“When innocence has been deprived of its entitlement, it becomes a diabolic spirit.”
—J. Grotstein, “Forgery of the Soul”
A life full of holes. A cluster of fragments, swirling, roving, seeking a place to fit, seeking coherence, seeking meaning. A wound in the soul; a psyche in mortal peril. What is Whitley’s secret? And why do I need so badly to uncover it?
I have felt compelled to probe his work again and again throughout my adult life, like a tongue returning to an infected tooth. Whatever Whitley’s secret wound, finding it would mean—would depend on—finding my own. So how do you seek a secret you are keeping from yourself?
“I fought with the only weapon I had: my mind.”
“His mind was a desperate nest of rage and tension.”
“The visitors appeared to be using our distorted perception as a vehicle.”
“You’re chained to the ground.”
“I wondered if mind in its disembodied form is not wise and old but wise and young.”
“I no longer doubted the existence of a soul.”
“There was a strange darkness. I did not want to look; I didn’t even want to be near it.”
“You may be irretrievably lost.”
“An energetic level that is completely detached from the physical.”
“I would have laughed in the face of anybody who claimed contact.”
“Whitty, it’s not all right! It’s not all right!”
“I can imagine no greater honor than to be called human.”
“The vision of the box drew me so powerfully that I literally left my body.”
“This is the trigger for intervention, the destruction of a living world.”
“He would say only that something had gone wrong.”
“Mars was murdered by you.”
“I acquired an effective coping tool: The more frightening they got, the stronger I became.”
“I do not now find the small, gray beings terrible. I find them useful.”
Among the fragments that stand out in the Strieber material are Strieber’s various descriptions of his father. When Whitley is being subjected to strange procedures as a child—whether at the hands of alien beings or human ones or both—his father appears only as a powerless and frightened figure. It’s logical enough, since for Whitley to have been subjected to such traumatic treatments in his childhood, his father must have been remiss, ineffective, or simply absent.
In Communion (p. 62), Strieber describes a memory of being on a train, surrounded by soldiers lying unconscious in beds. He is twelve and his father is there, afraid, and the young Whitley is reassuring him. He tells his father that it’s all right, and his father replies, “Whitty, it’s not all right! It’s not all right!” The picture of a twelve-year-old boy trying to comfort his father puts the son in the role of the father, and vice versa. Later in the book (p. 118), Strieber adds more detail:
There was a sort of confused recollection of my father crouched at the back of an upper berth in our drawing room [on the train], his eyes bulging, his lips twisted back from his teeth. But I’ve always assumed that was a nightmare brought on by the fact that I was so sick on the trip. My illness was violent. I vomited until I thought I would die, and for no apparent reason. Nothing came up but bile, but the spasms simply would not stop.
Elsewhere in the same work, another fragment from Strieber’s childhood describes his father in a similarly terrified (and terrifying) light:
Almost in slow motion [my father’s] face simply broke up. He threw his head back and something like an electric shock seemed to go through him, making him spread his fingers and shake his arms. His eyes bulged and his mouth flew open. Then he was screaming, but I could hear it only faintly, a muffled shrieking, full of terror and despair (p. 126).
In The Secret School (p. 206), Strieber describes the effect of seeing his father’s terror in starkly visceral terms: “his fear just seemed to pour into me like a freezing torrent.” In Transformation (p. 232), Strieber’s follow-up to Communion, he describes being in a moment of terror and despair: “I wanted to give up, to sink down and just scream, but I couldn’t do that. My little boy was in there and he might wake and he mustn’t see his dad like this.” Here, Strieber is speaking from painful experience.
In Solving the Communion Enigma (p. 25), published twenty-five years later, Strieber recounts a strange memory which also occurred when he was twelve, when he found a photograph of his father lying in a coffin, eyes closed and arms crossed. Young Whitley showed the picture to his father, who tore it up, flushed it down the toilet, and never spoke of it again. As Strieber recounts the incident, the desk in which he finds the photograph had recently been given to him by his father, suggesting Whitley was meant to find the photograph at that precise time. For a boy on the brink of adolescence, seeing his father as a corpse would have had a profound impact on his psyche, an impact that would only have been deepened by his father’s demonstration of the forbidden nature of the image. Totem and taboo.
