Location: Rutland, Vermont
It wasn’t hard for me to convince myself to take another zero day with the Twelve Tribes. I am just a little tired of hiking. I am however ready to return to the trail tomorrow. I think I am ready at least. I’ve got an itch to hike tomorrow. I had an excellent day off though. Eggshells and I went to the Tokyo House Japanese restaurant. I finally had some sushi and it was delicious but expensive. I needed to spoil myself a bit. I also went to see Talladega Nights at the local movie theater. The move didn’t meet expectations. It was nice spending time with Eggshells. He really helped show me that I need to just keep moving every day. Before I know it, I should be well on my way to Springer Mountain.
After the movie, I returned to the hostel to relax. Zerah, a young man in the community, engaged me in conversation about the trail and then about his religion. I enjoyed asking him questions about the spiritual commune. He answered every question that I asked to the best of his knowledge. His manner of conversing makes me a little uneasy. He never breaks eye contact and he looks into my eyes as though he were looking for scars on my soul. With a slight smile and eyes wide, he appeared as though he might lift his body from the ground and float around the room. Behind his beard and long hair pulled into a tight bun, I can see his boyish face and childish sense of curiosity and intrigue.
Zerah invited me to the Sabbath Day celebration at the homes of the people in the commune. He said that they prayed, sang songs, played music and celebrated their love. The night offers them a chance to pray for a cure to all the ugliness and sin in the world and grow closer as a community by openly expressing their feelings and sharing love. The goal is to promote unity. I politely declined to attend. I partially regretted my decision. I would like a closer view of their society, but I am just not in the mood to be social with every member of the community. I would like the dinner of course, but I am not so intrigued by this community that I want to further experience their lifestyle. I have taken great joy and entertainment with meeting the people in the town. Meeting locals has been a wonderful experience. Strangely I am not interested in spending any more time with these people. I know all that I would like. I just passed on a second, much more assertive invitation from Zerah and Cashen together. A few other visitors, a hiker who had come to the community to recover from a brown recluse bite and some other homeless vagabonds staying with the community, chose to attend the celebration. Hopefully I don’t regret my decision too much, but the people make me feel somewhat uncomfortable. I would not want to put myself into a situation which I felt overly pressured by the brothers. Who knows what might happen?
One visitor to the community felt as though he were strong-armed into attending the celebration. His name is Stosh. Stosh failed out of an Indiana college last spring. His mother, who he refers to as a militant feminist lesbian, refused to take him back into her home. Stosh left for the east coast to live with his father. His stepmother refused to let him stay. Stosh ended up in the woods outside of the town in which his father lived. For several weeks, he lived homeless in the woods with another person. Someone that he constantly referred to as ‘my friend, Mike.’ During Stosh’s time in the woods, he decided to trip on acid for a week straight. He has seriously melted his brain with LSD. Stosh always fidgets with his hands and red curly hair. He readjusts his glasses constantly, and the lenses are always smudged. He idolizes David Bowie and will randomly break into loud renditions of his hero. Stosh says he has perfected his voice as best he can without coaching. I question that. He joined the community as a guest three weeks ago, after visiting one of the caravans of brothers travelling around the country in search of converts. Stosh helps in the bakery, bagging loafs of bread after slicing them. More often than not though, he is sitting on the deck on the roof of the building, rolling cigarettes and practicing chords on a cracked guitar. I visited with Stosh for several hours on the roof, and he brought me a jar of the traditional drink of the Twelve Tribes, the South American drink matte. The liquid was bright green and milky. I had always been told not to drink the cool aid, but I took several big gulps of the mysterious drink. When Stosh returned from the celebration, he told me that one of the brothers pushed him into going, placing a guilt trip on him for abusing the generosity of the community. The situation really angered Stosh, who says that he will leave on his mission to hitchhike around the world sooner than expected. Stosh hopes to one day move to an Asian island country where the US dollar can be stretched a long way and open a cattle ranch.
Another visitor to the community, Tom, who I spoke to a lot about the community, had been with the Twelve Tribes for a day longer than Stosh. After divorcing his wife months earlier, Tom found the community. Once he joined as a guest, he called his ex-wife to tell her his decision. She wanted to join also after Tom told her about the workings of the community. Early in their visit, Tom and his wife spent time together, though they were not allowed to sleep together because of their divorce. The Twelve Tribes have a rigid courting system, Tom described. If a brother is interested in dating a sister, then he reports his desire to the Council of Elders, composed entirely of men. They tell a woman in the community to investigate the interest of the single sister to date this single brother. If the council decides that the relationship will be allowed, the two youths are allowed the chance to talk to one another in a public setting. After about a month of conversing, they are allowed to take chaperoned walks without holding hands. Then after a month of these walks, they are allowed to take walks without a chaperone and they can hold hands. The man and woman will share their first kiss on their wedding day, and then consummate the marriage. The community believes that only married couples can have sex. Sex for pleasure is not frowned upon, as long as the couple doesn’t engage in any weird sexual habits. I didn’t ask if there was a list of banned sexual practices, but I should have. I know that the Puritans maintained a list of hundreds of taboo sexual deeds. Strange that they could have thought of so many to write down and describe in detail.
Nevertheless, Tom is beginning to question his decision to join the cult. He and his ex-wife were separated a couple weeks ago. The Council of Elders decided it was inappropriate for the two to be spending so much time together. Tom lives on the vinyl floor in the men’s dormitory above the Back Home Again Café. Tom’s wife has been moved to the compound of homes on the outskirts of Rutland. There she helps with domestic chores and takes care of the communities children by helping with the home schooling. She doubts her decision to join more than Tom. I think that the life of the woman is more difficult than that of the man. Tom’s general responsibilities include odd jobs and watching the hostel. He works less than the brothers, and he despises the work. He groans when told to do something. He has some bitterness. I don’t think he is well-suited for life in the community because the brothers work very hard in the café, bakery and sporting goods outfitter owned by the Twelve Tribes. Tom is trying to get himself and his wife moved to the Cambridge, NY community where they will report that they are married. Certainly the communities communicate and his plot will be foiled. I can sense Tom’s reservations about joining and I am sure that the brothers do too.
Tom did tell me briefly about the baptism process. When both the individual intending to join and the Council of Elders decides that the individual is ready for membership, then that individual will be baptized. By doing so, the person recognizes the death of the old spirit and accepts a new spirit as a brother of the Twelve Tribes. All contacts with the previous life of the individual are limited. A person must give up their family and friends and accept their new family and friends in the community. All material possessions become the community’s possessions, including homes, cars, and stock. A baptized person’s life should be devoted to hard work, love, and Yahshua. Throughout a person’s life in ‘the new social order,’ he will receive instruction from Yahshua. A person will be instructed on his duty, location, and family.
After the Sabbath celebration, the hiker who attended, Knock Knock, returned and told me about the celebration. He chose to go because of the food. He said that the members of the community danced and played music in a circle in the center of the room. When it came time for people to openly express their feelings in a circle, Knock Knock sensed some apprehension among the group. Not every individual spoke his heart, and there were long pauses between one person speaking and another. Knock Knock and I went a few doors down from the hostel to a sports bar to talk about the celebration. He didn’t feel completely comfortable discussing the matter in the hostel.