Updated: Nov 23, 2020
The life and crimes of Travis Ashbrook—founding member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
When discussing the history of cannabis in America—or drug culture in general, for that matter—it’s impossible to overstate the influence and impact of The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. In the span of just a few short years (1966-1972), this handful of stoner surfer buddies from Laguna Beach had transformed into the largest drug syndicate on earth—dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine “The Hippie Mafia.” Producing and distributing tens of millions of doses of LSD, they were sacred psychedelic warriors on a mission to turn on the world. From Charles Manson to Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix, Newport Pop to Altamont…so many iconic aspects of the counterculture connect back in some way to the Brotherhood and the infamous acid they distributed, Orange Sunshine. The Brotherhood’s grand vision was made possible in large part by one of their founding members—and arguably the most notorious hashish smuggler in US history—Travis Ashbrook.
THE BROTHERHOOD BEGINS
As a teenager in Orange County, Travis was making and repairing surfboards out of his parent’s garage while still in high school before eventually opening a small surf shop on Laguna Beach. He smoked his first joint with his buddy Buddha in 1963 and was immediately hooked. He started making regular surf trips down to Mexico and bringing weed back with him. By the age of 17, he was smuggling kilos back from Tijuana into Tecate every weekend and selling them to other dealers—such as a local acid connection known as The Witchdoctor. It was at Witchdoctor’s place up in Seal Beach in 1964 that Travis reconnected with a fellow teen pot dealer named Johnny Griggs.
Part of a local hotrod gang called the Street Sweepers, "Farmer John" Griggs was a notorious boozer, brawler, and heroin user. But after robbing a stash of LSD from the home of a Hollywood producer, he tripped out for the first time and had a spiritual epiphany. Overwhelmed by his experience of "God-consciousness,” Griggs returned the stolen acid, gave up his gangbanger ways, and devoted himself to proselytizing on behalf of LSD. He began taking small groups out into the woods every Sunday and leading them on guided trips. Travis had also experienced “death of the ego” moments while tripping before, but it wasn’t until he accompanied Griggs on these excursions that he began to find meaning in the experience. Believing that LSD was the ultimate tool for human enlightenment, Griggs—along with his wife Carol, friends Michael Randall, Ricky and Ron Bevans, Chuck Mundell, Travis, and a number of others—made it their sacred mission to turn on the world. They decided to form a new religion dedicated to truth, love, peace, and oneness for all, which Mundell christened “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.”
On October 26th, 1966 (just 20 days after California became the first state to make LSD illegal) the Brotherhood incorporated themselves as a non-profit, then rented an old stone house in Modjeska Canyon and made it their church. Before long they were cranking out their own acid, and Griggs’ trip sessions had expanded into groups of 50-100 people.
In the fall of 1967, at the urging of guru friend Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass), they rented a storefront at 670 South Coast Highway and opened a huge psychedelic emporium—selling books, hippie clothing, drug paraphernalia, and health food, as well as offering a juice bar, meditation room, art gallery and more. Mystic Arts World, as they called it, quickly became the biggest headshop in SoCal–earning it the nickname “Haight Ashbury South.”
With hordes of hippies moving into the area, they soon took over a small neighborhood off Laguna Canyon Road which Griggs nicknamed Dodge City. Dodge City became such a psychedelic hotspot that in Winter 1967, Griggs even persuaded acid’s patron saint himself Timothy Leary to come live there with them.