Why I hate the word ‘cult’
I hate the word ‘cult’. It sounds dirty and dangerous, a word to be whispered into a young child’s ear to scare them away from devilish freaks who would force them to do unspeakable things. I first became conscious of the word when the Moonies of South Korea were featured on TV news reports in the late 70’s. I remember seeing the images of mass weddings, lines upon lines of identically dressed couples, standing like rows of boxed dolls in their wedding attire. I would ask Mum,
“Why would they do that?”
“They are members of a cult and are brainwashed by a strange religious leader,” she would reply.
I never once thought of my experience as being ‘cultish,’ but it seems to have been labelled as such. A cult where the leader takes numerous wives such as the ‘Terra Mater’ tribe (I prefer tribe to cult) that I married into, fall into this category, although initially, its leader John Twobirds, displayed no tendency for evil world domination, his teachings and lifestyle seemingly honourable to women, preaching eco-awareness and Native American traditions.
‘Terra Mater’ (meaning ‘Earth Mother’) was the name of the organisation run by John Twobirds, a Vietnam war veteran and self-proclaimed Neo-Native American Elder and Medicine Man. I had met him at a lecture he was presenting during his tour of the UK. His mission was to raise awareness for ‘The Way’ – his people’s philosophy of living in harmony with nature and mother earth.
Our paths crossed at an extremely low point in my life. Within the previous five years I had lost both my parents to AIDS and had ended my relationship with my first love. I wasn’t only looking for a way out of my pain and grief, but I was looking for a new life. I was completely open to a new way of being, a vulnerability that John Twobirds recognised and pounced upon. Five months after our first meeting, I found myself traveling to New Mexico to become his fourteenth wife.
People who know a little about my story tell me that one of the most surprising things they learn is that my time with this tribe wasn’t all bad. Yes, parts of my stay in New Mexico at the Terra Mater compound were challenging and even traumatic, but there were also times when I loved the feeling of family and sprit of communal living. I had always been a girl’s girl and being around so many women and children felt natural and comforting.
For years afterwards, I did not really think anything much of my time in New Mexico. It was just something that happened to me, nothing to write home about. Now, older and wiser, I look back and realise what an unusual experience it was. I can see how John Twobirds used fear and manipulation for the satisfaction of his own ego, sexual desires and beliefs, by praying on the vulnerable – classic cult leader attributes, agreed. But there was also something beautiful about John Twobirds’ teachings, which I felt to be true. Pearls of ancient wisdom that captured my heart and connected me to the Earth Mother or Spirit. I also believe that we did have some kind of karmic connection and it was this that drew me to him, being overweight and nearly 60-years-old, it certainly wasn’t his good looks!
So, whether the tribe of Terra Mater was a cult or not is up for debate. But I guess we live in a world that needs to label, so for now I will accept that ‘cult’ is as good a word as any to describe this extraordinary group of people who were fighting for their beliefs whilst living outside society.
(I am still working on finishing the first draft of my memoir. Look out for future blog posts to get updates on my progress)