As you probably know by now, Far Cry 5 (in stores today!) focuses on the activities of a religious group known as The Project at Eden’s Gate, based in Hope County, Montana, US of A.
But what if the group’s leader, Father Joseph, had been based in the United Kingdom? Where would he have set up his compound then? Mysteriously, all signs point to the quiet Sussex town of East Grinstead.
To find out why, we enlisted the help of crack investigator, journalist, author and man-who-accidentally-started-his-own-cult, Danny Wallace. This is his story.
Seventy-five million years ago, the Earth was a very different place.
It was called Teegeeack back then, and it was the scene of a terrifying cosmic crime.
The then famous spacelord Xenu, who as you know was the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, chose Earth as a sort of prison planet for the souls of billions of aliens he no longer wished to hang around with. The galaxy was overpopulated, and Xenu was feeling the pinch.
Xenu was not someone to be trifled with, and he was also crafty. He managed to gather billions of aliens together one day by telling them he needed to check their income tax slips. Then, using a vast fleet of spaceships, he quickly flew them all to Earth and hurled them into volcanoes. As if that wasn’t enough, he then dropped a series of enormous hydrogen bombs on them. I bet they were thinking “This is all I need!”. But at least they didn’t need to pay any extra tax, so that was a weight off.
The problem for Xenu, however, was that the souls of these aliens turned out to be immortal, and these spirits now live on in each and every part of each and every human – from our nasal passages to that hard bit of skin on your heel you keep meaning to buy something for. We are packed with alien beings, some of whom really aren’t happy about it, and that’s why we feel sad sometimes.
Now, some of you might be thinking “Come off it!” or “A likely story!”. But open your mind. How do you know? Is it really so crazy that a spacelord used an income tax meeting to blow up aliens in our volcanoes? Doesn’t sound so unfeasible when I put it that way, does it?
And that’s what I’m thinking as I wander down a small country road in the British town of East Grinstead, where already I’ve been spotted by a man dressed in black who is peeking out at me from behind some bushes. Further on, as I reach the entrance to Saint Hill Manor – the vast and sprawling UK base of Scientology, just off the B2110 and quite near a bicycle shop – another man in black appears, beside an office in which a phone is already urgently ringing.
The man in black does not seem happy to see me. Scientologists are wary of strangers sometimes, because since people started to find out about the angry spacelords and so on, some of them have even poked fun at the idea.
But I’m not here because I want to find out about Scientology (I think I know enough already). I’m here because I want to know why Scientology chose East Grinstead.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely place: thirty or so miles from London, surrounded by Ashdown Forest, with picture perfect views, some delightful little pubs and even an Argos. It’s an ancient market town, which used to burn Protestants in the square and has a small plaque to tell you as much. But it is not a place that screams “pick me as the national headquarters of Scientology”. And yet L. Ron Hubbard, its founder, did just that.
What’s even odder is that it’s not just Scientology. For a town of only 26,000 people, East Grinstead enjoys a weirdly high number of religious institutions.
And I tried to find out why. I turned up at the nearby Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, rang the bell, and asked if I could be let in. A very nice engineer told me to ask at reception, which I did, but the lady said she didn’t know why they’d built a temple so close to East Grinstead.
I stood at the tall green gates of the mystic order of the Rosicrucians, but they didn’t have a doorbell or anything to knock on, so I just peered through the slats and hoped someone might come by.
I drove to find the ultra-Catholic Opus Dei – some of whom have a penchant for self-flagellation and self-inflicted pain – and stopped at the stunningly beautiful Wickenden Manor house, but alas, it was empty. And though I listened very hard to see if I could hear the sounds of self-flagellation drifting over the valley, there was nothing.
I could have kept going. The Christian Scientists. The Steiner people. There are dowsers. Pagans. Protestants. Baptists. Four Church of England churches. The New Life Church. All here or hereabouts. You’re as likely to meet someone who thinks Satan has control over water or that God has how own planet, as you are someone who thinks the world was created in six days, with a day off for a job well done.
And yet no one seems to know why they’re all so close together. Why are so many religions – and so many of what might popularly be known as ‘cults’ – drawn to East Grinstead? Peter Andre opened a café there once, but that can’t be it. On the face of it, there is literally no reason why East Grinstead should be the ‘cult capital’ of Britain. And as I walk down the high street – and I talk to the woman in the bookshop, the man in the café, the guy by the railings – I hear nothing that makes me think they even mind it. In fact, most seem to welcome it. Though still they have no idea why their town should be at the centre of it all.
Some say that to know more, you have to dig a little deeper. Because once you start digging in East Grinstead, you find…
“Ley lines,” says the elderly man by the bench.
“Ley lines?” I say.
“Ley lines, oh yes,” he says. “Ley lines.”
Ley lines are essentially straight lines drawn centuries ago which run through the landscape. Many credit them with a particularly spiritual significance. They’re supposed to connect electromagnetic energy to sites along the way. Animals are supposed to be able to use them as compasses. Aliens love them. Wizards use them too. Yet surely, if any of that were true, science would have shown it? And wizarding would be a genuine career option.
The truth may be more mundane.
When the Scientology guard politely encouraged me go away, he did so by suggesting I visit the town’s tourist office. I did not do that. But I know what they might say. East Grinstead has excellent transport links. It’s very close to Gatwick Airport, it’s only one hour from London, and it’s just far enough away to feel like the countryside. For peace, quiet, solitude and not having anyone bothering you, it’s a great location. You can practice your yoga in a field off a B-road or do spells in the forest and no one will bat an eyelid.
And that – not transport links – is, I think, the key.
Because the people of East Grinstead have, since World War II, nursed a reputation as “the town that didn’t stare”. It was this small town that opened its doors to the young airmen of the RAF who’d suffered either horrific burns or disfigurement in battle. They were known as the “Guinea Pigs”, and crucial to their recovery was the ability to walk around freely in society and not feel judged. And the town did not judge them. Instead, it celebrated them. It made sure there were always seats for them at the restaurants or the cinema. They were invited to the dance hall every week. The safety the town provided boosted the morale of the men significantly, because they were free to be who they were regardless. It became a town of kindness; of acceptance.
Perhaps, in some sense, that attitude of quiet tolerance is now ingrained in its very fabric. Perhaps it’s not ley lines, but goodwill that runs through East Grinstead.
Because post-war, it has quietly shown that no matter who you are – Scientology, Catholic, Mormon, Druid or even Peter Andre – this small corner of Sussex on this strange little planet called Teegeeack will not just let you in, but leave you be.
If you fancy investigating Montana’s equivalent of East Grinstead, Far Cry 5 is now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. For more on Far Cry 5, check out our previous coverage – and stay tuned for all the latest.