A bit of background for context: You may have read previously, that I was involved with a small cult called C.A.Y.A. Coven (Come as you are coven), for several years. A few years after I left I found out the leader, Jessica Matthews, had fled when confronted with abuse allegations, sexual scandals and accusations of criminal behavior. At first, I rejoiced, believing all of my friends in the group would finally be free, but the fallout had varying results and was not as liberating as I had hoped. Some members tried to resurrect the cult as a productive entity. (Now reinvented as Starflower Coven) True believers flocked with Matthews to help her perpetrate a new fraud in Shasta County, Ca. Some went through the motions of healing, without doing any serious processing or taking accountability for their part in the abuse. Instead, they continued with revamped versions or created their own temples and covens that simply followed Matthews’ templates, choosing to wrap themselves up in the parts that felt good and gave them a sense of being special, while pretending none of her slime permeated their practices.
Many declared themselves, “over it,” but you don’t just “get over,” years of manipulation, gaslighting, and brainwashing, that easily. You just don’t. Many of the coven members abused other coven members at Matthews’ behest or at least, with her encouragement and clearly enjoyed it. Evidently, those who were ruthlessly bullied are supposed to be okay with that because the bullies were victims too. However, there are many, who know they must continue the hard ongoing work that rebuilding one’s life, self esteem, reclaiming one’s psyche and independent thought requires. This is the hard stuff, the ugly stuff; the fear and self doubt rearing their ugly heads when you least expect it. This is the awareness that just when you think you’re ok, something will trigger you and down you’ll go, in a spiral of anger, sadness or panic. There are also some former members who have, at risk, been brave enough to continue to tell the truth about Matthews. This is helpful in healing and processing what happened, but also carries the hope of raising awareness and protecting others.
I haven’t spoken or written in detail about much of what I experienced, except to my therapist and a few close friends. Some C.A.Y.A. expats have dismissed my experience, “What could she possibly know or be upset about? She wasn’t even clergy” as if no one else could have been harmed but those directly under Matthews’ control. This mostly tells me, they are not doing the work. I simply never became clergy because I resisted training. I was an irritant to Matthews the entire time I was involved because I am a shitty follower. I ask too many questions. I insist on my autonomy. I made excuse after excuse as to why the timing wasn’t right to enter the clergy. I also bit my tongue, and sometimes cried in private, because no one was going to listen to even my most gentle criticisms, and many of those in denial were people I cared about, being gravely harmed. All I could do is watch and encourage any glimmer of independent thought. I stuck around because I cared deeply about many of the members. I saw them as chosen family. Because I was close friends with one of Matthews’ most valuable puppets, I was allowed in. I was present many times in spaces where only clergy was allowed. Matthews, made exceptions in deference to this person, and possibly to keep me, her perceived enemy closer. As a result, I listened to EVERYTHING and no one seemed to take notice of my fly on the wall status. Revealing things were carelessly said in front of me on numerous occasions, often when Matthews was under the influence of drugs.
The recent loss of a dear friend, a former C.A.Y.A. priest, who I reconnected with shortly before his death, put me back in the midst of many former members also grieving. This was really uncomfortable, but helped me to realize that many of the people I loved and hoped to reconnect with are just lost to me. There is no picking up with the friendship we had before I left the group. There is no calling bullshit on the denial or delusion I’m observing. Even the people I remain friendly with, save for a handful, are distant and I have a hard time trusting anyone or taking them at face value. I keep my address information private. Few people know exactly where I live. From time to time, I receive threats or am slandered by her followers. This is a thing that won’t die.
Part of my healing is talking and writing about my experience. I think it’s important to support others who have been through the same thing, to encourage awareness and questioning, to warn others who might be susceptible to losing themselves by following a predatory spiritual leader. One of the things I have been doing is researching modern cults, especially the stories of those who have survived them. It’s affirming to see that anyone in a vulnerable place or anyone who is seeking is at risk, no matter how smart they are. I’m resolved to strengthen the skeptic, the questioner, the independent thinker, in myself and others. This research has helped me process what I watched my chosen family endure and what I went through myself.
I recently finished listening to a podcast that came out via Stitcher, about a year ago called, Dear Franklin Jones. It’s not an in depth expose. The entire thing consists of seven twenty minute episodes, so it’s easily digested in an afternoon. It’s not even particularly damning. This is the experience of Jonathan Hirsch, whose parents brought him up in the Adidam cult. During the podcast, he interviews his parents and several Adidam expats and even current members. The group still has spiritual centers in Fiji and in Northern California. Many of the group members lost their homes in the 2014 fires that swept through Lake County, but the compound itself, along with Jones’ former home, which remains unoccupied, survived. The podcast uses the wonderful music of Ray Lynch as a soundtrack. Lynch did lose his home and recording studio in the Valley Fire and still has an active GoFundMe in place, where you can read the harrowing details of he and his wife’s escape.
Hirsch has a hard time acknowledging that Adidam is actually a cult. During their combined 17 years in the cult, Jonathan and his parents seem to have been blessed by missing out on the more egregious abuses and manipulations that Jones perpetrated on others. The podcast doesn’t have much in the way of mind-blowing revelations, but it did give me a lot of validation and insight. It’s a good listen and not terribly triggering. As someone who survived a similar thing, it was certainly validating. His parents response is not surprising. I think there are still many former members of C.A.Y.A. who are in denial that they were involved in a cult at all, even though almost every box on the dangerous cult list can be checked. The stories must be particularly baffling for those who merely attended C.A.Y.A’s public rituals and never witnessed the machinations and abuse that went on in private.
There are also a few members of the clergy who can’t make sense of the “Rabbit” face they were always presented with and the monster others have now spoken about. In most cases, these people lived at a distance or retained enough of an outside life that they weren’t fully sucked in. Matthews, ran C.A.Y.A. much like, Jones ran Adidam, where only the members closet to Jones were treated as his slaves, receiving the most manipulation and abuse, always disguised as spiritual lessons. Those who resisted were mocked as, “spiritually immature.” I cringed reading some of the more graphic accounts from those who left Adidam.
Adidam follows the spiritual “teachings” of Franklin Albert Jones AKA Adi Da Samraj which was founded in the early 70’s and has continued after the death of Jones in 2008. Membership has remained small, but constant at about 1,000 followers. (Jones and Adidam rotated through many different names over the years) Followers devote themselves to Adi Da as their guru, a minimum of 10% of their income went to Adidam, most of which supported buying property and supporting Jones / Adi Da. Jones told members what to do, what to think, what to read, when to sleep, who to marry or divorce, and who to have sex with. In the 1980’s scandals hit the news when those who had left the group made complaints of having been raped and coerced into sexual acts. This included minors who were given massive quantities of alcohol, forced to strip in front of adults and have sex with Jones. Somehow, he managed to survive all this and some victims stories were refuted as willingly going along with being humiliated or sexual acts to learn important lessons.
Many components of what I’ve read about abuse at Adidam, resonates with accounts from former C.A.Y.A. clergy and with things I personally witnessed. Of course Adi Da had a larger influence, private property, and operated during a more permissive time when he was able to get away with misogynistic sexual abuse. What Matthews did was on a much smaller, more intimate scale, but the tactics were still the same; break down autonomy, demand total loyalty and devotion, and control every aspect of her followers lives. If clergy weren’t willing to jump to do everything she demanded, she questioned their commitment or whether they deserved their position. Like Da, she had followers paying for things out of pocket that they shouldn’t have, and waiting on her hand and foot. She coerced them into sex, manipulated their relationships and broke up their marriages. She taunted recovering addicts with alcohol. She was derisive of therapy and medication when it came to followers with mental health issues. Working with her should be enough medicine. She was constantly “teaching lessons” through demands or criticism.
