The Source Family: A Documentary [Review]

source doc posterHumans, hopefully, ponder long and hard on the dissension woven within the lives we lead.  We require change to overcome the nostalgic half-truths associated with memory or miasmal triggers in the forefront of our mind’s eye–possibly, blocking the foresight of present and future affairs.  Other people, of course, can spark these feelings; but what motivates an “abuser” to put someone in their game?  Why use such universal faults to their advantage?  Why manipulate a person’s life?  There may be many reasons, though they’re certainly related to our inherent love of attention.

Without love and affection, our lives would revert to basic survival, full of monotonous slush and unadulterated anthropophobia.  Violence, resentment, envy, jealousy, and confusion would all become daily torrid mazes that we’d fight exponentially, until reaching extreme endangerment and estrangement.  We vanquish such possibilities by loving others and creating and maintaining mutual, positive tidings from being generally, socially acceptable, courteous and grateful human beings.  And these tribulations are exclusive to our kind.  We are emotionally unstable creatures with the ability to cognitively scrutinize and solve problems–not just from evolutionarily developed instincts, but also because of our capacity to do it at any given time.  Our development depends on the amount of experience and “truths” we individually discover, contrary to other animals that collectively learn to survive.

Humans aren’t inherently a “hive-minded” species, though some would argue that we’re capable of becoming so.  Most of us accept that our basic understanding, at a young age, comes directly from those who raise us; their opinions, notions, voices, and vices can all be absorbed subliminally.  It takes a few years for us to ask questions and challenge our beliefs—if at all.  Over time, a person may feel the constraints of their learned ideology.  One’s intrinsic belief that an outsider may have all of the answers is common in young people.  The new experiences create fear and excitement, along with the ambivalent lust for knowledge, like that of a child having completely read their first book on their own.  But how long would it take for the purity to wear away?  Who’s carnal or sinister desires would drag you back to reality and carve your path as a ronin animal once more?  Surely it doesn’t take over 5 years for someone’s ulterior motives to shine through their “teachings.”  Does it?

Jim Baker lived a thousand lives before his second coming as “Father Yod” (Pronounced: Y-ode).  And, in becoming the otherworldly figure, he influenced more than one- hundred-and-forty malleable minds, previously convinced that the Earth denied them but one.  He gave these wayward souls a reason to bask in the sun.  He provided them with a responsive and coddling household.  The Source Family is an equitable and mind-numbing documentary that poses complicated questions by covering the short and convoluted history of Jim Baker’s carefully designed “cult” family, The Source.  Directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulous, much of the content used in the project comes directly from the group’s extensive film and audio archive accumulated and maintained by associate producer, Isis Aquarian; the Source Family‘s official documentarian and one of Yod‘s 13 wives.

A Little History

Jim Baker (left) Father Yod (right)

A young Jim Baker (left).  As Father Yod (right)

James E. Baker’s father abandoned him just after his birth.  Not much is mentioned about his mother, which isn’t surprising, as Jim became quite the loner-outdoorsman; apparently, earning himself the coveted title of “strongest boy in America” at 13 years old (sic).  He visited frequently with the Paul Bragg household, which inspired him to eat healthier meals and become more aware of the medicinal properties of specific edibles.  To wit teaching him how to eventually run a successful health food business of his own.

The future commune founder is also cited as being a decorated World War II war hero.  There are still videos on YouTube depicting the early days of his followers praising his spotty past; but it immediately encourages a raised eyebrow, as they are all clearly infatuated with his holiness, not his accuracy or merit.

After coming home with uninspiring dreams of becoming a stuntman and overall tough guy, James moved to Hollywood.  Seemingly an autodidact, he trained his mind and harnessed the teachings of the then famous yogis and meditation instructors.  He began studying Western Mysticism and the dense and inspirational Mahabharata.  By the age of 30, Baker was an apt martial artist (said to have killed three men with his bare hands, including a neighbor, over some canine dispute), a self-taught spiritual guru, a military veteran (with 13 or more kills in WWII), and a successful bank robber; he was not one to be trifled with.

After starting his notorious Source Restaurant in 1969 on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, regulars started becoming staff.  Jim’s influence became legendary and his food was hyped even more.  Eventually, the staff would shrug off their familiar routines to attend his self-taught yoga sessions and heed his advice, as if he offered the words of a god.  His power over the growing number of young people became more evident with each passing day.  Amidst the harnessing of his powers over the young ones–as the documentary’s tagline decrees–he did what anyone would do, he started a rock band.

The Music of Madmen

Ya Ho Wa 13: Sunflower, Octavius, YaHoWha, Pythias, and Djin. Los Angeles, 1973 Photo courtesy Isis Aquarian archives

Ya Ho Wa 13: (Sunflower, Octavius, YaHoWha, Pythias, and Djin) Los Angeles, 1973
Photo courtesy Isis Aquarian archives

Ya Ho Wha 13 was (and is) an impromptu experimental rock band founded by Father Yod, which must have come about after realizing how many musicians he had under his wing.  And, like the jack-of-all-trades that he considered himself to be, Yod fronted the group as singer/songwriter and timpani player.  He had no previous musical experience, so keeping up with him proved a challenge for his band mates.  But, through his arrhythmic pounding and wailing, his fellow members found themselves playing original tunes with significantly odd and ever changing time signatures, over psychedelic rants about the power of discovery.  Every session in their homemade studio was improvised and, impressively, 9 or so albums worth of material was realized.  Today’s collectors of psychedelic rock vinyl consider the Ya Ho Wha 13 material amongst the rarest and most expensive.  For example, an original pressing of 1974’s Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony will run you roughly $500.00.  The 13 CD set God and Hair is a full and comprehensive collection of the pieced together recordings and is still available.  The doc’s own soundtrack, laden exclusively with the moaning and groaning of Yod and Ya Ho Wha 13, is edited perfectly alongside the riveting story.

The Underlying Question

house mob

Yod was beginning to stretch himself thin by 1974, playing his music to teens at the local high schools in a move that resembled recruiting.  Parents became concerned that their offspring were being propositioned by a cult.  Cult: a word that inspires dark imagery, magical ceremonies, shrouded figures, and pious followers of a false prophet.  But there are several very specific modes and tick-boxes to qualify as a “cult” on a typical psychology 101 kind of spectrum.  In general, the attainment of control and overbearing domination of his/her subjects is needed to carry out the bending of minds.  Most scholars of the cult mentality agree that an “abuser,” or cult leader, is completely aware of what they’re doing and want to achieve a gargantuan and unreasonable goal, more often than not, involving the sacrifice of its members.  If it was morally benign, people would have slaves–no one wants to clean their house; it’s a given.  But, in the minds of a follower, due to subliminal and, most times, outright hypnosis, the maintenance and communal growth of the collective becomes more important than lifestyle, career, or familial choices– which all become petty in comparison.

Father Yod, however, seemingly did none of this.  Although The Source tip-toed within the grey-area and along the border of a cult, I can confidently say that the situation wasn’t that simple; which is a testament to how great this film is.  It is paced in a way that, point for point, keeps the audience on an unbiased keel; leading to internal questioning and sustaining genuine interest as it moves along.

All previous, and current, followers admit to viewing YaHoWha as a father figure.  He seduced his children by simply being an attractive character–a kindred spirit.  His people followed him willingly.  Not one member admits to being forced, tricked or coerced in any way.  They played in Yod’s band, made and served his business; The Source were a mixed mob of misfits seeking a place to be free and to experience something new that didn’t involve the strict doctrine and authoritative haze of their previous masters.  Which, like most organized religions, realizing the aforementioned fact eventually sheds light on the doctrine of their current power-figure.  Questioning authority was The Source’s final and most profound lesson.

As Sexy As Your Beard May Be…

Father Yod and his 13 wives, Los Angles, 1973 Photo courtesy Isis Aquarian archives

Father Yod and his 13 wives, Los Angles, 1973
Photo courtesy Isis Aquarian archives

Feeling like nothing could deter him, Father Yod pushed even further with an experiment that he couldn’t pass up.  His affinity for polygamy was already apparent (the man had 13 wives by 1973), stretching the faith of some subjects.  Previous members admitted to their notions of Jim’s improvisations as he got older, but none were more apparent than his breaking of the most dicey taboo.  I’m referring to the Tarot sex-magic sect of The Source and ultimate destroyer of the family’s internal trust.  Most purveyors don’t share information regarding exactly what went on, but all admit to being put off by it.  It appears that, in the end, Jim Baker ultimately objectified his harem and moved them around like chess pieces to please other males.  The women in his life all exuded passionate love for him, even as he unabashedly took their longings for granted.

When the Dust Clears

source beach

The Source Family forces the viewer to ask:  “What is a cult?” “What is enlightenment?” and “How can true serenity be accomplished?”   To which my answer is: “Question everything, believe in nothing but yourself and your ability to be a better human being.”  A compelling watch, this documentary begs you to think for yourself, and infers that regret is a fleeting and unnecessary notion—proving that the past is a gift, much like memory, which creates a database of lessons to be passed on and shared with future generations.  Father Yod’s story is a telltale sign that enlightenment is dependent on maintaining balance in a top-heavy world and making sure to always keep an open mind, no matter how succinct and vindicable your life’s outlook may seem.

Last year saw the documentary hitting the film festival circuit as an official selection of such prestigious organizations as SXSW, Silverdocs, Hot Docs Doc Soup, San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Seattle Film Festival.  Picked up by Drag City distribution, The Source Family is currently in its limited theatrical run, premiering with a number of special screening events around the country, featuring Q&A segments with the filmmakers and original Source family members.  All of this will culminate in a June 18th DVD release through Drag City records.

Check out for a list of upcoming screening dates and locations.


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