Nxivm slavery empowerment thru faith and reason

Nxivm is a recently emerging cult group facing federal prosecution for constructing a secret society of dominants over submissives. The Nxivm group mostly operated from the west coast of the United States but the leader is facing trial at a Brooklyn Federal Court. Keith Raniere faces sex trafficking and forced labor charges along with actress Allison Mack ( who played one of Superman’s flames, in the TV series Smallville). They are listed as co-founders of Nxivm.

Self-proclaimed guru Keith Raniere is the head of Nxivm. Apart from being co-founder of Nxivm, Allison Mack is his direct slave and master of all the slave members. In this age of self-help and trend psychology, Nxivm targeted women who felt lonely and powerless. Here is a promo video of Raniere and Mack:

The strange thing is that, in this conversation, Raniere and Mack don’t quite appear to be leaders of a master and slave community. They are having a conversation of authenticity within the human condition. These, according to allegations and interviews with members, make Nxivm seem, like many cults, a well designed mask.

We have heard sayings such as, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and have enjoyed masquerade fashion and parties. Within relationships and human interactions – at home, at work, with family, with friends, with adversaries – that people have many layers. Primarily, each individual person is a person and persona. And these two realities are constantly in conflict. Based on this interview many might hit on the viewpoints that Raniere spoke about are absolute facts, not theories or falsehoods. If you are in need of help, this person seemed likely. Would you have imagined it might be persona?

Thousands of years ago, human extension and survival depended on attachment to groups for food, clothing, shelter, and protection. These are the foundations of group dynamics and how people are attracted and persevere through time. When we think of western religions, we think of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and Mohammed. Before these became real facts of faith, they were considered cults. Within this world, many cults exist while few become newsworthy. They do not invite masses. They reach out to selected, small numbers – believers in ideas. In a sense, what we define as cults may seem like new religions

Among some of the cults over past two generations are EST and Scientology. Ehrhardt Seminars Training (EST) is a costly group of meetings focusing on human potentials NOW. They have aggressive recruiting and make it difficult to leave the group. Scientology addresses the spirit—not the body or mind—and believes that Man is far more than a product of his environment, or his genes. Scientology further holds Man to be basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe toward true spiritual enlightenment. Actor Tom Cruise is an ardent member and contributor to Scientology and has invited other actors to join.

Of course, Nxivm was formed under an umbrella group called ESP – Executive Success Programs. Nxivm was the secret organization beneath it. No association with EST.

Nxivm also-has many former actresses and wealthy women as believers and contributors. According to allegations, they procure and train new members – in master/slave relationships. Mentioned actors are Grace Park (Hawaii 5-0) and Allison Mack. Also mentioned are the Seagram heiresses. Those that did not become sponsors are at the lowest tier – slaves.

Members were required to provide nude pictures of themselves, all sorts of personal information, and allow branding. They were to follow diets with severe calorie restrictions. Although they are free to pursue their lives independently, they were always on 24/7 call. While this consensual dominance over submission is a complex dynamic, some women struggling with loneliness and emptiness were drawn to the magnetism of Raniere.

A good question is were the women who joined ESP or Nxivm aware of what they were signing into? Are we learning not to read the print before signing documents on paper or online? This case is bound to raise many more questions within the context of contract agreements.

Groucho Marx once said, “I won’t join any club that’ll have me as a member.” The sad states of affairs is that everyone wants to feel connected, especially an active part of group dynamics to feel more whole. It is discussed in Gestalt Psychology. Gestalt psychologists argued that these principles exist because the mind has an innate disposition to perceive patterns in the stimulus based on certain rules. These principles are organized into five categories: Proximity, Similarity, Continuity, Closure, and Connectedness. Connectiveness can be emotional, physical, cognitive, supportive. Stanford University of Medicine demonstrated how Connectedness promotes good health.

The importance of Connectedness or being part of a group has been key to survival. Excommunication and exile were the most severe punishment on crimes against a group. Yet, within an age of reason and science, we haven’t as yet found great ways to cope with feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Some of these are susceptible to anyone who gives attention to them. Brainwashed? I don’t know. Just reaching for a new reality. They haven’t learned yet that the helper may just have a slippery hand beneath his glove.

