Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cosmic Ordering

From The Scotsman 8 April 2006

Everything you always wanted to know about sects


NOEL Edmonds is finally getting what he wants. After years in the TV wilderness, following the undignified exit of Noel's House Party from BBC1, he's back with a vengeance. His new show, Deal Or No Deal, is a massive hit, he's been given a £3 million contract to move the format to Channel 4 and he's just been able to buy a £10 million dream house in Devon.

And, apparently, this run of success is all thanks to the cosmos.

Edmonds amazed viewers of Parkinson last Saturday night by revealing that he has become a devotee of Cosmic Ordering - a new faith based on a million-selling book by the female German author Barbel Mohr - and it's thanks to the messages he's been writing to the universe that all his wishes have been coming true.

"You'll think I'm away with the fairies," says TV's Mr Tidybeard.

That's certainly the conclusion I was rushing towards: he's mad. The alternative - that there's some sinister force at work in the universe that gives the man who brought us Mr Blobby exactly what he wants - is too horrible to contemplate.

Fortunately, it's easy to prove that Cosmic Ordering is a load of bunk. If every reader of this piece were to ask the cosmos politely for Edmonds to conduct the entire next series of Deal Or No Deal dressed in a Playboy bunny suit it still won't happen. Or if Scotland and England fans were to request that their team win the World Cup, one group is bound to be disappointed (and let's face it, they probably both are).

However, it's worth considering just how crazy Edmonds's theory really is. After all, the belief that mysterious and unaccountable forces will help any of us out if we just ask them nicely enough is one of the fundamentals of nearly all religions - and most people regard those as perfectly normal.

And is writing little notes about our hopes and dreams any worse than believing in homeopathy, for instance? Than thinking that traces of elements that have no known curative values will cure cancer? Or, for that matter, is it any less rational than deciding that wine can turn into blood, and if we mutter The Lord's Prayer every day we'll get to meet all our friends again in heaven and whoop it up together for eternity?

Indeed, in this secular age it almost makes more sense to opt for Cosmic Ordering instead of Christianity, which has been a busted flush ever since we discovered the world is round and wasn't created in seven days.

It's human nature to want to believe in something. It's far nicer than deciding we're just spinning round on a cold rock in the middle of space for no reason at all. And - let's face it - there are many far madder, badder and more dangerous faiths out there than Cosmic Ordering. There are all kinds of people I'd set the crazy-doctors on to before I turn them loose on Edmonds.

I'd advise strongly that they have a word with Tom Cruise about his belief in Scientology, the benefits of silent, sedative-free births and the misdeeds of an evil alien called Xenu.

I'd send them round to Madonna's to question her conviction that a piece of suspiciously expensive Kabballah string will improve her life. More urgently, I'd get them to cart off Ruth Kelly for claiming that her support for the Roman Catholic church's sub-sect Opus Dei isn't incompatible with her work as our Education Secretary...

In fact, that list could go on for pages and pages. Compared with most of the bizarre cults and New Age faiths out there at the moment, Noel's touching trust in the power of sending little letters to the cosmos seems positively benign and even rather sensible.

It's just a shame he didn't ask for better dress sense when he was writing them.


Famous associates: George Bush

Basic beliefs: An evangelical Christian determined to fulfil a Biblical prophecy and take the cross to every land on Earth, Arthur Blessit, born in 1941, has been touring the world since 1969, dragging a 10ft-long cross behind him.

Blessit once hosted an all-night Christian nightclub in the centre of Hollywood's Sunset Strip, where he urged hippies, bikers and hookers to "drop a little Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" instead of their customary downers and LSD. At the end of the 1960s, however, Jesus proposed a new trip. He told Arthur to take the cross to all countries on Earth. By 2000, the intrepid evangelist had walked through 301 nations. He made no exception for even the tiniest: even the Vatican City and the Orkney islands have played host to the indefatigable fundamentalist.

In total, Blessit claims to have walked 36,500 miles and is planning to launch a two-inch fragment from his cross into space. He has also printed more than 20 million stickers bearing the legend "Smile, God Loves You" and intends to launch these into space too. And, yes, Blessit is his original name.


Founded: 1993

Membership: 5,000 claimed worldwide

Basic beliefs: Breatharians believe it is possible to live on light alone, that unpolluted air contains all the nutrients necessary to sustain life, and not eating food will actually increase longevity.

This spiritual diet's best-known advocate is Ellen Greve, below right, who took up Breatharianism after she was "told" to change her life by her spiritual mentor, St Germain, a Frenchman last seen living in the sixth century. In 1999 she claimed she'd spent the last six years living on nothing more than herbal tea and the odd chocolate biscuit.

However, when the Australian TV programme 60 Minutes challenged her to practise what she preached in front of its cameras, she quickly became ill. Within 48 hours she was showing signs of serious dehydration. After four days she had lost a stone and the experiment was cancelled. Breatharianism received more bad publicity when another prominent advocate was filmed tucking into a chicken pie.

The Breatharian diet has also been blamed for several deaths, including that of Verity Linn, who was found dead in a remote part of Sutherland after fasting.


Founded: 1986

Membership: Dr Dollar's World Changers Church has a congregation of around 24,000.

Basic beliefs: A nondenominational Christian church teaching total life prosperity: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and (especially) financial wellbeing.

Few preachers have had a more appropriate surname than Dr Creflo Dollar. He claims to be in touch with "the Biblical formula" on how to increase earnings. It's simple: if you give him a seed he will sow that seed and you will receive the bountiful harvest. Sceptical? Look no further than Dr Dollar; he's living proof that it works - for him.

He lives in a million-dollar home and drives a Rolls-Royce. "When I'm pursuing the Lord," he says, "those Rolls-Royces are pursuing me."


Founded: 1962

Membership: 14,000 visitors a year, home to several hundred

Famous associates: Ruby Wax, comedian Phil Kay, Waterboys singer Mike Scott

Basic beliefs: Members are part of a living laboratory where sacred works and spiritual beliefs are tested every day.

The Foundation won't adhere to any one religion. It also has a quantifiably beneficial effect on the local economy and ecology of its home on the Moray coast, bringing in millions of pounds a year and pioneering alternative energy usage. It feels a bit harsh to include them here.

Then again, Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean set the whole thing up because Eileen was instructed to do so by her "inner voice", and because Dorothy discovered a rare ability to hold conversations with vegetables - particularly cabbages.

Caddy and her husband settled in the sand dunes near Forres and established a settlement. It has expanded into a huge ecological housing complex and conference centre, as well as a nondenominational "spiritual community". It has a thriving mini-economy based on a printing press, education and organic box-delivery.

Although relatively benign, the Findhorn people are rather unusual, as you can tell by looking at the books on sale in their shop: Baby Om, Gay Spirit Warrior and Raising Psychic Children.

Prominent members have hugged trees and describe it as a "sexual" experience.


Founded: c.1980, now defunct

Famous associates: Carole Caplin, right, Mike "Tubular Bells" Oldfield

Basic beliefs: Money - good. Leaving therapy sessions before they're over - bad.

Exegesis ceased to exist in the mid-1980s after David Mellor, the Conservative Home Office minister at the time, described it in Parliament as "puerile, dangerous and profoundly wrong".

However, its influence was felt almost 20 years later when one of its most prominent former members, Carole Caplin, became embroiled in a scandal with Cherie Blair.

Exegesis specialised in alternative therapy, designed to "rebirth" participants by encouraging them to face up to their innermost fears and desires, tell the truth at all times and also tell fellow members what they hated about them. Organisers called it "raising the confront". The group dissolved amid the customary murky rumours of brainwashing and group sex, after which Caplin set up her own company and established herself as a "lifestyle guru".

In the 1990s she introduced Cherie Blair to the healing power of crystals, as a potential aid to swollen ankles among other things.


Founded: 2003

Basic beliefs: Reality is multi-layered and The One will come and bring world peace some time before 2199 - as predicted in the films. Yes, this is a religion based on a blockbuster film. Matrixism started as a spoof on the internet, but now claims to have 500 genuine followers.

They have four basic principles: belief in the prophecy of The One (that's Keanu Reeves in the film); acceptance of the use of psychedelics as sacrament (they favour mescaline); acceptance of the semi-subjective multi-layered nature of reality; and adherence to the principles of one or more of the world's religions until such time as The One returns.

Becoming a Matrixist is easy: just go to and click on a link entitled "join".

This article:

Saturday, April 01, 2006


An extract from The Joy Of Sects

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Sannyasins AKA Osho

Founded: 1971
Country of origin: India
Gods and guiding voices: The Hindu pantheon, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Basic beliefs: Bliss is a birthright. God is the universal consciousness and the enlightened Bhagwan himself is the beginning of a totally new religious consciousness. Man determines what conduct is permissible. Basically an amalgam of Western psychotherapeutic practices and Eastern religion.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a simple commandment for his followers, the Sannyasins: ‘Enjoy!’ Unlike other more ascetic gurus to have emerged from India in the 1960s and 1970s, he demanded little from his followers in the way of renunciation – and lots in the way of carnal pleasure. ‘Wait not for Godot!’ he preached. ‘The more you risk, the more you grow.’ His was an intoxicating promise: enlightenment, bliss and lots and lots of sex.

The ashram he established in Poona in India in 1974 quickly became a New Age Mecca. It attracted thousands of young Western disciples sold on the charismatic teacher’s mercurial wit and unique brand of Eastern mysticism. Marked out by their happy expressions and orange clothes (dyed at the Bhagwan’s instigation, to reflect the colour of the sun) they quickly spread their guru’s teachings and popularised his unique forms of taboo-breaking therapies. In these sessions, known as dynamic meditation, pupils were encouraged to destroy their religious and social conditioning to find out who they really were. They wore blindfolds – or nothing at all – and explored their deepest selves by screaming, fighting and, inevitably, shagging. Broken limbs were common, as were broken relationships. The latter came thanks to the teachers’ propensity to encourage their students to watch their partners having sex with another person – so they could confront the emotions that this betrayal provoked.

In spite of, or maybe even because of, these extreme practices, the ‘Rajneeshees’ continued to expand in number. Soon they spread out across Europe, establishing themselves in stately homes like the one they named ‘Medina Rajneesh’ in Suffolk, where 400 of the Bhagwan’s followers established themselves in the early 1980s – seemingly in utopian contentment.

Sadly, there were a few signs that all was not well in paradise. One of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s more chilling suggestions was that prominent female followers should become sterilised so that they could better practise his teachings. Ugly rumours of child abuse and the destruction of family life slowly began to surface. The guru’s ever increasing wealth also began to attract the unwanted attention of the Indian tax authorities.

To escape from a whopping bill, Rajneesh packed up his 150,000-volume library and, claiming medical problems, entered the United States (along with twelve tons of luggage). It was there that things really fell apart. Shortly after he’d settled his followers in a 60,000-acre $6million ranch on semi-desert scrubland near the small town of Antelope in Oregon, Bhagwan Rajneesh took a vow of silence (or as, he put it, he determined on a course of ‘speaking through silence’.) The day-to-day running of the huge community fell to his follower, Ma Anand Sheela.

Sheela took to wearing robes and calling herself ‘queen’. Fences, complete with guard towers, went up around the compound and disciples armed with Uzis patrolled the Bhagwan’s residence. Many of the commune’s 15,000 members were forced to do twelve hours work a day for no pay. While they succeeded in clearing and planting 3,000 acres of land, building a 350-million-gallon reservoir, a 10-megawatt power substation and a functioning dairy farm, only Sheela and her coterie seemed to live in any comfort. The others had to endure unbearable hardships.

The most bizarre incidents occurred outside the ranch in the local town of Antelope. The huge numbers of Rajneeshees enabled them to force the results of the 1984 local elections and take over Antelope’s local council. They decided to rename the hitherto upright Oregon backwater Rajneeshpuram. When attempts were also made to rig local county elections by shipping thousands of homeless people onto the ranch, resistance to the Sannyasins grew stronger. Sheela responded by having her followers dump salmonella into the salad bars of several local restaurants. Antelope therefore gained the dubious distinction of being the site of the first successful bio-terrorism attack in US history.

Eventually, Bhagwan Rajneesh emerged from his silence and attempted to distance himself from his disciples. He said that Sheela had been running the place like a ‘fascist concentration camp’ and went on the talk show Good Morning America to emphasise that those with him were ‘fellow travellers’ rather than followers. He also called on the FBI to conduct an independent investigation into the ranch. The FBI quickly found an extensive eavesdropping system that was wired throughout the commune residences, public buildings and offices. They also uncovered a secret laboratory where experiments had been run on the manufacture of HIV as well as salmonella.

Sheela confessed to having a rather ‘bad habit’ of poisoning people and was sent to jail. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh himself was charged with criminal conspiracy, 34 counts of making false statements to federal officials and two counts of immigration fraud. He paid a $400,000 fine and was given a ten-year sentence – suspended on the understanding that he would leave the United States. He returned to India in disgrace and died not long afterwards.

Many of the communes across Europe dispersed in disillusionment and surrounded by their own scandals. In spite of everything, however, many remain faithful to the Bhagwan’s teachings. His spiritual descendents (now calling themselves Osho) have maintained his ashram in India as a major tourist attraction and spiritual retreat. In England, meanwhile, they have a thriving community in a large house in Dorset, Osho Leela. There, they run ‘Singles Weekends’ offering parties, meditations, ‘bundles of fun and … who knows!’


The Bhagwan

Mohan Chandra Rajneesh was born in 1931. After working as a philosophy teacher for several years he accepted what he saw as God’s plan for his life – spiritually transforming humanity. In 1971 he assumed the modest title of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, meaning ‘The Blessed One Who Has Recognised Himself As God’. He established his first ashram shortly afterwards.

During his life the Bhagwan wrote more than 60 books and recorded upwards of 500 tapes. In addition to embracing the spirit of God, he also embraced the spirit of the 1980s, accumulating millions of pounds and no fewer than 93 Rolls-Royce cars. He said that he’d lived in poverty and lived in richness. ‘Believe me,’ he continued, ‘richness is far better than poverty.’ He claimed to be a man of very simple interests. He was ‘utterly satisfied’ with ‘the best of everything’.

Towards the end of his life, addicted to nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and haunted by the accusations of sex abuse, tax evasion and poisonings, the Bhagwan retreated back to his original ashram in Poona. In 1985 he declared that his religion was dead – and that it had, in fact, been invented by his followers. He said he was glad not to have to pretend to be enlightened anymore. Then, in December 1988, he told his followers that his body had become host to none other than Guatama Buddha. However, when the Buddha disapproved of his use of the Jacuzzi, Bhagwan banished him from his body and said that he was now Zorba the Buddha instead.

He died in 1990, instructing his doctor to dress him in his favourite socks and hat beforehand. When his disciples asked what they should do with him after he passed on he replied, ‘Stick me under the bed and forget about me.’

Words of Wisdom

‘The second problem I had (with my health) was my back … I cannot sit on [an ordinary] chair. It may be comfortable, but my back will not fit with it. Similarly I can use only one car. I have used all cars, and the best in the world; but the seat of just one car, one of the models of Rolls-Royce, the Silver Spur, fits with me perfectly. It is not their costliest car; their costliest is the Corniche, then the Carmargue. The third is the Silver Spur. So I tried a Corniche – it didn't work, my back trouble started. But with the Silver Spur it has settled completely.’

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh


Religious Ecstasy

Ecstasy was first brought to Europe by the disciples of the Bhagwan. He had adopted the drug as his new spiritual elixir, and his army of orange people evangelically distributed it around the world. Some even set up laboratories to manufacture their own supply.

To buy The Joy Of Sects, click here