The ILLUMINATUS! Play Interview
(This interview conducted in March of 1977 first came across my radar in an odd little ‘zine, Weird Trips, Issue #2, 1978. I later rediscovered it in the infosphere at James Nye’s now defunct Frogweb site from which it was resurrected via web.archive.org. Apparently it originates from a “fanatic supplement” dual titled “Illuminatus!” and “Immortalist,” that was distributed for the National Theatre run of the play.)
Fortean Times issue 17 (August 1976) announced on page 23 that Ken Campbell (Honorary Member of the Isle of Wight Fortean Society) had written a cycle of five plays based on the Illuminatus! trilogy, and that from 23rd November there would be a different play (each consisting of five 23 minute acts) each night from Tuesday to Saturday, with the entire cycle being performed on the Sunday in a “bum-numbing marathon.” The cycle was performed at the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Drama and Pun at18 Matthew St,Liverpool. “Ken assures me,” FT continued, “that the plays will make brains boggle, and will be the biggest thing in the theatre for some years. If you can, read the novels before you go, so you won’t miss any of the intricacies or paranoia.” (Pictured left, authors Robert Anton Wilson, and Robert Shea in 1977)
The same issue of FT contained a review of the Immortal Trilogy on pages 26 to 27, which I quote in full:
A rambling story that trips through the Kennedy assassinations; a plot to release a heinous Anthrax-Leprosy virus; the notorious Chicago convention; how Hagbard Celine, the last of the freebooters, bought the Mafia with gold looted from an Atlantean temple; how ‘they’ shot a fake John Dillinger, leaving five colones on the loose; a revolution on the small island of Fernando Poo inspired by the minions of Chthulu; a whole regiment of Nazi stormtroopers in suspended animation on the bed of a Swiss lake awaiting activation by a rockgroup bent on world domination. Meet talking dolphins; Adam Weishaupt, who founded the Illuminati in 1776 (yeah! on 1st May, too) then fled to America when the sect got busted, changing his name to George Washington, and tending his huge marijuana plantations (why d’you think he looks so stoned on the dollar bill?) Padre Pederasty who recruits for numerous anarchist movements all using each other as cover; Atlanta Hope who uses her frightful anti-porn female militia, God’s Lightning, as one of the outlets for he operations as an Illuminatus; and many other cranks, dreamers, liberators and their victims.
(Pictured above right, co-authors of the theatre script to Illuminatus! Ken Campbell and Chris Langham, who also played George Dorn)
This is a compendium of madness culled from all the key books of the (what used to be underground) culture on everything you can milk or laughs or shudders – drugs, sex, black magic, sex, comix, sex, horror & fantasy, sex, secret societies and even sex – written into a gut-busting, brain-withering riot guaranteed to become a cult novel (Tolkien will be spinning in his grave) and packed with enough paranoia to keep you glancing furtively over your shoulder for weeks. The authors prove the penis [sic] mightier than the sword on a philosophical battleground that draws on Lovecraft, Leary, Hassan-i-Sabbah, Kesey & Ginsberg, the Tzu brothers (Lao & Chuang), the Zen masters, Crowley & Levi, and other apostles, true and false, in the ancient conflicts between orthodoxy and unorthodoxy, the state and the individual, establishments and iconoclasts, us and them. Is the world really run by the Illuminati, and are a confused bunch of dope freaks really our last chance? Who is the lama who lives belowDealyPlaza and juggles with space-time? Why do our heroes stand by while a giant leviathan makes love to their computer? Is there any truth to the significance of the numbers 5, 23 and 33, upon which the entire novel is structured? (Be prepared for streams of consciousness in which not only identity but time and space no longer confine the narrative, which zips up and down time-lines and flashes into other minds with consummate ease.)
A damned good read. Has to be read to be believed (and even then I’m not sure – it really is preposterous in parts). See if you can spot all the allusions. Though Fort has only one fleeting mention that I can remember, the authors are fully aware of the Fortean philosophy, and indeed, the scope of the book is a brilliant exercise in Fortean flexibility, and an outrageous mirror of modern folly.
I think they liked it – and so have thousands of readers ever since. These pages are dedicated to the two Bobs’ Immortal Trilogy and the legendary Ken Campbell stage production, and are mounted in the hope that the show can be resurrected, so that those of us who love the book, but were just too young to go to the play, can at last catch up on what we missed. And if anyone thinks they might like to make a film of it too, that would be nice. My hope is that Daisy Eris Campbell, who is currently studying for an MA in production, and who owes her existence to the show where her parents Ken Campbell and Pru Gee met, will mount a production in time to celebrate the book’s 30th anniversary in 2006.
For the National Theatre run of the show (which included fantastic sets and design by Bill Drummond, who went on to become art terrorist and mainstay of leftfield pop-band KLF [a name, along with JAMM -Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – taken from the novel]), John Mackay and Heathcote Williams produced an Illuminatus/Immortalist ‘fanatic supplement’. It was designed by Richard Adams, with photos by Alan Bell and H. Murphy. Reproduced below are some pictures from that supplement, plus the interview with Robert Anton Wilson and the late Robert Shea. Robert Anton Wilson’s daughter had tragically been killed by thieves during an attempted robbery four months before the interview took place. Robert Anton Wilson movingly describes the efforts he and his many friends made to preserve Luna so that she might have life in the future. The interview also reflects Bob’s interest in life extension and immortality, the subject of the flipside of the supplement.
Bob Shea and Robert Anton Wilson are the authors of the 800-page SF epic, Illuminatus! Its subject is the history of the human race and the cloven-hoofed barbarism of contemporary politic. It’s no exaggeration to call it the foremost work of anarchist fiction to date. The interviews which follow took place inLondon in March 1977 on the occasion of the opening at the National Theatre of the 8-and-a-half hour stage version by Ken Campbell and Chris Langham’s Science Fiction Company ofLiverpool.
Fanatic: How far is Illuminatus a work of fiction and how far is it a work of fact?
Bob Shea: An intelligent person who looks at it will immediately recognise that it’s a put-on. But then there’s another level beyond that, where the fantasy blends in with the reality to the point where it’s not that easy to determine whether you’re being put on or whether it’s real. I myself keep changing my judgement about which parts of the book are real and which parts are fantasy.
Fanatic: Has anything happened since you finished the book to confirm you in your uncertainty?
Bob Shea: Yes, there have been a number if things that seem to bear out the direction we were going in: the discovery of the link between the Mafia and the CIA and their attempt to assassinate Castro. The existence of the informal international organisation of financiers called he Bilderbergers, who meet once a year and seem to determine the financial fate of the earth. The Trilateral Commission, similar to the Bilderbergers, headed by David Rockerfeller. This Commission seems to have membered at least two recent presidents of the US. The symbol of the Trilateral Commission is a triangle and the symbol of the Illuminati is an eye in a triangle. So as soon as I heard of the Trilateral Commission I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the Illuminati at work again! Then there’s the groups in Illuminatus that seemed to foreshadow little suicidal terrorist groups like the Symbionese Liberation Army.
(Pictured left, David Rappoport as Markoff Chaney: “From this day forward, unto death, it will be civil war: the Midget versus the Digits.”)
Fanatic: What about the curious, rambling structure of the book?
Robert Anton Wilson: What we were trying to get away from was the assumed omniscience which writers have employed in the past. Nowadays, scientists admit they don’t know everything – there’s more than one model for what’s going on – on the subatomic level or the cosmological level. Liberal clergymen will admit their religion is not necessarily the only true one. And yet novels are written as if there’s at once a level at which the novelist knows everything. And the reader is just supposed to accept it. What we’ve done in Illuminatus! is to give several versions of reality and let the reader decide for himself or herself which one is the most believable. And then people ask us which is our real explanation. Our answer is we don’t know any better than anybody else. Everybody should think for themselves.
Fanatic: What about the book’s attitude to authority?
Robert Anton Wilson: The major song at the close of the play is, ‘Now Look What You Made Me Do!’ The phrase comes from Laurel and Hardy. Hardy does something completely asinine and then he turns toLaureland says, ‘Now look what you made me do!’ We’ve built that into the book as a sort of paradigm of the sort of things that go on in authoritarian, pyramidal societies, where everybody is looking upwards to get orders. Most people, if there are no orders coming, don’t know what to do and they sit around waiting for the next order, We’re trying to cure people of that ‘Now-look-what-you -made-me-do!’ reflex. It caused Buchenwald, Belsen,Hiroshima,Vietnam, the Crusades, the Holy Inquisition, the conquest ofMexico. As Gurdjieff said during the First World War: ‘It’s obvious that everybody on this planet is asleep. If those men were to wake up they’d throw their guns down and go home to their families right away.’ In addition to the play and the books, there’s an organisation known as the Discordian Society which is distributing cards making every man, woman, and child on the planet a Pope. We want everybody to recognise their own divinity and infallibility and stop looking outside themselves for orders.
(Pictured above right, Prunella Gee as Eris, Greek goddess of confusion – also known to the Romans as Discordia – patron deity of the Discordian Society.)
Fanatic: Hagbard Celine, the book’s Discordian superhero, says – and it’s among the closing lines of the play: ‘Life on earth remains a tragedy as it ends with the death trip. My next projects are a starship to find some sane minds in this galaxy , and an immortality pill to end the death trip.’ Bob Wilson, You’ve become very involved in what’s become known as the Immortalist Movement. In theUSbooks seem to be coming out all the time with titles like Superlongevity, Man Into Superman, and No More Dying. How did you first get into the immortalist concept?
Robert Anton Wilson: Curiously enough, Bob Shea was the first one to start turning me on to the concept. At the time, in the mid-sixties, I couldn’t see any point in it. It seemed to me that it was at least a generation premature. It was such a long shot and so damned expensive. Nobody could afford cryonic suspension, as it’s called, except the very rich. Then in 1973 a whole bunch of weird things happened.
I began to have the impression I was receiving communications from Sirius, the double star nine light years away. [Timothy] Leary began to have the idea he was receiving extraterrestrial communications. And there was a whole bunch of weird synchronicities involving Uri Geller and some physicists I know. My Sirius experience started on 23 July 1973. The fact that it was on the 23rd blew my mind, because 23 has tremendous importance in Illuminatus. 23 has been a big number for me for some time.
(Pictured, above left, Jim Broadbent as Sheriff Jim Cartwright, and Chris Langham as George Dorn)
Fanatic: This happened after you’d finished the book?
