Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poor Pooh given a slice of Vagloaf

While reading the exceptionally interesting case study written by Dr. David E. Smith entitled "A Case Study of the Charles Manson Group Marriage Commune" done in 1968, I found a little tidbit I thought I might share. The interesting tidbit is this: When Mary Brunner gave birth to her son, Valentine Michael aka Pooh Bear aka Sunstone Hawk, she passed on her yeast infection to the poor child. Other than that, the doctor noted that the child was a fairly "healthy youngster." Am I a jerk for posting such a thing? Yeah, probably. Are you going to stop reading this now? Hell No! Are you looking at Eviliz at work? Yes, most likely....Anyway, here you go:

Much has been written about communal living in areas outside the United States and in countries such as Israel, where the Kibbutim have flourished. In these instances, communal practices relative to sexual behavior and child rearing have been described in great detail. America, too, has a long history of communal living, primarily involving religious groups such as the Amish and the Mennonites. Recently, however, through the national media, the dominant culture in the United States has been made aware of a new style of commune which has evolved primarily in America's "hippie subculture." Unfortunately, we know relatively little about this pattern of alternative cooperative living. These "hippie" communes can be categorized into six general types (Crash Pad Type, Drug and Non-Drug Family Type, Drug and Non-Drug Marriage Type, and Self-Contained Rural Type). Staff members of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic spent the summer of 1969 studying the health needs of communes in Northern California and Oregon. It was reported that there were over 200 cooperative living groups in the area alone involving several thousand people. However, beyond superficial description, little study has been made of the characteristics of communes despite the rapidly growing number of people involved in this life style. The purpose of this study is to describe in detail one specific type of commune- the Group Marriage Commune. The common denominators in this type of commune are polygamous sexual practices involving all members of group and cooperative child rearing. Following the preparation of this manuscript, the central figure in this report, Charles Manson, was arrested in connection with the Sharon Tate murders. However, it would be impudent to comment on the murders until Manson's trial has been completed. The "group marriage" is not new, of course, and has been practiced by various societies throughout history. Middle class white American youth participating in a group marriage is relatively new, however, particularly in that it represents a direct affront to the dominant culture's expressed moral code. This paper then, will present a case study of a particular commune of the group marriage type.

Research Methodology

We gathered our data primarily by participant-observation techniques. Both authors worked with commune dwellers at the Haight-Ashbury clinic, and observed a variety of urban and rural communes. In addition, Rose lived in two types of communes, the crash pad type and the group marriage type, with the latter experience being the primary resource for the study. This paper is primarily descriptive with little effort being made to quantitate. Participation in the communes at the time of involvement was not associated with academic observation and only after leaving the communal setting was thought given to description. Structure of the Group Marriage Commune

Most group marriage communes that survive for a long period of time have a "father figure" as the spiritual leader of the group. The group marriage commune under study had a "father figure" (Charles Manson), a 35-year-old white male with a past history of involvement with the law. The age range of these communal dwellers was about 16 to 34, the core group consisted of approximately 20 people, including 14 women. Although there were three people with some college education, including one person having a Master's degree, members disapproved of the whole process of formal institutional education in America. They believed that education was a means of conditioning or "brain washing" a young person with the values and mores of the dominant culture. Manson felt that a person should be "open to change" and willing to accept new values, but insisted that once someone has been indoctrinated by society, his value system became rigid. Approximately 20 members of this commune referred to themselves as a "family," but we have chosen the term "group marriage commune" because of the polygamous sexual relations, but affairs outside the "family" were rarely endorsed. In cases of sexual conflict, Manson made the final judgment as to what constituted acceptable behavior. In addition, there were many "sympathetic cousins" (a term we chose to represent those people who had been greatly influenced by the group marriage communes and who had adopted some of the beliefs, although not living with the "core group"). The "cousins," however, often visited with the family for extended periods of time, although they were all involved in their own "scenes" in other parts of the state.

