Hidden Figures of Drug History: Kitty McNeil, “The Babbling Bodhisattva”

Editor’s Note: Today we add another post to our ongoing Hidden Figures of Drug History series, which highlights the historic roles women have played in drug and alcohol culture in the United States. Note that next week Points will be taking off on Tuesday to celebrate Christmas, but we’ll be back on Thursday and throughout the rest of the year with more great content. Happy holidays to you and yours from your friends at Points!

Screenshot 2018-12-19 10.15.55In his introduction to the collected San Francisco Oracle archives, Oracle editor Allen Cohen described Kitty McNeil, better known as the paper’s “Babbling Bodhisattva,” as “a suburban housewife, theosophist of the Alice Bailey variety, a psychic, and a lover of LSD and hippies.”

McNeil had first introduced herself to Cohen when she wrote the paper a lengthy reply to a question Oracle columnist Carl Helbing, the “Gossiping Guru,” had reprinted in an earlier edition. Helbing, an artist and astrologer who lived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (along with most of the Oracle‘s staff), asked readers, “Who then can tell us further of Him who was born on February 5, 1962, when 7 planets were in Aquarius?”

McNeil’s response, according to Cohen, was “a joint meditation on the inner planes with all the world’s adepts providing the spiritual energy and will needed to bring about the birth of the next avatar.”

Pretty heavy stuff for a “suburban housewife,” even if she was a psychic and a lover of LSD. “Of course,” Cohen wrote, “we made her a columnist.”

Screenshot 2018-12-19 10.23.44Cohen doesn’t quote any of McNeil’s letter itself, nor does he mention Helbing’s response. There’s no other real information about McNeil in Cohen’s introduction at all – no mention of where she lived or how she learned about astrology, or even if she stayed in touch with the paper. Cohen only suggests that he and the rest of the Oracle staff immediately hired McNeil as a writer, and her column, “The Babbling Bodhissatva,” was born.

But even this is somewhat false. McNeil’s column, which was published anonymously, appears only once in the twelve-paper, two-year run of the Oracle: on pages 5, 35, and 39 of Oracle #7, which was published in April 1967. After that, “The Babbling Bodhissatva” never appears in the Oracle again.

McNeil’s article is luminous – well-written, engaging, spiritually and astrologically rich. Subtitled “The Advent of the World-Teacher,” McNeil wrote about “the descent of the Christos, the archetypal Christ of the astral plane,” whose arrival would herald “an important step in preparation for manifestation in the world of men.” But she does not immediately suggest that a new divine being has come to Earth to show humankind the way. Instead, she argues that “it is only our own spiritual ignorance and lack of entire enlightenment that does not recognize the latent spiritual process that brings forth the immanent Divinity within every man and woman.” In other words, the great astrological descent of “Christ” is, in reality, a personal process of mass spiritual awakening.

She quotes from the work of philosophical theologists Evelyn Underhill, Alice Bailey and Jacob Boehme to make her point, arguing that these other scholars have suggested similar things. But even though people have sought (and followed) avatars of spirituality for thousands of years, ultimately, “whether we call this manifestation and Incarnation of Christ, Vishnu, Ishvara, or Krishna, it is the indwelling Divinity made manifest in flesh” that matters. These previous avatars arrived in accordance with astrological cycles of divine energy, but this new avatar, the Christos that McNeil predicts, “will have none of these names. He may go unrecognized, as men are blinded by the glamours of the past.”

In other words, the Age of Aquarius was, for McNeil, very real, and extremely important spiritually. The moment in which she was writing presented the world with “the cosmic energies that will bring forth the emergence of the World Teacher with his Spiritual Hierarchy of helpers who will awake, one by one, to their true role.”

Again, pretty heavy stuff for a “suburban housewife.”

But what I found most interesting about McNeil’s single article was her constant emphasis on the spiritual role of the individual that she encouraged us all to play.  We all have “the Grace of embodiment of the White Light” within us, wrote McNeil, “the Atman become Brahmin [which is] in purest form in the Great Ones, the guides of the race, but also in you and you and you.” She then went on to present her vision of the “Collabria” as a “liberating new term and model… which we think can melt some thought-barriers for humanity.” The Collabria “implies unified working together on all levels of awareness to purity, broaden and harmonize the interacting energy-field streaming through our lives.” Though she admitted it would take some work to accomplish, “the Collabria is all of us plus the world of spiritual forces, and is here and now… You are the Collabria and so am I. Let’s act like it – – – whatever that means.” She closed on a slightly self-deprecating note: “May you find the vision to give it glory, beauty and Light. I need it.”

And that’s it. With one wide-ranging column about the divine inherent in every human being, and about the potential for the newest incarnation of the holy spirit to already be walking around among us if we only chose to embody it ourselves, the uncredited Kitty McNeil, as the Babbling Bodhisattva, disappeared from the pages of the Oracle.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, publishing of the Oracle was sporadic at best, with only twelve issues published over two years (despite the fact that, at its peak, the Oracle was immensely popular, with runs of 125,000 copies per issue). And perhaps McNeil, with a busy life as a “housewife, theosophist of the Alice Bailey variety, a psychic, and a lover of LSD and hippies,” didn’t have a lot of time for writing.

Still, it’s worth noting that Cohen believed that McNeil was worth specifically mentioning (and naming) in his lengthy, often rambling, introduction to his time as editor of the Oracle. For a woman whose work was printed anonymously, she had clearly made an impact on Cohen and the rest of the Oracle‘s staff. For that alone, plus her clear knowledge of work of several theosophists of the 19th and 20th centuries, she deserves her place as a member of the “Hidden Figures of Drug History” series.

So now I need to reach out to you, loyal Points readers. Can we rescue the Babbling Bodhisattva from anonymity? Do you know Kitty McNeil? I am incredibly interested in McNeil as a writer, a woman, and an artist, and I greatly desire to know more about her. In the few searches I’ve done I’ve found nothing on her, and I have very little information to go on. If anyone has any  more information about Kitty McNeil, the Babbling Bodhisattva, please send it my way. I’d love to know more–and write more–about this fascinating woman.