The above insignia, which I'm including here just because it's cool, was on the cover of one such pamphlet.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
This week, as time has allowed, I've been re-reading My Dark Places by James Ellroy (author of such mysteries as L.A. Confidential, The Big Nowhere, and The Black Dahlia). My Dark Places is comprised of Ellroy's stunningly candid reflections on his mother's still unsolved murder. I mention the book here solely because the deaths of Krishna Venta and Jean Ellroy both occured in the gothic world of 1958 Southern California, when daily life was still largely black & white as opposed to Technicolor. My Dark Places, by the way, is an incredible, if not somewhat disturbing, read!
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Apparently the Troy Taylor book Bloody Hollywood mentions Krishna Venta in a section addressing:Hollywood's Preachers, Cults, Kooks & Crazies
Beyond knowing it is part of the Dead Men Do Tell Tales series (https://www.prairieghosts.com/dead_tales.html), though, I know nothing about this book.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The 1949 mystery novel The Moving Target (originally titled The Snatch) by Ross MacDonald features a bogus cult leader named Claude, described on Page 62 of Robert L. Gales' A Ross MacDonald Companion as "a fraudulent cult leader, tall, bearded, and disreputable, to whom Ralph Sampson gave the mountain where Claude runs 'The Temple in the Clouds.' The location is a transfer point for illegal aliens."
In 1949, Krishna Venta was getting a lot of coverage in the headlines owing to his highly publicized lecture tours of both Europe and the U.S., the crash of the Standard Airlines flight, and his arrests for failure to pay child support.
Given all the attention he was commanding, could Claude’s physical appearance have been inspired by Krishna Venta? Could the name "The Temple in the Clouds" have been just a fictional variation on "The Fountain of the World"? And could MacDonald have placed the novel's Temple atop a mountain as a variation on the Fountain being located in a canyon? Interesting...
Strother Martin plays Claude and in the 1966 film version of the book released under the title "Harper." Paul Newman plays the title character in the film. He reprised the role in the 1975 film "The Drowning Pool."
Monday, January 12, 2009
Obtaining these primary source documents often proved time consuming and costly, especially in the instances when I had to hire someone in a specific locale to go and collect this or that document for me.
In the midst of all this collecting, though, I began to notice great gaps in Pencovic's/Venta's biography (i.e., time periods for which documentation was seemingly just non-existent). This was especially true of his childhood and youth; it was as if the man had been born, abducted by aliens, and then returned to earth when he was nineteen years old. (At that time in my search, Pencovic’s appearance on paper at age nineteen was the earliest documentation concerning his existence I could locate outside of his birth record.)
The absence of documentation regarding his formative years played on the Carl Kolchak in me, and, as H.P. Lovecraft (ghost writing for Harry Houdini) had written years before, it was a case of "Mystery attracts mystery."
Consequently, especially since it seemed as though the adult Pencovic/Venta had worked to create confusion regarding the early years of his life, I grew obsessed with knowing where he had been during what I came to term the "missing years." And I would actually find myself awake on occasion, sometimes deep in the night, thinking, "The guy couldn’t have just vanished for those years. He had to have been somewhere. But where?"
Then, my mind would wander to thoughts of, “Could he have committed a crime during that period that landed him in prison or in reform school? Could imprisonment explain his absence on paper during those years?” After all, it was as if the man had simply up and vanished into the void.
I knew I would never be able to write a complete biography of Venta until I knew the answer to the riddle of just where he had been during this period for which there was simply no accounting. Thus, I swore to myself that it would be my mission to know just where Francis Pencovic/Krishna Venta had been during the first eighteen years of his life and why they were so enigmatic.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Part 1: http://www.homertribune.com/archive.php?aid=1157
Part 2: http://www.homertribune.com/archive.php?aid=1193
The lesson to be learned from Posts 60-62 is not that the Fountain intentionally served as a haven or as a "hideout" (to quote Dan Blackburn) for criminal types such as Medina, Townsend, Manson, Skyhorse, Mohawk, et al., or that Fountain members gravitated towards such individuals.
Instead, Medina, et al. seemingly sought the isolation found in the most rural of locations, and the Fountain (having sought to build their California outpost on property that, in terms of real estate value, offered the most land for the least money) had the misfortune of having erected a "utopia" located directly in the crosshairs of outlaw country!
Too bad that, at least in its latter days, Fountain leadership was so trusting and quick to believe everyone who visited the Fountain had only the best of intentions...
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Mention is made on Page 683 of the article about how Native Americans had established a camp on land they were then leasing from the Fountain of the World. Writes Blackburn:
The camp is located off a dusty road in Box Canyon and offers a substantial degree of seclusion. The land is owned by small religious cult called Fountain of the World. Members of the Charles Manson family used the site as a hideout after the Tate-LaBianca murders, and Manson considered trying to recruit cult members into helter-skelter scheme. Several years earlier, a guru and his flock were blown up there when a disgruntled follower used dynamite to emphasize his unhappiness over the holy man’s determination to appropriate all the women in the group for himself. The place has a certain history.
Hmmm...sounds like Blackburn got his information about the history of Fountain from Ed Sanders! Consequently, since he does not identify the source of the following information, it is unknown if the details he provides concerning the bargain AIM struck with the Fountain (also found on Page 683) are to be trusted:
AIM [American Indian Movement] leased the camp nearly a year before George Aird died there. The AIM representative negotiated a deal with the Fountain of the World under which they would pay an unusually low rent of $125 per month, plus the cost of utilities. The favorable rent was said to be due to the fact that the leader of the religious group felt American Indians were victims of discrimination, and because he believed himself to be in tune with their spirituality.
The Fountain members with whom I've spoken recall there being two separate groups of Native Americans living on the Fountain's property: (1) the group of good guys to whom they initially leased the property; and (2) a group of (obviously) not so good guys, including Skyhorse and Mohawk, who replaced the first group over time.
“Paul Watkins testified that on September 1, 1969, at the Barker Ranch, "He [Manson] said we had to kill Shorty...he's been bad-mouthing the ranch and that he knew too much about the Fountain of the World and so -- that he was messing things up, up there...He's been calling the Man [police] on the ranch."
Below are the facts of the case, as excerpted from the above-referenced case cite:
"The facts of this case are not very pleasant. As related by the prosecution witnesses, they are a shocking commentary upon the degree of degenerate conduct which can result from juvenile drug abuse, and the tragic consequences thereof. Midday on April 8, 1972, defendants Fred Mendez Medina, aged 20, and Danny Wayne Townsend, aged 18, together with their friend Edwin E. Vaughn, aged 18, Lisa Beth Gleitsman, a girl friend of Townsend, aged 17, and Virginia Lou Walton, a girl friend of Medina, aged 15, left the residence of Vaughn's brother-in-law, a ranch in the foothills west of the Chatsworth Reservoir in the west end of the San Fernando Valley, to go to the beach. They were all in a blue 1954 Chevy pickup truck with white fenders owned by defendant Medina. They stopped to get gas for the truck at Zody's on the corner of Roscoe and Topanga Canyon Boulevards. At the gas station they picked up two hitchhikers, Dori Ann Haines and Cheryl Ann Monticello, ages 15 and 16, respectively. The seven then drove in the truck over Topanga Canyon to a beach somewhere north of Malibu. After about an hour at the beach they all returned to the San Fernando Valley via Malibu Canyon and then drove up Woolsey Canyon Road or, as it is locally known, "Rocketdyne Road," in Woolsey Canyon in the hills west of the Chatsworth Reservoir. They parked the truck at a remote and isolated site off a dirt road about a quarter of a mile from Rocketdyne Road. Sometime later, about the time it was beginning to get dark, the two defendants, Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton left the area in the truck, and returned to the residence of Ann Todd at the Fountain of the World in Box Canyon, where both defendants were then residing. Dori and Cheryl, however, never left the site alive.
On April 17, 1972, three young men, while shooting tin cans near the site, off Rocketdyne Road where defendant Medina's truck had been parked, found what appeared to be human remains covered with brush. The body was later identified as that of Dori. The body of Cheryl, also covered with brush and debris, was found on April 21, 1972, by two women who were hiking in the same area. As shown by the testimony of Dr. Eugene Carpenter, the pathologist who performed autopsies on each of the victims, both died as a result of multiple stab wounds to the heart with a knife or knives. Dori was stabbed around 50 times. Most of the wounds were made by a single-edged "hunting" knife, although several wounds had been made by a double-edged knife. Cheryl suffered approximately 35 stab wounds, all of which were made by a single-edged knife. Both victims had severe basal skull fractures and their throats had been cut. Dori had, in addition, suffered a nonfatal blow with a blunt instrument to the forehead. In addition to his testimony concerning the wounds, Dr. Carpenter testified that both the victims had consumed, shortly before their death, a quantity of barbiturates -- specifically, pentobarbital sodium or, as it is referred to on the street, "Yellows." On May 6, 1972, Vaughn, having heard from his sister that the investigating officer had called and desired to talk to him, called and arranged an appointment with him. On that date he gave a statement to the officer implicating both defendants and Gleitsman and Walton. On May 9, 1972, both defendants were arrested, as were Gleitsman and Walton. From May 6 through May 15, 1972, discussions were conducted between Vaughn and the prosecutor which culminated in his giving a tape-recorded statement on May 15, 1972, on the basis of which he was, on June 14, 1972, granted immunity from prosecution pursuant to the provisions of section 1324 of the Penal Code. Like discussions occurred between the prosecutors and Gleitsman and Walton after their arrest which produced tape-recorded statements from each of them on May 10, 1972 and, on the basis of these statements, orders granting immunity pursuant to section 1324 of the Penal Code were made on May 11, 1972. Virtually all of the direct evidence of what occurred between the time Dori and Cheryl joined the others in the truck at Zody's and the time of their deaths was contained in the testimony of the three witnesses to whom immunity was granted -- Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton. No one of these witnesses claimed to have seen and to have recalled all of the events occurring during this time span. There are some inconsistencies between their three versions of the facts they did recall, and in some respects it is almost certain that the whole truth was not told by two of them. Nonetheless, if credence is given to a composite of the consistent and not inherently unbelievable portions of this testimony, it is possible for a trier of fact to make a reasonable determination of essentially what happened. The following version of the facts is the most likely result of such process. Both of the defendants and Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton were together at a party the night before the day of the murders. The party was at the ranch of Vaughn's brother-in-law, and various barbiturates were consumed by those in attendance. The following morning they all got together again at the ranch and left in defendant Medina's pickup truck to go to the beach. They stopped at Zody's for gasoline and while there, or upon leaving, they picked up Dori and Cheryl who were hitchhiking. The entire party, including the hitchhikers, consumed more barbiturates (i.e. "yellows") either at the gas station or during a subsequent stop between there and the beach. Upon reaching the beach Dori and Cheryl were furnished and consumed additional barbiturates. Also at the beach there was a pairing off of Vaughn with Cheryl and defendant Townsend with Dori. Upon observing defendant Townsend showing sexual interest in Dori, Gleitsman, who considered herself his girl friend, returned to the truck in a fit of jealousy and took two barbiturates (in addition to the two she had had earlier in the day). The bag in which the pills were kept was then taken from her by defendant Medina, who feared she might overdose. The party then left the beach in the truck. Defendant Medina was driving and Gleitsman and Walton were in the cab with him. Defendant Townsend and Dori were in the bed of the truck, as were Vaughn and Cheryl. When Gleitsman observed Townsend kissing Dori, she smashed the window in the back of the cab with her fist. Defendant Medina's driving became so erratic that Walton asked him to let Vaughn drive. As Vaughn took the wheel, defendant Medina asked him about a place where they could "finish" the party. They drove without incident to the remote site on the dirt road off Rocketdyne Road where the truck was parked on a level clearing or turnout beside the road. The turnout was at a higher elevation than the adjoining portion of the road and it was bordered on the side away from the road by an elevated outcropping of very large boulders. A path ran around one end of the outcropping to a lower elevation beyond. It was then about 2 p.m. When the truck was parked both defendants and Gleitsman, Walton and Dori got out of the truck and left Vaughn in it with Cheryl. Vaughn and Cheryl talked for a while; then he had intercourse with Cheryl which he claimed was consensual, though he described her as intoxicated at the time. While Vaughn and Cheryl were in the truck, defendant Medina and Dori, accompanied by both Gleitsman and Walton, proceeded out of view to a flat space among the boulders. Defendant Medina told Dori to "give him head" (orally copulate him). When she asked why, he said because he wanted her to. When Dori declined, Gleitsman and Walton first made fun of her and then, when she started to cry, she was struck by one of the girls and the other took a swing at her but missed, and both girls told her to do what defendant Medina said. Dori then commenced complying with their demands, and both Gleitsman and Walton wandered off. They returned several minutes later and Walton brought a blanket belonging to her which she had obtained from the truck. About that time defendant Medina, who was still being orally copulated by Dori, announced that his resulting erection was suitable for intercourse and ordered Dori to remove her clothing. He asked for and received the blanket. When Dori was undressed defendant Medina proceeded to have intercourse with her on the blanket. Gleitsman and Walton again wandered off. Gleitsman returned about the time that defendant Medina concluded having intercourse with Dori, and she kicked Dori's clothing over the steep side of the rock outcropping. About this time Gleitsman heard Vaughn and Cheryl leave the truck cab, and she returned to the truck to meet defendant Townsend and Vaughn and Cheryl there. Vaughn slapped Cheryl and informed defendant Townsend that she was a "good piece of ass," whereupon defendant Townsend and Cheryl left on the path that went around the side of the outcropping to the slope below. Vaughn then proceeded to the place among the boulders where Dori had been left nude on the blanket and he had intercourse with her, which he also claimed was consensual. He observed, however, that she was intoxicated. About this time a young boy on a motorbike arrived in the vicinity of the truck where he remained for several minutes. While he was there Gleitsman, who was looking for Townsend, spoke to him. Walton also came up to this location during the conversation. Meanwhile, defendant Townsend had found a cave on the lower side of the rock outcropping. He lifted Cheryl up into the cave with him where he proceeded to have intercourse with her. Sometime later Walton found them so engaged. She told defendant Townsend, "Danny, wait until Lisa hears this one." Walton then told defendant Townsend that she wanted to talk to Cheryl. Defendant Townsend helped Walton get up into the cave and then left her there with Cheryl. Walton then asked Cheryl "why she had done it" with both Vaughn and defendant Townsend. When Cheryl didn't answer, Walton started a fight with her. They wrestled about in the cave and ultimately both of them fell out of the cave. Cheryl rolled to the bottom of the path and just lay there. While these events at the cave were occurring, Vaughn completed his act of intercourse with Dori among the boulders and then left her stranded on the blanket without her clothes and returned to the truck. Gleitsman soon found Dori in the place and state that Vaughn had left her. Dori was still crying, and when she attempted to apologize to Gleitsman for defendant Townsend's attentions to her at the beach earlier in the day and said she was sorry for "taking away" Gleitsman's boyfriend, Gleitsman became enraged. She kicked Dori in the shoulder and followed this up with a blow to her forehead, using a hand-held rock some four inches in diameter. Dori remained prone on the blanket after this assault and Gleitsman then broke off the attack. At this juncture Walton summoned Gleitsman to the scene of her altercation with Cheryl to assist her. When she arrived at the point where Cheryl had fallen, she joined in some verbal abuse that was taking place, and ultimately Cheryl was struck in the head by a large rock.
