I watched the excellent 4 part documentary The Deep End about spiritual (cult) leader Teal Swan. I had never heard of her until I saw this doc.
This trailer will give you some idea of who she is:
The filmmakers, Jon Kasbe and Bits Sola have done a remarkable job of showing the world of Teal Swan. They were given astonishing access to Swan and her followers over three years. What unfolds is a fascinating study of control and domination by a cult leader reminiscent of so many others. Bits Sola was also a producer on The Vow (the mesmerizing HBO doc on Keith Raniere).
As I watched this series, so many parallels to scientology became apparent.
Swan uses a form of regression theory that is very similar to Book One Dianetics. And like Hubbard, who claimed his trauma (“blinded and crippled from the war” — not true) guided him to discovering his “breakthrough,” so too Swan with her storied of trauma that led to the creation of her “therapy.”
She has a lot of followers who hang on her every word and believe she has the power to read minds and see the future. They defend her at all costs.
Swan’s pronouncements are not to be challenged or questioned — her veneer of “nice” falls away very fast when she believes anyone is doubting her.
Though the filmmakers don’t offer much in the way of opinions or judgment, it becomes clear Swan is a classic narcissist. Nothing bad that happens is ever her fault. It is her underlings or people “out to get her.” Those in her inner circle are like Sea Org members — they are not allowed to have children or relationships because they would distract from her mission. She treats those who are part of this inner circle as indentured servants and abuses them emotionally. Just like those around Miscavige, she accuses people around her of having evil intentions towards her and then has her sycophants pile on in agreement. As readers here know, Miscavige likes to equate himself with the Pope — so too Teal Swan.
She thinks she can dominate and control anything and everything. Swan told Jon Kasbe “I feel safer when the camera is pointed at me, I won’t ever be telling you to turn it off,” a typically arrogant attitude from someone who has convinced themselves they are always right about everything. Events unfolded over those 3 years and there were surprising twists, not flattering to the portrait of Teal Swan. Now she claims the filmmakers tricked her and used “selective editing.” You can be the judge of that — it is hard to see how anything has been twisted in this program when the filmmakers simply documented the story as it unfolded before them. But put that aside, if Teal Sawn can look into people’s souls, know that they are thinking, and predict the future — how did these documentarians manage to hoodwink her so completely?
Swan, Miscavige, Raniere, Bikram, Jim Jones and other cult leaders share so many character flaws there should probably be a special designation for them. Simple narcissist or sociopath doesn’t really tell the whole story. Their abuse of others is based on people’s desire to better themselves and the hope of spiritual peace and happiness through self-help/spirituality/religion. It is a powerful carrot that these people exploit for their own power and satisfaction. Perhaps they should be called spiritual narcissists or cultic sociopaths to set them apart from the run-of-the-mill assholes.
After watching the show, I listened to my old friends Sarah Edmondson and Nippy Ames interview Jon and Bits on their excellent podcast It’s a Little Bit Culty. I recommend it.
This documentary was made from deception, Teal explains with video evidence from the crew how she was deceived, and it is truly sad to see how humanity is hungry for this kind of sensation rather than seeing the good behind what Teal Swan is doing and has done.
Mike Rinder says
I have seen a few people respond in this way. Her actions on camera are what they are. Nothing specific is raised, just that it was “made from deception” or some other general complaint.
What is so remarkable given the subject — Teal claims she can read people’s minds and predict the future — is her failure to see what this was going to reveal. Even someone who doesn’t claim such super-powers, but had an iota of self-reflection would know that treating people around her the way she did was not going to look good.
Susan Springer Brewer says
Surely the comment isn’t saying Swan’s claim she was deceived- had validity?
I’m going to call foul on that one.
I’m not agreeing with the idea that it was possible Teal Swan was deceived; please give it a second viewing- I did- so I could be objective and examine the documentary.
I believe there’s no way to be mistaken… unless the sneer on her face as she was accusing Juliana of having a constant smirk on hers- was some sort of CGI. I highly doubt that- since the bitterness in her voice was clear and unmistakable as she railroaded the newlywed in the group meeting of her inner circle; Episode 4 a approximately 10 mins in.
