"It's the story of the development of the soul," Miss Portinari was saying at that moment, spreading out the twenty-two trumps or "keys" of that very ancient deck. "We call it a book— the Book of Thoth— and it's the most important book in the world."
George and Joe Malik, each wondering if this was a final explanation or a new put-on leading to a new cycle of deceptions, listened with mingled curiosity and skepticism.
"The order was deliberately reversed," Miss Portinari went on. "Not by the true sages. By the false Illuminati, and by all the other White Brotherhoods and Rosicrucians and Freemasons and whatnot who didn't really understand the truth and therefore wanted to hide the part of it they did understand.
They felt themselves threatened; the real sage is never threatened. They spoke in symbols and paradoxes, like the real sages, but for a different reason. They didn't know what the symbols and paradoxes meant. Instead of following the finger that points to the moon, they sat down and worshipped the finger itself. Instead of following the map, they thought it was the territory and tried to live in it. Instead of reading the menu, they tried to eat it. Dig? They had the levels confused. And they tried to confuse any independent searcher by drawing more veils and paradoxes across the path. Finally, in the 1920s, some real left-handed monkey wrenches in one of these mystic lodges recruited
Adolph Hitler, and he not only read the book backward, like all of them, but insisted on believing it was the story of the exterior, physical universe.
"Here, let me show you. The last card, Trump 21, is really the first. It's where we all start from." She held up the card known as the World. "This is the Abyss of Hallucinations. This is where our attention is usually focused. It is entirely constructed by our senses and our projected emotions, as modern psychology and ancient Buddhism both testify— but it is what most people call 'reality.' They are conditioned to accept it, and not to inquire further, because only in this dream-walking state can they be governed by those who wish to govern."
Miss Portinari held up the next card, the Last Judgment. "Key 20, or Trump 20, or Atu 20, whichever
terminology you prefer. It's actually second. This is the nightmare to which the soul awakes if it
begins, even in the slightest, to question reality as defined by society. When you discover, for
instance, that you're not heterosexual but heterosexual-homosexual, not obedient but obedient-rebellious, not loving but loving-hating. And that society is not wise, orderly, just, and decent but
wise-stupid, orderly-chaotic, just-unjust, and decent-indecent. This is an internal discovery— this
whole trip is an internal voyage— and this is really the second stage. But if one thinks of the story as
the story of the external world, and if the order is reversed, this comes as the penultimate
Armageddon with Trump 21, the World, being the Kingdom of Saints. The error of the apocalyptic
sects, and of the Illuminati from Weishaupt to Hitler, leading to an attempt to actually carry it out,
with ovens for the Jews and gypsies and other 'inferiors' and the promise of a Brave New World for
the purs, faithful, and Aryan afterward. Do you see what I mean about confusing the map with the
"The next card is the Sun, which really means Osiris Risen— or, in terms of the offshot of the Osirian religion most popular in the last two millenniums, Jesus Risen. This is what happens if you survive the Last Judgment, or Dark Night of the Soul, without becoming some kind of fanatic or lunatic. Eventually, if you miss those attractive and pernicious alternatives, the redemptive force appears: the internal Sun. Once again, if you project this outward and think that the Sun in the sky, or some Sunlike divine man, has redeemed you, you can lapse into lunacy or fanaticism. In Hitler's case it was Karl Haushofer, or Wotan appearing in the form of Karl Haushofer. For most of the nuts you meet handing out tracts on the street, it's Jesus, or Jehovah appearing in the form of Jesus. For Elijah Mohammed, it was W. D. Fard, or Allah appearing in the form of W. D. Fard. So it goes. Those who do not confuse the levels realize it's the redemptive force within themselves and pass on to Key 18, the Moon . . ."
The next half-hour passed rapidly— so rapidly that Joe wondered afterward if Miss Portinari had slipped them still another drug, one that speeded time up as much as psychedelics slowed it down. "Last," Miss Portinari said finally, "is the Fool, Key 0. He walks over the edge of the cliff, careless of the danger. The wind blows wither it will; even so are all they that are reborn of the Spirit.' In short, he has conquered Death. Nothing can frighten him, and he can never be enslaved. It's the end of the trip, and keeping humanity from getting there is the chief business of every governing group." "And that's it," Joe said. "Twenty-two stages. Not twenty-three. Thank God we got away from Simon's Magic Number for a while."
"No," Miss Portinari said, "Tarot is an anagram on rota, remember? The extra t reminds you that the Wheel turns back to rejoin itself. There is a twenty-third step, and it's right where you started, only now you face it without fear." She held up the World again. "At first, mountains are mountains. Then mountains are no longer mountains. Finally mountains are mountains again. Only the name of the voyager has changed to preserve his Innocence." She pushed the cards together and stacked them neatly. "There are a million other holy books, in words and pictures and even in music, and they all tell the same story. The most important lesson of all, the one that explains all the horrors and miseries of the world, is that you can get off the Wheel at any point and declare the trip is over. That's okay for any given man or woman, if their ambitions are modest. The trouble starts when, out of fear of further movement — out of fear of growth, out of fear of change, out of fear of Death, out of any kind of fear— such a person tries to stop the Wheel literally, by stopping everybody else.
That's when the two great bum trips begin: Religion and Government. The only religion consistent
with the whole Wheel is private and personal; the only government consistent with it is self-government. Whoever tries to lay his trip on others is acting from terror, and will soon resort to terror as a weapon if the others won't accept the trip through persuasion. Nobody who understands the whole Wheel will do that, however, for such people understand that every man and every woman and every child is the Self-Begotten One—Jesus motherfucking Christ, in Harry's gorgeous brand of English."
"But," George asked, frowning, "hasn't Hagbard been trying pretty hard to lay his trip on everybody?
At least lately?"
"Yes," Miss Portinari said. "In self-defense, and in defense of all life on earth, he broke the basic rule
of wisdom. He fully expects to pay for that violation. We are waiting for the bill to be presented. I,
personally, do not think that we will have to wait very long."
The Illuminatus! Trilogy is a series of three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.