Sunday, 30 August 2009

The White Goddess and the Lady of Shalott

This piece completes a Goddess blog trilogy starting with Isis of Avalon in July and the Ishtar Babalon article a week ago. It was originally published in its basic form in ASH magazine in 1992 and then again in Glastonbury’s Avalon as The White Goddess and the Lady of Shallott: notes towards a pathworking for the new moon. What I have posted here is a special version that includes an expanded consideration of how Robert Graves wrote his masterwork that will feature in my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus where it is linked with Jack Parsons’ Babalon odyssey and the discovery of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi scriptures, all indicators of a simultaneous mysterious reappearance of the divine feminine in the collective consciousness.

This month has seen the 200th anniversary of the birth of Tennyson and interest in his evocative poem has been high, even extending to a ravishing short film depiction.

Photo by John Bennett.

This has led me to recall my own feelings on the subject.

During the spring of 1990 many Goddess related themes filled my head. A large poster of JW Waterhouse’s magnificent Victorian painting the Lady of Shallot dominated my living room, its numinous beauty drawing me ever on and upwards. A luminous presence in my life. I’d been present at the events forming the climax to Andrew Collins’ book The Seventh Sword in April involving an awesome interaction with the Mabinogion goddess Elen of the Land at a Welsh waterfall. I was pondering also on the Saxon concept of the Web of Wyrd and the Fates-like sisters who weaved it. Ideas, emotions, images, seemed to be moving together. I felt compelled to reread Robert Graves extraordinary work The White Goddess to try and sound out the depths of what was happening inside me.

One evening in June I was reading a particularly inspiring passage during a thunder storm and suddenly, virtually in a nanosecond, all of the elements I’d been mulling over, coalesced in a vision and concept that seemed to satisfyingly do justice to them all, revealing to me the great power of the archetype around which they had constellated.

Waterhouse’s painting was inspired by Tennyson’s poem of the same name, which elaborates on material in Malory who called her Elaine the White. The Lady of Shalott was a weaver, trapped by an enchantment to remain within a room or die on leaving. She sees Lancelot pass by outside, bound for Camelot and, instantly smitten, decides to follow him, thus condemning herself to death. Journeying in a boat (as the painting portrays), to the great city, she is dead on arrival. The people wonder what great tragedy lies behind the arrival of her beautiful corpse. There are a few variants on the story’s details but that is its essence. It’s certainly sad but is that enough to account for the compelling qualities of the painting? Is it simply the melodrama of a lovesick girl or are people’s responses to the painting an indication that something more profound lies hidden in the image and story?

Robert Graves was a poet and novelist. He is best known as the author of I Claudius but it may well be The White Goddess that is his most important work. The story of how it came to be written and published is a strange one that can be profitably placed alongside the 1904 events in Cairo and other cases of illumination we have noted. Comparing and contrasting Graves with the racist patriarchal case of Guido von List could be a whole study on its own. It backs up the idea that something deep in the collective mind was trying to re-emerge.

Robert Graves

Graves was living in Devonshire during the Second World War and in the process of completing a novel about Jason and the Argonauts by matching their mythic journey against a map of locations associated with it. On his desk at the time was a small brass box with a design on the lid. On the box was a figure of a hump-backed man playing a flute. Ten years later these items came to seem like potent signs of what was to come when he discovered that the design on the box was the African triple moon goddess Ngame and the flute player a herald of a Queen mother of an African state who claimed direct descent from her.

Graves found himself suddenly massively sidetracked from his Argonaut map. He’d been reading a nineteenth century edition of the Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, a work much read by the Pre-Raphaelites. It’s a collection of early medieval Welsh tales full of undoubtedly earlier themes and material that find their way into the later Arthurian sagas. This version contained the Song of Taliesin which is not really part of the corpus and now generally published separately. Its strange style has become relatively well-known.

“I have been in many shapes before I attained a congenial form ---
I have been a drop in the air, I have been a shining star ---
Enchanted for a year
in the foam of water
I have been a poker in the fire”
And so on.

Nobody knew what all this stuff was about and people are still arguing now. The nature of the language made it the domain of nutters, mainly Druidic types, to work out the most obscure interpretations possible.

Graves suddenly knew that the work was a series of riddles which he, although not a Welsh scholar or medievalist, knew the answer to. He also knew that it was linked with a Welsh tradition of a Battle of the Trees occasioned by a lapwing, dog, and roebuck from the other world and won by a god who had to guess the name of his opponent.

What he believed he’d uncovered in the tree battle were the letter names of an ancient Druid alphabet. Linking this with the Taliesin material he believed it was possible to work out a story of a struggle between two rival priesthoods in Britain for control of national learning. According to Graves the Druids had used a tree alphabet which also served as a calendar. The vowels stood for equinoxes and solstices and it was all associated with the worship of a triple moon goddess.

This whole thing Graves described as “a sudden overwhelming obsession”. In three weeks he had written a 70,000 word book which he was calling The Roebuck in the Thicket. It didn’t stop there.

After the war was over he returned to his main home in Majorca. An antiquarian neighbour had died and left a few bits and pieces to Graves. One was a mummy like figure with a single eye which was later discovered to be an African Okrafo priest, a substitute sacrifice to the White Goddess. A carnelian ring given to Graves by a friend who knew nothing of his current interests had a seal showing a stag, a moon, and a thicket. He discovered that they had been clan totems in the Argonauts saga. Ngame’s group had moved to Nigeria across the Sahara from Libya and were racially linked to the early Athenians, Jason’s people. The synchronicities went on and on. Eventually it all coalesced as The White Goddess, published in 1948.

The White Goddess has been criticised as a work of historical scholarship. I am more concerned with it’s analysis of how myth is conveyed by artists and why we respond to some forms of art in a different way to others. Graves drew the distinction between “muse” poetry and (to him) purely intellectual “classical” poetry. Dionysian and Apollonian as Nietzsche would have it. To Graves, Muse material is the only genuine manifestation of poetry and its production is the true test of a poet’s inspiration. He asserts that there is only one real subject for poetry.

‘The theme briefly, is the antique story, which falls into thirteen chapters and an epilogue, of the birth, life, death and resurrection of the God of the waxing year; the central chapters concern the God’s losing battle with the God of the waning year for love of the capricious and all-powerful Threefold Goddess, their mother, bride and layer out. The poet identifies himself with the God of the waxing year and his muse with the Goddess --- All true poetry --- celebrates some incident or scene in this very ancient story --- the main characters are so much a part of our racial inheritance that they not only assert themselves in poetry but recur on occasions of emotional stress in the form of dreams --- The Goddess is a lovely, slender woman with a hooked nose, deathly pale face, lips red as rowan berries, startlingly blue eyes and long fair hair; she will suddenly transform herself into sow, mare, bitch, vixen, She-ass, weasel, serpent, owl, she-wolf, tigress, mermaid or loathsome hag. Her names and titles are innumerable. In ghost stories she often figures as “The White Lady” and in ancient religions from the British Isles to the Caucasus, as the “White Goddess” --- The test of a poet’s vision, one might say, is the accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess --- The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess --- Sometimes, in reading a poem, the hairs will bristle at an apparently unpeopled and eventless scene described in it, if the elements bespeak her unseen presence clearly enough: for example, when owls hoot, the moon rides like a ship through scudding clouds, trees sway slowly together above a rushing waterfall, and a distant barking of dogs is heard; or when a peal of bells in frosty weather suddenly announces the birth of a New Year.’

The material had taken over Graves. The book wanted to be published. The first publisher he took it to rejected it and died of heart failure soon afterwards. A second not only rejected it but sent a rude letter saying he couldn’t make head or tale of it and doubted if anyone else could either. He was found in his garden, hanging from a tree, dressed in women’s underwear! The third publisher approached was TS Eliot’s Faber and Faber. He probably thought his reputation as the centuries’ greatest poet might suffer if a similar fate befell him and it was best to publish the goddamn thing. He got his money back and received an Order of Merit award in the same year.

Graves was already an established literary figure so his work impacted across a wider spectrum than specialist mystics. His fundamental theme after all was the nature of poetry. The White Goddess has had powerful life-changing effects on a lot of people over the years and can be considered to be a major source text of the pagan revival.

Decades later Graves came to ponder the potential advent of a complementary Black Goddess. He had been aware of the enigmatic Black Madonna statues across Europe and some of the mystical currents associated with them. Wisdom has sometimes been characterised as black like the night. The stirrings at Nag Hammadi and the furnace of the Babalon Working in many ways contained much of what Graves felt lay ahead and it had already been activated all but simultaneously to his White Goddess illumination. This represents a comprehensive divine feminine package.


Elen by Chesca Potter.

The main source for our ideas concerning Elen is the Mabinogion story of The Dream of Macsen Wledig. She is responsible for building s series of roads. This has led to her being considered as a presiding deity force of the ley system embodying the energies the “shining paths” contain as her name derives supposedly from the ancient seed root El found in many contexts and cultures meaning primarily Light. Graves seeks the origin of his own White Goddess in an etymological exegesis of the El root. Elen is possibly the most primordial form of many later British goddesses and in turning our attention towards her the hope has been to resurrect the purest and most fundamental of archetypal symbols of the land personified. Following the pioneering work of Caroline Wise and artist Chesca Potter, Elen has become increasingly well-known.

Elen by Judith Page.

Regardless of its potentially Middle-Eastern origin and the debate as to whether or not this force was originally considered to be female or male it provides an interesting doorway into the beliefs of our most distant ancestors. The Mabinogion story was probably transcribed by early medieval monks. It shows how fragments can be assembled into a simple narrative by authors who may be entirely ignorant of the nature of the mythic strata to which their material belongs and that only later can these latent meanings be explored.

Elen by Kinuko Y Craft featured on cover of Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.


“Wyrd” is a Saxon concept. It’s a web of (to most people) invisible fibres connecting everything in past, present and future. Woven by three sisters, threads of this great veil are our time-bodies destinies, lines in the land, the heaven’s plan, all infinitely interconnected and indivisible. The fibres are very similar to those mentioned in Castaneda’s books. There is a parallel in Eastern myth with the Net Of Indra, another great web with jewels at it’s fibres meeting points, which reflect all the other jewels in the web. A movement of one wyrd fibre would produce a corresponding resonance, even if only infinitesimal, in all the other fibres as well. Something in the work of the weavers evokes recognition of ancient goddess beliefs and also a view of the universe that is strikingly contemporary. Now that Chaos theory has us thinking in terms of a caterpillar falling from a leaf in Japan having an effect on weather in Los Angeles, such a mythos is obviously ripe for resurrection.

How then can all this material be brought together? The Mabinogion story of Elen showed how authors ignorant of a story’s sources could preserve its form sufficiently to hint at hidden levels. Once a deeper meaning is suspected we must look to myth and archetype to assist us. Where can the image and story of the Lady of Shalott take us? Compare Waterhouses’s painting with Graves’ description of the White Goddess with her “deathly pale face” and “long fair hair” and it’s plain to see that the Lady of Shalott is a virtually definitive depiction of her. The artist was a muse picture poet without even necessarily having any conscious understanding of his workings. Waterhouse used the same or similar models throughout his career.

A further work of his of interest in our context is La Belle Dame sans Merci based on Keats’ poem concerning the enchantment of Thomas the Rhymer by the Queen of Elfland. Graves has much to say o this story in his White Goddess as well.

An intriguing Jungian study could no doubt be made on Waterhouses’ devotion to an archetype not fully expounded upon until after his death. Elen manifested as a White Goddess type figure at the Welsh waterfall. Her shining paths are part of the fibres of Wyrd. The Lady of Shalott was a weaver, trapped by Fate. I was thinking of other weavers who were the very creators of Fate.

To me, the fragments we find of Shalott’s sad story are a mythic time-capsule showing a moment in the process of the disempowerment of the Goddess. For want of right relationship with the sun god Lugh/Lancelot, she drifts to extinction along the river of memory. Once an embodiment of the land and initiator into destiny, unfertilised, unloved, unknown, forgotten, she fades away, a pallid Victorian ghost. Our urge to save her and bring about a happy ending is part of the greater unconscious dynamic in the collective mind to restore the Goddess. Wherever we see that she has been destroyed or distorted, where we see her fading away, something says “no, this is wrong, this is not how the story must end,” and therein lies the secret of the Lady of Shalott.

All of this is an elaboration of a vision during a thunderstorm whilst reading Robert Graves. I’d like to think he might have appreciated such a manifestation. I see Shallot as a sort of new moon maiden. Knowing how the goddess can be three-in-one I can see her as wyrd’s weavers embodied. All this is rationalisation after imagination though. Ultimately my reveries, if failing in coherence, are presented as an item of human data. Make of them what you will.

I’ve written what follows as if a group of people were actually present at a Grove of some kind. If you fancy this as a pathworking, prepare and perform it in whatever manner to which you have accustomed yourself. Adjust the preliminaries as and how you will. It is the core of the material that is the main concern.

The idea of a white lady rising from water was undoubtedly already present in my head from meditations to contact the site guardian of the Running Well in Essex carried out by Andrew Collins at which I had been present. The rest I blame on the thunder.


Now is the time of beginnings, the time of potential, of things moving towards fullness. Everyone has something in them at all times, whether it be ideas, hopes, dreams, projects that are in a state of beginning or are as yet undeveloped. Deep down, perhaps even unconsciously, we may feel that if fate was on our side and with a little inspiration to move us on, perhaps some, maybe all, of that potential could be fulfilled. Tonight we gather at the time of the new moon in recognition of that inside us which needs to grow and to seek the inspiration to assist this process. For tonight the veil is thin and the web of wyrd can be experienced. The tides of things moving to fullness can be felt and in so doing so too do those corresponding areas of ourselves resonate. All these things can have a focus in the white goddess, muse maiden, she who delights in being imagined. In thinking of her so does the time, the force and ourselves join together to best result. Tonight is hers. Close your eyes.

So, cone of power raised or whatever preparations made, see us as we are – standing in a circle in the Grove surrounded by the cone. Look at the ground in the circle. In its centre something sparkles. It’s a drop of water that’s caught the reflection of the moon. See that drop of water begin to expand. It’s a circle of water expanding outwards from the centre of our circle. Moving to fill our circle. We stand around the edge of a circular pool of water. Astral water. Water that is a gateway to another world. Water that is vibrations of light and sound. Look into the water. See ourselves reflected looking in it and beyond us the trees, sky, stars, and the moon. A crescent moon. See this moon as directly above us. Focus on the image of the moon on the water. A ripple gently moves across that image and as it does so the image starts to change, to expand. It’s assuming a human form beneath the water. A lady. Her essence is of us, the land, the trees, the sky, the stars, water, light, music, the moon. She is the personified force of the potential of all of these.

She now rises from the water.
She hovers just above it.
She is as pale as the moon.
Her paleness is a great shining.
The shining is white, silvery, tinged with sparkling blue.
For She is the White Goddess.
Her aura is humming, singing.
See her as the Lady of Shalott but this is not a sad figure trapped by fate.
Serene and majestic, she is the very weaver of fate, the initiator into destiny's mysteries.
She hovers at the centre of a web of gently shining fibres.
They shoot out, almost like lasers.
Some move out along the ground across the landscape.
Some go back down into the water.
Some go up into the sky, to the stars and planets and the space in between.
And some go through each one of us.
This is the Web of Wyrd.
Its fibres are shining paths.
In the earthly realms they are the energies of the land.
In the celestial realms they trace the patterns of the heavens.
In the inner realms they are the pilgrim paths of our destinys.
If we so desire, the white goddess may be our guide along these paths.
Be aware again of her at the centre of the web.
Try to feel in some sense too that each one of us is also the centre of the web.
Feel the land hum her tune. Feel it resonate to her frequency which hums through the fibres.
The gentle humming becomes like the undulating sound of a wind harp.
Now be aware that we are all resonating.
We’re humming her tune:
The tune of the land, the cycles of the heavens,
The tune of our lives.

Now it’s time to withdraw into ourselves. The images of the external world fade. Now it’s just you and the goddess deep down inside yourself. Start to see images, try to feel emotions of your hopes, your dreams, your highest aspirations, your greatest potentialities. Let her take you down the shining path of your destiny. If you let her be your guide she will help you, she will nurture you, she will help you know how you can fulfil yourself. She will show you images of your highest perfected self acting in the world to its best capacity and in the coming weeks, on the rising current of the ever fuller moon, she will gently slowly assist you in the process of bringing that perfect self to birth. Let’s go with her now in silent communion. Let her be your guide.

Now allow your personal imagery to develop to whatever extent seems fitting using the goddess figure as your guide. Perhaps you will see scenes or be given some message. Linger as long as necessary and then --

Be conscious of the White Goddess standing in front of you. Start to see again the many fibres stretching out everywhere. Our external environment returns. Trees, sky, stars, moon, people but still the water is there, the goddess floats above it, the cone of power remains.

At the time of the new moon we can plant seeds, psychic seeds, in the ethers. Make a wish. Think of a personal thing, reasonable in scale, you want to bring to fruition, perhaps by the time the moon is full. See a fibre of your intention stretch from your heart to just above the head of the goddess where it creates a small shimmering cocoon, a projection of your wish, a spell. Let your fibre disconnect from this light-ball and withdraw back into your heart. Perhaps a brief supplication is in order:

“Goddess harken to my spell.
Grant it your blessing so all may be well.”

The cocoon of light condenses down to the size of an apple. It floats down in front of the goddess. She holds out her hands and takes it between them. She smiles and in a sudden sparking of light absorbs it.

See the White Goddess hovering above the circle of water in the centre of the fibres. Now see the fibres fading as they recede back in towards her. Remember, having heard her tune, we and the land will continue to hum gently after they have gone. See her now slowly descending back down into the water. Beneath it now she goes and as we see the shining beneath the surface, the water ripples and the reflection of the moon remains and there are the stars, the trees, and ourselves, standing around the the edge of the pool of water that starts to recede. It’s shrinking onto the centre point. Smaller and smaller. Down to one drop of water. It sparkles briefly with the reflection of the moon and is gone.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Wilhelm Reich'n'Roll

Am currently working on a brief piece on Wilhelm Reich and UFOs for my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus. Not going to post any teaser extracts but I did feel it would be good to acknowledge Reich's inspiration for some mighty fine and diverse music.

His discovery of orgone energy and the devices he created to use it, the Accumulator and Cloudbuster would take him on a journey to a kind of mythic immortality worthy of a Greek tragedy involving death in prison.

His son's Peter's account of those indubitably strange days, A Book of Dreams, is a poignant haunting work that lay behind Kate Bush's Cloudbusting and Patti Smith's Birdland. It's a real shame it is currently out of print and only available at high prices.

I have posted Cloudbusting before with my crop circle piece on June 14th but I couldn't exactly leave it out here. Donald Sutherland doesn't look much like Reich but he has the gravitas to make it work. The video was filmed in the vicinity of the White Horse of Uffington which can be briefly seen at one point.

Patti Smith's Birdland from her debut album Horses is not a catchy little pop number. The subject is Peter Reich experiencing a vision of the return of his father in a flying saucer. It could be described as a tad intense. I have included the lyrics for anyone finding it hard to follow.

His father died and left him a little farm in New England.
All the long black funeral cars left the scene
And the boy was just standing there alone
Looking at the shiny red tractor
Him and his daddy used to sit inside
And circle the blue fields and grease the night.
It was if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars
'Cause when he looked up they started to slip.
Then he put his head in the crux of his arm
And he started to drift, drift to the belly of a ship,
Let the ship slide open, and he went inside of it
And saw his daddy 'hind the control board streamin' beads of light,
He saw his daddy 'hind the control board,
And he was very different tonight
'Cause he was not human, he was not human.

And then the little boy's face lit up with such naked joy
That the sun burned around his lids and his eyes were like two suns,
White lids, white opals, seeing everything just a little bit too clearly
And he looked around and there was no black ship in sight,
No black funeral cars, nothing except for him the raven
And fell on his knees and looked up and cried out,
“No, daddy, don't leave me here alone,
Take me up, daddy, to the belly of your ship,
Let the ship slide open and I'll go inside of it
Where you're not human, you are not human.”

But nobody heard the boy's cry of alarm.
Nobody there 'cept for the birds around the New England farm
And they gathered in all directions, like roses they scattered
And they were like compass grass coming together into the head of a shaman bouquet
Slit in his nose and all the others went shooting
And he saw the lights of traffic beckoning like the hands of Blake
Grabbing at his cheeks, taking out his neck,
All his limbs, everything was twisted and he said,
“I won't give up, won't give up, don't let me give up,
I won't give up, come here, let me go up fast,
Take me up quick, take me up, up to the belly of a ship
And the ship slides open and I go inside of it where I am not human.”

I am helium raven and this movie is mine,
So he cried out as he stretched the sky,
Pushing it all out like latex cartoon, am I all alone in this generation?
We'll just be dreaming of animation night and day
And won't let up, won't let up and I see them coming in,
Oh, I couldn't hear them before, but I hear 'em now,
It's a radar scope in all silver and all platinum lights
Moving in like black ships, they were moving in, streams of them,
And he put up his hands and he said, “It's me, it's me,
I'll give you my eyes, take me up, oh now please take me up,
I'm helium raven waitin' for you, please take me up,
Don't leave me here!”
The son, the sign, the cross,
Like the shape of a tortured woman, the true shape of a tortured woman,
The mother standing in the doorway letting her sons
No longer presidents but prophets
They're all dreaming they're gonna bear the prophet,
He's gonna run through the fields dreaming in animation
It's all gonna split his skull
It's gonna come out like a black bouquet shining
Like a fist that's gonna shoot them up
Like light, like Mohammed Boxer
Take them up up up up up up
Oh, let's go up, up, take me up, I'll go up,
I'm going up, I'm going up
Take me up, I'm going up, I'll go up there
Go up go up go up go up up up up up up up
Up, up to the belly of a ship.
Let the ship slide open and we'll go inside of it
Where we are not human, we're not human.

Well, there was sand, there were tiles,
The sun had melted the sand and it coagulated
Like a river of glass
When it hardened he looked at the surface
He saw his face
And where there were eyes were just two white opals, two white opals,
Where there were eyes there were just two white opals
And he looked up and the rays shot
And he saw raven comin' in
And he crawled on his back and he went up
Up up up up up up
Sha da do wop, da shaman do way, sha da do wop, da shaman do way,
Sha da do wop, da shaman do way, sha da do wop, da shaman do way,
Sha da do wop, da shaman do way,
We like birdland.

[Copyright © 1975 Linda Music Corp.]

Finally, I salute the fortieth anniversary of the mighty Hawkwind with Orgone Accumulator from their finest moment, the live Space Ritual.

Before he died in prison, Reich endured the knowledge that several tons of his written work had been burnt in a public incinerator in New York and many of his orgone devices destroyed. This was indeed a disgraceful fate to befall a man who had fled Nazi Germany and journeyed to the land of the free full of idealistic hopes for the future of his work.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Ishtar, Babalon, and the Blue Flame

Cameron as Babalon in Anger's Pleasure Dome

According to Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis, August 21st is a feast of Ishtar. I have been conscious of it since 1992 when events I will one day write about showed it to be a powerful part of my destiny matrix.

I commemorate it today with some hopefully evocative teaser fragments drawn from my two works in progress. Have lifted all manner of imagery from all over the place. Anyone wanting a namecheck, I'm happy to provide it.

Firstly, extracts from the section on the Babalon Working in Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.

The Holy Whore

Pondering on the nature of the Aeon of Horus, Jack Parsons (pictured above)concluded that, ‘This force is completely blind depending upon the men and women in whom it manifests and who guide it. Obviously it’s guidance now tends towards catastrophe. The catastrophic trend is due to our lack of understanding of our own natures. The hidden lusts fears and hatreds resulting from the warping of the love urge which underlie the natures of all Western peoples have taken a homicidal and suicidal direction. This impasse is broken by the incarnation of another sort of force called BABALON. The nature of this force relates to love understanding and Dionysian freedom and is the necessary counterbalance or correspondence to the manifestation of Horus.’

In The Book of the Law Ch 1,V22, it is written, ‘I am known to ye by my name Nuit, and to him by a secret name which I will give him when at last he knoweth me.’ The secret name was later revealed by Crowley as Babalon. The difference in spelling to the usual “Babylon” was Qabalistic. Crowley’s version adds up to 156. The name of the ancient city meant “Gate of the Sun.” The most important entrance into Babylon was named after their major Goddess, Ishtar. Babalon can be understood as a channel of solar force through her gate in sexual terms. She could be considered to be the true form of the archetype later corrupted in the mass mind by the Christian Whore of Babylon from the Book of Revelation.

In many ancient cultures, most famously the Babylonian, there was a form of sacred prostitution. The Hierodules, as they were known, were Priestesses of the Goddess. Ishtar was Goddess of love, sex, magic, war, and plenty else besides, in a time when it was accepted as perfectly natural that a woman could harmoniously embody all these things. Christianity has been responsible for a disastrous fragmentation over this. We can see it quite clearly in Revelation where the Whore is depicted as in conflicting opposition to the woman clothed with the sun, a Queen of Heaven type later identified with the Virgin Mary. The Babylonians could accept them as one and the same. Something of the esoteric tradition of the sacred hierodule has remained in eastern Tantric sects where a woman can be the vehicle of the force of the Shakti, the energy of the divine feminine. Crowley was attempting to restore this back into the western mysteries.

From Soldato

Babylon depicted in DW Griffiths' 1916 epic Intolerance.

Crowley saw on one occasion a ‘column of fire is dancing --- the fire is but the skirt of the dancer, and the dancer is a mighty god.’ She said, ‘I gather up every spirit that is pure, and weave him into my vesture of flame. I lick up the lives of men, and their souls sparkle from mine eyes. I am the mighty sorceress, the lust of the spirit. And by my dancing I gather for my mother Nuit the heads of all them that are baptized in the waters of life. I am the lust of the spirit that eateth up the soul of man. I have prepared a feast for the adepts, and they that partake thereof shall see God.’

’This is the Mystery of Babalon, the Mother of Abominations, and this is the mystery of her adulteries, for she hath yielded up herself to everything that liveth, and hath become a partaker in its mystery. And because she hath made her self the servant of each, therefore is she become the mistress of all.’

After the Babalon Working began, assorted Enochian style invocations were performed on a daily basis. The full details are available on a number of web sites. John Carters’ Parsons’ biography Sex and Rockets gives a good summary. On Jan 18th Parsons and Hubbard went out into the Mojave Desert to complete the first sequence of ceremonies.

On their return red-haired, green-eyed Marjorie Cameron had arrived at the Parsons household. Many accounts of the Babalon Working tend to imply that she appeared unheralded and unknown at a spookily appropriate moment in the magickal proceedings. This is not entirely true.

Her family had moved to Pasadena at the wars’ end. There she met someone she had known in the navy who was living at the Parsonage and suggested she might be interested in checking out the “mad scientist” and the social scene around him. She visited in early January 1946 and briefly met Parsons, each registering strong resonance with each other. The date for this is unclear. It may have been after the Working had begun. One account clearly indicates that her credentials for inclusion were immediately recognised with Jack and Ron urgently demanding of her old navy friend that he get her back to the Parsonage.

Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron

Born in 1922 during a thunderstorm during which her father had attempted suicide in the mistaken belief that her mother was dying, from an early age Cameron had manifested a powerful individuality that led her to readily identify with the archetype of witch. Her red hair was enough to convince a devout grandmother of her infernal nature. She soon developed natural visionary abilities and an aptitude for art. At seventeen the suicide of a close friend prompted a number of attempts of her own which seemed to further develop her psychism.

During the war she served in the navy and was involved in drawing maps for military operations. She later came to feel a sense of talismanic sigil magic was involved that somehow connected her to soldiers that died as a result of their deployment in accordance with the plans she had been responsible for manifesting. At one point she briefly met Winston Churchill.

The timing of her return to the Parsonage was indeed perfect as was her willingness to immediately engage in what was essentially a sex magick marathon without any real idea of exactly what it was all about. It was only after the whole operation was completed that Parsons explained it to her.

Cameron appeared to exactly fit the requirements of a being capable of both embodying Babalon and conceiving an aeon babe. There is some confusion as to whether she was Babalon herself or simply a kind of elemental force that could birth her and therefore the child would be Babalon. Cameron herself eventually came to feel she was Babalon incarnate. Parsons wrote on a number of later occasions of the advent of Babalon still in the future tense.

The three protagonists got down to some intense magickal business. Hubbard served as the scryer, meaning that he used his developed faculties of psychic vision to commune with the forces invoked by their rituals.

L Ron Hubbard

On the February 28th Jack went back out into the desert alone to invoke Babalon. The result was the transmission of Liber 49, which he considered to be a further chapter of The Book of the Law. Quite how he received it, whether through hearing a voice, or as automatic writing for example, is unclear. Considering his dedication to Thelema and Crowley personally it may seem surprising that he could have thought that the holy scripture could be in any way incomplete. His reasoning is interesting. The famous Hebrew name for God known as the Tetragrammaton has four letters usually rendered in English as YHVH. This has been the foundation of a vast amount of Qabalistic lore. The letters have been designated as symbolic of father, mother, son, and daughter. In Golden Dawn tarot teachings expounded by Crowley they are depicted by the King, Queen, Prince, and Princess cards. Parsons believed that the three chapters of the Book of the Law corresponded to YHV and that Liber 49 completed the daughter H. This has not been generally accepted by Thelemites. Although Liber 49 is a strange and powerful document it is not considered to be on anywhere near the level of inspiration of Crowley’s text.

Returning from the desert he discovered that Ron had experienced a vision of “a savage and beautiful woman riding naked on a cat like beast” who wanted to deliver a message. This seemed very similar to the image of the Lust card from Crowley’s Tarot deck that is a representation of Babalon. For those who think Ron was surely familiar with the imagery and therefore using his writers’ imagination to make up suitable details, what followed, regardless of a Vision and the Voice flavour, and especially in the hindsight of events occurring six years later, should give pause for thought.

Against a background soundtrack of Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead, ritual details emerged from Ron. ‘She is flame of life, power of darkness, she destroys with a glance, she may take the soul. She feeds upon the death of men. Concentrate all force and being in our Lady Babalon. Light a single flame on her altar, saying Flame is our lady, flame her hair. I am flame.’ ‘Dedicate thy soul to her for she shall absorb thee and thou shalt become living flame before she incarnates.’ He added, ‘For it shall be through you alone and no one else can help in this endeavour. It is lonely, it is awful.’

Artwork by Taz.

Perfect Mind

Here are a few verses from Liber 49.

‘I am the Bride appointed. Come ye to the nuptials - come ye now!
My joy is the joy of eternity, and my laughter is the drunken laughter of a harlot in the house of ecstasy.
All your loves are sacred, pledge them all to me.’

And a taster of Parsons’ passionate poem, The Birth of Babalon.

‘She has clothed her beauty in robes of sin
and pledged her heart to swine
And loving and giving all she has
brewed for saints immortal wine.
But now the darkness is riven through
and the robes of sin are gone,
And naked she stands as a terrible blade
and a flame and a splendid song
Naked in radiant mortal flesh
at the Birth of BABALON.
And her whoredom is holy as virtue is foul
beneath the holy sky,
And her kisses will wanton the world away
in passion that shall not die.
Ye shall laugh and love and follow her dance
when the wrath of god is gone
And dream no more of hell and hate
in the Birth of BABALON.’

The most notable Nag Hammadi material containing feminine spirituality is generally known as Thunder: Perfect Mind. It has become increasingly well known in recent years. Interesting comparisons can be made with the Abraxas of Jung and the Babalon mysticism of Crowley and particularly Parsons.

Here are a representative series of extracts from Thunder.

‘For I am the first and the last.
I am the honoured one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.

I am the silence that is incomprehensible

You who deny me, confess me,
and you who confess me, deny me.
You who tell the truth about me, lie about me,
and you who have lied about me, tell the truth about me.

For I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me.
I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.
Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.

But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel.
Be on your guard!

I am the one whom they call Life,
and you have called Death.
I am the one whom they call Law,
and you have called Lawlessness.

And take me to yourselves from places that are ugly and in ruin,

I am the union and the dissolution.’

Remember that Parsons and Hubbard ran into problems when thy entered an Enochian zone where the Elizabethan occultists had encountered a female force very reminiscent of Babalon. Edward Kelly described her appearance. ‘All her attire is like beaten gold; she hath on her forehead a cross crystal, her neck and breast are bare unto under her dugs: she hath a girdle of beaten gold slackly buckled unto her with a pendant of gold down to the ground.’ Her words look rather extraordinary when placed alongside Thunder and the Babalon material.

‘I am the daughter of Fortitude, and ravished every hour from my youth. For behold I am Understanding and science dwelleth in me; and the heavens oppress me. They cover and desire me with infinite appetite; for none that are earthly have embraced me, for I am shadowed with the Circle of the Stars and covered with the morning clouds. --- My garments are from the beginning, and my dwelling place is in myself. --- I am deflowered, yet a virgin; I sanctify and am not sanctified. --- I am a harlot for such as ravish me, and a virgin with such as know me not.’

Marjorie Cameron (who referred to herself by her surname only) went on to walk a suitably unusual unique personal path slightly off the consensus radar. She memorably appeared in Thelemic film-maker Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome in 1954 (see above photo), of which more later. On the underground film circuit she met the young Dennis Hopper. Not one to do things by halves, she married Sherif Kimmel, a man of such intensely varying mental states that he became the inspiration for the McMurphy character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Over the years Cameron developed a strong reputation as artist and powerful witch woman, before dying in 1995.

From the chapter Pact with the Devil in Avalonian Aeon here is some previously unpublished material linked with the work of Andrew Collins, the quest for the seventh sword and the stirrings of what led him to write his masterpiece on the Nephilim, From the Ashes of Angels. It highlights the spectacular psychic magickal work of Deborah Benstead.

In a Sumerian city there had once been a temple built over and around a deep cavern that emitted gas that burned blue. The flame was considered to be a gateway to the source of knowledge and creation from whence was born the mother of all. It was a supremely magically potent place governed by powerful taboos. Profane outsiders who somehow glimpsed it could be punished by death. Debbie felt that it was somehow possible for specially prepared adepts to physically stand inside the flame and not be burnt. It could only be carried by a sacred priestess from one place to another. Not only were they able to physically light fires from the original, they also had inner techniques, perhaps analogous to Kundalini Tantra for somehow carrying the flame within them.

There is one blue flame reference that has found it’s way into popular culture and could be seen as a possible stimulus for Debbie’s ideas. It features in the movie of H Rider Haggard’s novel She, made by Hammer with Ursula Andress in the title role in 1965. Queen Ayesha remains eternally young through having stepped into a mysterious blue flame. It wasn’t blue in the original novel however and is never actually referred to as such in the movie. It’s simply an imaginative special effect to suggest the periodic coolness of the flame at times of special heavenly alignments that allow someone to stand within it.

Although the group were unaware of it at the time, there are known examples of natural gas fissure flames becoming the focus for temples in more than one tradition. Jyalamukhi in the foothills of the Himalayas is a major Hindu goddess shrine. In some versions, its blue flame is considered to be the tongue of Kali. More significant in retrospect for Andy’s future work was the number of such places in Azerbaijan that had a link to the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism.

Some great political and religious tumult in Sumeria changed everything. It seemed like the end of the world and that Tiamat would destroy the Temple of the Blue Flame in anger. There was something dangerous about the knowledge held there, which included elements of what would later become the Qabalah, something about their origins, which put them in peril. A priest prince of Mardek and Dagon kidnapped the highest priestess who carried the flame within. It was believed that the flame was about to be corrupted and turned red and this was the only way to save it. He left with a large group, travelling in the direction of Egypt with the intention of recreating the temple there. Fragments of this saga had been glimpsed around the turning of the year. The third Key had been seen in blue flame. The departing group had it with them in some sense. An epic journey began.


On June 7th, Debbie was in a very deep trance, speaking almost inaudibly. Andy’s constant practice of holding a portable tape recorder near her mouth during such episodes preserved the peculiar words for later inspection. “Black as the sun. Garden. Dark king. She cometh. Tiamareth: the gate. Aden adoreth the bounteous gate. And she offereth fruit of the gate. The seven stave holded the oriflame. Aden put down his stave for the gate. The seventh stave go with Aden. Gilgatr leave with the second stave. Hunra with the third. The path of the dragon Dagon. He is the cord which bindeth your land with mine. By air, by land, by sea, the dragon will fly, maketh the path. The seventh stave must behold the flame. You will find it in the hands of him who adoreth the gate and her bounty of chaos.”

She saw a woman standing in the blue flame, naked save for a large eye design on her stomach. This was the gateway. There were people around pointing staves of some kind at her. Power was flowing between them all. She stepped out of the flame, which seemed to turn black. Behind her was a chasm, a complete black hole. It seemed very real. She approached one of the shadowy figures and touched his stave, transforming it to black. Others turned around in different directions and walked away. It was understood that this was something to do with the dispersal of a lineage of knowledge and the genesis of the black and seventh sword.


The name Seven Springs and its significance as source of the River Isis, with the hint of some archaic goddess strata behind the myth of Old Father Thames had evoked all kinds of poetic fantasies in me. The site itself however is far from spectacular, being immediately to the side of a road over the other side of which is a large pub restaurant. From a small car park area, steps lead down to a corner where two walls join, one of which is beneath the levels of the road. A faded Latin inscription, dating from the nineteenth century, was the only acknowledgement of the importance of the place. At the base of both walls can be seen small niches where the springs arise into a stony pool where the water is barely inches deep. After nightfall though, the atmosphere changed. Surrounding trees helped create the feeling of an enclosed zone. It was most conducive to strange magical business. Being beneath road level helped as well. A few small candles were lit and incense burnt.

Debbie soon found that the place served as a gateway into what she called on this occasion, the Scorpion Temple of the Blue Flame. We were invited to each step into it. An option was offered of staying there or stepping back out. Only Debbie and I decided to stay.

Her experience was a bit more intense than mine. She stood at the centre of the blue flame, naked apart from a large eye design on her stomach, becoming one with the original priestesses and their goddess. In that identification a function of manifestation already working through her was amplified still further. Through the flame, outside, could be seen the shadowy presence of seven figures with staffs pointing towards her. She was the pole star around which they revolved. The eye was not just a painted design but a real doorway to the void, to Daath, the womb of the divine feminine where all life comes from nothing. This was a stellar experience in a timeless realm where the usual opposites that help define our consensus reality had dissolved. No up and down or hot and cold. No motion. The distinctions of form and formlessness, being and becoming, had annihilated each other. It was in this realm, in this existential maelstrom, that the seventh sword resided.

A group meditation in Andy’s Black Room on the night of July 6th was a memorable one. Something that had first come into view shortly after the arrival of the third Key of Balance recurred with terrifying amplification. Debbie had been in the usual visionary space seeing something or another from the desert realms of the Middle East but it vanished from view leaving no memory behind. Everything had gone dark. There was a feeling of apprehension, of imminence. A lurking fear. She could hear a guttural humming sound. Something was coming. It was difficult to tell if she was in the room or some visionary space. Breathing became difficult. She opened her eyes. The group were still visible but everything was very dimly lit as if the candles had been extinguished. The velvet curtains were not drawn. The night sky was visible through the window. This comforting glimpse of consensus reality was all too brief. The window frame unbelievably began to dissolve. To her horror, the night seemed to creep and pour itself into the room, pulsating as a tentacled blackness, coagulating to take the form of a nearly ten feet tall humanoid entity. It had three pairs of wings protruding behind it from above its head, and behind its shoulders and back. Some kind of robe was apparent. Long probing fingers. And a strange elongated face, not unlike the famous visage of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. There was a short Babylonian style beard on its chin. The haunter of the dark was entirely black, created from the night, apart from slanted eyes of brilliant burning azure blue. No pupils, no whites, just laser blue. It leaned over her, its face horrifyingly close, a face that seemed to burn itself into the back of Debbie’s retina where it’s stayed ever since. The being spoke in an incomprehensible language whilst making hand passes over her. Debbie felt as if her insides had gathered up into one ball and been pulled out.

Perhaps the reader may appreciate why Avalonian Aeon has been ten years in the making. Another X Woman Blue Flame adept has encountered Dark Angel Michael as well. That brings me back to August 21st 1992 and that is indeed another story.

Laraine Petrillo

Stone Roses best ever debut album?

With the recent twentieth anniversary of the release of the legendary first album by the Stone Roses there has been much talk of it being the greatest debut ever. I have heard it a zillion times and strongly affirm its high number of cold tingle moments but do slightly despair of pop-cultural short term memory problems. One of the reasons the Roses were so great was that they had absorbed so many sixties influences but in a creative rather than derivative manner. I feel they may have produced the best British debut but that earlier efforts by the Velvet Underground and The Doors were on another level of the game altogether.

I have tremendously enjoyed setting tracks from this supreme trio of debuts together so enjoy and see what ideas it brings forth.

Firstly, here are my 3 faves from the Roses.

Now The Velvet Underground featuring Lou Reed and Nico.

And on to my personal fave debut.

I did think of including the Ed Sullivan Show Light My Fire that was mythologised in the Oliver Stone movie but feel that the original extended version is what really does it.

Got to see some Jim in action though. Here's The End from Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

We can do worse than feed our heads on total excellence.

Patti Smith's first album was mighty fine as well.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Return of the Sacramental Mysteries

Here is another teaser extract from my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus. This piece serves as an introduction to a lengthy consideration of the psychedelic era.

‘I will put a live coal upon your lips, and flowers upon your eyes, and a sword in your hearts, and ye also shall see God face to face. Thus shall we give back its youth to the world, for like tongues of triple flame we shall look upon the Great Deep - Hail unto the Lords of the groves of Eleusis!’
Aleister Crowley. Rites of Eleusis.

In 1910 Aleister Crowley was at the peak of his powers. He had just returned from the epic magickal journey in Algeria. His fortune had not yet dissipated. He was going through a time of considerable creativity thanks to his interaction with his closest associates, Victor Neuberg and the Australian violinist Leila Waddell.

The group sparked off each other and enabled Crowley to create a unique spectacle and experience for the London scene. He and Leila had been experimenting with the Mexican hallucinogen peyote. Crowley was one of the first Europeans to do so. He would compose and recite invocatory verses to her violin accompaniment. Neuberg was capable of dancing himself into a frenzy where he seemed to be possessed. This led to the creation of a series of rituals to the seven planets honoured by the ancients (which include the sun and moon). They became collectively known as the Rites of Eleusis and were publicly performed to paying customers in London.

This was no cheapo publicity stunt to grab some cash. The ceremonies were complex, drawing on all of Crowley’s Golden Dawn background and his extensive knowledge of literature and world religion. His stated aim was to induce some kind of mystical ecstasy in the audience. The mood set by the ritual combination of dim light, incense, costumes, music, dancing, and poetry would probably have been very effective to those with the right temperaments. It’s likely that most of those who attended weren’t expecting a night of music hall vaudeville entertainment. To help things along, at a first experimental performance the punters were offered a bowl to drink from that prefigured the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by containing fruit juice and a mild dose of mescaline! This was a brave move fraught with peril. Even with a mild dose a stampede of freaked-out moustaches and crinolines onto the streets of 1910 London could have occurred.

There is no question that these performances were astonishing for the time. It was a huge departure for the occultism and theatre of the day. The rites would have still blown a lot of minds in the sixties and we shall come to examine the cinematic work of Kenneth Anger to see when the zeitgeist caught up with Crowley. One motif that I find of considerable interest for what was to come is the combination of mystery cult and psychedelic sacrament

The Eleusis reference links to the most famous of the classical mystery cults. The Greeks had established a centre dedicated to the myth of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone who was kidnapped by Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. A deal was made where it was agreed that Persephone would stay with her abductor for a third of the year. It’s primarily a seasonal drama but all manner of mystical meaning was found within it.

The cult endured for two thousand years. Some of the proceedings were conducted in public but such effective secrecy surrounded the central core that despite a huge number of people being initiated over such a long period nobody ever gave away the secret. Whatever happened must have been extremely powerful. It was generally known throughout the ancient world that secrets of life and death were somehow revealed in a way that transformed the participant forever. It seems a safe bet that the full range of Greek theatrical skill was brought to bear but the key speculation surrounds a beverage known to have been consumed. There’s a good case to be made for the drink having contained a powerful psycho-active chemical.

The press gave attention to the Crowley performances. There were a few good reviews. They were outweighed by features that really began the legend of infamy. The rites were characterised as blasphemous with hints of sexual irregularity. Anything from Crowley’s past that could be dug up and used against him was printed or insinuated. Nothing was quite the same for him from then on. The attempt to induce non-Christian religious experiences though the combination of music, lighting, dance and drugs would cause problems for a few other people a bit further down the line as well.

Colour images Ikon Thelema, David Bersson.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A feast for the first night of the Prophet and his Bride!

On August 12th 1903 Aleister Crowley married Rose Kelly. It would not be a fulfilling union in conventional terms. Divorce and Rose's degeneration into institutionalised alcoholism would follow. One of their children would die whilst still a baby. Nonetheless Rose was the catalyst for the most important event in Crowley's life, the reception of the mysterious document known as The Book of the Law that announced the onset of the Aeon of Horus. The chanelled text itself includes the suggestion that the marriage date should be considered important in the magickal calendar and Thelemites worldwide acknowledge it.

Readers of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger may be interested in a fact he was not aware of. Rose's birthday was July 23rd, a date he found of central significance in the 23 enigma and Sirius mystery that plays such an important part in the narrative.

Thanks to David Bersson for his freely available colourised images.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Tim and Charlie: a little jail tale of Choronzon

So much Manson in the airwaves now I feel the need to keep going with the theme so here is a further brief teaser offering from the section in my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus dealing with the unique life of Timothy Leary entitled A Man Surrounded by a Whirlwind of Sand.

The most striking indicator of the nature of Leary’s journey happened when, in another candidate for an arthouse play scenario, he briefly found himself ensconced in the same cell-block as Charles Manson. They communicated through the wall between their cells. If we can believe the snippets found in Leary’s Flashbacks and Neuropolitique Charlie had some interesting reading matter on the go, lending Leary Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous and Castaneda’s Teachings of Don Juan. Charlie laconically stated he had been waiting for Leary to show up and was curious about why Tim didn’t use what he knew to control people. This of course was the exact opposite of the intention of Leary’s long-term work.

The prison psychiatrist was presented with a brief incredible opportunity to look at two such extraordinary individuals together. Whilst concluding that both were megalomaniacs, Tim was essentially a loved-up guy with his feet on the ground regardless of space migration. Charlie on the other hand had some anger issues and frequent plot losses. Charles Manson could almost be seen as an embodiment of everything that Crowley understood as Choronzon.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Sympathy For the Devil? The Manson Murders Forty Years On

Following an enforced absence from blogland dictated by a change of address and phoneline causing a month offline I return to cyberspace as the fortieth anniversary of the mythic Manson murders emanates across the ethers. Having dealt with various aspects of the whole horrendous business in my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus it seemed an obvious topic to return with. This piece is primarily a mix and match from the Sympathy for the Devil section.Whilst I acknowledge that Gary Lachman in his outstanding Turn Off Your Mind covers similar ground the bigger picture I reveal in my Aeon of Horus work is sufficiently distinct to justify itself.
Warning.There is a graphic crime-scene photo included here which I feel is necessary to help get beyond the sorceror's web Charlie has so adroitly woven for decades now to ground the proceedings in the grim reality he and his advocates have so singularly failed to acknowledge his responsibilty for.


In the bigger picture of the magical dream drama of the sixties a strange set of motifs surface with the involvement of King of the Witches Alex Sanders as an advisor on the subject of witchcraft for the 1966 Hollywood movie Eye of the Devil (sometimes known as 13).

A strong cast headed by David Niven and Deborah Kerr play out a story that seems inspired by the Golden Bough via Margaret Murray. Niven portrays an aristocratic landowner who returns to his family home in France when the grape crop seems set to fail. His ancestors have conformed to a heretical divine king type tradition that demands a sacrifice so that the crops can thrive. It’s an odd movie. Filmed in black and white it would probably not impress new generations of horror fans who are looking for blood, gore, monsters, and special effects rather than subtlety.

If it is known today it is because of a rising starlet in her first major role playing a local malevolent witch. Both Alex and Maxine later reported that Sharon Tate had expressed sufficient interest in the Craft to become initiated during the making of the film. It could be said that the sixties was book-ended by two ritual sacrifices. JFK was the first and Tate would become the second. How did it all get so intense and weird?


On April 30th 1966 the Church of Satan had been founded by Anton Szandor LaVey (pictured above). He was a remarkable character with a mythic biography worthy of film noir. Onetime circus lion tamer and cinema organist, he had allegedly been an early boyfriend of Marilyn Monroe. Working in Las Vegas he met the gangster Bugsy Seagal. A student of criminology, he later found employment as a photographer for the San Francisco Police Department which inevitably meant him seeing some unpleasant things. In the middle of this busy schedule he found time to become a psychic investigator and delver into all things magical.

LaVey considered that the natural energies repressed by Christianity should be released and celebrated. He seemed to consider Crowley to be a wimp and was into Nazi regalia and the study of their occultism. HP Lovecraft, and Enochian magic were incorporated into his fiercely Nietzschean blend, The Satanic Bible.

Fading Hollywood sex-goddess Jayne Mansfield had a serious interest in the philosophy. Not all of her associates shared her enthusiasm. Contention arose. A curse was cast. LaVey warned Mansfield to stay clear. She didn’t. The famous result: virtual decapitation in a car crash. Satanism was hip in ‘68. One of the big movies of the year was Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. LaVey made a brief appearance. For a while his Church was a big media deal, fading in the seventies through the usual schisms and making a comeback in the eighties and nineties.
LaVey hated the hippies. His film noir sensibilities despaired of the aesthetic polluting of his beloved San Fransisco by those he considered to be terminally unstylish. I can understand why Frank Zappa had proclaimed that, “flower power sucks”. There had been a lot of fluffy bleatings by cultureless freeloading dorks at the time. During the Summer of Love some of LaVey’s Black Masses involved crushing a sugar cube soaked in acid, urinating on some cannabis and hanging a picture of Timothy Leary or some eastern guru upside down.


Perhaps the most interesting manifestation of the powerful apparently opposing forces working through the sixties was the Process Church of the Final Judgement. It began when Robert and Mary Anne DeGrimston (above)met in London in 1963 whilst studying Scientology. Robert was a former cavalry officer, militaristic, tall, athletic, well-dressed. Mary Anne was once the wife of boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, and a runner of a prostitution service linked to the Profumo scandal. They left Scientology to create their own system of psychotherapy called Compulsions Analysis, soon attracting wealthy and influential types. Things started getting weird. Some kind of group mind seemed to be emerging. Just as Dianetics had developed into Scientology, so Compulsions Analysis begat the Process Church of the Final Judgement.

The transition from psychotherapy to religion was affected when the core of the group went off for a profoundly strange episode at the ruined Mayan site of Xtul. It was idyllic until hit by a massive hurricane. Somehow they escaped unscathed. Experience of such extremes crucially affected the fledgling cult’s worldview. Robert DeGrimston produced The Xtul Dialogues. It became a case of Apocalypse Now presided over by God and the Devil as one and the same being in it’s diverse aspects of Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan, and Christ.

Back in London they soon acquired a reputation as weirdo Nazi brainwashers. Championing Hitler and showing films about ‘War, Degradation, Violence, Despair, Power, Lust, Fear, Hate, Sin and Horror’ probably didn’t help much. They wore a kind of uniform consisting of black robes and silver swastika-like crosses. Many of them had Alsatian dogs.

The group folded in the seventies but their strange sensibilities seem increasingly contemporary. Maybe in some parallel dimension they carried on. In Britain they might have become bigger than the Church of England, as their Jesus enclaves raised millions for charity, presided over by some Luciferian in a limo, some John Lennon in an Armani suit. Maybe.

One notable influence on the nasty side of west coast occult counter-culture was the Solar Lodge of the OTO. With a base in the desert it was run by Jean Brayton, generally depicted as an unpleasant racist. An odd sequence of events led to them being the final resting place for what I consider to be one of the great lost occult treasures of the century: the correspondence between Dion Fortune and Crowley. A child began a fire that destroyed them. He was punished by being kept in a small wooden container outdoors in the high desert temperatures. Some appalled visitors informed the police and the whole scene was busted. The Lodge was an offshoot of Jack Parsons Agape group. He, as a Libertarian, would have been appalled to see such developments.


The most important product of this matrix of influences was Charles Manson. During time in jail he had come into contact with Scientology and adopted some of its ideas along with paranoia about the potential magical powers of its adherents. He was also impressed by the Beatles, getting serious about singing and guitar playing. Released into the Californian Summer of Love, his jail psychology was brought into contact with drugs, sex, and the whole occult underground.

The original version of Ed Sanders’ The Family is the most entertaining exposition of the ‘sleazo input’ available to Manson. The Process Church was considered to be a strong contender for influence. Complaints about their depiction led to subsequent editions being adjusted. The OTO Solar Lodge allegedly had crossover points with the large grouping that loosely clustered around Manson. Charlie himself was a big fan of Robert Henlein’s cult sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Henlein had known Jack Parsons and allegedly absorbed Crowley via him. This inspiration filtered through into the novel. All kinds of general witchiness was rife.

Manson, for all his jail background, seemed on the surface to be a loved-up kind of guy. He made a strong favourable impression on lots of people, soon attracting a free-floating community around him who came to be known as the Family. His immediate mission seemed to be the promotion of his music. To that end he cultivated as many connections as possible. Beach Boy Dennis Wilson was the most famous long-term convert. The band actually recorded a Manson song on a B side. Even a rock heavyweight like Neil Young stated that Charlie was a major talent. And that’s part of the fascination with Manson. There was something unique and brilliant about him, some extraordinary charisma. Despite decades in the prison system there still is. He was clearly a sorcerer of sorts and possessed of an unusual kind of intelligence despite sometimes adopting an almost hillbilly persona. Charlie is now touted as an eco-warrior.

Something was also horrifically wrong and has stayed wrong. It was intuited early on in the legend by those who claimed he was both Jesus and Satan, a blending also being promoted by the Process Church. There’s no getting away from that other side of Manson. He was a big admirer of Hitler and violence in general, managing to put the fear into plenty of people long before he became Public Demon Number One. He also kept the mediocre psychology of the pimp, hustler, and thief, alongside that of the rock star, guru, and sorceror.

1968 was a year of riots, revolutionary agitation, the Rolling Stones Street Fighting Man and Sympathy for the Devil. Acid was being replaced by heroin. The Vietnam situation deteriorated. A sense of apocalypse was building. Away from the cities, based out on a ranch and in the desert, Manson and the Family, fuelled by drugs and sex, fed on sleazo input of paranoia and violence. The mood turned bad.

On the night of 8/8/69, Anton Szandor LaVey had performed a ceremony named the “Rising Forth” to trash the hippies he despised. ‘Beware you psychedelic vermin! Your smug pomposity with its thin disguise of tolerance will serve you no longer! We know your mark and recognise it well. We walk the night as the villains no longer! Our steeds await and their eyes are ablaze with the fires of Hell!’ Later that night a group of Manson’s associates set out for the home of Roman Polanski and his wife the actress Sharon Tate. There’s no direct connection between LaVey and the murders but he clearly expressed in a most spooky manner something of the dark side of the zeitgeist that night, especially considering his own connections to Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. A baby was about to be murdered.

If trial prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi is to be believed, Manson had created a bizarre acid psychosis apocalyptic worldview named Helter Skelter after his warped interpretation of a Beatles song on the White Album. He and his followers believed in an imminent race war that only an elite would survive. Charlie intended to help things along by actually committing some murders that could be blamed on black revolutionaries. Manson advocates are contemptuous of this. Something however prompted a group of people around him to feel motivated to engage in the most extreme of acts. Speculation that the killings weren’t as random as they initially appeared, that bad drug deals and a whole lot of other factors were involved may have some truth. None of the additional angles of enquiry explain the type and mood of violence involved.

Manson's main murderess, Susan Atkins. Of all the many photos I have seen of her this one reveals clearly for me something of what manifested through her in August 1969.

Manson's main murderer, Charles 'Tex'Watson. Again, this photo carries something of the vibe of what this man perpetrated 40 years ago.

The arguments go back and forth about the extent of Manson’s involvement in the atrocities that followed. He did not commit any of the murders and was not in the same room at the time when they happened. The degree to which he may have ordered or influenced them remains contentious. It is certain though that he knew what was happening and could have stopped the events if he had wanted to. And this is the bottom line for fans of the Family. Whatever claims may be made, this was not some romantic revolutionary act against the war in Vietnam or the rich-pig system. Over two nights, a bunch of people including an eight and a half-months pregnant woman and her unborn child, were horribly murdered, and no amount of sophistry on the planet can justify or excuse that.