Saturday, April 28, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Frank Olson Part II

In part one of this series we examined developments in the Frank Olson saga all the way up until the mid-1970s. Olson was the legendary chemist that the CIA unknowingly dosed with LSD and who allegedly jumped from the ten story window of a New York hotel room not long after. Solid details of Olson's death were not leaked to the public until the mid-1970s as part of the Rockefeller Commission. Upon learning of the shocking details of Frank's death the Olson family opted to sue the United States government. Not long afterwards the Olsons would agree to settle out of court for $750,00. Once the Olsons' lawsuit was settled the saga briefly hit a stand still.

It would not be until 1979 when John Marks released his landmark study of the CIA's MK-ULTRA experiments (one of the main but not only projects that studied LSD) The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate', that more fuel was added to the fire. For the first time the public was introduced to the scope of the CIA's various mind control experiments (which went well beyond experiments with LSD and like substances) as well as an in-depth account of Frank Olson's death. Needless to say, the book soon became a classic.
"...The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. The story of how Marks' book came to be published deserves attention here. Marks, a writer and former State Department Foreign Service officer, had worked in Vietnam on the pacification program, and had also served as a staff assistant to the State Department's director of Intelligence and Research. In the spring of 1977, Marks was informed by the CIA, in response to a Freedom of Information request he had filed over a year earlier, that several boxes of files --or about 16,000 MKULTRA documents --had been located. Marks had filed his initial FOI request based on his belief that the CIA had informed Marks that it had destroyed all of its drug testing and behavior manipulation documents on orders of DCI Richard Helms in 1973. Subsequently, however, so the explanation went, six boxes of mostly 'financial records' had turned up in storage...

"Marks' book was shocking to many readers; few people in America had any idea their government was conducting such experiments. Many Washington insiders felt that the CIA would have a difficult time surviving the fury and outrage caused by the books contents."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pg. 552)

This was of course hardly the first time rumors of the CIA's demise were greatly over exaggerated. Despite presenting the public with the first in depth account of the events leading up to Olson's death, Marks did not depart far from the the CIA's official story line. He did, however, provide in sight into the cover-up surrounding Olson's death which went into effect hours after Frank hit the pavement. Marks notes that Sidney Gottlieb, the notorious TSS chief who has been described as CIA's Josef Mengele, who over saw the Olson dosing was aware of Frank's deteriorating mental state yet neglected to inform his superiors in the Agency in a direct breach of protocol. It was only after Olson was being scrapped up off the sidewalk that Gottlieb felt compelled to inform anyone.
"Back in Washington, Sid Gottlieb finally felt compelled to tell the Office of Security about the Olson case. Director Allen Dulles personally ordered Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick to make a full investigation, but first, Agency officials tried to make sure that no outsider would tie Olson's death either to the CIA or LSD. Teams of Security officers were soon scurrying around New York and Washington, making sure the Agency had covered its tracks. One interviewed Lashbrook and then accompanied him to a meeting with Abramson. When Lashbrook and Abramson asked the security officer to leave them alone, he complied and then, in the best traditions of his office, listened in on the conversation covertly. From his report on their talk, it can safely be said that Lashbrook and Abramson conspired to make sure they told identical stories. Lashbrook dictated to Abramson, who made a recording of the symptoms that Olson was supposed to be suffering from and the problems that were bothering him. Lashbrook even stated that Mrs. Olson had suggested her husband see a psychiatrist before the LSD incident (Mrs. Olson says that is an outright lie). Lashbrook's comments appeared in three reports Abramson submitted to the CIA, but these reports were internally inconsistent. In one memo, Abramson wrote that Olson's 'psychotic state... seemed to have crystallized by [the LSD] experiment.' In a later report, Abramson called the LSD dose 'therapeutic' and said he believed 'this dosage could hardly have had any significant role in the course of events that followed.'"
(The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate', John Marks, pg. 89)
Of course, Dr. Abramson also attempted to cure Frank Olson's depression with a bottle of bourbon and dose of Nembutal, so its entirely possible that he had no real idea of what the effects of LSD could have on the human psyche. Or, he had no intention of curing Frank Olson, only to brush him out of the way, so to speak. And yet, despite all of the suspicious circumstances surrounding Olson's death, Marks skillfully avoids giving any indication of homicide. It would take another 15 years for the prospect of Frank Olson being murdered to gain much traction.

It began in earnest in 1994 when Eric Olson, one of Frank's surviving sons, had his father's body exhumed and an autopsy performed. The autopsy and an investigation were performed by the famed forensic scientist James Starrs. Starrs alleges that his findings strongly indicated foal play.
"Eric Olson had his father autopsied in June 1994. As if to confirm his suspicions over fifty years after his father's death, there was no sign of the crash through the hotel room window on Frank Olson's body: no cuts, no scrapes, nothing. The coffin had been closed during the funeral on advice of the CIA, since the crash would have disfigured the man's face. There was no evidence of this at all once the body was exhumed. Further, there was a suspicious bruise on Olson's head which suggested that he had been knocked unconscious. He could then have been thrown from the hotel window."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 201-202)
H. P. Albarelli, who wrote by far the most thorough account of Frank Olson's life and times in A Terrible Mistake, was far less convinced by the evidence Starrs' autopsy produced, especially the notion that Olson was dealt a blow to the head. In said book, he writes:
"Unfortunately, Starrs does not provide in his written report any details or explanations of what the 'non-scientific' evidence was that prompted him to conclude that Olson was 'struck a stunning blow' to the head. Also, in none of his reports that this author obtained, did Starrs mention that he and team member Dr. James Frost seriously disagreed on the possible nature of Olson's hematoma."
(pg. 616)


In 1998, an even bigger bomb shell was dropped in Eric Olson's lap. It came in the form of acclaimed author and newsman Gordon Thomas, who is considered something on an expert on the world of intelligence.
"Gordon Thomas is considered by many to be an expert on espionage matters. His book, Journey Into Madness, published in 1989, is an excellent update and companion volume to Marks' The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. His other works on the Mossad, and on the doomed ship full of Jews unsuccessfully escaping the Holocaust --The Voyage of the Damned--were published to critical acclaim. Yet, it wasn't until 1998 that Thomas felt he was able to communicate to Frank Olson's son --Eric--the story behind the cover story...

"...What is important to our story at the moment is that Thomas was a friend of Buckley's and had also worked with that icon of mind control research, Dr. William Sargant (Battle for the Mind). From them both he was able to extract the story of what really happened to Frank Olson...

"According to Thomas, during their acquaintance Sargant was a consultant to the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI5 and MI6, 'largely because of his work in the eliciting of confessions by the Soviets.' Sargant revealed to Thomas that he had visited CIA headquarters and met with Gottlieb, Richard Helms, Dr. Lashbrook, Dr. Ewen Cameron... and Dr. Frank Olson.

"Gottlieb and Olson also visited London and Porton Down, which is Britain's version of Fort Detrick and Edgewood Arsenal. Later on, Olson went to England several times himself, and met with Sargant on many occasions. In the summer of 1953... Olson told Sargant he was in Europe to meet Gottlieb and a 'CIA team.' Thomas at this point tantalizes us with the statement, 'Sargant was satisfied that the CIA team was doing similar work that MI6 were conducting in Europe --executing without trial known Nazis, especially SS men...

"Whatever the facts of the case, when Olson returned from his trip to Europe (which included Norway and West Berlin, according to a photocopy of his passport) he had changed. According to Sargant (via Thomas), Olson had seen the results of his work firsthand, on actual human 'subjects' who were being killed by the very weapons Olson himself was developing at Detrick. The horror and ensuing guilt led Olson to question his faith in the United States government and his faith in himself as a human being.

"Sargant reported this to his superiors at MI6, recommending that Olson no longer be permitted to visit their CBW facility. This report was then, presumably, passed on in some form to the CIA hierarchy as a matter of course, and steps were taken to permanently remove Olson's security clearance... with extreme prejudice.

"According once again to Sargant-via-Thomas, Gottlieb had been working with various other drugs besides LSD, including one which could induce depression leading to suicide. It is possible that Olson's Cointreau had been spiked with something other than the straight LSD given to the rest of the test subjects that evening in November. It is also possible that the visit in New York with Abramson and, eventually, with magician John Mulholland involved further surreptitious doses. We have only Abramson's word, for instance, that Olson was given a dose of Nembutal that day in New York. It could have been anything. And alcohol is a known depressant; might bourbon have accelerated the action of Gottlieb's wonder drug."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 200-201)

Sargant (top) and Thomas (bottom)

Albarelli is also highly dubious of Thomas' allegations.
"There are many questionable features to Thomas' affidavit in this author's view. Overseas CIA experiments activities were conducted under the auspices of ARTICHOKE and not MKULTRA. Therefore Gottlieb would not have traveled with, or headed up, any 'team' to Europe. There is no evidence that Gottlieb and Olson ever traveled together to Europe in the 1950s. Former Camp Detrick SOD scientists say that, to their knowledge, Gottlieb never traveled overseas with any Detrick researchers. [In several dispositions taken in the 1980s and 1990s from Gottlieb, he testified that he never traveled to Europe until after 1953.

"Thomas's claim that Sargant visited Gottlieb, Helms, Lashbrook and Olson 'several' times 'at Langley' during the 1953-1955 period is highly doubtful because the Langley headquarters of the CIA was constructed in 1959 and opened in 1961.

"Thomas's allegations that Sargant claimed that a CIA team was 'executing without trial known Nazis, especially SS men' appears quite dubious given that both the United States and Britain (and Russia) were doing everything possible to locate and recruit former Nazis and SS officers, particularly those with scientific expertise, for intelligence work in the United States and elsewhere.

"Apart from Thomas' assertion, there is no corroborating evidence that Dr. William Sargant ever met Thomas, Gottlieb, Lashbrook, Richard Helms, or Frank Olson. Thomas himself claims that Sargant handed over all of his records concerning his work with the CIA and Frank Olson to British intelligence.

"And lastly, of course, as other astute observers have asked, if Sargant was both an active British intelligence and CIA operative why would he say anything at all to Thomas? If what Thomas is saying is factual, and not deliberate disinformation as some have maintained, clearly Olson knew whom Sargant worked for. Was Olson so naive or stupid that he would risk his job, his life, and his family's future by confiding in someone who had a direct line to Olson's bosses? And there is also the issue of Olson confiding in Sargant, an obvious and severe security breech on Olson's part.

"Lastly, there is the issue of Frank Olson's state of mind. Alice Olson and the Olson family have consistently stated that CIA claims that Frank Olson had had psychiatric problems and had consulted a psychologist for help are absolutely false. Coincidentally, Thomas' account of Olson's alleged disclosures to Dr. Sargant lends tremendous credence to the Agency's claim that Olson was unstable."
(A Terrible Mistake, pgs. 672-673)
Despite putting forth compelling arguments for Thomas as a disinformation agent and debunking several other storied aspects of the Olson affair, Albarelli firmly believes that Olson was murdered by the CIA. And the reason he puts forth for Olson's murder is quite a dozy... Which makes the Agency disinformation campaign revealing Olson's murder all the more understandable. Albarelli claims to have two CIA sources whom he dubs 'Albert' and 'Neal' that told him the dirty details behind Olson's murder and the reason for it being ordered.
"According to Albert and Neal, several weeks before the meeting at Deer Creek Lake, Frank Olson had 'broken security' and talked about the French experiment on at least two occasions. He had been specifically cautioned by Vincent Ruwet and John Schwab about the 'high level of security and sensitivity involving the experiment.'

"After being firmly cautioned, Olson had again broken security and 'spoken out of line' about Pont-St.-Esprit with several of his colleagues, including 'with a neighbor he occasionally car-pooled to work with.' The neighbor immediately reported Olson to Camp Detrick security officials. As a result of this last indiscretion, the decision was made to interrogate Olson.

"The question was posed to the two sources: Was this, the incident in France at Pont-St.-Esprit, the 'un-American activity' referred to in the papers given to the Olson's by William Colby?

"Not surprisingly, the answer was, 'Yes.'

"Was Pont-St.-Esprit solely a SOD operation?

"No. It was a pre-ARTICHOKE joint operation between SOD and CIA's security branch...

"Because Frank Olson had been 'exposed,' as John Schwab had so succinctly put it in his 1953 statement to CIA Security agents, the decision had been made to interrogate Olson at the upcoming Deer Creek Lake meeting through the use of skilled interrogators, including CIC officer Allen Hughes, and to use LSD mixed with Meretran. The drug had been mixed into the Cointreau bottle earlier, as Lashbrook had described in his 1986 deposition... As first hinted at by Schwab's remarks to reporters in 1975, Olson's interrogation had taken place in another part of the Deer Creek Lake grounds, away from his colleagues."
(ibid, pgs. 690-691)

H.P. Albarelli, the researcher who may have finally solved the Olson murder

After Olson's interrogation at Deer Creek Lake, he was taken to New York to Dr. Harold Abramson, whom he had met before and whom he was believed to be chummy with, to discuss his attitudes and intentions behind his security breaches. Ruwet and later Lashbrook were with him. Olson began to become increasingly paranoid, pleading with Ruwet to let him go, presumably so that he could go into hiding. Ruwet naturally refused.

Eventually it was decided that 'additional security' would be needed for Olson, thus he was to be admitted to the Chestnut Lodge Sanatorium. The plan was that Olson would undergo 'intensive treatment' here, which would include electroshock therapy and chemical therapy, according to Albarelli's sources. This treatment would apparently cure Olson of his indiscretion. Am I alone in thinking this treatment sounds suspiciously like the 'depatterning' techniques the infamous Dr. Ewen Cameron would explore later in the 1950s on behalf of the CIA? Was the ground work already being laid for Cameron's 'treatment'?

the infamous Dr. Ewen Cameron

Regardless, Olson didn't make it to Chestnut Lodge. Albarelli's sources are vague on what actually happened in the Statler Hotel on the night Olson was murdered, but basically a struggle broke out between Olson and two additional CIA assets brought up to assist Lashbrook when it came time to take Olson to the sanatorium. In the midst of the struggle, Olson was accidentally 'pitched' out of the window, and the rest is history, as they say.

The two men that, according to Albarelli, that actually killed Frank Olson were Jean-Pierce Lafitte and Francois Spirito. I do not wish to delve to deeply into these individuals here, especially Lafitte, as we shall encounter them again in another installment in this series. So, let us keep things brief. Lafitte was a long time CIA asset with numerous underworld connections. He was believed to be connected to the notorious Corsican Brotherhood, a French organized crime syndicate. Lafitte was considered an expert on so-called black operations, which involved breaking-and-entering, covert surveillance (he was working as a doorman at the Statler when Frank Olson checked in), disguises, and impersonations.

Francois Spirito was a French gangster with ties to the notorious 'French Connection,' which supplied the vast majority of heroin shipped to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. Even stranger, he had barely been out of prison a week when he ended up in New York to assist Lafitte and his experiences in prison had been rather curious, to say the least. Continuing with Albarelli:
"Why or how Lafitte enlisted the assistance of Spirito is unknown. What we do know is that Spirito had been unexpectedly released from federal prison in Atlanta and had journeyed to New York the week before Olson arrived there with Ruwet and Lashbrook. Spirito's long acquaintance with Lafitte is a matter of historical record...

"...That Spirito had just been released from prison in Atlanta where he had been a subject in Dr. Carl Pfeiffer's 'psychotic experiments' was either overlooked or unknown..."
(ibid, pg. 692)

Francois Spirito is the individual to the left in this picture

Naturally the 'psychotic experiments' Albarelli alludes to involved LSD. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer administered the drug to inmates in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary beginning in he mid-1950s. The purpose of these experiments was to intentionally produce psychotic states using LSD in the subjects. This also sounds suspiciously like Dr. Ewen Cameron's 'depatterning' experiments which the CIA eagerly funded due to its applications for mind control.

Based on declassified CIA documents that Albarelli presents, it seems as the though the story his sources told him is highly plausible. What then was the Pont-St.-Esprit secret that Olson leaked, and was eventually murdered for?


Pont-St.-Esprit is a small village in southern France located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This is the same region of France that, during the late Middle Ages, was the primary stronghold of Catharism. The Cathars have become hugely popular in conspiracy culture in recent decades beginning with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. More recently they've popped up in the works of Dan Brown, bringing them international recognition. I can't help but wonder if the Cather connection was known the CIA when they selected Pont-St.-Esprit.

Strangely, Pont-St.-Esprit is also the ancestral home of the Bouvier family that would eventually produce Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, wife of JFK, whose assassination the CIA has long been suspected of playing a part in. Talk about synchronicity.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, whose family originally hailed from Pont-St.-Esprit

On August 16th, 1951, numerous residents of Pont-St.-Esprit began to suddenly experience vivid, terrifying hallucinations that lasted for hours. Local medical personnel were quickly overwhelmed. Countless people had to be forcibly tied to beds while outside help was brought in. The situation rapidly turned into an epidemic.
"By August 18, fifty homes in the town were being used as emergency wards; over 250 people had fallen victim to the mysterious malady. Thirty-two people had been carted off to an insane asylum on the outskirts of Marseilles, and four people were dead, three men and one woman."
(ibid, pg. 352)
Over the years several researchers have become convinced that the cause of the mass hallucinations witnessed at Pont-St.-Esprit was LSD. Several CIA documents Albarelli presents make reference to the 'Pont-St.-Esprit secret.' If LSD was the cause behind the Pont-St.-Esprit incident, then it is highly plausible that the secret the CIA alludes was their role in spreading LSD there. Several individuals Albarelli interviewed for his book on Olson's murder indicated that Olson had been involved in developing a delivery system for the spread of LSD there.

And thus, we come to the end of our examination of Frank Olson. If the Pont-St.-Esprit story is true, it's easy to understand why a massive disinformation campaign has been deployed by the CIA for over half century around the Olson affair. Many Americans can accept that research scientists working on military applications sometimes have to die in the line of duty so that the nation can be safe. Some can even accept that during the height of the Cold War, when it seemed as if the expansion of the Soviet Union was unstoppable, that a research scientist may even have to be assassinated in the name of national security... Especially if all he was blowing the whistle on was Nazi war criminals being executed without trials. Many neo-cons would probably even applaud such actions if they were used against 'Islamo-fascists,' and wouldn't bat an eye if a whistle blower died under mysterious circumstances.

But to dose a rural French village with LSD and then murder a scientist possibly trying to come forward with these deeds? In the minds of most Americans, these are the types of actions that only Communists, Muslims, and hippies are capable of... Maybe some freaks back in the 1960s would consider dosing an entire town with LSD, but most certainly not the good Christian patriots that make up our armed forces and intelligence services.

Except that they did. And for whatever reason, Frank Olson died as a result of it after some odd attempts at interrogation and reeducation. And it is here I leave the Frank Olson story --a strange and terrible journey, one that includes everything from CIA-backed LSD experiments, New Age guru Andrija PuharichJonestown and the Cathers, and even the Corsican Brotherhood of the infamous French Connection; It has allusions to mind control and programmed assassins in addition to a fifty + year disinformation campaign. And lastly, it proves an outline for the vast scale of the US Intelligence community's experiments with LSD and other hallucinogens which involved everyone from rank-and-file soldiers, mental patients, and prisoners to college students, academics, and even completely random individuals. It spanned several continents and likely included thousands if not tens of thousands of test subjects.

It is classic Americana, in other words.

Friday, April 20, 2012

4/20 + 33

Regular readers of this blog will know that the date of April 20th has quite a peculiar history in the twentieth century. For those of you not in the know, here's a brief recap:

April 20th, 1889 is the birthday of Adolf Hitler. In the twentieth century it became a major national holiday in Germany during the reign of the Nazi regime. On April 20th, 1950, the CIA officially launched the first of its numerous mind control experiments.
"Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter was the first Director of the CIA; he was also later to become a member of NICAP, that organization of professional scientists, military men, engineers and civilians created to uncover the truth about UFOs. Hillenkoetter remained convinced about the reality of the phenomenon all his life. But on April 20, 1950 --ironically enough, Hitler's birthday --he approved the creation of a special project to discover a means to combat the Russian mind control weapons, whatever they were. This project was called BLUEBIRD."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pg. 187) 
More recently April 20th witnessed the Columbine shooting in 1999 and the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well which led to the massive BP oil spill in 2010. Strangely, it also became a key date in pothead culture, becoming a kind of smoke-out day. I've written extensively on the curious history of this date before here.

When I woke up this morning I had a feeling something strange was going to happen, so when the Pakistani jet crash that killed 127 people was announced today, I barely batted an eye. For those of you that haven't been following the news, here's recap from MSNBC:
"A Pakistani airliner crashed just short of landing in Islamabad on Friday, killing all 127 people aboard, the country's Civil Aviation Authority told NBC on Friday. 
"The Boeing 737 operated by Bhoja Air was flying in from Karachi, the country’s biggest city and business hub, in heavy rain when it broke up, scattering wreckage and bodies across courtyards and roofs of a residential area near the airport, witnesses and authorities said."
What really caught my eye about this incident was the location: the area around Islamabad is located right along the notorious 33rd parallel north, a latitude line that has become known as the 'death line' in conspiracy culture. This theory was first popularized by James Shelby Downard in his legendary piece co-authored with the notorious Michael A. Hoffman, King Kill 33. I've written much more on this topic before here.

Thus far I have seen absolutely no indication that this crash involved foul play. Rather, this appears to be the case of a rather nasty bit of synchronicity. It would hardly be the first time this date drew mass deaths about it.

For my regular readers taking a 'counterculture' approach to 4/20, I invite you to take a seat on the Dopethrone.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The LSD Chronicles: Frank Olson Part I

This blog has addressed the CIA's role in the spread of LSD and psychedelic culture in general before, in pieces such as this. But now I would like to get down to the real nitty-gritty of CIA acid. Personally, I think that the spread of LSD as well as other entheogens was one of the most significant events of the twentieth century and has had a vast and largely neglected effect on our culture stretching well beyond the drug scene. Through various arts and even some sciences, countless individuals have been exposed to the psychedelic experience and the world view that it produces without ever having tripped.

Proponents of LSD have often claimed that it frees the mind in a way that no other substance can, yet the public was initially exposed to it as a part of various mind control experiments being performed by CIA and other branches of the US intelligence community at the dawn of the Cold War. And make no mistake about it, the CIA is almost wholly responsible for the spread of LSD. Maverick historian Peter Levenda states:
"The LSD experience is an enormous obstacle in the way of understanding what the latter half of the twentieth century was all about; those who have not taken LSD (or the other hallucinogens available at the time, such as mescaline and psilocybin) cannot appreciate the effect these substances have on one's perception of reality. Those who have taken the drugs are often considered to be in no position to be objective about them! Yet, LSD and the other hallucinogens form a core of experience that has molded the lives and behavior of millions of people, both in the United States and abroad. This behavior is the result of an altered perception of reality and, hence, of social values. The shock to the system that results when coming down from such a drug and seeing the 'real world' once again is often transformed into a rejection of consensus reality, a rejection of human institutions based on what the acid-tripper sees as an imperfect understanding of the workings of the cosmos.

"Just as Communism was perceived by the West as a rejection of its values and the establishment of a 'counter culture' in which institutions such as the government, the church, the school, marriage and other forms of civilization were reinterpreted, redesigned or even rejected altogether to create what the Communists believed would be a paradise on earth, the acid-tripper similarly rejected all forms of Western 'establishment' culture in favor of something more ethereal but no less paradisaical; but the acid-tripper rejected Communism as well, and any government authority, and was thus a problem for establishments in the West and in the East...

"Ironically, it was a human authority who created the problem in the first place. As is well-known by now and referenced in many studies of the LSD problem, the United States' Central Intelligence Agency was the nation's first 'LSD connection,' providing the drug to researchers all over the country, including young professors such as Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner, and others who would popularize use of the drug among their students and, by extension, among the rest of the nation's youth. The purpose behind this unprecedented largess was not altruistic: it was to further the research into what Richard Helms and others involved in scientific R & D at the Agency believed was a super-drug for behavior modification and mind control tasking. In other words, the Agency needed a much larger base of test subjects than was available to them from within the Agency's own personnel pool. They began by farming the drug out to hospitals --for instance, to Dr. Abramson at Mount Sinai in New York --and to prisons, such as Sr. Harris Isbell's program at the Addiction Research Center at Lexington, Kentucky. Isbell's operation was part of the Federal Penitentiary system and although his subjects were referred to as 'patients,' they were, in reality, inmates of the prison system."
(Sinister Forces Book I, pgs. 215-216)

While CIA's involvement in LSD has been publicly acknowledged now for almost 40 years the common view is that they only dabbled and that the various operations involving LSD were soon abandoned after the drug was deemed to be ineffective. But, as the Levenda quote from above implies, the CIA did a little more than dabble --they in fact conducted experiments involving LSD at various asylums, prisons, colleges, and even amongst military personnel across the entire country. Some experiments (as the reader shall soon learn) were even conducted on foreign soil. This was a vast operation that involved not just the CIA, but the Army and Navy, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and various other federal agencies; that spanned nearly a decade and involved hundreds (in reality, probably thousands) of test subjects.

This series of posts I'm calling The LSD Chronicles is meant as something of a greatest hits --it will try to cover many of the key personalities and events behind the CIA's role in LSD. Obviously, there is no way this can be a comprehensive piece --I just finished reading H.P. Albarelli's epic A Terrible Mistake, a 700+ page tome that is possibly the most in depth examination of the CIA and LSD ever published and I was still left with the impression of only scratching the surface.

The reality is that we, the American public, will never know the full scale of the CIA's involvement in LSD. All the major players are already dead and to many records have been destroyed for a clear picture to ever emerge. And the amount of material that has slipped out over the years is so vast that it boggles the mind with its endless connections and synchronicities to other conspiracies (i.e. the Kennedy assassination, UFOs, the Franklin scandal, etc). Thus, I'm only shooting for the 'greatest hits' in this series --the major figures and events, of which I shall try to address as many as possible. So, let us begin.

Surprisingly, when it comes to CIA and LSD, there is an obvious starting place. That starting place is the figure of the legendary Frank Olson, the US Army biological warfare expert that was unwittingly slipped a dose of LSD by the CIA and who later leapt from a ten story window to his death. Olson was subtly immortalized in The Good Shepherd, The Godfather of CIA films, where a suspected Russian spy is slipped some lysergic acid, then rambles on about Soviet power being a myth to further the US's military-industrial complex before rushing threw a window and plunging to his death. Yes, this scene may be the most profound in the entire movie. But back to Frank Olson.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Olson affair, here's a brief recap. Olson was a biological warfare expert who was employed by Fort Detrick. He first got into the biological warfare racket during the Second World War.
"Frank Olson is born in Wisconsin in the year 1910. He will receive his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1942, from the University of Wisconsin. In 1943 he is asked to join the staff at the newly-formed Camp Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The war is on, and the Army has created Camp Detrick to be its center for CBW, or Chemical-Biological Warfare. The man in charge of the science at Camp Detrick is Frank Olson's mentor from the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Ira Baldwin.

"In 1948, Dr. Baldwin issues 'Special CBW Operations' for the War Department, in which he advices a new approach for chemical and biological weapons strategy, the use of CBW weapons as sabotage. By 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War, the scientists and would-be saboteurs at Camp Detrick get serious. The Special Operations Division (SOD) of the Army is created under Dr. John Schwab, a group that runs parallel to CIA's Technical Services Staff (TSS) under Dr. Sidney Gottlieb."
(ibid, pg. 195)


For our purposes, there's a few points I need to make here. Frank Olson belonged to the Special Operations Division (SOD) on the Army, which will be referenced time and again in this piece. There was a lot of overlap between SOD and the CIA's TSS division, which was responsible for the notorious MK-ULTRA experiments overseen by the notorious TSS head, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. SOD participated in several of these experiments. The dosing of Frank Olson was one such experiment, or so it was believed to be for years.
" November 1953, when a group of CIA and army technicians gathered for a three-day work retreat at a remote hunting lodge in the backwoods of Maryland. On the second day of the meeting Dr. Gottlieb spiked the after-dinner cocktails with LSD. As the drug began to take effect, Gottlieb told everyone that they had ingested a mind-altering chemical. By that time the group had become boisterous with laughter and unable to carry on a coherent conversation.
"One man was not amused by the unexpected turn of events. Dr. Frank Olson, an army scientist who specialized in biological warfare research, had never taken LSD before, and he slid into a deep depression. His mood did not lighten when the conference adjourned. Normally a gregarious family man, Olson returned home quiet and with withdrawn. When he went to work after the weekend, he asked his boss to fire him because he had 'messed up the experiment' during the retreat. Alarmed by his erratic behavior, Olson's superiors contacted the CIA, which sent him to New York to see Dr. Harold Abramson. A respected physician, Abramson taught at Columbia University. He was also one of the CIA's principal LSD researchers and a part-time consultant to the Army Chemical Corps. While these were impressive credentials, Abramson was not a trained psychiatrist, and it was this kind of counseling his patient desperately needed.

