Cool Things For Southern Californians To Do 39: Diverse Spiritual Experiences

  • Wednesday, November 1, 2023
  • Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells, and Christian Smith

One aspect of Southern California that everyone here is aware of, but the region's PR and tourism leaders try to ignore, is the unmatched variety of religious paths available to experience by residents and visitors. Every manner of "cults" (defined by their critics) have flourished in our wide open spiritual environment, such as the Church Universal and Triumphant (which fled Agoura for Montana to escape a prophesied nuclear war) or Heaven's Gate in San Diego (whose members committed suicide to get to the Next Level). The alternatives to mainstream beliefs have always found many adherents here, whether the Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons), whose temple overlooks Westwood, or the followers of mystical Kabbalistic Judaism (often of the Hasidic branch, visible especially in the Hancock Park area and Beverly/La Brea District because the men wear black hats and suits in all seasons; the Kabbalah Center on Robertson Blvd. preaches a New Age version of the Kabbalah).

Even casual visitors recognize the world headquarters of Scientology on Sunset Blvd. near Vermont (to the west is its Psychiatry: A Museum of Death), while next door is the Hollywood temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship (founded by Paramahansa Yogananda).

Of course, mainstream Christianity is also thriving in some areas, with Catholics having downtown L.A.'s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which seats 3,000, while Pentacostal Christians flock to the West Angeles Church of God in Christ at Crenshaw and Pico, with 5,000.

What follows are prime examples of just how unusually diverse the Greater City of Angels is compared with any other metro area in the U.S., with many unique events open to participation by the general public:

Baha'i Faith is a global religion with an estimated eight million followers (concentrated in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia) which embraces what it regards as the positive aspects of all major religions, especially the monotheism of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is also known for its belief in the unity of humankind and rejection of any form of racism, sexism, and nationalism. The Baha'i Center in Los Angeles at Obama Blvd. and La Cienega Blvd., where special events are held, is its most visible presence. However, Baha'is hold many of their ongoing activities at community members' homes, such as devotionals, study circles, and classes for children and youth. Since the locations change from time to time, those interested in attending can call the Center at 323/933-8291 to find out what is nearby.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness The Hare Krishnas are well-known to locals and visitors because they appear everywhere, inviting anyone to join their ecstatic dancing and chanting (they have a big parade and festival in Venice Beach every August). A good time to visit their temple on Venice Blvd. in West L.A. is on a Sunday. Tours of their excellent museum about the Bhagavad Gita (the main Hindu scripture) start at 11 a.m. (sign up in advance to be sure you can get in), then anyone join the celebration of Krishna in the temple, followed by a presentation about their path, and a free Love Feast at 1:30 (they also have a gourmet vegetarian cafe, Govinda's, and a gift shop). A good documentary on this movement:

Ecclesia Gnostica aka the Gnostic Church holds its mass in historic Besant Lodge on Beachwood Dr. in Hollywood several times a week, but it is based on an early Christian tradition that mainstream churches regard as a heresy. Instead of a Trinity, Gnostics believe in a High God who was not the creator of this world and is separate from Jesus (who is regarded as a bringer of enlightenment, but his crucifixion was not the means for human redemption). They reject the Old Testament, while the New Testament is regarded as an inaccurate account of Jesus' life and teachings, so they have their own scriptures. Gnostics claim it is possible for anyone to know the truth through personal revelation directly from God, which can be a through a mystical experience or a gradual awareness through study and participation in services. Bishop Stephan Hoeller, a noted author, gives lectures on a wide range of esoteric topics Friday nights for the Gnostic Society (recordings available).

Sikh Temple on Vermont in Hollywood features readings and lectures in the Punjabi of its scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Visitors will enjoy the beautiful musical and singing segments that follow, which are accompanied by translations on a screen. To enter, everyone needs to remove shoes, wash hands, and cover their heads (scarves are available). Sikhism is monotheistic, unlike other Indian religions, but it shares the belief in reincarnation based on karma. It is also known for its emphasis on ethical behavior. Members of a separate movement, known as Sikh Dharma (founded by Yogi Bhajan in L.A. in 1969), can also be seen on our streets (Sikh men are especially visible because they wear turbans and robes and have full beards).

Green Man Metaphysical Shoppe & Apothecary in North Hollywood is the region's most thriving center devoted to helping customers develop their skills in real magic, shamanism, energy healing, and other arts a neo-pagan might need. There is also a wide variety of psychics available (in person, by Skype, or online), over 500 herbs, roots, oils, candles, crystals, and other items sold, as well as hard-to-find books. They hold workshops and events with titles like "Heka: Egyptian Magick," "Moon Ritual," and "Making Your Own Talisman."

Aetherius Society has a temple among many pink buildings in a hidden green oasis in Hollywood, which is the American headquarters of a group dedicated to the teachings of the late Dr. George King. He claimed to channel 600 revelations from cosmic masters like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Peter the Apostle, Confucius, and Moses. They expect extraterrestrial intelligences to eventually intervene and save humanity from itself. Their beliefs and practices would be familiar to anyone involved in New Age movements, such as the Higher Self, reincarnation, psychic energy healing, a special style of yoga, the importance of service to others, and care for Mother Earth (considered a conscious intelligence). A service consists of prayers, mantras, meditation, lectures, and recordings of King's messages. Those seeking a community that shares spiritual and social values would find kindred spirits.

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