Vida N

VidaIn 2006, I started attending classes run by The Gnostic Movement in Toronto, Canada. I initially attended a few courses in 2006 and then began attending again in 2008 and continued to participate in various classes and events, first as a student and then as a volunteer and teacher trainee until The Gnostic Movement’s closure.

Discovering The Gnostic Movement

At various points in my life I have been interested in different aspects of spirituality and spiritual practices. I grew up in a Catholic environment but felt the religion left me with more questions than answers. I also had an early interest in mysticism which led me to have even more questions about spirituality and how it fit in to a person’s life.

Around the time I found the TGM courses I had been borrowing books from the library on many different spiritual concepts and had tried out a few meditation practices. During one trip to the library I saw a TGM poster advertising a course in self-knowledge and meditation and decided to attend to see if it would complement or enhance what I was looking into at the time. It was also free of charge which was something I had not encountered before since most meditation classes came with a relatively high cost.

Studying at the Toronto Gnostic Centre

The first course that I took was centred around gaining self-knowledge. It involved learning to be aware of the present moment and observing various inner states (anger, fear, jealousy and so on). We were taught many practices to explore this and it was up to us to try them for ourselves to see what kind of results we would get.

I found this type of self study so totally different than what I had explored up until that point, since it wasn’t encouraging me to have any kind of beliefs or ideas about things but to actually try practices to see what I could discover and learn for myself. Since it was pretty hands on you could get as much or as little as you wanted out of the courses depending on how you approached it.

As I tried out the various practices I was able to see many things about myself that I had not before. Through this self study I was able to improve my life in many ways that were very meaningful to me, like overcoming certain aspects of fear/anxiety that I had long suffered with, for example.

In time I went on to take some of The Gnostic Movement’s other courses which were equally as impressive to me since they were on topics like out of body experiences and dreams, which I had always found pretty fascinating.

Warm and friendly atmosphere

Vida Walk July 2010
This was taken on a hike outside the city with the group in July 2010

The teachers themselves were always kind, considerate and patient, often staying late after the class was over to answer our questions or hear our experiences, even though they all had jobs to go to the next morning.

Before and after the classes or event nights there would also be a lot of lovely food and dessert provided by the teachers and organizers, and there were many interesting conversations shared over cups of tea and coffee in the centre’s cafe.

This was one of my favourite parts of attending the classes since there was this really nice sense of camaraderie between the teachers and various people who attended, even if some (or most) of us had only just met.

It was really remarkable to be able to discuss spiritual topics with the teachers and fellow students in such a warm and friendly environment without feeling judged. I had found most people I met in other social circles were not very interested in spirituality. I really felt at home at the Gnostic centre since we could speak openly and freely about our experiences and perspectives on many different spiritual topics.

I met many different people from all walks of life during the various classes I attended. Many of them came and went so there were always new faces to add to the discussions, and there were some that were familiar friends who were always around.

I also attended several events outside of the regular class schedule. These nights were sometimes just an opportunity for the students to get together in a different setting to try out some of the practices (we’d often go for hikes to explore being in the present moment in nature or there would be larger retreats held with the same purpose). Other times there would be events like movie nights, which would be to raise funds to help keep the centre running.

No charges for any classes

All Gnostic Movement classes were always offered for free and I found out later on when I became a volunteer that the teachers at our centre paid for the majority of the bills to keep the centre open. The donations that were received from the public were quite small and couldn’t cover much of the bills. Donations were welcome and much appreciated but were never something expected or asked for.

I really appreciated this because when I first began attending I had just moved to Toronto and my funds were quite tight. Later on when I became a volunteer I donated every now and then to help out because I really wanted to have the centre available for myself and others. But as a single mom I couldn’t contribute very much. The teachers were really supportive and respectful of my situation and my lack of funds at the time wasn’t seen as something that would prevent me from attending the classes or exploring the practices. I always felt very welcome whether I donated or not.

Volunteering and Advanced Courses

Vida Cafe
Here I am (on right) helping to prepare something for the Centre cafe

After taking quite a few TGM courses, I felt pretty inspired to help out since I had enjoyed the classes so much and had seen such a positive impact on my life that I wanted to give back and share that with others in some way. I volunteered a few times a week in between my full time job as a florist and taking care of my young daughter. I initially helped with setting up before the classes or contributed a few desserts to the cafe, and later on by putting up posters to advertise courses or doing some writing for the TGM websites.

I was also very curious to find out more about the spiritual teachings The Gnostic Movement was providing, and the course structure was such that after taking the beginner courses you could move on to the more advanced ones.

I found the advanced courses really inspiring as they looked into esoteric topics that were unique in many ways, with aspects of them also found at the root of many ancient religions or civilizations. They covered the biggest questions in life like why are we here, what can we do with our lives, what happens when we die, and even topics related to marriage and sexuality.

Teachings on marriage

The teachers took great care to explain and discuss these topics, especially regarding marriage and sexuality. The teachings of TGM viewed relationships as something very sacred, and monogamous marriage was held in pretty high regard from what I saw.

Many of the teachers were married couples and I noticed that the teachers that were single were really respectful of students that came to the classes. As a single person attending myself I felt very comfortable at the classes. I was really impressed with the lengths the teachers went to to make sure people were comfortable and treated well.

This was very different than many work, school or other social settings I’d been in where there was a lot of flirtatious behaviour or inappropriate comments passed around seemingly without much thought. So it was really refreshing to be in an environment where I felt respected and safe from those kind of interactions as I found them quite off-putting.

Experience with Mark Pritchard

After taking a few courses I began to explore the various Gnostic texts that were available and recommended to compliment the course material. The author Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub), whose books formed the basis of the courses were particularly good resources. They were easy to read and very down to earth.

Meeting at a retreat

Retreat 2010
The dining hall at the Canadian retreat I attended in Northern Ontario, 2010

Around the time I had begun taking some of the more advanced courses (I was taking the teacher training course specifically), The Gnostic Movement ran a North American Retreat in Northern Ontario, which I was able to attend. It was at this retreat that I met Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) and found him to be as down-to-earth, wise and kind as the tone of his books suggested.

Myself and the rest of the attendees of the retreat had many discussions with Mark on that retreat, and I found him to be quite an interesting and unassuming person, with a great sense of humour. He seemed very unlike any of the modern spiritual teachers whose books I had come across in my many visits to the library.

He listened to us patiently and with great care and respect, hearing our perspectives and answering our many questions, as many of us were meeting him for the first time. He was quite relatable and approachable, and the spiritual knowledge from his experiences that he shared with us on that retreat was very moving to me. Many others I spoke to from that retreat felt the same way.

Courteous and respectful manner towards women

It became apparent to me after spending some time around Mark that what I had perceived in the way teachers and members approached relationships and the respect between men and women in the organization was largely due to having Mark as a role model and spiritual teacher. Treating relationships as a monogamous and sacred union, not trying to influence or get involved with other people’s relationships and above all having an incredible amount of respect and courtesy for women was something I saw in the way Mark treated all of the women, myself included. The respectful way Mark treated women was something friends of mine who worked with him also noticed and remarked upon, and it seems like his example is also what inspired the men that I interacted with in TGM to hold such high standards towards women as well. This was remarkable to me, because it was very unique compared to any other situation I had been in where men and women worked or spent time together. As a woman, this is something I really appreciated.

Sacrifices to help others

Later on, as I learned more about Mark and his teachings and became more involved as a volunteer, I came to see how he had made so many sacrifices in order to help others spiritually. This was so different to most modern spiritual teachers who seem to be driven by fame and profit. He never charged anything for his courses or received any money from his books, which made it accessible to anyone who was interested in spirituality.

This meant a lot to me because it was what enabled me to be able to have some really extraordinary experiences and improve my life in many ways, which I wouldn’t have been able to do had he charged exorbitant fees like many other courses or teachers I was familiar with.

I still remain very grateful for the efforts he put into The Gnostic Movement and with the work he does today. I wouldn’t have been able to expand on my spiritual search and experience without the valuable resources he’s created through his work.

Impact of False Accusations Found on “Anti-Cult” Forums

It was around the time of this retreat (September 2010) that I became aware of comments posted on “anti-cult” websites that accused The Gnostic Movement and its spiritual teacher Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) of many false things.

Having spent a few years attending TGM’s courses, and getting to know many of the teachers and volunteers, and (volunteering myself), I was utterly shocked by the nature of the comments. They were so drastically different than my actual experience within The Gnostic Movement, and many of the accusations I knew from my involvement in TGM to be untrue. The comments seemed to have been written in a sensational manner, trying to associate TGM and Mark Pritchard with disturbing and dangerous groups or behaviour instead of being based on actual facts. Many of the comments were written by people who had never even attended a TGM course.

The impact of these false accusations was unfortunately very drastic to my personal life. My partner at the time (and father of my child) discovered these comments, and due to their alarming content he became convinced they were true, despite all facts showing that this was not the case. This eventually caused the break down of our relationship which was very difficult to go through and had a huge impact on our lives.

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