May 1, 2014

Spying in Guruland: Inside Britain’s Cults

  In Chapter 2 Shaw takes us into Emin, an obscure cult that has perhaps 2,000 or more members spread around Britain, North American, Europe, Australia, and Israel. Shaw discovers Emin at a New Age conference, The Festival of Mind, Body, and Spirit. The Emin booth advertised the "Eminent Theatre Journey," and sold a book called The Second Chance at Life. The booth also displayed brochures and an idiosyncratic Tarot deck used by the group. When Shaw inquired about the meaning of "Eminent Theatre Journey" and other esoteric terms in the Emin brochure, a young Emin member gave a response typical of any member of a New Age group: "You have to do it to understand it." So Shaw arranged to attend a meeting.

The Emin Centre turned out to be a rented hall in a gloomy old Welsh Chapel school. The group sets up its props and posters, breaking them down after each meeting. One of the props is a large painting of a woman with angel wings and one exposed breast. Meetings are progressive after the first one in which recruits are taught to experience the human aura and color energy. Shaw paid 45 pounds for a 10-lesson course called "The Search for Truth." Twice a week he attended meetings that went from 7:45 p.m. until midnight. He learned about forces from unseen worlds and how to connect with and understand them. Shaw learned to sense the extent of his aura by chanting "nerve, nerve, nerve," with his hands extended. He noticed that the teachers were heavy cigarette smokers. Members were told not to discuss the course with outsiders, yet after three weeks they still did not know of the existence of Emin or its leader, Leo. A guard always stood outside the meetings to discourage intruders. The information put forth at these meetings got stranger. Shaw learned about "natural laws" that govern the planet, a mystical system of numbers and colors, the Law of Two or opposites, and something called Electrobics. To learn Electrobics, members must wear loose clothing and soft shoes, and perform T’ai Chi–like exercises used by Emin members to cleanse their aura and bodies of destructive electric forces. Some members claim that they can see these forces. When they do, the infected persons are instructed to gather the electric forces with their hands and flick them away.

In the fourth week the teacher told them about Leo, the great mystic who has powers that none of them even comes close to. Leo’s picture appeared on the wall at the next meeting. He is a tall, bald Briton with a goatee who now lives in Florida. Leo was born around 1925 as Raymond John Schertenleib, but often gives his name as Raymond Armin. After 1945 Leo was sent to India by the Royal Air Force as part of his national service. While there, he developed a fascination with Oriental cosmology. Later he became an encyclopedia salesman, and went bankrupt in 1965. In the late 1960s Leo developed a small following in England. By 1972 he founded Emin and began his immense outpouring of mystical texts. He claimed to have mystical powers—even though he smoked heavily, for example, he stated that it was no longer harmful to him.

Emin attracted some critical attention from the press in 1977 and 1983. As a result the group became more secretive. Each member has a cult name and may not know other members’ real names. Members claim that there is no group, no cult. Yet, Shaw experienced Emin as multilayered and purposeful. The purpose is for members to gain psychic awareness and power through such techniques as chanting, clapping, and ritual marching. Emin subgroups might be called Gemrod Petition or Gemrod Endeavor. They believe they are fighting an invisible enemy of dark forces. Every event and symbol they encounter is a mystical text to be interpreted. They believe that their psychic techniques can cure cancer. They worry about impending doom. They await every missive from Leo, whom they rarely see. They consider themselves the vanguard of the New Age human.

At times Shaw was afraid that his lack of belief would betray him as the spy he was. "Instead, I am discovering that in many ways it is easy to exist inside a cult. You are welcomed with open arms when you show the slightest interest. Cult members’ beliefs are absolute and real. They can’t understand why everyone isn’t doing it."

Eventually Shaw quit the Emin group. Two months later he checked in with some Emin members at the Healing Arts Festival, a psychic fair. He avoided many Emin phone invitations for him to attend another meeting. He discovered that most, if not all, of the people who joined with him had dropped out. This is consistent with what Shaw has noted about most cults and recruits: the dropout rate is high.