I watched The Deep End twice, just to be certain I wasn’t being deceived and impartial in my assessment. I believe the irony of Swan’s opening remarks to Juliana in Episode 4 was not lost on the lady investigator, no accident this particular piece of dialogue was left as it was.
A teeny bit off topic, but those poor dead pets, of Blake’s: seems like something a jilted teen would do as revenge; but same sick kind of alleged revenge misdeed I thought characteristic of a narcissist. So glad not a puppy, cat or baby…still cruel and I felt Blake’s pain.
Thanks for the podcast link, Mike and I’ll be curious to find out if this documentary is Teal’s swan song.
Ah- cmon, you were thinking it.
I’ve just watched the first two episodes (bought it on Amazon Prime) and can feel the tension building as this is explored. A couple of thoughts on these – yes, definitely some similarity to going deeply into whatever the trauma or incident is. And having the person sit there with them while that is going on. Intense though!
What really struck me though is how when someone is stuck on one thing being the answer to everything, how pervasive and dysfunctional it becomes. Like the carpenter with a hammer where everything looks like a nail. In this case, the sense of needing to turn towards something to see the reality – this can be a healthy approach to wisdom, letting go, breaking through delusion etc. But it is not always the best choice for handling trauma and needs to be held with some sensitivity and care. And when it is done, it needs to be within a person’s ability to handle and look directly at things that can be really intense.
I just shudder to think about how people who follow her are taken down a path that may not be the right one or might be too heavy for them to process.
As a C/S when I was in Scn, it was difficult when people did not respond to what was the basic path because there were not a variety of tools to use. Some people had gains easily (whether lasting or not – no certainty here) and some never seemed to move much. The only real choice was to send them to ethics and in retrospect, that seems sad. It was simply because all we had for tools was a hammer.
This cult method of getting formerly useful members to off themselves by telling them things will be better in their next life would be more compelling if they could show former members who really did come back in new bodies.
Hi Mike, I appreciate what you’re doing with this blog, exposing abuses in scientology and other spiritual groups and movements, but it saddens me when it seems like spirituality as a whole is being bashed and discredited, as there also is a genuine, legitimate form of spirituality that is very dear to me as it brought me to my inner source of joy. It’s not about trying to control people or telling them what to think or do. In fact your work is also spiritual in that sense, as it aims to liberate people. But here’s just one example of what I mean: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IOTwnTtSzvs
Mike Rinder says
Well, I dont know where you get the idea that I am opposed to all spirituality? That is not true. I am opposed to organizations and leaders that control their subjects. Michael Singer is the exact opposite of that.
Well I’m happy to hear that. What I feel is not necessarily the same as what you intend, I’m aware of that, but I just felt I wanted to make the point.
Anne Hill says
For a deeper dive into Teal’s history, I highly recommend the podcast “The Gateway” by Jennings Brown. It was the impetus for the Freeform series, and he goes into more detail about the “Satanic Panic” back in the day and how it relates to Teal. Fascinating stuff.
Mike Rinder says
Lisa Marie says
Thanks for posting this, I just watched the 4 episodes, wow! I have to say I’m very happy for Blake and his German wife, hope they are well…yes her followers are in danger, fragile people looking for answers to their pain.
I Yawnalot says
Geezers, more swamp creatures come to the surface. Attempting to come to some sort of understanding that they need another term to describe them is perplexing as I see that sort of ‘soul saving scam’ needs the run of the mill assholes such as corrupt govts and greedy corporates to flourish – it’s their source of “bodies in the shop.” From the frying pan into the fire.
It’s strangely fascinating and also numbing to see the parallels & holes we fell into as scios and now that dark crystal is becoming clearer, but also alarmingly broader out there in the real world.
That field of dreams & hope… no matter how pretty, with a guru running the show should be related to, or assumed to be a minefield. Yes, a good description of behavior of those monsters might save a lot of pain.
I am looking forward to seeing the exposes for cult leaders Falcon Gosling and Lark Mallard.
Sue T. says
I watched “The Deep End” last weekend and while it is disturbing, it is top-flight filmmaking — beautifully done, with gorgeous cinematography and music. The first (of four) episode makes you think that perhaps the filmmakers are on Teal’s side but by the end of the last ep you can see why Teal has been objecting so strenuously. This series deserves a large audience.
kelly lord says
mike when are you coming back to your podcast? i miss listening to you both.
