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 a lot by music and had filled his bedroom with Jimi Hendrix posters before he even discovered psychedelics. He liked the new styles that were coming out, although his biggest influence and role model was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was still alive when Jim made his big transformation. While a junior, he started dressing like a Black Panther, and went on a mission to single-handedly heal our school’s considerable racial divides. Jim accomplished this by becoming Senior Class President (the first black in our school’s history to achieve this honor) and then 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.
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 (left). The Pranksters arrived with the magic bus, just not Kesey, who was probably my biggest role model at the time and hiding out in Mexico. At Woodstock, however, I began to study Wavy’s style closely, as he seemed to have a handle on the type of magic I wanted to manifest. I always liked to dress up for a ceremony.
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’s style was a brilliant synthesis of African and European shamanism and I instantly realized its power and wanted to become an artist like Jasper.
I learned a ton about magic from Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, who I knew about from Sunday Morning Services in Golden Gate Park back in the late sixties. Stephen understood the major spiritual texts from the East, and could translate difficult concepts into easy-to-understand English. But something really deep happened when I discovered John Griggs, founder of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. I instantly realized John was a true hippie messiah, and like all messiahs had died at the zenith of his creative powers, a tragic loss for the world. John’s heart was immense and his love for the world boundless. James put me on the path of action, The Pranksters put me on the path of fun, Stephen put me on the path of wisdom, but John Griggs put me on the path of love. It’s strange how some of the most important figures in the history of the counterculture remain unknown and uncelebrated, and John Griggs is the prime example.
Which is why I think it’s so incredible that I discovered another hippie messiah that I didn’t even know about until a few months ago? I speak of Father Yod and 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 after he discovered the art form and he mixed up all spiritual styles, just like I’ve been doing for the past 20 years in my own humble fashion, while organizing ceremonies at the Cannabis Cups and Whee! festivals.
I’ve been inspired by meeting some of his family online and one even gifted me a free copy of their new book about the family. You can watch their amazing documentary on Netflix.
The biggest problem with attempts to forge a hippie religion is the tremendous pressure put on the leader. The more spiritual the group becomes, the more pressure. Many commune founders went off the deep end with egomania or took advantage of people because they had too much power over their flocks. People ask me if I am starting a new religion with the Pot Illuminati. Yes, I am. But I’m not wanting to be the Pope or anything close. I seek to create a refuge from the storm until full legalization arrives where we can share our sacrament in peace and safety. The ceremonies are improvisational, we are all equal, but everyone gets a chance to put on the big hat and be the Grand Wizard for a day. In this way, we protect the society from corruption and know it will never become encrusted with dogma. I have no dogma. Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.
Father Yod began telling his flock he was God. But one day, he woke up, called them all 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. He crashed and was carried to his house. Although his injuries did not seem life-threatening, he passed over nine hours later. There is a parable of great meaning in this story.