“People don’t tend to go looking to join a cult,” he says. “Instead, curious and often idealistic people are led into recruitment and their lives are then ruined. That is certainly what happened to me.”
Nick, 38, has decided to speak out for the first time about his experience because he believes there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance about how cults recruit people. “There are so many cults out there recruiting everyone from students to the elderly, and the number is rising.”
“I’ve always been a keen environmentalist,” says Nick, who is now a bushcraft teacher, “and the community sounded amazing. It was self-sufficient, set in forest scenery. They kept goats and helped the indigenous population. We had to see it.”
The couple hitched a lift to the reserve. “It was breathtakingly beautiful and instantly inspiring, full of vibrant, happy people living in simple buildings made from wind-felled trees. There was no electricity, radio or television. Allie and I were broke, so when they offered to let us stay as volunteers, it was like a dream.
On their first evening, Nick and Allie joined a group discussion that ended with a short meditation. “It was a bit like a yoga class. We got the impression we were among some very good people who were welcoming two hard‑working Europeans into their community.”
The couple soon found they were being given very little to eat – and requests for more of the vegetarian food were met with accusations of greed. Meanwhile, the new timetable dictated that they wake up at 3.30am for meditation, sermons and parables.
“We were told, why sleep when you can be doing something useful?” says Nick. “I realise now we were being weakened by sleep deprivation and a meagre diet so we’d become too weak to resist the force of the group. They’d talk about how consumerism was destroying the world, agricultural reforestation, how to create a harmonious lifestyle – all topics we found fascinating.
“That was the external face of it. The internal face was the development of self, spiritual evolution, how to become the perfect human being, with the leader a sort of living manual to achieve this. If you questioned him that wasn’t tolerated, and people were ostracised and shunned as punishment.”