The similarities are plentiful. Anyone who left C.A.Y.A. or was pushed out, was essentially shunned. This sometimes resulted in loss of income, as many member businesses were supported by other members. Some people were afraid to break things off with the group because they were also Matthews’ employees. The same thing happened in Adidam. When Hirsch’s parents, who at one point were Jones’ personal acupuncturists, left the group, their business declined dramatically. Others besides myself were afraid to leave because it was made clear, we would lose all of our friends.
Jones, Matthews, and other white people who are inclined to self invention, like to crown themselves with a healthy dollop of spiritual and cultural appropriation for mystical cred. Jones gave himself the title Adi (primordial source) Da (the giver) Samraj (divine king). Matthews gave herself the holy title, “Yeshe.” Yeshe is a title denoting, wisdom. It is earned. One does not give it to oneself. Can you imagine, the Dali Lama, declaring that everyone call him, “his Holiness?” No, that is a title bestowed upon him with the position. She even decided to co opt Catholic titles at one point by insisting followers in one of C.A.Y.A’s many sub sects, refer to her as, Reverend Mother Matthews.
“The true guru will never humiliate you, nor will he estrange you from yourself. He will constantly bring you back to the fact of your inherent perfection and encourage you to seek within. He knows you need nothing, not even him, and is never tired of reminding you. But the self-appointed guru is more concerned with himself than with his disciples.” –Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
“Beware of gurus, especially, self appointed gurus,” is indelibly marked in my soul. Devoting oneself to a guru usually comes with the goal of stripping the ego, the obsession with self, and worldliness. In general this seems a worthy goal. But the self appointed guru, under the guise of helping one become self aware, compassionate, and connected, often strips independent thought and keeps you from working your own shit out while you glorify them through their so called, teachings. I may listen to a spiritual teacher, but everything filters through my personal bullshit meter now. I pull out things of value and dismiss the rest. Ask yourself, why do I need this person telling me how to live and what to think? Why am I afraid to do this for myself?
In the podcast, Hirsch talks about meeting Jones, at 14 for the first time, at The Mountain of Attention, in Lake County, Ca. It was winter and starting to snow. He stood in a long line outside for hours, clutching a flower offering, shivering with cold. Finally, he is ushered into a warm room to stand before the guru, briefly. Adi Da says nothing to hm, only stares. Then Hirsch is quickly moved out. The experience caused him to burst into tears afterwards. This is a common reaction of many followers, especially after spending hours waiting, meditating and chanting. The chants at Adidam also incorporated the many names of Jones to help members fixate. When one is sleep deprived, practicing repetition with no breaks for food, water or relief, the natural reaction as soon as one is removed from the environment is strong emotion.
This reminds me very much of my experience with Amma, the hugging guru. Amma spends hours and hours on a dais hugging a long line of followers. She doesn’t seem to take any breaks. Of course, the implication is that being holy, she can go without food, water, or peeing. I found myself wondering, blasphemously, if she wore a diaper during these events. She is definitely in a zone. There were so many people. My friend and I arrived in the early afternoon on one day and did not reach Amma until around 7am the second day. Meanwhile, we waited in crowded rooms where people sweated, chanted, and sang continuously. I have chronic health conditions, bad joints and spinal problems. By the time I got my hug, I could barely move. I was in extreme pain, light headed, exhausted and pretty out of it. I was told I could ask Amma for a special mantra and I asked for a Durga mantra. The mantra did not come from Amma. It wasn’t special for me as implied. It was a generic Durga mantra zeroxed and cut, handed to me perfunctorily by one of her assistants, after rifling through a small file box before I “met” Amma.
The whole thing, crawling across a stage as instructed, on broken knees, being handed my mantra, being crushed into Amma, then ushered off, took maybe three minutes at most. Afterwards I was invited into a group to discuss making Amma my official guru, it felt a lot like being asked to accept Jesus as my lord and savior in Sunday school. I was given instruction on how to use my mantra. I was instructed not to share my mantra with anyone, perhaps, so that we wouldn’t compare notes and discover we all got the same thing? Dedication was stressed heavily. I was encouraged to continue regular study at the ashram. I left on a frazzled high. When I got home and caught up on some sleep, I realized how susceptible the environment had made me to the idea that I had had some rare spiritual experience. I’m still glad I did it, and I retain a lot of positive thoughts about Amma’s organization and the work they do. I can incorporate some of her teachings into my own practice, but I don’t think Amma is any holier than I am. I see no reason to follow her or pray to her. I suspect it is this critical thought that kept me resistant to following Matthews blindly.
Matthews was fascinated with mind control and how cults operated. She was a huge fan of how cults like, Scientology, mind-fuck their followers. Jones studied Scientology for a while as well. I wonder if Jones was one of the cult leaders she studied. I’m sure she would have admired his knack for getting members to buy land for spiritual centers. She would often talk about, “when we get the land.” This was a dream she had, to have a coven community on private land. Somehow, she never quite made that happen. She would consistently align herself with other pagan leaders for prestige and legitimacy. She has been on a perpetual search for that cash cow who will give her what she wants, but, blessedly, she hasn’t landed the big whale yet. I think by establishing herself a new temple, and retail store, with a crowd of naive, but rabid followers in Shasta County, she hopes to establish a nonprofit and get enough people to believe she is a goddess incarnate to buy or donate land where she can live out her matriarchal society fantasies. It’s concerning. Because, once this happens, it will be even harder for those around her to get a reality check. They will be beholden to her not just for work, but for their home.
Left: Jones posing as a deep thinker on the cover of one of his many books stuffed with philosophical nonsense. Right: Matthews posing like a wise teacher, has not yet managed to produce a book. She’s talked about it. She’s subjected many to terrible samples of it. But, it hasn’t happened, yet.
The podcast got me thinking and remembering. There are a number of lessons to be taken from it:
One of the reasons it can be so hard to sound the alarm bells is that not everyone has the same experience. For everyone who observes or is victimized by bizarre behavior, and abuse, there may be a dozen who find this incomprehensible because they haven’t witnessed it, and feel they are benefiting from something wonderful.
Something detrimental can start out as a really good thing, a valuable tool and experience, yet ultimately become corrupted and damaging.
Allowing anything to consume one’s’ entire life is dangerous.
Denial is a powerful thing.
Being a seeker, puts one at risk. When one seeks spiritual enlightenment to fill some hole or repair a wound in onerself, they run a high risk of falling under the influence of someone unscrupulous.
People who are emotionally vulnerable, abused as children, or having had emotionally unavailable parents or partners, those longing for love and acceptance, are especially vulnerable.
People naturally want to fit in and be part of a community. This is one of the things that makes a cult feel so appealing. It’s why cults love to use the term, “spiritual community.” How could a community possibly be a cult? Even though the term community is stressed, everything is centered on the leader.
It’s easy to produce the sense of a religious experience and even convince people they have seen supernatural events when you put them in extreme conditions: an excited crowd, an uncomfortable or harsh environment, long hours of chanting, sitting or standing, etc.
Having a guru isn’t necessarily harmful. Not all gurus are cult leaders. And, not everyone has a bad experience in a cult. However, I’m going to stick with mentors and teachers who I see as no more holy than myself. I will keep questioning. Anyone who claims only they are able to prescribe what I can do to become more enlightened or holy, is automatically suspect. And if someone gives themselves an auspicious or culturally appropriating title, I will not be able to take them seriously.
I’m going to keep my skeptic hat on. If you are a spiritual leader, you must earn my trust.
Dear Franklin Jones can be found on most podcast platforms or on the show’s website.
La de da, Adi Da.
More reading on Franklin Jones and Adidam: