Saturday, November 29, 2008

Erin Prophet publishes memoir of life with 'Guru Ma'

By Mark A. York
Enterprise Staff Writer

Erin Prophet's long-awaited memoir of her years at CUT in Paradise Valley, "Prophet's Daughter: My Life with Elizabeth Clare Prophet Inside the Church Universal and Triumphant," hit book store shelves recently.
Calling the book an "extraordinary memoir," Publishers Weekly says, "Prophet pulls the curtain back on the highest levels of life inside a cult, documenting her life inside as the daughter of cult leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet, of the Church Universal and Triumphant, from her birth through 1990, when the Church's long-awaited apocalypse failed to materialize."
Prophet writes with empathy and respect for her mother and for the followers of the faith her parents founded, but also with equal alarm at what it had become.
According to Prophet's brother Sean, who was with Erin and his other sisters Moira and Tatiana through much of the years in CUT with their mother, the memoir was 10 years in the making.
"It is to Erin's credit that she did a decade of research, and consulted a wide range of sources both within our family and outside of it," Sean Prophet writes in a reader review at Amazon.com. "Her book is factually unimpeachable when it comes to its representation of the lives of our parents and the church they founded. The story is told against a backdrop of constant crisis, 'divine revelation,' fame and the idolatry of followers."
The book opens in the night of March 14, 1990, when the 18-year old Erin Prophet, now 42, and her young son Mark are entering through a four-foot tunnel into the CUT's 756-person fallout shelter built the year before.
The underground shelter complex, built in a meadow high in the Gallatin Mountain Range alongside Mol Heron Creek, was known as "The Heart."
The CUT had built a multi-million-dollar bunker system designed to protect followers from a nuclear holocaust they believed was imminent on that night in March.
There, in her sleeping quarters, she waited along with the others for impending doom.
Erin Prophet writes of a friendship with a journalist in Livingston she had imaginary conversations with that night in the shelter while she lay in her bunk. He is Scott McMillion, formerly of The Bozeman Chronicle, whom she met a year before while he was writing about the CUT and whom she describes as a "benevolent, disinterested voice of reason, a defender of the right to be human."
The CUT organization had prepared for the worst at the hands of Soviet nuclear warheads and an anarchic aftermath.
"Underneath the floor of the Deep Cor shelter, a gargantuan underground storage warehouse, named for the thick folds of corrugated steel that formed its shell, was a secret twenty-five-foot-long tank filled with fifty AR-15 rifles, the semiautomatic civilian version of the Vietnam era M-16, along with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition," Prophet writes.
"Stored in the the same tank as the weapons was a horde of coins - more than $5 million in gold and silver, and $25,000 in pennies specially ordered from the Federal Reserve Bank. The coinage was meant to establish a currency 'apres la guerre.' (After the war)
"This tank, whose existence had been concealed even from me, was hidden beneath a special panel topped with a car-carrying trailer filled with Isuzu pickup trucks."
There was enough food stored underground to sustain them for seven months in the shelters, and seven more years when they emerged, Prophet writes.
"Most followers weren't aware of the seven-year scenario," Prophet said in a telephone interview Friday. "They were used to authoritarian power, so most people didn't question those types of directives."
The seven-year provision requirement caused logistical problems for the CUT engineers and incurred great expense, but there was no going back. She had seen the way through the voice of El Morya, one of the ascended masters, Prophet said.
Ascended masters are spirits that guide CUT followers on earth.
CUT sold holdings all over the country and even its warehouses in Livingston, Prophet writes.
But the nuclear holocaust that Elizabeth Prophet, known to followers as Guru Ma, predicted, never came to pass and members emerged from the shelter the next day disillusioned and for many, financially broken.
"We followers participated in and even reinforced my mother's prophecies," Erin Prophet attests in the book's preface. "Our faith in her bolstered her faith in herself - and her need to give ever-more precise answers."
"I began to have serious doubts in 1990," she said. "But I hoped we could reform because I thought there was a lot of good in it."
In the wake of the shelter phase, Prophet said, "I think reform efforts were made by my mother, but (CUT) returned to authoritarian rule. The reforms didn't go as far as I thought they should.
"I did begin to consciously moderate her decisions and was successful in some areas, such as the code of conduct was relaxed and some matters of behavior were left to individual conscience."
Of faith, she said, "I came to believe that faith should not be a factor in whether someone can participate in a religious experience.
"The way a group is structured is a very important factor in the behavior of its members."
She added, "I'm more tolerant toward religious beliefs and experiences than my brother. We both like to see more education on religious history of how religion evolved over time. Sean and I would agree on that.
"I wanted to write a book that told the truth of what we were really like. There was a lot of stereotyping. I couldn't make people understand what we were like back then. At the same time, we were doing things that were strange."
Erin said she visits her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, in Bozeman from time to time.
"Her illness is continuing its progression," she said. "It's difficult to watch."
Erin Prophet works as a project manager for a hospital in Boston, the city where her mother first met her father, Mark Prophet, decades earlier.
"Sometimes, I imagine her racing down Commonwealth Avenue for that fateful meeting with the messenger Mark Prophet. I pull her aside and beg her to stop," she writes, warning her mother of the dangers of infallibility that lie ahead and leading her down another path.
"In reality," she writes, "she would have brushed me aside and continued toward her destiny, believing in the power of her intentions."
Erin Prophet will be in in Montana Dec. 14 signing books at Fact & Fiction in Missoula. She said she will be in Bozeman or Livingston near that time but did not have a firm date or place yet.
"Prophet's Daughter: My life with Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Inside The Church Universal and Triumphant" (The Lyons Press, $24.95)accomplishes with precision and clarity what its author intended.

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