DOREEN VIRTUE TIMELINE
1958 (April 29): Doreen Virtue was born as Doreen Hannan in southern California; her childhood was spent in North Hollywood.
1968: Virtue and her family moved to Escondido, San Diego County.
1977: Virtue married Larry Schenk with whom she had two sons, Charles and Grant.
1988: Virtue received her master’s degree in counseling psychology and published her first book, My Kids Don’t Live with Me Anymore.
1993: Virtue obtained a PhD in psychology from California Coast University.
1996: Hay House published “I’d Change My Life if I Had More Time,” Virtue’s first book reflecting a more spiritual or religious orientation.
1997: Hay House published Virtue’s first book on angelology, Angel Therapy.
2000: Virtue began offering her Angel Therapy Practitioner (ATP) Certification Course.
2009: Virtue established a YouTube channel and began using it to promote her work.
2012: Virtue and her fifth husband, Michael Robinson, moved to Maui, Hawaii, near Lahaina.
2016: Virtue and her husband began attending a Foursquare Church congregation, but then moved to an Episcopal Church congregation.
2017 (January): Virtue experienced a vision of Jesus Christ and a conversion experience while worshipping in the Episcopal church.
2017 (February): Virtue was baptized in the sea near Kawaihae Harbor.
2017 (November): Virtue relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where she soon joined a Baptist church; that same month Hay House terminated its relationship with her.
2019: Virtue began work on a master’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary.
A former self-help writer and trained psychotherapist, Doreen Virtue was one of the most successful New Age authors of the 2000s and 2010s, best known for her books on angelology. [Image at right] As well as being a prolific writer and public speaker, she established her own Angel Therapy system through which her brand spread beyond her native United States. In 2017, her conversion to Protestant Christianity and repudiation of all her previous teachings attracted considerable debate, both among her followers and larger sectors of the esoteric milieu.
Doreen Virtue was born into a “lower middle class” family (Virtue 2020a:8) in southern California, on April 29, 1958 (Virtue 2005:101), the daughter of Joan L. Hannan and William C. Hannan. William worked as a technical illustrator for the Space Electronics Corporation before establishing a mail-order company specializing in aviation books (Virtue 1997a:7–8).
The family initially lived in North Hollywood before relocating to Escondido, San Diego County, California in 1968. In both locations, Doreen and her mother attended services at a church belonging to the Unity School of Christianity, a New Thought denomination (Virtue 1997a:4, 10–11). Joan had been raised in a related tradition, the Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist, with Virtue’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother both being Christian Scientists (Virtue 1997a:10, 13). In Escondido, Joan reverted to her childhood religion, attending the area’s First Church of Christ, Scientist with her daughter, and taking classes to become a licensed Christian Science practitioner, allowing her to engage in the church’s healing procedures (Virtue 1997a:12–13).
This early religious environment profoundly influenced Virtue. Decades later, she recalled that she was “raised to believe that we are born perfect, in the image and likeness of our Creator, and that physical and mental problems stem from psychological sources” (Virtue 1995:i). She also later reported that as a child she could see both spirits of deceased persons and angels, the latter appearing as “lights in multihued greens and blues” (Virtue 1997a:2–3).
Following high school, Virtue began studies at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, California, but dropped out to become editor of The San Marcos Outlook, hoping to become a professional writer (Virtue 1997a:37). Having become pregnant, she quit this role in 1977. Her first son, Charles, was born the following June. In September she married Larry Schenk, and two years later they had a second son, Grant (Virtue 1997a:39, 43). Money was tight and their marriage was strained. Living as a housewife, Virtue found herself binge eating ice cream to cope with emotional problems (Virtue 1995:i; 1997a:44–45). After the couple separated and divorced, she became an insurance company secretary and embarked on a custody battle for her children, proving successful on her second attempt (Virtue 1997a:51–52). These experiences informed her later writings.
Virtue married again, this time to a Buddhist named Dwight Virtue (from whom she adopted the surname she later retained) and they moved to Lancaster, California, where she began studies at Antelope Valley College (Virtue 1997a:52–53). She became a counselor at the Palmdale Hospital detox center, combining this with night school studies at Chapman University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology (Virtue 1997a:55, 57). She followed this with a master’s degree in counseling psychology (Virtue 1997a:68), received in 1988 (Virtue 2020:1). Virtue juggled employment and studies with writing her first book, published in 1988 as My Kids Don’t Live with Me Anymore, a work drawing on her own experiences with custody battles (Virtue 1997a:58–59, 66–68).
Her career developed as she became program director at an adolescent alcohol and drug addiction outpatient facility and then at an outpatient eating-disorder center (Virtue 1997a:69–70). Characterizing herself as “a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders” (Virtue 2002 :ix), Virtue proceeded to write about these issues for a popular audience. In The Yo-Yo Syndrome Diet, published by Harper and Row in 1989, she drew on both her own experiences trying to lose weight and those of some of her therapy patients to outline a healthy eating regimen (Virtue 1989:11). Additional books about healthy eating followed, including The Chocoholic’s Dream Diet in 1990, Losing Your Pounds of Pain in 1994, and Constant Craving in 1995. She also earned a PhD in psychology from California Coast University’s distance learning program (Aldrich 2017), allowing her to list her name as “Dr. Doreen Virtue” or “Doreen Virtue PhD” on publications from the mid-1990s onward.
After her second marriage ended, Virtue moved to California’s San Francisco Bay Area to work as the administrator of a women’s psychiatric hospital in Woodside (Virtue 1997a:82–83). From there, she relocated to working at a women’s psychiatric unit in Nashville, Tennessee for two years, specializing in child abuse victims. In Nashville, she also launched a daily radio talk show (Virtue 1997a:84). She subsequently gave up clinical work, which allowed her to focus on her career as a writer (Virtue 1997a:86). Back in California, she married again, this time to the artist Michael Tienhaara (Virtue 1997a:84–85; Tienhaara’s surname mentioned in Virtue 1995:v).
Her writings increasingly focused on relationships. The year 1994 saw the publication of two books on this topic, Yo-Yo Relationships: How to Break the “I Need a Man” Habit and Find Stability [Image at right] and In the Mood: How to Create Romance, Passion, and Sexual Excitement by Falling in Love All Over Again, each from a different publisher, after which she assisted fellow therapist Helene C. Parker (b. 1931) in writing the 1996 work If This Is Love, Why Am I So Lonely? Virtue’s writings on the subject led to her being typecast in the media as the “Love Doctor,” something that frustrated her (Virtue 1997a:121).
Supplementing her books with magazine articles, Virtue was invited to become a contributing editor to Complete Woman magazine, for which she interviewed a broad range of spiritual teachers (Virtue 1997a:xiv, 85). She also lectured during publicity tours for her books (Virtue 1997a:82); these were initially small affairs held in Religious Science churches and Mind, Body, Spirit conventions across North America and Britain, for which she often lost money after paying travel expenses (Virtue 2020:34). However, in the early 1990s she joined World Life Expo’s traveling group of speakers, as part of which she socialized with many prominent New Age writers (Virtue 2020:34–35). She also began making appearances on popular U.S. television programs. By 1994, she had been featured on Oprah, Geraldo, Donahue, and Sally Jessy Raphaël (Virtue 1994a:back cover).
It was also by 1994 that Virtue had affiliated with the publishing company Hay House, based in Carlsbad, California. This company had been founded by the American self-help author Louise Hay (1926–2017) in 1984 and went on to publish a substantial quantity of self-help, New Thought, and New Age literature. A year after first publishing with Hay House, Virtue praised Louise Hay as “the most inspiring person I’ve ever met” and declared that the publisher provided “a spiritual and metaphysical understanding unsurpassed by any other publishing company I know of” (Virtue 1995:v). She was sufficiently happy with Hay House that they remained her publisher for more than twenty years.
Virtue also began to take a renewed interest in religious matters during the early 1990s. Feeling that the clairvoyant abilities she had as a child were resurfacing (Virtue 1997a:73), she enrolled in a psychic development course at the Learning Light Foundation in Anaheim, California (Virtue 1997a:111). She also reported hearing a voice in her head encouraging her to read A Course in Miracles, the influential 1976 book by Helen Schucman (1909–1981), which includes material reportedly channeled from Jesus (Virtue 1997a:97, 128–29). Virtue would spend “about twenty years” studying the book (Virtue 2020:85), quoting from it extensively in later writings (Virtue 1996:18; 1997a:20, 82, 174; 2003a:viii). Throughout this time, she regarded herself as a Christian (Virtue 2020:27), describing a “very deep and close bond with Jesus Christ,” although she also confessed that she had established “my own personalized faith that blended Christianity, Eastern philosophy, metaphysics, and my own life experiences” (Virtue 1997a:163). Her attitude was effectively universalist, holding to the view that all religions share “a deep desire for our Divine Creator’s love” (Virtue 1997a:164). She nevertheless avoided religious topics and imagery she thought “dark and frightening,” such as Wicca, pentagrams, and the Harry Potter franchise (Virtue 2020:10–11).
In the middle of the 1990s, Virtue described herself as a “lifelong student of religion, philosophy, and metaphysics” (Virtue 1996:x) and it appears that her beliefs drew on her wide reading. Her childhood Christian Science background was undoubtedly an influence, and she would later list Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, as one of the “teachers who have inspired me” (Virtue 1996:xiii; and similar at Virtue 1997a:xiii). She also read widely in the related tradition of New Thought (Virtue 2020:9), citing New Thought writers such as Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866), Emmet Fox (1886–1951), Ernest Holmes (1887–1960), Napoleon Hill (1883–1970), Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993), and Catherine Ponder (b.1927) as further inspirations (Virtue 1996:xiii; 1997a:xiii; 1997b: xvi). Elsewhere, she recalled listening to taped lectures by Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009) of the Church Universal and Triumphant (Virtue 2003a:xix), from whom she may have adopted some of her ideas about archangels and ascended masters.
