Ordinarily, there’s nothing particularly unusual in stories of senior civil servants and local government officials scoring themselves a jolly junket on the public purse on the pretext of attending a course given by some sort of bullshit management guru nor in the press complaining that this amounts to a waste of public money.
What makes this recent story about Sandwell MBC’s Chief Executive. Dr Allison Fraser, pulling off just such a routine is not that she’ll be visiting Orlando, FL in order to attend just such a course…
Dr Allison Fraser, who is in charge of Sandwell Council, signed up to attend the Avatar Professional Course.
The Avatar website claims the course teaches people how to become “more real, authentic”, to “protect themselves against the abrasions of the world” and “gain a connection with the undefined self”. It also teaches its students how to “obtain the keys to successfully operate in the world”.
…but rather the provenance of the course itself.
The course is the creation of Harry Palmer who, in typically self-aggrandising manner, describes himself as a:
Writer, teacher, lecturer, scientist, programmer, environmentalist, businessman, spiritual leader, explorer-Harry Palmer is truly a Renaissance man. For more than 30 years, Harry has played a prominent role in the consciousness-evolvement field. His bestseller, Living Deliberately (currently available in 19 languages), describing his personal discovery of enlightenment, launched the highly regarded worldwide workshop called The Avatar Course. His lofty aim, to contribute to the creation of an enlightened planetary civilization, has been adopted by tens of thousands.
In truth Palmer is a former Scientologist and a qualified English teacher with a history of making false claims about his educational background and qualifications. In his ‘bestseller’, ‘Living Deliberately’, Palmer claims to have majored in Educational Psychology as part of the Triplum Programme at Ithaca College while, in a 1991 issue of his own ‘Avatar Journal’ he claimed to have a Masters degree in educational psychology and to have majored in Education Psychology while studying at Elmira College.
In reality, he obtained a BA in English at Ithaca College in 1969 and Masters degree in Education from Elmira College in 1971, neither of which included a major, even a minor, course of study in Educational Psychology and his actual qualifications permitted him only to be certified to teach English in secondary schools.
In 2005, Palmer’s false claims about his educational background and qualifications resulted in him having a ‘run-in’ with the Florida Department of Health, who investigated his claim to be a qualified Educational Psychologist and found it, shall we say, somewhat lacking in verisimilitude, as the following documents demonstrate…
As you can see from the last document, in order to avoid further (and possibly criminal proceedings) Palmer had to sign a cease and desist agreement under which he agreed not to describe himself as a psychologist while holding no license to practice.
The lack of veracity in Palmer’s claims regarding his own qualifications is, naturally enough, not the only obvious warning sign in his short personal biography – one needs also to pay careful attention to the use of cultish psychobabble, particularly the kind that look very much as its fallen off the back of Scientology manual – and sure enough its there and then some.
Palmer describes himself as having played a prominent role in the consciousness-evolvement field and to have personally discovered enlightment – and don’t they always – however the dead give-away is the reference to his personal goal of creating an enlightened planetary civilization. References to the creation of an otherworldly utopian society in which humanity’s diverse beliefs will allegedly converge towards an uniform and ‘enlightened’ systematic worldview – that of the snake-oil peddlar behind all this bullshit, naturally – are a staple feature of cult and cult-like organisations whether they come with or without a bullshit sub-Star Trek alien/galactic civilisation plotline as an optional extra.
As it happens, at least in the early days, Palmer’s brand of Scientology-lite incorporated its own version of Scientology’s ‘Galactic Civilisation’ hooey, as this transcript of a 1991 lecture by Palmer, given in the course of an ‘Avatar Wizard Course’ demonstrates…
Sentient beings first appeared on the core worlds of the Milky Way galaxy. The civilizations of Earth are the result of a much later refugee relocation plan that I’m going to tell you about.
No shit, Harry…
At the core of the galaxy, the electro-magnetic and gravitational fields tend to be in perfect balance. There is no centrifugal energy. No spinning masses, no rotating worlds, no revolving planets. Force exists in balanced, unchanging vectors. Stasis. Equilibrium.
I hope Harry’s since revised his opinion of conditions at the ‘core of the galaxy’ as all the current cosmological evidence points to existence of a super-massive black hole at the core of this, and every other galaxy, and trust me when I say that with an SMBH at the centre of the galaxy just about the on thing you’re guaranteed not to find there are forces existing in ‘balanced, unchanging vectors’.
After peddling a fair bit more pseudo-scientific nonsense, including the delightful claim that…
This is the truth behind astrology. One can knowingly predict when the changing forces of the galaxy will cause a certain belief to shed certain thoughts. Thoughts that become default primaries –as opposed to deliberate primaries– which if not altered will manifest a specific reality.
…we arrive at the bit where the credits roll…
So our galactic stage is set.
It is the time of the first Galactic Confederacy.
