Mike is the author of the touchstone book about a forgotten side of Golden State history, Mysterious California. Published in 1988, it predated the “weird” travel book craze by almost 20 years, and started me on a path to meet him in 2006 when we were co-authors of Weird California. He has been studying the history of non-scheduled religious movements and groups in our home state for more than 20 years, and now chronicles these strange groups and people at Califia’s Children.
We discussed what makes a “cult.” While he is careful to label only the most dangerous groups with that name, Mike pointed out that all religions start out as a cult. People join mainly for a sense of belonging – to be part of a “tribe.” Many of the groups minister to the rejected and the marginalized, and not all have negative effects on the members.
We talked about the strange connection that the Santa Susanna Pass area has in the lore of the Los Angeles area. Krishna Venta, a former convict turned religious prophet whose story bears eerie similarities to Charles Manson, settled there in 1948. He was dead by 1958, killed by suicide bombings by two disgruntled members.
We embarked on an extensive discussion of occultist Manly Palmer Hall and his influence on Los Angeles history and society. We also discussed the notorious Children Of God group and their sexualization of Christianity. Mike gave a unique perspective on Scientology’s concentration on Los Angeles and the power of celebrity endorsement. Near the end of the program, we mentioned the bizarre Incest and Homosexual Church of the Universe, which at its peak had perhaps 4 acolytes.