When I was a boy, perhaps seven years old, I learned that toads caused warts. It happened while I was fishing along a creek near my home in Pennsylvania where I noticed a toad in the grass. As I reached to pick it up, an older boy jeered at me for being so stupid: "Dont you know that you can get warts from toads?" His comment startled me. I pulled my hands back, and wiped them on my jeans. For years I did not question his challenge until I studied biology in high school. There seemed to be a consensus among some of the other boys that toads did indeed cause warts. How could I question these "authority figures:" they would not lie to me? They most likely believed it themselves. When I eventually learned that toads do not cause wartsthat a virus causes wartsI rejected the false information. Thereafter, I could hold a toad while enjoying my newfound wisdom. I enjoyed it because my behavior was no longer controlled by a false idea.
I recall another incident when older boys influenced me and two other six-year-olds to do something destructive that was "good," even required. At the time I lived across from a cemetery that had a large United States Armory adjoining it. It looked like a plain warehouse. We often played on the large, unused areas of lawn in the cemetery. An eight or nine-year-old boy with crew cut hair told us that the Armory was scheduled to be torn down and that we could break the windows. To prove his point he threw some rocks that broke a couple of 8 x 10 window panes. There were dozens of large windows with 8 x 10 sections. This triggered a five minute spree of flying stones breaking glass until a lady yelled at us from her back yard down the way. We ran, of course, now realizing that this was somehow wrong. The following week my friend and I returned to the scene of the crime to watch a military man dressed in fatigues replace window panes. He smiled at us and asked, "You boys didn't break these, did you?" We merely smiled back and walked away.
Those were not the last times that I was conned or influenced by information that I later discovered to be false or not provable, or even destructive. Sometimes it cost me money, time, or prestige, but the negative effects eventually passed, and I learned a few lessons. Once it cost me a marriage. In the name of a "positive" cause like saving the planet or attaining enlightenment many people have "thrown stones" at the "armory" of their marriages, careers, families and good friends. The old structures were doomed anyway, so they now believed after some authority figure or new belief system convinced them. " I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to separate mother from father, father from daughter, and mother from son"--to paraphrase Jesus, one guru whose teachings are commonly taken out of context. That lesson that cost me a marriage began when I was in my early thirties in 1979. Then I was on the verge of complete capitulation to a new religious group with a controversial charismatic leader. My struggle to sort my way through the psychological and spiritual twists and turns in my search for the truth eventually resulted in my career as a consultant about cults. The process of undue influence can be nothing more than a shared superstitionthe belief that toads cause warts. It can also be an elaborate web of suggestions that affect most or all of ones perceptionsmy cult leader "was" the sole authentic mouthpiece for all of the worlds religions and about the spiritual nature of the universe. Through the struggle to dispel my attraction to the latter notions, I emerged into an interesting and challenging job with heart-warming victories and heart-rending defeats. This essay represents a portion of my story as a cult information specialist and my thoughts about guruism.
Personal Story Revisited
I began to tell this tale in 1980 when friends of mine in Albuquerque asked: "Are you still in the Teachings?" It was probably 1984 before I could definitely answer "no" to the entirety of what it meant to be "in the Teachings," but I could answer, in 1980, that I no longer believed in some groups aligned with the Teachings. I broke my attachment to the one group with which I was most active, the Church Universal and Triumphant, about the time I booked an around-the-world series of flights. The photo above was taken during my one month stay in Nepal and India. The friends were then devotees of Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939-2009), the "Guru Ma" and "Messenger" of Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). Her devotees called her "Mother." [Elizabeth Prophet suffered from epilepsy from childhood throughout her life.From 1997 she exhibited advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease, was quite demented and couldno longer function as a Messenger. No one in CUT has taken her place]. The Teachings referred to are a body of esoteric and occult traditions and rituals offered by a host of enigmatic sects with controversial charismatic leaders or founders. Sects representing this form of occultism range worldwide. Most practitioners are well educated and from affluent nations. The telling of why I left the Teachings was simpler seventeen years ago. I have meandered through many passages of experience and research since then, but my CUT experience taught me the most about how deeply the psycho social grip of a conversion can penetrate into one's soul. I learned that these forces weigh heavier when one tries to break free or deconvert, so much so that the mind comes up with every fascinating excuse to remain converted.
CUT has claimed to represent the essential Teachings of practically all them; them carrying names like Theosophy (see Madame Blavatsky's Baboon), Anthroposophy, Rosicrucian, Gnostic/Fundamentalist Christian, New Age, Mystery School, Arcane, Ordo Adeptorum Invisiblum, and Agni Yoga. It is a much longer list, but the Teachings include aspects of major religions as well: mostly Catholic Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism, and Tantric Hinduism. The key concept behind CUT and similar groups is the devotees alignment through the Messenger or Guru with a hierarchy of spiritual beings called the Great White Brotherhood of gods, goddesses, ascended masters, and elemental spirits. The Messenger is the human being through whom the spirits speak and listen. Typically, this is a unique position. Elizabeth Prophet recognized no other messenger, especially not one from a rival group or ascended being. There are many rival sects worldwide. A very short list is: Bridge to Freedom, I AM Activity , Aquarian Education Group, Ramtha School of Enlightenment , Mafu, Lazaris, Doctor Peebles , Extra Terrestrial Earth Mission, Ashtar Command , and the Aetherius Society.
For example, Judith Z. Knight exclusively channels a god called Ramtha, a member of the "same" Great White Brotherhood as Prophets ascended masters. Knights Ramtha School of Enlightenment conducts expensive workshops in psychic development at her ranch in Yelm, Washington. Prophets ranch/retreat is in Montana. No one but JZ can channel Ramtha (even if she wanted to) because Knight has legally trademarked Ramtha. Kind of like Disney trademarks Mickey Mouse . However, both women have channeled Jesus, who apparently can not be trademarked. Prophet had channeled messages or "dictation" from more than thirty spiritual beings including Buddha, Jesus, the Count of Saint-Germain, Hercules, and Mark Prophet (her dead second husband, a.k.a. Lanello). Other channelers have made a career out of the "dictation" from one ascended being. Alice A. Bailey (died 1949) spent the last three decades of her life writing down the arcane wisdom of "the Tibetan," a nickname for Djual Khul. DK was "invented" in the late nineteenth century by "his" previous amanuensis, Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, or "HPB" as her devotees fondly call her. Blavatsky lived from 1831 to 1891. HPB remains the most influential prototype of todays channelers.
Occultists like code names and initials: The Master M for Morya, and KH for Kuthumi, K-17 (a CUT master) for who knows who. There has always been something conspiratorial about occultists. They are, after all, guiding the world through dark, evolutionary times. Evil lurks among them in the guise of false Messengers and disguised "black" Magicians. A word here about "black" and "white." These colors, devotees of the Teachings will tell you, have nothing to do with race or skin. The colors indicate metaphysical "values" apparent to gurus who read auras. True members of the Great White Brotherhood have brilliant white auras, not skin color, they say. Those bad Magicians have "darker" auras. Just ask Elizabeth Prophet if you cant see it for yourself.
Another word here about race [see note below on current I AM racism ]. Theosophists and occultists are just as prone to believe in "superior" and "inferior" races as any Nazi. This is not to say that all of them do. The Nazis, by some scholars reckoning, garnered their Aryan race ideals from men who studied Theosophical racist notions (a la Blavatskys writings: The Spear of Destiny by T. Ravenscroft, 1985:159) Ravenscroft has been criticized by Nicholas Goodrick-Clark, 1992. The Occult Roots of Nazism (NYUPress)--a superior study on this topic, but Goodrick-Clark still relates the inherent racism in Theosophy and how it influenced the "Volkish" movements in Germany along with Nazism (p 31). The Theosophists borrowed the Aryan race as the superior one from a phase of what we call Hinduism. It goes something like this: The lighter the skin, the higher the caste, the more spiritual attainment one allegedly has. Dont quote me on that. Ive heard and read as much in teachings derived from Vedic culture, but I have also spoken to many Hindus who see past this simple nonsense.
Historically, "Aryans" from the north conquered and culturally absorbed the dark-skinned, indigenous peoples of India around thirty-five hundred years ago. Separation rules were established according to family, culture, talent and political power. Fixed castes evolved by two thousand years ago. There is no word for caste in India. One is born into a jati (birth and social group) and into a varna (color). Even today traditional Hindus tend to marry within their jati to fulfill a sacred, inviolable duty. Color matters to each jati. Centuries ago the tawny Brahmins who were in the highest caste may have been miffed when those "heathen," lighter Brits arrived to rule them. It struck me as doubly ironic in 1981 to see caucasian Hare Krishnas from America "being" Brahmins in Vrindaban, India, Lord Krishnas legendary birthplace. CUT accepted blacks by the time I joined them in the 1970s. There was a time when they apparently did not. That exclusion was passed to CUT from its reluctant parent group, the I AM Activity founded by Guy Ballard in the early 1930s. I AMers eschewed black people in their midst due to a peculiar race-karma belief. Old I AMers told me so. Mark Prophet, the founder of CUT, reportedly (by many ex-members I interviewed who knew him) believed that blacks in Africa were the result of an alien race mating with apes. As it stands less than 2% of CUT members are African American. This is not to say that all or any CUT devotees are racist. I wasnt racist when I believed.
Lets be fair about this. Racism exists in every culture. Human nature encourages us to protect our turf, environmental or spiritual, and to cluster with our kind. Racism becomes insidious when one culture has power over another and when one race defines another as a lower "species." Asian racism is history. Read about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria before and during World War II. Note how many a Korean feels about Eurasian babies. Adoption anyone? The Hutus vs. Tutsis in Rwanda have left a tragic modern legacy in Africayet they are both black tribes. The Serbs and the Croats (racist Americans might not call either group "white") keep at each other due to an old feud fueled by differences in language and culturedifferences that can support racist perceptions and "ethnic cleansing." Prison populations are instructive. The races tend to cluster with their kind. I taught art at a state penitentiary for a year in 1976 and observed it. This is not to say that there is not camaraderie among prisoners from differing races or ethnic backgrounds, but the tendency is to cluster with their kind. Human nature tends toward ethnic interaction in ethnic clusters.
The Teachings stemming from Blavatsky, however, convince a devotee of evolving "root races", of an initial root race that existed eons ago and was entirely etheric without physical bodies. Physicality evolved until it resembled our current state [fifth or sixth era of root races] during the fourth or "Atlantean" round. CUT (aka Summit Lighthouse) taughtthat their devotees are preparing for a seventh root race to emerge most likely in South America. CUT/SU sustains a significant following in South America. So, a devotee of the Teachings must decide if their recalcitrant spouse who disbelieves in the teachings might just be a less evolved individual reincarnated in an earlier root race. Spiritual or metaphysical racism is what I call this formed of spiritual prejudice..
One social force, however, can override (some say undermine) human tendencies to cluster ethnically. This is the force of belief in a trans-human dimension of spiritual powers and spiritual beings. Jim Jones had a racially diverse Peoples Temple. His devotees believed that Jones had thaumaturgic powers and saw him as God's prophet. Indeed, at one stage Jones stood on a Bible and declared, "I am God." On the other hand, an absolutist religious belief combined with ethnic superiority is a mighty mix. One scholar called it ideological totalism: "By this ungainly phrase I mean to suggest the coming together of immoderate ideology with equally immoderate individual character traitsan extremist meeting ground between people and ideas"
(by Robert J. Lifton, 1989: 419).
The fascist style of a Rome ruled by Caesar transformed into a Holy Roman Empire with not a few decades of brutal Inquisition. The ancient Shinto cult of Japan has at times ruled the nation immoderately. Theocracies do not have a great track record in history. Nazism was a kind of theocracy. Church Universal and Triumphant and nearly all groups that promote the Teachings have this same theocratic agenda, albeit hidden from the uninitiated. It hides under patriotic flag waving in America, within obscure "sacred" lessons, and behind the First Amendment. To some degree, fascist or theocratic beliefs are legal in America and free to influence our government. Note the political maneuvers of the theocrat Reverend Moon in Washington. CUT has theocratic agendas as well: It teaches that the Ascended Masters should be more directly involved in running our government through their "Christed ones" (CUT, Keeper of the Flame lesson, No. 29). Guess whose mouth these Ascended Masters will "use" to command their obedient chelas in Washington, DC? Hint: Only one can be a Messenger.
It bothered me to see guards at every entrance when I went to a CUT conference for the first time in 1979. It bothered me to have to go through a security check and give out the name of a CUT devotee who could vouch for me. It bothered me that I could not use my camera or tape recorder at the conference. It bothered me to wear a color coded badge that told everyone I was new to this. It bothered me that a tight knit hierarchy of devotees formed a chain of command under Mother, the guru. Back then hair length and styles were circumscribed by social influence if not outright instruction. Diet was also. Was I joining the military? What terrorist did this group fear anyway?
Whatever it was I knew later that I was watching ideological totalism at work. It bothered me to not be allowed to attend dictation (ascended spirits using Elizabeth Prophet to speak to us) in the main chapel. To be fair, it was usually crowded. Neophytes and outsiders whose badge color matched mine watched the television monitors in other rooms. All this bothered me and much more. Did I leave? Of course not. I chose to be there, and this was a challenge, a test of my resolve to "serve the Masters." I believed I was intelligent. I would know when to leave. But my first wife divorced me over my CUT devotion a full year before I "divorced" CUT. I went to two more conferences over the next twelve months. Six months after attending the last one during Easter weekend of 1980, I finally rejectednot without huge inner strugglesCUT and groups like it.
There were so many reasons to stay. I had made some good friends in the group. Did the group not teach a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, celibacy outside of marriage, avoidance of rock music, and clean, puritanical livingto live like a lay monk? I learned later that the highly regarded chelas on the CUT staff were secretly (back in 1979-80) eating meat. So was Elizabeth. Her daughter, Moira, later said it was prime cuts of beef, no less. Celibacy and sexual loyalty were not, reportedly, among the gurus better traits either (I tend to believe the body witness accounts of her third, former husband, Randall "King"). Not least on this list of reasons to stay, I was haunted by the suggestion that it would have been better to never have heard of the Teachings, than to betray them in any way. It could mean "10,000" lifetimes of hell before I had this "opportunity" again. How could I know?
Anyway, I finallyblew off all of it, all that talk about 10,000 lifetimes, because I was angry that I had ever entertained the "experience" of holiness within CUT as empirically real. I am sure that many devotees of Theosophy, CUT or any related group are, in fact,bascially goodpeople. True believers though they be, many are nevertheless good citizens, good neighbors, and caring parents. True believers in a bad idea perhaps. But what about the experiences? I "felt" a higher purpose among these people. And, ahh, those feelings of bliss after twenty minutes of decrees. (We chelas were expected to chant specified prayers and commands over two hours a day. CUT provides a thick book of decrees). The bliss proved that the prayer worked. Some decrees invoked powerful cosmic rays (blue, green, yellow, violet, ruby and white; never red, orange, black, gray). Some decrees called on the Masters to manifest health, wealth and peace for the devotees. Other decrees called for the judgment of bad peoplepeople like Mikhail "communist" Gorbechev, David "capitalist" Rockefeller, all rock stars and liberal Democrats and not least of all, "disgruntled" former members that dared to speak against Mother or "the Masters" in public. I should mention those big, bad, black Magicians of the nether worlds too. Blaze, Blaze, Blaze them away with Bolts of Blue Lightening. Smash, Blast, Annihilate and Consume them away with Blue Rays of El Morya. Blue meant power! Blue meant protection too., that is, in the "I AM"/CUT paradigm.
I can recall once decreeing for blue protection rays to surround an airplane that just took off with my then one year old daughter and her mother on it. I had to. The blue rays might have been the difference between that 727 staying aloft or crashing. How did I know? An inner impulse, no doubt coming from my higher self and my I AM presence above, told me so. It was my experience that it was true. How can anyone argue with that? Since getting into my career of exit counseling, I have logged over five hundred flights (as of 1997) in an eleven year period. No blue ray decrees. Airplanes seem to fly well without blue rays. The point is that I believed I could wield divine power, as all good devotees of occult teachings believe. Sorcery or "magick" is the fundamental cult of the neo-pagan, Wiccan and occultist. I once sat in a movie theater watching The Witches of Eastwick. In one scene we see a modern "witch," unnoticeable in an audience listening to a boring politician, cause a rainstorm to disrupt the speech. It ended the tedious lecture much to the delight of the witch. Back in audience reality two middle aged women seated in front of me laughed derisively when this happened. I heard one say to the other, "Oh, that's an easy one. Ive done that many times." She was serious! You rarely know who sits in front of you in a movie theater.
On another occasion, in 1989, I sat with a handful of innocuous neo-pagans and a Ramtha devotee (all women) in a New Age shop near Brisbane, Australia. One of them was my clients estranged wife. He hired me to determine just how deeply she was involved in Ramtha and, hopefully, to talk her past it. She liked me (they all did), but she did not realize at all that her husband had sent me (none of them, all aspiring psychics, to be sure, did). I listened to talk of occult power and light, talk of which crystals did what, talk of where they were on the metaphysical path. Finally, it was just too muchso I joined in the conversation. Or should I say monologues. This stuff was down my alley after years of interaction with several sides of the esoteric pathways. I could have channeled old Morya right there and they would have accepted it. Well, maybe not. It helps to believe in it if you are going to do it.
Those women, like so many New Age occultists I have met, had a tendency to speak "non-judgmentally." This means sitting there politely while someone goes on and on about her consciousness, gnosis or experience without fear of challenge. After all, their truth is their Truth. You wait your turn and announce your insights while others nod appreciatively. How nice. But how nasty when one leaves. One lady did. "Non-judgmental" insights into why the departed person was not progressing dropped all over the place. From this slice of another New Age soap opera I got the distinct impression of hypocritical monologuing between higher selves. The pretense to wisdom and high self esteem.
My struggle with the Teachings was a common one among seekers interested in fully understanding the esoteric words that attracted them. To fully understand occult realities, one must "experience" them in some inexplicable way. Reading is not enough. For example, if a group suggests that chanting a mantra will bring about the changes you desire, and you do "experience" the change after chanting, then, says the occultist, this is proof of a cause-effect relationship between our mantra and your changes. The occultist will say only you, the experiencer, can really tell. You can talk about chocolate all you want, but you have to eat it [experience it] to KNOW it. If youre not sure, you ask the guru. The occultist asks you, "How do you "feel" about it, what does your "intuition" tell you?" Enough coincidences happen in anyones life to seem to affirm the effect of any occult ritual, like chanting a mantra or lighting candles. The skeptically impaired, the superstitious and the confused easily make the leap past coincidence and misinterpretation into "this stuff really works!" I cannot emphasize enough how powerfully this notion of EXPERIENCE dominates students of the occult and related New Age groups. By experience occultists tend to mean magical awareness more than empirical participation.
An aphorism for occult seekers might be: It is true for me because I experienced it (I am magically aware of this). A narcissistic tone is at the core of the "Path" of the occultist because all reality stems from the world "Within," the true inner "Self" that is different from the everyday consciousness available to human beings. Through the Teachings I wanted to tap and use this world "within" not only for my self betterment (to "transmute" my old lower self into a godlike awareness and power), but also for the good of the world. And that is what the Teachings promised I could accomplish.
