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[First published in Memes, #4, November, 1990.]
It was the fall of 1969 and I woke up early to take my car down to Sears Roebuck to have the brakes repaired. The garage opened at 7:30 in the morning and I got there just as they opened. The garage man told me it would "take an hour and a half, maybe two hours," so I sat down in their waiting room to wait. The morning dragged by and my car still wasn't finished. At nine o'clock, when the Sears Roebuck main department store opened, I wandered off to do some browsing and kill some time.
That's when it happened. I was perusing the goods in the book department when I spotted an interesting paperback cover. Three connected faces with tree roots coming out their common neck and tree branches emerging from the tops of their heads. The roots extended into what looked like a green human brain or a dense foliage. The branches supported two luminous little globes and a maze-like square. The back cover blurb asked me: "How much of the evidence in this book do you dare believe?" and claimed that this was "the most startling and revealing book of our time...."
I couldn't resist. I bought the book, wandered back to the garage's waiting room, and, with the rat-a-tat sound of electric drills in the background, I sat down and began to read The Morning of the Magicians.
The next six hours are a kind of blur. Human mutation experiments mixed with PA announcements. Hitler's occult perversions mingled with the crowds of passing customers. Ancient gods fought with cheap cafeteria food for my attention. And over there ... were those the monumental heads of Easter island or a display of new lawn mowers?
By the time my car's brakes were finally repaired--at 4:30 that afternoon, the man had lied to me--I was in quite a different world than the one inhabited by Sears Roebuck. I was living in what Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, the authors of The Morning of the Magicians, might call "fantastic realism." The brakes on my car were working; the brakes on my imagination were not.
Recently, I picked up The Morning of the Magicians for another read-through. I have probably read and re-read the book or parts of the book dozens of times since that first magical morning at Sears Roebuck. But it struck me this time that, since the original French edition was published in 1960, Morning is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Perhaps it is time for a quick look at the book's significance, influence and importance in the occult field. After all, the book sold well over 500,000 copies during the 1960s alone. And the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology reports that Morning had "a significant influence on the occult revival in Europe and elsewhere."
For those who have not read the book, The Morning of the Magicians is a wide-ranging occult tome tied loosely together by the idea of a coming human mutation. Pauwels and Bergier speak of the occult ideas of the Nazis and the mystical teachings of the Gnostics; they examine the ideas of Gurdjieff and investigate the claims of yogis and psychics; they look into possible instances of alien interference in human history; and they propose that unrecorded or dimly-remembered civilizations existed in a distant past.
Reading the book now I am struck by several observations. First, the authors are adept at sleight-of-hand writing. They nonchalantly state some startling proposition as fact, then go on to carefully document a piece of everyday knowledge that has little or nothing to do with the subject at hand. This approach is often found in right-wing political conspiracy books (I'm thinking here of None Dare Call It Conspiracy or Pawns in the Game), wherein the Rockefeller family is casually labeled communist masterminds without a shred of evidence, while the family's ownership of the Chase Manhattan Bank is extensively documented. This kind of writing gives to the unwary reader the appearance of scholarly investigation even as it sidesteps the tricky business of documenting an argument.
Second, Pauwels and Bergier collage together bits and pieces of information, speculation and legend into a patchwork text, making no distinctions between valid, believable sources and those of less reliability. A quote from the London Times is laced with a bit from an old Theosophical text; a nugget from Charles Fort is placed with a personal experience of the authors' friends; a bit of pure speculation is backed up with an uncredited quotation. Works of fiction are given as much weight as are works of history or science. Little of the material is footnoted and, as is altogether too usual with occult works, the book has no index.
Third, on the plus side, Pauwels and Bergier have a sense of humor about their subject that few occult writers have. At times their text resembles a performance by a magician who purposely lets the audience see how their tricks are done, and therein lies the appeal of their show. Like the Wizard of Oz working levers behind the curtain, Pauwels and Bergier occasionally peek out and give us a little wink, a grin, and then return to their levers with renewed vigor, the fire belching and the great wizard voice booming. Like Charles Fort, who insisted his books were fiction, just like every history of the United States, Pauwels and Bergier have a delightfully modest view of their work.
The major problem with The Morning of the Magicians is that many of the book's claims and speculations have not withstood the test of time. Take the claim that Hitler and the Nazis were motivated by secret allegiance to occult ideas. This assertion fostered a whole rash of books in the 1960s and early 1970s claiming all sorts of occult and satanic connections in the Third Reich. But the one and only scholarly examination of the subject, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's The Occult Roots of Nazism makes nonsense of the idea. Goodrick-Clarke makes clear that, yes, there were plenty of prewar Germans infatuated with one or another brand of racist occultism. But the Nazi party had little time for it. They were intent on seizing state power.
Pauwels and Bergier also popularized the idea that the gods of ancient civilizations were spacemen from other planets. Von Daniken and his ilk came later, cashing in on this idea. But the evidence for such a position has never been overwhelming, and much of the evidence was simply rehashed from turn-of-the-century anthropological claims that Egypt was the "mother civilization" of all others. Thirty years has not brought any convincing new proof of alien influence to light.
Another claim made by Pauwels and Bergier, that secret societies are at work in the world, perhaps manipulating us to create a race of mutants, is sheer speculation, backed up with quotes from science fiction or out-of-context quotes from scientists. But, like the previous two claims, this claim also fostered a flurry of conspiracy/secret society books in the 1960s and 1970s. Conspiracy theories have one common flaw: they cannot be proven or disproven. This gives them what life they enjoy.
In short, the theories of Pauwels and Bergier, and their methods of writing, have been largely discredited in the last thirty years. And yet ... And yet there is still something to The Morning of the Magicians. It is still a fascinating book to read. It goes freewheeling through history and philosophy, religion and politics, with such an endearing and enjoyable attitude, daring the reader not to come along for the fun, that the book is still one I recommend reading. It is like sliding down a mountain, or rushing down a rapids, or jumping out of an airplane. Exhilarating, intoxicating, and dangerous.
And perhaps that is all it was meant to be. Pauwels and Bergier write in "The Vanished Civilizations" chapter: "Our book, we repeat, will doubtless contain a lot of nonsense, but that is of no importance if it inspires some readers with a sense of vocation and, to a certain extent, opens up new and wider paths for research. We authors are only a couple of poor stone-breakers; others will follow and make the road."
In homage to Pauwels and Bergier during this, their greatest book's thirtieth anniversary, I shall apply their own investigative techniques upon The Morning of the Magicians itself, uncovering whatever secret knowledge there may be to find in the text. I will, "with a sense of vocation," take the reader down a "new and wider path" of research. Let's see where it leads us.
Let us begin with the book's primary contentions. These are, 1. that a connection exists between superior alien beings and our own ancestral civilizations; 2. that the Nazis were occultists who were aiming to create a higher species of human being; 3. that man is capable, through occult techniques, of consciously evolving into a kind of super-man; and 4. that there may be those among us who have already reached a higher evolutionary level and are keeping themselves secret. Mixed into this brew are allegations or speculations about secret societies operating behind the scenes of modern history, manipulating society for their own ends.
Putting those ideas together, we get a rather frightening overall picture. Anyone taking all of the book's ideas seriously would be wide open for any cult with a strong leader who claimed to be either in touch with superior alien beings or to be himself more highly evolved than the average human. In short, the book operated as a sort of occult bible or blueprint, sketching out a geographical terrain of belief, an overall mind-set. The book could almost serve as a recruiting text for an authoritarian cult.
Could Pauwels and Bergier have been laying the groundwork for some massive assault against Western society, one that was meant to create a society run by a new occult priesthood?
Let's look at this idea for a moment. Morning was published in 1960. During the next decade Western society saw the birth of scores of new cult groups--the Moonies and the Krishnas, for example--and the invigoration of older cult groups like the Scientologists. All of them offer a strong leader or elite group of leaders who claim a high level of spiritual achievement. All demand loyalty from their members. All promise their members a chance to gain higher spiritual levels themselves, in return for loyalty, money, and/or hard work.
In addition to the cults, the 1960s saw the birth of many communes, usually founded by hippies. The Farm in Tennessee and Findhorn in Scotland are good examples. These too, although to a lesser degree than the cults, are totalitarian groups demanding obedience. They illustrate too the general mind-set of the 1960s: an eagerness for a powerful, mystical, and nondemocratic social system on the part of the occult and/or counter culture.
The counter culture in particular seems to have followed the blueprint outlined in The Morning of the Magicians. They sought ways to reach higher consciousness--through the techniques suggested by Pauwels and Bergier and through drugs; they eagerly embraced the occult revival of the sixties, embodied the revival, in fact; and they joined the cult groups and rural communes so common at the time. Is it too crazy to wonder how much of the counter culture was influenced by the book? Or how much of the counter culture was created by the book?
To answer these questions it is necessary to look more closely at just who Pauwels and Bergier were.
Of the two authors, Bergier is by far the more interesting. According to the New York Times, Bergier was a leading member of the French Resistance during the Second World War. He ran an underground group code named Marco Polo, developed a secret radio network, and invented devices or sabotage and guerrilla operations, including the famous letter bomb and a blowpipe for shooting poison needles. His underground group also alerted the allies as to where the Nazi V-2 rockets were being manufactured so that the Royal Air Force could bomb the facility. In 1943 Bergier was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured (he revealed nothing), and was sent to a concentration camp for the duration of the war. At war's end, he began a successful career as a writer of both science fiction and nonfiction books on espionage. His partner, Pauwels, was a writer in the occult field with dozens of books to his credit.
It is clear, then, that the authors were an odd pair. Bergier was a highly-skilled espionage agent. An extraordinary espionage agent, one whose creative inventions transformed espionage all over the world. Pauwels was an established occult writer with a solid reputation. Why were these fellows writing a book about a "coming human mutation"? Especially one led by a secret society of initiates?
Picture this. Some time in the mid 1950s a small group of Western intelligence agents forms a plan to seize power in the West. Perhaps their plan is based in part on classified documents they have seized from the Hitler regime, documents which show that many prewar German volkisch groups believed in a fuhrer concept, justified by mystical appeals to natural superiority and blood purity. These conspirators are taken with the idea of an occult dictatorship; they want to create a situation in Western society in which they can found and lead fascist-type, dictatorial cults using occultist ideas as a theoretical base. They want to re-invent the fuhrer concept for their own benefit.
But such an idea is contrary to mainstream Western thinking. Therefore they must sneak it into the culture under some other guise. During the early 1950s some of these conspirators become involved with so-called flying saucer organizations. Such people as George Adamski, who publishes books about his contacts with space aliens, insert into the public mind the idea of superior alien beings. (Adamski's aliens, be it noted, were extremely Aryan-looking. And his publisher had specialized in Silver Shirt fascist books before turning to flying saucers.)
The flying saucer groups, laughingly dismissed by the mass-media and the general public, were able to operate freely during the 1950s, without scrutiny from the authorities. Some of them, having strong ties to intelligence agencies or neo-nazi groups, are semi-fascist organizations run by small elites. (See Jacques Vallee's book Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults.) A passing look at the Manson group and its alleged ties to U.S. Navy Intelligence, the Rosicrucians in Europe and their alleged ties to the KGB, and the Dalai Lama and his close ties with the CIA, will give the healthily paranoid reader much to speculate upon.
By 1960, with a foothold in the culture, the conspiracy casts about for wider influence. What they want is a vehicle to reach a large audience with their message. Bergier, a former intelligence agent who is either in the conspiracy or being unwittingly used by it, is recruited to write a book. Pauwels, an occultist whose reputation will allow the book to be taken seriously in the right circles, is also brought in. Together, they create a work that, because of its occult label, will be overlooked by most serious literary critics. It will be able to slip under the cultural radar defenses of mainstream society.
The Morning of the Magicians is published in 1960. It is meant to serve as a softening up of the occult reading public, introducing new concepts in an attractive way. Other books follow. Von Daniken, a journalist of dubious background, writes a score of bestsellers about ancient spacemen. Nazi occultist books are published, as are books about meditation, yoga, kundalini, and related topics--all heavily weighted in favor of spiritual leaders, elitist societies, and special insights from the favored few. People like Sri Chinmoy come on the scene, the Maharishi Yogi, the Krishnas, and even Tibetan monks. As the chaos of the millennium approaches we see a new trend, "channellings" from Ascended Masters or space beings. An old idea dusted off anew. Even famous Hollywood movie actresses jump on the bandwagon.
Too much to accept? Perhaps. (I am merely a stone-breaker...) But who can deny the easy acceptance of totalitarianism in occult and New Age circles? Who does not see the cult leaders with their pliant members? Name one democratic occult organization. Name one that does not wish, like an alchemist, to transform society from lead to gold, whether society wishes it or not.
But I digress. I have wandered far afield. Excuse my speculations.
What I wanted to do was honor the anniversary of an important occult book. A classic in the field. And one that amply illustrates exactly what the occult world of today is all about.