Tune In, Turn Off

Gary Lachman. Turn Off Your Mind: the Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. Sidgwick and Jackson, 2001.
Gary Lachman, a former member of Blondie and now frequent Fortean Times contributor here takes a decidedly revisionist account of the flower power sixties, and the occult notions that underlay it. He starts his account with the French magazine Planete and the infamous Dawn of Magic and Morning of the Magicians by Pauwels and Bergier, two characters in urgent need of a scholarly revisionist biography. This was one of the most influential occult books of a generation, (I first read a library copy back in 1963, and among other things it introduced me to the Books of Charles Fort, which I bought the next year for then princely sum of £3.00 - about £45.00 in today's money). It popularized at least two enduring occult fancies, that of the ancient astronauts and of the occult roots of Nazism.

For Lachman, it is a third strain in that book that would be the most influential in the sixties and beyond, that of the new race of mutants, children of the new age living among us. Many of the beats, hippies and trippies of the sixties saw themselves just as such mutants.

The occult roots of the sixties lay both in the world of fantasy literature and in occult traditions such as Aleister Crowley. Lachman shares little of the modern revisionist portrayal of Crowley as a misunderstood genius. His 'liberation' was a Nietzchian vision of the undiluted power of the strong which was sadly not too uncommon in the age of imperialism. Lachman suggests that Lovecraft saw something of the sixties "mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones: free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy... all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom". One is tempted to think that Lovecraft had a precognition of English football fans! In fact Lovecraft was echoing the traditional High Tory fear of the Mob, especially in its 20th century Bolshevik incarnation.

The essence of this 'liberation' was to abandon the restraints of settled society and surrender to unmediated biological impulses. The image of wilderness overwhelming habitat and structure is a common one of this period, see for example the oft quoted comments of Jerry Clark about the contents of the unconscious overwhelming the rational world.

Lachman, I think, suggests that the sixties had to lead to the violence of the Altamont Stones concert in which Hell's Angels beat up peaceful hippies, and to Charles Manson. Others will dispute this, but there was always an element in the sixties of freedom from freedom itself.

There is much here of interest to students of that period, with a detailed examination of the rise of the drugs scene and then influence of Crowley and crew on the rock scene. Critics will argue that other influences have been downplayed. For example antinomianism has a far longer history than Crowley, and many of the occultists were very different types. The role of Marxism has also been underplayed.
Perhaps all of these influences are surface ideologies riding on something that Scot Rogo called the planetary poltergeist. Now I don't imply anything paranormal by that phrase, but rather the idea of the bursting out of mass energies from mainly young people and others low on the social hierarchy against the given world. In 1848, the year of the Hydesville rappings, Marx and Engels proclaimed that the poltergeist of communism was abroad in Europe, and there were those who saw Nazism as a sort of poltergeist outbreak. The phrase certainly seems apt for the sixties.

Now new poltergeists are stalking through the world, and it is significant that in both Jerry Clark and Gary Lachman's visions of the dark side of the sixties we see seem to see prophecies of our own age of ethnic violence, religious fanaticism, and state collapse. The ultimate vision of the sixties, the one that Jerry found so soul shattering is that the dark forces which threaten us are not extraterrestrials, boggarts, and strange people from far away countries with strange sounding names but ourselves. Everything you see on TV can happen here. The impulses which lead young Muslim men from Tipton and Tower Hamlets to join bin Laden and his friends are the same as those which caused young Americans to join the Weathermen. Apocalyptophilia is a disease that knows no frontiers. -- Peter Rogerson

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