The notion of "going within" is hardly an alien one. We seem to act inside when we think, feel, hear, smell, and breath. We act out when we touch, build, play and speak. But the impulse or energy to do so comes from the energy "within" our bodies. The occultist presumes that this inner world is somehow connected with, even identical with, the same forces that govern and create the physical and metaphysical universe. Thus the occultists motto: As Above, So Below. This presumption of tappable divine power (e.g., ESP, levitation, past-life recall, invisibility, thaumaturgy, and metaphysical healing and destroying powers) pervades the Teachings. In CUTs version, the devotee taps and increases his or her metaphysical energy by becoming one with the I AM Presence (the personal Deity) through "decreeing," an elaborate form of rapid chanting, also called the Science of the Spoken Word (Mark & Elizabeth Prophet, 1984. Summit University Press) . If God "spoke" the world into existence, so can our spoken decrees "manifest" what we want into existence. As above: In the beginning was the Word ; so below: In the end there is the chanting devotee.
The manipulation of spiritual energy is a common pursuit among occultists, most of whom maintain that their rituals for self perfection are ultimately unselfish. A "perfected" being can better serve others, so they say. Some, CUT devotees among them, claim to do the will of the ascended masters who benevolently, it is presumed, guide the destiny of mankind as well as of the earth itself. Their decrees are "offered up" as quantities (e.g., 144 Reverse the Tide decrees, 12 Lord Michael protection decrees, or 40 Heart, Head and Hand decrees) for the "perfect" wills of the ascended masters to use. We send the ascended masters and gods "electricity," it is stored in akasa [space, ether] and the masters/gods hurl the lightening to earth. Other occultists, those who follow Aleister Crowley for example, might be serving a spirit (Aiwass in Crowleys case) in exchange for occult power, but they are determined to believe that it is their own will that is primary. "Do what thou wilt is the whole of the Law," say those who believe their wills are aligned with "Will" itself. But the only apparent will that is being followed is that of a human being who is a self-proclaimed magus, whether above as the guru self or below as the devotee self.
That was precisely the bind I found myself in with the Teachings, the bind of distinguishing my "lower self" will from that of my "higher self." A double bind occurred simultaneously whenever I entertained the "authority" of a guru or the teachings of a guru as spelled out in books, tapes, or in the lectures. Whose will was I following anyway? The conundrum of experience, I discovered then, was that all experience is conditioned by an interactive environmenteven the gurus! I had no unconditioned will. Neither did any spokesperson for the teachings be they servant or spook. There was (is) no unconditional will in the human realm. Our will will change if we are freezing or starving. Once I realized that, I could let go of my fear to question and reject the gurus altogether. They were in the same soup I was. My job became one of sorting out the more elegant ways to know my "self" and my socio-spiritual environment. I ceased becoming a lower self and a higher self, a head and a heart (and a hand in CUT), or an untransmuted self and a "perfect" monad. I became what I always was and will be, Joe Szimhart, a person with body parts like a heart, a head, hands, feet, navel, etc. After I forgot about them, all my chakras must have spun so fast that they interacted as one force no longer separate. My chi found one location and disappeared. I am being facetious, of course, but I was a person again and not a collection of symbolic parts with psychosomatic references.
I saw that once the wedge of "awareness," of hip-Gnosis, is set into the psyche from the Teachings, the road to manipulation by gurus opens wide. And how they savor it, to be able to drive into your psyche and perfect your soul, to fine tune every nuance and micro manage your flow of being The tolls had been paid by "experiences" that are often hypnotic: a successful vision quest, an ecstasy, a satori or samadhi, a hint of enlightenment to the impossible fact that you are not you, but much more, oh, so much more. You are, your heightened awareness tells you, a "perfect" being, but you do not know-tice it so well. You, oh unenlightened one, are living an illusion of the mundane self, suggests the enlightened guru. An example was G . I. Gurdjieff (died in 1949) who would have wanted me to "remember myself" by practicing "Self Remembering." I met many persons devoted to Gurdjieff (Fourth Wayers), for example, walking about in simulated depersonalized states, watching themselves go through life. The "higher Self" watching the "machine." Remote control anyone? Who's pushing the buttons anyway? Mr. G loved programming his VCRs (very conscious recruits). Many who submitted to G's will were once succesful in the arts and financially secure--but many did not end up that way. The quest for enlightenment can take a real toll. [read The Harmonious Circle by James Webb, 1987]