The Gates of Hell: MKULTRA, Robert Graves, William Sargant, & Wasson’s Magic Mushroom (Occult Yorkshire 10)

To read the full article (& rest of this series), order The Vice of Kings: How Socialism, Occultism, and the Sexual Revolution Engineered a Culture of Abuse.

“Fabianism was a principal force and inspiration behind all major school legislation of the first half of the twentieth century. And it will doubtless continue to be in the twenty-first. [T]he ‘purpose of education’ was to supply the teacher with ‘fundamentals of an everlasting faith as broad as human nature and as deep as the life of the race.’”
—John Taylor Gatto, Underground History of American Education

All of this (i.e., from the last blog post) inevitably conjures associations with the CIA’s notorious mind control program of the 1950s and beyond, MKULTRA. And as it happens, there is an overlap here also, in the form of William Sargant. Sargant was a contemporary of my grandfather and a British psychiatrist best remembered for promoting treatments such as psychosurgery, deep sleep treatment, electroconvulsive therapy and insulin shock therapy. Sargant worked in some capacity for MI5 (and possibly MI6), and corresponded with the infamous psychiatrist Ewen Cameron (who was performing MKULTRA research in Canada). While he reputedly wanted the British government to distance itself from the CIA project (he called it “blacker than black”[ref]), he remained committed to the principle of mind control, and allegedly became the link between British Intelligence and MKULTRA.

Besides his affiliations with the Tavistock Institute,[1] the first reason Sargant is relevant to my own family history is that, once again, there is a curious overlap with the world of Fabianism, leftist movements, and progressive creative circles. In 1954, a convalescing Sargant was completing his book Battle for the Mind in Majorca, and had Robert Graves on hand to help him edit it. Robert Graves is of course the famous poet, novelist and critic who is as responsible as Joseph Campbell for reintroducing ancient myths into popular culture (The White Goddess) and popularizing ancient history (I Claudius). In passing, he was teaching at Oxford during my grandfather’s tenure there, so it’s possible they met, though if so, I never heard about it.

So what’s the connection between a poet-mythologist and the world of social engineering and mind control? The answer I found was surprising because also so familiar: the world of hallucinogens. In 1952, Robert Gordon Wasson (the man who brought the magic mushroom to the west) wrote to Graves asking him about the kind of mushroom which had allegedly been responsible for Claudius’ death. Graves sent Wasson an account of ancient Mexican religious ceremonies that included the ingestion of mushrooms—mushrooms that had “eluded botanists and explorers for nearly five hundred years and, as a result, were generally considered to be mythical.” Graves claimed there was new evidence for their actual existence, but that currently the only thing known about them was that they were referred to as “the flesh of God.” It was allegedly (my source is Dominic Streathfield’s Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control, Macmillan, 2008) Graves’ tip that sent the Wassons down to Mexico in 1955, where they made the discovery that would help kick start the counterculture by sparking off the “psychedelic revolution.”
Among the first people to hear of Wasson’s discovery were Graves and his “friend,” William Sargant. “In a bizarre turn,” Streathfield writes, “the war poet and the psychiatrist had struck up a friendship and agreed to collaborate on a book about brainwashing; two years later Battle for the Mind was a bestseller and had cemented Sargant’s fame. Sargant provided the opinions, Graves the structure and layout to ‘make the saliva flow,’ as he put it.” (Streathfield, p. 79.)
A few months after Wasson’s discovery, the CIA were reporting on the work of “an amateur mycologist” and the potential to incorporate his findings into what was then Project Artichoke, soon to be MKULTRA. Small world. (Wasson’s team was then allegedly infiltrated by CIA agent James Moore, before the next trip to Mexico.) As for Wasson being “an amateur mycologist”: maybe so, but he was also vice president of J. P. Morgan at the time, one of the biggest banks in the world, so not exactly an “independent researcher.” To cement Wasson’s finding, Life magazine ran a piece in 1957 called “Seeking the Magic Mushroom.” Life magazine was published by Henry Luce, close friend of CIA-director (and MKULTRA initiator) Allen Dulles.

