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The Boundaries Between Cultic

ICSA e-Newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2008

The Boundaries Between Cultic, Benign, and Beneficial in Five Spiritual Groups

Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D.

Abstract

This article uses the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale to evaluate the author’s subjective experiences with five groups: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Avatar, Center for Creative Consciousness, Conversations with God, and Human Awareness Institute.  The results demonstrate that new groups can vary widely in their perceived “cultishness.”

In my previous International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) essay on philosopher Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, I used a convenient numerical cult evaluation system, originated by Isaac Bonewits, which is based upon one’s own experiences in a spiritual group. I referred to this system as the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale [1]. Based upon my experiences with the Integral Institute, I came up with a Cult Danger score that contributed significantly to my conclusion that Ken Wilber and his group did not possess significant cult dangers. Specifically, I placed Integral Institute in Neutral territory, between cult dangers and spiritual benefits; Neutral may also be referred to as Benign in this system.

In this current article, I extend my numerical experiential evaluation of cult dangers to five other groups, two of which have been the subject of other articles I have written for ICSA: Conversations with God, and Avatar [2]. The three remaining groups I evaluate are groups that I have experienced within the past few years: Human Awareness Institute (HAI), in November 2004; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), in August 2007; and The Center For Creative Consciousness (CCC), quite recently, in January 2008. Based upon my own experiences as reflected in my numerical ratings on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, I conclude that one of these spiritual groups (Avatar) has a Moderate degree of cult dangers, two of the groups (Center For Creative Consciousness and Conversations with God) are in Neutral/Benign territory regarding cult dangers vs. spiritual benefits, and two groups (HAI and ACT) are in the Favorable category in regard to offering authentic spiritual benefits.

I begin by reproducing a summary of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale from my previous Integral Institute article. The following 15 items are rated on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest; in each application, the average for all 15 items is calculated. I would also like to stress that I use this scale in an experiential way, which means that the ratings are primarily based upon my own experience in the spiritual group.

Bonewits Cult Danger Scale

  1. Internal Control: Amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
  2. Wisdom Claimed: By leader(s); amount of infallibility declared about decisions.
  3. Wisdom Credited: To leader(s) by members; amount of trust in the decisions made by leader(s).
  4. Dogma: Rigidity of reality concepts taught, of amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing.
  6. Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different name from the main group.
  7. Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained; emphasis on members’ donations.
  8. Political Power: Amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. Sexual Manipulation: Of members by leader(s); amount of control over members’ lives.
  10. Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinion on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  11. Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
  12. Endorsement of Violence: When used by or for the group or leader(s).
  13. Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; perceived power of opponents.
  14. Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines, or its leader(s).
  15. Surrender of Will: Emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions.

Conversations with God

Neale Donald Walsch originated Conversations with God in the early 1990s as a popular New Age book of the same title, followed within the next few years by a series of other ...with God books and the Conversations with God organization [3]. In my “On Conversations with God” ICSA article, I concluded that although Walsch certainly has an enormous ego and a tremendous charismatic theatrical presentation, Conversations with God does not present significant cult dangers, and I placed the organization in Neutral territory, between cult dangers and spiritual benefits. I will now give the numerical ratings I came up with on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale for Conversations with God, as described in my Modern Religions book[4].

INTERNAL CONTROL

2

WISDOM CLAIMED

8

WISDOM CREDITED

7

DOGMA

8

RECRUITING

4

FRONT GROUPS

4

WEALTH

4

POLITICAL POWER

5

SEXUAL MANIPULATION

2

CENSORSHIP

2

DROPOUT CONTROL

2

ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE

1

PARANOIA

3

GRIMNESS

1

SURRENDER OF WILL

3

TOTAL

56

AVERAGE

3.7

The average score of 3.7, which I came up with for Conversations with God on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, is the same average score I came up with for the organization Self-Realization Fellowship, originated by Paramahansa Yogananda through the popularity of his book Autobiography of a Yogi in the 1940s [5], to which I also gave a Neutral classification in Modern Religions.

We see that there are no ratings for Conversations with God greater than 8. The two ratings of 8 are for Wisdom Claimed and Dogma, representing the fact that, although Walsch does have strong, powerful beliefs in the validity of his ideas being told to him personally by God, he is also somewhat flexible in his interpretation of these ideas. His followers’ trust and admiration for him is quite high. But my 7 rating in Wisdom Credited shows that this trust and admiration does not go past reasonable limits in regard to one listening to everything Walsch says without thinking for oneself.

There are a number of intermediate ratings of 4 for Recruiting, Front Groups, and Wealth, and a 5 for Political Power. These ratings represent a fair amount of emphasis in these categories, but they do not reach inappropriate or in excessive proportions. For example, there was a definite push when I was at the Conversations with God Humanity’s Team Conference in 2002 for people to seriously consider signing up for the Leadership program, with the “fast track” option being done in three months for a cost of $12,500. In my opinion, this is an extremely large sum of money for three months of training; but there was not undue pressure put upon us to sign up for the Leadership training or any of the other Conversations with God workshops or retreats. This lack of pressure was in marked distinction from both Scientology and Avatar [6].

The remaining categories all have relatively low ratings of 1, 2, or 3. Although much of the Conversations with God philosophy is based upon taking responsibility for your actions and for your life, there is also the aspect of surrendering yourself to your higher power or “God.” Walsch is quite the theatrical comedian on stage, and my rating of 1 for Grimness reflects this lightness and humor that Walsch brings to his retreats as well as to his writings. There is no endorsement of violence whatsoever, and no obvious sexual manipulations, though the Walsch philosophy of complete individual freedom could have sexual overtones regarding being bisexual or even multisexual in romantic relationships.

Walsch also displays some serious concerns about the dangers of traditional religions that do not share his views of nonhierarchy and openness. However, all things considered, I believe we have a spiritual group here that is benign regarding being susceptible to significant cult dangers. Although, on the basis of my experience with Conversations with God as reflected in my Bonewits Cult Danger Scale evaluation, I would not place this organization in the Favorable spiritual benefits category. As I concluded in my previous “On Conversations with God” essay, Neale Donald Walsch does have a strong ego and charismatic personality, but Conversations with God is not a dangerous cult.

Avatar

Avatar is a New Age spiritual organization founded in the late 1980s by Harry Palmer, an ex-Scientologist. Avatar has a somewhat similar philosophy to Conversations with God in regard to a person being able to “choose” what he or she wants to experience in life [7]. Avatar successfully markets itself by promising to enable people to learn how to actualize their dreams and gain a heightened experience of being alive. However, I concluded in my ICSA article on Avatar that, unlike Conversations with God, Avatar does have significant cult dangers; although there are some benefits from doing the Avatar course, the financial costs and organizational control are extremely high, and I do not recommend that one become involved with this organization. By examining the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale ratings I came up with for Avatar, once again as described in Modern Religions, the higher level of cult danger for this organization in comparison to that of Conversations with God will become quantitatively evident. My ratings on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale for Avatar are based upon my involvement in the organization from 1997 thru 2001.

INTERNAL CONTROL

5

WISDOM CLAIMED

9

WISDOM CREDITED

9

DOGMA

10

RECRUITING

6

FRONT GROUPS

1

WEALTH

10

POLITICAL POWER

1

SEXUAL MANIPULATION

2

CENSORSHIP

5

DROPOUT CONTROL

5

ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE

1

PARANOIA

7

GRIMNESS

5

SURRENDER OF WILL

5

TOTAL

81

AVERAGE

5.4

Avatar’s score of 5.4 on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale is the third-highest score for all the groups I have experientially analyzed in Modern Religions, with only Scientology and the Unification Church having higher scores (although both Scientology and the Unification Church do have significantly higher cult danger ratings than Avatar does on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, with respective scores of 8.7 and 9.0). On this basis, it certainly does appear that Avatar presents a moderate degree of cult-danger concerns. This level of concern can be compared to that of Divine Light Mission, founded by the Indian Guru Maharajji, who came to the United States in the early 1970s as supposedly an enlightened 14-year-old perfect master (Divine Light Mission received an average score of 5.1 in Modern Religions).

I gave Avatar ratings of 10 in two categories: Dogma and Wealth, and ratings of 9 in two categories: Wisdom Claimed and Wisdom Credited. There is no deviating from the exact ways that Palmer set forth for his exercises to be done, and no differences of opinion are tolerated regarding Palmer’s philosophical views. However, Palmer does not claim to be an all-knowing “perfect master,” and his followers do not see him in this totalistic way either. Rather, he is a more human guru, therefore deserving of ratings of 9 rather than 10 in the Wisdom Claimed and Wisdom Credited categories.

However, when it comes to Wealth, I have no doubt that Avatar deserves the top score of 10. All roads lead eventually to the Avatar “Wizards” course in Florida, a 13-day course that costs $7,500, plus all the extras for hotels, food, and transportation. And the expensive prices of the Avatar courses (the cheapest is the first 9-day course for $2,300, plus the above extras) are heavily marketed to anyone who shows preliminary interest in Avatar or who graduates from the initial Avatar training course or the Avatar Masters’ course.

I gave relatively high scores of 6 or 7 and intermediate scores of 5 in the categories of Internal Control, Recruiting, Censorship, Dropout Control, Paranoia, Grimness, and Surrender of Will. When you complete the Avatar Masters’ course, you are required to sign a lengthy contract stating, among other things, that you will not divulge any Avatar secrets. Avatar does take legal action against ex-members who make public their negative views of Avatar. Recruiting is a full-fledged business activity, and Palmer’s book The Masters’ Handbook is primarily a marketing tool for Avatar Masters who want to find their own paying Avatar students.

When one appears to drop out of the Avatar scene, both personalized mailings and phone calls are made to try to bring this person back to Avatar. Influence and control of Avatar members’ lives is frequently done for the purpose of persuading members to sign up for their next-level Avatar courses (each course has a course fee of at least a few thousand dollars, plus the extras). Questioning of financial Avatar matters or disagreeing with particular Avatar exercises is looked upon with suspicion by Avatar leaders and is grounds for not being granted a successful completion certificate of higher-level Avatar courses.

Although Avatar focuses upon taking personal responsibility for life, surrendering one’s will to “source” is considered to be of fundamental importance. Although on a major part of the Avatar drills, much joking and laughter goes on as part of the drill; for one to be successful in an Avatar course, this joking and laughter must stay in its proper place and not be addressed toward disagreeing with the Avatar structure or philosophical principles.

Avatar is run completely as a business, and Harry Palmer makes no pretenses of covering up his marketing strategies and course prices. I am not aware of any Front Groups in Avatar, Endorsement of Violence, or interest in Political Power (to all of which I gave ratings of 1). For Sexual Manipulation I gave a rating of 2 because the focus upon individual choice and freedom may have an effect upon decisions in regard to one’s romantic and sexual involvements.

All things considered, we can see from the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale that Avatar’s cult dangers cannot be ignored. We have here a very expensive New Age spiritual organization with a highly organized and effective recruitment and marketing strategy. Although the leader/guru has not gone over the edge in terms of blatantly destructive practices for his followers, the dogma, recruitment focus, and high prices of Avatar courses are in themselves enough reason to be very much on guard with this organization.

The philosophy of Avatar may be in some ways similar to that of Conversations with God, but the similarity ends there. Avatar has been described as “the new est” (est was a popular New Age, Large Group spiritual and personal-growth organization founded by Werner Erhard in the 1970s – which I describe in Modern Religions), and there is some truth in this description. We see another LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training Program) at work here, as was est, and one that also focuses upon individual freedom and choice, but has no reservations about charging big bucks for its courses right away. What is alarming is how successful Avatar has been in getting people, myself included, to pay these big bucks for its courses.

However, it is also true that, based on my experiences, there is a world of difference between Avatar and Scientology or the Unification Church in terms of degree of cult dangers, as is evident from a comparison of their respective Bonewits Cult Danger scores of 5.4, 8.7, and 9.0, and which quantitatively separates the moderate degree of cult dangers in Avatar from the high degree of cult dangers in Scientology and the Unification Church. From the other end of the perspective, I have given minimal Cult Danger ratings to a number of spiritual groups, including est, Gurdjieff, Eckankar, and 12-Step support groups, with respective Bonewits Cult Danger scores of 4.1, 4.3, 4.3, 4.4. It appears, however, that Avatar’s score of 5.4 is in a different category of cult dangers from these groups.

Human Awareness Institute (HAI)

I first experienced Human Awareness Institute (HAI) in November 2004, although I had heard about the group frequently from my involvements with Neopaganism, starting in 1997 [8]. HAI was founded in the late 1960s by Stan Dale. Over a series of weekend retreats, the group engages in intensive interpersonal intimacy and soul searching in a developmental series of seven levels. The cost of the workshops is a few hundred dollars each, which is certainly reasonable for personal-growth workshops. There are options for continued HAI involvements with frequent get-togethers, parties, and various Internet exchanges. I have been to a few HAI get-togethers and parties since my Level 1 workshop (which was my only HAI workshop), and I am still connected to the HAI Internet exchange entitled “HAI Intimacy” [9].

HAI has a reputation in pagan circles for being excessively sensual, including highly suggested (although still voluntary) group nudity. I did experience this HAI sensuality, and I must say that I was quite taken with HAI by the end of my weekend workshop. The sensuality is not encouraged to progress to sexuality during the HAI weekend, even though there are few rules and restrictions to worry about in HAI. The HAI sensuality is involved with face stroking, hand-on-heart group exchanges, group massages, sensual mutual feeding, group showers, frequent nude hugging, freestyle dancing, opportunities for creative performance, and continuous intensive mutual intimate sharing. Yes—by the end of the weekend, I felt quite youthful and like a fully sensual being, with a sexual attraction to a younger woman who was in my nude massage and shower group. Soon after my workshop ended, I began an Internet correspondence with another woman on my HAI Intimacy exchange group, and consequently made a 14-hour drive to visit her for the weekend—not even having any idea of what she looked like. Without going into any more detail than this, I will say that I did get rather carried away with HAI and made some foolish, immature, and unsafe decisions regarding my heightened sensual state of mind soon after my HAI workshop.

HAI refers to its workshop room as “The Room of Love” and invites everyone to come back to this Room of Love for new workshops in the level series or for repeats of previous workshops. There is also the option to become an “assistant” at HAI workshops and move up the ladder in the HAI network. I have encountered some concerns from others about HAI being a cult; but from my own experience, I have felt virtually none of the manipulative pressures to continue my involvement with HAI, and very little in terms of guru attributions to its founder, Stan Dale, who died recently. Rather, people looked up to Stan Dale with a great deal of respect and admiration, but not in the way that one would give up one’s self to follow a guru’s pronouncements.

Let’s see what the Bonewits Cult Danger scale comes up with for me regarding HAI:

1. INTERNAL CONTROL

1

2. WISDOM CLAIMED

5

3. WISDOM CREDITED

5

4. DOGMATISM

5

5, RECRUITING

3

6. FRONT GROUPS

1

7. WEALTH

3

8. POLITICAL POWER

1

9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION

3

10. CENSORSHIP

3

11. DROPOUT CONTROL

2

12. ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE

1

13. PARANOIA

3

14. GRIMNESS

1

15. SURRENDER OF WILL

1

TOTAL SCORE:

38

AVERAGE SCORE:

2.5

My cult score for HAI speaks for itself. In comparison with the other spiritual groups I have experientially analyzed on the Bonewits Cult Danger scale in Modern Religions, HAI is most definitely in the favorable/beneficial spiritual group category, surpassed only by my experiences of Neopaganism and the Omega Retreat Center.

There is an intensive and magical quality about the group, but I must caution that there is also a provocative and extremely sensual quality that feels very good in the moment, but can easily lead one into chaotic and rather unsafe sexual involvements. Sometimes I do feel the impulse to do another HAI workshop or at least go to another HAI get-together, but this is not something my girlfriend/significant other and soulmate is comfortable with. And to be quite honest, I would not feel comfortable with her going to HAI events, having nude intimate exchanges with other men, and so on, either.

HAI served a transitory purpose in my life very soon after my previous romantic relationship of three years had ended. At this point in my life, I choose to not continue an active involvement with HAI, although as noted I do find some personal value from remaining in the HAI Intimacy Internet exchange group. However, based upon my experience with the HAI organization for the past three years, I would not have a problem recommending HAI as a viable option for spiritual personal growth as long as one’s life circumstances comfortably allow for one to grow in this kind of sensual environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

I experienced a five-day Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) workshop in August 2007 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After doing the ACT workshop, I read a number of books about ACT [10], wrote an article about ACT [11], have had some dialogue on the ACT Internet forum, and have had a few supportive email exchanges with ACT founder Steve Hayes. I was quite impressed with the amazing integrative perspective that ACT brings to psychotherapy, somehow combining ingredients from humanistic, existential, transpersonal, behavioral, and cognitive psychology. Steve Hayes himself has a remarkable combination of personal qualities, being a recognized leader in behavioristic psychology with nearly 400 publications to his credit, but displaying a transcendental spiritual quality that somehow reminds me of Ken Wilber [12]. Hayes continually cites ACT research to scientifically back up his strong contextual psychology ideas, which are based upon the premise that one needs to gracefully accept one’s unmovable obstacles in life while focusing upon one’s deepest experience of self-awareness and highest values. ACT has devised and employs many self-processes and exercises to help a person accept his/her unmovable life obstacles, as well as high-level meditations and visualizations to focus upon one’s deepest experience of self and highest values. I went through some quite intensive exercises in my ACT workshop, and I left the workshop feeling extremely stimulated and refreshed. ACT seemed to me to be a wonderful way of uniting humanistic and behavioral psychology, and I was searching for a way to do something just like this in order to be myself in my new mental health job that was focused upon behavioristic psychology treatments. Steve Hayes has been quite flexible and responsive to my own “idiosyncratic” (as Hayes quoted it) portrayal of ACT, but he does not have a problem with how I have described ACT in my articles. However, there is undoubtedly a strong claim to a set of core principles that govern ACT, inclusive of quantitative scientific research expectations, and there is a network of ACT practitioners, with Steve Hayes as the acknowledged ACT chief.

Let’s see how ACT fares on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale:

1. INTERNAL CONTROL

1

2. WISDOM CLAIMED

7

3. WISDOM CREDITED

7

4. DOGMA

9

5. RECRUITING

3

6. FRONT GROUPS

1

7. WEALTH

3

8. POLITICAL POWER

1

9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION

1

10. CENSORSHIP

1

11. DROPOUT CONTROL

1

12. ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE

1

13: PARANOIA

3

14. GRIMNESS

1

15. SURRENDER OF WILL

1

TOTAL SCORE:

41

AVERAGE SCORE:

2.7

From ACT’s score of 2.7 on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, together with my experience of the ACT workshop, my conclusion is once again that we have a favorable spiritual group here, in the same league as that reflected in my experiences with Neopaganism, the Omega Retreat Center, the Kripalu Yoga Center, and HAI (with respective scores of 2.1, 2.3, 2.5, and 2.6). The next-closest scores on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale in the groups that I have experientially analyzed are those for my experience of the ICSA and A Course in Miracles, with respective scores of 3.4 and 3.5, both of which I have placed in Neutral territory in regard to cult dangers vs. favorable spirituality.

Undoubtedly ACT has a strong belief system, as evidenced by my score of 9 for Dogma, and 7 for both Wisdom Claimed and Wisdom Credited; but all the other scores are no higher then 3, and ACT has more 1s than any of the other groups I have analyzed. Although, as noted, Steve Hayes has graciously accepted my “idiosyncratic” view of ACT, which I characterize as an example of humanistic behaviorism, I am essentially comfortable with ACT’s basic philosophical framework, and this is why ACT is meaningful to me. If (and only if) one resonates with ACT’s formulation of acceptance and commitment, then I believe a spiritual path exists there, inherent within a scientific, academic, psychology framework that I personally find quite intriguing.

The Center for Creative Consciousness (the Eagle and the Condor)

In January 2008, I did my third workshop at Kripalu Yoga Center, and I must say that this Kripalu workshop left me with far more misgivings in regard to possible cult and guru dangers than my previous two Kripalu workshops did. My workshop was entitled “The Modern Mystic: Accelerating Your Spirituality in Today’s World”; the workshop presenter was Jonette Crowley, author of the book The Eagle and the Condor [13]. I read the book soon before I did the workshop, and I was somewhat prepared for Crowley’s exceedingly bizarre and spiritual megalomaniacal presentation. However, experiencing her in person in a relatively small group of workshop participants had more of an impact upon me than I had anticipated. It’s not her actual beliefs that disturb me; her beliefs appear to me farfetched in the extreme, but I encounter this response fairly frequently in my spiritual explorations. I could accept as foreign to me, but not necessarily possessing cult dangers, Jonette Crowley’s beliefs regarding reincarnation, both from previous human lives and in terms of prehuman light energy forms; healing the universe thru prayer and meditation at ancient power places throughout the world; uniting spirituality (inclusive of some physical cuddling) with Corwley’s “twin flame” (beyond the concept of soulmate) shaman in Peru; channeling her two major spirits of “White Eagle” and “Mark”; and so on. However, when Crowley writes and talks about how she is reincarnated from one of the highest beings who ever lived on the planet, that it is her mission to unite the eagle of North America and the condor of South America (symbolically, by her masculine/feminine spiritual union with her “twin flame” shaman from Peru), and that she has initiated thousands of people via Himalaya heart activations and the Inca codes from the sun discs of Peru, I start to get nervous. When she frequently encourages workshop participants to sign up for her trips to various ancient and esoteric power places throughout the world, and promotes her future workshops and her book, I start to see a guru with followers. When I hear workshop participants tearfully express their spiritual realizations of how they wish to unite their masculine and feminine (the concrete version of uniting the eagle and the condor) and follow Crowley to Peru or the Himalayas, I know that I have another essay to write on the possible cult dangers of a modern religion.

Jonette Crowley is an extroverted woman with an extraordinary amount of charm and energy. She writes and describes how she is a channeler, primarily of two spiritual entities: the calm gentle spiritual energy of the Indian goddess White Eagle, and the powerful and cosmic philosophical teacher energy of the spirit Mark, although she has also channeled even deeper entities, such as White Buffalo Calf Woman and Kamara. Crowley believes she is a reincarnation of these great spirits, and that it is her mission to impart the gift of spiritual greatness to others, specifically thru her Himalaya heart activation, Inca code initiation, the sale of her book The Eagle And The Condor and her various spiritually channeled CDs, and by taking people on voyages to sacred sites throughout the world. She describes how she first experienced the presence of White Eagle almost 20 years ago when she was going through a personally very difficult time in her life.

As I listen to Jonette Crowley describe all the things she believes, I cannot help thinking that what she talks about is not any different from the talk of a psychotic person in a mental institution. Somehow, though, Crowley has managed to overcome the downward spiral that many other people with her beliefs go through, and has emerged as a successful spiritual businesswoman (she happens to have an MBA) who is in constant demand to give spiritual workshops, take people on spiritual voyages, and who sells many CDs of her channeled lessons from her spirit guides. Crowley describes how her spirit guides have disclosed to her that there are seven dimensions of consciousness, inclusive of the higher dimensions of energy vibrations, genetic codes, magnetic communications, and God consciousness; and she has CDs and courses channeled from her spirit guide Mark available for each one of these higher dimensions.

But what is most significant for me at this point is to evaluate, based upon my limited experience with Jonnete Crowley and the Center for Creative Consciousness (which is the nonprofit corporation Crowley has set up to promote her workshops, CDs, books, and sacred voyages [14][13]), whether there are significant cult dangers for this group. I must admit that in spite of Crowley’s excessively absurd (in my opinion) proclamations and the corresponding cult concerns that I have mentioned, I have also received some benefits from participating in her workshop. Although I was not able to gain value from her spiritual/body exercises (which happened to include the same muscle-checking procedure that I previously wrote about in my essay on Holographic Repatterning [15]) or her heart activation or Inca code initiation (the heart activation was quite similar to a ritual from the HAI workshop I had attended, called the Hand Over Heart ritual), I did find value from the inner uniting of my masculine and feminine in one of the experiential voyages Crowley took us on. I don’t anticipate being bombarded by Jonette Crowley or anyone else from the Center for Creative Consciousness to sign up for her future workshops or go on any of her trips to remote parts of the world, although I am on her mailing list and have received a number of promotional communications from Crowley and the Center for Creative Consciousness since I did her workshop, which was nearly five months ago.

I would guess that my experience of Jonette Crowley and the Center for Creative Consciousness via her Modern Mystic workshop will leave me with a Neutral/Benign evaluation in regard to cult dangers vs. spiritual benefits, and it is now time for me to put some numerical ratings on my experience and see specifically how Crowley fares via an experiential analysis on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale.

1. INTERNAL CONTROL

1

2. WISDOM CLAIMED

10

3. WISDOM CREDITED

6

4. DOGMA

10

5. RECRUITING

3

6. FRONT GROUPS

1

7. WEALTH

5

8. POLITICAL POWER

1

9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION

1

10. CENSORSHIP

1

11. DROPOUT CONTROL

1

12. ENDORSEMENT OF VIOLENCE

1

13. PARANOIA

3

14. GRIMNESS

1

15. SURRENDER OF WILL

9

TOTAL SCORE:

54

AVERAGE SCORE:

3.6

The average score of 3.6 on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale certainly places the Center for Creative Consciousness in Neutral/Benign territory in regard to cult dangers vs. spiritual benefits; this score is quite similar to the corresponding scores of a number of other spiritual groups that I have placed in Neutral territory, including A Course in Miracles, Conversations with God, and Self-Realization Fellowship (with respective scores of 3.5, 3.7, and 3.7). My experiential ratings are certainly unusual for this group, with extremely high scores in the categories of Wisdom Claimed, Dogma, and Surrender of Will (10, 10, 9 respectively), but with a large number of very low scores, as the number of 1s (there are eight 1s) is one of the lowest of any of the spiritual groups that I have experientially analyzed. But when all is considered, from both my intuitive self-knowledge and my numerical experiential evaluation from the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, I can comfortably state that Jonette Crowley and the Center for Creative Consciousness, although dogmatically promoting spiritual beliefs that I find personally preposterous, do not possess significant cult dangers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that the experiential analysis one can do with a rating scale such as the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale can be extremely beneficial in gaining an experiential, quantitative, comparative measurement that might indicate the degree of cult dangers for a spiritual group. However, the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale is only one means of making these kinds of evaluations; I have also used other rating scales in my Modern Religions book to complement the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, especially for the purpose of evaluating the category of Favorable/Beneficial spiritual groups. The account I have portrayed in this article is completely based upon my own experiences in the five groups I have described, but it has helped me gain clarity about the respective cult dangers of these five groups by using the experiential quantitative measurement rating scale that I have discussed. Experiential quantitative boundaries consequently emerge that, in conjunction with other relevant means of evaluation, can give us useful information to distinguish between the categories of Cultic, Benign, and Beneficial in spiritual groups that we have experienced.

Endnotes


[1] See Elliot Benjamin, “On Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” (www.icsahome, Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007) and Isaac Bonewits, Real Magic (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weisner, 1971, 1989). For an expanded form of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, see Isaac Bonewits, “The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” (Version 2.6) (www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html)

[2] See Elliot Benjamin, “On Conversations with God” (www.icsahome, Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2004); “On Avatar“(Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2005), “Spirituality and the Cults“ (http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~thegroundoffaith/issues/2005-04/index.htm#elliot  April/May, 2005), and Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Expose (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2005; available by contacting the author at ben496@prexar.com).

[3] See, for example, Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 1 (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1995); Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 2 (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 1997); Book 3 of the same title published by Hampton Roads Publishing Co. in 1998; Friendship With God (Putnam & Sons, 1999); Communion With God (Putnam & Sons, 2000); The New Revelations: A Conversation With God (New York: Atria Books, 2002); and Tomorrow’s God: Our Greatest Challenge (Atria Books, 2004).

[4] Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Expose (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2005; available by contacting the author at ben496@prexar.com).

[5] See Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946, 1993).

[6] See the Scientology and Avatar essays in my Modern Religions book and my articles “Spirituality And The Cults: An Experiential Analysis” and “On Avatar” [2], and “Scientology in the 1970s from various perspectives in time” (www.rickross.com, 2007, under Scientology, Personal Stories).

[7] Elliot Benjamin, “On Avatar.” ICSA e-Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 2, 2005.

[8] See my essays “On Neopaganism” and “Spirituality, Cults & Neopaganism” (PagaNet News Journal, Beltane editions 2004 and 2005, Virginia Beach, VA, www.paganet.org).

[9] More information about HAI can be found at www.hai.org

[10] See Steve Hayes, Kirk Strosahl, Kelly Wilson, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change (New York: Guildford Press, 1999); Steve Hayes and Kirk Strosahl (editors), A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (New York: Springer, 2004).

[11] See Elliot Benjamin, “An Integrative/Non-Integral Psychotherapy Model” (www.integralworld.net, August, 2007).

[12] See my article “On Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” [1] and Ken Wilber, “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 1995).

[13] See Jonette Crowley, The Eagle and the Condor: A True Story of an Unexpected Mystical Journey (Greenwood Village, Colorado: Stone Tree Publishing, 2007).

[14] More information about Jonette Crowley and the Center for Creative Consciousness can be found at www.JonetteCrowley.com

[15] See my essay “On Holographic Repatterning” in my Modern Religions book [2].