Wednesday Woo

Wednesday Woo #10: Cults and Gurus

For the last Wednesday Woo, click here.

Where does one go when an existential crisis hits, or they feel misunderstood, ostracized, and in need of spiritual guidance? For some, mainstream religion just doesn’t resonate, nor does it fulfill their needs, so they seek something more mystical, and less connected to societal norms. After all, why would someone who felt betrayed by society dedicate their spiritual journey toward a majority religion that represents the masses that rejected them? Perhaps they wish to find something that has a more scientific ring to it, or is connected to otherworldly ideas – like extraterrestrials or inter dimensional beings who can whisk them away from the planet that did not accept them for who they think they are. This creates an opening for charismatic New Age leaders, who offer promises of enlightenment, peace, knowledge, power and fulfillment. While these leaders can seem relatively harmless, some of them do cause significant damage to individuals who fall prey to their manipulation. All one needs to do in order to gain an understanding of just how much dangerous potential a New Age guru can cause is looking to recent and current history.

Osho
Bhagwan Three Rajneesh, known as the “sex guru” in his home country of India, began Poona ashram in 1974, where he criticized the doctrine of organized religion, societal norms, and used his following to enrich himself, as well as have his way with as many women as possible. The ritualistic practices included strange “therapy” sessions where enraged people would seem to throw fits and assault one another while nude. Many of them had to be hospitalized due to injuries of these sessions. Rajneesh had scrupulous morals indeed, and because of his corruption and smuggling practices, eventually had to flee his own country, abandoning a multitude of adoring followers, most of which gave up everything to be with their guru.

In 1981, his trusted aide, Ma Anand Sheela, obtained a 64,000-acre ranch for his cult just outside of Antelope, Oregon. The struggles between the ranch and local/state government ensued. Sheela became quite impatient with this to say the least, and at the behest of her criminally minded guru, did whatever she could to try to stifle those deemed “enemy” by the ranch. She tried poisoning officials, setting fire to their offices to destroy documentation of their ranch’s over-capacity, flooded the towns with vagrants, threatened lives of dissents within the ranch, and eventually had followers poison 751 citizens of Oregon.

Of course, when the shit hit the fan, Rajneesh tried once again to flee. He didn’t quite make it, and was caught in South Carolina, but the horror his cult caused still brings a sense of shock. Eventually he was deported to his home country of India after a plea deal, changing his name to OSHO, and regained a following, perhaps not as significant as before, but still to this day I see people share memes with his face and quotes, as well as videos of him speaking. To be completely honest, it makes me sick to see, and each time I do, I remind people of what a psychopath OSHO was. I have only touched upon some of the story, but if you wish to know more, check out this page. 

 

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L. Ron Hubbard was an author of science fiction, who apparently thought himself to be in the wrong business when he said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” Since he was so adept at coming up with nonsense that didn’t reflect reality, he decided to embark upon a woo-woo solution to mental health with his notion of Dianetics and gave lectures on the how subject. In 1952, he established the “Church of Scientology” based on his writings, and saw to its growth, which led to much controversy around the world. Australia revoked Scientology’s religious status, which of course was later reinstated, but there were also fraud charges in France, and allegations of co-conspiring international theft at the time of his death. Hubbard made many claims about himself that were false, including one that he was a nuclear physicist. If you could think of it, Hubbard claimed to have experienced it, and have extensive knowledge about it. According to his followers, Hubbard could do no wrong, and was the source for all spiritual and psychological growth.

Of course, the belief system is a quite wacky, with their ideas regarding “Thetans” – which are rather like souls, and “Xenu” – a galactic dictator. I don’t wish to really delve much into these aspects, instead, focus on their atrocious practices. What really bothers me about this cult, is how they isolate, abuse, and take total control over their members. They force them to sign contracts with terms of a billion years, make them essentially slave-laborers, and do not allow outsiders to know the goings on of the organization. It costs thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars to move up in the ranks of Hubbard’s teachings, as well as countless hours undergoing “audits” where members hold “cans” in their hands. The cans are attached to an e-meter monitored by inquisitors who ask highly personal questions. The goal is to move up the “bridge to total freedom” through clearing out imprinted memories hidden deep within the psyche, in order to attain a state of pure spirit so they can save the world. That’s not hyperbole – Scientologists actually think their religion saves the world.

David Miscavige, who seized authority over the cult after Hubbard passed, has been said to be highly abusive towards members. Those who do not hold up to his standards are often subjected to his violent fits of rage. If someone speaks ill of Scientology, be sure that Miscavige and his goons will do anything they can to smear them in the press.

Members are not allowed to research scientology, are often held prisoner at what they refer to as “the hole” if they cause a stir. If someone questions the cult and speaks out, they are deemed a “suppressive person” and their families are urged to shun them, tell lies about them, and claim they have committed crimes against Scientology. Those who suffer from mental or physical illnesses are denied access to much-needed medication, and instead, subjected to more audits, which of course, costs them more money. There is absolutely no end to the horrors and abuse this cult inflicts upon people.

If you have yet to check out “Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath” on A&E, I highly recommend it. The show really highlights the personal damage caused by this cult. I have found myself in tears watching this compelling series.
Huuu

Paul Twitchell was another fiction writer from Kentucky who founded the cult of Eckankar in 1965. Much like the rest of the belief systems previously mentioned, this cult isolates its members by rejecting society, makes ridiculous assertions, and has a leader who claims to know the ultimate truth about stuff that happened long ago (without evidence, of course). Followers of this cult consider it the “path of spiritual freedom” – sounds familiar, right? Well, turns out, Twitchell was a member of the Church of Scientology, and was later placed on their “suppressive persons” list. Like Hubbard, he gave lectures on what he deemed as “soul travel”and was urged by his wife to turn his spiritual teachings into a religion. Granted, he dedicated his life to exploring the occult, having joined Premananda Giri’s Self-Realization Church of Absolute Monismuntil, only to be kicked out in 1955, and was also involved in Ruhani Satsang, until he had a falling with its leader, Kirpal Singh.

It seemed that Paul just couldn’t find his tribe, nor a master to give him pearls of wisdom he could pass on. So he decided to pull some from his ass. “Rebazar Tarzs” is what he called his ancient, imaginary ECK master, and supposedly this was the torch-bearer of the cult for over 500 years. There are so many of these fictional figures, and I will not bother to list them all, but according to the religion, they have the ability to help people reach god. How do you reach god? By singing the ancient name of god, which is “HUU” for 30 minutes a day. That simple? Well no. There’s lots of other sounds to study, and all kinds of karma, reincarnation, astral travel woo-woo to go with it. This religion is very much like the Hare Krishnas, except while they do allow Christians to join their cult, but they maintain Eckankar is the ultimate path to god.

The main issue I have with this cult is how is brainwashes people into losing their grip on reality, while defending its leaders multiple lies, plagiarism, and inconsistencies. They are told that society is corrupted, and the only way to think is their way. No questions or criticisms of their ridiculousness is allowed, and you are forced to wash away your personal identity. If one tries to break away from the cult, it takes a long time to adjust to life in society again. Read about their personal accounts here:

http://truthabouteckankar.blogspot.com

I want to assert that the following persons are not all necessarily confirmed to be cult leaders, but I do have my suspicions on how their following acts when it comes to being questioned, as well as how their beloved gurus treat them. Alarm bells also go off when I hear people completely deny reality to not only their own peril, but their families, and society’s as well. While religious apologists tend to insert god claims into the gaps of scientific understanding, New Age believers choose to conflate science in order to justify their claims. This way they can create a following by means of pseudoscience, and sometimes, outright ostracizing science itself, all while maintaining their beliefs are scientific. Many of these gurus will create false dichotomies, false memories, and program their followers to disregard any evidence presented to them that sheds a negative light on or contradicts their outrageous claims.

