Book update, Podcast recommendation & more…

In 2016, I started writing a book. Part cult memoir, part research & most importantly, part recovery guide, I’m calling it The Gentle Souls Revolution. I just sent my completed manuscript to the proofreader. Fingers crossed, I will publish it this fall.

While writing I came to my own definition of the word Cult:

a group-perpetrated socio-pathology in which a narcissistic leader fabricates a self-aggrandizing tale, attracts adherents & then directs his/her well-intended believers, as the cast and crew, to act out his or her delusions of grandeur, in a theater of absurdity, produced for an audience of one.

All narcissistic relationships are fictional fiefdoms — narcissists desperately need their delusions of grandeur. So they target, manipulate and assert power over others. Narcissists need others to cater to their needs.

That’s why, if you’re recovering from your “school” misadventure (or any other cult) I recommend the podcast Navigating Narcissism.

In the episode, No Such Thing as a Good Cult, narcissism expert Dr. Ramani Durvursula interviews film maker and NXIVM whistle-blower, Mark Vicente. The parallels between Raniere/NXVIM & Sharon/Robert/ “school” are obvious:

1) The “hope” market: “School” & NXIVM both marketed hope to seekers & idealists. People who were seeking meaningful lives and community and struggled with their own sense of worth the most were more vulnerable.

Vicente was in search of human goodness & he suffered from the all-too familiar “Never good enough syndrome.” His film What the Bleep Do We Know, popular in new age circles, made him a public figure. His spoke of his dream was to “…use media to make the world better” in various interviews. NXIVM recruiters listened. The cult sought him out & groomed him – He told Dr. Ramani, “They studied me very carefully …they told me everything that I wanted to hear.”

2) The love bombing: Like my “school” recruiter (also known as “new friend”) his recruiter got to know him & customized the bait: We really see you! We believe in you! We can help you do the thing, become the person & realize your potential. We applaud your dream. We are aligned with you!

Cults/narcissists leverage hopes. This tactic has a name: future faking. They promise the moon, but never deliver, because they are promising a fiction. The point is to leverage the fiction and use your needs against you. They claim that you’ll get the moon, if you work hard enough. You earn it by (as they said in “school”) “working on yourself.” Over time, it becomes clear that you can never do or be enough. That moon will always be out of reach.

3) The grooming: Vicente calls this process “Data-mining insecurities …” Pathologically selfish people, or social groups, present what you want to see, convince you to trust them and then gather intel on your vulnerabilities. Then they weaponize your vulnerabilities. They all claim that if you quit trying to earn the moon, you let down your (again, in “school” language) yourself, your “essence friends” & teachers.

4) The cultic identity theft: Vicente calls this, Codified gaslighting. Cults & narcissists tell you that normal emotions are only for the lowly, proletariat. You are supposed to float above your feelings, dismiss and disregard them. Emotions are only for the “inferior”. When you deny your emotions, you deny your own healthy internal signals. This gives abusive people license to abuse. When you express healthy angry or hurt, they frame it as proof that you are flawed. You need to “work harder”. You need to “fix your flaw.” If you’re really committed you will “do what it takes.”

“School” called this the fatal flaw and /or the essence flaw. All cults practice codified gaslighting, i.e. identity theft. In School, teachers characterized normal human responses, emotions, thoughts, perceptions as “suspicious sets of I’s,” or “lazy I’s,” or “denying force.” 

5) The self-gaslighting: Every former member, or survivor of narcissistic abuse, I’ve spoken with to date, describes self-gaslighting. They internalize the gaslighting. They doubt themselves and question their own sanity. It’s easier to control people who are insecure & scrambling to fix their “flaw(s)”: “how am I seeing the world that’s inaccurate?” They start to deny themselves.

Eventually, the tradeoff becomes group or self–you can’t have both.

Vicente’s recovery also followed a familiar path. It reflected my recovery process.

