A few years ago, an April Fool’s piece in the Daily Mail referred to “the U.S. Military’s supposed research into using microwaves as a mind control weapon”. For many people, however, the subject is no joke. Machines designed to tamper with a victim’s thoughts are, according to those who know about such things, employed on a routine basis by governments and other agencies. What few people realize, however, is that reports of such devices have a long history that stretches back more than two hundred years.
Until relatively recently, belief in mind control machines was automatically assumed to be a sign of madness. The first detailed study of the subject was an article entitled “On the Origin of the Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia”, written by the Austrian psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk in 1919. From a study of various psychiatric patients, Tausk concluded that a relatively common form of delusion involved what he referred to as an “influencing machine” (or in the original German, Beeinflussungs-apparat): a device that “produces, as well as removes, thoughts and feelings by means of waves or rays or mysterious forces which the patient’s knowledge of physics is inadequate to explain”.
If such beliefs are symptomatic of mental illness, then according to Mike Jay “Patient Zero” was an English businessman named James Tilly Matthews. In 1797, after accusing the government of treasonous conspiracy, Matthews was incarcerated in the Bedlam lunatic asylum in London. It was there that he developed his theory of the “Air Loom” – the progenitor of all future influencing machines and mind control devices. To quote from Jay’s article:
Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an Air Loom, of which Matthews was able to draw intimate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. [...] Its discharges of magnetic fluid were focused to deliver thoughts, feelings and sensations directly into Matthews’ brain. [...] To facilitate this process, the gang had implanted a magnet into his head. As a result of the Air Loom, Matthews was tormented constantly by delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head.
In an article about the Air Loom in the May 2003 issue of Fortean Times, Mark Pilkington described how subsequent delusions evolved to keep pace with the latest developments in science: “patients were quick to grasp new technologies in their attempts to rationalize what was happening to them”. In 1886, soon after the invention of the telephone, one doctor observed that his patients would now complain “that people use these instruments to torment them”. In 1897, the Swedish author August Strindberg wrote in his autobiography that “the idea that I was being persecuted by enemies who employed electricity began to obsess me”. By the time Tausk came to write his famous paper in 1919, the situation had evolved still further:
The schizophrenic influencing machine is a machine of mystical nature. The patients are able to give only vague hints of its construction. It consists of boxes, cranks, levers, wheels, buttons, wires, batteries, and the like. Patients endeavour to discover the construction of the apparatus by means of their technical knowledge, and it appears that with the progressive popularization of the sciences, all the forces known to technology are utilized to explain the functioning of the apparatus. All the discoveries of mankind, however, are regarded as inadequate to explain the marvellous powers of this machine, by which the patients feel themselves persecuted.
Despite their technical sophistication, the mind control devices – from the days of the Air Loom to the early 20th century – were always the work of human beings. Sometimes the shadowy operators were members of a criminal gang, in other cases they were agents of the government – but no-one imagined they were anything but human. Then Richard Shaver came onto the scene, and everything changed.
On the face of it, Shaver was a science fiction writer. The bulk of his output was published in Amazing Stories magazine, under the editorship of Ray Palmer, between 1945 and 1949. But Shaver maintained that his writings were based on the truth, and Palmer went along with this – presenting the stories in the guise of a neo-fortean “Shaver Mystery”. Central to the Shaver Mystery was the idea of a vast, unknown subterranean world populated by ancient, degenerate creatures known as “deros”. According to David Hatcher Childress, writing in Lost Continents and the Hollow Earth:
The deros have special beam weapon rays that they use to create as much trouble with the outside world as possible. The dero secretly foster wars, crimes and disasters while working among surface people or using their “controlling rays”. These rays can create solid-looking illusions, nightmares, hypnotic compulsions and urges to commit a crime.
This is remarkably close to the widespread belief in clandestine government activities that can be found on the web today – not just mind control on an industrial scale, but the deliberate creation of wars and “natural” disasters.
So was Shaver telling the truth? Many people will have difficulty with the concept of subterranean deros... but if he had talked about aliens, or an alliance between aliens and the government, his ideas would still meet with approval in many quarters today. This begs the question: were Shaver’s deros really aliens who created the illusion of a vast underground world in his mind?
And that brings us up against the Catch-22 of mind control. If Shaver was lying, or deluded, then of course we can’t believe a word he said. But if he was telling the truth – and he really was the victim of systematic mind control – then... well, we still can’t believe a word he said, can we?