“Beau Soleil” means beautiful sun in French, and Robert Beausoleil was born on November 26th, 1947 in Santa Barbara California, a place neither geographically nor temporally distant from December of 1946, 1003 South Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, where Crowleyans Jack Parsons and L Ron Hubbard, through a ceremony of drinking blood, ringing bells, and masturbating into the four corners of the room, hoped to coax the spirit of a powerful demon to incarnate somewhere in the Los Angeles area.
Bobby Beausoleil joined Kenneth Anger’s Crowleyan sect before he was associated with Charles Manson and the Spahn Ranch. Anger was an original member of Parson’s coven, and his famous experimental movies, some explicitly and others implicitly based on Crowleyan rituals, primed the intelligentsia to accept Crowley’s teachings. Anger’s films brought “Crowleyanity” into Truman Capote’s social circles, and were much admired by tastemakers ranging from Tennessee Williams to Mick Jagger. Anger cast Beausoleil as the devil himself in “Lucifer Rising”, a detail mentioned in the prolog to Truman Capote’s essay-interview with Beausoleil, “And Then It All Came Down”.
Capote was struck by the duality of Beausoleil’s nature – simultaneously preternaturally innocent and luciferic. Observers had also contrasted the unrepentant giggling and all-american good looks of the Manson girls with their heinous acts. The sweet singing chorus of the girls kneeling on the courthouse steps; the treacley, trite songs on the Manson album. Girlish innocence preceded the violence, the explosion of violence was “the return of the repressed” – what they refused to accept in themselves was projected outward — they saw themselves as completely good, and externalized total evil. But what allowed a low-level pimp and street criminal like Charlie Manson to unleash thanatic mayhem on Los Angeles? If Bobby Beausoleil is the key to the mystery of Charles Manson, then Aleister Crowley is the key to the mystery of Bobby Beausoleil.
Aleister Crowley was the Johnny Appleseed of dubious spirituality. While alive, Crowley was an irrelevant, megalomaniacal, sadistical sodomite, but his seeds have become the trees that fill our cultural landscape. Scientology is his most successful progeny, though the Wiccan religion is a close second, and on most weekdays, one can find Crowleyans sharing their insights into the universe on any given media platform. In the Sixties, Crowley was even more popular, particularly among the top tier of celebrities – Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Jim Morrison were acolytes, and John Lennon put Aleister Crowley’s picture on the cover of “Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Few hippies knew Crowley’s name, but there is a direct line from “Do What Thou Wilt Shall be the Whole of the Law” to “do your own thing”.
Crowley subverted the basic teachings of most spiritual traditions. Spiritual traditions believe that exploring the dark side leads to authenticity and light – we live and suffer on earth to learn to act with openness, kindness and love towards all living creatures. The pre-Christian Eleusian rites were the template for subsequent gnostic-mystic ceremonies, ranging from the Knight’s Templar in the 14th centuries, to the Masonic Lodges of the 18th century, to the Golden Dawn in the 19th, to the Thule society and Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis in the previous century. The first half of the Eleusian mysteries focused on the body, exploring and acknowledging the limitations, pain and despair of the world. Acolytes allegorically experienced a narrative triumph over the structures of self that kept them bound to the material world. The second half enacted a ritual triumph over darkness, as the acolyte discarded the bonds connecting him to family, tribe, guild, army, country – experiencing an unmediated communion with Plato’s Good (Plotinus’ Godhead, God, or the totality of the universe – depending on the specific flavor of mystery). The basic rhythm of the Eleusean mysteries is preserved in every genuine spiritual tradition – familiar to anyone who has celebrated Christian Easter, read Dante’s trilogy, or seen Holy Mountain.
Spirituality is individual and particular, but Religion is tribal and universal: most traditions bind spirituality to Religion. The Eleusian mysteries disassemble and reconstruct the self, as an expert mechanic takes apart, cleans and rebuilds an engine. Crowley had a different agenda: he wanted to abolish and then rebuild the self in a way that would make the individual even more egocentric. For most people, service is the highest Good, but Crowley put the Will at the top of his hierarchy. While the ancient mysteries close with a deep spiritual insight – the loving warm embrace of a universal God admonishing you to put focus in the service of compasssion — Thelemic rituals end on a different note, with a demanding monster, ordering followers to unabashedly pursue their own desires. Some Crowleyans end up in mental institutions, but many experience a renewed sense of purpose — self-glorification, exploitation and personal enrichment.
After his time with Kenneth Anger, Bobby Beausoleil’s musical skill improved — particularly on the guitar – musical ideas came more easily – and he pursued the life of an actor, musician and poet. It was 1967 in California, he joined a band, some of whom went on to become moderately famous; he stopped sleeping with older men and started sleeping with younger girls; he crossed paths with Charles Manson, they got along, and Beausoleil moved to the Spahn Ranch with his girlfriends.
The Spahn Ranch as a series of snapshots: Jim Morrison sipping a vial of LSD and rapping with Charlie Manson about the nature of time. Manson’s Southern Baptist voice, preaching about the dangers of racial contamination, and the secret messages encoded in John Lennon’s songs. Bikers and future leaders of the Aryan Nation fucking Manson’s girls in full sight of the celebrity guests, hippies on acid and bikers on speed, different universes conjoined in the sexual act. And, of course, the ceremonies.
What do we know about the ceremonies? Crowley believed that non-procreative sex could summon demons, and the combination of a Crowleyan adept, a stable of pliable prostitutes, and hallucinogenic drugs was a perfect storm for ritual experimentation. Crowley subverted the Eleusean rituals, but Beausoleil and Manson perverted them. Rather than earning their spot in the sun by fighting their way through the darkness, these rituals reversed the sequence, starting with the positive, and working towards the negative. The mystical experience re-imagined as a pimp sweet-talking a runaway teenager into his stable, with increasing bouts of violence. Not summoning light from darkness, but creating darkness out of light. Crowley called himself a Satanist but didn’t possess the determination to invert the narrative structure of pre-Christian spirituality: compared to Manson and Beausoleil, he was a self-important dilettante.
In Pagan religions, solar gods are notoriously bloodthirsty, but only the most demanding crave the blood of children and babies. In the Capote interview, Beausoleil weaves a story about a drug deal gone wrong, claiming the ritualized Manson murders, including the in utero infanticide of Sharon Tate’s and Roman Polanski’s baby, were an act of loyalty towards him, Beausoleil. The details ring false, but the deeper story is probably true.
Whatever truly happened at Spahn Ranch we’ll never know. But we do know that when Truman Capote looked into Bobby Beausoleil’s eyes, he did not see a spiritual lightweight like Perry Smith, an opportunity for an empathic deepening of consciousness, an encounter that would make Capote a more “interesting” person. He saw something that made him want to drink himself to death.
But even with Beausoleil still in jail, we live in a world that Capote could not face, where the demonic and uncontrollable hides in every shadow, and the truly evil are completely without fear. Only the darkest, most coldblooded Satanist could look upon this planet and agree with Bobby Beausoleil that “it’s all good”.
Welcome to America. Enjoy.
et dixit homini
ecce timor Domini
ipsa est sapientia
et recedere a malo