The Beltane Celebration
Every minute of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There's
no part of life that isn't wonderful...
Arlen Riley Wilson
Arlen Riley Wilson is one of the wisest and most magical people that
I've ever known. In her youth she wrote for several radio dramas, and
acted as production assistant on two Broadway plays. She became active in
the anti-war movement in the 1960s, as well as the early stages of the
Feminist movement. Her poetry has been published in several magazines, and
she is working on a novel. Arlen is also the mother of four children, and
has been married to philosopher-writer Robert Anton Wilson for over 40
This interview was conducted on January 14, 1999 at Arlen's home in
Capitola, California. At 73, after four major strokes, Arlen remains
cheerful and in love with life. When I asked her how she was doing she
replied "really well", and I could tell by the look on her face that she
meant what she said. Even lying in bed, with most of her body paralyzed,
she radiated a sense of humor, and continued to do everything she could to
make the people around her feel at home. During the course of this
interview Arlen made me laugh many times. She also inspired me to rethink
some of what I had taken for granted, and reminded me about the incredible
wonder of being alive.
David: Let's start with an easy question first. What have you
learned from your life?
Arlen: Ha, ha, ha. (laughter, followed by long silence) What I
have learned is that life is an unqualified good, and living should be
unqualified and unmodified. You're never more appreciative of life then
when it threatens to be taken away at any moment. I had numerous
experiences like that, and after each one I wake up. It was as if I'd been
asleep. It's a real kick, and I'm just delighted to still be here.
But the secret of a well-balanced life is to appreciate everything, or
at least as much as you can. Many people fall into imbalance and
disharmony. There's no doubt about it, having enough money is a
unqualified good. But if you decide that having a lot of money is the only
good thing then you're in big bad trouble. Then you forget to look at
nature, and you forget to look at your friend's faces. You forget to enjoy
animals, and you just forget too much. So the thing is to spread the
David: What were you like as a child?
Arlen: Oh, I was like horrible, rebellious, always doing what I
wasn't supposed to do. I was climbing trees, and never cared whether my
clothes got dirty. I guess I was a tomboy. But I don't regret it.
David: You sound like my kind of girl.
Arlen: (laughter) I also had boyfriends, or friends who were
boys. I liked boys. I thought they were curious, interesting and
entertaining. I didn't understand all the differences yet. But I thought
it interesting, all my life, to study the differences, and find new
David: Tell me about the novel that you're writing.
Arlen: It's called The Beltane Celebration. Beltane is an
ancient word for a European fertility holiday. The novel is a spoof on the
New Age. It's about some of the old pagans who live over in Marin County.
They think that they're the ultimate in sophistication. Well, they're not.
To learn more you're going to have to shell out for the book.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after
Arlen: Oh, it goes on in some way or other. I had one after
death experience which I thoroughly enjoyed.
David: Could you tell me about it?
Arlen: I went right from one hospital to another, only the
second one was heavenly. The doctors, nurses, aids, and everybody there
were all spiritual beings-- which just really means that you could see
through them, almost, not quite. The head nurse was a big honcho angel
nurse. I said, "What's your name?" She said, "My name is Susan, and I
don't want any Sue, or Susie, or Suzanne, or any trash like that." I said,
"okay." She said, "I think people should be called by their right names.
So please call me Susan." I said, "Okay, you made your point."
David: Did anything else happen?
Arlen: I said, "Who are the male entities that I see?" And
Susan said, "Well, those are manly angels-- and there are some you know.
They're to make everybody feel more comfortable here. I personally don't
feel comfortable if there aren't both men and women present. I know a lot
of men and women who don't either. So we decided to have some distributed
around for decoration at least. And here we are."
David: What's your perspective on the word God?
Arlen: God is a quintessential of all I have ever known of
goodness in this life, and all I ever hope yet to know in this life.
