The Illuminatus! Trilogy

"Illuminatus" redirects here. For other uses, see Illuminati (disambiguation).
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
First collected edition, 1984
Author Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Cover Artist Carlos Victor (1975 paperbacks)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Publisher Dell Publishing
Released 1975 (individual volumes); 1984 (collected edition)
Media Type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 805 pages (paperback collected edition)
ISBN ISBN 1-56731-237-3 (Hardback collected edition) &
ISBN 1-85487-574-4 (Paperback collected edition)

The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a series of three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson primarily between 1969 and 1971.[1] The trilogy is a satirical, postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story; a drug-, sex- and magic-laden trek through a number of conspiracy theories, both historical and imaginary, which hinge around the authors' version of the Illuminati. The narrative often switches between third and first person perspectives and jumps around in time. It is thematically dense, covering topics like counterculture, numerology and Discordianism.

The trilogy comprises the books The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan. They were first published starting in September 1975, as three separate volumes, and in 1984 as an omnibus; they are now more commonly reprinted in the latter form. The trilogy won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, designed to honor classic libertarian fiction, in 1986.[2] The authors went on to create several works, both fiction and nonfiction, that further discussed the themes of the trilogy, but no direct sequels were produced. Illuminatus! has been adapted for the stage, and has influenced several modern writers, musicians and games-makers. The popularity of the word "fnord" and the 23 enigma can both be attributed to the trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction, predating Foucault's Pendulum and The Da Vinci Code by decades.

Contents

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Narrative

The plot meanders between the thoughts, hallucinations and inner voices (both real and imagined) of its many characters, as well as through time (past, present and future)—sometimes in mid-sentence. Much of the back story is explained via dialogue between characters, who recount unreliable, often mutually contradictory, versions of their supposed histories. There are even parts in the book where it actually reviews and jokingly deconstructs itself.

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Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The trilogy's rambling story begins with an investigation by two New York City detectives (Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon) into the bombing of Confrontation, a leftist magazine, and the disappearance of its editor, Joe Malik. Discovering the magazine's investigation into the John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations, the two follow a trail of memos containing cryptic clues that suggest the involvement of powerful secret societies. They slowly become drawn into a web of conspiracy theories. At the same time, the magazine's reporter, George Dorn – having been turned loose without support deep in right-wing Mad Dog, Texas – is arrested for possession of drugs. He is jailed and physically threatened, at one point hallucinating about his own execution. The prison is bombed and he is finally rescued by a group of strangers. He finds himself being bodily dragged into the hands of the Discordians, led by the enigmatic Hagbard Celine, captain of a golden submarine designed and built by himself (or stolen from the US government, or given to him as a gift from the mafia, depending on whom you listen to). Hagbard represents the Discordians in their eternal battle against the Illuminati, the conspiratorial organization that secretly controls the world. He finances his operations from smuggling substances (such as marijuana and heroin) banned by various repressive governments.

The plot meanders around the globe to such far-flung locations as Las Vegas, Nevada (where a potentially deadly, secret U.S. government-developed mutated anthrax epidemic has been accidentally unleashed); Atlantis (where Howard, the talking porpoise, and his porpoise aides help Hagbard battle the Illuminati); Chicago (where someone resembling John Dillinger was killed many years ago); and to the island of Fernando Póo (the location of the next great Cold War standoff between Russia, China and the USA).

The evil scheme uncovered late in the tale is an attempt to immanentize the eschaton (a catchphrase meaning "bringing about the end of the world" or "creating heaven on earth", and derived from a quotation in the works of Eric Voegelin). Here it refers to the secret scheme of the American Medical Association, an evil rock-and-roll band, to bring about a mass human sacrifice, the purpose of which is the release of enough "life-energy" to give eternal life to a select group of initiates, including among others Adolf Hitler. The AMA are four siblings who comprise four of the five mysterious Illuminati Primi. The identity of the fifth remains unknown almost all the way through the trilogy. The first European "Woodstock" festival, held at Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany, is the chosen location for the sacrifice of the unwary victims, via the reawakening of hibernating Nazi battalions from the bottom of nearby Lake Totenkopf. The plot is foiled when, with the help of a 50-foot-tall incarnation of the goddess Eris, the four members of the AMA are killed: Wilhelm is killed by the monstrous alien being Yog-Sothoth, Wolfgang is shot by John Dillinger, Winifred is drowned by porpoises, and Werner is trapped in a sinking car.

The major protagonists, now gathered together onboard the submarine, are menaced by the Leviathan, a giant, pyramid-shaped single-cell sea monster that has been growing in size for millennia. The over-the-top nature of this encounter leads some of the characters to question whether they are merely characters in a book. This metafictional note is swiftly rejected (or ignored) as they turn their attention to the monster again. The threat is neutralized by offering up their onboard computer as something for the creature to communicate with to ease its loneliness. Finally, Hagbard Celine reveals himself as the fifth Illuminatus Primus — he has been toying with both sides and playing them off against each other in order to keep balance. He is a representative of the "true" Illuminati, whose aim is to spread the idea that everybody is free to do whatever they want at all times.

Spoilers end here.
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Titles

The titles of the three volumes or parts (the front covers were titled Illuminatus! Part I The Eye in the Pyramid, Illuminatus! Part II The Golden Apple and Illuminatus! Part III Leviathan) refer to recurring symbols that relate to elements of the plot. The Eye in the Pyramid refers to the Eye of Providence, which in the novel represents in particular the Bavarian Illuminati, and makes a number of appearances (for example, as an altar and a tattoo). The Golden Apple refers to the Golden apple of discord, from the Greek myth of the Judgement of Paris. In the trilogy it is used as the symbol of the Legion of Dynamic Discord, a Discordian group; the golden apple makes a number of appearances, for example, on a black flag, and as an emblem on a uniform. Leviathan refers to the Biblical sea monster Leviathan, which is a potential danger to Hagbard's submarine the Lief Erickson.

The three parts of the trilogy are subdivided into five "books" named after the five seasons of the Discordian calendar. These books are also subdivided into ten "trips" named after the ten Sephirot. The last trip's conclusion is followed by fourteen appendices named after letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, which share their names with paths on the Tree of Life. The first page of the Appendix includes this mysterious note: "There were originally 22 appendices explaining the secrets of the Illuminati. Eight of the appendices were removed due to the paper shortage. They will be printed in heaven", while "Appendix Mem" states: "Where are the missing eight appendices? Answer: Censored." This appears to be another of the authors' jokes, although it is true that eight letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are missing, and the publisher required the authors to cut 500 pages from the book.[3]

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Publishing history

The trilogy was originally written between 1969 and 1971 while Wilson and Shea were both associate editors for Playboy magazine. As part of the role, they dealt with correspondence from the general public on the subject of civil liberties, much of which involved paranoid rants about imagined conspiracies. The pair began to write a novel with the premise that "all these nuts are right, and every single conspiracy they complain about really exists".[4] In a 1980 interview given to the science fiction magazine Starship, Wilson suggested the novel was also an attempt to build a myth around Discordianism:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
It started with the Discordian Society, which is based on worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of confusion and chaos [...] We felt the Society needed some opposition, because the whole idea of it is based on conflict and dialectics. So, we created an opposition within the Discordian Society, which we called the Bavarian Illuminati [...] There were several Discordian newsletters written in the 1960s, and several Discordian members wrote for the underground press in various parts of the country. So, we built up this myth about the warfare between the Discordian Society and the Illuminati for quite a while, until one day Bob Shea said to me, "You know, we could write a novel about this!" [5]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

There was no specific division of labor in the collaborative writing process, although Shea's writing tended towards melodrama, while Wilson's parts tended towards satire. Wilson states in a 1976 interview conducted by Neal Wilgus:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
In general, the melodrama is Shea and the satire is me; but some of the satire is definitely him and some of the melodrama is certainly me. "When Atlantis Ruled the Earth" is 99% Shea. The sections about Simon Moon, Robert Putney Drake and Markoff Chaney are 99% me. Everything else is impossible to untangle. [6]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

According to Ken Campbell, who created a stage adaptation of Illuminatus! with Chris Langham, the writing process was treated as a game of one-upmanship between the two co-authors, and was an enjoyable experience for both:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
They had a lot of access to research staff. And so under the guise that it would be helpful writing articles for Playboy (I don't think it was really) they got into the Illuminati. Wilson would bung these memos to Shea as material came in from the researchers—like the memos in the book. When they got to memo 23, Shea said, "If we imagine a New York cop came across these memos, I think we've got the basis for a fine thriller!" So the next one Wilson wrote was episode one of the thriller. Shea replied with episode two. They were playing a game really. Like, I bet you can't continue this! The answer is, "No I can't, so we'll continue with this!"[7]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

The unusual end product did not appeal to publishers, and it took several years before anybody agreed to take it on. According to Wilson the division of Illuminatus! into three parts was a commercial decision of the publisher, not the authors, who had conceived it as a single continuous volume. Publishers Dell also required Shea and Wilson to cut 500 pages to reduce printing costs on what was seen as a risky venture,[5]although Wilson states that most of the ideas contained therein made it into his later works. The idea that the top secrets of the Illuminati were cut from the books because the printer decided to trim the number of pages is a joke typical of the trilogy.

Dell first released these individual editions (with covers illustrated by Carlos Victor) in the USA in 1975, to favorable reviews and some commercial success. It became a cult favorite but did not cross over into large mainstream sales. In Britain, Sphere Books released the individual editions (with different cover art) in 1978. The individual editions sold steadily until 1984, when the trilogy was republished in a single omnibus volume for the first time. This collected edition lost the "what has gone before" introduction to The Golden Apple and the "Prologue" to Leviathan. Some of the material in that foreword, such as the self-destruct mynah birds, appears nowhere else in the trilogy, likely a result of the 500 pages of cuts demanded by Dell. The omnibus edition gave a new lease of life to flagging sales, and became the most commonly available form of the trilogy from then on.

The trilogy was translated and published in German, again both as separate volumes (the three covers of which formed a tryptych) and an omnibus. The face of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs was split across the first two volumes, despite the Church of the SubGenius not being featured in the novel (although Wilson had become a member). The Church was founded by Illuminatus! fans, and the image of "Bob" is widely considered to be a representation of Wilson himself.[8]

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Themes

The Illuminatus! Trilogy covers a wide range of subjects within its 805 pages. These include discussions about mythology, current events, conspiracy theories and the Cthulhu Mythos.

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Conspiracies

The Eye in the Pyramid as represented by The Great Seal of the United States on a dollar bill
The Eye in the Pyramid as represented by The Great Seal of the United States on a dollar bill

Although the many conspiracy theories in the book are (presumably) imaginary, these are mixed in with enough truth to make them seem plausible. For example, the title of the first book, The Eye in the Pyramid, refers to the Eye of Providence, a mystical symbol which derives from the ancient Egyptian Eye of Horus and is rumored to be the symbol of the Bavarian Illuminati. Some of America's founding fathers are alleged by conspiracy theorists to have been members of this sect.[9]

The books are loaded with references to the Illuminati, the Argenteum Astrum, many and various world domination plans, conspiracy theories and pieces of gnostic knowledge. Many of the odder conspiracies in the book are taken from unpublished letters to Playboy magazine, where the authors were working as associate editors while they wrote the novels. Among the oddest, the suggestion that Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, killed George Washington and took on his identity as President of the United States is often noted in Illuminati-conspiracy discussion.[10] Proponents of this theory point to Washington's portrait on the United States one-dollar bill, which they suggest closely resembles the face of Weishaupt.

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Fnord

One of the most well-known concepts in the book is the fnord, a word coined by the writers of Principia Discordia and given meaning by Shea and Wilson for Illuminatus! which has since been adopted in numerous other contexts. It makes its first appearance in The Illuminatus! Trilogy without any explanation: "The only good fnord is a dead fnord"[11]. Several other unexplained appearances follow. Only much later in the story is the secret revealed, when Joe Malik is hypnotized by Hagbard Celine to recall suppressed memories of his first-grade teacher conditioning his class to ignore the fnords: "If you don't see the fnord it can't eat you, don't see the fnord, don't see the fnord..."[12]

In the Shea/Wilson fictional construct, it is a type of subliminal message technique brought about by seeing the word in print: a word that the majority of the population since early childhood has been trained to ignore (and, of course, trained to forget both the training and the fact that they are ignoring it), but which they associate with a vague sense of unease. Upon seeing the word, readers experience a panic reaction, they then subconsciously suppress all memories of having seen the word, but the sense of panic remains. They therefore associate the unease with the news story they are reading. Fnords are scattered liberally in the text of newspapers and magazines, causing fear and anxiety in those following current events. However, there are no fnords in the advertisements, thus encouraging a consumerist society. Fnord magazine equated the fnords with a generalized effort to control and brainwash the populace. To "see the fnords" would imply an attempt to wrestle back individual autonomy.[13]

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Numerology

Numerology is given great credence by many of the characters, with the Law of Fives in particular being frequently mentioned. Hagbard Celine states the Law of Fives in Appendix Gimmel: "All phenomena are directly or indirectly related to the number five." Another character, Simon Moon, identifies what he calls the "23 synchronicity principle", which he credits William S. Burroughs as having discovered.[14] Both laws involve finding significance in the appearance of the number, and in its "presen[ce] esoterically because of its conspicuous exoteric absence."[15] One of the reasons Moon finds 23 significant is because "All the great anarchists died on the 23rd day of some month or other." He also identifies a "23/17 phenomenon." They are both tied to the Law of Fives, he explains, because 2 + 3 = 5, and 1 + 7 = 8 = 23.[16] Robert Anton Wilson claimed in a 1988 interview that "23 is a part of the cosmic code. It's connected with so many synchronicities and weird coincidences that it must mean something, I just haven't figured out yet what it means!".[17]

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Counterculture

A "flower-power" bus covered with hippie slogans
A "flower-power" bus covered with hippie slogans

The books were written at the height of the late 1960s, and are infused with the popular counterculture ideas of that time. For instance, the New Age slogan "flower power" is referenced via its German form, Ewige Blumenkraft (literally "eternal flower power"), described by Shea and Wilson as a slogan of the Illuminati, the enemies of the hippy ideal. The book's attitude to New Age philosophies and beliefs are ambiguous. Wilson explained in a later interview: "I'm some kind of antibody in the New Age movement. My function is to raise the possibility, hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit."[18]

The prevalence of kinky sex in the story reflects the hippy ideal of "free love"; characters are both liberal-minded and promiscuous. The authors are well aware that it also provides an excuse for mere titillation: in a typically self-referential joke, a character in the story suggests the scenes exist: "only to sell a bad book filled with shallow characters pushing a nonsense conspiracy". Similarly, the books espouse the use of mind-altering substances to achieve higher states of consciousness, in line with the beliefs of key counterculture figures like Timothy Leary. Leary himself called the trilogy "more important than Ulysses or Finnegans Wake". This quote is blurbed on the covers or front page of its various printings.

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Cognitive dissonance

Every view of reality that is introduced in the story is later derided in some way, whether that view is traditional or iconoclastic. The trilogy is an exercise in cognitive dissonance, with an absurdist plot built of seemingly plausible, if unprovable, components.[19] Ultimately, readers are left to form their own interpretations as to which, if any, of the numerous contradictory viewpoints presented by the characters are valid or plausible, and which are simply satirical gags and shaggy dog jokes. This style of building up a viable belief system, then tearing it down to replace it with another one, was described by Wilson as "guerrilla ontology".[20]

This postmodern lack of belief in consensus reality is a cornerstone of the semi-humorous Chaos-based religion of Discordianism. Extracts from its sacred text, the Principia Discordia by Malaclypse the Younger, are extensively quoted throughout the trilogy. It incorporates and shares many themes and contexts from Illuminatus. Shea and Wilson dedicated the first part "To Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley", the founders of the religion. The key Discordian practice known as "Operation Mindfuck" is exemplified in the character of Markoff Chaney (a play on the mathematical random process called Markov chain). He is an anti-social dwarf who engages in subtle practical joking in a deliberate attempt to cause social confusion. One such joke involves the forging and placing of signs that are signed by "The Mgt." (leading people to believe they are from "The Management" instead of "The Midget") that contain absurdities like "Slippery when wet. Maintain 50mph."

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Self-reference

There are several parts in the book where it reviews and jokingly deconstructs itself. The fictional journalist Epicene Wildeblood at one point is required to critique a book uncannily similar to The Illuminatus! Trilogy:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
It's a dreadfully long monster of a book, [...] and I certainly won't have time to read it, but I'm giving it a thorough skimming. The authors are utterly incompetent—no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors—whom I've never heard of—have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy. You can be sure I won't waste time reading such rubbish.[21]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Several protagonists come to the realization that they are merely fictional characters, or at least begin to question the reality of their situation. George Dorn wonders early on: "if I was in some crazy surrealist movie, wandering from telepathic sheriffs to homosexual assassins, to nympho lady Masons, to psychotic pirates, according to a script written in advance by two acid-heads and a Martian humorist".[22] Hagbard Celine claims towards the climax that the entire story is a computer-generated synthesis of random conspiracies: "I can fool the rest of you, but I can't fool the reader. FUCKUP has been working all morning, correlating all the data on this caper and its historical roots, and I programmed him to put it in the form of a novel for easy reading. Considering what a lousy job he does at poetry, I suppose it will be a high-camp novel, intentionally or unintentionally."[23]

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Allusions to other works

For a work of fiction, Illuminatus! contains a lot of references to songs, films, articles, novels and other media. This is partly because the characters themselves are involved in doing research, but it is also a trademark of Wilson's writing.

The novel Telemachus Sneezed by the character Atlanta Hope with its catchphrase "What is John Guilt?" is a spoof of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.[24] Ayn Rand is mentioned by name a few times in Illuminatus! herself, and her novel is alluded to by Hagbard who says, "If Atlas can Shrug and Telemachus can Sneeze, why can't Satan Repent?" There are also references to Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and his Gravity's Rainbow, an equally enormous experimental novel concerning liberty and paranoia that was published two years prior to Illuminatus! Wilson claims his book was already complete by the time he and Shea read Pynchon's novel (which went on to win several awards), but they then went back and made some modifications to the text before its final publication to allude to Pynchon's work.[18] In the third book of the trilogy, in reaction to death, one character wistfully remarks "Now they are all dead. So it goes," possibly deliberately echoing Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, wherein the phrase "So it goes" repeatedly appears whenever death is mentioned.

Author H. P. Lovecraft is alluded to often, with many mentions of characters (e.g., Robert Harrison Blake, Henry Armitage, Klarkash-Ton), monsters (e.g., Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth), books (Necronomicon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten) and places (Miskatonic University) from his Cthulhu Mythos. He even appears himself as a character, as does his aunt Annie Gamwell and one of his acquaintances, Hart Crane. Interest in Lovecraft reached new heights in 1975, with two full-length biographies published in the same year as The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

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Literary significance

The books have received laudatory reviews and comments from Playboy, Publishers Weekly, the American Library Association's Booklist magazine, Philadelphia Daily News, Berkeley Barb, Rolling Stone and Limit. The Village Voice called it "The ultimate conspiracy book ... the biggest sci-fi-cult novel to come along since Dune ... hilariously raunchy!" John White of the New Age Journal described it as:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
An epic fantasy...a devilishly funny work ... shimmers with illusion and paradox that provides delight after magical delight ... a farcical black tragicomedy that turns out to have been written by you and me ... it strips away illusion.[25]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

The Fortean Times was also enthusiastic, whilst acknowledging the difficulties many readers would have attempting to follow the convoluted plot threads:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
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). [26]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Illuminatus! even garnered some attention outside of literary criticism, having several pages devoted to it in a chapter on the American New Right in Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics by George Johnson (1983) [27].

In more recent years, it was complimented in the bibliography to the New Hackers Dictionary as a book that can help readers "understand the hacker mindset," though it had been written before home computers. The Dictionary described it as:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
An incredible berserko-surrealist rollercoaster of world-girdling conspiracies, intelligent dolphins, the fall of Atlantis, who really killed JFK, sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, and the Cosmic Giggle Factor. [...] The perfect right-brain companion to Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach.
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

It was also included in the "Slack Syllabus" in The Official Slacker Handbook by Sarah Dunn (1994) [28], a satirical guide aimed at Generation X.

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Follow-ups

Wilson and Robert Shea went on to become prolific authors. While Shea concentrated mainly on historical novels, Wilson produced over 30 works, mixing fictional novels with nonfiction. Although both authors' later work often elaborated on concepts first discussed in Illuminatus!, the pair never collaborated again. The trilogy inspired a number of direct adaptations, including a stage play and a comic book series, and numerous indirect adaptations that borrowed from its themes.

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Shea and Wilson

Wilson subsequently wrote a number of prequels, sequels and spin-offs based upon the Illuminatus! concept, including an incomplete pentalogy called The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles[17], a standalone work entitled Masks of the Illuminati and The Illuminati Papers, in which several chapters are attributed to the trilogy's characters. Many of Wilson's other works, fictional and nonfictional, also make reference to the Illuminati or the Illuminatus! books. Several of the characters from Illuminatus!, for example, Markoff Chaney ("The Midget") and Epicene Wildeblood, return in Wilson's Schrödinger's Cat trilogy, which also carries on some of its themes. The third book of the Cat trilogy, The Homing Pigeons, is actually mentioned as a sequel to Illuminatus! in "Appendix Mem". Due to Wilson's works being adopted by the New Age community, many of the Illuminatus!-related books are often found in New Age bookstores alongside books on tarot card reading, crystal power, and Feng shui.

Wilson and Shea did plan to collaborate again on a true sequel, Bride of Illuminatus, taking place in 2026. It was rumored that it would feature a resurrected Winifred Saure (the only female member of the American Medical Association) exerting her influence through virtual reality.[29] However, Robert Shea died in 1994 before this project came to fruition. An excerpt was published in Robert Anton Wilson's Trajectories Newsletter: The Journal of Futurism and Heresy in spring 1995 [30]. In a 1994 interview for FringeWare Review, Wilson suggested he may even "do a Son of Illuminatus later". [31] Curiously, in Intelligence Agents by Timothy Leary (1996) [32] he was credited with having already authored Son of Illuminatus in the 1980s.

Shea, meanwhile, never wrote another Illuminatus!-related book, although many of his later novels include references to the themes of that work. Locus magazine describes Shea's Saracen novels as "Deep background for the Illuminatus trilogy".[33]

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Adaptations

The Royal National Theatre in London, from Waterloo Bridge
The Royal National Theatre in London, from Waterloo Bridge

An audacious proposal by English actor, theatre philanthropist and comedian Ken Campbell to stage The Illuminatus! Trilogy in its entirety at The Royal National Theatre in London was met with surprisingly open arms given its length: a cycle of five plays (The Eye of the Pyramid; Swift Kick Inc.; The Man Who Murdered God; Walpurgisnacht Rock; and Leviathan)[34] each consisting of five 23-minute-long acts. It was in fact the first-ever show to open the theatre's third space, the Cottesloe Theatre, running from 4 March to 27 March 1977. It initially opened in Liverpool on 23 November 1976, and even featured Illuminatus! author Robert Anton Wilson as a naked extra in the witches' sabbat scene. Wilson himself was delighted with the adaptation, saying:

   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy
I was thunderstruck at what a magnificent job they did in capturing the exact tone and mixture of fantasy and reality in the book. I've come to the conclusion that this isn't literature. It's too late in the day for literature. This is magic!![7]
   
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

In thanks, Wilson dedicated his Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977) to "Ken Campbell and the Science-Fiction Theatre Of Liverpool, England."

The 23-strong cast featured several actors, such as Jim Broadbent, David Rappaport and Chris Langham, who went on to successful film and television careers. Broadbent alone played more than a dozen characters in the play.[35] Bill Drummond designed sets for the show, and it was eventually seen (when it moved to London) by the young Jimmy Cauty. The duo later went on to form the Illuminatus!-inspired electronica band The KLF. The play was later staged in Seattle, Washington in 1978.[36]

An attempt was made to adapt the trilogy in comic book form beginning in the 1980s, by "Eye N Apple Productions" headed by Mark Philip Steele. Steele met with Wilson in 1984 and subsequently obtained permission from Wilson's agent to adapt the trilogy. Illuminatus! #1 was issued in July 1987, then reissued in substantially revised form later that year by Rip Off Press (who had published the original 4th edition of the Principia Discordia in 1970). A second issue followed in 1990, and a third in March 1991, after which the venture was abandoned (although several ashcans of the as yet unpublished Fourth Trip were distributed at comic book conventions in the Detroit and Chicago areas between 1991 and 2006). Each comic covered one "trip" from the original trilogy, so had further issues followed this pattern, there would have been ten issues in total. The "new first issue" contained a letter from Bob Shea, who had seen the first issue and the materials for the next two. He wrote in part, "I'm delighted. I think it is very faithful to the novel and does a wonderful job of translating the spirit of the novel into a visual medium."[37] The creators of the comic also made an Illuminatus! discussion room on Citadel bulletin board systems.

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Influence

The infamous 1980s computer hacker Karl Koch was heavily influenced by The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Besides adopting the pseudonym "Hagbard" from the character Hagbard Celine, he also named his computer "fuckup", after a computer designed and built by that character. He was addicted to cocaine and became extremely paranoid, convinced he was fighting the Illuminati like his literary namesake. In 1987 he wrote a rambling seven-page "hacking manifesto of sorts, complete with his theories on Hagbard Celine and the Illuminati."[38] The 1998 German motion picture 23 told a dramatized version of his story; Robert Anton Wilson appeared as himself.

A card game inspired by the trilogy, Illuminati was created by Steve Jackson Games. Using the Illuminatus! books as "spiritual guides but not as actual source material," it incorporated competing conspiracies of the Bavarian Illuminati and Discordians and others, though no characters or groups specific to the novels.[39] A trading card game (Illuminati: New World Order) and role-playing game supplement (GURPS Illuminati) followed. The instruction booklets' bibliographies praise the novel and Wilson particularly, calling Illuminatus! in part "required reading for any conspiracy buff". Robert Shea provided a four-paragraph introduction to the rulebook for the Illuminati Expansion Set 1 (1983), in which he wrote, "Maybe the Illuminati are behind this game. They must be—they are, by definition, behind everything." Despite this initial involvement, Wilson later criticized some of these products for exploiting the Illuminatus! name without paying royalties (taking advantage of what he viewed as a legal loophole).[40]

The Illuminatus Trilogy! is steeped with references to the 1960s popular music scene (at one point a list of 200 fictional bands performing at the Walpurgisnacht rock festival is reeled off, and there are numerous references to the famous rock and roll song, "Rock Around the Clock"), and has influenced many bands and musicians. The anarchic British band The KLF was named after one of the secret societies from the trilogy.[41] They released much of their early material under the name "The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu" (JAMs), also from the trilogy, and much of their work was Discordian in nature. They mirrored the fictional JAMs' gleeful political tactics of causing chaos and confusion by bringing a direct, humorous but nevertheless revolutionary approach to making records. The American band Machines of Loving Grace took the name of a sex act performed by one of the main characters during a Black Mass for the title of their song "Rite of Shiva" on their eponymous album.[42]

In general, The Illuminatus! Trilogy can be credited with popularizing the genre of conspiracy fiction[43], a field later mined by authors like Umberto Eco (Foucault's Pendulum) and Dan Brown (Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code), comic book writers like Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Promethea and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Grant Morrison (The Invisibles) and screenwriters like Chris Carter (The X-Files). In particular, the regular use of the Illuminati in popular culture as shadowy central puppet masters in this type of fiction can be traced back to their exposure via The Illuminatus! Trilogy.[44]

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Editions

Major English-language editions[45] include:

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Notes and references

  1. Illuminatus! was written between 1969 and 1971, but not published until 1975 according to Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati (1977), page 145. ISBN 1-56184-003-3
  2. Libertarian Futurist Society (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
  3. Wilson has stated in an online forum for his Maybe Logic Academy "Missing appendices among the 500 pages cut when Dell announced they wd only risk investment in 800 pages." Wilson, Robert Anton (2004). "Simple Questions - not necessarily simple answers" Illuminatus!: The First Trip forum, Maybe Logic Academy
  4. The Illuminatus saga stumbles along by Robert Anton Wilson (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Robert Anton Wilson: Searching For Cosmic Intelligence" by Jeffrey Elliot Interview discussing novel (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
  6. Science Fiction Review #17, 1976, An Interview with Robert Anton Wilson - Conducted by Neal Wilgus (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
    The Atlantis section referred to appears in "The Seventh Trip, or Netzach" of The Golden Apple.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Interview given to James Nye, first published in Gneurosis 1991, available at Frogweb: Ken Campbell (URL accessed 2 March 2006).
    Campbell quotation taken from Recollections of a Furtive Nudist by Ken Campbell, published as part of The Bald Trilogy by Methuen in 1995
  8. Bill Forman, Metro Santa Cruz August 12 2005, available at rawilson.com (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
  9. See e.g. Rivera, David Allen. Illuminati Spreads to America: Final Warning: A History of the New World Order which alleges Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were members. Such theories are alluded to in the Illuminati Project Memo #7 in The Eye in the Pyramid which alleges Jefferson and George Washington were members.
  10. For instance, see Do The Illuminati Really Exist? by Massimo Introvigne, Center for Studies on New Religions (URL accessed 3 March 2006)
  11. The Eye in the Pyramid, page 280
  12. The Golden Apple, page 255
  13. Fnord magazine, #1, Neurolinguistic Hacking for Dummies, available at What is a Fnord? (URL accessed 3 March 2006)
  14. The Eye in the Pyramid, page 250
  15. The Eye in the Pyramid, page 111
  16. The Eye in the Pyramid, page 237
  17. 17.0 17.1 David A. Banton interview of RAW 1988 for KFJC, 89.7 FM in Los Altos Hills, California Wilson discusses the 23 enigma, and states his intention for the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles to be a "pentology" therein. (URL accessed 10 March 2006)
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Shea and I were finished with Illuminatus! when we read Gravity's Rainbow and then on the rewrite we deliberately threw in a couple of references to it, but we had worked out the structure on our own, mostly on the basis of the nut mail that Playboy gets"
    Interview given to EST magazine in 1991, available at ESTWeb (URL accessed 4 March 2006)
  19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy is listed as "further reading" on excommunicate.net's article entitled Cognitive Dissonance (URL accessed 11 March 2006). Wilson offers a definition of "cognitive dissonance" in Cosmic Trigger as an "abrupt contradiction of a person's reality model." Those who experience cognitive dissonance become either "very flexible and agnostic" or "very rigid and schizophrenic."
  20. "A term that I picked up in the Physics Consciousness Research Group. I forget who coined the term and nobody in the group seems to remember who coined it either. It was just going around the group. It could have been Fred Wolfe, Jack Sarfatti, or maybe Nick Herbert"
    1995 CCN interview, available at Deep Leaf Productions (URL accessed 11 March 2006).
  21. The Eye in the Pyramid, page 238
  22. The Eye in the Pyramid, pages 83-84
  23. Leviathan, page 509
  24. Wagner, Eric (2004). An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, page 98.
  25. Blurb printed on The Illuminatus! Trilogy omnibus edition
  26. The Fortean Times, issue 17 (August 1976) pp26-27, available at The Frogweb: Illuminatus! (URL accessed 21 February 2006)
  27. Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics by George Johnson (1983) ISBN 0-87477-275-3
  28. The Official Slacker Handbook by Sarah Dunn (1994) ISBN 0-446-67058-8
  29. "Set 50 years after the original trilogy (2026; RAW has finally confirmed that the original trilogy takes place in 1976), it was going to feature a resuscitated Winifred (female member of the evil Illuminati-primus villains The American Medical Association, in the original trilogy) being reintroduced to the world, mostly through Virtual Reality"
    Comment from "buttergun", Barbelith Underground (URL accessed 5 March 2006)
  30. Trajectories Newsletter: The Journal of Futurism and Heresy Number 14, pages 16-23 (Spring 1995)
  31. FringeWare Review RAW Circuits: Surviving With Robert Anton Wilson by Tiffany Lee Brown (URL accessed 19 February 2006)
  32. Intelligence Agents by Timothy Leary (1996) ISBN 1-56184-038-6
  33. The Locus Index to Science Fiction
  34. National Theatre Archive Collection: Programmes
  35. "Famous Yellowbelly - Jim Broadbent" BBC.co.UK January 9, 2005
  36. Empty Space Uncommon Theatre: About the Space: Past Seasons (URL accessed 15 March 2006)
  37. Index to the Holdings of the Michigan State University Libraries Comic Art Collection (URL accessed 24 August 2006)
  38. Hafner, Katie (1995). CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, Revised, page 206
  39. Jackson, Steve (1982). "The Truth Behind ILLUMINATI" Adventure Gaming 2 (3): 11
  40. "RAW recently criticised several games companies who have marketed products exploiting Illuminatus! and the Discordians, and are able to escape paying royalties through legal loop-holes."
    From article In the RAW: Necessary Heresies originally published in REVelation magazine (#13, Autumn, 1995) pp36-40. Available at Disinformation website (URL accessed 28 February 2006)
  41. Drummond, B., "KLF Info Sheet", October 1987 (link).
  42. "Its taken right out of the illuminatus trilogy, basically it was a sex act that was performed at a black mass at one point. The idea behind Rite of Shiva was to get this obscene sex act on the radio without them knowing what they were playing. It seemed to work out pretty well."
    Scott Benzel talking to Jon Bains in a 1993 interview for Children of Sores (URL accessed 11 March 2006)
  43. For example, "Robert Anton Wilson is the undisputed king of conspiracy fiction [...] there's a wealth of conspiracy-oriented science fiction and horror [...] In fact, there's probably too much. Robert Anton Wilson pretty much has the field cornered, and has deliberately blurred the lines of fact and fiction. But conspiracy lends itself to thriller fiction, because writers can pick up on a plot that's already familiar to readers. "
    Rick Kleffel writing in The Agony Column for 26 August 2002 (URL accessed 11 March 2006)
  44. "The main groundswell of interest in the Illuminati and the assertions that it exists today began after the publication of The Illuminatus trilogy", UK Skeptics Association (URL accessed 11 March 2006)
  45. Major editions culled from four primary sources:
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