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Posted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 3:08 am
The following articles about the School of Philosophy in Sydney were made by Tim Stott who joined the School in 1980 and were published in the Daily Telegraph, July 1985.
Mounted on the walls of Sydney's underground railway stations is a plain blue poster which reads: "Philosophy. An introductory course of 12 evening lectures." Few realise that the innocent poster is the recruitment vehicle for a powerful worldwide cult rapidly expanding in Australia, the School of Philosophy (SOP). The school offers lectures in practical philosophy for everyday life. But, according to former members, the "pupils" realise only too late that it is a cult that strips members of personality and individuality, eventually brainwashing them into a state of mindless obedience. It is estimated there are at least 800 members in Sydney and 20,000 worldwide. The cult now owns a $1 million five-storey building in Kent St, Sydney with a penthouse paid for by members' donations, and an 8ha property on Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains. Cult members have just opened the St Johns primary school with Education Department approval in Falcon St, Crows Nest. It also operates the Logos Foundation, a branch of the cult within Sydney University. Australian members have been ordered to perform bizarre duties such as cleaning toilets with their bare fingers up to six times, because the work when first performed was not done with the right attitude. The cult claims menial work has an uplifting effect and "brings one closer to the Absolute." In Sydney, a former member said she was granted "the honour" of picking up the dog excreta from the cult leader's backyard with her bare hands. Others claim they had to clean the cracks in the floor of the cult's garage with match-sticks or scrape paint off ceilings with toothpicks. An expose of the group has been published by two British journalists Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg.Called "Secret Cult", the book alleges that members are brainwashed and conditioned so their lives eventually revolve around the cult. A spokesman for the school in Australia, Mr Bruce Sullivan, said although he had not read the book and did not intend to, he believed the claims made in it were untrue. In any case, he did not intend to " comment on any allegations made in the book." Mr Sullivan insisted the SOP is "an evening educational service to the community" and not a cult. According to the book, the cult originates from Andrew MacClaren, a British Labour politician who formed the School of Economic Science in the 1930s.
The book claims the school was established as an economics study group, but that changed in the 1950s when his son, Leonardo da Vinci MacClaren, slowly converted it to a religious cult. Leon MacClaren, as he is known, decided the path of the School lay in the teachings of 20th century mystics Gurdjieff and Pytor Ouspensky. But in the 1960s he had a change of heart and decided the cult should follow Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who converted the Beatles to the ways of meditation. By the late 1960s it was a predominately Hindu cult operating under the guise of a study centre for economics and philosophy. From London it spread around the world, to New Zealand, US, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, Trinidad and Fiji. The cult arrived in Australia in 1967 under the name "School of Philosophy"- the group uses different names in different countries so the branches can claim to be independent. Although MacClaren regards Australians as the dregs of Europe, he sent Mosko (Michael Mavro to set it up in Sydney. Mavro 59, is an Australian-born Greek and an engineer with the Electricity Commission. He operates the school in Sydney and Melbourne with the help of his wife Nina. Students enter the cult to attend 12 evening lectures. But after the first term it is explained that they must keep attending in order to obtain :The Truth". After three years of gradually increased involvement students are initiated. Former members say initiation to medition costs a week's wages. (One cult member has the job of checking to make sure they actually pay the amount.) After the ceremony they must obey every order without question. A former member of 10 years, Ingrid Pusteria said: After initiation one was committed to blind obedience to any whim of the seniors. "My life became an endless round of dreary menial chores and empty ritual." Former cult members said they were not allowed to own a radio or TV, read newspapers or anything apart from officially endorsed philosophical works. They said that for initiates fashion is out: jeans are taboo and men must wear three-piece suits made of natural fibres. Women can only wear their hair in a bun and must wear dresses to the floor so their ankles don't "lower a man's consciousness". Women are also forbidden to wear make-up and must live with another initiated "maiden" and are discouraged from marrying, members claim. Anthony Ravesi, a member for 13 years said " Married couples are encouraged to remain celibate as sexual intercourse is only 'a distraction' to the students work." By initiation time members associate only with those inside the SOP and are told the outside world is "ignorant, asleep and evil".
