The Poison Secret: Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey Kripal’s Traumatic Package

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The Super Natural: A New Vision of the Unexplained was promised by its publishers (Tarcher-Penguin) to be “the most important book on the paranormal since Charles Fort published The Book of the Damned in 1919.” The book is a collaboration between Whitley Strieber, best-selling horror author “who popularized the concept of alien abduction,” and Jeffrey Kripal, renowned scholar and “renegade advocate for including the paranormal in religious studies.” On its own terms, it is an attempt to integrate “rejected knowledge” with “the great paradigm change of our time: the end of materialism.” Kripal has been advocating Strieber since 2011, when he wrote a section on him in Mutants and Mystics and penned the foreword to Strieber’s same-year release, Solving the Communion Enigma. On the surface, Kripal takes Strieber’s outlandish testimonies at face value; he appears to see them, to see Strieber’s mere existence, as a means to banish forever the old, moth-eaten paradigm of materialism. In The Super Natural he compares Strieber to St. Paul and Moses, clearly signaling that what Strieber is presenting is akin to the inception of a new religion.

For all its claims to be a shockingly new vision of the unexplained (claims backed up by Joscelyn Godwin, Jacques Vallee, and Dean Radin quotes on the back of the book), I found very little new about The Super Natural. What about Pauwels and Bergiers’ Morning of the Magicians in 1963, Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics in 1975, Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy in 1980, Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe (one of Strieber’s favorites) in 1991, and Graham Hancock’s Supernatural, in 2006? It seems as if, at regular intervals, a book comes along that tries to do more or less what The Super Natural is claiming to do, and turn the materialist paradigm upside down. The main difference here is that the focus is on the experiences of a single individual, Strieber, and by extension, those of thousands, or millions, who also believe they have been contacted by . . . something that can’t be explained by orthodox science.

Kripal’s primary role is to provide the Strieber-material with the academic seal of approval. Yet the book, including Kripal’s contribution, is written in the sensationalist, whiz-bang, hyperbole-filled, how-can-we-top-ourselves-this-time style of all Strieber’s previous works. Although Kripal doesn’t openly express envy for Strieber’s “super natural” experiences, he practically oozes admiration for him, though whether he is sincere or not is hard to say. Much of the time he seems to be selling a product rather than exploring a mystery, and the book’s earnestness smacks, to me at least, of insincerity. Like everything Strieber touches, this book is not what it appears to be. It seems aimed at the critical establishment as an argument against materialism but it’s written in an overly simplistic style that falls far short of anything resembling rigorous analysis. It’s populist nonfiction, and its target audience is certainly not the “cultural elite” which both Kripal and Strieber grumble about throughout the book. The target audience, I suspect, is New Age readers who already reject the materialist paradigm, but who want to feel like they are being treated as intelligent, critical-minded thinkers. Rather than challenging religious or scientific orthodoxy, it seems designed to validate and reinforce a growing belief system that, despite all of the two authors’ claims, is anything but marginal.

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley