The Illuminatus! Trilogy is one of those things that sticks in the psychic craw and lingers there forever after. It’s been, uh… a long while since I actually read all 900+ pages of it, but from time to time it comes burbling back up from under the surface and intrudes upon my dependably quotidian days. Today I stopped at a red light and did a double-take: the car in front of me had a “Bob” Dobbs bumper sticker. No words, no explanation: just “Bob”, grinning out at the world and gleefully confusing the living shit out of tailgaters. I’ve had Illuminatus! on the brain ever since.
At this point I can no longer be certain which of the remembered scenes are actually in the book, and which ones I imagined afterword while listening to Electric Wizard or Godspeed, You! Black Emperor. Was the Pentagon really built as a giant pentagram to contain all the world’s evil? Was there really a scene where Satan smokes a bowl with George Washington and Charlie Manson? I can’t quite remember now, but there might be. Wouldn’t surprise me if there were – Illuminatus! is just that kind of book.
Illuminatus! is a trilogy of novels – sort of. It was written in the middle 1970’s by a pair of modern mystics name of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Legend holds that the Trilogy was inspired in equal parts by Letters to the Editor which Playboy magazine deemed too nutty to dignify with publication, the acid-baked philosophies of far-left and far-right 1960’s fringe groups whose members were too unstable to ever put out regular newsletters much less stage full on protests, and last but not least a small smattering of actual, verifiable facts. Sorting out which is which is part of the fun.
The Trilogy is also something of a neo-zen manifesto, and one that is probably closer to the original philosophy than the modern Western yoga-mat-plus-latte variety. The first chapter opens with the following koan, quoted (supposedly) from Lord Omar Kayaam Ravenhurst:
The Purple Sage opened his mouth and moved his tongue and so spake to them and he said: The Earth quakes and the Heavens rattle; the beasts of nature flock together and the nations of men flock apart; volcanoes usher up heat while elsewhere water becomes ice and melts; and then on other days it just rains. Indeed do many things come to pass.
Words to live by. If you’ve the the time and the patience, go steal a copy from your local Barnes & Noble and replace it with a tatty Bible with penises drawn in the margins. Or don’t: I don’t imagine the late Mr. Wilson would have given a shit either way.
Indeed do many things come to pass.