Madre Grande Monastery

A Sacred site for healing, teaching, ceremony, and celebration

        Some people left in anger and disappointment and new people came in with hope and new energy. A series of Vows was created and a six-month Postulant status was established before a new member could become a Monk. Many residents chose not to become Monks or Friars, and remained on the land as paying guests or lay supporters. While this arrangement helped boost resident numbers and income, it created two classes of community members and caused a rift in the community. To accommodate this reality, the name was changed to Madre Grande Monastery and Healing Community. This cosmetic alteration was not enough to solve the power inequity or heal the wounds, and by the early Eighties the number of residents had dwindled and enthusiasm for the project waned. When several key members left to pursue other activities and goals, only one founding member was left with the keys and all the official roles. A major wild fire tore through the land in 1981, destroying many outbuildings and leaving behind the charred wreckage of numerous vehicles. The fire all but sealed the fate of Madre Grande Monastery. Only one family remained on the land as caretakers, and it appeared that the dream of creating a loving community and establishing a Sacred site of teaching, healing, ceremony, and celebration had come to an end.

        The down payment was made and the land acquired for the Paracelsian Order, a newly- formed religious, healing, teaching, and monastic Order of the Johannine Catholic Church. The Johannine Catholic Church was an eclectic or universal Church stemming from the Old Catholic Church, independent of Rome. Its Bishop was a part of the group discussions at the Quest Bookstore, and provided a simple and quick path to becoming a legal tax exempt organization. The Johannine Catholic Church held the land in trust for the benefit of the Paracelsian Order.

        With the land purchased and all the legal technicalities in place, about two dozen members moved into the main house in December 1975, and the grand experiment in spirituality and communal living began. Like many other groups of idealistic youths in the back-to-the-land and communal movement of the Seventies, they would find the clash of ideals and reality challenging, rewarding, and filled with many surprises, both wonderful and harsh.

        Up to four dozen residents and Monks were living at Madre Grande for a time, in small houses, mobile homes, trailers, yurts, and various vehicles. The main house was converted into an overnight guest house, with room for more than a dozen people. Once again, however, many of the residents had chosen not to join the Paracelsian Order, and some began to feel angry and resentful at the Monks authority. A new rift developed and conflict erupted, eventually resulting in several Monks and many residents leaving the community.

        Despite the setback, the Monastery continued to offer a place for people to live and visit and find their own positive path to spiritual perfection. A series of Minor Order initiations was created to gradually acclimate Postulants into the Paracelsian Order, and anyone living at the Monastery was (and is) expected to participate in the years-long process and become a Monk or Friar. Madre Grande Monastery was finally becoming truly monastic.

Aftermath: Another Beginning

An Idea Is Born

Out Of The Ashes: A New Beginning

         In 1982 one of the founding members of Madre Grande, along with six other committed people, approached the Board of Trustees of the Order and sought to re-open the Monastery and revive the monastic community. There was some disagreement and dissension about who would be "in charge", but eventually it was decided to try once again to make the dream real.

        As the new decade unfolded the community began to thrive and grow, with construction of new buildings, water and electric lines, and other infrastructure improvements. A store front was acquired in town for massage, meditation classes, and public outreach. Spiritual retreats, ceremonies, and festivals were held on the land, some of them attracting hundreds of guests and bringing in substantial income. The variety of events included massage, yoga, and meditation classes, Sweat Lodges, music festivals, Earth honoring ceremonies, fire walking, weddings, religious services, magical gatherings, and many others.

        In 1987 about one thousand people ascended the mountain to celebrate the Harmonic Convergence, and revenue from that single event paid for the drilling of a new deep well, establishing a reliable source of water. New alliances and associations were made with other educational and spiritual organizations in San Diego, opening up new opportunities relationships with the community at large. A newsletter, "The Philosopher's Stone", began publication in the early Nineties, increasing public outreach and generating wider interest and enthusiasm. In 1995 the Paracelsian Order paid off the mortgage and received the title to the land from the now diminishing Johannine Catholic Church.


        The first six or seven years of Madre Grande Monastery can best be described as The Naked Hippie Years. Not everyone considered themselves a hippie, and not everyone was naked, but hippies--or an open attitude and uninhibited spirit--abounded, and clothing was optional. At first, the two dozen or so residents lived in the main house, essentially sleeping in one big room. Families with children had priority to the few bedrooms. The arrangement proved difficult for couples in committed relationships.

        In time, small shacks, campers, busses, tents, tipis, and other makeshift structures became homes for individuals and couples, and a few people even moved into nearby caves. Not everyone lived at Madre Grande full time, and some only came out to "The Land" occasionally, often on weekends. A network of people and houses developed, where members could find friends and a place to stay in town.

        As the new Millennium began, Madre Grande continued to offer classes and retreats to the public, and to keep the land Sacred as a sanctuary for spiritual healing. But without non-member residents the number of people living on the land began to steadily decrease. Several Professed Monks left the Monastery to pursue other goals, and only a few people entered into the initiation process. Small classes and retreats were still being held, but the large gatherings of the past were few and far between. The remaining Monks struggled to maintain the buildings and land and pay the bills, some with jobs in town. The situation was not dire, but neither could it be called prosperous. The Monastery became involved in a lawsuit with several neighbors over right-of-way access, taking additional energy and financial resources. The County Board of Health ordered the removal of the many small houses and other living structures on the land, and the Zoning Board effectively shut-down the camp ground.

        Madre Grande Monastery began as an idea born in 1975 at the Quest Theosophical Bookstore in Ocean Beach, California. A mostly young group of spiritual seekers, philosophers, theosophists, rebels, peace activists, new age prophets, health nuts, hippies, freaks, and assorted social outcasts and cool people had been gathering there for weekly discussions on various spiritual teaching and healing practices and methods. From these meetings a general consensus arose that land was needed to create a permanent site for teaching, healing, ceremony, and celebration, and serve as a home for a new community of mindfulness and loving kindness. After many months of talking and searching for suitable land, enthusiasm for the idea began to fade. Then one member offered his recently inherited shares of IBM stock worth $18,000 as seed money for the project, and new life was given to the dream.

        It was during an actual dream by one of the members that the land was finally located, when he was told to look in somewhat obscure farm newspaper. Although the price was right (about $120,000) for an old stone ranch house, barn, several outbuildings, and 264 acres of land, the group was still unsure. So they did what just about any group of spiritually-minded free-spirited young adults in the mid-Seventies would do-- they smoked a joint and threw the I Ching. The I Ching told them that while there would be initial confusion and trials, eventual success was assured.

        The history of Madre Grande Monastery is complex and subtle, filled with hundreds of individual stories and perspectives.  As a relative newcomer to the story (seven years and counting), I do not pretend to be able to tell all of these stories with any degree of precise accuracy.  What I am attempting to do is gather as many stories and facts as I can and create a narrative that best captures the history, experience, and evolution of the people and events that created and shaped Madre Grande Monastery and the Paracelsian Order.

        The following is a necessarily brief and general summary, and many details (including names) are deliberately lacking.  I am currently working on a more thorough and detailed history, but in the ensuing years many of the people involved have died or otherwise vanished, and many of the records have become jumbled or lost. (Some of the people have become jumbled and lost, too.)  Much of the time I feel like I'm trying to assemble a very intriguing jig-saw puzzle with many of the pieces missing and others painted over with conflicting designs. 

        If you were a member of the Madre Grande Community over the years, or if you were a visitor who has a powerful memory to share or story to tell, then I would love to hear from you.  I am in a continual process of gathering and sorting information, seeking to gain greater clarity and understanding of what really happened.  I think it's a fascinating story of great power and meaning, and one that is still being told

                                              Martin Hippie                            

        Over the next few years a number of people have found the peaceful loving atmosphere at Madre Grande to be exciting and attractive, and some have lived in RVs and guest rooms for months or years. Most have moved on for a variety of reasons, and a core group of Monks and Friars remains to hold the space, maintain the facilities, pay the bills, offer retreats, and celebrate life.

        With many twists and turns, and contractions and expansions, the Monks, Friars, and supporters of Madre Grande Monastery still believe in the idea and dream born in Ocean beach over forty years ago. We are still here, and we are still committed to the work of healing ourselves, healing each other, and healing the Earth.

        We are keeping the reality and Vision of Madre Grande Monastery alive.

        Living in a cooperative spiritual community remained another vital goal, but creating a functional organization and system that everyone could agree upon proved to be a difficult and often frustrating endeavor. Meetings could become tedious and occasionally confrontational, with individual beliefs and personalities clashing with each other and the collective commitment of the group mind. Most Monks were health conscious, and meals were vegetarian. Tobacco and alcohol were technically banned, but the prohibition was not strictly enforced and marijuana was almost a sacrament. Intense arguments erupted over little things like who put the sugar laden ketchup in the refrigerator.

        Many of the early residents worked at The Home Skillet restaurant in Ocean Beach, which was owned and operated by one of the members. Others worked for an herbal distribution business also owned by a member. These businesses, along with dues and contributions from residents, provided the income for Madre Grande Monastery. At the time becoming a Monk involved little more than a willingness to join the organization and put a little money into the coffers or offer labor to the project. A lot of people came and went in the first years, but still the purpose of making Madre Grande a place of teaching, healing, ceremony, and celebration remained the primary project. Communal construction projects included building a composting toilet (the "mulch house"), refurbishing the barn into a kitchen, dining room, and community center, establishing an organic garden and greenhouse, creating small scale wind power and solar collectors, and numerous other projects. Various classes on yoga, meditation, massage, and other teachings were held, interspersed with joyful celebrations and ceremonies honoring the natural cycles of the Earth. The dream was made real.

        The Monks waited in various friends' homes in town for a week, with no clear word on what-- if anything-- at the Monastery had survived the fire. When they were finally allowed to go back home, they found the main house and Sun Center still standing, along with one mobile home, but very little else made it through the flames. The stone foundation of the house had been scorched on one corner, and a window frame in the Sun Center had actually caught fire, charring the wood before blowing itself out. But the main buildings themselves remained, with everything inside covered in a fine layer of ash.

        The few remaining Monks set about cleaning and repairing the damage, living without electricity or running water for over a month. With all the outlying living quarters destroyed, the Guest House became the Monk House. The Monastery had been ordered by the County to remove all the non-permitted living structures scattered around the property, and the Monks weren't sure how they were going to deal with it. Now the fire had reduced all the illegal structures to piles of ash, rubble, and twisted metal, and eventually FEMA came in and hauled away the debris. Problem solved.

        Unfortunately the fire also destroyed the shop with all the tools, and several garden tractors, and burnt-out the well heads and electrical boxes. The work seemed daunting and endless, but with patient effort and time, and with donations and the help of volunteers, progress was made. Madre Grande became a fully functional Monastery once again, and began hosting Native American Sweat Lodges and offering weekend meditation retreats.

        Shortly after the fire two more Monks left Madre Grande to pursue different life paths, and the population of the Monastery decreased yet again. Working with essentially a skeleton crew, the purpose and mission of Madre Grande still remained the same: To live in a mindful loving community and create a Sacred site for teaching, healing, ceremony, and celebration.

      Then, in October of 2007 another major wild fire, pushed by fifty mile an hour winds, swept onto the land, destroying virtually everything in its path and leaving charred wreckage in its wake. As the evacuated Monks waited for the smoke to clear and the fire department to allow them back onto the land, they had no idea what had been lost, or what it would take to re-build.

The Naked Hippie Years