In the last episode, we covered Robert Anton Wilson’s guerilla ontology, and his work towards breaking down the reality tunnels of the politically powerful with paranoia.
Well, to paraphrase the ancient seers say “Karma can be a bitch,” because that paranoia that Wilson put out into the world would come back and haunt him. In 1971, RAW retreated from the political scene of Chicago, first heading to Mexico, and then later to Northern California. There he attempted to foucs on the life of the writer, and to engage in occult experimentation synthesizing the works of John Lily, Timothy Leary, and Aleister Crowley, as part of an ongoing shamanic quest for positive “brain change”
As an apparent direct-result of these experiemnts, Wilson went through nearly a decade of terrifying experiences involving demonic phantasms, synchronicities, and telepathic messages. He called it “Chapel Perilious”
Today on the Spectral Skull Session, we continue our exploration of the life and works of Robert Anton Wilson, with a focus on Wilson’s peak paranormal experiences. What is Chapel Perilious? How did Wilson find himself there? How did Wilson get out? All this and more in the next hour of the Spectral Skull Session.
To recap from our last episode, we walked through Robert Anton Wilson’s life, from his birth in Brooklyn, to his employment with Playboy Magazine in Chicago. Wilson and the larger Discordian movement mobilized a counter-intelligence operation called “Operation Mindfuck” to shield his friend, Kerry Thornley from a law enforcement witchhunt.
The idea behind Operation Mindfuck was to seed the public discourse with rumors, allegations, and hints, suggesting widespread conspiracies linking various groups to both the Illuminati and the Discordians. The immediate purpose here was to reverse gaslight New Orleans District Attorny Jim Garrison’s office.
Last episode, we leanred that Wilson saw himself as engaged in “guerilla ontology.” And I found a quote from Wilson that sheds some more light on what exactly guerilla ontology is:
I saw Discordianism as the Cosmic Giggle Factor, introducing so many alternative paranoias that everybody could pick a favorite, if they were inclined that way. I also hoped that some less gullible souls, overwhelmed by this embarrassment of riches, might see through the whole paranoia game and decide to mutate to a wider, funnier, more hopeful reality-map.
So, I interpret Wilson as saying that he hoped that people would see through the paranoia. The dead-panned satire would eventually get so over-the-top, that people would catch on to the joke. And in doing so, they might let go of some of their other paranoias. In this way some of the dark mindset of distrust so prevalent in the late 1960s and 70s would dissipate.
The path that Wilson was on took a turn after Wilson left Playboy. Moving his family first to Mexico, for an extended vacation, and then to Northern California, Wilson began studying, among other things, the works of occultist Aleister Crowley.
Now, Aleister Crowley played a significant role in the American counter-culture of the 1970s, even though he had died in 1947. various counter-cultural thought leaders rediscovered his works and began reading his works, such as The book of Lies, and Magick Without Tears. Crowley has a bad reputation in some circles as a satanist. That is what I thought myself, but based on my reading – it looks like he wasn’t a Satanist. He tended towards atheism or an agnosticism.
Crowley didn’t seem to really have much of a theology himself. That is, theology as in “theory of God.” Crowley once said it didn’t matter if the entitites he contacted through ritual magick were real or not. He was more interested in combining western esotericism with eastern practices like yoga, tantra, and meditation, to conduct inner journeys of self-discovery. That doesn’t rule out that Crowley may have been under the influence of negative spirits, possibly demons. As we see from Wilson’s experience – you don’t neccesarily have to believe in these entitites in order for them to believe in you.
In any event, this was how Wilson read Crowley. Because Wilson offers a summary of his interpretation of what Crowley was about. He says:
The Crowleyan system, very briefly, is a synthesis of three elements:
1. Western occultism. The secret “illuminated” teaching out of 19th century Rosicrucianism, possibly going back through Renaissance magick societies, medieval witchcraft, the Knights Templar, European Sufis, etc., to Gnosticism,and thence back possibly to the Eleusinian Mysteries and Egyptian cults. Basically, as Crowley says, this method consists of dangerous “physiological experiments”—using ritual, sometimes drugs, sometimes sex, to jolt the nervous system into “higher” functioning (new neurological circuits).
2. Eastern yoga, including meditation plus physical exercises to make meditation easier and more natural. Another system of activating higher circuits.
3. Modern scientific method. Crowley taught total skepticism about all results obtained, the keeping of careful objec- tive records of each “experiment,” and detached philosophical analysis after each stage of increased awareness.
Before you, Dear listener gets any ideas about following in RAW following in Crowley’s magickal footsteps, let me remind the audience of Crowley’s admonitions against practicing Magick without proper preparation. This warning is repeated by RAW in Cosmic Trigger:
Crowley always insisted that nobody should try his more advanced techniques without (a) being in excellent health, (b) being competent in at least one athletic skill, (c) being able to conduct experiments accurately in at least one science, (d) having a general knowledge of several sciences, (e) being able to pass an examination in formal logic and (f) being able to pass an examination in the history of philosophy, including Idealism, Materialism, Rationalism, Spiritualism, Comparative Theology, etc.
In any event, all of this gives us a sense of what Wilson saw himself as doing when he started putting the works of Aleister Crowley into practice.
In 1973, in [ ] Wilson began performing Aleister Crowley’s “Borness Ritual” a magickal ceremony based on a Greco-Egyptian rite of exorcism. As a counter-culturalist following in the wake of Timothy Leary and John Lily, he conducted this ritual while on LSD. In fact, Wilson suggests this was one of a very small number of occasions in which he did LSD.
In his autobiography, Wilson describes himself experiencing a series of “deaths and rebirths” into other modes of being – animal, divine, stellar. Wilson recognized the various entitites he encounters as the figures of Shiva and Kali, Pan, and Aphrodite, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As the experience became more intense, Wilson reported “the Shaman achieved a rush of Jungian archetyptes, strongly influenced by the imagery of Crowley’s invocation, but nonetheless having that peculiar quality of external reality and alie intelligence emphasized by Jung in his discussion of the archtypes.”
On another occasion, Wilson had a much darker experience:
This is from his second volume of his biography “Cosmic Trigger II: Down To Earth”:
In 1972, on a farm in Mendocino, I was preparing for the Phoenix Mass, a ritual designed by Aleister Crowley in which the magician tries to activate his “True Will”. I had taken 250 micrograms of acid, played Beethoven and left when I was “
Felt ready to my improvised altar and began the invocation:
East of the Altar see me stand
With Light and Musick in mine hand! 40
I held up a sacred cake and recited the next lines:”
“This Bread I eat. This Oath I swear
As I enflame myself with prayer:
“There is no grace: there is no guilt:
This is the Law: DO WHAT THOU WILT!”41”
““Suddenly dog-faced demons invaded the room, forming a ring around me. They were black and pretty creepy, and they drooled or foamed a bit on their mouths, and they looked as solid as the bed and desk behind them.
Oh damn it, I thought. Crowley always warned us that something like that could happen, but I never took it seriously. I thought that was another of his jokes. What am I doing now?At one level I was really scared; but on another level I had confidence in my difficult learned ability to work in the infernal ” To navigate regions of psychedelic spaces – or in the qliphotic, astral areas, or whatever one should call these particularly ugly reality tunnels.
I remembered something from H. P. Lovecraft: “Don’t CALL something that you can’t PUT DOWN.” That was not helpful. But then I remembered practicing something from a book….
“If you feed them, they become allies instead of enemies. ” I was concentrating on party meals and the altar was suddenly full of shrimp cocktails with hot red sauce. I hadn’t planned this and it amused me. I had unconsciously evoked one of my favorite snacks. I started giving the prawn cocktails to the demons. They took them
And then they all turned into nuns I remembered from my school days. They also shrunk into rather weird dwarfs. They were taller than me in school, but now I was taller than them. They had lost the ability to scare me.
“I started to laugh and realized that the ritual was ruined in a sense. (In another sense it had been a huge success …) I broke the circle and “grounded” the energy as the nuns disbanded. Then I lay on the bed and laughed like a bloody idiot for half an hour. It was one of the many, many times during which I was fully convinced that all of the “entities” invoked in magic are part of our own mind.
Then the room started shaking. The bed bounced like a scene from the exorcist, and the whole house seemed to shake to its foundations.
Just another California earthquake. Coincidence. It would be better not to even call it a synchronicity.”
This experience may have upset him more than he let on, Wilson seems to have put the LSD use behind him after this.
Only a few days later, he performed another ritual, this time without LSD it was a kind of tantric meditation, which he says he was able to undertake with the help of “the most beautiful woman in the galaxy” that would be his wife, Arlen.
He doesn’t go into detail about what it was that he and Arlen did. But, he does hint that the secret is contained in Aleister Crowley’s book of lies. Chapter 69.
Yes, the chapter number is all you really need to know.
In any event, the next day he woke up from a dream and wrote down three words “Sirius is important”
And thus began his passage into Chapel Perilious. For the next few years, Wilson would be troubled by telepathic messages, apparently sent from beings living on a planet orbiting the star Sirius. The period during which he channeled their messages would correspond with a general uptick in synchroniticies, clairyvoyance and general strangeness.
Wilson does not go into much detail about what the Sirians – that is my term for the beings representing themselves as being from Sirius. He did say that on one occasion the Sirians told him “he lives the happiest who forgives the most” at a time when he was angry at his publishers for being slow with a check. But generally, Wilson says they assailed him with gibberish about space, time and eternity. Wilson speculates that perhaps he wasn’t able to understand their messages because he wasn’t advanced enough. He would be a student of quantum mechanics and a pop scholar on the topic of Bell’s theorem, non-locality, and other aspects of QM throughout his subsequent books and articles.
Let’s talk about the star Sirius. Sirius it should be noted, is known as the “dog star” but it is actually two stars. A normal star called Sirius A, and then a white dwarf called Sirius B. In comparison, our own star is a Yellow Dwarf. Yellow Dwarfs are only a little bit larger than white dwarfs, which means it is possible that Sirius has a solar system like ours. However, it is not very likely that ordinary biological life would have survived on Sirius B, because white dwarfs are usually the burnt out cores of older stars, which means that any system orbiting Sirius B is probably a dead solar system. Of course that opens up the possibility that the Sirians are ghosts!
They could be the telepathic ghosts of deceased aliens. Or they could be spirits that are bound to a dead world and trying to get off, maybe by forming telepathic communion with us, they are able to translocate themselves across the interstellar void and come here and live vicariously through us. Move over, Bassir Assad. These Syrians have full-spectrum dominance.
Ok. You might say: alien ghosts that poses our brightest minds in order to get a foothold on our planet that is TOO FAR OUT even for Spectral Skull Session.
Well, I have good news for you: I found on Wikipedia that astronomers have been watching Sirius and since 1894 they have been seeing irregular patterns of brightening and dimming. It is now widely believed, although not entirely accepted, that there is a THIRD star in the Sirius system.
A 1995 study concluded that such a companion likely exists, with a mass of roughly 0.05 solar masses- a small red dwarf or large brown dwarf,
So, if alien ghosts are too much for you, we can still hold out hope that the Sirians are located around a hypothetical Sirius C.
Now, Wilson was deeply troubled by the Sirians, being from Sirius, because he found a weird book that seemed to confirm their backstory. In 1976, Robert K.G. Temple, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society published
THE SIRIUS MYSTERY: CONCLUSIVE NEW EVIDENCE OF ALIEN INFLUENCE ON THE ORIGINS OF HUMANKIND IN THE TRADITIONS OF AN AFRICAN TRIBE
In the book Sir Robert argued that Earth had been visited by an advanced race from a planet in the system of the double star, Sirius, around 4500 B.C. Temple based this assertion on the fact that definite and specific knowledge of the Sirius system can be found in the mythology of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and some sur- viving African tribes. As near as I can tell, that definite and specific knowledge is the knowledge that Sirius is a doube-star system. You see, you can’t tell that Sirius is a double-star just by looking. You have to be fairly equipped
Becomign more and more freaked out, Wilson began keeping a list of people who claimed to be in contact with alien civilians. They included:
The psychic, Uri Geller.
R. Buckminster Fuller, the most renowned scientist- philosopher alive, was the next to state that he sometimes thinks he receives messages from interstellar telepaths.
