In the early seventies, Father Yod achieved every graying guru’s dream. Pictures from his heyday show the forty-nine-year-old religious leader enthroned amid members of his popular cult, the Source Family.
Interestingly enough, attractive underage women seemed particularly fond of Father Yod.
In fact, he simultaneously married thirteen of them.
And if photographs accurately represent what it was like in the Family, at least half of the cult’s female members were habitually pregnant or breast-feeding.
This fascinating religious group is the subject of a documentary by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos, which was screened at MICA’s Brown Center on Tuesday the 19th.
The film, appropriately titled The Source Family, examines the community from both a personal and anthropological perspective.
It begins with a biography of Father Yod, who was born plain-old Jim Baker.
As a young man, Baker was an athlete and military hero.
Then, according to testimonies of Family members, he committed crimes including murder, and had his hands registered as lethal weapons. Afterwards, Baker explored drugs and religion and founded an extremely successful health food restaurant in Los Angeles.
By 1971, he had realized that he was the Father of the approaching Age of Aquarius.
He began teaching his religious beliefs to others and transformed himself into the spiritual leader of the Source Restaurant on the Sunset Strip.
His followers became the Source Family, a group of young people who lived with Father Yod in a home called the Mother House. There, he instructed them in the arts of meditation, smoking the sacred herb (otherwise known as marijuana), sex and familial love.
Father Yod was a magical kind of guy.
His followers would sometimes see lightning bolts coming out of his ears or mystical clouds of energy filling the room when he spoke. The Family practiced sex magic, whose effects were at times so intense that the Aquarians witnessed vampires walking down their staircase.
At its peak, the Source Family’s numbers reached into the hundreds.
Each member was given a new title: Some examples include Isis, Sunflower, Orbit and Electra. Then, they all took the surname Aquarian, middle name “the.” This means that a typical family member would be called something like Magus the Aquarian.
At one point, Father Yod changed his own name to YaHoWha, meaning God. He also fronted a psychedelic rock ’n roll band titled YaHoWha 13. He and the Aquarian boys would jam for hours in a garage off the Mother House. They made quite good music, and released numerous albums prized by collectors.
Father Yod began his life as a guru with one young wife, Robyn.
In the film, she explains how much she loved and worshiped him through the early years. But by the time of the Father’s death in 1975 — by a semi-suicidal freak hang-gliding accident, no less — he was a polygamist many times over.
While not all of the female cult members were bound to Father Yod specifically, underage women were strongly encouraged to marry into the Family. This was in part so that the police couldn’t force them to go back to their parents. The result was that sixteen-year-old girls were frequently paired with men in their early thirties.
Father Yod’s teachings opposed medicine — except for the sacred herb, of course — so the many births that took place in the commune were completely natural. Then afterwards, scores of women would hang around the Mother House happily breast-feeding.
If all this sounds absurd, that’s probably because it was. But Wille and Demopoulos’s film portrays the phenomenon of the Source Family in a surprisingly balanced way.
The interviews especially make the documentary accessible. Hearing Family members’ testimonies won’t inspire you to drink the Kool-aide personally, but you’ll understand why, given the right circumstances, someone would buy into Father Yod’s philosophy.
Most of the Aquarians speak fondly of their time with the Source Family. There is very little regret.
The major exception is Robyn, who left the cult devastated. Father Yod’s expansion of their marriage to include twelve other women was of particular concern to her.
The screening at MICA was followed by an interview conducted by WYPR 88.1 FM’s Tom Hall. It should air on the radio as soon as the documentary is officially released, which will hopefully be later this year.
Hall spoke with the director, Jodi Wille, and one former Family member, Explosion the Aquarian. For someone who spent a considerable amount of time in a cult, Explosion seemed like a pretty regular guy. He was long-haired and definitely a product of the sixties and seventies, but articulate. Like many of the Aquarians, he had a good sense of humor.
The Source Family makes it difficult to completely write off its subjects. Especially because everything about the cult and its enthusiastic members is utterly fascinating.
The commune certainly had its problems, but Father Yod’s core tenants were mostly unobjectionable. He preached love, kindness and a healthy lifestyle.
As a matter of secondary interest, the film examines the slow degradation of utopian ideals. It’s a different take on a familiar story: a man whose great power goes to his head.
Father Yod began with meditation and natural food. But before long, he’d recruited all these lost young people to follow and worship him. Their devotion turned him into God, so that’s how he saw himself.
His power went unchecked; within his commune, he could do whatever he wanted. So one day, he decided he’d like thirteen pretty young wives. And who was going to stop him?
But even the members’ fervent dedication couldn’t sustain the Source Family forever. By 1975, the organization was fading and Father Yod was losing faith.
One morning after preparing a breakfast of magic mushrooms, he confessed to the Aquarians that he was not God.
Shortly after, Father Yod’s soul was freed from its earthly constraints via a disastrous hang-gliding experiment in Hawaii.
And before long, the Source Family had faded into another strange collective dream of the sixties and seventies.
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