Joe Atwill cautions against the resurging interest in psychedelics and entheogens.
photo by: Skeptiko
(audio 1979 news report) In their never ending search for the miracle weapons, CIA operatives searched here, in the remote mountain areas of Southern Mexico, for what, up until then, had been considered a myth; magic mushrooms.
The clip you’re listening to is from a 1979 news report and it’s one of the chapters in the fairytale version of the CIA’s involvement with psychedelics and as strange at that opening ten seconds was; it gets even stranger.
They used this man, a part-time chemist for the CIA, to dupe this man, a vice president of a bank and an amateur mycologist or mushroom expert, to try and get to the magic mushrooms and turn them into a drug, but it would be the amateur R. Gordon Wasson, and his colleagues, who would win the race and develop the drug psilocybin from the magic mushrooms.
Now, the notion that a Wall Street banker like Gordon Wasson, who is deeply connected at the highest level to the United States government, to the Director of the CIA, to the Council on Foreign Relations, which is the most influential group in Washington, the idea that he was somehow the central figure in the discovery of magic mushrooms in the hills of rural Mexico is just, again… it’s the stuff of fairytales.
But, if we’re to pull apart and truly understand what psychedelics are and how they’ve been used in our culture and how we might use them going forward, well this story might have a lot of significance to those questions, and that is, at least, certainly the opinion of today’s guest on Skeptiko, Joe Atwill.
Joe Atwill: They do not have any concern whatsoever for the human value of their subjects. These are lab rats. They knew perfectly well that the drug produced psychosis and they knew perfectly well that a fraction of the people weren’t going to come back, but they went forward with the experimentations regardless.
This was all used against us once. The sex, drugs and rock and roll culture was artificial, it was used against us, it really debased and damaged our culture. So now, as we sit here, we have this new era, new drugs, new research, new government involvement. We just aren’t in a position, until we know what is controlling the government, to trust these things.
Stick around, all that and a lot more coming up on Skeptiko.
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Joseph Atwill back to Skeptiko. He’s here today to talk about some of his recent research and writings into the topic of psychedelics, entheogens, how those have been introduced and promoted in our culture, and what the implications of those might be for our culture going forward.
Of course, we talked about this subject a little bit a couple of episodes back and I’ve been very interested in bringing Joe’s voice and perspective to this discussion, as I think he has a very, very interesting and unique angle to bring to this topic.
Joe Atwill is of course, the author of Caesar’s Messiah, a book that single-handedly, forever changed the landscape of biblical studies and our understanding of the Roman influence on Christianity. He’s one of my favorite guests. Joe, welcome back to Skeptiko, thanks for joining me.
Joe Atwill: Well, thank you for having me Alex and what a kind introduction.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, so let’s get back to talking about psychedelics, because you made, again, your case very well, I have to say, but I want to step back in history and I want you to build that case a little bit.
The last time we talked, this isn’t in the interview, but maybe I’ll include some clips in for people, we talked about Gordon Wasson, we talked about André Weil, people that you, as a literary analyst, like to bring to the stage and show their role. Let’s talk about Gordon Wasson. Who was he? What role does he play? Why do we think this is an actor rather than a real individual?
Joe Atwill: Wasson was the guy who brought psychedelic drugs to American culture. There was an article, May 1957, that described his journey into the Mexican desert.
Alex Tsakiris: In Life Magazine, which people won’t remember, but I mean this is like, you know, this is it, when you’re in Life Magazine, that’s it, right?
Joe Atwill: Yeah, it was the most powerful and the most widely read magazine in the United States. It was owned by Henry Luce, Skull and Bones, a secret society guy and Wasson was a partner in J.P. Morgan. He was very, very high up inside the secret society, he was actually a chairman of the meetings of the Council on Foreign Relations and this is just critically important because…
Alex Tsakiris: Say that again, so people don’t lose sight of that, because the way he’s portrayed, and I will, at this point, probably interject or splice in that clip where he’s on a TV show being portrayed as just this adventurer, Indiana Jones, independent guy down there in the jungles looking at psychedelics and then, Council on Foreign Relations?
Joe Atwill: Yeah, right. It doesn’t make much sense does it? Well, particularly that he would be the chairman. These were documents that were unearthed by Jan Irvin and they are just transparent, because they’re basically CFR documents and they list the individuals in the room during a meeting and they also list, basically the chairman of the organization, Gordon Wasson.
If you know the background of the CFR, you know that it is basically the union between the banks, the military intelligence and political [powers]. A secret society.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me jump in there, that’s alright. You made some really good points and I think you made your case in a very strong way, that people are going to find a lot of things that maybe they don’t go along with, but I’d encourage anyone to really, at the same time, dig into all the details and then step back and say, “Is he maybe right? Do we have to look at things in that way?”