Virtue’s affiliation with Hay House probably provided opportunities in which she could spend more time focusing on overtly spiritual/religious topics in her writing. The first book that reflected this new orientation was “I’d Change My Life if I Had More Time :” A Practical Guide to Making Dreams Come True, first published in 1996. [Image at right] Although primarily a self-help book encouraging better time management, it moved away from the more secular nature of her earlier writings by referencing “spiritual laws” such as the “principles of manifestation” (Virtue 1996:24).
While “I’d Change My Life if I Had More Time” was clearly drawing from the New Thought milieu, in subsequent publications Virtue took her writing into a more overtly supernaturalist and New Age direction. In 1997, Hay House published Virtue’s first book about angels, Angel Therapy : Healing Messages for Every Area of Your Life, in which she outlined a form of psychological healing reliant on angelic communication. [Image at right] In her foreword, she relayed how she had felt angelic presences near her as a child but had only begun “listening to angels” after they warned her about an attempted carjacking she experienced in an Anaheim parking lot in July 1995 (Virtue 1997b:viii–ix). This incident exerted a sufficient impact on her that she referred to it repeatedly in later publications (Virtue 1997a:153–54; 2001:15; 2003b:5; 2008:23, 35). Angel Therapy included material presented as having been directly channeled from the angels through a process of automatic writing: “I would lose consciousness of my body while The Angelic Realm transcribed through my mind and hands directly onto the keyboard of my computer” (Virtue 1997b:x).
The following twenty years saw Virtue publish at least eighteen additional books dealing with angels, among them Healing with the Angels (1999), Archangels and Ascended Masters (2003), Goddesses and Angels (2005), and How to Hear Your Angels (2007). These were accompanied by books on other New Age topics like fairies, chakras, and Indigo Children, as well as on less overtly religious subjects such as veganism and a raw food diet. A range of audio cassettes and CDs were also issued, in which Virtue outlined her teachings and offered positive affirmations, often accompanied by soothing New Age music. Similarly successful were her oracle card sets, often featuring angels, through which people could engage in cartomancy, a form of divination. (Image at right) All were published by Hay House. Her output was prolific and she eventually became, she observed, “the bestselling New Age author at the top New Age publishing house” (Virtue 2020:29).
Virtue also offered in-person workshops and seminars based on her angel teachings, initially across the United States, but later in Canada, Britain, and Ireland, too. During the latter part of the 1990s she led a Certified Spiritual Counselor (CSC) course, awarded by the American Board of Hypnotherapy in Irvine, California (Angel Therapy Practitioners 2005), but ceased providing this class in 1999 (FAQ 1999). The following year she launched her new Angel Therapy Practitioner (ATP) Certification Course (Workshop 2000); in 2002, one of these five-day courses cost $1,500 USD per attendee (Kulyk 2018). Those who had already received a CSC or ATP qualification from Virtue could also go on to an Advanced Angel Therapy Training course (Workshop 2003). Many certified Angel Therapy Practitioners went on to provide their services to clients, spreading Virtue’s brand and building up a broader community around her work. Protecting her interests, Virtue trademarked the terms “Angel Therapy” and “Angel Therapy Practitioner” (Angel Therapy Practitioners 2005).
As well as holding these workshops, Virtue toured giving keynote speeches and lectures to audiences of between 500 and 4,000 people. During these she would relay messages to her audience that she claimed to have received from spirits or angels; she later maintained that although much of this material was genuinely received from supernatural sources, she sometimes resorted to “stage gimmicks” to keep the session going (Virtue 2020:48–51). Her son Charles also appeared on stage with her, similarly relaying messages reportedly received from the angels (Virtue 2020:54). Expanding her outreach, from at least 2005 she was presenting a live weekly radio show at HayHouseRadio.com (Virtue 2020:159). Making use of new social media platforms such as Facebook, she also began releasing videos on YouTube in 2009 (Virtue 2020:117). Virtue’s earnings afforded her a “first-class lifestyle” (Virtue 2020:31), and she developed a taste for designer products costing considerable sums (Virtue 2020:38).
Virtue continued to be active within New Age circles, for instance attending some of the “Great Experiment” events held from 1998 onward, at which New Agers gathered for “affirmative prayer” to collectively visualize “the world as already healed” (Miejan 2000). She also pursued relationships within this milieu. After the end of her marriage to Tienhaara, Virtue married Steven Farmer, a fellow psychotherapist and Hay House writer who espoused Neo-Shamanic teachings with a particular emphasis on power animals. They lived together in Laguna Beach, California (Farmer 2006:back cover) before that marriage also dissolved. In 2009, Virtue met a man named Michael Robinson at a New Age event; he subsequently became her fifth husband (Virtue 2020: 37). In 2012, they moved to a hill above Lahaina in Maui, Hawaii (Virtue 2020:73). There, she immersed herself in conspiracy theories about the Illuminati and New World Order, stocking up on supplies in case of a takeover by an authoritarian government (Virtue 2020:76).