Members are urged to live in Neutral Bay because a "state of Sattva" exists. According to the cult Sattva is a state of spiritual peace, essential for the well-being of all members. A former cult member said: "If a member deserts other members pursue him and try to talk him into rejoining. "It was difficult for me because, like most others, I had severed all ties with the outside world and felt I had no friends or relatives I could turn to," he said. One member told of how he was forced to leave Australia in order to escape. He claimed: "I had to move my possessions overnight because by that time I was living in Neutral Bay and was being watched 24 hours a day. "The next morning I got out of the country to escape their pull. "So they wouldn't lose face they spread a rumour I had not abandoned the 'path to enlightenment' but resumed my studies in Britain."
To be continued
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 8:40 am
When I first entered the sparsely-furnished building at 7 Wilmot St, Sydney, in 1980 I thought it was simply the start of a philosophy course. It sounded harmless enough. Newspaper advertisements and posters on railway stations talked of "12 evening lectures in philosophy". What could possibly be wrong with that? But as I walked through the surgically clean building on that first night, I had a hint this was not just a study group. At every corner was a man dressed in a dark three-piece suit with hair cut short back and sides. And the women all wore long dresses, with their hair in a bun and no make-up. The $30 fee for the term was paid. I entered the lecture room where 20 other "students" were seated on hard wooden chairs. The walls were blank, the floor had a high gloss polish and a portable blackboard stood at the front of the room. The tutor entered and strode to the lectern. He shot us a wide-eyed smile which reminded me of the expression of those I had passed on the way up. He then proceeded to give a general, inoffensive lecture on the themes: "What is Wisdom? What is knowledge? What is truth?". He asked members of the audience a series of questions and as each person replied their name was entered by two people at the back of the room on a seating chart. Every word uttered by the class was carefully noted. As the first lecture neared its end a young man sprang up at the back of the room, said "this is a load of crap" and walked out. When we returned to the room after a coffee break, we found the seats had been rearranged in an attempt to disguise the fact that some other students had also left. At the end of the night we were told to practise a simple exercise which would help us escape the turmoil of everyday life- we had been introduced to meditation. For the rest of the course the tutor gave us measured doses of philosophy about everyday life. But at the end of the course we were told not to tell anyone what we learnt because "outsiders would only get confused". This rule has kept the School Of Philosophy a secret cult for 18 years. On the last night we were told the path to the "The Truth" lay ahead of us and we must return to continue our studies. About 40 percent of the class did. The second course was much like the first except that a female assistant sat behind a desk next to the tutor.
She would stare at any student whose attention deviated for a second. During the term we were led to believe we were special because we alone were seeking 'The Truth'. We were told not to think about what we were told. Reasoning seemed to be taboo and discussion of the material was unheard of. We were only ever asked to agree with what we were told. Those who did not attend the school, the vast majority of Australians, were labelled "ignorant" and "asleep". At the end of the second course the tutor, explaining we should practise what we were taught, invited us to come in every Saturday and clean the building. This cleaning, called second line work, was expanded so students were spending more and more time with the school. I refused to do second line work, much to the tutor's displeasure. Special envoys were sent to my home to convince me that it was necessary for my development. I drifted through another five terms, each lesson further convincing me that the SOP was a dangerous cult, brainwashing its members to total conformity. As other members of my group began wearing the approved long dresses or three-piece suits, I was shunned by the senior members and my own group for refusing to be part of them. Yet I had more in common with them than the rest of my family, according to the cult. When I finally made the break from them, I had to cope with members arriving at my door telling me that I was running from "The Truth" and should return at once. For a while they succeeded in making me feel guilty, after all they had been so nice to me! But I stuck to my guns, quite content to return to the so-called evil world. We were never introduced to the leader Mr Mavro or told to give money. Ingrid Pusteria, a member for 10 years, summed it up: "We were brainwashed until we couldn't think for ourselves. "No matter what they asked us to do we did it. "If anyone dared to question an order they were told they were 'giving way to negative ideas' and were quickly pulled into line." Another former member. Mr Anthony Ravesi added: "The whole time we were told to simply listen to what we were told without thinking it over. "This eventually led to blind acceptance of what we were told without question." The SOP refused to comment on allegations made by former members of allegations made in the book "Secret Cult", an expose of the cult written in Britain. A spokesman, Bruce Sullivan said the school in Australia is independent of the school in Britain but admitted they use the same material and British leader Leon MacClaren has lectured Australian students in the past. He said: "To infer that the School is secretive or some kind of religion or cult is absurd." Mr Sullivan later admitted students were told not to speak of the cult to anyone. He would not comment on allegations that members eventually spend much of their time with the group. "Since its inception in Sydney in 1967 the school has provided an evening educational service to the community," he said. Mr Mavro has refused numerous requests from the Daily Telegraph for an interview.
To be continued
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Sun Jan 03, 2010 2:50 pm
Michael (Mosko) Mavro is a man of two faces. To his workmates at the Electricity Commission he is an engineer in the transmission department.But to members of the School of Philosophy he is The Master - a man who is closer to God than any other and one who must be obeyed without question. It is only due to the secrecy of the cult that Mavro manages to play these two roles independently. He is not presented as a guru to newcomers. But to initiates who have been sworn to secrecy, his orders must be carried out without question. Mavro, an Australian-born Greek, trained under Leon MacClaren in the cult's England branch (the School of Economic Science) His Australian schools in Sydney and Melbourne are recognised as being the strictest in the world. Former members claim, while the cult's teachings are acceptable, it is the personality cult around Mavro that causes much of the trouble. His followers cater for his every whim and former members say he uses his hold over his followers for his own gains. One member told of how Mr Mavro was not satisfied with the soil in his Neutral Bay backyard so he got his followers to "lovingly" scrape it away to bedrock, hose down the bedrock and then replace it with soil from the school's property at Mount Wilson, carted in their own cars. "On another occasion Mavro said the senior group should take a weekend off on the south coast" he said. "I tried to explain that I had work to catch up on and he was furious. "As punishment for me putting work before the SOP our whole group were sent away to Mt Wilson for a weekend of labor." Members have built elaborate extensions to his house without reimbursement for their time or materials. Anthony Ravesi, a member for 13 years, said Mavro was cared for by the cult members eager to gain his approval. "He is chauffeur-driven to his city office everyday and anywhere else he may want to go. "His house and garden are always kept in good order."
Mr Ravesi claims Mavro's power led to irrational behaviour. "He arrived at the school's Kent Street building one night and decided the front doors were too shiny, so he ordered some of the men to sand them back. "The next night he decided they were too dull so he told us they must be oiled and polished. "This went on for five weeks, polishing them one night, cutting them back the next. But no one questioned the request because it was after all 'good practice.' Mr Ravesi said he was ordered to hack away at a cliff-face at Mavro's place as punishment for having a second child when they had been ordered not to. He also claims he was told he would have to divorce his wife after she threatened to leave the group. Women are encouraged to wean their babies as soon as possible because the cult believes women derive sexual pleasure from breast feeding. The cult holds that breast feeding makes babies too attached to their mothers and it has been said by the cult a child's worst enemies are its parents. Cult members must also ask permission before moving house or changing job. All former members contacted by the Daily Telegraph said they had experienced mental problems once they left the cult. Ingrid Pusteria said she had to see a psychiatrist when she left, but not even he believed the regime under which she had been living. Ingrid's memories of the school are painful. "We were constantly abused because women are the cause of the evil of the world," she said. Mavro's wife Nina was seen as an exception to this rule. "We were not allowed to associate with the men at all or even look them in the eye, although we had to do what men asked," Ingrid said.
