Oct 18, 2018

Leaders of St. Petersburg Church of Scientology to stay in detention for four more months

October 18, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG, October 18 (RAPSI) – Detention of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg leader Ivan Matsitsky and chief accountant of the religious group Sakhib Aliyev charged with extremism and illegal business operations on Thursday was extended until February 20, RAPSI reports from the St. Petersburg City Court.
Investigation was also extended for four months. The defendants earlier refused to study case materials.

In late March, searches were conducted at the premises of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg. The raids were directed to identifying more items and documents confirming the criminality of the religious organization leaders’ actions, the FSB press-service said.

According to investigators, from 2013 to 2016, the organization received over 276 million rubles (about $5 million) for rendering its services. However, the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg has not been incorporated under the law, an FSB representative said in court earlier.

Three other defendants in the case are the organization’s executive director Galina Shurinova, chief of the official matters department Anastasia Terentyeva and her assistance Constance Yesaulkova. They have been placed under house arrest.

Dianetics and Scientology are a set of religious and philosophical ideas and practices that were put forth by L. Ron Hubbard in the US in the early 1950s.

The scientific community never recognized it as science.

A resolution passed in 1996 by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, classified the Church of Scientology as a destructive religious organization.
The Moscow Regional Court ruled in 2012 that some of Hubbard’s books be included on the Federal List of Extremist Literature and prohibited from distribution in Russia.


Leaders of St. Petersburg Church of Scientology to stay in detention for four more months

October 18, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG, October 18 (RAPSI) – Detention of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg leader Ivan Matsitsky and chief accountant of the religious group Sakhib Aliyev charged with extremism and illegal business operations on Thursday was extended until February 20, RAPSI reports from the St. Petersburg City Court.
Investigation was also extended for four months. The defendants earlier refused to study case materials.

In late March, searches were conducted at the premises of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg. The raids were directed to identifying more items and documents confirming the criminality of the religious organization leaders’ actions, the FSB press-service said.

According to investigators, from 2013 to 2016, the organization received over 276 million rubles (about $5 million) for rendering its services. However, the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg has not been incorporated under the law, an FSB representative said in court earlier.

Three other defendants in the case are the organization’s executive director Galina Shurinova, chief of the official matters department Anastasia Terentyeva and her assistance Constance Yesaulkova. They have been placed under house arrest.

Dianetics and Scientology are a set of religious and philosophical ideas and practices that were put forth by L. Ron Hubbard in the US in the early 1950s.

The scientific community never recognized it as science.

A resolution passed in 1996 by the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, classified the Church of Scientology as a destructive religious organization.
The Moscow Regional Court ruled in 2012 that some of Hubbard’s books be included on the Federal List of Extremist Literature and prohibited from distribution in Russia.


Oct 14, 2018

Center sees professionals embracing Transcendental Meditation

John Nelande
Daily News
October 14, 2018

When Transcend, Palm Beach opened in April 2017, many residents were already practicing transcendental meditation. But since then the center has attracted new fans trying to de-stress from their professional and personal lives.

About 150 people have come to the center at Palm Beach Towers at 44 Cocoanut Row over the last year, the directors say, 80 percent are residents who often use transcendental meditation to give them an edge in the business world.

“Palm Beach people are responding,” said Elaine Pomfrey, a co-director and a transcendental meditation teacher. “They know that stress is an important thing and they just want more out of life. It’s natural to want to expand your capabilities.”

A 2012 review published by the American Psychological Association credited transcendental meditation with reducing anxiety and boosting memory.

It has “popped into the mainstream,” Business Insider reported in 2016, noting that 2,500 professionals picked up the technique from 2013-2016 and that 55 percent of them worked on Wall Street.

Transcend, Palm Beach, has “put some feelers out” to business groups, said Ty Brodale, who also is a co-director and transcendental meditation teacher along with his wife, Zabrina. “Right now we’re working on a proposal for a property management company in Aventura. It’s a pretty intense work life with a lot of stress.

“They’re interested in having their employees learn TM so they can make fewer mistakes, enjoy their job more and get along better.”

“It’s definitely been trending up over the last 10 years,” Zabrina Brodale said.

Decreasing stress leads to better work habits and more satisfaction, two Palm Beach participants said.

Margaret Duriez, owner of Lox Farms in Loxahatchee — which sells organic produce — started doing transcendental meditation three years ago after encouragement by Dr. Tony Nader, a neighbor and longtime TM promoter who Pomfrey says was the “inspiration” for Transcend, Palm Beach.

“I do it because I’m able to take on so much more when I’m practicing,” Duriez said. “It allows me to take on bigger projects because I feel like the stress doesn’t build up. If I don’t practice I can really feel the difference in what I’m able to cope with, professionally and personally.”

Duriez and husband Franck have four children who are learning transcendental meditation themselves. “We also do farm-to-table dinners, which is like adding in event planning on top of everything else.

“What I’ve seen is that it helps you be the best version of yourself.”

She goes to the Towers center occasionally. “I practice at home but the center is always there to answer questions or help people if they need advice,” Duriez said.

Brenda Boozer, a former soloist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, started meditating in 2001 and then strayed from it, but picked it back up in 2008.

“I had a very high-powered career in New York,” she said. “This is a very stressful business. There’s so much energy involved in what I do -- singing in five different languages, focusing and knowing the music, and singing over a 110-piece orchestra. It’s very high demand.”

Now a singing teacher in Palm Beach, Boozer does transcendental meditation 20 minutes in the morning and in the evening, she says.

“If my body is more coherent, and the central nervous system is not anxious, everything in life works better — your mind, body and spirit,” said Boozer, who practices meditation at home and anywhere that’s convenient, but also attends group sessions at the center.

Newbies who come into Transcend, Palm Beach pay $960 for four sessions, and after that they are able to come in for refresher sessions and group activities for life. If a couple wants to learn meditation, the second partner pays $720. There’s a student rate of $380.

“People filter in and out” of the three-room center in the bottom floor of the Towers, Pomfrey said, but there are larger weekly meetings and a monthly meeting that draws 20-25 people.

The “biggest demographic for the center is CEOs and mothers,” Ty Brodale said. “They’re both dealing with, and managing, a lot of people and that’s very stressful.

“We have people who come in and say I love my work, I love the intensity and the stress I put on myself. But they’re looking to reduce stress and give themselves an edge.”

Transcend, Palm Beach is run by a non-profit foundation — Pomfrey is the finance director — and is funded through donations and the international TM organization.

Transcendental meditation was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought the practice to the United States in 1958. It was thrust into Western popular culture by The Beatles and other entertainers in the late 1960s.

Nader, who has a home on the islandi, was named the Maharishi’s successor when he died in 2008.

Demographics at Transcend, Palm Beach show that 50- to 60-year-olds are the most common age group attracted to it, at least on the island. The second most common group are millennials.


Oct 13, 2018

Ivanka Trump’s Gurus Say Their Techniques Can End War and Make You Fly

Ivanka Trump
Justin Rohrlich
Daily Beast
October 13. 2018

"When the David Lynch Foundation held a gala for Transcendental Meditation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. last year, it drew a star-studded crowd. Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Margaret Cho were there. So was the singer Kesha, as well as White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who had recently published a self-help book which included a section extolling TM's benefits."

" ... The organization also takes credit for ending Mozambique’s civil war in the early 1990s, having set up an “international peacekeeping group” of advanced yogic flyers in India. Knock-on effects in Mozambique created by the group practicing roughly 4,000 miles away included a 12.4 percent economic growth rate, inflation that fell from 70 percent to 2 percent, and a zeroing out of the national debt, they said."

" ... In 2014, an independent meta-analysis of meditation research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association for Internal Medicine found “insufficient evidence that mantra meditation programs [such as TM] had an effect on any of the psychological stress and well-being outcomes we examined.” An earlier review of TM data by the NIH also found insufficient evidence that TM lowered blood pressure as claimed."



Ex-Jehovah’s Witness, abuse survivor launches nonprofit

Shomik Mukherje
October 11, 2018

A woman who said she was repeatedly sexually assaultedthroughout her childhood by a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Fortuna, an experience she recounted in a televised documentary in May, has now launched a nonprofit organization to help fellow survivors of sexual abuse.

Romy Maple has registered SAFE 707 — which stands for Sexual Assault Fighters Elite — as an official nonprofit. She hopes to become a certified life coach in order to aid fellow survivors, especially those who have left behind religious organizations and are at risk, she said, of simply joining another one upon leaving.

“Once you leave a cult, you might walk away but you’re still not free,” she said. Leaving everything behind often leaves individuals without spiritual independence, she said, which further leads some to give into the same type of emotional blackmail elsewhere.

In May, Maple appeared prominently in an A&E documentary series, “Cults and Extreme Belief,” hosted by journalist Elizabeth Vargas.

A&E stated it contacted Jehovah’s Witnesses, which declined to comment on the allegations, but provided producers a copy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position on child protection.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a crime. We recognize that the authorities are responsible for addressing such crimes,” the policy states. “The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities.”

The months following the documentary’s airing have been a “viral” awakening in Maple’s life to the impact of telling one’s story, she said.

Many dozens of other abuse survivors have reached out to Maple, sharing their own experiences, she said.

“A lot of people have spoken to me,” she said. “It was almost overwhelming. I was so honored to know that people trusted me after watching what I said on TV.”

Shortly after the documentary episode focusing on Jehovah’s Witnesses aired on A&E, Maple shared her story with the Times-Standard.

She said she was drugged and raped for much of her childhood by an individual who, like her, was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Fortuna. At the age of 11, she said, she tried alerting elders in the congregation to the repeated abuse, but all ignored her. For years afterward, she said, she struggled with suicidal thoughts and feelings of loneliness.

The alleged incidents happened far longer ago than the statute of limitations for rape. A few weeks ago, Maple said, she confronted her alleged abuser, offering him forgiveness and asking for an apology. She said she didn’t receive one.

Maple currently lives in Fortuna. The town still carries a culture of silence, she said. She often drives by the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she said, and wonders if children in there are still being abused.

Despite leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which she said exposed her to “God fraud,” Maple said she retains her faith. Observing nature’s beauty, thinking about the people who have come into her life — down to the editor of her book — still convinces her that a larger power is at work.

Maple will soon embark on a days-long retreat, which she hopes will further help in her healing. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to help those who are in danger of “cult-hopping.”

“If you don’t have the training or education, you’re going to fall back into the same type of vibration,” she said. “That’s what you’re primed for.”

Maple has started a fundraiser for her efforts on the website GoFundMe.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.


Oct 12, 2018

What's Love got to do with it?

Counterculture Crossover: Growing up in the Love Family
Book: Everything when it came to Arlington commune

Steve Powell

Arlington Times
October 11, 2018

First in a series.

Rachel Israel was taken by her mother to live in the Love Israel commune outside of Arlington in the 1980s when she was almost 7 years old. She lived there for eight years. She has written her memoirs called, “Counterculture Crossover: Growing up in the Love Family.”

 The following is a Question and Answer article with the author.

Why do you want to go by Rachel?

I want to use my community name to protect my privacy, which is hard to do these days. I was just a kid there, so I didn’t choose to join the Love Family, but since I disclose so much personal information, that is controversial in many ways, it could be harmful to my career. Not only that, but when the Love Family broke up, I actually kept my community name for years. So authoring the book in that name is consistent with the time period I discuss in the book.

What was your life like before that, and how did it change?

My mom had dropped out of society, and we were living in the hippie counterculture. There were a lot of adventures that took place before we moved to Alaska, but just before we met the Love Family, we lived in the Alaskan wilderness, in a tepee with just my mom, my brother and my stepdad. It was a simple, quiet life. My room was a loft built up near where the poles protrude out the top. My parents worked at the cannery and on fishing boats. My step dad would hunt with our German Shepherd. My mom taught herself how to tan hides. She ground her own flour to make bread or custard pie in the little stove that was in the tepee. Then, my mom met the Love Family. They had a homestead in Homer at the head of the bay. She left my stepdad and moved to the Love Family’s home base in Seattle on Queen Anne. My life changed drastically. I now lived communally with hundreds of people who were considered like family. My mom was no longer in charge. I was taken care of by designated caretakers. I was home-schooled with my communal brothers and sisters, and my teachers were family outside of school. In my book, I talk in detail about my schooling. I also share a lot of memories about what it was like being communally raised. It was a lot to get used to and nothing like what I had known life to be before we joined.

How old were you when you joined the commune?

I was almost 7. I lived there for eight years. I left during the mid-1980’s breakup, so was almost 15 when I left and was entered into public high school in the outside society.

Why did your mom join in the first place?

My mom was looking for a commune, that was a popular hippie ideal, and she was sick of society and was looking to drop out. The way to change society, she told me, was to “not be a part of it.”

What was life like in the commune, good and bad?

Good: It was a huge family and because it was communal, everyone was really close. There was a lot of adventures, my activities in the Love Family drama group, caravanning across the country to rainbow gatherings. Bad: I was growing up in a society where my own mother wasn’t an authority over me. One man, Love, was in total control and made all the decisions about how I was raised from where I lived, to what I ate, to who took care of me, and his authority was so great that there was no balance of power. There was no feedback loop where membership could voice complaints and be heard so that problems could be solved. It was patriarchal, so I was raised in a society where, according to doctrine, men were in charge. Love’s vision for the community reflected that. Women were subservient, and their roles were limited.

What were some of the hardest things you went through while you were a part of that?

Being in a family where women were not equal and didn’t have a voice in the leadership and in major decisions. I discuss in detail the nature of sexual relationships in the community because I had to witness my own mother’s involvement in a polygamous relationship. I discuss in my book, in excruciating detail, what I experienced when my mother was sanctioned into one such relationship. Part of the Love Family’s sordid history, that is rarely discussed publicly, is the polygamy and the Love’s Family’s version of group marriage. What was also hard was what I lost by being there, which was a close relationship with my mother. Being raised communally meant that I wasn’t close to one parent. I had a lot of parents, but when I got attention, it was part of a group, not a lot of individual attention. So when the community broke up, I was a teenager, living with my mom. She hadn’t raised me, Love had. It had a devastating impact on our relationship. Culture shock when I went to live in the outside world. The adjustment was traumatic. Growing up in the Love Family didn’t prepare me for life on the outside.

Why did you leave the commune?

The Love Family broke up. A petition had been signed by the elders and 90 percent of the membership left. My mom left with that wave. Of course, the Love Family never actually broke up. What it really was, was a mass exodus. Then once that took place, it changed drastically in order to survive the shift.

How old are you and what’s your life like now?

I am almost 50, I work in the psychology field, helping people. I live in the country, raising two daughters. We have animals.

Why did you decide to write a book?

I always wanted to tell my story. I knew that story was important. As a child, I had read the Diary of Anne Frank, and it had a big impact on me. I received, as a gift, a diary, around that

I don’t think people have any idea what was really going on in that group. It was a very isolated group, and there wasn’t a lot of interacting with the outside world. I talk in my book about controversial things that were never mentioned in the papers or articles written over the years. I see value in telling the truth of what I saw and experienced there. It has helped me heal to talk about what happened to me there, what it was like, for me, growing up in that world. One of the things that I was taught in the Love Family was that the past wasn’t important. So in the Love Family people didn’t talk about the past, and there was this focus in everyday life on the present. And there’s value in that but I have also learned that history is important because lessons can be learned that guide us into the future.

For more on the book go to rachelisrael.net

Next week: A look at the book.



Jehovah’s Witnesse
October 10, 2018

Russian authorities detained and charged five Jehovah’s Witnesses for extremism and weapons possession in the Kirov region, officials announced on [October 10, 2018].

The authorities say that they found two grenades and a landmine when searching the members’ homes. The arrests came amid what human rights have described as a disturbing crackdown on the religious group.

“We were shocked. It is both funny and strange. Why mines?” Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses said, according to Agence France-Presse, adding that one of the five people arrested was a Polish citizen living in Russia.

Authorities say that they found a “large quantity of extremist literature” and accused the group of obtaining $7,500 to fund their events.

“They had been conducting meetings and called on others to join their organization,” Yevgenia Vorozhtsova, a spokeswoman for regional investigators told AFP.

