About Cult Confessions: “School”, aka, “The Study”, or “secret study group”

In 2006, a woman at a Whole Foods Market in Cambridge, MA. asked me a question. We chatted.  She introduced herself as Lisa. As we paid for groceries, she said, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you! We should get together sometime.”

We did get together for coffee, for walks, to look at art, etc. Eventually, Lisa invited me to “meet other like-minded people” — “a casual group of friends who get together to discuss ideas,” but added, “It’s very important that you don’t tell anyone about this — it’s private! Just for you.” BTW, the current cult recruitment tactic is: would you like to join a book club?

I started attending “classes” two evenings/week. Five years later, $20,000 poorer –at $350/month– battling a pervasive and debilitating depression, I left and subsequently learned that “School”, now known as “The Study”, is a secret and predatory cult.

“School/The Study” actively recruits in both Boston and New York City. Recruitment is known as “making new friends”  and “3rd line of work”. Tactics include fabricating research studies, or book projects as excuses to talk to strangers, inviting “new friends” to “presentations”, or “classes”, or “book clubs”, or discussion groups.

Read Chapter 2, How to “Join” a Cult for more details.

If your new “friend” invites you into an exclusive group, ” … it is very important that you don’t tell anyone about this; it’s private, just for you!“School”, aka “The Study, is recruiting you.

If “School’s”, aka “The Study” is courting you. Ask questions: how much will this “School”/”The Study, cost? Where does the money go? Is this “school”aka “The Study, registered as a non-profit? A corporation? What are the origins of this “school”/”The Study”? Who was Alex Horn? Who is Sharon Gans? What was “The Theater of All Possibility”? Ask why San Francisco authorities ran it out of town in 1978.

If your new “friend”, or “friends” dismiss or evade your questions, by responding in generalities — often not really answering, persist. “School”aka “The Study, will probably skulk away from a persistent and inquiring mind.

“School”aka “The Study, claims to be an “esoteric mystery school”. The lead “teacher”, Robert (or Bob, as some call him) and his underlings, Jeanine, Michael, Paul and Josh, nod to an illustrious philosophical and religious lineage — Plato, Socrates, Jesus Christ, Greek Mythology, Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Luther King, etc.

The cult omits the name Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, the source of most of the ideas bandied about the hallowed halls: sleepwalking humanity; self-remembering; we don’t know ourselves; man as multiplicities, not unified beings; man as machine; self observations of the 3 centers — intellectual, emotional and moving; the many Is; essence, personality and false personality; the starry world; aims and five-week aims; the work octave, etc. Gurdjieff Associations all over the world, including Boston, discuss these ideas for voluntary donations.

My “class” met at various locations: The Belmont Lion’s Club:

Various hotels in Cambridge and finally in Billerica’s Faulkner Mills Building:

For more information about “school’s — “aka “The Study — history visit esoteric freedom. Check out the Resources page.

If you’re meeting with a “sustainer”, or “person who is helping you” (mentor or minder, you decide), s/he reports your conversations back to the leadership: former “sustainers” have confided this. If a “teacher” magically senses something about you that you’ve never shared with the group, s/he is not psychic. Your “older” colleague is breaking your confidence.

The purpose of this blog is to:

  • Break my silence: NO MORE SECRETS. This secret rotted into a psychological cancer, eating away at me from the inside out.
  • Spin silk from a sow’s ear and garner the wisdom that comes with recognizing and admitting that my need for guidance and desire to be part of something bigger than me made  me vulnerable to a group of con artists.
  • Expand the growing chorus exposing “school” as a fraud and a cult that will take your money, steal your time, damage your family and will attempt to fashion you into another one-dimensional cog in the “school” machine of recruitment and wealth generation.
  • Provide resources for those who might be seeking information on a strange group that refers to itself as the invisible world. It’s really not invisible: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/follow-the-leader

20 thoughts on “About Cult Confessions: “School”, aka, “The Study”, or “secret study group”

  1. Linda Jo says:

    Secrets and Lies
         Secrets are systemic. They are kept by nations, by families, and by individuals.
         We keep secret the things we are ashamed of and the things we think we cannot face. We also keep secrets when we are intimidated into silence. Within the family, secrets define who is in and who is out, drawing some members into hidden alliances and leaving others out in the cold. When secret-keeping becomes a way of life, secrets and betrayals ricochet like pinballs from one family member to the next, triangulating each in turn.
         Secrets can grow like weeds through the generations, sending unexpected tendrils into every corner of a family's life. Secrets require at least avoidance, at worst outright lies that can become a habit, branching into seemingly innocuous areas until whole dimensions of life are off limits to spontaneous talk. Secrets shape not only relationships, but inner lives. "If you knew, you would not accept me," think the secret keepers, while those kept in the dark grow worried and confused. "Something's wrong. I'm not supposed to notice, and it must be my fault."
         When a family with a secret walks into a therapy session, the heaviness is palpable. The secret haunts the room like a ghost, looking over everyone's shoulder, a tense and hovering presence. Everyone waits for the other shoe to drop. When secrets are skillfully uncovered, the truth can make people free. And yet for years the subject of secrets was almost a secret within family therapy itself.

    From "Ghosts in the Therapy Room: Cries and Whispers – The Haunting Legacy of Family Secrets" by Evan Imber-Black in The Family Therapy Networker – May-June 1993

    Can We Talk?
         Healing requires words. There is no way around a tragedy or trauma. The only way over is through, and the way you get through is by talking. Shakespeare understood this in Macbeth when he wrote:

                  Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
                  Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.

         I would not have gone down like a kamikaze pilot in my own life if I had started talking years before. Friends help, but therapists are essential for anyone who has been profoundly traumatized. I could not have survived without the professionals at Johns Hopkins. My past was a minefield. Without them to guide me through it, I would have exploded.
         The sad thing is that no one could have convinced me to start talking. I had no idea — and could not have been persuaded — that something from so long ago suddenly could take over my life. I want others to know what I learned — if you have been traumatized by abuse, you must find a way to understand and resolve it. Even if your life seems fine at the moment, unresolved trauma neither goes away nor diminishes over time. It can erupt at any time.
         Even if the trauma never recurs, its initial impact can have long-term effects. Depression, alcoholism and other addictions, rage, insomnia, nightmares, and low self-esteem are some of the common shoals for people who carry too much emotional cargo. They should lighten the load by finding a supportive therapeutic environment and safe place to feel terrible.

    From Come Here, by Richard Berendzen and Laura Palmer

  2. Rebecca W says:

    Just came across this site. Very helpful!

  3. Eyes Open says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It takes a lot of courage and inner strength to take back your power in this way, and you are doing a real service to others and honoring yourself and your experiences in a powerful way. I am so happy for you, and I hope many other people who are in inspired to find their own power and take their lives back.

  4. Hi Eyes Open – Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m so happy you find it helpful and — like you — I hope & pray it inspires others to take back their lives.

  5. Jo says:

    Thanks for keeping this site up for as long as you have. This group tried to recruit me almost 3 years ago. I left after the “five-week experiment,” so I wasn’t given access to all of the vile stuff you describe going on under the surface.

    I tried it out because my curiosity got the better of me, honestly. I’ve always been a curious skeptic when it comes to anything vaguely spiritual. I remember thinking, “This is probably a cult, but the ideas are kind of interesting, and they aren’t charging me any money yet. No harm done.” But my partner was very concerned from the get-go, and after reading your blog, I’m SO relieved I took his suspicions to heart.

    I don’t think about that time in my life very much. When I do, I think, “Well, maybe it’s an interesting story to tell to my friends some day—That Time a Cult Tried to Recruit Me.” And yet why haven’t I already described it to my friends? I realized in reading your blog that I was still worried about betraying the group’s trust. But that’s ridiculous, right? I have no obligation to them, and your account confirms that. I think there’s a lot of shame, too; I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, and I’m not ready to admit to my friends or family that I was so easily taken in by such drivel.

    In the past three days I’ve mulled over this experience more than I ever had in the past three years, because I started listening to Glynn Washington’s podcast about Heaven’s Gate. The ex-members’ accounts, the recordings of the members and leaders…it all felt a little familiar, and it lead me to do all the internet investigating on the “school” that I’d never done in the past. It’s skin-crawling to consider how close I came. There but for the grace of God, as they say.

    • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

      Hi Jo – Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your honesty and I’m so happy that you left after the 5-week experiment! Glad you left before the group came between you and your partner! I have a couple of responses …

      ” I remember thinking,’ This is probably a cult, but the ideas are kind of interesting, and they aren’t charging me any money yet. No harm done.’ ”

      Yes, I think that this is indicative of most who try the “free 5-week experiment”. It certainly was true for me. I specifically thought to myself: “what could a free 50-week experiment hurt. I can leave any time.” Five years later … (cough). Most “students” are intelligent people who — for some reason — are seeking something … that “something” varies. But they find “school” and it appears reasonable. In fact, part of the fallacy and the seduction is looking around your class and seeing reasonable, kind and intelligent people — many of whom graduated from Ivy League colleges. The ideas are interesting. It’s not in-your-face crazy, like Scientology. SO the damage is much more insidious.

