Meaning. Truth. Some people seem to be able to live without thinking about them. For others no other thought is worth pursuing.
Buddhist prayer flags wave ceaselessly, alive to the most subtle breeze, on the knoll above Greenwood that is Freeman Allan’s front yard. Freeman, now 67, the founder of Sacred Source, a company that makes icons representing all of the world’s religious traditions, has recently published an autobiography, also titled Sacred Source. It tells the story of his life, of course, but it is more an account of his spiritual quest, seemingly desperate at times, to arrive at peaceful co-existence with life’s meaning. He offers his story, he said, not because he is noteworthy, but to say to others how his path unfolded and to offer encouragement to those who will take their pilgrimage up the misty slopes of the mountain of truth.
And what has he seen on the climb?
“The divine feminine and the sacred masculine are a union,” Allan said. “We in Western culture, over 3,000 years, have forgotten that it’s a balanced union of opposites, each of which brings parts of holiness to life. In a way, our various spiritual traditions of the book—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—have gotten sort of hijacked by overemphasis on the masculine.
“That’s the core of the work I ended up finding myself doing. I was a boy from Mobile, Alabama, and Pascagoula, Mississippi, who didn’t really think about religion. I was brought up devoutly Catholic with three aunts and a grandmother who were strong women. So I got a love of Jesus and a great respect for the wise women who were my mentors.
Freeman, born Richard H. Allan III, is the first son of a hero of the assault on Iwo Jima in World War II. His father was an officer in the Marine unit that became iconically famous when it raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi, an inspiring moment that was captured in a photograph and later recreated as a statue for the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington. His father was badly wounded in the attack and had a long and painful recovery that began shortly after Freeman was born. His mother stayed at her husband’s hospital bedside, leaving Freeman in the care of her mother. Allan admits in his book that this event caused him not to become properly attached to his mother, a factor perhaps in his lifelong attraction to feminine divinity.
“A core issue for me was that my father fought in the Pacific War from its earliest assaults in the Solomon Islands. We sent essentially SEAL teams, called devil dogs, into the Japanese island to disrupt the Japanese. In the assault on Mount Suribachi, he came ashore below the mountain and had to go up. He was wounded half way up. Then his company put up the first flag. Another officer was carrying a silk flag in his pocket and he tied it to a Japanese plumbing pipe.
“I was brought up to have tremendous patriotism for America and also to be a devout Catholic kid who revered the women around him.” He now considers himself post-Catholic.
“The pivotal point in my life was my army service.” He was in ROTC at Davidson College and took his commission as a second lieutenant. “I thought I would be sent to Viet Nam, but instead I was sent to Germany as an intelligence officer. When I came out of the service in 1969, I had become aware of geo-politics. I met a lot of people who had served. I felt something was terribly wrong with the political leadership we were getting. Viet Nam created the turning point for so many Americans.”
He joined Vets Against the Viet Nam War and was among a small number of them that threw eggs at Richard Nixon’s car as it passed in his inaugural parade.
“It tore me up,” he recalled. “I was sensitive. I had learned that you’re supposed to love your neighbor. My tax money was buying napalm. So I felt called to refuse to pay taxes. I joined a Quaker group. I wrote the IRS and they said, ‘Fine, the law says we can just take it out of your bank account.’”
He went underground for a while and changed his name.
“I got an alias, Freeman Alexander Joris. Alexander was for Alexander Solshenitzen. Joris was from a character, a woman, in a [Ingmar] Bergman movie who had to make a stand. I lived in a Blue Ridge hollow in Rappahannock County. I became radicalized during this period.
“I was working as a carpenter when I got the calling to track down an old rumor that I had heard that none other than Walt Disney, who caused the world to celebrate nature through animation, had been brought to this realization by a Mexican shama who introduced Disney to the mushroom ceremony from the Mayans. Just as we Christians have been called to create our sacred ritual around sacred substances of wine and bread, the Mayans used the psilocybin mushroom in their process of worshipping ultimate reality. That’s what we call the Divine, capital D.”
Thus began a series of ricochet-like movements in his life when he searched for the tracks of truth.
“Readers of the book will learn what I learned on the mission,” he said, “and how it was the beginning of a great awakening in my own spiritual life.”
He discovered the shama that had known Disney and was introduced to psilocybin mushrooms. A few weeks later, while traveling to Mayan locations in Central America, he awoke to a vision of Ganesh, a Hindu god that is a combination of an elephant and a man. From there, a new phase of pilgrimage began.
“Christ was the ultimate feminist, as far as I was concerned. He’s not just male-affirming,” said Allan. “In old religion, there was always a marriage of male and female. Anybody who lives rurally knows it. Dark fertile soil is feminine and the fertile, radiant sky that brings about the harvest is masculine. Life requires the union of sacred forces that we deify because we could not survive without that union.
“In the book, I tried to step outside my life and just look at it. Life grabs a hold of you and points you in a direction. Life is about making meaning and also creating and giving back love.
“After trials, you achieve wisdom and you try to pass on what you learned. I left Catholicism over its masculine-dominated doctrine. I became really polarized. I pushed too far to the radical. For 10 years I was blue collar, and then I went on a quest.
“I was influenced by female Christian mystics, Mother Teresa and Sister Susan [a stigmatic living in India]. I got to know Mother Teresa in 1968. For five months, I lived in a village on the Bay of Bengal as a Brother of Charity, part of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s organization. I wanted to do service to the poor. Mother Teresa put my feet to the fire to decide to become a brother. I had a dream about being at the crucifixion of Christ. I woke up with a powerful sense of devotion. I had been with Mary seeing the Lord look down on me. I had that dream twice. I realized it was a holy experience. From it I realized I needed to be a husband and a father. That was my path. It places you constantly in issues of sacrifice and struggle.
“I came back to New York City. I had to live very poor and quiet. I had become friendly with the Hindus. They had helped the Brothers and we became close. I noticed they made clay statues, murtis. I brought a bunch back because I care about these people. I was going to sell them and send the money back.
“In India I met a hydraulic engineer—he inspected irrigations ditches. He would coordinate murti manufacture with the villagers. For seven years I sold handcrafted Buddhas, folk images, etc. People started buying them, and I started getting asked for images of pagan figures. People wanted images for all the spiritual traditions. I had to stretch myself.
“My book is controversial because if we think of the pendulum as swinging from masculine to feminine, to get stuck in male, power-based thinking and erase access to the feminine and nurture, what you eventually get is a culture out of balance. There’s too much focus on the mental, on the sky god, and a diminishment of body-based, feminine spirituality. We get to the crisis we have today, climate collapse. I won’t call it climate change; it’s climate collapse. The thesis of my business is to bring back the feminine against the overwhelming emphasis on the masculine.
“What was fascinating to me was to find out that Hinduism remains pagan, worshipping hundreds of aspects of the creator in different forms. In Hinduism the tradition of making icons stayed alive. It’s a Neolithic skill set that they never lost! In the West the tradition was obliterated. That got taken away when we decided to worship mind and gave away our body’s ability to worship the creator. In Hindu shrines you see a god and goddess in holy balance and union. I felt I was being asked to bring it back to the West.
“I would send drawing of figures to India, and they would execute the statues in high detail. I was a conduit. I had to do a lot of reading to be able to explain the images in the catalog. I had to become schooled in the religions of the world and their images and make them accessible to Westerners. I’ve never meant to be disrespectful of the religious traditions of our country. They are the heart of our country. All I’ve tried to do is bring back the feminine element in a way that encourages our psycho-emotional and spiritual transformation. Unless we can return to that purity of spiritual union and balance of masculine and feminine elements, we are at risk of disrespecting Mother Earth to the point where our children won’t be able to survive.”
For years, Allan issued Sacred Source catalogs two or three times a year. The company produces over 500 sacred images, including a black Madonna. Folk icons of goddesses are often black to emphasis their connection with the womb, Allan said. He ran the catalog business for 35 years. In 2001 he sold the business to Pete and Liana Kowalzik, but it still operates out of his warehouse, packing center and business office, which he dubbed the Gaia Center, near his house. In recent years they have tried to modernize some images, essentially simplify their lines, to bring them closer to contemporary tastes and widen their appeal. Some folk images are therefore trending toward looking like artworks.
“The reason it’s grown is that we are crying out to understand what these old symbols of gods and goddesses are saying. We can learn from them today.”
He’s working on a new book now. His mother died in 2002 and among her possessions he discovered papers tracing back to ancestors in the Revolutionary War era and the early founders of Louisiana.
“It looks at the out-group history of North America with a focus on slaves, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish who don’t get written about,” he said. “It follows the generations that came to Jamestown and their migration in to what was called ‘the old southwest’—what’s now Mississippi and Alabama—and their intermarriage with the French and natives tribes and how they move forward.”
In recent years Allan has canoed from his house, literally, down the Mechums River and on to Jamestown. He made another canoe trip from Blacksburg into Tennessee and down Alabama rivers to arrive at Mobile, where he was given a key to the city. He has also hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
“I’m not a pagan heretic. I love nature and I want our species to survive. We have to transform to a larger dimension of worship. Male dominance is an inheritance that has been going on since we got rid of God the Mother that was present in ancient civilizations. Males got jealous of women. But male advantages are coming to an end. We have to find the feminine in ourselves.”
Sacred Source is available from Mountain Magic Press, P.O. Box 163, Crozet, Va 22932.