All of which was a long time ago but, by a quirk of Einsteinian relativity, is still in our own future and, therefore, accessible in the ‘spiritual NOW of our collective cosmic consciousness’…
…and then the big spaceship rumbles menacingly into shot and the camp gold robot starts whining.
By all mean read Palmer’s tale of the first Galactic Confederacy, if nothing else it’ll give you a new found appreciation of the literary genius of Hugo Gernsback, but before leaving to your own devices I should pick out my favourite segment of the whole lecture…
Nine hundred centuries after the appearance of sentient life in the core worlds, the last days begin. Problems. Solutions. Problems. Solutions. Problems. Sol…The Karsak of Triton blight bomb!… End of line!
The blight bomb was probably an accident. It probably wasn’t even a weapon. More likely it was some idle scientist’s investigation of wave frequency and genetic patterns. Regardless, it was the all-time serendipity of mass destruction.
It started a chain reaction that discreated, at a very ancient primary level of consciousness, the blueprint for the chemical process of photosynthesis.
Everything green died.
I’m not sure which I find most amusing, the crappy name of the cod Macguffin – The Karsak of Triton Blight Bomb (exclamation mark) – or the idea that there is anything remote serendipitous about mass destruction and the ‘discreation’ of the ‘blueprint or the chemical process of photosynthesis’.
If you are going to try and con people with a crap SF story the very least you might do is BUY A FUCKING DICTIONARY and ensure that the line of bullshit you’re spinning is at least semantically correct.
Remember, this guy qualified as a fucking English teacher…
Anyway, its time to stop laughing at the Mekon-wannabe and move on to more serious matters but, before we go, I need to make a quick but necessary legal point. You see Palmer, in common with his former alien masters in the Church of Scientology, is in the habit of using threats of legal action for copyright infringement in order to prevent his own brand of super-secret bullshit from being published on the Internet, where sane people can laugh at it. So, with that in mind, I should point out that the quotations above are published in the United States under the provisions of section 107 of the Copyright Act (title 17, US code) and are sourced from a Dutch website where the full transcript is published under a 2003 legal ruling (as confirmed by the Dutch Supreme Court in 2005) which precludes the use of claims of copyright infringement as means of suppressing publication of cult documents.
So what are the more serious matters I mentioned just a moment ago?
Well, given that Harry Palmer ran a Scientology ‘Mission’ in Elmira for ten years between 1974 and 1984, until he stopped paying the fees and then, shortly afterwards, ‘discovered’ the Avatar system it should take a genius to figure out that the serious side to this story lies in the so-called ‘self improvement’ techniques used by Palmer and other ‘Avatar Masters’, most of which entail some degree of psychological programming and which, therefore, wide open to abuse.
Yep, we talking the good Cultic Mind Trick, and as with Scientology, of which its an offshoot, Avatar is chock full of ’em, as this analysis of some its materials, by the Pacific Cult Education Network, points out…
The first process encountered in Section II is the”Feel-it” process, an extremely potent mind-altering technique that is used for the purpose of shutting down rational processes. Along with those rational processes goes the individual’s critical defenses and orientation. The “feel-it” has the “student” experience and become animate and inanimate objects. This technique is notorious for being used many hours on end. The effects are to break down the individual’s sense of self and to identify with rocks, trees, clouds, and other people’s beliefs. When someone has run feel-its for many hours, they often become depersonalized, have no critical thinking capacity, and may suffer from an intense overload of biochemical painkillers and confusion giving them a sense of ecstatic bliss and and floating not dissimilar to the more euphoric stages of mania.
In essence this kind of stuff is a heady combination of a common spook-grade interrogation technique with a bit of ‘be a tree’ drama class bullshit tacked onto it so it not quite so obvious to the poor bastards being subjected to it that they’re getting their mind fucked with.
Another oldie but goodie is what Avatar calls its ‘Collective Consciousness Handle’ in which ‘disciples’ are led to believe, through the breaking down of their rational thought processes, that they can affect the material universe and events within in by manipulating ‘the collective consciousness’ with their ‘thoughts’.
If you want to take a relatively benign view of this you could call it trying to teach them the Jedi Mind Trick, but what it amounts to is ‘magical thought’, an idea that comes from a long and venerable tradition of delusional bullshit which ranges from relative mild New Age crap like ‘affirmations’ to the kind of full blown witchcraft, magick and the ‘evil eye’ that, at one time, would get you chased by a bunch of serious pissed off villagers armed with flaming brand and burned at the stake.
Its tempting to write this kind of crap off as a load of bollocks and chuckle at the mental picture of the Chief Executive of Sandwell Council furiously trying to magic the council’s remuneration committee in to grant next year’s pay rise but that ignores the fact that, again, this kind of stuff tends to incorporate a fair amount of fucking with people’s heads and the psychological effects of that, when it goes pear-shaped, can be anything but benign.
As we’re in the realm of psychology here, its maybe worth noting Palmer’s opinion of sceptics, or ‘Avatar Bashers’ as her prefers to call them…
An Avatar Basher is someone who post or emails deliberately hostile or insulting messages to expose some “terrible truth” about Harry Palmer, Star’s Edge, or Avatar Masters. Their intention is to defraud, maliciously misrepresent facts, and spread rumors to discourage people from doing Avatar.
Psychologically, Avatar Bashers fit one or more of the patterns of diagnostic personality disorders detailed in the DIAGNOSTIC AND STATISTICAL MANUAL OF MENTAL DISORDERS. Most have had unsuccessful treatment for mental illnesses.
Avatar Bashers may seem intelligent, but they lack sufficient self-awareness (free attention) to make changes in their own lives. Self-awareness, not intelligence, is the factor that determines whether or not the Avatar Tools will be employed successfully. Avatar Bashers are probably not salvageable by Avatar techniques alone.
Palmer’s supporting ‘evidence’ for the claim that sceptics ‘fit one or more of the patterns of diagnostic personality disorders’ amounts to nothing more than an of accounts of his dispute with a former ‘Avatar Master’, Eldon Braun, who split from Palmer and went into the ‘consciousness-evolement’ business for himself using information lifted from Palmer’s Avatar ‘Courses’ and with Ronald Cools, another former ‘master’ who went on to set up a website called ‘AvatarScam’. Naturally enough, the fact that two of his former ‘disciples’ turned on him, in very different ways, is proof of collusion and a conspriacy between Braun, who Palmer successful sued for copyright infringement, and Cools, who appears to he been ‘repaid’ with a bit of character assassination based on alleged Usenet postings the authenticity of which cannot be verified.
Labelling critics and sceptics, generally, as being from liars or as having mental health problems is a pretty standard defence mechanism used by cultists when preaching to the already ‘converted’ – such claims are water of a duck’s back to sceptics, naturally, and their purpose is not to rebut criticism but rather to try to persuade cult members not to read or take seriously any criticism levelled at the cult or its leaders irrespective of whether such criticism is supported by evidence. One of the constant paradoxes of the ‘consciousness-evolvement’ business is that those who claim to be able to do the evolving for you consistently recommend that that enlightenment can be attained only by closing your mind to rational thought and sceptical inquiry.
Fostering mistrust of science and rational inquiry is, of course, a common facet of cult activities and Avatar is no different to any other cult/scam when it comes such practices. In common with its ‘parent’, Scientology, once you work your way up to the highest ‘Wizard’ level then you get told that conventional medicine, drugs, surgery and – of course – psychology are all ‘misguided’ attempts at healing because what causes illness in humans isn’t bacteria, viruses, genetic disorders or biochemical imbalances in the brain – no the nasty little buggers that fuck with our health and wellbeing are actually…
… ‘entities’ – possessive spirits that, naturally enough, can only be ‘exorcised’ using Palmers super secret techniques for getting rid of invisible woo…
This is bullshit writ large and it comes with all the usual bollocks about classifying and grading your ‘troublesome entities’…
For the sake of simplifying the ranks and phyla of troublesome entities, group them in the following three categories:
- emanating entities,
- desiring and resisting entities,
- obsessing and deceiving entities.
Emanating entities are broadcasting a sensation (an emotion, a pain, a feeling, a thought, or an attitude) that your astral self confuses for its own. This misownership is then reflected in your physical body. Emanating entities may be animated fragments of past events or thoughtforms such as the elementals that Paracelsus describes, or they maybe disincarnate spirits that still have their attention fixed in a physical plane life trauma.
Desiring and resisting entities are exerting an influence via your astral body upon your physical plane behavior. They are trying to fulfill some physical desire or to continue some physical resistance that they became habituated to in life.
Simplfying things even further this is all sub-Halloween bullshit, the stuff of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, and proof of nothing more than the fact that PT Barnum was right and there really is a sucker born every minute.
It would, however, be wrong to suggest that this exorcism crap serves no useful purpose – it does, it gives Palmer an excuse to charge the congenitally gullible $7,500 for a ‘Wizard Course’ and gives him and his licensed woo peddlars another opportunity to fuck with people’s head and ensure that the leave the course in an even more gullible and headfucked state then they were when they arrived.
(By the way, in case you haven’t guessed already, the economics of Avatar are, as you might expect, your standard multi-level marketing scheme in which these ‘licensed’ masters do the recruiting and Palmer takes a percentage of the fees they generate)
Anyway, how does this exorcism business ‘work’?
Well, thanks to the aforementioned ruling of the Dutch courts, there’s a copy of the exorcism manual you can read for yourself, which explains how to teach your ‘entity’ to ‘talk’ to you…
2. Teaching the Possessive Spirit Yes and No.
The command for teaching Possessive Spirits “yes” and “no” is,
“Possessed One, teach it ‘yes’ and ‘no'”.
The Possessed One places a hand so that it is visible to the Exorcist and with attention on the Possessive Spirit taps the thumb and thinks and feels “no”, taps the forefinger and thinks and feels “yes”. This is repeated several times.
Teaching the Possessive Spirit is really more of a case of indoctrinating than of teaching. The Possessive Spirit is not given any choice over learning or not. Rarely does it take more than 10 or 15 seconds.
If the procedure becomes confused in later steps, e.g., Possessive Spirit answers both “yes” and “no”, Exorcist returns the Possessed One to this step and has Possessed One indoctrinate the Possessive Spirit more thoroughly and then once again works up through the steps. This doesn’t happen very often.
Yep – afer all that psychobabble build-up what we come back to is good old fashioned table-rapping – and this shit is supposed to lead to higher state of consciousness and enlightenment?
Is it fuck! Its one of the oldest scams in the fucking book and looking none the more convincing for its being recycled by Avatar with added alien woo.
Now, having laid out the evidence of what Avatar actually is you might think that I’m going to have a good old bitch about the £5,000 that Sandwell MBC is going to ante up to pay for it’s Chief Executive to attend the ‘Avatar Professional Course’…
…and you’d be wrong because, deep down, the cash is only a secondary issue when you read the small print on the course promo and realise that in order to do the ‘Professional’ course there’s a condition you have to fulfil…
Prerequisite: Successful completion of The Avatar Master Course
Now, which is the bigger concern here, the £5,000 that the council is putting up to send its Chief Executive for week’s ‘training’ with the Scientology Lite crew or the fact that to even qualify to attend the course, Dr Allison Fraser has to already be into this bullshit to the extent that she’s already completed a course which makes her…
…eligible for a one-year provisional license to deliver The Avatar Course (number one self-development course in the world) in accord with current Star’s Edge policies.
If you’re wondering just what background checks Councillors in Sandwell carried out before approving the expenditure on this course then the answer is ‘who the hell knows’ because the public version of a report about the course that was submitted to them for consideration states only that it is ‘Not for Publication’ because it contains exempt information that reveal the identity of an individual – whether this individual is Fraser (in which case the point of the exemption is moot) or someone else its impossible to say but at the same meeting that this report was tendered, the minutes record the following information about the decision to approve the course…
The Avatar Professional Course
It was reported that in order to continue taking the performance of the Council forward, the Chief Executive would need to enhance her own personal development, creativity, leadership and problem solving skills.
The Avatar Professional Course had been identified as one which would enable the Chief Executive to acquire and hone new skills to be used in the management of the organisation.
The courses were internationally renowned and held at various locations around the world.
Approval was therefore sought to the Chief Executive attending a course in the United States in October 2008 and to endorse her attendance at a recent course in Germany.
The estimated cost of the seven day course in the United States, including travel and accommodation, was £2,500. The cost of the nine day course in Germany was £2,400 and all costs would be met from within existing budgets.
(1) that the attendance of the Chief Executive at the forthcoming Avatar Professional Course, in the United States in October 2008, be approved;
(2) that the attendance of the Chief Executive at the Avatar Master Course in Germany, in July 2008, be endorsed.
(Proceedings ended at 4.55 pm)
So its not just the ‘Professional’ Course that’s covered by the £5,000 put up by the Council, they’ve also, restrospectively, covered the cost of a ‘Master’ course that Fraser attended in July.
Quite how one squares the Council’s stated purpose of these courses, the apparent need to enhance Fraser’s ‘personal development, creativity, leadership and problem solving skills’ with the content of Avatar’s courses – psychological manipulation, Jedi Mind Tricks and table-rapping is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the Council’s next corporate plan will boldly announce that Fraser is going to think it all the way to a three-star rating by manipulating the collective conciousness of the Audit Commission and reduce sickness levels by introducing the mandatory exorcism of ‘entities’ into the Council’s ‘back to work’ interviews…
… but what I do know is that someone at the Council seriously needs to be asking a few searching questions about just exactly what the members who approved these courses were told about their content and background, because these certainly aren’t what you’d consider to be standard management training course, and what background checks, if any, were carried out into both the courses, and Harry Palmer, before they were asked to approve this decision, because, from what I know of a number of those present at the meeting I find it difficult to conceive of any of them approving the expenditure for these courses had them been fully appraised as to their background and, in particular, Palmer’s own history.
And after that?
Well, they might usefully get around to considering very carefully whether it really is in the Council’s best interests for its Chief Executive to be publicly associated with an organisation that is widely considered to be a quasi-religious cult founded on a pared down version of Scientology and run by a man who has persistently lied about his academic qualifications.