Pulling The Cosmic Trigger

Art & Culture

“Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.”

That’s supposed to be the take away message from Robert Anton Wilson’s The Cosmic Trigger – heroically adapted to stage by Daisy Eris Campbell – but I’m really struggling to come out of the Chapel Perilous at the right end.

When you enter the Chapel Perilous – a psychological state sometimes induced by Discordian literature – you’re not sure whether you are being hindered or helped by an existential force, or whether it’s just a product of your imagination, meaning you’ll leave either paranoid or agnostic. Model agnosticism, or the firm belief in having no beliefs, is clearly a desired worldview but it’s difficult to quell the paranoia or “pronoia” when the serendipities and coincidences are mounting so close to home.

Perhaps, for me it’s just as Wilson says, “When a monkey looks in, no philosopher looks out” but when Daisy decided to continue her father’s story by adapting ‘The Cosmic Trigger’, sequel to Ken Campbell’s nine-hour adaptation of ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’, the tangles of Carl Jung’s web of synchronicity started spreading across Liverpool again, catching me firmly in its grip.

Like countless others, by the time I realised I was inside this web, it was too late to get out. The ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance in the Morphogenetic Field’ mixtape acted as the concealed entry point and soon I was reading John Higgs’ ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds’ – rightly described as a gateway drug into this world.

Considering they took a lot of influence and symbolism from the book into the Super Weird Substance ethos, it was only right that John Higgs joined Greg Wilson, Kermit Leveridge and Bernie Connor in conversation at the Liverpool Super Weird Happening I was working on at Constellations. All of this was arranged with no prior knowledge of ‘The Cosmic Trigger Play', opening a month later just down the road at the Camp & Furnace… And as it happened John Higgs had been heavily involved in the project from the start.

After Ken Campbell died, Daisy became entangled in this same web of synchronicity her father once harnessed in his production, leading to her decision to adapt the sequel. Befriending John Higgs, Daisy brought many of the characters from the KLF’s story into her own, including the great thinker Alan Moore, who played supercomputer FUCKUP in the play. These synchronicities reached a peak when she realised she was the same age her father was during his production.

The origins of the synchronicities can be traced back to 1927 when Carl Gustav Jung had a dream about a “pool of life”, which he saw as being Liverpool. The dream that made the Swiss psychiatrist embark on his famous study of synchronicity was to have far reaching implications for the city he’d never actually visited. More than a decade after Jung’s death, poet Peter O’Halligan interpreted the “broad square, dimly illuminated by street lights, into which many streets converged,” as being Matthew Street and bought an old fruit warehouse in 1974.


The warehouse became The Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun and Peter O’Halligan contacted Ken Campbell about putting on a production. Ken had decided to break the mould by adapting a science fiction novel and when he saw a yellow submarine on the cover of ‘Illuminatus!’ he checked page 223 – the page in ‘Memories, Dreams and Reflections’ where Carl Jung recounted his pool of life dream – and naturally, Jung was mentioned.

When the epic production opened in the pool of life, it changed countless lives – although not always for the better. ‘Illuminatus!’’ down the rabbit-hole nihilism might have had its place in 1976 around the outbreak of punk but in 2014 the world needs ‘The Cosmic Trigger’’s optimistic vision. That’s one of the reasons Daisy’s play was so well received when it opened at last weekend’s three-day Conferestival (21st-23rd November). Beginning with a chilling ritual taken from ‘Illuminatus!’, the play follows Robert Anton Wilson – masterfully captured by Oliver Senton – after he first encounters Kerry Thornley’s Church of Discordia. Taking the elaborate joke disguised as a religion to a whole new level, Wilson transforms it into the Great American Epic Novel ‘Illuminatus!’ with Robert Shea and Daisy is able to reimagine parts of her father’s production, where she plays her mother Prunella Gee. We are also introduced to Timothy Leary, Aleister Crowley, Greg Hill, Alan Watts and William S. Burroughs as we delve into a world full of drugs, conspiracies, the 23-enigma, tantric sex, new age science, black mass and aliens in scenes brought to life by Scott McPherson’s brilliant CGI sets. However, unlike ‘Illuminatus!’ there is an endearing and relatable story at the heart of ‘The Cosmic Trigger’ as it explores Bob’s very personal experiences in love, loss and cosmic exploration.

That’s why it was only fitting that Daisy finished off the weekend long Conferestival of art, music, talks, activities and performances by tying the knot with long-time partner and fellow actor Greg Donaldson at 6:23pm in front of a congregation of Discordians exactly 38 years after ‘Illuminatus!’ opened at the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. The others were found, ‘The Cosmic Trigger’ was well and truly pulled and the pool of life turned into steam. Why did I have to be 23 years old when all of this happened though?

Catch the final London show at the LOST Theatre on Saturday 29th November – tickets can be found here

Words: Josh Ray Photos: Elspeth Moore