Harry Palmer claims to be a psychologist who "discovered" Avatar in a flotation tank. In reality, he is a former Scientologist who runs a worldwide multi-level marketing scheme delivering the Avatar Course at $2,395 US. Then students are recruited to "upper level" courses costing up to $7,500.
Unlike Scientology, the Avatar movement doesn't claim religious status. Star's Edge is a for-profit personal development enterprise that supposedly "contributes to an enlightened planetary civilization." (In Scientology-speak, "a cleared planet.")
Avatar is basically a quasi-religious cult. Founder Harry Palmer studied Scientology and headed a "mission" in upstate New York for nearly 15 years before being excommunicated in 1986. Then he had an epiphany: "If Ron [Hubbard] could do it, I can do it too!" he exclaimed, says a former staff member. Months later, Palmer introduced the Avatar Course to disaffected Scientologists, promising "the entire Scientology bridge, the Buddha path and beyond." He claimed the techniques were "discovered" during sensory deprivation experiments in a flotation tank. To ensure "proper transmission" and control -- he says the processes must be kept confidential and proprietary.
Those who have analyzed the course say it's an amalgam of New Age affirmations, Scientology drills, autohypnosis and Tibetan mediation techniques.
The key process involves the "discreation" of negative beliefs, visualized in trance as thought-forms or "bubbles." After one vanishes, the vacuum in mental space can be replaced with a better belief. After the course, most students experience a strong euphoria that may last for weeks. Once the high wears off, some say they have experienced anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or deep depression resembling the downside of bipolar disorder. If they ask teachers for advice, they'll probably be told to repeat the course and experience deeper levels -- or better yet, sign up for the next one.
The basic Avatar course is delivered by about 1,000 licensed "Masters" who pay a royalty of 15-25% of a prescribed course fee ($2,395 US). They in turn recruit their students to take the Master course, which costs $3,000 US. Once provisionally licensed, they pay "supervision fees" to intern under the original Master under a multilevel marketing arrangement. It is estimated that more than 85% of all Avatar Masters who took the trainer course are now inactive due to lack of students. Unlike Amway distributors, they didn't even end up with a stack of cleaning products in the garage.
Palmer now says he is an "educational psychologist," apparently to camouflage his history; but a public records reveal that he has never held a mental health credential. Despite the self-conferred title, some of his teachings express antipathy toward conventional health care. Avatar Masters have advised students with bipolar disorder to discontinue medication, sometimes with disastrous results.
At the higest level annual Wizard Course ($7,500), students learn that drugs and surgery are misguided attempts at healing, because all human ills -- including AIDS and cancer -- are really caused by "entities," possessive spirits that are exorcised using telepathic commands similar to Scientology's techniques to eliminate "body thetans." There's also outer space mythology: an intergalactic "blight bomb" caused by indoctrination experiments gone awry on the planet Karsak of Triton. Scientology's evil galactic overlord Xenu has not yet appeared.
Like Scientology's bizarre myths, these doctrines are kept secret until students are prepared -- or sufficiently indoctrinated to accept them. An even bigger secret may be that they're recycled from Scientology.
San Francisco, California