Former members warn of abuse at ‘sacred sexuality’ courses & More Trending News


Some former college students and academics of so-called “sacred sexuality” courses in New Zealand and abroad are accusing these working them of turning a blind eye to predators.

This story accommodates graphic descriptions and sexual references.

By Ruth Hill for

Football Highlights

They declare they’ve suffered emotional, bodily and sexual abuse at courses costing 1000’s of {dollars} run by the International School of Temple Arts (ISTA), together with at “Highden Temple”, a sprawling Victorian-era mansion in rural Manawatū.

ISTA markets itself as a path to self-discovery, freedom and non secular awakening by way of particular person and group sexuality.

However, former Auckland-based tantra trainer Anna*, who joined ISTA for “professional development” but additionally to take care of previous trauma, mentioned the alternative was true for her.

On the primary evening of her Level 1 “Spiritual Sexual Shamanic Experience” in Israel, college students have been informed to strip and shed their worry, judgement, anxiousness or no matter was holding them again.

“It sounds freeing as you are getting naked, but I realise looking back on it now it was about disarming you of your discernment, disarming you of your idea of what’s right or wrong. We were being initiated into the retreat,” Anna mentioned.

Exercises throughout the week-long course differ, however might embrace the “removal” ceremony simply described, the “self-love” ceremony (public masturbation), the “sacred spot” ceremony (vaginal or anal therapeutic massage in randomly assigned pairs) and “yoni gazing” by which feminine volunteers expose their genitalia to the remaining of the group.

Participants who’ve accomplished ISTA coaching in New Zealand and abroad have described how at “temple nights” every night, persons are free to method others and make requests of them, normally sexual.

Israel’s lead facilitator Ohad Pele Ezrahi – a former orthodox rabbi – was main Anna’s coaching, and she or he mentioned she may “feel his eye” on her from the beginning.

He was there along with his spouse of 30 years, Dawn Cherie Ezrahi, who can also be an ISTA facilitator, and his girlfriend (a Dutch girl in her 20s), however Anna mentioned it was not lengthy earlier than he approached her at a “temple night”.

He requested what her boundaries have been and she or he informed him “no penetration” – however then with out warning, she says he pulled down her underwear and began performing oral intercourse on her.

“I was completely grossed out by that point and then he said, ‘I know what your body likes, I know what your boundaries are’. And I thought, ‘Maybe this is what my body wants’, so I submitted.

“That was my Level 1 expertise – I got here in with trauma and I got here out disassociated.”

Ezrahi is not currently teaching, reportedly having taken time for “reflection” after an article earlier this year in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, accusing him and other key figures in the conscious sexuality movement of sexual abuse.

He has not responded to RNZ’s questions about the allegation.

However, in response to Haaretz regarding a similar incident, he claimed everything described by the woman in that case happened as part of “role-playing video games”, not a personal interaction.

There was “no intention, heaven forbid, to hurt or offend any of the contributors” but he regretted this was her experience, he said, even if it was “not essentially in line with the details”.

An atmosphere of confusion, obedience and manipulation

ISTA appears to have suspended activity in Israel following the adverse publicity but not made an official statement regarding this.

One of the Israeli whistleblowers told RNZ that “as a younger man with no previous trauma”, he enjoyed ISTA Level 1.

However, he later realised some people were having traumatic experiences and there was no recognition of that by the leadership.

“They name it a ‘container’, proper? It’s a loopy setting. It’s gradual, the actions get increasingly more excessive over the week. And you do not get to sleep rather a lot,” he said.

“So all this creates like an environment of individuals being very confused, being obedient, being very simply manipulated.”

During five years doing ISTA courses both at Highden Temple in New Zealand and overseas, Anna had sexual relations with several leaders, facilitators, and other participants during “workout routines”, which she describes as “rituals and orgies”.

“Everyone’s doing it, so when you really feel like there’s one thing off along with your discernment, then it have to be you…

“It’s like do-it-yourself gaslighting. They don’t even have to gaslight you, you gaslight yourself.”

Since 2017, all ISTA trainings in New Zealand have been held at Highden Temple in Manawatū, based by New Zealander Bruce Lyon, who helped develop the ISTA curriculum and continues to facilitate courses and advise its management.

Highden affords its personal six-week “Temple Training” course, which is separate to ISTA, though most of its academics are additionally ISTA facilitators or graduates.

In response to questions by RNZ, Lyon mentioned he was not conscious of any complaints of a sexual nature involving Highden.

Under a brand new protocol adopted in November 2021, Temple Training academics didn’t interact sexually with contributors, he mentioned.

Highden additionally suggested contributors to be acutely aware round sexuality with one another, as this might “sometimes be a distraction from their initiation process”.

Tauranga-based sexologist and intimacy information Ellie Wilde spent 11 years with ISTA as a pupil, assistant and facilitator – together with at Highden Temple – however has now minimize ties with it.

While ISTA purports to show and apply consent, she felt boundaries have been typically pushed.

“There were many times where I would be on the microphone trying to lead the group, guiding them toward feeling themselves more deeply, when I would get this this tap on the shoulder, like ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’,” Wilde mentioned.

“There was this pressure to get them further along than I felt like they needed to be, in the programme. I felt we were rushing the boundaries part. I often felt this pressure to make things more sexual/intense/hyper than I felt they should have been.”

She got here to imagine that permitting facilitators to have sexual contact with contributors was incorrect as a result of of the inherent energy imbalance, and have become more and more fearful about what she noticed as the shortage of “trauma informed care”.

When she tried to boost these issues with the management, she was dismissed – or attacked herself.

“I would often walk away from those conversations feeling like I was damaged or there was something wrong with me – whereas now I can see the alarm bells were going off inside me for good reason.”

Wellington girl Bia Bliss, an holistic sexologist, felt like she had discovered her “tribe” in ISTA by way of trainings, festivals and volunteering at Highden.

“You go in there for a week and you come out with this whole new language and view of the world and the possibilities,” Bliss mentioned.

She set her sights on changing into an ISTA facilitator, the elite group who journey the world, educating courses in unique places.

However, she admits there have been pink flags from the beginning.

She seen those that “refused to follow the script” have been typically publicly shamed.

At a Level 2 course at Highden Temple in 2017, Bliss mentioned she suffered a violent, unprovoked assault from one other girl, who grabbed her by the hair and cracked her head towards one other particular person’s cranium.

She felt that facilitators shut down her makes an attempt to get redress and that some trainers refused to let anybody depart the room, even when they have been distressed.

“So if you see someone else being called out, you’re going to be like, OK, I’m just going to follow along with the programme because I don’t want to be embarrassed like that person.”

ISTA facilitators have been free to have sexual contact with college students, however college students needed to make the primary transfer and the facilitator needed to search “permission” from the opposite leaders.

However, Bliss mentioned this didn’t recognise the facility imbalance.

Having grown up in a chaotic family, ISTA “felt like home” to her.

“For me it was comfortable. It was more more more intensity, more chaos, more dysregulation, more cathartic release.

“Why would I be right here coping with the the mundane after I could possibly be in a container the place I haven’t got to do something? I’m informed when to get up, when to eat, when to take breaks, I did not should take any accountability for my life.”

A close friend of hers who had an abusive childhood told RNZ he felt sexually violated after being approached by two assistants during an exercise, while in a vulnerable state.

Bliss admits as an assistant, she found herself unconsciously manipulating students to whom she had an attraction, giving them “further consideration” until they gravitated towards her.

“I did not know I used to be doing that as a result of that was what I used to be observing that was occurring within the so-called area. It was ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

“Because that’s what you do, you get to hook up with the cuties, you know, and also because I’m an assistant, I have more visibility.”

‘If you’ll be able to’t be a sufferer, there aren’t any abusers’

Having already escaped a cult in her 20s, Californian life coach “Jane” (not her actual identify) by no means believed she would get sucked into one thing like that once more.

“Realising that ISTA, which seemed like a dream come true and the answer to so many things, is actually a f**king nightmare, has pulled the rug out from under me,” Jane mentioned.

ISTA contributors are required to signal a covenant, which incorporates the assertion: “I agree to take full responsibility for the nature of my experience”.

Jane believes this provides predators the proper cowl.

“If you can’t be a victim, there are no abusers. If there are no abusers, that works really well for them because they get to do it without ever being held accountable.”

When she first heard about a web-based marketing campaign to boost issues about ISTA, she thought she may assist take these issues again to the organisation and get change.

However, she not thinks that’s attainable.

Issues with ISTA

Because anybody can name themselves a intercourse therapist, there is no such thing as a skilled physique to which individuals could make complaints.

However, some survivors, activists and acutely aware sexuality professionals have lately shaped a gaggle referred to as Safer Sex-Positive Spiritual Communities.

They are gathering accounts of hurt from individuals all over the world, which they intend to collate and current to ISTA and make public through a web site to advocate for change.

ISTA’s Governance Circle – Triambika Vive, Elaine Young and Komala Lyra – declined an interview.

However, in a press release to RNZ they mentioned ISTA was “committed to offering trainings that provide an opportunity for personal growth and transformation, held in an environment of care and support for our participants”.

ISTA was “already in the process of updating systems and practices” when it turned conscious of “individuals wishing to share broader feedback”.

“We acted on this and immediately began to upgrade and widen our avenues for receiving feedback.”

It has contracted third get together mediators and begun work on bettering its consumption course of, college coaching and follow-up care.

However in addition they say ISTA has been the goal of a web-based marketing campaign of lies and misinformation “alongside some genuine grievances”.

This has brought on “significant financial loss, professional damage, and emotional distress” they usually might think about authorized motion.

Highden Temple founder Bruce Lyon additionally declined an interview.

In a written assertion to RNZ he mentioned grievances could possibly be heard by an in-house panel (together with a scientific psychologist, lawyer and therapist) or third-party mediation was additionally accessible.

“While we do have facilitators who have had trauma training, the programme at Highden is not operating out of the therapeutic model.

“We require contributors to be self-responsible relating to managing their private course of and we suggest they proceed to work with certified therapists who perceive our method.”

An “open letter” statement on Highden’s website posted this week acknowledges that in the early years they did not have “the infrastructure” to support those with historic trauma who became triggered during training, but there was now “a larger deal with care and assist”.

“Our educating group are additionally partaking in exterior skilled improvement trainings to assist a deeper understanding of the influence of trauma and somatic consciousness.”

Former facilitator Ellie Wilde is sceptical that ISTA can be reformed.

“I believe it must be burned to the bottom first. Certain individuals must go and it wants to return again out of the ashes and do issues a distinct means.”

The entire “acutely aware sexuality” movement needed an overhaul, she said.

“I would like these locations to change into safer for individuals who need to expertise them – it is nonetheless necessary work… But if you’ll work on this space, it is advisable be trauma knowledgeable.”

What is the International School of Temple Arts?

t claims to be a non-profit “organism” – not an organisation, “a transmission of the life pressure, clothed in love and expressing creatively on the planet” with a vision to “develop consciousness and sexuality throughout the globe”.

It was founded by former supplements magnate Baba Dez Nichols in 2007.

After the Phoenix Goddess Temple in Sedona was raided and closed down as a “prostitution ring” in 2011, ISTA evolved into a global “motion” with no head office.

Its “college” is made up of facilitators, assistants and apprentices.

A rotation of three facilitators form a “Governance Circle” and there is also a “Wisdom Circle”, who can be called on for advice.

It offers courses in “non secular, sexual and shamanic” practices at temporary “temple areas” around the world. In November, courses will be held in Poland, Bali, Croatia, the United States, Turkey, Mexico and Costa Rica.

It has previously held courses in Auckland and Tauranga but has used Highden Temple near Palmerston North as its New Zealand base since 2017.

The 124-year-old stately manor was built for for Walter Woods Johnston, the first MP for Manawatū and was subsequently a seminary for Catholic priests for 50 years before being turned into a wedding venue and then a “thriller faculty and temple”.

As well as being a venue for ISTA programmes, Highden Temple runs its own six-week “Temple Trainings”, under the auspices of ISTA facilitator Bruce Lyon.


Where to get help:

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 – push 0 at the menu

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334

Male Survivors Aotearoa

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) 022 344 0496

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