Tuesday, June 25, 2013
The Source Family 
Chicago Tribune (R. Moore) review
The Source Family  (directed by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille) is a documentary that I recently saw at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. The film is now available at Amazon Instant Video. I went to see the film after reading the review by Roger Moore in the Chicago Tribune the week that it played here.
I found the film intriguing because it is about a 1960s era Los Angeles based cult, now defunct, originating around a health food restaurant named The Source and its charismatic founder/owner, born James Edward Baker in Cincinnati in the 1920s but who after fighting in WW II settled in L.A., became interested in "healthy food/healthy living," founded said health food restaurant and came to go by the name of Father Yod and later YaHoWha (yes, that's pretty close to the Divine Name of the Biblical Old Testament, and yes he came, for a time, to believe that he was God ...). Most interestingly for me was that the film was made by some of his former followers who, even 40+ years after the experience of living with him at his "commune" first in a Hollywood Hills mansion in L.A. and later on a farm in rural Hawaii (both clearly costing a pretty penny... all ostensibly paid for by said health food restaurant The Source...), did not find the experience to have been a particularly negative one. To be sure, the former followers are pretty honest in the film about "Father Yod's" behavioral oddities and some of the problematic (at times frankly, illegal) doctrines of his teachings. Still I do believe that the film does serve as a window into the world of a charismatic cult FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE CULT'S OWN MEMBERS and can provide clues as to why someone would join such a group. (Parents, obviously this film is for adults and not for your kids ...)
It's pretty clear that post-WW II Los Angeles / California became something of a hot bed for the formation of some rather strange (and, often enough, quite dangerous) cults. The list is not a particularly pretty one: Charles Manson and the Manson Family, Jim Jones and his Peoples' Temple (which ended-up committing Mass suicide in Guyana, even L.Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology. Fr. Yod's Source Family would certainly fall within this milieu. Note also that I've reviewed a number of films here -- Martha Marcy May Marlene , Higher Ground , The Master  and even The First Rasta  -- which deal with cults or otherwise "new(er) religions" / communities. Together the films can help one better understand both the origins of "cults" and also the origins/dynamics of their excesses.
And indeed, the current film, The Source Family , follows the trajectory of this group from the arrival of the one who became its founder James Edward Baker to L.A. as a veteran following WW II all the way to his death following an (odd) hang-gliding accident in Hawaii in 1975 as Father Yod / YaHoWha with a cult of followers who thought of him as (a) God. That's one heck of a trip ... So how did he / his group get to that point?
Well it would seem that James Edward Baker returned from WW II (presumably in the Pacific) interested in martial arts, Eastern philosophy and Eastern (largely vegetarian) diet. So he studied those subjects in Los Angeles (on the Pacific coast, with as much contact with East Asia as any in the United States). At some point, he founded said health food restaurant called "The Source" on the Sunset Strip. The restaurant became popular because it was one of the first of its kind and also perhaps (my conjecture) because it served Eastern (largely vegetarian) food but was run by an (American) Westerner. So if any patrons had any questions, he was able to quite easily explain (in language that they could readily understand) the various ins-and-outs of Eastern cooking, Martial arts and, as time went on, of Eastern philosophy. A group started to form around him. And since he did apparently see himself as a "bridge figure," as he read up on Eastern philosophy, he also tried to read up on Western religious traditions/mysticism, the result being that he became a rather interesting "guru"/"go-to guy" in late-50s / early-60s Los Angeles. Then came the mid and late 1960s and "all h.. broke loose. His restaurant became a "go-to place" of ALL THE HIP AND HAPPENING PEOPLE who both LIVED and simply PASSED THROUGH LOS ANGELES.
Well, he was BOTH generous (both the Hollywood Hills Mansion and later the farm in Hawaii where he and his cult followers lived were bought/supported with his money...) and THE ABOVE KIND OF ADULATION (rock stars, movie producers, all kinds of people were _coming to him_ with questions looking for answers) HAD TO GO TO HIS HEAD. Hence he started dressing like a guru, took to going by the name Father Yod (and eventually the even more proglematic YaHoWha) and began to systematize "his previous teachings" into increasingly rigid/strange "doctrines."
It always fascinates me how both FOOD and SEX become such big doctrinal issues in religion. (One would suppose that this is because the two comprise our two most basic instincts -- the drive to eat/survive and the drive to create/reproduce). Almost every religion has rather complicated yet set rules regarding both diet and sexual relations and Father Yod's group certainly came to have both. The group was strictly vegetarian and (at first) experimented quite freely with sex. Later as James Edward Baker / Father Yod became more and more megalomaniacal (in his soon to be YaHoWha stage) HE simply took a fair amount of the women (a fair amount of them MINORS, this when he was in his 50s-60s ... and apparently parents BOTH inside and OUTSIDE the cult LET HIM).
His story is honestly a great testament to why adulation of anybody is NOT GOOD. We need people not to simply "enable us" but to keep us grounded.
Perhaps the saving grace for James Edward Baker / Father Yod (even though he was a STATUTORY RAPIST having by the end of his life several under-aged wives) before he died in his rather strange hang-gliding accident (he had never hang-glided before but decided to jump off an 1100 foot cliff in a hang-glider for the first time anyway...) was that in those weeks before he died, he apparently came to the conclusion (on his own) that he wasn't God and BY LUCK (or perhaps providence) he died soon afterwards ... leaving his followers with good memories of him, RATHER THEN them ending up in Jail (like many of the followers of Charles Manson) or Dead (like the followers of Jim Jones and later David Karesh).
In any case, NO ONE except perhaps GOD (God ABOVE/BEYOND US not "here") deserves unreserved adulation ... but what a fascinating / informative story.
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