I lived three blocks down the street from the Lyman Family who took over about twelve houses on Fort Hill. My niece, Drew Benton shares the same DNA with Jessie Benton and Mel’s child by Jessie. Quentin Taranteno could have had a fictional showdown in Roxbury, with the Lyman Family, but he didn’t. He will have to pay me for this opportunity.
Two female members of The Process Church came to visit me in our Roxbury commune. One became my lover. The other I saved from the Mafia. This is the real deal – not Hollywood! This authentic drama called for a foreign film director.
I talked to Paul Williams when I went up to the fort during the first snow. He approached me and asked me what I doing there. I had on my black cape. He told me he was a guard. He said he was.
“Do you carry a gun?”
Paul showed me a small pistol. He may have made his break after out long talk. These were extremely interesting times. There were a lot of gutsy people who wanted their experiences. Every day was a movie! Terantino swooped down and picked up some cash and more fame. We dropped out of that trap. We went to the Lyman house to pick up food in our Food Conspiracy where hippies went into the produce market at five in the morning and bought wholesale. We should have been backed my the government. I just saw a report where twenty-five million Americans got hurt last year by misusing alcohol.
Then there was the shoe factory we lived in. I lucked out! To wake up and find a beautiful young woman standing at the foot of your bed wearing a blue cape, was heavenly. In five minutes she climbs into my bed.
Once the crimes of Charles Manson came to light, the media brought new focus to The Lyman Family. Fairly or not, comparisons were increasingly drawn between the two communities. Jim Kweskin joked cryptically with the press, “The only difference between us and the Manson Family is that we don’t go around preaching peace and love… and haven’t killed anyone yet.” He was kidding, but a lot of people took the quote at face value. The Lyman camp had an aberrant attitude about Manson. Lynette Fromme progressed from a regular on The Lawrence Welk Show to an extended stay at Fort Hill followed by a westward jaunt to join the Spahn Ranch. Lyman Family member Faith Franckenstein remarked that it did not matter whether Charles Manson was innocent or guilty as “He made a gesture against all the things we do not believe in.”
David Felton was a writer at Rolling Stone when he was granted exclusive access to the Lyman world. He was the first member of the media allowed to report on their private affairs. He quickly became the last. Lyman did not expect Fort Hill’s movements to be portrayed as abnormal. People outside Fort Hill were shocked by what they read. Felton learned about “The Vault,” a walled-in area, devoid of light, deep within the Lyman bunker where family members that were “having problems” could be placed. There, the struggling or dissenting family member could “learn about oneself.” Felton observed a climate of paranoia in which the Fort Hill community believed all outsiders were determined to destroy their God. The bizarre portrait told of a mechanic that had his life threatened by a Lyman disciple after he fixed Mel’s Volkswagen in a less than satisfactory manner. Felton observed “bulletins” sent down by Lyman, sets of “remarkably specific” rules, regulating diet, sleeping habits and hygiene. One such Lyman pronouncement was quoted: “To bathe less than once [but] more than twice a week is sick.”
This blog – is king! Everyone must come to – the king – eventually. The game of Bohemian Thrones is the oldest game in the Western World.
Darcy told me she wanted to get away from her boyfriend who was at the top of the Boston Process. He had a hold on her, was playing mind games, and was trying to control her. Being a follower of Meher Baba who looked down on cults, I helped her break the chain. Darcy’s mother was very grateful when I cme to her house with her daughter who had become distant.
Now Michelle was in deep trouble. She and her boyfriend had come to live in our commune James Harkins and I founded and sustained. One day she pointed out a guy sitting in a car across the street.
“He’s Mafia. He wants to give us money to help him find our friend who became his lover. She stole a belt with a code in it for box cars containing drug shipments. She took it thinking it would buy her freedom from him. He is very abusive. He wants her and the belt back. We are thinking of taking the money and run.”
“Do not take Mob money – period! If you do, they believe they own you. They will find you and dispose you.”
“Can you go talk to him?”
I was fearless in those day. I was a dead-an walking. I was Strider from the Lord of the Rings in my black cape. I was a Ranger. I went downstairs, walked up to the car, and said;
“Michelle wants to talk to you.”
There’s a bar around the corner. Will an hour from now do?”
I wanted to prepare Michelle, put a white light of protection around her. Playing at playing with Satan, was over. Time to wake up.
The Process Church of The Final Judgment
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The Process, or in full, The Process Church of the Final Judgment, commonly known by non-members as the Process Church, was a religious group that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, founded by the English couple Mary Anne and Robert DeGrimston (originally Robert Moor and Mary Anne MacLean). Originally headquartered in London, it had developed as a splinter group from Scientology, so that they were declared “suppressive persons” by L. Ron Hubbard in December 1965. In 1966, members of the group underwent a social implosion and moved to Xtul on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, where they developed “processean” theology (which differs from, and is unrelated to process theology). They later established a base of operations in the United States in New Orleans.
Lyman grew up in California and Oregon. As a young man, according to the music newsletter The Broadside of Boston, he spent a number of years traveling the country and learning harmonica and banjo from such musicians as Brother Percy Randolph and Obray Ramsey.
During a period in the early 1960s, Lyman lived in New York City, where he associated with other artists, filmmakers, musicians and writers. He was a friend of underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas, which led to the studios of Andy Warhol and Bruce Conner. He learned the art of filmmaking from Conner and made some films with him.
|“||Mel Lyman played harmonica like no one under the sun / Mel Lyman didn’t just play harmonica, he was one. – Landis MacKellar||”|
In 1963 Lyman joined Jim Kweskin’s Boston-based jug band as a banjo and harmonica player. Lyman, once called “the Grand Old Man of the ‘blues’ harmonica in his mid-twenties”, is remembered in folk music circles for playing a 20-minute improvisation on the traditional hymn “Rock of Ages” at the end of the 1965 Newport Folk Festival to the riled crowd streaming out after Bob Dylan’s famous appearance with an electric band. Some felt that Lyman, primarily an acoustic musician, was delivering a wordless counterargument to Dylan’s new-found rock direction. Irwin Silber, editor of Sing Out Magazine, wrote that Lyman’s “mournful and lonesome harmonica” provided “the most optimistic note of the evening”.
In 1966, supported and funded by Mekas, Lyman published his first book, Autobiography of a World Savior, which set out to reformulate spiritual truths and occult history in a new way. In 1971, Lyman published Mirror at the End of the Road, derived from letters he wrote during his formative years, starting in 1958 from his initial attempts to learn and become a musician, through the early 1960s as his life widened and deepened musically and personally. The last entries are from 1966 which simply express the profound joys and deepest losses which defined and gave his life direction and meaning in the years ahead. The key to the book and the life he lived afterwards are stated simply in the dedication at the beginning “To Judy who made me live with a broken heart”.
The Lyman Family
- The Fort Hill Community
It was his relationship with Judy Silver that brought him to Boston in 1963. Again, Lyman became acquainted with many artists and musicians in the vibrant Boston scene, including Timothy Leary‘s group of LSD enthusiasts, International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF). Lyman was involved for a very short time and, against his wishes, so was Judy. Knowing LSD’s power, he felt she was not ready but stated “the bastards at IFIF gave her acid … I told her not to take it. I knew her head couldn’t take it.” Lyman’s fears turned out to be justified and she left college and returned to her parents in Kansas. According to one of the anonymous sources interviewed by David Felton for Rolling Stone, “Judy got all fucked up – this is his second old lady – I mean like she got really twisted. I don’t know if it was the acid or the scene or whatever, but she split. She went back to Kansas. She was totally out of the picture by the summer of 1963. Judy is probably the most important thing in Mel’s life. He worshipped Judy, really loved her. Then she split, you know? She couldn’t help it, she was totally freaked out. They took her away.” Lyman was by all accounts very charismatic and later, after Judy had left, a community or family naturally tended to grow up around him. At some point thereafter Lyman began to view himself as destined for a role as a spiritual force and leader.
In 1966, Lyman founded and headed The Lyman Family, also known as The Fort Hill Community, centered in a few houses in the Fort Hill section of Roxbury, then a poor neighborhood of Boston. The Fort Hill Community, to observers in the mid-to-late Sixties, combined some of the outward forms of an urban hippie commune with a neo-transcendentalist socio-spiritual structure centered on Lyman, the friends he had attracted and the large body of his music and writings. Members of Lyman’s Community briefly included the young couple Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, two non-actors who had been discovered and cast by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni for the lead roles in his second English-language feature, the 1970 film Zabriskie Point. Michael Kindman, founder of the East Lansing underground newspaper The Paper, briefly worked on Avatar and remained with the group for five years. He later wrote of his experiences in his book My Odyssey Through the Underground Press. Journalist and poet Paul Williams, founder of Crawdaddy rock magazine and author of Das Energi, spent a few months on Fort Hill. He told David Felton he had had to escape under cover of darkness after being told he would not be allowed to leave.
Although Lyman and the Family shared some attributes with the hippies – prior experimenting with LSD and marijuana and Lyman’s cosmic millennialism – they were not actually hippies; in fact, the ethos of the community was virulently anti-hippie. Female members dressed and behaved conservatively and male members wore their hair relatively short by the standards of the era. According to both Felton and Kindman, Lyman discouraged sexual activity and at least once ordered a pregnant member to get an abortion. Couples were discouraged from spending private time together. Women were expected to be obedient and serve in domestic capacities only, while men were expected to dominate and control them. Members turned over whatever money they had to the Family. Funds were used to purchase houses in the Fort Hill area for members to live in, construction tools and vehicles along with sound and video recording equipment for Lyman’s use. The community’s primary activity was construction and remodeling work. The foremost goal was to provide a supportive environment for Lyman to do his creative work.
According to both Felton and Kindman, a macho, bullying ethic prevailed and guns were frequently brandished. Lyman seemed to believe that one could only be truly creative when one was “real” or “awake” – defined in practice as experiencing intense pain or anger – and that fear and cowardice caused one to remain “asleep” or even to die. People were subjected to rigid discipline and highly structured lives.
- The Avatar
By the Spring of 1967 the Fort Hill Community had become an established presence in Boston and it, along with members of the wider community in greater Boston and Cambridge, came together to create and publish the underground newspaper Avatar. It contained local news, political and cultural essays, commentary and more personal contributions, writing and photography, from various members of the Fort Hill Community including Lyman. Throughout the first year of its existence it created what became a national audience and many more people visited Fort Hill at that time, some eventually staying and becoming part of the community.
Rather than the gentle and collectivist hippie ethic in other underground publications of the time, Lyman’s writing in Avatar espoused a philosophy that contained, to some readers of the time, strong currents of megalomania and nihilism and to others a powerful alternative voice to the prevailing ethos.
I am going to reduce everything that stands to rubble
and then I am going to burn the rubble
and then I am going to scatter the ashes
and then maybe SOMEONE will be able to see SOMETHING as it really is
WATCHOUT— Mel Lyman
After working very intensely on each issue, in the Spring of 1968 the Family gained complete editorial control of Avatar for the final issue of the paper. Later they founded their own magazine, American Avatar which continued the editorial directions of the newspaper. Lyman’s writings in these publications brought increased visibility and public reaction both pro and con. His writings, along with others in the publications, could be poetic, philosophical, humorous and confrontational, sometimes simultaneously, as Lyman at various times claimed to be: the living embodiment of Truth, the greatest man in the world, Jesus Christ, and an alien entity sent to Earth in human form by extraterrestrials. Such pronouncements were typically delivered with extreme fervor and liberal use of ALL CAPS.
On The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, Mark Frechette said Lyman’s group was not a commune: “It’s a ‘community’, but the purpose of the community is not communal living. … The community is for one purpose, and that’s to serve Mel Lyman, who is the leader and the founder of that community.”
In 1971, Rolling Stone magazine published an extensive cover exposé on the Family by associate editor David Felton. The Rolling Stone report described an authoritarian and dysfunctional environment, including an elite “Karma Squad” of ultra-loyalists to enforce Lyman’s discipline, the Family’s predilection for astrology, and isolation rooms for disobedient Family members. Family members disputed these reports, but ex-members corroborated much of them, especially Michael Kindman in My Odyssey Through the Underground Press.
The only difference between us and the Manson Family is that we don’t go around preaching peace and love and we haven’t killed anyone, yet. – Jim Kweskin (perhaps in jest)
The Rolling Stone article appeared less than two years after the arrest of Charles Manson and members of the Manson Family for several murders. Lyman seemed to share some traits in common with Manson, which raised the Family’s profile and, whether fairly or not, established Lyman in the public mind as a bizarre and possibly dangerous person.
In 1973, members of the Family, including Frechette, staged a bank robbery. One member of the Family was killed by police, and Frechette, sentenced to prison, died in a weightlifting accident in jail in 1975.
Unlike the Manson Family, Lyman’s did not explode in a dramatic denouement. Rather, the Family took a lower profile and carried on, quietly building on the relationships formed in the turbulent early years.
Growing up in The Family
Another description of life in the Lyman Family comes from actress and screenwriter Guinevere Turner who spent her first eleven years (1968-1979) in the family, being expelled after her mother (who lived apart from her) ran away from the Family. According to Turner, by 1968 there were a hundred adults and sixty children in the family living “under the reign” of Lyman,” a charismatic, complicated leader”. They were taught that “World People”, all those outside the family, were soulless, and had as little contact with them as possible lest they have their souls sucked away. Doctors were called only in emergencies like losing a finger or being scalded by water. The family had compounds in Kansas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard, each with a house for Adults and one for children. Children were home schooled. While Turner had fond memories of camaraderie among the children, she describes punishment for children as severe, including “being locked in a closet for a whole day, or being deprived of food, or being beaten while everyone else was brought out to watch, or being the object of shunning, when no one was allowed to look at you or talk to you for days.”
Turner states that around the age of thirteen and fourteen, girls were often “chosen” by one of the adult men of the family: “They called it marriage, though there was no ceremony or anything official.” At least one girl Guinevere knew who had been chosen by Mel cried at the prospect of her marriage and said “that she didn’t want to have sex with Lyman but knew that soon she would have to”. Another unusual belief of the Family was that “the world would end on January 5, 1974. On that date, Mel Lyman told us, we would be taken away to Venus. As the day approached, we children were told to put out our favorite clothes and pick one toy to bring on the journey. We sat in the living room all night, listening for the hum of the U.F.O.s.” When the prophecy failed, Lyman told the group that it was because their souls weren’t ready, which “ruined things for Mel, whose soul was exactly where it needed to be.”
When she became an adult, Turner was invited to return to the Family and spent several days visiting them before going away to college. She relates feeling “a surge of love and belonging” in the compound before being alienated by the traditional gender roles, men sitting and talking in the living room while women served them, did dishes, and got children ready for bed.