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Inside the alleged ‘cult’ that has been quietly operating in NY for decades – New York Post

Posted: November 15, 2019 at 2:46 pm


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In December 1978, a bizarre theater company headed by an actress from the Slaughterhouse-Five film was run out of San Francisco.

Members of Sharon Gans so-called Theater of All Possibilities had come forward to claim they were pressured into arranged marriages, beaten if they didnt sell tickets and had gone broke paying for classes while Gans and her husband lived in a tony home in the posh neighborhood of Pacific Heights.

With the police asking questions and the ex-members claims splashed across the pages of local papers, the actress and her theater group closed up shop and seemingly disappeared from public view.

But they never really went away.

A new group sprang up in the 1980s in New York under the name Odyssey Study Group and has been operating here quietly ever since still led by the washed-up actress, now 84, who reigns from an $8.5 million apartment at Manhattans Plaza Hotel that was mostly paid for by devotees, according to public records.

A dozen former members have spoken to The Post telling stories similar to those shared more than four decades ago, including claims that they forked over huge sums to Odyssey while being emotionally abused and exploited.

In my 30 years of working in this field, this is one of the most secretive groups Ive encountered, said cult expert Rick Ross, a key witness in the recent Brooklyn trial of upstate sex cult Nxivm who tried unsuccessfully to stage an intervention for a member in the early 2000s.

After San Francisco, everything was hush-hush.

Hot on the heels of her role in the 1972 film version of Kurt Vonneguts sci-fi novel, Gans fell in love with Alex Horn, a playwright and mystic who ran a fledgling theater in the Golden Gate Citys Mission District, and moved from New York to San Francisco, according to divorce proceedings from her first husband.

Their acolytes became known in the neighborhood for aggressive panhandling stopping passersby and begging them to buy tickets to the shows that were mocked by local theater critics as punishing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time.

Inside the theater, members alleged to the paper they were invited to join a class that could help them improve their lives but were instead brainwashed, beaten and told to sell hundreds of tickets that enriched Gans and Horn.

The group denied doing anything illegal, immoral or dangerous but the couple closed up shop and left town.

They eventually resurfaced in Manhattan in the 1980s, starting a new group with the Odyssey name, real estate deeds and court documents show. When Horn died in 2007 at the age of 78, Gans took the throne, former members said.

Today, Odyssey is headquartered in a fourth-floor loft space in the Garment District. There is a smaller branch in Boston, Mass., where at least another hundred members have passed through over the years, according to former devotees.

Its unclear how many have joined Odyssey since the 1980s, but ex-students estimate the group has had up to 250 members at any given time over the past 30 years.

Members continue to recruit unwitting New Yorkers cultivating friendships with strangers in coffee shops, supermarket lines and other public spaces before inviting them to a philosophy group or acting class, according to former students involved in the recruitment process.

Esther Friedman, 54, says she was recruited when another member struck up a conversation with her in the checkout line at a Whole Foods in Cambridge, Mass., in 2006 and invited her to meet a group of friends. It all seemed aboveboard.

This is not a group where you live in a compound, said Friedman, a mental health counselor who left Odyssey in 2011. This is not one of those cookie-cutter images of living in a cult.

Members meet twice a week to study the teachings of philosophers George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and his protege P.D. Ouspensky, who believe that the path to self-development involves labor and intentional suffering.

In their pursuit of enlightenment, ex-students say, they were told to recruit others up to 50 people a week, according to one follower who quit in April this year and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Spencer Schneider, a Big Apple attorney who left the group in 2013 after nearly two decades, says Gans asked students to divulge their greatest weaknesses and insecurities to the class and then verbally assaulted and berated them.

Students are also forbidden from discussing their participation with anyone, including their spouses, and are warned not to use the internet, former acolytes said.

Sleep deprivation and hard labor are cornerstones of Odysseys teachings.

Former students recalled working on the organizations 19-acre property in upstate Pawling in the 1990s and 2000s staying awake for 24-hour periods to build large lodges under the guise of doing Gurdjieffs advanced work.

We would pretty much work around the clock the whole weekend for 48 hours and I was probably working 100 hours a week, said member Don Raskopf, 61, who lived on the Pawling estate as a supervisor with his wife and two children in the 1990s.After about six months of that, I learned I had a psychotic break just from the stress.

Each summer, the highest-ranking Odyssey members would do the same at the Gans family ranch in Montana, according to Schneider, who said students coughed up thousands of dollars to go to the property between the 1980s and 2000s.

He likened the abuse to Nxivms ritual of branding female members with leader Keith Ranieres initials a bizarre practice in the group exposed during Ranieres trial.

Sure, my genitals dont have Sharons initials on it, but my brain, my psyche has Sharon imprinted on it, Schneider said.

The Pawling estate was purchased by the nonprofit organization Hudson Valley Artists Foundation Inc. in 1998 and sold in 2004 for $1.4 million, according to public records.

The group thrived on wealthier devotees. A small group of deep-pocketed members poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the foundation from 1997 to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by The Post.

Members say they were also expected to pay monthly dues ranging from $100 to $400 making the checks out to OSG, according to documents obtained by The Post.

Meanwhile, the money and hard work were flowing into Gans pockets, according to Schneider and Raskopf, who said students labored on the apartments, condos and ranches that Gans later sold for big sums.

Shes a multimillionaire, said Raskopf. It comes from profit on flipping real estate built by students and from fees.

Gans purchased a villa in Mexico City in 2004 paying $310,000 before selling it to a student for $754,000 just four years later, according to public records.

Robert Klein who listed himself as the manager of OSG LLC, a study group associated with Odyssey, on tax documents transferred a three-bedroom West Village condo he owned to Gans in 2006, the records show.

Gans then sold the condo for $3.1 million in 2010, according to public records.

And one wealthy hedge-fund investor poured $3.2 million into Gans Plaza Hotel abode in 2008, according to a deposition in a 2014 upstate lawsuit he filed against another member. He said she kicked in $2 million of her own money, while Klein and two others named as followers in the Chronicle investigation paid for the rest, he said.

The sprawling, 2,100-square-foot apartment ultimately was purchased for $8.5 million, according to the deed. According to Schneider, the luxurious pad is decorated with bold colors, strewn with replicas of Renaissance art and has a stunning view of Central Park South.

But money grabbing and hard labor arent the most disturbing allegations leveled at Odyssey.

In a 2012 legal spat between two members, ex-member Charles Ward claimed the group had been accused of sexual predation, child abuse, racism, anti-homosexual behavior, illegal adoption, financial chicanery, coerced labor, sustained emotional cruelty, and the systematic looting of members wealth and that he had personally witnessed some of that alleged behavior.

Ward called it a cult.

I was, and the plaintiff still is, a member of a cult known as the Gans Group, said Ward, a member from 1988 to 2009.

In 2015, Gans own son, David Kulko, left the group and sued his siblings in an effort to dissolve the corporation that owned the Montana ranch.

Kulko said in Montana Supreme Court papers that after he left the cult in 2000, his family cut him out of the business and kicked him off the ranch that they used to support, finance, and shelter the operations of the Odyssey Study Group.

Many former members who spoke to The Post say they experienced severe PTSD, depression or even suicidal thoughts after leaving Odyssey.

It was like this world was opened to you and then it was suddenly ripped away, recalls actress Betsy Winslow, 56, who fled Odyssey 29 years ago.

For me, I think having a community is one of the biggest things, another member of 19 years confessed. I think its a part of the modern condition. We are lonely. I think we are all really lonely.

For Friedman, part of her recovery is talking about the group.

The more honest I am, the less power they have. Thats the trick of it, she said.

Reached several times by phone, Gans said shed never heard of Odyssey Study Group.

On one call, a woman who answered as Sharon later denied she was Sharon Gans and then hung up.

Repeated attempts to reach Robert Klein were unsuccessful.

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Inside the alleged 'cult' that has been quietly operating in NY for decades - New York Post

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November 15th, 2019 at 2:46 pm

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Ouspensky Today P D Ouspensky’s Fourth Way in Practice

Posted: October 2, 2017 at 7:52 pm


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The new book click for more

This website celebrates his life and work and the continuing development of his teaching by his pupils and successors in London UK from his death in 1947 to the present day.

The Chronology section is the online home of the P D Ouspensky Exhibition & Conference held at Colet House, London, UK, in 2007 the most comprehensive archive of material and images celebrating Ouspenskys life and work currently available online.

The Library section covers the continuing development of his teaching, with the Record of Audiences & Correspondence with His Holiness Shantananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotish Peeth 19601993, together with a new, fully comprehensive and easily used series of Indexes. The collected papers and meeting reports of Dr F.C. Roles from 19601982 comprise nearly 800 previously unpublished entries that illuminate every aspect of the Fourth Way. In addition, there is a continually growing collection of material by Ouspenskys direct successors up to the current day.

Even without touching upon the purpose of mankinds existence, within the limits of what we can know, we must admit that all the creative activity of mankind is the outcome of love. Our whole world turns around love as its centre.P.D. Ouspensky.

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Ouspensky Today P D Ouspensky's Fourth Way in Practice

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P.D. Ouspensky: We are machines – SpiritualTeachers.org

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 4:41 pm


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I still remember the excitement of reading P.D. Ouspenskys Psychology of Mans Possible Evolution for the first time. It was my first spiritual book and every page was packed with insights into my psychology. Our studies must begin with our selves and not with the heavens. Ouspensky drove home the idea that in our present state we are machines, that we are a conglomeration of voices rather than a unified whole, that we react rather than do, and that we must observe our machines in order to change. According to Ouspensky:

Our aim is to become one, to have one permanent I. But in the beginning work means to become more and more divided. You must realize how far you are from being one, and only when you know all these fractions of yourself can work begin on one or some principal Is around which unity can be built. It would be wrong understanding to unify all the things you find in yourself now. The new I is something you do not know at present; it grows from something you can trust. At first, in separating false personality from you, try to divide yourself into what you can call reliable and what you find unreliable.

It is in P.D. Ouspenskys aim that his system falls short. While there is talk of becoming a unified whole, a man number 5,6, or 7, there is no evidence that even Ouspensky attained the goal. Ouspensky even said that a school must have two levels: where man number 1,2, and 3 learns to become man number 4 and where man number 4 learns to become man number 5. By that definition, his organization was not really a school, he said. I think Ouspensky is a good beginning, but not a complete system. He lays the foundation for studying our psychology and getting our lives in order, but doesnt venture into the true nature of the mind.

However, the teaching of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff was reportedly by word of mouth. I have only read the books and not studied with a school of this tradition, so I may be missing much data. Objective information on schools is scarce. Even the Gurdjieff Foundation states that there are many spurious groups and declines to provide any contact information. Remember to be wary of those demanding money. Anyone who really knew the Truth would laugh at the idea of charging for it.

GurdjieffClub.com: Links to many Fourth Way groups all over the world.

A reader commented, I enjoyed reading your reviews of the other spiritual teachers too, and particularly happy to see my P.D Ouspensky among them. When reading your thoughts on him, I was surprised to find no mention of his masterpiece, In Search of the Miraculous. Indeed, if you have not read it, I would like to state thatPsychology of Mans Possible Evolution can be considered a distillation of Gurdjieffs teaching, and In Search of the Miraculous its full exposition, running several hundred pages long.

Indeed, such is the case. In Search of the Miraculous covers the years 1915 to 1917 when Ouspensky first met Gurdjieff. It documents many conversations between the two, as well as Ouspenskys frank reactions to Gurdjieffs ideas. Another of Ouspenskys books, The Fourth Way, contains transcripts of Ouspenskys lectures and meetings after his split with Gurdjieff. All three books were published after his death in 1947.

Here is the only video footage Im aware of that shows G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspenskys teacher:

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P.D. Ouspensky: We are machines - SpiritualTeachers.org

Written by grays

August 20th, 2017 at 4:41 pm

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P.D. Ouspensky: Spiritual Teacher

Posted: October 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm


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I still remember the excitement of reading P.D. Ouspensky's Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution for the first time. It was my first spiritual book and every page was packed with insights into my psychology. Our studies must begin with our selves and not with the heavens. Ouspensky drove home the idea that in our present state we are machines, that we are a conglomeration of voices rather than a unified whole, that we react rather than do, and that we must observe our machines in order to change. According to Ouspensky:

Our aim is to become one, to have one permanent "I". But in the beginning work means to become more and more divided. You must realize how far you are from being one, and only when you know all these fractions of yourself can work begin on one or some principal "I"s around which unity can be built. It would be wrong understanding to unify all the things you find in yourself now. The new "I" is something you do not know at present; it grows from something you can trust. At first, in separating false personality from you, try to divide yourself into what you can call reliable and what you find unreliable.

It is in Ouspensky's aim that his system falls short. While there is talk of becoming a unified whole, a man number 5,6, or 7, there is no evidence that even Ouspensky attained the goal. Ouspensky even said that a school must have two levels: where man number 1,2, and 3 learns to become man number 4 and where man number 4 learns to become man number 5. By that definition, his organization was not really a school, he said. I think Ouspensky is a good beginning, but not a complete system. He lays the foundation for studying our psychology and getting our lives in order, but doesn't venture into the true nature of the mind.

However, the teaching of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff was reportedly by word of mouth. I have only read the books and not studied with a school of this tradition, so I may be missing much data. Objective information on schools is scarce. Even the Gurdjieff Foundation states that there are many spurious groups and declines to provide any contact information. Remember to be wary of those demanding money. Anyone who really knew the Truth would laugh at the idea of charging for it. Try: http://www.fourthway.info: a database of contact information for people interested in the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Fourth Way teachings.

http://www.kheper.net/topics/Gurdjieff/links.htm: Links to many "Fourth Way" schools.

2011 update: A reader commented, "I enjoyed reading your reviews of the other spiritual teachers too, and particularly happy to see my P.D Ouspensky among them. When reading your thoughts on him, I was surprised to find no mention of his masterpiece, In Search of the Miraculous. Indeed, if you have not read it, I would like to state that Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution can be considered a distillation of Gurdjieff''s teaching, and In Search of the Miraculous its full exposition, running several hundered pages long."

Indeed, such is the case. In Search of the Miraculous covers the years 1915 to 1917 when Ouspensky first met Gurdjieff. It documents many conversations between the two, as well as Ouspensky's frank reactions to Gurdjieff's ideas. Another of Ouspensky's books, The Fourth Way, contains transcripts of Ouspensky's lectures and meetings after his split with Gurdjieff. All three books were published after his death in 1947.

Here is the only video footage I'm aware of that shows G.I. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky's teacher:

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Last Update: August 2, 2015

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P.D. Ouspensky: Spiritual Teacher

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October 1st, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Posted in P.d. Ouspensky