Defendants, having observed the effects of the girls' attacks upon Dori and Cheryl, joined Vaughn at the truck and advised him that they were going to have to kill Dori and Cheryl. When he asked why, defendants said it was necessary because the girls would talk. Vaughn, who was not armed and knew that defendants were each armed with knives, did not argue with them. He observed defendants depart together in the direction of Dori. Defendants found Dori where she had been left at the conclusion of Gleitsman's attack. Defendant Townsend was observed by Gleitsman commencing the stabbing attack upon Dori. He was joined in the attack by defendant Medina. The multiple stab wounds which caused Dori's death were inflicted with both defendants' knives. Defendant Townsend then proceeded toward the place where Cheryl lay. As he passed the truck he was seen by Vaughn taking the path around the outcropping to the lower slope. Soon thereafter defendant Medina traversed the same route and was seen by Vaughn to have his bloody knife in his hand. Defendant Townsend reached Cheryl ahead of defendant Medina and was seen by Walton to stab Cheryl in the throat and chest. After Cheryl had been stabbed four or five times, Walton started back up the trail toward the truck and heard defendant Townsend complaining that "his knife didn't stick in good enough." Before she reached the truck, Walton met defendant Medina and Vaughn, who had fallen in behind Medina when he saw him head down the trail towards Cheryl with his bloody knife in hand. She noted that defendant Medina had large blood stains on his clothing and that Vaughn was white as a sheet. By the time Vaughn and defendant Medina arrived on the scene Cheryl was already dead from multiple stab wounds. All five in the party joined in helping to cover the bodies of Dori and Cheryl. Then they returned to the truck. Defendant Townsend stabbed his knife into the bed of the truck and said, "Wasn't it spiffy the way I slit that one girl's throat?" Vaughn told defendants that they had been stupid. Defendants stated that if anyone asked, they had been to Lake Piru for the day. Although the testimony of Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton constituted the only direct evidence of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Dori and Cheryl, a number of other witnesses were called by the prosecution to corroborate their testimony. Walter Collins, a young acquaintance of defendants, testified that both defendants, along with Vaughn, Walton and Gleitsman, were seen by him together in defendant Medina's truck on the morning of April 8, 1972, at the "Reservoir Bar," which is located between the ranch and Zody's. They invited him to go with them to the beach. Officer Robert Searle of the Los Angeles Police Department testified that on April 8, 1972, he was off duty and fueling his car at Zody's about midday. He observed both defendants in the station with another young Caucasian male and two teen-age Caucasian females. Officer Searle's description of the male companion would fit Vaughn. James Maglieri testified that he was employed as a service station attendant at Zody's, and on April 8, 1972, he observed both defendants a pickup truck, described as resembling defendant Medina's truck, in the station with a group of young men and women. While defendants were there, Maglieri saw defendant Townsend with a hunting knife in his hand when he started to get out of the truck. Maglieri also testified that he observed two hitchhiking girls on Topanga Canyon Boulevard near the corner. He described these girls as being one dark-haired girl and the other light-haired. Dori and Cheryl fit that description. He was not absolutely certain as to the date of this last observation, though he was sure that it was on an occasion when defendant Medina's truck was in the station. Larry Deidrich, a 12-year-old boy, testified that he went riding on his motorcycle in the hills west of the Chatsworth Reservoir on the afternoon of April 8, 1972. He stated that he observed a truck, resembling defendant Medina's pickup, parked on the clearing at the scene of the murders. He stopped in the vicinity of the truck to let his bike cool off. When he arrived there were two people, one male and one female, in the cab of the truck. He also stated that later he was approached by a girl whose dress and appearance corresponded to that of Gleitsman, and that she asked him if he was alone. They were joined by another girl, apparently Walton, whom he could not recall having joined in the conversation. Deidrich testified that he left the area after about 15 minutes and when he returned about 6 p.m., the truck was gone. Mrs. Ann Todd, in whose home both the defendants resided along with Mrs. Todd's 12-year-old daughter, Cornelia, testified that at some time around 5 p.m., on April 8, 1972, she observed both defendants, together with Gleitsman and Walton, coming up the stairs to the house where they were joined shortly thereafter by Vaughn. All of them appeared to her to be intoxicated, especially Gleitsman and Walton. Mrs. Todd was preparing to take laundry to the laundromat and she testified that defendant Medina gave her his jacket to be included in the wash. Sheryl Henderson, a young friend of Mrs. Todd's daughter, who had been to the beach with her on that day, testified that on April 8, 1972, she observed both defendants together with Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton, ascending the stairs to Mrs. Todd's house late in the afternoon. According to Miss Henderson, both Gleitsman and Walton were under the influence of some intoxicating substance. Miss Henderson also observed that Vaughn, for some time after his arrival, "just ... sat on the couch with his head down." Cornelia Todd also testified about the arrival at her mother's house of both defendants, together with Vaughn, Gleitsman and Walton, in the late afternoon of April 8, 1972. In addition, she described an incident which occurred on the early morning of either the 7th or 8th of April 1972, in a bedroom of Mrs. Todd's home which was occupied by both defendants. Present on that occasion were Cornelia, defendant Townsend, defendant Medina, and another young girl named Kim Bertsch. Cornelia testified that Kim's father entered the room unexpectedly and threatened defendant Townsend with physical violence if he did not stay away from his daughter. Defendant Townsend responded by taking his knife from the stand between the beds, where Cornelia had seen it many times before, and jumped up with the knife in his hand. Cornelia described the knife as a hunting knife. On that same occasion, according to Cornelia, defendant Medina made a motion with his hand toward a portion of the mattress of his bed. Cornelia knew he had a knife there because, on a prior occasion and at a request of defendant Medina, she had placed it at that location. She identified a double-edged knife which was received in evidence as Medina's knife which she had so placed."
