Cult Illustration #37, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

          This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.  

Leaders destroy the followers and

followers destroy the leaders


There was a girl who died, somewhat mysteriously, while under the care of the Foundation. When Ms. X arrived at the courthouse she saw the Guru’s wife with a small phalanx of eager and attentive helpers circling her and it reminded Ms. X of the way the wife was catered to during ceremony. Ms. X watched, longingly, and when the wife caught glimpse of her staring, she locked eyes and slowly panned her head from side to side, a covert response meaning “no, you cannot participate”.


The lobby and halls were thick with reporters, law practitioners, students, and the curious. Ms. X moved among them searching for the story and the outcome, or at least any small insight into what or who was to blame. Then the verdict was read, “Not guilty, but culpable for bad character!”


Ms. X awoke. The dream was terrible and true and yet, who was the little girl who died? As she mulled over the dream, she wondered how the Guru and wife avoided lawsuits or at least attacks from the Religious Right or animal rights groups, or just plain folks like their neighbors who were deeply suspicious of them.


Keeping the ceremonies out at the Concealment, was one technique, but using the euphemism that he was a professor of African Art, and she an artist, helped conceal their identities. Ms. X knew that they were also protected by the blood. There was a kind of addiction to blood and the belief that it could correct all forms of loss and illness. There was a fear that blood was always needed and that one should not go too long without it.


The Foundation upheld their brand of sacrifice and worldview as superior, none of that drama associated with other cults, and so it was pure of character. After years of agreeing, Ms. X began to wonder about the energy  the pair projected into the heads of their initiates, when they poured the sacrificial blood over the crown chakra, and then laid hands over that. The incomprehensible prayers, the meanings of the garbled words, no one knew! She would mull questions over in her mind. If one was projecting their life force as pure energy, then wouldn’t all the negative emotions be included in the stream of consciousness? Could unbridled desire infuse the head of the new initiate? Wasn’t that the course for belonging to the Foundation, the endless acquirement of rituals and objects that kept life manageable? And how could anyone explain the feeling of uncontaminated ecstacy, as the recipient of such a focused ceremony? That kind of ecstasy lasted only a few moments before the self and its egotistical pathos came blustering back in, questioning, what is the next level I must attain to be whole again? Was it actually fear and desire that kept the sacrificial machine going for even the most devoted and reverential person?


For years Ms. X had been privy to their lives. It made her uneasy, holding this knowledge that was too contrary to hold, along side the lofty credentials advertised by the Foundation. It was all about character and how one should look at the private life of a priest to discern their true intent. That was their benchmark for authority. She never dared voice her concerns about character to the wife or the Guru. She knew the wife would not quite understand her theory and would eventually take it to the Guru in some misshapen form.


It was a question about projection. What if a priest unwittingly projected his or her negative personal thought forms while conducting ceremony for others? And the real rub, how is the act of killing a helpless animal a positive form for expressing reverence for life? Ms. X could not come to ask the question. It seemed too . . . . too damaging. She thought about letting it out once or twice while in rare audience with the Guru, when he seemed to be in a jovial mood but she was too worried to do so. She thought that even if she could voice her concerns with clarity, he would surely view it as a betrayal. Those who took initiative, even politely, were called out for betrayal. Small betrayals happened all the time but they were acceptable, handled with a belittling remark, meant to stifle independence. Larger betrayals, however, reserved a special form of wrath from the Guru. He would publicly flay those who disagreed with him in writing and in conversation. He had no problem humiliating former friends and colleagues and this caused Ms. X great discomfort. The exiles and their family members would sometimes fear the Guru, warning him "not to do anything”. But Ms. X knew that the worst of reprisals were done in private, behind closed doors and it sickened her to witness them. They were simple angry utterances, called curses in the old days, and Ms. X thought it reckless, even criminal that the Guru flung these out without regard for their potency. These she knew were far more harmful than anything else he did – the threatening phone calls and litigious letters, the public denunciations and writings, even the stories he told with great pomp when he had his audience. Ms. X heard those stories many times but unlike the clients she knew the characters, all of them. She had worked with them and witnessed their expulsion. The Guru had forgotten how long Ms. X had been with the Foundation so he did not stop to think about her familiarity with the subject. Ms. X heard how the stories morphed with the Guru’s motives and she wanted to interrupt sometimes and correct him but she did not. She knew that she would be made the fool, it had happened for lesser offense.


Once, while Ms. X was still on good terms with the Guru, he threatened her by saying he would gladly deal with murderers, even serial killers, than suffer the annoyance of a disloyal priest. This kept her quiet after she left the Foundation. She knew he could kill from a distance with his sacred calabash. He could kill people the way he killed snakes with his guns, but there would be no loud pops to alert the neighbors. They called the police on him whenever he took to shooting the bushes with his rifle. The police would come and verbally reprimand him, the illegality of shooting snakes, and then it would be over. Ms. X knew the routine. She would merely be a dead snake, found on the road, run over by a tire. There would be no way of tying the crime to him because it really would be an accident or a fatal illness that she would succumb to.


She no longer viewed the Foundation’s website because it pained her to see the pictures of priests engaged in ceremony at the beloved Concealment. Smiling faces of her old colleagues made her yearn for the days they joked amid the palmettos, swatting flies and sweating, cooking and washing dishes, hosing out shitty cages and washing off the blood. She loved her friends there, and the bonds they cultivated. It was so real. The photos captured that.


Another reason she shied away from the site was because she had read veiled references to herself, the unnamed enemy. She was sure that her priest-friends had been thoroughly turned against her. Several continued to email her but they wouldn’t call anymore. They never emailed any information about the Foundation or the Guru and the wife, that was understandably taboo. On the one hand, she was overjoyed to be remembered by them but she felt they were milking her for info, her own vital blood that they would feed the wife. She also remembered her own discomfort with exiles, they symbolized fear and failure, and most of all, lack of protection. One needed protection through sacrifice and the Foundation, blood for blood, it was the only way.


Something else bothered Ms. X about the monarch pair. They were always sick. They had obscure pathologies that the Guru would puzzle over for months, until he finally found some form of therapy. This usually took the shape of tinctures and supplements, expensive injections, cases of vitamins, and curiously wrapped body parts from exotic animals shipped from far away places. This seemed to help, at least until a new illness or injury appeared. Ms. X found this highly troubling if she let herself think about it at any length. It went on for all the years she knew them and so she could not ignore it all together and she would sometimes pose the question, anonymously, to others who were in the healing business. She once spoke about it with an elderly holy woman from Belize. This woman said that those who charged large sums of money for spiritual healing were always hounded with illness and their children too. It was far better, the woman said, to accept small gifts if the patient desired to give them. It seemed to make sense to Ms. X.

Despite her ongoing feelings of loss, Ms. X could find all sorts of ways of seeing the Foundation as something that was not good for her, and therefore not a loss at all. She could see it as a terrible affliction that needed to be healed, a cancer maybe that could kill her if she did not possess the antibodies, in mind and soul, to vanquish it. The key to healing involved community and loved ones, however, and the question of finding such a fit for Ms. X, as a Substitute Teacher, was looking ever more grim.

Then things fell silent and everyone stopped. The occasional email did not come. Those whom she cooked for and cleaned with and helped when they had problems did not respond. She felt as though she had no one to share her troubles with, even if she dare not share her most pressing trouble, the expulsion. Years ago she had lost all of the long term friends she had prior to the Foundation. They had dropped off one by one learning of her new career as a priest. Now, her priest friends had also dropped off. Ms. X suspected the Guru had entreated them to shun her. He had probably said all sorts of nasty things to frighten them, thought Ms. X. She had heard those sorts of things herself over the years. She had not exactly been frightened by those he ostracized but she was terrified of losing his favor and the power it engendered, so she did as she was told. She was not bitter, she understood them. She understood that it was prudent to choose the power of the Foundation and all that it offered over some poor outcast.

Ms. X became aware, at this point, that she was a huge threat to this man and this gave her some consolation. It was obvious that he could destroy her but now it appeared that she too, in all of her pathetic glory, could destroy him. She giggled thinking that she was such a menace to the Guru. She had said and done nothing against him, unless one could call her constant yearning a form of negative energy directed at them. Had he and the wife felt it? Were they adversely affected?
She understood something that she had pondered years ago, about these old women in desperate countries, who admit to being witches. They were destitute and ostracized from their communities. They accepted execution, saying apologetically, that they were guilty of causing harm to others. They were wrinkled dirty women, starving and draped in rags. How could they be guilty? How could they think that they had done something wrong? Ms. X could never answer these questions but now, it made sense. She had betrayed the Universe when she betrayed the Guru and his wife, the equivalent, she supposed of defiling the holy spirit for the evangelist. In snubbing the two she had snubbed her chances at being a decent human being. The Guru and his wife and their reality were her reality, her Universe, and now it was all gone. It was conceivable to Ms. X in these moments of despair that she, herself, was possibly a witch.

Thinking about the pair and losing them gave her so much pain that she mustered the gumption to quit looking at their website even though she found nothing seemingly new and exciting. He would merely redefine old insights, making them seem fresh. Then one day Ms. X checked an email account that she had almost forgotten about and there was a mass-mailing from the Foundation. Bloodless initiation! In other words, the Guru was performing magic now without the death of a living thing, without the spurt of blood that made everything so real and silent in the spaces between thoughts. She knew that this bloodless initiation was birthed according to his need, it could not have been possible otherwise.

The Guru’s mind was a superior machine for inventing a belief, at least in a way that seemed to point to his gifted ability to siphon up some long forgotten ancient and uncorrupted wisdom. In fact, if anyone else thought of a particular concept before he did, it was pure nonsense until he could eloquently justify it. By his sheer authority, it became his discovery. Ms. X counted three times when she voiced a particular angle on divination but he seemed not to hear her. Sometime later he would incorporate her ideas into his teachings. This type of thing bothered her only slightly because she felt proud that he found her insights worthy of appropriation. Much later, as an outcast, it only strengthened her happiness to be free of him.

Cult Illustration #12, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

This is an image of a snake swallowing its own tail.


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved