Whitley Strieber, The Process Church, & the Secret of “Pain”

whitley-process

“Pain” is the story Whitley Strieber was working on in December 1985, when the memories of his alleged alien encounters first began to surface. It was published in 1987 (and was nominated for a World Fantasy best short story award) as part of a horror anthology called Cutting Edge, roughly around the time Communion came out. According to Strieber at his website, “The story contains a great deal of unconscious material about the experience. In fact, my entire unconscious understanding of close encounter [sic] and its connection to the dangerous sacred is contained in the story.” In the spoken introduction to his reading of “Pain,” Strieber states emphatically: “this is not a personal narrative.” He adds that, when he first released it, “sleazy people” tried to claim that he “was somehow involved in sadomasochistic sex,” and that this disturbed him so much that he put the story “on ice” for twenty-five years. He insists, somewhat indignantly, “It is not a sex story. It is about the dangerous sacred.” The story reads exactly like Strieber’s non-fiction narratives (which he invariably dramatizes), complete with commentary on the nature of the aliens and occult-religious-philosophical asides. As Strieber acknowledges, it is a sort of symbolic retelling (or foretelling) of his “close encounter” experiences, while also invoking childhood memories of “initiation-by-trauma” government abuse and/or psychic training under the “Sisters of Mercy” at the Secret School. In “Pain,” Strieber’s surrogate character is researching a piece about prostitution (Sisters of Mercy) by interviewing working girls when he falls under the spell of “Janet O’Reilly.” By the end of the story, the dominatrix has been revealed as a supernatural being—or alien?

Some online research turned up a host of curious facts (or factoids, much of this is anecdotal and difficult to verify). First off, in the bio notes on the inside back cover flap of the first edition (1981) of The Hunger, I found this: “[Strieber] has traveled through many parts of the world, working in fields as diverse as intelligence and filmmaking. His underground films were shown frequently in England in the late sixties. His other work includes a documentary on the Process Church of Final Judgment, an unusual religious group that has been connected with satanism.”

Strieber is on record as stating that he didn’t write this bio and that his publisher had “sensationalized some parts of his life . . . particularly the part about having worked in fields ‘as diverse as intelligence.’” If so it’s likely they also exaggerated his reputation as an underground filmmaker—particularly since Strieber claims to have only spent a year in London studying film (he graduated from the University of Texas in 1967), a year in which he was apparently also studying at the (Fabian) London School of Economics! Strieber as a 1960s underground London filmmaker hanging out with The Process Church seems supremely unlikely, in light of his known history and personality (Strieber is about as far from a ‘60s swinger as it is possible to imagine). As for The Process Church, any researcher into conspiracy and occult lore will tell you that this shadowy group is like a “strange attractor” for weirdness, whose brief history overlaps with everything from Scientology to the Son of Sam.

The Process Church was founded by two Scientology “apostates,” Mary Ann McLean and Robert de Grimston Moor. Moor and most of the other founding members—just like Charles Whitman—were architecture students. Mary Ann McLean was born in Scotland and worked as a dominatrix and prostitute. The Church established their headquarters in London in 1966 (when Strieber was in Texas witnessing the Whitman shooting—if he was). In late 1968, the senior members of the Church, including McLean, left London and traveled around Europe, eventually settling in a basement in Rome. In the summer of 1968, Strieber had a series of strange experiences of missing time, starting in London, and leading to a collection of bizarre and fragmented memories traveling around Europe with a young woman, ending up in the catacombs of the Vatican, in Rome. In Communion (p. 119), Strieber first mentions this period of his life in a typically mysterious terms: “In 1968 I ended up with four to six weeks of “missing time” after a desperate and inexplicable chase across Europe. This is associated with a perfectly terrible memory of eating what I have always thought was a rotten pomegranate, which was so bitter that it almost split my head apart.”

In a 1986 recording of a hypnosis session between Strieber and UFO-researcher Budd Hopkins, Strieber remembers traveling to Rome in 1968 with a mysterious woman and being joined by some other people. He is able to remember these people only peripherally, as shadowy figures at the edge of the scenes. He remembers telling his “life story” in great detail to the woman, “twice or three times.” He recalls that the woman told him she grew up in Ireland (McLean was Scottish, the fictional Janet is given an Irish name), and describes having sex with her more than once. On at least one occasion, he remembers other people in the room, directing the sex act and manipulating his body! One of the rooms he finds himself in was reportedly an “operating theater that was supposedly a bedroom.”

In a line that would be quite at home in “Pain,” she asks him, “What would you do if I told you I wanted to cut you in half?” Strieber describes a feeling of being under the “absolute control” of these people. He recalls visiting an apartment with skulls lined up on shelves (as well as art books), and being shown off by one of the group, “like a prize.” He recounts being interrogated by a man with a New York accent about New York, and being terrified. He and the woman (whom he calls “Róisín”—an Irish name meaning Rose) go to the Vatican, where Róisín gives him a history lesson. They go down into the catacombs and Róisín disappears into the shadows. He encounters another woman who tells him he will find Róisín “on a street corner.”  While he is in the Vatican basement, Strieber recalls looking up at some glowing lights and seeing “the face of the devil . . . a red face.” A red “Baphomet” head with goat’s horns was part of the Process iconography. (The imagery also, quite tellingly, the supposed “face on Mars” which Strieber claimed acted as a “trigger,” in 1984 or 1985, for his abduction memories.)

Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley