In Praise of Saint Stephen

cannabis_spirituality_LRGStephen Gaskin doesn’t get much adulation in the media and most kids don’t know who he is, but on the astral plane spirits don’t shine much brighter. I hope someday he’ll be celebrated as he deserves here on earth.

Of course, I knew about Stephen’s epic Sunday Morning Services in Golden Gate Park in the late sixties because I visited the Haight as a runaway teen, but I never made it to that ceremony, although I knew he was widely recognized as most articulate speaker on cosmic energies to emerge. The recognition of real cosmic energies instantly separated hippies from most of America, although hopefully eventually others will catch up with us.

After I became a reporter for the New York Daily News, one of the first big stories I developed concerned a free ambulance service in the South Bronx. Stephen’s Tennessee commune, The Farm, had funded this service as part of their world wide peace corps, which was operating mostly in central America, but had established a beach head in the South Bronx because they heard no ambulances would service the area.

I only met the team in the South Bronx and not Stephen and it would take a few years longer for us to actually connect in person. Eventually, I invited him to be High Priest at the 8th Cannabis Cup, a gig no hippie can turn down. It was probably there I asked if I could edit a book of his wisdom and call it Cannabis Spirituality.

I ended up traveling down to The Farm and living with Stephen and Ina May for two weeks. I’d interview Stephen every day after breakfast and then spend the evenings pouring over his many books, underlining passages I wanted to include.

The first chapter was my attempt to assemble a picture of Stephen’s zeitgeist by selecting bits from all his best speeches. The other chapters were excerpted from previous books, some of which were lectures that had been recorded and transcribed. Stephen never rehearsed a speech in his life as he believed all ceremony should be improvisational and direct from the heart. He’d always take his time before opening up, as he drew energy from his audience and used that energy as his launching pad. He was a zen Lennie Bruce of shamanic spirituality, and magic flowed through him effortlessly. My entire world view was rearranged after meeting him, and my current concepts of vibrational energies really only began to take root after living with the Gaskins. Stephen has been vastly overshadowed by his wife, Ina May, the world’s foremost midwife, but they both are towering figures in hippie history who someday will receive their due.

Stephen dedicated Cannabis Spirituality to Jerry Garcia and the opening chapter was titled:

Enlightenment is Ordinary Reality

God is the universe. We are all parts of the whole. When we act with our own natural intelligence, God is acting. When we have a new idea, we are the part of God that thought that new idea.

I remember Wavy Gravy bought a copy and checked it out and called to tell me he thought it was well written and enlightening. It is now out of print now and sells for over $100. The hardback edition is especially rare and goes for even more.

nov2804My background was in theater, so I took Stephen’s concepts to my stages to manifest improvisational ritual, something I’d already learned from Jasper Grootveld, John Cage and the Pranksters. That was a different energy from Stephen’s magic, which involved him channeling the Great Spirit and then speaking to the crowd. Stephen could do these lectures on acid and you probably can’t even tell the difference today because Stephen was always stoning people with his vibrational energy back then, which is why his lectures got so popular in the first place.

Shortly after Stephen appeared in San Francisco, another hippie saint appeared in Los Angeles. Formerly known as Jim Baker, he took the name Father Yod (rhymes with bode). I didn’t even know Father Yod existed until recently but he deserves induction into the Counterculture Hall of Fame. A book and documentary have been released, produced by his family, as Father Yod unfortunately passed over to the spirit world following a tragic accident in Hawaii many years ago.

yod2I hope Hollywood makes a fair and honest film about Father Yod. He certainly got touched by the Holy Ghost. He was also a man of action and even quietly robbed a few banks when he needed funds for his family. But then most people will look at Father Yod and think: Charles Manson. No, Father Yod was channeling the love vibration, which is the opposite of what Charlie was doing. (And for all we know, Charlie was an op manifested to paint our hippie counterculture as the devil in the minds of America.)

After I assembled the manuscript for Stephen’s book, I sent a copy to a few select people I respected in the movement, including Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who seemed interested in my opinions about cannabis as a sacrament. But it took a long time for Lester to respond and when he did, he had nothing to say. The book left him puzzled, confused and speechless. I still have the letter he wrote and chuckle over it now, although I was crushed at the time. And here I thought I was going to be enlightening people?

It’s not that you can’t write about magic. You can. But the audience cannot comprehend unless they are believers. Otherwise, it’s just spiritual mumbo-jumbo.


Author: Steven Hager

I'm a writer, journalist, filmmaker and event producer.

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Saint Stephen”

  1. i did not know you were a runaway. i’m curious at what age you left home. i waited until i was 18, while a senior in urbana before i moved to springfield st..near the turk’s head, on green st. when i volunteered , with my wife, at huckleberry for runaways in s.f. (larry beggs was the head of it in 67 and the episcopal church sponsored it). i thought i could identify with kids who wanted to leave home . little did i know that most left because of horrific abuse i didn’t suffer. it wasn’t just kids wanting to be more free of rules and restrictions as i had supposed.
    i may not be a pantheist or panentheist (learn spelling, spellcheck, please) but i have studied the concept and agree that it can be a helpful way to make sense of the universe to some people. it’s very interesting as a part of the story you are telling here and i don’t feel i have a better grasp on what is reality than you do. i have slightly different conclusions but appreciate your tolerance of someone who may differ with you on occasion.
    re: your statement “audience cannot comprehend unless they are believers”. i would generally agree but would add, “or former believers”. because, if they were formerly believers but changed, they may have legitimate reasons and still understand the system inside and out.

    1. I must have started running away when I was 15 and I did it because my dad wouldn’t let me have long hair. So that’s how I got want I wanted, and I left home a few times before I was 18.

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