Gavin Arthur Side 1 tape 1
WALI ALI: O.K. Whenever you're ready. O.K. When did you first meet Sam and how you remember him?
GAVIN: There was a meeting of the Society of (?) started by Spiegelberg … and Alan Watts took up the Presidency of the Institute for Asian studies, which was a subsidiary of the College of the Pacific. And you had to have a PhD Degree in order to teach there. And Sam was very interested; I had never met him, but they had arranged a debate between me and one of their members as to whether Whitman would be considered the equal of Ramakrishna, where Whitman would be the voice of the West, and Ramakrishna would be the voice of the East. And they would recognize each other as equal which Edward Carpenter always insisted they had. Edward Carpenter was Whitman's chief disciple, and I became his disciple, and I think of myself as descended from Whitman spiritually through Edward Carpenter. And so I'm starting now this Whit naming foundation, a new religion which is based on Whitman. And Sam was very encouraging about this. So this was this debate and Sam was in the audience, and it was never decided who won the debate. He came up to me and congratulated me and said that he agreed with me very much about Whitman being the voice of the West, and couldn't he come and see me, where did I live? And I told him this little slum place on over here Henry St, which I paid $9 a week for.
WALI ALI: What year was this?
GAVIN: I was trying to think, it was 1952. It was when I first started selling papers on the corner outside the Roos Bros, to keep me going while I was finishing my book, The Circle of Sex.
WALI ALI: This was the first time you met him?
WALI ALI: You never knew him at the “dunes” then?
GAVIN: No, the way he introduced himself to me was, when he came over to shake hands, he said, "I am a great friend of your friend Hugo Selig." And I said, "Oh Hugo Selig is one of my gurus." And he said, "Yes, he's one of mine too, so we’re brothers,” and we shook hands very firmly. I was perfectly astonished when I came back the next day from my corner, I'd found that he'd moved in to the room next door to me in the fine little place on Harriet St.
WALI ALI: And what was he doing, what was his work?
GAVIN: He was a gardener for the city at the end of the bridge. The bridge had all that planting around the bridge head, and he was in charge of that. And Harriet Street was convenient to that bridge-head with the bay bridge coming over here, on this side of it. So then, there was a very slender wall between the two of us and I soon found out that Sam was a walking encyclopedia. I didn't have to get up, now I have an encyclopedia right next to my bed, and I can reach for it, but it meant getting up and crossing the room at that time. Instead of that, I was lazy, and I used to tap on the wall and ask Sam any question that occurred to me and he answered it just as well as the encyclopedia would have. So I gained tremendously; I gained respect for him, but he was very difficult and I found out that his only playmate in his childhood had been a monkey. His mother disliked him, because she hadn't wanted a child, evidently the marriage was more or less forced on her in some way and was very distasteful, so Poor Sam….
WALI ALI: Yes, he said he attended the wedding; it was one of those he attended his parents wedding.
GAVIN: Yes, I think he was a small baby; nevertheless I think he was there, and his brother disliked him intensely and his father hated him so the only friend he really had as he was growing up was this monkey, it made him very inward turning.
WALI ALI: Did he tell you about this monkey, where did you hear about the monkey? You told it at the memorial service, that's the first time that I heard it.
GAVIN: It certainly is true, and his brother is dead, and I don't know who can certify it, but he did say it. And then he grew up so cantankerous. Every time that he would start on something, for instance he was very interested in the Baba movement for a long time, and he knew Prince Machiavelli, the perfume, and Elizabeth Patterson and all my friends, they had come to the dunes and made my dunes into a sort of ashram. And the Baba finally came himself.
WALI ALI: What year did he come?
GAVIN: I met the Baba for the first time just before he was supposed to open his mouth for the first time, he'd been on the silence trip for several years, and he got poor Mark Edmund Jones, who wasn't rich, to put down $5000 to engage the Hollywood Bowl. Then he was in Hollywood receiving visitors and I went to see him several times. And the person who would translate this quick motion on the Ouija Board that was his way of communicating, hardly anybody could follow the very quick pointing to all the letters on the Ouija Board. So this man was an English-man called Mary the Star, who I understand now is one of the heads of the Subud Movement in England, but in the meantime he had a most charming English wife. I liked them both so much, that I asked them up for the weekend at the dunes. And they stayed the whole summer and turned my dunes into an ashram. We all took up meditation.
WALI ALI: This was in the late 30's?
GAVIN: I'm trying to think, it was 1932, early thirties. No I think it was 36, because in “34 I started my army internment, ‘33 because in the next year 1934 I started publishing the magazine the “Dune Forum.”
WALI ALI: Oh, do you have copies of the “Dune Forum?” And you've got copies of all that poetry and stuff?
GAVIN: Yes, and I have some very good poems by Hugo Selig in that….
WALI ALI: Very good.
GAVIN: So then, let's see, that'll be 33.
WALI ALI: You were going to talk about Sam's relationship with Baba. I know Meredith Starr broke away from Baba. Sam later said that all these people who were involved with Baba, did all these things in the name of Baba, that were just really crimes, and so forth, and took advantage of all sorts of the people.
GAVIN: What happened was that I invited him to come to the “dunes” and he said he would. But he didn't come until after he had broken his promise to Dr. Jones, who is now lecturing in Astrology, he is now Dean of American Astrologers. And Jones had put up the $5000, and the Baba just took off without saying a word to anybody and went to Hawaii, and finally to Hong Kong and then back to India. And a lot of people thought it was an outrageous break of confidence, and his promise and all of that, and he lost a great deal of his following by doing that. And leaving poor Mark Jones holding the bag for $5000. But I tried not to take sides in the matter and Ray Owl (?) was in New York, he had been in the “dunes,” and the amusing thing was, that there were little houses in the “dunes”, there was my house and the community house, a house was built for him by Princess Machiavelli and Elizabeth Patterson And it had to be pure, pure, nobody could do anything natural near it, it had to be regarded as sacred and so on. Finally the Baba came, and his two Jewish disciples, one on each side, carried him over the duns, and like the two great families of Italy supporting the Pope. And they finally got down to the Oasis where my camp was and he was taken to his pure, pure house. And he looked around, and gave a nod and grunted, he grunted a great deal, which made me think, and I still think, that he was not capable of talking. I think the reason he had to break the promise about the Hollywood Bowl was because he found that he couldn't talk. But at any rate, he said, "Who's house is that over there?" pointing, or indicating. And they said, "Oh, that's Gavin's house, that's not pure at all." And he said, “Let me see it." So he walked over and looked around and it was very cozy. I have the two bureau's that I made myself, and then there was a fireplace in the middle, it was very cozy, same books around, and he said, "All right, I stay here." So he slept in my impure bed, for one whole week. And then he came to New York, I went to see him every day. I never considered him a “perfect master” by any means I think he was one of those Oriental gurus, he came really through the Sufi Movement, which was the branch of Sufism which directly goes back to Zoroaster, and he had connections with the Zoroastrians in Bombay. And I don't think that he was greater than Samuel, Sam or any of the sort of Saints or holy men who teach from their heart.
WALI ALI: Let's go back to the period at Harriet Street because we want to fill in some sort of personal details about this time. Now I know that Sam went on his first trip to the Orient in ’56. From ‘52 to ‘56, did he stay there or what?
GAVIN: Yes he was there and I introduced him to Dr Baker, which as I say was really the turning point. Because before that he'd been so cantankerous, I have left you in my will, all his correspondence, two big loose leaf binders. And you will see, it's so full of venom. It was a Mrs. Harriet Von Mere (?) who was with the “Friends of Music” in New York, who used to try to get me to write venomous letters, in New York, about whether Bodansky was the best conductor and all, and I was at a dinner party at her house, and there was a great conductor in NY there with a German name, and he leaned over and said: " I know of no one whose music arouses such malevolent emotions as Harriet Laneer." In memory of that I wrote to Sam telling him about it. And I said, "Really Sam, I know of no one in whom religion arouses such malevolent emotions as Samuel L Lewis." And he took it very well, laughed, but he defended himself, because he considered that he'd been treated very badly, but what really happened was that he didn't seem to understand that the ideas of Sufism which don't allow you to take any degree of conflicts with the laws of any University that I know of, where you have to have a degree in order to teach. And he was always fulminating against, first of all Spiegelberg and then Alan Watts for not allowing him to teach at the Academy as an accredited teacher, he couldn’t really do it without a degree! There was no way that they could possibly arrange it with the greatest will. And they thought that he was very eccentric, but that he was one of the most brilliant people in America.
WALI ALI: Did they really?
GAVIN: Yes you can take up the phone any time and talk to Alan and he would tell you that. Alan Watts was the head of the whole thing at that time. And Sam's particular hatred was against a man that I intensely disliked too, who wrote “God is my Invention,“ what was his name?
WALI ALI: Landau?
GAVIN: Landau, yes, and Landau was a Jew who hated being a Jew and said he wasn't a Jew, he said, "I'm not a Jew, I am an Englishman," and so forth, and he was absolutely terrified of any kind of homosexual implications. I had a picture of a young man that I knew had very close dealings with Landau in the Alps, and this was a picture, naked, against the Alps. And he flew into the most dreadful rage at that, "I didn't know him!!!" If he hadn't been involved he could've just looked at it and said, "No, I don’t recognize him." And yet he flew into a towering rage about this (Harry Robb). I supported Sam very much in his denouncement of Landau, because Landau was given the job of teaching Oriental religions particularly of the Western variety, which would include Sufism, and Sam who knew more about Sufism … it was pathetic. I agree with him that Spiegelberg and Alan Watts were wrong in putting Landau at the head of that department in the Academy of Asian Studies.
WALI ALI: What about daily life on Harriet Street? What was Sam's personal life like?
GAVIN: He'd go to work in the morning, and I was doing my writing in the morning, that was my purpose in taking the job selling papers. So our paths didn't cross because we had different hours. Sam would be sound asleep when I got back from the corner after 1:00, and then in the morning, he'd go off to work while I was writing, and so we hardly ever met, except for Sundays. Sunday we would always go out to Dr. Bakers, who always had a meeting of the inner circled on Sunday. She wouldn't do any work and she would have Sam soon go into the inner circle, and she had Baroness Von Stroh who was the greatest medium that I've ever known, and was part of her group. And then Dr Baker’s husband, who was part of the group and president of the Graphological Society, and I was her astrologer, and somebody else was her palmist, and so on, she had all these different people, and we used to do each other, and find out about ourselves and know ourselves.
WALI ALI: Sam tells the story about going to Dr. Baker, when he went to Dr. Baker he said, "If my case isn't the worse case you've ever heard, I'll pay you a hundred dollars, but if it is you do it for free, and after he got through telling it, she said his case was the worse she'd ever heard.
GAVIN: He had this fearful inferiority complex, which she cured; I believe she really did, because after Sam got through with her course of psycho-analysis, he emerged as a very, very different person. He was no longer with a chip on his shoulder all the time. And because he had devoted all his time to seclusion when he felt that the world hated him, he was drawn into his shell. He made good use of the loneliness by becoming a tremendous scholar. He was one of the greatest scholars, everybody admits that. And then there was a Chief Engineer in the merchant marines, a friend of mine who came in from one of his trips, and he was a staying with me, next to Sam, and Sam came in; so I asked the fellow to read Sam's palm. The man was one of the few people who was a good palmist, but didn't believe in a God, any kind of God, or an afterlife or anything, but he told Sam from his hand that he was coming into a lot of money, and he would go around the world several times. So that was the end of the session, and I said, "Sam, I'll venture to prophesy, without seeing your hand, but having read your horoscope that you’re going to meet somebody in India, who will read the soles of your feet as easily and correctly as this man has read your palm." So later, when Sam did go around the world I did get a letter from Lahore saying that some Mohammedan had dragged him into a soup tent, and made him take his shoes and socks off, and read his feet, just as accurately as the other man had read his palm. Which goes to show that there isn't a single part of you that doesn't betray the character because after all the character comes first, and the body simply follows the character.
WALI ALI: What do you remember distinctly about Sam's chart, his astrological chart, and how that might have played a part in his life, and also his relationship to astrology?
GAVIN: I'm just thinking. Just a minute, I have to have Sam's chart. You know Sam Lewis, it's in X.
WALI ALI: Filed in X?
GAVIN: You see, at that time he moved over to Clementina Street, or rather I did and then later Sam moved into my quarters. So Sam and I never were not under the same roof, whenever I moved he stayed. I gave him one of the very best examples of this; I hope that you have it in your collection.
Wali Ali: We have a number of progressions and…
GAVIN: I mean the colored chart. I made him a very special…
WALI ALI: I think we do.
GAVIN: I would say that it's very intellectual part with Virgo rising, and the Sun is in Libra, Mercury's in Libra, Mercury's very well placed in Libra, because it makes an even mind that weighs all things before making a decision. In the house of communication he has Saturn and Uranus and Venus. So Saturn prevented him from using this gift for quite a long time. But when he did come out of it under the influence of Venus and Uranus, the electrical planet of the unmost revealed side of subconscious, that then he began to be a great speaker. But he wasn't at first because this Saturn held him back. And his Jupiter is in the house of confinement, again holding back the money for so long, but he should have had it a long time before so he could start all of these movements. And he has Pluto up in the very midheaven but it's luckily well-aspected, let's see, is it? No it's minus 2, not very badly aspected, he was sort of a dictator in many ways, but if he'd been in a position to use power he would have, I think, been very dictatorial. And he has Mars up there in the House of career, toward the end he began to have this great vigor which he displayed in founding the movement and becoming the head of the Sufis in the West in America.
WALI ALI: Of course the heart quality that was so tremendous, it became so obvious; the last years of his life it just completely out-shadowed the scholar and so forth.
GAVIN: Yeah, of course, I didn't see as much of him as you did in that period. And I recognize that whenever I did run into him or meet him….
WALI ALI: He became Krishna in the dance, he would run around, he got really into the love nature, and of course, I guess, this was completely opposed to what he'd been earlier.
GAVIN: That's it, you see, Saturn comes first in the house of communication, then comes Venus, and so Venus supplants Saturn towards the end of his life.
WALI ALI: There are a couple of things that I want to follow up first. In relation to Astrology, I know that as a part of the Sufi work he's presented Astrological walks and spins and a whole system of occult astrology. And the question is, what is your experience with him in relation to Astrology?
GAVIN: I think he did a wonderful job, and that birthday party he had for me out at Lake Nicasio, with all the kids dancing the different planets, was tremendously impressive. He really got the movements and spirit of each planet. Just perfect.
WA. : What about his ability to read a chart?
GAVIN: It was extraordinary. He didn't know how to make a chart but when he (colored forms) saw my colored ones he agreed with Dr Baker that they were much easier to read and he would send me many people, and I'm very surprised that he didn't send you. But I have quite a few of the members of your group here and even Vilayat Inayat too. I remember when he asked me to sit on the other side of him and Vilayat on one side, me on the other, so that I could ask a question to start the ball rolling, I asked Vilayat, what would happen if a Sufi master and a Zen master were all sitting on top of a mountain what would they talk about? And Vilayat smiled and said, I think you know the answer to that question, they wouldn't have anything to talk about because they'd all agree. And fundamentally these 3 great distillations of religious wisdom when it gets that high they converge like the top of a pyramid, they all agree on fundamentals.
WALI ALI: Sam used the astrological charts as ways of giving people what he called a karmic walk and a spiritual walk. He would look at the ruler of the rising sign, and then he would see how this was aspected and give this as a person’s karmic walk to overcome material obstacles and then he would take the ruler of the rising sign, if it was favorably aspected in relation to Neptune or Uranus, and give that combination as a spiritual walk to develop spiritual qualities. Do you know if there is any basis for this? Was this his invention?
GAVIN: No. it wasn't at all his invention, he received hints of this kind of thing in his studies in India and in Asia generally. Maybe, would you like me to read this into the record?
WALI ALI: No I would just like to make a copy of it because we have to go over your papers sometimes too for the “dunes records” and things, correspondence and so on.
GAVIN: But don't forget this, there is this that I did sometime, let's see, 1964.
WALI ALI: We were talking about this sort of practical use of astrology,
GAVIN: He could read charts better than anybody, excepting Dr. Baker. Dr. Baker and he, she as a woman and he as a man, were the two best interpreters of astrological charts as done in what I call the Jungian method with color. They were by far the best, really without knowing how to do a chart. And one time I fooled him by saying "Here Sam, is a very interesting young fellow, I hope you'll find him very promising. I know I do. ""His name is Ulysses Simpson Armstrong, I think that he's going far, what do you think." He looked at it, It was a chart done for the United States, done July 4, 1776, at 2:00 in the morning just when the Liberty Bell rang out, just like the cry of a newborn child. But he was completely oblivious of this, he read it just as if it were a young man of today, and he said, "Oh my goodness, Uranus” just exactly on the horizon, he can go far, he can go to Oak Knoll, he has Atomic Energy at his fingertips, he's too rich for his own good, tell him that he can't buy his friends." I was having a terrible time trying not to burst out in laughter, but luckily later we got it on tape, and then he heard it himself, and I told him who it was, and then he said, "My goodness, I'm pretty good, aren’t I." Very pleased with himself and he had a right to be. Because he got that right, the women in his life, whoever that is, she had control of the money, she buys everything, she does the decoration. He just goes to his office and earns the money and she spends it. And all kinds of things like that and it was so good. The fact that the United States was a puritan country, who pretended to be more than it really was, a puritan country. A puritan person.
WALI ALI: Let me ask you this, Gavin, we're jumping off astrology and Dr Baker again, which I want to return to. Do you have any knowledge about Sam's private life, his relations with women and so on?
GAVIN: I think he was the only virgin that I've ever known.
WALI ALI: This is the impression we get from everybody. No one knows of any. Maybe because he was Brahmacharya or something.
GAVIN: Yes I think, I think, he felt, first of all let me say, that he had the most terrific inferiority complex that I've ever seen and I feel certain that he was a virgin. And he would have these spiritual love affairs, like that dancer in India, whatever happened to her, does anybody know? When he came back from India, he had her picture on his bureau and he was talking about her all the time, and then he seemed to transfer his affections to St. Dennis, Ruth St. Dennis. I think he idealized women, I'm sure he never had any physical contact with them.
WALI ALI: And this is all the more remarkable because, apparently, he was able to transmute his sexual energy in the end of his life and was able to give it out through the higher centers. And this is what he did through the dance and the glance and so forth.
GAVIN: And the energy that he displayed for his age was amazing. I think it was this super-energy coming from having abstained all his life.
WALI ALI: This is very interesting, and I thought you would know, we were just interested, because I think he was engaged a couple of times, but I guess he never got past that point.
GAVIN: I doubt that he was actually engaged. I think he had these idealizations some individual woman….
END TAPE I SIDE I
GAVIN: About his embracing, particularly Mohammedanism, I like the kind of Sufism that claims that Abraham was a Sufi, Zoroaster was a Sufi, and Jesus was a Sufi.
WALI ALI: Of course this was what Inayat Khan brought over, but of course he contacted a lot of Sufi Orders in India and Pakistan that were very much connected with Islam.
GAVIN: Yes, but I think it was limiting Sufism much too much to give all of his disciples Mohammedan names, just as I've never understood Mohammed Ali, thinking of Mohammedanism as something friendly to the Negro people. Because if you ever have been in those countries, as I have, you'll know that there is nobody that treats Negroes so badly as Mohammedans do. They regard them as natural born slaves and they take the story of Ham Shem and Japheth much more seriously even than the “Southern Christians” do.
WALI ALI: Of course in all fairness to Sam, you should know that he's written and spoken the most vilifying letters to Muslims. Even this past year he's probably been more critical of Muslims than any people in the world about being orthodox and forgetting about the essence of that Mohammed was teaching. He didn't spare them his wrath in the least.
GAVIN: Is Vilayat trying to make the Sufi thing more international and less strictly Mohammedan?
WALI ALI: He has no preference for Mohammedanism at all.
GAVIN: Then why do you suppose Sam had? Why do you have to be called Wall Ali for instance?
WALI ALI: That's a funny story, but I don't want to get into it on the tape but I think Sam had a purpose because Inayat Khan had this tremendous love for Mohammed and this was communicated to Sam and I think that the Masters that he respected the most turned out to be Muslims. And his poetry came to a great culmination in the epic poem “Saladin, I don’t know if you've seen this. This was, he considered his “magnum opus.” It's a poem of about a hundred pages in which he takes…. Of course he wrote 3 epic poems, 3 poems connected with Judaism, Christianity and Islam; he wrote poems about all the religions. He wrote a poem speaking from the stand-point of Shiva, you've seen his “Rejected Avatar,” I imagine, which is about Sri Krishna. He considers that one of his minor poems, and someday we're going to publish the others but “Saladin” he considered his greatest poem. The central part of the poem is his travels in the heavens directed by the prophet Mohammed, which he says was actually an experience. He was taken on all the heavenly planes, he describes all these planes, I think it was the result of his own personal experience, he personally felt that Mohammed was the man that he chose to follow as his “ideal,” though he was always saying Mohammed is the “Seal of the Prophets” and he's not the Seal of an empty bottle. If all these Muslims go around just building Mohammed up and playing down all the others then it makes him a Seal of an empty bottle. Mohammed said, "Thou make no differences and distinctions between Jesus and all the others,” he saw him as fulfilling a prophetic mission and so forth, so on, I think it was mostly in relation to his own spiritual development.
GAVIN: I may be wrong, but his critics, and I don't want to mention any names without their permission, but his critics who are among the great thinkers of this Bay Area consider that his turning on “Jews” was really because he was treated so badly by his father and his mother and his brother and a great many orthodox Jews who were furious that he went outside the realm of orthodoxy and so on, and he voluntarily chose, at least in my experience to be the only violently pro-Mohammedan Jew that I knew of anywhere in the world.
WALI ALI: Of course you're finding lots of them today among the coming college and other students because the state of Israel has made such a mess of things.
GAVIN: There again, I don't want to get into that discussion, but I was there in Israel and I say what the Jews were doing there, they were turning a desert into a garden, and the Mohammedans had been there for hundreds of years and just sitting, and waving their hand and saying, oh it's the will of Allah. And you'd see these little children with the most beautiful eyelashes and you'd bend over to look at them more closely and they'll all fly away. Because they were nothing but black flies that looked like eyelashes right across the eyes. And the degradation to which this idea of always “The Will of Allah” had gotten the Mohammedans in Palestine; I saw myself, because Haifa was our home port, we came there and seven months always back and forth to Haifa. I used to sit and meditate on the top of Carmel and look at the field of Armageddon where I’m sure the third world war is going to be.
WALI ALI: I don't want to get really far afield, because I want to stay on the subject of what your memories of Sam are.
GAVIN: All I mean is that that was one of the main arguments that kept us going in conversation. If a person agrees entirely with another person there isn't any conversation necessary. It's like those three people sitting on top of the mountain.
WALI ALI: So when Sam got back from his first trip to the Orient in ‘57, did you see him much then? And he went off again in ‘61, ‘62….
GAVIN: I always saw him, and he was kind enough to come to my talks, and when he saw that design over there, that square against the mountains of reality and the triangle in the sky of the super-conscious, and the triangle in the sky of the sub-conscious, he said I suppose you know that it is the same as the so-called “ten lamps,” the Sephiroth, yes that's right. And then he said, “Your lecture is very remarkable because I know you haven't read the poet Rumi,” and he gave me a copy of Rumi and he himself quoted the poem which goes," When you first came as a drop out of the ocean of OM, it had to go through the mineral kingdom, and then through the vegetable kingdom, and then the animal kingdom, and then finally you were a man with all of the beauty of body and mind, and after that you can go up into cosmic consciousness through love and be among the Saints and the Sages and the you’re among the Gods. After that, your drop returns to the ocean from which it came, fully individualized. All of this is what I had been “preaching” from that design and Sam was there and quoted the poem afterwards, and showed the kids in the class that there was a direct connection. And also that without knowing it I was preaching Sufism. And I think that is the reason why he included me so much in his rituals, and things; I was so very flattered and charmed by it.
WALI ALI: What changes did you notice him go through in his life?
GAVIN: Since Dr Baker, I'll really give her credit for that, because before that he was one of the most cantankerous, he fought with everybody, you can see from the letters. Particularly letters to me against people he knew that I was fond of, like Alan Watts’ daughter married my nephew and Alan always introduced me as “his kin,” that he was a walking living image of his book the Wisdom of Insecurity. I would tell this to Sam and he would say, "That's all very well but," and then he would go into this fulmination against Alan Watts for not giving him a teaching job in the Academy of Asian Studies when it was impossible to do it according to law! So he was very unfair in many ways at that time, because he wasn't, I don't think, enlightened until after he came back from Asia.
WALI ALI: You know what he said? Once I told him this was your opinion and he said, "All those confounded, cantankerous opinions I used to have, he says, what happened was a few people started taking them seriously and saw that I had something behind them." And it wasn't just opinion and that was what made for the blossom….
GAVIN: One doesn’t write two thick volumes of letters on things that were mean, they were furious letters.
WALI ALI: I didn't say that he didn't mean them, I just said people used to think because of his outward manner which was as you say so cantankerous, people wouldn't follow-up his opinions and see if there was anything behind them. And what happened was that people actually began to follow him.
GAVIN: I had one person around there who will miss him very much when he comes from England this time, Dom Aelred Graham, I have a picture of Dom Aelred talking to the Dalai Lama in India. He's in the Eastern part of (he fled from) Tibet and he's living in India, this Dom Aelred is the head of the Benedictine, the oldest monastery in Europe practically, no the oldest in England. And Dom Aelred has the rank of Archbishop in the Catholic Church, yet he's one of the most liberal people I have ever known. And I had a party for him here in the house, and Sam came he thought Sam was probably the most interesting person he'd met in San Francisco, and they got a long just fine, they were both great scholars of religion and Dom Aelred had written this book called Zen Catholicism, for which everybody thought he would be excommunicated, but far from excommunication the Pope sent him around the world, with quite enough money to be sort of an embassy in himself, to be an ambassador for the Vatican. Particularly to the Dalai Lama, but also to the heads of Zen in India and Japan and Hong Kong, and to Siam, and so he got away with it and he was one of the great reconcilers of different religions such as Sam was. And so here was another man, I’ll invite you all to meet him when he comes back. I'd like you to take down his opinion of Sam cause that would be something that would be a flash opinion rather than one over the years.
WALI ALI: Of course, another curious figure in Sam's history and in the history of the times is Hugo Selig, I'd like to have your remembrance of him.
GAVIN: Hugo, like Sam, was one of those people who made a big distinction between Jews, and “Yids.” He would make fun of them just as Irish men make fun of the stage Irishmen with the big upper lip, and the foolish kind of Irishman, or Negroes very often refer to certain low-grade Negroes as Niggers, they wouldn't allow it to be applied to good ones. So Sam and Hugo used to tell the funniest stories and read stuff; wasn't there a man called Mill or Milne who wrote very comic stories about Brooklyn Jews? Who was it. No, A.A. Milne was in England, it was somebody else. The two of them made fine distinctions about the Jew that is made fun of and the kind of Jew who like Jesus or Paul or all the very great ones down through the ages, they were proud. I think Hugo was prouder in a way, he considered himself to be Sephardim of very great aristocratic lineage.
WALI ALI: Wasn't he rejected by the Jewish community like Sam?
GAVIN: No. He never was, no.
WALI ALI: What about when he ran off with Hazel?
GAVIN: I don't think the Jewish community rejected him for that, they were married, legally married.
WALI ALI: They were?
GAVIN: Oh yes, they had a son who died, and I met Hazel through Hugo, and I knew Hazel very, very well. She got the magazine together, and she presented me to the best, second best, I guess printer in San Francisco, and arranged it with him to do it almost at cost price because he was so tired of doing advertising that he wanted a chance to show what he could do with a magazine, and it was beautifully printed which was all due to Hazel.
WALI ALI: But she was a shicksia? She wasn't Jewish right?
GAVIN: She was half-Jewish, half Norwegian. She was half Rumanian Jew, her mother was Rumanian and her father was Norwegian, she had blue eyes and a dark copper face, she was very remarkable looking because her eyes were so light and her face so dark. A wonderful person and they remained very fast friends even after the divorce.
WALI ALI: What about Hugo? Was he a poet primarily, was he a Kabbalist or what?
GAVIN: I think he was both; I think he was a great student of the Kabbalah, and he also had his own philosophy which he had made, just as I have or anyone interested in comparative religion. For instance Spiegelberg recommended me as a teacher of comparative religion to San Quentin because I was so interested in comparing them all and finding my own. And I think there are very few very great orthodox people. The people who are great in religion are comparative religionists. And Hugo was way beyond any kind of orthodoxies, just as Sam was.
WALI ALI: Now let me just change the tone entirely and will put it this way. We have here a record and can you think of anything what you would like to say about Sam, as your memory to be recorded and who knows how long we're going to be around.
GAVIN: He was somebody who I was very much drawn to and I was very surprised that I was drawn to him because he represented everything that I disliked. He was cross and disagreeable and opinionated, and rude and I just couldn't have imagined why I liked him so much. And then I began to realize that I had seen through the thick outward rhinoceros hide—he often compared himself to rhinoceros, and he used to laugh and chuckle by himself, which I think was his saving grace, he realized that he had this exterior. And one time a friend of his and I were up at that museum of African Animals, and there was a stuffed, what is that little animal? with big curling tusks, and his tail straight up in the air, little blue eyes, filled with fury, and this man looked at this stuffed animal, and said, "Who is that?" And I burst out laughing very loudly, "Of course, it's Sam." So we finally took Sam to show him and he roared with laughter and thought it was a very good picture of himself. So there was a charm in him of being able to laugh at himself which was his saving grace. Because his brother had all the bad qualities and Sam had all the good ones, particularly the good one of laughing at himself. And then of course, as he began to gather these young people around, they brought him out, and they really made his skin less and less thick and his glowing internal goodness, and his love shined forth, so as at the end, at that meeting up there on my 69th birthday, a Spring Festival, the 21st of March, at Lake Nicasio, I felt very strongly that he was a great Saint. And I really felt very humble toward him and I loved him deeply as a saint. And I hadn't been able to do that at the beginning at all. Knowing him from ‘52 to almost ‘72, I'd known him almost 18 years! And during that time my whole attitude toward him had changed, always to greater affection and greater admiration until finally I considered him one of the Saints, the great saints along with Edward Carpenter whom I had known. And he admired Edward Carpenter. And I introduced him to him. He'd never heard of him before. And I got him going on Whitman too, he knew Whitman but he hadn't realty been shown the lines of the brilliant ones. Unfortunately at school, all you really get is Captain, my Captain, because it rhymes, It's awful the way kids are now educated. He was the greatest poet, and he agreed with me about that, and that was our meeting at the academy of Asian Studies where he congratulated me on, as he said, putting Whitman in his rightful place, as the voice of America. That's where we really were brothers, both of us believing that Whitman was the father of the American spirituality.
WALI ALI: Is there anything else you want to say? On that subject before we go back and get more details.
GAVIN: No, I just feel that towards the end I was very close to Sam even though I didn't join his Movement, the reason I couldn't actually join is that I never felt more like joining as when I'd spoke briefly at his funeral ceremony but always stuck in my craw about this Mohammedanism. I just simply couldn't embrace a Mohammedan religion that puts women down the way the Mohammedan religion does. And it is the result of Mohammed's teachings. I just don't think that it's going to go, whereas in my own religion I'm trying to found, based on Whitman, the three things which are chiefly the big issues of today is the gay liberation, the women's liberation and the racial equality business, the integration, and these three things, Sam, in his heart agreed with, but I don't see how he reconciled them with Mohammed's teachings about women.
WALI ALI: But he always said that you have to put it into a political social context. One of his big points was, in the new age womankind is going to take their place in with mankind in terms of illuminated beings. His response to women's liberation was, "Hell, I'll show them a liberated woman, and they won't accept her." They're not interested being actually liberated like some liberated women that he'd met, or the path that he put his women disciples on.
GAVIN: A lot of them could carry these three movements to ridiculous lengths, and I think that particularly Mohammed Ali and that whole movement of relating Negroes to one of the worst enemies in history it's utterly absurd. We have to get something new, and one thing about Whitman was he talked of Negroes as being his brother; he risked his life practically in having them come and stay with him, staying in his own room, working on them, putting medicaments on the wounds of the chains that had been on their arms, this whole book is filled with love of Negroes, also the complete equality of women with men, and the fact that everyone has a sexual orientation. St. Paul was a homosexual who hated his own homosexuality because the Jewish had a terrific indictment against it, which in turn was due to the fact that here was a tiny country between two mighty empires, and every drop of semen had to make another little Jew in their eyes. And so the only possible excuse for sexual intercourse was the procreation of children. And the recreation of sex was never looked at. So the whole thing goes back to this Semitic idea of women as inferior. Both Judaism and Mohammedanism are the worst offenders along that line, because there have been Priestesses as great as Priests, in Greece and Rome and among the Scythians and among the Norwegians, but both the Jews and Mohammedans share in putting women down, putting them behind veils and so forth.
WALI ALI: I don't know if you know or not, but Sam's goddaughter who is his disciple, in Pakistan, who he considers an illuminated being, he got her as the first woman into the Sufi Order, because it was always divided in Pakistan. The men met, and the women met, but he got her into the meeting of the men. In fact in Pakistan, it was the first time ever. She's also the first woman who’s a professor on the continent of Asia under 30. So he's been pushing, you see, he was always taking the opposite point of view in whatever situation. When he went over there, he pushed really hard for the equality of women, and he actually made a big break in the whole pattern of their worship in Pakistan. He always was showing just a part of his nature.
GAVIN: I think that as time goes on and on, he'll be more and more considered a saint, and that his little blemishes will be more and more forgotten. Of course I knew him so intimately, the wall between our rooms were so thin that I could hear everything that was going on in his room and vice versa. And so I feel that probably I know him too much and I can't see the wood for the trees. But I recognize that he's growing and going to grow more and more as time goes on.
WALI ALI: Yes, because he's living in these young people now.
GAVIN: Yes. Oh I know that, I'm thrilled.
WALI ALI: Now, tell me more about Blanche Baker, how did her counseling sessions go? What was her general technique? How did she bring people around?
GAVIN: She had a most remarkable gift for a psycho-analyst, and also she could hypnotize. She would hypnotize her patients, and they would not only remember the birth trauma, they would remember. For instance a woman who had had children of her own would say, “It’s much more painful to be born than to give birth." And they would explain why. They would remember if they had been astrologers in their last life, and they were born into this one with a memory of astrology, that they were conscious of the stars and planets overhead. But they weren't so conscious of the ones underneath the earth. And that goes back to an ancient idea that one can rule the ones that are shining down on you, but it’s unfair to expect a man to rule the planets that are coming up through the earth. So she was able to hypnotize people into memories of former lives. And I think she helped Sam to orient himself and to find out why he had been born into this unattractive body and unattractive nature, where he mostly antagonized people, so that once you know why certain things are, for instance I had a great fear of having people running up and down steps behind me, and it came out in the sessions that I had been murdered by a bunch of people sicked on me by a Bunch of priests in Notre Dame Cathedral in Marseille. So if you know why you have handicaps on account of past life experience you can very often get rid of those complexes.
WALI ALI: He spoke many times of how Blanche Baker helped him see relationships with his parents through his past lives. Now when did she leave the world?
GAVIN: 1960 I think it was. 1961? She died of cancer much too young, and her one great fault was what I used to call the “empress complex.” She treated her husband very, very badly and he was so patient, right to the end; he looked after her like a woman trained nurse; it really was extraordinary. So she died really before…. I miss her really, more than anybody I can think of. More than wives or mothers or any women in my life, because we used to talk in depth all the time. Every man needs a Diotima like Socrates in that priestess of the mysteries, the Aleutian mysteries. If you want to be a philosopher, you have to have a woman like that. And Sam didn't have any woman like that until he met Blanche. And this I think was the turning point meeting a woman that he could talk to, absolutely in depth, as he would to a man.
WALI ALI: He told the story about how he at one of his counseling sessions with her one time, he saw her before him as just absolutely full of light, and that was the first time that he had seen that, and he totally fell in love with this and he said later he saw it many times, but this was the first time he saw a being full of light, their whole light nature.
GAVIN: Sometimes nowadays, I have a very bad aspected Mercury and I can't think of people's names … Cathay, did he have, he did and brought a picture of Blanche and I could go get, actually, could you turn this off.
WALI ALI: Sure.
[End of tape one side two]
WALI ALI: You showed me somebody’s picture in the other room and you said that was someone Sam thought highly of ritual-wise.
GAVIN: Oh, Ellie Young, Ellie Young was a Druidess and she organized a group in Ireland including Yeats, and A.E , and James Stevens, and a lot of the Irish Renaissance writers into a fellowship of the 4 Jewels. And the four Jewels are the same as the suits in cards. The spear, and the sword, and the stone and the cup. And these represent of course, the four elements earth, air, fire, and water, and so when she came to America she knew that she wouldn't go back to Ireland, and she decided to stay here. And she felt very strongly drawn to Mt Shasta and she said that she went right into it in her fire body, and that it was everything that the mystics say it was. A very sacred Mountain, like Fujiyama in Japan, or Mt Everest, actually Chomolungma, in India. "When she first was here in about 1926 I took her up to meet Krishnamurti and it was one of the most beautiful meetings I've ever seen. Krishnamurti got up from his chair to greet her and came out holding his hands clasped in front, and she said, “The Boing sends greetings to the Gonga," and Tuganga as a goddess, and he right away said Chuagonga sends greetings to or rather Chomolungma sends greetings to Shriv Ganya, which is the sacred mountain of Ireland and so they right away got into this business of rapping about mountains and rivers as being alive and sacred and joining with nature. Which both of them had equally from the Irish mystics, to the Hindu mystics. And when I told Sam about that he was extremely interested, he read all the rituals that Ellie Young had written. I'm not sure whether he came up once, I think he did to one of the meetings, we meet four times a year in the canyon, between St. Helena and Calistoga. Ellie Young's ashes are scattered beneath a lot of Redwood trees. She was very instrumental in getting the “Save the Redwood” going and organized. And she could talk to trees. She believed in their being alive, she was very fond of cats, and really had a communication, she could talk to cats, and she could talk to mountains and rivers and feel real communication. And so on the 1st of May, which of course we preserve still with the Maypole dance. After the maypole dance, which is surely a phallic symbol, you give presence to and honor young unmarried people who haven't yet been fathers and mothers, and yet are capable of being, And then on the 1st of August, mid-summer, they have the feast of the sun Lught, which is the same as light, and Lught celebrated his marriage with the Earth. Or the Sovereignty of Ireland. This is, first we're going to give presence to mothers and fathers, and then a few months later, say on the 1st of November, we still solemnize an All-Saints day and Halloween; the dead were allowed to walk between sunset and sunrise, and you honored the dead, and you honored people near to dead such as grandfathers and grandmothers, people over 60 and so on. And then at 9 months after the maypole dance you had the birth of children and you honor the mothers of little children, it was the precursor of Christmas. So Sam liked the idea of these 4 festivals very much and urged me on to keep them going after Ellie Young died. And he was very much in favor of my keeping them, and he would recognize me as a priest of this fellowship of Shasta.
WALI ALI: He had of course at least one May festival himself, where he had Phil's wife make a maypole and we did various kinds of dervish dances around the maypole—you were there that time?
GAVIN: It was at the Khankah.
WALI ALI: Yeah right. I don't know if the maypole survived the wind, because you got there late, they must have been having some dances. And of course he's buried now in a mountain that's been sacred to the American Indians.
GAVIN: Ellie Young enlightened westerners about the festivals of the Indians that connected these festivals of hers with the ones that she got by being allowed to come right into the cave where she was initiated, into the Indian ceremonies and secret worship. They recognized her immediately as a Druidess. Of course there could be a Druidess among the Hindus, among the American Indians, of course any very wise woman who was enlightened who had had cosmic consciousness and so on, she was in her way as much a saint as Sam, she was a woman saint, but he recognized her as a woman saint. I don't think, yes he did read her, when he did read her, when she came through she was staying with a good friend of Alan Watts, when he wrote the Joyous Cosmology. He admired her very much, and he assured me he respected me because I had had this relationship with a Druidess, a wise woman, like Socrates had with the priestess.
WALI ALI: Following up as we are trying to do in the sense the threads of Murshid's life, where do you think we might profitably look? Do you have any names of people we might contact?
GAVIN: Really you could contact Spiegelberg, and if you want to I could arrange to take you there; he lives in this very high apartment in the Fontana, at the end of Market Street. There's a wonderful view, and he's very good about Sam, he recognizes the difference, Sam's cantankerousness which lost him many opportunities which Spiegelberg could have presented to him. On the other hand he recognized him as a great scholar, and simply was sorry that Sam took it out on him because it was impossible to allow him to have a paid lecture job, he did allow him to speak at the academy many times. And I also think that Alan Watts would be very important to get a hold of. Let's see, I'll think between now and the next day or two, I'll put my thinking cap on. I can’t think of any more at the present moment who would be really valuable, whose prestige is really great enough to really warrant them in including them in any appreciation of Sam.
WALI ALI: It's not so much in appreciation of Sam, because we don't feel that need, because we feel, like someone said at his memorial service and said he had given us as a Koan one year, "Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill laid low.” Which is in Handel's Messiah. And he saw it also in terms of himself. He was rejected all his life, and he would be recognized in the end or even be famous, because he always was saying that he was going to be famous and now he is going to be famous.
GAVIN: Oh, I agree, there's no question about that, but also you must recognize that it was inevitable that he was rejected at the time when he himself rejected everybody. He was so rude to people, he was so unnecessarily rude. It was uncanny, it was almost as if he was daring people. He always had this chip on his shoulder, daring people to knock it off. So if he was rejected, it was nobody but his own fault. Because if he had been simple and sweet and kind he wouldn't have been anymore rejected than Dr Baker was. And it was Dr. Baker who'd made him see that. He owes a great deal to her.
WALI ALI: I was going to say this, then someone came up and said, "The real koan was his life.” And we find, looking back that his past was so very interesting. Because everyone has such a different picture of him. It's like there wasn't one man, there were a thousand different men.
GAVIN: I was going to say, that looking at his chart, he has Mercury as his ruler because he had Virgo rising, he was a Puck Pukhtunistan; Puck is sort of a point of view of Mercury, it's that mercurial changeability. Puck could change himself into a leaf on your shoulder, a tree, a fox that was looking at you from a corner, all these different changes, Puck or the puka, puck comes from the Irish, word puka, and he could change all kinds of shapes, in adopting himself as Puck. Many of my letters are signed by Puck Pukhtunistan. That was his mercurial side, this ability to change suddenly from…
WALI ALI: It was tremendous; he went through what he called 3 or 4 actual deaths and rebirths in his life where his personality went through a complete change.
GAVIN: I said, looking back upon it, maybe that time he was in the Chinese hospital; I used to go and see him, almost every day. At that time, he was in the Chinese hospital, he might have died, and that was one of those times. After that he became sweeter and nicer and much more a human being. He'd been such a troll; the pictures of him looked like trolls in the Norwegian Mythology. Trolls could be very good and give you fortunes, but they could also take them away, and be nasty to you. He had that Puckian quality of changeability of a troll, which is one of mercury's greatest attributes. He was very mercurial.
WALI ALI: Very mercurial, that's for sure. I lived with him the last couple of years. His schedule, would tax anybody, 16 hours a day, constantly moving, constantly working, either constantly dictating letters, or in the garden, or making food, or having interviews, non-stop. Just a tremendous amount of energy which is also mercurial.
GAVIN: Yes, and he would type 60 miles per hour, and it was almost illegible. Some of my letters, as you will see, and he never corrected! He never went over and corrected the thing.
WALI ALI: This of course, was one of the big changes, Gavin, the funny thing is after he got some secretaries, the last few years of his life, he would dictate the letters the letters to me, and therefore they would be corrected, the people would go over and proofread his letters. And finally people would begin to see what he was trying to say. Because they'd been those illegible letters all those years.
GAVIN: Damrosh, that was the fellow I was trying to think, Damrosh was at one of Mrs Laneer's parties and when the ladies left the table we moved together and I found myself sitting next to Damrosh and he turned to me and said, "I know of no one in whose bosom music arouses such malevolent emotions as Harriet Laneer." And then I turned around and applied this to Sam. "I know of no one in whose bosom religion arouses such malevolent emotions as Samuel L. Lewis." And if you could read the letters, as you will, you will see what I mean.
WALI ALI: Unless there’s something more that you want to add, I think we'll let it rest for a while and if there's something you can think of and anything that you feel like writing up.