Divine Invasions: Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson and “Alien Contact” In The 1970s

A very weird thing began to happen in the early-to-mid 1970s—a number of people were apparently “channeling” very similar information, from entities variously claiming to be aliens, God, and beyond. These people, from different backgrounds and fields, would end up basically forming an interconnecting web of High Weirdness that would impact popular-culture to the present day.

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We start with science fiction author Philip K. Dick—the author of A Scanner Darkly, The Man In The High Castle, and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?—who, on February 20th 1974, had a paranormal experience he would later spend 1,000+ pages of journaling to try to figure out. He had answered the door to find a woman wearing a golden fish-pendant; the light reflected off the pendant in a particular way, bouncing into his brain and providing him with a dense amount of information.

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from Robert Crumb’s comic bio on PKD

In the months that followed, he would demonstrate powers of xenoglossia—suddenly speaking in Ancient Greek—as well as an instance of proven clairvoyance. Above all else, he was convinced that he—and we—were living simultaneously in the present day as well as the time of the first Christians in Rome…and that he was in contact with some sort of extra-dimensional (or not) being he would dub VALIS, who would at times take over his entire body:

I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane…

Roughly a year before on July 23 1973, Robert Anton Wilson—co-author of the satire/sci-fi “Illuminatus!” trilogy and the “Cosmic Trigger” books—claims to have channeled information from an intelligence in the Sirius star system. Exactly three years later to the day, Wilson opened himself up again to these entities to garner, as he put it, “another blast of Cosmic Wisdom” from “the Transmitters.”

Wilson noted the similarities between his “contact experience” and that of fellow writer Dick:

Philip K. Dick and I had a series of rather similar experiences. From his experiences, he constructed VALIS, which looks like a science fiction story most of the way…abruptly towards the end you figure out, maybe it isn’t a science fiction story, maybe it’s an account of Philip K. Dick going crazy. Or maybe it’s an account of Philip K. Dick being contacted by extraterrestrials. Now, The Cosmic Trigger pretty much has the same structure to it: Robert Anton Wilson being contacted by extraterrestrials. No: it’s Robert Anton Wilson going crazy. No: it’s just Robert Anton Wilson experimenting with alternate realities…

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While his experience absolutely had a profound impact on his later work and philosophy, it is important to note that Wilson kept an open mind about it. Perhaps he truly was contacted by aliens…or maybe it was merely a case of his right brain speaking to his left…or maybe he was merely contacted by a 6-foot tall white rabbit called the púca (or, “pooka”…we’ll revisit this later). While Dick seemed to obsessively seek Answers to the possible detriment to his health and sanity, Wilson opted for a more “chill” approach.

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Almost around the exact same time Wilson was being “told” that “Sirius is very important,” his incarcerated friend Timothy Leary—the highly influential psychologist who popularized LSD use in the 1960s—ALSO began receiving telepathic messages which were supposedly from extraterrestrials. The resulting Starseed Transmission was part conspiracy-ramble, part social-commentary, and part ecstatic proclamation of “The Good News” (replace Jesus with “Higher Intelligence”):

Well, here it is. The comet Starseed comes at the right time to return light to planet earth. The structure for the new way is already here. Starseed will turn-on the new network.

Starseed also repeatedly referred to the incoming comet Kohoutek (which becomes equated with Starseed) as being of extreme importance and ushering in a new (space)age for humanity:

Behold a great light appears in the sky. The offer is made. The signal is flashed. Resonate with it or die eye-ground and bored.

And this connection between comets, alien intelligences, and a new age for humanity is very interesting to me, as it would be echoed 20 years later with the Heaven’s Gate group and the comet Hale-Bopp. From the Heaven’s Gate official website:

The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the “Kingdom of Heaven”) has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp’s approach is the “marker” we’ve been waiting for—the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to “Their World”—in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion—”graduation” from the Human Evolutionary Level.

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And guess when and how the founders of Heaven’s Gate, Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, received this information? During the early 1970s, via channeled/telepathic communications from entities they identified as being ultimately extraterrestrial in origin. Here’s a picture they used to depict one of these entities, called “How a Member of Heaven might appear”:

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But it went beyond merely channeling…they flat-out said their bodies were taken over. They said their human “vehicles” were voluntarily “vacated” to allow these Higher Intelligences to operate on our plane of existence. Which is what Philip K. Dick claims happened to him regarding the entity VALIS (in fact, VALIS was, according to Dick, apparently a pretty damn good housekeeper and business manager, to boot).

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This all puts the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, from 1978, in a totally interesting light. Taking place amongst a bourgeois coterie of somewhat hippy-dippy San Franciscans (San Francisco would be an epicenter for channelers and general weirdness), the movie’s events seem to strangely mirror what was claimed by Applewhite, Dick, and others—there was something out there, something that was not merely talking to particular people, but occasionally “taking over” their bodies. (the fact that one of the movie’s actors was Leonard “Mr. Spock” Nimoy seemed to “wink” at the alien connection)

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And why would these “aliens” do such a thing, and why to these particular people? Why were these entities—if there were truly such beings at all—contacting Dick, Leary, Wilson, Applewhite, William Burroughs (who, to be honest, always seemed to be contacted by something), Ramtha (J.Z. Knight, first contact 1977), Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (the “Michael” channels, which started in 1973), author and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna (starting in 1971) and more?

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Well…they were all either writers or guru-types who ended up having an impact on popular thought and culture.

This is all not to say that “aliens” exist, or that what these different people claim happened to them actually happened. But SOMETHING happened to these dear people. To that, I think we can all agree.

What was in the drinking water in the 1970s?

Well, for one, probably a lot of dope.

And there was a whole raft of books and such from the 1960s that would have had an impact on these people. You had the highly-influential channeled Seth material from the mid-Sixties. You had a lot of people taking a lot of LSD and reporting what they found there. Heavy influence from Eastern religions and philosophy, books on a range of esoteric topics like Morning of the Magicians (1960), the “Ancient Astronauts” classic Chariots of the Gods? (1968), and a metric shit-ton of UFO narratives.

So it’s possible that it was all just a case of popular-culture infecting highly-suggestible people with crazy notions and flights of fancy.

But that doesn’t quite explain how Philip K. Dick, shortly after his 1974 experience, was able to psychically—and incredibly accurately—diagnose a rare birth defect in his young son’s body that was going to, barring immediate surgery, kill the child.

What exactly happened to Philip K. Dick and the rest of these people?

We may never know for sure. But it is obvious that each individual person experienced and interpreted their so-called “contact” in a different way…through the lens of their own world-view and personality. For Leary, it resulted in a trippy missive full of railing against what he perceived to be an overly authoritarian government. For Dick, it was a dense stream of philosophical inquiry and paranoia. The Heaven’s Gate founders took it to mean the start of a new apocalyptic religion, with ultimately lethal results. And as for Wilson?

You might say it still hasn’t ended yet. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I like the idea of a giant rabbit from County Kerry, because there’s no chance anyone will take that seriously.

As mentioned before, that giant rabbit is the púca—or, “pooka.” A shape-changing creature from Irish folklore, the pooka commonly took the form of a horse, goat, or rabbit, sometimes with a partially-human body. You can think of the pooka as a spirit-guide of sorts, coming to assist people when they really need them the most, as VALIS did for a distraught Philip K. Dick. Of course, nobody else can really see your pooka but you, as charmingly illustrated in the 1950 film Harvey:

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But for people of my generation—many of whom would have been born within the same Seventies time window as these theoretical “extraterrestrial” communications—the pooka would best be illustrated by another large rabbit:

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And perhaps, as the late Wilson noted, it still hasn’t ended yet.