WRITING: Tim Leary and Ovum - A Visit to Castalia with Ovum
Chez Jim: Ovum visits Castalia
In 1967, the editors of Ovum, Poughkeepsie's first underground magazine, and two friends paid an impromptu visit to Castalia, Timothy Leary's newly established center in Millbrook, New York. The visit was not entirely welcome, but was treated with indulgence - the editors and their friends being very young high school students. I was one of them - the editor in chief and co-founder of Ovum - and subsequently wrote the article presented here.
- Jack Leary
- "The Guide" - a new magazine
- Michael Green
- The Neo-American Church
- Continuing the Tour
- Jean McCreedy and Psychedelic Prayers
- Talking about Trips and School
- Presses For "The Guide"
- Photography and Jack's Room
What the original pages looked like:
Accompanied by assistant editor Willi Bleimeister and two friends, I visited Castalia (or Das Alte Haus, the estateís original name), headquarters for the League of Spiritual Discovery, on February 25. Following are some notes and comments on our tour of the center and our discussions with certain of its occupants:
The main entrance to Castalia is a formidable stone gate with a great portcullis-like structure blocking the road; my friends and I avoided this gate and took a sideroad (used as a service entrance.) We passed a stopped car (in the process of being towed by an orange snowplow), went down a long road, turned a curve and saw a huge house, sprawling and mansionlike, with a somewhat Germanic or Victorian air and a giant face painted over one set of windows (one interviewer quoted Leary as calling the face of a man "turned on") After stepping several hundred yards in front of the center to look at nearby structures (a large house in back of the center used as the printing headquarters and a small gazebo-like shelter to the side of the front lawn) and take some pictures, we drove to the back, where several cars were parked, and parked.
Closer to the house, another car parked; a man (who for all his hair looked like Allen Ginsberg) and a woman got out and walked towards the house. We walked to the front and looked in the windows and the doors (which were locked); we saw the couple from the other car go in a rear door, so we returned to the rear of the house, found the door, and walked in. We came into a small alcove entered on by several rooms; the kitchen (large - everything at Das Alte Haus is), the dining room, and the stairwell. We waited for several minutes, nodding politely to people walking by us (without speaking) and watching little children run merrily through the kitchen and the alcove (the center is full of children-they seemingly have the run of the house). Finally, a man with close, but thick, brown hair and a thick moustache (Fred Blacker - Jack Leary later said he is called Castaliaís chief mechanic because he takes apart everybodyís car motors) and a girl with a somewhat pale face and long dark hair in a kerchief (Dr. Learyís daughter, we learned after she had left) stopped to talk to us. Fred Blacker half-reprimanded us for not having called first ("The numberís listed under the Castalia Foundation"), told us that Dr. Leary would not return until April and then went upstairs, leaving us to talk about OVUM with the girl. A few minutes later, he came down and told us that Jack Leary, Dr. Learyís son- would be down soon. The couple left, and after a slightly longer wait, Jack Leary came down the stairs.
Jack Leary is around sixteen or seventeen, about six feet tall, soft-spoken, usually casually dressed, and has hair that is just like his father's, but black (long, thick and curly). He goes to Millbrook High School. Although old enough to be a junior, he is a sophomore; last year, following his father's motto -"Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out"-, he dropped out, but returned this year on his father's advice. Tom Howe, one of his classmates at Mlllbrook High, says that, although quiet, he is "cool" and "on the ball", and, if annoyed, can "cut someone up in two words"; when he first came to Millbrook, he was shunned as a beatnik, but after people saw real beatniks from Castalia, they didn't think he was so bad and got to like him. Apparently, Jack is very popular with girls. Tom Howe said they often invite him on trips. Judy Guptill, a classmate of mine, says he's "real cute", everybody calls him "Jackie" - and he drives a white Volkswagen.
"The Guide" - a new magazine
After being introduced to each of us, Jack took us through the piano room to the editorial and layout office of "The Guide". This is a psychedelic magazine being written and printed at Castalia; the first issue should be out sometime in March and will contain, among other articles, "How To Start Your Own Religion" (by Dr. Leary) and "How To Guide A Session". It will be sold at the League Of Spiritual Discovery Center in New York City, at some college bookstores and almost any place willing to sell it. Besides "The Guide", the Castalia printers print special editions of poetry; on one of the desk was a broadsheet carrying a poem written by Leroi Jones especially for them. Arthur Fanzuchen is the editor; hip purpose in publishing "The Guide" is to "have some fun" and make some money.
My friends and I talked for quite a while with Michael Green, one of the people working on "The Guide". Our assistant editor asked him, "what do you think is the United States governmentís real reason for opposing L.S.D.?" His response: "LSD is an anarchistic drug which Is basically against any government. This is anarchism in the sense of the early Christianís anarchism-people who have taken LSD know ...there is no need or police, war, government or all the rest....LSD is the key to preventing crime...to getting rid of thievery - It increases human goodness...[and is] based on order and harmony."
