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Film

The Family That Prays Together

What happens when sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll collide with religion

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Jim Baker designated himself Father Yod, the highest manifestation of God on Earth.

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Father yod with family members


The Source Family

Directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos

Playing Feb. 19 at 7:30 at MICA’s Brown Center, with Jodi Wille and Explosion the Aquarian

In the early ’70s, a new cult sprung up in Los Angeles, conceived at famous health-food eatery the Source Restaurant by its owner, Jim Baker—a 49-year-old dynamo with a checkered history who designated himself Father Yod. Young men and women alike flocked to Father Yod and the Source Family, which eventually rented out a Los Angeles mansion (dubbed the Mother House), where they lived according to Father Yod’s teachings. All the members took the last name Aquarian; underage women married into the Family; the cult formed a psychedelic rock band, Ya Ho Wha 13, which recorded music after ritualistic early-morning sacred-herb smoking sessions; various sexual unions were had. The creation, evolution, and dissolution of the cult plays out in Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos’ documentary The Source Family, which integrates a great deal of live footage and audio recordings documented by actual Family members. For those even mildly interested in ’70s culture, this is a must.

City Paper: What would you say is one of the unifying characteristics of people attracted to the Source Family?

Maria Demopoulos: Freethinkers. People who had a vision for a better world. People who wanted to change the world. A lot of the Source Family members had a difficult relationship with their fathers and their parents because those people came from more of the Mad Men generation and were in the military or had opposite political views from them. This was like a young generation of people coming up who wanted to make the world better, wanted to live in a place that was more peaceful and look deeply into their inner lives.

Jodi Wille: Yeah, people who were unhappy with the dominant paradigm, you know, the paradigm of consumerism and industrialized service, an unnecessary war, a corrupt government, and also a depressed economy around that time. . . . You had this generation of young people who looked at the world their parents created and just said, “No. I’m going to create my own version of the world that is meaningful to me.”

CP: What was the largest the Family ever numbered?

JW: Their peak number that they maintained the longest was 140, but there were literally hundreds of people that came in and out of the family. They would give people numbers when they came into the family, and they have a list of over 400 people.

CP: Father Yod was obviously a crucial presence—what do you think was the source of his charisma and his power?

MD: His sex drive.

JW: You think that was the source of his charisma?

MD: His lust and his passion for life and, you know, he was driven very much by sex.

JW: Wow. For me, I think that one of the sources of his charisma that goes all the way back to maybe the early ’60s or beyond was that he had a very commanding presence. He didn’t speak a lot, so his words were always well-chosen. He was always physically commanding; he was 6 foot 4 inches. He had very intense blue eyes. He was extremely self-confident and yet a good listener. And what people in the Family told me—especially the women who were his women—was he always made you feel like you were the only person in the room. And according to the Family members, he had that sort of supernatural gift that many of the yogis claimed they had at that time. He did really unusual things and made weird energy clouds appear in the room; they would be doing magical occult rituals and all of a sudden the entire mansion would start shaking. I think that also had a lot to do with people believing that he was God, you know, the highest manifestation of God on Earth.

MD: Whatever he put his mind to, he did it. He had like a big Type A personality. When he opened his restaurants, they became super-successful. He just had this incredible lust for life. He won the World’s Strongest Boy as a kid, and then he was this huge war hero and successful restaurateur. Whatever he did, he did it with his all. And when he became interested in spirituality, he studied all these other gurus and became completely immersed in it.

CP: How did members of the Family characterize the impact of the time they spent with the Source Family over the rest of their lives?

MD: Many of them say it was one of the most intense experiences of their entire lives and they’ve never experienced anything like it since.

JW: I have to say that all of them—every single one of them—said it was the most remarkable experience of their lives. And different people processed it in different ways. Some people had a very hard time integrating back into society afterward, fell into drugs, prostitution. But eventually, after 40 years, some of them say that it’s taken them this long to really figure out what it is and what it means. And some of them were broken by it.

CP: We see a couple of the grown children of Family members toward the end of the film. Did you interview more of the children for the film?

MD: We did, and that was a difficult process because we only had two hours to tell this pretty big, epic story and there was so much we cut out. Many of them didn’t really remember the experience that well, because they were so young at the time.

JW: And they weren’t significant enough to tell; they weren’t heavily damaged by it. There wasn’t any pattern of abuse we uncovered after interviewing a bunch of them. And the film’s only 98 minutes long, so we had to make choices about that. It just wasn’t significant enough. The main thing was like, some of the kids grew up thinking their parents were cult members and didn’t like the fact that their fathers had more than one woman at some point in their lives. After the Family broke up, some of the Family members continued on with the multiple-wives thing and tried it back in the real world, and it really failed miserably. But it was too much time to explore that and we just couldn’t fit it in, because the story itself is so big.

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