But, I want to kind of counter some of the things that you’re saying, from where I’m coming from, that I think I’d love to explore with you and hear your response to.
First, I understand the ‘assume they’re all dirty’ ethos. I mean, I get that in the way that you said it, in terms of, if we’re really going to get to the bottom of it, we can’t keep giving people the benefit of the doubt. You know, maybe a plane really did fly into 911. No, you have to analyze the evidence the best you can and then bravely come to the conclusions that you’re going to come to, no matter how unpleasant they might be.
At the same time, I don’t think ‘assume they’re all dirty’ really works either and it can lead us to, kind of, just reinforcing our own beliefs in a way.
So let me, kind of present my thesis and I’ll do that by first talking about Terence and Dennis McKenna, who I’m sure you’re aware of and they’re well documented psychonauts, people who explore psychedelics. Go and look at their history, Joe, these are two kids, they’re practically teenagers. I think Terence is 23 and Dennis is 19, when they’re in India, which has a long, long, many hundreds or thousands of year history in using psychedelic and mind-altering plants and substances.
So they’re there, looking for the truth and they can’t find it or they become disillusioned with what they see, so they say, “Okay, we’re going to go totally third world; we’re going to go to Columbia,” and they start trapesing through the hills of Columbia. You can go and read their accounts and read their story and you can also look at their lives and how they live their lives afterwards.
Again, here is where I think ‘assuming they’re all dirty’ doesn’t work. If we have some solid evidence that suggests that these guys, their message was being controlled and manipulated, then bring it, but the way that I read it sounds pretty straight up to me. They’re walking through the hills and they do run across shaman, who we do know exists, and they say, “Yeah, there are the mushrooms you can eat and here are some of the other plants that you can do and here are the effects and they’ll connect us with this alternative consciousness,” that I think we’re going to talk about in a minute.
So, let me just stop there and say, what do you make of Terence and Dennis McKenna?
Joe Atwill: In my opinion they’re just total liars and are basically just operatives for the organization. I could be wrong, I mean, how could I actually prove it?
Alex Tsakiris: Well hold on, because you can prove it. I think the kind of proof that you brought to Gordon Wasson is incredibly compelling to most of us, it is to me.
The last time we spoke I brought up Ram Dass, former Harvard University and colleague of Timothy Leary, who when you look into his background, you could kind of draw these conclusions that it looks sketchy, so that’s why I didn’t bring him up again. If you really look at his life and his associates and the people around him and what they say, hundreds and hundreds of people, I don’t think he’s at all sketchy, I think we can only take his account for what it is. Again, I don’t think we can assume he’s dirty, but I left him out of the discussion this time because Terence and Dennis McKenna, I just don’t see the usual kind of funny business connections with the power structure.
Joe Atwill: Well, the case is circumstantial and it’s quite often basically by association. I mean, we’re dealing with a secret society, right? We’re dealing with people who are trained to be basically lifetime actors. So, you’re rarely going to come across fingerprints, you know, like Gloria Steinem’s outing as a CIA agent or Gordon Wasson’s pay requisition for ML-Ultra. They’re good at hiding it, but you have a circumstantial case that I think becomes what should be the operative reality. With Terence McKenna, he talks so much about the mushroom, I believe it is talking, this information that he’s getting from the plant, I mean, this is rubbish and is basically the same approach that Gordon Wasson used.
Alex Tsakiris: But hold on Joe, because now we’re really getting at the root cause of this and the way that I think it connects with what I’ve investigated with Skeptiko for the last ten years and here’s my working hypothesis.
I accept so much of what you’re saying as being true and the debasing of culture, the weaponizing of anthropology, which I love that phrase that you’ve turned there, it’s perfectly stated and the weaponization of the mind and psychedelics as a part of that, but here’s where I read the history different. I think they made a fundamental mistake in what they thought psychedelics would do and how they would be used because they had a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of consciousness and as I’ve explored on this show, that fundamental misunderstanding continues to be the dominant paradigm in science but it is just not true.
So, they were operating under this paradigm, mind equals brain – that we can change the brain, since the brain generates all consciousness and that will change the conscious experience. What they didn’t plan on and what they didn’t understand, what they didn’t see is that consciousness is, somehow and someway we don’t understand, fundamental. It’s beyond the brain. The brain is, to put it in simple terms, acting like a filter or a valve in how consciousness is perceived and operated with by the human being, but we are not consciousness and I think there’s a deeper struggle, if you want to call it, you know, this elite class, this controlling class, the oligarchs and who knows how that whole thing is divided.
I think there’s a fundamental divide, even among those groups, in terms of this issue of consciousness and whether we really are these biological robots that can be manipulated or whether, as we know from a lot of these secret societies, they’re understanding is that there is some higher order to consciousness and there is some affect in the spiritual world that they’re trying to marshal and control.
Before I get too far afield, I want to bring it back to, and I’ve got tons of evidence, scientific evidence, as we talked about in my recent episode with Cody Noconi and I talked about Rick Strassman and I can give you just tons of other examples, David Nutt in the UK, all of these experiments that have been done with psychedelics that all seem to point in the same direction. It’s not about the brain primarily, it’s pointing to a greater consciousness that is somehow fundamental and I don’t think these culture shapers knew that or saw that until they ran square into it with the psychedelic movement. What are your thoughts on that?
Joe Atwill: Well, if it’s not about the brain then they don’t need the drugs.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, it’s not that they need the drugs, but there is a larger consciousness and when you affect the drugs you can affect the way that we interact with that larger consciousness, but it’s not to misunderstand the relationship between the brain and consciousness.
It’s like the 50 shows I’ve done on near-death experience. The reason I did them is because there’s kind of the final straw. I mean, consciousness extends beyond bodily death, we know that. Science and the science control mechanism fights that tooth and nail because they like the paradigm that we’re under right now, which is all this very controlled biological robot kind of thing, but that’s just not the nature of reality. Consciousness extends beyond bodily death, that’s just the way it is. I don’t know what it means, but that’s the way it is.
Joe Atwill: Well, as I said, if it isn’t about the brain then the oligarchs wouldn’t need the drugs. The issues that you’re bringing up are really just in a separate categorical compartment. The oligarchs were interested in control. They used drugs basically to produce what they see as psychosis. So, when someone takes drugs and basically sees something that is not in, what the oligarchs see as the real world, the world that they want to control, then they’ve had success.
So basically, if you look at Wasson’s paper, the Life Magazine article, he says that the drugs produce a kind of schizophrenia and he says that this is very positive, that it’s something people should want to have.
Just after the Acid Test, the Esalen Institue, which McKenna is involved with, produced the seminars on psychosis and they all promoted psychosis as kind of this artistic and valuable state. You had Alan Ginsberg, Alan Watts, one of the guys, a psychiatrist from Peru I think, and they’re all touting the values of psychosis. Well, if you just always analyze these things from the perspective of the oligarch, you can see that they’re getting what they want. They couldn’t care less if the individuals in the psychotic or schizophrenic or drug induced state had a spiritual communion with something, they don’t care.
Alex Tsakiris: But hold on, because that’s kind of the point, in a way. You can go all the way back and look at the experiments that we still can see, the LSD experiments that we can still see YouTubes on and what a lot of these people that have these transformative spiritual experiences are saying is, “Hey, I’ll trump your ‘I don’t care’ with an even bigger ‘I don’t care’ and by that I mean, all I care about is that transformative spiritual experience because that is the window to the larger reality that you don’t get. So you can play your little control game down here and you can kill millions of people and you can abuse whoever you want to abuse, but you are closed to a larger reality that I now have a glimpse of. So I’m kind of more at peace with the game that you’re playing.” I’m not trying to convince you of that per se, but I’m just saying, that is another way to read what’s going on and it’s actually what they’re saying.
So the people in the LSD experiments, it’s hilarious if one goes back and watches this, because there’s these guys in these 1950s, short-sleeved white shirts and the thin ties and they didn’t know what they were doing and they do this drug and they’re suddenly like, “Man, everything I thought I knew, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” If we read the records, the experimenters go, “Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t exactly what we wanted or expected here.”
So, the CIA or the control mechanisms, being what they are, and this is again my opinion, they are more reactive than proactive, right? No one is right 100% of the time. So all these guys do is just throw crap out there and then say, “Oh, well that didn’t go the way we wanted. How can we still use it? How can we debase culture with it?” or whatever, but I can see how they could go down that path without realizing what they had unleashed and what they had unleashed is an access, a doorway to truly a greater consciousness field.
If I could bring it back to the interview you listened to that I gave you the clips from Dr. Rick Strassman at the University of New Mexico, who just a few years ago, relatively, you know, was given permission to use DMT and to experiment with DMT. Again, we can assume that they’re all dirty but I find no reason to assume that they’re all dirty, from looking at this guy’s research and talking to this guy, and yet his conclusion is that his subjects of his experiment were truly transported to a different field of consciousness, beyond their brain, that had different characteristics. Again, that’s been widely reported.
