Olaf Baschke is professor of Modern History at Münster University in Germany since 2014. He has also taught history at the universities of Trier, Cambridge, Lund and Heidelberg. He wrote Katholizismus und Antisemitismus im Deutschen Kaiserreich (1997), which was his PhD; Offenders or Victims? German Jews and the Causes of Modern Catholic Antisemitism (2009) and other books about the history of Christianity, about gender issues and about the history of historiography. He edited several books, among them: Konfessionen im Konflikt. Deutschland zwischen 1800 und 1970: ein zweites konfessionelles Zeitalter (2002).
Ann W. Duncan (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is Associate Professor of American Studies and Religion at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. Her research and teaching focus on intersections of religion and public life including religion and politics, new religious movements, the religious “nones” and motherhood and American Christianity. She has authored articles in various journals including the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Nova Religo and is co-editor of Church-State Issues in America Today, 3 vols. (Praeger, 2007) and The Universe is Indifferent: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on Mad Men (Cascade, 2016). She is currently completing a book manuscript titled Sacred Pregnancy: Women’s Reproductive Health and the Female Spiritual Economy.
SACRED LIVING MOVEMENT TIMELINE
1970: Anni Daulter was born.
2005: Anni Daulter founded Bohemian Baby.
2012 (May): Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms was published.
2012 (November): The first Sacred Pregnancy retreat was held in California.
2015 (June): A campaign was initiated on the Go Fund Me crowd fundraising platform to raise money for a Retreat Center for the Sacred Living Movement.
2016 (July): Anni Daulter and Niki Dewart published Sacred Motherhood: An Inspirational Guide and Journal for Mindfully Mothering Children of All Ages.
2017 (January): Anni Daulter, Jessica Booth and Jessica Smithson published Sacred Medicine Cupboard: A Holistic Guide and Journal for Caring for Your Family Naturally.
2017 (August): Anni Daulter published Sacred Pregnancy Journey Deck: Inspirational Guidance for Your Pregnancy
2017 (September): Anni and Tim Daulter published Sacred Relationship: Heart Work for Couples: Daily Practices and Inspirations for a Deeper Connection
Anni Daulter was born in 1970. [Image at right] She attributes her early interest in storytelling to her mother, who she has described as unusually adept at making space for and encouraging others to tell their stories to her (Ramakrishna n.d.). She pursued her education at the University of Southern California and received a Masters Degree in Social Work.
Anni’s husband, Tim Daulter, earned a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and in 2001 a MBA in Business Management from Pepperdine University. In addition to co-founding Sacred Relationship with Anni, Tim is Founder of Sacred Men. [Image at right] The couple has had four children (Zoë, Lotus Sunshine, Bodhi Ocean and River Love).
It was after the birth of their first child that Anni Daulter began a writing career, authoring four books on organic and healthy living lifestyles. She was founder and owner of Bohemian Baby, an organic baby food company, between 2005 and 2008. It was her fourth book, Sacred Pregnancy, published in 2012, that led her to shift her career emphasis and form the Sacred Living Movement with her husband.
As Anni Daulter describes, the Sacred Living Movement was born out of a need Daulter herself sensed as she negotiated the world of pregnancy, birth and early childhood as a young mother. Attending a prenatal yoga class, she noticed that the most meaningful experiences women enjoyed were the connections made around the water cooler or over tea after class. It was the connections, the story telling and community that women craved and that Daulter then strove to create. What began with a single Sacred Pregnancy Retreat in Ojai, California in November 2012 has grown to a movement that has held retreats in over ten countries and has trained hundreds of women to be instructors and practitioners in their own communities. While the movement began with small scale retreats focused primarily on pregnancy and birth, the movement has since grown to include retreats and trainings for rites of passage from girl’s first menstruation to breastfeeding to pregnancy loss, infertility, menopause and themes such as relationships, brotherhood, and financial success. In each of these retreats, the focus is to bring the sacred to the mundane and to infuse community into what has become individualized and isolated.
When Daulter talks about her hope for the movement and her motivations for creating it, she reflects on a return to primordial religion and to paradigms of the divine feminine, before patriarchy worked its way in, before society created barriers to religious and spiritual expression. In her retreats and communities, she hopes to create space where women (and occasionally men) can access the divine within them and connect with the sacred within themselves but also within the rites of passage in their own lives and in their connections to other women and men in their families and communities. She is not creating a new religion and does not seek exclusive commitment or a particular label. Her movement, her retreats, books, trainings are meant to help supplement, deepen, enrich whatever path people are already on just as they might chart a path for someone searching for a path anew.
The Sacred Living Movement does not profess any institutional doctrines or beliefs that its members, attendees, leaders, must adhere to or affirm. Instead, the movement welcomes participants from any religious tradition and does not suggest nor require that any participants renounce or replace any of those religious doctrines with those of the movement. As such, the books, websites and other publications of the movement do not contain belief statements or membership guidelines. The Movement instead is meant to supplement, enrich, and enhance the religious and spiritual life of the participant, whether that fits within an institutional religious tradition or not. In interviews, Daulter describes how this works in practice. Recognizing that some of the particular rituals or practices of the movement might conflict with the doctrines or practices of an individual participant, she encourages people to change the words, the meanings, abstain or reorient as they desire. The emphasis is not on conformity to a doctrine or orthodoxy or orthopraxy but rather to a deepening of experience and a sense of the sacred for the individual. In order for that to be authentic and true, it might look different for each and every person.
With these caveats in mind, a general philosophy can be gleaned from the offerings of the Sacred Living University website, from the various books published by Anni Daulter and her co-authors, from the content of the trainings, and from descriptions of the retreats themselves. The term “sacred” infuses the entire movement and belies a sense that all aspects of the immanent realm, from the mundane tasks of everyday life to the very basic of bodily functions and abilities, have the potential to be carried out with elevated focus and reverence. To see the sacred in the mundane but also in the less mundane (the rites of passage that mark the lives of women, in particular) those rites of passage that have been, of late, medicalized, isolated, and made impersonal, is both a radical and transformative move in the eyes of the movement. To elevate not just pregnancy and birth but menstruation, breastfeeding, menopause, sexuality to the level of the sacred means to embrace the human, the divine feminine, and life in new and powerful ways. [Image at right] The rituals practiced at retreats and suggested in the books all help to infuse the reader or attendees life with these new sensibilities. To do these rituals in connection with other people, either in a community at a retreat or with the support of a trained practitioner, deepens the experience of connection as well.
And it is this focus on infusing sacrality into life that is the most central belief of the movement. The wide spectrum of religions, spiritual and cultural traditions that influence the rituals and practices that the movement utilizes to achieve that goal demonstrate that the focus is on the goal more than on any commitment to orthodoxy or orthopraxy. The movement makes no attempt to define ultimate reality or even define the “sacred” but rather is a collective effort to elevate the human experience to greater connection, greater beauty and reverence. And it is this broad and intentionally vague language that makes the movement potentially accessible to a broad range of people. Participants range from devout practitioners of institutional religions that demand exclusive commitments but who are seeking something to supplement what they find in their religious community to the Spiritual but not Religious for whom this might be their only spiritual practice and community.
The Sacred Living Movement would have little meaning without ritual. Each of the retreats and trainings center around carefully designed rituals meant to build community, [Image at right] encourage reflection, and bring a sense of the sacred to the rite of passage. The rituals and practices of the Sacred Living Movement differ based upon the particular retreat and/or training but all borrow freely from a variety of traditions and cultures. Anni Daulter herself ascribes to a mix of Buddhist and Pagan traditions and has recently begun to integrate a variety of Wiccan traditions into the Movement’s offerings.
The rituals used are very much dependent on the focus of a particular training or retreat. For example, if a retreat or training is focused on a particular aspect of pregnancy, birth or postpartum care, the rituals will be a combination of emotional, spiritual, and physical focus. For a women taking part in a postpartum retreat, there might be opportunities for journaling and processing of the birth experience, recording of the story in a beautiful journal as a keepsake as well as sharing the story with other women for affirmation and community formation. Women might also take part in rituals that involve holistic care for the body, the use of herbal and traditional remedies to heal traumatized parts of the body as well as floral baths and tinctures to elevate the woman’s spirit and bring about a re-connection with her physical self. Rituals provide opportunities to recognize the power and beauty of the mother, encourage bonding with the baby, and care for and heal the body. Each ritual is performed with attention to the psychological effects of the dramatic and life-altering experience of giving birth and transitioning into motherhood, thus elevating even the most basic aspects of postpartum care to the level of spiritual ritual and sacred practice.
The Sacred Living Movement [Image at right] is now organized online under the title “Sacred Living University” as a means of emphasizing the use of retreats and online forum for training and community building. Anni Daulter is listed as the founder and creator and she is joined in the leadership team by her husband Tim Daulter and nine women. Each of these eleven individuals is connected to one, two, or three of the specific programs on offer. These individuals usually coordinate the specific trainings under their purview and lead in-person retreats when offered.
The movement now holds retreats throughout the world though its primary focus remains in the continental United States. Moreover, local groups often meet regularly, sometimes without direct connection to the national movement. The online presence of the movement has increased and now includes several avenues for training that enable trainees to use the skills and techniques gained to lead spiritual communities or to provide paid services to people in their communities. In recent years, the movement’s internet presence has evolved from advertising upcoming retreats to focusing on online trainings. Designed by Jessica Rose Booth, the website displays these offerings in the characteristic style of the movement.
What is now called “Sacred Living University” is a series of online trainings to enable individuals to gain training and certification in a variety of rituals and services that they might then offer to individuals and groups in their community. These trainings are grouped into three categories. The first, “Rites of Passage” focus on bringing “mindfulness, ceremony and beauty to life’s milestones & transitions” (Sacred Living University. n.d. “Rites of Passage”). These include Sacred Menarche, Sacred Blood Mysteries, Conscious Conception, Sacred Fertility, Sacred Mother Blessing, Sacred Pregnancy, Sacred Birth Journey, The Art of Sacred Postpartum, Sacred Belly Bind, Sacred Milk Tent, Sacred V Steams & Teas, and Sacred Menopause. In all cases, these classes are “grounded in heart work, and include practical skills, ceremony, intentional rituals and holistic wellness” (Sacred Living University n.d. “Rites of Passage”). The second category, “Intentional Living,” promises “approaches to life that help you thrive in all ways” but does not yet have any classes listed (Sacred Living University n.d. “Online Classes”). The third category of classes is “Touching Your Magic.” The track has two pathways: “Claiming Your Power” classes, which “focus on claiming your strength, your unfolding truths and your potent visions” and “Practical Magic” Classes, which offer guidance on specific daily practice of magic (Sacred Living University. n.d. “Touching Your Magic”). Among the offerings for “Claiming Your Power” are “I Am Sisterhood, Priestess Path and Sacred Brotherhood. For “Practical Magic,” they offer Intro to Spell Craft, Potions, Rebel Rose Reiki, Sacred Crystals, Sacred Elements, Sacred Money Manifestation, Sacred Ritual Dance, Sacred Ritual Dream, Sacred Sex Magick, Sacred Goddess Red Drum, Sacred Cacao Ceremony and Sacred Year.
As Daulter describes it, the movement has grown organically as the need for new and different retreats and trainings has arisen. Different members of the organization have been tapped to take on the leadership of these new initiative based on their expertise. The women and few men who now oversee particular aspects of the movement have expertise in those areas and thus have authority to develop the particular curriculum for trainings and agenda for retreats. All areas of the movement operate within the general philosophy of the movement, and all are influenced by the “beauty way” that Daulter infuses throughout the movement.
Though not listed anywhere formally on the Sacred Living Movement’s website, there exist a number of local affiliates of the movement that offer local retreats and community connections that build on the philosophy and model of the Sacred Living Movement. Often started by women who have attended Sacred Living Movement retreats and participated in trainings, these local affiliates have varying levels of conformity to the national movement and go by a variety of names.
The challenges facing the Sacred Living Movement are those shared by many similar movements that are loosely organized, relatively new, and geographically dispersed. Some of these challenges have also enabled the movement to pivot and grow in ways that are difficult for more established and institutionalized religious organizations and has also allowed the movement to continue its work in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-2021.
One challenge to movement integration is that the Sacred Living Movement does not have a central location and so any community gatherings that happen would be in varied locals or even only in cyberspace. The movement did undertake a fundraising campaign to raise money for a central retreat center (Crowder n.d.). This does not seem to have come to fruition. While the fundraising effort was begun in June of 2015 with a goal of raising $300,000 to establish a space for live retreats and a tiny house village for year-round living, the site has currently raised less than $5,000 and does not appear to be active. The last donation was made fifty-six months prior to this writing. Interestingly, the virtual focus of the movement and the transitory nature of the retreats has made the movement able to weather the financial strains of the Covid-19 pandemic in ways that other more geographically-fixed movements have not. While other movements have had to learn how to create community online or to complete instruction and trainings through the internet, this was already the model on which this movement operates.
A second challenge is the movement’s cultural appropriation of ideas and practices. A spiritual movement without ties to a particular religious tradition, the Sacred Living Movement frequently adapts and applies practices and ideas from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions as well as cultures from throughout the world. While attribution is sometimes given in the books that spell out particular rituals or in training manuals and materials, this is not always the case in the midst of a retreat or community gathering. This issue of potential cultural appropriation has brought some conflict or tension between the national and local movements. A predominantly white leadership and difficulty in diversifying participation in retreats and trainings have exacerbated these tensions. Local affiliates have been able to tailor their activities to cast a wider net and potentially to offer a more palatable experience to a broader cross-section of women.
The Sacred Living Movement is still in its organizational infancy and has evolved and changed substantially over its short history. It clearly has resonated, primarily with women, who are seeking to connect with the divine feminine they understand to reside within them. [Image at right] It has adopted easily to online presence. At the same time, though Anni Daulter provides strong creative leadership to the movement, the movement does not possess a number of the integrative mechanisms commonly found in emerging spiritual and religious movements: a clear set of doctrines and practices that define movement identity and boundaries, mechanisms for producing membership growth and a successor generation, and a geographic base. Though such challenges might affect the continued success and growth of the movement, its focus on sacralizing and elevating rites of passage and bringing the sacred to pregnancy and birth in particular, are likely to continue to have significant cultural relevance for years to come.
Image #1: Anni Daulter.
Image #2: Tim Daulter
Image #3: The cover of Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms by Anni Daulter.
Image #4: Sacred Living Movement ritual gathering.
Image #5: Sacred Living Movement logo.
Image #6: Sacred Living Movement symbolism.
** Unless otherwise noted, the material in this profile is drawn from Ann Duncan.
“Sacred Pregnancy in the Age of the ‘Nones’.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85:4 (December 2017): 1089-1115.
Crowder, Sue. n.d. “Sacred Living Center.” Gofundme. Accessed from https://www.gofundme.com/f/sacredlivingcenter on 15 January 2021.
Duncan, Ann. 2017. “Sacred Pregnancy in the Age of the ‘Nones,.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85:1089-1115.
Ramakrishna, Asha D. n.d. “Claiming Sacred Witch in Modern Times with Anni Daulter.” Women on Purpose. Accessed from https://soundcloud.com/ashaisnow/claiming-sacred-witch-in on 15 January 2021.
Sacred Living University. n.d. “Online Classes.” Accessed from http://www.sacredlivinguniversity.com/classes.html on 15 January 2021.
Sacred Living University. n.d. “Rites of Passage.” Accessed from http://www.sacredlivinguniversity.com/rites-744908.html on 15 January 2021.
Sacred Living University. n.d. “Touching Your Magic.” Accessed from http://www.sacredlivinguniversity.com/magic-467514.html on 15 January 2021.
Blumberg, Antonia. 2014. “A Woman’s Quest to Reinvigorate the Sacred Nature of Pregnancy,” HuffPost Religion, November 5. Accessed from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sacred-pregnancy-anni-daulter_us_563be540e4b0b24aee49af97 on 23 April 2020.
Daulter, Anni. 2017. Sacred Pregnancy Journey Deck: Inspirational Guidance for Your Pregnancy. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Daulter, Anni. 2012. Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Daulter, Anni. n.d. “Sacred Manifesto.” Sacred Pregnancy: The Deep Drink. Accessed from https://www.sacred-pregnancy.com/about-us on 20 April 2020.
Daulter, Anni, Jessica Booth and Jessica Smithson. 2017. Sacred Medicine Cupboard: A Holistic Guide and Journal for Caring for Your Family Naturally. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Daulter, Anni and Niki Dewart. 2016. Sacred Motherhood: An Inspirational Guide and Journal for Mindfully Mothering Children of All Ages. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Daulter, Anni and Tim Daulter. 2017. Sacred Relationship: Heart Work for Couples – Daily Practices and Inspirations for a Deeper Connection. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
29 January 2021
CASSADAGA SPIRITUAL CAMP TIMELINE
1848 (January 6): George P. Colby was born.
1875: George Colby relocated to Florida.
1893: The National Spiritualist Association (now the National Spiritualist Association of Churches) was established.
1893 (January): George Colby announced in January 1893 that the National Spiritual and Liberal Association would soon meet at DeLeon Springs in Volusia County, Florida.
1894: The Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association (CSCMA) incorporated.
1895: George Colby deeded thirty-five acres of land to the CSCMA to make a Spiritualist Camp.
1895 (February 8): The Association opened for its first season and one hundred people attended the three-day event held at Colby’s home.
1922: The original Cassadaga hotel was constructed on the Association grounds.
1926: The original Cassadaga Hotel burned down. Reconstruction began the following year and was completed in 1928.
1933: The community trustees sold the Cassadaga Hotel to a non-member purchaser.
1933 (July 27): George Colby died in Deland, Florida.
1991: Cassadaga Spiritual Camp was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2019: The 125th anniversary of the founding of Cassadaga took place.
Cassadaga, Lily Dale, and Camp Chesterfield are three of the most significant remaining spiritual camps in the U.S. (Compton 2019). While there remain a number of other active camps in the U.S., such as Camp Etna in rural Maine (Yechivi 2019), most have shuttered or operate seasonally (Leonard 2020). Cassadaga (a Seneca Indian tribal phrase meaning “rocks beneath the water”), which was established in 1894, is the oldest spiritual camp in the South. The name for the camp was taken from Lake Cassadaga where Lily Dale is located. It is often referred to as the “Psychic Capital of the World.” 2019 marked the 125th anniversary [Image at right] of the founding of Cassadaga. Despite the camp’s prominence, there are only a few comprehensive historical sources on Cassadaga (United States Department of the Interior 1991; Schaleman n.d.; Leonard 2020, 2017).
George P. Colby, [Image at right] the principal founder of Cassadaga, was born on January 6, 1848 (the same year that the Fox Sisters made spirit contact in Hydesville, New York, which started the Modern Spiritualist movement and eventual religion) to Baptists James Colby and Elminia (Lewis) Colby in Pike, New York (Colby 2020; Mimna 2017; Leonard 2020). When Colby was eight years-old, the family moved to Minnesota. Colby was baptized when he was twelve. As a young teenager, Colby apparently began to develop his psychic abilities. He soon became known in the area for healing and clairvoyant powers. He had left the Baptist church by 1867 and had begun traveling and making a living through displays of his abilities during private readings and seances as well as public appearances. He frequently visited Lily Dale in New York, as well as other Spiritualist associations and camps. As an adult, Colby remained unmarried, but he did adopt several boys and supported their education. He enjoyed a measure of prosperity during his life, [Image at right] but also experienced prolonged illness and poverty toward the end of his life.
Colby reported that early in his development as a medium he received a message from his uncle’s spirit that he would one day establish a Spiritualist camp in the South. Seneca instructed Colby to visit T. D. Giddings in Wisconsin, and the pair then traveled together to Florida to establish a spiritualist center, with the location to be determined by a “Congress of Spirits.” Colby also had begun to suffer from ill health and was advised by a doctor to seek out a warmer climate in order to convalesce (Awtry 2014:44; Karcher and Hutchison 1980:67).
Colby and his traveling party arrived at Blue Springs in Volusia County on November 1 (Karcher and Hutchinson 1980:67-68). They report that during the evening Seneca appeared to the party with a vision of the future community.
Most of the party had never before that night experienced the manifestation of a spirit entity but George Colby, in his convincing way, explained the phenomena and gained the confidence of his companions. That night, Colby had a dream about Spiritualism—how it would someday be organized as a religion. In his dream, he saw a small community in Central Florida which consisted entirely of Spiritualists—a place where people would come from all over the country to learn about and experience Spiritualism.
Well prior to locating the actual Cassadaga camp site, in 1875 Colby had already begun homesteading land in Volusia County, which he pursued for twenty years. In 1880, Colby filed a homestead claim and was granted a 145-acre tract in 1884. After a charter was granted to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association in 1894, he deeded the thirty-five acres of land to the association in 1895. The association later was able to acquire additional acreage increasing its area to fifty-seven acres (Leonard 2020).
On February 8, 1895, the Association inaugural took place with 100 people in attendance for a three-day event that was held in Colby’s home. Once the Association was established, Colby became one of the resident mediums. As time went on, however, his health continued to decline, as did his financial fortunes. He died impoverished on July 27, 1933.
Cassadaga subscribes to central tenets of Spiritualism (Cassadaga website n.d. “Who We Are”):
We believe in Infinite Intelligence.
We believe that the phenomena of nature, both physical and spiritual, are the expression of Infinite Intelligence.
We affirm that a correct understanding of such expression and living in accordance therewith constitute true religion.
We affirm that the existence and personal identity of the individual continue after the change called death.
We affirm that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of Spiritualism
We believe that the highest morality is contained in the Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye also unto them.”
We affirm the moral responsibility of the individual, and that he makes his own happiness or unhappiness as he obeys or disobeys Nature’s physical and spiritual laws.
We affirm that the doorway to reformation is never closed against any human soul, here or hereafter.
We affirm that the Precepts of Prophecy and Healing contained in the Bible are Divine attributes proven through Mediumship.
Spiritualism bases its claim to be scientific on the assertion that life is continuous; that is, everyone is a unique, eternal entity. Validation is found through mediums who receive and share information from the unseen spiritual realm. At the same time, Spiritualism is also a religion. It teaches that there is a God, who is the infinite intelligence and force that created the Natural Laws which govern the universe.
Cassadaga is careful not to assert exclusive validity for its beliefs and practices, noting that “Spiritual Healing does not deny that physicians and surgeons are necessary. We believe Spiritual Healing complements traditional as well as alternative medical practitioners and we cooperate with them at all times.” Further, Cassadaga acknowledges that self-healing may be an important part of the process. The medium channels “God’s healing energies” to the individual, even when the individual is not physically present in some cases (Cassadaga website n.d. “Who We Are”).
The central rituals at Cassadaga are conducted by mediums and healers. A medium is understood to be “one who is capable of receiving communication from people who were once living on the earth and have passed into the spirit world. This communication from entities may be spontaneous or opened and comes in the form of seeing, hearing, smelling and sensing.” A healer is one who acts as a channel to convey God’s healing energies to others, whether for physical, emotional, mental or spiritual healing. This occurs through the laying on of hands.” (Cassadaga website n.d. “Mediums and Healers). Cassadaga underscores the authenticity of mediums and healers through its assertion that each must have a minimum of four years’ certification process (Cassadaga website “List of Mediums” n.d.). In addition to the spiritual power generated by individual mediums and healers, Cassadaga itself is understood to be a spiritual vortex created by the cumulation of psychic and spiritual activities within the community.
Several dozen mediums and healers are listed on the Cassadaga Camp website. [Image at right] Each provides a profile of their personal history, certification, services provided. In general, these profiles trace their medium and healing skills to a lifelong history of spiritual and psychic proclivities, transformative experiences, and professional training (See, Fernandez 2015). All mediums offering services within the camp are required to have certification, with the exception of the privately owned Cassadaga Hotel which provides its own mediums and healers.
The authenticity and power of healings and seances is buttressed by testimonials from clients. Williamson (2008), for example, reports
Once, he was in the temple’s seance room with seven people when money started falling from the air. Another time, a spirit holding a lighted candle followed him and five other people from the room.
“We have had the room get very cold and then real hot. We have also heard voices in the walls and people moving around,” he said. “It would take a long time to tell all the wonderful things that happen in that special room.”
“I have seen hands form of ectoplasm on the table next to mine and have had them touch me,” said Cassadaga medium Victor Vogenitz, 54, a veteran of hundreds of seances.
There are community services as well. On Sunday mornings there are services: an instructional services Spiritualism, a healing service, and a church service (hymns, a guided meditation healing, a lecture)
Cassadaga Spiritual Camp’s current legal status is an “unincorporated town;” it is located near DeLand, Florida (Basu 2020). The current camp was preceded by an attempt to establish a community organized by the National Spiritual and Liberal Association in nearby DeLeon Springs in January 1893. Dr. William Rowley is credited with founding the De Leon Springs site and naming it the National Spiritual and Liberal Association (NSALA). George P. Colby became its first President. Once the Camp had outgrown its property, Abbie Pettengill, Marion and Thomas Skidmore, and Emma Huff, all of the “City of Light” in New York (now the Lily Dale Assembly), were in full agreement with most of the membership to find it a new home. The Cassadaga community so much resembled the northern camp that the group of thirteen are credited with having incorporated the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association (SCSCMA) as a sister Camp to their northern camp (Leonard 2020).
In her book, Cassadaga: Where Spirits Meet (2014:55), Marilyn Awtry identified George Colby as the founder of the actual geographic location of the camp, Cassadaga, and identified the following thirteen individuals as being the founders of the “Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association:”
Thomas Skidmore (Lily Dale, New York); Marion Skidmore (Lily Dale, New York); Abby L. Pettengill (Cleveland, Ohio and Lily Dale, New York); Emma J. Huff (Lake Helen, Florida and Lily Dale, New York); Frank Bond (Deland, Florida); Harvey W. Richardson (East Aurora, New York); Adailla C. Jewett (Cleveland, Ohio); Jerry Robinson (Lookout Mountain, Tennessee); Mariette Cuscaden (Tampa, Florida); Soledad B. Sofford (Tarpon Springs, Florida); George W.Liston (Forest City, Florida); George Webster (Lake Helen, Florida); and Maria H. Webster (Lake Helen, Florida).
Although the first gathering at De Leon attracted 1,000 participants, the project ultimately failed when founder George Rowley could not raise sufficient funds to purchase the proposed camp property. At that point George Colby offered his property as an alternative. After the camp was established, Colby went on to become a resident medium. The board of directors almost immediately amended its charter to require that the association would own all real estate within the camp boundaries. Residents were offered ninety-nine year leases on lots, but ownership would remain with the Association.
The original vision of Cassadaga was as a center and national winter resort for Spiritualists. There were seances and speeches along with outdoor activities. The camp attracted around 100 people seasonally but had only a few dozen permanent residents. Still, the community ranked as the second largest nationally after the Lily Dale Community in New York. The community expanded rapidly between the late 1890s and the late 1920s. Nearly three dozen houses were constructed by 1915. The community added major non-residential buildings, such as a post office in 1910, Colby Memorial Temple in 1923, and the reconstructed Cassadaga Hotel in 1927. Throughout the camp’s history, of course the Spiritualist church [Image at right] has, symbolically at least, been the center of the community as the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp is a religiously-based association (Leonard 2020).
Cassadaga Spiritual Camp has encountered three major issues during its history that have affected its survival and development: maintaining financial viability, controlling the emergence of unconnected businesses around the borders of the camp, and dealing with scandal and the skepticism about Spiritualism generally in the broader community.
Dating back to the early formation of Cassadaga, there have been financial problems. Indeed, the camp was initially established primarily as a result of George Colby’s initiatives and willingness to deed thirty-five acres of his land to create the new camp. While the camp did draw a number of resident mediums who attracted Spiritualist visitors, interest in Spiritualism gradually waned. A further blow to the community was the destruction of the Cassadaga Hotel by fire in late 1926. [Image at right] Although the hotel had been rebuilt by 1928, the fallout from the stock market crash in 1929 and the 1930s depression left the community with a serious financial burden. It was at this point that the community decided that it could no longer support the Cassadaga Hotel, which had been important in generating visitation. Despite vigorous debate, “the members of the Association who considered the hotel a burden prevailed. In 1933, due to its inability to pay either its taxes or the debt owed to the bondholders, the Association sold the Cassadaga Hotel” [to a private party] (Schaleman n.d.). Although the community survived the depression years, “By the beginning of World War II development in Cassadaga had come to an end” (Schaleman n.d.).
A related problem for the community has been loss of control over its boundaries. Unlike most Spiritualist camps, which tend to be in gated, fenced communities with clearly marked borders, Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp properties are intermingled with non- association buildings, homes, and businesses. [Image at right] The buildings and enterprises that are associated directly and officially with the camp are clearly marked, but the intermingling compromises a clear community identity for non-residents (Leonard 2020).
The sale and loss of control over the Cassadaga Hotel was particularly significant in this regard. The hotel hired its own mediums and also permitted some New Age practitioners to operate in the hotel (Basu 2020). As Blaogh (2013) described this two-culture issue:
The New Agers use tarot cards and stick to the Cassadaga Hotel. A stone’s throw away is the religious organization maintains the traditional belief system that Colby established in the 1800s. That’s not to say the Cassadaga Hotel and its hired psychics don’t stay true to Spiritualism as religion, but they’re a bit more relaxed about it. Its like Episcopalians and Catholics.
In response to this tension, Cassadaga-certified mediums emphasize that they are “SCSCMA Certified” (Leonard 2020).
The community identity problem has been compounded by the growth of population and businesses just outside the border of Cassadaga’s fifty-seven acre camp. As the camp acknowledged on its website (Cassadaga website n.d. “Who We Are”):
Over the years, metaphysical stores and businesses have sprung up in Cassadaga around the perimeter of the 57-acre Camp. Although many of these businesses are owned by like-minded people, they are separate businesses and unaffiliated with the Camp.
Finally, there was the problem of scandal. Along with the growth and popularity of Spiritualism, a cottage industry of skeptics emerged whose mission was advanced by scandals within the ranks of Spiritualism’s mediums. In probably the most noteworthy case, a confrontation in Boston, Massachusetts in 1896 followed the mediums to Cassadaga. According to Guthrie (1998) the incident
involved two popular practitioners at the Camp–the materializing medium O. L. Concannon and his wife, Edella, a platform test medium. While the details surrounding the episode remain sketchy, according to one eyewitness, when Mr. Concannon performed a seance in Boston a member of the audience called him a phony.
Although the accuser produced no evidence of fraud, the episode tested the relationship with residents around the camp. However, external resident-camp relationships had generally been cordial, and the local press sought to distinguish between imposters and authentic Spiritualists. In one editorial published in the Volusia County Record, for example, a county resident wrote (Guthrie 1998):
We have as much respect for a person who is sincere in his spiritualistic ideas as have for those happy in the enjoyment of any other religious belief. Because fraud and impostors have crept into the teachings of Spiritualism it affords no argument to denounce all those who are enjoying the comforts and promises they sincerely find in its doctrine.
Another wrote that “There are too many sincere and earnest believers in the faith,” it said, “to have [Cassadaga’s] plans upset by the exposure of frauds such as Concannon” (Guthrie 1998). For its part the Cassadaga community responded by immediately strengthening its certification standards.
Cassadaga, Lily Dale, and Camp Chesterfield continue to be the three most significant remaining spiritual camps in the U.S. (Compton 2019). There has been a long-term decline in broad public interest in Spiritualism, although there are a number of churches in the Spiritualism tradition. Most camps shuttered or operated seasonally after the “Golden Age of Spiritualism” (circa 1880s-1920s) (Leonard 2020). Those that have survived have tended to experience a resurgence of interest after major wars (e,g., the U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, and even the Vietnam War) when there was heightened interest in contact with the dead. It seems likely that the original concept of a retreat for Spiritualists will no longer prove viable; instead, the longer-term future of even the most resilient camps will rest on some combination of practitioner loyalty and tourism interest.
Image #1: Logo celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of Cassadaga.
Image #2: George P. Colby.
Image #3: Photograph of a medium at Cassadaga.
Image #4: The interior of the Spiritualist Church in Cassadaga.
Image #5: The original Cassadaga Hotel.
Image #6: The entrance to the Cassadaga community.
Awtry, M. J. (2014) Cassadaga: Where Spirits Meet. Sanford, FL: Shen-Men Publishing.
Balogh, Christopher 2013. “Inside Cassadaga, the Psychic Capital of the World.” Vice, January 29. Accessed from https://www.vice.com/en/article/nn4g87/inside-cassadaga on 20 November 2020.
Basu, Moni. 2020. “In Search of Spirits in Cassadaga: A writer unlocks the truths of this mystical community, its energy healers and the supernatural.” Flamingo Magazine. Accessed from https://www.flamingomag.com/2020/10/30/in-search-of-spirits-in-cassadaga/ on 20 November 2020.
Cassadaga website. n.d. “List of Mediums.” Accessed from https://www.cassadaga.org/mediums.html on 5 December 2020.
Cassadaga website. n.d. “Mediums and Healers.” Accessed from https://www.cassadaga.org/mediums–healers.htmls on 5 December 2020.
Cassadaga website. n.d. “Who We Are.” Accessed from https://www.cassadaga.org/who-we-are.html on 5 December 2020.
“Colby, George P. (1848-1933) .” Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 16, 2020). https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/colby-george-p-1848-1933
Compton, Natalie. 2019. “Interested in traveling to a spiritualist community? Here’s what you need to know.” Washington Post, October 29, 2019. Accessed from https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2019/10/29/interested-traveling-spiritualist-community-heres-what-you-need-know/ on 20 November 2020.
Fernandez, Alexia 2015. “Woman Certified As Medium At Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.” Statewide, April 3. Accessed from https://www.wuft.org/news/2015/04/03/medium/ on 5 December 2020.
Guthrie, John. 1998. “Sweet Spirit of Harmony: Establishing a Spiritualist Community at Cassadaga, Florida, 1893-1933.” Florida Historical Quarterly 77:1-38.
Karcher, K. and Hutchison, J. (1980) This Way to Cassadaga. Sanford, FL: John Hutchison Productions (Seminole Printing).
Leonard, Todd J. 2020 “A Contemporary Study of Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp: Its Historical and Spiritual Legacy.” Association for the Scientific Study of Religion 2020 Proceedings: 60-78.
Leonard, Todd J. 2017. “Camp Meetings and Spiritualism: A Report on the Status and Condition of Functioning Spiritualist Camps around America.” Association for the Scientific Study of Religion 2017 Proceedings:11-30
Mimna, Robin. 2017. “The True Spirit of Cassadaga.” Florida History, February 27. Accessed from https://medium.com/florida-history/the-mystery-and-spirit-of-cassadaga-8a0058b024b1 on 20 November 2020.
Schaleman, Harry. n.d. Casadaga: Just a Medium Place. Florida Virtual Library. Accessed from https://journals.flvc.org/flgeog/article/view/78709/76105 on 20 November 2020.
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 1991. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Historic District. Accessed from https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/2fc1fca3-b02b-475e-90c1-e321209a1423 on 20 November 2020.
Williamson, Ronald. 2008. “Since 1923 in Cassadaga, the Seance Room has been where they call upon and talk to the dead.” Florida History Network. Accessed from http://www.floridahistorynetwork.com/in-cassadaga-the-seance-room-is-where-they-talk-to-the-dead.html on 5 December 2020
Williamson, Ronald. 2008. Volusia County’s West Side: Steamboats & Sandhills. Charleston, SC: The History Press.
20 January 2021
ĀNANDAMAYĪ MĀ TIMELINE
1896 (April 30): Nirmāla Sundari was born in Kheora, a very small village in Eastern Bengal, in present-day Bangladesh.
1909 (February): Nirmāla Sundari was married to Shri Ramani Mohan Chakravarti (later called Bholanāth, a name for Śiva, by Nirmāla Sundari).
1918: While Nirmāla Sundari was living in Bajitpur (now in Bangladesh), she undertook an intensive sādhanā (spiritual discipline).
1922 (August): In Bajitpur, Nirmāla Sundari experienced self-dīkṣā (self-initiation) during the full moon.
1924: Bholanāth and Nirmāla Sundari moved to Dhaka in Eastern Bengal (which is now the capital of Bangladesh), where she attracted devotees.
1925: In Dhaka, she was named Ānandamayī Mā by Shri Jyotish Chandra Roy (known as Bhaiji).
1926: The first ashram was built by devotees for Ānandamayī Mā in Dhaka near the Siddheshwari Kali Mandir (temple).
1950: The Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha (The Śrī Śrī Ānandamayī Community) was founded.
1982 (August 27): Ānandamayī Mā “left her body” at the ashram of Kishenpur in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India.
Ānandamayī Mā was born on April 30, 1896 in the small village of Kheora in East India (on the current eastern border of Bangladesh), to poor Vaiṣṇava Brahmin parents. They named her Nirmāla Sundari, which means “immaculate beauty” or “purity.” Later the surnames of Hasi (smile) and Khusir (the joyous) were also given to her. According to her spiritual biographies, [Image at right] especially the writings of Professor Bithika Mukerji, Nirmāla Sundari proved from her childhood to be a detached child who had little interest in the surrounding environment, so much so that many thought that she was intellectually disabled.
At the age of thirteen, Nirmāla Sundari was married to the much older Ramani Mohan Chakravarti, and at eighteen, she went to live with her husband, whom she later called Bholanāth, one of Śiva’s names. Although she went through with marriage and is described as being the exemplary housewife, the couple actually never consummated their marriage and had no children. She therefore distanced herself from the traditional forms of marriage, [Image at right] going against the ideal of pativrata, the perfect Hindu woman vowed to her husband.
In 1918, Nirmāla and Bholanāth moved to Bajitpur in Eastern Bengal, where she undertook an intensive sādhanā (spiritual discipline). For six years, she is said to have practiced every type of sādhanā. Although she never received any spiritual teaching from a master yogi, she spontaneously was able to perform yogic postures and to perfect mudrās (symbolic or ritual gestures). She called this her “līlā of sādhanā” (līlā meaning play, game) for, as it has always been the same for her, there was nothing to accomplish spiritually. Thus did Ānandamayī Mā later affirm that her state had always been one of spiritual realization and that she never had past lives nor would she have future lives, as she stated:
I am what I was and what I shall be; I am whatever you conceive, think or say. But it is a supreme fact that this body has not come into being to reap the fruits of past karma. Why don’t you take it that this body is the material embodiment of all your thoughts and ideas. You all have wanted it and you have it now. So play with this doll for some time (Bhaiji 2004:6).
Gopinath Kaviraj, a Bengali pandit (Hindu scholar learned in Sanskrit scriptures, philosophy and religion), viewed Ānandamayī Mā similarly: “Samadhi or no Samadhi, She is where She always has been; She knows no change, no modification, no alteration” (Kaviraj and Vibhusana 1967:169). (Samādhi in Hinduism is a term that refers to intense immersion of consciousness in God/dess, the Ultimate. The word samādhi is also used to refer to the tomb of a saint or guru)
During this time, Nirmāla often fell into trances and was believed to be sick or possessed by spirits. Observing this strange behavior, her husband asked exorcists to cure his wife’s madness, but instead of treating her as mad, they eventually saw her as an incarnation of Devī, the Divine Mother. According to historian of religions June McDaniel, Ānandamayī Mā’s divine status is linked to these trancelike states, [Image at right] which are signs of spiritual ecstasy in Hinduism (McDaniel 1989:202). In South Asia, divine madness is seen as a kind of divine intoxication and is one of the criteria for being considered a saint (Kinsley 1974).
Nirmāla Sundari continued her sādhanā by entering a period of silence (mauna) for three years. On August 3, 1922, she eventually performed an initiation (dīkṣā) on herself, becoming at the same time disciple (śiṣya), teacher (guru), and divinity (iṣṭa). [Dīkṣā, or initiation, can be defined as the communication of an energy, of a vibration, of an influx to the initiated, or as the transmission of a spiritual influence that is said to be necessary with regard to the work of spiritual purification. This process of purification refers to the dissolution of the ego. Initiation generally involves the transmission and support of a mantra, whose function is to convey spiritual force (śakti).] In December 1922, Ānandamayī Mā’s husband asked to be initiated by her and by so doing became her first disciple. This practice of self-initiation continues to the present with some female gurus, revealing that personal experience and mystical states rather than succession or lineage frequently determines the recognition of female gurus (Pechilis 2012; Warrier 2005).
In 1924, Bholanāth and Nirmāla left for Dhaka in Eastern Bengal. (Dhaka is now the capital of Bangladesh.) It was during this period that the first disciples began to flock to Nirmāla Sundari, and it was also at Dhaka that one of her closest disciples known as Bhaiji gave her the name Ānandamayī Mā, which means “Mother Full of Bliss,” or “Mother Saturated with Joy.” Little by little, people began to hear about Ānandamayī Mā and her states of ecstasy, and came to meet her. Some saw her as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, a manifestation of the goddess Kālī, from which came the name “Human Kālī” that was given to her. Others envisaged Ānandamayī Mā as a being that had attained the state of perfect realization (Jīvanmukta, one who is liberated while living) and possessed extraordinary spiritual powers. Among the powers that she was credited with are those of clairvoyance and healing, the latter often being the basis of a saint’s reputation (Keyes 1982:2). Ānandamayī Mā, though, would never attribute these powers and miracles to herself, as she always spoke of the action of God.
At this time Ānandamayī Mā began to take less and less care of her body, and so needed others to look after her. She stated that she could not tell the difference between fire and water and that if others did not look after her body it would be destroyed. In 1926, at the age of thirty, Ānandamayī Mā also stopped eating with her own hands and was instead fed by Didi, one of her closest disciples, and other brahmacārinis (novice nuns).
In the late 1920s, Ānandamayī Mā began to take on the role of guru, or spiritual master, giving dīkṣā to a small circle of devotees, even as she still maintained throughout her life that she was not a guru. She affirmed: “Only God is the Guru. It is a sin to regard the Guru as a human being” (Desjardins 1982:190). The numbers of her devotees, mostly male in the beginning, continued to increase and in 1926 they built the Siddheshwari ashram (retreat center) for Ānandamayī Mā at Dhaka. Despite this, she did not stay at the ashram and began to make pilgrimages all over India, moving around until her death, like “a bird on the wing,” as she liked to call herself. Ānandamayī Mā did not give any indication of where she would be going or when she was going, nor did she ever specify if she would return. She would simply go to the nearest train station, often in the middle of the night, and would take the first departing train. She would follow what she called her kheyāla, or divine inspiration.
During her travels, she met people from all backgrounds. Kings, politicians, and prominent gurus and saints alike also prostrated themselves in front of her. [Image at right] Among these were Swami Shivananda Saraswati (1887–1963), the founder of the Divine Life Society, and the yogi Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952), as well as numerous politicians, including the President of the Republic of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (1884–1963), the Vice-President and philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975), and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964). [Image at right] She also had several meetings with Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), who viewed her as his daughter.
On August 27, 1982, Ānandamayī Mā “left her body,” to use her devotees’ expression, at the ashram of Kishenpur, in Dehradun, Uttarakand state, 256 kilometers north of Delhi. A procession took place during the day from Dehradun to Kankhal, close to Haridwar on the Ganges River, where Ānandamayī Mā’s samādhi (tomb) is now located, [Image at right] and her body was interred following the rules specific to the Hindu burial of a great spiritual being. Indian dignitaries came to pay tribute to Ānandamayī Mā, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917–1984), daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Ānandamayī Mā’s community of bhaktas (devotees) reflected considerable diversity. Diverse social classes and castes, and even different religions are represented. Still, the predominance of a certain type of devotee was nevertheless fairly apparent, as Ānandamayī Mā’s followers were, for the most part, Hindu, especially from Brahmin castes as she was born as a Brahmin. They were predominantly from Bengal, like she was.
Her devotees also mainly came from urban environments and belonged to the upper levels of society. In this community, it was not rare to meet rich families of industry or political personalities taking refuge at the feet of Ānandamayī Mā. It was so during her lifetime and remains the case today. It is also noteworthy that she counted among her disciples many powerful political figures, such as Kamala Nehru (1899–1936), the wife of Jawaharlal Nehru, and her daughter Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, as well as scholars like Gopinath Kaviraj (1887–1976). Ram Alexander, a disciple of Ānandamayī Mā, describes the rich and educated disciples thusly: “Often these were highly educated people who had to face serious social opprobrium, particularly as it was unheard of to receive such guidance from an uneducated village woman” (Atmananda 2000:23). It is evident that the presence of higher-class devotees, the wealthy and intellectual elites, played some role in the visibility of the worship of Ānandamayī Mā (Babb 1988:170).
Women also represented a large part of the community of devotees, and it seems that their number was greater than that of male devotees. Far from considering Ānandamayī Mā, the Supreme Goddess above all, as a source of empowerment or as a model for women, the presence of so many women devotees may be attributed to the fact that they could have more access to her body than men did (Hallstrom 1999).
There were also foreign devotees, although their numbers were far less than Indian devotees. Among the very close western disciples of Ānandamayī Mā was a Jewish doctor, Abraham Jacob Weintraub, a native of Metz, France and son of the main rabbi of that city. In 1950, he left France for Sri Lanka and India with the intention of staying only two months. Soon after his arrival, he met Ānandamayī Mā and decided to follow her. Later he became a monk (swami) in her organization, taking the name of Swami Vijayānanda (bliss of victory). Swami Vijayānanda never returned to France and spent nearly sixty years in India, including seventeen years as a hermit in the Himalaya mountains. Until his death on April 5, 2010 at the age of ninety-five, he welcomed westerners to Ānandamayī Mā’s ashram in Kankhal. Today Swami Vijayānanda is venerated at his grave in Père Lachaise, the historical cemetery of Paris, by a group of people who knew him or are attracted by his teaching. He serves as a bridge between East and West, as well as a central personage in the worship of Ānandamayī Mā.
Ānandamayī Mā embodied a great degree of universality in her doctrine. Individuals of many religious backgrounds and geographical origins were drawn to her. Her teaching suited each individual and could simply be summarized in her statements that the goal of life is the realization of one’s true nature, of oneness with God. In this regard, she spoke of the quest to know one’s true identity to escape from the world of death:
You study and you pass your exam; you earn money and you enjoy the use of it. But all this is in the realm of death in which you go on life after life, repeating the same thing over and over again. But there is also another path—the path of Immortality, which leads to the knowledge of what you are in reality (Atmananda 2000:41).
While being universal, her teaching nevertheless focused on the ancient Hindu tradition, the sanātana dharma (the eternal religion). Depending on the situation, she could refer to the nondualism of Advaita Vedānta formulated by the eighth-century monk-philosopher Śaṅkara (Shankara) based on the Upaniṣads (Vedānta, scriptures coming at the end of the Vedas); the qualified nondualism of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta formulated by the theologian Rāmānuja (ca. 1077–1157) also based on the Upaniṣads; or the dualism (Dvaita) of bhakti. However, she gave precedence to the monist tradition of Advaita Vedānta. According to Ānandamayī Mā, the real source of suffering (duḥkha) lies in the false perception of duality. She affirmed that darśana, to see and be seen by the deity, the true revelation of the divine (ātmadarśana), is not possible as long as there exists an “I”—“You have not had real darshan as long as the ‘I’ persists” (Atmananda 2000:478).
Ānandamayī Mā expressed her adherence to the doctrine of nonduality in other ways, such as referring to herself in the third person. She often called herself “this body” (Bengali, ehi śarira) or “this little girl.” To someone who requested that she describe her own experience, she said: “It would imply that the experiencer has still remained. This cannot be so here” (Anandamayi Ma 2001:61). (She often referred to herself using the term “here.”)
During her many pilgrimages and wanderings, stressing nonduality, she insisted on her everlasting presence to her devotees: “Why do you say I am going away? I am your little child and am always with you” (Atmananda 2000:496). She also stated:
You may want to banish this body from your mind. But this body won’t leave you for a single day—it does not and never will leave your thought. Whoever has once been drawn to love this body will never succeed in wiping out its impression even despite hundreds of attempts. This body rests and shall remain in memory for all times (Ganguli 1983:170).
These statements reveal Ānandamayī Mā’s understanding regarding her omnipresence beyond time and space and beyond death (mṛtyu) and birth (jāti).
Although Advaita Vedānta was to remain a point of reference in her philosophy, Ānandamayī Mā actually moved beyond it.
“A state exists where the distinction between duality and non-duality has no place. . . . But where the Brahman [unconditioned consciousness] is, the One-without-a-second, nothing else can possibly exist. You separate duality from non-duality because you are identified with the body” (Anandamayi Ma 2001:123).
Ānandamayī Mā’s view, therefore, was an encompassing vision of life, this Ultimate Reality that she defined as Yā tā, which means, “It is that which it is.”
In this regard, Gopinath Kaviraj, her disciple, shows that advaitic thought, which holds that everything is one, is actually itself inexact, in the sense that even unity dissolves when the True One is revealed: “Everything is one, the one is everything. And even this statement is not exact, for the True One is there where the meaning of the Unity no longer exists” (Desjardins 1982:200). Ānandamayī Mā also referred to the idea of totality to express the necessity of moving past ideas of duality and nonduality: “You will have to rise beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. The revelation of That is what is wanted” (Anandamayi Ma 2001:132). Scholar of religion Raimon Panikkar suggests that the term “adualism” rather than “nondualism” be used in order to eliminate this conceptual opposition (Panikkar 1998).
Ānandamayī Mā’s posthumous worship is viewed by devotees as a way to liberate themselves from ceaseless death and rebirth in the cycle of saṃsāra, as a path toward immortality. Expression of devotion to Ānandamayī Mā involves prayer, pilgrimage, and veneration of photos and other objects.
If one may always pray to Ānandamayī Mā, there are nevertheless certain moments of the year during which it is especially beneficial to pray to her. These are the great celebrations such as the anniversary of Ānandamayī Mā’s birth, Gurupūrṇimā, and the religious holiday Durgā Pūjā. These festivals are accompanied by other annual observances, such as Mahāśivarātri, the night celebrating Śiva’s cosmic dance; Holi, celebrating the defeat of evil by righteousness; and Rakṣabandhan, a vrata (vow) when sisters worship to protect their brothers; as well as participation in retreats such as the Samyam Saptah (concentrated meditation for seven days). It was so while Ānandamayī Mā was alive, and it is still the case today.
Pilgrimage is another ritual that devotees perform. Because of her great influence on all layers of Indian society, Ānandamayī Mā also represents one of the few Hindu female gurus to be worshiped in a cult at her tomb [Image at right] (samādhi), in spite of the fact that tombs of holy women are virtually nonexistent in India. With the exception of satīs (widows who reportedly burned themselves in their husband’s funeral pyres out of devotion to their husbands) worshipping a woman after her death is exceptional. However, because Ānandamayī Mā’s body was considered to be pure and sacred, she is being worshipped at her tomb in Kankhal. Her relics have become a site dedicated to the Divine Feminine, a kind of śaktipīṭha, seat of Śaktī (the Goddess and her power).
In addition, photos of Ānandamayī Mā also hold an essential place in her worship, [Image at right] whether among early or contemporary followers. Carried by devotees or placed in their homes, the pictures seem to reactivate the presence of Mā. More so even than her words or eyewitness accounts of her, photographs of Ānandamayī Mā are an essential way to mobilize new devotees. Another important element in her cult is worship by making offerings to images (mūrtis) of Ānandamayī Mā. A small number of western devotees, however, feel somewhat averse towards this type of devotional practice.
Ānandamayī Mā passed a large part of her life moving from sacred space to sacred space. To facilitate these movements, her [Image at right] devotees established ashrams all over India, especially in North India. There are today twenty-six ashrams, of which two are in Bangladesh. Although she never really wanted these ashrams, she nonetheless selected their locations. Far from being insignificant, her choice of ashram locations allows a vast network of sacred geography to become evident. This certainly had some influence on the development of the devotional movement focused on the worship of Ānandamayī Mā.
In 1950, the Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha (the Śrī Śrī Ānandamayī Community) was established, making Ānandamayī Mā the first woman in India to be the head of such a large structured movement. Although today it is common for female gurus to found their own organizations and have their own ashrams, this institutionalization of the worship of a female guru was inconceivable before her time.
Within Ānandamayī Mā’s sangha traditional rules of purity prevailed and still do, such as the exclusion of menstruating women or the rules concerning pollution tied to the caste system. These are called jhuta or that which is dirty and inappropriate, and have for thousands of years been observed by the brahmanical orthodoxy, serving as a kind of preparation to mystical life. Ānandamayī Mā adopted this orthodoxy, contested by Sufism and Buddhism as well as by Tantric Hinduism, following a meeting she had with the pandit Kaviraj. In the beginning, she did not follow the purity rules, but there was increasing pressure on her to do so. Finally, one day, she said, “Whoever is coming today will decide.” Kaviraj arrived right after she made her statement and told her that rules of caste should be maintained in the Kālī Yuga, the age of decline in morality, to form a barrier against immorality. Though she opted for these rules, she was not attached to a particular system, as she always said, Jo Ho Jay, “Whatever has to happen, will happen.” Nevertheless, the non-observance of these rules of purity would have then constituted a major obstacle for orthodox Brahmins and would have prevented them from coming to Ānandamayī Mā (Lipsky 2005:58; Atmananda 2000:163).
In fact, Ānandamayī Mā did not really respect these rules of purity, allowing herself to transgress them openly. Her Austrian devotee Brahmacharini Atmananda reports what Ānandamayī Mā told her regarding these rules, “What are these rules to me? I have eaten the leavings of a dog” (Atmananda 2000:256). Her personal transgression of the rules of purity and impurity therefore appeared to be a way of affirming Ānandamayī Mā’s authority as spiritual leader, as she was the only person with the power to authorize the observation of these brahmanical rules within her community.
These strict brahmanical rules, however, weighed on the majority of westerners, who could feel excluded by virtue of their status as outcasts or mleccha (foreigners). They had to eat separately from high-caste Indians and be housed outside the ashram, so that Hindus, and especially brahmins, could avoid any polluting contact with them.
One of the major challenges related to Ānandamayī Mā and her worship is what would become of her movement after her death. The movement has been in decline since her departure and the death of her close monks. This diminishment seems to be significantly associated with the decline of its affiliated institution, the Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha, originally founded to promote and safeguard Ānandamayī Mā’s teaching. As in the case of many other organizations founded by charismatic leaders, such as the SYDA Foundation or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, this decline can mainly be seen through power struggles, such as the choice of a successor to direct the sangha or in the division of authority between lay people and monks. Thus, the death of the charismatic founding figure represents simultaneously a challenge of and to institutionalization (Miller 1991).
There also exist some tensions within Ānandamayī Mā’s community regarding the preservation of brahmanical rules. These rules, which were described as inhuman by Brahmacharini Atmananda, may have been originally a way to reinvigorate the Hindu tradition, the sanātana dharma. In today’s globalized world, however, with the economic and social transformations that India is experiencing, these rules constitute a major obstacle to the expansion of Ānandamayī Mā’s movement. The attachment to brahmanical rules of purity by a small number of devotees within the Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha reflects, for a large number of Indian and western devotees, something that keeps potential devotees away.
Ānandamayī Mā’s sangha then is split between two factions. On the one hand, many want to enlarge her movement, notably to an international audience, which necessarily would require both letting go of the brahmanical rules concerned with maintaining the “purity” of the traditionally designated “pure” castes and a rupture with the tradition of the group’s charismatic founder, the object of their worship and devotion. On the other hand, some desire the preservation of brahmanical orthodoxy, which is ineluctably associated with exclusion and which hampers the organization’s expansion. Ānandamayī Mā’s sangha is located in the midst of this dilemma between “authenticity” and “dirtying,” between “atrophy” and “expansion.” The future of her movement seems dependent upon reconciling competing interests with the requirements of Indian modernity.
In conclusion, in her lifetime Ānandamayī Mā became arguably the most famous female religious leader in India, with hundreds of thousands of followers. Due to the extent of her influence and her death in 1982, Ānandamayī Mā is a noteworthy illustration of the posthumous worship of a female Hindu guru, with both devotees who knew her and others who did not.
Through her life, Ānandamayī Mā emerged as a figure of rupture who, by means of her devotees’ perception of her oneness with the divine, dictated the terms of her own sanctity and produced a certain dislocation from the typical gender role for the Indian housewife in several key ways. Her self-initiation and her role as a female guru, as well as her status of avatar (“descent,” an incarnation of God), as Goddess, in a patriarchal society, placed her outside of an established, male-dominated religious order (Cornille 2004:134). Her spiritual position independent of her husband and her refusal to adopt the traditional forms of marriage by following the ideal of pativrata were transgressive. Her reforms promoted women’s equality, such as her introduction of upanayana, the Vedic sacred thread rite of passage as initiation into the student stage of life for high caste women, qualifying them to study Sanskrit and the Vedic scriptures. Finally, the scope of her religious movement and her impressive network of ashrams was something unheard of at the time for an Indian woman. Despite her conservative tendencies in relation to certain aspects of Indian culture, especially with regard to her approval of arranged marriage and her non-condemnation of satī, this ambassador of Hinduism can paradoxically be recognized as a charismatic figure, who represents a radical change in the Hindu religious landscape in regard to women gurus.
Due to her far-reaching influence on Indian society, today Ānandamayī Mā is the object of worship at her tomb, a practice that is usually reserved for male gurus and just a few women, who are worshipped because of their connection with a male guru, for instance Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) and The Mother (Mirra Blanche Rachel Alfassa (1878–1973). Ānandamayī Mā can thus be viewed as an iconic figure of female religious leadership, highlighting an innovative vision of holiness by revealing a new mode of veneration of female gurus, that of veneration of the teacher regarded as a living presence within her tomb.
Ānandamayī Mā, thus, represents a shift to female leadership in the world of Hindu gurudom, [Image at right] and her tomb, her samādhi, is a symbol of the affirmation of the Divine Feminine. With the growing acceptance of the role of guru for women, it is likely in the future that we will see a far more significant veneration of women gurus in their respective tombs emerge within the Hindu tradition. As such, the study of Ānandamayī Mā’s life and her postmortem worship represents a true milestone in the field of study of women in religions.
Image #1: Nirmāla Sundari at a young age.
Image #2: Nirmāla Sundari with her husband Shri Ramani Mohan Chakravarti (later called Bholanāth, a name for Śiva, by Nirmāla Sundari).
Image #3: Ānandamayī Mā.
Image #4: Ānandamayī Mā with Indira Gandhi and her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India.
Image #5: Temple housing the samādhi (tomb) of Ānandamayī Mā in Kankhal, Uttarakand, India.
Image #6: Priest standing next to Ānandamayī Mā’s samādhi (tomb) as he performs āratī, waving of lights before her image (murtī).
Image #7: A murtī, an image or statue, of Ānandamayī Mā on an altar that also includes her photo, a framed print depicting her footprints, and pictures depicting other Hindu deities.
Image #8: Ānandamayī Mā.
Image #9: Ānandamayī Mā’s blessing
Ānandamayī Mā. 2001. Words of Sri Anandamayi Ma. Translated by Atmananda. Kankhal: Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha.
Atmananda. 2000. Death Must Die. A Western Woman’s Life-Long Spiritual Quest in India and Its Fulfillment through Her Guru, Shree Anandamayee Ma, edited by Ram Alexander. Varanasi: Indica Books.
Aymard, Orianne. 2014. When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Mā Ānandamayī after Her Death. New York: Oxford University Press.
Babb, Lawrence A. 1988. “Sathya Sai Baba’s Saintly Play.” Pp. 168-86 in Saints and Virtues, edited by John Stratton Hawley. Berkeley: California University Press.
Bhaiji, ed. 2004. Mother as Revealed to Me. Kankhal: Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha.
Cornille, Catherine. 2004. “Mother Meera, Avatar.” Pp. 129-47 in The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States, edited by Karen Pechilis. New York: Oxford University Press.
Desjardins, Arnaud. 1982. Ashrams. Grands maîtres de l’Inde. Paris: Albin Michel.
Ganguli, Anil. 1983. Anandamayi Ma: The Mother Bliss-incarnate. Calcutta: Eureka.
Hallstrom, Lisa L. 1999. Mother of Bliss: Ānandamayī Mā (1896-1982). New York: Oxford University Press.
Kaviraj, Gopinath, and Padma Vibhusana. 1967. “Mother Anandamayi.” In Mother as Seen by Her Devotees, edited by Gopinath Kaviraj. Varanasi: Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha. Accessed from https://www.anandamayi.org/books/masbhd.htm on 10 January 2021.
Keyes, Charles F. 1982. “Charisma: From Social Life to Sacred Biography.” Pp. 1-22 in Charisma and Sacred Biography, edited by Michael A. Williams. Washington, D.C.: American Academy of Religion.
Kinsley, David. 1974. “‘Through the Looking Glass’: Divine Madness in the Hindu Religious Tradition.” History of Religions 13:270–305.
Lipsky, Alexander. 2005. Life and Teaching of Śrī Ānandamayī Mā. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
McDaniel, June. 1989. The Madness of the Saints. Ecstatic Religion in Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Miller, Timothy, ed. 1991. When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Mukerji, Bithika. 2002. My Days with Sri Ma Anandamayi. Varanasi: Indica Books.
Mukerji, Bithika. 1998. Life and Teaching of Sri Ma Anandamayi (A Bird on the Wing). Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.
Panikkar, Raimon. 1998. L’Expérience de Dieu. Paris: Albin Michel.
Pechilis, Karen. 2012. “The Female Guru: Guru, Gender, and the Path of Personal Experience.” Pp. 113-32 in The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Jacob Copeman and Aya Ikegame. New York: Routledge.
Vijayananda, Swami. 1997. Un Français dans l’Himalaya: Itinéraire avec Mâ Ananda Môyî. Lyon: Terre du Ciel.
Warrier, Maya. 2005. Hindu Selves in a Modern World: Guru Faith in the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission. New York: Routledge Curzon.
13 January 2021
Andrew J. Dell’Olio is Professor of Philosophy at Hope College in Holland, Michigan (U.S.A.). He received his B.A. from Rutgers College and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He studied with Oscar Ichazo and the Arica Institute from 1982 to 1986. He has published numerous articles in the philosophy of religion and ethics, and is the author of Foundations of Moral Selfhood (2003) and co-editor (with Caroline J. Simon) of Introduction to Ethics: A Reader (2010). His current research interests include the comparative philosophy of moral self-cultivation and the history of religious philosophy in the 20th century.
1931 (July 24): Oscar Ichazo was born in Roboré, Bolivia.
1937: Ichazo suffered from violent cataleptic episodes which caused out-of-body experiences.
1943: Ichazo assisted in the dissection of cadavers at a La Paz medical school.
1948-1950: Ichazo was a student at University of La Paz and also studied in Peru.
1950: Ichazo was appointed Director of Bolivia’s Library of Congress.
1950-1952: Ichazo participated in a group in Buenos Aires studying various esoteric philosophies and consciousness-raising techniques, including Gurdjieff’s teachings.
1952-?1953: Ichazo traveled to the Middle and Far East and studied yoga, Buddhism, Indian and Chinese philosophies, martial arts and Sufism.
1956: Ichazo began teaching philosophy and spiritual disciplines in Chile to small groups.
1960: Ichazo completed and began teaching in Chile what has come to be known as his “Integral Philosophy.” Teachings included particularly his theory of Protoanalysis, including the Enneagram of Personality, as well as his logic of Trialectics.
1968: Ichazo founded the Institute of Gnosiology in Santiago, Chile and delivered lectures at the Institute of Applied Psychology in Santiago, Chile.
1970 (July 1): Ichazo led fifty-seven students in a ten-month training program in Arica, Chile.
1970: Chilean psychiatrist, Claudio Naranjo, left the Arica training early and began teaching Ichazo’s enneagram of personality to small groups.
1971 (December 31): Ichazo organized a three-month training in the Essex House Hotel, New York City (New York One) and founded the Arica Institute at 24 West 57th Street, New York.
1972: John Lilly published The Center of the Cyclone, which included his account of the training in Arica.
1972: Arica began offering “40-Day” and “Advanced” Trainings in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London, as well as other cities in the United States, Canada, South America and Europe.
1973 (July): Sam Keen’s interview with Ichazo appeared in Psychology Today.
1976: The Human Process for Enlightenment and Freedom was published.
1981: Ichazo left New York City and moved to Maui, Hawaii where he established the Oscar Ichazo Compay (later the Oscar Ichazo Foundation).
1982: Between Metaphysics and Protoanalysis: A Theory for Analyzing the Human Psyche and Interviews with Oscar Ichazo was published.
1982: Ichazo lectured at Metamorphosis Training in Maplecrest, New York.
1983: Arica trainings began to be produced by the Oscar Ichazo Company and increasingly were designed to be conducted by individuals or small groups in home settings and at Reunions held in Maui, Hawaii (1990, 1995, 2000, 2010).
1986: Letters to the School was published, which included charges of plagiarism directed at the spate of books beginning to appear on the enneagram of personality.
1989: Arica Institute files a lawsuit against Helen Palmer and Harper & Row Publishers for copyright infringement with regard to Palmer’s 1988 book, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life.
1991: Ichazo wrote “Letter to the Transpersonal Community” explaining his account of the origins of the Enneagram of Personality and denying its links to Sufism and the teachings of Gurdjieff
1991: Ichazo received the Award of Excellence from the Society of Writers of the United Nations.
1991-1992: Arica Institute lost its lawsuit and its appeal as the court ruled “fair use” on behalf of Palmer.
1993: Arica continued to present very few public trainings, instead offering a lengthy series of private, advanced trainings to a few hundred members. Ichazo’s written work after this point was generally accessible only to members of the Arica School.
2000: Ichazo received the United Nations Society of Writers Award of Excellence.
2020: The Four Killers of Humanity: The Ethical Solution to Our Existential Crisis was published and made available to the public.
2020 (March 26): Ichazo died at his home in Maui, Hawaii.
In 1969, following glowing reports from fellow seekers in South America, a group of fifty-seven or so Americans traveled to the desert of Arica, Chile for a ten-month period of study with the Bolivian mystic and philosopher, Oscar Ichazo. [Image at right] Many of these individuals were from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, already a leading center of what has come to be called “the human potential movement.” As Dick Price, one of the founders of Esalen said at the time, “Arica cleared our bench” (Anderson 2004:227). The most notable of the participants in Ichazo’s program were the Chilean psychiatrist, Claudio Naranjo, and the neuro-scientist and dolphin researcher, John C. Lilly. Ichazo began teaching his theory and methods in 1956 to groups in South America, giving the first public presentation of his thought in 1968 to the Institute of Applied Psychology in Santiago, Chile, attended by Naranjo. While Naranjo and Lilly did not finish the ten-month training, they were impressed with Ichazo’s teachings and his ability to bring about higher states of consciousness in his students through many different practices and techniques culled from the world’s spiritual traditions but reconfigured and streamlined for contemporary western society. On their return from Chile, Ichazo and his students founded the Arica Institute in New York City and in 1971 offered a three-month training in Manhattan’s Essex House, guaranteeing enlightenment for a fee of $2,000.
Throughout the 1970s, thousands of people took Arica trainings and became members of the Arica School, modeled after ancient schools of human development in Greece, India and the Middle East. The Arica School still exists, although its membership is in the hundreds and it offers fewer public trainings than it did in its heyday. While Arica does not consider itself a religion, it is clearly religious and thus is often included in academic treatments of new or alternative religious movements. Indeed, Oscar Ichazo and the Arica School, largely through Naranjo and his students, sparked one of the largest developments within New Age spirituality in the last twenty years, the enneagram personality-type movement.
What is known of Ichazo’s history largely derives from his own personal accounts (Ichazo 1982b) or those of the Arica Institute (Arica website n.d.). He was born in Bolivia in 1931 and raised in Bolivia and Peru as a Roman Catholic, attending Jesuit schools. At an early age, Ichazo was afflicted with a physiological condition that at times caused him to undergo out-of-body experiences. In order to understand and control his condition, he underwent training in martial arts under a Japanese master and read widely in his uncle Julio’s vast library. He eventually studied medicine, psychology and philosophy at universities in Bolivia and Peru.
At the age of nineteen, Ichazo describes a meeting with “a remarkable man” who introduced him to a group of mystics in Buenos Aires, mostly European businessmen (Ichazo 1982b:7). Ichazo served as a kind of coffee boy to the group, which studied an eclectic mix of spiritual writings and methods, such as yoga, Kabbalah, Tarot, as well as the Gurdjieff work. (Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous was translated into Spanish in 1952 and his student, Rodney Collin, published The Theory of Celestial Influence in Spanish in 1953.) The only individual of this group Ichazo mentions is Leo Costet de Mascheville (Jehel) who was the son of Albert Raymond Costet-Conde de Mascheville, the man who introduced Martinism to Latin America. It was Albert Costet who apparently founded the esoteric study group in Buenos Aries that Ichazo encountered. His son, Jehel, at one point the President of the Martinist Order of South America, eventually becomes known as Sevananda, and went on to establish one of the first yoga ashrams in Latin America (Simões 2018). Ichazo studied with this esoteric study group for several years, practicing different spiritual techniques and eventually, according to Ichazo, clarifying for them some of the philosophical teachings they were studying, especially the Enneagram. These men then enabled Ichazo to travel to the Middle and Far East where he studied yoga, qigong, I Ching, Buddhist meditation and Sufism. According to Naranjo, Ichazo was thought of as a Sufi teacher by those in the original Chile group, and it was intimated that Ichazo had made contact with the same esoteric school that Gurdjieff claimed to have contacted, the Sarmoung Brotherhood (Naranjo 1970). Ichazo has denied, however, that his teachings are derived in any way from Sufism or the teachings of Gurdjieff himself (Ichazo 1991).
When he returned to Latin America in the mid-1950s, Ichazo began teaching philosophy and spiritual techniques to small groups in Chile. During this time, he synthesized these teachings and created his own philosophical system, developing his theory of protoanalysis, an analysis of the human psyche from its lowest levels of consciousness to its highest, including his nine-fold Personality Typology based on the Enneagram, as well as a new logic for understanding the unity of existence, trialectics.
After teaching his own work to small groups, Ichazo gave lectures on protoanalysis to the Institute of Applied Psychology in Chile in 1968. He subsequently invited a group of Latin Americans to train with him in Arica, Chile and then invited a number of Americans to join the training group. This ten-month, intensive training is described in John Lilly’s The Center of the Cyclone (1972). This training was followed by a three-month training in New York at the Essex House hotel at which Ichazo boldly guaranteed enlightenment by the end of the program. At the conclusion of this training, the Arica Institute was established in New York with satellite centers in major U.S. cities and elsewhere. Arica attracted significant attention in the early seventies, eventually enrolling thousands of students throughout the decade, with not insignificant cultural impact. Alexandro Jodorowsky’s film, Holy Mountain (1973), an allegory of the quest for enlightenment, bears the influence of Ichazo, who trained Jodorowsky and central cast members for three months prior to filming.
Meanwhile, Naranjo, who left the training in Arica, introduced Ichazo’s enneagram personality theory to his own students in Berkeley, California. Naranjo developed his own version of this typology and taught it throughout the 1970s where it eventually made its way to the Jesuits and Catholic retreat centers. By the mid-1980s books began appearing on the “Enneagram of Personality” (see, for example, Beesing, et. al. 1984 and Palmer 1988). In 1982, his book Between Metaphysics and Protoanalysis: A Theory for Analyzing the Human Psyche and Interviews with Oscar Ichazo was published. [Image at right] Ichazo, who had published very little of his own work (1976, 1982a and 1982b), preferring to keep his teachings to members of his own esoteric school, did not take kindly to what he regarded as the plagiarizing and distorting of his ideas. This gave rise to the so-called “Enneagram Wars” (Goldberg 1993; See also Effross, 2003). Arica filed a lawsuit against Helen Palmer and Harper & Row after the publication of Palmer’s The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life (1988). However, the court ruled against Arica in 1991, upheld in an appeal in 1992, maintaining that Palmer’s use of copyrighted Arica materials constituted “fair use.” The Arica School had a much smaller public presence for the next three decades with the formation of Oscar Ichazo Company in Hawaii and a shift in the teaching and practice toward individual home trainings. The nature of this work is largely unavailable to non-members of Arica. and members must sign non-disclosure agreements. The Arica website indicates that the new work is focused on the transcendental dimension leading to ultimate enlightenment or “theosis.” Indeed, after a period in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Arica work seemed to focus largely on what Ichazo described earlier as “symbol yoga” (similar to Vajrayana Buddhism with an emphasis on imagining oneself as a kind of Buddha or deity), recent years have brought the use of more Greek terminology. For example, in place of a Buddha, we are introduced to the “Divine Metatelos” as a name for a particular higher level of mind, and students are encouraged to participate in the One and the Good, suggesting a more western, Platonic character to the Arica School.
Since material from the last thirty years or so is largely unavailable to the public, this summary restricts itself to the basic doctrines of the Arica School. Even so, it is difficult to summarize as robust a teaching as what Ichazo calls his “Integral Philosophy,” especially a teaching that has developed over fifty years and that includes so many different spiritual practices. Arica claims to demonstrate and practically achieve “the human process toward enlightenment and freedom,” the systematic “clarification of consciousness,” and, in general, the unification of science and mysticism. Ichazo is regarded variously by students as the Qutub (the Sufi notion of the Perfect Man who acts as the spiritual pole around which other spiritual teachers revolve), the Maitreya Buddha, or simply a philosophical sage and teacher. Similarly, the Arica theory and method has been presented as the next development of Buddhism or as a contemporary version of a philosophical school modeled on ancient Greek wisdom schools. In brief, Arica is a method and theory of human development that draws from philosophy, religion and contemporary psychology and biology to forge a system of thought and practice designed to lead to spiritual enlightenment. Early on, Sam Keen described Arica as “the nearest thing we now have to a university for altered states of consciousness” (Keen 1973, reprinted in Ichazo 1982:7). Ichazo (described as a mystic, scientist and philosopher) proposes to unify reason and mysticism in a theory of the human psyche known as “protoanalysis.” It is structured according to the symbol of the Enneagram, and a new logic of the whole known as “trialectics.” The successful application of the Arica theory and method, Ichazo maintains, in the form of successive “trainings,” will lead to the transcendence of ego-consciousness and the awakening of divine consciousness. This, in turn, will bring about a transformation of human society and the establishment of a unified humanity, referred to as “Humanity-One.” This will occur in a new global culture or “metasociety,” characterized by a shared understanding of human nature and its spiritual potential, and no longer divided by tribal or national or religious discord. The long-awaited global utopia or heavenly kingdom on earth is thus to be achieved not simply through the good will of men and women but by reason and practical effort as a critical mass of individuals make the quantum leap to a new level of spiritual maturity.
Ichazo’s theory of the human being, or protoanalysis, is based on what he calls the “Divine Human prototype,” something like the model or Platonic Form of the person (Ichazo 1976:75). Born in a state of unity with God and the world, each person in their essence is a perfect reflection or manifestation of the divine reality. At some point, however, we begin to slip away from this unity as a sense of separate individuality arises and the ego develops. Thus, there is a distinction between the human being’s essence (one’s true nature) and the human being’s ego or personality (the false deviation from one’s true nature). The ego, as the distorted image of the divine-human prototype, is made up of the illusory beliefs, feelings, desires, etc., that maintain our separateness from God and each other, and that perpetuates our suffering. It is only when the ego is reduced or eliminated that human beings can be restored to unity with God and one another in the state of blessedness or supreme happiness and fulfillment. (In later teachings, the ego becomes synonymous with the Relative Mind and the essence with the Absolute Mind. Suffering is eliminated when the Absolute Mind is separated from the Relative Mind and then re-integrated, the Relative Mind seen as a reflection or “shadow” of the Absolute Mind in the state known as the Ornamental Mind.)
Ichazo’s now well-known Enneagrammatic theory of personality describes the ways in which the ego manifests and the how it can be restored to its essential nature. In general, the enneagram serves to structure the Arica theory of the human being, and all things, since all things manifest themselves according to this pattern (See Ouspensky 1949:286-94). And so, Arica theory presents itself as a kind of nine-pointed cylinder [Image at right] that could be sliced up into individual enneagrams that build upon one other in hierarchical sequence (Ichazo 1982c). For example, while pure consciousness is the primary reality and precedes its material manifestation, in the human being it manifests as nine constituents: materiality or elements, systems, mentations, senses consciousness, mental perceptions, domains, feelings or discriminative mind, willing intention, and access base. The nine constituents are akin to the Buddhist notion of the Five Aggregates that constitute the illusory “self.” Fundamental to an understanding of the ego is awareness of the nine physiological systems: sexual, skeletal, digestive, protective, circulatory, expression, coordination, central nervous system, unity system. These systems in turn give rise to energy centers, like chakras, that manifest in the psyche as the instincts, functions and drives that constitute what Ichazo calls the “hypergnostic systems”: the sexual pole, the function of space, the conservation instinct, the function of time, the relations instinct, function of expression, the function of coordination, the adaptation instinct, the spiritual pole.
The most important of these systems are the three instincts. Each instinct innately asks a “living question” fundamental to survival: “How am I?” (Conservation Instinct), “With Whom am I?” (Relations Instinct), and “Where am I?” (Adaptation Instinct). Each instinct also gives rise to different kind of reason (empathetical, analogical and analytical), and a different ego entity: the historical ego that hold on to past hurts, the image ego that is concerned with how one presents oneself and is regarded by the others, and the practical ego that is focused on making one’s way in the world. As in Plato’s tri-partite model of the soul, these three ego entities will be at war with each other until inner balance is achieved, resulting in the natural ego or persona which acts as a “witness” capable of self-observation and eventually self-actualization and self-transcendence (Ichazo 1982a:79-80).
One of the principal tools for self-observation is the realization of one’s “fixation,” that is, at what point on the enneagram one’s development is fixated or stuck due to the “karma” one has accumulated in one’s life, typically as a result of traumas of early childhood. These fixations, similar to what Gurdjieff called one’s “chief feature,” are what has come to be known in popular culture as one’s “personality type” or “Enneagram type.” The nine fixations are related to the nine Domains of Consciousness that correspond to the nine systems. The fixations and their Domains are as follows:
Ego-Resentment (Over-Perfectionist) fixated in the Domain of Sentiments
Ego-Flattery (Over-Independent) fixated in the Domain of Health and Security
Ego-Go (Over-Efficient) fixated in the Domain of Creativity
Ego-Melancholy (Over-Reasoner) fixated in the Intellectual Domain
Ego-Stinginess (Over-Observer) fixated in the Domain of Social Interaction
Ego-Cowardice (Over-Adventurer) fixated in the Domain of Work and Activities
Ego-Planning (Over-Idealist) fixated in the Domain of Hierarchy and Authority
Ego-Vengeance (Over-Justice-maker) in the Domain of Laws and Morals
Ego-Indolence (Over-Nonconformist) in the Spiritual Domain
As in Aristotle’s virtue theory, each fixation habitually errs on one side of a dichotomy within a Domain of Consciousness. So, the Ego-Vengeance “personality type” (the Eighth), for example, tends to be either too strict or too unconstrained with oneself or others. This type is plagued by remorse for which one attempts to compensate or seek release by inflicting cruelty on oneself or others. The vice or “passion” at work here is excess, which may be overcome by “karma cleaning” (working through one’s past experiences to see how these tendencies developed) and cultivating the virtue of innocence. Meditating on the Holy Idea of Truth aids in the cultivation of the virtue and leads to a pacification of the psyche. And so on for the other fixations (See, Ichazo 1982b:13-17).
In another way of linking body and mind, Ichazo insists that thought is not a product simply of the brain or the central nervous system but the entire body (Ichazo 1982b:12-13). Dividing the body into twelve parts, Ichazo assigns each part with a particular cognitive function or mentation. So, the ears, for example, perceive the meaning or substance of things; the eyes see forms; the nose detects possibilities, etc. One way in which the ego distorts reality is through deviations in these mentations. A person might mistake possibilities for substance, for example, and understand what something is simply in terms of the thing’s possibilities. Just as knowledge of one’s fixation or personality type aids in self-observation and eventual freedom from the particular habits and tendencies that limit one’s development, so too does the awareness of these deviations help one to see how skewed patterns of thinking might perpetuate one’s subjectivity and consequent suffering.
And in yet another way of dividing things up, in recent years the Arica system has been organized in terms of Five Realms, each corresponding to five primary body cavities: the Vital Realm (pelvic cavity) the Physical Realm (abdominal cavity), the Emotional Realm (thoracic cavity), the Mental Realm (cranial cavity) and the Spiritual Realm (dorsal cavity). Each realm also corresponds to one of five basic elements: fire, earth, air, water and space. Given the connection to body cavities, physiological systems and natural elements, it is tempting to suggest a biological or materialistic basis for the Arica system. Yet, the teaching asserts that the body is an expression of consciousness and that, in fact, all is consciousness. At the root of each element and realm, for example, is a Divine Mind or Deity, each an aspect of the One Supreme Reality, God, understood primarily as Absolute Mind or infinite, eternal consciousness. Metaphysically, therefore, the philosophy of the Arica school is a version of Idealism, for consciousness is the fundamental reality. In this, it is most similar to the Yogacara or Consciousness-Only School of Buddhism, focusing on the way the subjective or Relative Mind constructs a false image of reality until it ceases and realizes at its base is the immovable, unchanging, adamantine Absolute Mind. It also bears a strong similarity to the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus with its insistence on the ultimate unity of all things in the One and the procession or manifestation of reality from Mind and Ideal Forms. But its version of idealistic monism is theistic, as seen in its credo or Declaration of Unity: “God is eternal, is in all of us, is in everything, is One without second.”
The emphasis in Arica theory on consciousness (its metaphysical primacy as well as the practical aim of clarifying and raising it) includes a map of the levels of consciousness. A main feature of John Lilly’s presentation of Arica theory in The Center of the Cyclone (1972) is an early version of the levels of consciousness which span, metaphorically from hell to heaven, that is, from the lowest levels of suffering in which one is as removed as possible from reality as it truly is, to the experience of reality as such, namely, oneness with the Absolute or union with God. Four levels of “satori” are described, corresponding to spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical centers (like chakras) of the person, and numbered from three at the highest to twenty-four at the lowest (Lilly 1972:148-49). So, state twenty-four, the first level of satori or enlightenment, occurs when one is centered in the lower belly, like the t’ai chi or kung fu master, whose mind is silent and alert rather than distracted by the dream-like constant chattering in one’s head. This state of the pacified mind, “permanent 24,” in which one lives what is described as a “divine life,” is the level of consciousness the early trainings of Arica aimed to achieve. Above this level is state twelve, the opening of the higher emotional center, described as the “blissful state” in which experiences divine grace (baraka) or cosmic love, as well as a oneness with and love for all things. This state is one of extreme joy and high energy, leaving one unable to speak as one enters what Lilly calls the “happy idiot country,” a state highly desirable but rarely achieved. And so on up to further indescribable states of spiritual attainment. State forty-eight is a neutral state of normal waking consciousness in which one is capable of objective understanding using trialectical analysis. Below this are the negative states of increasing subjectivity and suffering. More recent presentations of the levels of consciousness eschew the numbered states of satori and propose nine lower levels of subjectivity which are the negative image of the nine higher levels of objective awareness.
Although Ichazo is most well-known for his Enneagrammatic theory of personality types, the foundation of his thought is his proposed new logic of trialectics. Trialectics is regarded as the logic of unity, a logic that bridges science and mysticism. By “science,” Ichazo means largely experiential or experimental observation leading to universal laws of nature. As such, it can be tested and verified, and this is what differentiates science from faith or religion, the other home to mysticism in world history. The aim of trialectics is to capture the “logos” that governs nature and, indeed, all that is, in a grand metaphysical manner; a way of thinking that grasps the way things are, the fundamental laws or principles or reality. It is mystical logic in its emphasis on unity: it is a way of thinking that overcomes dualisms. Traditional logic or dialectical thought is fundamentally dualistic. It is binary with its chief operators, true and false. In this it is machine-like with the digital “0 or 1” toggle-switch mentality of digital computers the best contemporary example. In recent years many of sensed the need for new way of thinking, for a new holistic logic to replace, or at least supplement, the dualistic and mechanistic rationality inherent in the Cartesian, Newtonian model of the universe. Trialectics is an attempt at giving expression to this new holistic logic (See Dell’Olio 2012).
The basis of trialectics is what might be called “triadic reasoning,” that is, the overcoming of duality by a third, mediating principle that unifies two opposing principles. According to Ichazo, this idea is actually quite old and may be found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions (Ichazo 1982a:74). Similar to Gurdjieff’s Law of Three, trialectics asserts that any phenomenon can be analyzed in terms of three factors: an active force, an attractive force and a third function that mediates the interaction of the two forces. In this way, trialectical logic sees the unity behind seemingly opposing forces; in a sense, its triadic reasoning attempts to capture the coincidence of opposites. Yet, trialectics is more than a method of reasoning that sees unity in opposition. As a metaphysical description of the world of phenomena, it is also an account of the laws of reality. Ichazo typically presents trialectics as bearing on the issue of “identity,” that is, of what is. As metaphysical propositions, the laws of trialectics go beyond triadic thinking per se to include basic principles describing way things are from the point of view of the whole, that is, from the perspective of the unity of reality.
The three laws of trialectics do for cycles what the three classical “laws of thought” of Aristotelian formal logic do for space and what the three laws of Hegelian-Marxian dialectical logic do for time. For Ichazo, formal logic describes a static world while dialectical logic captures a changing universe but in terms of conflict rather than cooperation. In this, formal logic reflects the mentality of the child while dialectical logic reflects the mentality of the adolescent. Similarly, formal logic reflects the ancient and medieval time periods of western culture, a time of slow change where the social order seemed fixed and stable with static hierarchies, while dialectical logic reflects modernity with its rapid pace of change, its political religious and intellectual revolutions, its class struggles, and its belief in progress and limitless expansion.
But as much as each logic captures its own time in thought, neither fully manifests the mature mind since neither thinks in terms of limits, and maturity, for Ichazo, comes with the recognition of limits (Ichazo 1982b:163). The mature person accepts what can and cannot be achieved, that there are limits to action, growth and development. So, the thinking inherent in the modern age, rooted in competition and win-loss scenarios, that sees endless growth and limitless resources, must give way to a new logic that describes change but within prescribed limits and stable patterns.
The laws of trialectics are as follows: (1) The law of mutation from one material manifestation point (MMP) to another MMP. This law states that the universe has pre-established laws and points in which change occurs within fixed patterns. The material manifestation of phenomena take place at “neutral points of retention of energy,” that is, MMPs. (2) The law of circulation. This law states that opposites are in a state of equilibrium where “inside everything is the seed of its apparent opposite.” Change is a harmonious process of circulation of energy rather than a conflictual war or struggle of antagonistic forces. (3) The law of attraction. This law states that things do not remain stable but more toward higher or lower MMPs on a fixed hierarchy of levels (Ichazo 1982a:75).
The law of mutation gives expression to a dynamic universe of energy forming stable but temporary patterns we experience as material objects or substances. As matter or energy transforms into new stable patterns, it does so, not gradually but in discontinuous jumps and at fixed points, both at that micro-level as water changes to ice at 0 degrees centigrade and changes to steam at 100 degrees centigrade, or at that macro-level, as in the “punctuated equilibrium” theory of evolution. More obvious examples in nature include the stages of any life-cycle, as in the egg that becomes a caterpillar then a chrysalis and then a butterfly. As in the case of the stages of human development from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood, the transformation occurs in jumps at fixed manifestation points.
The process of change, as we have already seen, is described by Ichazo in terms of the triadic relationship between an active principle, an attractive principle and the function that unites them (Ichazo 1982a: 74). The simplest example of this triadic relationship is in the generation of life itself with the mother as attractive principle, the father as active principle and the love between the two as the function that results in the child. The active-attractive-function triad is also at work in the law of circulation. Rather than conceive of change in terms of contradictions in nature, change is conceived in terms of interdependence between active and attractive elements. Both elements contribute to each other and, through a process of attraction or love, join in unity. Seen from the perspective of unity, pace Heraclitus, night is attracted to day, not at war with it. The harmonious circulation of energy between the active and attractive principles maintains the equilibrium and unity of the process.
Attraction is also at work, of course, in the law of attraction. Rather than conceive of change occurring through the dialectical notion of “the negation of the negation,” the third law of trialectics posits a less destructive principle. The law of attraction states that “everything is attracted to expansion or contraction,” (Ichazo 1982a: 64) that is, everything is attracted to higher or lower levels of manifestation of energy or MMPs. Rather, than think of the seed as “negated” by the plant, the trialectical mode of thought thinks of the seed as attracted to becoming a plant. In trialectics, as in Dante’s vision of the universe, it is love that moves the moon and stars, not strife or conflict.
For Ichazo, the notion within trialectics of fixed points of change or MMPs has implications for psychological and spiritual growth. Just as there are levels of material manifestation, from cells to stars, there are levels of psychological or spiritual manifestation. From the madman to the Buddha, the stages of human development are pre-determined, as pre-determined as stages of water from fluid to vapor. Ichazo’s program of spiritual development is based on the existence of these stages or levels of self-realization, and it is because he believes he has the map of the entirety of the human process, in Arica he has produced a scientific approach to mysticism based on the new logic of trialectics.
The primary vehicle for the transmission of Arica teachings have been residential group training programs. These trainings typically make use using a special high-protein diet, including a special drink known as “Dragon’s Milk,” a physical exercise regimen known as Psychocalisthenics, a special deep-tissue massage known as “Chua K’a,” a form of qigong known as kath generation (the lower belly is referred to as the kath center), and meditations which involve yantras and specific kinds of breathing. Beginning levels of study would focus on “karma cleaning” or the systematic review of one’s life experiences across the nine systems and domains, etc., to clarify issues and patterns that hold back one’s personal development and keep one from living a fully awakened life. This process of analyzing and freeing oneself of one’s ego, also known as ego-reduction, includes tools for self-observation. These inlcude knowing one’s “fixation” or personality types, developing “witness” consciousness, and eventually learning how to separate the Absolute Mind from the Relative Mind then re-integrating them in the Ornamental Mind of the enlightened individual. Other practices include chanting and singing, Sufi dancing (or Zhikr), theater exercises, and attending the lectures of Oscar Ichazo. The Line of the School Level trainings are arranged from beginning to advanced and are categorized in terms of the Five Realms (vital, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual), as well as a separate set of Transcendental State trainings. Individual, non-residential trainings are also offered in addition to the residential group trainings (See, “The Trainings” 2021).
Arica Institute [Image at right] is a non-profit organization run by a Board of Directors. Ichazo had not been a member of the Board since moving to Hawaii in 1981 when he formed the Oscar Ichazo Company, now the Oscar Ichazo Foundation, which is distinct from Arica Institute but has served as the source of new trainings and communications to the Arica School. The Arica School consists essentially of its dues-paying members, who also pay tuition for trainings, supporting the work of Ichazo. Ichazo was assisted primarily by his wife, Sarah Hodge Ichazo, and a small team in Hawaii. Since Ichazo’s recent death, the Arica School continues under the leadership of Sarah Ichazo.
From the beginning of the Arica School there seems to have been a tension between the need for it to be closed group (a secret or esoteric school) and its “mission” to save humanity and the planet by establishing “Humanity-One” or the metasociety. There has also been a tension between Ichazo as the supreme leader and teacher (guru?) and the idea that Arica is a democratic organization (“Arica is you”). After leaks of its teachings and practices early on by Claudio Naranjo led to the popularization of enneagram of personality and “the Enneagram Wars,” Arica became hyper-vigilant about copyrighting seemingly everything in its storehouse of concepts and techniques. But such a proprietary stance regarding its offerings runs against its stated aim of reaching as many people as possible and its being a force for the positive transformation of the culture as a whole. It also runs counter to aspirations of intellectual legitimacy for its theory and method since, as the court stated in Arica’s failed lawsuit against Helen Palmer, a purported factual discovery (such as the claim that there are nine distinct ego fixations) could not be protected under copyright laws.
Similarly, many students over the years, including some prominent early ones such as Naranjo, Lilly, and Dick Price of Esalen, have been turned off to what they regarded as the hierarchical, autocratic, dictatorial organization model of the school and the corresponding “group-think” of its membership. (Price’s experience of his participation in Arica is recounted in Kripal 2007:178-79). The authoritarian reputation of the school, along with the high cost of its trainings, has likely inhibited growth in its membership and influence.
The inability to produce in a timely manner a successful publication of the long-awaited complete Arica theory and method has also likely inhibited Arica’s influence, and no doubt was a factor in its challenges with others publishing material derived from its teachings. Ichazo’s own writings are often obtuse, and his lack of solid academic credentials has also likely made it difficult for them to gain wide acceptance.
One might also point to the seemingly interminable nature of Arica’s training program. The first residential training in New York City guaranteed enlightenment in three months, but for the next fifty years new trainings have rolled out promising ever higher attainments of enlightenment. A skeptical observer might wonder why a theory and method touted for its velocity in achieving enlightenment has taken so long to produce an enlightened student.
Ichazo himself has said that mystical schools such as Arica come into being for a period of time and for a specific mission (Ichazo 1982b:119). Perhaps Arica achieved its mission in first few years of its existence, helping to accelerate the raising of consciousness of modern Western society and assisting in opening it up to the significance of spiritual disciplines for personal and social transformation. Yet, Arica gave itself the lofty mission of transforming enough people to achieve a new level of humanity, a global metasociety where we recognize and realize our oneness, and where we avert the “four killers” of over-population, uncontrolled pollution, nuclear Armageddon or fallout, and the abuse and exploitation of natural resources. But since there has been no shortage of such disasters in recent decades, a case could be made that the Arica School has failed in its aim. After all, we seem further from the metasociety or a unified humanity than ever before. Still, perhaps this achievement is simply too high a bar to judge any spiritual teaching or school, not to mention most major world religions and philosophies which, in many if not most cases, share this noble, if ever elusive, aim.
Image #1: Oscar Ichazo in 1976.
Image #2: The cover of Interviews with Oscar Ichazo.
Image #3: The Enneagram. Image courtesy of Rob Fitzel. Accessed at http://www.fitzel.ca/enneagram/index.html.
Image #4: The Universal Logos, symbol of the Arica School.
Anderson, Walter Truett. 2004 . The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the Human Potential Movement. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.
Arica website. n.d. Accessed from www.arica.org on 5 January 2021.
Arica website. 2021. “The Trainings.” Accessed from https://www.arica.org/system/abttrain.cfm on 9 January 2021.
Beesing, Maria and Robert J. Nogosek and Patrick H. O’Leary. 1984. The Enneagram: A Journey of Self Discovery. Denville, NJ: Dimension Books.
Dell’Olio, Andrew J. 2012. “The Arica School: Towards a Logic of Unity?” Pp. 153-73 in Philosophical Explorations of New and Alternative Religious Movements, edited by Morgan Luck. Farnham: Ashgate.
Effros Walter A. 2003. “Owning Enlightenment: Proprietary Spirituality in the ‘New Age’ Marketplace.” Buffalo Law Review 5:483-678.
Goldberg, Michael J. 1993. “Inside the Enneagram Wars.” L.A. Weekly, October 15, 16-26.
Ichazo, Oscar. 1991. “Letter to Transpersonal Community.” Pp 87-117 in The Arican. New York: Arica Institute Press.
Ichazo, Oscar. 1982a. Between Metaphysics and Protoanalysis: A Theory for Analyzing the Human Psyche. New York: Arica Institute Press.
Ichazo, Oscar. 1982b. Interviews with Oscar Ichazo. New York: Arica Institute Press.
Ichazo, Oscar. 1982c. “Metamorphosis Lectures.” Maplecrest, NY (author’s personal notes).
Ichazo, Oscar. 1976. The Human Process for Enlightenment and Freedom. New York: Arica Institute Press.
Keen, Sam. 1973. “’We have no desire to strengthen the ego or make it happy.’ A Conversation with Oscar Ichazo.” Psychology Today, July. Reprinted in Interviews with Oscar Ichazo, pp. 3-24.
Kripal, Jeffrey J. 2007. Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lilly, John C. 1972. The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space. New York: Julian Press.
Naranjo, Claudio. 1970. “Report from Chile: Oscar Ichazo and the School.” Tiburon, CA: Big Sur Tapes.
Ouspensky, P.D. 1949. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Palmer, Helen. 1988. The Enneagram. New York: Harper & Row.
Simões, Roberto Serafim. 2018. “Early Latin American Esoteric Yoga as a New Spirituality in the First Half of the Twentieth Century.” International Journal of Latin American Religions 2:290–314.
10 January 2021
1948-1950: Land was granted in Shashemene to the black people of the world (Ethiopian World Federation members).
1954: The first Ethiopian World Federation (EWF) members from Montserrat settled on the Land Grant.
1955: Mayme Richardson, Ethiopian World Federation international organizer, came to Jamaica to publicize the Land Grant and seek membership.
1964: The first Rastafari Ethiopian World Federation member from the U.S. settled in Shashemene.
1965: Jamaican Rastafari Noel Dyer walked from the U.K. to Ethiopia.
1968: Jamaican Rastafari (Ethiopian World Federation members and non-members) arrived in small groups in Shashemene.
1970: The Shashemene Land Grant was divided among twelve families.
1972: The first settler from The Twelve Tribes of Israel settled in Shashemene.
1974: The Ethiopian revolution brought a military junta to power.
1975: All rural lands were nationalized, including the Shashemene Land Grant.
1986: Land was granted back to eighteen families in Shashemene.
1992: A celebration of Centenary of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I (HIM) in Ethiopia took place and arrivals resumed.
2007: A celebration of the Ethiopian millennium took place, and the number of arrivals and settlements in Ethiopia peaked.
2018: The Rastafari in Ethiopia received resident identification credentials (foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin).
Shashemene is the name of a southern market town in the Rift Valley in Ethiopia; it is situated 250km from capital city Addis Ababa. Today it is on the southernmost tip of the regional federal state of Oromia. This secondary town has witnessed steady growth since the 1950s and counted at least 150,000 inhabitants in 2020, many of whom were migrants from various regions in Ethiopia. Shashemene, however, is known worldwide because of several hundred Rastafari who “fulfilled prophecy” and live there. They settled on land granted by the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, and they form a unique community of “returnees” to the African continent. As a consequence, the name Shashemene is often used, in Ethiopia and internationally, to designate this community and the symbolic centre of the Rastafari movement. It is sung as such by reggae artists, for example, Sydney Salmon’s Shashemene on my mind (Salmon 2000).
The Emperor of Ethiopia granted land in Shashemene to thank the “Black people of the world,” members of the Ethiopian World Federation (EWF), for their moral and financial support during the war with Italy (1935-1941). The EWF was founded in New York in 1937 by Ethiopian Melaku Beyan in order to sensitize public opinion and to centralize support for the cause of Ethiopia. As a token of appreciation five gashas of land, or 200 hectares, were granted to the members of the EWF. The oral tradition of the Rastafari movement gives 1948 as the year of the Land Grant, while archival research points to 1950. This land was in a rural environment in the 1960s, but it is now to be found within town limits and administration. It is known locally as “Jamaica sefer” or Jamaican neighbourhood.
For various reasons related to the political dynamics shaping the Back to Africa claims among the African diaspora in the Americas, settlement in Shashemene started slowly. It began with first settlers Helen and James Piper, [Image at right] Black Jews and Garveyites originally from Montserrat, arriving from the U.S. in Ethiopia in 1948, and in Shashemene in about 1954. They established their farm and a school, and developed social ties with surrounding Ethiopians. They were followed by a handful of African Americans of various denominations, including pharmacist Gladstone Robinson, the first Rastafari from the U.S. in 1964, and Baptist Rev. William Hillman from Georgia U.S. in 1965. Other African American and African Caribbean residents in Ethiopia were sporadic visitors, and the early Shashemene settlers did go occasionally to Addis Ababa, then a full day journey away.
The spectacular journey of Noel Dyer, a migrant Jamaican Rastafari who left the U.K. in 1964 and walked to Shashemene, illustrates the faith and the passion with which Rastafari have engaged with Ethiopia and Shashemene in particular. A couple years after the 1966 landmark state visit of Emperor Haile Selassie I [Image at right] in the Caribbean, groups of Rastafari from Jamaica started arriving in Shashemene. Some were members of the EWF while others were not. They were a couple family units, a few single sistren, and a majority of brethren, painters, builders, masons, carpenters and bakers. The Rastafari petitioned the Ethiopian Crown on various occasions and were granted support, mainly in terms of employment and access to land. In July 1970, the Shashemene Land Grant was divided nominally among twelve persons or households, while more people were arriving in the country, including the first members sent by the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This organization, an offshoot of the EWF with a distinctive theology, was founded in 1968 in Jamaica by Vernon Carrington (Prophet Gad). It focused on repatriation to Ethiopia, and it was closely associated with the growth of reggae music. In 1969, both the Prime minister of Jamaica, Hugh Shearer, and opposition leader, Michael Manley, visited Ethiopia, and Rastafari’s presence and culture were instrumentalized in view of the 1972 elections in Jamaica, eventually won by the socialist opposition.
The small but growing community living on the Shashemene Land Grant was harshly impacted by the revolution taking hold of Ethiopia and dethroning Haile Selassie I in September 1974. Despite coming from impoverished background in Jamaica, the Rastafari settlers were identified as beneficiaries of the Crown in Ethiopia, and as such were directly threatened by the violent change of regime. By March 1975, the military junta ruling Ethiopia (called the Derg) nationalised all rural land in the country, including the Shashemene Land Grant. The Pan African motive of this grant did not hold in front of social change in Ethiopia. Rastafari residents lost most of the land, secured only a few of their houses, and many decided to leave the country. Only a handful of young members from the Twelve Tribes of Israel arrived in the late 1970s. They survived in a context of civil war, curfew, and food ratio, with very few visitors, including Bob Marley in December 1978. Following various petitions to the government, some land in Shashemene was eventually granted in 1986 to eighteen families in order to ease their living conditions.
Following another change of regime in 1991, an international coalition of Rastafari organized in Ethiopia a three-week long celebration of the centenary of Haile Selassie’s birthday (1892). With Shashemene anew on the diasporic agenda, diasporic arrivals resumed with peaks in 2000 and in 2007, the millennium year in the Gregorian and in the Julian calendar (the latter in use in Ethiopia). A striking feature of these decades was the increasing diversity of the “returnees” to Shashemene, who did not come only from Jamaica, but from the many places where the Rastafari movement had bloomed. The EWF had been revitalized in the U.K. during the 1980s, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel had developed a dozen international branches. Thus, Rastafari from all the Caribbean islands, and from the Western metropolises (U.S., U.K., Canada) started arriving in Shashemene. In addition, two of the historic “houses” of Rastafari in Jamaica, The Theocratic Order of Nyahbinghi and the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC, also known as Bobo Ashanti), sent members to reside in Shashemene.
If Shashemene represents a form of enclave, [Image at right] it is one with porous social and spatial borders. With Rastafari of about fifteen nationalities and many Ethiopian-mixed households, it is a cosmopolitan community that entertains strong links with family members abroad and fellow Rastafari worldwide. The habitat of the neighbourhood is mixed, Rastafari and Ethiopians live in the same streets, and of course, the population of Ethiopians grows much faster than the pace of settlement by Rastafari. Rastafari in Shashemene do not represent a separate territory from their surrounding, they are tightly knit in the local fabric, that remains under the control of the Ethiopian administration and people.
The first settlers on the Shashemene Land Grant were Black Jews from the U.S., and oral history has it that Black Muslims came as well in the late 1950s. One of the early settlers was a Baptist minister, from the U.S. as well. These various religious affiliations illustrate the oecumenical character of the EWF in its early days. This was a particularly striking character of the EWF in the U.S. and up to the late 1950s, until International Organizer Mayme Richardson came from New York to Jamaica in 1955 seeking to renew the membership of the EWF. By then, Jamaican Rastafari who had previously struggled to enter into the EWF were empowered and developed their own local branches of the EWF in Kingston. The first groups of Jamaican Rastafari to settle in Shashemene came from these branches. They were followed by members of The Twelve Tribes of Israel who still represent a numerical majority on the Shashemene Land Grant. Thereafter, Rastafari representing various “houses” (like The Theocratic Order of Nyahbinghi and the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress) settled, as well as non-affiliated Rastafari.
Today, the Shashemene community is a Rastafari community, made up of various denominations and affiliations, therefore displaying a variety of doctrines and beliefs that reflect the international Rastafari movement. Still, all commit to hailing the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of Juda, Emperor Haile Selassie I; and they show deep love for Ethiopia as well as a strong claim to Redemption through Repatriation to Africa. Symbolically, they consider Africa as Zion (a Holy land where God resides), [Image at right] which stands in opposition to Western spaces, values and institutions called Babylon (a place of exile and depravation). More than any other community, Rastafari have a specific claim to Shashemene: land was granted by Haile Selassie I, their God and King, the central figure of their cosmology and worldview. As a result, they feel therefore particularly concerned and entitled to it.
The Rastafari calendar is celebrated in Shashemene, and two dates in particular draw both local and international crowds to the community: July 23, the Earthday (birthday) of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and November 2, the Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Other significant dates include Empress Menen Asfaw Earthday (April 3), Marcus Garvey Earthday (August 17), as well as Ethiopian Christmas (January 7) or New Year (September 11). Some Rastafari, in particular the Bobo (EABIC), observe the Sabbath.
The main place of worship is the Nyahbinghi Tabernacle, [Image at right] a sacred circular space, where the drums of Rastafari are beaten, and the Fire Key lighted. Depending on the presence and engagement of residents, weekly or monthly ritual gatherings take place, in addition to the main celebrations of the Rastafari calendar. The Bobo hold their own ritual services, in the Bobo camp that had various locations in time.
Regular meetings, music and entertainment take place regularly in the Twelve Tribes of Israel HQ and in the EWF HQ. On specific occasions, like the July 23 celebration, the day could start with celebration in the Tabernacle and finish late in the night with a sound system or a reggae concert in the Twelve Tribes HQ. On that particular date, a motorcade was organized with drums, flags and families climbing in colourful trucks that would drive slowly from the neighbourhood to the centre of Shashemene town and back, thus displaying Rastafari’s presence and aesthetics to the wider Ethiopian population.
The formal representation of the Shashemene community has always been a matter of contention. Various factions of the EWF have long opposed each other, and while EWF has a historical legitimacy on the Land Grant, Twelve Tribes members have been a numerical majority since the 1970s. As of today, most dialogues and procedures vis-à-vis the Ethiopian local and national governments follow two channels, one through the EWF, which is now revitalized with a strong leadership, and the other one through the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
There are in addition a number of community associations. The oldest one is the Jamaica Rastafari Development Community (JRDC), which has functioned since the early 2000s. It brings together the various Rastafari houses in Shashemene, except the EWF, and runs a primary and secondary school. Other organizations were short-lived; but some are enduring, like Ancient of Days, that focuses on Elder’s care, and Positive Action Charity Organization, which runs the Yawenta School. Furthermore, a number of organizations abroad support local initiatives, like the Shashemene Foundation and IDOR in the U.S., Sick Be Nourished in the U.K., and Yawenta France, thus inscribing Shashemene both locally and in a wide diasporic space.
The Shashemene community faces a number of challenges. Some are internal challenges, related to the building of a community of people coming from various backgrounds and bound by faith and experience. [Image at right] Most challenges though are related to the Ethiopian environment: economic survival and local social integration are major issues. Many returnees develop various businesses, and have valuable skills to implement, but cash and capital for investment are often hard to come by. Further, while job opportunities are scarce, the price of labour is always considerably under international standards. This community has survived a revolution (1974), civil war and a violent change of regime (1991). It never engaged actively in Ethiopian national politics, but it is often associated with the Ethiopian Crown, and as such it meets the animosity of Oromo nationalists who consider former Emperors Menelik and Haile Selassie as colonialists. Shashemene, as a major town of southern Oromia, sees recurrent eruptions of violence motivated by larger political and ethnic tensions. These outbursts of violence do not target the Rastafari community directly, but it remains a small and vulnerable community and an easy prey to arbitrary land spoliation and local practices of corruption.
The 2017 announcement by the Ethiopian government that the Rastafari living in Ethiopia would be granted formal rights to residence was implemented in the following couple of years, marking a major step in the legal integration of Rastafari residents in Ethiopia. For the Rastafari and their children, after decades without papers and without rights to either residence or access to Ethiopian citizenship, this formal recognition came with a sigh of relief. Despite this important gesture, the larger international picture of “returnees” from the old African Diaspora to Africa remains an unaddressed human rights issue. That issue is located at the core of the contemporary discussion of and struggle for reparations for slavery.
Image #1: Helen Piper, Gladstone Robinson, and James Piper in front of the Pipers’ house in Shashemene, ca. 1965. Private archives, G. Robinson.
Image #2: Emperor Haile Selassie I.
Image #3: Welcome sign at the entrance to the Shashemene town.
Image #4: Wall painting of a Rastaman in Ethiopian-inspired iconography.
Image #5: The Nyahbinghi Tabernacle in Shashemene.
Image #6: A Shashemene community gathering.
Community gathering in the tabernacle
** Unless otherwise noted, the content of this profile is drawn from Giulia Bonacci, Exodus! Heirs and Pioneers, Rastafari Return to Ethiopia, University of the West Indies Press (2015).
Aarons, David. 2020. “From Babylon to Ethiopia: Continuities and Variations of Utopianism in Rastafari Reggae Music.” Popular Music and Society. Accessed from https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2020.1795480 on 15 December 2020.
Bonacci, Giulia. 2018. “‘It Would Have Pleased the Great Spirit of Mr. Garvey’: Helen and James Piper and the Return to Ethiopia.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 5: 293–31.
Bonacci, Giulia. 2016. “The Return to Ethiopia of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” New West Indian Guide 90:1–27.
Bonacci, Giulia. 2015. Exodus! Heirs and Pioneers, Rastafari Return to Ethiopia. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press.
Bonacci, Giulia. 2013. “The Ethiopian World Federation: A Pan-African Organization among the Rastafari in Jamaica.” Caribbean Quarterly 59:73–95.
Christian, Ijahnya. 2018. “No Migration, Repatriation. Spiritual visionings and political limitations of Rastafari repatriation.” Pp. 316-32 in Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Politics, edited by Olivia U. Rutazibwa and Robbie Shilliam. London: Routledge.
Gomes, Shelene. 2018. “Counter-Narratives of Belonging: Rastafari in the Promised Land.” The Global South 12:112-28.
MacLeod, Erin. 2014. Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land. New York: New York University Press.
Niaah, Jahlani. 2012. “The Rastafari Presence in Ethiopia: A Contemporary Perspective.” Pp. 66-88 in Rastafari in the New Millennium, edited by Michael Barnett. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Salmon, Sydney. Shashemene on my mind. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdvnENC_u0E on 15 December 2020.
19 December 2020
Giulia Bonacci is a historian, researcher at Institut de recherche pour le développement, and she is posted at URMIS, Université Côte d’Azur, France. She studies the intellectual history and the popular cultures that circulate between Africa and the African Diaspora since the nineteenth century. Her book Exodus! Heirs and Pioneers, Rastafari Return to Ethiopia was translated and published by The University of the West Indies Press (2015) and received two awards in the USA, including Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2017). Her latest papers were published in Esclavages & Post-esclavages, Tumultes, Northeast African Studies, The International Journal of African Historical Studies (Volume 1), and New West Indian Guide.
Adam Possamai is Professor of Sociology at Western Sydney University and the Deputy Dean of the School of Social Sciences. His recent publications are The Sage Encyclopaedia of the Sociology of Religion (edited with A. Blasi, 2020, Sage), The Social Scientific Study of Exorcism (edited with G. Giordan, 2020, Springer), Sociology of Exorcism in Late Modernity (written with G. Giordan, 2018, Palgrave McMillan), The I-zation of Society, Religion, and Neoliberal Post-Secularism (2018, Palgrave McMillan), and the novel La réflexion de Borgia (2018, Black Coat Press, Tome 2 de la série, Les possédés de la Renaissance).