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Lena Phoenix

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Member Since: Oct, 2006

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The Heart of a Cult
by Lena Phoenix   

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Literary Fiction

Publisher:  Garuda, Inc. ISBN-10:  0978548302


Copyright:  2006

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The Heart of a Cult Bookstore

Set adrift by sudden unemployment, web designer Michelle Thomson is at an impasse in her life when she is introduced to a charismatic spiritual teacher known only as Ma. Though initially skeptical, Michelle is soon captivated by Maís energy and insight and begins to find new meaning both in Maís teachings and as a member of her insular community. While at first she blossoms under Maís guidance, when Michelle uncovers deception at the heart of all she has come to believe in, she is forced to face the ultimate test any spiritual teacher can give.


I never intended to join a cult. Like most people, I assumed that cults involved Kool-Aid and Nikes and dangerous madmen who would teach you that suicide was the most direct path to God. Cults were things that happened far away, to other people. People who were nothing like me.

I suppose none of us likes to think of ourselves as cult material. But there is in fact a type, a kind of person who is more susceptible to the influences of groups who may not always be what they first appear. This was the kind of person I suddenly became, just before my thirtieth birthday.

You see, one of the things that makes you susceptible to these kinds of groups is change. It happens all the time to everyone, but certain kinds of change can make you vulnerable. The job of change is to uproot us, to tear us away from the familiar so we can open our minds to the new. But in the space between shedding the old and discovering the new, the path is not always a clear one. Itís easy to be tempted by the illusion of a group that seems to have all the answers that, ultimately, we need to find for ourselves.

For me, the catalyst was the loss of my job. It was such a simple thing, but it unleashed a cascade of reactions that undermined the stable framework of my life. In a very short period of time, I went from being a focused, levelheaded career woman to someone who was very confused about what to do with my life. I suppose I was just lucky that Heavenís Gate didnít find me first.

The group I hooked up with wasnít that bad, of course. There were no suicides, no surrendering of personal assets, no proselytizing on street corners. They would even deny that they were a cultóbut then, people who are in these groups always do.

And at first, it all seemed so perfect. They offered me a wise and charismatic teacher, a loving and supportive community, and a sense of purpose Iíd been sorely lacking. I truly thought this woman and her group were the answer to my problems, the light that would lead me forward into the next phase of my life. And in a way, thatís exactly what they did. It just wasnít at all like I thought it was going to be.

You see, the cult I joined, the guru I found, all that was really just a doorway. They seduced me gently in, then shoved me brutally forward into the depths of real growth, into the white hot fire of transformation that burned away everything Iíd ever known about myself until there was nothing recogniz-able left. It was not at all what I had signed up for. But by the time I discovered what was really going on, it was far too late to turn back.†††††

Professional Reviews

IPPY Award Winner
The Heart of a Cult is the winner of a Silver Medal in the 2007 Independent Publisher Awards Visionary Fiction Category

Illuminating and Entertaining
"One of the many achievements of..."The Heart of a Cult" that it realistically explores the vast gray area...[of cults] without ever resorting to sensationalism. Cults, Phoenix reveals, are not always easy to define or identify. Most alternative spiritual groups tend be made up of smart, idealistic people, not wackos. And while such groups can be destructive, they can also offer real benefits to participants...The story feels refreshingly real and doesn't resort of over-the-top plotting to keep the reader turning pages...Phoenix is a smart, clean writer who knows how to create believable characters through dialogue and just a few salient details...Although self-published, The Heart of a Cult is better written and more readable than half the titles on many major publisher's front lists...Lena Phoenix offers a knowing, engaging and deeply human look at a borderline cult that illuminates as much as it entertains." The Daily Camera

Great Story with Wonderful Spiritual Lessons
"The Heart of a Cult demystifies what a cult is like, with a very realistic and evocative portrayal of a spiritual community. The process of Phoenix's protagonist's introduction to this community and the personal development of the protagonist feels completely authentic. Phoenix's story neither condones nor condemns, but lets the reader create their own view from an inside look into becoming involved with a spiritual community and being involved with a spiritual teacher."

"Phoenix is a truly delightful writer. She touches on life issues that face all of us, especially those with an interest in spiritual growth and discovery. This is a great read and leaves you with a sense of possibility and hope."

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Reader Reviews for "The Heart of a Cult"

Reviewed by Michele Cozzens 10/12/2006
One Woman's Journey

The Heart of a Cult is a captivating story about a vulnerable young woman spiriling into what she perceives to be a spiritual awakening, but what turns out to be not much more than a reality check AND enormous debt.

The narrator, Michelle, a Denver-based web site designer suddenly finds herself downsized. Facing her 30th birthday without a job (or a boyfriend), and a best friend who is so engrossed with her new boyfriend and a spiritual teacher known as "Ma," Michelle allows herself to be talked into attending a lecture in Boulder. Something clicks for Michelle when she enters this seemingly welcoming community and she ends up moving to Boulder and investing an enormous amount of money she doesn't have to a lecture series. Further, she volunteers her time to create a web site for Ma, a project she'd normally charge $5000 to complete.

The style Lena Phoenix presents feels more like memoir than fiction, and this makes it easy for the reader to not only believe everything that happens, but also to understand it. Instead of getting upset with Michelle for handing over more cash and more hours, and for rationalizing so many of the inconsistencies in Ma's teachings, I found myself saying, "yes, I can see how easy it is for a person in this situation to behave like this and believe these things."

The writing is easy to read, several typos notwithstanding, and I recommend for readers who enjoy reading first novels and for anyone interested in learning more about how and why people get involved with cults or alternative spiritual quests.

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