Saturday, January 27, 2024

Lion of Light: Choose Your Hallucinations

Lion of Light: 23 Riffs on Robert Anton Wilson, Aleister Crowley, Psychedelics, Intuition, and Everyday Metaphysics by R. Michael Johnson – Part 1: p. 243 – 277. 

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Michael Johnson seems the most well read exegesist on the works of Robert Anton Wilson. He shares with Wilson a comprehensive outlook and approach to making connections across various disciplines and human endeavors culled from all the Arts, Sciences, and Philosophies. His blog, The Overweening Generalist, which ran in the mid 2010s holds the stuff of legend in terms of offering up research and information on an astoundingly broad spectrum of subjects. With this Appendix in Lion of Light, he  takes the book to another level by plugging the subjects of magick, yoga and expanded consciousness into various other disciplines most with a solid scientific foundation. What Wilson does with Crowley, illuminating his work by comparing it to other methods, systems and scientific experiments, Johnson does to Wilson and Crowley; connects and makes relevant their work to current scientific discoveries; particularly with the left/right model of how brain hemispheres function, the brain in general as the generator of all human consciousness, and what that has to do with lasagna flying. As an editor, after I read the first draft, which was longer, it blew my mind with new and very relevant information. My initial opinion was that he should turn it into a book. I pray and hope a book is in the works; A  RAW exegesis in some way, shape or form because I suspect it would be very important and at the top of its kind. 

Michael’s writing has a warm personable quality to it and strong presence. It engages the reader as if speaking directly to them, personally – “hey you … I’m talking to you!” Kindness and generosity gets shown to the student by raising important questions and instructing them to consider a particular line of thought;  a gentle prodding of the reader to think for themselves. Not only that, but, moreso in the second half, he strongly encourages the student to do the experiments for themselves. This Appendix presents, in subtle form beneath the wealth of data, an informal course on how to practice magick. 

These riffs, verbal jazz riffs scatting rhythmically and melodiously across the mind, bear some stylistic resemblance to the aphorisms of Fredrich Nietzsche, one of the many Great Thinkers referenced within; one of the only ones to profoundly influence both Wilson and Crowley (Gurdjieff too!). Johnson (RMJ) cites one of these aphorisms. His riffs differ from Nietzsche’s style through a rigorous scientific approach. 

 “23 Riffs” begins with a look at RAW’s successful efforts to realize the quadruple aspects of Carl Jung’s conception of self: Sensation, Feeling, Thinking and Intuition. The first 3 seem cognate with Gurdjieff’s physical body/moving centrum, the emotional centrum, and the rational/intellectual centrum. Leary turns these into his first three “brain” circuits. Jung’s fourth corner, Intuition gets examined and considered much more closely running like a refrain through, at least, the first half of the piece. 

In Riff 2 RMJ asks, what “is” intuition and offers answers and examples other minds have presented, to ponder. He reveals his process concerning the intuitive flash that jumpstarted “23 Riffs.” In Riff 11 the question comes up: “Can we have intuition at our beck and call?” then provides a method and strategy for how it works with him. The answer is yes.

The intuition refrain nicely complements Lion of Light because it strongly connects, even possibly synonymous with the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. RMJ brings up the excellent point that RAW advised applying skepticism (David Hume drops in for a visit on this one) to any suspected intuitional insights and following it up with rational inquiry, experimentation and observation. In other words, determine if it correlates with something in the external world, or not; look for factual evidence. Hume is another one that influenced both Wilson and Crowley. 

For my part, I don’t know what intuition “is”. If forced to represent it, I would call it the Intelligence of the Higher Emotional Centrum – Leary’s C6. I also don’t know what electricity “is”, but I do know a specialized way of using it to produce and distribute recorded music.

* * * * * * 

There are a few things in this piece that I disagree with, which got brought up in the editorial discussions before publication. In Riff 8, it states that RAW considered Crowley mentally ill.  I seriously doubt that. This conclusion comes from the chapter in "Do What Thou Wilt" called "A First Effort At Understanding" where RAW writes about what others have said about Uncle Al. He puts all descriptors of illness in quotes: "psychotic" , "neurotic", "mentally ill" and "mental illness" to indicate that he doesn't agree with those labels. This chapter ends with: "But conventional ideas remain a barrier. All that invocation and astral projection. Those strange "gods" in Cairo, the continuous experimentation with drugs – surely this symptomatic of a mentality so disturbed as to qualify as insane.

Let us confront this pre-judgement directly." Are we to believe that he intends to confront his own pre-judgement?  Riff 8 ends with a reference to Masks of the Illuminati RMJ writes: "RAW doesn't address Crowley's mental illness ...". Of course he doesn't. RAW doesn't address Crowley's "mental illness anywhere because he didn't consider him ill, others did. And he's written a great deal on our beloved Beast.

I disagree with the claim made in Riff 7 that Crowley was not a democratizer of occult magical knowledge implying that he wrote for only a chosen few.  I don't buy the argument.

