by Jan Scott
Given March 19, 2023
Blue Star Memorial Temple
Recently someone asked me how I got to the Temple and I thought, “I don’t know.” I couldn’t think of anything obvious and there is nothing in my past that would have you think I’d likely end up here. How DID I get here?
Born and raised in Catholicism, I walked away from that religion in 1965 as a college freshman. Actually, it was a pretty memorable leave-taking. It is a mortal sin to miss Mass, but that year I hadn’t managed to make it to Mass for most of the quarter. I had a heavy class schedule and Sundays were my only day to sleep in. I was a Speech Education major, earning a degree so that I would be able to teach acting and technical theatre at a high school level. I hoped to be a performer and took a train and a subway into Chicago two nights a week for an hour-and-a-half ballet class.
But now Easter was upon me. One of the rules is that you must take Communion at least once a year, at Easter. So I knew I needed to go confess my absence from Mass so that I could do my Easter duty. I should have gone to the campus church in Evanston, but there was a Catholic church on my way to dance class. I figured I could just go in there before my class. Boy, was that a mistake.
I knelt in the dim light of the confessional and made my confession. There was a long silence beyond the draped partition. I didn’t know if the priest was waiting for me to add something or what. Finally he spoke. “You sound like a Protestant!” the voice rumbled. My first thought was, “Gee some of my best friends are Protestant.” I took offense for every devoted Protestant I knew.
He then gave me a penance that would have done a mass murderer proud, including multiple rosaries. I knelt in church and began, but it would take hours to do and I’d be late for dance class. Heck, I’d miss dance class. I didn’t think twice. I stood up, walked out and without realizing it, walked away from Catholicism forever.
It was a surprisingly easy loss. There was a lot about the religion I didn’t like, not least of which was always having to rely on other people to have a connection to God.
I considered myself a ‘believer’ in the idea that there was something out there, but that something wasn’t being explained by religion. What I began believing in was in was GOF — a Great Omniscient Force. I understood it as a presence that oversaw the world and people. I didn’t think about it at the time, but GOF matched my sense of disconnectedness. It didn’t require a relationship of me; it just was. I could leave it alone, know it was there, and go on about my life without having to think about it. GOF was fine.
After college, I moved to New York City to be a performer. I was an actor, dancer, singer, and my life was filled with people who were struggling in the same areas I was. We had plenty of young, honest discussions about the Universe and the why’s of life. There were plenty of theories and into-the-night philosophical discussions of possibilities, but for all those hours of talking, and some interesting ideas, I never found anything that grabbed me, that made me want to learn more or dig deeper. My Great Omniscient Force continued to satisfactorily explain the world for me and easily assimilated other people’s beliefs. I didn’t need more than that. I always tried to be a good person and went out of my way to treat people as I would wish to be treated. Anything beyond that, anything that might have a personal spiritual component, well, that was something else for someone else.
I was almost 30 when my husband and I left New York and moved to LA. If anything, GOF faded from my mind. I was living my life, trying always to be the best person I knew how to be, but always feeling that I was on my own. I would live my life and then I would die and that would be the end of it. There was no ‘bigger picture.’
We moved to Arroyo Grande in 1996. We’d been looking for a way out of Los Angeles and had traveled the length of the state trying to find the place we wanted to settle. Kirk’s mother had lived in Arroyo Grande for over 40 years, but we had never considered it — until Mother’s Day that year, when we walked into an open house and said, yes, this is it.
I think we were both surprised. I’d been born and raised in Chicago with world class museums and art. I walked to school past Frank Lloyd Wright homes. I graduated from a prestigious university. I’d lived in New York City for almost a decade and then in Los Angeles for 20 years. Kirk had worked in New York and LA. Moving to Arroyo Grande seemed a little like moving into a backwater. I’d frequently worked in small towns but had never really lived in one as ‘home.’ I was uncertain about it but was game for trying. New beginnings. We sold the LA house, moved, and began to explore our new area.
Sometimes when I look back, I see with certainty that life has always given me what I needed, even when I didn’t see or understand the path that was being laid out for me, or when I was actively fighting it.
I had driven past one particular exit on the 101 freeway almost daily since we moved: Halcyon Road. The name fascinated me. Halcyon. In all my travels, I had never run into a road named Halcyon. Nowhere. It felt mysterious and exotic.
One day as we drove past, I asked Kirk about it, since he’d been visiting the area to see his mother for decades. Did he know anything about it? Did it have some meaning?
“Oh,” he said. “It’s some kind of community just down the road from the freeway.” I looked but there was nothing to see from that distance.
“A community?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t really know anything about them except they’ve been there a long time.”
And that was it. The freeway exit had the same name as the road it emptied onto, and the same as the community the road led to. And they’d been there a long time.
In the years that followed, I drove down Halcyon Road often, glancing sideways at the Temple and the streets that lacked streetlights and sidewalks. It was a tiny rural blip surrounded by farmland in the middle of several small towns. I never turned in. It seemed almost rude to do such a thing. It felt like a private place, a place that was comfortable on its own, and a place that owed no one any explanations.
When Kirk got involved in a project with Karen and Will White, their home was the first place I visited in Halcyon. Karen’s parents had moved into the house next door when she was a child in the early 1940s. Will, her grown son, has known no other home than the one they live in today. They have an energy that’s palpable, and while they aren’t members of the Temple, they belong to the community. To one degree or another, people who live in Halcyon are involved in the life of Halcyon. When I finally heard the term “intentional community” it felt like a big AHA! I might not be able to put the concept into exact words, but I felt what it meant from the people who lived there.
I became Curator of South County Historical Society in 2003. I had no particular background that suited me for the job, but Kirk was president and needed someone to take on that role, so I said I’d try. It was harder than it looked, but over the years, learn I did.
In 2011, I was installing a new exhibit featuring Oceano, Grover, and Halcyon. That’s when I met Eleanor Shumway, the Temple’s Guardian in Chief, for the first time. She arrived with an old, weathered, white and blue “Halcyon” sign for me to install. Eleanor looked around as I worked.
“This building has a nice feel to it,” she said.
“Yes, it does,” I agreed.
The Independent Order of Oddfellows or IOOF Hall, built in 1902 and on the National Register of Historic Places, feels alive in my mind.
“I believe buildings hold the energy of the living that happens in them,” I said to her.
“I do too,” she said.
We smiled at each other. That was it, our first exchange.
Eleanor appeared again on the opening day of the exhibit when, as Guardian in Chief, she spoke about Halcyon and the Temple. At the end of her presentation she answered questions, but no one was asking what I wanted to know. I raised my hand. What are your meetings like? When do they happen? Can anyone attend? To say that she was welcoming would be an understatement. Eleanor embraced people’s interest in the Temple. She was easy and open and created a warm sense of comfort. I knew then that I would go to the Temple. I had to. I couldn’t explain what the energy was that drew me, but I knew I had to know more. This place, Halcyon, had been taking up space in my brain far too long.
So here I was on my own, turning onto Temple Street, parking my car in front of the Temple because Eleanor Shumway had told me I was welcome and to please come. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know anyone. I was feeling nervous. What am I doing here?
I remember that first service with clarity. I could tell you exactly where I sat and how almost nothing made sense to me. There seemed to be a lot of “quirky” people in the room. What was that about? I searched faces for people who looked kind of regular. Yeah, they were there, too.
And the service? Well, if I’d thought everything would be clear, I was mistaken. “Glorified Triple Star.” What’s that? Some of it seemed downright weird. “The Cosmic Heart.” Huh? “Driving the shadows into the blackness of the great abyss.” What does that mean? And that was just the opening prayer. Does everyone else understand this stuff? It all seemed a little woo-woo in my brain. I didn’t know what to do with any of it, but decided to hang steady and not worry about what I didn’t understand — because something else was happening, too.
Eleanor spoke and even though I didn’t “get” a lot of it, I felt a sense of immediacy, a sense of being drawn in to something. I heard my higher self would guide me. What was that? I would be my own guide — was that what she was saying? I felt like I was in touch with something powerful and unknown and that it was important. I followed as best I could. Everything was new and unfamiliar…and immediate. I’d never experienced that sense of immediacy. It called to me then and it still does.
And then near the end, we stood to say The Temple Mantrams.
“I am one with God and all good. Evil hath no power over me.” Saying those words put me into a place I’d never experienced.
I’d grown progressively more distressed about things that were happening at the Historical Society. A woman who held some power was making my life as miserable as she could manage to make it. I didn’t understand why she was doing it or what I could do to stop it. I had considered resigning to get out of the line of fire.
But suddenly, for the first time in months, I felt that everything was going to be okay. I said and believed that I was beyond the reach of evil. What had been happening to me had felt threatening, but it wasn’t. I was safe because I was ‘one with God.’ No matter what happened, I would be ‘in the light.’ In that powerful moment, I knew I was safe. That sense of protection has never gone away. I trust that it never will.
When the service ended, I knew I would come back. I wanted to re-experience the sense of being in touch with the unknown. I did come back whenever we weren’t traveling. Okay, there was so much that didn’t make sense to me, but there was something immediate about contact with another level of existence. I had a higher self who felt nourished in this environment. What was that about?
Oh, and then there was Hilarion. I had guessed he was an early adherent, a disciple of sorts, a kind of top gospel guy who showed up and explained things as the Temple was being formed. But no. Wrong again. He wasn’t a person from the past. It turned out Hilarion was still here. He sometimes chose to communicate through the Guardian in Chief. Oh man, more woo-woo. Wow. How was I going to braid that into this map I was making? The more I learned, the less I understood. That should have sent me running — but it didn’t. I continued to have a sense of belonging. Why was that so?
There was so much I didn’t understand about the Temple, about its teachings and beliefs. I’d made it through four years of college, including a fair amount of philosophy, and had never heard the word “Theosophy.” Services were often confusing. But the immediacy of feeling in touch with the unknown kept calling me. I didn’t understand a lot of what was said in services, but I always left with a feeling of comfort.
Kirk once asked me what it was that I liked at the Temple. I didn’t have a ready answer. I couldn’t even imagine having a little chat about Hilarion and his guidance.
“Well, you know it’s kind of woo-woo. But it’s good. I don’t know.” I shook my head. “There’s something there. An energy. I don’t know.” I couldn’t figure it out for myself, let alone explain it to someone else.
But partially I DID know. This was mine, something about being in touch with a powerful unknown that allowed me to find my higher self and know how to live in the world. Nowhere else in my life had I ever found answers that were both beyond me and part of me. While I couldn’t explain it, I knew it was all between me and my higher self. I didn’t have to go seeking for a messenger or a priest to tell me what I needed to do. I didn’t need an interpreter. I was present in the fullest. I had everything I needed to be the best person I could be, offering the best I could offer.
Kirk had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2009. We were traveling a fair amount at that time on extended RV trips, but after 2010 we took fewer trips — until he could no longer travel at all. My attendance at Temple had been sporadic at best, but when I was there, people were kind and went out of their way to greet me and to introduce me to others. I would stay after the services and go to the University Center where members had coffee and baked treats. I wasn’t completely comfortable much of the time, but I went, and it got easier.
In 2011, the city of Arroyo Grande asked if the Historical Society might do something special for the celebration of the city’s Centennial. I have been immersed in drama and technical theatre most of my life. I’ve taught it. I have a pension from the stage actors’ union. As a camp counselor when I was still a teenager, I adapted my first play. So that’s what I decided I would do for the city’s Centennial. I would write a Reader’s Theatre script adapted from one of our local historical books and my performers would do readings every week that summer. Kirk, too, was a retired actor, and the plays provided a focus for him.
The whole idea worked. People were really receptive and wanted a second season, which seemed like a good idea to me. I already knew what I wanted to do for 2012 — something on Halcyon. I could research and find material and read and, along with building a script, I’d learn more, gain new understanding. I still felt pathetically uninformed about what the Temple was about.
I dug into the Historical Society archives, but there was little there: some Temple Artisans, lots of newspaper clippings, some newsletters. I wasn’t sure I had enough or knew enough to be able to even create an outline for the new script. It felt like there was nothing solid to hold onto, nothing about the experience of living in Halcyon, nothing about belonging to the Temple and what that belief system really meant.
Karen White suggested I ask Eleanor for help, that she would have everything I could possibly need. I did. I explained to her that I was stuck. I didn’t have enough personal material. I’d been told she had all of it, letters and papers of people who had lived there. Might I be able to access some of those? Without hesitation she said yes, and we made an appointment for me to come to her office to work.
I arrived to find a large table covered with huge notebooks filled with everything I’d been looking for and more. Xerox copies existed that could be handled, protecting the originals. I took notes and was free to make copies of longer pieces I needed. I worked as quickly as I could, doubting I could ever get through everything in front of me, but I knew I had to try. My problem would no longer be finding enough material but evaluating and editing out what needed to be excised for brevity and clarity. There was so much, over one hundred years of history and correspondence. I was overwhelmed.
I worked steadily that afternoon while Eleanor met with people and took care of business on the phone. Several hours later my brain was turning to mush and I asked if there might be a time I could come back to continue.
“Of course,” Eleanor said. She got up and walked to a filing cabinet, opened the top drawer and pulled out keys. She held them out to me. I was flabbergasted. This woman hardly knew me, but she was handing me keys to the building and her private office as if it were the most normal action in the world.
“I’m very honest,” I stammered as I took them from her, wanting to reinforce her belief in me.
“Oh, I know that,” she smiled.
She gave me instructions about coming and going and I knew that I was experiencing something I never had before: a stranger, basically a stranger, giving me complete trust.
And that was how Voices From Halcyon became a script for my Summer Readers Theatre production in 2012. It was performed in Halcyon the following year for the International Convention, and several other times since, in both Halcyon and at the IOOF Hall.
Meanwhile, Kirk’s cancer had gotten worse. He lost ground, went on hospice care, and died in November 2013. It was the Temple who supported me. His name had been placed in the Healing Bowl. Janice offered to play her harp. Eleanor announced his death in Temple, and it was Rita who came up to me after that Sunday service and said, “I know you think you can handle this on your own. But don’t. There is grief therapy that will help you.” She made sure I knew how to get the help I needed and checked in to make sure I’d gotten it.
I found comfort in the services. I found comfort in the people. I started to attend Tuesday classes, and eventually that expanded to include Friday classes. I officially joined the Temple in 2019.
Around that time, I drove to Halcyon with my assistant, Joe, from the Historical Society. As we pulled into town, he said, “Kirk told me that when he was gone, I’d always be able to find you here.” It was the first time I realized that Kirk had understood how important the Temple had become to me.
My Great Omniscient Force from the past had never required anything of me. Today, I know that I want to be present and involved. Today, my higher self helps me be part of the world and give my energy in the purest way I can. Today, I know I am on a path. I have read and studied. I move forward. I continue to learn, and have learned from everyone I know here.
I cannot imagine my life without the embrace of this extraordinary place.
And that is how I got here.