False Prophets Part 1



False Prophets and Messiahs, Teachers and Gurus,

Cons and Cult Leaders







Highly organized groups led by a dynamic leader

who exercises strong control.


A cult is a structured group, most of whose members demonstrate unquestioned loyalty to a dynamic leader. The cult leader governs most, if not all, aspects of the lives of his or her followers, often insisting that they break all ties with the world outside of the cult. Such groups are usually thought of in terms of religion, although other types of cults can and do exist.


The proliferation of religious cults in the United States is considered by many experts as symptomatic of the general social discordance that has plagued postwar Western society.



Psychology Today

January 1976




Honor Thy Father



Sun Myung Moon suffers youth to come unto him, and they do, in droves. His Unification Church, stern and evangelical, leads the march of psychoreligious cults. Moon’s Family, a warm womb, shuts out care, responsibility and the need to think for oneself.


          by Berkeley Rice



Real Stories

April 21, 2024


Messiah Or Manipulator?: Escaping the Grip of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (Cult Documentary)


Ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors in a cult? Join us as we uncover the truth behind Reverend Moon’s charismatic persona and the devoted followers who see him as nothing short of a Messiah. Through firsthand accounts from former members, you’ll get an inside look at how the Unification Church operates, from its intense indoctrination methods to its control over every aspect of its members’ lives, including their marriages. 


From Reverend Moon’s early days claiming clairvoyance to his encounters with religious figures, we’ll trace the origins of the Unification Church and its rise to prominence in South Korea in the 1950s.



Dr. Margaret Singer, from her Introduction to CULTS IN OUR MIDST: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, published with Janja Lalich in 1995:


Since the 1960s, there has been a burgeoning not of governments but of independent entrepreneurial groups that go into the mind-manipulation and personality-change business. Myriads of false messiahs, quacks, and leaders of cults and thought-reform groups have emerged who use Orwellian mind-manipulation techniques. They recruit the curious, the unaffiliated, the trusting, and the altruistic. They promise intellectual, spiritual, political, social, and self-actualization utopias. These modern-day pied pipers offer, among other things, pathways to God, salvation, revolution, personal development, enlightenment, perfect health, psychological growth, egalitarianism, channels to speak with 35,000-year-old “entities,” life in ecospheres, and contact with extraterrestrial beings.


    There is truly a smorgasbord of spiritual, psychological, political, and other types of cults and cultic groups seeking adherents and devotees. Contrary to the myth that those who join cults are seekers, it is the cults that go out and actively and aggressively find followers. Eventually, these groups subject their followers to mind-numbing treatments that block critical and evaluative thinking and subjugate independent choice in a context of a strictly enforced hierarchy.


    The wisdom of the ages is that most manipulation is subtle and covert. When Orwell drew on this wisdom, he envisioned the evolution of an insidious but successful mind and opinion manipulator. He would appear as a smiling, seemingly beneficent Big Brother. But instead of one Big Brother, we see hordes of Big Brothers in the world today. Many of them are cult leaders.


    In the following pages, Janja Lalich and I hope to convey an understanding of the cult phenomenon in our society, so that you and those around you may take heed and be warned. It is not a pretty picture, but I believe it is one that desperately needs to be looked at.


*  *  *


Readers should know that a number of cults are highly litigious and use their wealth and power to harass and curb critics. Defending himself or herself against the false accusations made by some of these cults can break the ordinary person. It appears that winning is not the most important goal for cults. Their motivation appears rather to be to harass, financially destroy, and silence criticism.

Last year alone, one large cult was involved in approximately two hundred suits with government entities, critics, and ex-members who spoke out about their time in the group. The tactics employed by cults and other groups to influence public perception and debate are considerable.


    In fact, and with much regret, this edition of the book contains a rather glaring omission in my historical account of a certain movement. Despite the profound impact of one particular person and his organization on the spread of certain types of training, I have not mentioned this well-known leader and his international organization. I have taken this step due to the pendancy of a meritless lawsuit against me and Janja Lalich arising from the publication of the hardcover edition of this book.


    Without the citizenry being aware of the power and control certain cults are wielding, democracy and freedom can be curbed one step at a time. Cults by their very structure and nature are not democratic, do not promote freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and are the antithesis of structures in which full human growth can develop.


    There are cults in our midst, more than the average citizen realizes. And these powerful groups infiltrate many areas of our lives.




  March 15, 1993





Cultic America:

A Tower of Babel


They tend to be small, scattered and strange.

And on occasion their pursuers

may outnumber their members.


By Kenneth L. Woodward with Charles Fleming in Los Angeles, Spencer Reiss in Miami, Scott Rafshoon in Atlanta and Elizabeth Ann Leonard in New York


Waco is a wake-up call. If the cult watchers are to be believed, there are thousands of groups out there poised to snatch your body, control your mind, corrupt your soul. Witches’ covens, satanic rituals, Krishna consciousness, fanatic fundamentalists, black and white supremacists, New Age cosmic crazies – few are armed but most are considered dangerous. They’ll seduce you and fleece you, marry and bury you. Warning: do you know where your children are?


Prophecy or paranoia – it’s hard to judge. Christianity itself began as a cult and so did America’s most distinctive, homegrown religious movements: Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism and Christian Science. In religion, as in economics, the United States has always been free enterprising and market driven. Anglicans begat Methodists, Methodists begat Pentecostals, and Baptists now come in 57 colorful varieties. “That’s why we have the First Amendment,” says Leo Sandon, professor of religion at Florida State University. “If people want to follow Donald Duck, so be it. The First Amendment guarantees neither taste nor truth.”


But when Donald Duck turns out to be Charles Manson or Jim Jones, people die. Toward the end of the ’60s, repeated shocks to the American psyche prepared the way for mesmerizing gurus. Coincidentally, changes in U.S. immigration laws allowed a number of Hindu, Buddhist and other spiritual masters to migrate here. Among them: the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, teacher of Transcendental Meditation whose followers now run a fully accredited university in Fairfield, Iowa; Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who purchased a ranch in Oregon, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, and has since died, and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the South Korean whose well-heeled Unification Church is developing into a worldwide faith. Since these masters are their message, their movements are labeled by many as cults.


In religion, as in physics, actions breed equal and opposite reactions. Prodded by former cultists and parents who “lost” their children to the new religious movements, Christian and Jewish groups established an array of cult-watching organizations in the ’70s. Today there may be more than 500 such groups, a figure that suggests that the watchdogs are almost as prolific as the cults they monitor. The largest is the Cult Awareness Network, which has 2,000 members in 20 cities and says it receives 18,000 complaints a year. And now these organizations determine what qualifies as a cult.


How many cults are there? The answer varies from 700 to 5,000, depending on whom you ask and what they mean by “cult.” Sociologists routinely distinguish cults from sects, and sects from denominations or churches. Sects are usually offshoots of an older religious tradition and – if they thrive – often achieve the status of denominations. Cults are normally small, fringe groups whose members derive their identity and purpose from a single, charismatic individual. David Koresh is unusual in that he took over a heretical sect of former Seventh-day Adventists and turned it into a personal cult.


“The one thing all cults have in common is a leader who presents himself as the answer to all [the group’s] questions and choices,” says Woody Carlson, a sociologist at the University of South Carolina. But without further nuance that yardstick might well include everyone from Menachem Schneerson, the revered Lubavitcher rebbe, to Bobby Knight, the feared Indiana University basketball coach. The best working definition of a cult distinguishes the destructive from the benign. Focusing on behavior rather than ideology or creed, Marcia Rudin, director of International Cult Education Program in New York, defines the destructive types as “groups which manipulate, mistreat and exploit their followers and misrepresent themselves both to their followers and to the outside society.”


The groups that are among the most troubling, however, are those that may be armed. Very few of these are religious. According to former members, the Church Universal and Triumphant, an apocalyptic cult estimated at 5,000 in Montana, has amassed an arsenal. The movement, whose followers harken to the words of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, is an odd assortment of survivalists, mystics and doomsday-sayers. But a C.U.T. spokesman says, “There’s no stockpile of weapons. The only guns the church has are for hunting.” Cult watchers claim that other, smaller groups hoarding food and guns are scattered throughout the West – but details are lacking.


Closer to the definition of a “destructive” but nonviolent cult is the blandly named Los Angeles Church of Christ, a branch of a movement that began in Boston and, with an estimated 100,000 members, is now the fastest-growing religious cult in cultic southern California. Headed by founder Kip McKean, the church allegedly practices a particularly domineering form of “shepherding.” According to cult watchers, each recruit is assigned a personal shepherd to whom they must report on their activities: when they wake up, what they eat, how often they masturbate and whenever they have sex with their spouses. Fraternizing with outsiders is discouraged and church permission is often required of college students before they visit parents. The church did not return NEWSWEEK’s calls.


The cult-watchers network is now broadening its net. Researcher Rudin says that a new trend in cults stresses techniques rather than charismatic leaders and promises self-fulfillment rather than salvation. Instead of churches they use workshops but the result, Rudin insists, is the same “psychological hold, imprisonment and control over people’s lives.” These can be, she says, active on campuses and in corporate America, often appearing as benign efforts to help bring order and meaning to a chaotic culture.


Again, the wonder is that there aren’t even more. In an age when millions of Americans feel codependent, when children readily label their families dysfunctional and there are as many therapies as there are pains, the search for a fast, fast relief can turn strange. G. K. Chesterton, an astute Christian apologist, once warned that when people stopped believing anything, they are prepared to believe everything. If the cult watchers are right, that time has come to pass.




From Prophets to Losses


Who joins a cult? The alienated and the vulnerable.

Who leads? A charismatic with a vision

and no taste for limits.



By David Gelman


It can begin almost subliminally, with a couple of eye-catching sentences glimpsed among the notices for movers and painters at the bus kiosk: “Confused? Searching? Come meet kindred spirits. Refreshments.” Or the approach might be direct – an alert recruiter chatting up the lonely soul at the back of the church, the dazed-looking freshman on the college library steps: “Why not look in on our group, we’re getting together tomorrow night.”


For Corey Slavin, it came from a co-worker. At 25, she was living away from her parents for the first time and feeling shaky, she confided. The other woman was reassuring. Corey’s parents obviously didn’t understand her, but never mind, she did – and so did God. From that comforting beginning, Slavin, who is Jewish, fell ultimately into the embrace of the Church Universal and Triumphant, a Montana-based Christian-cum-New Age group. The church leader had her followers build underground shelters against the coming nuclear holocaust while transmitting to them the amalgamated wisdom of “ascended masters,” such as Christ, Buddha and Hercules. Before Slavin got out, she spent much of her time “decreeing” – repeating the sect’s spiritual chant as much as five hours a day, at hypnotic speed.


It often happens that way in the cults. Ordinary people, many of them favored with sound intelligence and high education, are recruited at a point in their lives when the summons to some larger collective purpose seems just the antidote for their alienation. Gradually they’re induced, under the sway of a mesmerizing leader and mind-numbing rituals, to surrender the judgment, the scruples and, sometimes, the savings of a lifetime. Slavin was one of the luckier ones. She stayed with the Triumphants only eight months, long enough to run through all her money, including the $6,500 she paid for a space in the bomb shelters. When she was hurt in a tumble into one of the shelters, she was told it was because she wasn’t “holy” enough. That started the doubts that led her to quit.


Outsiders usually shake their heads in disbelief at the more bizarre cultic practices. But in the calculated isolation that envelops members, almost anything is possible. At first, they are made welcome by fellow cultists, who seem always to be blissfully smiling. “Belonging” boosts their self-regard, and the cult leader’s often messianic agenda gives them a core belief that may have been lacking in their lives. But somehow they are also made to feel unworthy. Former members tell of a “1984” atmosphere that encourages cultists to monitor each other and report infractions.


Chosen ones: Sometimes, it appears cult leaders have all read the same operating manual. Many seem to know instinctively that an outside threat increases the cohesion of a group. They foster a them-and-us mentality: members are the chosen ones, and their mission is transcendent, whether it is building bomb shelters or preparing for the Second Coming. Everyone else is an “outsider” and a potential enemy – particularly family members.


Before long, a cultist’s sense of well-being comes to depend on remaining close to the members. Social psychologist Richard Ofshe, who shared a Pulitzer for a newspaper expose of the Synanon cult, says that the tie with peers is what ultimately binds the members. An intimacy develops among them, based on revealing weaknesses in collective sessions. “Then the leader,” says Ofshe, “can use everything they revealed to manipulate them.”


The leaders themselves have no peers to keep them in line. They may start out benignly enough, but their increasing power over their followers becomes intoxicating. Many present themselves as prophets, with special trunk lines to God. Eager to preserve the illusion, members will rationalize the leader’s abuses (“He’s just testing us”). In the process, says Marc Galanter, a psychiatry professor at New York University School of Medicine, “leaders who are not necessarily grandiose may become so. There’s an interplay between leaders whose needs become increasingly bizarre and followers who are willing to serve their every need.” At that point, danger looms. “When there’s absolute control, it suggests something is quite pathological,” says Alexander Deutsch, director of inpatient psychiatry at New York’s Cabrini Medical Center. “The group and the leader get so bound together that it’s almost as if they were part of the same organism.” The only check on the leader is the limit of his imagination: Jim Jones led his flock to a tub of poisoned Kool-Aid; former members say many Branch Davidians surrendered their daughters to David Koresh.


People, of course, do leave cults. They get out when their doubts begin to overwhelm their trust. In most situations, they’re held back only by their own fears. “I’ve interviewed people who said they wanted to leave for six months before they told their spouse, fearing the spouse might turn them in – only to discover the spouse had the same desire and fear,” says Ofshe.


After they’ve resumed normal lives, defectors may be as puzzled as the rest of us over how they joined a cult to begin with. Slavin, who went to Wellspring, an Ohio rehabilitation center for ex-cultists, and then to a psychotherapist before she could pick up her life again, is still trying to come to terms with the episode. “I know that I was in a vulnerable period,” she says. “I felt lost. I didn’t feel I could go to anybody.” As it turned out, she went to the wrong people.








Mind control: psychological

reality or mindless rhetoric?


By Dr. Phillip G. Zimbardo

November 2002, Vol 33, no. 10

Print version: page 5


One of the most fascinating sessions at APA’s Annual Convention featured presentations by former cult members. (See “Cults of hatred”). Several participants challenged our profession to form a task force on extreme forms of influence, asserting that the underlying issues inform discourses on terrorist recruiting, on destructive cults versus new religious movements, on social-political-“therapy” cults and on human malleability or resiliency when confronted by authority power.


  • That proposal is intriguing. At one level of concern are academic questions of the validity of the conceptual framework for a psychology of mind control. However, at broader levels, we discover a network of vital questions:


  • Does exposing the destructive impact of cults challenge the principle of religious freedom of citizens to mindfully join nontraditional religious groups?


  •  When some organizations that promote religious or self-growth agendas become rich enough to wield power to suppress media exposés, influence legal judgments or publicly defame psychology, how can they be challenged?


 What is APA’s role in establishing principles for treating those who claim to have suffered abuse by cults, for training therapists to do so and for establishing guidelines for expert testimony?



Personal freedoms


A basic value of the profession of psychology is promoting human freedom of responsible action, based on awareness of available behavioral options, and supporting an individual’s rights to exercise them. Whatever we mean by “mind control” stands in opposition to this positive value orientation.


Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles.


Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.


A body of social science evidence shows that when systematically practiced by state-sanctioned police, military or destructive cults, mind control can induce false confessions, create converts who willingly torture or kill “invented enemies,” engage indoctrinated members to work tirelessly, give up their money – and even their lives – for “the cause.”



Power struggles


It seems to me that at the heart of the controversy over the existence of mind control is a bias toward believing in the power of people to resist the power of situational forces, a belief in individual will power and faith to overcome all evil adversity. It is Jesus modeling resistance against the temptations of Satan, and not the vulnerability of Adam and Eve to deception. More recently, examples abound that challenge this person-power misattribution.


From the 1930s on, there are many historical instances of state power dominating individual beliefs and values. In Stalin’s Moscow show trials, his adversaries publicly confessed to their treasons. Catholic Cardinal Mindzenty similarly gave false confessions favoring his communist captors. During the Korean War, American airmen confessed to engaging in germ warfare after intense indoctrination sessions. The Chinese Thought Reform Program achieved massive societal conversions to new beliefs. It has also been reported that the CIA put into practice nearly 150 projects — collectively termed MKULTRA — to develop various forms of exotic mind control, including the use of LSD and hypnosis. More than 900 U.S. citizens committed suicide or murdered friends and family at the persuasive bidding of their Peoples Temple cult leader, Jim Jones.


The power of social situations to induce “ego alien” behavior over even the best and brightest of people has been demonstrated in a variety of controlled experiments, among them, Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority studies, Albert Bandura’s research on dehumanization, my Stanford Prison Experiment and others on deinviduation.


Understanding the dynamics and pervasiveness of situational power is essential to learning how to resist it and to weaken the dominance of the many agents of mind control who ply their trade daily on all of us behind many faces and fronts.



The Heresy of

Mind Control


Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants,

and Spiritual Abusers

in Leadership


By Stephen Martin



Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time: A Psychological Study of Destructive Cult Leaders from Reverend Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden  by Peter A. Olsson M.D ., 2005



From Chapter Six: The Siren Song of Destructive Cults: Recognizing the Music of the Malignant Pied Piper (pp. 106-107)


In my early years of cult study, I assumed that a person lured into a cult must have severe personality weaknesses, problems, or mental illness. I found that this assumption was inaccurate. As we have seen from the biographical accounts . . . cult followers come from the full spectrum of humanity — young to old, poor to rich, educated to illiterate, conservative to liberal, religious to uncommitted. Anyone can be vulnerable to cult recruitment in certain life circumstances.


    If we think of common human needs as a pyramid, the base of the pyramid is built up from the essentials — oxygen, water, food; then clothing, shelter, and protection; and so on in a gradual ascent through community and culture. The fundamental human need to affiliate with small and/or large groups is near the top, just below the domain of spirituality. Spiritual needs are experienced (or denied) individually, and are intensely private and personal. Yet they are also learned, mediated, amplified, and rewarded within a community. All human beings have deep and normal needs to find spiritual meaning in their lives and to affiliate with a group and a community as part of their quest. These aspirations have both rational and irrational elements. (Abraham Maslow, Maturation and Personality.)


    As we encourage our young people to be spiritually connected with other people, we must remember that there are risks. A wise and mature nurse at our local hospital made the following comment when we were discussing this book: “Dr. Olsson, we raise our kids to be kind, curious, and open to the world and the diversity of people’s beliefs. The paradox is that this can leave them a little too naive and trusting, and therefore, vulnerable to clever predators — your MPPs.”


 . . . Any small or large group forms collective goals, core values, rules, and norms of behavior. Even as the individual is nurtured and supported by the group, he or she often subordinates or compromises individuality in deference to the identity of the group.


    Groups require leaders for their formation, administration, and day-to-day operation. Natural leaders generally possess charisma and charm in some degree. Members of the group, in return for investing their own individual power and authority in the charismatic leader, vicariously participate in the leader’s power and authority. This idea is critical to understanding the lure of the Malignant Pied Piper. Cult members are not just passive victims of a cult leader’s charisma. The relationship involves a powerful co-dependency that resembles a dysfunctional marriage.

    Leader-follower relationships in destructive cults are the epitome of co-dependency, dysfunctionality, and abuse. Membership in a destructive cult is devastating to the individual in terms of his or her creativity, intellectual maturation, and individuation. Destructive and exploitive cult leaders victimize their followers because of their own narcissistic personality problems.









Cults are making a comeback, according to some of the experts who study them. This two-part documentary is an inside look at these cults and consists of ex-believers’ stories, and investigates the similarities they say exist between high-control groups, including the Exclusive Brethren, Scientology, Centrepoint, Gloriavale, Avatar and the International Church of Christ.



How Cults Work


By Julia Layton


When most of us hear the wor­d “cult,” we see a bunch of brainwashed zombies feeding their children ­cyanide-laced fruit drink, mass murders, a burning compound in Waco, Texas — it’s not a pretty picture. But is it a true picture? What exactly is a “cult,” and how is it different from a “religion”? Are all cults dangerous? Are people who join destructive cults mentally disturbed, or are all of us equally susceptible?


In this article, we will ­separate fact from propaganda and ­­­learn what a cult actually is, what practices characterize a destructive cult and look at some of the more notable cult incidents in recent history.



CNN health


Are you susceptible to brainwashing?


By Michael Nedelman, CNN

Updated Tue. February 13, 2018


For more on the Patty Hearst case, watch “The Radical Story of Patty Hearst” at 9 p.m. ET Sundays on CNN.



Steven Hassan was a college junior in the mid-1970s when he was recruited into the Unification Church, a cult also known as the “Moonies.” Hassan said he quickly came to believe that Armageddon and World War III were imminent. The Moonies, he thought, were singularly tasked with saving the world.


“It only took a few weeks to get me convinced that the Messiah was on the Earth, even though I’m Jewish,” said Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control.


It wasn’t until he met with ex-Moonies, albeit reluctantly, that he began to leave the cult 2½ years later.


“I was an off-the-charts, fly-a-plane-into-the-World-Trade-Center-if-Father-ordered-you-to Moonie,” he said of the group’s leader, Sun Myung Moon, whom the members called Father. “I was sure they wouldn’t be able to make me betray Father. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was not brainwashed or mind-controlled.”


Hassan, now a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in helping former cult members, said that just about anyone’s mind can be controlled in similar ways.


Other experts have long pushed back against the concept of brainwashing, arguing that it is a loaded term that doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.


“Every time I use the term, as you may have noticed, I usually put it in quotes, which means there’s something wrong with it,” said James T. Richardson, professor emeritus of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.


“It defines the person as a passive object that has no will of their own, and it defines anyone with any apparent perceived influence over them as some kind of evil person manipulating them psychologically,” said Richardson, who believes that there is often an element of choice on the former’s part.



The Not-So-New Religious Movements:

Changes in ‘the Cult Scene’ over the Past Forty Years



Eileen Barker

London School of Economics




New religious movements (NRMs) tend to exhibit certain characteristics that change with the arrival of second and subsequent generations. The paper explores some of the internally motivated revisions that may be due to demographic changes or disappointed expectations, and some of the changes brought about through the economic, political, technological, legal and cultural influences from the wider society. Although there are always exceptions, unqualified boundaries tend to become more porous and negotiable as the movements accommodate to the outside world and ‘denominationalise’. The paper ends with a brief description of some of the more general changes in ‘the cult scene’ over the past 40 years.





Alexandra Stein, Ph.D.


Understanding Cults and Extremist Groups




August 8, 2011


Cults: An In Depth Look At The Experience

Of Being In Cults

And Breaking Free From Them



Power, Money, Sex — Most cult leaders are motivated by some combination of this triad. Experts at the psychology of mind control, cults deprive their members of free will, often with disastrous consequences. From Jonestown to the Branch Davidians, to the Moonies, to Heaven’s Gate, cults prey on the most vulnerable. What should one do if someone they love has joined a cult? How is it that cults are so effective at controlling the thoughts and feelings of their members? What happens to the children of cult members? What is it like being in a cult? How does a cult member manage to find their way out, and are there dangerous consequences to leaving?


Professor of Law, Diane Sullivan is joined by Dean Lawrence R. Velvel and former cult members Janja Lalich and Steven Hassan in this presentation of The Massachusetts School of Law’s Educational Forum on the topic of cults. Ms. Lalich is a Professor of Sociology at California State University Chico, and Mr. Hassan is a cult expert, author, and mental health therapist.





Helping people affected by cults in the UK – Established 1987




   N  E  T  W  O  R  K  E  R


 January/February 2023


Leaving a High-Demand,

High-Control Religion


What Is a Therapist’s Role?


By Krystal Shipps


Most therapists are used to helping their clients navigate the upheaval of ending relationships, whether it’s with friends, spouses, parents, or substances. It usually requires working through tight knots of grief, ambivalence, and anger. Fortunately the tangles are often laced with pockets of hope and promises of new beginnings. As therapists, we understand well that humans are relational at our core, and that our relationships can shape large parts of who we are. But there’s one type of relationship that can be so all-encompassing, many therapists aren’t prepared to help their clients end it. This relationship can feel foundational to a person’s identity, family connections, and belief systems, including how they think about their own mind, body, sexuality and self-worth. It influences how they perceive others, the world around them, and their future—even beyond death. When someone shifts out of this relationship, the change is seismic. Most of the time, every aspect of their life is destabilized.



International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), founded in 1979, provides information on cults, cultic groups, psychological manipulation, psychological abuse, spiritual abuse, brainwashing, mind control, thought reform, abusive churches, high-demand groups, new religious movements, exit counseling, and practical suggestions for those needing assistance.






Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective


Daniel Shaw, C.S.W.
Psychoanalyst in Private Practice
New York City


Abstract [excerpt]


Using his own ten-year experience in Siddha Yoga under the leadership of Gurumayi, the author presents psychoanalytic conceptualizations of narcissism in an effort to develop a way of understanding cult leaders and their followers, and especially of traumatic abuse in cults from the follower’s perspective. A psychoanalytically informed treatment approach for working with recovering cult followers is proposed, consisting of providing: 1) an understanding of the leader’s extreme dependence on the follower’s submission and psychological enslavement; 2) a clear, firm, and detailed understanding of the leader’s abusiveness; and 3) an exploration of normative and/or traumatic developmental issues for the follower, as part of a process of making sense of and giving meaning to the follower’s experience.


When I began graduate school in social work in September of 1994, it had been just two years since I moved out of the spiritual community, the ashram, I had lived and worked in for more than 10 years, up until my 40th birthday. In those two post-ashram years, while still considering myself devoted to the guru and the spiritual path I had chosen, I did a good deal of soul searching, much of it through the process of psychotherapy. One of the uses I made of psychotherapy was to explore my career options, and I eventually chose to seek the necessary education and training to become a psychotherapist myself. In my first social work field placement, many of the clients I was assigned described terrible histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in childhood, and in some cases were involved in ongoing abuse, either as perpetrators or victims. Many of these clients were struggling to recover from devastating addictions. Although my own life has been something of a bed of roses in comparison with the suffering these clients have known, I soon discovered I had a deeper connection to their experiences than I at first realized.



Primordial Forces

April 8, 2019




Cults and Extreme Belief


In modern English, the term cult has come to usually refer to a social group defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object or goal.


Elizabeth Vargas, alongside former members of controversial organizations, goes on a search to uncover how these sects use their influence to prey upon people’s desperation to create powerful & destructive belief systems. Each episode will take a look at one active group through the eyes of past devotees.




Jehovah’s Witnesses


Children of God


Value Creators UNOI

United Nation of Islam


World Peace Unification Sanctuary


Twelve Tribes



The Fundamentalist Church Of

Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints



James Jani

Feb 27, 2022


The Dark World of Megachurches


Megachurches, Televangelists, and the Prosperity Gospel… those were things that I had never heard of before… until I stumbled across an infamous interview with Kenneth Copeland by Lisa Guerrero from Inside Edition.


What ensued after was a dive into a rabbit hole unlike any other, from corrupt preachers, to lavish lifestyles, to claims of miracle healings, to cult-ish followings, and New Age/New Thought concepts. This… is the dark world of Megachurches.



Which CULT Should I Join?
A Choose-Your-Own Guidebook
for the Spiritually Bereft
© 2017


By Jo Stewart

A lighthearted – but factual – look at some of the craziest cults in modern history.


Do you prefer applesauce (Heaven’s Gate) to Kool-Aid (Peoples Temple)? Do you think carrots are “the food of the Masters” (Church Universal and Triumphant) or that swimming and joking should be forbidden (the Fellowship of Friends)? This is the book for you! We help sort your E.T.-loving Raelians from your Moonies, your snake-handling Church of God with Signs Following from your Branch Davidians.



 Thot Plickens  May 14, 2010Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


Was reading some of the previous pages, taking my own advice…




1. What You Should Know About Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends – January 18, 2010


• It’s a doomsday cult.


• The predicted doomsday never came.


• Burton predicted major catastrophes for 1984 and 1998, and then nuclear war for 2006. For decades, he predicted the Fellowship of Friends would become the beginning of a new civilization in 2006.  Burton said, “Our task is to establish a new civilization.”

• Through cognitive dissonance, followers try to forget the above predictions, or downplay them.

• Like other cults, followers object to the word “cult.” But there’s no better one-word description for this organization in the English language.

• Burton has coerced and seduced several hundred young followers — and perhaps thousands — into having sex with him, using promises of spiritual salvation, expensive gifts, vacations abroad, as well as playing on their fears of being outcast from their circle of friends. As a result, many former and current followers have suffered lasting psychological scars and emotional trauma, and a few have committed suicide. (Read the numerous personal accounts within this blog.)

• In doing the above, Burton has violated the trust of thousands of his followers who were unaware of the extent of his sexual activities within the cult, and unaware of the extent of his deception.

• Burton is a sociopath and malignant narcissist who shows no concern for the welfare of his followers unless they are useful to him in some way. When they cease to be useful to him, he discards them.

• Burton’s “public” persona is one of a gentle guru who speaks with a soft voice. This personality helps him deceive his followers into believing they have found the one true path to enlightenment, salvation, and heaven.

• Burton tells his followers that 44 angels, or gods, guide the Fellowship of Friends — and that they guide only the Fellowship of Friends. Angels, he says, do not guide anyone else on earth.

• Burton advances a world view that Hell exists, and that there’s only one way to avoid going to Hell when one dies: Join the Fellowship of Friends, and stay in the Fellowship of Friends until your death. All people on earth who do not join the Fellowship of Friends will go to Hell when they die. Likewise, followers are warned that they will go to Hell if they leave the cult.

• Followers are discouraged or forbidden from communicating with former members. Those who leave the cult will lose contact with their closest friends within the cult.

• Followers are forbidden to discuss any of the above. If they do discuss these facts with their friends, or question anyone about these facts, they will be expelled. This in turn fosters secrecy and lack of transparency within the cult.

• Burton charges exorbitant membership fees – anywhere from 20% to 40% of income, depending on a person’s salary. The full amount of these fees is never discussed when representatives try to sell people on joining the cult.

• The fees have helped pay for Burton’s extravagant lifestyle, which includes expensive clothing, frequent expensive vacations, and a lavish home at the cult’s compound in Oregon House, California (between Grass Valley and Yuba City).

• Burton and the Fellowship of Friends have been sued by former members on multiple occasions. Most of these suits have been settled out of court, with insurance companies paying the settlement on behalf of the Fellowship of Friends.

• Burton founded the cult in 1970. For more than three decades, he characterized the cult as a so-called “Fourth Way school.” In recent years, the cult has virtually abandoned any discussions about the Fourth Way.

• Because the Fellowship of Friends (also referred to as Pathway to Presence) has been granted religious status, American taxpayers help pay for this cult.


• In the last four years, several hundred followers have left the Fellowship of Friends, and many followers continue to leave. It’s believed that slightly over 1,000 members remain worldwide, but reliable statistics are not publicly available.



Robert Earl Burton and The Fellowship of Friends


An Unauthorized Blogography of “The Teacher” and His Cult



Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of “presence.”


The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a “doomsday religious cult,” wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 “Fall of California Redux.”)

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.





  Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers  (excerpt) 

Fellowship of Friends leader Robert Burton and his “boys”  


True-believer syndrome is an informal or rhetorical term used by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book The Psychic Mafia. Keene used the term to refer to people who continued to believe in a paranormal event or phenomenon even after it had been proven to have been staged. Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder, and regarded it as being a key factor in the success of many psychic mediums.


The term “true believer” was used earlier by Eric Hoffer in his 1951 book The True Believer to describe the psychological roots of fanatical groups.


The true-believer syndrone merits study by science. What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable. How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it’s exposed in the bright light of day he still clings to it — indeed, clings to it all the harder?… No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie. — M. Lamar Keene and Allen Spraggett


~ Wikipedia



Associated PressOctober 14, 2015Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


Architects of the New Paradigm Conference Series:

A World Gone Mad? The Who, How and Why

 of Psychopaths & Mind Control in Our Lives
Saturday, October 24, 2015 – Petaluma, CA


The psychological manipulation we experience throughout our lives is easy to miss until we start noticing it. Salespeople, institutions and the media use tactics that we’ve come to expect, but is there an even more sophisticated effort secretly conducted to condition our thinking and behavior? The evidence suggests there is, and that it’s more pervasive and far-reaching than we realize.


It also appears that many of the people behind the effort to control our thinking and behavior are psychopathic. Psychopaths are typically charismatic master-manipulators who crave power and act upon others without the limitations of conscience. If we can grasp the reality of psychopaths both in our lives and in positions of influence, we can protect ourselves from their hidden agendas. Join this panel of experts for a blinders-off, down-the-rabbit-hole exposé of psychopaths and their mind control programs, and its disturbing effects on our world and us.


The Three Key Takeaways from this Event:


1) Mind control is a vast and legitimate area of study that goes much deeper than is commonly believed. Propaganda and mind control in all its forms are very real, very personal, and not to be dismissed as mere conspiracy theories, especially in today’s society. This knowledge is fundamental to a deeper understanding of our World’s problems.


2) Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopathy) is an under-recognized psychological condition that exists to varying degrees throughout society. There are differing opinions regarding the exact indicators and frequency, but the significant feature is an absence of conscience or remorse, with a keen ability to manipulate and control people. Without moral and ethical “restrictions”, psychopaths (also known as sociopaths) are typically extremely narcissistic parasites who act primarily for self-gain, and with no regard for the people they hurt. Statistically, you are very likely to encounter people like this frequently throughout your life.


3) Because of their insatiable lust for power, psychopathic people are singularly motivated to manipulate and control others. Consequently, they aspire to, and frequently achieve, high positions of leadership. Thus they become concentrated in the enclaves of the world’s major power structures, e.g. corporations, media conglomerates, educational institutions and other positions of mass-influence with their own nefarious controlling agendas against the rest of us!


While there is a long history of psychopathic societal influence, its relevance and prevalence is seldom recognized or acknowledged. To reach a comprehensive, big-picture analysis of the challenges facing our World today, we need this part of the picture. For otherwise well-informed people, not recognizing the occurrence and effects of psychopathy and mind control on societal functioning is a major barrier to a complete understanding of the many puzzling circumstances we face today. As many people eventually discover: it is the quintessential “missing piece”.


Institute of Noetic Sciences –
EARTHRISE Retreat Center
101 San Antonio Road
Petaluma, California


anpconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/ANP_2015-10-24_EVENT POSTER.pdf



From THE MASK OF SANITY ~ An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About The So-Called Psychopathic Personality by Hervey Cleckley, M.D., Fifth Edition, 1988


It is perhaps worthwhile to add here that not all those suffering from a typical psychosis, even when the disorder is serious in degree, give an obvious impression of derangement. Severe paranoid conditions, particularly those of the most malignant type, may exist for years in persons who lack all superficial signs that the layman often feels should be apparent to establish psychosis (insanity).


Sometimes such people appear not only normal but brilliant, and their powers of reasoning in all areas except those dominated by delusion are intact. The delusions themselves may even be withheld when the excellent judgment of the subject discerns that they will not be accepted by others or may interfere with psychotic plans toward which he is assiduously and ingeniously working. “Why, if I’d let the public in on these facts, a lot of fools might have thought I was insane,” one such patient explained. Another patient, who had for years been hearing imaginary voices which he accepted as real, admitted that he denied this to the draft board because, “They might have thought something was wrong with my mind.” He had been doing a satisfactory job and, on the surface, making a good social adjustment in his community. He was accepted for service in the army.


Another man with clear-cut paranoid delusions prospered for years by selling stocks and bonds to opulent widows and to others in whom his enthusiastic optimism and shrewd reasoning powers worked marvelous conviction. He was indeed persuasive. To my definite knowledge he induced a friend to believe that a serious mental disorder threatened him, or was perhaps already present. Offering to help the friend, who naturally became alarmed, the paranoiac made arrangements for his hospitalization and, accompanying the other, had him voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric institution. After a period of observation the friend was found to be free of any such trouble. Months later the real patient’s delusional system was elicited and his commitment deemed necessary.


Even today one often encounters popular misconceptions of what constitutes psychosis or seriously disabling “mental disorder” that seem to belong to earlier centuries. Even when patients are speaking frankly and continually about hearing voices from the next county (or the next world), relatives occasionally express surprise at the opinion that anything could be wrong with his mind, insisting that he had been running the store as well as ever, adding up the accounts without error, and showing his usual common sense in daily affairs.

Fanatics and false prophets who show real but not so obvious signs of classic psychosis, as everyone must by now have learned, sometimes attract hundreds or thousands of followers who contribute large funds to projects founded on delusion. If news reports by many observers can be relied upon, even those showing plain evidence of very serious disorder, persons as fully psychotic as many on the wards of the state hospitals, also succeed in appearing to large groups not only as sage leaders or men with supernatural powers but also as God.





Religion and schizophrenia 


The relationship between religion and schizophrenia is of particular interest to psychiatrists because of the similarities between religious experiences and psychotic episodes; religious experiences often involve auditory and/or visual hallucinations, and those with schizophrenia commonly report similar hallucinations, along with a variety of beliefs that are commonly recognized by modern medical practitioners as delusional – such as the belief they are divine beings or prophets, that a god is talking to them, they are possessed by demons, etc.



List of people claimed to be Jesus


This is a partial list of notable people who have been claimed, either by themselves or by their followers, in some way to be the reincarnation or incarnation of Jesus, or the Second Coming of Christ.


The Three Christs of Ypsilanti (1964) is a book-length psychiatric case study by Milton Rokeach, concerning his experiment on a group of three patients with paranoid schizophrenia at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The book details the interactions of the three patients, Clyde Benson, Joseph Cassel, and Leon Gabor, who each believed himself to be Jesus Christ.



God complex


A god complex is an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility. A person with a god complex may refuse to admit the possibility of their error or failure, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, intractable problems or difficult or impossible tasks. The person is also highly dogmatic in their views, meaning the person speaks of their personal opinions as though they were unquestionably correct. Someone with a god complex may exhibit no regard for the conventions and demands of society, and may request special consideration or privileges.



Cult of personality


A cult of personality, or cult of the leader, arises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis, except that it is established by modern social engineering techniques, usually by the state or the party in one-party states and dominant-party states. It is often seen in totalitarian or authoritarian countries.




May 16, 2012


Siberian Cult Leader Thinks He’s Jesus


Deep in Siberia’s Taiga forest is Vissarion, a cult leader who looks like Jesus and claims to be the voice of God. He’s known as “the Teacher” to his 4,000 followers, who initially seem surprisingly normal. Over time, however, their unflinching belief in UFOs and the Earth’s imminent demise made this group start to look more and more like some sort of strange cult.




April 27, 2021


Marketing the Messiah



Writer and Director: Cameron Reilly

Genre: Documentary 

Stars: Michael Bird, Richard Carrier, Geoffrey Dunn

Release Date: 10 March 2020 (Australia)


How much do you really know about how Christianity got started? Whether you are a Christian, atheist, or member of another faith, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that Christianity has had on Western civilization. But most people, including many Christians, don’t have a solid grasp of the history of early Christianity – even though it’s hinted at in the New Testament. Many people still think the gospels were written by the people whose names adorn the books. Many people still think those people were eyewitnesses of Jesus. Many people don’t realize how much Paul of Tarsus reinvented early Christianity to suit his own vision, and how much tension he created with the original disciples. Over the last century, New Testament scholars have examined the text word by word to tease apart the true history from accepted tradition. In this light-hearted but factual film, we tell the “true” story of early Christianity with the help of twelve biblical scholars, Renaissance masterpieces and humorous animation. 



Real Stories

Feb. 22, 2018


For The Love Of God: The Man Who Thinks He’s Jesus


. . . a unique and compelling documentary examining the world of a man who believes he has had a 2000 year existence as Jesus Christ. Featured on Sky News, ITV’s This Morning, and the BBC, former IT worker Alan John Miller has been heralded by the media as a fantasist, and even a dangerous cult leader. However, his teachings are global, reaching tens of thousands across the internet, and his followers worship him worldwide, funding his existence and tours. Many travel thousands of miles to hear him teach, where he is often accompanied by his partner “Mary Magdalene”.



Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond


 By National Film Board of Canada | 1983 


Groups which have all-powerful leaders who control the environment, control all information and eventually control the way their followers think, have one basic thing in common: They have found people who are willing to take that essential first step of surrendering to an authority figure they hope has all the answers. Throughout history, many people have taken that first step. Sometimes joining a small group, sometimes a large group. And sometimes a group that engulfs an entire nation.



The Rape of The MIND: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing by Joost Meerloo, M.D., Instructor in Psychiatry, Columbia University, published in 1956


From Chapter Six: Totalitaria and its Dictatorship


There actually exists such a thing as a technique of mass brainwashing. This technique can take root in a country if an inquisitor is strong and shrewd enough. He can make most of us his victims, albeit temporarily.


What in the structure of society has made man so vulnerable to these mass manipulations of the mind? This is a problem with tremendous implications, just as brainwashing is. In recent years we have grown more and more aware of human interdependence with all its difficulties and complications.


I am aware of the fact that investigation of the subject of mental coercion and thought control becomes less pleasant as time goes on. This is so because it may become more of a threat to us here and now, and our concern for China and Korea must yield to the more immediate needs at our own door. Can totalitarian tendencies take over here, and what social symptoms may lead to such phenomena? Stern reality confronts us with the universal mental battle between thought control (and its corollaries) and our standards of decency, personal strength, personal ideas, and a personal conscience with autonomy and dignity.


Future social scientists will be better able to describe the causes of the advent of totalitarian thinking and acting in man. We know that after wars and revolutions this mental deterioration more easily finds an opportunity to develop, helped by special psychopathic personalities who flourish on man’s misery and confusion. It is also true that the next generation spontaneously begins to correct the misdeeds of the previous one because the ruthless system has become too threatening to them.


My task, however, is to describe some symptoms of the totalitarian process (which implies deterioration of thinking and acting) as I have observed them in our own epoch, keeping in mind that the system is one of the most violent distortions of man’s consistent mental growth. No brainwashing is possible without totalitarian thinking.



Bryan ReynoldsJune 1, 2018Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who once taught at Harvard Medical School, wrote a paper titled “Cult Formation” in the early 1980s. He delineated three primary characteristics, which are the most common features shared by destructive cults.


1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.


2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called “brainwashing”].


3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.


The culmination of this process can be seen by members of the group often doing things that are not in their own best interest, but consistently in the best interest of the group and its leader.


Lifton’s seminal book Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism explains this process in considerable detail.


The destructiveness of groups called cults varies by degree, from labor violations, child abuse, medical neglect to, in some extreme and isolated situations, calls for violence or mass suicide.


Some groups that were once seen as “cults” have historically evolved to become generally regarded as religions. Power devolved from a single leader to a broader church government and such groups ceased to be seen as simply personality-driven and defined by a single individual. For example the Seventh-day Adventists, once led by Ellen White, or the Mormons church founded by Joseph Smith.


Some groups may not fit the definition of a cult, but may pose potential risks for participants. Here are 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader.


• Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.


• No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.


• No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement.


• Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.


• There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.


• Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.


• There are records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group/leader.


• Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.


• The group/leader is always right.


• The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.



THE MANIPULATED MIND: Brainwashing, Conditioning, and Indoctrination by Denise Winn, Octagon Press, 1983


Ever since American prisoners of war in Korea suddenly switched sides to the Communist cause, the concept of brainwashing has continued to fascinate and confuse.


Is it really possible to force any thinking person to act in a way completely alien to his character? What makes so-called brainwashing so different from the equally insidious effects of indoctrination and conditioning, or even advertising and education?


Research findings from psychology show that brainwashing is not a special subversive technique; it is the clever manipulation of unrealized influences that operate in all our lives.


This book, by breaking down so-called brainwashing to its individual elements, shows how social conditioning, need for approval, emotional dependency and much else that we are unaware of, prevent us from being as self-directed as we think; and, conversely, which human traits make us the least susceptible to subtle influence.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Denise Winn is a British journalist specializing in psychology and medicine. She is a former editor of the UK edition of Psychology Today and has written for national newspapers and magazines in Britain for over 20 years. She is author of 11 other books on psychological and medical topics and is currently also editor of The Therapist.


Cambridge, MA



PREFACE [excerpt]


The Manipulated Mind was written in the very early 1980s. The world is a changed place since then, and yet the findings presented in this book appear to apply just as much today as they did when it was written. Of course, there would have been additions if the book had been written now. There would be more research findings from psychology to enforce the ideas expressed here about influencing feelings, behaviour and attitudes. Questioning of assumptions (see chapter 3) is a large part of what cognitive behavioural therapy is all about – a therapy which really blossomed in the 1990s and which challenges clients to look for evidence of unhelpful beliefs they hold about themselves. The current focus on fostering good parenting skills is a means of challenging old assumptions about child rearing.
    Since the book was written, more cults have arisen and more have hit the headlines for disastrous reasons: Jonestown and Waco are two such disasters that leap to mind. . .


Denise Winn
 May 1999  





Cognitive dissonance (pp. 119-120)


Why should actions so often shape our attitudes, rather than vice versa? Much may be explained by Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, whereby people tend to search for justifications to reduce the tension created by holding two inconsistent attitudes or performing an act inconsistent with an attitude. On the simplest level, if a woman is choosing an evening dress and is undecided between a long blue one and a knee-length black one, whichever she eventually chooses, she will have to justify her choice to herself.  She decides on the black one and tells herself that the blue one would have been impractical anyway. If she had chosen the blue one, she would probably convince herself that the black one wasn’t dressy enough. She needs to reduce the tension caused by the fact that she liked both but could only have one. Therefore one had to be more right than the other.


That is cognitive dissonance at its most basic – and reasonable. But behaviour based on the need to reduce dissonance can be far more subtle to detect and alarming in its outcome.


Festinger proved the point when he studied the effects of cognitive dissonance on the beliefs of a small religious cult. The leader, Mrs Keech, claimed that she received messages from beings on another planet and that she had been informed that an earthquake and flood would signal the end of the world one day in December. But those who had been committed to Mrs Keech would be saved by a spaceship the night before. On the appointed night, the followers waited anxiously for the spaceship and of course it didn’t come. Festinger was there because he was interested to see how the devoted followers would cope with the tension that would result from having believed and committed themselves to belief and then being proved wrong. The group was highly upset when midnight came and went with no sight of a spaceship. But then Mrs Keech claimed to have received a message saying that the devotion of her and her followers had been sufficient to avert the impending disaster. The followers were then able to esteem Mrs Keech again and continue their belief in her. Moreover, whereas before they had eschewed publicity, they now actively sought it, in an effort to win more people over to their cause.


If Mrs Keech’s followers had not heard the message, they would have had to see themselves as fools for believing her. They would have been of less worth as individuals. Therefore, whatever the belief, they would have seized on any way to continue to hold it that would satisfy their need for consistent behaviour on their own part and for respecting themselves. In the same way, many devotees of spiritual healers who have been exposed as fakes continue to offer their faith and ‘stick by’ the maligned hero, not because of any magnitude of spirit themselves but because of the insupportable psychological consequences of accepting they had been duped.



(pp. 123-125)


What is dissonant for one may not be dissonant for another. If a person with a strong self-image feels his marriage isn’t working, he may be inclined to stick with it like a leech, to justify his belief in his own judgement of people and the effort he has already made to make the relationship work. ‘I can’t let go now. It will make the last six years seem worthless.’ The person who has a low self-image and who always expects to have everything go wrong will not experience the tension of dissonance in the same situation: ‘Just my luck. Nothing ever works out for me.’ The bad relationship confirms what he thinks of himself instead of threatening it.


The effects of resolving cognitive dissonance can be far more extensive and harmful than simple self-deception. Henry Dicks describes an account of how Nazi thinking took hold, which illustrates the point. From Licensed Mass Murder:


‘Frau von Baeyer-Katte has skillfully depicted the process of regression towards the acceptance of Nazi group norms or ethos in various social contexts after the Party came to power. At mass level there were the constant uniformed triumphal marches, day-long singing of the Party’s “Horst-Wessel” song, in short the build-up of a “we” feeling from which no patriotic “decent” person could stand aside. One had to cheer too. It now became easier to succumb to the subtly introduced blackmail of Party pressure through the appearance in offices, industrial plants, etc., of uniformed or at least openly Nazi “believers”. In the climate of Germany of those days, such people easily became paranoidly regarded and feared as planted secret informers. Thus conformity – always a strong social motive – by colluding with those early elements of terror, in the shape of “authentic” representatives of the new and required group ethos, replaced individual rational criticism and moral judgements. People had to vie with one another in public to mouth the right sentiments . . . At first a person with an averagely humane conscience would condemn himself for this lack of moral courage and his self-betrayal. This became too intolerable – so the second stage was a denial: surely there had to be some truth in what Nazi beliefs he had to assent to in his group?’


Toch, in The Social Psychology of Social Movements, evocatively describes the dilemma of cognitive dissonance, without using the word, when he comments on an extremely personal rude letter sent to an editor of a paper from the follower of some leader that the editor had written unflatteringly about in print. Commenting on the letter, Toch says, ‘The latent message in this communication is something in the order of “your negative characterisation of one of the leaders of my movement hurts me deeply because I had come to rely on this person (and others like him) for security and support. If what you said were true, I would be in a serious predicament. I am therefore constrained to regard you as a very evil person.’”


Toch illustrates here not only the nature of the resolution of dissonance at work but the power to strengthen belief that an attack on that belief can have – as mentioned in Kiesler’s work.


Philip Zimbardo, in Influencing Attitudes and Changing Behaviour, mentions the role that cognitive dissonance seems to play in the specific case of conversion to the beliefs of the Moonies. He points out that people are invited, not forced, to come on a week-end retreat to hear about the philosophies of Reverend Moon. He suggests that a person who doesn’t believe in the philosophies but sees himself behaving like others who do, while uncoerced to do so, will have to reduce the dissonance created by convincing himself he does believe in Reverend Moon.


One way to reduce dissonance is to seek social support for one’s own position. By finding other people who hold the same views, one can justify one’s own holding of them. In the case of cults, says Zimbardo, where old life-styles are abandoned for new, it is necessary to draw as many people as possible into the new life-style so that the ever increasing social support for the decision to join confirms its obvious ‘rightness’. (The same sort of thing happened, as we saw, with Mrs Keech’s followers, who actively sought converts after they had had to face the dilemma of carrying on believing in Mrs Keech or else acknowledging their own gullibility.)


Dissonance theory may help to explain why some people, when they are converted to a belief, hold on to it longer than others.



INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion


Book review
Jan. 27, 2019


In 1984 Dr. Robert Cialdini published this ground-breaking book, which has been in print ever since (and revised four times). What makes it so relevant today is that many of the lessons he gives (having first extracted them from such unlikely places as con-men investigators of the bunco squad, door-to-door encyclopaedia salesmen, and pollsters) are still only known to professionals in the influence game – for example, marketeers – and not the people who should really know, namely, the public at large.


Is it using you, or are you using it? Never have these words been better applied than in the field of influence, or as Cialdini shows, covert influence. Often people are influenced without being aware of the fact. This is less about things such as subliminal advertising, than the result of careful manipulation using six key triggers uncovered in ‘influence situations’. These six, or combinations of them, in the right setting can operate upon you unconsciously. In one experiment, voters were asked to put a large and unsightly billboard up in their garden advertising a political cause. Not surprisingly most people said no. But, in a similar sample, when people had already agreed the week before to putting up a poster in the window, more of them said yes. But most interestingly, almost the same percentage agreed even if they had simply signed a petition a few weeks before – an act that many could not even remember doing. So, we can do things that later cause us to be influenced and yet we have no awareness of the process.


This particular influence trigger is termed by Cialdini commitment and consistency. We act to remove cognitive dissonance – contradiction between beliefs – in our lives. If someone uses this to advance their own agenda, as in the billboard case, we may not notice. The influence avalanche starts with small nudges that refine and expose us as a certain kind of person. For example, if someone considers themselves a good chef, they will be acting consistently if they then buy a top chef’s knife. False questionnaires are just such a consistency trap. You answer the questions, but the answers are worth far less to the company (often the questionnaires are thrown away) than the new perception they have engineered in you – which is one of ‘caring’ about that company – and, of course, favouring their products . . .






BigSpeak Speakers Bureau


June 8, 2017


Robert Cialdini – Science Of Persuasion









Mathew Cox is a former mortgage broker from Florida who found himself on the Secret Service’s most wanted list. He made millions falsifying home ownership and mortgage documents for five times the properties’ actual worth.





Aug 13, 2019 | Updated Jan 8, 2021


How MLMs and Cults Use The

Same Mind Control Techniques


A former Mary Kay consultant recounts how the

multilevel marketing company kept her loyal,

even though she wasn’t making any money.


By Casy Bond


Caitlin Ruiz, a 30-year-old resident of Tucson, Arizona, first got involved in multilevel marketing companies in her early 20s. Also known as MLMs, businesses such as Mary Kay, Tupperware, Amway, Arbonne, LuLaRoe and a host of others employ consultants who sell products directly to the public as well as recruit new members.


Ruiz was attending school and working full-time, and like many 20-somethings, searching for a fulfilling career. A co-worker introduced her to Mary Kay, an MLM that sells makeup and beauty products, in 2012. The co-worker set up a lunch meeting with her “upline,” the person who recruited her into the company, to pitch Ruiz on joining them. “She said all the right things,” Ruiz said.




301 Amazing Stories and How Not to be Fooled  © 1992 


Kathryn Lindskoog (Author), Patrick Wynne (Illustrator) 


Nearly everyone is deceived at one time or another. Fakes, Frauds & Other Malarkey is a good-natured yet passionate analysis of deception – from its innocent roots in imaginative play to the poison fruit of the cruelest scams. It offers hilarious and heartbreaking glimpses into the schemes of hoaxers in the fields of art, literature, science, medicine, exploration, education, finance and religion. This book offers special insights into the nature of spiritual fraud in history and in modern America.



It’s easier to fool people than to convince

them that they’ve been fooled. ~ Mark Twain





By Erik Davis
Jan 30, 2010

One hundred years ago — or a hundred and one, depending on who you talk to — William Rider & Son, Ltd, published a pack of cards whose mysterious cartoons — the Tower, the Devil, the Fool — were destined to sink their roots into the dreaming loam of the 20th century imagination. At the time, Tarot decks were only found on the Continent, especially Italy and France, where the 78 cards were (and are) used for a popular trick-taking game as well as for fortune telling. Inspired by the notion that the cards encoded mystical knowledge, the occult scholar A.E. Waite, who also published an esoteric “key” to their meanings, spear-headed the design of a new deck that both honored and transformed traditional images that stretch back — at least — to the Renaissance courts of northern Italy.


. . . The modern occult is at root an enchanted game, a round of hide-and-seek in a half-manufactured forêt des symboles. No wonder that one of the most popular vectors of the modern occult would be a deck of cards.







The Self-help Industry Helps Itself to Billions of Dollars


By Lindsay Myers | May 23, 2014



Confessions of a Failed Self-Help Guru


I traveled around the country telling strangers how to balance their workloads and better their lives – until I learned the hard way that the people offering to solve your problems are often the ones who need help the most.”


Story by Michelle Goodman, posted on narratively.com March 7, 2016



James Jani

August 16, 2020


The Multilevel Marketing Cults:

Lies, Pyramid Schemes,

and the Pursuit of Financial Freedom



It is a well-known fact that one comes, finally, to believe whatever one repeats to one’s self, whether the statement be true or false. If a man repeats a lie over and over, he will eventually accept the lie as truth. Moreover, he will believe it to be the truth.


~ Napoleon Hill, from Think and Grow Rich



Super Eyepatch Wolf

March 27, 2021


The Bizarre World of Fake Psychics,

Faith Healers, and Mediums



What are some of the worst cases of academic fraud?


Bill Fryer, Translator and science addict

Answered on Quora February 7, 2019

In 1968, a man named Carlos Castaneda pulled off a remarkable ethnological hoax. While enrolled in the anthropology program at the University of California in Los Angeles, he submitted as his masters thesis an account of his apprenticeship under an old Yaqui Indian named don Juan Matus, who allegedly lived in the Sonoran desert north of Mexico . . .


In 1976, Castaneda’s works were finally debunked in Richard de Mille’s book Castaneda’s Journey. De Mille proved beyond doubt that Castaneda’s works were fiction. He established chronological, narratological, thematic, and linguistic inconsistencies between the works, and identified the sources that Castaneda drew upon, or even plagiarized in his fictional accounts. Yet de Mille was not entirely against Castaneda, and on the contrary he admired Castaneda for what he had done. He treated the whole Castaneda/don Juan controversy as a sociological phenomenon, fully worthy of scientific investigation. The most interesting chapter of de Mille’s book was “What happened at UCLA?”, where he inquired into how the University of California conferred a Ph.D on Castaneda for a work that was so obviously fiction.


Castaneda died in 1998, after living an extremely private and enigmatic life, and publishing a total of 12 books about his relationship with don Juan. He never admitted to the hoax, and his books have sold more than 28 million copies in 17 languages. While his Ph.D was never revoked, some anthropologists considered the conferral of a Ph.D “a disturbing and unforgivable breach of ethics”.


The success of Castaneda’s works, as well as his bizarre life-long performance, are symptomatic of a persistent trend in Western and Eastern societies that asserts the existence of bodies of wisdom or spiritual knowledge that can be acquired and then passed on. This myth of the guru has roots in the ancient Indian concept of nirvana, or enlightenment, and rests on the popular assumptions that spiritual enlightenment (wisdom) cannot be acquired easily or quickly, but that it can be taught. One interesting contradiction in the cult of the guru is that while the master is often presented as a distinctive individual and a nonconformist, the pupils are expected to conform to the guru’s path. This tendency where, for example, the Buddha figured it out by himself but the disciples must follow in the Buddha’s path, was examined at length in Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha (1922).


The popular concepts of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are fascinating, but they often seem to be accepted too readily without sufficient skepticism and critical examination.






Ideas Worth Spreading
April 15, 2008


Why people believe weird things | Michael Shermer


Why do people see the Virgin Mary on cheese sandwiches or hear demonic lyrics in “Stairway to Heaven”? Using video, images and music, professional skeptic Michael Shermer explores these and other phenomena, including UFOs and alien sightings. He offers cognitive context: In the absence of sound science, incomplete information can combine with the power of suggestion (helping us hear those Satanic lyrics in Led Zeppelin). In fact, he says, humans tend to convince ourselves to believe: We overvalue the “hits” that support our beliefs, and discount the more numerous “misses.”



From THE GRAND DESIGN by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, Bantam Books, 2010



               Skoll the wolf who shall scare the Moon

               Till he flies to the Wood-of-Woe:

               Hati the wolf, Hridvitnir’s kin,

               Who shall pursue the sun.


                      “GRIMNISMAL,” The Elder Edda



In Viking mythology, Skoll and Hati chase the sun and the moon. When the wolves catch either one, there is an eclipse. When this happens, the people on earth rush to rescue the sun or moon by making as much noise as they can in hopes of scaring off the wolves. There are similar myths in other cultures. But after a time people must have noticed that the sun and moon soon emerged from the eclipse regardless of whether they ran around screaming and banging on things. After a time they must also have noticed that the eclipses didn’t just happen at random: They occurred in regular patterns that repeated themselves. These patterns were most obvious for eclipses of the moon and enabled the ancient Babylonians to predict lunar eclipses fairly accurately even though they didn’t realize that they were caused by the earth blocking the light of the sun. Eclipses of the sun were more difficult to predict because they are visible only in a corridor on the earth about 30 miles wide. Still, once grasped, the patterns made it clear the eclipses were not dependent on the arbitrary whims of supernatural beings, but rather governed by laws.


    Despite some early success predicting the motion of celestial bodies, most events in nature appeared to our ancestors to be impossible to predict. Volcanoes, earthquakes, storms, pestilences, and ingrown toenails all seemed to occur without obvious cause or pattern. In ancient times it was natural to ascribe the violent acts of nature to a pantheon of mischievous or malevolent deities. Calamities were often taken as a sign that we had somehow offended the gods. For example, in about 5600 BC the Mount Mazama volcano in Oregon erupted, raining rock and burning ash for years, and leading to the many years of rainfall that eventually filled the volcanic crater today called Crater Lake. The Klamath Indians of Oregon have a legend that faithfully matches every geologic detail of the event but adds a bit of drama by portraying a human as the cause of the catastrophe. The human capacity for guilt is such that people can always find ways to blame themselves. As the legend goes Llao, the chief of the Below World, falls in love with the beautiful human daughter of a Klamath chief. She spurns him, and in revenge Llao tries to destroy the Klamath with fire. Luckily, according to the legend, Skell, the chief of the Above World, pities the humans and does battle with his underworld counterpart. Eventually Llao, injured, falls back inside Mount Mazama, leaving a huge hole, the crater that eventually filled with water.


    Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life. There were gods of love and war; of the sun, earth, and sky; of the oceans and rivers; of rain and thunderstorms; even of earthquakes and volcanoes. When the gods were pleased, mankind was treated to good weather, peace, and freedom from natural disaster and disease. When they were displeased, there came drought, war, pestilence and epidemics. Since the connection of cause and effect in nature was invisible to their eyes, these gods appeared inscrutable, and people at their mercy. 



(p. 149)


    The Chinese tell of a time during the Hsia dynasty (ca. 2205 – ca. 1782 BC) when our cosmic environment suddenly changed. Ten suns appeared in the sky. The people on earth suffered greatly from the heat, so the emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the extra suns. The archer was rewarded with a pill that had the power to make him immortal, but his wife stole it. For that offense she was banished to the moon. 



(pp. 162-64)


. . . Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that both is tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way.


    Many people would like us to use these coincidences as evidence of the work of God. The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago right up to the present. In the Mayan Popol Vuh mythohistorical narratives the gods proclaim, “We shall receive neither glory nor honor from all that we have created and formed until human beings exist, endowed with sentience.” A typical Egyptian text dated 2000 BC states, “Men, the cattle of God, have been well provided for. He [the sun god] made the sky and earth for their benefit.” In China the Taoist philosopher Lieh Yu-K’ou (c. 400 BC) expressed the idea through a character in a tale who says, “Heaven makes the five kinds of grain to grow, and brings forth the finny and the feathered tribes, especially for our benefit.”


    In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design in its story of creation, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed “in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design.” The medieval Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas employed Aristotle’s ideas about the order in nature to argue for the existence of God. In the eighteenth century another Christian theologian went so far as to say that rabbits have white tails in order that it be easy for us to shoot them. A more modern illustration of the Christian view was given a few years ago when Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, archbishop of Vienna, wrote, “Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse [many universes] hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human nature by proclaiming that the immanent design in nature is real.” In cosmology the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design to which the cardinal was referring is the fine-tuning of physical law we described above.


The turning point in the scientific rejection of a human-centered universe was the Copernican model of the solar system, in which the earth no longer held a central position. Ironically, Copernicus’s own worldview was anthropomorphic, even to the extent that he comforts us by pointing out that, despite his helio-centric model, the earth is almost at the universe’s center: “Although [the earth] is not at the center of the world, nevertheless the distance [to the center] is as nothing in particular when compared to that of the fixed stars.” With the invention of the telescope, observations in the seventeenth century, such as the fact that ours is not the only planet orbited by a moon, lent weight to the principle that we hold no privileged position in the universe. In the ensuing centuries the more we discovered about the universe, the more it seemed ours was probably just a garden-variety planet. But the discovery relatively recently of the extreme fine-tuning of so many of the laws of nature could lead at least some of us back to the old idea that this grand design is the work of some grand designer. In the United States, because the Constitution prohibits the teaching of religion in schools, that type of idea is called intelligent design, with the unstated but implied understanding that the designer is God. 


That is not the answer of modern science. 



Aaron Scher
May 19, 2008


Richard Feynman:

Take the world from another point of view

Part 1/4




Feb 18, 2011


Feynman on Scientific Method


Physicist Richard Feynman explains the

scientific and unscientific

methods of understanding nature.



Professor Dave Explains

March 19, 2021


Quantum Mysticism is Stupid (Deepak Chopra, Spirit Science, Actualized.org).


This just in! Quantum physics tells us that consciousness creates reality! The physical realm is just a mental construct! This means you can heal yourself with your mind, you can manifest your desires, and you can commune with the universe to achieve ultimate transcendence! At least that’s what some would have you believe. In actuality, physics says nothing of the sort. This is all just a ridiculous narrative spewed by con men that has come to be known as quantum mysticism. Together let’s identify its origin, with figures like Deepak Chopra, and trace its development over the past few decades, culminating in YouTube channels like Spirit Science and Actualized.org, which go beyond mere pseudoscience and act as literal cults. Cults are bad, don’t you agree? Let’s expose and disarm them together.



Psychology Today
March 1, 1998


Crimes of the Soul


By Jill Neimark


Discusses the ties that bind gurus and their followers. Story of Luna Tarlo, mother of American guru Andrew Cohen and author of Mother of God; Reason why Tarlo stopped following her son; Human tendency to search for transcendence; Reason why people turn to spiritual teachers or leaders; Characteristics of gurus; Different views on gurus.


Far too often, they have been linked to a monstrous abuse of power — financial, physical, sexual, and above all, emotional and psychological.



From The Myth of the Totally Enlightened Guru


By John Horgan


In the mid-1970s, I spent a year living in Philadelphia, and while there I took classes in Kundalini yoga. The classes convened at a house, or ashram, inhabited by male and female Kundalini devotees, all of them Americans. They all wore the traditional white linen clothing and turbans of Sikhs. The lanky, bearded head of the house taught the weekly classes, which consisted of tendon-and spine-twisting postures, stomach crunches, repetition of the mantra “sat nam,” and dizzying breathing exercises, including a form of hyperventilation called “breath of fire.”


This form of yoga was introduced to the U.S. by an Indian adept named Yogi Bhajan, who was said by my Kundalini teacher to be completely enlightened. When Yogi Bhajan came to Philadelphia and gave a talk at the university I was attending, I went to see him. Swathed in white robes, he was a bearish, bearded, jolly man, Santa Claus as swami. I cannot recall what Yogi Bhajan said, but I remember being entranced. He exuded an intelligence and self-assurance that seemed superhuman. He had a mischievous smile that hinted, “I know.” Before the talk, I had been tense and exhausted from studying for final exams. Listening to Yogi Bhajan speak, I became strangely elated, and a headache that had nagged me all day vanished. At the time, I attributed my lift in mood to being in the presence of a fully enlightened being.


I mention this episode only to show that for at least one evening decades ago I believed in the myth of the totally enlightened guru. By total enlightenment, I mean not the flashes of insight that occur during drug trips or meditation, which last scarcely longer than an orgasm. Nor do I mean the down-graded quasi-enlightenment that Ken Wilber and others speak of, which confers a certain degree of detachment from the vicissitudes of existence but leaves our needy, neurotic selves otherwise unchanged. No, I mean full-blown enlightenment, the kind that Buddha supposedly achieved. Supreme wisdom and grace and serenity, total self-transcendence, liberation from mundane reality and morality. Not just a glimpse of heaven but permanent habitation of it. This is the enlightenment that gurus such as Yogi Bhajan supposedly attained and that they promised to devotees.


The totally enlightened guru is in a sense another mystical technology. Through devotion to the guru – which Hindus call guru yoga – we too may vault beyond this vale of tears to the promised land of nirvana.


Over the past twenty years, the myth of the totally enlightened guru has taken a beating, as one avatar after another has been accused of depraved and even criminal behavior. Given the scandalous behavior of so many self-proclaimed enlightened masters, one can understand why Huston Smith insists that no mere mortal can achieve total enlightenment, and why Ken Wilber contends that all gurus — ”no exceptions, none” – have feet of clay. But the myth of the totally enlightened being has proven to be extraordinarily persistent. Susan Blackmore and James Austin, as hard-nosed and skeptical as they are, believe in total enlightenment, and I still feel the myth’s allure myself now and then.


In the summer of 1996, I was perusing a newsstand in Grand Central Station when I noticed a glossy magazine titled What Is Enlightenment? The subtitle read: “Dedicated to the discovery of what enlightenment is and what it really means.” According to its masthead, the magazine was published twice a year by Moksha, an organization founded by a spiritual teacher named Andrew Cohen. This particular issue, headlined “Is the Guru Dead?”, addressed the growing tendency of spiritual seekers and teachers to reject the notion of the totally enlightened guru. The magazine explored this topic in an article by George Feuerstein on crazy wisdom, as well as in interviews with a Benedictine monk, a Russian Orthodox patriarch, a rabbi, and other spiritual teachers.


The issue also featured a vigorous defense of the myth of the totally enlightened guru by Andrew Cohen, the magazine’s publisher. Just because some gurus fail us, Cohen said, we should not conclude that all gurus are flawed — or that absolute enlightenment is an unachievable ideal. “If such a goal is unattainable,” Cohen wrote, that would mean “there really is no way out of the human predicament.” Reading between the lines, it was obvious that Cohen believed himself to be totally enlightened.



W H A T   E N L I G H T E N M E N T ? ? !








THE “A” LIST: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse


 The following is a list of categories of abuses committed over the years against students by Andrew Cohen and the EnlightenNext community, with selected representative examples.





Banijay Documentaries

October 21, 2023


Unveiling Andrew Cohen – How I Created A Cult


Explore the shocking truth behind the rise and fall of Andrew Cohen’s spiritual cult. From initial devotion to the harsh realities of life within the community, witness firsthand accounts of devotion, manipulation, and ultimate escape. Learn how a charismatic guru can lead followers into a world of authoritarianism and the struggles they face in breaking free.


Delve into the enigmatic world of a notorious American guru in How I Created a Cult. This compelling three-part documentary series unveils the shocking truth of psychological manipulation, financial exploitation, and relentless control exerted over devoted followers. With candid interviews from former disciples and 25 years of archival material, the show traces the descent from idealistic origins to the downfall of a global spiritual empire valued at millions. How I Created a Cult scrutinises the allure of charismatic leaders and how noble intentions can spiral into darkness under authoritarian rule. It’s a profound exploration of power’s corrupting influence, the perils of charismatic figures, and the high cost of surrendering all to an idea or individual.


In 1992, Andrew Cohen founded the publishing house and nonprofit EnlightenNext to produce his books and a quarterly magazine called What Is Enlightenment? The community and magazine were funded entirely by student donations. Each issue featured conversations with cultural figures like Deepak Chopra, Anthony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle and Ken Wilber. In addition, the magazine promoted Andrew Cohen’s teachings and retreats, recuiting new students globally.



STRIPPING THE GURUS: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffrey D. Falk, Million Monkeys Press © 2005 – 2017





The wicked are wicked no doubt, and they go astray,
and they fall, and they come by their desserts. But
who can tell the mischief that the very virtuous do? 


                            ~ William Makepeace Thacheray



ONE WOULD LIKE TO BELIEVE that our world’s recognized saints and sages have the best interests of everyone at heart in their thoughts and actions.


One would also like to believe that the same “divinely loving” and enlightened figures would never distort truth to suit their own purposes, and would never use their power to take advantage (sexually or otherwise) of their followers. They would, that is, be free of the deep psychological quirks, prejudices, hypocrisy and violence which affect mere mortals.


One would further hope that the best of our world’s sages would be able to distinguish between valid mystical perceptions and mere hallucinations, and that the miracles and healings which they have claimed to have effected have all actually occurred.


Sadly, none of those hopes stand up to even the most basic rational scrutiny.


Thus, it has come to be that you are holding in your hands an extremely evil book.


It is so, simply because it attempts to expose, to a wider audience, the worst of the alleged abuses which various “god-men” have reportedly visited upon their followers, and on the world at large, over the past century or more.




No one involved in contemporary spirituality can afford to ignore this book. It exposes the darker side of modern spiritual movements, those embarrassing—sometime vicious or criminal—reports which the leaders of these movements prefer to hide. With wit and humility, and without abandoning the verities of religion, Falk has provided a corrective critique of groups that peddle enlightenment and transcendence. A must!


— Len Oakes, author of Prophetic Charisma




Ramakrishna was a homoerotic pedophile.


His chief disciple, Vivekananda, visited brothels in India.


Krishnamurti carried on an affair for over twenty years with the wife of a good friend. Chögyam Trungpa drank himself into an early grave. One of Adi Da’s nine “wives” was a former Playboy centerfold. Bhagwan Rajneesh sniffed laughing gas to get high. Andrew Cohen, guru and publisher of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, by his own reported admission sometimes feels “like a god.”


These are typical of the “wizened sages” to whom otherwise-sensible people give their devotion and unquestioning obedience, surrendering their independence, willpower, and life’s savings in the hope of realizing for themselves the same “enlightenment” as they ascribe to the “perfect, God-realized” master.




Is it for being emotionally vulnerable and “brainwashed,” as the “anti-cultists” assert? Or for being “willingly psychologically seduced,” as the apologists unsympathetically counter, confident that they themselves are “too smart” to ever fall into the same trap? Or have devotees simply walked, with naïvely open hearts and thirsty souls, into inherent dynamics of power and obedience which have showed themselves in classic psychological studies from Milgram to Zimbardo, and to which each one of us is susceptible every day of our lives?


Like the proud “Rude Boy” Cohen allegedly said, with a laugh, in response to the nervous breakdown of one of his devoted followers: “It could happen to any one of you.”


Don’t let it happen to you. Don’t get suckered in. Be prepared. Be informed. Find out what reportedly goes on behind the scenes in even the best of our world’s spiritual communities.



CEI Cult Education Institute


Large Group Awareness Training, “Human Potential”


Outrageous Betrayal


Posted by: looking for help
Date: February 26, 2006 05:28AM


I just received this book by Steven Pressman that profiles “The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile.” After reading only the Prologue and first two chapters and skimming the rest I cannot believe ANYONE would follow the teachings of such a person!!!!! I am now even MORE outraged!!!!


How do the LEKKIES explain the background of their founder?


If you are even thinking about getting involved with the Forum you MUST read this book and if you have loved ones involved it is also a must read. I am hoping this book will offer insight and help in getting my loved one out.


Question: Was there a lawsuit over this book?



Outrageous Betrayal


The Dark Journey

of Werner Erhard

from est to Exile


By Steven Pressman





March 5, 2008 | Updated Nov. 17, 2011


Inside The Landmark Forum



By Karin Badt, Contributor

Associate Professor of Cinema and Theater at the University of Paris 8; member of the TransCrit Research Group


“You’re lying. You don’t love your daughter. You just wanted her to keep away from men because you were rejected by men. You ruined her life, admit it, for your own selfish purposes. If you want to help her now, you can go kill yourself. No, that’s not good enough. Get cancer. Make it last for 29 years so you suffer and die.”


The woman on the stand bursts into tears – “Yes, I am a bitch,” she admits – and the leader of the Landmark Forum, Alain Roth, leans forth in victory on the stage. She has “cracked”: a breakthrough moment.


This scene begins the 2004 French Channel Three report on the Landmark Education Forum in Paris. Reporters hiding secret cameras had snuck into the Landmark, a self-help program launched in 1991 as the successor to Est, after Werner Erhard, the founder of the organization, escaped from the United States a millionaire, to avoid possible imprisonment for tax evasion. It was this TV program that closed down the Landmark in France, leaving it only 24 other countries in which to spread its word.





VICE investigate how enigmatic,


cult-like leaders build and maintain their followings.





March 31, 2014 Issue


Annals of Religion


How not to negotiate with believers.



By Malcolm Gladwell


When Clive Doyle was a teen-ager, in the nineteen-fifties, he and his mother met an itinerant preacher outside their church, in Melbourne, Australia. He was a big, gruff Scotsman named Daniel Smith. The Doyles were devout Seventh-Day Adventists. But Smith was the follower of a self-proclaimed prophet named Victor Houteff, who became an Adventist just after the First World War and parted ways with the Church a decade later. The Doyles listened to Smith’s account of the Houteff teachings until the small hours of the morning and were impressed. “We were taught that if someone comes with a message based on the Bible, instead of trying to fight it, instead of trying to put it down or trying to prove it wrong, we should study the Bible to perceive whether the message is true,” Doyle writes in his autobiography. “Study to see if it’s so.”



The Guardian

October 20, 2019


 Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell review – fascinating study of why we misread those we don’t know. 


Gladwell’s typically digressive exploration of the assumptions we make when dealing with strangers is compelling.


By Andrew Anthony

Some years and several books ago, the New Yorker journalist Malcolm Gladwell moved from being a talented writer to a cultural phenomenon. He has practically invented a genre of nonfiction writing: the finely turned counterintuitive narrative underpinned by social science studies. Or if not the inventor then someone so closely associated with the form that it could fall under the title of Gladwellian.


His latest book, Talking to Strangers, is a typically roundabout exploration of the assumptions and mistakes we make when dealing with people we don’t know. If that sounds like a rather vague area of study, that’s because in many respects it is – there are all manner of definitional and cultural issues through which Gladwell boldly navigates a rather convenient path. But in doing so he crafts a compelling story, stopping off at prewar appeasement, paedophilia, espionage, the TV show Friends, the Amanda Knox and Bernie Madoff cases, suicide and Sylvia Plath, torture and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, before coming to a somewhat pat conclusion.



From Chapter 4: The Holy Fool (pp. 98-101)


In Russian folklore there is an archetype called yurodivy, or the “Holy Fool.” The Holy Fool is a social misfit – eccentric, off-putting, sometimes even crazy – who nonetheless has access to the truth. Nonetheless is actually the wrong word. The Holy Fool is a truth-teller because he is an outcast. Those who are not part of existing social hierarchies are free to blurt out inconvenient truths or question things the rest of us take for granted. In one Russian fable, a Holy Fool looks at a famous icon of the Virgin Mary and declares it the work of the devil. It’s an outrageous, heretical claim. But then someone throws a stone at the image and the facade cracks, revealing the face of Satan.


Every culture has its version of the Holy Fool. In Hans Christian Andersen’s famous children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the king walks down the street in what he has been told is a magical outfit. No one says a word except a small boy, who cries out, “Look at the king! He’s not wearing anything at all!” The little boy is a Holy Fool. The tailors who sold the king his clothes told him they would be invisible to anyone unfit for their job. The adults said nothing, for fear of being labeled incompetent. The little boy didn’t care. The closest we have to Holy Fools in modern life are whistleblowers. They are willing to sacrifice loyalty to their institution – and, in many cases, the support of their peers – in the service of exposing fraud and deceit.


What sets the Holy Fool apart is a different sense of the possibility of deception. In real life, Tim Levine reminds us, lies are rare. And those lies that are told are told by a very small subset of people. That’s why it doesn’t matter so much that we are terrible at detecting lies in real life. Under the circumstances, in fact, defaulting to truth makes logical sense. If the person behind the counter at the coffee shop says your total with tax is $6.74, you can do the math yourself to double-check their calculations, holding up the line and wasting thirty seconds of your time. Or you can simply assume the salesperson is telling you the truth, because on balance most people do tell the truth.


That’s what Scott Carmichael did. He was faced with two alternatives. Reg Brown said that Ana Montes was behaving suspiciously. Ana Montes, by contrast, had a perfectly innocent explanation for her actions. On one hand was the exceedingly rare possibility that one of the most respected figures at the DIA was a spy. On the other hand was the far more likely scenario that Brown was just being paranoid. Carmichael went with the odds: that’s what we do when we default to truth. Nat Simons went with the odds as well. Madoff could have been the mastermind of the greatest financial fraud in history, but what were the chances of that?


The Holy Fool is someone who doesn’t think this way. The statistics say that the liar and the con man are rare. But to the Holy Fool, they are everywhere.


We need Holy Fools in our society, from time to time. They perform a valuable role. That’s why we romanticize them. Harry Markopolos was the hero of the Madoff saga. Whistleblowers have movies made about them. But the second, crucial part of Levine’s argument is that we can’t all be Holy Fools. That would be a disaster.


Levine argues that over the course of evolution, human beings never developed sophisticated and accurate skills to detect deception as it was happening because there is no advantage to spending your time scrutinizing the words and behaviors of those around you. The advantage to human beings lies in assuming that strangers are truthful. As he puts it, the trade-off between truth-default and the risk of deception is


a great deal for us. What we get in exchange for being vulnerable to an occasional lie is efficient communication and social coordination. The benefits are huge and the costs are trivial in comparison. Sure, we get deceived once in a while. That is just the cost of doing business.


That sounds callous, because it’s easy to see all the damage done by people like Ana Montes and Bernie Madoff. Because we trust implicitly, spies go undetected, criminals roam free, and lives are damaged. But Levine’s point is that the price of giving up on that strategy is much higher. If everyone on Wall Street behaved like Harry Markopolos, there would be no fraud on Wall Street – but the air would be so thick with suspicion and paranoia that there would be no Wall Street.*




*  But wait. Don’t we want counterintelligence officers to be Holy Fools? Isn’t this just the profession where having someone who suspects everyone makes sense? Not at all. One of Scott Carmichael’s notorious predecessors was James Angleton, who ran the counterintelligence operations of the CIA during the last decades of the Cold War. Angleton became convinced there was a Soviet mole high inside the agency. He launched an investigation that eventually covered 120 CIA officials. He couldn’t find the spy. In frustration, Angleton ordered many in the Soviet division to pack their bags. Hundreds of people – Russian specialists with enormous knowledge and experience of America’s chief adversary – were shipped elsewhere. Morale plummeted. Case officers stopped recruiting new agents.



(page 69)

Levine’s theories are laid out in his book, Duped: Truth-Default Theory and the Social Science of Lying and Deception (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2019). If you want to understand how deception works, there is no better place to start.



I call my theory Truth Default Theory (TDT for short). It offers an alternative view of deception and deception detection.


The basic idea of TDT is that when we communicate with other people, we not only tend to believe them, but the thought that maybe we shouldn’t does not even come to mind. This is a good thing for two reasons. First, and most important, the truth-default is needed for communication to function. Second, most people are mostly honest most of the time. But, the truth-default makes us vulnerable to deception. Fortunately, there are “triggers” that can break us out of our default-to-honest mindset and enable lie detection. TDT covers how this works and why.





ton2u September 26, 2015Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


“Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in political and organizational contexts.”


wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation bias



Ames Gilbert October 1, 2015 


It might have been better to just give you guys a link, but since I collected this review, the link has gone bad. Anyway, everything from the end of this sentence is a quote!


From the introductory chapter in Robert J. Gula’s book, Nonsense – Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How we abuse logic in our everyday language


“I just know that that doesn’t make any sense, but I’m not sure why.”


It’s frustrating to know in your heart that what you’ve just heard is nonsense but not to be able to pinpoint why it is nonsense. If you’ve ever found yourself in that position, this book should help. It identifies and itemizes the many different guises that erroneous thinking may assume, and it explains some of the reasons for erroneous thinking. This book will not turn you into a skilled rebuttalist, but it will give you the ammunition to become one. And, even more important, it will put you in a position of strength in steering a discussion. You’ll find many of your friends and acquaintances throughout these pages, but you will also find yourself from time to time. None of us is immune to nonsense.


Are men and women by nature hopelessly muddled creatures? By nature, yes. Muddled, yes. Hopelessly, no. Men and women may be rational animals, but they are not by nature reasoning animals. Careful and clear thinking requires a certain rigor; it is a skill, and, like all skills, it requires training, practice, and vigilance. Before one can use one’s reason, one should know the traps that are always awaiting the untutored mind.


Hence this book—a book on nonsense, a summary of the devices that camouflage and subvert reason. If we recognize the pitfalls and ruses, we may be able to avoid them and we may be able to discourage others from relying upon them.


First, some general principles. Let’s not call them laws; and, since they’re not particularly original, I won’t attach my name to them. They are merely a description of patterns that seem to characterize the ways that people tend to respond and think. For example, people:


1. tend to believe what they want to believe.


2. tend to project their own biases or experiences upon situations.


3. tend to generalize from a specific event.


4. tend to get personally involved in the analysis of an issue and tend to let their feelings overcome a sense of objectivity.


5. are not good listeners. They hear selectively. They often hear only what they want to hear.


6. are eager to rationalize.


7. are often unable to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant.


8. are easily diverted from the specific issue at hand.


9. are usually unwilling to explore thoroughly the ramifications of a topic; tend to oversimplify.


10. often judge from appearances. They observe something, misinterpret what they observe, and make terrible errors in judgment.


11. often simply don’t know what they are talking about, especially in matters of general discussion. They rarely think carefully before they speak, but they allow their feelings, prejudices, biases, likes, dislikes, hopes, and frustrations to supersede careful thinking.


12. rarely act according to a set of consistent standards. Rarely do they examine the evidence and then form a conclusion. Rather, they tend to do whatever they want to do and to believe whatever they want to believe and then find whatever evidence will support their actions or their beliefs. They often think selectively: in evaluating a situation they are eager to find reasons to support what they want to support and they are just as eager to ignore or disregard reasons that don’t support what they want.


13. often do not say what they mean and often do not mean what they say.


To these principles, let’s add four observations cited by J.A.C. Brown in his book, Techniques of Persuasion:


“Most people want to feel that issues are simple rather than complex, want to have their prejudices confirmed, want to feel that they ‘belong’ with the implication that others do not, and need to pinpoint an enemy to blame for their frustations.”



brucelevyMay 7, 2016


Does this sound like the lifestyle of someone else we know?





From Social Control in Scientology by Bob Penny



The Defeat of Street Smarts


Claiming to be a religion is but one means of sheltering a commercial enterprise from accountability. Ambiguity of product is another.


The legal profession struggles to keep up with questions of accountability that arise when buyer and seller disagree about the nature and effect of esoteric services. That problem becomes all the more difficult when the product is inherently ambiguous, as is the case with the subjective and possibly manipulated mental state of an individual. This ambiguity is a legal weak point which Hubbard recognized, exploited, and further obscured by mixing it with religion.


By charging money for obscure expert services which are part of a religion and which have as their product an ambiguous subjective condition, Hubbard created a sales and recruitment machine virtually immune from legal accountability.



Certainty vs. Truth


Sound objective research is not relevant to the true believer. In place of evidence and scientific validity, things are said to work (in Scientology) by using social pressures to persuade people that they did work, i.e., by gradually interfering with the individual’s ability to evaluate information.


The coercion which accomplishes this defeat of “street smarts” may not be obvious. It would be a pretty ineffective group that had to control its members through blatant coercion. It is much more efficient to create a milieu in which the members indoctrinate and control themselves, and convince each other that it was all their own free choice and decision. As a cohesive group, they will enforce such ideas as a condition of friendship and belonging.


We encounter a friendly and enthusiastic group which espouses goals and values that are easy to agree with. Home at last!


At first, it seems that all we are being asked to agree with is better communication, getting people off drugs, motherhood, and apple pie.


What these groups really sell is membership. Sure, they want your money and your time, and they will take all there is of both. But what they want above all is for you to be one of them, to belong, to agree with them, to reassure them by the sacrifice of your own life and values that their own lives and decisions have not been futile misguided errors.


“Street smarts” is swept away by the person’s urgent reliance on the constant reinforcement required to maintain “certainty” in those collective self-deceptions about being an elite in unique possession of the only right answers. It may be decades before one begins to realize, or to fight desperately against realizing, that life has gone by to no constructive effect.


There were some tricks going on that our ordinary schoolyard and street education failed to teach us about.



brucelevy July 28, 2016


mikerindersblog.org/mind-control-made-easy/? subscribe = success#blog subscription-2








Leah Remini’s ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’ to End with Explosive Special


The actress and activist discusses the Danny Masterson accusations and her efforts moving forward: “When Scientology’s tax exempt status is revoked and people are in prison, that’s when I’ll start healing.”



By Mikey O’Connell | August 14, 2019


Leah Remini is calling it a day on Scientology and the Aftermath. The actress and activist, who’s been an outspoken critic of the deeply controversial organization since her own exit in 2013, has decided to wrap A&E’s Emmy-winning docuseries after three seasons.


Scientology and the Aftermath’s final episode, a two-hour special filmed in front of a live studio audience of former members, will focus on testimonials alleging that Scientology policies have hindered members from reporting instances of sexual assault and physical violence to the authorities. It is set to air Monday, Aug. 26.


Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the accusations of rape against actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson will be included in the two-hour special, as will footage of interviews with two of the women who’ve accused him. This is the widely reported segment that producers were working on earlier in the year, though Masterson is not said to be the focus of the finale. (Masterson has denied any wrongdoing, calling it “beyond ridiculous,” and has not been charged with a crime — but, on late Wednesday, four women filed a lawsuit against him and Scientology alleging stalking and a conspiracy to cover up the alleged assaults.)



Scientology and the Aftermath



60 Minutes Australia

August 6, 2023


Scientology’s devious tricks to hold its

members hostage for life


The Church of Scientology, increasingly labelled a secretive cult, is once again proving why it’s such a contentious organisation. Two months ago, a court in the United States found one of its members, Hollywood actor Danny Masterson, guilty of multiple rapes. As intolerable as that is, what the case also exposed were the extraordinary tactics the Church used to protect its star recruit, and how it cruelly attempted to silence his victims, who themselves were Scientologists. 


Since then, there have been even more revelations about life inside Scientology, including damning accusations of serious abuses and mob-style operations and attacks. But as Tara Brown reports, taking on an organisation as bullying and belligerent as Scientology comes at a cost.



Scientology, Sex, and Scandal:

The Second Dynamic,

Prenatal Engrams, and the Sea Org


Carole M. Cusack
University of Sydney


2016, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 5-33


The teachings of the Church of Scientology (CoS), founded in 1954 by the science fiction author Lafayette Ronald (Ron) Hubbard (1911-1986), maintain that humanity (‘man’) is striving to survive, and that the primary human goal of survival is played out through the Eight Dynamics, the second of which is sex.





LADbible TV

March 6, 2024


In this episode of Honesty Box, we delve into the world of Scientology with Jon Atack, a former member turned authoritarian cult expert and author. Jon provides invaluable insights into his personal experiences within Scientology, shedding light on the hypnotic techniques used, the hierarchy, leadership and origins story of the organization. He reveals details about celebrity involvement, and explores the daunting commitment of the Sea Organization, where members sign a billion year pledge upon joining.





Michael Shermer on Cults, Myths, and Religion


April 3, 2020


Dr. Michael Shermer considers the characteristics of cults, how they differ from sects, religions, and myths, the role that myths and religions play in culture and people’s lives, and what Scientologists really believe.





Pathways to Evil, Part 2


May 15, 2020


Dr. Shermer fleshes out the themes of Part 1 by exploring how the dials controlling our inner demons and better angels can be dialed up or down depending on circumstances and conditions.





George Salis: Whence Cometh Evil?


Maria Konnikova: Cons


Robert Stern: The Devil’s Mark


Cynthia S. Kisser: Waco, Jonestown and All That Madness


Newsweek: Secrets of the Cult


Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath


Ash Sanders: Children of Scientology


Ted Daniels: Cults, Brainwashing, and Society


Fleur Brown: I Grew up in a Cult


Vikram Gandhi: The True Story of a False Prophet


Phil Molé: Deepak’s Dangerous Dogmas


Michael Shermer: The Unlikeliest Cult in History


Gerald Larue: Was Christianity a Cult?


Steve Allen: The Jesus Cults


Steven B. Harris: The Resurrection Myth


Dawn Smith: Why I Left an Evangelical Cult


Milton Rothman: Realism and Religion


J. Christian Greer: Religion Can’t be a Joke, Right?


Richard Dawkins: The Enemies of Reason & Slaves to Superstition


Andrew Cooper-Sansone: Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are


Jake Flanagin: How YouTube Became a Breeding Ground

for a Diabolical Lizard Cult


David Silberklang: The Main Principles of Nazi Ideology


David Silverman: The Cult of Falun Gong


John Glynn: 1984 in 2019





Bares Reposting February 25, 2018 Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


This was posted about a year ago on here and has been updated and rebroadcasted:






CBS: 48 Hours
The Family: A Cult Revealed (44 minutes)
Air Date: 04/29/17 [re-aired: 02/24/2018]


Part 1: Allegations of stolen children, drugs, abuse and a leader who claimed to be the second coming of Christ — “48 Hours” follows the trail of a cult that began in Australia and led the FBI to New York. “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant investigates.


To some, Anne Hamilton-Byrne was a yoga teacher with a penchant for plastic surgery. To others, she was the evil leader of The Family — an apocalyptic cult with about 500 followers and more than 28 children. Some were the children of cult members, others were newborns that came from unwed mothers tricked into thinking their babies were going to good homes, a few were out and out stolen, investigators say.


Now, some of those children are speaking out about Hamilton-Byrne’s attempt to build a perfect race through a collection of children — some of whom were forced to have their hair bleached blonde, were home-schooled on an isolated property, and were injected with LSD as part of an initiation ritual.


The harsh treatment was carried out by some of the women known as “Aunties,” loyal cult members who lived with and taught the children. The children believed they were brothers and sisters and thought Anne and Bill Hamilton-Byrne were their parents until they were rescued by police and the cult was broken up.


“The Family” is also the story of the incredible determination of a detective in Australia and an agent at the FBI who joined forces to bring the Hamilton-Byrnes before a judge.


“My whole life was wrapped up in this investigation,” says Lex de Man, a former detective with the Victoria Police Department in Melbourne, Australia. He tells “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant, “She is the most evil person that I’ve ever met.”


In the Catskills region of New York State, Lex de Man is far from home. He is here to retrace the steps of the biggest case of his career — hunting down a dangerous fugitive cult leader.


Several additional segments on the topic are in the right side panel on the page:


– The Family: A Cult Revealed [Part 2] – The Family cult: A true believer’s story
– Former detective on investigating an apocalyptic Australian cult
– Bill Hamilton-Byrne, the man behind Anne
– Behind closed doors of an elusive cult
– Could you be lured into a cult?
– Grown children of The Family share mixed emotions about cult leaders



Golden Veil March 24, 2018 


Whether it be the teacher of an esoteric school, a rabbi or Christian minister, etc., all these “leaders” seem to want others to buy into their dream – and pay for it. If the form and timing just happens to be right, it appears that almost anyone can get bamboozled into joining a cult.


Holy Smoke (1/12) movie clip – Indian Guru Baba



Associated Press November 1, 2018


It would be good to reflect upon the below in regard to the recent discussion:


From Wikipedia:


“Stockholm syndrome is a condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors as a survival strategy during captivity. These alliances, resulting from a bond formed between captor and captives during intimate time spent together, are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims. The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System and Law Enforcement Bulletin shows that roughly 8% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome.


[Interesting that 8% is close to the retention rate that the Fellowship of Friends has; 8% of those who join are still members.]


This term was first used by foreign media in 1973 as eponym when four hostages were taken during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. The hostages defended their captors after being released and would not agree to testify in court against them. Stockholm syndrome is ostensibly paradoxical because the sympathetic sentiments captives feel towards their captors are the opposite of the fear and disdain an onlooker may feel towards the captors.


There are four key components that generally lead to the development of Stockholm syndrome:
– A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards their captor
– No previous hostage-captor relationship
– A refusal by hostages to co-operate with police forces and other government authorities
– A hostage’s belief in the humanity of their captor, for the reason that when a victim holds the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.


Stockholm syndrome is considered a “contested illness,” due to many law enforcement officers’ doubt about the legitimacy of the condition. Stockholm syndrome has also come to describe the reactions of some abuse victims beyond the context of kidnappings or hostage-taking. Actions and attitudes similar to those suffering from Stockholm syndrome have also been found in victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, discrimination, terror, and political and religious oppression.”


One might also add to that last sentence: victims of cults.



Pyewacket November 20, 2018


Here’s another more alarming angle on the events in Guyana, that I’ve just come across on the Globalresearch site. The main element about Jonestown starts at 49 minutes in. Basically, this documentary implies that rather than being a mass suicide, what actually occurred was mass murder. The whole shebang being a CIA MKULTRA mind control operation, and that Jones himself was a long term CIA asset.


I did find the video somewhat persuasive, but guess we’ll never really know.








Be Scofield

December 15, 2018


Spiritual Bypassing Guru,

Robert Augustus Masters,

was an abusive cult leader


Author and spiritual teacher Robert Augustus Masters, also known as RAMOS ran two abusive cults for a period of 17 years. He is accused of systemic physical and emotional abuse. Former members claim he has never confronted his own shadow nor has shown empathy or compassion for his victims or remorse for his actions— something that contradicts his so called expertise on “the shadow.” Masters’ history raises important questions about what accountability means for spiritual teachers who have abused in their past.




On October 1st, 2018, Sounds True published a new book by “spiritual bypassing” guru Robert Augustus Masters. It’s called Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark and features a forward by author Lissa Rankin. Known by many for his popular book Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us, Masters is often cited as an expert on the ways people use spirituality to avoid their own shadow and taking responsibility for their actions.


Masters is a self-admitted former abusive cult leader. Between 1977 and 1994 he ran two cults in Canada, one of which was called Xanthyros. He wrote a short blog post around 2014 about his past called “A Needed Shattering” in which he admits that he got “off track” and was an arrogant, “spiritual asshole” who ran a cult and harmed people. After a 9-month psychotic break from a drug induced experience, he claims that all of his former abusive ways “no longer fit” him. Mentally unstable and in need of constant care, his members fled him in 1994. He now claims his former experience as a cult leader makes him particularly well-suited to teach about spiritual bypassing, cults, abuse and aggression.


The accusations against Masters include claims of many years of physical and emotional abuse, manipulation, mind control, intimidation, financial manipulation, relationship tampering and more. Former members claim he also broke up numerous couples and demanded some members give their kids up for adoption. A former insider describes him as “an abusive, cruel, egocentric, power hungry paranoid child” who “coerced us into abusing our families outside the community as well as those inside – spouses, children, and friends.” The actions by Masters caused extensive trauma and harm to former members, including babies and children, they claim. Former members state that he has settled three lawsuits out of court in regards to his past abuse.





Mark D. Miller

May 25, 1985

Sausalito, California USA


Dear Friends,


This letter comes to you from someone who no longer associates with The Johannine Daist Communion (JDC), the community of Da Free John (DFJ). Of late, my friends and I have been labelled “dissidents”, and worse, by JDC’s leadership. While reading this letter it would be helpful if you could simply consider me an old friend.


I had intended to write to you long before the lawsuits and media circus began. In fact, the prospect of presenting the ideas contained in this letter is what inspired me to speak out in the first place. Please permit yourself the clear space to receive these thoughts and feelings in order to work with them as completely as possible. Given the current situation, I understand that this will not be easy for you. It certainly has been a disturbing process for me as well. However, I have been overwhelmed by the weight of my observations and feel duty bound to share them with you.


This letter is not intended to serve as the last word on DFJ or the JDC. Nor is it written to prove or establish a particular point of view. Instead, I hope that it will create a balance to the information you have received from JDC, and act as a springboard from which you may begin a long overdue reappraisal of your own feelings and presumptions. Many of you are mired in a way of life which, for myself and many other ex-members, was neither happy nor enlightening, but instead offered little more than tedium, suppression, exclusivity and debilitating dependency.


Of late, JDC has required all of you to believe that certain ex-members, as “dissidents”, are “bad” simply because criticism of DFJ and JDC is not now and never has been permitted. These people have been described as “vindictive”, “crazy”, or “liars” and some have been termed “extortionists” and “conspirators”. Apparently it is unthinkable to JDC that anyone could sincerely believe (or know) that the allegations directed at DFJ are true. But given a history of intense involvement with DFJ, do you really believe that ex-members would turn around and speak this way unless they really felt that something was wrong? From JDC’s narrow point of view, one would have to be fallen, dark, and just plain wrong to criticize their “guru”. I implore you to remain open to the possibility that your old friends are none of the above.


The author of this letter has over the past year spoken with approximately 40 ex-members who have uniquely personal and varied perceptions of DFJ and JDC. Among these people are a number of former high-ranking JDC officials and board of directors members, as well as personal and sexual intimates of DFJ. Thus the information related to the media and which appears in this letter is not based on hearsay, but on first-hand accounts, impressions, and observations by those who have had close contact with DFJ and JDC throughout the years 1968-1984. These people are honest and intelligent, have serious and sincere motives, and are each acting and speaking out of deep and personal conviction.


They are all united in the belief that accurate information, dialogue, real consideration and anything remotely like discrimination have never been offered or encouraged by DFJ or JDC. Therefore, they would like to see a free, full, and honest discussion occur. Such a discussion would benefit everyone, except for those who desire only the maintenance of their status and claim. Everyone, especially the “rank and file” JDC membership, must be set free in order to find their own true way through this controversy.


wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Adi Da/Archive1#Why Adidam settled the lawsuits and for how much



ton2u March 25, 2018


The documentary Wild Wild Country about the Rajneesh cult is worth a look-see… but the feeling here is, even though it’s almost 6 hours worth of viewing, much is left out of the narrative…. curiosity piqued, I did a little additional research….


“…Rajneesh became an anti-theist, took an interest in hypnosis…


Sannyasins who had “graduated” from months of meditation and therapy could apply to work in the ashram, in an environment that was consciously modelled on the community the Russian mystic Gurdjieff led in France in the 1930s. Key features incorporated from Gurdjieff were hard, unpaid work, and supervisors chosen for their abrasive personality, both designed to provoke opportunities for self-observation and transcendence.”





The New Republic

March 27, 2018


Outside the Limits of Human Imagination


What the new documentary

“Wild, Wild Country”

doesn’t capture about the magnetism and evil

of the Rajneesh cult



By Win McCormack, the editor in chief of The New Republic and the author of The Rajneesh Chronicles: The True Story of the Cult that Unleashed the First Act of Bioterrorism on U.S. Soil.



. . . Where the filmmakers have fallen down on the job is in the area of interpretation. They have not addressed squarely some of the more important issues raised by their film, and have left others out completely. The latter category includes a few of the cult’s most odious practices, as well as the true extent of the threat it posed not only to its immediate neighbors in Oregon, but to the entire world. It could be that film is not the appropriate medium in which to explore the deeper and more complex issues of a phenomenon such as this one, in which case what I write can serve as both a corrective and a supplement to their work, which appears to have piqued the interest of multitudes of people in a way no written account so far has done. Most of what I am going to write will paraphrase, or quote directly from, a series of columns I wrote for Oregon Magazine, under the rubric “Rajneesh Watch,” between 1981 and 1986. Obviously, I can’t document my positions as extensively as I did in those columns, but I hope what I can offer will be convincing enough. Many of the truths about this cult will seem outlandish at first glance, beginning with the opening one.





The extremist therapy ashram created at Poona (Pune) by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-1990) is one of the most controversial episodes in Indian guru history. The extension in Oregon during the 1980s involved a commune that became notorious for aggressive behaviour on the part of an elite. The chief ministrant of the commune was Ma Anand Sheela, whose devotion to the guru was accompanied by an agenda which got out of control. After Rajneesh was deported and returned to India, he changed his name to Osho. This article favours critical coverage.





From BHAGWAN: The God That Failed


Published in 1985 by Caliban Books, London


Edited by the author, Hugh Milne, 2016


The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attractions of his inner voice, but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with his own heart. And if the sheer force of his own self-confidence communicates itself to other people and gives them the impression that he is really a saint, such a man can wreck a whole city or a religious order or even a nation. The world is covered with scars that have been left in its flesh by visionaries like these.  —  Thomas Merton



. . . extreme physical hardships was something Bhagwan seemed to specialise in arranging for his disciples, while he lived in sumptuous luxury. I and many others suffered severe malnutrition, continuous and varied tropical diseases and total exhaustion resulting from putting in a backbreaking hundred-hour week.

As Bhagwan did not want children within his commune, pressure was exerted on members of the commune, both male and female, to be sterilised. I and about two hundred others had vasectomies or became sterilised in India, and any woman who became pregnant was encouraged to have an abortion or sterilisation, or both.

And what did it become? Totally regimented, alarmingly conformist in its own ranks, militaristic, a mini-empire ruled by a recluse with a penchant for very expensive toys.

The illusion that Bhagwan’s disciples have that they are the chosen ones is now used as a license to behave abominably towards other people. ‘Outsiders’ are treated like dirt.


Why did this man and his teachings have such an enormous impact on me, and later upon thousands of other Westerners? I think we can find at least part of the answer in the sexual and social climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, with his doctrine of free love, appeared on the scene when many young people were trying to throw off the constraints of a society they saw as repressive, self-seeking, empty, finished. Freedom of all kinds was in the air; everybody wanted freedom to express themselves, to live life in the way they saw fit, not in the way their parents and grandparents had laid down as correct. Those of us who were young wanted a chance to give free reign to our emotions, not bottle them, to get out of the straitjacket of fear and anxiety.


In 1973, the year I arrived, Bhagwan had already acquired a reputation as the ‘sex guru’. This description seemed to refer both to his personal tastes and the content of many of his lectures. He became an arch advocate of the female orgasm, and he talked at great length about the clitoris, its function, and how it should be stimulated. Most Westerners were fully aware of Bhagwan’s proclivities before coming to India, and indeed it was to hear more and experience more on the sexual level that brought most of them out in the first place.


I was asked if Bhagwan instructed people to strip off in front of him. Yes, that did happen. He also had sannyasi couples making love in front of him, nominally to give them advice on how to do it properly, though there was certainly a degree of voyeuristic delight.


To foster his own reputation in those days, Bhagwan had an enormous number of carefully-lit studio photographs taken of himself. These were dramatically staged and lit to give an appearance of spirituality and religious awe.


We had already learned to do exactly what Bhagwan said, however strange or distasteful it may seem.


Such was the sense of power and authority he conveyed that we even took his words as gospel when he completely contradicted himself – and that was often.

The irony was that the Rajneesh movement eventually became as totalitarian, repressive and materialistic as anything its adherents were attempting to break away from.


Deceit, deception and distrust finally characterised the movement. I left when I saw it was degenerating, and was not the utopia we had desired. This book is my personal story. At the same time it charts the progress of one of the most incredible movements of our time.




July 28, 2023


The Cult of Osho



Beatniks, Boomers, Hippies, Yippies, Yuppies, et al.



   What is a “Beatnik”?


Beatnik was a media stereotype prevalent throughout the 1950s to mid-1960s that displayed the more superficial aspects of the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s. Elements of the beatnik trope included pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people along with the spiritual quest of Jack Kerouac‘s autobiographical fiction.


In 1948, Kerouac introduced the phrase “Beat Generation”, generalizing from his social circle to characterize the underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York at that time. The name came up in conversation with John Clellon Holmes, who published an early Beat Generation novel titled Go (1952), along with the manifesto This Is the Beat Generation in The New York Times Magazine. In 1954, Nolan Miller published his third novel Why I Am So Beat (Putnam), detailing the weekend parties of four students.


The adjective “beat” was introduced to the group by Herbert Huncke, though Kerouac expanded the meaning of the term. “Beat” came from underworld slang—the world of hustlers, drug addicts and petty thieves, where Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac sought inspiration. “Beat” was slang for “beaten down” or downtrodden, but to Kerouac and Ginsberg, it also had a spiritual connotation as in “beatitude.” Other adjectives discussed by Holmes and Kerouac were “found” and “furtive.” Kerouac felt he had identified (and was the embodiment of) a new trend analogous to the influential Lost Generation.





   What is a “baby boomer”?


Baby boomer is a descriptive term for a person who was born between 1946 and 1964. The baby boomer generation makes up a substantial portion of the world’s population, especially in developed nations: it represents nearly 20% of the American public. As the largest generational group in U.S. history (until the millennial generation slightly surpassed them), baby boomers have had, and continue to have a significant impact on the economy. As a result, they are often the focus of marketing campaigns and business plans.





   What’s a “Hippie”?


1. (especially in the 1960s) a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.


synonyms: flower child, Bohemian, beatnik, long-hair, free spirit, nonconformist, dropout 


“yesterday’s hippies are today’s ad execs”





    “Hippies” redirects here. For the British comedy series, see Hippies (TV series). For the garage rock album, see Hippies (album). Not to be confused with Yippie or Yuppie.





   . . . “Yippie”?


A member of the Youth International Party. This party began as an antiwar movement during the Vietnam era, but then developed a sort of libertarian socialist outlook, becoming focused during the 1970s and into the early 1980s on legalization of marijuana and other drugs and protesting against capitalism and corporations.


Term created by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in the mid-1960s to refer to “members” of the Youth International Party (YIP!). The YIP! was dedicated to merging New Left activism and the hippie counterculture to create a revolution that would be both personal and political–as well as fun. Yippies tended to gather in large cities, particularly in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Rubin and Hoffman both lived during the 1960s. Yippies rejected all -isms, including socialism and anarchism, in favor of the motto of “Do your own thing”–i.e., don’t conform to a specific system of belief but rather be an individual. At the same time, collective action was at the root of Yippie activism, and Yippies participated in “be-ins” (normally associated with hippies) and other collective gatherings. And although the YIP! did not promote any one -ism (and, despite Hoffman and Rubin’s involvement, was a self-proclaimed “leaderless” movement), the “party” was extremely leftist, advocating social justice for all and arguing that all property–including housing, clothing, and food–should be FREE.


The Yippies’ most famous actions include the attack on the New York Stock Exchange (when Yippies threw money to the floor and watched as those below fought for it) and their involvement at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, at which they nominated a pig for president. Much of the Yippies’ activism consisted of guerrilla street theater and symbolic acts (such as that at the NYSE) to make a point; Yippies understood the power of the media and sought press to disseminate their revolutionary messages with a pointed disinterest in the accuracy of the stories told about them. Since the term is rooted in a particular historical moment, calling anyone a “Yippie” today would probably be inaccurate.


Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It! is an excellent source for more information on the Yippies.





   . . . “Yuppie”?


Yuppie (short for young urban professional or young, upwardly-mobile professional) is a term coined in the early 1980s for a young professional person working in a city.


History [excerpt]


Joseph Epstein was credited for coining the term in 1982, although this is contested. The first printed appearance of the word was in a May 1980 Chicago magazine article by Dan Rottenberg. The term gained currency in the United States in 1983 when syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Greene published a story about a business networking group founded in 1982 by the former radical leader Jerry Rubin, formerly of the Youth International Party (whose members were called yippies); Greene said he had heard people at the networking group (which met at Studio 54 to soft classical music) joke that Rubin had “gone from being a yippie to being a yuppie”. The headline of Greene’s story was “From Yippie to Yuppie”.


East Bay Express humorist Alice Kahn claimed to have coined the word in a 1983 column. This claim is disputed.The proliferation of the word was affected by the publication of The Yuppie Handbook in January 1983 (a tongue-in-cheek take on The Official Preppy Handbook, followed by Senator Gary Hart‘s 1984 candidacy as a “yuppie candidate” for President of the United States.The term was then used to describe a political demographic group of socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters favoring his candidacy. Newsweek magazine declared 1984 “The Year of the Yuppie”, characterizing the salary range, occupations, and politics of “yuppies” as “demographically hazy”. The alternative acronym yumpie, for young upwardly mobile professional, was also current in the 1980s but failed to catch on.


In a 1985 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Theressa Kersten at SRI International described a “yuppie backlash” by people who fit the demographic profile yet express resentment of the label: “You’re talking about a class of people who put off having families so they can make payments on the SAABs … To be a Yuppie is to be a loathsome undesirable creature”. Leo Shapiro, a market researcher in Chicago, responded, “Stereotyping always winds up being derogatory. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to advertise to farmers, Hispanics or Yuppies, no one likes to be neatly lumped into some group.”











Generation X: America’s Neglected ‘Middle Child’Pew Research Center – June 5, 2014


Activism in the Social Media Age – July 11, 2018





Music & Pop Culture Documentaries

Mark Goodman – June 26, 2021



3 Days That Changed Everything



Buckley, Kerouac, Sanders and Yablonsky discuss Hippies



An Annotated Bibliography of TIMOTHY LEARY


Timothy Leary: Confessions of a Hope Fiend



Colette Dowling: Confessions of an American Guru,

Ram Dass – Richard Alpert






BOOKS   APRIL 24 & MAY 1, 2023 ISSUE






Long before the hippies, a group of thinkers used

substances like cocaine, hashish, and nitrous oxide

to uncover the secrets of the mind.


By Clare Bucknell

April 17, 2023


More than fifty years before it was isolated as a drug, Samuel Taylor Coleridge dreamed up cocaine. In the early years of the nineteenth century, the poet was increasingly dependent on opium, a “free-agency-annihilating Poison,” as he called it, which sapped his will and made him despondent. “A Gymnastic Medicine is wanting,” he wrote in his notebook during the winter of 1808-09, “a system of forcing the Will & motive faculties into action.” The medicine he envisaged would be a kind of anti-opium, a tonic to kick-start the nerves, restore the mind’s athletic powers, and repair the broken link between volition and accomplishment. It would be a second, health-giving “poison” to work on the first.


Coleridge’s hope was a characteristic expression of the drug culture he belonged to. He was intimately acquainted with how drugs shaped his inner life, and his habit of self-interrogation, the minute attention he paid to his states of mind, was shared by his friends and collaborators. Thomas De Quincey, his former secretary, turned his own, unconquerable opium addiction into a wildly popular autobiography, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821), in which he mapped the buried palaces of the mind. The young chemist Humphry Davy, whom Coleridge befriended, experimented with the psychoactive properties of nitrous oxide, administering it to willing subjects and logging their descriptions of heightened imaginative capacities. And Charles Lamb, the poet’s former schoolmate, placed alcoholism under the microscope in “Confessions of a Drunkard” (1822), an essay in which he considered, under the guise of his alter ego, Elia, the perverse dependence of his reasoning abilities on intoxication. In each case, drugs figured not only as sensory agents, sources of pleasure or pain, but as a kind of education: tools you could think with, or try to think against.



Rory MacLean


‘Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India’


In the Sixties and Seventies hundreds of thousands of young Westerners took off for India, blazing the ‘hippie trail’ from Istanbul to Kathmandu. These intrepid pioneers left behind their parents’ world of postponed pleasure, the guilt of Empire and the spectre of war. Aboard the weirdest procession of unroadworthy vehicles ever to rattle across the face of the earth, they reached for a new kind of life, and became the first movement of people who travelled to be colonised rather than to colonise.


In Magic Bus I retrace on foot and by bus their wide-eyed adventures along the route reopened for the first time in a generation. I cross a region swept through extraordinary and turbulent changes since the Summer of Love. In Istanbul I meet the original Flower Child. In Tehran, capital of revolution, I encounter two Iranian boys whose dream of wealth in the West ends in tragedy. At Bagram airbase I sing Aquarius with US Special Forces commandos in paisley shirts and granny glasses. In Kabul I pick through the smashed statues which are now Afghanistan’s history. Along the way I try to reveal how profoundly the trail transformed travellers’ lives and the countries they traversed, unleashing forces which changed forever the way we travel the world.





Customer Review:

David T. Cooper

Wonderful read

5 September 2006


Many books have been written about the sixties, but Rory Maclean’s ‘Magic Bus’ is the first to my knowledge which describes the journey many thousands of us made in those tumultuous years, overland from Istanbul to Kathmandu. The author retraces the route, describing with accuracy and humour the old haunts that many of us knew so well. From the Pudding Shop in the shadow of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the Amir Kabir in Tehran, the cafes on Chicken Street in Kabul, the magnificent statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, tragically destroyed by the Taliban, to the dope filled dives of Freak Street in Kathmandu. For me the book brought the memories flooding back as I am sure it would for others familiar with the “hippy trail”.  But the book is not just for those who made that journey in the sixties and seventies, it’s a fascinating travelogue in its own right, a piece of our cultural and social history, and a wonderful description of an era and a journey which will never be repeated in quite the same way. A five star read.



Chapter 73


Golden States of Mind: A Geography of California Consciousness


Erik Davis 
Department of Religious Studies, Rice University, Houston, TX


Jonathan Taylor
Department of Geography, California State University, Fullerton, CA


© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
S.D. Brunn (ed.), The Changing World Religion Map,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-9376-6_73



Introduction [excerpt]


California holds a unique position in the vast and complex cartography of American religion—a position that can seem, depending on the angle of approach, at once central and marginal. On the one hand, California—from its economic opportunities to its world-changing media and culture industries to its quasi-mythological status as a site of personal and collective transformation—has played a dominant role in developing and broadcasting American culture and identity, including diverse forms of American religious culture and identity.


At the same time, this influence has oftentimes proceeded at the margins and edges of American culture—and nowhere as obviously as in matters of the spirit. For though mainline religious traditions have played crucial roles in the development of California’s religious landscape, and though Los Angeles alone is arguably the most religiously diverse city on the planet (Orr 1999), what stands out as the most influential and globally significant of California’s many religious currents is that restless, intense, faddish, and often heterodox religiosity—or “spirituality”—that compels both mockery and fascination.


We call this current “California consciousness” (Davis 2006): an imaginative, experimental, eclectic, heretical and sometimes hedonistic quest for human transformation that, while principally rooted in Anglo-American sensibility, has manifested as a highly diverse and recombinant set of sects, “cults,” lifestyle movements, cultural practices, ontological beliefs, psychological systems, and personal attitudes. In invariably broad brushstrokes, this paper will attempt to map five of the major strands of California consciousness: nature religion, esotericism, counterculture, east-west hybridity, and human potential.





The Source Family

2012 Documentary


A commune of people takes up residence in a

 Hollywood mansion before fleeing to Hawaii.



“If you wanted to create a sort of archetype of the ultimate early ’70s Southern California spiritual cult, you could do no better than The Source Family.”


~ Erik Davis



“Fly East. Fly West. But don’t fly

into the cuckoo’s nest.”



— Epilogue, Take Me For A Ride: Coming Of Age In A Destructive Cult by Mark E. Laxer © 1993


A lyrical account of a young man’s mystical quest, Take Me For A Ride takes the reader in and out of the grip of a brilliant, sensitive, seemingly benign cult leader gone mad.


Take Me For A Ride is the story of Mark, who, at the age of seventeen, longs to see for himself what lies beneath the “surface” world of reason. Mark’s spiritual path takes an unexpected turn when his meditation teacher, Frederick Lenz, learns to use fear, sleep deprivation, and LSD as tools of persuasion.


Lenz, dubbed by Newsweek as the Yuppie Guru, holds a Ph.D. in English. He calls himself Rama. He claims to be the last incarnation of a destructive Hindu deity. He extracts from devotees roughly ten million dollars a year.


After leaving Rama’s inner circle, Mark faces head winds and haunting memories as he bicycles across America. More than a vehicle for exercising and exorcising subtle ghosts of the past, the bike trip serves as the frame through which this combined adventure story, self-help book, and expose is narrated.


Take Me For A Ride is the only book that has been published about Rama, who, in his tape “Spiritual Teachers & The Enlightenment Process” (1983), has this to say about false spiritual leaders:


“Oh, and they have vast followings. But they lack integrity. They lack humility and purity. They have forgotten. They no longer care…They make rules such as, ‘Well, no one in the community is allowed to speak to someone who has been asked to leave, or associate with them, because they’ve been taken over by evil forces…’ I mean they make up the most wonderful rationalizations. And people believe them. It’s astounding the damage that these idiots do…”




The Project Gutenberg eBook

of Take Me For A Ride is here




Atrocity Guide

June 12, 2023


The Enlightenment Fraud of Zen Master Rama


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a college professor and self-proclaimed Zen master accumulated a loyal following of meditation students, taking them across the United States on a mission to achieve Enlightenment. It did not go well.




April 15, 2014


Synanon’s Sober Utopia: How a Drug Rehab

Program Became a Violent Cult


By Matt Novak


In 1970, George Lucas needed dozens of actors with shaved heads for his sci-fi dystopian movie THX 1138. He had trouble filling the roles at first, since so few actresses wanted to cut their locks, but Lucas eventually found the extras he needed in a strange utopian community where everyone worshipped sobriety and expressed solidarity by shaving their heads. It was called Synanon, and over the course of three decades it would become one of the weirdest and most vindictive cults of the 20th century.



Santa Monica Daily Press

October 15, 2021


Cult Leaders Often Despise Their Followers



By Jack Neworth


Last Saturday night I was flipping channels when I saw a Trump rally in Iowa. Almost a full year after the election and giving new meaning to the expression “sore loser,” Trump was repeating his baseless voter fraud routine. Question: If the election was rigged how did the GOP do so well down ballot? And why, after the record recounts, including the Cyber Ninja absurdity in Arizona, does Biden win by even more votes? Given the cult-like crowd eating it up, I was nauseous. It felt like the crazies were “getting the band back together” preparing for 2024.


I’m not an expert on cults but my friend since high school, Paul Morantz, a lawyer who spent nearly 40 years battling cults, is an authority on the subject. In 2012, Paul wrote an outstanding book, Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults. It documented his battles with the Manson family, the Symbionese Liberation Army, Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and Scientology. In 1978 he became famous stemming from one of his earliest cases that almost ended his life.


It was just weeks after Morantz had won a $300,000 judgment against Synanon, a shady drug rehab facility that opened in Santa Monica in 1958. The founder, Charles Dederich, a recovering alcoholic turned cult leader wanted revenge. He assigned his violent Synanon “Imperial Marines” to stuff a 4-foot rattlesnake in Paul’s mailbox.




April 28, 2016


HOLY HELL: Documentary Goes Inside

Los Angeles Buddhafield Cult


Director Will Allen shares clips from the documentary as well as the trailer, and recalls his personal relationship with Michel, the name used at the time by the group’s leader. Allen also discusses what life was like inside the cult, why he started filming and how it all came crashing down in this episode of BYOD hosted by Ondi Timoner.




May 27, 2016


Life Inside This Cult Was Beautiful, Until It Wasn’t


The new documentary “Holy Hell” shows

the rise and fall of Buddhafield.


By Matthew Jacobs


In 1985, recent film-school graduate Will Allen found what appeared to be an exciting alternative community in Los Angeles. Always curious about the meaning of life, Allen was lured by a charismatic South American-born guru known as Michel, who seemed able to answer his questions. With little hesitation, he joined Buddhafield, a group where love and enlightenment flowed in abundance.


It wasn’t until 22 years later that Allen realized he belonged to a cult.


“There’s always someone who brings you or invites you,” Allen said. “My sister invited me. It felt very safe having her bring me. When someone you already trust is there, [everyone becomes] your friend instantly. They already knew I was coming. There was a chair waiting with my name on it.”


Allen’s film-school stint led to a role as the group’s de facto documentarian. Armed with hours of footage of life inside Buddhafield, Allen has made “Holy Hell,” a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opens in limited release on Friday. (It will air on CNN later this year.) Combining interviews with former devotees and chilling Buddhafield archives, “Holy Hell” charts the cult’s rise in Reagan-era California and the implosion that prompted many members to flee in 2006.



Mind Out of Rhyme September 3, 2016 Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


Watch CNN’s Holy Hell documentary. We are all cult fools wandering around loose and stupid, looking to become exploited.



Bares Reposting September 3, 2016




The search for a Speedo-wearing guru





Tim Campion September 3, 2016


Mind Out of Rhyme and Bares Reposting,


It’s an excellent film. The Fellowship of Friends and Buddhafield cults, led by all-consuming narcissists, have followed very similar arcs. And both now appear near their end.



Fee fi fo fumSeptember 4, 2016


Mind Out of Rhyme and Bares Reposting and Tim Campion


Thanks for mentioning the CNN documentary Holy Hell. There were several similarities to the FoF, including the leader’s persuading heterosexual men to have sex with him. Then there was the carrying of his large chair/throne, which was like REB’s having one of the young men carry his cushion around for him. REB can’t carry his own cushion? But of course, it’s all presented as the disciple/student/member being of service to the leader. So twisted.


Other similarities were: how members were insular and cut off ties to their families and felt fine lying to them; drained their resources; were supposed to be celibate when the leader was anything but; extreme secrecy and misinformation; members having to take on a new name; obsession with appearance (like the FoF’s obsession with “alchemy”). One Buddhafield member said that it began with the Knowing, and then it became entirely about the leader. His preoccupation with his body and appearance of his face, including using false eyelashes and make-up is like the photo of REB and Sasha. One good point that was made at the end was that these cult abuses don’t happen in a vacuum. Cult leaders prey on vulnerable individuals who are simply seekers, but have certain weaknesses that get exploited.



Tim Campion September 5, 2016


This review by Owen Gleiberman speaks about what may be obvious to viewers, yet members (and even ex-members) fail to recognize. (Italics added.)


By the time the film reaches its most disturbing revelation, it hardly comes as a shock, yet when we see clips of Michel in his secret former identity as a stud in gay porn films, it is shocking, because we register how totally false his guru persona is.


It isn’t clear that Allen [the director-filmmaker, and former member] entirely gets this. Holy Hell has a flaw, and it’s that the movie buys into the idea that the Buddhafield was a mixture of the good and the bad. The dark side of Michel is presented as the flipside of his role as wise teacher and guide. But most of the former cult members don’t seem to realise that Michel was a con artist even when he wasn’t exploiting or abusing anyone. His ‘teachings’ never lifted anyone to a higher place; they were just the early stages of brainwashing. By the time Holy Hell reaches its ominous final scene, the scariest thing about it is that Allen has made a movie about how he fell into a cult and then liberated himself from it, but at the end he still seems the tiniest bit under its spell.


Pretty perceptive for a “life person.” The question of whether Robert Burton was a con artist from the beginning has often been debated on this blog. We don’t have the porn video, but we have testimonies that suggest he was a budding con artist before the Fellowship’s creation.



Golden Veil September 6, 2016


About the Holy Hell film:


I agree with what many have said above. What struck me particularly were the similarities between cult leader Robert Burton and the cult leader Jaime/Michel/Andreas/Reyji. What an “act” these two came up with! Both are charismatic leaders with tendencies to divinify and glorify themselves, cross-dress, denigrate women who they see as competition for their young male sexual partners (see the “Femme Fatale” video in Holy Hell), have power trips over their sexual conquests (both manipulate followers to have sex with them), both groups have apologists that call the sexual abuse “consensual sex”.


Robert and “Reyji” both like ballet, have their followers build them a giant theater, have members wait on them hand and foot, have created an atmosphere of being in a “special club.” Members hide their membership from friends and family (who wouldn’t understand), and the shunning of former members is espoused by both leaders.


Members of both groups are told to recruit a targeted segment of the population: people with “magnetic centers” in the Fellowship of Friends and “open” people in Buddhafield; siblings recruit siblings, members discredit or ignore negative criticism, both groups have survived long term by the sense of community its members feel towards one another – a dynamic that is apart from the group leader, an open letter to members initiate mass exoduses from both groups; the list of similarities goes on…



OscarSeptember 6, 2016


“The question of whether Robert Burton was a con artist from the beginning has often been debated on this blog.”


I always find it interesting that some people never buy into the scam from the beginning. We, the former members, can debate and argue about it all we want, but for many people who never joined or had any inclination to join, there’s no debate. To them, it’s now a cult, and always has been a cult, beginning on January 1, 1970 (or whenever it actually came into existence). To them, it was just obvious. We sometimes don’t want to admit that they were smarter and wiser than us when it came to recognizing the scam. Their egos weren’t stroked by the promise of being someone special or being part of something special.


Many of us would like to believe there was a time when something “real” was happening there – it’s a comforting thought. Makes us feel smarter, less naive, and better than all of these suckers today. But we – yes, all of us, “we” – were hypnotized just like today’s followers are hypnotized.


It’s always possible things have gotten worse, weirder, stranger, more imbalanced, and more criminal/corrupt. But there were never “the good ole days.” It’s always been pretty weird, strange, imbalanced, and criminal/corrupt.



Bares RepostingSeptember 7, 2016




Barbara Bruno Lancaster, Former Cult Member


In 1972, I joined a study group. In 1984, I woke up to find that I had willingly given away my life for 12 years – under an illusion that I was making myself a better person and the world a better place to live in. This wasn’t a dream, I was in a cult.


That sounds pretty drastic. How could anyone let themselves get hooked into such a situation? I was then 27 (hardly a child). Now I must take responsibility for not having taken responsibility. I was a thinker, an artist, a reader who envied the people in history who were lucky enough to live in times where there were opportunities to become part of a movement that made a contribution to humanity. I wanted to understand “what makes us tick,” but found no answers in modern psychology. Perhaps there was an elusive ancient knowledge that I might discover today. I feared a wasted life, and doubted my ability to live self-directedly.


In 1972, I wished to study a psychology called The 4th Way, which is based on the early 20th century writings of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky. This philosophy proposes an esoteric system of achieving a permanent higher level of consciousness and stresses the need to find a “real” 4th Way school led by a consciously-developed teacher. After finding a bookmark from a group (I will call it the “SOS”) [FoF], I attended a series of prospective student meetings and came into contact with people who certainly acted esoteric. They were speaking knowledgeably on a subject of great interest to me. I was asked to try a few of the school exercises in behavior modification, and felt awkward and stupid around the students. I couldn’t believe that they wanted me to join! I made the first in a series of monthly donations, and then was directed to a silent, seemingly ineffectual man in the corner, whom they referred to as “The Teacher”.


Within a few weeks, I had moved from my home in Hawaii and was living with other students in a house in Carmel, California. For six months I had little contact with anyone outside of the group. The Teacher and his inner circle of  leaders took over the house to work on a book and hold meetings. My activities centered on a constant exposure to his words and to carrying out the directions of his leaders. There were mental exercises to be followed in all waking hours, i.e., words that we were to eliminate from our speech; not using contractions; not crossing our legs and physically moving in a manner that indicated intentionality (we looked like robots). When one could begin to adjust to an exercise, it would be changed. I now spoke only in the special “work language” of the school. For five years I followed a word exercise that forbade the use of the word “I”. One was to refer to themselves only in the 3rd person. (Try ordering a meal without using “I”.) We were used to hearing each other speak, but our special language added to the discomfort of outside communication.


The aim was a heightened state of awareness in which one could regard oneself objectively as a machine-like being. Man existed in a state of walking sleep and needed constant shocks in order to awaken to his real potential. My words, reactions, physical appearance, and basic character were always open for discussion by the others. My behavior and attitudes were constantly observed and classified as indications of a “good” student or a “bad” student. This was always done as suggestions for my own good. I was not supposed to express negativity.


This environment was not all unpleasant. There was a strong feeling of community, a sense of purpose, of spiritual fulfillment, and a new state of awareness of the world that was exhilarating. There were times when I felt that I was losing control of my mind. This was taken care of by taking me for a walk where another student would softly remind me that this was simply a stage in my development, and that confusion itself was really a high state. There was a kindness and humility among the lower ranks of students that made me feel accepted. I was approaching all of this as a one-year experiment in self-knowledge.


Three months after joining this “study group”, a special meeting was called and it was announced that a woman who had left the school had committed suicide. This was seen as an example of what happens when students do not value the knowledge they have been exposed to. The school had become a lifetime endeavor! (Only for those who were strong enough to succeed.)


We were now told that there were invisible higher level beings, called “C Influence” that were around us constantly and would provide shocks to remind us of their presence. When something pleasant, or unpleasant, occurred it was said to be C Influence, providing shocks to awaken me from my lowly state. C Influence spoke directly through the Teacher, and to question this was considered a manifestation of a low level of being. We had been chosen to become the enlightened people who would found a new civilization after a soon-to-come nuclear holocaust. Please remember, this was said in an insulated environment. I began to think that I was constantly being watched and that even my thoughts were subject to judgement by these “higher forces.” Lifton refers to this as the “psychology of the pawn.”


When my savings ran out, I began working again in ordinary life and found that there was a profound distance between myself and my co-workers who were not part of the school. I was quiet and just did my work. My “real” life was elsewhere, and I was thoroughly committed to it.


Although the school control never succeeded in becoming absolute, my ability to measure reality and to maintain personal autonomy were greatly diminished. In George Orwell’s 1984, he saw this regulating restraint as being accomplished by means of the 2-way telescreen. But a mechanical device is not necessary when one is sufficiently surrounded by “human” apparatus.


The world became divided into black & white. Ideas, feelings, and actions consistent with school policy were praised. Inconsistencies were explained as a waste of my precious time and an incorrect valuation of the opportunities that had been extended to me. Policy was changed over the years, but an unwavering demand was placed upon me to strive permanently for a perfection which did not exist. I became guilty and depressed. I was no longer working for something – I was fighting against myself. Guilt always followed a self-observation, and my repressed negativity could be expressed through complaints about my attitudes. I wanted to “confess” my awareness of a personal failing before someone else could point it out. The more I admitted to weakness, the easier it was to judge others.


I was the enemy! I began to think that I just wasn’t capable of knowing myself. Other people’s opinion of me was “real.” The school became a living being and I was just a cell in it. The group was more important than me.


I became a “master of justification.” Former cult members all say that they had doubts throughout their involvement. My misgivings became a closely guarded secret, unbearable to admit, even to myself. I developed subtle ways of rebelling, but outwardly I towed the party line. This core of doubt looked for an open door, and I lived in fear of finding it. It was Catch-22. [in FoF speak: Catch-44.]


I sided with the liberal-wing of the school, who felt that they could bring about a more humanizing element, and perhaps ensure their own survival. Yet, too often, I took no action against injustice, deceit, and outright bullying by the Teacher’s appointed leaders, whose power he supported. I watched children being given away when the Teacher decided they were unnecessary distractions. Relationships and marriages were broken at his suggestion. The rich were courted and fleeced. The 10% of gross salary for monthly donations rose with an ever-rising list of required special donations. It was almost impossible (both financially, and as proof of commitment) to live outside of a communal situation. Within a “teaching house” there was little or no room for deviation or personal expression. We were an intellectual and cultural group, but the form this took was always at the whim of the Teacher’s taste. He wanted us to become an 18th century culture (imagine a woman’s place in such a society), and a large part of funds went to his antique purchases (the finest works went to his home).


Eventually the group had centers in most major cities in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico. The Teacher got the school a State Charter as a Church. He established a winery on the school property in Northern California as a non-profit corporation. We were expected to spend weekends and vacations working at the headquarters. Those with especially high levels of “valuation for the work” lived and worked there full-time. There was no housing provided. People lived crowded together in houses outside the grounds, or in trailers, or slept under a table and kept their belongings in their car trunk. But on Saturday night, they wore tuxedos and gowns to the concert hall, where prestigious musicians would play to an audience who would overwhelm them with applause at the appropriate moments.


In the “SOS” [FoF] an attitude of them-versus-us prevailed. The outside world was dead. Apparently, people who knew too much about the secret activities of the Teacher had been given direct tasks not to tell the others. You were asked to leave if you broke a task. If you left the school, you were ostracized.


I was happily married to another student, whom I trusted with some of my doubts. We had a little mixed-breed dog who was very precious to us. I came close to a nervous breakdown in 1980 when the Teacher declared that we could only have pedigreed animals. I began to realize how much control the Teacher had over anything I cared about. I saw only two choices: become quietly insane (as others had), or commit suicide. I could not imagine having the strength to leave the school. My husband Ronald suffered greatly in his fear that I was losing my commitment. He began defending me to people who were offering him advice about changing my behavior. We became part of a developing underground of discontent where small confidences were shared. In time, an ethical member of the Board of Directors [Samuel Sanders] discovered criminal actions and called for public censure of the Teacher. This information was strong enough to penetrate through to what was left of my self-respect, and I could not offer a single justification. Even then, I thought that things could now change for the better. A meeting was called, by a representative of the Teacher, to discuss the situation. I brought up my concerns: Students were not free to seek help from mental professionals; many were becoming alcoholics, and we were, generally, living in a state of fear. I was told that these problems were my imagination and the fear was only within me. I snapped!


I left the group – after 12 years. l felt helpless. I had no friends and was deeply in debt. I couldn’t explain the lost years. To the outside world, a cult experience itself indicates a flawed mentality. I grieved for those left behind, imprisoned by their learned ability to accept the unacceptable. Ronald, myself, and a few others felt marooned on a strange shore, cringing, clinging, and finally, setting out to discover our new world.


Within a few months, we became part of a former cult members group at the Cult Clinic in Los Angeles. The Clinic was a flame burning in my dark night. I will always be grateful for their understanding. What has been most helpful is hearing that ex-members share the same experience even though the form of each group is different. What cults believe is not important (it may be truth or nonsense). The key indication of danger lies in an insulated organization that lacks a system of checks and balances.


l choose to believe that the positive things I retain from my experience are a credit to the sincere relationships I once shared, to my abiding faith in the goodness of God and nature, and to my own intelligence and self-respect.


However, I did not gain this from the “SOS” [FoF] but, rather, in spite of it.


Most ex-cult members do not speak out. Many never realize they were in a cult. They just leave one day, and eventually look for something else to replace it. My activities in cult awareness – reading, writing, lecturing, and creating publications – are looked upon as extreme by some of the people who left the school with me.


The most common reaction to my story is: “Well, that could never happen to me!” I’ve met with a lot of former members, and they are not stupid. Most are highly intelligent. The newer groups are especially appealing to the well-educated. Recruitment is directed to the best, the brightest, and the most idealistic of persons. Every cult member is a recruiter whose sincerity is infectious. Please note: Because cult members can only associate with people inside the group, they will see outsiders purely as potential recruits or losers. I did not feel I “recruited” my mother and my life-long friend when they joined the “SOS” [FoF] at my encouragement – I wanted to “help” them down the one true path.


Mind control exists – it produces an inability to act from one‘s own integrity. Brainwashing is spiritual rape. Remember: No one ever thinks they are joining a cult.



Tim Campion September 23, 2016


This year’s Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded


With the help of selected tweets from Deepak Chopra’s Twitter account, researchers from the University of Waterloo and Sheridan College identified certain traits that made people more susceptible to B.S. They included religious or paranormal beliefs, an embrace of alternative medicine, an interest in conspiracy theories and lower “cognitive ability.”

See: On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit



Out of TimeSeptember 29, 2016


Try this one on: There was a dinner with the teacher under the stars, near the statue of David. He proclaimed that the entire universe/galaxy was dead. Only he and the school were alive. At that moment, all the electricity at his table blacked out – ONLY at his table. He and the diners at his table were completely in the dark. He took this as a sign he was correct. I took it as a sign to get the hell out of there…



Wondering Who’s WatchingSeptember 30, 2016


Atlantic Documentaries
How Well-Meaning, Intelligent People End Up in a Cult
The Atlantic Sep 26, 2016


EnlightenNext was an organization, founded by self-styled guru Andrew Cohen, that aimed to facilitate spiritual awakening. Cohen’s most devoted students meditated for hours—at times, months—on end, were often celibate, and lived together. However, what started as an idealistic venture quickly turned into a complicated, often-sinister world that revolved around Cohen. The story of EnlightenNext’s rise and fall begs a deeper question: How do otherwise well-intentioned and rational people end up in a cult? In this documentary, The Atlantic talks to former members, as well as Cohen himself, about their stories in order to uncover the life span of a new religious movement that, after 27 years, collapsed nearly overnight.


Authors: Jaclyn Skurie and Nicolas Pollock





Rachel Bernstein


Narcissists and Cult Leaders:

Are You Being Controlled by One?


April 5, 2016


How do narcissists and cult leaders get people under their control? How can you know if you are connected with someone who is unhealthy for you and is just using you? I break this down in this first of three videos about narcissistic relationships.


If you need any help or have any questions about this, check out my website: rachelbernsteintherapy.com.



Energetics Institute


Narcissism as Prophecy


By Richard Boyd





The topic of Narcissism is gaining wide circulation in society. Examples of narcissistic excess in our societal leaders, sports stars and society figures is increasing if the number of media reports is anything to go by. Any number of authors, commentators and books are now observing, recording and documenting the destructive advent of narcissistic lifestyles and narcissism in men and women today.


Narcissism essentially involves the affected person creating a false self which is rooted in superficial, materialistic images, and which has a distorted and unearned sense of entitlement and grandiosity. Life is all about the Narcissist, and while they learn to “feign” or act emotions, they are essentially cut off from their own authentic feelings, and so are unable or unwilling to moderate their selfish behaviours. . . They seek to dominate and control others as a primary way of navigating life.


The narcissistic trend in society is certainly not a healthy one and if it continues as the evolutionary path of man then I am pessimistic for the state of our future. Whilst history has always had its share of narcissistic leaders and individuals, never before have we confronted this emotional plague on such a scale within a global reach society. Narcissism appears to now be jumping natural cultural “firewalls” where the old societal values once precluded narcissistic traits becoming normalised and established en masse as healthy or an esteemed value of some sort within itself.


Some writers such as Wilhelm Reich (1976) and Christopher Lasch (1984) see such forces as Fascism and Nazism as being at least one historical root of a culture of rigid perfectionistic superiority that partly defines the Narcissistic view of life. Other writers such as Andrew Harvey (2009) and Scott Peck (1984) see the advent of the New Age spiritual movement as being a Narcissistic philosophy masked in self-absorbed spiritualism.


Mankind has always historically dabbled in prophecy. Every culture has had its prophets and its tools of prophecy, whether they were based on the reading of the entrails of slaughtered animals, seers who read astrological charts and astronomical signs from the heavens, fortune tellers who read lines in hands, tea leaves, and significant birth numbers, etc.


Some of these prophets relied on divine or supernatural forces by which they channelled the future. Nostradamus for instance used a tripod which held a container in which was filled with some liquid. He gazed intently until images appeared and he wrote down cryptic quatrains or verses of 4 sentences to describe the event he had seen. Still others such as Buddhist Tulkus were channellers who allowed spirits to enter their bodies and warn of events or make prophecy.


The biblical times were full of prophets, spiritualists, and all sorts of diviners and seekers of hidden knowledge and future events.



Insider October 6, 2018 Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


An apocalypse update:


Only 2 weeks to go before yet another “fall of California.” The big day is Sunday, Oct 21, early in the morning. Burton is predicting that the ocean will rise 800-900 feet, to about the level of nearby Loma Rica. Everything above that level will survive.


150 FoF members from distant centers (especially Russia, Mexico and the Netherlands) will be visiting Apollo at that time, joining the 500+ already living in Oregon House.


Burton is taking full financial advantage of the fear he himself has created by having 4 meetings per week (but soon to be 6 or 7), plus another 8 “teaching” events. If nothing else, the flock will be thoroughly fleeced by the time they return home on Oct 22.



WhaleRiderOctober 14, 2018




Only One Week Left Until Cult’s Major Buffering of Another Failed Prediction


Obscure Northern California group making plans for apocalypse of reason.


Gorgon House, CA. Seasoned followers of Robert E. Burton have already been stocking up on fresh supplies of excuses, rationalizations, and jokes about the impending doom of yet another of his failed predictions in order to lavish upon the newly recruited, unsuspecting neophyte followers who are currently descending from all over the globe to Apollo for next weekend’s “Bufferfest 2018”, a celebration marking the end of critical thought.


Long term, self-serving followers who over the years have been able to stomach Burton’s bizarre and delusional ideas of reference and magical thinking about hydrogen warfare, stock market crash, and most of California sliding into the sea are well-versed and prepared to gaslight newer members into exempting their leader from any responsibility with such tried and true thought reform aphorisms as: “Aren’t you glad so many millions of innocent men, women and children didn’t have to die in order to feed our teacher’s palatial ego?”…”Higher Forces are showing us how to be compassionate and caring of others less fortunate than us!”…”If you leave now, then you will miss out on the next failed prediction!”….and the all time favorite, “Maybe the gods are trying to tell us something!”


Insider sources who wish to remain anonymous have indicated that Burton and his inner jerk circle have secretly been stashing cash, caviar, and KY Jelly in the cult’s winter palace in Mexico to make a quick exit should the whole criminal enterprise go belly up when enough followers wise up to his charade and finally listen to their own inner gurus.



Ames Gilbert October 16, 2018


There must be quite a bit of turmoil going on beneath the tranquil waters over there at Intergalactic Headquarters. When I say ‘tranquil’, I mean medicated (Thorazine, Valium, Xanax, etc.) or else enthralled/infatuated.


In 2016 there were 1565 members, so let’s take a stab at the numbers, which have been in a very slow decline for a number of years. How about a nice round 1500 right now? The newsletter I refer to above claims that a mere 150 visitors have arrived to partake in the circus. If the 2015 population has remained constant, there are approximately 600 members of the Fellowship of Friends who live in and around Oregon House. The inference is that there are about 750 followers, that is, half the membership who did not obey orders and roll up to celebrate the end of times under the guidance of [Robert] Burton and Dorian Mattei and the rest of the management. Why not? And what will happen to them? What is their spiritual status now that they have defied orders? Will they join the rest of us in the circle of the damned—imminent food for the moon?


Also: where is the Absolute? Is ‘he’ hob-knobbing with Burton as they go over the plans for the drowning of tens of millions of Californians and the following extinction of the rest of mankind? What about the ‘45 angels’? Is their job over now that the Absolute has taken a personal interest? Did they not do a good enough job? Have they been fired for not delivering clearer messages about the future than arranging mailbox numbers, ‘T’ shirts, and license plates in front of Burton? What about their 100% record of constant humiliations of Burton? Are they going to be punished? And what if the Absolute ‘himself’ gets it wrong on October 21st? Is ‘he’ going to resign and let Burton take over?


Enquiring minds want to know.


“If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been ‘taken’. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”


Carl Sagan, from his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark



From Chapter 7: The Demon-Haunted World (pp. 130-31)


In the early 1960s, I argued that the UFO stories were crafted chiefly to satisfy religious longings. At a time when science has complicated uncritical adherence to the old-time religions, an alternative is proffered to the God hypothesis: Dressed in scientific jargon, their immense powers “explained” by superficially scientific terminology, the gods and demons of old come down from heaven to haunt us, to offer prophetic visions, and to tantalize us with visions of a more hopeful future: a space-age mystery religion aborning.


The folklorist Thomas E. Bullard wrote in 1989 that


abduction reports sound like rewrites of older supernatural encounter traditions with aliens serving the functional roles of divine beings.


He concludes:


Science may have evicted ghosts and witches from our beliefs, but it just as quickly filled the vacancy with aliens having the same functions. Only the extraterrestrial outer trappings are new. All the fear and the psychological dramas for dealing with it seem simply to have found their way home again, where it is business as usual in the legend realm where things go bump in the night.


Is it possible that people in all times and places occasionally experience vivid, realistic hallucinations, often with sexual content, about abduction by strange, telepathic, aerial creatures who ooze through walls – with the details filled in by the prevailing cultural idioms, sucked out of the Zeitgeist? Others, who have not personally had the experience, find it stirring and in a way familiar. They pass the story on. Soon it takes on a life of its own, inspires others trying to understand their own visions and hallucinations, and enters the realm of folklore, myth, and legend. The connection between the content of spontaneous temporal lobe hallucinations and the alien abduction paradigm is consistent with such a hypothesis.


Perhaps when everyone knows that gods come down to Earth, we hallucinate gods; when all of us are familiar with demons, it’s incubi and succubi; when fairies are widely accepted, we see fairies; in an age of spiritualism, we encounter spirits; and when the old myths fade and we begin thinking that extraterrestrial beings are plausible, then that’s where our hypnogogic imagery tends.


Snatches of songs or foreign languages, images, events that we witnessed, stories that we overheard in childhood can be accurately recalled decades later without any conscious memory of how they got into our heads. “[I]n violent fevers, men, all ignorance, have talked in ancient tongues,” says Herman Melville in Moby-Dick; “and . . . when the mystery is probed, it turns out always that in their wholly forgotten childhood those ancient tongues had been really spoken in their hearing.” In our everyday life, we effortlessly and unconsciously incorporate cultural norms and make them our own.


A similar inhaling of motifs is present in schizophrenic “command hallucinations.” Here people feel they are being told what to do by an imposing or mythic figure. They are ordered to assassinate a political leader or a folk hero, or defeat the British invaders, or harm themselves, because it is the wish of God, or Jesus, or the Devil, or demons or angels, or – lately – aliens. The schizophrenic is transfixed by a clear and powerful command from a voice that no one else can hear, and that the subject must somehow identify. Who would issue such a command? Who could speak inside our heads? The culture in which we’ve been raised offers up an answer.


Think of the power of repetitive imagery in advertising, especially to suggestible viewers and readers. It can make us believe almost anything — even that smoking cigarettes is cool. In our time putative aliens are the subject of innumerable science fiction stories, novels, TV dramas, and films. UFOs are a regular feature of the weekly tabloids devoted to falsification and mystification. One of the highest-grossing motion pictures of all time is about aliens very like those described by abductees. Alien abduction accounts were comparatively rare until 1975, when a credulous television dramatization of the Hill case was aired; another leap into public prominence occurred after 1987, when Strieber’s purported first-hand account with a haunting cover painting of a large-eyed “alien” became a best-seller. In contrast, we hear very little lately about incubi, elves, and fairies. Where have they all gone?



From Chapter 10: The Dragon in My Garage (pp. 173-77)


Magic requires tacit cooperation of the audience with the magician – an abandonment of skepticism, or what is sometimes described as the willing suspension of disbelief. It immediately follows that to penetrate the magic, to expose the trick, we must cease collaborating.


    How can further progress be made in this emotionally laden, controversial, and vexing subject? Patients might excercise caution about therapists quick to deduce or confirm alien abductions. Those treating abductees might explain to their patients that hallucinations are normal, and that childhood sexual abuse is disconcertingly common. They might bear in mind that no client can be wholly uncontaminated by the aliens in popular culture. They might take scrupulous care not to subtly lead the witness. They might teach their clients skepticism. They might recharge their own dwindling reserves of the same commodity.


    Purported alien abductions trouble many people and in more ways than one. The subject is a window into the internal lives of our fellows. If many falsely report being abducted, this is cause for worry. But much more worrisome is that so many therapists accept these reports at face value – with inadequate attention given to the suggestibility of clients and to unconscious cuing by their interlocutors.


    I’m surprised that there are psychiatrists and others with at least some scientific training, who know the imperfections of the human mind, but who dismiss the idea that these accounts might be some species of hallucination, or some kind of screen memory. I’m even more surprised by claims that the alien abduction story represents true magic, that it is a challenge to our grip on reality, or that it constitutes support for a mystical view of the world. Or, as the matter is put by John Mack, “There are phenomena important enough to warrant serious research, and the metaphysics of the dominant Western scientific paradigm may be inadequate fully to support this research.” In an interview with Time magazine, he goes on to say:


I don’t know why there’s such a zeal to find a conventional physical explanation. I don’t know why people have such trouble simply accepting the fact that something unusual is going on here . . . We’ve lost all that ability to know a world beyond the physical.*


    But we know that hallucinations arise from sensory deprivation, drugs, illness and high fever, a lack of REM sleep, changes in brain chemistry, and so on.  And even if, with Mack, we took the cases at face value, their remarkable aspects (slithering through walls and so on) are more readily attributable to something well within the realm of “the physical” – advanced alien technology – than to witchcraft.


  * And then, in a sentence that reminds us how close the alien abduction paradigm is to messianic and chiliastic religion, Mack concludes, “I am a bridge between those two worlds.”


    A friend of mine claims that the only interesting question in the alien abduction paradigm is “Who’s conning who?” Is the client deceiving the therapist, or vice versa? I disagree. For one thing, there are many other interesting questions about claims of alien abduction. For another, those two alternatives aren’t mutually exclusive:


    Something about the alien abduction cases tugged at my memory for years. Finally, I remembered. It was a 1954 book I had read in college, The Fifty-Minute Hour. The author, a psychoanalyst named Robert Lindner, had been called by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to treat a brilliant young nuclear physicist whose delusional system was beginning to interfere with his secret government research. The physicist (given the pseudonym Kirk Allen) had, it turned out, another life besides making nuclear weapons: In the far future, he confided, he piloted (or will pilot – the tenses get a little addled) interstellar spacecraft. He enjoyed rousing, swashbuckling adventures on planets of other stars. He was “lord” of many worlds. Perhaps they called him Captain Kirk. Not only could he “remember” this other life, he could also enter into it whenever he chose. By thinking in the right way, by wishing, he could transport himself across the light-years and the centuries.


In some way I could not comprehend, by merely desiring it to be so, I had crossed the immensities of space, broken out of time, and merged with – literally became – that distant and future self. . . Don’t ask me to explain. I can’t, although God knows I’ve tried.


    Lindner found him intelligent, sensitive, pleasant, polite, and perfectly able to deal with everyday human affairs. But – in reflecting on the excitement of his life among the stars – Allen had found himself a little bored with his life on Earth, even if it did involve building weapons of mass destruction. When admonished by his laboratory supervisors for distraction and dreaminess, he apologized; he would try, he assured them, to spend more time on this planet. That’s when they contacted Lindner.


    Allen had written 12,000 pages on his experiences in the future, and dozens of technical treatises on the geography, politics, architecture, astronomy, geology, life-forms, genealogy, and ecology of the planets of other stars. A flavor of the material is given by these monograph titles: “The Unique Brain Development of the Chrystopeds of Srom Norba X,” “Fire Worship and Sacrifice on Srom Sodrat II,” “The History of Intergalactic Scientific Institute,” and “The Application of Unified Field Theory and the Mechanics of the Stardrive to Space Travel.” (That last is the one I’d like to see; after all, Allen was said to have been a first-rate physicist.) Fascinated, Lindner pored over the material.


    Allen was not in the least shy about presenting his writings to Lindner or discussing them in detail. Unflappable and intellectually formidable, he seemed not to be yielding an inch to Lindner’s psychiatric ministrations. When everything else failed, the psychiatrist attempted something different:


I tried . . . to avoid giving in any way the impression that I was entering the lists with him to prove that he was psychotic, that this was to be a tug of war over the question of his sanity. Instead, because it was obvious that both his temperament and training were scientific, I set myself to capitalize on the one quality he had demonstrated throughout his life . . . the quality that urged him toward a scientific career: his curiosity. . . This meant . . . that at least for the time being I “accepted” the validity of his experiences. . . In a sudden flash of inspiration it came to me that in order to separate Kirk from his madness it was necessary for me to enter his fantasy and, from that position, to pry him loose from the psychosis.


    Lindner highlighted certain apparent contradictions in the documents and asked Allen to resolve them. This required the physicist to re-enter the future to find the answers. Dutifully, Allen would arrive at the next session with a clarifying document written in his neat hand. Lindner found himself eagerly awaiting each interview, so he could be once more captivated by the vision of abundant life and intelligence in the Galaxy. Between them, they were able to resolve many problems of consistency.


    Then a strange thing happened: “The materials of Kirk’s psychosis and the Achilles heel of my personality met and meshed like the gears of a clock.” The psychoanalyst became a co-conspirator in his patient’s delusion. He began to reject psychological explanations of Allen’s story. How sure are we that it couldn’t really be true? He found himself defending the notion that another life, that of a spacefarer in the far future, could be entered into by a simple effort of the will.


At a startlingly rapid rate . . . larger and larger areas of my mind were being taken over by the fantasy. . . With Kirk’s puzzled assistance I was taking part in cosmic adventures, sharing the exhilaration of the sweeping extravaganza he had plotted.


    But eventually, an even stranger thing happened: Concerned for the well-being of his therapist, and mustering admirable reserves of integrity and courage, Kirk Allen confessed: He had made the whole thing up. It had roots in his lonely childhood and his unsuccessful relationships with women. He had shaded, and then forgotten, the boundary between reality and imagination. Filling in plausible details and weaving a rich tapestry about other worlds was challenging and exhilarating. He was sorry he had led Lindner down this primrose path.


    “Why,” the psychiatrist asked, why did you pretend? Why did you keep on telling me. . . ?”


    “Because I felt I had to,” the physicist replied. “Because I felt you wanted me to.”


    “Kirk and I reversed roles,” Lindner explained,


and, in one of those startling denouements that make my work the unpredictable, wonderful and rewarding pursuit it is, the folly we shared collapsed. . . I employed the rationalization of clinical altruism for personal ends and thus fell into a trap that awaits all unwary therapists of the mind. . . Until Kirk Allen came into my life, I had never doubted my own stability. The aberrations of mind, so I had always thought, were for others. . . I am shamed by this smugness. But now, as I listen from my chair behind the couch, I know better. I know that my chair and the couch are separated only by a thin line. I know that it is, after all, but a happier combination of accidents that determines, finally, who shall lie on the couch, and who shall sit behind it.


    I’m not sure from this account that Kirk Allen was truly delusional. Maybe he was just suffering from some character disorder which delighted in inventing charades at the expense of others. I don’t know to what extent Lindner may have embellished or invented part of the story. While he wrote of “sharing” and of “entering” Allen’s fantasy, there is nothing to suggest that the psychiatrist imagined he himself voyaged to the far future and partook of interstellar high adventure. Likewise, John Mack and the other alien abduction therapists do not suggest that they have been abducted, only their patients.


    What if the physicist hadn’t confessed? Might Lindner have convinced himself, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it really was possible to slip into a more romantic era? Would he have said he started out as a skeptic, but was convinced by the sheer weight of the evidence? Might he have advertised himself as an expert who assists space travelers from the future who are stranded in the twentieth century? Would the existence of such a psychiatric specialty encourage others to take fantasies or delusions of this sort seriously? After a few similar cases, would Lindner have impatiently resisted all arguments of the “Be reasonable, Bob” variety, and deduced he was penetrating some new level of reality?


    His scientific training helped to save Kirk Allen from his madness. There was a moment when therapist and patient had exchanged roles. I like to think of it as the patient saving the therapist. Perhaps John Mack was not so lucky.




CARL SAGAN served as the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo spacecraft expeditions to the planets for which he received the NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service.


     His Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television series, Cosmos, became the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. The accompanying book, also called Cosmos, is one of the bestselling science books ever published in the English language.


     Dr. Sagan died on December 20, 1996




See: Carl Sagan on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson | 1977 & 1978



Golden Veil February 9, 2018


The Fine Art of Baloney Detection by Carl Sagan


Useful for anyone with an intellectual bent, whose life is steered at all by Robert Burton and his crew – rather than be self-determined.





brucelevy –  October 17, 2018


Are we under water yet?



Tim Campion October 17, 2018


Jeez, Bruce. You always were impatient. Just over four days to go.



ton2u February 7, 2018


When prophecy fails:


slate.com/articles/health and science/science/2011/05/prophecy fail.html



The Prophecies of Joseph Smith, by James Walker | May 2010


“One false prophesy equals a false prophet.”



When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.  Deuteronomy 18:22





A Story of Violent Faith


By Jon Krakauer



Q&A With Former Mormon Bishop, Lee B. Baker | July 2012


“You’re speaking to a man and a woman who, three years ago, came out of … truly, a cult. We do not have rational answers for a lot of what we did.” 



I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.  ~ Joseph Smith



Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes, Syracuse University Press, NY, 1997


Introduction [excerpt]


When a superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce – as in the endless permutations and combinations of human faculty they are bound to coalesce often enough – in the same individual, we have the best possible condition for the kind of effective genius that gets into the biographical dictionaries. Such men do not remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect. Their ideas possess them, they inflict them, for better or for worse, upon their companions or their age.


 William James,

             Varieties of Religious Experience



All cultures have their heroes, and no hero is more mysterious, or more extraordinary, than God’s messenger – the prophet. Whether called messiahs or saviors, gurus or avatars, such figures continue to fascinate us, whether for their truths or their absurdities, for the adulation of their followers or the hatred of their enemies. Hardly a week goes by without some bizarre or sensational item appearing in the media about a wild-eyed preacher or an exotic cult coming into conflict with the authorities; the public appetite for such stories is endless.


It is strange, therefore, that we know so little about such figures. While there are biographies of individual leaders, there are few studies of revolutionary religious leaders as a group or as a personality type. Prophets appear suddenly, as if from nowhere, and take the world by surprise; we seem unable to pigeonhole them, to ignore them, or even to describe them other than in superficial ways.


This seems especially peculiar given that Western culture – nominally Christian and still rooted in Christian values – has as its central myth the story of Jesus of Nazareth. One might think that the comparative study of revolutionary religious leaders would be a priority for scholars wishing to shed light on the person of Jesus, or for anyone trying to understand the psychology of religion. But such studies are seldom undertaken, and rarely from a psychological perspective. Perhaps it is time to look more closely at these figures and what they are trying to tell us.


What all prophets have in common is their opposition to convention and their ability to inspire others with their visions. Hence, a key assumption of this study is that charismatic prophets really are, in important ways, different from ordinary people. This will be obvious to anyone who has had prolonged exposure to such a leader. It is not merely that their followers believe them to be extraordinary people – as Max Weber has argued (Weber 1968a, 242) – suggesting the possibility that prophets may in fact be quite ordinary individuals who, for some reason, become the objects of charismatic “construction” by groups (Wallis 1982). It simply beggars the imagination to suggest that men such as L. Ron Hubbard, Fritz Perls, Werner Erhard, Bhagwan Shree Ragneesh and Sun Myung Moon are not really, objectively, unusual people possessing exceptional abilities to inspire the kinds of mass following they have achieved. Of course, all behavior occurs in a social context, and this needs to be considered when attempting to explain conduct, but the aim herein is to understand the personalities of these unusual beings in the contexts of their social environments.


For the purposes of this book, a prophet is defined as one who (a) espouses a message of salvation that is opposed to conventional values, and (b) attracts a following of people who look to him for guidance in their daily lives. By this definition such figures as Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society; Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (the Hari Krishnas); Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons; and Father Divine, founder of the Peace Mission, may be fairly considered to be modern prophets (as they are considered by their followers), as may the many less famous founders of communes and new religious movements who also gain followings for their revolutionary personal visions.


Prophets come in a stunning variety of forms. Some are extroverts, some are introverts. Some are humorous, some are humorless. Some seem frankly disturbed, and others appear to be models of good mental health. Some are modest about their achievements, others are megalomaniacal. This diversity must be grasped in order to perceive the underlying similarities.



From The Psychology of Prophetic Charisma: New Approaches to Understanding Joseph Smith and the Development of Charismatic Leadership


By Lawrence Foster


THE ISSUE OF CHARISMATIC LEADERSHIP — whether in religious, political, or other types of groups — has been the focus of widespread popular and scholarly attention. The word “charismatic” derives from the name of the Greek goddess Charis and suggests that the person perceived as charismatic possesses very special, quasi-divine “gifts” or qualities. In the early twentieth century, German social theorist Max Weber provided a particularly insightful assessment of some of the larger issues associated with such leadership, an assessment which continues to influence scholarly thought. In popular parlance, however, the word “charismatic” suggests that someone has, for whatever reasons, been able to attract a substantial personal following.1





 July 14, 2011


“FLDS: Inside the Secret Sect”


Interview with Arnold RichterPart 1 of 3



Atheists of Utah

April 23, 2014


Personal story by Chris Jeffs,

former member of the FLDS church


This video was created as part of Atheists of Utah’s Freedom from Religion Project, which is a series of individual stories from people leaving religion as part of their journey to a better life.



July 7, 2015





True Crime | D Amy Berg | USA, 2015


“A skin-crawling chronicle of one of America’s biggest criminals and the community that allowed him to flourish.” – The Playlist


Warren Jeffs is the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot from the more mainstream Mormonism. Jeffs ran his church like a cult, brainwashing countless women into marrying him, many of them underage. When the law caught up with him in 2004, Jeffs went on the run, playing fugitive in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities and landing on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list.


With narration from Nick Cave and music by Cave and Warren Ellis, this chilling documentary from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, MIFF 2006) continues her work as a true crime investigative journalist. Berg centres the film with a terrifying, sociopathic villain who embodies the power of the oppressive cult.



ton2u May 2, 2019 Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog


If you watch the full documentary, you’ll recognize the mentalities at play throughout the narrative – the process of programming, indoctrination, brainwashing, the role of belief… etc.


People being people, seem to need something / someone to believe in. One might argue that without the fallacies involved in faith – the need to believe – the world would be a better place… maybe less ‘human’ but maybe more humane.


Prophet’s Prey | Official Trailer | SHOWTIME Documentary



 Golden Veil   May 6, 2019


What could these charismatic amoral people with savior complexes and a penchant for apocalyptic predictions – who attract cult followers all share? I think their particular beliefs and abilities could be an expression of brain malfunction or brain damage. And a brain function issue would mean that rather than pulling an overtly criminal con job on their followers, leaders like David Koresh, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh and Robert Burton are mentally ill. Mentally ill in a way that manifests peculiarly in a cult leader role. As some here have expressed, Robert Burton may be delusional but sincere.


Here, a new article written by a former cult member of the long-time Lyman Family. Still in existence and self-sustaining through their Los Angeles-based construction business, the cult has already been written about extensively. But Guinevere Turner reveals its dark underbelly like no one has before. She is also an actress and filmmaker with a new film opening Friday, “Charlie Says,” about the Manson girls who were convicted of murder. See that trailer.





Judy Fuwell
May 8, 2016


If this is Heaven, Then Give Me Hell


One woman’s story of bravery and determination to keep her family together after leaving the FLDS religion, the only way of life she had ever known.



Sacred Groves

Dec. 2, 2016


Lifting the Veil of Polygamy


A revised and updated version of the 2007 documentary



Megyn Kelly TODAY

November 10, 2017


Polygamist Cult Founder’s Daughter, Rachel Jeffs,

Gives Her First TV Interview




April 8, 2020


Cult Witness: The Dangerous World of Cults


At the age of 19, Samuel Stefan, consumed by crisis, was drawn into a cult. It would be 10 years before he was able to escape.


Using a technique called ‘love-bombing’ cults prey on the vulnerable, recruiting new members with love and warmth. After a period of brain-washing, members are forbidden to leave, enslaved through psychological control, and in Samuel’s case, even violence. He was finally able to escape in the dead of night, persued by other members and seek help.


Cult Witness is an intelligent exploration of how cults attract and manipulate their followers, sharing the disturbing firsthand experiences of Cult Witness director Samuel Stefan and six others who have freed themselves from cults: Jill Mytton (The Exclusive Brethren), Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey (The Gentle Wind Project), Lea Saskia Laasner (The Janus Project), and Celeste Jones and Amoreena Winkler (The Children of God).


Analytical insights into the cult experience are provided by leadership expert Betty Sue Flowers; Benjamin Zablocki, chair of the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University; UCLA Professor Emeritus Bertram Raven, an expert on interpersonal influence and social power relationships; psychotherapist Miguel Perlado, who specializes in cult-related problems; and Urs Eschmann, a specialist in legal issues involving cults. Cult Witness unravels the hidden world of cults; the hold they have on their victims, the reasons people form and fall prey to them and what takes place within…





What are the signs that you’re in a cult,

and how should you get out of it?


Mark Jones, Former cult member, now a psychologist

Updated Oct 8, 2021


As a former cult member myself, I can remember what it’s like being in a cult thinking it’s all normal and what it’s like waking up.[1]

Being in a cult is kind of like being a frog in a slowly boiling pan of water. The frog doesn’t jump out, it slowly acclimatizes to the increasing heat until it’s boiled alive.

The first sign I noticed was the lack of independence. Your choice of books, movies, music, clothing, even friends and choice of marriage partner were all dictated to you. You’d literally feel afraid being around non-members in social settings. Going to a nightclub felt like God himself and all his angels were staring down at you in anger.

Another sign was how they talk about former members. In the cult I left (Jehovah’s Witnesses) former members are always labelled as sinful, prideful, liars, “eating at the table of demons” and even “mentally diseased”.[2] The cult I was in even told members that we can catch this disease by simply talking to an ex-member or reading something they’ve written online. They refuse to believe that anyone leaves for legitimate reasons. It’s always a secret sin or they’re weak in faith. As such, former members are completely shunned – not even eye contact and certainly not a “hello” in the street. This applies to family members too. Parents shun their own children, children shun their parents, brothers shun their sisters, etc.[3]

Another one was that we were commanded not to research our own religion online. The only source of information should come from the cult and its headquarters. We used to have re-enactments on stage about what to do if you’re online and see a webpage that says Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong (you’re supposed to shut it down immediately, pray for forgiveness and report yourself to the leaders).

Another, we were supposed to report other members to the leaders for breaking any of the cult’s rules. Were they seen with non-members? Did they say “happy birthday” to someone? Did you see them alone with a member of the opposite sex? We were told that if we didn’t report them that God would kill us in Armageddon because he’d hold us equally guilty for their “sin”. When I was in the cult, I reported my own cousin to the leaders for going out on a date with a non-member.

The most damaging is when the cult asks you to do something that clearly goes against the holy book they claim to uphold. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to follow only the Bible. Yet we were told that we can lie to non-members in order to make the cult look good or to deflect criticism. The cult calls it “theocratic warfare”.[4] We were also told that we shouldn’t act upon accusations of child abuse unless the abuse was witnessed by two people.[5]

And finally, the cult keeps changing its own doctrine because its prophecies fail.[6] Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted Armageddon SEVEN times.[7] Each time explaining the failure away and sometimes even denying they said something that was clearly in print. Other times they blame the members for reading too much into the leader’s own prophecies.

Usually your body knows something is wrong before you’re consciously aware of it. Before I woke up, I started having panic attacks and anxiety on days that I was expected to attend the Kingdom Hall. I started suffering from depression and even had suicidal thoughts. That all disappeared when I stopped reading their literature and stopped attending their meetings. Depression is very common in this cult. In my last congregation about 25 people out of 70 were on medication for clinical depression.

How does one leave a cult? Well, the very fact that to leave the group you’re involved in requires planning is yet another tell-tale sign that you’re involved with a cult – or at least a high control group.

One might be able to simply stop attending meetings and avoiding contact with members. In my former cult this was difficult because the members would call to ask why you didn’t attend the last meeting, and even send 2 elders to visit you to see what “your problem” is and to “adjust your thinking”. It’s not uncommon for them to even turn up at your workplace if they can’t catch you at home. My younger brother was followed around when he went shopping or meeting friends.

Physically walking away is the easy part. One needs to also emotionally and intellectually leave the cult. Research. Fact check everything the group claims. If they make a claim or quotation, did they provide a citation? If not, why not? If they did, find the original source and read it in its entirety.

Speak to former members and those who speak out about the group and – most importantly – FACT CHECK EVERYTHING FORMER MEMBERS TELL YOU. Now is not the time for confirmation bias, even in the things you WANT to believe about the group. Unfortunately, some people do spread misinformation about their former cult or group. So always ask for sources, citations and clarification of where they got their info. If they’re telling the truth, they should be glad to pass this on.

The mental and emotional recovery can take weeks, months, years – even decades. A lot of former members require therapy to adjust into the real world. I’ve spoken to former members who left in the 1960s and are still psychologically damaged.

Recovery takes as long as it takes. I advise speaking to a therapist (especially ones who were former cult members themselves) and speaking with other former members online or in person.






September 19, 2021


Subject: Two calls from an atheist call-in show


Hi Linda,


This is an atheist, skepticism, and humanism call-in show with rotating hosts. This week featured former Jehovah’s Witness Kenneth Leonard, who has deconverted, is being actively shunned by his family and former friends in the church (a dictate by the JW church), and now speaks about the dangers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious cults.


The link jumps to these two conversations which you might find particularly interesting.


In the first conversation (about 15 minutes), the caller asked about the differences between a religion and cults, and briefly discussed Trumpism. The hosts also mention/recommend Dr. Steven Hassan, who you might be familiar with.


The call is followed by a 25 minute discussion with an ex JW, who talked about his JW experiences with Kenneth, and how to think about death and epistemology while coming out of his indoctrination.





ABC News In-depth | Four Corners

September 13, 2021


Escaping Jehovah’s Witnesses:

Inside the dangerous world of a brutal religion


Former Jehovah’s Witnesses are fighting back against a religion that failed them. They know they’ll lose their loved ones for doing so.


Few know the extreme nature of the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religious group which boasts eight million followers in multiple nations. They took a strict interpretation of the Bible and predicted the world would meet its ‘wicked end’ in 1914, 1925 and 1975.


A US-based Governing Body of eight men sits at the pinnacle of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation. Witnesses believe these men are anointed as the voice of God on Earth. Former members reveal the secretive practices used to instill fear and maintain discipline among followers.


With strict rules governing every aspect of their lives, these former Witnesses say the organisation is controlling and dangerous. They say it’s time to hold the Jehovah’s Witnesses to account.





 6 Lesser-Known Cults That Will Give You

More Nightmares Than American Horror Story 


By Beth Elderkin . November 11, 2017




October 24, 2021


New Age Spirituality in the USA: Meet The Shamans, Gurus and Cult Leaders of America


Is the USA undergoing a spiritual awakening, or is it falling victim to fake gurus and new age cult leaders?



Real Stories

May 30, 2019


Was Charles Manson Born To Kill? | True Crime Story


Known as an icon of evil, Charles Manson founded a hippie cult group known as ‘The Family’ whom he would go on to manipulate into brutally killing others on his behalf during the late 1960’s.



Documentary Central

June 19, 2022


The Untold Story of Charles Manson | Music from an Unsound Mind


The untold story of Charles Manson’s obsession to become a rock star, his rise in the LA music scene, the celebrities who championed his music including the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson and his descent into violence once his dreams fell apart.



Spotlight Kid

Feb 3, 2022


Strong City Religious Cult Documentary


Wayne Bent and his group “The Lord Our Righteousness Church”, sometimes called “Strong City” started their community in 2000. Bent announced that the Day of Judgment (End of the World) would be on October 31, 2007. Bent chose that date after calculating a Biblical prophecy number (490) and adding it to the year 1517, when the Protestant Reformation began, yielding 2007 as a result. The specific date, October 31, comes from the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. Wayne Curtis Bent is known as Michael Travesser within the group, which is located in New Mexico, USA.




April 6, 2023


Ku Klux Klan – An American History | Part 1


The Ku Klux Klan is the oldest terrorist group in the United States. This secret society, created in 1865, has survived throughout the decades and has always managed to rise from its ashes. It has been making the news for over 150 years. 150 years of hatred, racism and horror. A cruel history whose demons still haunt America.


Part 1 looks at the beginnings in 1865 through the 1920s when a movie “The Birth of A Nation” mainstreamed the Klan across the country.






Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) executive-produced

and narrated this darkly satirical crime docuseries.





Look inside the cult leader’s playbook for achieving unconditional love, endless devotion and the power to control people’s minds, bodies and souls.



PART  I    II   III   IV