Robert Anton Wilson: We finished the book in 1971. On 23 July 1973 the Sirius thing began. Then I found 23 July was the day the Egyptian priests started all their rituals to Sirius, which continued until 8 September. These days were known as the days of the Dog Star, Sirius. I started getting these Sirius flashes before I knew about that. It was all so Jungian and weird that I began to think it was more than synchronicity, and that there was real communication going on and that I had tuned into it – into an interstellar ESP channel. As a result of the mental transformations I went through, I started developing pre-cognition and a heavy level of ESP. I found myself projecting to other parts of the country. All these things confirmed that it wasn’t just my imagination. I had objective evidence that I was seeing the future. I began to think through my experiments with certain kinds of kabbalistic magic. I had hooked into some real occult tradition that’s been going on since Ancient Egypt, that involved contact with extraterrestrials.
I abandoned that model around October 1974 when I developed a series of better models for the experience, in which I decided that I was turning on to higher circuits of my own nervous system. Unable to accept I was doing it all myself, I had to project like shamans usually do. I began to see that what Don Juan calls his allies – the Holy Guardian Angel of the kabbalah, my extraterrestrials – were symbols of the right lobe of my brain. I saw it that way until 23 July 1976, at which point I decided to do another experiment to see if I could get back in touch with Sirius. I re-entered the belief system, as John Lilly would say, that the extraterrestrial thing was real and working within that system. I did rituals to contact Sirius again and get objective evidence that it was really happening. Then, the next week, Time magazine had a full page review of The Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple. I immediately went out and bought it and found that he’s got tons of evidence that some kind of contact did happen around [the time of] ancientEgypt. He thinks they came here in a space ship. I think it’s more likely that techniques of interstellar ESP were worked out. As we say in Illuminatus, if you open your own eye fully you can see with every eye in the Universe. But I repeat that this is only one model of the experience. I agree with John Lilly and Aleister Crowley that you shouldn’t be satisfied with any one model. What’s going on is beyond our present concepts and, whatever model you use, you should regard it as tentative and temporary.
(Pictured above right, Neil Cunningham as Hagbard Celine, and Prunella Gee as Mavis)
The whole explosion that was going on in ’73 involved a lot of weird synchronicities. Geller was working with these physicists I know who had their minds thoroughly blown. Mysterious hawks kept manifesting round Geller – the hawk Horus. None of these people were aware ofCrowley’s prophecies about the hawk-headed god who would manifest in the 1980s. One guy inTexasclaimed he was teleported thirty miles in his car – car and all – by Geller. A hawk appeared circling around the car right after that. A physicist I know called Saul Paul Sirac took LSD and went to Geller’s apartment and said: ‘Can I see the extraterrestrials while I’m on LSD?’ Geller said: ‘Look into my eyes.’ He looked into his eyes and Geller’s head turned into the head of a hawk. And he didn’t know about the guy inTexas, and he didn’t know that Puharich had been followed aroundIsraelby a hawk when he first visited Geller!
Fanatic: Can you describe what you experienced from when you woke up in the morning that day on 23 July 1973?
Robert Anton Wilson: I keep a magic diary by my bed to record whatever is left over from my dreams as I wake up. That’s a diary in which I record all of my consciousness-expanding experiments, whether with drugs, ritual, yoga or in dreams.
Fanatic: A hypnagogic diary?
Robert Anton Wilson: Not just that. I record things that happen in rituals, subjective and objective, what happens on an LSD trip – all sorts of right lobe activity. That morning I woke up with a very strong message and I had to get it down right away: ‘Sirius is very important.’ That was the beginning of it. I’d done a very powerful ritual the night before.
Fanatic: Could you describe that?
Robert Anton Wilson: The ritual was Aleister Crowley’s Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel, with all the accessories to make it as powerful as possible. In other words, I was having sex and stoned out of my head while I did it. All the ritual was memorised and recited inside my head – with vivid visualisations, the way you learn to do visualisation in any school of kabbalistic or other magic. The same day I picked up Tantra, the Yoga of Sex by Omar Garrison, which I’d started earlier. I started looking at it again and found a passage in which he says that there are two sex cycles: the female was 28 days and the male was 23. So there as another 23 added to the synchronicity. I thought, ‘Gee, between the 23 and the 28 is the Discordian 5 that runs all through Illuminatus! My fantasy life is coming at me from books and dreams and everywhere!’
(Pictured left, Prunella Gee, Goddess)
Fanatic: Could you explain what Sirius is?
Robert Anton Wilson: Sirius is a double star. Sirius A is the brightest star in the sky. You find it by looking down the Belt of Orion. It’s the brightest star that the Belt of Orion points to – the brightest star in the Southern Sky. Sirius B is invisible to the naked eye and wasn’t discovered by telescope until a few decades ago. It wasn’t successfully photographed until 1970. The odd thing about Sirius B, whichTempledocuments in his book, is that there are unambiguous, no-doubt-about-it references to it in the mythology of several African tribes. He has demonstrated by inference, and I think correctly, that the Egyptians knew about Sirius B too. He believesIsiswas the symbol of Sirius A, and Osiris of Sirius B, and that’s the meaning of the old secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries: Osiris was a black god. Sirius B is a dark star, a collapsed white dwarf which is in the process of evolving into a black hole.
Fanatic: What do you think is the significance of Sirius?
