The Big Idea: Stephen Blackmoore

If we don’t remember history, we are doomed to repeat it. But what happens when the past comes crashing into the present? Author Stephen Blackmoore plays with this idea in the ninth novel of his Eric Carter series, Cult Classic. Follow along in his Big Idea to see how he picked which cult to highlight in this new installment.


Cult Classic, the ninth book in the Eric Carter series, about a necromancer in Los Angeles with, let’s call it anger management issues, involves a bit of apocalyptic time magic forcing 1920s L.A. and present-day L.A. to crash into each other like a five-car freeway pile-up. Downtown skyscrapers replaced by three-story flophouses, Red Car trains appearing in the middle of traffic, the Valley turning back to orange groves, all courtesy of a long-dead doomsday cult.

The books are noir, horror, urban fantasy, half a dozen other genre labels you want to throw at them. But more than anything else, for me at least, they’re books about L.A..

One of the things I’ve always loved about this town is the illusion that it has no history. It reinvents itself piecemeal on a daily basis, tearing itself down in one neighborhood while building itself back up in another. We live in snapshots of what stands today while conveniently forgetting what stood there the day before. Gentrification, thy name is Los Angeles.

Take the Hollywood sign. Even if you’ve never seen it in person you probably know about it. It’s an icon. But you might not know that when it was erected in 1923 it was studded with thousands of light bulbs and read HOLLYWOODLAND to promote a new real estate development for whites only. The place wasn’t very subtle about it in its advertising, either, and used redlining, laws specifically designed to control where certain minorities could live, to keep out the “undesirables”.

We have a lot of things like that, places and events where history has been forgotten or ignored. Our stolen water, Sleepy Lagoon, the 1871 Chinatown massacre, the Black Cat Tavern, the embarrassment that is the 1942 Battle of Los Angeles.

For Cult Classic I wanted to refer to a real cult. I’m lazy like that. Whenever possible I’d rather use something from real life because real life is usually crazier than anything I can come up with. And L.A.’s history of batshit crazy cults does not disappoint.

There’s the Manson Family. You might have heard of them. They were living on a ranch in Simi Valley when they decided to murder seven people across two nights in 1969.

Aleister Crowley’s Thelema religion also had a foothold. It attracted the likes of Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist before there was rocket science and one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who enjoyed its heavy emphasis on orgies and sex magic. Parsons hosted the Great Beast himself for a while in his home in Pasadena where Crowley made him a high priest.

In 1945 Parsons and a friend performed a ritual to summon the Thelemic goddess Babalon resulting in a book called Liber 49, an occult text he transcribed onto a series of slate tablets using… 

Ya know, there’s no way to really ease into this one. He whacked off onto the tablets and then used a stylus to write through his jizz like ink. Presumably he stayed very-well hydrated.

Not to be outdone on the crazy cult action, this buddy of his was L. Ron Hubbard who wrote some absolutely atrocious science fiction and would later go on to start the Church of Scientology. Fun fact, there are more Scientologists in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world. 

Yay us.

There are a lot more, The Foursquare Church, Synanon, Mazdaznan, the Reform of the New Testament Church, and so on.

But let me tell you about The Divine Order Of The Royal Arms Of The Great Eleven or the Blackburn Cult.

In 1922 May Otis Blackburn and her daughter Ruth claimed to be in contact with the Archangel Gabriel who had dubbed them the Two Witnesses, a pair of prophets from Revelation 11:1-14, who would be present at the Apocalypse. They were transcribing a book of divine knowledge for him and claimed that once the book was completed at the end of 1924, it would trigger the End of Days.

Nothing special there. Lots of cults built on a similar idea. But Blackburn took hers in a particularly L.A. direction. When the shit hit the fan the resulting world would be ruled by eleven queens who would ride out Doomsday with their followers, living in splendor in mansions on Olive Hill, now Barnsdall Park, just a little southeast of the aforementioned Hollywoodland.

She pulled off this scam the way everybody else does; find some rubes who aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are, preferably with money, play to their greed, fear, hope, etc., then wrap it all up in a lot of portentous horseshit and redirection.

Don’t knock it, it worked. The grift netted May something like $4M in today’s money.

But then, on January 1st, 1925, just as the Apocalypse was supposed to happen, Willa Rhoades, a sixteen-year-old girl who May claimed was going to lead them all into this brand-new world of splendors, sort of, well… died.

The coroner ruled it was not foul play, but to be fair he didn’t get a chance to see her for a while because they kept her on ice (a few hundred pounds worth per day) under her foster parents’ house in Venice in a copper-lined coffin as May continued to tell them that her resurrection was right around the corner.

After four, yes FOUR, years of this, Willa’s parents finally went to the police, who retrieved her coffin and one containing her seven puppies named after the seven notes on Gabriel’s trumpet.

Stories quickly came out about unusual deaths like member Frances Turner who died during treatment for a mystery ailment that involved being baked in a stone oven, disappearances like Ruth’s husband, Sam, who was probably poisoned but whose body was never found. Animal sacrifices, fucked up power dynamics, a lot of stolen money. Oddly not much jail time for anybody.

I’d found my cult. Like I said, real life is crazier than anything I can come up with.

Cult Classic: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s 

Author’s socials: Website|Twitter

4 Comments on “The Big Idea: Stephen Blackmoore”

  1. Is this what the first season of the Perry Mason reboot was based on as well? I always assumed it was rooted in some history, but never looked into it.

  2. Had preordered Cult Classic and have finished it already! I’m really enjoying the series.

  3. … Jack Parsons, a rocket scientist before there was rocket science and one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who enjoyed its heavy emphasis on orgies and sex magic.

    In my pre-caffeine daze, I had to take a second run at this sentence to verify that the JPL was not, in fact, founded on orgies and sex magic.

  4. No, JPL (and ORDCIT and Aerojet) were founded on US government (and General Tire) money; GALCIT was founded on philanthropic (Guggenheim Foundation) money. The involvement of the lunatic fringe was pretty minimal, all in all.

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