Druid Cultists Recruit, Fleece NAU Converts

The Arizona Daily Star/December 2, 1977

Enticed by outdoor life, fellowship and secrets of tarot, herbs and astrology, Northern Arizona University students have had their wills broken and possessions taken by a Druid cult in northern New Mexico, former members say.

Recruiting continues at the Flagstaff school and in New Mexico and Colorado, said Mark Wildermuth of Northbrook, Illinois, and Mark Friese of Mesa. They are two of four NAU students recovered from the cult by parents and law officers.

Two former women cult members, identified only as "Phoenix" and "Simone," declined to talk about their experience.

The Druid cult is "virtually unknown" and "pseudo-religious," Friese said. He said he was drawn to it in December 1975 by "a small poster on campus which advertised classes in astrology, tarot and herbs."

Ten persons attended a meeting in a mobile home in east Flagstaff, Friese said. "We met three young people who said they were ‘Druids,' one of which, ‘Diane,' would stay as our meeting leader."

"Diane" reportedly is an instructor at Yavapai Community College in Prescott who continues to recruit at NAU. The woman has refused to talk about the cult and had her telephone disconnected when reporters inquired.

At the meeting, "they conned us with ideas of imminent world disaster, of a persecution against the witch cult, and of the uselessness of education," said Fries. "This sounded all right to me since my interest in college was dwindling rapidly anyway."

The students were told about a commune 30 miles north of Sanders in Northeast Arizona, run by Norman and Laura Copeland, also known as Richard and Gerry Lee Garcia. After several weekly meetings in Flagstaff where astrology, personal problems and world events were discussed, Friese joined the cult.

"I quit college about two weeks before final exams and went out to live with these people," he said. "We were required to follow 200-plus rules made up by Laura and Norman. Some of these rules were signing over automobiles or anything that we brought, to cut all ties with the past, not to write to our parents and to change our names."

After about a year without hearing from their son, Friese's parents became concerned, and went looking for him.

Wildermuth had been camping along the Big Thompson River in Colorado at the time of a major 1976 flood and was reported missing. But hope was renewed when his sister, a Flagstaff barmaid, heard from a friend who had spotted Mark in a Rama, N.M. commune.

The commune had moved, authorities said, after leaders became upset over repeated missing-person inquiries.

Wildermuth's and Friese's parents met while searching for the Ramah commune. Friese and "Phoenix" were removed by their parents with the help of court orders. "Simone" was arrested on an outstanding warrant for drunken driving.

Wildermuth left the farm-like compound at his parents' urging, returned later and was again removed last summer with the help of his parents and sister. His father, Karl Wildermuth, said is sun still receives calls from cult members urging him to return.

Cult life consisted of hard work, no-protein food, and meditation which was described by Friese as "home-baked hypnotism."

"To initiate me into this relaxation, Norman took me to his room, told me to relax and proceeded to talk to me in a monotonous voice, telling me to concentrate on my breathing," Friese said.

"The result was a very good feeling and I didn't realize this was home-baked hypnotism until I was found by my parents about a year later and July 1977.

The Garcias stay at a Gallup, N.M. motel which employs several cult members. Paychecks are turned over to the cult leaders, Friese said, to provide supplies not produced by farming in the commune.

Within the cult, leaders maintain a tight hold on members, Friese said.

"The grip of hypnotism in the wrong hands plus the pressure of peers and intense isolation I was subjected to out there in the wilderness made me a firm abider in this Druid order," he said.

The cult takes its name from political and spiritual leaders of Britain 2,000 years ago. The cult is not drug oriented by heavy wine drinking prevails, Friese said.

Once as high as 30, membership has declined to about 15 persons, including a few children 5 to 7 years old, he said.

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