Allen Cohen, one of the founders of the San Francisco Oracle who passed away in 2004, was an elder statesmen of the psychedelic era and a true spirit of the counter-culture. He was also my friend, and we worked together to produce the CD-ROM “Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties“.
Elegy for Jerry Garcia
by Allen Cohen, Aug. 9, 1995
It was the 50th Anniversary
of the bombing of Nagasaki
when Jerry faded away
It was the day the music paused
but we know it will never die.
It was the day when his karma took hold
and led his soul away.
Will we ever know where?
Will we ever know why?
His hands could make the cosmos
rock and roll and shake all over
Only his hands playing his guitar
His body immobile
a vehicle for the Orphic soul.
His music tamed the wild heart.
Everyone danced when Jerry played –
arms reaching toward the sky.
His harmonies vibrated the soul
and millions understood
the ideals the music embodied
peace, love & community.
Heal the hostile heart
love the creation
and help each other
Orpheus is dead !
Orpheus is dead!
The next new Nova
will be called Jerry’s Guitar
Elegy for Rick Griffin
by Allen Cohen
The week Rick Griffin died
my daughter hit her head on a diving board.
The Soviet Union had a coup
that threatened to drag it
back into the dark ages
but quickly defeated it.
Two friends threatened
to throw each other in jail.
My old communards fought
over the ownership of the land.
Sometimes the world seems to stop –
it just won’t work.
The wheels won’t turn.
The waves and the wind won’t rise.
The beat slows down and
the notes go flat.
It all becomes a struggle
and then a heartache until
another piece of flesh
is torn from the body.
It was a raging time
the week Rick Griffin died.
He had been discovering
new beaches on the North coast
to surf from – the waves
clean and rough.
His life seemed
to pound against him
waves in a storm.
He would come to see me
only when he found
the curve of the right wave.
It was foggy on the coast
the week Rick Griffin died.
He would appear glidingly,
silently as if he were standing
by my side always.
His slight smile saying,
“Didn’t you know I never forget?”
It was like waiting for a lover
the anticipation, the fear
that she wouldn’t return
or waiting for Owsley
who would come when
he felt least expected
and the phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
There was a fateful dread in the mind
the week Rick Griffin died.
Somber, outwardly serene, waiting
for the image, the line,
his own line, not the client’s line.
Time and inspiration
dueling against the deadline,
the deepening lines of age,
the white line on the highway,
the scars, the bruises, the fire,
the lines of love churning
into a whirlwind, and then calm.
All the losses and recoveries
become sin and redemption,
darkness and light.
His life speeding
toward the elegy,
The day Rick Griffin died.
Always the primed canvas waited
for the still moment that rarely came
the moment out of time
where whirlwinds and waves
become form and color.
Life, as with all of us,
colliding with the elegy.
Now he has gone through
the glowing doorway
he kneeled before
covered in armor
and ink bottle in hand
surging up and over
the waves of light,
the armor dissolving
into the eye of light
Summer of Love
Yes, it is 28 years ago since San Francisco’s biggest concern was how many of America’s youth, now known as baby boomers, would descend upon the Haight Ashbury in search of the holy grail of sex, drugs and rock and roll. In the spring of ’67 one of the members of the Board of Supervisors considering whether to allow the expected hoards to sleep in Golden Gate Park said, “Would you let thousands of whores waiting on the other side of the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.”
Of course, in the Haight Ashbury we referred to this holy grail as free love, expanded consciousness and the ecstatic experience. We looked upon that summer as the beginning of a children’s crusade that would save America and the world from the ravages of war, and the inner anger that brings it forth, and materialism. We had already identified our lives with the world as a political and social entity, and the planet as a unified environment, an earth household. Love, we believed, would replace fear and small communal groups would replace the patriarchal family and mass alienation.
There was two aspects to the experience of the 60s: the resistance to the war, and the “psychedelic experience”, personified as political activists and hippies. For the most part these two vectors overlapped in the same individuals, so that many of those who actively resisted the Vietnam war had used LSD and smoked marijuana. As a society we have tried to understand the sixties mostly as political resistance to the war, but have mostly ignored and denied the changes in values and culture brought about by “psychedelic experiences”.
It is difficult to estimate how many people used LSD between 1965 and 1975 when the war finally ended. One chemist, who wasn’t as productive as some, told me he produced and sold seven million doses. My off the cuff estimate would be that from 10 to 30 million people took LSD on the average of six times.
“Tripping” was common in every area of society from the wealthy and politically powerful to the arts, and sciences and the media. LSD was trendy, exotic, ecstatic, messianic and dangerous. It promised psychological healing and spiritual transcendence and often delivered. It should be acknowledged that it could also cause pain (“bad trips”) and psychotic breaks, and even suicides, and in the case of the Manson Family, it was an accomplice to murder. There was an aura of living dangerously on a psychological frontier that was part of its mystique. But given the amount of its use, I would say it was the one of our least destructive national obsessions.
Why did so many people take this dangerous voyage? What have been its effects? To understand this we have to reconsider the Haight Ashbury, the Hippies and the Summer of Love. The predominant feeling among the Hippies from about 1965 through the summer of ’67 was that they were agents and witnesses of a dawning of a new age. An age in which the warrior spirit, that had vaulted western man to the domination and potential destruction of creation, would be dissolved in the spiritual transcendence of the saint. Ghandi and Martin Luther King were our heroes and we had turned to the rich heritage of Asian mysticism and metaphysics for our inspiration and our practice. We leaped across oceans and through time to pre-Christian mythologies like the American Indian, the Egyptian and the occult and pagan philosophies of Europe. We studied with Buddhists and Indian gurus, native shamans, witches and yogis. We turned from Aristotelian and Christian dualism to the four pronged logic of Vedanta philosophy. We studied the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, Alan Watt’s books on Zen Buddhism, and Hermann Hesse’s novels, especially Siddhartha. We wouldn’t leave the house without consulting the I Ching, or our Tarot cards or our astrological charts.
Were we being naive or superstitious? No, I think this was the most important and long lasting aspect of the 60s despite the backlash of the 80s. It was the beginning of a renaissance in thought and culture similar to the Renaissance that brought Greek and Roman images and ideas back to Europe in the middle ages. Ideas that eventually led to the end of the domination of the Catholic Church, the rise of the nation state, the rebirth of democracy and the development of science.
We were becoming world citizens. Peace and love weren’t just slogans but states of mind and experiences that we were living and bearing witness to. Living in harmony with the earth was an ideal that we felt and perceived as real experience. We were bringing forth a second Renaissance that would change human culture.
In the face of the Cold War and nuclear weapons these changes in philosophical and spiritual orientation would slowly displace the Warrior Spirit and bring us to a new stage of evolution. The transformation of the inner warrior has had its outer effect in the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev said to an American reporter, “I’m going to do a terrible thing to you. I’m going to take your enemy from you.”
The Summer of Love was the peak of the Haight Ashbury experience. Over 100,000 youth came to the Haight. Hoards of reporters, movie makers, FBI agents, undercover police, drug addicts, provocateurs, Mafioso and about 100,000 more tourists to watch them all followed in their wake. It was chaotic and wonderful and “heavy” as we used to say and the experience was shared and spread throughout the world. The police and Tac Squad raided the street every weekend gradually driving most of the originators to all parts of the world to plant the seeds of change.
The process of cultural liberation began in the seventies with the conscious drive for Women’s’ Liberation and Gay Liberation and the Black Liberation movement, so brutally feared and attacked by the CIA and FBI. Yes, political reaction set in, but that didn’t stop the new ideas from spreading. We have seen the rise of psychological insight and spiritual values and practices in the New Age Movement, the tremendous interest in ecology and whole planet thinking and through the liberating effect of rock and roll in all its permutations the continuing call to the young to rebellion and awakening.
In the eighties the new ideas and values spread to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and even China. The deeper meanings of Peace, Love and Community spread through the universality of the music, and the ideas of the pilgrims that had experienced or been influenced by the cauldron of the Sixties. In Prague, Czechoslovakia during the peaceful revolution there John Lennon’s “Imagine” was sung by 200,000 people as they sung the Communist dictatorship down. Esalen Institute had been doing exchanges and training in the former Soviet Union for over ten years. In Tienanmen Square the Chinese students played Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ music over loud speakers.
As we approach the millennium, the wave of peace, this eternal yearning of the soul, continues to sweep over the world. Age old rivalries and hatreds and injustices are dissolving. Sometimes the pain heightens before the medicine of mediation and peace can be applied. But things definitely are a-changin’ between the Palestinians and Jews, the Muslims and Croats (hopefully the Serbs will wake up soon) and the many colored people of South Africa, and even the British and Irish.
As we had predicted, the Sixties generation has entered the White House. Despite the rottenness and corruption of the system and its control by corporate interests, there is definitely a new hope and a new sanity in American politics. Hopefully, the Whitewater assassination conspiracy will blow over and some positive changes will begin to reconstruct American life.
A new generation of youth are trance dancing in floating laser illuminated warehouse dances called Raves in San Francisco and Acid House and Acid Jazz in England. There is a mood of change that again threatens to overturn the reactionary and puritanical grip on American culture perpetrated by corporate power and religious fundamentalism. The Era of Compassion born in the Sixties and repressed in the Eighties may be ready to spring into the forefront of American culture.
In the November 1994 election American Society took a sharp turn to the right, due to the failure of the Clinton Presidency to fulfill a successful progressive agenda and a unprecedented right-wing and fundamentalist Christian media attack on the president and progressive politics in general. The political pendulum continues to swing -Instead of an evolution toward a just, peaceful world as we approach the 21st century, we are experiencing religious moralism, millennial fear and racial and ethnic intolerance. Despite a feeling of hopelessness, history is opening toward an opportunity for a new emergence of consciousness exploration and social change. Open the door the future is coming through!
Notes on the San Francisco Oracle
by Allen Cohen
It began as a dream and ended as a legend. One morning in the late spring of 1966 I dreamt that I was flying around the world. When I looked down, I saw people reading a newspaper with rainbows printed on it — in Paris at the Eiffel Tower, in Moscow at Red Square, on Broadway in New York, at the Great Wall of China — everywhere. A rainbow newspaper!
I told my companion Laurie about the dream and she went out early for a walk up the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park to Haight Street telling everyone along the way — artists, writers, musicians, poets, dope dealers, merchants — about the rainbow newspaper. When I went out later, people were exploding with rainbow newspaper consciousness.
I strolled into Ron and Jay Thelin’s Psychedelic Shop where the icons of the new emerging culture were gathered, displayed and sold. Books on Eastern religion and metaphysics and the Western occult were offered, along with Indian records, posters, madrases, incense, bead necklaces, small pipes, and other paraphernalia. Ron Thelin immediately contributed start-up money for publishing a Haight-Ashbury newspaper. He called his brother Jay, who had a weekend car-parking business at Lake Tahoe to supplement the losses at the Psychede lic Shop, and Jay sent about $500. I was stunned to see how quickly a dream could begin to become reality.
The Haight Ashbury Seed Pod
The Haight-Ashbury was still unknown to the world. The community was an artists’ bohemia, and seed pod which was destined to catch the wind and blossom throughout the world. Since World War II, the Haight had been an inter-racial, working class neighborhood bounded by Golden Gate Park, middle class Victorian houses on Ashbury Heights and the mostly black Fillmore District.
The San Francisco State College campus had been located on lower Haight Street before it moved to the southern outskirts of the city, so its students, teachers, dropouts and alumni were still living in the area. Artists and poets, who had escaped the police crackdown of the North Beach Renaissance several years before, had also taken refuge in the Haight. Rents there were cheap. Six rooms in an elegant Victorian or Edwardian house built after the earthquake rented for $120. The houses and apartments were large enough to share, and cooperative living was common. Later, when the world descended upon the Haight, many flats would become crash pads to house America’s teenage refugees.
It wasn’t difficult in 1966 to work occasionally, sell marijuana or LSD intermittently, and thereby earn a living for oneself and friends. One could devote most of one’s time to art, writing or music, experience the enhanced and ecstatic states of mind accessible through the use of marijuana and LSD, interact with other artists, get high and talk until the sun’s rays erased the night. In these years, and in these ways the particular styles of music, art, and the way of life identified with the Haight, the 60s and the Hippies developed.
The Dialectical Pendulum
The years 1963-67 were formative to the Haight-Ashbury Hippie phenomenon. Swings of the dialectical pendulum of American history underlie the extraordinary changes that were about to occur in America. World War II was an abyss of planetary violence endin g with the development and use of the atomic bomb. The US emerged from the war as the economic and military leader of the world. The generation that fought the war became the conservative builders and maintainers of an economic empire whose worldwide interests had to be defended, while in their off hours they engendered the largest generation of children in our history.
Women returning to traditional family life relinquished the workplace to the men, and a housing boom brought jobs and homes for the new post-war families. Faceless suburbs arose on the farmland surrounding cities. TV emerged and began to dominate human communications. Gray flannel suits defined the rising middle class, and a cold and sometimes hot war engendered the military-industrial complex. Protecting American capital interests around the world from the rise of socialism and communism became the obsession of our political, economic and military policy.
But the 60s would also bring pivotal and generational change to America. The Fifties of the Cold War, the inquisitions of McCarthy, the Eisenhower uniformity and America’s rise to economic world dominance started to give way to a new social energy with the election of John Kennedy, the racial crises and the renewed idealism of the Civil Rights movement. The assassination of Kennedy and the buildup of colonial war in Vietnam were counterattacks intended to rein in the forces of cyclical and generational change that had begun to emerge. Though the seat of government was back in the fists of the military-industrial junta, streets and campuses were occupied by a new idealistic generation who thought they could taste and control the future.
In the late fifties torrential Dionysian winds that would shake the tree of history began to blow. The American yearning for liberty and rebellion burst forth in the poetry and prose of the Beat Generation, the painting of the Abstract Expressionists, and the emergence of rock n’ roll music. These creative energies erupted within a culture gone rigid with profits, conformity, weapons of destruction and the politics of suppression of dissent.
Such buried, unconscious energies could not be confined. They celebrated the primacy of the individual and the experience of the body as universe center. It seemed that all forms and institutions would fall away and dissolve before the soaring experience of the Whitmanesque Self and its sensuous delight in the American earth. These rising vital energies found their correlatives in the occult philosophies of the West, the meditative philosophies of the East, the sensibilities of the Afro-American ghetto culture with its improvised jazz and marijuana high, and the ancient tribalism of the oppressed American Indian.
LSD — The Rocket Engine
The Rise of the Universal Self has had its ups and downs since the late 50s, but its peak came with the discovery and use of LSD by American youth and intellectuals during the 60s. The rebellion, insight and visionary experiences of the artists of the late 50s would now come wholesale to anyone who wanted or needed to get out on the edges of the only frontier left in America — their own mind and their own senses.
Harvard University with its highly publicized suppression of the psilocybin and LSD experiments of Drs. Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner brought instant Universal Selfhood and Dionysian release from social constraint to the awareness of anyone with the courage to journey to the frontiers of the mind.
LSD was the rocket engine of most of the social or creative tendencies that were emerging in the 60s. It sped up change by opening a direct pathway to the creative and mystical insights that visionaries, artists and saints have sought, experienced and communicated through the ages. But there were casualties of the LSD voyages including the psychologically wounded, badly guided, severe over-users, and victims of the CIA’s irresponsible experiments with the psychedelic.
Millions of people took LSD, and for most of them it was a decisive instrument that accelerated change. It released energies that are still reverberating through our world. This brush with cosmic consciousness stimulated pagan and Dionysian energies, but it also resulted in the rise of authoritarian religious cults and the social and political reaction of religious fundamentalism. A vision of eternity and freedom was revealed to some while others in fear of such a vision sought the protection of authority and the old dogmas.
At The Handle of the Kettle
There were two visible handles on the symbolic kettle of the Haight as it boiled its way into history. They were held by the Diggers and by the Oracle. But the Diggers and the Oracle each represented a different philosophy and lifestyle. The Diggers were a loose association of non-members inspired by some former Mime Troupe actors including Peter Berg, Emmett Grogan, Peter Cohon, Kent Minnault, Billy Murcott and a dynamic Hell’s Angel poet, Bill Fritsch. They brought improvisation, dramatic confrontation and ritual from their theatrical background into the everyday life of the Haight. They were anarchistic, original, and intellectually insightful in their criticism of society and the fulfillment of their own goals. They intended to act out and bring into existence a total transformation of economic and human relations in our society. When anyone wanted to become a “Digger”, they were told that they already were Diggers and they should “Do their own thing.”
The Diggers were “psychedelic” but did not exclude hard drugs or alcohol from their pharmacology. They were passionately critical of the commercialization of the Haight and of the otherworldliness of the more transcendental school of psychedelic rangers. They wanted to abolish social authority and class structure by eliminating the use of money. “Freedom means everything free,” said Emmett Grogan to emphasize their radical common sense. Emmett was not averse to refusing donations of money, or even burning it to make the point.
The Diggers began giving away free food daily at the Panhandle the week after the Love Pageant Rally. They opened a free store and continued putting on free events, rituals, and actions, including the Death of Money parade at which two Hell’s Angels were busted and bailed out with a Hippie bail money collection.
The Diggers had a tendency toward anarchy that bordered on violence. They once planned a street happening during which mirrors were to be shined from Haight Street roof tops into the eyes of drivers going up the street. The Haight merchants, in defense against the Digger’s demand to share their profits with the community, accused them of threatening extortion and violence.
Though the Diggers’ sense of altered reality conflicted with the Love and Nirvana Now view of many other Hippies, the Oracle was receptive to their input, and they often sat in at our editorial meetings. At one junction when a Be-In was being planned on Hopi Indian Land, Emmett Grogan convinced me of its colonialist connotations and its physical impracticality. I represented this view to the Oracle staff, and it prevailed. Our refusal to support the proposed Hopi Be-In canceled the project. Generally, the atmosphere around the Diggers was desperate, dark and tense, while at the ordinary hippie pad, it was light, meditative, and creative with a mixture of rock and raga music, oriental aesthetics and vegetarian food.
Steve Lieper in “At the Handle of the Kettle” described the Diggers providing free food at the Panhandle and for Thanksgiving at their Free Frame of Reference garage. Just before we got to press the Health Department closed down the Digger garage. Lieper reported the dark confusion and revolutionary anarchy that hovered around the Diggers.
The Oracle Staff
Around this time most of the artists and writers, secretaries and business people who were to steer the Oracle on and off course in the year and a half to follow had gathered together: Stephen Levine, a New York poet who had moved to Santa Cruz and then to San Francisco; Travis Rivers, a Texan who brought Janis Joplin to San Francisco and managed Tracy Nelson, another blues singer; and George Tsongas, a poet and novelist from Greece and San Francisco. Though Tsongas had left after Oracle #2, he would return later and play a major role both artistically and editorially. Hetti McGee, originally from Liverpool, England, and Ami Magill were our staff designers. Along with Gabe Katz they originated and/or implemented the techniques — split fountains, screens, double burns, rubylith overlays — that made the Oracle palette come to life. Other staff included Harry Monroe, poet, world traveler and inspiration to all who would sit through the night and listen to him talk; Dangerfield Ashton, the best pen and ink artist South Carolina ever gave to America; Gene Grimm, a 6ft. 6in. former marine who had become as gentle as a butterfly; and Steve Lieper, a lanky Tennessee hillbilly who did a lot of everything.
Artists who designed and illustrated many Oracle pages, often anonymously, included Mark Devries, Steve Schafer, Michael Ferar, Armando Busick, and Gary Goldhill. Those who typed and organized our words, business and circulation, (many of whom were also artists and writers), included Tiffany, Lynn Ferar, Joan Alexander, Alan Russo, Arthur Goff, and Penny DeVries. There are many others too numerous to mention, some who were anonymous and others who you will meet in the Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties CD-ROM or the San Francisco Oracle Facsimile Edition. All their collective, selfless and creative work built the Oracle into a unique monument of American arts and letters.
Our first offices were the small upstairs spaces behind the Print Mint, a large poster shop on Haight Street that Travis Rivers managed. We converted even the tiny bathroom into an artists’ workroom. Dangerfield would stay in there all night working on his elaborate mandalic designs.
Around this time we got some cash donations from marijuana dealers to help us expand from twelve pages to sixteen. Alex Geluardi, who was a benefactor and comforter to many San Francisco writers and artists, also donated money toward the Oracle’s growth. Cash flow never did catch up to costs, so we occasionally had to borrow money to print. At one point Jay Thelin would get an unsecured $6,000 loan from the local Haight Street bank. One of the bank executives was pleased to lend the Oracle money, because he had just won a free trip to Hawaii for opening more accounts than any other bank in the state. Even Bill Graham, the rock impresario, with his reputation for realism and grouchiness, lent the Oracle $1,000. But after the first few issues the only outright donation we got was $5,000 from Peter Tork of the TV rock group, the Monkees. There was a karmic retribution to that contribution. My companion Laurie fell in love with Tork’s business associate during an LSD trip, and on Christmas day drove away with him to LA in his Mercedes.
But by Oracle #8 we would be mostly self-sustaining. The paper was able to pay the rent and food costs for most of the staff, many of whom were living together in several small communes. We had started the paper printing 3000 copies and grew gradually to about 15,000 by Oracle #4. We jumped to 50,000 for #5, the Be-In issue, and grew to almost 125,000 by about Oracle #7. We estimated that five or more people read each issue, lifting circulation to over 500,000. We sent Oracles as far west as New Zealand, India and Vietnam (we would receive Vietnamese marijuana from soldiers in return) and as far east as Prague and Moscow hidden in the bottom of boxes of second-hand clothing.
Oracles were sold in the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley by Hippies for whom it was often the sole means of support. We let anyone take a free ten copies to sell in order to get a stake, and then buy more. The Oracle was the largest employer on the scene. We had a large worldwide subscription list, and backpackers and gypsies would buy as many as 100 to take back to their hometown.
The Oracle would go from hand to hand and mind to mind in the evocative states unveiled by marijuana and LSD. It was a centering instrument for that intense, aesthetic, and expanded perceptual universe. To this day I meet people who tell me how they had seen an Oracle in some small town in West Virginia, or thereabouts. They attribute to that sighting of the Oracle their recognition that they were not alone on a dark planet in an empty universe. From that moment on they date the beginning of their journey toward self-realization.
To achieve the oracular effects we wanted we would give the text, whether prose or poetry, to artists and ask them to design a page for it, not merely to illustrate it, but to make an organic unity of the word and the image. Most of the artists would conceive and manifest their designs in a state of expanded awareness. Thus, the Oracle pages correspond to the methodology of the Thanka art of Tibet and Byzantine art in which artists established a visionary state of mind, through meditation, chanting, abstinence and/or prayer, and tried to convey that vision in their painting.
The perceivers of the art then could mount to that same elevation, and experience within their mind the same visionary state. So, looking at an Oracle could be a sort of occult trance experience communicated across the dimensions of space and time, through the tabloid medium, from one explorer of inner worlds to another. That was the magic, the fire, that spread from mind to mind with the Oracle. Motifs and techniques were universal — from ancient Chinese spirals to Sci Fi. Wings, rays, auras, arabesques, swirls, unicorns, and centaurs, mandalas, collages, flying saucers and their inhabitants, op-art, flowers and paisley, nudes, feathers, and ghosted images were interwoven into a dazzling cross-cultural spectacle of multidimensional depth, pattern and flow.
Oracle #5: Human Be-In Issue
Oracle #5 established the basic format that the paper was to develop for the next seven issues. The front page announced the Human Be-In with a purple, ash covered saddhu (wandering Indian holy man) with three eyes and matted hair staring at the reader. This was our first color experiment with 8 pages in two shades of purple. The color pages were our rainbow brush and never were used to enhance advertising. The first four and last four pages and the center spread were the head, feet and spine of the Oracle and were used for major art work, articles and poetry. The center spread was used especially for a central theme or important poem, and always received a lavish design. Most of these principles of format had appeared in the previous issues, but were consciously solidified and enhanced in this issue. Our use of shaped text instead of straight columns appears here for the first time.
