Through a Fractured Glass, Darkly (Part Two): Whitley's Onion
Part Two: Whitley's Onion (Four Years Later)
For Part One of this article, click here.
The Two Keys
Part One of this article was eventually published in Paranoid Magazine as well as Alien Worlds. Before that it appeared at Jeff Wells' Rigorous Intuition forum in March 2008, and it was praised by the late writer Mac Tonnies, shortly before he died (not to suggest any connection), as "the most devastating and articulate summary of Whitley Strieber and his works that I've ever read." It was, so far as I recall, Tonnies' endorsement of the piece that provoked Strieber to finally comment on it (I had sent it to him before publishing, hoping for an interview, but received no response). Subscribers at Strieber's Unknown Country website had been talking about the article, mostly critically, and it was at that point that Strieber made a remark about the author, myself, being a "clever disinformation agent." (Unfortunately all traces of that discussion have been removed from the Unknown Country message board, so I cannot provide the full quote.) Despite several attempts to sign up for Strieber's message board, I was unable to join the discussion. Naturally I was disappointed by Strieber's dismissal of the article, which I believed, and still believe, was a genuine attempt to "sort through the seeds" of his experiences and separate the live ones from the duds. I was aware of many intelligent people with an interest in paranormal phenomena who stayed away from Strieber and who even (somewhat ironically) considered him to be a disinformation agent. So while Strieber and his devoted followers perceived my article as an attack on his integrity, the skeptical wing saw it more as a defense! In a way it was neither, but an attempt to get to grips with his work, and with the man himself, in order to reduce some of the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing. It was also a -- perhaps misguided and so far unsuccessful -- attempt to open a dialogue with Strieber.
Eventually I let the whole subject go, and a couple of years went by without any significant developments. Then, in May 2011, coinciding with the release of a new edition of The Key, I finally bit the bullet and became a subscriber to Unknown Country (for a three months period, at a cost of $11.95). My reasons were two-fold: I wanted to have access to some Strieber audio files that were otherwise unavailable; and I wanted to post at the comments section and to try once again to engage Whitley in a dialogue.
The original version of The Key had been released in 2001, in a short, self-published imprint of a thousand signed and numbered copies. I had received one of them, and read the book countless times over the years. In 2002, as preparation for a "surrealist documentary" I was making (The God Game: An Investigation into the Illusory Nature of Reality), I even printed and bound several photocopies and distributed them among my players. Strieber's contention was that the book was a transcript of a dialogue he had had, on June 6th 1998, with a small Canadian man who barged into his hotel room in Toronto in the small hours of the morning. Over the course of forty-five minutes, the little man, whom Strieber eventually named "the Master of the Key," communicated a series of profound metaphysical insights about the nature of reality, God, the soul, life after death, and the fate of humanity and the Earth. Strieber allegedly managed to retain most of the conversation and, over the course of two or three years, he painstakingly recreated it for his book. That was Strieber's story, anyway. While there were things about the book which struck me as dubious (the opening claim that the Holocaust prevented mankind from developing the technology to leave the Earth by killing the parents of an unborn engineering genius, for example, seemed especially hokey), overall the depth and novelty of the ideas supported Strieber's claim that it came from a source besides himself -- his conscious self, at least.
It was shortly after the first trade release of his book, in May of 2011, that Strieber claimed there were in fact two versions of The Key.[i] He claimed that he had only realized this when a reader of the 2011 edition pointed out some discrepancies with the first edition. Strieber insisted he had not made any such changes. According to his own account, he referred back to the 2001 edition -- for the first time since it had been released -- and realized that certain changes had been made without his awareness. He listed the "changes" at his website, and argued point by point how the integrity of the book's original message had been undermined. While admitting that he didn't know how it had happened -- whether at the printers or while the book was still on computer file -- he stated repeatedly that a "sinister" intelligence had sabotaged the manuscript. I read the various comments at Unknown Country with interest, particularly curious about a link to a long article online, called "The Key: A Minority Report." (The author of which, in an irony fitting for this whole subject, later attacked the 2008 version of this article, and in fact continues to do so.) The overall gist of the article was that, contrary to Strieber's own charges, the first version of the book was superior to the second, and that the claims made by Strieber of an alleged "sinister hand" tampering with the work were not supported by a close inspection of the two texts. The writer made a solid, point-by-point case and suggested that the new version showed more evidence of "tampering" (clumsy editing), and that it might be the one that contained disinformation. I found myself agreeing with this point of view, and increasingly doubtful of Strieber's. At best, the alleged "changes" which Strieber claimed had been made to the 2001 edition didn't seem to merit the slightly hysterical accusations he was making; and in some, if not most cases, they did seem to be improvements (that is, the new edition seemed to be the inferior one).
Without naming "A Minority Report," Strieber referred dismissively to it at one post, complaining about the conspiracies that were ruining his life and all the "insensitive, stupid swine (or people with a hidden agenda)" who dared to suggest that all of this was just a selling ploy for the book. Strieber didn't deign to address any of the points in the document, but only remarked contemptuously: "There is even one person out there claiming that the ‘edits' make the book better." His diatribe continued:
"I am sick and tired of all this. . . . I have achieved something truly magnificent, which is coherent, focused contact with another level of reality. Instead of being honored for this, as I certainly deserve, I have been ostracized, demonized and hammered almost to a pulp. My books go completely unreviewed. It's as if I'm dead . . . I'm tired of it and I want what I deserve from this society, recognition of the value of what I have done, not this continual sinister response. It is a dreadful way to treat anybody, let alone somebody who has worked as hard and as honestly as I have and has, in fact, created something that could be the basis for a new flowering of humanity, at a time when the powers that be have entirely failed and have betrayed the human race, and have no further reason to be respected in any way whatsoever."
