The Real Story of 420

It’s always fun waiting to see how Steve Bloom is going to spin his annual 420 story. Bloom likes to take credit for “discovering” 420 because he published a flyer in 1990 in High Times. But there’s always this mysterious 5-year gap in Bloom’s accounts. I was investigating the history of Soma when Bloom showed up at the office with that flyer for a gathering on Mt. Tam on April 20th at 4:20 that he’d been handed at a Grateful Dead show in Oakland. Bloom laughed at how silly it seemed and published a small blip in the news section making fun of it.

I had a much different reaction. Channeling the Rig Veda, I instantly announced this gathering on Mt Tamalpais was proof of the spiritual powers of cannabis and its ability to manifest real ritual and ceremony. Not only that, I instantly made 4:20 pm a daily ritual for myself, and began re-tooling the Cannabis Cup and Whee! festivals around 4:20 as the central ceremony. I was trying to build a case for the religious use of cannabis and I wanted to videotape and document those ceremonies as proof of that connection. And I have all that documentation intact.

Now Bloom watched all this go down for years and never once got involved with these 420 rituals, just poo-poohed the whole thing like a big joke. He watched the Cannabis Cup spread 420 around the globe during this time and saw myself and Stephen Gaskin deliver many 420 sermons to the uneducated masses, waking them up to the power of peace. Today Boom will tell you 420 spread through the Grateful Dead scene, which is not true. It spread through the teenagers of Marin county, some of whom had gone across the bay to Oakland to recruit comrades for their annual mountain-top ceremony, an event that only lasted a few years before police presence shut it down.

When I investigated the Waldos, the true creators of the 420 code, I came back to announce they were the real deal, and, of course, Bloom went into high gear discounting that notion and acting like I was deluded. Finally, he did cave in and admit the Waldos created 420 a few years back, but then last year, he backtracked once again and claimed it was actually another person from their high school, a tall tale told by a prankster and backed by zero evidence, while the Waldos have maintained a large stack of verifiable documents, including post-marked letters? A few months ago, Bloom was positively crowing about how the Waldos were frauds and he had finally uncovered “the real story.”

So, at the start of 420 week, what does Bloom say now: “Thirty-two years after I stumbled onto the 420 phenomenon, I really could care less who started it. Better off left shrouded in mystery, it makes for a good stoner bedtime story.”

I’d say he’s backed off that lame story, but he’s still not close to the truth, because the Waldod’s did invent 420, a reality Bloom has always had a hard time swallowing, probably only because I was the first to assert it and that would somehow, in his mind, steal his 420 spotlight?

The real story about this year’s 420 is about the people who organized those original Mt. Tam ceremonies, because the Waldos had no hand in these. And wouldn’t you know, one of them happens to have become altar master of the Temple Dragon Crew. This shaman will be returning to Mount Tamalpais in one week bearing the seven sacred candles of peace, which will be lit at 4:20 PM as an OM circle forms.

The real story of 420 is not about who found the flyer, who invented it, or who gets credit for anything. The real story of 420 is that this is our peace culture and shared by all of us who want to walk a path of non-violence. Don’t be fooled into thinking marijuana is only about getting high and/or making money, although that is as far as many people get with the plant. No, there is something much stronger, much deeper, much more intense going on around cannabis because it is the true sacrament of peace culture and always has been. And peace culture is a much truer emanation of the universal energies than anything those black magician masters of war running the Federal Reserve can dream up.

My Life as a General in the War Against War

I didn’t plan to take over High Times, in fact, I was a sporadic user of recreational drugs most of my life. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City in 1979 that I got really tempted. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum; I got empowered and began manifesting ceremony and ritual like crazy.

My initial vision was constructed around hemp being essential when this country was founded, yet the symbols (or sigils) of our founding fathers were under the control of the radical right wing, unfair and inaccurate to say the least.

So I launched a campaign to create a wave of awareness that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were devoted hemp farmers, and that hemp could save the world by replacing oil, a concept recently introduced to me by Jack Herer. I flew out to Jack’s home in the Valley and laid out a plan to create a national group called the Freedom Fighters, based around the Boston Minute Men, who would attend rallies across the country. The rally movement had basically died out and I felt between us, we might be able to rebuild that movement, with Jack as the leader, of course. “And I want you to come to the Rainbow Gathering with me,” I told Jack. You see, both Rainbow and the Dead scene had considerable overlap, but I knew Rainbow was the center of energy on the real spirituality, while the Dead scene was tainted around the edges. Probably, I also wanted to pull Jack out of hard drugs and bad food, only one of which I was successful at.

The first year I hit the rally circuit I was dressed in a psychedelic shirt and tri-corner hat and carried a snare drum, but by the time the next season came around, I was wearing a brain-tanned leather outfit made by Agatha, and, on my head was a huge top hat with a pink psychedelic peace sign painted on the front. (Later, Agatha became the seamstress of choice of the local Hell’s Angels, but the original leather jacket she created was a replica of the double-breasted black leather jacket I wore throughout the sixties.)  I was wearing Agatha’s Native American warrior outfit and beating a round Native American drum with a peace sigil painted in psychedelic paint and chanting some Native American-type chant to Mother Earth (yes, I guess I was trying to move the energy from a father sigil to a mother sigil) and I was leading this immense parade down the main drag of campus-town in Madison, Wisconsin, one afternoon, when some student jutted up and asked, “Are you a shaman?”

See, a lot of us magicians are into magic long before we even realize what we’re doing. These energies move through us naturally, so as I stood there for a few extra beats, I was thinking, am I a shaman, political activist, or guerrilla street theater performer, or what they hell am I? Pretty soon, I decided if I was a shaman it was time for something really bold, something with even more immense vibe than this 30,000 person rally. If I could just reassemble the greatest magicians of the sixties revolution, you know, the Gaskins, the Pranksters, the Hog Farm, Paul Krassner, John Trudell, John Sinclair, and what if we called that ceremony Whee!?

People are bugging me. They want to hear stories about Whee! I dunno, I might, or I might move in new directions. Stay tuned for my next unexpected episode because I don’t know which way I’m going. Funny thing about the Freedom Fighters, though, we made a Tri-corner hat for Jack right away, and that very hat sits on my altar. And that, my friends, is what my magic is all about. Planting positive sigils in your orbit.

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