There’s no shortage of connections between British espionage writers and the occult, and while we’ve examined a good deal of Ian Fleming, another writer who wrote quite prolifically of devilish machinations was Dennis Wheatley.
Wheatley was the son of a winemaking family, and he would cause some stir early in his college days for creating his very own campus “secret society.” Following his expulsion for this incident, Wheatley joined the military, fighting in World War I as a Royal Artillery Lieutenant. He was then tasked with military intelligence and covert operations in World War II, serving in the London Controlling Section. After his war activities, Wheatley worked for British Intelligence and was introduced to notorious occultist and black magician Aleister Crowley, stating:
The fact that I had read extensively about ancient religions gave me some useful background, but I required up-to-date information about occult circles in this country. My friend, Tom Driburg, who then lived in a mews flat just behind us in Queen’s Gate, proved most helpful. He introduced me to Aleister Crowley, the Reverend Montague Summers and Rollo Ahmed. (The Time Has Come: The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley (Vol 3) 1919-1977: Drink and Ink, p. 131.)
However, there is more to the story concerning his relation to British Intelligence and MI5, as his personal site explains:
Then in May 1940, following a chance conversation between his wife and her passenger while she was a driver for MI5, Wheatley was commissioned to write a series of papers on various strategic aspects of the War. These ‘War Papers’ were read by the King and the highest levels of the General Staff, and as a result in December 1941 he was re-commissioned, becoming the only civilian to be directly recruited onto the Joint Planning Staff. With the final rank of Wing Commander, for the rest of the War Wheatley worked in Churchill’s basement fortress as one of the country’s small handful of ‘Deception Planners’ who were charged with developing ways to deceive the enemy of the Allies real strategic intentions. Their top secret operations, which included the plans to deceive the enemy about the true site of the Normandy landings, were highly successful and saved countless lives.
Wheatley’s wife also worked for MI5, yet these details do not easily emerge in research on the subject, though it is now known Wheatley was also working with MI6, including writing anti-German and anti-Russian occult spy fiction. And so to old dusty books we must go before a fuller picture emerges and we spot the connections to Fleming and Maxwell Knight, and the decision to co-opt Aleister Crowley into MI5 work. In Anthony Masters’ book The Man Who Was M: The Real-Life Spymaster Who Inspired Ian Fleming, we read:
Dennis and Joan Wheatley were constant visitors to the flat, but Lois found she had little in common with Knight’s and Wheatley’s all-absorbing interest in the occult, and in particular, Aleister Crowley who was later to become an MI5 agent. Wheatley had met Crowley through Tom Driberg, then a remarkable journalist (and later a Labour Party MP) whom Knight was to use as an agent inside the CPGB [Communist Party of Great Britain]. Crowley had come to dinner with the Wheatleys many times and provided Dennis with occult information for his books. Wheatley’s first opinion had been that Crowley was interesting but harmless. Driberg, however, warned him that Crowley had been responsible for running a community in Northern Sicily where a number of children had been rumored to have disappeared in connection with Satanic masses. He also told Wheatley that there had been another alarming episode, this time in Paris, which was better documented. In an attempt to raise the pagan god Pan, Crowley had spent a night in an empty hotel room on the Left Bank, in company with one of his followers, a man named MacAleister. In the morning they were both found naked. MacAleister was dead and Crowley was crouched howling in a corner, from where he was taken to an asylum. Four months later he was released, but the cause of MacAleister’s death was never discovered. This, anyway, was Driberg’s story and it fascinated both the Wheatleys and Knight, although Crowley in the flesh remained a disappointment.
Knight met Crowley at the Wheatleys. He was well-dressed and middle aged, with the voice and manner of an Oxford don. He said his own grace, embroidering Rabelais’ (Do what you like) ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,’ but nevertheless Knight wondered how such racy legends had sprung up around such a seemingly harmless, if eccentric, academic.
Knight told his nephew, Harry Smith, that he and Dennis Wheatley went to Crowley’s occult ceremonies to research black magic for Wheatley’s books. “They jointly applied to Crowley as novices and he accepted them as pupils,” Smith told me. “But my uncle stressed that his interest – and also Wheatley’s – was purely academic.” (pg. 90-1)
On Her Majesty’s Satanic Request
The links become clear: Wheatley, Knight and Ian Fleming were the chief architects of the ruse to co-opt Crowley for the purpose of luring Nazi Rudolph Hess to parachute into Scotland. Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett only mentions this briefly in passing, leaving out Crowley:
At the same time he [Fleming] maintained contact with several other friends in the broad field of deception, including Ellic Howe, who had worked for the printer James Shand and now specialized in counterfeit German documents; Dennis Wheatley, an occasional dinner guest who worked for the London Controlling Section masterminding deception projects; and Louis de Wohl, and astrologer who was used by the NID to chart the exact moments when Hitler might be open to ruses and feints. (Ian Fleming, pg. 134).
And Masters again:
Ian Fleming, then in the Department of Naval Intelligence, was fascinated by Knight’s mysterious persona, and was to involve him in an extraordinary adventure whose components – The Link [a supposed pro-Hitler underground in the UK], Aleister Crowley and Hess – were to make an explosive mixture. Years later, when Fleming wrote the first of his James Bond books, he used an amalgam Knight and his own superior, Rear-Admiral John Godfrey, as the model for M, Bond’s boss. (The Man Who Was M, pg. 157)
In fact, this curious episode of the tale of luring Hess through Crowley was apparently seeded in a predictive programming form (or the idea was nabbed therefrom) in Ian’s brother, Peter Fleming’s novel, The Flying Visit, penned soon before Hess’ flight. Fleming scholar Craig Cabell comments on this fantastical story:
SOE and NID were closely associated with each other at the time of Hess’ flight and Fleming would have learned very quickly about Hess (because he saw much intelligence from various sources). We know for certain that Fleming tracked down Aleister Crowley for advice concerning Hess’s interrogation, which prompted Crowley to write to the DNI. But why would Fleming do that? Crowley had been dubbed the wickedest man in the world, a master of the Black Mass, who once apparently summoned Pan and was left a jibbering wreck. Although still a master of the Occult and Astrology during the Second World War, Crowley was more content to write propaganda poems than summoning up ancient demons; bit he did write to Godfrey, the sealed letter covered in occultist symbols. The letter read:
If it is true that Herr Hess is much influenced by astrology and magick, my services might be of use to the Department in case he should not be willing to do what you wish. I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient Servant,
Aleister Crowley” (Ian Fleming’s Secret War, pg. 46)
Author Peter Levenda comments on this association as well, in his Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult:
His [Crowley’s] utility to MI5 during his Berlin days, when he spied on German communists, was not forgotten. Further, he had been cultivated by Dennis Wheatley, who found the occult fascinating…Knight was the prototype for Ian Fleming’s character “M”: The intelligence chief whom we always see in the movies giving Sean Connery or Roger Moore his dangerous, “license to kill” assignment. What is not generally known is that “M” was also introduced to Aleister Crowley–by Dennis Wheatley–and was quite friendly with the Magus….here is Maxwell Knight, “M” after all, accepting a kind of occult initiation into from Aleister Crowley and becoming his pupil! Himmler was obsessed by the idea that British Intelligence was being a Rosicrucian Order and that occult adepts were in charge of MI5. How would he have reacted if he had known the formidable Maxwell Knight, head of Department B5(b), the countersubversion section of MI5, was a disciple of Aleister Crowley? And that Dennis Wheatley – he of the occult novels favored by Goering – was also a student of Crowley’s and simultaneously working for Churchill’s planning staff? (pg. 231-3. See also For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond by Ben MacIntyre, pg. 88)
I’ve noted many times the connection of Crowley to various villians, including LeChiffre in Casino Royale, but as we shall see, the influence in the British Psy Op Department extends beyond Fleming to Wheatley:
One of the last photographs of Rudolf Hess in Spandau has him pictured with detailed maps of the moon. These are printed on the wall of his cell directly above his bed. Also the character of LeChiffre in the James Bond novel Casino Royale is based physically on Aleister Crowley; just as the evil occultist in Dennis Wheatley’s Devil Rides Out is based upon Crowley. (Ibid., pg. 48-9)
Indeed, not only was this the beginning of Fleming’s inspirations for 007 and the fictional occult tales of Duc de Richleau in Wheatley’s novels, but is in fact the same circles that would produce the OSS in 1942, later to become the CIA in 1947. The curious convergence of espionage, Hollywood, the occult and high finance become manifest. Cabell continues:
It was May 25 1941 wen Fleming and Godfrey stepped off the flying boat at LaGuardia, New York. They were there to observe U.S. port security alongside William Stephenson’s British Security Coordination (BSC), who worked out of New York. There was of course more to the trip than that. The gentleman form the NID were overtly there to assist Stephenson in developing a security sector in America that would benefit both US and UK interests. Godfrey was keen to make William Donovan head of the new security force. Donovan was senior partner in a law firm but during the Great War he had worked as a private intelligence gatherer for J.P. Morgan, so he was a known, albeit unused, officer. Fleming had tried to coax Donovan into Operation Goldeneye, but Godfrey had him personally marked for the U.S. (pg. 53)
And for the icing on the cake, consider Phillip Knightley’s admission of this as nothing more than a British move to further manipulate U.S. policy in favor of the U.K., in his The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the Twentieth Century:
Donovan was helped to prepare his submissions to Roosevelt by Stephenson and the SIS officers attached to his staff. Two senior British Intelligence officers, Admiral John Godfrey and his personal assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming (later of James Bond fame), crossed the Atlantic to work on the campaign…There is no doubt what the British were hoping to achieve, as the reports that Stephenson sent to Menzies make clear. He wrote that, at first, Donovan was not at all certain he wanted the job of directing ‘the new agency we envisage’ (emphasis added). When Donovan’s appointment was announced, Stephenson wrote that Donovan was accusing him of having intrigued and driven him into the job. Stephenson then expressed his relief that ‘our’ man was in a position of such importance to ‘our’ efforts. Major Desmond Morton of the Industrial Intelligence Center was even blunter: ‘…to all intents and purposes US security is being run for them at the president’s request by the British. It is of course essential that this fact should not be known in view of the furious uproar it would cause if known to the isolationists. (pg. 217-8)
The Devil Rides Out (1968) Onto Film
Thus we come to the analysis of the 1968 film incarnation of Wheatley’s novel, The Devil Rides Out, starring Christopher Lee and James Gray and directed by Terence Fisher. Fisher was a fixture of dozens of B horror films in the 60s, including previously directing Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). (Lee would also go on to play Dracula in The Satanic Rites of Dracula in 1973 with Cushing). Interestingly, Fisher’s gothic horror films generally present evil as defeated by a combination of faith and reason, in contrast to both superstition and rationalistic scientism:
His films are characterised by a blend of fairy-tale, myth and sexuality. They may have drawn heavily on Christian themes, and there is usually a hero who defeats the powers of darkness by a combination of faith in God and reason, in contrast to other characters, who are either blindly superstitious or bound by a cold, godless rationalism (as noted by critic Paul Leggett in Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion, 2001).
The figure of Christopher Lee is also relevant, given his own claims of involvement in the Special Operations Executive, including even whispers he was an assassin: “I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like,” he stated. However, there is some matter of dispute as to Lee’s claims, including the idea they may have been exaggerated or made up. Similar to the story of Chuck Barris, the Gong Show Host who purportedly worked side jobs as a CIA hitman as portrayed in the 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Count Dooku may have been serving out the Imperial Palpatinian death notices in real life.
What is also curious about Lee are his comments on the occult, in which an old interview shows his knowledge and fascination, as well as his personal copy of Anton LaVey’s book, signed by the founder of the rather theatrical Church of Satan. LaVey’s connections and associations with Hollywood, including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jayne Mansfield are well known, but the interview certainly provides a window into Lee’s views on the matter. Lee also later bade curious investigators an emphatic warning in an interview just prior to his death, assuring the dark forces of the occult will induce madness, as well as loss of soul.
Replete with occult and tarot imagery, the film is a fantastical, yet relatively realistic presentation of the rituals and beliefs of some serious occultists. It is also worth remembering, as we have seen, these occult practitioners include member of the British elite and intelligence establishment. Both Wheatley and Knight appear to have taken it seriously, giving the story a unique, dark aesthetic. In the film, we find Nicholas Duc de Richleau (Lee) becoming suspicious of the odd behaviors of his friend, Simon Aaron. Visiting Aaron, Nicholas discovers he is no longer welcomed among his new cast of colorful elites, all of whom appear opulently wealthy and eccentric. Sneaking away to Aaron’s observatory, Nicholas discovers the sign of Baphomet upon the floor and various astrological and ritual implements (including chickens stored in a closet) which suggest the elite “society” of Aaron’s is, in fact, a coven involved in ceremonial invocation of spirits.
The coven is intent upon initiating both Aaron and a young love interest (of Nicholas’ other friend) named Tanith into their diabolical sect. Here the importance of bloodlines comes to the fore, inasmuch as prominent intergenerational Satanic families are believed to carry a special potency. In fact, Tanith is going to be wed to Satan himself. Heading up the cult is one Mocata (James Gray) who appears to have the special ability to cause smog, mirror-frosting and on-the-spot mind control and psychic vampirism through the gaze of his eyes. The much-hyped “suicide programming” of “Illuminati victims” actually does appear in the film, where both Tanith and Aaron attempt to murder others, as well as themselves, showing “suicide programming” on the part of Mocata.
Disrupting a woodland Satanic baptismal ceremony that hearkens to something akin to the Order of the Golden Dawn, yet situated in Salisbury Plain, Nicholas party crashes the drugged revelry by tossing a cross at Baphomet himself. Rather pissed at this effrontery, Mocata conjures the Angel of Death himself to take vengeance upon Nicholas and company, leading to the counter-ceremonial ritual sleepover inside the magic circle. While inside the circle, Nicholas and company experience a spiritual/psychical magical battle that evidently plays out in the aether, resulting in a foiled attempt at child sacrifice by Mocata. The interesting aspect here is the idea that to fight the black magic of Mocata, Nicholas must also delve into ritual magic. While somewhat ridiculous, the film does present authentic aspects of both hermetic and perennial esoterica, where the notion of spiritual battles waged on a higher, aetheric plane effect our own through the transference of energy.
While all of this may seem a bit out of place, one can see a deeper strand of revelation at work here, shining light on more than merely spies and weird movies. The real story of The Devil Rides Out is that Wheatley, as a high level insider in the Western intelligence elite and an associate of Crowley, couldn’t help but reveal the actual workings of the upper crust, now evident in the stories of the Franklin Coverup, the Dutroux Affair and the UK’s Jimmy Savile. In Voodoo, there is the old myth that the devil appears especially at the crossroads, and as we see, he also rides out in similar fashion, just as the crossroads of occult film and espionage meet here.
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