“They are forcing me to grow. Stressing me so much that my mind is evolving. Rats—there were tests of rats in the seventies. Stress tests. Rats were stressed with electrocution. Day after day they were made to suffer for long periods of time. They grew stronger, their brains got larger, they became better rats. . . . Their function is in some way to make us evolve.”
—Whitley Strieber, Transformation
While I was working on what became the first part of this exploration, I came across a used copy of Strieber’s Transformation in the local bookstore. I bought it and started re-reading. Like Communion, I read the book many times in the past; it has had a formative influence on me, and I was curious to see how it would affect me after more than ten years, in light of recent discoveries and my changed spiritual perspective. Many of the passages still impressed me with a genuinely “magical” flavor, and once again I was struck by how much Strieber had gone through and the degree of apparent “soul-growth.” At the same time, it drove home just how little, from my point of view, it seemed to have actually benefitted him in terms of personal development.
In chapter seventeen of the book, “Fury,” Strieber describes a disturbing series of incidents. He has already recounted how the visitors told him to give up sweets and that, if he eats chocolate, he will die. Strieber makes a couple of attempts to obey these unexpected demands, but he soon realizes he is addicted to sugar. He receives further admonishments and tries again. He wonders if the visitors are only attempting to show him how addicted he is to externals, or whether there is an actual, physical state they want him to enter into that can’t be accessed without giving up sugar. He continues to eat candy, however, and eventually the visitors react.
Strieber wakes to find one of the beings in the corner of his room. He feels “an indescribable sense of menace.” (All quotes from Transformation, p. 190-93.) The next moment, inexplicably, he feels “mothered. Caressed.” He experiences a “light, electric pressure” between his eyes and instantly finds himself on a stone floor with a stone table in front of him. There are iron shackles attached to it. A man is led up some steps by another man dressed in black. The first man is shacked to the table and the man in black begins to beat him violently with a whip, until he is “almost torn to pieces.”
Strieber is told that the man is being beaten because he failed to get Strieber to obey him. Strieber understands it is because he failed to give up sweets. The man continues to be beaten, coming in and out of consciousness. Strieber hears a voice in his head, the female visitor, telling him: “It isn’t real, Whitley” over and over. Strieber writes that the voice doesn’t help, that he had “never felt such raw humiliation and guilt”; he would have done anything, he writes, to have taken the beating in the man’s place. The next thing, he is back in his bed and the female visitor is smiling at him sardonically. He hears his son screaming in another room. The being tells Strieber, “He is being punished for your transgression.” Strieber closes his eyes. “The sense of being infested was powerful and awful. It was as if the whole house was full of filthy, stinking insects the size of tigers.” The screaming stops. He tries to get out of bed but is hit in the face and falls back.
The next day, his son appears to be unharmed, and Strieber expresses love and gratitude for the visitors and what they have done for him.
I had the sense that they had on my behalf turned away from perfect love, and that they had done this to help me. If they are an element of the divine, to come into our world would be like penetrating perfect darkness. I realized that I was isolated in myself, turned away from the light that surrounds us. I suspected that the ugliness I had seen last night was not them, but me. I was so ashamed of myself that I almost wretched (p. 193).
Previously, when I’d read this book and Communion, I had fully accepted Strieber’s view of the visitors’ harsh treatment of him as a kind of cosmic tough love. I had even tried giving up sweets: I wanted access to that “place.” Now it seems more as if Strieber unconsciously found a way to interpret the events in a favorable light, because (as he admitted) he desperately needed to see the visitors as benevolent. The alternative would be intolerable. This isn’t necessarily as simple as rationalization, because it might be a pre-rational process. There is an exact match for it when a small child is abused or neglected by a parent or other adult caregiver: since the child’s survival depends on the adult, it can’t allow the possibility that the caregiver is anything other than perfect and benign (“an element of the divine”). The child then sees itself as bad, as deserving the punishment it receives. As Kalsched writes, “It is an almost universal finding in the literature of trauma that children who have been abused cannot mobilize aggression to expel noxious, ‘bad,’ or ‘not-me’ elements of experience, such as . . . hatred of an abusive father.” Because the child is unable to hate the parent and sees them as good, “the child takes the father’s aggression into the inner world and comes to hate itself and its own need.” (Kalsched, p. 17.)
For alien beings to enforce a strange, seemingly random discipline—getting Whitley to give up sweets and punish him when he failed—is like a grotesque caricature of bad parenting. If Strieber is unconsciously protecting these “visitors” by blaming himself for their abusive treatment of him, then all the “spiritual evolution” he is supposedly undergoing becomes part of that same unconscious cover-up: evidence of his own complicity with the abuse. It is the irrational, or pre-rational, circular logic of the child: since they are good, what they are doing to him is for his good; since their harsh treatment of him is for his own good, they must be good.
The appliance of control and discipline can be parental and it can be a form of love. But it can also be done for very different ends, as is the case when such discipline crosses over into abuse. In a 1988 interview, Strieber discussed the incident:
I mean, like the business of eating sweets, which is so stupid. How dare they do that? And yet it became finally so terrifying that I was sort of forced into doing something about it because of my child and now as time has passed what happens when I eat sweets is that I . . . I go into a decline. I mean I just can’t do it and it’s because—I’m convinced it’s psychosomatic but still it’s—I’ve just lost that ability. I can’t do it because of what happened, and I don’t understand why it happened; there isn’t any explanation for that anywhere in my understanding of what I’ve experienced. It’s almost as if by forcing me to do something that was apparently difficult for me in the physical world, this force gained strength.
The statement is chillingly concise.
“When we examine closely the specifics of the events which have overwhelmed us, we find them to be the causes—efficient, material, formal, and final—of our so-called first cause, God. Yes, the image-less God is an image for us, albeit an intolerable image. The jungle fire-fight, the early morning rape, the speeding automobile of the drunk driver—all these images may be God images if, like God, they create us in their image, after their likeness.”
—Greg Mogenson, A Most Accursed Religion
In Strieber’s 2012 book, Solving the Communion Enigma, he revisits the question of “who are the visitors,” promising (in title at least) to provide a final solution. Sure enough, in the last section of the book, he writes this:
If you actually wanted people to increase the use of the right brain, then stressing them would be a way to do it. [I]f you apply trauma in the right way, what you are actually doing is reengineering the brain. [O]ne thing the visitors are doing is creating situations that are designed to increase our left-brain functioning. They are trying to improve our ability to think logically. But for those of us who have the correct response to trauma, it doesn’t end there. We are also being given shocks that induce [post-traumatic stress disorder], thus causing an increase in right-brain functioning as well.
Apparently the name of Whitley’s game is “Pain,” and without it, no evolutionary gain is possible. What exactly does Strieber believe “an increase in right-brain functioning” allows for? He doesn’t specify, but presumably one thing it facilitates is encounters with demons and God-men in the middle of the night. In the passage immediately before that quoted above, however, he makes a characteristically candid statement:
After my 1985 close encounter, I had a galloping case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, the various treatments I have tried have failed, probably because the stressor—the encounter experience—could always happen again at any moment. Thus, to this day I have terrific nightmares and wake up at the approximate time the encounter happened, usually with my heart hammering, waves of fear coursing through me.
Strieber is not offering this description as an example of being “evolved” through trauma. He merely includes it as a preamble to the remarkable statement that follows it. Before that, however, he writes that “Among other things, some sufferers of PTSD can experience flashbacks and hallucinations that seem real.” “Hallucinations that seem real” is a curious turn of phrase, and it begs the question of how real such hallucinations might seem. Real enough to write a string of “non-fiction” books to persuade others that they are real? If Strieber’s statement is accurate, how would he know what was hallucination and what was real? No wonder Strieber is desperate for some sort of physical evidence (outside of the implant in his ear, which had “military” written all over it). Strieber adds, “They [PTSD sufferers] are thrown off the road of the real, and exist instead in an awful twilight of memories and illusions, and have no way to tell the difference between them” (p. 195).
How much might a person with no way to tell the difference between memory and illusion be willing to do to feel like there was some solid ground to stand on? Strieber is painting an inadvertently self-damning picture, even as he moves towards his primary point about evolutionary engineering through trauma. Strieber writes that there is a correct response to trauma that doesn’t involve being thrown off the road of the real. Our concern should be less what Strieber believes, however, than what can be reasonably deduced from his accounts, fictional or otherwise. The evidence he presents for the realness of his perceptions, so far, is a series of wildly improbable, fantastic and otherworldly accounts of nonhuman interaction, and a body of scientific-mystical literature that, while impressive, is deeply confused, highly disturbing, and riddled with contradictions. Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce that Strieber is exactly the sort of PTSD sufferer he describes, and that perhaps he is implicitly leading us to this conclusion without realizing it (or at least without admitting it)? There is a desire in all of us to come clean and be clearly seen, free from all masks, and maybe the enigma Whitley wishes to solve—and that prevents communion with his soul—is the enigma of Strieber himself?
I have lived this for a long time. In fact, though, it is further support of the reality of my experiences. If nothing had happened to me, I wouldn’t suffer from PTSD. You don’t get it from bad dreams (p. 195, emphasis added).
I doubt if anyone who has been paying attention is likely to suggest that nothing ever happened to Whitley Strieber. The question is—what? Strieber sees it as a form of sadomasochistic angelic intervention by a complex intelligence that has our spiritual evolution at heart. He is a “true believer” that the end justifies the means, and his end is now to sell those same means to us.
Perhaps it isn’t improbable that the same complex intelligence that we are facing would act in many different ways, some of them tremendously challenging for us. If contact meant that what is apparently happening in Sulawesi and in Brazil [i.e., death and mutilation] would extend to the entire world, or abductions and implantations would become a general human experience, then the danger is incredible. But if it means that millions of people will end up in a school such as the one I have attended, then a case can be made for embracing it” (p. 211, emphasis added).
Strieber is making the case for the embrace. But what sort of school is he recommending for the unenlightened masses? One in which he “was raped, my sexual materials taken from me, subsequently shown a baby and left to live in a permanent state of stress but also shown new ways of thinking, and a hidden level of being that is sublime” (ibid). Strieber is certainly communicating a permanent state of stress. His delivery style is histrionic, and the message of hope and transcendence he offers filled with horrifying narratives and doom-laden scenarios; it is as if his trauma has been sublimated into, and as, a series of crucial, pseudo-spiritual fictions. In The Key, Strieber asks why the (human) agencies enforcing “mankind’s blindness” are harming us so terribly. The Master tells him, “The objective of resistance is to make you strong. The weight lifter puts more and more weight to himself, so that he’ll be able to lift more and more” (p. 82).
As with so many of the passages in The Key, for years and over the course of countless readings, I accepted this line at face value. In fact, comparing spiritual development to weight-lifting is a disastrous analogy, and if it is really the reasoning of an advanced intelligence, then it’s not a very compassionate one. A few weeks before working on this chapter, I met a young Native American in the local sauna whose physique was obviously the result of lifting weights. I’m a painfully skinny guy (my build is like one of the visitors), and we had a brief conversation about working out. He told me that heavy lifting repeatedly tears the muscles in the body and the scar tissue causes the increase in size. Hearing that pretty much confirmed my opinion that body-building is a neurotic pursuit that, besides boosting self-confidence, intimidating bullies, and scoring with chicks, offers no real physical advantages. But while it’s a strange metaphor for an ascended master to choose for spiritual growth, there is one thing it has in common with Strieber’s “no pain, no gain” school of evolutionary progress: trauma.
While it’s plausible that intense stress can and does change the chemistry and/or wiring of the brain, thereby allowing access to larger, deeper, or alternate fields of perception, the question left unasked in Strieber’s recipe for evolution is: what about the body? Isn’t Strieber making the most fundamental mistake that a scientific mystic (or mystical scientist) can make (and the one they always seem to) by assuming, implicitly, that consciousness resides primarily in the brain and not in the total body? Trauma has to do with energy trapped in the body that causes distortion, contraction, and dis-ease. The purpose of traumatic reenactments is not to increase brain power but to release that emotional energy trapped in the body by the original trauma.
Maybe this is why Strieber’s little gray aliens look the way they do: because they engineered their brain-evolution and forget all about their bodies, until their heads swelled up like over-inflated balloons and their eyes popped out of their heads. Maybe an endless series of “evolutionary” shocks reduced their bodies to feeble, ghostlike shadows of organic life. In Solving the Communion Enigma, Strieber offers up this grisly picture of de-eroticized, disembodied existence as our future. He presents tormenting, malformed, sexually abusive angels as the butterflies to our caterpillars, yet he doesn’t take this peculiar idea all the way to its logical conclusion; he never asks how, or why, our trauma-engineering, disembodied future selves are directing our evolution. Is it, like the abuser with the child abused, to ensure we become just like they are?
 P. 196, emphasis added. This idea can be traced back to the Gurdjieff Foundation and “the Fourth Way,” which Strieber participated in during the 70s, and is known as “intentional suffering” and “the second conscious shock.” Fritz Peters, who maintained a relationship with Gurdjieff until his death in 1949, quoted Gurdjieff’s words to him in Gurdjieff Remembered: “You not learn my work from talk and book—you learn in skin, and you cannot escape . . . If you never go to meeting, never read book, you still cannot forget what I put inside you when you child . . . I already in your blood—make your life miserable forever—but such misery can be good thing for your soul, so even when miserable you must thank your God for suffering I give you.” Fritz Peters, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971, pp. 25-26.
 For the sons to castrate their fathers is a reversal of the Saturnian myth, but the end is the same, to terminate the lineage. Strieber’s “future man” appears to be trying to murder his own past in a kind of cosmic retroactive suicide. The child whose libido is abducted by sexual abuse grows up prematurely, which is the same as saying, does not grow up at all. (“Mars was murdered by you. . . . I fought with the only weapon I had: my mind. . . . All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”)