"For the next few weeks Olson confided his deepest fears to Abramson. He claimed the CIA was putting something in his coffee to make him stay awake at night. He said people were plotting against him and he heard voices at odd hours commanding him to throw away his wallet --which he did, even though it contained several uncashed checks. Dr. Abramson concluded that Olson was mired in 'a psychotic state... with delusions of persecution' that had been 'crystallized by the LSD experience.' Arrangements were made to move him to Chestnut Lodge, a sanatorium in Rockville, Maryland, staffed by CIA-cleared psychiatrists. (Apparently other CIA personnel who suffered from psychiatric disorders were enrolled in this institution.) On his last evening in New York, Olson checked into a room at the Statler Hilton along with a CIA agent assigned to watch him. And then, in the wee hours of the morning, the troubled scientist plunged headlong through a closed window to his death ten floors below."
(Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain, pgs. 30-31)

For years this was generally the accepted view of Olson's death: that he was unwittingly dosed with LSD by the CIA, he had a mental breakdown shortly thereafter, and despite the Agency's best efforts he eventually killed himself. As vile as the Agency's actions were, few dispute that they were accidental. This was generally how the Agency's role in LSD was portrayed for years afterwards: as bumbling idiots who had no idea what they were getting into with acid. It was only in the early 1990s that rumblings of a more sinister nature became to emerge concerning the Agency's role in Olson's death. But more on that later.

There's a few other points I'd like to make briefly about Olson before we begin examining his death. Biographer H.P. Albarelli notes that Olson joined a Masonic Lodge in Wisconsin during his college years. He provides no other details beyond that concerning Olson's Masonic activities, such whether or not he even continued to attend Lodge meetings beyond his college days. It is interesting, though.

For regular readers of this blog, it will be even more interesting to note some of the other individuals working on the Army's chemical warfare projects at the time. For instance, there was Dr. Laurence Layton Sr., who was named chief of the Army's entire Chemical Warfare Division in 1952. Dr. Layton was the father of Larry Layton Jr., the fanatical follower of Jim Jones who would assassinate Congressman Leo Ryan in Guyana shortly before the notorious Jonestown massacre. Jones has long been suspected of being a CIA asset, as I've chronicled before here and here.

Another curious fellow hanging out with the CBW folks at the time was our old friend, Dr. Andrija Puharich, who I've written on before here, here, and here. Puharich is truly one of the most curious and important figures of the later half of the twentieth century. While he is most well known for his work in various 'New Age' disciplines such as entheogens, UFOs, and telepathy, he also worked for the US intelligence community in the 1950s (some claim the association never ended) on various mind control projects, amongst other things. Puharich was most definitely on the Army's pay role at the same time as Olson and Layton.
"With Dr. Layton in Utah and Dr. Olson in Maryland, there was also Dr. Puharich, also in Maryland and also at Camp Detrick where Olson was stationed. All three men worked for the Army in chemical and biological weapons research, and all at the same time. The fact that the CIA was running its own operation in conjunction with the Army at Camp Detrick at the time Dr. Layton was chief of the Army's Chemical Warfare Division indicates that these men were all known to each other, if not on a personal basis then surely by name and function. Olson fell to his death in New York in November of 1953, and it is perhaps more than a coincidence that Dr. Layton decided to leave the Army's CWD soon thereafter to start work for the Navy in Indian Head, Maryland."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pg. 198)

Olson biographer H.P. Albarelli confirms that Olson and Puharich knew each other personally, but that their relationship was a rather rocky one.
"One scientist with whom Olson clashed was Dr. Henry Karl Puharich, later known as Andrija Puharich, the man who introduced the controversial Israeli psychic Uri Geller to the world. Puharich, who passed away in 1995 under circumstances never resolved --but not connected to Frank Olson --was an Army officer in the early 1950s. During that time, Puharich was in and out of Edgewood Arsenal and Camp Detrick, meeting with various high-ranking officers and officials, primarily from the Pentagon, CIA, and Naval Intelligence. The purpose of the meetings was Puharich's relentless attempt to convince the military and Intelligence agencies to take the potentials of parapsychology seriously...

"That Puharich favored and was quite open-minded toward matters esoteric was not disputed by anyone, much less Puharich himself. His claims in the early 1950s ranged from the existence of extraterrestrial entities on earth to man's ability to communicate with higher intelligences that dwarfed human intellectual capacities.

"Frank Olson scoffed at such claims, perhaps more out of fear of the unknown than from objective knowledge to the contrary. One day in mid-1952 he made a less than flattering remark to Puharich who was a guest  at a Chemical Corps Biological Division briefing on hallucinogenic plants. Puharich, more than capable of countering any form of derision or skepticism, quickly challenged Olson to a debate. The ensuing conversation rapidly evolved into an embarrassing incident for Olson. Puharich called Olson a 'frightened schoolboy who had not yet manged to overcome his fear of the dark.' Olson's retorts were far less sophisticated and the argument would likely have degenerated into fistcuffs had not the Chemical Corps' medical doctor and Puharich's friend, Col. Norman Elton, intervened and put a stop to it.

"Here it is most interesting to note that during Frank Olson's last week in New York City with Richard Lashbrook and Vincent Ruwet, Lashbrook would take the time to hand-deliver a CIA travel check to renowned stage magician John Mulholland. The check was for Mulholland's trip that same week to Chicago to meet with Puharich and a close associate, an officer in the Army's Psychological Warfare Office. The meeting would cover a number of subjects, including hypnotism, in which Puharich was intensely interested. Just six months earlier, he had attended a demonstration of hypnosis and sleight-of-hand practices staged at the Statler Hotel for CIA and selected Federal Narcotics officials. Mulholland, the magician, had also attended the Statler event. Reportedly, Mulholland remained skeptical about hypnosis throughout his life and never incorporated hypnosis into his stage shows. It was revealed years later, in fact, that at the 1953 Chicago gathering magician Mulholland had become 'so frightened of something that Puharich did' that he abruptly left the meeting, aborted his Chicago stay and immediately flew back to New York."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 53-55)

John Mulholland, magician to the CIA

There's a lot to take in here. I'll remind the reader that Lashbrook and Ruwet took Olson to see Mulholland shortly before Olson's death. This means that Mulholland was in contact with both Olson and Puharich, a man Olson had nearly gotten into a fist fight with, within a week time frame of Olson's death. Albarelli also notes that recently uncovered fragments of MK-ULTRA documents strongly indicate that Puharich was involved with testing the effects of the amanita muscaria mushroom, one of the psychedelic strands, on prisoners in New Jersey and Maryland, as well patients at Spring Grove Mental Hospital in Maryland.

If Puharich had experience using psychedelics on unknowing test subjects was he then possibly advising Lashbrook and Ruwet via Mulholland? Yes dear reader, yet another question to ponder about the mysterious Puharich, possibly one of the most influential and powerful men of the later half of the twentieth century whose contributions are still scarcely understood. But I digress, so let us return to the events following Olson's death.

I said that Frank Olson was an obvious place to start because he was the first publicly acknowledged victim of the CIA's LSD research. In fact, Olson was the only individual the CIA acknowledged as an unknowing test subject for its various LSD experiments for years and this was only due to the paper trail Olson left behind that was outside of the CIA's control. On June 6, 1975, the highly dubious Rockefeller Commission released a report concerning the domestic activities of the CIA. Tucked into this report was this little nugget:
"The Commission did learn, however, that one one occasion during the early phases of this program (in 1953), LSD was administered to an employee of the Department of the Army without his knowledge while he was attending a meeting with CIA personnel working on the drug project.

"Prior to receiving the LSD, the subject had participated in discussions where the testing of such substances on unsuspecting subjects was agreed to in principle. However, this individual was not made aware that he had been given LSD until 20 minutes after it had been administered. He developed serious side effects and was sent to New York with a CIA escort for psychiatric treatment. Several days after, he jumped from a tenth floor window of his room and died as a result.

"The General Counsel [CIA] ruled that the death resulted from 'circumstances arising out of an experiment undertaken in the course of his official duties for the United States Government,' thus ensuring his survivors of receiving certain death benefits. Reprimands were issued by the Director of Central Intelligence to two [sic] CIA employees responsible for the incident."
(A Terrible Mistake, H.P. Albarelli, pgs. 476-477)
Whether or not the Army Special Operations Division (SOD) scientists that were dosed with LSD that fateful night were given some kind of prior warning has been hotly debated since the Olson affair came to public light in the mid-1970s. In a footnote to his 1979 classic The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate, researcher John Marks writes:
"Gottlieb stated just after Olson's death, at a time when he was trying to minimize his own culpability, that he had talked to the SOD men about LSD and that they had agreed in general terms to the desirability of unwitting testing. Two of the SOD group in interviews and a third in congressional testimony flatly deny the Gottlieb version. Gottlieb and the SOD men all agree Gottlieb gave no advance warning that he was giving them a drug in their liqueur."
(pgs. 83-84)

the notorious Dr. Sidney Gottlieb

Five days after the Rockefeller Commission report was issued the Washington Post broke the story without revealing Frank Olson's name. Still, the piece provided enough details for his remaining family to become convinced that Olson was the individual being referenced. Shortly after reading the Post article the Olson family contacted an old family friend, retired Army colonel Vincent L. Ruwet, who had been Frank's commanding officer at the time of his death. Ruwet, who had been dosed with LSD at the same time as Olson, reluctantly confirmed that Frank was the man being referenced in the Post article.

Not long afterwards the Olsons opted to sue the CIA and the United States government for their role in Olson's death. This made Olson's death nationwide news, which eventually pressured the CIA into an out-of-court settlement of $750,000 in late 1975. This would not, however, be the end of the Olson clans' investigation into Frank's death, however there would not be much movement until after Alice's death in the early 1990s. We shall examine more recent developments in the next installment.

In the Madness of Initiation

Though he has little name recognition outside of horror circles filmmaker John Carpenter has left his mark on conspiracy culture, most notably via his cult classic They Live. The film stars 'profesional' wrestler Roddy Piper as an aimless drifter that stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that reveals the world for what it really is. When wearing the glasses, Piper sees a black and white world enslaved by mass consumerism, Reaganomics and alien beings with heads like those of rotting corpses --In other words, our world with a zombie/alien race as a stand-in(?) for the Cryptocracy. Countless conspiracy gurus have gotten a lot of mileage out of They Live over the years and for good reason: Its probably the finest examination of 1980s America and the rise of the neo-cons ever released all the while playing out like a B-grade horror opus with a wicked sense of humor. Think Videodrome meets Lucio Fulci and you're on the right path.

Images from They Live

The more casual movie watcher is probably familiar with Carpenter from his more well known horror and sci-fi pictures, which include the original versions of Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13, the 1982 version of The Thing, Escape From New York, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China. The astute watcher will note that Carpenter's work has been riddled with subversive elements and anti-authoritarian elements since at least the late 1970s. But it was in the late 80s that Carpenter's work seemingly became more overt in the themes he was exploring, peaking with They Live. Coincidentally (or not), his career began to take a permanent nose dive at this point as well. After creating many of his films from the ground up he would increasingly become a director-for-hire, helming several modestly budgeted flops like the Chevy Chase vehicle Memoirs of an Invisible Man and the ill-advised remake of Village of the Damned. Even projects Carpenter spearheaded seemed tame compared to his earlier work, such as Escape from L.A. Mercifully, Carpenter would drop one more film on his fan base riddled with subversion before he was totally neutered. Five years after the release of They Live Carpenter would unleash one of his finest, if least watched, films known as In the Mouth of Madness.


Carpenter has described Madness as the third part of his 'Apocolypse Trilogy,' the first part being The Thing, the second Prince of Darkness'Apocolypse' is surely a fitting description for this film. Regular readers of this blog may be familiar with Madness from the brief reference I made to it in part one of my series on legendary horror author/director Clive Barker and his grossly underrated film Lord of Illusions.

Illusions is an occult-ridden merger of supernatural horror and film noir, centering around a private detective investigating the death of a famous magician. I think of this film as a kind of 'gnostic detective noir,' a description I would also apply to this film as well as the few select others that have tread along similar paths. Some may object to me applying such a label to Madness as it is not overtly a noir film, nor does it feature a private detective as do other such films (e.g. Angel Heart, Cast A Deadly Spell, etc.)

That being said, the profession of the lead character, one John Trent (Sam Neill), is fraud investigator, a job with more than a few overlaps with a traditional private investigator. What's more, the Trent character is endowed with the same kind of world-weary cynicism of the classic private eye in addition to a plot line encompassing most of the first 40 or so minutes of the film that could have been taken from a classic detective novel. I can't help but feel that the film was originally meant as more of an overt noir/horror crossover, but was 'simplified' for mass appeal at some stage in the process.

Trent (Sam Neill) goes through quite a change during the course of Madness...

Trent is hired by an insurance outfit to investigate the disappearance of the world famous horror author, Sutter Cane (played by the great Jurgen Prochnow). This plays out in one of the film's most striking sequences, in which Trent and his employer are discussing the Cane case in a diner, seated by the window. As they are glancing down at some files a man in a trenchcoat brandishing an axe approaches the restaurant from the outside. Eventually he brings the axe down through the window, spraying glass all over Trent. He climbs onto the fraud investigator's table and asks Trent if he reads Sutter Cane before raising his axe to swing at Trent. Seconds later the axe man is killed by the police. Shortly thereafter Trent learns that the axe man was Cane's agent.

For our purposes, it is most interesting that this crucial scene (for it introduces Trent to the world of Cane) features an appearance of a checker floor board, which graces the diner. As regular readers of this blog know, checkered floor boards are very important to Freemasonry.
"In addition, the floor of the temple may be constructed or decorated in a checkerboard pattern of black and white squares, a motif that is found on many Masonic documents, tracing boards, and other illustrations. The checkerboard pattern has a long and illustrious pedigree, calling to mind instantly the game of chess and its origins as a sacred game between the forces of light and darkness. Today, it might be interpreted as a grid, a group of cells called a matrix -from the Latin mater for mother, from which we get the words matter, material, and even Demeter, the goddess of corn (which is also an important Masonic symbol). The prima materia is an alchemical term indicating the base material of the Philosopher's Stone. All of these meanings would be relevant to the Temple's design, since -as a replica of KST -the temple represents the universe, not the universe in a chaotic state but as an ordered cosmos, created and designed by the Great Architect."
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pg. 11)  

Despite such an auspicious beginning, Trent still elects to take the case and soon meets with Cane's publisher, played by Mr. NRA himself, Charlton Heston. After some nifty detective work in which Trent discovers that the specially-designed covers of Cane's books form a map of New Hampshire he, along with the obligatory female lead (Cane's editor, Linda Stiles, played by Julie Carmen), head off on a road trip to a town that's not supposed to exist. The town in question, Hobb's End, is a fictional New England village where the bulk of Cane's stories are set.

Avid readers may be picking up on more than a few nods to the legendary horror author Stephen King. Madness's writer is named Sutter Cane (an obvious play on King's name), while the bulk of his writing is set in a fictionalized New England town. Several of King's most well known novels take place in fictional New England towns, such as Castle Rock. Hell, Madness even features a kid with a deck of playing cards stuck in his bicycle wheels, a King staple.


While references and allusions to King's work are liberally sprinkled throughout Madness, it is another New England-based horror author whose work would serve as the principal basis for this film. As horror buffs may well have already guessed, that author is the legendary H.P. Lovecraft, a writer virtually unknown in his own era (1920s-1930s) whose work has had an enormous influence on a broad spectrum of fields.
"Lovecraft was writing in the 1920s, when most of his more famous stories were published. He was writing of a New England that, in his imagination, had ancient roots in unknown cultures; where Druidic circles and pagan chants would infest the countryside; where a kind of subterranean culture existed, parallel to the world of our own reality. He peppered his stories with references to works of archaeologists and anthropologists (some real, some fictitious), and connected the American Indian culture to the worship of strange, perhaps extraplanetary or extradimensional beings who viewed humans as little more than undercooked hors d'ouvres. His work has attracted a great deal of attention in the past 30 years or so... He has attracted serious, albeit fringe, attention from academics and historians of both literature and mysticism, and has even been graced with an anthology of his work prefaced by no less a literary light than Joyce Carol Oates. The blind Argentine author of many essays and stories on the macabre --Jorge Luis Borges --has written in the Lovecraftian mode in homage to the cranky Yankee master. In addition, there are several hardcore occult organizations in Europe and America that owe allegiance to the bizarre principals outlined in his works. They have taken their names and identities straight from his published works, with cults like Dagan and Cthulhu, and occultist emeritus Kenneth Grant has written extensively on the relation between the works of Lovecraft --an author of gothic horror fiction --and the rituals of modern ceremonial magic and communication with extraterrestrial intelligence.

"Part of the reason for Lovecraft's popularity among serious occultists is due to the fact that many of the ideas he put forward in his stories have found some basis in reality: in historical, archaeological, anthropological reality. While there is no evidence at this time for the existence of the beings of which he wrote --Cthulhu chief among them, but let's not forget Yog Sothot or Shub Niggurath -there is evidence that America was visited, and possibly inhabited for some time, by people who are not racially (or, at least culturally) identical to the Native American 'Indian' tribes that exist today."
(Sinister Forces Book One, Peter Levenda, pgs. 3-4)


This is only scratching the surface. One of the most remarkable things occultists found about Lovecraft's writings was the incredible overlap they had with various belief systems (e.g. Aleister Crowley's) despite the fact that Lovecraft himself had read very few grimoires until the final years of his life. In fact, Lovecraft claimed much of the inspiration for his stories came from his dreams, in the form of horrifying night terrors. This has led to much speculation over the years that Lovecraft's writings were inspired by a nonhuman intelligence.

In the Mouth of Madness is overflowing with allusions to Lovecraft's works. The title itself is a reference to one of Lovecraft's few novellas, At the Mountain of Madness. Readers of Sutter Cane's fiction are driven literally mad in the film. Some readers of Lovecraft's legendary Necronomicon are said to be driven made by the tome in his stories. The name 'Pickman' is used for both a character and a hotel in Madness. Lovecraft named several of his most noted characters Pickman and occasionally wrote under the name. The entrance to both Madness's Hobb's End and the town of Dunwich from Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror are reached via a decrepit covered bridge. The demonic beings guiding Sutter Cane are referred to as the 'Old Ones' just as they are in Lovecraft's fiction (in Crowley's system they are called 'the Great Old Ones of the Night of Time'). What's more, the massive, slimy, tendril-laced appearance of Madness's monsters are taken directly from countless artists' representations of Lovecraft's pantheon. At several points when various characters are reading from Cane's books entire passages of Lovecraft's work are recited almost verbatim.

Possibly the most curious reference (albeit, a very vague one in deed) to Lovecraft is Madness's 'black church,' a massive Byzantine-esque cathedral (the real life Cathedral of Transfiguration was used for this location). It was while reading through Levenda's Sinister Forces Book One looking for references to Lovecraft that I stumbled upon this possible allusion:
"In an interesting side note to all of this, H.P. Lovecraft in his short story "The Horror at Red Hook" (1925) mentions a church in Brooklyn that had been turned into a dance hall. This church actually existed; to the author's best recollection it was on Amity Street, but that may be a confabulation. In any event, it was only a few blocks south of Atlantic Avenue; south, that is, of Brooklyn Heights, where Lovecraft lived for a short time during his equally short marriage. Briefly, in the 1970s, that church had been taken over by another Propheta's renegade churches, this one practicing a kind of Roman Ritual under an Eastern Orthodox aegis. The church was also --and at the same time --believed to be a place where satanic or occult ceremonies were performed. It was only a few blocks away from the infamous Warlock Shop, a location that figures prominently --though never by name --in Maury Terry's study of the Son of Sam cult, Ultimate Evil."
(pg. 288)

Madness's church

As far fetched as this connection may seem, Madness screenwriter is none other than famed producer Michael De Luca (Blade, the first Austin Powers film, American History X, Magnolia, The Social Network), a self-proclaimed sci-fi/horror/comic geek who originally hailed from Brooklyn and came of age in the 1970s there. Is it possible that De Luca, who became chief of production for New Line Cinema at the age of 27, heard the same reports that Levenda did and slyly worked them into Madness? Interestingly, De Luca's only other significant writing credit is on Freddy's Dead, the sixth and supposedly final Nightmare on Elm Street film (obviously reports of Freddy's demise were greatly premature). Regular readers of this blog will remember that I've already chronicled some the significant occult allusions in the Elm Street films here. In general, De Luca comes off as a fascinating character with a curious and swift rise to prominence. An interesting piece can be read on him here.

De Luca

As with any occult-centric film worth watching, the obligatory references to Sirius abound in Madness. As regular readers of this blog know, Sirius, the Dog Star, is highly important in the occult. I've chronicled its importance before here and here, among other places. The first notable reference to Sirius occurs at the same time as the black church is introduced. A group of possessed children are seen blindly following a dog about throughout the film. Later on, when a group of armed parents approach the church to retrieve their children, a pack of doberman are seemingly summoned by Cane (who has taken up residence in the black church) and chase off the mob. The dog is of course symbolic of Sirius, which makes the fact that a dog is leading the town's children about all the more curious.
"In the Arcane Tradition, the vast star, Sirius, symbolizes the sun behind the sun; i.e. the true father of our Universe. Sirius was the primordial star of all time, as the duplicator or renewer (of time cycles). He was known in Egypt as the Doubling One, a Creator or reflector of the Image. Sirius, or Set, was the original 'headless one' --the light of the lower region (the South) who was known (in Egypt) as An (the dog), hence Set-an (Satan), Lord of the infernal regions, the place of heat, later interpreted in a moral sense as 'hell.'"
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 226)

Another reference to Sirius appears in the location of Hobb's End, which is clearly shown to be located before a crossroads when Trent returns to the 'real' world. The crossroads have their own unique connection to the occult, which I've chronicled before here. They also have a connection to Sirius. It comes in the form of the Greco-Roman goddess Hecate, the more sinister from of the huntress, Artemis/Diana.
"In the later poets, Artemis is identified Hecate. She is 'the goddess with three forms,' Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth, Hecate in the lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in darkness. Hecate was the Goddess of the Dark Side of the Moon, the black nights when the moon is hidden. She was associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be ghostly places of evil magic."
(Mythology, Edith Hamilton, pg. 32)
As to her association with Sirius, Mr. Sirius himself, Robert K.G. Temple writes:
"The name of the Greek goddess Hekate (Hecate) literally means 'one hundred'. She was involved with the Argo tale and specifically identified by Robert Graves with Isis, and in other ways linked to Sirius as an 'underworld version.' Since both Sirius B and Sirius C may share a fifty-year orbit around Sirius A, we can possibly understand the 'twice-fifty years' as an esoteric reference to that."
(The Sirius Mystery, pg. 159)

Another curious piece of esoterica is the appearance of the number nine in association to Trent's breakdown. His hotel room at Pickman's is number nine as is his cell number at the asylum. The number nine is one of the more significant numbers in the occult, but has a negative association. Of it, Crowley writes in his book Gematria: "Most Evil, because of its stability... witchcraft, the false moon of the sorceress" (pg. 43). The thirty-third degree Freemason Manly P. Hall notes:
"The ennead--9--was the first square of an odd number (3x3). It was associated with failure and shortcoming because it fell short of the perfect number 10 by one. It was called the number of man, because of the nine months of his embryonic life. Among its keywords are ocean and horizon, because to the ancients these were boundless. The ennead is the limitless number there is nothing beyond it but the infinite 10. It was called the sphere of the air, because it surrounded the numbers as air surrounds the earth...

"The 9 was looked upon as evil, because it was an inverted 6. According to the Eleusinian Mysteries, it was the number of the spheres through which the consciousness passed on its way to birth. Because of its close resemblance to the spermstozoon, the 9 has been associated with germinal life."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, pg. )
The number nine was especially important to the religion of ancient Egypt, whose supreme pantheon of gods was referred to as the Ennead, or the Nine. This same pantheon of gods, now claiming to be an extraterrestrial intelligence, would allegedly pop up again in the 20th century and mingle in the affairs of the US Intelligence community and various old-money families, as I've outlined before here. In the case of Madness I would imagine the association the number nine has with germinal life is probably the most apt reason for its appearance.

the Ennead, or the Nine

Thus far we've chronicled allusions to Lovecraftian occult schools, Freemasonry, Sirius, and the Nine in Madness. However, the most illuminating aspect of the film has to do with its numerous discussions on the nature of reality. The film is essentially a chronicle of the Trent character's mental breakdown (the film opens with him being admitted to an asylum) as the reality he is accustomed to slowly deteriorates into a nightmare world derived from Cane's fiction. The Linda Stiles character first breaches this subject while discussing Cane's work as she and Trent head towards Hobb's End.
Stiles: Cane's work scares me.
Trent: What's to be scared about? It's not like it's real or anything.
Stiles: It's not real from your point of view and right now reality shares your point of view. What scares me about Cane's work is what might happen if reality shared his point of view.
Trent: Whoa. We're not talking about reality here. We're talking about fiction. It's different, you know.
Stiles: Reality is just what we tell each other it is. Sane and insane could easily switch places if the insane were to become the majority. You would find yourself locked in a padded cell wondering what happened to the world.  
As noted above, Stiles' words prove to be prophetic. At its very heart, the film is about the transformation of reality. The viewer is made aware of this subtly. In the opening moments of the film, shortly after Trent is admitted to the asylum, a psychologists alludes to a mass out break of insanity that official channels have been monitoring. Even before Trent leaves for Hobb's End the world seems to spiraling into chaos as it heads toward some terrible change. Hordes of rabid Cane fans raid book stores in anticipation of his latest novel. Police senselessly assault the homeless while random acts of violence are becoming common place everywhere.

Shortly after Trent returns from Hobb's End, the change is no longer psychological, but becoming psychical. Human beings are turning into the monsters Cane had previously written about. The viewer had already witnessed this change via Stiles, who does not make it back from Hobb's End with Trent. Rather, she morphs into a kind of human animal on four legs.


Reality, and the manipulation thereof, strikes at the very heart of various occult rituals and orders. Candidates for such organization are put through a process known as 'initiation' which reprograms the way in which they view the world. The great counterculture philosopher Robert Anton Wilson remarks:
"...I have undergone a number of occult initiations and have become aware of the basic similarity of such rituals in all traditions. This is the pattern of death-rebirth which even today appears symbolically in the Roman Catholic Mass and the Masonic 'raising' ceremony. The Investigator is betraying no secret when we say that, in serious occult orders, such performances are not mere rituals but real ordeals. Insofar is possible within the law, the candidate is often brought to a state of terror similar to the emergency condition of the nervous system in near-death crises. What occurs then, and is experienced as rebirth, is a quantum jump in neurological awareness. In Leary's terminology, new circuits are formed and imprinted."
(The Cosmic Trigger Volume I, pg. 139)
In other words, the initiate's perception of reality has been changed. Thus, what we witness in Madness is a kind of mass initiation, but one of the left-hand path. The masses are initiated into a path of violence and barbarism that leaves them as nothing more than food for the Old Ones. How very Lovecraftian indeed.

In the Mouth of Madness presents us with a world that is morphing into something totally alien before our eyes. It is essentially the macrocosm to the microcosm of the personal initiation. The masses have embraced Cane's view of reality on a mass scale and it has materialized in all of its blood-stained glory. Over the years John Carpenter has generally been dismissed by many 'reputable' movie critic types as nothing but a hack horror director, but here he subtly and skillfully addresses themes that have been alluded to even in some fringe views of physics. Discussing the theories of quantum physicist David Bohm and neurosurgeon Karl Pribram researcher Michael Talbot writes:
"At this point we might ask, if consciousness can make such extraordinary alterations under special circumstances, what role does it play in the creation of our day-to-day reality? Opinions are extremely varied. In private conversations Bohm admits to believing that the universe is all 'thought' and reality exists only in what we think, but again he prefers not to speculate about miraculous occurrences. Pribram is similarly reticent to comment on specific events but does believe a number of different potential realities exists and consciousness has a certain  amount of latitude in choosing which one manifests. 'I don't believe anything goes,' he says, but there are a lot of worlds out there that we don't understand.'"
(The Holographic Universe, pg. 138)
The world In the Mouth of Madness inhabits proves to be a most unfriendly place indeed. Inevitably some will think I'm stretching things a bit by bringing physics in, but the second film in Carpenter's 'Apocolypse Trilogy,' The Prince of Darkness, revolved around a group of physicists confronting a curious version of the devil. And thus, Carpenter's 'Apocolypse Trilogy' comes to a fitting end. And so to does this post.