Cover of The Essene Gospel of Peace
  • Cover of The Essene Gospel of Peace
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

The incense-choked jumble of the recent Whole Life Expo: vegetarians and environmentalists and every shade of new-age devotee wandered endless rows of booths for radical cancer cures, aura-photography, and Delphi, the City of Dolphins. Few browsed close to the booth of the First Christians’ Essene Church. They were wary, perhaps, of the word “Christian” or the poster taped to the curtain, quizzing: “The Miracles of Jesus — Did you know Jesus was an Essene?”

The table across the front of the booth was tiled with paperback books written by the Essene Church’s founder, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely (Zay-kay). Stacks of acid-green handouts advertised Essene minister David John Carmos’s lecture “Healing Secrets of the Essenes” in conference room C. On a paper plate were chunks of “Essene bread” — a cake-like substance of organic wheat kernels, carrots, and raisins that, a sleek young woman said, is sunbaked according to a recipe in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“The new-age movement,” the Reverend Rick Van Wyhe said, “is not new. It’s all old information — which the Essenes passed down in the purest form.” Van Wyhe, ordained just last November, sat placidly on a folding chair behind the table. The sleek young woman, Nilsa Alemany, sat next to him, regarding the middle distance with intense boredom. Van Wyhe was dressed in white. Farm-bred freshness sat on him like a benediction. It was in fact a Minnesota farming childhood, he disclosed, that led him toward the Essenes. He was always “close to nature.” But he’d wanted to “take a more active role in the environment,” and the Essene Way fit perfectly with what he already believed.

Van Wyhe sought the skeptical eyes of browsers as they approached the table, fingered the publications, and walked on without talking. He smiled calmly. “Some of Szekely’s writings are far out,” Van Wyhe said. “Some of it can make me cry. It’s so ... pure. Reading it makes you stre-e-etch in every way!” His slender-wristed arms shot out and apart to show his meaning.

A dark-faced man in a brown shirt approached the table, stared at the goldenrod mimeographs of the Essene Creed, stared at the wall behind Nilsa Alemany. “How,” he asked, reluctantly shifting his eyes to her, “does Jesus fit in with the Essene Church?” Nilsa said, “I really don’t know that much about it... ” and jerked her eyes to Rick. “Uh, Rick, do you want to field that one?”

“Well, in a lot of the Dead Sea Scrolls that Dr. Szekely researched in the Vatican — you see this book here, The Essene Gospel of Peace, is volume one of his research — he found that many of the healing and teachings Jesus used were from the Essenes....” The man listened patiently, his face losing hostility and interest. Van Wyhe whisked up a copy of the book, read to the man about the Essenes’ belief in pure food, explained that it corroborated what we now know about “food germs getting killed at 115 degrees.”

 San Diego Union, July 13, 1949

San Diego Union, July 13, 1949

The man thanked him and darted away. Van Wyhe continued to scan the crowd. After a silence, he explained that while he is attracted by the Essenes’ compassion for man, their beliefs in “nurturing nature” and in “utilizing the underforces of nature,” what lies at the heart of his commitment is beyond definition. “Whenever you try to define it, it fits and it doesn’t fit.... It’s a timeless form of wisdom that visits itself on a situation.” It has something to do, he has surmised, with “the conscious energy that comes from the realms of divinity that surround the human world.”

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely swam or steamed ashore in Mexico — depending on who is telling the story — sometime in the 1930s. California, where by one account he arrived on foot through the Sonora Desert, must have seemed as green and promising as Oz did to the humbug wizard from Omaha. The place was rife with prophets and eccentrics. There was William Randolph Hearst in his castle in San Simeon, evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson with 35,000 followers and a $1.5 million temple, nudist colonies, graphologists, palmists, astrologists, millionaire hermits, phrenologists, food faddists, a “Holy City” run by white supremacists who bottled and sold ginger ale for a living, Rosicrucians, Hollywood. A French-Hungarian health guru with vague credentials, Szekely fit right in.

GOLDEN GIRL: Deborah Szekel, the godmother of American spas, at home in Washington, D.C.; Rancho la Puerta's old lecture hall (inset top) and a rubbing class there in 1950

GOLDEN GIRL: Deborah Szekel, the godmother of American spas, at home in Washington, D.C.; Rancho la Puerta's old lecture hall (inset top) and a rubbing class there in 1950

He lived most of his life in San Diego. When he died in 1979, Szekely left behind more than 80 books, a quasi-religious publishing firm called the International Biogenic Society, the First Christians’ Essene Church, and two multimillion-dollar health spas — the Golden Door in Escondido and Rancho La Puerca near Tecate — run by his ex-wife and son.

All of these were founded on a holistic philosophy Szekely developed, revised, and expanded continually for more than 50 years. The foundation for his theories was research he allegedly conducted on religious documents — one in Aramaic, one in Old Slavonic — that he claimed had been written by the Essenes and suppressed by the Catholic Church. The Essenes were an ancient Jewish sect of ascetics and mystics now generally recognized by archaeologists and biblical scholars as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Historical sources don’t have much to say about the Essenes. They lived in Israel fro n roughly 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. They were an agrarian society known for their strictness of living. According to Alan Sparks, a professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, the Essenes are referred to in the writings of Plutarch, Philo, and Josephus, among others. The Dead Sea Scrolls, rediscovered in 1946..are accepted by most scholars, Sparks has said, “as the writings of the main residential center of Essenes at Qumran, a community that was overrun by the tenth Roman legion in June of 68 A.D.”

Szekely’s version of the Essenes’ religion, like other religious groups commonly labeled new-age, espouses spiritual enlightenment through physical purity. Physical purity is achieved through a diet of raw vegetarian food, periods of fasting, colonics, plenty of exercise and fresh air, yoga, and meditation.

A shingle outside the North Park residence of the Archbishop of the First Christians’ Essene Church reads Orthomolecular Psychoanalyst. Behind that sign, another, decorated with green pine trees, advertises The Little Church On the Comer and The Wedding Chapel. To the right of a cement path, yet another sign advertises strolling musicians. The path leads to the front door, which has a wooden sign propped in its window explaining that “Dr. White is with a patient. Do not knock or ring bell. Please enter if you have an appointment.” In the tiled foyer, a voice calls out a greeting. Two men speak in low voices in the dining room.

Deborah Szekely, in Avenue magazine, December, 1989

Deborah Szekely, in Avenue magazine, December, 1989

Soon a small man with buried eyes and a large stone belt buckle enters: Most Reverend Garry White, M.D. His hand is dry and frail; shakily he waves the way into his private sitting room. Medical certificates from various holistic institutions — the Los Angeles College of Drugless Physicians, for example — decorate one wall. The signs outside his home, White explains, represent the various professions among which he divides his time. In addition to his church duties, Archbishop White runs a wedding chapel, plays violin in a hired band, and practices orthomolecular psychoanalysis. “Orthomolecular,” he explains, “is just an old word for holistic.”

White eases himself into a rocking chair. A sleep mask rests on a coffee table next to a couch with a pillow on it. There is a TV tray cluttered with a tape recorder and unopened packages of cassettes —Dr. White plans to record the Essene teachings after he retires. On the walls are family photos, a watercolor of hunting dogs, a shelf with a few books: Life After Life, Varieties of Religions Experience, The Key to Theosophy.

Dr. White, a slow, thoughtful speaker, is brief about his religion’s roots. “The Essenes were to the Pharisees what the Lutherans were to the Roman church,” he says. “They had to isolate themselves in order to follow their hard-working, self-sufficient, spiritual way of life.” The Essene people, he says, existed “more or less underground” until they were completely annihilated during the Inquisition. “But they used to live to an average age of over 100 years,” he adds. White himself has just turned 79.

“I give myself another ten years at best. With fewer pollutants in the air,” he speculates wryly, “who knows?” White appears agile for his age; testimony, perhaps, to 50 years of vegetarianism. When his indigestion begins to bother him, he pops some pills from a bottle in his pocket.

The Essene life seems rather abstemious,” Dr. White offers, “but it is really quite generous.” Though it is difficult to define the Essene belief system. They eschew religious dogma. Freedom of choice is given absolute priority. Ministers, whom White ordains frequently (they are required to study a book list and pass an exam), personally tailor rituals for communion, prayer, death, and marriage to fit their own tastes and those of their followers.

David John Carmos

David John Carmos

The Essenes’ adherence to a vegetarian diet has ethical roots as well as spiritual ones. They opposed capital punishment because, among other reasons, it “causes disharmony in the spiritual world to release into it a being full of destructive rage and pain.” The Essenes may or may not be opposed to abortion. White has been asked before to explain the Essene position on this subject. “I doubt if an Essene woman would abort a fetus after it’s viable, but freedom of choice is essential to the Essene way.” He hesitates to speak on the subject, for fear of influencing the views of his flock. “I personally am against abortion of any viable fetus,” he admits. But not for the same reason as mainstream Christians. The Essene belief is that the spirit only enters the fetus as it takes its first breath after leaving the womb. Before that, the spirit exists in the “life between lives,” a sort of holding house in another dimension. Reincarnation is also part of the Essene way. White says there were once references to it in the New Testament, removed by the Nicean Council.

While Dr. White, as the foremost living interpreter of the Essene religion, could be said to have the last word on the party line, a list of “doctrines” he published in a pamphlet called “The Essene Guide” begins with something of a disclaimer: “The only qualification to be an Essene is an absolute belief in a higher power, of whatever name, for everyone shall be left in freedom.”

From Rancho La Puerta brochure

From Rancho La Puerta brochure

Dr. White thumbs through the pamphlet to supply an overview of the Essene Way. On one page, the Tree of Life: a representation of “the 14 universal forces” (e.g., the Earthly Mother, the Angel of Water, the Heavenly Father, the Angel of Creative Work) and various communions dedicated to them. On another page, the church logo. Edmond Bordeaux Szekely designed it, White says. The logo incorporates two stone tablets surmounted by a menorah that sprouts a Star of David with a Jesus-like goateed man’s profile in the center of it. “It says we’re founded on a Hebrew sect, but we’re Christian,” White explains.

Then White’s list of doctrines delves into the Essene version of the life of Jesus. “What has been revealed to me,” Dr. White confides, “is that the Essenes, because of their-great piety and purity, were given the responsibility to produce a perfect body: Jesus. Christ was a different stream of humanity that had developed over perhaps millions of years. He could not manifest a three-dimensional body.” Jesus’ body, perfected by generations of Essene living, was the only body around pure enough to “withstand the vibrations of the Christ spirit.”

Furthermore, between the ages of 13 and 30, Jesus traveled in India and the Far East. “Jesus became a master, a yogi, and thus, when the Christ spirit left him on the cross, he was able to immediately put himself into a state of suspended animation,” White says. He was a “Master in the highest degree of the White Brotherhood.” Dr. White explains this discomfiting term: “Within the physical world, but outside the three-dimensional one, are spirits, guides, that are more or less in contact with humans. Most spirits and entities are not conscious of humans they’re in contact with. The White Brotherhood ... is a very advanced group of spiritual entities. They have the privilege of interfering with human life. I have not received the information as to whether any of them are within the stream of humanity.”

Received information?

White pauses to consider his reply. At night, he says, when he lies in bed, he “drops into a hypnagogic state” before sleeping. It is then that he is given his revelations. Gifts from those spirits and entities.

White gets up from his rocking chair and leaves the room, returning after a protracted moment with a sheet of paper. On it is a drawing of a pyramid divided into seven levels. It is the Essene Pyramid, which describes the “seven bodies that make us human.” (More “received information.”) “We exist in all seven bodies at once,” the doctor explains. The lowest two, the “dense” and “ethereal” bodies, exist in the three-dimensional world. Bodies three through six are physical but non-three-dimensional, “like radio waves.” The seventh body exists in the spiritual world. “Physical toxicity forms a barrier against the life energy that flows from the spiritual body through the other bodies.”

White lapses into reflective silence. He has merely touched on the tenets of the Essene Way. There is so much to explain. One of the most desirable aspects of the Essene philosophy, in White’s estimation, is that beyond a belief in a higher power, nothing is taken on faith. Everything is rational, logical, and based on the writings of Edmond Szekely — over 80 books. “No questions,” White says after consideration, “are left unanswered.”

What about the question of suffering? The Holocaust, for example.

