Last weekend, I met the mother of a cult leader. There's often talk of Second Generation Adults (SGA) - children of cultists who are born or co-opted into a group without their consent. But what about the parents? I've never given a thought to Wierwille's parents or Moon's or Gurumayai's. What were they like? What did they think?
Luna Tarlo, an unassuming, soft-spoken woman in her seventies, is the mother of Andrew Cohen, a popular American guru. She was one of his followers for three and a half years and wrote about her harrowing experience in a book called "Mother of God." I was introduced to her through my son who interviewed her for his documentary on U.G. Krishnamurti. U.G. basically "exit counseled" Luna from her son's cult.
Andrew Cohen is the founder of Enlightennext, "a non-profit organization endeavoring to create a revolution in consciousness and culture." Sound familiar? The Way made similar preposterous claims. "Word Over the World." WOW?!? Luna saw from the inside out how "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." She was denigrated and humiliated by her son who instructed her, a writer, to throw all her writings into an incinerator. She did just that, believing him to know what was best for her better than she did. She was under his spell.
She hasn't seen her son for many years now. I didn't ask her how it felt. I hear from families of prisoners every week, from mothers and fathers whose sons have committed murder or robbery or rape. Some are bathed with shame, others with horror, many with anger. Sometimes I wonder why I work in a prison. I say it is to make fewer criminals, yet there is an identification that takes place in me. A "there but for the grace of God, go I" sort of thing. But I digress.
I'm sure many of us have heard our own parents' relief when they knew we were free of the cult. I know from my mother's reports how frustrating and infuriating and sad it was to have her only daughter seized in the stranglehold of a megalomaniac. But for Luna, whose son IS the leader, what is that like? She seemed perfectly at peace with herself, that she had done everything she could to raise him in a decent path. It's tempting to blame the parents, to say,"Your son is a (fill-in-the-blank) criminal …mad man….cult leader."
Luna's book is a sensitive portrayal of the dilemma we all face as parents. We believe in our children and trust them to follow a righteous path. But what do we do when they veer from our instruction and become someone we do not recognize? Luna followed her son to the ends of the earth and came up disillusioned. She was not afraid to speak out against him once she realized his ends and means were wrong. Her book, like many accounts of cult survivors, is full of sadness, rage and healing. But it has another element - courage - a moral clarity that has the courage to declare something is wrong when it IS wrong. Even when it's your own son.
Luna said she wrote the book in hopes of waking Andrew up. It hasn't. He's become more popular. But she has been encouraged to write the sequel - the book in which she waits, continuing to be there for her son when he at last becomes disillusioned with what his life has become. Because we all know that "every idol has clay feet." But the power Andrew wields is intoxicating. It may take a miracle for him to open his eyes. But Luna hasn't stopped believing in her son, not the one idolized by thousands of people, but the one she nursed and raised. Miracles happen. They happened to us. It can even happen to a cult leader. I hope for Andrew's sake, and for Luna's, that it does.