The Process Church of the Final Judgment was one of the most interesting religious organizations of the 20th century. Formed by Robert de Grimston and his wife Mary Ann MacLean in 1966 after having been ejected from the Church of Scientology, the group initially established themselves in the Mayfair section of London. They created a sensation on the street and in the always sensation-hungry British press because of their stark and striking visual sense. Their symbol—four Ps assembled into a square that looked to many like an Iron Cross or a swastika—attracted attention, as did the members’ all-black clothes, hooded cloaks, and gigantic Alsatian dogs. The group published and sold its own magazine, which included interviews with people ranging from Mick Jagger to William Burroughs. They migrated from England to the Bahamas and then to Mexico before eventually landing in the US, though they established additional chapters in Germany, Italy and Canada. (Go here for a much more detailed account of the group’s early days.)

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There were never more than a few hundred Processeans at any one time, but the group was superb at media manipulation and establishing relationships with celebrities that would gain them greater public attention. Processean rhetoric showed up on Funkadelic‘s Maggot Brain and America Eats Its Young albums; in his 2014 autobiography, George Clinton said:

There was a group called the Process Church that had been founded by a British couple as an offshoot of Scientology, and in the late sixties they started hanging out with the band, mainly in Boston. They would feed the kids in Boston Common and they ran what was basically the first day-care center that I can remember, offering to watch children when mothers went to work. We ended up excerpting some of their thinking in the Maggot Brain liner notes, which seemed fine at the time—it was a form of self-actualization, not an uncommon or unpopular philosophy at the time. We did the same thing for America Eats Its Young, but with far different results. In the summer of 1969, a career criminal (and part-time songwriter) named Charles Manson led a band of followers on a killing spree in upscale residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles, murdering a number of people, including Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate. The killers were under the influence of a crazy-quilt mythology that somehow tied together the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” race war, and Satan worship. There was some thought that Manson had drawn on some of the writings of the Process Church. I thought there was a difference—he talked about something called the Final Church of Judgment, and the group hanging around with us was the Church of Final Judgment—but this was probably too fine a distinction for a public still trying to get a handle on a killing spree. Rolling Stone gave us a hard time for the association in their review.

As with most cults, the least interesting thing about the Process was their actual belief system, but for the record, De Grimston and MacLean preached the existence of four gods, although they were regarded as aspects of human personalities rather than supernatural forces. They were known as Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan, and Christ, and were collectively referred to as the Quaternity. Your personality depended on which two of these four deities manifested most strongly within you.

Because it was started by a married couple (and led by the wife, with the husband serving as the handsome figurehead), the Process differed from many cults in that it wasn’t just a way for De Grimston to get laid. Ultimately, though, the church fractured in the early 1970s, when he did take up with a new girlfriend. He formed a splinter group, but soon gave the cult game up entirely and became a corporate executive. MacLean, who had always been the true leader of the Process, kept it going, though she changed its name to the Foundation Church of the Millennium, then to the Foundation Faith of the Millennium, and finally the Foundation Faith of God, transforming it into a traditionally Christian church in the process. In 1993, it went in a completely different direction and transformed into Best Friends Animal Society, an animal welfare organization which exists to this day. MacLean died in 2005; De Grimston (born Robert Moor) is still alive.

In recent years, interest in the group has grown. Feral House published ex-member Timothy Wyllie‘s book Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement in 2009. The group Sabbath Assembly was formed to perform Process hymns re-arranged in a psychedelic heavy rock style; eventually, though, they abandoned that angle and became a generic occult rock act. Other groups, like Skinny Puppy and Psychic TV, had been borrowing Process ideas and imagery since the 1990s.

Director Neil Edwards interviewed multiple former Process members, as well as George Clinton, Genesis P-Orridge, John Waters, and others, for the documentary Sympathy for the Devil?: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment. It was released in 2015 and made the rounds of film festivals in 2016, and is now available on DVD. The ex-Processeans all come across as nice folks with a good sense of humor about it all, without ever disavowing anything they believed or proselytized at the time. The movie also contains a lot of great archival footage from the Process’s heyday, discusses the spurious connection to Charles Manson (basically, they interviewed him for their magazine to capitalize on his notoriety; he returned the favor by throwing his arms around them in the press, which caused them a lot of trouble), and much more. Anyone with an interest in cults or high weirdness in general should absolutely check it out.

Buy Sympathy for the Devil? direct from Edwards

Phil Freeman

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