The earliest memory I have of my father—the only one I have of him while he was still living with us—is when I was around six or seven: he was half naked and unconscious—dead drunk—on the bedroom floor. No doubt the shocking nature of the scene seared itself onto my consciousness, and forever after I associated my father with unconsciousness, powerlessness, and incapacitation (maybe even death, if I didn’t understand what had happened to him). My clearest impression of him, then, was as an absence.
That Strieber was impacted in a similar way, specifically by the photograph, would seem to be confirmed by repeat mentions of coffins, boxes, and confined spaces throughout his writings. He first went public about his traumatic “schooling” experiences in a post at his website titled “The Boy in the Box,” describing memories of being confined in a small space for long periods of time.
Among my worst memories, one that has come back to me again and again and again over the course of my life, is of waking up and finding that I am in a coffin. A box. I wake up when I try to move, and my head bounces against the top of the thing. I cannot get out. I’m trapped. The silence is absolute. The air is heavy. Soon, my breathing is agonizing. I’m in torment. But it doesn’t end. It keeps on and on and on. I remain for what seems like hours at the edge of suffocation. I scream, I see demons staring at me, I see angels, I see my grandfather Strieber there, then I see a long horizon, the sun either rising or setting.
In Solving the Communion Enigma, the coffin image recurs in a more cosmic context, when Strieber mentally asks one of the visitors, “What does the universe mean to you?”
Instantly, there appeared in my mind a bright, clear image of a closed coffin. . . . I wondered how anyone could think of our mysterious universe that way? But then I realized that, of course, they have probably reached its limits, or worse, discovered that reality has no limits. I can see the claustrophobia that would attend to the realization that one was trapped in an infinity that could never be escaped. In fact, I can feel it. It’s a little like being in a room you can never leave, or a prison (p. 71).
By what strange logic can infinity be compared to a closed coffin? The logic of trauma, perhaps? It is as if Whitley’s whole universe has become the casket in which his absent father is concealed, and matter the tomb in which the divine is forever buried. Like Kurzweil, Strieber seems to have projected his unhealed trauma onto infinity.
At seven, Strieber’s immune system broke down and he fell ill, after which he was apparently taken out of the secret school (the non-alien one). Strieber’s father was upset and paced the room, but “would say only that something had gone wrong.” If, as this seems to imply, Strieber’s father (and possibly both his parents) had inducted young Whitley (probably at around age four) into the secret school of traumagenesis, how much had he known about what would happen to his son? Strieber has not talked about it much, but he did address the question at his website forum, in February of 2007, in response to a comment about Ty Brown’s research:
Here is what I believe happened, in essence: During the war, my father was involved in a program to prevent US dollars going to Mexico from the Texas German community, where this money would be used to buy gold to send to Germany. Prior to the war, during the great German inflation, he had been participating in doing this himself, but certainly never for the Nazis. After the war, he was approached and his patriotism was appealed to, I was enrolled in this program. He did not know what it involved, except that it was important cold war work. I think that he was the victim of Paperclip scientists, who singled us out because of his war work. He did not know that I was going to be harmed, but the stress was so great that my immune system shut down and I was treated in the autumn and winter of 1952 at Brooke General Hospital with gamma globulin injections. I was isolated from other children at that time.
In his short story “Pain,” Strieber describes the incident with the photograph but fictionalizes it, saying it is a picture of the main character’s uncle. The narrator describes how his uncle lived in Munich in the 1920s, and how the photo is a record of his initiation into the Vril society, a secret occult order behind the Nazis’ rise to power. Strieber speculates how the Vril society performed a magical working to “raise a demon” to possess Adolf Hitler, their ultimate goal being to perform an alchemical ritual called “the death of the white king,” the final end of which was the detonation of the atomic bomb. The death of the white king relates to the semi-historical practice (famously described by James Frazer’s The Golden Bough) of slaying the father in order to replace him. Also known as the myth of Oedipus.
To read full essay, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation