Florence Houteff


1919 (May 7):  Florence Marcella Hermanson was born.

1935 (May 19):  The Hermanson family moved with Victor Houteff to Mount Carmel, near Waco, Texas.

1937 (January 1):  Florence and Victor Houteff married.

1955 (February 5):  Victor Houteff died and Florence became Vice-President of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

1955 (November 9):  Florence announced the start of the period leading to the establishment of the Davidian Kingdom.

1959 (April):  Florence announced that a “solemn assembly” would take place later that month and that the faithful were to gather by April 16 to prepare for the great events that were to occur.

1959 (April 22):  A date set for the resurrection of Victor Houteff and war in the Middle East. About a thousand Davidians gathered at New Mount Carmel for Passover to witness the event.

1960 (December):  Florence declared that the message of the Shepherd’s Rod, a publication started by Victor in 1929, was to go to all Protestant Christians and not be restricted to Seventh-day Adventists.

1962 (March 1):  Florence Houteff formally resigned as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

2008 (September 14):  Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin died. Her grave is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington.


Relatively little is known regarding the life of Florence Houteff (née Hermanson) other than that which can be gleaned from sources that have her husband, Victor Houteff (1885–1955), founder of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, as their principal subject. [Image at right] This presents a problem of perspective. Nevertheless, there are some biographical details that are helpful to report here. Florence was born in 1919, the daughter of Eric and Sopha Hermanson and sister to Thomas Oliver Hermanson. Members of the Hermanson family were among the very earliest converts to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a group from which the later Branch Davidians were to emerge. According to a census return dated 1940, Sopha, Thomas Oliver and Florence Hermanson/Houteff were already residing at the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas in 1935, with their earlier place of residence listed as Los Angeles. These details are in full accord with the wider reconstructed narrative of the beginnings of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists given in secondary sources. Newport, for example, provides evidence that Florence was among the very first group of Davidians to move from California to Texas, a trip that commenced on May 19, 1935 (Newport 2006a:57). Florence’s actual place of birth is listed as Wisconsin. This same census record lists Florence as being the wife of Victor, which makes the reported date of January 1, 1937 entirely plausible (Newport 2006a:58).

Florence Houteff is mentioned several times in what is undoubtedly one of the most important sources for the study of early Davidians, the memoirs of George Saether located at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a good insight into the life, thought, and times of Florence can be gained from a study of that material (Saether 1977). As first a Hermanson and then a Houteff, Florence assumed a central role during a period of around twenty years, that is, from her arrival at Mount Carmel to the death of Victor in 1955.

It was upon her husband’s death, however, that Florence Houteff really came to the fore when she became the leader of movement. Her ascendency in 1955 was not uncontested however; there were at least three other contenders, including the later founder of the Branch Davidians, Ben Roden (1902–1978) (Newport 2006a:96). Florence occupied the leadership position until her resignation in March 1962. That resignation, which was not Florence’s alone but that of the entire executive council, marked the breakup of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists into several splinter groups, one of which was to become the Branch Davidians (see further Newport 2006b). Little is known of Florence following this key event. However, it is clear that at some point she married Carl Levi Eakin (1910–1998), whose grave, like that of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin, is located at Evergreen Memorial Gardens in Vancouver, Washington. [Image at right] The date of Florence’s death is given as September 14, 2008.


As a core member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, and indeed the wife of the movement’s founder and president, Florence’s conceptual and theological framework would have encompassed the broader, and complex, understanding of the world that marked out the Davidian movement as a whole. This ground has already been covered elsewhere in some considerable detail (Newport 2006a; Adair 1997 ). By far the most distinctive aspect of Florence’s thought came in response to the crisis within the movement that came about as a result of Victor Houteff’s death in 1955. The innovation was the now widely known prediction of Florence that Victor was to be raised from the dead, not at some indefinite point in the future but, rather, on April 22, 1959. As always there was concern to show that this expectation and date were rooted in the scriptures, and while the precise details of the interpretative process that was put in place to demonstrate the veracity of the claim are obscure, it seems fairly certain that the period of forty-two months or 1,260 days mentioned in the book of Revelation (11:3; 12:6; 13:5) was the bedrock (Newport 2006a:97–100).

Florence claimed that this period was very much on Victor Houteff’s mind during his last few days and that he had confirmed that the fulfilment of the prophecy was yet to occur, at least in what he called antitype. This use of type/antitype relates to a rather complex approach to prophetic interpretation of biblical texts, which was key to the Davidian movement, and, indeed, to the Seventh-day Adventist tradition as a whole. When this period was thought to have started is unclear, but it cannot have been on the day of Victor’s death, which would have yielded the date of July 19, 1958 for the fulfilment of the passing of 1,260 days. April 22, 1959 is itself important as it was Passover in that year, and the Jewish festivals had long been an important part of Davidian belief and practice. If the culmination of the period was to fall on that date, the prophetic stopwatch should have been started on November 9, 1955 (Victor had died in March of that year). In fact, it was on November 9 that Florence announced in the Davidian publication The Symbolic Code : “We’ve now entered these [1,260] days.” There is evidence to suggest that Florence had delayed the announcement until then so as to have the completion of the period fall during the Passover season (Newport 2006a:99). The end of this period would see the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:15, which speaks of a “solemn assembly” that is to take place. Florence set this out in The Symbolic Code of April 1959. Davidians were to gather by April 16 for preliminary meetings and then to attend the solemn assembly in order to prepare themselves for the major events that were then to take place (Adair 1997:206–07).

The expectation of the resurrection of Victor Houteff was part of a much wider set of beliefs concerning the events that would occur at the appointed time. Helpfully these were set out in a press release some time shortly before April 22. Specific mention of Houteff’s resurrection is noticeable by its absence, though other sources make it reasonably certain that the Davidians were expecting such a resurrection to take place. What is outlined is fairly standard Davidian belief: there would be war in the Middle East that would render the land of Israel largely empty of inhabitants. Concurrent with this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church would be cleansed (this involved a literal slaughter of those who had not been true to their professed faith it seems), and any that remain, including the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, would be called by God to inhabit the land of Israel and set up the new Davidian Kingdom, that is, the new literal latter-day Kingdom of David. In fact, nothing much happened.

Failed prophecies punctuate the history of many such groups, of course. However, it is worthy of note that following the non-event of April 22, 1959, Florence eventually took a step that few others in her position have ever taken: she admitted that she had been wrong. The re-evalution of the prophecy was not instantaneous, but it eventually did come. The key date here is March 1, 1962 when Florence submitted her resignation as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. And it was not just Florence who resigned but rather the whole of the executive council. The details of the letter of resignation are particularly illuminating: there is a candid expression of fundamental doubt in the teachings of the movement and even of the much earlier prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen Gould Harmon White (Newport 2006a:108-10). Florence’s days as a member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists were over. She then largely disappeared from view and little is known about her activities over the next four decades leading up to her death in 2008.


The wider Seventh-day Adventist movement from which the Davidians arose retained two aspects of Judaism that are largely absent from the rest of the Christian tradition. These are the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, which is kept as a day of rest and not just the day upon which church is attended; and the abstaining from unclean meats. From the outset Victor Houteff established even stronger continuity between the beliefs and practices found in the Hebrew scriptures and those of the New Testament. The type/antitype framework was key to this continuity. Such a framework suggests something of a chiastic structure to the progress of God’s people whereby what was true at the beginning (the type) will be true at the end (the antitype). This framework was core to the Davidian tradition. Indeed, Houteff went so far as to say, “where there is no type there is no truth” (Newport 2006a:77). The most obvious example here is that just as there was a literal King David in “type” and that king ruled over a literal kingdom in Israel, so in antitype there will be a literal King David who again will rule over a kingdom in Israel. This belief supplies the name of this movement: the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. Consequently, practices such as the paying of the second tithe, restrictions regarding diet, observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, and other examples of the Davidians’ constant attempt to live out what many others in the Christian tradition take to be part of the “Old” Testament that was done away with in the New Testament form a regular part of the narrative that describes day-to-day life at the Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center under Florence Houteff.

It was aspects of this type/antitype framework that provided the group, including Florence, with a number of rituals and practices, the most obvious of which was the attempt to gather together the inhabitants of the new Endtime Davidian kingdom, an activity which dominated much of Davidian collective life. Again, Saether’s memoirs are well worth a careful read in this context. An additional very good insight is provided by Mary Power in a Master’s thesis submitted to Baylor University in 1940. The date of Power’s thesis and the work that it contains is obviously important in the context of seeking to understand the form, content, and nature of the beliefs and practices among the early Davidians, including Florence Houteff. What is particularly helpful is that Power’s work is based upon a number of visits she made to the community together with discussions that took place between Power and some members of the early Davidian community and a doctor, not a Davidian, who had a good first-hand knowledge of the Davidian group. Among the practices upon which Power reports are the precise nature of Sabbath observance, which included some preparatory fasting in order to clear the mind for focused Bible study. She also reports how group members were strict vegetarians, but not vegans, and always prepared food in the simplest possible manner. There was a dress code in place and women all had long hair as this was God’s will. The community developed its own system of currency. Dancing, “common literature,” attending the theater, using tobacco, wearing gold, or dressing in expensive clothing were all banned. Even married women wore no ring. Power also had a useful chapter on marriage and the family. One cannot say to what extent Florence was responsible for the development of such practices as those outlined by Power, but that she was one of the original members of the community and was compliant with them seems relatively certain.


Florence Houteff seems to have played an important role within the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist tradition almost from its outset. As such her name appears on a range of primary documents coming from this period of the group’s history, copies of most of which are held at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. She is, for example, named as an appointed trustee of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in a document dated August 15, 1949.

As noted above, Florence took on the key leadership position within the group following the death of her husband. It was her
claim that on his deathbed Victor had specifically named her as the chosen successor, a claim that was reinforced by Florence’s brother Thomas Oliver Hermanson. There appear to have been no further witnesses to Victor’s words on this matter, and unsurprisingly it was challenged by some others within the movement, particularly by those who harbored ambition for the highest office themselves. In the end, however, since no one else was able to produce evidence either that Florence had not been so designated or that another claimant had a better case, Florence was appointed to the Vice-Presidency of the group. Victor Houteff’s actual post of President was not again filled as it was one to which only God could appoint.

Florence Houteff set about seeking to stabilize the group and there can be no doubt that the focus of the 1,260-day prophecy achieved this to some measure. By November 1955 the group had a very clear sense of destiny, and the clear and precise expectation regarding the importance of the date April 22, 1959. Even if the precise events of that day were not at first outlined in detail, they nevertheless provided a rallying call and sense of urgency. The task of calling the faithful to gather in preparation for the move to Israel had been central to Davidianism from its inception, but in the year or two before Victor’s death it had taken on very specific focus. Indeed, it was in order to support the work of unprecedented evangelism that the process of selling the original Mount Carmel property in Waco and moving to a much less favorable, and therefore less expensive, site close to Elk, Texas, some twelve miles out of Waco began. The sale was underway prior to Florence taking up the leadership (Adair 1997:175–77), and it was this “New Mount Carmel,” as it became known, that was the site of the Branch Davidians’ conflict with federal agents and resulting fire in 1993; though by then it had itself been reduced through sales to less than 10 percent of its original size.

Florence Houteff’s renewed emphasis on calling out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church all who would listen and encouraging them to gather at New Mount Carmel for April 22, 1959 evidently met with some considerable success. Various first-hand reports of the events surrounding the expected date give a sense of the excitement and scale of the gathering, with estimates reaching a thousand or more persons turning up to witness the resurrection of Victor Houteff and the coming about of the latter-day Davidian Kingdom. In the aftermath of the non-events of that date, Florence rather unwisely sought to widen the call to belief to any who would listen rather than limiting the call to existing members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church alone. The message was communicated to the community in a publication of The Symbolic Code during December 1960 (Adair 1997:222). This widening of the potential pool of recruits was probably a mistake in that it had the effect of introducing into the theological equation a previously unknown factor and, in reality, flew in the face of what Victor himself had always proclaimed, namely that the Davidian message was for Seventh-day Adventists only. Such a significant departure from the teachings of the founder whose life and message was still very much a live memory in the minds of many of the Davidians was a significant gamble (Adair 1997:222–23).


Ultimately Florence Houteff’s leadership of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists ended in failure. It was, however, perhaps an inevitable one. The unexpected death of Victor Houteff was the event that opened up the path to leadership, but with that opportunity there came the need to address both theological and practical challenges, and on neither count was Florence really able to deliver. The setting of the April 22, 1959 date bought her some time, but it was not a permanent solution. The story of what eventually came about during the troubled years of 1959–1962 has been told before (Adair 1997), and need not be repeated here in any detail. In essence, following the resignation of Florence and the whole Davidian executive council, the movement was wound up and its assets put into the hands of a receiver. Following a decade of legal wrangling, the New Mount Carmel property near Elk, Texas passed into the hands of Ben Roden, founder of the Branch Davidians, but this is only one part of the fragmentation. Even before the resignations of 1962, one sizeable group (about 100) had moved back to Riverside, California, where the substantial Seventh-day Adventist presence provided an opportunity for evangelism. The Riverside Davidian group was soon to split further and then, in 1978, to split again. Similarly, by 1961 Ben Roden had already had some success in establishing the “Branch” trajectory, based in Waco though not on the New Mount Carmel site to begin with. It is of course tempting to see the Branch Davidian group as the successors of the Houteffs, but geographical continuity masks major theological divergence. Another Davidian group existing still to this day in Waco, though returning there only after periods in Jamaica and New York, has a better claim to continuity with the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists of Victor and Florence Houteff. Remarkably, it has managed to gain ownership of some property located on the site of the original Mount Carmel, which Houteff’s early community had occupied in 1935. From 1962, however, Florence Houteff was to play no further part in the Davidian story.

Image #1: Photograph of Florence Houteff with Victor (date unknown).
Image #2: Photograph of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin’s grave.
Image #3: Photograph of Florence Houteff.


Adair, Don. 1997. A Davidian Testimony. Privately published.

Hibbert, A. Anthony. 2000. Before the Flames: Story of David Koresh and the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. New York: Seaburn Publishing.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006a. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006b. “The Davidian Seventh-day Adventists and Millennial Expectation, 1959–2004.” Pp. 131-46 in Expecting the End: Millennialism in Social and Historical Context, edited by Kenneth G. C. Newport and Crawford Gribben. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Pitts, William. 1995. “Davidians and Branch Davidians: 1929-1987.” Pp. 20-42 in Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict, edited by Stuart A. Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Saether, George William. 1977. “Oral Memoirs of George William Saether, July 12, 1973–June 30, 1975.” Religion and Culture Project. Baylor University Program for Oral History. Accessed from http://contentdm.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/buioh/id/1214 on 10 April 2017.

Power, Mary Elizabeth. 1940. “A Study of the Seventh-day Adventist Community, Mount Carmel Center, Waco, Texas.” M.A. Thesis, Baylor University.

Post Date:
15 April 2017



Marie-Paule Giguère


1921 (September 14):  Marie-Paule Giguère was born in Sainte-Germaine du Lac-Etchemin, Québec, Canada.

1944 (July 1):  Giguère married Georges Cliche.

1954:  Giguère heard supernatural voices telling her that she would lead a Catholic movement.

1957 (September):  Giguère separated from her husband.

1971 (August 28):  The Army of Mary was founded by Giguère.

1972:  Father Philippe Roy joined the Army of Mary.

1975 (March 10):  Cardinal Maurice Roy of Québec approved the Army of Mary as a legitimate Roman Catholic association.

1978:  The French writer Raoul Auclair moved to Québec to work full time for the Army of Mary.

1978:  Giguère started the publication of Vie d’Amour.

1981:  Giguère established the Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary.

1984:  The Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon, formed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary.

1986:  Giguère founded the Oblates-Patriots.

1987 (February 27):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged two books by Army of Mary’s lay leader Marc Bosquart as “seriously erroneous.”

1987 (May 4):  Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon of Québec declared that the Army of Mary was no longer a Catholic organization.

1997:  Giguère joined the Daughters of Mary and was elected as their Superior General.

2000 (March 31):  A note by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith found theological errors in Vie d’Amour.

2001 (June 29):  A formal censure of the Army of Mary occurred, stating that its doctrines were not Catholic, by the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference.

2006:  Under the authority of Giguère’s visions, and of a new “Church of John,” Father Pierre Mastropietro, a Son of Mary, ordained new deacons and priests, although he was not himself a bishop.

2007 (July 11):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith excommunicated those accepting and propagating the doctrines and practices of the Army of Mary.

2009 (May 31):  Although still alive, Giguère was canonized as a saint by her Church of John.

2015 (April 25):  Giguère died in Lac-Etchemin.


Marie-Paule Giguère was born on September 14, 1921 at Sainte-Germaine-du-Lac-Etchemin, a small rural town sixty miles from Québec City, Québec. Later, Lac-Etchemin (where a small Marian shrine was built in the 1950s) would acquire a peculiar significance in Giguère’s millennial worldview. A pious young girl, Marie-Paule considered religious life as a missionary in Africa, but her poor health was interpreted by her spiritual advisors as a sign that the Lord was calling her to marriage. In 1944, she married Georges Cliche (1917–1997), with whom she had five children between 1945 and 1952. [Image at right] But the marriage proved a nightmare, with Georges revealing himself to be prodigal, alcoholic, and adulterous. The Church, while opposed to divorce, accepted separation in extreme cases, and several priests suggested that Marie-Paule leave her husband. She did so, reluctantly, in 1957, and later attempts at reconciliation proved unsuccessful, although as an old man Georges would eventually join Marie-Paule’s movement.

Ever since her teenage years, Marie-Paule had heard the interior voices of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. These messages guided her through the trials of her life and eventually directed her to write a lengthy autobiography, Vie d’Amour (A Life of Love), of which thirteen volumes were published from 1979–1980. Five volumes of Appendices were added between 1992 and 1993 (Giguère 1992–1993). Volumes 4 and 6 (about some of Marie-Paule’s early companions) followed in 1993 and 1994, bringing the total to more than 6,000 pages (Giguère 1979–1994).

Marie-Paule became active in the Catholic Marian movement known as the Legion of Mary and worked for Catholic magazines and radio stations. In 1954, she supernaturally heard for the first time a reference to “the Army of Mary,” a “wonderful movement” she would later lead (Giguère 1979–1994, 1:174). [Image at right] Slowly, a small Marian group was formed, which included a couple of priests. On August 28, 1971, during a pilgrimage to the Lac-Etchemin shrine, Marie-Paule officially inaugurated the Army of Mary. A priest from the Catholic diocese of Rimouski (Québec), Father Philippe Roy (1916–1988), joined the movement in 1972, and eventually became its general director. Following a request by Bishop Jean-Pierre van Lierde (1907–1995), Vicar General of Vatican City and a supporter of Giguère, recognition of the Army of Mary as a “pious association” was obtained in 1975 from Cardinal Maurice Roy (1905–1985), Archbishop of Québec City (not a relative of Father Philippe Roy). In the meantime, the Army of Mary had met with considerable success, due largely to the charismatic personality of Marie-Paule herself. The Army of Mary also reflected the needs of a sizeable section of Québec’s Catholics. They were confused by post-Vatican II reforms in the Church and disoriented by Québec’s “silent revolution” that was transforming its Catholic, agrarian society to a more secular, urban one. Yet, a large majority still maintained loyalty to Rome and were unwilling to join schismatic groups. Marie-Paule’s popularity also guaranteed a steady flow of contributions, enabling her in 1983 to buy land in her native Lac-Etchemin where the Army of Mary’s headquarters would be eventually built.

From 1971, Marie-Paule had been in touch with a popular French author of texts on prophecy, Raoul Auclair (1906–1997). In 1978, he moved from France to Québec, where he became the editor of the movement’s magazine, L’Étoile (later replaced by Le Royaume). In the years that followed, the Army of Mary gathered thousands of followers in Canada and hundreds more in Europe. The Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary, a religious order including both priests and nuns, was established in 1981, with Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) personally ordaining the first Son of Mary as a priest in 1986. Several other ordinations followed, and a number of Catholic dioceses throughout the world were happy to welcome both the Sons and the Daughters of Mary to help them in their pastoral work. After her husband’s death in 1997, Marie-Paule herself became a Daughter of Mary, and was subsequently elected Superior General of the congregation as Mère Marie-Paule, later Mère Paul-Marie. [Image at right] A larger “Family of the Sons and Daughters of Mary” also included auxiliary organizations, such as the Oblates-Patriots, established by Marie-Paule in 1986 with the aim of spreading conservative Catholic social teachings, and the Marialys Institute, created in 1992, which gathered together Catholic priests who were not members of the Sons of Mary but shared their general aims.

The Army of Mary’s success was always accompanied by conflicts with members of the Catholic hierarchy. What created substantial controversy were the firm roots of the Army of Mary in a Catholic millennialist tradition at a time when the Québec Catholic hierarchy had little patience with it. A campaign against Marie-Paule gathered momentum in Québec from at least the early 1980s, and in 1984 the Archbishop of Québec City, Louis-Albert Vachon (1912–2006), appointed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary. Vachon would become a cardinal in 1985.

