No. This is not an article exposing CIA infiltration of a witches' coven. That is a story which is yet to be written. Perhaps it will be when the reporters of the New York Times or some other well-connected publication next encounter an "informed source" in an amply-stocked bar. If such a story should emerge no one should be surprised. We have already learned that the CIA has experimented with mind-control, telepathy and other parapsychological techniques. The agency even went so far as to hire John Mulholland, the New York magician, to help teach what Admiral Turner has called "aspects of magicians' art useful in covert operations." It would be a short step from there to contracting with witches to perform maleficia in the national interest.
For all any of us knows, that may already have come to pass. The CIA may have been infiltrated by occultists, or it may in turn have infiltrated the occult. The advertisements in that sizzling journal, Beyond Reality, inviting readers to instantly obtain anything they want by "unlocking the secrets of telecult power," may be recruiting devices for the agency.
Yet even if that were so, and the intended connections between the CIA and the occult were more far-reaching than anyone expects, they could only be insignificant in comparison to the unintended support. In fact, the bounding popularity of astrology, necromancy, numerology, ufology and the other numerous manifestations of the occult may be due more to the antics of the CIA than any other cause. The reason is that the CIA has helped generate an epistemological crisis. It has done something far more damaging than any given act of intrigue or infiltration. It has shattered the popular impression of what reality is, thus putting people in the properly confused state of mind to subscribe to Beyond Reality.
In one convincing demonstration after another, the CIA has taught us that things may not be as they seem. The convolutions and twists which have arisen as a consequence of CIA intrigues, assassination plots, distortions of the news, and so on make a difference. They have placed domestic and international affairs within the category of phenomena which seem to lie beyond the realm of human understanding. Consequently, a new habit of mind develops among the populace. Doubting the validity of explicit discourse—because it may be and often has been distorted by false information—people distinguish between the surface explanation and the real meaning. Conjecture replaces logical analysis of known facts as the basis of understanding. When the secret agent is revealed as being a double agent on his way to being a triple agent, the lesson that everything is not as meets the eye becomes unavoidable.
Politically speaking, the immediate impact of this development is cheering. If the public is more cautious about accepting government pronouncements at face value, that could only result in more sober expectations about the potential for political intervention.
Unfortunately, the long range consequences of the popular confusion about what is real cut both ways. And the likelihood is that the negative potential of irrational thinking is more significant than the impact of some healthy skepticism about official pronouncements. As has so often happened in the past, people who set out determined to believe in nothing will likely end up believing in anything.
Thanks largely to the CIA and the approach to politics which its proponents have so vigorously pursued in recent times, the mind set of the younger half of the population has been formed in an atmosphere of suspicion. Time and again people have found themselves being misled by false clues and official pronouncements designed to throw the inquiring mind off the proper track. Under such conditions, a species of mild paranoia becomes almost a necessary aid to understanding. He who is not somewhat paranoid is missing the show. Even the average observer, who makes no attempt to follow the twisting trail of speculation about "who killed Kennedy," is aware that he cannot hope to do so without the special gnosis that those operating at a certain level of initiation are privy to.
We presume that somewhere, at the highest levels of CIA, there are those who do know, and like the high priests of an occult sect, keep that information from the masses who are not fit to penetrate secrets of such magnitude. The masses of ordinary people must be content with the Pistis, or the plain word, because without the experience—which only the politically approved members of the inner sanctum of power can have—they (the masses) could not understand the supreme knowledge.
It is seldom put this way, of course, but the parallels between the use of knowledge by the political elite of the CIA and that by the elites of mystic cults is clear. In both cases, the gnosis, or supreme knowledge, is reserved to a few, and is seldom, if ever, explicitly stated. One attains it indirectly, by inference. The secret agents, like the mystic initiates of old, operate in a Never-Neverland of magic code words where no one has a comprehensive rational understanding of what he is doing. That much was made clear in the revelations of Watergate. And even if it had not been, it is the first cliche of spy drama that the spy himself does not know—and does not want to know—the purpose of his mission and how it fits into the overall scheme of things. All he wants are his operational orders—his goals—and then his tape recorder self-destructs.
That this is profoundly anti-democratic is a point which need not long detain us here. There can never be access for the masses to a gnostic salvation because by definition the masses are excluded. The knowledge brings salvation, but the masses cannot know. This has many direct consequences for politics, but none as great as the fact that it teaches America to think magically.
The practitioner of the occult is one who accepts the fact that many phenomena, agencies, and influences eclipse human understanding. To a certain extent, this may be laudable intellectual modesty. There is no doubt that man will never complete the task of unlocking the secrets of the universe. Let us so hope at any rate. We should face the ultimate boredom if there were nothing left to know. But that is not the whole of the occult attitude. It is more a surrender of rational analysis. The believer in astrology never attempts to comprehend the presumed process by which the positions of the stars are alleged to determine human fate. At best, the astrologer draws blind correlations. It may be his observation that persons born in late March are more inclined to be bossy. He says, therefore, that Aries are leaders. But so far as anyone knows, even this datum is largely impressionistic and was derived without a statistical analysis of the actual fates of all the many hundreds of millions of persons born in late March throughout history.
Perhaps the bolder astrologers somewhere would welcome a scientific analysis of their claims. But whether they would or not there is no denying that the essence of astrology, of the occult in general, is a frame of mind which seeks to peel away the explicit, apparent meaning of phenomena, to penetrate to a deeper, hidden meaning. The first premise of the occult is nothing is as meets the eye. By its legerdemain the CIA has apparently convinced large segments of the public that many important things are other than they appear to be. The very foundations of the public's sense of reality have been shaken. We shall have to live for a long time with the goblins which are crawling out through the cracks.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Experience: The CIA and the Occult".