May the circle keep on tokin’

chefraDedicated to James “Chef Ra” Wilson

G                                                 G7
I was standing by my window
………C                           G
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw Chef Ra a-skating
…………..G                D7        G
Come to carry my blues away.


G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
…………….C                           G
Bye and bye Ra, bye and bye
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G         D7         G
In the sky Ra, oh so high.

G                                                         G7
Well, I noticed, the town was lonely
………..C                         G
For Chef Ra, he had gone
All his friends, we were cryin’
………….G            D7            G
For we felt so sad and alone.

G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
………….C                      G
And get high, oh, so high
There’s a better time awaiting
……….G           D7              G
In the sky, with Ra, so high.

G                                      G7
Undertaker, undertaker
……………..C                             G
Won’t you please drive by slow
For that man you are a-haulin’
………….G         D7           G
We so hate to see him go.

G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
………….C                             G
And get high, Ra, oh so high
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G       D7            G
In the sky Ra, in the sky.


From Chef Ra to Father Yod: My voyage of discoveries

BlackPantherJimThe 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.

WavyandKrassnerIn 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.

29285263A 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.

128053064-John_Griggs_1969I 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.

yod2Which 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.

How to take control of your own magic

1383473_10201991135090607_355661228_nIt’s funny how some shamans walking around today don’t even realize they are shamans (although their magic manifests nevertheless through the healing ceremonies they organize). I’m sure David Bowie was aware of his powers on the astral plane.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking magic (or spirituality—they are the same thing) is something that only happened in the distant past or in some Amazonian jungle. Life is a giant wheel and all the dramas and ceremonies, the avatars and saviors, the shamans and sorcerers manifest over and over endlessly. Despite the rapid growth of technology, human ceremonies have evolved little on a foundation built millennia ago. Ceremony involves investing meaning into life and also healing sorrow and pain. Which is why it surprised me when a friend implied I’m not a “true” shaman because I call my ceremonies “improvisational ritual theater,” an expression I coined over a decade ago. He feels theater is the realm of actors, not shamans. People are right to be suspicious. After all, the New Age movement, religion and magic are all peppered with frauds and hoodwinks of every color and stripe, and I love exposing the con jobs and will continue to do so as I want no association with any of them. Con jobs are found at the origins of many major religions as well as the pagan alternatives. My motivation is to pass down the wisdom I’ve learned over the decades to anyone who cares. And foremost among that wisdom is an understanding of what’s really going on in the world, and not falling for rabbit holes or wag-the-dog movies.

Funny how a title or a costume or even just a big hat can change people’s perceptions. Put on a clerical collar and watch how your aura changes. You’re no longer a mere human being, but something magical. And the same goes for dressing like a tribal shaman. Anyone can do it. Unfortunately, many wearing these costumes are frauds seeking money, and no more enlightened or closer to God than you or me. But the costume manifests magic. And the media works like that on a gigantic scale. Belief can be engineered with the right props.

candlesforAmazonThe basic tools of ceremony have not changed for centuries: bell, book and candle. The revolution I suggest involves merging elements of all cultures (without any dogma) and leading the synthesis any direction you want. Just as hybrid genes produce hybrid vigor in plants, animals and people, hybrid ceremonies produce a cultural vigor. The centerpiece of my ceremonies is a seven chakra candle altar.

Instead of watching TV or playing video games, I encourage millennials to organize creative ceremonies to help harmonize family and tribes. Enlightenment is fun. It’s important to investigate the truth, but more important to celebrate life. Don’t believe the hogwash the path to enlightenment runs through a cave in the mountains. Restless minds require isolation to focus, but culture is a group effort. Unifying major spiritual traditions disarms those who manipulate religion to manifest war for profit.

BlackPantherJimI studied with a lot of the greatest post-modern shamans: John Cage, Ken Kesey, Jasper Grootveld, Judith Malina, Stephen Gaskin, Wavy Gravy….but one of the greatest was one my own age named James Wilson who became the first black elected senior class president at Urbana High School in central Illinois. This happened in 1968, the summit of racial tension in America. Right after Jim (wearing beret) got elected, he started planning events (ceremonies), the result of which drew students closer together and defused the tension and violence. Jim was already a master shaman at age 17, possibly in part because he’d been traumatized by the death of his father. Later, he became known as “Chef RA” and one of the most popular speakers on the original Hemp Tours.

The beauty of improvisational ritual theater is it requires zero training or induction into any dogma. Do what you want as long as nobody gets hurt. You see, the real Bible is written in your heart, provided you got raised in a loving environment and not warped through some abuse.