I participated in The Gnostic Movement from 2002 until the dissolution of The Gnostic Movement in Canada in 2014. I began as a student, then a teacher, then a director, and then a member.
First interest in spirituality
I had first taken a serious interest in spirituality in the summer of 2002, as I was entering my final year of high school. Prior to that, I had been an atheist. However, I had begun to feel something important was lacking in my life. The conventional priorities such as school, friends, and entertainment seemed to lack deeper meaning and purpose, and I struggled to understand who I was or what I should be doing with my life, leading to feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.
I turned to spirituality as a possible solution. I hoped to find a more fulfilling direction for my life and to cultivate feelings of inner peace and happiness. It was around this time I was introduced to some spiritual and esoteric books by friends who had in turn been introduced to them by some acquaintances. These books included works by authors P.D. Ouspensky and Samael Aun Weor.
These books had a great impact upon me. The description of human psychology they contained – an explanation of how people typically live in a daydream-like state of psychological sleep and have various egos or “I”s within them – seemed very compelling and resonated with what I had seen within myself.
I became very enthusiastic about these ideas and attempted to put them into practice using the contents of the books I had read. I attempted to practice self-remembrance and also mantra techniques and meditations that I had learned.
The acquaintances who had originally recommended the books I was studying also gave classes based on the teachings of Samael Aun Weor and introduced my friends and I to others who gave similar classes. I began attending these types of classes several times a week.
Experience in The Gnostic Movement
In the Fall of 2002, a friend saw a poster advertising a course on astral travel at a Toronto library, held by an organization called The Gnostic Movement. I had assumed that this organization was another group based on the teachings of Samael Aun Weor, similar to the other classes I had been attending, but I was not sure if or how they were related.
A course in Astral Travel
I was already familiar with many of the concepts of Gnosis including astral travel. However, I was very glad and excited to find a course teaching about astral travel specifically and giving instruction on how to do it, which was not something that had been covered in any of the other classes I was taking.
The Gnostic Movement’s course was held in a large meeting room at the library at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. I recall there were a large number of people attending. I attended with a group of my friends. There was a positive atmosphere in the class, and people generally seemed interested and excited to learn.
This teacher described the topic in a way that made it easy to understand and very practically achievable. At one point I asked a question to the teacher about whether it was possible someone from the class could astral project that same evening. He confirmed that it was very possible. This answer was a significant contrast to the other classes I had attended based on the teachings of Samael Aun Weor, where instructors had stated that astral projection was something very advanced and difficult for newcomers to achieve. The potential for mystical experiences such as astral travel to actually be real and accessible to someone like me in the very near future was awe-inspiring, and I was filled with a sense of joy, like finding out that magic was actually real.
I continued attending these classes on a weekly basis for the duration of the eight-week course. The course content included information on the astral plane, dreams, spiritual experiences and spiritual beings, negative entities that exist in the astral plane, and a wide variety of techniques that we could try at home. I practiced the techniques with a lot of enthusiasm and a fairly high degree of discipline. Towards the middle of the course, I had my first conscious astral experience through waking up during a dream and experiencing being out of my body in the astral plane. This confirmed to me that there was a reality to the course content that I could experience for myself.
The group of perhaps 5-6 friends I had first started with also continued to attend with me, and we shared a great enthusiasm for what we were learning.
The course included access to written course materials in PDF form, as did all subsequent courses. I could access these course materials on the internet prior to the weekly lecture, and I would usually print out and read these ahead of time in order to come to class with some familiarity with the material. I could then clarify any points by asking questions to the teacher.
These course materials were all written by a man named Mark, who teaches with the spiritual name Belzebuub. Unlike the other groups I had been attending, which appeared to only focus on the teachings of Samael Aun Weor (who was long deceased) The Gnostic Movement had a living teacher who it was stated had reached an advanced stage of the spiritual path. Mark had been a student in the Universal Christian Gnostic Movement (UCGM) of Rabolu; Rabolu was in turn a direct disciple of Samael Aun Weor. It was stated that Rabolu had reached an advanced stage of spiritual enlightenment and took over the coordination of the UCGM worldwide after Samael Aun Weor died. Belzebuub had similarly created The Gnostic Movement after having reached the appropriate stage and continued the teaching after Rabolu died. In this way, I understood that Belzebuub was a spiritual teacher in direct lineage from Samael Aun Weor himself.
Although books by Samael were also used as supplementary, Belzebuub was presenting the teaching in his own way, expanding on and in some cases distilling the teachings of Samael Aun Weor to what was essential for people to gain practical experience. The manner of presentation was exceptionally clear and simple, although it still possessed great depth.
A course in Self-Knowledge
Following the course on astral travel, there was a brief break and then a new course focusing on self-knowledge began.
This course introduced concepts and practices relating to psychology from a Gnostic perspective, including information on egos (the subconscious), the consciousness, and techniques for increasing awareness and observing thoughts and emotions. It also had topics on intuition, relationships, and how to bring more order to life. Each week had an exercise that was given as a kind of homework assignment. I continued to practice these diligently.
Here’s a video review I gave of Mark’s self-knowledge book many years ago, which the course was based on:
During both the astral travel and self-knowledge courses, I noticed that the course tended to start with a very large group (between 50 and 100 people, I would estimate), but then fewer people seemed to attend every week. Sometimes people missed several weeks of the course and then reappeared, which seemed quite normal. There were no attendance requirements for these two introductory courses.
The Esoteric course and experiences with consciousness
The third course was called the Esoteric Course. Unlike the previous courses, it had a prerequisite of having attended both introductory courses. I was told the material was more advanced content that described the spiritual path to enlightenment and how to walk it, and that the practical experience gained in the earlier courses was necessary to truly benefit from the more advanced exercises. It was therefore a much smaller group that attended this third course.
The Esoteric Course was extremely impactful. There were topics about the spiritual path, life and death, karma, creation, sexual alchemy, and how to eliminate the egos. I applied all the techniques I could with a lot of enthusiasm.
The technique that had the most impact on me was the method for eliminating egos (negative inner states). This technique involves internally praying to a part of one’s own spiritual being, called the Divine Mother, for assistance in removing an ego. I recall reading about the technique prior to the evening’s class, and then trying to practice it while going out for dinner beforehand and then in the class itself. As negative thoughts or feelings were arising, I was applying the technique and feeling some relief and a greater sense of peace. I was truly overjoyed at having found, at last, a tangible way of freeing myself from negative inner states.
On another occasion, I recall sitting in my backyard on a beautiful spring day. I tried to sit in stillness and to focus all my effort on perceiving the present moment and applying the technique for eliminating the egos. As I continued this effort for perhaps ½ an hour, I felt a sense of intense peace and psychological clarity come over me. I felt as though I was seeing the world around me through fresh eyes, as if it was new and completely unfamiliar to me. My inner state was very blissful and unlike anything I had felt before. Within a short period of time, thoughts began to creep in and overpower this state, so I could not hold on to it for long. However, it was a very powerful example of what consciousness was like and the latent potential it held, which I had previously understood only intellectually.
When I learned that one of the key components of walking the spiritual path was helping others, I decide to write an article about the experiences I was having with practicing awareness and exploring consciousness. This was published on The Gnostic Movement’s website, mysticweb.org. This was the first volunteer activity I did for The Gnostic Movement. I was very glad of the opportunity to give back and help others in some way, since I had seen already the potential of these teachings to be truly transformative.
Mysticweb.org also had a strong community on it, with numerous public forums, a guest book, and a chat room. It was extremely active, with numerous people asking questions and discussing the teachings of Belzebuub. It appeared that there was great demand for what he was offering.Understanding the spiritual significance of helping others also helped me better understand why all the courses I had been taking were free of charge. It had always impressed me that all the classes were completely free, with donations being accepted but strictly voluntary and optional. However, I now understood and saw that restricting spiritual information by attaching a price to it was a violation of spiritual principles. This presented a stark contrast with many other spiritual teachings that seemed to be commercially oriented, requiring expensive purchases of material or high fees to take courses.
This was a very magical time in my life. I was 19; I had completed my high school classes in the first half of the year, leaving me with a semester off. I spent much of my free time reading spiritual books, trying spiritual practices, going for walks in nature, and immersing myself in spiritual studies. Everything around me seemed conducive to or connected to spiritual pursuits in various ways.
My experience with these classes had also brought me closer to my grandmother in an unexpected way. Towards the beginning of the astral travel course, I invited my grandmother to attend with me. She had always had an interest in spirituality and was open-minded about such topics. She appeared to enjoy the classes very much and continued to attend with me for several months through three different courses. Although she is now passed away, I remember fondly our time spent together and was glad she had the opportunity to attend.
Teachings on marriage and sexuality
The Esoteric course was also my first in-depth introduction to the teachings of Gnosticism on love, marriage, and sexuality.
Before I learned about Gnosis, I had perceived that lust and sexuality were heavily promoted in society, and I could also see the influence of these forces within my own psychology. I had begun to see the hollowness of how sexuality was depicted in popular culture, which seemed to commodify sex and represent it as something animalistic, crude, and demeaning.
Shortly after I discovered the teachings of Samael Aun Weor, I read about alchemy, a sexual practice between married couples in which the sexual energies are channeled inward and used for spiritual development.
I began to understand the potential of sexuality more clearly in the Esoteric course, where Belzebuub had written several topics discussing lust, sex, and alchemy. He described lust as a powerful sub-conscious force that can enslave a person and that inevitably leads to suffering.
He also described how the sexual energies could be purified through alchemy and outlined the steps of this practice. He stated that this was a practice solely for committed and monogamous couples and that the development of love was an integral part of alchemy. Although I was a single person at the time, I was very inspired by the idea of unlocking the spiritual potential of sex and developing a loving relationship in this way.
Belzebuub stressed that someone who was dedicated to their own spiritual development would find a suitable partner in time, and that a loving and stable relationship between husband and wife could become a foundation for spiritual progress. He also emphasized the importance of commitment and fidelity between a couple, which he said was an absolute pre-requisite for spiritual progress.
Traveling and the Investigative course
In May of 2003, after finishing the Esoteric Course, I decided to spend a few weeks traveling in Europe. This time overlapped with the beginning of the next course, which was called the Investigative course. This class had no more theory but consisted of a series of weekly investigations that required us to put the techniques we had learned into practice and to explore them thoroughly. During the weekly meetings, we would provide feedback to the teacher on what we had learned and receive his feedback in turn.
Although my travel might have required me to miss participating in the class, the teacher in Toronto suggested he could email me the weekly topics while I was away, and I could send him my feedback by email. I was grateful for that suggestion as it allowed me to continue with the courses while I was traveling.
Being in a strange country and seeing new and unfamiliar things every day only heightened the sense of discovery and newness I was already feeling due to my studies with The Gnostic Movement. I practiced diligently while I was there and felt that I was making progress in learning more about the negative emotions that had previously been such a significant part of my life. I was seeing some meaningful changes within myself, even after a short time.
I continued taking the Investigative Course in person as I returned home from travel. I had built up a strong discipline with my exercises, and began to have many more astral experiences for a time. A real momentum was building for me with my spiritual practice.
Contrasts between The Gnostic Movement and other Gnostic groups
Throughout all this time, I had continued to attend classes with both The Gnostic Movement and another group that was based on Samael Aun Weor’s teachings. I was eager to gain all the knowledge and experience I could, and so I was glad to have 3-4 opportunities per week to attend different types of classes.
However, I had begun to realize that there were a number of points of difference between these two groups, despite coming from a similar doctrinal background. These differences included the books that were recommended, the practices that were taught, and most tangibly, the overall approach. I found the classes in The Gnostic Movement emphasized a more practical approach, whereas the other classes tended to place more emphasis on intellectual information and theory, which was difficult for a new student to verify.
I also realized that those teaching these other classes appeared to have a negative view of The Gnostic Movement and its spiritual teacher, Mark, as well as Mark’s predecessor, Rabolu. They stated that neither Mark nor Rabolu were enlightened as they claimed to be, and also that Mark was not the spiritual being Belzebuub as he claimed to be. They warned me against attending the classes of The Gnostic Movement and stated that they could be spiritually harmful.
When I questioned my teacher within The Gnostic Movement about these claims, he informed me that after the death of Samael Aun Weor, there had been some schisms within those who studied his teachings. While some had recognized Rabolu as Samael Aun Weor’s successor, another group viewed Rabolu as a mistaken person or an imposter who was not enlightened and did not possess the authority to coordinate Gnosis worldwide. They held similar views about Rabolu’s student, Mark.
The negative claims about Mark did not seem credible to me. I had studied his writings in depth, and I had found them to be simple, clear, and objective teachings with immense practical depth. These teachings had also enabled me to have some profound spiritual experiences, so I had substantial evidence to verify the authenticity and value of his work, which gave me a lot of faith in the teaching as a whole.
I also felt certain that I could not have experienced any of these things had I just been attending the classes of the other group based on Samael Aun Weor’s teaching, since they were much more theoretical and lacked that practical depth. I became skeptical of the basis upon which the the other teachers made their claims, as it seemed to me that they had not seriously practiced Mark’s teachings before criticizing them and that they were attempting to influence me to join their group rather than The Gnostic Movement’s group.
The Teacher’s course
After completing the Investigative Course, I was presented with an option to take the Teacher’s Course. This was a course for people who had completed the Investigative Course and wanted to make a commitment to teaching within The Gnostic Movement. Teaching was stated to be one of the best ways of helping others, and I was very eager to get started.
At this stage, I could see that it would be a clear conflict of interest to participate in a group that rejected the spiritual teacher of an organization that I was simultaneously trying to represent and that I could no longer continue attending the classes of the other group based on Samael Aun Weor’s teachings.
Although deciding to leave one of the groups I was participating in was not easy to do, the choice itself was ultimately not very difficult to make. The Gnostic Movement seemed dynamic, energetic, and alive. The presence of Belzebuub, a living spiritual teacher, to provide guidance and new teachings was the most important factor in my decision to continue in The Gnostic Movement; I had developed a deep trust in his teachings based on what I had experienced from them.
I informed my teacher in The Gnostic Movement that I wanted to proceed with the Teacher’s Course, and I told the instructors of the other class I had been participating in that I would not be attending anymore.
The Teacher’s Course consisted of preparing mock lectures and delivering them to the main teacher and other students who were taking the course with me. A small group of us had progressed to this stage; many of them were part of the same group of friends who I had first started attending the courses with. Each week we would each be assigned a different topic, and then we would gather at the teacher’s apartment to present our mock lectures.
I enjoyed and benefited from the process of taking the Teacher’s Course very much. This was one of my first experiences in public speaking. I found I had some ability in this area, and it allowed me to begin cultivating skills that would serve me very well over time, both as a Gnostic teacher and in my professional career. This process also encouraged me to sharpen my knowledge of the Gnostic doctrine so that I could clearly share it with others. Lastly, I enjoyed the camaraderie of taking the course and how my friendships deepened. It felt like becoming part of a team.
At the end of the course, I successfully passed a final Q&A quiz and was told I had passed the course overall. I was now a Trainee Teacher, meaning I could volunteer to help out in a wider variety of ways and also continue to learn on the job by guiding lectures and practices or answering forums on The Gnostic Movement’s websites in due course. This was a very happy day for me.
Shortly after this, in the fall of 2003, I moved to Kingston, Ontario to begin attending university there. Since I was no longer at the center in Toronto, I was able to join the online version of the Teacher’s Training course, offered through The Gnostic Movement’s website Mysticweb.org. Although there were no other people taking The Gnostic Movement’s courses in Kingston, the online course allowed me to interact online with other teachers in training around the world and continue to learn and help in a virtual environment.
Volunteer activities in Kingston
The online Trainee Teacher’s course was a welcome chance to interact with some like-minded people, as I could share my experiences in forums with others from around the world. This helped recreate virtually some of the sense of community and camaraderie in my work.
I also volunteered to answer questions in the forums on The Gnostic Movement’s websites, and was assigned some specific forums to monitor. On these forums, I would respond to any questions that came in. I found this activity brought me a lot of spiritual strength, and I very much enjoyed being able to offer some information, guidance, or encouragement to other people who were searching for answers of their own. Through my efforts to answer these public forums consistently over several months, I was eventually assigned a spot answering questions in the online course forums. I valued this opportunity very much.
On another occasion, I was given the opportunity to assist with writing some content for a new website The Gnostic Movement was creating. I had always enjoyed writing and was majoring in English literature at university, so I was very glad to apply these skills to write about spiritual things. It was my first experience creating website content, which over the years evolved into an interest in online marketing and eventually into a career. The skills I was gaining through my volunteer work would come to have substantial rewards in terms of my professional development.
Overall, these volunteer activities were welcome opportunities to do something meaningful. I found that when I spent some time contributing in various ways, my inner state changed for the better – I felt happy and purposeful to be involved in something that held value for me. I gained a feeling of strength and energy. This was a very real example for me of the spiritual principle of Gnosis that, in helping others, we are helped ourselves.
Becoming a qualified teacher
In the winter of 2004, I decided to move back to Toronto. I successfully applied to transfer to the University of Toronto and made arrangements to move back once the semester ended in May of 2004.
In March of 2004, I and another trainee teacher from Toronto were made into qualified teachers and became responsible for running the center in Toronto. Becoming a qualified teacher was the culmination of the Teachers Training Course and meant that I was considered qualified to teach to the public independently, potentially start or run a centre, and take on more responsibilities.
Additionally, the promotion to being a qualified teacher did not only mean I was responsible for the operations of one centre; I was also offered the position of being a corporate director of The Gnostic Movement in Canada, which had been incorporated as a not-for-profit entity in late 2003. I accepted this position. I met by phone with the other teacher from Toronto, and decided that, since I was not in Toronto for the time being, I should be responsible for many of the administrative tasks that could be done remotely. I found myself needing to learn all about corporate governance, government registrations and filings, financial reporting, tax returns, and much more.
Becoming a qualified teacher also enabled me to become more involved in other tasks related to The Gnostic Movement’s websites and other international initiatives. These efforts allowed me to collaborate with a team of teachers from around the world. The people I was able to work with were extremely committed, skilled, and hard-working, and my participation in this multitude of different projects allowed me to gain important new skills over time. I also continued to teach online but now helped coordinate and teach some of the more advanced courses.
Back in Toronto, the group had been looking for a permanent space that we could rent to use as a centre. Until that point, all classes had been held in rented rooms in a library. This worked well, but we wanted to have our own dedicated space that could be used more frequently, that would have multiple rooms for different types of practices, and that could be used to create more of a community feeling. By having our own dedicated space, we would be able to build up a spiritual environment in a way that would not be possible renting rooms for a few hours per week.On May 1, 2004, we signed a lease granting us possession of our first centre in Toronto. It was near a busy commercial area in a suburb of the city. The team in Toronto set about renovating the interior, which mainly involved stripping old wall paper, putting up a fresh coat of paint, and laying down some carpet.
Near the end of May in 2004, I moved back from Kingston. We continued renovating the centre for another month or so and soon held our first courses for the public. These courses would typically start with an introductory lecture at the library and then transition back to the centre once the class sizes became more manageable.
This was a very exciting and active time. We had perhaps 8-12 volunteers including our group of teachers, trainee teachers, and advanced students; together we worked in various capacities to renovate the centre, advertise the lectures, run the course events, cook food for the café, take care of maintenance and gardening at the centre, and also attend to the various administrative requirements of running an organization. There was also a responsibility for the qualified teachers to oversee the training and learning of those in the Teachers Training Course and the Teachers Course.
In the fall of 2004, we made a decision to end our lease of the current centre and move on. Although we had not been there for very long, we had quickly determined that the space was not suitable for a variety of reasons, one of which was the location being not central enough. We quickly found someone to take over our lease.
We temporarily moved the courses back to rented rooms at libraries while we regrouped and considered our next options for a permanent centre. In June of 2005, we signed a lease and began renovating a new centre. Located in the heart of the “Annex”, a popular neighborhood near the University of Toronto, our centre was extremely central and directly across from the Royal Ontario Museum, a well-known landmark. This centre traded size for location, as the space itself was much smaller.
We began several weeks of renovations and opened our doors in July of 2005. Although small, this centre was reasonably well attended due to its very central location. We continued in this location until December of 2006, when we ended our lease as the building the centre was in was being demolished to make way for a new condominium development.
Practices at the centre
On the weekends, teachers and students in the Teachers Course and above would meet at the centre for practices of astral projection. These would be referred to as “all-night” practices and consisted of several practices at intervals throughout the night. They would begin with time spent in focused awareness, exploring the room we were to practice in or the backyard. Next everyone would lie down on some cushions and begin their practice. Eventually most people would fall asleep and remain sleeping until the next practice began, signaled by an alarm going off. The subsequent practices were meant as a way of increasing the number of chances to astral project. For example, we would do practices at 10 PM, 12 AM, 2 AM, and 4 AM. The next morning, we would generally sleep longer so that, despite having broken our sleep several times, everyone was generally getting a normal night’s rest during that evening.
These sorts of sustained astral practices were very effective for me. I found that I gained the most experiences of astral projection on nights where I did multiple practices and interrupted my sleep multiple times.
Meeting Belzebuub at a retreat
In August of 2004, I had an opportunity to attend a retreat in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. It would be attended by a group of perhaps 20 teachers and trainee teachers from across North America, and it would be led by Belzebuub. This was my first opportunity to meet Belzebuub in person.
The retreat was on a beautiful property in the Laurentian Mountains, close to plenty of walking trails and with some pleasant lodges that we stayed in.
When I first met Belzebuub the morning after we arrived, he shook my hand and said, “it’s very nice to meet you.” There was a simple sincerity in his greeting, as if he was truly glad to meet me. I was also struck by how down to earth he was, despite being a spiritual teacher. There was no sense of pretense or a spiritual persona. His manner was kind and respectful to every person, whether they were an experienced teacher or a new student, young or old, male or female. He treated everyone equally, with no sense of preference or judgement towards anyone. He also seemed to genuinely value and consider the opinions of each person.
He seemed a very normal and also humorous person, but at the same time there was something different about him. He demonstrated a sense of clarity, stability, and objectivity in how he interacted with others and in situations, and this manner would be consistent in every subsequent interaction I had with him.
Belzebuub guided most of the retreat, and so I was able to listen to many talks that he gave and join in walks, practices, and even casual conversations with him. I found his teaching to have extraordinary spiritual depth. He had an enormous insight into the human condition and psyche; I had never before encountered someone with so deep an understanding and a capacity to convey that understanding in simple, clear, and direct terms. He also made wonderful use of gentle humor to make his points. The retreat was a very valuable experience on many levels.
Starting a group in VancouverIn the spring of 2007, I graduated from university and decided to move to Vancouver in order to start a Gnostic group there, as currently there were only groups in Toronto and Montreal within Canada. There was an online trainee teacher already living in Vancouver.
Before moving to Vancouver, in July of 2007, I traveled to the UK and attended an international retreat in Wales. The retreat was held at Buckland Hall, a lovely country mansion set amidst a beautiful rural landscape. Before arriving at the venue, we also visited the Glastonbury Tor, a sacred site that I had long wished to see in person. I recall that perhaps 30-40 people attended this retreat. These participants came from all over the world. It was a very inspiring and productive time.
In the late summer of 2007, I moved to Vancouver and began preparations to start public courses there.
Around this time, The Gnostic Movement also released a new version of its website, Gnosticweb.com, which had become the primary website of The Gnostic Movement internationally. Although Mysticweb.org had always been very interactive, with active forums and a chat room, the new Gnosticweb made it easier to create user-generated content such as blogs and adopted a modern content-management system.
Beginning new courses in Vancouver was an exciting and inspiring step for me. Initial courses were held at the central library in Vancouver and over time we used several other libraries and community centres.
Initial interest in the courses was very strong, with approximately 120 people attending our first course on astral travel and dreams. Although we had just a small team in Vancouver, I found it very rewarding to host these courses and see so many people come to learn. Over time, we also held walks, mini-retreats, practice sessions, and more. The geography of British Columbia, with its mountains, forests, and proximity to water, made this an ideal place to hold outdoor events.
Becoming a member
In December of 2008, I was invited to become a member of The Gnostic Movement. Although I had been a teacher for about 5 years, membership in the organization was a subsequent and more advanced step.
As I transitioned into membership, I began to see more of the inner workings of The Gnostic Movement. My impression of the other members was very consistent with the one I had formed working with them as a teacher – they generally seemed very serious, hard-working, and extremely committed individuals in terms of their spiritual efforts and their work within the organization.
Final retreat in Temagami
In the fall of 2010, I attended my last retreat as part of The Gnostic Movement, which was held in Temagami in Ontario. Belzebuub attended this retreat and guided part of it. It was a very powerful few days of meditation, spiritual practice, and inspiring talks. In particular, I was very grateful to have the chance to be taught by Belzebuub in person again. The depth of his knowledge and insight was greater than ever, and I was very deeply moved and inspired by his teaching.
Experience of financial matters as the Treasurer
An important task I took on was becoming the treasurer of The Gnostic Movement in Canada. Previous to this, I had not had any financial or book-keeping related experience. Now I was responsible for managing the financial records of a not-for-profit organization as well as preparing its annual tax returns. I also had to understand the complexities of sales tax, since at this time we were selling books which were subject to sales tax. Because we could not afford professional accounting services, I needed to quickly educate myself and understand how to fulfill our legal obligations.
I took this job very seriously. The culture and values of The Gnostic Movement reinforced the importance of responsibility, care, and diligence in all activities and especially with regards to financial matters. Donations given from the public were treated as a very important trust, and The Gnostic Movement had many rules and regulations governing how these donations should be handled. For example, two people must always count donations, and donations must always be deposited directly into a bank account before being used, so that there was a clear “paper trail” of all funds received. These policies were considered very important.
Donated funds were generally spent in a very conservative and cautious manner, since they represented the only discretionary income the movement received (income from book sales was sent back to the publisher, since we sold the books at cost). The volume of donations was typically quite low; donations were strictly voluntary and we did not typically make verbal requests for donations after mentioning them in the first one or two weeks of introductory courses. In the esoteric course it had also been mentioned that providing donations was a form of helping others spiritually, but there was never any requirement to do so even for teachers.
Experience as a moderator of the public forums
I also served as a moderator of the public forums on The Gnostic Movement’s various websites. There were several different forums offered for different types of discussion. These forums were generally active and popular, but their success also made them a target for individuals who were hostile towards the organization or Belzebuub or who simply wished to cause trouble.
Trolling from self-described “Gnostics”
One of the most common problems that occurred on the forums was when self-described “Gnostics” (who were followers of Samael Aun Weor but rejected Belzebuub) would start participating in the forums. These individuals would post very confrontational and condemnatory messages about elements of Belzebuub’s teaching that they objected to. They seemed very negative towards Belzebuub, and their presence was very disruptive. I felt that it was not possible to reason with these individuals, as it seemed to me that they did not come for dialogue or in good faith but only wished to interfere with the proper functioning of the forums.
On many of these occasions, these individuals did not openly announce their intentions at first but rather first spent time “lurking” and acting as though they were friendly participants. Only over time did their true purpose become evident, as they would typically begin to make subtly negative and undermining remarks that gradually become more and more blatant, until they reached a point of openly denouncing the website they were posting on in very harsh terms. These were not isolated incidents; they happened with disturbing frequency and with a very similar pattern each time. It required much time and effort on behalf of the moderating team to detect and deal with these troublesome users.
On another occasion, it was discovered that some of these individuals had been using the private messaging system of the forums to proselytize their own version of Samael Aun Weor’s teaching. They were using the website of an organization coordinated by Belzebuub in order to spread negative information about Belzebuub and direct people to another website that promoted the teachings of Samael Aun Weor and that regularly contained negative commentary about Belzebuub in its forums. These users posed as friendly and interested people in their public postings, but in their private messages they attacked the site they were using the services of and attempted to lure people away from it. When these actions were exposed, the entire private messaging system had to be turned off so that it could no longer be abused in this way.
The website mentioned above (that promoted the teachings of Samael Aun Weor and that regularly contained negative commentary about Belzebuub in its forums) seemed to often have the effect of radicalizing individuals against The Gnostic Movement and against Belzebuub. Students who were interested and enthusiastic about The Gnostic Movement’s courses would often find this other website during their online research. On numerous occasions, I recall that upon reading the negative information about Belzebuub contained on that site, they would often return with a drastically altered attitude, posting negative comments in The Gnostic Movement’s forums and criticizing and openly condemning Belzebuub and his teachings.
This process happened to several people who I knew well and who I had considered very close friends; these relationships were ruined as these individuals became completely hostile towards The Gnostic Movement. Any time they contacted me, their sole aim appeared to be to convince me of the error of my ways and to speak negatively about Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement.
Since becoming a qualified teacher in 2004, I had been involved in a variety of online tasks, and my responsibilities in this area increased over time. Since I was studying English at university, it was natural that I began to take on more tasks related to writing and the creation of online content. I also helped create emails and design web pages.
In September and October of 2008, I participated in a media campaign focused around a new well-publicized study that was investigating near-death experiences in hospital patients. My role was to be a media spokesperson and to discuss how near-death experiences related to out-of-body experiences and astral travel, which were areas of expertise for The Gnostic Movement. This campaign resulted in more than ½ a dozen media interviews for me personally with radio stations and newspapers, and it even led to an appearance on Breakfast Television in Edmonton, one of the most popular morning TV shows in Canada.
The success of the initiative was startling. I recall some family friends and one of my co-workers hearing me on the radio and telling me about it. For the television segment, I flew to Edmonton and went to the television studio. I had not participated in anything similar before, so I had much to learn and challenges to overcome. However, I pushed through and gained some very valuable experience as well as confidence in speaking to the media.
In November of 2008 I helped coordinate an online advertising and social media campaign for a new documentary video series produced by The Gnostic Movement on the history of the Gnostics. Perhaps 50 people around the world participated in promoting this video and we produced some positive results, generating thousands of views on YouTube and other sites.
The structure of The Gnostic Movement made it very easy for me to experiment and try my hand at many different activities that I otherwise might never have been able to try. I found the people I worked with and those coordinating teams I was part of were very open to my suggestions and encouraged me to try new things; regardless of whether the outcome was successful or not, there was always a great deal of learning that took place.
All of this experience in writing, marketing, design, and advertising helped me get a new job in 2008 with marketing responsibilities, and this has evolved into a successful career in the marketing industry. Without the volunteer experience I got within The Gnostic Movement, it is highly unlikely I would have had the career opportunities that I have since received.
Redesigning the online course system
Soon after membership, I took on the role of manager of the web team, which gave me overall responsibility for all of the websites of The Gnostic Movement as well as areas such as advertising. I was responsible for coordinating a team of perhaps 15-25+ volunteers working in different areas such as web development, website design, content writing, website administration and support, and advertising. Our job was to develop strategies in these respective areas to support the goals of the organization and to execute these strategies. Our teams were organized and had some process and structure, but it lacked the formality of a business corporation. It felt like being part of a team, where everyone was united around a common goal and worked together for love of that goal.
I remember many challenges along the way. This was an entirely volunteer team – some with professional skills, others having little more than enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. I place myself in the latter category, although over time I learned a great deal simply due to the necessity of having to figure many things out. Most volunteers had daytime jobs, and furthermore we were spread across three continents; we worked together after hours and in spare time, helping each other as best we could. I very much enjoyed the sense of purpose, fellowship, and camaraderie that emerged. We all committed ourselves to this venture because it was important to us.
One significant project was a complete overhaul of our online course system, which began in the fall of 2009. The Gnostic Movement had been a pioneer in online learning since the first courses were released as PDFs on Mysticweb.org in 2001. The old PDFs were no longer distributed since they had been plagiarized and pirated rampantly, and Belzebuub’s books were published in print format to better protect them. In the online courses, video had replaced text as the main medium for instruction, along with recommended readings that were included each week.
Although the online courses had evolved, the current system (which was then hosted on Gnosticweb.com) had become complex and was difficult to use. The organization saw an opportunity to improve the presentation, usability, and functionality of the course system. With this goal in mind, a working group of developers, designers, and content specialists was formed to begin a complete overhaul.
I remember this project as one of the most challenging and rewarding that I worked upon. At the time, my professional job involved creating online learning materials, and so I had some professional skills to support these efforts. Nonetheless, the project required me to push these skills to the limits as we searched for a more intuitive, inviting, and easy way to help people learn about spirituality through the internet. I developed my user experience skills and learned to wireframe simple prototypes of online systems. We ran sessions of user testing with these prototypes and revised our designs based on this feedback, trying to make them work as effortlessly as possible. This new design also included a whole range of new functionality – more advanced forums, a personal journal, a progress tracker, and much more.
We were targeting a launch date of early winter 2010, giving us only a few short months to completely overhaul the course system and the course content, as all new videos and written content were being developed as well. It was a massive undertaking, and the process was both challenging and exciting. In February of 2010, we successfully launched the first round of courses in the new system. The system had materialized beautifully. It was both visually impressive and user-friendly and was well-received by the students using it.
Attacks on Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement
In May of 2010, two individuals who had previously been asked to leave the organization began a campaign to attack The Gnostic Movement and Mark specifically. Many of their statements seemed to me to present details in a false, misleading, and extremely negative light. The stories were structured in such a way as to appeal to stereotypical “cult” motifs. These motifs combined with what seemed to me to be carefully crafted emotive language created a narrative that would be quite believable to someone who lacked any other context. Although presenting themselves as victims, I saw many statements that seemed to distort, misrepresent, or misconstrue the facts, along with many outright falsehoods, and it is my belief that these narratives were motivated by negativity and a desire to punish the former organization they had participated in.
The two instigators of the campaign were joined by a small circle of others, many of whom seemed to have personal or ideological vendettas of their own motivating their actions. Some began anonymously publishing comments on the forums of a prominent anti-cult website, creating the appearance that they were a concerned person that had stumbled upon the claims and wanted to share them, rather than someone who was actually involved in making them in the first place.
I was shocked by the viciousness and hatred of the material that was posted online about The Gnostic Movement and especially Belzebuub. He was disparaged in the most significant and demeaning ways over a period of time using accusations that were completely false. I saw these attackers speculating on details of his private life, like his home, living conditions, and personal finances. He was harassed and cyber-stalked and his online activities were tracked and ridiculed.
An anti-cult “expert” also contributed directly to this after being approached and I suspect commissioned by the instigators of the campaign, posting an article critical of Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement despite lacking any first-hand experience with either. I later read that this “expert” had a history working as a professional “deprogrammer” and had been charged with kidnapping in association with this work.
These attacks also seemed to have a radicalizing effect on people who were posting on a separate forum affiliated with the anti-cult movement. One thread contained hundreds of posts, most of them created by a single person who seemed consumed with hatred and who posted repeatedly with negative claims and criticisms about Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement. Many of these posts were seemingly inspired by claims from those participating in the campaign.
Attacks on Belzebuub’s character
The false claims made about Belzebuub’s character were appalling. The attackers one-upped and amplified each other’s negative comments in an online echo chamber, creating a cartoon-like boogeyman that was diametrically opposed to Belzebuub’s actual character and behaviour. It became increasingly surreal how disconnected their descriptions were from reality.
The reality is that Belzebuub is the most decent, kind, and honourable man I have ever met. I have known him for over 12 years, and he has always demonstrated a deep and very rare consideration and care for every person he interacts with. I have never seen him so much as make a snide remark at someone else’s expense or say an unkind word to anyone.
In his behaviour towards women, Belzebuub has always been a model of absolute integrity and respect, truly embodying the spiritual values that he teaches. He was an example for me as a man, through the way that he behaved, of what a spiritual relationship should be like, demonstrating the values of love, fidelity, and commitment. Belzebuub also exemplifies an attitude of true equality between the sexes and through his example fostered an environment and an organization in which men and women interacted and participated free from bias, discrimination, or harassment of any kind, with every person encouraged to contribute to the full extent of their capabilities.
The Gnostic Movement closes
In the early winter of 2011, a decision was made to close The Gnostic Movement and cease its public activities. Although those actively involved in attacking The Gnostic Movement and Belzebuub were only a small handful, their actions – amplified on the forums of anti-cult websites – were enough to seriously damage the reputation of The Gnostic Movement and Belzebuub. Too few people among all those who were involved with The Gnostic Movement or had benefited from it made the effort to speak out in its defense.
In February of 2011, I announced to the current course we were running in Vancouver that we were ceasing our activities and that the class would end effective immediately. I was deeply saddened and moved that events had reached this juncture, as it seemed unbelievable that everything I and so many others had worked so hard for over the last 8 years had been destroyed by the hatred of this small group of people and the lack of defense against it. A few years ago it would have seemed impossible for such a thing to happen. Although I knew that spiritual knowledge transcends time, and that spiritual organizations are born and then one day have their end, I could sense that we were losing something very valuable with the death of this organization. The passage of time has only strengthened this conviction.
The impact of the online attacks continued and had many ramifications in the physical world as well. A small collection of ex-students contributed to the campaign. In some cases, people who had no experience whatsoever with The Gnostic Movement or Belzebuub became involved in attacking them. In other cases, those who had been antagonistic over the years were re-energized by the attacks and emerged to join in.
One such example was a former student of The Gnostic Movement who I had known from my earliest days as a student. This person was a long-time member of other Gnostic groups and had eventually become negative towards Belzebuub and denounced him. This person had repeatedly tried to contact me over the years to convince me of the error of my ways, and I regularly requested he not contact me. His behavior felt harassing to me. This person at one point had apologized for their behavior and had been silent for many years. However, the information being disseminated by the smear campaign instigated him to a series of online actions. Some of these actions were directed at me personally. He posted a message on my public YouTube account repeating “cult” accusations and claiming fear for my safety. He also sent similar messages to my connections on Facebook. I learned of this when several of these Facebook connections contacted me to express their concern about the message they had received.
I was horrified by this behavior; I had no idea who this person was contacting on Facebook and had no control of the information they were spreading. I felt concerned about these “cult” accusations impacting my relationships, my career, and my reputation in general.
Overall, the smear campaign had taken a heavy toll and had impacted my life enormously. I had lost the spiritual organization that I participated in, which was a great tragedy. But even more fundamentally, my entire concept of spiritual freedom had been shattered. Whereas once I had felt free and open in my exploration of spirituality, I now felt the need to conceal my spiritual practice and to be guarded and private lest I face judgment or criticism. I felt and still feel unable to freely practice or share with others the spirituality of my choice, lest I be accused of being in a “cult”. My spirituality has been tarred with a sense of shame and has become something that must be hidden for fear of how others might perceive it. Because a small group of people used the “cult” stigma to effectively brand my spiritual choices as taboo and dangerous to society, I feel those choices have become socially unacceptable and are no longer freely available to me without facing consequences. I feel that my spiritual freedom has been violated, and I will never regain what has been lost.
In the face of this sustained hostility, a small group of former members and students exercised our right of reply, creating our own website and publishing the truth to clear the name of Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement. People also contacted the police, filed human rights complaints, and did everything possible to combat the systemic and seemingly interminable campaign of hate. These efforts were eventually successful, and individuals stopped their harassment. However, the damage had already been done.
We initiated the process of winding down The Gnostic Movement within Canada in its various provinces. I filed the application to surrender our charter, which would effectively dissolve the organization. Corporations Canada accepted this application and The Gnostic Movement in Canada was dissolved in June of 2014.
New retreat organizationIn April 2012, after The Gnostic Movement had ceased its activities, I helped form a new non-profit organization. This organization’s purpose was to create and run retreat facilities that would support the development of consciousness and the practice of esotericism. We began running retreats at a rented facility in the country outside of Toronto, with a goal of one day buying our own retreat.
This was a goal that had long been pursued in The Gnostic Movement but without success. Over the years there had been a continual effort within The Gnostic Movement to raise funds to purchase a retreat as well as to find a suitable property. I had intermittently been involved in the search efforts in North America and had seen first hand how difficult it was. Not only were these efforts financially constrained, but there were numerous geographic, environmental, and regulatory considerations as well. For example, the retreat would not ideally be located in an area that suffered from tornadoes or hurricanes, or near a noisy highway, or near a mining site, and so on. Even when seemingly suitable sites were located (as happened several times), some new factor would emerge during the purchase process that revealed the property to be unsuitable. For these reasons, The Gnostic Movement had not succeeded in buying a property, despite great efforts, during its years of operation.
In May of 2012, we were contacted by a representative of The Gnostic Movement in the USA. This person had seen our website advertising retreats and our desire to one day purchase our own. They reiterated that The Gnostic Movement of the USA had tried for many years to purchase a retreat but had been unable to do so. Now, as it was closing down, The Gnostic Movement USA wished to donate its retreat fund to our organization, as this organization shared the same aims. We very gratefully accepted this donation. This donation formed the basis for a down payment we would use to buy a retreat facility one year later. In this way, the funds raised by The Gnostic Movement did in fact achieve their purpose.
After purchasing the new retreat property, there were considerable funds required to renovate and improve it to make it suitable for running public events. In December of 2013, we received another donation from an organization in Scotland that had become the custodian of the European retreat fundraising following the closure of The Gnostic Movement in the UK. This organization had similarly attempted and had been unable to buy a retreat in Europe due to a lack of funds. Since it too was closing down, it gifted its retreat fundraising to our organization.
Eventually after a few years of developing the property it was sold, and the organization is holding the funds for a future opportunity.