Turn Off Your Mind, Artforum

Gary Lachman’s Turn Off Your Mind explores the occult currents that fed the esoteric revival of the 1960s and the New Age movement today. He follows the fascination with “strange forces” and magical powers that filtered from such groups as the Theosophists, the Golden Dawn, and Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis; that spread through the pop culture of ’40s paperbacks and pulp magazines (H.P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales, Conan the Barbarian); that flourished among intellectuals like Anai’s Nin, Hermann Hesse, and Aldous Huxley; and that entered the stream of late-’60s youth culture, in which celebrities like the Rolling Stones and Sammy Davis Jr. flirted with Satanism, while hippies and activists made the mistake of taking Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” as a program.

To his credit, Lachman, a founding member of the band Blondie, does not simply dismiss the occult as wish fulfillment or figment of the imagination, yet he puts down many of the characters he portrays, and the book is marred by the sound of grinding axes. We learn much about the sexual obsessions and human foibles of figures like Alan Watts and Christopher Isherwood but little about the value of their ideas or mystical insights. Lachman fixates on Charles Manson’s deranged Family, unsavory mind-control cults like Scientology, and such marginal figures as Satanist Anton LaVey while ignoring more appealing ’60s offshoots exemplified by Stephen Gaskin’s The Farm and David Spangler’s Findhorn, two centers of Aquarian visions and organic farming. Perhaps because they are not scandalous, he skips the most substantive aspects of the revival, which culminated in movements such as midwifery, herbalism, homeopathy, and the Western integration of Eastern ideas and disciplines-a vital and still ongoing process-ranging from acupuncture to yoga to Tibetan Buddhism.

Alas, Lachman is quick to see fascist undertones everywhere-in yippie pranks or even in the “deep ecology” of Gary Snyder-and this gives his perspective an adolescent, unbalanced quality. While his account lacks nuance and, I suspect, sincerity, it is still a fun and useful read. He surveys a mountain of material and offers an accessible map of his subject. However, as any occultist will tell you, the map is not the territory.