I have a good friend who is a follower of Teal Swan. He tried to get me ‘onboard’ with her ideas. I had no clue who she was or what she was about. He is a counselor and an overall great guy. Somewhere along the line he found Teal Swan. When I read what they believed and saw the control she had I knew it was just $ci with another belief system. Another Jim Jones. Another Koresch. Another Rajneesh. In fact the nuttiness of her beliefs reminds me of Marshall Applewhite.
As we all know here it is almost impossible to wake someone up with facts. They have to wake up at their own speed. Reality is a bitch.
I Yawnalot says
Yeah, facts and evidence are trumped with that weird devotion that blinds.
I’ve tried for over 20 yrs to wake up a couple of card carrying scio idiots, and am still no closer. Yet there they sit basically in poverty, working themselves to death to pay off their cult habit.
Cults, the heroin of the spirit world.
Scott Campbell says
Can we look forward to a book from you on your experience with and analysis of this subject, Mike?
Dave Voigts says
Regarding the paragraph: Swan, Miscavige, Raniere, Bikram, Jim Jones and other cult leaders share so many character flaws there should probably be a special designation for them. …
That’s a really good point. When the FBI Behavioral Science unit coined the term ‘serial killer’ it completely changed the way people thought about such crimes. It was a succinct way to convey the entirety of the crime and the psychological bent of the offender.
I’m a former naval officer and I do outreach for everyday people who are targeted in schemes that are similar to Scientology’s ‘Fair Game.’ However, these people are also attacked with the weapons system that causes the Havana Syndrome symptoms. The goal in these types of attacks is to smear the target as a mental case. Before the Havana Syndrome cases became public knowledge, this discrediting scheme had an almost perfect track record of success. It’s a very insidious crime and the public is just starting to learn about it. I’ve been trying to come up with a name for this type of crime so that all of the relevant concepts can be conveyed in a succinct manner. I almost want to hire out a marketing firm to help with the messaging.
Eyes wide says
Profits of deceit would be an appropriate descriptive name.
Smear or smearing might be the key word. Targeted Smearing or Insidious Smearing or Targeted Insidious Smearing – not particularly original but simple enough that it might catch on in your usage.
Scn also has what is called the “third party” rule or law. If two people are arguing look for a third party who is instigating the conflict and unknown to one or both of the people in conflict, if I recall correctly.
Words like discrediting and defamation are in common usage. Targeted Smearing Attacks might be something different and gain some attention. A marketing firm would probably do surveys to see what terminology was most memorable or drew most interest. You could do that yourself.
Targeted Smearing Attacks Havana Syndrome has the acronym TSAHS (tee sahs) which has a kind of ring to it like SMERSH. (just kidding)
Mat Pesch says
I agree that cult leaders like Miscavige deserve their own designation of crazy.
Lily R says
Her “certainty” is alarming. It’s too easy when you seek stability to gravitate to the confident people. And them let them tell you what to do.
I’m glad the series was done.
There’s also a belief in reincarnation that is dangerous in posing suicide as a solution of sorts, in Scientology framed as “coming back in better shape”. I don’t know if also like in Scientology, she leverages it to get followers to discount and sacrifice their personal interests in this life, and even devalue others’ lives.
p.s. Mike, that’s very well written. I’ve been noticing that you’re really finding you voice in speaking out about cults and their abuses in general.
Free Minds, Free Hearts says
This sounds like the cult leader in Mariette Lindstein’s great horror/cult trilogy about Fog Island – and of course hers was based on her decades in $cientology. There is certainly a common thread among these cult leaders, and good people hoodwinked by them.
Mary Kahn says
I feel for people that go too deep into these abusive cults. It starts with one foot in front of the other – right into a garden. It ends in Hell. Hmmm; sounds like I’ve been there.
How many bodies are buried at Gold Base?
Mary Kahn says
There certainly are a lot of hurt, harmed or dead lives that david miscavige/church of scientology had a direct or indirect big hand in but he or it will never get the light of culpability shone in their direction.
Fred G. Haseney says
Re: “Swan, Miscavige, Raniere, Bikram, Jim Jones and other cult leaders share so many character flaws there should probably be a special designation for them.”
How about “PCS” — Powerful Carrot Sociopath?