How the Source Family Turned "Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll" Into a Cult

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It's been nearly 40 years since Jim Baker died after diving off a cliff in Hawaii, but members of the utopian community he founded still call him Father. In recent years, they've gone about resurrecting the memory of the cult, and its weird philosophy which melded the decadence of 1960s pop culture with weird spirituality.

Like a long-forgotten band, the Source Family, and the experiment's leader have seen a renaissance in recent years. In 2007, Isis Aquarian, who still uses her cult-given pseudonym, published a history of the group, complete with loads of photos, newspaper clippings, and a bundled CD containing music recorded by the cult's official band, Yahowha 13. Since then, the band has gotten back together, and last year the community was the subject of a documentary that feels more like a rock n' roll history than the story of the rise and fall of a utopian dream. In large measure, that's because of the sheer volume of archival footage and photos shot at Baker's command. (The Source Family documentary is currently available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers or for a $5 HD rental.)


The Source Family grew out of The Source, the Los Angeles health food restaurant Baker founded in 1969. The restaurant was way ahead of its time and was enormously lucrative, allowing Baker to bankroll the community that rose up around it. He changed his name to Father Yod (and later Ya Ho Wha), and cultivated an large group of followers who considered him God.


On the surface, the Source Family was a stereotypical hippy commune complete with ambiguous, mystical spirituality, free love openness, and yoga. There were loads of young beautiful women, and Baker had sex with lots of them in the name of heightened consciousness. Though the Source Family certainly wasn't the first band of hippies that took drugs and receded into a compound for sex, it certainly helped define the archetype going forward.

But what I find more interesting is Yahowa 13, the Source Family's psychedelic rock band, which churned out nine records of free-wheeling sonic experimentation—not to mention endless reels of improvised madness. Told in general terms, you'd have trouble distinguishing the cult of Jim Baker from the cult of any rock star. He was a talented and charismatic megalomaniac who cultivated a legion of young groupies that followed him around. They all do a bunch of drugs, have crazy sex, and roll around in his money.


Even Baker's death sounds like the work of a reckless rock star at the end of his chain. After feeling increasing external pressure from Californians worried they might have another Manson Family on their hands, the Source Family abandoned their restaurant in 1974 and moved to Hawaii where Baker's hold on the community started to unravel. On August 25, 1975, Ya Ho Wa lead his followers up a hill, where they all watched him dive off a cliff on hang-glider. He had no idea what he was doing, and crashed onto the beach below. Nine hours later, Baker died and without him, the group he assembled couldn't sustain itself.