Saturday, January 23, 2010


When I was seventeen, it was a very good year.  Well, actually, it was an awful year—filled with angst, agony and a desperate search for Cosmic Answers—but it did lead me to an experience of the Divine—detailed, in slightly-fictionalized form, in Brooklyn Dreams—that profoundly altered my consciousness and forever changed my perception of myself, the universe and...well, everything.  That small taste of the the infinite plunged me into an even deeper exploration of All Things Spiritual, and, two years later,  that exploration led me to an Indian spiritual master named Avatar Meher Baba.  The story of my discovery of Meher Baba, and the soul-exploding impact he had on my life, will have to wait for another time.  What you need to know right now is that, for me, Meher Baba’s path isn't about rites and rituals, meditations and mantras, wearing special clothes, paying dues or attending regular meetings:  it’s about embracing the divinity at the core of all paths.  Most of all, it’s about a deeply personal inner connection to God.  (Which is a good thing, since I’m not very fond of groups.  Even today, when I have cherished Baba-companions all over the world, I generally steer clear of anything vaguely resembling formal meetings.  As Groucho Marx observed:  “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”)  From the night in 1973 when he first made his presence known to me, MB became the embodiment of the answers I’d been seeking:  spiritual guide, best friend, Self of all selves.  It didn’t matter that he’d passed away—or “dropped his body” as the Indians like to say—in 1969.  He was very much a living presence in my life and, more important, in my heart, nudging me along the path and, when nudging didn’t work, aiming an occasional boot at my ass. 

Now let’s jump ahead from 1973 to l985.  That was the year my twelve-issue graphic novel, Moonshadow, was published under Marvel’s Epic imprint.  Done in collaboration with a brilliant artist named Jon J Muth, Moon was, up to that point, the finest piece of creative work I’d ever been involved with.  It was my attempt to tell, with humor and, I hope, a bit of wisdom, the tale of a teenage boy’s spiritual awakening, the first giant step in his soul’s journey.  (You could say it was Brooklyn Dreams recast as intergalactic fantasy—although BD wouldn’t be published for another ten years.)  When a project turns out the way Moonshadow did, when it transcends my own self-imposed belief in what I can (or can’t) accomplish, it becomes clear that “I” have precious little to do with the work.  And that’s one of the reasons I dedicated the first issue of Moonshadow to Meher Baba (and to my father, who’d died six months before its publication):  the first time I’d ever done that. 

A year later Marvel published my graphic novel, Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa (co-plotted and beautifully illustrated by my old friend Dan Green).  As many of you know, Doctor Strange is a long-standing Marvel character, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko:  a spell-weaving mystic whose departed master was called the Ancient One.  (Strangely, Meher Baba sometimes referred to himself as the Ancient One.  I’ve often wondered if either Lee or Ditko knew something about MB and if my master somehow provided the name for Doc’s.)  Into Shamballa begins with Stephen Strange returning to the Ancient One’s Himalayan ashram on the anniversary of the master's death, where he discovers...well, here’s how the story's narrator put it:  “A gift from the Master, left by him—for you!—years before his passing, with instructions for its presentation on this day alone.”  The opening of that gift, the unlocking of its mysteries, transforms Stephen Strange’s life and, by the end of the story, the entire world.  It seemed fitting that I dedicate a story of cosmic adventure and spiritual transformation to Meher Baba...and so I did.

Now jump ahead to 1987.  It was another very wretched year.  I was in the process of a divorce that pretty much shredded my soul to pieces and, in the process, opened the gates of my unconscious, unleashing some fairly ferocious childhood demons that I’d spent most of my life avoiding.  (If my projects from this period—Kraven’s Last Hunt springs immediately to mind—seem especially dark, now you know why.)  But through it all, a part of me—the deepest part—held tight to Meher Baba:  to light and hope and the knowledge that there was much more to this dream than what it appeared to be.  In fact, after fourteen years with Baba, I was on my way—for the first time—to visit his Tomb-Shrine, on a hilltop in India.  Amazingly, I’d never been out of the country (aside from an afternoon in Tijuana in 1976) and so the upcoming solo journey—from my home in upstate New York to New York City,  NYC to Paris, Frankfurt to Mumbai (it was still called Bombay then), Mumbai to Pune (which was then called Poona), Pune to Meherabad,
Meher Baba’s ashram, just outside a small city called Ahmednagar—was both an exciting and unnerving one.

I hadn’t slept much the night before I left—I was too excited—and by the time our New York flight landed in Frankfurt, I was deep-fried and crispy.  Changing planes for the Frankfurt-Bombay leg, I noticed that most of my fellow passengers were Indian.  (This may not sound surprising to you, or to me looking back, but, for some reason, this fact surprised and astounded me at the time.)  There were just a few Westerners on board—I took special notice of one couple, drawn, for some reason, by the woman’s big, floppy hat—but, lost in my own amazed, bewildered and desperately exhausted brain, I didn’t make any contact with them. 

We got into Bombay around two in the morning and I had a connecting flight to Poona six or seven hours later.  Instead of killing time at a recommended hotel, the Centaur (where, I later learned, some of those same Westerners, including the lady with the floppy hat and her husband, were waiting for their morning flight), I took a shuttle through the nearby slums and passed another sleepless night in the sweltering domestic airport, feeling like an insecure and ugly American.  The next morning, I found myself sitting on a small, propeller-driven plane next to Mrs. Floppy Hat’s husband.  Despite the fact that we were, again, among the few Westerners on an otherwise all-Indian Bombay-Poona flight, we didn’t say a single word to each other.  Not even a nod or a muttered hello.  

I noticed that Mr. Floppy Hat was busy taking pictures of the rain storm outside.  “Hmmm,” I decided, “anyone who takes pictures of the rain must be a professional photographer.”  (That’s a huge leap in logic, I know, but the combination of sleep-deprivation, moving through multiple time-zones and, possibly, divine intervention made it seem hugely plausible to me.)  After hearing him mention a previous trip to India to his wife, I assumed that Mr. Photographer was there on assignment—perhaps taking pictures for some travel magazine—and sank back into my state of neurotic, sleepless lunacy.

After we landed, off I went, into the colorful madness that is Poona—it was my first view of India in the daylight and I might as well have landed on Mars—where I found that another recommended hotel, the Blue Diamond, was filled up for a month.  I took this as an indication that I should plunge on, so I hopped a rickshaw to the nearest cab stand and hired a taxi to take me on to Ahmednagar.   (The photographer and his wife, I later learned, spent the night at—where else?—the Hotel Blue Diamond.  They obviously had the sense to make a reservation.)  When, some hours later, I reached the Meher Baba Trust office in ‘Nagar—my consciousness roughly the consistency of broken glass—I found that, since I’d arrived a day earlier than expected, there was no room for me at the nearby Meher Pilgrim Center (where visitors to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine often stay).  I was packed off to a place called Viloo’s Villa, run by an old disciple of Baba’s, where I was well-fed and sent off to bed:  I slept like death.

The next day I threw my bag in a rickshaw and rattled out to Meherabad, where I checked in at the Pilgrim Center.  After walking up the hill to pay my respects at Meher Baba’s Tomb (in my experience, one of the most spiritually powerful—and profoundly magical—places on the planet), I returned to my room to settle in.  (It was a double, which was a relief; some of the rooms slept six and I don’t do well with crowds, especially at bed time.)  A little while later, my roommate walked in the door.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing:  it was Mr. Photographer—whose name, I learned, was Bill Gibson.  Talk about bizarre coincidences:  all that traveling time without talking to each other and it turned out we were headed for the same destination.  Not only that, we ended up in the same room.  (I later learned that, on the plane from Bombay, Bill assumed I was going off to an ashram in Poona—one that had a somewhat controversial reputation—and decided it would be best not to talk to me.  He even noticed a small Meher Baba button on my bag, but, for some reason, assumed I was a devotee of the Poona guru...disguised as a follower of Meher Baba.  Sounds absurd—and it is—but Meher Baba, who has a well-developed sense of humor, clearly didn’t want us talking to each other...yet.)

We had a laugh about our situation as Bill began to unpack.  Out came his shirts, socks, pants and underwear—followed by all twelve issues of Moonshadow and a copy of Doctor Strange:  Into Shamballa.  I saw it, but it simply didn’t register—in fact, it felt as if my brain had imploded, then exploded, then imploded again.  I wouldn’t have been more stunned if Bill had pulled out a framed photo of my mother.  I looked one more time, just to make sure this wasn’t an acid flashback or a hallucination created by my time-warped senses, and then, with all the calm at my command, shrieked like a banshee:  “What are you doing with that?!  Where did you get that?!”  Bill—perhaps thinking he was sharing his room with an escaped maniac (which, in a way, he was)—looked at me blankly.  “I wrote those books!” I wailed.

And that’s when I learned that a friend of Bill and Denise’s (Denise was Bill’s wife, the woman with the arresting hat) back home in Denver had come across Moonshadow and Shamballa and, noting the dedications, wrote to Eruch Jessawalla—one of Meher Baba’s closest disciples—to tell him about it.  Eruch, intrigued, asked the friend if he could collect the comics together and send them off to the Trust office in India.  (No one at Meherazad, where MB’s surviving disciples lived, knew anything about me or my literary career.  I’d been involved with Meher Baba’s path for well over a decade, but I’d kept pretty much to myself.  Despite retreat time spent at the Meher Spiritual Center in South Carolina, I wasn’t plugged-in to the global Meher Baba community.)  So Bill’s friend did as he was asked but, rather than mail the comics, he gave them to Bill, who just “happened” to be traveling to Meherabad at the same time as the author of those comics; just “happened” to be traveling on the same planes with said author; just “happened” to end up in the same room.

Call it cosmic synchronicity or, as I prefer, God’s grace—but it was an astonishing event.  A day or so later, when a group of us staying at the Pilgrim Center took a bus to Meherazad to visit with Eruch and several other of MB’s close companions, the guy who didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member found himself very publicly presenting the comics to Eruch, posing beside him while Bill, of course, stood nearby taking pictures.  Given my somewhat reclusive nature, given the kind of wretched year I was having, I would have spent the next few weeks hanging out on the fringes of Meherabad life.  This “coincidence” brought me right into the middle of things and, for the first time, into the loving embrace of my Baba family.  I was welcomed home in a way that I could never have imagined.  It was as if Meher Baba, with loving attention, had orchestrated every detail.

That would have been enough to sustain me for the rest of my visit, but there was one more comic book miracle to come.  While staying at the Pilgrim Center, I met the lawyer for the Avatar Meher Baba Trust, a guy named Jack Small, and we quickly became buddies.  (It didn’t hurt that Jack was a fellow comic book geek.  He was delighted when, a year or so later, he ended up in the pages of DC’s Doctor Fate as a beleaguered supporting character.)  One day Jack showed up in my room with a treasure:  a small package of prasad (prasad is a gift, often a piece of fruit, given directly by the master to his disciples; said to carry the seed of his love.  Eating prasad is literally eating grace), in the form of crushed orange candies.  But this was very special prasad; put aside, I learned—reading the typewritten sheet that was presented to me—by Meher Baba himself, years before, for his lovers of the future, knowing the precise moment when each heart would need, and receive, it.  Sound familiar?  It was exactly like the mysterious gift that the Ancient One left for Doctor Strange.  “A gift from the master...left by him—for you!—years before his passing, with instructions for its presentation on this day alone.”  (And, before you ask, no—I’d never heard anything about this secret stash of MB’s prasad.  It was news to me.)  

There I was, living out my own version of Strange’s journey, receiving my own predestined gift, walking inside my own story.  I didn’t understand it, but I accepted that gift with incredible gratitude.  

The two weeks that followed—and the seven trips back to India that I’ve taken over the years—were filled with that kind of soul-opening enchantment.  I could write a book about those journeys, and maybe one day I will; but the reason I’m writing about this now isn’t to convince anybody to become a follower of Meher Baba.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter if you call the God-We-All-Are Meher Baba, Jesus, Divine Mother, Krishna, Fred, Ethel or if you believe in God at all.  I’m writing this to remind you, to remind me, that whether you’re on a hill in India or sitting in your own living room, the line between Storyteller and story, between so-called fantasy and so-called reality, is an illusion.  The borders that separate the possible from the impossible are nothing but a dream.  This life we’re all living is magic:  rich with synchronicities, miracles and, most important of all, love beyond imagining.

©copyright 2010  J.M. DeMatteis


  1. JM, this story is just phenominal. I just forwarded it along to a few of my friends to read as well. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Side note: I gave my cousin a copy of Brooklyn Dreams for Christmas this year.

    Thanks again, - Jamie

  2. Hi Marc....what a marvelous story....Thanks for sharing.....I'm gonna' share's wonderful.....JMB!....Dennis

  3. Very glad you enjoyed it, Jamie. And equally glad you gave your cousin a copy of BD. Let me know what he (or she) thought.

  4. JMB right back at you, Dennis. And remember: you are not an air-o-plane. (Of course, if this isn't the Dennis I think it is, you're not going to have a clue what that meant.)

  5. haha....yeah it's me.....I think..

  6. Well, if you don't know, Dennis, nobody does!

  7. Great story, JM. Bravo. Encore, encore.

    NIce site design, too.

  8. Very cool. Thanks for sharing. :)

  9. Thanks, Tom. Much appreciated.

    Much as I'd like to take credit for the site design, it's a template provided by Google. Easy as pie!

  10. Hi Marc,

    Well, Dennis did share this and so here I am! Was just thinking about you too. Our Aussie friends just left moments ago, after having visited with you guys. (I was in the Majnun & Laila play with two of them back in 2006.)

    Also, I just had a dream of visiting at your home day before yesterday. Also, as my darling Z reminds me, we had some of the same prasad courtesy of the late M. Palmer, along with a painting by the late Master Ott.

    Small world!

    Thanks for sharing this delightful, multilayered story of the kind we know so well.

    All the best to you and your family,

  11. Hey, Tony, nice to hear from you. Interesting that you had a dream about being at my house...I guess it was stimulated by the visiting Aussies.

    I don't recall the Mark Palmer prasad -- which doesn't mean it didn't happen! -- but I definitely don't own an Ott painting. I do have a huge Wodin in my living room, though.

    Hope all is very well with you and yours!

  12. Beautiful. This makes me want to document my own spiritual experiences.

    Thanks Mr. DeMatteis!

  13. Fascinating, I have so much to say, but later. however I have listed a response to your previous post.

    Wishing you nothing, but goodwill and hipness from here to the stars,

  14. You should document them, Nicholas. It's sometimes too easy (for me, anyway) to forget how amazing and magical this dance through illusion really is, so the little reminders we all leave each other along the way are incredibly helpful.

  15. And, as always, Jack, good will and hipness right back at you.

  16. They do creep in to my work a little. However, when the time comes to truly tell my spiritual tale (even if I do it in fiction) I want it to be done right.

  17. I encourage you to write your story, Nicholas.

    I've often found that writing fiction is a better way of communicating these experiences. Since I find the world so incredibly fantastic, so far beyond the so-called "real," a "fantasy" tale can be a great vehicle.

  18. Very cool story! Speaking of fantasy as a vehicle for communicating experience, this adds a whole new dimension to my reading of BATMAN: ABSOLUTION-- a story where God's grace manifests itself literally to Batman in an Indian rainshower.



  19. Alright man. You've convinced me.

    It was easy, but you put me over the edge.

