I Joined a Cult on Zoom So You Wouldn’t Have to
After a hypnotic two minutes spent waiting for the loading wheel on zoom, our host came into view. He was a diminutive man, dressed like Johnny Carson doing one of his Carnac the Magnificent bits, although he was sitting in what seemed to be the brightly-lit office of a mobile home park. “Let me talk to you for a minute about fire safety,” he began.
I’m on a zoom call for the “Remembering the Ancient Future Serpent Ceremony” run by the Isis Oasis Sanctuary. Attendees have been instructed to print out some pieces of paper with snake skin patterns on them. We will write the things that are holding us back on the snake papers and burn them, provided we have a safe place. I don’t plan to do any burning. Even as a dedicated pyromaniac, the urge to stay on my sofa outweighs the need to burn some snake printouts. There are several minutes of back and forth about who is having zoom troubles while we wait for the ceremony to begin. As with all zoom calls, there are the normal “can you see the video now?” and “Wanda is having a hard time connecting, we’ll just wait until she’s on to begin.”
The Isis Oasis is a web site from the 90’s with a small zoo attached. They are a new age group somehow using an Egyptian goddess to celebrate the “divine feminine”. From what I can tell, they seem to promote a relatively generic new-age breed of mumbo jumbo, and their defining feature appears to be women dressed as vestal virgins who have attended burning man. It’s the sort of good-natured weirdness that can make San Francisco such a great place.
I’ve been interested in the Isis Oasis for quite some time for personal reasons. The first is that I live on Isis Street, and one of our neighbors has named their wifi, “The Isis Oasis”. The second reason came from one of the more common catalysts of occult revelation in SF: I was getting rid of a futon on craigslist. The two 20-somethings who came to get it told me that there used to be a woman who kept jaguars in the house behind mine. Intrigued, I asked my neighbor, the current occupant of the house in question. “Oh yeah, she owned ocelots, but the city passed a law in ‘70 or ‘71 outlawing wild animals and she moved up to Geyserville,” he told me. His house still had a special catwalk in the rafters and space for two ocelot cages.
Isis Street is named in a typical San Francisco fashion, in a matter of degrees. According to old-timers I’ve spoken with, there was a clipper ship named the Isis that brought people to SF, and someone thought to name the street after the ship. The ship, presumably, was named after the Egyptian goddess. Recently, the “end” street sign on my one block street has been an Instagram star as everyone who passed it took a picture because it made an accidental statement about the Islamic State. In the same fashion, in the late 60’s, a young Loreon Vigne saw the street sign and it lit a spark of inspiration.
Loreon was a beatnik with a ceramic store called the Paint Pot on Haight street and an interest in the occult. According to her autobiography, “I had announced, when seeing the street sign, that I would like to have a place on that street.”
So it came to pass: The name of a sailing ship inspired a low-rent mystical organization with pretensions of ancient endorsement. Her land holdings in San Francisco eventually included a property next door to the Isis House, and another property whose backyard adjoined the backyard of the Isis Street property. As I read this while researching this article, I realized that my house, itself, used to belong to Loreon Vigne! I live in the place where the SF Isis cult was born! I wish I could report that I’ve felt a spectral force here, late at night, but so far I’ve found no mystic fountains of Egyptian magic, only the rumbling of a nearby freeway.
When San Francisco outlawed her beloved ocelots, Loreon took her cats and headed north to Geyserville, where she enlarged her menagerie and started running an Isis-themed guest house (Check out the Tripadvisor reviews).
All of this is what brought me to log in to a ceremony via zoom. After the small man in a turban finished his instructions, the zoom was turned over to a Frank-Zappa-looking dude playing piano while a number of the aforementioned vestal virgins danced around. After all of this exciting history and anticipation, the whole thing was sort of a bust, even when they brought out the snakes and danced with them. You can’t really blame the Isisians for it. This stupidest of all pandemics has rendered everything banal, even a bunch of new-age women dancing around with snakes in a mystical ceremony. Zoom takes the video calls we were promised by the Jetsons and others, and turns them into a four-hour long meeting with Frank from the invoicing department. I watched the dancing snake women for a while, ate some ice cream, and went to sleep early and unenlightened.