Kerista

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Kerista was a new religion that was started in New York City in 1956 by John Peltz "Bro Jud" Presmont. Throughout much of its history, Kerista was centered on the ideals of polyfidelity[1] and creation of intentional communities. Kerista underwent several incarnations that later became known as the "Old Tribe," which was associated with a fairly large, but fluid membership. What was called the "New Tribe," a period of more stable membership and ideology, began in 1971 based in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.[2]

History[edit]

From 1971 until 1991, the community was centered at the Kerista Commune (not a single physical building), founded in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, California. The Keristans maintained a very high profile which included publication of a popular free newspaper and several national media appearances.[3]

Kerista also produced zines that included drawings and comics. Some concerned day-to-day life. Others presented a lighthearted polytheistic mythology which revolved around a pantheon of benevolent and technologically adept goddesses and gods. Kerista adopted singer Joan Jett as the "Matron Saint" of their community. Features presented in the zine included articles and essays concerning life within the community and their proposed World Plan to establish a functional Utopian society on a larger scale. The volume of publications and art work produced by Kerista Commune was quite a bit greater than other groups that were active in the Haight Ashbury during this period.

The Keristans shared income and could choose whether or not to have outside paying jobs or work within the community (which operated several businesses, a legally incorporated church and an educational non-profit organization). The most successful of the businesses was Abacus, Inc., an early Macintosh computer vendor in San Francisco, which eventually offered a variety of computer hardware, training and services. At its height, Abacus employed over 250 people and had offices in five major California cities. Voted the 33rd and 42nd fastest growing privately held company in America by INC 500 in 1990 and 1991 respectively, Abacus achieved revenues in excess of $25 million per year. Prior to Apple Computer Corporation abandoning the Value-Added Reseller in 1992, Abacus was the number one reseller of Apple Macintosh computers in the Bay Area in 1991.

The official website lists 42 people as having joined Kerista at various times during the community's history, though more than this number passed through for short time periods. The commune also maintained a very active program of social events and Gestalt-o-rama rap groups. The number of people that spent significant time interacting with the commune members was much larger. The commune functioned a lot like a religious order and was an important focal point for a larger community of people in San Francisco interested in alternative lifestyles. The events sponsored by Kerista were almost always free and non-commercial. In 1979 and 1980, two children were born in the community. In 1983, the adult male Keristans had vasectomies, officially as a means to deal with birth control in the group and address global population issues. All male applicants subsequently had the requirement of having a vasectomy within a set period of time after joining the community. This and many other rules or "standards"—as well as its members being exclusively heterosexual in a city well known for its large and influential LGBT community—were in part responsible for keeping the size of the community small.

In 1991, the community experienced a major split, the founder going on to create The World Academy of Keristan Education. The residential commune dissolved. Several former members of the commune still live in the San Francisco Bay Area — a number moved to Hawaii and purchased a block of adjoining parcels of land.

When it was active, Kerista was a major focal point for people interested in alternative and non-monogamous lifestyles. The terms polyfidelity and compersion were coined at the Kerista Commune. The commune developed an entire vocabulary around alternative lifestyles—for example their term polyintimacy in their literature was similar to the term popularized as polyamory years later. Entrance to the commune was extremely selective and included a 6-month waiting period and a screening for STDs including HIV.[citation needed]

John (Bro Jud) Presmont died on December 13, 2009 in San Francisco.[4] In his last years, Jud had been seen regularly on 'The Bro Jud Show' on San Francisco public-access television cable TV. One of the children raised in the commune graduated from medical school in 2010 and volunteered for the relief effort in Haiti. A former member of the commune was nominated for a local Emmy in 2006 and is an active film producer.[5] In 1998, Robert Furchgott, the father of Eve Furchgott (also known as Even Eve and Susan Furchgott) won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for a scientific breakthrough that was important in the creation of Viagra and several other drugs. Eve Furchgott is an active professional artist-as are some other former members of the commune. One former commune member is an active, performing musician.[6]

Kerista, Robert A. Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land[edit]

Science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, in a 1966 letter to his agent Lurton Blassingame, mentioned Kerista in connection with his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land:

"I recently learned that it (Stranger in a Strange Land) was considered the "New Testament" - and compulsory reading - of a far-out cult called 'Kerista.' (Kee-rist!). I don't know exactly what "Kerista" is, but its L.A. chapter offered me $100 to speak. (I turned them down.)" [7]

Further reference to the influence of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land on Kerista, as well as the Church of All Worlds (which took its name from the fictional church created by Stranger's protagonist Michael Valentine Smith), and Discordianism is made by Carole M. Cusack in her book Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith :[8]

"Kerista's polyamorous sexual practice was influenced, as was that of the Church of All Worlds, by Robert A. Heinlein's (1907-88) science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which the Martian-raised human Michael Valentine Smith founded The Church of All Worlds, preached sexual freedom and the truth of all religions, and is martyred by narrow-minded people who are not ready for freedom."

Cusack speculates that the person who invited Heinlein to speak at Kerista's Los Angeles chapter may have been co-founder of Discordianism Kerry Thornley, who lived in Watts. Thornley had joined Kerista in 1966 and was known to be a lifelong science-fiction fan.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Furchgott, Eve. "Polyfidelity - description of a new type of family structure:". Retrieved 2011-03-12. 
  2. ^ Miller, Timothy (1999). The 60s communes: hippies and beyond. Syracuse University Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-8156-0601-7. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Bullet, Rio K. "My Brief Encounter with Kerista". Retrieved 2011-03-12. One day I was walking past Washington Square Park. Like all big cities, there are loads of alternate and underground publications in the form of newspapers, most of them free of charge. I bent to look in the windows of the metal boxes on the sidewalk to see if there was anything I might like. One had an intriguing title: RockHead. I took it back to my hotel room and read it. The paper was published independently by an organization known as the Kerista Commune 
  4. ^ "Kerista.commune - Historical Home of the Kerista Commune:". Retrieved 2011-03-12. John Peltz Presmont passed from this life on Sunday Dec 13, 2009, in San Francisco, CA. 
  5. ^ "Introducing Daniel Morii – Executive Producer / Green Collar Technologies:". Retrieved 2011-03-12. 
  6. ^ "SolGold". Retrieved 2013-11-27. SolGold. 
  7. ^ Heinlein, Robert A. (Virginia Heinlein, ed.), Grumbles From the Grave, Del Rey Books, 1989, ISBN 0-345-36941-6.
  8. ^ Cusack, Carole M. Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham (UK), 2010, ISBN 978-0754667803

Further reading[edit]

  • Slomiak, Mitch (Spring 1996). "The Darker Side of Community: Hidden Limits to Lasting Groups". Loving More. pp. 16–20. 
  • Slomiak, Mitch (Summer 1996). "The Darker Side of Community: Hidden Limits to Lasting Groups, part II". Loving More. pp. 14–15, 28–31. 

External links[edit]