Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin

Paradigm Shift Interview by Philip H. Farber

Photograph © 1997 Paul von Hartmann

Stephen Gaskin is probably best known for his 1960s exploits in Haight-Ashbury that led to the pilgrimage of 400 hippies across the country to found The Farm Community. He is also the founder of The Rocinante Health Center Project and Plenty International, a relief organization that has rebuilt houses and set up medical clinics throughout the world. As a teacher and author, his books, including Cannabis Spirituality and Haight-Ashbury Flashbacks, have addressed the place of spirituality and mind-altering plants in our society.

Paradigm Shift caught up with Gaskin after the 1998 Starwood Festival, a pagan/magickal/countercultural gathering that draws thousands of visitors to a Temporary Autonomous Zone in western New York State every summer.

Philip H. Farber: What did you think of Starwood?

Stephen Gaskin: I like Starwood. I am not a pagan in any sense of being involved with Celtic or Welsh or any particular school but I definitely am pagan in the sense of someone who has never been roped and branded by any religion. I am a freethinker.

I mean the pagans are very cute. I actually just consider them to be a sub-species of hippies. They are all pierced and tattooed and long black capes and horns and antlers and such. On the other hand they put the aluminum with the aluminum, the clear glass with the clear glass, the brown glass with the brown glass, the compost in the compost and the trash in the trash. They love the world. I don't mean in the abstract, I mean the real actual world

It is also really sweet to see people out in their skin, feeling and being beautiful. I hope they also register to vote.

PHF: I think I probably fall into that same category. In general, do you think that particular religious beliefs are a limitation? Or can they be beneficial?

Stephen Gaskin: I think each of us has a non-shirkable obligation to figure out the world on our own as best we can. The way we treat other people as a result of that investigation is our true and practiced religion. Any paint-by-numbers system that figures it out for you is an imposition on your intellect. Many people are driven crazy trying to integrate some indigestible dogma into an otherwise clean mind.

I believe in the constitution.

PHF: Hmmm... would someone recognize it if they were being driven crazy that way? Any suggestions for someone who might find themselves in such a bind?

Stephen Gaskin: Here are two things I do for the sake of sanity. One of them it to always tell yourself the truth about what you do in the plainest and most unvarnished terms. It might not make you like your self but it will help keep you from going crazy. Another important one is to never make any important decisions on the basis of second hand psychic phenomena. I have seen some stuff and I have heard some stuff, but I never pass on second hand stuff as true. By second hand, I mean anything other than my own experience.

My middle son Paul was very offended by the story of the prophet Abraham going to sacrifice his son and the sacrificial goat being found just in time.. He said "Why wasn't that child abuse?" He said that he would have taken Abraham's knife away and told that old man that he better hope for a goat. The clean eye of a child noticed that there was another actor besides Abraham, the goat and God and that the tale acted like the child was not a person. Every once in a while you hear of some poor deluded soul who does something truly awful on instructions from god.

Could we set the plow a little deeper?

PHF: If there are any topics you'd particularly like to talk about here, let me know... this isn't hard journalism...

Stephen Gaskin: I know this isn't hard Journalism but the Question stimulates the Answer. I want to break out a little. I don't want to be trapped like many young people are today.

Assuming Dogmatic opinions as a young person puts one in the position of having receptors for certain ideas . When such a person goes into the world, the world that they encounter is pre-conditioned by the idea receptors. The Dogmatic opinions are the other end of the receptors. Some young people go into the world bristling with opinions like a porcupine and promptly get something stuck on each quill. At this point all learning stops unless there is some great cleansing of mind. All the opinions having met their mate, the young mind's learning receptors are stuffed with things which are after all only extentions of opinions already held.

Your honest questions help me break out in to new territory

PHF: Ah... I like that. In what ways have you experienced such a cleansing? Do you believe there's a way to invite such a cleansing?

Here's one way. When I met my wife, she told me that I knew absolutely nothing about women but that she loved me anyway and if I would just shut up and be good she would teach me. She asked what I thought she was in relation to me. I said "It looks to me like you must be my teacher."

I had some more of that from Acid and hanging out with honest young people. There must be millions of who have been that route.

When I was in college I knew this guy who was a full time party-boy, beer-head, girl-chaser and man about town. One evening he and his best drinking buddy were in a drunken car wreck that killed his friend. He hung upside down for half the night next to his dead friend before he was discovered and rescued. He quit drinking, opened a pizza parlor, got married, settled down and had babies and prospered. I don't recommend this route but if it the one you are on, do your homework and learn your lessons. Otherwise, it is a terrible waste.

It is a sobering thing to realize that "My God! I have been full of shit most of my life!".


PHF: Hmmm... the only questions I really consider to be hard are the big questions, like "What is the nature of consciousness?"

Stephen Gaskin: Try this

Consciousness, in a way, is a function of soul, the spark of godhood that is indwelling

"Beauty, in the flesh, is but a spark,
the fitful tracing of a portal..
but in the flesh it is immortal"
About Soul, I think the poet, Yeats, meant that beauties grow old and die but beauty lives on as long as beauties live on, "in the flesh it is immortal.

