The Angel of North America: When cults disappear and why
Joseph Szimhart (January, 2017)
Like startup businesses, new cult movements come and go with few counted as major success stories over the centuries. Like businesses, some cults thrive while operating for the benefit of the consumer while others are rip-offs that might, nevertheless, make the founders wealthy. In business, as in religion, the buyer must beware.
When someone asks me how many bad cults exist (they often leave out “bad,” but that is what they mean), I have no way of answering such a vague question. It is like asking me how many variations are there of Sharia in Islam or how many versions are there of New Testament churches. Some variations are harmful, deceitful, or destructive by any sane social standards. But how can you count them?
You may as well ask me how many bad Mallard ducks exist, ducks that do not follow species specific Mallard rules. I might ask you to provide a clear, universal description of what Mallard rules are and then ask you to provide me with a specific count of how many Mallards exist today, then provide me with a dependable estimate from observation of Mallards whether in a “flock” flying, floating in a “raft,” or on the ground in a “brace” that clearly do not follow Mallard rules. Yes, ducks on water are a raft; in the air, a flock; on the ground, a brace. You must define flock rules, brace rules, and raft rules and find scientifically accepted (peer reviewed) observations of Mallards in those three phases of behavior. With that evidence, maybe we could approximate the number of deviant ducks.
Of course, you are in no position or inclination to count Mallards all over the planet, and you might balk at the prospect of imposing a set of rules on Mallards from a human perspective. You will most likely find me irritatingly demanding of your time and, thus, walk away disgusted without a simple answer.
Definitions matter. We have no language of communication without a shared and defined meaning of the sounds we utter. Even ducks know that much if only in a more primal way. Evidence matters. Having some vague idea of Sharia (God’s law) tells you almost nothing about how one cleric in Indonesia might apply it to his Muslim clients. He might be a lousy prick in an authoritative position or have a fine-tuned, educated mind.
The problem with asking how many cults exist presumes that the asker knows what a cult is. Most likely the asker has in mind Charlie Manson and his murderous Family or maybe Scientology, which has again become the poster child of bad cults, one mind you, poorly understood despite the over-exposure of Scientology in the media currently. What I mean by “poorly understood” is in the reaction of couch critics watching an exposure of Scientology on TV, critics who cannot believe anyone would accept such nonsense as L. Ron Hubbard concocted.
Dear Couch Critic, please understand that people smarter, fancier, and with more life experience than you have ended up in new religious movements more bizarre than Scientology for life. You are vulnerable.
The Angel of North America
All that aside, let us look at a new religious movement that barely got going and has, for all intents, faded from the social concourse. Elements of what we might call a cult appeared in this tiny group. Around 1997, my colleague Joe Kelly and I were hired by a distraught wife of a man who had become totally devoted to the founders of a new religious movement. The movement was based on teachings in a newly published book, The Angel of North America: Book 1: How to Save Your Soul and Your Society by Dr. Patricia Ann Meyer (1996). Our client and her husband had two young children and a nice, colonial era home in Virginia close to where the authors lived. The founders, Pat and Jerry Meyer, were fundraising to set up a retreat or center for “the teachings” of the Angel of North America. Our client’s husband, Alan (not his actual name) wanted to invest a large sum requested by the founders. He had become more distant from his family since his experience with the “Angel” through the teachings. The wife was afraid that Alan would compromise her inheritance which included the home they lived in, so she began divorce proceedings without telling Alan. She was most concerned for her children and their futures. Alan was the Meyers’ only committed recruit thus far. He may have been the only one, ever.
Our intervention with Alan failed to dissuade him, but not for lack of his voluntary presence over three days of discussions and education about similar groups with channeled information or from tearful pleas from his wife. Alan had been depressed for some time prior to his conversion to the Meyers’ fledgling movement, per his wife, and yet acted that way, showing little interest in his day job as an accountant and barely helping with house chores. He might spend a half hour watering the garden every day after part-time work whether it needed water or not, for example. Indeed, Alan would appear to listen to us, he was pleasant, but he could hardly respond to questions with any interest. His response was not a form of passive aggression. He was essentially flat in affect most of the time. He showed no anger when we challenged his demonstrably false beliefs. I showed him easy ways to test whether a channeled entity is independent of the channel (human medium) as an autonomous being. His one active move was to tell me to speak with founder Jerry Meyer on the phone and to ask him the questions that Alan seemed to have no answers for.
I spoke with Jerry for two hours with Alan listening to my end of the conversation. Jerry was the original inspiration for the book that his wife Pat wrote. Jerry reported hearing “voices” in 1991, voices that appeared to have a religious message. He felt these voices were angels trying to speak to him. After a year or two of this heavenly nagging, Jerry finally told his wife about the voices and their messages. Pat, a Ph.D. who worked with disabled children, was intrigued enough to write down as much as Jerry could muster. Then Pat felt inspired to connect with an angel that claimed it represented North America. She began a channeling technique by writing on computer what “her” angel dictated. The manuscript was later presented to Stephen Hawley Martin, a self-made publisher of Oaklea Press that primarily published Martin’s dozen or more books and a few by others. Martin took Pat’s manuscript on (for a price), edited it, and wrote the enthusiastic forward.
Steve H. Martin advertises his skills as an Ad Man who developed a penchant for spiritual speculation. He, like the Meyers, is a practicing Roman Catholic and has been married with children. In his video on line promoting a book, we learn that his beliefs derive primarily from bogus science and New Age speculation about past lives and the Oneness of all creation. His New Ageism is of the common variety that teaches perfection of self as a God conscious being is necessary to bring about a new order of peaceful co-existence on the planet. I am not arguing that that is wrong, but I must ask what anyone means by self-perfection and how they intend to translate that into planetary salvation! Martin stated that belief in the divine spark within is necessary, echoing ancient Gnostic teaching. Martin’s scientific and scholarly perceptions about reality derive from J. B. Rhine, R. Moody, Gary Zukav, Joseph Campbell, Ruperrt Sheldrake, and Ian Stevenson. You can throw Deepak Chopra and James Redfield into this lazy pseudo-science, pseudo-intellectual soup of popular, neo-mysticism icons and it would make no difference.
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993) was favored by Martin and it had a profound impact on Jerry and Pat to write their book. Redfield’s best seller is to fiction what common ambient music is to a symphony by Mozart, yet millions of people relished it in the 1990s. Many believed that the fantasy was Redfield’s actual experience in life masked as a novel, that there was a real manuscript that could change human kind with its information about magical power. By learning what was in the secret manuscript, people could walk on water, could read minds, and could save themselves and the planet from suffering. In Redfield’s plot, the author as protagonist follows mystical insights that lead him to find a mysterious, Church-suppressed manuscript in South America that reveals the real teachings of Jesus. Applying the insights help the main characters to be invisible when nearly caught by a murderous enemy, for example. Take that, Harry Potter and Frodo.
Jerry and Pat accepted the Celestine book as a true prophecy that said we humans are emerging into new age and evil forces are trying to stop us. One person could make the difference to a critical mass. Some people are getting “insights” into the new paradigm. Martin speaks of this new age paradigm in a video promotion. Martin tells us in his forward that Redfield’s book emboldened Pat Meyer to release her tome with a similar theme inspired by her angel. Channeled material from spirits had increasingly become best sellers since the 1970s. The Meyers were made aware by Martin of A Course in Miracles (1975) and the Kryon series among many others. The Meyers claimed to never have read similar books, but they were “relieved to hear that what [sic] they were not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.” (Forward to Angel of North America, 9)
We cannot be sure, but I suspect that there was some collusion between the publisher and Pat Meyer as author to get in on the New Age hayride and profit from it. After all, A Course in Miracles [see my review] sold very well and was once endorsed by Oprah Winfrey in the late 1980s on her show as her “bible.” Redfield at the time was getting rich on the New Age circuit with his Celestine Prophecy. Martin was excited by the prospect. “It’s high time for a new paradigm,” he said in a video later,[i] but in his forward, he stated:
“Psychics through the ages, including Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce and a host of others in recent years, have had visions of the apocalypse and have placed the date around the turning of the millennium. During the past fifteen years [1980 to 1995] many people have channeled entities from the spirit world or from other realities who speak of something similar. The earliest such book of which I am aware is The Book of One, The Ra Material. Published in 1980, it was followed by three more in a series. More recently, a series that has been selling briskly in the New Age market is one by Kryon, a channeled entity. Kryon also speaks of an imminent shifting of the magnetic poles” [as did the Angel of N. America]. (8)
Jerry Meyer, I believe, did have auditory hallucinations that he believed were angels. Recall that I spent nearly two hours interviewing him. He was a middle-aged man who may have had a mental breakdown. He, at least, was not lying as much as he was deluded. In his dysfunction, he appeared to have no managerial function—his name does not appear on cover as an author of the book. For some reason that I have yet to find out, the enterprise to write a second book and open a retreat for the Angel of North America fell through.
Nowhere does Stephen Hawley Martin acknowledge today that he, as publisher, had anything to do with the book or project.
Patricia Ann Meyer and Jerry Meyer do not appear on any Internet search beyond the book which sold relatively few copies. Reviews I found on Amazon.com were few, dismissive, and brief: “worthless wacko; absolutely bizarre.” No reviews exist on the Barnes and Noble site. My hunch, since Alan told Jerry everything about my colleague and I as “cult experts,” and that his wife had hired us to “deprogram” him, is that the driving optimism for the project tanked. Suspicion that we were part of a powerful negative force may have caused Pat and Steve of Oaklea Press to scrap the project. Or, they were afraid of being labelled a cult that was breaking apart a family, thus ruining their reputations. Alan and his wife did divorce, as Alan would not change his orientation or devotion to Jerry’s cause, nor would he get help for his depression. His hope was yet in the Angel, something a clinician would call a shared delusion or folie a deux.
At the end of the book, the Angel [through Pat] claimed:
“…this will be the second coming of Christ…For Thousands of years you have had to face dealing with control, dealing with laws, dealing with having to be punished [to] be good. You are at the point where that is no longer necessary. Mankind has come to the stage of adulthood. If you are willing to leave your period of learning and to accept the responsibility for your actions, to throw off this liberal view and to take responsibility for following the Commandments, your life will change…The prophecies of destruction will be forgotten and meaningless because everyone will be able to make the trip without pain, without dying, to the light that you envision as heaven.” (158, 159)
The Angel of North America movement is nowhere documented on lists of so-called cults. Without special effort, I have come across over one hundred tiny movements with all the hallmarks of a cult that had no notice to governments, the media, or scholars. Cult comes from the Latin cultus which means to care for. In a neutral sense, what we mean by cult today is any activity that has a special devotion to something extraordinary that engages followers in self-transformation and transcendent causes. If you are counting cults, you can count this one also, the one called The Angel of North America. Good luck with the number game.