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2019-12-03 19:45:53 UTC

The Witch of Sulphur Mountain: The Supernatural Life of Agnes Baron, Meher Baba’s Beloved Watchdog

“Baba, if you want Meher Mount I’ll keep it for you through hellfire and damnation!”

With these words fiery Agnes Baron commences the remaining 46 years of her life devoted to Indian mystic Meher Baba who claims to be the Avatar (God in human form). She will get plenty of both. Two years prior in 1946, at Meher Baba’s behest, she, Jean Adriel, and other Baba-lovers found and established Meher Mount, an idyllic 172-acre retreat atop Sulphur Mountain in Ojai, CA. By the time she made her vow, Jean and the others had departed, leaving Meher Mount in her hands. But how will she keep “Baba’s Place” out of the hands of covetous schemers? She doesn’t own it. Jean does. And if Jean wants to sell it, there’s nothing she can do. Or is there? It brings out the witch in her. For this Meher Baba nicknames Agnes Agni, Sanskrit word for fire, and dubs her his “Beloved Watchdog.” For 10 years she worries herself more than any dog its bone that it will be sold from under Baba’s feet. Shortly before his only visit to Meher Mount, on August 2, 1956, Agni gets Meher Mount in her name. But her worries aren’t over. A single woman without means, she finds work as a substitute teacher, and sells strawberries she grows, and lives with the haunting fear she won’t be able to make the mortgage payments, and the bank will seize it. Some who covet the property try to make her a ward of the state.

Agnes Baron’s remarkable life is written in the form of an idyll, a narrative poem in heroic verse. And heroic aptly describes her 87-year odyssey. Shortly after graduating in 1928 with a sociology degree from Antioch College, known for turning out revolutionaries, Agnes departs for war-torn Europe, on fire to help “My Friends Abroad.” Working as a freelance journalist, she chronicles the plight of the Jews fleeing anti-Semitism, and goes to Lisbon where she “bullies” bureaucrats for passports, and shipping companies and captains for passage. She travels the Balkan states, chronicling the plight of the underdogs: the poor, sick, oppressed, and downtrodden. In Spain she graphically depicts the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, the bombings by German and Italian planes of Guernica and Barcelona. Throughout Europe she raises the alarm of the growing Nazi menace, and with the outbreak of WWII, the mounting horrors of the holocaust. After 13 years, sickened with man’s inhumanity to man, Agnes abandons her faith in God and returns to San Francisco, lost. “I hated humanity. I just wanted everybody to die. Blow them to hell. I just hated everybody. I was so in the deeps of despair that I gave myself arthritis of the spine. Then I stumbled on this lovely Quaker lady, and I went to one of her meetings. She went to Vedanta. I thought, Well if she goes to Vedanta it must be respectable. So I went up the hill and walked into the Vedanta Temple, and for the first time I had a ray of hope. There must be some hope for humanity. . . .”

She embraces Vedanta, and asks the swami of the Vedanta Temple if he will accept her as a nun. “I don’t take women,” he tells her, “but my brother swami in Hollywood does.” She goes there, he accepts her, and she lives the life of a Vedanta nun for two years, but still she does not find peace. Then she realizes why. She has to let God back into her heart. She does. But then she catches the swami in an indiscretion, and leaves him in disgust, telling him, “You are a fallen guru.”

She goes to a nearby Vedanta temple, Ananda Ashrama, is accepted, but then is told her typing late at night is keeping others awake. The swami tells her of another place two miles up the road, the New Life Center, devoted to an Indian guru. She wants nothing more to do with gurus, but she needs a place where she can write in peace. She goes there, rents a little place on a hill, and tells the owner, Jean Adriel, “Look, I don’t want anything to do with your damned [this under her breath] guru.” His name is Meher Baba.