Mel Lyman: Special Place in Family : Man They Worshiped as God Is Nowhere to Be Found

I am going to reduce everything that stands to rubble. And then I am going to burn the rubble. And then I am going to scatter the ashes. And then maybe someone will be able to see something as it really is.

--Mel Lyman

Mel Lyman often said he was God, the leader of a cosmic race.

“It is a race beyond this world,” Lyman once said. “If people are of my race they would recognize it. If not, it would never occur to them.”


To anyone who challenged the idea that he was God, Lyman would say he was joking, just trying to shock them out of their complacency.

Almost every room of every house the Lyman Family owns from coast to coast includes a framed color photograph of Mel Lyman.

Each Lyman Family house has a black vinyl notebook listing all of Lyman’s favorite movies under the heading “The Lord’s List of All Time Movie Greats.” It is a solid selection of pre-1976 films but curiously missing is the title of the only feature film the Lyman Family was connected with, “Zabriskie Point,” in which two then-members of the commune starred.

Each day a “TV Bulletin” lists the old movies to be aired on television so Family members can videotape any of Mel Lyman’s favorites that are not already in their collection.

But Lyman is nowhere to be seen.

His Family says that he died in April, 1978, after a lingering illness. He would have been 39.

But there was no funeral and no death certificate, and the Family’s leaders will not discuss with strangers, or even some members, what they did with Lyman’s body, if he did die. They deny rumors that he fled the Family and lives in Europe.

“I was told that Melvin died and I believe that,” said Wayne Hansen, a Boston businessman who belonged to the Family for 13 years until he left in 1979. “If they didn’t get a death certificate it is because it really isn’t anyone else’s business. I have to take on faith that he died.”

George Peper, the Family photographer, said the secrecy stems from the Family’s experience with Rolling Stone magazine, which put Lyman on its cover two issues running in 1971 with long articles comparing the commune to the homicidal Charles Manson Family.

At the time of Lyman’s purported death, Richie Guerin, a Family leader, wrote: “There is no doubt in my mind that Mel is the Creator. He is the center of Creation . . .. He makes me feel the Spirit. He is next to God, if not God himself and although I feel that I wrestle with it.”

The dozens of framed photographs of Lyman that hang in the Family’s houses depict a man growing progressively ill. His private writings suggest grave illness and speak intimately of approaching death.

Lyman wrote extensively, as many leaders of groups do. The following are some of his last writings, which one of his wives, Eve Lyman, said should not be read literally, but as metaphor:

“I know I’m done and I’ll stop keeping that body alive. . . . It really is a lot of dead weight and I don’t feel its got much more use, do you know what I’m saying, I was Emerson, I was Lincoln, I was Woody Guthrie and many more but only for short periods of time and I used those instruments because they were ready for me and I used Mel Lyman in the same way and I am nobody, I just am. Don’t be sad, I’ll be Mel Lyman as long as I can and in fact I may bring him back with a bang and light him up like a neon bulb and if I don’t it’s because it wasn’t and if I do we will have a real Melvin Christ on our hands . . . “

“Melvin is like that to us,” she continued. “He is not recognized by the world, but he is recognized by us.

Today, Lyman is worshiped by his followers, not so much as God incarnate but as a greater man than they, a great spirit.

The world, Eve Lyman said, perceives God as Father, or perhaps dead. But the Lymans conceive of God as a quality of experience and attachment to the universe, a sort of spiritual high.