May 31 2013

All Hail Father Yod

Los Angeles-Cults

On a lovely spring evening in West Hollywood, a loin-clothed photographer roamed the Pool Deck at The Standard snapping photos of a caftan-draped crowd. The sweet smell of sacred grass lingered in the air while young women skinny dipped in the pool. The former members, off-spring, and friends of The Source Family had gathered that night to watch a documentary on their infamous commune. Led by paternal messiah, Father Yod, the Source Family was a 1970s spiritual group that preached vegetarianism, meditation, free love, psychedelic music, and The Philosophy, a combination of Eastern mysticism, pagan rites, and Native American rituals.

Now, the word "Cult" is a bit of a touchy subject. "'Cult' means 'culture,' and we did have our own culture," Isis Aquarian, one of Father Yod's widows and The Source Family matriarch, explained to the LA Times. "Nobody had to go outside of our frequency, what we called our circumvent force. We lived together, we worked together, we meditated together, we loved together, we did music together, we were a family. And we were able to do that because we didn't want anything from anybody. We had our own culture happening."

We wanted to know more about this larger-than-life figure, Father Yod. A Midwesterner, ex Marine, black belt, bank robber, multi-millionaire, and former stuntman, he allegedly killed two men with his bare hands, opened America's first vegetarian restaurant, across the street from The Standard, drove a white Rolls Royce, cut 65 albums, and had 14 "spirit wives." So we called up Jodi Wille, who edited The Source Family biography, The Source, and co-directed the documentary, to get some further insight into his mind-bending world.

Directors Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille in the lobby of The Standard, with a Source Family-inspired fabric sculpture by Elena Stonaker. Photo: Bobby Martin

STANDARD CULTURE: Where did you first discover The Source Family?

Jodi Wille: I found out about them through their band, [Ya Ho Wha 13]. A friend of mine had the deluxe box set put out by this Japanese psych label called Captain Trip. Eventually, I got ahold of Isis Aquarian [one of Father Yod's spiritual wives] who had just finished a seven-year book project with fellow family member, Electricity. I flew to Hawaii and started to go through the archive with her, and together we expanded and reworked what they had put together for family members.

What message did they preach?

It’s about character building. That’s what the Western occult path is. It’s about character building ultimately through self-mastery and responsibility for one’s actions. Father Yod’s big message was to be kind. Do want you want, but just be kind.

Are there Father Yod types around today?

There are always going to be spiritual teachers and spiritual initiators — people who know things that other people don’t, and who can lead them to places they have never been. This has been true throughout history. So, yes, I think there is always the potential for a Father Yod type to emerge.

Some people see the film and think it's all about manipulation and corruption, but younger people who are seeing it realize what it's really about... It's about Father Yod standing up against consumer culture and the ravages of the corporate industrial machine and saying, “No, we're going to create heaven on earth right now, and this is how we're going to do it!”

What is the craziest thing The Source Family ever did?

It depends on how you define crazy.

They kept the body of Father Yod after he died. The family basically followed esoteric Tibetan and Hindu methods of letting the body sit undisturbed for three days and chanting around it. Of course, as the body decomposes, there is a smell that eventually made its way over to the neighbors, who called the police. The press branded them the "Corpse Keeping Cult." [The ritual] was sacred to them, but totally insane to outsiders.

There were also crazy things that were just plain crazy, like The Source Family band touring high schools. Like, how the hell did that happen? Those principals back then totally must have been dropping acid and hanging out at swingers' parties. Father Yod would also send his guys out to the local Jewish temples dressed in white robes and have them rise up after the ceremony and say, “We are Jesus, and so are you.” It was like radical performance art and Father Yod was like an interdimensional conceptual performance artist.

Would you have joined The Source family?

Oh, yeah! Absolutely! But I have to say that Maria, my co-director, would not have. She says she would go by there and hang out, but not fully immerse herself.

Did Yod's power get out of control?

Well, no. See, that’s the thing. Some people get that from the documentary and others don't. It was definitely about giving your power away to one person. Father Yod was always someone who generally loved people – both men and women – and who always gave more than he took. He had moments of grandiosity for sure, but they were always grounded in love. According to the family members that I spoke with, that never wavered.

Was Father Yod good in bed?

Oh my god, well I guess you should ask his wives! A number of them told me that he taught them how to have multiple orgasms. And these were women who hadn't really cared to have a single orgasm before they met him. That was the fundamental aspect of the sex magic that they were doing.

Still from Annie Hall (1977) shot at The Source Restaurant, where it all began. The restaurant was frequented by everyone from Warren Beatty to John Lennon to Marlon Brando. Does that beige building across the street look familiar?

Was it a homecoming for some of the Family members at the screening?

Oh, Yeah! It was amazing. It felt like there were healings going on. It was really interesting. Just people reconnecting in this very beautiful way, being able to celebrate something that meant so much to them, had given them so much joy and inspiration.

Many of the members spent years in shame and secrecy. They didn’t know how to process their experience, and they didn't have the larger picture, which was, that they were but one group among thousands, literally thousands, that were experimenting in social, spiritual and sexual ways.

Are cults more dangerous today than they were back then?

Oh, no! [laughs] I think it’s impossible for a dangerous cult to affect people who have access to the internet where a leader's lies could be easily discovered. The power that those groups had on people back then had a lot to do with how they were brought up with limited ideas of Judeo/Christian spirituality. When they got a taste of esoteric spirituality, and then added acid to the experience, it really made them want to take things to the next level.

Do you find Hollywood to be one giant cult sans spirituality?

I think Hollywood is more Pagan. It's definitely cultish — celebrities have the power of demigods where they are very human but they are elevated to a god-like status. But I do also think that that paradigm is dying right now. I feel like people are less and less impressed by the power that the Hollywood machine once had.

The Source Family is now available in theaters, click here for more information.