Cults, Communes And Charles Manson: Isis Aquarian On Her Time With Hollywood’s Famous (And Infamous) Source Family

Isis Aquarian Then Now

Isis Aquarian, then and now. Source: Facebook and the Isis Aquarian Archives

Isis Aquarian is a striking woman. She is probably best known as a member of The Source Family–a group of beautiful, white clad hippies living in the Hollywood Hills during the 1970s. They followed the teachings of a man named Jim Baker, or Father Yod–a reformed bank robber and judo-chopping killer who fronted a cult psych band, served salads to the stars, took fourteen wives, and eventually threw himself from a cliff in a hang glider.

Today Isis, or Charlene Peters, lives in Hawaii, but her life has taken her all over the United States: Isis worked for a senator in Washington D.C., ran in circles with everyone from Salvador Dalí to Andy Warhol during her time in New York, and almost married a famous music photographer, Ron Raffaelli.

After leaving the Source Family, Isis has written a book, produced a documentary, and created one of the most extensive archives of photographs and video footage depicting commune life from the 1970s.

Hippie Commune Source Family Band

Photo Courtesy Of The Isis Aquarian Archives

Isis agreed to speak with ATI about her life, just two days after the 40th anniversary of Father Yod’s death. The conversation lasted for almost two hours, but here is some of what was discussed:

JG: What was your childhood like?
IA: My mom had 7 kids, and my dad was in the Air Force. We lived in Hawaii for about 5-6 years when I was 7. And then of course we moved so I wouldn’t say I grew up in Hawaii, but it has always been home to my soul. We also lived in California, Montana, and Oregon.

“[Hawaii] has always been home to my soul.”

Charlene Peters Hawaii

Charlene Peters as a young girl in Hawaii. Source: Charlene Peters’ Personal Archive

JG: Are you close with your family?
IA: It’s not that we’re not close, I just think some of us are closer than others. As in any family we grew apart–especially in the 60s and 70s when I left home. The recent death of my sister Roberta has brought us all back together again.

JG: When did you first leave home?
IA: About a year after high school. We were living in Florida because my dad was stationed at Cape Canaveral, and I went to DC and that started my adventure. I was working for my senator at the time.

Then I ended up being a White House Social Aid under Johnson, and it was a very social scene. A lot of parties. I was given the titles of Miss U.S. Savings Bonds and Cherry Blossom Princess.

“I went to DC and that started my adventure.”

Charlene Peters Ball Gown

Charlene Peters during a gala in DC. Source: Charlene Peters’ Personal Archive

JG: After DC, what brought you to New York?
IA: I very quickly realized that cocktail parties with senators just was not what I was looking for, so I moved to New York. If I’d stayed in [DC] I would’ve been married to a highfalutin politician and been an alcoholic. Who the hell knows.

I was working with an Airline called Braniff at the time. It was a very mod airline. All the planes were different colors. They wore Pucci uniforms. So within New York I ended up in another social circle. A little bit with Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, but there was just so much drug use. Hard drugs–speed, heroine, cocaine. I think I’ve been very guided in life, because I found myself dabbling in a lot of things, but never getting totally hooked on them.

Julia Day
Julia Day is a New York based writer and illustrator. She attended Colby College where she studied 17th Century Poetry, Environmental Science, and Philosophy.
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