Unfounded Suspicions and Genuine Pitfalls of Playing Dungeons & Dragons

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Controversy has surrounded the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons since its creation over 30 years ago. Many Christians hotly contend that the game is a source of occult evil, enticing players to develop interest in Satanism and ultimately commit deplorable acts of murder and suicide, while many others believe role-playing games to be merely a harmless form of entertainment which offers an escape from ordinary life. After closer reflection on the matter, however, one will find that there may be some truth to both sides of the argument.

The role-playing game genre was developed in a time before mass entertainment through computers and videogames was commonplace, and it offered an innovative way to engage in the cooperative imagining of a fantasy realm in which players interact within an immersive story while engaging in physical and magical combat against formidable enemies through the use of dice and pen-and-paper calculations. The 3rd and 4th editions of the game produced in recent years still retain the essential concepts of the original Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game and have restored the darker elements of D&D, dealing with evocation of demons and ritual sacrifice, which had been omitted from the 2nd edition after numerous protests from the public. The basic mechanics and themes of the game have remained unchanged throughout the years: players assume the role of a good, evil, or neutrally-aligned character from any class ranging from devout paladin knight to chaos-invoking warlock, and battle creatures chosen and controlled by the game’s storyteller, or ‘Dungeon Master’, throughout a series of encounters in an ever-expanding adventure campaign.

One prominent critic against D&D is William Schnoebelen, a Christian convert who claims to have been a ‘witch high priest’ of a satanic coven during the time when the concept of Dungeons & Dragons was being conceived. According to Schnoebelen, two of the game’s creators paid him a visit in order to study actual black rituals from a prominent real-life sorcerer and implement the concepts into the game to make it as ‘real as possible’. If this account of D&D’s origins is true, then there is reason to be cautious over delving too deeply into such a game. And even if this story of satanic origins is just a fabrication, concocted merely as fear-inducing propaganda to discourage fellow Christians from playing occult-themed games, the fact remains that the world of D&D does make constant reference to magic and rituals of both destructive and benefic natures. While an occult-themed game may provoke an interest in actual occult practices in some players, this is typically rare, as most players view magic as mere fantasy, and subsequently an occult-themed game carries relatively little risk in itself. Any real danger comes from the heart of the game genre: that of role-playing.


Imitative Magic

The practice of abandoning one’s everyday identity to take on the role of a hero, deity, or even diabolical creature, is an age-old practice, dating back to the oldest spiritual practices of shamanism. Whether it was a Native American healer assuming the movement and vocalizations of a totem animal to evoke its power and wisdom, or a Tibetan lama summoning all of his focus and will to temporarily merge his identity with an adored celestial deity, the practice of imitative magic is found throughout the world in every traditional culture: shedding one’s limited, everyday identity in order to receive knowledge or influence from the world unseen. Contemporary religions still retain certain elements of this practice, such as the role of a Christian priest to act as emissary of Christ to the congregation at Mass.

Traditionally, the practice of transcending individual identity was not only necessary for obtaining blessings and guidance from benevolent deities, but it was also a means of manifesting and binding evil. For instance, in ancient Rome during public games, so-called ‘wandering influences’ were allowed to manifest among the organized chaos so that they could periodically be released in a controlled setting and swiftly exorcised by the priests. In this way, malevolent forces were kept at bay and the people remained under ritual protection once daily life resumed.

Nowadays, with the deterioration of spiritual tradition, role-playing has taken on strictly secular forms, namely in psychotherapeutic settings or in mass entertainment through Hollywood actors. Although it may be stripped of its esoteric element, the act of role-playing still retains its power to profoundly change individuals.

When used correctly in therapy, role-playing allows patients to assume varying roles within a safe environment to overcome any number of emotional or social maladjustments. For example, a person with a social phobia may imagine him or herself onstage giving a public speech, or in a group setting family members may take on each others’ roles to gain clearer insight into their intentions and feelings. While role-playing in a clinical setting is not suitable for everyone, in many cases it has shown to be transformative for certain types of individuals when under the proper guidance of an understanding therapist.

The art of acting generally held an important role in a traditional society and often provided a means of transformation not only of the actors but of the audience as well, as characterized by the concept of catharsis in ancient Greek theatre. An actor who genuinely identifies with the character he is portraying becomes a medium of those thoughts and emotions which play a part in the story. While the story and characters may be nothing but a fiction, the actual emotions generated by experienced actors are very much real, as a psychic, emotional force is built up during the performance. Once those energies are released and resolved, the actor and audience experience a catharsis, and the undesirable tendencies are purged away, leaving a lasting effect on all who take part. It must be remarked that not all performances achieve such results, especially nowadays, as many actors are not trained to fully immerse their consciousness into their character, or if such genuine channeling of emotion is achieved, the result can be disastrous if not handled appropriately. Actor Richard Gere, a practicing Buddhist, once commented that the acting profession can in fact be dangerous, as actors are often required to embody unbalanced characters, resulting in an experience which can subsequently alter an actor’s consciousness and well-being after the work is finished.

Take for example, Eli Roth’s performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, in which Roth (director of horror films in the emerging ‘torture porn’ genre such as Hostel) plays the role of the ‘Bear Jew’ who ruthlessly bashes in the skulls of Nazi soldiers with his baseball bat. In several interviews, Roth has expressed his personal feelings of vengeance poured into his ‘method acting’ performance, having grandparents who fled from Nazi persecution and distant relatives who were killed in the Holocaust. Here he describes the satisfaction he derived from partaking in onscreen vengeance and brutality, and how the enraged emotions he summoned up often took hold of him after shooting was finished:

‘It was an incredible honor and certainly an honor that I took very seriously… When I have to do that scene where I beat the guy’s head in, I was like, it was one thing I mean I lifted weights and put on almost 40 pounds of muscle…That’s one thing, but what’s going to make it work is the look in his face and the look in his eyes. This guy has to look possessed, he has to look tortured and tormented that all he thinks about is beating Nazis to death. So to do that you have to really dredge up, the most painful, think of your worst breakup, your worst fight, the most horrible death and like make it feel like it happened 15 minutes ago. So I was working myself up into this state, and after you film a scene like that even though the scene’s fake. And when everyone is like, ‘OK, it’s a wrap. Let’s go out for drinks,’ like you just want to crawl into a hole and die. Cause you’re like, you are gaaaawddd. And I talk to the actors, I was, it was exhausting and draining in a way I could’ve never anticipated. So even the climactic scene... I remember the day when I was going to do this scene where we’re wiping out the high command and everyone is like, “G-d, what's with Eli? Are you alright?” And I’m like I’m going to go. ‘Do you mind? Leave me alone. I'm trying to work myself up.’ And people would be like, ‘Stop, what’s up? Wait, wait. The guy's in a really bad mood. It’s like it’s Acting you guys, I'm allowed to act also….. Finally we got to the scene and I was like ready and I was just ready to explode. And I just unloaded on the guy, and it was it was great to finally beat him and just to get it out and do it over and over and over and over……[This experience] is certainly going to change the way I write scenes. I’d always in “Hostel” after I did an intense torture scene gave the actors a few days off to recover and rest and you know I’m glad I did that. I can see why you need that.’

Considering the psychic-emotional forces brought into play during dramatic performance, it is not surprising that many old theatres and movie studios carry stories of hauntings and paranormal phenomena, as the psychic forces unleashed during intense performances are apt to have an effect on the surroundings and individuals involved. And considering the increasing prominence of sadistic violence and disturbing emotional displays found in so many modern films, one is left to wonder about the effects such performances have on not only the actors, but the general audience as well, not to mention world events at large. Imitative magic can have effect even if those involved are not aware of its reality, and perhaps it is this unsuspecting mentality that is the most perilous, as chaotic forces are unleashed without intention or awareness, and therefore the means to control and expel such forces is lacking.


Make-Believe


It must be emphasized that not all forms of role-playing and acting are capable of having such effects on a psychic level; such power is only realized if those involved truly identify themselves with the person they are portraying, whether they are participating in a theatrical performance or in an actual magic ritual. In the case of Dungeons & Dragons, it is fair to expect that a majority of players take the game more or less lightly and only allow a partial suspension of belief in terms of their character and their fantasy world creation. In such cases, players are not in much risk, if any, and in many instances the role-playing experience offers them a chance of self-discovery and growth, in a similar manner to how some patients or actors discover unknown aspects of themselves while taking on characteristics of a role different from their everyday self.

But what of those players who truly immerse themselves in their role-playing experience and become entirely wrapped up in their fantasy world? Can it be said then that D&D presents a real risk of malefic influences? Perhaps it depends entirely on the participants’ disposition and motives while playing. If good-aligned characters work together to dispel evil, then any unintentional magic performed through the instrument of the game would in fact have a potential beneficial effect in the real world, no matter how small. However, in the case of a deeply-immersed player controlling an evil-aligned character who mercilessly slaughters innocents and evokes the aid of demonic entities in a search for power, such imitative magic may hold unseen risks for such a player, who exposes oneself to similarly attributed entities who might be drawn to such enactments. It would seem that those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of magic and spirits as reality are potentially more at risk, as these players are more likely to view the role-play content as merely a game and hold few reservations in their gameplay behavior, believing any action, whether good or evil, to carry no real consequences outside the game.

It is unlikely, however, that such occult phenomena frequently take place amidst D&D gameplay. After all, no matter its purported controversial beginnings, D&D was designed primarily as a fantasy game, not as a means of contacting wandering entities, as is the case with such ‘games’ as the Ouija board, which easily opens gateways to low-level entities, whether the board was mass-manufactured from plastic or homemade out of paper and a glass. The intention behind the initial creation of the Ouija board subsequently placed the same ‘charge’ in all corresponding forms and incarnations of the device. Unless the creators of Dungeons & Dragons intentionally imbued their game with these spiritualistic properties, for most players it remains simply a game, and not a gateway instrument for contacting spirits or practicing real magic. However, these possibilities do exist, and may be triggered by players with the capacity for unleashing such forces.


Fragmented Mythology

There may be other, indirect risks due to the occult themes presented in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, namely that of the religious concepts and mythology depicted in D&D lore. The invented lore of D&D borrows heavily from various spiritual traditions, describing the realms of the Astral Sea inspired by Eastern religions, and the realms of Primordial Chaos, which reflect the ancient Greek concepts of Hades and Tartarus. Situated between these two realms of the gods and the demons lies the physical world, in which the battle of good and evil takes place.

While seeming to portray a more or less traditional view of the spirit realms, one crucial element is omitted from the D&D universe: that of a transcendent, unmanifest Source of creation which remains beyond the duality between good and evil. Whether it is depicted as Brahma in Hinduism, the Void in Buddhism, the First Reality in Pythagorean esoterism, or God the Father in the Judeo-Christian tradition, many spiritual faiths describe a transcendent Source which acts as the ground of all Being – a concept notably lacking in D&D mythology. Instead, players are presented with an ideology bearing similarities to Manichaeism, in which evil is depicted as being equally powerful to good (rather than being merely the privation of good, an entropic force which aims for separation from the Source), and the entire existence of the cosmos rests on the balance between these two opposing forces in an endless struggle, both of which are necessary for creation to take place. A simple exclusion of the eternal Creator, central to many spiritual traditions, reduces the mythology to a ‘cosmological’ level and eliminates any reference to a transcendent Principle. As a result, the world is presented as a morally relative universe, in which evil characters are justified in their actions, and the powers of good are restricted within certain limits, never granted full omnipotent potential.

While such criticism against a mere game’s shallow representations of spiritual myths may seem unmerited, any fictional mythology must be understood within a modern context, that is, a culture in which no spiritual myths are given due reverence or understanding. Myths are powerful devices, and even when taken as part of a simple gaming world, they can still imprint their core themes and moral messages to those who take an interest. It is for this reason that a skewed attempt at replicating genuine myths taken from spiritual traditions can inadvertently plant misleading, distorted beliefs in those who listen.


Accusations of Violence and Satanism

Many advocates against Dungeons & Dragons often cite cases of murder and suicide committed by people who had been involved in the game, placing blame solely on their role-playing activities and denouncing the game as an occult practice. While it may be extreme to place all blame on a game, ignoring all other factors in the forces which shape an individual’s decisions, it is worth taking account of the fact that many crimes committed were inspired by occult dabbling, initially inspired by themes presented in D&D.

A prominent case is that of Sean Sellers, convicted and executed for the murder of his parents and a convenience store clerk in 1987. A testament written by Sellers states that playing D&D initially inspired his interest in the occult, and he eventually became a practicing Satanist. In his own words:

‘With the controversy over role-playing games so prevalent today many well meaning people have sought to use my past as a reference for rebuking role-playing. While it is true that D&D contributed to my interest and knowledge of occultism I must be fair and explain to what extent D&D
contributed.

When I was playing D&D I was not a Satanist, and in fact would probably have punched any Satanist I met right in the mouth. I was interested in witchcraft and Zen however. In doing some research at the library for a D&D adventure, I was leading, I happened upon other books that led to my study of occultism.

After I became a Satanist, I used D&D manuals for their magical symbols and character references for my initial studies. I also used my experience as a Dungeonmaster to introduce people to satanic behavior concepts and recruit them into the occult.

I do have objections to some of the material TSR released for their role playing games. I think their excessive use of paganism and occultism is unnecessary and can lead to idealistic problems among some players; however, to be fair to TSR and in the spirit of honesty, I must concede that D&D contributed to my involvement in Satanism like an interest in electronics can contributed [sic] to building a bomb. Like the decision to build the bomb, I had already made decisions of a destructive nature before I incorporated D&D material into my coven projects, and it was Satanism not D&D that had a decisive role in my crimes.

Personally, for reasons I publish myself, I don't think kids need to be playing D&D, but using my past as a common example of the effects of the game is either irrational or fanatical.

February 5th 1990

Sean Sellers’

It is important to note Seller’s insistence that D&D only had an indirect effect on the path his life took, that Satanism was first and foremost the motivation for his committing murder, and playing D&D was simply an instigative factor. Similarly, many criticize movies and videogames for being the sole causes of teenage violence, without acknowledging the many instances in which engaging in violent entertainment does not lead to acts of aggressive; rather, only certain types of individuals acquire a sort of inspiration from such media. In the same manner, the occult themes in Dungeons & Dragons present no inherent risk of social deviation, but players with a twisted disposition may find that immersion in the game will lead themselves into darker places. While the occult is not equivalent to Satanism per se (as occultism in itself is a varied range of practices, either good or bad), the two practices are often co-mingled, especially given the modern stereotype of associating dark magic with any practice that involves dealings with the spirit world. For this reason, players whose imagination is sparked by the occult themes in the game may quickly gravitate toward the darker elements of magic and other-worldly beings.


Conclusion

For better or worse, perhaps the main appeal of Dungeons & Dragons (as well as other fantasy genre games, books, and movies) is the sense of wonder that a world of magic evokes in both youths and adults, having been raised in the materialistic, scientifically-minded society of the modern world. Not only does the fantasy realm offer escape from the mundane, more importantly, it offers an enlivening vision of a magical world, a perspective which has been omitted from daily life, shunned by modern preconceptions. Perhaps so many people are drawn to stories of magic and fantastical creatures and abilities because these stories reflect a long-forgotten truth: that there do exist other realms, whose events effect the physical domain in which we reside. What was once held to be common knowledge is now reduced to mere fiction and shunned by any commonly-accepted reasoning. But the unseen worlds remain, and their reminders push into other forms acceptable to modern society, manifesting in forms of entertainment, whether the latest fantasy blockbuster or work of creative fiction, often leaving even the creators of such works bewildered at the sudden inspiration for realizing such imaginative creations.

Involvement with magic and spirits is a powerful concept, and when showcased in a seemingly harmless game, there may be unintended consequences if such forces are inadvertently released by players. In esoteric practices, the imagination is understood differently from the modern approach, and is considered an essential element of the mind when communicating with the spirit world and manifesting physical results. An entity can be summoned first by single-pointedly fixing its image in the mind, which acts as a beacon to attract its presence. If players of D&D are encouraged to imagine themselves in the game as deeply as possible (as encouraged by the official Dungeon Masters’ Guide) and engage in magical rituals and encounters with monstrous beings, then it may be possible that players with sufficient suspension of belief and focused imagination will unintentionally provoke actual contact with similar entities. This paired with the allure of dark occult practices presents a real danger to certain players. But it must be emphasized that only a rare minority of people encompass such a disposition when playing role-playing games, for most others, D&D and other similar RPGs carry little risk of danger. Provided those who engage in role-playing do so lightly and take the necessary precautions of remaining mindful of the inherent potential of releasing the very magical forces that the game encompasses, then D&D remains only a game -- a game in which players are free to explore mystical ideas that are unpopular in the modern worldview, and players may discover facets of their strengths and potential that were previously hidden and left unexplored.

How to Trust Your Demon: A Hollywood Counter-Myth

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It has been said that the telling of myths has no place in the modern world, that the only remnants of such transformative symbolism are to be found in modern storytelling through film. Joseph Campbell once remarked that movie theatres are now our temples, where the public receives its teachings of myth. Whether or not this is a positive quality of mass entertain is subject to debate, considering the Hollywood tendency of propagating either progressive, anti-traditional values and debased morality, or the retelling of ancient myths with inverted meanings. Often both of these characteristics are to be found within modern storytelling, and Dreamworks’ recent children’s movie How to Train Your Dragon is no exception.

Reversing the ancient tale of the hero who slays the dragon, the film promotes the value of compassion towards these creatures. While the story may imbue a message of tolerance to the audience, encouraging children to question common prejudices and to embrace ostracized groups, this simple allegory should not distract from the face-value message of the film that demonic creatures are merely misunderstood creatures who mean no harm to humans. From a symbolical, rather than simply allegorical, point of view, this message neutralizes the traditionally held representation of the dragon as an evil being.

As discussed in the previous article, metaphysical symbols each carry a dual character and meaning. In the East, the dragon is generally of a Divine disposition, as portrayed by the wise Chinese dragon who has mastery over the element of water, or by the Hindu Kundalini, the serpent force which lies at the base of the human spine, who upon awakening ignites the yogic process of transformation. In the West, the Divine character of the dragon is represented by Ouroboros, the cosmic serpent who swallows its own tail, symbolizing the cyclical existence of the manifested Universe, an embodiment of the eternal One.

Conversely, Western legends generally depict dragons as malevolent creatures, such as in Saint George and the Dragon, Saint Romanus and the Gargouille (which tells of the origin of gargoyles used atop churches), the Greek myth of Cadmus, the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, and the Norse tale of Fafnir. The Hindu myth of Vritra also tells of a dragon-like asura who battles the god Indra.


From the opening of How to Train Your Dragon, it is apparent which aspect the dragon represents in the film, as the first impression of the dragons ruthlessly attacking a village bears a malevolent trademark.

The story features the ever-repeated motif of the bumbling outcast protagonist who, despite all odds, saves the day. In the first scene, Hiccup tries to prove himself as a courageous Viking by shooting a snare at an elusive Night Fury dragon.

The dragon is hit, and falls with an illuminated burst.



The next day, Hiccup finds the dragon, but makes a failed attempt at slaying the creature, instead choosing to free it.


He soon discovers that the dragon is unable to fly, as the left fin of its tail has been destroyed.


The image of an imperfect, winged creature falling from the sky brings to mind the story of the fallen angel Lucifer. Considering the traditionally demonic character of dragons, such a connection would not be inappropriate.


Moreover, the damaged tail parallels the Islamic foretelling of the dajjal, in which asymmetrical deformity is a telling characteristic of the Antichrist, who leads the world astray under the trustful guise of benevolence.

Just as in other animated films, particularly Monsters Inc., creatures that have traditionally been considered to be evil and hostile to humans are shown to the audience to be in fact misunderstood, friendly beings.

Gradually, Hiccup forms a friendship with the dragon, which he names Toothless, due to the hidden set of teeth that spring out of its mouth.


As Hiccup undergoes dragon combat training with his peers, Gobber, the ‘idiot in charge of initiation’ as described in the book, encourages Hiccup to read the Dragon Manual, which contains generations of knowledge that his people have obtained on dragons.

Owing to the lack of information on Night Furies, Hiccup soon realizes that his people do not know everything there is to know about dragons, and, in fact, many things they think they know turn out to be untrue.

In a secular Hollywood film, this ancient book is not considered to be of a sacred nature, but simply revered; however, this rejection of generational knowledge by the protagonist demonstrates the anti-traditional undertones of this film, giving the impression that one’s ancestors are merely superstitious and hold only transitory knowledge which can be replaced by younger generations.

Furthermore, Hiccup’s own father, Stoick, portrays the stereotypical domineering father who refuses to listen to opinions which differ from the accepted norms of the people. As with most animated features, the protagonist’s father is depicted as narrow-minded and ignorant of the way the world really is; rarely do we see a movie in which a protagonist’s parents are understanding and wise, coming from an ancient and knowledgeable tradition. All we encounter are themes of rebellion against ignorant elders and backwards traditions.


And like many other animated films’ attempts to connect with the audience, How to Train Your Dragon mockingly portrays a traditional culture with characters who behave just like modern movie-goers, speaking crude dialog rife with contemporary sarcasm (although it must be noted that, unlike most other Dreamworks productions, pop culture references are fortunately absent in this film). Even any references to Norse spiritual traditions are done in an off-hand way, in which appeals to the gods are made with such superficial exclamations such as
‘Odin, it was rough, I almost gave up on you, but all the while you were only
holding out on me. Oh Thor almighty!’
What we essentially see are a group of profane modern characters guised as medieval Vikings with no understanding or effective interaction with the world unseen.


Apart from being a dragon combatant-in-training, Hiccup also works as a blacksmith’s apprentice, and using his iron-working abilities, he designs and forges a new tail wing for his dragon.

The image of merging flesh with machine evokes the modern pursuit of bionics and transhumanism, in which physical limitations, whether impairments or simply the ‘human condition’ in general, are overcome through the implementation of technology. In this sense, man ‘evolves’ by means of his own ambition. In the film, the dragon is made able to re-ascend, due to the hero’s promethean ingenuity, again another luciferic element present in the story. It is worth noting that the trade of blacksmithing was traditionally considered to be one associated with lower magic, which ultimately degenerated into base sorcery, as metal-working involves the chaotic nature of ‘infernal’ elements.

By studying the behavior of his dragon, Hiccup soon discovers methods of subduing other dragons in combat, without having to inflict violence (establishing a myth counter to such legends as George and the Dragon). He quickly draws admiration from the village, and is chosen by the elder to participate in the traditional slaying of the dragon.
In this case, either the village elder is just as blind as all the rest and truly believes that Hiccup will conform to their ways and kill the dragon, or she silently condones his iconoclastic rebellion and hopes he will bring about a change in the village customs.

In the battle arena, Hiccup attempts to demonstrate to the people their ignorance of the true nature of dragons; they are not evil, humans can befriend them.


The peaceful demonstration is interrupted, however, by Stoick, whose aggressive stance provokes the dragon to resume its attack, thus confirming the people’s ‘ignorant’ suspicions.

The father, who bears a hammer resembling the mythic Mjöllnir, evokes the image of Thor, the Norse god of strength and protection. The audience readily perceives Stoick as an intolerant and judgmental character set in his ways, as he calls innocent Toothless a ‘devil’ and declares the dragons’ nest to be ‘hell’. However, this character, who embodies the paternal deity Thor and casts judgment on infernal creatures, bears similarities to the Christian and Judaic conception of God, of which the primary audience for such a film carries. The story demonstrates that this father figure is in reality limited by his intolerant disposition, and a new approach to dragons (or infernal entities) is needed, once the old ways are rejected.

Refusing to fight in the arena, Hiccup is exiled, and Toothless is confined, forced to lead the Vikings to the hidden dragons’ nest. Upon arriving, the warriors witness an unknown beast emerge from the cave, the dragon queen.
One may recall the dragon and the two beasts from the Book of Revelation: the dragon Lucifer falls from the sky unto the earth, and at the time of the apocalypse, the first beast rises from sea, resembling a leopard, and the second rises from the earth, making a noise ‘like a dragon’. The parallel between Toothless’ fall and that of Lucifer has already been remarked upon; however, it is also significant that the art directors for the film deviated from the book’s original description of the dragon, in favor of a more feline-like creature inspired by a black leopard screen saver displayed on a Dreamworks employee’s computer. This image paired with the initial scene of the dragons’ attack over the sea, offers a parallel of Toothless and the other dragons to the first beast of Revelation. And in this scene, the queen dragon fits the description of the second beast, emerging from the deep underground.


Hiccup and his peers arrive, each mounted on a dragon and attack the queen. The others are soon defeated, leaving only Hiccup and Toothless against the giant beast. In the final strike, the queen is hit, and Hiccup and his dragon fall through the fire.


It seems they are both dead, until an injured Hiccup emerges from the protective wings of Toothless. The father approaches the dragon, and realizing his mistaken views, says apologetically, ‘Thank you for saving my son’. The flawed father’s only begotten son is saved, and the dragon is a hero.


Symbolically this evokes an inversion of Christian doctrine, as the devil (Toothless) saves Christ (‘resurrected’ Hiccup), with the Father (Stoick) begging his forgiveness.

Having fallen with the dragon, Hiccup now bears a similar deformity, his missing leg reflecting Toothless’ damaged tail wing.


The subtle message given in this film, doubtlessly unintentional by the moviemakers but significant in its scope, is that what we have traditionally thought to be evil is, in fact, benevolent and should be befriended. This brings to mind the often-endorsed sentiments of New Age teachers encouraging others to ‘embrace their shadow’ and attempt to heal negative subconscious energies by integrating them into the personality (See the article False Shepherds for further analysis). As Hiccup intimates his reason for not initially slaying the dragon, ‘When I looked into his eyes, I saw myself.’ The concept of owning one’s shadow and identifying with negative traits of the subconscious offers an open invitation to outside, infernal forces, which gain access to the human mind through the gateway of the subconscious.

Furthermore, the happy ending in which all the townspeople change their ways and each have a friendly dragon pet, resembles another New Age practice of acquiring spirit guides, typically found among an array of unknown, low-level entities often mistaken for wise, benevolent beings.

It may seem an exaggeration to detect demonic themes underneath an otherwise innocent children’s movie, but the powerful impact such images have in shaping young minds must be brought into consideration. In effect, Hollywood movies are practical tools for social programming, with or without the filmmakers’ conscious intention. In this seemingly harmless, or ‘toothless’, fairy tale, the audience is exposed to a number of jibes at traditional beliefs, favoring a new, modern approach to life, while simultaneously promoting the idea that the devil is not evil, but merely misunderstood, thus blurring the borders between good and evil, encouraging children to seek out the creatures found in darkness, in hopes of making a new friend.

A World Turned Upside Down: The Inversion of Sacred Symbols

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The values held by our modern society can be said to be a complete reversal of those held by preceding cultures rooted in spiritual truths. The accelerating contempt for tradition has led the masses to believe ancient wisdom and its myths to be mere foolishness, that only the world of the senses is real, there is nothing which lies beyond; or, if it be conceded that higher realms do indeed exist, they are of minor importance, earthly life takes precedence now, let us leave death to worry about the hereafter.

In every spiritual tradition, symbols were implemented in initiatic practices to act as a bridge between this world and the world unseen. The realm beyond, incapable of being expressed in ordinary language, was represented through the use of symbols. These sacred symbols acted as supports which could transport an initiate into higher realms of being, while simultaneously acting as conduits to channel Divine Knowledge unto to the realm of manifested existence, following the hermetic adage ‘As above, so below’.

In recent times, however, this ancient wisdom has been denied and rejected, now considered to be nothing but superstitions of the past, inapplicable to our ‘advanced’ modern civilization. Nevertheless, remnants of this knowledge of the power behind sacred symbols has survived, but not without corrupt distortions and misuse of the teachings.

The slow decay of spiritual practices over the centuries has given way to the anti-traditional movement of our times, a movement which rejects both tradition and the spiritual principles it represents in cultures throughout the world. Most people today remain unconscious of their anti-traditional mentality, which has been instilled through generations of cultural conditioning, having been raised to understand their materialistic, unspiritual worldview to be ‘just the way things are’ in terms of everyday reality. Even those who consider themselves religious hardly act any differently from all the rest; once Sunday prayers are finished, the return to secular, ‘ordinary’ life resumes.

There are others, however, who play a conscious role in the destruction of spirituality, humans who assist in manifesting malefic forces into the corporeal realm in which we reside. Ancient knowledge that has survived into the present age is now being distorted and inverted to suit the intentions of the few ‘Elite’ of the anti-traditional movement, who seek to break all ties humanity once had to the higher realms, effectively destroying any defense we might have had against the impending breach of the lower realms into our world. Evil, whether in its brute, unconscious form, or in its manifestation through pernicious, intelligent beings, has subtly spread into our realm. Humans who have acted either knowingly or unconsciously have participated in the reversal of symbols and the inverted direction human activity is taking. ‘As below, so above’; the gates of the underworld are opened, as all hell prepares to break loose.

Before undertaking the current study of symbols, a note must be made concerning the topic of evil. Many today do not believe in such a concept, either due to conditioning by materialist scientific views on the one hand, or by watered-down New Age teachings on the other, which suggest that if we are all One, then evil is only an illusion. This last point is a common misconception. The unmanifested Divine realm remains situated above duality, transcending all concepts of positive/negative, good/evil; the Infinite reduces all existence to metaphysical Zero. We, on the other hand, reside in the manifested physical realm, the world of relativity, individuality, and division, where the forces of good and evil have very real effects on our lives. In other words, angels and demons are just as real, or unreal, as ourselves.

Holding the concept of duality in mind, it must be understood that all symbols hold both a benefic and a malefic character, depending on the intention, or charge, of the image. Having no original tradition of its own, Evil must use pre-existing spiritual systems and invert the practice to achieve its subversive ends.

The symbols to be analyzed here presently are instantly recognizable, if not notorious in character. What were once held to be the most sacred of symbols have now been twisted into icons of evil, and the frequency of which we are exposed to such images is staggering, along with the implications of such mass propagation of inverted tradition.



The Swastika



Appearing in a wide variety of traditional cultures throughout the world, the swastika is one of the most ancient Divine symbols, used by traditions in East Asia, India, Ancient Greece, Celtic societies, and even Native American tribes. In the Middle Ages, the swastika even appeared in Christian symbology and can still be found within some Carmelite and Cistercian order churches in Europe.

The swastika derives its meaning from a related symbol, that of the solar disc. The symbol of the sun, composed of a single dot within a circle, refers to not only the astrological body but also the Divine Source of Life itself. The Center represents the Divine Principle of pure Being, from which all manifested creation derives its existence. The realms furthest from the Principle reside on the outer circumference, while the more spiritual realms are located in close proximity to the Center. From the Center on out we find the formless Causal realm, then the dreamlike Subtle (Astral) realm, followed by the Physical realm, and finally, the lower, infra-human levels of the Underworld, being the furthest from the Divine Principle.

The solar sign is often divided into four sections, forming the sign of the solar wheel, which can represent the four periods of the day, the four phases of the moon, the four seasons, the four directions, even the four ages of humanity. The Center also represents the union of opposites, as the polarized ends of each spoke of the wheel are brought into balance in the center.
The swastika is a variation of the solar wheel in that the four sections of the circumference are bent into arms to show movement. Contrary to popular believe, the direction of the arms’ rotation does not change the symbol’s meaning, as both orientations have been used in spiritual traditions. The symbol of the swastika depicts how all existence revolves around the timeless Center of Being.













As René Guénon explains:


‘The fixity of the Center is the image of eternity, where all things are present in perfect simultaneity. The circumference can only turn around a fixed center; similarly, change, which is not sufficient unto itself, necessarily supposes a principle which is outside change; this is the ‘unmoved mover’ of Aristotle, which is again represented by the Center…[T]he Center communicates movement to all things, and, since movement represents life, the swastika becomes thereby a symbol of life, or, more exactly, the vivifying role of the Principle in relation to the cosmic order.’ (Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962)

A symbol that was traditionally considered to embody the very Principle of Life has now taken on the complete inverse in meaning, as the general public in the modern West now associates the swastika solely with the atrocities committed by the Third Reich. Consequently, the swastika now embodies the anti-spiritual concepts of tyranny, war, and mass genocide.

The Nazi regime heavily relied on knowledge of the occult in order to rise to power. This is an often overlooked characteristic found in those who gain power so swiftly and effectively with little resistance in their path. To effectively alter the course of events in the physical world, it is necessary to appeal to the forces that have a direct influence over this world, that is, the powers of either good or evil which belong to the nonphysical realms. It is likely for this reason that the Nazis chose such a powerful spiritual symbol to emblemize their rising global empire. As a result, the malefic aspect of the symbol’s dual nature was accessed, and the swastika became an icon of death.



The Pentagram

Like the swastika, the sign of the pentagram has been used by many traditional cultures and is perceived with an equally negative connotation in modern culture. The pentagram has been found in the traditions of Taoism, Ayurveda, the Ancient Greek Pythagoreans, and medieval Christianity.

Christianity used the pentagram as a sign of the five senses and a symbol of health. It also portrayed the five wounds of Christ and was therefore used as a protective symbol against evil.

The ancient Pythagoreans used the pentagram as a sign of health as well, and the five points referred to the five elements of creation, with ether (or spirit) vivifying and ruling over the other four elements of fire, earth, water and air.


However, during the emerging interest in occult magic in 19th century Europe, the occultist Eliphas Lévi propounded that an inverted pentagram with two points facing upwards was a sign of evil. Whatever his intentions for propagating such a concept, the negative connotations of the pentagram spread, and ultimately the symbol in both its upright and inverted forms became associated with evil in Western mentality.


It is only recently that Wiccan and Neo-Pagan groups readapted the original meaning of the pentagram; however, the association the symbol has with evil gives the impression that many newcomers join these groups out of a sense of rebellion for their own Christian roots, giving a sort of ‘edginess’ to their newfound magical practices. Even if these groups’ aims are expressly peaceful, nature-oriented practices, the modern influence of negative associations one has of the pentagram and magical practices in general stills remains. Despite all good intentions, the likely outcome is that these groups are likely to attract some members who are either consciously or unconsciously attracted to the idea of black magic, an idea that is hardly dispelled by Wicca’s sole ethical code of ‘an it harm none, do what ye will’, a doctrine echoing the creed of Aleister Crowley’s ‘Do what thy wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’

All Neo-Pagan groups aside, the practice of black magic has been gaining popularity in recent decades, hidden from the public eye. The inversion of the once sacred symbol of the pentagram is just another indication of the chaotic times we live in, as a symbol that was once used to invoke health is now feared by the general population. More discomforting, however, is that this symbol, once used to ward of evil, is now implemented in its very evocation.

The All-Seeing Eye


The Eye of Providence, or the All-Seeing Eye, is a symbol found in both Christian and Masonic traditions, which carries a meaning similar to that of the solar symbol discussed above and bears similarities to the Egyptian Eye of Horus. Generally depicted as a single eye centrally placed inside an upright triangle, the image reveals the Divine Creator as the Center of all Being, whose omniscience reaches through all realms of existence. If the triangle is inverted, Divine Providence is depicted as descending from Heaven unto manifested creation.

‘The upright triangle relates properly to the Principle; but when it is inverted by reflection in manifestation, the gaze of the eye contained therein appears in a way to be directed ‘downward’, that is, from the Principle toward manifestation itself, and besides its general sense of ‘omnipresence’ it takes on more clearly the special sense of ‘Providence’. If, on the other hand, this reflection is envisaged more particularly within the human being, it must be noted that the form of the inverted triangle is none other than the geometric schema of the heart; the eye in its center is then properly the ‘eye of the heart’…’ (Guénon, Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962)

Taken on the microcosmic level, the All-Seeing Eye represents the seat of intuitional intelligence of the heart. It can also represent the Third Eye, which grants access to knowledge of the Eternal, that is, the timeless present moment, which holds all past and future events simultaneously.

It is likely that early Masonic interpretations of this symbol were more or less in accordance with the esoteric Christian understanding. However, the tradition of Freemasonry eventually fell into modern corruption, as true initiates came to be replaced by certain members of the aristocracy, who usurped the tradition and implemented its symbols without a deeper understanding of the Mysteries.

Modern distortions stemming from the growing ideology of the English ‘Enlightenment’ of the time quickly changed the esoteric quality of the Masonic tradition, as rational Deism came to reject reverence for the supernatural and mystical intuition. Instead, the Deists embraced logical reasoning as the supreme faculty for the attainment of knowledge in the newly established ‘Age of Reason’, a movement which essentially severed any connection with higher realities, as religion became subject to redefinition by profane modern science, an essentially materialist view which denies, or formally ignores, the existence of the nonphysical.

This new form of Deistic Freemasonry was eventually established in the New World. Thomas Jefferson, one of several Deists among the United States’ Masonic-influenced founding fathers, stated in a letter to John Adams,

‘To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.’ (1820)
This statement adequately summarizes the anti-traditional mentality that America was founded upon. Belief in the supernatural, miracles, and Divine Providence was declared to be ‘heresy’ and ‘atheism’; inversely, the belief in the material realm as the one reality was deemed noble. To the Deists, God, the Supreme Architect, could only be known through His works, that is, by observing and studying the natural world, i.e. applying reason through the scientific analysis of the material realm. Even the concept of God was reduced to a mere abstraction, as Deists proclaimed belief in the existence of a Supreme Being simply because they found adequate logical reason to do so and were unwilling to take their anti-religious stance to the extreme of atheism.

Harboring resentment toward the priestly ruling class of organized institutions, the founding fathers built ‘the wall of separation between church and State’, granting mere tolerance to religion as the world’s first secular society was established. Many of the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence were inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s encounters with the Iroquois Nation, with its admirable demonstration of a self-governing people. However, only the outward aspect of this traditional culture was borrowed, while disregarding the spiritual principles upon which the Native Americans’ very way of life was centered. Despite the inspiring example set by the Iroquois, General George Washington ordered their villages burnt to the ground, disregarding their partial alliance in the war against the British, just one of many occurrences of the mass killings Native tribes were subjected to, all in the name of American ‘liberty’.

Many prefer to forget the atrocities committed against the Native people of the Americas (whose population of 40 million was nearly equivalent to that of Western Europe at the time of the first settlers) and tend to believe the United States to have been founded upon ‘spiritual’ values, but a closer examination of these ideals is needed.

Even though the laws set by the Constitution protect individual rights, founding a nation upon the creed of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ simply reduces all human activity to aspirations contained within the material realm, thereby denying any recognition of supra-human truths and adherence to higher principles. Taking the solar symbol discussed above into consideration, it is as if the outer ring of the solar wheel divorced itself from the Divine Center, the physical realm proclaiming to be sufficient unto itself, an act that brings to mind the spirit of Lucifer rebelling from Heaven.

Essentially, the empirical studies of science were consecrated as being the only path to knowledge, thus binding modern civilization to the realm of matter in a new age of humanism, in which the Divine Principle as represented by the Eye of Providence was rejected, replaced by a different conception of godhood.

The image of the All-Seeing Eye remained in use, however, and the founding fathers combined the symbol with that of an unfinished pyramid and the inscription of Annuit Coeptis, ‘Providence favors our undertakings’ to compose the Great Seal of the United States.



To those who followed the Age of Reason’s faith in logic, enlightenment was considered to be the acquisition and synthesis of knowledge collected from scientific research. In this sense, a being does not undergo inner transformation to attain transcendent enlightenment, as understood in the East; instead, Western enlightenment is tantamount to the endless toil of discovery and ‘progress’. Thus, the image of God as portrayed on the Great Seal became the emblem for endless Becoming, rather than the traditional embodiment of pure Being.

The sight of the unfinished pyramid placed beneath the distorted image of Divinity brings to mind the tower of Babel, as humanity seeks to attain godhood through its own ambitions.



The pyramid is constructed by the workings of the nation’s people, massed together into a collective body, as exemplified by the obverse side of the Great Seal’s motto E pluribus unum, ‘Out of many, one’. All individuals are assimilated into the collective melting pot, with the Great Work of humanity as the final goal.

Many today despair at the corrupt condition America has fallen into, viewing the early years of the country as the halcyon days of the nation, in which local communities governed and provided for themselves. But what many fail to see is that the seeds of the centrally-controlled corporatist political machine that America has become today were planted at the very inception of the country. Secularism and the myth of progress gave way to uncompromising scientific ‘advances’ in industry, and the consequent efficiency of production gave rise to a utilitarian, consumerist society, which erupted from the United States and continues to infect the rest of the world to this day.

The Great Seal not only degraded the once sacred Eye of Providence into an emblem of collective utilitarianism and humanistic progress, however. As the character of the United States continues to degenerate, so too does the meaning of the Great Seal which represents such a global empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a 32nd degree mason, opted to print the Great Seal on the one-dollar bill under the influence of fellow mason Henry Wallace in 1934, coinciding with the dictatorial New Deal. Since then, the ‘big government’ practices of the United States have ceaselessly expanded, and the All-Seeing Eye has gained a new association, that of the all-powerful, all-seeing surveillance of the Leviathan State.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s image of the Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings demonstrates how a traditionally sacred image of Divinity can just as fittingly depict the inverse, evil nature of the symbol: the ever watchful Eye of Sauron represents not benevolent omniscience, but rather nefarious surveillance and control.



As the global-encompassing dominance of the modern, anti-traditional civilization continues to spread its influence, one is left to speculate on the intentions behind those who implemented such a powerful symbol as the All-Seeing Eye as a national, monetary, and now corporate emblem (see Vigilant Citizen’s article 'Pyramid and All-Seeing Eye: Their Occult Meaning and Use in Corporate Logos'). Is this simply an unconscious manifestation of malefic forces? Or is it possible that, like the Nazi regime, there are those who secretly use the inverted charge of powerful sacred symbols as a means to gain dominance over the unsuspecting public?

The Perpetual Carnival

A common element found in traditional cultures around the world is that of the carnival. Allowing for an annual time of disorder among a society offered the opportunity for chaotic forces to manifest and to be regularly dispersed. One example is the Feast of Fools in Europe, in which religious customs were mocked and social roles were reversed. The temporary allowance for the mockery of traditions and the expression of negative characteristics of the people typically ensured a return to thriving social order once the festivities ended and routine life resumed.

Guénon explains:

‘[I]t is, in short, a matter of somehow ‘channeling’ these tendencies and rendering them as inoffensive as possible, by giving them an opportunity to manifest themselves, but only during very brief periods and in very set circumstances, and by assigning this manifestation narrow limits which it is not allowed to overstep. If it were not so, these same tendencies, for lack of the minimum satisfaction required by the present state of humanity, would be at risk of exploding, so to speak, and spreading their effects to the whole of existence, collectively as well as individually, causing a disorder far more serious than that which is produced only during some few days especially reserved for that purpose…’ (Symbols of Sacred Science, 1962).

As desecration of religious traditions has now become commonplace in modern pop culture, there is no longer any use for an annual time of disorder, as chaos has been unleashed on society at large. The clearest sign of the subversive nature of modern society is the shameless proliferation of inverted sacred symbols. It must be recalled that the image itself need not be altered for the inversion to take place; the distortion lies in the intention behind the symbol’s use, and as we have seen in this discussion, there are plenty of examples of perverse modern usage.

Recently, there has been some discussion over the use of occult symbols in the media and corporate logos, suggesting a conspiracy of the ‘Elite’ manipulating the masses. While the work exposing such malevolent use of symbols is important, the sacred side of esoteric symbolism must never be forgotten. To declare all occult imagery as being evil is not only seeing one half of the issue, it is fueling the negative connotations and further destroying any sacred meaning with which humans associate these powerful symbols.

Guénon warns of the satanic ‘counter-initiation’ presently at work within modern society, which seeks to destroy all traditional notions of the sacred:

‘[T]he cleverest and most dangerous subversion is not the one that betrays itself by too obvious singularities easily noticed by anyone, but it is the one that deforms the meaning of symbols or reverses their import while making no change in their outward appearance. But the most diabolical trick of all is perhaps that which consists in attributing to the orthodox symbolism itself, as it exists in truly traditional organizations and more especially in initiatic organizations (the latter being specially liable to attack in this case), the inverted interpretation that is specifically characteristic of the ‘counter-initiation’; and the ‘counter-initiation’ does not fail to take advantage of this method of promoting confusions and uncertainties when it can derive some profit from them. This is really the whole secret of certain campaigns, very significant in view of the character of the present period, conducted either against esoterism in general or against any one initiatic form in particular, with the unconscious help of people who would be very astonished, and even appalled, if they could become aware of the use that is being made of them; unfortunately however it sometimes so happens that people who imagine that they are fighting the devil, whatever their particular notion of the devil may be, are thus turned, without the least suspicion of the fact on their part, into his best servants!’ (The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, 1945)
Perhaps all this talk of evil brings many to scoff at such ramblings and superstitions. But it is worth considering: if malevolent forces do indeed exist and have direct influence over our feelings and thoughts, then would propagating ideas of the absurdity of its existence not be evil’s greatest strategy? Those who refuse to admit to this possibility put themselves at risk, as they disregard any measure of protection and remain susceptible to malefic persuasion. We are given many clues to the hidden forces at work, and a good place to start is by observing the corrupted nature sacred symbols have become.

False Shepherds: The Spiritually Inept Leading the Masses (Part 2)

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"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.’’ Matthew 7:15-16



As described in the first part of this article, modern culture has given way to a variety of false spiritual teachers in our time. These misguiding leaders display a diversity of faces, from televised experts to Indian yogis. Continuing our examination of the various promoters of false teachings brings us to discuss Integral Spirituality Gurus, Christian Televangelists, and ‘Enlightened’ Gurus of the East.


Integral Spirituality Gurus


Ken Wilber is often referred to as the ‘Einstein of Consciousness’, that is, one who is a breakthrough pioneer of understanding the deeper mysteries of the mind and the universe. The philosophy he represents, Integral Theory, neatly categorizes all human ‘developments’ throughout history, arguing that just as an infant progressively advances its mental capacity with each developmental stage, so do we humans as a collective advance through various, progressively advanced stages of consciousness. In Ken Wilber’s perspective, all of humanity’s traditions, beliefs, and revolutions have been a long, continuous swing upwards to ever new, ever wiser levels of awareness; therefore, the ancients are placed on the very bottom of the hierarchy, followed by religious traditionalists, while the rational, scientific group are placed at a respectable higher tier, trumped by the pluralists, who manage to find value in all the previous ‘stages’ found below them. The consecutive stages and values defined by Wilber are magic (egocentric, red), mythic (ethnocentric, amber), rational (multiplistic, orange), pluralistic (relativistic, green), and integral (global view, turquoise), with each color representing a level corresponding to each chakra.

According to Wilber, anyone who believes in myths and miracles and holds rigidly to religious traditions is simply not as advanced as the rational-minded positivists, who deny the existence of the supernatural, owing to the lack of ‘proof’ gained through empirical study. Furthermore, Wilber elevates the pluralists to an even higher status, due to their capability of tolerating all views which differ from their own. While a tolerant viewpoint may seem preferable to that of a narrow-minded bigot, this approach fails to address any possibility of absolute truth, instead clinging to the tenet ‘Your truth is just as valid as my truth’, resulting in a relativistic compromise where all beliefs are muddled together in one confused heap. To remedy this, Wilber claims that his Integral approach is the king of worldviews, because it not only incorporates the best ideas from all ‘lower’ stages, but it also finds degrees of truth in all of them and neatly ranks them according to Wilber’s own prejudices.

Wilber perceives himself to have risen above the ‘mythic’ aspect of religion, and purports that any surviving remnants of ancient traditions still have a place in our ‘advanced’ society, simply due to the rich selection of myths available, which provide a functional role of ‘evolving’ mankind.

‘Religion alone, of all of humanity’s endeavors, can serve as the great ‘conveyor belt’ for humanity and its stages of growth. And religion alone can do this, for several reasons. The first is that the world’s religions are the repository of the great myths. The early stages of development are archaic and magic and mythic in flavor. And these great myths, laid down 3000 years ago, could never be created today, not because humanity has no imagination, but because everybody has a video-camera. Just let Moses try to claim he parted the Red Sea today and see how far he gets.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)

Not only does Wilber have the hubris to claim superiority over the magical ‘superstitions’ of ancient traditional practices, he also claims superiority in essentially all fields of human knowledge. Here is one example of his take on an ideal ‘Integral politics’, in which those on the top of his hierarchy would rule, due simply to their ‘being smarter than everyone else.’ A mere five-minute sampling of this thirty-minute rant would suffice in demonstrating Wilber’s unmatched arrogance in ranking both contemporaries and historical figures into his color-coded hierarchy of human development.











As with so many spiritual teachers nowadays, Wilber plays the same tune of human progress and the collective evolution of consciousness. To him, ancient traditions were blinded by their intolerance for ideas that did not fit into their own belief system. According to this view, humanity as a whole has progressed both morally and spiritually, and therefore, those who attain Enlightenment today are even more advanced than the likes of Buddha and Jesus.
‘Realization today is not Freer than Buddha’s (Emptiness is Emptiness), but it is Fuller than Buddha’s (and Fuller and Fuller down the road).’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)

The reasoning behind this backwards approach is Wilber’s regard for ‘evolution’ as being the steady development of the realm of physical manifestation, becoming ever improved, ever fuller than before.

‘Fullness is evolving and becoming Fuller and Fuller and Fuller, and thus your enlightenment today is less and less and less than tomorrow’s. And you can’t explain that away as not really counting unless you violate nonduality in a fundamental way (by implying that only half of the equation really counts). This was not a problem for the great wisdom traditions, because they didn’t know that the world of Form was evolving, and so this problem never entered their radar screens. The world of Form held still for them, but today we know that it actually unfolds, it actually evolves… So the union of Emptiness and Form is somehow the union of the Unborn and evolution.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)

Here we find a complete deviation from traditional teachings. The realm of manifestation has always been considered one of constant becoming, not of constant improving, and was certainly never considered to be ‘held still’, as Wilber argues. According to the Hindu doctrine of the ages, all phenomena born in the realm of manifestation begin as perfect reflections of the Divine Creator, but gradually fall into a state of decline, and the world enters progressively darker ages, until the world is renewed and a Golden Age begins again. The world of constant change is, in fact, one of the fundamental causes of suffering as taught by the Buddha; everything in manifested existence is transient, everything is subject to change. True freedom is found only when impermanence is transcended. Wilber, however, denies this, and claims that Enlightenment is found not only in the eternal, unchanging, unmanifest realm, but also in the world of form, and because the world of form is constantly changing and ‘improving’, those who live through more ‘advanced’ times are likewise more advanced than their ancestors.

‘If evolution occurs, how can enlightenment have any meaning? Enlightenment is supposed to mean something like being one with everything, but if everything is evolving, and I get enlightened today, then won’t my enlightenment be partial when tomorrow arrives? Do I become unenlightened with the sun’s dawn? Is there any definition of enlightenment today that will not rob me of it tomorrow? A typical response is to say that enlightenment is being one with that which is Timeless and Eternal and Unborn, but all that does is create a massive duality in Spirit. The timeless and eternal versus the temporal and evolving. and so what I am really saying is that enlightenment is being one with half of Spirit.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006).
Just as Rhonda Byrne declared in The Secret, ‘We are a way the Universe becomes aware of itself,’ and Ramtha in The White Book ‘God is not in a state of perfection but rather a state of becoming,’ Wilber believes that the manifest world exists in order to somehow improve the Eternal Spirit by becoming increasingly ‘evolved’, as consciousness continues to ‘unfold’ and grants the Spirit ever-new experiences in the world of form. However, the Bhagavad Gita teaches that the phenomenal world is sustained by the smallest fraction of the Unborn Creator, and remains unchanged by the events which take place therein.

‘The less intelligent people do not understand My higher nature, which is imperishable and eternal. They consider Me, who am unmanifested as having being manifested.’ (7:24)
Moreover, Wilber fails to understand that nonduality (advaita) strictly applies to the unconditioned, unmanifested realm of the Infinite; according to the Vedas, the realm of duality is that of manifested existence, whether in its formal individual or formless supra-individual realms, and to argue that final liberation (moksha) is to be found in the limited, finite realm is an absurdity. It seems that Wilber is apt to confuse non-individual modes of being with nonduality, when it is in fact the latter which transcends even the exulted experience of Oneness within the manifested realm of Being.
Apart from Wilber’s erroneous views on the evolution of consciousness, he attributes a second ‘contribution’ of modern Western practices to be the concept of the shadow self.
‘You find [transcendent practices] essentially in the mystical schools of religion and spirituality around the world. You don’t find that, for example, in virtually any forms of psychiatry or psychotherapy in the West. So, what we’re looking at, the West has come up with other forms of help for individuals and what an integral approach wants to do, of course, is combine the best of both of those so that you’re working with shadow material, which the West has specialized in -- shadow material being unconscious, dissociated, repressed material that was once part of yourself, but that you split off and is causing symptoms, causing pain, causing suffering, causing uncomfortableness [sic] and there are some fairly simple techniques for reintegrating the shadow. And so that’s one of the techniques that we certainly recommend in our Integral Life Practice Starter Kit.’ (Interview with Bill Harris: Mastering Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, 2008)
As discussed earlier with Deepak Chopra’s encouragement of ‘getting in touch with your shadow,’ Wilber markets the same hazardous Jungian approach of delving into dark, subconscious realms, with no consideration of the inherent risks involved. A prerequisite for approaching the spiritual path is foremost having a stable mental constitution; only then can an attempt at experiencing higher realities be made. Ascension cannot be attained by a spiritual neophyte diving into the darkest realms, as subversion by negative entities is the likely outcome of such folly. Traditional meditation places little emphasis on mining the subconscious, as even Wilber states:

‘Painful experience -- emphasis on painful –has demonstrated time and again that meditation simply will not get at the shadow.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)
A common initiatic theme is that of the descent into hell, as found in the story of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the Shinto legend of Izanagi, the Greek myth of Heracles, and the Bible’s account of Christ’s descent into hell following the crucifixion. These acts of descending into the underworld demonstrate an advanced being’s ability to overcome all evil – clearly nothing feasible by the unprepared, emotionally scarred followers of the modern teachers of today.

Speaking of emotionally scarred followers leads us to the unconventional guru, Andrew Cohen, whose ‘rude boy’ tactics, so favored by Ken Wilber, have resulted in repeated emotional abuse of his collection of followers throughout the years.

Here is Wilber’s foreword to Cohen’s (2002) Living Enlightenment:


‘[Rude Boys] live as Compassion—real compassion, not idiot compassion—and real compassion uses a sword more often than a sweet. They deeply offend the ego (and the greater the offense, the bigger the ego).... Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces ... so that Infinity can reassemble you.... Every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl....Rude Boys are on your case in the worst way, they breathe fire, eat hot coals, will roast your ass in a screaming second and fry your ego before you knew what hit it....I have often heard it said that Andrew is difficult, offending, edgy, and I think, “Thank God.” In fact, virtually every criticism I have ever heard of Andrew is a variation on, “He’s very rude, don’t you think?”’


Cohen has been the leader of a spiritual cult since the 1980s, with the group’s name changing periodically, currently labeled EnlightenNext. Cohen’s devotees have repeatedly been subject to physical and verbal abuse, such as slapping, physical assault, and name calling, all for the sake of ‘killing the ego’.

Like Wilber, Cohen preaches ‘evolutionary enlightenment’, rejecting the ancient notion of cosmic cycles, and instead believing the manifested realm of endless change to be the birthplace of consciousness and that the cosmos is undergoing an ever-improving evolution, in which humanity plays a central role in the creative process.

‘When you awaken and suddenly recognize your own place in the evolutionary process, you realize something BIG: that it's all up to you. Consciousness is not going to evolve by itself. If the evolutionary potential inherent in consciousness is going to be activated, you have to be responsible for it. Why? Because it is only through the human vehicle that the creative principle, the God impulse that initiated this whole process, has the capacity to know itself. God does not exist as a separate dualistic entity, the great conductor on high to whom we pray for help. If we transcend the dualism that has permeated so much of Western tradition, we begin to see that now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, God, in fact, needs our help.’ (It’s Up to You EnlightenNext website).

Again, we find the pantheistic claim inspired by the likes of Georg Hegel and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that the process of evolution gave birth to consciousness and the entire cosmos is in a state of constant change and improvement, thereby rejecting the concept of the changeless Absolute, placing God solely within the realm of manifestation.

Unlike most American self-proclaimed gurus, Cohen actually received spiritual training from a teacher in India; however his training lasted a mere two and a half weeks before his master, Hari Wench Lal Poonja, sent Cohen back to America to ‘create a revolution amongst the young in the West’ (Enlightenment Blues, van der Braak, 2003). Poonja’s own integrity is questionable, as he claimed to have been the enlightened disciple of Maharishi Ramana, who in fact never confirmed the enlightenment of another person or even had any official disciples (Stripping the Gurus, Falk, 2005). Poonja even intimated to Cohen,

‘I’m only jealous of one man,” [Poonja] said. “Who was that?” I asked. “The Buddha,” he replied, “he’s the only one who surpassed me’ (Autobiography of an Awakening, Cohen, 1992).
Having his own narcissism boosted by a self-proclaimed enlightened guru from India fueled Cohen’s war against ego – that is, everyone’s ego but his own, as he believes himself to be a perfected being. Here is an excerpt of one of Cohen former disciples, Andre van der Braak, who suffered 11 years of abuse under Cohen before finally leaving the group.

“But I thought enlightenment meant the end of all the old karma, the end of the road?”

“Well, yes, if you’re lucky. That’s how it happened for me. But apparently it’s not that way for everybody. It’s not like that with most of you, or so it seems, unfortunately. So then you just do what you have to do. You take responsibility for all the karma that’s still there.” (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)

And as he informed his own mother, Luna Tarlo, who had been his disciple for a time:

[V]ery few people like me exist in the world. I can destroy a person’s karma....If you trust me, I have the power to completely destroy your past…Anyone who loves me ... is guaranteed enlightenment. (Mother of God, 1997)
Like many others, even Cohen’s mother left the group after having suffered enough of Cohen’s unrelenting abuse and narcissistic power trips, which oddly enough, is Cohen’s very description of the ego itself.

Cohen’s personal definition of the ego is a twisted interpretation of the traditional concept of the human individual’s sense of identity. According to Cohen, the ego is ‘the part of you that has no interest whatsoever in freedom, feels victimized by life, avoids anything that contradicts its self-image, is thoroughly invested in its personal fears and desires, and lives only for itself. Ego is an anti-evolutionary force of powerful inertia in human nature—attached to the past, terrified of change, and seeking only to preserve the status quo.’ (
EnlightenNext website). Cohen instructs others that the ego is not the invidualized identity, but rather, a part of one’s identity, and a prideful one at that. Cohen states that the ego is not the ‘self-organizing principle’ of modern psychology, but rather the ego

'is arrogant self-importance; is narcissistic self-infatuation; is the need to see oneself as being separate at all times, in all places, through all circumstances—and that ego is the unrelenting enemy of all that is truly wholesome in the human experience. When this ego is unmasked, seen directly for what it is, finally unobscured by the other expressions of the personality, one finds oneself literally face-to-face with a demon—a demon that thrives on power, domination, control and separation, that cares only about itself and is willing to destroy anything and everything that is good and true in order to survive intact and always in control. This demon lacks any capacity for empathy, compassion, generosity or love; delights in its perfect invulnerability; and, worst of all, will never ever acknowledge that which is sacred.' (What is the Ego? What is Enlightenment magazine, 2000)
One could almost substitute Andrew Cohen for 'the ego' in the quote above and find an accurate description of the teacher. Here are two examples of Cohen’s insulting, patronizing teaching in action:






















Demonizing the ego has given Cohen free reign to terrorize his followers, including group manipulation through gossip and power politics, even controlling his members’ relationships with one another, as no two people within the community may enter a relationship or separate unless given Cohen’s unquestionable consent. Cohen freely insults his followers in order to ‘break’ resistant students who cling to their egos. As van der Braak relates:

‘A man with a temper is called Raging Bull; an immature student is called Q the Clown, a woman who tends to space out is called Dizzy. Later on this is followed by names like Unreal, Sincere, His Greatness, etc. The names are meant to bring about humility by continuously reminding the student of the vicious patterns that he’s unwilling to let go of.’ (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)
If name-calling were the ideal means of transforming individuals, then it could be expected that any verbal abuse suffered from condescending teachers, superiors, parents or peers would be beneficial to the development of an individual, which of course is never the case. Hiding behind a mask of 'crazy wisdom' does not permit Cohen to use his abusive tendencies for the good of his students; it merely gives him justification to unrelentlessly belittle all those underneath him. Not only are students at Cohen’s Foxhollow retreat center repeatedly harangued, they are forced to perform hundreds of prostrations in front of a photo of Cohen each morning:

'During each prostration, we have to repeat to ourselves the following mantra that Andrew has made up: to know nothing, to have nothing, to be no one. This is the message he wants engraved in our brain.' (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)
Andrew Cohen’s oppresive cult leadership is not without consequences, however. One former student of Cohen’s, Joel Snider, recently murdered the leader of the Integral Yoga Center, Sudharman (J. Joseph Fenton) in July 2010, and had threatened to kill Cohen as well. Snider’s account of his experience under Cohen’s guruship gives disturbing insight into the leader’s hypnotic qualities over the group’s behavior.


‘When I arrived at this retreat I remember feeling that there was something really strange about all of the people that were there. There seemed to be this look on their faces of exhaustion. They all seemed to have dark circles around their eyes. I just remember having a really bad feeling. As the meditation sessions progressed, I was appalled as he not only embarrassed and ridiculed people, insulted biblical scripture, but made fun of people who had had emotional breakdowns and even some who had killed themselves after his retreats. I remember calmly sitting directly in front of him feeling very torn as to whether I should leave or not. Looking back it was as if I was drugged or hypnotized or completely nuts...

One of the strange things that I also remember about the retreat is the way the meditation sessions always began. We would be sitting in the meditation tent and about ten minutes to the time it was to start you could actually feel this heaviness come over the entire group of 100 or so people. It was eerie like this blanket kind of descended over everyone and it felt like I was rooted to the floor...

As the meditation sessions went on I began getting weird flashes of light behind my eyes, strange sounds in my mind and confusing thoughts..sometimes I felt as if my head were between vice grips and incredible pressure was on my head, I would get extremely uncomfortable and increasingly more often I would jump as if startled finding that I had been asleep or passed out or something for who knows how long. All extremely weird for me. In the Five years I had been meditating I had never experienced this...and it wasn't only me...

The strangest thing of all happened when I actually tried to leave the retreat. I came to a firm decision that I was leaving and that I didn't want anything more to do with him. I went to tell one of his higher level students in order to be polite, and before I knew it I was up in his room sitting before him on the floor. He insulted me telling me that I was a big problem and that I had a very destructive nature. He told me that if I wanted a relationship with him that it was going to be on his terms and that I wasn't leaving the retreat. All of a sudden I felt something hit me right between the eyes, as if struck by some invisible blast. I shook my head and remember being sort of stunned. He then said I was not to say anything to anyone about this and that I should concentrate only on studying his teachings and keep my mouth shut. I stood up wobbling as if I was stunned or intoxicated and had incredible trouble simply opening the door to leave his room. They laughed as I stumbled out of the room. I sat down on a log outside of the building for about an hour, confused and extremely dazed…

Within an hour of leaving the retreat it was almost as if a dark cloud descended upon me and I began having wild thoughts that Andrew was draining people of their spiritual energy and that he was somehow controlling people. It continued to get worse and worse and I kept having images of him in my mind. Very strange, dark, horrifying images of him…

My family took me to a psychiatrist whom I told what had happened and that I felt as if I were possessed by a demon or supernaturally controlled by some outside force... They called me schizophrenic.’ (
Freedom of Mind website, 2003)
It is all too common for modern professionals to label someone as schizophrenic than to admit to the reality of low-level entities and the influence they subtly exert on humans, especially humans who hold an influential role over groups of susceptible people. Hypnotic control over others is a siddhi that is developed by the more unscrupulous practitioners of yoga in India; it is possible that Cohen received a transmission of this ability from his master, although the only way to verify this comes from statements such as the one listed above.

All malefic psychic abilities aside, the bottom line is that those who believe themselves to be perfected beings and qualified teachers often fall into a trap of narcissistic self-importance and self-proclaimed all-knowing, as in the case of Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen. A true guru is one who embodies humility and effectively empowers disciples to discover the Divine Mysteries, without developing a dysfunctional relationship of dependency between teacher and student. Perhaps some Integral Spirituality teachings offered by Wilber and Cohen provide some truth, albeit distorted versions of the truth; however, it must be considered that a half-truth is still a lie in the end.


Christian Televangelists

So far only New Age/progressive ideologies have been covered in the current study of false teachers; however, there are hordes of false prophets found in the religious institutions of today, especially within the Christian Church. While there are many scandals involving sex and abuse of power among Christian clergy, the present study will focus on a growing vice exacerbated by the presence of the mainstream media: that of the greed for money and material possessions.

Joel Osteen is pastor to Houston’s megachurch Lakewood Church, converted from an old NBA basketball stadium after paying roughly 100 million dollars in renovations. The church houses over 40,000 congregation members, with millions of television viewers each week. The megachurch is a growing phenomenon in America, as smaller, traditional buildings are losing popularity to the super-sized, concert hall-styled 'churches' that have been springing up in recent decades, and Osteen’s television ministries are now broadcast in over 100 countries worldwide, including travelling ‘worship’ services in which audience members are charged admission to see Osteen evangelize in person.

Osteen is keen on preaching the ‘prosperity gospel’, that is, the belief that if one is a good Christian, God will send rewards of material success and possessions.

In Osteen’s own words:

‘You are growing. You are maturing. You are being prepared for promotion. Simply remain faithful and fight life through. In due season, in God's appointed time, He will promote you to new levels of victory, and you'll live that abundant life that He has promised you!’ (30 Thoughts for Victorious Living, 2003)
Reminiscent of the teachings of The Secret, Osteen encourages positive thought and gratitude to God in order to reap rewards of an ‘abundant life’ to acquire such things as the long wished for car or the ideal partner.










On
Osteen’s blog, he encourages followers to choose friends and partners wisely, as associating with ‘unsuccessful’ people is detrimental to attaining one’s God-given promotional success.



‘If your friends are all negative, tend to compromise, or settle for mediocrity, it’s time to get some new friends. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 13:20 that if you spend time with wise people, you will become wise. In the same way, if you spend time with victorious people, you will become victorious. If you spend time with successful people, you will become successful. So choose your friends carefully so you can set yourself up for success and be equipped to move forward in the destiny God has prepared for you!’
Osteen receives roughly 12 million dollars in advance for each major book he writes (which read like any other shallow self-help book, only peppered with occasional mentions of God and Jesus). He claims never to ask for contributions to his church, that his congregation is just naturally generous. However, he does indulge in telling parables of prosperity dealing with rather large contributions, with equally large Divine compensation:

‘I heard about this lady whose church was in a building program. One Sunday the pastor announced that it was going to cost $2 million dollars to finish the project. He was encouraging the congregation and challenged them to do their best. In passing he said, "If God were to give you the funds to pay off this project, how many of you would do it?" He wasn't putting pressure on them, but just trying to get them to open their thinking. He said, "If God were to supernaturally provide, would you make a commitment to give?" This lady raised her hand. Well, several days later, she got a call from a friend who had just won a multimillion dollar settlement in a legal matter. The friend said, "I just feel like I'm supposed to give you $2 million dollars." The lady was so excited and overjoyed. She said, "You are an answer to prayer! I know exactly what I'm going to do with those funds. I'm going to give it to my church to help finish that project."

A few days later, the same friend called back. She said, "You know, I really feel like I'm supposed to give you personally $2 million dollars. So if you're going to give those funds away, then I'm going to give you an additional $2 million for yourself."

Friend, that's far and beyond favor. That's God outdoing Himself. When it was all said and done, the friend got blessed, the church got paid off, and the lady was not out one single penny.’

Interestingly, there is not a single cross on display in Osteen’s church, as he sees religious symbols to be ‘stumbling blocks’ for many people receiving his message; instead, he displays a large golden globe onstage. In an interview with Forbes magazine, he admits to being very cautious not to have his sermons sound ‘too religious’, so that the message is appealing to the ‘everyday person’.

Convinced of the benefits of mainstream media evangelizing, Osteen even remarked, ‘If Jesus were here today, he wouldn't be riding around on a donkey. He'd be taking a plane, he'd be using the media.’ In fact, it is the recent surge in number of megachurches that has Osteen convinced that we live in a time of ‘spiritual awakening’, as he expressed in an interview with
Larry King:

KING: Many evangelists feel that the church, the church itself, the religion, has failed. You share that view?

OSTEEN: Well, I think in a sense when you see certain things in society you would think that. But in another sense I see faith in America. Faith in the world. At an all-time high today. When I was growing up it was a big deal to have a church of 1,000. Now there's churches of 10,000. So many of them. So I think in one sense I can agree with that point. But in another sense I see a real spiritual awakening taking place.

Osteen is but one example of the growing number of money-making television evangelists, who distort the teachings of Christ into mere tips for living an enjoyable life. Of course, this is only the most recent chapter in the long history of corruption of the Christian church, but it must be remembered that perversions and atrocities acted in the name of Jesus are due solely to human corruption (generally from unknowing involvement with negative entities, no less), and that acts of heresy should not discourage one from seeking the true teachings of Christ. As Christianity has long-ago lost any of its esoteric elements, so the exoteric practice has lost nearly all its integrity, becoming susceptible to any act of corruption, whether it be in the form of sex, money, or power. Put into context of the current spiritual dark age we are facing, we should remember the tradition itself for its original teachings, not for its long history of travesty; otherwise, it becomes all to easy to reject religion entirely on the basis of its modern corruption, and fall victim to the ever-spreading anti-traditional movement of the times.


'Enlightened' Gurus of the East

After discovering the many faces of dishonesty and false teachers in the world, one may feel that the only true teachers reside in places where tradition is still upheld, in countries such as India where unbroken lineages of gurus still exist. This, unfortunately, is yet another pitfall, as India has long been tainted by modern corruption and has now given way to the ever-increasing popularity of the mega-guru, one who travels the world to transmit enlightenment to the masses.

Many of these gurus have arrived in the West, only to be exposed in a variety of scandals. Others, however, have managed to continue to thrive in their cult activities, in particular, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, leader of the Sahaja Yoga group.

Shri Mataji claims to transmit the ancient knowledge of Self-Realization by activating the dormant kundalini energy located within every person.

‘This inner awakening is called by many names: Self Realization, Second Birth, Enlightenment, Liberation, Moksha, Satori and it is the goal of all religions and spiritual traditions of the world. This knowledge is ancient, but for a long time it was available only to a few souls, being kept secret and transmitted from guru to disciple, since Self Realization was extremely difficult to achieve. In these modern times, through Sahaja ("spontaneous") Yoga ("union with one's Self"), this experience has become effortless and available to everyone, for the first time in the history of human spirituality.’ (Sahaja Yoga’s official website)
Like all the other so-called gurus discussed in this article series, Shri Mataji shuns the traditional view of an esoteric journey of awakening and embraces the idea of a collective, evolutionary shift of consciousness worldwide.

And the evidence for Mataji’s profound gift of transforming others? She claims one can feel a cool breeze on either one’s head or hands as they meditate upon her. This alone is her assurance that the process of Self-Realization has indeed begun for those who follow her.

Throughout Shri Mataji’s public talks, accusations of false gurus abound, as she claims to be one of the few (if not the only) qualified gurus of our time. On her website, Shri Mataji lists seven qualities which distinguish a true spiritual group from one that is deceptively led astray by a false teacher:

1. Is money taken at any time? (the truth cannot be owned, nor can it be bought or sold).

2. Do your teachers pressure you like salesmen? (you should know the value of their path by your own conviction, not by the number of books you read, classes you attend, or pledges you make. Truth is not dependent upon salesmenship).

3. Can you, yourself, feel the effect of the technique? (do not be satisfied that you will be in an "inner circle" at some time in the distant future).

4. Do they clothe you in unusual dress, seat you in strange postures or submit you to wild chanting? (the truth is not something that has to be attained through strenuous efforts. It is the strength of your desire that counts, not the harshness of their tests).

5. Is the new path you've chosen dharmic? (that is, is this a the path of the center, similar to that followed by the sages, yogis, and great men and women of the past, or will it lead to frightening experiences of a subconscious or super-conscious nature ?)

6. Are the members of the organization, especially the leader, founder, or guru, people you can trust? (are you comfortable with them? Do they display love and joy? Is their warmth genuine? Is the value of what they are teaching evident in their eyes?)

7. Do you have the freedom of choice to leave or continue? (follow your heart, not your ego. If you have fears or misgivings, give them heed. If you are in doubt or under duress, leave. Do not be bullied.)



The Sahaja Yoga group gives the public impression of being a harmless meditation group, as no entry fee is charged to attend the mind-body workshops administered in hundreds of cities worldwide. In fact, Shri Mataji and her grandiose plan for the world is rarely, if ever, mentioned to newcomers, who typically believe themselves to be taking part in a simple weekly meditation group run by locals in their own city. But as one becomes more involved, a different side of the group emerges.

All Sahaja members are strongly encouraged to meditate in front of a photograph of Shri Mataji, as they believe the image emits powerful and transformative vibrations. In fact, their dependency on Shri Mataji to bestow spiritual knowledge, whether remotely or in person, quickly grows into a pathological devotion. The meditation groups often turn members paranoid of each other, as practitioners tend to suspect that everyone around them can read their vibrations and detect any faults or negativity. This belief stems from Shri Mataji’s personal quirks, such as compulsive fanning of herself and mouth-wiping whenever present in public -- obsessive behaviors which she claims purify her from the overwhelming negative vibrations emitted by those in the audience. In fact, all Sahaja yoga members are discouraged from looking any non-members directly in the eye, to keep contamination of negative vibrations to a minimum.

As the Sahaja group incites prejudice of those on the outside, the newly indoctrinated are gradually instructed by veteran devotees the true nature of their leader: not only is Shri Mataji a wise, compassionate guru, she is the physical embodiment of the Mother Goddess herself. In fact, Shri Mataji claims to be the embodiment of a wide variety of God’s forms, including the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, Adi Shakti, Durga, Moses, Abraham, and Buddha. (
sahajacult.com)

As she declared during a puja held in the UK in 1979:


"But today it is the day I declare I am the One who have to save the humanity. I declare I am the One who is Adi Shakti (Holy Spirit) - who is the Mother of all Mothers, who is the Primordial Mother, the Shakti (i.e. power) of the Desire of God - who has incarnated on this Earth to give meaning to itself, to this creation, to human beings, and I am sure that through My Love and Patience and My Powers I am going to achieve it. I was the One who was born again and again. But now I have come in My complete Form and with complete Powers. I have come on this Earth not only for salvation of human beings, not only for their emancipation, but for granting them the Kingdom of Heaven - the Joy, the Bliss - that your Father wants to bestow upon you." (From ex-members' website www.sahaja-yoga.org)

Shri Mataji not only believes herself to be the Supreme Goddess, but also the savior of the human race, and claims her Sahaja Yoga group is destined to rule the world in a new enlightened era.

In her book, Meta Modern Era, Mataji calls for a ‘higher house for U.N.’, in which a new world government is established by means of a Supreme Council.



‘[T]his Supreme Council should be constituted by the election only of excellent Sahaja Yogis. They have all the requisite qualities in abundance - they are selfless, they are compassionate, they are devoted to public interest without the slightest bias on grounds of race, religion or nationality. They will thus always make sound and proper decisions. Most importantly, the Supreme Court consisting of Sahaja Yogis, will spread the message of Sahaja Yoga throughout the world not merely by words but by deeds which will inspire all the people and thus ensure a new peaceful and just world order. Sahaja Yoga is thus the only solution to world problems because it will ensure the transformation of all human beings and thus create a new highly evolved human race.’ (1997)

Along with her megalomaniacal claims, Shri Mataji displays the typical manipulative qualities of a deranged cult leader, arranging marriages between group members, and even ordering divorces on a whim. Members’ children are routinely taken away and sent to one of Sahaja Yoga’s schools in either India or Italy for nine months at a time, with no contact with parents allowed. Anyone who attempts to leave the group is threatened by Shri Mataji, who claims that any apostates will contract incurable diseases as a result of their treachery, not to mention the frequent verbal abuse the group gives to its ex-members who try to expose Shri Mataji as a fake.

But not even devout followers are immune from verbal attacks made by their Goddess. One ex-member relates how members of her group once greeted Shri Mataji in New York:



‘The Goddess emerged from her chariot, smiling and waving. She walked slowly into the ashram. Garlands of flowers were placed around her neck. A swarm of bowing yogis parted like the Red Sea as Nirmala passed by. She was seated on a throne-like chair. It had been decorated earlier with silken saris. Rose petals led the way to her royal perch. "Mother, would you like a cup of tea," one genuflecting yogini offered. "Yes, ok," said the Goddess. Hot water was poured, ever so carefully, over a teabag and into a lovely cup, which had been placed on a lovely matching saucer. The tea-bearing yogini stepped gingerly forward with the offering of tea. The Goddess accepted the tea and saucer but immediately put it down. "What sort of improper cup is this to give to your Goddess?!?" she demanded. "And this is not the way to prepare a cup of tea!" "Take this away!" And with a wave of her arm, she dismissed the saucer, the cup and its contents. The poor yogini who had given such a wretched offering to her Goddess was beside herself, pulling at her earlobes, walking backwards with the cup and saucer while simultaneously bowing and trying not to trip over her sari. Meanwhile the Goddess, angry now, gave the rest of us a lengthy lecture on the proper protocol associated with serving a Goddess. Upon my next visit to that ashram, I was relieved to see that an expensive, exquisitely made sterling silver tea service had been purchased, along with a large, bone china teacup and saucer. These were to be used by Nirmala and Nirmala only, and they were given a place of honor in the ashram dining room. We had learned our lesson.’(www.sahaja-yoga.org)

Apart from the verbal abuse and wild demands, there is also the issue of financial extortion practiced by the group. Sahaja followers are encouraged to regularly attend puja retreats in which Shri Mataji is adorned and worshiped at such places as her medieval castle located in northern Italy, where the 240 euro admission fee grants shared sleeping arrangements on the floor of an old airplane hangar and daily portions of rice for the weekend. Mataji reportedly earns between 2.3 to 5.5 million dollars annually from fees and donations collected from her followers.

Reviewing Shri Mataji’s own seven warnings of a false guru demonstrates her acts of hypocrisy in each criticism she gives:


1. Is money taken at any time? Yes, members are required to pay for puja retreats, ashram rentals, and frequently encouraged to donate to Mataji (e.g. an estate in England, a castle in Italy, and other, vague ‘projects in India and elsewhere’).

2. Do your teachers pressure you like salesmen? Besides the monetary pressure of the group, the tactics used by group leaders are subtle and manipulative, disguising the group as a harmless mind-body workshop until gradually members are pulled deeper into the cult of Mataji worship.

3. Can you, yourself, feel the effect of the technique? The effect most commonly promoted by Mataji is merely a ‘cool breeze’ felt either on the head or hands, and this is to be taken as evidence of self-realization!

4. Do they clothe you in unusual dress, seat you in strange postures or submit you to wild chanting? Not only are members who attend Mataji’s puja worship retreats required to prostrate themselves before the Mother Goddess’ feet, the entire week preceding the ritual is spent in small group meetings, in which members are required to chant the names of hundreds of Hindu gods, in order to prepare the way for the goddess Mataji.

5. Is the new path you've chosen dharmic ? There is nothing traditional in the practices of Sahaja Yoga, as the very notion of a global guru endowing self-realization to the masses is a completely modern deviation.

6. Are the members of the organization, especially the leader, founder, or guru, people you can trust? Sahaja leaders are notorious for constant deception, manipulation, verbal abuse, and even threats of physical violence, not to mention the pathological demands of Mataji herself.

7. Do you have the freedom of choice to leave or continue? Sahaja members who doubt the integrity of the group are threatened to be cursed with horrible disease and other misfortunes if they leave.


As Andrew Cohen’s attacks on the ego can just as easily be directed toward himself, so can Shri Mataji’s criticism of the characteristics of a false guru reveal her true nature and the devastating effect her delusional organization has had on its hive-minded followers for more than 30 years. It is unfortunate that the ancient wisdom of India is given a bad reputation by false gurus such as her, as many who turn away from Shri Mataji also tend to reject the practices of meditative yoga that she instructed, despite the long-standing tradition of such practices, which existed long before Shri Mataji developed her counterfeit version.



Conclusion

Having examined the distorted practices promoted by such teachers as New Age Gurus, Mainstream Media Pandits, Anti-Religious Conspiracy Theorists, Integral Spirituality Gurus, Christian Televangelists, and ‘Enlightened’ Gurus of the East, we find a common thread in their sermons.

  1. 1. All bear anti-traditional testaments which harbor modern notions of the spontaneous ‘evolution’ of human spirituality, as it seems to be a strong selling-point to claim that spiritual realization is accomplished more easily today than at any other era of human development.
  2. 2. All emphasize the material realm as being superior to all other domains, either in the concept of the physical realm as being the grounds for a never-ending ‘evolution’ of humanity, or the idea that we should place our efforts on enjoying a worldly life, ‘as God has intended for us’.
  3. 3. All followers seem to place enthusiasm mostly on the teacher instead of the teachings themselves, as an otherwise ordinary leader is elevated and displayed on a pedestal as soon as a crowd desperate for guidance believe themselves to have found a perfect being who brings a message of hope.

This last characteristic may be the most dangerous, as many fall into the trap of guru-worship. Swami Rama articulates this situation well in his book Living with the Himalayan Masters:

‘Don't ever believe anyone who comes to you and demands, "Worship me." Even Christ and Buddha did not ask that. Never forget that guru is not the goal. Guru is like a boat for crossing the river. It is very important to have a good boat, and it is very dangerous to have a boat that is leaking. But after you have crossed the river you don't need to hang on to your boat, and you certainly don't worship the boat.

Many fanatics think they should worship a guru. A guru should receive your love and respect -- that is different from worship. If my guru and the Lord both come together, I will go to my guru first and say, "Thank you very much. You have introduced me to the Lord." I will not go to the Lord and say, "Thank you very much, Lord. You have given me my guru."’ (1978)

When walking the spiritual path, one must always be mindful of the fact that truth and fulfillment do not originate from the material realm, and any attempt to create heaven on Earth will be fruitless as long as a solid connection with the Absolute is not realized. Many teachers claim to be providing a Divine message, but the distortions they encompass manifest in the characteristics of their followers and the fruit of their actions.

Unfortunately, our times are marked by the presence of many false teachers, with many different faces. After coming to know the discouraging reality of this modern spiritual crisis, one may easily become disheartened and believe there to be no genuine teachers left in the world. But it must not be forgotten that truly wise and benign beings do exist, though are often overlooked or hidden from public awareness. One must recognize that true gurus are not to be found onstage preaching behind a microphone, but are to be found in places where humbleness and tradition are still honored. And even if the majority of us do not have the privilege of receiving personal instruction from such rare teachers, we can at least leave our hearts open to the traditional spirit which they embody and transmit.

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