I do believe in immortal soul in this fashion.

Length, width, depth, and time, the four dimensions of material reality must be apprehended by soul which preexists and is eternal. Hence, immortal soul. It is not that soul doesn't die that is important, but that it always lives and is that against which time is measured. Soul is that which notices that time passes and therefore must have a referent in another place, which is eternity.

I am sure of soul, I am just not sure if I can call it my own in any but the most temporary sense. To me the soul question is like the light problem. Is light a ray or a particle? Is it my soul or just soul stuff?.

If you put a bunch of soul together does it remain in particles like BBs or just all flow together like water?

PHF: While my mind continues to boggle on this one, I'll pose a more practical question...

Are you aware of the initiative in California to get cannabis legalized for religious use? (The group responsible for this has some resources online at Do you think this is a worthwhile way to pursue legalization?

Stephen Gaskin: I am actually one of the sponsors of that action. Guy Mount invited me in. I believe in Cannabis Spirituality.(forgive the plug)

It is not a question of either or. We should try medical, industrial, recreational, religious, 1st amendment, 14th amendment, 9th amendment anything else on the books. What I do with my own mind is not their business and as long as they stay riding on the backs of the people I am their dedicated and full time opponent. The critics say that medical cannabis advocates think it just should be completely legal. My answer to that is, "Your point?" We are in the open, I am not hiding. If it can help one AIDS victim eat, that is worth it. If it can save one tree, that is worth while. If it can help people unwind from work mode to family mode, (and it does) then that is worth it.

PHF: I'll ask you what I asked Robert Anton Wilson in the last issue: Under what terms, if any, would you like to see cannabis legalized? Any age restrictions? Marketing restrictions? Taxation?

Stephen Gaskin: I think a mix of loose and tight. I don't just say legalize it because I don't want to see the big tobacco companies step in and take over and advertise and make money off of our sacrament. Cannabis needs no advertising.

I don't think the growing and selling or trading of pot in moderate amounts among friends should be regulated at all. During alcohol prohibition, there was an allowance for people who had wine as a part of their culture and diet. It was called a "Head of the household allowance." It was 600 gallons.

For large amounts I think of a state store like Oregon State Liquor stores. A plain building without advertising and government regulated low retail prices for medical or recreational pot.

All pot prisoners who are not complicated with guns, violence or hard drugs should have amnesty and immediate release and purging of their criminal records.

I actually think that decriminalizing cocaine would confound the cokelords more than anything else but that is not this fight. Decriminalizing cannabis should be allowed to run for a few years without complicating it, to learn how to do it. If it works good, possibly an expansion could be considered.

I wouldn't mind a moderate tax in the state stores if it could be dedicated to education or helping fund Medicare or something worthwhile. Absolutely no taxation at the personal or medical level.

By the way, did I tell you that I am going to run for president on decriminalizing pot? I will put my platform here...

Plank 1: Universal Health Care. Everyone gets taken care of while we argue about the money.
Plank 2: Campaign Finance Reform. The Airwaves belong to the people. The networks will get off of enough of them for the people to run their elections, free.
Plank 3: Decriminalize Marijuana and Amnesty for all simple pot prisoners who are not involved with guns or hard drugs.
Plank 4: Let's Educate the Kids and quit fighting about it.
Plank 5: A Corporation is Not a Person.
My idea is to put the subject of reefer law on the table and to make the debate public. I thought I could be as much of a pain in the ass as Ross Perot, but for a good cause.

I think Perot's 18 million or whatever it was is about half as many as there are pot smokers in the United States. I want to show them that our constituency is large and intelligent and worthy of consideration. People from several states who were at the 4:20, said that they would work for me in their states.

PHF: How do you hope to finance the campaign and get on the ballots?

Stephen Gaskin: In the first place, my presidential candidacy will not even try to compete financially. That would be the first trap. I am going to rely on my good hippy karma. I am quite well known among hippies and the youth. I am also going to rely on the truth and sanity of my positions. I have been crisscrossing this continent for 28 years. My books have sold about half a million, and books related to my work have sold several millions. Rather than purchasing time on the air, I will try to be a good enough story to be carried as news. I will be using the Internet and web pages and I hope to have the help of people like you, Phil, who inhabit the underground media. We have been building a system for years. On my road trips, I usually talk on the local public access station and I have friends from coast to coast on that circuit.

I intend to put the pot question on the table. I want all candidates for all offices to be asked what have they done for reefer sanity in the USA.

Al Gore was the young reporter who did the first big local story on us. We have known him for 25 years. I sometimes have a column in the paper that he used to work for. I will announce in that column. I think the wire services will think that situation is cute enough to carry the story.

This is a literal and metaphorical grass roots effort. My e-mail address is and I welcome comments, offers of help and being forwarded to your lists. I know that I am a regular on all the best hippy gossip circuits. I ask their permission for my presidential candidacy to be carried on that net as well.


Books by Stephen Gaskin.

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