Sunday, March 17, 2013

Which really came first--The Process Church or Scientology?
So yes, they are still here, albeit in the guise of a pet sanctuary. I though this was good:

In March 2004, the Rocky Mountain News outed the people running Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, as The Process in its latest incarnation. The Cone of Silence had been raised, and the Best Friends management felt the need to 'fess up.
A few days later, they added a section to its website, mostly written by Michael Mountain and giving their own version of the past. This is still (as of August 2005) available at [link to]

Reading it, I had a strange sense of deja vu, from around 1969. In that year, the Sunday Times in England picked up the story of how in the late 1940s L. Ron Hubbard, before starting Dianetics and Scientology, had been involved, magically and financially, with the rocket fuel scientist and noted Thelemite, Jack Parsons. The newspaper had learned how, after some ritual workings to create a magical Moonchild, Hubbard took off with Parsons' girlfriend, a boat they'd all invested in, and a bunch of cash. It was classic Fleet Street muckraking at its salacious best.

Scientology's response was a glorious farrago of a letter to the Sunday Times that began: "Hubbard broke up black magic in America..." Ron, it turned out (according to the Church of Scientology, and quoted in Russell Miller's Bare Faced Messiah) had been sent in by the U.S. government to smash up this dangerous ring of occultists with which Parsons was involved. Naturally, he succeeded magnificently. A stolen girlfriend? No, not at all. "Hubbard rescued a girl they were using."

In sum, the facts were all covered off. It was only the truth that was missing in action.

I recall Michael Mountain (Father Aaron as he was in the 1970s) as a charming man who was often irreverent, and fun to be around. The Best Friends account of the early days shows he still has the ability to charm, even if, as with the C of $ story about Hubbard, the truth and the facts have some distance between them.

It might be unfair to critique details almost 40 years after the events happened, but I feel otherwise. When someone publishes 8,000 words of well-spun baloney, a theurgically (and otherwise) skeptical person like myself can't resist teasing it a little.

The primary fiction is that The Process consisted of a bunch of 1960s counter-cultural seekers, consensually choosing a bohemian, back-to-nature lifestyle. No-one who left England for the Bahamas in 1966, then went on to the Yucatan and Xtul was arguing about it, but the cult-like nature of the group is carefully erased in Mountain's description. Does anyone recall the alliterative headlines in the British press about "The Mindbenders of Mayfair"? Only me, it seems. But then, back before I joined, I collected all this coverage religiously.

And while Robert De Grimston is airily dismissed as "the so-called 'Teacher' of The Process, who had written a number of books and was becoming well known in academic and theological circles," his wife Mary-Ann (see Mary-Ann's photo and Moon Unseen, from June 2005) remains "She Who Must Not Be Named". The Goddess of The Process, its core, is unmentioned in its own published history.

And so it goes on. What, us spread Robert's teachings all over Europe and North America? All of us wear the Cross and the Goat of Mendez on our chests or collars? Go out every day and sell those books by the "so-called Teacher"? Musta been some other guys, or some other so-called Teacher.

Even when I was in The Process (1970-72), the legends around Xtul, "The Place of Miracles" were being embroidered. An abandoned salt factory became a Mayan ruin, for example. Away from their civilised backgrounds, but living still in a soup of heightened consciousness, people had let their inner barriers drop and insights, synchronistic happenings and visions came in plenty. The primal presences or psychological realities called the Gods of The Process made themselves felt.

Beyond that blanket statement, or something like it, I doubt anyone today could give a fair account of the weeks and months spent at Xtul. The three ex-members whom I've interviewed all give varying stories.

Mountain's account adds a fresh spin. As the group came to Xtul, he says, they encountered an old man who "just smiled and said, 'Es para vosotros,' ('It is for you.') And he waved good-bye and continued on down the trail."

Neat - except, as anyone who's learned Spanish finds out, "vosotros" as a second-person plural form is today used nowhere in Latin America, only in Spain itself.

Later, the same man appeared, Mountain says, as The Process were all pulling out.

"'You are leaving,' he said. 'But one day there will be another place for you. It is a beach without an ocean. And the sand is all red. And there are animals. Muchos animales.' "For someone who had never seen red rock canyons and the pink sands that go with them, it was a fair enough description of Angel Canyon, the future home, 20 years later, of Best Friends Animal Society."

Not bad. I just can't find anyone who was at Xtul but left the group who remembers a thing about that 'prophecy'. Zip - or rather, nada.

Mountain's aim, it seems, and that of the other members who wrote this story, is to make it plain that everything before caring for animals was just prologue, or a youthful exuberance. There was, he notes, a Christian ministry phase of helping other people, as indeed there was - after a Christ-and-Satan phase of that, plus a neo-Jewish one, neither of which is mentioned. Animal welfare was the direction in which things were guided.

"The animals were beginning to take over! For many of us, they'd always really been our passion. And when a few of us got together one evening at the ranch to talk about what next and where next, we were all feeling that it was time to devote ourselves to that true passion."

I can't say this is wholly false. Brits (the remaining core leadership group is mostly British) are famously dotty about dogs and animals generally, and She Who Must Not Be Named always had strong feelings about cruelty to animals. What decent human doesn't? But to claim animal welfare was the central concern in that first crazy decade spent as The Process? Or for The Foundation during much of the second? Back then, the End of the World and redemption therefrom overrode all other ideological messages, even if anti-vivisection was a cause we intermittently embraced.

As noted elsewhere on this blog, I had a remarkable experience out of it all, though the group's most austerely head-messing phase was over when I joined. I'm not the only ex-member with mixed but still fond memories of the community, the sense of inner calm and purpose, and the humour we brought to it all. It's impossible to tell today from the teachings available on-line, but The Process could be fun, and very funny. You needed to accept the premise of the joke - humanity's utter absurdity - but that done, a lot of things about life came to seem less tragic. Perhaps the absence of such candid detachment about the past is what saddens me here.

Best Friends, clearly, is a well-run operation, however much its location miles from any cities compromises its mission. It's an honest endeavour even if it does support the aging remnant of a failed cult. We all gotta live, and the BF operation pulls its own weight.

The roots of my own main beef date back to a visit four years ago, when I briefly reconnected with some of the people I'd known three decades before. What I found was that it was all just like Mountain's story would later turn out to be. The "P word" was not mentioned at all, and almost nobody would share any personal stories or opinions unless they involved saving or helping animals.

Had anyone learned anything spiritually? Well, everyone was much happier now than before. What did people feel it was all about, that wild Gnosticism, that fervent preaching about an End that never came? Well, it had been a long journey for everyone. What wisdom had they all learned? We need to be less cruel to animals. And so on.

I drove out of that beautiful Utah canyon frustrated at feeling stonewalled, with my conception of shallowness permanently redefined. I've not been back. Other ex-Processeans do visit and maintain friendships, but I couldn't be bothered to go again.

Do they, under their neo-Romulan cloaking device, yet have some kind of wisdom, the way we did, or felt we did, 30 years ago? They won't say in Angel Canyon. All who stayed surrendered their personal histories for a distorted collective one.

From Scientology, The Process borrowed the idea that all life consists of games, played as parts of larger collective games, and all ultimately part of a cosmic Game of the Gods. A personal game might be: I am always ill; or, I will make $15-million in real-estate then find my kids hate me; or I will struggle for human rights. Regardless of the circumstances or activities involved, they're all about gaining knowledge; about experiencing all things that are possible to experience.

In visiting Kanab, after an hour, I could almost say "Yes, I remember you" in exactly the same, affect-less manner everyone I met used. I had three different people apologise to me spontaneously for what had been done to me in the past - all of them in a slightly beaten-dog tone, and using the same sequence of words. I'd gone in high anticipation, and without any grievance or hurt to air, but I came away with one.

It was all supposed to be about accepting our own reality in its fullness, and thus open to God. The modus operandi today has become a sweet, well-intended deception that seems to have lost what spiritual truth or honesty was once present. Best Friends is, as any ex-member can see, not a rejection of the structure of The Process or The Foundation, but a continuation. The sadness I feel is that while the externals have changed, the core game is the same as it ever was: a bunch of people believing they are an Elect of some kind, grouped around an aging avatar, very aware of human motivations yet hopelesly blind about their own. Saving animals is the latest version of this, and a nice one, but at bottom, it's just another game.

The animals, I've heard it said, are a major comfort for the dozen or so remaining Processeans (most people at Kanab were never involved in the original group). Animals' natural dignity and unaffected joy are easily superior to the human animal's meaner nature. For someone who has spent 40 years tied to a cult, that must be reassuring. Personally, I'm grateful, regardless of whatever regrets and disappointments I've accumulated, that I can tell my own story, and don't have to follow a cultic party line nor distort my own memories to comply with one.

I wish the Kanabians were able to do that. Instead, they still feel compelled to diss their former associate, Robert, like Stalinists dumping on Trostky, and to pretend that so many years of their earlier lives were a mere bohemian misadventure. It shows that, rather than seeing and accepting those years clearly, and truly moving on, they are endlessly perpetuating them.

Oh well. The dogs and cats, at least, clearly appreciate it. Give 'em that.

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