After more than two decades of involvement in the New Age milieu, the second half of the 2010s saw Virtue move towards Protestant Christianity. She had seen herself as a Christian for most of her life, in 2003 recalling that her “experiences with Jesus are lifelong and extensive. I call upon him before every healing session, and have always found him to be the greatest healer among my friends in the spirit world” (Virtue 2003a:99). In this context she presented him as a great spiritual teacher, but not a unique manifestation of God in human form. In 2016, Hay House issued Virtue’s 44-card deck titled Loving Words from Jesus, [Image at right] each card including a quotation from the Gospels accompanying an illustration by Greg Olsen. She later related that working on these cards was the first time she had paid serious attention to the Bible and that this immersion in the Gospels transformed her understanding of Jesus (Virtue 2020:91–92).
In 2016, Virtue and her husband began attending a Pentecostal Foursquare church before shifting to an Episcopal congregation (Virtue 2020:26, 96–97). There, in January 2017, she experienced a vision of Jesus, posting an online video about it shortly thereafter (Virtue 2020:98, 103). She later related that on that day she “surrendered my life to Jesus as my Lord and Savior” (Virtue 2020:xii), and was baptized in the sea near Kawaihae Harbor the following month [Image at right] (Virtue 2020:122; Aldrich 2017). However, within a few years she concluded that, while her conversion was legitimate, the vision had in fact been a demon masquerading as Christ to lead her astray (Virtue 2020b; FAQ 2021).
Committing herself to Christianity, Virtue destroyed all of her New Age books and materials, and ultimately also all pictures of Jesus that she owned, deeming them graven images (Virtue 2020:109–10). She requested that Hay House stop selling her former publications and asked those who owned them to destroy them (Virtue 2020:xxi). In November 2017, Hay House terminated its involvement with Virtue after she posted online a passage from Deuteronomy (18:10–12) condemning divination, witchcraft, and mediumship (Virtue 2020:165; FAQ 2021).
Aware that their revenues were likely to drop considerably (Virtue 2020:145), Virtue and her husband moved to the Pacific Northwest in November 2017 (Virtue 2020:164). Her parents and mother-in-law lived there with them (Virtue 2020:2, 105). Although Virtue now considered Christian Science to be a heretical “false religion” (Virtue 2020:xiv, xv), her mother remained committed to it (Virtue 2020:xiii).
In the Pacific Northwest, Virtue and her husband joined a Baptist church (Virtue 2020:89). Despite her initial involvement in the more liberal Protestant perspective of Episcopalianism, Virtue shifted towards a conservative Protestantism that embraced biblical literalism, the rejection of all things not biblically sanctioned, and a belief that everyone who failed to build a personal relationship with Jesus was condemned to eternity in Hell. This shift may have been influenced by her associations with the evangelist Justin Peters and the Lutheran pastor Chris Rosebrough. She regularly watched Rosebrough’s YouTube channel, Fighting for the Faith, and later appeared on it (Virtue 2020:106).
In 2019 she began work towards a master’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary, an evangelical institution with a campus in Portland, Oregon (Virtue 2020:170; About Doreen Virtue 2021). Her 2020 autobiography, Deceived No More: How Jesus Led Me out of the New Age and into His Word, recounted her life story from her new, evangelical perspective. [Image at right] Here she expressed the view that her previous visions were tricks of the Devil (Virtue 2020:44), that the New Age image of Jesus she had long admired was “a false Jesus” (Virtue 2020:85), and that as a New Ager she had been a “false prophet” who had preached “heresy” (Virtue 2020:xi, xiii, xx). Concluding that God regarded her as a “detestable abomination” for promoting divination, she felt “remorse, sorrow, and terror” (Virtue 2020:132). These new attitudes were ones that she promoted through her social media channels.
Virtue’s significant shift resulted in a loss of contact with many of her friends and family members (Virtue 2020:xxi, 159–60). As well as attracting notice from other esoteric communities, such as modern Pagans (Aldrich 2017), Virtue’s transformation was met with outrage from her New Age followers. Angry social media posts and messages often claimed that her husband had orchestrated the conversion, or that she was insincerely posing as a Christian to make money from a new demographic (Virtue 2020:143). This clearly had a psychological impact on Virtue, who felt that she was haunted by “spiritual warfare” (Virtue 2020:147). In Virtue’s opinion, the anger and criticism directed towards her by New Agers amounted to nothing less than “persecution” (Virtue 2020:xii).
Prior to her conversion to Protestant Christianity, Virtue’s worldview was generally perceived to be part of the New Age milieu. Like most New Agers, Virtue rarely used the term “New Age” in reference to herself or her teachings, doing so only occasionally (for instance Virtue 2003a:xv, xviii). Following her conversion, she nevertheless described herself as having been a “New Age author” (Virtue 2020:29), reflecting how the term “New Age” is more often used by outside observers than practitioners within the New Age milieu itself.
Despite having attracted academic research (Hanegraaff 1998; Heelas 1996; Heelas and Woodhead 2005; Sutcliffe 2003), the New Age remains difficult to define. The term is generally used to describe the loose and eclectic milieu emerging in western countries in the wake of the 1960s in which a recurring set of esoteric ideas regularly circulated, typically transmitted via commercial relationships (workshops, books, healing practices, channelers) rather than through organized church structures. Typical notions found in the New Age milieu include a loving monotheistic or pantheistic divinity, a multitude of benevolent spirit beings, and an emphasis on healing, self-help, and the spiritual authority of the self, all presented via a shared terminology and an aesthetic characterized by light colors and upbeat positivity, features that can all be found in Virtue’s publications.
Virtue’s New Age worldview was monotheistic, revolving around a singular divine entity: “God” (Virtue 1997b:ix), “the Creator” (Virtue 1997b:125; 2008:xii), and “the Divine source of all creativity and infinite intelligence” (Virtue 2009 :67). She regarded this being as omnibenevolent, declaring that “God is 100 percent love” (Virtue 2008:187). In the channeled material included in Angel Therapy, she told the reader that God “loves you in His deepest essence” (Virtue 1997b:8). She also used language suggesting a belief in the immanence of God, claiming that humans “are part of the Divine” (Virtue 2008:110), with each person having an “inner Divine light” (Virtue 2009 :27), an approach similarly typical of New Thought (Haller 2012:169). For Virtue, the various gods and goddesses of different world pantheons were “aspects of the God with a capital G,” representing “the various faces, aspects, personality variables, and unique traits that God presents to us. And ultimately, since God is omnipresent, then God is within the deities and also within us. In other words, all of the deities and all of us are one with God” (Virtue 2003a:xvii).
Virtue’s teachings centered heavily on angelology. In this she drew upon a lengthy history of ideas about angels present in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Indeed, as bioethicist David Albert Jones notes, “books with titles such as Angel Therapy are shaped by ideas from Christianity and Judaism, even if the original context is no longer explicit” (Jones 2010:15). Angels have already been recognized as a recurring feature of the New Age milieu, although, as historian of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff has observed, “New Age angelology is quite unsystematic and each particular description reflects the personal idiosyncrasies of the author in question” (Hanegraaff 1998:198). Virtue’s angelology should thus be seen as her own specific tradition, even if it owes much to earlier ideas long-embedded in western culture.
Virtue’s channeled materials asserted that there are “staggering” numbers of angels and that they far outnumber humans (Virtue 1997b:81). They are also immortal (Virtue 1997b:113), having been created by “God’s thoughts of love” (Virtue 1997b:152). According to Virtue, the angels do not have physical bodies and thus are not bound by the laws of physics (Virtue 2008:66), although they will take forms through which humans can recognize them (Virtue 1997b:163).
Virtue subdivided angels into categories, among them the guardian angels and archangels (Virtue 2008:17). Everyone, she reported, has their own guardian angel (Virtue 1997b:151); hers was named Frederique (Virtue 1997b:188). The archangels are of a higher order, with their task being to “supervise the guardian angels and angels upon the earth” (Virtue 1997b:153). Among the archangels, she named Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel (Virtue 1997b:154–59), all established figures from the Jewish and Christian pantheon of angels. Another of Virtue’s categories included the nature angels or elementals, among whom existed the fairies, “guardians of nature and animals,” who unlike other types of angels have egos, rendering them more like humanity (Virtue 2010a:ix, 1–2). According to Virtue, angels can be differentiated by the color of the light they emit. Guardian angels emit white light while each archangel emits its own color; Michael, for instance, emits royal purple and golden lights (Virtue 2008:17).
In Virtue’s New Age worldview, “the angels’ purpose is to bring your consciousness to the realization of God’s love” (Virtue 2009 :65), and they experience “great joy” by helping humans (Virtue 1997b:153). This is an idea that the angels themselves emphasize in the channeled material in Angel Therapy, which is replete with messages affirming the worth of the reader. Virtue argued that children often see angels, explaining that this is the reason behind childhood imaginary friends (Virtue 2008:2). Adults have a harder time seeing angels, but will sometimes do so in their dreams (Virtue 1997b:180–81; 2008:26). Evidence for the presence of angels can be seen in physical phenomena a person encounters, including the appearance of a white feather, a shooting star, a rainbow, or an angel-shaped cloud (Virtue 1997b:185; 2008:9, 13). Alternatively, an angelic presence can be felt through changes in air pressure or temperature, the appearance of a new scent, or as “a warm brush across your face, shoulders, hands, or arms” (Virtue 1997b:165).
As well as angels, Virtue also discussed the role of benevolent human spirits. For instance, she commented that people have “spirit guides,” each of whom is “a loving being who has lived upon the earth in human form” and who is often a deceased loved one (Virtue 1997b:152). She also referred to the ascended masters, each of whom was “a great healer, teacher, or prophet who previously walked upon the earth, and who is now in the spirit world, helping us from beyond” (Virtue 2003a:xv). The concept of the ascended masters had been taken, ultimately, from branches of the Theosophical movement, but for Virtue was possibly mediated via the Church Universal and Triumphant, a group that had achieved far greater penetration of the New Age milieu during the 1990s (Whitsel 2003:140) and disseminated teachings that Virtue encountered (Virtue 2003a:xix).
Although the masters in the parent Theosophical Society are not described as “ascended,” some of Virtue’s ascended masters, such as Kuthumi, are taken from the Theosophical tradition. Others originated as bodhisattvas from Mahayana Buddhist traditions, derived from various pre-Christian European religions, or were Jewish and Christian figures such as Moses and Jesus (Virtue 2003a). These entities, she related, were “loving friends” who “work closely with the Creator . . . to steer us in the direction of peace” (Virtue 2003a:xxiii). Virtue referred to some of these ascended masters as “deities” or “Divine beings” (Virtue 2003a:xv), but at the same time maintained that they were not to be worshipped (Virtue 2003a:xvi). Worship was something that she reserved for God. Indeed, while encouraging interactions with such intercessors, she acknowledged that that might not be for everyone; “if you feel it’s preferable to talk only with God, then that’s definitely your best path” (Virtue 2008:xiii).
Virtue’s publications also espoused reincarnation, another common belief in the New Age milieu. As well as noting that she had worked with students who recall past lives (Virtue 2009 :81), she also reported memories of her own prior incarnations (Virtue 2013:xvii). She taught that between “physical lives,” a person’s soul resides in Heaven, “a high-vibrational non-physical existence” (Virtue 2013:3). In Heaven, she claimed, “everyone behaves lovingly toward everyone else” (Virtue 2013:4), and this, according to the angels she channeled, is humanity’s “true home” (Virtue 1997b:15). Individuals agree to leave this paradisiacal environment and incarnate onto the Earth, she maintained, so as to have “the opportunity to learn and grow and heal any fears that you held previously” (Virtue 2013:6). On Earth, one will often be close to other people with whom one has incarnated before (Virtue 2013:6), essentially the idea of group reincarnation. Virtue explained that a person’s death is already “predestined” at a particular “exit time” that is in “conjunction with God’s ultimate plan” (Virtue 2008:48). Virtue also claimed that there are “earthbound spirits” who “wander among the living after death” (Virtue 2008:3). These entities often fail to realize they are dead, or “are afraid of going to the light,” and can end up causing problems for the living (Virtue 1997b:210).
Virtue referred to the existence of an astral plane (Virtue 2009 :57), and to the “akashic records” or “Book of Life,” in which is written the “soul plan” for each individual (Virtue 2008:175). Both of these concepts are part of the Theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891), who was co-founder and teacher of the parent Theosophical Society. As is common in the New Age and Theosophical milieu, Virtue referenced a sort of etheric force permeating the universe termed “energy” (Virtue 2009 :vii). Part of this is the “vital life energy,” identified with the concepts of chi and prana, which is pushed through the body via “energy centers” or chakras (Virtue 2009 :viii). She claimed that there are etheric cords, resembling “translucent tubes,” that can connect a person, via their chakras, to another individual with whom they have had some significant interaction. Individuals can end up being drained by an “emotionally needy person” through these tubes, which thus sometimes need to be severed to prevent harm (Virtue 2008:140).
A recurring element throughout Virtue’s writings was the positive affirmation of her readers, encouraging them to think highly of themselves and dispel self-doubt about their abilities and their worthiness to communicate with angels. Everyone, she told her readers, is “an innocent and perfect child of God,” “a blessing to the world” (Virtue 1997b:217). Virtue taught that many human beings are “lightworkers,” by which she meant “highly sensitive people on a spiritual mission to bring peace to the world” (Virtue 2013:xix) and to heal humanity “from the effects of fear” (Virtue 1997a:xi). They have come at either side of the year 2000, for these are “the crucial earth times” (Virtue 1997a:71). Each of these lightworkers, she claimed, had volunteered for the role before they were born, but had often forgotten that they had taken on this “sacred purpose” (Virtue 1997a xi). She included herself in this lightworker category, claiming that because of this she had “gifts of psychic communication, manifestation, and spiritual healing” (Virtue 1997a:xii). Many of Virtue’s readers considered themselves to be lightworkers, and in this sense her work encouraged these individuals to regard themselves as part of a spiritual elite.
For Virtue, a sub-category of the lightworkers were the “Earth Angels” (Virtue 2013:xix), people who can be identified due to their sensitive disposition, their gentle, caring, and trusting nature, their belief in fairness, their innocent outlook on life, and their interest in “the magical parts of spirituality, such as manifestation, unicorns, fairies, mermaids, and the like” (Virtue 2013:xviii–xix). Each Earth Angel has a particular “superpower” to aid them during their incarnation, with such skills including the ability to communicate with animals, to influence the weather, or to foresee the future (Virtue 2013:13–14). In Virtue’s teachings, the Earth Angels include Rainbow, Crystal, and Indigo Children (Virtue 2013:xix), the latter being an idea with a broad following in the New Age milieu (Whedon 2009). Indigo Children, Virtue claimed, were born largely from the late 1970s onward (Virtue 2001:7), arriving to “usher in the New Age of Peace” (2001:17). She taught that the Indigo Children cleared the path for a subsequent generation of lightworkers, the Crystal Children, who appeared from the mid-1990s on (Virtue 2003b:2–3). These Crystal Children, she maintained, were similar to their predecessors but were more “blissful and even-tempered,” in contrast to the “warrior spirit” typical of Indigos (Virtue 2003b:2). She later added another generation of lightworkers to her framework, the Rainbow Children, who balance both the “masculine energy” of the Indigos with the “feminine” energy of the Crystals (Virtue 2010b). The emergence of these children, Virtue held, was evidence that humanity is “progressing from an evolutionary standpoint” (Virtue 2003b:12), moving towards a better future.
The millennial notion that humanity is entering a new phase of its development, typically termed the Age of Aquarius, was sufficiently common in the New Age milieu to provide it with the moniker under which it became best known. While Virtue did not foreground this notion in her publications, it was not wholly absent. In her view, the new era would emerge through gradual change rather than through a single dramatic event, and would not be especially different from the present age. She noted, for instance, that humanity was entering a “new phase of our collective spiritual path in which everyone will be employed in careers connected to their natural talents, passions, and interests” (Virtue 2008:183). Thus, her envisioned new age was better than the present, but certainly not unrecognizably different from it.
In her New Age books, Virtue outlined practices through which her readers could enhance their everyday lives, thus continuing the self-help ethos of her earlier work. The channeled portion of Angel Therapy, for instance, consists of advice and words of support for people facing various personal issues, from breakups to burnout.
A recurring focus of Virtue’s teachings was to encourage her readers to seek help from the angels. Unlike, for instance, Enochian magic (Asprem 2012), this angelic communication was not formulated within a complex ritual framework. Instead, Virtue stated that a person can simply call on the angels in their mind, or alternatively speak to them, visualize them, or even write them a letter (Virtue 1997b:163–64). The angels will always intervene if requested, but will rarely do so otherwise, for they must respect the “Law of Free Will” (Virtue 1997b:153). Different types of angels may be best for different tasks. Fairies for instance are “close to the earth” and thus can “assist you with material concerns involving money, home, health, your gardens, and your pets” (Virtue 2010a:2), while the archangels are best invoked when a person requires “powerful and immediate assistance” (Virtue 1997b:153). No request is too trivial for the angels (Virtue 1997b:x). Virtue, for instance, recalled repeatedly calling on the Archangel Michael to fix malfunctioning electronics (Virtue 2008:117).
As well as requesting angelic help, a person can also seek to hear the angels more clearly or even channel their messages through automatic writing, according to Virtue (Virtue 1997b:149). As angels operate at a “vibrational frequency” that is “high and fine,” the human body “must be retuned before you can hear them” clearly (Virtue 1997b:203). To that end, a person should improve their diet, avoiding things that “create static,” including alcohol, nicotine, stimulants, and meat—for the latter “carries the energy of pain that the animal endured during its life and death” (Virtue 1997b:203–4). Meditating and spending time in natural environments also make it easier to hear the angels (Virtue 1997b:167), as can enhancing the atmosphere of a room by playing classical music, burning incense, or introducing fragrant flowers (Virtue 1997b:192–93). Meanwhile, to help remember to call on the angels, Virtue encouraged her readers to surround themselves with angel statues and posters (Virtue 1997b:217). Methods of communication that she recommended included the use of oracle cards (Virtue 1997b:182; 2008:15–16) and pendulums (Virtue 1997b:182).
Virtue also taught “Angel Therapy,” something she described as “the fastest, most effective, and most enjoyable form of healing I have ever found” (Virtue 1997b:214). She related how she listened to a client and then (via a combination of clairvoyance, clairaudience, and oracle cards) gained advice from that client’s angels, thus identifying the former’s “emotional blocks,” such as low self-esteem or feeling unsafe. This accomplished, she encouraged her clients to identify their problems as stemming from ego, and then to place these problems within “thought–forms” on the “etheric” level—forms which “clairvoyantly look like soap bubbles.” The client would then visualize letting go of these bubbles, allowing them to float up to the angels, who would purify them and return them in their “purest form, which is love” (Virtue 1997b:215–16). (On thought–forms, see the book by the second–generation Theosophists Annie Besant [1847–1933] and C. W. Leadbeater [1854–1934], 1901.) Virtue’s blurring of the boundaries between therapy and religion was something that in an American context had also been attempted by a range of other modern movements, including New Thought, Christian Science, and the Church of Scientology.
Virtue also outlined simple practices for dispersing negative “energy” from around a person and their environment. This included, for instance, clearing negativity and earthbound spirits from a person’s home by invoking the angels (Virtue 2008:147), or by burning sage or putting out quartz crystals (Virtue 1997b:199). She claimed that a person’s chakras can become “dirty with dense, dark energy” generated by “negative thoughts” and that this results in feelings of sluggishness (Virtue 2009 :viii). To deal with this problem, Virtue maintained, a person should clean their chakras daily, typically through meditation or alternatively a visualization (Virtue 2009 :23, 25, 53). She also promoted a “vacuuming” method whereby she visualized a spiritual vacuum cleaner removing negative energy from an individual (Virtue 2008:135).
Virtue never led an organized church or similar religious institution. Instead, she established herself as a religious authority for her followers both with her publications and with the talks and courses that she offered. In this, she was typical of New Age teachers, who generally promote their ideas through client relationships, selling their teachings to paying customers via publications, lectures, and workshops. While Virtue could have proceeded to build on her channeled material to establish a specific organization (akin perhaps to the Church Universal and Triumphant or JZ Knight’s Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment) it is likely that she had little interest in formal leadership positions.
