BY WILLIAM “SKIP” COSTLEY
The following story is an account of the early days of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an organisation founded by a group of idealists who were using LSD as a religious sacrament. But they were soon dealing acid and marijuana in large quantities, and in a 1972 article Rolling Stone even referred to them as the “Hippie Mafia.”
In 2003, I got in touch with a member named William “Skip” Costley. We started to correspond with each other by email. It turned out Skip was involved with the group right from the start, and he was kind enough to write down his very own story of what took place. His words felt true and honest. I had no reason to distrust him.
A series of email messages started to appear in my inbox, and an important addition to the history of the organisation was beginning to take shape. The words in the story are Skip’s own just as he wrote them. The only editing that has been made are some small grammatical adjustments, and deciding on appropriate subheadings.
— Henrik Dahl
In 1965, on the television newscasts they were always talking about the college kids taking LSD, which really peaked my curiosity. So one day in early 1966 I asked a good friend and neighbor if he knew anything about it, or could he get any, and he said his wife’s sister and brother-in-law had tried it, and he would ask his wife’s sister (her husband was overseas in the Army at the time). The results of that was that she wouldn’t get us any to use on our own, because it had to be done the right way she told him. So consequently in April or May of 1966, we went with a small group of about 8 to Palm Springs California, about 100 miles from where we lived in Anaheim. The only one I knew was my neighbor. When we got there we hiked up into some rocky hill, where there was a small waterfall and a stream. The hike probably took around an hour. I had a hard time making it in some places, but one of the guys was a fireman and helped me get over the rough spots.
I opened my eyes and found myself in a wonderland, which completely altered the direction of my life.
When we got up to the waterfall we, my neighbor and myself, were instructed to lay down on one of the large rocks by the stream. We took our capsule and kept our eyes closed as long as possible, and one of the guys started reading from the Book of John in the Bible. He only read for about 5 minutes, but it set the tone for the experience. The body feelings and inner visual effects I experienced are beyond explanation, and after an hour or so when I heard others stirring, I opened my eyes and found myself in a wonderland, which completely altered the direction of my life, and set me out on a spiritual quest, and an every weekend user of LSD.
The Stone House
A month or so passed, and the leader of the group, John, he was also married with a boy about 3, had leased a large three story house with an option to buy in Modjeska Canyon, in the hills less about 15 miles from my apartment, but hadn’t moved in yet, when this next episode occurred. I went with my neighbor before daybreak to Laguna Canyon where a couple of the single guys lived, and two older men came in and it scared me, because I had no idea who they were, and these guys that lived there were rolling joints, but it turned out that they were professors or something like that from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and were going with us up to the stone house in Modjeska, to observe us on an experience. One of the guys was a big wheel at UCLA. They went with us and then started asking questions after we were back on our feet. They really irritated my neighbor, and I remember asking them why if they wanted to know what it was like they didn’t try it, and he told me that everyone that had tried doing that, just became a user, and they wanted to study it from the outside. John, and his wife and son and dog and 3 or 4 of his buddies moved into the stone house during the next week, and we started having meetings there every Wednesday evening, not a structured meeting just sort of a get together, and this is when “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love” was adopted. John asked for suggestions on a name and I remember the guy well that came up with the name. There were a few other suggestions but we voted on that one. The guy that came up with it was a great guy, very mellow and he was a surfer. I’ll refer to him as CM.
Going to Mexico
A short time after that my wife delivered our second daughter on 8/13/66, we moved up to Modjeska, I think the very next month. We were the first of the group to move up there. We rented a house about 1/4 of a mile from the stone house, on the opposite side of the street with a stream running through our back yard. Very shortly after that my neighbor and others started renting up there, I don’t remember the exact amount, but around 5 or 6 houses and my neighbor had the fireman that I mentioned earlier and his family living with them, plus there were quite a few living in the stone house by this time.
The next major event for me was a movie crew and actor from Hollywood came up there in the middle of the night and quite a group of us headed for Ensenada Mexico, where they filmed our LSD trip, on the beach. We started our experience at dawn. The actor from what I understood was preparing for a lead part in a movie involving LSD, but to the best of my knowledge the movie was never made, although he did make a documentary movie, of his actual LSD trip under clinical conditions, and it aired on TV. What a waste that was.
During this time John was communicating with Tim Leary, who lived in New York, by telephone a few times a week.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Somewhere around this time John got a shipment of Leary’s book “Psychedelic Prayers” and it proved to be very powerful to read from it during the heavy part of an experience. There were more people coming up to the Canyon every weekend, and it got to the point where John would send some of them to my house for their experience, people I had never seen before, and I’m sure he sent some of them to other of the group’s houses, some of this is kind of vague to me. If I would have had my way I would have always experienced with John. He was very charismatic and it always seemed like he was farther along on the spiritual quest for enlightenment than any of the rest of us. I looked to him as my Guru.
I don’t remember the reason for it but one time when John had got a new supply of LSD he asked me if he could come down to my house and I could help with the capping, and although I was paranoid about it I agreed, so we took a fairly large mirror off of the wall and poured the powder on it, there were 4 or 5 of us and we sat on the carpet in the front room and capped it all up, there was a lot of it, and I was glad when it was over, but then he told me he would have to leave the capsules sitting on the mirror over night to dry, so I had all of those caps sitting on that mirror for about 12 more hours, in the back bedroom, I was really tempted to rip a couple of them off but I didn’t, and he ended up giving me a couple anyway. That was the only illegal thing I was involved in except for using.
Another time after an experience a bunch of us were in my back yard by the creek just enjoying nature, and one of John’s close buddies “C” that lived in the stone house came to tell me that there was a Japanese Zen Master living in Gardena, and wanted me to go with them that night to see him. So about 5 of us went, about 45 miles to Gardena and found the house, a Japanese guy came to the door, and with a bit of difficulty in communication we found out that the Zen Master only held meditations two or three nights a week, at an office building, and this being Sunday night wasn’t one of the nights. So we got the address and went back on Wednesday night, and from then on we went about once a week. It turned out that the one that had came to the door was indeed the Roshi (Master) and at the time we thought it was just a young monk, but I do remember him staring into my eyes and it seemed to have had some kind of an affect on me, what I have no idea.
After a month or so John asked him through an interpreter if he would come up to Modjeska and hold a meditation, he accepted and we were all anxiously waiting for the date to arrive I think it was on a Sunday night, I don’t remember how many people came, but it was quite a few, all of us who lived in the canyon and many more. It went well, until the Roshi gave a talk after the meditation through an interpreter, and let us know even though he thanked LSD for putting us on the Spiritual path, it wasn’t going to work and it was just going to mess us up, something to that effect, I don’t remember what all he said but that was the drift, and it just destroyed me. I remember walking home right after that and leaving my sandals there and every step I took walking down the street on pebbles and things were killing my feet, and my mind was a mess, so the next morning I got ready for work extra early and went by to talk to John about it. He didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, and kind of eased my mind. I think that happened just a little before Christmas (1966) and at Christmas time I left the canyon for 2 or 3 days with my wife and kids to spend Christmas with my Mom and Granddad in Costa Mesa, near Newport Beach, not very far from the Canyon, and when we got back to the Canyon, there had been a fire in the stone house caused by the Christmas tree, so the people that lived there had to be dispersed to live with others in the Canyon. They were waiting for us to get back so a couple could move in with us. It was one of John’s good buddies and his girlfriend. I liked them and everything went OK but thinking back I don’t think I was pleased with not having our own private house, and what the Roshi had said was still working on my mind, and about 2 months later we moved back to town, because I had decided to follow the Roshi. John told me I was doing the wrong thing, but I didn’t think so, and by this time I was beginning see a lot of them as just being druggies and drifting away from the spiritual quest.
Shortly after we had moved out, I heard that Richard Alpert spent a couple weeks up there. I don’t remember just when everybody moved out of the canyon. They opened the psychedelic store “Mystic Arts World” in Laguna Beach, and I went there a few times, even bought a shirt there, and probably some other stuff. By this time Leary had been around a lot. I never did meet him but my wife did one time when she was visiting some of her old friends from the canyon who were now living in Laguna Canyon.
John’s wife came to visit my wife one time at our house and told her that their little boy had got a hold of some L and ate it, and it had really messed him up, although I don’t remember the details of it, I think she said it left him kind of permanently messed up. The last time I saw John and talked to him was on the sidewalk in front of Mystic Arts World. He had gotten really spacey, and maybe it was just because I was straight, but he seemed kind of crazed to me. Hippies galore hung out on the sidewalk in front of the store, and bad mouthed any policemen they saw, or at least some of them did, I remember feeling uneasy around that scene. I could be wrong on this but it seems to me that “Mystic Arts” caught on fire and burned, which was the end of that period.
Looking for John
The next thing I knew they were living in the Idyllwild mountain , and Tim Leary lived there with them. I used to run into my old neighbor once in awhile and that’s where I would get this information. Some time after I had been into Zen, me and my family drove up there to see if we could find them, and just by luck we saw a guy opening a heavily locked gate, and found out they lived about 2 or 3 miles off the road through that gate, and he let us in but warned us that we were on our own as far as getting back out. It was just a small dirt road, and we finally came to a few structures and saw a girl and I asked her if she knew where I could find John, and was informed that he had died, so I started naming other people and hit on one that she knew, “C” and she directed us to his campsite. Him and his girlfriend lived in a tent under a tree. I had my head shaved at that time and at first he didn’t recognize me. “C” took me to see their plants. They had large pot plants growing in with rows of corn.
“C” had always been a heavy pot smoker and rolled the biggest joints I had ever seen, he spent his days on a horse, carried a gun, and was getting a little weird I was told, but he seemed all right to me. They cooked something for us to eat on an open fire while we were there. It was way after dark when they followed us to the gate in his pick up truck, and let us out. It was enjoyable but I was paranoid all the time that a big raid might come down while we were there. This is probably where the “Farmer” got attached to John’s name.
