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The Gentle Wind Project


International Journal of Cultic Studies, Vol. 9, 2018, pages 55-69

The Gentle Wind Project: Quasi-Religion and Alternative Health

Kayla Swanson


Alberta, Canada

Abstract

The quasi-religious space is important for examining groups and organizations that exhibit qualities of both the sacred and the secular, particularly when groups have a vested interest in being perceived as either secular or sacred. The purpose of this article is to examine the Gentle Wind Project (GWP), a quasi-religious, New Age alternative healing movement, and to demonstrate how the group fit the category of quasi-religious. Furthermore, through an examination of the small and relatively unknown group, this article demonstrates the value of the quasi-religious label for examining new religious movements (NRMs) or other ambiguous movements and for drawing attention to the group itself.

Keywords: alternative health, Gentle Wind Project, GWP, New Age, quasi-religion, unorthodox medicine

Like so many binaries, the terms religious and secular divide the world into either/or terms. These seemingly oppositional forces interact with and interpenetrate each other, and the category of quasi-religions presents the opportunity to study groups that exist at the intersection between religion and secular. The advantage of the quasi-religious perspective is not that it narrows the categories, but rather that it presents a continuum by which to analyze certain groups. At the most fundamental level, Arthur L. Greil and Thomas Robbins described quasi-religions as groups that “either do not see themselves, or are not seen by others, as unambiguously religious” (1994, p. 8).

John E. Smith elaborated, claiming that quasi-religion “is . . . as close to the purely descriptive as one may hope to get” (Smith, 1996, p. 17). This sentiment not only highlights the use of quasi-religion as a descriptor, but also hints at the difficulty of examining groups that fit into these categories. That is, quasi-religion as a category allows one to better examine groups at the intersection between secular and religious while remaining aware of how fluid these seemingly opposite aspects can be within a singular entity. Quasi-religion is a category that has been used to examine many groups, such as Humanism (Smith, 1996), The Sullivan Institute (Suskind, 1994), and Scientology (Bromley & Bracey, 1998). Therapy and alternative health groups are particularly ideal examples for examining these groups. In fact, Bromley and Bracey highlighted the growth of quasi-religious alternative therapy groups since the 1960s (1998, p. 154). The Gentle Wind Project, hereafter GWP,[1] continued this trend of alternative-health quasi-religions.

GWP, a small New Age alternative-healing organization, began in Maine in the 1970s and continued its growth through the 1980s,[2] 1990s, and early 2000s. GWP dissolved in 2006 following a series of legal disputes in which it was both defendant (against the State of Maine) and plaintiff (against former members and critics).[3] The group self-identified as a “world healing organization” with the purpose of “restor[ing] the human consciousness to a state of balance and peace” (Carreiro, 1987, p. vii). It offered unorthodox healing instruments that reportedly involved nonphysical spiritual healing.

Mary “Moe” Miller[4] and John “Tubby” Miller met in the early 1970s while attending the University of Connecticut in the Master of Social Work program, and they went on to found GWP together. John “Tubby” Miller, allegedly the “representative of the spiritual engineers” (GWP, n.d.-a, p. 8), had completed his evolution “in another place and in another way” (GWP, n.d.-a, p. 8). The group regarded him as “older than time and . . . young as a spring chicken” (GWP, n.d.-a, p. 8). Although GWP literature and members often identified John Miller as the central figure in the organization, Mary Miller was arguably the more prolific member of the group.[5] She organized and spoke at many of the seminars, gave multiple interviews with the media, wrote the group’s newsletters, articles, and books, and (according to former members) controlled “the flow of information” (Garvey & Bergin, 2003, Description sect., para 6).

I have divided this article into sections that explore the religious/nonreligious spectrum to demonstrate how GWP fit the quasi-religion label. First, I explore the theological side of GWP. The intention of this exploration is to offer a summary of some of the supernatural ideas that GWP appealed to in order to demonstrate its religious aspects. Second, I explore the secular aspect of GWP, including claims made regarding the alleged healing instruments. The secular and sacred categories are not mutually exclusive, but in a quasi-religion they blend even more. The ambiguity that quasi-religions exhibit is the feature that makes the category so useful for examining groups at the intersection of religious and secular. Unfortunately, this ambiguity can make it difficult to parse through and neatly fit aspects of a group into an either/or category.

This difficulty, I argue, is what makes quasi-religion the ideal descriptor. GWP is an exemplar of the quasi-religious category, ambiguity and complications included. It intertwines secular and religious aspects into a cohesive, albeit complex, entity. As such, although I attempt to draw lines between the categories, the interpenetration of both religious and secular naturally means that aspects of one appear in the other. To phrase it another way, the religious affects the secular, and the secular influences the religious. This mixing is what makes GWP a quasi-religion, and why I chose to examine this small group through this particular lens.

Because GWP is no longer in operation, I used an archival methodology to analyze primary material. Overall, the internal documents and commentaries from supporters, critics, and apostates provided a rich basis from which to approach the study of GWP. Other source material such as audio cassettes of radio interviews, website printouts, and legal documents also contributed to my understanding of the group. The collection of GWP material is part of the Stephen A. Kent Collection of Alternative Religions at the University of Alberta. Furthermore, this article is a derivative of my master’s thesis, What the Puck? The Gentle Wind Project, a Quasi-Religious New Age Alternative Healing Organization (Swanson, 2015). Thus, it is a condensed version of a much larger work.

The Sacred and Gentle Wind

GWP attempted to set itself apart from religion by characterizing religion as the lesser “other.” GWP leaders viewed religions as “clubs” (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 21) an individual joined in order to “be associated with the ‘right’ people
. . . [or to be one of the] ‘chosen people’” (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 21). GWP leaders directed their antireligious rhetoric specifically at both the major Western religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Catholicism)[6] and at Communism and New Age groups. The leaders declared Eastern religions—particularly Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, however, to be philosophies, not religions, and therefore not “involved with evil” (GWP, 1996, p. 33).

Although GWP leaders asserted that three of the large religious groups of the East (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism)[7] were better than religions of the West, it portrayed India portrayed as a “spiritual burial ground” (Carreiro, 1987, p. 35). On the one hand, this criticism could be the result of prejudice on the part of GWP leaders; but on the other hand, one could see it as a tactical choice to limit competition. During GWP’s early years, an influx into Western culture of New Religious Movements tied to Indian thought, religious practices, and teachers occurred. It would have been advantageous, therefore, for a group such as GWP to define its boundaries clearly and demonstrate its superiority in an environment of competition.

For instance, Rajneesh (1931–1990), an Indian guru, and the movement that formed around him (Rajneeshees) were at their peak during the 1970s and early 1980s. The Rajneeshees offered “sixty different therapies . . . as well as Eastern meditations like yoga, vipassana,[8] Sufi dancing, and tai chi” (Palmer & Bird, 1992, p. S71). Although GWP did not offer or promote Eastern meditations, the services offered by Rajneeshees were a potential source of competition—both spiritually and economically. For GWP, individuals such as Rajneesh who attempted to convey spiritual knowledge without the protection from a reputed collection of entities known as the Brotherhood only ended up “pulling difficulties” (Miller, n.d.) toward them because of the inaccuracies in the information they shared (Miller, n.d.).

Despite rejecting the New Age label (a GWP spokesperson stated, “we’re not New Age wackos [sic]” (Shepard, 2004, p. 1, para. 1), the group in fact demonstrated several characteristics of New Age. For instance, Steven J. Sutcliffe and Ingvild Saelid Gilhus described the New Age of the 1980s as

marked by an ethnically ‘white’, lower-middle-class and/or middle-class profile, middle-aged (30- to 50-year-olds) and superiorly educated, made up of professionals, IT, arts, and healthcare occupations, and strongly represented by women. (2003, p. 5)

This description adequately fits the GWP. Individuals central in GWP had a variety of educational backgrounds, including publishing, social work, and nursing (GWP n.d.-k; GWP n.d.-e). Only one complete photograph of the core group exists, but in it members appeared to be mostly Caucasian women (GWP, n.d.-c, p. 1). In a later instrument manual, GWP further confirmed that a majority of its members were women (GWP, n.d.-a). One has to assume that the majority of those partaking in GWP had some form of disposable income (thus implying that members were middle class) in order to afford the price of the healing instruments. In the examination of GWP’s religious aspects, I applied Norichika Horie’s definition of spirituality that “includes New Age and new spirituality and is still related to religion” (2013, p. 111). He defined new spirituality as

both belief in what cannot usually be perceived but can be felt internally, and practices to feel it with the whole mind and body, accompanied more or less by attitudes of individualism or privatism, anti-authoritarianism, and selective assimilation of religious cultural resources. (Horie, 2013, p. 111)

For exploring GWP, I suggest that one also should include elements of the supernatural and a conceptualization of what happens after death. Early in GWP’s history, individuals could request soul readings and astrological readings that the group delivered via cassette. In later years, the soul readings were mostly reserved for instrument keepers and GWP members (Bergin, 2003, para. 18). The readings would give individuals an idea of their purpose in life, how far along the path of spiritual evolution they were, expected challenges they might face, and specific current problems in their lives. Soul readings supposedly gave information from the Brotherhood (whom I define following) and therefore, were far superior to any and all other sources of spiritual information.

According to the group’s ideology, since humans are ignorant about the idea that “they have souls, nevermind [sic] . . . that they are souls” (Carreiro, 1987, pp. 1–2), many people will spend “thousands of years incarnating without any spiritual growth at all” (Carreiro, 1987, p. 2). This line of thought creates a worldview in which the goal of human life is spiritual evolution, and the afterlife is reincarnation (i.e., a new life) in order to further this goal. GWP once more set itself apart from religion by asserting that religion stunted a person’s spiritual growth by teaching only “personal salvation rather than individual evolution” (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 13). Between death and rebirth, GWP explained, souls spend time in the spirit world.

The spirit world allegedly differed from the human world since the spirit world is characterized by “satisfaction, . . . peace, . . . [and] real beauty. . . [and is] based upon honesty and reality” (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 128). Residing in the spirit world, GWP doctrine claimed the Brotherhood was “a group of male and female souls dedicated to the evolution of humanity” (Carreiro, 1987, p. xi) and was the source of knowledge for the healing instruments and spiritual matters.[9] In fact, books written and published by GWP (The Psychology of Spiritual Growth [1987], Modern Religion & The Destruction of Spiritual Capacity [1988a], and Modern Education: Once Size Fits All [1988b]) were accompanied by notes on the covers, which stated that the information within them was “Channeled from the Brotherhood.” GWP leaders claimed to “maintain continuous telepathic communication with the Brotherhood” (Carreiro, 1987, p. vii). Through this communication, GWP staff supposedly received “telepathic impressions . . . of engineering blueprints” (WERU, 1999) for the healing instruments. By insisting that the leaders were in constant communication with the spiritual authority of the Brotherhood, one would have had difficulty distinguishing when the speech was of the sacred or the profane. A member would have to assume that the spirit world, at least on some level, influenced anything and everything that the leaders said.

The implied infusion of the sacred within the leadership’s words was further elaborated by experiences of some members. When Garvey offered to edit the GWP material before it was disseminated, “the offer was refused with a smiling face or a blank look” (Bergin, 2003, para. 29) and often with the “risk of receiving an insulting ‘soul reading’” (Bergin, 2003, para. 29). Eventually, Bergin and Garvey came to “rationalize [that they] were ‘giving up our egos’ by letting mistakes go through without commenting” (Bergin, 2003, para. 29).

Furthermore, GWP staff gave the group publications’ grammatical and spelling errors spiritual authority by asserting that “the ‘spirit world’ want[ed] it and they [were] the only ones who kn[ew] how to communicate with human beings. We [were] wrong and they [were] right” (Bergin, 2003 para. 29). This assertion not only served to justify the writing mistakes in GWP literature, but also established the infallibility of the spirit world, the Brotherhood, and by extension the authority of the leaders themselves.

Another aspect of Horie’s definition is selective syncretism. GWP blended Eastern religious concepts with Western theosophy. The adoption of Eastern religious terminology was evident in some of the healing instruments’ names—for instance, the Sacred Instrument of the Tao, and the Shambhala Instrument. GWP also borrowed other terminology from Eastern religions, including karma. In a soul reading, the Brotherhood (through Mary Miller) assured a member that the foster child he was raising was not the result of negative karma (Miller, 1986). At one point, Mary Miller asserted that GWP was “essentially Daoist” (WCNJ, 1997). This assertion was likely an attempt to rationalize and locate some of GWP’s ideology within an already existing and recognizable framework. Yet, GWP’s understanding of Daoism was superficial at best, perhaps best exemplified by Miller’s assertion that Daoism was essentially a philosophy in which “things just are what they are” (WCNJ, 1997).

GWP’s association with Daoism began in the name of the organization itself. The GWP claimed to derive its name (that is, Gentle Wind) from hexagram 57[10] of the I-Ching (WERU, 1999). Hexagram 57 is The Gentle, The Penetrating, wind, wood (Wilhelm, 1967, p. 220). In a radio interview, Mary Miller explained that the hexagram from which GWP drew its name symbolized the inner voice that helped to guide a person (WERU, 1999). Hexagram 57 was the most popular in GWP literature, but it is not the only one. A hexagram often appeared at the start of a book or at the end of a chapter, as an isolated symbol with no context or connection within the text. Although GWP may have inserted the hexagrams under the assumption that the audience understood the meaning and symbolism, it is equally likely that the use of the hexagrams was simply an attempt to position GWP within a recognizable and established religious tradition.

Many New Age groups in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have drawn on ideas formed in the spiritualism movement, and by extension, Theosophy. One should note that the GWP never directly referenced or cited Theosophy. The lack of explicitly sourced claims and ideological ideas, however, should not be seen as proof of complete originality, void of influence from other movements or religions, but rather as an attempt to claim authority and assert the superiority of GWP.

GWP, Theosophy, and many New Age groups share the idea of an etheric structure or aura. Theosophy explained that “the shape of all the higher bodies as seen by the clairvoyant is ovoid, but the matter composing them is not equally distributed throughout the egg” (Leadbeater, 1912, p. 74). Mary Miller described a similar structure when she asserted that every person had a netted etheric web/structure/field, which was 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide, 32 layers deep, and even present around all the cells within the body (WOMR, 1997; GWP, n.d.-d, p. 3). The existence of this etheric structure is an example of a moment in GWP ideology in which members had to make leaps of faith. That is, despite the claim that Kirlian photography[11] could capture the etheric structure, the existence of this structure was something that members accepted without tangible and verifiable evidence.

According to the GWP worldview, the etheric structure was “the permanent [individual]” (WERU, 1997-b), which moved through reincarnations. Past harms (either from this life or from past lives) damaged the etheric structure, and no physical or psychological medicine was capable of healing the etheric web. In one interview, Mary Miller described the etheric web as magnetic; so the more damaged it became, the more harm it attracted (WOMR, 1997). The concept of damage to this etheric structure is of utmost importance for understanding GWP’s primary mission and its assertions regarding the healing instruments. The purpose of GWP’s healing instruments was to “heal and repair mental and emotional damage at its source within each person’s energetic structure” (Miller, 1999a, p. 26). GWP noted, however, that the leaders had “no proof of this” (GWP, 1996, p. 20) effect, suggesting that faith was required to accept the existence of the structure, it’s need for repair, and the effectiveness of GWP instruments on this alleged structure.

GWP’s healings were individualistic and private, which echoes part of Horie’s definition, since all that was required was for a person to hold an instrument. When discussing the problems with religion, Mary Miller asserted that religion made “people . . . live their lives as the member of a herd rather than as an individual person trying to establish one’s individuality” (WERU, 1997a). Miller went on to state that since people were “damaged as individuals they must also be healed as individuals” (WERU 1997a). This outlook may explain why individuals who owned the healing instruments were geographically dispersed rather than concentrated in a central location. As Miller further elaborated in a separate interview, there was no one to follow in GWP but oneself (WCNJ, 1997). This focus on the individual also supports my assertion of GWP fitting Horie’s definition of spiritualism.

The antiauthoritarianism aspect in the GWP is exemplified in the organization’s position regarding alleged damage to one’s spiritual development caused by modern, formal education. GWP literature claimed that the modern education system as the biggest source of damage to the etheric structure in the current age (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 139). It argued that this damage occurred because education separated children too soon from their parents, forced them into school systems that used public humiliation as a form of reinforcement, and made students memorize information for which they had no practical use (WCNJ, 1997). Furthermore, GWP noted that

schools were] not run for the benefit of all . . .Education is run on convenience—The convenience of the teachers, administrators and government officials involved in the educational process . . . America has government schools not public schools. (GWP, 1989, p. 15)

By stressing the authoritarian nature of the public-school system in this way, and advocating home schooling, GWP certainly positioned itself in an antiauthoritarian, or at least antiestablishment, worldview. This view can be seen in other early GWP writings. For instance, in a newsletter, GWP expressed dismay regarding the current political structure, stating that “the fate of each country falls in the hands of a small number of people. If one could [only] see the actual backwardness of this” (GWP n.d.-b, p. 5). GWP positioned itself against many traditional sources of authority, the state being only one of them.

The final aspect of antiauthoritarianism to note is GWP’s assessment of science and scientists. The position that GWP’s leaders developed regarding science and scientists was important for two reasons. The first is the prevalence of science as a source of authority and knowledge in the modern West. The second reason was evident in the leaders’ attempt to assert GWP’s practices as scientifically validated. According to GWP, science had “severely impeded the process of spiritual evolution” (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 110). Its leaders accused scientists of creating the threat of nuclear war, purposefully using language to obscure meaning and make knowledge only for the elite and initiated, who were out of touch with reality and lacked practical skills, and who were becoming the focus of worship in the modern world (Carreiro, 1988a, pp. 111–112). Therefore, GWP teachings had asserted that most traditional sources of authority in the modern West were ineffective, if not outright harmful. In this vacuum created by discrediting traditional sources of authority, GWP leaders implied that the Brotherhood—and by extension themselves and their doctrines—were a better source of information and authority.

The religious aspects of GWP fit well within the New Age. The New Age alone, however, does not fully explain the GWP phenomena. In order to fully examine how GWP exemplified the quasi-religious concept, it is important to examine the secular aspects of the group.

The Secular and Gentle Wind Project

Former members Bergin and Garvey first encountered GWP through their book-publishing company, when they published books for the group. Bergin and Garvey were drawn into GWP through the group’s secular appeal (i.e., they sought help in parenting, not in healing their etheric structure). They turned to Miller, “a respected, thoughtful person, and licensed social worker” (Bergin, 2003, para. 14), for help. Bergin described Miller as “sympathetic and helpful” (Bergin, 2003, para. 14), but expressed “surpris[e] . . . when she offered ‘healing instruments’ and a ‘soul reading’ rather than therapy or counseling” (Bergin, 2003, para. 14). The personal connection to Mary Miller, coupled with her credentials as a social worker, likely contributed to her trustworthiness. By approaching potential members as an apparently secular authority, GWP leaders were able to introduce the healing technology as a legitimate health alternative.

Miller claimed that the instruments provided “mental, emotional, [and] spiritual healing” (WERU, 1997b), and she elaborated that some individuals found physical relief as well (WERU, 1997b). Yet GWP neither guaranteed, nor claimed, that these instruments helped people recover from physical illness (WERU, 1997b). Rather, it encouraged people to seek out orthodox medical treatment in accordance with “good common sense” (GWP, n.d.-f), and suggested instruments only after medical intervention, particularly in the case of emergencies (GWP, n.d.-f).

Despite this caution, GWP continued to assert itself as a health authority. The group posted a Health Alert on the GWP website that urged women over 40 with any of the listed symptoms (most of which are indicative of menopause) to seek proper medical treatment—specifically, hormone replacement therapy (GWP, 2003c). The Health Alert included criticism of a former member’s health-care choices and also served as an attempt to discredit a former member through implying that she was unable to decide what was best for her own health. By attempting to discredit a former member’s health choices (after she spoke out about her experiences with GWP) and offering health advice, GWP positioned itself in the sphere of health authorities. Although these claims do not have religious connotations, the instruments’ source of healing was rooted in spiritual claims.

Central to the GWP healing claims was the idea of a system of energy known as “meridian system” (Carreiro 1988a, p. 96). If this energy became blocked for any reason, then it would cause problems in the meridian system which, in turn, would manifest as mental, emotional, and physical distress (Carreiro, 1988a, p. 96). As Mikaelsson noted, spiritual energy is important in many New Age movements and “has become all-embracing. It is used to explain all sorts of phenomena, and is . . . a unifying cognitive category in alternative spirituality” (Mikaelsson, 2013, p. 170). Thus, the energy, while presented as a secular concept, has clear foundations in New Age thought. For GWP, this energy was accessed, and manipulated, through energy work sessions.

These sessions allegedly involved a group of multiple women and John Miller (Garvey & Bergin, 2003, Description sect., para. 28). A former member reported that members, who had been told about Tubby’s elevated spiritual state, often found the male leader of GWP with “two or more women from his inner circle touching various points on his body in order to direct energy to ‘bring him into balance’” (Bergin, 2003, para. 38).

Although energy manipulation required physical contact, Mary Miller asserted that energy work was a nonsexual practice to return a person’s energy to balance (Mary Miller dep., 2005, p. 99). John Miller acknowledged that some of these points were located in the genital area, around the coccyx, and the breast area (John Miller dep., 2005, pp. 106–108). He asserted nevertheless that contact with the genitals never occurred in GWP energy work (John Miller dep., 2005, p. 108). Despite the target of the healing instruments and the source of the healing ability—that is, these energy systems and etheric structure—GWP presented its healing technology with an air of scientific authenticity.

Vernacular language in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is saturated with scientific concepts, terms, and ideas. Because of the position that science holds in modern Western society, the inclusion of scientific terminology and concepts are important signifiers for the validity of the information presented. That is, “if a claim ‘looks and smells’ scientific . . . communications may be made more convincing without any alteration in content, simply by virtue of being presented with elements associated with science [emphasis added]” (Tal & Wansink, 2014, p. 2). Scientific language does not necessarily have to be used correctly, nor does it necessarily have to add anything of value to the argument, for some members of the public to perceive a statement, or a product, as more credible. For instance, Weisberg et al.’s 2008 study found nonexperts were more likely to judge a statement about neuroscience more positively if it included signifying terminology. The inclusion of scientific information and vocabulary made statements “look more satisfying than they actually [were], or at least more satisfying than they otherwise would be judged” (Weisberg et al., 2008, p. 475).

The adaptation of scientific concepts and terms to fit within, or alongside, spiritual and religious aspects is neither contradictory nor novel. Instead, the combination of secular and religious is arguably a product of the culture in which GWP formed. GWP’s teachings attacked the scientific method as faulty since it “fail[ed] to account for anything that [could not] be established through . . . the five senses” (Carreiro, 1987, p. 67). GWP’s claims that science should have accepted reincarnation, astrology, and etheric fields (Carreiro, 1987, p. 68), was perhaps an attempt to recast the religious elements of GWP as something nonsacred. GWP turned to scientific language not only to uphold itself but also to attack critics. It accused critics in the anticult movement, particularly those who supported deprogramming, of being scientifically unreliable. Material on GWP’s website claimed that those who practiced deprogramming conducted no “clinical trials, no tactical efficacy studies, no evidence of success or failure, no outside documented studies and NO [sic] client fate studies” (GWP, 2004c, p. 1). The latter comment, in particular, demonstrated a lack of understanding of the role, purpose, and limits of science, and the importance of empirical evidence in many scientific inquires.

GWP leaders set their group apart from the deprogrammers (and others in the anticult movement) by asserting that only the group’s teaching could provide the real help for individuals and humanity. Ironically, GWP information asserted that one could observe “the clearest sign of real deception and ‘extortion tactics’” (GWP, 2004c, p. 2), when “individuals attempt[ed] to promote themselves by tearing down legitimate people and organizations” (GWP, 2004c, p. 2). In many cases, however, GWP literature and websites employed the tactics that GWP derided (e.g., attempting to discredit its opponents, and boasting about its own “better” agenda and products). Its leaders asserted that, in contrast to its critics, it had a plethora of “evidence and studies from professionals and end users in a variety of authentic clinical settings” (GWP, 2004c, p. 1) to prove the effectiveness of its healing technology. The evidence, however, of these studies being conducted in a verifiable and proper manner is questionable (as I am about to show).

GWP publications used a variety of scientific and technical language, including referring to the healing instruments as technology that members engineered through blueprints provided by the Brotherhood. Although these terms are not inherently scientific, they do imply a level of competency and specialized knowledge. More explicitly scientific, some GWP publications used the terms blind and double-blind studies to describe research conducted with the healing instruments (Miller, 1999b p. 26; Hostetler 2001 p. 9; GWP, 2004b p. 2).[12] Although GWP never released reports or evidence of such studies, members reiterated that blind and double-blind studies had been conducted on the instruments. The validity of these studies was questionable, however, given the often-small sample sizes and a lack of accounting for variables or control factors.

In one of the earliest so-called studies it reportedly conducted (1990), GWP personnel distributed healing instruments to 20 people. GWP asked these people to share the healing instruments with others, and to follow up with GWP in 3, 6, or 12 months (WERU, 1997b). According to Moe, the only way to gather “valid research” (quoted in WERU, 1997b) was to “let the instruments go out” (WERU, 1997b) and wait for feedback (WERU, 1997b). After a year, the study allegedly demonstrated that most subjects noticed an improvement in their lives (or the improvement in the subjects’ lives); fewer than five percent reported no change (WERU, 1997b). GWP literature later claimed that only 15 percent[13] of successful healings were the result of a spontaneous remission (WOMR, 1997b).

Miller elaborated on the research that GWP conducted, stating members “literally gave [the instruments] to thousands of people and had those people report back to us on the results” (WERU, 1997a). Other GWP research models included studying members as they participated in a range of activities that included building, repairing, and sailing boats; building and flying model airplanes and helicopters; carpentry and woodworking; and small radio use and repair. The research model GWP used was pseudoscientific, falling short of what most academics hold to be valid scientific inquiry because, at the most basic level, the tests did not account for a number of variables that might have influenced the results.

The main source of evidence for the success of GWP’s healing instruments were the numerous testimonials that supporters offered. GWP leaders claimed that they had received only one complaint in 20 years. They made it clear, however, that this complaint was not valid since the man had “claimed (with no proof) to have received a FREE [sic] healing and felt he was not helped” (GWP, 2003b, p. 3). This statement undermined the validity of this complaint by questioning the honesty of the one who lodged it—a clear attempt to counter the complaint by attacking the source.

The late Dr. Barry Beyerstein (a psychologist and alternative-health critic) noted that use of testimonials is common in unorthodox and alternative-health practices. In fact, “many dubious health products remain on the market primarily because satisfied customers offer testimonials to their worth” (Beyerstein, 1997, para. 11). The testimonials of the healing effects of GWP products were varied and abundant. Some indicated that instrument keepers (IKs)[14] used the instruments in orthodox medical environments, including on patients before operations and in an emergency room (GWP, 2003a). In an orthodox medical environment, those who offer the care and are keepers of medical information wield power over—and hold a degree of trust with—their patients. Quite simply, a tool used by an apparent expert (an orthodox medical practitioner such as a nurse or doctor) in an orthodox medical environment (i.e., a hospital) endows a product or procedure with a level of authenticity it may not have in other circumstances.

IKs, those who had spent significant amounts of money to own various instruments, often were the most vocal in reporting on their experiences and offering testimonials. Those who had invested in the project may not have been the most neutral responders, and they clearly demonstrated a conflict of interest. Another instance of a conflict of interest is the testimonial of Paul Carreiro (Mary Miller’s brother) regarding the benefit of the healing instruments for cancer patients. Not only was he the brother of one of the leaders, but also GWP lent him money (Mary Miller dep., 2005, p. 111).

Despite some aspects of testimonials being questionable, the positive feedback suggests that some individuals found relief from using the healing instruments. Recall that most of the healing claims made by GWP were not of the physical nature. Since the healing focused primarily upon the nonphysical, testing the effectiveness of instruments is arguably much harder. How does one prove whether someone’s etheric structure had been repaired? Or if an instrument had positively affected a person’s emotional well-being? These claims are unfalsifiable. The first question can be answered only within a particular worldview. The second question would have to rely on self-reporting by those who had personally held these instruments or had undergone another GWP healing procedure (such as the telepathic healings).[15] Furthermore, since the healings targeted problems that often were not tangible, they are more difficult to prove (compounded by GWP’s lack of proper scientific studies), and thus easier for potential clients to believe.

A confusion between correlation and causation becomes clear in the GWP material if one questions the time that experimental subjects spent between holding the instrument and reporting results. In one interview, Mary Miller suggested that people who held the instrument could look back in 6 to 7 months and observe noticeable changes to their lives (WERU, 1996). Half a year is a significant length of time, and if one expected a positive change to occur in one’s emotional and spiritual well-being (or in one’s life in general), then one might be more aware of these moments and more likely to attribute them to the instrument. As a former member noted, members “stopped taking credit or responsibility from our own successes and accomplishments” (Bergin, 2003, para. 51). Members began to attribute their success to instruments. And although members attributed success to the instruments, negative events remained the result of their “own limitations or ‘will’” (Bergin, 2003, para. 51).

As Beyerstein noted, “misattributions of this sort arise from the false assumption that a change in symptoms following a treatment must have been a specific consequence of that procedure” (Beyerstein, 1997, para. 20). This effect can easily be observed in the alleged healing properties of the GWP instruments. The misattribution of the apparent healing affect can be enhanced, according to Beyerstein, “through a combination of suggestion, belief, expectancy, cognitive reinterpretation, and diversion of attention” (1997, para. 20) which all contribute to the apparent success of pseudoscientific alternative medical treatments. These enhancements and suggestions are present when one examines which GWP healing instruments allegedly accomplished the mental and emotional healing.

Another case of correlation being attributed as causation in GWP content occurred with the Children’s Rod, which allegedly parents could give a child to reduce the duration of a temper tantrum. A child held the rod in the left hand for 2 to 3 minutes, or longer if the tantrum was especially severe (GWP, n.d.-f). Although I do not doubt that in some cases this instrument may have appeared effective, the effects likely had to do with changing the focus of the child’s attention and waiting for the tantrum to subside, rather than their having anything to do with the rod’s alleged properties. GWP material alleged that another instrument, the Physical Equilibrium Symbol, “restore[d] physical equilibrium in times of physical distress” (GWP, n.d.-g, p. 1). Instructions encouraged people to hold the symbol for 7 minutes against the part of their bodies that was causing problems, and then sleep, or at least rest, for half an hour (GWP, n.d.-g, p. 1). Coupled with rest, it is difficult to determine whether the instrument, or the rest, eased the symptoms. Furthermore, users may have taken medications or used other techniques, or the distress may have been only temporary and run its course with rest. The Physical Equilibrium Symbol in particular adequately fits what Beyerstein referred to as derivative benefits, one of the “Ten Errors and Biases” (1997) of alternative therapies.

Beyerstein specified that some alternative treatments may increase the effectiveness of orthodox treatments by helping to reduce stress, or by encouraging a person to “eat and sleep better and to exercise and socialize more” (1997, para. 30). Arguably, the instruments encouraged people to rest, and in many instances, wait significant times for results. IKs who administered the healing by sharing their instruments may have encouraged a positive response through their own endorsement of the products. As a result, users may have attributed a positive change in their lives (such as better relationships with children or parents, for example) or mental states (being calmer and less confrontational, for instance) to the instruments rather than simply to the passing of time and other factors.

The instrument manuals[16] that accompanied the healing instruments included instructions about how to operate them. According to these manuals, the wait time for effect of the healing varied. GWP publications (or testimonials) claimed that the effect was almost immediate, and other claims included a change within 24 hours. In some cases, however, it might take months before a subject noticed a change. Supposedly, many instruments affected only the individual holding it (such as the Healing Puck V), but some healing instruments reputedly could heal groups or pets (e.g., Universal Healing Alignment Symbol). Larger healing symbols were available for attempts at healing an area, such as a home or office. These symbols included the Habitat Alignment Diagram and the Unified Field Alignment symbol, with a 600-foot effective radius[17] (GWP, n.d.-k, p. 1).

Most healing instruments were composed of acrylics, metals, wood, herbs, stones, and salts (Carreiro, 1987, p. 6; WOMR, 1997). Additionally, material included colorful diagrams printed on paper that was pressed between layers of acrylic. These instruments were “usually small enough to be held in one hand” (Carreiro, 1987, p. 6), and the healing was “faster [if held] with the left hand” (Miller, as quoted in WERU 1997b,). In addition, GWP claimed that instruments manufactured after September 1, 1995 included the capability for IKs to perform a telepathic healing on anyone in the world as long as they had the target’s permission (GWP n.d.-e). Although GWP did not conduct any scientific studies on these instruments, a former member had the contents of one of the healing instruments analyzed. This former member sent one of the instruments to an independent laboratory, where the contents were subject to investigation by “light microscopy, infrared spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy” (Miller, M., 2005, p. 2).[18] The study concluded that the contents of the puck were inconsistent with sand, but were consistent with the chemical makeup of 12 compounds and “cell salts” that GWP claimed to be in the healing instrument (Miller, 2005, pp. 2–3). Although the study concluded that the chemical composition of the central plug of the Healing Puck was consistent with GWP claims, from the perspective of physical science, the fact that this content was locked inside layers of acrylic would have made it impossible for the contents to have any direct effect on an individual (i.e., the substances were not applied topically, nor ingested).

The price of the healing instruments steadily increased over the course of GWP’s history. Mary Miller claimed that if people were financially invested in the instrument and project, then they were more likely to share the instruments and the project (WOMR, 1997). Fees served as a deterrent for those whom GWP leaders saw as undesirable; specifically, the fees “[kept] New Age dabblers away from this serious technology” (GWP n.d.-h, p. [2]). When GWP began requesting money in exchange for the healing instruments, a letter to IKs referred to this change of policy as a “kind of . . . enforced donation” (GWP, 1995, p. 1). The letter further assured the IKs that “the actual value of the Healing Instruments cannot be determined in human terms” (GWP, 1995, p. 1), in a way suggesting that the set donation price was a bargain in comparison to what the buyer was getting.

The prices for the instruments at times reached more than ten thousand dollars. The System II Healing, for instance, cost $12,000 (USD; GWP, n.d.-j, p. 1). In another instrument catalogue, the higher-priced instruments were as much as $2,450, $4,000, and $6,050 (GWP, n.d.-i).[19] At one point, GWP even bundled some of the healing instruments. For example, The Universal Healing and Alignment Symbol and the Unified Field Symbol could be bought together for $250. (GWP, n.d.-j, p. 1). For $400, one could obtain both the Healing Puck and the Unified Field Alignment System (GWP, n.d.-j, p. 1). Occasionally IKs could get special discounts on some of the products. GWP offered the Trauma Card and Pain Instrument to IKs for $450 instead of the regular price of $1,250 (Smart Business Choices, 2004). These prices seem to have been determined arbitrarily, as emphasized by the Trauma Card and Pain Instrument example, which offered an IK price $800 less, or a 64 per cent discount from the full price listed. To be able to offer such a discount, the cost of production would have to have been less than the discount price; this suggests that the full price of $1,250 afforded GWP a significant profit margin.

To encourage people to buy new instruments, GWP provided a variety of instruments and symbols, and slightly tweaked its promise regarding the reputed effects of each new instrument. Furthermore, GWP was innovative with ways to keep clients returning and acquiring more instruments by occasionally implying that old instruments would be “shut . . . down” (GWP, 1995, p. 1). In a letter to IKs in 1995, GWP asserted that it would phase out old instruments’ energetic connections after a year, as new and improved instruments were produced (GWP, 1995). By implying that an instrument could, and would, be made ineffective, but providing a new substitute, GWP encouraged individuals to continually repurchase more instruments. It employed this tactic more than once over the course of its history. In 1992, for instance, GWP sent out a notice to IKs that it had encountered a problem in the manufacturing process and needed to “shut down the energetic bands for a day” (GWP, 1992, p. 1) to rectify the problem and finish replacing outdated instruments (GWP, 1992). Although this business model is effective for profit (it forces consumers to continually buy new products), it is also potentially problematic. For instance, if someone did not call to see whether the instrument was still active, then would the individual still claim to notice benefits?

GWP requested that old instruments and manuals be returned to the organization (GWP, 1992). This request may have been a simple matter of wanting to help IKs safely dispose of old instruments. Because these instruments purportedly affected a person’s energy field (if one prescribed to GWP’s worldview), improper disposal could be detrimental to one’s alleged energetic field. GWP also requested that people were not to tamper with, or try to repair, the instruments themselves. The true motivation behind these requests remains occluded. Although these requests may have been altruistic (e.g., to prevent one from inadvertently damaging one’s assumed etheric structure by tampering with the alleged energy-manipulation aspects of the instruments), it would be an oversight not to point out other possible motivations for these warnings. Such motivations might include protecting proprietary information, preventing people from discovering the true contents of the instruments, or even preventing competition from duplicating the instruments.[20]

In fact, GWP did not lack competition. The critique of GWP products by Steve Gamble and Ivan Fraser derived not from an academic position, but rather from within a New Age belief system.[21] Both Fraser and Gamble tested an instrument and reported changes in their auras, but both asserted these changes were of no benefit (Fraser & Gamble 2002; 2003). Fraser went so far as to suggest that GWP’s spiritually authoritative Brotherhood was “not an altruistic spirit world organization . . . [but was] an aspect of the rogue consciousness of the astral plane . . . [and] wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Fraser, 2004, p. 2). These arguments imply the existence of a complementary belief system (insofar as Fraser claimed that GWP was using the astral plane). In many ways, the objections that Fraser and Gamble made to GWP represented ideological differences and the objections of potential competitors.

GWP made allegations that alluded to the perceived completion from the critics involved in the lawsuit, by claiming that those critics “[stood] to gain financially from eliminating GWP” (GWP 2004a, p. 1). Mary Miller confronted the potential competition from Gamble more directly, specifically after GWP shut down, when she wrote that Gamble “sold
. . . products that appear to be competitive with GWP technology” (Miller, 2010, p. 82). She added that Gamble “stood to gain from such a negative statement [of GWP] because he sold ‘energy products’” (Miller, 2010p. 83), thereby making him a direct competitor of GWP’s own healing technology.

Conclusion

Although the group’s ideology shifted and changed over the years, the group’s foundations were clearly planted in the New Age. GWP, however, also exhibited characteristics of a secular organization, such as making claims of scientific studies, advocating appropriate forms of education, and demonstrating practices indicative of a for-profit business. I assert that, by blending science and religious ideologies and practices, GWP exemplified the qualities of a quasi-religion.

GWP demonstrated the importance of the label of quasi-religion particularly for groups claiming nonreligious status. The category of quasi-religion is particularly important when one is examining individuals and organizations that claim to offer healing (physical or otherwise). The insistence by GWP’s leaders that the group’s teachings and instruments were scientific was necessary for acceptance in a world that views science as a significant source of meaning and knowledge. Its healing technology proved to employ pseudoscientific claims while relying on supernatural ideas and explanations. This blending of secular practices and concepts with religious beliefs enabled the group to draw in followers and business.

GWP demonstrated the value of the quasi-religious category for examining groups that exhibit qualities of both religious and secular identities. Furthermore, GWP exemplified why such a category is useful for examining groups that claim, or appear to be, nonreligious.

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About the Author

Kayla Swanson, MA, earned her Master of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of Alberta in 2015. Her master’s thesis focused on the Gentle Wind Project as a quasi-religion, new-age, alternative health movement. In 2017, as second author with senior author Stephen A. Kent, Kayla wrote about the GWP in The History of Credibility Attacks Against Former Cult Members, a Special Monograph Edition of the International Journal of Cultic Studies. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a minor in Political Science from the University of Alberta in 2012.


International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 8, 2017


[1] The Gentle Wind Project (GWP) has also been known by other names, including (but not limited to): Gentle Wind/Turning Point, the Gentle Wind School, Gentle Wind Retreat, Gentle Wind Hawaii, Gentle Wind Iran, Gentle Wind World Wide, Global Information Network, Family Systems Research Group (FSRG), and Eye of the Sky (WoC, 2004).


[2] In 1984, GWP “formally incorporated as a federally approved non-profit” (GWP, n.d.-e, p. 1).


[3] For more on information on the court cases involving GWP, see Kent &Swanson, 2017.


[4] Mary Miller (not related or married to John) had several aliases: Mary Carreiro, Mary Elizabeth, Claudia Panuthos, and Moe. Many of the women involved in GWP changed their last names to Miller to “[show] . . . their devotion to John Miller” (Garvey & Bergin, 2003, Description sect., para. 33). GWP claimed that this name change was an attempt to ease a permit application for renovations of a property owned by the group (GWP, 2004a).


[5] Former members Bergin and Garvey noted that Mary Miller was the public face of the group, and the spokesperson in charge of operations, finances, and recruitment; but John Miller was the spiritual authority and the driver of many purchasing choices, such as a Florida property they owned (J. Garvey, March 27–28, 2015; inquiry/Email message to Kayla Swanson). Thus, one could view John as the sacred half and Mary as the secular half of GWP’s leadership.


[6] GWP’s publication intentionally listed Catholicism separately.


[7] I suspect that GWP did not include Hinduism in its Eastern-philosophy list, because of its negative perception of India and Indian spirituality. That is, in one early publication Mary asserted that India was a “country of darkness, hardship, pollution and despair” (Carreiro, 1987, p. 36) and “spiritually bankrupt,” (Carreiro, 1987, p 36). These obviously negative perceptions of India may have contributed to the exclusion of Hinduism from GWP’s discussion of religion.


[8] Vipassana is insight meditation in Buddhism that focuses on suffering, impermanence, and anatman (no-self), with the goal of obtaining insight into reality and ultimately escaping the cycle of samsara.


[9] John Miller asserted that members of this spiritual authority were not aliens, but were tall humans who wore unusual, or unrecognizable, clothing (John Miller dep., 2005, p. 119).


[10] A hexagram is a series of six solid or segmented lines. Each hexagram is made of two trigrams, with each trigram consisting of a combination of three solid or segmented lines. Two trigrams stacked on top of each other complete a hexagram. The I-Ching provides detailed description of the meaning of each hexagram and is a source of divination within Daoism.


[11] Miller claimed that this structure existed because Kirlian photography could capture it (WERU, 1997a). Kirlian photography, in fact, captures “natural phenomena such as pressure, electrical grounding, humidity and temperature. Changes in moisture (which may reflect changes in emotions), barometric pressure, and voltage, among other things” (Skepdic, 2014, available online at http://skepdic.com/kirlian.html, para. 2).


[12] In her deposition, however, Miller asserted that GWP conducted no blind studies on the healing instruments themselves; rather, third parties conduct these so-called studies (Mary Miller dep., 2005, p. 104).


[13] None of these percentages had sources in the GWP material; in fact, GWP cited no studies, thus making these figures questionable at best.


[14] Those who bought and possessed GWP Healing Instruments were referred to as instrument keepers and were expected to share the instruments with others.


[15] GWP material asserted that these telepathic healings would result in changes both for the individual and for society. For instance, this material claimed that telepathic healings resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall, exposure of corrupt politicians, reconnection of religious leaders with spiritual authorities, and curbing of aggressive tendencies of athletes (Bergin, 2003, para. 59; Carreiro, 1988[a], pp. 134–135).


[16] Instruments, and the symbols, had manuals that included instructions on use, cautions (such as some needing to be kept out of direct sunlight, or away from children), and some even had money-back guarantees.


[17] The manual stated this figure as both the radius and the diameter.


[18] Please note that, despite the same name, this Mary Miller was in no way associated with GWP and was a consultant with an independent laboratory.


[19] Although no date appears on this catalogue, the prices indicated that it had to be after the 1995 imposition of a standard fee for the instruments. Additionally, prices appeared to increase as time went on. Since the prices were in the thousands of dollars, I suspect that this catalogue dates from the late 1990s or early 2000s.


[20] I reached this conclusion in part because the group appeared to be protecting the information and sections of John Miller’s deposition discussing the contents and production of the healing instruments were marked as confidential. Additionally, at one point GWP had a “license of intellectual property” contract for instrument keepers to sign (GWP n.d.-l, pp. 1–3)


[21] Steve Gamble sold his own alternative health products through his own website (Equilibra). The Truth Campaign, operated by Ivan Fraser, explored New Age topics, including health products and some conspiracy theories.