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Please send questions, comments, problems, and letters to the editor to All editorial correspondence becomes the property of -- unless requested otherwise -- and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space. Except where noted, entire contents Copyright ©1995-2001 Society. trancenet.netTM is a trademark of Society, an unincorporated nonprofit organization. The opinions and viewpoints of contributors do not necessarily reflect those of, its editorial staff, nor Society, its board, officers, employees, volunteers. Neither Society nor its editorial staff conclude that any group discussed on this site is necessarily cultic in nature. We provide suppressed and alternative information so that you may make informed decisions for yourself. Copyrighted works are reprinted with permission as noted or are made available under the "fair use" exception of U.S. copyright law, for research and educational purposes only.
Editorial Archive for January, 1998


Heide Fittkau-Garthe, the German psychologist charged with inducing her cult followers to commit suicide, was released from jail on bail this past Wednesday. She told the press that she was "completely innocent" of the charges, according to the Associated Press. The same report said that she had "planned to create a mental and health institute" on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Fittkau-Garthe, whom the La Vanguardia newspaper said always dressed in white and called herself "Aida" (or "source") in the belief she was named that in a previous life 5,000 years ago, was also quoted by the AP as saying: "I'm not a guru. I don't lead a sect."

Since I wrote last week's column, I've received a number of new and old reports about Fittkau-Garthe and her group, which has gone under the names of the Atma and the Isis Holistic Center. What I knew was that her group of 31 members (13 men, 13 women and five children, it turns out) was prevented from committing mass suicide on the top of Mount Teide, a 12,198 ft. volcano, the highest point of the Canary island of Tenerife. She had conducted seminars for German businessmen, and had apparently selected her followers. She was not at all connected to the Swiss Order of the Solar Temple, as the police had earlier suspected, but was formerly connected with the Brahma Kumaris of India.

The (U.K.) Guardian confirmed that she was a highly regarded psychologist, leading seminars in stress-reduction and meditation. She was a lecturer at Hamburg University (where she maintained an apartment, all white), and a TV pundit. Most of her audiences did not know she was associated with the Brahma Kumaris, which she was apparently associated with before leaving the university in 1993. She spent regular periods on her Tenerife farm, and her neighbors described her as pleasant. She described her visitors as patients, having come to the Canaries for therapeutic rest. TheGuardian reported that she told her hard-core followers the "unresolved past of wandering souls was the source of all aggression." Her tapes featured her smooth voice against a backdrop of synthesizer music, the voice that her followers believed was that of a Goddess.

While Fittkau-Garthe was still in jail, there was very little that the Spanish police could do, according to the Guardian, because suicide is not against the law there. But inducing someone to commit suicide is; and now that Fittkau-Garthe is out on bail, Tenerife authorities can now presumably watch her group much more closely. If she gives explicit or implicit suggestions to commit suicide, she will be in hot water with the authorities; this may prevent her from doing so. Her followers should also know that if they commit suicide on their own, it will also make their leader look bad. On the other hand, it can easily be presumed that Fittkau-Garthe thought she was going to leave the Earth on a spaceship within the time her followers were going to on January 8, when she told them that the world was going to end.

I could be very wrong about this, but it seems to me that, for now, the outcome hinges on whether she really believes as strongly as her followers do that her own physical death is imminent. If she does, the understanding among her cult will probably be that suicide is okay, if she can face the ridicule of the courts and the press should she live after her followers commit suicide. Past experience suggests that cult leaders aren't as sincere in their beliefs as their own followers, by their actions and their stated attitudes. Of course, I have little way of knowing how sincere Fittkau-Garthe is, and there's still a lot we don't know about her group. It hasn't become clear, for example, whether she has a larger cult outside her 31 core followers, and whether they have been called upon to commit suicide as well.

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Heide Fittku-Garthe, a former motivational speaker for large corporations in Germany, was charged in Spain on January 10 for "attempted murder, inducement to suicide and belonging to an illegal organization," according to the BBC. The charges were in relation to what was almost certainly a planned mass suicide a week earlier of her unnamed cult's 31 members. Police broke up the group's "dinner party" at a volcano in Tenerife, the highest point on that Canary Island, on Thursday, January 8.

Police again prevented another planned mass suicide, this one on the 13th, which they found out about from the mother of one of the cult's members. Nineteen Germans were released (the only non-German, from the Canary Islands, was not detained), although police did not verify whether they still felt the second suicide plan existed.

Fittku-Garthe, who apparently was a former high-ranking member of the Indian movement Brahma Kumaris, was accused of controlling the lives of her followers, who were apparently carefully selected from her seminars. Her followers have charged that Fittku-Garthe was "just a friend of theirs," according to Reuters, and to allege that they were brainwashed was a "ridiculous suggestion." Reuters reported Fittku-Garthe's attorney, Enrique Porres, as describing his client as "a humanitarian who was providing safe haven for abused women and people with psychological problems." For those who could pay, she allegedly charged 50,000 pesetas (US$325) per session, during which she took on a "Goddess" role -- a good position to exploit weaknesses from.

"It seemed that they were looking at 2000 GMT as the end of the world, and that if they committed suicide at that moment they would be rescued," said Antonio Lopez Ojeda, an Interior Ministry representative on the Canary Islands. "Inducement to suicide is a crime, and for that reason the security forces had to avoid this evil thing," said Lopez. A number of "destructive sects" have been cropping up in the area, according to Spanish officials.

It was originally believed that the group was an offshoot of the Order of the Solar Temple cult, of whom many members have committed suicide since the fall of 1994. This charge was unproven, and labeled as a "hoax" (with no named hoaxers or even obvious suspects) by a Dr. Massimo Introvigne, the head of the Center for the Studies of New Religions (CENSUR) in Italy. His organization, with which J. Gordon Melton's Institute for the Study of American Religion is associated, seems downright hostile towards "anti-cultists" in one of his latest papers, "Hoaxes and Misunderstandings on the Order of the Solar Temple." He notes that unnamed "prominent Spanish anti-cultists have expressed their doubts that a mass suicide was really being prepared," and that Fittku-Garthe was "hailed as a 'star psychologist.'" As we all know, "star psychologists" aren't cult leaders because they're part of the mainstream. Mainstream society would never let some person or group with ill-intentions gain widespread acceptance.

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The Taiwanese group Chen Tao ("True Way") made the news a couple of weeks ago in both the United States and Taiwan for their alleged planned suicide in late March. Had they not made the news then, it's likely that Deeper Life Christian Church in Tampa, FL, a domineering Pentecostal sect, would have made more prominent headlines.

The initial controversy, and the subsequent relevations about the church, have been well-covered by the Tampa Tribune and its reporters, Jim Sloan and Darlene McCormick. On Dec. 19, the Tribune broke the story that five members, including three pastors (but not including its top leader), were charged their involvement in a food stamp scam. Apparently, the church accepted felons to perform community service; and instead of having them perform, the church accepted their food stamps instead, which they cashed in at their own meat markets. The Tribune reported that the church deposited $15,000 to $20,000 a month in food stamp receipts, and got $43,000 between the months of September and November.

Sheriffs detectives "painted a picture of a church that's run like a military institution, housed in a fenced compound and overseen by powerful leaders who forbid members from touching or even speaking to them without permission," the Tribune said. Subsequent stories described the church "as much (a) military boot camp as (a) religious experience." Much of this is outlined in a two-page list of rules and regulations: Members must remain on the church grounds for 30 days before being allowed to leave, after which they must have an escort. No one is to touch "Bishop" Melvin Jefferson, the leading power in the church, or in any way communicate with him or pastor Calvin Lanier, Jr. unless requested by them. Members must stay at least eight feet from either side of the gate when Jefferson is leaving the grounds; and articles such as hats, shorts, mini-skirts and revealing dresses, and even radios and cassettes are forbidden. The reasoning behind this is made clear: "God honors obedience more than sacrifice," and "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." And while members have to suffer through obedient sacrifice, "Bishop" Jefferson has been living high on the hog, in a well-appointed home with a high-tech security system and a fleet of cars, including a black Mercedes. Not long after he moved in, Jefferson built a concrete wall around his home, and according to one of his neighbors, two large-screen televisions and two truckloads of furniture have since been delivered. When asked about his lifestyle, Jefferson replied that he's "God's man," and that "God's man is supposed to live good." (Hard to argue with that!)

Subsequent stories profiled Deeper Life as a high-control group. Linda Watson, whose daughter and granddaughter were in the church, had to drop by the laundromat where her daughter worked when she wanted to see her 13-year old granddaughter. But that arrangement ended, when her granddaughter told her that "they think you are coming around too much." Valda Thomas said that she meets her 22-year old daughter away from church grounds in her car, while her daughter is on a sidewalk near the church, or on a street corner soliciting for donations. "They follow you around," Thomas said. "I have to drive around, and see if I (can) run into her." Watson, for one, is grateful for the public attention: "I've been praying for this to happen for six years... I just want to see my little granddaughter," Watson said. At a press conference at the jail, Jefferson proclaimed that he wanted peace with his neighbors and the police: "I think we've been violated long enough. I've been shot at, had to put a wall around my home because they were throwing rocks and everything else at my kids. They broke into my house." Insisting that he's "not a criminal" or a cult leader, he asked his surrounding bussed-in 120 followers if he was holding them against their will. "No!", they shouted in unison. (How could he, when they apparently have none?)

As profiled in the Tribune's late-1996 series, "The Almighty and the Dollar," about how different churches make ends meet, religion reporter Michelle Bearden wrote how most of Deeper Life's members don't hold jobs; that of the church's 300 regular attendees, only six tithed regularly. Raising money was profiled as a "week-to-week operation," and most of the members, who were recruited from their former lives of drugs, robbery, and prostitution, lived in church-owned homes. Aside from its businesses in its tough Tampa neighborhood, members had to beg for money from the outside. A 2/14/97 Tribune article about a proposed ban on street soliciting quoted the Rev. Kenny Lee of Deeper Life, as saying that he was "saddened" by the proposal: "We're actually doing this city the biggest favor that's been done as far as the crime and drug problem," he said. Lee, 40, was among those arrested, charged with trafficking in food stamps; he also had a previous arrest for "writing a worthless check."

However, many people were willing to give; before the exposure, the church had a much better reputation, having won outside praise for reforming former criminals. In the 1996 piece, Kathleen Sullivan, a sergeant with the Tampa police, told the Tribune then that the neighborhood had become a cleaner, safer place over the previous five years. "They've been part of the solution, not the problem. They don't have much, money-wise, but they make up for it in hard work and spirit. That's really what it's all about." Some things did not go into Bearden's earlier story, as she wrote in a Dec. 27 commentary in the Tribune. She "asked Jefferson how the church could pay its bills," with so many members being newly-reformed addicts and prostitutes, and nearly all members being unemployed. "I don't know where it's coming from and that's the God's truth," Jefferson told her. "I mean, it's kind of like you count the money, you got one amount. Then you count it again, you got another amount. God keep on adding onto it... You'd be surprised how God can multiply, just like that."

If Jefferson is ever indicted, Jefferson will have to hope that the courts will be more sympathetic than the law enforcement have been. Sheriff Cal Henderson hoped that the arrests would tell would-be imitators that "Using religion to cover your illegal activity is not going to be tolerated."

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It Pays to Settle

Whoever said that "it pays to settle" was right, as the Church of Scientology can apparently attest. In its 1993 settlement with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the church had its tax bill slashed drastically from what could have been $1 billion to a mere $12.5 million. ($1 billion is enough to buy two B-1 bombers; but they don't exactly pop those out like McDonald's hamburgers.) In return, the church allowed the government "more... intrusion than perhaps any religious organization has ever allowed," according to the New York Times.

While it may look to some naive outsiders that the IRS has done another bang-up job of enforcing tax law (which was what ultimately got Al Capone in jail), some worry that this shows it can pay to harass a government agency. In 1967, the IRS decided that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and his family were enriching themselves from church funds. Subsequent court findings have also found that the church makes money from not only sales of books and cassettes, but also from "auditing," a confessional service that can cost patrons thousands of dollars an hour in so-called "voluntary" donations. The Journal reported that the church has $300 million in assets and collected $1.1 billion in revenues between 1988 and 1992.

But Scientology went on a wide-ranging campaign against the IRS, filing thousands of lawsuits against the agency and helping others file their own lawsuits. It funded at least two front groups to campaign for changes at the IRS, fed negative stories against the IRS to the press, and even targeted individual IRS agents in private investigations. The IRS' reversal of its 25-year stance proved to be a major publicity coup for the church, which has used it to argue its standing as a bona-fide religion. The Journal reported that the $12.5 million payment "was intended to cover the church's payroll, income and estate-tax bills for an undisclosed number of years prior to 1993." While Scientology officials would not comment on many of the specifics of the agreement to both the Times and the Journal, church attorney Monique Yingling told the Journal that the church "does comply with the tax laws." She maintained that the $12.5 million settlement was not a payment of a tax bill, but was "meant to resolve all outstanding disputes" between the church and the IRS. (If it's possible for a payment to the IRS not to be for a tax or tax-related "services," I'd really like to know about it.)

It's unknown to the public how much money the IRS originally sought, but the Times reported that David Miscavige, "the church's highest ecclesiastical leader," told a gathering of members that the tax bill could have been as high as $1 billion. It's not known how much the church spent in its campaign against the IRS, which itself has been accused by thousands of taxpayers of continued harassment, fostering outcomes such as ruined careers and even broken marriages. But prior to this "meeting of the minds," it's likely the church spent more than $12.5 million against the IRS, if the Cult Awareness Network's experience is any example. [Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.] The St. Petersburg Times quoted CAN attorney Daniel Leipold that his organization spent roughly $2 million defending itself against Scientology lawsuits prior to closing shop, and "for every nickel we spent, they spent at least a dollar."

Robert Fink, a New York tax attorney contacted by the I>Journal,I> said he was worried that the settlement might set a precedent. "What the IRS wanted was to buy peace from the Scientologists. You never see the IRS wanting to buy peace." While it's unlikely that other groups will want to extort that kind of continued pressure on the IRS, it's always possible that it will happen, as Scientology has proven.

Chen Tao revisited

According to the China News, the Taipei District Prosecutors Office obtained evidence that Chen Tao leader Chen Hing-Ming has urged followers to commit mass suicide. The group believes that a spaceship or "Godplane" will carry members to heaven on March 31, avoiding a holocaust that will kill off almost all of humanity. The China News has also reported that members have been required to pay upwards of US$60,000 to join, and $60,000 "for securing a 'lift' on the flying saucer." The group has repeatedly denied that they're planning a mass suicide, noting that (at least some) members have return plane tickets to Taiwan after March 31. But if they really believe that they're going to be taken on a spaceship, then the money they spent on the return faire, plus the money they've given to Chen, means practically nothing to them. Besides, by then Taiwan will be just another part of communist China as a result of this month's invasion, if Chen's prophecies pan out right.

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Creation has two sides: intelligence, which is the cause of everything, and the manifestations of intelligence, which are the physical and psychological features of the everyday world. Because Transcendental Meditation directly approaches intelligence, rather than the manifestations of intelligence, it solves problems by introducing harmony and well-being at the most basic level, and not by dealing with problems themselves. That's why it is so effective.

Consider this example: The gardener supplies water to the root of a tree. That water, that nourishment, then reaches all parts of the tree - leaves, branches, flowers, fruit - through the sap. We can think of the sap as analogous to intelligence and the green leaves or yellow flowers as analogous to the manifestations of the intelligence. The leaves and flowers are the intelligence of the sap, after it has been transformed. So intelligence - like the leaves and flowers of a tree - appears as the many different forms of manifest life. Those manifestations include every aspect of existence, from the material and physiological, through the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. All of those features of life come from transformations of intelligence. In meditation, we directly meet this essential intelligence. Therefore, we have the possibility of nourishing all of its other levels, and thus all levels of manifestation, in a way that is harmoniously related to the whole universe.

How is Transcendental Meditation different from the various other forms of meditation?

Maharishi: The basic difference is that Transcendental Meditation, in addition to its simplicity, concerns itself only with the mind. Other systems often involve some additional aspects with which the mind is associated, such as breathing or physical exercises. They can be a little complicated because they deal with so many things. But with Transcendental Meditation there is no possibility of any interference. So we say this is the all-simple program, enabling the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence.

Transcendental Meditation ranges from active mind - or performing mind - to quiet mind - or resting mind. In this resting mind, one has purity and simplicity, uninvolved with anything other than the mind, uninvolved with any other practice. In Transcendental Meditation, because we deal only with the mind, we nourish all expressions of intelligence.

The mind meditates, gains Transcendental Consciousness and brings about transformation in different fields of manifestation. All fields of life, which are the expression of intelligence, are nourished or transformed and made better through experiencing Transcendental Consciousness.

The mind, of course, is always concerned with other aspects, such as the physiology of the body, the environment, and the whole universe for that matter. But since Transcendental Meditation deals only with the performance of the mind, from its active states to its settled state, it remains unconcerned with those other aspects, though it deals with them all, because intelligence deals with them all. -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, unknown interview, copyright presumablyheld by Maharishi Vedic University, The Maharishi Foundation, or another group within the TM family.

Cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Categories of cults that are recruiting successfully today include:

Eastern meditation: characterized by belief in God-consciousness, becoming one with God. The leader usually distorts and Eastern-based philosophy or religion. Members sometimes learn to disregard worldly possessions and may take on an ascetic lifestyle. Techniques used: meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, trance states.

Religious: marked by belief in salvation, afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader reinterprets the Scriptures and often claims to be a prophet if not the messiah. Often the group is strict, sometimes using physical punishments such as paddling and birching, especially on children. Members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. (Note: included here are Bible-based neo-Christian and other religious cults, many considered syncretic since they combine beliefs and practices). Techniques used: speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, many hours spent evangelizing, "struggle" (or criticism) and confession sessions.

Political, racist, terrorist: fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the "enemy" or getting rid of evil forces. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Often the group is armed and meets in secret with coded language, handshakes, and other ritualized practices. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle. Techniques used: paramilitary training, reporting on one another, guilt, fear, struggle sessions, instilled paranoia, long hours of indoctrination. -- Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Lalich and Tobias, Hunter House, 1993.