      In my opinion, society at large does not understand this cultic phenomenon, or how damaging it becomes.

      “And yet why haven’t I already described it to my friends? I realized in reading your blog that I was still worried about betraying the group’s trust. But that’s ridiculous, right? I have no obligation to them, and your account confirms that. I think there’s a lot of shame, too; I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, and I’m not ready to admit to my friends or family that I was so easily taken in by such drivel.”

      I have heard this from so many ex-members (both from school and other cults). Part of the shame stems from societal victim-blame, so sewed into our culture. I always encourage those who stumble into any cult — but esp “school b/c it’s so secretive — to tell someone. Choose your most trusted confidant, someone who won’t judge, someone is empathic and kind and tell that person your story.

      Isn’t it strange that you were only in for 5 (or 8) weeks and still feel that loyalty to the secrecy, or, as “school” likes to call it “privacy”. Two things:1) to me that says the damage is far more insidious and damaging than we know. 2) I think the secrecy is the most damaging part of “school”. It’s a cancer that spawns shame. It keeps you from talking about it, thus processing and coming to a real understanding of the experiences, the dynamics in the group, the underhanded way it abuses trust in friendships to recruit newbies.

      It has been my experience that the more people I tell, the more I recover. However, you don’t have to scream it from the rooftops. I’m prepared to he the ex-member poster child so other people don’t have to. Just tell someone, or a few someone(s) — choose wisely and try it. I really believe the shame and the weird “loyalty” will start to dissipate. Remember that loyalty only helps the group remain under the radar. Everyone else gets hurt.

      I’m happy that you found the blog and that it shed some light on your experience. AND pat yourself on the back for leaving before giving those sleaze bags any money!!! Many intelligent people have gotten sucked in for years and spent thousands — that money all goes into Sharon’s investment pot. I could really use the $20,000 I pissed away in the Hollow Halls. HA!

      Congrats on your “school”-free life 🙂 I also recommend just general research on cults. The education is healing, trust me.

      Best wishes! GSR

    • Open Eyes says:

      We must have been recruited around the same time. I must have met my new “friends” about June 2015 and started attending in August. Like you, I was a curious skeptic. It sounded culty to me, but I thought the same exact thing, “This is probably a cult, but the ideas are kind of interesting, and they aren’t charging me any money yet. No harm done.”

  6. beatrice says:

    Hey I was just recruited by this group last month by one of the younger members named “Mike C.” He approached me in Somerville at a bar in my neighborhood and started talking to me. We talked about life and philosophy. Then his friend Alan showed up (a much older man). We had a great talk I agreed to meet them for coffee again. I met them a couple times then one time Mike asked if he could bring his other friend Lisa. I got the hint right away that they were part of some group and I waited patiently for them to invite me to join, meeting them casually for coffee several times. I realize now that they all did lie to me about the nature of their relationship, originally and what felt like a chance encounter was actually a deliberate recruitment effort.
    I went to the group for a few weeks (Mondays and Thursdays) which was meeting at a hotel in Cambridge and then a hotel in Brookline. No wonder they want to keep everything so secret, given their lineage is not to the great men of history but to shysters Sharon Gans and Alex Horn

    • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

      Hi Beatrice – Thanks for your comment! Kudos to you – you obviously didn’t get sucked in over the long haul! No, let me assure you that “school” is not part of any lineage that includes great men in history. Is that the line that they are using, now? It’s just a scam that wants your money and your dependence. I was just wondering if it was still in business. Thanks for the info!


    • Open Eyes says:

      Ah yes Alan! I remember Alan. He was but a wee cultling when I was invited. It is still shocking to me a lawyer would buy into it hook line and sinker.

  7. Ardonyx Maincoon says:

    You´re not the only one that got sucked into a cult.
    The cult that adopted me was called T.O.Y.O. (Toronto Ontario Youth Organization) They send demons to try to control your mind when you are five, send you into deep depression when you try to be good, and then separate you from your parents by mind possessing you when you turn 16. My parents sent me to a youth shelter, I get kidnapped by two 14 year olds with mind possessing capabilities and lost two weeks of time. I slowly regained my vision and headed back to the youth shelter. Big mistake, after dinner I went straight to bed. Bill, a staff member pulled me out of bed, drugged me and interrogated me in the staff room office. Bill was fired the next day. I suppressed on what happened that day. A few years later I met up with Mark Hayday. He was very friendly at first for a few years, but then all of the sudden he turns nasty on my 18th birthday. I tried to ignore it for a few years thinking maybe if I set a good example he will follow it, boy was I wrong. He got a girl friend, they both teamed up and drugged me with some weird tea, they put some Vampire markings on my upper arms with some heated scalpel and cohersed me into smoking weed, drinking alcohol and taking magic mushrooms. A few days later the TOYO cult decided to mind posses and make me harass various 40 year olds of different statures. Some were fat, some were athletic and some were average. There were many countless times that I experienced missing time. Something different happened when I met up with Jeremy. He was different, he was powerful.
    Being in his presence slowly drifted me out of my daze and it was the cult´s mistake for me to be assigned to him to harass him. Because of Jeremy, I managed to slowly break of the cult´s mind possession and build up a resistance to them. It took several years but I managed to gain control of my mind and body. Unfortunately I will have to stop drinking coffee and coffee like products to prevent mind possession from occurring again. Because of the drugs that were forced upon me in the past, caffeine is the catalyst of their mind possession. Now I just need to find a way to stop their telepathic harassment and their emotional energy attacks. They setup clouds of negative energy around my house and use verbal and telepathic voices to push the energy at me. I am thinking about hiring a private investigator to gather evidence against of harassment, but I need to gather evidence of harassment in order to gather evidence of harassment to have the cult members arrested. I´ll find a way someday.

    • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

      Hi – Ardonyx Maincoon – Thanks for your comment. Your story sounds incredibly painful and I hope that you’re getting the help and support that you need to reclaim yourself and your life!!! Not sure who Jeremy is but I’m glad that he’s helping you. Inhale, exhale. GSR

    • Rebecca says:

      They attempted to recruit me in 2018 after i met a woman chatting at a coffee shopin Cambridge. Leslie.. I thought I had made 2 new friends until they invited me to join their “secret study group” and alarm bells went off big time. The whole experience scared the crap out of me, actually.

      • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

        Hi Rebecca – Thanks for commenting and I’m glad that you listened to your spidy sense! there’s a reason that you felt scared. I wish I’d tuned into that more and trusted my apprehensions. Onwards and upwards!

  8. K says:

    Thank you so much for leaving this up. I was approached on the T by a woman who struck up conversation and said that exact same phrase you outlined. I met with her once for coffee and had a nice chat, no mention of an organization. The second time we hung out she told me about a group of people…I asked probing questions and said I’d consider meeting some other folks at a neutral location but it sounded more like a religion than I was comfortable with. I didn’t feel right about it and cancelled. Days later I did more research and found this blog – the two people she mentioned she was setting up coffee with are named in this post. Thank you so much for confirming, you have clearly saved numerous people with this information.

    • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

      Hi K – Thanks for your note! I was just wondering if “School” was schooling on and it seems that it is, indeed, still out there trying recruit … deceptively. Good on you for listening to your gut and intuition! You’ve saved yourself a lot of time, pain and money!

  9. matt ruby says:

    I was involved with this group roughly from 1978 – 1982. I was in the Theater of All Possibilities play; “The Magician”, moved east with the group after the SF Chronical articles broke, became involved with the formation of the Boston group and secondarily with the formation of the New York group and I was one of the small crew that built the cabins on the Montana ranch.
    I must have fallen into some sort of small time-warp sanctuary like window of time because in the years since my exit, whenever I research anything about the group, I’ve found nothing but disturbing – to put it mildly – stories of many other peoples experiences with this group which bear no resemblance to my own experience. My own experience with the group, which I can only characterize as resoundingly positive, is a mystery to me when viewed through the lens of so many traumatic experiences of others.
    So the brief history of my time there is that when I first came across the group, I was 18 or 19, had left school at 15 and home – the term ‘home’ in the physical sense only, on my 16th birthday, did not have any therapy experience with which to reflect on and having left a single parent home at 16 did not have any parent connections. So you could say I was pretty raw, uninformed and pretty ripe for just about any sort of intervention.

    I was living with my girlfriend in the Haight Ashbury section of SF, both working odd jobs and living a lifestyle that you might say was, commensurate with the time and place. So when someone approached and sold us tickets to a play for later that same day, we just thought that was pretty cool. When the play concluded and the audience was invited down for a discussion about the play, well being 18, you guessed it, we thought that was pretty cool.
    And of course the same amount of thought went into accepting the invitation to join the school and of course, being 18 and all, 200 bucks a month didn’t raise any red flags. So it should be clear that I went into this with zero filters.

    During my time I did hear rumors and eventually became more aware of prior “practices” and “methods” utilized with “older” students. I had developed a close relationship with Sharon and Alex and when I asked about this they explained that they saw errors with those past ways and were making a new effort to move on from that so as to grow and perhaps be able to appeal to a wider audience with the goal of expanding the group. Looking back in later years it occurred to me there must’ve been all sorts of things I was unaware of at the time but at least with me and small group of others they didn’t try to hide or explain away what took place. They didn’t want to talk about it nor dwell on it but wanted to move on from it. In the four years that followed that seemed to be the direction.

    They explained further that their revised approach would place a strong emphasis on teachings of Gurdieff and P.D. Ouspensky, Collins and others as well as old and or new testament passages and tried to lead discussions that delved into deeper understandings of what those texts had to say. From there the groups discussions would seek to see how the deeper meanings might apply to us as individuals.
    And yes, that is where things would get personal, deeply personal. I don’t think that the manner in which individuals were placed on the hotseat nor the amount of time the group would meet which often went deep into the night is the sort of thing you’d see taught at any university.

    I now know how shocking the events I experienced then would have looked from the outside both then and now but I didn’t know it at the time. Given where I was at back then, I needed something shocking to happen to me. They were easy on me at first but the more I embraced what was happening the more they poured it on but back then I was insatiable for all they had and then some. And because I had no other filters or college or parents or mentors or anything that reflected any genuine effort on my behalf, I bought in and bought in big and to this day I have no regrets.

    When the SF Chronicle news hit, the stories didn’t phase me. But to be honest and to challenge some of the negative views expressed, my thought then and still is now that; there’s two sides, or more, to every story.

    If there’s anyone out there reading this that was close to Alex you know what I mean when I say that to stand up to him was no easy feat. And I never did except on the day I left. In various discussions over the years with them I was clear (to myself not with them) that should the old ways pop back to the surface, that would be my time to go.

    Sharon was clearly the one that kept Alex in check all during my time there and managed to keep the “old ways” in the past. But one very long night, midwinter, after months building cabins during the Montana winter, Alex got the better of himself and long story short, I slept in my truck that night and packed and left the next morning. After a few days in town, still sleeping in my truck, I had a closing phone conversation with Sharon who at the end, wished me well and that was it.

    It’s been 40 years since then and from what I can gather from some of the stories related on various sites, I’d have to conclude that a few things have changed since then and count my lucky stars for my own experience.

    To those that had traumatic experiences I’m sorry and not sorry at the same time. And to the children of the adults that participated and subsequently suffered as a result of their parents participation, I can only say I’m truly sorry for your experience and for your parents lack of parenting. I have the utmost empathy and compassion for you and do hope the right kind of therapy is made available to you.

    To those who are still reading this, you’re likely to hate me for saying that; you were a grown adult and unless someone was physically forcing you to stay against your will, you could have and should have gotten up and left.
    I know that for me to express positive things about my experience and relationship to people that so many others can’t seem to find enough horrible words, expressions and feelings about has to seem nuts and maybe pisses you off. So let me therefore say it more strongly; the experience provided me with a foundation and tools for structuring my life from that time on that I can only say that for me, they saved my life.
    Perhaps I got what I did out of those years as a result of my lack of being parented in any way as a kid. I had a father who turns out wasn’t actually my father, mother who was mostly absent etc., let’s just say I wasn’t taught much about life as a kid. So for better or worse, those years were invaluable to me.
    In the years since I’ve had some good years and some pretty bad ones. Have made a lot of good choices but certainly have my share of pretty bad ones. I’m no genius, not a prince charming, not all that good looking and a little too blunt at times. But if I learned nothing else; my experience with Sharon, Alex and others who’s names I’ll leave off this, taught me to take responsibility for my actions.
    If I make a poor choice or get myself into a bad situation, and cry that someone manipulated me into it? That’s abdicating responsibility. People talk about being brainwashed. Do those same people watch talking head right or left media? Same thing folks. “Sharon manipulated me” or “Alex beat me up”. If you’re watching right or left media but yet don’t want to be brainwashed, then change the channel or guess what, you’re being brainwashed. Period. What would you say to your kid if he or she came home and said; “someone is manipulating me” or “beating me up”? You’d tell them to get up and leave the room, right?
    Best of luck, mr

    • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

      Hello MR and thanks for your … comment, novel, really. It’s all very interesting, but of special fascination is the fact that you found this blog after leaving “school” (or whatever it was called back then) in 1982. After decades, why you did you seek out online information, share several paragraphs about your experience? I’d love to hear what motivated you.

      I disagree with your assessment. It sounds like the typical victim blame – this”abdicating responsibility” thing – to justify reprehensible abuse and defend Alex and Sharon, two people who lied and conned and lied and conned for profit and self-aggrandizement and didn’t take an ounce of responsibility for the destruction left in their wakes. But that’s your opinion. You say that the cult helped you. Good. That’s not true for many, many “students” – most just got hurt. Best of luck, Esther

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