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Confessions of a Cult Leader's Son

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posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 01:54 AM
Hello folks. I thought I'd share a little about my strange life growing up in the 1970s and 80s as the son of a minor-league cult leader.

For a long time I didn't want to talk about this or write about it for a lot of reasons. I didn't want to call what my dad was doing a cult, first off..but it was. I finally came to terms with that. My feelings are complex, and I didn't want to hurt some of the people close to me by disclosing certain details. But I think this story might be of enough interest to ATS and the Internet that its worth going into. And it's cathartic for me too. So, my New Years resolution for 2012 is to tell my story here, at last.

A few things: I really want to protect my privacy and that of my family and friends, which was the reason I held off on writing this for so long. But I finally decided that most of this happened so long ago and was so bush-league that I could take the risk. Even so, I have changed a few minor details in what what follows. And I'll be happy to answer questions and talk about this, but there are certain things I won't answer or reveal so forgive me if I decide to ignore your question. I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just being careful. Another thing: if somebody out there who recognizes me or my dad in this and has something to say to me, please send me an email or a private message first rather than spilling your grievances all over this public forum. Of course I can't stop you - I can only request.

Well where to begin. I was born in 1972. By that time my dad had already gotten a pretty good group together, must have been 20 or 30 people. A lot of them former hippies, seekers, drifters -- typical prey for such groups. Some of you may recall that was the time of all sorts of experimental religious groups, from the hippie "Jesus People" and Eastern religions to the darker groups like The Process, and everything in between. People were looking for new answers, running up against the limits of the realms that psychedelic culture opened for them. A lot of groups just sort of coalesced around charismatic individuals, and my dad was no different. He didn't start out with an theology or a specific theory in mind, I think -- He simply impressed people with his energy, his presence. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who liked reading and being by himself, but he was also totally physically fearless and gave off a confidence and a sensuality that I guess is what people call "alpha." In the Age of Aquarius, sometimes that was all it took. It seems incredibly naive today, but more people then were willing to believe that "gurus" and "teachers" walked among us in great profusion -- and that they could be trusted.

So, my dad started out with a band of hippies in Western Massachusetts, near the five college area where there were a lot of hippies and intellectuals and college-town freaks in the long-ago fabled days of the late 60s. Somewhere in there he and a whole group of people had what became known as "The Experience." More on that later. Suffice it to say that it bonded them together and they purchased some land in Northern New England and started a commune. This was 1969 I believe. A great year for communes, so they tell me.

Well, the upshot of it is that my dad and his friend Ben (name changed) began to develop this theology of sorts, and the rest of the group began to treat them as spiritual leaders in a sense. Now its hard to describe this theology, because it morphed over time, but I guess you could call it mystical and "new age" in a sense, although it eventually became highly analytic...and then dogmatic. It wasn't Christian per se, but it revered Christ. It wasn't Buddhist, but it took something from there too. Again, not all that unusual. Typical hippie stuff...only my Dad and Ben took it a little farther than most.

Here in my bedroom I have a chest with eight manuscript boxes full of closely-typed sheets of paper. Some of them have been typed on both sides, some have illustrations, a few are written in my dad's crabbed, close, yet obsessively neat hand. This opus is titled The Works, which my dad and Ben started before moving to the commune, when they were still in Western MA. It remained unfinished when my dad died in 2006. I actually respect the intellectual wattage behind a lot of The Works, because it is no mere stream-of-consciousness, its systematic and it attempts an encyclopedic approach.

My dad and Ben had this idea they took from Spinoza and also Wittgenstein. It wasn't so much the content of these men's ideas they took, but rather the form. What these philosophers tried to do was set out a comprehensive picture of reality starting from the most basic building blocks and making everything numbered and cross-referenced, so the logic of each statement was firmly rooted in earlier axioms. Almost like Euclidean geometry. This is exactly what they did. Each paragraph in The Works is numbered, starting with 1.00001 and going through 3623.00027 .They were attempting to construct a framework with which to grasp reality.

