A Feral Process

Adam Parfrey of Feral House liked to put out clusters of books based on his particular interests, and one of those interests was the infamous Process Church, a cult from the 1960s and 1970s whose severe black uniforms and Satanic rites gained them a terrifying reputation. Robert de Grimston was the figurehead whose name was attached to most of the more traditional literature the Process created, but it has become apparent through later disclosure that it’s truer to say that the leader was his wife Mary Ann MacLean, who took pains to keep her importance a secret from outsiders.

If nothing else, the acid test of this came when de Grimston and MacLean split up in 1974; by and large, the community sided with MacLean and Robert was left trying with much less success to try and propagate his own reformed version of the Process before he gave up by the end of the 1970s. There can be few more unambiguous demonstrations of where the true power lay than in this display of loyalty to MacLean.

Under MacLean, the Process Church renamed itself first the Foundation Church of the Millennium, then the Foundation Faith of the Millennium, and established the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. By 1993, the legal entity which had been the Foundation rebranded itself as Best Friends Animal Society and, to all outside appearances, had abandoned all religious and spiritual ambitions entirely for the sake of running the shelter; MacLean died in 2005. This would make it substantially easier to publish material on the Process without fear of litigation, and Feral House was happy to oblige…

Love Sex Fear Death

Subtitled The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final JudgmentLove Sex Fear Death is billed as being by Timothy Wyllie and edited by Adam Parfrey, but I’d say on balance it is more of an anthology brought together by Parfrey than it is a single work by Wyllie, particularly since Wyllie’s words only account for about a third of the book. Still, Wyllie’s story is an important one and I can see the justification in giving him prominent billing. Wyllie was part of the Process Church before and after it had that name. He knew Robert de Grimston in 1959, before de Grimston and Mary Ann ever met.

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Above Top Secret, But Not Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Timothy Good’s career has seen him make a mark on two distinct fields. In the world of music, he’s an experience violinist who has played for an extended period of time with several highly regarded orchestras, and has worked as a session musician for major stars. In his other career, he is a UFOlogist, whose Above Top Secret was one of the more prominent tomes to emerge from the British UFO scene.

Over the course of Above Top Secret, Good wants to persuade the reader of two things:

  1. Various governments around the world have looked into the UFO phenomenon, but have played down or actively covered up this interest on their part.
  2. At least a portion of UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spaceships piloted by aliens, and some governments have proof of this they are concealing.

Good plays a clever rhetorical trick with this book; to my eyes, the materials he offers do substantiate his first point, but point 1 can be true without point 2 being also true. His evidence offered for point 2 is much more tenuous, but if you are not reading carefully you may find yourself buying into 2 on the basis of how well he’s sold you on 1.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 5: Hey, Did You Know We Have a Movie Coming Out?

So far on my X-Files rewatch we’ve seen the show’s muddled beginnings, cheered it on as it got good, savoured its prime, and tried to enjoy what we could as it gradually began its decline. (We’ve also glanced over at Millennium and gone “nah, can’t be bothered”.)

Now it’s time to look at season 5, produced in parallel with The X-Files: Fight the Future, the first movie. As we’ll see, that’s a circumstance which ended up overshadowing this season somewhat.

I noted how in the previous season the writing team had become somewhat contracted, and that’s exacerbated further this time. The inner circle has now contracted to just Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban, and Vince Gilligan – four writers as opposed to seven last season – and once again, there’s much less outside contributions than in earlier seasons, with only three episodes having scripts which weren’t written outright or contributed to by those four people.

The season opens with another Chris Carter two-parter focusing on the mytharc, Redux and Redux II, resolving both the “did Mulder kill himself?” cliffhanger from last season (of course he fucking didn’t) and the “will Scully’s cancer be cured?” (of course it fucking will). The only really exciting aspect of the cliffhanger, really, is “Whose dead body is that in Mulder’s apartment that Scully misidentified as Mulder to cover for him?”, and the answer turns out to be “a generic agent of the Conspiracy we don’t care about”.

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Choppers of Mass Distraction

Fashion in conspiracy theories come and go. Whilst some ideas stick around for the long term, others seem destined to rise and fall. In the 1990s, there was a craze to talk about unmarked black helicopters flying around in US airspace as a sign of… something. People weren’t clear about exactly what this was supposed to portend, but nonetheless the black helicopters fwp-fwp-fwpped their way into the public consciousness; having a fictional character go off on a rant about them was an accepted shorthand for establishing them as a conspiracy theorist, usually of a right-leaning persuasion.

Jim Keith, who never knew a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, was partly responsible for this, since he was one of the few who tried to pad out the trope into (slim) books on the subject. And I happen to have acquired some cheap second-hand copies. Let’s take a look.

Black Helicopters Over America: Strikeforce for the New World Order

This is a nostalgic sort of snapshot of the fallacies that American conspiracy theorists (mostly, but not exclusively, on the right) were pushing in the early-to-mid 1990s. Inspired, perhaps, by fuzzy recollections of the Soviet occupying forces in the 1987 TV miniseries Amerika using unmarked black helicopters to enforce their will on small town America, people in the “patriot movement” – a weird umbrella for hardline libertarians, Aryan Nation-type white nationalists, survivalists, and full-on esoteric oddballs like Bill Cooper – got terribly excited about the idea that such helicopters might be real and might, alongside masses of foreign troops smuggled onto American soil. be used to keep the US in line when the United Nations decided to establish a one-world government (the so-called New World Order).

