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I visited Edinburgh and ended up in a cult for 20 years – my mum screamed I’d been kidnapped

A FORMER teacher has told how she ended up in a cult for 20 years amid her family’s fears she had been kidnapped following a trip to the Edinburgh fringe.

Anthea Church, of Tunbridge Wells, used to get up in the middle of the night to wear white clothes and intensely meditate before work as part of her membership of spiritual cult Brahma Kumaris.

Kent College
Former teacher Athena Church has told of her 20 years in a spiritual cult[/caption]
Kent College
The now author joined after visiting the Edinburgh Fringe in 1980[/caption]
She said her new novel Liftman is informed by her experience in the cult

Founded in India in 1937, Brahma Kumaris has a number of meditation centres across the globe.

They say they wish to spread their belief in “personal transformation and world renewal.”

The group teach a type of meditation that identifies humans as souls rather than bodies.

Ms Church stumbled across the group when she visited the capital’s international festival in 1980 – shortly after graduating from Oxford University studying English aged 20.

But after the chance encounter with the group, Anthea later found herself living at a communal house in Willesden Green, London for almost 20 years.

The now 66-year-old spoke to Kent Online about the two decades where she lived a double life.

She said: “I thought they were completely bonkers, but I had been taught at Oxford to deconstruct every theory.

“We spoke about the soul and then completed a meditation. It was a spiritual experience that I could not argue with.”

But back home in Devon where her family lived at the time, Anthea’s mother got extremely worried and alerted the media.

Anthea continued: “My mother rang up the BBC and said ‘my daughter’s been kidnapped’.

“They were absolutely traumatised. They didn’t really talk to me about it, they obviously thought it was very weird, but loved me throughout.”

Brahma Kumaris believe in complete celibacy, early morning meditation and wearing white clothes to symbolise purity.

Members have to stick to a lacto-vegetarian diet, cooked only by themselves or those in the group.

They also follow the discipline of bathing or showering after every bowel movement.

To follow her beliefs, Anthea would continue to work in her teaching job, but set her alarm for 3.30am to fit in her “punishing” routine.

She would dress in white, before driving to the meditation centre.

After she would have a shower, get changed and repeat the action.

By 7am, she would be back in her professional clothes ready to start her working day in Parliament Hill School, London’s Camden.

Anthea changed back into white clothes after work and drove back to the meditation centre for evening classes.

Anthea added: “In the first ten years I was happy and glad to be free of the mundane aspects of life.

“Later on I couldn’t sleep at all.

“It became very difficult to get up. The whole thing unravelled for me because it was just too hard to sustain that routine.

“I’d go to bed relatively early. You were expected to continue with your professional life, or some would surrender to the whole thing and not have a job.

“They would just work to keep the community going.”

On August 30, 1997, Anthea moved out of the common lodgings in London and became head of English at a school in Kent.

She said: “I remember the day I left and I had all my possessions in one car.

“A lot of people who left either fell in love or started to think that the teachings were not right.

“I didn’t think I was leaving – I just thought I was getting a new job. I would go back to London sometimes and still participate in their teachings.

“However I was extremely tired and not well. I started to gradually distance myself.”

Athena – now retired from teaching – has established herself as an author with her third novel ‘Liftman’ inspired by her ordeal.

She added: “Part of me felt like I was betraying that group by writing that story.

“I do scrutinise and show the dangers of it.

“I hope that it might allow people who are on the edge of that group to feel validated in questioning the teachings.”

Liftman was published January 30.

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