Category Archives: robert anton wilson

Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave

Hello Humans.

Here to introduce this post is Pinhead from Hellraiser:

In a throwaway aside in his review of Brian Yuzna’s From Beyond (1986) in this month’s Sight and Sound the ever-incisive Kim Newman writes:

From Beyond is worth revisiting for its ambitious themes-it takes the torch from Videodrome and passes it to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, prompting sociopsychological musings on why exactly cosmic horror in the 80s was always yoked to sadomasochistic dress-up.

Naturally I thought, “Somebody need to write about that! I’m going to do it right now!” Several thousand words later I never really pinpointed why the 80s were especially conducive to the conjunction of sadomasochism and cosmic horror, or even if that’s really the case upon closer inspection. However, I do think Kim Newman’s on the money in as much as there remains a good case to be made for establishing a connection between cosmic horror and S and M. Both, I want to argue, offer ‘limit experiences’ that mirror one another as in the alchemical rule that the microcosm (human body) is a mirror of the macrocosm (universe). The bondage practitioner and the protagonist in cosmic horror are both taken to extremes of experience that open up new forms of consciousness. The article concludes by arguing that such “limit experiences” need not always end in evisceration as they do in many horror films. There are also narratives in which the iconography of fetish clubs (if not the practice) is adopted as a form of liberation from threats to reality, as in The Matrix and Return of the Living Dead 3.

Before reaching that final destination though we must embark upon a strange journey that takes in H.P. Lovecraft, Michel Foucault, Hellraiser, Nietzsche, Alisteir Crowley, and the X-Men and more along the way. It is also a companion piece of sorts to my previous post Posthuman Ecstasy: Long Live the New Sex which also dealt with new forms of posthuman sexuality in horror films. Continue reading


Tales from the Sphinx: An Interview with John Thompson

DEADBIRDSONG- John Thompson, 1969

Some time ago Nth Mind published a series of articles about Robert Anton Wilson, the final on of which, Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the Comix Underground (click on the title to read it) discussed the work of John Thompson, artist for Cosmic Trigger and co-founder of the comix anthology The Yellow Dog. In the time since publishing that article I have been able to contact Thompson who had some very kind words about the original article. Moreover, John was good enough to agree to an interview as a follow-up to that article, the final version of which is presented below. I hope this interview encourages readers to follow the links included within, find out more about John’s (and his wife Judy’s) extraordinary art and contribute, as always, to keeping the cosmic trigger happy.

So settle down, get comfortable, and we’ll begin.

NTH MIND: When did your interest in art begin?

JOHN THOMPSON: As a small child I was drawn to some forms of Gnostic Christianity and a few schools of Buddhism, and can recall past lives where I illustrated and copied manuscripts. So as a little boy I tried to draw and write like I once did, and was frustrated that my abilities had not yet matured to do this. Then in Fifth Grade my books full of strange words and detailed drawings evolved, thanks to my teacher Mr. Sciara (Greek). Past life memories always have me in a loving family, in cultures without currency or fame or even signing pages, cultures involving Luang Prabang circa 1830, Languedoc/Provence 1200s, and rural hills of Western Sichuan . In these places my happy childhood involved copying books and illustrating them. Also ancient Miwoks of the Central Sierras, S E England’s Six Celtic Clans, and Greco-Alexandrian culture.

NTH MIND: Who were/are your artistic influences?

JOHN THOMPSON: Seeing Blake’s works was one of my happiest childhood memories.

NTH MIND: In Art in Time you list astrological symbolism of the Hellenist Greeks, Pythagorean Revival ideas mixed with celtic lore and Jewish mysticism, Swedenborg, Walt Whitman and Nyingma Buddhism as influences on your work. Also you wrote to me that, “In Edinburgh 1970 I researched my ancestral home, and in London studied Dr Dee & The Golden Dawn etc, so I’m a big fan of British esoteric lit & art.” When did you first become interested/initiated into esoteric ideas?

JOHN THOMPSON: Behavioral Psychologists agree that most children develop cognitive patterns the first six years of life, so I’ve been “thinking” like this since being born here in Carmel in 1945, surrounded by natural beauty of this coast. Such thoughts may seem esoteric to those who think differently, but not to like-minded people.

NTH MIND: At what point did you start including these ideas in your art?

JOHN THOMPSON: As soon as my hand held a pencil and my mouth could form words. Continue reading


Reclaiming psychedelics for the intelligentsia…

There used to be a time, not too long ago, when psychedelic drugs were a subject of fascination among intellectuals. This of course was before they became adopted by the sixties counterculture and swiftly demonized and legislated against. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for the sixties counterculture and the psychedelic philosophies of people like Leary and Wilson. However, in our rose-tinted nostalgic fascination with the sixties the earlier intellectual interest in these drugs is often forgotten. This is not to say that thinkers such as Leary and Wilson weren’t intellectuals, in fact I would argue that they are two of the great philosophers of the 20th Century. They were just a little early. What I mean to say is that prior to that movement there was a time when people who were effectively buttoned-up were experimenting with these drugs. There was a time when the media reported on psychedelics with a measured and fascinated tone. There was a time when discussing the psychedelic experience was inches away from being an acceptable activity.

It was in 1954, a decade before the Summer of Love, or the Beatles White Album, or Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, that the author Aldous Huxley declared in The Doors of Perception that:

To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large—this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.

Now this is not only beautifully written but it is also a world away from sixties sloganeering “Turn On, Tune in, and Drop Out” (valuable as that advice might also be). The notion that such an experience might be of “inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual” seems downright radical in the modern era which is sadly lacking intellectuals willing or able to articulate the value of the psychedelic experience never mind arguing for its adoption on a wide scale (bar a few notable exceptions we will address later on). If Huxley’s book introduced the psychedelic experience to a serious, literary audience a widely read 1957 article in Life magazine published by the ‘New York banker’ Gordon Wasson entitled Seeking the Magic Mushroom (available here) introduced it to a wide popular readership. As Wikipedia points out, this article had repercussions far beyond the edification and entertainment of the general audience it was intended for:

In 1957, R. Gordon Wasson, the vice president of J.P.Morgan, published an article in Life extolling the virtues of magic mushrooms.This prompted Albert Hofmann to isolate psilocybin in 1958 for distribution by Sandoz alongside LSD in the U.S., further raising interest in LSD in the mass media. Following Wasson’s report, Timothy Leary visited Mexico to experience the mushrooms.

To get an even clearer idea of how psychedelic drugs were an intellectual-dare we even say ‘middle class’- object of fascination in the fifties there is no more convincing (and retrospectively amusing) evidence than the video below from 1955 of Conservative (!!!) MP Christopher Mayhew under the influence of 400 mgs of mescaline for BBC’s Panorama. For anyone wanting to follow this up this version of the clip is taken from the longer BBC documentary Hoffman’s Potion, which can be watched here.

Continue reading


Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading


Comics are Magic part 2: Using Superheroes for Divination and Manifestation

In Comics are Magic Part 1 we discussed some strange coincidences and comic book predictions. In this part I want to discuss the use of comics to deliberately manifest such coincidences and changes in reality. First of all it might help to consider the intuitive capabilities of comics creators, starting with Jack Kirby. Kirby is arguably the most influential comics artist of all time, especially in terms of superhero comics. Chris Knowles, author of the excellent Our Gods Wear Spandex, has written frequently about Kirby over at his blog Secret Sun. Knowles says,  “Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being “hermetically sealed in his own imagination.” I’d counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper.” Knowles suggests that

Continue reading


Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the comix underground

Page from John Thompson's Book of Raziel (1969)

Portrait of RAW from Cosmic Trigger Artist: John Thompson

As I wrote in part 2 (part 1 here) Robert Anton Wilson’s brand of ‘scientific-shamanism’ is linked to a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, a postuman form not uncommon in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes  in the 60s/70s  constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Having briefly considered what seems to be a largely implicit influence of RAW on the work of Moore and Morrison, it occurred to me that Wilson’s cultural milieu might align him with the comix underground in some way. As I said in Part 2 underground comix are not my speciality but curiosity led me to investigate te idea a bit further. So what follows is a brief investigation into the topic by someone who is not an expert. Still, I think I’ve unearthed some interesting tit-bits and hope that if anyone has any further information they get in touch. Continue reading


Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 2: Ontological Anarchy

So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.

Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.

What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course. Continue reading


A Treasure Trove of Mind Expanding Documentaries and Movies

Just found this site (TubeGnosis) and thought it was worth sharing with the world. Great site with documentaries and films on and from all the usual suspects, Burroughs, RAW,  Crowley, Jodorowsky and on and on. Weeks worth of viewing here.

I’m particularly excited to see the 1972 documentary about R. D. Laing Asylum:

In 1971, filmmaker Peter Robinson and a small crew entered a world of anarchic madness and healing compassion unlike any other. The resulting film, Asylum, records their seven week stay in radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s controversial Archway Community — a London row-house where the inmates literally run the asylum. Laing’s conviction that schizophrenics can only heal their shattered “self” where they’re free and yet are held responsible for their actions, challenged patients, doctors and, in Asylum’s incredible document, the filmmakers, to live communally and peacefully. 

A documentary treasure built from truthful moments of astonishing tension and grace, Asylum takes on a gripping narrative strength usually only seen in fiction. Hailed as “beautifully done” by The Village Voice at the time of its 1972 release, Asylum has since become “a model of cinema verité.” (The New York Times) 

“[Asylum] The only thing we have in film that shows what we think works for – well, for people who feel that society is destroying them.” – R. D. Laing

Plenty more besides that one. Going to be a busy week.

Tube Gnosis: Mind Expanding Documentaries and Movies.


Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy: thoughts on Robert Anton Wilson

Last week was  raw week  over at  Boing Boing. .Marking the fifth anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson’s transition to a different pattern of energy and information and who’s 4-dimensional form existed in space time January 18, 1932 – January 11, 2007.

I’d originally intended to write a post about Wilson’s influence on comic books but instead I ended up writing this. Will hopefully get to that other one next week.  So this is just some thoughts on Wilson, whose work had a profound impact on my philosophical and psycho-spiritual development and who still sometimes (not sure if I should mention this so I will) appears to me as as a kind of gigantic and benign floating head whenever my more unusual states of consciousness seem like they might get too much. Which, by the way, is awesome and I don’t care if its not really him; everyone gets the Robert Anton Wilson they deserve. So, an intellectual influence then and, in some strange way that only writers who you love but have never met can be, a friend. Continue reading