Footnote 8 "The legitimate objective of the testimony relating to this incident was proof that defendants kept knives in their immediate possession, not (a) that they had a disposition for assaultive behavior with those knives, nor (b) that the knives were of a character capable of being employed as weapons. Prior acts of misconduct on the part of defendants were inadmissible for the former purpose under Evidence Code section 1101, and there was no dispute as to the usefulness of the knives for the purpose of stabbing someone. The circumstances leading up to this incident (that Cornelia Todd, age 11, and Kim Bertsch, age 14, had spent the night in defendants' beds) were highly prejudicial to defendants. In any retrial of the matter, care should be taken to restrict the evidence to that which the probative value of is not outweighed by the prejudice to defendants. (Evid. Code, § 352.)"
On page 129 of her book Hollywood's Child Dancing Through Oz (http://www.amazon.com/Hollywoods-Child-Dancing-Through-OZ/dp/0971095418/), actress/dancer Caren Marsh-Doll (who was Judy Garland's stand-in in the movie "The Wizard of Oz" and who survived the crash) mentions the Fountain briefly. She writes:
"White-robed figures walked slowy around me in an ethereal scene. Where they angels? If they weren't, who were they? Had I died? What's happening?"
Then, on Page 134, she writes:
"When the papers came out with stories and photos of the crash, I learned who those white-robed figures were at the scene. One article read: 'The bearded and barefoot men in white robes were from a monastery in Box Canyon. They rushed to the mountain to help victims.'"
An updated version of her book was released in 2007 with the title Hollywood's Babe (http://www.amazon.com/Hollywoods-Babe-Caren-Marsh-Doll/dp/1593931077/)
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The following excerpt, entitled "Heart of Light" and located at http://web.archive.org/web/20030209234504/http:/www.naturespath.com/journey/chap2.htm, is the second chapter of a book by Arran Stephens entitled Journey to the Luminous. See http://web.archive.org/web/20021205200533/www.naturespath.com/journey/sales.htm
Despite brief hope, I could not pry away depression’s insidious and shadowy fingers. The words of the poet Mayakovsky haunted me: “I am as lonely as the only eye of a man on his way to the blind.” In a Venice Beach coffeehouse, an equally burnt-out comrade described a monastic retreat, not far away. “‘The Fountain of the World’ sits near the top of Chatsworth Mountain,” he told me. His eyes were bright with hope: “It’s free, and we would be welcome, as long as we follow the rules and do some work. The folks there practice brotherly love and walk barefoot!” “Brotherly love? Walk barefoot?” I asked, incredulous. “It has to do with their vows of personal poverty and non-injury to living things. Some of their buildings are built around trees, rather than having them cut down. We can stay as long we like. It’s worth checking out!” We packed our few belongings and headed for the hills. Like a wounded dog, I craved a quiet glade, a tree to rest beneath.
The Fountain of the World was high above the smoggy Los Angeles basin, surrounded by tall eucalyptus, poplar, and pine, boulders the size of buildings, and dry sunburnt hills. Almost from the minute we left the car, soft zephyr-like breezes started sweeping away the cobwebs from my mind. Obligatory group sessions called “Concentrations” were held in the main hall each evening, where thirty or so monastics would stand in circles with closed eyes, hands upturned, chanting such affirmations as “Love One, Love One...” or, “Be positive, be positive...” over and over, from very slow and low to very fast and high-pitched. Despite initial feelings of embarrassment and weirdness, I eventually settled into the routine. One week after arrival, I had an experience that profoundly changed the course of my life.
During an evening Concentration I became quite detached from the outer surroundings and entered a condition of heart-flow prayer—a sort of unceasing implore to the Unknown. While gazing with closed eyes into the dark void, I became cognizant of a comet-like light speeding from the distance straight toward the center of my head, growing brighter and brighter with every moment. A wave of circular, evanescent, golden whiteness burst upon my vision. Then came another bright comet, and another, unceasing, rhythmic, and mysterious. It was as though I had entered the living heartbeat of the Cosmos. In that heart of Light I experienced intoxicating waves of unconditional love. The body and the world simply ceased to exist. All that remained was boundless scintillating radiance and awesome energy, proceeding simultaneously in all directions. After what seemed an eternity—perhaps only a few minutes—this reality/vision subsided, intruded upon by the activities of monastic life.
This was the first conscious taste of that intangible something, for which I had been blindly groping. With this illuminating experience came an all-knowingness, a love freed of egoism. Once separated from that blissful state, however, numerous questions and doubts assailed me.
“Surely Elder Nikona will know,” I thought, as I approached the monastery’s head. With mixed emotions I asked about my mysterious experience. Elder Nikona admitted, “I do not know what this Light is, my son. But I do know that by it you have experienced a blessing of a very high order.” I excused myself to walk alone in the night, lost in thought, questioning, wondering: To whom can I turn for help? What is this Light? Am I chosen for a higher calling, or have I lost my mind? Who am I? What is my destiny?
Over the next few days I sought from others but drew blank and unsatisfactory responses, as well as questioning looks.
One night I was awakened in total darkness from a dreamless sleep by a constant thundering roar on all sides, as though a gigantic waterfall of sound were pressing into my being. Inability to lift even a finger led to desparate panic. “God! I’m dead! Help me!” I cried, though no sound escaped numb lips. Physical paralysis and lack of bodily sensation was complete. With Herculean effort I eventually began moving fingertips, then toes, and gradually the rest of my alienated body—which seemed no more than a husk in which the real me lived.
I began to search through the monastery’s well-stocked library, and discovered a translation of the Bhagavad Gita (The Celestial Song), an immortal discourse between Krishna and his disciple Arjuna, the warrior-prince. The Gita examined morality, religion, duty, yoga, meditation, and the goal of human existence, an elusive goal that could be attained by realization of one’s higher self. Self-realization led to ultimate illumination and freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. Something inside began resonating to the Gita’s ancient message. One passage in particular whispered to my slumbering memory and set it astir:
Let the yogi sit in Sidh-aasan, in a place neither too high nor too low, ...And, fixing gaze at the root of the nose, He should make his mind as still as a candle’s flame in a windless place.
Hidden from others, I began to sit straight-backed, left leg folded under, right leg folded on top, hands resting upturned on each other, thumbs touching, eyes closed. For some inexplicable reason, this posture seemed like the most natural and obvious thing to do. The burning pain which quickly developed in my westernized legs was excruciating, but with determination the time for sitting was gradually increased each successive day from a few minutes to half an hour, from half an hour to an hour, and longer. Whenever I sat like this, after a few minutes the golden Light would return, imparting a delectable inner state. Each encounter left me strengthened; each plunge into the billowing radiance helped heal the sickness in my heart.
I often slipped from the dorm while others slept, following a long and precarious trail through bushes and rocks to sit alone atop a huge prehistoric boulder overlooking the dark valley below. These late vigils under the glittering stars were rewarded with further joyous and radiant experiences, though phantasmagoria of the lower mind sometimes left me shaken. A cosmic, benign force is always in service of aspiring humanity, but a corrupt power may also assail and test one’s resolve. Whenever this happened, as it did from time to time, I persevered in solitary struggle, intensely invoking God’s protection, throwing myself at His mercy, even shedding tears. Then, as reward, like candy for a child, the Light would return and banish the phantoms.
Two months passed. Increasing pressure was being brought to bear on me to renounce the world and become a full-fledged monastic brother. This vow meant giving up money, property (not that I had any), family, and friends on the outside, and living a life subservient to a puzzling theology with Krishna Venta, their departed founder, at the top. From talking with his few remaining original followers, and reading magazine articles and mimeographed pages, I learned that Venta, a white American, boldly claimed that he was none other than the long-awaited and final Messiah, the Buddha, Krishna, Isaiah and Jesus all rolled into one. I was neither ready nor willing to surrender life and freedom in blind obedience to anyone. To the questions that dogged my existence, I longed for answers that rang true on all levels.
On the day of my ordination, I decided to leave. Each step through the grounds felt as though immense psychic weights were about my ankles, making movement exceedingly difficult. I looked around and noticed several crones directing their focus upon me. With every ounce of will I struggled up the last few stairs leading to the open road, but once off the Fountain’s property, my feet and mind took wings. I ran and ran till I could run no more, down that mountain road. The Lake Shrine: With high hopes, and no money, I found myself at the gates of the Self-Realization Lake Shrine in the Santa Monica Mountains, founded by the yogi-saint Paramahansa Yogananda. The peaceful, meditative aura and jewel-like beauty of the lake, the white swans, and the bright atmosphere drew me many times over the next few months. I’d hitchhike there from Venice Beach, to meditate and read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, in which I discovered numerous references to the divine Light experienced by saints and seekers of various times, places, and faiths. The accounts of India’s great sages, who were like scientists of the spirit, beckoned powerfully. Yogananda was a Christ-like man, but he had consciously died in 1952. Where to turn? I wasn’t able to recognize his exalted stature among the kind and helpful followers I met.
Unnoticed and in secret, I spent most of one full-moon night sitting in the lotus posture by the serene lake. Wrapped in silence for many hours, I observed the ever-unfolding panorama within. As I went deeper and deeper, for the first time I began to see radiant visions of great yogis and Saints. How could I reconcile such sublime experiences with my wretched life? My difficulty, like that of many seekers, was that initial mystical experiences were quite overwhelming, if not bewildering. I had very few reference points. Then there were the claims put forth by a plethora of teachers and followers. How was one to determine their validity and reach? One thing for certain, this new-found Light was the source of good and holy power, perhaps the unseen source of all life and Intelligence in the universe. The Bible speaks of it:
The light of the body is the eye.If therefore thine eye be single Thy whole body shall be full of light. - Matthew 6:22
Pythagoras, the Grecian mathematician, philosopher and mystic had referred to the “Science of Light,” which, when mastered, can alter the structure of matter. With its aid, Pythagoras demonstrated his mastery of the elements by controlling an eagle and a rampaging bear, which obeyed his higher will.
A remarkable experience involving the power of this same Light befell some friends and me in 1963 in San Francisco. While strolling through a late-night crowd, one member of our party skipped ahead onto busy Market Street and directly into the path of a speeding bus. I was suddenly aware of subconscious gears shifting; the prescient “observer” came forth both to witness and participate. Everything and everyone appeared dreamlike, slowing down. Into this thickness, I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline and cried loudly, “Look out!” A brilliant flash of Light enveloped the entire scene. Everything stopped, frozen in time-silence—the bus, the people, and all sound. In that split-second pause, only the would-be victim was able to break the stasis and move free from the path of certain death. The eerie stillness was replaced with the roar of everything. A brief suspension of time and space became enveloped in Light; a life was saved! A mysterious miracle had occurred, and all who were witness were profoundly thankful.
One refrain I would often hear in the search ahead: The Holy Book, or the body of teachings, was now to be considered as the Master, the Guru. I wanted an unsealed revelation, a living Teacher of the highest stature who could answer all my burning questions. However, my periods of God-longing were short lived and unstable, satellites partly shot through the Earth’s atmosphere, only to be recaptured and pulled back by the gravity of desire and attachment. From 1961 to 1964, with one or two exceptions, the springs of Divine Light all but dried up as this prodigal wandered and squandered the spiritual capital that we all come into this world with, and I again sank into the abyss of addiction and despair. The inevitable dark night of the soul engulfed me.
Following a solo exhibition of my paintings at a major San Francisco art gallery (Fall of 1963), I visited lovely Mendocino County, where rolling grassy hills invitingly beckoned. I gladly followed. In long and solitary walks came flickerings of renewal and bonding with the Earth Mother. I marveled at the way the sun’s rays filtered through the leaves of a huge oak tree, and then to my eyes, breaking into prisms and rainbows. The Inner Light, which had been lost for two years, began to resurface in the form of myriad sparklings across the wash of external sight. In a poem of sorts, I attempted to capture that fleeting ecstasy:
Lending from his splendor, the Sun said,“Take a little PEACE of me, And let it be your Light for the night.”
Too soon, alas, the Light dissipated. I was unable to hold to it, but knew that from the Luminous my peace and salvation would one day come, if only I could peel away the layers that separated me from it. For now, my spiritual quest was sullied, and a rude but merciful awakening was speeding toward me like a night train careening around a hidden bend.
Friday, January 2, 2009
From the Los Angeles TimesBooks & Authors
A new look at mystical Los Angeles and its high priest, Manly Hall'Master of the Mysteries' by Louis Sahagun takes a trip back in time to early 20th century L.A.'s obsession with the occult.
Last Sunday evening at the Silent Movie Theater, a clip from the 1938 astrological murder mystery 'When Were You Born?' was shown as part of an 'Occult L.A.' program curated by the author Erik Davis. In the clip, legendary occult scholar Manly P. Hall, who had also written the movie's script, appeared on screen to introduce the concept of astrology. With penetrating blue eyes, thick dark hair and a rakish mustache, Hall had the looks of a silent film star, and he radiated intensity as he explained the various personality traits of the different sun signs -- Leos are loyal, Capricorns are brave, and so on. But that's not all: 'Astrology can solve crime!' he exhorted. 'It has solved many crimes in the past.'
The film was a bomb, but the fact that this obscure clip was being screened before a sold-out crowd of artists, intellectuals and spiritual seekers shows that the cycle of Hall's influence continues. And it may grow in the coming months, for Process Media has just published 'Master of the Mysteries,' the first biography of Manly Palmer Hall, written by Louis Sahagun (who is a staff writer at The Times).
In his lifetime, Hall befriended notables as disparate as Bela Lugosi and John Denver. For his writings alone he was made an honorary 33rd-degree Freemason (the highest honor), and even Elvis was a fan, sending Priscilla Presley to one of the world renowned orator's lectures because he was afraid of getting mobbed himself.
It turned out he was a pretty darn good writer,' Sahagun said. 'His books were strange and absolutely fascinating, and his whole raison d'être was applying ancient philosophies to solve modern problems. . . . He wanted to be the high priest, the hierophant, of Southern California.'The year Hall arrived in Los Angeles, 1919, was the year the city started to boom.
'It's a fascinating parallel,' Sahagun said. 'Southern California in general was the last best place, a place of new beginnings.' To Sahagun, Hall's journey was 'the spiritual equivalent of the California dream,' and when he decided to write 'Master of the Mysteries,' he wanted it to be as much a history of mystical Los Angeles as a biography.
Jodi Wille, the editor of 'Master of the Mysteries,' said, 'I learned so much working on this book. Not only was Manly P. Hall this incredible thinker, but Los Angeles was this remarkable city run by wild bohemian visionaries who were totally tuned in. It makes me just want to turn everybody on to it so we can know what our real roots are. Our roots are not Britney Spears.'
A junior high school dropout from a broken home, Hall was regarded by many as a magician, but to Sahagun he was really a 'one-stop scholar of ancient ideas.' One of Hall's first friends was Sydney Brownson, a phrenologist with a booth on the Santa Monica Pier, who shared his knowledge of Hinduism, Greek philosophy and Christian mysticism. Hall, who had a photographic memory, furthered his studies of ancient religions and soon was speaking at the Church of the People downtown. By 1920, only 19 years old, he was running the church and delivering Sunday lectures about Rosicrucianism and Theosophy, the mystical philosophical system founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky; as well as the teachings of Pythagoras, Confucius and Plato.
And he was not addressing some fringe contingent. At this time Los Angeles was alive with esoteric ideas and populated by spiritualists with names like Princess Zoraida and Pneumandros.
As Sahagun put it, 'Even flamboyant holy roller Aimee Semple McPherson, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1918, was milquetoast compared to others setting up religious shops in town.'
Hall became the beneficiary of Caroline and Estelle Lloyd, a wealthy mother-daughter duo from Ventura, and in 1923 their generosity enabled a trip around the world that would provide the inspiration -- and the information -- for his encyclopedic masterwork, 'The Secret Teachings of All Ages.' The publication of this lavishly illustrated, oversize text, which sold for $100 in 1928, turned Hall into an icon -- no doubt partly thanks to the dramatic portraits done by his friend William Mortensen, a Hollywood cameraman who had also photographed Jean Harlow and Cecil B. DeMille.
In 1934, Hall founded the nonprofit Philosophical Research Society. He purchased a plot of land near Griffith Park for $10 and commissioned architect Robert Stacy-Judd to design a Mayan-inspired center with a library and auditorium, which is still active today. A plaque in the courtyard, near where the current Sunday lecture schedule is posted, reads, 'Dedicated to Truth
All followers who offer to adorn and deify their teachers set up a false condition,' Hall wrote in a 1942 essay. 'Human beings, experience has proved, make better humans than they do gods.''
That sets him apart from, say, a Deepak Chopra, who titles a book 'Defying the Aging Process,' ' Sahagun said.
Sadly, Hall and Los Angeles grew out of step with each other. His work might have been 'the very soil that grew stories and myths like 'Star Wars' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' ' but by the time George Lucas came along, Sahagun noted, 'Manly's trove of ancient notions just seemed so dusty and out of touch.' (Not so today, when Tarcher Penguin's 2003 reissue of 'The Secret Teachings' is already in its 16th printing.)
In the ultimate, final tragedy, this man who believed in reincarnation and who had planned to leave the earthly plane consciously, might have been the victim of a greedy plot devised by his assistant Daniel Fritz, who rewrote Hall's will. Hall's body was found under suspicious and horrifying circumstances, apparently dead for hours and with thousands of ants streaming from his nose and mouth. The case was never solved.
Not surprisingly, this was the beginning of a low point for the Philosophical Research Society, which sold rare alchemical texts to the Getty to pay for some of the legal fees incurred by Hall's
Today, however, the center is on an upswing. In 2002, the society formed a distance learning university, offering a master's degree program in consciousness studies, with faculty including Jonathan Young, a protégé of Joseph Campbell, and Vesna Wallace, a professor in the religious studies department of UC Santa Barbara. This January, the university received national accreditation. The library, featuring some of the rarest philosophical, religious and occult texts in existence (books on black magic and Satanism are stored under a Buddha to balance the energies), remains open to the public every Saturday and Sunday.
Explore with a book
D'Aoust conceded that some might find the prospect of thumbing through 30,000 volumes intimidating, and she suggested just starting randomly. 'There are very interesting synchronicities surrounding the research that happens in this building,' she noted. 'Just pick a book, any book. Even if you don't know what you're looking for, it will probably find you.'