Benjamin Crême (1922-2016), Artist and Amanuensis
by Joseph Szimhart, December 2016
Benjamin Creme (krem) was on his world tour in New Mexico in 1982, explaining why, months before, major world newspapers carried full-page ads headlined with “The Christ Is Now Here.” His Share International foundation arranged for a single lecture at the Santa Fe Sheraton. Santa Fe had been my home for seven years by then. The conference room was half-full with perhaps one hundred people. I sat to the left a few rows from the front in full view of the speaker. Wearing his signature white suit that complemented his wavy white hair, Creme sat alone in a plush chair as he delivered a smooth lecture about his most esoteric theme. The theme was about his mission to announce that the World Teacher who represented the messiah of all religions had arrived, but he would not manifest publicly until most of mankind were ready to accept him. Creme had predicted that the manifestation would occur by the end of spring in 1982. Creme was on a rushed tour to make us ready.
That the public appearance of The Christ never occurred is only half the story.
After the perhaps one-hour talk in Santa Fe, Creme graciously entertained both friendly and critical questions for twenty minutes or so. He ended with a ritual blessing in which he said that The Christ/ Maitreya would “overshadow” him and gaze into everyone’s eyes in the audience through Creme’s eyes, at least into those eyes that had not already departed. Many brains behind the eyes found his talk boring if not unbelievable or crazy. Overshadowing is another way of claiming to be temporarily possessed by an autonomous entity.
Creme began the blessing to my left, locking eyes with everyone for ten to fifteen seconds or so (that feels like a long time when someone on a stage is staring at you). For some reason, he stared at a dozen people in sequence but skipped over me and not missing anyone else to my right. I thought this quite strange. Most people seemed relaxed as they locked eyes with him, some appeared to be in absolute bliss with broad smiles, but others seemed anxious.
I moved a few seats closer to him, as I could see he was almost finished with the ritual. Then he swung his, or rather The Christ’s, gaze back at me. When we locked eyes, I immediately felt a struggle with a palpable energy. I blinked a few times. It felt like an unexpected battle of wills at the time. Then, suddenly, he raised his hands above his head, swung his gaze to the center and up, and said, “It is finished.” He stood, thanked everyone that remained, and quietly walked out of the room. Maybe two people in the back gave out brochures and answered questions.
When I first encountered Benjamin Creme, I was early into my research about cults and new religious movements, especially about Ascended Master groups based on Theosophy. My work was relatively unknown at the time. I had done one lecture in 1981 at the local library about another Ascended Master cult from which I defected in 1980. Creme had no reason to know of me, so I have no idea why I felt specially treated by him, if I was. No matter. Creme came through New Mexico with his message again the following year, but that time to a much larger audience in Albuquerque. His fame had grown after many television appearances and his foundation was making more money despite his first prophecy failing. Almost no one left during his talk that time. I suppose celebrity had more to do with it than credibility.
In Albuquerque, I was with an acquaintance who was a self-proclaimed, professional psychic. Diane, a middle-aged woman with New Age cred, claimed to see spiritual entities that attached to people. I wanted her reaction. Creme performed his blessing again after answering questions, but this time the gazing was more a general thing and I felt almost nothing—there was no struggle. My psychic friend, however, claimed she saw a young, brown-skinned man with handsome Middle Eastern features hovering around Creme. Diane felt that the “energy” around him was benign. She even “recalled” that we passed the young man on the street earlier while walking to the event!
My research and growth about Ascended Master cults and their channels has come a long way since those years. I no longer entertain the reality of spooks hovering around mediums.
Now that Ben died earlier this year, we can ask if there anything is left of his Christ? My psychic friend’s vision aside, I would say no. Creme’s Christ died with him because that is what Ascended Masters do when their physical channels die. What we have left is a testament. The testator is dead. The cult remains as well. Cult means to care for and there are people with Share International in several small centers around the world, the main one in Los Angeles, that will continue to care for Ben’s Maitreya-Christ, protecting the message, and nurturing a following while deflecting all criticism. That is what good cult members do.[i]
Creme’s primary influence was Alice A. Bailey (1880-1949) who was in turn heavily influenced by the Theosophical Society and the writings of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891). Around 1920, Bailey broke with mainline Theosophy to begin her own movement called New Group of World Servers. Twenty of her esoteric books were the result of her spiritual connection with Djaul Khul or “The Tibetan,” a Theosophy Master first revealed by Blavatsky in the 1880s. Bailey, through her Tibetan, spoke of a “Plan” that had something to do with mysterious Masters guiding the future of mankind into a new era or age.
There was no small anti-Semitic and anti-traditional Christianity sentiment in Bailey’s writings. We learn from The Tibetan (Bailey's imaginary guide) that old world religions were part of a fading “devotional” era being replaced by one ruled by “love-wisdom.” Any number of fundamentalist Christian alarmists have picked up on Bailey’s Plan and called it satanic. It did not help that Bailey first called her organization Lucifer Trust, soon changed to Lucis Trust to emphasize the Light and not be mistaken for the Christian fundamentalist’s devil. So, we can understand why, when Creme revealed his “Christ,” that he was blasted as the herald of the devil himself by some Christian writers, notably Constance Cumbey (born 1944).[ii]
I recall working my way through all the heavy Christian criticism of the New Age in the 1980s. Today, I find Cumbey and company’s message as ludicrous as Creme’s and his ilk. Ben may have been deluded, but he was certainly no devil’s evil spokesman. Creme’s message has echoes of Gnosticism which was declared heretical for the most part by ancient Christian fathers. What was not especially heretical about gnosis was absorbed into the canon, particularly into the Gospel of John. Ancient Gnostics like many New Agers have created myths that imagine an ideal world while seeing evil or illusion ruling this world. This is not the place for an extended discussion, but the problem is fundamentalism and literalism on both sides of this argument.
In my view, Cumbey’s devil is just as much an idol of the mind as Creme’s Christ. Cumbey’s essential message in a more recent lecture in 2009 was uploaded by the ultra-conservative Madguns Forever to YouTube in 2016.[iii] You will notice that Cumbey’s target audience are those folks most alarmed by globalization, the European Union, a New World Order, and Modernism. Among these conspiracy-minded folks are anxious Christians across the spectrum of Catholics, Protestants, and politicos with a fundamentalist, nationalistic streak. Most argue that global warming is a myth and that Earth is not the living goddess called Gaia by the radical left.
Now, do not get me wrong. Calling someone’s god or spirit an “idol of the mind” does not mean it has no power. Beliefs true or false have a lot of power. Beliefs in the power of idols, prayer, or psychic energy have healed people with psychosomatic illnesses or made them feel better or seem cured from actual illnesses. Hindus testify to the healing power of Ganesh as much as Christians might Jesus and Buddhists, the Buddha. True and false beliefs have caused entire wars. Bad beliefs have ruined lives. The danger may be only a waste of time.
Many of Creme’s former devotees, some of whom I have met, were utterly dismayed when they found out that Ben was lying about Maitreya residing in London in a physical body. We will never know whether Ben believed his claims, as he was quite clever in his back-peddling rationalizations throughout his career. We do know that the claims were false, thus the claims were lies. Those ex-members in recovery may have donated large sums or have worked for the cause for years.
Plato and some recent political philosophers that follow Leo Strauss (Straussians) have been accused of supporting “noble lies” as a way of controlling the masses who need to believe in a cohesive structure or world view for the rule of law to be effective. A Cynic might argue that all religions and political agendas are noble lies. What I am getting at here should be obvious. Creme’s cult may be no more evil than Christian fundamentalism in its veracity, but is it as good for society?
Creme’s Share International, that argues for redistribution of foods and resources so that no one goes hungry, is a noble idea, but it is not set up to do serious distribution. His is not the first cult that sold that idea. Werner Erhard’s World Hunger Project was a sham when it came to actual charity. But how does Creme’s Share International square with, say, Catholic Social Services and universities? Or with The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York? It does not square at all because unlike mainline Jews and Catholics, Creme’s little group relies on image more than substance, on imagination more than evidence-based effectiveness.
Creme the artist also interested me. Artists throughout the modern age have been especially prone to esoteric cult interest. My own path into Theosophy and a New Age cult was through the art world after I graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1975. Many famous artists took Blavatsky’s Theosophy seriously, including Kandinsky, Scriabin, Roerich, and Mondrian. Theosophy’s ideas inspired their work much as it had Benjamin Creme’s abstract paintings that have a distinctly metaphysical meaning. Creme’s titles include Kundalini Rising, Solar Wind, and Antahkarana 1.
Creme suggested that his art work was a reflection of a higher order of awareness. When artists overvalue their inspiration, is it schizophrenia? When Creme “unexpectedly” heard the voice of Maitreya, the World Teacher in his head in the 1970s, was that a symptom of a disorder or was it a religious event?
Schizophrenia qualifies as an illness when the actor experiences dysfunctional behavior. Creme, we can argue, was quite functional throughout his career. In other words, the voices or presence in his head did not prevent him from carrying out the normal acts of daily living. Patients hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia exhibit behavior that gets them into trouble when the “voices” or delusions threaten them or others, or make the person so dysfuntional as to be unable to care for themselves. Andrew Sims in his fine exposition of descriptive pathology, Symptoms in the Mind, makes the distinction between delusions and overvalued ideas:
“There is a difference between delusion and overvalued ideas in that, although both may be held with absolute conviction, the latter is a reasonable, possibly even true belief, but is dominating conscious thought to an unreasonable degree” (113).[iv]
Sims distinction is appplicable to Creme whose commitment to his Maitreya entity went beyond all reasonable behavior. Creme overvalued his beliefs so much that he made foolish predictions that never came true.
Ernest Hilgard in his classic study, Divided Consciousness, discussed that aspect of a person that can believe there is no hypnotic state occurring when there is.[v] “The hidden observer is in all aspects like the normal observing part as found in waking. It is objective and well oriented to reality” (233). But the hidden observer can be fooled as well. Hilgard’s studies in hypnosis and “multiple controls in human thought and action” have gone a long way to explain why some people appear to experience a separate and autonomous entity that speaks through them. In brief, Hilgard observed that auto-hypnosis or self-suggestion can result in a split in consciousness during which the actor experiences an autonomous personality and that personality can become a persistent imaginary friend or foe.
(I heard Hilgard lecture about hypnosis at a conference on that subject in San Francisco).
In Creme’s case, after years of attention to Blavatsky’s and Bailey’s claims about the possibility of a Master communicating through a human being, it is highly likely that he experienced a sudden epiphany after absorption of so much Theosophical teaching. He was by no means the first and will not be the last. Around 1988, one survey reported by the TV show West 57th Street, while examining the Mafu channel Penny Torres, said that there were over one thousand channels of entities or mediums in Los Angeles alone.[vi] Spirit possession is a world-wide phenomenon.
Religious history is replete with such occurrences. One good example was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) whose communications with angels and spirits resulted in a small theosophical movement that thrives to this day. Swedenborg had his sudden epiphany at age 53 after a successful career as a scientist and inventor. Swedenborg’s New Church strongly influenced William Blake, Helen Keller, and Dale Carnegie. Like Swedenborg, Creme remained quite approachable, relatively intelligent and conversational but with a talent for rationalizing every bizarre claim. Thus, Creme’s followers will continue to repeat those rationalizations for better or for worse.
[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_57th_%28TV_series%29 (I have a copy of the show that referenced the survey regarding channels or mediums in Los Angeles).
Benjamin Creme in his studio late in his career.
no evidence this this is actually Creme's Maitreya