Another ex-senior member told of her experiences on the cult's country property at Mount Wilson. "We rose before dawn and all the women were told to run up a hill carting five bricks at a time while the men stood around and ordered us to run faster," she said. "Meanwhile we could hear Mr Mavro and his wife in their luxurious tent, decked out with Persian rugs, laughing at us. "The food, a vegetarian diet that does not even include green vegetables, was sparse and we were lucky if we got any lunch. "We then spent the rest of the day breaking up the soil with our fingers until dusk. Anyone who wanted to rest was told they were giving in to the desires of the body. After a day of hard labor we had a bucket of cold water as a 'shower', inadequate food and only four hours sleep." Anthony Ravesi 43, has nothing to show for his years of work in his Eastern Suburbs pharmacy. He claims his 13 years service to the school meant he almost went bankrupt twice and constant "donations" meant his family could never buy a house. Four years after leaving the cult, he is only starting to build up a normal family life. Only now is his daughter Antonia forgiving him for the cult he led them into. Antonia, 16 says her childhood in the cult was a misery. When she was two years old she was locked in a room with Mavro and attacked because he said she "had the wrong attitude". But as a child born into SOP, she was seen as special by cult members. She said: "I started 'duties' when I was five and by the time I was eight I was on a busy schedule. "Monday night was for cleaning Mr Mavro's house. Wednesday was calligraphy, Thursday was cleaning the bachelors' houses. Friday was sewing, mending the bachelors' clothes, and the weekend was taken up with lessons and dance. "Tuesday was my night off. I could never have fun like normal children because it was seen as merely gaining physical pleasure. "Few of the children accepted what was said and most wanted to rebel. We knew the only way to get out was to eventually leave home. "When I left, the parents of my peers in the cult decided I was no longer 'suitable company'. "But now I've learnt how important freedom is-I never had that when I was younger."
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Mon Jan 04, 2010 6:55 pm
Thank you Tootsie, especially if you had to type it all in.
So many questions come up. I don't expect answers, but:
Why would people allow themselves to be treated like that? I mean picking up dog poo by hand, etc, etc, etc?
Also putting themselves under the control of someone else, who was so blatantly sick and twisted?
How do such charlatans manage to get away with this kind of tyrannical stuff, especially for so long?
Presumably there is no law to deal with this kind of thing, since it involves apparently ‘consenting’ adults? And the children involved yet again.
Ingrid Pusteria said ..... "We were constantly abused because women are the cause of the evil of the world," .....
In spite of all this evidence about this charlatan, Michael Mavro, his ‘material for ladies’, the ‘conversations’ (presented as with HH Shantananda Saraswati, but not stated on the printed notes) are considered to be genuine and are being used even today, certainly in the UK.
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:31 pm
bluemoon wrote:Reminds me of a quote (originally by Cromwell) after a visit by a well known author to one of the German concentration camps after the war:
“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”
err Churchill perhaps, rather than Cromwell, no?
Reading it all like that does make it seem ridiculous rather than reasonable I must say. I have to admit that I didn't find all of the second-line duties that onerous or pointless, though there were times when that was the case.
I did meet a couple of members of the Australian school, one of whom was working for a client of my employer at the time. When I did meet him face to face in Sydney on business, we did talk briefly about the school over there and it certainly struck me at the time as being a lot more hard work than the SES in London.
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:15 am
I am a new member to the forum, and have read the newspaper articles by Tim Stott about the School of Philosophy,and feel compelled to reply. I was a student at the Melbourne school for 8 years until the end of 2011. I can honestly say my life was greatly enriched by my time there, and I will not be surprised if I return one day. I felt I needed a break for awhile, but have certainly missed many aspects of it.
I think it is frankly ridiculous to refer to the School as a cult. For a start, I understand that cults make it very difficult for members to leave. When I decided to take time out, there was no pressure whatsoever placed on me to stay, and this was also the case with other members. I feel the environment there was at all times was highly respectful, and from my experience, most of the tutors epitomized genuine loving kindness in every way.
I was certainly never ordered to perform any of the bizarre duties referred to by Tim. Instead, reasonable contributions were asked to be made to the running of the school such as assisting with suppers, flower arranging, etc, and students were encouraged to do this in a way that taught Mindfulness, which is increasingly recognized as many beneficial effects in health and well being. The Philosophy material is a fascinating combination of ancient Greek, Eastern mysticism, Shakespeare, etc., that I found marvelously stimulating, and very useful to apply in every day life. the fees are very affordable for all that is provided. I have never been stopped from owning a TV or reading newspapers-utter nonsense!
There are, however, some things I did not agree with, and these played a very small part in my decision to take a break. The dress code makes no sense, and at times is down right impractical. But then, dress codes do apply in
many different contexts such as the work place, sporting clubs, etc, and can always irritate at times. There was also some very old fashioned attitudes to toward life style choices etc, but never any coercion that I either experienced or witnessed to change these.
I respect Tim's right to his own view, but feel he has very unfairly mis represented certain facts, and it is my hope that I may have provided some balance to his argument.
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:51 pm
Hi Gabrielle, and thanks for your post. As always it's good to have different perspectives put forward.
Bear in mind that the newspaper article was written in 1985, and it's entirely possible (and probably likely) that the SOP is not the organisation it was under the Mavros. Thus, he may well have correctly represented the facts as they were in 1985, even if some of those facts no longer apply. If this is also what you meant then I wholeheartedly agree.
My own experience was one within a school run by the Mavros, and in that context many of the things mentioned in Stott's article ring true for me. As far as the characterisation of "cult" is concerned, I certainly felt in our school (the SFSK - School for Self Knowledge) that it was very difficult to leave. Everyone who evinced an intention to leave was called to the Mavro's house (or told to phone) where they were pressured to stay in one form or another. The common thread there is clearly that the Mavros were the source of most of the trouble. By the time you entered the SOP they were long gone, and so it's not surprising that you did not see many of the features mentioned in Stott's article.
The value of the 'philosophy' taught at the SOP is ultimately a matter of personal preference. The real problem is when those ideas are used to manipulate people, and it is undoubtedly the experience of many on this forum that they were subjected to such manipulation while they were members of the SOP. It is my view that the SOP is certainly a very different organisation now to what it was in the 70's and 80's, and that this is a very good thing. I cannot say the same of the SFSK of which I was a member. This was run by the Mavros (now just Nina Mavro) and absolutely retains the hallmarks of a cult.
As far as dress codes etc. are concerned, my issue is more with the ideas that dress code represents, rather than the dress code itself. No one judges people in the Victorian era for dressing in a particular way, but we also recognise that the dress code enforced back then was a manifestation of ideas related to the subservience of women and sexual repression. Those ideas have little space in our society today (and rightly so). Therefore, it's perhaps a little alarming when you have an organisation promoting such ideas, even if they no longer enforce them as you say.
My complaint has always been about the Mavros, and what your post demonstrates more than anything is that a School without the Mavros is a much nicer place to be in than a School with them. That said however, I do think that the kind of ideas promoted in these Schools make it very easy for someone at the top to manipulate those under them. This is not to say that it is happening now in the SOP, but that is only because the current leader is clearly a better man than Michael Mavro. There is still the potential that another megalomaniac could take over. This potential was realised by the Mavros - what is there to stop it happening again? The whole organisation seems to rest on the knife-edge between 'relatively benign centre for good living' and 'cult', with the deciding factor being the personality of the leader. That sounds like an awfully big gamble to me.
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 12:08 am
Let me state from the outset that Tim Stott did not present his “views” in these articles. Like all good journalists at the time like Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg of the Evening Standard and their “Secret Cult” they just presented the facts as given to them, not like journalists who today have to make the news of the day.
If you did not experience any of the so called bizarre behaviour then you have to thank the people of 1980-1990 who did because it caused dramatic changes in the SES and Sydney SOP. I joined the Sydney SOP in January, 1967 when it opened its doors under the Mavro’s. If all what was said seems too far fetched then why was it necessary for a fellow senior member of SOP Sydney to call Leon McLaren back from New Zealand, having just left, to quell a rebellion of the senior level of SOP at Kent Street. LM asked Michael and Nina Mavro to step down from the leadership and leave the organization, if all what was said was untrue. They, then, in 1987 started their own version of the Sydney SOP called the School for Self Knowledge so they could do their old stuff all over again unfettered by the SES.
I was present when two members of the ‘middle school’ of SOP Sydney, John Jepsen and Judith Lowenhertz were sent under the auspices of Leon McLaren to start the second branch of the SOP in Melbourne in 1977. They were moulded in Mavros image. These organizations had to change their ways dramatically after the exposure in the Evening Standard and release of ‘Secret Cult’. I also know that an investigative journalist from the Fairfax Media Group in Australia ( with voice recorded interviews) had a much more damning series of articles than Tim Stott’s complete with photos of Michael and Nina Mavro movements from their house in Undercliff Street to their work places and the SOP buildings. However, the legal dept. of Fairfax thought the whole thing was too bizarre to be true and stopped the press the night it was to start printing. Tim Stott who was with Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited got to hear of it and his editor gave permission to run with the story with the legal dept. permission.
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Thu Dec 06, 2012 5:57 pm
As long-term posters know I eschew the use of the c-word precisely to avert problems such as this. But also because it actually contributes to the parent-child dependency relationship that spiritual groups establish. Call a man's mother the more infamous c-word, and he'll probably kill you. Refer to a spiritual group by the c-word in question here, and its members run back to it in a similarly defensive manner - only more loyal, more emotional, more dependent, more psychologically imprisoned than they were before they heard the word.
Now, that aside, there's no definition of this c-word that says members are not free to leave. On the contrary, the imprisonment is psychological; once deeply attached (yes, ironic given the place of 'attachment' in the SES jargon), members cannot bring themselves to leave even though nobody is stopping them. Manipulative spiritual groups all do this: they establish dependency so that imprisonment is unnecessary.
And of course, the pretence of benign, loving support is maintained by those in power. No manipulative spiritual group is more seductive than the one which says, 'You are free to leave us at any time you wish.'
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:36 am
The SES never said that to me AT. The subliminal message was "you cannot leave" ( otherwise bad things will happen, their subtext).
New religious movements pick out all the fear factors of all the old religions - the SES through McLaren were good at that. Catholics were given that message too when we were young, but we survive whether we attend Mass or not!!
Brought up a Catholic me, that is why I know that McLaren picked on all the extremes of religion, including his own first/second generation catholic upbringing. Old school catholic gone wrong was McLaren.
He was the rip off merchant that fell out with his own religion and his father Andrew ( nice guy Andrew, a Liberal in his day) . Leon thought he would start a new religion - what a disaster that was in his version of the new age.
Anyway,check him out again AT. Cults are cults, and Mclaren tried to form a new one out of his old catholic upbringing mixed up with his travels to India. Oh dear what a mess he became. That is what the SES members need to face up to.
with best regards and Happy Christmas and New Year to all ( if I don't post again before then!)
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 8:41 pm
And Happy Christmas! and Good New Year to you! have a great time!
Re: Newspaper Articles
Posted: Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:59 am
You'd probably agree you weren't locked up in a physical prison, but a psychological, emotional or spiritual one. The original poster in this part of the discussion took issue with the c-word because they define it as a place where one is physically locked up - a definition I believe is inaccurate.
'You are free to leave us at any time you wish' is purely a prefix to '...just consider the consequences of leaving.'
That is what is so seductive and persuasive about it. Ad men (Sinclair) and PR men (Boddy) who helped run SES for decades conduct this engineering of consent in their day jobs.
Nobody in SES has ever been prosecuted for kidnap or unlawful imprisonment. Yet they have imprisoned thousands through a deceptive process of thought control. People who experienced it say the consequences have included child abuse, family breakdown and suicide.
It is implausible that all these people have nothing better to do with their lives than to make up stories about what SES has done to them and the people they love. Therefore, I recommend the original poster thinks deeply about what has been said by so many people, and why.