I am the way, the truth and the lifestyle

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The Independent Culture
"Don't forget, Pete, trees between 10.00 and 4.00 take energy." This advice was tendered by Dawn Dubois, something big in the Pagan Foundation, and by a long way the most interesting thing in Witness: "Why East Grinstead?" (ITV). Pete was off-scre en at the time but he sounded a little rattled by the idea that he might be giving the oak more than it would be giving him and decided to hug a rock instead. "Rocks are fine," said Dawn reassuringly. She is a rock of sorts herself, dedicated to training her pupils up in the ways of Paganism, which, on this showing at least, is closely affiliated to the Church of Latter-Day Psychobabble.

"It's very much part of our job to be with them and help them through that growing time," Dawn said, explaining the duties of priesthood to her acolytes. The celebrations include picking up litter in local beauty spots - which looks very public spirited to the non-Pagan but means far, far more. "In one sense it's going around saying `This litter doesn't belong here' and removing that and. . . er . . . in another sense it's saying that life's very much about going around and trying to help everything around to realise the best that it can," said one pupil, stumbling his way towards the light. "Picking up our own inner litter," added Dawn, in a cosily encouraging manner.

Ian Sellar's film was a decidedly odd affair, one of those good ideas that turns out to be not quite as good as you first thought but then scrapess through anyway, by virtue of a resolute determination not to be daunted by the problems. There were pointswhere it was clear that they were scrabbling around for material to fill out the hour - they extended their guided tour of cult headquarters to include the local hospital, famous for its wartime work in plastic surgery, and Sackville College, a charitable foundation for the elderly. I suppose these were both benevolent institutions but they were hardly religions as such and quite different from the theological corporations that which have decided that East Grinstead is the power address for those in the soul business.

You didn't get an answer to the question posed by the title. You got several - it was all due to "a river of energy" pouring down the high street, according to a party of genial dowsers; "coincidence" said the local vicar; "Gatwick Airport" offered a Roman Catholic priest. That last suggestion seemed most plausible, particularly in the case of multinational certainty merchants like the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Scientologists. It's very handy, after all - you can pop into the Rosicrucian headquarters to take some advice on how to "live with cosmic consciousness as a permanent feature of your life" and still be at the check-in within 20 minutes.

The spookiest show in town, despite stiff competition from the Mormons, was the Scientologists. If shop dummies had a spiritual dimension the result might be something like this immaculately groomed, plastic conviction. Peter Zimmatore, now an "international auditor" explained that his conversion had followed a long period of interest in Eastern religions. Then he came up against Ron and his E-meter (two baked bean cans attached to a voltmeter) and realised that "Dianetics took all of the maybes out of it". Many religions are drugs for the dispersal of maybes, but in this case the cure looked much worse than the illness - a sterilization of the spirit. The greatest mystery the programme left you with, though, was not why people fall for this stuff but what on earth Alan Ayckbourn was up to. He appeared periodically, apparently at random, to maunder self-consciously about human spirituality. He looked as if he profoundly desired to be somewhere else - but what strange, inexplicable force had drawn him in front of the camera?

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