Gary Valentine Lachman,
Turn Off Your Mind:
The Mystic Sixties and the
Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius

(MacMillan, 2001)

Here stands revealed a little known aspect of the cultural phenomenon that was the 1960s, a dark shadow that lay within that decade's psychedelic brightness. Turn Off Your Mind argues the case that the counterculture philosophy and idealism of the '60s (the "Age of Aquarius") was significantly influenced or underpinned by ideas derived from Satanism and the occult. This subject matter is dealt with in the context of an examination of "pop" culture, and therefore thankfully avoids completely those aspects of the subject so beloved of the tabloids.

The book begins with a description of events in 1969, when the housekeeper of filmmaker Roman Polanski discovered the crimes of Charles Manson. This is taken as the end of the '60s, the end of the dream. How could it have ended like this?

With a light touch and an unerring eye for the telling quirky detail we are taken on a cultural tour of the early decades of the 20th century where we meet such figures as the Satanist Aleister Crowley (proclaimed in the 1930s as "the evilest man in the world"), and introduced to the ideas and writings of figures such as H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian). What linked these and others was an interest in all things supposedly hidden or lost (the "occult"), from ancient civilizations to lost "pure" races of people, and knowledge available only to an "elect." These interests coalesced in popular movements such as the (in)famous Theosophical Society founded in the 1920s by Madame Blavatsky.

The popular interest in flying saucers was a later manifestation of this same fascination with things hidden. In all such matters the popular imagination was fuelled by writers of fiction (science fiction, but also literary fiction such as that by Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse), by popular music (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Beach Boys), and the proclamations of such '60s "gurus" as Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. For example (to choose just one among so many offered in the book), Robert E. Heinlein's classic science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) is rife with themes, ideas and philosophies that come directly out of the writings of Crowley.

The author, Gary Lachman, was a founding member (as Gary Valentine) of the '80s pop group Blondie, and was 14 years of age in 1970. Thus he approaches the subject not as one who participated in the making of that heady decade, but as somebody who seeks an understanding of what happened at that point in our history, and why. He maintains his objectivity throughout and offers notes to every chapter, a bibliography and comprehensive index. The four central pages of the book contain black-and-white photographs of people and events of the decade.

Having taken us through the formative '20s and '30s and then on through the '60s themselves the book ends with a look at the situation today. Lachman argues that the thread did not break when the '60s party ended, and that events such as the Heaven's Gate cult suicides in 1997 and movies such as the The Matrix (1999) are additions to a continuously evolving cultural whole.

Without recourse to a single conspiracy theory, Gary Valentine Lachman has produced a well-researched book of cultural history full of insightful detail and analysis. It possesses also that attribute essential to all good books dealing with such subjects -- restraint in inferences made and conclusions drawn.

[ by Conor O'Connor ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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