Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement Timothy Wyllie
Feral House – 2009
I’ve long been meaning to look into the Process Church of the Final Judgement. I remember a big section on them in Gavin Baddeley’s Lucifer Rising, but they’ve popped up in loads of other books I’ve read too. This book, Timothy Wyllie’s Love, Sex, Fear, Death, is a first hand history of this mysterious and misunderstood group of devil worshippers.
The Process was a British offshoot of scientology. Its leaders, self-styled Messiah, Robert de Grimston and his wife, Mary Ann Maclean, convinced a group of rich students to give up all their money and proselytize for the Church on the streets of London. It was a weird form of proselytization though. The young disciples wore long dark cloaks and sold creepy looking magazines about sex, fear and death. Their literature claimed that they worshipped both Jehovah, Satan and Lucifer, and they occasionally performed occult rituals and self flagellation for the public. It seemed like they put more effort into scaring people away than to luring them in.
This book is a collection of recollections and reminisces of former members of the church. “Church” here basically meaning a cult; it had the central authority figure(s), the need to give up all worldly possessions, thought reform, sexual grooming… it ticks all the “cult” boxes. Perhaps the most curious thing about the Process was that few of the members seem to have taken its religious teachings seriously. This may be due to the fact that these accounts were given decades after the group disbanded and the authors didn’t want to admit their gullibility, but most of them explicitly state that they were never convinced by de Grimston’s absurd theology.
It almost seems like most members of the Process were aware that the whole thing was nonsense, but they were having fun so they went with it. I wouldn’t say these accounts glamourise life in a cult, but they don’t generally describe it as intolerable. Most of the contributors seem to value the time they spent together. These were young people spending their twenties acting like the bad guys in a Dennis Wheatley novel. Some of them travelled the world with the cult and their reputation and weird looks got them a lot of attention. They hung around with celebrities and got invited to the Playboy Mansion. They had their own rock bands and TV shows too. Honestly, it seems to me like they all knew it was horseshit but kept going because it was fun.
If you walk around in dark capes saying that you worship Satan, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll find yourself in trouble, and the Process were no exception. After the Manson murders, people tried to draw links between the Process’s LA branch and the Manson family. This wasn’t helped when the Process interviewed Manson in their magazine a few years after the murders. A decade after they disbanded, people were still trying to pin the blame for murders on this gang of naïve edge-lords. (There’s a book on that specific topic that I plan to read soon.)
As silly as the Process were, this book is actually very interesting. Wyllie’s narration is so entertaining that I checked to see if he had written any other books. He has, but they are about psychically talking with angels and dolphins, so I will definitely not be reading them. There’s an entertaining video of him online in which he snorts ketamine to communicate with angels. He must be close to 80 in the clip. I don’t want to promote drug use, but if you’re going to get high, that’s the way to do it.
It’s generally accepted now that Mary Ann was the actual leader of the Process. It seems that de Grimston was really just her puppet. She was the one who psychologically manipulated the group members. Sometimes this emotional manipulation degraded into physical abuse. Wyllie recounts an incident when she lured him upstairs to have sex with him and then surprised him when he was cumming with a non-consensual finger up the bum. This doubtlessly constitutes sexual abuse, but it’s also a little bit funny. Wyllie fell for the oldest trick in the book.
The Process was a doomsday cult, but despite their sinister appearance, scary literature and reputation, they weren’t that bad. I get the sense that Processeans were more self aware than members of the People’s Temple or a Heaven’s Gate. The worst thing about the Process was its negligence towards its members’ children. These kids were kept in prison-like conditions, and it seems like most of them ended up dead or badly damaged. It’s for this reason that I can’t really get behind the Process as a cool symbol for dark 60s counter-culture. Lots of extreme musicians have incorporated Process imagery and ideas into their art and thus contributed to the mystique and allure of the group. Realistically though, they were a gang of pretentious, self-centered dorks who were willing to sacrifice worldly comforts (and dignity) for the chance to seem dark and mysterious.
This is a good book though. The piece from Genesis P-Orridge felt a bit tacked on, and the excerpts from de Grimston’s writings are unbearable, but otherwise it was very interesting. I watched the movie/documentary that came after it too, and that was also worth a watch. There is a few other books about these weirdos that I will probably read in the future.