In search of the true hippie avatar

Jim Wilson (wearing beret).

The first real-life shaman I met was a kid my age named James Wilson, who became an activist for peace while in high school. Jim was inspired by music and had filled his bedroom with Jimi Hendrix posters long before he discovered psychedelics. He liked the new styles that were coming out and his biggest influence and role model soon became Fred Hampton, who was still alive when Jim made his transformation, but sadly was assassinated by the Chicago police some months later. Fred had recently been named Chairman of the Black Panther Party after ending the gang wars in Chicago, and was steering the organization towards non-violence when Jim suddenly began looking like a Black Panther. Jim went on a mission to single-handedly heal our school’s considerable racial divides and largely accomplished the mission by becoming Senior Class President (the first black in our school’s history to achieve this honor), and by organizing education and harmonization ceremonies. Back then, nobody realized Jim was doing magic. We didn’t know he was a natural shaman. Later he would transform into the Great Chef Ra and it would become obvious.

Wavy, Abbie and Paul at Woodstock.

In 1969, Jim and I both ended up at Woodstock, and he was the first person I knew who I ran into. He was standing at the gates, watching people stream in with a huge glowing smile. I’d never seen Jim so happy. We all felt the vibes of arriving in New Jerusalem. And, of course, we’d get to study some of the grandmasters of our culture up close, like Wavy Gravy, Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. The Pranksters arrived with the magic bus, but not with Kesey, who was certainly my biggest role model at the time. Kesey was hiding out in Mexico as he wished to avoid the fate of Timothy Leary, who’d been railroaded into a lengthy prison sentence for possession of a few seeds of cannabis on the floor of his vehicle. At Woodstock, I came into contact with Wavy’s style, as he seemed to have a handle on the type of magic I wanted to manifest. He’d been studying improvisation under Viola Spolin. Wavy, like Jim, understood the importance of costumes in ceremonies.

Jasper Grootveld.

A couple years after Woodstock, I got introduced to Jasper Grootveld of Amsterdam and became utterly fascinated, especially since Jasper had started the Happenings, of which I was a great student (and especially since John Cage did his biggest Happenings in my humble town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois). John Cage was into monster displays of energy and media, similar to the Pranksters, while Jasper dressed like an African medicine man and used zero technology in his rituals. Jasper claimed his ceremonies were self-promotional, but they often carried a political message. Most of the time he railed against the tobacco companies and encouraged cannabis consumption as a more healthy alternative. He’d been a journalist briefly and sent by his editor to interview a New Age cult leader who claimed to be god. While Grootveld was interrogating him, the cult leader asked, “what do you believe in?” This stumped Grootveld for a minute, and finally he came up with, “I believe in Sinterklaas [Santa Claus].”

Many decades later, I’d discover Santa is really the Scythian father god that inspired Zoroastrianism, which in turn influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It replaced the pagan pantheons with a dialectical balance between two divine forces, one creator, one destroyer. In earlier times, Santa had a scary sidekick who punished the wicked. In Holland, this devil figure morphed into an African toddler named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), while in America the sidekick morphed into magic elves. But in the earliest Scythian versions, the sidekick role may have started as a large bird. The Scythians were famous for domesticating birds and animals.

Grootveld began promoting “Klaas is coming!,” while dressed as Zwarte Piet and wearing blackface. Gradually, this ceremony took on his anti-tobacco message. When he began holding public exorcisms at a small statue erected by the Dutch tobacco industry, teens from all over Amsterdam began attending. Eventually, this would manifest the Dutch Provo movement, certainly one of the most enlightened emanations of our time.

Ina May & Stephen Gaskin.

I also learned a lot about magic from Ina May and Stephen Gaskin, who I knew about from Sunday Morning Services in Golden Gate Park back in the late sixties. Stephen had studied most of the major spiritual texts from the East, and could translate difficult concepts into easy-to-understand English. Both had interesting upbringings as their fathers were Masons of the 33rd degree. At age twelve, Stephen was inducted in DeMolay, but would soon reject Masonry for a synthesis of various cultures centered on non-violence. He was a former Marine, however, and believed unruly teens sometimes required a trip to the woodshed to straighten out their path. Ina May inspired the global midwife movement, sharing long forgotten insights on the importance of telepathic vibrations, some of which had been learned after helping deliver home births while tripping.

While I never met John Griggs, founder of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love,  I now believe he may have been the nearest thing to a true hippie avatar, and like many avatars, he had died young, at the zenith of his creative powers, certainly a tragic loss for the world. John’s heart was immense. James put me on the path of political action, the Pranksters put me on the path of fun, Stephen put me on the path of philosophy, but Griggs put me on the path of unconditional love. It’s strange how some of the most important figures in the history of the counterculture remain unknown and uncelebrated, and John Griggs would be the prime example.

