Thirty thousand Italians bewitched by cults and occultism

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Thirty thousand Italians bewitched by cults and occultism

By Giacomo Galeazzi/ lastampa.it

Thirteen million Italians have turned to magicians, fortune tellers, and holistic healers. "When we no longer believe in God, we risk believing everything," British writer Gilbert K. Chesterton once said, prophesying that the secularized and atheistic West would allow itself to be manipulated by holy men, gurus, seers and professionals snake oil peddlers.

The Cult of DIY
Leading the charge against snake oil peddlers is Don Aldo Buonaiuto, the priest and exorcist minister of the Pope John XXIII Community Association. The Pope John XXIII Community Association is an international organization of faithful of pontifical right, founded in 1968 by Father Oreste Benzi. "In the booming globalized supermarket of false beliefs, we end up in the world of the occult through seemingly innocuous channels like New Age trends such as "do it yourself" cults. Thousands of potential supporters are recruited online by spreading false religious beliefs, explains Father Buonaiuto, who wrote a book on the subject called ‘The Devil's workers’. “It is a market that ties together the mysterious relationships between occultism, music, and messages conveyed through means of communication, films, and the web. Secret connections link mass phenomena: fantasy worlds, fake alternative cults, Halloween parties, esoteric galaxies, fake exorcisms, magic, nihilism. All a mix of deceptions, fraud, and obscurity.”

Recruiters and false promises
There are 30,000 Italians (according to Codacons) contacting magicians, astrologers and visionaries for advice every day. A cross-sectional phenomenon that affects all walks of life and which is measured in the increase in cases reported by the toll-free number for anti-cult terrorism: 851 requests in 2007 to 1,403 in 2018. A slew of false promises, sexual abuse, isolation from families and friends as well as economic impoverishment all part of a eight billion euro market, according to a report by Codacons on the scammers promising imaginary cures.

"There are no laws to counter this real emergency," says Don Buonaiuto. Families often turn to holistic healers or gurus for health concerns, but then report scams when it’s too late and the health of the victim is compromised. More and more alt groups solicit their services to individuals promising permanent health and happiness. The victims fall into the trap by reading books that pique their curiosity and then dive into deeper readings on the recommended websites. From there they enroll in seminars and that’s when they’re hooked.

Mental manipulation
Some of the more sophisticated cults–whose programs promise a thriving career, affection, health, and happiness–can be found at fairs filled with beautiful, smiling people. Fanaticism is an essential trait of what, for anti-cult associations, is a "meticulously implemented mental manipulation". A constant psychological abuse which, in most cases, is followed by economic deceit. Cult groomers often disguise themselves behind a religious façade to trick the victims and seek personal profits. And, similarly, many totalitarian groups hide behind the religious label to perpetrate abuse and other criminal behavior.

Parents separated from their children
The Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence of Region Guarantor Authority for the Calabria Region has filed numerous reports to prosecutors’ offices regarding troubling parental behaviour in the last year. "To get the attention of the investigating and judicial authorities, we have to highlight the effects on children, which are physical as well as psychic," underlines the Calabrian Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence, Antonio Marziale, founder of the National Observatory on the Rights of the Child. “The reports detail strange marks on their bodies, as well as a series of coincidences that, in the end, are no longer coincidences: the same dates of separation, the same farewell words, the same attitudes of the children, the same general behavioral dynamics.”

The reports concern three other regions in addition to Calabria and in general, the complaints coincide in terms of facts, signals, and types of mental manipulation to the point of making the magistrates believe that the separation of households is one of the tools these sects employ to hook victims. "And this is the cause of very serious forms of crimes," adds Marzialel. The strategy of isolation is "to control without barriers or critical filters", explains the Ombudsman.

Diets and cult personalities
Carolina is now 40, but she was 30 when she and her family were first introduced to an association that promised recovery from all diseases by treating themselves through diet. The first to fall victim was her brother, who had become seriously ill following a viral infection, then the mother, then her. She had unresolved health problems and after two years, dropped to a shockingly low 35 kilos at 168 cm in height.

Their personal hell lasted 10 years, a time during which they also loss of a lot of money. They were forced to work for free and accrued debts to pay for their therapies and training courses. There were an infinite number of rules and prohibitions: It was forbidden to cut your hair, and nails had to be trimmed twice a week; women were not allowed to apply makeup and had to wear long skirts; and there was no washing allowed during the menstrual cycle. Men could not wear purple or green clothes, and it was forbidden to attend schools and dance. Every morning it was mandatory to recite an oriental mantra for an hour. You could not use cell phones or the Internet or eat something that was not produced at home because it is considered a carcinogen. The food had to be eaten very slowly and consisted entirely of vegetables, cereals, and legumes, without seasoning. It was also forbidden to contact doctors. Those who complained of some symptoms were publicly reprimanded and any illness was always attributed to the failure to comply with some abstruse food rule.

Carolina says that the diet initially produced some health benefits and that the guru of the sect claimed that in following every rule to a T, they would be healed of all evil. The “ideal” or “master” personality was created through paid study holidays in which the victims were bombarded with guru video messages for two whole weeks. After a few months, during which they ate very little, and worked continuously for free for the "just cause" of the group, Carolina realized that whoever violated the rules was blamed and then beaten by core members of sect. Broken and at the precipice of anorexia, Carolina eventually left the cult out of serious psychological distress for herself and her mother and brother.

The risks of oriental techniques
There are thousands of “trendy” rituals that are often practiced unconsciously. An example is the discipline of yoga which according to the Financial Times, is practiced by 100 million people. Is it used as physical exercise or as a form of transcendental meditation? Joseph Ratzinger leans into the idea of ‘yogaphobia’ in his writing. Modern yoga as many know it today can help promote physical relaxation, but there are hundreds of schools that use physical exercises as a tool to express a certain vision of man, of the world, and of the relationship between man and God. "In the case of yoga and other oriental techniques, a transformation and a radical shift are needed to remove any ideological pretense," he says.

The cultural matrices of the groups
Among the supporters of many alternative groups there is a contempt for Western culture taken up by the Marxist-Communist controversy of 1968. Esoteric movements inspired by faiths outside the Jewish-Christian tradition acquired their social visibility at the end of the 1960s.

The most common way to recruit young people to esotericism was from Marxism. They arose, as Cecilia Gatto Trocchi reconstructs in her studies on new religious movements, "in the context of the student movement". Zen Buddhism, unknown before the 1960s, opened its offices in Rome, Milan and Bologna between 1971 and 1973. In the same period, transcendental meditation and the proselytism of Krishna and Osho arrived. "Often family members who intend to steal their loved ones from the manipulation of the sect find themselves clashing with group mythologies that result in a cultural nomadism that induces the followers to abandon one sect only to take refuge in another,” explains Don Aldo Buonaiuto. “The crypto-totalitarian systems of the sects seduce potential followers through a magic-sprinkling indoctrination that ends up eliminating the traditional language to replace it with the specific language of the community.”

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:43
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