Monday, 26 January 2015

Pulling the Cosmic Trigger Part 3: The Play by Daisy Eris Campbell

Liverpool's Baltic Triangle is a former industrial area of old warehouses and factories, where the streets have names like 'Flint Street' and 'Brick Street'. There's a new venue here called Camp and Furnace, created by combining an Edwardian foundry, a former coachbuilders and an industrial blade-making factory. 

This was where the Seekers assembled on 22 November 2013, to see Daisy Eris Campbell's stage version of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger.

Although I'd seen a couple of scenes from the play at the Horse Hospital, I had little idea how Daisy would adapt the whole book.

Poster by Jimmy Cauty of the KLF
The central theme of Cosmic Trigger is described by Wilson in his preface to the 1986 edition:

'Cosmic Trigger deals with a process of deliberately induced brain change through which I put myself in the years 1962-76. This process is called "initiation" or "vision quest" in many traditional societies and can loosely be considered some dangerous variety of self-psychotherapy in modern terminology. I do not recommend it for everybody, and I think I obtained more good results than bad ones chiefly because I had been through two varieties of ordinary psychotherapy before I started my own adventures and because I had a good background in scientific philosophy and was not inclined to "believe" any astounding Revelations too literally. Briefly, the main thing I learned in my experiments is that "reality" is always plural and mutable.' 

The book is mostly a freewheeling philosophical monologue with multiple digressions, as Wilson moves between various 'models' or 'metaphors' for mutable reality. He describes his experiments with Crowleyan magick, Discordianism, eastern mysticism, hallucinogenic drugs, conspiracy theories, Timothy Leary's theories on brain circuits, and telepathic communication with extraterrestrials from the Sirius system (or a giant white rabbit spirit).

If I had to turn Cosmic Trigger into a play I wouldn't have a clue where to start!

But Daisy has done a brilliant job in adapting it. She found a narrative structure, and created comic and moving dramatic scenes from Wilson's philosophical discussions. For example, the book's explanation of Crowleyan sex-magick is turned into a comic scene in which Wilson (Oliver Senton) suggests to his wife Arlen (Kate Alderton) that they start experimenting!  Wilson's communication with extraterrestrials is represented in a theatrical special effect, in which Arlen suddenly acquires an alien head.

Oliver Senton is magnificent as Robert Anton Wilson. He captures his Buddha-like serenity, and is also very funny.  'I'm thinking, perhaps LSD and Crowley is a good combination!' gets a big laugh.

The play has the best use of multimedia I've seen, with Scott McPherson's beautiful CGI projections serving as animated sets. One of the first scenes takes place in the Playboy office, where Wilson meets Robert Shea (Tom Baker), co-author of Illuminatus! The walls are covered with pictures of Playboy bunnies and, in the background, we see a sillhouette of a bunny girl walking past (a first appearance of RAW's rabbit spirit?). In another scene (above)  the space is transformed into the ashram at Millbrook, where Wilson meets Timothy Leary (Andrew McBean).

This encounter leads to a fantastically staged acid trip, in which Wilson is swallowed up by a gigantic typewriter and Albert Hoffman, the LSD pioneer, cycles past on his bicycle (Hoffman experienced the very first acid trip while cycling home).


Here's the scene in which Wilson, on the right, meets Greg Hill a.k.a. Malaclypse the Younger (Josh Darcy). Hill introduces Wilson to Discordianism, a religion disguised as a joke or a joke disguised as a religion.  It's based on worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos and confusion. Instead of dogmas, or absolute beliefs, Discordians have 'catmas', which are 'relative meta-beliefs'. One of the first catmas is the Law of Fives, which states that everything is related to the number five, given enough ingenuity on the part of the interpreter.

'You will have achieved Discordian enlightenment when you realize that, while the goddess Eris and Law of Fives are not literally true, neither is anything else....There is just as much evidence of chaos and play in the universe as there is of law and order; you just have to start looking for it.' Cosmic Trigger

Here Wilson is initiated into Discordianism by Wilson and Kerry Thornley a.k.a. Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst

(Lee Ravitz). Wilson holds Eris's golden apple of discord and a hot dog, because of the catma, 'A Discordian is Required during his early Illumination to Go Off Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog on a Friday'.

Thanks to this video, you too can be initiated into Discordianism by Robert Anton Wilson himself.

'In researching occult conspiracies, one eventually faces a crossroad of mythic proportions (called Chapel Perilous in the trade). You come out the other side either a stone paranoid or an agnostic; there is no third way I came out an agnostic.' Cosmic Trigger

The journey through Chapel Perilous is dramatised in the play with the contrasting journeys of Wilson, the agnostic, and Kerry Thornley, who begins as a light-hearted prankster but descends into stone paranoia. You can read the extraordinary story of Thornley in this article, by Adam Gorightly, who gave a talk about Discordianism in Liverpool.



The play also tells the story of Ken Campbell's epic production of Illuminatus! in Liverpool in 1976. Ken was beautifully impersonated by Josh Darcy, and Daisy played her own mother, Prunella Gee, who was Eris and Mavis in the 1976 production. This led to a possibly unique theatrical event, in which Daisy re-enacted her own conception - watched by her mother who was sitting in the audience!

We saw several scenes from the play, using sets recreated from Bill Drummond's original designs. Here's Hagbard Celine (above), Discordian anarchist captain of the world's largest submarine, the Leif Erikson. He was flamboyantly played by Andrew McBean.

Daisy's 15-year old daughter, Dixie McDevitt, also had a role in Cosmic Trigger, as Robert Anton Wilson's wise daughter, Luna. The last part of the play deals with the greatest tragedy of Wilson's life, the murder of Luna in October 1976, during the course of a burglary. We see the parents' grief, and the process by which Wilson is able eventually to forgive Luna's killer. 

Reality may be plural and mutable, but it is also beyond our control.

The different strands of the story were brought together in scenes in which Wilson attends the 1977 National Theatre production of Illuminatus!, and is persuaded to take part:

'The cast dared me to do a walk-on role during the National Theatre run. I agreed and became an extra in the Black Mass, where I was upstaged by the goat, who kept sneezing. Nonetheless, there I was, bare-ass naked, chanting 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law' under the patronage of Elizabeth II, Queen of England.'  Cosmic Trigger 

This Black Mass was re-enacted in Daisy's play, but without the sneezing goat.

The late great Ken Campbell also appeared, through the magic of Scott McPherson's wonderful animations (right), as one of the Masks of the Illuminati. 

According to Wilson's wife, Arlen, seeing Illuminatus! saved Robert Anton Wilson's life. He had been a broken man following Luna's death. But after Illuminatus! he began to write again, and the first book he wrote was Cosmic Trigger, which is dedicated 'to Ken Campbell and the Science-Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, England'.

As an epilogue, the older Wilson, now using a zimmer frame because of the after-effects of his childhood polio, sums up his attitude to life in the words of the 1986 preface:

'My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. The more certitude one assumes, the less there is left to think about, and a person sure of everything would never have any need to think about anything and might be considered clinically dead under current medical standards, where absence of brain activity is taken to mean that life has ended.'

The very last scene takes place in Wilson's home in 2007. Wilson is baffled to find a cheque for $23 coming through his letter box, followed by more cheques. Searching online, he finds an appeal for funds by Douglas Rushkoff:

'Robert Anton Wilson will one day be remembered alongside such literary philosophers as Aldous Huxley and James Joyce. But right now, Bob is a human being in a rather painful fleshsuit, who needs our help. I refuse for the history books to say he died alone and destitute, for I want future generations to know we appreciated Robert Anton Wilson while he was alive.'

An avalanche of envelopes pours into the room, and Robert Anton Wilson stares at them in delighted disbelief.

Ken Campbell's mantra in directing Illuminatus! was 'But Is it heroic?'  There was a real sense at Camp and Furnace, in the theatre and the bar during the two (23 minute) intervals, that we were privileged to be witnessing something truly heroic.

Above: Aleister Crowley (Tom Baker) and Wilson stand on either side of Carl Jung, who set the whole chain of synchronicity going with his 1927 dream of Liverpool.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Pulling the Cosmic Trigger Part 2: The Cosmic Drain Cover

On Saturday morning, we had several free hours before the Cosmic Trigger play was due to start. I suggested a pilgrimage to the bust of Carl Jung in Mathew Street. This marks the site of the theatre where Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus was first staged, in 1976, by Ken Campbell. It was also where Ken's daughter, Daisy Eris, who'd written and directed the Cosmic Trigger play, was conceived backstage.

Jung is here because of a famous dream he had in 1927.

'I found myself in a dirty, sooty city. It was night, and winter, and dark, and raining. I was in Liverpool. With a number of Swiss, I walked through the dark streets. I had the feeling that we were coming up from the harbour, and that the real city was actually up above, on the cliffs. We climbed up there. When we reached the plateau, we found a broad square, dimly illuminated by street lights, into which many streets converged. The various quarters of the city were arranged radially around the square. In the centre was a round pool, and in the middle of it a small island....I had had a vision of unearthly beauty, and that was why I was able to live at all. Liverpool is the 'pool of life.' '

Memories Dreams and Reflections, 1927

Jung never visited Liverpool. But the Liverpool poet, Peter O'Halligan believed he'd identified the location of the dream, and the 'round pool', as a cast-iron drain cover in Mathew Street. O'Halligan had had his own dream in which he saw a spring bubbling out of this very drain.

According to Ken's biographer, Jeff Merrifield, there really is a pool under the street here:

'When excavations were carried out...when plans were under way to build a new shopping mall, the engineers discovered a huge brick-built reservoir, the original site of the pool, with water still in it. Originally, when the city was being constructed, it was where they brought in the water supply. And all this was under Mathew Street...'  Seeker! p.137

O'Halligan rented the warehouse overlooking the drain, and opened the Liverpool School of Language Music Dream and Pun. It's now an Irish pub, but Carl Jung is still there, gazing down at his drain cover.

Jung's dream was on p223 of O'Halligan's copy of the book. Looking for a book to stage in Liverpool, Ken Campbell picked up a copy of Illuminatus! and found it was full of the number 23. Turning to page 223, he discovered that Jung was a character in the book! Wilson later thanked Campbell by putting him in Cosmic Trigger, on page 223. 

Bill Drummond, who designed the stage sets for Illuminatus, became obsessed with the Mathew Street drain cover. He came to imagine that it was the 'fulcrum of an interstellar ley-line'. This is how he described it to a music journalist in 1981:

'It comes careering in from outer space, hits the world in Iceland, bounces back up, writhing about like a conger eel, then down Mathew Street in Liverpool....Back up, twisting, turning, wriggling across the face of the earth until it reaches the uncharted mountains of New Guinea, where it shoots back into space. Deep space....This interstellar ley line is a mega-powered one. Too much power coming down it for it not to writhe about. The only three fixed points on earth it travels through are Iceland, Mathew Street in Liverpool and New Guinea. Wherever something creatively or spiritually mega happens anywhere else on earth, it is because this interstellar ley line is momentarily powering through the territory.'

Bill Drummond, 'Foreword' to 45 

Like Bill Drummond, I stood on the cosmic drain cover
In 2013, on the eve of his 60th birthday, Drummond spent 17 hours standing on the drain cover. He also stood here in the summer of 1983, when he was managing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes:

'His idea was to arrange for the Bunnymen to play a gig in Iceland at exactly the same time as the Teardrops played in Papua New Guinea. He would remain in Liverpool and, at the correct time, he would go and stand on the manhole cover. Quite why he would do this, though, was another matter. He had a vague feeling that something would happen, but exactly what was hard to define.'  

John Higgs, The KLF: Chaos Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds.

It was only years later that Julian Cope of the Teardrop Explodes discovered Drummond's motivation in trying to get him to play New Guinea:

'Bill had a plan. It was a plan for attaining True Genius. According to Balfey, he believed that the centre of Liverpool's power was near the Carl Jung statue which stood outside the Armadillo Tea Rooms, Liverpool. At that point supposedly, five roads meet.....The metaphysical energy coming down the 'leyline' would create incredible psychic power. Bill Drummond would be standing in Liverpool where the five roads meet, ride the power and attain True Genius.
  And that was Bill Drummond's story. And that was the supposed point of the Australian tour...And a whole lot of things that had fucked me up so badly at the time.
  Bill Drummond never attained true genius; he became an A&R man for Warner Brothers....But I had to admire his story. And I was pleased that there had, at least, been some reason for his craziness.'

Julian Cope, Repossessed, p.110

So that's why I too stood on the drain cover (above), supposing that it might possibly help heal my right little toe, which I'd damaged a couple of weeks earlier falling down the stairs. 

I then limped off to Tate Liverpool, where I rested my foot by sitting on the sofa in Susan Hiller's 'Belshazzar's Feast' installation (right). I took my right shoe off, and watched the flickering flames on the tv set.

After a while, I heard two women talking right behind me.

'Is it on loan from Madame Tussaud's?'

I turned to look at them, and gave them a real fright.

'It's alive!'

They thought I was a waxwork! 

A simple mistake? Or the after effects of standing on a mega-powered interstellar ley line?

Pulling the Cosmic Trigger Part 1: Fish-Tailed Extraterrestrials

I was up in Liverpool in November for a mind-bending celebration of the guerilla ontologist, Discordian Pope (and Finnegans Wake nut), Robert Anton Wilson. The occasion was the stage production by Daisy Eris Campbell, of RAW's classic book, Cosmic Trigger. 

I posted here over a year ago about Daisy's planned production. Not only had she pulled off a four-hour stage play but, with the help of the writer John Higgs, she'd programmed a whole weekend of high weirdness, including a Discordian Papal Ball and a 'Find the Others' Conferestival.  

The mind-bending began on the train from Euston, when Lisa and I found ourselves sharing a table with a distinguished-looking American and his English wife. Halfway through the journey, he pulled out a copy of Cosmic Trigger and started reading it.

Me: 'Are you going to Cosmic Trigger? So are we!'
His wife: 'He's giving a talk there!' 
Me: 'Gosh! Which one are you?'
He: 'I'm Robert Temple.'
Me: 'Wow! The Sirius man!'  

And so we met Robert and Olivia Temple

It was Robert Temple who came up with the phrase 'cosmic trigger' in his 1976 book, The Sirius Mystery. In this astounding book, he suggested that civilization on earth was kick-started by fish-tailed amphibious extraterrestrials from the Sirius system. Temple based this on traditions among the Dogon people of Mali that their ancestors were visited by such beings, called Nommo.

A Dogon drawing of a Nommo
'I would even venture that we may be under observation or surveillance at this very moment, with an extraterrestrial civilization based at the Sirius system monitoring our development to see when we will be ready ourselves for their contacting us...Would they think that [this book] was their cue? If what I propose in this book is really true, then am I pulling a cosmic trigger?'  

Temple, The Sirius Mystery, quoted by Wilson in Cosmic Trigger

Temple's book amazed Robert Anton Wilson who, since July 1973, had supposed he was receiving telepathic transmissions from somewhere near Sirius. At other times, Wilson supposed that the same messages might be coming from a Pookah, a giant white rabbit spirit from County Kerry, like the one in my photo on the right of this page.

The Sirius theory inspired Philip K Dick, who loved Cosmic Trigger ('Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity. I was astonished and delighted.' Philip K Dick, quoted on the back of Wilson's book). Dick felt that he was receiving his own transmissions from a 'Vast Active Living Intelligence System' (VALIS) he located in the Sirius system.

Temple's book also inspired Timothy Leary, who was channelling his own aliens at the same time ('the Starseed Transmissions').

It was a thrill to meet Robert and Olivia, and we had a fascinating conversation all the way to Liverpool. I mentioned his influence on Wilson, Leary and Dick. He knew about the first two – the copy of Cosmic Trigger he was reading was a present from Wilson, who wrote to him, though they never met. But Robert didn't know about Dick's Valis.  This got us onto science fiction, and Arthur C Clarke:

'I was a good friend of Arthur C Clarke. You know, until he was 21 he never left Somerset, yet he could imagine all those worlds.'

The train announcements 'Beware of suspicious items' set off another conversation: 'I'm a suspicious item. So are you!'

We talked about Ancient Egypt, early Islam and Christianity. Robert said, 'Jesus never came from Nazareth, which didn't exist for 300 years until after his time. According to Jewish traditions, he was short, ugly and covered with tattoos!'

Me: 'I haven't heard that one! Wasn't he supposed to be the illegitimate son of a Roman centurion, Panthera?' (I knew this from Ulysses).

Robert: 'I see you've looked into it. Yes, he came from Capernaum where he was a rabbi, but they threw him out of the synagogue because he was preaching a new kind of Judaism. So he said, 'OK, I'll go and preach to the fishermen!' And the fishermen were pleased because nobody had bothered with them before.'
Visiting the Virgin train toilet, I was startled to find it speaking to me in a female voice: 'Please do not flush nappies, sanitary towels, old mobile phones, unpaid bills, your ex's jumper, hopes, dreams or goldfish down the toilet'.  I'd entered a Philip K Dick story!

We said goodbye at Liverpool. The Temples went off to see a film about the Romanian singer, Maria Tanase. We checked into our hotel, the Four Feathers, where I watched a youtube of Robert being inteviewed about Sirius by Nabil Shaban. 

'We are being monitored....We may not be being monitored in what's known now as 'real time'. It may be a retrospective recording by cosmic anthropologists, with technology that's got recording devices that are now so small that they're invisible to us, as ours are becoming....There could be a speck of dust floating in this room which would be quite up to recording our conversation.'
Look everyone. it's Robert Temple!
We met up with the Temples several more times over the weekend. Here's a photo Lisa took of me with Robert at the 'Find the Others' Conferestival, named after Timothy Leary's call to arms: 

'Every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.'

We'd certainly found an other in Robert Temple!

And here's a fish-tailed extraterrestrial I photographed in Liverpool on the Sunday