Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts and Secret Rituals of the Men in Black by Allen H. Greenfield

secret cipher of the ufonauts secret rituals of the men in black greenfieldSecret Cipher of the UFOnauts 
Secret Rituals of the Men in Black
Allen H. Greenfield

Here are two books by the same author that make up one whole. Let me attempt to briefly summarise their contents:

Humanity has been in contact with ultraterrestrial forces for millennia. A kind of merman from Sirius came down to Earth a long time ago and taught us how to organise civilisation.

The secret wisdom of the fish god has been passed down through the coded messages of myths and the ciphered language of the rituals of secret societies. Very few humans still understand the true messages behind these stories and rites. Magic is ultraterrestrial technology, and most, if not all, aspects of the Occult relate to this technology.

summoning alien.jpg
In 1904, Aleister Crowley received messages from Aiwass, a discarnate entity. Within these messages was a key to the ciphered messages of the UFOnauts (ultraterrestrials), but despite his efforts, Crowley wasn’t able to find the key within the message that he himself had channeled. Some of Crowley’s followers discovered the key to the cipher in the 70s.

Allen Greenfield, the author of these books, claims that this key unlocks the meanings of the nonsensical names of aliens and planets given by UFO contactees. It also decodes elements of the secret rituals of certain masonic fraternities.

The deciphered meaning of these terms and rituals gives credence to the claim that ultraterrestrials have long been meddling in human affairs. Some aliens seem to be good, but others are pretty bad.

These books are not easy reading, but that’s their basic message as far as I can tell. The evidence given for these claims is fairly cabbalistic, and I don’t have the background or the patience to assess it properly. I read every word in the book, but entire paragraphs went entirely over my head. There’s a lot of references to different contactee cases that I am only mildly familiar with and a good deal of discussion on different aspects of freemasonry that I didn’t get at all.

I feel that things might have made more sense to me if I had already read Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery. It’s mentioned quite a few times in here. I’ve had a copy of this book on my shelf for years, bit I’ve found it tough to work up enough courage to actually read it. I suppose I should really look through it before delving any deeper into UFO lore.

Philip K. Dick’s VALIS was also mentioned in here quite a few times. VALIS was one of the first of Dick’s novels I read, and I remember finding it quite confusing at the time. I wonder if it’d make more sense to me now. I thought it was pretty cool to see Dick’s work being discussed alongside Crowley’s.

The main texts of both Secret Cipher and Secret Rituals are followed by interviews with an individual who calls himself Terry R. Wriste, and these interviews contain the most entertaining, most straightforward and most unbelievable parts of the books. In one of them, this Wriste guy describes being part of an underground shootout between a group of Vietnam veterans and a bunch of aliens. Wriste was one of the only survivors. In the other interview, he claims that UFOs can be shot down with sex energy. So remember, if you’re ever about to be abducted by an alien, just whip out your dick or pussy and rub it in their direction. They’ll disappear.

Robert Anton Wilson described Secret Cipher as “A very strange book, even for the field of UFOlogy”, and I have to agree with him. This stuff is mental. It was nice reading it so soon after Dark Gods by Roberts and Gilbertson as that book discusses a lot of the same cases. I cut down on the alien books after reviewing a bunch of new-age channeling nonsense a few years ago, but the books I’ve been reading recently have got me interested again. I’ve been enjoying the way they bring other aspects of the Occult to their discussions.

I’ve found it a bit tricky to figure out accurate publishing information for Greenfield’s books. The first one, Secret Cipher, was originally published in 1994.  I’m not sure when the second one, Secret Rituals, was published, but I know it wasn’t after 1995. I read the 2005 digital editions of both texts. (Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts, Secret Rituals of the Men in Black) The texts are about the same thing, and I’m certain they’re meant to be read together. A few years ago, the author put out another book, The Complete Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts. I haven’t been able to verify this, but it seems probably to me that that text is just the other two books stuck together.

Dark Gods – Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson

dark gods - anthony roberts and Geoff Gilbertson.jpgDark Gods – Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson
Rider/Hutchinson – 1980

Malevolent forces from another dimension have long been plotting against humanity. Throughout history these forces have manifested as demons, angels, spirits, fairies, vampires, dragons, aliens and Men in Black. They have convinced some humans to create secret societies that unwittingly aim to bring about the downfall of humanity. Lovecraft’s tales are not mere fiction. Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu are very real, and they’re patiently waiting for misguided humans to call them forth so that they can lead us into an era of blasphemous anarchy and interdimensional terror.

I mean… if you don’t want to read this book after that description, you’re on the wrong blog.

There’s so much to unpack here. This utterly insane book takes the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Bulwer Lytton, Erich Von DänikenFrancis King, Pauwels and Bergier, Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, Trevor Ravenscroft, and John Keel and mixes it with Biblical Lore, black magic, cryptozoology, secret society conspiracy theories and UFO abduction stories. This is essential reading.

h.p.lovecraft - tom evesonjpg.jpgI’ve seen this image of Lovecraft before. It’s by Tom Eveson.

When I read Colin Wilson’s The Occult, I complained about the author’s unquestioning acceptance of ridiculous ideas. This approach made a little more sense to me after I read Morning of the Magicians by Pauwels and Bergier and understood their concept of fantastic realism, but I still thought of Wilson as a fairly credulous yet knowledgeable individual. Wilson actually wrote the foreword for this book, and it’s rather telling that he seems uncomfortable accepting this book’s findings. While he praises the authors of Dark Gods’ inquisitive vigor, he can not endorse their blind acceptance of their own conjecture. What is too much for Wilson will be far too much for almost everybody else.

Truly, this is a ridiculous book. There is no consideration given to the reliability of any of the authors’ sources; they even accept testimony from individuals they acknowledge as being liars.  They make no distinction between myths, fiction and eye-witness witness reports. Lovecraft’s short stories, extracts from The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus and Bulwer Lyton’s novel The Coming Race are presented alongside historical documents as proof of the conspiracy.

I don’t mind authors being ridiculous if the material they’re presenting is entertaining, but unfortunately, not all of the stuff in here is hugely interesting. Much of the second half of the book is taken up with descriptions of different secret societies such as the Golden Dawn, the Illuminati and even the Bilderburg Group. I recently wrote about my current disdain for conspiracy theories, and I found this section of the book to be grueling. The general message of the last 100 pages or so can be summed up by saying that any secret society that claims to offer illumination is actually run by Satanic forces that aim to enslave the society’s members and ultimately destroy humanity. I will give the authors some credit for briefly suggesting Reptilian government leaders 10 years before David Icke went mad, but this part of the book was painfully dull.

dark gods crowley blavatksy weishauptMadame Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, Adam Weishaupt, Aleister Crowley, Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Dietrich Eckart – Satanic Illuminatists (Picture by Tom Eveson)

Overall, the writing is quite bad. The authors seem to dance around the points they’re trying to make rather than just stating them clearly. This is particularly unfortunate as the points they are making are hardly common-sense ideas.

Perhaps the most confusing, convoluted part of this book is the bit explaining the motives of the entities who seem to abduct people in UFOs. ‘The phrase ‘seem to’ is very deliberate in that sentence. The authors of Dark Gods don’t believe that aliens are coming to Earth and abducting humans; they believe that interdimensional beings are coming to Earth and pretending to be aliens that are coming to Earth and abducting humans. We’re talking about malevolent ultra-terrestrials, not inquisitive extra terrestrials. (The idea of ultra-terrestrials rather than extra-terrestrials can be found in Whitley Strieber‘s abduction books too, but ol’ Whitley never imagines his visitors to be so deceptive.) Why are these weird entities playing such an elaborate hoax on humanity? According to Gilbertson and Roberts, it’s basically just to confuse us.

golem dark godsThis image of a Golem later appeared on the cover of a book by David Schow.

Think about that for a second. Inter-dimensional creatures are crossing over into our dimension and then pretending to be aliens because they think that will make us feel afraid and uncertain. The pretending to be aliens part just seems a little bit redundant to me. They’re inter-dimensional creatures – that’s plenty frightening and confusing. What kind of deranged people came up with this nonsense?

There’s sparse information on the authors available online, and I had to dig around quite a bit for it to paint a cohesive picture. What I could find was fairly depressing. Both men are now dead.

Anthony Roberts had previously published some other books on Atlantis and mythology. Paul Weston, an expert on Glastonbury’s mythology, claims that the mood of Roberts’ earlier books were “considerably different” to Dark Gods. Roberts ran a publication company called Zodiac House with his wife. He died in 1990 while climbing up Glastonbury Tor to see a lunar eclipse. He died of a heart attack, but some have suggested that he was actually killed by fairies for planning to summon the ghost of Robert Kirk, a folklorist who was supposedly abducted by the fairies in 1692. Most accounts of Anthony Roberts that I have found have presented him as a rather temperamental individual. (Sources: an essay on meeting Roberts, Paul Weston’s notes, and Roberts’ obituary on page 12 of The Ley Hunter Winter 1989/1990)

glastonbury tor - dark gods.jpgThis creepy image from the book shows the spot where Anthony Roberts would later die.

Geoff Gilbertson died more recently, in 2017. Despite living longer, he seems to have been the more tragic of the pair. He died alone of untreated cancer. I believe Dark Gods is his only book. After publishing it, he supposedly became convinced that the Dark Gods were after him for doing so. He apparently suffered several psychotic breakdowns and spent time living on the streets and in a mental institution. One of his friends believed that he was on the autism spectrum. This guy genuinely seems to have suffered horribly with his mental health. People that knew him seem to have thought him a very nice guy though, a fact which is not true for Anthony Roberts. Nearly all of the information I could find on Gilbertson came from this article.

I’ve read accounts describing both men as unstable. I don’t know how they met or what their relationship was like, but it seems that their interactions with each other created an echo-chamber of Fortean paranoia. Dark Gods doesn’t read like some transparent attempt to synthesize occult ideas in order to make a quick buck. No, this book is a genuine trek into Crazy Town.

I first saw Dark Gods being mentioned on twitter. Somebody was discussing how difficult it is to find these days. Underneath that comment, somebody else had posted a video review of the book by Occult Book Review, one of my favourite youtube accounts. (He’s another Irish dad with an interest in occult books, basically a nicer, smarter, more respectful version of me.) After the first few minutes of that video, I knew I’d have to track down and read this thing as soon as possible.

Doing so wasn’t easy. This book really is quite tricky to find. You’ll be very lucky to buy a copy for less than 200 dollars, and I wasn’t able to find a digital version. With a little bit of work, I managed to get my greedy little claws on a physical copy. It’s actually a very tedious read, but if you’re determined to read it and can’t afford to spend a bunch of money, ask me nicely and I might be able to help you out.

Sinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft (Part 1: The Nine) – Peter Levenda

sinister forces the nine levendaSinister Forces: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft (Part 1: The Nine)
Peter Levenda

I used to think that I was more interested in conspiracy theories than I really am. Investigating these theories becomes far less alluring after you’ve done it a little bit.

There’s a few reasons why I think researching conspiracy theories is a waste of time:

  1. The internet has to be your main source of information – these theories evolve too quickly for books to be worthwhile anymore. But anyone can post information on the internet. There is such an abundance of crap online that you’ll rarely get to the bottom of anything.
  2. At this point in global history, the current state of politics is actually as twisted, shady and worrying as any conspiracy you can imagine.
  3. In the era of QAnon and fake news, belief in conspiracies has become too mainstream to be cool. I want to be in the same party as Frohike, Langly and Byers, not Margery from Nebraska.

Peter Levenda’s Sinister Forces series is about American conspiracy theories. It covers everything you’d expect; MK Ultra, the Manson family, the UFO phenomenon and everything in between. Unfortunately, Levenda doesn’t just describe these theories; he tries to link them all together. Can you remember Umberto Eco’s book, Foucault’s Pendulum? Levenda is like a comic-book version of the characters in that novel.

This was a very boring read. Every now and then an interesting bit would pop up, but I didn’t come across a huge amount of interesting information that I wasn’t already aware of.

I found the stuff on the mind control of Candy Jones interesting, but this was largely because of the similarity of her name to the name of one of the characters in Russ Martin’s Satanic mind-control series.

candy jones candy sterlingTwo books about mind-controlled beauties. Is there a link?

The only part of the book that actually convinced me of anything was the discussion of government agencies’ use of disinformation. That the American government has fed its citizens deliberately obfuscating untruths is undoubtedly true. The extent and nature of these untruths is a remarkably interesting topic, but it’s also one that very few, if any,  people can discuss with certainty. There’s always another layer of deception that could be peeled away.

A lot of the stuff in this book is pretty X-Files-y, and Levenda actually references the work of Mulder and Scully a few times throughout. I love the X-Files, but that series presents itself as fiction. Levenda’s talking about real life, and his ideas are far too convoluted to be remotely convincing.

I was planning on finishing the series, but I couldn’t get more than a few pages into the second book. I’ve had a copy of Levenda’s Unholy Alliance on my shelf for a couple of years now, and I reckon it’ll be another few before I get the courage to pick it up. Levenda recently co-authored a book about aliens with the singer from Blink-182. Yuck.

UFOs and the Alien Agenda – Bob Larson

UFOs and the alien agenda bob larsonUFOs and the Alien Agenda – Bob Larson
Thomas Nelson Publishers- 1997

Some of the books I have read about aliens approached the topic from a rational, scientific point of view. Others looked at this phenomenon through a less critical lens. I preferred reviewing the latter because I had more to make fun of. It’s harder to argue with a person when they’re using evidence and mathematics to make their point than it is when the author’s information comes from an alien that intermittently possesses their body and claims to be Jesus Christ.

Having studied both sides of the debate, that of the scientists and that of the new-age gurus, I needed another perspective. Where better to look than my old friend, Bob Larson?bob larson walking turd

Bob, as you should well know, is an Evangelical exorcist who has made his living preaching about the evils of rock music and extorting money from the vulnerable. Well guess what folks! In 1997, he made a breakthrough. The Devil isn’t only to be found on MTV; he’s also been riding around Earth in a flying saucer for the last 70 years! That’s right. Aliens, much like everything else that Bob Larson doesn’t like, are the Devil!

This book was quite a strange read in comparison to the other books I’ve read about aliens. If you imagine the skeptical, rational books about aliens to be a psychiatrist, the nutty new age books will appear as the patient, struggling to come to terms with what they’ve witnessed. If we carry this metaphor one step further, Bob Larson will appear as an escaped lunatic who has rushed into the psychiatrist’s office and is attempting to make both psychiatrist and patient smell his magical brown finger.

scientists are witchesScientists are heretical witches.

Larson uses science to dismiss some of the claims of abductees and believers, but he’s quick to dismiss science based facts as ridiculous when they don’t fit into his own worldview. At the same time, he’s completely willing to accept some of the crazier claims of the alien channelers because the Bible accepts spiritual possession as objectively real. Instead of coming down on one side of the argument, he forms his own, completely ridiculous, conclusion.

Ever since the late 1940s, the Devil has been using mainstream media to familiarize the world with the concept of a non-hostile alien invasion of Earth. The beings we refer to as aliens are objectively real, but they are actually evil spirits from another dimension, not visitors from a different planet. The Bible doesn’t mention life on other planets, so we can safely assume that all notions of extraterrestrial life are misleading and Satanic. Aliens are really just demons in spacesuits. After the rapture, when the physical bodies of all good Christians ascend to heaven without trace, the evil “aliens” will land and take over the world. The remaining humans will welcome their new Satanic overlords. With no Christians around to realise what’s really happening, these demonic aliens will lead the remaining population of the Earth into a new age of Occultism and sin. This will allow the Antichrist, doubtlessly another alien, to assume control and bring about the end of the world.

You probably got about halfway through that last paragraph before rolling your eyes and skipping to this bit. No. Go back and read it. Let it soak in.

I mean, I think that’s a fucking cool idea, but let’s be honest; there’s a few plot holes. Also, was the plan to saturate mass media with stories about aliens orchestrated by a group of Satanists or did it happen by chance? Satan works in mysterious ways.

My favourite part of the book was when Larson described his meeting with Whitley Strieber on the set of the Oprah Winfrey show. Strieber is a frustratingly gullible new-age conspiracist and alien abductee. A large portion of the last review I wrote of one of his books was spent comparing reading the book to drowning in a river of diarrhea. Strieber is a very stupid man. Imagine my surprise on reading about an exchange in which he comes across as the voice of reason. Imagine my delight on reading Larson’s conclusion that Strieber was guilty of being a witch. This is wonderfully silly stuff.

clever devilSo crop circles were originally human pranks, but then the Devil saw them and thought they were cool, so he did them too.

There were moments when the depth of Larson’s research surprised me a little, but always more surprising were his bizarre conclusions. Ol’ Bob is a crazy, dangerous man who makes money from exploiting people’s fears. A vile human being.
bob larson crayon

 

Black Sun – Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

black sun nicholas goodrick-clarke
Black Sun (Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity) – Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
New York University Press – 2002
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog. It was a good book, but I remember being mildly disappointed with the type of occultism I was encountering in it. I had read stuff on the internet about Satanic Nazis and Hitler’s UFO fleet, but this book was about Theosophy and Runes. The author had written a book about the actual Occult roots of Nazism and confined the silly conspiracies that developed after the war to a short discussion at the end of the book.

Black Sun, published 17 years after The Occult Roots of Nazism, is the same author’s account of the neo-Nazi conspiracies and ideologies that arose after WWII. They are mind-bogglingly insane. Featuring folks who think Hitler was a manifestation of God, groups who think that “the Jews” are an evil alien race that have willfully displaced the real Hebrews (who are actually the Aryans), and more flying saucers than you can shake a stick at, this book is overflowing with insanity.

esoteric hitlerism serranoThis dude has Swasti-chakras on his ass.

Unlike many of the books about insane topics that are reviewed on this site, Black Sun is actually a well written and researched piece of work. Goodrick-Clarke explains the theories; he does not espouse them. Another crucial difference between this book and most of the others I review is that the ideas contained in here are not just bizarre; they are vile, hateful and extremely dangerous. While the material is off-the-wall and genuinely fascinating, this book will probably leave you feeling worried and uncomfortable. After a detailed look at various racist organizations and the ways in which these groups rationalize and manifest their hate, the book ends with this chilling sentence:

From the retrospective viewpoint of a potential authoritarian future in 2020 or
2030, these Aryan cults and esoteric Nazism may be documented as early
symptoms of major divisive changes in our present-day Western democracies.

donald trump

I try not to get overly political on this blog, and I know that lots of Trump supporters will probably roll their eyes at this allusion, but here is a video of one of the hate groups described in Black Sun campaigning for Trump’s election. I don’t believe that all Trump supporters are neo-Nazis, but the amount of neo-Nazis that support the current president of the United States should be concerning to everyone. If this book had been written 15 years later, it doubtlessly would have had a chapter on the alt-right and the Cult of Kek.

I’m planning another post that will discuss some of the specific issues that come up in this book, so I’ll leave this post quite short. Black Sun is definitely one of the best non-fiction books I’ve reviewed, and I don’t need to pick it apart like I normally do. I strongly recommend reading it for yourself. I was fascinated to read about the lengths that neo-Nazis have to go through to rationalize their hate. Hating a person because you believe that they’re the descendant of an evil satanic alien is far sillier than hating them because you’re not used to how they look and speak and because you’re afraid that they might take your stuff. If you’re going to be a racist piece of shit, at least be honest with yourself.

Breakthrough – Whitley Strieber

Picture this:
You enjoyed last night’s chili so much that you had two large bowls. Now it’s the morning after and you’re straddling the toilet, aware that an eruption of Vesuvian proportions is imminent. Whooosh! The intensity of the shitflow is equal parts relieving and violent – it takes about 6 seconds for your anus to dispel what took you 20 minutes to eat only hours earlier.

Now imagine a gigantic ass shitting with that intensity for a prolonged period of time. Somehow the being this ass belongs to has an infinite reservoir of rancid, hot, soupy crap feeding the flow of their disgustingly stretched and overworked anus. Their high pressure fountain of fluid feces is pointed directly at your mouth. Try as you might to avoid them, the diarrheic rapids find their way into your maw, rebounding against the back of your throat and sending squirts of wet shit out each of your nostrils. You are drowning in dysentery, yet you remain alive.

That’s what reading this book feels like.

breakthrough - whitley strieber

Breakthrough (The Next Step) – Whitley Strieber
Harper Collins – 1995
I reviewed the second entry in Strieber’s visitors series only 3 months after reviewing the first, but it took me almost 2 and a half years to pluck up the courage to move on to Breakthrough, the 3rd entry in the series. By no means did I think that Communion was a good book, but Transformation was definitely worse, and I knew that any further forays into Strieber’s silly nonsense would prove to be absolutely terrible. I was right.

This book really is difficult to read. Strieber included his most interesting abduction experiences in Communion, and Breakthrough is just the continued coming to terms with having had aliens probe his rotten shitbag that Whitley started in Transformation. There’s very little alien activity being described in here; it’s nearly all speculation on the nature of the relationship that Strieber thinks the aliens want to have with us. He thinks they want to open our eyes to new levels of consciousness and understanding. This is getting closer and closer to that new-agey garbage in books like You Are Becoming a Galactic Human.

Highlights of this book included the description of the smelly goblin that lived in Strieber’s house for a month, Strieber’s astral voyage to the literal Garden of Eden, and the sin spiders that appeared above his bed. I really doubt that Strieber believes his own bullshit. These are just bad dreams he had or ideas he came up with on the toilet. At one stage he describes an experience in which he and a friend drive through an alternate dimension, an idea that I am certain he plagiarized from Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, a short story by Stephen King. (If you’re interested in this comparison, the incident occurs in Chapter 11, page 139 in my edition, and King’s story is in Skeleton Crew.) Strieber puts little effort or care into making his story believable because his audience is mostly made up of low-grade-imbeciles.

All in all, this is a remarkably atrocious book.

whitley strieber visitors
I have The Secret School, the 4th book in Strieber’s visitors series, but after this, I don’t know if I’ll ever read it. This series is terrible, awful rubbish.

Robert Anton Wilson, the Last Great Irish Modernist?

James Joyce and Albert Einstein are drinking in a pub together when a panicked man rushes into the bar. Jimmy, Albert and Sir John Babcock, the man claiming that he’s being pursued by a devil, leave the bar and go to Einstein’s apartment where Babcock recounts the mysterious occurrences that have led him to this point. His narrative is interspersed with questions, observations and pontifications from Joyce and Einstein. This is Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson’s 8th novel.

robert anton wilson masks illuminatiMasks of the Illuminati – Robert Anton Wilson
Dell Trade Paperback – 1981

The story is full of ideas that fans of Wilson will be familiar with, and there are references to half the authors that have been featured on this site. Not only do the names and works of writers like Lovecraft, Wilde, Charles Maturin and Philip Jose Farmer pop up throughout, but the story itself directly borrows from and repeatedly references Robert W. Chamber’s King in Yellow, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Vril. Oh, and Aleister Crowley turns out to be behind most of the plot’s mischief, so a basic understanding of his work, life story and personality is probably necessary for readers of this book. I felt pretty cool reading through and patting myself on the back every time I came across a reference that I recognized.

James Joyce is not only one of the main characters in this book; he’s also a huge stylistic influence on the writing. Lots of the people following this blog are probably just here for the Satanism and aliens, and these unfortunates might not have much of a background in Irish modernism, so I’ll just briefly state that James Joyce was a genius writer whose books about life in Dublin city got progressively more mental and complicated as he got older. His final novel, the infamous Finnegan’s Wake, is 600 pages of dense, indecipherable nonsense. (I watched a lecture by RAW on youtube a few years ago in which he described a means of using Finnegan’s Wake as a form of telling the future. Masks of the Illuminati is set pre Ulysses though, so there’s no overt discussion of FW in here.) For most of Masks of the Illuminati, the Joycean influence is mild, and only the sections describing characters’ dreams are truly loopy.

finnegans wake nonsenseI got about 6 pages into Finnegan’s Wake before giving up.

While Joyce is clearly an important influence on the writing of Masks, it’s hard to tell how much of the Joyciness in here is direct Joyciness and how much is Joyciness à la O’Brien. Some might think that Samuel Beckett is the next greatest Irish modernist after Joyce, but for my money, that title goes to Brian O’Nolan, better known as Flann O’Brien. (Beckett worked as a translator for Joyce as he was composing Finnegan’s Wake, and while his own writing was clearly influenced by the avant-garde nature of his master’s, O’Brien’s work is more overtly Dubliny than Beckett’s and so its weirdness is a bit more noticeably Joycean.) While the literary techniques in Joyce’s Ulysses vary from chapter to chapter, At Swim-Two-Birds, O’Brien’s equivalent masterpiece (and crucial companion to Ulysses in my opinion) tells its story through the repeated use of a selection of literary gimmicks.

Nature of gimmicks: various modes of information presentation: notes, poems, lists, etc.

Descriptions of things within the narrative of At Swim are labelled as if they part of a medical or judicial report. In a very similar manner, much of the description of characters and events in Masks of the Illuminati is presented in the form of questions and answers. Several portions of the narrative are also presented in the form of a screenplay. Joyce had done similar things in Ulysses, writing one chapter entirely as question and answers and one as a closet drama, but the way Wilson goes back and forth with these methods throughout the novel instead of keeping them in separate chapters makes his book read more like an O’Brien novel than one of Joyce’s.

That Wilson was a fan of O’Brien is common knowledge. He not only described O’Brien’s The Third Policeman as one of the greatest Irish novels; he also included De Selby, a recurrent character in O’Brien’s work, as a character in some of his own fiction. This recycling of fictional characters is distinctly Flannish; most of the characters in At Swim-Two-Birds are borrowed from other stories due to the narrator/author’s belief that there are already too many characters in the canon of literature.

flann o'brien einstein

So the ways in which Wilson tells his story and chooses his characters are undoubtedly similar to those of O’Brien, but it is his choice of characters that most clearly highlights the Flannish influence on Masks of the Illuminati. James Joyce appeared as an important character in O’Brien’s Dalkey Archive 17 years before Masks was published. Dalkey Archive was also heavily influenced by O’Brien’s interest in Einstein’s work (Alana Gillespie wrote a doctoral thesis addressing this influence), and at one point in the narrative, DeSelby (the character to later appear in Wilson’s fiction) directly critiques Einstein’s theory of relativity. Much like the fnords, Flann O’Brien’s influence on Masks of the Illuminati may not be immediately obvious, but it is present on every page.

I find it hard to imagine enjoying the work of either Joyce or O’Brien without having visited Dublin at least once. That might sound obnoxious, but if you’ve read the books, you’ll know what I mean. Soon after Masks of the Illuminati was published, Wilson and his wife moved to Ireland for six years. He later claimed that, “Dublin, to me, is a James Joyce theme park.”

james joyce statue

In a way it’s slightly ironic that Wilson was so inspired by the likes of Joyce. Ulysses, Joyce’s masterpiece, is a mock-epic. It takes the banal, vulgar events of an ordinary day in Dublin city and fits them into the structure of Homer’s Odyssey while simultaneously threading the narrative through every literary technique imaginable. A huge part of the appeal of Joyce’s writing is his ability to see and depict the fantastic in the ordinary. While Joyce wrote about everyday life, Robert Anton Wilson is most famous for his books about absolutely insane conspiracy theories. I love Robert Anton Wilson, but his approach of using bizarre writing techniques to write about bizarre topics is probably responsible for how relatively unpopular his writing is. He was clearly a very intelligent man with a passion for literature, but his fiction (or at least 4 out of the 5 of his novels that I have read) is remarkably inaccessible. The deliberate esotericism doubtlessly prevents squares from reading his books, but it gets nerdy, Irish weirdoes like me hot, bothered and horny for more.

That being said, I didn’t actually like how this book ended. I get that it’s supposed to be a mental book about mental topics, but the last chapter both goes and stays off the rails for a little too long. Showing a Joycean influence is cool, but going full on Finneganean is a bit embarrassing. The last 30 pages or so felt like watching a modern punk singer trying to pull a GG Allin – watching a copycat punch themself in the face and then roll around in their own feces isn’t shocking or transgressive anymore; it’s just a lad making a smelly mess of himself.

Overall though, Masks of the Illuminati is quite an interesting book. My review has focused on its Irish influences, but there’s lots more to the book. I’m sure that twice as much could be written about the Crowleyean influence and content, but I’ll leave that to somebody else. While Robert Anton Wilson was undeniably an American writer, it’s worth pointing that he spent almost one third the amount of time living in Ireland that James Joyce did, and so I can think that Ireland can take at least partial credit for his genius.

masks of the illuminati robert anton wilson

July 23rd is International Robert Anton Wilson day, so if you haven’t read any of his books, today would be a great time to start. If you’re already a fan, you should check out my RAW day post from last year, a review of his first novel, the Sex Magicians. It’s definitely one of the better posts on this blog.