Once again, as had happened three years prior, I found myself being drawn into what I perceived as Whitley's paranoia and confusion. Once again I was eager to somehow get to the bottom of it, and even, if possible, to bring about a "healing crisis" for Strieber -- or perhaps for myself. My first post at Unknown Country suggested an alternative to Strieber's belief that sinister forces were behind the edits, positing the idea that the author himself had unconsciously altered the text, via some kind of psychic interface with his software. Far -- fetched as the idea was, it was something which had almost certainly happened in my own experience, and it was at least a way to challenge Strieber's version of events without accusing him of lying (or being insane). Since I was hoping to get his attention, and because I knew from personal experience how sensitive Strieber could be, and how easily offended he was by criticism (as Pinchbeck can testify), my post was very carefully phrased. I received no response from Strieber, however, and little of interest from the other subscribers. Shortly after, I posted a response to his angry diatribe (the one quoted above) and suggested that, as a best-selling author, he might be overreacting. I warned him about the "love-bombing" of his loyal subscribers, many of whom were showering him with praise and reassurance, thereby strengthening (in my opinion) his feelings of indignation and entitlement. I wrote that people who appeared to be his friends weren't, and that, likewise, some people whom he perceived as being against him weren't necessarily that either. Strieber did not respond.
The Cult of Whitley (Is Strieber Advocating Implants?)
Frustrated with the lack of response, I returned to the Rigorous Intuition board where it had all begun, hoping to open up a discussion with a less loyalist crowd. At Rigorous Intuition, the general view of Strieber was that he was either deluded, a charlatan, or a disinformation agent (or a combination of all three), and so once again, I found myself walking the tightrope between advocate and whistleblower. While at Strieber's site, I had wanted to reassure both Whitley and his fans that I really was a Strieber supporter, even if I felt duty-bound to point out the worms in his apple cart. While at Rigorous Intuition, I ended up taking Strieber's defense, since many people were dismissing him unfairly, based on their own prejudices. At Rigorous Intuition, I wrote that I was pretty sure that The Key was not simply the product of Strieber's imagination and that, ironically, his rather unstable public persona were arguments for and not against that possibility. I questioned what kind of intelligence was informing and directing his work, if not his own, and more specifically, what was behind the confusion and controversy over the conflicting versions of The Key.
Rigorous Intuition hosts a "nuts and bolts" kind of crowd and as such some of the regulars there tend to view alien abduction and the surrounding phenomenon as a giant military mind control operation. With this in mind, I pointed out some of the key differences between the two versions of The Key that pertained to the question of mind control and implants. For example, there was an exchange in the 2011 version that had not been present in the first edition, in which Strieber asks "Am I under mind control?" and the Master of the Key replies, "The opposite. The technological intervention that has occurred in your case has been done to make certain that general fields of control will not affect you." So Strieber was now claiming, in the new version of the book, that he was not susceptible to mind control because of the implant he carried. (The implant was something Strieber had talked about extensively before, and which he claimed to have physical proof of.[ii] )
As "A Minority report" stated:
"In this case of Whitley's direct question: ‘Am I under mind control' -- a question which he says he remembers asking, the answer to the question states quite remarkably that he, perhaps alone, is immune to the mind control more generally applied to others ‘enhanced electrically.' But what about all the other alien abductees out there? Is everyone with an implant under mind control? Are there two types of implants: one for mind control, and another to resist mind control-from other implants? It doesn't make sense. Either implants are the direct mechanism of mind control, in which case those without them are not controlled, or implants are in those who have had contact and for some reason are meant to be immune to the ‘mind control.'"
About the question of whether he was under mind control, Whitley had this to say at his website:
"I vividly remember asking this question, and thinking at the time that the ‘technological intervention' that he was referring to was the implant in my left ear. I suspect that I am among a very small band of people who are not subject to this general level of control, and that my readers and I constitute the great majority of people who are free of this general influence. It is why we see the world as it truly is, and why the vast majority of people around us seem strangely blind to what to us appears to be obvious reality. They are blind. They have been blinded. For whatever reason, we can see." [My italics.]
This audacious claim is based on very little real evidence, and mostly on the contentions of Strieber himself. The new version of The Key, combined with the comments of its author, appears to be suggesting that the implant, commonly believed to be a mind control device in parapolitical communities such as Rigorous Intuition and even among some UFO groups, is actually a means to protect the carrier from mind control. Strieber thereby claims that he (and for some reason his "readers" also, though he doesn't explain why they should be included) is one of the few people on the planet who is immune to mind control, by virtue of the implant he received. He is telling his followers that this special status allows him -- and, as if by magical association, them -- "to see the world as it truly is." He is therefore claiming exclusive access to the truth, and subtly inferring that all those who follow him ("my readers") will be granted similar access.
Such was my argument at Rigorous Intuition anyway, and it sparked a lively debate and received the input of a former member of Strieber's Unknown Country community. She claimed that she had gotten quite close to Whitley before saying the wrong thing and being "excommunicated," and her impression was that Strieber was suffering from trauma-based mind control, that he had unwittingly created a cult of personality, and that his website was being used as a "honey pot" to attract victims of mind control and experiencers of -- possibly real, possibly simulated -- alien abductions so as to monitor them. Though the idea seemed plausible to me, I was pretty sure Whitley would reject it out of hand, not only as absurd but as an "attack [on his] very being and [his] spirit." So back at Strieber's site, I took a more tentative and diplomatic approach.
I referred to the "Minority Report" document and commented that, whoever had written it, they had gone to a great deal of care and done a thorough, erudite, and balanced job of it. I invited Strieber to comment on the subject, outside of his dismissive and defensive comment of May 26th. I pointed out Strieber's tendency to respond to anyone who questioned his version of things with emotional outbursts, either with moral indignation or angry accusations. I noted how this appeared to satisfy many of his followers, who rushed to his defense and offered the same sort of blind, unquestioning support which he appeared to invite. It did not strike me as an environment that allowed for open inquiry, constructive criticism, or for the thorough examination (and evolution) of ideas. It struck me as closer to being a "cult environment."
That made the present example a compelling -- even urgent -- opportunity for everyone concerned. It was also why I felt driven to speak up, knowing that I might incur Strieber's displeasure and be grouped with the "insensitive swine" who dared to offer him anything besides slavish agreement and unconditional support. I believed that Strieber's choice not to seriously address the criticism around the two versions of The Key created the impression that he was trying to cover something up. His argument was essentially based on the premise that, since he wrote the book, he was the only person who could say which version was the true one. That would be fair enough, except that, by Strieber's own account, he didn't so much write the book as transcribe it, and unless I was mistaken, quite a bit of it was assembled from memory. That allowed for a fairly large margin for error.
So far, I had not found Strieber's own story persuasive; his arguments for the book being censored by dark forces were emotional and full of accusatory, inflammatory language ("censorship!" "sinister," "sickening," and so on), with very little logic behind them. He seemed to be hoping that his fierce conviction would be enough to convince others, regardless of how paltry the evidence was. And judging by the comments he was receiving, he was largely successful. I was among the few who were not persuaded by Strieber's logic, and despite my best attempts to approach him in a rational and civil manner, I was aware of the likelihood of getting grouped with the fools who were trying to discredit him; or worse, of being denounced as a disinformation agent with a secret agenda.
A Momentary Dialogue
One day, in the process of listening to the many audios which Strieber had recorded for the subscriber section of his website, I came across an irrefutable anomaly. It was during the fifth part of his series of audio files commenting on The Key, dated January 1st 2004 but presumably recorded some time before. At his website, Strieber had mentioned how, when he referred to The Key in the past, he had referred to a computer copy or a manuscript and not the published version, and this was why it took him ten years to realize what had happened. While listening to the audios, however, it became clear to me that he was reading from the 2001 published version of the book. To begin with, the differences were small enough and it was easy to see how he could have failed to notice them. Yet I was struck by how, while talking about the conversation with the Master, Strieber often referred back to his thoughts at the time, as if reliving it in his head. Then, in the fifth audio, Strieber read a particular passage about "creatures of the dark," a line which he had decried (at his post about The Key being censored) as a "lurid" and false addition. In 2011, Strieber insisted that the phrase had been added to the book by some sinister invisible hand, in order to sow fear and confusion. Yet in 2003, while making the audio (at most only two years after the book had been published), not only did he not consider the line to be inaccurate, he remarked how it had got his attention at the time because of his own experiences with "the dark." Here was striking evidence that something was wrong with Strieber's interpretation (or memory) of the events. Either Strieber was confused, or there was something he was deliberately concealing.
I emailed Strieber with my findings and finally received a response from him. He wrote, briefly, that he had sometimes been using the book and sometimes using his manuscript, and that he had no way of telling when he was using one and when the other. He had been left vulnerable, he said, to the kind of analysis which I was engaged in because of what "was done" to his work. He suggested that this had been at least partially the intent, since it had the effect of discrediting The Key. As far as his commenting on my discoveries, he didn't see any use in it, and invited me to draw whatever conclusions I wished.
Undaunted, I wrote back and assured him that, whatever he might think, I was not a debunker but an admirer of his writings, and that I would hardly be dedicating so much time and energy to this otherwise. I suggested that the many hostile attempts to discredit him had made him overly sensitive to criticism, which was no doubt partly the intent. I pointed out that he still had not answered my question regarding his oversight, and added that I doubted I could draw any conclusions without his help. I suggested that we could both benefit from a dialogue, if only by reaching a better understanding of what was behind the many inconsistencies in his work, and possibly locating the source of all the confusion and misunderstanding.
Strieber responded promptly (the entire exchange occurred in one afternoon) by saying that I was reading things into his email that weren't there (looking over the exchange, I'd say he was somewhat correct about that). He said that he didn't regard me as an admirer, debunker or anything else; it was clear that I was interested in his work, but beyond that he had no way of knowing my motives. He could not answer my question, however, save to say that he had trusted his own work and had had no idea that it had been tampered with, so he had reacted to what he was reading as if it was correct. He lamented that "what was done to The Key" would be used to discredit it and destroy its message, and expressed sadness and regret that he had inadvertently contributed to the state of affairs by recording his commentaries about the book without noticing the difference between the two versions. He had commented on things that had been added to the published version without realizing that they were wrong, he said, "thus discrediting the whole enterprise." As to why he had failed to notice the difference, that was a question he could not (or would not) answer.
I replied with some encouraging words and assured him that the energy behind The Key was what counted, rather than the exactitude of the words. I invited him to consider that what he was doing might also be having negative effects, as well as positive, if there was any confusion or unconscious intentions at work. I mentioned how, the previous year, I had shut down a therapeutic/self-development workshop (SWEDA) I was running for precisely the same reason, because I couldn't be sure that my motives were pure (in fact I knew they weren't).
"As flawed creatures sharing and being open about our flaws [I wrote] our confusion and our mistakes can be the most valuable teaching we have to give. That's what I tried to do, and it is what I have tried to communicate to others about your work: that the contradictions and the confusion that runs through it don't lessen its value but increase it, provided it is approached with compassion and not merely intellectual curiosity. . . . For me, it's a miracle that someone could have gone through half the experiences you have been through and still be lucid and coherent at all. There's no need to conceal the cracks, if the cracks are part of Whitley's coming ‘undone'-for something else to be born from that wreckage. It's trying to cover up the cracks-the mistakes & the inconsistencies-that does harm to and discredits the message, in my opinion, not the cracks themselves."
Authenticity Is in the Eye of the Beholder
Like Carlos Castaneda (whom I wrote about here recently), Strieber underwent some profound personal encounters with imaginal forces and did his best to testify to the world by writing books about them. Just as when I had read Castaneda's books at the age of twenty-one, Strieber's accounts (which I came upon a year or two later) resonated profoundly with my own, forgotten or fragmented experiences with the Imaginal (and/or my unconscious). I recognized truth in them. I have always been a somewhat credulous, impressionable person, and so, as was my wont, I took both these authors' accounts literally, at face value -- just as the authors seemed to -- even knowing (at least later on) that experiences of the Imaginal aren't so much "literal" as metaphorical. Both Castaneda's and Strieber's accounts were filtered through their authors' psyches, written out in linear, literal form, and it was those versions of "Imaginal reality" which the reader was "fed." Insofar as I was likewise a "left-brained," literal-minded creature, I could only take them at face value or reject them in the same way. For the literally minded, an account must always be either true or false -- it cannot be both/and. This is our first mistake when it comes to approaching the Imaginal, and when it comes to understanding individuals like Castaneda or Strieber.
Imaginal writers share their particular truth, but it is not the Truth. As readers, if we identify with and relate to their stories (while taking them at face value), we are naturally going to try and make it our truth because the idea that truth is largely subjective is one a literal mind cannot allow for. It's more or less the same thing that happens, in a more dramatic fashion, when people follow a guru and try to twist themselves into the right shape to match their guru's "truth." Sooner or later, they are going to get disillusioned, because however true another person's truth might seem, it can't ever be our truth, because it's not our experience of the Imaginal. It cannot reflect accurately the elements of our unconscious, and so, sooner or later, something in the mix, some piece of the puzzle, is going to fail to fit. The only Imaginal reality that fits our psyches, that is true for us, is our own.
The test and the gift of encountering another man's version of the Imaginal that resonates with ours -- as both Castaneda's and Strieber's resonated for me -- is to save the baby and toss out the bathwater of that alternate version. There is only one Imaginal realm, after all, and we are all encountering the same truth, from subtly different angles or perspectives. If, as so many have done with Strieber (and Castaneda), we reject a view of reality that threatens or contradicts our own, we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater, losing the gift, and failing the test.
Developing honest skepticism means learning to discern truth from delusion, starting with that of our parents, our role models, our heroes and teachers, and ending with our own. The "true believer" swallows the story whole (religion, democracy, aliens, sorcerers, whatever it is), gets drunk on it (becomes fanatical), and in many cases winds up sick and hung over from the excess (is disillusioned and feels lost or abandoned). It is then that the "skeptic" comes to the rescue, tries to vomit the whole "meal" back up, and swears never to touch the stuff again. Vomiting up isn't real skepticism but cynicism, however, which is the flip side of gullibility, a means to overcompensate for feeling like we have been suckered. Such cynicism denies whatever it was in us (or in Strieber, or whoever) that responded to truth, and focuses instead on how we managed to turn a little bit of truth into a grand delusion. It's not lies that fool the true believer, it's truth that's taken too literally, or too quickly to heart. When we emotionally invest in a scrap of truth, we can build a whole edifice of delusion out of that one little scrap.
The solution to being overly credulous isn't to close one's mind but to learn discernment about what we let into our minds, and above all, what we take to heart and what we adopt as our own truth. The poet John Keats wrote, "The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts." To make up one's mind about nothing means to believe without believing and to disbelieve without dismissing. In the words of Strieber, it entails learning "to live at a high level of uncertainty." Yet in our present society, certainty is power, and uncertainty is weakness. We are trained to identify open-mindedness with vacillation and vagueness, and to regard conviction as synonymous with integrity. We are taught and bred to make up our minds about everything, and to dismiss anything which we cannot make our minds up about as nonsense. We automatically respect, and even submit to, people who are more certain than we are. We are susceptible to the spells cast by other people's convictions and/or delusions. We allow ourselves to be swayed, subtly and even subliminally, so that, when we think we are making up our own minds, we are really giving over to someone (or something) else's influence.
Whether Whitley's "visitors" are aliens or elementals, angels, demons, or government mind control operatives, the long and short of it is that Strieber was abducted by the agents of his unconscious. That is not a desirable state of affairs. When the Imaginal forces come to us uninvited like that, it's all-but unavoidable for us to assign them an autonomy and an independence from our own psyches that they do not, in fact, possess. We cast ourselves in the role of either victim or chosen one, and the Imaginal then plays the role of God or devil. But the actual nature of the experience is lost, and judging by Strieber's case, no amount of informed hindsight or post-mortum analyses can ever fully retrieve it. The damage has already been done.
That said, and whatever else Strieber's doing and regardless of how aware he is of doing it, his work raises far more questions than it provides answers, and that makes it worth paying close attention to. Discussing his experiences, or the man himself, in terms of whether he is a charlatan or a shaman, deluded or inspired, a puppet or a prophet, is a conceptual dead-end. He is both, and neither. In the same way, the broader question of whether "alien abductions" are really "mind control operations," etc., is also missing the point, because the one leads to the other and back again, making it a matter not of either/or but of both/and. The challenge then becomes to map the existing lines between the two opposing perspectives, and to trace the ways in which they overlap until there are no dividing lines. For me, the means to approach the strange case of Whitley Strieber has been to keep in mind that, whatever may be happening to him, it is a reflection and expression not only of his psyche but of the collective psyche, and therefore, of my own.
Each time I return to this subject over the years, I find myself a little closer to the nub of the mystery, and to the emotional core of my own attraction to it. For whatever reason, I feel deep affinity with Strieber, and because of that there is a desire to reach out to him, to connect with him, and to somehow bring about reconciliation. But since we have never met, and barely even had a dialogue, there is no rift as such to reconcile. Presumably, what I am seeking is some sort of reconciliation within myself, and I have hit upon Strieber as a convenient (symbolic) figure through which to find it. As with Castaneda, my attraction to Strieber has to do with the forces or intelligences which he claims to have had contact with, and with a deep desire within me -- a longing -- to develop a relationship of my own with them. Strieber became for me a connection, a go-between, by which I hoped somehow to get closer to the contents of my own unconscious, and to the hidden agents of the Imaginal or divine realms. Reading his work was a means to strengthen that connection. Then, when having a direct relationship proved not to be possible, that left writing about him. Deconstructing both his work and the man himself became a means not merely to get close to Strieber, but all the way inside that mystery!
Each time I return to the task, I am therefore more acutely aware of the sensitivity and delicacy of my undertaking, and of the potential for invasion and trespass. I experience increased doubts about my motives, and about the possible effects of submitting my subject to the laser-surgery of intellect and pen. In the most obvious and simple terms, I am concerned how Strieber will receive this piece, and anxious to present it in such a way so as not to offend or wound him, and to ensure he doesn't view it as hostile action. The more I work on his case study, then, the more I perceive Strieber himself as my primary audience, just as if I were his therapist writing the piece expressly for him. Yet all the while, I know that he is the last person likely to appreciate it. Behind this is not only my affection and concern for Strieber (which is based on my identification with him, via his writings) -- which is acute -- but also my vanity and ambition as a writer-psychologist, harboring the hope that I may reach agreement with -- and receive confirmation from -- Strieber himself, as the final proof of my success. Since I am reasonably sure this will never happen, perhaps what I am really trying to discover is: why do I care so much what Strieber thinks?
