Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Coming of the Mansonoids. (Part 3)

Historical events are inevitably viewed with the benefit of hindsight, and this can sometimes play funny tricks.  Events can acquire a certain eerie prescience or sense of tragic irony with the benefit of hindsight.  This, we assume, is only because subsequent events happened to follow a certain course, and retrogressively imbue what went before with an air of inevitably, or the odd presentiment we sometimes have of future events laying a trail of bread combs towards their eventual actualization.  In his 1927 essay An Experiment with Time, the aeronautical engineer and eccentric philosopher J.W. Dunne proposed that anybody who keeps an assiduous record of their dreams will find the events of their conscious existence prefigured again and again in the errant, muddled juxtapositions of their dreams.  The sceptic reasonably supposes that Mr Dunne was merely allowing his subconscious to cold call him, and retrogressively connecting the Rorschach blobs of his dreams to events which could have gone any number of different ways, just as we are do with historical events when we know their outcomes.  Playwrights and authors can foreshadow, but in reality tomorrow never knows.  Any sequence of events would probably assume peculiar contours when subjected to a sufficient degree of scrutiny.  In the film Blow Up, David Hemmings’ jaded photographer studies and enlarges a series of his photographs until a narrative of murder begins to emerge in their murky borders.  The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination has been similarly over-analysed, to the extent that some conspiranoids have made so bold as to suggest that it depicts the driver firing the fatal shot. 
Nevertheless, some historical sequences are stranger than others; and some, like the Kennedy assassination, become virtual strange attractors, weaving about themselves a maddening web of connections and coincidences, and leaving a trail of melted brains in their wake.  The Manson story has similar strange attractor properties; circling around its black centre one finds a rich, dense tapestry of post-war popular culture.  What lends the Manson story to conspiranoid readings is the extent to which all its various elements seem to fit together, either directly or in a more oblique fashion, like the details of a bad dream.  The next two posts are a study of the peculiar linkages between the Beatles’ White Album, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary Baby, the Manson murders, and the rise of the Church of Satan as a Randian cult of hedonistic individualism in the late 60s.  These linkages can be read as revealing the tendrils of a vast Satanic conspiracy…..or as a series of non sequiturs strewn together with the logic of a pothead flicking between documentaries and camp horror films on late night TV… a sidelong glance into the synchronistic underworld of causality…..or just a particularly diabolical addition to the popular awesome people hanging out together meme.

“All of them Witches.”

In her first significant film role, Sharon Tate played a seductive witch in a British occult thriller called Eye of the Devil, released in 1966.  Apart from Tate’s involvement, the film is largely remembered today as a less distinguished precursor to The Wicker Man and the folk/pagan horror genre which became popular in British cinema and children’s television in the late 60s and throughout much of the 70s.  Like Rosemary’s Baby, the folk horror genre didn’t come out of nowhere; it was a cultural reflection of a real sociological trend.  The failure of Victorian and Edwardian notions of rational and technological progress, writ large in the carnage of the World Wars, had led to a frantic scramble to discover new values which stood at variance to the failed ideologies of both Christian monotheism and technological modernism, and out of this emerged the second great occult revival in the modern West.  A massive neo-pagan revival had been underway in Britain and elsewhere since the fifties, and one of the great myths underlying and animating this movement was the idea of the return of the Old Ways.  In brief, this was the notion that the old, animistic covenant between man and the natural world, and all its traditions and practises, had never been fully vanquished by either Christianity or the Industrial Age.  The Old Ways remained as vital as ever under the surface, waiting to be rediscovered, re-invented, or in some cases simply invented out of whole cloth.  The witchcraft revival in Britain had been initiated by the colourful naturist and magician Gerald Gardner in the late forties.  It was, however, to Alex Sanders, the most noteworthy of the Wiccan revivalists after Gardner, that the makers of Eye of the Devil turned to act as a creative consultant in order to insure that the rituals in the movie had a certain degree of authenticity.  While making the film, Sharon Tate became acquainted with Sanders and his then wife Maxine, and Sanders claimed to have initiated her into the Alexandrian tradition of witchcraft.  This is a fairly plausible assertion, and probably true, although, like a great many occult leaders, Sanders was by no means averse to tall tales and the lure of attention and publicity.  At any rate, he was not averse to appearing in irresistibly kitsch exposes (in every sense of the word) such as the following:

Also in 1966, Frank Sinatra married Mia Farrow.  As a wedding present, Salvador Dali gave Farrow an owl, parts of a frog, and a moon rock.  (A word to the wise surrealist: give up the day job when you’re selecting wedding presents.)  It was a bizarre coupling, the considerable age difference being in 1960s America a difference between two worlds, between Kansas and Oz.  Sinatra was a walking contradiction.  Professionally, he was one of the most sensitive and emotionally intimate performers in popular song; privately, he was a control freak, bully, cultivator of unsavoury alliances, and one of the century’s most prodigious users of women as objects (known admiringly among his cronies as the “Pope of Pussy”).  Sinatra had revolutionized American popular music in the 50s, but by the time he married Mia Farrow, his era had distinctly passed.  Farrow was one of the flower children.  Her androgynous look reflected changing sexual mores and tastes; when Sinatra asked Shirley MacLaine for her opinion, she replied “What do you say about someone who looks like a twelve year old boy?”  A certain legendry surrounds Farrow’s cropped, pixie haircut which is worth mentioning here.  Farrow gave herself the cut with fingernail scissors in ‘65 while working on Peyton Place.  As a Vidal Sassoon cut is mentioned in the Rosemary’s Baby novel, Farrow’s androgynous haircut became a significant feature in Polanski’s adaptation.  She wears a wig in the earlier scenes, before appearing with the cropped cut and announcing, “I’ve been to Vidal Sassoon’s”.  Her narcissistic husband (played by director John Cassavetes) is disgusted by the new look.  It’s an oddly powerful moment in the film, which intensifies the viewer’s sympathy for Farrow’s vulnerable, put-upon Rosemary.  (In time, the fiction of Rosemary’s Baby became mingled with fact, and popular legend had it that Farrow got her hair cut specifically for the film, and a repulsed Sinatra served her divorce papers on the set for this reason.) 

When she first cut it, Salvador Dali told Farrow that the act constituted a “mythic suicide”.  Coincidentally, in July of ’69, Manson exhorted the female Family members to commit an act of “mythic suicide” by shaving her heads.  According to Sanders in The Family: “Just before dawn, Charlie sent Brenda from the ranch with scissors bearing a wonderful announcement: it was the time for the sacred witchy Tonsure Rite.  Charlie said that they were ready to cut their hair – for, at last, their egos were dead.”  The appearance of Manson’s shaven headed young followers constituted a considerable element in the visceral shock of the media coverage of the trial.

Rosemary’s Baby, which shot in late ’67, did put paid to Farrow and Sinatra’s marriage however.  The movie was running over schedule, and Sinatra wanted Farrow to appear in his film The Detective.  It was another instance of fact and fiction becoming comingled.  In the movie, her character Rosemary was manipulated and exploited by her self-centred actor husband in order to further his career; in reality, Farrow had to stand up to her self-centred and manipulative singer/actor husband in order to stay in the picture.  This she did, and Sinatra responded by serving the aforementioned divorce papers on set.  When events started to spiral out of control after its premiere, producer William Castle came to regard Farrow’s marriage as the first casualty of the Rosemary’s Baby curse.  There is no doubt that even on the surface, Rosemary’s Baby constituted an eerie preface to the grizzly tragedy which overtook Polanski’s Cielo Drive residence (a few doors away from the home of The Outer Limits and Psycho screenwriter Joe Stefano) within a year of the movie’s release.  With its themes of a contemporary satanic cult, and the anxiety of a young first-time mother regarding the safety of her unborn child, subsequent events made Rosemary’s Baby seem uncomfortably close to home – especially bearing in mind that Polanski even considered casting Sharon as Rosemary for a time.  (Also, since the film concerns the drugging and rape of a young woman, it is difficult not to associate this with the subsequent event which would forever tarnish Polanski’s reputation.)  Scraping under the surface, however, one finds a peculiar web of coincidences surrounding Rosemary’s Baby which Robert Anton Wilson would have labelled a “synchro-mesh” in his heavy Chapel Perilous days.

To 1966, The Year One!”