Therefore it covers a huge territory-- because it's here, and yet it's
everything that isn't here yet. I find that conception satisfies me. It
has nothing to do with punishment, and nothing to do with anything except
what I said. If people don't know what I mean by goodness, think back over
your life, when you experienced some, and you'll get the feeling. That's
David: Can you tell me a little bit about what you've learned
from your illness?
Arlen: What I learned from my illness is what I've learned from
my non-illness, which is that life is incredibly wonderful. Every minute
of every day brings its own insight, its own poetry. There's no part of
life that isn't wonderful. That seems pretty trite, but that's the way
that I feel.
David: Could you talk a little bit about what it's been like
being married to Bob?
Arlen: It's been a trip. He has opened me up to many things
that I wasn't aware of before, and vice versa. We make a good team. We're
very different, but we're also very much alike. I think that lays a
foundation for good communication. I'm happy that I married him. I haven't
regretted it, except for the briefest seconds, when he just can't lie.
This man just doesn't lie, and flubs when he tries. He can't do it.
If I ask him to say I'm not in when the phone rings, he can't do it
convincingly. He hates to be put in a position where he's supposed to be
dishonest. So I guess I've become more truthful since knowing him. I'm not
saying he's a saint, or has never lied, but it's so rare. Usually, when he
tries to do it, his eyes bug out, his face gets red, and he can not,
absolutely can not, dissimulate with cool and calm.
David: What do you think lies in store for the future evolution
Arlen: Well, we're obviously part of one organism. And, I mean,
we better start copping to that, and enjoying it. We're supposed to remain
aware of it on some level in our daily meditations, just a nod of
acquiescence. As humanity draws closer together I don't want to see each
component part lose their individuality. I love differences and diversity.
If we lose that-- to hell with it!
David: What do you think are some of the differences between
men and women?
Arlen: Well, men have to show that they're better than other
men, and women have to show that their men are better than other women's
men. This suits me fine. I think that to quarrel with the way things are
is a basically a waste of energy. I see certain things in the differences
between men and women as primal, and I'm not going to argue with them.
The fact that men are more visual, and women are more auditory, is fine
with me. I have no quarrel with that. Men's voices have always been the
thing that reaches out to me. I get uncomfortable when I only hear the
voice of one gender. They have to be together. That's why I love
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When the male and female voices combine it's
David: What have you learned from your psychedelic experiences?
Arlen: They lurk in the shadows of my consciousness. I'm glad I
had them, and I'm glad I don't run after them anymore. One of the things
I've noticed is that they often seem to make communication easier between
people who have had those experiences, than between people who have not.
We share a similar frame of reference.
David: What type of spirituality do you practice?
Arlen: I try my luck at meditation everyday, but it's not
always blissful or successful. I get as much from a certain kind of music,
like Beethoven's. I can get every shade of mystical experience from that.
I also like Deepok Chopra, because he's so understandable and ordinary in
David: What's been the secret to how you've managed to keep a
sense of humor your whole life?
Arlen: By not trying to block it all the time, in the interest
of being taken seriously. I know that sometimes if I joke people just
click the switch right off, they don't want to hear anything else. Well,
it's their loss.
David: Why do you think it is that people tend to take life so
Arlen: Because they think they are life. They think that
they're most of it, and that the world's mostly their little soap-opera.
This is especially true for adolescents and people in their early
twenties. They tend to feel that way. There's nothing else worth thinking
about except the twenty-five feet that surrounds you. And as long as
you've got such narrow view, you're not going to have a good sense of
humor-- because that demands perspective.
David: Is there anything that we haven't discussed in this
interview that you'd like to add to it?
Arlen: I'd like to see a world with more artistic and
creatively flowing civilizations, but this is tremendously difficult at
present. I knew a lot of painters and other artists in New York years ago.
Many of them lived on very little. I knew one first-rate painter who lived
on something like $1.36 a day, that he had from a minor stock investment
twenty years before. I'm not suggesting that you rush madly to start
fasting, but we should be aware that we could live on a fraction of what