Edition #10: The Rainbow Family Commune

Also in this weekly dose of weird: true meaning of the swastika, a guru named Osho and the activated charcoal health trend

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🌈 Family

Communal Living

In these times of self-isolation, the idea of living in communes may become even more attractive.

The Foundation for Intentional Community has a directory of communities listed by country and even city. There might be some “commune comeback” in the air, as the number of communities has doubled between 2010 and 2016.

Living together, sharing resources, being “close to the land” – these are some of the more romantic images I have of a communal utopia.

I went down the internet rabbit hole around communes and stumbled upon the Rainbow Family of Living Light.

A Rainbow Gathering in Bosnia, 2007. Wikipedia

The “Family” supposedly started in 1970 from people who were inspired by the Woodstock festival. Their philosophy is anti-capitalist, non-hierarchical and radically inclusive. Check out this photo essay of Rainbow attendees sweatin’ it out and communing in nature.

The Rainbow Family has a horribly unreadable-but-endearing website that explains what they’re most famous for – annual Rainbow Gatherings that occurs every summer somewhere out in nature.

There’s some Youtube videos of the 2018 and 2019 gatherings, but this documentary-style video is the most well-produced coverage I’ve found on how an example Rainbow gathering is run.

As is the case with anarchist groups, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Vice covers some dark events that have happened at Rainbow Gatherings, including drug abuse, violence and murder. The infamous 1980 Rainbow Murders of two women hitchhiking to a Rainbow Gathering cast a dark shadow over the Rainbow community.

A book about the murders, The Third Rainbow Girl came out in January 2020. It traces the double murder and focuses on Elizabeth Johndrow, who narrowly escaped the same fate when a bad premonition told her to avoid continuing to the Rainbow Gathering.

I didn’t want to end on such a dark note, so here’s an interesting resource if you’re curious about communal living:

The Foundation for Intentional Community has a directory of communities listed by country and even city. There might be some “commune comeback” in the air, as the number of communities has doubled between 2010 and 2016.



Speaking of communes…a guy named Rajneesh had loads of experience. A Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country (see trailer) explores the story of a guru whose tribe followed him from Poona, India to Wasco County, Oregon to build not only a commune, but their vision of utopia. Read this Noa Maxwell’s story of growing up as a child in Rajneesh’s commune.

In his words:

“[The documentary] is interesting, but the inside story is more interesting – of how you end up with lots of intelligent middle-class people like my family going into where they got to, the heart of darkness. How does that happen? It’s like an ideal is bigger than reality and can make you lose your sense of justice and what’s right in the world.”

Losing a sense of justice is right. The spiritual fervor of Rajneesh’s followers lead them to create an airport, a dam, and…the single largest bioterrorist attack in U.S. history. Everything came to a head when Rajneesh was deported from the U.S. in 1985 for his assassination plot.

In 1989, a year before his death, Rajneesh changed his name to Osho, which means a high-ranking Buddhist monk. Previous to Wild Wild Country, I’ve only heard of Osho’s “final form” through previous colleagues who shared books (free library) and quotes by him. I have to say, many of these teachings are great. It’s such a weird exercise to try to separate a person’s genius from their crimes.

(Fun fact: at one point Osho owned 96 Rolls Royces. Oshow-off much, hmm??)

Today, Rajneesh’s teachings live on through the Osho Foundation, which still runs the meditation center in Pune, India. It has mostly positive reviews on TripAdvisor 😉 


Swastika means “well-being” in Sanskrit

If you’re wandering around in Asia, you might be shocked and perplexed to see something like this.

Buddhist temple with swastika well-being symbol

As someone who grew up in a Buddhist household, I’d often see a symbol that looked like the swastika when visiting temples. In the back of my mind I knew it to be similar to – but different – from the infamous Nazi icon. But I didn’t do my research until now.

Svastika in sanskrit roughly translates to “well being” (source). The literal meaning is a “lucky or auspicious object.” For thousands of years it’s been a symbol for peace and prosperity until Hitler ruined it. To add to the confusion, the swastika’s common presence in Asian countries have confused Western tourists.

(Left) The Hindu swastika. (Right) A Nazi flag hangs in a Nazi-themed cafe in Bandung, Indonesia in 2013. Courtesy of Bela Shah and Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

The swastika has survived an impressive amount of time – the earliest iteration of it could be seen on the tusk of a 15,000 year old mammoth. The symbol is also surprisingly distributed across cultures. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica:

“It was a favourite symbol on ancient Mesopotamian coinage. In Scandinavia the left-hand swastika was the sign for the god Thor’s hammer. The swastika also appeared in early Christian and Byzantine art (where it became known as the gammadion cross, or crux gammata, because it could be constructed from four Greek gammas [ Γ ] attached to a common base), and it occurred in South and Central America (among the Maya) and in North America (principally among the Navajo).”

Just another reminder that before reacting to something (“How dare they put a swastika on a building?!”), research helps a lot.


What is activated charcoal and what does it do for you?

The first time I consumed an activated charcoal treat was at Little Damage In downtown LA. I had read that activated charcoal’s “detoxifying” effects, yet all I cared about was how good it tasted and how it turned my teeth black while eating. Eater magazine covers this fascinating food trend, commenting on how foods with a deep black hue are rare – and thus good for the ‘gram. Now there’s a plethora of health products touting the wonders of activated charcoal. Is this black magic? 

Activated charcoal is fascinating. Also known as activated carbon, it’s made by “activating” carbon-containing materials like wood or coconut shells at high heat. The resulting material is porous and has an extremely large surface area (3 grams can cover a football field*), which makes activated carbon useful for removing impurities. That’s why activated charcoal has thousands of applications, most commonly used in water filtration systems and to treat poisoning.

This article by The Outline does a great job of examining the activated charcoal trend, but I’ll highlight the interesting nuggets:

Here’s one more damning blow from a pharmacy professor on the purported health claims of activated charcoal:

“There’s no validity to it. It doesn’t circulate in the bloodstream, and it only acts on the contents of the stomach or gut before they’re absorbed.”

Dr. Robert Weber, associate professor of pharmacy

Caution for cheapo DIYers: activated charcoal is different from the type of charcoal that you’d use for a barbecue. The charcoal bricks you’d buy at stores haven’t been “activated” at high temperatures, are not as porous, and often contain substances toxic to humans.

Btw, I didn’t understand the claim of how 3 grams of activated carbon can have the surface area of a football field.

This Quora thread explains the math behind why any solid, when finely divided, can be multiplied in surface area. #math #badasian 

Oz Chen

Oz Chen

Oz is the host of Hippiecritical, a blog and podcast exploring new age trends with both skepticism and an open heart. He's a designer + writer by day, hippie whisperer by night.

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