The novel Rosemary’s Baby was a bestseller for Ira Levin in 1967.  It had a strong hook – anxiety about first-time pregnancy – and the theme of contemporary urban occultism give it a topical flavour in the same year which the musical Hair proclaimed “The dawning of the Age of Aquarius”.  Like Levin’s later The Stepford Wives, it had a strong feminist undertow – the real menace of Rosemary’s Baby is arguably the patriarchal desire to subjugate and control the female body.  The novel (and subsequent movie, which remained very faithful to the source) is unusually specific about its temporal setting.  It starts in the latter part of ’65 (the year of the first Papal visit to the U.S.A.), but is primarily set in ’66, the year of Eye of the Devil and Mia Farrow’s marriage to Frank Sinatra.  To 1966, The Year One!” the coven leader Roman Castevet toasts during a New Year celebration, and Rosemary’s baby is born June ’66 (6/66).  Coincidentally, in the more or less real world of 1966, a small group gathered in a house at 6114 California St, San Francisco, on April 30 (Walpurgisnacht) to proclaim 1966 the Year 1, Anno Satanis, “the first year of the Age of Satan”.  This house belonged to Howard Stanton Levey, a former carny man, nightclub organist, and weird fiction enthusiast who had fashioned himself Anton Szandor LaVey.  It would later be known as the Black House, and function as the headquarters of his creation, the Church of Satan, until his death in 1997.

In fairness to him, LaVey was neither the most interesting, nor the most risible, of America’s many spiritual/occult entrepreneurs.  Prior to the establishment of the Church of Satan, he had gathered a fairly interesting salon of writers and occult dabblers to the Black House.  LaVey became friends with a number of writers associated with the legendary Weird Fiction magazine, and seems to have known the great ClarkAshton Smith through this connection.  Attendees at his parties included the sci-fi/fantasy legend Fritz Leiber, king of sci-fi/monster movie fandom Forest J Ackerman, and the irrepressible mischief maker Kenneth Anger.  These parties maintained a little of the ambience of the scene which had converged around Jack Parsons’ chaotic Pasadena mansion in the forties – a curious melting pot of pulp writers and occultists chasing the outer limits.  (Another LaVey associate of the time, Anthony Boucher, wrote a famous locked room mystery novel called Rocket to the Morgue in 1942, which contains thinly veiled portraits of Robert A Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons, and various other Golden Age figures.  The plot of Rosemary’s Baby is not unlike a Christianized version of Parsons’ bizarre and fascinating Babalon Working.)  There is a certain incidental David Lynch character charm to LaVey at this point – I mean, the guy plays the Wurlitzer at a cocktail lounge called the Lost Weekend, and keeps a large black leopard called Zoltan as a pet.  Bizarrely, a local American Humane Association television programme for children called The Wonderful World of Buzz came to visit LaVey’s house in 1964.  This, needless to say, before the joint was called the Black House, and notorious for nudie orgies and HAIL SATAN chants.

LaVey’s satanic philosophy mixed Nietzsche and Ayn Rand with the post-war economic boom hedonism of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy, and served them up with a dressing of Dennis Wheatley’s occult pot-boilers.  In a sense, its core philosophical values of individualism and self-gratification were perfectly in tune with the realities of mainstream America during the full bloom of the consumerist era, and illustrate the slippery slope by which the 60s counter-culture gradually fell into the vapid self-absorption of the Me generation of the 70s.  This materialistic angle LaVey mixed rather incongruously with the ceremonial magic and initiatory grade left-overs of the Golden Dawn which innumerable other neo-pagan groups were experimenting with at the time.  What alone distinguished LaVey’s group was its open avowal of the satanic image, and this one suspects was merely a piece of theatrical branding on the part of LaVey, a carny man at heart who knew how to stir up the rubes and get them to step right up.  Contrary to popular urban myth, LaVey appears to have had no direct involvement with the making of Rosemary’s Baby.  It was long supposed that he had acted as a creative consult for the film, and even rumoured that he donned the devil suit during the film’s disturbing dream/rape sequence.  These stories were most likely put into circulation by LaVey himself, and probably possess no more substance than his claim to have had an affair with a pre-stardom Marilyn Monroe during his nightclub days.  That said, LaVey did act as a special consultant to a satanic horror picture, but it just wasn’t quite as prestigious as Rosemary’s Baby:

(You can watch the whole thing here.  I’ve watched a lot of bullshit in my time, but I haven’t gotten around to this one yet.  I probably will, though.  You know you can rely on Shatner’s resume between Star Trek incarnations.)  Although not explicitly connected with the making of Rosemary’s Baby, many tangential links remain between the Church and the movie and subsequent Tate/La Bianca murders.  During the early days of the Church of Satan, LaVey took to a fairly time-honoured American strategy for drumming up publicity: he ran a “Topless Witches Review” in a theatre in San Francisco.  One of his nudie witches was Susan Atkins (using the stage name Sharon King); Atkins of course became a member of Manson’s Family, and would later claim that she “felt nothing” as Sharon Tate begged her for the life of her unborn child in the house on Cielo Drive.  In 1968, probably shortly prior to the release of Rosemary Baby, Sinatra’s Rat Pack compadre Sammy Davis Jr was hanging out in a LA club called the Factory when he encountered a group of actors whose fingernails were varnished red as a sign of their affiliation to the Church of Satan.  The actors invited him to a party back at the Black House, and Sammy, being constitutionally up for anything, went along.

Sammy discovered a scene which he described as “dungeons and dragons and debauchery”, and which must have looked like The Omega Man for Me generation hedonists.  All of the guests were clad in hooded robes or masks, and a nude woman was chained to a central red-velvet alter.  “That chick was happy” he later observed, “and wasn’t really going to get anything sharper than a dildo stuck in her.”  As Sammy Davis was beginning to get settled into the festivities, one of the revellers approached him and pulled back his hood.  Small world: it was his hairdresser.  Smaller world: his hairdresser was Jay Sebring, Sharon Tate’s former lover and fellow Manson Family victim.  Sammy Davis Jr’s interest in the Church of Satan persisted into the mid-70s, and was probably at its height in 1973 when he produced and starred in a NBC pilot called Poor Devil, which endeavoured to kick-start the world’s first ever satanic sitcom.  Needless to say, the world wasn’t ready for canned Left Hand Path laughter, and it was shit.  Coincidentally, Sammy’s thelemically titled autobiography Yes I Can is featured prominently in Rosemary’s Baby; we first see Rosemary reading it early on in the film, and it is later shown on the Woodhouse bookshelf next to the occult tome Rosemary has gotten from Hutch.

In the next instalment: Mia Farrow decamps to India to groove with the Beatles and the “giggling guru” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and William Castle slips into an extremely conspiranoid reality tunnel in which he begins to believe that he and Paramount Pictures have unleashed a satanic curse upon the earth.

Books: Lords of the Left Hand Path by Stephen E Flowers, and The Family by Ed Sanders.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Coming of the Mansonoids. (Part 2)

Lay Down all Thoughts, Surrender to the Void.

               The million dollar question that most people ask themselves about the Manson story is: how did he do it?  How did he take a group of young people whose attitudes of alienation from their parents and society weren’t at all atypical of people of their generation, and instil in them a degree of obedience and loyalty so extreme that some would ultimately commit acts of extraordinary brutality, and many others acquiesce to those acts?  How did he instil in his followers a conviction of his personal purity, sincerity, and divinity, which would endure for many years after the Tate/LaBianca murders?  But people are always asking questions of this type.  How did Hubbard do it?  How did Jim Jones do it?  Why do cults work?  On the other hand, we never, or at least very rarely, ask ourselves why we acquiesce to the myriad things which have been presented to us as societal norms by our dominant culture.  In the same way that average or “normative” physical relationships contain subtle elements of domination and submission which are reflected in an extreme fashion in the practises of sadomasochism, the cult reflects in miniature the ordinary habits of coercion, conditioning, and control exhibited by cultures and societies everywhere.  The dirty secret of society’s loathing of cults is that it is the loathing not of an aberration but of a rival.  To paraphrase Ismael Reed, the history of the world is the history of the warfare between cults of varying degrees of general acceptance.
              Cults work primarily for two reasons.  The first of these is that there is always an extraordinary degree of private dissatisfaction seething under the surface of apparently smooth-running societies.  The discontented members of a society always out-weight its more contented grazers, however silent this majority frequently tends to be.  At its most basic level, this discontent expresses itself as a feeling that the individual does not sufficiently exercise their will over their lives and environments – the feeling of life happening to them, as opposed to being something which they can actively shape in order to meet their needs and desires.  This pervasive sense provides the bread and butter of the various self-help cults and publishing fads which have proliferated since the New Thought movement emerged in the early 19th century.  (The self-help industry was estimated at the beginning of this century to be worth about 2.48 billion annually in the US alone.)  This feeling of a lack of autonomy and control, of dissatisfaction with one’s position within society, is very often merely the indicator of a far deeper malaise: the feeling that all the roles and activities proscribed by society are somehow insufficient or unsatisfactory, however successful we may become within their parameters.  This is perhaps why so many of our most envied icons wind up more neurotic, depressive, and self-destructive than ourselves; having acquired the carrot that dangles over the rest of our horizons, they realize its essential insufficiency.  The social revolution in which Charles Manson found so many willing subjects was, as Theodore Roszak points out in The Making of a Counterculture, a revolution of plenty and abundance:
What I have called “the counter culture” took shape between these points in time as a protest that was grounded paradoxically not in the failure, but in the success of a high industrial economy.  It arose not out of misery but out of plenty; its role was to explore a new range of issues raised by an unprecedented increase in the standard of living.
A revolution of plenty is the most threatening kind to a society because it does not emerge from grievances which can be annulled within the existing societal framework, but rather is directed against the whole value structure of the society itself.  It cannot be bought.   It is precisely this kind of existential estrangement from the whole structure of society which makes the cult’s offer of an alternative miniature society so persuasive.

The second reason why cults work is the same basic impulse which allows societies, however flawed and corrupt, to function.  Arthur Koestler used to argue that the great calamity of the human species was not its propensity towards selfishness and aggression, but rather the opposite:
We are then driven to the unfashionable conclusion that the trouble with our species is not an excess of aggression, but an excess capacity for fanatical devotion.  Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one’s tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei.  The emphasis is on unselfish.  Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause.  (Janus: A Summing Up.)
The urge then to follow, to subjugate one’s self totally to a cause, leader, or ideology, is already present in the subject when the cult acquires them.  It is a very basic and strong human impulse and forms the raw material which the cult’s conditioning methodologies attempt to maximise.  Ironically, the subject shows considerable autonomy and independence in rejecting and turning their back on their initial society, but quickly find themselves merely replacing the old programme with a new one.  The new programme becomes the truth and the old one the brainwashing from the perspective of the subject, while the new programme is the brainwashing from the perspective of society.  A lot of conspiracy theorists start out by realizing that much of the information they receive through mainstream news channels is a pack of lies; they then replace the initial programme with a series of conspiracy scenarios which they now regard as uncritically as they once did the mainstream news channels.  The same principal is at work where overzealous atheists apply the same kind of uncritical sectarian commitment to the atheistic programme which they decry in those who subscribe to the older theistic programme.  Swapping one programme for another, like lovers on the rebound; it’s the oldest con in the world.

Tapes and Programmes: Manson and Scientology.

               In 1961, Charles Manson was transferred to the McNeil Island Correctional Centre, and it was here that his story first started to get a little weird around the edges.  On McNeil Island, Manson encountered Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, a legendary figure from the Great Depression golden era of American crime.  The mastermind behind the so-called “Ma Barker Gang”, Karpis was the last of the “Public Enemy Number 1’s” on the loose until his FBI arrest in 1936 which was personally overseen, for publicity purposes, by J Edgar Hoover himself.  In McNeil Correctional, Karpis was sympathetic to Manson’s troubled and institutionalized past, and agreed to teach him how to play the guitar.  Inadvertently, the final volley of Tommy-gun shells blazed at law and order from the Great Depression would be Karpis giving Manson’s decidedly dark Orpheus his lyre.  Manson was convinced at this point that he would be as big as the Beatles.  In Terminal Island, he also encountered a convicted marijuana smuggler who would become a remarkable figure in the footnotes of rock history: Phil Kaufman.  Kaufman gave Manson the name of a contact in Universal Studios which played a significant role in his pre-Helter Skelter bid to establish a musical career. 

Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree.
Via his friendship with Keith Richards, the same Kaufman later became very close friends with Gram Parsons.  (Parsons had visited Stonehenge with the Stones, during a period in which Richards owned a house near the site.  This must have been around the time that the Stones were enthralled by John Michell’s psychedelic earth mysteries trip.)  In the states, Parsons developed a mystical attachment to the Joshua Tree National Monument, having been out there many times with Keith Richards and others to get high and watch the sky for UFOs.  (The area held a strong significance to the pre-beat bohemians and occultists of the 50s, having once been haunted by the considerable presence of Marjorie Cameron.)   At some point, Parsons made a pact with Kaufman that whichever of them died first would insure that the other’s body was taken out to Joshua Tree to be cremated.  In September 1973, Parsons, just a year shy of the mystical 27, died of an overdose of alcohol and morphine while staying in the Joshua Tree Inn.  Parsons’ stepfather made provisions to have the body flown to New Orleans to be buried there.  Phil Kaufman, polluted with vodka and self-recrimination, decided to make good on his promise.  Together with a friend named Michael Martin, Kaufman commandeered a hearse, and stole Parsons’ body from Los Angeles International Airport.  They then drove it out to the desert, and attempted to cremate Gram by pouring five gallons of gasoline on the open coffin and lighting a match.  This caused a massive fireball and only partially charred the remains, but the pair had to flee the police.  They were arrested a few days later, and fined just 750 dollars for their nobly intentioned, albeit chaotic memorial to their friend.  Kaufman paid the fine with the proceeds from a party which he called Kaufman’s Koffin Kaper Koncert.  (Bonus Mansonoid connection: Gram Parsons lived with Terry Melcher for a brief period in 1970, a mutual fondness for heroin and cocaine rendering their musical collaboration largely unproductive.)

Back to McNeil Island in the early sixties.  Along with music, Manson also concerned himself with a variety of more esoteric subjects.  According to Sanders in The Family, “It was while counting the days at McNeil Island that Manson began studying magic, warlockry, hypnosis, astral projection, Masonic lore, scientology, ego games, subliminal motivation, and perhaps Rosicrucianism.”  He was particularly fascinated by subtle methods of suggestion and control, as though planning to be a cult leader – or Madison Avenue tycoon or member of the CIA – when he got out.  Scientology, however, was his biggest kick in the joint.  According to Alvin Karpis, ‘Charlie was hooked on this new thing called “Scientology”.  He figured it would enable him to do anything or be anything.  Maybe he was right.  The kid tried to sell a lot of the other cons on scientology but got strictly nowhere.”
At this point, scientology was not the universal hate object it is today, but rather a quasi-religious psychotherapy programme which was making healthy inroads into the popular consciousness.  The root of scientology at this point was dianetics, and at the root of dianetics was the idea of the engram.  The term engram was initially coined in 1904 by the influential German biologist and memory researcher Richard Wolfgang Semon.  According to Semon, the engram was a physiological memory trace written or engraved in the cellular matter of the brain which would be reactivated whenever a similar stimulus to the cause of the initial overwriting was encountered.  In Mother Hubbard’s system, the engram occupied a similar role to that of trauma in Freudian psychoanalysis; according to Jean Leplanche, Freud characterized trauma as an “event in the subject's life, defined by its intensity, by the subject's incapacity to respond adequately to it and by the upheaval and long-lasting effects that it brings about in the psychical organization." In essence, Freud’s concept of traumatic events meant that we could never really live in the present; our lives are tyrannically controlled by events in the past which we haven’t properly processed.  Hubbard’s engram was based on a similar sense; to quote an earlier post:
According to Hubbard’s system, the Freudian unconscious became the “reactive mind”, which he contrasted with the rational, calculating aspect of the psyche, labelled the “analytic mind.” The reactive mind created precise “mental image picture” recordings of traumatic and painful events in the individual’s life. These were called “engrams”, and the purpose of the dianetic process was to erase the traumatic content of these memories, until the subject was clear of “engrams” and free to exist rationally and analytically in the present.
It isn’t difficult to see the potential appeal of all this to Manson, whose mother once reputedly gave him to a childless waitress in exchange for a pitcher of beer.  He clearly had some heavy engrams to clear.  We can also see that Manson’s later preoccupation with the “Total Now” derived from his study of scientology.  Just as the clearing of engrams allowed the scientological “clear” to be utterly unencumbered by the past, Manson’s conditioning was designed to erase all the automatic and unconscious programs which society had engendered in his subjects since birth.  While working on Spahn Ranch, the girls happily walked around barefoot in horseshit, as part of their general programme to erase conditioned responses and binary good/bad thinking.  In many respects, Manson was playing the classic Western guru game, albeit on a small scale and in a shambolic and ultimately tragic fashion.  The Western guru offers his followers the opportunity to shed the inauthenticity they perceive in the roles society has allotted them; to transcend the limited, utilitarian societal identity, and discover a Higher Self, a more authentic way of being.  Thus for Crowley, the goal was to attain communion with one’s Holy Guardian Angel or Higher Self, and live thereafter according to the dictates of one’s own true nature or Will.  For Gurdjieff, it was to discipline the mind so as to awaken it from its habitually robotic thrall to societal convention and its own fitful, fleeting moods and fancies.  Both systems contained a failsafe, in that it was assumed that in order to reach the higher state, the initiate would have to have gone well beyond the mental propensity to do evil.  Gurdjieff believed that it was impossible for a fully conscious individual to commit an evil act; Crowley’s maxim do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law had its less often quoted rejoinder love is the law, love under will.  But the programme is only as good as the programmer, and this is why gurus can be a very dangerous habit.

Underlying both dianetics and Manson’s occult conditioning was the idea that the mind can be manipulated like magnetic tape; that it can be rewound, erased, and ultimately re-recorded with a new programme.  In The Family, Sanders claims that this idea was very common among some of the more sinister late 60s occult groups:
The hype was similar to other groups including Manson’s: tearing down the mind through pain, persuasion, drugs and repetitive weirdness – just like a magnet erases recording tape – and rebuilding the mind according to the desires of the cult.

Brion Gysin gazing into the Dream Machine

Interestingly, during the early sixties, William S Burroughs became obsessed with both the dianetic auditing process and the subversive potential of tape-recording.  Burroughs was a long-time connoisseur of unusual fringe ideas, having previously explored Korzybski’s General Semantics and championed the orgone heresies of Wilhelm Reich, two obsessions later passed on to Robert Anton Wilson.  The precise circumstances of Burroughs’ discovery of Scientology are not known, but at some point he encountered John Starr Cooke and his wife Mary in Brion Gysin’s 1001 Nights Restaurant in Tangier.  Cooke is a fascinating character in his own right, a lifelong mystic who travelled the world at the behest of a Ouija board, and designed three acclaimed Tarot decks.  The Cooke’s were also significant figures in the early Church of Scientology, with John reputed to have been one of the first “Clears”.  To Burroughs’ obsession with circumventing control, the engram was another control system to demolish.  Scientology had a huge influence on the “cut-up” trilogy: The Soft Machine (61), The Ticket that Exploded (62) and Nova Express (64).  Burroughs was much preoccupied during this period with the idea of language as a constrictive virus which had colonized human consciousness, and he further associated this idea with the calendrical control systems of the ancient Mayans, and the mind control barrage of modern electronic media technologies.  In the same way that Scientology proposed that psychically harmful engrams could be erased by means of repeatedly rewinding them, Burroughs proposed to attack the societal control system by means of repeating certain crucial control images and words (until they lost their power) and cutting them up until they formed anarchic new juxtapositions.  The Cut-up trilogy can be read as an a form of positive artistic brain-washing or de-conditioning, with its long sections of disjointed, white noise prose designed to disorient and de-pattern the readers thoughts.   Burroughs’ fascination with Scientology and tape manipulation can be seen in this short Bill and Tony aka Who's Who (1972):

Sanders’ description of the occult/Mansonoid conditioning method - tearing down the mind through pain, persuasion, drugs and repetitive weirdness – just like a magnet erases recording tape – could double up as a perfect summary of the goals of the CIA’s MKUltra programme, which was running contemporaneously with Burroughs and Manson’s experiments with Scientology.  The MKUlra programme also envisioned the mind as being akin to a roll of tape which could be rewound, erased, and re-recorded.  Hence, we find some very strange bedfellows converging on a core of similar ideas during the same time period: the CIA to produce advanced interrogation methods and zombie mind control methodologies; Burroughs to break up and demolish the same coercive technologies that the CIA sought to enhance; and Manson, the wildcard in the pack, to create avid followers to fellate his LSD expanded ego (and cock), and participate in his increasingly hare-brained criminal hustles.  This strange overlap between the counter-culture and the underworld of the national security apparatus would continue well into the seventies.  It is worth remembering that Manson, so often presented as the bogeyman and Pandora’s box of the counterculture, largely succeeded where the CIA appear to have failed: in using LSD and conditioning to create lasting obedience and loyalty in his subjects.  Maybe they should have tried sex and rock and roll as well.

The Strange death of Gram Parsons.
Burroughs and Scientology.
Soft Machine cover from a great selection of vintage Corgi covers here.

Continued shortly.