Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment by Timothy Wyllie (Feral House $24.99) provides a curious history of one of the minor cults that flourished on the fringes of the counterculture. That said, The Process has remained very visible to this day, thanks in part to claims it was the hidden ‘evil’ force behind both the Tate-LaBianca and the Son of Sam slayings. Wyllie insists that these claims, as well as salacious stories about Process founder Mary Ann MacLean having been married to American boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson and playing a role in the Profumo Affair, are false. All the available evidence would suggest Wyllie is correct on these matters, and while this adds to the credibility of his tale, it will probably do little for the sales of his book.
The book is a personal account of Wyllie’s time with The Process and the story he tells is more convincing than the portraits of the group found in books such as The Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry and the first edition of The Family by Ed Saunders, but it is also far more banal. Therefore, if you want to read sensationalist and ultimately fictionalised accounts of Satanic killing sprees, you’ll have to look elsewhere. There is plenty of that online, and a web search will also locate many Process writings and graphics.
The history of The Process is essentially this: in 1963 two former Scientologists Mary Ann MacLean and Robert de Grimston established a therapy business in Wigmore Street, London. Mary Ann MacLean was a former prostitute who grew up in poverty in Glasgow, while Robert de Grimston was from an upper class family and had served as an officer in the British army before becoming an architecture student and then dropping out three years into these studies. Wyllie first met de Grimston in 1959 when they both enrolled on the architectural course at Regent Street Polytechnic (renamed Polytechnic of Central London in 1970, with a further name change to University of Westminster in 1992). In 1963 McLean and de Grimston began using Wyllie as a guinea pig to test and develop techniques they’d learnt as Scientologists, adapting them to their own purposes.
Wyllie’s circle of student friends provided the initial recruits to what was then called Compulsions Analysis. In Wyllie’s account, those involved with MacLean and de Grimson recognised a sense of spirituality in their activities and the name of the group was therefore changed to The Process in 1965. My own impression is there was nothing spiritual about MacLean and essentially she conned the group into becoming her disciples and funding the luxury life-style she and de Grimston craved. Even from Wyllie’s rather misty-eyed account, it is apparent MacLean was a hard-bitten hustler who’d mastered the con game when she was working as a high class London hooker throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s.
While Process acolytes panhandled for money and lived in abject poverty, the group rented properties it could barely afford in an attempt to trick the outside world into believing they possessed wealth and power. De Grimston and MacLean were the only Process members to live in style. While de Grimston provided the theology, MacLean was the real power running this cynical money-grabbing hierarchy. Over the years the group expanded and at various times had chapters in Rome, Paris, New Orleans, San Francisco, Munich, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Miami. Chapters were sometimes moved from one city to another, and the membership never seems to have stretched beyond the very low hundreds, although The Process claimed to have tens of thousands of members.
Process theology was based on the unification of opposites, and a reading of the Bible that took Christ’s injunction to ‘love thy enemy’ to mean love Satan. Much of this gnostic garbage was confected in group sessions and then written up by de Grimston, and even Wyllie admits it didn’t read well on the printed page. After an Idris Shah book fell on his head in a Notting Hill bookshop, Wyllie convinced himself that de Grimston and MacLean were disguised Sufi masters, and like other members of the cult was also prone to viewing the latter as a human incarnation of the Goddess! The original core of The Process consisted chiefly of over-privileged and privately educated brats, and it seems to me that much remains to be written about how an upper-class upbringing renders individuals peculiarly susceptible to the brainwashing techniques of religious cults.
The Process fell apart when de Grimston and MacLean ended their marital relationship in 1974. De Grimston attempted to revitalise The Process without success. MacLean led the disciples who stuck with her into The Foundation, which adopted increasingly conventional Christian doctrines before reinventing itself as a secular animal charity called Best Friends. MacLean died in 2005, de Grimston is still alive.
Wyllie’s account of his 15 years with The Process is supplemented by the stories of various other members. The most shocking thing to come out of this is the criminal neglect of children whose parents belonged to the cult. The overall impression I’m left with is that life in The Process was very dull, and you had to be deluded to join it in the first place. The Process memoirs gathered together here also show that those conned by guru-figures are very slow to give up their illusions, and will often attempt to off-set the fact they were ripped-off with the desultory claim they enjoyed some kind of spiritual adventure in ‘the process’.
In addition to these memoirs, this book also contains a selection of unimpressive texts by de Grimston, and a very silly essay by Genesis P. Orridge about how he modelled Thee Temple Ov Psychic Youth on The Process. The image section in this tome is rather more interesting, since it illustrates the strong design sense and corporate-style marketing of The Process as a self-consciously totalitarian cult. From Wyllie’s account of the group it is clear why The Process chose to project itself as a totalitarian ‘elite’:
“Mary Ann (cult leader Mary Ann MacLean) never made any apologies, for instance, about having considerable sympathy and respect for the Nazi regime. Doubtless it suited her authoritarian personality. A story I have heard her relate more than once is of her as a small girl of nine or ten, who found herself leaving her physical body and being transported into Hitler’s bunker during World War II. There she would slip around the table in her astral form whispering into the generals’ ears. Whether she ever claimed to observe der Fuehrer’s legendary rages, I don’t recall, but if she had I can only imagine she would have egged him on in his carpet-biting frenzies.” (Page 56).
Elsewhere Wyllie recalls:
“Michael and I stopped in to visit George Lincoln Rockwell, the ‘American Nazi’, out of allegiance to Mary Ann’s interest in extreme ideologies…. Rockwell sat in the only armchair… He looked younger than I thought he was going to be, with a buzz-cut and a surprisingly open, pleasant, face, marred now by a fixed scowl that didn’t leave him while we were there… He had a military bearing but was clearly a frightened man… Later I found out that Lincoln Rockwell was killed in August of 1967 by a disgruntled ex-member of his party and only days after our visit. I should add that Michael is the scion of a wealthy Jewish family and I can only imagine that Mary Ann instructed him to visit Rockwell as a way of testing his mettle…” (Pages 80-81).
Elsewhere in his narrative Wyllie tells tales of counterculture figures like Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman and Simon Vinkenoog, assisting The Process. He also writes about a few of the celebrities the group attempted to shake down for donations; they range from Miles Davis to Salvador Dali. Sadly, he has nothing to say about Funkadelic frontman George Clinton, who okayed the reproduction of Process material on the art work to a couple of his albums. Mostly this is a book about the internal dynamics of The Process and as such it makes for curious but nonetheless extremely depressing reading; it appears that most of the ‘former’ cult members contributing to it are still deluded about their experiences years after the group broke up.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!