It was 1998 when, at the age of 18, I was introduced to spiritual matters by a relative who showed me the book Projections of the Consciousness, Waldo Vieira’s collection of out-of-body experiences (OBEs). While reading, I fell asleep and—to my astonishment—I felt that I was detaching from my body.1 The experience felt as real as if I had been in a waking state. Though skeptical and antireligious, I had to account for this peak or mystical experience, so I set out to learn more. I began to attend free lectures at the International Institute of Projectiology and Conscientiology (IIPC), Vieira’s organization.
In essence, Conscientiology’s basic invitation was “Would you like to study the supernatural with a scientific spirit, without unquestionable truths, based on your own conclusions and experiences, as a means of self-understanding and self-improvement?” The message was appealing for a teenager eager for self-discovery.
For the next couple of weeks after my OBE, I had some success reproducing the experience at home, using procedures as simple as focusing my attention before falling asleep. Eventually, I took courses at IIPC, whose teachers emphasized that we must be open-minded but critical. My participation there was not mandatory. I could take years just reading their voluminous publications on my own and practicing the techniques. But would I? I attended their activities also because I needed company to talk with. This was how I began to get involved with the group.
Conscientiology’s first step is to introduce a worldview called consciential paradigm. It is a synthesis of Vieira’s opinions, erroneously presented as a consensus among researchers. It is basically a model stating that the human being is an immaterial consciousness, embedded in four bodies (physical, energetic, emotional, and mental). The consciousness goes through a series of reincarnations and interacts with multiple dimensions. Conscientiologists call that a leading-edge relative truth that should be verified through personal experience.
If you are a spiritualist, you might become excited with the scientific-like discourse they use to explain your experiences. If not, you might as well give them the benefit of the doubt. This is how people end up accepting their worldview. My belief that I had been out of my body, passed through walls, and floated around convinced me that IIPC was right. I was not in a true scientific environment where statements must be submitted to a more rigorous process before validation. So I just ended up living comfortably on that new feeling of immortality and building my studies based on Conscientiology’s discourse. Soon afterward, I decided to become a volunteer for the organization.
That process is how Conscientiology made me “free.” I was free from the need to explore other disciplines. Although we agreed in principle that people should study everything, we took for granted that Conscientiology’s classes were structured around its own books and worldview, with little if any dialogue with independent fields. Thus, I did not concern myself with the conventional sciences and ended up believing that my average intellectual and communication skills were advanced scientific knowledge. It was enough for me to impress new students, find space in the media, and therefore feed my distorted self-image.
All this is why I compare Conscientiology to a castle. I, and many others, were impressed by its charm, not realizing that its walls were fortified and highly segregational. At first I benefited from that castle’s power and did not feel constrained. I was impressed by what seemed to be paranormal experiences. Along with other students, I felt persuaded, comforted, and enlightened by that mix of pop psychology and spiritual common sense.
Conscientiology would probably be harmless if it were merely a school of self-development. Even though the organization’s scientific pretensions are naive, volunteers sincerely think that they are offering students a means of personal growth. But Conscientiology is not just that. It has things to say about every aspect of your life!
Some words about the group’s history may help clarify how its originally progressive and democratic principles gave way to conservative and cultic practices. Vieira began, in the 1980s, as the leader of a small group of enthusiasts who wanted to understand psychic phenomena. Being naturally focused on a fringe study, Vieira and his colleagues developed a relationship of mutual protection and admiration. Soon they felt as though they were the announcers of a new knowledge that would rescue people out of the darkness. Vieira, a self-taught expert in the field of OBEs, became seen by his collaborators as a spiritual master, giving advice about everything from health, leisure, education, and work to marriage and sexual life.
In 1991, the informal group became a nonprofit organization, and with that came the pressures normal to every economic enterprise being kept by volunteers, who now had to be motivated into new bureaucratic functions and sales activities. The nature of its publications shows how the organization shifted from an independent study group to a self-help school—probably a more profitable and broader activity.2 Conscientiology thus became a moral system, which chose to emphasize its differences to attract students. With that progression came separateness.
In the following years, the group went further into what I now consider a cultic dynamic. The institutional setup shifted from offices dispersed in urban cities to a rural community in the countryside. A cousin organization called Center for Higher Studies of Conscientiology (CEAEC) had a piece of land in the city of Iguassu, where it built classrooms, experimental laboratories, a library, and so on. In 2002, Vieira moved there, replaced some local leaders, and turned the location into the new headquarters for his endeavor.
In 2004, after graduating from college in economics, I too went to live in Iguassu, just like 800 other people who did the same in the years to come. We were now building a social experiment, with volunteers performing all the work. To the best of my knowledge, not even Vieira profited from the organization—and I say that as a former financial director there. We had our own jobs, and its paid courses and publications maintained the organization. But the group also had other ideas, such as real estate. The institution purchased large pieces of land nearby and divided them into lots to be sold at a fair price. The market value was going up. For a few years that was a profitable business for both volunteers and the institution.
Adding to the fact that Iguassu was a new city to all of us, we ended up having Conscientiologists as our only social group. They became our neighbors; friends for leisure activities; family for sharing intimate questions, dates, and spouses; and our professional network and business partners. This scenario all emerged naturally from the circumstances. Nothing had to be dictated or imposed.
As volunteers, we began to realize that conventional science and society were not suitable to us. Consider dating, for example. Instead of interacting with different people, we tended to date members, because nonmembers would get tired of our busy nights and weekends at a paranormal organization. They did not understand our conversation. They wanted leisure activities instead of Consciential self-assessments; and even in a large city, our dating options became reduced to very few people. The same happened with our friendships and leisure options. But under the group’s influence, we probably did not see these things as a barrier to being integrated into society. On the contrary, we might feel as though we did have options, whereas society offered only chaos.
The result of such an arrangement is that all of everyone’s life ends up under the spotlight of Conscientiologists. Members change their entire life for the cause, often at the cost of their family, educational, social, or professional bonds. All pay a price to start a new life in a new city, to be among people who think alike but are also strangers. Returning to their previous homes would not be so easy, so they remain committed to the conviction that the cause is worth the sacrifice.
Further, this arrangement means that Conscientiologists living in a community become very zealous. They want your help but worry too much about whatever they think can harm the institutional image. Members come under the unplanned and unintentional surveillance of their colleagues, not only within the organizational boundaries, but anywhere. Everyone’s lives are subject to discussion, judgment, and pressures according to the organization’s interests.
As a result, members accept that each other represents Conscientiology 24/7. The organization ends up discussing how members should behave in their professional environments, what residential condominiums (supposedly independent) should decide in their general meetings,3 how couples might resolve their conflicts, how personal businesses should be managed, how college teachers and students should behave in their school place, what leisure places have good or bad “energy,” and all sorts of issues that concern a volunteer’s life. Zealous people become possessive and jealous. Worried people become fearful and angry. Despite any libertarian and democratic rhetoric, people start to become paranoid about protecting Conscientiology at all costs.
It is not only the group’s dependency that has created such a high-control environment, but also Waldo Vieira’s own history. He was a retired plastic surgeon in Rio de Janeiro with family and business ties with the beverage company originally called Cia Antarctica Paulista (which later merged with Brahma to form AmBev). In his early adulthood, Vieira was the right-hand assistant of Brazil’s most famous spiritualist, Chico Xavier. After retirement, Vieira decided to bring Brazilian spiritualism closer to science. He probably did not see his lack of scientific training as a handicap and tried to compensate for it with a disciplined study routine, adding a critical and somewhat libertarian discourse against what he called the “conservative sciences.” His charismatic figure and communication style soon attracted followers from the middle classes. Not creating much of a dialogue among other specialized groups, such as the American Society for Psychical Resarch, Vieira built his connections predominately with laymen less prepared than himself to form his own group of self-taught psychical researchers.
Three decades later, there was Vieira in a rural suburb in Brazil’s countryside. He had imposed on himself a monastic discipline of reading, writing, and giving daily lectures. More than ever, Vieira had followers wherever he’d go, even inside his small house, built in the heart of that institutional complex. He hardly left the organization other than to visit his son downtown or go to the mall—one of the few things Iguassu had to offer an old man. His wife, in contrast, 40 years younger than him, was trying to boost her career as a psychologist and teacher, traveling around for work and postgraduate studies. They would divorce in 2014, and Vieira would die in the coming year after a surgical complication, despite his relatively good health and his own public announcement that he had at least seven more books to write, which would, he indicated, be supervised by 40 very advanced spiritual entities.
In summary, Vieira declined everything a rich old man would want, and chose instead to devote himself to a cause. He protected his group in a distant ivory tower and, in return, received the treatment of a spiritual master. Considering the amount of psychological commitment and the sense of superiority that inflated his followers, the increasingly aggressive and absolute way Vieira—and his close circle—treated those who offered opposition should come as no surprise
Because members could experience nearly anything as a threat, there were constant struggles between them. The group learned Vieira’s style. Whoever had the power to do so felt entitled to exclude their rivals, normally by spreading rumors and turning the group against the persons involved. Many members were easily convinced by false gossip their superiors spread. Others were afraid to express opposition. I saw many great people who dedicated their lives to Conscientiology be tagged as traitors, sick, unreliable, megalomaniac, sociopath, dictatorial, and other denigrating labels. When that happens, those persons so labeled are left on their own, in a strange city, with hardly any social bonds.
Members in the organization accept leadership positions in good faith, for the cause. But as directors, they have to work harder and tend to get angry at those “lazy volunteers” who are never available when needed. They also notice how volunteers have low self-esteem, little experience, high admiration for, and high dependency on them. In this melting pot, any good person can become autocratic.
In my case, all I wanted, as most Conscientiologists do, was to get published. When Vieira and the volunteers praised my book manuscripts, I became self-confident. When angry colleagues, with the paradoxical and authoritative support of Vieira, interrupted the institutional publication, I was disappointed. When I took the situation a step further and published on my own, I was instantly expelled from the group, with the label of psychopath. My world of 14 years of investment and idealization fell apart. The same people who used to compliment me for my dedication now considered me selfish and evil.
In an apparent display of kindness, they offered me their therapeutic services, limited to their self-diagnosis about how I was responsible for what happened, and how I was to accept the situation that I created. The institution’s way of washing its hands was by rationalizing that I provoked the situation, and that their response was an evolutionary opportunity I should be thankful for.
The pain is stronger when inflicted without overtly evil intentions. You do not know how or against what to react, becoming a confused living dead for some time. Some people return to the group, asking, in one way or another, that their aggressors forgive them. I was offered this opportunity but found it too humiliating to accept.
Standing up for my principles was probably the reason that leaving brought me more joy than pain. I am grateful for having met people since who have been through similar processes and have reached out to me. Then I felt the need to speak out and to encourage others to tell their stories, opening a kind of awareness network about Conscientiology on the Internet. Some scars may remain forever, especially when I think I was naive enough to devote my best efforts to people who would not hesitate to throw my work in a garbage can. But the effort was not totally in vain. It was just directed toward the wrong cause. Paraphrasing the former member of The Peoples Temple Jeannie Mills,4 it was a cause that looked too good to be true, so it probably was too good to be true!
 For a more detailed personal account of that experience see “My First Out-of-Body Experience,” Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, Winter 2013, available at issuu.com/exceptionalpsychology/docs/jeep__2013__winter_/39
 See, for instance, O Self Perfeito e a Nova Era (Loyola, 2000) by the anthropologist Anthony D’Andrea, PhD, or my account of that evolution in the Kindle e-book O que Penso da Conscienciologia (2015).
 In one documented referral, the institution is called on by some individuals to resolve a conflict between residents of condominiums nearby, with regard to where they should build an internal lane. See UNICIN (2014, January). Parecer 01/2014. Foz do Iguaçu. Retrieved from unicin.org/images/pareceres/parecer_condominios-01_2014.pdf
 Mills, J. (1979). Six Years with God: Life inside Reverend Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. New York, NY: A & W.
Flávio Amaral (36) graduated in economics, holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and works in the trade-finance sector. He has been personally interested in parapsychological and mind studies, with emphasis on Conscientiology’s volunteer organizations, where he was also a teacher, coordinator, and book author from 1999 to 2012. His works can be read at autopesquisas.com. He currently lives in Florianópolis (Brazil) and studies parapsychology at the Instituto de Parapsicologia e Ciências Mentais in Joinville. firstname.lastname@example.org