Teal Scott/Swan has a huge following online, and even has a house full of giddy sycophants to do her laundry, take care of her son (according to one who has lived with her), and come to her defense whenever she makes a horrible claim like: “We should rethink Hitler….” It’s usually echoes of “well, at first it bothered me, but then I listened to her more and more, and decided it was ok.”

The more I listen to her, the more I think she has lost her grip on reality:

Ok… so you’re an alien, Teal? And only YOU can save the planet from these made up creatures that wanna take it over, huh? Sounds as though you made up a problem just to deem yourself the only solution. This isn’t a new tactic. She also has a tendency to gaslight victims of trauma through her shadow work and cutesy sayings like, “What you resist persists.” Again, this is not a new idea. It seems as though Teal did some reading and decided to act as though she is Carl Jung or something. So if I am in danger, or things in my life go wrong, it’s my own fault because I’m projecting, and resisting. I should just stop and allow whoever is abusing me to continue. Sorry, I don’t buy that way of absolute thinking – surely many things are my own responsibility, but to conflate it into all things are my fault is just ridiculous victim-blaming. She forces her housemates to participate in “shadow work” which is much like an inquisition where she has them reveal their deepest fears for millions to see on youtube. There are mountains of other issues with Teal’s claims, and it’s worthwhile to look into them.

*Disclaimer: These are personal opinions; not facts.* Now, this is merely speculation, but I personally consider her a psychopath who takes advantage of people for her own amusement. When I see how people react to her, I am reminded of Ted Bundy and the adoring fans that took audience in the courtroom as he defended himself. “Oh my gawd! He’s so handsome! Surely he doesn’t torture and murder people, and even if he does… HANDSOME!”
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Byron Katie is another one that I keep hearing about, and when I question the methods, of course, her fans get defensive. Just like with the above examples, Katie has a tendency to claim she has THE answer to everyone’s emotional problems. As with all philosophies and techniques that lack nuance, there are some problems with this, mainly when it comes to those who suffer from PTSD. Turns out, practicing psychotherapy without having a psychological degree can lead to damaging effects.

“The work” is an irrational perversion of CBT inquiry, intended as a fix-all cure with sides of suppressing critical thought, and quite possibly the reality of the situation. More victim-blaming.  Those who have participated in her technique have also been subject to public humiliation; having their personal secrets being questioned on stage, and forced to be homeless for a day. While Katie may seem harmless, and there may be some individuals who benefit from her teachings, there is reason for pause when it comes to some of these claims. As much as people pay for these self-help courses, they may as well spend their hard-earned money on a professional who won’t cause them embarrassment, and is subject to confidentiality laws.

Now these are just a few historical and current examples of gurus who mislead people in order to gain a fame, following, money, (sometimes sex and power), but there are many more out there who prey upon those looking for answers, or a sense of community. It’s best to keep your wits about you, and keep your skeptical eye open for attributes of cult-like behavior.

Warning signs of a cult:

1. Suggests they have “the answer” to all of life’s problems that only they can provide.
2. “Love-bombing” or an attempt to influence new comers with lots of affection.
3. Charismatic leader who everyone adores and must never criticize. 
4. Use of euphoric (dancing or chanting) or humiliation (exposing one’s darkest secrets publicly, forced poverty, or forced nudity) driven programming methods to break individuality.
5. Driving wedges between families through isolation and lack of communication. 
6. When questioned by outsiders, those in the cult provide the same cookie-cutter answer.
7. Demonize societal standards, and hold contempt for the law. 
8. Pressures initiates to hand over large sums of money (if not all of their money), and properties. 
9. Wild, ridiculous claims are made, which are typically outright lies. 
10. Dangerous cults do not disclose doctrine and ritual to initiates (no informed consent), and does not allow for leaving without harassment or fear tactics.

If you suspect you or a family member is in a cult, get help, and get out now! The longer an individual is in the cult mindset, the more difficult it is to gain back individual control.

More resources:
https://freedomofmind.com/ex-member-recovery/
http://ownyourbrain.org
http://www.culthelp.info/index.php
http://www.ex-cult.org

4 thoughts on “Wednesday Woo #10: Cults and Gurus

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