A Chance Meeting in Laguna Beach
I’m not sure in what time frame this next fond memory of mine fell in, but on a week long vacation my wife , her younger sister, our kids and me, rented a camp site at Doheny Beach and set up a tent, it wasn’t far from Laguna Beach, and I was really craving an experience, so I drove to Laguna Beach just to see if by chance I would see one of the old group, figuring there wasn’t much of a chance. I drove around for awhile in the town, with no luck and was heading back toward Doheny and in south Laguna when I spotted two of the old group running across Pacific Coast Highway, almost right in front of me, it was CM (the guy that had come up with the Brotherhood name) and J (J was the one that seemed to be John’s silent partner in the LSD trade when we all lived in Modjeska). I pulled over and talked to them for awhile. They were on their way to eat at a restaurant, right there, and lived close by. Of course they didn’t have anything with them, but J asked me if I had ever tried Mescaline, and I hadn’t, so they said they would bring 3 caps down to our camp site, in about 2 hours, so I was really feeling good about that, but about 3 hours went by and they hadn’t showed. I was feeling pretty low, but they did finally show up, with another 1 or 2 guys that I didn’t know. We had a good visit, and they enjoyed seeing my wife again. After they left and somewhere around midnight or so we took the Mescaline. It was in a “huge cap” and the experience was fantastic, it had a mellowness to it that LSD doesn’t. I’ve over the years always wished I could get some more of it.
I forgot one little thing that happened when we lived in the canyon, that I had meant to mention. After one of the experiences at my house, John showed up with a guy from “Paris Match Magazine” who took a bunch of pictures of us and did a tape recorded session with John. (John wanted me to do that part but I declined, figuring I wouldn’t be able to answer all of the guys questions.) The guy said he would send us a copy of the article when it was published, but never did. It would really be something, at my age to look back at the pictures, because I don’t have one picture of those days. As far as I can think of that’s the end of my story.
By William “Skip” Costley
My Questions to Skip
Since Skip was only involved in the forming of the group in 1966, and had little contact with the Brotherhood in the years that followed, he couldn’t say much about what was going on at The Mystic Arts Store and their days at Idyllwild. Yet the information he shared on the early days of the group was very interesting and something that up until now has gone unnoticed when documenting the activities of the Brotherhood.
I’ve decided to include a few follow-up questions that I was hoping Skip could answer. Even though his answers were short and sometimes left unanswered, I found them nevertheless interesting.
Why did acid become your sacrament of choice?
– I didn’t choose LSD, it chose me.
In Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain’s book Acid Dreams, one is informed that John Griggs stole LSD from a Hollywood producer. Is this just a myth or actually true?
– I don’t know about John stealing from a producer, but I wouldn’t doubt it.
You say that it seemed like John Griggs was farther along on the spiritual quest for enlightenment. Did you get to know anything about his previous life, eg. was Griggs the leader of a motorcycle gang, which is suggested in Acid Dreams?
– I never heard of John even riding motorcycles. I did hear that he was on heroin before he was rescued by LSD.
Did Griggs inform the group about his conversations with Timothy Leary?
– He only mentioned the things they talked about regarding the best ways to prepare for and carry out a successful experience, but what all they talked about I don’t know.
You say that you were beginning to view the rest of the group as druggies drifting away from the spiritual quest. Why was that? Did they start taking the drug in a more casual way, or did they do other more harmful drugs as well?
– No! They still experienced the same way, and I could be wrong on that, it was just a feeling I had, and quite a few of them just stayed loaded on pot all the time.
We were truly on a quest for religious enlightenment.
A Final Note
The things that have been written about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love often seem to be on the verge of fiction, and their lifestyle and what they were doing can appear somewhat outrageous. Did John Griggs really steal that first acid from a Hollywood producer? It sure is a great story, but did it actually happen? One also can’t help but wonder if it was true that John Griggs was a former member of a motorcycle gang. What strikes me as strange is that Skip “never heard of John even riding motorcycles.” These questions will probably never be answered, and the stories have already been part of the Brotherhood saga for several decades. The group’s activities in the late sixties and early seventies have drawn a lot of bad publicity and they are often referred to as violent, gun-toting gangsters. Skip’s story is a valuable addition to the tale of what was going on in the early days of the Brotherhood. Little is known of the origins of the organization. If anything, the story of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is a story of how a small group of pacifists, mostly vegetarians and idealists, thought they would make the world a better place with their organization, and instead became a magnet for unscrupulous people with no morals. One should also keep in mind that when Skip first tried LSD, it wasn’t even illegal.
I’ll let Skip have the final word:
– My experience with the then rather small group, approximately 15 to 20, was in 1966, and when I met the others and started taking LSD it was not against the law yet. Most all of the others knew each other from High School, and one of them was my neighbor. Our reason for founding the Brotherhood was so that we might be able to use LSD as a legal religious sacrament like as we understood some Indian Tribe used Peyote, because we were aware that they were in the process of making it illegal to use LSD, and we were truly on a quest for religious enlightenment.
Featured image: Vintage postcard depicting the area near Palm Springs, California (date unknown).