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For the love of Yod

In the '60s, a man called James Baker created The Source, an alternative family movement based around health food, group sex, rock’n’roll and the use of a communal Rolls Royce. This is his story.

Taken from the 2007 December issue of Dazed & Confused:

There are few places on earth as open to spiritual experimentation and self-exploration as Southern California and few moments as free of inhibition and social constriction as the late 1960s. To be in both at once, at that particularly poignant meeting of time and place, was to bear witness to, and (if so compelled) join in, a shared communal consciousness. Los Angeles at the end of that strangest of decades was a weirder place than any other, full of long-haired lost boys, aging starlets, troubadours and charlatans, angels, devils and madmen.

Jim Baker was a man completely of this moment. A former Marine and jujitsu expert raised in the meat and potatoes heartland of Ohio, Baker originally moved to California to audition for the role of Tarzan. When Hollywood didn’t come calling, Baker translated his passion for health and fitness into a thriving restaurant business, a string of eateries which would lay the foundation for the “twigs and berries” Cali-cuisine we know today.

Somewhere amid financial success and a few failed marriages, Baker developed a hunger for Eastern philosophy – spiritualism, as filtered through 1950s SoCal bohemia. Studying the teachings of modern mystic Manly P Hall and the nature-loving “beats” of the surrounding canyons would eventually lead him to early Kundalini Yoga advocate Yogi Bhajan. Bhajan would become Baker’s spiritual father, inspiring him to open yet another restaurant, The Source, a space that would become the epicentre for not only the health-conscious Hollywood elite, but for Baker’s own self-transformation.

It was during this period of adventuring in his inner consciousness that Baker would also kill two men in self-defence. One was a drunken, violent neighbour, another a lover’s angry husband. Their deaths resulted in a series of highly publicised trials, eventual acquittals and Baker having to register his bare hands as “deadly weapons”. Tall, with a barrel chest and a military bearing, Baker was the kind of archetypal wiry-haired mountain man that once crossed the plains and pushed westward to the Pacific. The kind of man who could kill with one quick karate chop and still be able to meditate the next morning. In a word, he was – intense.

This intensity would prove attractive to a number of Sunset Boulevard searchers, young men and women looking for a lifestyle defiantly opposite to the Christian tenets of suburban America. “He was a spiritual kick-anybody’s-ass Peter Pan,” remembers a former follower of Baker’s. “He was a total man’s man, a guy who stood the tallest in any situation and a spiritual adventurer, who basically called out the laws of the universe to see what they were made of. He was curious about all the energy the kids had in the 70s. He called them fallen angels.”

“The Source Family engaged in both cheerful ritualistic orgies and regular band practice, with Father Yod leading Ya Ho Wa 13, the musical arm of The Source legacy.” 

Baker was indeed an outlaw of sorts, a man with a commanding presence and a neatly defined philosophy of health, nutrition and free love. By offering a series of immensely popular morning meditations in The Source parking lot, and populating his restaurant staff with wide-eyed acolytes, Baker would organically spawn a burgeoning movement, a communal living experiment based on good food and good vibes. “When I met Jim Baker after his spiritual transformation, I was so affected by his warm, healing energy, that it was hard to speak,” remembers Isis, an early Baker devotee. “The cells in my body felt activated, and everything else in my world just disappeared. The feeling was like being drunk or high. It didn’t feel to me like he was controlling the energy; he just seemed friendly and open and full of love, as if he were blissful in his new, elevated state of consciousness and aware of the significance of the moment between us.”

The Source, as Baker’s following would come to be known, were one of the most visible (and by all accounts, relatively stable and happy) groups ever to emerge from the glut of the late 60s cult movement. While Manson was hiding out just a few miles east, at Spawn Ranch, Baker was evolving into “Father Yod” – a jolly, raunchy, white-bearded figurehead, supreme leader to over 100 good-looking, nubile and freshfaced devotees.

Where Manson was murderous, Father Yod was all about the love. The Source embraced the simple, sensual pleasures of Tantric sex and polyamorous relationships, the smoking of the “sacred herb” marijuana and the primal release of rock’n’roll. At their sprawling “Mother House” mansion in the Hollywood Hills, The Source Family engaged in both cheerful ritualistic orgies and regular band practice, with Father Yod leading Ya Ho Wa 13, the musical arm of The Source legacy. Dressed in flowing white robes and the occasional turban, Ya Ho Wa 13 recorded about 65 albums of material – much of it released on their own Higher Key label and sold through The Source restaurant.

“Father Yod knew the power of intention and frequency,” remembers a former member known as Omne. “He was seeding a future by vocalising his most profound understandings about the nature of life, the nature of humanity and the nature of God. In that very cacophonous inflection, he was seeding reality with a frequency.” In other words, the band, like the cult, was a psychedelic experiment in action, catharsis discovered through the embrace of the “Eternal Now”. Father Yod established for his “children” a strict regimen of sensual indulgence, which helped keep them in the present, in part because the present was so pleasant. Revenues from the restaurant meant a swank crash pad, plenty to eat and even a communal Rolls Royce. There was chanting and yoga, hot tea and green salads. There were back rubs, beautiful women and groovy guitar jams. To most everyone aware of The Source at the time, (among them many of Hollywood’s rich and famous) Father Yod’s world looked like one hell of a good time.

“People thought that he was an egomaniac, that he was obsessed with sex, that he was arrogant and dangerous. But I was utterly convinced that I was living with God” — member of The Source

“Some people thought Jim Baker was an egomaniac, that he was obsessed with sex, that he was arrogant and dangerous,” says Omne. “But I was utterly convinced that I was living with God. He made me feel innately noble, and not to the exclusion of anybody else. He made me feel that I was loved unconditionally, that everything was available.” In the end, it was that unconditional love that seems to have been Father Yod’s most effective tool. The Source Family would endure the end of the 60s dream and survive for five blissful years until Baker’s death in 1975, in a hang-gliding accident. Impulsive and adventurous to his last days, Baker said farewell to this world by crash-landing on to the white sands of a Hawaii beach. Survived by 13 wives and 140 sons and daughters, his legacy is guaranteed for more than a few generations to come.

“Father said that you cannot change anyone, but they can change themselves,” says another Source member Electricity. “The Family members have proven that. They have gone on to use his teachings to achieve their own individual stages of awareness and understanding and to manifest almost every possible degree of life experience. All of them would tell you that Father had a profound effect upon their lives and consciousness. Even now, at 62 years old, probably 60 per cent of all my memories come out of one year of my life with the Family.”

“He was accused of brainwashing us but it is society that’s brainwashed,” says Omne. “I think that all of us who were in the Family would agree that we are greater for having known Jim Baker and to have been embraced by him as his spiritual child, to acknowledge him as their spiritual father, which was the fulfillment of all the failed expectations that they experienced with their own parents. They were healed by their relationship with him.”