Illuminatus! was a touchstone for freethinking weirdos of that era, one of the rare books that even attempted to make sense of being born into an ever increasingly surreal world still reeling from things like the JFK/MLK/RFK assassinations, Watergate and the Vietnam war and where Ronald Reagan, a bad actor who once worked with a chimpanzee, had just become President.
It was also an interesting experiment in mass occult initiation — sold at shopping malls across America — that satirically tore away the veils of the modern world and (actively, not passively) imprinted a skeptical worldview on the reader. Read those books from cover to cover and there was virtually not a chance in hell that you’d be a normal person ever again. The Illuminatus! trilogy really made quite an impression, let’s just say.
Wilson’s non-fiction work, Cosmic Trigger, was of even greater interest to me with its cheerful speculations on Timothy Leary’s channeled communications from “holy guardian angels,” psychedelic drugs and Aleister Crowley. The so-called “23 enigma,” I was familiar with already because of The Third Mind by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, but it was explained in greater depth in Cosmic Trigger. It was the first place I’d read of Robert K. Temple’s book The Sirius Mystery and it was also the first time I heard the name Terence McKenna. I can’t tell you how many weird and wonderful things that book exposed me to.
It was instrumental in forming my worldview. Simply put, it’s in my DNA. Cosmic Trigger is one of the UR-documents of my life (and career!).
I have to admit that I never got into Illuminatus!, but Cosmic Trigger definitely made an impression on me. I remember picking it up more or less by chance, because the store didn’t have Illuminatus! on the shelves and I finished it within a couple of days.
If you’ve never read it, you should definitely put this one on the top of your reading list.