Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Source Family [2013]

MPAA (Unrated, would be R)  Roger Moore (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars w. Expl.)

IMDb listing
Chicago Tribune (R. Moore) review

The Source Family [2013] (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 ScientologyFr. 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 [2011], Higher Ground [2011], The Master [2012] and even The First Rasta [2010]  -- 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 [2013], 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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  1. Total BS.....pure conjecture and inference on this guys part. Completely inaccurate on so many counts, for instance NONE of the women who were with Father at his time of his death were underage....all of the women were in their twenties, and a couple closer to their thirties. They were all mature, adult women. He was NOT a Statutory Rapist!!! Total gross falsehood. I joined the family in the very early days, and I was nineteen....a couple of women who came into the family at that early time were sixteen; but their parents approved as being in the family was a much healthier lifestyle then hanging out on the streets of Los Angeles. These same women who were the youngest women to EVER join the family again, stayed throughout the remainder of the years, and are still my close sisters & friends and will be offended & outraged by this guys licentious & libelous uninformed slander.

  2. Hi Laura, take it out with the film-makers themselves as the documentary itself noted that several of the women who became his wives were underaged. One of these wives herself admitted that she was underaged at the time and that her parents were not happy with the situation but went along with it.

    1. rules made for the times change and change and change...what was not acceptable in one time frame eventually ends up seeming silly in another time frame etc.
      was there harm or hurt done...or are people just hung up on a rule made by ? Government etc. :))

  3. Like Laura stated...the parents of these underage women knew that being in the family was safe and better than their children being on the streets -as they were...no one was a virgin when they came into family and omg...16, in same places man made rule of age was 13 and sometimes 14...Gods law on this was 13 a girl became a women at time of her first menstrual flow. we lived by God/Spiritual not mans rule on most things...this was something that happen and unless you were there it will never be fully understood in the way we lived it each day and what we got out of it..it was for us in that timing. most of us went on to live very full productive lives and raised very healthy children. most of us give credit for our well balanced persona up to this day on our time in the family with Father Yod and what we received from that experience. The 60 and 70's were a very interesting time ...a lot of good came out of it that can be credited to what is happening now..there was also the burn outs that had no guidance etc. but what we received spiritually so out ranks anything that people are talking about on the physical about us...they live in the material and so relate to us on that i.e. underage, godhood etc...in the way they perceive it....we were a spiritual mystery school and not many can gave a review of the film from that level or see what we were talking about within that..but we can and that is all that matters :)) I am just happy that people are viewing the film, talking about it….it has historical value as a Legacy from that time period.

  4. Hi Isis, thanks for your comments. However, over the last 15-20 years not a few Catholic priests, ministers of other denominations and supervisors of youth in general have found themselves in a great deal of legal trouble for having flouted "man's law" regarding age of maturity. Many of those transgressions took place in exactly the '60s-'70s and many of the Catholic priests involved were (as youth ministers/supervisors are often today) quite young (in their mid/late 20s) and the minor involved would have been 16-17. YET ANYONE EVEN AT THAT TIME WOULD HAVE KNOWN (OR SHOULD HAVE KNOWN) that a 16-17 year old is still a minor.

    And it's not just a question of biology. It's a question of psychology and power dynamics. A religious figure is almost by definition powerful. People will show all kinds of deference to a religious figure that they would not offer to anyone else.

    In any case, I think everyone would agree that at least when it comes to the Catholic Church the sexual transgressions of its clergy have proven absolutely disastrous. And to the society it simply does not matter if the minor in question was 12 or 17.

    But I agree, your film was valuable as a record of the time and that's why I chose to review it.

  5. To begin with, we did not all see him as God….and even he said himself that he was not God, but only a man. It was complete fabrication on your part, in that we did not serve Eastern food at The Source Restaurant and had you bothered to do even a little research would have found out it was vegetarian fare consisting of salads, sandwiches and entrees many created by family members. Also, in your narrative you completely left out the fact that Jim Baker had studied with Yogi Bhajan prior to starting The Source Family, where much of his teachings and influence came from. Your narrative regarding the formation of the family is so far-off-the-mark that’s it hard to know where to begin, but suffice it to say that you got it completely wrong. The most glaring inaccuracy (aside from your claim that “he took a fair amount of minor women”) was that we joined the family because of all the adulation that Father was receiving…..which is completely and utterly wrong...he was never a “go to” spiritual guy in LA and in fact each story is very unique, as to how each individual family member ended up finding Father and how the family formed around him; but certainly not like anything as you describe in your ridiculous exaggerated narrative. Your review is so off the mark, and so bad that most of us from the family (because there are many and we are good, close friends) are laughing about it; but it’s your blatant uninformed made up supposition of what you think happened which has prompted a response from a couple of us who were actually there. Nothing that you describe in your concocted review is even remotely close to what the filmmakers present in the documentary, so don’t try and blame them for your extremely biased, uninformed hyperbole.

  6. A religious figure is almost by definition powerful. That is true but HE was not a religious figure. He was the first earthly spiritual Father of the Golden Age.