At first, the testimony of the former cult member on the social journalism website Medium in March 2018 comes across as quite comical. Describing an alleged claim by American spiritual guru Teal Swan, they said, “[She] told me her cat, Cosmos, was actually a holographic soul projection from the planet Sirius, and he had been sending me telepathic images of my pancreas, to tell me that my blood sugar was off…” Indeed, such a declaration from the up-and-coming cult leader would be deserving of laughter and derision if some of the 34-year-old Swan’s controversial views were not so downright dangerous.
According to a 1981 study by renowned psychologist Robert Lifton, cults have three defining characteristics. Firstly, the followers are led by an authority figure with claims to higher knowledge. Secondly, the sects use brain-washing techniques to control their members. Thirdly, the groups actively exploit their adherents, usually for financial gain. In fact, cults have been around for millennia, but the internet is now changing the ways that they recruit and indoctrinate their vulnerable targets.
Indeed, Rick Ross, head of the non-profit Cult Education Institute, said as much to the online Vice magazine in August 2017. “People interface with them using social media—using Skype—they don’t meet face-to-face.” And the nature of this virtual communication means it is easier for cult recruiters to manipulate minds. Ross continued, “People can cocoon themselves in a kind of alternative universe. You choose who you friend on Facebook, you choose who you follow on Twitter, you choose who you watch on YouTube. And you can kinda create an alternative reality…”
And many unscrupulous and damaged people have woken up to this new reality. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1984, Teal Swan apparently grew up in Utah before establishing herself online as a self-proclaimed spiritual catalyst. Known as the “Gucci Guru” for her less-than-spiritual love of expensive and trendy material adornments, Swan stages self-help events all over the world. The glamourous leader has amassed a global following on social media, including more than 465,000 YouTube followers. In fact, more than 53 million people have watched Swan’s footage on the video-sharing platform.
In 2016, Swan established the Philia Center – a community of believers in the small town of Atenas in Costa Rica. According to the Medium article, there are approximately 20 full-time members of the “Teal Tribe” in residence, and some of the most devoted have tattooed themselves with the Quintessence. Otherwise known as the Hermetic Seal of Light, this symbol taken up by Swan references the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, as well as the trinity of spirit, soul and body.
On her website, Swan claims that her “movement” is founded on “The Principle of Authenticity.” Her statement reads, “When a human being is forced to fit into a society by conforming to social ideals, their emotions are suppressed and they lose touch with their own authentic being.” But while Swan instructs her Teal Tribe followers to keep it real, there is scant evidence that she herself is an authentic or even principled human being.
Indeed, she claims not to be human at all. Despite being born in New Mexico, Swan says she is actually a sixth-dimensional extra-terrestrial from the planet Arcturus. “I am non-physical energy that is projected forth into an Arcturian body,” she says in a video clip which accompanies the Medium article. “Before I even came down [to Earth], there was an entire panel of Arcturian beings… [who] chose the way I would look in this life.” Swan claims that she was given a conventionally attractive human body in order to entice followers.
In addition, she also claims to have numerous extrasensory powers, including supernormal hearing which can detect radio transmissions, the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates, and even other people’s private thoughts. With Swan’s supposed psychic X-ray vision, she purports to be able to perceive illness in internal organs. Furthermore, her alleged ability to leave her body and enter other people’s brain stems, means that she can manipulate autonomic functions such as breathing. In this way, she maintains that she has psychically lent her assistance to surgical operations in far-off places.
However, several former members of her cult have alleged that Swan’s gifts are more down-to-Earth and rooted in more basic manipulation. It seems that the Gucci Guru recognizes the value of unyielding control over her followers. As one ex-cult victim told Medium, “Teal did not allow free thinking, questioning, or dissent of any sort when it came to her own little land of make-believe.”