Dr. Jack Sarfatti, a physicist, described receiving telepathic communications from extra-terrestrials as well.
RAW found a newspaper clipping of Dr. Saul-Paul Sirag, a famous physicis professor, saying that 100 scientists have been receving telepathic communications, allegedly from aliens. Dr. Paul Sirag says that so far most of these scientists are only willing to discuss the matter with trusted colleagues, but that more of them lately are consider- ing the possibility of coming out of the closet and talking about it in public.
I can affirm this particular story – Professor of Religion, Diana Pasulka in her 2019 book American Cosmic: UFOs Religion, Technology, talks about an “inivisible college” of physicists and engineers who either believe in UFOs or secretly describe being actively in contact with them.
The psychoanalyist turned dolphin scholar, John Lilly, autho of the counter-cultural classic text “Programing and Meta-Programming in the Human BioComputer” – a kind of cyber shamanic handbook for self-programming, had his own synchronicitious encounter in the early 1970s.
The story is that he was flying to L.A And what do you when you’re an American psychnoaut bored on a long plane ride in the 1970s? You do ketamine, which is a powerful dissociative narcotic. John Lily went into the bathroom and did just that. There he received a message from an extraterrestrial being, that it would prove its validity by shutting down the energy field of Los Angeles.
As he headed back to his seat, Lily heard the captain announce over the intercom that they would be diverting because of a power outage over Los Angeles.
Fascinated by the suggestions that he was part of a larger community of adepts,
Wilson leaned into the escalating weirdness .Following the advice of Aleister Crowley, he tried a practice that involves cultivating an alter ego. He declared himself a psychic and began reading tarot cards. He found that he was uncannily accurate at doing tarot readings.
Next, he began testing his psychic powers. He would get a new magazine in the mail and go straight to page 23 – a number he personally connected with synchronicities. And there he would find a line of prose that seemed to reference something from a dream he had had the night before.
He meditated and had visions of LSD guru Timothy Leary flying over the walls of his prison. Four years later he would learn that Timothy Leary had been practicing a form of meditation that involved visualizing himself as flying at the same time that Wilson had been meditating.
The strangeness also began to spread from Wilson to his family. Wilson note that some years earlier, while the family had been living in New Jersey, this was around 1965 just prior to their moving to Chicago for Wilson’s job at Playboy, that he and the entire family, saw a flying saucer land in the hill near their home. They looked at it through binoculars and the neighbors came over and looked at it too, they couldn’t decide what it was, but Wilson said that privately he thought it was probably just a helicopter.
Later that day, their four-year old son insisted he had encountered a green-skinned alien woman outside the house. She had apparently told him that he should study physics when he grows up.
Wilson dismissed all this, until years later, when a friend of the family came over. And casually mentioned that SHE had seen a UFO, that same month in 1965. Apparently, she had also been living in the New Jersey area.
On another occasion, Wilson says his kids were meditating in one room and he was reading in another. There was a loud thump from the room. When Wilson checked the situation out, the children were adamant that his oldest daughter Luna had levitated herself to the opposite side of the room. Wilson says that neither he nor Luna were able to confirm this story.
Later, while meditating Wilson had a vision of Egypian Goddess Nuit. This, he would learn is a goddess associated with Sirius. But, as a scholar, Wilson also recognized Nuit as belonging to the same archtype as the Blessed Virgin Mary, so he continued praying to Nuit / The Virgin Mary addressing her as Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. And then he had another vision where she told him that she had healed his leg.
Wilson had suffered polio as a child, and had lost some of the functionality in his leg. He also suffered from recurring bouts of leg pain, even in adulthood. Checking back with his mother, Wilson discovered that indeed his mother had made special devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary at that time, asking for a cure.
As all this was happening, Wilson was also working full-time as a writer. And although he had finished Illumintus! It wouldn’t actually start to make him any money for many years. During the interval between Playboy Magazine and the success of Illuminatus, Wilson’s family struggled with money. Wilson began to struggle psychologically in more ways one. And so he turned to meditation yet again. He writes:
I was doing Sufi heart-chakra exercises every day, to open myself more and more to love for all beings. It was not that I really wanted, or hoped, to become a saint, but merely that, without such self-work, I could easily crumble into the bundle of paranoia and self-pity that many a 1960s idealist had become during the Nixon Counter-Revolution. The heart chakra opened, at times, and light poured out, just like it says in the textbooks, and the Mystic loved every living creature. The whole world was my body. It was gorgeous.
Related to this, Wilson writes that probably the greatest thing that came of all his experiments with occult philosophy and brain change, was that the experiences of strange phenomena helped him to listen to his children. His family didn’t share his philosophical worldview. He had to make an effort to be open-minded and understand where they were coming from. He writes:
A “miracle” then happened. I know this will be harder for the average American parent to believe than any of my other weird yarns, but my horde of self-willed and self-di- rected adolescents began to listen to me. Real communica- tion was established. Even though I was in my 40s and grey- ing in the beard, I was able to talk intelligently with four adolescents about our philosophical disagreements, and our mutual respect for each other grew by leaps and bounds.
But it wasn’t over yet. The High Weirdness seemed to peak in the late 1970s. Wilson had been friends with LSD guru Timothy Leary for years. Once Leary became imprisoned in California, Wilson started writing him letters. Wilson held Leary in very high regard and seems to have looked on him as a kind of mentor. He was careful NOT to mention the telepathic messages and weird synchronicities in his communications with Dr. Leary. He seems to have worried that it would come across to Leary as unhinged, and possibly spook his beloved icon.
But then one day Wilson received a letter from Dr. Leary that scared HIM.
and I quote:
Dear Bob …
Loved your letter …
Are you in touch with teachings, methods, teachers, etc. that transmit Higher Intelligence. That you are totally hooked into?
I believe that Higher Intelligence can be contacted and have described how to do it and what They transmit, etc. Have you contacted Joanna. Ask Her to send you a copy of Terra II.
Joana was Timothy Leary’s wife. And Terra II was a book that Leary wrote while he was in prison. Apparently Learly believed HE WAS ALSO in telepathic communication with beings in outer space. Of Course, Wilson could not have known about this, because Leary was still writing it at the time and was trapped in a maximum security prison and frequently held in solitary confinement.
Eventually, Wilson was able to get in to the Prison in Vacaville, California to see Timothy Leary. Leary seemed to be doing really well even though he was facing life in prison. In another weird synchronicity, he told Wilson that he considered himself to be a reincarnation of Aleister Crowley.He also told Wilson that Wilson himself was part of a network of enlightened beings.
So, Wilson leaves Leary in prison, his mind totally blown. He even says that he doubted Leary’s high praise of himself, rather he thought that Leary was being too generous. But then he begian receiving letters from people all over the world who claimed to be in contact with ascended beings of all kinds:
For instance, one chap who claimed to be a representative of the real Illuminati, and who struck the Skeptic as quite possibly a professional con-man, took Arlen and me out to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in Berkeley and spent $70 on it. He assured us that he was protecting us at all times, dropped a few hints that he might be God, and slipped me $200 before he left, assuring us that our poverty would not continue much longer.
Wilson figured the guy was probably a con man, but the other shoe never dropped because Wilson never heard from the man ever again in his life.
Wilson was definitely weirded out by the many strange happenings in his life, but a couple factors eventually started to put the brakes on the strangeness.
One happened at a party. On October 1974, the Wilsons threw a party they called “Crowlymas” it was a celebration of the birthday of Aleister Crowley. Who came to this party? None other than French computer scientist-turned-UFOlogist, Jacque Vallee.
Wilson had had enough, and he turned to Vallee for guidance, unburdening on him his whole story of being in contact with Sirians and receiving messages and synchroniticies from the stars.
Vallee listened closely. And then he told Wilson that the evidence emerging suggested to him that the UFOs weren’t extraterrestrial at all, but that they seemed to be intelligent systems intent on convincing us that they are extraterrestrial. Vallee explained that Historically, these beings have always presented themselves in a fashion that fits into the background beliefs of the culture. In Medieval Europe they presented as Angels and little people. In the 19th century they presented as airship pilots, often falling from blimps. In the early 1950s they claimed to be from Venus, then when Soviet researchers revealed Venus to be a superhot, toxic mess, the Entitites began maintaining they were from other planets.
