Kerry Thornley and Kerista

In the mid 1960s, Kerry Thornley joined The Gentle Way, “a sexually swinging psychedelic tribe” engaged in communal mate swapping, dope smoking, and LSD-tripping. Kerry worked for a while as The Gentle Way’s public relations envoy, publishing the Gentle Folk Bullsheet to promote the group’s extracurricular activities.

The Gentle Folk Bullsheet. Courtesy of The Discordian Archives.

The Gentle Way was established by John Presmont (aka Brother Jud) who first came to the attention of the authorities in 1964 when he and seventeen of his free swinging followers were arrested in a communal compound in New York City where “a phonograph was playing soft music and marijuana cigarettes were strewn about… While the detectives were questioning the 17, Mrs. Barbara Sharif Bey, 22 years old, of 279 East Third Street, arrived with a pound of marijuana. The police went to her apartment, where they found her husband, John, placing two additional pounds of marijuana in bags… John Presmont, 45, a bearded occupant of the apartment, told the police the group believed in collective love and was trying to raise funds to buy an island in the Bahamas where it could set up a legal colony of marijuana users.”

Tired of being hassled by the NYC fuzz, Brother Jud and his mob of furry freaks moved to the sunny climes of Southern California where they became renowned for their “beautiful weekend orgies,” as Kerry fondly remembered. The group eventually changed its name from The Gentle Way to The Kerista.

Brother Jud (seated in the middle) with members of Kerista.

Kerry authored a number of “case histories” based on his Kerista experiences for Monogram Publications, a Southern California erotica publisher. In 1966, the group’s newspaper changed its name from Kerista to Kerista Swinger, presumably to generate greater appeal from a new generation of hip sexual experimenters. The Kerista Swinger unabashedly pronounced itself the “Hippest Paper in the USA.” Kerry—calling himself “Young Omar”—wrote several articles for Kerista Swinger, including this snippet:

“Kerista is a religion and the mood of Kerista is one of holiness. Do not, however, look for a profusion of rituals, dogmas, doctrines and scriptures. Kerista is too sacred for that. It is more akin to the religions of the East and, also, the so-called pagan religions of the pre-Christian West. Its fount of being is the religious experience and that action or word or thought which is not infused with ecstasy is not Kerista. And Kerista, like those religions of olden times, is life-affirming.”

Front page of the January 1966 edition Kerista Swinger.

Complete PDF download of the issue here.

In Drawing Down The Moon (Amazon), Margot Adler observed that Kerry’s writings on Kerista signaled the beginnings of the Neo-Pagan movement in contemporary culture, which since the mid-60s has expressed itself in myriad forms, such as free love communes, Wicca practitioners, the back-to-nature movement, psychedelic experimenters and various other groups dedicated to spiritual growth and sexual freedom. In Drawing Down the Moon, Adler cited Kerry as the first person to actually use the word Pagan to describe past and present nature religions.

Read RAW’s take on the Kerista’s here.

1986 Kerista essay by Kerry Thornley.

More on those crazy Kerista’s here.

This entry was posted in book, kerry thornley, photo, robert anton wilson, writings, zines. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Kerry Thornley and Kerista

  1. Mike Marinacci says:

    Interesting; would love to hear more about the early days of Kerista. Did you know that they tried to take over the Harbin Hot Springs naturist/New-Age retreat in the late 1970s?

  2. Gorightly says:

    Hi Mike, I think I knew vaguely about the take over, perhaps from you…I’m friends with one of the Harbin kids and her husband, who both grew up there when that scene was happening. Next time I see them I’ll ask about that.

  3. Looking at this and other photographs of the usual suspects one can’t help but wonder if the current social and political turmoil is, in part, due to the lack of such extravagant beardage amongst today’s young activists?

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