Next month, Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey Kripal are releasing The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained. I have been sitting on the completed Prisoner of Infinity text (which I hope to publish in book form later this year or in 2017) for a while now, so this seems like a timely opportunity to release Part Two. Before I do, I am going to post Part One (all 12 chapters, with a few minor reductions) at this blog, material which so far has only been viewable in PDFs at the crucial fictions site. This is for any new readers and listeners who aren’t familiar with the subject matter, but also for those who are familiar with it and who might want to revisit it, in preparation for the new material. This latter should begin appearing sometime in March. I also hope to explore some of the subject matter on The Liminalist podcast.
I: Heaven Stormers
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
— Matthew 11:12
This book began in early 2013. I was looking into the work of the popular writer, mystic, and “alien abductee” Whitley Strieber for the umpteenth time. I was approaching his work with a new focus, that of socio-spiritual engineering. I had been looking into a report issued by Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in 1973, commissioned by the US Department of Education several years earlier. It was called Changing Images of Man. The researcher Ty Brown (“Dream’s End”), who wrote a series of thought-provoking pieces about Strieber in 2007, called the book “a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream” and “nothing less than a blueprint for a vast social engineering project undertaken by the very highest levels of the military/industrial complex.” According to Brown and other researchers, “SRI was at the hub of just about every major development in the evolving ‘New Age’ community.” I still haven’t read the full report, but I have browsed it for some useful quotes, including this one, already cited by Brown and others:
Of special interest to the Western world is that Freemasonry tradition which played such a significant role in the birth of the United States of America, attested to by the symbolism of the Great Seal (on the back of the dollar bill). In this version of the transcendental image, the central emphasis is on the role of creative work in the life of the individual. (In “true Freemasonry” there is one lodge, the universe-and one brotherhood, everything that exists. Each person has the “privilege of labor,” of joining with the “Great Architect” in building more noble structures and thus serving in the divine plan.) Thus this version of the “new transcendentalism” (perhaps more than other versions imported from the East more recently) has the potentiality of reactivating the American symbols, reinterpreting the work ethic, supporting the basic concepts of a free-enterprise democratic society, and providing new meanings for the technological-industrial thrust. [Changing Images of Man, p 184-5, emphasis added]
What this quote suggested to me was that organized spirituality (or “new transcendentalism”) had been coopted (or even created) as a means to prop up and inject new life into the Western capitalist system. While it referred specifically to Freemasonry, what were the chances that other spiritual and/or magical doctrines had been similarly “seeded” as carriers for an anything-but spiritual movement?
I had always read Strieber’s work with great interest. Now I was looking at a (perhaps unwitting) part of a larger program of social engineering, I reached out to a couple of individuals associated with Strieber. One of them was Jeffrey Kripal. Kripal wrote the foreword to Strieber’s 2012 book, Solving the Communion Enigma: What is to Come (as well as several very interesting books, most recently Mutants and Mystics). The next day, Kripal responded with a warm email, to which he attached his forthcoming article, “The Traumatic Secret.” Though ostensibly about George Bataille, the French intellectual who died in 1962, the article uses Strieber as an example of Kripal’s focal interest, which is the relationship between early trauma (often sexual in nature) and mystical states of realization. It begins with a quote from Solving the Communion Enigma:
Had I not as a child been brutalized by whoever this was, I don’t think that I ever would have been able to perceive the visitors. [The nonhuman beings Strieber came into contact with as a child.]
I knew from previous research that Strieber was referring to memories of abuse, from around the age of four to nine, as part of a government secret program carried out at the Randolph Air Force base, under the direction of someone he named “Dr. Antonio Krause” (unsubstantiated). Strieber first began to write publically about these disturbing incidents at his website, Unknown Country, in March, 2000:
I went to classes at Randolph, and they were terrible, terrible experiences. Fear was everywhere, fear was my life. I believe that it is why my immune system shut down when I was seven. It was just the sheer stress of it all, stress so great that my little body literally tried to die. But I did not die. Instead, I went on to become quite at ease with close encounter experiences and to do what I have done with my life.
Before reading Kripal’s article, I responded to him by email that, while I agreed with his premise, I thought there was a distinct danger that trauma-induced spirituality would be informed by the trauma, in other words, that it would be compensatory. I suggested there might be an authentic enlightenment in contrast to a form of dissociation, or fragmentation, which might feel, and even look, like enlightenment, but was not. Learning to recognize the signs of this latter, I said, might be one of the fruits of studying a case like Strieber’s.
Kripal replied that this was the case for almost any saint, mystic, guru, or visionary that he had studied in the history of religion. He said that he placed Strieber in this history because his case so closely resembled every other case he had studied in depth. He mentioned that there is nothing about enlightenment in South Asia that makes it incompatible with psychopathology or emotional trauma, and that what we might call madness is often seen as a sign of transcendence in that context. Likewise, numerous Hindu and Buddhist saints show signs of trauma side by side with enlightenment experiences, making it not a matter of either-or but both-and. In retrospect, I realized that, perhaps unconsciously, Kripal appeared to have sidestepped my point. As it happened, his article provided me with ample opportunity to clarify my argument.
The first thing that struck me in the piece was the following passage:
The terror of the erotic and its subsequent concealment and censorship. The “cohesion of the human spirit” and its “potentialities.” The deeper unity of the ascetic and the erotic. The refusal to collapse these spiritual and sexual potentialities into one another and a move [sic] beyond both into a deeper, more fundamental Ground. The mirroring, coordinated structures of the sacred and sexual arousal around the social and psychological dynamics of taboo and transgression. These are the leitmotifs of both my work, and I dare say my life-experience, from the very first pages of Kali’s Child (1995), a heavily censored, now tabooed book, to my most recent work on the paranormal in books like Authors of the Impossible (2010), where this both/and is reframed now via the bizarre mind-over-matter events of psychical and paranormal phenomena and the history of parapsychology in both elite theory and popular culture. In effect, the “cohesion” and “coordination” of the mystical and the erotic have morphed into the “cohesion” and “coordination” of the mental and the material.
The key point for me in this passage was the correlation of a mystical-erotic dichotomy with that of a mind-body one. The first question that occurred to me was this: is the “spiritual engineering” currently underway in western society contingent on a de-eroticization of the spiritual? Just to clarify this point, the word erotic shouldn’t be seen as synonymous for sexual. Just as the erotic includes the sexual but is not limited to it, so sexuality can be uncoupled from eroticism, which is very much the point. Eros is both what stirs the life-force into motion and a full body expression of it (though it can be expressed through language as well as movement). A dancer, painter, or writer may be expressing eros or life force, while someone having sex with a shoe (and almost all pornography) does not.
De-eroticization would be perceivable not only in trends (such as the New Age movement) but also in individuals. If so, is it possible that the sort of sexual trauma which someone like Strieber appears to have undergone might be a requirement to be deemed eligible for seeding the memes of a de-eroticized spirituality? In other words, are sexually traumatized individuals sought (or even created) as spokespeople for the propagation of a mind-based spirituality designed to serve socio-political agendas?
To clarify one point: de-eroticized spirituality entails a much subtler and more nuanced subterfuge than simply rejecting the body as “sinful.” In fact many “mind-based” spiritual systems pay lip service to the body and reject the idea of a mind-body duality. But despite this, they still betray a subtle bias towards mind, as evident in the use of language. It is very clear what we mean when we say body, but what do we mean when we say “mind”? Even the idea of mind as existing independently of the body, as a concept, betrays a certain anti-body bias—as does the equation of mind with consciousness. Logically, the body is conscious before mind even exists; yet the mind somehow imagines it can exist beyond the confines of the body, as “consciousness.” But consciousness of what?