I am curious how the case against Nxivm will go. Within a society with hard-fought histories for pursuing liberty and happiness, consenting to being someone’s slave for Connectedness is not an answer. Loneliness and depression may be chronic pains like hunger, there are more choices to find help than some guru or healer.

Raniere has had several enterprises over decades where his mild persona was used to capture investors or victims. With Nxivm, he became Vanguard to his supporters and members who willingly became slaves before the secrets were revealed to the public. While slavery exists and has existed for most of human civilization, many enjoy being led willingly . In the biblical book of Isaiah (53:7) there is a saying “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.” Many people willingly accept being victimized at levels as sacrifices for their own self benefit and empowerment. Volunteering as a slave in a society that cherishes free opportunities may not be smart. Under Raniere’s darkness beneath his persona, his talents brought him several followers. And he got them to sign on the dotted line. Does that signature remove the victims responsibility as a follower? Did Raniere control a slave ring with human trafficking? There are some heavy questions and implications to be garnered in this legal war pitting free will against slavery.

No matter how sad or bitter you are, freedom of choice and opportunity are rights and virtues not to be surrendered lightly. Without bail, or with high restrictions, I hope this Nxivm case demonstrates that your senses of living have other options.

In the dilution of gods, reason plays more responsibilities on selves to extend their human potentials and “spirits”. Perhaps in a world where gods are diminished where more explanations for the unexplainable are available, reason seems more attractive. The Human Potential Movement, created by the Esalen Institute, has played a role in spawning these strange cult religions. For the most part, they do not offer profound explanations. Should anybody really take these new religions seriously? It appears they do. There are still teachers and many willing students. Do they replace divinity?

The Human Potential Movement discusses that we only use about 10% of our brain power, based on observations of earlier psychologists. There are many that are attracted to increasing their potential beyond 10% to achieve happiness and contentment. It’s attractive but there are many ways people try to achieve this. Some attribute stress as a possibility and unhappiness is a stressor. And there are exercises that help. Does giving yourself to a master help realize that potential?

In the 55 years of this Human Potential Movement, we have witnessed many crooks and, ironically, many supporters. Keith Raniere and Allison Mack will stand trial. They will be viewed microscopically by the press. Some ex-followers will testify against them. Will it have any suppressing effect on the Human Potential Movement? Doubtful. Stressing individualism and uniqueness and sought dreams of identities, small groups – cults or new religions – will always remain silently at the fringes. Exposing Nxivm was a good find. Yet, like the TV show, The Following, there will be the leaders and followers seeking to find human potential in extremely strange ways. Here is where faith and reason meet the apocalyptic battles that forge the future of our planet.

Passover and the new year

Faith and science are always in conflict. Jews gather each year for the Passover meal. It commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. There’s actually a little more. It may seem like a trivial pursuit but Passover is technically and biblically considered the new year because it’s the first month of the Jewish calendar. In terms of science, calendars are unique time markers. In terms of faith, they were all different. Using the Bible as a guide, Passover occurs in the first month but the new year occurs in the seventh month. Does that make sense?

At the dawning of civilizations, faith and reason were one. People observed the sun as day and the stars as night. They would be as ancient astronomers witnessing changes of the earth and sky. Time as we know it didn’t exist. The most dependable cycle of the night was the changing of the moon from bright to invisible. As groups developed and as customs developed, the moon (lunar) cycles were labeled and calendars were created. Each calendar was group-specific. In agrarian cultures, believed to have developed 10,000 years ago, the new year was the brighter and warmer time. Many ancient artifacts presume the new year began in what we call Spring, around the equinox.

There is a sort of oddity about the holiday of Passover. Passover marks the beginning of Spring and also the first month of the Jewish year. Yet, 7 months later, the Jewish high holy days also mark the new year. The New Year can be said to begin on the 1st of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5) or on Rosh Hashanah, the 1st of Tishri (Leviticus 23:24). Nisan marks the story and redemption of the Egyptian slaves into new freedom. Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the world’s creation. Both days fall around the equinox.

Calendars were fairly new concepts in ancient biblical times. The concept of months didn’t matter in those early days and nights when people lived on earth. For the most part, they were pantheists, observing day and night skies and their immediate environment. Primitive societies followed broad concepts, counting the year as starting when leaves sprout on a particular tree or describing someone as having lived through a certain number of harvests. This followed many generations and the Bible counts time by generations.

Passover marks the spring equinox and Rosh Hashanah is around the autumn equinox. Nisan is the first month of the Jewish quasi-lunar year. It’s name comes from a root word meaning miracle and honors the first miracle of freedom from bondage and subsequent miracles.

Yet, the dawn of Spring influenced many types of New Year festivals around the world. Each clan or group had different calendars. When people were conquered, they had to follow different calendars. The Gregorian calendar, the common calendar, is solar. Christian Easter is calculated on the basis of a lunar calendar. The Islamic calendar is entirely lunar, and the Jewish calendar (like the ancient Athenian) is a mix of lunar and solar (lunisolar). The calendar of the Romans, until the end of the Republic was lunar, too. The Roman calendar year began in March, with the beginning of each month (the kalends), corresponding with the new moon, and the middle of the month (ides) corresponding with the full. One of Passover’s alternate names is holiday of Spring.

Evidence of calendars were found in Egypt, Sumeria, Mesopotamia, Athens, and Babylonia. Each were slightly different and codified different meanings. It was extremely difficult to use these as definitive time markers on wider scales. Christianity eventually developed a more expansive calendar that is more commonly in use today.

Moon cycles from new to full, as well as seasons, provide approximate time frames. The Bible was originally spoken, carried through generations, and (finally) written down when technology was available. According to these writings, Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the month of Tishrei (the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve), is not the first month. Rosh Hashanah is actually referred to in the Torah as the first day of the seventh month.

Essential customs of Passover are found in the book of Exodus:

And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for G-d, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. – Exodus 12:14-17

In the five books of Moses, the beginning of the year was clearly set at 1 Nisan, in the context of a description of the first Passover. This new year celebrated the creation of the Jewish nation through the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt:

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1-2).

This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the “puffiness” (arrogance, pride) from our souls. This is a simpler version of Rosh Hashanah as a return to G-d to ask for redemption for our indiscretions.

Among the customs of Passover is the Seder. Over the past thousand years, the Sanhedrin (a main rabbinic council) tweaked the Jewish calendar and the liturgy that is part of the Passover Seder and its specific order.

Considering the ambiguities and confusion as to whether Passover or Rosh Hashanah are the New Year or not, the common association is the start of Spring and the start of Autumn. Unlike many other religions, Jewish followers have two new year holidays to follow.

The miracles of the Exodus through Deuteronomy dominate Passover. Interestingly, on Rosh Hashanah – the new year of the seventh month, the last chapters of Deuteronomy are read. Added to those, is the Haftorah. These are fragments from the Bible that are selected as addendums on Sabbath. The practice seems to stem from around 200 BCE, when the Jews were under Persian rule and forbidden to read from the scroll. The Haftorah for Rosh Hashanah tells the story of Abraham and the one god of no material form. At the time, all gods had forms and idolized. Abraham’s god was as voice or thoughts. So Rosh Hashanah may be G-d’s birthday. Passover is the beginning of the year.

Rabbis have debated the time of the new year perpetually. Like discussing politics and faith, there are no finite conclusions. Based on a living calendar from 4000 years ago, Nisan and Passover are the feasts of the new year. Based on older events, Rosh Hashanah is the time to return to G-d. You can understand the intricacies.

And as the joke goes, “Put two Jews together and one will always question the other.” Perhaps G-d made Passover one new year and Rosh Hashanah as the other new year as a jovial stimulant to keep debates and questions going. Perhaps that is why the Seder begins with 4 questions. Happy Passover and happy new year. All should be well.