Erowid Character Vaults
v1.0 - Mar 28, 2012
Citation: Hanna J. "Erowid Character Vaults: Lisa Bieberman Extended Biography". Erowid.org. Mar 28, 2012.
advertising Licia's prophecy.
"We were messianically dedicated, full of the happy excitement of sharing a soon-to-be-public secret that was going to save the world."
-- Lisa Bieberman, Psychedelic Information Center Bulletin #12, 1967
Following her graduation from Radcliffe, Bieberman opened the Psychedelic Information Center in Cambridge. Operated from her apartment about half a block from Harvard Square, she dreamed that one day there might be such centers in every major city of the world. In early November of 1964, she decided to start publishing the Psychedelic Information Center Bulletin.
With its first issue released in June of 1965, the PIC Bulletin was Bieberman's attempt to establish a nationwide communiqué "through which anybody can get practical information regarding how to obtain and use psychedelics, and possibly make contact with an experienced person who can help him through his first session." Thirty-five issues were produced in total.
The PIC Bulletin included information sent in by her readers, as well as news and data that Bieberman had collected, along with her opinions about the subculture that was developing. Running 2-4 pages, a new issue was released every two months; the only cost to "subscribe" was a self-addressed 5¢-stamped envelope. The PIC Bulletin went out to around 300-400 people.
The Bulletin debunked urban legends, announced conferences and reported on social events, provided contact information for religious organizations focused on psychoactive sacraments (such as the Neo-American Church and The Church of the Awakening), offered plant growing techniques and extraction processes, and kept readers updated on legal issues. The PIC Bulletin even provided direct contact information for psychedelic enthusiasts eager to meet like-minded folks. [For example, one such notice listed the name, phone number, address, and directions to the home of an older woman in Sacramento, CA, who offered "to house other heads passing through."]
One of the PIC's projects was to create the Psychedelic Telephone Directory. Bieberman felt that during "sessions" if the urge to call someone arose, "There should be someone more appropriate to phone than your mother, your ex-girl, your psychiatrist, or the President." Her directory sold for 50¢. The PIC also offered buttons supporting cannabis legalization, reprints of legal documents (such as the federal Drug Abuse Control Amendments of 1965), reprints of synthesis procedures, and a couple of topical booklets that Bieberman wrote, all provided at prices running between 15¢ and one dollar.
"Bieberman was the ultimate responsible entheogen user. A highly spiritual person, she took drugs only as an aid to meditation. The Millbrook crowd considered her boring [...]"
-- Joyce Milton, 2002
She felt that those who took psychedelics had a responsibility to be as open about their use as possible. Even after these drugs started to become criminalized, she hoped that one day she would be able to set up legally sanctioned centers where people could go to have psychedelic experiences in a positive environment with supportive, experienced staff members available.
Bieberman encouraged folks to visit her at the PIC, where she would try to answer their questions about psychedelics. She was a vocal proponent of the beneficial potential that psychedelics have, but she made it clear that it takes a concerted effort to apply the insights learned toward bettering one's life and the world at large. Indeed, for her these were the main reasons to take psychedelics in the first place.
The tone of the early issues of the PIC Bulletin conveyed Bieberman's initial enthusiastic idealism. However, as the years passed, the laws changed, and the burgeoning psychedelic culture grew and morphed, Bieberman became disenchanted. She had some issues with the group at Millbrook, where she and office manager Peter H. John orchestrated day-to-day operations. (She eventually started referring to Millbrook as millionaire William Hitchcock's "human zoo".) Through her work at the PIC, as well, Bieberman came into contact with recreational users who she felt were overly dependant on drugs for the highs in their lives. Irresponsible use and flakey attitudes seemed to be becoming the norm. The new crop of "heads" did not put in much (or any) effort to make positive changes based on any psychedelic insights they may have had.
In the mid-1960s, Bieberman also headed her own film production company, Liquid Sky. Although her plans for a couple of remake films featuring Cary Grant and Robert Downey, Sr. didn't materialize (Downey apparently flaked on the first day of shooting, making off with ten sheets of blotter acid), Liquid Sky did produce one film, for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Called LSD: You Are Not a Bird, it was a response to the 1960s urban legend that people on acid would jump out of windows because they thought that they could fly. Working with Tord Svenson, Bieberman launched an "LSD Loan Fund" in order "to aid active projects aimed at making psychedelic drugs available to individuals for religious or philosophical purposes." One of the purposes of this fund was to help supply bail for persons who may be arrested on drug charges.
Unfortunately, in 1966, Bieberman was herself arrested on four federal counts of violating the U.S. Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics Act by sending LSD-laced sugar cubes into California and Kansas without having the appropriate interstate transportation license and without including adequate information about its appropriate use and potential health hazards. Although the charges carried a total maximum penalty of four years imprisonment and a $4,000 fine, the judge gave her a year's suspended jail sentence.
By the summer of 1967, Bieberman was ready to put some distance between herself and the "psychedelic" community. In issue #12 of the PIC Bulletin she wrote:
"Does the psychedelic experience really have to be offered to the public in the form of bizarre shows? Do the psychedelic people have to live in squalid ghettos? Does their conversation have to be a rapid-fire rap of slogans and meaningless declarations of 'love'? Does LSD still have to be used so excessively and so carelessly; do freakouts have to be regular occurrences at Millbrook? Do our interpersonal relationships have to be so shallow and so short-lived? Must the movement leaders deliberately foster distrust between age-groups? Do cheating and stealing have to be the rule among acid dealers?In early 1968, Bieberman and psychologist Allen Cohn appeared on TV with Bruce Hoffman and Andrew Garvin, interviewed on an episode of The David Susskind Show titled "Pot Smokers and Acid Heads", where they discussed the pros and cons of these drugs. But by this point, her association with the psychedelic community was nearing its conclusion.
"The word 'psychedelic' is ruined; it might as well be scrapped by those who still wish to speak earnestly about their experience. Psychedelic now means gaudy illegible posters, gaudy unreadable tabloids, loud parties, anything paisley, crowded noisy discotheques, trinket shops and the slum districts that patronize them. There was something I used to mean by psychedelic, but if those posters are psychedelic, that other thing isn't. Put 'psychedelic' down along with 'community,' 'love,' 'religion' and other good words the hippies, with the help of Leary & Co., have corrupted."
"Lisa Bieberman and Peter John (who went on to become a Methodist minister) deserve to be mentioned for holding our 'church' together; without pay or public recognition, they gave virtually their full time to it."
-- Huston Smith, 2000
"...within the Harvard Project an ad hoc 'church' emerged. [...] What to make of the entheogens was the question [...].And in her 2002 book The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, author Joyce Milton remarks that:
The Harvard Project was hospitable. Open-ended, it wanted to explore the effects of psychedelic chemicals in all promising directions, so our "church" had its blessings and benefactions. Once every month or so we gathered to take our sacramental in a vaguely ritualistic context--incense, candles, favorite poems, passages read from sacred texts, and spontaneous inputs in the style of Quaker meetings. [...]
Lisa Bieberman and Peter John (who went on to become a Methodist minister) deserve to be mentioned for holding our 'church' together; without pay or public recognition, they gave virtually their full time to it." -- Cleansing the Doors of Perception, 2000
"Bieberman was the ultimate responsible entheogen user. A highly spiritual person, she took drugs only as an aid to meditation. The Millbrook crowd considered her boring [...]"Searching for a more compatible community, Bieberman was drawn to the Quakers, even though she knew little of their history or doctrines. In 1968 she went to an Acton Friends Meeting. A week after she was accepted into the group, she has stated that: "Christ visited [her] very powerfully--converting [her] to faith in Himself."
Contrary to many Christian sects, the early Quakers believed that God still spoke directly to humankind, for those who listened. One can imagine that this philosophical approach would make sense to many who have experienced spiritual insights engendered by psychedelics. Yet among Christians today--even among many Quakers--there is an attitude that God's word is primarily and best received from the Bible, rather than from first-hand revelations based on a personal relationship with Christ.
In 1971, as Bieberman searched for others who believed that direct communication with God was possible, she met Lawrence S. Kuenning at the New Swarthmoor community in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania. In 1972 they co-founded Publishers of Truth (later renamed the Friends of Truth), with the hope that they might inspire others to practice the approach that had been embraced by the early Quakers. In 1973 they were married, and Lisa Bieberman became Licia Kuenning.
In the summer of 1996, Licia says that she received a direct transmission from Christ so powerfully that, against her attempt to suppress the action, she found herself repeating it out loud: "Farmington is the new Jerusalem." She later came to believe that the date on which this prophecy would take effect was June 6, 2006. She went to some lengths to promote her eschatological revelation, taking out advertisements, sending e-mails, even renting billboard space to announce the good news.
The gist of what Licia says Christ told her was that, within a few years, God would establish a new order in the small town of Farmington, Maine. Once the change had occurred, within the municipal limits of Farmington there would be no more death or illness (the sick would get well), nor any crime or bad behavior, and this new state of affairs would last forever. The rest of the world would continue in the same manner that it had always operated. The new Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:2-4 would be in Farmington. Licia moved to Farmington, but shortly after--in what she describes as "a weak moment"--she agreed to return to Glenside, Pennsylvania, where she had been living with her husband Larry. Then in early 2005, Licia was again forcefully struck by what she felt was a direct communication from God, which repeated the message of the Farmington prophecy, entreating her to spread the word. As a means toward that end, Licia decided to produce a novel that she had been considering writting, based on the prophecy. She and Larry moved back to Farmington and, inspired as she worked, she felt as though Christ himself began to dictate the text. The result is her 480-page book Farmington! Farmington!
When the prophecy did not come to pass in 2006, Licia readily admitted that she had gotten the date wrong. However she has since expressed that this was merely human error on her part, and it does not invalidate the ultimate truth of the prophecy. She still professes her belief that Farmington will be the new Jerusalem.
Now in her 70s, Licia is an active member of the Quaker Studies Research Association. In addition, she and her husband run Quaker Heritage Press, where Licia works as an editor. They are well known for publishing reprints of classic Quaker texts. Licia also produces a newsletter called The Occasional Pussycat, which reports the latest goings-on with herself and the town of Farmington.