Robert Anton Wilson: It could well be a red herring. It could be our own minds developing and we need to have some kind of entity that we can project all this on to. It could be that their are no ‘allies’, no Holy Guardian Angels, no extraterrestrials at Sirius. But there’s a whole chain of amazing coincidence. A guy I know named Neo Wilgus, who’s done another book on the Illuminati which is coming out soon, said that while he was researching it he couldn’t go into a bookstore without picking a book up and opening it at a page which referred to the Illuminati. That happened to Shea and myself while we were writing Illuminatus! Once I got into the Sirius thing it kept happening. I went into a bookstore and looked at a book by J.F. Bennett called Gurdjieff, Making aNew World. I opened it at random and found this passage where Gurdjieff talks about the hidden references to Sirius in Beelzebub’s tales to his grandson. I said, ‘What! Gurdjieff is making hidden references to Sirius – why?’ Then I found hidden references inCrowley’s work that Kenneth Grant talks about. There it seems much more that synchronicity. Grant says thatCrowleywas in contact with extraterrestrials and that Sirius was the Silver Star that’s referred to in a lot ofCrowley’s poetry – the Argentum Astrum [also the name ofCrowley’s secret magickal order].
Albert Pyke, who was a 33rd degree mason, and the highest ranking mason in theUnited Statesin the 19th Century, says in Dogma and Ritual of Freemasonry that the Silver Star of every masonic lodge is Sirius. He doesn’t explain why. I kept running into things like that, and the communications got stronger and stronger. I tried experimentally entering other belief systems. I decided to take the most far-out belief system I could pick up, which was that færy people really exist. As nobody believes in færies anymore – it’s funny you kept pointing out James Barrie’s place this morning – they’ve got to get in touch with us some way. So nowadays they’re pretending to be extraterrestrials, I entered that belief system, took some acid, and went to a witches’ sabbat. I belong to three different orders of witch covens inCalifornia. When we did the Raising of the Cone of Power I got really spaced out and a bunch of fairies came and took me to færy land. I went through the classic thing of La Belle Dame Sans Merci and all the classic Celtic lore, including time warps. The phenomena adapt to your belief system. If you believe there are no such phenomena, the phenomena adapt to that. I know people, intelligent people, who tell you there’s no such thing as ESP and they’ve never experienced it, whereas I guess 80 percent of the population has had some ESP experience.
Fanatic: I always ask such disbelievers what thought they’re going to think three thoughts from now – that gets ’em! Do you think fairy rings are connected with UFOs?
Robert Anton Wilson: Of course. Fairy rings are the burn marks from UFOs. I’m not the first one to have seen the link between fairies and UFOs. You can use any model you want. You can say it’s fairies or UFOs or time travellers if it fits into your belief system. You can decide it’s the kabbalistic Holy Guardian Angel, or you can decide it’s all your own nervous system developing its latent powers.
Fanatic: Apart from the incidents of synchronicity, what other things have occurred to you to indicate there are presences on Sirius?
Robert Anton Wilson: I’ve had voices speaking to me and telling me things that turned out to be true.
Fanatic: Different from your own inner voice?
Robert Anton Wilson: Yes. Very definitely.
Fanatic: A different tone, a different accent?
Robert Anton Wilson: Yes, a separate voice.
Fanatic: Speaking English?
Robert Anton Wilson: Yes.
Fanatic: With an American accent or an English accent?
Robert Anton Wilson: Now that’s odd. I guess it’s a Canadian accent if you really want to tie it down, or upper class middle American – something like that. Not very strongly accented. I’ve had the experience of seeing across space and time simultaneously, seeing something that happened half an hour later in another part of the city, and I’ve had the experience of being in California and Arizona at the same time, and being in California and seeing things in Arizona that were apparently affecting them. As if I were inArizona.
Fanatic: Was that in an every day context?
Robert Anton Wilson: No, that was at another witches’ sabbat. If anybody had told me things like this five years ago I would have said they were nuts. Meanwhile Leary got an extraterrestrial transmission that we can achieve immortality in this generation. I got involved with a bunch of biologists who are into life-extension research. They break down into two groups: one large group who believe we can have longevity in this generation and are working really hard at it. They’ve been at it so long and got sufficient respectability that those who disagree with them are now disagreeing very politely. It’s a respectable position to believe that longevity is possible. The belief that immortality is possible is still confined to a small minority. I got involved with a lot of the immortalists who are, I think it’s objective to say, some of the brightest people in biology. It doesn’t mean to say they’re right, and it’s not special pleading when I say that – the brightest people are often wrong. The brightest people are the most far-out and they may be right are wrong.
Fanatic: Your 15-year-old daughter, Luna, was murdered four months ago. Could you describe what happened?
Robert Anton Wilson: Luna was beaten to death in the course of a burglary at a store where she was working. Right after Luna’s death I got a call from Paul Segal, who’d just got his PhD for research in stopping the ageing process in rats three different ways. He acknowledges me as one of the people who helped him in his work. I didn’t do any of the research, but he felt I’d contributed a lot to his work. Paul said he knew I didn’t have the money to pay for cryonic suspension, but he said we could get it done voluntarily and funds for the upkeep could be raised later. It turned out that a lot of people in the Immortalist Movement were chipping in to help out and so on. So we had Luna preserved. All the work was done by the Bay Area Cryonic Society voluntarily as an expression of gratitude for the publicity I’d been giving their work. It’s probably the most deeply moving things that had happened to me in my whole life. There was a real anxiety that we couldn’t do it because of all the legal red tape. We were very fortunate. As soon as we approached the coroner he immediately understood the idea and did everything he could to help us.
Fanatic: But isn’t cryonic suspension extremely costly?