I asked Mr. Green If LSL might not be considered a crutch for psychedelic experience, an artificial method of gaining Nirvana; his response was a definite negative- "Where do you stop at calling methods artificial? Is breath control artificial? Is macrobiotics artificial? In further discussion, he pointed out that understanding LSD is a matter of internal logic- "Itís like sex: until you've experienced It, you cannot understand it no matter how it is explained".
Another question from our assistant editor: "I've heard that LSD can be used to cure schizophrenia; 1s this true?" Mr. Green's response: "We have several billion brain cells..these are combined in a small part of the possible ways. LSD introduces many more combinations ...Sure, it can cure schizophrenia ...maybe even cancer, ...under LSD, telepathy and all other types of psychic phenomena have been experienced...''
Mr. Green said that the police tend to associate LSD with orgies -"They stopped me once to give mea parking ticket and, when they found out where I was from, they started looking for obscene literature."
Shows and week-ends
One of the points on which I questioned "The Guide" editors was Dr. Leary's plans for shows. Fifty-two shows have been planned, four of which have already been done. One problem with the shows is that the League of Spiritual Discovery have overextended themselves with them. The purpose of the Castalia Foundation right now is to have a closely knit community; this purpose is defeated if large shows are arranged and carried out far away. Eventually, they hope to have the shows in a large circular barn on the- estate. They would also like to have a psychedelic week-end on the estate sometime in the summer. During this week-end, followers of the movement would camp out on the property and engage In celebrations and other activities connected with psychedelicism. However, not everybody at Castalia looks forward to this (Jack seemed to wince at the mention of it) and it is in no way certain.
The Neo-American Church
A girl working on the layout for "The Guide" was making up an advertisement for the Neo-American Church. This church subscribes to three principles:
1)"Everyone has the right to expand his consciousness and stimulate visionary experience by whatever means he considers desirable and proper without interference from anyone."
2)"The psychedelic substances are the True Hosts of the Church, not 'rugs'. They are sacramental foods, manifestations of in The Grace of God', of the infinite imagination of the Self, and therefore belong to everyone."
>3)"We do not encour>age the Ingestion of
continue to second part of article
The leaders of this religion are called Boo-Hoos (Arthur Kleps s the Chief Boo-Hoo). This name is meant to be as ridiculous as it sounds. By making it ridiculous, the Boo-Hoos hope to bring the religion closer to the ordinary person; this is an attempt to reduce the separation between religion and daily life. This is an idea apparent in many elements of Castalia; serious religion and philosophy are combined with almost childish playfulness. The main house symbolizes this attitude by its grand, dark air of size and age and respectability combined with candy-color designs and careless, comfortable furniture. The old, faded flower-design tapestries in one room have been done over with bright-colored paints like those in a Walt Disney cartoon; by the side of the large, heavy-banistered stairs, there is a pay phone-painted in green swirls.
Continuing the Tour
When we had completed our various conversations in the "Guide" office, Jack took us back through the piano room and into the dining room. Here, some people were placing mattresses around two sawed-down tables in preparation for dinner; on one table, there was a large rock with a candle on top of it (this sort of natural candleholder is seen in many of the rooms). Jack mentioned a book of "Psychedelic Prayers" which his father had written. Jack had helped to mimeograph and staple the first copies of this last year. So far, two printed editions (both soft-cover) have been put out, and a third is planned. We requested a copy and he led us all upstairs in search of one.
Before finding a copy, Jack showed us several more rooms. One of these was a sort of living room, where six or seven people were sitting on low couches and chairs. The room was decorated primarily with Indian artifacts and designs, and Indian music was being played on a tape recorder in one corner. In the same corner, there was a five-foot aquarium containing eight-inch goldfish; next to this, there was a large fireplace with a lively fire burning in it. On one of the walls, there were pictures of Dr. Leary and posters advertising his lectures and shows intermingled with the Indian designs. Several of the children who had been running in the kitchen were sitting around a short bearded man on one of the couches.
Next, Jack took us to a room with two large icons in it. These had just been set up and are to be used first to make prayer mats which the center will sell as part of an attempt at self-sufficiency (the foundation is more than solvent; already, Bill Hitchcock-the owner of Das Alte Haus- is being paid back for several large loans he has made to them. Most funds come from Dr. Learyís lectures). On One wall, there were various papers pertaining to Bali Ram, an Oriental dancer. Professional photographs showed him in various dancing positions, and several letters (including one from Jacqueline Kennedy) thanked him for his performance at such places as the White House and the United Nations.
After we had seen these rooms, I reminded Jack of our purpose in coming upstairs and we headed for some offices. The outer office was Dr. Learyís; except for the fact that it contained a bed, it was not extraordinary. We walked through this office and came to a second one, that of Jean McCreedy.
LAST UPDATED: March 2003