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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

5 Cults from the 1960s and 1970s

Jim Jones - By Nancy Wong - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44405530
By Nancy Wong - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
America, and the Western World in general, underwent a Spiritual Revival in the late 1960s and early '70s which experts largely attribute to a drop in organized religion and rise in Agnosticism and Atheism.  The "Free Love" vibe of 1960s America gave rise to numerous cults, several of which originated in California and charmed Hollywood.

This Spiritual Revival spawned numerous, pseudo-religious cults and generated widespread interest in them, but also later did them in.  The backlash from traditional, and far more organized, religious believers was so strong that it evolved into an Evangelical Revival in the late 1970s which then metastasized (Stateside) into Televangelism the following decade. 

The original belief systems espoused by these 1960s sects owe much to Theosophy, a religious movement founded by Madame Blavatsky during America's first massive Spiritual Revival at the turn of the 20th-Century, following the end of the Civil War.  
That American interest in Spirituality should peak following major wars with massive casualties is no coincidence -- neither is the omnipresence of Theosophy with Judaeo-Christian overtones, the militarization of the more successful cults, nor the media hype surrounding them.  While most were either fueled entirely by sex and drugs or later exposed as con games, they were harmless... some cults, however, were more sinister -- and it can be difficult to tell the two apart, even today.
Introduction to, and induction into, most cults is passive at first: Many start as open religious constructs or social movements, just like modern "political" groups, becoming progressively less communal as one rises in the ranks.  They are uniformly hierarchal, and ultra-secretive at the top.

In fact, the formulation of several, modern, American protest groups is directly patterned after the emergence of cults in the 1960s, some of which were manipulated by clandestine agencies using intelligence gathered from the first American Spiritualism Revival, refitted for the era (Feminism, Civil Rights, Irony as anti-Establishmentarianism, et. al.) for recruiting efforts.

Almost all of these cults are based on slivers of numerous religions and bits of science, with heavy Theosophical, Eastern, and Judaeo-Christian influences; most revolve around one or two central, Messianic figures (usually the founder[s]), generally thought to be somehow mystical; and larger sects uniformly exhibit paramilitary organization.  The latter tend to be "Doomsday" cults, but only as a generality.  Most were largely innocuous (all things considered), and many former members went on to live fulfilling lives in mainstream society.

Other similarities are contextual, as mentioned previously, reflecting the era in which the cults were spawned.  For example, many ironically adopted Satanic, and vaguely Nazi, emblems and dress early-on -- primarily for recruitment purposes.  Originally regarded as an act of defiance, such fashion quickly became counter-culture kitsch and rightfully recognized as a cry for attention.  Several cults also had (drug) ties to motorcycle gangs that used similar imagery, fueling the mystery surrounding them.

That is, until the Tate-LaBianca murders.  
  • Anton LaVey (d. 1997) established The Church of Satan in Los Angeles in 1967.  After his The Satanic Bible sold over one million copies worldwide, LaVey appeared as The Devil in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), and on the album covers of both The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and The Eagles' Hotel California.  He claimed responsibility for several high-profile deaths to which he had no connection, such as that of Jayne Mansfield (a former member), which landed LaVey and his "Church" in hot water following the Tate-LaBianca Murders.  While sensational in its time, LaVey's Church of Satan languished in obscurity until the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, when it was resurrected by well-coifed talk show hosts.  LaVey had previously worked as a lion-tamer, carnival worker, and police photographer.
  • The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953 by writer, L. Ron Hubbard, and survives to this day, boasting many famous members from the Hollywood community.  Hubbard's best-selling book, Dianetics, serves as the introductory foundation, but there are at least eight levels of Scientology (not including the legendary Level 9, which only Hubbard himself is said to have reached), and members spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach each one.  A lot of cults -- a lot, many -- were splinters of Scientology, and many cult members came from, or went on to, other cults... some of which are very questionable.  The Church of Scientology itself has increasingly come under scrutiny in the last few years for its checkered legal past and reported malfeasances, but members say they are being persecuted.
  • The Process Church of the Final Judgement was established in 1966 by Mary Ann McClean and Robert DeGrimston, who met at the London branch of the L. Ron Hubbard Institute of Scientology.  The two developed their own system of auditing called "The Process," and formed Compulsions Analysis, which was later renamed.  The Process Church found some small renown in the 1960s, eventually establishing churches across the United States.  Processeans dabbled in Nazi-chic and Satanic imagery and hob-knobbed with rock stars, but after Ed Sanders' 1971 book, The Family, directly implicated The Process Church of the Final Judgement as the real "Family" in the Charles Manson case, they revamped their image and beliefs and changed their name to the Foundation Church.  But the Process Church was directly tied to the founders' relationship (and also sex and drugs), and it fell apart once that ended.  Despite its former, considerable stature, it is almost entirely forgotten today.
  • Heaven's Gate was founded by two people but is said to have sprung originally from Marshall Applewhite's inability to deal with his homosexuality.  During "Class," the cult held deep, philosophical discussions on many things, culminating in a shared belief that death -- "leaving one's vehicle [body]" -- was just another step on the path to Immortality, and mass suicide was the means by which they would all make that journey together.  Following the discovery of the Hale-Bop Comet in 1995, 39 Heaven's Gate followers donned brand new Nike sneakers, ate an applesauce tincture, then climbed into their compound bunks and died, believing a spaceship in the comet's tail would carry them onto that next stage of Immortality.
  • The Source Family was the most akin to The Manson Family, although it had far more Hollywood cachet and only half as many murders.  While its public facade espoused the usual Hippie notions about returning to the Earth and Nature and rejecting societal norms and mores, The Source Family was mostly about sex and drugs... and a rock n roll band fronted by their Messianic leader, Father Yod.  Father Yod's real name was Jim Baker, and Jim Baker was almost certainly CIA (although that cannot be confirmed, it cannot be denied).  Whilst The Source Family outlasted the Manson Family, it eventually imploded due to its excesses, and disbanded after Baker leapt to his death in Hawaii on a homemade hang glider.
No rundown on 1960s cults would be replete without mentioning the Manson Family, in case I haven't, whose series of grisly murders brought the hippie movement to a brutal end, along with most of the cults and communes it had inspired.  While most of them died-down or dissolved entirely after the chilling Tate-LaBianca Murders, a few cults from the 1960s and '70s straggled on -- some exist, even today!  

The cult craze swept Japan a decade earlier, thanks to Operation: Golden Lily.

* Please pardon all the formatting and clerical errors.  I've been sitting on this for over a year now.  Thanks! 

© The Weirding, 2018-2019

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