The collective unconscious is a telepathic river in a constant state of evolution and sometimes the newest sigils contain the most magic. In my time, the biggest reverberations came from the Magic Bus ride of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.
Carolyn Cassady introduced Jack Kerouac to North Beach’s beatnik jazz scene and he soon blew a wild improvisational solo onto a reel of paper, the first time improv crossed over to literature since Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow, which almost nobody heard of because it was banned as it told the true story of a mixed race couple. Of course, Kerouac was on speed so the novel is a bit of mess and some find it incomprehensible today. What they fail to understand is that Kerouac stepped into a magic world when he entered those North Beach clubs. Those were temples that magnified real true spiritual energy and helped open the minds of an entire generation, although Kerouac soon got left behind after the Merry Pranksters arrived on the scene.
The Pranksters elevated “On the Road” to the status of a sacred mission of discovery that involved an entire tribe, all of whom were constantly participating in Improvisational Ritual Theater. On the Road was a buddy story, although the buddies were part of an emerging tribe, but most of their voyages were done solo or as a duet. Kesey insisted his entire tribe be on the road together and that meant he had to find a cheap school bus. That was lesson one: it takes a tribe to create new ceremonies.
Once that bus arrived, it didn’t look right until it got customized, like everything else around Kesey at that time. Ever since he’d been introduced to peyote (part of MKULTRA) he’d been evolving from a writer into something bigger that involved an awareness of art and spirituality that encompassed every aspect of life. Yeah, he was a guinea pig for synthetics in a hospital setting, which is how he found out about LSD, and also what gave him the inspiration to write his masterpiece, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but once he took a trip, Kesey morphed into an early master of Improvisational Ritual Theater and was never a mind control robot for anyone.
In fact, after introducing LSD to half of California in a few months, Kesey was adamant the next step involved getting people to stop taking acid. He was the first person on the scene to speak the truth, which is, once you have a wonderful mystical experience on LSD, it is not necessary to keep taking the substance on a regular basis. In fact, we had a lot of casualties in the late 1960s from people doing just that. I tell people to avoid synthetics as you never really know what’s in them or how strong they might be.
After traveling to Woodstock for that ceremony, the bus came back to Oregon and died in a grove of trees. Kesey told me her heart was broken because after Woodstock it was all about the bands and the media companies seized control. Before that, during the Acid Tests, there was a lot more art going on than just watching the band. The original bus is finally getting restored, by the way, and the Smithsonian wants it, but somehow I wish we had our own counterculture museum to display our cultural relics. The Magic Bus ride was the biggest thing to explode on the American psyche since The Wizard of Oz, and I wonder how long before some really positive magic like that comes along again since today most of what’s going on seems to be dark magic.