Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Klosinski
Medical director of the department psychiatry
and psychotherapy for children and adolescents
with outpatient department, University of Tübingen
The improper use of strange psychotherapies in psycho-cults:
What lesson can be drawn from the observation of people who claim themselves 'saviours of the world'?"
"Suicide-trip to Tenerife" was the cover title of the German periodical "Der Spiegel" (The Mirror) in its third edition of the year 1998. In this report about the psychologist Heide Fittkau-Garthe one could read:
"According to the Spanish police, thanks to the large-scale operation, where 14 women, 13 men and 5 children aged between 6 and 12 years had been temporarily taken into care, a mass suicide had been prevented. The Germans had intended to kill themselves by poisoning during the night on the highest mountain of the island, the 3716-metre high Teide. The cult is a splinter group of the "Holistic Center Isis", named after the Egyptian Moon Goddess. The 56-year old chief convinced the members that a space-ship would land on the snow covered mountain top and carry them all into another world after death. Furthermore, the final destination of the journey was known - Sirius, at a distance of 8.7 light-years."
I had the opportunity several years ago to talk extensively to two people concerned by this psycho-cult. In my lecture, I will also deal with the decisive psychotherapeutic techniques used by Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe which led to a unique "bondage and experience of evidence" of the persons concerned.
Before I speak about the psycho-technique of this cult, I want to make some short general remarks about the inner life of psycho-cults and religious conversion.
1. Psycho-cults: How does the community function and what are the mechanisms of religious conversion in such movements?
Whereas in cults, the religious reference is clearly visible, this is not easily recognisable in psycho-groups. Today, psycho-groups are understood to be movements and groups which by messianic zealotry represent world views and world interpretations with healing pretension and the use psycho-techniques of various origins. They always become cultic if they encapsulate themselves and force the adherents to use rigorous practices and rules of behaviour. Floating transitions to occult circles and one-sided psychological schools (which claim to improve the world) sometimes make clear boundaries difficult to recognize.
The term "cult" relates to groups with an authoritarian structure, where the power of the leader is not limited by (holy) scriptures, traditions or another "higher" authority. The leader (who is usually also the founder) is not only the interpreter, but also the creator of the truth, and can freely decide what he or she thinks to be right. Although religions also offer meaning, identity and community, in cults, the feeling of unity is stronger, because the inner consistency is based upon the protection of the group’s purity against outsiders (see Rohmann, 2000).
Besides the well organized religious cults and psycho-cults, there is a broad market of new alternative directions of salvation and healing, whereby superstition, astrology, and numerous magic-mystic "methods" (for example "tarot", "aura reading", "chiromancy", "laying of runes", "light work" and "Ennagram", just to name some of the most important ones) are offered on the esoteric scene.
The trade mark of a psycho-cult is the "monster of absolutism" which also can be found in religious cults and in fundamentalist religious groups, but which develops a special dynamic in psycho-cults. This absolutism results in an absolute tie, in an unbalanced distribution of roles (leader of psycho-cults on the one side and followers on the other side) and the building up of a common irrefutable reality. Members of psycho-cults feel that they are chosen, outstanding and saved. This "salvation" refers to a catastrophe which will hit all non-members (the punishment of God, end of the world etc.). For people outside the cult, the feeling that the cult members are chosen leads to a problematic of envy and to the conviction that the cult members are characterized by Hybris, and therefore they should be refused or even persecuted. This marginalising leads to a still greater sticking together among the members of the psycho-cult and to a confirmation of the hostile image: salvation is in the group, calamity is outside. Thereby, every psycho-cult obeys to a process and a law of group dynamics: by succeeding to project aggressions toward the outside, a relatively harmonic community within the group first becomes possible.
The explanation models of religious conversion to cults and psycho-cults may be reduced to the following 6 thesis (Klosinski, 1985):
It is assumed that:
1. as predisposing factor, frequently psychological conflict situations exist (identity crises, stress etc.) which - suddenly or slowly - experience a certain solution by the process of conversion;
2. existing personal relations or the building up of emotional ties to cult members play an essential role, either as motivation for the conversion or for the proper conversion process;
3. conversion psycho-dynamically means a regression which leads to a dependency, or a progression which is equivalent to stabilizing and integration;
4. a saviour (guru, leader), a saving principle (programme) and a saved family (members of the movement) present factors to be found in a psycho-cult movement and have essential importance for the conversion;
5. specific "offers" from the cult movement attract "suitable" types of personality as possible converts. This means that the corresponding variables of the personality and the specific type of conflict lead to the selection or finding of the corresponding specific movement;
6. the experience of extraordinary (mystical) or "dissociative" states often is decisive and may coincide with the experience of conversion, or that the experience may be explained as proof for the conversion which had occurred. The experience of conversion thereby would be coupled with an experience of evidence.
2. Heide Fittkau-Garthe and her ”Training centre for release of the Atma-energy“:
In the seventies, Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe acquired a reputation as a business consultant and management trainer. She became an adherent of the Indian cult Brahma Kumaris (the daughters of Brahma), but in 1990 she broke with the founder Baba and declared herself to be the mother goddess and incarnation of Krishna. When she was arrested she was 56 years old. Mrs. Maier (anonymous alias) told the police one week after her arrest:
"Heide Fittkau told us that on 08.01.1998 the axis of the earth would jump. It was planned that we would drive with our two cars and with one or two rented cars up to the Teide. There we would be picked up by friends from the planet heaven in a space shuttle. There was no need to take anything with us. We would continue to live in our bodies on the planet heaven which would be like paradise, as we lived in Tenerife. Mrs. Fittkau explained that the whole population of the earth would have left, after abandoning their bodies, the souls would fly to the planet of the Subtles and lived there in a mantle of light ... I assumed that I would enter the space shuttle on 08.01.1998 at 20 hrs and that I would fly to the planet heaven ... Before following the police Heide-Fittkau told us that we should not say that she was God Aida, nor that the space shuttle was coming or that we planned to walk up the Teide. None of us told the truth, neither did I . . ."
How was it possible for Mrs. Maier to fall into such dependency? She had just divorced and at the time of her first contact with Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe she was no longer in a real crisis situation, but she assumed that, at the first seminar, she had participated in a consciousness training with the purpose of "dealing with herself and with others full of love". Looking back, she believes that in Heide Fittkau-Garthe she had searched for and then also found a kind of mother. In the seminars she had the feeling that she was somebody special, that she had a mission to achieve something great. Mrs. Maier was introduced to the so called "energy work" and she was told that in an earlier life she had been the lover of her father, that her father had remembered this in his present life and therefore had sexually played with her (In a rebirth session, Mrs. Maier had the image in front of her inner eyes that her father had put a penis into her mouth). Then, when the "incarnation work and energy work" had started in the group: one had to "go into" incarnations; group members had received a key-word from Heide, for example Turkia. Heide had given: "I, Heide, was a prince and you, Mrs. Maier, were my wife". Then they had to go into a room in order to "look" with closed eyes at what "had happened". This then was noted and all the people who participated in the seminar were strangely "chained together" by these images. It was then necessary to "resolve" the images they had seen, this meant that they had to solve a conflict and forgive each other.
What had happened: In the sense of the catathymic imaging experience respectively the autogenic training and a rest hypnosis, all members had been taught internal imaging, an internal viewing of imagery, by Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe. At least the purpose was to improve the karma of the world by working up the history of the world: Heide had said that the actual entangling of the world had arisen because leading personalities failed in their relationship to each other. She as the goddess and the confident group members now had the mission to improve the karma of the world by reliving and better managing the histories of failing relationships of the great personalities of the past, in order to clean the karma of the world. Thus the world would then be saved by this.
It is a matter of the "technique of the internal imaging" which is produced by types of meditation or by rest hypnosis: by suggestive hints centred on subjects, internal images and scenes in the sense of a catathymic day dream technique are produced or induced in the members. The experience is then understood to be proof in the sense of experience of evidence by the meditating persons. These internal images were used as a proof that Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe had "divine" powers and abilities. This resulted in a narcissistic blowing up of the self esteem of the concerned persons and to a feeling of superiority compared with others, binding them more and more to the group of Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe.
Mrs.Maier received the following certificate from Mrs. Dr. Fittkau-Garthe:
"By numerous seminars for training of conscience, communication and leadership, and by self-studies and practical applications, Mrs. Maier has learned to procure the knowledge to release the Atma energy, which when released heals all systems such as conscience, body, relations, economy and politics. With great dedication and resoluteness, she gives cooperation to all people worldwide, with this attitude: everybody has a core of pure Atma energy. The first step of the training of how to release Atma energy is hereby completed. Hamburg ..... Signature".
In order to tie the group members to her and to induce separation from their former socialization, the members received new names. They were told that these would be the names which the concerned people had in heaven. Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe obviously also wanted to be recognized as a God and a mother: everybody had to write an individual "heart key" which simultaneously would have been a mission for the new world.
Mrs. Maier wrote the following "heart key" for her goddess Heide:
"I return to the womb of my mother, to the source of love and life: Heide . . . Fittkau-Garthe. I am ready to die, to leave this body dress, to subtly serve the whole world. Now I release everything!
1. With your love in my heart I return to your womb of love. So I die from the dark world and bring with you the world of love back to this planet earth.
2. Forever I am one with you in me and free from every wish in the being.
3. I am in the stream of love, forever united with you.
4. I am the instrument to reunite the hearts of all children with you.
5. We all are one in the ocean of love. We are united as an energy of love.
6. We are one, melt into one another or also two, absorbed in one love. I am your true mirror.
7. Your love lives me. Filled by your love, my heart opens itself, so that I can touch again all hearts by the spark of love. So I ignite the fire of love with you in all hearts. I live and I love through you, and I radiate like a sun. I am an ocean of love and power beside you.
A distinct dependency has arisen which went so far that Mrs. Maier, when commanded by Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe, had sexual intercourse with a member of the group to "resolve an African scene from the past". Mrs. Maier who had never felt accepted by her physical mother, was tied to Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe by her "heart key", this means by a type of declaration of love. A „Folie-en-Groupe“ had been established.
Discussion and outlook:
Mrs. Fittkau-Garthe applied meditation techniques which are known in psychiatry/psychotherapy as day-dream techniques centred on subjects or guided day-dream techniques (catathymic imaging experience). This is a technique where in a soft rest hypnosis and relaxation, by induction from the "therapist" the creation of "internal images" is initiated. Here there is a possibility of manipulative influence: the person inducing the rest hypnosis and prescribing the technique, will like a hypnotiser be able to lead the meditating person to very specific images.
A glance backward in the history of medicine also shows that the term of "Mental-Imagery" had already been developed in 1889 by Galton, in order to use this imaging experience in a therapeutic way. In German speaking countries, "Extra wakeful imaging experience" was already used by C.G. Jung (1971) as a psychotherapeutic method with his "active imagination", further by Ernst Kretschmer (1959) in "image stripe thinking" and by H. Leuner (1970) who developed the so called catathymic imaging experience. Also the upper grade of autogenic training of I. H. Schultz (1966) knows the "imaging" in a hypnotic state and uses it therapeutically.
Mrs. Maier felt herself immediately tied to the energy of the mother-goddess Fittkau-Garthe by her "heart key" and also developed a fancy self esteem which finally resulted in a kind of group mania („folie en groupe“).
Furthermore, the group had the speciality that every member who had been initiated thought of himself/herself as a "World Saviour", this means one belonged to the elite, to the closest circle of elected people and would even survive after the apocalypse, united with the goddess, or continue to live.
Thus, Heide Fittkau-Garthe had abused the catathymic imaging experience for their own purpose in the sense of a "spiritual abuse".
Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Klosinski, Osianderstr. 14, 72076 Tübingen
Tel.: 07071/2982292, Fax.: 07071/294098
Galton, F. (1889). Inquieries into human faculty and its development. New York: Dutton, 1907.
Jung, C. G. (1971). Gesammelte Werke. Walter, Olten.
Klosinski, G. (1985). Warum Bhagwan? Auf der Suche nach Heimat, Geborgenheit und Liebe. Kösel, München.
Kretschmer, E. (1950). Medizinische Psychologie. Thieme, 10. Auflage, Stuttgart.
Leuner, H. (1970). Katathymes Bilderleben. Thieme, Stuttgart.
Rohmann, D. (2000). Ein Kult für alle Fälle – eine empirische Studie zum Thema „Mögliche Prädisposition einer Sekten-, Kult-Gemeinschaft“. Edition Soziothek, Bern.
Schultz, I. H. (1966). Das autogene Training. Thieme, Stuttgart, 13. Auflage