According to Carl Bernstein, in “CIA and the Media,” Luce “readily allowed certain members of his staff to work for the Agency and agreed to provide jobs and credentials for other CIA operatives who lacked journalistic experience.”[2]

In his memoir, author Tom Robbins talks about the impact this article had in “turning on” countless young Americans—himself and Timothy Leary included—all thanks to an English war poet who became famous writing historical novels about ancient Rome![3] Was it also the CIA who coined the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction”? Following Graves own mushroom eating ceremony (with Wasson in New York in 1957, soon after the Life article came out), he decided that “the sacred mushroom should be distributed across Europe and America.” (Streathfield, p. 89) The CIA may have agreed. Four months after that, Graves took LSD and reported his experience, negatively, to his brainwashing buddy William Sargant. (Graves felt LSD was a deceptive imitation of the mushroom that led “to Coney island and not to Eden.”)

In 1961, Graves waxed paradisiacally to members of the Oxford Humanist Society about his mushroom experiences, and during that same period, the British Military took a keen interest in the substance. All of this was occurring congruent with the CIA’s use of LSD and countless other drugs in their MKULTRA program. It was like two parallel histories running side by side—one selling Eden, the other storming Hell.

To read the full article (& rest of this series), order The Vice of Kings: How Socialism, Occultism, and the Sexual Revolution Engineered a Culture of Abuse.

[1] According to author Jim Keith (in Mass Control: Engineering Human Consciousness), Sargant also worked for the Tavistock Institute. Sargant writes about Tavistock’s methods in Battle for the Mind.
[2] According to The Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45, the British Security Coordination (which included Roald Dahl) played an important role in the Council for Democracy, a group established by Luce and his wife Clare Boothe Luce. This and other groups came under the control of William Donovan, the head of the OSS, before it turned into the CIA in 1947. The origins of Operation Mockingbird, a secret campaign by the CIA to influence media which was started in the 1950s by Cord Meyer and Allen Dulles, date back to the OSS and the Second World War. Luce and Time-Life was a central weapon in this cultural war, and presumably remains so to this day.
[3] Henry and Claire Booth Luce were introduced to LSD in the early 60s by Gerald Heard, who also turned on Bill Wilson (co-founder of AA) and edited a short-lived British magazine called The Realist that published authors such as H. G. Wells and the Huxley brothers. Heard also introduced Huston Smith to Huxley, who went on to introduce Huxley to Timothy Leary. Huxley and Leary immediately became “close.”

28 thoughts on “The Gates of Hell: MKULTRA, Robert Graves, William Sargant, & Wasson’s Magic Mushroom (Occult Yorkshire 10)”

  1. Hard to know what they really needed to change in society, isn’t it? The Brits had already invaded almost the entire world with the enthusiastic support of the entire country. (Was there even a shred of an anti-empire movement there?) The Americans had enthusiastically destroyed an entire continent of people (while enslaving another) and then stole half of the States from Mexico, again gladly. The Nazi’s engineered dozens of millions toward murder and world control. I suppose there was isolationism and a conservative streak in the American public. So this must also be for long term ideas…one world government that will of necessity require a one world religion? So break apart all existing religions and family ties for the new one? Soften them up as it will require a fully totalitarian government, down to the local level? I suggest the Stargate Conspiracy if you haven’t read it already…which details the pushing of mushrooms on the public via Puharich, with telepathy, the mainstreaming of the belief in aliens (thanks again HG Wells) and the new world religion (a la Childhoods End, sort of) by pedophile Arthur C Clarke, now a TV show on ScyFy.
    Also in my research into hypnosis some studies show that marijauna and LSD increase hypnotizability in the user.
    Their understanding of mass psychology is deeply and weirdly impressive, like knowing the butterfly effect on climate and chaos theory. And isn’t all of this in part 2 of Faust?

  2. Thanks. I have Stargate Conspiracy, it’s OK & definitely on the right track, but way too broad a brushstroke for my tastes.
    I would like to see that research about marijuana & LSD, definitely. Could be an important piece in the puzzle.

  3. Well I couldn’t find the reference in Secret Don’t Tell, which has a mediocre index and is a massive book with an odd provenance, but I did find this in Psychology Today which has the sources for some of LSD and suggestibility studies:
    and this: Effects of cannabis intoxication on primary suggestibility
    After many books on hypnosis I’ve decided that the trance state is the primary state of human consciousness, and is the key to ‘culture’. Which is why hypnotic trance can’t be truly defined or understood. We are always in a trance to some degree. We are always open to suggestion. I is someone else, as the poet says.

  4. It’s interesting to read Graves’ two page Foreword to the 1960 edition of Greek Myths 1 (the cover of this edition appears above). He mentions his experiences with the mushroom and his regard for Wasson, and more significantly he connects the mushroom with the Eleusinian Mysteries.
    “Sacred queenships and kingships lapsed in Greece; ambrosia then became, it seems, the secret element of the Eleusinian, Orphic and other Mysteries associated with Dionysus. At all events, the participants swore to keep silence about what they ate or drank, saw unforgettable visions, and were promised immortality. The ‘ambrosia’ awarded to winners of the Olympic footrace when victory no longer conferred the sacred kingship on them was clearly a substitute: a mixture of foods the initial letters of which, as I show in What Food the Centaurs Ate, spelled out the Greek word ‘mushroom’. Recipes quoted by Classical authors for nectar, and for cecyon, the mint-flavoured drink taken by Demeter at Eleusis, likewise spell out ‘mushroom’.”
    The restoration of the Eleusinian Mysteries seems to be a major concern in esoteric/literary circles from at least the late 19th century onward. Graves’ work here would appear to be a key source for Wasson, et al’s 1978 book The Road to Eleusis.
    What needs to always be kept in mind, though, is how fractured this all is. For example, Graves (a more traditional poet) hated Ezra Pound, a major proponent of Eleusis, especially for his fascist and antisemitic beliefs, but also for his avant-garde style of poetry.
    The “They” we all seek to expose is as complex and contradictory as anything else in Nature. There are clashing conspiracies, clashing mysteries, clashing poetries. To try to reduce this to any one narrative (and I don’t accuse you of doing this) risks perpetuating an illusion.

  5. Not directly related but very interesting:
    Q:You said that everything that Hollywood produces these days is just Star Wars, that the film completely shaped what we considered the American movies since it got out. How heavy is Star Wars’ responsibility for the current state of American filmmaking?
    A: Well, it was hugely successful, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Including the filmmaker’s. There are occasionally films that present a complete change in the zeitgeist, and nothing more than Star Wars. It became the goal of every studio—to make another Star Wars, or a version of Star Wars. And then they started to analyze, well, what is Star Wars? Well, it’s kind of a comic book. So now, the mass production of films from the Hollywood studios are comic books. Batman, Superman, stories like The Hunger Games, so many, Iron Man… I’m not saying this in a negative way, this is what audiences want to see. Everywhere. These are the most popular films, and they very often crowd out other kinds of films.
    Q: But there must be a good chance this superhero comic book assembly line will die out soon, the market must become saturated at some point.
    A: I don’t see that. I don’t think it will die out, I think that’s the new zeitgeist. If it isn’t these particular films, it will be copies of them. It will be something else, that is completely unbelievable, and supernatural, and whatever. Just these fantasy comic books. That, I’m afraid, is the future of cinema. Until I see some change at least. When you say you think it’s going to die out—it doesn’t look to me as if it’s going to happen. This is what the audience has become conditioned to. And the audience in the United States is for superhero movies, which to me are almost completely mindless.
    I see a diminishing of all the art forms.

    • I think Billy F is letting himself off easy. The Exorcist was also responsible for the beginnings of the blockbuster, not to mention the taking seriously of hokey, rollercoaster thumbscrew movies as “art.” Terribly overrated film, IMO.

  6. As to Ezra POUND:
    Summer-Fall 1962
    I am writing to resist the view that Europe and civilization are going to Hell. If I am being “crucified for an idea”—that is, the coherent idea around which my muddles accumulated—it is probably the idea that European culture ought to survive, that the best qualities of it ought to survive along with whatever other cultures, in whatever universality. Against the propaganda of terror and the propaganda of luxury, have you a nice simple answer?
    Somebody said that I am the last American living the tragedy of Europe.

  7. Ginko wrote:
    After many books on hypnosis I’ve decided that the trance state is the primary state of human consciousness, and is the key to ‘culture’. Which is why hypnotic trance can’t be truly defined or understood. We are always in a trance to some degree. We are always open to suggestion. I is someone else, as the poet says.
    I TOTALLY AGREE!!! This is THE key insight! — Good books on this topic have been written by John Schumaker:
    Wings of Illusion
    The Corruption of Reality
    And then Gurdjieff – what was he all about?
    1904 — G. resolves to combat the mass suggestibility and hysteria which occasion wars.
    In his book Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I am’ Gurdjieff writes:
    “This other newly arisen aim of my inner world was summed up in this: that I must discover, at all costs, some manner or means for destroying in people the predilection for suggestibility which causes them to fall easily under the influence of ‘mass hypnosis’.”
    I consider this to be essential Gurdjieff, his primary motive, his mission statement, to remove from us the burden of our propensity to be so easily swayed to believe a hundred thousand lies passed on to us by those who came before us and manipulated into us by the current culture.
    “Every person you see, including yourself, is shit.”

  8. As to the question of narrative: – I have this only in German, but you might be able to find more info on this in English somewhere else. The upshot: we have false memories – our life stories are made up. We do not remember what happened, but what we felt what happened. False memories can be easily implanted into people by emotions evoking narratives and images. Memory does not store what happened in the past but is reshaped every day! (Abe: it’s called “neuroplasticity” of the human brain. Imagine a library. You add a new book to the database of the already 1 million books that are there. Now imagine that the additional book does not simply add new information to the database but changes the content of all the other books! That’s how the brain works!) We are our emotions. Our feelings are the guardians of our memories. Our entire life and identity is made up. False memories are “normal”. Right memory is abnormal. Memory is not a function of abstract truth but of survival needs. (Abe: that#s what Nietzsche already discovered over a 100 years ago!!!) Man is an unreliable witness. It is not the conscious lies but the unconscious false memories which are the problem in the court. Witness testimonies are worthless. German judges want to get rid of witness testimonies in court altogether. Finally, you have to watch out not to become crazy because your mind plays tricks on you all the time!

    • This seems like a bit of a slippery slope to me, and a convenient loophole for social predators to ride through. If someone comes and cuts my arm off and you witness that, where’s the false memory? Also, if there are no witness testimonies, how exactly is there a trial?

      Lloyd de Mause: “The fears, anxieties and hypervigilance of traumatic stress sets off a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that disrupts hippocampal functioning, leaving memories to be stored as dissociated affective states or body memories that are incapable of being retrieved through normal hippocampal indexing.92 Van der Kolk believes that often these memories are dissociated because they were never really stored in consciousness in the first place.93 Moreover, the “lack of secure attachments may produce the most devastating effects,” he says, “because consistent external support appears to be a necessary condition in learning how to regulate internal affective states….Dissociation is a method of coping with inescapable stress [allowing] infants to enter into trance states and to ignore current sensory input…” As Eigen puts it in his book, The Psychotic Core, “The aggression perpetrated on the young in the name of upbringing is often tinged with or masks madness. Both parent and child live out this madness in a trancelike state akin to dreaming.” It is these early trance states that are repeated in the social trances of history.”

      The Emotional Life of Nations

  9. I am not interested in arguing with you but your objections are lame.
    If your arm is cut off and 100 people watch it – what will they remember in 10, 20, 50 years about what, how, and why it happened? And what will people who listen to the stories of those who listened to the stories of the supposed eye witnesses know about the event in 100 or 200 years. It becomes complicated rather quickly. Maybe it was not your arm but only your hand that was cut off, maybe it was not you but your brother. And if your arm is cut off you might still believe you have an arm:
    Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
    “A woman paralyzed on the left side of her body who believes she is lifting a tray of drinks with both hands offers a unique opportunity to test Freud’s theory of denial.”
    “A man who insists he is talking with God challenges us to ask: Could we be ‘wired’ for religious experience?”
    “A woman who hallucinates cartoon characters illustrates how, in a sense, we are all hallucinating, all the time.”
    How good are we as a witness of ourselves?! — I don’t remember the name but there was this American writer who wrote a lot of letters almost every day. His biographer reported about her confusion reading the letters. They all contradicted each other. In one letter she could read about his exhuberance and joy and in the next letter about his depression and suicidal tendencies – both written the same day to different people! And what about the Cotard delusion? — The Cotard delusion (also Cotard’s syndrome and walking corpse syndrome) is a rare mental illness in which an afflicted person holds the delusion that they are dead, either figuratively or literally; yet said delusion of negation is not a symptom essential to the syndrome proper. Statistical analysis of a hundred-patient cohort indicates that the denial of self-existence is a symptom present in 69 percent of the cases of Cotard’s syndrome; yet, paradoxically, 55 percent of the patients might present delusions of immortality.
    Finally, if you exclude eye witness testimony as sufficient cause for an indictment you simply go by “Sachbeweise” (= factual evidence) like DNA analysis, logical deduction, and meta data. (By the way, the CIA kills based on meta data!!!)
    (“Einer US-amerikanischen Studie zufolge beruhen 90 Prozent aller Justizirrtümer in den USA auf falschen Zeugenaussagen.” = According to an American study 90% of all judicial errors are based on false witness tesimony.)

  10. “Dissociation is a method of coping with inescapable stress …”
    It’s all in this great book:
    The Corruption of Reality
    Schumaker deals with reality, sanity, culture, dissociation and suggestion, and the roles and interactions of society and the individual. Citing noted researchers and observers, he demonstrates how humans generally are inclined to construct “insane” realities that distance them from objective but possibly undesirable reality.
    Following on the heels of Ernest Becker and Otto Rank, Schumaker poses yet again perhaps the most important question for humankind: “On what level of illusion was man meant to live?”
    As a way of unraveling this mystery, the author reveals man’s primary evolutionary strategy as that of using conscious self-deception to forestall and avoid the unsettling tension-producing aspects of being unable to control and manage disorder.
    This purposeful, and strategic use of self-deception – that is, learning to fashion and manage reality to suit our needs (or as the author puts it “this corruption of reality”) — has proven to be a survival enhancing evolutionary move.
    The evolutionary process that helped man out of his quandary of being overwhelmed with disorder and complexity came in the form of a capacity for the brain to disassociate itself from itself.
    That is to say specifically that the human brain has the capacity to selectively perceive its environment, selectively process information, selectively store memories, selectively disengage from already stored memories, and selectively replace dissociated data with more “user-friendly” data. Put yet another way, the brain can split the mind into distinct but unified submodules.
    The primary level of this mind reorganization, for the purpose of reality reconstruction, of course takes place at the level of culture. It is culture that tends to homogenize and normalize people’s false conceptions of reality. The reality of the individual is — to a large extent — the result of constructions that are fabricated and propagated at the level of culture.
    Only by eliminating competing “real” data from consciousness can the tension between the disorder in reality and the artificial order we create in our heads, be reduced.
    I predict that it will take another 50 years for this book to be fully digested and appreciated. While the rest of the world is still thinking in linear ways about topics such as religion, trance, and mental illness and even the function of culture, Schumaker is drawing revolutionary connections that shed brand new light on all of these areas of human behaviour.

    • well there ya go. Although I no longer believe Darwin or Freud this Shumaker seems to grasp some key components of human consciousness and then states that he believes we need a new religion. Exactly. And that’s why they need a new religion for their new one world government. You can’t have a culture without religion. They want a world wide culture so they need a world wide religion. As Patrick Harpur makes abundantly clear in A History Of The Imagination, myth is the structure of human consciousness. So the new (engineered in this case) myth is to be based on ancient astronauts and aliens and science. Already in a theater near you. It’s in your home. the temple will no doubt be on the internet. It all began with HG Wells and is now at a serial rendering of pedophile Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End on ScyFY network. Ever read it?
      In fact in order to publicize the show they hired hundreds of actors to dress in white and walk the streets of NYC saying things like the ‘world leader is coming tonight’ in a cult-like fashion. It’s perfect and it will work as long as they create enough chaos and discord and breakdown of existing morality. The aliens will understand everyone just like Jesus did! Ha! They’ve done it before and methinks they could do it again. The new religion will contain/enrapture/massage all of our human drives and desires- stuff that these dear leaders know all too well. They’ve got a profile on humanity.

  11. — EXAMPLE —
    Over 42000 views in less than a month and about 350 likes:
    Ground breaking whistleblower Sgt Daniel Brad MacBolan III
    CERN has been damaged beyond repair. The sun’s x-rays will now activate our 3rd strand of dna. Features the actual blow out of the Hadron Collider as it happened across the weekend of Nov 14th-15th. It is claimed this was done to stop the abuse of technology by rogue science, to allow a rupture in space time, a worm hole for 38 mins, to allow enemy ETs to further take over our planet. Draco ETs. This temporary shut down of the Collider lasted about 5 days. A Hadron free interview with Daniel is being prepared.
    Comment by “derbigpr500”:
    Why is this man not in a mental institution. As a medical doctor I work with people like him on a daily basis, with even more “believable” stories, but still crazy at the end of the day. Unfortunately, most people are naive enough to assume that someone who doesn’t look crazy really isn’t crazy, when in fact (and ask any psychiatrist) the reality is quite the opposite. I can get people on video to talk for hours about how they’re being kidnapped by the devil every night and taken through hell, even had a guy who claimed he worked as a guard in heaven, and when he slept in heaven, that was when he woke up in this world, etc., etc.

  12. Jasun quoted Abe: “German judges want to get rid of witness testimonies in court altogether.” and said: You did not say “eye witnesses.” DNA data and all the rest depends on witness testimony.
    Yes, sorry. The exact quote is: H.H. “habe den Zeugenbeweis sogar ganz aus dem Strafverfahren verbannen wollen. Nur noch der Sachbeweis sollte gelten.” Translation: “H.H. even wanted to get rid of the [eye] witness [testimony] AS PROOF (“-beweis”) [in court]. Only factual evidence (“Sachbeweis”) should count [for indictment].” Why? Because eye witness testimony is notoriously unreliable not only because people lie but also and foremost because their memory cannot be trusted.

  13. I’ve always been interested in this swirl of inter-relations between people like Wasson, Graves, Huxley and the rest. I think it’s too easy for researchers who haven’t done their psychedelic homework (that is, do the bio-assay, don’t just freak out about the LSD-CIA connection like a Church Lady who sees connections to Satan in cartoon devils “Li’l Hot Stuff” comics.
    I think it’s entirely possible that Graves and Wasson had the idea that the ruling class would be dosed as part of a neo-Eleusinian rite that would put them in touch with the Great Other. Meanwhile the masses could drink cheap beer.
    What’s most fascinating about the auticulture blog is seeing how people like the Fabians saw themselves parasitising socialism and other movements for mass liberation as ideal vehicles for mass control. None of this panned out in nearly the way they thought. Resistance keeps popping up both within and without the elites despite a parade of plans to reduce humanity to stupid servility. The one force that seems consistently present in all these schemes is sociopathy. After all, what links Victoria Nuland, Jamie Dimon, Nelson Rockefeller and all the rest? A complete lack of empathy and a lust for total control.

    • “… the Fabians saw themselves parasitising socialism and other movements for mass liberation as ideal vehicles for mass control. None of this panned out in nearly the way they thought.”
      It’s an interesting question. Reasonably speaking, Fabian individuals couldn’t have really seen how the future society would look (Huxley’s Brave New World doesn’t resemble our world in the superficials, any more than H G Wells’ Time Machine). But does this mean their underlying agendas didn’t pan out? My own feeling is that they panned out remarkably well. But how can we really know, beyond having a feeling one way or another; especially since one of the marks of effective memetic engineering is to hide its own traces? The best evidence may not be outside us, in society (since the agendas remain hidden) but inside us, in our adopted ideologies.

    • MKULTRA engineered Kulture & now its giving rise to its own mini-culture, see also this:

      They were subjected to LSD, sensory deprivation and shock therapy techniques. “Patients” of the CIA’s secret experiments Project MK-Ultra were a part of a dark chapter in Canadian history. Artist Sarah Anne Johnson’s grandmother — who sought treatment for postpartum depression before it was “a thing” — was one of the victims of the mind-control experiments. In her new performance piece Hospital Hallway, Johnson tries to understand that horrific period of her grandmother’s life by re-imaging the conditions she endured and exposing her own emotional vulnerabilities.


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