After the ‘ovarian reading’ I was convinced Serge was in the process of establishing a full blown cult, installing himself as its enlightened leader. I’d already paid a deposit on the Advanced Level 1 Esoteric Healing Workshop, and was experiencing ambivalence, to say the least. On the one hand, I knew my association with Serge would be of no further benefit to my health and wellbeing, but being a student of religion and cult dynamics, I felt compelled to bear witness and confirm my suspicion that he was heading down a destructive cultist path.
At the same time, I remained curious about the Esoteric Healing method and its ability to induce strong, spontaneous physical reactions, and wanted to see if those reactions could be reproduced by students. I was also somewhat interested in Serge’s teachings, because as I mentioned, some of what he said made sense, and I had no doubt he was a genius of a kind. The whole loving, heartfelt feeling approach has a certain appeal, and I was interested in seeing how successful he was at syncretising diverse beliefs (in the tradition of theosophy etc.)
The workshop, which was designed to train students in Esoteric Healing, was held over a weekend at a pleasant facility in Lennox Head. I wish I’d done a head count, but I believe there were 40 to 60 people there, of which there were only about half a dozen men. Serge had 8 women assistants in attendance. It was clear there was a hierarchy among them. Three or four of the women appeared to form part of his inner sanctum; an admin/manager who was also responsible for artwork in his study materials, a Brisbane complementary medicine practitioner who seemed to be Serge’s Brisbane tentacle, and the ubiquitous burping priestess – a formidable, mature woman, who periodically spoke with Serge in what I assumed was their native tongue (Portugese? Yiddish? Arcturan?). The other four or so assistants had completed previous workshops and had therefore attained ‘advanced’ status. However, they seemed to have little to do over the weekend and it appeared there was competition among them. I found them bickering from time to time and at least one was rather aggressive.
I can still feel the ‘lovingness’.
The first day began with a lecture from Serge. Here, I will say, Serge must have read the same instruction book as every other successful guru, because the delivery followed the usual sales/guruism/personal development hysteria inducing formula common to groups such as Amway, Scientology, Landmark etc. It basically consists of ‘pack em in and hype em up’.
Serge’s delivery was exactly the Dr Fox effect; rapid fire, unstructured, illogical and jargon loaded, while persistently oversimplifying and disparaging other belief systems. Yet, in spite of the erratic content, Serge’s delivery is cool and personable and he knows how to interweave enough of the more potent and attractive aspects of established traditions to keep his audience interested. Even with my degree in religious studies, I found myself intrigued by some of the more sensible or potentially useful aspects, to be astonished only moments later at the absurdity of some of the statements. For example, he would move from talking about the heart chakra and accessing our heart’s purpose to live in love, to the coming of Maitreya Buddha, to compassion, to maya versus ishvara, to Christ and the tri-star energy (?), to the Internet evolving until we can access it inside our heads (??), to the Arcturans being responsible for crop circles (???) – all within a few minutes of smooth, straight faced monologue.
A commenter on the Rick Ross Cult Education Forum pages, described an ‘idiot test’, and although it’s an unkind term, it applies to Serge’s lecture technique. The inclusion of audaciously nonsensical content in Serge’s lectures and teachings immediately weeds out anyone with strong critical faculties who might not only be resistant to adhering to the group, but cause trouble by asking pertinent questions. The rationally discerning will quickly abandon the group, leaving a remainder of students who are less critical, more suggestible and more malleable.
Although I was itching to challenge many of Serge’s statements, I didn’t because I felt intimidated. He talked too rapidly for me to concentrate and construct a useful argument, and thinking that quickly on my feet is not my strong suit. Then again, I’m not sure anyone thinks that fast when the guru is rapidly shifting the subject matter and using jargon which he has adapted to his own idiosyncratic definitions. It would take a rowdy, vocal and ferocious skeptic to keep up.
To their credit, there were a few participants who challenged Serge’s statements only to have their objections annihilated via manipulation and distortion. It’s very hard to argue with a single individual’s theology which he has based on free range distortions of traditional spiritual concepts. Serge is extremely liberal with misrepresenting other belief systems, and it’s easy to get away with when discussing occult or Eastern philosophies because the average person is not well versed. He has done enough homework to stay ahead of students with above average knowledge, but he has co-opted and distorted those philosophies to legitimize his own. As did Alice Bailey.
For the next day and half, from memory, there was less lecture time and more practical exercises of Esoteric Healing techniques. Mostly the room was kept dark, with lights out, blockout curtains closed, and only a small amount of natural light allowed in. Students worked in pairs, one per massage table and Serge demonstrated one technique at a time for laying hands on certain parts of the body. Both ‘healer’ and recipient were instructed to empty their mind for the duration of the treatment – to resist conscious thought. (This is also done in Serge’s personal treatment sessions where he asks you to keep your mind clear. It says it all really. If you want to follow Serge, whatever you do, don’t think!)
Each technique involved placing both hands on the patient for various therapeutic purposes, like releasing anger from the Liver, unblocking sexual energy, clearing sadness, draining fear, dealing with childhood issues or issues with a parent, quietening the forces of Maya etc. Yep. Snore. After the demo, students would then take turns to carry out and receive the technique. I was fascinated to find the students, including myself, able to induce hot and cold running catharses time after time, with each technique. It was a spectacular experience in many senses – in a dark room, forty or so people gradually building to a crescendo of hysterics. Reactions varied in intensity. Some people had subtle reactions, where they might shift on the treatment table a bit and alter their breathing patterns, while others launched into full convulsive thrashing, hyperventilating, sobbing, screaming and vomiting. Again I surrendered to the experience, jumped around a fair bit, spoke in tongues etc.
Serge bustled excitedly from table to table, observing and commenting. He carried on a lot about the persecution and torture of our past incarnations – archangels and monads being burned at the stake, raped, stabbed, butchered etc. He physically assisted in pulling imaginary swords out of students. He talked about the hands on techniques as healing the wounds where our angel wings had been hacked off in a past life, and carried on with a lot of divisive and paranoid ravings about how good people like us, his followers, are constantly under attack from the corrupt and evil members of the astral (um, real) world.
The following morning, the last day of the workshop, I was in Lennox Head scrounging around for some breakfast when I came across a couple of Serge’s customers, a mother and daughter sitting outside the bakery. The daughter was shaking and in tears and I remembered her being similarly distraught during and after the ‘treatment’ the day before. Her mother was trying to comfort her but she was very distressed. I feel guilty that I didn’t stop and tell them to quit while they were ahead – debrief them somewhat and tell them they would be better served to see a real psychologist, but selfishly perhaps, I didn’t want to compromise my cover and invite vilification if exposed. They persevered and attended that day, but I feel it was a detrimental experience for that woman at least. There were no apparent measures in place to screen out participants who may have dissociative or psychiatrically unstable tendencies, and no measures for helping them to regain stability should they break down.
During the course of that day, we went through more techniques and continued to reproduce catharses, releasing our negative past life entities or whatever. About half way through the day, I was getting bored with speaking in tongues and having these intense physical reactions. There’s an initial wow factor but I was wondering how many past lives and how much torture and suffering I’d have to tap into, because apart from the immediate stimulation and excitement, I could see no substance to it, no meaningful lasting effects and no future for it in my life. It wasn’t making me a better person, I didn’t need further persuasion that Serge’s teachings were bullshit and I can think of a million better ways to spend a Sunday in gorgeous Lennox Head. Moreover, I’ve had a chronic health condition for decades and Serge’s medicine made no difference to the symptoms, where other tested modalities have.
By the end of the workshop, although I was fairly burnt out and sceptical, I was still strangely, perhaps dementedly, interested and somewhat engaged with the teachings. At the end of the day, the group sat in a circle and held hands. I’d met so many truly lovely people over that weekend, decent, conscientious and kind, but clearly the intensity of the workshop had strong if not adverse effects on many of them. The young man beside me was trembling uncontrollably and many other participants were in tears or other heightened states. For days afterwards, I was in a trance like and confused state, still grappling with the teachings. Luckily I visited a wise friend and when I described the experience, his refreshingly spirited and expletive ridden rant on its preposterousness helped me snap out of it.
However, I remain alarmed by many problematic aspects of the workshop, and how they might negatively affect some participants. I’ll bullet point them.
- Serge presented the Esoteric Healing as something anyone could practice and openly encouraged people to use it on others, including children, inferring that students might charge for it. With my health problems and my chequered experience of healing I urge people not to adopt healing as a hobby, or anything other than a serious profession. Please! Medicine is a critical, complicated and arduous occupation to be undertaken only by fully trained and qualified professionals. UM minimizes and oversimplifies the difficulty of resolving symptoms and makes highly questionable claims to its own efficacy. Unless you have proper qualifications, do sick people a favour and leave therapy to the professionals. You’ll do more harm than good.
- The cathartic nature of the healing practice may be responsible for some of the hold UM has on people. I’ve been around the block with healing and went in with some foreknowledge, but for those new to that kind of experience, it could be alluring, exciting and intoxicating at best, and frightening, damaging and addictive at worst. It appears to be just one thought reform technique in Universal Medicine’s arsenal, and I plan to elaborate on that in subsequent posts.
- The strong cathartic nature of the healing is also highly exposing of participants’ vulnerabilities. To this day I’m concerned about the people who grew distraught during the process, because their vulnerability not only left them ripe for exploitation by Serge (‘clearly you need to do more workshops…come to more healing sessions…tell me more about your painful past…I take cash, cheque or credit card…’) but I also don’t believe Serge and his crew have the proper training and qualifications to adequately assist students in recovering from revisiting trauma. As a counsellor friend of mine says, ‘if you’re going to break someone down, you’d better be able to put them back together.’ This may also explain how followers’ personalities end up becoming more and more fragmented – also allowing UM to tighten its hold the longer they stay in the group.
- Serge’s 15 year old daughter was participating in the workshop and receiving the Esoteric Healing training. It’s not illegal, but ethically it reeks. I don’t care if Natalie is Hippocrates himself reincarnated, a 15 year old has no place in therapy, except as a patient.
- I assumed all of the women at the workshop were patients of Serge’s and could therefore assume most of them were subject to his ‘ovarian’ fishing, and had disclosed if not their sexual history to him, then at least their history of negative experiences with men in their lives. Throughout the weekend, he mentioned rape often, continually returning to the subject. For a certain percentage of the participants this would have contributed to a psychological re-traumatisation process known as ‘trauma triggering’, an experience which can exacerbate post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the pressure to disclose gives him the power to exploit emotional wounds, and an opening to provide marital or relationship advice, which as a favourite cult manoeuvre encourages followers to alienate themselves from non followers, including loved ones. In doing so, Serge is also capitalizing on the unfortunate and enduring gap in communication between the sexes. Again, none of these actions constitute an actual crime, but are enormously problematic in terms of therapeutic ethics because they are potentially extremely harmful.
- All of this makes a mockery of UM’s public relations assertions of integrity and professionalism. NONE of what went on at that workshop would be acceptable in a registered therapeutic profession. If any UM staff with legitimate training are reading this, shame on you for associating yourselves with such conduct! Healers have an obligation to do no harm and your behaviour and apologism is reprehensible!
Hence, our public campaign to call these practitioners to account.
Dear Universal Medicine apologists, during your next propaganda posts on your sanitized websites, if you’re going to get defensive, at least answer the charges. Specifically the six points I have made above.