While at a institution sponsored party for the students in the residence hall I worked in at Penn, I remember a conversation with a student who was doing an internship with the CIA. Somehow we got on the topic of my research. I was in the process of gearing up for my ethnography on the ritual magic lodge, and I told him about this, which made him really excited. Knowing he was doing the internship with the CIA, I told him about the conspiracy theories that attributed the Ordo Templi Orientis much greater power then they actually have, claiming that they run the CIA, etc.
“Well,” he said, “we [meaning the CIA] really do use occult practices.” I honestly didn’t take him very seriously, but I entertained his conversation anyway, “Really?” “Yes,” he said, “we use psychics and remote viewing all the time. It works you know, and we use what works.”
Now, I honestly don’t think this student had any direct experience to substantiate this, but the fact is that both the military and the CIA have explored the use of psychic and occult techniques. It’s unsurprising that, given budgets with little oversight, someone might be able to divert funds to projects that might otherwise be nixed. Even in budgets with substantial oversight, people are able to fund their pet research projects. So, you end up with projects like STAR GATE, a project funded by the CIA at Stanford to explore the possible use of “remote viewing.”
As someone who studies occultism, esotericism, and magic in the context of contemporary religious life, I’m intrigued by this phenomenon. It’s an interesting intersection of media, underground knowledge communities, and actual institutional practices that provides insight into the way humans use narratives of hidden power to reconcile incomplete data sets and narrate their experience of their relationship with political entities. I’ve never been able to figure out how I would actually represent this complex field, though.
And perhaps scholarship isn’t the best venue. Fortunately, the artist Suzanne Treister has taken up the challenge and put together a project called “HEXEN2039″ which the web page claims “uncovers or constructs links between conspiracy theories, occult groups, Chernobyl, witchcraft, the US film industry, British Intelligence agencies, Soviet brainwashing, behaviour control experiments of the US Army and recent practices of its Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (PSYOP), in light of alarming new research in contemporary neuroscience…”Â It strikes me that a representation that includes the experience of fabrication and construction within the narrative captures the reality of this part of our culture better then a clear, determinate one.
Reading over a report in the Global Politician about the exhibit (the only one I could find on Google News), I was intrigued to see Treister’s own experiments, and the fact that she specifically went to Enochian work and Aleister Crowley:
Treister experimented with remote viewing by studying the techniques of John Dee, the 16th Century controversial consultant to Queen Elizabeth. She uses a scrying stone. The term scrying comes from the English word descry, which means ‘to make out dimly’ or ‘to reveal.’ Incidentally, Treister actually used John Dee’s stone, a crystal ball with a value of ?50,000, which was stolen from the Science Museum in London in 2004. “The first remote viewing drawing I made was of the floor plan of Aleister Crowley’s house in Scotland before I could find an image. I verified later that in fact it had a similarly unusual structure”, Treister says.”I am not sure about the veracity of other later drawings, many were unverifiable, but also this is not necessarily the issue, it’s more about the idea that these phenomena are researched seriously by the military, and in that sense all this becomes a real part of the world.”