Catholicism, and Christianity in general, with its desexualized saints, might be an early model of this, albeit with the mind-concept of a “soul” in place of mind per se. (There is not much eroticism in the Bible besides the Song of Solomon. There are also few jokes, at least in the translated version.) One result of de-eroticizing religion (equating celibacy with piety) is that sexuality comes out in secret, deviated forms, such as the much-documented sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, or, more obvious still but less commented on, the fetishism of Catholic paraphernalia and rituals. Deviated eros is not only rife in the Catholic Church, however. As the recent revelations in the UK around Jimmy Savile make clear, such de-eroticized expressions of libido may be far from exceptional inside the upper echelons of corporate, political power structures. In fact, the evidence indicates that psychopathic individuals like Savile are essential to the functioning of these structures. I mention this in passing as an extreme example of how the libido looks and acts once it’s uncoupled from authentic erotic impulse. Deny the divine access to our natural urges, and the devil will gladly take them over.
Kripal’s article offered me still more to chew on. For example:
Bataille observes that transgression derives its power from the taboo, that the transgression does not remove the taboo but suspends, completes, and transcends it, and that taboos were put in place very early in the development of human society in order to enable work and the construction of a social order. [Emphasis added]
This intersects neatly with the Changing Images of Man quote about using Masonic symbolism to strengthen the work ethic. Willis W. Harman, Senior Social Scientist at SRI who co-edited Changing Images, was reputed to have been a key influence on Marilyn Ferguson’s best-selling book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, published in 1980. Ferguson’s book reiterates many of the ideas found in Changing Images, including this one: “In the new paradigm, work is a vehicle for transformation.”
Bataille believed that the primary function of taboos was to shape and maintain a social order, with a particular focus on work. The implementation of taboos gave rise to the idea of transgression, and the effect of transgression is not to remove taboo but to complete it (just as crime consolidates the force of law through opposing it).
Taboos are primarily sexual taboos. De-eroticized spirituality is, like Christianity, a means to internalize taboos so they become intrinsic parts of philosophic belief, rather than being socially imposed (which only creates resistance to them). Nietzsche denounced Christianity for its “slave morality” and saw it as a religion fit for slaves. He also wrote: “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it but degenerated to vice.” (Beyond Good and Evil, Wilder Publications, 2008, p. 56.) The most effective worker is either one who is devoid of erotic impulses or who channels those impulses into work itself (for example, by turning work into a game of “making out,” bringing the excitement of competition to what would otherwise be dull and soulless activity). For individuals to be incorporated into the social body, they have to first be cut off from their own bodies, and from the natural world.
This ties into what has been called “the Singularity,” the spiritualized or religionist goal of technology to leave the planet via space travel (reach heaven) and achieve eternal life via consciousness-to-machine interface, i.e., through creating a non-biological vehicle for the personality to exist through. This is an example of what Changing Images of Man calls “new meaning for the technological-industrial thrust”—a spiritual or quasi-spiritual incentive for both industrialization (and labor) and scientific progress.
So where does trauma come in? Kripal cites Bataille on how “human beings generally hedge their bets when it comes to their desire for the continuity of being.” While they desire some contact with the sacred, they also want to survive and exist as discontinuous beings outside of that totality. There is a fundamental conflict, in other words, between the religious urge to surrender and be absorbed into the infinite (the underlying unity of existence), and the desire to separate from it and pursue happiness through individual existence. “Basically, they want it both ways, and ritual violence allows them to do this”—i.e., allows for congress with the divine without being totally absorbed into it, by offering up a surrogate sacrifice. Bataille suggests there is a deep connection between sacrifice and mystical experience, “as both attempt to reveal the sacred realm of the continuity of being.”
“Although clearly distinct from it, mystical experience seems to me to stem from the universal experience of religious sacrifice” [Bataille]. It should be observed that, in this model, “divine continuity is linked with the transgression of the law on which the order of discontinuous beings is built,” hence the sacred is accessed ritually and mystically primarily through the violation of taboo, otherwise known as “sin” in Christian theology. Little wonder, then, that in Christianity the sacred is so “readily associated with Evil.” [Emphasis added]
Kripal’s paragraph contains a pile of powerful ideas packed together into a few lines. What Bataille (and Kripal) appear to be saying is this: ordinary social, communal order is constructed around the idea—the tangible reality—of the existence of discontinuous beings and it requires certain codes to maintain that order (thou shalt not kill, steal, or lust after your neighbor’s wife, for example). Conversely, mystical experience and religious doctrine pertains to the opposite idea, that of a continuity of being in which everyone is equally subservient to (and inseparable from) the divine order (God). So, while social order is maintained largely through the implementation of religious taboos, the mystical and religious imperative is to transcend the social order and discover the underlying continuity of being. This inevitably entails the breaking of socio-religious taboos.
