I used to be afraid of having my smug little syda fantasy life destroyed.
I heard about things I refused to investigate. I hid behind the lie that my
own inner experiences validated and exonerated syda and its gurus. What was
I hiding from? What were we all hiding from when we put on our blinders
along with our rudraksha beads?
I think I was hiding from my vulnerability. Syda seemed to offer me a path
to invulnerability, to a fantastic and infantile vision of safety. Having
rejected syda, I find myself returning to personhood, becoming a regular
person again. Does this seem familiar?
This is how I see it: We have descended from the high mountains of
discipleship and supreme attainment, and where have we arrived? We have
arrived at our brokenness, our human frailty, our flawed natures, our
weakness. We have arrived at our vulnerability, the same vulnerability which
once led us blindly into betrayal and humiliation. But that was because we
were afraid of our vulnerability and we were running away from it. This time
we have arrived at our vulnerability in acceptance of it.
What was all that nonsense about putting on the broad smile of the fantasy
Why did I think I needed to dress up my limping psyche in the royal
colors of the magic kingdom and the phony pride of denial?
appeared to be a fortress which would protect me forever from my
vulnerability. After all those years I am discovering that my vulnerability
needs me to accept it, not to run from it, or destroy it, or transcend it.
It now seems to me that this understanding unlocked the gate which held me
inside syda long after my inner voice told me to leave.
It is natural to view a cult with suspicion or as spurious if you are an outsider. The uninformed outsider will not share the feelings nor appreciate the aesthetic appeal, the language, and the meaning behind the devotion. The outsider may even experience revulsion. The scholar and the journalist may strive to appreciate the phenomenon of a cult aesthetically and historically with no intent to convert or “go native.” However, the natives or members of a cult experience a range of satisfying sensual and intellectual responses to ritual and dogma. Satisfying may not always mean entirely pleasurable, for example, in fire walking or fasting and end times myths or demon attack. Satisfaction comes from knowing that even unpleasant revelations and practices augment personal enlightenment or planetary salvation.
Faith provides enjoyment, but suspicion or doubt increases anxiety in the devotee. To sustain homeostasis in devotion, aesthetic judgment must adjust to the demands of the faith. If cults have aesthetic features that enhance their attractiveness, then members will adapt to these features. In other words, to belong to a cult requires certain adaptations and restrictions of aesthetic judgment in the devotee.
CUT viewed colors as aspects of cosmic “rays” of energy, some of which elevated consciousness while others trapped awareness in lower states. The color aided in one’s ascension or hindered it. For example, ascension-aiding rays were white/purity, yellow/intelligence, blue/god power, green/supply and health, pink/love, rose/deeper love, and violet/purification. The cult avoided black, brown, silver, gray, checkered or patterned colors, red, and muddy shades. The latter colors polluted the energy of the “lower bodies” or physical self composed of earth, air, fire and water. Classical music, certain hymns, Hindu bhajans, and chanted CUT decrees were good sounds but rock music, jazz, rap, and country music were deleterious. Gold jewelry could touch the skin but not silver. Silver as gray energy was too intellectual and lacked love. An organic, raw food diet was best when I was involved but basic vegetarianism was required. Sex was for procreation only and performed only after certain decrees or mantras. Celibacy was better. Sleeping was better metaphysically if on the back with right leg crossed over left and hands over the solar plexus.
In CUT teaching, certain environments like taverns and rock concerts contained dark forces called entities that could attach to one’s “aura” (a kind of personal force field). Newspapers, movies and television shows bombarded the devotee with psychic pollution. Nicotine, alcoholic drinks, sugar, chocolate, and all drugs could cause an entity or demon to lodge in one’s aura. CUT teachings chided devotees to avoid all negative thoughts, argument, anger, fear, jealousy, lust, doubt, and thoughts of feeling sick or crazy. Men’s hair length should not touch the collar and almost all the CUT men were clean-shaven. Modern or abstract art was not good, but realistic religious art enhanced one’s consciousness—Picasso, Camille Pisarro and Jackson Pollock were out while Raphael, Gustav Doré and Roerich were in. Cult teaching invaded all of my senses and appetites.
I thought I was into something new, into a cutting edge revelation that required submission first to achieve clarification with deep understanding coming later.
In subsequent years I learned that most if not all the “new” religious ideas that so intrigued and attracted me were recycled notions re-presented in modern drag or, if you will, a current aesthetic.
Cults continue to reinvent the wheels of human spirituality and too often repeat the mistakes of old and harmful group formations. I also learned that what appears first as a precious opportunity to transform my soul, if that were even possible, can easily convert to a cult of endless submission and mindless ritual.
The wheels merely ran in ruts around and around one leader’s grandiose claims. She wore the crown of the Mother of the Universe! She had the stamp of an ascended host on her metaphysical curriculum vitae! She was the most valuable person living on the planet! Was I willing to pay for the privilege of serving her mission with all I had and with my very life?
Roerich and Gurdjieff inferred that they were specially chosen by some higher power yet all that their disciples had for proof was the guru’s word and a devotee’s personal experience of charisma. Is the lesson here about what we do for our art and not about what our gurus do for our art?
The lesson for me from the cult experience as an artist is complicated. I can no more blame a group’s influence for my lack of creativity or success as an artist than I can blame my career as an exit counselor or mental health professional.
Cults like careers take up a lot of time.
I still exhibit a few paintings a year and attract a commission or win an award now and then but my income from art is negligible. The great artists are not distracted from their quest by jobs and family matters much less by quirky cults. Art is their job notwithstanding cultic influences.
The damage I think occurs more often to sensitive artists who are either early in their creative careers or struggling to establish an oeuvre or art identity.
If a struggling artist buys into the notion that a group or guru’s techniques and influence are necessary for a personal transformation to find one’s artistic identity, then the possibilities of restricting a creative career increase.
I wish to point out how sensual signals perform as “triggers” to stimulate compliance to cult milieu and doctrine. Unloading all the cult-induced meaning (all black is bad) from signs in the environment can seem nearly impossible at first despite therapeutic assistance.
To be effective, I think, therapy of any kind should take into account the context and history of the delusional belief that affects a cult member’s aesthetic world. Most therapists I have known are client-centered and try to honor the cultural beliefs of their clients within reason.
As an exit counselor, I challenge false beliefs by introducing a wider frame of reference based on reasonable evidence—totalist cults by nature restrict information and choice in closed systems. My role is to encourage psychological and intellectual expansion.
For example, one of my clients, a young lady who was a dedicated CUT member for six years, left the cult after talking with me and a colleague for several days. Her parents arranged a non-coercive intervention at their home in Florida. A week later I escorted the now ex-member to the Unbound recovery center in Iowa but it was cold there and she needed a coat. She experienced near panic when, with my encouragement, she tried on a red jacket at a mall.
She was not yet ready for red!
Recovery required months for that ex-member to restore black and red to a wider and positive frame of reference. She needed to learn more about the source of the color code and its flimsy justification to dispel it. In my case, after making the emotional and intellectual adjustments, I could relate to colors appropriately and individually in short order.
In contrast to my client who had little background in comparative occultism, I already knew the history of how conflicted occultists were (and are) over the spiritual effects of color. Goethe saw red as “grave and magnificent” (Goethe, p. 315) whereas the “I AM” cult saw red as anger and charged with inappropriate sexual excitement, and Corinne Heline claims, “Red is the color whereby the Holy Spirit manifests the Activity Principle” (Heline, p. 40).
I was struggling with personal conflict: Was there any ideal or Platonic universal regarding color? Might black always be a negative? This weird color revelation through my daughter reestablished my appreciation for color and styles of art like Cubism prohibited by the cult.
I grasped that I was not capable of finding a universal theme for black, nor was there any compelling reason for me to pursue an absolute. I was neither God nor a god.
Consequently, I could again enjoy a Picasso, a Pisarro and a Pollock if I chose to. However, even if I could afford it, I doubt I would pay millions of dollars for a ceramic urinal even if it is a wonderful, historical joke.
AnonymousAugust 14, 2015 at 12:11 PM
Peer Pressure and Lack of Information
Peer pressure is a critical factor in keeping people in cults.
Former members have told me, "In my group we had doctors, lawyers, social workers, people with all kinds of advanced degrees, intelligent people. I would look around, and I'd think, Well, Joe's still doing it. Mary's still doing it. It must be me; it must me. I just don't get it. There is something wrong with me; I just have to try harder."
Cult members feel that way because nobody else is speaking out---because nobody CAN speak out. The one who does feels alone, isolated, contaminated, wrong.
Directly or indirectly, all the cult members actively encourage each other to behave in certain ways. Since we are social animals, it is difficult to resist such pressures.
In addition, the cult's dishonesty about many things keeps members from knowing what is really going on. Members are not only kept from sources of outside information but are also told lies and misrepresentations about the cult, the leader, and the group's activities. The importance or influence of the cult's actions is made larger than it really is; the leader's reputation is embellished, if not fabricated; the number of members or followers is often exaggerated to make the group look larger and more popular; and world events are distorted, as are the outside world's attitudes toward the cult. All these myths bout the cult and the society at large are generally perpetuated not only by the leader but by his inner circle of leadership as well.
The resulting lack of knowledge among most members helps prevent them from making a real assessment of the situation they are in.
Margaret Thaler Singer
Cults In Our Midst - pg. 269-270
AnonymousMarch 11, 2015 at 1:07 PM
CULT RECRUITING TECHNIQUES
Here are some key warning signs that may indicate a cult is trying to recruit you:
Rather than explain to you what the group believes or what their program is up front, they will instead insist that you can only understand if you come to a group meeting. There everyone around you will seem so enthusiastic that you will start to think there is something wrong with you. They create an environment where you will feel uncomfortable and the only way to become comfortable is to join them. This is an application of controlled peer pressure.Quote
Another method is, let the target be aware that this is a very, prestigious, special group. Drop a few words about initiation. Your friend may say he or she is unavailable due to a retreat, day of silence. If you ask, they'll tell you that it is confidential. Perhaps they may scold you for being pushy.
Over time, this person may say they described you to their spiritual director or preceptor. This authority figure may have said you have special talent.
The friend may give you a book. This may be a test. If you really dig the book, this may be a signal that you're a promising recruit.
All this may be a set up to pique your curiosity.
Intense Unrelenting Pressure
They call repeatedly. Trick you into coming for only an hour and then lead you into a long study, meeting or talk. They have to keep the pressure on, otherwise you might snap out of the mind control environment they are trying to immerse you in.Quote
A group might not seem to apply pressure. You may have a life crisis.
Your may ask your friend to recommend a psychic reader or life coach.
Your friend may be entangled with a counselor who is part of a secretive lodge.
Once you're a client, whatever you say may no longer be private.
THEY TELL YOU THAT THEY ARE NOT A CULT.
This is a preemptive strike against the warnings from friends and family members which they know will come. In fact, some cults go so far as to tell you that Satan will try and dissuade you by sending family members and friends to tell you it is a cult. When this tactic is used then often a warped form of logic occurs in the recruits' mind, the "agents of Satan" do come and tell them that it is a cult. So since the group predicted that would happen, the group therefore must be true! Basically if any group tells you that they are not a cult, or that some people call them a cult, then for goodness sake find out why!Quote
They joke about being a cult, right at the start.
You may be told there was discord years back and the ones calling it a cult are the ones in the other group. Or you're told some members 'kicked themselves out'.
You may be so afraid to compromise your friendship or be so dependent on the counselor your pal recommended that you may ignore or rationalize any warnings you're given by well informed outsiders.
(not all necessary)
Single charismatic leader.
People always seeming happy and enthusiastic.
If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
They hide what they teach.
Say they are the only TRUE group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
Experiential rather than logical.
Asking for money for the next level.
Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
Cults know that if they can control your relationships then they can control you. Whether we like it or not we are all profoundly affected by those around us. When you first go to a cult they will practice "love bombing", where they arrange instant friends for you. It will seem wonderful, how could such a loving group be wrong? But you soon learn that if you ever disagree with them, or ever leave the cult then you will lose all your new "friends". This unspoken threat influences your actions in the cult. Things that normally would have made you complain will pass by silently because you don't want to be ostracized. Like an unhealthy relationship love is turned on and off to control.Quote
Disrupting friendships with the person who recruited you is another way for the group to monopolize your emotional life. By this point you may be
involved with a group member who, unlike your friend, has become an authority figure in your life, someone on whom you have become dependent for guidance.
The friend who recruited you into the group may suddenly vanish or reject you with zero explanation. They may be told something fake that leads to them avoiding you. Or you're told something fake that leads to you avoiding your
If you're told a secret and told not to tell your friend this secret, you're made to feel special, you're burdened with a secret -- and worst of all,
you're estranged from your friend. This is an effective and evil way to disrupt your pre existing friendship once you're in the group along with the pal who recruited you.
You may find yourself clamming up around friends who are outside of the group.
Eventually the strain of keeping quiet around your outside friends is so great, you drop those friendships and socialize only inside of the group.
Thus you drop outside relationships without being told to do so.
Privacy is mutual and consensual. Both of you have all cards on the table. You both consent to keep quiet. A secret is imposed on you. Secrets exist amid power imbalances. And, all too often secrets carry a burden of fear and you end up being unable to think clearly about them.
Cults also try to cut you off from your friends and family because they hate others being able to influence you. A mind control cult will seek to maneuver your life so as to maximize your contact with cult members and minimize your contact with people outside the group, especially those who oppose your involvement.
'maneuver your life' -- see above
Everyone is encouraged to watch out for "struggling" brothers and sisters and report what they see to leadership. Cult leaders will then use this information to convince their members that they have a supernatural link, the trusting member does not suspect the very natural mechanism behind the supernatural revelations they are given.
Corboy: Or the cult leader uses this information to disrupt friendships within the group - see above. Really astute cult leaders are like chess grandmasters. They break up friendship pairs and groups that could potentially generate
zones of loyalty independent of the leader.
Mind control cults keep their members so busy with meetings and activities that they become too busy and too tired to think about their cult involvement.
Time control also helps the cult keep their members immersed in the manufactured cult environment.
And time control helps keep members away from friends and family.Quote
If a cult keeps you busy, busy busy, eventually it may seem
quite natural to decide to move closer to where the group has its
No more long commutes.
A friend in the group may even
tell you that an affordable apartment or house has become available in the neighborhood. They may route you to a job opportunity that just happens
to be tied to the group. Then you decide to move to the area....
you are becoming an inmate and you do not even realize it.
Many posts and links by Moriarty at
APRIL 10, 2017 AT 1:54 PM REPLY
Critical faculties are, IMO, insufficient protection when it comes to charismatic leaders skilled in finding and pulling emotional/energetic triggers, patterns of abandonment and trauma and imprinting us with their own words and presence while in that raw state. It is like accelerated transference and there’s no rational protection against it if you are susceptible (a good match for the teacher) and unless you are forewarned.
APRIL 10, 2017 AT 7:06 PM REPLY
You may be right. I noticed in one of your articles about Leonard Cohen you said that you had come to the conclusion that you couldn’t any longer trust your gut feeling. I agree with that. And I can envision situations where I might make a wrong decision about a particular guru. But this guy? First of all claiming to be Christ would raise a huge red flag for me. And all the staring followed by platitudes? He sounds like the Barack Obama of gurus. Definitely hearing about and reading up on these people is a huge help. You’re doing a good service here. I probably would not have heard of him otherwise.
APRIL 10, 2017 AT 7:13 PM REPLY
John doesn’t ever publicly claim to be Christ; he has let it be known among long-term followers and then continues to nurture that belief through hints and nods and innuendos. As Tim says in our talk, he rules through implication.
Thank you puddington for the Rachael Bernstein link.
Corboy note: here is the link to the RB video
1. Is there a power difference between the leader and the follower that requires unquestioning devotion?
2. Do the teachings change over time to accommodate the whims of the leader?
3. Is there deception about what you are signing up for?
4. Are there secret teachings that you only find out about after you are fully indoctrinated?
5. Does it require leaving behind relationships (e.g. family) for the group?
6. Are there a few rules for the leadership and many rules for the followers?
7. Are the followers required to answer to the leader while the leader is not accountable to anyone?
8. Does the teaching have a goal or purpose, or is the real purpose just to control the followers?
9. Is there only lateral growth of the individual resulting in continued immaturity?
10. If you question something about the group, are you told it is your reactive mind, Satan, etc. and the problem is you – not the group?
11. Is there a code of secrecy protected by fear of something bad happening to you or your loved ones if you mention it or leave the group?
12. Are you told that you are specially chosen as “saviors” of the world, as long as you remain in the group?
I would answer, “Yes” to all twelve. Perhaps you cannot help but notice that many of these points would also apply to Jesus and his followers and therefore brand them as a destructive cult – something many cult leaders use as an example to manipulate their followers into thinking they are just like Jesus.
I would suggest that the big difference is that Jesus is God and is looking out for our good and a cult leader is a thief that wants to take the place of God for personal gain.
The fruit of obedience is completely different.