Sinister Forces


Review from Thoma Ligoti Online

Hi All –

Long time lurker, first time poster. I just wanted to say that I’ve recently finished Sinister Forces, an absolutely marvelous trilogy of history, cultural criticism, and metaphysics by the curious author Peter Levenda. It’s a book which reads like how it is – an enthusiastic, well-employed, world-traveling man spent 25 years researching a 2000 page masterwork all about the American government’s role in mind control, the influence of religion and the occult on mind control, and how the bizarre antics of serial killers, shamans, and other fringe elements fit into one horrifying larger picture. It’s long, sloppy, dense, fantastic, and addictively readable. Oh, and there are also some very significant detours into quantum psychology.

It’s a bit heavy going at first, with isolated strands leaping in and out of a patchwork narrative of what feels like ALL OF WRITTEN HUMAN HISTORY, but by the third volume you’re grateful for the information overload, as it really does all tie together. Written in a style somewhere between Lovecraft and The Economist, the books feel better-written and more imaginative than most works of fiction; Norman Mailer, in the introduction to the first volume of the series, asserts that Sinister Forces supplies an endless source of inspiration for spy novels and other such things, which is perhaps an ideal way to approach the material. I think we’re all fairly intelligent people here who understand that the American government (and the related military-industrial complex) has embroiled itself in all manner of utterly unethical, immoral enterprises, so while individual revelations will no doubt shock the reader, the political landscape should be relatively familiar; but, if you approach the book perhaps as it ought to be approached, less like a history lesson and more like an intricately designed entry point to a new lens through which we can view civilization, then the real joys of the work come through. The world is a frightening, interconnected world where “coincidence” is not mere coincidence and evil is all around us, operating on levels beyond the comprehension of those supposedly in charge.

The focus of Sinister Forces is difficult to explain; it’s not an especially “professional” book, but it is rather rich, intelligent, and idiosyncratic. Levenda begins by tracing the founding of America to the white cultists who settled there, and those before them, such as the Arawaks, and their various occult interests. We also examine strange burial mounds in haunted Kentucky, from ancient peoples who, by all accounting, appear to predate the natives whom the whites had met centuries later. We then dive into the records of MKULTRA, ARTICHOKE, Operation Paperclip, Wandering Bishops, Jonestown, the OTO, Aleister Crowley, Frank Olson, the Manson Murders, the Kennedy assassinations (Jack and Bobby both!), and much, much, much, much, much more. There’s also some nonsense about UFOs – well, maybe not nonsense, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book, except when we start discussing disinformation campaigns. Still, it’s a minor complaint.

Levenda’s material has enough power as an ostensibly factual resource, although little errors here and there undermine its authority. I’m a film nerd who works in the film industry, so when someone gets a bit of film trivia wrong, I notice, and while it’s hardly that important to remember that, say, William Peter Blatty, and not William Friedkin, directed Exorcist III (Jeffery Dahmer’s favorite movie), or that, despite rumors to the contrary, Anton LaVey had nothing to do with Rosemary’s Baby, the sloppiness evinced over even a minor detail makes it difficult to buy some of the other amazing assertions dropped here and there. TrineDay, the publisher, is a small, overworked house who no doubt have to strain to publish anything, let alone meticulously fact check a 2000 page masterwork, but the books deserve better.

As it stands, however, even if we cannot trust completely the factual rigor of Sinister Forces, so much of its individual bits are true, and its bibliography is so thoughtfully enormous, that it has tremendous value still – and especially on the level of, as Mailer suggests, a fountain of ideas for fictional explorations of similar ideas. And as the books wind down from an extended history lesson to a question of non-local activity on the quantum level and what this might have to do with psychology and trance states, it’s best to let go of the handlebars and let Levenda take you on one hell of a ride. You also begin to appreciate how Levenda constructs what winds up being a remarkably coherent and plausible argument: by barraging you with inter-related factual narratives until you are adrift, until he throws you a line and reels you back into familiar waters.

Or something.

In summation, the Sinister Forces trilogy, despite some quibbles over length, organization, and a little sloppiness (which can be chalked up to limited resources and a not the integrity of Peter Levenda), is pretty dang great. Highly recommended for the adventurous, patient reader.

Levenda’s previous books comprise the equally fascinating Unholy Alliance (a theatrical but well-researched survey of the occult aspect of Nazism) and the Simon Necronomicon (unread by me).