Gwen Davies

Cults and Sects – their social role in the 70s

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[Emily] chews on the pen. Gurujan saved her after the girl did herself in right in front of her. He knew what she needed. It feels good to do yoga and it has made her body strong. Yogiji is a wonderful guru, even when you don’t speak with him personally. But is that all she is meant to do – yoga and teaching and making dinner? Does Gilbert have a double bed?

In “Marrying Gilbert” (Facing the Other Way) Emily struggles with being a good enough person. Because the rule books were being tossed out, the natural anxieties of moving into adulthood were perhaps heightened in the 70s – especially in a society that didn’t offer any clear rituals and markers at the best of times. Waiting to give answers there were cults and sects – Moonies, 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy), EST. In real life, I worked with Werner Erhard’s former partner, who was a gifted gestalt leader and helped develop the basis for EST and received none of the credit.

It seems to me that we were younger in many ways than people moving into adulthood before us, prolonging the time when we didn’t take on the responsibility of job and family. Many of us in the world of these stories were able to hitch around Europe, stay at university because we could get student loans, and take time to make art and make love and grow some vegetables and some marijuana, and sell crafts or food to make enough money to scrape by.

If you didn’t go to church, and you rejected pretty much anything your parents believed in – or told you they believed in – what parameters did you use to figure out whether you were a good person? As Emily asks herself, Does being spiritual mean getting over being who you are naturally and just more or less meditating and staying home? It was the time of Be Here Now, and Rid Yourself of Ego.

It was fairly common to have a traumatic experience, something disorienting like having a bad trip, being in an accident. My informal research suggests that most females my age had at least one frightening experience of having sex forced on them. Having some charismatic person telling you how to reach enlightenment might sound like a good idea, particularly if they reach out with empathy. When Emily staggers into a restaurant after seeing a girl jump to her death, someone comes over to her. “Emily?” he asks and when she looks up, a guy with a beard in a white tunic and turban pulls a chair up beside her. “I saw you outside,” he says. The scene ends when he says, “Follow me.” His eyes are grey-blue. “You were witness to a moment when the universe opened.” He searches her eyes. “I will take you through a series of postures. The yoga will restore your balance on the metaphysical plane.

Some took advantage (along with your money), and some created a good alternative. Some of those culty groups are still around. Leaders like Charles Manson did great damage while others, like Stephen Gaskin at the Farm in Tennessee were more inclined to pull people together and work with them to develop a real community.

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One Comment so far:

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Is that you in the photo???
    Great stuff. Joining a cult was the big scary thing that happened to someone’s sister, or son.

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