Former members warn of abuse at ‘sacred sexuality’ programs & Extra Information


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

This story comprises graphic descriptions and sexual references.

By Ruth Hill for

Football Highlights

They declare they’ve suffered emotional, bodily and sexual abuse at programs costing 1000’s of {dollars} run by the Worldwide Faculty 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.

Nonetheless, former Auckland-based tantra trainer Anna*, who joined ISTA for “skilled growth” but in addition to take care of previous trauma, stated the alternative was true for her.

On the primary evening of her Degree 1 “Religious Sexual Shamanic Expertise” in Israel, college students had been advised to strip and shed their concern, judgement, nervousness or no matter was holding them again.

“It sounds liberating as you’re getting bare, however I realise wanting again on it now it was about disarming you of your discernment, disarming you of your thought of what is proper or incorrect. We had been being initiated into the retreat,” Anna stated.

Workout routines through the week-long course differ, however could embrace the “removing” 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” wherein feminine volunteers expose their genitalia to the remainder of the group.

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

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

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

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

“I used to be fully grossed out by that time after which he stated, ‘I do know what your physique likes, I do know what your boundaries are’. And I believed, ‘Possibly that is what my physique needs’, so I submitted.

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

Ezrahi just isn’t presently instructing, reportedly having taken time for “reflection” after an article earlier this 12 months within the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, accusing him and different key figures within the aware sexuality motion of sexual abuse.

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

Nonetheless, in response to Haaretz concerning an identical incident, he claimed all the pieces described by the lady in that case occurred as a part of “role-playing video games”, not a private interplay.

There was “no intention, heaven forbid, to hurt or offend any of the individuals” however he regretted this was her expertise, he stated, even when it was “not essentially in keeping with the information”.

An environment of confusion, obedience and manipulation

ISTA seems to have suspended exercise in Israel following the opposed publicity however not made an official assertion concerning this.

One of many Israeli whistleblowers advised RNZ that “as a younger man with no previous trauma”, he loved ISTA Degree 1.

Nonetheless, he later realised some folks had been having traumatic experiences and there was no recognition of that by the management.

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

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

Throughout 5 years doing ISTA programs each at Highden Temple in New Zealand and abroad, Anna had sexual relations with a number of leaders, facilitators, and different individuals throughout “workout routines”, which she describes as “rituals and orgies”.

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

“It is like do-it-yourself gaslighting. They do not even should gaslight you, you gaslight your self.”

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 programs and advise its management.

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

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

Beneath a brand new protocol adopted in November 2021, Temple Coaching lecturers didn’t have interaction sexually with individuals, he stated.

Highden additionally suggested individuals to be aware round sexuality with one another, as this might “generally be a distraction from their initiation course of”.

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 reduce ties with it.

Whereas ISTA purports to show and observe consent, she felt boundaries had been generally pushed.

“There have been many occasions the place I’d be on the microphone making an attempt to guide the group, guiding them towards feeling themselves extra deeply, after I would get this this faucet on the shoulder, like ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’,” Wilde stated.

“There was this strain to get them additional alongside than I felt like they wanted to be, within the programme. I felt we had been dashing the boundaries half. I usually felt this strain to make issues extra sexual/intense/hyper than I felt they need to have been.”

She got here to consider that permitting facilitators to have sexual contact with individuals was incorrect due to the inherent energy imbalance, and have become more and more anxious about what she noticed as the dearth of “trauma knowledgeable care”.

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

“I’d usually stroll away from these conversations feeling like I used to be broken or there was one thing incorrect with me – whereas now I can see the alarm bells had been going off inside me for good purpose.”

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 per week and also you come out with this complete new language and examine of the world and the probabilities,” Bliss stated.

She set her sights on changing into an ISTA facilitator, the elite group who journey the world, instructing programs in unique areas.

Nonetheless, she admits there have been crimson flags from the beginning.

She seen those that “refused to comply with the script” had been generally publicly shamed.

At a Degree 2 course at Highden Temple in 2017, Bliss stated 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 go away the room, even when they had been distressed.

“So should you see another person being referred to as out, you are going to be like, OK, I am simply going to comply with together with the programme as a result of I do not wish to be embarrassed like that particular person.”

ISTA facilitators had 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.

Nonetheless, Bliss stated this didn’t recognise the ability imbalance.

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

“For me it was comfy. It was extra extra extra depth, extra chaos, extra dysregulation, extra cathartic launch.

“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 am advised when to get up, when to eat, when to take breaks, I did not should take any duty for my life.”

