I have recently read Alex Reichardt’s flamboyantly fictional account of his years with Mark Prophet All For the Love of God, and his interpretation of the events at the origins of the Summit Lighthouse. I will have much to say later about the true implications of Reichardt’s Paul-Bunyanesque spiritual tall tale, having compiled a dozen pages of detailed notes.
In the meantime, until I can get that book review completed, I’m posting another document in several parts. It’s something I think all CUT members and ex-members should read and digest. It was written in March 1999 by Peter J. Arnone, one of the original staff members during those same founding years. Arnone worked right alongside Reichardt, and has since left the church and become one of its biggest critics.
Because of my atheism, Arnone’s hostility originally directed at TSL and CUT now extends to me personally. Recently, on the Amazon site, as part of his review of Prophet’s Daughter, he has publicly spoken of me as being “damaged.” As evidence of that damage, he claims I’ve turned out just like my parents: “A guru in his own right, he has become the high priest of his own church of atheism, Black Sun.”
Arnone’s charge is profoundly ridiculous. There is no church. I run an opt-in site for rational inquiry which people are free to visit or not. I volunteer my time, there are no membership requirements, nor has anyone ever been asked for money. Atheism, agnosticism and deism are philosophical not religious positions. All three reflect a logical response to the total lack of evidence for gods or masters. As an atheist and a former minister, I point out the shortcomings of belief and cite the damage it causes. I forcefully argue for objectivity, philosophical precision, and the efficacy of the scientific method. I have no desire to be a “guru,” or lead anyone. I encourage independence of thought in all areas.
To underscore the fact that I don’t shy away from difficult information, nor take things personally, I’ve decided to finally post Arnone’s full story about my parents here on BSJ (it used to be posted elsewhere on the web). In the interest of posterity and truth, his important document deserves–in fact needs–to be read. That Arnone may have failed to take the final step away from irrational faith does not in any way diminish the importance of this work.
One disclaimer: Arnone uses insults and epithets toward my father that make me cringe. He often doesn’t separate his opinions from fact. I agree with his basic message and conclusions. Though I was just a young boy, I can vouch for the truth of at least some of the events he describes. Still, I wish he would have realized that the story itself is bad enough, and did not need any embellishment. Bitter personal attacks like calling my dad a “chowder head” an “ass” or a “born loser” added nothing to the account. Still, given the gravity of the situation and the severity of the manipulations my parents employed, I can see why Arnone was angry. And angry or not, he is mostly right about my parents abuses and outlandish claims. I have to respect that he took the time to commit his thoughts to paper, and braved a great deal of animosity from church members for doing so.
Please keep the following in mind as you read this story: Whatever Arnone’s concept of God may have been, it was his desire to follow God’s representatives which made him a sitting duck for my parents schemes. Arnone must acknowledge that it was my parents’ awareness of this near-universal desire for divine contact and guidance which provided the opening into his world. When they claimed to be the “two witnesses,” people ate out of their hands. It was like they were handing candy to babies. All the manipulations in the world would have fallen on deaf ears if not for their successful pretense of divine revelation.
Until Arnone accepts this fact, he has not learned the most valuable lesson about CUT. Nor has he become objective. He can still be swayed with the wind, and is therefore still vulnerable to the “true religions” of other “God pushers.” The story of self-abdication could repeat itself for him the next time a particularly imaginative preacher tickles his fancy.
Mark L. Prophet – The Man and the Myth – Part 1 – by Peter Arnone
This narrative is a portrait of a cult founder and leader. Church Universal and Triumphant has been a destructive cult since its inception. Founded by Mark L. Prophet in 1958 by its original name the Summit Lighthouse, this pseudo-church has been responsible for bringing turmoil, confusion, and sorrow into the lives of countless devoted members for over forty years. It has undermined marriages, broken families, and so disaffected young people, it has turned them away from God. The questions must be answered why Mark Prophet pursued his self-serving dictatorial role, and how he was able to establish his dictatorship. What was the formula for this religious charlatan’s success? What was his ultimate goal? And what policies, practices, and attitudes that he set in motion survive in C.U.T. to the present?
When I resigned from Church Universal and Triumphant in December 1992 (after 22 years membership) I was still, or so I thought, on friendly terms with Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the widow of Mark (two husbands removed) and present head of C.U.T. I had forgotten her “Ascended Masters” would not allow her to have a meaningful relationship with anyone other than one of her chelas (disciples). Roughly a year later, I heard that Tatiana Prophet was writing a book on her father, Mark. Though I wasn’t approached as others were for input, I seriously thought of writing my own glowing account, and passing it on to Tania anyway. My emergence from the fog of C.U.T. had not yet accelerated.
Not too long ago, I saw the early 60’s movie, The Manchurian Candidate with Frank Sinatra (Major Ben Marco) and Laurence Harvey (Cpl. Raymond Shaw). Marco and his company are captured during the Korean War. They are brought to Manchuria where Soviet and other communist agents “condition” the Americans. When they are returned to Korea and released, they remember nothing. Only that Raymond Shaw heroically saved all but two of the company (he killed them), for which he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the war, the men return home. They all have the same recurring Manchurian nightmare, which initiates a military investigation. Word for word, every man has the same description of Cpl. Shaw. “Raymond Shaw is the bravest, kindest, most wonderful person I have ever known.” Raymond, coincidentally, was also the best friend of every man in the company. Soon, Major Marco emerges from the fog. He recalls that Raymond Shaw was a complete jerk. And that was the opinion held by everyone in the company, until they were held captive. A psychological smoke screen had been embedded in the men’s minds to divert suspicion. For Raymond Shaw had been programmed to be an assassin for the communists.
Even though it was fiction, The Manchurian Candidate reminded me of Mark L. Prophet, the man and the myth. Before I joined the Summit Lighthouse, I would have thought Mark Prophet to be an ass. Most people would have thought the same. Today, having emerged from the fog, there is no doubt in my mind, Mark Prophet was a complete ass. But in between, all the years I was a true believer in the Summit Lighthouse/Church Universal and Triumphant, Mark Prophet was larger than life.
Around 1986, thirteen years after Mark died, I was working with a newer staff member. He had been through C.U.T.’s Summit University and wanted me to tell him “Mark” stories. I chuckled. No problem. I proceeded to tell him all the great things about the great man, typically stretching and exaggerating everything to the best of my ability to make Mark look good. That’s the way it was. You wouldn’t think, or dare tell, of the darker, bizarre side of Mark Prophet.
Before he died, Mark was a legend (in his own mind). On no uncertain terms, this was impressed upon his staff. But his deification did not begin until the day he passed away in February 1973. That was the day, according to Elizabeth, he gloriously “ascended” into heaven for all eternity. He would now be known as the Ascended Master Lanello. After his cremation, we were told his remains were “sacred ash.” The staff eulogized him for hours. But I had to laugh and shake my head when I recently read a part of the Randall King Story. Though Elizabeth “did not have sexual relations with that man, Mr. King” before Mark passed away, she told us right after he died he was “enough man for 25 women.” I guess Mark was too much for Elizabeth. Mark was too much for a lot of people.
To know the real Mark Prophet, you have to go back to the beginning. You need to find the pieces to the puzzle. And though you can’t find them all, there are enough to see the picture. You start with Purely for Prophet, the well-researched Kathy Schmook manuscript. You add the personal experiences of John Pietrangelo in Lambs to Slaughter, and Randy Kosp King in The Randall King Story. And I’ll add my own experience.
Bear in mind, Mark Prophet took it upon himself to start his own spiritual organization, the Summit Lighthouse, in 1958 at age 40. One must ask why he did it and what led him to do it. Before he died, Mark had evolved the story that when he was a young man the Ascended Master El Morya appeared to him while he was in mid-swing of driving a railroad spike. Calling him to be his disciple and messenger (for God), Mark turned him down. It wasn’t until later in his life the “master” reappeared and Mark took him up on his proposition. But Mark carelessly entrusted to Ed K., an early member and friend, the story of the railroad spike was not true. It was merely a tale to draw people’s attention and impress them at the same time. Coincidentally, Mark’s decision to become a professional messenger for God came when he had exhausted, and failed at, every other means of employment he had pursued. He couldn’t hold down a job. He was hounded by creditors. There was a time when he was pressured to even change his name.
Mark had other stories up his sleeve. While he vowed that “phenomena” had no place in the Ascended Masters’ Summit Lighthouse, he wasn’t afraid to tell the story over and again how the Summit in its early days was in serious financial trouble. But one day he opened his wallet, after complaining to Master Morya, and found several hundred dollar bills appear from nowhere. Mark said he knew they were from Morya. He could tell by the “twinkle” in his eye. Mark also liked to tell the story how he and members on a European pilgrimage in the late 60’s were forced to drive through a wall. Miraculously, they did it with no damage to the vehicle or themselves. With a little push from Mark, Annice Booth would vouch for this. But today, I’m not so sure. The story has been buried for a long time.
By 1971 Mark stated the multitudes would be “practicing “Summitry” for a thousand years.” The early-on ambition of Mark required something equally bombastic as this prognostication. To secure the trust and faith of his early followers, all of whom believed in reincarnation, Mark confided in them his past embodiments and the wealth of their (his) accomplishments. Sometimes with bravado, sometimes with humble heart, Mark revealed who he had been to support who he now was. He was a great actor. And he impressed upon those whose ears he could bend, the ability and virtue his soul demonstrated in those past lives over many centuries, had accrued unto their present incarnation, Mark L. Prophet. This, he explained, qualified him for the office of God’s prophet and messenger. And for whose benefit? For those who were blessed, and of high enough attainment themselves, to be magnetized to, and be a part of Mark’s high and holy “mission.”
Among the many illustrious incarnations Mark Prophet attributed to himself were Akhnaton the Egyptian pharaoh, Origen of Alexandria, Saladin, Lot, Gideon, and Uriah the Hittite of the Old Testament, St. Mark the evangelist, St. Bonaventure, Marco Polo, Lancelot, King Clovis and King Louis XIV of France, Longfellow, Hiawatha, and the ill-fated son of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, the tsarevich Alexei. Mark explained how the momentum of the collective genius of all the aforementioned had earned him the right and privilege to become God’s greatest servant among men. If you believed in Mark Prophet, with the possible exception of Jesus Christ, he was the greatest man that ever trod the face of the earth.
Mark claimed he was born with the “Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” He had “Third-Eye Vision,” which supposedly enabled him to read minds, read “auras,” and read the “Akashic Records.” This was God’s file on the accounting of every single event that ever took place. Mark said it was like watching a movie. The event would unfold before his eyes with the actual persons, places, and things, and words spoken by the characters. But Mark Prophet was in fact, a born loser.
I lived under the same roof with Mark Prophet for over two years. We, the staff of the Summit Lighthouse, the Prophets and their children, were one big happy family. I talked with Mark on a daily basis. I worked in the mail room where he came regularly to check the day’s income and his own correspondence. I was his personal home-base radio operator when he was on and off the property for a year and a half before his death. I knew where he was and basically what he was doing all the time. (Even when he went to porno movies on fact-finding missions “for the Brotherhood.”) I was on all-night phone duty at the Summit for a year and a half before Mark’s passing. It was not unusual for him to call me at any hour during the night for one thing or another. Occasionally, like other men on staff, I would be Mark’s companion when his regular attendant, Gilbert, was taking a much needed break. I would be with him and go with him wherever he chose. Even to the bathroom.
The insecurity of Mark Prophet the man, begins with Mark Prophet the boy. As a child growing up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, Mark was a mama’s boy. Unfortunately, his father passed away when he was nine years old. He was gawky and uncoordinated. He had malocclusion, such that his lower and upper teeth did not bite properly, giving him a somewhat simian appearance. He was taunted. He was the neighborhood nerd. And one can imagine he got his butt kicked more than once.
Mark was not inclined to do well academically. He never graduated from high school. He had no formal ministerial training either. But he was an extraordinary student of the Bible. And he was an avid reader of occult fantasies, and psychic and metaphysical literature. As a child and young man of the depression era, there was little else for him to do. Over several years he evolved his own religious concoction, plagiarized as it was. He found his niche where he was no longer the butt of jokes or physical abuse. While he wasn’t a man’s man, he was able to impress quite a few older ladies with his spiritual/religious prowess. These individuals formed the base of his later movement, the Summit Lighthouse, founded in 1958.
There was Ruth Farnam, and there was Mary Spelzhaus. There were others, but I knew these two, one of them very well. During the 1940’s and 50’s Mark practiced, and perfected, his impersonation of the Ascended Master El Morya in speech-like “dictations” and letters he wrote to his devotees called the Ashram Notes. Other Ascended Masters would follow. Ruth was a college graduate and headed an orphanage in Oklahoma. She was a widow struggling with two young sons. She was as sweet a lady as could be. Maybe too sweet. For Mark, and later Elizabeth, she was a pushover, and putty in their hands. Many a time she would be brought to tears under their harsh discipline. Mary, on the other hand, was a cagey cookie, until she had outlived her usefulness and was thrown out. She was a spinster, and a teacher. Mark revealed to her she was Walt Whitman in one of her past incarnations. What a feather in her cap. Mark had made a friend for life. Mary’s present and assumed past achievement qualified her to write and coordinate much of the C.U.T. Keeper of the Flame lessons still in use today.
One by one, two by two, Mark’s organization grew. The alluring mystique of the Summit Lighthouse was given birth. The chowder head from Chippewa Falls was making himself into a charismatic figure. Though the original members were vulnerable, having many unanswered questions in each one’s spiritual journey, they were sincere and decent people. Mark had all the answers. He ingratiated them. He took full advantage of his knowledge, salesmanship, and growing power and intimidation to secure these people as the leaven for his movement. Their good qualities and character served Mark well. Their credibility gave Mark credibility. The presence of so many wonderful and articulate people whose backgrounds were of every race and religion was Utopian. Slowly but surely, the organization began to expand. But it was only the addition of the youthful, energetic, and self-assured Elizabeth in the early sixties that saved the ever-insecure Mark from fading into nonexistence. She attracted the youth. And the youth ignited the organization. But most importantly, she assuaged the mid-life crisis of her sugar daddy.
Next in Part 2: Favoritism and punishment: dishing out “past lives.”