The answer to that question may be the final layer of the Whitley onion.
Concretizing the Imaginal
Some of the craziest and most fragmented dreams are also the richest for analysis because they emerge from the deeper levels of the unconscious. On the other hand, the mundane, down-to-earth, coherent ones don't usually provide so much data about our psyches, because they reflect a more superficial level of consciousness. A subject like Whitley Strieber is rich for study, not despite the possibility that he is deluded but to a certain extent because of it. Delusion is the human condition after all, and only the enlightened (assuming such beings as the Master of the Key exist) are entirely free of it. The question becomes more intriguing and urgent, however, when ordinarily deluded individuals assume a role of authority and wisdom in our society. This is not only the case with priests and politicians, but also musicians, filmmakers, artists and writers. It applies perhaps especially to esoteric writers, since they are trafficking in information about hidden or greater reality. The danger is then that an ordinary delusion becomes an extraordinary one. Since such individuals are claiming to have access to higher truths, the element of delusion becomes more critical; at the same time, by persuading others to believe them and their higher truths, their delusion can go "viral." A "delusional consensus" is then created, also known as a cult.
In my last, unanswered email to Whitley, I shared with him how I had closed down a shamanic therapy group because of doubts I was having about my integrity and motivations. After hitting send, I noticed that, in place of the word "workshop," I had accidentally typed "worship." I fired off a quick email pointing out my Freudian typo, hoping that Strieber would recognize the parallels with his own predicament. More and more, my interest in Strieber was zeroing in on mapping the ways in which he might be allowing himself to be co-opted, or corrupted, both by external agencies and internal power issues. Because I had seen this process at work in my own life -- had been guilty of it -- I felt like I knew all too well how an intellectual grasp, not only of esoteric concepts but of the language to communicate them, could reinforce deeply rooted delusions and allow them to assume dangerous proportions. In the case of Strieber (and similarly with Castaneda), the potential for self-replicating and self-propagating delusions was enormous, because the source of Strieber's experiences and of the special truth he was conveying -- just as with religious authority figures and gurus -- was allegedly not of this world. And of course, that was its primary appeal.
There were two major downsides to this: one, it meant that no one else could corroborate or question the specially "privileged" material without claiming a similar kind of access. Secondly, the otherworldly or Imaginal nature of the experiences made them particularly subject to misinterpretation, because we lack the necessary frame of reference (the accumulated and shared data) to properly understand them. If Strieber's "aliens" represented the non- (or post-/pre-) human portion of the collective human consciousness, then, by definition, they were, like the gods, beyond our human experience. It followed that such beings would need to assume a more familiar form in order to interface with him, in the hopes of "communion" (i.e. psychological integration). Did that mean they would be obliged use the rags of his own disowned psychic material to do so? Perhaps it was that interface between an unknown, disowned psychic energy and the experiencer's unconscious which gave rise to the nightmare abduction scenario which he and others have described.
In a similar way, Strieber might be literalizing and concretizing his own, deeply personal experiences by using them as the basis for his "ministry." He might sincerely believe that his role was to prepare humanity for contact with the Other, and be unwittingly luring other people -- most especially people struggling with their own, as-yet unintegrated experiences of the imaginal/alien -- into his own interpretation, thereby consolidating it for them. Over time, he would be building a consensus model of what "the visitor experience" really "is." As Strieber has written about, this would provide the "beings" with a nexus by which to access collective human consciousness, a kind of matrix-womb from which "they" could be born into our world. Based on my own impressions, I had little doubt that Strieber was genuinely trying to help others like him -- fellow experiencers of "contact," whatever it was -- by providing them with a space to share their experiences. But the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and Strieber could only be as effective as he was free from delusion, and from personal wounds and trauma. Otherwise, despite himself, he was going to use that space, unconsciously, for his own ends, as a means to feel safe and in control, by surrounding himself with people who would look up to him and confirm his own sense of authority and power. Strieber's unhealed wounds, his deeply-rooted childhood neuroses, would be the "handles" by which outside intelligences, whether human or non-human (or perhaps both) could control him, and his conscious intentions would be largely irrelevant. They would be little more than the means by which another, hidden agenda was being implemented.
Never Trust a Man on a Mission
While working on this latest version of the piece, in November 2011, I re-subscribed to Unknown Country so as to catch up on the audios. Besides readings of the first three chapters of Solving the Communion Enigma, there was a Halloween reading of a new story he had written, called "Darkness Visible." Until then, I had been unable to listen to Strieber's readings of his stories, finding them stilted and overly dramatic. On this occasion, however, I was impressed by how Strieber managed to read the story in a conversational tone of voice, as if speaking directly to his listeners, rather than reading from a page or computer screen. It seemed to be a deliberate device on Strieber's part, similar to Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, which presented a fictional work with the immediacy of a factual report. Strieber narrated his tale in the context of his own life, and referred to people, dates, and places exactly as he would in an ordinary address to his listeners.
The story described how Strieber and his wife Anne were having breakfast one morning in their LA apartment when they realized that they had been cut off from any kind of technological communication with the world. Strieber initially believes that there has been some sort of "terrorist attack," some "pulse weapon" that has taken down all the electrics in the country, or even the world. When he and Anne leave the apartment, the first thing they see is a "dragonfly drone" (strange craft witnessed by many people in 2007 and 2008, and captured on film) floating in the sky, announcing the presence of the visitors. Strieber hears a voice directing him to the beach and telling him to hurry up. The couple passes some chaotic scenes of people in terror and confusion on the streets, but Strieber is told not to worry about it, that this is "not for them." To cut a long story short, Strieber and his wife are miraculously whisked away (he doesn't describe how) and find themselves on another planet, similar in every way to the Earth but apparently uninhabited. Strieber doesn't know how many others have also been raptured away, and for all he knows it is only his own group (of fifty-eight people) who have been selected to populate the new world. What these fifty-eight chosen ones have in common is an ability to see and communicate with the dead. Strieber describes a feeling of peace and well-being at being on the threshold of a new world and a new life. He mentions in passing how he sensed a distant cry coming from the rest of humanity, as if in the moment of their passing, but then thinks no more about it.
As I listened to Strieber's little Halloween tale, lying in my hammock on a November night under the Guatemalan stars, I found it vaguely chilling in its implications. On the surface, taken purely as fiction, it seemed little more than a wish-fulfillment fantasy of being rescued from the current planetary hell and starting afresh with a small group of close friends and associates in a new world. (As a teenager, I used to play a similar game with my sister, picking ten other people we would share our desert island with.) But Strieber has repeatedly stated that his fictional works are usually meant to convey more "sensitive" information, information he believes won't be so well received as fact. And by making his audio for his subscribers, he is communicating primarily to a large following who believe, with varying degrees of conviction, that Strieber is an alien-elected prophet of the future.
The scenario presented in his story -- that of nonhuman intervention and the removal of a select few from the Earth in the end times, to be relocated in a New Eden -- is one which (I would guess) many of his listeners may take as literal truth. Perhaps they now believe it all the more so, after hearing this latest tale? The story outlines the procedure to expect in the event of the rapture scenario: dragonfly drones hovering over your neighborhood and a voice in your head telling you where to go. Without indulging in too much paranoid speculation, how can Strieber be sure that he isn't preparing his subscribers for an entirely different agenda, say, oh, for secret government ships and radio-to-brain communications implementing a less "utopian" relocation plan, for example? I cite this not as a literal possibility (though it may be), but as an example of how (unbeknownst to him) Strieber's kind of "infotainment" could be part of larger agenda of social engineering, seeding memes in order to control and direct specific groups of people in the future. And Strieber might not know anything about it. The best tool is an unwitting one? Admittedly this is a bleak picture, and I have plenty of reservations about making it. But even on the off-chance it's true, isn't it worth upsetting the apple cart to be sure there isn't a bed of maggots underneath it? (It might explain why Strieber reacted so emotionally when Pinchbeck suggested something similar.)
Strieber strikes me as not only a sincere but also a decent and compassionate man, and I doubt he would deliberately appoint himself as a leader without the very best of intentions. I would guess that he believes he has been "chosen" for a world-saving mission, and that therefore he has no choice about it. He may even be buckling under the pressure of such a calling. In Communion, Strieber reported how one of the beings told him he was their chosen one, and how he reacted angrily (afterwards, during the hypnosis session), suggesting that they were trying to manipulate him with flattery. Somewhere along the way, has he lost sight of that possibility and come to believe in his status as a chosen-one? That might account for his frustration and indignation at the world's indifference.
Never trust a man on a mission. Why? Because the desire to change the world -- or convert others to "the truth" -- is almost always a symptom of denial. Crusaders can feel like they are holy (whole) by letting themselves get carried away by the zeal of doing "God's will." Slaughtering infidels is a great way to avoid facing up to the darkness and savagery in their own souls. A man on a mission has found a way not only to justify his egomania but to feed it with self-righteousness disguised as altruism. As a general rule, the greater the mission, the deeper the wound that's driving it, and the bigger and more out of control the ego is likely to get. Messianic delusion is something that many of the brightest minds fall prey to, and it may be a universal mind-trap which any who access divine or Imaginal truth at the very least pass by, and at worst fall into.
Unraveling the Onion: The Whitley I Wanted to Be
Before finally deciding to publish this article (which I finished in late 2011), I sent it to Strieber and received a brief response, as follows (I trust I am not taking liberties by sharing this, since there is nothing private about it, or different from what Strieber has said publicly): "I am not so sure that you are ever going to resolve the questions that you ask about me. Nothing I have done is without intention. The aim of my life has been to reflect with some accuracy the complex and contradictory experience I have had. There are also other reasons, some of which you touch on in your piece, and which are also explored in my story ‘The Open Doors.'"
I replied by asking Strieber if he thought the piece was "fair." He did not respond and so I sat on the article for another six weeks or so. It wasn't until Mike Clelland, an associate of Strieber and fellow "experiencer," invited me onto his podcast that I finally decided to submit the article to Reality Sandwich. I had plenty of reservations about it. For one thing, I still wasn't sure about my motivations for writing -- and especially for going public with -- the article, and so I couldn't be sure there wouldn't be negative consequences (for Strieber and others, including myself) of doing so. For another, I knew it might stir up controversy and criticism, even hostility, and I wasn't keen to have to deal with some of Strieber's more vocal defenders, or with my own more strident detractors (some of whom I had already encountered at Reality Sandwich!).
Nonetheless, I submitted the article, and the next day I did the interview with Mike Clelland. The interview went well, Clelland alerted Strieber about its existence, and a discussion quickly began at Clelland's site. The initial objection to my argument, both from Clelland and his readers, was my use of the term "cult leader." I was aware that I only had myself to blame for using such a loaded term. My policy is to always try to call a spade a spade, even knowing there is the risk that others may have different definitions for their digging implements. To most people, as I said on Clelland's show, "cult leader" means Jim Jones, but in this article, I have used the term in a wider sense.
Here's an online definition of "cult":
1 : formal religious veneration : worship
2 : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3 : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4 : a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
5 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b : the object of such devotion
c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
It's clear, to me at least, that Strieber's following fits into the fifth and last category. Since he is the one being followed, he then fits under a wider definition of "cult leader." This is a more benign use of the word of cult, however, and overlaps with cult films, cult bands, etc. But the fact we use the same word for seemingly different things shouldn't be overlooked, because clearly there is an overlap here.
Hearing people's objections, it struck me how there is an across the board acceptance that "cult leader" = "bad," accompanied by the assumption that there are certain telltale signs for recognizing a cult and its leader(s). The idea that "cults are bad" and that they have specific characteristics is propagated by the mass media, however, and the mass media itself is (or sustains) a kind of cult, making those who uphold it -- key figures from anchor people to celebrities and politicians -- "cult leaders" in a wider definition of the term. As I have already suggested at this site (in "Skywriters in Hades"), society itself is a cult; but since everyone belongs to it, there's no one to point the finger and call it what it us. We can only identify a cult if we are on the outside, i.e. before we join it or once we have left it.
As described above, my concern that Strieber has the makings of "cult leader" is based on observation at his website. Unknown Country is basically a fan site, and fans, as we all know, behave "cultishly" -- they worship their "leader," and s/he can do no wrong. The first indication I had of this was when my first article (which included no mention of cults) was received at Unknown Country, and by Strieber himself, as an attack on Strieber and as "disinformation -- mostly, I felt, because it wasn't wholly supportive of him. (Though I have since come to recognize a certain unconscious bias in the writing of that first version, which is presumably still at work in this current incarnation.) This impression was later confirmed by observing the "love-bombing" of Strieber at his site. As unhealthy as love-bombing may be (in my opinion), there's nothing especially sinister about a writer having a place to talk with his fans and enjoy their praise and support. That is strictly in the realm of the benign sort of cult (William Burroughs was a cult writer, for example, though I highly doubt he appreciated being love-bombed!) in which a small group of followers exhibit unusually strong admiration, even adoration, for the object of their worship. Where it becomes more less benign, I think, is when the "fan base" has religious, spiritual, or political dimensions to it and takes the form of some sort of social movement, however small. This is the case when the writer/leader is offering seeming truths about reality -- teachings, practices, instruction, prophecy, and so forth -- instead of merely entertainment. (There's no clear dividing line here, however.)
The measure in such cases is what sort of following does the writer or spokesperson attract, how much does s/he encourage (or allow) blind devotion, slavish agreement, credulity, and so forth, thereby failing to encourage independence of thought; and how concerned is s/he on increasing the size of the following, and so on. Questions such as this are essential to determining whether or not a person is abusing their influence and authority, consciously or not. As already described, Strieber has repeatedly implied that subscribers to his site are in an exclusive bracket of people who are tuned into higher, deeper truths and reality, and that, because of this, they are on the front line of evolution, with a more or less guaranteed place on the Mother Ship. He has even suggested that they have been specially implanted with devices to make them immune to mind control. Isn't it naive at this point to argue that Strieber is just a very good writer with an especially devoted fan base?
A man is more than just the sum of his stories, and so those stories can only be understood in the deeper context of the man. To the degree that Strieber has used his stories to hide behind, that desire to conceal and to self-aggrandize becomes the hidden meaning of those stories. The medium is the message.
So then what of myself? I seem to have made it my literary mission of late to expose authors I perceive as being on a mission. How do I square that circle? Transparency has become the primary focus of everything I write. Regardless of who or what the subject may be, I am, in the end, only holding a mirror up to myself. There's the desire that others might see themselves in that mirror, but above all my hope is of eventually running out of masks to hide behind. If total transparency is my aspiration as a writer, it's also my deepest wish for the writers I'm inspired by -- in this case, the strange case of Whitley Strieber, and whatever lies behind that particular mask. Strieber, Castaneda, Sebastian Horsley, John de Ruiter, all the exposés I have written in the past few years may only be a way for me to send out a distress signal, in the hope of receiving an echo-response and getting the same treatment I am dishing out. For my old outworn beliefs and deepest-rooted delusions to be gently and lovingly busted wide open by the pressure of truth, leaving me exposed, like a newborn baby with nowhere left to hide.
Perhaps the strange case of Whitley Strieber is not so strange after all? Perhaps it only appears strange, because of the exaggerated elements it contains, those of aliens, mind control, ascended masters, and abductee cults. Maybe what makes it so interesting is that Strieber -- being a public figure with a large following -- is just a bigged-up version of all of us; or at least, a significant portion of us. Don't we all go through a similar experience as Strieber did, and don't we all react and compensate in similar ways? To illustrate, I will outline Strieber's story in miniature, as follows:
- Traumatic childhood abuse at the hands of unethical government agents resulted in a fracture in his psyche -- and his reality -- by which Whitley came into contact with Imaginal (divine and/or demonic) beings.
- As an adult, Whitley became a writer of horror fiction and channeled his experiences (including suppressed memories of trauma) into his books, which then became best-sellers and were made into Hollywood movies.
- Some years later, once Whitley was fully established as a novelist, he unexpectedly re-accessed the Imaginal realm -- also in a traumatic manner -- and re-established contact with Imaginal beings. His experience also indicated that the beings were working in tandem with unknown human agencies, either military or government, or both.
- Whitley used his writing abilities to process his experiences and share them with the world, and once again he became a best-selling author. He graduated thereby from a fiction to a non-fiction writer, and from mere "entertainer" to disseminator, teacher, proselytizer, philosopher. Most crucially, he became a spokesman for the "contact" experience, and a leader to an unofficial community of "abductees."
- Later on, he encountered "the Master of the Key" and became a mouthpiece for an enlightened being (and by association, for God), and potentially a prophet-leader for humanity.
It's a great story, classic, archetypal stuff. The twist which I have added to Strieber's own version of events is that it is only the surface narrative, underneath which a darker, more subconscious current runs, represented in the narrative by the shadowy government agencies and agendas that set the ball in motion to begin with. Strieber's handlers. The wrinkle I have added to the tale says that those agencies, having "implanted" Whitley with specific psychological "handles" by which to control him, have been doing just that throughout his life, in tandem with the Imaginal forces. That they have been subtly steering him and his work down previously laid tracks, towards the formation of a sophisticated "mind control cult" designed to keep potential psychics dancing to an intelligence tune, to prevent a real awakening from happening. (This last part of the story is a little murky, but I think the narrative more or less holds together.)
So what happens if we generalize the elements of the story and apply them to the average person with no (conscious) experience of aliens, government agencies, or ascended masters? What then?
Our parents are our handlers. They program us and shape us according to their own agendas, and inevitably do us psychological damage in the process, by instilling us with values and beliefs which stem from their own conditioning. These values become the "handles" which make us acceptable -- and controllable -- members of society. In the midst of this trauma-based conditioning, as children we all take refuge in Imaginal realms. We find "imaginary friends" to hang out with, and as we move into adolescence, we generate elaborate fantasies to escape into, fantasies of being a super-hero, a prophet, a rock star, a Casanova, a best-selling author, and so forth. As we near adulthood, those fantasy realms and imaginal/imaginary characters become ambition-drives that provide us with a sense of purpose, meaning, and destiny. As full-blown adults, we then attempt to find a respectable (self-supporting) niche that will allow room for our fantasy-based values to express and take root. (Strieber became a successful fiction writer.) If all goes well, we will eventually develop a philosophy (belief system) by which to live, and through it rediscover a sense of personal destiny that is now linked to "higher" principles which we believe are anything but fantasies, that represent truth, justice, democracy, divine law, and apple pie for all (but Paradise just for the few).
Strieber's tale of making contact with aliens and writing books about it is like a dramatic representation of this process. It mirrors the desire and tendency in all of us to believe we have accessed higher truth and are adopting the correct principles to live by -- not only for ourselves but for everyone. The average person isn't abducted by aliens; the average person joins a corporation, a Church, a political party, a sports club or all of the above, and thereby gains a sense of purpose and meaning that is dependent on their participation. The natural next step is to convert others to the "cause" and increase the reach and scale of their "club." Church-goers prove their devotion by seeking new members for the congregation; corporate climbers improve their company standing by bringing in new recruits; party members enlist new volunteers and bring in more voters, and so on.
The desire to find a higher purpose that transcends oneself is the same desire that draws people, from football supporters to religious fanatics, to join cults of whatever kind. If an individual is more inclined to lead than to follow, he can even start his own following. Although Strieber's case is extreme, it is also typical. It is as if he is magnifying collective conditions, collective patterns, so as to make them visible to anyone with an eye to see. The patterns laid down in childhood by trauma and neglect lurk beneath all such pursuits, spiritual, political, artistic, sexual, or financial, and it's those handles and gears, working away beneath the surface and behind the scenes, which ensure that, whatever we set out to achieve, it will lead to a very different outcome.
So perhaps here is the final skin of Whitley's onion, behind which there is no more onion? We are all doing a Whitley, though some of us more than others. If I was drawn to Strieber, it was not only from a desire to connect to the knowledge and mystery which his books described. It was because I wanted to be Whitley. I wanted to be a best-selling author with aliens for friends, to be pitted against the hypocrisy and ignorance of the world, with an adoring readership behind me, for whom I could say or do no wrong, and a loyal wife by my side to keep me on the straight and narrow. That's pretty much all I could ever ask for out of life. Following Strieber's work has led me to a deeper and more intimate -- uncomfortably so -- knowledge of that propensity and desire in myself, and to the certainty that I too have the makings of "a cult leader," if only the opportunity would present itself in time! I have learned more from Strieber and his work than even he could have guessed: far more in fact than if he had been what he appeared, or what he aspires to be -- which is the Whitley that I wanted (him) to be.
That brings me full circle, and, I hope, out. No more deconstruction pieces!? Even if everything I have asserted about Strieber is true, it really doesn't make any difference now that I know it. There's no harm in mis- or disinformation, any more than there's harm in works of fiction. Cults only attract people already programmed to succumb to cult mentality -- which in the end is all of us anyway. If Strieber is deluded, an unwitting puppet-shill for sinister forces -- human or otherwise -- and if he has created a personality cult to attract and deceive people-what else is new? He's only doing what all of us are doing in smaller ways. The only harm in it, finally, is to Whitley himself. For others, who knows? I can only use myself as an example, in which case Strieber has helped me immeasurably. He has helped me to see the harm I have done to myself by following false prophets and misguided leaders, and by seeking a connection to the divine outside of my own heart, body, and mind.
Right or wrong, it is entirely up to us which we choose to do. And the prophet, by being false, becomes true.
 In "Sinister Forces in My Life," May 26th, 2011, Strieber wrote: "There is even one person out there claiming that the ‘edits' make the book better. Sure, get rid of anything about mind control. Stick in things about evil aliens that don't exist to confuse people about who the sinister forces around here really are. That's great editing! The book was CENSORED."
 The words he used when he accused Pinchbeck of doing the same, for suggesting that he, Strieber, was "in league with evil entities."
 Shortly after expressing these thoughts, I listened to Strieber's talk with Jim Marrs, from the 19th of May, and discovered that Strieber did address "A Minority Report," and even acknowledged some truth to it. His overall position -- that of a sinister hand of censorship -- remained unchanged, however, and Marrs never once questioned it.
 One example of this (suggested to me by Cary McCoy on an early Stormy Weather podcast): if the Imaginal "beings" were trying to birth us into a new consciousness, they might be naively reenacting our own birth experiences to do so, thinking that this was how we "did" birth here. They would either not realize or not care how nightmarish and traumatic our own (hospital) births were for us, and simply be giving us what we were culturally conditioned to expect.
 Aleister Crowley and Adolf Hitler are two of the more outstanding examples of this. Less dramatically, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Carlos Castaneda, and, in current times, David Icke and Whitley Strieber come to mind: all men with a mission aspiring, openly or otherwise, to be world avatars. And unless they actually are that (i.e., fully enlightened beings), the gulf between their aspirations and their abilities will invariably swallow them up. They will become possessed by the shadow of their calling, tragic heroes, cautionary tales. Castaneda's final years and his ignominious end, for example, became the capstone for his wisdom teachings and the context in which they must be forever framed.
[i] "The Old Edition of the Key was CENSORED, the New One is Not," May 15, 2011 http://www.unknowncountry.com/journal/old-edition-key-was-censored-new-o...
[ii] See: http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/scientist-implant-study-shows-non-ear... Also: http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/how-use-your-implant I also found this bizarre news story at the site: "The implant in Whitley Strieber's left ear that uses mind control to force him to continuously talk about it burst into flames on Monday and burned to the ground. Now it's gone and he has no further reason to mention it in any way whatsoever for any reason. Strieber was once again telling friends over dinner about the implant when it made a crackling noise, then went up in a puff of smoke. As all of his dinner guests were asleep, none of them witnessed the event, and his camera had just been eaten by the dog, so he got no photographs." http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/strieber-implant-burns#ixzz1e5DoCIUITweet