1) He faced the shock and accepted the traumatic betrayal. He let go of a dream, a belief in the allegedly altruistic mission. This is especially difficult when surrounded by people who are still clinging to that belief. That is why people struggle with staying or leaving.

Vicente said, “I wanted there to be goodness … .” He saw that Raniere and his top lieutenants were hijacking his wish to create goodness and funneling it into Raneire’s self-aggrandizing delusion.

Vicente explained that accepting traumatic betrayal feels threatening to the self. He said, “You’re trying to keep your psyche glued together, when you know, on a very deep level, that something’s not right.”

I remember clinging to “school’s” fiction, until I no longer had the energy. The irony, I discovered, was that it was the letting go and accepting that the leaders betrayed me, intentionally, that saved my sanity.

2) He accepted NXIVM leaders intentionally deceived him, to usurp his talent, passion, money, time, energy and everything else. These a**holes break concepts of love, goodness and trust. It is a loss of innocence and is painful to face. But, once you do, a lot of other things start to come together and make sense.

That’s when you begin trusting yourself over the cult / narcissist–a critical piece in recovery. When I admitted to myself that Robert never cared about me, my mind started reintegrating.

Clarity replace my confusion. Inner conflict fell away. My mind quieted and calmed. I found peace.

Facing that heartbreak, empowered me to put my psyche back together again.

3) When Vicente let go of the dream of creating goodness in the world through NXIVM, he said, “I no longer felt crazy. Because I had felt crazy for 12 years.”

4) He worked through the denial and made space for the heartbreak. Then came healthy rage, “Something had been done to me. I’d been damaged.”

My parallel version came when I declared to myself, No More Secrets. “School’s” secrets protect Sharan and Robert and damaged everyone else.

5) Rage led to the obsessive research and reading into narcissism and cults. The psycho-education was critical. All cults and narcissistic abusers use the same tactics. Once you know this you can protect yourself.

Betrayal trauma is surreal. The pain is emotional and psychological. You must accept that you trusted untrustworthy people. You trusted people who were so endlessly self-serving that they were callous to you. Pathologically narcissistic people aren’t capable of caring about others. They are impervious to other people’s suffering.

If you are a Gentle Soul the concept of such callousness seems impossible. Sadly, not only is it possible, but we’re seeing increasing evidence of the selfish and the stupid inflicting all kinds of societal damage without a care in the world. You will often hear the selfish and the stupid say things like, “Well, it doesn’t effect me.”

The silver lining: once you accept that this evil does exist and you know how to spot the danger signals, you have the tools that you need. You will recognize these parasites sooner and realize that these people deserve, exactly, nothing from you.

The Gentle Souls Revolution is a book written for the Gentle Souls; the empathic people who, like me, (unfortunately) trusted untrustworthy people–it details tools for Self Recovery and Self Preservation. The headline is that the revolution starts with boundaries — just say no.

So, more to come in the near future.

The invisible world? Not so much: 2 more OSG articles

Good morning fellow “disgruntled ex-students” –
I hope that you’ve got air conditioning these days. Don’t “intentionally suffer” these climate-change temps if you don’t have to. Just say no!

Speaking of saying no to “intentional suffering”, the NYC press is blowing the lid off of corporate headquarters & nudging the lid off the Boston branch, thanks to a cleverly insincere new recruit, who went all 007 with recording devices hidden inside a pen.

I’m not making this up — read about the pen, and other no longer “invisible school” things here:

Also published in the U.S. Sun, July 23rd: Twisted Society: Inside NYC’s secret cult that forced gay people into conversion therapy & brainwashed high-achievers into manual labor.

The Sun article centers on Spencer Schneider’s book, Manhattan Cult Story. But, in my opinion, this is the most pertinent quote from it: “Any fears Schneider had that School was a cult were allayed when he looked around the room at the seemingly sophisticated and well-to-do crowd – made up of fellow lawyers, doctors, teachers, and heiresses – that was gathered inside the room.”

“School” is what my dear friend and fellow cult buster, Gerette Buglion would call an Everyday Cult. Read about her parallel misadventure in her memoir, An Everyday Cult.

“School” or Cult? Do your research (as the kids like to say …)

Two Things: 1) Sometimes justice does prevail: Sarah Lawrence Cult Leader Convicted of Trafficking and Extortion

2) Sometimes it doesn’t: I left “school” in 2011, largely because my husband found the blog Esoteric Freedom. It exposed the cult con & provided a cyber gathering place for all “disgruntled ex-students.”

Following Scientology’s strategies, “school” sued the site owner. L. Ron Hubbard saw that– ironically– our justice system does not have remedies to protect whistleblowers from parasitic groups with loads of money. Free speech, anyone?

So “school” said, “Hold my beer,” hired a sleaze-bag lawyer & Esoteric Freedom evaporated. During my recent interview on the pod The Cult Vault, the host, Kacey, mentioned that she’d struggled to find information. Recently, some folks contacted me because a “school” recruiter had been courting them.

For what it’s worth, here is a list of online information that I’ll keep on the top of this blog & add to it, as things roll out:

Most recent:

The New York Mystery Machine interviews me and Spencer Schneider , posted August 1, 2022: Surviving a Cult: An Interview with Former Members of the Odyssey Study Group

NYC cult bought $925K upstate retreat, uses “forced labor’ to dig ditches: source, posted July 23, 2022

Inside NYC’s secret cult that ‘forced gay people into conversion therapy’ & brainwashed high-achievers into manual labor, posted July 23, 2022

Odyssey Study Group cult still going strong after death of charismatic leader Sharon Gans, posted July 9, 2022

Sharon Gans’ NYC cult member exposes fight clubs and broken lives, posted July 2, 2022: I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about “School” from this article.

A Cult Vault round table discussion: the host, Kacey, interviews me and Spencer Schneider, together: the compare and contrast between corporate headquarters, NYC, and “school’s” poor cousin, the Boston branch.

A Little Bit Culty interviews Spencer Schneider – Page Turner on his book Manhattan Cult Story

Accused cult leader Sharon Gans Horn cut kids from will: court papers

Manhattan cult duped women into paying fee, working for free: lawsuit

Inside the cult that has been operating in NY for decades

Cult Vault Podcast interviews me (part 1)

Cult Vault Podcast interviews me (part 2)

Cult Vault Podcast interview with Spencer

Another podcast: New York Mystery Machine–Cult Following:The Odyssey Study Group

Another podcast: Drinking on the Job–Sharon’s son talks about being groomed for cult leadership


Past reports:

Sharon Gans Cult Report – the most current blog to come out of corporate headquarters, i.e. the NYC branch.

Archived Pages of Esoteric Freedom from The Wayback Machine

Random website from 2011

A history & analysis of the Sharon Gans group, also known as “The Work” (aka “school”, “the study” … etc)

Comment thread from various ex-members and spouses of members seeking information about “school”. (2006)

Theater group, cult or stage – an article published in The San Francisco Progress, 1978

Sharon Gans left San Francisco amidst scandal in 1978

Comments on “the work” a “fourth way school”

The ganscult

1978 San Francisco Progress article about the Horn/Gans cult

School” abuse of the court system to shut up an ex-member

Rosie, Sharon, Alex, Robert & “the work”

Rosie O’Donnell refutes cult connection

Book reading from a “disgruntled ex-student”

Such a shame that I “failed” at my “schooling”. I could be broke, exhausted, miserable and floundering for babysitting and housecleaning gigs, while trying to recruit fellow Target shoppers into the cult. I sucked at the “making new friends” thing.

Instead this “disgruntled ex-student” has a rewarding career, gets to make a lot of music and art with “only life” friends, and is preparing for a book reading and discussion with a fellow cult buster 🙂 If you want to join via Zoom, email me at esther@gsrhealingarts.com.

The ironic thing is that I found what I was looking for from the cult, by leaving the cult. I guess that’s the nature of the beast.

Sharon’s son on being groomed for cult leadership …

Vermont Sunrise

Good morning Readers,
I’m on a little retreat in Vermont, where it’s minus-18 degrees. Good excuse to stay in and write: coffee, fireplace, sunrise:

So, some might find this foodie podcast, Drinking on the Job, interesting. In this episode Sharon’s son talks about being slated to carry the cult forth, and how he rejected this designation.

Instead he sells wine and plays a mean blues guitar. To hear that story, musings about mezcal & some musical samplings click HERE.

More lessons from ‘school’

Today, I learned what a book plate is … an author’s signature, to be adhered to the inside of the book cover.

And that I’ve been awarded, “angriest blogger”. There must be an Emmy for “angriest blogger” … don’t you think?

Regardless, I’m, appropriately, full of pride!

Thanks, Spencer!

Order your copy now and stop by Spencer’s evil blog to learn how you can get your own book plate!

Podcast: The Cult Vault

Interview with Spencer Schneider, author of Manhattan Cult Story

Hi Readers,

Happy almost New Year — I raise my glass to leaving 2021, behind! But, with all that’s gone off the rails, this season still beats the holidays I spent in “school.”

So, I want to let you know about the podcast, The Cult Vault. Brilliant host, Kacey, has turned her attention to our secret little mom & pop cult. FYI, “school”, or “the study”, or OSG (whatever its calling itself now) operates both in New York City, (aka Corporate Headquarters) & Boston (the satellite branch & poor cousin). So, New York has its own “evil” blog, The Sharon Gans Cult Report. There, the hilarious Spencer Schneider cuts through the b.s. And recently he published what promises to be a fantastic memoir, Manhattan Cult Story, as well (hard copy release date, July 5th, 2022).

In this Cult Vault episode, Kacey interviews Spencer and their conversation highlights the following: how “school/the study” leveraged generic language (try Googling “secret school”)to keep “school” in the shadows … we met at “the space”, we studied “the work”, we didn’t divulge last names, or careers. This class, teachers claimed, was dedicated to the work, an “ancient, esoteric, oral teaching, passed down” from teacher to student (blah, blah, blah). We didn’t dilute it with “gossip.” How the cult targeted educated and successful professionals, and that clientele made the group look super good! All secrets & lies, by design.

So, if you’re Boston-based and you want to learn about our New York overlords, start with this interview! Then order a copy of Spencer’s book. If you’re New York-based, Kacey will be interviewing me in February, when we’ll discuss the cult’s poor cousin:-)

Stay tuned for more details! And … Come on, 2022!!

At it again: ‘school’/ ‘the study’ is ‘making friends’

Hi Folks –

This always happens when I wonder whether the cult is culting on …. someone asked me last week and I said, “I have no idea.”

Suddenly, I’m getting messages from people that have been targeted recently. Not only that, sounds like the cult is using the exact same tactics… sigh. You can read about those tactics here …

And remember, a “School”-free holiday season is a happy holiday season!

Enjoy your weekend!

The 1st published “school” memoir

Good morning, fellow “Disgruntled ex-Students” – Exciting news!

My fellow “evil” blogger’s cultic misadventure in “school” NYC (i.e. corporate headquarters) is now a published book!! I got to read a few excerpts pre-publication and can’t wait to read the rest. I’m confident that, true to form, Sir Spence’s beautifully written book, will make me laugh & cry, while demonstrating how one demented woman duped a group of intelligent, high-functioning humans into her staged production of “highly-evolved woman.” Buy the memoir. Compare it to your experience. Something tells me that you’ll relate.:

We were invisible. We had to be. We took an oath of absolute secrecy. We never even told our immediate families who we were. We went about our lives in New York City. Just like you. We were your accountants, money managers, lawyers, executive recruiters, doctors. We owned your child’s private school and sold you your brownstone. But you’d never guess our secret lives, how we lived in a kind of silent terror and fervor. There were hundreds of us.”

Right under the noses of neighbors, clients, spouses, children, and friends, a secret society, simply called School—a cult of snared Manhattan professionals—has been led by the charismatic, sociopathic and dangerous leader Sharon Gans for decades. Spencer Schneider was recruited in the eighties and he stayed for more than twenty-three years as his life disintegrated, his self-esteem eroded, and he lined the pockets of Gans and her cult.

Cult members met twice weekly, though they never acknowledged one another outside of meetings or gatherings. In the name of inner development, they endured the horrors of mental, sexual, and physical abuse, forced labor, arranged marriages, swindled inheritances and savings, and systematic terrorizing. Some of them broke the law. All for Gans.

‘During those years,’ Schneider writes, ‘my world was School. That’s what it’s like when you’re in a cult, even one that preys on and caters to New York’s educated elite. This is my story of how I got entangled in School and how I got out.’

At its core, Manhattan Cult Story is a cautionary tale of how hundreds of well-educated, savvy, and prosperous New Yorkers became fervent followers of a brilliant but demented cult leader who posed as a teacher of ancient knowledge. It’s about double-lives, the power of group psychology, and how easy it is to be radicalized—all too relevant in today’s atmosphere of conspiracy and ideologue worship.

“School” News: Lawsuit Against Gans Estate

Hello fellow “Disgruntled Ex-Students”,

Here’s something you’ll probably find interesting: apparently, two former NYC colleagues (i.e. corporate headquarters) are demanding ” …wages for the alleged unpaid labor and a reimbursement of the many $400 fees collected.”

Read all about it in the article, Plaza Denizen Ran ‘Secret Cult’ Masquerading As Study Group: Suit.

My understanding is that this is a class action lawsuit, filed by Attny Mordy Yankovich, on behalf of all who provided unpaid labor to School, or Gans, or suffered similar losses. According to the Sharon Gans Cult Report, ” if anyone else was a member of school and wants to be part of the class, they can potentially collect damages by joining the class by contacting the attorney for the plaintiffs. You would not need to be named in the lawsuit to be part of the class.”

And, by the way, you can no longer reach OSG via phone … as “…number listed for the Odyssey Study Group is now out of service.” You can read about that, and more, in this article: Secret NYC ‘cult’ duped women into paying fee, working for free: lawsuit.

Here’s another article: Two ex-members of secretive NYC ‘cult’ say they paid $400 a month to serve as ‘assistants, cooks and drivers’ for actress and founder who lived life of luxury at the Plaza Hotel
That’s it for now.

Happy Independence Day: new blog – GSR Healing Arts

Dear Readers,

It seems appropriate that I’m posting this message on July 4th, 2021. Ten years ago, in July of 2011, I decided, “hey, I need ‘school’ like a bullet in the temple” & moved on.

Best decision I’ve ever made!!

In July of 2014, I attended my first International Cultic Studies Association conference in Washington DC. I met ex-cult members from all over the world. These people had ‘joined’ (so to speak) ‘Bible studies’, ‘yoga schools’, ‘self-help seminars’, ‘business managements trainings’, blah, blah, blah. Like me, they all left cults. We were all telling the same. damn. story.

When boiled down to essential social & emotional needs, all of those “unique” groups, were exactly like ‘school.’ They seduced new members by claiming a super-secret-sauce for life! They exploited members using the exact same tactics. It’s like the group leaders all went to the same How-to-Start-Your-Own-Cult summer camp.

So, we all proclaimed gratitude for escaping & toasted our freedom under fireworks on National Mall.

Now, a decade after leaving, I help other ex-cult members recover as a career. I’ve written a book which is in the editing & publishing process. It’s time for me to try to be somewhat appropriate & focus exclusively on providing education and recovery tools. I’ll be posting those resources on my new blog, the GSR Healing Arts Blog, as well as sample content from the book.

This blog, Cult Confessions, has been critical to my recovery. Here is where I said fuck the secrecy – I told my story and in doing so, I reclaimed my voice. The catharsis was exactly what I needed. Reclamation of voice is reclamation of self. I cleared the ‘school’-instilled toxic clutter out of my psyche, so I could see ‘school’ for the dog & pony show that it is.

That is in large part thanks to you – readers, commenters and guest writers. Thanks you, all who shed light, lifted the curtain, exposed the Wizard, filled in the missing blanks, provided me with the context that I needed to understand that ‘school’ was/is a cult: the California history in the 60s & 70s; the physical and sexual abuse of ‘school’ back when it was “The Theater of All Possibility”; the cross-country exodus to the East Coast when San Fran kicked the ‘theater’ out; Alex & Sharon Horn; corporate headquarters in NYC; the amount of money that pours into the Horn coffers; Robert’s complicity; the secret arranged marriages; the heinous baby swapping history.

Knowing this truth– intentionally omitted by my ‘teachers’ –set me free.

I’ll leave Cult Confessions up, as a resource. I’ll post occasionally – especially if I get “school”-related intel.

Otherwise, I hope to see you at the new blog: GSR Healing Arts Blog

Speaking of Cults: Q Anon

Question: Who is Q? Who is the “Great patriot”? Where do the marching orders followed by Q Reps, Marjorie Taylor Greene & Lauren Boebert originate?

Answer: Turns out that Q is an ex-pat, tech geek, who “dropped” instructions from the Philippines, to his minions in the U.S. For years Ron Watkins administered the online cesspool called 8Chan (later it became 8Kun, when 8Chan got shut down when some of the hateful trolls followed up their gun and killing fantasies with deranged rampages.) But that’s another story. I’ll tackle the gun worship another day.

You can learn all about this QAnon thing by watching the HBO television miniseries Q: INTO THE STORM: You’ll get to meet Ron Watkins and his boss & daddy, Jim. Let’s just say, daddy’s got the money and son’s got the tech chops. What a team:

The Q heads are appropriately embarrassed about this; they’d believed that a don don crony was giving them secret orders from inside the White House.

Rather than admit that Ron & Jim duped them, they are now denying that Q is one person. And I supposed, now, it’s true. The overlords in Manilla have created an anti-American movement. Such is the nature of cults. It’s painful to admit that you’ve been played.

Q heads, you’ve been played.

Confirmed: Sharon, departed

Just an FYI, I think I’ve heard from enough people to confirm that Sharon, has, indeed, left this earthly plain. Still no obit, but I’m told that’s pretty “normal” for “School”. Whatever.

Rumors, Elvis, Sharon …

I grew up in the 70s and 80s. Elvis died in 1977, at only 42. For years after his death rumors floated around. He’d been spotted at a mall in Nevada, or on I95, driving north, escaping to Canada, or an IHop in Tennessee where his profile emerged in a pancake–stuff like that. As far as I know, none of those rumors were verified (prob b/c he was dead.)

Yesterday, rumors showed up via text on my phone: Sharon Gans, deceased. So, I tried to verify. Looked for an obit and found, well, nothing. Does anyone know for sure? Or is this a kind of reverse Elvis, rumors flying around that she died, while she is drinking Martinis in her NYC condo?

Well, if you have info that I don’t, lemme know. Thanks!

Latest from The Sharon Gans News blog …

This is a quick one. If you have newly discovered Cult Confessions, because of an encounter with a strange Boston-based group of “friends” who discuss esoteric ideeeaasss … multiplicity, “the many I’s”, the law of three, the moving center, the emotional center, the intellectual center, awakening vs. sleepwalking humanity … blah, blah, blah.

If you’re searching online because you suspect that it could be a cult, you would be correct. This cult once called itself, “The Study” and before that “School” and before that … any number of other names, including the Theater of all Possibilities, back in the groovy 60s. Congrats!

What you probably don’t know is that the Boston group has a New York counterpart. And this blog also has a New York counter part: The Sharon Gans News Blog. Very informative! And funny! And incisive.

Check out the latest post: LMAO