Press cuts from the 70's, 80's and 2000's


New Delhi, India, judge tells Guru Maharaj Ji and Bal Bhagwan Ji, his 24-yr...

24 May 1975
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 14, Col. 2
c. 1975 New York Times Company

New Delhi, India, judge tells Guru Maharaj Ji and Bal Bhagwan Ji, his 24-yr-old brother and rival, that they must settle their dispute over who is 'perfect master' of Divine Light Mission out of ct. US Divine Light Mission pres Robert Mishler says guru may return to US in 2 wks


Guru Maharaj Ji, 17, derides his expulsion by his mother as head of Divine...

15 April 1975
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 41, Col. 1
c. 1975 New York Times Company

Guru Maharaj Ji, 17, derides his expulsion by his mother as head of Divine Light Mission. Mother, Shri Mataji, says she will install oldest son, Bal Bhagwan Ji, 24, as head (S).

Shri Mataji (Holy Mother), patron of Divine Light Mission and mother of 17-yr...

2 April 1975
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 36, Col. 6
c. 1975 New York Times Company

Shri Mataji (Holy Mother), patron of Divine Light Mission and mother of 17-yr-old spiritual leader Maharaj Ji, says she has removed him as spiritual leader and renounced responsibility for his decline from vegetarianism, celibacy, abstinance from alcohol and othe austerities.

Divine Light spokesman in Denver denies removal (S).

3 women followers of Indian mystic Guru Maharaj Ji are shot, 1 fatally, when...

United Press International
14 January 1975
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 23, Col. 1
c. 1975 New York Times Company

3 women followers of Indian mystic Guru Maharaj Ji are shot, 1 fatally, when they refused to allow another member of sect to spend the night at their Divine Light Mission in Tallahassee, Fla. Douglas Briggs Jr surrenders to police. Diane Ames Whitley dies at hosp (S).

Maharaj Ji, 16-yr-old Indian guru of Divine Light Mission, marries his...

22 May 1974
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 39, Col. 1
c. 1974 New York Times Company

Maharaj Ji, 16-yr-old Indian guru of Divine Light Mission, marries his secretary, Marolyn Lois Johnson. Receives ct permission to marry from Judge Morris E Cole because he is too young to obtain marriage license in Colo without parental consent. Illus (S).

5 Silo religious movement leaders are sent to pol prison camps on March 23 by...

24 March 1974
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 3, Col. 5
c. 1974 New York Times Company

5 Silo religious movement leaders are sent to pol prison camps on March

23 by Chilean mil junta as part of crackdown on hippies, spiritualists and social nonconformists. Chilean Min Gen Oscar Bonilla Bradanovic defends Govt action. Earlier raid on Divine Light Mission temple reptdly led to arrest of 208 disciples and expulsion of 12 foreigners from country (M).

Ken Kelley article describes psychological and physical violence stemming...

19 January 1974
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 31, Col. 1
c. 1974 New York Times Company

Ken Kelley article describes psychological and physical violence stemming from total devotion to such religious sects as Hare Krishnas, Children of God and Divine Light Mission, led by Guru Maharaj Ji. Says guru instills in his followers mind-control device that helps meditator purge the mind of all contradictions by meditating them into oblivion.

T Morgan article on 3-day festival honoring Guru Maharaj Ji at Houston...

9 December 1973
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 38, Col.
c. 1973 New York Times Company

T Morgan article on 3-day festival honoring Guru Maharaj Ji at Houston Astrodome; festival, called Millennium '73, is staged by guru's premies (Indian word meaning lover of God); Maharaj Ji has some 40,000 to 50,000 followers who belong to guru's Divine Light Mission, which is incorporated at tax-exempt foundation in state of Colorado and has estimated annual budget of $3-million; describes his calling; several of his followers comment; illus

Indian Govt is probing finances of 14-yr-old guru Maharj Ji, whose followers...

15 November 1973
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 7, Col. 1
c. 1973 New York Times Company

Indian Govt is probing finances of 14-yr-old guru Maharaj Ji, whose followers claim 5-million adherents in India, 40,000 in US and thousands elsewhere; difficulty arose when guru returned to India on Nov 7 in jet carring 350 Amer disciples and suitcase reptdly containing $65,000 in money, watches and jewels, which authorities impounded;

spiritual movement's public relations dir says money was intended for travel and food expenses of 3,000 Western devotees who came to India with guru in 7 chartered jets for month of meditation; says watches and jewelry were gifts for guru, his family and mission's 2,000 priests;

guru denies any connection with suitcase; says controversy is 'attempt to harm divine light mission'

Antiwar activist R Davis describes his interest in Maharaj ji, 15-yr-old...

6 May 1973
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 57, Col. 3
c. 1973 New York Times Company

Antiwar activist R Davis describes his interest in Maharaj ji, 15-yr-old Indian guru, news conf at guru's Divine Light Mission, NYC;

says his initial reaction to boy had been skepticism and hostility, but that he later recd knowledge from guru; illus

K Singh article discusses his meeting with Maharaj ji, Child God who reptdly...

8 April 1973
New York Times Abstracts
Pg. 34, Col.
c. 1973 New York Times Company

K Singh article discusses his meeting with Maharaj ji, Child God who reptdly has 4-million followers; Maharaj ji succeeded his father as head of Divine Light Mission in Bombay; describes his religious philosophy; illus



Glamorous candidates in the fray in Uttarakhand.

By The Times of India News Service.
10 September 1999
The Times of India
(c) 1999 The Times of India Group

DEHRA DUN: Some well-known personalities are among the candidates fighting it out in the four parliamentary seats of Uttarakhand, which goes to the polls on September 25. The entire region is scattered over Garhwal and Kumaon divisions of western Uttar Pradesh.

In the Garhwal hills, former Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal Manvendra Shah (BJP) is being challenged by Congress candidate Vijay Bahuguna, son of former Congress stalwart H N Bahuguna. In the adjoining Pauri Garhwal constituency, Maj Gen B C Khanduri (BJP) is facing former Union minister and head of a religious order Satpal Maharaj.

Mr Manvendra Shah has been representing the seat for the past so many years. For the voters here, he is not only a former ruler but also "Lord Badrinath." Among the rural hillfolk of Tehri and Uttarkashi, he is affectionately known as bolan du Badrinath (living Lord Badrinath) or his incarnation.

He has been defeated only once, though the urban people in this constituency maintains he has not done enough for the development of the area.

Congress candidate Vijay Bahuguna is a judge of the Bombay high court. Last time, he had fought from the Pauri Garhwal seat, against his first cousin Gen Khanduri of BJP. Mr Bahguna had lost by a very large margin.

Maj Gen Khanduri had represented the Pauri seat three times earlier. He has also been in the national executive of the BJP and is, reportedly, close to the national leaders.

Satpal Maharaj is a well-known figure among his followers spread across the globe. The followers of his religious order, Divine Light Mission, with its headquarters at Hardwar, hold him in high esteem. He became a Union minister in the Deve Gowda ministry after winning the Pauri seat.

He had contested the election on the now defunct Congress (T) ticket.

This time again he is a Congress candidate as he has rejoined the Congress party.

Of the remaining two parliamentary seats of Uttarakhand, perhaps Nainital is now the centre of attraction as Muzaffar Ali of Samajwadi Party and Ms Naina Balsawar of Bahujan Samaj party are contesting. But the real contest is between senior Congress leader N D Tiwari and Mr Balraj Passi of the BJP.

Where as Mr Tiwari is a well-known figure in the Terai area, both Mr Ali and Ms Balsawar are new faces for the people. Mr Tiwari has also been the chief minister of U P and a Union minister. Mr Ali and Ms Balsawar comes from the film and the advertisement world, respectively.

Another known figure contesting from Almora seat is Mr Harish Rawat, vice-president of Congress Seva Dal and a close confidante of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Mr Rawat is known to be in a position to influence party leaders. He is once again pitted against BJP candidate Bachhi Singh Rawat who has been winning the seat for the party after Congress lost it.

The BJP has a very strong base in Uttarkhand. Whether the glamorous candidates among the contestants can eventually make a dent in the hills, remains to be seen.

 (c) 1999 The Times of India Group.

Syd flies back from the point of no return - a party for the world's end.

11 August 1999
Leicester Mercury
(c) 1999 Leicester Mercury

ABOVE: Syd Hancock in his early 20s after he discovered eastern spirituality LEFT: The guru Maharaji, sitting on his giant throne, generated such euphoria that no-one was scared of the world ending

BELOW: Still here, Syd eventually decided to go his own way PEOPLE have been foretelling the end of the world for centuries. As we approach the new millennium, interest is reaching fever pitch. Reporter KARAM RADWAN describes how one man left Leicester to make his final preparations for the end of the world more than a quarter of a century ago.

WHILE most of us wrestled with the Gary Glitter versus Slade debate, Syd Hancock was preparing for the end of the world.

It was 1973 and he had lived in Leicester for some months, following the teachings of the young guru the Maharaji, and sharing his message with anyone who would listen when he made what he thought was his final journey to Houston, Texas.

Hundreds of followers from around the world had gathered for a three-day festival from which they believed there would be no return.

But Syd did return, claiming the end of the world was not to be taken too literally.

The son of a Methodist preacher and a school teacher had set out to seek the meaning of life and was bound for India but never got any further than Leicester.

He discovered the Maharaji, the young guru of the Divine Light Mission, who said the millennium was coming in 1973, meaning the end of life as we know it. The Maharaji had been proclaimed as the new guru in 1970.

All his followers were encouraged to gather in the Houston Astrodome for "Millennium 73", a three-day event where they awaited the dawning of the New Age.

Syd flew out there and was among those who waited.

His thoughts are featured in a new book, Far Out (published by Sansom & Company, #14.99), in which he wrote: "I'd gone to visit friends in Leicester before I set off for India looking for a guru, and I saw a poster for the Divine Light Mission.

"There's an old teaching that when you're ready for something, it comes to you and that was certainly the case. I thought maybe the guru has come here to me and I don't need to go to India.

"I ended up living in an ashram, meditating regularly. I was really obsessed with telling people about the Knowledge, the meditation techniques of Divine Light Mission, fund-raising and spreading Maharaji's message." He writes of travelling to Houston. "People were going from all around the world. We were told, 'You must go there, you must be on the plane'. Three planes were chartered from Heathrow to go to Houston. I was on the second plane but I remember standing on an observation deck watching the first plane leave. I was leaving behind my family and friends and we weren't coming back, we were going to Heaven; we weren't going to see this place or those people ever again.

I felt that we had tried our best to get them to come and we could not have done any more." The Maharaji sat on a big ornate throne on a big stage where huge video screens showed flower children and student protests.

"There was so much euphoria, it was quite dislocated from reality there wasn't a fearful feeling of the world coming to an end," he says.

(c) Leicester Mercury, 1999.



Rebecca Jones Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
30 January 1998
Rocky Mountain News
Copyright (c) 1998 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Whatever happened to Guru Maharaj-Ji, the 12-year-old "perfect master" whose followers made Denver their headquarters? He once rented most of the Kittridge Building downtown, and one of his followers around Denver was Chicago 7 defendant Rennie Davis. They started the Rainbow Grocery on Colfax. He was supposedly descended from a long line of gurus in India. - Ely, Denver

Things haven't gone so well for the guru in the last 20 years, though success is relative. He didn't bring the world peace, as he promised, but at last report he was living in a Malibu mansion valued at $15 million, with other homes in England, New Delhi, Rome, Madrid and who knows where else; driving his choice of a Rolls-Royce, a Maserati, a Ferrari or a garageful of other expensive cars; jetting around the planet on a $25 million Lear jet; or sailing on his $3 million yacht.

The number of his followers has shrunk dramatically from the early '70s, when he established the national headquarters of his Divine Light Mission in Denver. Back then, he claimed to have 6 million devotees.

Things started to sour on the guru in 1974 when, at age 16, he married Marolyn Johnson, a flight attendant twice his age. His mother didn't like her, and she set about trying to get her oldest son, Bal Bhagwan Ji, named head of the DLM in India. A nasty battle ensued, and by the time things got all sorted out in the mid-'80s, not much was left of the organization. All the ashrams (communes for his followers) were closed, and the name of the organization was changed to Elan Vital in the United States and England.

Nowadays, former cult members estimate Maharaji (he's dropped the Guru from his name and simplified the spelling) has 100,000 to 200,000 followers, mostly in India and Nepal. He's said to encourage his followers to offer him donations - which they dutifully do - so he and his "nonprofit" Elan Vital avoid taxes.

The former guru is closing in on the big 4-0 this year but shows no signs of slowing down. Various reports have him attending upwards of a hundred lectures and conferences a year, mostly in India and Nepal. He and his wife have at least three kids, one of whom is an Elan Vital exec.

For an extensive backgrounder on the guru, his successes and his foibles, check out the Web site http: / / .


7 April 1997
Time Magazine
Issue: APRIL 7, 1997 VOL. 149 NO. 14
(Copyright 1997)

On Saturday, March 22, around the time that the disciples of Heaven's Gate were just beginning their quiet and meticulous self-extinction, a small cottage in the French Canadian village of St.-Casimir exploded into flames. Inside the burning house were five people, all disciples of the Order of the Solar Temple. Since 1994, 74 members of that group have gone to their death in Canada, Switzerland and France. In St.-Casimir the dead were Didier Queze, 39, a baker, his wife Chantale Goupillot, 41, her mother and two others of the faithful. At the last minute the Queze children, teenagers named Tom, Fanie and Julien, opted out. After taking sedatives offered by the adults, they closeted themselves in a garden shed to await their parents' death. Police later found them, stunned but alive.

For two days and nights before the blast, the grownups had pursued a remarkable will to die. Over and over they fiddled with three tanks of propane that were hooked to an electric burner and a timing device. As many as four times, they swallowed sedatives, then arranged themselves in a cross around a queen-size bed, only to rise in bleary frustration when the detonator fizzled. Finally, they blew themselves to kingdom come. For them that would be the star Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, nine light-years from Quebec. According to the doctrines of the Solar Temple, they will reign there forever, weightless and serene.

Quite a mess. But no longer perhaps a complete surprise. Eighteen years after Jonestown, suicide cults have entered the category of horrors that no longer qualify as shocks. Like plane crashes and terrorist attacks, they course roughly for a while along the nervous system, then settle into that part of the brain reserved for bad but familiar news.

As the bodies are tagged and the families contacted, we know what the experts will say before they say it. That in times of upheaval and uncertainty, people seek out leaders with power and charisma. That the established churches are too fainthearted to satisfy the wilder kinds of spiritual hunger. That the self-denial and regimentation of cult life will soften up anyone for the kill.

The body count at Rancho Santa Fe is a reminder that this conventional wisdom falls short. These are the waning years of the 20th century, and out on the margins of spiritual life there's a strange phosphorescence.

As predicted, the approach of the year 2000 is coaxing all the crazies out of the woodwork. They bring with them a twitchy hybrid of spirituality and pop obsession. Part Christian, part Asian mystic, part Gnostic, part X-Files, it mixes immemorial longings with the latest in trivial sentiments. When it all dissolves in overheated computer chat and harmless New Age vaporings, who cares? But sometimes it matters, for both the faithful and the people who care about them. Sometimes it makes death a consummation devoutly, all too devoutly, to be desired.

So the worst legacy of Heaven's Gate may yet be this: that 39 people sacrificed themselves to the new millennial kitsch. That's the cultural by-product in which spiritual yearnings are captured in New Age gibberish, then edged with the glamour of sci-fi and the consolations of a toddler's bedtime. In the Heaven's Gate cosmology, where talk about the end of the world alternates with tips for shrugging off your fleshly container, the cosmic and the lethal, the enraptured and the childish come together. Is it any surprise then that it led to an infantile apocalypse, one part applesauce, one part phenobarbital? Look at the Heaven's Gate Website. Even as it warns about the end of the world, you find a drawing of a space creature imagined through insipid pop dust-jacket conventions: aerodynamic cranium, big doe eyes, beatific smile. We have seen the Beast of the Apocalypse. It's Bambi in a tunic.

By now, psychologists have arrived at a wonderfully elastic profile of the people who attach themselves to these intellectual chain gangs: just about anybody. Applicants require only an unsatisfied spiritual longing, a condition apt to strike anyone at some point in life. Social status is no indicator of susceptibility and no defense against it. For instance, while many of the dead at Jonestown were poor, the Solar Temple favors the carriage trade. Its disciples have included the wife and son of the founder of the Vuarnet sunglass company. The Branch Davidians at Waco came from many walks of life. And at Rancho Santa Fe they were paragons of the entrepreneurial class, so well organized they died in shifts.

The U.S. was founded by religious dissenters. It remains to this day a nation where faith of whatever kind is a force to be reckoned with. But a free proliferation of raptures is upon us, with doctrines that mix the sacred and the tacky. The approach of the year 2000 has swelled the ranks of the fearful and credulous. On the Internet, cults multiply in service to Ashtar and Sananda, deities with names you could find at a perfume counter, or to extraterrestrials--the Zeta Reticuli, the Draconian Reptoids--who sound like softball teams at the Star Wars cantina. Carl Raschke, a cult specialist at the University of Denver, predicts "an explosion of bizarre and dangerous" cults. "Millennial fever will be on a lot of minds."

As so often in religious thinking, the sky figures importantly in the New Apocalypse. For centuries the stars have been where the meditations of religion, science and the occult all converged. Now enter Comet Hale-Bopp. In an otherwise orderly and predictable cosmos, where the movement of stars was charted confidently by Egyptians and Druids, the appearance of a comet, an astronomical oddity, has long been an opportunity for panic. When Halley's comet returned in 1910, an Oklahoma religious sect, the Select Followers, had to be stopped by the police from sacrificing a virgin. In the case of Hale-Bopp, for months the theory that it might be a shield for an approaching ufo has roiled the excitable on talk radio and in Internet chat rooms like--what else?--alt.conspiracy.

Astronomical charts may also have helped determine the timing of the Heaven's Gate suicides. They apparently began on the weekend of March 22-23, around the time that Hale-Bopp got ready to make its closest approach to Earth. That weekend also witnessed a full moon and, in parts of the U.S., a lunar eclipse. For good measure it included Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Christian Holy Week. Shrouds placed on the corpses were purple, the color of Passiontide, or, for New Agers, the color of those who have passed to a higher plane.

The Heaven's Gate philosophy added its astronomical trappings to a core of weirdly adulterated Christianity. Then came a whiff of Gnosticism, the old heresy that regarded the body as a burden from which the fretful soul longs to be freed. From the time of St. Paul, some elements of Christianity have indulged an impulse to subjugate the body. But like Judaism and Islam, it ultimately teaches reverence for life and rejects suicide as a shortcut to heaven.

The modern era of cultism dates to the 1970s, when the free inquiry of the previous decade led quite a few exhausted seekers into intellectual surrender. Out from the rubble of the countercultures came such groups as the Children of God and the Divine Light Mission, est and the Church of Scientology, the robotic political followers of Lyndon LaRouche and the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. On Nov. 18, 1978, the cultism of the '70s arrived at its dark crescendo in Jonestown, Guyana, where more than 900 members of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple died at his order, most by suicide.

Since then two developments have fostered the spread of cultism. One is the end of communism. Whatever the disasters of Marxism, at least it provided an outlet for utopian longings. Now that universalist impulses have one less way to expend themselves, religious enthusiasms of whatever character take on a fresh appeal. And even Russia, with a rich tradition of fevered spirituality and the new upheavals of capitalism, is dealing with modern cults.

Imported sects like the Unification Church have seen an opening there.

Homegrown groups have also sprung up. One surrounds a would-be messiah named Vissarion. With his flowing dark hair, wispy beard and a sing-song voice full of aphorisms, he has managed to attract about 5,000 followers to his City of the Sun. Naturally it's in Siberia, near the isolated town of Minusinsk. According to reports in the Russian press, Vissarion is a former traffic cop who was fired for drinking. In his public appearances, he speaks of "the coming end" and instructs believers that suicide is not a sin. Russian authorities are worried that he may urge his followers on a final binge. In the former Soviet lands, law enforcement has handled cults in the old Russian way, with truncheons and bars. Some have been banned. Last year a court in Kiev gave prison terms to leaders of the White Brotherhood, including its would-be messiah, Marina Tsvigun.

The second recent development in cultism is strictly free market and technological. For the quick recruitment of new congregations, the Internet is a magical opportunity. It's persuasive, far reaching and clandestine. And for better and worse, it frees the imagination from the everyday world. "I think that the online context can remove people from a proper understanding of reality and of the proper tests for truth," says Douglas Groothuis, a theologian and author of The Soul in Cyberspace. "How do you verify peoples' identity? How do you connect 'online' with real life?"

"The Internet allows different belief systems to meet and mate," adds Stephen O'Leary, author of Arguing the Apocalypse, which examines end-of-the-world religions. "What you get is this millennial stew, a mixture of many different belief systems." Which is the very way that the latest kinds of cultism have flourished. As it happens, that's also the way free thought develops generally. Real ideas sometimes rise from the muck, which is why free societies willingly put up with so much muck.

In Gustave Flaubert's story A Simple Heart, an old French woman pines for a beloved nephew, a sailor who has disappeared in Cuba. Later she acquires a parrot. Because it comes from the Americas, it reminds her of him. When the parrot dies, she has it stuffed and set in her room among her items of religious veneration. On her deathbed, she has a vision of heaven. The clouds part to reveal an enormous parrot.

The lessons there for Heaven's Gate? The religious impulse sometimes thrives on false sentiment, emotional need and cultural fluff. In its search for meaning, the mind is apt to go down some wrong paths and to mistake its own reflection for the face of God. Much of the time, those errors are nothing more than episodes of the human comedy. Occasionally they become something worse. This is what happened at Rancho Santa Fe, where foolish notions hardened into fatal certainties. In the arrival of Comet Hale-Bopp, the cult members saw a signal that their lives would end soon. There are many things about which they were badly mistaken. But on that one intuition, they made sure they were tragically correct.

--Reported by Andrew Meier/Moscow, Richard N. Ostling/New York and Andrew Purvis/Toronto


6 April 1997
The Hartford Courant
(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 1997)

Amid all the shock and outrage over the Heaven's Gate suicides, I scanned the names of the dead the way I might scrutinize the faces on an airplane or a subway car, methodically checking for an old college acquaintance, a high school classmate, a sister's ex-boyfriend.

Age 40, 41, 44, 48. The world is small.

Colorado, Oregon, Long Island. And smaller . . .

What a bunch of nuts, everybody was saying. Real weirdos. Androgyny.

Comets. Computers. How bizarre. How insane. Can you imagine?

I kept scanning, propelled by a mounting sense of dread, and eerie familiarity. I made it through the M's, the N's, the P's. Thirty down, nine to go . . .

 In the end, I recognized only one name on the list -- that of David Van Sinderen, son of the former chairman and chief executive of Southern New England Telephone. I didn't know David, or his family, personally.

But I knew them. Upper middle class. Educated. Multiple siblings who came of age during the '60s and '70s. I knew hundreds of Davids and hundreds of their families, still grieving over the one wayward son or daughter or sister or brother who tuned in, turned on, dropped out. And never came back.

 As the rough outlines of other cult members' lives began to take shape, I recognized them, too. I went to school with them. I thumbed the West Coast with them. I hiked mountains in Colorado with them. I saw them off to India. I visited them in communes, wrote to them in ashrams. I listened to their tales of spiritual enlightenment, past lives, cosmic futures. I endured their name changes, their shifting sexual identities, their meandering search for pleasure, purpose, meaning, belonging -- something.

I shudder at the 1969 photograph of Denise J. Thurman, a "bright, pretty cheerleader with long auburn hair" who grew up in Locust Valley, Long Island, graduated from Boston University and then hitchhiked into the abyss. A Newsday reporter who had been her friend remembered how he dropped her off at an entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike and never heard from her again. She died at age 44, with barbiturates in her blood and a plastic bag over her head.

An article in The New York Times recounted Thurman's "transformation" during her senior year of high school from pep-rally queen to self-imposed social outcast. "She lost interest in her school activities, chose not to attend the senior prom, which she felt was frivolous, began experimenting with drugs and developed an interest in Eastern philosophies . . . "

It's like watching a documentary on my past. Other people may be shocked and horrified, but for me it's like looking in the mirror of the Summit High School girls' locker room and seeing a half-dozen auburn-haired girls on the brink of shedding their pompoms, their families, their worldly possessions and bolting for the Divine Light Mission.

I was always a dilettante when it came to alienation. I was dark and brooding and adventurous, but I always drew the line. I got good grades. I loved my family. I followed politics and current events the way my friends studied their astrological charts. I would no more join a cult than return to the Catholic Church.

But so many people I knew then drew no lines at all. They got sucked into the '60s quest and never re-emerged. Some of them were carted off to mental hospitals. Some of them died in Vietnam. Some got religion.

Some of them are still out there, still unwilling or unable -- it's difficult to tell anymore whether their alternative lives are a choice or a trap -- to assimilate into mainstream culture.

A number of them settled in Oregon, where, in one small coastal village due west of the college town of Eugene (still known as the "Tie-Dye Capital of the World"), 1 out of every 30 residents joined up with Marshall Herff Applewhite in the fall of 1975. They split for Colorado, Texas, then back to California, euphoric at the prospect of boarding that UFO trailing Hale-Bopp.

How could it have happened?

So easily. That's the really frightening part. For even those of us who drew the line know how thin it was.

Barbara T. Roessner is an associate editor of The Courant. Her column appears every Sunday. To leave her a comment, please call (on a touch tone phone) Courant Source at 246 1000 or (800) 246 8070; Source No. 3642.


3 January 1993
Portland Oregonian
(Copyright (c) The Oregonian 1993)

A memorial service for Paul Michael Starr will be held at 7 p.m. Monday in the Laurelhurst Club, 3721 S.E. Ankeny St. Mr. Starr died of complications arising from AIDS Thursday in his Portland home. He was 43.

Mr. Starr was born on July 6, 1949, in Pontiac, Mich., and later moved with his family to the Boston area. An honors student at Brandeis University, he was a leader in opposition to the Vietnam War and was involved in creating one of the first lesbian/gay newspapers in Boston.

Later he moved to Denver and completed his undergraduate work at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While in Colorado, he was a devotee of the Divine Light Mission and served as the editor of The Divine Light Times.

In 1979, he moved to Portland, and he received a master's degree in social work from Portland State University in 1986. He was a former executive director of the Cascade AIDS Project, and he worked with the organization since 1986.

He is survived by his longtime companion, Fred Allemann of Portland; father, Deane of Concord, N.H., mother, Wilma of Acton, Mass; brothers, David, Stephan and Mark of Acton, Mass.; and sisters, Susan of Portland, and Deanna Starr Gross of Middletown N.J.

The family suggests that remembrances be contributions to either the Cascade AIDS Project or the Friends of People with AIDS Foundation.

A full obituary for Mr. Starr appeared in Wednesday editions of The Oregonian.

Two Thousands

French Associations Against Entry in Europe of American Sect Head.

22 May 2001
Xinhua News Agency
(c) Copyright 2001 Xinhua News Agency

PARIS, May 22 (Xinhua) - Two French associations Tuesday called for a European ban against the head of America sect "Elan Vital" who plans to attend conferences and give lectures in many European cities on May 26 and 27.

"'Guru Maharaji' should be declared persona non grata across the Schengen area," announced the two associations on their Web sites Combat and Voltaire Network.

"Relevant institutions should consider the trouble to public order that the stay of an international sect head in Europe and, particularly in France," demanded the two associations with former followers of the sect in Combat's Web site

In the area defined by Schengen Accord, travelers can pass freely across land frontiers in the 15 signatory European countries.

Guru Maharaji, who is also called "Prem Pal Singh Rawat," is an India-originated American. He set up "Elan Vital" in the United States in 1971 and claims "having been sharing a simple yet profound message for over 30 years with those who wish to hear it. "

He travels in his private plane and chairs conferences all over the world to teach meditation skills that he claims possessing uniquely.

With money collected through sales of cassettes and financial contributions solicited from his followers, the guru lives a "sumptuous" life, according to his former followers.

"Elan Vital," together with 170 other similar organizations, was declared a sect by the French National Assembly in 1995.

Transport hoodoo guru's only problem.

By Catriona Mathewson, Tony Keim.
27 April 2001
Courier Mail
(c) 2001 Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd

SHE may be able to turn milk to jam but even Hindu "hugging saint" Ammachi couldn't bring Qantas flight 522 into Brisbane on time yesterday. The woman known to millions of worshippers as "mother" kept a crowd of followers waiting for 45 minutes after she fell victim to the vagaries of modern transport. When she did arrive Ammachi was swamped by followers, leaving dozens of bemused travellers in their wake. It is the Indian saint's ninth visit to Australia and, although she doesn't speak a word of English, she blesses followers with hugs and is said to have once turned a jug of milk into jam. Ammachi claims to have wrapped her arms around more than 15 million followers and added a few more to the list in Brisbane last night, before heading to the Gold Coast. But what is so special about a hug from Ammachi? "You would have to ask them," she said, through an interpreter. And why does she hug?

"That would be like asking the river why it flows." Another Indian spiritual "guru" has led more than 4000 people on a journey of "knowledge" during a four-day convention, which ends today, on a remote property 60km west of Brisbane. The Maharaji taught "delegates" from 60 countries the four secrets of his non-religious way to enlightenment.

Organisers of the Elan Vital conference housed delegates in a massive tent city set-up by local scouts and State Emergency Service volunteers on the Ivory's Rock convention centre grounds. Elan Vital national director Kaye McKinnon said the conference was expected to pump more than $2 million into the local Ipswich economy. For more than 30 years the 44-year-old Maharaji has been teaching followers, but has refused to give media interviews for the past 17 years.


1 May 2002
The Globe and Mail
"All material Copyright (c) Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved."

25 years ago: On May 1, 1977, The Globe and Mail reported that at least 35 people were killed in Istanbul in the worst outbreak of May Day violence afflicting cities in both the East and West. Montreal's 17-year-old ballet sensation Sylvie Chevalier became the youngest dancer to dance a major role within a major Canadian company when she starred in Romeo and Juliet for Les Grands Ballets Canadians. In Norway, environmentalists and fishermen demanded that the Norwegian government shut down its lucrative North Sea oil fields until it improved protection against midsea disasters. And religious guru Maharaj Ji, the man who claimed he was God, preached before nearly 10,000 worshippers of the Divine Light Mission at the Montreal Forum.

50 years ago: On May 1, 1952, The Globe and Mail reported that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the strikebound steel mills back in possession of the U.S. government, temporarily, until the dispute could be heard by the Supreme Court. A. D. Dunton, chairman of the CBC board of governors, told the Association of Canadian Advertisers that Toronto would get three hours of television daily in late August or early September, 1952, and sponsors could expect to pay $1,600 per hour. In Cape Town, armed police guarded the homes of cabinet ministers as South Africa's House of Assembly began its second debate on the government's hotly contested bill to make parliament the supreme constitutional court. Search planes scouted jungle and plateau land in Brazil for a Pan American luxury plane that disappeared with 50 people, including nine crew members.

100 years ago: On May 1, 1902, The Globe reported that Judge Morrison of the Newfoundland Supreme Court was to resign and lead a political party on the platform of annexation to Canada. The Chancellor of Ontario, Sir John Alexander Boyd, agreed to act as an arbitrator between the Canadian Pacific Railway and its trackmen. The steamship Bulgaria arrived in Halifax from Hamburg and Cologne with more than 2,000 immigrants on board. The Siamese government sent troops to the Mekong district of Siam after trouble broke out. In response, the French Minister there lodged an official protest.

Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion, 2nd ed

Armando Favazza
1 June 2002
American Journal of Psychiatry
Volume 159, Issue 6; ISSN: 0002-953X
Copyright (c) 2002 ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved. Copyright American Psychiatric Association Jun 2002

Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion, 2nd ed., by Marc Galanter. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999, 273 pp., $35.00.

Cults was a good book when first published in 1989; the second edition is bigger and better despite the ugly cover and relatively small print.

Marc Galanter, a professor at New York University, is the psychiatric expert on cults, and his is the best book on the topic. He neatly brings concepts to life with case histories, clear explanations of his research, and trenchant personal observations. His writing style is engaging, with just the right amount of informality.

Galanter describes cults as charismatic groups with as many as hundreds of thousands and as few as a dozen members. They are tightly cohesive, impute transcendent powers to their leaders or missions, strictly control members' behavior, and exert a powerful influence that overrides individuals' usual behavior. Examples of such zealous groups are the Divine Light Mission, the Unification Church, right-wing militias, Aum Shinrikyo, and, to a lesser extent, self-involvement groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and est.

A major force operating in cults is a merging of identity and decision-making functions that results in feelings of relatedness among members, a decline in psychological distress (especially among new members), and an enhanced sense of well-being. The closer people feel to group members, the greater the relief from neurotic distress.

Conversely, if they disaffiliate from the groups a bit, they are prodded to return by the increased distress they are likely to feel.

Another major operating force is shared beliefs that are established by a close-knit communications system in which acceptable views are encouraged and dissenting ones suppressed. Even an intense 2-day workshop exposure may result in surprisingly strong commitments by converts to the Unification Church.

Converts' affiliation and sense of emotional well-being reinforce compliance and continued ties to the group. The sight of bald Hare Krisha members singing and dancing in the streets may seem silly and incomprehensible to an onlooker, but the participants consider their behavior quite normal because it has been adopted in association with a system of cultic beliefs in a tightly controlled social network. These beliefs and behaviors can be intensified by alterations in consciousness induced by meditation, drugs, isolation, fasting, prayer, and rhythmic music. A psychiatrist attending his third Divine Light Mission (Hare Krisha) meeting described his perception of a bright halo that suddenly emanated from the body of a young woman who was speaking about the guru's mission: "She glowed as if she were a religious figure in a movie, and it gave her the appearance of holiness...No one had told me to expect a light like this, and no one else seemed to see it...I realized that something had happened to me that I couldn't dismiss. The experience would somehow have to become a part of my understanding of the world around me" (p. 61). He decided to join the group. Galanter could not make a diagnosis. He heard similar stories and concludes that the phenomena are difficult to integrate into psychiatric models.

Charismatic groups focus on making converts not only to become larger and stronger but also because the process, when successful, confers legitimacy to the group's ideology and consolidates the commitment of its long-standing members. Conversion demands a disruption of previous social ties and a change of world view. "The result may be psychiatric symptoms in people with no history of mental disorder or psychological instability" (p. 99). The groups carefully monitor members' behavior, foster identification with group leaders, suppress individual autonomy and divisive points of view, and manipulate feedback. They also establish boundaries to isolate members from outsiders. Thus, the glazed, withdrawn look and the trance-like state seen in members may appear pathological, but they serve to reduce direct exchanges with hostile persons. The behavior is usually not present when group members interact with each other or with friendly observers.

Galanter examines alternative medicine and spiritual recovery movements, which often are embedded in an emotionally supportive structure that lends meaning to illness and recovery. "They are like charismatic groups in that they operate from a base of spiritual (or pseudoscientific) ideology, and may be fueled by the alterations in consciousness and sensations associated with pain, suffering, or addictive drugs" (p. 185). Although he admits that Melody Beattie's books on codependency have helped many people reshape their troubled relationships, Galanter also notes that "codependency" is a term that could characterize almost anyone who has ever had a close relationship.

He provides an illustrative anecdote about Marianne Williamson, a popular author, motivational speaker, and guru of love. She described an event when she had a serious sore throat and ordered a drink at a bar to salve the pain. She spoke to a flirtatious man who said that he could get her some erythromycin because he was a physician. "This is a miracle," she wrote, "I had prayed for healing."

I heartily recommend Cults to all my colleagues. It's a nice respite from neuroreceptor binding charts and provides insights not only into group dynamics but also, by inference, into family functioning. The study of cults is not as exotic as it would seem. We all are enmeshed in social systems and confronted daily by demigods.


Columbia, Mo.

22 January 2002
The Washington Times
(Copyright 2002)


"More than 10,000 aficionados of the `Star Wars' movies - you might call them Obi-wannabes - jotted down `Jedi Knight' when asked to name their religious preference on the 2001 British census. That was a sufficient number to assign an official code for a new `Star Wars' religion.

"Does that mean tax-exempt status for Yoda? Quite not. Despite the claims of the springtime e-mail that launched the campaign, the census classification does not translate into formal government recognition of The Force.

"`We are recognizing what some may have entered on their form and ensuring that our coding framework will cater for it,' explained a census spokeswoman, noting that other `faiths' assigned classification codes include the Church of Free Love, the Wiccans and the Divine Light-mission.

"`It is really a useless piece of information.'
"Not to mention a useless faith."
-from "The Gospel of Luke Skywalker," in the January issue of Citizen


"Feisty young pro-life advocates are jumping into the abortion battle, and they mean to win.

"They come from middle schools, high schools, university campuses and coffee shops. Many are clean-cut, while others are tattooed and pierced, green-haired marvels. And I say, `Who cares? Welcome!' . . .

"These fresh troops are members of the `abortion generation' - born since the 1973 verdict. They consider themselves `survivors of Roe v. Wade,' says Derrick Jones, former president of Teens for Life, a national group established in 1985.

"`Twenty-nine years ago, the Supreme Court declared war on a group of people,' says Bryan Kemper, director of, a division of the Youth Outreach Program of American Life League. `The very persons who survived the Roe decision are coming [to Washington] to protest. .

.. .

"`A third of our generation is gone,' Jones adds. Holly Miller, former president of National College Students for Life (with coast- to-coast affiliates and the entire Ivy League) says, `We should leave every third seat empty in our classrooms as a reminder.'"

-Ellen Makkai, writing on "Pro-Lifers: Young and Feisty," Saturday in World Net Daily at


"CBS debuted `First Monday,' a show about the inner workings of the Supreme Court. While this may sound like a fantastic idea for a one-hour drama, the results are somewhat less than gripping, with little basis in reality.

"Just as in real life, the court is composed of six white men, two white women, and a black man. Somewhat departing from real life, there is also a cast of quippy and exceedingly naive law clerks surrounding the Supremes. Also, the black justice is a liberal - Lord knows audiences wouldn't buy a conservative minority.

"The one bright spot in the show is James Garner, who plays the affable and conservative (yes, he's conservative and he can refrain from kicking puppies!) chief justice with a fondness for college football.

The rest of the show, however, is quite dim.  

"In the world of `First Monday,' the justices talk about judicial philosophy in the halls, huddle before the beginning of the court's term, and interrogate criminal defendants, who for some unbeknownst reason are actually in the room - all of which . . . is quite far from the mark.

"Aside from these minor but annoying technical inaccuracies, however, the main problem with the show is that it tries to reconcile the irreconcilable. Quite simply, it's impossible to write a drama about the least dramatic branch of the federal government."
- Ryan H. Sager, writing on "Courting Appeal," Saturday in National Review Online at

Photos, A) Yoda from "The Empire Strikes Back"; B) A handcuffed boy was among pro-life demonstators yesterday at the Capitol Women's Clinic., A) NO CREDIT; B) By Stephen Crowley/The Washington Times 

Bronfman, the guru and their tea: Union of the vegetable: Sect leader sues U.S. government after hallucinogenic seized

Isabel Vincent
National Post
12 January 2001
(c) National Post 2001. All Rights Reserved.

A lawsuit between the U.S. government and a member of the wealthy Bronfman family hinges on an obscure Brazilian religion that worships spirits in plants and animals and encourages ritualistic vomiting.

Jeffrey Bronfman, second cousin to Edgar Bronfman Jr. and grandnephew to dynasty founder Samuel Bronfman, heads a chapter of the Union of the Vegetable based in his home in Santa Fe, N.M.

His group, with the unwieldy name of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (Portuguese for the United Beneficent Spiritual Central of the Vegetable), is suing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for the return of a shipment of hallucinogenic tea that it says is part of its religion.

Mr. Bronfman's group is an offshoot of Santo Daime, a mix of Catholicism and native spirituality, which was founded by Raimundo Irineu Serra, an impoverished rubber tapper working in an isolated part of the Amazon before the Second World War.

The Union of the Vegetable, one of the three branches of Santo Daime, is mainly practised by foreign adherents who engage in group meditation after ingesting a hallucinogenic tea. The other branches of the Santo Daime religion -- Barquinha and CEFLURIS -- are practised mainly in Brazil and all are associated with the Amazon rain forest.

Adherents say Mr. Serra founded the religion after drinking a strange brew made by the Indians in the Accre region.

The tea, which is commonly referred to as ayahuasca, is made by boiling Amazon plants to produce a thick, brownish concoction with the consistency of tomato juice, which can cause hallucinations and vomiting.

When Mr. Serra drank it, he claimed to have had visions of a woman dressed in white, which he referred to both as "Our Lady of Conception" and the "Forest Queen."

His followers founded an ashram-like village in the Amazon known as Ceu de Mapia, where 700 people still live without electricity, running water or money.

"We praise the sun, the moon and the stars, calling for a life closer to God's nature and tuned with the human virtues of harmony, love, truth and justice," says the introduction to the Santo Daime Internet site, which features a service that will organize trips to the village, deep in the Amazon.

The chapter headed by Mr. Bronfman holds ceremonies in a tent, or yurt, at his Santa Fe home. A woman who has participated said the ceremonies begin with drinking the "horrible-tasting" tea.

On May 21, 1999, U.S. drug enforcement agents raided the sect's office and seized its supply of the tea. No one was arrested, but members say federal agents told them the tea could be destroyed.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court claims the tea should be legal for members of the group, and that by confiscating it, the Drug Enforcement Agency violated their rights.

Mr. Bronfman, who was born in 1955, is at best a fringe member of the powerful family, which recently sold its giant Canadian distiller Seagram as part of a US$30-billion merger that created the giant communication group Vivendi Universal.

Michael Marrus, a professor at the University of Toronto who wrote a book on the Bronfmans, said "it's stretching it" to include Jeffrey Bronfman in the ranks of the powerful Montreal family. "I don't really know anything about him."

Bronfman Dynasty, Peter C. Newman's 1978 book about the family, mentions him only once in passing among the four children of Gerald Bronfman, saying he was accepted by Yale University "but chose instead to follow the Divine Light Mission of Guru Maharaj Ji."

Santo Daime gained popularity in Brazil during the 1980s, when television and film stars began to make the pilgrimage to Ceu de Mapia to drink the ayahuasca tea and take part in the ceremonies.

In response to reports of brainwashing and fraud among Santo Daime followers, the Brazilian government commissioned a report on the religion in 1987.

However, the country's federal drug council ended up giving its approval to the religion and its hallucinogenic tea. In a report, council officials noted: "The followers of the sects seem to be happy and tranquil people. Many ascribe to the religion and to the tea integration with their family, renewed interest in their work, encounters with the self and with God."

There have been reports of people in Brazil and abroad overdosing on the tea.

"Of course, a lot of people abuse the tea," says Marilia Bandeira de Mello, a psychologist and head of the Barquinha sect of Santo Daime in Rio de Janeiro.

"The tea puts you in touch with your subconscious and consumed outside of the Santo Daime ritual can be very dangerous. You need to be protected by a spiritual guide when you drink the tea."

According to Ms. Bandeira de Mello, those who want to join the cult must be initiated at a ceremony in the Amazon. She would not say what the ceremony involves but noted Amazon residents who practise the religion take the ayahuasca tea every day.

Outside of the Amazon region, the tea is taken only when services are held, usually every 15 days, she said. According to Ms. Bandeira de Mello, the tea is used as a type of sacrament.

One of the goals of the religion is also to create sustainable communities in the Amazon. In the early 1990s, the World Bank proposed funding some of these Santo Daime projects but pulled the plug when the organization's officials found out about the hallucinogenic tea.

Vomiting, which is euphemistically referred to as "a passage" in the Santo Daime religion, is encouraged as a means of "spiritual purification."

Black & White Photo: Eddie Moore / Jeffrey Bronfman, centre, conducts the wedding ceremony of Ana Gonzales and Teo Bielefeld at the Pecos National Historical Park near Pecos, N.M., in 1997. Bronfman heads a chapter of the Union of the Vegetable out of his home in Santa Fe.

New Country Croner Jimmie Dale Gilmore brings distinctive style to Swallow Hill

G. Brown Denver Post Special Writer
20 May 2000
Denver Post
(Copyright 2000)

His West Texas style extends to winsome, roots-laden folk-pop, and his trilling voice is utterly distinct, a direct descendant of classic country crooners.

That's why Jimmie Dale Gilmore's new release, 'One Endless Night,' has been No.1 on the Americana charts, which compile radio airplay figures for folk, bluegrass and alternative-country musicians. And it will likely be fixed on a number of Top 10 lists for 2000.

While Gilmore opens the CD with his own composition, the title track, it mainly pays tribute to the songwriting contemporaries who have touched him - covers by his Flatlanders bandmate Butch Hancock, Willis Alan Ramsey, John Hiatt and Jesse Winchester.

'I have a huge repertoire,' says Gilmore, who will perform at Swallow Hill tonight.

'Most of these songs are ones that I've done for many years that I've wanted to record. The hard part for me was figuring out what not to put in. I just started going down the list and stopped before it got too many to record in the time we had.'

Many of the songwriters represented on 'One Endless Night' are no longer living - Gilmore celebrates Townes Van Zandt ('No Lonesome Tune'), Walter Hyatt ('Georgia Rose') and Jerry Garcia (a dobro- laced version of the Grateful Dead's 'Ripple').

'I had done all those songs while the guys were still alive. I wouldn't want to couch it as a tribute, but there's a little bit of that element there. I also got to thinking of all the music of Doug Sahm that I love that I could have recorded. That would be a theme album.'

Gilmore's take on the urbane Bertold Brecht-Kurt Weill classic 'Mack The Knife' is a revelation - the singer adapts the well- traveled lounge song to his pure, melancholy standard of sound.

'I was very much a Bobby Darin fan when I was young, and, of course, that's where I first heard of that song. But I heard it done by Dave Van Ronk, and that's what alerted me to its depth. 'In the liner notes, he talked of the history and political context of the 'Threepenny Opera' - it was definitely an anti-Nazi, anti-fascist diatribe, stuff you don't know from hearing the melody and pop feel the way Bobby Darin did it. It made the lyrics and story come to the forefront.'

Gilmore's tenor voice is the perfect vehicle for the heartfelt songs.

'I never got any training, and I never took care of it. When I was younger, I used to do a lot of blues stuff with screaming vocals - Elmore James, Robert Johnson. I can't do that much anymore. But on the real 'ballady' stuff, I think my voice is about as strong as it's ever been.'

Gilmore, 55, grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and the pleasant austerity of West Texas has always infused his music. After the release of his debut with the Flatlanders (his supergroup, in retrospect, with Joe Ely and Hancock) in the early '70s, Gilmore retreated from the music business.

He lived in Denver for most of the decade to study with a spiritual leader.

'At the time, that's where the headquarters of the Maharaji's organization, the Divine Light Mission - which he later abolished - was (located). There was a community of two or three thousand of us - we lived right downtown in Capitol Hill.

'It wasn't traditional Indian Hinduism, but a meditation-based practice - not long on philosophy or psychology or even spirituality, just very deep introspection. In one sense, it was a little bit like going to school. In another way, it was completely different from any normal American university - it was the university of the Denver streets.'

That pursuit modified Gilmore's sonic ethic into something more hopeful, honest and patient. He returned to Austin in the '80s, and released five solo records, the last three on Elektra/Nonesuch Records' American Explorer Series.

'One Endless Night' is the debut release on Gilmore's own Windcharger Music label.

'I'm not your Top 40 mainstream household name. The audience I tend to appeal to doesn't frequent that regular commercial format on the radio.

It takes a hands-on approach to finding that audience.

 'So because of the development of technology - you can have extremely high-quality recording capability a lot cheaper because of digital stuff - and the marketing possibilities of the Internet and other things, we thought it was time to try the experiment. We'll see if we can parlay the reputation that I've gained into a more independent way of working.'

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