by BJW Nashe

Robert Anton Wilson was not generally known as a crime writer. Yet one of his best books, Cosmic Trigger, hinges  on a truly horrific crime – the brutal murder of his 15 year old daughter in Berkeley in 1976. Wilson’s description of the crime, how it affected him and his family, and their moving response to it, adds considerable authority to a text that is already astonishing for its thoroughgoing exploration of outre subjects such as altered states of consciousness, mental reprogramming, political conspiracies, and interstellar telepathy.

bbbbb1Wilson first achieved fame — or at least notoriety — for his 1975Illuminatus! trilogy, which he co-authored along with Robert Shea, and which secured his reputation as a cult author and “guerrilla ontologist.” This remarkable work grew out of source material collected by Wilson and Shea when they were employed as associate editors for Playboy magazine during the late 1960s. Inspired by the huge number of conspiracy theory letters they received at the Playboy offices, the two writers decided to write a sprawling, anarchic epic that would incorporate as many conspiracy theories as possible, while simultaneously serving as a gigantic parody of the entire paranoid process. Everything from the Bavarian Illuminati to the JFK assassination made it into their trio of novels. Tossing plenty of adventure, sex, and humor into the mix, Wilson and Shea ended up delivering a classic that rivals the work of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon.

Wilson and CrowleyRobert Anton Wilson discovered after Illuminatus! was published that his odyssey was just beginning. New material kept coming his way in the form of an avalanche of communications from similarly obsessed people, alternative research by people such as John Lilly and Timothy Leary, and a series of strange coincidences. Wilson embarked on a lengthy form of self-psychotherapy, or what he referred to as “a process of deliberately induced brain change.” He wrote the autobiographical Cosmic Trigger in order to explain the strange twists and turns of that process. The Trigger is an astounding demonstration of Wilson’s unique mind at work. As a committed agnostic, he refuses to simply believe in anything whatsoever. Yet he also refuses to disbelieve anything, as well. He remains open-minded towards just about every wild idea he encounters in his far-flung research. Albert Einstein and Aleister Crowley both deserve a seat at the table. No concept is too strange for him to investigate with considerable intelligence and wit.

All of this is highly interesting and provocative. The sections on Kerry Thornley alone are worth the price of the book. (Thornley, co-founder of “Discordianism,” wrote a novel based on Lee Harvey Oswald before the JFK assassination, and claimed to be implicated, via MKUltra, in that whole conspiracy.) While writing his book, however, Wilson’s freewheeling philosophy was put to the test–perhaps the severest test there is. Here, in his own words, he describes the murder of his beloved daughter Luna and its challenging and ultimately life-affirming aftermath. From Cosmic Trigger:

On October 2, Luna–she who had perhaps levitated once, and who had most certainly taught me much about the Wheel of Karma–came to my room while I was writing and asked me to recommend a novel for her to review for a class at school. While we were discussing this, I was suddenly moved to say to her, “I’m awfully busy these days and we hardly ever talk together. I hope you know I love you as much as ever.

She gave me that wonderful Clear Light smile of hers and said, “Of course I know that.”

That was our last conversation, and I will always be grateful for the impulse that led me to tell her one last time how much I love her.

On October 3, Luna was beaten to death at the store where she was working after school, in the course of a burglary.

bob2I was sleeping (taking a very uncharacteristic afternoon nap) when Officer Butler, a Berkeley policeman, came to the door and asked to speak to both my wife and myself. It has occurred to me that, because I never nap in the afternoons normally, my unconscious might have known and was preparing me with extra rest.

“It’s about your daughter, Luna,” the officer said. “Please sit down.” We sat down.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He was black and had the most pained eyes I have ever seen. “Your daughter is dead.”

“Oh, God, no,” I said, starting to weep and thinking how trite my words were: the Author who writes is always watching the human who lives, in my case. Horribly, I empathized totally with Officer Butler’s pity and embarrassment; I had lived this scene many times, 20 years ago, when I was an ambulance attendant and medical orderly. But in those cases I had played the role of the pitying and embarrassed witness to the grief of a suddenly bereaved family; now, abruptly and unbelievably, I was on the other side of the drama.

The next hour is very vague. I remember telling Arlen, “We were very, very lucky to have that Clear Light shining within our family for 15 years. We must never stop being grateful for that, even in our grief.” I was thinking of Oscar Ichazo’s luminous remark that “nobody is truly sane until he feels gratitude to the whole universe,” and beginning to understand what Oscar meant.

I remember sitting in the living room, talking very rationally with Graham, my son, and Karuna, my oldest daughter, and thinking, “Hell, grief isn’t so bad. I’ll get through this,” and a minute later I was sobbing uncontrollably again.

bob5Late in the evening, I realized fully with total horror that this was going to be worse, much worse, than any other bereavement I have known. Having lost my father, my brother and my best friend in the last few years, I thought I was acquainted with grief and could distance myself from it by the Crowley techniques of breaking any emotional compulsion. But this was of a different order of hellishness than other griefs: losing parents or brothers or friends just does not compare with losing a child you have adored since infancy. I am going to suffer as I have never suffered before, I thought, almost in awe; and I remembered Tim Leary’s gallantry in prison and determined to bear my pain as well as he had borne his.

Then the phone rang and my dear friend, cyberneticist Michael McNeil asked me, gently, if we had considered cryonic preservation for Luna’s body, in the hope that future science would be able to resurrect her.

I was off welfare by then, and earning decent cash regularly from my writing, but it was impossible. “We don’t have that kind of money,” I said.

“We can raise it,” Michael said. “Paul Segall and all the people at the Bay Area Cryonics Society will donate their labor free. I’ve got pledges for enough money to cover the first year’s expenses…”

“Pledges? Who?” I said stupidly.

“People who appreciate your writings on longevity and immortality, and want to help you now.”

I was stunned. It seemed to me that my writings were still, even with the success of Illuminatus!, known only to small coteries in places like Texas and Missouri. By national standards, I was still very much an unknown.

bob4“Hold on,” I said, and went to talk to Arlen. It was an excruciating moment. We had both felt that cryonic preservation was impossible on our income, and we were trying to accept the death of Luna with all the stoicism and forbearance we could muster. Would it be an unnecessary cruelty to ask Arlen to consider the long-range hope of resurrection? Within a few seconds, after I had stumbled through an explanation, Arlen said, “Yes. Even if it doesn’t work for Luna, every cryonic suspension contributes to scientific knowledge. Somebody, some day, will benefit.”

“Oh, my darling,” I said, beginning to weep again. Like Luna, Arlen was teaching me one more time how to stop the Wheel of Karma, how to take bad energy and turn it into good energy before passing it on.

The next day was a melodrama, since Luna had not died naturally and we were creating a precedent; nobody, anywhere, had ever before tried to cryonically preserve a murder victim. Michael McNeil and Dr. Segall consulted a lawyer before confronting the coroner and the D.A. directly; one false move and we might have lost the gamble, snared in bureaucratic tred tape and police business-as-usual. Fortunately, the coroner turned out to be a most broad-minded man and was immediately captured by the idea of the cryonic gamble.

Then, when all was going well, the next blow fell. Paul Segall called to inform me, haltingly, that Luna’s body had decomposed so far between the murder and the time she was found that cryonic preservation seemed virtually pointless.

“I suggest preservation of the brain,” he said.

I understood at once: that gave us two chances that were thinkable at this time (brain transplant and/or cloning), and who-knows-how-many other scientific alternatives in the future that we cannot imagine now.

“Do it,” I said.

And so Luna Wilson, who tried to paint the Clear Light and was the kindest child I have ever known, became the first murder victim to go on a cryonic time-trip to possible resuscitation. We are the first family in history to attempt to cancel the God-like power which every murderer takes into his hands when he decides to terminate life. Understanding fully the implications of what we were doing, I knew the answer to those who would ask me, as they did in later months, “Do you still oppose capital punishment?” The reply is, of course, that I oppose it more vehemently than ever. I have made a basic choice for life and against death and my whole psychology has changed in the process. If I still remember that all realities are neurological constructs and relative to the observer, I am nonetheless committed now to one reality above all alternatives: the reality of Jesus and Buddha, in which reverence for life is the supreme imperative.

macI found myself remembering, over and over, the famous lines from Macbeth:

“Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope

The Lord’s anointed temple”

These lines had puzzled me once, in high school; Duncan was murdered in his bedroom, not in a church. Later, of course, I learned that Shakespeare was employing the medieval metaphor that the body is the temple of the soul. In that metaphor, all murder is sacrilegious: for the body is the Lord’s dwelling and to kill it is to dispossess God, a bit, from the universe.

The police caught the killer in a few days. He was a Sioux Indian, well-known around Berkeley, given to threats of suicide, constant alcoholism and grandiose claims that he would do something “great” for his people some day. I suppose, in his mind, he was getting even for Wounded Knee when he beat my daughter to death. The guys who dropped the napalm on the Vietnamese children thought they were protecting their homes from the barbarian hordes of “gooks.” Gurdjieff used to say, “Fairness? Decency? How can you expect fairness and decency on a planet of sleeping people?” And during the first World War, he said, “Of course, if they were to wake up, they’d throw down their guns and go home to their wives and families.”

In the following week, I often found myself in a room, going somewhere, without knowing how I’d gotten there, or what I was looking for. I would think, almost with humor, “Oh, yes, you’re in Shock.”

bob3I spent hours sitting on the sun deck, looking down over the cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Daly City, and musing on the Zen paradox that every man, woman, and child down there thought they were as important as me, and they were all correct. I tried to write down or write out some of my feelings on the fourth day, but all I typed was, “The murder of my child is no worse than the murder of anybody’s child; it only seems worse to the Ego.”

Meanwhile, literally hundreds of people came by, to express their own grief or to contribute to expenses. Over 100 merchants of Telegraph Avenue, where Luna was especially known and loved, contributed generously, without being asked.

Tim Leary offered to cancel his lecture tour and come stay with us for a week, to help. I told him that it was more important to spread the SMILE message; but he called frequently on the phone thereafter to offer words of help to each of us in the family. One day he sent a telegram saying: YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY A NETWORK OF LOVE AND GRATITUDE. WE ARE ALL WITH YOU AND SUPPORT YOU.

A network of love… the phrase struck me hard; after all, I had spent at least ten years asking if the occult matrix in which I was embroiled was a conscious Network or just a quantum Net of synchronicity. A network of love was what the Christians mean by the Communion of Saints, the Buddhists by the Sangha, occultists by the Secret Chiefs, Gurdjieff by the Conscious Circle of Humanity.

The Berkeley Barb called and asked if I could pick out a few of Luna’s poems for a memorial page they were doing. (Over and over, that first week, I was astonished to find how many people outside the family realized what I had thought only we knew: how special Luna was, how rare and loving…)

Going through Luna’s notebook, I picked out five poems to send to the Barb. Among them was

The Network

Look into a telescope

to see what I can


baffled by the sight of


watching me.

I was overwhelmed by the coincidence-synchronicity with Leary’s telegram (YOU ARE SUPPORTED BY A NETWORK OF LOVE…) and my long years of speculation about the Net or the Network. I took the new imprint, Tim would say; I entered a belief system in which the Network of Love was not one hypothesis among many but an omnipresent Reality.

Once my eyes were truly open to it, the Network was everywhere, in every tree, every flower, in the sky itself, and the golden merry light that had been Luna was part of it.

Among Luna’s papers, Arlen found a note Tim Leary had sent Her from Vacaville Prison in 1974, when She asked for a personal message in Tim’s handwriting. He had written:

Beloved Satellite,

We will be coming to join you in outer space

learIt is now four months since Luna entered cryonic suspension. I am now a Director of the Prometheus Society, a Maryland-based group engaged in lobbying Congress to create a National Institute of longevity and immortality research. Tim Leary and I are both deeply involved with the L5 Society, a group of scientists who are determined to send out the first space-city (designed by Prof. Gerard O’Neill of Princeton) by 1990.

Working also with the Physics Consciousness Research Group and Jean Millay and other bio-feedback investigators, I am convinced that Intelligence–a planetary rise in intelligence will also be achieved in our time. The Starseed Signals, however you explain them, did indeed contain the evolutionary imperative awaiting our generation.

Looking out my window down at the vast urban sprawl of the Bay Area, I sometimes recall that somewhere down there another you girl lies beaten to death, another poor cop is breaking the news to another pair of bereaved parents. We still have one murder every 14 minutes in this mad society.

I know, truly, that I have been a lucky man, and my family has been lucky, compared to what happened to the Jews (and most of Europe) in the 1930s and 1940s, or to the colored races on this continent for three centuries, or to the nightmare horror of Vietnam between 1940 and 1973. Or compared to most of human history, which is still, as Joyce said, a nightmare from which we are seeking to awake.

bob6Tim Leary was here last week, lecturing at UC Berkeley. The news arrived that his appeal had been rejected by the New Orleans court and he might have to go back to jail again. Tim didn’t let anybody know about this (I found out from the only person in the room when the news came on the phone); Tim continued to radiate humor, cheer, and optimism.

Arlen had a conversation with Tim, in which she expressed gratitude for the example he had given us during the last three years of his confinement. “You convinced us that it is possible to transcend suffering,” she said, “and that helped us more than anything else in the first weeks after Luna’s death.”

Tim said, “That’s the whole point of all my work on brain change!” He hugged her excitedly. “That’s it! You’ve got it! Positive energy is as real as gravity. I’ve felt it.” Two hours later, at the door, Tim was stopped by one of our guests with a final question before he left.

“What do you do, Dr. Leary, when somebody keeps giving you negative energy?”

Tim grinned that special grin of his that so annoys all his critics. “Come back with all the positive energy you have,” he said. And then he dashed off to the car, to the airport, to the next lecture… and to God-knows-what fate in the fourteenth year of his struggle with his legal system.

And so I learned the final secret of the Illuminati.


2 Responses to Famed ‘Illuminatus!’ Author Robert Anton Wilson Writes His Daughter’s Tragic Death

  1. Colleen Kelly says:

    I truely enjoyed reading this article. It was inspiring and helped me. The ending also gave me insight on how to finish a piece of fiction I am working on. Good writing and good subject, Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary were fascinating men.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      BJW Nashe is a great writer. I wish he was still contributing to ATCB. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

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