Maja D’Aoust, a white witch and lifelong student of the mystical, wants to take you on a journey, a “metaphysical journey into history, faith and magic in the Southland.” Just hop aboard her magical bus and enjoy the ride.
A Southern California Galadriel, Maja cuts a magickal figure—tall, May queenish, with impossibly long flaxen hair and a fashion sense that evokes both Mount Olympus and glamorous bohemia. She’s studied alchemy, shamanism and the I Ching to Masters degree level; she gives astrological readings based on ancient Greek and Hermetic styles of interpretation; and she has papers on Indian alchemy and tantra published in The Alchemy Journal. In short, she’s more than qualified to be leading Maja’s Mysteries, Sunday bus tours that traverse L.A.’s colorful spiritual landscape.
Los Angeles has long been a magnet for the metaphysical. Louis Sahagun, author of Master of Mysteries: The Life of Manly P. Hall, describes how Hall, who would emerge as the 20th century’s most prolific writer and speaker on ancient philosophies and magic, immediately recognized the city’s spiritual magnetism upon his arrival here in 1919, at age 18. He later founded the Philosophical Research Society in Los Feliz, where today D’Aoust is chief librarian.
The tour was born when D’Aoust teamed up with Kim Cooper and Richard Schave from Esotouric, a company specializing in off-the-beaten-path tours of the city. The three devised a bus route that encompassed some of the lesser-known, yet most impressive spiritual hubs of the city: the Star Sapphire Lodge in Glendale (an outpost of the Ordo Templi Orientis, Aleister Crowley’s esoteric fraternal organization and religion); downtown L.A.’s landmark 1927 Theosophy Hall, a center for study of “the wisdom of the ages” and gathering spot for followers of the writings of Madame Blavatksy; and the Gnostic Society in Atwater Village, a pale pink house where devotees study once-heretical Catholic teachings that espouse Mary Magdelene as a religious leader and present feminine image of God. And that was just the first trip. Tour-goers responses ranged from “shrieks of delight to puzzled upturned brows wrought with anguish” recalls D’Aoust.
We Hope You Will Enjoy the Ride
On the most recent tour, D’Aoust took a group of seekers to the Aetherius Society, a center for cosmic consciousness and healing founded in 1955 by UFO contactee Dr. George King, where tour-goers heard “actual recordings of an extraterrestrial voice conveying significant messages.”
“I can describe it mundanely in that a series of images from the Hubble telescope are played while a channeled message from George King discusses love and Jesus, but that hardly compares with the way you feel when you are in the middle of it,” says D’Aoust. “The first time I heard it I was overwhelmed with the images and specifically, the quality and sound of his voice. I just opened myself up and let it into my ears like thick honey.”
Then on to the Krotona Apartments under the Hollywood sign, a former Theosophical retreat founded in 1914, where tour-goers enjoyed a rare opportunity to visit the central courtyard and view the Rosicrucian window of this now-private residence. “This location was the result of a pilgrimage by a group of Theosophists from New York,” explains D’Aoust. “The founder, Albert Warrington, actually based his idea of the retreat on the stories of the community developed by Pythagoras, and wished to emulate that type of environment. I think what went on there can best be described by a quote from one of its members, Augustus F. Knudsen, who called the Krotona community “an answer to the demand for a more definite exposition of the work called for in the third object of the Theosophical Society—the investigation of powers latent in man.”
And what about that Rosicrucian window? “I could describe the window,” says D’Aoust, “but its kinda like telling you about a Rothko painting . . . some things are better viewed.”
The north shore of Echo Park Lake was next, where the charismatic Sister Aimee Semple McPherson built her Foursquare Church, where she and her Pentecostal congregation entered states of Jesus-inspired rapture. “Yes. indeed, the founder of the Foursquare church, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson spoke in tongues, also known as ‘glossolalia,’ which is a super L.A. sounding word,” says D’Aoust, “and so did much of her congregation. They would full on go into ecstatic states and allow the Holy Spirit to enter them while they basically lost their minds and became possessed by God. Not bad for Echo Park.”
The tour wrapped up at The Vedanta Society of Southern California in Hollywood, founded in 1930 to bring sacred Hindu philosophy and tantra to the West, and frequented by artists and intellectuals of the era, such as Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley.
“A lot of folks think tantra is just about um . . . well . . . “makin’ bacon,” says D’Aoust, “but really tantric practices extend into many different areas, including celibacy. Vedanta focuses on the teachings of Vivekananda, who was a student of Sri Ramakrishna, one of the most famous tantrikas of India, who is said to have lived for a short time as a monkey and even grew an inch on his coccyx as a tail during this time—which can be found in Christopher Isherwood’s description of him.”
Spiritual Landing Pad
D’Aoust’s bus tours provide a taste of the complex mystical geography not just of Los Angeles, but all of California, which has for so long been a natural landing pad for nontraditional religions of all shapes and sizes. There are, of course, many places of interest that are not covered, such as the beautiful Lake Shrine at Self-Realization Fellowship, the Scientology “mothership” on Sunset in Los Feliz, or the Mormon Temple in Westwood, which stands 257-feet high and is second in size to only the main Mormon temple in Salt Lake City.
“I would love to go to any of those places,” sighs Maja. Likewise, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, a massive architectural marvel that houses a congregation of 10,000. But would they love to have her? She speculates, “Getting permission from the church for a visit by a busload of spiritual seekers led by a white witch might be tricky.”
Too New for the Tour
It is Los Angeles’s newest spiritual building—and also one of its oldest. And as you enter the high-domed interior with its mahogany woodwork, it’s easy to see why it was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Nestled among several architectural treasures on historic West Adams Street, this century-old building is now the L.A. home of the Art of Living Foundation.
The building, which first opened as the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1910, has always been used for spiritual purposes. And, says Art of Living executive director, Rajshree Patel, “Our programs of meditation, yoga, breathing, knowledge and service will continue that tradition.”
Patel notes that although thousands of people have participated in Art of Living self-development and leadership programs in Southern California over the past 20 years, including many inner-city high school students, university students, and corporations, this is the Foundation’s first permanent center in Southern California. During the center’s inaugural week, L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presented a Certificate of Welcome from the city to Art of Living founder, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
“Buildings are there,” said Sri Sri. “But what happens inside the building is more important . . . This is a place where people will come and go out a beautiful human being. And that is the purpose of life, to become more beautiful.
“Beauty is not just external,” he added. “It is not just through makeup or dresses. It is the spirit, alive deep within us. A spiritual center is where you come and your spirit gets uplifted; your body becomes stronger, free from disease; the mind is more focused, energized; the intellect is free from prejudice; where you embrace people from all communities, backgrounds, colors and cultures as your own. This is a home for everyone.”
Photo courtesy Sera TimmsAetherius Society, Aimee Semple McPherson, Art of Living, Crystal Cathedral, Esotouric, Foursquare Church, Gnostic Society, Krotona, Lake Shrine, Maja D'Aoust, Manley P. Hall, Mormon Temple, philosophical research society, Self-Realization Fellowship, shaman, spiritual Los Angeles, spiritual oasis, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Star Sapphire Lodge, Theosophists, Theosophy, Vedanta Society