When it comes to all things spiritual, mystical or new age I tend to be as curious as I am skeptical. So when I signed up for an eight-week astral travel course, I was excited and also a little wary of what I was getting myself into. The mystical rabbit hole I fell through over the course of those eight weeks is difficult to describe. Where do I begin? I found out that the teachings of the course came from a nice group of people who follow an ultra secretive, divisive, new religious movement leader unfortunately named Belzebuub (his real name is Mark Pritchard). I stumbled into an online battle between Belzebuub’s followers and jaded former members. Of course, I also tried to astral travel, but unfortunately I totally failed at it.
Let me explain, quickly, what astral travel claims to be. When you dream, you’re in the astral, which is a fifth dimension of existence where your subconscious often projects images of your own making. If you can control your subconscious thoughts you can pull away those projections and see the astral as it truly exists, as another world full of spiritual wisdom. Then you can travel through time, to other planets, even visit dead people or meet up with other astral travellers. It’s like lucid dreaming, except astral travel takes an extra step and makes the dream experience into something more real than waking life. The trick is that you have to learn basic dream techniques to become more aware during sleep if you want to vacation on Mars or shoot the shit with Gandhi.
That’s the back of my head on the first day of class.
The people who organize this course are called Mystic Seekers Toronto, seen here wearing robes, or here wearing different robes, while chanting and wearing a sweet Anubis mask. They’re a Toronto based organization that holds the free astral travel courses and sometimes hosts classes at their Mystic Light Retreat, a cabin just outside Toronto. Every Tuesday night for eight weeks I would join a group of about thirty people to meet with the Mystic Seekers, who usually wore slacks and grey sweaters instead of their robes, in a library where they’d rented a room.
The first class started with a request that everyone “be more present.” We were then asked to share why we’d come. One woman, who said she was sick, raised her hand and said she’d been using healing stones and studying the Bible but nothing was helping her get healthy. Another lady said that she wanted to utilize her life force. An older man said he was scared the class would be a sideshow but he needed healing and didn’t know where else to turn. Having no massively worrisome physical or existential problems, I just kept my mouth shut and my fingers crossed that I’d be flying and hanging out with Jesus in my dreams real soon.
In light of everyone’s search for a solution to their very real problems, the whole experience felt perverse when next the instructor told us we’d be learning a technique to “bring us to the eternal,” emphasizing that all problems could be solved there. I doubted that the sick people, who were just looking for a bit of relief, would find any kind of cure in “the eternal” but I continued to play along. Then we closed our eyes to relax, as he rattled on about our essences. The girl next to me fell asleep and started snoring. I felt nothing but a little uncomfortable.
Before I left that night, The Mystic Seekers offered everyone a book to buy at a suggested donation of five dollars. It’s called A Course in Astral Travel and Dreams, written by that Belzebuub guy I mentioned earlier. We were all encouraged to read it. The book, which I read in the next few days, goes through nine chapters of sometimes helpful guides to learning astral travel techniques. It’s mostly, though, a poorly written stream of far fetched claims, anti-science preaching, and light vs. darkness rabble rousing that would have gone over well in the dark ages.
While a lot of the book made no sense, one of my favourite lines was, “Think of a piece of fruit that you do not know of, would you eat it? Your answer would be no.” Immediately after reading that line, I read it over again slowly, then called a friend to ask him what he thought it meant. He only told he would eat the fruit that he did not know of. I decided, for the time being, to suspend my disbelief until I went to some more classes.
Belzebuub, gazing into the distance.
The amount of people who continued to come to the rented out library room became fewer and fewer. We learned more techniques where we were encouraged not to intellectualize too much because, we were told, too many thoughts can cloud the astral. We were each given a leaf and we were told to memorize its shape, to visualize it in our mind and to imagine being a leaf in order to increase our visualization and empathy. We were told to ask ourselves at least fifty times per day if we were dreaming. We were told if we wanted to astral travel we would have to make it more important than anything else in our lives. I’d go home and ignore my girlfriend to practice imagining what a leaf must feel like and ask myself if I was dreaming but nothing seemed to work. I was still just dreaming regular dreams like where I’m my Dad but I’m not my Dad and I’m chasing a deer that stole my face.
It wasn’t until the sixth class that we got to the meat and bones of the thing. Mantras. Having a room of people chant the same thing over and over is a real treat that everyone should experience at least once, because groupthink actually feels amazing. First we were told to cleanse the room with a chant that went like this, repeated three times:
Bellilin, bellilin, bellilin,
Amphora of salvation
I would like to be next to you
Materialism has no strength next to me
I’d been okay with most of the weird stuff until now, or at least in denial, but alarms started going off in me when this room of lonely adults started singing anti-materialism chants. It wasn’t so much the anti-materialism message as much as it was the chanting. For me it’s one thing to believe that an expensive car or a beautiful mansion won’t bring you happiness, it’s another thing entirely when you dead-eyed chant about it with your buddies. But then we did a mantra that sounded like Fah-Rah-Om and the drawn out vowel sounds without meaning made more sense to me so I relaxed enough to convince myself to try it at least one more week.
The author, waking from a failed astral travel attempt.
That week I still had no success. I did have a dream, though, where I was in bed and a dark shadow man came out of my closet and stared at me and I couldn’t move. I tried to scream but nothing came out. When I woke up I told my girlfriend what had happened and she told me it was probably Belzebuub coming to get me. Could they sense I was a non-believer?
By the last class, I still hadn’t astral travelled, but I showed up to the library anyway. We started by doing the anti-materialism chant and the mantra, and then drew a magical circle of protection around the room just because we could. Then we were told that over the coming weekend, we’d all be meeting up in the astral at the pyramids of Egypt along with groups from England and Australia. No one questioned who these groups were, so after the class I asked one of the instructors who we would be heading to the pyramids with. She said, “Oh, they’re just people we know.” I kept pressing as to how they know these people, how they all keep in touch, how they plan field trips together to the Sphinx. Finally she handed me a piece of paper with a website address on it.
The website she told me about featured chat forums where almost every discussion was centered around Belzebuub, how great he is, and how sad they are that everyone hates him. One of the instructors of the astral travel courses I’d been to had posted there responding to a new member who asked what Belzebuub’s name meant. He also talked about the rising “level of attacks” against Belzebuub and that Belzebuub’s location is not “something public” given the amount of increasing animosity towards him. His full comment is below.
I figured that this Belzebuub guy must be a compelling character if he commands such secrecy, so I looked up his website. After looking through it for a few minutes I came across this article, apparently written in September of this year, vaguely detailing how an online community of “bullies” has been attacking Belzebuub lately with a “hate campaign.” Since there were no links to any of these attacks, I simply Googled “Belzebuub attacks” and came upon a site called Movements of Gnostics which contains articles written almost exclusively against Belzebuub, claiming he silences his followers, destroys their families, and cheats people out of all of their money.
I also found a link to this video on YouTube where a former member is defending his reasons for leaving, what he describes as, Belzebuub’s “cult group.” Then I came upon an article that claimed Belzebuub’s followers practice sexual alchemy by withholding the orgasm during hetero sex and another that claimed Belzebuub became Hercules and learned directly from Christ. I wish I read about this stuff earlier.
There were a lot more accusations online against Belzebuub and the Mystic Seekers Toronto. It was frustrating to think that maybe these people were being fooled by a spiritual con artist, all because they wanted to find something bigger than themselves. I continued trying to astral travel regardless, and I continued to fail. I wondered what was wrong with me. Maybe I don’t believe enough? Maybe I haven’t devoted enough time to the practice? Maybe I’m impure in the eyes of Belzebuub and he’s blocking me out with his mystical powers? Or, maybe, astral traveling is complete bullshit. There are more courses offered by the Mystic Seekers Toronto throughout 2013, and I was told I’d be welcome to continue to study under them if I pleased. I’m still on their mailing list, getting updates and invites, but I’m also still waiting for that bangin’ party at the pyramids. Until then, I’ll continue to flirt with the idea of finding the eternal, while also avoiding every opportunity to dump my savings accounts into the pockets of a guy named Belzebuub.
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