Avatar: Scientology-style sect causes concern in Netherlands

BBC News/March 31, 2018

By Anna Holligan

Reports of a Scientology-style sect infiltrating schools have aroused concern in the Netherlands.

A television investigation claimed to have found at least six private schools governed by "Avatar wizards" and guided by the principles of the Avatar ideology.

So what is Avatar (besides a blockbuster movie)? And how influential is it?

Avatar's self-proclaimed goal is to create an "enlightened planetary society".

Some members believe Earth was colonised by aliens, and Avatar explores controversial practices such as exorcism.

It was created in 1986 by the former Scientology leader Harry Palmer.

Emailing from their headquarters in Orlando, Florida, Mr Palmer told the BBC they have almost a million graduates worldwide.

"The basic doctrine of Avatar is: what you believe has consequences in your life," he says.

"The course does not promote a specific philosophy beyond this. We have people from all religions. What Avatar does teach are tools, techniques, processes for taking control of one's own mind, of connecting beliefs and actions to their consequence."

He shared a link, suggesting we get a feel for Avatar by exploring the free mini-courses.

Trainees typically pay for courses, which generate money for Mr Palmer's company Star's Edge. Prices vary from $500 (£350) for a five-day "Integrity Course" to $7,500 for a 13-day "Wizards Course".

People who qualify as a Master or Wizard can offer their own lessons. A portion of the profits are funnelled back to Avatar HQ.

Mr Palmer believes there are "tens of thousands" of Avatar disciples living in the Netherlands.

Sektesignaal or "sect alert" - a Dutch organisation set up to monitor sectarian movements - has asked the Dutch Education Inspectorate to investigate reports that Avatar poses a threat to society by covertly infiltrating public institutions which are ostensibly secular.

"We aren't saying if it's right or wrong," the organisation's manager Karin Krijnen told the BBC. "We are only worried if there has been abuse or misconduct. That's why there needs to be an investigation."

They are responding to claims that three Dutch councillors attained Wizard status and were using public money to send civil servants on Avatar training courses.

Han Bekkers, 69, a municipal secretary in the south-eastern province of Limburg, was one of those named in the reports. His spokesman Roek Lips told the BBC the reports were "mostly nonsense".

"Han Bekkers did the Wizard Course, but there was no public money used in training," he said. "And from the workshops he offers, none of the profits are transferred to Star's Edge, he is fully independent."

Avatar, Scientology - what's the difference?

Avatar shares much of its philosophy with Scientology.

It offers self-development programmes that borrow elements from Scientology, Shamanism, Hinduism and New Age philosophy.

Many of the original course materials incorporated Scientology terminology.

The Church of Scientology filed a trademark case against Harry Palmer over a sign featuring a Scientology logo. The sign was eventually removed. Harry Palmer launched Avatar shortly afterwards.

It has retained some of the same terms such as "rundown" and course names like "integrity" and "professional".

Scientologists deny that they are part of a cult and reject accusations of abuse and scamming members. Followers describe it as providing spiritual support.

The word Avatar comes from Hindu mythology, and refers to the manifestation of a soul released in bodily form on Earth.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.