Robert Anton Wilson: It’s beyond the means of an ordinary person today. It’s available only to the very affluent. It’s a question of getting together sufficient capital to pay for the thing – and for an indefinite period of time out of the interest – which requires around 30,000 dollars. Part of the reason we’re doing a Luna Wilson immortality fund-raising affair in Berkeley in April, with Leary Eldridge Cleaver and Ken Kesey, and various rock bands, is to raise funds for Luna’s storage – and the rest of it will go into cryonic research.
Fanatic: There’s a persistent story that Walt Disney was one of the first to opt for cryonic burial . . .
Bob Shea: One version of the rumour is that he’s in a permanently locked chamber in Snow White’s Palace inDisneyland, because people have seen hoar frost coming from under the door.
Robert Anton Wilson: The Disney Organisation always denies it. But it is a fact that before he died he made a series of films, one of which is shown each year to Disney executives as a kind of pep talk. And at the end of each film he says, ‘I’ll be seeing you’ – which could refer to the next film, or it may have referred to the fact that he is cryonically suspended.
Fanatic: Alex Comfort [author of The Joy of Sex] is one of the world’s foremost gerontologists. He’s also an anarchist and he lives inCalifornianow. What’s his attitude to the Immortalist Movement?
Robert Anton Wilson: Comfort has not endorsed immortality yet, but he’s one of the leading propagandists for longevity. He’s certainly convinced longevity is possible, maybe as soon as the 1980s. We’ve got enough good theories. Immortality is possible, and longevity is a damned good probability. The question is, How soon? That depends on how much funding is available for research, and that depends on how much public excitement we raise over the issue. There are different estimates – like maybe it’ll come in the late 1980s if we get enough people excited enough an yelling: WE WANNA LIVE LONGER! I think he’s right, so I’m agitating as much as possible to get more and more people into longevity.
Your attitude to it changes as you get older. I’m 45. One of the people I know who’s most dedicated to the whole thing is 67. If it’s coming around the year 1992, let’s say, it doesn’t make much difference to people in their 20s whether we hurry or not. As you get older, the idea of hurrying gets more and more important, especially if you’re going through what I’m going through, where you begin to realise you don’t know anything. When you being to realise that the universe is much more mysterious than you ever knew, that something is going on of which synchronicity is just the edge; that there seems to be a higher intelligence or higher intelligences – whether we think of them as angels or extraterrestrials, or time travelling anthropologists from the future or whatever – it’s obvious that our ordinary consensus belief system is inadequate. I’m not overly impressed with a lot of the professional wise men around – gurus and so on. I don’t think they know much more than I do, and so I have this tremendous sense of mystery and curiosity and I think it’s a damn shame that people get shoved under before they live long enough to develop this sense of mystery.
Right now I’m more excited about life and its mysteries than ever before, and I’d like to live long enough to find out what the hell is going on. J.B.S. Haldane said: ‘The Universe is not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think’ – especially when you’ve mutated to the neurological level, where you start getting what Leary calls ‘Sixth Circuit’ experiences. Everything I’ve been describing, Leary calls the Sixth Circuit.
Fanatic: Meaning what?
Robert Anton Wilson: Leary posits eight circuits. The First Circuit being simple bio-survival – being aware go dangers to your body and the way you can get nourishment, the way babies are oriented. The Second Circuit is mammalian politics -status and territory. And the Third Circuit is symbolic – that’s the one I’m doing right now: yakkity-yakkity-yak. The Fourth Circuit is the sexual circuit, and the Fifth Circuit is the rapture circuit or tantric circuit, where you can turn on to pure bliss. The Sixth Circuit he calls neuro-electrical, and that’s where weird things start happening. Above that there’s the Seventh and Eighth Circuits. When you get to at least the Sixth Circuit, asCrowleysays, the Universe becomes a more or less continuous ceremony of initiation. There’s synchronicity everywhere, there are miracles everywhere. Everything is much more puzzling than it ever was before. At this stage I just want to live as long as possible in the hope that I’ll eventually figure out what the hell’s going on.
Fanatic: What are the social and political implications of infinite life extension?
Robert Anton Wilson: It’s the most revolutionary concept that’s ever hit this planet. You can’t think of anything in our society that’s not going to be changed by it. What’s going to happen to the insurance companies? What’s going to happen to the banks when people go on living long enough to collect compound interest for a couple of hundred years? What are we going to do about the prison system? Prisons are desperate places already. People are going to live, let’s say, three hundred years. We’re going to have people in and out of prison continually, and every time they come out they’re a little crazier and more violent than when they went in. Think of that going on for three hundred years!
Fanatic: But isn’t there a potentially sinister side to the Immortalist idea? Can’t it also be seen as the logical extension of the Forest Lawn death trip – a symptom of a death-oriented society in a late stage of decay? The ultimate in terms of capitalist exploitation would be to charge people to breathe; at present that isn’t a reasonable proposition. When cryonic suspension achieved low unit-cost, it could be the next best thing: charging people for maintaining their bodies after physical death – an immense source of revenue for big corporations.
