Friends recall spirit of GJ’s New Age link
Remembering Marilyn Grasso Ferguson
Who knew that behind the liquid-brown eyes of Grand Junction High School class of 1955 senior Marilyn Grasso was the flicker of curiosity that would ignite the New Age movement?
Not cousin Wayne Bechthold of Grand Junction. But he does recall childhood summer vacations spent with a spirited gaggle of cousins who would slip mysterious notes under a rock on their grandparents’ front porch at 13th Street and Chipeta Avenue.
“The ghost gang was here,” they would sign, teasingly.
Cousin Kim Bechthold of Boulder remembers Marilyn’s sense of wonder. “She had a great awe of everything,” Kim said. “There wasn’t anything that wasn’t either amazing or wonderful or special.”
It was that awe that led Marilyn Grasso Ferguson to explore and assimilate research from alternative, emerging fields such as holistic medicine, parapsychology and whole-brain learning.
Starting in the 1970s, in books and a long-running newsletter, she translated research into layman’s terms and found herself at the center of a network of people interested in new ways of approaching science and spirituality.
Ferguson, noted author and public speaker, died at the age of 70 from an apparent heart attack at her Banning, Calif., home on Oct. 19.
She left a legacy of influence that includes former California Gov. Jerry Brown, former Vice President Al Gore and Indian physician and author Deepak Chopra.
“She was a one-woman movement for hope,” Chopra wrote in a column headlined “Marilyn Ferguson: An Appreciation” at beliefnet.com. “She promised every voice in the wilderness that there were a thousand other voices like theirs.”
Ferguson was whip-smart, recalled everything she read or heard and discerned connections among seemingly disparate fields of study, Kim Bechthold said.
“Of course it wasn’t my cousin who changed the world. It was my cousin who told us and told us how we could be part of it.”
For a career built upon writing about the mysteries of the human mind, Ferguson’s roots were decidedly terrestrial.
She was the daughter of Luke Michael Grasso, whose father was Italian immigrant Nunzio Grasso. The Grassos for three generations were celebrated stone masons whose work still stands in western Colorado, including the visitors center of Colorado National Monument, Sacred Heart Church in Fruita and the clubhouse at Lincoln Park.
Ferguson’s father also was a talented pianist, playing in a dance band for many years.
Her mother, Helen Bauer Grasso, was a homemaker, exceptional seamstress and savvy businesswoman who managed the family’s properties and operated an antique business.
Ferguson received an associate’s degree from Mesa College and reported for The Daily Sentinel while a co-ed. She studied psychology at the University of Colorado and began a writing career that included publishing poems and short stories, and free-lancing for Time magazine.
Her first book was “Champagne Living on a Beer Budget,” co-written in 1968 with then-husband Michael Ferguson.
Ferguson’s 1980 book “The Aquarian Conspiracy” has been called the “bible” of the New Age movement, but there were earlier footfalls along that path to exploration of human potential.
As Ferguson explained in the introduction to “The Aquarian Conspiracy,” her 1973 book “The Brain Revolution: The Frontiers of Mind Research” was one of the first attempts of such synthesis. It established her as an “unofficial clearinghouse for researchers who saw the implications of their findings, individuals wanting to compare notes, and media people looking for background on the burgeoning interest in consciousness.”
Ferguson was a founding member of the Association of Humanistic Psychology and
published the science newsletter “Brain/Mind Bulletin” from 1975 to 1996. It was files of leftover notes for the newsletter that coalesced into “The Aquarian Conspiracy.”
The title was inspired by the dawning of the Aquarian age at the setting of the Piscean age, known astrologically for its violence.
Aquarian, in contrast, was to be a “millennium of love and light,” Ferguson wrote. “Whether or not it was written in the stars, a different age seems to be upon us.”
The word conspiracy was selected for its literal meaning of conspire, “to breathe together.”
Weaved throughout the book, Ferguson cites not only scientists, but economists, philosophers, poets, even science-fiction writers.
Chopra wrote of that book’s effect: “Reagan was on the rise, the anti-war movement had sunk to a low ebb, and the New Age was barely christened when ‘The Aquarian Conspiracy’ appeared in 1980. Overnight Marilyn Ferguson’s book became famous and sold in the millions. I was a young doctor who had just learned to meditate when I picked up a dog-eared paperback copy at a Catskill spiritual retreat. Ferguson’s message shot through me like electricity: a ‘benign conspiracy’ was bringing about the greatest shift in consciousness in the twentieth century. In one stroke Ferguson unified a movement that seemed like small, isolated outposts on the fringes of respectable society. ... Ferguson helped make possible a new style of politician like Barack Obama.”
Mary O’Gara of Albuquerque, N.M. is an astrologer and writer who while living in Grand Junction from 1987 to 1991 taught tarot and numerology classes at Crystal Books & Gifts, 439 Main St.
“I think probably for many of us, Ferguson’s book told us about other pieces of the puzzle that we didn’t know about,” O’Gara said.
Much of the studies cited from the frontiers of science in 1980 is now mainstream: touch therapy in health care, parental bonding with newborns, learning as a process rather than a product, recycling and conservation of resources.
She followed with “Aquarian Now” in 2005.
Kim Bechthold said Ferguson was “very genuine, very unassuming.”
Rather than be starstruck: “She just thought that it was delightful that all these impressive people were talking to her. She just thought it was all magical, but she never took on any sort of persona that she was special. She was absolutely always herself.”
Marilyn Grasso Ferguson was born in Grand Junction on April 5, 1938. She was preceded in death by her parents and her brothers, James Michael Grasso and Norman Frederick Grasso.
In addition to her cousins in Colorado and elsewhere, Ferguson is survived by her three children: Eric Ferguson, Kristin Ferguson Smith and Lynn Lewis.
A celebration of her life is planned for Jan. 24 in Los Angeles.
Cousin Diana Wythe of Grand Junction said of Ferguson, “She had a lot of very wonderful ideas, but she also had a really wonderful way of connecting with people.”
Ferguson concluded “Aquarian Conspiracy” with: “Awakening brings its own assignments, unique to each of us, chosen by each of us. Whatever you may think about yourself and however long you may have thought it, you are not just you. You are a seed, a silent promise.
You are the conspiracy.”