This series looks at the origins of American counterculture through the lens of Charles Manson and the murders credited to his name.
A quick search of the word ‘pagan’ and ‘paganism’ will return a multitude of answers. Here are a few:
a modern religious movement incorporating beliefs or practices from outside the main world religions, especially nature worship. “modern paganism includes a respect for mother earth”
This definition is from the taxpayer supported British National Institute of Health:
Pagans believe that nature is sacred and that the natural cycles of birth, growth and death observed in the world around us carry profoundly spiritual meanings. Human beings are seen as part of nature, along with other animals, trees, stones, plants and everything else that is of this earth.
From an essay posted at the University of Massachusetts:
Paganism is a quickly growing spiritual movement, consisting of various groups practicing nature-based polytheistic religions, loosely based on the religions of the ancient world.
So, pagans are those who believe that the nature world, the physical environment, is imbued with spiritual meaning and naturally, anything that affects the environment in any potentially negative sense is evil. Pagan religions are generally thought to be the older religions and were the ones supplemented by the monotheistic religions. First there was the God of the Jews, and later the Christians, and then Islam.
In the view of the Christians, the natural environment is there for man to master and exploit, but not to destroy.
The Apostle Paul traveled the Roman and Greek world extensively and he comments on pagan practices in the Bible. Acts 17:24 states:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
Here we see the biggest difference between the culture that put humans on the moon, and the counterculture that Charlie so skillfully exploited. American culture saw nature as a force to be mastered and put to commercial use, and the counterculture took the pagan view and saw nature as a divine force, and thus, spawned the modern environmental movement.
It seems antithetical to the modern mind, steeped in the conflict between science and religion, that Christianity was instrumental to the development of the scientific method, but it’s true. The culture of Christian inquiry was instrumental in the Renaissance and the scientific method. The path that put humans on the moon was born of the Christian mind that wanted to understand God’s divine creations. However, if the divine wasn’t centered in nature, which is what the pagan’s believed, then it was OK to bend nature to humanity’s will. Humanity was made in the image of a God that superseded nature and so subduing nature was perfectly OK.
If humans aren’t divine and special, however, then commercial activity meant to bend nature to a purpose that benefits humanity is an affront to nature’s divine spirit.
Charles Manson had no particular interest in the nature world and wasn’t a hunter, avid camper, or even a farmer. He built nothing like a farm or commune in the hippie ‘back-to-nature’ sense. His ‘environmentalism’ was built on the other aspects of the pagan nature cults which focused on the sexual practices.
Again, the Bible covered this territory at length. Paul wrote at length about the sexual practice of the Greek and Roman world, and he was clear on the Christian view of how the body was to be handled. From 1 Corinthians 6:18 there is this:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.
In the pagan sense, nature was divine, and the human body built for sex. Charlies Manson’s carbon footprint was light since he built nothing, but his sexual footprint was heavy, and his effect on women was profound. One need look no further than the fate of Susan Adkins and Sandra Goode to see how this would play out.
Atkins was present at all three of the murder sites associated with Charlie. She was at Gary Hinman’s house, at the Tate house and at the LaBianca location. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to die. That sentence was converted to life imprisonment, and it was carried out. She died in prison of a brain tumor in 2009 at the age of 61. However, in her many interviews and in the testimonies she gave at her parole hearings, she stated over and over her Christian beliefs, and her commitment to ‘her lord Jesus Christ.’ These declarations didn’t help secure her release, but she stuck with them to the end and in the last footage of her as she neared her own death, she is seen reciting the 23rd Psalm.
Sandra Goode, on the other hand, was not chosen by Charlie to go to the sites of the murders, and so she was spared a life in prison. She, however, did go on to create the ATWA movement. ATWA is said to state for Air, Trees, Water, Animals and All The Way Alive and she and Lynette Froome are the last of the Manson cultists who have not repudiated him. The members who committed murder and were sent to prison all declared their traditional faith and their revulsion both for what they had done and how they had been taken in by Charles Manson, but the ones that stayed free from jail carried forward and committed more crimes based on their extreme environmentalism.
Froome did 34 years in prison for the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford. She is quoted as saying about the attempt:
I stood up and waved a gun (at Ford) for a reason, I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation. The conflict between the pagans and the monotheists predates American culture and Manson by many hundreds of years, but there is no doubt which side Manson sided with; the one that would get a man of limited education and commitment to self-improvement sex and power.
Three weeks after Froome’s attempt to kill President Ford, another female counter-culturalist, Sara Jane Moore, tried it again. Froome and Moore are the only two females to attempt assassin in American history.