Dara H

DaraI began taking the online courses offered through Mysticweb/Gnosticweb in 2003. In 2007 I enrolled in the online Teacher’s course, and did the course online until moving to a study center in Toronto, Canada, in July of 2007, where I continued in person. In September 2008 I became a teacher in TGM, and became a member of the organization in January 2010.

During this time I came to know and experience a lot about the workings of The Gnostic Movement, the Toronto Center where I participated, and got to know Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub).

The Gnostic Movement was a spiritual school teaching people to explore spiritual topics through meditation, observing one’s thoughts and emotions, astral projection, etc. All courses were provided to the public free of charge. The entire organization ran on donations, some of which came from the public when they attended free lectures, courses, or fundraising events like a movie night or dinner, but most of the time came from the serious volunteers, teachers, and members of the organization.

Other Gnostic groups

Before attending Mysticweb’s online courses, near the beginning of 2003, I wanted to familiarize myself with what Gnosis was about. So I searched for information online about Gnosis and Samael Aun Weor, whom I had an interest in after reading one of his books. In doing this, I came across another Gnostic school’s website which had forums, and found a thread about Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub). I remember being surprised to see such a heated thread on a Gnostic site, in which people appeared quite angry and were putting him and The Gnostic Movement down. Even though I had yet to attend a Gnostic school, I got the sense that the angry comments I was reading were incongruent with how people attempting spiritual development might conduct themselves. When I actually met Mark Pritchard in person and got involved in Mysticweb, I found that both the person and the organization were genuine and conducted themselves very differently from the other school.

Experience with The Gnostic Movement

A few months later in 2003 I decided to sign up for one of Mysticweb’s online courses. I received the course in pdf format through my email, accessed online forums to ask questions about the topics, and got help from the online teachers. I found it interesting no one ever asked me to donate money despite providing such valuable in-depth information and support. I eventually decided to donate online because I found the courses helpful and wanted to give something back to the organization which was providing me with such useful information and services.

Volunteers and funding

Later on in Toronto, over the time I was involved in the group there, which was from 2007 until The Gnostic Movement shut down in 2011, there were always just a handful of dedicated people who donated their money, time, and effort to make the courses and centre happen. These were the serious students, volunteers, and teachers who were always participating at the center anyways.

Most of the time the public who attended the courses did not donate much money, maybe a few dollars after a class or a $20 bill at an event night. This was fine. There were no expectations that people would give money. The reason for this is that we all thought spiritual information should not be charged for, and people should not be discriminated against based on what they could afford to pay.

Dara Front Desk
At the front desk at the center in Toronto

I handled money at times, collecting or counting donations that came in after a course or fundraiser, or due to the sale of books or gift shop items. Accounting for all money was done extremely carefully, everything was double counted down to the last penny, with two people present, and money was always put towards the cause for which it was donated. For example, if someone wished to donate to the Toronto Center, then their money was used for expenses incurred in the running of the center–rent, internet, electricity, printing/advertising materials, and so on.

None of the money donated to The Gnostic Movement ever went to Mark Pritchard. If someone wanted to donate to him there was a separate way to do that. Money from book sales went back to Absolute Publishing, and I understand from those involved that it was to pay for the publishing of more books. Mark did not receive the proceeds of the book sales.

Besides the money that was donated by the volunteers at the center, we would sometimes come up with ideas for fundraisers to cover basic expenses. Sometimes we’d sell things at a yard sale, sometimes it would be a donate-if-you-want movie night with a home cooked meal, and we often had baked goods offered before and after classes and people would sometimes donate for those.

Courses

Courses that TGM offered included a variety of spiritual subjects: Gnosis, meditation, astral projection, self-knowledge, the spiritual path, mantras, dreams. The most popular subject was always astral projection/out-of-body experiences.

In Toronto we had a few course rounds where the astral travel course drew a gathering of over 100 people in the first session. It was very popular. The sessions consisted of part lecture/discussion of a topic, which was guided by a teacher, and part practice session. In the astral travel course, some of the group practices included: concentrating on your heartbeats, visualizing a distant place, or using a mantra to help with astral projection. The majority of people really enjoyed these practices, and those who didn’t enjoy them didn’t come back for the next session, which was fine by all teachers and volunteers involved. We only ever wanted people who were truly interested in the material to participate, because having interested people involved made for a better group practice for everyone.

Astral travel

Sometimes the more serious students and teachers would schedule an all-night practice to try and astral project while being in the same room. These were optional, just for whoever wanted to, and were also popular among the serious students and teachers because of the higher rate of success you were likely to have with astral projecting.

The way it worked was we would all meet at the center in the evening and start with a nighttime astral projection exercise. We would have a few alarms set throughout the night and when the alarm went off we’d wake up for a few minutes (or not, sometimes people chose to remain lying down/resting, which was fine), have a quick drink of water perhaps, and then lay back down to try to astral project again. Many of us had success in these all-night practices, and looked forward to them for this reason. They took place over the weekend when people were off of work, and nobody found that they missed out on much sleep—we actually got more rest than if we’d gone to your typical weekend concert or party. In the early morning hours we’d head home to try one more time to astral project from our own bedrooms, and then catch up on any more sleep if we felt like we needed it.

Self-Knowledge

explaining-a-practice
Here’s a picture of me explaining how to do a meditation practice to a group at the center

Another course which was offered by The Gnostic Movement was the Self-Knowledge course. This one was less about training to have an out-of-body experience, and more about finding out how your inner psychology worked. The structure of the course was similar to the Astral Travel one, with classes split into a lecture/discussion guided by a teacher, and then a practice portion. Some of the group practices done in this course included meditation, observing one’s thoughts and feelings, practicing concentration to quiet the mind, learning to be in the present moment, and retrospection/reflecting on past events or dreams.

The results of this course were particularly interesting, because it helped people to take a deep look at the kind of person they were, the types of thoughts they had during the day (catching if they were prone to negativity, anxiety, or carelessness, for example), and then they could begin to take the steps to change if they wanted.

For example, if a person noted that they had a lot of angry thoughts, this course helped them learn to come back to the present moment, and not act on those thoughts by say, picking a fight with a family member or coworker. Behaviors such as relying on alcohol or consciousness-altering drugs as an escape or a way to deal with life were discouraged, and some students gave feedback that this course dramatically improved their life for the better, i.e. helped them quit smoking or quit a drug addiction they’d had a hard time tackling in the past. To be clear, we did not offer or claim to offer psychological counseling or anything like that, but we did notice that if a person followed through and practiced the techniques in the self-knowledge course, more often than not the corresponding outcome was they became a more mentally and emotionally balanced, stable, and caring person. Another example of the kinds of change we might see would be for individuals who were prone to being pressured or swayed by what others thought they should do. If they learned to observe their inner thoughts and feelings, and go against the tendencies that allowed them to be pushed around (like wanting to please others no matter what), they ended up being more self-reliant and independent.

Advanced courses were offered to people who had completed the Astral Travel and Self-Knowledge course. These courses focused on improving concentration, with longer/more robust meditation practice sessions, and covered topics about the spiritual path, balancing the energies, and alchemy to name a few.

Searching for retreat properties

Besides volunteering to help out with graphics and design, I was involved in some other projects over the years. One of these was the search for a retreat property in North America. I helped out for a short time from 2010-2011. During this time I searched for properties online, made phone inquiries, and followed up with due diligence research for properties that looked promising. It was extremely difficult to find suitable properties with the budget that we had. Most of the really decent (not fancy, but just good value) properties were double or more than our budget allowed, and so we were in a position of constantly combing the lowest priced listings, trying to find a property that would meet our requirements. We were very careful to abide by all the rules for zoning and this actually made it more challenging to find properties, because often zoning would be incorrect or agents/sellers would say that a property could be used for a purpose that it wasn’t actually zoned for, so it took a lot of questioning and digging to get to the bottom of what the true situation was with a property.

Benefits of volunteering

Reflecting back on the time I spent in TGM as a student, teacher and member of the organization, I can say that overall it was a very enriching time in my life, and gave me some unique learning opportunities. I developed a greater degree of responsibility and care for others through volunteering and running the center and courses, because I could see how appreciative people were to have access to the spiritual information and the practice space we provided, without having financial demands or expectations placed upon them. This was the same way I felt when I found the courses online myself. I learned the skill of graphic design in order to make advertising materials for Toronto, and once my skills developed enough made graphics for various websites run by The Gnostic Movement and for book covers and posters. There was always a constant need for design materials, and I really enjoyed using my time in a way that helped others find the spiritual teachings I had benefited from. Additionally, I’ve personally benefitted from developing those graphic design skills, as it’s been an invaluable skill to have, especially for subsequent employment I’ve pursued.

Experience with Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub)

Over the years that I was involved in TGM I had various interactions with Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub). I first met Mark in 2007 in Australia at an international retreat, and had contact with him online over the years while working on some projects for the organization. In all contact I had with him I found him to be a principled, honest and caring person. At the retreat where I met him the first time, I watched as he patiently answered questions and spent time with people, sharing meal times and conversation. His concern was always to discuss spiritual subjects and explain how to learn and use your life in order to gain spiritual knowledge.

He attended a retreat in Canada as well that I went on in 2010, and my impression of him then was the same. He was there to help people, and spent a lot of time just talking to us about spiritual topics, and answering everyone’s questions patiently.

Altruistic and caring nature

Whenever I’ve seen him in person, he was always dressed normally, without being flashy nor looking overtly ‘spiritual’; he just looked and dressed like an average person. He never struck me as being concerned with accumulating wealth or having any preoccupation with getting famous. Instead what I observed over the years was that he consistently gave away his time, effort, writing, and teaching free of charge to others. He didn’t make money off of books, nor get financial compensation for all the videos, lectures, audio recordings, or other unique material he made available through his website.

The only times I’ve ever known Mark to be interested in publicity has been in order to get the message about the spirituality he teaches out to people, which of course needs to be through various media channels, since that’s how you reach people. But my observation has been that things like radio interviews, television appearances, and public appearances have been done with the aim of introducing people to spiritual subjects, rather than becoming rich or famous. An indication of this, of course, is the many years he has given away spiritual information for free on his website.

I’ve noted Mark on many occasions having care for other people’s well being. For example, on several occasions over the years that I’ve known him and when I was very focused for a period of time on projects that involved graphic design, at the end of the project he’s suggested I take some time off and have a break so that I don’t get burned out on creative work.

Encouraging first-hand experience over blind belief

As a spiritual teacher, Mark consistently encouraged those of us interested in spirituality to go get our own experience of how things work, rather than just relying on what he or anyone else explains. It’s interesting, because he has a lot of spiritual knowledge and experience himself, which makes him a good guide, and his way of operating is to help people be in the position to learn for themselves and go through their own internal process of spiritual development. He has never encouraged anyone to ‘follow’ him as such. It’s more like he’s a guide and helps everyone get into the position of being able to discover what they need to for themselves.

Respect for free will

Another thing I’ve noted about Mark Pritchard is that he always let people choose what they wanted to do, and had respect for the free will of others. If someone wanted to step down from a position of teaching or membership in TGM, they did so without impediment from him. I’ve known him to be open to suggestions and different opinions when I’ve worked on projects like his books or website.

When false accusations were going on against us and Mark, some of us decided to speak up against them. This was a decision those of us who were teachers and members of the organization made on our own, without intervention from Mark. We did so by making posts online, starting up some websites, and making videos to put forward the facts of what was happening and to respond to the false information being put out. In hindsight, things may have turned out differently if more of us had spoken up sooner and more consistently about the truth of what we knew regarding the organization, Mark, and so forth. This was something that Mark could have influenced had he wished to tell people what to do, but he did not, and instead let all of us involved make our own choices out of respect for people’s own free will.

Respect for relationships

The last thing I’d like to note about Mark from the time that I’ve known him, is that I’ve gotten the sense that he has a great respect for relationships. Part of this is what I just mentioned about him letting people learn from their own actions, but also I’ve seen and heard him explain on numerous occasions about the special relationship between husband and wife, and noted that he regards this as a sacred relationship, and one that is not to be meddled with by outsiders. I’ve found this to be extremely refreshing, because most people today are more casual towards sex and marriage. Giving advice to others about what they should do when they are unhappy with their spouse (meddling/gossiping), encouraging loose behavior with members of the opposite sex or worse yet condoning or encouraging infidelity have become commonplace behaviors in our society.

Honorable conduct towards women

Within TGM, though, it was totally different. As a woman participating for years in the capacity of student, teacher, and member, I always felt a sense of safety, if you will, that I didn’t necessarily feel when interacting with men in other parts of life, specifically because of the values of chastity and respect that were exemplified by Mark, and present in the functioning of the organization at all levels. Not only were men and women treated as equals within the organization, everyone also respected each other as equal counterparts, without the need for any kind of exploitation of the other gender or the sexual overtones that commonly get introduced between men and women in other places in life. Mark’s teachings about the importance of marriage for spiritual development, and the way he conducted himself with honor really, in all the interactions I had with him in person and online, were to me tangible examples of what true spiritual development is all about. I find his views on the sanctity of marriage and the teachings he gives on the spiritual importance of a loving, faithful and harmonious marriage, extremely helpful.

Physical and online harrassment by a short-term participant

For the most part the courses and material taught helped people to balance out their lives and take time to find quietness and reflection amidst the usual hectic life/work schedule. However, there were occasions where someone would attend the courses, become unhappy with what was being taught and then leave. On a rare occasion, we had an individual even attack the people they were once friendly with.

Behavior at the center

This case happened in Toronto with an individual who started attending the center in May of 2008, and stayed on for about five or six months. When they first arrived they said that in the past they had been diagnosed with mental illness, had been on medication for it, had seen a psychiatrist, but managed to pull through. It was pretty evident from talking to them that their mind was in constant overdrive because of the way they talked, jumping from one thought to the next. Their spoken sentences were often left incomplete, as they would think of something new mid-sentence, and then just go on to talk about that new thing without completing the first thought. They also had the tendency to want to revisit certain topics, and talk about the same point again and again.

What was interesting was that as they began to practice the exercises taught in the Self-Knowledge course, this person’s conversational skills notably improved. When speaking, they were easier to understand, their speech pattern stabilized to a more consistent pace, and they were able to verbalize thoughts through to their completion, which made it a lot easier to talk and relate to them as a person.

I personally spent a lot of time talking to them before and after courses for several months, discussing how they were going with exercises, and they shared the improvements they were noticing in their life, and difficult situations they faced as well. We were friendly enough that I would give this individual car rides home from courses at the center on multiple occasions when they stayed late.

One day in October of 2008, after completing both the astral and self-knowledge course and signing up for the esoteric course (and purchasing the book that went along with it) they stopped attending the center. They sent an email thanking us for helping them on their spiritual journey, and said that they would no longer be able to attend, but generally wished us well.

Sudden swing of opinion

However we later found out that this individual had a major shift in opinion and had actually become openly hostile to TGM, Mark Pritchard, and the group of us that ran the center in Toronto. It was surprising at first because the last interaction we had with them was that email saying they weren’t coming back, but thanking us for the time we spent with them, and it was not a hostile email. Nor was there ever a falling out. The next thing we heard, they started posting messages in an online forum that our group was a dangerous cult, and they stated online that they were ripping down our posters in Toronto when they saw them.

Abuse on anti-cult forum

These actions were surprising since there had been no triggering event with any of us in person, but I could also see how they might be prone to the drastic swing of opinion, given the previous information they shared about past issues with mental illness and the way they liked to revisit the same point in conversation over and over. For example, this person started posting about TGM being a cult online, and ended up making over 300 posts on a forum about cults, mostly talking to themselves, and not actually carrying on a meaningful conversation with other people. That’s a lot of posts on a public forum talking to oneself. They also went so far as to put up their own posters in October 2010 outside our center that said “WARNING, CULT GROUP ALERT!”.

These events with this particular individual coincided with a time that two people in TGM were asked to leave the organization for misconduct. This was in early April 2009. When they were asked to leave there was a period of time that they tried to gain access back into TGM but were denied, and after about one year they turned and became publicly hostile towards TGM and Mark Pritchard. They had a few friends who started engaging with this individual online, which undoubtedly had an effect and encouraged their course of action.

Physical harassment

A “cult” notice posted on the front door of the center

Besides the effect on this particular individual, there were other consequences when those rumors and allegations which were started online by supporters of the former TGM members, spilled over into everyday life out in public. On one occasion I found a cult notice left on my car windshield while it was parked on a street near the center, with TGM being mentioned specifically as an example of a dangerous cult. Another time when some of us arrived at the center, there was a handwritten cult message taped to the door. It made me wonder, if people would get upset enough to go out and put messages on cars and buildings from reading anonymous allegations, what might they do next? I wondered, particularly since the anti-cult crowd seemed to be attracting people who were already angry and appeared unstable, if it was only a matter of time until someone was incited to violent physical acts.

Our center was never vandalized but I wondered if that might happen in the future. I also noticed while out postering, that our course posters would be specifically targeted to be ripped down, slashed, or have the word ‘cult’ written on them. This happened in various neighborhoods around the city, and was very unsettling, as it seemed to evidence the growing climate of intolerance and hatred being stirred up towards alternative spirituality in general, and Mark Pritchard and TGM in particular.

In April of 2011, myself and the other directors of TGM Canada voted to close down and cease operation of the Canadian branch of TGM, because it was clear that the organization was not able to function well, or even have a positive effect for people at all in the midst of the climate of intolerance, and hostility. It was a very sad time, because what TGM personally did for me, and the service it provided to the public free of charge, was quite priceless, and I felt this as a very tangible loss.

Back to People’s Experiences