Another was quoted as saying, “I was able to see what Teal was doing from very early on… Her friendships, her interactions, her reasoning behind everything she does, her voice and every movement. It is designed to draw you in, to captivate you.” Nevertheless, Swan’s claim to be able to manipulate minds may have some figurative truth. The former cult member continued, “She makes you believe that she is inside your head. She makes you believe that she sees the truth. The truth is, she likes the control and the power over other people…”
Moreover, this manipulation apparently has an sexual edge – those Arcturians appear to have chosen well. According to at least one former member, Swan is “obsessed with sex” and she uses her erotic allure to dominate and control others. “She definitely sleeps with her followers,” one informer told Medium. “They find her on YouTube, become enthralled and then involve themselves in workshops and so on…”
Meanwhile, Swan has made numerous unattractive and controversial statements, indicating that she lacks the social awareness one might expect of a higher, enlightened being. In one particularly disturbing video, she claimed that some African-American women she saw in a “horrendous neighborhood” in New Jersey felt “so hopeless” that they wanted to be raped. Writing on her blog, she has described the people of Costa Rica as “primitive… more like animals in their behavior than people…”
And, of course, such dehumanizing sentiments have chilling precedents. Indeed, in another of her videos, Swan references one of them. “If you are on the highest vibrational level, looking at this planet, the person who added to peace more than anyone else on this planet is Hitler,” she says. “Because no-one was thinking about world peace until he came along… He was exactly what everyone had asked for…”
However, perhaps such wild claims and highly contentious views should not come as a surprise, if what Swan says about her background is true. According to the guru, she herself was the victim of a cult. Swan has alleged that she was systematically tortured, drugged, raped and prostituted by the members of a satanic sect for some 13 years from the age of eight. In the most lurid of her claims, Swan says she was initiated into the group by being sewn up inside a dead body and left there for 12 hours. In fact, it is anatomically impossible for an eight-year-old child to fit in an adult cadaver. And none of her other claims have been corroborated, including her charge that the supposed cult murdered seven children.
But evidently Swan has put all of this behind her and is firmly focussed on the future. Indeed, she apparently plans to dominate the world by building “a company that is so large and so unstoppable that nothing can come up against it.” The organization in question, Teal Eye, was established in 2012, and its prospectus promises speculators, “The investments can be used to lobby, or to buy countries. And then we can start doing these new societies.”
The language used is unmistakably Swan’s. It continues, “I will do whatever it takes to continue on with this world vision of mine… Until [the company becomes] one of the wealthiest companies in the world. But not just a company, it would become like its own entity. An unstoppable monolith… We are merely in phase one of the plan to institute positive world change.”
Meanwhile, more negatively, there have been two suicides connected to Swan’s world vision. In April 2015, a long-standing cult participant known as I.T. apparently killed himself after reaching out to the Teal Tribe Facebook group. But back in 2013, Swan was filmed joking about the suicide of a female cult member to a live audience. On hearing of the dead woman’s unhappy background, Swan claimed that the victim had already been reincarnated into similar family circumstances. The cult leader has flippantly described the act of suicide as “pushing the reset button.”
In a YouTube video embedded in the Medium article, Swan speaks directly to the camera. “You’ve been thinking about it, but not really consciously. This time, what I’m going to encourage you to do is to consciously imagine committing suicide,” she says. “Let me remind [you] that death is not wrong, so make this decision based on the truth of what you want instead of what you think is right to want…”
And it seems that this destructive line of thought is a popular one in the Gucci Guru’s playbook. According to one former female follower, Swan made serious attempts to persuade the woman that she should take her own life. However, not only was the ex-sect member adamant that she had no intention of ending her life by her own hand, she had never even experienced suicidal thoughts. But when she said as much to Swan, the cult leader told her that she was “passively suicidal” and “uncommitted to life.” Meanwhile, worryingly, Swan reports that she receives about ten emails a day from people contemplating suicide.
Indeed, Swan has described death as both “delicious” and a “liberation.” This, along with her controversial remarks about suicide – which verge on encouragement – the deaths of two people connected to her group, and the allegations of psychological abuse leveled at her by former followers – suggests that Swan and her activities should be closely monitored and thoroughly investigated. There is little likelihood that she will conquer the Earth, but it is a distinct possibility that Swan’s cult could transform itself into a death cult.