Book Review - The Heart of a Cult

Cultic Studies Review, 6, 3, 2007, 327-328

The Heart of a Cult

Lena Phoenix

Boulder, Colorado: Garuda, Inc, 2006. ISBN-10: 0-9785483-0-2; ISBN-13: 978-0978548308 (paperback), $14.95. 234 pages.

Reviewed by Gina Maria Catena, MS

Based upon personal experience in several cults, Lena Phoenix provides a first-person narrative of a young woman’s susceptibility to, recruitment by, devotion to, and eventual departure from a fictitious guru and her followers in Boulder, Colorado.

Phoenix’s novel reads as a memoir of a young Web designer amidst career flux and family challenges, who open-mindedly attends a meditation session with her good friend. With a voice that comes from personal experience, Lena describes the impressions and inner thought process of a person struggling to define herself professionally and personally.

Detailed conversations among the novel’s protagonist, Michelle, and other devotees reveal gentle persons supporting one another along a financially and emotionally damaging path, and praise from their revered guru, “Ma,” in their quest for enlightenment.

The reader feels drawn step by step into a world that alternately praises and criticizes devotees for following Ma’s directives. As relationships evolve within the story, the reader understands Michelle’s process as she makes a series of decisions that affect her residence, career, and relationships. She never ceases questioning herself as she methodically abandons her previous lifestyle and later struggles to regain her sense of self.

While Michelle rides the roller coaster of relocation, juggling her credit cards, spiritual devotion, and heartbreak, the reader finds herself with Michelle, pulled toward Ma for reassuring guidance and stability.

The Heart of a Cult is a story. Phoenix does not analyze cultic persuasion or discuss the recovery process. She merely tells a story that many have lived. Her novel offers a compassionate expression of everyday cult allure and betrayal. This book would be useful for family members of cultists to understand the mindset of their beloved cult members. Those in cult recovery would find a voice of compassionate acknowledgement for their experience of betrayal and multifaceted losses.

Phoenix has created a Web site to support the book that also offers resources for cult recovery, at