It was a pleasant afternoon at the Royal Teton Ranch. My mom, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, and I were walking outside of her house at the Ranch Headquarters in Corwin Springs, Montana. It was on one of several trips I made to the Paradise Valley in 1997 and 1998. Having left the CUT community at the end of 1993, I went back on a number of occasions to visit family and friends, and for two weddings (one of my sister Erin to John Devine, and the other of my stepfather Edward Francis to his beloved Eileen).
I had made a special trip down to the Ranch to see my mom. I was worried about her. Her mental capacity had been diminishing for some time–she was starting to exhibit the classic loss of inhibitions characteristic of Alzheimer’s patients. Following her divorce from Edward, her fourth husband, she had begun to carry on a series of highly indiscreet emotional and physical affairs with male followers and hangers-on. She had also been actively performing “karmic readings” in which many church members were publicly humiliated. She carried on brazenly at the end, her sense of spiritual infallibility persisting far past her decline of inhibitions.
Soon after, during this period, she also entered psychotherapy in Bozeman. She had confided in my sisters and I that she was beginning to feel remorse for some of her actions during her 33-year tenure as messenger and head of the Church Universal and Triumphant. It was a very interesting period in her life. She had a unique window of opportunity. Her brain decay was uneven, and apparently the megalomaniacal portions fell away before her normal cognitive functions did. This explains her remorse and her attempts to make amends.
She wrote scores of handwritten letters. She sent them to staff or church members who she felt she had wronged in some way. Her apologies were varied and wide-ranging. They ran the gamut from regret for simple misstatements and insensitivities, to apologies for having led people seriously astray in their lives. In short, mom’s therapy and writing of letters was as close as she ever came to an actual repudiation of her messenger-ship. But the implication was clear: She saw how her claims on divine wisdom combined with the spiritual neediness of her followers to wreak havoc in her community.
But the real shocker was yet to come: That day, on a casual stroll through the characteristically stark Montana landscape, she gave me the explanation and a measure of resolution I had sought my entire life. This all took place in a 5-10 minute conversation.
Here is what she said to me. (She also made these statements at other times to two of my three sisters.) This is as close to verbatim as I can remember:
“Sean, I have something important to tell you. I want you to know that I realize I have abused power in my ministry in this church. I have hurt many people. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection and spiritual work, and I understand now why this happened.
When I was embodied on Atlantis as a high priestess, I had a similar position of leadership. I made the same mistakes 10,000 years ago. I manipulated my followers sexually and politically for my personal gain. In this life, it was my mission to come back, to right the wrongs I’d committed in my earlier life.
I was given the opportunity by El Morya and the Lords of Karma to come into a spiritual community and lead it properly. But I fell into the same traps–I did the same thing in this life. I failed in my mission. I realize now that it’s too late for me to do anything about it. I’m losing my mental capacity, and I’m doing the best I can in therapy, and writing letters. But there’s too many people, and not enough time for me to make amends to everyone.
Sean, I want you to tell people what I said. Tell as many people as you can. Help me to pay the karmic debt I’ve incurred through my abuse of power.”
I was stunned. This was the biggest bombshell I’d ever heard in my life. I had never once heard my mom even admit it was possible for her to be wrong. I had never imagined that she could so easily relinquish her claim on infallibility. The questions came fast and furious in my mind. How did this jive with her claim to have been a Bodhisattva who had balanced 100% of her karma? How could she have been so led astray by her own unlived life, her own shadow? How could the entire ministry of one of the ‘two witnesses’ (who she claimed to be) be tainted by wrongdoing?
In that moment, I felt her tremendous vulnerability. I felt a great deal of love and compassion for her. I told her I would do as she asked. In the years that followed, that conversation came to represent a major milestone in the relinquishing of my own faith. It became an object lesson for me. I had witnessed her failed prophecies and bad management during my time at the church. Now I had an admission from her own lips.
Through most of the 36 years I knew my mom, she was dedicated first and foremost to the ‘masters’ and her organization. She was often aloof and distant with her family. So my feelings toward her were complex. As I grew up in the church, and especially when I went to work for her, I had a constant fear that she did not have my best interests at heart. Rather than the encouragement I would have expected from a parent–to pursue my dreams and make the most of my life–I experienced her relentless imposition of a value system that placed the work of the church above all else. When I left the organization in 1993, it was as much for this reason as any other. In the end, I realized I could not trust her. She had a conflict of interest. She had to make a choice whether to be loyal to her family or her flock. She unequivocally chose her flock.
But my love for her continues even today on a certain level, especially since I know she struggled at the end. I wish she had kept enough mental capacity to continue her psychotherapy, because I would have enjoyed getting to know her as a true human being, (instead of how I actually knew her–as a demigod with no humility.) She also would have enjoyed watching her grandchildren grow up.
It is with a mixture of profound sadness and a strong sense of purpose that I publish her remarks. She would have wanted it this way. In fact, I think that having seen the disastrous results of her organizational power trip, in retrospect, I think she would have chosen to undo it all.
Unfortunately, it is too late for that. Church Universal and Triumphant is a cult that has now survived past its founding generation. Though the organization faltered for a few years, it now seems to have stabilized and shows no signs of disintegrating. As long as there are people who need the particular brand of Ascended Masters teachings my parents offered, their successors will continue to propagate their messianic zeal.
I find it interesting to contemplate what might happen if my parents came back to life and paid a hypothetical visit to the church they founded. I’d like to imagine them walking into the so-called ‘King Arthur’s Court’ at Ranch Headquarters together, getting up on the altar, and sharing with the congregation what my mom shared with me that day. I’m certain that they would be denounced as impostors.
My parents were successful partly because they told people what they wanted to hear–more so because they believed it themselves. But in the end, they were prisoners of what they had taught. The beliefs they propagated took on a life of their own. There were people on staff who knew my mom’s writings better than she did. She spoke and dictated in a stream of consciousness style. There would have been no way for her to have kept consistent about every aspect of the teachings over 30-plus years. It wasn’t humanly possible.
I can remember several occasions when mom received letters about contradictions in her messages. She often would then make a pragmatic choice as to which interpretation was correct, and then reiterate it from the altar–so as to clear up any ambiguities. This was nothing if not political posturing. Since people in the community had their own expectations and traditions, she was not free to re-evaluate what she had taught.
It’s a familiar story–how a series of ad hoc spiritual observations, opinions, and teachings becomes scripture. It has happened many times before in religious history, and will no doubt occur again. Some humans have an innate need to follow leaders. Often the leader they think they are following is simply a subjective caricature they have created.
My parents planted the seed of this tree that has taken root in the minds of their followers, and is now larger than all of us. Nothing can stop the onward march of the beliefs and delusions of CUT or any church except the wholesale reclaiming by members of reason and critical thought. Nothing that is, except the reclaiming of their own self-esteem. Given the human propensity to clutch at easy answers and simplistic explanations, I know that to expect this en masse is well-nigh impossible. But it remains an important pursuit for me to encourage everyone I contact to persevere on that difficult quest for objective truth.
Based on my mothers request, which I recounted above, I have taken on that role of denouncing faith and promoting reason. I do this passionately. Faith was the enabling factor that allowed her and my dad to waste their lives, treat people (including their own families) badly, and engage in the abuse of power she later regretted.
Faith cost my parents their relationships with their children, their health, and ultimately their self-knowledge. Faith subjected them both to delusions of grandeur–to imagining that they were the “two witnesses” from the book of Revelation, Boddhisattvas, and more. In my mom’s case, her uncritical acceptance of reincarnation even provided her with an ‘out’: She was no ordinary human tyrant, but was simply fulfilling a well-worn path she forged during her ‘high-priestess embodiment on Atlantis’.
Even in her final moments of lucidity, she still lacked a real grasp on who she was as a flesh-and-blood person. For most of her life, she was out of touch with her underlying motivations. She had forgotten about the little girl “Betty Clare,” now the grown daughter of Hans and Frida Wulf. She had even gone so far as to have denounced her own father (in 1985) as the reincarnation of the devil “Peshualga.”
Faith removed my parents from a connection to the physical world, and destroyed their humanity. It allowed them to trivialize and mock other people’s pain as insignificant against the backdrop of the epic cosmic battles they imagined they were fighting. Their faith caused them to denounce people in their organization who made genuine mistakes as “tools of the sinister force.” It blocked their capacity for introspection and self-correction for most of their lives.
Faith also caused my parents to externalize their problems. They believed they were constantly under attack. That anyone who disagreed with them or stood up to them was aligned with ‘dark forces.’ Even their human foibles could be chalked up to these forces. Restless? Can’t sleep? Having difficulty living with glaring internal conflicts? It’s ‘energy’ from the ‘sinister force.’ Get the ‘tag’ in here to decree (pray) all night.
Both my father and mother also put their personal dreams on hold for their organization. Both suffered stress, humiliation in the press, and loss of any friends they might have had. Both became largely political animals, to maintain the power base offered to them by their followers. In addition to causing tremendous suffering in the lives of others–they were ultimately consumed by their endeavor.
So happy 67th birthday, mom, I wish you were here to share it with me and my boys. I wish dad and you had never started the church, and we’d had a chance to grow up as a normal family. I wish you’d had a chance to be a normal woman, to get to know yourself better, and to be happy. I wish you’d promoted the same spontaneity and individualism to others that you claimed for yourself
Most of all, I wish I could continue our conversation we had that day at the Ranch. I thank you profoundly for those few moments of lucidity–it’s more than a lot of adult children get from their dysfunctional parents before they die.
Mom, on your 67th birthday, I want to tell you: You didn’t fail me. You taught me a lot. The most important thing you ever taught me was the object lesson of what happened in your community. Learning this was worth all the anguish and all the lost years. Thanks especially for caring enough about me to open up and make such a towering admission of your mistakes and your regret. It must have been really difficult for you. Mom, I can’t help you pay your karmic debt, because I don’t think there is any such thing. There are only circumstances, and choices. I’m glad you chose to own up to the choices you made. It just makes you human, and I love you for it.