So, I can see how both of these can be true, how there can be this larger consciousness and there can also be these control orientated, master of the universe orientated people, who just kind of ignore all of that and say, “Well, how can I use these tools to get my gains?”
So, I don’t think that’s really where you’re at, but I want to make clear, that’s kind of how I see the landscape.
Joe Atwill: Sure. I would just point out though, those videos, you’re looking at – Sidney Cohen and Nicholas Burkell – these are both MKUltra psychiatrists. If you analyze the questioning that they’re doing of the subject, basically these individuals should be tried for human experimentation.
Alex Tsakiris: Right.
Joe Atwill: These are like the sickest individuals that have crawled on the planet, because they know perfectly well that they’ve induced a kind of schizophrenia and the questions are trying to see to what extent is the perception of reality being damaged by the drug. They’re looking for how much psychosis they can produce. They’re using human beings for experimentation and there is no guarantee that these individuals are going to recover their sanity. Many people have taken that drug and have had complete psychotic breaks that they’ve never recovered from and those individuals damn well knew it, Alex.
Alex Tsakiris: I don’t disagree with you. I don’t disagree.
Joe Atwill: If you go back to those videos, you go back to those videos to Burkell and Cohen and just very carefully analyze the questioning that they’re doing and you’ll see, they do not have any concern whatsoever for the human value of their subjects. These are lab rats and they’re trying to determine the degree of psychosis that has happened. Cohen is just… you’re just dealing with evil on a scale that’s just unimaginable. Most humans can’t even imagine that humans can really be that sick, and that’s one of the reasons why they can get away with it, is because people don’t call them on it. But this is the case; they knew perfectly well that the drug produced psychosis and they knew perfectly well that a fraction of the people weren’t going to come back, but they went forward with the experimentations regardless.
I’ll tell you something, those guys were also at the MKUltra Union Party, and then you can see that sick individual, Sidney Cohen going, “You know, people say that the CIA funded us and was backing us, what do you think about that?” He’s asking the question because John Marks’ book about the Manchurian Candidate had come out. Well, I’m sorry Mr. Cohen, but the MKUltra pay requisitions then got released and you were identified as being one of the people being funded through the program.
So this question is just a distraction, he’s trying to move people away from the idea that, “Well, I might have been actually guilty of crimes against humanity.”
You talk about, like with Strassman and we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Alex, I just strongly disagree. Until we get some clarity…
Alex Tsakiris: Hold on, I get your point there but that’s not real either. I mean everything you’re saying is true, so put together the pieces that you’re talking about with 911. I mean, come on, we’ve been at this for 17 years, anyone who thinks we’re going to get to the bottom of 911 or someone’s going to come out and tell the truth.
That guy that… I haven’t researched it enough to know if the guy is for real, but that YouTube that was making the rounds in the last couple of months of an inside operative, CIA guys, who says, “Yeah, here’s how we brought down Building 7, it was a controlled demolition and it’s a deathbed confession, which we know in a court of law carries a lot more weight than a regular confession.
So, I don’t know if that’s been debunked folks, if it has I apologize, I’ve been meaning to research that but I haven’t. But like you pointed out, the Pentagon thing, anyone who just closely looks at the Pentagon, it’s like game over, but come on, we’re never going to get to the bottom of that.
Joe Atwill: Why not?
Alex Tsakiris: I don’t…
Joe Atwill: Why not?
Alex Tsakiris: Well, I’m talking about from a pragmatic, practical standpoint. I’m saying, we have to try and navigate all of this stuff the best that we can and I’m just uncomfortable with the ‘assume that they’re all dirty” thing, because I think that can also lead us down a path where we’ll just create an echo chamber of confirming our own beliefs. So, if you have something…
Joe Atwill: Alex, until we find out what’s inside the government, this is all angels dancing on the head of a pin. Who knows? I don’t have a clue. I don’t know if Strassman is dirty, how would I possibly know that? I don’t know him, I’ve never studied his work. It could well be that he’s not, but the point is we cannot go forward at this particular time with developments of these…
Alex Tsakiris: But we’re all going forward all the time Joe, we’re all going forward all the time. We’re all trying to figure out…
Joe Atwill: Well Alex, let’s go forward with some clarity of what exactly the government is doing, because here’s my point. Look, this was all used against us once, right? It was all used against us. The sex, drugs and rock and roll culture was artificial, it was used against us, it really debased and damaged our culture. So now, as we sit here, we have this new era, new drugs, new research, new government involvement. We just aren’t in a position, until we know what is controlling the government, to trust these things. They hurt us once, this time let’s put a little scrutiny and sunlight on these things.
You know, it’s like with Strassman, or any of the people that are kind of advocating, sort of the psychonauts that are wanting this, “Let’s go into this area and try to do more research.” Here’s what I would say to them Alex, “You know what, if you are really ethical, then what you should do is not put the cart before the horse. The first step should be, we’ve got to really understand what the tradition of the psychedelic movement is. That’s the first step we’ve got to do. We need informed consent.
So, before you start promoting all of the advantages, the spiritual development that these drugs can bring, you’ve got to give the public the truth about the history of all of them and the truth about what the government did and what it was trying to do and what sort of influence it was trying to have.
If we get there, we will have informed consent, but if we don’t get there, if we’re sitting there, “Let’s try it again,” I’m sorry, to me it’s completely unethical. Until we get to the bottom of what happened and who did it and how it was designed and what the purpose of all of this stuff was, we shouldn’t be trying to move forward with psychedelic drugs and particularly drugs, like this business with Strassman, where he’s getting government funding. Now, I would just say that on its surface is just a really bad idea.
So, let’s stop, pause and spend a little bit of time getting an understanding of what happened to us and then we’ll know how we can move forward.
Alex Tsakiris: You make a really strong point and I love your point about informed consent.
You know, the other angle I always come at these things from and it’s the spiritual perspective because that’s what this show, Skeptiko, is about. It’s about following the data, being able to accept wherever that data leads you and then it’s also about looking for the deeper conspiracy, because if you don’t, if you think the data alone is telling you the story, you’re liable to be bamboozled. But the third component for me is to look for the deeper spirituality, because I think there is, the evidence has led me to believe there is a larger truth at hand that is beyond these people who are playing these games, these horrific games, these very sick and evil games. I think there’s a larger truth beyond that.
Maybe some people agree or disagree, but bringing it all the way back full circle, I mean, I know you don’t like Alan Watts but I love the quote and I brought it up in the last show, “When you get the message, hang up the phone.”
So anyone who’s being interested in being a psychonaut, my point is, you really don’t get the message yet? You don’t get the message about what being a better person is, about loving everyone, about the first rules of every wisdom tradition, tell the truth? Hey, that’s the hard part. The hard part isn’t going on some expanded consciousness adventure, the hard part is coming back and living your life in a way that is congruent with these values that we all resonate with and say that’s really how we’re supposed to live our lives.
So, I never bring that up on this show, but since you so strongly made the case against psychedelics and against entheogens, I’m not going to make that same case because I think people can find space and will probably make sense inside of some greater spiritual reality, but I would share your extreme caution and ask, “Why is that really necessary? What do you really hope to accomplish by that, if you truly are looking for this deep spirituality?”
Joe Atwill: Yeah, I have nothing against psychedelic drugs for spiritual exploration, in general, nothing whatsoever. I really just want to focus right now on how they have been used, who used them, what was the purpose of bringing them into our culture? As I said, I just want to have informed consent going forward.
With Strassman, if he was here I would just say, stop what you’re doing. Take your energies and help try to determine what really was at the back of the… like Gordon Wasson and Tim Leary and Sidney Cohen. Let’s get to the truth about this.
Just remember this, when they asked for the document, Helms just laughed at him and destroyed them. He wasn’t even fired, right? And when the Truth Commission asked for the documents, they had fatalities, citizens that had been given LSD without their knowledge who had died, right? These were the conditions that congress was demanding the documents.
Alex Tsakiris: By the way, the only reason this stuff comes out is because they were also doing it up in Canada and they have different freedom of information laws and they were going to take them to court in Canada.
Joe Atwill: Right.
Alex Tsakiris: They were able to keep the seal on it in the US.
Joe Atwill: Exactly. So anyway, I just want to get the full disclosure before we go forward, because I am worried that they’re going to try to do it again, and I think we need to be nervous about that because they didn’t get caught the first time. You see, they didn’t really get caught. There became awareness and then they simply told us that they weren’t going to use these kinds of techniques anymore. But you can just see from the example I gave about SRI, that they couldn’t care less about the democratically controlled components of democracy, right? They think those are just a joke, they can circumvent those anytime they want. The deep state oligarchic control is what has the power.
So, when we look at Strassman, I think we have to have a question mark and go, “Hey, is this guy part of that?” And we don’t know until we get more information and Strassman, if he is an ethical individual, I think he would look at this data and go, “You know, they’re right and I’m not going to go forward, I’m going to stop and we’re going to really try to get to the bottom of all of this, because I can see that it’s easy to look at me as possibly a reiteration of what was done in the 50s and 60s.”