The denomination, which has around 175,000 members and 395 local chapters in Russia, was added to a list of extremist organizations and banned in 2017. Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses after the group made an appeal.

Russia’s Justice Ministry argued that the denomination’s distribution of pamphlets provoked hatred of other groups, but many believe that the Russian Orthodox Church’s view of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a dangerous sect may have had some influence on the ruling.

Authorities reportedly carried out raids and questioned several Jehovah’s Witnesses, including at least one child, from April to June of this year in at least 11 regions in Russia, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

“This ban has already resulted in cases of criminal prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as police raids on their prayer halls, arson attacks and other forms of harassment. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like all other religious groups, must be able to peacefully enjoy freedom of assembly without interference, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as by Russia’s international commitments and international human rights standards,” Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, said in a statement, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Amid the ongoing crackdown, several members of the denomination are looking for new places to live. One of those places is Finland, where more than 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses applied for asylum in 2017 and 2018.

“Each of these cases is dealt with on an individual basis. Persecution of these groups has not been systematic across Russia, and the approach of the ministry has taken this into account,” Finnish immigration officials told The Independent.


Godman Rampal convicted in two murder cases, punishment next week

Rampal was arrested in 2014 after thousands of security personnel laid siege to his ashram in Haryana
Sant Rampal, the controversial head of the Satlok Ashram, was convicted in two cases of murder today. The cases relate to deaths of a total of five women and one child
Munish Chandra Pandey 
India Today
October 11, 2018

  • Rampal convicted of murder of five women and a child
  • Rampal was convicted in two cases - one from 2006 and the other from 2014
  • The quantum of punishment will be announced on October 16 and 17

Rampal, the self-styled godman who heads the Satlok Ashram in Haryana, was found guilty of murder in two separate cases today.

Rampal was convicted on the charges of murder in a 2006 case relating the death of a woman supporter. Rampal was also convicted on the charges of murder in a 2014 case that dealt with the deaths of four women and a child.

In both the cases, Rampal was charged under section 302 (murder) and section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code.

The quantum of punishment will be announced on October 16 (in the case relating to the deaths of four women and a child) and October 17 (in the 2006 case relating to the death of a woman).

The guilty verdict was pronounced at the Hisar Central Jail. Rampal was not taken out of the prison. He was instead produced inside the makeshift court via video conferencing.

Born Rampal Singh Jatin in September 1951, Rampal once worked as an engineer in Haryana's irrigation department. He renounced Hinduism and adopted Kabir Panth, a sect based on the teachings of medieval period poet-saint Kabir, after meeting Swami Ramdevanand.

Rampal later founded the Satlok Ashram in Haryana's Rohtak and rose to become one of the most prominent leaders of Kabir Panth sect.

Rampal was accused of murder in two separate cases. The first case was related to the death of a woman at the Satlok Ashram in 2006 during clashes between the followers of Rampal and those of the Arya Samaj.

In the second case, four women and a child had died near the same Satlok Ashram. The deaths took place in 2014 during clashes between Rampal's supporters and security personnel, who had come to the Satlok Ashram in order to arrest the godman for the 2006 murder case.

Rampal was arrested on November 19, 2014 after thousands of security personnel laid siege to the Satlok Ashram. Rampal's followers had resisted the previous attempts by police to arrest him.


Family of executed AUM cult member to seek retrial

Yoshihiro Inoue
(Mainichi Japan)
October 12, 2018

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The family of a former AUM Shinrikyo cult member plans to file for a retrial after he was executed in July for his role in the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack and other crimes committed by the group, an informed source said Friday.

Yoshihiro Inoue, 48, had filed for a retrial at the Tokyo High Court in March over the sarin attack that left 13 people dead and over 6,000 ill as well as the fatal confinement of a notary clerk the same year, after his death sentence was finalized in January 2010 for murder and other crimes in 10 cases.

Inoue, a close aide of cult leader Shoko Asahara, claimed the life sentence given to him by a lower court was appropriate as he was not involved in the death of the notary clerk, Kiyoshi Kariya, who died after being abducted and injected with an anesthetic by the group in February 1995.

But court procedures for his retrial filing were terminated in August after Inoue was executed on July 6 along with Asahara and five other members of the cult. Six other AUM members were executed later in the month.

Death row inmates who have filed for retrials are generally not executed in Japan. In the case of the former AUM members 10 of the 13 executed had filed for retrials.


Call for Papers – ICSA International Conference - Manchester, UK - 2019

International Cultic Studies Association Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal

Call for Papers – ICSA International Conference

Submission Deadline: October 31, 2018.

Coercive Control and the Psychology of Influence across Comparative Contexts – Implications for Policy, Practice and the Criminal Justice Process

University of Salford,
Greater Manchester, UK
July 4 – 6, 2019

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is conducting its 2019 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal and the Directorate of Psychology and Public Health and the Criminal Justice Hub and Connected Lives Diverse Realities Research Group at the University of Salford, UK, from July 4 – 6, 2019 (preconference workshops on Wednesday July 3, 2019).

The conference theme is coercive control and the psychology of influence across comparative contexts and the implications for policy, practice (across psychology, counselling, social work, public health, law and other professions) and for the criminal justice process (across jurisdictions). Papers and panels will focus on subjects such as coercive control, abuse and persuasion in domestic and familial settings, human trafficking, and gangs, and in radicalization, extremist groups, and cults/sects. The conference will also focus on community-based solutions to prevent and reduce extremism, violence, and oppression and will examine contemporary practice developments in the prevention of and exit and recovery from coercion, abuse, and extremism across a range of cultural contexts.

The conference committee is especially interested in proposals related to the conference theme. However, the committee will consider proposals on all aspects of the phenomenon of coercive control and cultic influence, including victims' perspectives, psychological and social manipulation, religious fanaticism, domestic abuse, trafficking, radicalization, terrorism, law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and legal, social, and public-policy aspects of manipulation and victimization. The conference will address the needs and interests of ICSA's four main constituencies: former group members, families, helping professionals, and researchers

ICSA is firmly committed to freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Consistent with these values, ICSA's policy with regard to conferences has been to encourage a wide range of viewpoints. Opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICSA's directors, staff, or supporters.

Attendees and speakers at past conferences have been diverse, including academicians, researchers, helping professionals, former and current group members, families, clergy, educators, and others. Individual presenters at ICSA's annual conference will have up to 45 minutes for paper delivery and audience discussion. Panel organizers have 90 minutes for the panel and audience discussion. It is recommended that no more than three people will normally speak on a panel.

If you wish to submit a proposal for a paper or panel, complete and submit the Call for Papers form. Go here and look left for a link to the submission form: www.icsahome.com/events/callforpapers

Submission Deadline: October 31, 2018.

PO Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133, USA ◊ icsahome.com ◊ mail@icsamail.com ◊ PH: 1-239-514-3081 ◊ FAX: 1-305-393-8193

How Much Would You Pay for a Prayer?

In India, thousands are embracing apps that allow them to pay for a ritual to be performed on their behalf.
In India, thousands are embracing apps that allow them to pay for a ritual to be performed on their behalf.


How can i get a divine intervention for my career? That’s the question Ravi Ganne, a young investment banker in Bangalore, typed into Google seven years ago. His search results led him to the website of a new company called ePuja. For about $15, the start-up would have a puja, a Hindu devotional-prayer ritual, performed on his behalf at one of its many in-network temples.

A few clicks later, Ganne had arranged for a ritual at his favorite temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and located in Tamil Nadu. “It worked out for me,” he says. “I got a better job offer. So I started doing this on a regular basis.”

In recent years, tens of thousands of Indians have turned to ePuja and other prayer-by-proxy companies, whose smartphone apps and websites make summoning a godly intercession as easy as ordering a pizza. Another such company, Shubhpuja, has marketed itself as a way to “connect to God in one click.” The offer appeals to Hindus—both in India and abroad—who don’t have the time, money, or physical ability to travel to the temple with the best reputation for resolving their particular problem. Just select a puja and temple, pay a fee, and the company gets a priest to perform the ritual. Shubhpuja even allows customers to Skype into rituals as they’re being performed.

ePuja’s network now includes 3,600 temples, according to the company’s founder, Shiva Kumar, who spent four years driving around India persuading priests to partner with him. Explaining the concept was a challenge, he says: “They don’t understand what the internet is. ‘Where is this internet? Can I touch it, feel it?’ ” But once they grasped it, most priests were willing to perform pujas for anyone who wanted them.

The company has since facilitated about 50,000 pujas for customers in 65 countries, according to Kumar, who says one of the most common requests is for help securing a marriage. Once, however, a customer in Brazil asked for a puja that would guarantee a speedy divorce; Kumar suspects he wasn’t Hindu. Although he’s surprised to see an “unbelievable number” of non-Hindus arranging pujas—he estimates that they account for 20 percent of his business—he doesn’t find their use of the service offensive.

The convenience offered by sites like ePuja and Shubhpuja may be their biggest selling point, but it also risks making a ritual feel less meaningful: What’s a devotional experience without some effort, inconvenience, and, well, devotion? Kumar acknowledges that an in-person temple visit is better but says, “We are the second-best way.”

Hinduism’s emphasis on astrology helps explain why many people gladly resort to this suboptimal system, according to Vasudha Narayanan, a religion professor at the University of Florida. Solving a given problem, she explains, requires propitiating the right planet with the right ritual at the right temple. “If the roof caves in, it’s because Saturn is not in the right position. So what do I do about it? Go to this temple, do this puja. But here I am in Gainesville, Florida—what am I going to do? The easiest thing is to do it by ePuja.”

Although paying for a prayer might seem crass to some non-Hindus, it’s common in India, Narayanan says. Even in-person temple visits tend to involve giving a donation to the temple or an offering to the priest who performs a ritual. Nor does it strike most Hindus as strange for the supplicant to be absent. One of Narayanan’s earliest memories of growing up in India is of her grandmother filling out mail-order forms to have priests perform rituals at distant temples.

“I think there’s a fairly significant difference between, say, a generic Protestant idea of prayer and a generic Hindu idea,” Narayanan adds. “In the theology in India, there’s much more value given to the ritual itself.” It doesn’t matter if someone is saying a prayer for you because you paid him $15 to do so. It matters that the prayer is being said, because the words themselves are believed to have the power to transform the universe.

Or, as Kumar says, “I am just a postman carrying your request to God.”

This article appears in the November 2018 print edition with the headline “Big In … India: Apps That Answer Your Prayers.”


Oct 11, 2018

Jehovah's Witnesses detained 'for extremism' in Russia

The group numbered about 175,000 when it was effectively banned last year (file photo)
BBC News
October 10, 2018

Five members of the Jehovah's Witness religious group have been detained in Russia on weapons and extremism charges, investigators say.

The Christian denomination has faced scrutiny in Russia in recent years and was forcibly disbanded in 2017.

Human rights groups have accused the government of a "sweeping" campaign of persecution against members.

Last year they were added to a list of extremist organisations, effectively criminalising their religious activity.

The justice ministry argued the group distributed pamphlets which incited hatred of other groups, and the country's Supreme Court then upheld the ban against it.

A local investigations office said on Wednesday that five residents of the Kirov region, north-east of Moscow, had been detained.

They are accused of collecting more than R500,000 ($7,500) of funding and organising religious events.

Investigators say a "large quantity of extremist literature" was found during their searches, as well as two hand grenades and a landmine.

"They had been conducting meetings and called on others to join their organisation," Yevgenia Vorozhtsova, a spokeswoman for regional investigators told AFP news agency.

Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a member of the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses, told the news agency that this is the first time members of the group had been accused of having weapons.

An estimated eight million people worldwide are part of the denomination, which is best known for going door-to-door looking for new converts.

Originally founded in the US in the 19th Century, it said in 2017 that it had 395 local congregations in Russia with about 175,000 members.

Dozens have been reportedly detained in recent months, and Finland has said hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses have applied for asylum there since the crackdown intensified.

The majority of Russia's religious population identify as Russian Orthodox Christian.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom designated Russia one of the world's worst for religious freedom in its 2018 report.


Oct 10, 2018

Aum's former poster boy Joyu finds a new gig

Japan Today
October 3, 2018

Aum Supreme Truth guru Shoko Asahara and a dozen other top leaders of the doomsday cult went to the gallows during the summer, but one prominent cult member remains among the living. And in the news.

At the height of his celebrity, Fumihiro Joyu could be described as Aum's poster boy. Bright, well spoken and photogenic, with a degree in engineering from Waseda University, the Fukuoka native served as a magnet to attract new female adherents. He also debunked the image of Aum acolytes as brainwashed automatons. After the subway attacks he frequently appeared on TV and in abrasive question-and-answer sessions with reporters he gave as good as he got.

Most important, Joyu had an airtight alibi that absolved him from complicity in the March 20, 1995 toxic nerve gas attack on the Tokyo Metro. He had been assigned to Aum's office in Moscow, engaged in proselytizing efforts in Russia at the time. Nevertheless, authorities arrested him on suspicion of document forgery in October 1995 and he was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. Upon release, Joyu became the de facto head of what was left of the cult, renamed Aleph. Most of the time he stayed out of the public eye.

At age 55, Joyu has been unable to wean himself from lure of the spiritual world. In 2007 he broke away from Aleph to organize his own group, called The Circle of Rainbow Light. He was recently in the TV news again, commenting after the execution of guru Asahara and other cult members found guilty of various capital crimes.

Now, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct 18), Joyu's diversifying. According to materials distributed during an appearance at a recent seminar, he is peddling such merchandise as incense and other Buddhist paraphernalia. The materials also invited people to partake of his services as a fortuneteller.

Utilizing traditional Indian astrology, Joyu will make prognostications about the future for a fee of 20,000 yen.

When asked if that fee could be considered expensive or cheap, another fortuneteller -- perhaps reluctant to speak negatively of a fellow member of the profession -- said, "Considering the amount of 'data processing' that Joyu will do, I suppose the charge is appropriate."

A female office worker who attended Joyu's seminar was quoted as saying, "Joyu-san had seemed very scholarly, so I was surprised when he suddenly turned into a salesman and began pitching fortunetelling and good-luck charms. It's no different from the kind of hokum that other new religions do."

Joyu has reiterated that his group disavows Asahara, and has also broken off all ties to Aum's current incarnation, called Aleph. Moreover, he denies his group is a religious organization, describing it a "Buddhist philosophy study group."

That still raises questions over why, all of a sudden, his group has become so entrepreneurial.

A spokesperson for the group replied, "There is nothing sudden about it. Mr Joyu had been studying Indian astrology previously, and had even told fortunes when he was involved with Aleph. I suppose some people were surprised because this is the first time he made the information available in writing."

In the background, in September 2017, the Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of Joyu's group, invalidating an investigation of his group by the Public Security Agency. (The state did not appeal the verdict.) A person in the agency remarked bitterly that the verdict effectively concealed the "real situation." Another view is that following Asahara's execution, people are less likely to associate Joyu with Asahara, which gives him free rein to engage in activities more openly.

Shukan Jitsuwa also offers readers a taste of one of Joyu's recent prognostications. "He predicted that 'Abenomics and the Tokyo Olympics are creating another real estate bubble, which will soon be over,'" said a person who attended the seminar. "But he didn't say what's going to happen afterwards."

Well, the writer concludes sarcastically, that prediction is so obvious just about any Tom, Dick or Harry can make it. So come on, Joyu-san, how about telling us what's really going to happen to the Japanese economy after the post-Olympic bubble collapses?


Narcissists and Cult Leaders: Are You Being Controlled by One?

Rachel Bernstein

How do narcissists and cult leaders get people under their control? How can you know if you are connected with someone who is unhealthy for you and is just using you? I break this down in this first of three videos about narcissistic relationships.

If you need any help or have any questions about this, check out my website: http://rachelbernsteintherapy.com.

Jehovah's Witnesses 'use the Bible to victim-shame,' sex abuse survivor says

Moriah Smith left the Jehovah's Witnesses faith after elders in the church turned away when she approached them with accusations against another fellow congregation member who had raped her when she was 14 and he was 25.Rajah Bose / for NBC News
On the heels of a $35 million jury award to a woman who alleged the congregation mishandled her childhood abuse, other survivors say there's a pattern of cover-ups.
Elizabeth Chuck
October 7, 2018

She was 14, and at first, the attention felt innocent — like any other friendly interaction Moriah Smith had with fellow Jehovah's Witnesses during worship meetings.

Smith didn't think anything of the casual conversations she was having with Elihu Rodriguez, a 25-year-old man in her Seattle-area congregation. When he started giving her gifts, like new clothing and a cell phone, Smith — who was taught through her religion that sex is only between a husband and wife — did not think she was being groomed for sexual abuse.

Smith says it was in October 2012, five days before her 15th birthday, that Rodriguez had sex with her in the bedroom of the house she lived in with her father, a respected Jehovah's Witness elder. More sexual abuse followed for the next three months, she said. Ridden by panic attacks but ashamed and confused by what was happening, Smith didn't tell anyone, including her family, what was going on.

"I didn't understand anything really about sex," Smith, now 20, said. "I also had the fear of disappointing God. Not only that, but I could potentially be shunned."

The following year, Smith moved to Fairfield, Washington. Although she still did not feel comfortable disclosing to her parents — who she says did ultimately cut off contact with her when they found out years later what she endured in her prior congregation — she worked up the courage to report it to three elders at the Fairfield Kingdom Hall.

The elders "basically told me that it was my fault. They told me that I wasn't sorry enough to God for what I had done," said Smith, who has since left the religion and works in the Spokane, Washington, area as an administrative assistant at a private medical company. "They talked about putting Jehovah first, putting God first in your life, and I wasn't, apparently, doing that to their standards."


In the tight-knit Jehovah's Witness community, outsiders, including authorities, are often viewed suspiciously, according to religious scholars. As a result, accusations of any sort between members of the congregation are typically first dealt with through an internal judicial process — one that requires two witnesses to a crime to prove guilt, a tenet that's in keeping with the Witnesses' strict, often literal interpretation of the Bible.

The religion's handling of abuse claims has recently come under fire. In the past decade, there have been at least 30 lawsuits nationwide against the organization arising from its responses to childhood sex abuse, and a jury award of $35 million on Sept. 26 to a Montana woman who claimed the congregation covered up the abuse she suffered at the hands of a congregation member as a child put a rare spotlight on the insular religion.

In Smith's case, she said the elders she reported to privately reproved her, Jehovah's Witnesses' quiet way of denying wrongdoers in the congregation of certain privileges. Rodriguez was not punished, she said.

"They had used the Bible to victim-shame me for what I had done, and they never did anything to him."

"They had used the Bible to victim-shame me for what I had done, and they never did anything to him," Smith said. "He got married, and he remained within the congregation — a child molester living among them."

Smith's allegations led to charges against Rodriguez. NBC News verified the details of her claims through charging documents filed in King County Superior Court in Washington in July; in addition to rape of a child in the third degree for what allegedly happened with Smith, Rodriguez was also charged with rape of a child in the second degree involving a 12- or 13-year-old Jehovah's Witness girl he allegedly had a relationship with around the same time.

When reached by phone, Rodriguez repeatedly told NBC News that he had no comment. He has not entered a plea in the case.

The Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses responded to last month's Montana jury verdict with a brief statement that said Jehovah's Witnesses "abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts," while adding it planned to appeal the $35 million fine.

In response to questions from NBC News about what happened to Smith, Fairfield Kingdom Hall did not return a request for comment, and the Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters said in an email that "it would be inappropriate for us to comment on specific cases."

It directed NBC News to its "scripturally based position on child protection," a two-page document on its website that intersperses Biblical references with denouncements of child abuse and outlines how the congregation aims to protect its children.

"When elders learn of an accusation of child abuse, they immediately consult with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to ensure compliance with child abuse reporting laws. (Romans 13:1) Even if the elders have no legal duty to report an accusation to the authorities, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses will instruct the elders to report the matter if a minor is still in danger of abuse or there is some other valid reason," says one bullet point in the document.

Smith says that kind of protection was never offered in her case. Even worse, when she finally told her family a couple of years later that she had been in a sexual relationship with an older man at age 14, she says they accused her of flirting, and have since stopped talking to her because they view her as a "spiritual threat" to their own commitment to their faith.

"They were willing to turn their back on their own child to pursue a religion rather than support their own child," she said.


Other former Jehovah's Witnesses say they have experienced a pattern of covering up abuse to protect the religion's reputation dating back decades.

"There's no list of questions or protocols. These men are literally flying by the seat of their pants. They're not cops or welfare workers," said William Bowen, a former elder who now serves as an expert witness on how Jehovah's Witnesses operate with respect to allegations of sexual abuse. Bowen is also the national director of Silentlambs, a victims' support group where abuse survivors who have gotten kicked out of the religion anonymously share their stories. He says he has collected more than 1,000 stories on the website since he started it in 2001.

Chessa Manion, 29, describes the abuse she saw within the religious organization as "systemic." She says she was raped by the teenage son of an elder in 1994 in Illinois when she was five years old, and when her parents told elders what had happened, their response was: "Let bygones be bygones for Jehovah's sake. Don't ruin his name by taking this public."

"I feel that their first interest is not for the victim. It's for themselves," Manion said. "It's really this culture of silencing and of cleaning things up and of tolerance."


Smith's attorney, Irwin Zalkin, whose San Diego law firm has been litigating against Jehovah's Witnesses across the country for nearly two decades, expects to file a civil lawsuit in the coming month on her behalf.

He says the suit will claim negligence on the part of Jehovah's Witnesses for how they process child sex abuse claims such as Smith's. It will seek financial compensation and an overhaul of the religion's response to victims.

"At some point, they have to understand that this is not tolerable in a civilized society," Zalkin said. "She was the was the one who they, in essence, prosecuted."

Smith said she hopes that by taking legal action, she will prevent what happened to her from happening to other Jehovah's Witness children.

"It is absolutely an environment where the abuser is set up to abuse again," she said. "They are putting children at risk all the time because of the lack of action on the part of the organization. They do not have things in place to get these dangerous people out of the midst of their children."


Bishop is setting up team of exorcists, warns against evil spirits in Reiki and other healing methods

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan.
Conor Kane
Irish Examiner
October 09, 2018

A Catholic bishop has said he is establishing a "delivery ministry" group of people who will be attempting to rid people of the devil and warned against the possibility of users of Reiki and other healing methods being exposed to evil spirits.

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan said today that he has got "several requests" from people to help deal with evil forces and that one priest in his diocese is about to start training in the practice of exorcism.

Bishop Cullinan said he was told by the brother of a Reiki master that the man was "working on somebody one day when he actually says he saw a vision of Satan" and was "scared out of his wits, dropped the Reiki and went back to the church".

Speaking to Eamon Keane on WLR FM's Deise Today programme, the bishop said: "You're channelling energies, in inverted commas, you could well be opening yourself up to letting a spirit in which is not good and is dangerous stuff, actually."

He made his comments when asked if he agreed with Pope Francis's view that child abuse is caused by Satan, and said that he "absolutely" agreed. "Since day one, Pope Francis has been talking about the action of Satan. As Bishop, I have got several requests from people, one lady for example who is involved in counselling, I don't know if she's Catholic or what, but she's coming across things in people which she cannot deal with and she knows that it's beyond psychological."

He said he has received "about nine requests" in the last couple of years from people in relation to "what they believe to be evil forces".

"I am just setting up a group, actually, of people who want to be part of delivery ministry, if you like. This is something that has to be done in secret because you don't let these people's names out and they are going to houses where people maybe have been involved in some kind of new age thing or some kind of séance or that kind of thing and, unfortunately, they've opened up a door to an evil force, Satan. Does Satan want to destroy the human person? Of course he does. Not only the church, but anywhere and everywhere that he will get in, he has come to destroy."

Anyone involved in "delivery ministry," or exorcism, has to "pray for the healing of the church" and recite - with the permission of the bishop -the prayers of exorcism, he said.

"It's a tricky area, there's no doubt about that, it must never be done on one's own and there always has to be prayer behind it. I remember one particular priest, a friend of mine who I knew who was involved in one particular case, and it was a girl, a professional girl, young, who came with her mother, and there were four men, kind of rugby types, to hold her down in the chair, such strength she had.

"The priest had warned the four guys beforehand, just make sure you've gone to confession and one guy didn't go to confession, one of the four, and the girl with a voice that wasn't hers, it was a male voice coming out of her, actually called out the sins of your man, the guy who hadn't gone to confession. That's kind of scary stuff.

The use of "delivery ministry" in his diocese is "a fledgling thing," Bishop Cullinan said. "We're finding our feet in this area. It is something there are more and more requests coming in. I would hope that people will not get scared and I'm sorry if I'm scaring anybody. But let's pray and let's just realise, if you read Scriptures you will see that Christ was over and over again confronted with Satan, over and over again with the enemy."

Asked by the presenter if he had ever been in the presence of evil, he said he had met two people who had frightened him, with "a coldness and a venom that was there".

He cautioned people to be careful about where they go for healing and said "I do, I do" when asked if he thought there were dangers in getting involved in Reiki or new age healing.

"Because if you're opening yourself up to a spirit and someone is channelling a spirit, they could be challenging the wrong spirit. I have met, personally, people who are so oppressed with something which is other than psychological. And I would never, by the way, counsel a person not to continue to go to their doctor or counsellor or psychiatrist - absolutely - but sometimes there are things which are paranormal, spiritual," he said.

"I know one particular girl who worked with a guy who was into Satanism and she came away very badly affected and still suffers because of that. Very difficult area. I sent her to somebody and I hope she found healing since. It's scary stuff, but the Lord is master and he is the one we trust."


One dead as suspected cult groups clash in Delta community

A suspected cultist has been reported dead in a rival cult clash in Ovwian Community in Udu Local Government Area of Delta State.
Matthew Omonigho
Daily Post
October 9, 2018

DAILY POST gathered that latest clash broke out between the Aye, Dominion and Aro-Bagger confraternities.

Details of what led to the bloody clash remain unknown at the time of filing this report.

Our correspondent learnt that the deceased was killed in a fierce battle at about 3pm on Monday.

The decease whose remains had been deposited in a mortuary had tattoos all over his body.

The cult groups shot sporadically in the area as they dispossessed residents of their personal effects as they also destroyed valuables worth several millions of naira.

The cultists had wanted to spread their fight to Aladja Community but they were resisted by the Vigilante.
The Assistant Secretary of Aladja Community, Comrade Ighotegwolor Bezi, said the Aladja Community Vigilante warned that the Community will not condone such misdemeanor in their land.

According to Bezi, “Any cultist caught terrorizing our Community whether the person is an indigene or not, he will be dealt with in line with the laws.”

In a chat with DAILY POST on Tuesday morning, the Delta State Commissioner of Police, CP Muhammad Mustafa, confirmed the report.

CP Mustafa said, “It is confirmed. It was a cult clash, but we are still looking for the other suspects. It is a sad story.”