There are at least four definitions of ‘mindfuck’:
1) People fucking with other people’s sense of reality via disinformation or pranks for their own purposes (which could be to amuse themselves, to liberate other people, or to advance some other agenda)
For example: ‘Cambridge Analytica mindfucked the British voters over Brexit’
2) People fucking with other people’s sense of reality while they’re on psychedelic drugs (to amuse themselves, or to advance some other agenda)
For example: ‘Bill really mindfucked me when I was on acid’
3) A general state of confusion, especially on psychedelics, not necessarily caused by someone else with malicious intent.
For example: ‘That festival was a total mindfuck.’
4) An enjoyably twisty movie that messes with your mind.
For example: ‘Christopher Nolan has mastered the art of the mindfuck movie’.
I want to focus on the first and second uses of the word, and particularly on the practice of maliciously messing with someone’s sense of reality while they’re in trance states, ie on drugs or online, for your own sadistic ego-gratification.
The term mindfuck began its life as a central practice in the prank-religion of Discordianism, which was started by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley in the early 1960s. Discordianism is dedicated to liberating humans from power systems and belief systems through acts of anarchic humour. The Discordian historian Adam Gorightly defines the mock-religion’s guiding ethos as ‘sowing the seeds of chaos as a means of achieving a higher state of awareness.’
Discordianism owed something to the Sixties idea of the ‘prank’. Anarchist hippy groups like the Merry Pranksters or the Yippies sought to liberate Americans from their square mind-set through pranks like throwing fake money onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, or handing out LSD at parties. Ken Kesey, founder of the Pranksters, said:
the purpose of psychedelics is to learn the conditioned responses of people and then prank them that’s the only way to get people to ask questions, and until they ask questions, they are going to remain conditioned robots
The way Discordians sought to liberate the American mind was by spreading conspiracy theories, especially conspiracies about the Illuminati, an obscure 18th-century secret society, which the Discordians elevated into an all-powerful sinister cabal responsible for everything.
In the late 1960s, two Discordian writers called Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea were working at Playboy magazine, where they were responsible for the letters page. They started publishing fake letters describing far-out conspiracy theories — especially involving the all-powerful Illuminati.
The idea was not simply to cause chaos — it was hoped that by messing with people’s sense of reality you could create a scepticism of all belief systems (in retrospect this was a very naive goal).
There was also a specific target of Operation Mindfuck — the Garrison Inquiry into the assasination of JFK. Kerry Thornley, co-founder of Discordianism, had met Lee Harvey Oswald when they served in the military together. In fact, Thornley had written a novel about Oswald, published before the JFK assasination. He’d heard that members of Jim Garrison’s conspiracy-obsessed investigation team believed in the ‘Illuminati’ — so he encouraged Wilson and Shea to feed the paranoia in the letters page of Playboy.
In the 1970s, Shea and Wilson wrote a trilogy of Illuminati novels, spreading the myth further into the public mind. The novels explored the idea of ‘Operation Mindfuck’ — and they were themselves part of the mindfuck. The novels were turned into a nine-hour play by Ken Campbell and Chris Langham in 1976, which played at the National Theatre. Slowly but surely, the myth of the Illuminati seeped into popular culture.
Jump forward to today, and Operation Mindfuck has been, we have to say, an unmitigated disaster: millions of people really believe that the Illuminati controls the world. When I first moved to Costa Rica, I stayed at a hotel where the proprietor was a full-on conspiracy theorist. He told me over dinner how the Illuminati had started the pandemic for their sinister agenda of enslavement. He was sure he was awake and the rest of the world was asleep, but to me, he had been well and truly mindfucked.
By the by, co-founder of Discordianism Kerry Thornley got mindfucked by his own mindfuck. In the 1970s he became paranoid that maybe there really was a shadowy organization — perhaps the Illuminati — controlling everything, and they really were behind the JFK assassination, and he had somehow stumbled on the truth through his pranks...or perhaps he was manipulated to be part of it?
Today, the term ‘mindfuck’ is used to mean a concerted campaign of manipulation, disinformation and propaganda over a population, especially online, to achieve a certain goal. Christopher Wylie, a psychological operations worker at Cambridge Analytica, called his whistleblower account of that firm Mindfuck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World. He discusses how he was hired by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s right-hand man, to use Facebook data to identify the hidden pressure points in the American psyche, in order to awaken and weaponize certain dark impulses in the American mind. Bannon wanted to create a Trumpian version of Palantir, Peter Thiel’s all-knowing data-sifting software.
When Cambridge Analytica launched, in the summer of 2014, Bannon’s goal was to change politics by changing culture; Facebook data, algorithms, and narratives were his weapons. First we used focus groups and qualitative observation to unpack the perceptions of a given population and learn what people cared about — term limits, the deep state, draining the swamp, guns, and the concept of walls to keep out immigrants were all explored in 2014, several years before the Trump campaign. We then came up with hypotheses for how to sway opinions. From the data CA collected, the team was able to identify people who exhibited neuroticism and dark-triad traits, and those who were more prone to impulsive anger or conspiratorial thinking than average citizens. Cambridge Analytica would target them, introducing narratives via Facebook groups, ads, or articles that the firm knew from internal testing were likely to inflame the very narrow segments of people with these traits. CA wanted to provoke people, to get them to engage.
One way to do that was by fueling conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and Qanon, which claimed leading liberals in the Democratic Party, Hollywood and international finance were Satanic paedophiles. An insane theory, of course, but it turned out there are a significant number of people around the world disposed to believe such conspiracy theories. Usually, they don’t vote. But they can be targeted and weaponized online and turned into what Trump’s security advisor Michael Flynn called ‘digital soldiers’.
From that perspective, Qanon is one giant mindfuck — indeed, there’s a book on it called Operation Mindfuck: Qanon and the Cult of Donald Trump. Who is behind the Mindfuck? It could be figures close to Trump, or the Kremlin, or the Watkins family…or, most likely, multiple actors pursuing their own different agendas.
So that’s one definition of ‘mindfuck’ — a sort of occult attempt to occupy people’s minds and steer them in a certain direction, for your own amusement, or for the people’s supposed liberation, or for power, or simply to wreak havoc and undermine a country’s capacity to reason. The best mindfuck, we note, targets people’s deep emotions and epistemic flaws and pushes buttons like ‘everyone is lying to you, trust no one, wake up, this is the secret forbidden truth, now you are among the enlightened few’. It thrives on fear, paranoia, loathing of the elite, narcissism, weak reasoning, and old-fashioned xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny.
Then there’s the second meaning of the term: mind-fuckers in psychedelics and spirituality. In this context, it refers to the kind of person who gets off on fucking with other people’s minds while they’re tripping. This sort of Machiavellian sadist became a known phenomenon in the 1960s — people would warn, ‘never trip with X, he’s a real mind-fucker’.
It became the topic of a 1972 book edited by David Felton, called Mindfuckers: A Source Book on the Rise of Acid Fascism in America. Felton and his fellow authors chronicled the rise of psychedelic cults like the Manson family and the Lyman family, led by authoritarian figures who used psychedelics to possess and control their followers’ minds.
Mindfuckers, Felton wrote, have ‘made it their business to fuck men’s minds and control them. They’ve succeeded by assuming god-like authority and using such mindfucking techniques as physical and verbal bullying, group humiliation and, in the cases of Manson and Lyman, the chemical alteration of brain cells.’
Anyone can mindfuck someone else on psychedelics. A person has a bad reaction and becomes vulnerable, delusional and a bit pathetic. And someone else thinks ‘hey, it would be funny to fuck with this person’. I’ve seen it happen, and maybe I was guilty of it myself once when I was a teenager — for a few minutes I fucked with someone’s sense of reality to amuse myself and my friends. I was using power over someone else in a vulnerable state, for my own amusement. Dark and dickish behaviour.
For some people, mindfucking — colonizing someone else’s mind and making them your slave — is the greatest joy in life. Mindfuckers use indoctrination and brainwashing techniques to enslave other people. They are particularly drawn to healing, religious, spiritual and psychedelic spaces, because these spaces offer rich opportunities for power games.
First they identify targets, who often come from broken families, are traumatized, have chaotic attachment styles and are looking for a saviour / Daddy figure. Even better if they don’t have strong social support or family ties. Then the mindfuckers groom their victims, ‘love-bombing’ them, showering them with attention and making them feel special. They use drugs or hypnosis to make the victim feel blissful, to disable their critical thinking, and to convince them that they, the mindfucker, are the source of these blissful states through their supernatural power (Osho, for example, would spike potential funders with MDMA). Then they turn the love-faucet off, withdraw their attention and favour, triggering the victim’s trauma and making them desperate for their approval. They may humiliate them in front of others, use gas-lighting to make the victim believe the abuse is their fault. They isolate the victim from anyone outside the cult who might support them and make them capable of independent reasoning. They take control of the victim’s thought-processes by making them repeat certain ideas and slogans over and over, while denying them sleep or food so they don’t have the strength to think clearly.
This is a form of brain-washing — but it only works if the victim buys into it, if they really believe the mindfucker is a special, holy, enlightened being, and the abuse and terror they are being subjected to is for their own good.
Mindfucking techniques are advanced methods for interrogation, mind-control and torture. You’re trying to ‘eliminate the will’ of the victim (that’s how the US Army described Nazi experiments on Jewish prisoners with mescaline), to break their mental defenses, their reasoning, their self-respect, their identity, and make them completely dependent on you for their beliefs, their self-esteem, their reality.
These sorts of mindfucking techniques were used by occult ‘teachers’ like GI Gurdjieff or Aleister Crowley in the 1900s — they would subject their followers to abuse in the name of de-conditioning and liberation. In the last 40 years, mindfucking practices have been adopted by several ‘human potential’ groups, like erhard seminars training, Synanon, or NXVIM (or some other more prominent organisations I won’t mention because they will sue me). They break down people’s defenses, supposedly to liberate their infinite potential. But really they turn out terrorized robotic drones who mindlessly repeat the slogans of the organisation while slaving away for it for a pittance. They create slaves, in other words.
What motivates the mindfucker? They might say they are doing it for your own good, your own healing and liberation. That’s what ‘pioneering’ psychedelic therapist Salvador Roquet said. In the 1960s, Roquet ‘healed’ people using an extreme form of psychedelic therapy, by subjecting them to nine-hour, multidrug ‘sensory overloads’ using music and video. Here’s a description:
These were scenes of violence, death and crude pornography, apparently designed to shock and disturb the sensibilities of the average patient, although other scenes reflected natural beauty, love, tenderness and the like so that the whole sweep of human passion and experience was represented…As this variety show continued the music gradually rose in volume and cacophony…At about four or five o’clock the staff began administering psychedelic drugs or plants, the drug and dosage tailored for each patient. (My watch had been taken from me so my sense of time was disoriented.) …Shortly after all the dosages had been administered the sensory overload reached its peak. The cacophonous music and an alternation of bright lights and total darkness punctuated with strange neon effects created an extremely weird atmosphere…the room began to resemble a l9th-Century snake pit or even an 18th-Century bedlam. Many of us were weeping, others rolled on the floor and shouted in anguish, others vomited, some stared into space and still others made hostile movements toward the electronic equipment…I myself became possessed by a confused notion that the persons in white coats were tormentors appointed by the Inquisition to drive me out of my mind.…the whole experience can best be described as a descent into hell. I hardly could distinguish what was outer from what was inner…At this point two staff members with vomit bags and towels came to our assistance showing infinite gentleness and compassion. This scene struck me as forcefully as had my previous conviction that the staff were persecutors. I realized that the whole ordeal had been manufactured for the patients’ benefit and that what had seemed like hell had really been a heaven…I felt intensely tender toward my fellow subjects and grateful toward the staff.
As the Psymposia team behind the Power Trip podcast have uncovered, Roquet was using similar techniques to torture prisoners for the Mexican intelligence services. He is one of the most influential practitioners in the history of psychedelic therapy — and it’s notable that two psychedelic healers recently accused of sexual abuse (Richard Yensen, who worked for MAPS, and Ahoran Grossbard, who worked for the California Institute of Integral Therapy) were both disciples of Roquet. His methods are basically a blank cheque to abuse your victim, breaking their ego-defenses and occupying their mind, all in the name of ‘healing’.
This is what one member of Grossbard’s psychedelic community said about him to Inverse magazine:
“I’ll say this about Aharon. He can have the biggest, most generous, boundaryless heart. He’ll do anything for anyone and be available for his clients 24/7. But that is incredible power, and people become reliant on him.Then he feels like he’s got the power and the right to invade every nook and cranny of your body and your soul. Like, he gets into people’s souls and tries to take them over,” Pat says.
In other words, a person may have both good and bad intentions. They may genuinely want to heal and liberate you. But total power over someone else’s soul is a hell of a drug. And gradually, absolute power corrodes your own soul, and bring out your own worst tendencies — your lust for more and more control, to feed your inflated sense of your god-like power.
You can call it mind colonization, or psychic imperialism, or energy vampirism. The mindfucker seeks to occupy their victims’ heads, insert a mind-virus into them, feed off their attention and their emotions, enslave them. If there are demons in this universe, perhaps that’s what they are — energy vampires. Perhaps they once really believed they were helping their victims, but they got addicted to the power and attention, and needed to keep feeding off their victims’ minds to support their own delusion that they are omnipotent gods.
We can train ourselves in ‘psychic self-defense’ against mindfucking. Basically, you do the opposite of every cultic indoctrination technique.
A lot of these psychic self-defence techniques can be found in Stoic philosophy, by the way. The journalist Edward Hunter invented the term ‘brainwashing’ with his sensationalist accounts of Communist mind-control programmes in the 1960s — in fact, the panic his reporting produced helped to inspire the CIA’s MK Ultra programme as a response. In his 1960 book Brainwashing, Hunter uses Admiral James Stockdale as an example of a soldier who could resist brain-washing techniques — Stockdale used Stoic philosophy to endure Vietcong torture without being broken. It’s also notable that — so far at least — modern Stoicism hasn’t had an abuse scandal (famous last words!). Stoics are not easily mindfucked.
But here’s the last point. If we’re working in spirituality, or psychedelic therapy, or healing, or teaching…or simply if we’re a human being relating to other human beings, how do we defend ourselves against the darker traits in our own psyches? How do we notice and counteract an urge to mindfuck others, that’s to say, to colonize their minds and make them dependent on us? Humphrey Osmond, the psychiatrist who coined the word ‘psychedelic’, wrote:
The really difficult thing, as I see it, is to maintain a spirit of detached enquiry into these matters and to refuse to be overwhelmed by their astounding nature or tempted by their power aspects.
Mindfucking is not a problem that is unique to psychedelic healing. It’s there in psychiatry, in religion, in education. How many PhDs have been mindfucked by their supervisors? It exists wherever there are power hierarchies, and wherever there are humans. Power is a helluva drug, and few of us are immune to its intoxication.
PS, it’s notable that there’s an overlap between the two meanings of the word ‘mindfuck’. Cambridge Analytica’s work in support of Trump was paid for by Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who owned Breitbart, where Steve Bannon worked. They are also big investors in psychedelic therapy, giving $1 million to MAPS for its MDMA trials. Peter Thiel, owner of data-sifting corporation Palantir, is also a big investor in psychedelic therapy through an invesment in atai Life Sciences. What happens when you combine powerful mind-altering drugs with big data and mind-altering algorithms? One big mindfuck!
PPS, Is Neuro-Linguistic Programming ‘mindfucking’? And how can one resist it? Check out this article giving tips on how to avoid an NLP mind-fuck.