Christian Essene Church

Marie-Ève Melanson
Susan J. Palmer

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CHRISTIAN ESSENE CHURCH TIMELINE

1964 (July 15):  Olivier Manitara (né Olivier Martin) was born in Vire, Normandy, France.

1984:  Manitara received his first mystical experience when the Bulgarian mystic Peter Deunov, who died in 1944, appeared to him.

1989:  Manitara opened his first publishing house, the Éditions Telesma, in Saint-Affrique (Aveyron) France, where he published his first writings.

1990:  Manitara received a revelation from an Angel, a guardian of the ‘Tradition of the Light’ (Tradition de la Lumière). The Angel told him he must transmit his spiritual knowledge to others.

1991 (August 19):  Manitara opened his first “initiation school” called the School of Life and Spirit (École de Vie et d’Esprit), later renamed the Contemporary Essene School (École Essénienne Contemporaine).

1991:  Manitara started holding seminars in various locations in France. At that time, his group was known as the “Solar Culture Association” (Association Culture Solaire).

1992:  Manitara and his followers bought forty-two acres of land in Poulan in the commune of Montlaur in Aveyron, France. There they established the first Essene Village, “Terranova.” Manitara gave weekly lectures on spirituality.

1997-1999:  The French authorities investigated Terranova. They suspected Manitara to have ties with the Universal White Brotherhood and the Order of the Solar Temple, both of which qualified as “sectes” in the French government’s 1996 Guyard Report.

1997:  To avoid any association withe the notorious Solar Temple, Manitara’s community dropped the name of Solar Culture Association.

1999:  Manitara and his wife had their first child.

2000 (November 21):  The French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) raided Terranova and arrested Manitara, his wife, and eight other members living in the Terranova village. The GIGN held them for questioning regarding their activities.

2000 (December):  Manitara and his wife had their second child.

2002 (August):  Manitara received a visitation from the Archangel Michael and made a “personal alliance” with the Archangel to transmit his message to others.

2002 (September):  Manitara shared the message of the Archangel Michael with his followers, which “sealed an alliance” between the members of the community and the Archangel.

2003 (November):  Manitara, his wife, and six members of the Essene Church appeared before the criminal court of Millau, France. Manitara and his wife were charged with misuse of company assets. They received a conditional sentence of eight and ten months of imprisonment, respectively, provided they did not speak in public communicate or with their followers verbally or in writing.

2003 (September):  The Archangel Michael descended for the first time in a fire set by Manitara’s followers. The Archangel delivered to them the twelve first psalms of the “Essene Bible.” This constituted the first “Round of the Archangels” (Ronde des Archanges) ceremony.

2003 (December):  Manitara and his wife had their third child.

2004 (August):  Manitara made a “personal alliance” with three Archangels: Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel.

2004 (September):  Manitara united all members of the Contemporary Essene School with the four Archangels.

2006 (September):  The Essene Nation (Nation Essénienne) was officially created after the Archangel Michael recognized the members of community as the “People of the Light” (Peuple de la Lumière) and bearer of his message.

2006 (March 21):  The Fondation Essenia was registered as a religious organization in Canada, and the Éditions Essenia was registered as a publishing house.

2007 (October 31):  The Fondation Essenia bought the 103-acre Domaine Drolet in Cookshire-Eaton, Quebec, Canada to establish the new “Maple Village” (Le Village de L’érable).

2008:  Manitara immigrated to Canada with his wife and three children. They moved into the Maple Village, along with a number of followers from France and Canada. Together, they started to develop the village’s infrastructures.

2008:  The Canadian government attempted to deport Manitara and his family back to France on the grounds that he had committed a crime that could qualify as a serious offence in Canada prior to his immigration. The attempt failed.

2009:  The Canadian government attempted for a second time to deport Manitara and his wife back to France on the grounds that they had recently been charged with a crime in their country of origin. This attempt also failed.

2011 (September 17):  The Essenes bought the Church of Burchton near the village of Cookshire in order to host ceremonies outside of their Maple Village, and also to establish the first Essene cemetery.

2011 (November):  The Fondation Essenia was renamed “Christian Essene Church” (Église Essénienne Chrétienne).

2011-2012:  French journalists Marina Ladous and Roméo Langlois infiltrated the Essene community in France, Canada, and Spain to gather footage that appeared in a documentary called,“The Gurus of the Apocalypse” (Les Gourous de L’apocalypse). The documentary was broadcast on the French channel Canal+ in December 2012.

2013 (June):  The church bought by the Essene community in Cookshire opened after some renovations.

2013:  Members of the Essene Church filed a defamation suit against Canal+ and the two journalists, Marina Ladous and Roméo Langlois, responsible for making the documentary, Les Gourous de L’apocalypse,

2014:  The mayor of Cookshire-Eaton sent a notice to the Essene Church that the church owed $33,000 of unpaid property taxes to the town for their land.

2015:  After amicable negotiations, the municipality of Cookshire-Eaton recognized that the Essene Church was not required to pay property taxes since it qualified as a religious organization, exempt from property taxes in Canada.

2015 (January 6):  The municipality of Cookshire-Eaton issued a notice of violation to the Essene Church for having constructed buildings that did not respect the local building code or environmental regulations. The Essenes corrected some of these irregularities.

2016 (September 8):  The Quebec Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land (CPTAQ) ordered the Essene Church to demolish or move thirty-three of its buildings that were built on a territory zoned for agricultural purposes. The Essene Church contested the decision in court.

2016:  The Essene Foundation bought land in Panama to establish a new Essene village named “The Garden of the Light” (Le Jardin de La Lumière). This village was to be used for end-of-life and funeral services.

2017:  Manitara declared he would no longer receive messages from the archangels to be included in the Gospel; that the “Essene Bible” was now complete.

2018 (January 16):  The Quebec administrative court upheld the CPTAQ’s decision and requested that the Essene Church demolish or move thirty-three buildings. The Essene Church filed for an amendment to the zoning by-laws at the Quebec Superior Court.

2018 (December):  The Essene community of Cookshire announced that it would put the church they bought next to their village up for sale, since it required too many costly renovations in order to remain open.

2019 (March 12):  The Essenes lost their defamation suit against the two Canal+ journalists in front of the French courts. Manitara was ordered to pay damages to the accused.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

The Essene movement was founded in France in the late 1990s by the charismatic prophet of the Essene Church, Olivier Manitara (born Olivier Martin). [Image at right] Manitara’s followers self-identified as members of a spiritual association called the Solar Culture Association (Association Culture Solaire). This association evolved into the Essene religion in 2006.

Manitara was born in 1964 in Vire, Normandy, France. Early on, he developed an interest in the teachings of Peter Deunov and Mikhaël Aïvahnov, two important figures in the Universal White Brotherhood, a New Age spiritual movement that emerged in Bulgaria in the early 1900s. Manitara claims to have had his first mystical experiences as a young adult. He recounts that, during a trip through “Cathar Land” in his early twenties, he was visited by an angel who was the guardian of an ancient Tradition of the Light (Tradition de la Lumière). The angel instructed him to transmit his spiritual knowledge to others (Manitara 2013:5-8). Following the angel’s command, Manitara founded an initiation school called the School of Life and Spirit (École de Vie et d’Esprit) the next year and started travelling in various regions of France to give seminars on spirituality.

With a few of his first followers, Manitara bought a forty-two-acre land parcel in the commune of Montlaur in the South of France. The community of around ten people established a small village that they called Terranova. The village served as a meeting point for followers from all over France and allowed the residents of Terranova to live close to nature, in harmony with their respect for nature as sacred.

In the late 1990s, Terranova was monitored by the French authorities. The village was raided in November 2000 by sixty officers from the French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN). Manitara, his wife, and eight other residents of the village were arrested. The GIGN found nothing to incriminate the Essenes in Terranova. However, Manitara was charged with twenty-two counts, and the eight other members were given the choice to plea either as “victims of a secte” or “the gourou’s accomplices” (Wright and Palmer 2016:209).

Manitara waited until 2003 to hear his sentence. In the meantime, a series of crucial events impacted the community. In 2002, Manitara recounts having experienced his first encounter with the Archangel Michael, who informed him that he had been chosen as the representative of the earthly world in the divine world. This allowed the formation of an alliance between the two worlds, the “alliance of the Light.” The Essenes believe they have been given the responsibility of maintaining and safeguarding this alliance, mainly through their veneration of Nature, through which the divine is incarnated. Manitara and his followers later sealed alliances with three other Archangels: Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel. For the Essenians, Manitara remains the only human invested with the ability to communicate with the divine realm.

Manitara and his wife were found guilty of misuse of company assets in 2003 and received a conditional sentence of eight and ten months of imprisonment, respectively, provided they did not communicate with their followers verbally or in writing, or speak in public. This sentence was accepted with some difficulty by Manitara’s followers, who protested that they depended on him and his ability to communicate with the divine in order to stay connected with the divine themselves. However, the community managed to thrive by finding creative ways to stay in touch with him  (Melanson and Guyver 2020).

In 2006, the Archangels bestowed their gift of the name, “Essenes” upon the community. Through Manitara, the Archangel Michael revealed that devotees of the Archangels were part of the modern “Essene Nation” (Nation Essénienne), that is, a “People of the Light” (Peuple de la Lumière) who bear their message.

The following year, the Essenes bought a 103-acre land parcel in Cookshire-Eaton, Quebec, Canada to establish a new religious commune, the Maple Village. [Image at right] The next year, Manitara immigrated to Canada with his wife, three children, and a small number of followers from France. A third village was inaugurated in 2016 in Panama, called the Garden of the Light (Jardin de la Lumière). This village was established to allow the possibility for the Essenes around the world to have funeral services in accord with the Essenes’ beliefs. Manitara now splits most of his time between the three villages. He also often speaks at Essene ceremonies hosted in northern Spain and Haiti.

While Manitara had approximately thirty followers in France in the late 1990s, research conducted in 2014 suggests that there are upwards of 3,000 worldwide members (Bonenfant 2014). These are found mostly in French-speaking regions such as France, Quebec (Canada), Belgium, Switzerland, Gabon, Haiti, Réunion, Martinique, and New Caledonia, as well as a few followers in English Canada, the United States, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Panama.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

The Essene cosmogony is inspired by the Book of Enoch of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essene gospel reveals how the material world was cut off from the divine world thousands of years ago when sick and egotistical Angels, wanting to exercise their power in a world outside the divine, invaded the minds of humans. This resulted in a separation of the human mind and the earthly world from the divine realm, something the Essenes refer to as the “breaking of the alliance of the Light” that once united the two worlds since the dawn of time. The Essenes believe that Enoch and Jesus succeeded in retrieving the alliance. However, the alliance was broken once again when Jesus was crucified, until Olivier Manitara and the modern Essenes restored it. The Essenes’ role in the contemporary world is therefore to protect and transmit this alliance of the Light through the continuous worship of divine.

Nature is at the centre of the Essenes’ system of belief. The Essenes believe that the divine forces only approach things that are “alive” on the earth, such as Nature. In particular, the Essenes worship four Archangels, each of which is believed to incarnate in an element of nature: Michael in fire, Gabriel in water, Raphael in air, and Uriel in soil. The technological world, on the other hand, is considered to be a “dead world” that the divine forces will never approach. Hence, the use of technology is believed to close off the soul and body from the divine. Although the Essenes do use technology, they are encouraged to use it wisely and with moderation. According to Essenian beliefs, if worship of the divine (i.e. nature) is not rewarded, the alliance with the divine world is at risk. This rupture could lead humanity to take a dangerous turn towards materialism or “transhumanism,” a state in which the divine would be unable to reach the human mind (Manitara 2015:31).

The Essenes encourage life in a cloistered and spiritually-oriented community located in the wild. This enables them to stay away from the distractions of the modern world and to remain closer to the divine forces. This allows them to care not only for the alliance of the Light for the sake of all humanity, but also for the well-being of their individual souls. Indeed, Manitara claims that individuals can emancipate themselves from the negative forces of the fallen angels, which the Essenes refer to as the “counter-virtues” (contre-vertus), through the development of their “discernment” and the study of texts of wisdom. The development of an individual’s discernment is achieved through consciousness and the veneration of Nature. In their view, this practice will lead the individual closer to the positive forces of the good and faithful angels; those who the Essenes believe have refused to leave the divine world and who are associated with the “good virtues.” [Image at right]

The Essenian myths and doctrine are contained in a sacred text, the “Essene Bible”. This consists of a compilation of the Gospel of the four Archangels, as reported by Manitara, between 2003 and 2017. While Manitara’s communications with the Archangels are still ongoing and can still introduce new elements into the Essene religion, Manitara reported in 2017 that these future communications should not be added to the Gospel of the Archangels since the document is now complete. The “Essene Bible” is composed of forty-four books totalling 4,744 pages, each book being attributed to one of the Archangels and covering a theme central to Essene thought. It is considered the “Third Testament” of the Christian Bible.

The Christian Bible also occupies an important place in the Essene religion. The Essenes insist that Jesus was born within an ancient Essene community, which was unable to recognize his profound ties with the divine. This led to Jesus’ crucifixion, an event that left humanity without an intermediary to the divine for hundreds of years. The Essenes believe that Joseph was Jesus’ true biological father. They also believe it was Mary’s close encounter with the Archangel Gabriel that facilitated the advent of Jesus (Manitara 2005, 2006).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

The Essene’s most important ritual is the Round of the Archangels (Ronde des Archanges), held four times a year at each solstice and equinox. The four Archangels at the core of the Essenes’ worldview are each associated with one of the elements of nature. The Archangel Michael is incarnate in fire, and is celebrated in the Fall; the Archangel Gabriel [Image at right] is incarnate in water and is celebrated in the Winter; the Archangel Raphael, who incarnates in the air, is celebrated in the spring; and the Archangel Uriel, incarnate in the earth, is celebrated in the summer (Blandre 2014). Through the worship of Nature and by communing with the four Archangels at the Round of the Archangels, the Essenes believe they maintain the alliance with the divine world.

The Round of the Archangels lasts for three days. While Manitara’s presence is not required for the ceremony to take place, he usually tries to travel to the locations where the biggest ceremonies are held. He most often attends the ceremonies in the Maple Village (Canada), Spain (where the French members from Terranova can easily travel), and Haiti. For this reason, the celebrations often take place one after the other and not necessarily held on the exact day of the solstice or equinox.

During the three days, various activities are organized such as meditation sessions, chants, dances, conferences, and activities for families. The main ceremony, where worship is payed to the Archangel of the season, is held on the last day. Manitara does not perform any liturgical task during the three days and is present only to deliver the messages from the celebrated Archangel and give lectures on spirituality. The final worship event is led by four of the most spiritually advanced members of the community, who have been trained to this purpose. It is also at that moment that new members are initiated into the Essene Nation. The initiatory ritual is referred to as “taking the rope” (prendre la corde), for the person initiated is invited to enter the sacred circle, delimited by a rope, of the Round of the Archangels. Being initiated, aside from meaning to truly become part of the Essene Nation, indicates a commitment to nurturing one’s personal alliance with the divine.

This initiation ritual is part of a series of initiation rituals that the Essenes can take if they wish. According to the Essene religion, there are seven “steps” (marches) of spiritual elevation. Each step represents a degree of elevation to the divine world, with the lowest step representing those who are most anchored in the earthy world. The initiation into the Round of the Archangels constitutes the first step. All Essenes that have taken this first step are considered priests or priestesses (the latter called “vestals”). Those that are the highest ranked have the most liturgical responsibilities. In particular, they must pay worship to the Archangels twice a day by visiting their respective temples in the Essene village and performing a short ritual. For instance, a priest of the fourth step will usually have a delegated Archangel for which he must care.

Any individual can ask to undertake an initiation in order to climb up the scale of spiritual elevation. This can, however, be quite demanding and take multiple months or even years to be completed. The steps are usually accomplished in “sub-initiations” rituals, which are accomplished within an Essene village under the guidance of peers and supervision of advanced vestals or priests. A good number of Essenes living within the Essene villages have taken the second step initiation or aim to eventually complete it. This requires accomplishing the “training of the four bodies” (formation des quatre corps). Each “body” represents an element of nature with which the persons being initiated must get in connection with. The initiation rituals are performed individually only on rare occasions since the Essenes believe that the divine force of nature is better experienced collectively. For example, the training for the “fire body” requires the initiates to maintain a wood fire continuously for approximately seven days. The training aims to make the initiates aware of the strength the Essenes can deploy to protect the alliance with the divine when they are united. These body initiations are accomplished under the supervision of the vestals, who determine whether the group was able to connect with the divine or not. In the latter case, the initiation period is either prolonged or must be accomplished all over again later. Once the four trainings of the bodies are completed, the Essenes wishing to move up to the second step must purify their five senses. Each of the five purification rituals can last for multiple days. They require visiting a specific temple located in a wild area of the village everyday at dawn and dusk and staying focused on the sense being purified during the whole period of the initiation. A final “sub-ritual” to complete the second step initiation is called the “training of the six moons” (formation des six lunes). During this training, an individual must enter a specific temple three times a day to perform a short ritual for a period of time of six lunar rotations (i.e. a little less than six months), at the end of which the person will sleep in the temple from sunrise to sunset for a whole week. A priest of the fourth step will monitor the person’s spiritual experience in the temple and determine if the ritual was a success. An individual will be considered on the second step only when all these sub-rituals are accomplished.

Although seven steps theoretically exist, no one in the modern era has ever progressed beyond the fourth step, including Manitara. In Essene mythology, Enoch and Jesus are said to have been to only ones who reached the seventh step. Other figures such as the prophets Muhammad and Mani have reached the fifth step, Peter Deunov and Michaël Aïvanhov the fourth, and Rudolf Steiner the third (Manitara 2016:18-19). In today’s Essene community, Manitara is considered to be the only one to have reached the fourth step by virtue of his profound level of spiritual knowledge. Members are striving towards this fourth step through an established path of initiation rituals, which are still being developed. Indeed, since the fifth, sixth, and seventh steps correspond to a level of withdrawal of the earthly life and profound elevation towards the divine world that no one has achieved in contemporary times, the Essenes are unable to foresee the type of initiation it would require (Manitara 2010:26-29).

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

The Christian Essene Church is non-hierarchical in terms of its administrative affairs. Its head office is located in the Maple Village, the largest Essene village internationally, and the official residence of Manitara. Branches of the Essene Church exist in France, Switzerland, Gabon, Haiti, Italy, Spain, and Panama. Practical decisions that do not concern the spiritual life are made by elected members of a local committee. The meetings are held in the Maple Village and members of the board committee in other locations will partake in the discussions by phone. The Maple Village and Terranova have committees of delegates to ensure the proper functioning of daily matters in the village. General meetings are organized to inform the residents of each village of the latest issues concerning the community and to answer questions and take requests or suggestions. Members residing in the villages who wish to undertake specific projects that require space or land must present their projects to the committee and have them approved.

Some of Manitara’s oldest followers, often some of the most spiritually elevated individuals, will sometimes consult Manitara on matters affecting the community and report to the board committee. Manitara’s role in taking practical decisions for the community is small and is left to followers in charge of decisions pertaining to the earthly world. Generally speaking, members see it as a kind of “sacrifice” to take over the responsibility of dealing with the earthly world decisions. Those who undertake such tasks are considered rendering a service to the whole community, allowing the other members to focus on their spiritual life.

In order to diffuse the basic Essene teachings to the public, a few “Essene Centres” (Centres Esséniens) and “Houses of God” (Maisons de Dieu) have been established in various cities in different countries. These centres offer various classes and activities such as meditation sessions, dance sessions, and Essene chants. Conferences are held by Essenes initiates in the Round of the Archangel who are trained as “reader-priests” (prêtres-lecteurs); that is, who have taken a vow to preach the Essene’s teachings. Since these centres function as recruitment centres, they do not cover the esoteric teachings, but rather offer a basic introduction to the Essene art of living.

Many individuals who visit these centres will never become Essenes. However, those interested in pursuing in the Essene teachings will have the opportunity to take “the good return of the heart” (le bon retournement du cœur). In this short ceremony, akin to a profession of faith in the Christian tradition, an Essene priest or vestal will accompany the individual in welcoming the Archangels and asking for their blessing. This is considered a first step to becoming an Essene, the ultimate step being the initiation into the Round of the Archangels.

The Essene Church is supported mainly by donations, the sale of Éditions Essenia, Manitara’s online channel on the Essene Church’s website, and fees for participation in rituals and initiations. These revenues are used for the development of the Essene villages and centres, and to cover the salaries of members employed by the Essene Church, such as those working at the publishing house or as full-time priests.

All the houses within Essene villages are the official property of the Essene Church. Thus, when members leave, they do not get their money back from the Essene church, but they have the option of selling their house to another Essene coming to live in the village. Living in the Essene village also requires a financial engagement to cover the fees for the maintenance and development of the village.

All decisions regarding spiritual matters are left to Manitara and the “Order of the Priests.” Some of the rituals, such as those tailored for women, are still being developed by the community. Members report that Manitara developed the basic rituals when the community was still relatively small, but as it has expanded he has delegated the task of conducting and revising rituals to the more experienced priests, although he advises them from time to time. The Archangels might request that specific things be done, and then Manitara will convey their wishes to the community. In order to discuss the rituals, or teach them to new vestals and priests, the Essenes will meet in massalas. The massalas deal with the more profound and esoteric Essene teachings and the spiritual path. Massalas also provide training for those wishing to enter the Round of the Archangels and other initiation rituals. Some massalas are available live online.

A few delegated members from the global Essene community (often those who are also the most advanced priests) are part of an “Order of the Hierogrammats,” which is tied to the Essenes’ publishing house, the Éditions Essénia. Members of the Order of the Hierogrammats work closely with Manitara to organize and publish in books his handwritten notes from his encounters with the Archangels. They are also in charge of writing forwards to Manitara’s books; [Image at right] hence they must have a thorough understanding of the Essene religion. Members of the Order of the Hierogrammat are chosen by Manitara and the current members of the Order. If a member wishes to leave his position, they should ensure that they have found and trained another member to replace them.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

The Essenes faced multiple challenges with the state, both in France in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and later in Canada after they established the Maple Village. In France, after the 1994 tragedy of the Order of the Solar Temple, the activities of “les sectes,” including activities held at Terranova, were closely monitored by the state (Palmer 2011). This culminated in a police raid on Terranova in November 2000. It is unclear what exactly led to the raid. Palmer (2011:209) writes that “the community was raided in part because a caravan had been parked in an interdit area and there was an error in a claim for Assédic (a French agency which collects and pays unemployment insurance).” Essene members from France, now living in Quebec, report that there were rumours from the neighbours of Terranova that the community was fabricating a bomb to commit collective suicide, just like the Solar Temple. These events occurred within the time period referred of France’s “war on sects,” where the government organized numerous raids on minority religions labelled as “sectes” (Palmer 2011)

Following the raid, Manitara was changed with twenty-two counts and found guilty (along with his wife) of misuse of company assets in 2003. Many of the allegations behind the charges referred to the group’s financial management. France’s mass media broadcast the allegations and issued news reports on mental manipulation and financial fraud performed by the so-called “guru” and his wife. Midi Libre, for example, read that “[a]t the present point in the investigation … it seems that Olivier Manitara was in charge of manipulating minds before [his wife] manipulated the bank accounts of members” (Laudinas 2000). Other headlines read “A sect with obscure finances” (Hurtevent, November 23, 2000) and “The Guru of the Sect was above all Worshipping Money” (Hurtevent, November 24, 2000). Essene members state this created a climate of fear around the Essene Church and their activities, which led Manitara to ask his disciple to find land in another country where they would be free to pursue their spiritual activites.

Land was found in 2007 in Canada. However, the community was there once again confronted by challenges with the state. Shortly after Manitara immigrated, the Canadian government tried to expel him back to France. In 2008, the federal government argued that Manitara should be expelled because he committed a crime that could be qualified as an act of “serious criminality” in Canada. This attempt failed since the French tribunal had never been able to determine, when it made the accusation, if Manitara’s actions were deceitful or if they caused a prejudice. In 2009, the Canadian government based its second attempt to expel Manitara on the fact that he had committed a crime before his arrival to Canada. This attempt failed once again because the “misuse of company assets” count does not have an equivalent in Canadian law, hence Manitara might not have been found guilty if he had been trialed in Canada (Teisceira-Lessard 2014).

The Essene Church confronted a tax issue in 2014, with the municipality of Cookshire-Eaton. The town challenged the Essenes Church claim for tax exemption. Since the Maple Village land was used for religious purposes, its leaders argued it should be exempt from property taxes per provincial law. The mayor of Cookshire-Eaton took issue with the fact that the whole 103-acre land parcel had been claimed as exempt from taxes, instead of only one of two specific buildings on the land. After a year of quarrel, the Essenes managed to explain that the totality of the land was used for religious purposes. They explained that the people living in the village were all priests or vestals and that they considered the land as their monastery. This convinced the municipal authorities, and the case never made it to the courts (Melanson and Guyver 2020).

A third major dispute occurred in February 2015. The Essenes received a notice stating that thirty-three of their buildings had been constructed illegally on a territory zoned for agricultural activities. The Commission for the Protection of Agricultural Land (CPTAQ), supported by the municipality, ordered that they demolish or displace all installations and buildings dedicated for worship.

Since 2011, the Essene Church had been receiving visits from municipal inspectors, concerned about the situation of multiple buildings constructed without a valid permit. The Essenes were able to acquire permits for some buildings, but not for others. When they received the CPTAQ’s court order, the Essenes decided to contest this decision. They filed to have the zoning by-law amended so as to include the practice of worship on the land. Their central argument was that their religion requires a proximity to Nature, hence they need to be allowed to practice in a rural area. The Essenes also claimed that the land purchased in Cookshire-Eaton is sacred because it corresponds to the description delivered by the Archangels regarding the location where the second Essene village was to be established (Melanson 2020). At this writing the group is still contesting the CPTAQ court order.

Another challenge in Canada that has not yet involved confrontation with the state has been the Essenes’ attempt to have their own cemetery and conduct funeral services in accordance with their beliefs. In 2011, the Essenes bought an old Catholic church that was left abandoned near the Maple Village, in order to host some ceremonies outside of the village and to establish a first Essene cemetery. However, the maintenance of the old church required costly renovations, so the community eventually had to sell it. The zoning by-laws that govern the Maple Village do not permit them to have a cemetery within their village. Therefore, the community has decided to establish a third Essene village in Panama, where members will be able to carry out Essenian funeral practices as they see fit; in particular, to bury the body of their deceased in its intact form after three days of rituals. Panama’s Garden of the Light village, inaugurated in 2016, was established so as to allow Essenians around the world to participate in Essene funeral services.

Finally, the Essene Church has had deal with negative publicity through the media; when two French journalists infiltrated their community in France, Canada, and Spain for a documentary called “The Gurus of the Apocalypse.” In this documentary, the journalists claimed to find in the Essene Church similar features to the Order of the Solar Temple. The Essenes and Manitara were depicted as venerating Hitler and awaiting the end of the world.

In 2010, the MIVILUDES (2010: 85) had issued a report where they described the Essenes as a group “prophesying the end of the world for December 21, 2012, date of the winter solstice.” While the date was important for the Essenes as it announced a period of acceleration of technological development for humanity, it was never said to be the end of the world. Shortly after the distribution of the documentary on December 2012, the Essne Church filed a defamation suit against the two journalists and three other people involved in the production of the documentary. They lost the case in March 2012 and Manitara was ordered to pay 2000 euros in damages to each one of the five accused (Le Figaro 2019).

IMAGES

Image #1: Olivier Manitara.
Image #2: Maple Village in Cookshire-Eaton, Quebec.
Image #3: Essene representation of an angel.
Image #4: Monument in honour of Archangel Gabriel at Maple Village.
Image #5: Cover of The Secret Book of the Essene Magi by Olivier Manitara.

REFERENCES

Blandre, Bernard. 2014. “Olivier ‘Manitara’ et les néo-esséniens.” Mouvements Religieux 411:3-14.

Bonenfant, Frédérique. 2014. “Église essénienne chrétienne. Centre de ressources et d’observation de l’innovation religieuse.” Université Laval. Accessed from  https://croir.ulaval.ca/fiches/e/ eglise-essenienne-chretienne/ on 15 May 2019.

Hurtevent, Xavier. 2000. “Une secte aux finances obscures.” La Dépêche du Midi, November 23.

Ladous, Marina and Roméo Langlois. 2012. “Les gourous de l’apocalypse.” Canal+, December 19.

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Teisceira-Lessard, Philippe. 2014). “Ordre des Esséniens: Ottawa a tenté d’expulser le gourou. ” LaPresse, Actualités, October 4. Accessed from https://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/justice-et-affaires-criminelles/affaires-criminelles/201410/04/01-4806275-ordre-des-esseniens-ottawa-a-tente-dexpulser-le-gourou.php on 26 December 2019.

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Le Figaro. 2019. “Canal+: un gourou débouté de sa plainte en diffamation.” Le Figaro, March 12. Accessed from https://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/canal-un-gourou-deboute-de-sa-plainte-en-diffamation-20190312 on 26 December 2019.

Publication Date:
26 December 2019

 

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