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Sympathy for the Devil?

The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment

Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment is an enthralling and thoroughly entertaining documentary on the group who began as The Process and ended as the Process Church of the Final Judgement. Formed in London by former Scientologists Robert de Grimston and his wife Mary Ann MacLean The Process as it was originally known were based in the elegant surroundings of Balfour Place, London where their psychotherapy sessions got them dubbed by the press as the mindbenders of Mayfair.

Decked out in robes they'd hawk their highly stylised literature on the streets of London during the swinging sixties, attracting many of the era's most notable counterculture figures such as Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Paul McCartney, Brian Epstein (one Process member was even on the payroll of the Beatles) - while later on they became, unfairly linked to the killings attributed to Charles Manson and, decades later, they would even more unfairly be associated with ongoing cult killings that prompted the "Satanic Panic" that gripped the USA in the eighties. It seemed at one point The Process, whoever they were, were everywhere. Even at the height of flower power, this was a group who could turn off those who had already turned on, tuned in and dropped out. Neil Edwards' superb and perfectly paced documentary, revolving around the question What Is The Process? cleverly animated from a comic strip taken from the Fear issue of The Process magazine, reveals just exactly who they were.

Featuring candid and illuminating interviews with original members - and even some from the inner circle - including Timothy Wyllie (Father Micah), Malachi McCormick (Father Malachi), Hope White (Mother Greer), John Harvey (Brother Zachary), Sammy Nasr (Father Joab), Sabrina Verney, Edward Mason (Brother Luke), Emmett Dwyer (Brother Mark) and eye witness associates Jan Palombo, Gaia Servadio, Funkadelic's George Clinton and author Robert Irwin. Psychic TV's Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (who also provides some readings of Process literature) provides insight while John Water's reminisces with typical acerbic wit, while authors Gary Lachman and Simon Wells aid with the context of the era. Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment charts their formation and their early years in London and onto their Ill fated journey to Xtul, where they attempted to establish a commune, and while group meditation brought them into contact with "higher beings" they were challenged by natural forces in the form of Hurricane Inez which destroyed their lodgings in an abandoned factory. It was in these bare conditions where the community of Processeans struggled for food and water that Process theology was formed with Christ unifying the Gods: Satan, Jehovah and Lucifer. Wyllie succinctly captures the group transformation: "It's probably best to say we went from psychological to psychic to spiritual."

The Process returned to London where their Goddess, Mary Ann and Christlike figure of Robert de Grimston ("he was the poster boy" as John Waters quips) became more elusive and ensconced in the upper levels of their elegant seven storey Mayfair based mansion. In the basement was a macabre styled coffee house called Satan's Cavern. Balfour Place, described in the film by Robert Irwin as being "rather wizzo", became the focal point for public events. These events included performances, debates and film screenings and more. "Various kinds of entertainments, you know" laughs Malachi McCormick about Process events which stretched to rituals, Sabbath Assemblies and even a Black Mass which elicited fear and anger from the shocked audience. "It was a very cruel piece of religious satire" recalls Wyllie imaginatively describing it as being "Dada meets Aleister Crowley". The highly stylised literature they published included The Process magazine which focussed on single themes such as Sex, Fear, Death and Love which they hawked to the humdrum masses of Grey Forces on the streets by members dressed in black and purple hooded cloaks emblazoned with a Goat of Mendes patch or pendants of their Swastika like four way P emblem draped around their necks. The Process weren't looking to appeal. As Timothy Wyllie deadpans "we were always trying to turn people off and the people who got through that were the elect." The provocative combination of their appearance, mind games and brainwashing techniques and theology proved controversial provoking a backlash and a steady stream of negative articles in the press - and even one from that bastion of the sixties underground press, OZ - which persuaded them to flee London for the USA where they took on the name The Process Church of the Final Judgement, and from which they would become one of, if not the most, legendary and mysterious of cults forever associated with devilish deeds linked to the occult and Satanism.

Embarking on a recruitment drive setting up bases in New Orleans, New York, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere, they would move further into the public consciousness as they courted celebrities. Funkadelic's George Clinton would be one: "Good and evil having to coming together I kinda subscribed to that. We got into trouble for it. Rolling Stone thought we were into devil worship". Clinton would utilise Process writings in the sleevenotes of the Funkadelic albums, Maggot Brain and America Eats It Young, even thanking The Process for inspiration. And then of course there is Charles Manson, the "cult killer" who supposedly masterminded a series of killings during the summer of '69. In Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, which, unfortunately would become the standard text on the "Manson murders" Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi quoted Manson as saying that he and de Grimston are one and the same. The Family, Ed Sanders' sensational study of the Manson Family, cited The Process as being one of the many sleazo inputs that informed Manson's thought. The Process threatened the US publishers with litigation forcing them to excise all mentions of The Process from subsequent editions. In the UK they were less fortunate, where they lost a court case. "We had nothing to do with Manson" claims Hope White. But there was one connection. "Under the pretext we were about the resolution of opposites" Malachi McCormick explained The Process included an essay by Manson in the Death issue of their magazine, contrasted with an article on the same page by outspoken moralist Malcolm Muggeridge who represented "the old fuddy duddy" ways of thinking. Manson's contribution was written after members of The Process approached him whilst incarcerated in the run-up to the Tate-LaBianca trial. Former Manson family member Barbara Hoyt appears ruminating on Charlie as Jesus, along with archive footage of Paul Watkins but they really don't add much to the discussion. Even though at one time Manson was living blocks away from The Process in San Francisco, as far I'm aware there's never been any corroboration to directly link Manson with The Process. That's what makes Process associate Jan Palombo's confession so revealing in that she recounts a rather ambivalent and offhand Manson visiting a Process coffee shop. Either way, the documentary makes clear that The Process were not and never would be spiritual counsellors to Manson. "We couldn't have been bothered with a punk like Manson" chimes Edward Mason.

Forever lurking in the shadows of The Process (and in this documentary film) is the elusive presence of its two leaders, Mary Ann and Robert de Grimston. Robert may have been the anointed Christ figure and teacher of The Process but, behind the scenes, Mary Ann remained firmly in control. "Mary Ann as the Goddess at the centre of it all was invisible" remembers Edward Mason. A product of an illegitimate relationship from the slums of Glasgow, Mary Ann grew up both street and worldy wise, adopting the goddess name Hecate in her relentless pursuit of power. It was Mary Ann who was behind the more lurid aspects of The Process orchestrating orgies and arranging marriages amongst Process members. "She always wanted to stay in the background but she was running the show all the time" points out Sammy Nasr. The Process was a matriarchal cult, lead by this secretive and charismatic woman. Even now, Process members speak touchingly of her with a fondness bordering on awe and reverence. Amazingly the documentary unearths further images of Mary Ann MacLean who until now seemed confined to just one or two photographs.

In 1974, Mary ousted Robert, after he undertook an affair, effectively ending The Process as it was. One member refers to it as being less of a schism and more of a messy divorce. Robert de Grimston did endeavour to regroup but it was a futile attempt and by this point for the original group, at least, it was over. Robert would somewhat ironically join the Grey Forces as a business executive in New York, while Mary Ann and some former Process members went on to form The Foundation Church of the Millennium. Mary Ann MacLean died in 2005.

Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment successfully dispels many of the crude distortions made by authors such as Ed Sanders (The Family) and Maury Terry (The Ultimate Evil) which purported The Process to be a sinister underground cult responsible for the Son of Sam murders - perpetrated by lone killer David Berkowitz, and being behind the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

But just who were The Process?
Drawn from wealthy middle class families, it seems in what was a surprising revelation to me, at least. For some it was an adventurous personal journey but for others it sunk into being just another cult of the brainwashing variety. As many confess, it took them years to recover. And, sadly, for the children of The Process the effects are ongoing. Neil Edwards should be commended for getting these former members to speak so candidly and so openly; their responses veer from sadness to humorous, but always entertaining as they recount their experiences in what was regarded as one of the most darkest, secretive and mysterious and, it seems, misunderstood sixties cults.

Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment does a great job in telling the story of The Process. More than that, it allows the former members to tell their story of The Process. Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment reveals the reality behind the mystique and mythology that's built up over the decades. With a soundtrack by Nicholas Bullen (readers of the second volume of Compulsion will remember Nic as being part of Scorn, with Mick Harris), the film is cleverly interspersed with archive footage, archive press, rare images, graphics and animation, Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment is thoroughly entertaining and informative and highly recommended to anyone interested in the dark side of the sixties and beyond. To buy the DVD go to Process Movie

Further reading:
Love Sex Fear Death, The Inside Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment by Timothy Wyllie, edited by Adam Parfrey
Xtul: An Experience of the Process by Sabrina Verney
Propaganda and the Holy Writ of The Process Church of the Final Judgement reprints the Fear, Sex, Death issues of The Process magazine, along with an interview with Timothy Wyllie
The Process, Archives, Documents, Reflections and Revelations recorded by Alessandro Papa
Rapid Eye 3 edited by Simon Dwyer includes 'Game of the Gods, An Introduction To The Process' by Stephen Sennitt
Apocalypse Culture (Expanded and Revised), edited by Adam Parfrey includes 'The Process: A Personal Reminiscence' by R.N. Taylor

Trailer for Sympathy for the Devil?, The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment

PROCESS TRAILER from Neil Edwards on Vimeo.