Paul Pawlowski and the Church of Aphrodite
According to Ernest Hemingway, ‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.’ A similar suggestion can of course be made for biography, or indeed any historical non-fiction. It smacks of a lazy, hatchet-job if your subject emerges with the emotional complexity of an Ikea bookshelf, or the mindless capacity of a broken television forever doomed to be stuck on BBC1.
Yet some of the most fascinating figures in history are also its greatest characters; individuals who have acted themselves out to such a degree that they come to characterize the very facets they chose to embody. The Marquis de Sade or the Earl of Rochester come to mind—writers who caricatured themselves for posterity. It is easy to go along with their simplistic self-fiction when it’s the cultivated mythos of their living person.
Just such a figure made a brief appearance in my Acid Anarchism in the UK article: Paul Pawlowski, founder of the Church of Aphrodite. I knew little about him, only that he had taken to the stage in the middle of an acid symposium at Conway Hall to invite everyone to an orgy. He seemed a character worth pursuing for the sake of an interesting story, and very often with minor historical figures this is the best one can hope for.
Pawlowski was an inveterate self-publicist, generating a surprising amount of news stories, not only for his shifting, left-field beliefs but also his court appearances. His is a story filled with anger, mischief, drugs, anti-authoritarian belief, dubious morality, and struggle; one that flows through the margins of mid-20th century London-based counterculture.
I’ll focus on his years leading up to and including the Church of Aphrodite, trying to bear in mind that disentangling Pawlowski’s living person from his own cultivated caricature is a fool-hardy job—an imaginal space in which one must read between the lines. I hope you find his story as intriguing as I have.
A POLE IN LONDON
A Polish immigrant, Paul Pawlowski first moved to Britain in December 1959. It is difficult to ascertain much about his life prior to this point, but assuming the few facts he later relates to reporters are true, then two points are known: firstly, he was taken from his parents during World War II and interned in a Nazi labour camp; secondly, sometime after the war’s end, he married an English women with whom he had three children.
Initially granted a temporary visa, Pawlowski successfully applied for an extension, gaining employment as a machinist for a computer manufacturing company. He initially stayed with his family in a Polish hostel in south London, before moving to Lancaster Road, in South Norwood. It was at this point, however, only a few months after his arrival in Britain, that he had his first run in with the law, which came to be a defining theme in his life.
Suspecting his wife of having an affair with a porter from the hostel, he assaulted the man, and was convicted and fined in February 1960.[i] His wife and three children then apparently moved to Canada. By November the following year his passport had expired. He tried to renew it, wishing to both stay in Britain and visit Canada, but the Polish authorities, wired from the embassy, refused. He was suddenly a man dispossessed and transformed.
Pawlowski started billing himself as a freedom activist. The Nazis had been defeated, but his beloved Poland was overtaken by ‘Red Fascism’, i.e. Soviet communism. From his new bedsit in Thornton Heath, he wrote letters to free newspapers and UN delegations across the world about Poland’s plight, claiming he wished to be allowed home to undertake a ban-the-bomb demonstration in Warsaw. The Polish embassy wryly pointed out that he was free to return anytime he wished.[ii]
Undeterred, in December, he took his letter campaign to the streets and protested, with placards and pamphlets, outside a Young Communist League rally in the Ashcroft Theatre. There, he remonstrated with communists about the dangers of Red Fascism, trying to garner support for his Warsaw protest. The police cautiously watched over him.[iii]
Precisely what Pawlowski was up to for the next few years is unclear. It would appear that he became involved in the myriad of factional, leftist radicals in London. However, in 1965, according to the anarchist weekly, Freedom, he staged something of a naked prison protest.
Arrested outside the Spanish embassy for goading the police while on a march in September, he was remanded for not cooperating with the court. Then, in Brixton prison, he pointedly refused to put on the inmate’s uniform—'I told them I was a pacifist, and pledged never to wear a uniform’—so they locked him naked in the cell, where he obstinately remained naked for ten days. They eventually took him to Horton Mental Hospital.
Soon after arrival he was seen by a ‘famous psychiatrist’, ‘Dr Rowlings’. (If true, this may have been former President of the World Federation of Mental Health, John Rawlings Rees, who though retired was still doing consultancy work in London.) Pawlowski explained himself, and another doctor later returned,
‘and said that I hold opinions which are not the opinions of the majority of the people, but people are not put in mental hospitals for their opinions. He added: ‘They do those sort of things in Russia—but I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
He was then released. It was not of course then unusual for mental health services to act as a further layer of the criminal system. However, as we shall see, Pawlowski always acquitted himself admirably whenever confronted with this situation—perhaps indicative of the living person conducting the caricature.
It was in his guise as a Maoist, right in the middle of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, that he next appeared in the press. Arrested for causing obstruction while selling Maoist literature in 1967, he refused to pay the fine and was sent to jail for three months, being forcibly removed from court, slinging ‘fascists’ at all the authorities present.[iv]
Britain of course had a much quieter cultural revolution going in the 1960s as Wilson’s Labour Party quietly liberalized numerous social laws—something many radicals didn’t even seem to notice at the time. Meanwhile, Pawlowski was ushering in his own version of the sexual revolution when he had earlier taken up the cause of polyandry.