A detailed good friend of hers who had an abusive childhood advised RNZ he felt sexually violated after being approached by two assistants throughout an train, whereas in a susceptible state.

Bliss admits as an assistant, she discovered herself unconsciously manipulating college students to whom she had an attraction, giving them “further consideration” till they gravitated in direction of 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’.

“As a result of that is what you do, you get to hook up with the cuties, you already know, and in addition as a result of I am an assistant, I’ve extra visibility.”

‘If you cannot be a sufferer, there are not any abusers’

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

“Realising that ISTA, which appeared like a dream come true and the reply to so many issues, is definitely a f**king nightmare, has pulled the rug out from beneath me,” Jane stated.

ISTA individuals are required to signal a covenant, which incorporates the assertion: “I conform to take full duty for the character of my expertise”.

Jane believes this offers predators the right cowl.

“If you cannot be a sufferer, there are not any abusers. If there are not any abusers, that works very well for them as a result of they get to do it with out ever being held accountable.”

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

Nonetheless, she not thinks that’s doable.

Points with ISTA

As a result of anybody can name themselves a intercourse therapist, there isn’t a skilled physique to which individuals could make complaints.

Nonetheless, some survivors, activists and aware sexuality professionals have just lately shaped a bunch referred to as Safer Intercourse-Constructive Religious Communities.

They’re gathering accounts of hurt from folks 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 Younger and Komala Lyra – declined an interview.

Nonetheless, in an announcement to RNZ they stated ISTA was “dedicated to providing trainings that present a possibility for private progress and transformation, held in an setting of care and assist for our individuals”.

ISTA was “already within the technique of updating techniques and practices” when it grew to become conscious of “people wishing to share broader suggestions”.

“We acted on this and instantly started to improve and widen our avenues for receiving suggestions.”

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

Nonetheless additionally they say ISTA has been the goal of a web-based marketing campaign of lies and misinformation “alongside some real grievances”.

This has prompted “important monetary loss, skilled injury, and emotional misery” they usually could think about authorized motion.

Highden Temple founder Bruce Lyon additionally declined an interview.

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

“Whereas we do have facilitators who’ve had trauma coaching, the programme at Highden just isn’t working out of the therapeutic mannequin.

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

An “open letter” assertion on Highden’s web site posted this week acknowledges that within the early years they didn’t have “the infrastructure” to assist these with historic trauma who grew to become triggered throughout coaching, however there was now “a better give attention to care and assist”.

“Our instructing group are additionally participating in exterior skilled growth trainings to assist a deeper understanding of the affect of trauma and somatic consciousness.”

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

“I believe it must be burned to the bottom first. Sure folks have to go and it wants to return again out of the ashes and do issues a special manner.”

Your entire “aware sexuality” motion wanted an overhaul, she stated.

“I would like these locations to turn out to be safer for individuals who wish to expertise them – it is nonetheless vital work… But when you’re going to work on this space, you could be trauma knowledgeable.”

What’s the Worldwide Faculty of Temple Arts?

t claims to be a non-profit “organism” – not an organisation, “a transmission of the life drive, clothed in love and expressing creatively on the earth” with a imaginative and prescient to “broaden consciousness and sexuality throughout the globe”.

It was based by former dietary 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 developed into a worldwide “motion” with no head workplace.

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

A rotation of three facilitators type a “Governance Circle” and there’s additionally a “Knowledge Circle”, who will be referred to as on for recommendation.

It provides programs in “non secular, sexual and shamanic” practices at short-term “temple areas” all over the world. In November, programs might be held in Poland, Bali, Croatia, america, Turkey, Mexico and Costa Rica.

It has beforehand held programs in Auckland and Tauranga however has used Highden Temple close to Palmerston North as its New Zealand base since 2017.

The 124-year-old stately manor was constructed for for Walter Woods Johnston, the primary MP for Manawatū and was subsequently a seminary for Catholic clergymen for 50 years earlier than being was a marriage venue after which a “thriller college and temple”.

In addition to being a venue for ISTA programmes, Highden Temple runs its personal six-week “Temple Trainings”, beneath the auspices of ISTA facilitator Bruce Lyon.


The place to get assist:

NZ Police

Sufferer Help 0800 842 846

Rape Disaster 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Training

Empowerment Belief

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

Secure to speak: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, assist folks and people with dangerous sexual behaviour: 0800044334

Male Survivors Aotearoa

Survivors Community of these Abused by Monks (SNAP) 022 344 0496

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