Rev. Niel Voigt
Niel Voigt, a Benedictine monk turned New Age mystic, had been preparing for a decade to GÇ£ascend,GÇ¥ to move through spiritual enlightenment to a place beyond this planet, leaving no body behind.When the San Diegan disappeared last April after participating in a GÇ£Power of OnenessGÇ¥ ceremony on Mount Shasta, his friends thought maybe it had finally happened. They were happy for him.But word came recently that Voigt's disappearance probably had a more earthly explanation. Human remains found not far from where he was last seen have been positively identified, through DNA testing, was his.The coroner is listing the cause of death as undetermined. He told family members he doesn't suspect foul play. Voigt was 75.Featured last July in a Union-Tribune article, Voigt cut a colorful swath through San Diego County after arriving here almost 30 years ago.Affiliated for a while with Prince of Peace abbey in Oceanside, he wore the Catholic collar uncomfortably. He was a rebel who thought women should be allowed into the priesthood. He once picketed a bishops' conference.He eventually left the church and immersed himself in Native American history and rituals. One of his favorite places was 4,000-foot Tecate Peak, called Kuuchamaa by local Indians, who consider it sacred. Tribal elders gave him permission to perform ceremonies there.Over the years, he made friends while participating in peace rallies, teaching community college classes in religion, leading dream-interpretation workshops. He drove an old mail truck hand-painted with slogans and sometimes dressed in mismatched socks, telling folks who noticed, GÇ£I have another pair just like it at home.GÇ¥GÇ£One of the hardest things in our culture these days is figuring out how to be yourself,GÇ¥ said John McNab, a friend. GÇ£Niel was himself. Always.GÇ¥Being himself got him kicked out of SeaWorld once. He thought a dolphin was sick and he tossed herbs into the pool. He also wore out his welcome at various friends' houses by offering unsolicited advice about this and that.GÇ£One of the problems in our society is that people don't care enough to be honest with each other,GÇ¥ another friend, Doris Faulkner, remembered him saying. GÇ£They just want to be liked.GÇ¥He went to Mount Shasta, favored by many for spiritual journeys, expecting finally to ascend. A few days after the ceremony, a friend went to Voigt's hotel room to pick him up for the bus ride back to San Diego, but he was gone.The disappearance set local New Age communities abuzz. There was chatter on the Internet that he had GÇ£crossed over.GÇ¥ Some of the people who had been with him on Shasta said they saw him GÇ£surrounded by spirits.GÇ¥Then, in early June, a hiker found bones not far from Voigt's hotel. Evidence at the scene, including a shirt and a knit cap, led investigators to believe the remains were probably his, but they wanted confirmation through DNA tests. They compared what they had with cheek swabs from two of his siblings.The test results came back late last month.GÇ£Some time ago, I probably accepted that it was him,GÇ¥ said Mary Voigt, his sister, who lives in Florida. GÇ£People always say they want closure, but it's still sad. He's gone, and I just have to believe he's where he wants to be, no matter how he got there.GÇ¥She said the remains will be cremated and eventually sent to San Diego for a ceremony on Mount Tecate. GÇ£He loved it there,GÇ¥ his sister said.Faulkner, who considered Voigt GÇ£one of the most brilliant people I've ever met,GÇ¥ went to the mountain recently and planted a liquidambar tree in Voigt's memory.She said the area where Voigt conducted his ceremonies GÇô setting out a circle of stones and beating on a drum to summon a native spirit he called Queen Diganda GÇô was burned in the October wildfires.Burned except for a few things he'd left behind the last time he was there, the odd remnants of an odd life: a plastic angel wing, a Christmas card and a ceramic dish.Story obtained from the San Diego Union-Tribune on 2/18/2008.