Robert Anton Wilson: Yes, people I know who are heavily into the immortalist trip are very aware of that. Paul Segal, to whom I referred earlier – he’s frozen the four people who’ve been frozen in the Bay Area – he’s very aware of that. Paul actually belongs to a radical group called Earth People’s Commune, which is very Marxist oriented, anarchist-Marxist. The threat is there. But what Paul’s most excited about right now is bringing down the cost of cryonics so anybody can afford it. He thinks that within five years they could bring the cost right down to make it available to almost anyone. But, in general, people in the immortalist movement are tremendously aware of problems like that. Leary’s approach to the whole thing is: Bring the message to the people. If enough people are turned on to it there’s no way it can be monopolised, because everyone will be demanding it. The only way it could turn into a really bad trip is if the Rockerfellers got hold of the formula and wouldn’t let anybody have it but themselves; so we’d have an immortal ruling class going on forever, and everybody else being mortals. It would be the ultimate horrors of capitalism carried to the extreme. But that can’t happen, because too many of the researchers are of a political persuasion where they just won’t let it happen. The people who are doing the scientific work aren’t going to let anybody monopolise it. They’re going to make damn sure that when they get the longevity formula, the pill will be available to everybody.
Fanatic: From what you’ve been saying, it’s clear that people like Leary and yourself are fairly confident human life exists in multiple dimensions – a notion consistent with conventional religious ideas of immortality. If humans continue to exist in other dimensions after physical death, why is it necessary to place such importance on immortality in the comparatively mundane physical sense?
Robert Anton Wilson: As Sinzaki Roshi said when he was dying of cancer, one year of life is wonderful, a hundred years of life is more wonderful.
Fanatic: Doesn’t what you’re saying bespeak a lack of confidence in the traditional notion of immortality?
Robert Anton Wilson: I don’t think ‘lack of confidence’ is correct. ‘Lack of blind faith’ is the way I would express it. My attitude is that the Universe is so damned mysterious I don’t have any dogmas about it. I have a lot of reason personally to believe in survival beyond the body, but I don’t think the evidence is conclusive. I think there’s a good chance that there’s a lot of wishful thinking there. I’ve had memories of past lives under hypnosis – I’ve been regressed. My attitude still is that we don’t know. A lot of immortalists would disagree with me on this. I’m not speaking for the Immortalist Movement on this, but I think we may get a hell of a surprise in the next fifteen years. We may get longevity and the first step towards physical immortality and we may get absolutely conclusive scientific proof from the parapsychologists that we survive anyway! That’ll present us with a very interesting alternative. We can have physical longevity or we can accept death with the knowledge that it isn’t the end. And other things’ll be opening up too. It’s quite possible.
Norbert Wiener talked about this as early as 1948, and Buckminster Fuller was talking about it inSan Franciscojust three weeks ago – that we’ll learn to code the personality into electrical impulses. We could translate ourselves into computer! Now some people would regard this as the ultimate horror, but I think it might be an interesting trip – to be a computer for a while. Like on Star Trek – the transporter. We could take ourselves apart and put ourselves together in a different part of the Universe. There may be many types of immortality. As long as we don’t know, I’m eager to explore the possibilities. It would be a real gas if we get longevity and physical immortality, and at the same time we prove that there is some kind of spiritual immortality. That will blow everybody’s mind. What the hell will people find to worry about then? That’ll totally transform human psychology.
Fanatic: Are there any currently available techniques of longevity that seem to work?
Robert Anton Wilson: That’s very debateable. There are a lot of theories about it. There are people who live a lot longer. Allegedly, there are people among the Hunsas, and in parts ofRussia, and in one part ofSouth America. The evidence is still being debated. There’ve been studies made of their diet and so on. Actually, Baba Free John, who’s a guru of a particularly farout cult inCalifornia- you could call it a kind of hippie Zen – is very into longevity research. He says we’ve got to live several hundreds of years each before we can develop to our full potential. He says that the kind of enlightenment people have achieved in the past is only partial, and when we live several hundreds of years we can attain a higher level of enlightenment. So he’s set up a group called Incarnation Incorporated which is co-ordinating all the different approaches to longevity. . They’re also organizing expeditions to places where people are alleged to live longer, and really check them out. It’s not all scientific materialists who are into longevity. Baba Free John is really quite a traditional guru of the crazy sort. Crazy gurus are traditional too, you know.
Fanatic: What about crypto-biosis? Do you see any significance in the way seeds can lay dormant in the desert for years until there’s a shower of rain, or in Sea Monkeys, which have the same ability. They’re known asartemia salinia in Latin slang. They’re little brine shrimps that don’t seem to die. They just encyst themselves and then re-animate.
Robert Anton Wilson: A lot of things are coming down to the hologram theory of life: the whole in very part. Every part of a hologram contains the whole, and that’s the old magic law: the macrocosm is in the microcosm. It’s literally true that within one cell of your body there’s all the genetic information of your personality – the Universe in a grain of sand. In that sense, it may not be necessary to preserve the whole body. It may just be a kind of conservatism and timidity on the part of people who meanwhile think they’re very far out.
Fanatic: Talking of cells, could you say what you see to be the role of DNA?
Robert Anton Wilson: We think that DNA is an intelligent entity, more intelligent than any of us – it designed all of us. And we think that DNA has a definite project in mind – that is to say, immortality. I think that what it’s been working on all along is to produce immortal organisms which are capable of travelling off the planet – transcending the mammalian condition, the struggle for existence, and so on. And actually, to be blunt about it, become God-like beings. I think that that’s been the programme of life from the very beginning. I think it’s a good model or metaphor to regard DNA as a higher intelligence which had programmed all the life on this planet for three-and-a-half billion years. Hubert Muller, a Nobel laureate in genetics, once said that we were all giant roots created by DNA to make more DNA.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that metaphor. DNA is immortal and has designed everything. Bucky Fuller points out that there’s no engineer or technologist, including himself, who has achieved the simplicity and tremendous structural strength and economy as the average tree. DNA is the greatest technologist on the planet, and, as my son Graham pointed out, it’s the world’s greatest psychedelic artist. Just take a walk in the woods. I think scientific understanding of DNA confirms everything that the mystics have been saying for millennia about the higher intelligence that never dies, in the essence of all things. You can understand it scientifically, but to really experience it – that’s what Leary calls the Seventh Circuit of the nervous system – when you really turn on to the DNA and receive the genetic signals. Nobody who’s had the experience has been able to talk about it rationally.Crowley, said you can’t talk about it without raving like a lunatic. The closest expression we have to what it’s all about is the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Fanatic: The double helix is a spiral. The wand of Hermes/Mercury, the Caduceus, is a stick with two snakes spiralled around it. It’s the symbol of medicine in the Western world. There’s the spiral dance of the Dervishes, and the spirallingTowerofBabel. Do you see any connection between the mystic spiral and DNA?
Robert Anton Wilson: Sure. The ancient Chinese physicians use marijuana stalks carved in a spiral for healing. The kundalini has to be a spiral. It’s obvious that a certain number of people throughout history have turned on to the seventh circuit, and have reached that level of consciousness, and have left the symbols behind. You can find the kundalini serpent in Babylonian art as well as in Hindu art, and the witches’ dance is always an inward-turning spiral, like my ring here. It’s the way ancient Irish burial grounds were laid out. (Right, the Goddess Kundalini.)
Fanatic: Shea remarked earlier that the double helix is a spiral that’s out to screw us. Do you agree with that?
Robert Anton Wilson: Well, the DNA doesn’t give a damn about us. It uses us [as a vector] to reproduce itself. In many species reproduction is the beginning of death. That was in the biology book James Joyce had when he was in university, and it made a big impression on him: reproduction is the beginning of death. The salmon dies right after spawning; as soon as we reach sexual maturity, we start declining. The DNA wants us to reproduce and make more DNA, better DNA, and then it’s finished with us. In another sense, though, on a deeper level, I think the DNA has designed our nervous system, including the right lobe of our brain and all our higher faculties, to enable us to do what it can’t do. It’s much more intelligent that us but it’s much slower. It works in billions of years and it’s designed human beings to think faster and do things quicker, so that we don’t have to settle for the original programme. We can revise the programme. We can revise the programme. I think that we can find the trigger of the senescence process and turn it off. The biologists who think that senescence is the result of entropy really haven’t considered the thermodynamics of entropy. If senescence were the result of entropy, we’d find a random graph of people dying at 30, 70, at 103, 350, 400 – and so on. Instead we find a straight line at around 70. Almost everybody goes within a few years of that point. So it’s not a random stochastic process. It’s a definite kinetic programme. The DNA plans to kill us off after it’s used us. But it’s very obvious that we’re close to finding the chemical trigger and nullifying it. Nobody knows how long we can live. Everybody’s guessing really – it may be hundreds of years, it may be thousands.
Fanatic: But won’t immortality make reproduction superfluous?
Robert Anton Wilson: That’s not entirely clear. I’ve heard some people argue that the rising survival and birth rate in the past century, due to modern medicine and so on, may all be a DNA programme to prepare us for star travel, which may require many more human beings than have ever been on this planet before to get the show on the road – to get us blasting off for the stars. Leary thinks that. Like all modern scientists, he’s sceptical of his own theories. He wouldn’t insist that it’s literally true, but it’s one useful model – that because we’ve been thinking too much with the left brain, we’ve been creating ecological havoc on the planet, so that the DNA had to get new signals through to us . It did this through the vegetative kingdom which was being severely endangered by pollution and so on. So the vegetative kingdom conspired to get chemicals into us that would teach us ecological common sense. The only way to get them into our nervous system in vast quantities in a quick way is hedonistically. So the vegetative kingdom set out to seduce us with drugs that get us high and make us happy and at the same time open us up to right brain activity. You see, the Fifth Circuit is the sugar coating to get us into the Sixth Circuit. First it turns us on and gets us high, and then it opens us up to a more cosmic perspective. It’s all a vegetable conspiracy to communicate with us. The mushrooms and the cacti and the hemp and so on are signals from the vegetative kingdom to our nervous systems.
Fanatic: So DNA is using us to get DNA off the planet?
Robert Anton Wilson: That was the transmission Leary got in August 1973 – that the DNA wants to get off the planet and we’re the tool-making part of the DNA ‘brain’. Maybe our function is to take the trees to the centre of the galaxy? They may be the only ones who can communicate with the really higher intelligences. Our function may be to build L5-type space cities with whole micro-ecological systems, streams and fish and so on, and take them to the centre of the galaxy where maybe the trees or the dolphins will do the communicating?
Fanatic: It always struck me as very odd why Christ cursed the fig tree. Do you have any answers to that?
Robert Anton Wilson: No. Do you?
[I have a guess, which is that the fruit of the fig (full of seeds like the pomegranate) is a symbol of reproduction/fertilty – and therefore the symbol of the repetitive cycle of material birth/rebirth. This passage must be a remnant of the world/matter hating ‘Gnostic’ element in Christianity. There were other less negative, world-embracing Gnostics too. – Ed.]
Fanatic: Do you have any interpretation of the recurring Methuselah myth that there have already been members of the human race who’ve lived for hundreds of years?
Robert Anton Wilson: I think it’s possible. There was the case of Nicholas and Pernelle Flamel. He was an alchemist, and he and his wife lived for 120 years each. As far as I can gather from his records – like all medieval alchemists he wrote in code – they were using some kind of tantric practices to prolong life. Maybe others did even better. There are these legends about wise old characters in the East who are several hundred years old. I don’t believe it. I don’t disbelieve it either.
Fanatic: It could be certain members of the race located the technique in the past and it’s been lost track of?
Robert Anton Wilson: They located one technique possible, or maybe more than one. I think certain yogic and magickal practices probably do extend life somewhat, and maybe there are practices which extend it quite a bit. This is very speculative, of course.
Fanatic: Could you explain the concept of neurologic?
Robert Anton Wilson: In the next 30 years there are three major things which are going to happen and which I have three acronyms for. They were coined by a group of people I’m working with in California: Dr Timothy Leary (pictured left), Dr Wayne Benner, Dr Jack Sarfatti, Saul Paul Sirac and others. First of all, there’s the SMI2LE breakthrough – Space Migration, Intelligence-squared, and Life Extension. Now that’s going to change everything. It’s the biggest mutation in history. It’s not an historical event, it’s an evolutionary event, the biggest since life came out of the water and onto the land. Intelligence-squared means the nervous system studying the nervous system. Learning how to reprogrammed your nervous system for different levels of functioning. Together with that, we’ve got what I call the HEAD Revolution – that’s Headonic Engineering and Development. We are learning how to stay high all the time. The yogis discovered that about 2000 years ago.
We’re learning how to do much of it more efficiently. The breakthroughs that have happened already are minor in comparison with what’s going to happen in the next fifteen years. For instance, just two years ago bio-feedback demonstrated how to control the function of the erection of the penis at will. Nobody’s been able to learn how to do that at will except very advanced tantric yogis. At Harvard and John Hopkins, they got 60 percent of the subjects to do it within a couple of weeks. Biofeedback is only part of the neurological revolution. LSD was the tip of the iceberg. The science of reprogramming the nervous system for ecstasy in the next fifteen years is going to be just as important as SMI2LE. You’ve got SMI2LE, and then you’ve got HEAD coming; everyone’s going to be high all the time. Along with that, there’s the RICH scenario: Rising Income through Cybernetic Homeostasis. RICH also stands for Recreation, Intelligence-squared, Creativity and Hedonics. With that we’re going to automate everything and people will be free to use their nervous systems creatively.
Aristotle said slavery can only be abolished when the machine can run itself [at the moment, we are the parts of the machine itself]. We’re getting to the stage when machines can run themselves, and manual labour, repetitious toil – all of the dehumanising, degrading, robotic functions will be taken over by machines, leading to a fantastic increase in the gross national product everywhere. Poverty will abolished by the year 2000, between RICH and SMI2LE. When we start bringing in free energy from outer space, we no longer have a closed system. We’ve got an open system of virtually unlimited energy. When you put SMI2LE, RICH and HEAD together you’ve got the highest standards of all previous societies: utopia. Utopia or oblivion – heaven or bust – those are the only two choices. I’m betting on Utopia, and all that is necessary is for these signals to keep bouncing round the planet for people to become aware of these potentials. All the preconditions are available. You can’t judge the future by the past. It’s always full of surprises. I would say there are more high, holy, happy beings around on this planet than ever before in history, and there are going to be four times as many by 1987. You’ve got to realise there’s a planetary explosion of intelligence and consciousness. We can still blow it – we can still choose oblivion, but that’s the only choice we have; Utopia or Oblivion. There are no compromises.
Fanatic: What the powerful call Utopia is now the condition for human survival.
Bob Shea: The point is to appropriate the technology and use it. It’s not something that’s just going to happen because the technology is there. Solar power from space colonies could be the private preserve of monopolies like General Electric, something to which everyone would then be imbonded. It’s going to come – something that’s absolutely necessary, so people have to prepare themselves for this development and begin to work to ensure that when solar power comes it isn’t like oil or gas – just another thing that enslaves people.
Fanatic: What do you think of the stage version of Illuminatus!?
Bob Shea: I think it’s superb. I was thunderstruck at what a magnificent job they did in capturing the exact tone, the exact mixture of fantasy and reality in the book. It really does keep you guessing, which is what we intended. I’ve come round to the conclusion that this isn’t literature. It’s too late in the day for literature. This is magick!
Fanatic: Presumably things have happened in the last few days that have confirmed that?
Robert Anton Wilson: Oh God yes! I don’t know about other people, but the most overwhelmingly powerful moment in the play is when Saul Goodman realises his guilt in sending people to the electric chair and the way they play it – going through it once without any emotion, and the with emotion. That happened by accident. The Xerox machine made two copies of one page and the actors found themselves going though it twice, and Ken Campbell said, ‘Wait! That’s good!’ So they got the idea of going through it once without emotion, and then again with emotion breaking through. I think it’s tremendously powerful. It’s direct intervention of the goddess. She always works that way. Every time something chaotic and unexpected happens, we Discordians say: Hail Eris!
Fanatic: What were your other reactions to that scene?
Robert Anton Wilson: It made me cry. I’ve always been against capital punishment, and that was one of the most deeply felt scenes in the book. It really came across on the stage the way I wanted it to. Since my daughter was murdered people have frequently asked me, ‘Are you still against capital punishment?’ And the answer is – absolutely.