All photos by Amir Magal
More stories about religion: Strip club church / A controversial statue of Satan / Jesus lives! (in Siberia)Sitting in the heart of Venice Beach, California, is a church one block away from the iconic Gold's Gym and a stone's throw from the new Google offices. The building represents the neighborhood's storied history with religion—it once housed a standard Protestant congregation before becoming a Hare Krishna temple and, later, a new age brand of Christian fundamentalism. But in May, the property gained a new and very peculiar occupant. Hollywood actor Andrew Keegan—best known for his role in the 90s film 10 Things I Hate About You—leased the building to start his own new age temple and spiritual movement called Full Circle. The church now has a growing body of followers, some of whom have dedicated their lives to his mission.
Videos by Brett MazurekWhen I visited the church, I was greeted at the door by a man who said his name was Third Eye. He quickly introduced me to the community pet Krishna, a giant talking parrot. Third Eye explained that he was part of the "inner circle," composed of eight core members, all of whom are led by the founder Andrew Keegan. All the members are "enlightened" and have come together to initiate change. While they are cooperative, Keegan is the official leader who has, as Third Eye put it, the "ultimate say on all things."I met the rest of the inner circle, who told me they believed I came through the "vortex" created by Keegan's energy (in some ways, that's not entirely incorrect). A member of the group named Stav introduced himself to me, noting that he grew up with Keegan's 10 Things I Hate About You co-star Heath Ledger in Perth, Western Australia. He made sure to tell me about this connection while also rattling off the names of famous surfers, Victoria's Secret models, and sports stars, as well as other Hollywood celebrities, whom he's "tight with." Stav is a member of the inner circle and is not ashamed to let his worship of celebrity be known.
They described their movement as "advanced spiritualism" or "the highest spiritualism founded on universal knowledge." When I pressed them about what exactly that meant, Third Eye said something about cosmic energy and ayahuasca.
Later, Third Eye invited me to attend a special evening of music at the church, where I met Keegan and his girlfriend, Leah. She hugged me, while Keegan gave me a complicated brother-man series of handshake maneuvers before drawing me into an embrace. Venice Beach's burner community was out in full force for the evening, wearing their desert-inspired Lord of the Rings costumes. Everyone came to see new age musician Nahko Bear, but he couldn't make it. Instead, some local artists were asked to take the stage and sing songs about cutting up their credit cards and using mantras to pay their bills. This was only one of the many events Keegan threw that week—from concerts and political gatherings for new age self-help gurus (viz. Marianne Williamson's bid for congress), to sit-ins and workshops on the latest colon cleanse.We stepped outside so Keegan and Leah could smoke American Spirits, and they told me that their goal is to promote the individual becoming truly themselves outside of defined boundaries. The actor was wearing a pork pie hat and an Indian scarf; his girlfriend was adorned in a white silk kimono."Synchronicity. Time. That's what it's all about. Whatever, the past, some other time. It's a circle; in the center is now. That's what it's about," Keegan explained, regarding the church's name, Full Circle.A few weeks later, I sat down with Keegan after one of his Sunday services. The meditation at the service had involved water crystals, which participants used to focus their energy to bring an ending to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. "We're very, very aware of the shift that's happening in the mind and the heart, and everybody is on that love agenda," Keegan told me after the ceremony. "We're very much scientifically, spiritually, and emotionally aware of how it works, meaning that there's power in the crystals, there's power in our hearts, there's an alignment, there's a resonance… and it transfers through water."
Like many religious converts, Keegan's spiritual transformation came after a traumatic experience. The actor said he was first awakened on March 11, 2011, when he and two friends were attacked by what he describes as gang members in Venice Beach. One of them pulled a gun on his manager, and after a full-on brawl, Keegan had to go to the hospital for stitches. "The significance of this occurrence is that it happened at the same time the tsunami hit Japan," Keegan said. He then related this incident to a series of odd events, which he believes play a large role in how "synchronicity" brought him to realize his true calling."I had a moment where I was looking at a street lamp and it exploded. That was a weird coincidence," he said. "At a ceremony, a heart-shaped rose quartz crystal was on the altar, and synchronistically, this whole thing happened. It's a long story, but basically the crystal jumped off the altar and skipped on camera. That was weird." Keegan explain that these were some of the incidents that led him to conclude that "the mission is to take the war out of our story, which is essentially peace, but activated peace."
While Third Eye and his fellow members see Keegan as a visionary and a leader, the actor said his community is not cultish. "I very much speak what comes through [while] in the collective. We create a resonance of balance and equality of the crew," he explained. "When you feel those chakras aligned, there's guided messaging coming in. If there is something of spiritual ego within that, it must not exist." His followers assert that each core member has a "lot of creative latitude" in the community, but in the end, the star has the ultimate say in the decision-making process.
The shift in Keegan's ambitions—from stardom to spirituality—shows how the culture of celebrity is not all that far off from religion. Hollywood is an industry focused on manufacturing deities, personae to be both revered and reviled, just to make a buck, like every religion in the history of the world has done. Celebrities enamor us and hold us captive in the haloed glow of their Instagram filters, whether it is Kim K's latest "belfie" or the Platonic ideal of family life represented by Brangelina. When Kanye West declares himself a "god," it means something, because in the modern world, celebrity is god. The special worship Keegan received on the bedroom walls of high school girls in his youth is an overt form of deification. And so Keegan's transfiguration from teen heartthrob to spiritual guru is not only unsurprising but maybe even expected.Andrew Keegan in his most famous roleTo be sure, Keegan is not the first celebrity to get mixed up in the business of cultivating new religions. Los Angeles has been at the epicenter of various new religious movements since the inception of Hollywood. Aimee Semple McPherson gave Pentecostalism a boost with the help of some old Hollywood magic, counting members like Charlie Chaplin, Milton Berle, and Anthony Quinn, who also played sax in the church's choir. More recently, Hollywood has seen the rise of Scientology (a true celebrity religion) and the Kundalini movement started by Yogi Bhajan, which has its biggest center in Los Angeles and boasts followers such as Demi Moore and Gerard Butler.Celebrity religious figures like Tom Cruise (a saint in Scientology), Jim Carrey, and David Lynch are all vocal advocates for Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the Pet Detective even went viral with a recent "spiritual talk"), and there's a slew of celebrities who have adopted pseudo-spiritual babble (like Gwyneth Paltrow's "conscious uncoupling").We can now add Andrew Keegan to the top of that list. But his spiritual ambitions are currently in jeopardy, as the building his church is housed in went on auction on August 10, which could potentially affect his lease agreement. He is unsure if he can win the bidding war in the rapidly gentrified neighborhood of Venice Beach. Keegan's budding movement is about to receive its biggest test, one that challenges the core tenets of his philosophy—the power thought has to move the world.Follow Shyam Dodge and Shanrah Wakefield on Twitter.