The type of people attracted to LA has always been of a different breed.
It began with some of the first white people to hit California: the hundreds of thousands of ambitious young men dreaming to make it rich in the Gold Rush. They left behind in the East and Midwest families, traditions, stability, and values prescribed by an outside authority. These men had stars in their eyes, yes, and that and the independent self-image they carried were traits to be shared with the Angelenos of the future.
After the arrival of the railroad in 1882 and the resultant real estate boom, a mythologizing of LA and Southern California began to be propagated: “… a myth of a very different kind of society – a leisured, elegant life in glorious natural surroundings, a non-competitive society without hierarchy whose people, through the bounty of the land and the generosity of all, were supplied with everything they needed, both physically and spiritually.”
The newcomers to LA encountered a melting pot of an extremely diverse population unknown back East which included the indigenous peoples, Latinos, Asians, blacks, and whites. Gays, artists, misfits of all types, and spiritual seekers not wishing to be constrained by traditional, organized religion came here because they knew they would be accepted. This diversity encouraged a live-and-let-live mentality. The myth of California also includes the image of a homogenous group of people who are open, social, future oriented, working on their human potential and going for the best in life. (Of course, these glowing California myths conveniently ignore the genocide of the Native peoples, the racial violence, and the fact that millions live in poverty.)
LA and California also attracted health seekers who came for the paradisiacal climate. Many of these were spiritual seekers unhappy that mainstream religion had abandoned the healing emphasis of Jesus’s teachings.
Because the people who moved to LA had for the most part left behind traditional values and religion, they were free to develop a spirituality that could be practiced inwardly and alone. Being adventurous in general, they were drawn to alternative worldviews. A certain tolerance and celebration of diversity became guideposts for LA spirituality, and remains so today.
In fact, the original “spiritual seekers” may have originated in LA. In an ad for real estate during the 1880s boom one promoter wrote, “… the vicinity of Los Angeles, the City of the Angels, the site of the very Paradise, … the graves are actually shown of Adam and Eve, father and mother of man.” In my research for this book, I did not discover the graves of Adam and Eve in LA, but maybe they are here, hidden, waiting to be discovered by you or one of your friends.
© 2020 Catherine Auman
This article is an excerpt from Catherine Auman’s book Guide to Spiritual L.A.: The Irreverent, the Awake, and the True