In 1957, a young artist named Lora Vigné and her husband moved from Southern California to San Francisco.
“It was 1957, the beginning of the Beatnik era, and we fitted the description,” she writes in her memoir, The Goddess Bade Me Do It!
No poser bohemian, she was already producing commercial ceramic pieces and enamel jewelry of her own design. She opened an art-supply store in North Beach and later a gallery, the Noir Gallery, at Stockton and Sutter streets downtown. Here she is on the cover of I Am a Lover (1961), a photo book of North Beach life at the peak of the Beat era.
(Her husband, Dion, was an artist, experimental filmmaker, and a doomed lover of Miss Poppy.)
By the late 1960s she had a thriving business and owned several properties in the city. She also owned ocelots, having created a large indoor/outdoor space for them between two of her houses, houses located on Isis Street.
When the city outlawed keeping bigger cats, she went looking for a rural home, which turned out to be an 8.5-acre site in Geyserville, Sonoma County, that had housed a retreat center for followers of the Baha’i faith from the early twentieth century until just recently before she bought it. It came with a lodge, a commercial kitchen, the original Victorian farmhouse, and a theatre/worship building.
With the vision of Lora, now Loreon, and fellow devotes of Isis, it became Isis Oasis.
On November 18th, the first day of the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Francisco, I found myself in a two-vehicle caravan around Sonoma County on what we called the “Mojo and Materiality Tour.” Isis Oasis was the first stop. I was not sure what to expect. Something embarrassingly kitschy?
Loreon (wearing the same Egyptian-style eye makeup as in her old beatnik photos) was soon drinking tea with us all. She and I swapped stories of our visits to Clonegal Castle in Ireland, home of the Fellowship of Isis.
We wandered through the buildings. It is Ægypt in the California wine country—not the fractious, Islamist Egypt of today but an Ægypt of the imagination, where Isis is still worshiped, where there are priestesses, peafowl and big-gish cats, where visitors sleep in bedrooms thematically decorated to evoke Egyptian goddesses.
(Isis Oasis also makes an appearance in Erik Davis’s coffee-table book of California religion, The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape.)
The only question, of course, will be the passing of the sistrum at some future day.
Isis Oasis was the first stop on the tour. Now that I am home after the train journey, I will soon have more posts about the tour and the annual meeting itself.