The first, most fundamental starting point of The Works is something they called "The Experience." This was something that happened to my Dad, Ben, my mom, and four other people when they were on a kind of camping trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was explained in many different ways (and warped as my dad's craving for power grew) but in the first stages it was explained with references to things like: Moses on the mountain confronting the Burning Bush, or Sudden (Rinzai) Zen Satori, or Saul/Paul's lightning conversion on the road to Damascus, that sort of thing. A kind of powerful mystical "bolt out of the blue," an ineffable experience of the transcendent. Something happened to these people, and I believe they experienced it as real and were sincere, at least at first. Something "hit them" and fused them into a tight group. What my dad and Ben were doing with The Works was starting from this experience ("1.00001") and trying to extrapolate outward from there to a picture that matched the entire universe and all of reality. The logic was the "The Experience" was the only thing they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be real. On that they agreed fervently - fanatically, actually. To them, whatever happened there was the real reality, and our reality is merely a pale illusion. "A warped reflection spun down a hall of twisted mirrors" is how my dad put it (The Works 24.00004) So this became the foundation, and they tried to "tune the logic to fit both the ultimate reality of the Experience and the shadow reality of our conventional world, and thus to gain full clarity at every wavelength" (The Works 43.00008).

This effort, and their sincerity, attracted them a lot of attention in that college area. They got a reputation as "heavies." A lot of girls were already interested in both Ben and my dad. Suddenly there were a lot more. One of them was my mom. A lot of male seekers, too. Eventually they drifted north and were joined by many more.

I'm getting tired of typing this, ATS, and I'll continue it below later. I want to take you through the 70s and 80s, when the group swelled and my dad's power-tripping maxed out, and then through the gloomy years of decline up to my dad's death as a more or less embittered and depressed, paranoid fool. I'll be back later.
edit on 2-1-2012 by Never Despise because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:35 AM
The end of your writing tells me that you had a hard time finding a place in all of this.I am sorry. I cant not speak for any one else but I had a "enlightening" experience in 1995 that changed who I see myself as, the way your dad did. You want to go out and scream it to the world, but mostly, in my case I could not make others understand. It has saddened me that all the riches of this experience could not be shared, I guess this is a solitary thing. I also want you to know I am not a new ager or a hippy and was driving a tractor trailer across the desert in Utah with my husband sleeping in the sleeper. Our first grandchild had just been born and we were as ordinary as anyone could be. I have questioned all the religious training I have ever had, and become a person that is not a christian. I truly believe in God, but not the trappings and hatred associated with organized religion. I guess what I am trying to say is to not judge your father too harshly. If he really had the same kind of experience that I had, he had to be very frustrated not being able to bring the feelings and wisdom to others.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:37 AM
reply to post by Never Despise

Looking forward to reading the rest, I am intrigued by the story thus far

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:38 AM
Never Despise, I'm very interested in what you have wrote and i cant wait to hear the rest of your story ive always been very interested in cults and why people get into them..peace,sugarcookie1

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:41 AM
reply to post by Never Despise

Please continue.

I think you are brave to overcome your wish to hide the past and to give us a view of your experiences.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:43 AM
I am riveted - what a great story.

You are a writer, right?

Just asking.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:45 AM
reply to post by sugarcookie1

Hi sugar,

I always think about you since you got Jesus.

Has He helped you?

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:48 AM
reply to post by catwhoknowsplusone

Im sorry catwhoknowsplusone..But i think you have me mixed up with someone else..peace,sugarcookie1

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:48 AM
I don't find his story unlikely at all, however it's possibly fake.
Could be a writer testing his work out on us.

I am a Christian, and i have seen various Cults and "Witchs" and "Enlightened People"

They all come in different shapes and sizes, one fad after the other, but they all have the
same thing behind them. A Lust for Power, some attempt to find "The Truth" and etc.

The Fad today will be the New Age, later Chrislam, Buddhism, Hindu. It's all the same.
There was a lot of "Spiritual searching" in the 1960s and 70s during the hippie days.
With the afro and the Jesus freaks and whatnot. It never ends.

Jesus Bless you Sir, and stay sane.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 02:57 AM
reply to post by lost in space

Thank you for your reply, and for sharing your experience.

I believe such experiences happen, are real, and are valid. I believe you are sincere. I believe my dad was sincere at first too. The key word here is at first. A big mistake made by religious seekers down through history has always been to think that just because you have this kind of experience, it will remain the same forever...if not properly, constantly stabilized and refreshed it will become...something else. Cruisades, say. Or Inquisitions. Or cults, or even just personal difficulties. My point is that the experiece may be real, but its not necessarily as easy to hold onto as many a lapsed mystic seemed to think at first.

And in my dad's case there were other, complicating factors that might not apply to your case. He was young and somewhat charismatic/dominant male type anyway, and I think the respect a lot of people gave him went to his head. He also underestimated the group dynamics. Everyone did. These things take on a life of their own, like the nightmare march of broomsticks in the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:00 AM
Thanks for all the replies people. I'm not a writer. I am a toxicologist, a kind of chemist. I love writing though, I always have. I guess I got that from my dad, after all he wrote a trunk full of stuff. I spent a lot of time alone as a young man and isolated from the rest of the world in my dad's group. I didn't have TV or pop music, for example. All I had was writing and reading. The kids got tutored, we had a patchy education in some areas but it was heavy on math, reading/writing, and of course religion.
edit on 2-1-2012 by Never Despise because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:07 AM
reply to post by Never Despise

I have to say to you, Never,

That you are brave and I wish you well.

Even tho your parents were obviously crap.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:07 AM
Happy new year, and thanks for beginning to share this very personal story with us.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the next part.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:18 AM
reply to post by Never Despise

You are a much better judge of your fathers actions than I could ever be. Your point is well taken and bowed to. I just want you to understand there are other people like your dad who has gone thru such an experience that did not let it go to their head and take credit for the message. Life is good and I hope you find some sibilance of peace after finishing your engrossing story. Peace and Love.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:19 AM
what a great intresting story. i look forward to seeing.reading more of it if i dont forget

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:33 AM
thank you for sharing something so close to you....I hope we are worthy enough to appreciate the strength and courage you have summoned here to try and tell your story...thank you...and I wish you well and that the experience of telling it is as fulfilling and satisfying as it possibly can be....Good luck on your journey and thank you very much for teaching us what you have learned from life.....I raise my glass to you sir....sanitas bona...

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 10:46 AM
reply to post by Never Despise

Please check out the thread "looking for people who have been to the grey room".

A group of family members also had a shared experience that changed their lives. It was spiritual/religious/mystical/and perhaps alien. I, too, analized the experience and tried to make sense of my new reality. People in my religious group looked at me in awe ( a very difficult thing to experience if you don't want groupies).

I am sorry your parents isolated you and themselves.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 12:07 PM
reply to post by Never Despise

First of all, thank you for sharing your story. I always like it when people open up about things that at first they find hard to. That act alone can be an awakening for some people.

But I have to say that I'm a little disappointed that what you wrote wasn't more "controversial" than what it was. I'm not seeing anything in what you wrote about your father that would be hard to come to grips with. Maybe your next installment? It was the late 60's/early 70's and a lot of people were doing a lot of experimenting with drugs and lifestyles. Your dad sounds like one of them. That doesn't make him a bad person. It also doesn't make him bad that he was able to draw people close to him and have an influence over them. As long as it was a positive one.

People say that having an awakening like the one your dad had is hard to put into words. Your dad was obviously a writer of sorts, you don't write a tome that large without having the skill in you, and since your dad passed that skill down to you and you grew up reading and writing almost exclusively, you have that knack as well. That being said, I can tell you from personal experience that some of the best writers out there have a much easier time conveying their feelings and experiences by writing them down as opposed to speaking them. I've always been that way. Writing is a form of art, and art is an extension of the artist him/herself. What you see that they created is a part of them. If you understand the art, you understand the artist. Your dad sounds like an intersting character in that he obviously had the personality to attract many people, but he didn't really have the gift for gab so to speak. If he did, it seems to me that he would've tried to convey his experience through speaking to people rather than writing it down.

All I can say is that it must have been an extrdinary experience, '___' induced or not, if he couldn't have put it succinctly into words. Keep in mind though that I've been honing my skill for 32 years now and there isn't much that I CAN'T put into words. My advice to you, find an experienced and trustworthy editor who can do justice to what your dad wrote down. Not only will it be out there for the world to see and possibly learn from, but the editor can also interject some of his/her own experiences into what was written so as to give it more meaning. More of a meaning perhaps that can help convey what your dad was trying to but couldn't quite.

You said your dad was a bit of a solitay man. There is a lot to be said of people like that because they don't fall into the crowd mentality. That is the main reason, IMO, why people like that are smarter than the average person who is outgoing and always around people. There is a lot you can learn by watching people, making your own judgements, then watching them some more and finding out if those judgements were right or not. Living that way really sharpens your intuitive skills, whereas always hanging out with the crowd and simply thinking and acting the way they do does not. This may be one reason why his experience was so pronounced. His senses were not "dulled" by years of hanging out with the crowd. But it may also be the reason why he found it so hard to put it into words. There is something to be said about bouncing ideas off other people. They can give you different viewpoints that you don't see that can in turn shed some light on a subject that you don't fully understand.

You sound like there's a part of your past that you want to come to grips with, and posting what you did is a good first step. Regardless of what I might say here sometimes, this site does have a lot of intelligent, intuitive people who can maybe shed some light on this subject so you can perhaps see it in a different way than what you do now. Perhaps helping you give meaning to a part of your life that may not have that much.

I hope you find what you're looking for and exercise some deamons along the way. Here's a little something your dad might have enjoyed:

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 03:12 PM
OK, thanks for reading so far, ATS. I’ll continue.

During the 1970s, several things happened that that transformed the community from an idealistic post-hippie commune setup into a more tightly-organized entity that would be recognizable as a cult.

The community started to grow, first off. It went to 20, then 30, and looking at my dad’s diary he records that on Feb. 17 1974 there were fifty people. When I look at the stuff he wrote around this time, there is a lot of frustration that the majority of the people in the commune aren’t pulling their weight. This was when an argument broke out between my dad and Ben, who had both emerged as the leaders of the community as described above. Ben wanted to keep the community open, welcoming everyone, as a matter of principle. My dad on the other hand wanted to kick out the freeloaders and keep things a little more organized. There had been some minor trouble with police and parents over a few runaways, and some of the people who drifted through there were just homeless transients, sometimes intoxicated, or looking to rip us off. Or just “crash for a while.”

This was the big tension that emerged: Order and discipline vs. “let it all hang out.” Ultimately the latter proved untenable, and there was a split in the community. Ben and three of the people on the 7-person “council” (these were the seven who had had “The Experience”) left, and my dad took total control. After that, there was no “council,” just him. And he started to implement change to tighten the community up. No more drifters allowed, gates and fences went up, and people had to show they were serious about spirituality. He started implementing curfews, daily schedules with prayer/meditation/study/work routines firmly established. A lot of the freewheelers left, and the community shrunk from around fifty back to twenty or so by 1975. But looking at his diary, my dad was pleased. It was a harder core and they were all “his people”. He never spoke to Ben again. Ben tried to get another community going but he wasn’t organized enough and it fell apart. He married one of the women and ended up on a private farm in Maine where he and his large extended family still live, although without any pretense to be anything other than a family.

There had been some sexual issues in the group. The group was about 75% female and 25% male, and my dad was always careful to keep that kind of ratio. This meant multiple females for males and a veritable harem for my dad and Ben. This caused tension and also my dad began to use sex to manipulate everyone in the community, both women and men. He told the women they had to be available for him and the men he designated, that this was “ego destruction” and “a part of your training.” This is when the whole idea of “training” started too, maybe I can get into that a little later. My dad was becoming a control freak and was trying to control every aspect of people’s lives. Sexually, he controlled, more or less, who slept with who and when and how often. He would withhold sex to punish, grant it to reward, use it in a lot of different ways. I wonder if he was even aware he was doing this. There is a lot more I could say about this and maybe I’ll get into it a little more in later posts.

I guess in the next post, I’ll talk a little about the money situation, how that was a problem and the various ways it was “solved.” The group began to grow again in the second half of the 70s because my dad was looking for “recruits,” mostly young women or men/women with some cash. His discipline became more draconian. I could talk more about the theology , it’s interesting to me but I don’t know how much you guys are interested. Hopefully a full picture on many levels will emerge, I hope to produce more than a few posts in the coming days.

posted on Jan, 2 2012 @ 04:01 PM
The money situation

Of course money was a problem from the very beginning. Land in rural New England was dirt cheap when they bought it in the late 60s, but even so, the hippie ethos seems inherently prone to moochers and freeloaders of all sorts, and its not exactly the Marine Corps in terms of discipline. All this tends to repel, rather than attract, money.

Once Ben was gone and my dad was in control, getting money became more of a priority. You might think people would resent having to hustle for money when they had joined a spiritual community, but actually people seemed motivated because they could see their lives improving. People (especially women) were grateful for cleaner, larger, newer, and more pleasant living quarters. Food got better. Electricity was no longer only from car batteries. As we got more money, physical life became more comfy. I can still remember as a very young child how rough the living was, more like a campground than a real home. By the time I was in my early teens we were living in actual permanent structures, well-designed with all the basic middle-class trimmings. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To make money my dad tried a number of things. He wrote “NO WORK NO FOOD” over the kitchen door and he meant it too. Everyone had to be gardening for part of the day, and from trial and error this actually came to serve a large part of the community’s needs. Men were REQUIRED to work in one of the nearby towns, or else they couldn’t stay. All the money – all of it – went into a communal pot, managed by guess who. My dad would collect receipts, tax certificates, and pour over it obsessively to make sure nobody was holding out on him. After a certain date, it became hard to join the community as a man unless you had an above-average salary or could make the big entrance “donation.”

Women, meanwhile, were not allowed to take normal jobs. My dad was afraid the women would leave or come to their senses if they were allowed a normal job, I guess. Just another divide-and-conquer strategy I guess. The presence of the women themselves kept the men from leaving the community, and kept them putting their money into it. The isolation of the women within the compound made them easier to manipulate and pry away from reality. Gradually family ties were severed, for both men and women, and movement in and out of the community was strictly regulated.

Since the community was mostly women and they didn’t generally leave, how did they work? Farming/gardening, taking care of the growing number of grubby kids like myself, keeping the place scrubbed and cleaned, etc. took up a lot of the effort of the women, so they were just as busy as the men. But they weren’t bringing in cash, except for modest revenue from vegetables and preserves. This wasn’t enough for my dad’s growing greed.

He soon found another way women could make money….as exotic dancers and masseuses. Now, at first a lot of the women balked at this and a fair number left the community at this point. It was the biggest schism since Ben had left and for a bit it looked like he had overplayed his hand and the community might shake off his heavy hand. But he managed to convince people that it was in keeping with a spiritual life. Well, maybe it is…who am I to judge? But not the way my dad was using it, I’m pretty sure of that. He’d take the girls in a van to places like Portland, Lewiston, Concord NH, Old Orchard Beach, other places. He also started to pick up new recruits from this world and smooth-talk them into joining. He could be very convincing, especially when he had girls from the community along with him to give testimony. I think one of the appealing things was he did not equate sex with sin the way Christianity does. He offered people in this often-disreputable world a chance at spirituality, where the straight churches looked down on them. He offered them a chance at dignity and meaning in their lives, or at least the community seemed to offer that on the surface. More of these girls began to join while some of the older women who had been with the community since the beginning left. But the absolute numbers were creeping back up, and they hit fifty people again in 1979. The world was changing -- and so was the character and makeup of the community.

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