Red Soil

In 1875 in New York City, Helena (Madame) Blavatsky, H.S. Olcott and a few other fin de siecle occultists founded the Theosophical Society to promote a synthesis of spiritualism, Masonic lore, eastern religious mysticism and a belief in the 'Mahatmas', time travelling wise-ones with whom adepts could comunicate on the astral plane and to whom the leadership hierarchy of the movement ultimately paid obeisance. This organization has been the central reason for Ojai's reputation as a spiritual center. It can be debated, of course, whether there was (and is) is some innate spiritual resonance in the area to which the Theosophists were drawn.

Certainly the three important early twentieth century Theosophical colonies in California were all situated in areas of profound natural beauty: Lomaland, a collection of grandiose structures that made up the 'White City', founded by Katherine Tingley as a center of Theosophical belief, was located on the long, windswept finger of land that points south to Mexico and protects the bay on which San Diego sits. Here, at the extreme southwestern point of the United States, Tingley created a community that blended New World confidence, Victorian morality, a love of antiquity, Indian spirituality, occultism and a featured a mash-up of Greco-Mughal architectural styles. Frances LaDue, a.k.a. Blue Star, founded the idyllic Theosophical community just south of Pismo beach, called Halcyon. Her partner, Dr. Dower, established a hospital and sanitarium, which, along with The Temple of the People (triangular, domed and colonnaded), formed the institutional core of this idealist village set in beautiful Arroyo Grande overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In 1889, Annie Besant (Class of 2010), was converted to Theosophy upon a single reading of Madame Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine. Two years later the cigar-chomping Russian mystic was dead and Besant quickly assumed a leading role in the Esoteric Section. She accompanied Charles Leadbetter, the Society's intellectual muscle and noted pedarast, to India in 1909 and there they 'discovered' Jiddu Krishnamurti (K), a 14 year old brahmin, son of a family living in genteel poverty and thus amenable to seeing Jiddu annointed as the 'salvation of mankind' and taken, with his brother Nitya, to perform on the now global Theosophical stage. In the early 1920's and afforded some independence from his handlers, Krishnamurti took his beloved brother, deathly ill from tuberculosis, to Ojai where, in the warm dry climate that Charles Nordhoff had promoted in the second edition of California for Health, Pleasure and Residence, he hoped for a cure (Hotel California).

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the oldest of California's Theosophical colonies had been established in the Hollywood hills by Albert Warrington between 1911 and 1919 and many of the Moorish influenced buildings still stand. Warrington, a colleague of both Olcott and Leadbetter had, as his spritual guide, Annie Besant. Warrington was led by the Mahatmas, and on the material plane encouraged by his friends the Rev. Robert Walton and Mary Gray (with whom Krishnamurti and his brother originally stayed on the arrival in California) to visit Ojai in 1924. This precipitated the moving of Krotona to Ojai that same year - a move no doubt hastened by the quickening development of the Hollywood Hills; a year earlier, a giant sign had appeared above the Krotona community announcing HOLLYWOODLAND (later truncated to read HOLLYWOOD).

By 1927, the stars had aligned such that Besant arrived in Ojai, at the urging of K who accompanied her on the trip, and she confirmed that the valley would be the future world center for the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti. This was both a spiritual pilgrimage for Annie Besant and an opportunity to consider the acquisition of prime real estate where the Esoteric Section's ultimate goal of nurturing the next step in human evolution, the sixth root race (don't ask) could be founded.

On a winter's day early in 1927, they left K’s home at Arya Vihara (now the Krishnamurti Library on McAndrew Road in the East End) to see the land on the west side of the Krotona property, land that ultimately became the venue for Krishnamurti's annual 'talks' and later, the site for the Oak Grove School (where I taught from 1995-1998). They were unimpressed. K persuaded Besant and the group to look at the Upper Ojai region where there was also a large tract of land for sale. They liked it very much and bought 465 acres, plus the oil rights. This property was later expanded and became The Happy Valley Foundation, putative site for the future of mankind.

Clearly the big-sky country of Upper Ojai appealed to Annie Besant's vision, which to date has been manifested only in a small private high school, founded in the 1940's by Krishnamurti and Aldous Huxley, originally dubbed Happy Valley and recently re-named Besant Hill. It remains a magical property and is close by the small Chumash village that gave its name to Ojai (The Land Speaks for Itself). When asked for her reaction to the land, Besant wrote “I find that your valley has an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and spirituality that is most reminiscent of India in these respects than any other part of the globe that I have visited.”

In Languedoc, in the south eastern corner of France, recto versa, on the other side of the page, peace, tranquility and spirituality have been hard won. In the early middle ages the area where we stayed, between Perpignon and Carcassonne, was prized for its cabbages and its saffron. Now it is a kind of Bermuda Triangle (with the third corner being Andorra) - an area depopulated in the thirteenth century by the Albigensian Crusade, again in the fourteenth through successive crop failures and the Black Death, and currently with a population density less than the Sahara. Our adventurer host Anthony Hyde, who spends much of his time in Africa calls it, quite simply, France's Chad. At Grànes, close by Anthony's home, the Moulin à la Bordaisse, there is no bread; there is no cheese; there are no people - other than the English, who jet in from Liverpool on Ryan Air and, should they decide to stay, live in one or another of the picturesque stone villages shadowed by ancient visigoth ruins on the hills, where they find that it is more economical to become alcoholic than at home and, quite possibly, marginally more chic.

The Albigensian Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocence III in 1209 against the heretical Cathars of Languedoc, lands that then spread from Catalonia east to Provence. The Cathars were dualists; their simple, spirit good/flesh bad beliefs, inevitably positioned Jesus, who was of the flesh, on the wrong side of the ledger. Although they denounced procreation as extending the evil of the world they nevertheless became a highly prosperous region of traders, bankers and farmers. Hi-jacked by the royalist north, whose knights did most of the fighting, the Crusade proceeded with devastating brutality and was used as cover to conquer the southern lands where the heresy had spread.

The Treaty of Paris 1229, between Raymond VII of Toulouse and Louis IX of France officially ended the wars with Raymond conceding defeat to Louis IX. Based on the terms of the treaty, Raymond's daughter was married to Louis' brother and Languedoc became a part of France in the kind of national aggregation that eventually occurred in all major European countries (Suquet); but the Cathars were not entirely eliminated during this twenty year holocaust. The Inquisition was developed by the Catholic Church as a tool to render their total elimination during the remainder of the thirteenth century. Malcolm Barber notes in his paper, Albigensian Crusades: Wars Like Any Other?

"........(The wars) marked a qualitative degeneration in behaviour for those involved, for they engendered and strengthened hostile attitudes towards those who were different from the perceived norm and opened the way for the development of an ingrained superiority towards those who did not follow the banner of Christ as interpreted in the Latin West. These enemies find their lineal descent in the demonised peoples of the New World, whose behaviour showed that they were not of the same species as their conquerors and therefore need not be treated as human beings at all."

And so, in the red soil of Grànes, colored, perhaps, by ferrous oxides but in my imagination by the blood of the Cathars, there was again this glimpse from one side of the page to another: from the parochial Cathari holocaust to the almost total destruction of the native populations in the Americas.

A corollary to the Cathari belief that Jesus was fully human is the presumption that the resurrection didn't happen. Instead, it is claimed that the rock closing off the cave where Jesus' body was left for dead was removed in the night and that he and Mary Magdelene along with the chalice shared at the last supper (a.k.a. the Holy Grail), escaped to Europe and through their daughter Sarah, their bloodline continued for 400 years as the Merovingian dynasty of the Franks. Jesus, it is claimed, died an old man in France, where he fled with his family to escape prosecution from Peter and the Apostoles, and was buried at Rennes-le-Château - a three mile run from Le Moulin!

This story was supposedly kept secret for two millennia by the Priory of Sion, a mysterious sect that is said to have also founded the Order of the Templars and is the basis for Dan Brown's popular novel, The DaVinci Code. But wait there's more....The secret was accidentally discovered by Beranger Sauniere who became Rennes-le-Chateau's priest in 1885 and grew unaccountably wealthy. Upon these fantastic stories the hamlet in turn has grown rich; it is reputedly overrun with tourists and they support the local book store, two restaurants and a hotel.

When I ran up through its quaint streets it seemed an uncomfortably hollow place, notable for its views but little else. The Church was locked, the shops closed and the streets empty. It was a little after 6 a.m. It is a strange hill-top village in an area where memories of Celts, Romans, Visigoths and Cathars are imprinted in the limestone crags, fortress ruins, the roiling waters of the Aude, the caves amidst chesnut, oak and ash, and the red soil, but here those memories have been scrubbed clean under the intemperate gaze of a thousand tourists, the wonder of the place vanished into the digital pixilation of their cameras and the delicate mysteries, be there any, coarsened by their rude curiosity.