White replies, “Well, there are individual karmas and there are racial karmas.... Up to the time of Christ, there were only racial religions — Mohammedan for the Arabs, Hebrew for the Jews.” After a long pause, he continues. The Holocaust, he says, was the inevitable consequence of the Jews’ breaking what Essenes call the One Law, or the Law of Love, “or some call it gravity, magnetism, or attraction.” White stops abruptly, then adds, “I am not in any position to answer that question any further than I am to answer the question of the millions under Stalin who died, nor for the little children who go to bed hungry every night all over the world.”

Moving to the subject of Edmond I Bordeaux Szekely, White says he was born in Romania of a Hungarian father and a French mother. In the 70s, Szekely graduated from a Catholic institution in Paris as valedictorian of his class. His reward was access to the Vatican Library to continue research on Saint Francis of Assisi, the subject of his graduate thesis. In the Secret Archives there, he came across manuscripts in Aramaic that had been hidden behind a breakfront. Later, in the Hapsburg Museum in Austria, he found an exact duplicate of that Vatican manuscript written in Old Slavonic.

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely (right), 1979

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely (right), 1979

According to Dr. White, Szekely published volume one of The Essene Gospel of Peace, “translated” from the Slavonic and Aramaic texts, in Paris in 1928. That same year, he established the International Biogenic Society — with the assistance of Nobel Prize-winning author Remain Rolland, who had been “deeply inspired” by Szekely’s book.

About this version of the Szekely story, SDSU’s Alan Sparks has observed, “What is considered suspicious about this is that the philosophy supposedly laid out in these ancient documents corresponds so exactly with Szekely’s own theories about health and spirituality.”

The first part of The Essene Gospel of Peace follows Jesus as he teaches some (bad-karma-ridden) “Sons of Men” how to get back on the righteous path:

For I tell you truly ... Beelzebub, the prince of all devils ... lies in wait in the body of all the Sons of Men.... And in the day that the Sons of Men have already become the slaves of all these vanities and abominations, then in payment thereof he ... takes from them their breath, their blood, their bone, their flesh, their bowels, their eyes and their ears. And the breath of the Son of Man becomes short.... And his blood becomes thick and evil-smelling....And his bone becomes hard and knotted.... And his flesh waxes fat and watery; it rots and putrefies, with scabs and boils that are an abomination.... And his bowels become full with abominable filthiness, with oozing streams of decay…”

Blindness and deafness follow; finally, death. But Jesus provides step-by-step instructions for fasting, deep-breathing exercises, bathing, and “baptism by water” according to Szekely’s book:

Seek, therefore, a large trailing gourd, having a stalk the length of a man; take out its inwards and fill it with water from the river which the sun has warmed. Hang it upon the branch of a tree, and kneel upon the ground before the angel of water, and suffer the end of the stalk of the trailing gourd to enter your hinder parts, that the water may flow through all your bowels. Afterwards rest kneeling on the ground before the angel of water and pray to the living God that he will forgive you all your past sins, and pray the angel of water that he will free your body from every uncleanness and disease.

Then let the water run out from your body, that it may carry away from within it all the unclean and evil-smelling things of Satan. And you shall see with your eyes and smell with your nose all the abominations and uncleannesses which defiled the temple of your body.... Renew your baptizing with water on every day of your fast, till the day you see that the water flowing out of you is as pure as the river’s foam....

No doubt it was passages such as these that Szekely was thinking of when he wrote in the preface to the book’s 1937 English edition:

[Jesus’] words became half forgotten....They have been misunderstood ... hundreds of times rewritten.... It is a heavy responsibility to proclaim the present New Testament, which is the basis of all the Christian Churches, as deformed and falsified, but there is no higher religion than the truth.

Szekely’s “research” and the publications he based on it are the subject of “The Diligent Dr. Szekely,” a chapter in Strange Tales About Jesus by Per Beskow. According to Beskow, The Essene Gospel of Peace is perhaps the most widely read or distributed writing of its kind — excepting only the Book of Mormon. The book’s current American publisher claims it has sold over one million copies in 26 languages.

Beskow documents many contradictions and riddles surrounding Szekely’s work. Szekely periodically altered the sources he claims to have used, changed his mind about who wrote the manuscripts (reference to authorship by the disciple John was deleted from American editions), and eventually did what he could to affiliate his writings with more credible sources than his supposed Aramaic and Old Slavonic texts. But perhaps most importantly, Beskow writes, “The alleged manuscripts on which the book is said to be based have been seen and studied only by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely. All information about the manuscripts comes from him.” Beskow received confirmation from both the curator of the Vatican’s Archivio Segreto and the manuscript and incunabula division of the national library in Vienna that no records exist of either the manuscripts or of Szekely’s presence. Coverups, according to White and David John Carmos.

White’s narrative of Szekely’s life continues in its heroic vein. Szekely set out on a ten-year journey around the world “for the purpose of healing.” While treating lepers on an Asian island (and encountering plenty of antagonism from medical doctors, White says), Szekely encountered “a young Englishman of some means” named Lawrence Purcell Weaver. Weaver was sick; Szekely prescribed a fast, then a strict diet, exercise, sun, and water, and soon convinced the young man of the validity of Essene principles. Szekely was writing a book in French, Cosmos, Man and Society, which Weaver translated for him into English. (Beskow notes that Weaver was credited as co-editor of the Essene Gospel of Peace in its 1937 English edition but not even mentioned in the American editions.) “Purcell now lives in Northern California,” White mentions. “He wrote something for a convocation of ministers we held recently.” No longer active in the church, Weaver bears the title Bishop Emerns.

White continues, “Then Hitler and Mussolini rose to power...” and Szekely was persecuted for the liberal viewpoint of the books he had written. He fled to Mexico, where, White says, he was shipwrecked and emerged from the sea “with only his bathing suit.” Because he was “extremely personable,” “a genius” with “a soaring I.Q.,” Szekely was soon back on his feet. He crossed the desert into the United States on horseback. The horse died; Szekely walked the rest of the way. “He later wrote of these adventures in My Unusual Adventures on the Five Continents in Search of the Ageless,” White notes.

“The vegetarian community that existed in the United States at the time was very close-knit,” explains White. Szekely attracted the interest of various groups, who contrived to help him get legal residency status. At about this time, White, a self-described “sickly young man” and “prodigy boy violinist” with “a poor genetic heritage” had converted to vegetarianism for his health. He met Szekely in Los Angeles in 1937.

“Szekely had become attached to a holistic church, the — what was it called? — the Cosmovital Church of Stars and Forests.” White laughs. “He incorporated the church under the name the First Christians’ Essene Church.” Shortly afterward, White became an Essene. He studied, was ordained a minister, and acted as secretary for the Essene Church, which held regular services in downtown Los Angeles. In an effort to get Szekely legal U.S. residency, the church’s board of trustees made White an archbishop so that he could ordain Szekely, who then assumed the mantle.

Unfortunately, as the result of “bad legal advice,” the church was not granted nonprofit status, since its articles of incorporation stated it would be founded on the writings of Szekely and was thus a commercial venture. It was about this time, White remembers, “Szekely and I drove to Tecate and rented some land for about a dollar an acre a month.” Szekely brought with him his young bride, a church secretary, a 16-year-old named Deborah. “It turned out to be a union of geniuses,” White says. “Debbie is undoubtedly a business genius.”

Deborah Szekely, now the owner of Tecate’s Rancho La Puerta Spa and the Golden Door Spa near Escondido (founded in 1958), was Edmond Bordeaux Szekely’s first wife. According to Deborah’s 1977 book, Secrets of the Golden Door, she and her husband arrived in Tecate in 1940 in “a slightly dilapidated 1928 Cadillac with cut-crystal bud vases between its side windows” towing “a handmade silver-painted trailer box which contained all our worldly goods.” The Szekelys opened a health camp. Again, from Deborah’s book: “[We] tried every health discipline and diet theory ... bean sprouts and acidophilus milk, fasting, the grape cure, the mucous-free diet....” White adds, “People would come and pitch a tent for seventeen-fifty a week. Now Rancho La Puerta charges, I think, fifteen hundred a week!

Ms. Szekely is now living much of the year in Washington, D.C. Her son Alex Szekely, who now runs the spas, called one afternoon from his car phone.

“Way back when, my dad did some research on the Essenes. He saw that they were curing all the problems we still have today.” The spas bear out Szekely’s philosophy by teaching visitors, for $1200 to $1900 a week, how to eat well, reduce stress, and meditate. Alex explained that his father, under the auspices of the French government, started health camps in Nice, Tahiti, and Mexico. He also cured lepers in Africa — Alex explained that roughly 50 percent of lepers have a certain curable infectious form of the disease, which was remedied through diet and exercise. The events of World War II overshadowed that work; robbing the professor, perhaps, of the acclaim such an astonishing feat surely merits. “He met Mom in Tahiti, where she lived with her parents. They married and went to Rancho La Puerta in 1940.”

The Szekelys opened their Tecate health camp under the name the Essene School of Life. Alex admits the fasting, the grape cures — but calls such imaginative therapies “pretty middle-of-the-road by today’s standards.” In 1949 the Essene School of Life was visited by the San Diego Union's Edmund Rucker. In Rucker’s subsequent articles, Szekely described himself as a “geophysicist” who had been “living on the French Riviera” before the outbreak of war stranded him in San Diego, where he’d come to study “geographical similarities to the Holy Land.” Rucker described tanned, loose-fleshed, apathetic senior citizens milling in bathing suits among one-story huts, travel-worn trailers, creaking windmills — and a “pretentious adobe bungalow before which stands a resplendent new forest-green Lincoln limousine.”

Deborah Szekely is “an ... exotic young brunette woman” with “the faintest of French accent.” (Deborah, according to Rancho La Puerta press material, was born in Brooklyn.) She spent her days typing Szekely’s lecture notes and leading exercise classes. Rucker mentioned a crystal ball in Szekely’s study. The professor himself,

Rucker said, has a handsome, scholarly face and manner, though Rucker was unable to comprehend Szekely’s lengthy explanations of his system of cosmotherapy. “Szekely has mixed a bewildering compost of science, physical culture, Gnostic religion, Old Testament lore,” Rucker wrote. At the time, Szekely apparently gave this “compost” the name “archeosophy.” Eventually, the Mexican government forced the Szekelys to change the camp’s name, since the Essene School of Life didn’t fit its definition of a school.

With the passing years, the concept of fat farm was glamorized by visits from celebrities and political figures and eventually extinguished by the popularity of fitness resorts and spas. Aldous Huxley, Alex Szekely says, was “a dear friend who spent much time at the Rancho with the family.” Alex considers Huxley, along with Michael Murphy and his father, to be founders of what came to be known as the human potential movement in 1960.

In 1969, Deborah and Edmond Szekely divorced. She took the spas, Because, Alex said, ‘‘he decided his books were more important.” The spas’ programs now relegate the professor’s more spiritually oriented theories to something called the Inner Journey Program. Alex does not feel they’ve disregarded the Essene Philosophy, though — just the church. “I don’t want to say anything bad about this religion, but what happens is that a whole infrastructure gets built up around these philosophies.... I think you gotta pay attention to the basics, read the basic writings.”

In a later conversation, Alex Szekely revised several of his earlier statements. His father didn’t “cure” lepers, only “helped” them through diet and exercise; wasn’t a cofounder of the human potential movement but only “helped out.” The French government sponsored only the health camp in Tahiti. Professor Szekely never legally married Norma Jean. Also, Alex Szekely contested several points in both Dr. White’s and Mr. Rucker’s versions of events (for example, Alex says the crystal ball in his father’s study was actually a snow shaker). Alex Szekely asserted that the Essene Church has never been connected with either Rancho La Puerta or the Golden Door spas and even stated that Professor Szekely “didn’t have anything to do with the Essene Church at all” after 1940.

The biographical details Szekely gave Rucker differ significantly from those provided by White and in the personal sketches in Szekely’s publications. Szekely was consistent, however, in his fondness for mentioning his illustrious ancestors — his family: “one of the most ancient in Europe”; his grandfather: “an eminent poet”; and famous friends: Huxley, Rolland —his degrees from various European universities, what Per Beskow calls his “alleged but entirely undocumented knowledge of’ 15 ancient and modem languages (Old Slavonic not among them).

Curiously, Rucker’s biographical sketch makes no mention of Szekely’s “important translation work” on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the presumed source of Essene Gospel of Peace; the Nag Hammadi library; texts from the Zoroastrian Zend-Avesta; or the pre-Columbian codices of ancient Mexico, with which Szekely, by his own later accounts, was involved much earlier than 1949.

