“I would look around and see all these incredible, beautiful people… I just knew that it had to be preserved.”
JG: The Source Family has been called everything from a monastic religious order to a cult led by a “dirty old man.” What did you consider it to be?
IA: The media needed a buzz word for Charles Manson and that’s when ‘cult’ started being used. The word ‘cult’ then had a negative meaning to it, but we didn’t see ourselves as a cult. We didn’t even really use the word commune. We saw ourselves as a brotherhood. We called ourselves The Source Family. The word ‘cult’ doesn’t have to be bad. Cult always meant culture to us–one’s way of life.
What I loved most about being with Father Yod was that we learned about it all in one place at one time–every religion, teaching, thought process, mystery schools for our souls advancement. I don’t know of any other group that did that. It was like a crash course and we were on the fast track.
“When I was photographing I was probably in that moment more than anybody else because it was like a laser light one beam focus. It took me to the heart of the matter.”
JG: Would you describe an average day as a part of The Source Family?
IA: We would be up early in the morning because our morning meditation started at 4. We didn’t talk a lot. People would make coffee. We loved our one cup of coffee in the morning. Then we would either jump into a cold shower or go into the swimming pool and brush our hair, get dressed, help prepare the vibration and the meditation room, light incense, arrange things, make sure there were fresh flowers.
Then we waited for Father to come down to meditation. That would be about an hour or two, and by then the sun would start to come up and we would greet the sun and start our day. People would either go off to work or the women would go in and take care of the children’s room. We made our own clothes so some people were sewing. A lot of us would go down to The Source. There were no jobs outside of The Source. It was like the goose that laid the golden egg.
We went to bed early–probably at about 7 or 8 o’clock. Each day brought something new, and you never knew what was going to happen. It was very exciting. So even though our life was kind of monastic–well we weren’t celibate [laughs]. But we were our own little order up on a hilltop wearing robes. It was a very exciting adventure. People were running around saying they were Jesus. Everybody was Jesus. It was the start of a God-conscious time.
“Everybody was Jesus.”
JG: Did you ever experience any backlash or negativity because you were a part of The Source Family?
IA: Of course we did–especially when Charles Manson did what he did. It was just so horrible and so negative and everybody started relating long haired people or anybody in groups to Charles Manson. It became very dark very quick.
When we sold The Source and moved to Hawaii, we just wanted to buy some land and be on our own, but people thought we were Charles Manson. Because people didn’t live it–they didn’t see it, and I understand that. There are some things I see from the outside that I find myself questioning.
JG: Was that when The Source Family began to fall apart?
IA: That was the start of our downfall and our disbursement. It just started falling apart. Because we didn’t have The Source, people had to go out and get jobs. It didn’t work. Father got to the point where he said, “I’ve given everybody everything I know. It’s done,” and he tried to disperse us several times and we wouldn’t go.
In every family situation there comes a time when the little birds have to be pushed out of the nest and they have to start their own journey, but nobody wanted to do it. He was done before we were.
JG: Did you ever resent Father Yod for leaving you and the rest of The Source Family by jumping from a cliff?
IA: No, I didn’t judge him. It was his path. He left every wife he ever had. He left every situation he was ever in when it no longer served where he was going. He was on a journey and his journey went very fast and you had to hold onto his coattails or get left behind.
I’m not saying it’s right the way he moved on, but at least he got into a hang glider [laughs]. It’s not like he just went and jumped off a cliff. He intended to give himself to fate. I’m not saying it was right or wrong–it was his just decision. But he did leave a legacy, and it was an amazing journey.
“His journey went very fast and you had to hold onto his coattails or get left behind.”
JG: What was life like after The Source Family?
IA: When the family did disperse people just walked out. Nobody asked for anything; nobody took anything. Not everybody was everybody’s best friend, so of course after The Family dispersed there were little groupings.
Everybody has their own story. For some it was just leaving one party to go to another. For some of us it was hard. Some of us had been so totally committed. It was going to be the rest of our lives, so it was interesting going back out and figuring out, “what am I going to wear? Where do I shop?”
Cocaine was big at that time, and a lot of people were very innocent about drugs–they didn’t know cocaine was addictive, so they got into drugs, and a lot of people went on and went back to school and became very successful, so it’s not just what did The Source Family members do, it’s what did anybody in society do? You could take responsibility for you life and do something good with it. If you had kids you could raise your kids right, you could go get a job and be responsible–pay your bills, just like everybody else was doing.
“I look through the rear view mirror a lot as I keep moving forward, but I try not to get stuck in it. I don’t think any of us want to live with each other again or repeat that process. It was for that timeframe.”
JG: Was it difficult to explain your life in The Source Family to outsiders?
IA: Nobody talked about it. There were people who hadn’t even told their wives or husbands that they were in The Source Family. I mean, how do you tell someone that you were in this commune and the guy had 14 wives and you all ran around nude and then he jumped off a cliff and died?
Lots of people just said, “Nah, I’m going to zip that one up.” It can be very daunting to come out of the closet with something like that. You wonder if it’s going to be a witch hunt. Tim Miller [Religious Studies professor and author of numerous books on communes and counter culture movements], brought me out of my source closet.
“I mean how do you tell someone that you were in this commune and the guy had 14 wives and you all ran around nude and then he jumped off a cliff and died?”
JG: Is there any part of you that regrets leaving everything behind to join The Source Family?
IA: No. Absolutely no. Not at all. When you know you know. It was one of those moments where I absolutely knew [quietly laughs]. It was like a veil had been lifted. I was fearless in leaving everything. Some people call it a rapture–something that changes you instantly–and I really believe we have spiritual guidance in that crossover because I don’t think a person can do that on their own.
So of course I never regretted it, but it left some messy threads with Ron because I just walked out on him. But the thing is, I always thought Ron was going to go with me. I never in my wildest dreams thought he was not going to go with me [laughs]. What a shock to find out that he absolutely was not going to do that and thought I was stark raving mad.
“Some people call it a rapture–something that changes you instantly–and I really believe we have spiritual guidance in that crossover because I don’t think a person can do that on their own.”
JG: Does he still believe you’re stark raving mad?
IA: Well, he didn’t speak to me for almost 40 years. He was very mad. It took a while to talk him into meeting with me. He thought Father Yod was a quack and a charlatan. He thought I had been brainwashed and he wanted me to say that I was wrong. He wanted me to denounce Father Yod and the whole Source Family, and I couldn’t do that because I don’t feel that way. If anything we felt our parents’ generation had been brainwashed. We’d been heart-washed.
But he has a partner, Cheryl, who really saved his life and career and she helped me work with him. When we were doing the Source documentary she talked him into coming. He watched the documentary and he liked it. It filled in some gaps for him. We all went out to dinner. We hugged. It was nice. He started allowing us to have a friendship again.
“We felt our parents’ generation had been brainwashed. We’d been heart-washed.”
JG: Do you feel the 2012 documentary, The Source Family, accurately reflected life during your time with The Source Family?
IA: [The documentary] was done by somebody who couldn’t have done it any better for not having lived the experience. If it had been done by me it would have been done different, but then it would not have been as successful because it would’ve been just another in house, religious thing. It was made with my archives, but the agreement I made when making the documentary was that it would not be whitewashed–that I would allow other takes on it.
One of the most shocking things when I did the book and then the documentary was to find out that not everybody saw things the same way I did, that not everybody is processing the same way. I had to start allowing for other realities. There were things I personally did not agree with in the documentary, but that was their journey so it was valid. One does not negate the other. All in all I think it’s a good documentary and I think it’s a good representation.
JG: Has your opinion of The Source Family changed as time has passed?
IA: Now I have a daughter. When she was in her 20s, would I have wanted her joining an older man and being one of his wives and living with a hundred people? That made me very quickly come to the understanding that it was for that time. When you take something out of the timeframe it’s supposed to be in it’s not going to make a whole lot of sense. It belongs then.
“When you take something out of the timeframe it’s supposed to be in it’s not going to make a whole lot of sense. It belongs then.”
JG: What do you know about the current revival of commune culture?
IA: I recently visited the Twin Oaks in Virginia. They’ve been around since the 70s. I love what they’re doing. The younger generation has taken it over and they’ve build a whole section that when people when hit their older years they can come back and live in a hospice situation on the commune and pass over with people helping them. Their birthing section is in the same building so they have those two bookends happening there. I think that’s amazing.
JG: What are you working on these days?
IA: I’m 73 years old. If I didn’t do another thing that would be OK [laughs]. I’m still working on lots of projects, and I’m finding that I have a whole new cosmic family now–a whole new set of people I’m involved with and it’s nice because we’re just happy to know each other–happy to be with each other. No drama and good karma.
To delve deeper into Isis’ time with The Source Family, check out these beautiful videos about The Source Family, the people who lived there, and the ones who were left behind:
For even more on Isis Aquarian and the rest of The Source Family check out Society’s Dropouts: 48 Eye-Opening Photos Of America’s 1970s Hippie Communes. Finally, see what life was like inside five of history’s most insane cults.