Book Review - 400 Years of Imaginary Friends

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 17, 2000, 214-216

400 Years of Imaginary Friends: A Journey into the World of Adepts, Masters, Ascended Masters, and Their Messengers

Kenneth Paolini and Talita Paolini. 

Livingston, MT: Paolini International LLC (52 Cascade Lane Livingston, Montana 59047 - 406-333-4475 2000, 411 pages, paperback, $26.95 plus shipping ($3.55 for one book, $1.50 for each additional book) ISBN: 0-9666213-0-1.

Reviewed by Joseph Szimhart

This reviewer could easily relate to this book, and he applauds its publication.* As anyone can see from the publisher’s address, this is an author-published book. 400 Years of Imaginary Friends is a mix of autobiography, spiritual history, and applied skepticism about a sect and related groups that profoundly affected the Paolinis' lives. Primarily, it is about their ten year journey in, as individuals, and out, as a couple, of one of America’s controversial new sects, Church Universal and Triumphant. “CUT” grew out of the Summit Lighthouse founded by Mark Prophet in 1958. Prophet (his real name) was an avid student of Theosophy and one of its sects, the “I AM” Activity.

Following the “I AM” model, Prophet claimed to be “Messenger” or medium to an array of ascended masters and a Great White Brotherhood of spiritual beings who guide the destiny and evolution of planet Earth. Prophet married the much younger, and former, Elizabeth Clare Wulf in 1961 when his new movement had a mere few dozen followers. He “trained” Elizabeth to be his co-Messenger. Mark died in 1973, but Elizabeth guided the newly named CUT successfully, drawing many recruits from the burgeoning New Age Movement. Her organization may have had 10,000 devotees worldwide at its peak. Lately, CUT is in a serious decline, especially since Elizabeth Prophet developed a debilitating brain disease.

CUT was most in the news in 1993 during and after the Waco, Texas debacle that left the Branch Davidian sect’s headquarters in ashes after a gunfight and standoff with the government. Many news reporters asked: Could CUT become the next Waco?

Kenneth and Talita Paolini were part of CUT staff when it was stockpiling weapons after moving to Montana from the Los Angeles area in the early 1980s. Kenneth was trained for an elite, CUT security guard force. He was privy to CUT’s secretive, massive underground shelter construction and internal operations.

Elizabeth Prophet had predicted a ten-year, “dark cycle” based on astrological indications that would begin around 1989. This doom prophecy included the strong possibility of war with Russia and of natural and economic catastrophes. Over 2000 CUT members worldwide flocked to Montana to be in the area most protected by their Ascended Masters, and to help build the huge shelters. The Paolinis, becoming weary of CUT’s bizarre teachings and internal conflicts, write about their struggle to break free in 1987. They discuss their efforts later to cooperate with government officers [INS, FBI] who were investigating the sect. CUT owned an armored vehicle, and the leader’s husband was arrested for illegal weapons violations.

They also write about what attracted them to this New Age group that preached conservative values within a fantastic cosmology. Kenneth had experimented with drugs and dabbled with spirituality before seriously considering this new path.

Talita’s parents exposed her to Theosophical and New Age teachings throughout her young life. At age sixteen, when she first encountered CUT in 1977, it was already familiar to her. The two young recruits were immediately attracted to one another after they met. The authors present their courtship and fascinating personal experiences in the group all through Part I, or the first third of 400 Years.

Part II is a short history of the ascended master cults that the authors say began with the Rosicrucians of the early 17th century—thus their title, 400 Years. They cover the Gnostic roots of such sects, Freemasonry, Swedenborg, Mesmer, Spiritualism, New Thought, the Baird T. Spalding books, the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky and many of her later imitators, from all of whom CUT draws heavily.

Also in Part II, the Paolinis describe the Agni Yoga Society founded in 1921 and the “I AM” Activity founded in the mid-1930s by Guy and Edna Ballard. CUT specifically claims to fulfill the missions of both of these groups as well as the “I AM” splinter group, the Bridge to Freedom. The thread that links all of these messenger cults to CUT is their alleged connection to a spiritual hierarchy of “masters” through their leaders. But to remain in CUT all those years the Paolinis had to believe that their guru, Elizabeth Prophet, was the sole, living Messenger of this hierarchy for all religions. Part II is a valuable resource for anyone interested in this odd occult tradition and its ongoing story. The authors do mention one new sect founded by former CUT ministers, the Temple of the Presence, which challenges the exclusivity of Elizabeth Prophet as sole Messenger. Prophet can no longer perform her function as she has developed advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but CUT managers deny that the new messengers are authentic.

In Parts III and IV, 400 Years takes us on an insightful, skeptical journey through this stream of teachings. The roots and internal behaviors of the CUT movement are analyzed and exposed in many ways. The Paolinis use a combination of primary sources, their own witness, and past critical literature to argue their case. They indicate that there is no evidence to show that these ascended masters are anything more than “imaginary beings,” albeit powerful in their effect over devotees who worship them as independent entities. 400 Years accomplishes its purpose to offer good source material backed by personal experience to give readers a well-informed, though critical, ex-member’s view of Church Universal and Triumphant and related groups. It has a useful reading list and an extensive bibliography of references.

*The reviewer, Joe Szimhart, was also involved with CUT for over a year until 1980. Szimhart wrote the Forward for this book.