2017-03-27

Conscious California

Exploring the outrageously diverse devotion of the Golden State.



Print Page

In this gallery, adapted from "The Visionary State; A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape" (Chronicle Books, 2006), writer Erik Davis and photographer Michael Rauner show us a left coast of wild spiritual imagination. It's a land, writes Davis, filled with "utopian sects, bohemian mystics, cult leaders, psycho-spiritual healers, holy poets, sex magicians, fringe Christians, and psychedelic warriors."
 
It's no coincidence that the most populated state's motto is "Eureka!" and its slogan a multi-layered "Find Yourself Here." You may or may not find yourself in these images, but you will find an onion-shaped Unitarian church, a revered 200-foot tree, and a 50-year-old UFO welcome center.  Altered state, indeed.

Read more about the California's rich spiritual bohemianism here.

Swami's, Encinita

Paramahansa Yogananda, America's first superstar guru, built the Self Realization Fellowship ashram on cliffs that today overlook Swami's, one of North County's most celebrated surfing spots.

Blythe Geoglyph Blythe

A number of ancient figures are etched into the Anza Borrego desert. Like the famous Nazca Lines in Peru, some of them can be appreciated only from the air.

Odiyan Buddhist Retreat Center, Sonoma County

This Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, closed to the public, is laid out like a mandala. Founded by Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, the 1,100-acre property contains scores of temples and jeweled stupas.

Walk-in Center, Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, San Francisco

The charismatic Cecil Williams made Glide America's most radical Christian experiment in inclusion. The Glide Foundation today runs large programs aimed at local drug addicts, AIDS sufferers, and the homeless

The Vallejo, Sausalito

The most celebrated of Sausalito's houseboats, the Vallejo has been a beacon of bohemia from the Beat era to today's rave scene. Zen writer Alan Watts once lived and taught there.

Harbin Hot Springs

Before it became a resort in the nineteenth century, Harbin Hot Springs was visited by local Miwoks. It has been a center of New Age culture since the early 1970s

The Onion, North Hills

This "church in the round" was built for Unitarian Universalists in the San Fernando Valley. In 1966, it hosted one of the notorious Acid Tests thrown by the Merry Pranksters.

Earth City of the Future Unarius Academy of Science El Cajon

Founded in 1954, the Unarius UFO group continues to look forward to the arrival of the Space Brothers, after which our cities will become jeweled reflections of the higher planes.

Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, Hollywood

Los Angeles cradles the largest concentration of Scientologists in the world. With its celebrity followers, Scientology is simultaneously the most integrated and most marginalized of the area's new religious movements.

Solstice Fire Ring Ocean Beach California

For decades, the witches in the Bay Area's Reclaiming Collective have celebrated the winter solstice at Ocean Beach, where they plunge naked into the surf before dancing around a bonfire.

Kali Mandir, Laguna Beach

Housed in a modest cottage, Kali Mandir is one of the few temples in America devoted to Kali, one of the world's most fierce and potent goddesses. Both Anglo-Americans and South Asians worship here

Salvation Mountain Slab City

Using junk, adobe, and tons of paint, the visionary artist and evangelist Leonard Knight built Salvation Mountain in Slab City, an abandoned military base that lies near the Salton Sea.

Bikram's Yoga College of India, World Headquarters, Los Angeles

One of LA's biggest yoga masters, Bikram Choudhury started teaching "sweaty yoga" to Hollywood celebrities in 1973. Bikram has convened yoga competitions and even copyrighted his specific sequence of poses.

Luna Humboldt County

The forest activist Julia Butterfly Hill lived on top of "Luna," a giant redwood, for two years; it was harmed by vandals shortly after. Today, people sneak onto the land to leave sacred offerings at the foot of the tree.

Would God Support Vaccines?

Christianity tells us to seek out healthy behaviors, but does that include vaccinations? Read next feature >

More from beliefnet and our partners