1978-Apr.: Morningland poses disquieting paradox

Cult Core: Unraveling or Fusion?


Morningland poses disquieting paradox.

By Jim Molnar TA Staff Writer

Escondido – It is 2:30 a.m. Practically every parking space around the storefront temple at 440 N. Rose St. is filled. Inside, a class one that has been going on since about 7:30 the previous evening, continues to flow despite the fatigue of its students with heavy lidded and bloodshot eyes. It is Morningland. The Disciples of Donato. The White Brotherhood. It is Jan. 5, 1978. This month something big is beginning, a purge of sorts.

Between January and April, the number of disciples will drop from a previously touted 1,000 in Long Beach and Escondido to an estimate 250 to 400. Most devotees will not leave voluntarily. They will be expelled from what has become for them a secure, happy philosophical womb. One that in many ways, has encouraged their alienation from the society outside the ashram.

In some case, disciples will be picked up bodily and cast from the ashram by Rainbow Soldiers, members of what will be known as the Mind Lock. The disciples will be told they are tools of Lucifer, snakes, toads -or that their sex “tapes” are messed up.

Inside the class or clearing session, the focus has fallen on Hannah, who has been a disciple for more than 1Ω years, as have two of her teen-age daughters. At home, Hannah’s husband, Alan glances at the clock.

This is the first time in their 20-year marriage, one that grew from an introduction at the Self Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, that Hannah has been gone so long without letting her husband know where she is. He checks his third daughter’s bedroom. He decides to call Morningland.

When Hannah is brought to the phone Alan asks what she is doing so late. He has stayed clear of Morningland personally for some time and has asked only temperance in his wife’s and daughters’ participation there. (One daughter has left home to attend college near the Long Beach ashram).

“Hello, Alan,” Hannah says quietly, in a voice vacant with fatigue. “After the movie, we started a group discussion, and I learned an awful lot – things I never knew before. Alan, we have to leave each other.”

He tells her to stay where she is that he is coming to bring her home. “I can’t live with you anymore,” Hannah says, standing out in front of Morningland with her husband, ” not with what you’re trying to do to Sarah.” Sarah is their youngest daughter, a strong disciple. “You know, Dad,” Sarah says, “You used to touch me . I know what’s on your mind, using us, using me.”

“Let’s go home, Hannah,” Alan pleads. “No. I’ll go with someone else. I’ll never go home again.” But Alan promises to stay outside of the bedroom that night. He spends the evening wandering back and forth from the living room and the kitchen, until the next morning when the subject is broached again. He is still puzzled, especially after the previous afternoon, which he spent at home and which he describes as a little second honeymoon with Hannah.

In counseling sessions with Sarah, Alan learns, Morningland ministers press the girl to remember times her father has touched her. He remembers the back rubs, the massages he gave her as a girl. He remembers caressing her shoulders. He remembers his daughter jumping into bed with her parents. In counseling sessions with Hannah, he learns, Morningland ministers ascribe a physical trouble to molestation by her father when Hanah was 3 years old. They tell her to think back, to remember. She can’t. She still can’t.

At the breakfast table Alan offers to move out of his new home. Hannah rises to help him pack. ” I wish you would come to Morningland,” she says. “Then we could stay together. Please come. Come to Morningland.” “Tell me one church,” Alan says, “any church that wouldn’t try to take a bad marriage and fix it. But this, not the opposite – taking a beautiful marriage and trying to break it up.”

Hannah pauses, turns to her daughter and repeats Alan’s question. “And then Sarah, well, it was like she was like a little animal,” Alan says. “She said to Hannah, ‘ You gotta leave him. You promised’ And when that hostility was directed at her, it was as if someone had snapped their fingers at Hannah. She came out of it.”

Alan and Hannah sat in their living room, recounting the episode. They both remembered Morningland when it first began in Escondido in January 1975 with meetings in private homes in the community. Later that year, the temple opened in the North Rose Street shopping center as Morningland II, under the divine directorship of Sri Patricia. It was different then, they said. It was mostly a place where you could go for astrological readings, tarot readings, palm readings, aura readings, yoga. There was an overlay of general metaphysical and esoteric philosophy centered on Donato, the Master, according to some the Christ avatar for the Aquarian Age.

Donato, Daniel Sperato, was an arts and crafts teacher at the North Long Beach Boys Club for about 14 years – even for some time after his avesha, his divine incarnation on Earth as master and teacher, on May 16, 1971. He died of a heart attack Nov. 7, 1976 at the Morningland Lodge in Crestline. Sri Patricia, his wife since July 1964, born Patricia Diable, remains one of nine gopis and is Donato’s twin flame. She is a direct channel to her husband as he roams the universe in the Mother Ship, a direct channel as he hovers 25 miles above the earth and heals through his gopis by means of laser beams from space.

It was different before Donato died (or ascended), said Alan and Hannah and about 16 other former disciples interviewed by the Times-Advocate. Hannah said she could not imagine such a clearing session before. She could not imagine the chanting of group, “Choose. ..Choose. .Choose.” between her husband and Morningland. Hannah and Alan are back together. Sarah, their youngest daughter called just as the interview with her parents ended and said she was going to move in and live with a Morningland board member and his wife. They will not, Sarah told her father, be surrogate parents. ” It will just be a place to stay,” she says. “Why can’t she just stay here at home,” Alan said.

According to some recent ex-disciples, Morningland has circulated permission slips to some of its disciples under 16 years of age, papers asking parents permission for their children to participate in Morningland activities. Some parents have signed. Many, reportedly, have not. Some young disciples reportedly, have offered to return to their homes if their parents will accept their memberships in Morningland. Some parents, like Alan, have said, “Come home. Explore any kind of religion you want, any philosophy. But if you live under this roof, you live by the house rules – and no way do they include Morningland.” Alan held a tape recording his daughter made during a Morningland astrology reading. “You are gaining a lot of strength,” said the tape. “You are learning to discriminate between the intellectual mind and the logical mind, the higher mind. .The challenge you’re working with… the ability to listen to your father, and yet it’s not necessary for you to do what he says. There will always be people who feel that they have to impose their values on you in the world, this will be the case. You’re gaining the stamina to deal with it. .By analyzing, you only break things down into compartments and you can’t see the whole. You bring it up, and you’ve got unity. .You have a one personality, and this has given you the stubbornness to handle your father without allowing him to break you down. You’re organizing your life putting everything in its place.”

Alan shook his head. “All I could come up with is that I’m standing in the way of her ascension or something.” What really, is Morningland? Where does it come from and where is it going? Morningland repeats its creed endlessly: “We are all one. We are all one with Donato.” But many former disciples and many parents of young adults still within the Escondido and Long Beach ashrams believe that the cult offers anything but oneness, at least by normal familial and social definitions.