Mystery Solved? A Mark Probert Update

Last year I wrote a piece on the discovery of a previously unknown 1955 vinyl LP by trance medium Mark Probert, an article that was later republished by We Are the Mutants. At the time I assumed the record in question was a one-off custom pressing, probably released in a stock jacket bearing a generic graphic with very little information other than the name of the release. Until a copy turned up, however, there was no way to know much about this record beyond what appeared in the original advertisement announcing its existence. But as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, sometimes clues to these sorts of mystery discs arrive from oblique angles.

Last week David Metcalfe contacted me to let me know that Steve Intermill from the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick in Cleveland had recently purchased another unknown album by Mark Probert from an eBay seller. Like our mystery disc, this one was a transcript of Probert channeling one of his “controls”—in this case ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse. This copy, released on The Inner Circle label, was pressed on blue vinyl and came in a plain, dark blue jacket.

Granted, the discovery of this disc does not directly answer many questions about Probert’s earlier recording in which he channeled ancient sage Yada Di Shi’ite, but it does provide some clues. The disc was released with the catalog number ICR-6004, which implies that this was the fourth (or even perhaps the fifth) release on the label. Its appearance in a plain, unmarked jacket—undoubtedly a cost-saving measure—also suggests that the first disc may have been issued this way as well. This may also account for why these discs have flown under the collector radar for so long. Flipping past a blank jacket after going through 100 boxes of easy listening and light classical LPs is a fatigue-induced oversight that even the most committed crate digger can make. The generic packaging along with the esoteric nature of the material also leads to the suspicion that no more than a few hundred copies of either disc were probably ever pressed.

The newly discovered recording consists of a lecture given to a live audience by Probert during a séance in which he allegedly channeled the spirit of Lao-Tse (these days more commonly spelled Lao Tzu or Laozi), the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching. During the talk, Probert’s (or Lao’s, if you prefer) accent is nearly impenetrable. It must be remembered here that Probert, by his own admission, was an old vaudevillian. Doing “funny accents” was very much a staple of the vaudeville stage. The lecture itself is less a treatise on classical Taoism than a vague smattering of Buddhist and New Age ideas, with a dash of the Human Potential Movement thrown in.

One aspect of Probert’s career that I did not cover in my original article is that a large number of recordings of his séances have been released on tape. Many of these were issued as cassettes by The Inner Circle Teachers of Light Universal Life Church (who seemed to take a worshipful, even cultic, attitude towards Yada Di Shi’ite). There also existed something called the Mark Probert Memorial Foundation. One of its stated goals was to “preserve tape recordings of sessions with Mark Probert.” Reel to reel tapes of his séances certainly also turn up. While his channeled lectures were originally recorded on reel to reel, it’s not yet clear to me whether copies were offered for sale in this format or only changed hands as part of the very vibrant tape trading network that emerged soon after the first consumer reel to reel players appeared.

Although the discovery of the Lao-Tse disc gives us a potential model for what the “lost” 1955 Yada disc may have looked like, it also raises other questions. Is this indeed the same label that the earlier disc was issued on? The original ad lists the label name as “Inner Circle Records,” but the newly-discovered disc was issued on “The Inner Circle.” Tantalizingly close, but they are not the same. Given that an organization called The Inner Circle Teachers of Light Universal Life Church was known to have released Probert recordings on tape, is it possible that The Inner Circle label is actually this organization, pressing one of their tapes onto vinyl after Probert’s death? To my eyes, the font and style of the label could as easily date from the 1960s or early 1970s as the mid-1950s.

To further complicate things (or perhaps to clarify them), while doing research for this update I came across the results of a 2014 auction for three more Probert LPs. All three were issued on blue vinyl on The Inner Circle label, but by this point their jackets were long gone. These appear to be the missing three titles in the series that the Lao-Tse disc comes from. The seller gave their titles as Alfred Luntz, “Survival, Karma, Reincarnation”; Raymond Natalli, “The Nature of Matter”; and most intriguingly, Yada Di Shi’ite, “The Importance of Emotional Control.” The listing did not include catalog numbers, and they are not legible on the accompanying image of the discs.

We are now left with two different possibilities. The first is that this is a later series of discs, which may or may not be reissues of material released on vinyl in the 1950s. The other is that the mystery has now been solved and the 1955 Yada Di Shi’ite disc was part of a short series of lectures by Probert’s other “controls.” Esoteric material was often released in anonymous packaging during the early days of the LP. Colored vinyl was also not uncommon. The presence of the phrase “Long Play” on the label also suggests an early date. So, in many ways these records feel right for 1955. Part of my hesitancy to firmly attribute a 1950s date to these discs, though, is that so much material like this saw reissue during the occult revival of the 1960s and 1970s. That fact, added to Probert’s small but avid cult following after his death, leaves the possibility open that there may have been later interest in a vinyl release of his lectures.

My own instincts tell me that these records are those issued, probably with Probert’s involvement, in the mid-1950s, and the mystery has been solved. If that is the case, it demonstrates that research is rarely a solitary endeavor. My initial article told the story as I understood it, pointing out the gaps I had found in the narrative. Once the tale was released into the world, others began to examine the clues and provide feedback. This led me to reexamine my original research from last year, resulting in the discovery of the auction sale, a previously missed key piece of information. From a discographical point of view, there is still work to be done here. The catalog numbers of the three discs from the auction must be identified. Ideally, I would also want to know what, if anything, is inscribed in the dead wax of each disc for possible clues to its manufacturer. We also have no information regarding the jackets they were originally issued in. In time, perhaps other copies will surface. There is also the possibility that further evidence might lie in the huge volume of printed sources left by Probert’s followers. For the moment, though, I’m content to categorize this particular quest as having had a happy ending.

—Stephen Canner

The Inner Circle Teachers of Light ad, late 1970s.