The work ethic necessary to maintaining a community, for example, depends on a social agreement about what is permissible and what is not. But there also exists an opposing desire to access the sacred and return to “oneness”; since this requires the breaking of these taboos, it inevitably threatens to upset the social order. The way to square this circle (so far as I can see) is for the social order (community) to be seen as equivalent to the divine order (Church and State as one): this allows the individuals within it to “sacrifice” themselves (their individual desires) to the community and experience “continuity of being” as part of a social body. This only works up to a point, however, because, when all is said and done, the community is a poor substitute for the infinite and cannot absorb the individual into its body in a lasting or meaningful way. While human beings have a powerful communal instinct (preservation of the species), they are equally driven by more selfish instincts for procreation and self-preservation, which as often as not pit them against others in the community. The solution is to redirect those more selfish instincts (which paradoxically include the anti-social drive for a mystical experience of continuity of being) into collective, religious activity.
While I was unfamiliar with Bataille’s work before reading Kripal’s essay, it closely echoes the work of the French philosopher Rene Girard, specifically his theory of mimetic desire and the “scapegoat mechanism.” Mimetic desire is a kind of infectious desire that results from wanting what other people want simply because they want it. Desiring what someone else wants leads to rivalry (unless there is a surplus), and eventually to violence. Hence, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” This is the example Girard gives, in fact, that of two friends who become enemies because of their desire for the same woman. Girard describes the necessity of ritual sacrifice (of a party everyone agrees is guilty) to prevent internal violence from breaking out within a community. This may be an apropos example here, since sexual desire is the desire for union, that is, for continuity of being. Yet within the context of the community and of mimetic desire, the result of sexual desire is often violence, which is the inverse: the desire to separate, for discontinuity of being. The scapegoat mechanism of sacrificial violence is a way to maintain community cohesion, because it is a way of directing mimetic desire into a community-bonding ritual, sublimating the (sexual) desire for continuity of being into a religious practice.
A community requires religious taboos (especially around sexuality) in order to prevent rivalry and violence from breaking out. Yet, as Kripal makes explicit, the spiritual urge to experience continuity of being is itself a sexual drive, at least in part. So the separation of spirituality from the erotic is an act of violence—splitting what was one into two—and it creates a gulf in the human psyche. When the erotic drive for oneness is not allowed to express itself through the religious rituals meant to answer that drive, some sort of surrogate ritual enactment is required, to allow the libido an alternate form of release and bridge that gulf. The dark solution that presents itself is that of sacrificial violence. This is why the predatory psychopath type (popularly “the serial killer,” in reality someone closer to Jimmy Savile) could be seen as the most extreme form of debased “spiritual” expression, both individual and collective, which arises once the desire for transcendence is uncoupled from the body, and from true eroticism. Where Eros cannot go, Thanatos reigns supreme.
Kripal goes on to describe how Bataille’s Eroticism has influenced his own thinking, even thirty years after last reading the work. He describes Bataille as “a constant companion” throughout his writing career, citing examples. Kripal’s first book, Kali’s Child (his dissertation), a study of the nineteenth-century Hindu saint Ramakrishna, related to the question of how “the sexual and spiritual systems can activate one another.” His later works, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom and The Serpent’s Gift, discussed how suicide attempts due to “psychosexual” confusion can overlap with spiritual “conversion.” Thirdly, he mentions his 2007 work, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, and cites the English author Aldous Huxley, whom he describes as probably having had “more influence on the human potential movement as a whole than any other single person.” It was at this point I realized that Kripal’s essay overlapped, not just indirectly but directly, with the subject of socio-spiritual engineering.
I knew Huxley’s work well. It had been twenty years since I’d read his most famous text, The Doors of Perception, but I had recently quoted it in my article “Autism and the Other” (which I’d sent to Kripal after finishing his piece). I had taken note at the time of Huxley’s use of the term “Mind at Large,” and wished he’d chosen a better one to describe the overarching and underlying intelligence of existence. In his article, Kripal attributed Huxley with coining the expression “human potentialities” and being “instrumental in bringing a new word into the English language (psychedelic or ‘mind-manifesting’).” He then referred to Huxley’s “little Blakean tract, The Doors of Perception.” While it was true Huxley got his title from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, it’s hard to imagine anything less Blakean than the idea of God as a great big Mind. Blake despised philosophers like John Locke and Rene Descartes and would probably have derided Huxley’s phrase for its obvious head-o-centricity. It was at this point, perhaps not coincidentally, that I began to question some of Kripal’s assumptions.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Here’s the next passage that caught my eye in the piece:
Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason to suppose that matter is not material, that it is made up of bizarre forms of energy that violate, very much like spirit, all of our normal notions of space, time, and causality. Yet when we subject matter to certain drastic treatments, like CERN’s Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, then we can see quite clearly that matter is not material at all. But—and this is the key—we can only get there through a great deal of physical violence, a violence so extreme and so precise that it cost us billions of dollars and decades of preparation to inflict it.
Kripal’s provocative statement leads into the last section of his essay, titled “The Alien Abduction Literature.” Before I get to that can of ectoplasm, let’s look at the idea of violence as the necessary means to discover that “matter is not material”—and how it may be the “scientistic” equivalent of “taking the Kingdom of Heaven by storm.”
“What worries me is finding fifty years from now those books have created some kind of grim religion.”
—Whitley Strieber, 1988
In my twenties and thirties, I was something of a Nietzsche-reading anti-Christian. My spiritual path entailed psychedelic-ingestion, occult rituals, shamanizing, voluntary hardship and poverty, and extremely involuntary celibacy. I believed that Heaven was only for those with the balls to storm it. (An idea suggested in Whitley Strieber’s The Key with these words, “Your place will not be given you. You must be strong enough to take it.” After Castaneda’s books, The Key was probably the greatest literary influence on me during this period.) Now I am in my late-forties, with at least some of the sobriety that middle-age brings, I would see this outlook (along with Blake’s “road of excess”) as the privileged folly of youth—if it weren’t for the mounting evidence that I was conditioned and misdirected into my folly as part of a larger social agenda. If “heaven” is largely synonymous for the harmony of consciousness with the body, then today I would argue that violence is the surest way to keep us out of Heaven, because violence can only ever strike a discordant note in the body.
In Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, Norman O. Brown, developing the ideas of Freud, describes how the consciousness of every individual is seeking a return to oneness, doing so not through the senses but through fantasy of the mind. It could be argued that loss of union with the mother is the sole source of the desire for oneness, and that “spirituality” is nothing but the sublimation of unmet infant desire. I’m not going to argue that, because I think there is an authentic spiritual drive of consciousness to rediscover oneness,. But I also think that both the scientific and spiritual quest to “dematerialize/spiritualize matter” (and so merge with it), even if it can’t be reduced to it, conceals that infant drive to be reunited with the mother, and that scientists with their Hadron collider, covert intelligence programs trying to forge the key to the human psyche, psycho-spiritual think tanks bidding to engineer evolution, space programs attempting to colonize outer space, and traumatized seekers and mystics plundering their nervous systems with hallucinogens, spiritual practices, or sexual excess, can all be placed in the same category—that of stormers of heaven.
If I read his article correctly, Kripal is comparing the process of shattering matter to the means by which an individual can access higher or deeper (mystic) realms of perception as a result of physical and psychological trauma. While I can allow this to be true, my question to Kripal, regarding his piece, is: at what cost? Writing about Strieber, Kripal states that he “does not reduce the later mystical events to the earlier trauma. Rather, he suggests that physical and sexual trauma can ‘crack open the cosmic egg’ and so reveal a ‘hidden reality’ of unimaginable scope. In short, he offers us another version of the “traumatic secret.”
Kripal sees this as “a both-and, not an either-or” question. To some extent I would agree. I’m not arguing, as others might, that mystical states or visions which result from trauma are merely hallucinations resulting from a form of dissociation. I am in agreement with Kripal that Strieber and other mystics can and do enter into authentic experiences of imaginal or archetypal reality (i.e., the collective psyche). The problem is that genuine trauma that leads to authentic mystical states may inevitably lead to an equally real misuse of those experiences as a means to protect the person from re-experiencing the past trauma. This misuse of the mystical trance state would not only preclude a proper understanding of the visions undergone, but also prevent the opportunity of fully integrating and embodying the trauma. My sense is that it is not only mystical vision that must be embodied, but also the trauma that allowed for it. Otherwise, the mystical vision will not become a full body experience, but only be possessed by the mind, that is, become the stuff of thoughts and not direct, sensory experience. The mind (thought) can then use the experience to maintain its separation from the body—i.e., to keep in place the gap between the erotic and the spiritual, by sacrificing the body to the “sacred.”
While this kind of psychological subterfuge (which I will discuss in more detail in the next post) may be all-too obviously at work in exoteric religions such as Catholicism, it proceeds in a more discreet and covert fashion in the more esoteric philosophies of spirituality, mysticism, occultism, and “ufology.” Here, instead of an outright demonization and rejection of Eros as “the work of the devil,” what happens is a sort of mystical reframing and rechanneling of the libido into something “spiritual” or otherworldly. This is roughly what’s known as sublimation, which Freud defined as “an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilized life.” For Freud, sublimation allowed people to act out socially unacceptable impulses (taboos) by converting them into more acceptable forms of behavior. One example of this might be redirecting erotic urges into a communal/spiritual work ethic so as to create a willing slave class as the body-vehicle for technological progress, and to keep the dominant capitalist paradigm intact. Whereas Freud saw sublimation as a sign of maturity, however, the author Norman O. Brown, who developed Freud’s ideas in surprising new ways in the 1970s, saw it differently.
Sublimation negates the body of childhood and seeks to construct the lost body of childhood in the external world. . . . Sublimation is the search for lost life; it presupposes and perpetuates the loss of life and cannot be the mode in which life itself is lived. Sublimation is the mode of an organism which must discover life rather than live, must know rather than be (p. 170-1, emphasis added).
When I re-read this phrase while working on the present post, I thought at once of Strieber. Strieber, with his grand cosmic vision of otherworldly contact, his tales of trauma and transformation, and his continuous probing into a past filled with secret schools, hidden agendas, and suppressed memories, making his entire opus an attempt to “construct the lost body of childhood in the external world.” Or in the stars.
To read on, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation
Audio downloads of 2013 conversations that accompanied this chapter: “The History of Trauma Repeating,” and “Seize the Trauma“
 Harman was also: President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences; Co-founder, Fellow and Trustee of the World Business Academy; former consultant to the White House’s National Goals Research Staff; on Board of Directors of the Albert Hoffman Foundation; Director of the Center for the Study of Social Policy at SRI International; former Director of the Educational Policy Research Center at SRI; vice president of the International Foundation for Advanced Studies; Regent of the University of California. He was Emeritus Professor of Engineering-Economic Systems at Stanford University and for sixteen years was Senior Social Scientist at SRI International in Menlo Park, California. He was President on the Board of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. On the Board from 1985 till 1997. Affiliations: Advisory Council (1975), Planetary Citizens. Former Trustee, Foundation for GAIA Patron, Wyse International. International Advisory Board, Centre for Change. International Advisor, World Health Foundation for Development and Peace. Winner of the 1995 Green Award.
 Ty Brown writes that “In the introduction [to Changing Images], the authors complain that Judaism and Christianity are no longer filling their proper function”—hence the need to supplant Christianity with a New Age scientific-mysticism, a.k.a. “scientism.”