As busy as I am preparing for Burning Man this week, there was virtually no way I could miss the Process Church Of The Final Judgment presentation hosted by Feral House and Cinefamily last night at the Silent Movie Film Theater in Los Angeles. I had heard about The Process Church Of The Final Judgment many years ago thanks to Adam Parfrey’s landmark collection of fringe culture essays “Apocalypse Culture” (and thanks, Ero, for gifting the book to me many years ago.) and figured I had heard as much as I needed to know about this unique mixture of gnostic Christianity and Scientology-derived psychoanalytics. But Adam’s wife Jodi has done wonders for Feral House, prompting a host of events nationwide that place the books in a wider context, with this one being a solid case in point. And all that was being asked of me was to lay my life down for both Jesus Christ and Satan. No real biggie.
I’m guessing, however, some of you will NOT be familiar with the Process. Brief introduction: the Process Church Of The Final Judgment was a psychoanalytical project, inspired partly by Scientology, which blossomed into a full-on Gnostic Christian cult in the ‘60s. Founded by architectural student Robert De Grimston and former prostitute Mary Anne MacLean, the cult gained infamy for its worship of Lucifer, Jehovah, Christ and Satan, as well as an apparently tenous connection to Charles Manson. Ed Sanders and Terry Maury made hay of this in their respective books The Family and The Ultimate Evil. To be sure, the Church did get around – the Church’s magazine was a pretty interesting read in its day, featuring an interview with Mick Jagger and excerpted twice by Funkadelic in its liner notes for Maggot Brain and “America Eats Its Young.” The church folded in 1974, committing whatever Satanic bloodshed has occurred by its agency since then strictly on the DL.
It’s only now that Adam’s finally gotten around to publishing a fuller account of the Process Church’s history, Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story Of The Process Church Of The Final Judgment, written by founding member Timothy Wyllie. To celebrate, Feral House teamed up with local cult film promoters Cinefamily to throw a full-on mass, similar to the ones the Church once threw in the ‘60s to attract members. And let me tell you that seeing the Baphomet head onstage was all the license I needed to order this big huge scrumptious cookie dough cupcake from the goodie stand before I took my seat. I had permission to sin, you see.
Directly in front of me, eerily enough, were two fashion designers I had seen just a few hours ago at a decidedly more New Agey setting. One of them had completed work on a film with Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre and Cevin Key, and had been hipped into the church between these industrial music touchstones. At one point, Adam’s business and life partner, Jodi Wille, comes up to me and asks me a favor: apparently, this service requires a little audience participation. It’s all in the booklet we received as we came in. And she also asks when the call for initiates to the church is uttered to please stand and encourage the hipsters assembled to do their part.
Neither of my newfound pals in front of me sound down for this – they’re obviously former Goths who would rather worship a critical remove rather than Jesus and Satan. For my part, I recall the immortal South Park “dance-off” episode where the Goth joins Stan’s dance team, declaring, “I’m so non-conformist that I’m not gonna conform with you,” and pledge silently to do my part.
The show begins with four cowled musicians solemnly taking their place on the stage. This combo, which included a few crack players from the metal, indie rock and New Weird America scenes (namely David Christian of No-Neck Blues Band, Dark Metal vocalist Jex Thoth, Kevin Rutmanis and Imaad Wasif), really cooked, let me tell you; they belted out heartfelt pledges of love and allegiance to demons and angels with the conviction of true believers. I’m thinking back right now to the longing in Jex’s voice for a time many of us in the audience never knew. Later on in his talk, author Wyllie clearly attributes occasionally cynical motivations to the church, but clearly, none of this was on display during the Sabbath Assembly.
One note: a LOT of references to God in such an assembly. One couple behind me was totally creeped out by it, apparently looking at the whole proceeding as a massive Kool-Aid chug-a-lug. I for one sincerely hope they didn’t injure their asses on the doorknob upon their hasty retreat. That said, there were quite a few new “initiates” to the fold when the Sacrifist, a middle-aged gent in a fetching red robe, made his call, and none of them became any less cool in my eyes.
After the Assembly portion, Maja D’aoust, the fetching chief librarian over at the Philosophical Research Society and author of The Secret Source, stepped out of her liturgical skin to explain what we had just seen. The Church often presented something similar to what we had seen to new recruits, and offered membership to interested attendees. “If nothing else, understand that the church gave us permission to access the Satan within, and lead him by the hand, instead of the other way around,” she noted.
After a brief yet snazzy peek into an upcoming Process Church documentary, Wyllie, a cartoonish Brit with a towering mane of white hair, struggled in vain with modern technology to show off a few slides before throwing up his hands. He clearly has no problem alerting us to his frequent moments of utter consternation or befuddlement to the task at hand, but somehow makes these moment into quite entertaining. Parfrey then joins him for a brief Q&A, where they talked about the Process’s unlikely morphing into the decidedly secular Best Friends Animal Shelter in Utah and its attendant reality TV series “Dogtown” on National Geographic. With goofy candor, Wyllie admits it derived not just from church doctrine (the group embraced animal rights and anti-vivisectionism early on), but from the continual need to make money. “Of course, we learned eventually that people will give you money without offering ANYTHING!” he observed gleefully. Clearly, and thankfully, this man simply cannot censor himself. Amen.
I managed to get a question in as well, about the group’s early ties with Scientology. Wyllie appears to agree with some of Scientology’s basic tools, but notes the Process never steered its adherents towards a preconceived conception of cognitive and spiritual liberation. Since Scientology has a long and checkered history of punishing its apostates, the Process were continually dogged by the Church, who according to Wyllie attempted to pin the Manson murders on their camp (of course, Manson also took Scientology courses in prison prior to the murders, but that doesn’t count, I think.). Wyllie staunchly denies this, but regretfully recalls making a connection with him in the form of a jailhouse interview for the church’s Death issue. “We figured Manson might know a thing or two about that subject,” Wyllie figured.
What little Wyllie shared about the church revealed a small band of Brits following without much of a roadmap a small psychological intuition into unusual territory, with the greatest unintended consequence being the continued interest of its teachings amongst people like us. Wyllie feels this naivete may have been the group’s saving grace, for with more knowledge of the occult, the group may have become actually dangerous. However, talking it over with Maja after the performance, I confessed real sorrow that religious ideas like the Process don’t exist nowadays, and communal, spirtual experiences are considered the sole province of Christian megachurches. No wonder Jex sang so passionately; one can’t help but hope for a day when the counterculture can reclaim a spiritual momentum. For now, at least we have a better idea of what to avoid, and what to aspire to:
Out of the flames of the world
From the heart of the burning inferno
From the ashes of the all-consuming fire
Arises the phoenix from the earth
Comes forth the power of love
Reborn in the fires of the End
And the evil absorbed
And love is restored
And the poison is consumed
And the phoenix is reborn
All is returned
Restored to G-d
Restored to the One
All is returned
All is One
-Hymn, “And the Phoenix Is Reborn”
Oh, and I’m adding a link to Maja’s new podcast, which she’s doing alongside Wired Contributing Editor and fellow Burner Erik Davis. One of these days, I’ll be interviewing him for this blog, but for now, I figured to give him some love.