Virtue’s work has attracted criticism, much of it coming from what could be called the skeptical milieu. These criticisms have tended to center on two points. The first maintains that the teachings Virtue promoted are unproven and/or untrue, often dismissing them as “woo woo” or with similar pejorative terms. The second condemns the substantial quantities of money that Virtue amassed through her career as a New Age teacher, sometimes alleging that she was manipulating her followers for financial gain. These criticisms were regularly voiced on internet forums, comment sections, and social media. The Skeptiko blog, for instance, pointed to Virtue’s career as evidence that “there is obviously money to be made by simply making up stupid crap for the credulous” (“Angel Came Down” 2005). These sorts of accusations are typical of those directed at New Thought and New Age writers more broadly.
Virtue’s conversion to Christianity and subsequent denunciation of her New Age writings also posed challenges, both for herself and for others in the New Age milieu. For Virtue, it cut her off both from former sources of income but also from a community that often idolized her. For that community, Virtue’s repudiation of her former teachings caused shockwaves and upset. One New Age blogger, Sue Ellis-Saller, noted that “Light Workers—myself included—are a sensitive bunch,” and many would seriously question the validity of their beliefs as a result of Virtue’s conversion (Ellis-Saller 2019). Andrew Barker, one of Virtue’s certified angel card readers, felt that Virtue was now “bullying” her New Age followers into converting to Christianity (Barker 2019). Sheri Harshberger, the president of the American Tarot Association (ATA), was “deeply disappointed” by Virtue’s behavior, believing that the latter had “only succeeded in demeaning herself” (Aldrich 2017). Others had more commercial concerns. Lisa Frideborg, another Doreen Virtue certified angel card reader, worried that many of Virtue’s followers had “built a business” around her brand, but with the brand terminated, their businesses would suffer. These people, Frideborg felt, “have a right to a refund” (Aldrich 2017).
Barring passing mentions (Whedon 2009:63, 67–68; Jones 2010:15; Haller 2012:257), Virtue and her publications have failed to attract sustained academic attention. This may in part be due to the fact that, with some exceptions (such as Hanegraaff 1998 ), scholars delving into the New Age have tended to favor more sociological or ethnographic studies over examinations of the milieu’s literature. Another factor may be that, as a highly commercial manifestation of New Age ideas, Virtue’s work may have been perceived as too ephemeral and trivial to warrant serious scholarly exploration. Whatever the reason, this lack of academic attention, coupled with Virtue’s very public break from the New Age, may result in her contributions to this milieu being overlooked in coming decades.
SIGNIFICANCE TO THE STUDY OF WOMEN IN RELIGION
As part of the broader New Thought and New Age milieus, Virtue was hardly alone in being a prominent woman writer. As well as following on from the likes of Schucman, Hay, Jane Roberts (1929–1984), Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934), Marilyn Ferguson (1938–2008), and Shakti Gawain (1948–2018), she was also a contemporary of other female best-selling authors such as Rhonda Byrne (b. 1951). This is clearly an environment in which women can succeed in becoming widely recognized spiritual authorities. Moreover, the aesthetic choices underpinning Virtue’s publications suggest that they were being marketed to a predominantly female audience—something that is unsurprising given the evidence for the numerical predominance of women within the New Age milieu as a whole (York 1995:180; Kemp 2004:117, 121; Heelas and Woodhead 2005:94). Virtue’s work thus carries particular interest for those researching women’s spirituality.
Virtue’s move into evangelical Protestantism may impose gendered restrictions on the roles she can occupy in future. While evangelical congregations often bar women from senior leadership positions, Virtue has stated that she does not intend to pastor a church, but instead plans to “write Bible study books and blogs about studying the Bible” (Virtue 2020:170-71). In a sense, this approach would echo that pursued in her earlier life as a New Ager, where her influence was primarily exerted through literary activities rather than through formal organizational leadership. For scholars interested in the study of women in religion, Virtue thus offers a rare case study of a woman who has sought to make an impact in two very different religious environments, potentially allowing for comparisons between them.
Image #1: Doreen Virtue.
Image #2: Cover of Doreen L. Virtue’s book, Yo-Yo Relationships: How to Break the “I Need a Man” Habit and Find Stability (1994).
Image #3: Cover of Doreen Virtue’s book, “I’d Change My Life if I Had More Time”: A Practical Guide to Making Dreams Come True (1996).
Image #4: Cover of Doreen Virtue’s book, Angel Therapy: Healing Messages for Every Area of Your Life (1997).
Image #5: Cover of box for Doreen Virtue and Melissa Virtue, Angel Dreams Oracle Cards (2008).
Image #6: Cover of box for Doreen Virtue, Loving Words from Jesus, card deck (2016).
Image #7: Baptism of Doreen Virtue, 2017.
Image #8: Cover of Doreen Virtue, Deceived No More: How Jesus Led Me out of the New Age and into His Word (2020).
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