Another practice we had begun in Oracle #4, with the Leary press conference and the symposium of the “Six Professors in Search of the Obscene”, was to print all interviews in full except for stuttering and repetition. This practice would prevent common newspaper terrors such as quoting out of context, downright misquoting, and a reporters subjectivity or political leaning from distorting the actual spoken word. All Oracle interviews were printed as they were spoken even if we had to continue them in small print to fit. The interested reader might have to squint, but what he read was everything that was said, warts and all.
By Oracle #5 we realized that in order to publish with the artistic and visionary quality we intended, we could not be bound to the everydayness of the tabloid format. We would be lucky to publish every six weeks. Even to meet that schedule, we would have to lift our binoculars to the prophetic horizon. From here on all resemblance to an ordinary newspaper were purely coincidental. We would not be co-opted by commercial interests and we would not add to the fear and anxiety in America. TV, newspapers and movies did a fine job on that end of the stick. The Oracle was now a journal of arts and letters for the expanded consciousness — a tribal messenger from the inner to the outer world.
Though the Oracle staff didn’t have a political program, we did feel that we were involved in a worldwide process of transformation that was part revolution and part renaissance. There was a mystique of youth that was based on the conception that the powers that ruled the world were decadent, corrupt and calcified. Therefore, the future was perceived as youths’ responsibility to create and remold.
There was also a moral revulsion against modern technological civilization for its failure to regenerate the world according to the principles of economic justice and peace. Most of us wanted the conversion of the dying past to come about through a spiritual transformation that fostered the values of love, peace and compassion, and brought us back to simple earth-based tribal groups. The Oracle would be a vehicle for new and ancient models that were needed to guide these changes in consciousness and to reconstruct our world.
Some writers have seen an escapist gap between the Oracle’s point of view and the anti-war movement, but the Oracle was as committed to the movement as anyone else. We emphasized the unity of political and transcendental ideals, and we had a preference for non-violence. The mass movement against the war had equal parts of LSD vision, marijuana sensory delight, political ideology and moral rage.
The purple saddhu cover of Oracle #5 was also used as one of the posters for the Human Be-In. The Oracle sponsored, announced and was given away free at the Be-In. We printed about 50,000 copies of this issue and from then on we would print over 100,000 of each issue. The cover was a composite work by Michael Bowen, Casey Sonnabend and Stanley Mouse.
The Transcendental Red Cross
Before the production of the sixth Oracle, we moved our offices to larger quarters in Michael Bowen’s former flat on Haight Street just off Masonic. Bowen moved to Stinson Beach in West Marin. The Be-In media blitz had brought the Haight-Ashbury to the center of America’s consciousness. The disaffected, the disenchanted, the mafia, the mad, the CIA, the FBI, the sociologists, poets, artists, American Indian shamans, East Indian Gurus, TV and movie crews, magazine and newspaper reporters from all over the world, and tourists riding through and staring at it all descended on the tiny street called Haight. It was a monumental traffic jam on all levels.
The Oracle kept its new offices open 24 hours a day. We had a day crew who were mostly engaged in producing the Oracle, and a night crew who were a multi-purpose transcendental Red Cross. They fed the hungry out of a giant pot of rice and beans, eased down and straightened out the bad trippers, and gave impromptu seminars in cosmic consciousness for the heads, the FBI, and the undercover cops who wandered through.
The night crew was chosen to be guides and nurses to the mind hurricane that blew through our open door. Twenty or thirty people a night were fed by Jim Cook, a Big Sur mountain man and peyote eater. Alan Williams, a painter, sculptor and yogi painted an eight foot high mural of the new Adam and the new Eve, muscular and naked, on the kitchen wall. Alan and Jim and others would spread a non-stop rap of cosmic love and cosmic dust from dusk to dawn. They were healers and tricksters who could help people kick methedrine and heroin, turn bad trips into ecstasy, and give comfort to the confused and lonely.
The presence, use and abuse of methedrine and heroin soon became a problem in the Haight. Methedrine caused anxiety and paranoia and severe depression during the comedown. It was known to be a brain cell destroyer in whose wake violence often erupted. We looked upon heroin as an anti-consciousness drug, because its addictive properties and expense would turn a person away from his goodness for the sake of his habit. In the Haight a heroin addict might steal your hi-fi, forge your check, and most frequently steal the drugs or the money in a marijuana or LSD deal.
Most of us felt that there were drugs that were positive, therapeutic, and physically harmless, and drugs that were harmful to the human body and/or mind. Generally, we thought, as shared victims of the legal prohibition against drugs, that all drugs should be decriminalized, and addiction treated as a medical problem.
At the Oracle we decided that we had to get the worst cases of psychotic breaks and drug abuse out of the increasing pressure of urban life. In late spring of 1967 Amelia Newell donated the use of 30 or 40 acres, and what was known as the Stone House near Gorda, a tiny town just south of Big Sur, for an Oracle retreat.
Jim Cook and Alan Williams went there to keep the action flowing. We sent people there every weekend in a truck along with 100 pound bags of brown rice, beans and vegetables. At times there were 100 people at Gorda recovering and recuperating, taking LSD and peyote, drumming and dancing around nightfires, meditating and hiking in the Big Sur wilderness. It was a free pre-Esalen experience for those who really needed it.
The retreat functioned well for about nine months until early ’68 when a young man came through with a rifle, took LSD, and shot a neighbor’s cow that in his hallucination was turning into some unruly beast. Then the Highway Patrol with cars, motorcycles, and helicopters descended on this Haight-Ashbury extension, hostel, and dry dock, sending 100 hippies scurrying into the hills in the nick of time. Amelia Newell, who was innocent of everything but a charitable heart, went to court, and had to make restitution for the cow.
The Rainbow Unveiled
In the meantime 100 miles North in San Francisco we were creating Oracle #6. We switched our printer from Waller Press to a multi-web newspaper press at Howard Quinn Printers. Because of the size of the press we could expand our use of color. We would print the paper on Sundays and the printers would allow our staff artists, Hetti McGee and Ami Magill, to use the press like a paintbrush. Our first experiment was to divide the ink fountain of a web into three compartments with metal dividers and wooden blocks, put a different color ink into each compartment, and run a rainbow over eight pages of Oracle #6. Thus the dream I had in the Spring of 1966 envisioning a rainbow newspaper being read all over the world became a reality.
We soon discovered that, where two colors came together in the fountain, the inks would blend to make a third color. When we had blue and yellow in adjacent compartments, they would seep beneath the dividers during the run and produce a strip of green on the image. We devised ways of controlling this fortuitous accident that enabled us to put five colors on a page, but with the drawback of having only stripes of color.
Although the records have disappeared, I think we wanted to produce 60-75 thousand copies of Oracle #6, but we didn’t have enough money for such a big printing. We printed as many as we could pay for, sold them, collected our advertising money, and then came back on subsequent Sundays to print more. In the interim we could make changes in colors, and even in content. So Oracle #6 has at least three different printings that I have found, and the next six issues have two or more different printings.
Because there were so many webs, we could also separate parts of the image and run them in different colors. Therefore one image could have both a split fountain and separated colors that were printed in a specific part of the image. This gave us the potential for six or more colors on a page, and more control of where some of the colors would be placed. The manipulation of this palette on a press that was usually used for supermarket advertisements, was the unique signature of the Oracle. There was even a dynamic of change in each colored page as our artists mixed and blended inks in the fountains. To top it off, as a special talisman, we would sometimes spray the papers with Jasmine perfume when they came off the press.
Oracle #6: The Aquarian
Oracle #6 was our first theme issue. In our theme issues we would try to present various aspects of a theme but never all sides of a theme. We weren’t interested in a pro or con presentation. We presented a theme because there was a consensus of interest in the community and on the editorial staff. Actually the editorial meetings included everyone — editorial and art staff, secretaries, circulation and business people, invited guests and anyone who happened in the door. We felt that if the flow brought a person there, they were meant to be there. Therefore they were also allowed to vote on whatever issue was being decided. We thought of these guests and drop-ins as representatives of the rest of the world.
The Aquarian Age Astrologers
The theme of Oracle #6 was an astrological speculation on the Aquarian Age. Three astrologers presented their views on what the Aquarian Age meant, and whether we were in it, or approaching it. A member of our staff quipped that the Aquarian Age had arrived, lasted six months, and we were now in the Age of Capricorn. The cover was the symbol of the Aquarian Age drawn by Rick Griffin, and the back cover was the feminine representation of the Aquarian Age drawn by Ida Griffin.
The three astrologers were Gayla, Ambrose Hollingsworth, and Gavin Arthur.
Gayla was the pen name of Rosalind Sharpe Wall. She was a medium and astrologer, who had received the New Aquarian Tarot Deck through the Ouija Board and automatic writing. The Oracle introduced the New Aquarian Tarot in issue #9.
Rosalind claimed to possess the psychic capability of clairvoyance. When she was a teenager, she saw people’s auras and much to their dismay diagnosed their illnesses and their psychological problems. During WWII she worked on America’s first rocket project. One day while lunching with admirals who were expressing consternation at having to fight the Japanese on their home islands and in China, she foresaw and told them that a secret weapon being developed would forestall extended combat and end the war quickly. Later she met John Cooke and began working on the Aquarian Tarot Deck.
Ambrose Hollingsworth was a young man in his thirties, who used a wheelchair due to paralysis caused by an auto accident. He had been a writer in Greenwich Village and North Beach, and had participated in many artistic circles during the 50s and 60s. He claimed to be an initiate in an occult group called The Brotherhood of Light and had begun a school of the occult in Marin called the Six Day School. Ambrose had astrologically chosen the date of January 14, 1967 as the most propitious date for the Human Be-In.
Ecstatic Isolation and Incarnation
Methamphetamine was the crack-cocaine of the 60s. When injected it produces a flash high and a long stimulation effect that gives the sense of a godlike mental acuity. It was invented by the Nazis in the 30s, and used by Hitler, his associates, and the SS. It causes brain cell damage and depression. The user can’t sleep and wants to use it again. A typical user might have gone without sleep for days. In Oracle #4 we had published an article by Dr. Joel Fort on the possibility of a therapeutic cure for this addiction, “Methedrine Use and Abuse in San Francisco”. This article by Kent Chapman was a lyrical confession after three years of methamphetamine abuse. It was originally a letter to Michael Murphy of Esalen Institute:
I have been at a standstill in my flesh as a person incarnated. . . . For me hell was the ecstasy that rots teeth and person. I didn’t live in the seasons of the sun but in the changes of my metabolism.
Tom Weir Photo — Lovers
Although there were many spiritual paths being explored and invented in the Haight, the preponderant view favored an intense sensuousness. Experiences with both LSD and marijuana seemed to unveil a world of sensory splendor and spiritual depth that had been absent from most people’s Judeo-Christian expectations. Our religions, philosophies and social conditioning had not prepared us to experience such things as the whole planet being one living and breathing organism with our own beings melting into it, or every atom of our bodies merging with our sexual partners’ body and experiencing their thoughts as ours, as if there weren’t two different beings, or seeing God or gods and talking to them, or realizing that you and every one else was God. Because of these kinds of visions, there began a search through the literature and religions of the world for guide posts and maps for these ancient journeys.
One of the most generally preferred and admired spiritual paths was Mahayana Buddhism (from which Zen developed). It teaches that the experience of the Void, or God, or the greatest Bliss is a unified field identical with our everyday experience of the material world. When the veil of separateness lifts, and we experience reality without the interference of egotism, desire and its consequent suffering, and without the shadow of concepts, the blending of the material and spiritual fills every instant with wonder. The Mahayana ideal of the Bodhisattva, who achieves enlightenment, but returns to the world to compassionately serve humanity, appealed to the spiritual seekers of the Haight.
Hinduism, also, has a sensuous and sexual school of thought and practice called Tantra that influenced those who felt that the body and the soul, and the material and spiritual worlds could be yoked together in an ecstatic union. The word “LOVE” was a symbol or code for these ideas, mystical experiences, and practices. “LOVE” was the universal principle merging all and everything into an ecstatic unity. Thus the phrase often used by Hippies, “it’s all love”, had a more precise meaning than was generally understood.
Tom Weir’s full page photo-montage of a couple making love with multiple sets of arms and legs in motion, and in issue #7 Paul Kagan’s “Yab-Yum” epitomized the Oracle’s dedication to this ideal of the unity of body and soul.
Dr. Mota’s Medicine Show Bus
John Phillips’ drawing of the broken down bus that resembles an old medicine show wagon with signs all over it saying, “Cannabis Cure All, Cactus Therapy, Peyote Practice, Nature’s Chemicals, etc.” was a representation of the general attitude toward drugs, particularly natural drugs, but including LSD. These drugs were seen as medicines for the sick spirit of western civilization that was suffering from the disease of alienation, and the domination and destruction of nature. Our psyches also were sick with alienation, bound in the nutshell of the Ego, and cut off from the repressed, personal and collective unconscious.
These medicines allowed us to experience the depths of the unconscious, intensified our sensory delight in nature, and aided the integration of the severed psyche. Visions of gods in all their forms and ecstasies were being experienced widely. An awareness that humanity was able to reach a potential fulfillment — a world at peace, human relations based on love, and communities based on compassion — drove this whole generation to its mostly non-violent battle against the war in Vietnam.
The Underground Press Syndicate
Many major American cities now had underground papers. Most of them were political, or had originated as a political response to the war in Vietnam, but some, like the Seed in Chicago and EVO in New York, had begun to introduce cultural and aesthetic innovations similar to the Oracle. The papers tended to bind communities in rebellion together using passionate advocacy and direct coverage of movement plans, debates and demonstrations. Through these papers the war against the war progressed and the new world we felt would replace the old world of imperialism, materialism and privilege was being envisioned and defined.
The growth of underground newspapers was mushrooming. Every major city, most universities or university towns, and many high schools would have underground or alternative papers over the next five years. These papers were a training ground for the creative people in each community. Writers, artists, cartoonists, and poets could publish their work in these open fields of opportunity and communicate with their peers. In the spring of 1967 there were about 20 papers through which a vision of a political and cultural rebellion began to focus.
The political rebellion that was radical with an extreme democratic openness, mistrustful and independent of political parties or dogmas, anti-authority and non-hierarchical, generally non-violent, and dedicated to the values of equality, justice and peace, had been forged in the Civil Rights struggle, the S.D.S. Port Huron Statement, the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley and the beginning of the anti-war movement.
The cultural rebellion that was anti-materialist, idealistic, anarchistic, surreal, Dionysian and transcendental had been birthed through the Beat literary explosion, the Leary LSD experiments at Harvard, rock and roll music, the Haight-Ashbury Renaissance and the Human Be-In. This two headed rebellion was now the greatest threat to the American status quo since the Depression.
The Tribal Messenger Service
The Oracle staff, motivated by Ron Thelin’s vision of a nationwide “tribal messenger service”, decided to host an underground press conference. We invited all the papers that were already loosely allied as the Underground Press Syndicate. We also wanted to show the editors how to adapt the innovations we were making in the Oracle, and expose them to the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury community that was then at its peak of creativity, and spontaneous interactive compassion.
The first UPS conference was held at Michael Bowen’s house on Stinson Beach, and the Oracle’s offices during Easter, 1967. Some of the participants included Art Kunkin of the L.A. Free Press, Allan Katzman and Walter Bowart of the East Village Other (EVO), Max Scheer of the Berkeley Barb, and representatives of Detroit’s Fifth Estate, Chicago’s Seed, Mendocino’s Illustrated Paper, Austin’s Rag and a few other papers.
We had invited Rolling Thunder, a Cherokee medicine man, to talk about the plight of the American Indian in the face of yet another legislative attack on Indian treaty rights. He also affirmed what had become the hippie creation myth — that hippies were reincarnated Indians returned to bring the American land and peoples back to traditional tribal ways.
Some of the Diggers including Peter and Judy Berg and Chester Anderson barged uninvited into the conference with the intention of exposing our elitism, and to make their case for the underground press to write about feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of kids, who were about to break loose from home and social expectation in order to adopt the life of rebellion, free love, and LSD visions.
The U.P.S. Mission
Several important and practical decisions were made during the beach walks, tripping, hippie sight-seeing and vegetarian meals. The basic principle of article sharing without copyright infringement was adopted along with the sharing of subscription lists. It was also agreed that EVO in New York should explore the selling of national advertising which, then, would be printed in all participating underground press papers. This was seen as a way of securing much needed advertising revenue for member papers. There was, of course, some argument about the potential of selling out by taking corporate ads, but it was reasoned that ads for products like rock records or books would further undermine the corporate state. Furthermore, each paper would have a choice whether to run an ad or not. It eventually turned out that the advertisers were unreliable or late payers and little was gained from this financial gambit.
The major accomplishment of the conference was the reinforcement of the mission we all shared, whether our emphasis was psychedelic/cultural or political. We were creating, maintaining and informing a new international community which would ultimately replace the crumbling status quo. A UPS statement of purpose was agreed upon:
- To warn the “civilized world” of its impending collapse, through communications among aware communities outside the establishment and by attracting the attention of the mass media.
- To note and chronicle events leading to the collapse.
- To advise intelligently to prevent rapid collapse and make transition possible.
- To prepare the American public for the wilderness.
- To fight a holding action in the dying cities.
This statement indicates clearly the apocalyptic feeling of the time. Even the war seemed to us to be a symptom or symbol of the general fall of the American civilization.
Oracle #8: Indian Issue
Not only did the Hippies have a Creation Myth concerning the American Indian, but they also shared with the Indians a sense of cultural alienation from American society. There was a general perception that urban society was a cancer and a scourge upon the American earth, and that the destiny of the Hippies was to begin a gentle reinhabitation of the land. A shared vision of the unity of earth and humanity as a living harmonic organism began to develop. The American Indian tribal life before the Europeans came to this continent appeared to be the ideal expression of that harmony. Many people were studying with, and learning about, the American Indian. To prepare for our Indian issue the Oracle sent a small group of artists and writers to the Hopi community for inspiration and study.
Oracle #8 was dedicated to the American Indian Tradition. The front and back covers are a continuous image designed by Hetti McGee. It represents a vision of the ghost of Chief Joseph at Mount Shasta with flying saucers. Hetti was originally from Liverpool and was a prolific and fine artist working on staff for the Oracle. Dedicated to the muse as Hetti was (and as many of us were), she never signed her work. When the Oracle meteor flamed out, she and her husband Angus MacLise, who was a poet and musician, went to Kathmandhu, Nepal. They lived inexpensively in the midst of the Buddhist culture they loved, and published limited edition books of poetry there. Angus died though, leaving behind their new born son, Ossian. When he was a toddler, the boy was chosen by Buddhist priests to be the first western incarnation of a deceased high lama. To the Buddhist understanding this is the equivalent of a living god.
The Summer of Love Poster
The Summer of Love poster by Bob Schnepf showing St. Francis in the sky was part of our attempt to deal with the expected influx of young people into San Francisco in the summer of ’67. Despite our pleas for America’s young and adventurous to stay in their hometowns and begin the new world where they were, we were expecting an avalanche to fall upon the Haight. We asked the city to help by allowing the establishment of tent cities in Golden Gate Park, but their reaction was far from sympathetic. One supervisor said, (and I closely paraphrase), “would you let thousands of whores waiting on the other side of the Bay Bridge into San Francisco?”
The community had to band together. A “Council for the Summer of Love” was formed to coordinate activities and raise funds. An educational group called “Kiva” intended to build a geodesic dome in a vacant lot on Hayes Street. It would be used primarily as a school for rural skills and communal living. Its dream was never realized. “Happening House” was a college in the street (later in a house) started in collaboration with San Francisco State College through the efforts and inspiration of Leonard Wolf, an English professor, novelist, and Chaucer scholar.
Local churches and ministers started to feed and house people. An Episcopal priest, Father Leon Harris of All Saint’s Church turned his whole church over to the effort. There were free crash pads, free food, free concerts in the park and inexpensive shows every night at the Fillmore and Avalon dance halls. Youth had gone wild with the exuberance and risk of love and adventure.
Of course the city tried to ban amplified music from the park, but relented under pressure and demonstrations. The Oracle fed and crashed people, and sent those who had burned out from drugs or the urban chaos to a piece of land in Big Sur donated to us for that purpose. The Diggers had occupied Morningstar Ranch in Sonoma to pick apples and grow vegetables. The ranch originally belonged to Lou Gottlieb of the popular folk group, the Limelighters. Gottlieb was constantly defending his acceptance of hundreds of refugees and back-to-the-landers from the attacks of the Sonoma authorities. He eventually would deed his land to God, causing Sonoma to challenge in court the right of God to own land. The Haight-Ashbury was a gigantic media magnet, and now we would drown in the media flood. It would never be the same.
Dialogue With A Western Astronomer and an Eastern Philosopher
“Dialogue with a Western Astronomer and an Eastern Philosopher” was written by Dr. Ralph Metzner, the Harvard psychologist. This was one of the first attempts at comparing the findings of contemporary astrophysics with the metaphysics of Hinduism and Buddhism. In response to the astronomer describing the mysteries of the recently discovered quasars, (in particular, that they seem to possess a “definite, as yet undetermined plan of arrangement,”) the eastern philosopher compares it to an ancient Hindu idea:
After 100 Brahma nights and days, we reach the end of the kalpa (five billion years) and all matter, all forms, are withdrawn into a sort of super-condensed state, which the Buddhists call “the seed-realm of the densely-packed.” All creation and destruction, evolution and involution come to an end; only pure energy consciousness is maintained. Vishnu, the preserving principle, sleeps at the bottom of the “Milk Ocean”, until such time as at the beginning of a new Kalpa, the observable forms of the universe manifest again, like dreams out of his quiescent consciousness.
On Programming the Psychedelic Experience
“On Programming the Psychedelic Experience” by Tim Leary and Ralph Metzner sums up the results of their earlier scientific research with LSD. Given the tremendous therapeutic and spiritual breakthroughs that LSD effected in the human psyche, and its easy availability and the occasional though sometimes dramatic negative effects of its misuse, Dr. Leary did his utmost to consistently provide the best guidance from both a scientific and aesthetic point of view to those who would take LSD and other psychedelics.
In formal, double blind experiments at Harvard with students, faculty, theological students and even prisoners, they discovered that the most positive experiences — ecstatic, joyful, religious, poetic — could be induced and predicted if the psychedelic was taken with the guidance of an experienced and trusted guide, and careful preparation of “set and setting.”
“Set” refers to a person’s mood, expectations, and emotions. The voyager and his guide would want to begin the inner journey with a calm state of mind, not an anxiety state caused by a negative circumstance like a death or illness in the family, or separation from a lover.
“Setting” refers to the physical environment of the trip. The space one uses should be prepared for a relatively undisturbed eight hours of spiritual experience and aesthetically designed to enhance that experience. A setting in nature for part or all of the trip often seemed to produce ecstatic effects.
Drs. Leary, Metzner and Alpert wrote and spoke widely and often about “set and setting”, and the need for an experienced guide. They published a professional journal, The Psychedelic Review, and psychedelic interpretations of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Tao Teh Ching, ancient texts that were symbolic versions of the psychedelic journey. The concepts of “set and setting” and their books, guided hundreds of thousands of people on these voyages through the mind and the deep self. Despite the current view of many that Leary was the Pied Piper of the 60s, the fool or chameleon of the 70s, and irrelevant in the 80s, literally multitudes know that they owe him the deepest gratitude for his fortitude in staying the course in those halcyon days, when paranoia sought to replace reason, and the gods of war did battle against the higher virtues.