The commission focused on certain writings by Raoul Auclair, according to which the “Immaculate” existed as a spiritual being since before the creation, later to descend into the Virgin Mary; and on other writings by a Belgian member, Marc Bosquart (b. 1955), who had moved to Québec and had written two books claiming that the Immaculate was now mystically inhabiting Marie-Paule (Bosquart 1985, 1986). Although the Army of Mary maintained that these were Bosquart’s personal opinions, rather than teachings of the movement itself, Vachon’s commission regarded the organization as potentially heretical. The case went to Rome, and in 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged Bosquart’s opinions as “seriously erroneous,” opening the way for a declaration by Cardinal Vachon that the Army of Mary was no longer recognized as a Catholic organization. Appeals to the Vatican protesting Vachon’s decision failed. Although the Army of Mary at that time withdrew Bosquart’s books from circulation, the controversy with Catholic bishops in Québec continued, while some English-speaking Canadian bishops, and certain bishops in Italy, were still prepared to accept both the Sons and Daughters of Mary and the Army of Mary itself into their dioceses. Finally, on March 31, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith sent a note to all Canadian bishops stating that Marie-Paule’s Vie d’Amour contained doctrinal errors, and that further action needed to be taken. On June 29, 2001, the Canadian Conference of Canadian Bishops published a statement saying that the Army of Mary should no longer be regarded as a Roman Catholic organization.

Perhaps because an agreement with Rome now seemed more difficult, Marie-Paule authorized the publication in 2001 and 2002 of new writings by Marc Bosquart, again proposing doctrines similar to those criticized by the Vatican in 1987 (Bosquart 2001a, 2001b, 2002). This was one of the factors leading to further censures of the Army of Mary by the new Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet (b. 1944), in 2005 and 2007.

In 2006, fresh revelations to Marie-Paule led to a complete rupture with the Vatican. These visions distinguished between a Church of Peter and a mystical and esoteric Church of John. Marie-Paule claimed that the Pope in Rome was still leading the “Church of Peter,” but appointed one of the priests in the Sons of Mary, Pierre Mastropietro (whose French-Italian name, translated “Peter Master-Peter,” was regarded as a prophetic omen), as Universal Father of the higher Church of John. In this role, Mastropietro proceeded to ordain first deacons and then priests, to canonize new saints, including Raoul Auclair, and even to proclaim new dogmas, moving from the Christian Trinity to a Quinternity, which added the Virgin Mary and Marie-Paule herself to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On May 31, 2009 Marie-Paule was canonized in the Church of John; this occurred before her death, something theologically and canonically impossible in the Roman Catholic Church. On July 11, 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith excommunicated those advocating and propagating the doctrines of the Army of Mary.

In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was seriously ill and not able to participate in the daily life of the movement, now led by Marc Bosquart as Universal King and by Father Mastropietro as Holy Father of the Church of John. She died in Lac-Etchemin on April 25, 2015. [Image at right]


To understand Marie-Paule’s mystical teachings, it is necessary to start with the Marian apparitions of Amsterdam, Holland, in 1945–1959, whose existence Marie-Paule discovered through Raoul Auclair in 1971. Ida Peerdeman (1905–1996), born in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, reported an encounter with the Virgin Mary at the age of twelve, followed by miraculous visions of battles in Europe during World War II. From 1945 to 1959, she received fifty-five messages from the Virgin Mary. Although the first verdict of the local Catholic diocese was negative, a chapel was quietly built in the 1970s at the site of the Amsterdam apparition and dedicated to the “Lady of All Peoples.” Peerdeman’s prayer to the “Lady of All Peoples, who was once Mary,” and the messages she received gained widespread popularity throughout much of the Catholic world. They were interpreted as predicting three different events: a crisis in the Church, Vatican II (seen as a rather positive development and as an antidote to the crisis), and a future millennial Kingdom of the Holy Spirit and Mary.

To usher in that Kingdom, Peerdeman called upon the Church to proclaim officially a new Marian dogma emphasizing Mary’s role as “Co-Redeemer.” The title had a long tradition in Catholic Marian theology but was never officially approved by the Vatican. On May 31, 1996, less than three months before Peerdeman’s death, Bishop Henrik Bomers (1936–1998) of the Dutch diocese of Haarlem published a notification approving “the prayer and the public cult of Mary under the title of Lady of All Peoples,” while stating that “the Church cannot, for the moment, make a pronouncement on the supernatural character of the apparitions.” The bishop’s notification downplayed the millennial element of Peerdeman’s experience, emphasizing instead that the title Lady of All Peoples cast a “clear light on the universal motherhood of Mary” and on her “unique and feminine role in the Lord’s plan of salvation” (Bomers and Punt 1996).

In 2002, Bomers’ successor as bishop of Haarlem, Jozef Marianus Punt (b. 1946), finally recognized “that the apparitions of the Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin.” Although Marian apparitions are recognized by local bishops rather than the Vatican, bishops are nonetheless supervised by the Vatican in this activity. Punt acknowledged that “naturally, the influence of the human element still exists” (Punt 2002), as in all apparitions, quoting on this point Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later to become Pope Benedict XVI. This was a reference to the words “who was once Mary” included in the prayer revealed in the apparitions and referred to the Lady of All Peoples; this language became an object of concern precisely because of its interpretation by Marie-Paule and was finally dropped in the version of the prayer used in Amsterdam.

Raoul Auclair was the link between the world of European apparitions and Marie-Paule in Québec. He regarded as a prophetic sign the fact that he received his First Communion on May 13, 1917, the day of the first apparition at Fátima, Portugal. A promising student, he abandoned his academic career to complete his military service in Morocco, and then worked as a surgical materials salesman before finding more satisfactory employment in 1941 with French national radio. In the same year, he had a mystical experience in Marseilles, and was “transported outside time, as if plummeted into the Divine Intelligence” (Péloquin 1997:10–11). Besides working as a playwright for the radio, he became an increasingly successful author of books on Catholic prophecy and eschatology as well as Marian apparitions. By the 1960s he had at his disposal a rich collection of materials on all sorts of supernatural phenomena (Auclair 1981).

American scholar Sandra Zimdars-Swartz noted the importance of Auclair as a representative of a Catholic millennialism, which, unlike other forms, eventually placed the “Second Vatican Council in a positive light.” In fact, Auclair tried to walk a middle course in the struggle over Vatican II reforms. He saw the Roman Catholic Church as being menaced both by those who were frenetic for reform, who he described as motivated by a “bad spirit,” and by the overly narrow traditionalists who were unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to change the structures of the Church (Zimdars-Swartz 1991:256–57).

Eventually, Auclair became the main apologist for Ida Peerdeman’s vision and was instrumental in organizing three meetings of the Amsterdam visionary with Marie-Paule. After the death of his wife in 1976, as mentioned above, he moved permanently to Québec in 1978, taking the habit of the related religious order, the Sons of Mary, in 1987. Originally, “fidelity to Rome and the Pope” was a key teaching and the motto of the Army of Mary; and Marie-Paule’s followers, the Knights of Mary, centered their religious life on the Triple White: the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and the Pope. Marie-Paule also proposed a traditional Marian devotion along the lines of Auclair and Peerdeman. But when the Army of Mary became controversial the advisory circle around Peerdeman advised the Dutch visionary to keep her distance from the organization.

In the 1980s, both Marie-Paule and her main advisors started proposing doctrines increasingly at odds with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. According to Auclair (1985), a mysterious being known as CELLE (SHE, in all capitals) existed before entering the person of the Virgin Mary, and still exists, having “once been Mary,” according to Auclair’s interpretation of the Amsterdam prayer (an interpretation not reflected in the literature officially approved by the Amsterdam shrine). It was not an inconceivable step for Auclair’s friends in the Army of Mary to conclude that, as she had already inhabited Mary once before, CELLE now mystically inhabited Marie-Paule, who was elevated to a sort of new incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Marc Bosquart’s books presented this conclusion, based also on the word “reincarnation” mysteriously mentioned in Vie d’Amour (Bosquart 1985; see Introvigne 2001).

It is unclear how much in the subsequent developments (the distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John and the divine role of Marie-Paule herself as part of the newly recognized Quinternity) was promoted by Marie-Paule and based on her visions, as opposed to being the fruit of the religious creativity of Marc Bosquart. In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was increasingly frail and largely limited her activities to approving Bosquart’s decisions. Regardless of the source, these new doctrines completed the transformation of the Army of Mary from a conservative Catholic group to a full-fledged new religious movement.


Until the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the rituals and practices promoted by Marie-Paule were those of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Mass and the sacraments administered by priests in communion with the Vatican, and the traditional Catholic pious practices, including the Rosary. In addition, there were colorful ceremonies honoring the Army of Mary and Marie-Paule, but these remained within the framework of a Catholic movement’s activities.

It was only with the proclamation of the Church of John that new ceremonies were introduced, although during Marie-Paule’s lifetime the basic structure of the Catholic Mass was not altered. It was more a matter of new interpretations, such as the one suggesting that during the communion not only the body of Jesus Christ, but also the body of the Virgin Mary and the mystical body of Marie-Paule were offered to the faithful. Similarly, devotional objects with the number five and references to the Quinternity were introduced, but they accompanied familiar Catholic tools such as rosaries. Only after Marie-Paule’s death in 2015, did Marc Bosquart and others suggest that the Church of John, as a new church, should also have a new liturgy, and a deeper reformation was started.


Marie-Paule was a strong and charismatic leader, despite recurring issues with her health. She was, however, a woman in a church where priesthood was reserved to men; moreover, she was a layperson with a limited theological education. She always had to rely on duly ordained priests for the sacramental life and on theologians for advice. She believed, however, that laymen who had read more theological books than she did, but were not technically theologians, would be able to lead the movement with her, and might be able to understand her visions better than professional theologians. She relied on Raoul Auclair, and much more, in a later period, on Marc Bosquart, who became the authorized interpreter of Vie d’Amour (see Bosquart 2006–2009). Her prophetic visions indicated Bosquart as destined to a leadership role in the movement and, as “king,” in the world at large.

Scholars and critics repeatedly asked the question whether Marie-Paule was the “real” leader of the Army of Mary, or if she was ultimately controlled by someone else. For her followers, she was undoubtedly controlled by God through her visions and the internal words she was able to hear, although in her later years it was suggested she might be part of the Godhead herself. Those outside the movement speculated that Bosquart and others might have tried to impose their own views on Marie-Paule, and that without their influence she might perhaps have submitted to the Roman Catholic Church. Having conducted several interviews with Marie-Paule between 1996 and 1998, I personally believe that she was a strong and intelligent woman, and that she never accepted from others theories she did not regard as supernaturally confirmed by her revelations and inner voices.


The confrontation between Marie-Paule and the Catholic authorities has been described in the biographical section above. At stake was not only the mystical character of her revelations but a new theology, mostly created by Bosquart, which was gradually taking shape. The Belgian leader’s ideas were clearly unacceptable to the Roman Catholic bishops, as they in fact generated a new church, with a new hierarchy and new theology. Although Bosquart and Marie-Paule would have been happy to leave the leadership of the Church of Peter to the Pope in Rome, the Vatican could obviously not accept that in Québec there was an alternative Church of John, believed by its adherents to be superior to the church headquartered in Rome.

When all this became clear, Marie-Paule was faced with a new challenge. A certain number of priests, including some of the most active and well-educated, nuns and laypersons abandoned the Army of Mary/Church of John movement. They were prepared to challenge the Canadian bishops on Marie-Paule’s revelations, originally approved by Cardinal Roy, but joining a new church and adopting a new theology, and exchanging the Trinity for a newly revealed Quinternity, was a different matter altogether. Some of Marie-Paule’s longtime companions stayed, trusting her notwithstanding the Vatican excommunication in 2007 of persons accepting and propagating the movement’s doctrines and practices. Socializing younger generations into the radically alternative subculture of the Church of John, and attracting new members accepting of a rupture with the Roman Catholic Church was a difficult challenge for Marie-Paule in her last years of activity, and continues to be a problem for her successors.


Image #1: Marie-Paule and her children, 1966. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #2: Marie-Paule, 1959. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #3: Marie-Paule as Mother Paul-Marie. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #4: Funeral of Marie-Paule, 2015. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.


Auclair, Raoul. 1985. L’Homme total dans la Terre totale. Limoilou, Québec: Éditions Stella.

Auclair, Raoul. 1981. Le Secret de La Salette. Limoilou, Québec: Éditions Stella.

Bomers, Henrik, and Jozef Marianus Punt. 1996. “Notification for the Catholic Faithful of the Diocese of Haarlem.” English translation. Haarlem, The Netherlands: Diocese of Haarlem.

Bosquart, Marc. 2006–2009. Trésors de “Vie d’Amour.” 5 Volumes. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc 2002. Marie-Paule et la Co-rédemption. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc. 2001a. Terre nouvelle, homme nouveau. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc 2001b. L’Immaculée, la divine Épouse de Dieu. Lac-Etchemin, Québec: Les Éditions du Nouveau Monde.

Bosquart, Marc. 1986. Le Rédempteur et la Co-Rédemptrice. Éléments pour servir à la Contemplation d’un mystère – II. Limoilou, Québec: La Famille des Fils et Filles de Marie.

Bosquart, Marc. 1985. De la Trinité Divine à l’Immaculée-Trinité. Éléments pour servir à la Contemplation d’un mystère – I. Limoilou, Québec: La Famille de Fils et Filles de Marie.

Giguère, Marie-Paule. 1992–1993. Vie d’Amour—Appendice. 5 Volumes. Limoilou, Québec: Marie-Paule Vie d’Amour.

Giguère, Marie-Paule. 1979–1994. Vie d’Amour. 15 Volumes. Limoilou, Québec: Vie d’Amour.

Introvigne, Massimo. 2001. “En Route to the Marian Kingdom: Catholic Apocalypticism and the Army of Mary.” Pp. 149-65 in Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt. London: Hurst & Company.

Péloquin, Maurice. 1997. “La vie familiale de Raoul Auclair.” Le Royaume 115:10–11.

Punt, Jozef Marianus. 2002. “In Response to Inquiries Concerning the Lady of All Nations Apparitions.” Declaration of 31 May 2002. English translation accessed from http://www.cesnur.org/2002/punt.htm on 1 March 2017.

Zimdars-Swartz, Sandra L. 1991. Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Post Date:
20 March 2017


Katherine Augusta (Westcott) Tingley


1847 (July 6):  Katherine Tingley was born Catherine Augusta Westcott in Newbury, Massachusetts.

1850s:  As a child Tingley was greatly influenced by nature, New England Transcendentalism and the Masonic background of her grandfather Nathan Chase.

1861:  Tingley attended to those wounded in the Civil War while her family was in Virginia

1862–1865:  Horrified at her response to the suffering soldiers, Tingley’s father sent her to Villa Marie Convent in Montreal, Quebec, over objections from her grandfather.

1867:  Tingley briefly married Richard Henry Cook, a printer.

1866–1887:  There is little or no documentation for this period, but Tingley had two unsuccessful, childless marriages. During part of this time, she was in Europe working in a travelling stage/drama group.

1880:  Tingley married George W. Parent, an investigator for New York Elevated. The marriage ended by 1886.

1880s:  Tingley adopted and raised two children, from her former husband, Richard Henry Cook’s, second marriage.

1887:  Tingley formed the Ladies Society of Mercy to visit hospitals and prisons.

1888:  Tingley married Philo B. Tingley in the spring. Philo B. Tingley joined the Manhattan, New York City Masonic group that year, where William Q. Judge was the almoner.

1888–1889:  Katherine Tingley met William Q. Judge during a cloakmakers strike, somewhere between fall of 1888 and winter of 1889. Judge investigated her work for the Manhattan Masonic Lodge. The Lodge provided funding for some of Tingley’s Do Good Mission efforts.

1890 (April):  W. Q. Judge was ill with gradually progressing tuberculosis and Chagres fever. He sent Tingley to Sweden on secret mission to meet King Oscar II, arranged through Masonic connections.

1888–1891:  Tingley established various social work outreach projects, which included the Do Good Mission and the Women’s Emergency Relief Association, which arranged and provided a soup kitchen, clothing and medical needs in New York City for the Upper Eastside and for striking immigrant garment workers.

March 1896:  William Q. Judge died.

April 1896:  At the second annual convention of the Theosophical Society in America an announcement was made of the prospective founding by Tingley of the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity (SLRMA), generally referred to later as the School of Antiquity. Tingley was elected as head for life of Theosophical Society in America.

1896 (June 7):  A ten-month World Theosophical Crusade was inaugurated to visit Theosophical centers, form new branches, and hold Brotherhood Suppers for the poor.

1896 (June 13):  World Theosophical Crusade sailed from New York City, landed in England and then went to Ireland, Continental Europe, Greece (stopping to feed hundreds of Armenian refugees), then to Egypt (October), India (November/December), Australia (January 1897), New Zealand and Samoa. While on board the ship Tingley gave Theosophical talks for the steerage underclass passengers; while at various stops in Great Britain and Europe she held Brotherhood Suppers for the poor,

1896 (September):  While in Switzerland, Tingley received information that the Point Loma, California location, which appeared to her in a vision, was available. She met Gottfried de Purucker (who would become her successor) who drew a map of Point Loma. Tingley sent the cable to purchase the land at Point Loma.

1896 (October/November):  Tingley described her meeting with Helena P. Blavatsky’s young Tibetan “Teacher” in Darjeeling.

1897 (January):  Tingley purchased 132 acres on Point Loma in San Diego, with option to buy an additional forty acres.

1897 (February 13):  Tingley arrived at Point Loma.

1897 (February 23):  Tingley officially laid the cornerstone for the future School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity. More than 1,000 people attended the ceremony.

1898:  Tingley formally changed the name of her group from The Theosophical Society to The Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society.

1898 (November 19):  Tingley produced a benefit performance in New York City of the Greek tragedy by Aeschylus, The Eumenides, for American soldiers and Spanish and Cuban sufferers in the Spanish American War. The New York Tribune reviewed the performance favorably.

1899 (February):  Tingley met with large group from all over Cuba upon her arrival in Santiago, Cuba. She encountered Emilio Bacardi Moreau, the mayor of Santiago, Cuba and grandmaster of Masonic lodges in Cuba.

1899 (April 13):  The first Universal Brotherhood Congress convened at Point Loma, with two performances of the Eumenides featuring a cast of two hundred.

1899 (September 13):  The second Universal Brotherhood Congress convened in Stockholm, Sweden, with a reception attended by King Oscar II. There was another large gathering in Brighton, England, on October 6.

1899–1900:  Extensive remodeling of the preexisting large sanatorium building into the Academy and Temple of Peace, along with extensive development of the Point Loma site, began.

1900:  Raja Yoga school founded at Point Loma with first five students at Point Loma, including Iverson Harris Jr. and four daughters of Walter T. Hanson from Georgia: Coralee, Margaret, Estelle, and Kate.

1900:  Tingley held a debate with Christians at the Fisher Opera House in San Diego. The Christians, who verbally attacked her and the Theosophists, declined to participate, and so Tingley presented both sides at the debate. She then purchased the Fisher Opera House and renamed it the Isis Theater after the Egyptian goddess.

1901:  Tingley built the first Greek-style theater in America at Point Loma.

1901:  Tingley produced a Greek symposium, The Wisdom of Hypatia, performed at the renamed Isis Theater. That same year saw dramatic productions of The Conquest of Death and a children’s drama Rainbow Fairy Play.

1901 (October 28):  The Los Angeles Times headlined a sensationalized column: “Outrages at Point Loma: Women and Children Starved and Treated like Convicts. Thrilling Rescue.” Tingley’s subsequent suit for libel against the publisher Otis Gray, one of the most powerful people in California at that time, was successful and she was awarded $7,500.

1902:  One hundred students were now enrolled at the Raja Yoga school. Two-thirds were Cuban, including children of Emilio Bacardi Moreau.

1903:  Twenty-five Raja Yoga students were sent to Cuba to help launch schools there. Three schools were established. Nan Ino Herbert was the principal.

1903:  Tingley journeyed to Japan with Gottfried de Purucker. She was impressed with Japanese discipline and ethic and invited Japanese educators to visit Point Loma.

1907:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was produced at Point Loma and performed in the Greek Theater, featuring original music, costumes, and set. Dozens of plays, mostly from Shakespeare and Aeschylus were produced at Point Loma over the next thirty years.

1907:  Tingley had a private visit and meeting with King Oscar II of Sweden, who died a few weeks later. She purchased government land to establish a Raja Yoga school on Visingso Island in Sweden.

1909:  The Raja Yoga schools were closed in Cuba due to financial strain. Tingley had been diverting Point Loma funds there, which was not sustainable.

1909:  Kenneth Morris, Welsh poet and fantasist, moved to Point Loma.

1911:  The first issue of The Theosophical Path appeared, with Gottfried de Purucker as acting editor. This journal was issued monthly in the same format from 1911 until 1929.

1911:  Pageant and symposium, The Aroma of Athens, was written and performed by the Theosophists as a dramatic production at Isis Theater.

1911 (November):  After a very moving visit to San Quentin, Tingley began to publish The New Way, an eight-page newsletter directed at prisoners and edited by Herbert Coryn. The newsletter stated that it was published by “The International Theosophical League of Humanity for Gratuitous Distribution in Prisons.”

1913 (Midsummer):  1913 (Midsummer): Tingley organized, with Swedish members, and attended with a group of Raja Yoga students from Point Loma, the Theosophical Peace Congress at Visingso Island.

1913–1920s:  Tingley’s anti-war peace activities were pervasive from this time through the 1920s with many events and activities organized in San Diego and in Europe.

1914:  Tingley inaugurated the Peace Day of Nations. Telegrams peace and anti-war messages were sent to President Woodrow Wilson.

1914–1915:  Tingley lost part of an inheritance from A. B. Spaulding in a lawsuit brought by his heirs.

1915:  Tingley suggested to plein air impressionist artist Maurice Braun, who had come to join the Theosophists in 1909, that he establish his art focus in San Diego, rather than at Point Loma. Braun became one of the founders of the San Diego Art Guild, which later became the San Diego Art Institute.

1914–1917:  Tingley successfully campaigned against capital punishment in Arizona, supporting and collaborating with then-Governor George W. P. Hunt.

1917–1920:  Tingley headed anti-vivisection animal rights efforts.

1919 (January):  The Spanish Influenza, which raged throughout the nation, saw only a single case at Point Loma.

1920:  Through a large publicity campaign Tingley successfully influenced the California governor to commute the sentence of Roy Wolff, who was seventeen at the time he killed a taxi driver.

1920s:  At its height, Point Loma had residents from twenty-six nations.

1922:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic was printed and published at Point Loma.

1923:  Adventure novelist Talbot Mundy took up residence at Point Loma, and there wrote his most mystical adventure story, Om the Secret of Ahbor Valley, in which the Lama protagonist is patterned after Tingley.

1923:  Tingley met Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society, in Germany and proposed that the two groups merge. Tingley’s stroke later that year and Steiner’s death precluded this potential merger.

1923:  Tingley lost a lawsuit that relatives brought in the Mohn family inheritance.

1925:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Wine of Life, which outlined the ideal of the Theosophical home life, was printed and published at Point Loma.

1926:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Gods Await was printed and published at Point Loma.

1927:  Katherine Tingley’s talk on The Travail of the Soul was printed and published at Point Loma.

1929:  Tingley had premonitions of her impending death, described by Elsie Savage Benjamin.

1929 (July 11):  Katherine Tingley died in Sweden while on a European tour, following an auto accident in Germany.


Katherine Augusta Westcott was born in Newbury, Massachusetts on 6 July 1847. She grew up in New England, her childhood spent wandering along the banks of the Merrimac River near Newbury. The first years through her mid-teens appear to have been idyllic. She found the companionship of her grandfather, Nathan Chase, to be inspiring. She observed that she was drawn to the outdoors and described a nature-loving, interior, and more spiritualized orientation from early childhood. She portrayed her childhood experience and wonderment with the natural world, writing that “in my love of Nature and in my love of the true and the beautiful, in my love of this Eternal Supreme Power, my views broadened and I felt there is still greater knowledge and more wonderful meaning to human life” (Tingley 1925:286). Additionally, she was also drawn to the visitors and friends of her family, who were participants in the New England Transcendentalist movement. She wrote that she tried many philosophies, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and though they stirred her, they “did not quite satisfy.”

The first major transition in her life came in 1861 during the American Civil War. Her father was a regiment captain, stationed with the Union Army in Virginia, and there she witnessed the suffering and wounded soldiers. After the second battle of Bull Run, she saw “the ambulances returning with the dead and dying, followed by the files of Confederate soldiers, ragged and half starving” (Tingley 1926:36–37). Unable to bear the sight, Tingley and her African American servant went out among the soldiers and tended their wounds late into the night. However, her father’s reaction to Katherine’s impulse to aid the suffering and wounded was not a positive one. Out of concern for Katherine’s well-being he quickly sent her off, over the protests of her grandfather, a member of the Masons, to a Catholic boarding school administered by nuns at Villa Marie Convent in Montreal, Quebec. This was a highly regimented and structured environment, a drastic change from the free-spirited life in New England. She appears to have lived there until she was eighteen, and upon completing school, for reasons not clear, she did not return to her parents’ home.

From 1865 until 1880, there is almost no information on Tingley’s life, although she was briefly married to Richard Henry Cook, a printer, in 1867. From 1880 to 1888 all that is known is that she married a second time: George W. Parent was an investigator for New York Elevated. The marriage ended by 1886. By the mid-1880s, for a short time, she adopted and raised two children who were from her first husband’s second marriage. Tingley gave little information about these marriages other than that they were times of great suffering for her.

Living in New York City brought her into contact with the horrible conditions of those living on the East Side, and in 1887 she established a women’s group to visit prisons and hospitals, called the Ladies Society of Mercy. In 1888, she married Philo B. Tingley, a steamship employee and inventor, who would be Katherine’s connection to what would become the most world-changing event in her life, namely meeting William Q. Judge (1851–1896), president of the American Section of the Theosophical Society. The same year he married Katherine, Philo Tingley had joined the Manhattan Masonic Lodge, where Judge was the bursar. Katherine’s work with the poor and particularly with the plight of striking garment workers and their working conditions was suggested as a charitable project. Judge, as the Masonic Lodge treasurer, was sent to check on it, view the project in action and determine if it was worth supporting. Historical documents discovered in 2015 clearly indicate that Judge first saw Katherine in late 1888 at her “Do Good” outreach mission, when, as she would describe later, she saw an unusual gentleman within the crowd of the downtrodden, “strikingly noble of expression, with a look of grave sadness and of sickness too” (Tingley 1926:79). They met in person for the first time in early 1889. “It was then, when I came to know him, that I realized that I had found my place. I was face to face with a new type of human nature: with something akin to that which my inner consciousness had told me a perfect human being might be” (Tingley 1926:79–80). It is remarkable that both Judge and Tingley kept her connection with him and the Theosophical Society totally secret until 1894, even though revealing it would have greatly benefited her position with those Theosophists who were critical of her.

During 1894 and possibly earlier, Katherine took Judge to warmer weather and hot springs in Texas and Arkansas for rest and recuperation from his progressing tuberculosis and Chagres fever. At the same time, she formally joined the Theosophical Society and a month later Judge admitted her to the private Esoteric Section. As it became clearer that Judge’s chronic illness was more serious, Tingley [Image at right] was introduced to a few Theosophists in 1895. Tensions and differences had been building between William Q. Judge and both Annie Besant (1847–1933) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), who had remained with the parent Theosophical Society headquartered in Adyar, India. There were a complex and contentious series of events, which turned acrimonious at times. This finally came to a head when Judge led the American Section to secede from the Theosophical Society in 1895. Declaring autonomy, the Theosophical Society in America was established and William Q. Judge was elected president for life (Ryan 1975). At that time, Katherine Tingley rapidly moved to the center of governance as Judge’s health declined further.

Upon Judge’s death in 1896, Tingley was elected president for life. Conflicts and schisms followed, but Tingley forged ahead. She quickly shifted the direction of the Theosophical Society in America to create an educational and living community where Theosophy could be practiced in daily life and not only for abstract study of metaphysics or the exploring of visionary realms. It was her aim to make Theosophy “intensely practical” and rooted in a deep altruistic ethic. At the January 13, 1898 convention, she would rename it the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society (UBTS). For the direct application of her philanthropic work she also established the International Brotherhood League, which carried on a very large relief effort in Cuba in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, and also served the sick and wounded soldiers returning from the war. President William McKinley authorized the use of U.S. Government transport to take Tingley, her physicians and other workers to Cuba with large supplies of food, clothing, and medicines (Ryan 1975:348).

In 1896, she gathered together a few supporters for a Theosophical Crusade and headed off around the world, beginning in Europe. In Switzerland she met a young Theosophical Society member, Gottfried de Purucker (1874–1942) for the first time. He had joined the Theosophical Society and met Judge who admitted him to the Esoteric Section without the usual probationary period. De Purucker had been to California a few years before and lived in San Diego in 1893, working on a ranch and leading study groups in the Secret Doctrine by the co-founder of the original Theosophical Society, Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891). De Purucker helped Tingley identify the land at Point Loma in San Diego for purchase for the UBTS project (PLST Archive). Meanwhile, the Theosophical “crusaders” traveled through the Middle East and sailed on to India. [Image at right] Early one morning near Darjeeling, Tingley evaded her companions and slipped off up into the foothills. She would return a day or so later, stating she had visited one of Blavatsky’s “Teachers” referring to the encounter as “life transforming” (Tingley 1926:155–162; and Tingley 1928). Some years later Tingley would reflect that her encounter with Blavatsky’s young Tibetan “Teacher” in India had given her the courage to continue with establishing and developing the Point Loma community and the gradual alleviation and reversal of symptoms of her chronic Addison’s kidney/adrenal disease. For Katherine Tingley this was a much needed and spiritually life-changing experience, that brought her the energy and motivation to bring her vision of a “White City in the West” into manifestation.

The Point Loma community began in 1897 with Tingley’s arrival. Great enthusiasm and energy accompanied construction and transformation of the grounds, which were called Lomaland. By 1899, the first five students were enrolled in the Raja Yoga school, and by 1902 there were a hundred, of whom about seventy-five were from Cuba. Collaborating with Emilio Bacardi Moreau (1844–1923), mayor of Santiago, Cuba, she began a mission to build schools in Cuba and to bring Cuban students to the Raja Yoga School at Point Loma. By 1915, the school in San Diego reached its peak with 500 students (Greenwalt 1978). The Raja Yoga curriculum evolved quickly, with its emphasis on the creative arts: the classics, music, drama, art, and literature, as well as science, sports and agriculture. The overarching view that the Point Loma community manifested was what Tingley called the School of Antiquity. According to Tingley’s secretary, Joseph H. Fussell, the purpose of the School of Antiquity was to revive a knowledge of the Sacred Mysteries of Antiquity by promoting the physical, mental, moral and spiritual education and welfare of the people of all countries, irrespective of creed, sex, caste or color; by instructing them in an understanding of the laws of universal nature and justice and particularly the laws governing their own being: the teaching them the wisdom of mutual helpfulness, such being the science of Raja Yoga. (qtg Tingley, Fussell 1917:12).

The School of Antiquity and the entire vision and form of the Point Loma community was patterned after Tingley’s conception of an ancient mystery school, drawing a great deal of her inspiration from Plato and Pythagorean ideas. Elsie Benjamin described the mission as being to replicate an ancient Mystery-School:

In the ancient Mystery-Schools, the pupils were more like children: they have instinct, they have intuition, but they didn’t have full self-consciousness. . . . Because Judge had told K.T., that it is not your mission to teach them technical Theosophy. Your mission is to teach them morals, ethics, universal brotherhood, humanity and self-discipline (Benjamin).

Tingley’s vision of “practical Theosophy” encompassed all of the arts, and much more. For her, the architecture of Lomaland needed to express the sacredness of home and place, as both receptacle and expression of a higher divine source. Her inspiration culturally was, at least in part, Greek and Pythagorean harmonics. Of the unique buildings designed and built at Lomaland, the Greek Theater remains as the single purely classically Greek structure. Other structures, such as the Temple of Peace or the home of Elizabeth Mayer Spaulding, wife of sporting goods magnate Albert G. Spaulding, reflected influences from India and Persia.

Drama played a significant role, not only to develop community esprit d’corps, but for the individual transformational elements involved. From 1903 into the 1930s, the Point Loma Theosophical community produced scores of plays. Tingley chose Greek tragedy and Shakespeare’s dramas for what she viewed as their philosophical perennialism and universal Theosophic ideas, combined with the participatory opportunity that drama has for inner psychological and spiritual development. There were also productions of their own plays, including one based on Socrates’ dialogues in Plato, called The Aroma of Athens. Another, based on the life of the fourth-century Alexandrian neo-Platonist woman philosopher Hypatia, featured Katherine Tingley in the lead role. Reviews in the San Diego Union reflected the central role that the Theosophical productions played in San Diego’s cultural life.

Well-known artists from the U.S. and abroad came to live and work at Lomaland and there developed a unique mystical style. The late 1890s view of art held by Reginald Willoughby Machell (1854–1927), presaged a later twentieth-century phenomenological view found in philosophers like Kitaro Nishida, Maurice Merleau-Ponty or Ananda Coomaraswamy, where an understanding of how the awareness of observer and object are experienced as highly interdependent with the art object and its creation. Said Machell:

Beauty is really a state of mind. The senses only register vibrations, which are translated by the mind into colour, form, sound. . . . It would be more true perhaps to say that beauty is in both observer and observed, but not in one apart from the other (Machell 1892:4).

Another artist who developed a Theosophical style was Maurice Braun (1877–1941). According to Emmett Greenwalt, “Braun was not hesitant in crediting Theosophy with sharpening his insight into nature. To him art was for ‘the service of the divine powers in man,’ or as he otherwise phrased it, ‘art for humanities sake,’ and he saw in Theosophy ‘the champion and inspirer or all that is noble and true and genuine in art’” (Greenwalt 1978: 129–31).

In addition to her devotion to the arts, Katherine Tingley worked for social justice and peace throughout her life. She had been involved in a prison ministry project which involved corresponding with prisoners. She was engaged in movements to abolish capital punishment in California and Arizona. She also organized an anti-vivisection program to protect animal welfare.

In 1922 or 1923, Tingley, around age seventy-six, [Image at right] suffered a minor stroke. It did not cause any noticeable physical debility, but from then until her death, she suffered a kind of emotional agitation at times when under stress. When it became severe, her office staff would call for Gottfried de Purucker to come, given his very calming influence on her in general, and his presence would usually resolve Tingley’s anxieties.

The last seven years of her life can be seen as a gradual decline of the Point Loma experiment, after the dynamic growth and successes of the 1910–1922 period. Her important financial backers of the earlier period had almost all died, and the expenses for maintaining Lomaland had stayed the same. Over this time, significant debt was incurred, even to mortgaging part of the property to maintain the community. The drama, art, music and Raja Yoga school continued, but the income was less. Some long-time residents also left Point Loma at this time, including Hildor and Margueite Barton, Montegue Machell and his wife Coralee (one of the Hanson sisters), and E. August Neresheimer and his wife Emily Lemke. Tingley expressed her dismay and felt that she had not lived up to supporting her committed residents and partisans, especially Reginald Machell.

By late spring of 1929, and approaching the age of eighty-two, Tingley was ready to travel to Europe yet again. Elsie Savage Benjamin, then her secretary, was helping with preparations and sharing her concerns with Tingley about the European trip. She was especially concerned about driving with an inexperienced young man whom Tingley had chosen to be her chauffeur for the tour. Tingley, with her darting, penetrating eyes rapidly responded to Elsie with extraordinary prescience: “Don’t you know, he’s going to be in a car crash and kill someone” (Benjamin n.d.). On May 31, 1929, driving in the fog near dawn on a winding road in Germany about fifty miles from the Dutch border, the chauffeur crashed the car into a concrete bridge pier (Greenwalt 1955:192). Tingley had a double fracture of her right leg and much bruising. Others in the car were also injured. Tingley insisted on being taken to Visingso Island in Sweden rather than to a hospital. Staying in command until the last, and in considerable pain, she even dismissed her doctor rather than be moved to where she could receive better medical care. Katherine Tingley died on Visingso Island, what she considered sacred land, July 11, 1929.


Tingley saw Theosophy, not so much as a body of philosophic or other teaching, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion” (Tingley The Theosophical Path :3). This divine love could be realized only in a communal setting in which people lived and worked together to express their best selves.

For Tingley, educating children’s minds so that they recognized the Immortal Self was “the truest and grandest thing of all as regards education” (Tingley The Theosophical Path:175). Toward this end she founded the Raja Yoga system in order to develop children’s character so that their true nature would emerge from within. “The real secret of the Raja Yoga system is rather to evolve the child’s character than to overtax the child’s mind; it is to bring out rather than to bring to the faculties of the child. The grander part is from within” (Tingley The Theosophical Path:174). The essential divinity of humanity served as the foundation for this kind of education, with a curriculum integrating body, mind, and spirit, in which all participated. Physical cultivation along with intellectual training were required, so that the intellect would be “the servant, not the master.” Thus, the Raja Yoga system, which Tingley called a “science of the soul,” would pervade all life and activity, becoming “the true expression of soul-ideals” so that art would no longer be extraneous to life, but rather an integral part of the environment (Tingley The Theosophical Path: 159–75). This view toward the arts as the means to develop the whole person helps explain Tingley’s passion for theater, since drama, in her view, reached the heart of everyone.

Clearly influenced by Blavatsky’s writings on education, Tingley nevertheless created a practical program not envisaged by her predecessor. She outlined it as follows:

The basis of this education is the essential divinity of man, and the necessity for transmuting everything in his nature which is not divine. To do this no part must be neglected, and the physical nature must share to the full in the care and attention which are required. Neither can the most assiduous training of the intellect be passed over; it must be made subservient to the forces of the heart. The intellect must be the servant, not the master, if order and equilibrium are to be attained (Emmett W. Small n.d.:93–94).


While there was no group liturgy at Lomaland, there were daily community practices. Tingley spoke of “the sacredness of the moment and the day” and sought to make Theosophy intensely practical as “the enacted expression of divine love or compassion” (Tingley 1922:3) According to her, “The ideal must no longer be left remote from life, but made divinely human, close and intimate, as of old. NOW is the day of resurrection” (Tingley 1922:94). The daily life practice at Lomaland could be compared to the group spiritual practice in the monastic traditions of east and west, yet with unique differences. The Lomaland practice was based on the creative arts within the context of the wisdom traditions of East and West. Daily group activity was ritualized in common endeavors that were creative, contemplative and inspirational, encapsulated within an altruistic ethic. As she expressed it, “Intellectualism has no lasting power without the practice of the highest morality” (Tingley 1922:98). It was a community, the center of which was the education of children.

The entire community gathered together daily at sunrise at the Greek Theater or in the Temple of Peace. Inspirational phrases were read from literature such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Buddha’s life story in Edwin Arnold’s poetic rendition in The Light of Asia, from Theosophical sources, including Light on the Path by Mabel Collins (1885) and the Voice of the Silence by Blavatsky (1889). This was followed by silent contemplation. Meals were eaten in a group setting and in silence, with a brief recitation before each meal and upon entering the refectory eating area; men and women were grouped together. Idle talk was discouraged and the overall quality of the community was to “do well the smallest duty . . . then joy will come” (Tingley 1927:274–75).

The following invocation, given to the students by Katherine Tingley, was recited in unison primarily at meetings held in the Temple, but also on many occasions elsewhere.

Oh my Divinity! Thou dost blend with the
earth and fashion for thyself Temples of mighty power.

Oh my Divinity! thou livest in the heart-life
of all things and dost radiate a Golden Light
that shineth forever and doth illumine even the
darkest comers of the earth.

Oh my Divinity! blend thou with me that
from the corruptible I may become Incorruptible;
that from imperfection I may become Perfection;
that from darkness I may go forth in

In addition to the morning gatherings in silence and meditation with devotional readings, there was also community music, both instrumental and choral. Everyone sang in the chorus and played a musical instrument. Tingley considered music to be of central value for inner transformation and life harmony: “The soul power which is called forth by a harmony well delivered and well received does not die away with the conclusion of the piece” (Tingley 1922:178). She would attract to Point Loma the renowned director of the Amsterdam Conservatory of music, Daniël de Lange (de Lange 2003), from 1910 to 1915, who transformed the Raja Yoga orchestra into a symphonic quality musical group.

There were frequent gatherings on cultural and Theosophical subjects for presentations in the Temple of Peace. Regular Point Loma visitors, like art historian Osvald Siren (1879–1966), would give lectures in the Temple illustrated by lantern slides of photos from his recent journeys in China or Asian or European art history (Carmen Small n.d.). Lomaland was an oasis of sophistication in the cultural wasteland that was San Diego at the turn of the twentieth century.


Katherine Tingley’s leadership began in 1896, when she was elected amidst some controversy to succeed William Q. Judge as leader for life of the Theosophical Society in America. This resulted in a number of outer changes, including the change of name to the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society and also the shift of primary focus from lodges to the establishment of the community at Lomaland. These alterations also provided a shift in the internal culture within Tingley’s Theosophical movement at the time, which could be described as a shift from discursive metaphysics to Theosophy in daily activity. There was the practical work for Universal Brotherhood, e.g. promoting global peace, prison outreach, capital punishment abolition and so on, but there was also a new modality, where cultivating an inner ethic of altruistic motivation and awareness was primary. This change opened the door, to what could be described as contemplative Theosophy. As Tingley declared:

Wisdom comes not from the multiplication of spoken or written instructions; what you have is enough to last you a thousand years. Wisdom comes from the performance of duty, and in the silence, and only the silence expresses it (Tingley 1925:343).

As a self-proclaimed dictator, Tingley appeared to wield the primary power in the organization, but as the Point Loma community developed, that control was progressively counterbalanced by her delegating responsibilities to others. There was a complex of interconnected departments and committees at Lomaland, which managed everything from maintaining the extensive agricultural gardens with fruit orchards, to supervising school curriculum, Theosophical programs and running a large communal endeavor. The one area in which Tingley immersed herself was her personal direction and management of the dramatic productions in the Greek Theater at Lomaland and at the Isis Theater in San Diego. She felt most at home in the role of guide to the students’ inner development of character and spirituality when she was absorbed in the dramatic productions. In this context, she would exclaim to one student, “I work best in utter chaos” (Harris n.d.).

Tingley was definitely not a micromanager. This is evidenced, for example, by her giving a free hand to Gottfried de Purucker in 1911 in the editorship of The Theosophical Path. She never read or indicated what or what not to print in it and would read the issues, as time permitted, only after they were published (Emmett W. Small n.d.). When she requested a couple of the resident artists to make some Christmas cards by hand for her, it was left to their creativity to work out the design and quotes used (Lester n.d.). Clearly the rapid development and success in establishing the Point Loma community and Raja Yoga school with all its activities of art, music, drama etc., was the result of her delegating and giving others the reins. In addition, she was away travelling almost every summer for a few months, though she made use of letters, cards and telegrams daily while away, keeping a close connection with everyone, including young students and administrators.


Throughout the Lomaland period of her life, Tingley faced several lawsuits and filed one of her own against the Los Angeles Times for libel, which she won. There was more than one attempt on her life. On one occasion, a man with a loaded pistol attempted to reach where she was seated at the Isis Theater, but was stopped by a quick acting police guard (Harris n.d.). In the later 1920s, Tingley mortgaged part of the Lomaland property, over de Purucker’s pleas not to do so (Emmett W. Small n.d.; Harris n.d.). Most of the long-term residents had given everything they had when arriving at Lomaland in exchange for lifetime residency. Yet their contributions were spent on either maintaining the community or on Raja Yoga School projects in Cuba and Europe, especially since the income from the Raja Yoga School was insufficient to maintain expenses.

After Tingley’s death, the financial condition of Lomaland was precarious, but under the leadership of her successor, Gottfried de Purucker, and thanks to frugal cutbacks and voluntary reduction of residents to around 125, the overwhelming debt had been paid off by the mid-1930s. From 1929 through the 1930s, more than half of the donations received to support Lomaland were coming from Europe. By 1938, while the political conditions in Germany were rapidly deteriorating, donations from European members dried up. De Purucker sent out an urgent letter asking everyone to eliminate any expense possible to save on the monthly outlay (PLST Archive).

During de Purucker’s period, dramatic productions had continued with creative success under the direction of Florence Collison, though the dramas were reduced in pageantry compared to the Tingley era. Also, the Raja Yoga School still had significant numbers of children from San Diego residents, but the entire scope of both community activities and outreach, compared to the peak around 1920, was greatly diminished. There was insufficient income without the outside donations.

By the end of 1941, the community was hard pressed financially, with additional stress nearby when the U.S. government placed large military bunkers with artillery both north and south of the property and out on Point Loma itself. Tension was heightened with the U.S. declaration of war with Japan over the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. De Purucker had already sent out individuals scouting California for a smaller less encumbered property and developed a plan to shrink the number of residents yet again. He had found a property in Cupertino that he preferred, but it could only accommodate a small staff of fifteen or so. In January 1942, the decision was made to sell the property and move to Covina, east of Los Angeles, where a boys’ school facility was purchased. The move in spring of 1942 was followed by de Purucker’s sudden death from a heart attack at Covina on September 27. De Purucker left no indications of a designated heir, but he did write out a letter giving advice and direction for interim governance and recommendations for the cabinet to follow for electing a president for the society (PLST Archive).

Internal conflict within the group amidst questions and assertions of spiritual authoritative power would break out in 1945 over the cabinet’s election of a new leader. As Yeats expressed it poetically, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” and amidst dissension the magic of Point Loma had ceased and withdrawn, leaving antagonists with varying assertions and claims to inheriting the earlier holy grail. Despite the hopeful move to Covina, the qualities nurtured and grown at Point Loma could not endure. The sacred architecture was gone, music and the arts had faded, and the daily community group activities were radically reduced.

Image #1: Photograph of Katherine Tingley in the in the early 1900s.
Image #2: Photograph of Katherine Tingley on the way to meeting with one of Helena P. Blavatsky’s teachers in India.
Image #3: Photograph of Katherine Tingley in the mid-1920s.


De Lange, Daniël. 2003. Thoughts on Music: Musical Art as Explained as One of the Most Important Means of Building up Man’s Character. The Hague: International Study Centre for Independent Search for Truth; reprinted from The Theosophical Path where it was published in ten installments between November 1916 and May 1918.

Fussell, Joseph H. 1917. The School of Antiquity: Its Meaning, Purpose and Scope. Point Loma, CA: Aryan Philosophical Press.

Greenwalt, Emmett. 1955, revised 1978. California Utopia: The Point Loma Community in California, 1897–1942. San Diego: Point Loma Publications.

Machell, Reginald. 1892. Theosophical Siftings. Volume 5.

Ryan, Charles. 1937, revised 1975. H. P. Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement. Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press.


Writings by Katherine Tingley

1922. Theosophy. The Path of the Mystic. With Grace Frances Knoche. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1925. The Wine of Life. With preface by Talbot Mundy. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1926. The Gods Await. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1928. The Voice of the Soul. Point Loma, CA: Woman’s International Theosophical League.

1978. The Wisdom of the Heart: Katherine Tingley Speaks. Edited by W. Emmett Small. San Diego: Point Loma Publications.

Tingley, Katherine, ed. 1911–1929. The Theosophical Path [Theosophy periodical].

Primary Archival References

Point Loma School of Theosophy Archive. Accessed from http://www.pointlomaschool.com on 5 March 2017. (PLST Archive in text).

Recorded Interviews, Oral Histories, and Personal Writings.

Benjamin, Elsie Savage. n.d. Recorded Interviews. [Secretary to Katherine Tingley].

Harris, Helen. n.d. Notebooks. [Lomaland Resident].

Harris, Iverson L., Jr. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Lester, Marian Plummer. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Small, Carmen H. n.d. Oral history. [Lomaland Resident].

Small, W. Emmett. n.d. Oral History. [Lomaland Resident].

Post Date:
8 March 2017


Gurumayi (Swami Chidvilasananda)


1955 (June 24):  Gurumayi was born as Malti Shetty in Bombay (Mumbai), India.

1982 (April 26):  She was formally initiated by the then-guru of Siddha Yoga, Swami Muktananda, as an ascetic in the tradition and renamed Swami Chidvilasananda (the Sanskrit title translates to “the religious teacher [swami] who is the bliss of the play of consciousness”); Gurumayi, “immersed in the guru,” is an honorific that is used less formally.

1982 (May 3):  She was co-consecrated with her brother Swami Nityananada by Swami Muktananda to be his successors as gurus of Siddha Yoga.

1982 (October 2):  Swami Muktananda died and Swami Chidvilasananda and her brother became the gurus of Siddha Yoga

1985 (November 10):  Swami Chidvilasananda was installed as the sole guru of Siddha Yoga; she has held this status continuously to the present day.


Malti Shetty, born June 24, 1955, was the oldest child of a Bombay restaurateur and his wife. The very next year, Swami Muktananda (1908–1982), whose Sanskrit name means “the bliss of liberation,” in the culmination of decades of spiritual practice (sadhana), received permission to establish an ashram at Ganeshpuri, near Bombay (Mumbai) and to teach from his guru, Bhagavan Nityananda (“the venerable one who is eternally joyful”). The charismatic Swami Muktananda named his teaching “Siddha Yoga” and instituted weekend programs for the transmission of spiritual energy from guru to disciple, shaktipat or shaktipat-diksha (shaktipat initiation), a format that was distinctive from the classical full-time residence model of guru-disciple and that allowed for the participation of diverse devotees in ashram events. Shetty’s parents became disciples, and by 1960 they were bringing her, her sister and two brothers to the ashram on weekends.

The guru bestowed formal shaktipat initiation on Malti in 1969, when she was fourteen years old (Durgananda 1997:64), and she began to reside at the ashram by the time she was eighteen. Swami Muktananda “concerned himself with every detail of Malti’s diet and schedule, making sure that she ate food that fostered meditation” (Durgananda 1997:65). Malti was both like and unlike other devotees: Along with other devotees, she furthered her spiritual progress by her own devotional commitment to the guru as well as her engagement in intensive spiritual practices (sadhana) such as meditation. Yet to Swami Muktananda she stood out as special, as in his 1969 prediction that one day she would serve as a global beacon: “‘You know,’ he said, ‘that girl Malti is a blazing fire. One day she will light up the entire world’” (Durgananda 1997:65).

Swami Muktananda instituted world tours to spread the teachings of Siddha Yoga in what he envisioned to be a worldwide “meditation revolution.” In 1975, he appointed Malti as his translator during his second world tour in Oakland, California. During the years 1974–1975, Muktananda established many of the features of Siddha Yoga practice that were to remain core elements of the path for the next quarter century, including the guru personally bestowing shaktipat on devotees at weekend Intensive programs, establishing ashrams globally, and creating guidelines for teaching courses on aspects of Siddha Yoga practice and theology. Grooming Malti as a leader was part of these developments. In 1980, Muktananda decreed that Malti would deliver the public talks at the ashram on Sunday nights, and in 1981 she was made executive vice-president of SYDA Foundation, the non-profit organizational structure supporting the teaching program (Pechilis 2004b:224–29).

In April 1982, at the age of twenty-six, Malti was formally initiated into the ascetic lifestyle (sannyasa) by her guru and given the formal name of Swami Chidvilasananda (“the bliss of the play of consciousness”). Ten years later, she wrote of her transformative experience of identity with the universal divinity (expressed as He and as Brahman in the passage) during that ceremony:

At one point during the pattābhisheka, the ceremony during which Baba Muktananda passed on to me the power of his lineage, he whispered So’ham [I am He] and aham Brahmāsmi [I am of Brahman] in my ear. I experienced the mantra as an immensely powerful force which rocketed at lightning speed throughout my bloodstream and created an upheaval in my entire system. I instantly transcended body-consciousness and became aware that all distinctions such as inner and outer were false and artificial. Everything was the same; what was within me was also without. My mind became completely blank. There was only the pulsating awareness “I am That,” accompanied by great bliss and light.

When my mind again began to function, all I could think was, “What is Baba? Who is this being who looks so ordinary, yet has the capacity to transmit such an experience at will?”

I knew beyond a doubt that the mantra was God. I had never experienced a force so mighty, yet at the same time so soothing (Swami Chidvilasananda 1992:xxiii).

Two weeks later, Swami Muktananda consecrated as his successors both Swami Chidvilasananda and her brother Swami Nityananda (b. 1962). Formerly Subash Shetty, Nityananda had been resident at the ashram and initiated into sannyasa in 1980. This consecration of the two siblings surprised people because of their youthfulness, their familiarity to devotees since they had grown up at the ashram, and the fact that Siddha Yoga taught that one should devote oneself to a single guru (Williamson 2010:119). Five months later, the two actually became the gurus of Siddha Yoga, at Muktananda’s samadhi (“immersion in enlightened consciousness,” often used as in this case to indicate the death of a spiritual leader) on October 2, 1982.

Swami Chidvilasananda, who is more commonly referred to as Gurumayi (“immersed in the guru”), which expresses her continuing dedication to Muktananda, became the sole guru of Siddha Yoga on November 10, 1985. Gurumayi led the Siddha Yoga movement through a number of scandals, including that of her brother Nityananda leaving and then wanting to reassume the co-guruship ( “Former SYDA Co-guru Explains” 1986; Thursby 1991; Harris 1994:93–94, 101–04; Durgananda 1997:126–34; Healy 2010; Williamson 2010:118–21); and through allegations which emerged shortly after the guru’s death and have intensified over the years that Muktananda had sexually abused female devotees (Rodarmor 1983; Caldwell 2001; Radha 2002; Shah 2010; Salon Staff 2010; Williamson 2010:114–17).

Gurumayi persevered in her leadership of Siddha Yoga through her close following of traditions and practices that her guru Muktananda had put in place (ashrams, shaktipat, weekend Intensive programs, also known as Intensives), as well as her own star power, with disciples eager to catch a glimpse of her at the ashram and vying for seats close to her at official programs or Intensives (Williamson 2010:124). Gurumayi also established innovative programs, for instance a talk on New Year’s Eve that revealed the Yearly Message for contemplation throughout the coming year; such annual messages consist of short phrases that emphasize purity of mind, belief in love, and knowledge of the truth (“Gurumayi’s Messages and Message Artwork” 1991–2017). During the late 1980s, the ashram in South Fallsburg, New York more than tripled in size, and this period into the early 1990s has been called the Golden Era of the Siddha Yoga Movement (Williamson 2010:121). (For more about Siddha Yoga ashrams see below.) In 1997, Gurumayi established the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute (“About Muktabodha” 2017) in New Delhi, India, for the study and preservation of classical scriptures of India. There are many publications by the gurus, swamis, and scholars of Siddha Yoga on spiritual teachings and theology.


 The teachings that Swami Muktananda designated as Siddha Yoga are understood by the organization to have deep roots in Hindu theology. The term “siddha” has been used for many centuries in Indian religions to refer to a “perfected being,” and it is often associated with secret teachings. South Indian Tamil tradition recognizes a remote lineage of siddhas (siddhars) who are distinguished by their achievement of powers of immortality and healing (Weiss 2009). The first guru in the Siddha Yoga lineage, Bhagavan Nityananda (1900–1961), is remembered as a great yogi who possessed miraculous powers of healing, and who had no need of ceremonial events because he could transmit shaktipat to a worthy disciple through the light of his gaze (Durgananda 1997:11–22, esp. 19). Drawing in part on formulations in the classical Hindu philosophical treatises, the Upanishads, Swami Muktananda’s understanding of the term “siddha” emphasized the power of meditation to effect the realization of the identity between the human spirit and the divine.

The true Siddha has realized his own true nature through meditation and knowledge and has obliterated his ego and become one with the Universal Spirit. He unites with Shiva and becomes Shiva Himself. He is a true Siddha, a genuine Siddha. Such a Siddha was Ramakrishna, such a one was Sai Baba of Shirdi, and such a Siddha was Nityananda Baba [Bhagavan Nityananda]; they all became one with Shiva and became Shiva (Muktananda 1974:173, cited in Muller-Ortega 1997:169).

In Siddha Yoga, there is a lineage of three gurus: Bhagavan Nityananda, Swami Muktananda, and Swami Chidvilasananda, and each are understood to be perfectly self-realized beings.

Inherent to the definition of “guru” is that she or he transmits the power of true self-realization to the disciple. This transmission is effected in multilayered ways, including: the transmission of shaktipat from guru to disciple, which is an expression of the guru’s intention (sankalpa) that often serves as an initial awakening; the guru’s bestowal of a mantra or sacred oral formula; the guru’s grace; the guru’s oral and written teachings; and the guru’s visual presence as beheld (darshan) by the disciple (Mahoney 1997). Through these practices, the disciple comes to recognize through the example of the guru that the divine is actually within him or herself.

The guru serves as a funnel for the disciple to encounter and understand teachings from the voluminous Hindu scriptures that point to the divine within—from revealed texts such as the Vedas (of which the Upanishads are part) to remembered texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, to treatises from the philosophical schools of Advaita Vedanta and Kashmiri Shaivism, to songs and oral teachings (Brooks 1997). In their publications and talks, Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi freely draw from this vast spiritual heritage: “Since the Siddha Yoga gurus are not proponents of any one form of doctrinal worship (siddhānta), they are not committed to traditionalist ‘schools’ of thought or particular philosophical identities” (Brooks 1997:291). Siddha Yoga devotees access the texts in several ways, including talks by the guru, study at retreats, and the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course.

One text in particular, the Guru Gita (“Song of the Guru”), features centrally since it is the text that Siddha Yoga practitioners recite daily. As described by Muktananda:

If anyone were to ask me which is the one indispensable text, I would answer, “The Guru Gītā.” This is so supremely holy that it makes the ignorant learned, the destitute wealthy and the scholarly fully realized. The Guru Gītā is a supreme song of Shiva, of salvation. It is a veritable ocean of bliss in this world. It encompasses the science of the absolute, the yoga of the Self. It gives vitality to life. It is a harmonious composition; its 182 stanzas in varied verse patterns beautifully describe the importance of devotion to the Guru, his role, his nature and his distinguishing characteristics. If a person who is devoted to the Guru sings this song, he easily attains all powers, realizations and knowledge, fulfilling the aim of yoga (Muktananda 1983:xiv).

The Guru Gita text as printed in The Nectar of Chanting may be eclectic itself; the origin of its 182 verses is to date unknown: “Said to be within either the Skanda Purāṇa, or, more rarely, the Padma Purāṇa. . .certain verses appear also in the Kulārṇava Tantra and other Tantric sources. . . .This status is similarly not unusual for sources belonging to traditions of mystical yoga. . .” (Brooks 1997:291). This key text that is the basis of daily practice in Siddha Yoga may have been compiled in this form by Muktananda himself.

Swami Muktananda influentially fashioned lasting features of the Siddha Yoga path. Motivated by a global vision, he established institutions and instructional procedures to effect the processes of transmission from guru to disciple in a “radical” making of shaktipat initiation accessible to a global audience (Jain 2014:199); his successor, Gurumayi, has maintained and enhanced these institutions and methods of spiritual instruction. The most prominent Siddha Yoga ashrams are large physical campuses founded by Swami Muktananda, including the first Siddha Yoga ashram, Gurudev Siddha Peeth, near the town of Ganeshpuri in the state of Maharashtra, India (est. 1956); the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland, California (est. April 28, 1975); and the Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg, New York (est. 1978–1979). He also created the weekend Intensive program, in which devotees gather in residence at an ashram to perform collective chanting, listen to teachings by the guru or credentialed Siddha Yoga teachers, hear testimonials by other devotees, engage in service (seva), and participate in workshops on the teachings; depending on the participant, these activities may inspire an experience of shaktipat. Although clearly rooted in Hindu tradition and actively deploying Hindu sources (for example, the Guru Gita is chanted in Sanskrit) Muktananda envisioned Siddha Yoga to be a universal path and Gurumayi has continued that approach. The Siddha Yoga vision statement describes the path as:

For everyone, everywhere,
to realize the presence of divinity
in themselves and creation,
the cessation of all miseries and suffering,
and the attainment of supreme bliss
(“Siddha Yoga Vision Statement” 2016).

In Siddha Yoga, the universality of accessibility frames the specificity of tradition: “Hindu-inspired” is thus a more apt characterization of the Siddha Yoga path than “Hinduism.”

Gurumayi has maintained the teachings and practices of Muktananda, including the centerpiece that is now known as the Shaktipat Intensive (“Questions and Answers” 2016). However, she has brought her own emphases and personal style to the established framework. Scholarly observers have suggested several ways to characterize her teachings; for example, service through unselfish action: “If one overall ethical teaching could be said to characterize her ministry, it is the teaching of unselfish action. The years since 1982 have seen an increasingly conscious attempt to mold the Siddha Yoga movement into a fusion of individuals and institutions that embody that message.” Gurumayi herself has said, “My message is ‘do it!’” (Durgananda 1997:136, 138). She has put increased emphasis on disciples performing practices (sadhana) on a daily basis on their own as guided by the teachings, as well as outreach services (“PRASAD Project” 2016; “The Prison Project” 2016).

Gurumayi’s focus can be contrasted with that of her guru Muktananda, drawing on a distinction made by Richard Gombrich: Muktananda was “soteriological” in focus while Gurumayi is “communal”:

Soteriological religions emphasize the practices and beliefs that are necessary for attaining salvation—and attaining it quickly. Communal religions emphasize practices and beliefs that ensure the continuity of social life. . . . Much of [Gurumayi’s] teaching is directed toward practical, everyday matters of living in the world. . . . Although the Hindu-based practices of chanting Sanskrit texts and performing worship (puja) still occur in Siddha Yoga, Gurumayi’s emphasis is discovering one’s own inner wisdom through contemplating ordinary daily experiences within the context of scriptural texts or Gurumayi’s or Muktananda’s words (Williamson 2005:154, 155, 156).

The practical, “communal” nature of the Siddha Yoga path today brings together spiritual knowledge and personal experience in the world, grounding the former and enhancing the meaning of the latter. One aspect of this emphasis on applying the teachings to practical, everyday living in the world is the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course program, which is “four courses designed to invigorate and support your sadhana” to “engage in active study and application of Siddha Yoga teachings” (“SIDDHA YOGA® Home Study Course” 2017).

What makes the Home Study Course possible is Gurumayi’s expansive use of technology (Pechilis 2004b: 233–36). Today it is a given that gurus have a website through which to explain and promote their teachings, but Gurumayi was a pioneer in the use of technology as a global medium, beginning in 1989, “when the first ‘satellite’ Intensives were broadcast around the world, [and] the term ‘global shaktipat’ began to take on literal meaning” (Durgananda 1997:150). As Swami Durgananda explains:

In 1994, an Intensive was broadcast by audio hookup to the tiny Siddha Yoga center in St. Petersburg, Russia. The next year, a French student took a trip to Russia and, toward the end of his trip, spent some time in a Russian Orthodox monastery there. The abbot there noticed the student’s photograph of Gurumayi. “Oh, you’re with Gurumayi,” the abbott said. Surprised, the student asked, “How do you know Gurumayi?” “Everyone knows Gurumayi,” replied the abbot, explaining that her name and photograph were widely circulated in the Russian spiritual community—no doubt by students who had taken that Intensive (Durgananda 1997:150–51).

By 2002, a visually-based global satellite broadcast was used for Intensives, the unveiling of the Siddha Yoga Yearly Message and the “first ever year-long global curriculum focused on the Siddha Yoga Message,” the Siddha Yoga Message Course. These were described as opportunities to “participate together as a global sangham [community]” (Pechilis 2004b:236). Through the satellite, the guru can be both in one place and in many places at the same time. It was and is a postmodern enactment of the simultaneity of the universal and the particular that pervades Siddha Yoga: The path as both Hindu and universally accessible; the guru as both personal and universal consciousness; the guru as both present and absent. The context is the very large role that images of the guru play in Siddha Yoga’s representation of access to the guru. “At South Fallsburg [ashram], photographs of the guru—with her thousand-watt smile, wide eyes, and elegantly chiselled cheekbones—adorn nearly every wall, cash register, shop counter, and shelf, as well as her devotees’ private meditation altars and many of their car dashboards” (Harris 1994:92). They saturate the ashram walls, they are for sale in the ashram’s physical and online bookshops, and they are tightly controlled as vehicles of contact with the guru. Live images of the guru during an Intensive or the unveiling of the Yearly Message, as situated in this larger context of the importance of the guru’s image, constitute an assertion of technological connection as intimacy (Pechilis 2004b). That images are increasingly tightly controlled is demonstrated by the discontinuation in 2013 of public access online to Gurumayi’s Yearly Message with accompanying artwork (“Gurumayi’s Messages and Message Artwork” 1991–2017). Now a devotee must log in to be able to view (“to have darshan ”) of Gurumayi’s Message Artwork (“Darshan of Gurumayi’s Message Artwork for 2016” 2016).


Currently, Siddha Yoga recognizes six ashrams and a host of meditation and chanting groups worldwide (“Siddha Yoga Ashrams” 2016). The ashrams have a special status, since they are a powerful “body” of the guru (Gold 1995), and they are expansive, often architecturally specific spaces for practice of the path; some of the ashrams have been constructed according to the norms of Hindu science of architecture (vastu shastra or vāstu śāstra). The six ashrams are in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia; Ganeshpuri, India; Oakland, California; Boston, Massachusetts; and South Fallsburg, New York. Meditation centers are designated organizational spaces, often in major cities. Chanting and meditation groups are held within a Siddha Yoga student’s home.

Online information from the Siddha Yoga website about the ashrams reveals several different models of ongoing practice apart from holidays. The Australian ashrams in Sydney and Melbourne routinely have community gatherings (satsang, enlightened company) and recitation of the Guru Gita on Saturdays and Sundays, seemingly an accommodation to the devotees’ work week. Also prioritizing weekends, the schedule at the Oakland, California ashram has a more elaborate ongoing program of chanting, welcome orientations for people new to the Siddha Yoga path, meditation and study gatherings. The Ganeshpuri ashram and the South Fallsburg ashram are both accessible only to committed members of Siddha Yoga, by application, for long-term daily service activities; and the Boston ashram is a retreat center. Long-term seva (devotional service) practitioners who reside at the ashrams would typically follow a daily schedule such as: Early morning meditation and chanting session at 3:00 in the morning, followed by another session at 4:30 in the morning, in which the Guru Gita is chanted; then breakfast; followed by a morning session of seva, during which one might help clean the ashram or perform outdoor work; noontime chanting; afternoon seva; and finally dinner, evening chanting, and lights out by 10:00 in the evening. Vegetarian meals are taken by sevites, and there is segregation between male and female staff in terms of accommodation and seating for chanting and meditation.

Such long-term residents are joined by residential participants in the Siddha Yoga Intensive, during which the guru bestows shakti (spiritual power or energy) on the devotees. Baba Muktananda held many one- or two-day Intensives during a given calendar year, and until 2005, Gurumayi did so as well. In 2006, she declared that there would be one Global Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive per year, in October, to coincide with Baba Muktananda’s mahasamadhi or act of consciously and intentionally leaving his body (resulting in death). As explained by Siddha Yoga: “After mahasamadhi, the shakti of an enlightened being continues to be ever-present and all-pervasive, uplifting the world illuminating the lives of devotees. . . . [A] sacred occasion enhances the power of one’s practices” (“Questions and Answers” 2016).

The yearly calendar of holidays, when members of the community are expected to gather in large numbers, is constituted by such days of “sacred occasion,” the majority focused on the Siddha Yoga gurus, which provide an enhanced context for practice. The dates in 2017 were:

January 1: New Year’s Day (when Gurumayi releases her Yearly Message).

February 24: Mahashivaratri (the Great Night of Shiva, occurring in February/March).

May 10 :Baba Muktananda’s Lunar Birthday.

June 24: Gurumayi Chidvilasananda’s Birthday.

July 8 :Gurupurnima (the full moon day in the month of Ashadha (July-August); day to honor one’s guru).

August 8: Bhagavan Nityananda’s Solar Punyatithi (death anniversary).

August 15: Baba Muktananda’s Divya Diksha (the day Baba received divine initiation from his Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda).

October 5: Baba Muktananda’s Lunar Mahasamadhi (act of consciously and intentionally leaving one’s body).

“In addition to these holidays, Pitru Paksha is a Siddha Yoga observance. This sacred time from the Indian tradition is devoted to remembrance of one’s ancestors. In 2017, Pitru Paksha is September 6–19” (“Siddha Yoga Holidays and Celebrations 2017” 2017).


Discussion of whether female gurus today, and specifically Gurumayi, may be considered feminist has yielded different assessments for and against (Wessinger 1993; Sered 1994; Puttick 1997; Pechilis 2011). Much recent scholarship has illuminated the specific ways in which female Hindu or Hindu-inspired leaders change the historically male-defined categories of guru and sannyasin (ascetic), which may provide more concrete information for such assessments. A major issue is the ways in which the guru is set apart from ordinary social life. Traditionally, a significant element in women’s rise to religious authority has been their renunciation of marriage. Renunciation of marriage was a factor in the construction of male spiritual authority, which was based on renunciation of ordinary social occupations and concerns; however, male gurus were often married and a male renouncer could live with his wife in the forest, although the category of sannyasin was defined as an unmarried male wandering ascetic. For women, in particular, the expectation of marriage and child-bearing has been pronounced in the Indian context. As Meena Khandelwal explains, for a variety of cultural reasons the pressures on women are greater:

Given the importance of heterosexual marriage and procreation in South Asian cultures generally, a man’s decision to renounce householder life is likely to be met by opposition from family and society; this is especially true if he is either young and unmarried or married with dependents at home. Even so, there are scriptural, historical, and contemporary precedents for male renunciation at any age, and so it is considered a legitimate path for men even if discouraged by kin. Marriage is even more compulsory for women, and for this reason most research on South Asian women has focused on their domestic lives. While most women in South Asia aspire to obtain a good husband, kind in-laws, and healthy children, those who do not are likely to face intense pressure to conform” (Khandelwal 2009:1005).

What Sondra Hausner and Meena Khandelwal say about female ascetics applies to female gurus as well: “All have wondered whether to marry, remarry, or stay married, and have struggled with how to negotiate the unquestioned South Asian social value of having a husband and being a wife” (Hausner and Khandelwal 2006:3). Medieval stories of female gurus in Hindu tradition situate them as wives; in modern times, female gurus exhibit a range of stances on the issue (Pechilis 2004a:7, 15, 28–29, 34), including being married, being separated from a husband, or rejecting demands that they marry. For some, including Gurumayi, the issue of marriage does not come up in biographical accounts.

An emphasis on personal experience is another hallmark of female gurus in history and today (Pechilis 2011; Pechilis 2012), and can be seen in Gurumayi’s emphasis on sadhana (spiritual practice). Although it is clear that her guru Baba Muktananda saw something special in her, what Gurumayi emphasizes in her own accounts of the years before she became guru is that her intensive practice gradually attuned her mind to her guru’s (Pechilis 2004b:226–27). In terms of devotees’ sadhana, in the late 1990s Gurumayi effected an important shift away from her guru Swami Muktananda’s and her own practice of personally interacting with devotees, especially at weekend Intensive programs. The Intensives had been famous for always having the guru in residence, and devotees could approach the guru and receive a graceful touch with a peacock feather wand on their bowed heads. Instead, the guru began to be absent from Intensives; if she appeared, it was by satellite video transmission. Discussion of the change in Siddha Yoga publications encouraged the view that by her absence, the guru sought to encourage devotees to focus on their practice of the teachings rather than on her presence (Pechilis 2004b:229–33).

Gurumayi’s shifting presence and absence suggests an interesting dynamic between intimacy and distance in the paths of female gurus (Pechilis 2015). In terms of interaction with the guru, one model is an “event intimacy” cultivated through defined moments of the guru’s presence at scheduled gatherings, which often deploy technology to widen the reach; however, much of the spiritual work of the disciples is done away from the guru’s embodied presence, in contrast to the traditional gurukula system in which the students live with the guru. This event intimacy characterizes Gurumayi’s leadership. A different model is that many female guru-ascetics operate on a more local level, where they have personal experience with their followers on a daily basis; they offer opportunities for “everyday intimacy.” For example, a contemporary guru-ascetic in north India holds frequent small-gathering meetings with her devotees in which she narrates stories of everyday encounters that illustrate themes of duty, destiny, and devotion, which create a gendered “rhetoric of renunciation” that has at its center a concept of engaged, devotional asceticism (DeNapoli 2014). Of course, the number of devotees and organizational structure are factors here: Siddha Yoga is a global movement that has become a highly systematized, vertical organization constructed of hierarchies to manage various aspects of the institution, including spiritual instruction, finance, and research. It has made recent efforts to focus more directly on those who commit to the path, and to exclude others; for example, closing the Shree Muktananda Ashram in South Fallsburg to all but long-term students; enhancing the status of regional centers by holding more, including “global,” activities at them; promoting the home-study course; holding retreats for up to twenty-five students; and making some information on the Siddha Yoga website accessible only by sign in.


The most prominent issue in understanding the nature of the guru in a Western context is the deep-seated cultural suspicion of the category, based on the lack of a concept of a “perfected being” in Western tradition. Traditions that originated in South Asia have long histories of thinking about and asserting the reality of a perfected being, with the historical Buddha probably the most well-known example across the globe. Adoration of a living person can read as a “cult” in the Western contextalthough the culture of celebrity so prominent in the West displays many similarities. Traditionally in South Asia, surrender and loyalty are due to the guru, which amplifies the vulnerability of the devotee within a relationship that is in many ways comparable to a relatively common power differential (parent-child, teacher-student, employer-worker). Many female gurus offset this vulnerability of the devotee by embodying the nurturing persona of mother, evident in their titles (ma, amma) and behavior (such as Ammachi ‘s hugging), as well as by the public dimension they cultivate, such as visibility, accessibility, service, and teachings on their websites. Controversial aspects of the paths of the male gurus popular in the West in the 1960s, such as a closed and secretive residential campus, are outmoded. Still, to what extent a specific guru operates in an authoritarian mode and a specific devotee’s response to a guru renders the guru authoritarian for her or for him does need to be assessed, since there remains the potential for the devotee to be overwhelmed by the relationship (Cornille 1991:23–30; Kramer and Alstad 1993; Storr 1997). Even a cursory internet search reveals that there are vocal groups of ex-Siddha Yoga devotees who feel betrayed by Siddha Yoga gurus.

Significantly, there has been a healthy skepticism of the guru in Indian tradition, especially on the issues of the acquisition of money and sexual exploitation (Narayan 1989; Kang 2016). Also, it is worth remembering that, in the traditional model, study with the guru prepared a man to move into a healthy, socially meaningful life of work and marriage; it was not generally speaking an end in itself. These nuances, coupled with female gurus’ emphasis on life experiences, are now beginning to inform Western reflections on experiences of the guru path. What we see emerging are personal critical reflections that more calmly and less polemically reflect on areas of disappointment in or perceived limitations of the guru, written by former devotees who reflect on their experiences with the guru in the context of a longer view of their own evolving life experiences; I have called these a “discourse of constructive disappointment” (Pechilis 2012:127). Such reflections have emerged mainly around female gurus, including Gurumayi of Siddha Yoga (Caldwell 2001; Szabo 2009). It remains to be seen if the guru-disciple relationship, even in its breakdown, can lead to generative modern discussion of interdependence and human spiritual growth.


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Post Date:
7 March 2017





1951  The 1735 Witchcraft Laws, which had made the practice of Witchcraft a crime in Great Britain, were abolished.

1951  The Witchcraft Museum on the Isle of Man opened with backing from Gerald Gardner.

1954  Gardner published the first non-fiction book on Wicca, Witchcraft Today .

1962  Raymond and Rosemary Buckland, initiated Witches, came to the United States and began training others.

1971  The first feminist coven was formed in California by Zsuzsanna Budapest.

1979  Starhawk published The Spiral Dance: The Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess .

1986  Raymond Buckland published the Complete Book of Witchcraft.

1988  Scott Cunningham published Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner .

2007  The United States Armed Services permitted the Wicca pentagram to be placed on graves in military cemeteries.


Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant, is credited with the creation of Wicca, although some disagreement continues to swirlaround whether or not that is true. Gardner contended that he was initiated into the New Forest Coven, by Dorothy Clutterbuck in 1939. Members of this coven claimed that theirs was a traditional Wiccan coven whose rituals and practices had been passed down since pre- Christian times.

In 1951, laws prohibiting the practice of witchcraft in England were repealed, and soon thereafter, in 1954, Gardner published his first non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today (Berger 2005:31). His account came into question, first by an American practitioner Aiden Kelly (1991) and subsequently by others (Hutton 1999; Tully 2011) Hutton (1999), a historian who wrote the most comprehensive book on the development of Wicca, claims that Gardner did something more profound than merely codifying and making public a hidden old religion: he created a new vibrant religion that has spread around the world. Gardner was helped in this endeavor by Doreen Valiente, who wrote much of the poetry used in the rituals, thereby helping to make them more spiritually moving (Griffin 2002:244).

Some of Gardner’s students or students of those trained by him, such as Alex and Maxine Saunders, created variations of Gardner’s spiritual and ritual system, spurring new sects or forms of Wicca to develop. From the beginning there were some who claimed to have been initiated into other covens that had been underground for centuries. None of these garnered either the success of Gardner’s version or the scrutiny. It is most probable that some of them were influenced by many of the same social influences that had informed Gardner, including the Western occult or magical tradition, folklore and the romantic tradition, Freemasonry, and the long tradition of village folk healers or wise people (Hutton 1999).

It has typically been believed that British immigrants Raymond and Rosemary Buckland brought Wicca to the United States. But, the history is actually more complex as evidence suggests that copies of Gardner’s fictional account of Witchcraft and his non-fiction book, Witchcraft Today were brought over to the United States prior to the arrival of the Bucklands (Clifton 2006:15). Nonetheless the Bucklands were important in the importation of the religion as they created the first Wiccan coven in the United States and initiated others. Once on American soil, the religion became attractive to feminists looking for a female face of the divine and environmentalists who were drawn to the celebration of the seasonal cycles. Both movements, in turn, helped to transform the religion. Although the Goddess was celebrated, the coven led by the High Priestess Gardner had not developed a feminist form of spirituality. It was common, for example, for the High Priestess to be required to step down when she was no longer young (Neitz 1991:353).

Miriam Simos, who writes under her magical name, Starhawk, was instrumental in bringing feminism and feminist concerns to Wicca. She was initiated into the Fairie Tradition of Witchcraft and into Zsuzsanna Budapest’s Feminist Spirituality group. Starhawk’s first book, The Spiral Dance: The Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979), which brought together both threads of her training, sold over 300,000 copies.(Salomonsen 2002:9). During this same period the religion went from a mystery religion (one in which sacred and magical knowledge is reserved for initiates), with a focus on fertility, to an earth based religion (one that came to see the earth as a manifestation of the Goddess — alive and sacred) ( Clifton 2006:41). These two changes helped to make the religion appealing to those touched by feminism and environmentalism both in the United States and abroad. The religion’s spread was further aided by the publication of relatively inexpensive books and journals and the growth of the Internet.

Initially the Bucklands, following Gardner’s dictate, claimed that a neophyte needed to be trained by a third degree Wiccan, someone who had been trained in a coven and gone through three levels or degrees of training, similar to those in the Freemasons. However, Raymond Buckland changed his position on this. He eventually published a book and created a video explaining how individuals could self-initiate. Others, most notably Scott Cunningham, also wrote how-to books that resulted in self-initiation becoming common. Wicca: A Guide for Solitary Practice (Cunningham 1988) alone has sold over 400,000 copies. His book and other how-to books have helped to fuel the trend toward most Wiccans practicing alone. The large number of Internet sites and the growth of umbrella groups (that is, groups that provide information, open ritual, and at times religious retreats, referred to as festivals) make it possible for Wiccans and other Pagans to maintain contact with others whether they practice in a coven or alone. The growth of these books and websites helped to make Wicca less of a mystery religion. Initially it was in the coven that esoteric knowledge was taught, often as secret knowledge that could only be passed on to others who were initiated into the religion. Little, if any, of the rituals or knowledge now remains secret.


Belief in Wicca is less important than experience of the divine or magic. It is common for Wiccans to say they don’t believe in the Goddess (es) and God(s); they experience them. It is through ritual and meditation that they gain this experience of the divine and perform magical acts. The religion is non-doctrinal, with the Wiccan Rede “Do as thou will as long as thou harm none” being the only hard and fast rule. The religion, according to Gardner, existed throughout Europe prior to the advent to Christianity. In Gardner’s presentation, the Goddess and the God balance what he called male and female energies. Groups, referred to as covens, are ideally to mimic that balance by being composed of six women and six men with an additional woman who is High Priestess. One of the men in the group serves as the High Priest but the Priestess is the group leader. In actuality few covens have this exact number of participants, although most are small groups (Berger 1999:11-12).

The ritual calendar is based on an agricultural calendar that emphasizes fertility. This emphasis is reflected in the changing
relationship between the Goddess and the God as portrayed in the rituals. The Goddess is viewed as eternal but changing from the maid, to mother, to crone; then, in the spiral of time, she returns in the spring as a young woman. The God is born of the mother in midwinter, becomes her consort in the spring, dies to ensure the growth of crops in the fall; then he is reborn at the winter solstice. The God is portrayed with horns, a sign of virility. The image is an old one that was converted to the image of the Devil within Christianity. All goddesses are viewed as aspects of the one Goddess just as all gods are believed to be aspects of the one God.

The image of Wicca as the old religion, led by women, that celebrated fertility of the land, animals and people was taken by Gardner from Margaret Murray (1921), who wrote the foreword to his book. She argued that the witch trials were an attack on practitioners of the old religion by Christianity. Gardner took from Murray the image of witches of the past as healers who used their knowledge of herbs and magic to help individuals in their community deal with illness, infertility and other problems. At the time that Gardner was writing, Murray was considered an expert on the witch trials, although her work subsequently came under attack and is no longer accepted by historians.

Magic and magical practices are integrated into the belief system of Wiccans. The magical system is one that is based on the work of Aleister Crowley, who codified Western esoteric knowledge. He defined magic as the act of changing reality to will. Magical practices have waxed and waned in the West but have never disappeared (Pike 2004). They can be traced back to twelfth century appropriations of the Cabbala and ancient Greek practices by Christianity and were important during the scientific revolution (Waldron 2008:101).

Within Wiccan rituals, a form of energy is believed to be raised through dancing, chanting, meditation, or drumming, which can bedirected toward a cause, such as healing someone or finding a job, parking place, or rental apartment. It is believed that the energy that an individual sends out will return to her/him three-fold and hence the most common form of magic is healing magic. Performing healing both helps to show that the Witch has magical power and that s/he uses it for good ( Crowley 2000:151-56). For Wiccans the world is viewed as magical. It is commonly believed that the Goddess or the God may send an individual a sign or give them direction in life. These may come during a ritual or meditation or in the course of everyday life as people happen upon old friends or find something in the sand at the beach that they believe is of import. Magic therefore is a way of connecting with the divine and with nature. Magic is viewed as part of the natural world and indicative of individuals’ connection to nature, to one another, and to the divine.

Wiccans traditionally keep a Book of Shadows, which includes rituals and magical incantations that have worked for them. It is common for the High Priestess and High Priest, leaders of the coven, to share their Book of Shadows with those they are initiating, permitting them to copy some rituals entirely. Each Book of Shadows is unique to the Wiccan who has created it and often is a work of art in its own right.

Most, although not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation (Berger et al 2003:47). The dead are believed to go to Summerland between lives, a place where their soul or essence has a chance to reflect on the life they lived before rejoining the world again to continue their spiritual growth. Karma of their past actions will influence their placement in their new life. But, unlike Eastern concepts of reincarnation that emphasize the desire to end this cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, returning to life is viewed positively by Wiccans. The inner being is able to interact again with those who were important in past lives, learn and evolve spiritually.


Within Wicca, rituals are more important than beliefs as they help put the practitioner in touch with spiritual or magical elements. The major rituals involve the circle of the year (the eight sabbats that occur six weeks apart throughout the year) and are conducted on the solstices, equinoxes and what are known as the cross days between them. These commemorate the beginning and height of each season and the changing relationship between the God and the Goddess. Birth, growth, and death are all seen as a natural part of the cycle and are celebrated. The changes in nature are believed to be reflected in individuals’ lives. Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), which occurs on October 31 st, is considered the Wiccan New Year and is of particular import. The veils between the worlds, that of the living and that of the spirit, are believed to be particularly thin on this evening. Wiccans deem this the easiest time of the year to be in contact the dead. This is also a time during which people will do magical working to rid their lives of habits, behaviors, and people that are no longer a positive force in their lives. For example, someone may perform a ritual to eliminate procrastination or to help them gather their energies to leave a dead end job or a dead end relationship. In the spring, the sabbats celebrate spring and fertility in nature and in people’s lives. There is always a balance in rituals between the changes in nature and the changes in individuals’ lives (Berger 1999:29-31).

Esbats, the celebration of the moon cycles, are also of import. Drawing Down the Moon, which is possibly the best known ritual within Wicca because of a book by that title by Margot Adler (1978, 1986), involves an invocation in which the Goddess or her powers enters the High Priestess. For the duration of the ritual she becomes the Goddess incarnate (Adler 1986:18-19). This ritual is held on the full moon, which is associated with the Goddess in her phase as Mother. New moons or dark moons, which are associated with the crone, are also typically celebrated. Less often a ritual is held for the crescent or maiden moon. There are also rituals for marriages (referred to as hand-fastings); births (Wiccanings); and changing statuses of participants, such as coming of age or becoming an elder or a crone. Rituals are held for initiation and for those who becoming first, second, or third degree Wiccans or Witches. Rituals can also be done for personal reasons, including rituals for healing, for help with a particular problem or issue, for celebration of a happy event, or for thanking the deities for their help.

Wiccans conduct their magical and sacred rites within a ritual Circle that is created by “cutting” the space with an athame (ritual knife). Because Wiccans do not normally have churches, they need to create sacred space for the ritual in what is normally mundane space. This is done in covens by the High Priestess and High Priest walking around the circle while extending athames out in front of them and chanting. Participants visualize a blue or white light radiating up in a sphere to create a safe and sacred place. The High Priestess and High Priest then call in or invoke the watchtower, that is, the powers of the four directions (east, south, west and north) and the deities associated with each of those. They normally consecrate the circle and the participants with elements that are associated with each of these directions, which are placed on an altar in the center of the circle (Adler 1986:105-106). Altars are typically decorated to reflect the ritual being celebrated. For example, at Samhain, when death is celebrated as part of the cycle of life, pictures of deceased relatives and friends may decorate the altar; on May Day (May 1 st) there would be fresh flowers and fruit on the altar, symbolizing new life and fertility.

Once the circle is cast, participants are said to be between the worlds in an altered state of consciousness. The rite for the particular celebration is then conducted. The Circle also serves to contain energy that is built up during the rites until it is ready to be released in what is known as the Cone of Power. Singing, dancing, meditation, and chanting can all be used by Wiccans to raise power during a ritual. The cone of power is released for a purpose set by the Wiccan practitioners. There can be one shared purpose, such as healing a particular person or the rainforest, or each person may have his or her own particular magical purpose (Berger 1999:31). The ceremony ends with a cup of wine being raised and an athame dipped into it, symbolizing the union between the Goddess and the God. The wine is then passed around the Circle with the words “Blessed Be” and drunk by the practitioners. Cakes are blessed by the High Priestess and Priest; they are also passed around with the words “blessed be” and then eaten (Adler 1986:168). Sometimes rituals are conducted naked (skyclad) or in ritual robes, depending on the Wiccan tradition and the place the ritual is conducted. Outdoor or public rituals are normally conducted in robes or street clothes. At the end of the rites, the Circle is opened and the Watchtowers are symbolically taken down. Traditionally, people then share a meal, as eating is seen as needed to ground participants (i.e., help them leave a magical state and return to the mundane world).

Solitary practitioners may join with other Wiccans or Pagans for the sabbats or esabats or perform the rituals alone. Some groups offer public rituals, often in a rented space at a liberal church or the backroom of a metaphysical bookstore. If the practitioner does a ritual alone they modify the ritual as needed. Books and some websites provide suggestions to enable solitary practitioners to do these rituals individually.


According to the American Religious Identity survey conducted in 2008, there are 342,000 Wiccans in the United States. This is consistent with the number of teenage and emerging adult Wiccans found in The National Survey of Youth and Religion (Smith with Denton 2005:31; Smith with Snell 2009:104) Many experts believe this number is too small, based on book sales of Wiccan books and traffic on Pagan websites. Nonetheless, the religion is a minority religion. Wiccans live throughout the United States, with the largest concentration in California where ten percent of all Wiccans reside. The District of Columbia and South Dakota have the lowest percentage, with one-tenth of one percent of Wiccans living in either of those areas (Berger unpublished).

There is no single leader for all Wiccans or Witches. Most pride themselves on being leaderless. Traditionally, Wicca has been taught in covens, but a growing number of Wiccans are self-initiated, having learned about the religion primarily from books and secondarily from Websites. Some individuals are well-respected and known within the community, mostly because of their writing. Miriam Simos, who writes under her magical name, Starhawk, has been called the most famous Witch of the West (Eilberg-Schwatz 1989). Her books have had an important impact on the religion, and she was the founder and one of the leaders of her tradition, The Reclaiming Witches. Even those who have not read her books may be influenced by the ideas as they have become so much a part of the core thinking of many in the religion. There are some Pagan umbrella organizations, such as the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), EarthSpirit Community, and Circle Sanctuary that organize festivals, have open rituals for the major sabbats, provide a webpage with information, and fight against discrimination for all Pagans. They normally charge a small fee for being a member and other fees for open rituals and festival attendance. No one is required to be a member, and there is a growing number of Wiccans who are not members of any organization. Nonetheless, these groups remain important and many of their leaders are well known within the larger Pagan community.


There is a longstanding debate among practitioners about the group’s sacred history as presented by Gardner. Although most Wiccans now regard it as a foundation myth, a small but vocal minority believe it to be literally true. Several academics, such as Hutton and Tully have had their credentials and work brought into question by practitioners who disagree with their historical or archeological findings. Hutton (2011:227) claims that those who critique him and others who have questioned Gardner’s claim to an unbroken history between antiquity and current practices of Witchcraft have provided no new evidence to support their claims. Hutton (2011, 1999), Tully (2011) and others note that there are some elements of continuity between pre-Christian practices and current ones, particularly in terms of magical beliefs and practices, but that this does not indicate an unbroken religious tradition or practice. Hutton argues that some elements of earlier Pagan practices were incorporated into Christianity and some remained as folklore and were absorbed by Gardner creatively. Wiccan practices are informed by past practices according to him and others but that does not mean that those who were executed as witches in the early modern period were practitioners of the old religion as Margaret Murray claimed or that current practitioners are in a unbroken line of pre-Christian Europeans or Britons.

Although Wicca has gained acceptance in the past twenty years, it remains a minority religion and continues to have to fight for religious freedom. Wiccans have won a number of court cases resulting in the pentagram being an accepted symbol on graves in military cemeteries, and, recently in California, the recognition that Wiccan prisoners must be provided with their own clergy (Dolan 2013). Nonetheless, there continues to be discrimination. For example, on Sunday, February 17, 2013 Friends of Fox anchors mocked Wicca when reporting that the University of Missouri recognized all Wiccan holidays (in reality only the Sabbats were recognized). The three anchors went on to proclaim Wiccans were either dungeons and dragons players or twice divorced middle-aged women who live in rural areas, are mid-wives and like incense. This portrait is both demeaning and inaccurate as all research indicates that while most Wiccans are women, they tend to live in urban and suburban areas and are as likely to be young as middle aged, and tend to be better educated than the general American public (Berger 2003:25-34). After a protest lead mostly by Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, the network apologized. Nonetheless most Wiccan believe that negative images, such as the one presented on Fox news, are common and can affect individuals’ chances of promotions and their ability to take time from work to celebrate their religious holidays. However, there does appear to be a shift from Wiccans being seen as dangerous devil worshippers to being regarded as silly but harmless. Many Wiccans have been working to have their religion recognized as a legitimate and serious practice. They are active in inter-faith work and participate in the World Parliament of Religions.


Adler, Margot. 1978, 1986. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press.

Berger, Helen., A. 2005. “Witchcraft and Neopaganism.”Pp 28-54 in Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America, edited by. H elen A. Berger, 28-54. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berger, Helen A. 1999. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press.

Berger, Helen A. unpublished “The Pagan Census Revisited: an international survey of Pagans.

Berger, Helen. A., Evan A. Leach and Leigh S. Shaffer. 2003. Voices from the Pagan Census: Contemporary: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Columbia: SC: The University of South Carolina Press.

Buckland, Raymond. 1986. Buckland’s Complete Book or Witchcraft. St. Paul, Mn: Llewellyn Publications.

Clifton, Chas S. 2006. Her Hidden Children: The rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Walnut Creek , CA: AltaMira Press.

Crowley, Vivianne. 2000. “Healing in Wicca.” Pp. 151-65 in Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity, and Empowerment, edited by Wendy Griffin. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press

Cunningham, Scott. 1988. Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Dolan, Maura. 2013 “ Court Revives Lawsuit Seeking Wiccan Chaplains in Women’s Prisons” Los Angeles Times , February 19. Accessed from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/02/court-revives-lawsuit-over-wiccan-chaplains-in-womens-prisons.html on March 27, 2013.

Eilberg-Schwatz, Howard. 1989. “Witches of the West: Neo-Paganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment Religions.” Journal of Feminist Studies of Religion 5:77-95.

Griffin, Wendy. 2002. “Goddess Spirituality and Wicca.” Pp 243-81 in Her Voice, Her Faith: Women Speak on World Religions, edited by Katherine K. Young and Arvind Sharma. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Hutton, Ronald . 2011 “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” The Pomegranate12:225-56

Hutton, Ronald. 1999. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kelly, Aiden. A. 1991. Crafting the Art of Magic: Book I. St. Paul, MN: LLewellyn Publications.

Murray, Margaret A. 1921, 1971. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Neitz, Mary-Jo. 1991. “In Goddess We Trust.” Pp.353-72 in In Gods We Trust edited by Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Press.

Pike , Sarah . M. 2004. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America . New York: Columbia University Press.

Salomonsen, Jone. 2002. Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. London: Routledge Press.

Smith, Christian with Melinda. L. Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, Christian with Patricia Snell. 2009. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Starhawk. 1979. The Spiral Dance. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers

Tully, Caroline. 2011. ” Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Orlando, FL.

Waldron, David. 2008. The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Helen A. Berger

Post Date:
5 April 2013





Phoebe Palmer



1807 (December 18):  Phoebe Worrall was born in New York City to Dorothea Wade Worrall and Henry Worrall.

1827 (September 28):  Phoebe Worrall married Walter Palmer.

1836 (February 9):  The first Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness met at the Palmer home.

1837 (July 26):  Phoebe Palmer experienced holiness.

1838:  Phoebe Palmer began speaking at camp meetings.

1839:  Phoebe Palmer became the first woman to lead a Methodist class composed of both men and women in New York City.

1840:  Phoebe Palmer assumed the leadership of the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness.

1840:  Phoebe Palmer began traveling to surrounding states to preach at revivals and camp meetings.

1843:  Phoebe Palmer published The Way of Holiness with Notes by the Way: Being a Narrative of Religious Experiences Resulting from a Determination to Be a Bible Christian.

1845:  Phoebe Palmer published Entire Devotion to God.

1848:  Phoebe Palmer published Faith and Its Effects.

1850:  Phoebe Palmer played a prominent role in establishing the Five Points Mission in New York City.

1853:  Phoebe Palmer traveled to Canada to preach at her first camp meeting there.

1857:  Phoebe Palmer conducted a revival in Hamilton, Ontario.

1859:  Phoebe Palmer published The Promise of the Father; or, A Neglected Specialty of the Last Days.

1859–1863:  Walter Palmer traveled with Phoebe Palmer to conduct revival services throughout the British Isles.

1864:  The Palmers bought Guide to Holiness magazine and Phoebe Palmer became editor.

1866:  Phoebe Palmer published Four Years in the Old World: Comprising the Travels, Incidents, and Evangelistic Labors of Dr. and Mrs. Walter Palmer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

1866–1870:  Phoebe Palmer extended her ministry by holding services throughout the United States and Canada.

1874 (November 2):  Phoebe Palmer died.


Phoebe Worrall [Image at right] was born into a devout Methodist household on December 18, 1807. Her family lived in New York City, which became her lifetime home. Due to regular church attendance and family devotions, Phoebe was religious from an early age and was never able to pinpoint the exact moment of her conversion. She married Walter Palmer on September 28, 1827. They had six children, three of whom lived to adulthood. The Palmers were active laypeople in the Methodist Episcopal Church and participated in numerous charitable activities. Both taught Sunday school classes. In 1839, Phoebe Palmer became the first woman to lead a class of both women and men in New York City.

Between 1827 and 1837, Phoebe sought the experience of holiness, which is the second work of grace following conversion, which is the first work of grace. John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, promoted holiness as an experience where Christians became “dead unto sin” and pure within. Those who had experienced holiness manifested God’s love in their hearts. Palmer attributed her protracted ten-year quest for holiness to the fact that she was never able to affirm the witness of the Holy Spirit, which Wesley had maintained was the basis for claiming holiness. Partly based on her own experience, Palmer developed a “shorter way” to holiness, which involved consecration and faith followed by testimony. She also incorporated a redefinition of the witness of the Holy Spirit. Following her “shorter way,” Palmer dated her experience of holiness to July 26, 1837.

In the midst of Phoebe Palmer’s search for holiness her sister, Sarah Worrall Lankford, had been instrumental in establishing the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness in 1836, which evolved from Methodist women’s prayer meetings. The Tuesday Meeting was held in the home that the Palmers and the Lankfords shared. When the Lankfords moved in 1840, Palmer replaced Sarah as leader of the Tuesday Meeting. She continued in this role for the rest of her life whenever she was in New York City. The Palmers moved twice to larger homes to accommodate the crowds, which often exceeded 300 people. Initially restricted to Methodist women, the meeting grew into a multi-denominational gathering that included men.

Palmer initiated her public ministry in 1839. By the next year, she was traveling to surrounding states preaching at revivals in
churches and at camp meetings [Image at right], which generally were held outdoors in more rural areas. The content of her sermons was the same regardless of the location. Palmer did not ignore the goal of bringing sinners to Christ through sermons, which was historically the focus of revivals, but her emphasis was on holiness. By 1853 her schedule included Canada. Her labors there in 1857 resulted in more than 2,000 conversions and hundreds of Christians who claimed the baptism of the Holy Ghost or holiness (Palmer 1859:259). Her ministry there contributed to the general Prayer Revival of 1857–1858, which resulted in more than 2,000,000 converts in the United States and the British Isles. Between 1859 and 1863, Palmer preached at fifty-nine locations throughout the British Isles (White 1986:241–42). At one meeting in Sunderland, 3,000 attended her services held over a period of twenty-nine days, with some people turned away. She reported 2,000 seekers there, including approximately 200 who experienced holiness under her preaching (Wheatley 1881:355, 356). Between 1866 and 1870 she held services throughout the United States and eastern Canada (Raser 1987:69–70). At a camp meeting in Goderich, Canada in 1868, about 6,000 gathered to hear her preach (Wheatley 1881:445, 415). Palmer continued to accept preaching engagements until shortly before her death. Overall, she preached before hundreds of thousands of people at more than 300 camp meetings and revivals.

Palmer’s husband was supportive of Phoebe Palmer’s ministry from the outset and he was not troubled by her greater reputation. Walter Palmer gave up his medical practice in 1859 to travel with her full-time. He often assisted in services by reading Scripture and commenting on the text.

Palmer authored numerous articles and several books that concentrated on her theology of holiness. She wrote from her own experience and included examples from the experiences of others. Her books included Entire Devotion to God (1845) and Faith and Its Effects (1848). The Palmers purchased Guide to Holiness magazine in 1848 and Phoebe edited it from then until her death in 1874. It reached a considerable circulation of approximately 40,000 (Raser 1987:3).


As a Methodist layperson, Phoebe Palmer affirmed the theology of her denomination. She did not offer an elaboration of Methodist doctrines other than holiness, which was the focus of her writing and preaching ministry. Palmer utilized numerous synonyms for holiness, such as sanctification, full salvation, promise of the Father, entire consecration, and perfect love. Her first book, The Way of Holiness with Notes by the Way (1843), [Image at right] was her spiritual autobiography that provided a roadmap for achieving holiness. Based on her own pursuit of holiness she explained a “shorter way,” which consisted of three steps: consecration, followed by faith, and then testimony.

Entire consecration required that the seeker after holiness symbolically sacrifice everything to God, including possessions and relationships, on the altar, which she identified as Christ. She drew on Matthew 23:19 (“the altar sanctified the gift,” KJV) and Exodus 29:37 (“Whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy,KJV) to validate this conviction. “Altar” phraseology became associated with Phoebe Palmer and is her “best-known contribution” (White 1986:22).

The second step on the way of holiness was faith. According to Palmer, since the Bible promised that God would receive the sacrifice that had been laid symbolically on the altar, the seeker’s responsibility was to accept holiness by faith. Palmer emphasized that this act was “taking God at His word” (Palmer 1843, 28), which resulted immediately in holiness. Recounting her own experience in the third person, Phoebe Palmer reported that as soon as she expressed faith in God’s ability to make her holy, “The Lord…led her astonished soul directly into the ‘way of holiness’” (Palmer 1843:22). Further, relying on her experience, Palmer declared that an emotional confirmation of the witness of the Holy Spirit did not have to accompany the act of faith. Lack of emotion had been a barrier that had prevented her from claiming holiness during her extended pursuit. While most advocates of holiness, following John Wesley, spoke of the witness of the Holy Spirit that verified the act of holiness, Palmer claimed that this was unnecessary. Palmer taught that seekers should rely instead on God’s promise as recorded in the Bible: “He that believeth, hath the witness in himself” (quoting from I John 5:10, Palmer 1848:152). According to Palmer, God imparts holiness instantaneously following the act of faith.

The third step on the way of holiness was testimony. Palmer maintained that sanctified individuals must publicly declare that they had experienced holiness or risk losing it. This requirement thrust many women into speaking at mixed gatherings of women and men, which was highly unusual at the time.

The “shorter way” reflects the Arminian theology of Wesleyanism. Illustrating the Arminian affirmation of free will, Palmer encouraged individuals to pursue holiness actively by laying their all on the altar. Consecration was a human action. Palmer referred to herself and others as co-workers with God. God consecrated the offering and acknowledged the seeker’s faith by imparting holiness. Neither God nor humans acted alone.

While focusing on the “shorter way” as the means of achieving holiness, Palmer also affirmed Wesley’s understanding of the consequences of obtaining holiness. Holiness removed inbred sin, which is the sinful nature that persists despite conversion. Being dead unto sin resulted in a clean heart or inward purity. Palmer and most other holiness adherents also advocated outward purity. Palmer shunned worldly behavior, which included anything that would hinder entire consecration to God. Attending plays or reading novels qualified as worldly activities that should be avoided. Drinking alcoholic beverages constituted worldliness as well. Palmer also opposed wearing jewelry or fashionable clothing.

The emphasis on love as an expression of holiness also had a dual dimension. While love of God was utmost, Palmer and other holiness believers engaged in activities that exhibited God’s love to those around them. This expression of social Christianity motivated by God’s love has become known as social holiness. It reflected Palmer’s emphasis on the responsibility of holiness adherents to be useful. Her ministry in the slums of New York City modeled social holiness. A notable example was her prominent role in founding the Five Points Mission in 1850 in lower Manhattan where the worst slums in New York City converged. Committed to addressing both the spiritual and physical needs of the neighborhood’s inhabitants, the Mission became one of the first settlement houses in the United States with a chapel, schoolrooms, and housing for twenty families (Raser 1987, 217).

Palmer also associated power with the experience of holiness, stating succinctly that “holiness is power” (Palmer 1859:206). She acquired her understanding of empowerment from the account of Pentecost in Acts 1–2 of the Bible. Palmer’s emphasis on power contributed to her affirmation of women preachers since at Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit fell on both men and women and they began preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. Palmer justified her own ministry and affirmed the calling of other women preachers in her book, The Promise of the Father; or, a Neglected Specialty of the Last Days (1859). Her comprehensive argument extended to 421 pages. She derived her title from Jesus’ admonition to his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4–5, 8). The fulfillment of the promise was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its accompanying power. Palmer maintained that the power displayed at Pentecost was not restricted to the first Christians, but was available to subsequent generations of Christians through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, another term she used to indicate the experience of holiness. Palmer referenced this supernatural power by incorporating other synonyms, such as the gift of power, baptism of fire, and Pentecostal flame, throughout Promise of the Father.

Palmer reminded her readers frequently that the preaching at Pentecost was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. Joel had declared God’s promise: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28, KJV). Utilizing other Bible verses, she established that “prophesying” was a synonym for “preaching.” She addressed the two passages in the Bible (1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2:11–12) that opponents used to try to prohibit women from preaching and quickly dismissed them, illustrating their irrelevance to the argument against women preachers. She countered with numerous verses that condoned women’s preaching and listed women mentioned in the Bible who engaged in public ministry. She concluded there was no biblical basis for excluding women from ministry. She sprinkled quotations throughout Promise of the Father from prominent Christian scholars and clergy who agreed with her. She devoted a significant portion of the book to providing examples of women throughout history who were preachers. This included contemporaries of John Wesley. He had gradually come to the conclusion that he should affirm and encourage women to preach. His decision was based primarily on pragmatic grounds, because listeners responded to the preaching of women. Palmer never extended her argument to include women’s ordination. The Methodist Episcopal Church, along with most other denominations, refused to ordain women at the time. She relied on prophetic authority bestowed by the Holy Spirit rather than priestly authority conferred by ecclesiastical credentials at ordination. She invoked Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than man,” to cement her case (Palmer 1859:160, 359). Prophetic authority superseded human jurisdiction.


The Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness was Palmer’s signature religious activity. It was informal in nature, but there were several expectations. Even though clergy and bishops were often in attendance, they were not permitted to lead or monopolize the meetings. An unusual characteristic of these meetings was that women spoke even when men began to attend. In that time period, women generally were expected to remain silent both in religious gatherings or any other public places where both men and women were present. The format of the Tuesday Meeting consisted of introductory comments, singing, prayer, and a short comment on a Bible passage. Participants shared their testimonies of holiness for the majority of the time. Near the conclusion of the meeting, others who came in search of holiness were often given the opportunity to pray, following Palmer’s shorter way in their efforts to experience holiness.


Scholars agree that Palmer played a primary role in popularizing the doctrine of holiness during the nineteenth century. Thousands responded to her plea to seek salvation or holiness. Her writings spread the theology of holiness far beyond her physical presence. The Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness was so popular that more than 300 similar gatherings had been established around the world by the end of the nineteenth century.

Palmer has been called the mother of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement whose defining doctrine is holiness. Her distinctive means of achieving holiness became the standard for Wesleyan/Holiness groups and denominations such as the Free Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Church of God (Anderson, IN). While some individuals left the Methodist Episcopal Church, believing it had abandoned the doctrine of holiness, Palmer never advocated separating from it. One prominent Wesleyan/Holiness organization was the National Campmeeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness founded in 1867. While Palmer was not a leader of the group, it was her theology of holiness that defined it.

Palmer’s example inspired women to follow in her footsteps and become preachers. One of the most prominent examples was Catherine Mumford Booth, who co-founded The Salvation Army. Opposition that Palmer faced while preaching in England motivated Booth to publish Female Ministry in 1859 and to begin her own ministry. Most Wesleyan/Holiness churches carried Palmer’s argument for women’s public lay ministry to the next step and ordained hundreds of women during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Palmer’s own denomination, then known as the Methodist Episcopal Church, did not grant full ordination to women until 1956.


Palmer faced opposition to her preaching because she was a woman, but she did not dwell on personal challenges to her ministry based on her sex. She never discussed her decision not to seek ordination, but, more than likely, she realized her request would be denied and her opportunities for lay ministry would have been curtailed as a result of her application.

Several critics, up to the present, have attempted to make the case that Palmer opposed even the preaching of laywomen. They quote her comment, “preach we do not,” without considering the following phrase, “that is, not in a technical sense,” which she defined as “dividing and subdividing with metaphysical hair-splittings in theology” (Wheatley 1881:614). It was a specific style of preaching that she rejected for women. Instead, Palmer engaged in narrative preaching in which she shared her religious experience and the experiences of others. Promise of the Father, as well as her evangelistic work, further undermine the false perception that Palmer sought to prohibit women from preaching.

Contemporaries also debate the extent of Palmer’s feminism. Those arguing against her feminism do not take into account all of her statements. Palmer did admit that she did not write Promise of the Father to promote women’s rights. But, while she claimed to condone the nineteenth-century constrictions of “woman’s sphere,” her affirmation of women preachers stretched its boundaries. She also expanded her argument to allow for exceptions in that she maintained that women could sometimes hold leadership positions in government (Palmer 1859:1–2).

The primary challenge that Palmer faced was criticism of her doctrine of holiness, which began during her lifetime and persists to this day. Opponents focused on her explanation of the means of holiness (the ”shorter way”) rather than on her understanding of holiness itself. Her detractors claimed that some of her views deviated from John Wesley’s theology, maintaining that she incorporated unique elements into her theology of holiness. Palmer claimed that her beliefs were biblical and that they corresponded with Wesley’s theology. She would have been more accurate had she expanded her list of those who influenced her to include Hester Ann Rogers (1756–1794) and John Fletcher (1729–1785), Wesley’s colleagues who also contributed to her theology. By taking this broader perspective, everything that Palmer advocated had already been expressed by Methodist predecessors.

Palmer’s opponents challenged several components of her theology, including her emphasis on altar terminology, her use of Pentecostal language, and her understanding of the witness of the Spirit. Wesley did not incorporate the altar into his theology of holiness. While many contend that Palmer’s use of the altar to symbolize consecration is her unique contribution to holiness doctrine, Palmer discovered this concept in Rogers’ writings and popularized Rogers’ altar theology. Palmer’s incorporation of Pentecost as a model for holiness and adoption of Pentecostal language such as “baptism of the Holy Spirit” can be traced to both Rogers and Fletcher. Likewise, these two individuals deviated from Wesley’s theology of the witness of the Spirit. According to Wesley, one needed to wait for the internal confirmation by the Holy Spirit with its accompanying emotion before claiming the experience of holiness. Contrary to Wesley, however, Rogers and Fletcher claimed emotion was not always present when holiness occurred, but took place when the seeker demonstrated faith in the biblical promise of holiness. There was no need to wait, hence the name “shorter way.” While Phoebe Palmer’s detractors have been correct in pointing out her departures from Wesley, they erred in assuming these innovations were original to her.

Image #1: Photograph of Phoebe Palmer, evangelist and author, who often is referred to as the mother of the Wesleyan/Holiness movement.
Image #2: Drawing of a typical Methodist camp meeting. Image taken from Wikimedia at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.
Image #3: Photograph of the cover of The Way of Holiness with Notes by the Way. Image taken from the Open Library at https://openlibrary.org/.
Image #4: Sketch of the Five Points Mission House.


 Palmer, Phoebe. 1865. Four Years in the Old World: Comprising the Travels, Incidents, and Evangelistic Labors of Dr. and Mrs. Walter Palmer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. New York: Foster and Palmer, Jr.

Palmer, Phoebe. 1859. The Promise of the Father; or, A Neglected Specialty of the Last Days. Facsimile edition. Salem, OH: Schmul, n.d.

Palmer, Phoebe. 1848. Faith and Its Effects: or Fragments from My Portfolio. Facsimile edition. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1999.

Palmer, Phoebe. 1845. Entire Devotion to God. Originally published as Present to My Christian Friend on Entire Devotion to God. Facsimile edition. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1979.

Palmer, Phoebe. 1843. The Way of Holiness with Notes by the Way: Being a Narrative of Religious Experience Resulting from a Determination to Be a Bible Christian. Facsimile edition. Salem, OH: Schmul, 1988.

Raser, Harold E. 1987. Phoebe Palmer: Her Life and Thought. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

Stanley, Susie C. 2002. Holy Boldness: Women Preachers’ Autobiographies and the Sanctified Self. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Wheatley, Richard. 1881. The Life and Letters of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer. Facsimile edition. New York: Garland, 1984.

White, Charles Edward. 1986. The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian. Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press of Zondervan Publishing House.

Post Date:
6 April 2016

Phoenix Goddess Temple

Phoenix Goddess Temple


1961:  Tracy Elise was born.

1995:  Elise divorced her husband, left her family, and moved to Seattle to pursue her spiritual interests.

2000:  Elise began to develop the spiritual path that subsequently led to the establishment of the Phoenix Goddess Temple.

2002-2005 (June 21):  Elise developed relationships with and credentials in a series of spiritually oriented groups.

2005:  Elise established the Sedona Temple School of International Arts in 2005.

2008:  Elise founded the Phoenix Goddess Temple in a residence in Scottsdale, Arizona.

2011:  The Phoenix Goddess Temple received a conditional use permit from the Sedona city officials.

2011:  Local police in Phoenix raided the temple based on allegations that the church was a brothel. Numerous arrests of Temple affiliates were made; the Temple was shut down.

2015:  Elise received an honorary doctoral degree from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.

2016 (March): Elise was found guilty on a series of prostitution-related charges and sentenced to prison.

2019 (March):  Elise was released from prison and continued her efforts to protest and overturn her conviction.


Tracy Elise [Image at right] founded the Phoenix Goddess Temple of Phoenix, Arizona in 2008. Fifty-year-old Elise, who serves as the church’s Mother Priestess, is a former housewife who previously resided with her devout Catholic husband and their three children in Fairbanks, Alaska. There Elise won Miss Harvest Queen at the State Fair and attended the local Pentecostal church, “where she says she spoke in tongues and served as precinct captain for Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential bid” (Best 2010). Largely as a result of her intense spiritual discontent, Elise reports, she divorced her husband and left her family in 1995. She has identified a particular moment that impelled her to relinquish her conventional lifestyle: “‘I remember I was in my little tract home, folding laundry, watching this A&E documentary about Simone de Beauvoir, about all the lovers she had, and thinking, “I’m never going to have that kind of life, that kind of excitement,” she says’” (Best 2010). According to her brief biographical statement, she

…began her temple healing work on the High Holy Day Imbolc, Feb. 2, 2000, entering a covenant to serve the Celtic Goddess of Healing Brigid. In 2002 she was ordained Healer & Guide by Spiritual Healers & Earth Stewards. The Venusian Church offered a charter & ordination to her Light Body Temple in 2003. She led a group practice in Seattle as the School of One, and founded the Mystic Sisters Priestess Path in 2005, which trains and ordains women to embody the sacred feminine in Whole Body Healing Magnetic Touch (Elise n.d.)

Elise established the Sedona Temple School of International Arts in 2005 and then opened the Phoenix Goddess Temple in Scottscale and subsequently in Phoenix, a Neo Tantra, non-denominational and multi-faith “life force energy temple” created “to teach people about the sacred feminine aspect of the creator” (McMahon n.d.). In 2011, the Phoenix Goddess Temple received a conditional use permit from the Sedona city officials (“Sedona Use Permit Upheld” 2011). The organization had already received IRS  501c3 non-profit status. It appears that the Goddess Temple operated openly and with limited opposition for several years. However, in March 2011 the New Times carried a cover story describing the Phoenix Goddess Temple as “nothing more than a New Age brothel” (Stern 2016), A police investigation of the Temple was then launched that led to the arrest of Elise [Image at right] and other Temple staff members and a shutdown of the temple in September 2011

The case dragged on for about five years before a trial was actually conducted. In 2016, after a trial that lasted over forty days, Elise was convicted on nineteen counts of criminal conduct. Sentences for the various offenses were allowed to run concurrently, which meant that Elise was sentenced to four and a half years. Since she had already served 305 days of jail time, her additional prison sentence was three and a half years. She was also ordered to serve four years of probation following release from prison. Elise was released after serving her sentence in March 2019.


Elise identifies her religion as Tantra and states that the church offers lessons in “whole body healing,” available through a variety of class offerings and with the aid of various practitioners or touch healers. The Phoenix Goddess Temple website describes the temple’s mission in the following way: “Our temple is an open source for all who wish to better know the Great Mother and her unique gifts for healing body, mind and soul. We seek to help women, men and couples discover their own divine connection between soul, light body and sacred vessel…. Our teachings are body centric, emanating from the resonating vessel, which is your own Sacred Self” ( Phoenix Goddess Temple n.d.).

In the Temple’s November, 2008 “Mother Sez” newsletter, Elise enumerated the church’s core beliefs and objectives as follows:

“We help people recognize, sense, play with, direct and finally master their life force energy.”

“We work with many energy systems, the primary model being the Chakra Ladder of Light, which is recognized for over 5000 years by the Hindu, the Egyptians and Tibetan Buddhists.”

“We revere the human body as our gift from the Mother Goddess, which gives the soul all opportunity to play and learn on planet Earth.”

“We believe in the power of Now and in the power of authentic witness, one soul to another.”

“Orgasm is a Holy moment, when Heaven and Earth merge in the body as ‘ Paradise right now’, before, during and after orgasm we feel connected to God/Goddess and all of Creation.”

The Tantric emphasis of the feminine as well as the masculine aspect of God features prominently in Elise’s discourse. She notes that little is taught “about the feminine face of God” and avows that “we believe that sacred sexuality and wholesomeness in sexual energy emanates from the woman” (McMahon). She also maintains that the temple and its healing ceremonies empower women.

Elise emphasizes the centrality of Tantra to Phoenix Goddess Temple (Sitchin 2019):

Tantra practice is fully aware that the universe flows from 1 Source. The Divine One expresses through 2 types of energies as Yin, which magnetically attracts and receives and Yang, which actively sends forth creation power. Modern science and ancient mystery schools agree that duality/polarity is the foundational process through which all existence comes into form. In Magnetic Tantra, we bring these polarized energies into balance, within ourselves and in our relations with the outer world. This delivers the bliss of orgasmic connection to even the ‘ordinary’ events in our lives.

Magnetic Tantra is a kind of ‘instant bliss’ in which the chakra centers in your hands create immediate sensations of peace, unity and eternity.

In some cases, but infrequently, individual healers have claimed more extraordinary powers. One of the temple’s touch healers, Wayne Clayton, has laid claim to divine or miraculous powers: “He says one of his clients in Chicago lost a breast to cancer, and after several healing sessions with him, she grew her breast back. He says another woman in Chicago, this one suffering from cervical cancer and a subsequent hysterectomy, grew her female organs back through energy work” (D’Andrea 2011).


The Temple describes its rituals as follows: “As a Neo Tantra Temple, we bring together many traditions which guide us into right and loving use of the life force within our bodies. As Priests & Priestesses, we conduct this heavenly light into the physical plane, likewise, we lift form into higher frequencies of heaven! This up-down pillar of light exchanges continuously between heaven and earth, body, soul and Source ( Phoenix Goddess Temple n.d.)

The temple’s central rituals consist of the various Tantra classes or healing ceremonies offered to “seekers.” These are organized into introductory, intermediate and advanced levels and involve instruction from or interaction with a practitioner. Female practitioners are referred to as “goddesses” [Image at right] and generally assume goddess identities such as Shakti, Isis and Aphrodite. Male practitioners are commonly called “touch healers.” According to the Temple website, the church healers “seek to help women, men and couples discover their own divine connection between soul, light body and sacred vessel” and “offer group classes and one-on-one teachings and training, play shops and internships,” all meant to “make use of the gifts of the Goddess” and allow seekers to, among other things, “feel the light of your own soul” and “feel the chakra wheels spinning your self into physical existence.”

The ten thousand square foot temple houses a reception area, a Transformation Chamber which seekers enter to remove their clothing prior to instruction from one of the temple’s goddesses or male practitioners, and healing chambers, which contain “high altars” and “altars of light.” These sessions typically feature a lengthy massage with oils, sacred herbs and crystals, to stimulate the chakras, and frequently culminate in sexual stimulation and orgasm.

The centrality of sexual stimulation to Temple therapy is evident on its website. For example, the website listed (prior to its being taken down) a number of specific Tantra-based therapies:

Tantric Temple Dance:
The dancer channels her movements based on the energy you need, so it’s very healing as well. Once she raises your energy, she works with you one-on-one using massage, breath & undulation techniques to move the heightened sexual energy through your entire body. You may feel tingling sensations, or waves of orgasmic energy flowing from your head to your toes.

Double Goddess Sessions:
Almost all of the sessions can be ‘doubled’. But we don’t recommend starting off with a Double Goddess session if you are a novice in the area of Tantra. These sessions can be quite intensive, possibly dangerous if you are not used to running high levels of Tantric energy.

The Art of Divine Touch:
Level Three will teach you how to give your woman the 3000 year old Tantric Sacred Spot Healing Massage, (G-spot), opening her up to her full orgasmic potential. You will also have an opportunity to review the Yoni Massage as well if you have taken that session.

The specific form of Tantra practiced at the Temple is Magnetic Tantra, which incorporates elements from a number of tantric and other spiritual traditions. Elise highlights features of Magnetic Tantra as follows (Elise 2019) :

Feel the light of your soul in your solar plexus

Discover your light body & your chakra energy centers

Play with the magnificent polarity between 2 beings

Learn to deliberately create closed conduits for the flow of life force between yourself and your lover

Discern how the electric polarity between men & women affects everything that happens in our relating to one another.

Tantra practice is fully aware that the universe comes from 1 Source.

The Divine One expresses through 2 types of energies: Yin, which magnetically attracts and receives and Yang, which actively sends forth power.

Magnetic Tantra goes beyond philosophy and delves into creating energy awareness by opening the 3rd eye.

Elise considers her calling to be of a holy nature and regards sex as intrinsically connected to spirituality. She conceives of these whole body healing sessions as beneficial to the spiritual and physical welfare of the temple’s seekers. She has repeatedly extolled the healing power of the temple’s ceremonies, especially the sacredness of the orgasm. Furthermore, “she herself seems to believe most fervently in what she calls ‘direct downloads from God,’ immediate communication from the divine that can take the form of signs, omens and physical sensations” (Best 2010). Elise understands herself to be receptive to such downloads.


Elise serves as the Mother Priestess and Mystic Mother of the temple. She oversees the goddesses and touch healers, leads sessions and classes, and organizes events. [Image at right] Temple participants include guests (who seek information about the Temples activities), seekers (“who have a spiritual practice or have had in the past, and are now feeling led to find new sources of energy, direction and connection to the Higher Power”), initiates (“who have found genuine soul-food in our temple”), brothers and sisters (“who have decided to really support the Goddess Temples”), priests and priestesses (“who have a gift for channeling light into matter”), and healers and guides (who have “gifts to give as well as receive”) (Phoenix Goddess Temple n.d. “In Temple”).

The goddesses total about fourteen in number and “come from diverse backgrounds: They include a former accountant, paralegal, nurse, even a bank CEO, along with what Elise describes as at least three ‘runaway housewives’” (Best 2010). The goddesses typically work with male seekers, and the male touch healers provide instruction or healing for female seekers. In addition to the healing ceremonies, the church also holds a weekly Sunday brunch and worship service and offers Friday night sex education classes, Yoga Pain relief classes, Naked Life coaching and a monthly Healing Abuse/Trauma Circle. At the conclusion of the session, participants are instructed to leave a temple offering or donation. They are advised to “look for the lotus candle on an altar in your transformation chamber. Your love offering is an active way for you to help restore the balance of Yin / Yang energies here on planet earth as every Temple of the Mother provides much needed Yin to the Universal Web of Life” (Phoenix Goddess Temple n.d. “Offerings of Support”). The donation schedule stipulates amounts between two hundred and eight hundred dollars, depending on the number of participants and guides and the length of the sessions.


Phoenix Goddess Temple has encountered opposition from a variety of sources, including local residents, investigative journalists, therapists, and law enforcement agencies. Police visited the Phoenix Goddess Temple at its Scottsdale location in 2009 after residents complained. They charged the temple with city code violations, which resulted in the church’s relocation. Journalists have expressed skepticism about the Temple’s actual purpose. Journalist Jason Best interviewed Elise extensively for Phoenix Magazine and visited the temple in 2010. He wrote that while Elise asserts that she draws from the Indian philosophy of Tantra, “there is no single sacred text, no structured theology. In one conversation, Elise can toss off references to Buddhist philosophy, Biblical scripture and Celtic legend, throwing in a Taoist aphorism for good measure” (Best 2010). Another journalist dubbed it, “nothing more than a New Age brothel practicing jack psychology techniques” (D’Andrea 2011). The Temple seems to have anticipated some of this skepticism. For example, before engaging in services at the temple, seekers are required to sign a waiver stating, “‘I acknowledge I will not receive any type of sexual gratification in exchange for money during my session’” (D’Andrea 2011).

Professional therapists have expressed concern regarding the Goddess Temple’s healing techniques, especially the sessions for those who have suffered sexual abuse. The Phoenix New Times quoted licensed Arizona therapist Diane Genco: “If these non-traditional healers are not qualified or credentialed in understanding post-traumatic stress disorder and all the things that go with that — the ripple effects of trauma — it could be harmful” (D’Andrea 2011).

Certainly, law enforcement was the most consequential source of opposition that the Temple faced and the source that ultimately led to its dissolution. Law enforcement agencies consistently treated the Temple as a brothel masquerading as a church. In 2009, three of the Seattle Tantra temples that Elise had been affiliated with were raided by police. Elise’s former associate Rainbow Love was charged with promoting prostitution. Following a six-month investigation, police raided the Phoenix Goddess Temple in September 2011, “having obtained a search warrant after initiating several undercover deals and determining that the Temple Goddess employees had been trained to use evasive vocabulary,” including terms such as “seekers” and “sacred union” (Caron 2011). Maricopa county attorney Bill Montgomery stated that, “We’re not viewing this in any way as somehow protected by the first amendment. This is not religious expression. This is a criminal activity and those responsible thought they were being too clever by half by coming up with different terms” (Caron 2011).

Initially at least, the Temple did not seem to have great concern about potential legal liability. Elise established the group located in Arizona rather than neighboring New Mexico where it was potentially possible to legally practice activities that authorities in Arizona subsequently labeled prostitution, openly advertised the temple in local news media, granted an on-the-record interview with a journalist, presented money received as “donations” and participants as “seekers, required participants to sign a waiver, and rejected a pre-trial plea agreement to serve only three months of incarceration.

The Phoenix Goddess Temple also vigorously defended its legitimacy. The Temple goddesses did not deny the existence of the Temple’s sexual practices; they simply asserted that “at the core, what distinguishes their ‘practice’ from common sex work is the matter of their intention” (Best 2010). Elise argued for the holiness of the orgasm: “You have absolute peace, you do not fear death, and you have no experience of lack or separation. The point of religion is peace of mind, returning the physical body to what is eternal, so I have to ask, how is what we’re doing not religion?” (Best 2010). As for her personal legitimacy, Elise has responded that she is “under the jurisdiction of the most high” (D’Andrea 2011).

The Temple’s defense notwithstanding, ultimately eighteen people were arrested; charges of prostitution, pandering and conspiracy were levied against over thirty members of the temple. Elise then was incarcerated in Maricopa County, with bail bond set at $1,000,000. She rejected an early plea offer from the prosecutor of three months in prison. Instead, she refused to admit that she was guilty of any crimes and chose instead to assert a First Amendment right to freedom to practice her religion. All of the other defendants agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges, leaving her as the sole defendant at trial.

When the trial began, however, Elise was not allowed to mount a religious liberty defense, which subsequently led to her decision to appeal the trial verdict. As a result, she presented a defense based on prejudice on the part of the prosecutor (who she depicted as holding extremely conservative Catholic views on legitimate sexual expression), a contention that the prosecution sought to prevent the teaching of Tantra, and the allegation that her conviction would lead to the eradication of goddess temples across the country.

Her defense also was unorthodox. She served as her own attorney. In preparation for her final argument to the jury, she set up a small alter on the defense table”with pine cones and goddess figurines, then told the court that she was “letting the holy spirit guide me today through this trial” (Brinkman 2016). (Image at right) Finally, she sang the Star Spangled Banner just prior to being sentenced (Walsh 2016).

At the conclusion of the forty-eight day trial, the jury found Elise guilty of twenty-two counts of prostitution, illegal control of an enterprise, money laundering, conspiracy, and related charges. County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens sentenced Elise to four and one half years in prison at ADC Perryville women’s prison, with sentences to run concurrently (Stern 2016). With credit for 305 days in jail, Elise ultimately served three and one half years in prison and was ordered to serve an additional four years of probation (Stern 2016).

At the end of the day, the case against the Temple turned on several issues: whether Elise was a “spiritual leader” or a “brothel madam,” whether the Temple “goddesses” were “priestesses” or “prostitutes,” whether “orgasm” was part of  path to a transcendent “spiritual/healing experience” or “sex for hire” masquerading as religion, whether the money that was exchanged between “goddesses” and their “seekers” was a “fee for sexual service” or a “donation” to the Temple and its spiritual “healing” and “therapy,” and whether the Phoenix Goddess Temple was a legitimate religious “temple” or a “brothel.”

While the state won the day at the initial trial, Tracy Elise and her allies continued their quest for exoneration. Upon her release from prison they pursued their goals online through postings on The 8th House Productions and Patreon.com that contain testimonials, legal documents, video of trial proceedings. These resources are being gathered in support of appellate court appeals based on constitutional rights and, according to Elise with the blessing of Justicia, the Goddess of Law (Duncan 2019).

‘To win in court, you must refuse a plea bargain, and I did. To win, you must endure running at the Superior Court level, and I did. Upholding constitutional protection for our religious freedom can only be accomplished through our current appellate process. To establish our healing Temple in all 50 states requires us to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court, and I stand ready to accomplish this.

Image #1: Tracy Elise.
Image #2: The 2011 arrest of Tracy Elise.
Image #3: The “goddesses” in Phoenix Goddess Temple.
Image #4: Phoenix Goddess Temple logo.
Image #5: Tracy Elise presenting her defense at trial.


Best, Jason. 2010. “Oh, Goddess: Tracy Elise is Preaching Her Gospel of Transcendence Through Pleasure to the Valley, Which Raises One Big Question: Can Sex Be a Religion?” Phoenix Magazine. March 2010. Accessed from http://www.phoenixmag.com/lifestyle/valley-news/201003/oh–goddess/2/ on 21 October 2011.

Brinkman, Susan. 2016. “Priestess Blames Catholics for Goddess Temple Woes.” Women of Grace Blog, March 7. Accessed from https://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=48051 on 15 May 2020.

Caron, Christina. 2011. “ Phoenix Goddess Temple Raided as Alleged Brothel.” ABC News. 9 September 2011. Accessed from http://abcnews.go.com/US/phoenix-goddess-temple- raided-alleged-brothel/story?id=14481945 on 21 October 2011.

D’Andrea, Niki. 2011. “ Phoenix Goddess Temple’s ‘Sacred Sexuality’ Is More Like New Age Prostitution.” Phoenix New Times. 17 February 2011. Accessed from http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2011-02-17/news/feature/4/ on 21 October 2011.

Duncan, Fiona Alison. 2019. “Phoenix Goddess Temple.” Mal Journal, January. Accessed from https://maljournal.com on 15 May 2020.

Elise, Tracy. 2019. “Tracy Elise & Her Covenant to Serve the Mother.” Patreon.com. Accessed from https://www.patreon.com/user?u=20488979 on 15 May 2020.

Greene, Nick. 2011. “Phoenix Temple Has Great Website, Allegedly is a Brothel.” Village Voice, September 10. Accessed from https://www.villagevoice.com/2011/09/10/phoenix-temple-has-great-website-allegedly-is-a-brothel-update/

McMahon, Pat. n.d. The Pat McMahon Show. Accessed from http://www.phoenixgoddesstemple.org/index.php/home/temple-in-the-news/603-mother-priestess-tracy-elise-wpat-mcmahaon-hard-questions on 21 October 2011.

Oklevueha Native American Church. 2016. “Sexual Healing or New Age Brothel? Sword And Scale. Accessed from https://www.swordandscale.com/sexual-healing-or-new-age-brothel/ on 15 May 2020.

Phoenix Goddess Temple. n.d. “In Temple.” Accessed at http://www.phoenixgoddesstemple.org/index.php/in-temple on 28 October 2011.

Phoenix Goddess Temple. n.d. “Offerings of Support.” Accesses at http://www.phoenixgoddesstemple.org/index.php/in-temple/offerings-of-support on 28 October 2011.

Phoenix Goddess Temple. n.d. “You are Well-Come.” Accessed at http://www.phoenixgoddesstemple.org/ on 28 October 2011.

“Sedona Temple Use Permit Upheld: Sex Therapy to Remain in West Sedona. 2011. Sedona.biz, July 18. Accessed from https://www.sedona.biz/news-from-sedona/sedona-temple-use-permit-upheld/ on 15 May 2020.

Sitchin, Zecharia. 2019.”TANTRA* TEMPLES AS LEGAL CHURCHES?” Accessed from https://enkispeaks.com/tantra-temples-as-legal-churches/ on 15 May 2020.

Stern, Ray. 2016. “Phoenix Goddess Temple Priestess Tracy Elise Heads to Prison.” Phoenix New Times, May 20. Accessed from https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/phoenix-goddess-temple-priestess-tracy-elise-heads-to-prison-8306220 on 17 May 2020.

Walsh, Jim. 2016. “‘I Am a Priestess. I Am Not a Prostitute’: Sex Priestess Sentenced to Four Years.” Vice, May 20. Accessed from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mgm8zp/i-am-a-priestess-i-am-not-a-prostitute-sex-priestess-sentenced-to-four-years on 15 May 2020.

Publication Date:
22 November 2011
20 May 2020





Ramtha School of Enlightenment

Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment

Founder: JZ Knight

Date of Birth: 1946

Birth Place: New Mexico , USA

Year Founded: 1988

Sacred or Revered Texts: The White Book

Size of Group: As of October, 2000, JZ Knight has around 3000 devotees. 1


JZ Knight, founder of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, was born in Roswell, New Mexico where she experienced psychic and paranormal phenomenon from an early age. An elderly Yacqui Indian woman held JZ in her arms when she was a mere infant and declared that she was destined to “see what no one else sees.” Then, when JZ was older, she and some friends saw “blinding red flashes of light” while at a sleepover. The light abruptly stopped, and the girls apparently forgot the bizarre incident. Years later, JZ recalled the strange flashing lights. She was intrigued by their cause and why she had forgotten about them. JZ believed UFO’s or some higher power may have been responsible, beginning her interest in the paranormal. 2

Despite a turbulent childhood caused by an alcoholic father, she graduated high school and went on to a small business college. Financial difficulties forced her to quit school, but she managed to get a decent job with a cable company. In 1973, she started her own communications company. Her coworkers quickly found that JZ had an uncanny ability to determine when (and to whom) to sell. In fact, some of them believed she could predict the future. 3

Whatever psychic influence JZ had might have been inherited from her mother, who claimed she could foresee the future in her dreams. JZ’s mother knew about a family member’s death or even whether JZ made the school majorette team before the event occurred. 4

JZ’s psychic experiences continued, helping her to realize that she was indeed special. One psychic saw a great force within JZ, a force nearly as powerful as Jesus Christ. This force would help bring peace to the world. Later, an event occurred that can only be described as a miracle. A friend had forced JZ to see an evangelical healer due to her faltering health. JZ, who had become disillusioned with the hypocritical church long ago, openly denounced the minister’s healing powers. In that instant, a flash of blue light knocked the minister down. The congregation was stunned. JZ was cured of her ills. She believed she had seen the hand of God. 5

One of the most important events in her life occurred when she accompanied her friend to a psychic reading one afternoon. The psychic took a strong interest in JZ. She predicted that JZ would move to a place with “great mountains” and “tall pines.” This was where she would meet The One. This entity, the psychic foresaw, would give JZ “great influence” and destiny. Sure enough, JZ received a job offer in the mountain country of Tacoma, Washington. She took the job with the psychic’s powerful words echoing in the back of her mind. 6

The next few years were uneventful in terms of paranormal phenomenon, but JZ and her second husband Jeremy dabbled in psychic communication and mysticism. Jeremy , in particular, became interested in the properties of pyramids, which were believed to harness psychic energy. One day in February, 1977, while JZ and Jeremy were playing with some pyramids in their home, The One appeared before her. 7

Standing in her kitchen a mere ten feet from JZ was an enormous figure, dressed in flowing robes and surrounded by purple light. He proclaimed, “I am Ramtha, the Enlightened One. I have come to help you over the ditch.” He went on to say to a bewildered JZ: “It is the ditch of limitation and fear I will help you over. For you will, indeed, beloved woman become a light unto the world.” Ramtha then warned JZ that she was in danger and she must leave the house immediately, at which point he disappeared. JZ heeded this warning, moving her family into a new home. Days later, the house was ransacked by thugs. The trusting relationship between JZ and Ramtha was thus cemented. 8

The Beginning of RSE

With the help of experts in the field of psychic communication and channeling, JZ was able to turn her body over to Ramtha so that he could spread his teachings. Ramtha first spoke to the public in 1978, when he made an impact with his vast knowledge and insight. The local media soon picked up on this story helping Ramtha’s (and JZ’s) popularity to spread. The fact that Ramtha emerged in the heart of the New Age movement considerably helped his cause; people were lining up to hear him speak. JZ became a full time channel and began charging money for admittance (an idea brought to her by Ramtha himself). Even Actresses Shirley McLean and Joan Hackett became disciples of Ramtha (The Enlightened One predicted McLean would win the “highest award” for her role in Terms of Endearment). Knight’s popularity among the stars lead to her appearance on the Merv Griffin Show in 1985. 9

The RSE Today

JZ’s school has earned her millions of dollars and lots of adoration. She is among the leading New Age channelers with 3000 followers. Disciples come to her ranch in Yelm, Washington to learn the Great Work (see Beliefs and Practices). Ramtha offers courses for beginners and advanced students which are designed to let the disciples harness their divine powers. Aside from lectures by Ramtha, the students participate in “field work” which is designed to focus their concentration and energy (C&E). Field work usually involves searching a vast field for index cards while blindfolded. JZ also built a massive maze known as the Tank in her ranch which she uses for various lessons. Although the lessons seem strange to the students and outsiders, each one has a specific purpose that progresses them on the path to enlightenment. 10

Ramtha’s School tends to attract an older audience than most New Age Movements. The average age for a beginning student is mid-thirties, with some starting as young as age 6, however. According to a study of the advanced students, the typical students “are in midlife, have high levels of education and occupational prestige, and are now choosing to orient themselves in a new direction.” 11

The RSE has become more commercial in the late 1990’s. Students must purchase and watch an introductory video before attending classes. The sale of Ramtha books, video’s, and audio cassettes has become a profitable business. 12

JZ’s success, however, is not without a price. Critics claim that JZ is a fraud, and that she uses mind control techniques. Lawsuits have hurt her in recent years, including a case brought by her ex-husband who says she used Ramtha’s influence to coerce him out of a fair divorce settlement (see controversies).


Ramtha’s teachings are encompassed in a work known as the White Book, and these ideas are based on ancient Gnosticism of the Mediterranean. The core principles of Ramtha’s School are 1) a supreme deity is a part of every man, and 2) the key to reaching the God within us is through Gnosis or knowledge. 13 Ramtha himself does not wished to be revered as a God, but rather as an equal. He says in one of his channeling sessions, “I am but a teacher, servant, brother unto you.” 14

Who Is Ramtha?

Ramtha is a 35,000 year old warrior from the ancient city of Lemuria. The Lemurians were oppressed by highly advanced citizens of Atlantis because they believed the Lemurians were “soulless.” At age 14, Ramtha led a small army against the Atlantians and defeated them. More people joined his army, and he soon became a great warrior. He was stabbed severely during one battle, but miraculously he did not die. His enemies began to believe he was immortal. Ramtha “learned the mysteries of the unknown god and became enlightened” during the seven years he was recovering from his wound. He rose through higher levels of consciousness and eventually transformed into a being of light. He ascended as a God, but vowed to return. 15

Indeed, 35,000 years later, Ramtha returned to meet JZ Knight. Ramtha chose to channel through JZ rather than present himself in human form for several reasons. First, he did not want to be worshipped as a deity, but rather an equal. He felt that if he presented himself, he would be idolized by his students. Second, his human form limited him to a male entity. Channeling himself through a woman presented the dual male/female nature of God. Third, for reasons of his own, he believed JZ Knight was especially suited to the task at hand. 16

Ramtha’s Worldview

Ramtha’s goal with beginner students is to break them away from the traditional Western worldview. This worldview limits the individual and suppresses his power as a divine being. Ramtha aims to make the student not only believe in his divine power, but to manifest it. 17 Ramtha’s Creation myth and the philosophies stemming from it are complex and abstract, but they are essential to understanding his teachings.

The universe started as a Void of nothingness. This Void “turned in upon itself” creating consciousness and energy. Consciousness and Energy fused together causing the Void to become aware of itself. This awareness was represented in the Void as single- dimensional entity called Point Zero. Other dots of awareness formed, and the high energy reactions between the various dots created time and space. As these dot entities interacted, seven energy levels developed. The entities of awareness left Point Zero to “explore” other levels of the Void in order to “make known the unknown.” As the entities progressed from Point Zero (the highest level) to level 1, energy and time slowed. At the lower levels, the entities took on form and substance. When the entities reached the first level, they “coagulated” into human form. It was at this level that life as we know it began. 18

This theory of Creation is difficult to grasp. The main point, however, is that consciousness exists on multiple levels, with human form being the lowest. The higher the level, the greater the level of consciousness. The entities (Gods) used consciousness to create objects at their whim. In other words, they manifested their dreams to create all the objects in the world. The Gods came down to the lowest levels to experience life in its material form, but they still had their divine powers. The early humans could easily move between levels and manifest their dreams or desires. Over time, however, this ability was lost. Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment allows students to regain these powers, and carry on the task of Gods: to make known the unknown. 19

Humans often move to other consciousness levels without realizing it. The most common occurrence is moving up to the second level while dreaming. Near-death experiences, psychic visions and other phenomenon can be attributed to moving to another plane of consciousness. 20

When humans lost the power of the Gods, they fell into the “ditch of limitation,” the same ditch that Ramtha mentioned during his first encounter with JZ. Ramtha holds the Church partly responsible for this limitation when it “took God outside of Man, [and] put him far, far away.” The Church “unenlightened” man by claiming that God is far superior to humans. Ramtha’s teachings indicate that the Church “created” God to keep men in line. He even goes so far as to say Hell and the devil were “created through religious dogma for the purpose of intimidating the masses into a controllable organization.” 21

The Great Work

The Great Work of Ramtha’s teaching is literally manifesting dreams and desires. In essence, the Great Work requires reaching maximum potential of the mind. The key to manifestations lies in the cerebrum, which, according to Ramtha, has the power to make dreams a reality. In the past, humans would hold a dream or desire in their mind, and it would manifest. Today, humans play a passive role to manifestations. They absorb the world around them in their mind, and this then becomes reality. In a sense, they are trapped in the present reality. Ramtha desires to teach students the power to manifest any desire and make known the unknown. 22

Issues and Challenges

Any new religion has its share of controversy, and the RSE is no exception. The public generally perceives New Age Religions, groups in a negative light, usually without any evidence. Ramtha’s messages are certainly not mainstream, and the way in which JZ presents them is also subject to controversy. Some critics claim JZ is a fraud whose only goal is to make money. Others say that she uses brainwashing techniques to keep her students from leaving. There are a number of opinions on the matter and no clear answers.

Is JZ a Channeler?

JZ has undergone a lot of scrutiny as one of the most prominent American channelers. Her overall performance as Ramtha is seamless. While she is channeling, her posture, walk, voice and the color of her eyes changes. Actress Linda Evans, a student of Ramtha’s, argued that if JZ is a fraud then “she is the greatest actress in the world.” 23 A skeptical psychologist became uncertain of JZ’s legitimacy when JZ put her hand on his head revealing such power that he “could hardly take it.” 24 Even if Ramtha was not real, he said, there was definitely a power within her that science could not explain. Later, a team of scientists did tests on JZ during channeling episodes over the course of a year. The results of the test categorically ruled out fraud or multiple personality disorders. 25 “We know something’s going on here,” said one of the researchers, “we just can’t say, at this point, specifically what it is.” 26 Her students swear that JZ and Ramtha have entirely different personas leading them to believe that Ramtha is indeed channeling through JZ.

Other evidence points to the contrary. One of JZ’s business managers saw her “practicing” the Ramtha personality. Her husband Jeff Knight also noticed her slip in and out of the trance to take cigarette breaks (JZ, unlike Ramtha, was a smoker). 27 And then there is the common sense argument, according to the Skeptics Dictionary Website: “…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the likelihood of a 35,000 year old Cro-Magnon ghost suddenly appearing in a Tacoma kitchen to a homemaker to reveal profundities about centers and voids, self-love and guilt-free living, or love and peace, is close to zero.” 28 It takes a great leap of faith to believe that JZ is a channeler, although scientific evidence may not be enough to discredit Ramtha.

Criticism of the RSE

Publicity surrounding Ramtha’s School has been negative for the most part in recent years. A 20/20 segment portrayed JZ as a fraud who was exploiting peoples’ beliefs in Ramtha for money. The show also claimed that Ramtha was teaching people that they are above morality due to their divine status. These beliefs, they surmised, could only lead to amoral behavior. The 20/20 exposure led to more attacks from the press on JZ and the School. 29

J. Gordon Melton, a leading scholar on new religious movements, thoroughly investigated the RSE and found that these criticisms were unfounded. Melton attributes most of the bad press to sensationalist journalism that critiques unconventional beliefs for a good story. Furthermore, anti-cult and counter-cult sentiments are popular with Americans, which intensifies the controversy. 30 . Melton’s book gave important facts rather than insinuations and smear campaigns

Anti-cultists respond that Melton’s book is biased because (1) Melton was hired to testify for JZ in a court case against her in 1992, (2) JZ provided funding for the book and (3) Melton established close ties with JZ and the school during the research thus damaging his credibility as an objective researcher. Melton also neglected to mention several incidents where people were injured during blindfolded field activities. 31 Although this omission does not make JZ a dangerous cult leader, it makes one wonder what else Melton left out of his book.

Criticism from the public caused JZ to withdraw from the public in the early 1990’s. During this period she devoted her time to her school and to Ramtha. Under Ramtha’s guidance, she reappeared to the public in the late 1990’s. As Ramtha’s school continues to succeed, it is receiving “signs of a certain legitimacy among the religious community.” 32 Today, JZ has an unprecedented number of students, and her books and tapes are selling well.


Several scandals have marred JZ’s reputation among the religious community. The first involves a student of Ramtha’s who was hired to run stress management programs for the Federal Aviation Administration in 1984. This student, Gregory May, a psychologist from California, used techniques that were “far beyond routine.” Some of the training activities involved tying employees together for long periods of time, forcing women to shower together, sleep deprivation and verbal abuse. Several employees brought charges against the FAA for trauma occasioned by May. 33 These unorthodox techniques cannot be directly linked to Ramtha’s teachings. Nevertheless, the media was quick to point out the connection between bizarre training techniques and (what they perceived to be) a destructive cult.

Another scandal occurred because of JZ’s fondness for horses. Overstepping her boundaries as a religious leader, she advised some of her students to invest in Arabian horses. These students followed her advice as if advised by Ramtha himself. Many of them lost money in this venture and bitterly left the school. Later, JZ compensated them for their losses, but the damage had been done. She had given the critics ammunition to use against her. 34

In addition to these scandals, JZ had a turbulent personal life. She was married five times, and at least once she was caught in an affair with a young student. She divorced her fifth husband, Jeffrey Knight, in 1989. Jeffrey claimed that JZ used Ramtha’s influence to coerce him out of a fair divorce settlement. He took the case to court, embroiling JZ in an intense legal battle. 35 Meanwhile, JZ faced serious financial burdens from bill collectors and taxes. She kept these problems from the public, but eventually the media picked up on them.


Although Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment is surrounded by controversy, there is no clear evidence that JZ is a fraud or that the school is a danger to anyone. Sociologists and psychologists do not believe that students are “brainwashed” to follow this movement, nor are they held against their will. Ramtha’s students are searching for answers to life’s most important questions, and the School is helping them resolve these issues. Until undisputable evidence arises that JZ is harming people, the media and anti-cultists should be careful with their criticisms.


Brown, Michael. “The Channeling Zone.” Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. 1977.

Carrol, Robert Todd. “Ramtha aka J.Z. Knight.” The Skeptics Dictionary. http://skepdic.com/channel.html

Diamond, Steve. “Into the Mystic: Ramtha Meets the Scholars.” The New Times. Accessed at http://www.newtimes.org/issue/9705/97-05-jz.html

McDonald, Sally. “J.Z. Knight Channeling New Support.” Seattle Times May 9, 1998. Accessed at http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com

McDonald, Sally. “Christianity vs. New Age.” Seattle Times May 9, 1998. Accessed at http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com

Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. 1998.

Neill, Michael. “Sure, blame the caveman: channeler J.Z. Knight’s troubles put 35,000 year old Ramtha on trial”. People Weekly Oct. 12, 1992 p. 123.

“Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment – The American Gnostic School.” http://www.ramtha.com

“The Guru and the FAA.” Newsweek , March 6 1995 p. 32.


  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom: FAQ’s.” http://www.ramtha.com/html/aboutus/faqs/students/how-many.stm
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. p. 3-4
  • Ibid. 9
  • Ibid. 4
  • Ibid. 9-12
  • Ibid. 7-9
  • Ibid. 14-15
  • Ibid. 14-15
  • Ibid. 46-52
  • Ibid. 108-109
  • Ibid. 126-127
  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom:RSE Store.” http://ramtha.com/html/rse-store/product-details/v1.42.stm
  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom:About US.” http://ramtha.com/html/aboutus/faqs/school/gnostic-beliefs.stm
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. p. 58
  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom:About US.” http://ramtha.com/html/aboutus/faqs/teacher/who.stm
  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom:About US.” http://ramtha.com/html/aboutus/faqs/teacher/why-jz.stm
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. p. 58
  • Ibid. 78-80.
  • Ibid. 81-84
  • Ibid. 85
  • Ibid. 59- 61.
  • Ibid. 85
  • Ibid. 146
  • Brown, Michael. The Channeling Zone. p. 12
  • “Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, The School of Ancient Wisdom:About US.” http://ramtha.com/html/aboutus/faqs/jz/proof.stm
  • Diamond, Steve. “Into the Mystic: Ramtha Meets the Scholars.” http://www.newtimes.org/issue/9705/97-05-jz.html
  • Szimhart, Joe. “Book Review/Essay on Melton’s Study.” http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/ram2.htm
  • Carrol, Robert Todd. “Ramtha aka J.Z. Knight.”
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. 137-139
  • Ibid. 144-145
  • Szimhart, Joe. “Book Review/Essay on Melton’s Study.” http://www.kelebekler.com/cesnur/txt/ram2.htm
  • McDonald, Sally. “J.Z. Knight Channeling New Support.”
  • “The Guru and the FAA.” Newsweek March6, 1995.
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. p. 147-148
  • “Sure, blame the caveman.” People Weekly October 12, 1992

Created by Joseph M. Khattab
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Fall term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 07/23/01