“Szekely was a compulsive writer,” White remarks. “He focused more on the biogenic side of the Essene Way.” (White himself was “always much more interested in the spiritual aspects of the Essene” than was Szekely.) The professor’s books were originally published through the Essene School of Life — including several out-of-print works such as Fasting and the Grape Cure and Sexual Harmony and the New Eugenics. Publication was later taken over by Academy Books, Publishers (on Reynard Way, in a building now housing administrative offices for the spas). A few years after the Szekely divorce, the International Biogenic Society bought all rights to Szekely’s works, as well as their complete inventory. The International Biogenic Society has not seen fit to continue selling First Flowers, listed in a 1975 Academy Books catalogue as “an exquisite collection, beautifully illustrated in ancient Zen Buddhist style, of Haiku poetry by ten-year-old Livia Bordeaux Szekely, with a moving prologue and epilogue by her father.” Still available, however, is Messengers from Ancient Civilizations: “Fascinating reading for those who love archeology — and dogs! The story of Canine Archeology.... Dog clubs welcome to trade discount....”

Professor Szekely remarried a woman named Norma Jean, “who worked at the Rancho,” Alex Szekely said, “for years.” After that he devoted himself to the International Biogenic Society, a less baroque version of the Essene Church, “as a way of publishing his books.”

Alex Szekely has read his father’s works. “He was writing to try to get his theories across on a philosophical and theological level... he wrote more for his audience than for scholars.” The books, Alex admitted, “don’t hold up by today’s scholarship standards.”

The academic world seems to have ignored Szekely’s prolific efforts completely. Alan Sparks goes so far as to say that

“Szekely had no standing in the scholarly community whatsoever.”

But Dr. White is still talking. Having been schooled at the Los Angeles College of Drugless Physicians, having briefly run a hospital for alcoholics in Los Angeles, played the violin in studio sessions in Hollywood, and gone to San Francisco for postgraduate medical work, White then determined to be a psychoanalyst. His fiancée lived in San Diego; he moved down from Hollywood in 1957. He joined the faculty at California Western University (then in Point Loma, on the site once occupied by Katherine Tingley’s Theosophical school), played with the San Diego Symphony, continued his postgraduate studies. He took his first psychoanalysis patient in 1964.

During the ’60s, “The church struggled along rather uncertainly,” White recalls. “Services were conducted monthly.” Szekely was president of the church’s board of trustees. Lawrence Purcell Weaver and Szekely’s second wife, Norma Nillson Bordeaux Szekely, served on the board as well. Szekely died in 1981 in Costa Rica, then headquarters of the International Biogenics Society. Norma became president of the church, White became vice president and archbishop. Soon Norma resigned, and White became president. It was at this point, White says, that he began to “receive instruction.”

Three years after White took over, the church was given nonprofit status. White began ordaining ministers; having divided his time for years between his psychoanalytic practice, his music, and the church, he was ready for semi-retirement. In the last three months, White has been “putting into effect a plan I’ve had for a long time. I’ve been waiting for the right ministers to manifest themselves.” He has turned over the Saturday services, held at the Swedenborgian Church in University Heights, to two ministers — one of them Rick Van Wyhe. To another he is passing on the wedding services business. White says he needs isolation and time to do the audio tapes he’s been planning.

The mailing list of “Scroll,” the First Christians’ Essene Church newsletter, has grown from 200 to 50,000 names. There are currently 26 Essene ministers, only 4 of whom were ordained by Szekely. There are ministers in several states, as well as Japan and France. Among the local ministers are a Dr. Ruth Winocur, who is a county staff psychiatrist in Oceanside, and her husband Dr. Emanuel Winocur, now retired, who has been made a bishop in the church in order to organize Spanish-language services; Stephen Bell, once a student of Alan Sparks; and David John Carmos, whom White has just ordained a bishop and sent to organize an Essene church in Canada, where the International Biogenics Society is now headquartered.

David John Carmos whizzed up in a van, made a “thumbs up” gesture out his window, apologized for being late. He is a high-voiced, jockey-sized man. Muscles bulged from his nylon track shorts and from his T-shirt airbrushed with whales. A cellular phone he had just acquired rested in a holster on his hip. He has the energy of a poodle, although he’s now in his 50s.

He is anxiously waiting delivery of his new portable computer. “I need something to take on the road with me,” he said. He was about to embark on his six-week trip to Canada. In his condo were two bicycles he was taking apart for shipment — he always tries to travel with his bikes. He generally exercises three hours a day. “Working out,” he said, “is a way of honoring a higher power.” Carmos begins at six o’clock in the morning. He lifts weights, rides bikes, does yoga.

“Wait — I gotta stop and center my energy,” Carmos plopped down on an oriental rug, sat quietly for a moment, breathed deeply with his eyes closed. Somewhere in the condo a cat howled frantically. In the comer near the kitchen was a human skeleton. A batik rendering of a unicorn hung over the fireplace. There were piles of videotapes and books and papers. The phone rang in another room.

When Carmos returned, he talked about the ancient Essenes: how they didn’t believe in animal sacrifice, made sprouted bread that they allowed to bake in the sun’s heat, didn’t eat cooked food. “In lieu of animals, they had bread and grape juice for their worship — 200 years before Christ!” Evidence, Carmos explained, that Christ was an Essene.

“There has been a tremendous explosion of interest in the Essenes,” Carmos said. He attributes this to increased public interest in and anxiety over health and ecology. Suddenly Carmos rose up from his semi-lotus posture and bounded over to me. “People think they need protein,” he said. “May I?” He took my hand and wiggled the tips of my fingers against his stomach. “Rock hard,” I said. “Not emaciated at all!” he affirmed.

As editor of the “Scroll” newsletter, Carmos is in a position to monitor the “tremendous explosion of interest.” The remarkable growth in the mailing list, however, is a little deceptive. Carmos said he bought Terry Cole-Whittaker’s list of 18,000 last year. The two are friends and appeared together at the Whole Life Expo.

Carmos met Whittaker at a convention last year. He talked to her about vegetarianism. “Terry wasn’t ready to make a commitment to vegetarianism yet,” Carmos explained. But in November, she called Carmos to say she’d gone non-meat. “I went out to where the cows are,” Whittaker told Carmos, “and apologized to them and asked their forgiveness. They came over and licked my hands.”

The phone rang again, and Carmos left me watching a promotional video he was in the process of editing. It is a video Carmos intends to show potential clients to demonstrate the variety of topics on which he can lecture. In Carmos’s press kit (pale blue with stars on it), a list of available lecture and seminars includes “Fasting for Balance” and “Healing with the Hands.” Carmos later said he’d like to do some television work as well; he’s working on an elf character for a children’s show idea.

Carmos proved to be remarkably supple. He claimed, on the videotape, to know 750 yoga postures; in one, he flung up his legs and eased back into a bizarre variation on a headstand. Yoga is a “natural healing system,” he explained. While educating his viewers on the stress-reducing powers of yoga, Carmos reached out his hand to pick lint off the carpet on which he was inverted.

As the video played, Carmos called the airline about the bicycles on the plane. “Everything is energy,” he said on the videotape. He can contort himself into all these yoga postures and work out so intensely without injury, he said, because of his “non-Western, non-animal-based diet.”

His phone call completed, Carmos returned with a fig and an apple: lunch. He talked about his life. When Carmos was a very young man, an old Spanish-American War captain exposed him continually to holistic ideas. Introduced him to yoga. Eventually, Carmos started branching out. He became interested in nutrition. He taught at Boston University in the ’60s. He was a Beverly Hills yoga teacher before that. He “got involved in the fine-arts business.” The cellular phone on Carmos’s hip rang. When he said hello, he made the “thumbs up” gesture again.

In his “endless quest of knowledge,” he has studied acupuncture, zone therapy. He does “body work” and is a licensed massage therapist in the state of Florida. “I began to see the connections between these holistic ideas,” he said. “It sounded like, if it was really natural, it should be indigenous to everyone that’s structurally normal.”

Carmos began “investigating the Essenes” and found that their way of life was “an incorporation of ideas such as I had developed on my own.” The spiritual as a balance between the physical, mental, and emotional lives. “The Essenes are about how to be more peaceful,” Carmos said. “More loving. It’s about being gentle.” In ancient cultures, Carmos reflected, religion was a way of life, a way of being. “That’s what the Essenes are. People today know more about their cars than their bodies.”

Time, it would seem, has a way of dignifying the most ignominious origins. In the words of Professor Sparks, “Even though they may grow out of the most charlatanesque beginnings, these religious groups often become the basis for sincere, heartfelt, serious spiritual inquiry and belief.”

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment