I was first introduced to The Gnostic Movement in late 2002 when a close friend told me about the free spiritual courses on the website Mysticweb.
I really appreciated and got a lot out of the courses written by Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) that The Gnostic Movement provided. What most resonated with me in the courses was the self-knowledge and spiritual inner change aspects and techniques. The courses helped me to understand myself, what was going on inside of me with thoughts and emotions, why I felt the way I felt, and how to experience spiritual states like profound peace and stillness within. As I kept going with the course I learned techniques to actually change the negative states and emotions inside of me. I started to see that in situations I was feeling less angry, or jealous, worried, or negative, and in place of those feelings, I felt peace and even love and compassion for others.
I really liked how with Gnosis and what The Gnostic Movement taught, that it had within it the common spiritual principles from many religions, and to me was getting at what the heart of what religion was supposed to be about.
Background and General Experience with The Gnostic Movement
After two years of taking all of the courses The Gnostic Movement offered, I was really interested in sharing with others the really helpful exercises and techniques I had gotten so much benefit from, which I had learned for free from The Gnostic Movement. I wanted to help pass on the information to others, so I signed up for the teachers training course. I began the teachers training course and soon after became a volunteer of the organization.
To begin the teachers training course a person needed to agree to uphold certain spiritual standards, principles and codes of conduct. It made sense to me for there to be these basic standards since it was a spiritual school, and often spiritual schools or for that matter many organizations have a code of conduct for people participating in or representing an organization. The Gnostic Movement was no different in this manner, and the standards and principles were ones that I had already naturally adopted into my life and had an understanding for their purpose.
In October 2005 another teacher and I established the Madison Gnostic Center in Madison Wisconsin USA out of our own initiative as we wanted to start a Gnostic Center in the city in which we lived, as there was only one center in the US at the time, in California, which was over 2,000 miles away. It was great to set up a physical place to run The Gnostic Movement courses from. Attendees of the courses in Madison really enjoyed the courses, learning about astral projection and practicing it and also the self-knowledge techniques as well. I really enjoyed practicing the exercises with other people, and facilitating a space for it all to happen.
I attended The Gnostic Movement retreats held in the USA in 2005, 2006, and 2007 in California, and 2008 and 2009 in Oregon, which people from all over the world attended. The international retreats were awesome – it was so great to meet up and practice the spiritual exercises The Gnostic Movement taught with people from around the world. People I met on those early retreats I am still friends with today.
Overview of Roles and Positions Held
I became a qualified teacher in 2007, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2008 to be part of the Gnostic center there, where The Gnostic Movement was trying to establish a stronger presence. At the Bay Area center there were many members, teachers, and trainee teachers there, which was awesome – a lot of strong friendships were made during that time. In August 2008 I became a member of The Gnostic Movement USA and a director of the organization. Because I very much valued the work The Gnostic Movement did and the free spiritual teachings it provided, I was very happy to take on a more responsible role within the organization.
From 2008-2012, I was part of developing ways to present the courses that would be more suited to an American audience. I was involved with teaching courses, I was part of the filming of the Secret Quest documentary, searching for properties to develop a spiritual retreat center in the countryside, being the host of weekly online talks given by Belzebuub, being part of finding and establishing a larger Gnostic center in the area, coordinating the events and courses for the center, and being part of the process of making the online course videos by either presenting or doing some of the video editing. On many Saturdays, we would have mini-retreats in the nearby parkland and spend the day in nature practicing meditation, awareness, going on walks, and quiet self-reflection practices.
During this time I also did aspects of the company administration, and in the last year of The Gnostic Movement USA’s existence, I did all of the company administration.
Teacher – December 2007 – October 2012
Member – August 2008 – October 2012
Secretary – October 2008 – October 2012
Chief Financial Officer (Treasurer) – January 2011 – October 2012
From 2008-2011 I was a volunteer and director of Absolute Publishing Press, where I assisted with accounting and book publicity.
From 2008 -2010 I was a part of coordinating three retreats held where people worldwide attended. At all three of these retreats Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) attended and gave talks, which were really amazing, insightful and inspirational.
In working with and being part of The Gnostic Movement I was given many opportunities to help share these teachings with people, and through those diverse opportunities, I learned a lot about myself, learned new skills, and was doing things that I never knew I had the ability to do. Over the years, with all of the activity and people at the Bay Area center, many good times were had, which leaves me with many fond memories of those days.
I first met Mark in 2006 when he came to Toronto, as I lived somewhat near Toronto at the time. I worked with him in The Gnostic Movement and Absolute Publishing Press from 2008-2012 and currently as his publisher at Mystical Life Publications. In my time knowing him professionally and personally, I can say he is a very caring, honest, respectable, sincere, and humble person. He dedicates himself to helping people to understand and experience the process of spiritual transformation with no self-interest, just out of genuine care. He respects free will. He has a deep respect and care for nature and animals. He truly lives and exhibits the spiritual principles he writes about.
I will now explain in detail my experience of working within The Gnostic Movement, at the Bay Area Gnostic Center, working with Mark Pritchard, and my knowledge and experience of events to do with employing Mark Pritchard, his living conditions, the North American retreat project, and the running of Absolute Publishing Press.
What I share in this testimony is from my own personal experience, from being a member and director of TGM USA with access to the company files.
Overview of The Gnostic Movement USA and Its Administration
Being a member and director of TGM USA with access to the company files, I know that The Gnostic Movement USA was incorporated as a non-profit religious corporation in the state of California on August 29th 2002, by two members of The Gnostic Movement Australia that moved to California to establish The Gnostic Movement in America. It received tax exemption under section 501 (c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service and under 23701d of the California tax code in 2003.
In the early years, courses were run out of community centers starting in October 2002. Courses were run in the San Jose area, San Francisco, and Berkeley. In March 2005, the first official center was established for TGM USA in Berkeley California, in an office suite on Channing Way. This would be the home of the Berkeley center until 2008. In November 2008, a large 7,000 sq ft former church for lease on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley was found and became the home of the San Francisco Bay Area Center until November 2011 when the lease ended.
The Madison Gnostic group/center, in Madison Wisconsin first started running courses out of community halls in October of 2005. In July 2006 the first center was established on East Washington Avenue. The location moved to a bigger center on South Dickinson St in 2008, and ran courses and activities there until 2010.
The Los Angeles Gnostic Group was established in 2010 by a teacher and trainee teacher from the Bay Area Gnostic Center. They ran courses at rented community halls from 2010 – 2011.
Each center had its own bank account and kept track of donations and expenses for the center/group on a special spreadsheet provided by the treasurer of TGM USA. At the end of each financial year, the accounts (spreadsheet) of each center/group was provided to the treasurer in California, who would add the income and expenses figures of each center to the income and expenses for the entire organization for the tax filings. The center’s teachers would keep on file all bank statements, deposit slips, and any receipts or bill payments for their center.
The funds of each center were kept separate to the funds of the greater organization, as The Gnostic Movement of California, (referred to as TGM USA) owned and hosted the websites of The Gnostic Movement and took on many of the projects and initiatives to further The Gnostic Movement’s teachings globally. I explain further about the finances and separation of funds and bank accounts of TGM USA in greater detail in the next section of this testimony.
From time to time there would be a special fundraising box for Belzebuub/Mark in the centers, to support his work, which students could donate to if they wanted to, and any funds raised would be kept separate to the general organization funds, and kept separate from the center funds.
The centers ran on voluntary donations. There was a donation box, usually near the entrance where people could give a donation if they chose to.
When I became a director in August 2008, I began to study non-profit governance and protocol, as well as accounting and tax return preparation, since I was now a director of the organization. My colleagues did the same in their relevant areas, as everyone took their responsibilities within the organization seriously.
The members and directors of the organization would meet as needed to discuss matters of the organization and vote if the decision required a vote. We would take minutes of the meetings, which included the points brought up, action points (if someone was going to take action on a point) and records of any voting that took place. We would also hold yearly Annual General Meetings where we would review, nominate, and vote on director/officer positions, review the activities from the year, and make plans for the coming year.
Although TGM USA was tax exempt as a 501 (c)(3) organization, we were still required to file tax returns, which were specifically for tax-exempt organizations, which we did annually.
From 2008-2010 I assisted the treasurer to do the bookkeeping and prepare the tax filings. We would first go through all the donations and expenses for the year, meticulously going over the bank statements and receipts, properly categorizing them and entering them into accounting software. From there we would generate the necessary reports to add up the total donations, expenses, and breakdown of expenses to fill in the tax form.
From 2011 – 2012 I was the treasurer and main administrative person for the organization. In this role I studied even further the laws and regulations associated with non-profit governance and tax filings.
In 2011/2012 we hired an accountant that specialized in non-profit accounting to do our bookkeeping and tax return. When I first met her to provide her with all of our accounting files, documents, and past tax fillings for reference, she commented that we were very organized and were doing a good job.
We did our very best to do the best job we could, to the best of our understanding, to fulfill our non-profit company obligations. We filed all of our tax returns and all statements of information with the California Secretary of State as required.
In 2012 we engaged a San Francisco-based lawyer who specialized in non-profit law, in regards to making a grant to a Canadian non-profit (which I discuss later in this testimony).
When I first came to her office and met her, she asked me a little about how we ran, if we were current with our filings with the California Secretary of State and with our tax filings. I responded, “yes of course,” and she said something like, “wow, I’m really impressed, a lot of non-profits don’t file their tax returns or keep the California Secretary of State up to date with the organization’s current information.”
When we were talking over the options for doing a grant to a Canadian non-profit organization she was really impressed with the knowledge I had about the subject. I had fully researched the principles and requirements that needed to be fulfilled when a 501 (c)(3) organization makes a grant to a foreign organization. She explained that most non-profits she worked with didn’t know much about non-profit law or governance and she stated she was very impressed how organized we were and our level of professionalism.
Experience as the Treasurer
As a member and director of the organization from 2008-2012, being the treasurer of The Gnostic Movement (TGM) USA from January 2011 to October 2012, and having access to the organization’s files, I was involved with sponsoring Mark’s mission to teach Gnosticism in the US.
Sponsorship for Mark Pritchard’s Work in the USA
In February 2007 research was undertaken on the options for having Mark come to the USA, as it was seen that developing The Gnostic Movement in the USA was an important mission, as the teaching of Gnosis had never fully become popular or spread in the US as it had in other countries. In 2006 Mark had done over 30 radio interviews and a television interview in a 6 week period in the US and Canadian media,1 which created a lot of interest in Mark’s work and The Gnostic Movement. Around the same time there was a growing interest in Gnosticism with the release of The Gospel of Judas by National Geographic in 2006. The idea was for Mark to come to help develop The Gnostic Movement in the USA, as he was the most qualified for the mission.
In 2007 The Gnostic Movement USA successfully applied for Mark to come to the US. The requirement of the visa Mark was granted was that Mark needed to be hired as an employee of The Gnostic Movement and paid a wage.
Mark did not want to become an employee of TGM USA, or be paid a wage, because of his spiritual principles, as he did not want payment for teaching. However, he needed to be hired as an employee of TGM USA and be paid a wage, because it was the only way for him to be able to come for the mission in the USA.
Before Mark became an employee of TGM USA, he worked for free as a full-time volunteer for The Gnostic Movement. Mark lived off of donations that people freely gave to him out of appreciation for the work he did for the Gnostic Movement, in which he provided spiritual teachings for free.
He also did not want general public donations to the organization to be used to pay his wage, which TGM legally would have been entitled to do as salaries are common for many non-profit organizations, including religious ones.
Because of his principles, Mark requested and arranged for his wages to be funded only by donations given to support him and his work. Before he left Australia to go on his mission to the USA, Mark spoke to some of those who had been donating to him personally in Australia. He explained about his mission, and asked them if they could donate what they would have otherwise given him directly, instead to TGM in Australia into a special fund to pay his wages in the USA, which they happily agreed to do. It was also planned, should there not be enough funds raised directly for his employment expenses, that Mark would personally donate whatever the shortfall was to TGM USA himself. Also TGM USA received donations specifically to support Mark and his work in the US from volunteers.
The Gnostic Movement Australia and The Gnostic Movement USA worked closely together and co-sponsored the mission to have Mark come to the USA.
With the wages paid to Mark, he requested to be paid the lowest wage possible. That was taken into account along with the consideration of making a strong sponsorship application where TGM USA could demonstrate that it would be able to adequately support Mark as an employee with the employment package it was offering, and meet minimum wage requirements.
The arrangement for his employment was that he was paid just over the federal minimum wage as his salary, and was provided a housing allowance since he would be doing work for the organization from his home. Providing Mark with a housing allowance also helped TGM USA to meet the state of California minimum wage requirements, as the federal minimum wage was below the California state minimum wage. He was provided with a housing allowance for around three years and when he was not receiving a housing allowance, he was just paid the California state minimum wage. Providing Mark with a housing allowance made it possible for TGM USA to demonstrate in its sponsorship of Mark, that he could support himself with his employment in light of being paid a very low wage, and it also helped us to fulfill our employer responsibilities within the state of California.
Mark’s wages (his salary and housing allowance) were funded by donations he personally made to The Gnostic Movement USA, and from volunteers that donated to support Mark and his work in the US.
Mark himself personally donated over $42,000 to TGM USA to help fund his employment. He also had over $15,000 in donations that would have otherwise been given to him directly, instead donated to TGM Australia into the sponsorship fund for his employment expenses. In total, these donations were equivalent in value to paying his salary with an excess of $1,072 left over.
The housing allowance Mark was provided was funded by donations from volunteers in various countries, but mainly from volunteers in Australia and the US who donated to support Mark and his work in the US.
Only funds given for the purpose of supporting Mark and his work in the US were used to pay his salary and housing allowance. General public donations to The Gnostic Movement were not used to pay his remuneration.
Again, TGM USA would have been legally entitled to pay Mark with any of the donations it received, as employees with salaries are common in non-profit organizations of all kinds. This arrangement was made upon Mark’s request due to his own personal principles.
The wages paid to Mark were very little. The most he was ever paid–which was in late 2009-2010, when he got a small raise in his salary after being an employee for two years, and included both his salary and housing allowance–equated to around $10.80 per hour. For most of his employment he was making below that amount. The San Francisco Bay Area of California has one of the highest costs of living in the United States. A person making the equivalent of $10.80 per hour would have a difficult time leading a comfortable life. That was the case for Mark while he was living in the Bay Area. His quality of living while in the USA was not very good.
Finances for the General Organization
The Gnostic Movement USA was responsible for many of the international expenses of the organization. It was the international headquarters for the global Movement where most of the administrative work for the organization globally took place. It owned and hosted the websites of The Gnostic Movement, and held the insurance policies for the organization’s websites and online courses. Additionally, having Mark, the Movement’s official spiritual teacher, based in the USA, The Gnostic Movement in the USA took on many new projects and initiatives to further The Gnostic Movement’s teachings internationally.
Volunteers donated and fundraised in centers around the world to help cover the ongoing costs of the international headquarters of the organization, which had been taken on by TGM USA. The Gnostic Movement USA received these funds and distributed them to their allocated areas. These funds were used to cover the expenses of the websites, insurance policies, office and equipment costs, software, publicity, legal/professional fees, and administrative costs.
There was a separation of accounts and funds, in which funds allocated for one area were used in that area. The Gnostic Movement USA had a number of bank accounts and PayPal accounts.
Each center had its own bank account, which received the donations specifically for the running of the particular center, and had expenses drawn from it for the center like paying the rent, utilities, advertising, improvements, etc.
TGM USA had a number of bank accounts which were specific to the international expenses and fundraising for the organization. These accounts covered the costs of the websites and overall administration of the Movement, promotions, equipment, software, etc. The general donations received through PayPal on the TGM websites went into these accounts.
TGM USA also had a dedicated bank and PayPal account for the North American retreat project for donations raised specifically for the project.
There was a separate account which dealt with the employment expenses for Mark Pritchard. This was the account where all donations intended for Mark to support him and his work in the US were received, and where the expenses for having him as an employee were drawn from.
The Work Mark Did for The Gnostic Movement
Mark worked to develop and promote the study of Gnosticism in the USA. He was the International Coordinator for The Gnostic Movement worldwide when he started his employment in 2007 until November 2008 (he had been the international coordinator for years before he was employed by TGM USA). As the International Coordinator, he oversaw all the administration of the organization worldwide plus provided the course material. In November 2008 he stepped down from that administrative position and was then elected as the spiritual teacher of The Gnostic Movement worldwide, which allowed him to focus on teaching and writing.
Here is a general outline of the work Mark did to develop and promote the study of Gnosticism while in the USA:
Courses and Websites
- Provided the course material and teachings for the organization; every 8-9 weeks the courses were reviewed and often refined or changed.
- Gave recommendations for how the courses were run online and in centers, and how the centers were to operate in the USA and globally.
- Oversaw the development of the GnosticAwakenings.com website which contained a completely overhauled course system for The Gnostic Movement with engaging videos and an interactive course system.
- Developed a new course called Introduction to Gnosis, which was taught in the American centers and internationally. For the online version of the course, videos were created, with half the videos produced at the Bay Area Center.
Bay Area Center
- Helped to plan and facilitate the move of the Bay Area Center to a larger premises that became the main center in the USA.
- Attended and gave talks at the Bay Area Gnostic Center, for both the public and advanced students.
- Gave live weekly interactive talks online, broadcasted from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, with live questions and answers.
- Gave a series of online talks on the meanings of the Nag Hammadi Library texts.
- Established live interactive online book studies on ancient Gnostic texts.
- Shot many interviews filmed at the local community television studio in the Bay Area; those interviews were posted online and broadcasted on TV locally.
- Gave talks at the Bay Area Center which were filmed. With the talks filmed he was involved in their post production where they were posted online.
- Was involved in the scripting and direction of the documentary Secret Quest: a Three Part Series on the Christian Gnostics, which was released on DVD by TGM in the USA.
- Mark’s book Gazing into the Eternal (a book about the spirituality of Gnosis)2 was published, printed, and promoted in the US. It was a finalist in USA Book News category of Spirituality in 2009.
- Oversaw the re-release of the book The Flight of the Feathered Serpent (a book that gives insight into the ancient Gnostics and has a similar account to The Gospel of Judas), which included a revised translation and new cover. This revised edition was sent to reviewers throughout the US and won the USA Book News Best Book Award in the category of Christianity in 2009.
- Attended and gave talks at retreats in North America. During his time in the USA, some of his talks were captured professionally on video and broadcast on the TGM websites.
- Spent time planning and looking at potential properties for a North American spiritual retreat center.
Mark worked very hard during his time in the USA. Although his employment contract was for full-time work (37-40 hours a week) he put in far more time than that. He worked all day, every day, often late into the night, doing work for The Gnostic Movement.
Having Mark Pritchard become an employee of The Gnostic Movement USA and paying him a humble salary, enabled him to be able to come to the USA to fulfill the mission of spreading the teachings of gnosis to people in the USA, and he succeeded in fulfilling his principles in not being paid to teach, since his own donations effectively funded his wages.
It was a real honor, privilege, and benefit to have Mark as an employee of The Gnostic Movement USA. He is truly a selfless and generous individual that dedicates his entire life to helping others develop spiritually.
Experience at the Bay Area Gnostic Center, and Working within The Gnostic Movement
As mentioned before, I had the opportunity to work with Mark in TGM from 2008 to 2012, and I work currently with him through his publisher.
From what I have observed, Mark has a deep care for people to understand and experience spirituality. I have seen this for myself personally many times. In The Gnostic Movement, he would from time to time make changes to how the courses went and what was taught. I could see by the changes made, it helped to make things clearer or the courses and centers run better.
I was elected to become a member and director of TGM USA by the other TGM members in the USA through a democratic process. When I was a member I was also part of nominating and voting upon membership election for three other US teachers while TGM was operating.
I appreciated that men and woman had the same opportunities within the organization. I was one of many women that had a responsible role within the Movement. Opportunities within the organization were given based on merit, and there was equal opportunity for men and women.
At the Bay Area Center, the members were in charge of the running of the center and organization. Teachers and trainee teachers were involved with helping to run the center (giving lectures, center maintenance, help with advertising, help in the café, etc.), but the ultimate responsibility was with the members.
I was often at the center, and was given many suggestions and ideas from students, trainee teachers, and other teachers. People felt comfortable doing that and understood it was a welcome thing. We would also from time to time have meetings with the people active in helping out at the center–trainee teachers, teachers, and the members–to brainstorm ideas or to get suggestions on how to make things work better, how to tackle a problem, etc. When Mark would come to the center, we would have talks like this with him. He would ask for people’s feedback and ideas on various things. It was a very open environment where ideas and suggestions would be given.
What to do with carrying out the ideas and suggestions in relation to the center was up to the members, as we were the people ultimately responsible for the running of the center and organization. Members would then discuss and vote (if necessary) on decisions that needed to be made. The members had different areas they looked after within the organization and at the center. Each member was free to make decisions on things pertaining to their area since they were the most familiar with it. If there was ever a major issue, it would be brought before all the members.
Working with Mark
Mark was the international coordinator of The Gnostic Movement, and when he stepped down from that position in November 2008, he was democratically elected as the recognized spiritual teacher for the organization by the members of TGM around the world. Mark would provide the content and guidelines for the courses. He would give suggestions and provide ideas for the organization, but it was up to the members to implement any suggestions.
Just as he listened to the feedback of students and teachers at the center, in my experience he was happy to hear ideas and suggestions from members on issues and projects, and often asked for our input. He would never force things; he would just share his views, provide suggestions, and give ideas.
I saw firsthand that there were a number of suggestions he made that were never carried out or followed through–once he had made the suggestion or gave an idea he just left it at that, which highlights how respectful he was of freewill and how carrying out suggestions was truly up to the members of the organization.
When we were renovating the new center, Mark was there providing tips and suggestions for how we could design things and how we could go about doing the renovation work in the safest and most economical way. His suggestions were to have it look nice, tidy, to give it a sense a warmth and spirituality, but nothing over the top, and to only get the basics done so we could use the space and not spend all our time renovating. Once the center was open, he gave numerous talks. He would often come to have discussions with the members, teachers and trainee teachers on matters to do with the center and the courses, or other projects. On holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, there would often be a gathering at the center with the volunteers and Mark to celebrate the holidays with a nice meal together. It was an amazing experience having Mark be a part of our center–his talks, discussions, and casual chats always left me with new insights and feeling inspired.
In regards to renovating the center, everyone worked really hard to keep the costs down, and we got many things for free. A paint store was closing down and they donated their remaining stock of paint, so we ultimately had to buy very little paint. We got free carpet, lights, and all kinds of other things off of Craigslist for free or for a very low cost. We spent less than $1,000 renovating the place, which was approximately 7,000 square feet in size.
From knowing and working with Mark over roughly the past ten years, I can say he is one of the most down-to-earth, kindhearted, genuine, sincere, honest, caring, and respectable people I have ever met. He’s a true gentleman. He has the utmost respect for women and for the sanctity of relationships and marriage.
As a woman, I have always felt comfortable working with Mark. This comfort in working with him comes from his general way of respect towards women, as it is not his way to flirt, or to make lewd jokes, or have any lustful behavior towards women, which I have found to be a very rare quality. In most working relationships I have had with men, usually those types of interactions have been present to some degree, but not with Mark, which is so refreshing.
Mutual respect between men and women was a principle taught and exhibited by Mark and upheld within The Gnostic Movement. This really stood out to me and was something I really appreciated. Having been a female musician in bands, I had worked with men a lot, and many times it was very hard to be seen as a person, as another musician and artist, and not just as someone to flirt with.
I felt comfortable being a woman, working within the Movement amongst men and with Mark, as I was never ‘hit-on’ or made to feel uncomfortable, which was a change of interaction for me having been a female musician playing in clubs, or even dealing with people at the workplace. I was relieved to be in an environment where there was a respect for women and the sanctity of relationships.
I work as his publisher in Mystical Life Publications, where the organization has always had women in director’s positions and leadership roles, which was also the case for Absolute Publishing Press, his previous publisher, in which I was also a director along with four other women. He has always shown and given us the utmost respect.
Another aspect of Mark’s character that stands out to me is his care for personal safety. When renovating the center he would always advise that safety comes first. When I would go with other members of TGM to look at properties in rural locations, he would always ask us to be careful and be safe, and to drive safely. Before finding The Gnostic Movement and working with Mark, I was a bit of an adventurous person, and wouldn’t think much about my personal safety. Working with Mark over the years, I feel like his respect of and emphasis on personal safety has helped me to appreciate, understand, and respect my own personal safety more.
Mark is a caring and considerate person, and although he lives off of donations, he doesn’t expect payments or things to be bought for him. He doesn’t take people for granted, and he is always very appreciative for the help and donations he is given. A few examples of this come to mind.
Humble and Selfless Lifestyle
I knew Mark did struggle financially, and that people did donate to him personally so he could cover his living expenses, since he dedicated his time solely to teaching others spirituality for free, and like spiritual teachers in ancient times he lived off donations that people gave to him for his work. When I moved to California the economic crisis had just hit, getting a job was difficult, and the jobs available were low paying. I was never asked to make a donation to him, or asked to donate on a regular basis, or to donate more money. I donated when I could, and when I did he was very appreciative.
Another example that comes to mind is a time that Mark and a friend needed to run some errands around the SF Bay Area and he didn’t have a car available, so I took them around. At the end of the day he took us out to dinner at a nice, trendy health food café in San Francisco, and gave me money for gas. I tried to pay for my own meal and told him not to give me gas money as I was happy to help them out, but he insisted to pay for those things, and was very grateful for the help I had given them.
In the US, Mark would tell me about some of the bad situations he would encounter, like sales people being very nice and friendly but then ripping him off and becoming very aggressive, that there was a shooting of a policeman at the building behind his house, regular gun and drug activity in the suburb he lived in, dodgy people hanging around the area he lived, etc. Upon hearing these things and seeing firsthand his living situation in the dangerous suburb he lived in, I thought it was terrible, but also that it’s just how it is here in the US–that’s just how life is. I could see that it was difficult dealing with people and places in the US if you hadn’t grown up there.
I know that Mark had suffered many difficulties coming to and living in the US, since I personally saw his living situation (living on very little income, living in a run-down house in a dangerous suburb), and was hearing what he had experienced. I also know that Mark himself had donated a lot of money to The Gnostic Movement to help pay his wages so he could be in the US to get a spiritual message to people in North America. I didn’t truly comprehend how much he had sacrificed, living in the US for years, until I lived in Australia and saw what he had given up to go to the USA.
Mark’s Living Conditions while in the US
When Mark arrived to the US he had a very hard time finding a suitable place to live, because he did not have a lot of money and was new to the country.
He eventually found and settled in an old, run-down house in a dangerous suburb, which was known by the locals for having lots of drug activity. While being at the house you could sometimes hear gun shots. A police officer was shot in the neighboring apartment behind the house. At the local pharmacy in town, just down the street from where he lived, a man was killed in the parking lot in front of his son.
It was not a pleasant place to live. It was really sad because it was the only house he could afford. The house was somewhat on the outskirts of town, and had a small farm bordering the property. Sketchy guys would sneak back there in the night and try to steal things off the farm.
The house was furnished with used furniture found on Craigslist (a classified ads website) and old things from friends.
He drove old cars, with the heater broken in one of the cars that he had. In the winter in California it can get down to freezing temperature at night, and was often chilly throughout the year in the Bay Area.
Experience with the North American Retreat Project
I was personally heavily involved with the North American retreat project in searching and coordinating the search for properties, the due diligence research needed for potential properties, and visiting properties during the project’s five year timespan.
TGM hosted international retreats in North America, Australia, and Europe. These retreats were a chance for TGM participants to get away from the city and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of nature, to meet up with friends from around the country and the world, and to have dedicated time to spiritual practice. When TGM hosted retreats it rented out facilities and would often pay these facilities $20,000 just for accommodation for a week’s time. TGM never charged for the spiritual programs it ran; participants only paid the cost of the accommodation charged by the facility. People really enjoyed these retreats and looked forward to the yearly retreats in the different regions. Some participants liked them so much that they attended all the international retreats TGM was offering throughout the year.
The vision for the North American retreat project was to buy a property and develop it into a spiritual retreat facility. Since the retreats were enjoyed so much and participants got a lot from attending, the idea was to hold them multiple times throughout the year. When we rented facilities we had a nice experience, however we could see the amazing potential of building our own place, creating a space from the ground up that was dedicated to the spiritual–a sacred place, like a monastery or an ancient sacred site. The vision also was that there would be no charge to attend the retreats, and that the facility would run on donations just like the centers.
Searching for and Assessing Properties
A search for a property spanned from 2007 to 2011. We searched in various regions of the USA, covering over 20 states. Members, teachers, and trainee teachers from all over North America, over the years searched online through various real estate listing websites. Spreadsheets would be sent through to members for short listing, and then phone calls would be made to agents to get more information for further short listing of the hundreds of properties that would get sent though.
If a property seemed good, then more detailed calls would be made to real estate agents to learn as much about the property as possible, and calls would be made to any local government departments to find out the requirements necessary for developing a retreat facility in the area. If the property seemed to be suitable and had reasonable potential to be developed as a retreat facility in the location it was, then we would schedule a visit to see it. A lot of time effort, and care was put in by many people over the project’s time span.
The basis of our criteria was to ensure the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of nature, in a private, safe place that could be used for as much of the year as possible.
Finding a place like this with the funds available was a challenge and a lot of research was done to find the best areas to search so we could avoid things like tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, mining, and environmental hazards such as nuclear waste and testing sites.
After sorting through thousands of properties and short listing hundreds, we visited and pursued seven properties in California, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maine, and put conditional offers of purchase on four of those. We only went to see properties if they met our criteria and had the potential to be developed as a public retreat facility.
All of the properties we saw and pursued were beautiful and felt like a sanctuary in nature. With each property we could see the potential for developing a spiritual retreat facility. However, in all cases, after further investigation, or beginning the development application process, they turned out to be unsuitable or impractical for us to develop. The issues ranged from the property buildings being in too much of a state of disrepair, having unsafe access in wet weather, needing to upgrade roads into the property which would have been very expensive, extraordinary waiting times for development approvals, not a large enough water source on the property, and an owner rejecting our offer due to not wanting to wait for an environmental assessment to be done on the property (we subsequently found out there was a nuclear waste dump site less than a mile from the property).
Although we tried very hard to find a property over the four year period, we could not find a property within our budget that was suitable for developing into a retreat facility.
Retreat Project Put on Hold–How Raised Funds Were Dealt With
In October 2009 a fundraiser had been initiated – ‘Donate $350 now to get a free retreat booking to the next North American Retreat’. The purpose behind this fundraising campaign was to boost available funds to buy a property.
When TGM had done retreats the previous summers, we had given the rented facilities $20,000 for their use. When people paid to go to TGM retreats, they just paid for the facility and meal fees, not for the spiritual retreat programs run by The Gnostic Movement. The idea was that people would put money towards coming to the retreat in advance – their donation for a booking to the next retreat would help to buy the TGM retreat property.
In March 2011, after trying very hard for the past year and a half to purchase a suitable retreat property, we decided it was best to return funds that had been raised during the fundraiser ‘Donate $350 now to get a free retreat booking to the next North American Retreat’, since we had not been able to provide a retreat facility to honor this booking.
The 53 participants of the fundraiser were emailed; we heard back from 41 of the participants, and refunded the donations to those 41 people as they requested.
In March 2012 The Gnostic Movement USA members considered the future of the North American retreat project and the possibility of making it a reality. We reviewed the different searches that had taken place over the past five years and different properties that TGM pursued, and noted that although many efforts had been made to find and purchase suitable land to develop a retreat, TGM USA had not been able to make this project happen, so we looked at the possibility of donating the funds to another spiritual non-profit organization that would be able to get this project off the ground and use the funds for their intended purpose.
We started to consider and research other organizations that would be a good candidate to donate these funds to, and researched the process of making such a donation.
In April 2012 we reviewed information learned about donation processes and other spiritual non-profit organizations that could help TGM USA to further its mission of purchasing and developing a retreat property for North America. One organization noted was a Canadian non-profit which had an active retreat center and was fundraising so they could purchase and develop their own retreat property.
In May 2012, it was agreed that this Canadian organization was the right candidate for the retreat funds and we felt confident that they would be successful in purchasing and developing a retreat property due to the fact that their organization was currently running a retreat center, and had board members with a good track record, who also served in TGM Canada.
We thought it was good to get legal counsel when making the grant to the Canadian organization as there were many aspects to making a grant to a foreign non-profit, and we had been talking to a good lawyer that specialized in non-profit law.
We engaged a lawyer based in San Francisco who specialized in non-profit law to help us in the process of granting the retreat funds to the non-profit organization in Canada. The lawyer reviewed our situation, worked with us to determine the best way to make the grant, and drafted a grant agreement for us.
In May 2012 a grant agreement was made and the retreat funds were donated to the Canadian organization.
In April 2013 the Canadian organization purchased a property of 120 acres in northern Ontario using the funds donated by The Gnostic Movement USA.
The Gnostic Movement’s search for a retreat property spanned a five year period. A massive effort was made by many people over the years in searching for properties, doing various research on areas in the United States, calling agents to shortlist properties, doing extensive research on potential properties, and going out to visit properties. A great amount time, research, effort, due diligence, and care was put into the project, so that a suitable property could be found which was fit for purpose. Unfortunately, no property ever worked out in the United States, however it’s great that eventually a property was found in Canada.
The Teachings of Gnosis on Relationships
In The Gnostic Movement it was taught that marital relationships are a very sacred thing and are not something to be treated lightly or casually, as well as the importance of a monogamous relationship in relation to spiritual principles. It was also part of the principles taught that relationships were a very personal and private matter, and in principle something that no one can interfere with, due to the sacredness and sanctity a relationship has.
People within the organization recognized the importance of these principles. Everyone respected them and lived by them, especially Mark.
Overall I was very drawn to and appreciative of the teachings of Gnosis on the respect between men and women and the importance of monogamous relationships and their sanctity, as this was something I had always personally felt was important.
Relationship with My Family
Since taking up what The Gnostic Movement taught, my relationship with my family has improved a lot and I feel I have become much closer with my parents in many ways. I have developed a lot more care and understanding for my family, as a result of understanding myself more— in what causes arguments, negativity and so on. I can more understand where they are coming from, since I understand myself better. Before coming across the teachings of Gnosis, I would get into lots of arguments with my parents. I wouldn’t care if they were upset by what I said or did. Now that has changed, we don’t really get into arguments anymore, and I am much more considerate of them as people, I respect them more, and have much more appreciation for them and all they have done for me. Although I have lived far away from them for some years now, I have always gone back to visit them and call to catch up with them regularly.
Experience with Absolute Publishing Press
Absolute Publishing Press published books including Mark’s. As mentioned above, I was a volunteer and a director from 2008 to 2011. In this role I was involved with the company bookkeeping, website development, publicity, and public relations. I worked closely with the founding director over those three years, and have access to the historical company files. With all this, I relay my experience and knowledge of the workings of the company.
Absolute Publishing LLC was registered as a Limited Liability Company with the California Secretary of State on February 25th, 2003. A lot of research was done as to the best way to set up a publishing company. It was found that it was actually better to set up a publishing company as a for-profit company rather than a non-profit organization, as a regular company could have a better place in the book publishing field and would be more respected as a serious publisher.
Although Absolute Publishing LLC was registered as a for-profit company rather than a non-profit organization, it ran like a non-profit organization. It was run by volunteers, no profits were paid to anyone, including Mark the author–all profits that were made from selling the books were put back into the company to print more books or fund the activities and expenses of the company.
As mentioned above, one task I did for the company was some of the bookkeeping, along with another director. We would go through the bank statements, bank deposit slips, credit card reports, and PayPal statements, and enter in all of the income and expenses into accounting software, making sure that all of the transactions reconciled with the bank statements.
An accountant would do the company’s tax returns in which we would provide the company’s accounting file, profit and loss, income and expense reports, bank statements and receipts.
From doing this and having access to the company’s accounting files, I could see where the money came from and where it went.
Most of the time, the company operated at a loss. Absolute Publishing Press printed its books with off-set printing, which gives a very high quality product, however you have to pay for the printing of the books up front, which was a big expense. With having the books printed all at once, they needed to all be stored, so we had books shipped and placed with distributors in the US and in the UK, which charged their own fees of storage and distribution. APP also had many other administrative expenses. With all the expenses, any income from the sale of the books was put right back into the company.
No Royalties or Fees Paid to Mark on His Request
Mark never received any payments for the sale of his books by Absolute Publishing, as that’s what he requested. A formal author and publisher agreement was made where Mark renounced any claims to royalties/profits from the sale of his books.
The lawyer who drafted it reportedly said to a fellow director: “This has to be the worst author contract that I have ever drafted in my whole career – where the author is not entitled to anything, no royalties whatsoever. I have never seen this, ever”.
I can also confirm from my experience doing the bookkeeping that no payments ever went to Mark from Absolute Publishing.
In my time volunteering with Absolute Publishing I also went to North America’s largest book expo in New York City, Book Expo America, in 2009 and 2010. We were part of the Independent Book Association of America, which had a booth at the expo. Our books were displayed there and we had a table within their booth for an hour where we displayed our works, told people about Absolute Publishing, who we are, what we did, and promoted the Gazing into the Eternal book, The Flight of the Feathered Serpent book, and the Secret Quest DVD, as they were new releases at that time. I signed copies of the Secret Quest DVD.
It was great going to Book Expo America, as we got to network with others in the book publishing field. We met up and talked with other book publishers and distributors while at the expo to see if we could further our distribution and reach. We also met up with some of the companies that had printed our books.
Beyond printing of the books, Absolute Publishing hosted Belzebuub’s website and the live weekly talks he was giving online from 2008 to 2010.
Absolute Publishing had a small team dedicated to getting his works out to the world, mainly by way of printed books.
Here is the list of works Absolute Publishing produced in its existence from 2003 to 2011:
Experiencing Astral Travel: An Eight Week Course, paperback 2003
The Flight of the Feathered Serpent by Armando Cosani, 1st ed. paperback 2003
A Course in Astral Travel and Dreams, 1st ed. paperback 2005
When I Go to Sleep: A Course in Dreams and Out-of-Body Experiences, 2nd ed. paperback 2006
Secret Knowledge, Hidden Wisdom: A Journey into Spiritual Transformation, paperback 2007
The Flight of the Feathered Serpent by Armando Cosani, 2nd ed. paperback 2008 Winner Best Book 2009 in category Christianity (USA Book News)
Secret Quest: a Three Part Series on the Christian Gnostics, documentary film, DVD 2009
Searching Within: A Nine Week Course in Gnostic Psychology, paperback 2009
A Course in Astral Travel and Dreams: A Reference Guide to the Out-of-Body Experience, 3rd ed. paperback 2010
Gazing into the Eternal: Reflections Upon a Deeper Purpose to Living, paperback 2010 (Finalist USA Book News National Best Books Awards 2009 in category “Spirituality: General”)