Another bone of contention at the editorial stage was the repetitive connection of psychedelics and magick that could easily lead to the wrong assumption that these drugs are necessary or a requirement. This marriage of magick and psychedelics runs like another refrain throughout "23 Riffs". RMJ bases it on a quote from Cosmic Trigger 2: "I still didn't know what to do to develop Jung's fourth faculty . . . that had to wait until I discovered Acid and Aleister Crowley." RAW autobiographically writes about what worked for him. Nowhere does he imply the requirement of psychedelics to develop intuition, or prosletyze magick and psychedelics as a winning formula for everyone. Maybe they can help, maybe not. I tell people that psychedelics can take just as easily and as much as they can give. Caveat emptor. 

* * * * * *

Back in Riff 6 RMJ quotes RAW: "Aleister Crowley was, in my opinion, one of the most original and important thinkers of this era – right up there with such titans as Einstein and Joyce." Johnson then points out: "Rarely were the great Generalist intellectuals of the 20th Century so expansive in scope as to include magick or the occult, along with Einstein or Joyce" followed by an excellent question: "why has this area of thought been so marginalized." Yes, why? Especially when Joyce himself champions the occult, even teaches it. As speculated or claimed a couple of posts back, more adepts in this area might contribute to the lessening of wars and violence. Applying the method of Science to the aim of the Occult gives it credibility. Obviously, this underlying theme runs throughout the Appendix. 

Another favorite ripple in this swiftly flowing current of ideas comes with a RAW quote from Chaos and Beyond: The Best of Trajectories: "'Nonsense frees us from conditioned thinking,' I decided, 'but only if we're not quite sure it's nonsense.'"

 "RAW then links to the nonsense of Zen masters . . . " Nonsense plays a large role in Deleuze's Logic of Sense. Much of his examples come from the writings of Lewis Carroll, but he also goes into Zen nonsense. Deleuze maintains that nonsense can make a donation to sense, as he puts it, thus it can prove quite useful. By sense, Deleuze does not only mean linguistic meaning, but also something akin to a lifeforce energy, chi, orgone energy, kundalini ("O winged snake of light Hadit!) or Bergson's Élan Vital, something along those lines. Nonsense's cousin humor appears key in The Logic of Sense as well as Crowley and RAW.

* * * * * * 

Here is how I do the Ritual of the Rosy Cross. This will be different but similar to every other version. I got it from Israel Regardie. 

Stand in the center of your room with a wand (or a stick of incense) facing East.

Turn slightly to the left, to the northeast corner and trace a cruciform cross with your wand then a circle in the middle of the cross for the rose and intone/vibrate the name YEHESHUA with the wand in the center of the circle. 

Turn toward the left to the northwest corner keeping the wand raised and tracing a connecting line. Draw a rosy cross as before and vibrate YEHESHUA. 

Do the same in the southwest corner then the southeast corner and then a connecting line back to the first rosy cross in the northeast corner. 

From there, trace a line up to the middle of the ceiling, draw a rosy cross and vibrate YEHESHUA. 

Trace a line to the rosy cross in the southwest corner then down to the floor to make a rosy cross right below you, vibrating YEHESHUA, as always.

Then finally tracing  the connecting line back to the first rosy cross. 

I then turn to the right and trace a line from the last rosy cross in the southeast corner up to the ceiling then to the northwest corner rosy cross then the one on the floor then completing it back to the southeast rosy cross. 

RAW offers an abbreviated iteration of this ritual in Masks of the Illuminati for extemporaneous use in times of necessity where you simply say: "Christ before me; Christ behind me; Christ at my right hand; Christ at my left hand; Christ above me; Christ below me; Christ within me."

The Rosy Cross ritual provides excellent protection. Why would one need protection? When the walls come tumbling down and powerful, sometimes chaotic energies impinge upon the sensitized nervous system.

The Who in conversation with their Holy Guardian Angel, Woodstock, 1969:

Love is the law, love under will.




  1. Terrific post. I love Michael's essay.

  2. Man, I love Mike's essay. I really enjoy rereading it. I wish everyone who reads English would read this essay. If you haven't read it yet, please read it.
    Pg. 274 - I love Peter Makin's books on Ezra Pound.
    Note: I reread a good chunk of this week's reading while listening to Spirit's "Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus". I found that the combination of Michael's prose and this sixties psychedelia worked very well.

    1. The Spirit album shows congruence with this week's reading in that it covers 12 of Michael's riffs.

  3. Thanks for these commentaries, which I've been enjoying (although a lot of it seems over my head). Very much concur with the above - RMJ's writing seems totally outstanding, to me, and I hope a book of his appears at some point. Particularly appreciated his brilliant remarks (in his LOL - Lion Of Light! - piece) on conceptual metaphor at the "heart" of this languaging (wrt the Lakoff & Johnson material). "All that is, is metaphor".

  4. "As an editor, after I read the first draft, which was longer, it blew my mind with new and very relevant information. My initial opinion was that he should turn it into a book. I pray and hope a book is in the works; A RAW exegesis in some way, shape or form because I suspect it would be very important and at the top of its kind."

    Michael started on a book about RAW many years ago, then put it on the shelf. I don't know if he returned to it, or if any of it has turned up in some of the pieces he has written for Hilaritas.

    Michael also did an interview with RAW that he has never published. I would very much like to read it.

  5. Thanks for the information. Perhaps the interview will turn up in the book.

  6. I came across a passage in the Selective Works of Alfred Jarry that seems relevant here. It comes from his novel Days and Nights Book IV, Chapter 2 titled "Pataphysics":

    "This reciprocal relationship between himself and Things which he was in the habit of controlling through his thought processes (but we are all at this stage, and it is by no means certain that there is a difference, even in time, between cognition, volition, and action, cf. the Holy Trinity) resulted in the fact that he made no distinction whatsoever between his thoughts and his actions or between his dream and his waking; and perfecting the Leibnizian definition, that perception is a true hallucination, he saw no reason why one should not say: hallucination is a false perception, or more exactly: a weak one, or better yet: predicted (remembered sometimes, which is the same thing). And above all, he considered that there existed nothing except hallucinations, or perceptions, and that there were neither nights nor days (despite the title of this book, which is why we chose it), and that life goes on without interruptions; but that one could never be conscious of life's continuity, or even that life exists at all, without these movements of the pendulum; and the first proof of life is the beating of the heart. The heartbeats are extremely important; but Sengle didn't give a damn for the fact that the diastole gives the systole a moment's rest, and that these little deaths nourish life, an explanation which is no more than a statement of the obvious."

  7. I can only concur with everyone in saying that I found Michael Johnson’s essay a fantastic read, and a great addition to the book. “A significant appeal, to the present writer, of RAW’s oeuvre was his exceedingly expansive scope with regard to knowledge” (p. 254) The same could be said of RMJ, and I sure hope we will get to read more from him in the future. At least, there’s always the past entries on his blog. But a whole book on RAW would make for an amazing read, no doubt. In fact, probably a whole book on whatever, really.

    On page 252, he recommends Sebastian Marincolo’s book on cannabis, Elevated (to which RMJ contributed a nice foreword), published by Hilaritas. I read it recently and liked it a lot, as it talks about the beloved weed from an angle seldom approached elsewhere, while not occulting any of the nefarious or potentially counter-productive effects. I would also recommend the book.

    “The gut microbiome-brain nexus, the polyvagal theory and the endocannabinoid system are all two-way streets from the brain to other parts of the body and back to the brain”. (p. 247)
    I personally find these recent models fascinating. The polyvagal theory of the nervous system in particular interests me, as it seems a good fit to account for the effectiveness of practices such as pranayama. The metaphor of a two-way street reminds me of the hermetic as above (the brain) so below (the body), where the goal would be to establish a positive feedback loop between the two.

    I find it significant that an intellectual giant like RAW successfully decluttered himself from emotional garbage through a form of therapy (Reichian) that uses the body rather than the intellect, in order to “polish the instrument”. Although Reichian therapy does not seem to be much of a thing any longer, an alternative approach to release pent up muscular tension (usually related to old traumas) seem to have been found in connected breathwork (AKA ‘rebirthing’, as per Leonard Orr, or Grof’s ‘holotropic breathwork’). It makes sense to me that with less tension along the nervous system, the clarity of thoughts would be improved, and could maybe even make way for this elusive “Intuition”.

    1. The story of RAW's work with Reichian therapy gets told in more detail in Prop's upcoming RAW bio Chapel Perilous. It seemed a game-changer for him.

  8. Looking forward to read about that in Prop's book!

    Oz, following your advices during this reading group, I recently got myself both the Tindall's Reader's Guide to FW, and Lon's The Magick of AC. If it's good enough for you, I will probably get something out of those. So, thank you.

    And a nerdy note, the name Sardonicus was lifted off by Spirit from a 1961 William Castle flick called Mr. Sardonicus.

    1. "The Magick of AC" stands as one of my most important book purchases for painlessly suggesting how to dive into Thelemic praxis and get me going with some of the more advanced work. I connect it with the Stones song, "Start Me Up." For instance, translating the Greek instructions in The Star Ruby ritual was extremely helpful. I've used this book for over 30 years. It was my idea to ask Lon to contribute an introduction to "Lion of Light."

  9. I'm glad I came back here to read the comments on this. TBH, I had some misgivings about including "23 riffs" in the book due primarily to it's length. So I'm glad to see it so well received.

    I also went back and read through the previous entry/comments on Arnott's essay, and remember how difficult it was for me to ask Arnott to consider rewriting his first submission, and how well he received my request, and how well received the second effort was/is by the readership.

    Oz wrote that he encouraged Arnott to hold on to the first essay, and I agree. Maybe he could publish it right here on this blog (or put a pdf out there and link to it here, and we could have an epilogue/finale to this LOL discussion.


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