Brief Description of the Leader

Manson was thirty-five years of age, and had no college education. He was an extroverted, persuasive individual who served as absolute ruler of the group marriage commune. What he sanctioned was approved by the rest of the group, but what he disapproved was forbidden. Tales of Manson's sexual prowess were related to all new members. One of the most popular stories concerned his daily activities before the group moved to the ranch, and while they were being supported by a "wealthy cousin." One popular story often told was that Manson would get up in the morning, make love, eat breakfast, make love, and go back to sleep. He would wake later, and make love, have lunch, make love, and go back to sleep. Waking up later, he would make love, eat dinner, make love, and go back to sleep- only to wake up in the middle of the night wanting to have intercourse again. Such stories, although not validated, helped him maintain his leadership role. Charlie had a persuasive mystical philosophy placing great emphasis on the belief that people did not die and that infant consciousness was the ultimate state. However, Charlie's mysticism often became delusional and he on occasion referred to himself as "God" or "God and the Devil." Charlie could probably be diagnosed as an ambulatory schizophrenic.

Location and Economic Support

The economic level of this commune was low and there was no stable source of income. Money would be brought into the group by new members or through gifts from the "cousins." Gifts of food, money and clothing, also came from friends and acquaintances of the group, although such presents were rare. At the time of our observation, the group lived on a "ranch" which had as its sole means of support money coming from the rental of horses for riding. The group marriage commune worked on the ranch in return for living quarters,. These living quarters were probably illegal, since the buildings had been condemned, but this was of little concern to the group. The group usually awoke at about 7:00 a.m. in order to feed the horses and put them out to pasture before the first riders arrived. They finished breakfast and had the horses saddled by 8:00 a.m. Some people stayed near the office in order to act as guides on the trails while some were prepared to saddle more horses. Others cleaned the stalls and prepared the hay and oats so that the barn would be ready when the horses came back. Some lounged or made love most of the day until dinner time. The group usually gathered after dinner and smoked marijuana while singing or talking. Drug use, however, was primarily recreational and had little to do with the central philosophy of the group. Because they had little money, food procurement was a daily "adventure" (a term used by the group because of the risks involved in getting food). Two or three people would take the ranch truck to the nearby town. Parking behind the grocery store or supermarket they proceeded to rummage through the garbage bins. Meat which had begun to discolor, dented cans of food, open bags of fruit and vegetables, etc., made up the daily meals. The term "adventure" was used because such forays were illegal; a prevalent rumor had it that the stores sprinkled rat poison or lime over the food in an attempt to discourage such procurement methods. Fourteen to twenty people per day were fed two meals, seven days a week. This commune was not a "vegetarian commune" nor was it involved in Eastern religion as were some of the communes previously studied. LSD-induced psychedelic philosophy was not a major motivational force.

Attitudes Toward the Children

One of the most significant characteristics of the communes in general is the return to natural, almost primitive techniques of childbirth and child rearing. This commune was no different. Of the 14 females in the "immediate family," two were pregnant at the time of our observation. Both said that Manson was the father, although there was no way to verify the claim, as the sexual relations in the group were polygamous. It should be noted that Manson was held in such high regard by the girls that all of them wanted to carry his child. One of the pregnant girls gave birth to her son in the group's bus which the family used both as transportation and as a home prior to the ranch location. During the three months of residence in Haight-Ashbury, for example, the group (known then as "Charlie's Girls") used the bus as their primary home. To relax during childbirth the girl smoked marijuana. The group aided in the delivery; no physician or midwife was present. The above birth in the bus was a breech birth with no natal complications. The child was a fairly healthy youngster, although he did have a few allergies and a yeast infection he caught from his mother. The child did not see a physician until about four months after delivery, when he was treated at the Haight-Ashbury Clinic. In general, commune dwellers reject the concept of pre-natal care and well-baby care, as well as birth certificates and immunizations. The mother and the group were against circumcision, but later forced by county health officials to have the operation performed. This occurred after the child was given to foster parents while the mother was being tried for a drug violation (possession of marijuana). It was at this time, also, that the child was given a birth certificate. This latter "injustice" was viewed by the group as the most harmful, as it was felt that this was an example of certification and harassment by society. To have the child numbered and registered with the state by means of a birth certificate is a practice that most commune dwellers reject.  

Sexual Practices and Child Rearing

Since the group had extremely permissive sexual attitudes, the members felt no need for conventional marriage relationships which they considered psychologically destructive. The large number of divorces in the larger society and in their own family backgrounds helped them to rationalize or reinforce this attitude.

The group functioned as "one husband and wife." They took communal responsibility for the children, although the mother cared for the infant during the early natal period with breast feeding. The entire group believed that they gave the child more attention and affection than did most families. The child was always the center of attraction and went everywhere with the group. The child was viewed as the one member of the group to most closely emulate and follow, as he alone was "untainted" by society. Charlie used the words of Jesus, "He who is like the small child shall reap the rewards of heaven," as a guide for the group's child rearing philosophy.

On Becoming a Partner in the Group Marriage Commune  

Entry into this commune was relatively simple. There were no "entrance requirements" other than the willingness to give up one's social "hang-ups" and inhibition about sex, sexual partners, material possessions, and power over people. The latter was considered to be the primary motivation of the establishment or dominant culture. Sexual inhibitions were a major concern of the group. The sexual ethic the group attempted to adopt was at odds with the members' own middle-class backgrounds. Most of the group came from middle-class backgrounds and upon becoming a partner in the group marriage; many found it difficult to adjust to the group's attitude toward sex.

Communal marriage was the modus operandi, and conventional one-to-one relationships were not sanctioned. The females in the group had as their major role the duty of gratifying the males. This was done by cooking for them and sleeping with them. Any member of the group could sleep with any other member as long as the partners did not get so involved with each other that they would not (or did not want to) sleep with anyone else.

Manson set himself up as the "initiator of new females" into the commune. He would spend most of their first day making love to them, as he wanted to see if they were just on a "sex trip" (a term used by the group to label someone there only for sexual gratification), or whether they were seriously interested in joining the group. Manson would spend a great deal of time talking with them and finding out, as he put it, "where their heads were at." An unwillingness, for example, to engage in mutual oral-genital contact was cause for immediate expulsion, for Charlie felt that this was one of the most important indications as to whether or not the girl would be willing to give up her sexual inhibitions.

Middle-class standards of sex behavior were rejected by the group. Most of the group had refuted the financial and materialistic orientation of their families with relative ease. The sexual orientation was more difficult. Homosexual activity, though not stigmatized, was minimal. Charlie felt that getting rid of sexual inhibitions would free people of most of their inhibitions and problems.

Divorce From the Group Marriage Commune

Should the group discover that a partner was not ridding himself of inhibitions fast enough, pressure would be applied. This pressure would take various forms. One of the most popular was the refusal of the other group members to have intercourse with that individual. Another approach would be the "long talk" method. This technique would involve two or three partners in the commune approaching the individual in question and asking "Why are you here? What do you want from us? If we asked you to hitch-hike to New York and stay there awhile, would you do it?" If the answer to the last question was yes, and the individual still did not go, he would usually be asked to leave and stay away until he went through sufficient "changes." People usually left "involuntarily" at the insistence of the family or group because the group felt that the individual was 1)just there for sexual reasons (on a sex trip), or 2)failed to conform to the standards of the group as established by Manson.

Discussion and Summary

A descriptive study such as this about a group marriage commune leaves a great many questions unanswered. It is apparent that many of the activities of the group would be labeled deviant by America's dominant culture, but deviance itself is a culturally defined attitude and it is more meaningful to describe such behavior as either constructive or destructive.

In health terms, a great deal of the behavior in group marriage commune is destructive. Communicable diseases ranging from upper respiratory problems to gonorrhea are rampant. Hepatitis and food poisoning also occur with great frequency. Drug abuse, however, does not seem to be a major health problem, although the use of illegal drugs by commune members seems to attract a great deal of attention in the popular press.

Relative to psychosocial issues, analysis becomes much more difficult. Childbirth and communal child rearing seem to be handled fairly well as long as the group stays together, but substantial problems develop for both mother and child if they must leave the commune. Little is know of the long term consequences of such communal child rearing.

The final and most interesting questions relate to why this alternative communal life style holds such an attraction for thousands of adolescents and young adults. Why, for example, were these young girls so attracted and captivated by a disturbed person such as Manson? What is happening within the framework of the dominant culture and its monogamous, nuclear family units, that so many youths must feel compelled not simply to rebel but totally reject traditional life styles?

*This research was conducted 15 months prior to the highly publicized "Sharon Tate murder." The authors take no position or have no information relative to the involvement of this commune in this violent crime.

**Assistant Clinical Professor of Toxicology, U.C. Medical Center, San Francisco and Medical Director, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic.

***Research Associate, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic.