I was part of The Gnostic Movement from mid-2004 until its closure. I began as an online student and completed all of its web courses, and qualified as an online trainee teacher in late 2005. In early 2006 I put up my hand to assist a member who moved to my city in Australia to start a center. In November that year I qualified as a teacher and was offered the opportunity to take over running the center, which I accepted. I was offered and accepted membership in 2007, as did my wife not long after, and we ran the centre together.
I was involved in many aspects of the organization nationally and internationally. In addition to teaching courses in person, I assisted with administering online courses, and for some years managed the Movement’s video productions. I was on the international administrative team of the organization both when Mark was international coordinator and after he stepped down from that position to focus on writing and teaching.
My experience as a student and later as a volunteer teacher was very enriching and rewarding. The following article outlines my experience of being part of the organization and working with its spiritual teacher Mark. I also share background on why it interested me and the benefits I gained from becoming a practicing Gnostic, to illustrate how and why I chose to be part of it.
Finding the free online courses
My involvement in The Gnostic Movement began in mid-2004, when I came across its website and signed up for the nine week course on astral travel and dreams. The course was then offered at the site Mysticweb, and was due to commence in August that year.
What interested me in the course was a desire to explore metaphysical possibilities. I’d always felt there was something more going on in life – a deeper spiritual dimension and purpose to it – but I had no idea how to confirm if this really was the case or if it was even possible to know. I had little interest in just adopting spiritual beliefs; if it were possible, I wanted the means to discover and learn about metaphysical things through direct experience. For this reason, joining a conventional religion never really appealed to me.
This longing to know was always gnawing at me, giving rise to seemingly unanswerable questions. Did life extend beyond the physical world and what my bodily senses can perceive? Did I, or could I, exist beyond my physical body? If so, what is the point of my being here? I had this feeling there was something more going on in life, like there was some greater purpose to it. I could not escape the feeling there was something more I could be doing with my existence. But I didn’t know what it was, or how I could possibly find out.
It was a few spontaneous experiences I had with the sleep paralysis phenomenon that led me to investigate astral projection. Seeking to understand my experiences, I began researching into sleep paralysis and found material suggesting it was linked to astral projection. That was an interesting lead that caught my attention and I looked into it further.
The more I read about astral projection, the more it seemed like a promising way to find answers to metaphysical questions through firsthand exploration. I had no idea if it would work or was even possible but figured I had nothing to lose by trying. Searching online for information, I eventually came across Belzebuub’s free course on astral travel and dreams offered at Mysticweb, and signed up.
I had to wait a few weeks for the course to start. In the meantime I followed the site’s public forums, avidly reading various topics and posting some comments and questions, to learn as much as I could before the course started.
From looking around the site, I quickly learned that astral projection was just one aspect of what The Gnostic Movement behind Mysticweb taught. It was part of a broader spiritual approach to life based on the work of modern Gnostic author Samael Aun Weor. The site recommended some of his books that went into some very esoteric stuff. I browsed some of them, which were available in pdf format, but they held little appeal to me at that time. At that point, I just wanted to find out if out-of-body experiences were a real phenomenon and possible to accomplish. Since I had no idea if any of this information was valid yet, I took little interest in the broader spiritual teachings available there. So I took the more esoteric matters being discussed there with a grain of salt, and focused on the practical means to achieve astral projection.
My experience studying online
I was really looking forward to the Astral Travel and Dreams course starting. When it did, I found it to be excellent.
Each week a new topic and exercise, described in PDF documents, was made available for download as the course progressed, all written by Belzebuub. His down-to-earth, clear and insightful writing style immediately struck a chord with me, and made the course very easy to follow. It had a very practical structure, and took me step-by-step through the techniques and principles of astral projection. It was a hands-on approach to metaphysics that encouraged and showed you how to be an active spiritual explorer and use mystical practices to find knowledge through personal metaphysical experience.
As an online student I did the course on my own, trying the weekly exercises at home in my spare time. I always looked forward to the next week’s material, and read it as soon as it became available, and then tried the weekly exercise when I could; these were usually concentration/meditation-style exercises that I practiced in my bedroom.
It was emphasised in this course (and other courses too) that knowledge through direct personal experience was what “Gnosis” really is. As someone who wanted to explore and discover rather than just accept what I was told, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to agree with or accept the whole Gnostic doctrine to learn and try the methods. The practical approach of the course meant you had no obligation to believe anything. So I decided to put aside what I didn’t agree with or know to be true in Gnostic theology and just practiced the techniques to see what I would find.
To my surprise, I achieved rapid success and had multiple astral experiences in the course. I was amazed to find myself floating out of my body, consciously existing and perceiving life outside of it. This changed my whole perspective of life. Confirming I could exist separately from my body was a watershed moment, and opened up a whole new range of possibilities, as well as questions.
Over the course I increased my skills and learned not just to come out of my body, but how to explore the astral world once there. My first experiences were hazy and brief but as I persisted and practised further, my experiences became clear and vivid. Soon I made another major discovery. I discovered it was possible to ask for and receive spiritual guidance – visions and teachings – during out-of-body experiences. This led to mystical encounters and experiences, through which I came to see that what Belzebuub was explaining, at least about the astral plane and other things, was true.
The Astral Travel and Dreams course was full of personal revelations. Another major discovery was realising there was truth to the teachings of Gnosticism imparted at Mysticweb, and that its spiritual teacher Belzebuub was genuine and qualified. I had clear and vivid experiences in which I met him out-of-the-body, and saw that he was one of many spiritual teachers there who guide and help people. This was actually quite a shock to me. I hadn’t expected this to be the case; I was naturally sceptical, even cynical, and initially had no plans to do any courses beyond the astral, thinking I’d just learn the techniques then go on my way.
But having seen there was more to it than I expected, and that the techniques worked and revealed deeper truths about life, and that Belzebuub was a real and genuine spiritual teacher, I decided to continue “down the rabbit hole” to see what else there was to find. So I continued with the courses, moving next to the Self Discovery course, then the Journey to Enlightenment course, then the Advanced Investigation course. As I went through the courses, I maintained what I would call an open minded scepticism – I did not accept all the things I read upfront, but tried to find out the truth by using the exercises to explore, discover and gain personal experience. This was an approach Belzebuub actually encouraged.
Antagonistic Gnostic from rival site attempts to ‘recruit’ me
Not long after becoming involved with Mysticweb, I learned there were Gnostics from other groups or websites averse to Mark and the Movement he taught in.
At that time Mysticweb had, in addition to its public web forums, a private messaging system allowing users to send private messages to other users. After I posted a forum question one day, I received a private reply from someone advocating another gnostic site. This person attempted to undercut Mysticweb, claiming its people had limited understanding and provided a link to an article on another Gnostic site related to the subject of my question. He encouraged me to go there and read it because, according to him, the people there knew what they were talking about.
I was a little taken aback by his covert attempt to use Mysticweb’s own services to undermine the site and divert users. He seemed like someone trying to undercut a rival and poach its clientele, but his unsolicited and underhanded attempts to ‘recruit’ me to his ‘side’ made him come across more like an pushy religious preacher than someone from a mystical school like Mysticweb.
Despite being put off by this approach, I was curious about the other site, so I checked it out. I did not find it as appealing however – it had lots of information, some of it interesting, but it lacked something I could not define. For want of a better term I will just say it was not “living” in the same way Mysticweb was. In contrast to Mysticweb, it seemed much more focused on instilling doctrine rather than actively exploring the doctrinal subject matter through spiritual practice. At Mysticweb, the teachings of Gnosis were explained and approached in a much more hands-on way, emphasizing practical application and personal exploration.
But what was most off-putting, was the hostility directed at Mysticweb and Mark I found displayed there. There were forum posts dedicated to disparaging both Mark and the school he taught in, including one where an official administrator labelled Mysticweb a “harmful” school. They seemed to carry some sort of embittered chip on their shoulder. I felt it was fine for them to disagree of course, but if they disliked the way Mark and The Gnostic Movement did things, why not just carry on doing things the way they preferred and live and let live? Why post online detractions about another site on your own? I never saw people naming and condemning other groups or sites for having different beliefs or approaches to spiritual studies on the websites of The Gnostic Movement. Instead, in forums I often saw teachers emphasizing that you had to respect other people’s free will, especially in spiritual matters, so if someone wanted to practice something different to you then you should respect their right to and their personal freedom and not interfere. It was often stressed that it was wrong to impose one’s ways on others, and this was a point Mark emphasised in his writing quite clearly.
I decided to stick with Mysticweb. Later, as I became more involved in The Gnostic Movement, the unfortunate hostility emanating from some people aligned to other Gnostic organizations became a recurring issue, which I will touch on further later.
Making personal discoveries and changes
As I continued with the courses, I gradually made changes in my life when I saw the benefit of making them. These were conscious decisions based on what I wanted from life, made from my own volition and judgement.
For example, in the Self Discovery course, Belzebuub described how alcoholism and video game addiction can adversely affect spiritual development. Back then I drank copiously on social occasions, and spent a fair bit of spare time playing computer games too. I wasn’t about to stop something I enjoyed and which I felt (at the time) didn’t harm anyone else, just because of what someone had written.
Instead I approached things like an experiment, trying different things and observing the results. To give myself a valid point of comparison, I decided to focus on spiritual practice for a few months and go alcohol-free in that period to see if I noticed a change or benefit. I practised awareness and self-observation, meditation, mantras and continued with my astral exercises, and stayed sober. As I did this, I found I became much more emotionally stable and happy, with much more peace and clarity within. It is a difficult to describe the change I felt, the best word I can think of is “vibrancy”. I felt this new vibrancy within me, an inner awareness from which I could perceive and experience life with much more clarity, attentiveness and focus; there was far less inner emotional turmoil within, and both I and the world around me felt more vivid and alive.
This vibrancy extended from daily life into my dreams. As I practiced like this in the day, my dreams became clearer, vivid, and more meaningful and I remembered them more – sometimes finding they contained insightful messages which seemed to come from a higher spiritual intelligence that was guiding me. Fairly regularly, I became self-aware in my dreams as they happened, an experience commonly known as lucid dreaming. It felt like this whole other magical side to life had opened up to me.
After practising like this for a period of time, one night I attended a party where most were drinking. I decided to experiment by drinking again to observe what would happen now that my period of spiritual practice gave me a different point of comparison. In the past, I turned to alcohol for fun – it was an easy way to numb any emotional turmoil or boredom I felt. But now I felt much clearer, vibrant and alive – happy to be alive, just by being alive, and when I drank that night I found it clouded that inner vibrancy I had cultivated. Everything just became “mushy” within.
I realised I didn’t want to lose that state of being I had worked hard to attain. Now that I could compare the two states of being, I found drunkenness was a poor substitute for what I had cultivated. I could not have realised or felt this before because I had never had such an inner state to be able to lose it. I had always liked to drink to “take the edge off” but I started to wonder what that really meant. Take the edge off what exactly? I realised being drunk “blurred out” and masked inner turmoil and boredom, which is why I often enjoyed it in place of being sober. But it was only pleasurable comparative to my normal state because there was a lack of inner peace. By putting into practice what I had been learning in the courses, I was now digging deeper within myself and facing that “edge” within me and directly addressing its causes, rather than escaping it, and the result was self-knowledge and more clarity and happiness. And when I started to feel happy, truly happy within, I did not want to take the edge off that happiness, dampen it, or cloud it over. Nor did I want to hide from inner suffering by escaping it in something transient, because I knew that by facing and understanding myself I could gain peace and understanding that was lasting and stable.
So I decided to give up drunkenness. This was not something I did out of any sense of obligation; I choose this course from observing its effects and choosing what gave me greater happiness and inner freedom. I say inner freedom because I preferred happiness that came from within – that was not dependent on the temporary state produced by an external substance, which apart from being transient was also costly in terms of money and health.
I made a similar change with computer games. I’d become addicted to a fast-paced action game, and I’d often spend hours playing it each day. If I was interrupted or unable to play because another family member was using our PC, I became irritable and snappy. But as I started practising self-observation, I began to see my reactions in a detached way, and how my fascination with the game led me to behave badly towards people I cared about. I also saw how much time it wasted.
Because I was practising astral projection and dream recall at night, I noticed adverse effects there too. When I tried to concentrate on an astral exercise at night, I would sometimes close my eyes and just see imagery of the game. My mind was so used to being fascinated, distracted and absorbed in the immersive world of the game, that it was hard to get it to just focus. I would even dream about the game. I realised my attachment to the game was hindering me and eventually decided it would be better to leave it behind if I wanted to move forward with my spiritual practice. After doing so, it did not take long before my practices improved – I could focus and concentrate better and had more success with astral projection. My dreams became much clearer, vivid and more meaningful. And I was much more pleasant to be around at home – no longer snappy and irritable – and started to appreciate and enjoy being around my family more, and made a conscious effort to treat them better, instead of seeking to run away to play the game and becoming frustrated if anyone obstructed me. I felt the trade-off was worth it.
In this way, I used the teachings as a toolkit to learn about myself with an open mind, taking a grounded approach. When I made changes, I made them based on what I observed and learned through personal research and observation. I didn’t treat my spiritual studies as something to follow blindly, but as a methodology with which to explore in the field of life and make discoveries. So when I made a change in my life, I did so knowing why I was making it, having seen and understood the reasons and benefits of the change, then making a personal decision about which direction I wanted to go. This hands-on approach driven by personal experience was actively encouraged by Mark; I felt that his practical teachings had really empowered me, giving me the means to explore, make discoveries and take control of my own learning and my own life.
Training to be a teacher
This practical approach to the teachings eventually led me to take up the teacher’s training course online, because I had come to see the benefits of Gnosis. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and also help others to have the opportunities I’d had. However, I was not ready to commit to this straight away.
The teachers course had a code of conduct that you had to be willing to abide by to participate (the previous courses had no such requirements). For anyone who qualified to sign up, the code of conduct was explained upfront beforehand. It stated that teachers were seen as representatives of the Movement, which was a spiritual school, and so they had to set a good example.
This made sense to me. You would expect anyone wanting to teach spirituality to uphold spiritual principles themselves, and live by whatever standards were part of the school or tradition they were teaching in. The code of conduct included rules like not getting drunk or using foul language. Since relationship fidelity was an important principle in the teachings, a teacher was expected to be faithful to their partner in their personal life. Those training to be teachers had to be prepared to marry their partner if they were in a serious relationship when they entered the course, as it was held that a committed and monogamous relationship was essential to spiritual development.
It was made clear from the outset that it was important to reflect on whether you personally understood and were ready to commit to the requirements before joining the course. It was suggested that if you did not feel ready, it was better not to rush in. It was said that one could instead repeat an earlier course and take the time to explore the teachings further at your own pace, and that one could take the teacher’s course in the future if and when they understood and felt ready to commit to its requirements.
I had qualified for the teacher’s course after completing the Advanced Investigation course successfully, but after reflecting on that advice concerning the requirements, and on my own circumstances, I felt I was not quite ready to make that commitment. I deferred for another course term and used the ensuing three months to reflect, practice and make any personal changes I felt were necessary. I wanted to see if I could incorporate that code of conduct in my own life just for myself, for my own benefit and reasons rather than for the sake of a course, to be sure this was something I genuinely wanted in my life and could do.
By the time the next course round came along, I felt ready to join the teachers course. I had consciously incorporated those standards into my own life and was ready to assume the responsibility of training to be a teacher and make the commitment that entailed.
Regarding the standards surrounding marriage, I was in a serious relationship with my partner then but we were not as yet married or engaged. We were not required or pressured to make any immediate plans to be either. It was more that because personal relationships were considered sacred and an integral part of leading a spiritual life, requiring, love, faithfulness and a serious commitment in Gnosticism, marriage was seen as an outward sign of the inner commitment any person genuinely practising Gnosticism needed to have with their partner, and an indication they understood this principle and took it seriously. But it was the commitment in the relationship itself that mattered most rather than the formality of marriage. As a teacher I would have to teach other people about these things, so I had to be willing “walk the walk” which meant demonstrating that commitment outwardly. However the main thing I had to understand initially was understanding the need for a serious relationship to be committed and faithful for the spiritual work to take place in it, and to have a willingness to get married in the future as a sign of that commitment. My partner and I were already committed to each other, and that was what mattered most – the formalities of marriage could wait as long as the principles were understood and lived by. There was no timeline as such as for when we were to get married, as long as there was a serious intention to do so. Things were actually very lenient in this regard. As it turned out, my partner and I got formally engaged about a year after I began training as a teacher and our wedding was a little over a year after that.
In the online teachers course I did not learn anything that was not covered in previous courses. It was about testing your understanding of what you had already learned and demonstrating you could impart it clearly to others. Each week I was given a topic to study and exercises to do as homework. The following week I would give a review of the topic and feedback on the homework to demonstrate I understood both theory and practice. At the end there was a final test, where I spoke with a teacher who asked a series of questions. I passed and become an online trainee teacher.
By that time, The Gnostic Movement had shifted its online courses from Mysticweb to Gnosticweb. As a trainee teacher, I was assigned to help out in the public forums, being part of a team of trainee teachers that responded to people’s questions.
A Group starts in my city
Not long after I became a trainee teacher, I received a call from a member of The Gnostic Movement based in another state in my country. She was planning to move to my city to establish a group and asked if I would like to help. I agreed enthusiastically. My partner was also doing the early courses online, and she also got involved in helping to get things established.
When the member moved over in early 2006 we helped her settle into a place to live, near where we eventually ran courses. My partner and I became good friends with her, and we spent a lot of time together working toward getting courses up and running. She was a good role model and it was great to finally have a teacher we could talk to in person.
Soon we began looking for suitable community halls for practice sessions, which our teacher guided. We soon found one located in a nice park beside a river. It was great to gather in the evening and try to astral project with others, and there was this nice mystical atmosphere. After being so isolated, I enjoyed having this opportunity to practice with others.
We began preparations to hold the Astral Travel and Dreams course in April 2006, putting posters up advertising the course around the city. We had a great turn out on the opening night; the hall was full. While the instructor guided the course session, Priya and I staffed the enrolment desk and took the registrations. It was great to see how the course worked in person – the atmosphere was buzzing with enthusiasm and there were many questions about the astral from the audience.
In the next course round we ran the Self Discovery course and shifted to a better community venue, near a train station, which made it easier for people to travel from further afield. By chance I happened to find a listing for a hall available for long-term rent in the same suburb, a disused former church. It had a large hall with beautiful polished wooden floorboards, a kitchen, and a separate area we used as a café. Outside it had a garden in need of some TLC and its own carpark. After we inspected the place the member received the go-ahead to secure it for the Movement, which gave us our own dedicated venue. My wife and I offered to help the instructor cover the weekly rent, and moved close by so we could easily attend and help out with things.
There was a lot of red tape to navigate with the local government before it could be used however. The old building needed certain upgrades to meet modern public access requirements, including concrete ramps at the main entrance and restroom entrance because the doorways were slightly above ground level. It sounded straightforward but the local government council made it somewhat complicated and the member was in near constant discussions with them. I would drive her to their offices nearly every week while this was being sorted out.
Eventually we gained the approval. Aside from those adjustments, we began cleaning and preparing the place, adding new blinds, and setting it up for events. We moved the sessions there midway through our second course term.
Having our own venue made a big difference; the place took on a very spiritual atmosphere, and because we had it to ourselves, people had more time to stay around and socialize after course sessions and chat in the cafe. It also allowed us to run more events. There was a river a short walk from the center, bordered by a wetland with natural vegetation with a path running through it. We would organise walks along the river to practice awareness in nature.
Becoming a Teacher
Later that year, around November 2006, the member who established the center in our city returned to her home city. I qualified as a teacher and was offered the role of running the center, which I gladly accepted. The center had been such a help to me, and I enjoyed teaching very much, and I wanted to ensure it remained viable to help others too.
My wife and I choose to assume responsibility for covering the center rent and running costs. Public donations were unpredictable, and generally not enough to cover a week’s rent. There were other expenses to cover too including utility bills, advertising costs, and national costs of the Australian organisation. In between course terms donations often fell away completely, so generally it was the support of committed volunteers like ourselves who kept a center a going. Thankfully, for such a large and quality venue, the rent for our center was quite reasonable from the outset and the landlord was generous and supportive and pledged not to raise it.
Attending a Retreat and Meeting Belzebuub
In January 2007, my wife and I attended the Gnostic Movement’s Australian international retreat in the Bunya Mountains. This was our first opportunity to meet people from other centers and countries. Before the retreat began, some of the volunteers from the nearby center hosted a New Year’s Eve party. I enjoyed meeting people from the rest of Australia and around the world. In Perth we were just a small fledgling group, but here I felt part of a much larger international community.
The retreat itself was excellent, on a subtropical mountain covered by an ancient rainforest. It was inspiring to gather and practice spiritual exercises and discuss metaphysical topics over meals with a large and diverse group of interested people, in such a scenic and beautiful location. In the evenings we would all try to astral project in our respective chalets. I was in one with about ten other guys, while my wife was in a separate chalet with women.
A few days into the retreat, Belzebuub arrived, which was a pleasant surprise. This was the first opportunity I had to meet him in person. He gave a number of talks and guided some practices, and joined everyone for meals. His talks were inspiring, but in a very understated and natural sort of way – he didn’t put on any airs or make a show of it.
Throughout the retreat I found Mark to be kind, down to earth and very approachable. He took questions from the group when he gave talks, but he also had lots of informal conversations with people in the dining hall or around the camp fire at night. I noticed that he talked freely to anyone no matter who they were, whether they were a teacher or someone new to the studies who was doing one of the introductory courses, and he was just as comfortable talking about spiritual things or more everyday things like the weather, and spoke and interacted respectfully and politely with anyone who wished to speak to him. I noticed that his role as a spiritual teacher had not caused him to speak or act with affectation. He did not speak down to people, nor did he affect an artificial pose of false humility to impress people with contrived modesty. He simply spoke and behaved just like a regular guy, like a considerate gentlemen, and his manner and appearance was so down to earth that I felt that if you passed him on the street he would not stand out in the slightest. But his ordinary appearance and casual approach belied the extraordinary spiritual knowledge he could impart. He could be both casual and profound. He could be very friendly and casual when chatting with people over a cup of tea, but when he taught, his words, though conveyed with simplicity and clarity, carried this great understated depth. He could be very moving and inspiring, and he had a knack for distilling and explaining complex spiritual topics in a manner almost anyone could understand and learn from.
I had some personal issues I wanted to get his advice on privately, but I wasn’t sure if I would have the opportunity to speak to him alone. One evening after dinner I was at the tea and coffee table in the dining hall getting a drink, and he approached to serve himself something. I asked him if it would be possible to talk to him in private. I hardly knew him, and wasn’t sure if he would agree, but straight away he said yes, and that he would come get me when he was ready. I went back to my seat, and a little later he came by and let me know he was ready. We went into another room and I spoke to him one-on-one. I was a little nervous but I could see that he was making an effort to put me at ease. When I talked to him about some personal difficulties I was having, there was no judgement or moralizing from him, only concern, compassion and a very genuine wish to help. Just talking and listening to him was a comfort. He was very considerate and respectful in the way he spoke to me. That sort of consideration seemed natural to him, like he would treat anyone with the same care, irrespective of who they were, or their status. I came away from the discussion struck by the simple fact that this man genuinely cares about people, yet he expresses this in the most unassuming way.
At the end of the retreat, Mark came and said goodbye to everyone who was leaving on the bus which the Movement had arranged. He wished me well with running the center in Perth.
Running the Perth Center
My partner and I returned to Perth and got on with running the center. The previous year I planted a mixed hedge around the carpark fence, to enhance the otherwise bland space. In 2007 we established a landscaped garden outside the main entrance, where an old weed-infested lawn used to be. Here we planted fragrant plants, flowers and a mature tree, which brightened things up considerably. We used second-hand railway sleepers to make a retaining wall for a garden bed on one side, and shaped a mounded garden bed on the other, and planted a chamomile lawn in between. The garden began to blossom, and the outer fence around the carpark became entwined with native wisteria and covered by native bushes which attracted birds.
One day a pair of semi-tame white doves came to the center and made it their home. We named them Puff and Polly. I built them a shelter which I attached high to the rear external wall, where we left seed so they could perch sheltered from the rain and out of reach of cats. They took to the new shelter and would visit every day. Other times they perched on the roof or garden shed.
My wife became a teacher that year and we took care of running classes and administering the center together, including its finances. All the courses and events were free of charge, as was the case with all the centers and groups of The Gnostic Movement. There was a clear Perspex donations box placed on a table near the entrance to the main hall, where people could make anonymous contributions towards our running costs if they wished. The table also displayed Belzebuub’s course books, which were available for purchase. The money for books was kept separate from money donated to the Movement, and money for the purchase of books went back to the publisher Absolute Publishing Press. There was a separate donations box for a foundation established to help cover the costs associated with promoting Belzebuub’s work to the public, such as his website hosting fees, and equipment and software used to produce his videos etc. He did not receive any of this money personally for private use, it just subsidized costs associated with the public work he did. He had in fact renounced royalties from his book sales and only accepted money to support his living expenses from donations made to him personally. (My wife and I choose to make separate personal donations to Belzebuub to help support his living expenses, but these were private donations and had nothing to do with any fundraising that took place at the center) The foundation box was clearly marked so there could be no confusion between donations to The Gnostic Movement and donations to the foundation. The two were never mixed.
In our center, we always ensured all donations were used for the purposes they were given. So money donated to the Movement went to the Movement, funds for books went to the publisher (a separate company) and donations made to the foundation supporting Belzebuub’s work went there. We tracked and recorded all center in-goings and outgoings and did the center accounts quarterly. We would send our quarterly accounts to the national treasurer, who did the accounts for the national organisation which were submitted to the government. The organisation’s finances were carefully tracked, recorded and well-managed. As an organisation, we never had any issues with any regulatory authorities, because everything was done according to the law.
Although we received donations at our center, in reality my wife and I covered much of the running costs ourselves, and the donations from the public simply helped to supplement this. For a period, some volunteers also pledged to provide contributions to the weekly rent as we had done when we had helped the member first establish the center. However we only ever had one volunteer, a teacher, who did this long term.
Courses and events
We generally ran four course terms per year. Although the format changed over the years, by then the main sessions were generally held on a Sunday, and practice nights were held on weekday evenings. Before each round, we would put posters in cafes and shopping strips around Perth, with the help of anyone else who wanted to volunteer. Printing the posters was our main advertising cost. We also ran ads in spiritually-themed newspapers.
We also ran other events, like weekend workshops and movie nights, where we provided a home-cooked meal in the cafe and played a spiritually inspiring film through a projector. These were usually held as fundraisers to cover the Movement’s international costs. We also ran drop in meditation sessions and weekend workshops which anyone could attend without having done a prior course.
Over the years we gathered a number of regular students who would come to all the different events and also help out with putting up course posters. People were free to participate to whatever degree they wanted, and it was up to each person how much they did so; only a few ever elected to train to be teachers. We also had people who came along despite having little interest in the overall teachings of Gnosis. One lady who completed the 3 main courses, told me that our teachings were not her ‘cup of tea’, but she respected us and still liked to come along for the meditation practices and to chat with people in the cafe, because it was such a nice environment. Another person told us she had suffered from insomnia for years, and the only time she slept properly at night was after attending our meditation sessions, as they helped her to relax. We found that most people who came along were very polite and respectful, even if they didn’t agree with everything we taught, and anyone was welcome to attend whatever their beliefs may have been as long as they didn’t disrupt things.
For people who were keener and committed we sometimes held all-night practice sessions. In our center, these were special events occasionally held on a Saturday night for trainee teacher students and above. People brought their sleeping bags to the center and we would lie down on cushions and we attempted to astral project as we fell asleep. An alarm would be set to go off a few times in the night so we could repeat the attempt. The next morning, we would gather for a cup of tea or coffee in the cafe and discuss our experiences. These evenings could be magical and exciting and we looked forward to them eagerly because they were quite a lot of fun. It was inspiring trying to astral project with others and when someone succeeded it was a big inspiration to others.
Becoming a Member and working with Mark
I was offered the position of a member of the organization in mid-2007, and accepted. From then on, I became much more involved in international projects. As a teacher, I had been part of a team who responded to student questions in online course forums, and also completed writing tasks for the website. Now I became more involved in some of the behind-the-scenes work of the Movement and held greater responsibility, becoming a course administrator and helping to put together a new section with multiple articles on the main website of the time, Gnosticweb.
Being a member also brought with it the opportunity to work with Mark directly, who at that time was the international coordinator of the organization. One day I was invited to attend a meeting of the international team who oversaw the international activities of the Movement. This was an informal group of members from different countries. I was asked if I wanted to become part of the team and I accepted. At that time, there were two other men on the team (making me the third) and four women, and we used Skype to hold conference calls while based in different parts of the world. Mark would meet regularly with this team, and ideas and plans would be discussed and decided upon collaboratively. Everyone had the opportunity to voice their opinion and share ideas and feedback before a decision in the meeting.
As the international coordinator, Mark was something like a spiritual CEO, coming up with strategies and ideas on how to present the teachings of Gnosis in the world. By the time I became a member, I was already a beneficiary of his innovative and visionary way of doing this. It was his idea to simplify the teachings of Gnosis into a series of nine week subject-oriented courses which were made available online and in person, something which had never been done before. Without his online courses, I would never have come across the teachings to begin with, as there was no group in my city at the time. He made the teachings much more accessible, not just by creating courses to run on the internet, but also through the way those courses explained things so clearly.
I observed that Mark was always looking to improve things, or find new ways to get the teachings across or present them. He made no profit from this, so his only interest was in helping people. He would express a range of ideas such as overhauling and improving the websites by introducing more interactivity through incorporating more video content, blogs, and a custom video/audio chat system for the online courses etc. Once the general vision was agreed on then those of us on the team would then work out how to implement it. Each of us usually oversaw a different area, such as writing, design, web development, online course administration etc., and the new initiatives often involved input from many areas. The relevant members would often form project teams with other teachers, members and trainees to implement the ideas.
Mark had a lot of great ideas, but because of the small level of resources we had, in both people and finances, there was always a limitation on things. The Movement was run by volunteers, and almost all of us on the international team had professional careers as well as family commitments, which meant we had limited time available for Movement work. Looking back though, I am amazed at how much was accomplished despite our limited resources.
While Mark was the international coordinator, he would oversee the management of the projects more directly, through meeting with this international team of members regularly and, less frequently, all the members. Later he stepped down from that administrative role to focus on writing and teaching. We, the members, later voted to appoint him the spiritual teacher of The Gnostic Movement. In this role, he continued to provide guidance on teaching and doctrine, and he would still provide input with ideas that he put forward for consideration to the members, but he no longer took a direct role in administration or management.
Mark’s upstanding character
Although I only ever had the chance to meet Mark in person at an international retreat mentioned previously, I worked closely with him as member and had regular meetings and discussions with him and other members on Skype. In all my interactions with Mark, he always conducted himself honourably, speaking and behaving considerately, fairly and decently towards everyone. I never witnessed him behave aggressively or inappropriately to anyone; he always acted with courteousness and decorum, treating others with respect and kindness. He never for example raised his voice at anyone or made improper remarks or gestures of any kind – his conduct and character was principled through and through.
Mark’s principled and decent manner meant that he naturally treated women with the utmost respect and always conducted himself honourably in his interactions with them. You could not find a more decent and courteous man in regards to his conduct around women and respect for them. Whether in skype meetings with members, or at the retreat where I met him in person and saw him interacting with men and women from all around the world, Mark always behaved honourably toward women and around women, being a true example of the spiritual principles he espoused in his teachings.
In his work he upholds the sanctity of marriage and the need for fidelity and faithfulness in one’s personal relationship with a loving, committed partner as essential for spiritual development, and emphasizes the pitfalls of lust. He expressed that adultery was anathema to spirituality and advised against indulging lust in even subtle ways many consider “harmless” – such as flirting with colleagues or friends or making sexual jokes – because he considered sexuality to be something sacred that should only be expressed in a faithful loving relationship, to be entered with seriousness and commitment. He clearly explained that sexuality was not something to take casually or frivolously and explained that infidelity of any form was a serious breach of spiritual principles.
Mark always demonstrated these principles through his honourable conduct which was exemplary; he is a paragon of propriety and always treated women with utmost decency, respect and courtesy. My wife and I both worked with Mark, and I can say that there is not a man on this planet who is more decent and principled than he is, because I know his honest and decent nature, professionalism, standards and principles are head and shoulders above even the best of us.
Equality of women
Mark not only treated women with the greatest decency; he also had great respect for their professional capacities. Respect for women is inscribed in Mark’s teachings, where he clearly states women were equal to men and have the same spiritual potential men do. But these values also permeated the organization he coordinated. Women rose to the highest ranks of the organization and took leadership positions, and Mark worked with them in a professional manner, always conducting himself with the greatest professionalism and propriety. As mentioned earlier, when I joined the seven-member -international admin team, which met weekly with Mark at the time over Skype, there were four women to three men. Mark clearly valued their professional abilities and appreciated their opinions and perspectives. Later on in a meeting of all the members in which new appointments to the team were being considered Mark advocated the appointment of my wife to the role of coordinating the Movement’s legal affairs, a position that had great responsibility.
The values and standards of members
The high personal standards which Mark imparted in his teachings and demonstrated in his conduct carried through the organization, by members and teachers who strove to follow both his teachings and his example. A supportive, friendly, respectful and collaborative environment existed in The Gnostic Movement where people worked together harmoniously.
Respect for women
I worked closely with men and women from around the world, and respect and equality for women was a value we upheld so naturally that I did not even think about it at the time. Looking back though, I can see how women played such pivotal roles in the organization: many of the online instructors who appeared in course videos or who answered student forums when I did the online courses were women; the teacher who moved interstate to open the centre in my city, and trained me to be a teacher was a woman, and she was a great role model to my wife and I. When I later became a member, I found that there were many women in senior roles, and they actually outnumbered men on the international administrative team when I joined it. They also held directorship positions on the boards of the Australian Movement, holding important roles such as treasurer. Women were treated as equals to such a degree that this was simply taken for granted, and it did not even occur to me that things could be otherwise.
Men not only respected women in their professional capacities, but also treated them with the utmost respect in the way that they conducted themselves around them. I never saw any inappropriate behaviour towards women from any member or teacher. What I did see was the value and principles espoused in Mark’s work being upheld. There was no demeaning or condescending behaviour, no flirting or philandering, and no flippant attitudes towards relationships or womanizing going on because everyone understood and respected that a relationship was a serious and sacred matter that required a genuine commitment – it was not something to be treated or entered casually.
Respect for personal privacy
The love and faithfulness between a husband and wife was considered something sacred to be cherished and respected, and a person’s choice of partner and their personal relationship was considered a private matter no one else could interfere with. Personal boundaries were always respected and no one ever infringed upon personal matters between my wife and I or intruded into our personal lives, nor did I see anyone do so to others. We received nothing but kindness, support and friendship from Mark and our fellow members who strove to uphold the principles of his teachings.
I also met many loving, devoted and committed couples who exemplified these principles. As can happen anywhere though, there were a few occasions when marriages did not work out. On the few occasions I was aware of where a couple separated their personal lives were not discussed or interfered with in anyway, it didn’t it affect their position in the organization, and people respected their privacy completely. The principle that no one could interfere or intrude in another’s personal life and their relationship was strongly believed and upheld.
Secret Quest Documentary
One of the ideas Mark came up with, that I took a key role in bringing to fruition, was the Secret Quest documentary. This grew out of the Introduction to Christian Gnosticism course Mark had initially envisioned as a four week course that could run in centers and online.
Following the rediscovery of the Gospel of Judas, there had been a groundswell of public interest in the ancient Christian Gnostics. The introduction to Christian Gnosticism course sought to explain who the early Gnostics were and the nature of their teachings, and highlight the more esoteric teachings of Jesus that were found in ancient Christian Gnostic writings, and to show their commonalities with the modern teachings of Gnosis.
An outline of the course was provided to me, which I used as the basis to create PowerPoint presentations to use in course lectures. But for the online format, it was decided to make video presentations. We didn’t really push the envelope with the PowerPoints, but it was decided to do the videos in a professional documentary format presented by a host and featuring interviews with teachers giving The Gnostic Movement’s perspective.
The course outline was a list of bullet points which provided a general sketch of the subject matter to cover, but I had to do extensive research into the subjects mentioned to expand on this and explain things in detail, particularly the historical aspects, to make something of documentary quality, which I aimed to do. My goal was to script a compelling documentary that would incorporate interesting facts, quotes and tell the story in an informed and compelling way. The basic outline in a sense provided the terms of reference for the production and focused the direction of the research I would undertake and the scripts I would eventually write.
Most of the research focused on ancient history. I ordered and studied a number of books by historians to understand and accurately describe historical events that were covered, like the Albigensian Crusade for instance, and sought out translations of obscure contemporary accounts of these periods and events which were featured. I found I had to seek out the published works of historians working in that field, as online resources simply did not contain the material I needed, or were not reliable enough.
I also did a lot of personal research into the spiritual teachings and works of ancient Christian Gnosticism so that I could find and bring together relevant extracts and quotes to illustrate the Gnostic ideas and principles we wished to highlight that were common to modern Gnosis.
I then went about organizing the production with the team I had available, and thankfully we had some people with video skills in the Movement – one in North America who filmed the sequences with the host, Jenny, and produced most of the graphics, and my brother in Australia who filmed all of the interviews. He and I cut the film together. He took care of the more technical aspects of editing and mastering while I oversaw the creative direction and arrangement of the documentary. We also had an original composer in Jon, who created original music to fit the production.
When I showed the first cut to Mark, he thought it was excellent, and said it would be better to release it as a documentary in its own right, rather than a course video that would not be as accessible and which he thought would waste its potential. He also made a few suggestions regarding the content. We ended up revising it based on his feedback to make it work better as a standalone documentary, and reduced it to three parts, rather than four. The first cut of part one was released on YouTube in 2008 and did quite well for the time, garnering over 70 thousand views, which was more than expected at the time.
Getting it ready for a DVD release created additional work, as the format had to be adjusted for different regions. We also added subtitles so it could reach a global audience. We had volunteers of different nationalities, so a team of translators was formed who translated subtitles in Russian, Greek, Spanish, French and German. The final cut of part one released on DVD was revised slightly compared to the initial YouTube release, incorporating some further historical research and information.
It ended up being a big project involving not just those of us who made the video or featured in it, but the translators, graphic designers who created the DVD cover and DVD interactive menu, and the Absolute Publishing Team who released and promoted it. It was an amazing project to be involved in, and it was inspiring what could be achieved by a small group of people working for a common aim.
Mark’s support for the Australian Retreat project
For as long as I was a member, I can remember Mark encouraging the members to work toward establishing their own retreat venues. We usually held annual retreats in hired venues, but there were of course costs involved in booking them. Mark said that he had found retreats extremely beneficial for his own spiritual journey and encouraged us to establish our own venues, so that we could offer retreats for free, and more often. This was a project everyone was enthusiastic about, because we all found retreats very inspiring, and looked forward to the prospect of having our own place where we could attend more frequently. There were separate projects in North America, Europe and Australia. The project was pursued in earnest, but sadly it did not come to fruition, as the Movement closed down before it was accomplished.
As a member in Australia I had some involvement in the second Australian retreat search, but to a limited extent, because I was based on the other side of the country to where the search was focused at the time.
A lot had already happened before I became a member in 2007. I learned that former members in Australia had purchased a retreat property in Australia earlier that decade, and that things did not work out with the property and it ended up being disused, and it turned out to be unsuitable for a retreat. The members had eventually offered it for sale to Mark, so that they could use the funds from the sale to get a property more suitable for a retreat. Mark had purchased the property from the Movement at its market rate, and the property was now his home – however it was not a finished house, having started out as a basic cabin to which renovations had begun which were still incomplete.
I was told by a fellow member, who’d been around longer than me, that when Mark first moved into the property it was in a very poor condition, being just a rundown unsealed shack with unsealed walls, in dense bush, with little protection from the heat, insects and in an area densely inhabited with snakes. The member telling me about it had seen the conditions firsthand, and had had close calls with snakes there personally. He was also a professional builder by trade, and he said that some time ago he had offered to help Mark develop the rundown and rudimentary cabin into a proper home so that it could be more liveable. He said some other volunteers in Australia had also offered to help with this, either by assisting with the renovations or donating towards them, and they had been helping with this in their spare time.
He made clear this initiative was not an official activity of the Movement and was separate from the Movement’s affairs. It was a private contribution he and others were undertaking to help Mark improve his living conditions. He said the people helping him wanted to ensure Mark’s living conditions were safe and suitable for him to live and work in. He expressed that Mark’s difficult living conditions made his large workload coordinating an international organisation much harder, and it was hoped that rectifying his substandard accommodation problems would free more of his time to focus on his selfless work in the Movement, which in turn would benefit others.
I had gained so much from Mark’s courses, and I knew thousands of people were taking them around the world at that time, just like I had done. I was struck by the fact Mark had helped so many people without charging a cent while living in substandard conditions, and yet had asked nothing in return for his free courses which, in my view, were ground-breaking. Later I learned that he wrote much of the material for the courses while living in the property when the conditions were at their worst. All this time I’d had no idea he lived in such bad conditions, and when I heard about this, my wife and I decided to send personal donations to him to support him and his work; we greatly valued his work and knew it had the potential to help a lot of people.
As one of the many people who had benefited from his work, I felt a wish to give back in turn, after receiving so much from him. On a simple level I felt this was a right thing to do – that it is only decent, right and fair to help someone who has helped you when they are in need. I felt that to take from someone’s generosity and never give anything back would be selfish. But on another level, we understood that helping him would help others too. We knew that he was giving his time and dedicated his life towards teaching spiritually, and running an international spiritual organisation full time, for free, and felt that if his living conditions were safe and stable, he could dedicate more time to that and be more effective in that role. We realised his ability to volunteer full time in the way he did depended on support from those who benefited from and valued the work he provided. Donating to him was never a requirement of being in the organisation, and I was never told or pressured to give anything, but my wife and I did so of our own initiative simply because we valued Mark’s work and wanted to support it, knowing that donations enabled him to focus on helping others spiritually full time. The members I spoke to who were directly involved with renovating the property into a proper home, expressed similar sentiments to me.
Mark’s principled approach to donations
Mark expressed a lot of gratitude for the help. After we gave our first donation towards the renovation efforts, he sent us an email thanking us warmly. However, it soon became very clear that he was also very honourable about respecting the wishes of donors by ensuring donations were used in the spirit they were given. My wife and I had made our donation to Mark with no strings attached; once we had given it, the money was legally his to do with as he wished. However, even though our donation was unconditional, he knew we had given it with the renovations in mind in order to help that along. A little while after we had given it, I was contacted and asked if it would be alright if the money was instead used towards printing and producing his spiritual books. I was pleasantly astonished by this. The money was now Mark’s and I felt he had no obligation to ask me what to use his personal money for. Not only was Mark making a personal sacrifice by forfeiting money that could alleviate his living conditions to instead help the altruistic cause of printing spiritual books – which I knew he made no profit from whatsoever – but he was also asking our permission for it. It was clear he had great respect for our wishes and did not want to act outside the spirit in which our donation was given, even though legally he had no obligation to seek this permission at all. I was quite humbled by this, by the level of respect and consideration we were shown by this act, and by his personal generosity and wish to help others. My wife and I of course gave our consent.
Mark’s purchase of the rundown retreat property helped the Movement
Much later I learned more details about Mark’s purchase of the retreat property which demonstrated his generosity. I spoke further with the people involved at the time and perused financial records and meeting minutes from the time. From this I learned that Mark bought that property from the Movement using his inheritance, and had insisted on paying the full independently accredited market rate for the property, and thus paid a much higher price than the organisation had paid for it. I saw the records which verified this: he bought the property for $100,000 more than the organisation paid for it. He had clearly done this to help the retreat project along since he paid a higher rate for it at his own insistence. Some disgruntled online trolls grossly misrepresented this however, suggesting that he basically “took” the property from the Movement, when in fact the Movement made a decent profit from selling it to him for a higher price. The sale increased the organisation’s retreat funds markedly, almost doubling its budget for the project, and extricated the organization from a property it could not use. By the time I became a member, the proceeds from this sale formed the basis of our retreat fund, and the increased budget allowed us to seek out better and more suitable retreat properties in a higher price bracket than was possible in the past.
Retreat search recommences
After the property was sold to Mark for $100,000 more than the organization had paid for it, The Gnostic Movement had a much bigger budget for a retreat search. A new search got underway during the time I was a member, and a team of volunteers undertook a highly organised and thorough property search, and conducted in-depth investigations into properties that were possible contenders.
A separate retreat-holding company was formed that was staffed by Australian members of The Gnostic Movement. Its role was to hold the retreat project funds and to purchase a suitable property when one was found, which would then be used by The Gnostic Movement for retreats. It was overseen by three directors who were all members of the Australian Movement.
At first I wasn’t directly involved in the property search and investigations, as I was focused on other projects like the Secret Quest production. But when a strong contender was shortlisted all the members in Australia were updated about it by those coordinating the search and due diligence. They had visited the property and spoken with a town planner, fire department official and road engineer about the development requirements and costs.
As their investigations into the suitability of the property continued, all the Australian members were invited to gather and inspect it together. My wife and I flew interstate and met up with our colleagues and we all went on a road trip to the property. We stayed in a nearby caravan park over the weekend and drove to the property each day in four wheel drive vehicles, to get around the rugged terrain of the property.
The property was a massive, hilly 2,500 acre property mostly covered in bushland that was once used for grazing. It had no sealed roads. There were gravel roads which in places were steep and difficult for the cars to ascend. Many parts of the road were overgrown with bushes, and myself and others had to walk ahead of the vehicles and clear the branches so they could pass.
Most of the land was bound by a conservation covenant put in place by the owner/seller. There were no buildings or infrastructure apart from an old woolshed, which meant development would have to start from scratch. However we could all see the long term potential of a scenic property like that if it turned out to be feasible, but the cost was the overriding issue.
It became apparent to me that while it was a beautiful property, with lots of rugged wilderness and scenic views, it seemed beyond our resources to develop. It was a remote location with no habitable buildings, power or water. We would spend all our available funds – and more – just getting the land, and then have nothing to put toward the necessary infrastructure to hold retreats.
The conservation caveat on the property also would require us to control weeds and feral animals such as goats over a vast area. Just keeping the paths clear enough to drive down seemed like it was going to be a big ongoing job. Trying to control weeds across the entire property – which was immense, seemed like it would take a lot of time and resources. To control feral animals we would have to get people in to shoot them from a helicopter, a prospect we did not find appealing.
All of these factors meant we left the place with mixed feelings. I liked the property itself, but did not want to spend money on something that would not practically serve our needs. However we tried to keep an open mind about it.
However the final nail in the coffin came later, when another member discovered the requirements for developing the access road to the property (needed for public access and fire and emergency services) which was a public health and safety requirement for a retreat facility in the area. It had to have a turning circle at the end large enough for a fire truck to use (fires being a hazard in the Australian bush you have to plan for). The cost of developing an extensive sealed road in the area was exorbitantly expensive, way beyond our budget requirements just by itself, even without factoring all the other development costs that would have to come later.
So the search went on. Our budget was limited however, so finding something suitable with the money we had was not a simple task. We were still in the midst of the search when a smear campaign began against the organisation in May 2010 (explained further down). That drew our resources and focus, so through the rest of the year, the retreat search stalled.
Mark sells his home to help the retreat project
As mentioned earlier, before I became a member, Mark had purchased a property owned by the Australian Movement, which had turned out to be unsuitable for a retreat. He paid $100,000 more for the property than the Movement had, which increased the Movement’s retreat budget markedly, and the proceeds formed the basis of our second retreat search.
The property Mark had purchased from the Movement had undergone renovations with the help of his friends in the Movement over the years. As a result, it had increased in value from the time he bought it.
Although our budget had increased, we were still unable to find a suitable retreat property that we could afford, as it became increasingly apparent the costs of such a development were beyond our reach. Seeing the project faltering, Mark called a Skype meeting with all the Australian members, including those who were directors of the Movement’s retreat company. I was not directly involved in the retreat company at that time but as an Australian member was aware of its role and purpose.
In this meeting, Mark proposed selling his property back to us, to our retreat company, at a significantly reduced rate, so that the retreat company could then resell it at the full market rate and profit from the sale, and thereby increase the budget for our retreat project further and give us access to better-suited properties in a higher price bracket. He said he wanted to see the retreat project go ahead, and was making his offer on the basis that the property, once purchased by the retreat company, would be re-sold promptly so that we could move ahead with the retreat project. He said only the minimum renovations should be done to finish the property so we could put it on the market soon and sell it. It was clear to me he did not want the retreat project to stall.
I was struck by how generous Mark was being. By this time, the property had been undergoing renovations for some years, and members present in that meeting had been instrumental in that, and had worked and donated towards that to help and support Mark and the work he does. By market rates at that time, the property was worth much more than when Mark purchased it from the Movement because of the renovations that had taken place, which at the time, however, were still unfinished. Despite its increase in value, Mark proposed selling it back to us for the price he initially paid for it plus the amount he had put toward its development personally.
Another point worth mentioning which I learned some years later, after I became a director of the retreat company myself, was that Mark’s selling price for the property was 30% below the property’s lowest estimated market value as appraised by an independent valuer at the time. The valuer’s assessment was made “as is” based on its (then) unfinished condition.
However back to that meeting, when Mark explained that, although he owned it and paid for with his own money, he always intended for that property to serve a spiritual purpose and be utilised by more people, and hoped that one day it could serve as an informal monastery where advanced members could stay for periods. However with the ongoing public attacks against The Gnostic Movement and himself by a small group of disgruntled former attendees, this had to be re-thought given the potential for hostilities to be incited against us. He said that by selling it back to the Australian Gnostics at a reduced price, at least The Gnostic Movement could still benefit from all the work people had put into the property, as by selling it at its full market rate we would potentially generate a lot more money to put toward our retreat search and project.
Some of the members in that meeting did not want to accept this generous offer and tried to talk Mark out of it. They had volunteered time and money to develop that place for Mark’s welfare so he could use it, and felt bad about buying it from him below its value. At the very least, some said, we should buy it at its full value, but Mark declined this, saying he wanted the property to support Gnosis in the world, had always wanted that, and selling it to us below its value could achieve that, as it could enable us to get the retreat project going.
It’s worth noting that Mark was not living in Australia when these events occurred, but in the USA, having moved there as a spiritual missionary some years prior.
Mark went on to explain that he deeply appreciated the work people had put into the property to help him, and that he felt every ounce of care that had gone into it. And while some members continued to try to talk him out of his proposal, he reiterated that this was in the best interests of the spiritual work in the world. He really wanted us to have a retreat in Australia and explained that this was his way to support that. To that end he told those involved in the renovations to just do the minimum to get it ready for market, so it could be put up for sale quickly and allow the retreat project to move ahead.
In the end we all accepted his offer, although some quite reluctantly as they felt it was a bad deal for Mark. Following this, with the consent of all members established, the formal agreement had to be made between Mark and the Gnostic Movement’s retreat company, which was directed by three of the members present in that meeting.
Retreat company puts property on the market
I became aware the property had been put on the market by the retreat company in late 2011. However online detractors found the advertisement and seized on it to grossly misrepresent the situation, claiming Mark was a wealthy man living in luxury who owned a “mansion” that was for sale and falsely claimed the Movement was setup for his financial gain. The “mansion” was in fact a four bedroom house (which is a common size in Australia) which Mark no longer owned; and it was not in the condition shown in the advertisement when he owned and lived in it. He had sold it at a discount long before that point to the retreat company, which was then reselling it. Mark had not lived there for many years, having moved to North America about five years earlier, and when he last lived there it was a construction site. The finishing renovations were done by the retreat company after it purchased it from Mark. But the property had not been anything like that when Mark owned and lived in it. The truth was the opposite of what online detractors claimed: Mark had been extremely generous by selling the property back to us far below its market value, so that we could resell it at a higher price and reap the profit.
I learned that the final renovations undertaken went far beyond the minimum that had been required to get it finished and ready for sale, and as a result it had taken about a year to get it on the market from the time it was purchased from Mark.
I became aware that the resale was not going as planned, as it was proving difficult to sell. While the renovations were going on and the sale delayed, the market declined. By the time it was put on the market, the value of houses in that area had reduced significantly.
I become involved in the retreat company
My wife and I were invited to join the retreat company at this time and joined the board. I got a better understanding of what had happened, having access to the company records.
I knew that the reason Mark had sold the property to us at a low price was so that we could put it up for sale promptly (for a higher price than we paid for it) with the aim of making a profit from the sale and using the proceeds to get a new property and move the retreat project forward. Mark had said he hoped this would allow all the work people had put into that property to come to fruition in a new retreat property purchased with the proceeds from the resale. I knew Mark had stated the property should be put up for sale as soon as it practically could, and that only the minimum work needed to finish it off should be undertaken before putting it on the market. Instead, as I later learned, much more extensive renovations were done which delayed its sale, and the market had deteriorated in the interim.
The renovations undertaken by the retreat company had been counter-productive in another way too. Detractors pointed to pictures of the extensively renovated property to falsely claim Mark had a “luxury” home and was living “the high life”; however he no longer owned the property and it never looked like that when it was last his residence, which was many years ago by that time. In fact, the property was extremely run-down when he first moved in and he had never wanted such extensive renovations to be done to it after he sold it anyway.
After becoming a director of the retreat company, I also learned that Mark had only taken a portion of the sale fee when the retreat company bought the house from him, less than half the purchase price. Because he knew we had limited funds, he made a provision in the contract that said the retreat company only had to pay the remainder to him when it resold the property. Although he never brought it up with me, I was aware that the delay in reselling the property was affecting his personal financial situation too, causing him personal hardship. Another downside to the delay was that as long as the property was unsold, our assets were tied up and we would not be in a position to move the retreat project forward. The delay in reselling caused additional personal difficulties for Mark in the form of relentless cyber stalking and false claims surrounding a property he no longer owned and which he did not even want to be renovated in the manner it was.
We endeavoured to move things along as quickly as we could. The market continued to fall however, which made it difficult. Eventually we sold the property in 2013. After the sale, we repaid Mark the unpaid amount we owed him from when he sold it to the retreat company, that he had waited more than 3 years to receive.
It was clear to me that postponing the sale for extensive renovations was a mistake that had harmed the retreat project and had also caused unforeseen personal blowback to Mark. Mark had really wanted all of us to do well in the sale so we could get a better retreat and had made financial sacrifices to enable this, but instead not only had the renovations and delay in selling the property brought disappointing results, but, as explained earlier, Mark had faced serious repercussions, because detractors pointed to pictures of the renovated property to falsely claim he was living a life luxury, even though he didn’t own the property anymore, and generously sold it to us at a discount rate years earlier when the dwelling was still a building site, in order to help the retreat project.
Dealing with misconduct and public attacks
Throughout my time in The Gnostic Movement, there were various incidents where we were attacked for our beliefs by people for different reasons.
As I mentioned earlier in this statement, not long after becoming an online student in 2004, someone who was an avid supporter of a rival Gnostic website contacted me using Mysticweb’s private messaging system to criticise Mysticweb behind the backs of its administrators, and attempted to turn me against them and channel me to the Gnostic site they supported instead.
On visiting the other site, I noticed it had a policy statement declaring Mysticweb and organisations associated with Mark as “harmful” and “corrupting the sacred doctrine of the Christ”. There was a lot of nasty sniping about Mark and The Gnostic Movement in the site’s forums too, on threads which seemed to have been started for this very purpose.
In ensuing years, in our own public forums, I would also sometimes see comments by people coming onto our forums who obviously supported that site, often appearing in the guise of “concern trolls” who attempted to hijack and derail the discussions and sow division. Often they denigrated us, Mark, the organization or aspects of our doctrine they disagreed with, while posing from a phoney position of neutrality. At other times, they became openly hostile and attacked us for having a different approach to Gnosis than they did. They often created multiple “sock puppet” accounts for this purpose and would often appear under a different username if a previous account crossed the line and was blocked.
It was disappointing to see this from supposedly spiritual people. I never went to their forums and attacked their doctrine and approach to spirituality, nor did I ever see any of my fellow members do that either. And in all my time in The Gnostic Movement, we never published a public denunciation of any other Gnostic or spiritual organisation on our site, as respecting people’s free will was one of our core principles, and that included respecting people’s right to choose to practice something different or somewhere else instead.
After things continued to escalate, with people affiliated with the other Gnostic site even beginning to disparage us on third party sites as well the other Gnostic site’s forums, we sent a conciliatory letter to the administrators of the other Gnostic site, appealing to their better intentions and requesting they stop allowing their site to be used as an outlet for hostility and as a platform to attack other people. We received a polite response, and they removed the antagonistic forum threads about us and left a comment to all their users explaining they do not authorise or condone anyone to attack anyone else. They did however retain their policy describing us as a “harmful school”, but from that point on the frequent trolling from users associated with that site ceased to be a problem on our own web forums.
From about 2008, the entire Movement, and Mark in particular, came under attack by anonymous detractors on anti-cult web forums. This was started by an anonymous poster identified as having briefly attended the beginner courses in Canada. Obviously he came to decide that he didn’t like the organisation or its teachings, and had freely left of his own accord, but it was not enough for him to leave – he seemed to want to denigrate and destroy what he had rejected and deny people the right to choose differently than he had, openly expressing his desire to abolish our existence; he admitted to ripping down our advertising posters wherever he could and, in the same sentence, sought advice on what else he could do to get us out of his city. He made post after post in a compulsive manner, and was soon joined by a few other anonymous mudslingers. The thread went on and on for years and became increasingly shrill, alarmist and preposterous.
Online vilification escalated when retaliatory steps were taken by former participants who were asked to leave the Movement for misconduct in 2009. The following year they initiated an online smear campaign after their attempts to be allowed to re-enter the organization had failed.
That year, one of the ousted individuals and his business associates took over the Greek Gnostic Movement by subterfuge. They violated the organization’s governing constitution by holding an organizational meeting without notifying or inviting all the country’s members; only those in their faction took part, while everyone who remained loyal Mark and the coalition of Gnostic Movement organizations around the world were excluded. They passed measures to depose the legally appointed directors and appointed themselves to the board and changed the constitution. Soon after they took control of the Greek centre, changing its locks so everyone else could not access it. We were informed about all of this by the members in Athens who had been illegitimately sidelined. The renegade members then posted some absurd public statements presenting their actions as heroic and necessary to stop non-existent “illegal actions” – even though it was their own actions which were clearly in violation of the organization’s legally binding constitution. Their sensationalist allegations dramatically alluded to illegality, even “fraud”, but were extremely vague. They carefully avoided clearly stating what wrongdoing had supposedly occurred, making their claims impossible to corroborate – and they certainly provided no information to substantiate them. This was of course because the claims were completely bogus; they were just a smokescreen deployed as a pretext to seize control of the organization.
The Greek organization they had hijacked then instigated an online smear campaign against The Gnostic Movement and Mark. They spread a lot of false and ridiculous information behind the cover of anonymity and encouraged anyone else with an axe to grind to do the same. Innocent people were baselessly denigrated and accused of criminal behaviour by an unaccountable online mob of anonymous trolls, who seemed to gleefully enjoy heaping mud on people’s lives without having to answer for or substantiate anything they claimed.
There were incidents of vandalism around a center in an Australian city in direct response to the smear campaign, and similar incidents happened in Canada. We were very concerned about the hatred being incited and directed at us and Mark. I don’t think the people involved in the campaign realised the impacts it was having on people’s lives, and if they did know, they did not seem to care.
Legal measures were taken against four separate people in Australia alone who were actively contributing to the campaign or supporting and republishing its claims. In some cases the Movement took legal measures directly while, in others, individuals targeted specifically within the Movement took legal measures personally. In one instance, after the organization filed a complaint with a State human rights commission, which was accepted, the party concerned was then contacted by the human rights commission to resolve the complaint through mediation. Following this, the person terminated their phone line, stopped responding to emails, and the commission was unable to contact or reach the person again. The person stopped though, which was the main thing. Another volunteer in Australia who was personally maligned took court action, which led to the person behind the harassment removing the material they had posted and ceasing any further public attacks. Legal measures taken by Mark and his wife Lara against two other parties were also successful.
In 2010, I contributed to a blog where I and some other members sought to reply to the falsehoods brought up in the smear campaign, and explain what really happened from what we actually witnessed ourselves. In response, the Movement received a threatening letter from the instigators of the smear campaign demanding we remove the content they objected to, and demanding that certain parties behind the online attacks not be identified by name when we responded to their material (which named Mark extensively). They threatened to sue us if we did not comply. I was one of the few people singled out by name in that letter and threatened with legal action. I thought it was hypocritical for them to claim they were all for free speech, and then seek to silence people for giving their views on matters they themselves brought up in public – and quite absurd to complain about being publicly identified after publicly attacking others by name. We had a right of reply. As I saw it, if they did not want those matters discussed they should not have brought them up publicly to begin with. In the end, it was decided to make a more official response on a site setup by The Gnostic Movement, instead of an informal blog.
With other members, I helped to put together the new site where we again used our right of reply to put the facts in response to the false claims that had been publicly made about us, but in a more coherent way. In doing this we had to explain the bigger picture of what was going on with the smear campaign, and those behind it. Obviously we would have preferred not to have had to do that, but in that situation we had little choice. It was not our choice to bring the matters into the public domain which the smear campaigners had published (and misrepresented) but we had a right to defend ourselves and put the truth about the matters and events they referred to. When the smear campaign finally stopped in 2013 we took our site down.
Sadly, The Gnostic Movement was already over, in a spiritual sense, before it formally closed in 2013 (in Australia). Our public defence had come too late, and was poorly supported. Not only was there limited support, but those of us who did choose to defend, mostly did so without putting our full names and faces to our defence – I myself failed to do this. This left Mark, who was the primary target of the smear campaign, to remain the principal public focus of the hostility for years; he had to bear the brunt of the campaign and have his personal reputation trashed with almost no one publicly and openly by his side to support him in the defence. This is something I deeply regret and am sorry for.
Although I did do some things to defend The Gnostic Movement, more than most, it was not enough, and as a Movement we did not come together in a strong and coherent way to defend our rights and reputation. In many ways we were self-indulgent and passive. Many people were indifferent, selfish even, and carried on attending courses and events without considering the impacts the attacks were having on the lives of others, including interested people who might now never come to the teachings because they had been misdirected by the smear campaign. Some people taking part in our free services even became downright hostile and suspicious, and attacked those of us who even tried to publicly defend our school at all, however inadequate that defence was, suggesting it was wrong for us to attempt to do so at all.
When I think of the last days of the Movement, I think of a sinking ship with a hole in it. You have a few people trying to scoop the water out with their hands, not very effectively. You have the majority laughing and carrying on merrily, blind to what is happening. And you have others sitting back and riding on the boat and criticising those who, however imperfectly, were trying to save it, not only insisting they were wrong to even attempt to do so and refusing to help, but actively obstructing them and dissuading others from trying to save the ship. In the end it went down, and everyone who was on it had some responsibility for what happened, to a greater or lesser extent.
I came to understand, belatedly, how important upholding the truth is to spirituality – I now know that without truth there is no spirituality, and an organisation that does not value, uphold and defend the truth and spiritual principles cannot serve as a vehicle for spirituality. We stopped running courses in early 2011, because we understood the organization had “died” in a spiritual sense, and would just be an empty vessel of a religion, not the living esoteric school it was supposed to be, if we continued.
I have learned the hard way that without upholding the truth, one cannot hope to have a truly spiritual school. A spiritual school requires values and standards to be met, and these must be lived out and demonstrated with facts by those who are in it. If “spirituality” is pursued as some kind of lifestyle or belief system that is not centred on meeting spiritual principles in reality, then it becomes illusion and fantasy, having lost its living connection to the real thing.
For my own part, I feel sorry that I did not truly understand my responsibility or how to uphold it properly and failed to do what was required to defend my own school and the principles it stood for, by countering falsehoods in a stronger way when there was still a chance to save it. In the ensuing years, I have tried to defend its legacy, because some disinformation from the past continues to sully the present, including the work of Mark, who has continued to work selflessly to provide spiritual knowledge to others without any financial benefit to himself. I still want others to have the opportunity to benefit from his work as I have, without being misled or discouraged by lies, deceit and bigoted online diatribes.