Turn Off Your Mind

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Review of Gary Lachman's "Turn off Your Mind"


Turn off your mind: the mystic sixties and the dark side of the age of aquarius By Gary Valentine Lachman (Sidgwick & Jackson 2001) isbn 02830636611, pbk 430pp. 12.99UKP I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the above book and asked the author whether he thought the occult had only exercised a baleful influence on sixties popular culture? He replied that no, he didnt think that but if he had tried to tell both sides of the story the book would never had been published. A sad truth and a reflection of the narrowness of corporate publishers rather than the author. Or as they say, if you sup with the devil you need a long spoon more of this below. I may not agree with every single detail of this brilliant book, but it is, in my opinion, essential reading. As a one stop reference work on virtually everything that magicians were up to in the sixties, Turn off your mind, is difficult to top. Germain Greer called the 1950s the decade of foreplay, by which I presume she meant preparation for the 1960s explosion. The occult world had been in a state of hibernation, and argues Gary Lachman, it was the 1960 surprise mega-bestseller, Morning of the Magicians by Pauwels and Bergier, that first relit the fuse of occultism and the sixties. Like Gary I was just too young to really participate, I had to make do with the books that drifted into my domain. I cant remember quite when I read Pauwels and Bergiers flawed masterpiece, but it was destined to be for me one of those crap books that change your life. As I remember it spoke of the twentieth century as being locked in a struggle between dark and light occult forces. It told of secret societies and ancient knowledge. I cant quite remember at which chapter I stopped reading but the argument was so mind-blowing I felt the need to go find out for myself. Yes I became an occultist, but not the crypto-fascist kind that so often dominated the sixties, at least I hope not. I also made my own study of ancient history, a quest that took me to university and life long learning. A few years later and a Swiss hotel manager was waiting sentence for embezzlement when a book hed written in his spare time sold the first of 42 million copies! Erich von Daniken had arrived. I remember reading the serialisation in the Daily Mirror newspaper and like many of my generation it was the first time someone had something interesting to say about pyramids and the wonders of the _pre-Christian_ realm. It may have been crap but it was a revelation. It is with this kind of thing that Gary Lackman begins his magical mystery tour of thee occult philosophy of the sixties (no apologies here to Frances Yates: The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age). All extra terrestrial life is here from H P Lovecraft, Conan the Barbarian, Maharishi Yogi, Timothy Leary, the two Kenneths (Anger and Grant), Aleister Crowley, Tolkein, Castaneda, Alan Watts, Idries Shah, Charly Manson. Down the pub I asked can anyone think of a so-called sixties guru who doesnt have feet of concrete? Silence for a moment then Alan Watts (author of Zen classic The Spirit of Zen). He who, according to Lachman masturbated daily, drew pornographic pictures, read pornography and had a taste for various tortures which he inflicted on himself in order to achieve orgasm (p115). He succumbed to alcoholism and killed himself in 1973 - could happen to any of us after all. Never at any time in this study does Lachman deny the real magic all these people could work. Maybe that why it is so important to know the dark side of the guru. Thats why I like Crowley, what you see is what you get, prepare for your disappointment now. The

dangers of letting the guard down are nowhere better illustrated that in the tales of Idries Shah recounted in Turn off your mind. Shah whose Octagon press published (and perhaps ghost wrote many of witch patriarch Gerald Gardners early works). Meeting J G Bennett of The Fourth Way, a disciple of Gurdjjieff and the founder of a successful alternative community known as Coombe Springs. Bennett became convinced that Shah was the guardian of the secret and at the masters request signed over the deeds to the estate as a gesture of good faith. Shah promptly evicted the entire community and sold the property for 100K, enough cash to prop up his publishing empire. Food for thought there - who is the biggest idiot/bastard (delete as appropriate)? I could go on - very stimulating and important book here. To my mind, the real dark side of the sixties was the cult of personality and the obsession of good interesting occultists (and not so good) with celebrities. Whether from the music or film world, these people offer rich pickings and an easy path to popularisation of important ideas. But maybe, as Gary implies, the road these people have taken to success makes them inherently empty, craving for novelty; dilettante - good cash cows but not the most serious students. Modern occultists and pagans would do well to heed the warning not to be dazzled by these fake Lucifers. In the sixties is was Mick Jagger who had some style, now we have some bimbo from Hercules or Zeena signing initiation certificates for quite a well known magical grouping - stop - read this book! Personally I see the sixties as part of the process of sharpening Occams razor - trying out new philosophies and lifestyles. Its seems mad when you look at it but it is part of the collective move away from the really evil forces of global governments, whose slaughter policy makes Charlie Manson look quite tame. We are growing and learning from our mistakes, but to make sure we are not just destined to repeat them, I suggest one needs to know what they were, to debate them - and move beyond. Mogg Morgan 4th June 2001