This exchange with Dr. Vallee had a sobering effect on Wilson, he began to become more skeptical of the messages he was receiving from the Entities. It was this French scientist, helped Wilson get over his own state of awe over the phantasms that were communicating with him. He was, in a sense, intellectually exorcised by a quiet conversation with a man of science.
In turning away from the Sirians, Wilson reaffirmed a running theme of his own philosophy and fiction. This is what I call “anti-gnosis” – a gnostic is someone who maintains that knowledge is necessary and sufficient for salvation. There were early Christians and people running around the Mediterean in late antiquity who today we call “gnostics” – these people did not call themselves that, but they were a variety of cults and sects that sought secret revelations from spiritual powers, as a way to ensure a positive experience in the afterlife. Ancient gnostics often believed that the material world was a prison created by degenerate angels, called “Archons.” They believed that escaping from prison required learned magickal passwords that would allow you to unlock the gates so that your soul could return to the eternal and uncreated.
So many people in search of spiritual enlightemnet today are gnostics – seeking communion with something Other, in the naïve assumption that the thing on the other side is benevolent. There are plenty of examples from the doomed followers of Heaven’s Gate, to more recenty, pop superstar Demi Lovatto who has been hawking an app made by UFO enthusiast, Steven Greer. Lovatto says the app “ will teach you the protocols to connect to life form beyond our planet!!,”
So many of us easily succumb to the gnostic mindset, and present ourselves naked to the Cosmos, hat in hand, saying “tell me the answers to life the universe and everything.” There is often an implicit assumption that some kind of visual or emotional SPECTRE could solve the hard problems of metaphysics, philosophy and spirituality.
But Wilson emphasized in his fiction, you cannot always trust SPECTRES. For those of you who were with us in the last episode of Spectral Skull Session, you will recall that the villains of Wilson’s novel “Illumintus!” were the Illuminati, who transformed people into religious fanatics by getting them high on marijauana or an extract of marijuana. This was part of an illuminizing experience, the sum total of which would convince people of the sacred importance of the Illuminati’s cause. They would become secret agents willing to die to advance their new programing.
One larger Wilsonian message here: You cannot simply trust the messages you get from the Other Side. Because these psychic, communiques, are just spectral transmissions. You don’t neccesarily know WHO or WHAT is trying to hack into your soul. You don’t the function of the programming that these Entitites are trying to install into YOU. So you don’t HAVE to trust the spectres when they tell you that “technology is the enemy of mankind” or “you have to kill yourself to board a spaceship.” The Spectes might be real, but they might not be on your side.
This episode is wrapping up. But an important question remains: for those of us who are active students of the occult, and paranormal. What else can we learn from Wilson’s experiences? this merely a cautionary tale? Wilson himself presents it as one, since he warns the reader against replicating his journey, but is that all this is? A morbid story of one man’s sideways trip through fear and paranoia?
Maybe there’s a bit more. Here is a quote from Wilson on Chapel Perilious:
Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called “I,” cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odorless, tasteless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like the Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to ever get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sym- pathy, the sword of reason and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.
That’s what the legends always say, and the language of myth is poetically precise. For instance, if you go into that realm without the sword of reason, you will lose your mind, but at the same time, if you take only the sword of reason without the cup of sympathy, you will lose your heart. Even more remarkably, if you approach without the wand of intui- tion, you can stand at the door for decades never realizing you have arrived. You might think you are just waiting for a bus, or wandering from room to room looking for your cigar- ettes, watching a TV show, or reading a cryptic and ambiguous book. Chapel Perilous is tricky that way.
………….. That’s the end of the quote.
To conclude our show: wherever the audience is with respect to your own Chapel – whether you are on the threshold or in over your head – remember that you may not be able to fight the demons off on your own – with just your own intuition or gut instincts. After all, Wilson needed the wit of a writer, the heart of the Sufi Chakras, the love of his family and the insight of his friends, in order pass safely through his own haunted headspace.
For Spectral Skull Session, this is Dane.
Stay Strange and Stay Sane.