    Look for a light-filled spiritual comic book in the near future. I'm sure it'll drive my collaborator/artist nuts. He's an atheist of the strongest sort. And despite my belief in a crazy little faith known as "mormonism" we get along just fine. Wow, there is hope for humanity yet :)

  20. Glad you picked up on that, David: a number of people misread the last section of ABSOLUTION, not noticing that moment of grace, or the soul transformation Batman went through. You, clearly, are not one of them.

  21. There is DEFINITELY hope, Nicholas.

    I look forward to seeing your work when you're ready to share it with the world!

  22. Read this earlier this morning JM, stuck with me, figured I'd throw in my 2 cents and say great story. Serendipity, things happen for a reason, etc. While not a firm beliver in all things spiritual, there are things that seem to be more than just a coincidence. The fact that you can put it all together in a well told story doesn't hurt either. Did you sign the books for Eruch? :) The real stories are as, if not more, interesting than the fantasy ones. Thanks JM.

  23. You bet. It may take some time, but I'll hit you up when the project comes around.

  24. If memory serves, Ken, I did indeed sign the books (but it's been more than twenty years, so I can't swear to it).

    As I've said before, and I'll surely say again, in my experience, the line between so-called reality and so-called fantasy is a thin one, if it exists at all. Life IS fantastic, magical, surreal, transcendent.

    That said, I've found, with some exceptions (Dostoyevsky springs immediately to mind), that the clearest way to express the wonder of this world is through tales of the fantastic. THE TWILIGHT ZONE is a truer portrayal of life (as I experience it) than most works work of modern, "realistic" fiction.

  25. Hello JM,

    I found your post, and this blog, by scouring the internet for Steve Ditko/Dr. Strange minutiae!

    Well, looks like Fate had a bit of a hand my surfing. What a wonderfully fantastic story. And like all great, fantastic experiences in our lives, all true. It's always uplifting to me to hear about such spiritual journey's as you've undertaken, and so clearly illustrated here.

    While my spirituality may take a different form altogether from your own, I still find the similar threads in all our life experiences connect us in some Grand Way.

    Well, I want to pick up your INTO SHAMBALLA and MOONSHADOW books (shame on me for not picking them up the first time!). Like many, I enjoyed your Marvel work, particularly on Spider-Man, but I certainly want to read these other books as well.

    I'll be following your blog and see what type of 'semi-regular musings' you share here!


    Javier Hernandez

  26. The way the internet leads us to places we never expected to go could be a graphic novel in itself, Javier. And quite a nice metaphor for the way life works.

    Glad you fell through the rabbit hole and landed here and I hope you check back in when the spirit wills. And I very much hope you enjoy SHAMBALLA and MOONSHADOW when you get around to reading them. All the very best -- JMD

  27. The internet provides an excellent opportunity, as a song says, to "travel without traveling."


  28. You're right, David, and sometimes we get on a cyber-plane and end up at a destination that's completely surprising.

  29. That's certainly the way it's worked for me. It's opened up opportunities to interact with so many wonderful people that I never could have imagined ten years ago.

    And now I know to keep an eye out for Nicholas' project!


  30. J.M. - I have only just read this essay of yours, so not sure if you will see this response.

    "But through it all, a part of me—the deepest part—held tight to Meher Baba" This line rang out to me as the same message at the end of your Spectacular Spider-Man "Child Within" story, about a darkness deep within, but also below that a deeper part that concentrated on the good. That message has always resonated with me, especially when I first read it while dealing with depression.

    I now see that what caused you to write that message was the trauma you had recently been going through, and I want to thank you for doing the best thing that someone can do in response to trauma, which is passing on any wisdom gained from it to others, and improving their lives with that wisdom.

    1. You're incredibly welcome. And deep thanks for your kind, heartfelt words. (Whoever you are!)

    2. The deep thanks are all mine! You wrote or co-wrote many of the classics of my youth, both in humour and thoughtfulness (Justice League, Spider-Man, Dr. Fate, Moonshadow, Captain America, the Defenders and many more...) and I'm glad I get the opportunity to thank you for them.

      I drifted away from comics for a while but have recently started picking up your more recent work and am enjoying it greatly. Thanks again!