After six years of research, Paul Tutwiler compiles an extensive text on local spirituality
When the rains hit on Jan. 4, in that memorable recent storm that knocked out power lines across the county, I thought I’d try to interview someone up in Bonny Doon. Dumb idea. Fighting the rain and torrential winds on Highway 1, I eventually made my way onto Bonny Doon Road, only to be turned around by a giant tree crossing—the ultimate speed bump. Outside, the weather seemed strangely divine, as if God was maybe speaking to us—loudly. The journey also had that otherworldly feeling to it—the spiritual sense of the weather, joined by the man I was supposed to interview—Paul Tutwiler, a former Catholic priest and the writer of a spiritually dense and fascinating e-book, “Santa Cruz Spirituality.”
Tutwiler’s noteworthy writing accomplishment can be found at santacruzspirituality.net—it’s a huge online tome, detailing e-pages after e-pages of the history of spirituality in Santa Cruz County, as well as offering up a brief glimpse at every church, temple and spiritually focused institution or movement in the area. It’s a remarkable literary feat, and one that took him six years to finish—with no major obstacles (like a giant tree) to prevent him from arriving at his destination.
A week later, the weather has lifted, and I’m free to visit with Tutwiler in his charming home in the Bonny Doon area. The 78-year-old Tutwiler greets me outside and we find cozy seats indoors not far from a gas fireplace, which provides warmth from the chilly outdoors.
He points to a rocking chair and explains that it gets little attention: Tutwiler and his wife hardly spend time in it—they’re often out and about doing various projects, like the one that Tutwiler shows me—the printed version of his book. In 300 bound pages, Tutwiler has uncovered piles upon piles of spiritual history in our community.
There’s the Spirit Fruit Society, “a Utopian community that started in Ohio in 1890 and moved to Illinois, then to Soquel in 1915,” Tutwiler says. The household of people lived on a farm near the high school until their sect—an independent group associating themselves with Christianity—died out.
There’s text about the traditional houses of worship like Santa Cruz Bible Church and Twin Lakes Church, which Tutwiler gives a little history on and explains their denominational roots. Then there’s the endless list of Catholic and Protestant churches, including every type of denomination from Baptists to Methodists to Pentecostals and Charismatics, and on and on. He covers Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and all the other well-known religious groups here in town, and then Tutwiler also takes us into the realm of those lesser known, like the “Magick Family.”
Those who fall into this category might be the Pagans, Satanists or Wiccans. Tutwiler touches on these groups, often with small stories about their history and he also provides explanations for what each group is about and believes in. For example, he goes into depth about what the term “Shaman” means: The shaman is a human person who asserts that he has the power to leave his body and enter into the world of the spirits who affect us in the guise of the forces of nature and of supernatural powers for good or evil. Tutwiler then offers up two institutions in town that are Shaman focused—Dance of the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies in Capitola, and Sanctuary of Illumination in Aptos.
And while groups such as Satanists may cause some to wince and worry, Tutwiler treats everyone equally in his e-book. (By the way, his research dug up that the Karnak Grotto of the Church of Satan, an offshoot of a San Francisco group, was here and gone in 1973.)
“I treat everybody with respect,” he says of the various spiritual organizations mentioned in his book. “All these groups are trying to say, ‘What’s out there?’ ‘What name do I give it?’ ‘How do I approach it?’”
For Tutwiler, he has found his own version of answers to these questions through a unique spiritual journey—one that eventually led to him writing this book. “There’s more,” he says, summing up what he believes in, spiritually speaking. “I am convinced philosophically that the human mind has its limits. There are things we don’t know. We shouldn’t pretend we know everything. … There’s more than you and me sitting here. People try to put a name on it. I don’t try to put a name on it anymore—that’s all.”
But there was a time when he did have a name for ‘it.’ For Tutwiler, his spiritual pilgrimage began long, long ago. At age 19 Tutwiler left his home of Wisconsin and moved to Rome to complete his studies in the Catholic priesthood and get a doctorate degree in philosophy. He became ordained at age 25 and stayed in Rome for five more years. By age 30, he returned to the United States and continued his work with an order called Servants of the Sick, whose sole purpose was to furnish nursing and spiritual care to the sick.
By age 40, he left the priesthood, the church and his Catholic faith. This all happened in 1970, “when the gates of knowledge were open,” Tutwiler says. Fundamentally, he was no longer able to accept the authority that was issued by the Pope. “There are people who walk the line and say maybe he’s wrong. That’d be alright if you were a lay person, but a priest can’t do that.”
From there, Tutwiler’s life radically shifted in a new direction. Not only did his spiritual studies broaden, but his career path was also markedly different. He went from being a priest to working as a security guard to a job as a college advisor, which led into teaching at the university level. In the mix, he married, adopted his wife’s children, later divorced and then remarried to his now current wife, Miriam Beams. In 1991, the couple moved to California and in 1996 they settled in the beautiful mountainous area of Bonny Doon.
Not ones to spend time in the rocking chair, the couple became active in various local groups including Researchers Anonymous, an organization that functions out of Santa Cruz’s Museum of Art & History. Members of this group get together once a month and exchange ideas about history, Tutwiler explains.
“I thought, ‘What if I did the history of spirituality?’” he says. “I had unique qualifications for that, so I proposed that to the group six years ago.”
From there, he pored over books, microfiche and records; he visited churches, libraries and museums, and spent a hefty amount of time compiling what turned out to be a comprehensive look at the history of spirituality in our community.
Now, the book is online—it’s a format that Tutwiler prefers, costing him nothing to create, and costing the public nothing to read it.Paul Tutwiler’s book can be read at santacruzspirituality.net .