Cults & Communities part 1

Cults & Communities part 1


On Saturday, my husband Dan & I had a rare evening to ourselves, with young Finnegan at Nana’s for the night.

Should we see a movie?  We could go listen to some live music!  There’s new restaurants we could check out… 

We were undecided and wishing we had more energy for a night on the town.

Suddenly, I received a timely text message from a friend:  “Have you watched Wild Wild Country yet? If not, watch ASAP without hesitation. MUST DISCUSS! It’s a new docuseries on Netflix.”

I turned to Dan. “Netflix & Chill?" (A term that implies no innuendo in our home these days - we are tired parents of an almost threenager!) "There’s a documentary…” Sold. That’s all I had to say, and he went to work building a fire and making popcorn. We got into our jammies and settled in to watch Wild Wild Country, without knowing what it was or what to expect.

Wild Wild Country unfolds the fascinating story of Spiritual Teacher/ Guru Osho and the move of his Ashram from Pune, India to Oregon in the early eighties. The community of his students/followers created their own city called Rajneeshpuram and built hundreds of small houses, roads, meditation centers, cafes, stores & shops, everything a small city needs on what was previously a vast piece of land with nothing on it - just incredible Wild country - majestic mountains, trees, water. 

Rajneeshpuram started as a happy, yet bizarre community of spiritual seekers bringing Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho)’s vision to manifestation.  

The nearest city was Antelope, Oregon.  The residents of Antelope were pretty freaked out at the arrival of the Rajneeshees, whom they viewed as a cult with practices they did not agree with.

Directors obtained hundreds of hours of video footage that the Rajneeshees filmed, believing that the experiment they were in could potentially be a blueprint for the world to follow in order to raise the consciousness of the planet.

I won’t give away more spoilers here, but this story includes political strife, government involvement, a Guru amassing wealth beyond imagination, his cunning young secretary Ma Anand Sheela and her key role in the move to America and essentially running the commune and the eventual falling out with her Guru. We get to meet people who genuinely revered and loved Osho and have believed in him and his message all along.

They have interviews with followers from the inner circle, reflecting on that time and how they remember it. Their perceptions, memories, regrets, opinions.

Watching this crazy story unfold sparked a great discussion about my particular fascination with the allure of cults.

 I’ve been a spiritual seeker for as long as I can remember, though my curiosity and fascination turned into more of a need for answers, a questioning of my faith, after my father  committed suicide in 1995. I was 19 years old. I feared for his eternal soul because of what I’d learned in church, which was that suicide is a mortal sin that send one straight to hell & fiery damnation. I was seriously obsessed with this. Father Malone, a kind priest and friend of our family, tried to assuage my fears and assured me that that was an old, outdated teaching that came before the understanding of mental illness and addiction. However, those beliefs were indoctrinated in my belief system, so it took some time and a conscious re-creation of a relationship with a God I could believe in before I could break the chains of that belief.

In 1997, another cult made the news in a major way. Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious millenarium cult based in San Diego, California. The group was founded in 1974 by Marshall Applewhite, otherwise known as Do, and Bonnie Nettles, known as Ti. The group believed that there was an extraterrestrial spacecraft that would be accessible to them when the Comet Hale-Bopp came through the cosmos.

On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members, all committed mass suicide by ingesting a lethal blend of poison. The 39 were dressed in identical black shirts and pants, and they all wore brand-new black and white Nike Decades athletic shoes. 

I remember it well, because all I could think about was the families and friends of those who committed suicide. One thing that was different than most suicides, though, was the fact that these people left notes and videos behind, explaining their firm belief that they were moving on to their next home on another planet, and they weren’t miserable. They were happy. Does that make the loss of them any easier on those who loved them? 

For more information on this cult & the story, I recommend the podcast called Heaven’s Gate. 

In 1995, after the death of my father, I quit school and swam in grief and mourning and lost any semblance of direction in my life. I spent the following summer in Boulder, Colorado with my uncle and his friends. I met a young woman named Jenny who was studying Homeopathy. She was growing her own herbs and making her own skincare products. She taught me a few things, and planted a seed that took root and began to grow inside me and led me to a new path.

In the fall of 1996, I began my studies in the Esthiology program at the Aveda Institute.


Aveda was founded by Horst Rechelbacher in1978. In 1986 he purchased the 5-story Masonic temple on the corner of Central Ave. & 4th Street in Minneapolis, and expanded his vision and his training into a fully accredited cosmetology school that included the Esthiology program (skincare specialization) and Massage Therapy.

Aveda is NOT a cult. It is a legitimate business with school, salons, spas & products.

However, it has always had a cult-like following, and to some people on the outside looking in, it had some similarities and has often been whispered about as if it is indeed a cult.        "A cult that moved into the space of another cult..." 

Horst was passionate about Ayurvedic philosophies and principles and infused it’s teachings into the programs at his school.  He was an icon in the industry, A pioneer in holistic beauty & wellness in several significant ways. 

He was the first to bring the concept of natural, botanical-based products to the market in a major way. 

He was adamant about cruelty-free formulations and environmentally conscious packaging. 

He was the first to sign on to the Valdez/Ceres principles, which are a 10-point code of corporate environmental ideals to be publicly endorsed by companies as an environmental mission statement or ethic.

For this area, at that time, his ideas were pretty radical. At least, it was my first exposure and I didn’t know anyone outside of the Aveda circle talking about or living these ideas. 2 decades later, with the invention of the internet, the sharing of information, and the awareness of the importance of a focus on wellness, there are millions of ways to access information. In 1996, Aveda stood alone in the Twin Cities. 

I've circled back to Aveda over the years. In 1999-2001, I went back to teach the Esthiology program. Since then, I’ve gone back as a substitute teacher, a guest speaker in classes and Keynote speaker at graduation ceremonies. 

I fell in love with Aveda in large part because of the radical to this area, new-to-me ideas about healing and wellness I was learning. The other students in my class were my tribe. We really were eating, sleeping, breathing and drinking Aveda at that time, and we were fiercely loyal new recruits to the network.  We were each others' first colleagues, and some of us are still in each others' inner circles to this day.

Aveda is NOT a cult. It is a legitimate business & school. However, I’ve been happily drinking their Kool-Aid for 22 years, if just small sips at a time, these days ;)

This is part one. I have more to add on the topic and more to share on the cult-like communities I've joined at different phases, so I'll be writing more when I have the chance...Thank you for reading!

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