LINDA KASABIAN: Was She Yana the Witch?
Sunday, March 8th, 1970
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 8 – I was standing underneath one of those towering gas station signs you see by the highway all the time, at the eastern edge of Gallup, New Mexico, when the girl picked me up. It was about nine o’clock, Thursday morning, August 14. The girl driving the car looked about five feet tall, and she wore a leather jacket over a maroon-and-blue striped knit T-shirt, and a hemless mini-skirt made from cut-off corduroy jeans. She had a sharp face — rather pronounced cheekbones, triangular eyes, and a small, sharp nose. Her blondish hair was uniformly short except for one long, very thin braid in back. There were two long-haired guys with her.
When they asked me where I was going, I didn’t really know, so I said Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Texas…She said they were going to Taos. I said that was great and that what I really wanted to do was to camp out in the mountains. The girl said she’d take me to a commune where I could camp, and I eagerly consented.
The two long-haired guys were college students from New Jersey who were headed home after having “made the scene” in LA. They weren’t open or friendly and I didn’t much like them. Almost from the moment I got into that old white Volvo, I could sense friction between them and the girl. The guys especially seemed nervous. Apparently, I had interrupted an argument. After a little while, one of them said to the girl, “Look, is this even your car?”
“Yes, this is my car,” said the girl. She paused, “It’s not just mine,” she added. “It’s mine, it’s yours, anybody’s who wants it.”
“l’m gonna get rid of this car,” said the girl a few miles later.
One of the guys asked her why and she said it was because she was getting tired of it.
The highway that goes from Gallup to Albuquerque rises and bends through one small section of hills before stretching out across the desert. As we drove through those hills, the girl told us to look for a place that sold gas and merchandise and that accepted Shell credit cards. We spotted a likely place — it had a sign that said “We accept credit cards” — but as it turned out you couldn’t charge the souvenirs. We stopped and got gas and browsed around this stupid curio shop for some time, looking at the standard souvenirs and the over-priced Indian jewelry. Abruptly, the girl decided we should leave. As we were getting into the car again, she said to us and herself, “Some of that’s nice, but I don’t want to get hung up on that materialistic bag. I’ve already done that once.”
One of the things that struck me first about the girl and continued to strike me was the lack of sophistication of the things she said and the simultaneous intensity of her conviction. It was obvious, even before she told me that she had not had much education. The things she said I might have heard before, but not with the same “naive” intensity. The feeling with which she spoke each word overwhelmed my college conditioned tendency to dismiss without a second thought any ideas expressed poorly or in cliches. I knew nothing about her, but I could tell that whoever and whatever she was, she was something special. I looked forward to spending time with this haunting, strange, wild girl — a witch, she called herself.
About an hour after we left the curio shop the car began to get hot and sputter. The girl repeated her dislike for it. It finally died in the middle of the desert. The upper radiator hose had a leak and the car wanted water. I flagged down a diesel driver who took me about fifteen miles to the next gas station. I bought some electrician’s tape and a waterbag which I filled. After waiting quite a while, I got a ride back to the car, fixed the hose, and refilled the radiator. The car started again and ran for a while.
The car died again about ten miles past the station. This time it had water in it but wouldn’t restart. The girl and I stood out on the loose gravel and hot asphalt of the road shoulder, trying to get a car to give us a push start. She had no shoes, so she stood with one foot on top of the other, danced lightly on her toes or sat on the car. She said that it looked like there were a lot of freaks on the road — someone ought to stop pretty soon. I said that was what I had thought, but that all the time I had been in New Mexico, I had had lousy luck on the road. The freaks gave the peace sign, I said, the straights gave you the shaft, and they all drove right by. She said, “Yeah, well they’re killing people like that out in LA.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Pigs that try to act like freaks.”
I told her that that wasn’t too cool, that I thought the revolution or whatever it was that was going on all around us had to offer something more than an eye for an eye, that it was time we outgrew violence, and that peace had to start with “us,” or else the revolution would just be trading one set of pigs for another, one system with no room for deviants for another.
“But you see,” she said, “it doesn’t matter.” She asked me what I thought about death. I dodged the question. I could have given her the drop-going-back-to-the-ocean line, but I mostly wanted her to talk about it. Besides, all that trippy theorizing and intellectual speculation about death is, after all, pretty shallow compared with the feeling you get at the most unlikely moments that you, too, are going home to that big ocean one of these days. With that intense witch of a girl, surrounded by that awesome desert and those miles and miles of highway, and those screaming blasts of air pushed into us by the cars that wouldn’t stop, I was in a new world, and I had no use for cosmologies you wear on your shirtsleeve.
“Death is just a hallucination,” she told me, patiently and conclusively, as though explaining the answer of a riddle I had given up on. With anyone else I would have laughed. “It’s just an illusion that your mommy and daddy put into your head. Your mind, your brain, your, uh, ego dies, but your body — oh — it can live forever. If you’re beautiful. And you are, baby,” she said, looking up into my eyes with the eyes of someone who is moved by something beyond herself. “You are. Big and beautiful”.
When the girl and I talked, our conversation usually followed the same pattern. I was curious about her world and wanted her to talk about it. She was eager to share it. She had amazing confidence in the ideas she held, and her manner was proselytizing. I spoke primarily to bring her out, and I tried to use her words. I played along so I could understand her better. In a way I talked down to her, as she may have done to me, but that’s what any two people have to do before they can communicate.
A pick-up approached, and we turned and stuck out our thumbs. I thought it would stop and apparently the girl did, too, because when it did go by, she ran a few steps after it, leaned forward and squinted her eyes, and returned. “You see,” she said, “I just killed them,” The pick-up faded in the distance, “I can do that ’cause I’m a witch.”
”How?” I asked, trying not to sound skeptical.
“It’s easy. You just close your eyes and erase them. And when you open your eyes — poof,” she opened her hands to show there was nothing in them, “they’re dead.” Then she added, “It’s like, have you ever died on acid or something?”
I thought to say that inasmuch as a person experiences ego death, “he” doesn’t experience it. Instead, I gave her an unqualified, “Yes.”
“Well, it’s like that,” she said.
Only you don’t come down.
A car finally stopped for us and agreed to give us a push. As the car hacked around to get in position to push, the girl ran a few steps towards the Volvo, her bare feet barely touching the hot asphalt. Then she leaped into the air, kicking both legs, throwing her arms across her chest and back, and jerking her head back in one joyful gesture. I’d never seen anything like it.
The car started but died before we had gone a mile. The girl said she would hitch on into Albuquerque (about thirty miles) and get a tow-truck. She could use the credit card. It was pretty safe to use a gasoline credit card that didn’t have your name on it, she said. All they did if you got caught was pick up the credit card. It was different using a bad department store card. You get arrested on the spot. Her sister had been thrown in jail for trying to buy sleeping bags with a stolen Sears card.
Again I stood with her on the road until she got a ride.
She talked about death frequently. She explained how it didn’t matter if pigs were killed because they were going through changes. They would be incarnated as beautiful people that much sooner.
While she was gone, I waited inside the car with the two guys from New Jersey. We kept the doors open and drank the last of the water in the bag, trying to get comfortable and cool. We smoked cigarettes, or parts of them — we were too hot and dry in the mouth to enjoy smoking. “That girl’s crazy,” one of them said after a while.
“Yeah, she’s far out all right,” I said. But I left the possibility in my mind that I might be able to communicate on her wavelength.
“She says she’s a witch,” said the other one.
“But she just uses her powers for good,” snorted Number One. Their sarcasm proclaimed disbelief, but there was a tone of defensiveness in their voices. Neither of them seemed to take lightly the girl or even the possibility that she was a witch.
“Do you believe all the things she says?” asked One.
“I don’t like it — all her talk about death,” said Two.
One had a watch, and he kept us posted on the time. They talked about when she ought to be back and how much longer they’d wait before they gave up and hitched in themselves. Though I suspected she wouldn’t come back, I expressed faith in her return to the others and did not include myself in their deadlines.
The girl did return with a tow-truck after about an hour and a half. One and Two rode on the back of the truck and the girl and I rode in the cab with the driver. The driver was going to try to fix the car at his station, and if he couldn’t, he’d take us to a Volvo dealer in Albuquerque. The girl said something to me, but for the benefit of the driver, about how she wished her “father” had gotten the car checked out before she left L.A. By this time, I was quite sure that the car as well as the credit card was stolen.
At the station the driver called in the inevitable check on the credit card. Then he apologized to the girl and said the card was no good and that he had been instructed to pick it up. Furthermore, we couldn’t have the car until we payed forty dollars for the tow. And it still had to be repaired.
The girl said her father had been threatening to cancel her credit card and that he had picked a bad time. The driver apologized again to her.
She had three dollars cash. I had six. The other two had quite a bit of money, over a hundred dollars, plus a credit card which was good, but they wouldn’t pay on a stolen car. I didn’t blame them, but the girl got mad and suggested that they “do their own trip.” They agreed and left.
She asked me if still wanted to go to Taos and I said sure. I got my pack and she got her sleeping bag — all she had with her — and we started hitching.
