I am going to a building that was a former residence (perhaps??) in New York. It’s a big apartment building. I recognize it. At the door are piles of snakes, live hissing dangerous snakes. We somehow get into an elevator that runs in a diagonal along the outside of the building. There is a snake in the elevator as well–it appears to be dead, is somewhat desiccated, having died in the act of swallowing whole some bird or clawed, clawing animal. But despite it’s dead appearance, I am afraid of it, afraid it is going to bite and poison me, so I cling to the front of the elevator by the buttons while some other girls walk in. We go in a diagonal up the side of the building, glass panels revealing the city below us. As we finally get out of the elevator, I turn back and see the girls picking apart the dead snake.
We go into a therapists’ office. The therapist is a man, cold, in charge of his space. No one I have ever seen before.
I am afraid for my son, that’s why we are here. The therapist says that in order to talk to me about these things–part of the therapy–is that he has sex with me. So I go onto the leather couch behind his desk and lie on my stomach. People are there, watching–I think Liz and Mike?–and I know everyone is sitting next to us, watching, believing that this is a terrible, terrible idea–what will my husband think?–but I don’t care. The therapist finishes. I ask him–was that really necessary? And he says no, it wasn’t–and it had nothing to do with the therapeutic process–he lied to me about that, but it was still all my fault because I had wanted it. And I am horrified and know that I’ve perhaps destroyed my marriage, betrayed my husband; and I protest, because I never would have let him had I not believed his lie–but at the same time, I know he’s at least partly right.
And then I leave. I don’t know where I go, but I ponder the irrevocableness of action.
Last fall I used the “research” requirement of my MFA to investigate a long-time interest, researching the roots of California guru and spiritualist culture. Charismatic leaders, cults, performances and rituals of power, the usual suspects. Aimee Semple MacPherson doing vaudeville skits in her Sunday morning (God as a traffic cop, pulling over the speeding sinner on the road of life). Guy Ballard’s cult, the Mighty “I AM” (always in capital letters), which he was inspired to create after being met on Mount Shasta by the Comte de St. Germain and taken on a whirlwind tour through riches secreted in the center of the earth.
Katherine Tingley (the “Purple Mother”) and Annie Besant’s Theosophist rivalry–Point Loma proto-kibbutznik colony vs. Hollywood Vedic fantasia.
There is A LOT there. Southern California’s particular flavor of seeking enlightment–uniting physical health with spiritual awareness with this idea that if you pray for it you will be very very successful in a worldly way–is seeded in the various economic and spiritual forces that collided in the founding of this fantasy land, between 1890-1930. Pentacostalism started in LA. The excitement about holy truths uncovered in Mayan and Egyptian archeological digs influenced the architecture. Aleister Crowley occultism and Christianity and yogic methodology synthesized and was performed performed through Theosophy. After World War II, you can add Scientology and UFOs and Aliens to the mix. The 1960s bring Synanon and death cults and Manson. And hippies.
So I was in yoga class the other day (ahem), and thought–what is it about this particularly Californian style of ritual? Uniting a physically arduous act with some spiritual intention, a religious framework, individual desire, glamour, in order to make manifest…something bigger and somehow truer (and yet never true at all) in its imaginative fusing of multiple cultures and yearnings?