The map: Need a Spiritual Energy Radiator in your life? Want to hang out at George Harrison's old pad? What you need is Michael Booth's guide to cult HQs. Illustration by Otto
Saturday 29 August 1998
Take East Grinstead. Over the years, the sleepy home of Martines' Nite club has proved irresistible to a rum bunch including tree huggers, Mormons (1) and the Masonic-style Rosicrucians. L Ron Hubbard, founder of the "science" of Dianetics - or Scientology (2) - once lived there in Saint Hill Manor, now the European base of his movement, and a place of pilgrimage in recent years for Isaac Hayes, John Travolta and Tom Cruise (could Geri Halliwell, spotted recently at their LA HQ, be next?).
Usually, cult followers walk among us without so much as a glassy stare to distinguish them, but you don't need to be Fox Mulder to spot the Hare Krishnas (3), who with their shaven heads and coloured robes stand out in any crowd. You will find these followers of His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lingering around the Letchmore Heath mansion that George Harrison donated to the movement in 1973, when entirely sound in mind and body, oh yes.
Slightly further north, in a manor house in Dunton Bassett, Leicestershire, you'll find The Family (4) (better known as The Children of God), followers of the late David Berg, whose apocalyptic interpretation of the Bible promoted the practise of "flirty fishing" - female members recruiting as "hookers for Jesus". The Family predicts the Antichrist will rule the earth before 2000 via a worldwide computer credit system which will brand people's foreheads with the number 666. So start growing your fringe now.
Far more placid are the Amish-style Bruderhofs (5), the inspiration for the recent BBC drama Heaven on Earth. Unlike the TV version, the German- descended Bruderhof community is peaceful and, apart from the practise of ausschluss (a form of internal exile), appears pleasantly pastoral. The Bible-loving community settled in the East Sussex village of Robertsbridge in 1971, eschewing personal possessions and dressing in the style of East European peasants.
A more serious threat to the weak-minded (not you or me, of course) is the London Church of Christ (6), based on Gunnersbury Lane, west London, whose members ply their guerrilla evangelism on the Underground, sidling up to those they judge to be receptive to their message/on the verge of a breakdown (the practise is known as "tubing" and often targets teenagers), to draw them in to a nightmare of 5am prayer sessions and "tithes".
The term cult is, of course, subjective. Alcoholics Anonymous (7), based in Earls Court, has recently come under attack for allegedly using cult- like brainwashing and bullying methods to denounce the sauce. Critics include TV shrink Oliver James: "After a year with AA, you're like a Moonie," he claims.
Sometimes, the most mundane addresses can conceal the most surreal devotees. Preparing for the arrival of our Cosmic Masters at No 757 Fulham Road, London, is the Aertherius Society (8), founded by His Eminence Sir George King, who in 1954, heard a voice while tending to the dishes in his Maida Vale flat which told him: "Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament." King, who invented the Spiritual Energy Radiator through which a spacecraft can beam spiritual energy, now lives in LA.
Gurus often target celebrities, perhaps hoping that the pressures of fame will have already softened their brains. Soldier Soldier star Jerome Flynn belongs to Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere (9) (Face), a cult based on the teachings of a 43-year-old New Yorker: its HQ is a pounds 1m converted dairy in Belsize Park. Cohen's teachings include the renouncing of all self-centred thoughts, to the extent that some followers give up their own names. "He is less selfish ... he doesn't feel the need to take every role that is thrown at him," says Flynn's father. So, maybe there is a plus side to extreme devotion after all
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