Sep 21, 2017

ICSA Conversations - Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult

September 29th at 7pm (Eastern Standard Time)

For the first time, ICSA will live stream the upcoming event, ICSA Conversations - Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult. We will live stream the event via Facebook Live.

To take part in this event:

1) Go to the Facebook event page and mark yourself as going. 
2) Make sure you have all notifications turned on for the event. 
3) Then be sure to tune into the event on Friday, September 29th at 7pm (Eastern Standard Time)! 
4) After the presentation, we will be in the event page to continue to the discussion!

Note: please remember that this is a public event, which means that posts made in this event will be visible to others.

Will the world end on Saturday?

end-of-the-world survival guides
Kimberly Winston
Religion News Service
September 20, 2017

Short answer — no.

But David Meade, a Christian and self-published author of end-of-the-world survival guides, predicts doomsday is near — very near, as in this Saturday.

Meade’s ideology, laid out in his book “Planet X — The 2017 Arrival,” is described by the author as “a compendium of information from every sphere—astronomical, scientific, the Book of Revelation and geopolitics.” There’s some astrology in there, too.

Meade is the latest in a very long line of American self-proclaimed prophets who claim they know when — sometimes to the hour — the biblically predicted “end times” will arrive. And while it’s fun to laugh at his belief that the “Planet Nibiru” will collide with the Earth this week, the failed prophesies of some of his predecessors have, at times, led to important religious movements or illuminating ways of thinking about faith. Let us explain:

How common are predictions the end is at hand?

Very common. Wikipedia lists over 170 different religiously motivated predictions of the end of the world. The first recorded one dates back to the year 66 and ancient Judea. Since then, doomsday predictions have jumped continents, cultures and religions, but they do seem to be a mostly Protestant pastime. The first American-born doomsday dude was Cotton Mather. This son of Puritans, teenage Harvard graduate and popular New England preacher publicly proclaimed the world would end three different times, in 1697, 1716 and 1736.

If their predictions were wrong, why remember them?

Because some of the people or groups who made these failed predictions led to other important things in American religious history. Consider the Millerites, a band of 19th-century Americans who left their fields unplanted and sold their worldly goods in anticipation of their expiration date — Oct. 22, 1844. After their “Great Disappointment,” they eventually became the Seventh-day Adventists. (Fun fact: The Millerites inspired HBO’s “The Leftovers” and even made an appearance in a couple of episodes.)

Then there were the followers of Charles Taze Russell, a 19th-century preacher who looked for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead (Christians only, please) in 1878 (and again in 1914). They became Jehovah’s Witnesses, who now ring doorbells around the world (and are persecuted for it in some places — looking at you, Russia). Even John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism, dabbled in predictions, once writing that Jesus would return between 1058 and 1836 (rather a large spread as predictions go).

Some failed predictions bring unexpected insights into religion. In 1955, most people laughed when Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife, said aliens from Planet Clarion informed her the world would end for all but her and her small band of followers, who would be “lifted up.” No end, no lift. But social psychologist Leon Festinger developed his “theory of cognitive dissonance” from his firsthand study of Martin, and he went on to write a 1957 book that explained how rational people come to believe irrational things that is still used to explain everything from religious beliefs to real estate bubbles.

And to flat-out ignore some predictions can be perilous. Florence Houteff, considered a prophetess by the Branch Davidians, predicted April 22, 1959, as the rollout date of the Book of Revelation’s fire and brimstone. Wrong, and her group splintered in the aftermath.

One of the splinters wound up in a compound in Waco, Texas, surrounded by federal agents demanding their surrender on firearms charges. Their leader, David Koresh, was another self-proclaimed prophet who made doomsday predictions involving the deaths of his followers. Some critics felt the federal agents failed to fully understand Koresh as a religious leader, seeing him only as a con man and criminal. By the end of a 51-day siege, after a battery of gunshots and a fast-moving fire, 86 people were killed, including Koresh and several children.

Why this prediction now? Wasn’t there another big “apocalypse now” prediction a few years ago?

Scholars say doomsday predictions cluster around certain events — the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, or the “harmonic convergence” of the planets, or the year 2000. Meade has pointed to last month’s solar eclipse as a “sign” of what he says is to come.

And yes, there has been a long string of predictions in the last two decades. Who can forget Harold Camping, the Christian radio media mogul who picked two dates in 2011, hit the airwaves, put up billboards, solicited money — and nada. He joined some rather famous names — Edgar Cayce, Sun Myung Moon, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (at least twice, but before he had access to the White House) and John Hagee among them — of failed futurists. Heck, Sir Isaac Newton himself, great astronomer and mathematician, bet that Jesus would return in the year 2000.

Even the man who explained gravity was wrong. So relax. Make some weekend plans. See you Monday.

Sep 20, 2017

Cult Recovery: Gaining Insight into the Experience and Inner Life of Group Leaders, Members, and Concerned Families

October 15, 2017, New York

The Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies (IPS) is joining the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) in sponsoring this one-day conference, which will take place from 10 am to 4 pm, October 15th at the Doubletree Hotel, 2117 Route 4 Eastbound, Fort Lee, New Jersey.  CE credits are available for mental health professionals – see information below.

This conference is offered in conjunction with the publishing of the ICSA book, Cult Recovery: A Clinician’s Guide to Working with Former Members and Families. The book and conference will provide mental health professionals with an understanding of the world of former cult members, cult leaders, and the cult environment. These dynamics also are applicable to those who become involved in any high-demand situation, such as gangs, terrorist organizations, and cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome. The presenters (Steve Eichel, William Goldberg, Lorna Goldberg, Shelly Rosen, and Daniel Shaw) are chapter authors who will provide participants with a road map for understanding the environment of coercive control and for learning how this population can be helped to gain insight into themselves and their experience. Participants will be offered therapeutic approaches for those who have been harmed.

Sep 19, 2017

Ambitious neuroscience project to probe how the brain makes decisions

A network of pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex. These interconnected brain cells form neural circuits which carry out the complex computations that will be explored by IBL researchers. Photograph: Jesper Sjostrom and Michael Hausser, University College London
A network of pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex.
 These interconnected brain cells form neural circuits
which carry out the complex computations that will
 be explored by IBL researchers.
Combining expertise from 21 labs in Europe and the US, the International Brain Laboratory will attempt to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time

Ian Sample Science editor
The Guardian
September 19, 2017

World-leading neuroscientists have launched an ambitious project to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time: how the brain decides what to do.

The international effort will draw on expertise from 21 labs in the US and Europe to uncover for the first time where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond.

If the researchers can unravel what happens in detail, it would mark a dramatic leap forward in scientists’ understanding of a process that lies at the heart of life, and which ultimately has implications for intelligence and free will.

“Life is about making decisions,” said Alexandre Pouget, a neuroscientist involved in the project at the University of Geneva. “It’s one decision after another, on every time scale, from the most mundane thing to the most fundamental in your life. It is the essence of what the brain is about.”

Backed with an initial £10m ($14m) from the US-based Simons Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the endeavour will bring neuroscientists together into a virtual research group called the International Brain Laboratory (IBL). Half of the IBL researchers will perform experiments and the other half will focus on theoretical models of how the brain makes up its mind.

The IBL was born largely out the realisation that many problems in modern neuroscience are too hard for a single lab to crack. But the founding scientists are also frustrated at how research is done today. While many neuroscientists work on the same problems, labs differ in the experiments and data analyses they run, often making it impossible to compare results across labs and build up a confident picture of what is really happening in the brain.

“It happens all the time that we read a paper that gets different results from us, and we won’t know if it’s for deep scientific reasons, or because there are small differences in the way the science is carried out,” said Anne Churchland, a neuroscientist involved in the project at Cold Spring Harbor Lab in New York. “At the moment, each lab has its own way of doing things.”

The IBL hopes to overcome these flaws. Scientists on the project will work on exactly the same problems in precisely the same way. Animal experiments, for example, will use one strain of mouse, and all will be trained, tested and scored in the same way. It is an obvious strategy, but not a common one in science: in any lab, there is a constant urge to tweak experiments to make them better. “Ultimately, the reason it’s worth addressing is in the proverb: ‘alone we go fast, together we go far’,” said Churchland.

The IBL’s results will be analysed with the same software and shared with other members immediately. The openness mirrors the way physicists work at Cern, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva that is home to the Large Hadron Collider. For now, the IBL team includes researchers from UCL, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Ecole Normale Paris, and the Champalimaud Centre in Lisbon, but over the 10 to 15-year project, more scientists are expected to join.

A ‘brainbow’: a simulation of pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex. Photograph: Hermann Cuntz and Michael Hausser, University College London

Decision-making is a field in itself, so IBL researchers will focus on simple, so-called perceptual decisions: those that involve responding to sights or sounds, for example. In one standard test, scientists will record how neurons fire in mice as they watch faint dots appear on a screen and spin a Lego wheel to indicate if the dots are on the left or the right. The mice make mistakes when the dots are faint, and it is these marginal calls that are most interesting to scientists.

Matteo Carandini, a neuroscientist involved in the IBL at University College London, compares the task to a cyclist approaching traffic lights in the rain. “If the light is green, you go, and if it’s red, you stop, but there’s often uncertainty. Very often you see only a bit of red, you’re not sure it’s even a traffic light, but you need to make a decision.”

Modern neuroscience textbooks have only a coarse description of how perceptual decisions are made. When light from a traffic light hits the eye, the retina converts it into electrical impulses that are sent to the visual cortex. The image is interpreted, and at some point a decision is made whether or not to fire neurons in the motor cortex and move in response. By recording from thousands of neurons throughout the mouse brain, IBL scientists hope to learn how and when neurons are pulled into the process.

The IBL has not set its sights on explaining complex decisions: which flat to rent, who to partner up with, who to vote for. But it is a start. When it comes to human responses to the outside world, neuroscience cannot explain much beyond the knee-jerk response and ejaculation.

“What people often don’t realise is that we have no clue how the brain works,” said Carandini.

Dangers of Meditation

CBS News
September 17, 2017

With brief sound bite from Daniel Shaw LCSW, New York psychotherapist and cult expert.

A Booming Church and Its Complicated, Ugly Past

Zarephath Christian Church
Zarephath Christian Church is a dynamic evangelical congregation. But perhaps it’s best not to mention the sect’s fiery founder who embraced the K.K.K.
New York Times
September 15, 2017

Hundreds of people each weekend drive up the hill to a newly built $12 million church surrounded by soccer fields in a New Jersey community named Zarephath. They worship by singing along with rock-ballad style prayer songs, following lyrics projected on three overhead screens. They sway and lift their arms high overhead, or say the words quietly with their eyes closed.

Drums, several guitars, keyboards and backup singers accompany the prayers. Spotlights shift from purple to blue to red as the mood builds.

“O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide,” about 300 congregants sang during a recent Sunday service, in a sanctuary that resembles a warehouse-style concert hall, save for two small crosses near the stage. “Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”

The worshipers at the central New Jersey church were of every description — young, old, white, black, Asian, Hispanic. The friendly, name-tag-clad greeters at the entrance of the 70,000-square-foot space were there to help people find Bible study groups or inspirational cards in the gift shop.

In short, Zarephath Christian Church has become a dynamic evangelical congregation. It attracts newcomers via both a 50,000-watt contemporary Christian radio station — Star 99.1 — that can be heard from Pennsylvania to New York City, and a conservative, Jesus-focused message that encourages its 2,500 congregants to hew as closely as possible to the lifestyle of his disciples.

The growth is quite a turn for a local church that until about 10 years ago consisted of fewer than 200 members in a timeworn chapel across Weston Canal Road, on a bathtub of land saddled by repeated floods. And even though its leaders don’t talk about it much, the church also represents the local revival of what was one of America’s most unusual Protestant denominations.

The church in Zarephath is the flagship congregation of the Pillar of Fire, a Methodist offshoot founded in 1901 by a formidable female preacher, Alma Bridwell White, whose positive legacy of feminism was complicated in the 1920s by her ardent embrace of the Ku Klux Klan. Scholars believe that the Pillar of Fire was the only denomination in America to publicly endorse the Klan, even though individual ministers from other faiths were active in it.

The contradictions of the sect’s fiery founder create a kind of puzzle for the church’s modern leadership. Pillar of Fire long ago moved away from the hate of the Klan, and its leaders have issued statements denouncing and regretting the church’s historic involvement with it. In a sign of how different the modern church is, the local presiding elder of the denomination, Robert Saydee, is an African refugee.

Yet Pillar of Fire owes its existence to Bishop White, the first female bishop of any Christian denomination in American history. Her traces remain everywhere in Zarephath, the agrarian faith community she founded here in 1905 and named for the town where Elijah found comfort from a widow in the Bible. And yet her complicated legacy is virtually ignored by church leaders, who can still disagree about the extent of her intolerance.

As a result, many people who worship each week in Zarephath don’t know about the church’s history, or even that their church is part of the Pillar of Fire. (Or that the 750-acre parcel that makes up what is essentially the town of Zarephath is owned by the denomination.) The new church is built on the opposite side of the Delaware and Raritan Canal from the denomination’s historic home, so it is easy to get there without seeing the old brick Pillar of Fire sign at the entrance to those grounds.

“We like that the church is nondenominational, because we are nondenominational as well,” said Sabrina Da Cruz, 34, who drove 40 minutes from Elizabeth, N.J., with her husband and infant to attend a service this summer. “They talk about Jesus, which is what a lot of people need. It’s Jesus from beginning to end.”

The woman at the center of Zarephath’s story was born in 1862 to a poor family in rural Kentucky. Mollie Alma Bridwell, as she was known then, grew up wanting to be a preacher, but was told to marry one instead. Chafing at the restrictions, she started preaching in Denver, where her Methodist preacher husband was posted, and ultimately formed her own church. When a New Jersey widow, inspired by her writings, deeded her 70 acres of farmland between the Millstone River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal, she left Colorado, ultimately separating from her husband, and moved the denomination’s headquarters here.

Pillar of Fire gained considerable fame in the first decades of the 20th century, in part because of the oddity of a woman running a religious sect years before women had the right to vote. Puritianical and strident, Bishop White described her church’s guiding principles as “emancipation for women and ultra-fundamentalist doctrine.” Yet her followers also tried to capture the joy of Christianity in their worship.

To the sound of drums and cymbals, they would march through the aisles and even jump while they prayed, earning them a nickname that stuck, the Holy Jumpers. The New York Times twice sent reporters to Zarephath, once in 1907, and once in 1910, to witness and write about her remarkable faith commune, where dozens of men, women and children in dour uniforms eschewed personal possessions and ran their own schools, printing press and farms.

Driven by curious press accounts, several radio stations, and her publishing operation — Bishop White edited six magazines and wrote some 35 books — membership grew. Dozens of Pillar of Fire churches were founded around the country. Pillar of Fire slowly bought up the surrounding farms around Zarephath, growing the community to some 1,200 acres, with its own ZIP code, power plant, bible college and fire station, church historians recounted.

But in the early 1920s, Pillar of Fire took a turn. Bishop White began preaching about how God had given the nation to white Protestants and needed to be protected against Catholics, Jews, blacks and others who threatened its purity. In that decade, Bishop White wrote three books extolling the K.K.K.’s contributions to America, particularly as a bulwark against what she feared was a Roman Catholic plot to take over the country. She permitted Klan meetings and cross burnings on her church campuses, setting off a riot in Bound Brook, N.J., in 1923 when some residents objected.

At the height of its popularity in the 1920s, scholars believe, as many as six million Americans belonged to the Klan. As its popularity waned in later years, so did Bishop White’s support. But it didn’t disappear completely. She republished edited versions of her pro-Klan books in 1943, three years before her death, with introductions by her son, the Rev. Arthur K. White, who would lead the denomination until the early 1980s.

The following decades were overall a period of decline for Pillar of Fire in America, though some of its overseas mission churches — in Liberia, for example — flourished. Repeated floods of the Millstone River devastated historic Zarephath several times.

The old dormitory of Alma White Bible College is now boarded up, and a family of beavers is in residence. The old chapel, whose cornerstone was set in 1926, has been closed since flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011. The radio station, flooded out, now broadcasts from a few miles away in the Somerset section of Franklin Township.

By 2010, the official population of Zarephath, as recorded by the national census, was 37. From a peak of more than 50 domestic congregations, the denomination had shrunk to only a few American churches and mission churches in several foreign countries. But in the 1990s, a new generation of leaders saw promise in this historic place.

UNESCO Global Hope Award

2017 Heros of the Global Campaign Against Extremism and Intolerance

Archaeologists uncover Cambridgeshire's long lost wife-swapping colony

The project was inspired by socialist visions and abolished concepts like money - but it ran out of one key resource
Cambridge News
September 17, 2017

A team of Cambridge archaeologists who unearthed the site of Cambridgeshire's long-lost Victorian utopia project have released a video on their findings.

The excavations were undertaken in Manea by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, under the direction of Dr Marcus Brittain, in partnership with the Octavia Hill Birthplace House.

It was in 1838 that farmer, one-time sailor and lay Methodist minister William Hodson bought a plot of land in Manea, a village on the edge of Littleport.

Inspired by socialist visions, he aimed to establish a cooperative community where everyone would be 'equal'.

But despite abolishing all money and working the land together, this Utopian vision became marred by personality clashes and objections to the practice of 'free love'.

The Manea Fen project then came crashing down just two and a half years later when a key investor from Wisbech went bust in 1841.

Speaking in a podcast as part of the Ouse Washes Project, local historian Mike Petty described how the project, which was once home to 150 people, failed.

He said: "They abolished money but they they also abolished matrimony and the married couples who had to subscribed to a new vision there suddenly decided they had something they didn't want to share.

"They tended to leave and that left the colony with no ladies.

"To find ladies they had to advertise in Manchester newspapers and the people who left spread gossip about the goings on in the colony."

There was also moral opposition from the Christian advocate at Cambridge University lead by Rev Pearson, who saw the project as dangerous.

William Hodson stayed till 1846 before heading off to America, where he became a founding member of a colony in Wisconsin called Jane's Ville.
The site

Despite its eventual failure, the project was one of the more successful 19th century social experiments, with its achievements documented in The Working Bee , a weekly newspaper printed on-site.

Built around a central square, the village included terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, communal kitchen, a school and a grand tower from which much of the fen could be observed over tea.

All of this was built by the colonists themselves - most of them handpicked as skilled labourers - from locally-sourced materials.

Since the excavation work began last year the team has been successful in locating the wood and brick foundations of some of the original buildings, along with pits containing the refuse discarded by their inhabitants.

Site director for the  Archaeology project, Dr Brittan said: “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design.

“Their refuse also tells us that personal adornment with decorative dress items was commonplace, in spite of concerns that the promotion of individuality led to greed and disharmony in the industrial world.”

The 2016 evacuations were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership.

Lyndon LaRouche Is Running A Pro-China Party In Germany

Once a uniquely American political cult, now the LaRouche movement can't get enough of Beijing.

Foreign Policy
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
September 18, 2017

BERLIN — A week before Germany’s federal elections, Berlin is blanketed in a layer of campaign posters, from Angela Merkel and the Christian Democratic Union’s bland slogan “For a Germany in which we live well and happily” to the far-right Alternative for Germany’s proclamation of preferring bikinis over burqas.

But one set of signs are particularly bizarre, even cryptic.

“The future of Germany is the New Silk Road!” reads one pinned to a streetlight near Berlin’s main train station.

“Cultural renaissance instead of barbarism,” reads another. And, “Germans can stop world war!”

These posters, in a matching blue and yellow color scheme, all urge Berliners to “vote BüSo.”

What the posters don’t say is that BüSo — short for Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität, or Civil Rights Movement Solidarity — is a political party founded and operated by eccentric American millionaire Lyndon LaRouche and his Russian-German wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche. For decades, the couple has lead a global political network with a devotion to conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, and a belief in a looming doomsday economic collapse that will kill billions — but it is otherwise malleable in its beliefs.

LaRouche started on the far left of American politics before swinging to the far right in the 1970s. Today, as BüSo attests, the LaRouche movement’s enthusiasms are focused on promoting the interests of Russia and China in the West. And Beijing, at least, has been happy to reciprocate LaRouche’s support.

BüSo’s German-language website— which has a Russian-language version but no English — lists Zepp-LaRouche as its founder. The party operates 11 different offices around Germany, according to its website, and advocates a patchwork platform of grand but vague ideas — including an overhaul of global banking as “the only way to stop the collapse of the financial system,” Germany’s exit from the European Union, a new German currency, extraterrestrial human colonization, a “renaissance” of culture and science, and nuclear energy for all so that “hunger and misery can be overcome all over the world.” The website also makes the claim that “the roots of the strange coalition of financial institutions, foundations, media, and environmental organizations go back to the eugenics movement of the Nazis and their environment,” a longtime LaRouche obsession. Other quirks, such as the belief that the British royal family runs the global drug trade, have been publically dropped over the years.

But outdated obsessions have been replaced with LaRouche’s newfound fascination with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, also called the “New Silk Road” — which explains why campaign posters promoting the initiative as Germany’s saving grace now paper Berlin. It’s hard to tell what motivates that interest, whether it’s a remnant of LaRouche’s long-standing obsession with patterns of global trade, or a skillful attempt to appeal to the political mood in Beijing, where the project has become a shibboleth for support of an increasingly powerful Xi.

BüSo did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

In the United States, LaRouchites have long been treated as a legitimate, if unhinged, political movement. But in Germany, they are seen as a political cult — and a potentially dangerous one. In 2003, a 22-year-old British man died under mysterious circumstances after traveling to Wiesbaden, LaRouche’s main base in Germany, to attend a LaRouche event billed as a rally against the Iraq War. No charges were brought, but BüSo and its ideology were portrayed unflatteringly in the extensive media coverage that followed. Germany is particularly sensitiveabout any groups that could be portrayed as a cult — most Germans, for instance, favor banning Scientology.

On their own, the LaRouchites seem hardly more threatening to German democracy than any fringe political group, through they are a well-funded one. (LaRouche’s money stream is uncertain, but the associated PAC raised $6 million last U.S. election cycle, seemingly from donations from the over 5,000 members.) “Nobody knows them. Sometimes they have their people on the street, and if you talk to them, they are kind of crazy,” said Stefan Liebich, a member of the German parliament, in an interview with Foreign Policy. “They invest a lot of money for their posters, but no one will vote for them.”

The question is whether LaRouchites’ real audience isn’t in Germany but rather in China, where there’s growing evidence the movement has influential followers. “Journalists” associated with the LaRouche’s news outlet, the Executive Intelligence Review, are regularly invited to Chinese government press conferences in Washington and are quoted extensively in Chinese state media, where they often parrot government propaganda.

If China is choosing to waste its time and energy on a fringe group, that’s hardly a worry. But there’s the dangerous possibility that Chinese officials and academics actually think the LaRouche movement is a serious Western group. For a middle-aged Chinese official with little experience in or contact with the West, distinguishing between LaRouche’s Schiller Institute and, say, the Brookings Institution, the Cato Institute, or other mainstream think tanks is tough.

And the LaRouchites are telling the Chinese what they want to hear: that China is the future and that Xi is respected globally. When Chinese media wanted to praise Xi’s call with U.S. President Donald Trump, for instance, they went to “German expert” Helga Zepp-LaRouche. Even if the officials and journalists dealing with them recognize they’re cranks, praise from compliant Westerners is useful currency in Chinese politics. (China Daily’s Chen Weihua, for instance, is a U.S. resident; that didn’t stop him from writing a puff piece about the group this August.) And in a country struggling to understand how Western politics works, conspiracy theories can be dangerously tempting.

Nobody’s listening to the LaRouche movement in Berlin. But they might be in Beijing.

Ex-AUM doctor helps with Malaysia's probe into Kim Jong Nam assassination

The Mainichi
September 14, 2017

A former doctor of the AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult has provided articles he wrote to the Malaysian government in cooperation with its investigation into the deadly VX nerve agent attack on the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it has been learned.

Tomomasa Nakagawa, 54, a former AUM Shinrikyo executive who was sentenced to death for murder using VX nerve agent and other charges, received an inquiry about VX poisoning from the counterterrorism unit of the Malaysian government and sent his articles he had contributed to the Japanese monthly journal "Chemistry Today," according to Colorado State University professor emeritus Anthony Tu.

According to Tu, an 87-year-old leading toxicologist originally from Taiwan, Nakagawa received written inquiries from the Malaysian government via a United Nations organization sometime after April. The Malaysian government has been investigating the broad-daylight murder of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of the North Korean leader, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.

During a meeting with Tu on Sept. 11 at Tokyo Detention Center, Nakagawa confessed his aspirations to write a report in English focusing on AUM Shinrikyo crimes using VX nerve agent, which the former cultist was involved in. Tu has interviewed Nakagawa since 2011 for counterterrorism purposes, and the latest meeting was the 12th of its kind. Tu has also cooperated with Japanese police in its investigation into the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes perpetrated by AUM Shinrikyo.

In February, Nakagawa sent a letter to Tu suggesting that VX agent may have been used in the slaying of Kim Jong Nam -- even before Malaysian law enforcers disclosed that the agent was detected in his body.

Tu says Nakagawa, being a former doctor, is versed in chemistry and the professor would like to consider the way to handle the report on VX agent Nakagawa is going to put together after reading the content.

The AUM Shinrikyo cult was behind three murder and attempted murder cases using VX agent in Japan between 1994 and 1995. According to Japanese public security officials, the three cases and the Kim Jong Nam assassination are the world's only known cases of VX use in attacks on humans. Nakagawa was involved in all three cases in Japan, treating cult members who were poisoned by the agent after attacking victims. Nakagawa himself also survived VX poisoning after he mistakenly got agent on his hand and received an antidote injection.

Philadelphia cave connected to first doomsday cult?

Kelpius Cave
Reading Eagle
September 19, 2017

In 1708, the Schuykill River exploded. Johannes Kelpius, the leader of a group of mystics settled along the banks of the Wissahickon Creek in what is now Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, was dying. Kelpius, a Romanian-born mystic, musician and writer, believed he would enter the spirit world, and that his body would disappear. His final act was giving a box to Daniel Geissler, a disciple who was supposed to throw the box in the river. When Geissler finally did throw the box into the Schuylkill, thunder and lighting came from the water. The box contained the philosopher's stone.

Or, so the legend goes.

Nick Bucci, a tour guide in Philadelphia, said a document in a German library verifies the story. Bucci believes it.

"You wouldn't be able to get the sound of thunder, an explosion, if it didn't explode," he said. "That's the logical conclusion of what happened."

Kelpius came to America from Germany in 1694 with two advanced degrees, said Eric Saberov, an educator at the Valley Green Canoe Club.

"There's a lot of legend and lore about him, and a lot of unknown things," Saberov said.

Saberov said that Kelpius used the philosopher's stone to heal the sick and turn lead into gold. Another story from Bucci claims that one half of the stone was saved and passed through Kelpius' family until 1900. Its whereabouts are unknown.

Saberov said Kelpius was obsessed with the number 40 because of its appearance in the Bible. He chose Philadelphia because it sits at 40 degrees latitude; kept 40 followers and built a tabernacle that was 40 by 40 feet.

Saberov said that he "lived in a hole in the ground" covered in animal skins, with his followers.

Bucci said the Cave of Kelpius was a place for Kelpius to meditate. He and his followers were educated men who isolated themselves from society.

Believing that the world would end in 1700, they lived in the woods to wait for "The Woman of the Wilderness," a biblical spirit who supposedly would appear to them and signal the apocalypse. When this didn't happen, they moved the date, again and again. People no longer believed them, and the group fell apart after Kelpius died.

It's hard to tell the truth from the fiction about this group, sometimes called America's first doomsday cult.

Sep 18, 2017


Scott Hardy
September 18, 2017

Will be arraigned in South Lee County court Oct 2nd

Probable cause has been found against the former owner of a Keokuk private school, who's facing child sex charges.

Court records show that ruling against Benjamin Trane happened in a judge's ruling, filed Monday in South Lee County court, on charges of third degree sex abuse, child endangerment and sexual exploitation. Trane turned himself in earlier this month, after learning that a warrant had been issued in late August for his arrest. That warrant was in response to sexual abuse allegations that surfaced between Trane and a former Midwest Academy student, which triggered raids by local, state and Federal authorities in early January, 2016. The raids later resulted in the school's closing. Investigators say Trane coerced one student to engage in sex acts in order to advance in the program and be allowed to contact relatives. Trane also allegedly had others undress for "body image therapy" sessions he led, and kept students in isolation for extended periods. Earlier this year, Trane and Midwest Academy lost a civil suit filed by former employee Cheyenne Jerred, who said she was fired after reporting the abuse to the school and law enforcement. He and the school are also being sued by former students over alleged abuse they suffered while at the school.

Trane's in the Lee County Jail on $500,000 bond. He'll be arraigned October 2nd.

Ram Rahim's Adopted Daughter, Honeypreet, Tops Haryana's Most-Wanted List

Honeypreet Insan, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's adopted daughter, is now Haryana's most wanted.
Honeypreet Insan, Ram Rahim's constant companion who calls herself his adopted daughter and "Papa's Angel", has been missing since Gurmeet Ram Rahim went to jail.
Deepshikha Ghosh
All India
September 18, 2017

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's closest aides Honeypreet Insan and Aditya Insan top the list of the 43 most-wanted in Haryana over the rioting last month after the self-declared spiritual guru was convicted of rape.

Arson and violence by supporters of Ram Rahim's Dera Sacha Sauda sect left 38 people dead on August 25, after a court in Panchkula held the guru guilty of raping two followers inside his sprawling and shadowy base in Haryana's Sirsa. The flamboyant Dera chief is serving a 20-year jail term.

Honeypreet Insan, Ram Rahim's constant companion who calls herself his adopted daughter and "Papa's Angel", has been missing since that day. She had accompanied him on a special chopper that took him from Panchkula to the Rohtak jail. The police say she tried to help him escape after his conviction. Hunting for her, the police have also sent teams to the border; they suspect she may try to escape to Nepal. The police have reportedly circulated photographs and asked its teams to watch out for women "wearing a burqa or mask".

There have been more arrests of Ram Rahim's aides and the Haryana police has now put out the photos of followers who are missing.

"Following accused are wanted regarding violence in Panchkula ...The identity of those giving information leading to their arrest will be kept secret," the notice said, releasing phone numbers, WhatsApp details and an email id for the information.

Most of the accused have been identified from photographs and videos taken during the violence. They are seen carrying weapons like sticks and some are masked.

Aditya Insan, the Dera spokesperson, is wanted for sedition.

Pradeep Goyal Insan, also a Dera functionary, and Aditya Insan's relative Prakash were arrested earlier. Based on their statements, the police may add more charges against Honeypreet Insan.

Cultic Groups and Relationships: A One-Day Workshop for Former Members and Families

International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)
When: Saturday, October 21, 2017. 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Where: Atkins Research Global, Inc. 4929 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 102, Los Angeles, CA 90010

This workshop, which will take place at the Atkins Research Center, is open to family members, former members of cultic situations (groups and one-on-ones), and others interested in this topic. The workshop will include presentations and group discussions on topics such as the following:


  • Neurobiology of trauma,
  • Dealing with loss,
  • Common issues in recovery,
  • Unique challenges of SGAs,
  • One-on-one relationships,
  • Challenges of reintegration for ex-members and families,
  • Is therapy important?
  • Importance of support groups.
This event has been made possible by donations to ICSA and the willingness of facilitators to volunteer their time. Without the dedication of these people, registration fees would be much higher than they are. If you are unemployed, on disability, or otherwise limited financially and need help with the registration fee, please contact us at or (239)-514-3081.
Fees: $50 per person. Refreshments will be served. Attendees are on their own for lunch.

Online Registration - REGISTER ASAP – space is limited.



Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT
Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT, has been working with former cult members for 25 years. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Educator, who lives in Los Angeles, CA. She has been a member of ICSA for many years and has presented talks and moderated panels at ICSA conferences. Rachel previously ran the Maynard Bernstein Resource Center on cults, named after her father. She was the Clinician at the former Cult Clinic in Los Angeles, as well as the Cult Hotline and Clinic in Manhattan. She now treats former cult members and the families and friends of those in cults in her private practice. Rachel has facilitated numerous support groups for former cult members, for people who were in one-on-one cults, and for the families of those in cults. Rachel has published many articles, made media appearances, consulted on shows and movies about cults, and has been interviewed for podcasts and YouTube videos. In addition to her private practice, she consults on cases through Freedom of Mind.; (818) 907-0036

Dhyana Levey
Dhyana Levey
grew up on a commune connected to the United Lodge of Theosophists, an offshoot a group formed in 1875 by controversial Russian aristocrat and spirit medium Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. She has a degree in journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter for about 15 years, covering environmental issues and law in California, as well as labor at an English-language newspaper in Cambodia. She now writes regularly for a couple of Bay Area magazines and is working on a book about adults who were raised as children in cults.

Doni Whitsett, PhD, LCSW,
Doni Whitsett, PhD, LCSW
, is a Clinical Professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work where she teaches various courses in practice, behavior, mental health, and human sexuality. She has been working with cult-involved clients and their families for over 20 years and gives lectures to students and professionals on this topic. She has presented at national and international conferences in Madrid, Poland, Canada, and in Australia, where she helped organize two conferences in Brisbane. Her talks have included The Psychobiology of Trauma and Child Maltreatment (2005, Madrid) and Why Cults Are Harmful: A Neurobiological View of Interpersonal Trauma (2012, Montreal). Her publications include The Psychobiology of Trauma and Child Maltreatment (Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2006), A Self Psychological Approach to the Cult Phenomenon (Journal of Social Work, 1992), Cults and Families (Families in Society, Vol. 84, No. 4, 2003), which she coauthored with Dr. Stephen Kent, and Why cults are harmful: Neurobiological speculations on inter-personal trauma. ICSA Today, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2014. Dr. Whitsett also has a specialty in Sexuality and was awarded a Fulbright Specialist Scholarship in 2016 to study, teach, and do research on this topic in China.;  (323) 907-2400

P.O. Box 2265
Bonita Springs, FL 34133

Phone: (239) 514-3081
Fax: (305) 393-8193

Sep 17, 2017

Judge orders birth certificates issued to children born secretly on polygamous compound in South Dakota

Nate Carlisle
Salt Lake Tribune
September 14, 2017

Holladay • After hanging up from the conference call with the judge, Sarah Allred turned to her 9- and 6-year-old daughters.

“Congratulations, ladies,” Allred said. “You’re finally my kids.”

“I was always your kid,” the 9-year-old replied.

Yes, but without birth certificates, it was difficult to prove that. The two girls were born in secrecy on the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound near Pringle, S.D.

At a hearing Thursday, most of which was conducted over the telephone, a state judge in South Dakota heard testimony about their births and agreed to issue an order requiring the state’s Department of Vital Records to issue birth certificates.

Seventh Circuit Court Judge Jeff Davis signed the order later Thursday, Allred later told The Salt Lake Tribune. Once it has been served on the state agency, the certificates should be issued in two to four weeks.

Allred has been seeking the birth certificates for three years — ever since she gained custody of the six children she had with her now ex-husband. The four oldest were born in Utah and had valid birth certificates.

But the youngest two were born on the South Dakota compound. As Allred explained to the judge during the conference call, FLDS President Warren Jeffs wanted what went on there to remain a secret.

“We were not allowed to get birth certificates per the leadership,” Allred said into the telephone speaker.

One daughter was born at the compound in late June 2008. The other was born there in September 2010.

Allred answered questions about the children’s father. She was “assigned” to marry Richard S. Allred. They were legally married in Utah‘s Washington County in 1998. She was 18 years old.

Richard Allred went on to marry four other women as spiritual wives. He and Sarah had six children in all. The girls born at the compound, delivered there by a midwife who was not licensed with the state of South Dakota, Sarah Allred has said, are the youngest.

The legal case was complicated by a lack of documentation. When Sarah Allred was sent away from the FLDS in 2012, she had few church documents or photos of the girls. Sarah Allred and her Utah attorney, Roger Hoole, searched multiple states looking for any records showing that she and her husband were caring for the girls as infants.

What records could be found, from hospitals, former church members — as well as Allred’s divorce decree last year where a Utah judge found she and Richard Allred were the girls’ parents — were submitted as evidence to the judge in South Dakota. A South Dakota attorney, who took Sarah Allred’s case pro bono, represented her in the judge’s courtroom on Wednesday.

One of Sarah Allred’s teenage daughters also testified during the call from Hoole’s Holladay law office. She told the judge she was living on the compound at the time of her youngest sisters’ births, helping care for other children, and met each girl within hours of their respective births.

Sarah Allred hugged her 9- and 6-year-olds after the hearing ended.

She said she knows of 13 other children born at the compound from 2006 until she left in 2012, including four others born to Richard’s spiritual wives.

All of those 13 children have birth certificates, Sarah Allred said. But their mothers all reported the children were born at the birthing clinic in Hildale, Utah, which is the FLDS’ traditional home base, or other locations where the FLDS own property, she added.

The mother and children have been living in northern Utah. Richard Allred has not responded to any of the court petitions for custody, child support or divorce.

Jeffs is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas prison. He was convicted of charges of sexually assaulting two girls he married as plural wives.

Dialogue With The Devil—ISKCON and The Anti-Cultists

ISKCON and The Anti-Cultists
Anuttama Dasa
September 15, 2017


"Past mistakes and remaining prejudices lead some anti-sect folks to consider meeting Hare Krishnas like dialoguing with the devil. Some ISKCON people may feel the same about the anti-sect groups."

Bordeaux, France—Four senior ISKCON members from Europe and the United States attended the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) annual Conference in this historic city from June 30-July 2, 2017.

Presentations were made by sociologists, social workers, academic researchers, therapists, Buddhist monks, government officials, and ex-members from a variety of religious and social organizations deemed, in one way or the other, “sects” or “cultic.”
Attending such conferences is not new to ISKCON. ISKCON members first reached out to dialogue with ICSA’s predecessor organization, the American Family Foundation (AFF), more than twenty years ago. Since then, more than a dozen members of the Communications Ministry and other ISKCON leaders have attended such conferences.

The terms “anti-sect” and “anti-cult” are controversial. For simplicity sake, here we refer to those individuals, organizations and government agencies who study or monitor groups said to be cults because those groups exhibit harmful, or cultic behaviors. Cultic symptoms include isolation of members, lack of accountability of leaders, denial of appropriate care for members, unquestioned submission to leaders, excessive demands upon followers, and physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse by leaders.

Not particularly inspiring topics. So why go?

“ISKCON devotees tend to be social critics who understand that great harm is done within human societies all over the world,” said Mahaprabhu dasa, ISKCON European Minister of Communications. “That’s one reason people come to Krishna Consciousness; we’ve been disappointed in our worldly affairs and seek spiritual alternatives.”

Yet a danger still lurks, Mahaprabhu points out. “Religious groups, including our own movement, are vulnerable to the same human frailties. That can lead to cultic or abusive behaviors within. Sadly, we’ve have had our share of abuse and exploitation which have hurt our members, our communities and our reputation.”

“In ISKCON’s earliest years, our members were all young and a little naïve,” said Rukmini dasi, a member of ISKCON since 1968 who has also attended four ICSA conferences. “Overtime we learned that we need checks and balances to hold ourselves accountable and ensure we’re transparent in our interpersonal and professional dealings.”

“Prabhupada himself established the Governing Body Commission (GBC) to oversee Temple Presidents as well as individual the GBC members. He diversified the authority structure in ISKCON and clearly didn’t want too much power in any individual’s hands,” Rukmini concluded.

The bottom line, Mahaprabhu points out, is that we are all subject to making mistakes. As a global movement with thousands of local communities we need to be aware of the potential for harm. Doing so greatly increases our potential for good.

Mahaprabhu also noted that religious groups are especially vulnerable to abuse, or cultic behaviors, because of the extra ordinary importance and faith they place on spiritual leaders, understanding them to represent God in some way. That is true whether those persons serve their communities as Ministers, Priests, Rabbis, Gurus, Imams, GBC members, Temple Presidents, or whatever.

Many conference presenters pointed out that the first principle of avoiding cultic behavior is to ensure that members and leaders of groups know they are never “above the law,” whether social or spiritual.

Within ISKCON, the GBC has made significant strides in recent years to inform and train devotees—both leaders and general members—of the need to act ethically, ensure transparency and provide checks and balances at all levels of leadership. But more needs to be done.

“Efforts like the ISKCON Disciple Course, the Spiritual Leadership Seminar [Guru Seminar], the GBC College, ISKCONResolve, and other projects all provide better training for ISKCON members, especially leaders, and to help ISKCON uphold transparency and ethical behavior across the board,” said Mahaprabhu.
“Its not just that because one is a Bhakta Vriksha leader, GBC member, Prabhupada disciple, or guru, that he or she is above being held accountable,” said Rukmini. “Whatever our seniority, we are all responsible for our behavior. We’ve learned at these conferences about the dangers of abuse, and if we love Prabhupada, we need to be faithful to his society and help protect it by holding ourselves and our society to high standards.”

At the same time, past mistakes and remaining prejudices lead some anti-sect folks to consider meeting Hare Krishnas like dialoguing with the devil. Some ISKCON people may feel the same about the anti-sect groups. “Not so,” says Mahaprabhu. “Over the years, ISKCON has built respectful, beneficial relationships with many people at these conferences.”

The devil, he points out, is if we fail to look honestly and openly at past problems, or don’t follow through in creating systems that will minimize mistakes and abuse in the future.,6285

SGPC Seeks Charges Against SAB TV for Mimicking Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Attrite

Taarik Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma
By Sikh24 Editors
September 17, 2017

AMRITSAR SAHIB, Punjab—SGPC President Prof. Kirpal Singh Badungar is seeking registration of case against the producer and director of serial ‘Taarik Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma’ of SAB TV broadcasters. Prof. Badungar held that the serial makers have hurt Sikh sentiments and their act was unforgivable.

During an episode of the ‘Taarik Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma’, an artist was shown wearing an attire similar to that worn by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Actor who was presented like Guru Gobind Singh Ji in the TV serial is Roshan Singh Sodhi.

Speaking with Sikh24, Prof. Kirpal Singh Badungar said that the TV channel named ‘Sab TV’ was deliberately attacking on Sikh ethos to hurt sentiments of the Sikh community. Recalling a similar mistake by the same channel earlier, he has said that the ‘Sab TV’ channel had hurt Sikh sentiments by disrespecting the sacred Sikh article ‘Kirpan’ and photo of sanctum sanctorum Sri Harmandir Sahib.

Prof. Badungar has further informed that the SGPC has constituted a sub-committee to probe the matter and strict action will be taken against the guilty elements as per the report submitted by the committee.

Prof. Badungar has also asked the Indian government to indict the broadcasters of ‘Sab TV’ channel under section 295-A of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

SGPC’s General Secretary S. Amarjit Singh Chawla, SGPC’s Executive member S. Surjit Singh Bhittewind, SGPC member S. Gurbachan Singh Karmuwala and Secretary Dr. Roop Singh have been appointed in the sub-committee.

The Guru Gaggle

The Guru Gaggle
Iftikhar Gilani
September 17, 2017

After Indira Gandhi lost power in the 1977 general elections, the new Janata Party government moved swiftly to act against her for excesses committed during the Emergency she had imposed in the country. An enterprising young maulvi approached her, with the promise that he would get her out of the political wilderness. The story goes that he asked her to make arrangements for him and his dozens of disciples to do a 40-day penance at the shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani in Iraq's capital Baghdad. The maulvi claimed he had been told in his dream that this was needed to restore her glory.

Indira asked a member of the Congress Working Committee to budget the expenditure. But the maulvi took the money, went to his hometown instead, constructed a house for himself and forgot about the task. A year later, when the Janata Party government crumbled under significant ideological and political divisions, and Indira was back in power, the maulvi came back to claim credit. He was received like a hero. He went on to occupy a prime Wakf property in the heart of Delhi. Though various structures, including a TV studio and a corporate office of a company owned by his sons, were accused of encroachment, no one in the government took any action. He was a regular feature in the parties of every Prime Minister till he died.

He has been one of the many such examples. Historically, rulers in India have turned to astrologers and soothsayers. Fears of omens, ghosts, ghouls and storms have clouded many of their actions. Even wars — though many of them not won — were often influenced by astrologers. India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, known for his scientific temper, had a grouse against President Rajendra Prasad for hosting sadhus and saints in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. But Nehru's own association with a mysterious tantric spiritualist, Shradha Mata, has been known to many.

Former bureaucrat RK Krishnan recalls that a certain Prime Minister was known to be guided by the astrological advice of a godman in practically all his actions. On one occasion, the date and the time of the induction of some new ministers were fixed and announced on Doordarshan, only to be changed at the last minute because the schedule, according to another set of astrologers, was so inauspicious that things begun that day would have ended up in fire and smoke!

Many godmen have taken advantage of politicians' insecurities to build their own empires. Indira's Yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari ran ashrams in Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir, and became politically influential in 1975–77 when she declared the Emergency and suspended civil liberties. Many claim he would even influence Cabinet reshuffles.

KL Shrimali lost his job as education minister after he demanded an audit report of Brahmachari's ashrams. He was also a source of discord between Indira and then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah in the late 1980s. The J&K government had filed several cases against the Shiva Gun Factory that Brahmachari had set up in Jammu. Not only was there a complaint of land grabbing by one Saraswati Devi, the CID had informed Abdullah that guns were being distributed to unscrupulous elements. Seven years after his death, the High Court asked the government to take over his ashram in 2001 at the Mantalai peak near Patnitop in Udhampur, which had a helipad, a private zoo and a number of facilities.

Brahmachari's fate changed after Indira's death, which also allowed the then struggling godman Chandraswami to emerge as a guide to politicians. He had been trying his luck since the 1970s, but Brahmachari's presence was not allowing him a giant entry. He later became famous for his closeness to former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, and would wield influence with heads of state.

Former diplomat and politician Natwar Singh recalls that when he was Deputy High Commissioner in London in 1975, a senior Cabinet minister wanted him to arrange a meeting between Margaret Thatcher, who had then just become the Opposition leader, and Chandraswami. After much pestering, he agreed to arrange a party to invite both to his residence. There, Chandraswami scooped out a taweez (amulet) from his bag, and advised Thatcher to wear red when she came to see him. She obliged. He later told her that she would become the UK's Prime Minister in 3-4 years and remain in office for nine, 11 or even 13 years. All that proved true.

At the Commonwealth Summit held in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1979, where Thatcher arrived as Prime Minister, she noticed Singh at the airport and gently whispered to him to forget about the meeting he had arranged between her and Chandraswami four years ago. "We don't talk about these matters," she told Singh. But Chandraswami's fall was as abrupt. In 1996, he was jailed on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman. Last year, he had an obscure death.

Till 15 years ago, sadhu-like characters used to roam inside the Congress headquarters — 24, Akbar Road — in Delhi. One of them had a beautiful voice. He would sing aloud, praising the Gandhi family and their sacrifices. Another one had pasted photographs of the members of the Gandhi family all over his body. They would all claim that they were there to bless the leaders. But they started disappearing as the Congress lost power, and later with Sonia Gandhi's ascendance.

But even today, some ministers take charge after due diligence of their offices' coordinates, and history, mostly the length of the stay of previous occupants. They change the wall paint, drapery and upholstery, and rearrange furniture as directed by their spiritual gurus.

Spiritual gurus are believed to possess unique healing powers, and people come to seek answers to social and psychological problems. Politicians meet them for votes as the new generation of gurus is less of the wandering ascetic. They are now powerful, flamboyant, and rich. They have the resources to summon thousands of supporters on to streets.

Days before he was convicted on August 25 of raping two of his followers in 1999, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had launched a month-long birthday celebration, and was greeted by politicians, who openly donated pots of money to his so-called spiritual organisation Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana's Sirsa. The Manohar Lal Khattar government has been under fire after 38 people were killed and hundreds others injured, mostly in Haryana's Panchkula, where the Dera chief was convicted, in large-scale violence, arson and police firing after his followers rampaged also across Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and NCR to protest the order two weeks ago.

Hall of shame: 14 fake babas

The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the apex body of sadhus, recently released a list of 14 "fake babas" and demanded a crackdown on "rootless cult leaders" by bringing in legislation. The list includes the names of Asaram Bapu (Asumal Sirumalani), Sukhbinder Kaur (Radhe Maa), Sachchidanand Giri (Sachin Datta), Gurmeet Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda, Om Baba (Vivekanand Jha), Nirmal Baba (Nirmaljeet Singh), Ichchadhari Bhimanand (Shivmurti Dwivedi), Swami Asimanand, Om Namah Shivay Baba, Narayan Sai, Rampal, Acharya Kushmuni, Brahaspati Giri and Malkhan Singh. Parishad president Swami Narendra Giri said, "We appeal to the common people to beware of such charlatans who belong to no tradition and by their questionable acts, bring disrepute to sadhus and sanyasis."

Dhirendra Brahmachari

Indira Gandhi's Yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari ran ashrams in Delhi and J&K, and became politically influential after the Emergency. KL Shrimali lost his job as education minister after he demanded an audit report of Brahmachari's ashrams. Brahmachari, a native of Bihar, was also a source of discord between Indira and then J&K CM Sheikh Abdullah in the late 1980s. The J&K government had filed several cases against Brahmachari's gun factory. His fate declined after Indira's death in 1984.


Brahmachari's death allowed Chandraswami to emerge as a guide to politicians. He became famous for his closeness to former PM Narasimha Rao, and would wield influence with heads of state. Natwar Singh recalls that when he was Deputy High Commissioner in London in 1975, a Cabinet minister wanted him to arrange a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Chandraswami. After much pestering, he agreed to arrange a party to invite both to his residence. But Chandraswami's fall was as abrupt. In 1996, he was jailed on charges of defrauding a London-based businessman. Last year, he had an obscure death.

Sant Rampal

When the police arrested him after a two-week stand-off in Haryana's Hisar in 2014, violence spread and six people were killed. Rampal worked as a junior engineer with Haryana's irrigation department. In 1996, he resigned and set up Satlok Ashram, three years later. Soon, he had a number of followers and he opened ashrams all over Haryana. He owns a fleet of luxury cars, and lives in an ashram in Barwala, Haryana, spread over a sprawling 12 acres.

Nirmal Baba

Nirmaljeet Singh Narula alias Nirmal Baba did not succeed as a businessman in Jharkhand. He drew publicity with his durbars and gatherings telecast by TV channels. At these events, he gave bizarre solutions to people's problems. He faced allegations of fraudulent activities.

In February 2014 he was slapped with a Rs 3.5-cr service tax evasion charge. The Allahabad High Court had directed the I&B Ministry in May to look into allegations that his TV programmes were spreading superstition, and take action against erring channels if the charges are found to be true.

Radhe Maa

Self-styled 'godwoman' Sukhwinder Kaur alias Radhe Maa likes the colour red, and carries a mini trishul. In 2015, the Mumbai police declared her an absconder in an alleged case of dowry harassment, and issued a lookout notice against her. Dolly Bindra, an actress, also filed a criminal case against her. The Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 5 issued a notice against the Kapurthala SSP for failing to act on a complaint against her. Phagwara-based Surinder Mittal had lodged a complaint against her, seeking action for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

Days before he was convicted on August 25 of raping two of his followers in 1999, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh had launched a month-long birthday celebration, and was greeted by politicians, who openly donated pots of money to his so-called spiritual organisation Dera Sacha Sauda in Haryana's Sirsa. The Manohar Lal Khattar government has been under fire after 38 people were killed and hundreds others injured, mostly in Haryana's Panchkula, where the Dera chief was convicted, in large-scale violence, arson and police firing after his followers rampaged across Punjab and Rajasthan.

Asaram Bapu

He is one of the most controversial self-styled godmen in India. He was accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl at his Jodhpur ashram even as her mother was waiting outside. He has been in prison on rape charges since 2013. He is also facing allegations of murder and land grab. Asaram and his son were also investigated in the mysterious deaths of two boys whose decomposed bodies were found from the banks of the Sabarmati river near his ashram in 2008. The Asaram Bapu trusts have a turnover of Rs 350 crore. He owns 350 ashrams in the country and abroad. He also owns 17,000 Bal Sanskar Kendras.