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.

Me & My Meditations

SRI PADA, SRI LANKA

As an infant, I was trained to get on my knees every night by the side of my bed, clasp my palms together with fingers extended upward and say the same prayer every night. Only I always had a queasy feeling about that prayer….”if I should die before I wake.” Why even bring up that concept? Something just didn’t feel right. I mean, don’t you get what you ask for?

Can you imagine if millions of kids went to bed every night in that same position across the world saying: “Now I lay me down for the night, I pray my friends will never fight, a day will come we’ll all live in peace, and all these negative energies will finally cease.”

How long would it take to manifest world peace if we got something like that going in a major way I wonder? I doubt many of the religious institutions will pick up on this idea, however, much less spread it to their congregations.

I was in the 6th or 7th grade when my older brother finally clued me into the fact our Lutheran upbringing was basically a Santa Claus story. I was absolutely furious. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?” I snarled. I felt like I’d been walking around acting a fool believing some white-haired dude lived in heaven and was watching over me? It shattered not only my religious faith, but also my faith in my parents to tell me the truth, although my mom was real sheepish about the whole fiasco when I confronted her and said she’d only pretended to go along to please my dad’s parents who’d grown up in south-eastern Kansas. They went to their graves believing in that white-haired dude in the clouds.

I didn’t deal much with religion or spirituality for a long time after that and was basically a punk for many years with no moral foundation. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the hill on Yasgur’s Farm that I finally got zapped. Probably Wavy Gravy helped that process since he was the main emcee and what a wonderful job he did.

But the 1970s was a terrible time for my generation, at least those of us that choose to fight against the establishment. We were herded off on a trail to nowhere, and gradually watched our entire scene diminish and fade away. But it didn’t fade away. Around 1990, I went to my first National Rainbow Family Gathering, and plugged back into that spirit I’d felt at Woodstock in 1969.

I went to a lot of gatherings after that and even organized many on my own, only I called mine the World Hemp Expo Extravaganjas (WHEE!). I had started the concept with the clinical “World Hemp Expo,” but Ken Babbs told me it would be a million times better with another “e” on the end so it sounded like fun. The fun vibe was my main trail at the time and always had been. Babbs and Wavy were both Pranksters, although Wavy just dropped in for a brief time before starting his own group, the Hog Farm.

When Abby from Daily Beast interviewed me, I started talking about the people I’ve known and studied under, a list that includes John Cage, Julian Beck, Jasper Grootveld, Ken Kesey, and Wavy Gravy. This is basically the whos-who of Improvisational Ritual Theater, the art form they pioneered and I struggle to keep alive even though most people don’t know it exists and a some people even claim I’m a fraud mouthing a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and have no art at all? Abby had never heard of Wavy Gravy, but I think she did recognize John Cage. Maybe not. Her interview has yet to appear, which makes me think the bosses on high killed her story on 420.

Anyway, after I started going to gatherings, I’d usually be the first one up on peace meditation day, often a Sunday, or in the case of the National, always on July 4th. There’d be silence throughout the camp that morning until noon. I’d be the one who got up before dawn, however, in order to be the first at the peace pole, so I could sit there for hours, burning incense, taking a few hits of pot every hour or so, but focused on one thought, please bring an end to violence and the suffering it creates, and keep that thought until the OM broke out at noon, followed by a big drum circle and dance.

I know both John Lennon and George Harrison approached meditation the same way. When they discovered it, they’d chant for hours until both lost their vocal cords and had to stop.

Does this meditation have any positive effect? Well, it always leaves me feeling cleansed and energized. I’m always very sad to leave the natural world after living in a forest as an environmental monk for a few weeks. And I look and act like a road dog for a few days before I morph back into my Babylon identity.

The Secret to Enlightenment

“Harmony is the key to the universe” —Confucius

Many people make the mistake of thinking religion is something handed down from God, manifested on earth by a chosen prophet. By design, that sort of thinking turns every other religion into a false culture, making jihad not only possible, but transforming jihad into an honorable ceremony of death. In fact, spirituality can be found in all things, good and bad, and one man’s noble cause is another man’s holocaust.

All these systems run on magic, no matter what they tell you, or what side of the fence you’re on, and magic works under basic principles, most of which are obscured to keep mud in the water and keep their magic working on you without you realizing it. Magic is the original form of mind control, and once you understand that concept, you can slip off the leash. The first step to enlightenment is realizing all religious services are, in fact, magic ceremonies, and although ceremonies can have many forms, the most common form are ceremonies of harmonization, designed to create a group telepathic mind to focus energy on an idea, icon or symbol. The tools used in these ceremonies take on telepathic power as a result of the meditations. But that power only works on those who believe in the ceremonies. If you don’t believe, there’s no magic. It’s basically the same whether you’re sitting in church or going to a live concert to hear your favorite band. Both are magical ceremonies.

One of my satori moments came while visiting one of my primary spiritual teachers, Stephen Gaskin, when he said: “You know, Steve, enlightenment is not like climbing a mountain or ringing a bell. It comes and goes. Sometimes you’re enlightened and can stone people with your presence, and sometimes not.”

The idea of an individual retreating to a high mountain cave, meditating for years, finding enlightenment and returning to civilization is a false myth, although such meditation may be necessary to quiet a manic mind.  One thing about spirituality, there will always be scores more fakers and frauds than real messiahs. We found that out the hard way in the 1960s, a decade that brought out the craziest of New Age cults. I ended up sticking with just a handful of elders: Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, Ken Kesey and the Pranksters, Wavy Gravy, Chef Ra, these titans emerged as my spiritual teachers.

The secret is realizing you have the power to invent your own ceremonies, and the more you hybridize and raid from other cultures, the deeper your ceremonies will project across the astral plain. The real avatars are people like Bob Marley and John Lennon and not the ones wearing big hats in big cathedrals and temples. Creativity and spirituality are the same thing. Through ceremonies, you can discover magic. Just ditch the dogma because there’s really only one rule: don’t hurt anybody.

Who’s the counterculture messiah of today?

I was in a meeting with one of the coolest execs in the entertainment industry, talking about a possible history of the counterculture documentary (a project I would certainly love to work on), when she asked me, “Who is the grandmaster of counterculture today? The living Jack Kerouac of our time?”

I didn’t think much more about it until I got home, but after a few hours this question really began to bug me. Just who is the living Jedi Knight of the counterculture, the Temple Dragon who commands our greatest respect?

I gotta say, it’s a toss-up between Wavy Gravy and Ina May and Stephen Gaskin.

But when you jump down to the next generation, its sort of a ghost town, although Seattle Hempfest founder Vivian McPeak certainly comes to mind in a field of shadows.

I love this photo from the original Woodstock, btw: Wavy and Krassner, two Jedi’s of the counterculture meet on the ceremonial field and exchange zen-like epiphanies, no doubt. And though you might not recognize him at first (I know I didn’t), that’s Abbie Hoffman in the tie-dye standing between them.

10 Most Sacred Spots in America

1) Congo Square, New Orleans. This is the actual birthplace of the counterculture, where Native Americans, African slaves, and a wide mixture of European whites first gathered to create an improvisational culture, blending elements of all their histories to create the popular, non-violent, hybrid-vigor culture we know today as the counterculture.

2) Hippie Hill, San Francisco. Located at the base of Haight Street, just steps from the corner of Haight/Ashbury, Hippie Hill was the ceremonial gathering place for the birth of the hippie movement.

3) Laguna Beach, California. Just as important as Hippie Hill was the influence of John Griggs and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. There is a little-known surfer-hippie connection that has not been fully explored yet. Surfers who took LSD early in the sixties were among the first people to reach true enlightenment. The real center of energy may have been the auditorium on Newport Beach, but unfortunately that temple of surf rock was torn down.

4) Woodstock Festival, Bethel, New York. The first Woodstock was a true gathering of the tribe, and a place where the counterculture first realized itself in enormous numbers. It was our hippie version of the Sermon on the Mount. Also worth mentioning is Magic Meadow, Woodstock, New York. Located near the start of the trail to Overlook Mountain, Magic Meadow is the main ceremonial location selected by early beatniks and hippies who flocked to Woodstock as a haven for counterculture spirituality. Overlook Mountain also had a long history of use by Native cultures as a primary site for vision questing.

5) Strawberry Lake, Colorado. Located on the continental divide, Strawberry Lake was the site of the original Rainbow Family Gathering. The authorities tried to close all access to the site when they learned ten thousand hippies planned on camping there over the week of July 4th, but despite the roadblocks and police presence, all the hippies managed to sneak into the site via the back trails.

6) Camp Winnarainbow, Laytonville, CA. Wavy Gravy is the foremost master of ceremonies of the counterculture and he built the second most successful counterculture community in America. Wavy is the master of improv energy and channeling the fun vibe. His camp is the perfect place to send your kids to learn about counterculture spirituality.

7) Ken Kesey’s farm, outside Eugene, Oregon. The original bus, Further (or Furthur) is parked here. Kesey is our counterculture version of Odysseus, and his magic bus ride was a seminal moment in counterculture history. Wherever that bus resides will always be a most sacred spot in counterculture history.

8) Mount Tamalpias, CA. The birthplace of 420 and the site of the original April 20th ceremonies. Since cannabis is the primary sacrament of the counterculture (and has been used since its birth in Congo Square), the birthplace of 420 will always be a most sacred location for the counterculture.

9) Owl Farm, Colorado. Located a short drive from Aspen, the home of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson radiates with intense vibrations from all the ceremonies held on the site.

10) National Rainbow Family Gathering. Every July 1-7, the gathering is held in a different National Forest so this is a mobile sacred spot that moves around every year. The Rainbow Family is the heart and soul of the counterculture. Everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to this event at least once in their life to see what a world without violence and bigotry actually feels like.

Charlie Manson’s OM War with Wavy Gravy

After serving 22 months in the Army, Hugh Romney attended Boston College on the GI bill and ended up studying the newly emerging improvisational theater movement (created by Viola Spolin). After college, he moved to Greenwich Village to become a comedian and was initially managed by Lenny Bruce while sharing an apartment with Tom Paxton and becoming close friends with Bob Dylan.

Before long, Romney moved to California and joined Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. But when Kesey fled to Mexico under threat of arrest, fellow prankster Ken Babbs hijacked the magic bus Further, leaving the rest of the Pranksters stranded in Los Angeles. Romney soon discovered a nearby hog farm in the mountains was looking for a caretaker. In other words, a free place to stay. He set up a commune and called it The Hog Farm, which overnight became one of the most famous of the 1960s hippie communes.

Charles Manson drove out to the Hog Farm one day in the late 1960s. He arrived in his all-black tour bus. Manson had already made contact with one of the Hog Farmers, Shirley Lake, whose daughter Diane would eventually join the Manson family. After arriving at the commune, Manson gave Romney the title to his black bus and then tried to seduce Romney’s wife Bonnie Jean (today known as Jahanara) in a nearby shed. He was undoubtedly planning on merging his family with the Hog Farm and usurping Romney as the leader of the commune. Romney managed to break up the seduction and Manson retired to his black bus with his female followers in tow. Sensing Manson was channeling the wrong vibes, Romney gathered his troops and began an OM circle next to the bus. The OM circle is an ancient ceremony from India that may have originated with the original Soma cults. I believe it’s the best way to harmonize a group of people and ward off negative energy. The OM circle initially became popular with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love in Laguna Beach, and was later taken up by Allen Ginsberg, who used it as a force field to protect himself and others during the riots in Lincoln Park during the Democratic convention in 1968.

Suddenly, Manson burst out of the black bus, holding his throat, choking, followed by his female followers who were quite alarmed. They tried to stop the OM circle, as they believed it was killing their leader. Manson began leading his group in an evil OM to ward off the vibes coming from the Hog Farmers. Eventually, Romney was able to persuade Manson to drive away and not return. The following year, Romney would change his name to Wavy Gravy and become famous as the emcee of the first Woodstock festival. Manson’s family would soon become the most famous serial killers in the world.

Today, Wavy remains a master of improvisational theater, which involves a deep understanding of spirituality (telepathic energy). Improvisation can unblock energy clogs and release deep inner insights. If you ever get a chance to attend a Wavy Gravy improvisational workshop, jump at it. You won’t be sorry.

Manson, meanwhile, died on November 19, 2017, in a maximum security prison after numerous parole hearings refused to release him. When he entered prison, Manson listed his religion as “scientologist.” He kept an E-meter at his ranch. Some believe Scientology was created by military intelligence as a brainwashing and mind control operation.

The British offshoot of Scientology (The Process Church) ran an operation to capture prominent rock bands into their fold and became perhaps the scariest of all the creepy vibe masters that began to infest the counterculture immediately after it took hold of the younger generation, who’d just wiped away years of conditioning and propaganda with just one acid trip.

Ron Stark was affiliated with The Process Church and he went on to become the biggest connection for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Ron Stark, the Process Church, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, these are all fascinating threads I hope to get into in future posts.

(Excerpted from Magic, Religion & Cannabis.)