Sep 18 2013

Book Review – XTUL: An Experience of The Process

ProcesscrossWhen one travels in certain circles, one inevitably finds allusions to something called “The Process.”

At first, The Process is elusive; merely hinted at.  Or, at least, that’s how it was “back in the day.”

Finding The Process, then, becomes a hunt. Is it a Skinny Puppy album? Is it a book by Brion Gysin? What about Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality?

Eventually, as one chips away at the mystery, The Process reveals itself a little further.  It becomes The Process Church of the Final Judgment.

Are any of these things related?

Yes, and No, actually.

The Skinny Puppy album was the result of Ogre being introduced to The Process Church of the Final Judgment by Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV / Throbbing Gristle fame. Gen was also familiar with Gysin’s book, and had made numerous references to it as well as the Church in many of his own creative endeavors. The Process Church also clearly influenced Gen’s own Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY).

The Process Church was also tied (dubiously) to Charles Manson in The Family by Ed Sanders (they later sued, and subsequent editions of The Family make no mention of them), and additionally to David Berkowitz by Maury Terry in The Ultimate Evil.

The ProcessWho were these people who made up The Process Church? Was it a Satanic “cult” responsible for all kinds of bloody mayhem? Was it still active? Who was this charismatic leader, Robert de Grimston? Did The Process do all of these things, or were they somehow caught up in the Satanic Panic of the 80s-90s? What about their vaguely swastika-like symbols? Why was nobody coming forward?

For a long time, the silence was deafening. Rumor and innuendo fueled speculation that maybe these really were people not to be messed with. Their original publications only added to the mystery. Jehovah? Christ? Lucifer? Satan?  Sex? Death?

It seemed that The Process was going to remain a mystery; something to be studied only by its artifacts and by extrapolations, guesses, rumors, and conjecture retrieved from an almost Strugatsky-like “Zone.”  The one book about them, Satan’s Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult by William Sims Bainbridge (review forthcoming) was, and is, out of print, expensive, and difficult to come by.

Then, in 2009, the doors opened. And they opened wide.

4PFeral House published Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment by former member, Timothy Wyllie (review also forthcoming). This book reaffirmed the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The reality behind The Process was far more fascinating than any of the rumors and legends that they had spawned. Shortly after Wyllie’s book, the band Sabbath Assembly released their first album, Restored to One, rock “interpretations” of Process Church hymns. It, and its follow-up, Ye Are Gods, have become two of my favorite albums. The songs are catchy, and the mythology of The Process Church is utterly captivating in the context of songs that sound somewhere between Coven and 60s Jesus Music. Feral House published a second volume onThe Process Church, Propaganda and Holy Writ of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, reprinting the (in)famous and long sought after issues of the church’s magazine, focusing on sex, fear, and death.

XTUL: An Experience of The Process by Sabrina Verney

XTUL: An Experience of The Process by Sabrina Verney

In 2011, another former member, Sabrina Verney, stepped forward to offer an account of her time with The Process in her memoir, XTUL: An Experience of The Process. Verney’s memoir is interesting in that she joined and left The Process just as it was making the transition from psychotherapy group to religion.

XTUL is an account of a young Sabrina rebelling against her stifling upper-class upbringing in England, and her quest for self-knowledge. She is first introduced to The Process by a boyfriend, and the two of them follow the group first to the Bahamas, and then to Mexico (“Xtul” – pronounced “shtool” is a small village on the Yucatan peninsula where they settled).

What makes Verney’s (and Wyllie’s) account fascinating is the portal it provides into the groups inner dynamics. Like any organization, there was a definite pecking order within The Process, with Mary Ann (not Robert!) de Grimston emerging as the true leader. At times, life in Xtul sounds idyllic – a return to nature, and simpler ways of being. Unfortunately, nature showed just how much of a force it was to be reckoned with, pummeling the community with a massive hurricane that should have, for all intents and purposes, killed at least a few of them. Yet, they all survived.  And this, became a defining moment for the group.

Shared experience of cataclysmic or near-cataclysmic events can often cause an intense bond to form between people. For a group that had already become extremely close through communal living and intense group psychotherapy exercises, it is not that far-fetched to see how a religious movement was the next logical step.

2272146022_625a41a8cdSabrina’s time with the group was cut suddenly short.  It is revealed that during her time with The Process, her father had been working with other parents to have their children taken from the group (Sabrina was 19 at the time, I believe). Sabrina and a few others were taken away shortly after the hurricane, and were only allowed minimal contact with Process members afterwards. From a legal standpoint, it only makes sense that the de Grimstons allowed for their departure. They had enough other things to deal with at this point.

As a fellow seeker, I understand Sabrina’s desire to belong to something bigger.  The questions she was asking of life are similar to the ones I’ve asked. Would I have joined The Process?  I can’t say, either way. There is an allure to their mythology and symbols. As I mentioned above, the hymns (as covered by Sabbath Assembly, anyway) are catchy, and some quite beautiful.

At the time, there wasn’t an extensive public knowledge about the dangers of “cults.” While The Process Church of the Final Judgment certainly had some of the usual problems that these groups tend to have, they seem to be far less sinister than their reputation would have you believe.

Eventually, Robert and Mary Ann de Grimston split, and the inevitable schism arose. Mary Ann took the group through a few variant stages, and finally morphed into the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

As for Sabrina?  She seems to have found herself.  She later returned to Xtul, long after The Process had left.  She seems to have found closure, and I am happy for her.

She also makes some amazing sculptures.

 MTM

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