A Cultish Encounter: Visalia, CA 1974

by Amber Lea Starfire on September 5, 2012

by guest blogger: Elaine Webster

Elaine Webster, circa 1974

Elaine, circa 1974

My husband, Blake, and I pulled up to the curb to find a dozen or so longhaired men, women, and children, most in white robes, perched on our front porch and stairs. Blake pushed open the driver’s door and approached the ghostly group. “Can I help you with something?”

The tallest man stretched out his hand and said, “Hi, my name’s Derek. We’re from the Brotherhood.  We came looking for Adam … we want to talk to him.”

Adam was a musician who used to reside most Sunday afternoons at our upright piano.  A member of the Brotherhood had been to the house before and thought we might have offered asylum to the escapee. They were there to bring him back.

“Well, come on in.” Blake herded the group into the living room. I wasn’t sure if inviting them in was such a good idea. They looked strange. As I led our dog Déjà through the kitchen to the back porch I heard Blake say,” You know, we haven’t seen Adam for months.”

“I believe you, but we’d like to tell you about our group.” Derek, over six-feet tall, loomed over Blake, who took a step back.

“Can I have a drink of water?” One of the smaller sandy-haired boys looked up at me as I shut the back door. I fixed glasses of ice water and set Derek’s within his reach on the counter. I didn’t want to touch him.

“So, you said you’re from the Brotherhood?” I asked reluctantly.  I wanted these people gone, but they weren’t moving.

Derek began what seemed to be a rehearsed speech. “Our leader, Father, was born in1922 as James Edward Baker in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was awarded the Silver Star in World War II as a United States Marine. After the war he lived in the Hollywood Hills with a group called the Nature Boys. The most famous, Gypsy Boots, helped pioneer the health food movement.”

“I remember Adam saying something about going to L.A. to work in a health food restaurant … does that have something to do with your group?” I asked.

Derek put his feet up on a nearby chair. He was getting comfortable. I was getting nervous. He continued. “Father owns several vegetarian health-food restaurants, including the Source on Sunset Boulevard—Hollywood loves it. Father makes money—ten thousand dollars a day—bought a mansion in Laurel Canyon and property on Maui. He arranges marriages and now has fifty couples—the Source Family.”

They had the rap down, but I doubted their intentions. I spoke up. “So why is it so important for you to find Adam? Isn’t he free to leave if he wants?”

Derek looked at me as if I’d crossed a line. “Of course he is,” he said coldly, “but we’re recording an album and he’s our only keyboard player. Our band’s called Ya Ho Wa 13—a psychedelic rock and roll band and Adam left us dry.

“Well, he must have had a reason.”  I decided to rub out the line.

A young blond woman, robed and sandaled, spoke up. “I’m Tina. Father chose me for Adam.  Adam and I had a silly fight. I know if I can talk to him he’ll come back. Are you sure you haven’t seen him?”

I felt sorry for this girl.  She looked about nineteen. She looked lost.

Derek turned to Blake and said, “When we get to Maui, there’ll be plenty of room. You two should think about coming. Father predicts the earthquake will hit California soon. Maui will become the mainland. We’ll create a new world and the drugs aren’t bad either—plenty of psilocybin and weed for everyone.”

A five or six-year-old boy, pulled on Derek’s robe. Four other children ran up and down the stairs. Déjà barked from the back porch, but Derek kept pitching. Finally, I cut him off.

“Look Derek, we don’t know where Adam is and I think you need to go.” Derek paused, then took the young woman’s hand, and hoisted the youngster on to his shoulders. The rest of the group fell in line behind him and left.

Hippie communes and religious cults were not unusual in the 1970s. However, this particular group felt wrong, too controlling, too contrived and male dominated.

What type of experiences did you have with alternative lifestyles from that time?

Blake and Elaine's Wedding, 1974

Blake and Elaine’s Wedding, 1974


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Patresa September 6, 2012

Gave me chills.


Laura McHale Holland September 19, 2012

I love how you took charge in this situation, Elaine. You saw right through ’em and knew just what to do. And you captured the time so well, when so many of us were seeking different ways of living. Some solutions being offered were mind-expanding; others were downright creepy. Some of us were too insecure or too stoned to see the differences clearly. Love your photos, too. http://lauramchaleholland.com


Lilith Rogers January 3, 2013

Beautiful and frightening at the same time. And that was great how you handled the situation, Elaine.

And speaking of beautiful–you!!!

Happy New Year, Lilith


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