He suggested that seven men should marry one women, reducing the birth-rate in an over-populated world, and began posting out leaflets. ‘Please do not send anymore of this type of literature to us,’ was the curt response from the British Baptist Pacifist Fellowship. I’ve not read his polyandry leaflets, so I can’t say much about their content—suffice to say I’m not sure he had women’s best interests at heart (see item 81).
While no Englishmen had expressed an interest in joining him, two plucky Australians and a seventeen year old woman, Gwendoline Gater-Reid, had. Gwen was worried about overpopulation but told a reporter: ‘I am not Paul’s girlfriend but I would be prepared to marry him and six other men’.[v] Over the next few years he conducted three unsuccessful polyandry experiments, the failure of which he blamed on the men involved.[vi]
Pawlowski’s polyandry didn’t apparently have a great impact: it didn’t quite suit the ‘summer of love’ vibe, nor the sort of sexual revolution many had in mind. Undeterred once again, however, he rolled with the psychedelic times: enter Rev F[ather] F[uck] Pawlowski.
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THE LONDON CHURCH OF APHRODITE
In Spring 1970, a group of six people met in Pawlowski’s place in Tooting, south-west London, to discuss reviving the ancient religion of Greek Hellenism. They placed advertisements in underground and alternative newspapers and magazines, and distributed leaflets at demonstrations. His home became the London Church of Aphrodite (LCA).
They were not alone in reviving the Hellenic Religion. Around the same time, the Psychedelic Venus Church (PVC) was founded on America’s west coast, and a ‘Venus religion’ was also created in France, led by a Rev Petrakis. The LCA briefly became a member of an early pagan umbrella organization, the Council of Themis, but was expelled in early ‘72—apparently blood sacrifices weren’t welcome! (More on this shortly.)
According to the pamphlet Fucking and Sucking and Pot is Our Religion:
Everything we do is approved by a god or goddess since there is a diety [sic] for every aspect of human life. Hence drinking strong wine is pleasing to Dionysus, the making of sexual love pleases Aphrodite, the smoking of cannabis pleases all the gods and they would be offended were it not performed to the full.
Along with these sombre church going rites, they planned a ‘Festival of Dionysus’ that would be ‘free and beautiful and not commercialized’ and held somewhere mountainous like the Lake District. Although conceding that it may take some time to organize the merry-making, even before any festival could took place, Pawlowski again found himself in a familiar arena—back in the dock causing mischief.
In January 1971, he was arrested in Hyde Park for insulting behaviour. As an act of defiance, in court he turned his back on the magistrate, gave the fist salute, and called everyone a fascist. The magistrate, who had been waiting for a doctor’s report, said, ‘Explain to him that in spite of all the evidence the doctors think he is quite sane.’[vii]
There was an element of the jocular here as the magistrate was apparently quite familiar with Pawlowski and said that he found him in fine speaking form that day. Adding that although he realized Pawlowski got worked up from time to time, and that while he is an awful nuisance, ‘he doesn’t occasion much trouble.’ The same cannot be said for the police causing him trouble—although I imagine he quite enjoyed waltzing across their radar.
The LCA advertised a Holy Communion on the 30 April, 8pm, at their church. Nine people turned up. Then, a couple of hours later, so did the police—ten of them with a dog—search warrant in hand. They spent three hours turning the place upside down but found no drugs; however, they took away all the files, tapes and correspondence. Pawlowski gave his account the following month in the Berkeley Barb.
The number of churchgoers increased to about fifteen over the summer and on the 10 October Pawlowski officiated a wedding in Hyde Park—‘Will you take this man for a husband until you get fed up with him?’ They all ate a cannabis wedding cake in the shape of ‘a prick with a lovely pair of balls’ to celebrate. Police, of course, were hiding in the crowd, and arrested him for breaching the peace. In court, he was bound for £50, but,
Instead I proposed the magistrate apologize to me and order my immediate release from prison, compensate me in the sum of five pounds for every day he has kept me in prison, and give me his promise to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 12 months.
He was sent to Pentonville Prison for three months and a sign was posted on his door in Elmbourne Road announcing that the church was closed. Not for long however!
The following year he teamed up with anarchist Bill Dwyer, who he was apparently living with, to put on the first Windsor Free Festival. The event was something of a failure, however, and both men were arrested on drug charges. They first appeared in court on the 6 September, 1972, on a charge of cultivating cannabis in their home.
Pawlowski, head of the free-love Church of Aphrodite, based in Tooting, refused to plead and stood in the dock with his back to the judge. The court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. In his evidence, a police officer said that Pawlowski admitted the plants were cannabis but said they were sacred and could not be interfered with as they had religious uses.
He was once again remanded for medical reports. After a great deal of shouting at his next court date, the judge said, after he left, ‘And they say in the medical reports that there is nothing wrong with him.’ Pawlowski received a six month sentence, suspended for two years. Dwyer was acquitted of the cannabis, but sentenced to two years for possession of LSD, suspended for three.
THE SACRIFICIAL END
LCA membership had spread, and members in Bradford (200+ miles north of London) celebrated the arrival of Spring in 1973 by teaming up with the local college of arts to put on an Ancient Greek play. They finished with a ritual to Persephone and the sacrifice of a lamb—made of bread. Pawlowski oversaw one of the students, David Brown, dressed as a priest, ritually stabbing it.
Rumours of an actual sacrifice abounded, and a concerned RSPCA inspector was quietly in attendance. When audience questions opened up, he learnt that the LCA had earlier sacrificed a real lamb to Hermes. Taking Pawlowski to one side, Inspector Beardsley said he would inform his superior. ‘What about Princess Anne and her blood sport?’ shouted Brown as he left.[viii] Whether or not the sacrifice truly happened is unclear; the Council of Themis obviously thought it had! Either way, talk of animal sacrifice was the order of the day.
That summer, Pawlowski was living in a commune within a block of flats on Charrington Street, St Pancreas. There the LCA planned to sacrifice a lamb to the god Helios at midday on the 25 August, at Virginia Water, in Great Windsor Park—‘there will be music and beer for the wage-slaves of Britain’. They chose the location because the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna were there, unceremoniously relocated from Libya to Windsor in the early 1800s.
Never averse to playing the game, Pawlowski first wrote to the Crown Commissioners to let them know. They replied in typical bureaucratic fashion. He would of course need a license, and that ‘Needless to say, we will not be taking up the offer of the invitation to the ceremony’.[ix] A very generous offer indeed, although it didn’t quite pan out anyway.
According to Pawlowski: ‘Some ignorant squatters jumped over the wall, stole the sheep and let her loose outside Albany police station.’ An old lady found it and gave it to the RSPCA, who refused to give it back. Pawlowski promptly wrote to the Queen and told her she was ‘presiding over a bunch of thieves.’
Whether or not this was just a fabricated jab at the RSPCA for the earlier incident in Bradford is of course a mute question. Regardless, the story was diligently repeated by a reporter, much to the delight of Pawlowski, I imagine, but not everyone else. His radical comrades were not amused.
‘Paul is basically a nice nut but lately one has to dig deeper to get at the niceness’ wrote JR in Freedom on the 8 September, 1973. ‘One remembers a class-conscious comrade being visibly impressed by Paul's presentation of the dilemma faced by an anarchist turner (a skilled craftsman) in modern industry.’ But JR spoke of the comrade’s astonishment that it was the ‘self-same’ Paul as ‘Father Fuck’. The story of sacrifice appalled them.
In 1973-74, an oil crisis swept across the world, hitting Britain’s economy very badly. According to one reporter, Pawlowski wasn’t surprised; Helios had earlier been greatly displeased and had of course unleashed it as punishment. He tried to appease the god by sacrificing a fat turkey, but it only won the LCA the god’s favour.[x] The world’s sins would need to be cleansed as well.
When the reporter asked him how they should fix the crisis, he replied: ‘They should give me twenty five metric tons of pure gold so I may build a golden image of Helios at his temple in Virginia Water.’ As we now pass through a new energy crisis, I assume the offer still stands, and Helios still awaits. At least there’d be no argument about the statue’s repatriation.
From this time the Church of Aphrodite largely fades from view. This is not true of the Reverend himself who goes on in a new guise to starting campaigning, and getting arrested, for English republicanism, and other much more nefarious activities. This, however, is a story for a different day.
Pawlowski was in so many respects a transformative caricature reflecting his time: radical politics, sexual revolution, new age grifter, and so on. Yet, it seems to me, it is a life-story he quite purposefully wrote, and which became more carefully crafted over time, ably abetted by willing newspaper reporters.
Was a lamb truly sacrificed? Did he meet Rawlings Rees? Did the RSPCA really steal his sheep? Does it matter? In the end, no. The moral ambiguity somehow makes Pawlowski more human, more one of Hemingway’s ‘living people’.
[i] Norwood News: 19 Feb, 1960, p.4
[ii] Croyden Times: October 12, 1962, p.1
[iii] Croydon Times: 21 December 1962, p.1
[iv] Daily Mirror: August 16, 1967, p.6
[v] Daily Mirror: January 18, 1965, p.11
[vi] Daily Mirror: January 19, 1969, p.5
[vii] Marylebone Mercury, 8 January, 1971, p.26
[viii] Guardian: March 21, 1973, p.5
[ix] Reading Evening Post, 17 August, 1973, p.7
[x] Reading Evening Post, 25 February 1974, p.8
As I reflect upon your plans I do see the upside. Visiting my own work here, I discovered how easy it is to follow up a reference endnote to source. Likewise those reading other stuff can swiftly follow up references back to what you publish. There is progress indeed, what a world of magical communications ! Well it is to us Oldies.
Is this website to be the future home of Psychedelic Press jouirnal? A digital version? Definitely it seems "All Things Must Pass" Rod Read