Since Robert N. Taylor has provided an excellent review of the contents of this book and an overview of the historical context of the Process Church, I would like to contribute some reflections that are more personal, but also more metaphysical.
I first became aware of the Process Church, or at least its name, in Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Thompson taunts his drugged-up and hungry attorney by pretending to know about a cafeteria run by the Process, "just a few tables" but with an interesting back room... The attorney freaks out and tells Gonzo "Don't even mention the Process around here, man," implying they could give Manson a run for his money in the woo-woo department. Later, I came across some references in Burroughs [he, like they, flirted with Scientology in London]; usually, at this point Bowie would follow up, but I don't recall him ever mentioning them, although the infamous `fascist' period, with uniform and salute, might speak of some influence.
Instead, much later one heard of their influence on Psychic TV [and indeed Gen pops up here to add his own chapter]. But it wasn't until nearly the Millennium that I found some of the original materials, republished in Simon Dwyer's Rapid Eye.
Alas, however impressed I might have been in 1973, by this time they seemed like the home-made theology of some art student, or the sort of thing Fred Berger might have cobbled together to surround photos of languid runaways in Propaganda. Still, cool graphic design.
So it was with great expectations that I ordered this book, so as to finally get some inside insight into the ultimate hippie cult.
The good news is that about half the book consists of an unrivaled collection of reproductions of rare Process publications, photographs of Processeans going about their tasks [ranging from "donating" their time, i.e., panhandling, to hosting cable-access talk shows] and original doctrinal statements by Robert deGrimston. This part alone makes the book self-recommending to anyone who has wondered what made the Church so compelling in its time, and a continuing source of artistic inspiration to this day.
The balance of the book consists in a variety of personal memoirs, which I found of less interest, as least on their own terms. While a few, such as Edward Mason's "My Life in the Process," manage to convey what made the Church's doctrines attractive to them and how they tried to implement them in their own lives, the rest, including the longest, Timothy Wyllies's "My Life Inside The Process Church" seem like typical "my life in the cult" stories.
There is, however, one really cool story about how Miles Davis freaked-out and tried to assault a group of Process mendicants in Greenwich Village; perhaps this is where Miles got his notorious wish to "get the chance to strangle a white man" before he died. There's also some bitchy Scientology gossip, such as L. Ron's teeth rotting out because of his fear of dentists, that should give Tom, Katie and Kirstie something to think about.
But anyone expecting "inside information" or a serious discussion of the Church's theology and practices should still look to William Bainbridge's older and "outside" study, Satan's Power : A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult.
It's hard to believe that so many people could spend so many years apparently doing nothing all day but sell magazines on the streets and run a coffee house on Thursdays. Far from being Satanists, vampires or cannibals, the Processeans seem to have been the original slackers; its not hard to imagine them hanging out at the Process Comic Book Store and whiling away the time comparing various superheroes to their own gods, Jehovah, Christ and Satan.
The enormous amounts of leftover time seem to have been filled in with occasional bouts of "training" in telepathy and other such New Age junk, as well as, in Wyllie's case, far-out predictive dreams and "near death" experiences, to hit the rest of the New Age checklist. Oh, and endless bull sessions wondering what the leaders, living grandly in their separate quarters [usually a penthouse or upstate mansion] were thinking about them.
One get the impression of a group of people who think, correctly, that they are much smarter than everyone else, and even more spiritually attuned as well. Unfortunately, lacking access to what Frithjof Schuon would call "metaphysical data," they are unable to do more than construct their own personal theology out of random bits that seem `cool'. Unable to judge anything by objective metaphysical principles, they are easy prey for the husband and wife team [or rather, wife and husband team] of the deGrimstons, aka The Omega.
On reflection, the wearisome content of the various memoirs may actually be more significant than one might think at first.
It's the emphasis, if only by default, on telepathy and other "cool" "spiritual" experiences that provides the key to not only why these memoirs fail to maintain the occult thrill of the Church`s own media, but also why The Process itself failed. As Guenon pointed out over and over, spiritual development [or `initiation'] has nothing to do with "experiences," however far-out.
Preoccupation with such "experiences" is the chief sign of an essentially non-metaphysical, indeed materialistic, point of view; the vast "systems" [another bad sign for Guenon] and cults build up around them, which Guenon tirelessly exposed [see The Spiritist Fallacy and elsewhere for his evisceration of Theosophy and its smarter cousin, Anthroposophy] are either mutual deception in good faith, or, as here, a cynical method of controlling and exploiting the duped.
We have either a foolish pseudo-Tradition, or a Satanic counter-Tradition; in neither case has materialism been surpassed, only a "cooler" version for "the new generation" has been produced.
Speaking of Theosophy, and other "spiritualist" groups beloved by stereotypical "old ladies," it is only too appropriate that The Process turned out to be a matriarchal cult, whose "leader," Robert deGrimston, was simply the first victim, soon cast aside as the female-led group mutated into a very-70s cable access "ministry," complete with leisure suits and goatees worn by various Fr. Groovies, and then became an animal rescue charity in Utah. Manson, it turns out, would have eaten their lunch, and then the members themselves.
In the end, The Process seems to have been, as Guenon says in Perspectives on Initiation, one of "the many fantastical groups of our day, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, which `ape' the forms of initiatic organizations but conceal absolutely nothing" and "reminding one of children who, left to themselves, want to handle redoubtable forces without knowing anything about them; if deplorable accidents too often result...we should not be unduly surprised."
Still, really cool fashions and graphic design sense, still the best around.