Which is why I think it’s so incredible that I discovered yet another aspiring hippie messiah: Father Yod, founder of the Source Family. Who knows, I may have even run into some of them at a Rainbow Gathering over the last 20 years, but had no idea the manifestations of this hippie saint and his flock. Yod was doing improvisational ritual theater pretty much non-stop and he mixed up many spiritual styles, similar to what I was doing for 25 years in my own humble fashion, organizing ceremonies like the original Cannabis Cups and Whee! festivals. You can watch the amazing documentary on the Source Family on Netflix. Once when the family needed funds, he successfully robbed a few banks, crimes that were not uncovered until after his death.

John Griggs.

The biggest problem with attempts to forge a hippie religion was the tremendous pressure put on the leaders. The more spiritual the group became, the more pressure. Many commune founders went off the deep end with egomania or they began taking advantage of people because they had too much power over their flocks. Or the communes went on a ‘kill the guru” phase like what happened to Stephen.

My ceremonies are always improvisational, and everyone is equal, although some are naturally more creatively talented, we can all crank the ceremonial vibes (or try to bring those vibes down).

One day Father Yod began telling his flock he was God. Soon, he woke up, called the family together, and said, “I lied. I am not God. We are all God.” Then he decided to take flight on a hand-glider with no training, crashed and was carried into the house. Although the injuries did not seem life-threatening, he passed over to the beyond nine hours later. There is an important parable in this story.

The greatest thing about Ra is even though he never lost his counterculture flamboyance, he always retained his humility, and refused to surround himself with sycophants like Old Carlo and so many other self-styled counterculture gurus.

It was only late in the quest that I uncovered an important insight: the true avatars reveal themselves through their creative powers, which is when I decided Bob Marley was the true hippie avatar, as well as Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

Moral of the story: Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters. I can’t really recommend LSD or any other synthetics as I have seen the devastation they caused to a few, and because you never know what is really in pills or powders. I advise people to stick with plants in their most natural forms and remember, very often the less you do, the higher you get.

Return of the Nature Boys: The Source Family

“Things are worse than they may seem. Let’s try my little scheme. Yeah! Dream! Some other dream.” Father Yod, Fire in the Sky

Check out the official symbol of the Wandervogel (traveling bird) society born on November 4, 1901, in Berlin as a back-to-nature group that worshiped freedom and the spirit of adventure. Although later co-opted by the Boy Scouts and the Hitler Youth, this society was an influence on the hippie generation, at least in Los Angeles.

Eden Abez (George Aberle) wrote a song called “Nature Boy” about an enchanted lad who wanders far and wide spreading magic vibes. The song became a #1 hit for Nat “King” Cole in 1948. The song was really written about a group Abez hung out with in Laurel Canyon, headquartered at a pioneering raw foods restaurant run by John and Vera Richter, German immigrants trying to keep the original Wandervogel spirit alive. The group also included Gypsy Boots (Robert Bootzin) who opened his own health food store and would evolve into a major writer and prophet for the tribe.

My cousins knew two brothers from Flint Lake, Indiana, who went off to Los Angeles in the early 1960s to go surfing and came back looking like Buddhist monks. They spent the next ten years traveling around the country playing conga drums. The Nature Boy/Wandervogel spirit had obviously infected them.

But the most interesting figure to emerge from this scene is Father Yod (James Baker) a decorated Marine who served in WWII and  founded his own organic vegetarian restaurant on Sunset Strip, a place made famous in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Father Yod also created an important commune called The Source.

Father Yod had a council of 13 beautiful goddesses, some of whom became his wives, and some of whom bore his children. They lived with their extended tribe in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Yod was driven around in a white Rolls Royce and treated like a king, although he left the details of running the kingdom to the goddess council.

I love this shot of Yod’s Temple Dragons (his sons), all of whom were very well-trained by their dad in bow-and-arrow as well as martial arts. Although the group worshiped peace and love, obviously nobody fucked with this commune when the Savage Sons were around.

Like many charismatic leaders of the hippie movement, Yod has been treated badly by the media, which usually paints him as a Manson-like cult leader. Isn’t it weird how anyone who tries to wear a ceremonial hat is branded a fraud and “occult” cult-leader, but when the Pope puts on a similar hat, it’s called “religion” and treated with the utmost respect? How organized religion pulls off this scam is beyond me. It’s all magic, and it all runs on the same spiritual juices no matter who wears the big hat or what that hat looks like.

Music is a major part of spirituality and Yod built a recording studio in the mansion for his improvisational jam sessions. These recordings were sold for a few dollars out of his restaurant, although today the records are avidly sought by a handful of devoted collectors. Yod’s lyrics can be difficult to decipher, but he comes off like an impassioned cross between Captain Beefheart and Howling Wolf .

Check out the documentary The Source Family.