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Troubled By Shadows

Written in 1978, slipping out in hardcover in 1980, and then getting a paperback reprint in the mid-1980s through Granada, The Dark Gods by Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson presents one of the most bizarre Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories Of Everything ever, predating the omniparanoid worldviews of William Bramley, Bill Cooper, or David Icke by quite some way. Rather than being a full collaboration, the book is largely divided into different sections handled by the different authors, with the two only collaborating on a one-page epilogue.

In The Cosmic Connection, Anthony Roberts lays out the basic premise: that malign spiritual entities, the so-called Dark Gods of the book’s title, have exerted a hideous influence over the world since time immemorial, and that they are connected to the UFO phenomenon. In the spirit of the omnidirectional credulity embraced by Roberts and Gilbertson, Roberts here seems to argues strongly in favour of John Keel’s “ultraterrestrial” hypothesis – which states that much of the UFO phenomenon can be attributed to the actions of otherdimensional entities opting to fuck with us, but he also tries to argue that a chunk of UFOs really are nuts and bolts spacecraft from other worlds.

Furthermore, Roberts seems to have very developed ideas on the way the spiritual world works, but seems reluctant at this stage to outline where his particular spiritual agenda comes from; he is quick to condemn others for committing what he regards as spiritual heresy – either being too atheistic or endorsing the wrong sort of spirituality – and he clearly believes that there is a set order of things in the cosmos and talks a lot about the Godhead, but doesn’t specifically what he considers to be the true path to be here.

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In Essential Solitude, a Vital Friendship

It’s understandable that Arkham House would have wanted to produce the Selected Letters series – a five-volume collection of correspondence cherrypicked from the massive amounts of letters Lovecraft produced in his lifetime. After all, he was far more prolific a letter-writer than he was a short story author, poet, or essayist, so when those other wells has been tapped, tapping the letters was a good way to get more Lovecraft after there.

Furthermore, August Derleth himself was one of Lovecraft’s regular correspondents, and putting out these collections gave Derleth a chance to show the world a side of Lovecraft which he’d seen but nobody outside of Lovecraft’s circle of contacts would have. The fact that these were specifically Selected Letters, however, allowed Derleth to remain a certain amount of leverage over the fandom.

As I’ve outlined previously, Derleth used the infamous “black magic quote” to push his particular interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos as the “canonical” one, despite the fact that if we accept it as true, it makes Lovecraft look like an incompetent writer who couldn’t adequately communicate his ideas in his actual stories, and the “black magic quote” seems to fit Derleth’s stories (written before and after Lovecraft’s death, some of them misattributed to Lovecraft) far better.

That quote supposedly came from one of Lovecraft’s letters, but as best can be determined Lovecraft never wrote it – or at least, if it exists in any of his letters, none can be found that reproduce it, and the overall philosophical thrust of Lovecraft’s writing would seem to be against it. Precisely because Derleth was sat on top of the pile of surviving letters and choosing which got out to the public, though, it was always possible for Derleth to brush off objections by saying “Well, it’s got to be somewhere here, I just can’t find it right now.”

It’s even possible that Derleth knew that he didn’t have any original for the quote, just a rough second-hand paraphrase (which turns out to be of a passage which says exactly the opposite), but frankly I don’t credit Derleth with that level of intellectual honesty: after all, this is the guy who passed off a bunch of stories as lost Lovecraft tales or “posthumous collaborations” when they were nothing of the sort.

Hippocampus Press have, over the past few years, tried to step into the gap here, producing a Collected Letters series edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi which compile as many of Lovecraft’s surviving correspondence as they can (rights issues causing complications in a few cases). These gather together Lovecraft’s missives by correspondent, by and large, with the first part of the series being Essential Solitude, a two-volume collection of the letters of Lovecraft and Derleth.

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Erudition That’s Not Just Skin Deep

“Egypt is magic” is a cultural assumption that dates back millennia. In part, it was a narrative which the ancient Egyptians promoted about themselves; magicians were a part of their culture, and their civilisation was ancient enough that over time understanding of its earlier phases passed into legend and myth as much as official history. (More time passed between the Great Pyramid’s construction and the dawning of Christianity than have passed between now and the Crucifixion, after all.)

It was also a bit of PR which numerous other Mediterranean cultures bought into, and became a recurring assumption in European culture as a whole. The Greeks bought into it, the Romans bought into it, Jewish sources like Exodus and the Talmud bought into it, and so it’s no surprise that much of Christendom bought into it, Enlightenment-era Freemasons and other such esoteric societies bought into it – particularly after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt rekinded a general interest in Egyptology, the Golden Dawn bought into it to the extent that most of their rituals involved extensive riffs on Egyptian myth, and Crowley bought into it so hard that his Book of the Law was steeped in Egyptian imagery and received during a honeymoon in Cairo.

Many occult practitioners like to hype up the extent to which they are participating in a tradition which winds its way back through the ages to ancient Egypt. The extent to which is the case has always been doubtful. The myth that the tarot dates back to Egyptian times seems to have little to no basis in fact, and the Golden Dawn’s rituals reflect tentative Victorian reconstructions of Egyptian religion more than they do actual practices handed down through the years by a centuries-old tradition.

However, whilst there is little evidence for a tradition passed down on an institutional or personal level – no secret society or Sith-style chain of master and apprentice winding its way back through the years to connect modern occult groups to the practitioners of ancient Egypt, there is evidence for a literary or textual tradition being passed down – concepts in Egyptian writing on the subject of magic which ended up in some fashion influencing the medieval grimoires which Renaissance and Enlightenment-era magicians would then develop in their own directions and make their own additions to.

Perhaps the most extensive collection of material we have on Egyptian magical practices are what’s known as the Greek Magical Papyri, a collection of magical texts – including what seem to be the handbooks used by actual practicing magicians – that had been accumulated in private collections in the post-Napoleon burst of Egyptological research.

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The Necronomicon Wars

Even in his own lifetime, H.P. Lovecraft got the occasional bit of fan mail from occultists either asking if his mythology of the Great Old Ones was real – or insisting that it was real. Over time, it seemed like the Necronomicon became the particular focus of this sort of inquiry – perhaps because of Lovecraft’s technique of listing it and other invented Mythos tomes alongside real books when using it in his stories.

Lovecraft gently let down all such inquirers. He’d also disappoint fans who knew it was fictional but thought it’d be wicked awesome if he’d write an actual Necronomicon, by pointing out that he’d already established in his stories that the damn thing was hundreds of pages long – and whilst he might be tempted to cook up some scraps, he really didn’t want to spend that long cranking out a tome of that length. Nonetheless, an appetite for the book remained.

After Lovecraft died, pranksters would slip references to it into library catalogues and the like, but the efforts of Arkham House to exert control over Lovecraft’s intellectual property (despite August Derleth’s rather weak claim to be Lovecraft’s literary executor, a role it’s now generally agreed that R.H. Barlow had a better claim to) may have dampened any efforts to turn the artifact into reality. Derleth’s death in 1971, however, made such fakery significantly more tempting.

The early 1970s also saw Kenneth Grant put out The Magical Revival, the first volume in his epic Typhonian Trilogies – a sprawling account of his further development of Aleister Crowley’s occult system of Thelema. This included an astonishing claim – that Lovecraft’s fiction wasn’t fiction, but was on some level communicating psychic truths that were not only compatible with Thelema but were actually important components of it in their own right.

This created the impetus for a bizarre new feature of the occult scene – a spate of purported Necronomicons, at least one of which would inspire readers to actually try out the magic described therein, and a raging conflict in the wider scene over whether these books a) were what they purported to be and b) had any legitimacy as grimoires. In short, the stage was set for a conflict in which shots are still fired to this day – the controversy I like to call the Necronomicon Wars.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 4: Fourth Into the Unknown

After establishing itself, refining its approach, and hitting what may prove to be its creative peak as a showThe X-Files ruled the pop cultural universe by late 1996. Its fourth season would enjoy its highest overall ratings ever, and Chris Carter was busier than ever. Not only was the main show still going strong, but preparation for the first movie was gearing up – though set after season 5, most of the filming for the movie would take place in the filming gap after season 4 was in the can – but Carter had also been asked to produce a new TV series for Fox. This ended up being Millennium, which would involve a significant number of the X-Files creative team and ultimately end up being integrated into the X-Files universe as a result of character crossovers. (In fact, an episode of season 7 of The X-Files was set aside to give Millennium the series finale that cancellation otherwise denied it.)

Would all these creative directions end up diluting the attention of Chris Carter and his production team, or would they be able to keep up the high standards of season 3? Let’s crack open this case file and find out…

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Kindlefluff: The Last Degree by Dina Rae

A reminder, since it’s been a while since I’ve dipped into this: “Kindlefluff” is the term I use for my reviews of books which I absolutely would not have acquired were they not going for cheap or free on Kindle (not counting Kindle Unlimited pieces). Hang onto your hats folks, because this one is a doozy.

The Last Degree by Dina Rae was a book I picked up for free but, at the time I got it at least, had a list price of £1.92. At the time, I both had a fairly clear idea of what I was getting into and absolutely no idea of what direction the book would take. You see, it’s a conspiracy thriller about the Freemasons, and you never know which way one of those things is going to jump. By the end of the book, I was left in no doubt as to where Dina Rae’s priorities lay as an author, and ended up glad that I hadn’t given her any money..

The thing about Masonic conspiracy theories is that they’re like the Swiss Army knife of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories almost always boil down to politics in the end, and specifically revolve around the alleged conspirators plotting to do something for reasons the theorist finds foul – you almost never have theorists saying “well, actually I kind of agree with the agenda of the big conspiracy, I just object to their methods”.

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