a small portion of his literary world enables the iso-magnification of the text to reveal more of the depth of his transmission than you might get from reading straight through without feedback and analysis. His books seem ideal for reading slowly and contemplatively and makes for a great deal of fun for people like myself who love to solve literary puzzles and who love to learn.
Much of the magick in his fiction remains to get discovered. I comment extensively in the group discussions only limited by available time; I perceive much more than I can comment on and I miss a lot that other people notice. Since I see much more now than in past readings, I can reasonably expect additional didactic tracks currently unknown to me to come up with further study in the future.
RAW is my first and primary teacher of magick. Through him I met E.J. Gold whom I’ve learned a lot from indirectly, mostly by example. Like Crowley and RAW, Gold uses guerilla ontology, communicates on multiple levels and has fluency with Qabalah. One of the first things Gold told me is that 50% of what he says about the Work is a lie. That makes it a 50/50 chance that the figure of 50% is a lie if you accept the statement as true. Sometimes it seems a much higher number. Gold and RAW were friends. There are a couple of sets of recorded talks they did together at a 4th Way Convention in 1980 in San Francisco. Gold once told me that he and RAW were in the same School together.
Circa 2003 or 2004 Gold suggested that I reread The Golden Apple, the second book of the Illuminatus! Trilogy. I decided to read the whole thing and experienced new strata of previously opaque Qabalistic imagery open up. When that finished, I received a strong intuitive sign from the environment to go on, so I continued with Schrodinger’s Cat. That coincided with an intense period of my life that felt like going through Chapel Perilous while also producing a jazz record in Paris. I experienced so many synchronicities with events toward the end of the book and events in my daily life that it felt like I was living inside the novel, or the novel had jumped outside its pages to encompass my entire world. It’s hard to describe, definitely reset some neural wiring and increased my respect for the power of the word.
Lon Milo Duquette is a teacher who played an invaluable role in my education, initially with his book, The Magick of Thelema, now called The Magick of Aleister Crowley, A Handbook of Rituals of Thelema. The title speaks for itself. In one of his books, Duquette calls RAW his hero.
I have held a great affinity for the writings of Crowley since I first read the Equinox and the Confessions at the age of 22. It took a long time and the help of the above to fully penetrate his presentation and I’m still learning. RAW’s communication of magick bypasses Thelemic administration and a lot of the formalisms, generally getting to the heart of the matter while adding his own twists. The process of understanding the magick in Wilson’s writings seems similar to the process called the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Both cases require a feedback loop between subject and object. You read his writings, they can inspire a change of some kind, new habits, new experiments, new attitudes that make you a little smarter, funnier, and more sensitive to a greater range of energy. You read or reread more of his writings and comprehend significantly more, leading to different changes; the process of growth. With the HGA, it seems the creation or discovery of a spiritual guide through exercising intuition. Like both RAW’s fiction and nonfiction, the HGA communicates often through Qabalah. One can learn to establish lines of communication with whatever that is by studying RAW. Synchronicities appear key to this type of communication. Information can be received through coincidences. You can learn about yourself through observing how you interpret them.
I will go so far as to say that RAW forged a link with the Secret Chiefs for anyone making the effort … just making the effort! of understanding his books from the perspective of magick.
As an adept, RAW knew how to invoke. Meaning he knew how to draw into his writings Intelligence beyond his own personal knowledge. I asked him about the Secret Chiefs and he told me “they are a useful metaphor.” I infer from this response that he used this metaphor to some advantage. I’ve also found it a useful metaphor. It once got me into a personal message dialogue with Kenneth Grant less than a year before he died.
The spiritual path seems a construction, as given in the contemporary iteration of the tradition RAW speaks from. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, can mean figure it out for yourself, forge and follow the path you create; follow your bliss as Joseph Campbell suggests. Take what you find and use it the best you can. Improvise, if you don’t have a wand, use your finger or a stick of incense. Magick, the way RAW presented it, doesn’t have a rigid, proper, formal way of doing things. You are free to improvise. Magick defines itself as a Science and Art, some seem to overlook the latter, some overlook both. RAW emphasized and balanced the two. In Cosmic Trigger I he quotes Nietzsche as saying, “we are all greater artists than we realize” (p. 28). Nietszche didn’t exactly say that, or maybe we read different translations? In what I saw, Nietzsche implies this without the clarity RAW artistically transforms his words into.
Immediately following this quote we find a brilliant statement about magick, one very accurate and true in my experience:
“Learning to remember the invisible donkey who carries us about — the self-programmer — is the first step in awakening from conditioned, mechanical consciousness to true, objective consciousness. Whether or not there are fairies, elves, and extra-terrestrials hiding behind every bush, awakening reveals that the universe is full of invisible intelligence. It is very hard for us to learn to contact that intelligence without clothing it in projected humanoid forms” CT I, p. 28)
The spiritual path appears an eclectic construction to the scientific and artistic traveler. In Cosmic Trigger I, Wilson provides a great deal of raw material, hints, formulas, programs and suggestions for initiating the construction of this path; actually, in many of his books. “Buildung supra buildung” as Joyce puns in Finnegans Wake. The 8 Circuit model provides a framework to hang your soul on with enough information, particularly, in The Game of Life, to build a super highway to the stars, metaphorically speaking. Different types of people get drawn to different materials and methods. There’s something for everyone. Model agnosticism allows the freedom to pick and choose.
Crowley’s system seems opens source code – he allows variation, improvisation and experimentation. He emphasizes the creative, artistic side in his chapter, The Circle from Magick Book 4: “… the scope of any (wo)man’s work depends upon their own original genius.”
The focus of his system gets quickly revealed in Liber E., the first set of exercises in The Equinox:
“6. The experimenter is encouraged to use his own intelligence, and to not rely upon other person or persons, however distinguished, even among ourselves.” That seems a reiteration of the intention behind RAW’s use of Guerilla Ontology.
The kind of magick most often found in Wilson’s books is theurgic, which he once defined as magick intended to raise consciousness. Thaumaturgic magick, magick intended to change the environment appears less common and seems usually done in the service of theurgic magick, of raising consciousness. We find thaumaturgic magick in the manifesting quarters exercise, the first exercise in Prometheus Rising. I have found the training of attention to visualize in that way very useful for manifesting parking spaces in crowded cities. I got the idea to try this after ex-Merry Prankster Mountain Girl said she always calls upon the Parking Angel to find her a spot and it works.
Robert Anton Wilson’s final novel, Nature’s God contains an extensive, quantity unknown, treasure trove of both coded and uncoded magical information. It begins bluntly with a quote from Nietzsche: “The world itself is the will to power — and nothing else! And you yourself are the will to power — and nothing else!” Power in the sense of the power to do, the power to act, not simply react, the power to create; not power over others. This connects to the True Will of the Thelemites and to the self-programmer in the quote above. It takes Will to awaken at will. Will and intention seem both keys to magick.
The awakened individual seems turned on from an electrical point of view, like a light switch. To turn on the world, provide the tools, methods, motivations, mysteries, maps and philosophies for each individual to turn themselves on as thou wilt, along with significant doses of humorous entertainment to help the medicine go down.
The proof of the pudding, speaking mathematically of course, is in the eating of it. RAW, a product of his work, exemplifies genius … in the original Latin sense of the word, from the verb gignere – to give birth, to bring forth. This will likely sound politically incorrect, but I recognize Robert Anton Wilson as a spiritual Master. This doesn’t mean he was a perfect human being (an oxymoron if ever I heard one), or a Saint or a Guru or that he never got annoyed with people. Crowley was a spiritual Master who completely sucked at relationships. It means, among other things, that he had an ability for specialized communication, he could, in the words of the Sufis, transmit baraka. I know this from direct experience, I wrote a blog about it.
It confirmed for me that this could happen over the internet. Baraka can be found in his written materials, but it has to get unlocked.
More evidence of adeptship can be found in the prognosticating Intelligences he conjures into his books. Wilson has talked about a scene in Illuminatus! similar in content to the Jonestown massacre that occurred a few years later. I found it more startling to find the gematria of the historical graffiti that appears all over a chapter in The Widow’s Son adds to a number equivalent to the word “crown.” The King of Spain makes his one and only appearance in the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles at the beginning of this chapter in relation to the graffiti hence “corona,” the Spanish word for crown. No prediction of a virus, but the plague becomes part of the set elsewhere. The graffiti represents an early meme meant to disarm the Pope whenever he sees it as it predicts the timing of his death. RAW introduces Thomas Paine near the close of The Widow’s Son and makes a pun with the closing words which I interpreted as learning to deal with pain cheerfully; I pointed out other allusions to strategies for dealing with pain in those closing pages. We read that maybe a week or two before the lockdown due to the corona virus. Our society has gone through a great deal of collective pain ever since, it has yet to let up in any significant way and might be getting worse.
In Nature’s God, Sigismundo Celine on a retreat in the 18th Century American wilderness, makes the offhand prediction: “By 2020, autokinotons may even fly to the moon” (NG p. 127 Hilaritas Press). By very simple Qabalistic computation: “By 2020 = b(2) + 20 + 20 = 42. According to Crowley: “This number 42 is the Great Number of the Curse … This number is said to be all hotch-potch and accursed” (The Book of Lies p. 95). This gives an accurate assessment of the current year. The terribleness of 42 gets elaborated upon elsewhere, but we hardly need to read more when we can just look at what goes on right now outside our windows and on our networks. We’re living it. The notarikon, the addition of the initials, in the second phrase = 110 which might suggest the final secret of the Illuminati to anyone who looks up 110 in Sepher Sephiroth found in the back of Crowley’s Qabalah dictionary, 777. It radiates RAW’s optimism as we travel through the current cultural Chapel Perilous. This interpretation seems more plausible than a lot of the ones I’ve seen attempting to read Nostradamus’ quatrains into historical events.
Chapter 38 from The Book of Lies might be where RAW derived the interpretation of the Great Work as illuminating all humanity. One of the most straightforward and informative books on magic is The Tree of Life by Israel Regardie. RAW and Regardie corresponded. Regardie wrote an introduction to Prometheus Rising.
In the words of the Master: “I can say this so simply in music, but when I try to say it in words only paradox and nonsense approximate to what I mean” (NG p. 133). I’ll then close with a musical suggestion. I don’t know how much RAW appreciated The Beatles but he and Shea did put a Yellow Submarine in Illuminatus! Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Reprise into A Day in the Life.
” A crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look, having read the book