James Baker, aka Father Yod, was the spiritual leader of a cult that became known as The Source Family. The cult started at Father Yod’s restaurant, The Source, one of the country’s first organic vegetarian restaurants, located on the Sunset Strip in L.A. His family followed him everywhere, except off a cliff.
Before James Baker became Father Yod, he was accused of murder twice and allegedly robbed several banks. Some claim he robbed up to eleven banks and used the money from the robberies to fund the famous Source restaurant and several other establishments.
Baker went through several interesting stages in life; at the age of twelve he was crowned America’s strongest boy, he was a WWII Marine Corps veteran, after the war he became a Jujitsu expert, bodybuilder, killer, aspiring actor, substance abuser, vegetarian and health food promoter and he eventually became a cult leader claiming to be God himself.
Baker killed two men on two separate occasions, not counting the people he killed during WWII. In 1955 Baker killed a man who had attacked him with a knife. Baker killed the man with his bare hands by punching him in the throat several times. Baker was acquitted in that case.
In 1963 Baker killed the husband of TV-actress Jean Ingram. Ingram and Baker were having an affair, Ingram’s husband found out and went to Baker’s restaurant, carrying a gun. Baker disarmed him, gave him two punches to the throat and a bullet to the head.
At the trial in 1963, the coroner couldn’t say whether it were the two chops to the throat or the bullet through the head that killed him. Baker was freed after three months once it was determined that he acted in self-defense.
Out of Control
At age 43, Baker owned several restaurants and was making good money. The hippie lifestyle and the flower children started to come up in California, and Baker met a 19-year-old girl named Dora. He fell in love with her, and they started partying together, taking different kinds of drugs; acid, speed and marijuana, at times he wouldn’t sleep for days. He started to lose control of himself.
At night Baker would go to his restaurants and empty the cash registers leaving the manager no money to open up in the morning. He was kicked out of his own restaurant by his investors, and Baker realized he had to change his ways and began looking for spiritual guidance like so many others did in that period.
The Source Restaurant
On April 1st 1969, Baker opened The Source restaurant, a former hamburger spot converted to a spiritual restaurant, serving organic and vegetarian food. The employees all wore white robes and gowns.
The place became hugely popular and had many customers from the “in crowd”. Celebrities like John Lennon, Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando were regular customers.
Baker became a legend in the Hollywood restaurant business. At its peak, the restaurant made $10,000 a day. According to several trade magazines, The Source was making more money per square foot than any other restaurant in the country. The employees were so tight-knit that they became like a family and, eventually, a cult.
In May 1970, Baker gave his first mediation class at the Source Restaurant. He quickly gathered a following and many of them started working at The Source, and the family grew bigger and bigger. By this time, Baker insisted people call him Father Yod.
The Mother House
In the early days of The Source restaurant, Baker and his girlfriend Robin lived in a loft above the restaurant, and the employees were scattered around, some sleeping in vans, some had their own place. Baker and his employees became like a close family, and they decided to look for a place where the employees could all live together.
They found a suitable mansion and named it “The Mother House”. Baker and Robin did not move in with the group of employees, but Baker was seen as the spiritual father of the group.
The group had a brutal morning routine, getting up around 4 a.m., taking a dip in the ice-cold swimming pool followed by gymnastics. Then they had breakfast consisting of raw food. The food had to be eaten within fifteen minutes of being cut, otherwise the life force would have left the food.
After breakfast everyone would take a hit of the ‘sacred herb’. Smoking weed came with a instruction “Instruct the fire of the sacred herb, pumping your stomach seven times and exhaling Yahowha. Roll your neck”.
“This is not pot, this is the sacred herb. Man misuses it today. When it’s used to serve the animal, balling’s better, eating’s better, music is better, everything is better. Use it to serve the God and insight will come to you”.
A Family member described the early morning hit of marijuana in that setting as taking a hit of LSD.
April 7, 1972. Family member Heaven, age 16, was pregnant and ready to deliver her baby. After 22 hours of labor, the situation became intense and things didn’t look good. The baby was finally born, but the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and he wasn’t breathing.
According to several family members, Father Yod picked up the baby, got on his knees and started praying. He took a deep breath and blew into the child’s mouth, and within a couple of seconds the child came to life.
The Father House
After a year, the family, now consisting of about 140 members, had to leave the Mother house. The house belonged to the Chandler family, owners of the L.A. Times, and they decided not to renew the lease on the house due to pressure from the neighbors who were uncomfortable living next-door to a cult, two years after the Manson family murders.
The family found a suitable home in the Hollywood Hills and christened the house “The Father House”. This time Father Yod did move into the house with his followers and the Source family was born. The family members changed their individual surnames to a joint surname; The Aquarian.
God Has a Rock Band
Like many cult leaders, Father Yod wanted to be a rockstar. Father Yod formed a band named Ya Ho Wha 13, a psychedelic rock band and recorded more than 60 full-length albums. Most tracks were improvised and had a tribal sounding. The band performed at high schools in order to recruit new family members. Most of the albums were pressed in small batches of 500 copies and sold at The Source restaurant for $10 each. Today the albums are highly sought after by collectors of the psychedelic genre.
In 1974, the family came under fire after one of the children was taken to the hospital with an (easily treatable) staphylococcal infection. The child was in bad shape and could have died. Father Yod was against western medical care; instead, the group relied on herbs, prayer and meditation. The hospital notified the police of suspected child endangerment.
Father Yod became paranoid and began to preach about nuclear war, armageddon and the end of the world. He decided it was time to move. He sold the restaurant and moved the family to Hawaii. The local residents of the island were not happy with the arrival of the group, memories of deadly cults such as the Manson family and The Peoples Temple were still fresh in the collective memory.
Father Yod ran out of money quickly, he bought a fishing boat and a plane to spot fish, and after some hefty purchases, the family didn’t have much money left. Several family members started looking for a job but no one wanted to hire one of these Manson family like types. An article was placed in a local newspaper about how the family members would eventually all go on welfare.
The locals turned against the family and Father Yod prepared his family for a possible attack. One day, Father Yod had had enough of his guru role and told his followers that he had taught them everything he knew, and that there was nothing left to learn. He encouraged his little birds to leave the nest.
One morning the family had prepared breakfast containing “special” mushrooms. After breakfast, the group went for a walk and Father Yod told his followers that he was not a god and that he was just a mere mortal. Some of his followers became disillusioned with him.
August 25, 1975. Several hours after a hang-gliding accident, Father Yod left his earthly body. Despite having no hang-gliding experience, he decided it would be a good idea to go hang-gliding without an instructor present. On their way to the beach, the group encountered a passerby, and Father Yod jokingly said, “Morituri te salutames!” Which translates to, Those who are about to die salute you!
His first and last flight ended after he crashed onto a rocky beach and broke his back. His followers carried him back to the house and started chanting and meditating. Someone suggested taking him to a hospital, but the plan was aborted after someone else reminded the group that Father Yod was against hospitals. Father Yod died nine hours after he crashed. His followers tried to continue together as a group, but without Father Yod’s leadership, the group fell apart after about two years.