We hit the road, giddy with liberation, dancing and skipping with sheer joy. Relieved of the worry of whether or not the car would run, leaving that big expensive machine behind and setting off for a new town together as total strangers, we were free. She asked my name; I told her my first name and asked her what hers was.
“My name’s Yana,” she said, “but it used to be Linda. The Devil gave me the name Yana when he cut all my hair off.”
The Devil was named Charlie. Sometimes she called him the Man. He was the leader of the people she had been living with in L.A. Yana’s hair had been down to her waist before he had cut it all very short in some kind of name-giving ceremony. All except for that one braid in back.
Charlie had learned through meditation about the existence at several places around the world of holes which went down to the center of the earth. Down the Holes will go the Beautiful People to escape the wrath of Black Man who will rise up and slaughter his hateful master, White Man. Some time after While Man has been killed off Black Man will realize that he has learned all he knows from White Man and that he cannot develop civilization any more on his own. Then the Beautiful People will be invited out of the holes to rule Black Man and further civilization. Only the Beautiful People will love Black Man and will not mistreat him as White Man had.
Charlie and the people he lived with it L.A. were not the only ones who knew about these holes. Donovan knew; in one of his songs he sings, “Take me down through a hole in the ocean.” The Beatles knew, and they knew Charlie knew. Charlie and his friends had listened to “Helter Skelter” with headphones for months until they could hear, quite distinctly below the sounds of the instruments and the singing, the Beatles in speaking voices saying, “Charlie, can you hear us? Charlie, can you hear us? Call us in London. Call us in London.” Charlie had called London and the Beatles had refused to accept the call. Still, their faith was unbroken.
And, Yana added, “Those people I was with in L.A. were the ones who got me into a whole new world of love-making.”
The first ride we got was in a GTO which only took us a few blocks further in Albuquerque. When Yana and I got into the car the first thing we each did was reach for our cigarettes. I offered one to the driver who declined, saying that he smoked too much and was trying to quit.
“I smoke too much,” I said.
“So do I,” said Yana. “We ought to quit.”
“Okay,” I said. “I quit.” And I threw my cigarettes out the window.
“So do I,” said Yana, and she did the same.
The driver let us out at the highway that would take us to Santa Fe and Taos. Before getting on the highway, however, we walked over to a Denny’s Drive-In. A sign at the door said shoes were required, so Yana wore my size 11 sneakers. She remarked that society was backwards; the waitress served her first, but Man was supposed to go before Woman.
Yana had grown up in New Hampshire and had dropped out of high school early. I’m not sure when she got married, but it was sometime before she moved to the commune. She had lived in a commune outside Taos with the Hog Farm for about nine months, and had left it about nine months before I met her. Until that time, I had never heard of the Hog Farm. It wasn’t until a week later when I saw a newspaper that I learned that the Hog Farm had been in Woodstock while I was with Yana.
About nine or ten months before I met her, several things happened to Yana. Her husband left her; Yana’s first child was born; and she left the commune and went to L.A. It was after she went to L.A. that she fell in with the Devil and his gang.
At the time I was with her, she was looking for her husband or the Hog Farm.
We got several rides on the way to Taos. One was with a construction worker who gave us beer and offered to take us all the way to the commune if Yana would ride nude. I declined the offer and Yana said that that wasn’t really what the man wanted and it wouldn’t do anybody any good.
In between rides, Yana would stand on her sleeping bag to hitch and we’d describe to each other how beautiful the commune would be.
It rained heavily but briefly during our last ride. We rode with a young kid and two chicks who occasionally went to the commune and said they knew some of the people there. Yana asked them if they knew where her husband was. They didn’t know. They let us out where the pavement stopped on the road that led off the highway to the commune.
It had all but stopped raining, but the dirt road leading through the mountain meadows to thicker woods and the commune was a river of red mud. The sun was setting as we walked the five miles to the commune. Yana slogged along about ankle deep in mud. I held her sleeping bag for her at places where the road had sharp gravel. We had to pass up one shortcut because the rocks would be too hard on Yana’s feet. By the time we got to the vicinity of the commune, it was quite dark in the valley, though sun-light still shone on the mountain top.
Yana had “brought another sister into the world.” She had had her first child, a daughter by her husband, nine months earlier, and as I noticed that night, she would be having another child too. The daughter, Tana, as well as a few other infants, had been with Yana’s L.A. group. Tana and a little boy slightly older than she had been the favorites of the group. The little boy, Yana said, was like a little king, who, in a way, ruled the group. Tana was like his queen.
I asked her where her daughter was. She said that lately she and Tana had been going through changes, and that she didn’t want to put ideas into her daughter’s head the way her parents had done to her. So she had “given it back to itself.”
We went straight to the hot springs on the north side of a little ravine which cut through the commune. As we were crossing the ravine, Yana asked me if I wanted some of the gum she was chewing. I said yes and she parted her lips and put the gum between her front teeth. Thinking she meant for me to bite off the piece that showed in front of her teeth, I went over to do so.
Just as I went to bite it loose, she puckered her lips and I bit her. Her lip bled rather badly. She looked up into my eyes as if I had done it on purpose and said pleadingly, “Don’t bite!” If she hadn’t said that and looked at me the baleful way she did, I never would have thought I might have done it on purpose. To the best of my knowledge, it was an accident. But I admitted to myself that friction had arisen between us as it had arisen between Yana and the two kids from New Jersey. I apologized to her and said I hadn’t meant to bite her.
“Don’t bite,” she said. “I would never bite you.”
Yana told me about “cutting capers” with her friends out in L.A. What they would do was break into some expensive suburban house at night, either alone or in groups, and while making no attempt at secrecy or quiet, take or break anything they wanted to. Yana had gone into homes alone, unarmed, and turned on the stereo or television while she ransacked the house. She said no one ever tried to stop her. They were so “afraid of themselves.” she said, that they’d just lie frozen in bed thinking, “Oh my God! There’s a BURGLAR in the house!”
The sacred Indian hot springs had been “improved” by white man who had built a resort there. The hot water poured out of the mountain and ran through a succession of four or five partly natural, partly concrete pools, becoming cooler at each step. Through two waterfalls, it emptied into a huge man-made swimming pool which was now lined with moss.
Because it was getting cold, Yana and I went to the very top, stripped, and got into the hot sulfur water. The water was very warm, about 18 inches deep. We glided through the pool with only our hands supporting us and looked our over the rim. We could see the string of little pools, the waterfall and the swimming pool, the ruins of the resort on the right, the ravine beyond, and way off in the night, another row of mountains. Then our shoulders got cold and we slid back into the water…
“I’ve decided not to kill you,” she said abruptly as we were getting out of the pool.
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not going to destroy your mind. I could, but don’t want to.”
“Thanks,” I said, neither conceding nor denying her powers.
Shivering, we dried and dressed, and clambered down the mountain. We joined the people at the campfire between the pool and the resort ruins. We chatted with the twenty-odd residents of the ruins, smoked a little dope. Yana borrowed a pair of jeans from one of the residents. I met an AWOL soldier who was traveling through in a VW bus. With him were his wife and a tiny baby and a hitchhiker they had picked up earlier in the day. When they left to find a place to camp that night, Yana and I went with them.
Across the ravine was another loose cluster of permanent camps — one old farmhouse, a converted chicken coop, shacks, and sod houses. Beyond them was a string of transient campers where we set up camp with another group we met. We made a fire and ate beans, fried rice, bread and tomato soup, and we drank coffee. I walked back across to the springs to burn a smoke. Someone gave me a package of Bugler and papers which I took back to the group.
Yana and I found an abandoned VW bus to sleep in. It was windproof and warm and had some extra bedding in it. As she unrolled her bedroll she said, “Look, I forgot that I didn’t have my baby with me anymore.” Rolled up inside her sleeping bag was an empty baby bottle and an assortment of second-hand and home-made baby clothes in faded, dull-colored plaids and paisleys.
“See, I’m still going through changes,” she said, “It’s been a long time since I was without my baby. I’m going to have to get used to it.”
Yana was quite disappointed to find unbeautiful people living in her old commune. The group around the hot springs especially; there were a few winos and a moron Indian. She frequently ran “niggers” down. Earlier, I had tactfully tried to get her explanation of why she spoke so badly of some people.
“I’m an open hole,” she said.
“How do you mean?”
“Like, when an idea comes into my head from — ” she waved her hand over her head — “I don’t think about it or reject it. I just let it flow on through. But it’s not me.” She paused. “I mean, not really me.”
The next morning, she asked me what I was going to do. I said I’d probably hang around the commune awhile. She said she thought she would go somewhere else and look for her husband. She exchanged her sleeping bag for a smaller one that was in the bus and left before breakfast. As we were splitting up, we wished each other luck.
(The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, thinks that Yana is Linda Kasabian, one of those arrested in the August slaying of Sharon Tate and friends. He also believes that “The Man” Yana talks about is Charles Manson; several members of the commune Manson led have been charged in these murders. This article was written for the Harvard University newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, while the author was a student there.)