There was also another view of “tripping” that was advanced especially by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the “Acid Test” period in ’65 and ’66. Kesey’s view was that the visionary state and the randomness of everyday life should not be separated; that we should come to every moment, every surprise encounter and every emotion in a state of ecstatic presence, fully turned on. Also, if anyone was blocked from that transcendental experience by their own psychological preoccupation, their fear of letting go, neurosis or even psychosis, reality might cast up a surprise event or unexpected stimulus that would cause one to break through into the expanded awareness of “cosmic consciousness.”
Most people used both the controlled and uncontrolled methods of turning on. They would save the higher dosage trips (300 or more micrograms) for a controlled “set and setting”, and a lesser dosage (100 or 150 mikes) for tripping lightly around town. There were many who did use LSD indiscriminately and indiscreetly, even as a challenge or test of their mental powers or self-control. Generally, I would say that there were more bad trips (and even psychotic snaps, when medical attention was felt to be needed), with the uncontrolled method of tripping.
Many of the writers in the Oracle including Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts and William Burroughs, suggested that these psychedelic journeys were basic to psychological integration, and to human evolution. They felt that courses should be given in which psychedelics would be used within the university system and/or private academies along with the teaching of various mental disciplines such as yoga and meditation.
Estimates of how many people took LSD in the 60s and early 70s vary from seven to 20 million people. A resurgence in the 80s has added to that number. A poll in the early 80s revealed that 8% of college seniors were taking LSD and 25% of those between the ages of 18 and 26 had taken some hallucinogenic drug. For such massive use with dramatic mind altering effects under the glaring spotlight of fear inducing propaganda, LSD turns out to have been a relatively benign national trauma. Psychologists had been working therapeutically with LSD with some success in treating everything from alcoholism to schizophrenia, but unfortunately almost all research ended when LSD became illegal. Therapeutic aid and possibly even cures for addictions, and severe mental illnesses might have been found, if this research had been allowed to continue.
The battle over LSD is another chapter in the age old war of who controls what people think and experience. The Catholic Church during the Middle Ages resisted and oppressed the rise of heretic sects, because the protesting sects wanted to experience the deity themselves without the intercedence of the church and its priests, rituals, and dogmas. Similarly every establishment group was threatened by the tremendous release of spiritual, psychological, political, medical, creative and intellectual autonomy available to the individual through the use of LSD and other psychedelic substances. The search for ecstatic experience continues clandestinely for those who want to explore the transcendent states of mind.
“The Buddha Mind” by Dane Rudhyar, the well known philosopher and composer, is a detailed analysis of the essential meaning of Buddhism. Mr. Rudhyar writes:
If Nirvana, which Buddhists say is the goal of everything, and which the Buddha had reached, is the supreme value, then why did the Buddha return? And if the Buddha returned out of compassion or something, then that something is greater than Nirvana, or else he wouldn’t have returned from it. If compassion… makes one sacrifice Nirvana, than that compassion is greater than Nirvana; it is the most supreme value.
The drawing used to illustrate “The Buddha Mind” was from the strange notebooks of Michael X, the self-proclaimed Martian. This was one of his Martian Machines that would save humanity.
Death of a Hippie/Birth of a Freeman
The Summer of Love had come and gone and perhaps 100,000 people had come to the Haight on a pilgrimage to see what was happening. Just about every group or organization the Haight had developed to deal with the influx had dissolved, burnt out or divided under the strain. Hard drugs had infiltrated the area and the veins of some of the best of the players. The FBI, the CIA, and the Intelligence divisions of the San Francisco Police were rumored to be involved in the sudden availability of Heroin and Methamphetamine, and the rash of arrests and civil disturbances that had begun to plague the Haight.
One of the provocateur’s favorite sports occurred regularly on weekends, when a handbill would mysteriously appear on lampposts urging “the people” to take over the street at 12 noon. At the appointed hour the police and the crowd would dutifully appear. The Tac Squad would surround the crowd with a contingent of troops with motorcycles at the end of Haight Street near the entrance to Golden Gate Park, and another battle group at Haight and Masonic.
The Haight Street War
At 12 noon hundreds of people would walk into the street and block the voluminous traffic. The police would then sing a few operatic warnings and charge up the street swinging their night sticks while the motorcycle cops rode into and over people on the sidewalks. Then tear gas would be thrown into the crowds and stores, and once into the Straight Theater where people had gathered to escape the onslaught.
No organized group took responsibility for these street takeovers. It was widely presumed that government provocateurs were causing this chaotic atmosphere of fear and intimidation in order to dissolve the delicate bloom of hope that had catapulted the Haight to international prominence. Their tactics were succeeding. By the Fall many people were looking to move on, usually in small groups, to communes in rural areas. They wanted to advance their new tribalism outside the glare of the spotlight. Others were having apocalyptic visions and waiting for the world to end, or at least an earthquake to strike San Francisco down to the primeval sand and ashes.
Politics of Ecstasy
The Diggers developed another approach. Appalled by the spotlight of the media on the Haight, and eager to attract it at the same time, they staged a “Death of the Hippie” ceremonial march down Haight street with a coffin filled with hippie paraphernalia and flowers signifying the death of the media generated hippie, and his rebirth as a Free Man in a Free city with Free necessities provided to all.
At the march I ran into one of the Digger’s leaders, Peter Berg. We exchanged symbols to commemorate the event. He gave me a yellow, wooden, six inch square Free Frame of Reference that he was wearing on his belt, and I gave him a rough cut, Nepalese made, soapstone Buddha ring that I was wearing. Later at a Berkeley Metaphysical bookstore, where I was buying a rare book on Tibetan ritual called “The Hevajra Tantra,” I exchanged the Free Frame of Reference for the beads the sales girl was wearing. She said the beads were blessed by Meher Baba. I then learned an ancient Tibetan purification mantra from the book. A few weeks later I went with a few of the Oracle staff to the Exorcism of the Pentagon, and with Stephen Levine, chanted the mantra on the steps of the Pentagon in front of armed marshals just before any other demonstrators arrived.
The Collage “Death of a Hippie — Birth of a Free Man” was done by Martin Linhart using photographs by Stephen Walzer. It portrays the transition and is accompanied by my lyric essay “Politics of Ecstasy”:
Secretly, behind all illusions of order, civilization, law, and tongue wipings of rhetoric, the anarchic, natural, wild condition of body exists. . . . The body and being of man is all fountains of youth and heavenly apparitions.
“Pentagon Rising” an article by Richard Honigman is an announcement of the Exorcism of the Pentagon. The art by Mark DeVries envisions the post-exorcism Pentagon floating in the air. Jerry Rubin had taken the magical idea to exorcise the Pentagon that Michael Bowen and I had suggested during our meetings before the Human Be-In and incorporated it into the official program for the March on the Pentagon on October 21, 1967.
The Oracle, along with all other underground papers, supported and announced the March and the Exorcism. We had envisioned thousands of dancing and chanting Hippies joining hands in a gigantic circle around the Pentagon invoking gods and spirits to exorcise the demons within the Pentagon, and make it rise 300 feet, vibrate and turn orange. When the General Services Administration finally granted the permit for the March, the one thing they refused to allow was the Hippies’ encirclement of the Pentagon.
There was also another Underground Press Conference the day before the March on the Pentagon. It was attended by what was now well over a hundred underground papers with readerships estimated at anywhere between 330,000 (Wall Street Journal) to 15 million (Walter Bowart, editor of East Village Other).
The conference was as raucous as the rage encircling it. But out of it came two important decisions: the extension of free reprint rights to college newspapers and the formation of the Liberation News Service based in Washington, D.C.. LNS would reprint and distribute the best of the Underground Press, and originate material that could be reprinted by member papers.
At the demonstration every faction had a chance to act out its outrage at the ever growing horror of the war. The more moderate marched and listened to speeches. The more radical broke through the lines and into the hallowed halls of the Pentagon wherein they were beaten by soldiers. Occultists and poets like Ed Sanders and Kenneth Anger chanted and did exorcism rites. The hippies threw flowers at the soldiers and marshals, and placed the flowers delicately in the barrels of their rifles.
The flowers came to the Pentagon as a result of the FBI thwarting the attempt of Michael Bowen and Bill Fortner, a large, loud, Texan adventurer and marijuana smuggler, to circumnavigate the Pentagon by plane, and bomb it with bushels of flowers dropping into the hole in the Pentagon’s center. When the hired pilot didn’t come to the airport, (probably because he was an FBI agent or was stopped by the FBI), they had no alternative but to truck the flowers to the steps of the Pentagon, causing rifles and helmets to blossom. In the evening Mayan Indians in native dress, gathering around dusk campfires on the Pentagon lawn, watched eloquently and said “lagente es uno” (the people are one).
Instrument of the Womb
“Instrument of the Womb” by Harry Monroe is an anthropological study of the Earth Goddess and Matriarchal Society:
She had many names, as many as there are peoples over whom she reigned and who worshipped her — Great Goddess, Divine Goddess, White Goddess, Earth Goddess, Moon Goddess, a triple goddess always… whose three aspects of maiden, matron and crone are the anthropomorphisms comprehensible as beauty, birth and death. Her influence was absolute over peoples whose concerns remained the simple ones of agriculture, grazing and hunting. . . . All the totem societies of ancient Europe were under the aegis of the Great Goddess.
Despite Harry Monroe’s efforts here to realign the chairs in heaven and place women in their rightful place among the gods, there was still much to be desired in the position of women in Hippie culture. There was, generally speaking, more respect for women as a result of men and women experiencing each other in their symbolical divine aspects during psychedelic visions. There was also a greater respect for creativity regardless of what gender originated the work. But women all too often found themselves playing the role of hausfrau, while men just played. At the same time there were many women, who in the pervasive atmosphere of sexual and psychological freedom, also played in the open, deep, psychic spaces, and began to find their personal and social power. These factors along with the politicization of women in the movement against the war, would lead to the women’s liberation movement that began to shake the status quo in the early 70s.
Oracle #12: Symposium 2000 AD & the Fall
The front cover photo of a sleeping woman on Mt. Tamalpais by Tom Weir was symbolic, perhaps, of the fragility and exhaustion of the vision. The Haight and the counterculture had been under severe attack from both local and national authorities. Oracle #12, published in February, 1968, was to be the last Oracle.
San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto hated the Hippies. It was rumored that he had been prevented from being Vice President by the Democratic Party bosses, who had told him that, if he couldn’t control his own city, he couldn’t be entrusted with the nation. So he put the Tac squad on alert.
CoIntelPro, FBI and CIA programs (in association with local police agencies) to infiltrate, disrupt and destroy the Civil Rights, Black Liberation and Anti-War movements were also committed, I believe, to breaking up the Haight-Ashbury. Ronald Reagan was creating “Communist” conspiracies in Sacramento. The Black Panthers had made self-defense the priority for revolution instead of non-violence, and some Diggers were carrying guns. Hard drugs were rampant on Haight Street and there were casualties.
The Haight had been a success nevertheless. Hundreds of thousands of young people had come through the Haight and the message of peace, love and community had spread across the country and across oceans. But the visionaries and pioneers in the Haight were tired and needed renewal. There were declining energies and dark visions.
Many of the originators left San Francisco for new rebirths. Steve Levine and I went to Mexico for a couple of weeks. We spoke at universities and we were interviewed by newspapers and TV. We read poetry, generally stirred things up, and spread the word.
When we returned, we discovered that a street guru with a following and a combative manner had moved himself into the Oracle offices, making it difficult to work or even think. The Oracle staff had exhausted its vision of the future. Most of us felt it was time to act out what we had already dreamed. Oracle #12 reflects this mood.
2000 AD – A Symposium: Watts, Rogers and Kahn
Alan Watts, Carl Rogers, and Herman Kahn had spoken at a symposium called “2000 AD” in Masonic Auditorium. Their purpose was to try to envision that millennial future. It was symptomatic of our failing energy and vision that we used such a canned feature. But we did present the transcript of the entire symposium without cuts. The art and design for this section was done by Alton Kelley along with Hetti McGee.
Carl Rogers was among the great innovators of modern psychology and was one of the originators of the encounter group method. He emphasized here that the most important problem of our time is whether people will be able to accept and absorb change at the rate it’s occurring. He sees intensive group experience as the most significant social invention of the century:
Religion as we know it today will disappear and be replaced by a community based not on a common creed nor an unchanging ritual but on the personalities of individuals who become deeply related to one another as they attempt to comprehend and to face as living men and woman the mysteries of existence.
Alan Watts said with some skepticism that if we survive the year 2000, it will be because:
We begin to think of the US not as an abstract political nation but think of it instead as real physical people and a real physical environment and the love of it. Man is so embroiled in his abstractions that he represents the physical world in the same way as the menu represents dinner. He very easily confuses the symbols for what they represent and so has a tendency to eat the menu instead of dinner.
He speaks of money as a symbol which is mistaken for wealth:
We have the capacity to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. We are long past the age of scarcity. The money we have spent on war since 1914 could have given everyone on earth a comfortable independent income.
To the question, “Where is the money going to come from?”, he answers:
Money doesn’t come from anywhere. We invent it. It is a measure. It is a measure of wealth. Real wealth is energy, technical intelligence and natural resources.
Herman Kahn was the author of the notorious book “On Thermonuclear War”, wherein he sought to justify the use of nuclear weapons and the winnability of nuclear war. He also founded the right wing think tank, “Hudson Institute.”
He idealized the Los Angelization of the world as a desirable future for all of us, and perceived human history as having two incidents of interest — the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution:
In America we all have faith in the future — from the middle class person who borrows right through next year’s salary to the hippie. We all know the system is going to work.
He speaks about the computer revolution and predicts that computers will be improving by a factor of 10 every two or three years:
Outside of divine revelation … we don’t know if there are any characteristics of a human being including the most intimate … which could not be duplicated, or in some reasonable sense of the term surpassed by computers. And when computers get better, who needs humans? … We know where the human pleasure centers are … get them wired to a computer on your chest or a console. I’m a prudish type, not free, so I won’t let you play your own buttons. That’s depraved. But get yourself an opposite number, hopefully of the opposite sex, … and play each others buttons. . . I would bet you even money that there will be a new human being in the 21st century. But I really doubt that he’ll be a hedonist or a dropout. I rather suspect he’ll be a little like me.
The Oracle and the Haight-Ashbury were a manifestation of forces that are rare in human history. Vast undercurrents of unfulfilled need caused new ideas and ideals to burst forth in the creative work of artists, poets, musicians and philosophers. The energies and echoes are still reverberating through time and cultures. Few people realize the tremendous influence that the Haight-Ashbury community and its voice, the San Francisco Oracle, had, as both symbol and focal point, for the social, artistic, psychological, and spiritual changes in that chaotic period. The 60s came close to bringing about a Revolution, and, looking backward, perhaps that failure was a consummation sorely missed; but the Sixties without a doubt brought forth a renaissance and a revitalization of American and world culture.
What would America be like if we had somehow gone from the gray flannel Eisenhower-McCarthyite 50s to the three piece suit Reagan 80s without the intercedence of the Beat, Hippie, civil rights and anti-war movements? The result of such a time warp probably would have been a direct line without much resistance to fascism or even holocaust.
The beat and hippie movements brought the values and experiences of an anarchistic, artistic sub-culture, and a secret and ancient tradition of transcendental and esoteric knowledge and experience into the mainstream of cultural awareness. It stimulated breakthroughs in every field from computer science to psychology, and gave us back a sense of being the originators of our lives and social forms instead of hapless robot receptors of a dull and determined conformity.
The sense of personal and social freedom manifested in the 60s has had its antithesis in the reaction of the 80s trying to block the road to personal and social evolution. But the freedoms that have become real to us cannot be beaten back. The values of compassion, creativity, social equality, love and peace will be victorious over war, fear, control and injustice. In the 60s in all the different movements — from the sacrifices of life and limb of the civil rights movement, and the solidarity and commitment of the anti-war movement, to the cultural warriors and internal pilgrims called Hippies — we showed that we must, each of us, work together to create a world that will survive and flourish.