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Cults and Their Followers

by Dr. Derek Lamar

What is a "Cult"?

(Above: Thane, Jim Jones, "generic cult followers", Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Werner Erhard, G. I. Gurdjieff)

Was this Fourth Way School I was in a cult? No one in the school thought so. But no one considered it at the time. It wasn't until Jonestown that the question was even asked. But then one has to ask, "What is a cult?" Was the group that surrounded Gurdjieff a cult? Were the followers who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright a cult? Are Christians members of a cult? They are certainly focused on a specific individual. The dictionary says that a cult is “a group or sect bound together by devotion to or veneration of the same thing, person, or ideal” basically. That is pretty loose. Most people believe a cult is something negative and it strays from the confines of the general public’s opinion of what is the “norm” or that which defines the “social good”.

(Above: Jonestown, Gurdjieff at dinner in cafe, Frank Lloyd Wright's school: Taliesin, book on religious cults)

I think what Eric Hoffer, author of True Believer, says, would better apply: “All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united actions; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single hearted allegiance."

(Left and Right: the book True Believer and author Eric Hoffer)

I am abruptly startled at the word “hatred” because that is just the opposite of what Thane and this school taught. But there is a point within any group that a fanaticism can reach the crescendo of extreme devotion where the shunning of a member could turn into rejection and if dealt with for any prolonged amount of time it could rise to the hatred of that person. Especially if that person was attacking them, their beliefs, their organization, or their leader.

There is a good side to extremism in the pursuit of Truth however. I am not opposed to that. I think that the Bible says it well in Revelation 3:16, “I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Of course Revelation is the favorite of many True Believers. But there have been few leaders, if any, in science, religion, philosophy, the arts, politics, or even sports, who were not “True Believers” of some type or another.

Now let’s throw in a different perspective here. The well known book “Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome” by Wayne Kritsberg describes patterns of behavior such as: the Four Rules of the Family: rigidity, silence, denial, and isolation. Each of these four rules eerily mirror much of what happens in groups that fall into the potential camp of being “extreme”. Throw in the existing mix of alcohol and a teacher who becomes a father figure and you end up with a chemistry that can sing a somber tune.

(Above left: books: The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome by Wayne Kritsberg)

The school was not rigid in the traditional sense. Au contraire. It was all about change. Unfortunately that did seem to eventually mean that the group always agreed with the teacher and that one’s behavior had to be modified to fit the acceptance of the group. In that sense, rigidity set in and you were then equipped with all you needed for your peers’ acceptance. This included the ritual kissing and if a hug was thrown in all the better. You soon adopted an elitist point of view as it pertained to those outside the school. You would learn early on to mouth certain key phrases of the school to let others know you were “hip” to this new understanding of consciousness and truth and were well equipped with a new vernacular, or psycho babble, if you will, saying: “that’s YOUR awareness”, “you get what you put out”, “there are no accidents”, “it’s just your outpicturing”, “you need to do your WORK”, and “no one is ever sorry”, to list a few. I agree with all of these statements, do not misunderstand. I am simply showing the type of rigid atmosphere that can develop anywhere with anything and how it could become a stumbling block for one’s personal development.

(Above: Thane... well, certainly someone who looks like him.)

From the Teacher there was a constant shaking of stability and that is very Fourth Way. Gurdjieff himself would often and abruptly change the flow midstream with individuals who were beginning to settle in on some activity. But this still, unknowingly or not, can become a pattern which demands that there be “control” and ultimately the Teacher becomes the one who is always in control rather than oneself in most cases.

The “rule of silence” is reflected in the dictum that “one should not talk about the Teacher”. The point being that no one knows what the relationship is between the Teacher and a given student or patient or client therefore do not “judge” what is being said or done. Ultimately the conclusion is that one should mind their own business and never question authority even though the whole purpose of the school was to break paradigms and expand one’s consciousness.

The “rule of denial” taken right out of Kritsberg’s book: begins with “the denial that there is any problem with alcohol.” It was even stated in class that often alcohol was even used in therapeutic sessions or in social occasions to help loosen up the student so that a (Fourth Way) shock could be given and a change in consciousness occur. There were many people in the school with drinking problems but there was little, if any, discussion in class that said clearly that this activity was perhaps an escape from the problems they were pretending to be dealing with. There was an occasional joke about someone’s drinking but that tended to draw attention to the abuses and away from the teacher and the group. It would be dealt with humorously thus making light of it as if it wasn’t a problem but an eccentricity.

(Above left and right: book: The Fourth Way and a bottle of Thane's favorite: Jack Daniels.)

Finally, the “rule of isolation” in the family keeps it a closed system and this is certainly true of a group that one might see as a cult. Even when students would wander off to check out other disciplines such as EST or the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, they were treated, not as researchers but as naïve unenlightened students who did not realize that if they paid more attention to the curriculum at hand they would receive all of the answers they sought. And like the alcoholic family, no one outside the organization could ever understand what was actually going on there. The one element that seemed to bind many students to outsiders was in fact alcohol. If you could find students mixing with non-students the main focus was usually on drinking. The often-used rule of the school that one “should not spook the locals” was another way of drawing a line between them and outsiders. There were obvious reasons for this suggestion but again, one must look at the atmosphere that these things created and how the end product mirrors a dysfunctional family.

(Above left: Werner Erhard and book on EST. Above Right: Rev. Moon of the Unification Church.)

There seemed to be a dualistic pattern that was expressed by the school and Thane, the Teacher. And I call him “Teacher” in an upper case manner because he was my Teacher in the Fourth Way sense and in the esoteric sense and as a Priest in the Melchizedek tradition, yet part of my development is to see these things and clarify them for others who seek a path. It is not to call upon the negative and yell “go back, go back” but rather to simply remain alert and awake as it pertains to your own development.

Thane and the school clearly disseminated the best and clearest of all esoteric studies available at the time and I am proud and feel fortunate to have been there. That being said, however, there was also the undercurrent of the organization. You could say that the organization was the embodiment of the “man” who was in control and therefore it always exhibited the same subconscious and patterns that emerged in the template of the psychological role. Also it was part of the collective unconscious of the entire student body and, for the most part, remains so to this day.

Thane’s obscession with “young men” might have been more to do with society’s fear and mistrust of such relationships and yet it was there and remains unanswered. Despite the teaching of androgyny, the school was clearly a patriarchal organization and though sexuality was liberal, it was still shrouded in a certain amount of shame and guilt that was brought on inherently by all of the denial.

(Left: old rendition of the mystery of androgyny.)

It is common with many cults and esoteric organizations that when absolute power is given over to a leader, it is drawn on by the libido. Many well-known metaphysicians and other spiritual leaders were involved with homosexuality. This has nothing to do with homosexuality but on the lack of focus that arises due to the need for distraction from the problems one is faced with in spiritual work on the self. It also appears more often in circles where males are discovering their femaleness and females are discovering their maleness. Again, the androgyny factor presents its self but becomes clouded by control issues and distorted by guilt and shame not yet resolved.

(Above left to right: Catholic Priest Cardinal Law, C.W. Leadbeater of Theosophy,
Thane Walker of The Prosperos and Jim Jones of The People's Temple)

Whether it be Catholic priests with child molestation, C.W. Leadbeater with Theosophy and his relationship with young boys, Thane and his entourage, Jim Jones and his sexual dabbling and promiscuous behavior, it seems that the creative force within us sometimes lets the air out of our tires and keeps the vehicle from getting us from here to there. This is why the pursuit of the Self is a path on the razor’s edge.

There is a reason that many professions have a rule against intimate relationships with patients, clients, students and others. This is to protect one from the power of the persona of those helping us that might be used to exploit us for less than virtuous reasons. This ultimately creates doubt, guilt, confusion, and gets in the way of what the original intention was, as it pertained to the guidance needed by those in control.

Gurdjieff was often criticized for his despotic control over his students. He would direct the “Dances” and demand absolute and total devotion to his guidance and when he would yell “Davolna!” (Stop, in Russian) the students were to freeze no matter what they were doing. There was, on more than one occasion, times when Gurdjieff directed students to engage in a movement on stage and he chose NOT to say, “Stop!” and their dedication, much to their dismay, caused them to fly out into the audience. Thane used to quote the phrase: “Bend me oh Lord, and if I break, so what.” And I believe that this was transferred to the students in his consciousness as “I will bend them oh Lord, and if they break, so what”, which causes one to shudder at the implications of this control over others in their sphere of influence.

(Above left and right: Gurdjieff students engaged in the Sacred Dances: "Davolna!!!")

 Saga continues: Going Beyond The Teacher

© Copyright Derek Lamar 2005

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