Congrats to BB pal and Techngnosis author Erik Davis and photographer Michael Rauner whose long-anticipated book, The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape, has just been published by Chronicle Books. It's magnificent.
(Previous BB posts related to Visionary State here and here.)
The beautifully-designed tome is a textual and visual trip (and it is a trip) to the bizarre, psychedelic, and eclectic spiritual landmarks in the state, from the Blythe geoglyph to Kenneth Arnold's Integratron, from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center to Salvation Mountain, from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to the Manson Family's Barker Ranch hideout. Above is the Unarius Academy of Science, El Cajon, the San Francisco Zen Center, and Swami's, Encinitas.
From Erik's introduction:
What if California itself was my tradition, a great polytheistic fusion of transplanted religions, nature mysticism, tools of transport, and creepy cults? What if the restlessness and constant mutation of California's alternative spiritual scene actually reflected an almost dogmatic insight that reality itself is inherently perspectival? What if the California tradition was like the land itself: a collection of amazing and diverse ecologies, but united by freeways?
And so, searching for my rootless roots, I began to research alternative spirituality and religious sectarianism in California, reading deeply, doing interviews, and traveling to unusual sacred sites. I discovered that California's culture of consciousness exploration is much older than the New Age or hippie flower-power. Less a place of origins than of mutations, California has long been a laboratory of the spirit, a visionary playground at the far margins of the West. Here, deities and practices from across space and time have been and are mixed and matched, refracted and refined, packaged and consumed anew. Almost a century ago, commentators were already complaining about Los Angeles' surfeit of "astral planers, Emmanuel movers, Rosicrucians and other boozy transcendentalists." Such spiritual eclecticism is not novel, of course, but nowhere else in the modern world has it come as close to becoming the status quo. I call this spiritual ethos "California consciousness": an imaginative, experimental, and sometimes hedonistic quest for human transformation by any means necessary.
Defining and explaining the core elements of California consciousness is no easy task, however. I came up with a handful of underlying themes–visionary experience, nature, technology, the realized body. But the attempt to create an over-arching framework from which to hang all these tattered tales and mutant heresies grew frustrating. Then I realized that, in order to reflect its subject, the book should not be unified under a single concept, because the tradition itself is defined by inconstant spiritual pluralism. Instead of writing a definitive tome, I wanted a book to take the form of a journey, a wayward drift that would mirror the wanderings I was already making across the state, visiting monasteries and mountaintops, churches and homes, storefronts and desert arroyos.
It was in these trips that I felt closest to the historical roots of California consciousness, which itself is infused with the long dream of California as a destination and a launching pad. Some of the locations I visited were famous structures, architectural monuments to God or Art or both; others were marginal places, slipping into oblivion, or disguised by later owners. I found nearly all of these spots to be beautiful or strange, and they brought to life, if only for a spell, the people and stories that created them and that continue to shape the spirit of the West. My research began to take the form of a psychogeography: a dreamlike movement through space that uncovers hidden stories and symbolic connections, but never reaches a final resolution.